Get your goat
Thursday November 22nd 2012, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Spinning
Happy the-last-of-Thanksgiving Day!
If I had a hot summer day and a dark car and a black plastic bag to intensify the effect, it would do it. All those warnings about leaving kids or pets in cars in the heat? Works on bugs too. But even in California, this is November.
Years ago, at CNCH, a weavers’ convention, I bought a baby mohair fleece from the woman who had raised Edgar–and talking to her and seeing the love in her face as she described him, he was clearly more of a pet than anything else. It was a fabulous fleece, her best, and I made several skeins and a few small things out of it.
I remember waiting for my kids to get out of middle school while I would sit, picking out the random bit of hay or the like and letting it float off in the breeze. There wasn’t much, but still. Opening those locks and spinning that stuff took a lot of work.
Edgar the goat would be a teenager himself by now.
I still had some. Who knew. And the bag it was in had come undone and opened, with the dreaded signs of infestation–not bad, but. Any is the end, you have to toss it. End of subject.
My second reaction was, but I fondled all that woman’s fleeces before choosing; she had the best in that whole show and she told me I’d picked the best of her best.
It is so very very soft. And I do have my wheels in working order again, with thanks to Kaye and Sandi at Purlescence.
What would you do?
Now all is a oh-Kaye!
Kaye at Purlescence messaged me: my spinning wheel was done! My Ashford Traditional, the one that has been broken so many times, so many ways, the one that was the better wheel I always used, even after it fell out of the back of my minivan and broke the flyer and maiden (always seatbelt them in), even after a kid tripped over it and broke the replacement flyer (and I had to buy the whole maiden assembly again for $120 from somewhere else, just before Purlescence came to be.)
It never did work well after that last time: it wobbled so hard that at times the thing simply fell apart, the maiden twisting with the vibrations and the bobbin simply falling to the floor.Â I had to clean dirty sewing machine oil out of silk. Kinda put a damper on the spinning thing.
This is the third wheel she and Sandi have repaired for me. One, bought at an auction, had never worked at all; they got it going and I sent it happily off to a great home, gratified that after fifteen years it had finally been made to work and it had gone to exactly where it needed to be. That’s why I’d still had it: so they could get it. So worth it now.
The second wheel, an Ashford Traveller, the Purl Girls did a great job on, too.
And once I had that one back I pulled out some merino/silk in a beautiful blue that I’d bought half a dozen years ago from a place that was closing down. Finally I had a wheel that would do it justice again.
The bag was mismarked. Clearly. It was Romney wool or its equivalent: good for making a rug or perhaps felting into a birdhouse, maybe knit straight from the roving, quick and bulky and for baby birds to poop in, but by no means was it worth hours upon hours upon hours.
Did I never put my hand in the ziploc bag before and actually touch the stuff? Boggles the mind.
And it kinda took the wind out of my sails on spinning for the moment.
But then today there was that message. My favorite wheel was repaired, the flyer replaced, the wrong metal part finally gone so that the spindle can lift up, not out, and other than the cup of Welch’s grape juice a then-teenager of mine once tried to balance on the sidebar, graffiti-ing it permanently (hey, Kaye, no need to apologize for not being able to get it out, it’s a bit of family history anyway), the thing is as good as new. At last.
My folks gave me some super-super-fine 90s merino for Christmas one year. Lots of it. After two afghans, there’s still a little more if it around somewhere–and I have my Trad back. Let’s finally put the spin back into that spindyeknit. Been too long.
A timber company once copied those Ashford guys down the road, briefly; their foray into spinning wheels apparently didn’t last. (This got me to Google–who knew. They do still exist. Curtain rods and finials, okay.)
There was an auction nearby about 15 years ago of the estate of a woman who’d owned a shop that had sold spinning wheels–y’know, back before people knew what that Ebay startup was all about.
There was a wry comment from my friend Karen after I bought one of those at that auction, while I was hoping the box had all the disassembled pieces (it did): “I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for that brand.”
