And the last of the fresh batts for the week, plus a few answered questions.

First, new batts have hit the eBay Store And some murky colours are even included this time.

Oh, and if you head on over there to buy something, let me know you arrived via my blog and you’ll get free shipping plus a little extra surprise.

On the subject of colour, June asked a little while ago:

You talk sometimes about colors you don’t like, but you rarely mention the colors you prefer. I glanced at your store and saw nearly all bright colors (and dare I say – pastels?), but the CR yarn you show above is quite dark and broody. Will the real AF please stand? :D

Mmmmm, so I’m busted! Well, I guess I’ve had enough coffee today to try standing.

Here’s the deal: there are colours I like, and appreciate in the abstract, and sometimes these even include really really bright colours. There are combinations that I like, as well, and will use repeatedly; things that I reflexively gravitate towards, and things that I like for specific purposes but not others. And there is the list of colours, and combinations of colours, that I’ll wear. That’s a much, much shorter list. Lastly, there is a list of colours I have historically refused to use, wear, or anything, and which have specifically turned me off; this is the shortest list of all.

Part of my colour sense comes from Chinchero; specific weaving patterns are done in specific sorts of colour combinations traditionally, and everyone accepts that variations on these are less traditional. If something’s going to be a real Loraypu pattern, for instance, and it’s going to have a central different-colour stripe, then the outer two colours should be white and red; the inner two can be yellow and purple, or orange and green. If it’s only two colours, then you can shake it up more; and yes, you can do different things, but it’s not traditional, and there could be… implications. And it’s a bad idea to use contrasting colours that have similar values in those patterns, regardless of what colours they are. Strong contrast in terms of everything but texture — very important.

For a small ch’oro pattern, you can use bright aniline pink and grass green; but you really shouldn’t use that combination for things other than a small ch’oro pattern. Yes, they do in some other places, but that’s their problem and it’s certainly not something that my roots would really agree with, and it’s radical. A pink and green Loraypu is right out.

This list goes on and on and on, and very much defines my senses of what’s really “right” in certain contexts where colour contrasts happens. Although my sense of these things is shaped very much by Chinchero, that’s far from the only influence. Having a cultural colour sense from someplace that wasn’t the US made my US social life a challenge when it came to clothes, particularly when we’re talking the middle school years, which of course are a challenge for anybody. Prior to that, my big colour problem was one that set in and became really, really strongly entrenched for other reasons. You see, I’m a girl.

Yes, I know, that’s obvious. But I was a total tomboy. People in the US would do crazy things like give me pink stuff, and dresses that were pink, and dolls, and all sorts of things, and so in short order I learned about the “pink is for girls” thing and grew to detest all things pink. Which was not helped, of course, by the fact that my little sister loved pink. My US girlhood at times felt like a constant struggle against the injustice of being given a totally non-functional pink hammer when I wanted to pound nails in something. Perhaps if the 1970s and 1980s had featured any pink things which weren’t crap, and my little sister hadn’t liked pink, and everything… but such was not to be the case. I used to fly into a rage at the suggestion that I’d look good in pink.

Eventually, I came to terms with fuchsia and and really super-saturated dark pinks. But hot pink, petal pink, no way. No pink. Pink was evil. Everybody in Peru thought my pink aversion was very funny, as nobody there had any such issue; but they did notice that gringos in general didn’t tend to go for things that were pink in most cases.

I still viscerally react to pink in a negative way. I only started a campaign to make myself open my mind to pink in early 2006.

So, what do I wear? Well, honestly, I wear jeans all the time, except for when I’m wearing cutoffs or jean shorts. Perhaps 5-10 times a year I’ll wear not-jeans. Jeans, you see, have the right pocket configuration for the stuff I wish to carry. Not-jeans often lack pockets altogether, and therefore, might as well be a pink frilly tutu, even if they’re not. So yeah, I wear jeans. And t-shirts. Preferably dark colours for the t-shirts, but I’ll wear bright green, because green is my favourite colour. Last year, I bought a sky blue top, and wore it numerous times over the summer. But for the most part, what I can be found wearing is jeans, with a top that’s short-sleeved or 3/4 sleeved (because my arms are shorter than off-the-rack clothes that fit my bust and shoulders), and is either black, grey, navy blue, burgundy, brown, or deep forest green; occasionally, white, lighter blue, or fuchsia.

Therefore, if I’m going to make myself a wearable item, I tend to try to fit it in the core colour range of things I know I wear with comfort.

But in the abstract, in the sense of “This isn’t a thing that I’m going to wear,” I love bright colours, and surprising contrasts and vaguely disturbing secondary and tertiary colours. I like complex colours that involve multiple other colours that you don’t expect; I love to carefully darken a blue with pink, or warm up a brown with some orange, then throw in a frostier purple or lavender. With colour blends, when I am shooting for specific colours, I know what to do with the palette I’ve got to get the results I want, and sometimes, I like to not quite blend them fully, for the… shock value, or something, of being clear about the colour components.

Well… I think that’s about all I’ve got for now.

New Sock Blends This Week…

…all on eBay. There are a few others, too. And most of these are more my speed in terms of colours… murkier, I suppose.

