On Opinions and Disagreement

I’ve been thinking lately about opinions. Okay, okay; I’m always thinking about opinions, and I have plenty of them, just like anybody else does. But lately I’ve been thinking about how things go when people have different opinions.

It seems like a no-brainer that not everyone would always have the same opinions, and a further no-brainer that this is okay. To me, it’s always seemed equally obvious that people should feel free to talk about their opinions, including their differences, with each other. I’ve always found it to be desirable and usually even enjoyable. I almost always grow from engaging in a discussion of opinion with someone who feels differently about a subject than I do: I learn new perspectives, question my own beliefs, consider assumptions, rethink givens I’ve never thought to doubt or research more fully, and learn there is always room to grow.

Of course, how that discourse takes place is relevant as well. As Stephanie was touching upon last month, there’s a difference between saying “I feel differently” or “I don’t like pink” or “Man, everybody should be able to drive a stick shift car!” and saying “You’re stupid because you don’t agree with me,” or “Pink is for sissies,” or “Anybody who can’t drive stick is obviously a drooling mouth-breather who probably also lacks the capacity to tie her own shoes.”

But then again, you also have to consider context. Let’s face it: every single one of us has likely referred to somebody or another as being so dumb he couldn’t pour… liquid… out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel. Maybe we’ve said it to his face; maybe we said it behind his back to our closest confidantes. Maybe we got off the phone after a marathon tech support call and announced it to all of our cow-orkers, then anonymized the guy and posted about it publicly. Many of us have may even made such pronouncements about a non-anonymous person in varying degrees of being on the record. And in many, many of those cases, little or no harm is done at all, because everybody is aware of the context in which things get said.

Here’s an example — the example that spawned this whole post, actually. My friend The Redhead and I were talking about spinning a very fine silk thread, and I said “I’d totally do that with a spindle,” and she said, “You’re crazy, and to heck with that idea.”

You see, she doesn’t like spinning with spindles. In fact, she could be said to hate it with the fire of a thousand white-hot suns. In the 5 or 6 years I’ve known her, to my knowledge, she has spun exactly one spindle-spun yarn (and she hated doing it, and complained about it publicly the whole time, which is her right). It doesn’t matter what kind of spindle it is, what kind of fiber it is, or anything like that — she just hates spinning with spindles. She hates it, even though she loves to spin super-fine yarn, and spindles are fabulous for that.

So, if she were to say “Abby, your spindles are utter trash, totally useless, and there is no way I’d ever use one,” then I, knowing her loathing of spindles on the whole, am readily able to laugh and say, “Honey, you say that about every spindle you’ve ever touched, because you’re Little Miss Loves-Her-Wheel and you just can’t hang with spindle spinning.” And then she might say “Oh, this from the chick who refused to use a top whorl until there was a point to be proven!” and I might fire back with “If you could be bothered to practice, you’d probably actually be able to spin with a spindle,” and she might counter with “If I were going to practice, it wouldn’t be on one of your dowel-and-a-drawer-pull el cheapo pieces of crap,” at which point I’d say … well, I don’t know. But the point I’m trying to make here is that she and I can differ dramatically in our opinions, know each other’s opinions, and have no fear whatsoever about discussing those differences, even to the point of stating things in ways that, lacking context and familiarity, probably seem pretty nasty.

The truth, however, is that she and I have tremendous respect for each other. We also like each other. We’re the kind of friends who know we have differences of opinion, and we’ll argue those with each other — passionately, vigorously, brutally and, ultimately, lovingly. Why? Because we know we can, for one thing. For another, every once in a while, it turns out the other person has a point. The Redhead, for instance, actually likes that one spindle-spun yarn. And as she once told me, if I’d give good batts a try, I might like them after all.

For both of us, willingness to be challenged has led to growth, and new enjoyment of things we thought we couldn’t enjoy. But on the other hand, sometimes I’ll grant it’s just not worth arguing a point. Take my son, the world’s pickiest eater. I can tell him a hundred different reasons I think he’d probably really, really like fresh cherries if he’d just pop one in his mouth and eat it. I think he’s nuts to stubbornly insist he won’t even try them because he hates fruit. It drives me absolutely crazy that he won’t eat fruit. But the more I argue, cajole, and wheedle, the firmer he becomes in his resolve to not eat fruit. So, fine: that just leaves more cherries for me, and he’ll have to take a multivitamin. And someday (or so I dream), maybe he’ll call me up, a grown man, and say “Mom, why didn’t you tell me I’d like cherries? I can’t believe I missed out on eating them for all these years!”

At which point, I promise I’ll call my mom and tell her she told me so, she was right, I was wrong, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen, and that in fact there was no point to me arguing with my kid about cherries for all those years. But in the meantime, odds are I’ll periodically still try to talk my kid into eating them. And without a doubt, I have all these arguments coming as payback for the years I argued with my own parents; my son is no more stubborn than I ever was. Or am.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that he’ll never like cherries. I personally believe that’s a silly claim for him to make when he hasn’t tried them; he can’t know for sure, y’know? And how can he make sweeping pronouncements like “I just don’t like fruit,” if he refuses to try it? But ultimately, it’s up to him; and if he wants to feel sure of an untried hypothesis to which he’s absolutely committed, well, it’s his life, and he’s entitled to his opinion.

Even if it is stupid.

There, you see? In the course of rambling on through this, lo and behold, there came one of those sweeping pronouncements that I was just saying were ill-considered. I uttered it, in the heat of the moment, and in the context of this whole thing about opinions.

Shifting gears, years and years ago, I moved from doing system administration work to software development work. From the outside looking in, it was all just computer work. But in simple, broad-stroke terms, sysadmins are the folks who have to solve the problems and make it go and deal with whatever needs handling, and do so on the spot, gracefully, fast. Often without having all the information or the set of tools you’d ideally have. Software developers, on the other hand, make the stuff that sysadmins then maintain. Sysadmins are thus often found saying “I can’t believe this thing has to go live right now, when it’s clearly so far from ready for prime time and riddled with problems,” and contending that developers don’t have to live with the long-term consequences of their work. Software developers, meanwhile, argue that sysadmins are too nitpicky, lack vision, and besides, it’s their job to deal with things, and if the sysadmins also wouldn’t just hack at things then maybe principled solutions would be more possible.

