It’s coming around again, as it has probably for time immemorial — the thing where someone who doesn’t knit discovers that there are people who do knit, and some of them are apparently under the age of 90, and then the next thing we know, someone is writing articles or spouting this line on TV or social media or something:
“This is not your grandmother’s knitting.”
Every time someone says this, picture the knitters of the developed world all crying out in unison as they slam their heads into their keyboards, tablets, smartphones, countertops covered in a newspaper, airplane tray tables beneath a magazine… you get the picture. Seriously. Just imagine us all casting our eyes upwards and beseeching the heavens for some sort of answer as to why THIS of all things is the line we’re saddled with hearing from the news media and our non-yarnish friends.
So I just thought I’d take a moment to say this:
Actually, this IS my grandmother’s knitting.
And these are some of her knitting needles. My uncle was kind enough to give them to me right away when my grandmother passed on last year.
My grandmother Rachel was a painter, potter, weaver, spinner, dyer, knitter, crocheter, sewer, embroiderer, cook, and countless other things. I cannot remember a time before she put yarn and yarn activities in my hands, and there was never a time growing up when I didn’t have plenty of clothes she made for me, in lots of ways. I have many of them to this day, and certainly, lots of household textiles that she made.
My grandmother was also a woman who spent most of her elder years living in Montana, part of the time fairly rurally. Letters from her often started with lines like “Today I saw a mountain lion and her cub out the kitchen window…” or “While I was gathering clay from the banks of the stream out in back of the house…” or “I had a few weaver friends over today, and we’ll spending next weekend at the mall demonstrating spinning and weaving! I hope we get to teach lots of new people!”
Right now, I’m also looking at what my mother told me had been my grandmother’s “summer house loom” — the small loom she kept for weaving with when spending summers on a remote island in the Great Lakes. She gave the loom to her new son-in-law, my father, in 1970, when he became interested in learning to weave. I should probably note the “small loom” is a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width.
Oh and by the way… the folded up pieces of paper in that photo? Among them are receipts for the interchangeable needle set and add-on parts ordered, and for $70 of yarn in 1983, with a note in her handwriting that says “Family heirloom.”
So yeah. I’m pretty sure that what I do today IS my grandma’s knitting. In lots of ways, in fact. And of course, it’s also my mother’s knitting.
Lots of things may not be obvious in this photo of my mother holding a 16th century icon, but the only stuff I really want to point out is that my mother sewed that dress (and had me practice embroidery on part of it), and she spun the yarn for the cabled sweater draped around her neck, which of course she knit. So yeah, it looks like this is also my mother’s knitting.
And actually, it’s my father’s knitting, too. It’s too sad for me to take a picture, but I have a small bag that I sometimes open and look at, and think about the contents. It was the bag in which he carried around his last knitting project, which he didn’t finish. They were gloves he was making for me when he succumbed to the cancer that killed him — colorwork gloves with a reinterpretation of one of my favourite Chinchero weaving patterns.
You know what else? It’s lots of people’s knitting all over the world. They look all kinds of ways and might be anybody. Like these gentlemen knitting while watching a presentation at the 2010 Tinkuy de Tejedores in Urubamba, Peru:
It’s also my great-grandmother’s knitting, by the way, as I was reminded when that same uncle passed on to me a pair of socks that were knit for him by my great-grandmother in the 1960s. And you know, that brings me to the next major point of peevishness about this whole “not your grandma’s knitting” shtick:
WHAT THE HECK IS THE MATTER WITH YOUR GRANDMA ANYWAY?
Seriously, I know a lot of grandmas, and lots of ’em are really quite cool. Some of my best friends are grandmas. And just yesterday I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who died while my mother was pregnant with me. I never met her, but I grew up on stories about her, and the ever-diminishing number of my relatives who did know her never seem to run out of those stories.
College educated, the eldest of 9 kids, a cigar-smoking, bloomer-wearing Suffragist, my great-grandmother is among the reasons I can do stuff today like “vote” and “own property and even a business in my own name,” things that she did AT THE SAME TIME AS SHE WAS KNITTING. Heck, you know what? My grandmother told me she remembered her mother taking her to see Red Sox games when she was a teenager… and both of them knitting on the T. That sure sounds like the knitting scene I know today.
So yeah. Not my grandma’s knitting? All I’ve got to say is, dude, you obviously know neither my grandma, nor her knitting. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t know anyone’s knitting, and the number one indicator that’s the case? It was when you said “this isn’t your grandma’s knitting.”
Next up, perhaps: I’m going to teach a yoga teacher to knit, so we can conclusively speak to the question of whether or not it’s “the new yoga.”
Do you have a spinner in your life for whom you’d like to buy a gift, but you aren’t sure what he or she would like? I’ve pulled together a list of some favourite items in various price ranges to help, followed by a few tips on shopping for spinners in secret.
The Spinner’s Party Tool from FBN Plastics. Featuring a wraps per inch gauge, angle of twist gauge, and a bottle opener with a keychain ring, this little gadget is incredibly handy. I have several, in various places around the house, my car, and my luggage. Did I mention it’s TSA approved, so I can always measure my yarn AND open my beer, even when I’m on the road? I also keep one hanging from my wheel next to my orifice hook, and one in my spindle bag. $5.
