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Wednesday in April

This is the manchild, waiting for the school bus. He only has about a month of school left. Okay, 5 weeks.

I sent him off this morning with a slip filled out saying I’d totally be willing to share a little bit about my job for his class’ career day type thing. Those of you who know me will probably not be surprised if I tell you the slip’s “Any additional info?” space was entirely filled with sentences like “I can spend more time if you like and with some advance notice, bring cheap materials which I’d donate and teach the kids to spin real quick.” I’ve been thinking of changing my job description or title from “Production Fiber Artist” to “Compulsive Yarn Evangelist.” I’m not sure that works to describe it to fourth graders, though. The lad has an image in his mind of what I’ll do for a demo, based on a short movie they saw about “turning wool into yarn in a factory, with machines,” as he put it somewhat scornfully. He suggests showing things with spindles, as he’s not sure a spinning wheel can fit into the classroom, because it just has normal doors. Ever since he said that, I’ve been wondering what he’s been doing every time I have moved a wheel around the house. Or taken it outside, or brought one home, or… Anyway. His description of what he’s like me to cover is “Take some wool that’s right off a sheep, then explain you can wash it and stuff, and card it, then spin it, with two kinds of spindles. And bring wool and yarn and cloth to pass around.”

That’s my boy.

It is definitely spring, finally! If it snows again, I’ll be surprised and angry. Yesterday was shorts weather; today might be too. Chad has mowed the grass for the first time (mowing becomes a very routine, twice-weekly thing in this neck of the woods), and we’ve pronounced three of the baby trees, plus all the lilacs and a pair of holly bushes, dead from last summer’s drought. One small maple made it, and the larger cherry and magnolia trees did as well. But I’m thwarted yet again with the lilacs. It’s so unfair. Lilacs were among the first things I thought of when we decided to move back east. Surely I deserve lilacs for my springs. I guess we’ll try again.

This is Kaylee.

She’s really not a kitten anymore, but I still call her one. Of that, she is forgiving — but the glare should tell you she’s less enthused about other things lately, as I’ve been locked in the yarn room with Cardzilla.

This stuff is red.

Yep, red.

Brick red. I probably should have kept some. But, you know, I have plenty of work to do spinning as it is.

This is a bit of sampling. It got done on the car ride over to pick the manchild up from spending the night with grandparents, and back (something like an hour). Now it’s in a 2-stranded ball and needs plying. I’m lucky that I can get stuff done while riding in the car. I have lots to do. I’ll tell you about this blend when I ply it and measure it and so on. It’s dyed blue Corriedale and some Sea Silk — that new chitin-derived synthetic.

This is Tiramisu.

You know, because it’s got all these layers of creamy and chocolatey and coffee-y frothiness. I probably should have kept some of this too, but I didn’t.

I didn’t keep any Tropic, either.

It’s Falkland/silk/alpaca.

No, I kept none of these things. They are all — along with many friends — headed for The Spunky Eclectic, where the delightful Amy (you might call her Boogie) will be making them available to you.

Now that I have those things out the door, and now that I’ve indulged in a third cup of coffee to tell you about ’em (and surreptitiously hope spring is here to stay — risky a thought as that is to ever speak aloud, and all), my nose has to hit the grindstone again on the writing stuff front, so there may be a bit of a blog silence coming up, and it’ll probably be 2-3 days to answer lots of email, because if I let myself get sidetracked with any of that stuff, these other things won’t happen, and they need to. Because, you see, if they don’t happen, I won’t get to that space where I get to clean up my studio and office; and if that doesn’t happen before school’s out, I’ll… I’ll… probably have a total tantrum, which is really poor form for somebody’s mom, not to mention generally a waste of time and energy.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: I got some wonderful, beautiful, stunning, fabulous fiber from Amy. She and I have been known to swap fibers on occasion; this is mostly because every so often, you want to eat someone else’s cooking, even if you’re a nitpicky shrew who likes things just so (that would be me, not Amy). We like each other’s cooking — that is, fiber work — quite a bit, so these little swaps and surprise gifts are always a major treat.

Of this particular fiber, Amy says, “I made these batts with you in mind – then I thought they had too much grease so I wasn’t going to send it. Then I sampled it and knew you had to have it. The content is CVM from a prizewinner at 2007 Rhinebeck but I also blended in some soy silk. I hope you like them as much as I did.”

