Summer Q&A: The Wheels — Why, and Which?

Allright, I’m going to do a few questions relating to my wheel collection, because it’s been a long week and that’s what I think I have the cycles to do.

Ok, devil’s advocate here: Why do you have so many? Are certain wheels better for spinning certain kinds of yarns? And how do you justify buying a new one? (I know I’d have a hard time convincing my husband that I needed more than one wheel, thus I ask.)

So, here’s the thing: I’m a textile professional. It is my career. Right now my focus is spinning, so I spin, and I write about spinning, and I teach people to spin. Those things, plus producing handspinning fiber, are what generate income for me. These are the tools of my trade.

If I were a woodworker, then chances are I’d have lots of saws, lots of specialized equipment for doing specific tasks, a stash of custom and hard-to-find sandpaper, piles and piles of various types of wood, and even more than one of what seems like exactly the same thing. Being a professional spinner is no different.

Different wheels do have different strengths and weaknesses, and different purposes to which they’re ideally suited. It’s the same as how a mechanic has different wrenches and screwdrivers and jacks and ramps for the cars to go up on and a stash of spare parts and a creeper to get under cars and maybe an engine lift or might choose to buy the house with a huge garage that has a pit in it. I have wheels that excel at super fine yarn, wheels that multitask, wheels that do a good job plying or dealing with bulky stuff, wheels that are great for a beginner, wheels that are compatible with each other in the event of a problem occurring, wheels that are expressly for travel.

Because I do this professionally, I may have a real need to have multiple kinds of things going on multiple wheels at a time. I can’t fail to sample something on a wheel because I have a lengthy project in progress, and queue up work behind me finishing that. I really do need to have a wheel open at pretty much any time; if I have a big project on a given wheel, that doesn’t mean I won’t need to do a smaller one in the interim. I can’t have the bottleneck of only one wheel.

I also have wheels because some time ago I recognized that the cosmos had appointed me to a position of great responsibility in which I am required to save wheels from uncertain fates, and often find them new homes. I’m like a spinning wheel foster parent. I save the wheels nobody wants from ending up living under bridges and spare-changing. Sometimes there is rehab. Sadly there is no government support for these activities, but that’s not why I do them. Often there is no reward but the joy of ultimately finding these poor beleaguered wheels a loving home with a spinner or would-be spinner who has been trying to get a wheel for a while, to no avail.

And then too, I need to have extra wheels in case there’s someone who simply has to be turned to the dark side taught to spin and given a chance to work through it. Sometimes people don’t realize they want to be spinners, and may argue with you about this. They’ll say all kinds of things — oh, it costs money, I can’t afford a wheel, where would I put it, I just don’t know if I’d use one, maybe I wouldn’t like doing it, I tried with a spindle but something doesn’t feel right. Most of these people are wrong and must be re-educated are ripe for indoctrination actually ARE interested, and if loaned a wheel, are easy pickings and become addicted, providing a captive audience in the future have an opportunity to explore spinning at their leisure before going out and starting their own wheel collections and decide if they want to make an investment in spinning equipment.

I’ve also had times when I’ve been working on an article for which I had to provide photos, and it’s been a drag going around saying “Hey, do you have a good picture of a double drive wheel?” and “Can I just borrow your Traddy for a bit while I’m working on this technical piece?” It’s much easier to just walk over to my own Schacht Matchless, set it up, and do what I need to do.

Then too, I’ve got to be familiar with all the major wheels out there. Why? Let’s say I’m teaching a class, and someone is having trouble with a technique. 9 times out of 10, the reason for this trouble is a wheel adjustment. I need to be able to find the source of the problem, correct it, and move on, very fast. If the problem is with the wheel and it’s broken and it’s not an adjustment, then in the interests of keeping that class moving, sometimes another wheel must be found. Fortunately, I often have one. But seriously, teaching spinning often involves teaching people about wheels. A good spinning teacher who covers wheel spinning should, in my opinion, know a lot about wheels, and also shouldn’t be one of those people who propagates misinformation. I like to speak based on my personal experience whereever possible, and I try to make that a broad range of possible places.

If you had to narrow the collection down to only four wheels, which ones would you pick, and why? Could you choose only one, and if so, what would impact that decision most strongly?

Well, why do I have to narrow my collection? Is it the apocalypse? I’m trying to think about what conditions would cause me to have to choose only four, or only one, wheel. Totally sounds like the apocalypse. That has to be it.

What kind of apocalypse? The kind where I’m going to hole up in the house and take potshots at approaching zombies until things stabilize and we live in a world without a lot of modern conveniences? Because in that case, none of them go, and in fact, I need more, because I have to set up to teach people to make textiles so we don’t have to live in a “The Matrix” world of ill-fitting and shabbily knit raglan sweaters in which nobody owns a crochet hook to pick up the dropped stitches. I mean, seriously.