The bottom right, called Olive Bar, is my favourite this time around. Mmmm, murky purples…

I’ve got lots of questions answered coming up shortly! And no, I haven’t finished that pink scarf yet.

The Salmon Electric

This counts as a Finish-A-Thon project, because I set this top aside to spin for example purposes last fall, and hadn’t spun it yet:

It’s one ounce of tussah silk top, dyed with acid dyes using low water immersion — a stock technique for my hand-dyed silks.

June asked about striping in a previous yarn — did the yarn stripe, and how did I do that? The answer is, yes! I split the commercial top straight down the middle as evenly as possible, and spun each half onto separate bobbins trying to carefully preserve the colour sequence.

This tactic works best with a handpainted top rather than one dyed with low-water immersion; in a top where the colour shifts are pretty even across the whole width of the top, rather than having occasional randomness to it or parts where a colour shift is longer on one edge than the other. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a totally striping yarn in this case, just one with closely related shifts in colour and a handful of surprises.

I spun these tugged-off tufts of yarn using my Majacraft Suzie Pro at its top accelerated ratio of 32:1, with worsted technique; specifically, forwarding drafting using a 6-8 inch make or draw. Depending on the colour saturations, though, in some cases I spun from the fold while in others I spun from the end of the top, trying to control the drafting with more of an eye towards colour than anything else.


Spinning fine also makes a big difference in how defined colour shifts are when working with a multicoloured fiber. The finer you spin, the fewer fibers in your yarn, and the less the likelihood of muddying up the colours completely.

One bobbin layer into plying, you can see that although there are some barber-pole spots and some muddying, there are still distinct colour shifts in the 2-ply yarn.

It’s unfortunate that the depth of field isn’t better on this plying flyer shot, or you could see that on the right flyer hook, many miles of very fine yarn, much of it silk, over the years have in fact sliced a small groove in the brass. My resident brass expert tells me there is no real solution save replacement. It’s mostly not a huge problem, but it can affect the takeup a tiny bit here and there, and when you’re spinning really fine, that’s annoying.

Whenever I split top down the middle, I wonder, oh yes, I wonder — just how close to even am I really? Then when I finish the first half, and start the second, I invariably think, “Crap, this is not as thick as the other one,” and experience has shown me I’m right about that at least half the time. So I do a gut check — just how confident do I feel about that? I pull off a few tufts of the top, and think about whether or not they really do contain less fiber than their prior counterparts. If I’m pretty sure they do, I thin down the second single a tiny bit — not so much it’s really noticeable, but to about as much thinner than the first as I think I can go and still have them seem even in plying. And when I get down to that final layer on the bobbins of singles, I’m always thinking, “Oh hell.” But at the same time, the colour shifts are usually lining up allright in the plied yarn, so I keep going.

I also know that experience has shown me that for whatever reason, my first layer on the second bobbin is always deeper and thicker than the first layer on the second bobbin. It just is. So even though it looks flagrantly obvious that there’s not nearly as much on the bobbin at right, I can’t be 100% sure. Like I say, I’m only right about the uneven split about half the time; as often as not, instead of running short on the second bobbin, I’m running long. If I’m within 10 yards I figure that’s running even and pat myself on the back for being so great.

As a side note, when they are clearly not lining up, sometimes I’ve been known to break the single that has too much of whichever colour it is, and remove some yardage, setting that aside on a storage bobbin of some sort (like an empty toilet paper tube or one of my 12o-some-odd antique pirns). I then splice that single coming off the bobbin to the point going onto the wheel where I broke it off, and proceed until there’s a spot where I can cram those removed yards of single into the colour sequence how I want. In other words, I cheat.

When all was said and done, this time, in fact, there was less yardage of singles on the second bobbin — by about 30 yards. Since that 30 yards had one more colour shift in it, I opted to discard it rather than use the Andean plying bracelet technique to stick it on the end of this skein, as I didn’t really want a barberpoled end. Plus it was past my bedtime, and I’m known to have a bad tendency to say “I’ll just finish plying this, there’s not that much here, and…” So Chad was tapping his feet and clearing his throat reminding me that, as someone complaining of tiredness and difficulty adjusting to DST, I really shouldn’t fall prey to that one.

So, I didn’t skein it or measure it or any of that sort of thing either, reserving that for the morning. It took me at least 4 tries over my coffee this morning to get a decent semblance of a WPI count, and even longer to get it to settle on a ruler to try taking a photo (silk can be slippery). It ended up at 42 wpi. I never did get it to stay settled on the ruler for a photo that would actually show it clearly, alas.

Oh, and it came to 520 yards, thus bearing out my theory that “about 500 yards” is the most I can get out of an ounce of tussah on the wheel I’ve got now.

And now we’ll just look at pictures.


(and next, the other side of the skein)


I guess I should be piling up a list of really fabulous projects for about 500 yards of 40 wpi silk.

So this is Wednesday

I know, I know, and I was just bemoaning Monday. There’s no real reason to bemoan anything, save that being thrown back into getting up while it’s dark out, it’s been harder and harder to really get moving in the mornings. We’re getting the boy off to school and all that, but here it is coming up on 9 AM and I still feel like the living dead. There’s just not enough coffee.