Well, anyway, so there I was, new to development, and another developer had made the assertion that the reason a particular thing didn’t work right was my code. “Oh hell no,” I thought, and went to work debugging, troubleshooting, and fixing the problem. I wasn’t going to be one of those developers, after all. Days of this went by, and then finally, in frustration, I said to a colleage, “What am I missing here?”

“You’re missing a fundamental thing,” he said. “You’re willing to entertain the notion that the problem IS in your code.” I was appalled, but my colleague went on. “If someone’s attacking your code,” he said, “the burden of proof should be on him to prove that’s the case. You get a trouble report, believe it’s your fault, own it, and start working on nailing everything down 100% and making certain there’s no way anybody can find fault with your work. That’s not how this works.”

I spent years and years thinking about that conversation. Probably about five years after it took place, I began to understand that one of the things my colleague was pointing out was simply that the other guy was making a claim, without necessarily having done all the due diligence I might have done if I were to make that claim.

A few more years went by, and I realized that not only was it, perhaps, the case that I tended to want to be absolutely positive I was right before making assertions, but that I tended to leave myself wiggle room when making pronouncements — whereas other people didn’t. And instead of reflecting negatively on them for making sweeping statements without 100% certainty, it reflected negatively on me and I came across as sounding unsure. Simply put, other people would say, “The sky is blue,” and I’d say “During the day when it isn’t cloudy, the sky is typically blue.”

My better half says that the one certain test for Franquemont blood is simple: just ask a simple, straightforward question, such as “Would you like chocolate?” Someone without Franquemont blood, he says, will answer “Yes” or “No.” The Franquemont, on the other hand, will say “Chocolate eh? What kind? Would I like it now, or after dinner? Hey, have you heard about the recent suggestions that people might be able to sell things as chocolate that really aren’t? Man, you should have been there that time in Quillabamba when I got that great picture of my sister standing by the cacao tree. You know, the fruit is quite melon-tasting if you eat it fresh…”

Is he right about this? I hate to say it, but… probably. I mean, he kind of has a point. This very paragraph is clearly an example. As is this whole entire post. I don’t think brevity is a Franquemont trait.

To prove it (as if I hadn’t already), I’ve got another anecdote, this one from my mother’s fieldwork for her Ph.D. She had spent weeks and weeks out with one person, collecting plant samples, writing down names for them, identifying them, cataloguing them, and getting his selection of names. Later, she went out again, looking at the same plants with someone else, getting *different* names and suggested uses and so on; part of the point of her research involved sampling what a range of people said about the plants. She’d come home and say “So get this — all the men say the plant huallhua is an aphrodisiac, and the women? They all say it’s a contraceptive!”

“Sounds like the perfect plant,” I remember my father saying. “Everybody should grow it.”

A few weeks later, I was out with the other teenagers, and we were talking about zits. And an older teen told us younger teens “You should put huallhua on that, it’ll clear it right up.” I was absolutely thrilled to be able to share that one with my mother.

Well anyway, one day she came upon her helper, the first source of names, going through her notebook, erasing and changing stuff. “What are you DOING?” she asked him, aghast. “Well,” he told her, “I noticed while we were all out looking at plants yesterday that the guy was giving you the wrong names for things, so I’m fixing it for you.”

It then fell to my mother to explain that part of what she was studying was not just what the plants were called — but the very fact that there was difference of opinion as to what they were called, and what form that took. She needed to know what different people said; she needed lots of sources, and needed to know about the conflict.

So let me try summing this up. Do I think opinions are harmful? Absolutely not. What about disagreement? Nope, I don’t think that’s harmful either. In both cases, I do feel they can be expressed in ways that can cause hurt feelings, or in ways which are threatening. But I think opinions and disagreement, even when vehement, are preferable to stifling silence or outright dishonesty; and I think direct discussion, absent ad hominem, is preferable to talking behind people’s backs, or indirection.

In the online world, it’s easy to get swept up in a dialogue or debate and end up behaving in ways one wouldn’t in real life. It’s easy to misread, misinterpet, phrase things injudiciously, take things personally, and so forth. And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that opinions, perspectives, sources, and so forth can be conflicting and still be good, just like argument and debate aren’t always placid, but are often very worthwhile.

So, with that said, in the next little while, I’m going to try tackling a few thorny debates in the handspinning world — some classics, like “Spindle vs. Wheel?” and “Top Whorl vs. Low Whorl?” and also a few of the conventional wisdoms out there. Why? Because I’d like to encourage everyone to question the conventional wisdom, seek out multiple sources, ponder the debates, form opinions, argue them, change their minds, and grow as a result of all of it — just like my friend The Redhead helped me grow by convincing me that I could like batts, and I (and a few other folks) have even convinced her to try using spindles now and again. And because sometimes there aren’t really yes or no answers, and you have to go down the long side road to find what you’re after, and whatever it is will be an individual thing. Lastly, like the plant huallhua, sometimes a thing can be many different things to many different people — and that’s okay, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with talking about that.

Shout-Out Saturday, and Online Fibery Stuff

I’ve been thinking about the net and the fiber community lately, for no real reason other than that, well, I guess I’m often thinking about that sort of thing.

As long as I’ve been online (which goes back to the era when .com was the least populous domain and email addresses were often bang paths and even some connectivity providers did it with modems), the same social dynamics have been in play in every online scene. You’ve got the net.curmudgeons talking about how it’s not like it used to be, the newbies making stupid mistakes despite all sorts of earnestness, a chorus of people saying “But did you read the FAQ?” You have recurring flamewars that devolve into flamewars about whether or not to have a flamewar. People come and go and folks wonder where they came from and where they went. Small, cozy groups turn into big, anonymous-seeming institutions. Groups split, and merge, get more active, die down to nothingness and disappear. Thriving subcultures pop up unexpectedly in the strangest of places. A handful of people devote tons and tons of time to making community stuff go, and hordes of people are able to avail themselves of those things. Sometimes folks doing that kind of stuff burn out and scenes change forever. Sometimes things get too big and noisy to really function well anymore. Sometimes you just can’t find the signal you’re looking for amid all the noise.

