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!


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.

School’s Out!

First things first: congratulations to the manchild for successfully completing 4th grade.

Here he can be seen on the penultimate day of elementary school (because next year is middle school, and marching band, and stuff of that ilk), modeling his new poncho (his grandma was in Peru last month and we all got new ponchos, and I’ll post about those another time). And dudes, check out that rain behind him! In this photo, it’s actually calmed down quite a bit, but we literally got about an inch of rain in 10 minutes when it started. Look at the back yard!

Sheesh. It was a stunning storm, though, just beautiful.

Next things next: I didn’t tell you guys, but I’ve been having a blog milestone contest. I decided whoever left the 2000th comment was going to get a Something. Well, that comment was left last night… by Hope! So, Hope, I think I have your address somewhere, and I’m going to pick you out a Something. Thanks for being here all this time.

More next things more: pictures of some stuff. Yarn is involved.

Ages and ages ago, Amy swapped me some fiber. I have NO clue what I sent to her at this point, only that I got the better end of the deal:

Well, this one got spun right away:

Now, Denny wants to know if I want this yarn. I think she’d like it. I’ve told her that IF she learns to get pictures off her digital camera and on to Teh Intarwebz, then we’ll talk. She should totally be able to do that; it’s definitely not harder than seaming a sweater, and I know for a fact Rachel H. offered to help her. Perhaps the lure of hoarded yarn from my personal stash will suffice.

EDITED TO ADD: Ah yes — and these were mohair/silk batts that Amy made. “Rocky Mountain High” is the multicoloured braid of merino/silk.

But speaking of personal stash, that’s where I put this, hoarding it.

And that’s the “Rocky Mountain High” merino/silk I hoarded. Which is now this:

1006 yards of that, to be precise. Mmmmmmmmm. Oh yeah. The only down side is now the fiber is gone. But, since Amy and I are definitely in cahoots in the fiber enabling game, well, it’s not like I can’t beg her for more fiber. In fact, not only can I, but I have. And then yesterday I got a shipping notice. I wonder what she sent? I can’t wait to find out.

See? No matter how hard-core a girl may get about her fiber obsessions, she never gets over the whole “Ooooh a package!” excitement. No, you could be hauling 10 kilos of silk out of a shipping box, thinking about what’s coming soon.

I do have some other photos though.

These are some samples. From left: Soy silk, Seacell, and cotton/silk, all from Louet North America, with the first two being from the Southwest Trading Company lineup. I have a few more samples on my to-spin list from these fibers, and eventual commentary as well. And I have to get my samples done this week, because I’ll be taking them to TNNA next weekend. I’ll be hanging with my friends the Louet folks, and spending more time talking about these fibers and others, and wheels and whatnot, so if you’ll be there, stop by and say hello!

This is one of the “and others.” The sad thing is, there’s no way I can make a photo explain what I like so much about this fiber. Basically, it’s just — hahaha, “just” — a really nice Merino, about 20 micron I believe, in a really luscious commercial top, that’s certified organic, which means that folks who’ve avoided Merino out of concerns about industrial farming practices now have a commercial Merino top available (this, too, is a Louet fiber, so you should be able to get it from dealers, as well as right from them). As for me, even though I am not a person who has avoided Merino, well, I have to say this is the nicest general purpose Merino top I’ve had. Before you ask, I’ll come right out and say that this isn’t as incredible as Peace of Yarn’s 15 micron Merino top, but this also isn’t over $100 a pound! It’s just “normal Merino prices,” and it’s going to be my top pick for general-purpose Merino from here on out.

Anyway, the skein above is this wispy, floaty laceweight skein that has to be fondled to be fully appreciated. There’s a sweater skein and a springy sock skein too, and I’m going to take those to TNNA, along with others…

Allright, so you all know it’s a really rare thing for me to really LIKE a synthetic fiber, right? Well, okay: I really like this one. It’s the “Black Diamond” carbonized bamboo. It’s…. velvety lustrous. And really interesting. And I like the colour, though it reminds me of Peruvian public school uniforms when I was a kid. This carbonized bamboo is not slippery shiny like the non-carbonized variant. It’s a neat fiber. I will be stashing some of this and keeping it on hand — again, something I don’t often say about a synthetic.

Allright, and one more thing: speaking of my personal stash yet again (we do seem to keep coming back to that), I have dug deep into it for a good cause. I’ll post about it separately, but in brief, I’ve sent Amy a box of handspun yarns from my personal stash, to auction to help Symeon, aka Pippikneesocks, who has a hard row to hoe right now. Check out the incredibly fabulous things Amy is auctioning to help Symeon out! There’s some truly incredible stuff there, and soon there’ll also be some of my personal stash — I love Symeon and really hope we can help her out a little. Amy’s current auctions are here, go check ‘em out.


It’s time for another cop-out entry. These happen when I have essentially nothing intelligent to say, and run around with the digital camera taking pictures.

The weather is crap. Seriously, it just can’t decide what to do. Right now, it’s somewhere around 70F, muggy, cloudy and gray, and looks like rain, but it’s not raining and I’m not sure it’s going to. Crap weather for photos. Grrrr.

I did do some spinning over the past couple of evenings, however. I’m way behind on my to-spin pile! It’s horrible! And I threw a rod on the hopped-up Camaro, er, I mean, after 8 zillion miles of yarn, I have to replace a part on my fastest wheel, so it’s waiting on parts. The horror. But as my better half put it, with almost a straight face, “The good news is, I think you have 9 other wheels.”

Which, well, is true. I removed this bobbin, in progress at the time…

…and, walking about 10 feet, grabbed another wheel with which it is totally compatible.

You gotta have the “totally compatible systems” thing going on, you see?

