Precious kitty topples from anointed post

Dear Cat #1,

You may recall that a scant few weeks ago I sang your praises as Exalted Eater of All Moths. I regret to inform you that we will no longer be needing your services.

You have been observed treating several of your person’s small craft items as if they were “fresh kills.” This began last week with the pincushion. Your person shudders to think what would have ensued had you swallowed one of those pins.

Today, you were spotted carrying a small skein of handspun yarn from the craft room. HR will be coming for your keys later this afternoon.

Sincerely yours,

The Management

Spinning my wheels

I have been enjoying the new spinning wheel so much. It’s lovely to be able to leave it out in my craft room, where it’s ready for action anytime I have a few spare moments.

Spin. Spin. Spin. Spin. Spin.

A little before bed. OK, some more. Lots over the weekend. Anytime Liam decides it’s actually time to play by himself. While I’m listening to the radio. The wheel has seen lots of time over the three days that I have had it.

I was thrilled this morning when I finally filled up a bobbin with some of the Blue-Faced Leicester. That giant fluff ball I started with barely looks like it’s been dented. But I figured that’s just because I’m watching it diminish gradually and therefore not really seeing how much I’m spinning.

I skeined up what I had done so far, and presto:

A lovely skein of very thin singles that are pretty soft and evenly spun, if I do say so myself.

All right, the moment of victory. Time to weigh this puppy. OK… started out with 1 lb…. and this skein — oh, it’s got to be at least a quarter of the stuff — maybe more like a third.

Umm. OK. I’m not even a fifth of the way there. I never harbored the illusion that spinning would be fast, but I’m surprised by just how time-consuming it actually is. If there was a fork in my road between (1) production spinning to replace much of my commercial yarn needs and (2) spinning as a mostly separate hobby that incidentally and occasionally turns up something nice to knit with, then in that weighing moment, many of the lamps went out on path #1.

In which our heroine waxes some leather and gets spinning

On Friday afternoon, I was at home, juuuust typing the last notes on the last paper I needed to grade, when:

PLONK. [Followed by distinctive sound of UPS truck pulling away.]

And there it was on the carport. A vision of unassembled promise: my first spinning wheel. [Cue choir.]

Out of the box it comes. Hmm….

Apparently this is the IKEA version. Some assembly required.

Considering this wheel originates in Poland — it’s a Kromski Minstrel — the instructions were surprisingly clear. It still took about an hour to assemble the whole thing. This involved — kid you not — rubbing hot candle wax on strips of leather and other bits of Stone-Age engineering nonsense.

Et voila:

Here it is assembled, and already in action. I ordered some combed top with the wheel so that I could take the wheel for its first run. The fleece is an undyed Blue-Faced Leicester, and it’s very pretty — lots of streaks of white and dark brown shooting through it here and there.

(Blue-Faced Leicester. Doesn’t that sound like a Batman villain? But I digress.)

The Boy has taken an immediate liking to this new piece of machinery. Perhaps you recall the Incident with the Weaving Loom? If it involves making things with your hands and a machine with lots of levers and moving parts, then Liam is right there in your lap. Or perhaps he will just noodge you out of your chair…

See the flyer whirling around in the upper right? He’s really going for it.

Half empty, half full

Half empty: A couple of days ago, some gnome stuffed my brain and throat full of pollen, making it so’s I can barely talk, let alone think straight. This morning, I broke my toe doing nothing more than walking — not even quickly — across the room. Now, I’m not even a very good driver. I think that’s actually a felony in Texas.

Half full: This meant I was home sick for two days. Hello, yarn.

Half full: I got a lot of knitting done on the swatch for a design I’m working up. The yarn — from Sanguine Gryphon — is bee-yoo-tee-full.

Half empty: The reason that I got a lot of knitting done is because I’ve knit the swatch at least three times. And it’s sizable (about 8″ square). And I’ll probably have to rip it at least one more time.

Half full: I also got to be home for the arrival of my shipment from Halcyon Yarn. I eagerly waited for my new spinning wheel to arrive. Sometime around 2:30, the knock on the door came.

Half empty: It was just the combed top that I ordered so I’d have something to do with the wheel besides pet it fondly.

Half full: Damn, that combed top is pretty, though. It’s from a Blue-Faced Leicester fleece in a natural oatmeal color.

Half empty: I don’t know how to spin top — just roving. Blast.

Half full: Oh well, I can learn! As soon as that wheel arrives…

Happy birthday to meeeeee

Here’s what I just ordered for myself as a birthday present, thanks to a very generous gift from my parents:

This is a Kromski Minstrel spinning wheel, and I loves it already. If the United States Postal Service knows what’s good for them, they will deliver this with the greatest possible speed. After all, I clearly need another fiber-related hobby. Stat.