There was my father-in-law, maybe ten years ago, who, while visiting, decided to put the thing together for me.Â Thanks, Dad! The directions said there was a second bobbin in there, an extra, because, y’know, you might want to spin a second color or something. (Plying, folks.) One of the sidebars was slightly shorter than the other, it turned out–well, that didn’t work.
Dad said, Hey, I got an idea.
So we went to the grocery store, bought Dove ice cream bars, ate the ice cream bars, and he used the stick of his to finish off that shorter sidebar.
The thing still never did really spin, though. If you pumped really hard you might get it to turn once. Maybe. Even if it was kind of fun to have instructions in aboriginal (near as we could tell) as well as English.
A few weeks ago I finally got that wheel in to Purlescence and the verdict was that it was such a close copy of what is the number one brand in the world, last I checked, that they could swap out the handmaiden (the top part) with an Ashford’s to get the thing going.
A friend at the shop tonight who didn’t know about all of that back-and-forth-ing two weeks ago about can you make this thing work mentioned that her partner (who is recovering well from a major health issue, and I’m big on having a good creative outlet when you’re dealing with a major health issue) has really wanted to learn to spin. If only they had a wheel.
Let me finish working on that, says Kaye, adding that she just happens to have a spare handmaiden to use on it. Now that she and I know who she’s fixing it for.
I’ve got two Ashford wheels, I don’t need the Woodcroft with the tulips engraved on it. Done. That was easy. With Sandi and Kaye’s help, it’s all finally coming together.
Wheel of fortune
My mother once gave me some 100s Bradford-count wool for Christmas for spinning (after she asked and I pointed to a catalog entry). I expected a pound; she gave me five, which I gleefully dove into.
I have never seen that fine a merino roving available anywhere ever again, including that supplier.Â (Although I would say that Malabrigo’s new Finito probably matches it.) To quote from Clara Parkes in the Twist Collective: “The average fiber diameter of an 80s wool, for example, is 17.70â€“19.14 microns, while that of a 56s wool corresponds to an average fiber diameter of 26.40â€“27.84 microns.”
So 100s would be… Soft. VERY soft. And I do love a good handspun yarn. It’s like nothing else.
My friend Mary has a spare spinning wheel that she loans out to whoever needs it just then.
I once read that a wheel in good condition can continue 100 cycles after you stop treadling if you do it just as hard as you can and then let go.
Mine does 12 if you’re lucky. It’s been dropped out of a car, it’s been tripped over by a big teenage foot and the flier and handmaiden have both had to be replaced. It wobbles since that last time and has been hard to work with.
Mary surprised me with the offer to lend her spare to me; it’s been wonderful to have.
But I decided recently that I really needed to get going again on my own, though, because I do have it and there are surely others out there who need hers more; I know when I was first starting spinning how much I would have loved to have had that loan. So I told Mary thank you and that I’d be bringing her wheel back. The good women of Purlescence told me I could bring it there for her to take home.
And every week for the last month I would get there and kick myself that I had forgotten it yet again.
Last Thursday I put it where it was in my way so I wouldn’t forget–but it was raining that night. Nope.
Tonight was the night.
And then I got a note from Kaye at the shop, and yes, tonight was definitely the night!
Richard helped me lift it into the car.
Sandi and Kaye told me quietly tonight why someone needed that wheel now. That story isn’t mine to tell, but I said to them, You know, I’ve been kicking myself all those times I forgot it. But if I had… It would have been loaned out to someone else, whereas… And that would have been good too! But I think this is the more important place for it to go. Clearly.
Maybe my forgetting wasn’t just me being such an idiot after all.
Spin knit dye. Yeah, that’s backwards.
Hey, Don, you got your new computer working yet?
And over here…Â Once upon a time there was some yarn at Colourmart.Â Really nice yarn, in a very thin laceweight, finer than I wanted to work with but very nice yarn of very nice content and very cheap. (Their prices include shipping, too.)
