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Is Monday Over Yet?

Well, not exactly, and actually, it may last at least through Wednesday.

Things started off okay. It was actually kinda pleasant even, because there were thunderstorms overnight — thunderstorms! Which can’t happen when it’s freezing cold. So that meant, you know, the weather was on the upswing and all that. Sort of. Well, you know, striving to be spring. With flood warnings and everything. And it was nice, in a funny sort of way, to wake up (even in the darkness of the brutal early mornings that are my lot until, oh, 2016) with driving rain and flashing lightning and whatnot.

I drove the manchild down to wait for the bus (because it was really, really pouring and I have a heart). When we walked into the garage, weather had changed so dramatically somehow that there was condensation everywhere, and it smelled like wet. The day started fine with plenty of coffee. I was getting tons done. I made all my lists on schedule for the morning meeting with Shelly to plan out our specific action items for the week, getting Stringtopia really rolling. Snowballing, even. We had a great meeting and things were all on track. We even stole a few moments to chat about the kids and the junior high band concert tonight and schedules of that ilk, and there were Girl Scout cookies, so how bad could it possibly be?

I made it back in time for lunch with my better half. A quick, 20-minute lunch, sure, but c’mon, that’s always a win. And afterwards, I walked out on the front porch to see how wet things looked out there what with flood warnings in effect, and that’s when I saw this.


That made me so cheerful I totally took a cameraphone picture and posted it to Facebook and got all enthused.

And then I walked inside, and up the stairs to my office, where I was greeted by

So then I spent about an hour doing all the usual things a recovered sysadmin would do when presented with that — like also posting that picture to Facebook to counterbalance that happy hopeful bulb poking up, and then further chronicling how

and everything that goes with that, like having the conversation about how I only have a Windows box in case of a dire need to indulge in some gaming, and that’s a much more legitimate reason than “I need it for QuickBooks and syncing my Blackberry.”

To my credit, I only screwed around with it for an hour before heading to MicroCenter and

coming back with a Windoze upgrade that I knew was coming down the pike, and that old standard, the 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda in $whatever_size_is_on_sale. I had just enough time to pull all the other drives, give the box a once-over with the canned air, shove the new drive in there, shove the Windows 7 Professional 64-bit whatever bla bla bla DVD in the DVD drive, boot, start the install, and leave to go pick up the manchild from his after-school writing thing. And then homework and the mail and dinner and trash day and more poking new Windows with a stick and cursing at it and making sure the band outfit was good to go and piling in the truck and a band concert (which was quite good, let’s hear it for music education) and you know, so much for my list of things I was definitely going to have done today.

Today was perhaps not entirely my day.

Here’s hoping for tomorrow.

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Peruvian Spindles, My Spindles

I was recently asked about Peruvian low whorl spindles and where to find them. I both love and hate this question because it’s full of simple answers… and not so simple ones.


The easy answer is: you get ’em in the markets in Peru. Not the tourist markets, but the ones where regular people, generally country people and not city people, shop. Usually, the folks selling wooden spoons and turned wooden bowls and things like that will have them, if they’re carrying country-people stuff. They’re just another utensil. You could say it’s the equivalent of going to the aisle in the supermarket where there’ll be wooden spoons and potholders and that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, this may also be the hard answer, because if you don’t happen to be in Peru, it may be hard to get to your basic everyday market in Peru. Beth at The Spinning Loft in Michigan makes every effort to have them on hand, but what that means is either she has to go there and buy a bunch, or she has to a) have a pal in Peru b) who she can talk into going to the market for her and c) buying up all the spindles he or she can find and d) getting them to her in the USA. Since neither of these things is entirely trivial, when she has them, they tend to sell out fast.

Lord knows anytime I’m in Peru, I buy a few. I mean, you can never really have too many, can you? I also tend to pick up wooden spoons, because, you know, same thing. Anyway, these aren’t fancy spindles — they’re plain, utilitarian objects. And you need to have lots, especially if you’re in the habit of teaching people to spin or teaching techniques that are really for this type of spindle. This is all the more true because when you compare these spindles to the ones we’re able to buy in the USA from all of our wonderful spindlecrafters, well, let’s face it, these Peruvian ones are pretty basic.

Peruvian Spindles

They’re not made from fancy wood; they’re just whatever’s around, which in Peru, usually means eucalyptus unless you’re in the jungle. The whorls are simple lathe-turned chunks, generally undecorated unless they’ve been ornamented with a woodburning tool by the lathe person, or drawn on with a marker. The shafts are sticks that are more or less straight, peeled, whittled straighter, with a slight widening under where the whorl will sit, pointy at the bottom.