Or is it the kind of apocalypse where I have to flee jack-booted thugs and go into hiding in a tiny attic?
That would be like living in a small house, and I already did that. That was why I got the Suzie Pro: a production wheel that takes up less space than most folding chairs. In this case, I’d keep the Suzie Pro, the two Louets, the Journey Wheel, and the Schacht. I know that’s five. Shut up, they’re small. The charkhas don’t take up any space either.

Maybe it’s the kind of apocalypse where we have to get in the truck and drive as fast as we can away from a fast-approaching lava flow which has come all this way from the Yellowstone volcano blowing its top. There is no room even for the cats, and I can only take the Journey Wheel, and I never recover from the loss of all the others, but live out my life in a strange post-apocalyptic bunker talking about everyone I left behind.

I’m totally disinterested in the type of apocalypse that requires wheels to go away. I vote we only have the kind of apocalypse in which I become the sage old lady everyone loves for making civilized life possible when you can’t buy jeans from Bangladesh anymore.

Well… so that covers two questions, anyway. We’ll be talking lots more.

Class Photo

In that way that things sometimes go, a wheel followed me home yesterday…

It’s an older Country Craftsman, a 24″ Saxony wheel, literally never used. It needs some cleaning up and minor tweaks, but should be a solid enough spinner once those are all squared away.

Posting the picture on Ravelry, though, resulted in folks asking to see pictures of all my wheels. At first I laughed that off, but then, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a neat idea. The boys helped me get everybody lined up on the deck for a class picture:

We took a couple.

The tall kids are standing at the rear. We let the Autoknitter join in despite not being a spinning wheel, on account of it’s a very cool machine, and tall. In the middle of the back row of tall kids is my old Majacraft Suzie (more on her later), which I really need to ask Glynis for more info about one of these days. At right in the back row is the Country Craftsman you saw earlier.

Middle row, from left: Bosworth Journey Wheel, Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Suzie Pro with accelerator head, Majacraft Saxonie, Louet Julia (S-11), Fricke S-160F.

Front row (seated), from left: Bosworth Book Charkha and Bosworth Book Charkha B-1, Ertoel Roberta, 1964 vintage double drive electric spinner (LOUD!), Louet Victoria.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be telling you in detail about each of these wheels. And by the end of the summer, I’m expecting a couple of them to matriculate and move out.

(That means I’m going to sell 2 of them before the summer is over)

Summer Q&A: Ask Your Catch-All Questions!

There were a bunch of good, but unrelated to each other, questions asked last week when I started the Summer Q&A series with “spinning from the fold.” What’s more, the Q&A format worked out pretty well for handling the summertime blues!

But then Monday snuck up on me with no topic planned. How could I have let this happen, you may ask? Well, it was a pretty busy week on various fronts, with some deadlines and secret-for-now projects, and a few surprises and unplanned things came along too.

The first was that Edward came home from camp with a God’s Eye recently. He’s wound it and rewound it and he was rewinding it for the umpteenth time when I said, “Wanna see a trick?”

“Sure!” he said, and I showed him an easier way to wrap it neatly. He was enthused. “Do you have stuff to do more?” he asked, and I went looking. On the way to the yarn room, I asked him, “More… of WHAT?”

“Stuff like God’s Eyes,” he said. Turns out I really didn’t have much in the way of popsicle sticks and inexpensive acrylic (go figure), but I did remember that a while ago, I’d scored an old potholder loom on eBay — you know, the kind that uses knit rag loops? Yeah, admit it: you remember those things. But let me refresh your memory all the same:

There he is with his very first potholder (it’s since been pressed into service in the kitchen). No sooner was that one completed than he was setting up for another.

I had to work hard at restraining myself. I mean, as long as he’s interested in something like that, there’s literally no limit to the projects I can find for him. It would be far too easy for me to get overzealous and totally overload the dude and ruin all the fun.

I also did not cackle with glee when, at bedtime, he said, “I just want to finish this row.” It’s just as well I kept my mouth shut, too; Chad gave me a very pointed look.

In the morning, we were heading to go see Chad’s grandfather in central Ohio. Getting ready and getting into the truck, briefly we couldn’t find Edward. He’d dashed off to the family room and started a third potholder. The loom and sack of loops went with us. By the time we arrived, he’d made two more potholders, which he presented to his great-grampa with delight. And when the lad went out to the truck to bring in a diversion, instead of the Nintendo DS, he came in with loom and loops, and started a fifth potholder.

“I’m trying to make it so it’s checkered,” he said. And he figured it out.

After visiting a while, Chad looked at me. “Hey,” he said, “Why don’t you go give your friend Beth a call, and see what time her shindig runs till? If it’s late enough, we could go up.”

So that was the second surprise: we hit the road for Howell, Michigan, to see Beth at The Spinning Loft where she was having a summer solstice event.

I freely admit to pausing to consider whether or not I had enough projects with me, and mentally praising myself for always packing more than I need (I mean, it’s not like we had a change of clothes, but I had projects, so who cares about clothes?) and then laughing at myself because, hey, where were we heading? Right. A place with ample project resupply options.

