Saturday September 30th 2023, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Spinning

I had this old Ashford Traditional spinning wheel that I’d bought used 30 years ago.

My tall older son in his teens walked across the family room in the dark because he didn’t want to turn on the light that would shine in his sister’s room and wake her up–and tripped over the wheel, his size 13 shoe breaking the maiden (the assembly above the wheel itself) and his tumbling leaving the rest slightly off kilter.

He said he was okay. I said that’s what matters.

I had been using that wheel for Colonial Days history demos at the elementary schools’ fifth grade classrooms and it was known around campus, and so another parent, an acquaintance but trying to help, heard about it and offered to repair it. He unscrewed the maiden (that phrase took a turn later) from the body of the wheel and he took it home and it took me several years to find out that the reason he didn’t just give it back when I finally asked was that it was lost in his garage somewhere. I was later told that that was not the only mistake he was making; I can just picture his ex discovering a what-the-hell in a box somewhere and pitching it.

Meantime, I’d spent the painful $125 that it cost at the time–more than half of an entire new wheel with bobbins, second guessing myself all the way but an extra hundred bucks is a hundred bucks–and bought a new maiden.

And a dear friend’s husband offered to assemble it onto my wheel for me. She’s a knitter and spinner and he got how passionate we are about what we do; he wanted so much to help.

He didn’t know that the uprights are not supposed to move. He set it up so that you twist one to help release the flyer. It’s damaged the wood, and the flyer tends to shake until it frees itself of the drive band and projectile vomits itself across the room.

Which is why you haven’t read much about the spin part of the spin dye knit thing here in a very long time.

Nor have I mentioned any of this to anybody in a very long time.

My friends Sand and Kaye, who were the owners of the much-missed Purlescence yarn/weaving/spinning store that closed about a dozen years ago, have been selling some of their old wheels of late. They are clearing out space–but also because of a serious injury. Sand is finding new channels for her creativity because she has to.

She reached out to me a few days ago. There was this beautiful Kiwi wheel they’d painted. It’s not finished. Finishing it now would be…problematic. Would I like it? She could throw in a Super Flyer if I wanted, though she’d have to charge me for it, but the wheel itself? Free. She really wanted it to go where it would be loved.

It is General Conference weekend for our church, with Saturday and Sunday sessions, but in between those we drove on down. I got to share hugs with my old friends. Oh, man, it had been so long, and with Stitches gone now…

Kaye brought out a box and I got it in the car and thanked her and we continued the conversation and I thought that’s all Sand and I were doing as Kaye disappeared–

–but this time she came back with this.

That’s a gorgeous wheel!! I exclaimed in surprise, and I guess my deafness had tripped me up because I didn’t get it, what were they doing with a second one–I said, You already put the box in the car!

That’s the accessories.

They’d gotten to see my reaction to their painting and just how blown away I was, and man that felt good.

I reminded them a bit about my old wheel and said, I’d almost offered to give you that one to sell–but I, I, didn’t want to inflict it on you.

They laughed.

I promised to send them a picture, and they can decide. There it is. Lovingly stained years ago by–Sand.

Monday March 01st 2021, 11:24 pm
Filed under: History,Knit,Spinning

An 1829 stone mill in England, powered by the nearby stream (until it wasn’t.)

The Rowan Yarns sign someone threw out the window.

So many broken windows.

Scrolling some more… All. Those. Cones. of yarns, just left there to go down with the buildings, although it says the lovely old stone one might yet be saved.

The chatter on Ravelry, with someone checking their stashed orange yarn from Colourmart and there it was: the tag showing that it had come from that mill.

To quote them as they quoted Colourmart:

“one of our mill suppliers found this yarn in a warehouse they have taken over. They think it may be pure cashmere, but it might just be a cashmere mix (with perhaps wool or silk). It definitely feels like it has cashmere in it to us so we have shown it as 10% cashmere, we think more, but we are selling it cheap, for just a bit more than our wool price ūüôā

Sounds like the Hinchcliffe‚Äôs take over of Dobroyd Mill in the 90s.”

I said to my Richard, looking at the cones left behind and the descriptions, All that cashmere!