I’m told “the government” is under the impression that people like Daylight Savings Time. What I want to know is, if they really are under that impression, how did that happen? I’ve never met anybody who actually likes it. Or if I have, they haven’t admitted it. So let’s hear it: if you like DST, comment and tell the rest of us what’s so great about it.

In other news… or not-news, as the case may be… it has been delightfully warm, but today is expected to be the last of it for a while. It almost hit 80 degrees F yesterday. It’s in the upper 60s now, but drizzly. I failed to take any pictures outside in the bright sun, because it’s been windy too, and that doesn’t usually make for great fiber pictures.

I did ship a pile of boxes yesterday that was as tall as I am! I actually forgot to count how many there were; 14 I think. I’d have to say my vote for Happiest March Box o’ Fiber is probably the one containing this incredible bundle of bright and cheer, which I would never ever have looked at all right next to each other, if it had not been for someone buying them:

If I say so myself, that right there is a Party In A Box.

And I worked for a while on the Elaborated Print o’ the Wave scarf, actually completing the 12th repeat, and concluding that since I’ve still got several more repeats of the yarn left, the thing to do is KEEP GOING.

But I don’t know if I can. Seriously, I don’t! I really and truly might need to put it aside and work on something else for at least a few days. I put it aside last night when I realized, in my irritation at its constant and unchanging nature and the resulting predictability which had started to weigh heavy upon my flexing wrists, I kept making bonehead mistakes which I had to unknit — just things like not reversing the direction of the interspersed zig-zags, nothing hard to unknit, and nothing that went unnoticed until it was too late to fix with ease — but all the same, it was as if my subconscious were attempting to liven things up for me with errors. So last night, I put it down and started working on some charts.

I did finish, and ply, and take video of the plying for, what I suspect is the last of my Chasing Rainbows stash, a cashmere/tussah in “Forest.”

At 660 yards and 2 ounces (well, 54 grams, I shed a bit of fluff while spinning this one, here and there, and it’s the product of a Bad Yarn Day when nothing was spinning how I felt like, thus the mass iconsistences) I think this would make a beautiful new version of the purple mohair/silk triangle shawl I did a while ago, and which I really ought to chart as it is.

It’s midmonth, and I’m really underwhelmed by this month’s productivity so far. Of course, at midmonth, I usually am. So with that in mind, rather than trying to keep pouring coffee down my gullet in hopes of it causing wakefulness, I’m going to get moving, and churn out a few more exciting blends. Mmmmm, movement!

Monday? MONDAY?

Yeah, definitely Monday. I can’t wake up yet it seems, and I clearly need to refill my coffee.

The coffee’s on the right, next to the chocolate-covered strawberries Chad made me yesterday (that’s right, I’m keeping him, no you can’t have him, don’t even think it, I’m a dangerous woman, make your own strawberries). As for the coffee, it’s strong, diluted only with heavy cream. And yeah, I definitely am going to need more of it today. I’m not sure I support this earlier daylight savings time thing — actually I think daylight savings time is silly in general — and I swear that as I age (yeah yeah, just stick me in a rocking chair on the front porch with my knitting and a cane to shake at the passing kids, already) even small time changes have a bigger impact on me than they used to. All the more when it’s back to waking up in the dark. I hate waking up in the dark. It’s uncivilized.

That said, changes in the schedule for daylight savings time being hyped as the new Y2K with respect to information technology bemuses me at best, and causes eyerolling. Please.

But indeed, coffee. It’s going to take coffee for me to get everything done today that I’ve got on my list of bright ideas. I’ve got boxes to pack and a subsequent post office run and sundry other errands while I’m at it. I have at least 4 loads of laundry to get done, and the inevitable folding-and-putting-away backlog from last week as it is. I’ve got to edit photos for my cabled yarn tutorial and finish that up, I’ve got a plying video I want to make while I have some thinner yarn ready to ply, I need to do some more batts, I’ve got batts from last week I need to get listed for sale, vis:

I’ve got a fearsome backlog of email and comments that I actually need and want to respond to, a handfull of balls to wind for my personal projects, I need to make Gert a chart of that edging for the Falling Leaves Isosceles, I want to chart my changes on the elaborated print o’ the wave, if I’m smart I’ll chart some of that other improvised shawl I’ve back burnered till I finish some other things, and I’d really like to do some straightening in the yarn room, plus I need to do drum carder cleaning and maintenance… okay, we’ve exceeded the scope of today again. I think we did that a while ago. I think I say “we” here in hopes of cloning myself with the power of words alone. Hasn’t worked yet.

On the sad side of things, as of yesterday I’ve survived three whole entire years as a fatherless child. The second week in March is always hard for me, ever since the year he died; but at least now that the date is past, I won’t be thinking about how it’s coming up. I think the world changes forever when a parent dies; I’m no stranger to death and loss and all that sort of thing, but man. As Hope said, it doesn’t really get any easier, just familiar. So it’s good to have chocolate-covered strawberries, and plenty of good, strong coffee with heavy cream. In fact, let’s see that again just for good measure:

Yep, still looks good.

