Christmas Felted Soaps

Now that Christmas is over, it’s safe to start posting some Christmas gifts. One project that we will definitely be making again is felted soap. Little A and I made these soaps for the teachers and staff at her school.

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These soaps were felted with a combination of natural corriedale from Paradise Fibers, pink and orange merino from Opulent Fibers, and some unnamed fiber that came with the spinning wheel I purchased off of craigslist. I suspect it’s one of Ashland Bay Company’s multi-colored merino. What I love about this multi-colored merino are the stands of color surprise. The top was kind of brown but once it was separated and felted, you could see how the color was produced through the layer of multiple colors.

These rounded soaps from Sappo Hill were the perfect size for a soap felting project as it fit comfortably in our hands as we rubbed and scrubbed the fiber to make it felt.

I followed instructions from Thistlewood Farms, which comes fabulous instructive photos.

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I think some of the soaps could have been rubbed for a bit longer to make sure the fibers really locked in together. And I would certainly recommend over-doing it rather than under-doing it. I was worried with all the lathering that my soap was shrinking under the felt. It seemed that there was a lot of room between the soap and the wool and that the felt would never shrink and tighten around the soap, as described by KariAnne of Thistlewood Farm. But when it dried, it tightened nicely around the soap so I was anxious for nothing. I guess I still need to learn to trust the process.

What I would try next time is setting up two basins of water, one super and one super cold. Part of the reason that wool felts, in addition to the friction that is necessary to lock the fibers together, is a sudden shift in temperature. I am hoping that in putting the wool-covered soap in the hot and then cold basins back and forth for a few times, this would cut down on the scrubbing that was necessary to felt the fiber. That scrubbing was the most tedious, and Little A grew tired of that quickly so I had to pick up the slack! Aside from that, this was the perfect project for us to do together!

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I could totally knit that…

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Ever since I started knitting more regularly, my relationship with store-bought knits has taken a nosedive. We were already having some communication issues, namely their refusal to be loose in areas I need them to be loose and tight in areas I need them to be tight. Now that I have more in my knitting repertoire beyond stockinette and garter stitches, we are no longer on speaking terms.  Whenever I see knits on display, my smug response is, “I could totally knit that.” Mass-produced sweaters seem more flimsy and poorly made. Plus, they’re cold and impersonal. Why buy something I can make myself? I could totally knit a warm, colorful and durable sweater that has the distinction of being made with love. Yes, I could totally knit that and do it better.

This attitude, however, does have a down side.

The truth is, though I have the ability, I don’t necessarily have the time. Now that the weather is colder and V and Little A are forced to venture out hatless or mittenless while awaiting prophesized knits, my DIY, anti-consumerist, mother-earthing ethos is starting to look like stubborn idiocy and misguided cruelty.

I have been promising V a hat for weeks. He walks a good mile from the bus stop to work in the chilly morning hours. But, with my current piles of grading, I have only been able to knit a few rows or inches a night. I had bragged that I could finish this brier toque in two days. Caught up by my over-confidence, he even assured his bus driver, a sweet maternal older lady who pays attention to these things, that he will be warmly dressed soon. And yet, each morning, when she pulls up and he comes running up into the warm belly of the bus, she asks, “When is this hat going to be ready?”

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There’s nothing like the mild disapproval of a bus driver to spur on your knitting. All I can say is that this hat is going to get done. Even if it kills me a little.

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The other day V asked about mittens, but I told him that he was going to have to wait. There’s a queue. My fingers are freezing.

Fiber: Nest Fiber Club, “Fernweh” October 2014 (organic polwarth), worsted spun 2-ply.

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?

 

 

Moonrover Magic

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If ever there is doubt about the magic of spinning, then all you need is to spin one of these batts from Lacey Ziemkiewicz of Moonrover to become a believer. The layers of color are painterly, like an abstracted landscape rolled up into a cloud. You can already see the little flicker of glitter and the surprise of nubby gems in the photo above. What you can’t appreciate unless you are at the spinning wheel is how these treasures reveal themselves in the process of attenuation and twist and transform into an unexpected whirl of colors and textures.

I’m not kidding when I say I get giddy from awe when I spin these batts.

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These batts are from the November 2013 Batt Club, which sadly is no more. I like clubs because I can rely on the regularity of surprises. Though Lacey has ended the Batt Club, there are the occasional sightings of batts on Moonrover’s site if you’re lucky.

And if you’re one of those people who likes to pull back the curtain to see the magician’s secrets, Lacey has an article in the Winter 2013 issue of PLY Magazine, in which she demonstrates how to card striped batts. (In that same issue which explores woolen spinning, you can also see swatches of Moonrover batts spun in a variety of ways.)

