Talking About the Weather, and Other Inconsequential Things

I seem to have become mired in an early-rising sleep pattern, about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I could parrot back what my late father always used to say about being the first one up in the morning:

“I like being the first one up. Nobody else is up for a while and I’ve got the whole world to myself, and then I get to get the whole house up and running and get everything moving and that makes everybody’s day start off better.”

I used to argue with him that I much preferred the time to myself when it was late at night, and everyone else was asleep. But just maybe the mornings are growing on me. You know, just as long as there’s plenty of coffee. I see his point — when you’ve got the morning chores all taken care of and the day well in hand before anyone else even starts stretching and yawning and cranking their eyelids apart by whatever means necessary, well, I guess you just feel like you’ve got a jump on the day, and whatever it brings is most likely well in hand. After all, you have time, and there’s nothing more precious than that.

My father, though, was always a morning person. Or so I believe; I wish I could ask him. There are plenty of stories he (and others) told me over the years, about things that happened to him due to usually being the first one up. Like meeting my mother on a dig on the coast of Peru (or at least, that’s when he remembers meeting her, though she remembers him from a prior anthropology class), or being the guy who finds the new litter of barn kittens born in the night, or knowing it’s a snow day before anybody has to go out to the end of the very long driveway in the pitch dark blustering chill of a New Hampshire winter morning to wait for the school bus that never comes.

Me, I dunno — I’ve long thought I could do without having to be the one to get up and stoke the fires that burned down in the night (of course, I haven’t had wood heat in my adult life), and I’ve always had this problem where if there are dishes in the sink in the morning, I get crabby and stay that way all day because the first thing I have to do is the dishes, for some pathological reason. But lately I haven’t minded any of that, and I’ve been unsuccessful at falling back asleep after early morning waking.

This morning, it brought me cool, crisp weather, not muggy or hot, slightly cloudy. And then in the distance I heard a thump or two. It could have been the cats up to their usual tricks (those tricks are often what wakes me early, as it happens), but it wasn’t. In moments I could tell it was thunder. With coffee brewing, I walked down to get the paper, and on the way back up, the first droplets of rain hit me. Looking to the west, I was treated to the kind of melodrama that only a sweeping sky can show; the kind of pending tantrum for which no wide-angle lens would be sufficient, and which you know you could never photograph anyway, because half of the drama is the smell in the air, the way everything feels when you can see rain sheeting down a mile or two off and coming your way, and the breeze on your skin turning into a full-on wind.

And to think it’s picture day today — the day when I photograph my week’s achievements and get ready to list my new inventory for sale. I guess it won’t be happening outdoors in full sunlight today, for the first time in rather a while! But that’s great news; we needed the rain badly. I hope it rains all day.

Driving Edward to YMCA camp in a lingering drizzle, I tried yet again to find a radio station with upbeat music and no morning show. Yesterday I listened to one local classic rock station for literally half an hour hoping they’d play a single song. No. Not a single song. All yapping. Yap, yap, yap. Might have been a few fart jokes in there. That’s it. And that’s what all the morning shows are like. So I got to thinking — am I seriously the only person who detests radio morning shows? Are these things really that popular? Do people find fart jokes and marginally veiled innuendo and nonsensical jabber about trivial celebrity news that enthralling first thing in the morning? And if so… why? Why wouldn’t you rather have tunes? I can see, you know, having quickie traffic reports and things like that; but I simply do not understand the appeal — especially in the morning — of the 2-person “Hey Bob, did you hear the one about the fat chick?” *insert canned noisemaker sound* “Why no Jack, tell me the one about the fat chick!” shows.

Enlighten me.

Then when I get back from the post office run and so forth, I’ll show you lots of pretty pictures.

The News Today, Oh Boy!

It’s pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit here again today, still with essentially no rain. It’s officially being called a “moderate drought” now, and it’s pretty much for sure there’ll be negative effects on crops — and they’ve said “corn” out loud, which is terrible. What if the sweet corn is all mealy? Talk about a summer disaster!

Apart from my own selfish woes, it is really sad to see, with fields of stunted crop and brown expanses of basically no hay and sad-looking pasture animals. We’re down something like 6.5 inches on how much rain we normally would have gotten in the past 6 weeks. Those of you in rainy, even floody, places, feel free to send your rainy thoughts to the Ohio Valley.

On the other hand, the really good news is Cardzilla’s new motor should be in tomorrow (thank you, Bob at Lebanon Electric Motor). I opted to buy a new, identical motor, and see about having the gearbox on the old one repaired and keeping that one around as a spare. I hate not having spares! You’d think I’d know by now. And I do; but that doesn’t mean, apparently, that I always provision appropriately.

As soon as the motor is in and Cardzilla’s back up to snuff, I’m going to be thrilled to be getting back to blending. Since I’ve been dyeing silk like a madwoman, I’ve been generating a ton of silk seconds (where the final weight is too little, or it just got too beat up in the rinse or something else causes it to fail quality control). Normally I use these in blending, but I’d piled up rather more of them than I really meant to over the past couple of weeks, so I decided to spin up a few of them for example purposes and sale. In retrospect, I should have taken “before and after” photos, too! So I probably will for the remainder. Here’s a teaser “before” shot:


Once those dry, I’ll show you how came out — they’re laceweight singles, and they’re really pretty.

Oh, have I mentioned that Kaylee is getting big?

And ever more inclined to stick her face directly into the camera lens. This occurred while I was trying to take a one-handed “fixing a plying problem” shot, of course. Kaylee felt strongly that she was more important. That’s why she’s glaring, and her eyes appear normal size.

I haven’t forgotten about the plying series! I’m just working on the “common problems” photos, which is tricky! See:

After a while, it can be hard to force problems to occur when you’ve gotten so used to avoiding ‘em! That’s the start of uneven wind-on. I need to really overexaggerate this somehow; that’s just not dramatic enough at all.

Lastly, my cuticles are all messed up. Too much sticking them in acidic exhausted dyebath to carefully remove silk, I fear. To look at my fingers, you’d think it was the dead of winter!

Whew, what an ebay shop update…

…and I’m not even DONE with it all yet! So far I’m done listing 4-5 pounds of merino, 4 pounds of domestic, 4 pounds of tussah silk, almost a dozen handspun yarns including some you’ve seen featured here, and there’s still more handspun yarn, specialty fiber, and the millspun handpainted yarns to go.

Here are my favourites so far:

Neon Dawn here is an example skein, chain-plied, that I spun up to demonstrate what this fella looks like. I mean, uh, to see for myself. Because I could. I admit it. But now I’m going to let it go.

I like this combo despite knowing there’s no chance I could wear anything made from it.

Oh, what else… Ivy here was one of my attempts to match Jeepy’s colour (I can’t).

Harvest, shown below, I think might become a fave.

This “Sunrise” silk…

and the Harlequin silk…

and this Day Lily which really does look just like the roadside wild day lilies around here…

and mass quantities of Dandelion…

and the Bramble merino

and this camel/silk and its brethren…

…it’s been a fiber and yarn pr0n-tacular week. Oh, and that reminds me, loyal blog readers, if you’re making an ebay purchase, let me know you came from my blog and you’ll get free shipping on anything totaling over $20.

Question Roundup for June 12

There have been lots and lots of terrific questions over the past couple of weeks, and it’s time for a Q&A roundup. Let’s start with questions from A Little Bit About Plying, Part 1.