I did stretch out the rassafrackn pink scarf on the floor last night to see how big it is now, and how many more repeats I really need, and if I want to put an edging on it. Here’s the montage of progress from a couple of days ago:

Did I really think it was long enough? Or needed an edging? Well, in all honesty, no. But this scarf — well, there’s a reason it’s not done. That reason is, I chose everything about it for the sake of it being travel knitting, an in-the-car project, a memorizable and straightforward pattern that’s easy to read, easy to remember, and not horrific to execute, but using small yarn and therefore also not hard to take with me places. And then I didn’t finish it on a trip, with the net result that I’ve been stuck with a travel knitting project to do while not traveling; and that bores me.

I clocked it last night; 2 rows, a down-and-back, takes me 3.5-5 minutes. So it’s about 90 minutes for a 35-row repeat, so for around 12 repeats or thereabouts, it’s a mere 18-20 hours of knitting total… but I’ve been at it since September, because I put this thing down and stop working on it so often, since it’s travel knitting and boring the crap out of me if I do it while I’m not also otherwise engaged. And what happens then is that I start thinking, “I wonder what mad flight of fancy and departure from plan I could throw into the mix now to spice this up a little.”

The truth of the matter is none. The right thing to do with the project is knit till I’m out of yarn and the project is completed as per plan. I simply keep losing focus on this project. Which is why it must be completed.

Once it’s done, too, I think I’m also going to wash my two main winter scarfy objects that I actually wear, the Creme de Menthe one and the purple mohair/silk triangle. They’ve both been worn all winter and are in need of washing and re-blocking. And probably new and better pictures. With warming weather, perhaps some outdoor good-light pictures may be forthcoming.

Yesterday, a total of 8 out of 30 bulbs that my son planted last fall could be seen to be sprouting! Surely that’s a sign of spring, along with warmer weather which I’m sure can’t possibly really be here to stay. But I’ve got no real gut sense of winter here; certainly it’s been milder so far than anywhere else I’ve lived that had winter, despite being a record-setter on occasion. It’s a mystery. But soon! Soon, there’ll be lilacs, and that I await eagerly. Lilacs don’t really grow particularly well to the West of the Mississippi, apparently, which means I had none in California; and for many years before that, my urban Chicago lifestyle didn’t feature much in the way of lilacs either. But yet in my childhood and teens, lilacs were the surest sign of true spring and they’re my favourite flower. It’s been seventeen years since I really had lilacs.

Of course, I mentioned my lilac anticipation to my mother yesterday, and she gently reminded me that lilacs may not bloom the first year after you plant them. Damned ethnobotanists with their knowing stuff about plants! “Even if ours don’t,” I argued, “there’ll be lilacs here in Ohio.”

A Few Thoughts on Woolen and Worsted

Do You Prefer To Spin Woolen or Worsted?

Totally depends. Some things I simply must have be worsted, and others I want woolen. For the most part though, it’s sort of a spectrum depending on what I think the yarn will be for, and which technique I use with what prep is decided by what I think the use will be.

A few generalities…

Socks: Woolen prep, worsted technique, or worsted prep with woolen technique. I want a little bit of bounce and give that I don’t usually get from a pure worsted.

Weaving: worsted. I don’t care about bounce or stretch or fluffiness; in fact I don’t want those things.

Sweaters: Woolen prep, woolen technique, or worsted prep and woolen technique. I probably want a bit of memory and bounce, but the exact amount doesn’t matter. Since it’ll be a lot of fabric, odds are I also want a fatter yarn.

Lace: almost always worsted technique, but prep can vary. I consider the fiber combination when thinking about how much it’ll stretch in blocking. I want it to stretch, but not stretch forever. My favourite lace yarns are usually just slightly lower-twist than weaving yarn, and sometimes less exacting about perfect smoothness.

From commercial top: depends on the fiber, and if I want fuzz or smooth. Either result can be achieved from commercial top.

How Do You Like To Mix and Match Techniques With Prep

1. Commercial top spun with woolen technique:

Spin from the fold with long draw or supported long draw. When I spin this way, I move as fast as I can, keep the wheel going really fast, and stay as hands-off as possible. The goal is to, regardless of prep, draft the fibers against the twist, with twist in the drafting zone, correcting slubs not by adding more fiber from the undrafted mass, but by pulling harder on the existing yarn. What I try to allow for is the maximum amount of air in the fibers as they’re being spun, without me squeezing any out. This produces a much loftier thick yarn than the predrafting methods in my experience, and would be worsted prep, woolen technique.

In some cases, with some fibers or variants on commercial top, this requires some double drafting, where an initial long draw of 18-20″ leaves slubs that must then be resolved directly with either another draw out to 30-36″ inches, evening the slubs, or by going back over that length and correcting the slubs from the spun points at either side. If I have to really get into the slub and manhandle it, a lot of the woolen-ness is lost, and I deem the prep sub-optimal for spinning with woolen technique.

2. Carded Preparations Spun With Worsted Technique:

Taking carded roving or sliver, drum-carded batts, or rolags produced with handcards, and spinning short draw (not more than about 6 inches on a draw), keeping twist out of the drafting zone by making sure it stays downstream of my forward hand. I then slide my forward hand tightly along the drafted portion of the fiber, smoothing the fibers and pushing air out, while allowing twist in slowly.