Now, okay, I did break a few cardinal rules I shouldn’t break, though. One, I didn’t have the parts on hand. I really should have. I’ve gotten lazy what with having, you know, 9 or 10 other wheel choices. But honestly, I should be ashamed, and I should know better. I have the new Julia up in my office doing some production sock yarn work, which is tying up all 8 or 9 of the Louet bobbins I presently have (so there’s another cardinal rule broken: never tie up all your bobbins entirely), I don’t like to use the Journey Wheel while sitting in the rocking recliner, the Roberta is just too loud at speed and not so great for laceweight, I think the folding Fricke is behind a few bumps of midgrade wools, this wasn’t a charkha project… good thing I had the Saxonie handy, right?


It’s 550 yards from 48 grams of merino/silk/yak/cashmere. Totally all mine, even if it is on the pink side. Penny will kick your butt if you try to run off with it. Just look at her — can’t you tell she’s totally an enforcer type cat?

Or perhaps you can tell this is the cop-out blog entry where I run around with the camera making it look like I did something.

But, anyway, I’ve done some other spinning too. Like, I did finish one of the sock yarns. This one is cabled and self-striping and stuff. It’s SWTC Karaoke and it’s really, really cool. I swatched a bit of leftover cable:

…and would need to do the socks on a smaller needle. Which is a bummer because this swatch was done on US 2 needles. Oy.

And if you’ve been reading this blog long, you’ll have realized by now that for totally mysterious reasons, I seem to do a lot of “lilac” at this time of year.

It’s merino/silk/cashmere tweed. I think Amy has some similar ones left for sale.

I almost opted to make it a singles. But, no.

It’ll look a lot nicer once the sun comes out and it’s all the way dry. With 196 yards here, this’ll be a scarf for me, I think.

Stupid lack of sun. Stupid muggy cloudy weather. Why am I even thinking about warm things? Right, because this is what I do.

Paimei is trapped behind a screen. He hates that. He’d love to be allowed outside, but he’s just too glaringly white and, well, let’s just say he got the looks and the personality but the brains? Not so much.

Then too, there’s this. It’s a problem tussah silk from last summer. I loved the colours, but didn’t trust the brown (and with reason — one other test project I did with silk dyed with that same brown had definite excess dye issues). So I set it aside to use on something for me. I have a project for it. If it can be done in time.

And if I don’t decide to use Daffodil here instead.

Crap! I’m so glad we just talked about that, because…

I totally threw the Daffodil silk singles into the sink to soak, and forgot about them. I’d better run, folks.

Oh, before I forget, there’s some maintenance work going on with my email today. Your mail to it, if you send any, will be deferred briefly during that maintenance. If you urgently need to mail me, use afranquemont at — just today, 2 May 2008. By this evening, things ought to be back to normal and I should have a nice backlog to sort. Perhaps I should plan for that with a beer run this afternoon, eh?

Guess Who’s Hanging With Me For A Few?

Some boxes got here just after dinner last night.

Hrmmmm… says Louet all over those boxes. Let’s look closer.

In case you can’t tell, that says S-11 Julia. What I have here is a prototype/demo of Louet’s latest spinning wheel, the first round of which are due to arrive at US and Canadian dealers who’ve pre-ordered them, real soon now (in the next few weeks, once their container clears customs). I was so eager to give this wheel a real Abby-style test drive, though, that Louet kindly agreed to let me borrow the prototype. They packed it up and shipped it to me and, well, okay. I may have blown off some of my evening chores last night.

You don’t think less of me for that, do you? You would have done the same thing when FedEx came. You know you would have. Anyway, so the first thing to come out of the box was the base. The treadle and footman assembly is very similar to the Victoria travel wheel, but larger.

I shut myself in my office and got to unpacking. The drive wheel, made from furniture-grade hardwood composite with a beech veneer, is attached to the upright maiden/mother-of-all with sealed ball bearings. Like the Victoria, the flyer detaches fully and secures with a pressure seal, and the scotch tension system is found on a crosspiece just for that purpose. There is no friction bearing for the orifice, a design element that lessens drag and wear and tear. There’s a lazy kate (more on that later) and a total of 4 bobbins and a stretchy drive band. That’s it! Nothing complicated. That’s what she looks like disassembled.

So, how to assemble it?

Just unscrew this fella at the back of the treadle assembly, revealing this bolt…

…which in turn fits right into this spot on the upright…

…and tightens by hand, no tools required.

Like the Victoria, the footman connects with a polymer fitting…

…that goes over this zero-maintenance sealed bearing and secures with a snap-in-place polymer ring. This was the thing I most expected to see wear on the Victoria, but over a year of fairly rigorous use has shown me that in fact, it’s quite durable. “Why wouldn’t it be?” my husband pointed out when I commented to that effect a while ago. “They make lots of very sturdy things from polymer. I mean, they make firearms from it, an skateboard wheels, and all kinds of stuff that takes a beating.”

The whorl, too, is heavy-duty polymer. And groove (hahaha, I said “groove!”) on its range of ratios.

With a drive wheel measuring 20″, these ratios run from 5:1 to 20:1. Very nice. Did I measure the intermediate ones while I was in the throes of setup? No, of course not. LATER! I’ll get to that LATER! Must. Set. Up. Wheel.

The scotch tension system needed screwing onto the upright. I, of course, had a screwdriver handy. But if I didn’t take this off when disassembling the wheel for transport, I mused, there’d be no need for a tool, and there would be one step less. So I’d probably just leave this attached most of the time.

This is also pretty much just like the Victoria one, except this one mounts the other way (so the knob is to the inside rather than the outside) but you could, if desired, screw it on the other way. And as evidence of Louet’s process of integrating customer feedback, you can see that whereas my Olde Victoria From The First Batch(tm) has a removable knob, this one is secured with a screw, preventing the knob from coming out unexpectedly. It was a point of frustration for some Victoria owners that this knob would tend to jounce loose when transporting the wheel, rattling in the carry bag and in some cases, resulting in the brake band snagging on something when you opened the wheel back up. Indeed, Louet offered to retrofit my Victoria thus (but I declined), and I believe that’s one of the things they do if people bring them or send them Victorias for updates.