Amazing to think that not much more than a century ago, working with such a device was, well, work. Actually, in many parts of the world, it still is. If I had to spin every bit of fiber that we needed to clothe and cover ourselves, I’d probably not be as excited about the prospect.

I also received some cool books from my boys. I’m especially excited about this one:

This book walks you through how to design your own clothes from scratch — no pattern. The author, Cal Patch (who used to design clothing for Urban Outfitters) does a great job of explaining the process clearly without over-complicating. I also give her huge props and a chocolate cupcake for not talking to me like I’m a hipster. There’s not an ounce of cutesiness in this book — no attempts to act like WE ARE ALL SO URBAN COOL THAT WE ARE BLEEDING OUT OUR NOSES.

It’s a good thing summer is coming. I have so much to do!

Potential energy

Have you ever listened to the Knitajourney podcast? Really, really, you should. The host, Susan, is incredibly thoughtful and — best of all — does not have the slightest embarrassment about being smart and well read. (I hate how often women apologize for being smart and well read.)

The other day, I was listening to her most recent episode, “Physics on the Fly.” In this show, Susan shares her thoughts on how spinning and knitting impart energy into fiber. Such a simple idea, in a way, this idea that your hands put energy into the wool. But it’s quite inspiring when you really begin to look at fiber in this way.

Take this for example:

OK, granted, this is partly an excuse to post a photo of my first hank of handspun yard (all 75 whopping yards of it — probably just enough for an egg cozy). I made this during my class at the Campbell Folk School.

But really, my point is this. Before I learned to spin, I saw a lot in yarn — its texture, its color, its construction, its thickness. But learning to spin gives you the embodied sense of the potential energy in yarn. You have stored energy in there with your wheel or your spindle and your own hands. It’s just waiting for you, calling you, wanting to come back out.

Even the plying process gives you some experience with this energy release. During the spinning portion of our class, I learned that — at least when you’re doing woolen spinning (not sure about the worsted process) — you spin singles in one direction and then ply in the other. In other words, the original spinning of the fiber puts in twist in one direction. So much twist, in fact, that the singles curls up on itself.* Then — if you’re lucky or, god forbid, skilled — plying (twisting) one or more of those singles together in the other direction takes just enough of the original twist out so that the yarn doesn’t twist up on itself anymore.

It’s like two perfectly matched forces playing tug-of-war with each other. You might think the yarn is just lying there, but it’s not. It’s locked in a dance, buzzing with energy, calling your name.


* Yes, grammar queens, that is correct. Singles in this context is a singular noun.

I’ve dyed and gone to heaven

You may ask yourself: what is this luscious clothesline of feather boas? Or are those giant clown wigs?

These, friends, are giant hunks of Corriedale and Romney wool fleece dyed by me and the rest of my sheep-to-shawl class last week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. What an amazing experience that was. A whole week of bankers’ hours devoted to wool — the washing, dyeing, carding, spinning, plying, and admiring of wool.

Our wonderful instructor, Martha Owen, started us off on Sunday night with some information about various sheep breeds, and on Monday we got down to business, dumping an enormous sheared fleece (from her farm) into the washing machine to clean all the what-not out of it. (Most of the really gross what-not is “skirted” off before that, but there’s plenty of plain old dirt what-not left on the rest of the fleece.)

Then the really fun part started. Martha’s into natural dyeing, which I was interested to learn more about. Now, look again at that photo above. Can you believe those are natural dyes? I had this image in my head of natural dyes being quite muted, but Martha taught us how to get shocking, deep pinks (from mashed-up cochineal bugs, in the middle and on the cart), fluorescent yellows (from osage orange bark, on the right), and rich orangey-yellows (from onion skins, on the left). You can even get this funky, verdigris-ish blue:

…by plotzing a piece of copper pipe into a jar of ammonia and water for a couple of weeks, and then chucking in some wool. The ammonia eats away at the copper, which creates a dye. So cool!

We even collected a whole bunch of these lichens from the woods surrounding the school:

… and made a gorgeous bronze dye with them.

All right. So now you’ve got mounds of technicolor sheep fleece. Now what? Time to card and spin. This was the part I was less enthusiastic about initially. I came to the class convinced that I would find spinning frustrating and/or tedious. I mean, really, just how far can a lazy girl go down the Back-to-the-Land path?

Well, friends, apparently spinning is not my limit. I loved it. The first day was frustrating, but when you are spending six hours or more every day working at it, the learning curve tends to be a lot steeper. By the end of the week, I was spinning worsted like a champ.

OK, like a decent novice, but it’s much more than I expected.

Here are some of the skeins that we wrought. Mine’s closest to the camera. It’s enough yarn for me to knit for about 20 minutes, but I love it anyway. Can a wheel of my own be far behind?