His reaction was, All those moths by now.

And a lightbulb went off.

The tag is so faded. It was a year-end super duper one-off special quite awhile ago where I got a kilo of cobweb weight cashmere, no guesswork on the fiber on that one, for $50 postpaid. (Frankly, it’s a lifetime supply for making wedding-ring lace shawls. In black no less for my aging eyes.)

I remember I bought a second one with no tag, just their description online like the quote above–with a warning that it had some moth damage, so it was even cheaper ($25/kilo I think) and like all Colourmart cones came in its own heavy clear plastic, sealed off. I put it in the freezer on alternate days to kill any bugs, then have their eggs hatch in the thawing, and then to kill those off too. Repeat to be on the safe side.

I’m not sure, but I just might have a cone or two from that beautiful old mill, too.

Not an angora
Monday March 01st 2021, 12:01 am
Filed under: Friends,Life,Spinning

Someone in a breakout room after Zoom church said something to me about someone’s video and I explained about not hearing well without closed captions.

This is someone who’s known me for 34 years but she was astonished, and tried to explain how watching a video works. You just listen! Like we’re doing right now!¬†Not noticing that I’d asked for repeats quite a few times while trying not to dominate the conversation by my deficits.

I explained that my hearing aids need to be replaced, my audiologist just retired, and with the pandemic I just haven’t gotten out there. I have to make do with these for the moment.

Still she stayed baffled, and hearing-splained it to me again how simple it was: you turn on the video and you listen to it. While I was sitting there thinking, wait what? Are you okay?

Then later she said something that was even more off–such that for the first time I found myself counting up to figure out how old she was (80 can’t be too far off) and wondering how her family is doing if this is becoming their normal. Huh.

It was that or be offended. Actually I confess I was, while trying hard not to be–not so much for myself but because I knew it could hurt a friend who has a lot on her plate right now.

It helped that the woman was struggling to remember if she was getting this right. She wasn’t.

I shot off an email to my very patient friend Afton and tried to be over it.

And then the doorbell rang.

It was a new couple from church whom I’d only seen by Zoom with their young son: they had baked us some bread.

I had seen their son helping his mom working on that loaf at the end of the Relief Society Zoom because that’s when the meeting was and they wanted to get it to us before dinner and the timing was what it was, but I didn’t know any of that.

The kid had the bread. The dad was holding…

…A beautiful, big, tawny-colored rabbit about the size of a Maine Coon cat. Who was absolutely chill with having a complete stranger pet it behind the ears and down its soft back. I asked if I should have it sniff my hand first like a dog would want and they said, No, just go ahead and pet him, he’s cool.

Little tufts of light and dark blondnesses wafted into the air.

I mentioned the spinning wheel and the hair scrunchy I once made from a friend’s dog.

They got pretty excited and there are now definite plans to comb the rabbit. It’s not a long haired one but we can make do.

They had no way to know they had totally saved the day. The worry over that thing someone had said who probably really isn’t responsible for it anymore? It went poof with the lightness of bunny fluff floating on the breeze.

The English language is weird
Wednesday January 08th 2020, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Spinning

Kemp: it’s the occasional short thick wiry stabby bits in wool. Merino has it mostly bred out of it. There’s a good description in Spinoff, ¬†where they mention that contrary to rumor those fibers do indeed take dye–but they take all the dye, hide the pretty colors away inside themselves and don’t let anyone see the changes.

Coming out of my lupus meeting today, someone admired my dress and asked if I’d made it.

“I could,” I answered, “but no, I got it directly from Ireland for Christmas on a really good sale.”

I really really like it. But it has just a very small amount of white kemp against the very very dark green that didn’t quite come out in the carding back at the mill. I wonder, if I snip a piece open will I find its missing green?

It got me thinking: the British often use a -t to end a word where we would use -ned. Burned your toast, burnt. So examining a fleece, you’d go from seeing a bit of kemp to describing that one as kempt, wouldn’t you? (No.) So how on earth did we get unkempt in the language to mean messy and not caring about appearances when one would think it could mean, say, carefully processed or taken care of to make something look and feel its best?

