Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hey, Harlot!--and other stuff

Guess who's going to see the Harlot in L.A.? That would be me! Kathleen from Quail Hill Knits scored reservations for the two of us (750 spaces--all gone in minutes!), and we're going to meet--for the first time--for a day devoted to knitting. I'm unreasonably excited, not just because of the Harlot (although I'm embarrassed by my fondness for this woman I've never met), but also because I love Kathleen's blog and I'm really looking forward to meeting one of my imaginary friends in person.

Also, I've finally got my Ravelry page somewhat functional. At least I have some of my projects up and my profile filled out--although Ravelry refuses to recognize my blog and won't link here. I haven't figured out all of the functions, and I probably never will, because I'm just not that tech-savvy or interested. But so far, it's pretty cool. If you're already on Ravelry, you can check me out at YarnhogSV--because, believe it or not, there is another "Yarnhog", and she got there first. I'd be annoyed, but I've been emailing her, and she seems very nice. (Also, she's been Yarnhog longer than I have, so to be fair, I suppose she has a greater claim. Hmmph.)

And the Knitting Goddess has smiled upon me.

I found another skein of purple Malabrigo in the stash. I don't know why it was hanging out with the leftover alpaca--that stuff is a bad influence. I know it is, because every time I hang out with it, I end up spending money on--what else?--more alpaca. There is a pretty good chance I now have enough of the Malabrigo to finish Vino for real. I know you are all rejoicing with me.

Oh, and one more thing:

Golden Retriever singles from my beloved Molly. It was harder to spin her fur than it is to spin Sophie's fur or wool, I think because Molly's undercoat is soft and fluffy, but relatively short. I found that I had to spin it thicker than I would have liked, because when I tried to spin finer singles, the yarn just disappeared into little wisps of fluff. I think I'm going to try knitting this up as singles. I'm hoping it's strong enough to hold together. If not, well, I'll just try again. One great thing about spinning dog hair is, there's never a shortage of raw material!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pining for Fall

It's supposed to reach over 100 degrees today. Naturally, because I cleaned out and replanted my flower beds yesterday. For most of you, that's probably not unusual for summer. But this is San Diego, and we're kind of weather wimps. (You should hear me when the temperature drops below 60 in the winter. It's not pretty.) We've had a really mild summer. It was a perfect 75 for about six weeks straight, but the last two weeks have been hot and humid--also not normal for San Diego, which is technically a desert.

So, like any good knitter, I'm doing my part to bring about a change in the weather by knitting for fall. The Malabrigo "Vino" sweater coat is zipping right along. The body is done. It needs sleeves and a collar.

[One of the many things I love about knit bloggers is that I know you'll never ask me why I'm taking pictures of half-finished knitting projects on my front porch.]

But--and I can't believe I'm saying this--I'm going to run out of yarn.

I haven't run out of yarn on a project since the 1980s (and you've seen the results of that). I always, always buy way too much yarn. I have so many single balls of yarn in the stash that I could easily make a king-sized afghan from my leftovers. But any way I look at it, I'm going to run out this time. This is what I get for knitting from stash. Now I have two options. I can either close my eyes, cover my ears, sing "La la la la" and pretend that I have plenty of yarn, and then act surprised when my yarn runs out half a sleeve from the end, or I can suck it up and order another skein. WEBS has four skeins of it in stock. It would be easy to click over and place the order. Guess which option I'm going to choose? La la la la...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Doing (Knitting) Time

My Saturday schedule:

9:00-9:45: karate

10:00-11:00: music lessons

11:00-1:00: football

Fours solid hours of sitting and waiting/watching. What in the world do parents do if they don't knit? You can't really read a book, because you do have to watch your kid and be ready to clap and cheer (lots of cheering). Ditto for handheld video games and phones, if your inclinations lean that way. I suppose you could sit and make small talk with the other parents, but four hours worth? Every week?

Under other circumstances (that is to say, if I didn't knit), my natural impatience would make it virtually impossible for me to sit still that long, and certainly to do so with good grace. But with a knitting project handy, I'm not only able to sit and wait, but happy to do so. I've knitted my way through school field trips, PTA meetings, doctors' appointments, kids' movies, car trips (when I'm not driving, of course), and any number of games, matches, and practices of various sorts. The only places I don't knit, because I think it would be rude, are at live performances of any sort, including kids' recitals and plays, weddings, funerals, religious services, and at the table. Pretty much everything else is fair game, as far as I'm concerned.

What about you? Do you knit in public, and if so, what are your favorite places or events? Are there times or places you won't knit? Is there anywhere you consider it inappropriate or rude to knit? Where is the strangest place you've ever knitted? Feel free to leave lengthy comments, if you're inspired. I'll bet there are some interesting stories out there!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Doggy Knits

Newfoundland "chiengora". 24.5 yards, heavy worsted.

Wound into a lovely center-pull ball.

And knitted on size 9 needles into a 6" square at about 4 stitches to the inch.