Peruvian Spindles

There’s none of this business with making or finding or putting in fancy hooks, or turning the shaft prettily, or making fancy grooves and notches and whatnot. Nope. You get the whittled end of a stick. It’s usually pointy when you get it, too. With time, it wears down. Or you can grind it on a rock if it’s too pointy. And the shafts can be splintery. Indeed, I had pricked my fingers this way so many times before I ever actually read about Sleeping Beauty, that when I first heard people musing about what part of the wheel she might have used for pricking her finger, I was flabbergasted. I mean, to me it was obvious: the story says she pricked her finger on a spindle, and seriously, everyone knows that happens all the time. A wheel? Seriously? You’re kidding, right? I mean the story isn’t that newfangled, and besides, it says “spindle” right in it.

That said, I don’t think I ever have pricked my finger on a fancy post-industrial style spindle. I mean, there’s sandpaper. And machined dowels. And people who spend time turning shafts by hand. But that’s not what these are.

Peruvian Spindles

At right, a newer spindle that I picked up about 3 months ago, and have barely had a chance to put any yarn on yet. At left, a well-used, well-worn-in spindle that belonged to Nilda Callañaupa for a couple of years before we swapped spindles in 2008. It’s well-used, but not absurdly so.

Nobody in the developed world really makes spindles like this. I think it’s a combination of factors: first, some spinners are hesitant to go with hookless, notchless forms — they can’t believe it’ll really work well without a yarn anchor, or with the yarn slightly off center, and in some cases for some spinners that’s true. It’s also true that unless you know the techniques that go with this kind of spindle, it may seem complicated. So in that respect, there’s kind of a chicken and egg problem: what has to come first? I think people knowing the techniques, and thus creating the demand, probably has to, so that’s where I come in.

The second factor, and probably the trickier one, is that I think these are boring for spindle makers to create. It’s just a weight and a stick. There’s nothing fancy to do. I’ve talked to people about making them, and they almost always really, really want to do something more to them — an ornamented shaft, something snazzy with the tip, a particular form factor for the bottom of the shaft, specific whorl geometry, I dunno. I’m forever hearing “Really? Just a kinda centerweighted whorl, and really just a stick? I can’t put a notch on there? You don’t want a hook? What about a knob? I mean you must want something on there. Right?” First I thought it was disbelief… but I’ve since concluded boredom must also be a factor. There’s just not a lot there with which to showcase one’s artistry as a woodworker. And you sorta need to be able to do that if it’s going to be a product you want to sell at a price-point that makes it worth making them for sale. Even if it isn’t boring to make, if you’re constantly hearing “I’m not paying $20 for that! It’s just a basic stick with a weight on it!” it wouldn’t be topping your list of things to make.

So my solution is to make my own, putting forth a little more effort than just going to the market, but not by all that much really.

Denny left, Beth right

I find pre-cut wooden dowels, and machine-milled wooden wheels for toys. I order them by the buttload from my local dowel mill, but you can usually find them at the craft store or big box megamart. If you can’t, there are a zillion and one online sources — just google “wooden toy wheel” and “12 inch dowel” and you’re all set. The main trick is to make sure you get toy wheels which have a hole in the middle that’s the same size as the dowels you can find. Or dowels that are the same size as the hole in your toy wheels. As to that, I like toy wheels that are 2″ or more in diameter, and dowels that are a quarter inch. Thicker than that and they’re clunky, thinner than that and they’re fragile and you can’t find toy wheels with the right size hole.


On the left, a totally unused Peruvian market spindle; on the right, one of my toy wheel deals, also totally unused.

Peruvian Spindle
Ornamented with woodburning, kinda pointy at the bottom of the shaft…

Toy Wheel Spindle

Ornamented with a Sharpie, the bottom of the shaft having been sharpened with a pencil sharpener.

Tips of spindles. Left: Peruvian. Right: new toy wheel spindle.

The tips. Both will be nicer with some use on them.

Dowel point after a year or two of use

Here’s what happens to that pencil-sharpener-sharpened shaft after a year or two of regular use.

I like to sharpen the bottoms because then there’s less drag when you use ’em semi-supported or resting on something a bit, and because you can stick the point in the ground when you go to wind off, the same way they do it in Peru a lot of the time.

These spindles are cheap, durable, easy to make, and not a lot can go wrong with them. They’re great for what I think of as high-risk spinning activities: going for a walk on concrete, packing in an airline carryon bag, going places where I might lose them or break them. And they’re basically the same thing as the Peruvian ones — inexpensive, easy to find tools that aren’t too dear.