There are lots and lots of fabulous folks in the fiber world online, and lost of wonderful resources. And lots of us take the ones we know about for granted, and assume everyone already knows about them. Sometimes we’ll discover new ones and become addicted to them, but not stop to think of mentioning them to our other pals. I’m terrible about updating the links to blogs I read, for instance. I read TONS of you who I haven’t linked to yet.

So I’ve decided I’m going to make an effort to do a Shout-Out Saturday thing every week. What does this mean? Every Saturday, I’ll give a shout-out (or several shouts out!) to folks whose online fiber work I appreciate. With Shout-Out Saturdays, I want to take a moment to say thank you to the people making efforts, bringing fiber stuff into my online life, working on fiber community, and so forth.

So, here are my first shout-outs:

Sandra’s Loom Blog

Sandra Rude is a production weaver, who does a variety of things, and talks in very understandable ways about technical weaving topics. Her photos are amazing, as is her work. I’m really fond of her recent Fire Scarf series. While there are a fair number of things you can find online about more basic weaving topics, Sandra is one of very few people covering more difficult topics, more advanced stuff, higher-end weaving.


Mostly Knitting

Sarah is a real powerhouse. Seriously. Just look:

Knitting And…

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been googling for some rather random thing (you know, like “leafy lace pattern chart vintage oak leaf roses vine edging” and the answer’s at knitting-and.com, and it’s there because of work Sarah did transcribing, documenting, and so forth. Sarah’s the woman behind the Knitting Wiki… for which I’ve promised content and not yet delivered, *cough*!


Ask The Bellwether

If you think I answer a lot of questions on lists, in forums, whatever, check out Amelia. Seriously. All that, and she has a fabulous shop!


Sheepwreck

Ellen is writing about fibers, quite a bit about fibers. Ever wonder “What’s so great about Merino anyway?” Check out Sheepwreck.


Habetrot

I don’t know how she does it, but Marcy finds the most amazing historical, cross-cultural, ethnographic, anthropological, and archaeological spinning content and images of anybody I know. And I know a lot of people with that set of interests! I’ve seen things pictured at her blog that I’d never even heard of before, and believe me, that’s saying a lot.


So to the five of you this morning, I say thank you. Each one of you contributes to my online fiber world in tremendous ways, and I’m glad you’re there (whether you read this blog or not!)

Tune in next Saturday for more shouts out.

Oh, the random! But there is fiber content, I promise.

Saturday morning dawned, and with the boy at his grandparents’ house we were waking up slowly. Chad made some smart-aleck remark, and I retorted, paraphrasing the episode of “Deadwood” we’d watched the previous night: “I no more need your witticisms than I do a balloonist!”

I looked out the bedroom window and there, drifting just above the trees bordering the neighbours’ horse pasture, was a big red hot air balloon. “Hey Chad,” says I, “There’s a balloon out here, really close!”

“What was that about a balloonist?” he quipped. I laughed. “Can you see how many people are in it?” he asked.

“Two, maybe three?” I guessed. Heading downstairs with thoughts of going out for breakfast, we both watched out the windows as we went. Standing in the kitchen, we looked out and saw the balloon was now very close, with two guys in it. I peered out the sliding door to the deck, and one of ’em waved, from his vantage about 20 feet over the corner of our deck. I waved back, and opened the door.

“Can we land?” the guy asked.

“Sure!” I said, and he told me he’d land right over in the front yard. “Sounds cool!” I replied, looking for my shoes. Having found them seconds later, and grabbed my camera, I headed out the front door… and saw no balloon. Instead I saw this, down by the neighbours’ driveway.

Plainly a ballon chase vehicle, having found its way down our dead-end road, no less. I left the porch and rounding the corner of the house…

As I walked over, the two fellows in the balloon introduced themselves; one was an instructor and the other was a balloonist getting his certification for commercial balloon work. The instructor hopped out, and making it look like nothing at all,

walked the balloon over to the driveway as the chase truck backed its trailer up the driveway.

We chatted as they prepared to pack up (and the chase truck driver brought up the newspaper! Delivery by balloon crew!) They made it look like an absolutely trivial thing to do…

Ever the yarn dork, of course, I was intrigued by the process of dropping the deflating balloon without the fabric or lines tangling.

I hadn’t realized there was an opening at the top of the balloon as well as the bottom, and some sort of rigging lines inside as well as out.

They just laid the whole balloon down right there evenly along the driveway. Packing it up involved tipping over the basket, and then the chase truck crew fella brought out a device that looked like nothing so much as a giant Majacraft flyer hook (you know, an open-ended twist of metal tubing, like the yarn guide on ball winders, too). They passed the fabric through this smoothing things out, then started to cram the balloon into a giant stuffsack. Once this was done, they loaded the basket on a small wheeled trailer, put everything in the truck trailer, and thanked us for letting them use the yard and driveway for landing. The instructor gave me his card and then they were off; it might have all taken half an hour.

Unlike Amy’s recent experience, we didn’t get rides; but it would have been on the early side for me to think about anything like that anyway. I was just sorry that Edward missed it. However, you know, one of the things about this particular part of Ohio — and maybe it’s Ohio at large — is that it’s nutty for anything that goes up in the air. Seriously nutty.

From spring to fall, every single weekend, the air is filled with hot air balloons. I’ve been standing on the deck and been able to see 8 at a single time (though 3 or 4 is more common). Last summer, one landed across the road. And I think there are roughly a trillion small airports around here. There’s more than one hot air balloon festival. And I’m serious about it being aviation type stuff in general, of every type — there’s a small neighbourhood not a mile away as the crow flies which has a little airstrip of its own and folks have their small planes parked next to their driveways or in little hangars on their property.

In 2003, for the Centennial of Flight, well, that was a year when the aviation-type activity here was heavy. We were out visiting, and one day driving down the road, there were literally 8 dirigibles (blimps, airships, you know) visible in the sky — and it seemed like practically every “bigger” airport had an airship hanging out at it. That year, we all met the folks crewing the Fuji blimp, which was at a nearby airport. We were there keeping our distance looking at it, and someone walked up to Edward and said, “You guys can walk right up and touch it and stuff if you like. Wanna see inside?” He got to get in. And I can’t find those pictures!