Truth to tell, I was slobbering before I even found her note explaining. These batts are just… so stunning. I just can’t tell you how stunning they are. And unfortunately, here’s the first The Bad: I also, apparently, cannot make a picture remotely come close to doing them justice. This one is probably the best.

But it’s totally unable to convey why — and this is The Ugly — I bumped the spinning that I needed to be doing for work, and started spinning this, for me, instead.

That doesn’t do it either. They’re a gray-green base with mild tweed elements of both colour and texture, and natural coloured flashes of soy silk. They’re frothy like way-too-rich-mousse that has a definite whipped texture to it but is also heavy and substantial. They’re so good. So very, very good.

It breaks my heart that I cannot show you how fabulous these are. You all need to come over so I can shove them in your hands. And if you are coming over, please bring coffee. Strong coffee. Once the manchild was off to school, I started to take a look at my list for the day. Bear with me, please.

For a typical work week, I generally try to stick to a breakdown of “Production: 12-24 hours; Operations: 10-12 hours; Development: 12-20 hours.” Total work hours in a typical week: 32 – 56.

Production is things like dyeing silk, or producing yarn and fiber for sale.

Operations is stuff like packing, shipping, inventory, accounting, routine correspondence.

Development is writing, patterns, product testing, market research, and some correspondence.

Like I said in January 2007.

Both production and development have strong risks of slopping over into my personal life; in some cases this is acceptable and in other cases, it’s not — but that’s a whole new range of stuff to talk about, best left for another day. For now, suffice it to say I’m figuring a slack week is 30-some-odd hours of work, a busy week maybe as much as 60; with average weeks somewhere in the “around 40 work hours” range. The big tricky issue for me, really, is how to limit time and be focused; I have a tendency to just work nonstop, whatever I’m doing, and that’s what needs controlling most in my life.

The good news is… um, I have this concept, and in theory, sold my boss on it. The bad news is I haven’t been experiencing nearly as many slack weeks as busy weeks. Or maybe that’s the good news. Or it’s both. In a perfect world, if I have a week with big development, then I do a leaner production week. Or something. You know, so it all balances out. I haven’t been so great about balance. I haven’t been so great about keeping work from taking over my personal life. And the ugly, well.

I need to stop frantically, reactively working, and commit an act of neatness in my office. I need to do this badly, and there is simply not going to be TIME for at least a week. This situation is entirely untenable and yet I have to live with it for a while, till I can get the space to figure out where to store the old 21″ monitor, answer paper correspondence and file it, be honest with myself and move out some yarn, and that kind of thing.

In my office, there are kid school papers, some of which are keepers and some of which are trash. There is mending I need to do. There are near-finished projects because I suck at finishing things. There are areas which were pristinely tidy until a cat decided to go haywire there, and now, it’s cascading chaos. There are things I’ve left out and acccessible which don’t need to be out and accessible because I haven’t touched them in a year. There are things I meant to hang on the wall. There is stuff I can’t find. There are even two empty beer bottles from last night, which I did not take down to the kitchen and dispose of before crashing. More than the empty beer bottles being there, though, there is the situation of which this is proof: late-night drinking at the office, while working. That is a sure sign of “omigod, take some time off, or else.”

But on the bright side, I did find J. Jonah.

The manchild gave me J. Jonah Jameson here for Christmas some years back. He has stayed in his packaging, because his packaging proclaims that he has an amazing super power. He does. He has Desk Pounding Action. No lie. He has lived on every desk I’ve had ever since.

I have to come clean here, and explain that J. Jonah Jameson — Peter Parker’s overstressed and temperamental newspaper editor boss, who hires him on a freelance basis to take photos of Parker’s own alter ego, Spider-Man — has long represented a lot of things about my own work life for me. J. Jonah’s not easy to work for, but the truth is he’s not a bad guy at all. He has standards and expectations that are arguably impossible for mere mortals to meet, but, um, but something. I’m sure I justify that somehow. He puts Peter Parker to work, doing outrageous things nobody else could do, seemingly unaware and uncaring about that, interested only in results, unaware of Parker’s bizarre work-life balance issues and dual identity and the moral wrangling Parker must do. J. Jonah never stops moving, and he’s the kind of guy who, as in the first of the recent Spider-Man movies, feels it is important to counter an accusation of libel by saying “No, it’s slander, libel is printed.”


My boss — my own alter ego — secretly worships J. Jonah Jameson.