Except… maybe I hadn’t considered everything after all. On the road, I took out my cell phone and called Beth again. “Hey,” I said. “By any chance do you happen to stock loops for potholder looms?” The boy was looking like he might run out. He finished his fifth, sixth, and seventh potholders on the drive to Michigan.

Halfway through Toledo we hit an incredible storm. It was pouring to the point that you really, truly, couldn’t see anything. We pushed on. It was dramatic. The weather eased… and then not far into Michigan, the rain picked up again and suddenly turned to hail.

“I don’t know how well this bodes for a dyeing-on-the-porch type of event,” Chad commented. I agreed that I hoped it wasn’t pouring in Howell.

We had a great time, and Beth’s new shop layout is great! While she didn’t carry potholder loom loops, she did have some other small loom setups, and we scored Edward a little tapestry loom and some coned yarn. He painted silk hankies and made a sizeable dent in the cookies. I got to try out that Mach 1 wheel finally. As for Chad, he’s just a saint. He did get to look at some wheels he’s never seen (you know, because there do exist wheels I don’t have and have not owned yet, and Beth has a number of them for sale).

We made it home a little before midnight. Sunday we caught up on some chores, and then the next thing you know, it’s Monday, and I haven’t figured out what my topic for the week might be. Whoops.

I haven’t finished spinning this yet either:

but when I do, it’s destined to be Anne Hanson’s new scarf, Elm Row. Possibly stole-sized, depending on what I get for yardage.

So, like I say, there are some really good questions that aren’t related to a specific single topic, that came up last week. I’ll tackle some of those this week, and since I’m doing that, go ahead! Ask me another. It’s random catch-all question week.

Summer Q&A: Spinning From The Fold

1. What is spinning from the fold?

The short answer is this: you take a not-very-long length of spinnable fiber, and instead of presenting it end-first to be spun, fold it over. Instead of drawing fiber off the end of your supply, it now comes from the folded part in the middle.

Linda Diak from Grafton Fibers did a photo tutorial showing one take on this, and countless spinners have learned this concept thanks to her tutorial! Thank you, Linda!

You can see another approach at The Joy of Handspinning, down towards the bottom of the page in that link. This one features a short video.

If you’ve looked at both of these now, you will probably have noticed a major difference: Linda’s method drafts from the side of the fiber that has been folded over, while the one at Joy of Handspinning drafts from the middle of it. Linda is using wool top, and the Joy of Handspinning spinner is using silk sliver.

I sometimes like to use yet a third method. In both of the methods seen so far, a finger is kept inside the folded-over fiber. I often don’t bother with that.

Clicking on the image will take you to the Flickr! page where that tutorial starts (about spinning from a batt).

What all of these methods have in common is that the fibers we’re working with are presented to the twist sideways; when they’re spun up, they will basically be folded in half.

2. Why would you spin from the fold? What conditions (fiber, spinning style, time of day…) cause you to want to spin from the fold? How often do you use this technique, and why?

The list of reasons is quite long! The first set deal with the mechanics of spinning: many people find certain fibers easier to control with these techniques or variations on them. Slippery, long-stapled fibers may be easier to keep a handle on; short fibers may be easier to keep together and drafting smoothly. If you’re having trouble controlling a fiber when spinning it from the end, try it from the fold and see what you think.

Related to that, spinning from the fold may make some drafting techniques possible for a preparation of fiber that isn’t ideally (or theoretically) suited for spinning with those techniques. For example, spinning commercial top from the fold allows long draw techniques which are generally not as feasible when spinning commercial top from the end.

Third, the yarn you get spinning from the fold is often different from what you can get if you spin the same prep from the end. Why? Instead of being laid out straight and parallel, your fibers are folded over. All your fiber ends will be facing one direction in the yarn, instead of both directions — so you’ll get a yarn that’s a bit rough or hairy one way, and very smooth the other. You can get heightened halo and fuzz in your yarn, while it’s still smooth to work with. Also think about it this way: take a piece of hair, and fold it in half. It wants to straighten back out. Even if you’ve twisted it, it still has that tendency. So it is with the individual fibers in yarn spun from the fold; they want to straighten back out. This means you can maximize the extent to which your yarn will puff up after spinning, and get some loft in fibers that otherwise don’t have much, or get lots of loft in fibers which do tend that way.

Fourth, you get different colour effects spinning from the fold than spinning from the end. In a handpainted top with clear delineations between colour, where you actually have fibers that are half one colour and half another, having the fibers end up folded over in the yarn can make these distinctions less glaring, giving your yarn an effect of concrete colour changes that still have shading between colours, rather than a marled or barberpole look. Or if you have a fiber which has multiple colours running the long way, spinning from the fold can let you control the sequence of those, and keep discrete colour changes so you don’t end up with muddied colours.

Fifth, in blends where you have really different fibers, or widely divergent staple lengths, you may find it easier to make sure you are keeping the blend blended as you spin. Take, for example, a cashmere/silk top: if you spin from the end, you may find you’ve pulled out all the silk and spun it, while leaving the short-stapled cashmere piling up in your fiber supply hand. If you habitually hold your fiber supply rather tight, this is more of a risk than if you’re loose with it. Spinning from the fold, you’ll have things draft more evenly blended.

