…is coming! Watch this space for more info to be released throughout the weekend, and registrations starting sometime next week, the week of February 13-17th.
Here’s what I can tell you right now.
What is Stringtopia?
Back by popular demand, Stringtopia this year is a 3-day event with a spinning focus, along with some weaving and knitting. It will take place starting Friday, April 27, Saturday the 28th, and Sunday the 29th, at the historic Golden Lamb inn in Lebanon, Ohio. Featuring classes, fiber shopping, and social events, in an intimate and friendly setting.
For starters, world-class fiber arts supplier Carolina Homespun will be in attendance, which means you can check out lots of stuff in person that usually isn’t seen outside of large fiber festivals or in a handful of world-class shops.
But of course there are also the classes. I’ll be teaching, debuting some of my groundbreaking new classes as well as longtime favourites. And the fabulous Beth Smith will be joining us from Michigan where she runs The Spinning Loft in addition to teaching all over the country and producing fantastic instructional content. Rounding out the teacher lineup is Woven Treasures author Sara Lamb, known internationally for her down-to-earth approach to creating all manner of fantastic textiles, and teaching sellout classes in spinning, dyeing, knitting, and weaving. Sara is bringing us a themed weekend of All Silk, All The Time.
Friday and Saturday feature full-day classes, and Sunday features half-day classes. There’s also a kick-off bash on Friday night and a free spin-in Saturday night. You also have the opportunity to share meals at the Golden Lamb with the whole group, and spend time in the social spinning suite where informal spinning activities will be going on throughout the event — including ongoing demonstrations, Q&A, and an opportunity to try your hand at spinning yarn if you’ve been curious what it’s about.
What’s the full class list?
I’m glad you asked. Here’s the class lineup. Registration for classes begins next week.
Classes are all day.
Abby Franquemont: All Spindles All Day
Beth Smith: Breed Study
Sara Lamb: Knitting With Silk
Classes are all day.
Abby Franquemont: The Rut Buster
Beth Smith: Spinning For Lace
Sara Lamb: Weaving With Silk
Abby Franquemont: Getting More Done With Spindles
Beth Smith: Drafting Methods
Sara Lamb: Dyeing Silk
Abby Franquemont: Truth Or Dare
Beth Smith: For the Love of Longwools
Sara Lamb: Spinning Silk
What’s it cost?
Full-day classes are $125, and half-day classes are $75. You can take as many, or as few, as you like, and you don’t even have to take any to come and be part of the fun. Rooms at the Golden Lamb are $90 a night for a shared room ($45 a person) plus tax, or $80 a night for a single. Additional rooms are available off-site at the Kirkwood Inn, including a fantastic breakfast, for $69 for a shared room (about $35 a person) or $64 a single, or you can choose your own accommodations nearby. Chef-prepared dinners are $25 each, and a box lunch option (eat it in your classroom, the dining room at the Lamb, or take it with you for a stroll to a nearby park) for $10.
Stay tuned! We’ll be bringing you the detailed class descriptions, material information, and actual registration opportunities over the next week. We can’t wait to see you!
…where I had a wonderful time teaching a customized 3-day Spinning For A Purpose: Being The Boss Of Your Yarn. I love teaching this class, partly because it’s challenging and partly because it’s never the same twice.
This was a particularly good time, because the folks at Foothill Fibers Guild were just fantastic hosts. The venue couldn’t have been better, the group of people were all fantastic, Morgaine came up with the Yarn-Vee so we could all have anything our hearts desired to work with, the weather was beautiful, the food was great, and there weren’t even any travel snags. I’m almost suspicious in retrospect, wondering if perhaps I left something behind and still haven’t realized, or nobody told me I went through the whole weekend with toilet paper stuck to my shoe.
I did take a picture in class, which almost never happens. I always feel, after classes, like I should have somehow managed to get pictures — and yet, I never do. I’m just too busy making the class thing happen and I forget. Once in a while I remember to snap a photo at the end or right in the beginning, but… never in the middle. Never any action shots.
Except this time. I got one. ONE.
Diane’s goal was this: “Make friends with cotton.” Here they are, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.