But, so moving right along, the J. Jonah in me has apparently failed to be concerned about my own schedule, demanding that I perform on command and simply deal with the laundry later. This morning, I went into the laundry room to see how that was working out. The good:

Paimei is very comfy on the high shelf. That’s good. The bad, of course, is that he is atop some hand-wash-only items and handknits in need of minor repairs. And the ugly, well.

I made a horrible mistake. I forgot to move the last load of laundry last night, and now the load in the washer at left will have to be re-washed. What’s particularly ugly about this is that I’m not sure “forgot” is entirely honest, because the truth is more like “would have had to fold stuff presently taking up the laundry basket, and put it away,” and instead, I was drinking beer in my office and editing photos. This is a clear failure of work-life balance. It’s ugly.

Moving right along though, there is some good news. Momentarily, I’ll be getting a box of batts shipped off to Beth at The Spinning Loft for her to sell. Once that’s done, I’m going to be making another giant box of batts for Amy to sell at Spunky Eclectic. Let’s hear it for my very exclusive dealer network!

The bad, unsurprisingly…

…is that this is a lot of work, and my studio isn’t in any better shape than my office. The ugly is that it may even be in worse shape.

Truth hurts. Let’s look at “good” again.

Those Amy batts spin up nice too. Again, photos don’t do it justice. Hey, the sun’s out! Maybe I can take it outside! Oh, right, but the bad news is, the sun may be out, but we’re back to winter temperatures (or just above). I’m so ready to be done with winter. And the ugly is, well, look:

I should be doing stuff with things that are in those boxes, instead of using them to keep me from gaining access to the closet, where potentially, I might even be able to store things that are making it impossible to straighten my office. But I won’t know until I get in there, which at this point, will require a game of Tetris. So, later.

In other good news, I think I like these beads on this little shawl, which is done except for the beads, which I’m sewing on.

They’re more iridescent than this flash photo shows, and when I finish the thing, you’ll see how awesome it is. But the bad is…

…I not only seem to not be finishing it right now, but I seem to have draped it atop my to-be-filed file to look at, and then covered it with other projects. And what’s ugly is that the box of beads now seems to be lost on my desk. It’s probably under the unfinished hat.

But, you know, in good news, I’ve pruned my inbox down to 399 emails. 399! This is fabulous. Of course, the bad news is that they’re all emails which need answering. And the ugly? Well, some of them are getting stale, and call for long answers, and I won’t be getting to those today either.

Ahem. Indeed. What more really need be said? I’d try to explain, but my inner J. Jonah is exercising DESK POUNDING ACTION and demanding results, so I’m afraid we’re all out of time here. And don’t tell Mr. Jameson, but I might also be out of clean socks, so I have to go brave Mount Laundry to find out. If you haven’t heard from me by Monday, send help. With coffee.

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Question Roundup, and Being a Fangirl ZOMG!

First things first: a quick question roundup, mostly about Julia! A few folks have asked, as Ted did:

Um…will you be doing a side-by-side comparison of Julia and Victoria?

Well, now I will, for sure! That’s a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that? Stand by, I’ll do that this coming week, in with reports from the road test on Julia.

Fiberlicious says:

It figures that this would come out just one week AFTER I gave in and bought a Sonata.

Torture me – tell me that this new Julia will also accommodate a bulky flyer for plying (the only reason I didn’t get a Victoria). You can insert the razer blade right here – just above the point where my thumb meets the wrist….

We’ll have no playing with razor blades in my house! Those things are sharp! If that talk keeps up I’ll have to lock up the needles too I suppose. But… since you’ve asked… although I don’t think there’s a bulky flyer yet, there’s definitely room in the flyer area to accommodate one, and I’d be surprised if one weren’t in the works.

Alisa wants to know:

If you don’t mind me being ridiculously curious — how does it compare in overall size and bobbin size with the Victoria? I like the wider range of ratios offered by the Julia, but I’m curious about how much of a difference there is in the size of the drive wheel.

The bobbins appear to be the same. My Victoria bobbins are a hair longer, but I think it may just be a difference in finish.

As to size, well, Julia is a full-size modern castle wheel; Victoria is a tiny travel wheel. Victoria has a 15″ drive wheel, while Julia’s is 20″ in diameter. Julia is portable, but not “that might as well be an oversized laptop bag” sized, like Victoria is. You could think of Julia as being both a full-sized Victoria, and a flyer-lead S-10 that goes to 11. I mean, that has 20:1 as a stock ratio. Hey, I wonder if that’s why she’s the S-11? In brief, I would say Julia’s the S-10 for people who want flyer lead. In another 20 years, I expect we’ll be seeing lots of people who’ve had Julias for ages, just like the S-10 folks are now. But more on all that later. I’m behind anyway.