Spinning Wheel Oil Bottle. If you’ve got a wheel, you need oil for it (typical motor oil works great), and you’d rather have it be easy to apply. I really like these Schacht oil bottles because of the long needle tip that lets you get the oil right where you want it. $8-9
Orifice Hooks. These are used pretty constantly with most spinning wheels, and most spinners could stand to have more of these. Sometimes the ones you have go rogue, and there you are, bending a paper clip to handle an emergency — if you don’t have a few extras lying around. Some spinners really like to have beautiful ones. They can be made from wood, glass, all manner of things. $2 and up, with a lot in the $10-20 range.
A Pretty Diz. Used to pull prepared fibers into their final pre-spinning state, dizzes are more of a hit-or-miss gift, but they’re usually inexpensive and fun. Many people make them or repurpose household objects like buttons, but you can also find really pretty ones. If your spinner has a drum carder or combs, this could be a win for a small gift. Prettier, fancier ones cost a bit more. You want smooth (so fibers don’t snag) and durable (because fibers are stronger than you might think). Around $20.
Fiber! Dude, there is so much fiber in this price range. Omigod, is there fiber in this price range. Sadly, it’s hard to say there’s one kind of fiber that makes the perfect gift. So instead, here’s a short list of a few of the folks whose fiber I personally always find delightful, and whose stuff I use in classes.
A Nice Spindle. At this price point, you can buy some really nice spindles! Some of my favourites are:
– KCL Woods
I have never had a spindle I didn’t really, really like (or more likely, desperately adore) from any of these makers. They’re all unique and individual and worth every penny as workhorse tools that are also beautiful. Even if your spinner doesn’t have a major spindle attraction, these are the spindles that, shall we say, I doubt anybody would kick out of bed for eating crackers.
Hand cards — if your spinner has none, then my choices for all-around hand cards are Schacht curved medium or fine, or Strauch fine, including half-size. Every individual spinner will develop his or her own preferences, so the curved or flat question is pretty much unanswerable. Your spinner won’t know until he or she has used them for a while. So don’t overthink it! If you’ve got a spinner who does not have hand cards, it’s time to remedy that. If your spinner does have hand cards, but only one set, see if you can figure out which set and then call a good fiber shop (like one of the ones linked in various places in this article) and ask for advice on what cards should come next.
Books and Videos! There are so many great resources out there now, many of them free — but I still recommend having an extensive library. The hot new release The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith (you can even get a signed copy). If your spinner doesn’t already have it, he or she probably wants it. Here’s a short list of some other books I recommend:
Classes! Nothing helps a spinner get more out of whatever they’ve already got than taking some classes. However, sometimes they can be hard to justify for people, and so they make really great gifts. Contact your local (or most local) fiber shop or weaver’s guild to find out what options exist in your area.
Yarn Handling Tools — often overlooked, these tools actually make an enormous difference in the life of a spinner. Eventually, every spinner probably should have a way to make skeins of yarn, a way to hold those skeins to wind them into balls, and a way to easily wind those balls. So, that’s a skein winder or niddy noddy (for making skeins), a swift (for holding skeins), and a ball winder (for, um, winding balls). YES, there exist tools out there that do double duty, but I’m going to tell you the truth: almost none of them do a truly great job, and in the long run, your spinner will probably be happier with great tools that really work reliably for the purposes for which they were made. So here are my faves:
– Schacht Niddy Noddy. Like real antique ones, this niddy noddy is extremely lightweight, making it easy to work with when winding skeins. Unlike antique ones, this collapses and folds up small, and can make more than one size skein. $75.
– Fricke skeinwinder. I have both a motorized, and non-motorized, version of this winder, equipped with a rotation counter that tracks your revolutions so you know how long your skein is once you’re done winding. These are probably the biggest time savers of any single piece of equipment I own — no exaggeration.
– Swift! The umbrella style is terrific and sturdy and usually repairable, unless you get a really chintzy one (they’re out there — if the swift is half the price of most of the others, I would probably give it a pass). You want one that says it can handle 2-yard skeins. You can get them that clamp to a table or surface, that rest on a surface, or that stand on the floor. I have one free-standing and one clamping, because different circumstances call for different things. I’ve been very happy with the decades of hard work I’ve gotten from my Ashford swift and my Glimakra swift. But counter to what I said above regarding multi-tasking tools, I have only had great experiences with the Strauch skeinwinder, so that makes the list as well. One of the things that’s great about the Strauch ones is that you can get table clamps that work even with those newfangled plastic folding tables that have a lip on them — a perpetual irritation for the fiber artist who wants to clamp stuff to stuff!
– Ball Winder. I grew up with plastic ball winders that were pretty great, but sometime this century or so I guess the quality really diminished. I think it was 2004 when I went through 3 ball winders in 3 months, and swore off buying the cheap ones, having concluded that for the price of the three cheap ones with broken plastic gears I could have bought one really good one instead. As it happens, I still have that one really good one, which was a Strauch that I initially expected to be overkill for my needs. Turns out it hasn’t been. The other really fabulous one out there is from Nancy’s Knit Knacks — when Nancy says heavy duty, she means it.
– Bobbin Winder. My Schacht bobbin winder is my most reliable and dependable. After the skein winder, the bobbin winder is probably my biggest saver of time and money. With it, and an assortment of cheap plastic bobbins, it simply doesn’t matter how many bobbins I have for which spinning wheel.