There are some absolutely wonderful comments on this post, and I’d recommend folks stroll through ‘em if they have a chance — helpful information in the comments!

Kristi asks:

I’ve now been plying on two different wheels and it *seems* as though some of the ply twist is lost as the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. A friend of mine has found the same thing on one of those wheels as well, but hasn’t noticed it on any of her other three wheels. It doesn’t seems as though the wheels should remove plying twist when the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. Any ides of the cause? Is this highly unusual, or somewhat common?

This gets argued all over the place, and folks can be deeply committed to their stances. I talk about it a bit in the second plying article, but in brief, my stance is that twist redistributes itself — whether in plying or in spinning — anytime that it passes over something under tension and with a bit of friction. So it’s not that you’re losing twist, though that is how it appears — it’s that it gets redistributed. To a degree, as yarn is wound onto a bobbin, it’ll redistribute over the whole of the bobbin as well, depending on how tightly you wind it and so forth. You’ll see this effect more with any flyer wheel, and less with spindle wheels or on spindles. You aren’t crazy, and this isn’t unusual; many, many attentive spinners detect this.

Another factor is that when you’re plying and looking at what hasn’t wound on yet, you’re looking at a short length of yarn. The twist that is in that short length is going to ooze out the ends, so to speak, once you don’t have it trapped neatly in that short length. And, when you wash the yarn, the same thing will happen again, as Ellen points out in comments on the same article, and the effect when you wash will be even more dramatic. Therefore, bear this all in mind when you’re plying, and see if putting in more plying twist doesn’t produce the yarn you thought you would have, once you’re done.

Kristi later follows up this line of thought with this question on the second article:

Thank you for addressing the loss of twist. Since most wheels cause the yarn to make the same number of turns in its path to the bobbin, why would one wheel cause a greater loss in twist than another? The method of delivering the yarn to the bobbin?

This is easiest to see with a really low-twist yarn, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with some good pictures to illustrate it at some point in this plying series. The short answer is that the most obvious variable in this is how firm your takeup is, and the second (and related) is the question of whether the wheel is single drive or double drive, and whether it’s rigged for flyer lead or bobbin lead. Well, maybe the biggest variable is the spinner, though. You’ll usually see the biggest variations, I find, if you hold back, hold back, hold back and THEN feed the yarn on in one fell swoop, vs. if you let it trickle through your hands and smoothly stream its way onto the bobbin. Unless, of course, you’re meticulously counting treadles and so forth while getting twist into a certain length of yarn being plied; in that case it’s easier to be uniform with the hold-back and then feed method.

The difference, though, should be minimal; but if you have a yarn with 4 plying twists in an inch, and you lose 1, it’s a much bigger percentage than if you have a yarn with 12 plying twists in an inch and lose 1. So that’s a factor too. I think this one really needs some pictures!

A few other questions came up in comments on this article as well, and some of ‘em deserve their own whole posts! Here’s one:

Sulafaye asks:

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise! It is fascinating to see these concepts “in action.” May I asked how you learned to spin (and ply!)?

Definitely a long-answer one! The short version is that I first really learned to spin as a child in the Andes of Peru, in the weaving town of Chinchero, near Cusco. My family, headed by a pair of field anthropologists with a specific interest in textiles, moved there just after my fifth birthday.

I’m the tow-headed troublemaker in the front. Or, well, I was; and since I was old enough to be useful, but didn’t have anything going for me in the way of useful skills, I was behind the curve and the community set to work resolving that. You’ll notice there aren’t any other kids my age in that photo — babies, but not 5-year-olds. That’s because 5-year-olds had things to be doing other than getting underfoot.

You can read a bit more about that in my Waylaka article.

The longer answer is that everything to do with the fiber arts has always been an assumption in my family. My little sister, for example, who believes she can’t do any fiber stuff (and arguably that’s a fair statement given the rest of the family) can actually knit, crochet, embroider, sew, macrame, braid, weave a little, and spin a little — if you were to compare her to the US population, it wouldn’t be right at all to say she can’t do any fiber stuff. But instead of the gene for “fiber stuff is as obvious as breathing,” she got the gene for “capable of growing plants.” That gene skipped me. You know how people say “You can’t kill a spider plant?” The “you” in question would not be me. I have a black thumb. I could garden if my life depended on it, but my life would have to depend on it. My sister is that way about fiber, but when she walks past plants it’s like a cartoon of them sighing gleefully and perking up and dancing around her to burst into bloom and greenness and so forth.

Anyway, so some of my very earliest memories, some before I could walk and talk, involve laying in my father’s weaving studio, watching the antique loom go, and learning simple braids and inkle loom weaving and me bemoaning a lack of saddlebags for my rocking horse only to have my mother cause them to materialize out of thin air with a crochet hook. Almost all my childhood warm things were handknit, hand-crocheted, and mostly handspun; tons were handwoven, and at least half my clothes, hand-sewn. The fiber arts are a fact of life for me and have always been!

And Lola LB and Peggy both ask about the black yarn…


It’s superwash merino/tencel, a 50/50 blend in commercially-processed combed top. This black piece was a small, leftover bit that I dyed black to see how the fiber took to being dyed black — that’s a telling thing, you see. And then I spun it into some semblance of weaving yarn, though I haven’t decided yet if I’m happy with the twist in it for that purpose. I’ve got a few of the superwash/tencel left for sale in my eBay store, and will likely reorder and do more. It’s a neat fiber.

There are also questions in here about how to spin fine; and that, well, that we will have to leave for its own lengthy entry.

Charlene asks:

As you continue to write about plying – please let us know if you use the same size whorl to ply as spin. Seems if you want more plying twist a smaller whorl would make the whole process more efficient.

Okay, I’m going to fess up here. I pretty much do everything at the highest possible flyer speed I can get, and almost always crave more speed. My use of ratios is primarily to trick myself into spinning extremely low-twist yarn. I almost never spin using ratios lower than about 12:1; and plying, well, plying is one of the main reasons I bought an Ertoel Roberta electric spinner. The faster the better! And when my mother lets me run off with the old great wheel, I expect to be plying on that a lot, like I did as a child — at what I’d guess is probably almost a 200:1 ratio. Remind me to dig up the funny plying video one of these days…

But that said, what I generally recommend is that people go up one speed to ply from where they were when they spun the singles. View your ratios like shifting gears on a bicycle or in a car; make your machine (the spinning wheel) do your work for you!

Oh, talking about Cardzilla’s woes, Ellen busted me:

Okay, let me get this straight….once Chad determines what exactly Cardzilla needs and what is best for it you are going to take it in and then floor the people behind the counter by knowing -exactly- what you want?

That’s exactly right; I’ll just stroll in there like I know what I’m talking about and spew some bit of jargon that makes me sound way cool and knowledgeable… and then, of course, they’ll ask me a question for which I do not have an answer, and I’ll be saying “It’s for a drum carder. It makes these tooth-covered drums go around in the opposite direction, and you put wool in there and it makes it nice for spinning into yarn. Anyway, it’s slipping in forward and not in reverse, as soon as it gets any load on it.”

And Jen asked:

I love the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle! I tried to look back and find a pattern name, but didn’t find anything. Is that an Abby creation or do you have a pattern name for it?

Thank you for the sock yarn teaser! The “fun stages like this” picture was gratifying … that seems to be the stage I’m always in!