About 11 AM on Friday I decided to tear myself away from Julia and go for a drive, possibly overnight. I threw a few essentials into Ginny, the Mommy Car (it’s perhaps ironic that we call her that, given what she is, but that’s what we call her) — laptop bag (with its usual selection of just-in-case laceweight yarn in it, plus extra needles, plus a spindle or two), the Victoria, a bag full of random fiber and some spindles, some stuff I felt like spinning, my actual in-progress “I’m waiting and I don’t feel like waiting” knitting, plus a clean shirt and socks. Just the essentials; after all, the Mommy Car is already full of projects in case I ever have a flat tire or something.

I feel I should explain how this comes to be the case. It is by design, and it is planned. And it has really come in handy — I mean, just last year, when my car battery died completely and the manchild and I were at the post office, someone gave us a jumpstart and instead of going home and potentially getting stranded if there was a problem since Chad was out of town with Trucky, we went straight to the mechanic to see about getting Ginny fixed up, and wound up waiting there a while. Imagine if there had not been a fresh set of Addi Turbos and some Kidsilk Haze in a bag in the back seat. This could have been disaster, instead of mild inconvenience.

Truly, I praised myself extensively for that purchase of yarn and needles, and for leaving it in the back seat of my car for months on end. I remembered buying it — I was at a new independent yarn shop, one which was clearly making a concerted effort to provide community and a social focus and a broad range of products. I mean, let’s be honest here — do I need any Kidsilk Haze? No, I do not. I do not technically “need” any sort of millspun yarn, let alone a laceweight one. And I probably have another set of those exact Turbos somewhere too. But, I absolutely do need (and need is the right word) a selection of independently owned small business catering to communities of yarn-addicted nutjobs. I need to be surrounded by those. That being the case, it is a moral imperative that I visit such shops and make purchases, as that is how they come to be there when I need them. Me buying Turbos and a skein of lace yarn when I don’t need them is like buying insurance against the day when I absolutely, without question, right this minute will be totally screwed if I can’t find a 16 inch size 0 US circular needle, realize I don’t have one, and have to go get it, and no, mail order will NOT do the trick.

There are those who would say that “can’t find a 16 inch size 0 circ” does not constitute a real emergency, and is not worth insuring against. And then there are those who, if they’re reading this, are nodding their heads vigorously in agreement and understanding. This brings us to why I was packing up the Mommy Car and planning to hit the road. Even beyond the handful of folks who totally understand why I’d store emergency projects in the car, there are a couple of folks in the world who actually crusade in favour of such activities; who will take it on the road and preach it; who will tirelessly lobby in favour of such practices, and attempt to explain them to anyone willing to listen (and maybe even those who aren’t so willing). You know… people who exhort us all to engage in inexplicable knitting acts, rather like suddenly driving to the next state over on some yarn-related jaunt. It’s an important part of my yarn ethos to try to maintain contact with and support for people like that.

Arriving in Ann Arbor and finding the library, I was thrilled to immediately run into Jofran, who I’d met at my spindle class a couple of weeks ago. This worked out wonderfully for me — I threw my shawl down on a chair to hold my spot and went to grab a bite with Jofran and her elite cadre of Ford-employee yarn types. By the time we got back, the whole room was full and it turned out we’d been just in time to snag those third-row seats.

That’s when I met Becky, of Middle Kingdom Fiber.

Becky’s just started making these spindle cases, which she’s thinking about selling. They are so clever…

See, check it out: a spot to secure a hook, if your spindle has one, and spots to slip knitting needles (say, dpns) into to carry along, and the case is padded and firm-sided, and has elastic closures… soooo clever. My big beef with travelling with hook-having spindles is that the hook catches on stuff and it’s hard to just cram it in my bag like my Andean-style low whorls, and this solves that so nicely. I tried really hard to order one of these from Becky, but instead she gave me the one other one that she had. I’m afraid I gave her a totally hard time insisting she has to make them and sell them. I mean, I’m going to need more than one.

As an aside, I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that I may have dragged an unsuspecting knitter out to my car and forced her to learn to spin on the spot, with random fiber that I had to hand. In case of emergencies. In the car. We just finished talking about this, so I’m not going to go on and on about it, but supposing that I did do such a thing, it just proves that it is wise to have emergency stash and projects in the car. You never know when you might need to do something like that, after all.

