Plied at last

In preparation for our move back to Portland, I felt compelled to spin as much fiber as I could. You know, uh, cuz fiber is so heavy.

I didn’t ply my singles, however, because I wanted to let the singles relax a bit before plying them together. So when we got home, I found myself plying like a madwoman. We haven’t completely unpacked yet so I don’t have all my notes on these recent spins. Oh well.

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Nest Fiber Club, “Primavera” in superwash merino. Chain-plied.

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This is Hello Yarn’s “Slither” in BFL/silk. This was spun fractally and loosely plied.

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This is from A Verb for Keeping Warm in “Octotillo.” One piece was superfine merino, and the other was 80% merino/20% silk. We stopped off at this store in Oakland on our way home. Most of it is a two-ply, and the grapey purple is the leftover, which I then chain-plied. More details about our visit to this awesome store later.

Six

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Little A, how did this happen? How did you grow up so quickly before my very eyes? Did I not pay attention carefully enough? How did I let the busy routine of life distract me from seeing what a big girl you’ve become?

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This past weekend, we celebrated Little A’s sixth birthday with some good friends whose son, Little J, was born just one day earlier. They have known each other all their lives, and with the exception of last August when we were in San Antonio, they have also celebrated every birthday together. We stayed in a cabin in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about an hour and half from Portland in Washington. The cabin, nestled in a lush old growth forest, was once a guard station. There was no electricity and no running water, but no one seemed to notice.

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On the morning of Little A’s birthday, we went for a walk to a nearby waterfall. Little J’s sister, Little N, worked hard to keep up with the big kids.

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It took us about two hours to get to the waterfall, a 1.7 mile hike. There were some whining and grumbling along the way, but also shouts of awe and glee as we came upon gigantic slugs and beetles.

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This trip was not just a reunion but also a homecoming, a return to the landscape and a rhythm of life I missed. I know that this was not the kind of birthday celebration she had become accustomed to attending, as the parties in San Antonio had a lot of bells and whistles, and often involved glitter, make overs and party favors.

I hope that when Little A thinks back to her sixth birthday, she will remember it as the day she walked through tall and ancient trees to a waterfall, sat on a rock, and enjoyed snacks with her best friends as they took in the marvel around them.

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Postscript, written by Little A:    she carried little n  and  when little n  was crying  little a  would   comfort  her   little j and  little a   would  play  with                                           little n   when   she was   sad

 

 

Goodbye to San Antonio

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On the last day we were in San Antonio, after the movers had taken our furniture and boxes, after we scrubbed the apartment clean and loaded up our car, we went out to the little square that anchors the Pearl Brewery, where we spent the last 13 months, and took one last photo of ourselves outside our favorite cafe, Local Coffee.

So much distance and time to cover between this photo and the present. I may or may not try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stratocaster sample

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Guess what arrived in the mail?!

These skeins from Wooly Wonka Fibers are even more gorgeous in person. This is Ceridwen Sock yarn in 100% superwash merino.  The larger skein is “Bitterroot” and the smaller ones are from the Transitional Skein Set in “Autumnal.” There is a total of 400 yards in each of these sets, the same as the larger skein and enough for a pair of socks.

I’m going to be knitting a sample Stratocaster Shawl designed by Anne Podlesak of Wooly Wonka, and I couldn’t be more excited. The shawl is half-circular and half-hexagon, and the alternating stripes of garter stitch and stockinette bands will really let this color combination shine. I especially like these beautiful fall colors as they are reminiscent of the sunburst color of the vintage stratocasters.

 

 

What writers can learn from knitters

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I admit that this a broad generalization, but so many knitters I know or meet online are incredibly well-read. For some, an audiobook, a knitting project and a cosy chair is nothing short of bliss. But besides my anecdotal observations on the reading habits of knitters, many of our metaphors about storytelling come from the world of fiber arts, reflecting our collective desire for a good yarn.