So, putting all these things together, there are several kinds of yarns I might spin this way. First, let’s say we’ve got some alpaca locks,

and I want to have them turn into a yarn with halo, spinning them right from the lock.

I flick the locks open,

fold them over,

and spin away,

using a short forward draw.

I smooth the spun yarn down as I go.

I spin two bobbins or spindles, and then rewind them, and then ply them, again smoothing the yarn down as I go. I now have a yarn with latent halo; it will come out while working with the yarn, but mostly after it’s in the finished object. The yarn is easier to knit with, possible to rip back with, but it’s going to halo like crazy when we’re done.

Or, maybe I have commercial 50/50 merino/silk top that I’d like to turn into a bouncy, springy, elastic yarn with a strong tendency to poof out and be full in the stitch. I spin this from the fold too, but using a long draw method, not squishing the air out of the spun yarn as it forms. I spin three bobbins or spindles full, then do a 3-ply yarn with lots of twist in the ply. I wash the yarn aggressively, fulling it with a hot-cold routine including agitation, and then let it dry unweighted. The result is yarn that is almost shockingly springy, even though silk has no memory. We’ve maximized the springiness the merino brings to the blend.

3. What types of fiber can be spun this way? What prep is best? Do locks work?

Anything that you can get into a chunk of fiber that you can fold over! You will get the most folded effect in the yarn, though, from locks or a combed preparation. A carded roving preparation has fibers going in many directions, and though you may get the benefits of greater control from using these methods, your yarn won’t seem as dramatically different.

You couldn’t use these techniques with loose fluff, punis, firm rolags, cotton from the seed, or line flax (unless you cut it). Anything else is fair game. Locks of long-stapled fiber are a pure delight to spin this way.

Really thin, really loose preps can be harder to spin this way, because there may not be enough fiber there to really get going. Pencil roving, or commercial tops that have been stripped a lot, are much harder to do this with.

Here’s a batt I’m going to spin from the fold soon:

4. Can you do it with a spindle??

Of course you can! In fact, I usually spin from the fold when spindle spinning, because I’m often on the go and just having a chunk of fiber is easier to deal with sometimes than having a long roving. Linda Diak’s example in the link at the top is using a spindle, as are the photos with the alpaca lock.

5. do you spin with it over your finger? or do you fold it and then just keep it in your hand like normal fiber?

It depends! If it’s a very very slippery fiber I might keep it over my finger (and might use the index finger or the middle finger). If it’s less slippery, I may just fold it and go. For some fibers, I almost just spin from the side, without even bothering to really fold.

6. how do you prevent the little loops at the top of the fold from popping out at times while you’re spinning?

Practice! 😉 From time to time, you may want to stop and rearrange your fiber to make sure it’s still smooth and cohesive. Sometimes the loops pop out anyway, and you just draft them out when they do.

7. do you need to loosen up the fiber a LOT when you spin from the fold? or is the normal roving split a couple times enough?

It depends on the spinner. Generally speaking, if we’re talking about commercial top, I absolutely do not split the top, and I definitely do not do any predrafting beyond giving the fiber a bit of a shake. Your fiber does need to move freely, but you don’t want it too loose and open, or you’re at risk of losing the flow. I just tear off chunks of the top at the width it already is, and go.

For some spinners, the fiber that really works best for this is a commercial top that is somewhat compacted. When I teach long draw, I often teach it spinning from the fold with commercial top. For a long time, I took only fairly loose and open commercial top; but then in a recent class, I also used some fairly compacted stuff, and to my surprise, the folks who had been having a tougher time getting a feel for the long draw with the more open prep just took off running and were brilliant with the more compacted fiber. So now I always take both.

I do this with fine fiber batts, like Pistachio here, which is 40% Merino / 40% Tussah Silk / 20% Baby Camel.

8. how do you spin super thin when you spin from the fold? (i’m having issues getting it thin enough with it being doubled over itself)

Once again, most of the answer here is practice. Try the variations: from the side of the fold, from the back of the fold, from the side without the fiber explicitly folded, holding it over a finger, not using a finger to keep it in place… you’ll probably find that different specific batches of fiber react differently to each of the variations, and that you find different things comfortable depending on the equipment you’re using and your preferred style of spinning as well.

In general, try loosening your grip on the fiber supply, and moving your hands a little further apart while drafting. This will probably allow you to draft the fiber out thinner.

9. what is spinning from the side of the fold? vs spinning from the fold itself?

Linda Diak’s example is from the side of the fold; from the back of the fold is more what you see in the Joy of Handspinning video. For most fibers, most spinners find it easier to do this from the side of the fold, but it really does vary depending on fiber, prep, and spinning technique.

10. What is your experience with spinning from the fold and how it affects the colors in a painted roving?

In a painted top where the separations are distinct, you can get much finer control of how the colours shade than you can when spinning from the end. In a striped one, you can choose to have a more heathered look, or a stripier look.