Unkemped. It should be a good thing, right?

So that got me looking. Dictionary.com is utterly ignorant of the fiber definition and calls kemp a warrior or a rogue, and that kempt is neat and tidy or combed hair.

Which I knew, but still, wait. Combed nicely means hair is kempt?

Someone way back in the day totally messed this up.

Blueberry almond cake
Saturday June 01st 2019, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Food,Life,Recipes,Spinning

Writing it down so I can find it later: I experimented to see if I could adapt my favorite blueberry cake recipe from chocolateandzucchini.com to use some of the freshly- made almond paste they sell at Milk Pail, with a higher almond and lower sugar content than any I know of.

For a few more weeks, anyway, till they shut down because Steve wants to retire. I need to find out where he sources it.

Okay, here it is:

Highly-Requested Blueberry Almond cake

Mix in one bowl:

1 2/3 c. flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

In Cuisinart: the almond paste is sold in small random packages; I used .35 oz the first time and about .5 oz the second. Both worked, they were just a little different. So, pulverize it in a Cuisinart; add in 1 stick butter, sliced and at room temperature. (Note that Wayfare brand dairy-free vegan butter worked great, too. Now I have to find someone besides Steve who stocks it.)Whirr. Add 1/2 tsp almond extract and 1 tsp vanilla, whirr, 1/2 c heavy cream (sour cream, plain yogurt, or going dairy-free, Kara brand coconut cream worked, too), then add 4 eggs and 1 c. sugar and whirr some more.

Add dry ingredients in. If you have a small food processor you might want to pour the wet ingredients into a mixing bowl first and add the dry in over there; one more thing to clean but easier to scrape into the pan, your choice.

Pour half into a greased 9×13″ pan. Cover with four cups (don’t be stingy) of fresh, rinsed, patted-dry blueberries, then add the rest of the batter on top. Sprinkle 1/4 c of brown sugar across the top and bake at 350 for 50 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean.

I made this for Richard on Monday and it was so good that he and Michelle asked me to make it again, dairy free so she could have some, and the Wayfare dairy-free whipped butter (butter beans are an ingredient. Who knew) with the coconut cream worked both in texture and flavor. I also happened to overdo on the almond extract a little that time and it obliterated any mention of coconut flavor.

Blueberries, almond paste, Wayfare, Kara coconut cream, sour cream, butter, and the particularly good versions of almond and Bourbon vanilla extracts: I have no idea what I’m going to do when that place shuts down. They are small but they have all the best stuff.

A funny story on the side: twenty-five years ago there was one single herd of Wensleydale sheep left in the world. Handspinners pitched in to try to help save the breed; I’m not the only one who bought ten pounds of their wool, and I’ll have a hand spun coat just as soon as I finally finish that button band in time for the SpinOff Magazine Rare Breeds Contest. Of 1999. Well anyway. So, I was at the doctor’s waiting room working on it once and someone with a British accent came over to sit next to me and ask me about my knitting.

The yarn was a new thing to her, and so I told her it was Wensleydale I’d spun.

Wensleydale! She smacked her lips loudly. That’s good eating!

I was so not expecting that reaction. I was speechless. I knew they ate a lot of mutton over there… I had no way to respond to that.

It wasn’t till years later that I found out what she’d been talking about and had a good laugh at myself and wondered what she’d thought I’d been thinking.

All of which I was reminded of last night as I made toasted cheese sandwiches with Wensleydale with cranberries. From Milk Pail.

Thank you for all these ingredients all these years, Steve!

Do the Twist
Sunday August 19th 2018, 9:57 pm
Filed under: History,Life,Spinning

I laughed out loud when I read it: it was like the Smithsonian guide all over again.

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged this before but I’m not finding it, so here goes.

We were in DC visiting family back when the kids were growing up and took them to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Where I noted that they had a walking wheel and a jacquard loom but no gossip wheels, no treadle wheels at all for that matter, no knowledge of what distaffs were used for, just a complete lack of information on what a part of our history those all played in colonial America.