This in an old (and maybe odd question). What do you wash your fiber with? The batts I ordered smelled awesome!

The Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle is a pattern I made up on the fly; you think I should chart it? Hrmmmm. It needs an actual name if I’m gonna do that, doesn’t it? As for the smell… I wash in Eucalan, Meadows Wool Wash, and Dawn dish detergent, depending. And sometimes if it’s for personal use, not for sale — because I don’t add scents to stuff for sale — I wash with my own fancy mild soaps, my absolute favourites of which are Laticia Mullins’ soaps. But she doesn’t have a web site where she sells ‘em; I traded her soap for fiber a while ago and I’m addicted to her stuff! Seriously addicted! Laticia, tell the nice people where to get your soap, would you? But save some for me.

Lisa in NC asks:

Question about the weaving…I’m currently reading a great book about Bolivian Highland Weaving in hopes of learning Pebble Weave. I’ve noticed a lot of Central Asian Yurt bands appear to be pebbleweave as well. Would you know if the two are the same technique? I put a pic of one up on my blog at www.alyclepal.blogspot.com. Would this be one of the techniques you learned living abroad? Thanks, Lisa

The entry you’re talking about looks like this one: http://alyclepal.blogspot.com/2007/05/this-is-inspiring-me.html, right?

Pebble weave essentially is a term which is used to describe fabrics where the large single-colour fields in a pattern are actually made up of a 2-colour field where one colour is dominant and the other colour is like dots in the background, and structurally, it allows for the appearance of a single-colour field without having long floats of yarn. At least, that’s the fundamental definition, as near as I can distill it down to a paragraph.

There are, though, lots of ways one can achieve this! I would definitely classify the textile in your photo as being a pebble weave; and it definitely could be done using Andean techniques. However, the Andean pebble weave is not, to my knowledge, related to other regions’ techniques for doing so, in a direct way — they evolved separately.

Bolivian highland pebbleweaves are Andean in nature, and do use the same techniques, with relatively minor differences; typically you’ve got a 2-shed pattern section with contrasting colours on each shed, and 2 heddles (one full string-tied one called an illawa in Quechua, and one that’s a loop around the other shed, called a sonq’opa in Quechua). The pattern is achieved by doing pickup swapping warp threads from each shed with the corresponding threads from the other shed; this is called a complementary warp-faced weave structure, and one of its hallmarks is that it’s the same, but with the colours reversed, on the opposite side.

In your example, the presence of certain picks (passes of the weft) that appear to be plain-weave where all the facing threads for each shed are of one colour suggests to me that your band would be warped in a similar manner to the Andean way I know, but I’ve no basis from which to guess what the typical heddle setup would be in the central Asian example.

This is a great question though, and one that I’m now planning on getting into in more detail in its own post.

Back to plying… meowgirl asks:

i was wondering if you use similar amounts of tension for the different plying positions, especially between the moving-forward/backward-to-feed vs. tension-fed types.

Wow, this is a tougher question to answer than it seems like! I started thinking about it, and it got to being one of those things like if someone asks you to describe in detail how to eat with a fork. The more you think about it, the more you aren’t sure. Why? Because the tension changes all the time! What I’m doing is mediating it as it changes, to make sure that the yarn getting plied has both strands under the same tension as each other as twist is getting into them. That’s the key.

I like to have the singles coming off whatever they’re on smooth and easy. I don’t want to have to pull them off the bobbin or out of a ball. I want them to just flow. And I want to have the takeup on my wheel set so that it’s winding on to the same degree of tightness on the bobbin, throughout. This can (and usually does) mean some tweaking to singles source and wheel takeup as the plying progresses. As to the spindle question, I’ll talk about that more in the spindle plying segment. Promise.

A bunch of folks asked questions about finishing. I cannot recommend highly enough that people take a look at Judith McKenzie-McCuin’s article on wet finishing in the current issue of Spin-Off, due on newsstands tomorrow (but you might already have it if you subscribe). I promise I’ll talk more about it with some of the upcoming yarns, but her article is incredibly good and if you’ve got questions about washing and finishing, you’ll likely find her article alone worth the purchase price of the magazine.

But one to answer quickly before I must move on and leave the remaining questions for another question roundup…

The hot, cold, hot, cold … that’s only on a superwash or non-felting yarn?

Categorically not! The yarn I used it on, a low-medium twist merino/silk, here:

felted — actually fulled, which is a milder form of felting — during this process, and that’s part of what causes the changes in its character, changes for the better, I think we would all say (definitely we would if we could all have handled it before and after!) The reason I re-skeined this while it was damp was because it was indeed sticking to itself and trying to be a felted mass, and I wanted it to dry while every strand in the skein could float freely. You know, into the minor mess when the wind took it.

Let’s look at the before and after wpi photos close together, for that one — you can see the changes in yarn character due to fulling that occurred in the hot-cold abusive wash:

To me the difference is obvious — but perhaps it’s also really subtle.

Another benefit is that the yarn isn’t going to go through that change, now, while in a finished object. It’s finished; and when it’s worked up, the shifts and minor changes won’t occur again throughout the life of the object, or whenever it’s washed. And if I make a garment from it, I can count on being able to handwash it in super-hot water! I know the finished object won’t be ruined or forever changed by routine washing once it’s done, because I finished the yarn the way I did.

Whew, that’s about all the question round-up I’ve got time for today! Check back soon for more. Oh! And yes, subsequent plying articles will cover chained singles (aka navajo plying) and the use of spindles, and lots more!

ETA: Omigod! June just pointed out how far ahead of myself I’m getting: apparently, I thought today was Tuesday already. It must be a heckuva Monday! Oh, and for anybody interested in such things, I’m clearance-ing a pile of discontinued stuff, one-off stuff, samples, and so forth, while supplies last, here:

http://www.abbysyarns.com/wordpress/?page_id=95

Orange Sherbet

Just in case people were getting to think that all I ever do is spin super-twisty yarn, and always ridiculously fine, I thought I’d better thicken things up a tiny bit, and go low-to-medium twist for variety’s sake.

Just off the plying bobbin we have…

Orange Sherbet.

This was on the small side for my 2 ounce lots of 50/50 merino/tussah a few weeks back, weighing in at 52 grams. There was, of course, no recourse but for me to spin it myself. It’s… well, it’s somewhere in this pile here, I think middle bottom:

To make a long story short, I snagged it to spin, broke it in half at the midpoint, and spun up two bobbins which I then plied together in turn. Most of the spinning and plying was done while talking on the phone, drinking beer, and having one cat after another jump in my lap.

Now, bear in mind those photos above are before finishing. I thought this would be a great opportunity to take a few finishing photos and talk about what changes when you wash your yarn and finish it. For instance, it measured 15 wraps per inch with the half-assed quick and dirty method shown here (this involves sticking a ruler in a skein).

But that was before the rigorous hot-then-cold-then-hot-then-cold, all-soapy wash. With agitation.

I picked this up and wrung it; I slapped it against the sink; I shocked it with hot and cold water, oh yes I did. And then when all was said and done, it was really, really sticking to itself, so I reskeined it while damp, and this is how that turned out.