My periodontist is up by the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, and one recent visit I was sitting in the chair watching big planes land — like I hadn’t seen since the year they landed some of those same unbelievably massive planes at Moffett Field a few years ago. As an aside, let me tell you, those things are BIG. I mean BIG. I will never forget driving along 101 as one of ’em came in for a landing and there it was in front of me, over me, blocking out the sun, looking far too massive to possibly be in the air — those things just defy the brain’s image of what it’s possible to put in the sky.

Let’s see, what other evidence of local aviation-madness can I find… ah! Going to do certain kinds of shopping requires driving past the home of the Wright “B” Flyer and nothing in the area lets you forget the Wright Brothers did their thing in Dayton. And occasionally, here in town, you’ll hear about Neil Armstrong, who recently moved closer to Cincinnati, but lived here for decades, leaving an almost disconcertingly unassuming mark on the place, in things like teeny tiny plaques that are all but hidden from sight in places he helped out at (like the Y where Edward goes to summer camp).

In fact, digressing a little bit, that whole attitude largely characterizes the local mindset — everybody’s just some dude who wants to be a regular schmoe, mow the yard, wave to the neighbours, be regulars at the same restaurants and businesses, raise kids, go to school plays, watch the fireworks from the back yard, and be generally friendly and personable but not intrusive in anyone else’s life. I swear the culture shock almost killed me (but in a good way), moving here from Silicon Valley.

Anyway, so the hot air balloon guys are just out doing what they do, which is no big deal or uncommon thing, and they’re very polite about the use of someone’s yard for landing, which is a routine enough matter that — I later heard from my mother-in-law — the standard, acknowledged convention is that people put a bedsheet in the yard to let balloonists know it’s totally cool to land. So, it wasn’t like it was a special occasion or anything; in fact I’m sure if I walk outside right now and look up, I’ll see hot air balloons. Just not one landing in my yard.

Oh, and before I move on to the actual fiber content for the day, I’d just like to state that in my opinion, the Transformers movie is the best summer blockbuster type movie in quite some time. Therefore I won’t say anything else about it, really, save that Edward totally numbed my arm clinging to it during incredible CG effects-laden fight sequences, when he wasn’t sitting with his mouth agape in glee or identifying which guys were which for me. And yes, it’s an incredibly good GM commercial, and that doesn’t detract from the summer-blockbuster-ness of it at all. Special effects galore, no more than 90 seconds without action sequences, exactly what you need in a summer blockbuster. Pure entertainment.

So anyway, yeah, the fiber content. It’s still too hot to spin, even with the air conditioning on (as it has been and will continue to be), so I’ve been working on that triangle again.

It’s now that big, or actually maybe 2 inches wider at the top part now, so 25 inches across the top unblocked. Shown here, I was moving it from the short 2.5mm circular needle to the long one, so this was a great chance to take a picture.

I decided that certain design elements in this shawl were simply going to end up being far too understated, and that disappointed me as I felt they were among the cleverer parts; the parts that I had to throw in to keep me on my toes so I’d finish the project (since, as I’ve explained before, if I get bored, I stop knitting). Soooo….

…beads.

Yeah, beads. Iridescent beads which I decided I needed to sort by colour. Talk about an exercise in … uh… trying to go blind perhaps.

Anyway, the shawl is top-down from the top center out, around a corner, so that the yarn will stripe in an interesting way. Building on that are diamonds, at a 45% angle to the stripes. Moving out from there, diamond-shaped blocks of 5 diamonds on a side are bordered with lines of leaves, which will be progressing in diamond shapes. This was the design element that I felt was too understated. So, now it’s being punched up with the centers of the leaves being beaded, so that when the shawl is all said and done, there’ll be lines of beads at a 90% angle to the stripes, along the centerline of some of the diamonds, progressing in a diamond-shaped pattern throughout the shawl. Lastly, a beaded edge is planned for the legs of the triangle (not the base, at the neck side).

Wow, does that ever make no sense to describe! You’ll just have to keep watching as this progresses. And it promises to be large — remember, there’s 1100 yards of this yarn, and my plan is to go till I’m done. I’d say that right now I’m probably through the first 20% of the skein. Maybe. Honestly I’ve no idea; I would have to weigh the skein or something, and I can’t be bothered!

You Know You’ve Been A Fiber Geek Too Long When…

  • You regard being down to a pound of silk as being totally out of silk.
  • You panic about whether or not the resupply is going to be here IN TIME. In time for what, exactly? You know. In time.
  • You’re down to half a bump each (or 12-15 pounds) of 5 different kinds of commercial wool top, and are worrying you might be pushing it waiting a couple of weeks to restock it on the grounds that…
  • …you really need to clean up your yarn room, because the mound of trash fiber on the floor is definitely larger than the cat.
  • You’re going to throw that trash fiber away.
  • The only room in the house without a fiber project in it is the bathroom…
  • …and that’s got fiber catalogs in it.
  • You aren’t sure how many spinning wheels you have, and are afraid you’ll be off by more than 5 if you guess.
  • There’s at least 50 pounds of prepped fiber, interesting fiber even, not just white raw materials, sitting in your studio, but when you go to see what you’ll spin next, it looks like there’s nothing there to spin, so…
  • …you’ve got to prep more.
  • Heck, you might as well buy more too.
  • You’ve got a lint roller in every room, to keep you from eating cashmere by accident.
  • You leave the studio without de-fibering yourself hardly at all, and go somewhere in public… at which point you realize people are staring at you and you’re literally covered in fluff from head to toe.
  • You know off the top of your head which lint roller refills are interoperable with what rollers… and that all of them are not interchangeable. Nope, they aren’t.
  • When you put your hair up, you do it just like if you were securing a skein.
  • You think of yourself as having a 3-foot staple with a harsh feel to it and high micron count, definitely not next-to-skin soft.
  • You don’t wonder anymore if you can spin the random fibrous things you encounter in odd places like the supermarket. You don’t wonder, because you know. You know, because you’ve tried.
  • You keep thinking it’s going to be great to hit the bookstore and look for a few new yarn type books, but then you get there and realize your shelves at home are larger than the yarn-related sections at most stores. Yes, including the knitting, sewing, weaving, crochet, and magazines. Sigh.
  • But on the bright side, several of the books they do have are by friends of yours.
  • Your mother’s in town, and she asks you for a cable needle. You tell her you don’t have one, because you swore off knitting cables many years ago. She looks at you in horror with the words unspoken on her lips: what have I wrought, unleashing upon the world a child who grew up into a woman who has no cable needle? This doesn’t seem at all strange to you, until someone else points out most mothers would probably reserve that level of shock for, say, not having silverware.
  • As a result of all that, you both have to go to the nearby award-winning famous yarn store. While there, you both shop for projects and yarn… and end up saying “I give up, the right yarn isn’t here, let’s go raid my stash instead.”
  • The yarn you were looking for is in your stash.
  • The hardest part of winter is the static, because it makes your fiber recalcitrant.
  • The hardest part of summer is picking what projects and fibers won’t kill you from the heat.
  • You can’t leave home for 8 hours without taking enough fiber, yarn, and projects that are already in progress to last you a month.
  • You dream fondly of the apocalypse, thinking how great it’ll be when everyone suddenly cares about textile production because without it, they’d have no clothes.
  • Your child actually speaks the sentence, “That’s just my mom. Don’t talk to her unless you like boring yarn and stuff,” and he’s probably right.
  • You have smaller variants of pretty much every type of textile equipment featured on TV shows like “How It’s Made” — except for the really esoteric ones like suction-based devices to turn things right side out after seaming, and you know you’d probably pick one of those up too, if you ran across one.
  • Despite your 3 feet of hair, you have more soaps for fiber than you do shampoo and conditioner.