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Each batt is .5 0z, and I spun the batts one at a time, beginning from the same end. I then chain-plied it to get 227 yards/208 meters.

I don’t have a project in mind for this skein, but whatever it is, it is going to be for me me me.

Reversible Stitch

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I am so in love with this stitch pattern, and my mind is abuzz dreaming about the different variations and permutations possible. The pattern looks a bit like a cable but it’s not, and the fact that it’s reversible and incredibly adaptable makes me eager to experiment.

Here’s Lynne Barr’s Reversible Knitting book. She calls this stitch pattern “folded fabric” and I’ve heard it called a “scrunch stitch pattern.” Either way, it’s essentially a knitted rib (width of your choice) in which you bring up the stitches that are a few rows down and on the wrong side to knit together with current stitches.

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Here’s a good photo demonstration of this stitch, and you can see that the purl stitches on the back end are folded up and knitted together with the live stitches.

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Eunny Jung, former editor of Interweave Knits Magazine has a wonderful video in which she explains this stitch:

Whereas Jung describes a particular formula for the scrunch stitch, Barr demonstrates the variety possible when you play with the width of the ribbed columns as well as where in the previously knitted rows you choose to join your current live stitches.

This scarf is inspired by Cheryl Beckerich’s waved wrap. For my version, I knitted 5 repeats of a 6 by 6 rib, meaning that I [knitted 6, purled 6] five times, and I had a 4-stitch border on either side. I also brought up the purl stitches from 6 rows down. And as you can see in the photo from Barr’s book, this is a very textured pattern. I was tempted to leave mine unblocked because of the amazing undulating ridges, but I decided to block it in the end to highlight the delicate halo of the BFL/silk blend from Wooly Wonka. As you can see, the unblocked and blocked scarf are like two totally different scarves.

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I’ve got another project that I’m currently trying to finish, but after that, I’m going to be happily swatching.

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IMG_7076Though I casted on last summer, I actually began this sweater over a year ago. The yarn was one my earlier spins, a 3-ply sport weight yarn spun on my Louet Victoria. This was back when I didn’t take any records, so I have no recollection of when I began the project and how many yards I spun.  Still, it is good snapshot of an earlier self because you can trace my inexperience along the yarn’s erratic diameter.

The sweater also languished for a while in my knitting basket because of a few errors that I couldn’t face fixing.  It’s finally done, and I couldn’t be happier. And it looks like Little A is rather pleased too, though trying to take pictures of her is like asking a humming bird to hold still.

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Snapshot of our expressive, loving and kooky kid who will only be five and a half year old once:

  • Her favorite colors are pink, purple, red and blue.
  • Has an ambivalent relationship with Santa; is scared of him but like his gifts.
  • Thinks that a quarter, 3 nickels, a dime and a penny equal 10 cents.
  • Virtually all her drawings include hearts, rainbows, unicorns and princesses.
  • Loves pedaling super fast on her bike.
  • Wants to be a horse rider, a bike mechanic and a mom when she grows up.
  • Enjoys word play, puns, and jokes– just like dad.
  • Caring and attentive to little animals.
  • Wants a little brother named Diego.

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Sweater details:

Elizabeth Sweater designed by Georgie Hallam. Her patterns are always well-written and incredibly thorough. This is a top-down sweater with a bit of cabling that transitions into lace.  This was an easy lace knit (despite my recurring problems with row counting), and it didn’t take too long to memorize the stitch pattern.

Handspun 3-ply sport-weight yarn made up of merino wool top (8 oz) in “Coral” from Pacific Wool and Fibers and superfine merino (3 oz) in “Lipstick” from Opulent Fibers. This was a serendipitous combo as Little A chose both colors on different occasions and they happened to match. She obviously knows what she likes. And even though I spun this yarn without a project in mind, I was lucky that I had enough yardage for this sweater.

Homemade glue

Maybe it’s because of attachment parenting. Maybe it’s because she’s five. Maybe it’s because she’s an only child. Maybe it’s because that’s just who she is. Whatever the reasons, rarely a minute goes by without Little A calling, “Mamamamamama” and needing some attention.

Yesterday she was sick at home, and for a brief spell, she was in the living room, entertaining herself by drawing little rabbits on newspaper and cutting them out. I was in the bedroom, absorbed in the delicate unraveling of a cowl knitted with SweetGeorgia’s Silk Mist.  “Mama,” she called out from the other room. “We’re out of glue.” The “little” error I was trying to fix was threatening to become a catastrophe, my fingers untrained for the surgical precision and skill needed to untangle cobwebs. I tried to brush her off.  “We’ll get some next time we go out.”