The book “No Idle Hands” relates the story of Old Ma Rinker during the Revolutionary War. Her family owned a tavern the British thought was loyal to the Crown, so their officers would gather there to discuss strategy. The word would be passed on to her in a note, she would wind a ball of yarn around it, then take her flax up the hill for the day to lay it out to rett, waiting for George Washington’s soldiers to ride on by below while she sat and knitted. She would toss the ball of yarn down to them (not the one she was knitting from) and helped save the day at Valley Forge. (Where other women delivering supplies nearly got shot at because as they rode in on their horses, their petticoats showed. And petticoats were always dyed red in those days. Redcoats! The British! Shuddup, Fred, it’s me, Irma.)

A distaff is what you attach to your spinning wheel to hold the retted flax while you turn it into linen yarn.

So here we are at the museum, and a man walks by holding what looked like a small glass aquarium. Inside was white fluff and–chaff?–and some kind of mechanical something and a handle. He told us that it was Eli Whitney’s actual cotton gin; did we want to try it?

I would never in a million years have pictured it as being something that small. Tractor sized, or rather horse-pulling-sized, but look at that!

I asked him, May I?


I picked up some of the ginned cotton and began to draw it: hold the wad in the left hand, pull slowly, steadily but firmly with the right hand, twisting as the left lets a little out and a little more and a little more, twist, twist, twist. Voila! A single-spun yarn! Not very long, but hey. (Hope that doesn’t wreck your exhibit, sorry, as I handed it back to him.)

The docent was dumbfounded. “How did you do that?! I’ve been trying to do that for years!”

You can’t just twist, I told him, then it just untwists back to the way it was. You have to draw and twist both. Pressure with the twisting.

You ply going one way, spin another strand going the same way when you’re done, then ply them together twisting the other way to create a balanced yarn that hangs flat so the fabric you make from it doesn’t skew sideways.

(With an unspoken, Hey, buddy, you want more info for your exhibit? Call me.)

So. Someone got an Ig Noble prize for figuring out why dry spaghetti noodles always break the characteristic way they do and someone else was intrigued and wanted to know: is it actually possible, then, to break dry spaghetti into two equal halves?

And the answer turned out to be yes.

But you have to twist it just so as the pressure is applied for it to work.

Dusty purple and red and sprinkles of light
Thursday January 11th 2018, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Spinning

Squiggles and squirls… Knitting this yesterday and today has been one of those reminders that when you ply cobweb weight on the wheel from the cones, cashmere and merino fibers shrink at different rates when you scour the mill oils out of the finished yarn and the glitter strand, not at all. This was not a smooth yarn.

It’ll do. Yes I think it’ll do nicely.¬†

But it’s so soft and comfy
Wednesday November 15th 2017, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Spinning

The 93/7 merino/vicuna in a bunch of cones in cobweb weight: a joy to knit, a pain to have to spin together first. And it came in the color of earliest Fords only.

Black yarn, much less build-your-own black yarn¬†was not at all what I was planning on working on today nor had I so much as thought of it but this morning those cones found me and¬†bossed me around until I finally justified it on the grounds that a finished hank was an hour and a half’s project using three if not four limbs going at once: good gentle exercise for the recovering sick, right?

And thus¬†198 yards on the niddy-noddy. Now shrinking in the scouring, by design–better now than after the knitting.

How now black cowl
Thursday October 26th 2017, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Spinning

So today was only 88F, compared to yesterday’s 94F, which broke a 134-year record, and where the heck is this October thing anyway? But my mango tree is loving the heat.

Meantime, in belief¬†that¬†cool weather will actually come, the cobweb 93/7 merino/vicuna strands¬†that I recently plied on my wheel got knitted up during¬†the airports and flights of this past weekend. One full bobbin’s worth became this thick,¬†soft,¬†warm cowl.

The fabric’s a bit nubbly looking up close (real close) because the merino and the vicuna shrank at different rates when I scoured the yarn.

The look of it very much reminds me of some black tussah silk I plied years ago from a cone or two I’d bought when the legendary Straw Into Gold in Berkeley closed; it¬†had that same nubbliness to it when it was spun and scoured and done and I was never sure why. Unlike the merino, though, the individual silk strands of course did not felt¬†and¬†melt together into a solid nor did it feel rapturous as it ran¬†across my hands for hours at the wheel. It was not slithery shimmery bombyx and I did not love¬†the stuff. I wanted to, but, no.