Let’s hear it — I know you’ve all got more.

Question Roundup for June 12

There have been lots and lots of terrific questions over the past couple of weeks, and it’s time for a Q&A roundup. Let’s start with questions from A Little Bit About Plying, Part 1.

There are some absolutely wonderful comments on this post, and I’d recommend folks stroll through ’em if they have a chance — helpful information in the comments!

Kristi asks:

I’ve now been plying on two different wheels and it *seems* as though some of the ply twist is lost as the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. A friend of mine has found the same thing on one of those wheels as well, but hasn’t noticed it on any of her other three wheels. It doesn’t seems as though the wheels should remove plying twist when the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. Any ides of the cause? Is this highly unusual, or somewhat common?

This gets argued all over the place, and folks can be deeply committed to their stances. I talk about it a bit in the second plying article, but in brief, my stance is that twist redistributes itself — whether in plying or in spinning — anytime that it passes over something under tension and with a bit of friction. So it’s not that you’re losing twist, though that is how it appears — it’s that it gets redistributed. To a degree, as yarn is wound onto a bobbin, it’ll redistribute over the whole of the bobbin as well, depending on how tightly you wind it and so forth. You’ll see this effect more with any flyer wheel, and less with spindle wheels or on spindles. You aren’t crazy, and this isn’t unusual; many, many attentive spinners detect this.

Another factor is that when you’re plying and looking at what hasn’t wound on yet, you’re looking at a short length of yarn. The twist that is in that short length is going to ooze out the ends, so to speak, once you don’t have it trapped neatly in that short length. And, when you wash the yarn, the same thing will happen again, as Ellen points out in comments on the same article, and the effect when you wash will be even more dramatic. Therefore, bear this all in mind when you’re plying, and see if putting in more plying twist doesn’t produce the yarn you thought you would have, once you’re done.

Kristi later follows up this line of thought with this question on the second article:

Thank you for addressing the loss of twist. Since most wheels cause the yarn to make the same number of turns in its path to the bobbin, why would one wheel cause a greater loss in twist than another? The method of delivering the yarn to the bobbin?

This is easiest to see with a really low-twist yarn, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with some good pictures to illustrate it at some point in this plying series. The short answer is that the most obvious variable in this is how firm your takeup is, and the second (and related) is the question of whether the wheel is single drive or double drive, and whether it’s rigged for flyer lead or bobbin lead. Well, maybe the biggest variable is the spinner, though. You’ll usually see the biggest variations, I find, if you hold back, hold back, hold back and THEN feed the yarn on in one fell swoop, vs. if you let it trickle through your hands and smoothly stream its way onto the bobbin. Unless, of course, you’re meticulously counting treadles and so forth while getting twist into a certain length of yarn being plied; in that case it’s easier to be uniform with the hold-back and then feed method.

The difference, though, should be minimal; but if you have a yarn with 4 plying twists in an inch, and you lose 1, it’s a much bigger percentage than if you have a yarn with 12 plying twists in an inch and lose 1. So that’s a factor too. I think this one really needs some pictures!

A few other questions came up in comments on this article as well, and some of ’em deserve their own whole posts! Here’s one:

Sulafaye asks:

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise! It is fascinating to see these concepts “in action.” May I asked how you learned to spin (and ply!)?

Definitely a long-answer one! The short version is that I first really learned to spin as a child in the Andes of Peru, in the weaving town of Chinchero, near Cusco. My family, headed by a pair of field anthropologists with a specific interest in textiles, moved there just after my fifth birthday.

I’m the tow-headed troublemaker in the front. Or, well, I was; and since I was old enough to be useful, but didn’t have anything going for me in the way of useful skills, I was behind the curve and the community set to work resolving that. You’ll notice there aren’t any other kids my age in that photo — babies, but not 5-year-olds. That’s because 5-year-olds had things to be doing other than getting underfoot.

You can read a bit more about that in my Waylaka article.

The longer answer is that everything to do with the fiber arts has always been an assumption in my family. My little sister, for example, who believes she can’t do any fiber stuff (and arguably that’s a fair statement given the rest of the family) can actually knit, crochet, embroider, sew, macrame, braid, weave a little, and spin a little — if you were to compare her to the US population, it wouldn’t be right at all to say she can’t do any fiber stuff. But instead of the gene for “fiber stuff is as obvious as breathing,” she got the gene for “capable of growing plants.” That gene skipped me. You know how people say “You can’t kill a spider plant?” The “you” in question would not be me. I have a black thumb. I could garden if my life depended on it, but my life would have to depend on it. My sister is that way about fiber, but when she walks past plants it’s like a cartoon of them sighing gleefully and perking up and dancing around her to burst into bloom and greenness and so forth.