For me, whether or not there’s twist in the drafting zone and whether or not you compress the yarn as you let the twist in and/or before you wind on, define the most important distinction between worsted and woolen techniques.

Twist in the drafting zone, no compressing of the yarn = woolen technique

No twist in the drafting zone, smoothing the yarn as you go = worsted technique.

A note: If I’ve got a true combed top, I’m going to spin it true worsted. A real top combed by hand is labor-intensive and I do it for specific results.

Thanks to Mr. Jimbobspins for asking the questions about this on the Knitty forums.

Related Items

Fiber Geek Questionnaire, belatedly

This questionnaire comes from Fiber Femmes, a fiber arts webzine which consistently has great content (if I say so myself, as author of one article in a recent issue).

1. Do you raise fiber, animals or plant, or are a fiber user only? If you raise animals/plants…what do you raise?

I don’t raise fiber animals or crops. Livestock is a huge commitment and I have my hands plenty full as it is!

2. What’s your favorite fiber & why? Which fiber do you like the least & why?

There’s no way I could pick one single favourite fiber! They all have different strengths and weaknesses and allures, and I’m prone to the wiles of one or another in cycles. And I could ask, favourite in what sense? To spin? To use as yarn? To wear? For utility purposes?

I absolutely love to spin blends of fine wool and tussah silk, which I produce myself, and I love the resulting yarns as well, which can be fine and strong, big and lofty, and anything in between. From fall through spring, I love to wear things made from those blends as well. But for all-around miscellaneous usefulness, I would have to rate cotton very highly. Cotton is a tremendous workhorse fiber, and most of my clothes are storebought, mass-produced cotton (jeans, t-shirts, that sort of thing). I sew almost exclusively with cotton, the exception being when I sew with silk. I use cotton towels, dishcloths, and rags; cotton pervades my life, even though I almost never spin it. In fact, I really don’t like to spin cotton — cotton and I are not at peace with each other in that respect. Whereas protein fibers, I feel, want to be made into yarn, it always feels to me like cotton does not, and it fights me every step of the way, succumbing to yarn form only when tricked into it.

If I were going to pick a single least-favourite fiber, I’d have to go with corn-derived plastic fiber, ingeo. Unpleasant to spin, impossible to dye, with a melting point that suggests structural failure is possible with as little heat as could be generated by being left on the patio on a hot summer day, ingeo is totally inexplicable to me. I just don’t get it.

Seriously, what is the point of this fiber? “Oh look,” the hype about it says, “A fiber from renewable sources!” Well, huzzah — now with extensive industrial technology we’re able to create a fiber from renewable sources, finally! Thank heaven! What would we ever have done without a fiber that grows back? What, do you think cotton or linen grows in fields every year? Or fleece-bearing animals regrow their wooly coverings? If you want a sustainable product, what’s wrong with a natural one? What are we trying to accomplish here with ingeo? A more expensive, less functional, and nastier-feeling variant of acrylic yarns which is somehow superior simply because it’s corn-based? Where’s the value in that? Give me a nice regenerated cellulosic if we’re talking industrially-produced man-made fibers, and leave the oddball plastics to non-textile applications.

3. What’s your worst habit relating to your fiber?

Hrmmm. Most likely it would be not finishing projects I’ve started, or as Pippi puts it, lack of project monogamy.

4. In what ways does your fiber habit make you a better person?

Habit? It’s not a habit, it’s a lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t really know; I’ve been involved with fiber all my life and although I realized in my teens that not everybody else was, it still never occurred to me until maybe 2 or 3 years ago that I might not have been. Other people not engaged in fiber pursuits? Okay, I can see that; me? Never occurred to me that such a thing was really possible. Might as well ask me how I’m a better person for being able to read, make change, tie my shoes, speak, or use silverware. I’m aware that there are people who can’t do some of those things (and I even know some), but I can’t really picture being one.

5. How would your life be different if you had to give up fiber?

Well, for one thing, I’d have to go back to working for The Man, and I don’t think that would make anybody in my life happy; although I did reasonably well with a computer career for a while, there came a point when I simply was no longer content to be “a resource” stuck at a point beyond which it was clear I’d never advance, performing mindless and repetitive tasks for people who had no idea what they actually were, didn’t care, and leaving absolutely nothing tangible done for years of work.

Fiber work is tactile, real, and provides eternal growth opportunity and challenge; and being my own boss, I make the calls, instead of resenting that they’re being made by middle managers who don’t even understand what’s involved in doing the work, don’t understand the product, and value nothing but their own progression through a world of intangibles and doublespeak.

If I had to give up fiber, and go back to that lifestyle, I think consequences would be drastic for my sanity, and as a result, for my family. There are many reasons why I quit my computer career, but simply put, it was destroying my life to work constantly at absolutely nothing. I had to face facts and recognize that my entire life has been largely about fiber, and trying to make it not be so was madness.

6. What tools, yarns, books or gadgets can’t you live without?

Tough question, that I could take in two polar opposite ways. In the most literal interpretation with respect to fiber, the answer is a good knife or a multi-tool, and a means of starting fires, because using those and assuming I can find some wood or bone and some fiber, I can build a textile enterprise. I can make the tools, get the job done, and teach others to do the same; I’m a human textile mill thanks to heredity and environment. Are there tools I would miss, and that I could not recreate? Absolutely — but the lack of those tools would not stop me from practicing the fiber arts.