They had a free twisting service to hold multiple strands together. I did not look around their site to notice that if you want the strands actually plied the way a mill would do, you have to pay an extra $5–which is super reasonable, actually.
So I bought 450 g of the stuff and asked them to twist it by threes for me.
Being me, when it came, I immediately hanked it off that cone into a big loopÂ and scoured it in hot water to get the mill oils out that their stuff tends to come with; I don’t like to spend hours upon hours knitting with something that’s only going to feel supersoft for someone else later–I’m paying for me to be able to enjoy it, too. The mill oils feel like dried hair mousse, so, out!
Hitchcock music time: over a thousand yards of strands only barely held together, all felting randomly with other parts of the skein in that sink. I hung it to dry and saw it and it hit me. All. That. Yarn. The only thing that saved it was the fact that there were cashmere and silk in there as well as that felting merino.
Help Cecil Help!
I’m a-comin’, Beanie Boy! I spent a long time gently pulling it back apart. I didn’t dare risk dyeing it then for fear of having to do that again.
At each stage of this I threw it in the back of the closet till what the stuff was made of refused to be ignored.
So on the next time looking it over, I was afraid that that bit of twisting they did would put torque into whatever I knit. There were a few places where it had left one strand loopy and uneven with the other two, with me trying to ease the ease back in.
There was only one way out I could see.
I ran it through my spinning wheel. Clockwise. Two bobbins’ worth, let’s try this much out first before I do more. I plied those two on each other counterclockwise, treadle, treadle, treadle.
Now I had a good, balanced yarn–and it was a worsted-weight-ish 6-ply. Um, who wants a white hat? (I know, I know, all the good guys do.)
And so that’s exactly what I knit, finishing it today without even using all the one doubled bobbin’s worth. The 6-ply was splitty as all get-out and a nuisance to knit, but after I pulled that hat out of my dyepot in the afternoon, the felting action helping me out this time, it was a deep deep indigo, the silk just slightly lighter and dancing in the background to its own happy tune.Â When it is dry it will do so even more.
Wow.Â Gorgeous.Â And so, so soft! It was worth every minute and every angst and every stitch and every stir of that pot. This is what it aspired to be all along. I almost put it on for a moment in celebration, still wet–and had a sudden vision of being an old blue-haired grandma before my time. (No, it’s not crocking dye. Even so.) Let’s not.
Only 136 more grams to spin (maybe) , 196 to knit. Be still my heart.
Better watch that stuff
When you live in Silicon Valley and Christmas is coming and you’re surrounded by geeks, even I the shawl-knitting house elf think this is just really really cool.Â I mentioned it to my husband and he said that in Europe they sell Android watches already that link to your phone so you can read your incoming text messages, etc etc, on your wrist. Like this will do for Apple’s product that I always thought was too hopelessly small not to lose. Well then.
Dick Tracy, your future called and left you a text saying it has arrived at the station. Where it’s okay to let some little old lady take your seat on the subway while you stand and hold onto the overhead strap–so you can secretly listen to your music and messages with your arm up near your ears.
(I don’t even own a Nano and neither does the husband, but if they ever start making one that you can link to a knitting needle to create a gorgeous high-whorl spindle on demand with a holding case for the fiber to be compressed into the watch, then I want the first one.)
A news flash from the bear-ometric press? sure
Friday July 30th 2010, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Spinning
I can now tell you definitely that black bears are–well, wait a minute here.
I once spun yak hair–not soft yak undercoat–and made a doormat. A small doormat; the fibers about ripped the skin off my hands and jammed in my wheel and I didn’t get very far out of a project I’d started out of sheer curiosity over the novelty of it.
Black bear fur? Â The animal’s right there, and we’re all yakking away.
It’s a boom-er, man
Michelle made a dessert with the neighbors’ plums and some star fruit for the occasion.
Meantime, we had one of those afternoons where looking for a tool that hadn’t been used in over a year led to closet cleaning and the non sequitor of this discovery from the early days of my spinning, just waiting to be uncrumpled and admired out of its bag.Â Briefly.