But what about a more literal translation, in which the craft of writing draws more directly from the world of knitters and spinners? In other words, what might writers learn from knitters and spinners? As I struggle with my own writing these days, I’ve decided to take a page from the community of knitters and spinners and remind myself of the following:

  • First and foremost, most knitters I know have multiple WIP (works-in-progress). But, seldom are these projects the same kind. That is, they are not all socks or intricate shawls. You have different kinds of projects for different scenarios. You may have a quick knit that you can do in an evening. You may have a knit that satisfies your desire for focused concentration or challenges you with its complicated lace patterns. Then there is the project that is rather repetititive and boring but results in elegant simplicity. All these projects have their roles and places. If I can knit multiple things at one, why am I wedded to the idea that I can only be focused on one writing project at a time? Surely there is a place in one’s writing basket for writing that is like a swatch, a short ten-minute writing exercise written down by hand as well as the kind of dense difficult writing that, like a shawl, requires a flow chart.
  • Experimenting with a variety of fiber and tools enables one to learn about the range of their effects. There is a visceral difference between knitting with the warm smoothness of bamboo circulars and knitting with the slick clicks of metal needles. Pairing different kinds of needles with different kinds of fiber not only produces different knitting experiences but also different kinds of knits. So then, why do I only write at the computer, where the plastic keys bounce back with dutiful enthusiasm beneath my fingers? I need to branch out. What kind of sentences emerge when I swirl ink with a hefty fountain pen on thick milky pages of handmade paper? And how is that different from writing with a stubby marker on a yellow lined legal pad?
  • Being a good writer means being a good reader. The more I knit, the more I realize that I’m learning to understand another language, another code that allows me to translate either charts or abbreviations like k2tog into something 3-D. That you can then wear! (This point totally blows my simple mind.) And the more conversant I become in reading this other language, the more fluent my fingers and hands. Learning to read a pattern and understanding the architecture of a sweater–how it is constructed from the ground up–has made me a better reader of literature. I’m more aware of a story’s architecture and how its technical elements work together.
  • Writers should get together and write. What makes knitting fun is sharing our work, being a part of a knit-a-long or asking each other for tips and advice. Writing can be very isolating, and I think that there should be more WALs (write-alongs) in which you are in a room and write with others. Recently, I’ve been sharing my work with S, and we check in with each other weekly about our progress and offer feedback on each other’s work. S occupies a special place in my heart because 14 years ago she and I spent a wonderfully productive summer writing together in a windowless room in the caverns of the university library. We were immersed in ideas, each writing to the soundtrack of the other’s tapping keyboard.
  • Spinning is about letting go and giving in to imperfection. Or maybe it’s about abandoning the idea of perfection and imperfection altogether. I’m such a critical writer, the kind of person who goes over and over a sentence fragment before moving onto the next. Such perfectionism is debilitating. With spinning, the goal is not to produce commercially spun evenness–but to create energy through twist. And finding that balance between generating enough twist in the yarn and then letting it go is a lesson that all writers could benefit from. Hold on too tightly or for too long and you end up with twine, not yarn.
  • When I hit a writing block, I spin.

 

The family that paints together…

Recently, our apartment complex organized one of those drinking and painting parties that have become so popular.

V thought it would be fun to do it and signed us up. However, being totally clueless about what it entailed, we only signed up for one easel between the three of us. It worked out in the end as we realized it was best if we divided up the fun.

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Little A was the designated painter.

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Dad did the drinking.

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Mom volunteered to do the eating. Little A is not sure about this division of labor.

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The result of our collective effort.

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Little A and her fellow Pinot’s Palette painters.

 

Un-accessory kinds of “accessories”

I’m not an accessories kind of person. I rarely sport earrings. I don’t wear my engagement ring, and V and I have yet to buy our wedding rings (Yes, we’re married). There have been a few times I regretted not wearing a belt, one of which involved a long line of parents in their cars waiting to pick their children up from school, and me walking by carrying something big and unwieldy while wearing baggy pants.  But enough said. I don’t need to cite all my scenes of humiliation as proof that I’m an accessories-deficient gal. That mutant gene, however, to V’s dismay, does not seem to apply to knitting and spinning.