I didn’t use a book to learn a textile or fiber thing until I was in my 20s. Early in my life, I was trained to learn textile skills from other people very, very quickly, in a largely illiterate environment where, as it happens, the textiles themselves were tools for communication, record-keeping, and so forth. Even now for most things, I’d rather look at the textile object as a reference, than a written thing about it — even for things which eventually, I did learn to do from books. Mostly though, I spent my childhood and young adulthood never passing up an opportunity to learn a textile skill directly from a human. That said, I’m adding “make a list of my favourite textile reference books” to my to-do list, because I do have a long list and there are absolutely books and publications I’d miss very much.

As far as yarn goes, I think it would drive me absolutely nuts not to be able to spin my own yarn, and to live a life where I truly had no option but to seek out mass-produced yarn and choose from pre-fabricated alternatives that don’t really do exactly what I want. I suppose I could live with only the products of mills to sustain me, but it would be like living on fast food, TV dinners, and takeout.

7. What was your first fiber project?

The first thing I remember was learning simple braids (3 strands, 4 strands, and 5-stranded flat like shoelaces) when I was 2 and 3 years old, playing around in the weaving studio my father had then. I don’t remember learning to do the 3-strand braid, but I do remember him teaching me 4 and 5 strands. At 3, I remember getting my first one of those potholder looms with the elastic loops, and my mother teaching me to use it, and at 3 and 4 I remember both of my parents teaching me to do inkle loom weaving. My first real finished object was a Peruvian jakima at age 5.

8. Do you have any fiber mentors? Who are they and why?

I guess the only ones still living and still really actively mentoring me are my mother, and Nilda Callañaupa. Although you could probably count “the entire town of Chinchero, Peru,” really. Why are they active mentors for me? Well… because they’ll hold me to things, judge me, critique me, and because they already know what I ought to be doing that I’m not, and they’ll argue with me about it all, and what’s more, like me, they know what would be said by the fiber mentors in my life who’ve passed on.

There’s also quite a list of folks who’ve known my parents since I was a baby, who worked with both of them or with my father, who have done (and still do) a lot to keep me on track and encourage me to go further. There are so many of these fine folks it’s hard to make a list.

9. Are you a member of any guilds? If so, which one(s)?

My membership’s lapsed since I moved, but I plan to reactivate it; Black Sheep Guild in California, who all but came and got me and wouldn’t let me go, a few years ago, and who’ve uniformly been incredibly supportive.

There’s a problem with a lot of guilds, in that many of them meet at times when someone with a day job can’t go; I think this causes a generation gap and cultural gap between certain fiber scenes, in fact.

I’ve often been hesitant to go become involved with guilds as well, because at one point early in adulthood I grew tired of hearing people ask me “Oh are you Ed’s daughter?” and I felt like a hanger-on or something. Since my father died (three years ago this week), it’s been tough in some respects because, well, I miss my dad; and so do a lot of people in the fiber world, and sometimes it’s just sad to end up talking about him. For the first couple of years, I mostly couldn’t handle the emotional load.

10. What’s the most exciting fiber project you’ve undertaken?

Every single one, at the start of it. None of them, by the middle. By the end? Usually about one a year.

I know, that’s facile — but it’s true. Looking back, I’d say that my most technically exciting projects have been the bag I wove when I was 13, learning Palma y Ramos in Pitumarca, work on documenting intersecting warp hair ties in Accha Alta, and chullu knitting. The largest project is Chad’s poncho, which is likely to take me all summer this year, if I’m diligent and lucky; otherwise it’ll be another year.

The most emotionally charged project is one I’ve undertaken, but not done, yet. For many years, my father spindle-spun tussah silk, with the intent that it would be woven by Sara and then made into a tailored sportcoat for him. But he died before he was done, and the course his illness took left him unable to finish many things. My mother gathered up all the silk he’d spun, some plied, some unplied, none washed and set, none measured, and sent it to me. I’ve got to finish it and get it to Sara. My progress so far has been to look at it several times, and move it with me to 2 new homes.

And the single most extensive, biggest, complex, and consuming fiber project I’ve ever taken on is without a doubt Franquemont Fibers. I expect it’ll take my entire life and never be done.

11. How many people have you mentored? In which fiber arts?

I guess it depends what’s mentoring. I’ve taught lots of people; really mentoring? I’d say 2 or 3 in “Abby’s Holistic Yarn Geeking,” and 3 or 4 in spinning.

12. Do you consider fiber crafts to be functional or artistic?

Yes, I absolutely do.

Oh, you wanted me to pick one over the other? I can’t; part of the thing that really speaks to me about textiles is that when well-executed, they are the ultimate marriage of form and function, one so brilliantly done that both elements can become completely invisible, utterly ubiquitous, and essential to our lives in ways most of us have never even really considered.

13. What, mainly, do you make? Do you keep, or give away, most of your projects?

I make all sorts of things. Anything that strikes my fancy, and anything I want or need. Ultimately, I give away far more than I keep. I almost never make anything that isn’t intended to be used.

14. Are fiber crafts an avocation or vocation for you?

Both, without a doubt — and a lifestyle and an identity.