Last night, just a bit over a week after the class ended, Diane dropped me a line to let me know she was bummed to be out of cotton. The poor thing.
On the other hand, I did manage to take a few pictures of visiting Sara Lamb at the Magic Yurt which is her studio.
Sara lives in Grass Valley, which isn’t far from Nevada City, and is a member of the Foothill Fibers Guild, so really, it was sort of like I was at her house already. It would have been silly not to go visit.
The yurt really is a fabulous studio space, but also, Sara is a fantastic studio owner. After my return, I was describing it to Beth, and we were pondering about how she does it. Beth suggested, and I think this may be true, that part of Sara’s secret is that she puts things away. While this is a radical solution to the problem of workspace chaos, well… it’s so crazy, it just might work.
But before we get too far down that path, let’s take a look at the floor.
I actually took this picture for reference for myself, but it’s too interesting not to share.
But before I forget, there was this little incident wherein someone spotted a bundle of Sara’s samples — she’s big on samples, and she’s right — and found evidence that Sara has, in fact, woven twill. My phone camera and I were tasked with documenting this shocking fact.
As you can see — and as Sara said — she may have woven twill, but she didn’t enjoy it.
…this crazy thing, where I got up in the morning and got in my car, drove less than an hour, ate breakfast at a nice breakfast place, and then went and worked all day, with a break at lunch. Then, at the end of the day, I came home to my house, where my family and I ate dinner, and now it’s a regular evening and tomorrow I get up and do it again.
Now, I realize that a lot of people do this all the time. In fact, I once did something like that all the time. But in my current job, I think it’s a first. Usually, when my work day is done, I’m someplace that isn’t home and will eat at a restaurant and end up at a hotel. Or else I’m at home and doing regular in the studio type work. So this was very different. I’m liking it.
Anyway, so what I was doing is teaching Andean backstrap weaving for a group of folks gathered together by Karren Brito of Entwinements, at the Weaver’s Guild of Miami Valley. It’s a great group of folks and everyone really hung in there today. Can’t wait for tomorrow. Also, it’s neat to be at home and able to do things like say “Ooooh yeah, I’ll bring that to show you tomorrow.”
Household discussion ensued, much of it centering on the question of “couldn’t” vs. “wouldn’t want to.” For example, I really wouldn’t want to live without electric light in this day and age. However, the absence of electric light doesn’t mean I would flounder and perish. Refrigeration makes an enormous difference in my quality of life, but I’ve also lived without it and while every Ohio summer would likely make me want to live elsewhere if there were no cooling technology and refrigeration for food, it’s not like it would be impossible. And yet, things like “air to breathe” and “the sun” are kinda… well… no-brainers. So they don’t really need to be on the list.
At a minimum, I believe in always having a blade and a means to make a fire. Some hardcore survival type folks also say “cordage,” but as to that, I’m generally unconcerned — because I have the ability to produce cordage from practically anything and because the odds of me being somewhere without yarn or yarn-related stuff are pretty much zero — although it’s a very, very good idea if, you know, you’re not a human textile mill. Anyway, those three things make just about everything else possible, so that’s why I’m never without a blade and fire. Unless, of course, I’m on an airplane, which really bums me out, because the scenario I always believed in being ready to handle was surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere.
But I digress. All of that is survival; but what about quality of life? What 5 trappings of the modern (not necessarily totally industrial) world would I really rather not have to eliminate from my day to day existence? Is it the Internet? Telephony? Global shipping? Air travel? Fast food? Nah. Here’s my list of five things, and I’d love to hear yours.
#1. Sanitation. This is not purely an industrial thing, but 20th century sanitation, man, I’m telling you — I have lived without it, and I have missed it. This is a really serious quality of life issue all over the world.
#2. Antibiotics. Dear Antibiotics: I owe you my life, many times over. Thank you.
#3. Dentistry. I mean, I guess it might not matter without the first two, considering life expectancy would also be short, but as much as I hate going to the dentist and all, I have all my teeth save one, and that one’s got a fancy implant you can’t even tell isn’t a real tooth. Teeth are awesome. Modern dentistry keeps them. Win.