But, anyway, like I say, I screwed that scotch tension rig on there…

and then basically, the wheel was all set. Put drive band in place…

…and now it just needs the flyer…

…and a bobbin…

Right, so speaking of the flyer, if you’ve seen the Victoria, the flyer will look similar. Except the orifice is different.

It’s trivial to thread with no hook, with a frictionless insert. Between that, the powder-coated (and thus very durable) hooks at the edges of the flyer, and the positionable sliding flyer hooks, and scotch tension… I could already tell this wheel would do sme neat things.

And the bobbins are redesigned too, but we’ll talk more about that later. First, check out the lazy kate!

Were this not the prototype, I’d have the other support for the kate, allowing it to be positioned in a wide range of ways, so that no matter where you put it, in what orientation, you get side-feeding, which is really essential for optimum yarn management. But even so, tensioning is simple friction provided by felt washers — a simple yet forgiving and flexible system — and little rubber endcaps keep bobbins from being at risk of coming off the kate no matter how you position it. I’m eager to test it out for sure.

So with that in mind, I oughta start spinning, eh? So, right: back to the bobbins, then. You may have noticed no leader; instead there’s a slit with a wide part in the middle. Huh? Okay, tie a big chunky knot in something, like so.

With me so far? Now, over at the bobbin…

…put the knot in the wide part and press it in, then…

…tug towards you, and…

Voila, leader attached.

No threading hook needed here…

Or there…

Just use your fingers to get your leader threaded through the orifice. Voila!

Oddly enough, at this point, I stopped taking pictures. I think it’s that I got distracted with spinning. I did snap a photo of some yarn on the bobbin though.

Leftover fibers from sock yarn class, and these will be sock yarn, for the first test skein off this wheel.

Speaking of which, I totally have to go. To, um, do chores. And laundry. Yeah. I swear, I’m NOT just blowing you guys off to play with the Julia. No, really! I wouldn’t do that, would I?

(Okay, so I’m busted. Just don’t tell the manchild. He’d use it as ammunition the next time he gets a new Bionicle.)

Do You Have Any Advice About SOAR?

A few people have asked me recently if I have any advice to offer about going to Interweave’s Spin-Off Autumn Retreat.

Yes. Here it is.

SOAR is intense!

Don’t try to plan for other things during the course of SOAR. Just go and do SOAR.

How does it work exactly?

Okay, here’s the deal. SOAR is broken up into two parts: the workshop portion, and the retreat portion. For the workshop portion, when you sign up, you’ll choose your first, second, and third choice of workshops from this list. You’ll only get into one of these! You’ll find out which when you get your confirmation and whatnot. For the workshop portion, you arrive Sunday afternoon or evening, there’s dinner and a kick-off presentation in the evening, and some unstructured social time.

Monday morning, you get up, eat breakfast, and start your workshop. There’s a break for lunch (and usually one coffee break in the morning and one in the afternoon). After lunch, you go back for more workshop, until dinnertime. All your meals are large group meals, buffet style, and you eat with whoever you eat with. After dinner, there may be an evening lecture for you to choose to attend, or not; and probably some unstructured social time as well. Tuesday and Wednesday are essentially the same.

On Thursday, the retreat portion starts. If you were only there for the workshops, this is when you’ll head out. The marketplace opens this day, and there’s nothing scheduled for it. There are still group meals. People who are coming for only the retreat portion start to show up. Thursday evening, there’s a kick-off session and you sign up for retreat sessions. You get to choose four total; two per day. Thursday would be your main shopping day at the marketplace, too.

Friday, you’ll get up, eat breakfast, go to your first retreat session, be there till lunch, and then after lunch, go to your second session, till dinnertime. After dinner, there may be evening programs. Saturday is the same, but generally Saturday night there’s the big spin-in gathering. There are informal spin-ins and socializing and whatnot all week, of course. Sunday morning, there’s breakfast, and generally a closing program, and people start to head out.

Will my family likely want to go along?

In general, I wouldn’t count on it, unless they’re fairly fiber-obsessed. Like I say, it’s intense and pretty nonstop. Whatever down time you have you’ll likely end up spending on fibery pursuits. If that’s likely to cause strain, you may be happiest not trying to fit it in together with a family trip.

If I can only do one of workshop or retreat, how do I pick?

Tough call. I’ll assume for the sake of this post that you don’t have a scheduling issue one way or the other, and just talk about choosing one.

The first thing I’d do is take a look at the workshops. Have you, for example, always wanted to take an in-depth class on carding with colour? If so, Deb Menz’ workshop session would be three days of that. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to take a class from Nancy Bush or a class from Judith MacKenzie McCuin; this year’s SOAR offers both in one class… for three intensive days. Or maybe you just know that it’s time for you to take some serious, no-joke hands-on and in-person instruction of a general nature; there are a few such options this year. But the bottom line is, is there a workshop — or multiple workshops — which you are just dying to take? Are you looking for three intensive days of study? If you are, then there is probably nowhere better to go get it. One teacher (or two for the Nancy and Judith class) for three days! I can tell you that as a teacher, it’s an exciting prospect, because all too often you’re trying to fit a lot into a smaller length of time and it’s hard to do the topic justice, or you have to pick and choose what you’ll cover. Workshops are terrific intensive classes.

If, on the other hand, there isn’t anything you definitely want to commit three days to, or you aren’t sure; if you’d rather have a larger chunk of uncommitted time; if you would rather get smaller chunks of more teachers, and more variety… well then in that case, the retreat may be the way to go. For a first-timer, the retreat is possibly more approachable in that you get to sample various teachers, and then reach those conclusions like “That’s it, next year I want three days with Sharon Costello if she’s teaching here again,” or “Wow, cut silk pile is amazing! I had no idea! I need to know more! Lots more!” But at the same time, the retreat is a little bit more hectic because there’s more going on and more moving from place to place; for the workshop, you set up in a classroom and that’s where your activity is.