15. How many people are you committed to being a mentor for in 2007?

I’ve no concrete mentoring commitments for this year at this time; I’m planning on putting really serious efforts into myself and my business this year, working up to some real teaching plans.

Yarn Measurement

Renee asks:

You mentioned that you usually keep track of the length of fiber spun. I was wondering how you calculate that?

I usually keep a notebook handy and log my spinning in various ways, and I measure and write down several things about the yarn, then tag the yarn with what I guess you could call its associated metadata.

I like to keep track of how long it takes to spin and ply the yarn to some general degree, though sometimes it’ll be no more detail than “an evening watching TV.” If there’s anything particularly unusual about the fiber or the technique, I also jot that down. I also generally try to keep track of what the fiber was in case I want or need more, and so I can tell people if they ask. So my little notebook next to my spinning will have things in it like:

7 Feb 2007

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel – African Savannah 2 oz

Split space-dyed top down center, 1st half /1 bobbin, 2nd half / next bobbin

3.5 hrs

8 Feb 2007

remaining CR merino/tencel on bobbin 2, 1.5 hrs

plied same, 2 hrs

Once the yarn is done, I take the bobbin and go skein the yarn, using my trusty counting skeiner, a Fricke freestanding floor skeiner with inbuilt counter (Fricke’s Winding Items). Mine is several years old now, and it’s been through a lot with me. The first thousand miles or so of yarn we skeined loosened the base a little and so now it has attractive Gorilla Glue detailing there. One arm of the skeiner was broken during the cross-country move last year, and reglued and secured further with wire. And the original counter gave up the ghost last fall, and had to be replaced! Now you might be thinking, “Wow, what a lemon,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to think about just how much yarn I skein. There are many days where I skein several miles of yarn. The thing has taken quite a beating, and it keeps going.

Anyway, thanks to the magic of the counter, I know how many yards there are immediately. In some cases, I choose to stop at a certain point and tie off the skein, removing it — if I’m putting things up in 100-yard or 200-yard skeins for a specific reason, like for sale, for instance. In other cases, I just keep going until the whole bobbin is empty. Then I add in the yardage — usually rounding down to the next 5, so if there are 178 yards, I call it 175 — in my little notebook, and take the skein(s) to be washed.

Once they’re completely dry, I weigh them in grams and ounces, and add that to the notebook as well. Usually, I calculate the yards per pound (ypp) at this point as well. And supposing I’m not being lazy, this is when I measure wpi, by wrapping the yarn around a ruler.

When all is said and done, I have the following metadata available to me about the yarn:

  • 660 yards / 600 meters
  • 2 ounces / 56 grams
  • 38 wpi
  • 5280 ypp
  • Spinning Time: 7 hrs
  • Material: Merino/Tencel handpainted top from Chasing Rainbows, African Savannah

That lets me describe the yarn in post like this one, and keep a record of it with the post as well, including photos. If it’s yarn that I plan to sell, I can determine my cost to produce it and establish pricing, and I retain the ability to reproduce the yarn at a later date without having to keep the yarn itself to crib from. What’s more, this lets me get a sense of how long it takes me in general to produce certain kinds of things, and discuss the minutiae with other people who can’t see or handle the yarn.

I don’t always measure angle of twist or twists per inch, but sometimes I do; usually if I have a picture it’s apparent to me what the twist is like in the yarn. Similarly, sometimes I write down minutiae about prep and spinning technique, but sometimes it’s obvious to me and I don’t.

What I should do is actually produce sample cards with samples of the yarn and all this information on them! That would be truly principled and orderly… but instead, mostly I use digital photos, my photo gallery, and my blog, to track things.

If you don’t have a counting skeiner, a simple, quick-and-dirty way to figure your yardage is to skein the yarn, wash it and dry it, and then stretch the skein out next to a yardstick and see about how long it is. This won’t be perfectly accurate, but you’ll be close! Suppose it’s 24 inches long; one loop of that skein is therefore 48 inches of yarn. Now, count the loops (I like to count ‘em in pairs to make it go faster, or in threes). If you have (for example) 37 loops, then 37 x 48 = 1776 inches, and 1776 inches divided by 36 inches in a yard comes to 49.3 yards. I would round that down to 45 yards; I would always rather have underestimated the yardage I’ve got than overestimated it! I would rather be surprised by leftovers than a shortage.

I always recommend weighing your yarn after finishing, and once it’s well dry; personally, on a long skein of yarn, I always lose a couple of grams of weight in the wash, that are actually oils from my fingers when I spin, little bits of dirt, and so forth. Similarly, you want to measure your wpi after finishing, as yarn will generally change a bit in the wash. In fact, ideally I would reskein my yarn after washing it, and sometimes I do — definitely if I’m going to enter it in a competition, in which case I skein it meticulously for that purpose.

I think that’s about it for what I usually track about a given yarn, and how. To sum up, I have a little spiral-bound notebook in which I record the key things, and then I transfer that to my photo gallery notes and/or my blog when I write up the yarn, as well as to a tag on the skein (even if I don’t write up the yarn and take pictures). Why do I do all of this? Because it’s a matter of seconds here and there while doing the work, but long and annoying steps to have to take later if I don’t track it when I have the chance to do it easily! It saves me from having a skein of random yarn in my stash that I’d like to do something with, but I’ve got no clue how many yards there were, or where I got the fiber if I want to do more, and that sort of thing.