#4. Refrigeration. Dude, you do wonders for food, and also make cold beer possible year-round.
#5. The washing machine. This probably changes if I don’t have a child, but the amount of time the washing machine saves me is… it’s… it’s just staggering. I’ve lived without this technology (and without access to laundromats, for instance) and handwashing all your clothes and bedding and household textiles is a lot of work.
So, I was torn. On the horns of a dilemma. But then it solved itself and I’m almost disappointed.
A mass email to parents went out from my son’s school, asking for volunteer speakers for career day. For the first four years we were in this district, I always volunteered and would take some hands-on activities, and they were always well-received by the students and the teachers. But then last year — the manchild’s first year in junior high — I volunteered within a couple of hours of that email going out, and quickly heard back from the guidance counselor: “Thanks, but we have enough volunteers!”
And then for weeks after, there were further emails from the principal saying “We don’t have enough volunteers!”
So, I mean, to me that said the guidance counselor looked at my description of my job, and thought, “Ew, yarn, boooooring.” And at first I was disappointed and maybe even a little indignant. And then I was self-critical (but constructively). I spent a bunch of time thinking about… lots of stuff. Like how to describe what I do so that people are less disbelieving that it’s a career, or how to sound at least as interesting to a junior high guidance counselor as “I’m a hairstylist” and “I’m an insurance agent.” And for the past year, I’ve gone back and forth in my mind about those questions, and whether or not I’d volunteer again this year, or just blow it off.
So here I was this morning, looking at the email requesting volunteers, trying to decide… when I actually looked at the date for career day, and realized I’ll be out of town. Working. At my career. Which on the one hand, is terrific validation for the fact that this IS a career, but on the other hand, means I definitely don’t get to do battle with apparently-entrenched guidance-counselor disrespect for whatever it is he thinks I do. So, dang. Like I say, totally mixed feelings.
But still, I think there’s a lot that’s relevant to career day discussion — because I’m self-employed, and have to hustle, and I created my own job, you know? So maybe I’ll ponder it all again next year, with the boy in high school. Or maybe not. So I guess I’m still torn.
I’ve updated my class list for Fall 2011 and beyond (to get to the most current class list for all eternity, click on “Contact” and choose “Class List”). There are a few new offerings so I thought I’d tell you about them, and where they come from.
First, the new or revised half-day classes (3 full hours of class time).
Many spinners enjoy using their spindles to produce singles, but find themselves turning to their wheels when they want to ply. Learn techniques and tricks to make plying easier, faster and more portable with your spindles, and how to achieve several plying structures (as well as why you would want to). A basic low whorl spindle and fiber will be supplied, but students are encouraged to bring spindles they love and spindles they hate. Not suited for absolute beginners; you must be reasonably comfortable with spinning singles.
WHY: Because there’s never enough time on this in half-day or whole-day spindle classes. I always wish there were more time. And not everybody taking a general spindle class wants to learn about plying yet. Usually, we get to this part of the class, and there are 3 or 4 students who really want to learn to ply with their spindles… and everyone else kinda skeptical. But for those who do learn functional spindle plying methods, it’s a huge change for them in their spinning. So it deserves its own class.
What’s wool, what’s silk, what’s cotton, and why does it matter? What’s a protein fiber? How about a bast fiber? Is alpaca really hard to spin? Or was that cotton? What fibers are advanced and what’s good for a beginner? What fibers are environmentally friendly? What’s a natural fiber and what’s a synthetic? Where do these things come from? What are they good for? Get an overview of the properties of a various types of fibers, how to work with them – and hands-on instruction in working with each one.
WHY: Well, this is your garden-variety “try lots of fibers” class. It’s a great fit for festivals and for shops, and a fun class for any spinner who’s interested in branching out a bit. It’s a shortcut to being knowledgeable about lots of kinds of fibers, without a lot of trial and error.