I’d splurged on the 50/50 angora/merino fiber at the now-missed Straw Into Gold in Berkeley and had carefully spun up the most luxurious fiber I’d tried yet on my wheel, not knowing that Michelle would prove allergic to it and that I would later be getting angora out of my house.Â This was for her big sister.
And it’s…pretty big.Â Angora has no sproing to it.Â It might fit one of my sons.Â Â But I was looking at it, going, wow. I did spin that fine back then. And really evenly, too, even though I was a rank beginner. Not bad!
Then I took it back out of the breathing space and zipped it back up, a little wistfully.
Meantime, we have two juvenile falcons perched for the night at either end of the louver in view.Â They don’t always now, but they did come back tonight.Â Curious.Â I was surprised by fireworks going off a few hours ago–maybe one of the towns was saving on overtime on traffic control?Â Dunno, but I did get to see some of it from my street, crowd-free, once I looked to see what was going on.
Maybe the falcons were boomed out by the noise and headed for the familiarity of home.Â It was good to see them.Â Happy Fourth of July!
It was a woolly, mammoth project
Monday June 14th 2010, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Spinning
I once bought a Rambouillet fleece from a woman in New Mexico who was trying to refine the breed to create the finest fleeces, better than the merino it was derived from. She had each one micron-count lab-tested and then she priced according to those results.
I decided if I were going to spring for one, I was going to get the best I could.
This is before I had a drum carder. I quickly realized my hand cards and my wrists and that wool were not a good match and sent it off to a mill to be commercially washed and machine-carded into roving for the fast-food version of handspinning: just sit at my wheel and go.
I even got sent a picture of the sheep! With its poetic name, Number 1243 or some such.
The mill said it did fine fleeces like merino. What it didn’t tell me when I made inquiries is that they hadn’t quite yet bought fur carders, which is what most superfine wools require. (They did a year later.)
They botched it. My beautiful, first-class fleece came back full of neps, the little rolled-up pills that are the nemesis of good sweaters everywhere–before the wool had even been made into yarn yet. Picking them out was a task that would never have ended.
I actually made a pair of soft slipper socks out of them, even so.Â I started a second and much larger project, but the could-have-beens and the visual interruptions of those pills got to me and I eventually abandoned it. From there, it sat for awhile till I donated most of the roving to the Boy Scout troop for stuffing in their shoes for comfortable feet on long hikes.
So yes, it’s true: loose neps sink WIPs.
Where there’s a wheel there’s a way
(“How ’bout this, too?” asked A Child Who Shall Remain Nameless.
“No, I don’t think so!” from Nancy in tandem with my “Not on your life!”)
Nancy, who is in the process of selling her house and has been busybusybusy, came over today anyway, to my great delight. I’m clearly doing better than I was, thank goodness, but I warned her about my cold, fever gone or no. (Hey, anybody want a house in Mountain View with a beautiful indoor courtyard? Her turtle swam with the fishies in a fountain in there for many many years.)
While trying to stage her house, she’s also a co-chair running CNCH (a Stitches West-type event for handweavers) and she’s teaching handspinning classes. Hey! I had some Romney roving that needed a home: Romney is one of the best wools for teaching new spinners with, not too short but not rough like some of the longer wools, but I am no longer a beginner and I like my wool softer than that.
(Side note here before Don asks: roving is the term for fiber that has been washed, carded, and if need be dehaired of any coarse outer coat and removed of any hay the animal might have rolled around in and is now ready to be spun into yarn.)
A solution could be found here, don’t you think? And so off it went with her, freebie supplies for her students to make everybody happy.Â Then I threw in a nepped-at-the-mill (not on purpose!) Rambouillet fleece for extra practicing on.Â The Boy Scouts had gotten a large bagful for stuffing in their shoes on long hikes to avoid blisters; now the second bag had a good use.