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Stringtopia Registration Update

Stringtopia registration proceeds, and we’re very excited watching them roll in and finding out who’s joining us! It’s truly a thrill! We’re starting to really picture our quiet, historic downtown being taken over by spinners, and our attempts to cover all the bases and think of everything, well, I have to admit, right now they even include me having thought, “I wonder if I should go warn the antique stores that their inventory of spinning wheels may be getting a serious look-over and appraisal and they probably want to be sure they don’t have any ‘works great’ signs on any decorative ones?” and “Geeze, maybe I should have scheduled a plain ol’ spinning demo where passersby can tell us all they didn’t know anybody still did that, and ask us if we know we can buy yarn at Wal-Mart, and of course, before that, a half-hour seminar on clever answers to those usual questions so we can put them all to the test!”

Seriously, though, there are a couple of things I wanted to make sure everyone knows.

First, it looks like between 10PM Eastern (0300 GMT) and 5:30AM Eastern (10:30 GMT), two registrations came in for which the name and address data are missing. IF YOU REGISTERED LAST NIGHT AND HAVE NOT GOTTEN AN EMAIL FROM ME OR SHELLY CONFIRMING YOU, please contact us right away — shelly at and abby at

Second, and it would be first because it is also perhaps foremost except for us worrying about missing someone’s registration, from emails that I received and comments in various places, it turns out I wasn’t clear about a very important point: you can roll your own Stringtopia experience. We tried hard to make it accessible to folks who would be traveling a long way to attend (so far the furthest anybody is coming is from Czechoslovakia) but also, to folks who are local (for instance, there’s a nice lady at our Thursday night spinning and yarn get-togethers who lives a few blocks from the Golden Lamb). We wanted to try to fit as many budgets as we could also. So there are half-day classes starting at $75 with materials included; group meals are pretty much wide open as long as we know you’re coming; you can come hang out Saturday evening and have coffee or a beer; you can come just to see what Morgaine has with her to entice you. And if you live in the area, we hope you will do at least one of those things, because part of the mission we’re on here is, well, to have the larger spinning community over for a party at our place.

Third, this weekend we’ll be letting you all know about the various places online where you can meet and interact with your fellow Stringtopians, or just drop in and live vicariously if you can’t make it. Stay tuned!

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So, what are you doing the weekend of April 29 to May 1, 2011? I know what I’m doing.

It all started when Morgaine Wilder from Carolina Homespun stopped by my house last year on her way home from Maryland Sheep & Wool. We had a lovely visit and we found ourselves talking about all manner of things. If you know Morgaine, or you’ve seen her at a fiber festival, you may have wondered how she manages to have so much fiber shopping excitement all over the country with her. The answer is the somewhat mystical vehicle she calls the Yarn-Vee. I’ve gotta say, a visit from Morgaine with her home on wheels and cargo bay full of all those wheels, looms, fibers, yarns, books, tools… it’s enticing. A girl can’t help but think, wow, how often does a full-service fiber shop just pull up in your driveway? So half-joking, I found myself saying, “Morgaine, the next time you’re passing through, you should totally stop and we can tell people to come over and shop!”

“Hrmmmm,” she said, which didn’t sound like “no.” So “Hrmmmm,” I said, and, well, it was only half-joking.

Then a few months later, I was over at my good friend Shelly’s place not long after a trip out teaching somewhere. We were sitting on her porch, and she asked me, “How come you never teach classes nearby? I mean, you always have to take it on the road. And then we never have anything like your workshops right around here. Why don’t you teach some classes in town?” I spent a while talking about how there weren’t a lot of places, and how I couldn’t put one on myself because I just don’t have the time to do all that running around and figuring out the logistics and finding a spot and what it would really take, what it would really need, would be someone who’s super-organized, and motivated, and able to run around town and figure out the right spot to do it and how it would work out and what kind of space we had, and then if people wanted to come in from somewhere else they’d need places to stay, and all of it, again, would need someone who was, you know, a coordinator and planner.

“If only,” Shelly said, a little dryly, “If only you knew someone like that. Who was interested. Ahem.” And then she grinned at me.

“Hrmmmmm,” said I, taking her point. “Hrmmmmm. Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to look around and see what options we might have.”

So she did. In nothing flat, Shelly had lined up appointments for us to go check out several possible venues within a half-hour of home here in southwestern Ohio. Daringly, she even approached Ohio’s oldest inn, The Golden Lamb. Here in Lebanon, Ohio, the Golden Lamb is the landmark from which most directions start: “From Golden Lamb, head east on Main Street and…” or “From Golden Lamb, go south on Broadway…” Everyone knows where it is. Heck, all over Ohio, when you tell people you live in Lebanon, they say “Oh, where the Golden Lamb is!” It’s as old as Ohio. It was a log tavern when there was pretty much nothing here but some intersecting horse tracks. It was a stagecoach inn back when this was the wild west. It was a hotbed of politics for the early statecraft of Ohio and further western expansion. Charles Dickens stayed there and wrote crabbily about the lack of booze in it when it was a temperance hotel. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and sundry lords and ladies have stayed there. Presidential candidates still go there making campaign speeches. So surely, I thought secretly, it would be way too fancy for the likes of me and a few yarn enthusiasts to commandeer for workshops.