Mom to the rescue. My mom could see what it could be, and she knitted that yarn into the main color of a very striking¬†ikat-stripe Kaffe Fassett sweater, adding some bright (and yes, bombyx) silks she’d bought at that same sale during a visit here. She is an art dealer’s wife. She looks¬†it when she wears that. It is very, very pretty.

I had not known that that tussah silk, plain in every sense of the word, could become something so glorious. At all. But it could, in the right hands.

Me, I’m going to spin me up some more of this vicuna blend. Even if I only have it in plain black. I want to share the good stuff again.

The 7% solution
Tuesday September 26th 2017, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Spinning

Usually Colourmart will twist a very thin yarn into a thicker one for you for $5 a cone.

But this one? No way, too twisty, they’d tried, don’t ask, it didn’t work out.

For what it was (a mill closeout of cobweb-weight 93/7 ¬†14.5 micron black ultra-ultra-fine merino/vicuna) and how much it was ($18/150 g ppd), I was willing to find out how hard it would be to do on the wheel.¬†Pure vicuna yarn ran $400 an ounce last time I checked. I had bought a cone of the 2% vicuna, was amazed at what an incredible yarn that 2% made it into, and then this one showed up on their site. I didn’t buy it all, but I bought enough to make into a usable yarn on the third spinning-wheel bobbin.

So here’s what I learned today. Yes it kinks back on itself in a heartbeat. It will literally throw your yarn for a loop. Once you start plying that wheel has to keep going until you’re done, with one hand holding the strands slightly aloft like a distaff, bringing them together and keeping them from snagging on your clothes, and the other hand controlling the twist as it feeds onto the bobbin.

If you stop and wind it around the knob to place-hold it and come back, you’ve lost your slight tension on that multitude of strands. Suddenly thinking, wait–if I’d put a book on them next to me on the seat¬†before getting up it probably would have been okay? One time the mess was bad enough that I broke it off right there and declared it done: those strands were not willing to straighten out individually. At all. I felt for the woman at Colourmart.

My finished first skein, held in the air, twisted slightly at the bottom. Given the cobweb’s¬†original twistiness, I think I improved it. I think.

But oh my goodness there is no way to describe how soft that yarn felt running through my hands as I aimed for a knittable thickness, and that was with the mill coating still on it. It was like there was almost nothing there to feel, it was so light and so extremely soft.

I’m glad I bought it. It will take a lot of time to ply all those cones (4703 yards each) and ply again, two done S twist, then Z twisted together to balance. Scoured and preshrunk, it came out with a slightly nubbly look. It is not a perfect yarn.

But oh the vastness of that softness… Even Richard squishy-squished it. (Okay, yes, I asked. “Soft,” he duly pronounced. Thank you, honey!)

Yeah. So. Unless there are a few in someone’s cart, where they’re allowed to stay for a month, that one is sold out. But the 16 micron merino with 2% vicuna¬†(direct link fixed) that started all this? Amazingly soft, smoothly and commercially spun, and good to go–it’s 4-ply. Knit it doubled makes fingering weight, double that,¬†worsted weight, no spinning wheel needed. Oh, and: right now everything on their site is 20% off.

As I told my sweetie¬†re the 7%, I’ll probably never get a chance to knit with a yarn like this again. Knowing I’d have to do all that¬†work, it was worth it.

Neck afghan
Friday September 15th 2017, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Spinning

Somewhere between these two attempts at showing the color was the knitting¬†equivalent of reading a big-print book. Next time I’ll spin up¬†fewer plies, but it did the job (on size US 9 needles no less) and got it done in a day.¬†

Note to self: quick, go run in the ends and block the thing to make an honest statement out of that sentence.

Thursday September 14th 2017, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Spinning

A former law school classmate of my son lives here these days.

I checked: she wasn’t in sight. “What’s your wife’s favorite color?” Quickly followed by an assurance it was okay if he didn’t know, most men when cornered with that question are unsure.