Yes, in all its damp, fulled glory, ready to hang outside on the deck to dry in the breeze. Mind you, the breeze picked up and turned into a full-blown wind (groan, did I really just say full-blown?) and, well, the spots where I’d tied it loosely were kinda close together, and when the wind blew it off the deck railing and out into the yard…

…I had to stop reading the morning paper and retrieve it and deal with the tangle. Will you just look at that smarmy model in the background there, as if she’s stealing that bit of headline asking me what I think I’m going to do now? I mean, it’s like she thinks I’m some sort of chump who can’t handle elementary yarn management. Puh-leeez!

First of all, I gave it a good shake, found the secured part, and spread things out on the counter to look at the situation. With the ties intact, rationally and all, you know that there’s no actual knots. There is no tangling here beyond what wind can cause, and with at least part of the skein secure, the truth is that’s not going to be too bad. As long as you know what you’re doing.

It’s really not as bad as it looks. I just have to open up these tangles a little bit. It’s almost like brushing your hair on a macro level (let’s not talk about the flash going off for that shot, either).

See? Just gently move your fingers through feeling for snags and snarls, smoothing as you go.

Pick them up gently and work them open.

The yarn doesn’t really want to be tangled. If you give it a chance, it’ll work with you to come undone.

See? The knots just shake right out. THat’s how they went in, to tell the truth — it was just a little wind turbulence, no big deal.

No fancy tricks. Just patience and a bit of gentle handling.

Well will you look at that? Before, it was 15 wpi; and now it’s 12. And look how puffy it is, and how the plies are so integrated — that’s what the abusive fulling wash gets you!

I’m pretty pleased with this one overall. 52 grams, was it? 265 yards, 12 wpi, very airy, very soft, and it just glows. It’s begging to be a scarf (because, clearly, I need so many of those).

A couple of things to point out here, though, I guess. First, did you notice how the skein curled up on itself and twisted just a tiny bit when it was fresh off the bobbin, but after finishing, it doesn’t do that at all? And can you see how much better integrated the two plies are with each other now too? And then there’s the matter of those 3 wraps per inch…

You can be pretty confident the yarn is going to stay like this for its entire life. There will be no surprises for you in your finished object. And besides… it just looks so much prettier after finishing!

Oh, you know, I actually did spin a big chunky yarn, using up some odds and ends left over from various things. It’s mostly wool/nylon/alpaca (all the purple), but the third bobbin was going to run short because I didn’t bother to measure, so then I threw some white domestic wool in the mix to even things out. I hate it. I think maybe i’ll overdye it. And then still never use it because it’s honkin’ huge. 205 yards, 96 grams. Really soft, really fuzzy. I just hate it.

This one is a real sow’s ear, but I like the colours. It was the three test bits for Jenny’s custom blend. Now it’s this yarn, which also has weirdnesses in the plying because I was doing something else while I wound a giant pirn with 3 strands of it. I realize I’m the only one who will likely be able to spot the weirdnesses once it’s done drying after its abusive wash.

There’s a chance I might like this when all is said and done, but I really won’t know till it’s dry.

Plying, with video!

I’ve promised we’d be back to more plying talk shortly, and promised a video. There’s more to talk about with respect to plying than fits into one 10-minute video on youtube, so today’s video is the first installment, and covers only plying with a wheel using a lazy kate. Part 2 will cover common plying problems, and part 3 will cover drop spindle plying and plying on the go. Then eventually, sometime further down the road, there’ll be a part 4, which will cover chain plying, 3-ply, and cabled yarns.

The video’s at the end; if you’re super antsy, you can go right there — but you’ll get more out of it, I think, if you check out the photos and article in between.

So, where did we leave off last time we were talking about plying? Ah yes:

So, how do you ply and control how much plying twist is getting in there? What are some mechanical considerations, how can you tell if you’re getting it right, and what are some common plying questions and answers? Well, that’s my teaser for Part 2 of the plying series, and you’ll have to tune back in for that.

I spun an example yarn for this one, that would feature some marling (aka barberpole) so it’s a little easier to see the plying effects. I started out with a seconds (not quite perfect) superwash merino/tencel I had dyed in “Lemon Spice.”

Here are a couple of shots of the single under tension, in a part where colours are changing so it’s a little bit easier to see the twist; I also stepped up the contrast a bit.

another view…

Now, to check how much twist you have in your yarn and how it’ll look in a 2-ply — or at least an approximation of that, not factoring in any finishing such as washing — let your single kink up on itself as you’re spinning. This is a great way to determine whether or not you’re getting the twist you want into a single. But there are a couple of things to bear in mind. The first is that you do need active twist (twist that hasn’t settled, or been set by washing and/or blocking), so it’s an on-the-fly method.

The second thing is how twist operates. See how that narrows down at the very end there, on the lower right? Well, this is because twist will always pile up in your thinner spots, so when you ease up the tension on a spot containing even slight unevenness, what’s going to kink up is the thin spots, and you’ll get different-looking yarn if you aren’t paying attention to that.

Third, and closely related, in order to get this check done accurately, you need to pull yarn off the bobbin — past the orifice and flyer hooks. Twist redistributes itself a little every time it passes those spots where it’s in contact with something, with the net effect being that yarn on the bobbin will commonly seem to have less twist in it than what you’re looking at freshly drafted and before winding on. This is true to an extent too with spindles and driven spindles (like charkhas or great wheels). In that case, it’s wise to pull some off your spindle to do this check.

That’s all we’re going to say about the singles right now, other than “Here they are on a lazy kate!”

And now, here they are on the lazy kate with no tension on them. These singles were spun less than 24 hours ago, so they’re pretty fresh.

Here they are, under mild tension, side by side, next to the leader for the bobbin onto which I plan to ply.

The next thing I’m going to do is take the leader in my hand, already threaded through the orifice and whatnot, and get it going — in the opposite direction from the direction used when I spun the singles — and pile up some twist in the leader. I like to use just twist to hold the yarn onto the leader, whether it’s singles or yarn being plied; this way it comes off neatly when I skein it, and it takes me less time than if I had to fiddle with knots or loops.

Here’s how it looks when I use that twist to make the yarn to be plied stick to the leader:

With that done, move ahead and get to plying — twisting the spun singles together in the opposite direction from that in which they were spun in the first place. That’ll look something like this:

Now, because this is sock yarn, so I want it to wear like crazy, and because the fibers took rather a bit of twist, I’m putting a lot of plying twist in here.

You can see the plied yarn kinking up on itself! Wow! I’ll take a moment to digress by saying “And this is what you’d get with a cabled yarn!” but mostly, what I want to point out is that when you’re plying, you don’t want to see the yarn just hang slack and look, at this stage in the game, like you want the yarn to look when you go to work with it. If you shoot for that, you’ll end up with an underplied yarn — even if you are working with fresher singles.

When I ply from bobbins, I tend to use a lazy kate. Specifically, my Will Taylor tensioned lazy kate (that’s the one in the photos above). Sometimes I use the brake band to tension the bobbins, and sometimes I just take advantage of the central stalk on the lazy kate which lets me tension the yarn by feeding it through there as I desire. Because of this and my rather anal-retentive tendency to want my bobbins wound neatly when I spin, my singles tend to feed off very smoothly and evenly and without any kinks… so… I can treat the singles being plied together, which arrive at my hand perfectly tensioned in a uniform way, like they’re just one strand of yarn that simply needs twist put into it.

Working with a doubled strand is also the real Andean method of plying, and I was often put to work plying as a child since my spinning wasn’t really up to production grade as compared to some of my peers. Er, make that most of my peers. In any event, I’ve plied quite a bit of double-stranded yarn, so it comes very, very easily to me at this point. With a wheel and a decent lazy kate, plying is a one-handed and totally mindless activity where the limiting factor is the speed of the twist insertion device.