– Combs! Oh, man, where to start with combs? If your spinner has none, then I’d go with either the double-pitch Valkyrie fine hand combs, or St. Blaise combs (designed by master comber and spinning teacher Robin Russo, and made by her husband Pat). These two are actually the ones I use the most, as generalist combs. However, your spinner may have specific wants and needs and if he or she has combs already, there could be another set that are needed in order to perform specific tasks, in which case, refer to the upcoming advice about sneakily finding out what your spinner really wants.
– Blending Board. These have been the hot item in fiber prep for the past year or two, and there are lots of designs. I really like the Clemes and Clemes one and the Ashford one, which can sit on your lap but also feature a keel that you can hold between your knees to keep things steady while you play, or set on a table in front of you.
This is a tough price range — it represents a price point where you can often find more expensive equipment used in good condition, and where you start to see the most entry-priced higher-end tools and equipment. However, most of the new equipment in this price range doesn’t wow me in terms of fit and finish, durability, and bang for the buck. If this is your budget, I’d put together a bunch of mix and match stuff from lower price ranges, such as a skein winder, swift, ball winder, and bobbin winder. Or a spindle and a lot of fiber. Or lots of extra bobbins for your spinner’s wheel of choice. Or, see if you can get your spinner to divulge a wish for an add-on to his or her wheel, because you can also find a lot of things like that in this price range.
Another good option might be to pick up your spinner a way to use up some of that yarn, and a great option in this price range is a rigid heddle loom with accessories. I’m partial to my Schacht rigid heddle looms because they’re laid out similarly to floor looms, and because of the range of accessories available (one of my faves is the heddle solution that lets you mix and match so you can do a lot of varied things with your warp). One of the great things about giving a spinner a rigid heddle loom is that it’s going to eat up lots of yarn, and it’s easy to mix and match and combine small skeins and leftovers into cohesive finished projects. I realize it’s a whole new slippery slope, but… you never know, you might just want to give your spinner a gentle nudge. You’ll doubtless be repaid in all kinds of new textile goods.
Now we’re in the entry priced spinning wheel price range! You might want to take a stroll through my article on choosing your first wheel to help you think this one through. The brands I most recommend are Ashford, Lendrum, Louet, Majacraft, and Schacht. My two top picks for wheels in this price range are the Schacht Ladybug and the Lendrum folding wheel, but all the brands I mentioned are dependable, excellent performers, and well-supported. I recommend finding the closest dealer you can for these, so you can get local help and support for the new wheel.
This is also the right price range for a drum carder. Myself personally, I have three — a Strauch, a Pat Green, and a Louet Classic. They all do different things, and it’s really no coincidence that these are the three I have: these are the ones that I’ve kept after working with lots of others. The Strauch is my best all-around, the Pat Green is the best for superfine fibers, and the Louet Classic is the best for more medium and wild and crazy fibers. Find whatever’s in your price range from one of those brands, and you pretty much can’t go wrong. If I could only keep one of these carders, though, it would be the Strauch, based on over a decade of extensive drum carding experience. My top pick for an entry-priced drum carder is the Strauch Petite, based on almost a decade of working with them in classes.
As another thought for this price range, sending (or taking) your favourite spinner to a class (these can be pretty cheap and local, or they can be pricier with national instructors and involve travel), retreat, or fiber festival would be the kind of gift they’ll talk about for years.
At this price point you can either buy a heavier duty drum carder, a higher-end spinning wheel, or put together a spinner’s studio package. My top picks for spinning wheels in this price range are: Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Rose and Suzie, Louet Julia, Ashford Elizabeth, Lendrum Complete package. My top picks for drum carders are Strauch Finest and Pat Green Blender/Carder.
For a package that will give your spinner pretty much everything he or she really needs, here’s what I’d do. This list is ordered by priority, based on my experience.
– spinning wheel
– skein winder or niddy noddy (go for the skeinwinder if budget allows)
– books and videos
– bobbin winder
– hand cards
$1200 and up
Okay, I’m going to talk turkey here: if you’ve got this kind of budget for gifts for the spinner in your life, you probably shouldn’t be taking the word of some stranger on the Internet, even if it’s me. Chances are good that your spinner already has a wish list of things he or she really, really wants, and you’re going to have to get that information somehow.
There’s always coming right out and asking, but if you wanted to be less direct (so you can definitely surprise someone), you might consider contacting the fiber or yarn shop that he or she frequents, and asking if they know your spinner and whether or not there’s anything the folks at the shop think he or she wants or needs. That’s also a way to find out what’s new, what’s hot, and that sort of thing. Your spinner also might be a member of public fiber arts groups online, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest stalking someone on the internet, you might well find that a public forum contains posts where your spinner has outright stated what he or she most wishes they had. It’s been known to happen. Lastly, it’s possibly slower to get answers, but watch your spinner doing what he or she does and see if anything seems slow, cumbersome, or awkward. Then ask if there’s something that solves that. For example, “Hey, that niddy noddy thing seems kinda slow. Is there a faster way?” You’ll probably hear “Oh, yeah, there are skein winders, but they’re $100 and up and I can’t warrant spending that.” And then you’ve broken the ice! Then you can simply say things like “Wow, I had no idea there were so many things like that! Tell me more about some other interesting ones!” and there you go, you’ll probably hear more than you ever imagined.