What’s the difference between top and roving? What the heck is sliver? Is cotton sliver different from silk sliver? Are there regional differences or debates about what things are called? What’s a rolag? What’s a puni? What does it mean if roving is pin-drafted? How can I tell if something was drum carded? What’s a batt and how should I spin it? What’s the difference between carded and combed? Do I have to do something to this fiber so I can spin it? Are there some fibers you can only prepare one way? Does it matter if it’s machine prep or prep by hand? How can I tell if this fiber is good? Do I need to have hand cards and combs? In this class, you’ll spin multiple kinds of roving, sliver, top, batts, rolags, punis, locks, and more, and you’ll learn why preparation matters to both your process and your product.
The partner class to Fiber Basics; these two are aimed at giving an advanced beginner what he or she needs to branch out into lots of kinds of fiber.
What’s a cabled yarn, and why would I use one? We’ll spin and ply 4 different cabled yarns and answer questions you didn’t even know you had about this versatile and powerful structure. Not for the brand-new spinner; must be comfortable with spinning and basic plying.
WHY: Because a piece of feedback I get regularly in the 3-day intensives is “I wish there had been more time on cabled yarn.” So here’s a half-day class on just cabled yarn.
HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE JOINS
Many spinners, even seasoned spinners, hate doing joins. Some will do anything to avoid them, and that itself can create problems you don’t realize are there. Not a class goes by but what I hear people asking for help with joins, so here’s a whole class about them. Woolen joins, worsted joins, joins when plying, joins from the fold, joins with wool, silk, cotton, synthetics, joins at the wheel, joins at the spindle, slow joins, fast joins, strong joins, weak joins, troubleshooting your joins, joins joins joins. So much amazing joining action you’ll be left saying “I’m not even sure that’s a real word anymore… join? It just looks funny, I’ve been thinking about it so much.” And you’ll know why that matters.
WHY: Because I’m mean and want to walk around a class full of students, breaking their yarn over and over again to see how long it takes till someone gets mad. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.
WHOLE DAY OR HALF DAY CLASSES
These are the ones that can be either; there’s more covered in the full-day version.
PROJECT PLANNING AND EXECUTION
Do you have a project for which you’d love to spin, but you don’t even know where to start? How do you figure it out? Then once you think you know where to start, how do you make sure you actually hit the mark? How do you get it all done and stay on track? How much fiber do you need? How can you be sure you’ll end up with enough yarn? What if you don’t? If you’re looking for answers to these questions, or just that kick in the right direction to take on a planned project, this is the class for you.
WHY: To teach a basic framework for starting to spin for projects, in a day or less. Meaty class, fast-paced, not for the faint of heart, this one is pulled out of the material covered in a three-day spinning for a purpose intensive.
THE RUT BUSTER
Are you stuck in a comfort zone you can’t escape? No matter what you do, do you just keep ending up spinning the same yarn over and over again? Is it you, or the equipment, or the fiber that makes that happen? What else is out there? Is it overload when you even try to think about what to try next? Are you stuck with stash you don’t dare spin because you’re afraid you’ll ruin it because you’ll just do what you’ve always done? Did you hit a wall working towards a specific goal? Do you just want someone to make you try something new, that you never would have thought of, that you can’t make yourself try, that might push you to a new level you didn’t expect? Well, bring it to this class, and we’ll take that on in an exciting and diverse hands-on seminar.
WHY: I’ve been proposing this half-jokingly to students in my classes… but it turns out I’m not kidding! This topic comes up over and over again, and it really is past time for a class dealing with the subject.
FULL DAY CLASSES
These are 3 hours in the morning, a break for lunch, and 3 hours in the afternoon.
TRUTH OR DARE
And a few other arguably juvenile party games – except with spinning. Do you have a secret spinning shame, and you want to admit it and find a way past that? Or maybe a pet peeve that nobody understands, and you want to work through it? Are you afraid to try spinning something totally unlike your personality? What spinning thing wouldn’t you even try unless someone double-dog-dared you? I have a few ideas up my sleeve. This class grew out of informal things that happen before and after classes at retreats and festivals, combined with in-class exercises that people find themselves coming back to for years to come. For years, people have said “I wish there were a full-day class in doing this variety of stuff,” and so now, there is.