Anyway, so some of my very earliest memories, some before I could walk and talk, involve laying in my father’s weaving studio, watching the antique loom go, and learning simple braids and inkle loom weaving and me bemoaning a lack of saddlebags for my rocking horse only to have my mother cause them to materialize out of thin air with a crochet hook. Almost all my childhood warm things were handknit, hand-crocheted, and mostly handspun; tons were handwoven, and at least half my clothes, hand-sewn. The fiber arts are a fact of life for me and have always been!

And Lola LB and Peggy both ask about the black yarn…


It’s superwash merino/tencel, a 50/50 blend in commercially-processed combed top. This black piece was a small, leftover bit that I dyed black to see how the fiber took to being dyed black — that’s a telling thing, you see. And then I spun it into some semblance of weaving yarn, though I haven’t decided yet if I’m happy with the twist in it for that purpose. I’ve got a few of the superwash/tencel left for sale in my eBay store, and will likely reorder and do more. It’s a neat fiber.

There are also questions in here about how to spin fine; and that, well, that we will have to leave for its own lengthy entry.

Charlene asks:

As you continue to write about plying – please let us know if you use the same size whorl to ply as spin. Seems if you want more plying twist a smaller whorl would make the whole process more efficient.

Okay, I’m going to fess up here. I pretty much do everything at the highest possible flyer speed I can get, and almost always crave more speed. My use of ratios is primarily to trick myself into spinning extremely low-twist yarn. I almost never spin using ratios lower than about 12:1; and plying, well, plying is one of the main reasons I bought an Ertoel Roberta electric spinner. The faster the better! And when my mother lets me run off with the old great wheel, I expect to be plying on that a lot, like I did as a child — at what I’d guess is probably almost a 200:1 ratio. Remind me to dig up the funny plying video one of these days…

But that said, what I generally recommend is that people go up one speed to ply from where they were when they spun the singles. View your ratios like shifting gears on a bicycle or in a car; make your machine (the spinning wheel) do your work for you!

Oh, talking about Cardzilla’s woes, Ellen busted me:

Okay, let me get this straight….once Chad determines what exactly Cardzilla needs and what is best for it you are going to take it in and then floor the people behind the counter by knowing -exactly- what you want?

That’s exactly right; I’ll just stroll in there like I know what I’m talking about and spew some bit of jargon that makes me sound way cool and knowledgeable… and then, of course, they’ll ask me a question for which I do not have an answer, and I’ll be saying “It’s for a drum carder. It makes these tooth-covered drums go around in the opposite direction, and you put wool in there and it makes it nice for spinning into yarn. Anyway, it’s slipping in forward and not in reverse, as soon as it gets any load on it.”

And Jen asked:

I love the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle! I tried to look back and find a pattern name, but didn’t find anything. Is that an Abby creation or do you have a pattern name for it?

Thank you for the sock yarn teaser! The “fun stages like this” picture was gratifying … that seems to be the stage I’m always in!

This in an old (and maybe odd question). What do you wash your fiber with? The batts I ordered smelled awesome!

The Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle is a pattern I made up on the fly; you think I should chart it? Hrmmmm. It needs an actual name if I’m gonna do that, doesn’t it? As for the smell… I wash in Eucalan, Meadows Wool Wash, and Dawn dish detergent, depending. And sometimes if it’s for personal use, not for sale — because I don’t add scents to stuff for sale — I wash with my own fancy mild soaps, my absolute favourites of which are Laticia Mullins’ soaps. But she doesn’t have a web site where she sells ’em; I traded her soap for fiber a while ago and I’m addicted to her stuff! Seriously addicted! Laticia, tell the nice people where to get your soap, would you? But save some for me.

Lisa in NC asks:

Question about the weaving…I’m currently reading a great book about Bolivian Highland Weaving in hopes of learning Pebble Weave. I’ve noticed a lot of Central Asian Yurt bands appear to be pebbleweave as well. Would you know if the two are the same technique? I put a pic of one up on my blog at www.alyclepal.blogspot.com. Would this be one of the techniques you learned living abroad? Thanks, Lisa

The entry you’re talking about looks like this one: http://alyclepal.blogspot.com/2007/05/this-is-inspiring-me.html, right?

Pebble weave essentially is a term which is used to describe fabrics where the large single-colour fields in a pattern are actually made up of a 2-colour field where one colour is dominant and the other colour is like dots in the background, and structurally, it allows for the appearance of a single-colour field without having long floats of yarn. At least, that’s the fundamental definition, as near as I can distill it down to a paragraph.

There are, though, lots of ways one can achieve this! I would definitely classify the textile in your photo as being a pebble weave; and it definitely could be done using Andean techniques. However, the Andean pebble weave is not, to my knowledge, related to other regions’ techniques for doing so, in a direct way — they evolved separately.

Bolivian highland pebbleweaves are Andean in nature, and do use the same techniques, with relatively minor differences; typically you’ve got a 2-shed pattern section with contrasting colours on each shed, and 2 heddles (one full string-tied one called an illawa in Quechua, and one that’s a loop around the other shed, called a sonq’opa in Quechua). The pattern is achieved by doing pickup swapping warp threads from each shed with the corresponding threads from the other shed; this is called a complementary warp-faced weave structure, and one of its hallmarks is that it’s the same, but with the colours reversed, on the opposite side.

In your example, the presence of certain picks (passes of the weft) that appear to be plain-weave where all the facing threads for each shed are of one colour suggests to me that your band would be warped in a similar manner to the Andean way I know, but I’ve no basis from which to guess what the typical heddle setup would be in the central Asian example.

This is a great question though, and one that I’m now planning on getting into in more detail in its own post.

Back to plying… meowgirl asks:

i was wondering if you use similar amounts of tension for the different plying positions, especially between the moving-forward/backward-to-feed vs. tension-fed types.

Wow, this is a tougher question to answer than it seems like! I started thinking about it, and it got to being one of those things like if someone asks you to describe in detail how to eat with a fork. The more you think about it, the more you aren’t sure. Why? Because the tension changes all the time! What I’m doing is mediating it as it changes, to make sure that the yarn getting plied has both strands under the same tension as each other as twist is getting into them. That’s the key.

