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!


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!

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