Although, I did spin one good project out of that Rambouillet years ago; its tested micron count was very fine and it was such soft stuff.Â It was half-felted as well as pilled by the time it came back to me (the mill I sent it to bought better superfine equipment after that learning experience), and though it was like trying to spin rubber bands, it did make for very soft, cushy slippers that I knit up for my daughter’s high school biology teacher.
That teacher’s name was one of two on the bio textbook.Â She was so inspiring in that classroom that she changed my daughter’s life entirely.Â Handspun handknitted slippers as a thank you for my daughter wanting to walk in her shoes was the least I could do.Â And that was based on what I knew then.
Sam’s finishing up her microbiology PhD now.Â Â I hope her old teacher knows that Sam not only tried her shoes on, she loved the fit.
Radios, packages, and, you are getting very sheepy
For those who wanted to know what I was listening to Thursday night, thanks to KDFC’s website, I found it; it’s Jonathan Biss (I read it as “Bliss” the first time, too funny) and his album is here.
I got a surprise package today from Cathy, who’s been ill herself, but here she was, thinking of me instead.
And from Anniebee. And Margaret. Julie. Stephanie. Kimberly. Ruth. Wishing me well on recovering from my last surgery, with cards, hot cocoa, dark chocolate (Cathy), handmade stitch markers (Ruth), the best use of a stray bit of dyed wool I’ve ever seen on Margaret’s card, and a handbeaded coin purse, sachets, a Canadian maplewood bookmarker, and a handknit pearled (spelled that right) flower pin from Anniebee.Â My goodness. Thank you! To that I guess I owe a how-I’m-doing, which is very well overall. I did lift a 25 lb bag of birdseed Saturday and realized that I might want to wait just a little longer on that; I was testing my scars to see if I’m up to using my heavy dyepot yet.Â It’s been a year since I made dye out of my fading amaryllis flowers, and I am antsy.Â The answer would be, honestly, not quite yet. But close!
And in the random findings department.Â Sometimes some things (this is their photo) just grab your attention. Like a hand (partly) -spunÂ handmade wool wedding dress and groom’s vest from the bride’s Lincoln Longwool sheep. Note that this is not a soft-haired breed; this is the sturdy stuff they make carpeting out of.Â Honey, just don’t let him walk all over you.Â I do love the effect of alternating solid locks with fluffy, whiter slightly-pulled-apart ones, and clearly it’s all been solidified and felted a bit by washing, but I gotta tell you–she got fleeced.
Little Bo Peep, did she lose any sleep over whether she’d be dragging her veil behind her?
But once you get pasture initial reaction, hey, clearly, they’re having a good time: already raising a little cane there, and everything’s rosey.
Add a little Biss-ful Beethoven, and there ewe go.
That’ll teach me
A little bit of greed, a little bit of guilt, a lot of good done anyway. (Random ball of thick handspun dog fur to illustrate it now.)
It was years ago, but a chance conversation last night on my way out of Purlescence reminded me of it.
My audiologist‘s then-receptionist saw me knitting one time, waiting for my appointment, and struck up a conversation with me.Â She was a weaver, she told me, although it had been awhile since she’d done anything. But she’d been really wanting to get back into it.
And what was inspiring her, what she really wished for, was some way of getting the fleeces from her four pet alpacas spun somehow so she could weave their fur into blankets.
Okay, you know she had me all ears at that point! I did tell her there were mills that would process the fleeces into roving for handspinning, and I could bring her my Spinoff magazine and show her their ads, but all the way into yarn? That service, I wasn’t sure where to find.
So, with a little trepidation on probably both our parts, we struck a deal: she would give me the fleeces, I would spin them up on my wheel, and I would give her half the resulting yarn.Â Seemed fair.
Let me tell you.Â Four alpacas? That is a whole lot of fluff.
The result would be a bit rustic–I didn’t have the energy nor the strength to card that kind of volume with my little hand cards, not by a long shot. Fine.
I could only guess what she was envisioning it coming out looking like, so I spun up the first skein from the black and drove down to the office to show it to her to get her reaction–because if she didn’t like it, I was going to hand the whole lot back to her and tell her she needed to find another way to get this done.Â Soft and lofty, not fine, is how my wheel was going to produce it.