What classes would you pick?

It dawned on me belatedly that, as a SOAR mentor, I wasn’t going to get to take any classes. I know, I know, it’s obvious, right? Still. That’s the down side.

You’ll say this is a cop-out answer. It’s really really true though! Anybody who’s teaching at SOAR is going to have fabulous stuff to offer. Every single one of the classes offered is going to be excellent. No matter who you are, there is something for you to learn in each and every SOAR workshop or retreat session. You could literally pin the schedule on the wall and throw darts at it to pick, and you’d get great classes. Last year, for instance, I talked to someone who’s been spinning since before I was born, been to pretty much every SOAR, and who was taking Maggie Casey’s Spinning 101. And she learned stuff. I took Sharon Costello’s needle felting retreat session, even though I thought I had less than zero interest in needle felting; I loved it, and it changed my mind about all kinds of things.

But that said, you could start by ruling things out. Let’s suppose I were picking classes for me. For example, I’d love to take a Deb Menz class, but I also know that she teaches regularly at the Cincinnati guild near me (and which, one of these days, I’ll make it to a meeting of — it’s just that I keep remembering it’s the first Thursday of the month *after* the meeting is over). Anyway, I could go take her class there, and look for someone at SOAR who never comes to the area where I live. And I took Judith’s workshop last year; maybe I should let someone else have a chance, and besides, I can’t just always take the same person’s class, even if it’s Judith!

It’s also worth considering things simply from the perspective of when you’re likely to be able to take another class with this teacher. For example, even though I don’t think I have a major interest in colour in knitting, this is the first time I can remember seeing Vivian Hoxbro teaching at a venue I can get to in quite some time. That was why I took Margaret Stove’s retreat session on spinning fine wools for lace last year, and boy am I glad I did.

For retreat sessions, I think you pick two that you know for sure you want, one that’s from a teacher you’ve heard great things about but have no idea if it’s a subject you’re interested in, and one that you think you just aren’t interested in at all. For me last year, I knew I wanted to take Carol Huebscher Rhoades on spinning big yarns, and Margaret Stove on lace yarn… and I’d heard great things about Maggie Casey as a teacher so I took her class even though it was about long draw, a subject I know fairly well. And I wrapped it up with Sharon Costello about felting, expressly to broaden my horizons unexpectedly.

I have nothing but praise for all the SOAR mentors this year. Except maybe that Abby chick; what a poser, who does she think she is? But seriously though, maybe I’m lucky I can’t take any classes this year, because it would be impossibly hard to choose.

It’s not all about classes or shopping!

My father used to tell me I’d really like SOAR if I went. “Oh sure,” I’d always say, “I’m going to go, and hang out with your friends… great. Whatever.” I’d been to plenty of fiber shows and conferences and the like as a tagalong of various kinds. I really didn’t need one more, y’know? After all, it’s just one more fiber event.

That’s honestly what I thought, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s so much more than just another fiber event. SOAR is without a doubt the major fiber community event. It’s where you go as a pathological fiber-obsessed nut job, to be with your own kind; to realize that you can just walk over to the author of some of your favourite books, and have a totally regular conversation; to meet people you would never have known were out there, let alone that you’d end up best friends; to have your boundaries pushed and your brain picked and your assumptions challenged and the seeds of a jillion new projects planted. You go to SOAR, and you realize you’re not alone, and this is your fiber family, and you have things to give to it just as you can count on being able to come home for Thanksgiving dinner in a pinch. It’s where a chick in a conversation (Hi Rachel H!) says “I’m really interested in building wheels,” and is then rushed over to meet a bunch of dudes named Ashford, Schacht, and Lendrum, who are all standing around chatting. It’s where you can stand around socializing with the people behind those shops you’ve mail ordered from, and really realize what they do for the community.

After it’s over and you leave, time passes and you pick up your next Spin-Off, or you look at the Interweave books on your shelf, then magically, there are faces behind all the names. You’re looking at the masthead that says “PUBLISHER: Marilyn Murphy” and instead of that being some nebulous name, you know it’s that tireless, hard-working lady who was everywhere at once and still had time to chat with everybody. You know that the Phreadde Davis who wrote the ankletto article is actually Fibergal and she and her husband are driving forces behind many things at SOAR that aren’t on the program but are traditions all the same. You know that Carol Huebscher Rhoades, Spin-Off’s tech editor, has absolutely stunning hair and works her tail off making sure things are right. You know that everybody involved is a person, a fiber-obsessed textile nutjob just like you, who has made it a personal mission to spread the lore and the community. You know for certain that it’s not like in many other pursuits, where it’s just a job for people. It is simultaneously humbling and uplifting.

Should I take projects to SOAR?

You should! You should take finished things to put in the fashion show and gallery; you should take things to show and tell with; and you should take stuff to work on, too. There won’t be any shopping till Thursday, so if you want extracurricular stuff to spin or what have you, take that along too if you’re going for the workshops.

Anything else?

I can’t think of anything right now, but ask me a question if you have one, and if I can answer it, I will!

The Spinning Loft, 3/28 and 3/29 2008: The Full Story

In years past, I used to live on the highway. That was, in fact, almost 20 years ago, and in an era when I never would have thought that, should the World-Wide-Web occur, it would be attempting to sell me Mississippi Fred McDowell ring tones for my cell phone at the place where I’d link to lyrics that attempt to explain that phrase. So, what’s living on the highway? In my case, I worked for a Chicago bluesman by the name of A.C. Reed. We’d go out on runs — a day’s drive in a Ford Econoline extended van full of musicians, followed by checking into a motel, setting up at a club, generally eating fast food, then playing ear-bleedingly loud music in a smoke-filled club full of variously intoxicated people, followed by breaking down, packing up the van, getting more fast food to eat, crashing for as long as possible at the motel, and then doing it all over again.