I had knitted many rows of this Welted Cowl, but somehow I miscounted the rows, alternating four rows of reverse stockinette instead of five. Even though this is a gift and I won’t have to see the mistake, the perfectionist in me would wince every time I thought of it.

The next thing I knew, Little A was in the doorway. “Mama, I just found a video that teaches us how to make glue.” I followed her out of the bedroom, and lo and behold, she had gone to the computer and Googled “how to make glue.”

Parenting can be mind-numbingly boring, but it can also lead you out of the habituated boredom of your own thoughts. As someone who tries to live simply and to make instead of buy, it never dawned on me to make my own glue. But this little girl of mine, who is always tugging and pulling on me, understood better than me, the sychronized rhythms of our beating hearts.

When I was little, there was always a cooked pot of rice ready to be served. Whenever she needed to glue paper, my mother would scoop out a little bit of rice, mash it between her thumb and middle finger, then spread it on the spots she wanted to bond.  I had forgotten about that until now.

I put my tangled project down, and we went to the kitchen to cook up some glue.

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Missing from the recipe: Cook on stove for two minutes while stirring.

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Homemade glue. A grain of rice. Smiling rabbits holding hands.

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14 lbs in 2014

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I have been wanting to participate in a spinning or knitting challenge, and I’ve decided to see if I can spin 14 pounds of fiber during this year of 2014. Part of me wishes I had started this challenge a few years ago, like 2006. That would have been more doable! But back then, spinning would have sounded so alien and so unlike me. Now, I sometimes daydream about raising sheep.

My plan is to spin roughly 16-20 oz of fiber per month.  Below are my spins for January.

First up: Western Sky Knits, “Jem” in superfine merino (4 oz, 2-ply, 511 meters).

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This is what happens when you tell a five-year old girl, “Choose any fiber and color you want, and I’ll make something with it for you”: You end up with a mashup of Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, and Barbie in braided fiber form. More precisely, you end up with “Jem,” a colorway that brilliantly captures the essence of Jem and the Holograms, that 80’s cartoon series that I will be sure not to mention to Little A. Even before I finally registered the Jem reference, they were already screaming “80’s leg warmers,” which is what they will become. I only wish I had not spun it so finely. I may double the yarn.

Next: Miss Babs, “Dream Weaver” in BFL (80%)/Tussah Silk Top (20%) (4 oz, 2-ply, 324 meters).

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I had never heard of Miss Babs before. I got this braid in a bulk destash, and it was merely a tag-along with the other fibers I really wanted.  But, what a surprisingly lovely spin this one was, and I think this might be one of my new favorites. I’ve been spinning a lot of BFL/silk combos recently, I’m starting to get a sense of how it needs to breathe and be cajoled to relax. I tend to ply tightly, and with this combination I’ve really had to resist that tendency. Both BFL and silk give a lovely sheen, but what I love about this blend is the halo of the BFL. I don’t know what I’m going to knit with this, but suffice it to say, whatever I knit will be for me me me. I love it so.

Below: Nest Fiber Studio, “London Jupiter” in superwash merino (4 oz, 2-ply, 196 meters).

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Obviously I cannot get enough of Nest Fiber, and I am compelled to I spin at least something from Jen once a month. Her color combinations are so cheerful and bright, and the fiber is amazingly prepared. I mean, AMAZING. I decided to try spinning a thicker yarn because I need more practice at it. I had read in one of the Ravelry forums about spinning with not a lot of twist, but then plying tightly to create a slightly bumpy yarn with barber pole stripes that pop. I’m still not very consistent at plying but this texture really complements the already super-squishy qualities of merino. I’m going to use this yarn to knit this Squishy Love cowl for Little A. It’s going to be darling, and I’m already itching to cast on.

(Added note: Nest Fiber Studio products usually sell out right away during a shop update, but if you want to check out previous colors on flickr and find out when the next shop update will be, click here or onto “More Nest” on main page.)

Finally: Pigeonroof Studios, “Tangerine Dream” in polworth (85%)/silk 15%) (4.4 oz, 2-ply, 471 meters).

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I had intended to spin this braid a while ago, but then got sidetracked. What was I waiting for?? I do not know. I spun this without planning or forethought and gave myself up to muscle memory. Sometimes I need to let my hands lead my head and heart.

Knitting: The Ultimate Slow Fashion

There is the slow food movement, coined by Carlo Petrini, which emphasizes the return to fresh, locally sourced and unprocessed food. Slow food focuses on the simple pleasures of a home-cooked meal and the sense of community that is cultivated when we sit down together to share a meal. It is not a coincidence that since the coining of the term, “slow food,” we now see a number of similar terms such as “slow parenting” and “slow travel.” The slow movement speaks to a desire to forge connections that have been severed by the rapidity of the internet age, and it reflects the impulse to find sustainable ways to live in the face of consumerism, globalization and environmental degradation.