In the photo just above, you can see that on the lazy kate side — the right — the yarn is coming in, doubled, not plied. My hand is keeping the twist out of it, and the yarn is basically just feeding through there, being taken up by the flyer wheel’s tensioning mechanism.

The seeming aeons of waiting for something to happen while this goes on, I find, are an excellent time to drink more coffee, have a beer, or — as was the case when I took these photos — operate my camera with the other hand.

There are lots and lots of ways to tension this incoming doubled strand.

Now, if you don’t have a good lazy kate, your bobbins aren’t wound neatly (causing uneven wind off) or you’re using a plying twist management technique that involves erratic unwinding on the bobbins, or if you’ve got singles that aren’t playing nice with how they feed into your hand for any reason at all, you may want to keep your plies separated until the moment of truth.

In general, I find myself slowed down or mildly annoyed by most techniques that depend on keeping the plies separate until they are actually having their plying twist inserted. This is, I’m sure, because of my childhood spent plying in the Andean manner, and because in general, assuming you can keep things smooth and evenly tensioned, there’s no need to keep the yarn separate and efforts to do that can either require equipment or fiddling with yarn trying to twist up on itself upstream of your hand (as in where it’s feeding from its source). If you’ve ever plied from a center-pull ball you know what I mean — you’ll get the plies twisting around each other on the ball side as well as the wheel side, and then you have to manage that somehow as well.

When I’m plying from a center-pull ball (and didn’t, for some reason, just wind a 2-stranded ball) I actually hold the ball itself, and pull back on that, and tension the yarn while it’s being twisted… but that’s for another episode.

Still, there are times and places where you do want to be able to tension your yarn as individual strands. These include if you have more plies (4 or more for me, generally), different fibers, singles with different amounts of twist, or you’re doing a novelty plying technique, or you’ve got the yarn to be plied feeding at different rates for any reason (say, one’s in a ball, one is on a spindle, and one is on a bobbin). Most commonly, you might want to do this if working from a lazy kate that isn’t tensioned, bobbins that aren’t evenly and smoothly wound, or multiple balls of yarn.

Keeping the plies separate allows you to most closely watch how the twist is going in. While you are getting a feel for plying, you may well find this preferable.

Let’s stop a second and look at our yarn. If you’re vigilant and attentive, you can tell from this photo that at every place where it touches something and bends and goes around a corner or what have you — the orifice, the flyer cup hook, the sliding hook on the flyer arm — a little twist seems to be lost. Remember this when you’re plying; what you’re looking at in your hand isn’t the same as what’s on the bobbin, which in turn is not the same as what you’l have when all is said and done and the yarn is plied, washed, dried, and then finally, worked up into its finished object. With practice, you can spin, ply, and finish your yarn with the finished object in mind, and achieve results you simply can’t get from a millspun yarn. But you have to bear in mind that the yarn won’t look like your finished object at varying stages en route there.

So even this finished bobbin of yarn is not exactly what you’ll have when all is said and done. But just for good measure, let’s see it with the contrast upped a little bit so you can look at the angle of plying twist, which is pretty extreme in this yarn.

If you look closely, you can also see there are some parts that are twistier and some parts that are not so twisty. This is not a disaster; this is something finishing takes care of.

That’s another “What my cabled yarn might look like” shot of the yarn kinking up as I go to skein it from the bobbin. Yeah, it’s fresh; I finished plying it about 3 minutes prior. Here’s how it looks on Mr. Skeiny:


one more time for good measure…

…and here’s how it looks pulled off Mr. Skeiny!

WHAT???

We can’t even get it to twist up neatly, it’s so kinky.

And so, to paraphrase the song, we take it to the sink, drop it in the water, and wash it down…

This is HOT HOT HOT water, mind you. The hottest I can get out of my tap, which as it happens is about 50C/150F. Ow. Don’t stick your hands right in there, or if you do, not for long and not if you are a wimp.

I also throw in some soap at this stage, often Eucalan, but it doesn’t matter. And sometimes at this stage, I agitate the yarn in one way or another, to cause it to full (as you can read about in the Summer 2007 Spin-Off article by Judith McKenzie-McCuin, regarding wet finishing!). Basically, this is when I want to abuse the yarn and cause it to show me where its weaknesses are. I don’t want to be finding out about those later, after I’ve made something that took lots of time. I want to know now.

I also want the yarn to be prepared to withstand whatever washing treatment I’m liable to give the finished object. In the case of the socks I might someday actually make from this yarn, odds are they’ll be in regular laundry rotation. If this yarn can’t stand up to a beating in a sink of hot water and gentle detergent, then it can’t stand up to the laundry.

I didn’t really rough this one up too much, though. I just let it sit in the hot hot hot water until I was willing to stick my hands in there, and that’s how it looked after sitting for maybe half an hour. Not so kinky, you will note.

I hauled it out, wrung it out, thwacked it, swished it around in the water again, wrung it vigorously a few more times, then took it outside on the deck and twirled it around to spin water out of it. Here it is in sodden form…

Here it is after drying unweighted:

I’m not entirely pleased; slightly more twist in the ply than I really wanted. I blame it on this being the second superwash merino/tencel I’ve spun. On the other hand, though, there’s a bit of elasticity to it from the extreme twist.

And the yarn has a nice sheen to it and actually would make terrific socks.

Well, now that everyone’s got the pre-requisite reading done, we can move on to the video, which shows some of the techniques used in plying this yarn. Okay, not that yarn. This yarn:

…which shows the need for finishing by turning into this:

Yep, this is the yarn being plied in the video…

Oh right, the video. Here it is.

Fern Lace Scarf in Merino/Tencel

Some of you may recall these 50/50 merino/tencel dye testers…

There were several, but these were the pair that I culled to spin for myself and test which of several methods of dyeing I planned to use with merino/tencel moving forward. The one at rear, with the greens, remains unspun as yet, but I did spin up the rainbow-coloured one in the front, finding the dye penetration in it to be disappointing as I had feared. Spun and chain plied, here’s how that one turned out:

It’s not that it’s bad exactly, it’s just that it wasn’t nearly as vibrant and garishly bright as what I’d been trying to achieve. Because the dye technique I used on that particular 2-ounce top didn’t penetrate the top fully in some places, there was too much undyed, white fiber, and that toned things down and made for it to be more pastel.

Now, to be honest, sometimes I manipulate things specifically to achieve that result for several reasons (usually as an intermediate stage in a multi-part dye process). This time though, what I really needed to do was get a feel for the rate at which dye moved through this fiber, how it acted, and so forth. And now I know, and future dye efforts on the merino/tencel top are going to be much more predictable.

But so there I was with, I think, 300-some-odd yards of this spun up for test purposes. What to do, what to do… hat? scarf? Something like that. I opted for “scarf,” despite an abject lack of need for anything scarfy. Here comes the whole story — but first, a pop quiz!

So, let’s just say you have something laid out carefully on the bed to take pictures, and it looks like this:

Now, leave the room and walk 12 steps down the hall to get your camera. Upon your return, your careful layout has become…

Hrmmmm. What, then, could have caused this?

Space monkeys. Surely it was space monkeys.