WHY: Because, dude. Because. If you have to ask…
You can’t spin much yarn on a spindle; wheels are faster. You can’t spin fine on a bobbin-led wheel. You can’t spin thick with a spindle. You can’t use handspun yarn for warp, especially not if it’s singles. You have to spin the opposite direction to crochet instead of knit. Chain-plied yarns are inherently weaker than standard 3-ply yarns. You can’t blend short and long staple fibers. Have you heard any of these? Do you have others? Well, I tell you what: let’s put these to the test.
Same thing. If you have to ask… then you probably also don’t want to know that with these two classes, if ordered in advance, you’ll be able to get a wiseass t-shirt. You know, something like “I played party games with Abby and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
So that’s it for the new classes, I think. It’s only a fraction of what’s on my class list, and I haven’t even touched on any of the 3-day intensives (though I don’t think there are any new ones this year).
I do have a lot of requests for “technique classes,” and I’m currently evaluating what most people seem to think that means… including what *I* think it means, because in some ways I’m not a big believer in rigid technique. And sometimes I feel like single-technique classes aren’t enough bang for the buck. But I may not be the best judge of that. So if you have a specific technique you’d like to see me do a class in, now’s your chance to tell me what it is. Between mid-December and mid-January, I expect to be doing a little more development in my holiday down time, so expect a few more new classes added to the lineup sometime around February.
So while I was at Rhinebeck my menfolks had to take my cat to the vet. She came home with mega antibiotics and a date with the kitty dentist to deal with an abscessed molar. Ugh. The poor girl. She’s now had that molar out and is winding up her time with the antibiotics in another day or two.
I don’t think any of us are going to miss “drug the cat” from our to-do lists.
I was by the Golden Lamb last night. We just happened to talk about dates for Stringtopia 2012. We may even have settled on some. Shelly and I may even be talking with instructors about their availability.
Monday has dawned a little chilly and a little rainy. It’s the last day of October and I spent the weekend thinking about how I was glad I wasn’t driving a cargo van full of textile equipment home from Connecticut in the middle of the snow those folks just had.
I’m pouring coffee down my throat and looking at the blinking red “ATTENTION” light on my printer. The status screen says TRAY 2 LOAD PLAIN LETTER. But first, my caffeine situation is reading CUP 1 LOAD STRONG COFFEE. My desk is also blaring SURFACE 1 CLEAN TOTAL MESS, but I think it unlikely we’ll be doing that today. Printer paper and more coffee? Those will happen. But after that, I’ve got a long to-do list and desk cleaning is definitely one of those things that is going to get tabled for another day, and then another, and another, staying on the list for… um, well, probably a while.
Thank you all for your suggestions and thoughts and comments on how “blog” lately means “backlog” for me. I especially liked Deb Robson’s:
Maybe we should declare “old blog posts” week once a month. I’d do one of my half-finished ones, you’d do one of your half-finished ones. . . . I’m sure other folks have a backlog, too.
Oh, I bet that’s true. Who else is up for that? Let’s hear it. I’m sure Deb is right and we’re not alone in having backlogs of partly-written posts.
In terms of what else helps with actually generating content, I know from experience the only solution is to spend time writing. I also know I just don’t do that with any real zeal on a phone or a tablet; I haven’t even done it longhand in decades. I need a full-size keyboard and chunks of time. But you guys are right — that doesn’t mean “not blog posts.” Blog posts don’t have to be elegant, fully-fleshed articles every single time, right? Right. So my major goal for this week is “post every day, even if it’s stupid and lame.”
So my to-do list: let me show you it. Here’s just the stuff I figure I’ll work my way through today.
– email. This goes on all day, but on weekends when I’m with my family, I don’t always do anything beyond throwing away junk mail and flagging things for followup. So a Monday morning email pass includes other action items and longer responses and so on.
– Mount Laundry. Before it’s too late. It’s not a crisis right now, so that means I had better take action or surely it will be a crisis by dinner.
– print nametag for manchild’s halloween costume. It needs to say “Hello, My Name Is: The Stig.”
– batts batts batts. Finishing up the second Graves Island run for the Bosworths.