In that lifestyle, you spend most of your time squabbling with fellow musicians, talking… er, all manner of trash, chain smoking, arguing about whether it’s gonna be The Clown or The Colonel for lunch, asserting that you know it’s really Canada when the Tim Horton’s show up, and the real Mason-Dixon line is actually the Waffle House line (it’s the south if there are Waffle Houses, someone contended), telling the new guy he was stupid to buy smokes in Indiana when you’ll be in Kentucky tomorrow and they’ll be even cheaper, talking… er, trash, and, well, staring at a lot of asphalt. You get to know a lot about the interstate, and what’s close to it, and where they go, and what they’re like. That’s what living on the highway means. You’ll be out for weeks at a time on some run, driving frantically to make the gig, not a moment’s real downtime, your life in suitcases and plastic bags of stuff from the last truck stop, constantly on the move, constantly telling and hearing all manner of stories.

So, one of the things A.C. used to always say up on the bandstand was that he was fittin’ to get down. “I’m gonna get down like James Brown!” he’d shout, hot pink tenor sax in hand. And then, with a rueful sixtysomething grin, “I better not get down too far, though, or I might not get back up!” People would laugh, and A.C. would do a number — something lively and danceable — and the wisecracking would keep going. Eventually he’d say, “I done wore it out on that one. I’m gettin’ old! I can’t do the things I used to do! Man, I look like Keith Richards!” (He didn’t, but this would make people laugh a lot anyway.) “Only Keith Richards is already dead, all he’s gotta do is lay down!”

Any time any of us living out on the highway would get to feeling particularly worn down, we’d find ourselves saying that: that we looked like Keith Richards, and we were already dead, all we had to do was lay down.

Well, last week was spring break. And the poor manchild — he got sick. And then about Wednesday, I started to feel not so fabulous. Thursday I took us both to the doctor, who verified there was no contagious plague going on here, and gave me the good drugs so I could make my gig in Michigan that weekend. You don’t cancel gigs unless you’re in the hospital. You gotta make the gig, and once you’re there, you gotta do the gig. Old bluesmen know all this, and it’s exactly how so many of them have managed to quite literally play themselves into early graves. Which old bluesmen also know, but it doesn’t change the fact that you gotta make the gig, for lots and lots of reasons. So, medicated much more professionally than your average old bluesman, and taking full advantage of Trucky’s comfort, I hit the highway and pushed straight through the roughly 4 hours up to Howell, Michigan. Just a mild, short drive — nothing like having to go from, say, Atlanta to Telluride overnight (really, we did that once).

While I was driving, it dawned on me that despite all manner of experience with being out on the road, I pretty much never hit the road alone. On the one hand, it’s totally sweet to do so — you never have to argue about what music to listen to, or stop for someone else’s bio break, or any of that crap. On the other hand, it gets lonely after a while and it stinks to be fumbling for your own cough drops.

The Spinning Loft is on Mason, just off the corner of Michigan, in a little bungalow, with parking back behind it. Beth has the first floor — one large room and two smaller ones, plus storage, a bathroom, and kitchen area. And a front porch, it seemed, but this being March in Michigan, who looked closely at that? Not me. But still, it’s a fabulous, down-to-earth, comfortable space, with wonderful light and, let us not forget, fiber, wheels, equipment, books galore.

About the time I was done unpacking (but not setting up for the gig yet), we were joined by Sharon Winsauer and Faina Letoutchaia, and basically, that’s when it all started to get out of hand. Lucky for Faina and her cold, me and my cold took pity on her, and did not force her to hide under a table where I couldn’t video her showing us how to really use Russian spindles. Lucky for me, she showed me anyway, and now, given some practice, in another five years or so I might be able to spin a viable amount of yarn with one.

Sharon had brought, to show me — and I failed to photograph so this is her photo — the real, genuine, actual, original Heere Be Dragone shawl. Folks, there is no way to make photos do this one justice. I want one of these shawls so desperately, but I’m the biggest loser in the world when it comes to carefully following a gigantic chart… and when I said that, Faina chuckled. “The thing is, about Sharon’s designs,” she said, “It is only one repeat.” Faina and Sharon both scoff at my plaintive wails of “But I knit so slow! I’m not a good enough knitter to tackle this!” including when I confessed to Faina that I’m still chickening out of starting her famous Forest Path Stole due to gross incompetence in the execution of nupps.

That’s when Beth had Faina pull out her latest shawl.

This is Beth’s photo, because I was too gobsmacked to take a picture, apparently. Seriously, I came home without a picture. What Faina has done here is take Andean (including pre-Columbian) designs from weaving, and translate them to lace. This is a feat which Faina makes look easy, but I’ll tell you, it gives me fits, even with patterns I know off the top of my head since early childhood. A while ago Faina and I were talking about this general concept, and I was showing her photos of various kinds of things, and I think I probably pointed her to this incredible time sink — The American Museum of Natural History’s Anthropologial Textile Collection. If that link isn’t working, start with Anthropology Department at AMNH, and look around their collections links for the textile collection. There’s a searchable browser interface — ohhh what a time sink, full of the ability to look at things like this and that and… anyway. Seriously, go get lost in that collection. I don’t know if I can make any of those links work for sure if you don’t already have their site open, and the thing is, it’s just an incredible textile collection. Even if I am biased, and it’s a collection that my parents’ work contributed to years ago.

Anyway, Faina… Faina is truly one of the world’s finest textile researchers, and don’t let her tell you otherwise (which she probably would attempt to do). Her fluency with all things fiber is simply amazing. And her interpretation of patterns involving complex symmetries and subtle nuance is amazing. So there she is, standing there with this unbelievable shawl, the design sources of which are absolutely obvious to me, but they’ve never been knitted lace before, and she tells me I should name the shawl. Such an honor!