This was a big needle project (well, for me) — I knit it on a pair of US 6 / 4mm Bryspun flexible needles, and it was a schlep-around-in-the-car project last week, plus I worked on it a bit in the evenings.

The pattern is the Fern Leaf Lace in Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting. It is similar to, but slightly different from, the version of it on the Boston Museum sampler studied by Susanna Lewis in Knitting Lace.

After having worked it a few times in a few different ways, I think I’m finally close to settling on a way I like to do it, and the next thing I put this pattern into, I might be genuinely pleased with.

Because of the bias created by the side-leaning double decreases, this pattern does create a… puckered, ripply look in the fabric. That was a challenge I didn’t overcome to my satisfaction in this quickie freehand sweater a couple years back:

(That’s the Susanna Lewis variant from the Boston Museum sampler)

I think my next iteration will use 5 holes per fern instead of 4, knit 3 together at the right edge, knit 3 together through back loop at the left edge, and be bounded with either reverse stockinette or a very loose, stretchy, open lace. I might also change the spacing of the leaves, and see what I can come up with the overemphasize the column of stitches which becomes the stalk at center of each leaf.

Chinchero weaver that I am, I can’t help but classify this pattern as raki-raki, which is a fern when you’re talking about the plant, but part of what makes something raki-raki is how it’s broken up off-kilter from a centerline while still maintaining symmetry. Ferns exhibit raki-raki tendencies, and that’s why they’re called that.

Well, that’s that for a finished object update today. What am I on to for the rest of the day? Here’s the list:

  • Editing plying video — I haven’t forgotten! And while we’re still on plying, has everyone been to see what Amelia’s been saying on the subject? And as a heads up, the latest issue of Spin-Off features a terrific Judith McKenzie-McCuin article on wet finishing yarn, which is really extremely relevant to getting plied yarns to be as nice as they can be.
  • Spinning up odds and ends, including a fat yarn on the bobbin right now
  • Trying to find the right thing to use for drop spindle plying video
  • Re-gluing the arm of my skeiner, which was broken in the moving van last year and just came unglued again
  • Inventory of miscellany to put on clearance sale Friday
  • Packing, shipping, and post office run on the way to pick the lad up from swim camp
  • Acquire new sandals for manchild, to replace the pair of which one half was lost yesterday, down a raccoon hole, at swim camp
  • Spin tussah silk khaitu style weaving yarn for upcoming project
  • Improvised top-town (instead of my perpetual bottom-up) triangle shawl from Pagoda Falkland, which reminds me, did y’all see Shannon’s Pagoda? Can there be any doubt that Pippi needs to do this again? Well, you won’t have any doubt once you see my triangle. Pippi must do this again.
  • Drinking more coffee. Always more coffee.

Looking back at this list, I see that shockingly, there is almost no production in it. Tomorrow will have to be a production day, dyeing tussah silk and maybe some wool.

What am I doing this week? Having a sale.

Well, realistically, this week, I’m finishing up that plying video, getting my son onto his summer schedule, and doing some more dyeing, plus getting Cardzilla’s motor handled, doing some more photography work (just wait till you see what I’ve got to show you), trying to organize my office, and drinking lots of coffee.

But that said, here’s my sales flyer.

The summer season and production schedule for Franquemont Fibers has started! This means new hand-dyed silks every Friday, along handpainted and hand-dyed wool top, laceweight and sock weight yarns, delicious one-of-a-kind handspuns, and soon, a new series of luscious luxury batts!

Right now we’ve got merino/tencel…

A FEW OF OUR SUMMER FIBERS:

Superwash merino/tencel:

Merino/Silk:

Tussah Silk:

Baby Camel:

Superwash:

CVM (California Variegated Mutant:

My famous Luxury Batts:

My famous Luxury Sock Batts:

Falkland Wool:

Domestic Wool:

70′s grade (22 micron) merino:

Romney:

125′s grade superfine merino top:

A FEW OF OUR SUMMER YARNS

Fabulous laceweight merino/silk millspun handpaint:

Superwash merino millspun handpaint in laceweight, 1,000 yard put-ups!

Handspun sock weight yarn from custom blends:

Handspun sock weight and laceweight yarn from hand-dyed fibers:

Various weights of assorted handspuns self-striping yarns:

Yarns featured at Abby’s Yarns:

And so, so very much more!

And all of this new stuff means I have to move out old inventory to make space! I’ve marked down ALL past season product lines’ remaining fiber inventory to start at 99 cent auctions in a sale I may never repeat! That’s right: *ANY* fiber I dyed, prepped, painted, put up before this spring is starting at 99 cents, for a limited time only! New clearance items will be listed while the sale continues, so keep checking back! Mention this post and receive FREE SHIPPING on any purchase over $30!

Where? At Franquemont Fibers: http://stores.ebay.com/Franquemont-Fibers

Wednesday… washing used objects, blocking, and the Elaborated Print o’ the Wave Scarf, FINALLY

Well, here it is, Wednesday morning, and I haven’t gotten that plying video done yet. It might happen today, but there’s also some production work that has to happen, it’s the boy’s last day of school tomorrow and he’s got a couple of days of early release, and lo and behold, it turns out we’ve driven right past a place on Main Street, time and again, called…

The Lebanon Electric Motor Service Company

…so at some point (since we’re still working on picking the right replacement motor or finding a gearbox), Cardzilla’s motor is going to get pulled and I’m going to just take it over there, smile winningly, and say “Hey, can I get a gearbox for this by any chance? It’s slipping under load going forward.”

Another example of my sheer brilliance manifested itself yesterday when, picking up the finished Elaborated Print o’ the Wave scarf to wash and block it, I thought to myself, “Hey, if I’m blocking stuff I might as well wash and block my winter wearables too, they need it! And I’ll just pin everything out on the deck, plenty of space…”

Right. Of course, I hate blocking; so making it “blocking outside in 92F weather” was an even better idea, right? As was attempting to shove quilting pins into a pressure-treated deck. I did get the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle (I name my stuff so winningly, don’t I?) reasonably well blocked, which is actually tricky because (ssssh, don’t tell) it’s got a bad skew problem at the top of the triangle. But I had forgotten that when you wear something all winter long, and it gets scrunched up and crammed in your coatsleeve and stuffed in a bag and heaven knows what all else, well, yeah, it benefits from a reblocking.

Now, of course, I am starting to think I ought to pick up a dress form one of these days, for the sake of taking pictures of a few things. Well, and for being a dress form. I’ve grown to loathe the finished-object photography issues. I want to take both technical photos and sexy photos, but there’s not many good ways to combine the two; and in some cases I want to be able to show the items “in action,” which could happen with me wearing them and someone else taking a picture, but I’m never satisfied with those. Nor am I satisfied with having pressed a large fan into service to hold this shawl:

It’s totally frustrating; this is an awesome shawl, I wear it all winter long, and so help me, I’ve never been able to get satisfactory photos of it. The whole pile of ‘em is here in my old photo gallery area, including the yarn.

I’ve never been satisfied with the Creme de Menthe scarf photos either. So this time around, I’ve tried to get photos I like better. I’m still not really satisfied. Once the Creme de Menthe scarf is dry, I’ll try a few more ideas. For now, here is part of it pinned out on the closet floor (where the pins will actually stick, unlike in the pressure treated lumber).

It’s particularly hard with the Creme de Menthe one, because it’s a sampler with weird variations and whatnot.