“Oh,” (and she exclaimed the animal’s name, which I do not remember.) “Look at this!” She held it against her face, she petted it, she stroked it, she told me about her pet that black came from, she was just absolutely thrilled.Â It really could be made into yarn! This really could happen!
To me, touching those fibers had left me thinking, this is closer to llama than alpaca; clearly, her animals weren’t babies anymore. I realized, as I left, that there was no way any yarn I could make from her beloved animals was going to mean anything to me like it would mean to her.Â She certainly wasn’t going to care about the micron count!
But I did.Â If I spun up half for her, agreement or no agreement, the rest would sit around my house, taking up space and accusing me of my own selfishness.Â I had other fibers waiting their turn at the wheel that were softer and finer, and I knew I would never get around to using hers.
It took me a month. I allocated an hour of kids-at-school time a day to it, while keeping my knitting projects going for my own sense of gratification at doing what I enjoyed doing.
Pick up a wad of fiber. Pick out the really short random bits where the shearer had hit the hair twice. Fluff it out, don’t get annoyed at wadded-up half-felted parts, spin spin spin.
Spin spin spin.
Spin spin spin.
And I confessed to John-the-audiologist afterwards, I actually did keep one little bit of golden fleece for me, about two ounces’ worth. The very best, the very softest, I was selfish and kept it for all my work.
I felt terrible about that later.Â It would have meant so much more to her than me. (I don’t think she ever knew anyway, but still. I cheated myself out of that one last bit of thrill.)
When I at last hauled a large black trashbag full of yarn to John’s office, it turned out she wasn’t there that day. I explained the whole thing to him, and he promised to get it to her.
What I didn’t know was this:
She was in the middle of a terrible, messy divorce.
Oh, poor woman! I asked John, will she be able to keep her alpacas when they get done dividing the property?
He didn’t know. He didn’t think it was working out that way from what he knew.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I never saw nor heard from her again.Â She had a terribly long commute, and I guess it got to be too much and her job changed along with the rest of her upended life.Â But I was assured she did get her yarn.
And I was so very glad I had given her the whole of it. Almost.Â It’s a little thing, but I will always regret that one little bit held back. Those two ounces taught me a lot.
(Added later: she might well not have had any address to send a thank you to, especially at the upended time of life that must have been.Â Â I should have passed on saying I hadn’t heard from her.Â To me, the point was, I learned I should put my all into doing something for somebody because you never know what they may be going through, and it feels better by far to give of oneself whole-heartedly anyway.
Untangled webs they weave
Thanks to Kathleen, I found a reason to want to drop everything and go visit my sister in NYC right now.Â Spinning straw into gold is one fantasy, but they actually did this?Â Wow.Â What does spider fabric feel like, I want to know! Gold, like glass, as an incomprehensible fluid.Â Gorgeous.
I don’t imagine that kind of yarn will be on the market anytime quite too soon.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane!
Thursday July 17th 2008, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Spinning
Look! Up in the sky! It’s Battman! And Bobbin, the toy winder!
(Some spontaneous wheel decorating took place about ten years ago when a kid tried to balance a cup of grape juice on the sidebars of the wheel.Â This didn’t work out quite as well as was apparently hoped, and has made for endless teasing ever since.Â Does the purple racing stripe bother me? Nah, get a grape on it.Â No wine-ing allowed.)
Goes well with the pink one
Accessorizing my amaryllises.Â Â I’ve got to show you these before they fade out.
And then, hey look, there wasn’t much overtwist after all; when I straightened out the skein, it pretty much stayed straight.
Commenter Sonya surprised me with one answer to single sock syndrome; I love it.Â Â It came with its own single earring.Â (Stitch marker, earring, hey, a necklace with dangly stitch markers would be so cool. )Â Thank you!
Meantime, the rest of the Crown Mountain bag is beckoning me to come to the dark side…