Believe it or not, I get asked this question pretty regularly: “If you were going to set someone up with a really awesome spinning studio for the best bang for the buck, what would you get?” As with all things spinning, the answer is really “It depends,” but if this were some sort of game show which I’d win by just handling that question, I’d budget $1500-1700 and go this route:
In retrospect, as recovery starts to happen, I think maybe the t-shirts should have read
I SURVIVED SOCK SUMMIT 2009
SOCK SUMMIT ATE MY BRAIN
or something along those lines.
Pulling photos off the camera, it looks like I…. hardly took any. Which, when I think back, isn’t that surprising. I managed to get a few Wednesday afternoon before things kicked off, and then a few on Thursday morning… and then pretty much never again.
How did this happen? Well… I’ve gotta say, it was intense. I’ve been to a few fiber events, worked a few conferences, and this was different from all of them. It was big, and filled with people, and totally inspiring, and exhausting, and delightful, and exhausting, and invigorating, and exhausting, and it was all of those things completely nonstop. There’s so much I’ve been swearing I was going to say…and so much I haven’t found the words for.
Here’s our classroom (and there’s a story about that):
Here’s Denny setting up:
Look how we didn’t block the fire exit rearranging the chairs they couldn’t put in a circle for us. We’re such good kids and unlikely to get in trouble with anybody’s dad.
We were conveniently located near the coffee.
Which was good because we needed oh so very much of it. We’d take turns standing in the line, which was not inconsequential… look, here’s a relatively empty lobby:
(You may not be able to tell, but as usual, Tina is right there in the center of it all making stuff happen, and if you were to turn your back, there’d be Steph, and if you were to turn your head or go around a corner, there would be Rachel, Debbi, JoAnn, or Lisa in all their orange-shirted glory.)
Anyway, so this one time I’m standing in the coffee line and Denny’s hollering “Oooh, I want the perfect oatmeal cookie! Buy me one of those!”
“Oatmeal, or the cookie?” I asked her. “There’s The Perfect Oatmeal, or an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie.”
“The perfect oatmeal cookie! It says right there!”
“No, that’s oatmeal. It’s not a cookie.”
“I want the perfect oatmeal cookie! That’s what I need!”
And I’m convinced this is the sassy magic of Mary Scott Huff that made this photo come out all fun like it did, plus you can see the shawl Denny gave Jen.
I can’t wait for Mary’s book, which should be on shelves just before mine. I haven’t seen the book — but I saw some of the projects and they were stunning, and Mary and I were cooking up an idea for a collaboration of some sort too.
And we totally made a Rubbernecker mod cry, and we have PROOF.
But as for the rest of it, apparently it didn’t happen. Why? Because there are no pictures.
So obviously, I didn’t really meet Sivia Harding first thing at the airport, on the shuttle to the hotel. I wasn’t at the teacher dinner when someone put a hand on my shoulder to steady herself as she raised her foot to show a sock to someone else… and I realized it was Barbara Walker. I didn’t really set down my bag at the dinner table the next night next to Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and come back to find it had been moved to another table, so I was stuck eating with Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen (among others). Denny and I didn’t really teach 150 students over 4 days.
Oh but! I did get batts there, and here they are in the wild at Carolina Homespun:
But I obviously didn’t go to the Sock Hop, or all kinds of other things. And obviously, I bought nothing at all in the marketplace, and this is clearly absolutely true, because I didn’t bring anything home. It is absolutely not possible that there’s a box on its way to me now that had to be shipped. Nope. No way.
If I ever get my brain back, there’s so much more to say. So very, very much. I’m completely thrilled and honoured to have been a part of it.
I have officially lost all track of time. In the past 5 minutes, or else perhaps it’s 5 years, the manchild finished school for the year, started summer day camp at the local YMCA, I got my copy of Amy King’s new book Spin Control, I went to Colorado to work on an exciting new project I haven’t gotten clearance to blog about yet, I saw the first laid-out pages for my book, I went to TNNA, my 40th Anniversary cherry Matchless arrived at my dealer’s, and officially started trying to make exercise part of my routine even though there’s no way I can fit it in.
Okay, it’s been 9 days, and I feel like today is the longest I’ve sat still (I think I feel that way because it’s true). I feel completely dizzy. And exhausted. And years behind on my email. And vaguely as if I’m forgetting at least 8 other things that have happened. But there are two pieces of big news. The first is that tonight, for the first time since I don’t remember when, I have time to spin something totally just for me. Something that isn’t committed to a project, necessarily. Something whimsical. Something I don’t have to spin, with no deadline. And I have absolutely no idea what to spin. None. I am totally at a loss. I can’t remember what to do with myself.