Perhaps the problem is with the word “accessory” itself, which suggests that it is merely an adornment, an addition, an afterthought, and not something absolutely vitally important, without which you are incapacitated, unable to do your thing and lost at sea.

Therefore, I think all those shops out there that offer spinning supplies–these items should not be listed under “spinning accessories” but under “your right hand” or something like that. So, without further ado, let me share my  [*insert new terminology here that captures how super duper essential these items are]:

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Woolee Winder: The devotion to this ingenious invention is no hype. I don’t know how I can go back to spinning the regular way at all. I never realized how disruptive moving my yarn up and down the hooks was to both my spinning rhythm and to the yarn’s diameter. My spinning has become more consistent since getting this, and it has also helped with evening out my plying, which I still need to work on.

Unlike most folks, I chose to buy only one bobbin because when I bought my used Matchless, it came with some extra bobbins and I didn’t want them to become obsolete. This is the only spinning item that I bought totally new, and I have no regrets. Nada. It was worth every penny.

 

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Bobbin Winder: This item might be perceived as a nice bonus, something you treat yourself to if you happen to find some cash on the sidewalk. I disagree. It is indispensable if you 1) have a woolee winder and only one woolee winder bobbin; 2) want to line up the colors of your singles from the beginning end when you ply; 3) want to redistribute and relax the twist of your singles before plying; and 4) tend to be anal retentive.

Judith MacKenzie McCuin in The Intentional Spinner and Alden Amos in his tome,  Big Book of Handspinningrecommend a bobbin winder to redistribute the twist. They write that it also offers another opportunity to quickly scan your singles for errors before you ply them. And, since I am a bit of a sheep, if the spinning gurus say it’s important to get, I am compelled to follow.

I decided to get the Schacht double ended winder because I wanted to have as many options as possible, and I was lucky to buy this used from another Raveler.

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Someone once asked me about how I spun this shawl. It was because of the bobbin winder that I was able to line my colors up like this, so that the two singles spun from the divided braid were plied from the beginning end, which ensures that the colors line up better than if you were starting to ply from the tail end of the spun yarn.

 

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Styrene Spool/Bobbin: Even with the extra bobbins that came with my used spinning wheel, I needed more bobbins. Unlike the Matchless bobbins (example on the left) which cost around $38, these ones (example on right) are made by LeClerc and cost $3.75 each at The Woolery. The only minor complaint that I have about this is that LeClerc advertises this as being able to hold up to 8 oz. Perhaps if you are using really thinly- and tightly-spun yarn or thread it’s possible, but I was only able to wind 2 oz onto each. Still, it’s a great deal, and I plan on getting more so that I can have enough to start spinning adult-sized sweaters. A couple of other things to note are 1) that you can’t tension them and 2) I don’t know the difference between a spool and a bobbin.

 

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Spinner’s Control Card: This card keeps me in check, and often confirms, despite my intentions to vary my spinning, that yes, I’m spinning yarn that is 28 wpi.

 

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Digital Scale: I bought this small cheapo item shortly after I took Kim Eichler-Messmer’s class on percentage dyeing. A digital scale is absolutely necessary to measure the amount of dye powder in the dye solutions. However, since we’re currently living in a tiny apartment and I haven’t had a chance to break out my dyes, I’ve been using it to make sure that I’m dividing my fiber up evenly. I don’t mean to totally brag (just partially), but since using this scale to divide up my fiber, the length of my singles are usually no more than a few meters apart, and I am able to ply virtually all my yarn without much left over. If I had planned ahead and realized it was also going to do double-duty and also weigh my fibers, I probably would have purchased a slightly bigger scale.

There are probably other things out there that I *absolutely* need that I haven’t yet discovered. It will be a paradigm shift when I do. I just know it.

What about you? Do you have something that you can’t do without–that enables you to turn straw into gold?