Faina's Swatch

People were clamoring for the pattern for this shawl, but she has no immediate plans to write up the pattern. However (I’m so lucky) if I can manage to spin enough Faina-acceptable yarn, she’ll knit me one. That’s a done deal. It may take me some time, but it’s a deal. And that, of course…

…is why I need to spend a lot of time practicing with these, after the quick lesson Faina gave me. That, incidentally, was a real eye-opener! I can see the potential for quite an extreme level of productivity with the Russian spindle as pictured above. These are made by Edward Tabachek and the incomparable Faina has had input into them helping Mr. Tabachek get them fine-tuned into production-grade tools like traditional ones. I have to say, it’s often the case when I’m looking for some rather esoteric or near-forgotten fiber tool, Tabachek is the guy who makes it.

Anyway, right! So there I am in this fabulous shop, starting off my gig totally humbled by the stars who’ve shown up so far, and we’re just barely getting started with setup! Long about the first sound check, chairs are arrayed around the shop and those fiber packs are spread out and I discover that I forgot the stack of handouts and books I wanted signed by luminaries Beth had told me to expect to see around. Whoops! Well, worse things could have been forgotten. And that’s when Ellen walked in. She and I have been friends online for many years, but never actually met in person till this past weekend. I knew it was her by the exclamation, “Ah — wall of fleece!” and the fact that she stopped in her tracks right there.

You can just tell this is Ellen. She’s decimated the Wall of Fleece, and she’s grinning about it… in a t-shirt that reads “GOT FLEECE?” Who else could it be? And Ellen brought Jerry along too, of course, and he joined us for our spindle evening. We got started just about on time, immediately after the arrival of Marilyn Van Keppel and Greg Cotton, who drove all the way from Missouri and Iowa respectively. What an astounding list of luminaries! It’s humbling, and exciting, and possibly a little intimidating to realize you’re teaching a room at least half-full of teachers and people who drove further than you did to get here.

So, spindles. The subject of spindles is hard for me to distill down to a few hours, and I’m passionate about them. But yet, I sometimes feel out of sync with my fellow spinners in the US when it comes to them, and there are lots of reasons for this. So what can I teach people about spindles in a matter of an evening, that’s worth sitting around for? The short answer is a few tricks, a few techniques for low whorl, and some discussion that hopefully provides food for thought — and let’s try to make it all fun.

I’m fortunate to have handy examples of pre-industrial, spindle-spun textiles that have been in regular service, and to have examples of the tools used to produce them. That’s where we started things off, along with talking about the Andes a bit and how kids get started learning to spin yarn and handle fiber in general — some fiber, and a stick, followed by the transition to a weighted stick, and the fact that now we’re at the level of technological development which allows static civilization to arise and continue. Without this weighted stick, I like to point out, cultures stay hunter-gatherers. This is that primaeval tool which brings humanity out of ancient prehistory — and now we’ve grown to a point where we don’t even really remember it, or we see it as a novelty as often as not, if we see it at all. Even those of us who love textiles tend to overlook the simple spindle.

So, I like to tell a few stories, and pass around a few things. Last Friday, I passed around a child’s garment about 70 years old, and a bag I wove that’s about 23 years old. I passed around some spindle-spun yarn, and some simple — even primitive — spindles. These are low-rent, low-investment tools… but you can do amazing things with them. And then we hand out the modern American equivalent: the toy whorl spindle with the hardware store dowel. We played with those a while, and talked about what made them hard to work with. Then, we got into some things you can do easily and cheaply to change your spinning experience, and modify the spindle temporarily or permanently to behave more how you’d like it to. We talked about simple repairs, and compensating for problems, and what makes for more or less productivity — from lifestyle, to technique, to spindle attributes, and so on.

Eventually, everybody had some yarn built up on their spindles, so it was time to talk about how to ply with it. Everyone learned some simple winding-off techniques and ball-winding maneuvers, got the point where they had a small Peruvian-style ball, and we covered plying. We did a few stupid yarn tricks. And lo, we were out of time — too soon, too soon!

But the wool shop sleepover portion commenced. What madness! What fun! What a wonderful way to get to know folks better, and extend the too-short class time casually. Even if, as documented by Ellen…

…I look like Keith Richards at this point.

Seriously, that photo is half the reason why I kicked off with that story. I totally look like Keith Richards. I’m already dead; all I gotta do is lay down. But instead, I took my high-falutin’ decongestant, mourned its incompatibility with beer (I managed to drink ONE) and mostly guzzled the hot tea and chowed down on cough drops.

What a wonderful crowd of folks! Donna, with six kids, is in exactly the lifestyle situation which makes spindle-spinning productive. You know, because it’s about all you can do in between wrangling six kids. She was edging an absolutely gorgeous, snuggly triangle shawl. And if I had six kids, I’d be far less perky and charming and personable than Donna. Hah, Donna, I called you perky! Anyway, Donna’s post with things she took with her from the spindle evening really makes my week. With a class like that, it’s hard to know if, as a teacher, you’re really hitting the mark or not. And Donna, I think Beth may have found your crochet hook, if you’re missing it.

Beth just forwarded me a photo she got from one of the weekend’s Lisas — this would be the Lisa with the incredibly fabulous leafy sweater, not to be confused with the Lisa who brought her third handspun yarn to show, and I’m telling you, third yarn? The first two must have been a lot of yarn. There’s no other explanation for the impeccable spinning she’s already doing. Anyway, Fabulous Leafy Sweater Lisa sent Beth a picture of herself spinning off a rock outcropping out on a hike this week. See, Lisa? It’s addictive, this notion of goofy spindle tricks. Just you wait and see.

That’s Lisa, Faina, and Cindy, during sock yarn class.

Jofran also had to go early — the following day involving a multifamily trip to Detroit. But before she left, she very kindly offered me space to stay if I am able to make it up to Ann Arbor to see Stephanie’s book appearance next week, which I’d love to do, but don’t know if I can. But geeze, I’d love to.