11. Whenever I try to do it, I spin from the fold for a short time, then it ends up going back to my regular spinning. Am I taking on too much fiber at once?

Most likely you just have well-developed habits and things that have become instinctive for you. You’ll have to catch yourself, and stop and rearrange your fiber again, to shift your habits a bit. It takes more time to develop the ability to switch techniques at will than it takes to develop habits in the first place. Give yourself time and be patient.

12. What does this do to the finished yarn? Worsted, woolen…something in between?

Where it falls on the spectrum depends somewhat on the preparation. If you have a combed prep or flicked locks to start with, you’re starting with a worsted preparation, and you’ll be spinning your parallel fibers so they’re just folded over. I (and a few other people, such as Judith MacKenzie McCuin) tend to refer to such yarns as being semi-worsted when they’re spun with a short draw and you smooth the air out. It gets more vague if you use a woolen-style drafting method like the long draw, though! Then you’re in a gray area where in my opinion the smart thing to do is describe the prep and the spinning technique and not try to give it a simple label. In those cases, I say things like “Commercial top spun from the fold using supported long draw.”

In fact, I usually tend to do that! The thing is, in my opinion, unless you’re getting really traditional and spinning handcombed longwools with a short forward draw (true traditional worsted), or spinning rolags one-handed on a spindle wheel (true traditional woolen), you’re somewhere in between. I like to use the terms mostly to describe the ends of a spectrum, and I view them as historical and theoretical for the most part — ways to talk about and classify various preparations and drafting methods. They’re important methods to understand, but the vast majority of all spinning falls somewhere between those two end points.

13. How do you add new bits of fiber when you’re spinning from the fold?

Whenever I do a join, I keep the twist moving, and introduce the new fiber to the twist such that the twist grabs it and puts it into the yarn, and away we go. That’s true for any join! Joining with moving twist is what makes for good, strong, invisible joins.

I don’t even stop spinning. Really! With a wheel, shortly before my first tuft runs out, I grab hold of the next one to go, and holding the yarn coming out of the orifice with one hand, still treadling, use the other hand to fold the next tuft and get it onto or into my supply hand. It’s like refilling the fiber supply, rather than doing a join.

Now, if the yarn breaks, or I’m using a spindle, then I get the fiber ready to go, and pick up the yarn where it’s stable and strong. I pinch off the twist and park and draft to build up some twist in the yarn; I like to think of this as a twist battery. Then I introduce the fold of the fiber to the yarn and let that stored twist leap across and make the join.

14. How tightly do you grip the fiber when spinning from the fold?

As tight as I need to in order to keep it from all being drafted at once, and no tighter than that. I keep my hands relaxed and fairly open. This is important to pretty much all drafting methods! Exactly how tight that is will depend. Most spinners, for the first several years, will often need to actively focus on grasping loosely and gently, especially when working with new fibers or new techniques.

If your grip is loose but fiber isn’t moving, try moving back a little bit with your supply hand.

15. I started spinning some Alpaca from the fold however it’s still extremely slippery and I’ve found much more difficult (for me) to control the width of the single. Any secret tips?

Allright, my deep dark secret here? Go faster. Speed up the wheel a bit! It’s like riding a bike: it’s harder to do slow than fast, for some of these techniques.

Some other things to try are either loosening your prep up a bit more before you start, or — believe it or not — tightening it up. Roll your fiber gently between your hands the long way, compressing it down more. Your prep is probably the main reason you’re having trouble with diameter control here.

16. So, first question is, just how on earth do you get started, once you have the fiber over your finger? With ordinary spinning, I have a looped yarn that I place the fiber on and give it a few twirls for strenth. But starting with the fiber over your finger just utterly buffaloes me.

The Joy of Handspinning video shows one way, but I don’t do that. I don’t use looped leaders in general. I either use a leader in which I build up a good head of twist and expect the twist to temporarily glue the new yarn to the leader as it starts, or use a doubled leader with an open end that can be opened up (almost like unplying) so I can put a smidgen of fiber inside the opened-up bits when it’s time to start spinning.

I get started, in general, the exact same way I do a join. No tricks, nothing fancy — just twist, and believing in it. It really works.

17. I have my first fleece, an Icelandic, and I was planning on spinning at least part of it from the lock. I’m a beginning spinner. Would spinning from the fold be the technique for this?

There’s no reason not to, really. Icelandic fleece is interesting, because it’s double-coated. When you spin it from the lock, you can keep both coats in the yarn and get a wonderfully lofty, long-wearing low-twist yarn. You can also manually separate the two coats with your hands much faster than you can using tools… but alas, I don’t have any Icelandic locks right now, so I can’t show you this wonderful trick I learned from Judith MacKenzie McCuin last year at SOAR.

I’d try several of these variations with a few of your locks, just flicked open, and see how you like it. I think it could make a wonderful thicker singles yarn done this way.

18. Often when I spin from the fold I find that I end up lopsided – that is, spinning from the end instead all of a sudden. Any way to address this?