I also got to see Kat, and catch up for a little bit — and she told me what she’d been getting up to with respect to the stuff we did in class a couple of weeks back. She’s been working on long draw stuff, and liking it — and see, that’s what is so great to hear, and why it’s so great to be able to teach!

And I met Spinsanity Shannon, and her daughter, and she gave me a butterfly spindle! Just look at this:

I was really sorry to miss meeting Shannon when I was at The Spinning Loft, so it was great to get to meet her Friday night. There just aren’t enough times when so many of the yarn dorks in a given area show up in one place. Really, we need to schedule more things that cause that to happen. This particular event, at the Ann Arbor library, was such an event. The library folks seemed to be referring to it as “the yarn program.” So, what was the deal? Who got everyone off their butts and into a single location (well, two — there was a conference room in the basement, and a room with a big screen on the second floor)?

This is where she kills me and says that’s not a flattering picture. But, you know, I think she fits right in with the chicks in the paintings behind her… is that painted chick at the far left working on a giant checkered scarf? I think so.

Stephanie’s talk — this is the first one of her book signing and talks that I’d been to — was, well, just like reading her blog, except in real life. She posted (that is, spoke), after which some readers are done and go home, and other readers comment, and perhaps socialize in the comments. It’s utterly awe-inspiring how Stephanie remembers everyone, and pays attention, and cares; I think perhaps people don’t realize that about her. They don’t realize she reads all her comments, and replies to many in email; they don’t realize she reads other people’s blogs (and in fact, pretty much everybody’s); they don’t realize just how much she cares about her community.

I find her inspiring, for that as well as her tirelessness, sense of humour, and breadth of knowledge. I find that, in conversations with Stephanie, she routinely utters something that seems small and casual, but is actually the crux of a major knitting quandary. It’s the thread you can take hold of and tug at such that the whole mystery will unravel. She has the gift of making people able to see things, making them envision themselves doing that thing, making them want to, and then, somehow, giving them what they need to keep at it even when it’s totally going south — and then when people succeed, she’s emotionally invested in their success. She has whatever mystical quality is that made me, while in labor with my son, not punch my midwife or birthing assistants, and instead just go ahead and have the baby.

So, that’s why I got in the car and drove across the state and into the next one to give her a hug and force her to sign a copy of her new book for me.

Thank you, Steph, for taking it out on the road. You know, and for being one of the very, very few people in the world who has never gaped at me strangely when I’m trying to explain about being the child of yarnthropologists, and who not only doesn’t think it’s weird that I have emergency stash and projects in the car at all times (yeah, my husband’s truck too, to his chagrin I fear), but actually even expects it of me, and urges me to push that tendency even further. It was great to see you.

Also, this morning while I was walking through the kitchen something struck me, and I realized I forgot to tell you about the time when I was like 6 months pregnant and a hormonal rage came over me, causing me to run up to what I thought was a large box full of packing peanuts, and give it the hardest kick I could muster. I expected a delightful shower of styrofoam all over the garage… but instead, it turned out the box was full of broken parts from someone’s ’71 Coupe de Ville, and my foot did not do anything to them, and instead, I dislocated the knee I was standing on, and fell on my ass. I just thought you ought to know about that.

As for the rest of you, you should totally go see Steph if she’s in your neck of the woods. Even if you aren’t a yarn dork (although, if you aren’t, I’m not sure what you’re doing reading my blog, when you get right down to it). While it could be argued that I’m not a good judge of what’s funny even if you don’t like yarn, I’m pretty sure she is — and you would be amazed to see what yarn type folks will do for their Harlot. Frankly, I think we’re all lucky she likes yarn instead of golf or woodworking or something.

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Guess Who’s Hanging With Me For A Few?

Some boxes got here just after dinner last night.

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

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

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

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

So, how to assemble it?

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

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

…and tightens by hand, no tools required.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and now it just needs the flyer…

…and a bobbin…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…tug towards you, and…

Voila, leader attached.

No threading hook needed here…

Or there…

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

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

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

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

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

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Do You Have Any Advice About SOAR?

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

Yes. Here it is.

SOAR is intense!

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

How does it work exactly?

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

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

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

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

Will my family likely want to go along?

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

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

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

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

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

What classes would you pick?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not all about classes or shopping!

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

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

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

Should I take projects to SOAR?

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

Anything else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faina's Swatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…I look like Keith Richards at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby’s Yarns on Flickr

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

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