But from the moment we started checking the place out, and talking with the lovely folks who run it about what we wanted to do, it turned out to be a fantastic fit. I started to picture a retreat, with classes in their banquet rooms and evenings spent hanging around the tavern or out on the massive balcony overlooking the sign with a sheep on it… with… a sheep… on it… how could I not have seen this? Oh, if only we could do it affordably. And that, too, turned out to be the case.

A whole slew of great things came together for us once Shelly got the ball rolling. For example, Morgaine would be able to stop by with the Yarn-Vee on her way to Maryland Sheep & Wool. The illustrious and amazing Jacey Boggs had a spot open in her schedule that same weekend. Nobody around town said “For yarn stuff? Really? Forget it!” So we figured, you know, we could really do this. My better half jokingly referred to our hypothetical event as Stringtopia, and it stuck.

And lo and behold, there really will be a Stringtopia. And you’re invited.

How it’ll work: you’ll fill out a form with your name and contact info and check off the specific things you’re selecting from a list — that’ll include your class lineup and your meal choices. Each of those is priced individually, and at the end, it’ll give you a tally of what your selection would cost (not including lodging). You’ll have a chance to look it over, make sure it includes everything you expect, make changes if you need to, and then you’ll click “Sign me up!” and all the info will go to Shelly, who you can also reach directly at

Shelly, meanwhile, will be watching the signups and getting back to you to let you know you’re confirmed and what she has you down for. If you need to add anything on, like a meal for a spouse, you’ll reply to her and let her know; she’ll add that to your total and send you an email invoice with all the payment info and everything. Expect to hear back within a day; remember we’re doing this all manually. Every class has between 15-20 spots available so there are lots of things to do. You can also come and just hang out and shop.

IF something that you wanted to sign up for is full up, Shelly will let you know, and let you know what is still available instead, so you can make up your mind what you want to do. Your options will be to choose something else, or to go on the waiting list — we’ll let you know how many people are on the waiting list when you’re trying to decide, if your first choice is full. Then it proceeds as in the paragraph above.

Once you have your confirmation email, then you should call the Golden Lamb and make your room reservations (that info will be in your signup stuff). We expect these to go fast also!

Now, enough of that: here’s the signup link!

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17 Feb 2011

Dear Ed,

Sometimes the numbers just don’t seem to add up. Like thinking about how you’d have turned 66 today, and how in another 3 weeks, it’ll be 7 years since you died. Thinking about it today still makes me cry my ass off; not in the sobbing gut-punched way it used to, I guess, but in that hot, prickling, “Hell, tears are coming and there is gonna be no stopping ’em” way a girl just can’t do anything about.

When I was a toddler and I’d cry, for whatever reason — though when I think back on it, it seems I recall it often being over something in the world simply not bending to my will — you used to pick me up and carry me to a mirror, where you’d smile and point at my reflection, forcing me to look at my red, blotchy face, contorted and tearful. It made me mad on top of whatever it was I was crying about, you know… well, yeah, I guess you did know. But it always worked: I’d end up laughing. I’d end up unable to keep a straight face crying, looking at myself, all upset. You were right; it was funny, on a deep down level, the way I looked, and I’d lose the ability to take my crying seriously and so it would stop.

But, when I cry on your birthday, it’s not that kinda cry. Not mostly, anyway. I mean, yes: there is absolutely a part of me that feels like 3-year-old girl who just wants her dad and can’t have him, and never can again. Yes, there is a part of me that totally feels part orphaned by your death. I know I’m not and that it’s a ridiculous thing for a grown woman with a teenage son of her own to feel, but yes, there is a part of me deep down that just wants to throw a tantrum and scream about how it isn’t fair, and I deserve to still have my dad, and this sucks, and I demand that it be fixed to my satisfaction, right now.

Unsurprisingly, the world won’t bend to my whim now any more than it would when I was little. The raw deal is there’s no you around to make me look in the mirror and get over it. I just gotta do it myself. This being a grownup thing feels like a ripoff sometimes. I got nothin’. Except, maybe, to remember one of the other things you always pulled out of your bag of tricks: a song or two. Here are a few found versions of one you always sang.