Just stop, and rearrange. When this happens to me — and it does — I pull the part that’s starting to go lopsided off as soon as I realize that’s happening, and finish up spinning it. Then I rearrange the rest of what I had in my fiber supply, and do a join.

19. I spin from the fold when I spin silk on a spindle. I see some people use it all the time, with all sorts of fibres. I thought it was mainly for long fibres – why would one want to do it on medium sized wool for example?

It could be that they’re interested in one of the specific effects we’ve discused, or…

20. Ok, I have a poser – why, when I have been using the spinning from a fold technique, do I then want to spin everything from the fold? Ok, silk for me is a no-brainer. But then my fingers fall into this control rut and soon superwash merino, long alpaca and even very short baby cormo are folded over my finger. It is ridiculous, but true. I am mezmerized by the fine little spiral that comes off the finger tip. I wonder if it is a slippery fiber control thing? Any thoughts?

The same thing happens to me. Spinning from the fold was the magic that broke me out of my lifelong all-worsted-style, all-the-time mindset. I think this is inevitable, that sometimes the sheer hypnotic nature of the thing grabs you and you have to binge on something. I tell myself spinning from the fold is a cheaper and healthier binge than many other possible binges, so it’s all good.

Summer Q&A

I realize it’s technically not summer, since it starts in earnest on the Solstice, but let’s face it: once school is out, it’s summer. Therefore, it’s been summer for several weeks now. Summer, it turns out, is just not my favourite season.

The reason why will perhaps be evident if I tell you it’s now 10:30 AM, and I started this post at 7 AM. The reason why will perhaps be evident if I tell you it’s now Monday at 7:41 AM, and I started this post on Friday at about 7. A huge part of the problem I have with summer is scheduling. I seem to get up somewhere around 6 AM and have an hour to 90 minutes before the rest of the house has to be up. This should be a fabulous get-things-done time, but in practice, I’m either slow starting or ruling out slews of things I might do then on the grounds that they’ll wake people up, at which point the morning starts and that time would be lost.

Once everyone’s up, I scurry around doing a few tasks here and there (empty dishwasher, straighten counters, that sort of thing) and, like the real mom I am, nag the manchild to eat his breakfast and pack his lunch for day camp. Does he have a towel? Must I find one? What about sunblock? Sometimes I manage to step away from micromanaging him (like now, when I’m upstairs in my office drinking coffee, and presumably he’s eating breakfast or packing his lunch. I wonder if he has a towel.) and I usually try to not just be the nagging mom, but of course it was a day I didn’t nag when he forgot his sunblock and got a horrible sunburn. Rationally of course I know it’s not my fault; the visceral parent-brain however continues to assert that I should have controlled that.

Driving him to camp takes 30-40 minutes. I always try to think of other errands that need doing out of the house, and have them lined up. I get home sometime between 9:15 and 10:30 and sit down, getting the feeling of having been up for 3-4 hours and, it always seems, accomplished nothing at all. From that point on, my day is a rush of trying to make sure Something Gets Done, right up until about 3:30 PM when it’s time to go collect the boy (and do any other errands that may have shown themselves to be necessary). By 4:15 when that’s all done, there’s a weird chunk of 45 minutes before the dinner prep starts. After dinner is family time.

The start-and-stop and run-around schedule makes it hard to get into a groove doing anything. I feel scattered all summer long, and totally unproductive, even when I’m getting things done, because it never seems like I tackle big, all-day jobs or anything. Being so interruptible, there are scads of things that get started and not finished, and I’m always afraid I’m totally forgetting something huge. I can never figure out where I put down my sunglasses. The boy can’t seem to remember to turn off his radio, ever, and it means I have to wade through the mess of his room to get to it because its constant on-ness fills me with rage. I never feel like I’ve had enough coffee, yet I know I’m draining the entire pot most days because I end up with iced coffee at some point. I look back at last year, same time, on the blog, and ask myself, “Am I measuring up to what I was getting done then?”

Well, realistically, I probably am; but I’m doing a few different things now. There is less production, and more writing, and more of the writing is not for the blog, but for other projects; but those projects pay me money. Since I’m selling more articles, that also seems to mean I’m putting fewer articles on the blog, and it’s grown less focused. So, I’ve been trying to think what I can do about all of that, to reduce my feelings of constantly posting cop-out things with little real substance to them. So this week I want to try something new: Summer Q&A.

Here’s how it works (this week, at least). On Monday, I’m going to name a topic or pose a question or something of that ilk. That’s where you come in. You leave a comment, asking a question relating to the topic of the week, or heck, any question at all, really. Throughout the week, in fits and starts, with bursts here and there, I’ll answer these questions. Sometimes it may be multiple answer posts throughout the week; other times, a big cohesive one on Friday. We’ll see how this goes and how it evolves, and perhaps it’ll be the answer to the fractured summer schedule.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s this week’s topic? Hrmmm. Well, how about “spinning from the fold?” Who’s got a question about this technique?