Recently, I recently picked up Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap FashionReading it was like being handed a history of my personal consumption habits set against the rise of branded clothing chains, such as Gap, H & M, Forever 21 and Zara. Hey, I am that girl with a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear! For years, I shopped at these places and never gave much thought to how my shopping habits were not simply “my choices” but shaped by market forces that emphasized trendy but poorly made clothes with built-in obsolescence. They were cheaply made because they were supposed to be discarded or fall apart after a season. What was cheap for me to purchase–and in large quantities–came at the expense of fair working conditions and living-wages for overseas garment workers whose wages were depressed by the insistent demand for cheap clothing abroad. Then there is the carbon footprint of all this over-production of cheap, disposable clothing. The textile industry is incredibly toxic, with its use of pesticides, dyes and bleaches, and it is a major source of water pollution. And where does all this clothing go after it is no longer in fashion? Thrift stores, Cline writes, are up to their eyeballs in used clothing, and the majority of this stuff that is not sold is dumped in landfills.

Cline then goes on to discuss the slow fashion movement, drawn from the principles of the slow food movement, which also emphasizes a return to the hand- or locally-made. A well-crafted piece of clothing  admittedly may cost the equivalent of  five H & M dresses, but a “good buy” should not be synonymous with quantity even if we are inundated with messages like “two-for-one” or “all you can eat,” that insist that “more” is a value in and of itself. What about defining a “good buy” in terms of something that creates the greatest good for the most people and is good for the environment?

Rebecca Burgess, author of one my favorite natural dyeing books, Harvesting Color, is also the founder of Fibershed, a visionary non-profit organization that shows that–like the slow food movement’s emphasis on eating locally sourced food within a 150 mile radius–it is also possible to do that with clothing. According to her site, fibershed is a

“geographical landscape that defines and give boundaries to a natural textile resource. An awareness of this biogregional designation endgenders appreciation, connectivity and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.”

The materials for the clothes on Fibershed are sourced, milled, dyed, spun, knitted, woven and sewn all within a 150 mile-radius. The resulting clothes are inseparable from the colors and textures of the Northern Californian landscape but with simple lines and an easy grace that transcend geography.

While I am pretty sure that I would not be able to completely sources my clothing from a 150-mile radius, my brain is totally in over-drive, thinking about all the possibilities. I want every piece of clothing that I own to be something I love, something that has a history, and something that lasts. These are the sentiments that inspire me to knit for myself and for others. I cannot help but think that every knitter out there is a part of this slow fashion movement, each affirming through one stitch at a time that there is value and connection through working with our hands.

And sometimes, as I’m knitting an interminable stretch of stockinette, I think, it can’t get more “slow fashion” than this.

In the spirit of slow, here are a couple of snapshots of my glacially slow projects:  a handspun sweater that has taken almost a year to make. This is for Little A. Thankfully, I decided to make it a little on the “big” side. It should fit her snuggly by the time I’m actually done. (I’ve made a mistake and I need to take out a few rows. Ugh. So close!)

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A sweater knitted in fingering wool. Now when I grunt and say, what was I thinking?! I will remind myself that, Hey, I’m a part of a movement!

I will also remind myself to vary the angle of my shots as well.

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I am a Spinner

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(Nest Fiber Studio, “Sera” in BFL, 2-ply)

I am paid for my writing, but I would not call myself a writer.  I am an academic, but I don’t identify as one. I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, but I am not only these things. My reluctance to take on titles, however, does not extend to spinning. Even though I have only been spinning for a little over a year, and my spinning range is stuck between fine and a little less fine, I am a spinner.

It’s strange to think that spinning has only been a part of my life for such a short time. Even V was surprised that it was only last November that I got my first spinning wheel. I spin virtually every day, and I can feel my fingers becoming restless if I don’t spin.

I can’t fully explain the joy of the filaments between my fingers but I love how the slightest pressure can change the thickness of the yarn.  Judith Mackenzie McCuin has described spinning as letting water flow through your fingers, and there is something about letting go and giving in that her description captures. You can’t work the fiber too hard and control does not come from force.

There is still so much to learn, but I am at home in being a spinner. There is magic in treadling, attenuation and setting twist.

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(Nest Fiber Studio, “Freedom Child” in Superwash Merino, 2-ply)

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(Lone Star Arts, “Cheshire Cat” in BFL, 2-ply)