I like to have the singles coming off whatever they’re on smooth and easy. I don’t want to have to pull them off the bobbin or out of a ball. I want them to just flow. And I want to have the takeup on my wheel set so that it’s winding on to the same degree of tightness on the bobbin, throughout. This can (and usually does) mean some tweaking to singles source and wheel takeup as the plying progresses. As to the spindle question, I’ll talk about that more in the spindle plying segment. Promise.

A bunch of folks asked questions about finishing. I cannot recommend highly enough that people take a look at Judith McKenzie-McCuin’s article on wet finishing in the current issue of Spin-Off, due on newsstands tomorrow (but you might already have it if you subscribe). I promise I’ll talk more about it with some of the upcoming yarns, but her article is incredibly good and if you’ve got questions about washing and finishing, you’ll likely find her article alone worth the purchase price of the magazine.

But one to answer quickly before I must move on and leave the remaining questions for another question roundup…

The hot, cold, hot, cold … that’s only on a superwash or non-felting yarn?

Categorically not! The yarn I used it on, a low-medium twist merino/silk, here:

felted — actually fulled, which is a milder form of felting — during this process, and that’s part of what causes the changes in its character, changes for the better, I think we would all say (definitely we would if we could all have handled it before and after!) The reason I re-skeined this while it was damp was because it was indeed sticking to itself and trying to be a felted mass, and I wanted it to dry while every strand in the skein could float freely. You know, into the minor mess when the wind took it.

Let’s look at the before and after wpi photos close together, for that one — you can see the changes in yarn character due to fulling that occurred in the hot-cold abusive wash:

To me the difference is obvious — but perhaps it’s also really subtle.

Another benefit is that the yarn isn’t going to go through that change, now, while in a finished object. It’s finished; and when it’s worked up, the shifts and minor changes won’t occur again throughout the life of the object, or whenever it’s washed. And if I make a garment from it, I can count on being able to handwash it in super-hot water! I know the finished object won’t be ruined or forever changed by routine washing once it’s done, because I finished the yarn the way I did.

Whew, that’s about all the question round-up I’ve got time for today! Check back soon for more. Oh! And yes, subsequent plying articles will cover chained singles (aka navajo plying) and the use of spindles, and lots more!

ETA: Omigod! June just pointed out how far ahead of myself I’m getting: apparently, I thought today was Tuesday already. It must be a heckuva Monday! Oh, and for anybody interested in such things, I’m clearance-ing a pile of discontinued stuff, one-off stuff, samples, and so forth, while supplies last, here:

http://www.abbysyarns.com/wordpress/?page_id=95

Slow Start To My Sunday…

Honestly, I shouldn’t be sitting here at the computer drinking coffee and blogging — I should be doing chores. But of course, I’m fortifying myself for chores by drinking more coffee, so I’ll forgive myself.

Yesterday was, I must say, a very pleasant Saturday. I drove up to the Miami County Fairgrounds, about an hour north of here, and visited the Upper Valley Fiber Fest. Among other things, this provided me with an opportunity to finally meet some folks I’ve known from mailing lists, some of ’em for rather a long time, like Cena, who, if you’re on practically any of the spinning related lists these days, you probably know too.

Becky and her guild, the Upper Valley Fiber Guild, did a wonderful job. Next year, I promise I’ll be a vendor. This year, so far, I’m still working on logistics for show vendoring type stuff.

I also very much enjoyed meeting Mirie, who talked me into ice cream (that must have been hard!), and Pia, who in fact is in Cincinnati with all her Suri alpacas, and not, as I had assumed, “somewhere around Cincinnati.” And she, of course, has friends and colleagues who live as close to me as, say, about a mile away. This is terrible, terrible news for me, of course. Simply dreadful. Because, as noted, I’m not buying any fleeces at all this year, and stuff.

Once I get to washing that Romney — which will be soon; it’s a fresh fleece shorn maybe two weeks ago — I promise pictures. But it’s very crimpy, very fine, and lustrous, and black. It came from Family Matters Farm in Xenia, and they had quite a few nice Romney and Lincoln and Romney/Lincoln cross fleeces. Honestly, I’m really kind of a sucker for nice Romney, which I find if you get in the raw from someplace nice, is much much finer than buying commercial Romney, and you get very soft, yet strong, and lustrous yarn from it.

As it happens, my thoughts of buying anything else ended up being interrupted by this:

…which I guess you can probably tell came home with me. Despite being Little Miss Majacraft Fan, this was actually the first time I’d run into a Saxonie, so I seized the opportunity to give it a try, and it really was quite nice. And then the nice lady told me she was selling this used one. Here it is next to the workhorse Suzie Pro for scale…

In my defense, I did get a good deal on it. Plus you don’t seem to be able to get these anymore. And it works with some of my other wheels. Besides, what if nobody took me seriously as a spinner because of having fewer than 10 wheels, y’know? That doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking.

I’ll give it a real review at some point. I need a new stretchy drive band for it, and I’d like to fit it with one of Majacraft’s newer high-speed whorls, as the highest ratio on the whorl that came with this wheel is, by my calculations, roughly 22:1, and it certainly seems to me that with an 18″ drive wheel it could push a bit higher, and I really can’t see any obvious reason I wouldn’t be able to put a higher speed whorl on it. The idler whorl on the Suzie Pro’s accelerator head is smaller, for instance… But anyway, the wheel’s got nice momentum and very smooth action, and the length of the footman stroke, which is at an angle, makes for pretty smooth one-footed treadling as well.

One interesting thing about this wheel is the handful of things that are clearly done for looks. At first glance to the untrained eye, it looks like a double drive wheel with a tilting mother-of-all… but it’s a scotch tension wheel, and the traditional Saxony stylings are purely ornamental.

When I got home, lo and behold, great news! My surprise from The Boogie Babe, aka The Spunky Eclectic, had arrived! Wooo! I’ve sent her one too, but I think she outdid me by far:

I knew I was going to be spinning some of this up right away… but which? It was really a hard decision. Start with the BFL/Silk/Kid Mohair blend, “Sage?”