Free-for-all questions are also always welcome. I mean, if a bunch of you say “No, totally not spinning from the fold, what I’m dying to ask questions about is tying drive bands,” I still want to know what you’re wondering, and I love to be able to answer.

With that, it’s now time to commence the early morning home stretch, making sure lunch is packed and towel is ready and we’ll be out the door to camp soon. So let’s hear your questions about spinning from the fold!

Back, In One Piece

I made it home from TNNA’s summer 2008 show in Columbus, where it was my pleasure to sit (or, actually, mostly stand) in front of a few racks of baskets full of fiber from Louet, while demonstrating Louet’s newest wheels, the Victoria travel wheel and her full-size sibling, the Julia. I know; it’s a horrible, nasty, dirty job — but let’s face it, someone has to do these kinds of things. You know. For the greater good, and all that. Since Columbus is only about 90 minutes from me, I figured I’d take one for the team (which team is it, I wonder? Team Yarn Dork? Beats me), and headed up that way Friday evening with a Trans Am full of yarn and spinning wheel, things I needed muled to their recipients, and some bits of fiber I really had no idea what to do with (as in, “Argh! What possessed me to put glitter in the cashmere blend? That was totally stupid. I don’t think I like it. Well, maybe someone will love it. I’ll throw it in my bag and take it to TNNA and find out.”).

Walking through the convention center and hotel, I quickly found Half The Blogosphere(tm), taking over the comfy chairs at the bar and showing off their MacBook Pros, knitting, and being photographed with Stephanie’s sock. Next thing you know, Amy Singer (Knitty‘s mom) had caused me to suddenly and uncharacteristically order a pink fruity thing instead of beer, Steph summoned a choir of angels and their trumpeters to play a fanfare for the introduction of Norah Gaughan (Amanda from Lorna’s Laces looked at me and said “You look overwhelmed,” shortly thereafter; dude, Norah Gaughan! Hear the choir of angels?), and of course Jess, Casey, and Mary-Heather from Ravelry were there, and I met Stephanie from Spritely Goods, and Anne of KnitSpot (and I totally groped her sock), and Drew the Crochet Dude came by, and I totally didn’t realize who he was at first, and… well anyway. Jillian Moreno totally ran off. I barely saw her all weekend. I didn’t get a picture of her. Not one. Argh!

Well, it was like that, though. There were all sorts of “Oh! I need a picture!” but there were no cameras on the expo floor, and my Real Camera is big so I didn’t carry it with me anyway, and then ultimately I ended up putting my new camera phone to the test. It’s better than the old one, but you know… I needed a wide angle lens to fit in all the fabulous people who were there. Like at dinner, when everyone suddenly said “Oh man, we’re failing as bloggers if we don’t document this,” and everyone whipped out cameras and started trying to do just that.

(Janel Laidman, Cookie A, the hands of Anne Hanson holding a camera, plus also Anne’s chin, and Stephanie of Spritely Goods)

Well, except for Franklin, who is a total cheater because he can just do that “draw a picture” thing. He even charted the seating arrangements. He’s way too organized. I think that’s what Steph is telling him in this photo. If it isn’t, it probably should be.

And here’s Amy Singer with Jess. Here, Amy is not gasping in shock at the menu, but rather, is the very model of decorum and totally not eyeing Jess’ piña colada at all.

Mary-Heather may laugh, but as for Casey, it’s clear he is plotting something. Probably something to do with dastardly use of “agree(1)” or similar.

After dinner, at the fashion show, I did snap this photo of Steph taking a picture of Sandi Wiseheart with the traveling sock. At first, that flash of light (who is actually Amy O’Neill Houck, and we’ll talk about that sweater she’s wearing later, because it’s fabulous) and I were going to take turns so we didn’t have quite the ridiculousness factor of people taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures, but Steph totally insisted that made for a better shot, heightening the sometimes-absurd nature of being a blogger.

And speaking of such concepts, well, I’m really glad Steph beat me home and blogged first, because that spares me having to explain these:

which I feel is only fair, really, because I did explain briefly to the people who gathered on the sidewalk and asked what we were doing, and I did have to explain to my better half why I’d asked about dry ice and toilets when I called to say goodnight to him and our son. Spouses of fiber bloggers could probably use a support group or something. They’re tireless and suffer through all manner of strange requests to hold something just so and help take pictures of something largely inexplicable and put dinner on hold for quick notes on something that must be blogged, and what do they get in return? Sheesh.

I was thrilled to meet Cathy and Steve from WEBS, and even more thrilled when in the course of conversation, Steve needled Cathy gently about her love of cashmere and glitter. OH! Love of cashmere and glitter! YES! I grabbed the pair of totally suspect batts out of my bag, and forced Cathy to take them. Why is this bloggable? Because it’s a reminder of something I often need reminding about: my own personal aesthetics need to be set aside sometimes, and sure enough, even though I had thought putting the glitter in was a terrible idea once I’d done it, you know what I hadn’t considered? People don’t do that; so imagine being someone who wishes she could have it.