The second is that my book is officially available for preorder! I can hardly believe it, but, as my long-suffering editor said to me the other day, “This ruse that we’re publishing a book is getting expensive.” She was kidding. I hope. Seriously though, it’s real! It’s a real book. I saw real pages for it. With real pictures, and real words, and everything. It has an ISBN. It’s, you know, real. It’s really expected in November. And I’ve had a few folks ask me already where they can get signed copies. The first answer that came to mind was “Come where I’ll be signing them,” but when I said that in Amy King’s earshot this past weekend, she pointed out that with the wonders of modern technology, it’s actually possible for people to pre-order them, which she’d set up for her loyal Spunquistadores to do. “You should do the same,” she suggested. So I’m copycatting her, and there’s a link on the right nav bar where you can do just that if you’re so inclined. When the first copies hit the warehouse, I’ll get your pre-orders in, sign them, and send them out to you forthwith. Make sure you let me know who you’d like it signed to, or if there’s anything specific you’d like me to say.
But please do still come see me where I’m signing books… and I’ll let you know where that will be before too long. But in the meantime, I’m off to do my comfort spinning, and I’d love to hear what you consider comfort spinning!
Omigod, it’s August. How did that happen? Once again, summer drawing towards a close finds me further and further behind on things I thought I’d do. Like, this year, blogging hardly at all, ev en with the whole early-rising thing going on. At least there have been some remarkable early mornings.
So, here, have some coffee and yarn that kinda matches.
It only matches in that photo, though. In real life, it’s way more orange.
A while ago I stuck a couple of cotton seeds from Johnny Freakin’ Cottonseed into some pots of dirt. They both sprouted. Early on, one vanished in the night, presumably felled by cicadas or a bird or something, but the other…
What, you don’t see it? I swear there’s a cotton plant in there that isn’t dead. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out or why or when or what I’m going to do about any of that, but the plant is not dead yet. That must be good.
And lunches have been good, from Chad’s small garden.
So many BLTs, tomato and cheese sandwiches, fancy bread with some goat cheese and a slice of tomato… between the tomatoes and the sweet corn, let’s just say I love the summer eats.
I made Amy a blend to congratulate her for finishing her book manuscript.
Fine merino, cashmere, bombyx silk, and tussah silk, kinda tweedy.
That’s it. That’s what I have; a little bit of eye candy here and there.
Allright, I’m going to do a few questions relating to my wheel collection, because it’s been a long week and that’s what I think I have the cycles to do.
Ok, devil’s advocate here: Why do you have so many? Are certain wheels better for spinning certain kinds of yarns? And how do you justify buying a new one? (I know I’d have a hard time convincing my husband that I needed more than one wheel, thus I ask.)
So, here’s the thing: I’m a textile professional. It is my career. Right now my focus is spinning, so I spin, and I write about spinning, and I teach people to spin. Those things, plus producing handspinning fiber, are what generate income for me. These are the tools of my trade.
If I were a woodworker, then chances are I’d have lots of saws, lots of specialized equipment for doing specific tasks, a stash of custom and hard-to-find sandpaper, piles and piles of various types of wood, and even more than one of what seems like exactly the same thing. Being a professional spinner is no different.
Different wheels do have different strengths and weaknesses, and different purposes to which they’re ideally suited. It’s the same as how a mechanic has different wrenches and screwdrivers and jacks and ramps for the cars to go up on and a stash of spare parts and a creeper to get under cars and maybe an engine lift or might choose to buy the house with a huge garage that has a pit in it. I have wheels that excel at super fine yarn, wheels that multitask, wheels that do a good job plying or dealing with bulky stuff, wheels that are great for a beginner, wheels that are compatible with each other in the event of a problem occurring, wheels that are expressly for travel.
Because I do this professionally, I may have a real need to have multiple kinds of things going on multiple wheels at a time. I can’t fail to sample something on a wheel because I have a lengthy project in progress, and queue up work behind me finishing that. I really do need to have a wheel open at pretty much any time; if I have a big project on a given wheel, that doesn’t mean I won’t need to do a smaller one in the interim. I can’t have the bottleneck of only one wheel.
I also have wheels because some time ago I recognized that the cosmos had appointed me to a position of great responsibility in which I am required to save wheels from uncertain fates, and often find them new homes. I’m like a spinning wheel foster parent. I save the wheels nobody wants from ending up living under bridges and spare-changing. Sometimes there is rehab. Sadly there is no government support for these activities, but that’s not why I do them. Often there is no reward but the joy of ultimately finding these poor beleaguered wheels a loving home with a spinner or would-be spinner who has been trying to get a wheel for a while, to no avail.
And then too, I need to have extra wheels in case there’s someone who simply has to be turned to the dark side taught to spin and given a chance to work through it. Sometimes people don’t realize they want to be spinners, and may argue with you about this. They’ll say all kinds of things — oh, it costs money, I can’t afford a wheel, where would I put it, I just don’t know if I’d use one, maybe I wouldn’t like doing it, I tried with a spindle but something doesn’t feel right. Most of these people are wrong and must be re-educatedare ripe for indoctrination actually ARE interested, and if loaned a wheel, are easy pickings and become addicted, providing a captive audience in the future have an opportunity to explore spinning at their leisure before going out and starting their own wheel collections and decide if they want to make an investment in spinning equipment.
I’ve also had times when I’ve been working on an article for which I had to provide photos, and it’s been a drag going around saying “Hey, do you have a good picture of a double drive wheel?” and “Can I just borrow your Traddy for a bit while I’m working on this technical piece?” It’s much easier to just walk over to my own Schacht Matchless, set it up, and do what I need to do.