– wash my hair. With a staple length of 36+ inches, this does not happen daily, and can require planning around other events in my day because I don’t blow dry it, ever, and that means it takes all day to dry, plus it needs to be up and out of the way while I’m working.
– bookkeeping. Oh yeah baby. This is every day, of course.
– Andean Textile Arts internet type stuffs. moving mailing lists around and writing documentation and that sort of thing.
– cat needs medicine. Just a couple more days of cat medicine.
– daily errand run. I think this involves the bank, gas, and stocking up on toilet paper because I’m one of those people who panics if there isn’t at least a month’s worth of toilet paper on hand. Toilet paper is one of my most favourite parts of the developed world.
– cleaning off my area of the kitchen counter. This involves stacks of action item papers (anything from interesting magazines to school function notes to shopping lists to the insurance card I need to put in the Trans Am before I go anywhere in it since this one’s good as of 10/13 and the one in the car already *expired* then) as well as knitting needles, a spindle or two, and a stack of books that need to be shelved. I also need to put away my dyeing materials stuff for the winter. I never dye in the winter. I just don’t.
– The Big Class Booklet Project. They’re all going to be organized and firmed up as far as text and images and then I’m taking them to a dude in town who’ll lay ’em out pretty and print ’em fancy. And then I will live in a fantasy land where I have pretty, shiny booklets for the classes that need them, and I’ll just take them off a shelf, never again to be taunted by TRAY 2 LOAD PLAIN LETTER. Note to self: this isn’t happening today. But it’s firm policy that all handouts must be made to fit within this plan. Or else.
– ponder where the small loom can go. This needs to be determined for several reasons. First, winter is coming, and I don’t wanna have to scrape ice off cars, which means the truck must be able to park in the garage. The garage space where that would happen has been cleared of great wheel, Ashford Traddy, and the colonial barn loom for which a special shelf was acquired… but the small loom is still in the parking space. Well, and “small” is perhaps a misnomer. It’s small, in that it isn’t a cube 7 feet on a side like the big loom is. It’s not so small, in that it’s a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width, which means it’s at least 48″ wide, and long, and deep. So it’s small, in that it needs maybe 70 cubic feet as opposed to 350 cubic feet like the big loom (if you don’t count warping frame, but I digress). And this has the potential to be a very complicated decision indeed, as there is a chance it could result in the complete reorganization of the first floor of our house… or worse still, contingent upon a complete tear-down and re-imagining of my office.
So apparently, I honestly believe I’m going to get to at least some action on all of these fronts today, plus there’s taking the manchild over to his friend’s house for a final trick-or-treating. And whatever I forgot. I’m definitely gonna need more coffee.
So one of these days, I swear I’m going to come up with a way to viably, meaningfully blog from my phone. Why? Because then I’d be able to pull it off when I have a big span of heavy travel and not being home.
I have really mixed feelings about moving to a lifestyle where I can do most of what I do online using a smartphone. On the one hand, it’s a little like using a spindle instead of a wheel, in that I can pull the phone out of my pocket and perform a few quick tasks in a moment of standing in line or waiting for a plane. But on the other hand, actually writing content? Ugh. Not on a tiny touchscreen keyboard. And ultimately, I have a self-image problem about it: am I really, truly going to be one of those people who lives her life from a smartphone? How does that fit with… you know, everything I think of myself as being?
But the truth is I have so few times now where I sit down at the computer and have a chunk of time to write, organize photos, and do real posts. So I need to find a way to shoehorn that in better, into those small chunks of time. Because otherwise, I end up with a half-dozen started posts that aren’t finished, sitting there mocking me. Like the one about spiders from September; you guys would totally get a kick out of that. Or the one about my trip to New Mexico, which was awesome. I even did well taking pictures that time. And then there’s the one about going to my mom’s house, and then Rhinebeck, and then back to my mom’s house and loading up a slew of textile equipment into a rented cargo van and driving it home. And as these get to have been sitting there unfinished longer and longer, I feel more and more like a dolt when I contemplate trying to finish it, because “Oh yeah, sure, everyone wants to hear about stuff that happened more than a month ago. That’s ancient history now. Geeze.”