He was sure. “Cerulean.” With a little nod of the chin in emphasis.

Well then that’s what it was going to be. And thus commenced over a week of no-driving-no-yarn-store stash diving and considering. Dyepot? Wheel? I do have some sock¬†weight–it’s just that it’s all mixed in with shades of green. Amazing how uniform my stash was on that count. I know I…

Right. I knitted it all up and I gave it all away.

(They’re a¬†little lighter in real life.)

My back didn’t want to do wheel time and I didn’t want to ply that laceweight but I also didn’t want to guess at getting¬†the right blue nor have to¬†haul that heavy pot around–and then goof.

This was the one sure thing. And not only that, it was cashmere. I had 50g, 50g, and lots of grams. Just one hour. And by 3×2-plying the stuff, it will knit up quickly once it’s dry.

(It’s a little brighter in real life and there’s no purple to it.)

Guess what tomorrow’s going to be about?

Friday September 08th 2017, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Spinning

When does 2263 x 4 = 1013?

When it’s 4¬†plies from 2263 meter cones twisted together plus¬†4 of those plies twisted together¬†minus¬†those new 2 yarns plied together, the strands¬†traveling around and around and back around each other and the result measured in yards.

Not all the cones were that length but the ones I finished off tonight were.

Now, one tries¬†to get the two original bobbins to the same length as humanly possible so they’ll match up. But still. Twenty-three inches out of 172 yards? I’m going to brag a little.¬†(This time. Till¬†next time.)

My friend Karen yesterday observed, You’re using your wheel.

I handed her some of that finished, scoured yarn to fondle a moment–and then she understood why.

Begin: the rest is easy
Monday September 04th 2017, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Knitting a Gift,Spinning

Mom! Something’s wrong! That thing is noisy!

He concurred: It is, dear.

Oh. Sorry, guys.

So I oiled the wheel and they and it still squawked. I told them I would take care of the rest as soon as I finished this bobbin so I could oil the shaft it was on. And that did it.

This morning I was¬†looking at some cones of near-white 30/70 cashmere/merino¬†(link correct now) and palest beige¬†merino that had been bought to help me finish off some very old stash of brown cashmere laceweight single ply that was¬†far too thin and fragile to knit as is. Last night I had set four cones together and considered how they actually looked together. Today they didn’t want to be admired, they wanted to be plied, now!

Plans vs inspiration: having wanted to want to work on this for some time, now that I actually wanted to do it, do it!

I weighed one of the cones of the near-white cones¬†after the first hank was all done to see how much of it I’d used up¬†in the plying. I loved how much more interesting it made¬†the light browns look. (And I can always¬†overdye the result.)

Wow. Looks like I could make probably twenty-five hundred more yards of aran weight. Let’s see how long the enthusiasm holds out, but I¬†won’t stop¬†till I’ve got an afghan’s worth.

Meantime,¬†thank you for the suggestions on the yarn for the girls’ hats. I spent a lot of time thumbing through ideas at Webs, since mobility is still a dicey prospect, and they have just about everything (snagging the domain name of yarn.com early on in the internet surely didn’t hurt.) I finally bought something that, if it isn’t enough colors, I think I can make do from stash.

And while I’m making headway on lots and lots of pale brown, soft, quiet, practical, (and, shhhhh–boring, don’t tell), those colorful hat projects in the middle are going to¬†help me plow through.

Her friend’s¬†wedding done, an airport run, and now it is just us two again.

Round and round and round it goes
Thursday July 27th 2017, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Spinning

If you ever want your inbox to go weirdly silent for an entire day, offer a lot of very nice people something you only have one of. Niddy-noddy? Anybody? Drill a hole and reposition an arm? Use as is? Take one arm out, thread a string through the hole to suspend it by and hang cat toys from the bottom arm? Help me out here.

Meantime, I was discussing something with a friend the other day and she tried to describe her favorite shade of purple. She finally pulled out her phone, went to her alma mater’s site, and there it was in full and official color.

(Actually, I had something like that kicking around…) So today, it didn’t matter what I’d planned on, it leaped onto the needles.

Funny how that happens.