Or start with this beautiful handpainted merino/silk top in “Rocky Mountain High?”

Congratulate me on remembering to stop for 30 seconds and take a picture before I dove in. These fibers are absolutely stunning, and yeah, she outdid me and the silly little package I sent her. I mean, just look…

Aww yeah. Go look at the full-size version of that last pic.

And with all of that to play with, what’s on my to-do list today? What else — laundry. Well, and chores in general. Isn’t that always the way?

April’s half over? I’d better make myself look busy.

Well, April has certainly been a busy month so far! I feel like I’m hardly sitting still long enough to get to about 75% of the things I thought I would… in March!

However, I do have a few things to show for my month so far. One of them is this:

Her name is Kaylee (yes, it’s a TV/movie name) and although she looks incredibly sedate and peaceful in all the photos so far, right this second she’s perched on the back of my office chair with her forepaws on my shoulder, trying to eat my hair. Essentially, if she can be caught on film, it’s probably because she’s sleeping!

She’s fitting in well with the big kids, however. She’s a chocolate European Burmese, and she is the playin’est kitten with whom I’ve ever shared a home.

I’m making good progress with spring cleaning and fiber rotation. I try to do it quarterly, but it sometimes ends up pushed out to 3x a year. But in any case, when I do it, every fiber item in the studio must be inspected and gone over; nothing can be allowed to sit in dark corners untouched, unmoved. I’m sure there are a few of you reading this who know exactly why that is — for the rest of you, let us just say that it is as a precaution against The Scourge Which I Shall Not Name, Lest I Invoke It; a pestilence which, the last time it visited, caused me to moan, “Why couldn’t it have been lice instead?” Or zombies.

Anyway, there are logistical considerations to all the materials rotation tasks; silks must have a long-term storage place which doesn’t have direct sunlight on it all the time, for instance, and I keep fibers to which some people react separated from other fibers as well– so the mohair and angora need their own safe spaces, just as cats aren’t allowed in the studio. Those things wouldn’t be true if it were all just fiber for me, but I’d hate for a customer to end up having a reaction despite everybody’s best intentions, so I do what I can.

The spring cleaning sale, ending tomorrow, has been pretty successful — I’m all but out of custom blends! Clearly, you all need me back in the studio slaving over a hot carder, not to mention making sure I have a couple of dye days this week. But here’s a little preview of what you can expect to see coming up for sale Wednesday:

There’s other stuff too, and there might be even more other stuff, if I can manage to get out from under this kitten and get to work today and tomorrow.

Of course, I’ve been spinning and whatnot as well, and doing a little light swatching and sample production…


I spun up some City Lights leftovers, and then — surprise, folks! — chain-plied them. This skein used roughly the contents of 2 batts, and spun up into 195 yards of chain-plied (aka Navajo plied, but I prefer to call it chain plying) yarn at about 10 wpi.

And then I chain-plied more, just to show you all that sometimes, I do things that aren’t what I usually do. Or something. Here’s how April Blizzard looks:

That’s 95 yards of 9 wpi yarn from 1 batt; and I spun it up as part of a photo tutorial on one way to spin from a batt. I’ll be adding to this over time, with additional ways of spinning from batts, but for those of you who have asked where to begin, here’s one place to begin!

And that little project has also resulted in a really interesting exchange with Velma. Go check it out, and weigh in if you’re so inclined!

Oh, and I just remembered: someone else asked me where I’d send a 13 micron merino fleece for processing. Without hesitation, I told her I’d send it to Morro Fleece Works. The next photo here is why; a few times a year I treat myself to something she’s selling, and it’s always been an incredibly good buy, and I’m saying that about having paid $45 a pound for merino. They ain’t what you’d call cheap, but if I had a really incredible fleece I was going to send out, that’s where I’d send it. Because of this:

It’s sad, but that really doesn’t do it justice. But I’m not going to go any further with this right now, because honestly, we’re entering the arena of purely gratuitous fiber porn.

So getting back to some of my spinning and sampling and whatnot, I did two other chain-plied things, one of which is some Indian Summer tussah that’s getting made into a Something right now, and it hasn’t been photographed yet. I did do up a sock blend — 3 batts, 465 yards, about 15 wpi chain-plied, this is Iris, which is sold out again already, and clearly needs to be repeated when I get my lazy blogging butt into the studio shortly:

I like this yarn. In fact, let’s see it again:

Yeah, I like that one.

Oh, I did manage to get my yarn off for the Yarn Thing swap; by way of documentation, before I split it into its requisite 25 skeins, here it is on a kitchen scale set to measure in grams:

So, ignoring the little bit of waste and loss from splitting it into so many skeins, every skein is about a gram, and 20 yards. I’d wanted to make every skein for the swap from a single ounce of silk, and have it be a plied yarn. It looked a little silly, I have to admit, stuck into individual tiny plastic bags so I could slap a label on it because the skeins were just soooo small.

There’s something else I was going to mention… Ah yes! Here’s a swatch for my Indian Summer handpaint colourway, on some handspun wool/silk/mohair single. Expect to see the pattern for this scarf shortly; I want to think about it a bit and make a functional scarf, as really this is only a swatch.

Well, phooey! There’s not really all that much to show for a few busy weeks, but I’ll still pat myself on the back for spring cleaning. Which reminds me to let you all know I’ll be throwing items from the “I’m not going to do anything with this, am I?” pile up on eBay sometime later this week; presently there are a few yarns listed, like several boucles I just know I’m not going to do anything with, ever. There’ll be more… lots more.

A Few Thoughts on Woolen and Worsted

Do You Prefer To Spin Woolen or Worsted?

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

A few generalities…

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Like To Mix and Match Techniques With Prep

1. Commercial top spun with woolen technique:

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

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

2. Carded Preparations Spun With Worsted Technique:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Items

Fiber Geek Questionnaire, belatedly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. What was your first fiber project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I absolutely do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yarn Measurement

Renee asks:

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

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

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

7 Feb 2007

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel – African Savannah 2 oz

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

3.5 hrs

8 Feb 2007

remaining CR merino/tencel on bobbin 2, 1.5 hrs

plied same, 2 hrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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