There’s lots more to say about the whole event; in reality, this post is little more than an explanation of some crappy camera phone photos. I came home with a few specific things which need individual treatment, and a lot of general thoughts as well. I saw old friends and new, and time was too short for all the catching up I’d like to have done. I wish we, in the yarn dork world, did things like this more often. I don’t think twice a year is enough.


So I have this project that I actually input on Ravelry. It’s a shawl. I started it almost a year ago and had thought I’d finish it by SOAR last year, but… well, didn’t.

So let’s just step through things a bit here.

3 July 2007:

4 July 2007:

5 July 2007:

6 July 2007:

I mean, so far, progress looks fine, right? And it keeps looking fine. Here’s 8 July 2007:

It’s 2 feet across! And even bigger by 9 July 2007, when I took it outside for photos to see if you could see the beads it’s acquired:

11 July 2007, with the help, who helped the ball of yarn too much:

But see the beads?

By 15 July, I was bitching and moaning about rows taking 15-20 minutes:

But by 25 July, I was clearly distracted and doing other stuff:

But then on 7 September, I said it was nearing completion. And in fact it was. That’s why I thought I’d have it done for SOAR. But that didn’t happen.

And then, honestly… I found I was enraged by the stupid shawl, staring at me from a wadded-up pile of beaded merino-tencel and a ball of rewound yarn and a little container of beads and an itty bitty crochet hook, mocking me for not just finishing it. I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up and spent the hour at a stretch it had grown to needing for EACH STUPID ROW with 800 zillion beads on it for the last repeat. It wintered on my desk, glaring at me and mocking my lack of stick-to-it-ive-ness. I know I flipped it off a few times. I even gave it the two-handed flip-off at least once. I really don’t understand why that wasn’t enough to teach it what’s what and go F itself (where F stands, in this case, for “finish”), but it didn’t.

About a month ago I moved it to the table by the slothing chair, where the Pagoda shawl rests in that one photo above, near kitten and beer. Surely no shawl could languish long there unfinished; perhaps my desk was just not the right place, as I never have an hour at a time free (or free-ish) when I’m at my desk. And that move has helped. On several occasions since then, I have forced myself to work on the thing. About an hour plus a few minutes for each beaded knit row; 30-60 minutes for a purl row, depending on how densely beaded the preceding knit row was.

Allow me to show you, briefly, the sight which has enraged me so with its mockery lo these long months.

By last night, I’d reached the point where I said — and yes, I said it, out loud, multiple times, to the whole family — “I hate this stupid project! I’m so sick of this! I was sick of this last fall! Well I’m forcing myself to finish it! I can’t have a beer till I get to the stopping point I’ve set for the night! No beer till I finish this row! I’m half an hour into the row and I want a beer but I can’t have one! I hate this shawl! Watch, I’ll finish it and it’ll be a huge piece of crap. Man, I want a beer…”

When I got to the end of the row, the manchild stopped building things with K’Nex, and ran to the fridge and returned with a beer. Now that’s a good kid.

So now I’m on the horns of a dilemma: how to handle the beaded cast-off I have envisioned.

See, those leaves each need a bead at the tip there. The beads are like, uh, they’re like drops of dew. Falling of this cheesy, annoying, pissing-me-off-to-no-end stupid project from hell which is probably going to be total crap when I’m done, because even though really, it’s okay right now, I’m bound to thoroughly screw up the beaded cast-off somehow. You know, once I’ve figured out what I think I mean by “beaded cast off” in the first place.

Maybe I should put a fringey tassel with beads on it at each leafpoint.

When I block it, are the leaves going to be the only points, or will there be intermediate points in the dead space between?

What if I did some sort of crochet chain with beads in it for a cast-off, ala Marianne Kinzel except, as noted, with beads?

Of course, my wiseacre alter ego (okay, that’s my real ego, not the alter ego) is sitting in the back of my mind saying, “What if I threw this across the room and left it there another year?”


I have leftover yarn. I could do whatever the heck I want.

But no, I can’t leave it unfinished for another year, tempting as it is. I’d never be able to look myself in the eye knowing I’d left it with nothing needing to be done except binding off.

Maybe a sewn bind-off. With a knotted fringe with beads on it. Nah, that would look stupid.

So, yeah, this is the dilemma. I can’t decide what to do. Yet tonight, when my work day is over and I sit in the slothing chair, there the project will be, demanding that I finish it. And finish it I must. I want to see how it came out, I think I want to wear it, I want to be blocking it… but most of all, you know, I just need closure with this project (and then to not look at a bead again for a while).

So throw me a bone, O loyal readers. Speak to me of bind-offs and send me some moral support and tell me I’ll make it. Make fun of me if you must, and manipulate me into finishing the thing one way or another by forcing me to channel my rage into a spurt of amazing finishing energy. Light a candle for me in prayer that the shawl won’t be awful. Amuse me with a funny story of your own vicious beaded project like this. Something! Help me not succumb to my baser instincts and throw this back in the UFO pile hoping it’ll solve itself.

P.S. Don’t tell my dad I haven’t finished this yet. He’d never let me live it down.