Moving on, though, hey, look, it’s a finished object! FINALLY! Started last September as a travel project, I found myself perpetually losing focus on this after I memorized the pattern about 3 repeats in. The pattern is a really pretty one, and it bears some conceptual similarities to the Andean weaving pattern jakaku sisan and variants, which is one of my favourites… and perhaps where I lost focus and found myself getting a little bit bored; I wanted to start improvising or turning it into other things, and that was not the goal of the scarf.

However, odds are that I will apply some jakaku sisan variation principles to the Elaborated Print o’ the Wave pattern at some point, and do a doubled and reflected one which travels over a wider space, with background infill from related patterns as well. I’ve dug around a bit to find something that I have a photo of which has some of those conceptual elements in it. I’m not sure that they’re visually so closely related — to me the connection is obvious, but it is a thing based in Andean weaving that makes the connection, and I’m not sure it’s readily visible if you’re not, say, trying to describe the way you work the pattern in Quechua.

Anyway, jakaku sisan in its straight, basic form is the brown-black one at the sides here:

(the middle fella is Loraypu, which is too complicated to get into today)

A jakaku is a bird, sort of a hummingbird; a sisan is, among other things, part of a flower. This is the conceptual interpretation, not the literal, as represented in Quechua woven thought.

The key conceptual thing that jakaku sisan teaches is the hooked bits and the diagonals, and how to attach them, reflect them, rotate them, and move them around. This next example is several steps more complicated (at least) and uses some other conceptual elements as well:

See the lobed curling hook bits? Attaching to the diagonals on the diamond part? They’re the same lobed curling hook bits in jakaku sisan. Notice, though, how they go up, and down — going up the bottom of the diamond, they curl under, and along the top of the diamond they curl over (not factoring in or discussing the negative space ones right now either).

Anyway, Print o’ the Wave in its base form, here:

has lobed thingies that move inward towards a central line, from points at the bottom. It has no up-curling lobes. However, you have an flow to it where the subsequent lobe starts at a certain point in the completion of the prior one, and there’s a reflection point, that is conceptually very similar to where those lines of symmetry occur in the fundaments of jakaku sisan, which is sort of like… a 4th grade pattern.

Elaborated Print o’ the Wave, then, resembles the diamond pattern with the lobed curling hooks in black & white above — not visually, but conceptually in terms of how you do it. Look:

As your diagonal centerline that the lobes come into zig-zags its way along, you shift at critical points to make it turn one way or the other, and your lobes still are under the traveling centerline. With knitting, it’s not possible to simply reflect the pattern either — if I did lobes that came off the top of the centerline, structurally it wouldn’t be possible to make them exactly match the lobes that start with a single stitch above a yarn over. So what COULD you do to reflect it in the same piece while the centerline travels?

That question plagued me, nonstop, the entire time I worked this scarf. I wanted so badly to go haring off wildly thinking about that, but I also really, really wanted the scarf in straight, unadulterated (well, mostly) Elaborated Print o’ the Wave. For me, it is easier to think in the textile than it is in an on-paper representation, too, so… it wasn’t working if I tried to sketch it. And I knew if I started a tester to see what I could do, I’d never, ever finish this scarf.

So, the scarf went with me on trips out, to dentists’ waiting rooms, visits to the in-laws, drives of more than 20 minutes, to serve as a hand fidget until I finished it. I started it shortly after Labor Day, and finished it on Memorial Day: September 16, I think, to May 28. For a simple scarf from about 600 yards of yarn. Oh! The yarn was Belisa Cashmere, and I picked it up at Stitches West a couple years ago. Decent cashmere yarn. You know, for a millspun.

Let’s take a moment and laugh at the crabby chick (who needs to stop eating so much of her better half’s fabulous cooking) standing by the mirror, for… scale. Or something.

The truth is that I do really like this scarf, and look forward to putting into the rotation come fall, with Creme de Menthe and the purple triangle. I’m just crabby about photography today, and falling behind my self-imposed schedules for things again. Given that tomorrow is the lad’s last day of school and everything, I have no idea when I’m going to actually be able to pull off a dye day this week… but I’ll need to do something or I’m going to be really mad at myself for having no new inventory by the end of the week. I’ll have to pull something out of my hat one way or another.

Memorial Day

Knowing I have at least a few non-US readers, I’ll take a moment to set the stage, since everyone in the world is not necessarily familiar with US national holidays.

In the USA, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, which serves a number of cultural purposes. Its original function is to be a day of remembrance for people who died during military service; culturally however, for most Americans, it also marks the true beginning of summer. It’s a three-day weekend for a large number of workplaces, a national holiday for which federal offices, banks, and so forth are all closed, and a traditional away-for-the-weekend time as well.

So, Memorial Day weekend typically features lots of traffic, many services closed, loads of people off work, no school, and lots of coooking out, barbeques, and the like (and retail places capitalizing by having sales). Many people enjoy the long weekend and participate in now-traditional Memorial Day activities like the back yard party, but don’t particularly do anything in observation of the military dead. Indeed, that’s usually us, but this year was different.

Yesterday was a very very long day, starting at 4:45 AM, hitting the road at 5:30, and making it to our destination a little before 9. A few years ago, Chad acquired a 1942 Willys Overland MB and started working on a bit of a restoration project. Not so much a turn-it-into-a-museum-piece kind of restoration project though; instead, a project intended to put it back into a working semblance of original form so it could be used for trips out for ice cream, afternoon summer jaunts, and that sort of thing. So not a project to put an old great wheel in a museum next to a mannequin in costume, but a project to make that old great wheel spin like it was meant to in the first place. Here’s how Jeepy looked when he first joined our family almost three years ago:

…and what he looked like on the trailer getting ready to go the night before last:

Chad is quick to point out that Jeepy isn’t done, and then go into a list of what’s not done. Jeepy is a WIP, but one that has been operable the entire time; it’s interesting to see the difference that makes. Whereas a yarn dork’s WIP really does reach a state of completion, a point where you simply could not do more with it, and the work really is done, a mechanic’s WIP… when you call it done, IF you call it done, is sort of a nebulous personal judgment call.

So, where were we taking Jeepy yesterday, and what does this have to do with Memorial Day? Well, Chad and his father are both members of the same American Legion post as Chad’s grandfather. The American Legion, a community service organization made up of veterans of war-time military service, does lots of different things, and my grandfather-in-law’s post sponsors and organizes the Memorial Day parade in his small Ohio town every year.

If you live in the USA, and you have no family involved with the military, or you are less than, say, 50 years old, or you don’t live in a smaller town, chances are you have driven past signs like these a jillion times, and never really thought about them; never thought much about parades, ox roasts, fish frys, pancake breakfasts, fundraisers, and so on which are put on by these folks all over the country. There are only 3 million people in the Legion, a pittance when compared to the entire American populace; and increasingly, they’re aging.

In my grandfather-in-law’s small Midwestern town, the Legion post is a focus of community and social activity for a sizable group of folks who are veterans or families of veterans. Most of the veterans are older, but of course they’ve got children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, many of them living nearby. To be a Legionnaire, you have to have been in the military (any branch) during time of war, wherever you served, whatever you did, whoever you are. So, spouses and children aren’t members, but can join one of several auxiliaries such as the women’s auxiliary or junior auxiliary, or can join in their own right if they are also veterans of wartime service. There’s no automatic membership or assumption of responsibility or anything like that. The Legion is, socially, sort of like a much larger, better-organized, and actually funded textile guild, which comes with more frequent social events and a members’ bar. Plus uniforms, and the magazine is monthly, flashier, and higher-circulation.