We also had multiple Michelles! One was a model student, and one was definitely big trouble. However, this can be forgiven on account of her Trans Am is actually cooler than mine. I have a totally pedestrian 2000 that’s bone stock except for the cat-back exhaust, whereas she has a ’79 Bandit Trans Am with a bored 454. Perhaps we can schedule a spin-in at a midwest Firebird event. Here’s Michelle and Marilyn.

Michelle… had me sign her wheel. Man, now I really feel like Keith Richards. Patsy Z had already signed it, too. Marilyn brought a SpinTech — so now of course, since I sat right next to her and it’s totally quiet, that one’s going on my shopping list too. Let me know if you see one.

Here, Kat is hiding her face from us, Greg is surrounded by the pair of Lisas, and Faina is giving me the stinkeye for taking pictures.

This is the LOUD corner. The moist side of things. In the center, Beth is crowned with a tiara. That’s Beth! Oh, and Shannah is back there doing some sort of “keeping the shop running” thing or another. You can only see the tops of their heads, but on the other side of Ellen from me, you’ll find the heart of the trouble: Jillian and Carla. They’re unmistakably trouble, and unmistakably fun… and Jillian caught me by surprise when she passed along greeting from Kristi Porter — who I haven’t seen since she was in college and I was living on the highway, and we used to hang, doing absolutely nothing yarn related whatsoever. Though I often looked like Keith Richards back then too. Kristi, as then, looks far more presentable than me.

And Jillian’s new book is out now, woot! Definitely calls for a beer. And no, I swear, I’m not saying nice things about Jillian just because she brought me two sixpacks of fine local beer. That would totally take at least three sixpacks.

And hey, speaking of apple-for-teacher type stuff, will you look at this?

Faina is such a show-off. Well, okay, she isn’t, but she really should be. This little drink cozy makes me want to drag a random chullu knitter to Faina’s place and leave them to it. What’s most shocking is that I don’t think Faina’s ever seen a) anybody knitting a chullu or b) a chullu, up close and personal. This is a feat of knitting prowess that truly astounds me. “But look at the inside,” Faina insisted.

This is shockingly close. The fabric totally feels right too. “All three colours at once is tricky,” Faina commented mildly. Total understatement.

Anyway, so, spinning for socks. Ellen was kind enough to bring along a variety of sock disappointments, and tell their tales of woe. That was a huge help, because what I’d brought along for show and tell, other than some yarn, was a selection of socks, in various states of done-ness, from the circular sock machine. My problem, you see, is that I love to spin sock yarn… and just can’t seem to finish a pair of socks.

“Do you have second sock syndrome?” several folks asked in unison. I was trying to think how to answer that, when Ellen answered it for me. “She has first sock syndrome,” she said. It’s a fact. I want to like knitting socks. But… but I seem to just… not knit them. I start them, don’t get me wrong. That’s just as far as it goes. I truly need a designated knitter. I’m not kidding; if you’re a zippy sock knitter and you want to knit me socks in exchange for sock yarn, holler. This is getting embarrassing.

We started off spinning a firm, dependable sock yarn, with marling and striping, from two colours of blue faced leicester top. We spun firmly, and then we plied firmly, and then we gave it a rough finishing wash, and talked about a variety of things while we ate our tasty lunches. I’m telling you, nobody believed that the just-plied yarn above was going to look like it did. But that photo is of the very skein I passed around, that everybody liked.

After lunch, we passed around Beth’s skein of 100% merino, super-stretchy, super bouncy sock yarn. “I’d swear it has elastic in it,” she said, when she called me up asking about it. “Oh yeah,” I said, “We’ll be covering that in sock class. I promise.” And it’s easier than you think it is! By the time we were done with those 100% merino samples, and washed ‘em up again and put ‘em out to dry, it was time to get into a little bit of talk about the structure of 3-ply yarn, and why a true 3-ply yarn is going to wear better than a chain plied yarn. We did both of those anyway, using SWTC’s Karaoke space-dyed merino/soy silk.

In sum, we did worsted spun sock yarn, woolen spun sock yarn, and “spinner’s choice” twice. I think pretty much everyone managed to have a moment or two where the long draw clicked — and that was HUGE fun, because that’s really one of those things I feel is best seen and shown, rather than talked about. Kat’s clicked with the Karaoke, and it was shrieks of glee and huge grins all around. “I’ll spin what she’s spinning,” Greg said.

I’m itching to hear, over time, what ends up sticking from the sock yarn class, and what people took home. I had a blast deciding what range of yarns we were going to spin, with what techniques, and choosing the fibers. A HUGE thank you to Louet North America for supplying me with the positively luscious fibers for both of these classes. I’m particularly partial to the dark BFL. And the merino. Plus, well, there’s the Northern Lights pencil roving for the spindle class. And, you know, that Karaoke is growing on me. And that white BFL isn’t bad either. But, no, seriously, that dark BFL is particularly nice, and I’m definitely going to have to get some of that for my personal stash. It’s definitely the nicest coloured BFL top I’ve had in years.

But anyway, I’ll be interested to see who spins what. I’ll bet on Kat spinning up some fabulous woolens from that Karaoke, the fiber that let her really get her long draw going. If Jillian has enough beer, maybe she’ll do a bouncy merino. And I’m definitely going to spin some of that BFL, and beg Marilyn for her Faroese slipper pattern.

I expected to be coming home mostly empty-handed. Such was not to be the case! Not by a long shot.

The good news is, Beth can score me almonds. And several wonderful folks brought me almonds. Indeed, Marilyn blames me for gaining 5 pounds since she learned about them (but then, since I had SO many almonds, she kept hers and took them home, so how upset can she be?)

I’d just like to hop quickly to this photo from the end of the whole event. See, there’s Ellen, not moved too far from the Wall of Fleece, and Jerry looks amused, while Beth (crowned by a skein, of course) is on the phone, probably frantically calling in a desperate plea for MORE FLEECE!