Then too, I’ve got to be familiar with all the major wheels out there. Why? Let’s say I’m teaching a class, and someone is having trouble with a technique. 9 times out of 10, the reason for this trouble is a wheel adjustment. I need to be able to find the source of the problem, correct it, and move on, very fast. If the problem is with the wheel and it’s broken and it’s not an adjustment, then in the interests of keeping that class moving, sometimes another wheel must be found. Fortunately, I often have one. But seriously, teaching spinning often involves teaching people about wheels. A good spinning teacher who covers wheel spinning should, in my opinion, know a lot about wheels, and also shouldn’t be one of those people who propagates misinformation. I like to speak based on my personal experience whereever possible, and I try to make that a broad range of possible places.
If you had to narrow the collection down to only four wheels, which ones would you pick, and why? Could you choose only one, and if so, what would impact that decision most strongly?
Well, why do I have to narrow my collection? Is it the apocalypse? I’m trying to think about what conditions would cause me to have to choose only four, or only one, wheel. Totally sounds like the apocalypse. That has to be it.
What kind of apocalypse? The kind where I’m going to hole up in the house and take potshots at approaching zombies until things stabilize and we live in a world without a lot of modern conveniences? Because in that case, none of them go, and in fact, I need more, because I have to set up to teach people to make textiles so we don’t have to live in a “The Matrix” world of ill-fitting and shabbily knit raglan sweaters in which nobody owns a crochet hook to pick up the dropped stitches. I mean, seriously.
Or is it the kind of apocalypse where I have to flee jack-booted thugs and go into hiding in a tiny attic?
That would be like living in a small house, and I already did that. That was why I got the Suzie Pro: a production wheel that takes up less space than most folding chairs. In this case, I’d keep the Suzie Pro, the two Louets, the Journey Wheel, and the Schacht. I know that’s five. Shut up, they’re small. The charkhas don’t take up any space either.
Maybe it’s the kind of apocalypse where we have to get in the truck and drive as fast as we can away from a fast-approaching lava flow which has come all this way from the Yellowstone volcano blowing its top. There is no room even for the cats, and I can only take the Journey Wheel, and I never recover from the loss of all the others, but live out my life in a strange post-apocalyptic bunker talking about everyone I left behind.
I’m totally disinterested in the type of apocalypse that requires wheels to go away. I vote we only have the kind of apocalypse in which I become the sage old lady everyone loves for making civilized life possible when you can’t buy jeans from Bangladesh anymore.
Well… so that covers two questions, anyway. We’ll be talking lots more.
There were a bunch of good, but unrelated to each other, questions asked last week when I started the Summer Q&A series with “spinning from the fold.” What’s more, the Q&A format worked out pretty well for handling the summertime blues!
But then Monday snuck up on me with no topic planned. How could I have let this happen, you may ask? Well, it was a pretty busy week on various fronts, with some deadlines and secret-for-now projects, and a few surprises and unplanned things came along too.
The first was that Edward came home from camp with a God’s Eye recently. He’s wound it and rewound it and he was rewinding it for the umpteenth time when I said, “Wanna see a trick?”
“Sure!” he said, and I showed him an easier way to wrap it neatly. He was enthused. “Do you have stuff to do more?” he asked, and I went looking. On the way to the yarn room, I asked him, “More… of WHAT?”
“Stuff like God’s Eyes,” he said. Turns out I really didn’t have much in the way of popsicle sticks and inexpensive acrylic (go figure), but I did remember that a while ago, I’d scored an old potholder loom on eBay — you know, the kind that uses knit rag loops? Yeah, admit it: you remember those things. But let me refresh your memory all the same:
There he is with his very first potholder (it’s since been pressed into service in the kitchen). No sooner was that one completed than he was setting up for another.
I had to work hard at restraining myself. I mean, as long as he’s interested in something like that, there’s literally no limit to the projects I can find for him. It would be far too easy for me to get overzealous and totally overload the dude and ruin all the fun.
I also did not cackle with glee when, at bedtime, he said, “I just want to finish this row.” It’s just as well I kept my mouth shut, too; Chad gave me a very pointed look.
In the morning, we were heading to go see Chad’s grandfather in central Ohio. Getting ready and getting into the truck, briefly we couldn’t find Edward. He’d dashed off to the family room and started a third potholder. The loom and sack of loops went with us. By the time we arrived, he’d made two more potholders, which he presented to his great-grampa with delight. And when the lad went out to the truck to bring in a diversion, instead of the Nintendo DS, he came in with loom and loops, and started a fifth potholder.
“I’m trying to make it so it’s checkered,” he said. And he figured it out.
After visiting a while, Chad looked at me. “Hey,” he said, “Why don’t you go give your friend Beth a call, and see what time her shindig runs till? If it’s late enough, we could go up.”
So that was the second surprise: we hit the road for Howell, Michigan, to see Beth at The Spinning Loft where she was having a summer solstice event.
I freely admit to pausing to consider whether or not I had enough projects with me, and mentally praising myself for always packing more than I need (I mean, it’s not like we had a change of clothes, but I had projects, so who cares about clothes?) and then laughing at myself because, hey, where were we heading? Right. A place with ample project resupply options.
Except… maybe I hadn’t considered everything after all. On the road, I took out my cell phone and called Beth again. “Hey,” I said. “By any chance do you happen to stock loops for potholder looms?” The boy was looking like he might run out. He finished his fifth, sixth, and seventh potholders on the drive to Michigan.