Falling Leaves Isosceles Scarf

Blocking has been completed for the Falling Leaves Isosceles Scarf. Like several other projects I’ve had taking up needle space and whatnot of late, this too is a Giant Swatch, which also had a learning goal, that of thinking through some things about triangular shaping.

Goal 1: Swatch hand-dyed merino/silk and merino laceweight millspun yarn.

To this end, I threw the short skeins that were left over after putting up yarn for dyeing, into the dyeing mix, using low water immersion and getting a variegated autumnlike effect with an overall brown colour containing flashes of bright red and turquoise shades. I had about 100 yards of the merino/silk, and 150 yards of the merino.

The center, with the falling leaves, is merino/silk, and the outside border with the improvised diamonds, is merino.

So, it takes about 250 yards to make a triangle kerchief.

The big challenge in this one for me was working the border in the round, trying to neatly make both 45-degree and 90-degree mitered corners. All in all, it was a success, and the next thing I do that with, I’ll actually feel confident while I’m doing it that I’ll get the shape I’m after.

The center was worked point-up, with increases at either side, 2 every right-side row, just inside a garter stitch border that was there for the sake of expediency. Then, I picked up stitches all the way around. I turned a stock mitered 90-degree corner at the bottom point, increasing on either side of the centerline stitch there, every other row; and on the other corners, I increased that way every single row.

And here it is hanging in the window to let light shine through. It’s very very light; probably under an ounce.

Finish-A-Thon

I’ve decided I’m going on a March Finish-A-Thon. That’s where you take all the stuff you have sitting around taking up needles, hooks, bobbins and other tools, with balls of yarn hanging out of it, wadded up in piles, stuffed in bags, and whatnot, and finish as much as you can. I’m including drafts in this! My folders of drafts are starting to pile up as well.

Last night, I finished my woeful little Falling Leaves Isosceles, another in the line of big swatches. The purpose of this one was to take a look at how some of the handpainted laceweight millspun I’ve done lately works up, plus to see if I remembered enough trigonometry to actually execute both 90-degree and 45-degree mitered corners. I remembered the math, but was stumped on the execution until I talked the problem over with my father-in-law, who pointed out I had it backwards and what I was thinking would work for decreasing, not increasing.

No pictures yet, save for this sad little in-progress shot, in which it looks like mud on some circs:

That’s the big problem with lace projects — the in-progress shots just all look godawful.

All in all, this one came out to be an isosceles triangle, even unblocked, and I think it’ll block out to a nice scarf or kerchief size, which in fact I need to go be doing right now so that I can leave it blocking while I’m off at the dentist. Yes, the dentist! Back I go. Hopefully this time it’ll only be fillings, but I’m a bit worried about one of ‘em and half afraid I haven’t gotten to have the old, old filling replaced in time to avoid another root canal and crown scenario. But geeze I hope I have. All in all I hope to be done with the so-regular dental visits come June or July when my dental implant saga is finally over. I’ve always known that dental woes were a price I’d pay for my storied childhood and flawed brushing habits in early adulthood, but somehow I never expected the bill to come due and payable in full with terms of net 30 days, you know? Still, again I remind myself that if I lived in the third world, or many parts of the first world at that, I’d be outright missing plenty of teeth by now, and there wouldn’t be any of this 6 month long getting an implant process and I’d wish madly for root canals.

Anyway, yes, so I must block that triangle and see what it does. Continuing with Finish-A-Thon March, here’s what will be going to the dentist with me today:

It’s a little scarf in an elaborated Print o’ the Wave. Incidentally, is it obvious to anybody else yet that I haven’t unpacked most of my books since the move, and the only lace book I seem to be able to find is Sharon Miller’s? I’m doing stuff that is in her book, that I have memorized, or which I’m making up. I’ve got to solve the fiber book storage problem and really unpack them. Perhaps as part of Finish-A-Thon March I’ll try to do that.

Anyway, I started this sucker in September to take on a trip, since it’s a memorizable and easy to read pattern whose only tricky points are the fudging at the edges plus not spacing the turnarounds. And what with being worked back and forth across only 60 or 70 stitches or whatever it is, it feels like it’s working up insanely fast after the stuff done in the round and point-up triangles and all that sort of thing. The yarn is Belisa Cashmere that I picked up at Stitches West in 2006, and really liked (as far as I ever like millspun knitting yarn at any rate) despite its pinkness. In fact, this yarn marked the start of my resolution to come to peace with pink.

Although I really liked this yarn, it was actually a painful process finding a lace pattern that didn’t look like utter garbage with the way the colour variegation tended to pool. I think I tried four others before settling on this one with its sort of tiger-striping pooling effect.

I did not finish it on that trip in September, as it happens. I did very little with it on the trip, in fact. And it’s not hard enough to be engaging when I sit down to work on it, so even though it’s fast, I’ve been being pretty lazy about it, and here we are in March and I’ve done like 5 repeats. I need at least 12, then maybe some small edging. So off to the dentist with me it shall go.

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