Okay, actually she’s talking to Denny. I can’t show pictures of everything Denny sent because a) Flickr’s being incredibly slow right now and b) I already ate the chocolate. Plus the manchild got his Bionicle, which it turns out, IS the right one, and it’s from this year’s collection, and was not one that he already had. And I’m sure Chad will find a really good use for luxurious, spectacular salt that he totally recognized for what it was. And I’ll wear this:

and embrace my inner pink. For you, Denny. Just don’t tell everyone.

Supposing you can get Flickr to do its job, you can see all the photos here:

Abby’s Yarns on Flickr

and I’m sure, when you see just exactly how trashed Beth’s place is after the gig, you’ll agree there’s yet another reason I look like Keith Richards.

Sunday morning, incidentally, I lost my voice entirely. It’s actually back for the most part, as of yesterday. It appears that, in the wake of pushing myself to make the gig, I… got an ear infection. That would be why this writeup has been so long in coming; lucky for me, I didn’t have to make any more gigs just then, or I might have gone out like Charley Patton, wringin’ wet with sweat from the bandstand and coughing like mad till I drop on the spot.

Workshop Prep!

March continues to bring all sorts of excitement. Yesterday’s news, for instance, said “Flooding is almost guaranteed in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region, he said. The Little and Great Miami rivers and the Ohio River could hit flood stage or rise above…” and this morning, quite a bit of flooding, even nearby, is being reported. We’re atop a rise on higher ground and our drainage is good, but it’s wet. Here’s my office window view the past few days:


It was raining so hard I drove the boy to the end of the driveway to wait for the school bus (no school closing for him, as our district is not one of the ones underwater). He snapped this photo of our swamped main storm drain that leads to a nearby creekbed (which is normally almost dry).

It’s been 4 or 5 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, apparently. Oh, the melodrama! Just… not enough to scare the bus drivers.

And time for work, too, Mom.

Pay no mind to the almost-finished objects and works in progress and so on, standing taller than my monitor and threatening to crush me. I won’t be getting to any of those today. No, today is a workshop preparation day. This seems, to me, not odd at all, because I grew up doing it — but at the same time, I think my upcoming workshops at The Spinning Loft in Howell, Michigan are the first I’ve done in over a decade, so it’s been a while.

Working with Beth has been fabulous; she’s given me accurate head counts all along the way, kept me posted on any special needs, gathered things she’s got questions about dealing with the topics at hand, and let me know what sort of things she keeps on hand just in case. She’s asked all the smart questions about space needs and class configuration and setup. It’s hard to believe she hasn’t been hosting workshops for decades; she’s on the ball about this.

The bulk of my fibers for my two workshops arrived last night, and today I’m divvying them up into packets. I find that doing these in advance, student by student, streamlines the in-class time for certain types of classes. I always do enough for the signed up students, plus me, plus two, plus I try to have extra random leftovers of various things. Having packets ready, plus extra, plus leftovers, is especially important if a material is hard to find, specialized, or requires advance setup (like warps for a weaving class). Unforeseen things happen. If someone spills his coffee right into his pile of materials, having more is a win. And what if there are extra people who show up? Let’s just say I’d rather have overprepared than underprepared. Nobody ever left a class upset that there were too many supplies, but too few? That’s a problem.

I could just take this heap of pencil roving and distribute it in class — and sometimes, I’d do exactly that. But we’ve got a full group and lots of material to cover and it’ll be easier to be able to say “Now, take your pencil roving — that’s THIS” and hold up my sample, “and do THIS with it.” So I’m divvying it up.

Then I do the same with the other fibers planned, and put together a packet.

Well… 15 packets, plus extra bits.

And that’s the fiber for the evening spindle class! We have three very nice pencil rovings, a medium wool top, a coarser carded brown wool in industrial sliver, and some fine wool. This selection gives me room to work with spinners at all skill levels from “never touched fiber before, not sure what a spindle is” to the likes of Faina “Forest Path Stole” Letoutchaia, who I’m sure will be ready with a basket of overripe tomatoes just in case I don’t have answers for her about something.

(NB: Faina is one of my favourite yarn people. We wisecrack with each other, but don’t mistake it for anything other than good-natured! I’m hoping she’ll stay after class and show me a spindle trick or two with the Russian spindle, a tool which… well, I don’t think I even own one right now, we’ll put it that way.)

Selecting fiber for the sock class was a different sort of exercise. As we were discussing in “Spinning for Socks: Why?” there are many things that make a given pair of socks ideal. With this class, I want to not only teach students how to spin sock yarn like the millspuns they may be buying to knit socks with, but give them an opportunity to think about what more is possible.

So, we’ve got your basic soft, fluffy Merino top, and we’ll talk about how to get a bouncy, lofty, squishy sock yarn with it, like some of the American and Japanese brands. We’ve got a few natural shades of Blue Faced Leicester, and we’ll get into harder-wearing sock yarns with these, like some popular millspuns from Europe. And then we have a few blends, like the Karaoke merino/soysilk blend featured in “Spinning for Socks: Colour!, and…

…some of my drum-carded luxury sock blends, and a bit of that pencil roving, and a longwool, and… yeah. Lots of stuff. And I should be finishing making the packets, instead of sitting here blogging in the dreary rain, warily eyeing the increasingly sodden back yard and exclaiming, “Holy crap, is that a new stream in the neighbours’ horse pasture?”

It’s my hope that people will leave this day-long workshop with the tools to spin the sock yarn they really want, and with some food for thought about socks in general, and what they’d like to get out of their socks, and how they can produce custom yarns that make that more possible than the mill does.

I’ve still got to make a handful of spindles for folks to try in the spindle class, and make sure I’ve got enough for folks to choose one to take home, and I have to put together student folders with the paper handouts. And I have a few more samples to spin to be handed around, and the ones dealing with colour need to be wrapped so they show how the colour works. If this series goes well, I’ll probably want to extend the show-and-tell materials, and have actual socks to pass around if I do this one again, much. Indeed, workshop prep can take as much time as the workshop itself!

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