Halfway through Toledo we hit an incredible storm. It was pouring to the point that you really, truly, couldn’t see anything. We pushed on. It was dramatic. The weather eased… and then not far into Michigan, the rain picked up again and suddenly turned to hail.
“I don’t know how well this bodes for a dyeing-on-the-porch type of event,” Chad commented. I agreed that I hoped it wasn’t pouring in Howell.
We had a great time, and Beth’s new shop layout is great! While she didn’t carry potholder loom loops, she did have some other small loom setups, and we scored Edward a little tapestry loom and some coned yarn. He painted silk hankies and made a sizeable dent in the cookies. I got to try out that Mach 1 wheel finally. As for Chad, he’s just a saint. He did get to look at some wheels he’s never seen (you know, because there do exist wheels I don’t have and have not owned yet, and Beth has a number of them for sale).
We made it home a little before midnight. Sunday we caught up on some chores, and then the next thing you know, it’s Monday, and I haven’t figured out what my topic for the week might be. Whoops.
I haven’t finished spinning this yet either:
but when I do, it’s destined to be Anne Hanson’s new scarf, Elm Row. Possibly stole-sized, depending on what I get for yardage.
So, like I say, there are some really good questions that aren’t related to a specific single topic, that came up last week. I’ll tackle some of those this week, and since I’m doing that, go ahead! Ask me another. It’s random catch-all question week.
I realize it’s technically not summer, since it starts in earnest on the Solstice, but let’s face it: once school is out, it’s summer. Therefore, it’s been summer for several weeks now. Summer, it turns out, is just not my favourite season.
The reason why will perhaps be evident if I tell you it’s now 10:30 AM, and I started this post at 7 AM. The reason why will perhaps be evident if I tell you it’s now Monday at 7:41 AM, and I started this post on Friday at about 7. A huge part of the problem I have with summer is scheduling. I seem to get up somewhere around 6 AM and have an hour to 90 minutes before the rest of the house has to be up. This should be a fabulous get-things-done time, but in practice, I’m either slow starting or ruling out slews of things I might do then on the grounds that they’ll wake people up, at which point the morning starts and that time would be lost.
Once everyone’s up, I scurry around doing a few tasks here and there (empty dishwasher, straighten counters, that sort of thing) and, like the real mom I am, nag the manchild to eat his breakfast and pack his lunch for day camp. Does he have a towel? Must I find one? What about sunblock? Sometimes I manage to step away from micromanaging him (like now, when I’m upstairs in my office drinking coffee, and presumably he’s eating breakfast or packing his lunch. I wonder if he has a towel.) and I usually try to not just be the nagging mom, but of course it was a day I didn’t nag when he forgot his sunblock and got a horrible sunburn. Rationally of course I know it’s not my fault; the visceral parent-brain however continues to assert that I should have controlled that.
Driving him to camp takes 30-40 minutes. I always try to think of other errands that need doing out of the house, and have them lined up. I get home sometime between 9:15 and 10:30 and sit down, getting the feeling of having been up for 3-4 hours and, it always seems, accomplished nothing at all. From that point on, my day is a rush of trying to make sure Something Gets Done, right up until about 3:30 PM when it’s time to go collect the boy (and do any other errands that may have shown themselves to be necessary). By 4:15 when that’s all done, there’s a weird chunk of 45 minutes before the dinner prep starts. After dinner is family time.
The start-and-stop and run-around schedule makes it hard to get into a groove doing anything. I feel scattered all summer long, and totally unproductive, even when I’m getting things done, because it never seems like I tackle big, all-day jobs or anything. Being so interruptible, there are scads of things that get started and not finished, and I’m always afraid I’m totally forgetting something huge. I can never figure out where I put down my sunglasses. The boy can’t seem to remember to turn off his radio, ever, and it means I have to wade through the mess of his room to get to it because its constant on-ness fills me with rage. I never feel like I’ve had enough coffee, yet I know I’m draining the entire pot most days because I end up with iced coffee at some point. I look back at last year, same time, on the blog, and ask myself, “Am I measuring up to what I was getting done then?”
Well, realistically, I probably am; but I’m doing a few different things now. There is less production, and more writing, and more of the writing is not for the blog, but for other projects; but those projects pay me money. Since I’m selling more articles, that also seems to mean I’m putting fewer articles on the blog, and it’s grown less focused. So, I’ve been trying to think what I can do about all of that, to reduce my feelings of constantly posting cop-out things with little real substance to them. So this week I want to try something new: Summer Q&A.
Here’s how it works (this week, at least). On Monday, I’m going to name a topic or pose a question or something of that ilk. That’s where you come in. You leave a comment, asking a question relating to the topic of the week, or heck, any question at all, really. Throughout the week, in fits and starts, with bursts here and there, I’ll answer these questions. Sometimes it may be multiple answer posts throughout the week; other times, a big cohesive one on Friday. We’ll see how this goes and how it evolves, and perhaps it’ll be the answer to the fractured summer schedule.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s this week’s topic? Hrmmm. Well, how about “spinning from the fold?” Who’s got a question about this technique?