And so it piles up: a writing backlog not unlike Mount Laundry. Except it isn’t that I don’t want to write the things; I do. I just can’t seem to come up with a good ten-minutes-here, ten-minutes-there workflow for some of it. So I think maybe doing it from the phone would be the secret, because surely, there’s a technological solution for my workflow and lifestyle problem, right? Right? Hrmmmm.
The truth is it’s time to sit down and rebalance my work schedule. The one that worked 5 years ago doesn’t work now, not even with the patches and modifications I’ve stuck on there over the past several years. I have to totally re-engineer it. I have to rewrite my job description, and then retrain myself. And this is what sucks about being self-employed. That’s a job for a boss to do, clinically and realistically. And I’m the damn boss. But also the employee. Damn.
On the bright side… there may be an eternal backlog, but at least I’m not in a rut or stuck without job growth.
It’s hard to believe, but five years ago today is the date on the WHOIS record for abbysyarns.com. In other words, today we are five.
Dude, we’ve come a long way. Baby. I was going to make this a blog post full of recaps, like “Hey, here, look at this old post,” and be all “Best of the First Five Years” or whatever. But instead… I’m gonna tell you a story, and then ask you a question.
Five years and four months ago, I left behind my computer career. You see, here’s the thing. I grew up with self-employed parents and I knew how hard that was. When I struck out on my own as a young adult, I worked with self-employed musicians. I waited tables. I temped in offices. I did… you know, whatever, for a living. Nothing you could really call a career.
But long about 1992, as things happened, there I was at this short-term contract editorial assistant gig that I had, and I could fix the computer problems and make things go, and the geek in me just went to town on that concept. And before I knew it I’d gotten an offer for an actual job. You know, one with a salary and health insurance and a 401k and sick days and vacation days, and a cubicle with my name on a nameplate.
I had scoffed at the idea of wanting such a thing, once upon a time… but then, there I was, a young wife in my early twenties, with goals and dreams and all kinds of things like that. And when I was offered the princely sum of $27,500 a year plus benefits, dude, the truth is I was all over that. Plus! Imagine! If I was sick? I could take a sick day. And instead of not getting paid, that was… you know, part of the deal. And I would get a paycheck like clockwork. Just for troubleshooting and making computers do things. Easy work, interesting work, work with a future and a growth path. I would have been crazy not to do it.
It worked out pretty well for me for a while. I was pretty decent at it, and it was in-demand work. It was rewarding. My involvement in that field outlasted that marriage, even. I kept progressing, learning new things, doing new stuff, earning better wages. It was a good and rewarding career. I met a new fella. We had a kid. And that’s when things changed for me professionally.
Part of it was certainly because of choices I made, like the one to seek out some sort of telecommuting option that would let me work a regular job, doing computer stuff, from home, while taking care of the new baby. I made a lot of compromises to score a gig like that, and I made it work. It wasn’t easy, but, whatever, I pulled it off. Still though, even after several years and with a toddler in preschool and me in the office all the time, I’d been mommy tracked. My career growth stalled entirely. There are a ton of complex reasons for this as I see it, but it’s not relevant to the whole picture I’m trying to paint, except in that it serves to illustrate where I was: a decade and change into a career I had loved and for which I’d been very hopeful, but that ultimately was just not panning out.
Thing is, I could hardly say it wasn’t panning out at all, given that I made a nice salary and had great benefits and all of that sort of thing. No way in hell could I look a waitress or a musician or a freelance writer in the eye and say “Yeah but it sucks having a dependable paycheck and health insurance and honest to God sick days, plus I never seem to be able to find a way to use up my vacation time, and I can’t get promoted or do interesting things or even apparently find a new job someplace else.”
So I stuck it out, even though every day I’d get up in the morning and literally cry in the bathroom because I had to go to my depressing dead-end job that shouldn’t have been a dead end but was. I would sit in my cubicle performing data drudgery I’d agreed to handle on a temporary basis years before, growing more and more depressed about the meaninglessness of it, watching fresh-faced young males straight out of college get hired and be assigned the projects I’d been told I would be working on if I just emptied the bitbucket for a couple more months. Year in, year out.