Chad and his father were invited to join by Bob, Chad’s maternal grandfather. Bob is so gregarious he makes me look shy and antisocial. He’s also rather mechanically inclined, and has put me through my paces explaining the technology of spinning wheels on more than one occasion. Yesterday, he said to me, “You didn’t bring a spinning wheel? You should come back up for the ox roast and bring a wheel and give everyone a demonstration and everything! People would love it! Nobody’s seen that done anymore!” He introduced me to all sorts of people, all of whom he’d told about me and my spinning of yarn and so forth.

Anyway, as you can see from the sign, this particular Legion post puts on the Memorial Day parade. It’s also the owner of one of a very small number of Gatling Guns preserved and not in a museum (it’s been rendered non-firing so it’s not technically a piece of armament anymore).


The Gatling gun comes out for parades, and normally lives on display in the Legion hall, where it’s preserved as an artifact but well-beloved by everyone associated with it — immediately upon our arrival, Edward made friends with the 8-to-12-year-old boy crowd, who took great pleasure in showing him how the crank operates the barrels and what you’d do if you were in charge of this historical weapon a century ago. I had never seen one of these; it’s absolutely fascinating from a mechanical perspective as well as historical, as it predates the era of true interchangeable parts and serious mass production. And it’s huge.

It fits through these double doors, though, and onto the hay trailer with minor modifications which the Legion has acquired in order to be able to parade the Gatling gun around. In past years, the Legion’s veterans have ridden on the trailer with the Gatling as it has been towed by a large tractor for the parade; however, this year, it was decided that another aging veteran would join the mix: Jeepy.

Bedecked with flags in his flagpole holders on the bumper, painted World War Two olive drab, stenciled with the Legion post number and his original hood number from when he rolled off the assembly line sixty-five years ago bound for Europe (we know he was maintained in Paris in 1944), smelling of fresh military canvas and hitched to a trailer full of armament that had been retired for over three decades when he was built, Jeepy definitely seemed to stir emotions for people.

Chad told me later that everybody had a Jeep story. I heard a few, but he heard them all. I talked to old men, great-grandfathers, who had spent pretty much their entire lives within a few counties of where we stood, save for the years they spent overseas in the 1940s — with Jeepy’s 300,000 or so Willys brethren and the other similar jeeps built by Ford; the only motor vehicles built in the United States between 1942 and 1946 were built for the war effort. Not so many remain, or remain running — but Jeepy does, his history pulled out from under a later repurposing as a a farm vehicle and so on.

Jeepy’s not a big, super-powerful megavehicle. He’s no tank, he’s no truck, he’s not a lot of things. His old, old 4-cylinder engine puts out less horsepower than a lot of modern lawnmowers. There’s nothing fancy about him. He doesn’t have newfangled or luxurious things like anti-lock brakes, power steering, turn signals, seat belts, or a roof. But he’s a workhorse of a scope I don’t think I even truly realized until I saw him loaded up with four generations of the same family — great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and son — towing a trailer full of Gatling gun and 21-gun-salute firing squad.


Now I’m going to shift focus just a little bit, and talk about the idea of remembrance.

When I was little in small-town New Hampshire, I remember one Memorial Day where the schoolchildren (52 kids in grades 1-8, 3 teachers) took small US flags out to the three cemeteries in town, and everyone had a handful of ‘em and was directed to look for the tombstones with special flag holders in front of them, and then read the tombstone and figure out what war they’d have been in. For me, that was very thought-provoking, particularly in the graveyards of a town whose historic marker on the way in reads “First town incorporated in the name of Gen. George Washington, Dec 13 1776.” There in this tiny town of about 200 lay some of the United States’ oldest war casualties, and people who’d died in every subsequent conflict since; and many of them, people with last names in common with my classmates, who could say “That was my great-great-great-grampa’s brother, and he was in the Civil War,” or “That’s my grampa, he died in France when my mom was 2 so I never got to meet him and she doesn’t even remember him.” This tiny, insignificant little town, not even big enough to warrant showing up on most of the maps, where everyone knew everyone else and had for generations, remembered its losses thus; losses which could not be shrugged off or belittled or distanced given the small size of the population.

Plymouth, Ohio, with a population under 2000, turned out almost in its entirety for the Memorial Day events.

Everybody had family in the parade, it seemed.

The high school marching band played, fresh from a parade in the next town over and well warmed up.

The Poppy Queen, the most senior girl in the American Legion’s Junior Auxiliary, rode atop one gentleman’s beautifully-kept 1975 t-top Stingray.

To the cemetery where everyone had family, us included, that being where Chad’s grandmother was laid to rest last year.

Chad was put to work in the firing squad; his father and grandfather raised flags.

He says the American Legion’s firing squad is far more relaxing than when he did similar things in the USCG Honor Guard in the 1990s; he never used to get a chair.

Not in the shade, though.

Our son’s there with the other kids, listening to the speakers.

The fire department came too, having been in the parade with all their old engines even.

The Little League team had dressed for the occasion as well.

A wreath was laid for the dead of each war in which the USA has fought, by the Legion’s women’s auxiliary; and then my grandfather-in-law raised the flag from half-mast.

and a 21-gun-salute was issued as well.

Chad’s grandfather, at 80mumble, has far more energy than I do, and I’m fifty years younger.

Our son, with a ceremonial M-1 Garand rifle.

Jeepy had waited out the ceremonies in the shade, before everyone headed back to the Legion hall for lunch.

…after, of course, the Legion’s flag was raised fully, and Jeepy and the Gatling gun were parked.

“What did you think of our little parade?” asked a Legionnaire named Wally who I’d met that morning.

“Wonderful parade,” I told him, “and a very moving ceremony as well.”

“We do allright for a small community,” he said, almost bashfully.

“I can think of a lot of big communities don’t do nearly as much,” I replied, and it’s true. In Plymouth, Ohio, like in Washington, New Hampshire in my childhood, the memory of those who died during military service was a personal one for the town at large. I expect it’s true in most small towns, that roots and connections and remembrance run deeper than in larger cities; that where many generations of a family live close to each other, too, the personal prevails, and that’s what Memorial Day should be about: personal and community remembrance. Not politics or stumping or campaigns, not the liberal nor the conservative nor any stance in between, not agendas and appearances — only, “You are gone now, your life lost in service to community, state, nation, world… and we who haven’t made such a sacrifice remember.”

I’ve no war dead in my own family; veterans, people on duty, yes, but no one in living memory lost their lives in military service. I suspect that’s increasingly true for large numbers of us. But Memorial Day in small towns can show you the personal side, and I’m grateful for that. And apart from that, you can see community in action — and that too is something that’s dying out. I feel fortunate to have gotten to be a part of yesterday’s events. I’d probably even do it again.

But not today.

We did make it home safe and sound too. It didn’t rain on the parade. And during the entire trip, how much work do you think I did on projects? That’s right, not a single stitch.

Last night while trying to stay awake till normal bedtime, however, I did finally finish that Print o’ the Wave scarf. This afternoon, I’ll block it and soon there will be pictures.

“That’s a sign of the apocalypse right there, you finishing that thing,” Chad said. Surely not. It was only September when I started it.

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