Free-for-all questions are also always welcome. I mean, if a bunch of you say “No, totally not spinning from the fold, what I’m dying to ask questions about is tying drive bands,” I still want to know what you’re wondering, and I love to be able to answer.
With that, it’s now time to commence the early morning home stretch, making sure lunch is packed and towel is ready and we’ll be out the door to camp soon. So let’s hear your questions about spinning from the fold!
I made it home from TNNA’s summer 2008 show in Columbus, where it was my pleasure to sit (or, actually, mostly stand) in front of a few racks of baskets full of fiber from Louet, while demonstrating Louet’s newest wheels, the Victoria travel wheel and her full-size sibling, the Julia. I know; it’s a horrible, nasty, dirty job — but let’s face it, someone has to do these kinds of things. You know. For the greater good, and all that. Since Columbus is only about 90 minutes from me, I figured I’d take one for the team (which team is it, I wonder? Team Yarn Dork? Beats me), and headed up that way Friday evening with a Trans Am full of yarn and spinning wheel, things I needed muled to their recipients, and some bits of fiber I really had no idea what to do with (as in, “Argh! What possessed me to put glitter in the cashmere blend? That was totally stupid. I don’t think I like it. Well, maybe someone will love it. I’ll throw it in my bag and take it to TNNA and find out.”).
Walking through the convention center and hotel, I quickly found Half The Blogosphere(tm), taking over the comfy chairs at the bar and showing off their MacBook Pros, knitting, and being photographed with Stephanie’s sock. Next thing you know, Amy Singer (Knitty‘s mom) had caused me to suddenly and uncharacteristically order a pink fruity thing instead of beer, Steph summoned a choir of angels and their trumpeters to play a fanfare for the introduction of Norah Gaughan (Amanda from Lorna’s Laces looked at me and said “You look overwhelmed,” shortly thereafter; dude, Norah Gaughan! Hear the choir of angels?), and of course Jess, Casey, and Mary-Heather from Ravelry were there, and I met Stephanie from Spritely Goods, and Anne of KnitSpot (and I totally groped her sock), and Drew the Crochet Dude came by, and I totally didn’t realize who he was at first, and… well anyway. Jillian Moreno totally ran off. I barely saw her all weekend. I didn’t get a picture of her. Not one. Argh!
Well, it was like that, though. There were all sorts of “Oh! I need a picture!” but there were no cameras on the expo floor, and my Real Camera is big so I didn’t carry it with me anyway, and then ultimately I ended up putting my new camera phone to the test. It’s better than the old one, but you know… I needed a wide angle lens to fit in all the fabulous people who were there. Like at dinner, when everyone suddenly said “Oh man, we’re failing as bloggers if we don’t document this,” and everyone whipped out cameras and started trying to do just that.
(Janel Laidman, Cookie A, the hands of Anne Hanson holding a camera, plus also Anne’s chin, and Stephanie of Spritely Goods)
Well, except for Franklin, who is a total cheater because he can just do that “draw a picture” thing. He even charted the seating arrangements. He’s way too organized. I think that’s what Steph is telling him in this photo. If it isn’t, it probably should be.
And here’s Amy Singer with Jess. Here, Amy is not gasping in shock at the menu, but rather, is the very model of decorum and totally not eyeing Jess’ piña colada at all.
Mary-Heather may laugh, but as for Casey, it’s clear he is plotting something. Probably something to do with dastardly use of “agree(1)” or similar.
After dinner, at the fashion show, I did snap this photo of Steph taking a picture of Sandi Wiseheart with the traveling sock. At first, that flash of light (who is actually Amy O’Neill Houck, and we’ll talk about that sweater she’s wearing later, because it’s fabulous) and I were going to take turns so we didn’t have quite the ridiculousness factor of people taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures, but Steph totally insisted that made for a better shot, heightening the sometimes-absurd nature of being a blogger.
And speaking of such concepts, well, I’m really glad Steph beat me home and blogged first, because that spares me having to explain these:
which I feel is only fair, really, because I did explain briefly to the people who gathered on the sidewalk and asked what we were doing, and I did have to explain to my better half why I’d asked about dry ice and toilets when I called to say goodnight to him and our son. Spouses of fiber bloggers could probably use a support group or something. They’re tireless and suffer through all manner of strange requests to hold something just so and help take pictures of something largely inexplicable and put dinner on hold for quick notes on something that must be blogged, and what do they get in return? Sheesh.
I was thrilled to meet Cathy and Steve from WEBS, and even more thrilled when in the course of conversation, Steve needled Cathy gently about her love of cashmere and glitter. OH! Love of cashmere and glitter! YES! I grabbed the pair of totally suspect batts out of my bag, and forced Cathy to take them. Why is this bloggable? Because it’s a reminder of something I often need reminding about: my own personal aesthetics need to be set aside sometimes, and sure enough, even though I had thought putting the glitter in was a terrible idea once I’d done it, you know what I hadn’t considered? People don’t do that; so imagine being someone who wishes she could have it.
There’s lots more to say about the whole event; in reality, this post is little more than an explanation of some crappy camera phone photos. I came home with a few specific things which need individual treatment, and a lot of general thoughts as well. I saw old friends and new, and time was too short for all the catching up I’d like to have done. I wish we, in the yarn dork world, did things like this more often. I don’t think twice a year is enough.
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.
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!