God, I shudder in reflection to think that it was really almost five years I spent trying to either turn that job around for me or find a new one. But it was a dot-com slump in 2001 when I started that process. And I no longer fit the twentysomething geekgirl image that had existed for me to fall right into in the 1990s. I was thirtysomething and somebody’s mom. Dude, everyone knows moms are the mortal enemy of the geek. Duh.
A lot was hard about that timeframe; for instance, my father came down with cancer and died a few weeks after his 59th birthday. That sucked. My job sucking made that suck more, and vice versa, and then the overall suck level just kept going up. And up. And up. And by the time three or four years had gone on like that, the only way that I withstood it all was by getting to the end of my work day and investing time in yarn-related projects. The textile pursuits had always been there, but it was never something I intended to make a career. It hadn’t been enough of a living for my parents, and let me tell you, that’s saying something, because my parents were field anthropologists and everybody knows that’s not a living at all.
So people — well-meaning — would say things like “You should see if you can’t do something with yarn and make a living that way.” Which when you’re living in Silicon Valley in the 2000s, well, it’s frankly laughable. The same people would then say things like “I mean I’d probably pay $50 for that sweater you’re wearing right now,” when that’s, you know, an hour of their time staffing a help desk and asking a caller if the caps lock key is on. No, making a living as a fiber person was just… not possible. I was pretty sure of that.
But at the same time, people would ask me to teach them stuff. You know, yarn-related things. And I wanted to do that. If there were only some way to make that work. I mean there was no chance living on Silicon Valley where if you were lucky you could rent a one-bedroom apartment for around a grand. And I had responsibilities. So no. And I couldn’t do it on the side, this yarn teaching thing, because there were too many schedule conflicts and just… no time.
But eventually, in early 2006, we decided to move. I quit that job. You heard me. I quit it. And I didn’t look for a new job. Instead, I became — for the first time in my adult life — totally dependent on my partner’s income, while trying to figure out a way to squeeze a living out of knowing a lot of stuff about yarn and yarn-related pursuits. It was a crazy idea. But five years ago today, I launched abbysyarns.com.
I can’t say it feels like five years. But then again maybe I just don’t know what five years feels like.
Five years ago, I sold handspun yarn and spinning fiber on eBay, as a short-term quick solution. I started gathering up things I had written about yarn, and getting them in some sort of shape to put online. I considered opening a brick and mortar yarn store. I ruled that out on the grounds that it was unlikely I could make that generate take-home revenue in 5 years or less, and that it would tie me down such that it would be hard to travel and teach. So I made stuff to sell, and I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and tried to picture how this could all work out to be a living.
Since then, I’ve written all kinds of stuff for publication. I’ve developed products that people like and that work as products. I’ve taught… I’ve taught a lot of people, in a lot of places. I wrote a book. I made some DVDs. And somehow, with perseverance and determination I suppose, here I am at the five year mark, and I’m making a living. I don’t have sick days; I don’t have a 401k. I don’t get paid time off or vacation. I don’t accrue seniority. I can’t count on raises for doing my job well. I don’t have my own health insurance. I don’t get regular paychecks.
But let me tell you the really important “I don’ts.” I don’t get depressed as hell knowing that it doesn’t matter what I do today, or tomorrow, or the day after that, with no hope of change in the future. I don’t get angry and frustrated because my boss strung me along. I don’t worry that I’ll be laid off or downsized or office-politicked to destitution and ruin.
And perhaps most important of all is this: since I have made the leap of faith to do this yarn thing, not a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone who says “Hey, thank you — I learned this from you, and it makes a difference.”
No. Thank YOU. I couldn’t do it without you. It’s been hard work, and I’m proud, but if it weren’t for all of you, I wouldn’t be here today doing this.
So if you’ve read this far, I’d like to know: do you have a favourite post or posts from the past 5 years? Something you’ve saved or referred to? Something that really interested you? Or was it a class, or an article elsewhere, or something like that? If so, I would love to hear which it is. Because suddenly I look back at five years and think, wow, how did I get here?