Impressions: Aside from my absolute joy at making knitted fabric out of my beloved dog, these are my honest thoughts about this yarn, as yarn. My spinning skills are still shaky, and the resulting yarn is still a bit lumpier and more uneven than I would like. Although the two-ply yarn is only a heavy worsted weight, the resulting fabric is much heavier and thicker than wool of a similar gauge. I suspect that dog hair is denser than wool, so yarn the same diameter is actually heavier in weight. The dog hair also produces yarn with a fuzzy halo, much like mohair or angora, which fluffs up and fills in the gaps in the knitted fabric, making it much denser than wool of the same gauge. The fabric above would make for a terrific warm, thick blanket or jacket. I would not want to use it for a sweater, or even a scarf, because it is just too dense and heavy. One could, of course, knit the yarn on larger needles for a lighter effect, but since I intend to use the yarn to knit a throw, this is an excellent weight and gauge for my purposes. Dog hair yarn is less elastic than wool, but more elastic than, say, cotton. It is not quite as soft as I expected--more like mohair than angora. In fact, it is very similar to mohair in just about every way. I did not card the dog hair before spinning, and I wonder if carding would make for a smoother and softer yarn. I have read that the fabric becomes softer with washing and use. I'll have to see whether that is true.

For my next trick, I will be spinning Golden Retriever fur. Stay tuned--the furry fun never stops!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skeins of Sophie

I know I promised knitting content, and I'll keep my promise, but there's a bit more spinning to be done first. Well, not spinning, so much as finishing. It turns out, you can't just spin up the yarn and start knitting it. Those of you who are already spinners will find the following explanation rudimentary, but those of you who want to learn to spin may find it as interesting as I did.

As I showed you in my last post, I spun up some singles (one-ply yarn) of Sophie hair. I spun two small bobbins of it, then I plied them together. This is not at all difficult. To ply using a spinning wheel, all you really have to do--although there are other plying methods that are more complicated--is tie the ends of two bobbins of yarn onto a third bobbin that is attached to the spinning wheel and spin in a counter-clockwise direction, that is, opposite the direction you treadle to spin the singles. This way, your yarn is plied in the opposite direction from which it is spun, and you get a more evenly twisted, thicker, stronger, two-ply yarn.

Once you've got a bobbin full of plied yarn, you have to turn it into a skein. You can use a niddy noddy for this purpose (which is an interesting looking tool for making a long skein of yarn), or you can wrap it around your hand and elbow (which I found difficult, because then you only have one hand free to tie off the skein), or you can make your own skeining tool, like this:

It's just a piece of cardboard about 18" long, wrapped in packing tape so the yarn won't stick to the edges of the cardboard. Really, you can use anything that gives you a skein with a reasonable diameter. You just wrap the yarn around the skeining tool as you unwrap it from the bobbin. When you reach the end of your yarn, you tie the ends together, then tie the skein in four (or so) places to hold it together. Slide it off the tool, and you're ready to "set the twist."

See, the funny thing about spun yarn is, it sort of wants to come unspun. If you don't do anything to discourage this tendency, you can end up with yarn that is uneven, weak, and too lightly twisted to use. There are a few different ways of setting the twist, depending on the type of yarn you're trying to make, but generally they involve wetting the yarn, then letting it dry. For this yarn, I ran some warmish water into a dishpan, added some dish soap, and let it soak for a while.

Since I did not wash my fiber beforehand, I repeated this a few times, until I was convinced I had washed out any trace of oil or doggy smell. (I tried Eucalan first, but it failed to wash out the oil.) I rinsed the yarn a few times, then I whacked the yarn several times against the inside of the laundry sink until no more water came out. As weird as it sounds, this is an integral part of setting the twist. Evidently, the whacking causes the twist to distribute itself evenly throughout the yarn. Either that, or someone is putting us all on.

Then I rolled the yarn in a towel, squeezed out as much water as possible, and hung it up to dry. Some people hang a weight from the end of the skein to block it as it dries, but I have read that this removes the elasticity from the yarn, so I didn't do it.

Now all I have to do is wait until it dries, wind it into a ball, and knit it up!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not So Crazy Now



You knew I wouldn't be able to resist trying it, right? I can't believe how simple it is to spin dog hair. It's actually easier than spinning wool, and the end result is softer, too. For those who are interested, here's how I did it:

First, I should note that all of the dog hair I am using is hair that I have collected from my own, relatively clean dogs, through brushing only (no clippings or dust bunnies). Because the hair is fairly clean and brushed, it doesn't actually need washing or carding before spinning. I will have to wash the yarn after spinning, but this seems much easier to me than washing, carding, and oiling it prior to spinning, and then washing the yarn again to remove the oil after spinning.

All I do to prepare my fiber is pull a handful of fluff out of the bag and pick out any foreign material and guard hairs. My dogs, a Golden Retriever and a Newfoundland, are both double-coated dogs. They have a soft, downy undercoat that feels a lot like angora, and a coarser, shinier outer coat. Guard hairs are hairs from the outer coat. I only want to spin the downy undercoat, so I need to remove any guard hairs, which would make the yarn coarse and "hairy". Most of the hair that my dogs shed consists of the downy undercoat, so there aren't too many guard hairs in my saved fiber. This is what the discarded material looks like:

And this is the fiber ready for spinning:

I just sort of roll a pile of the fluff into a manageable sausage, wrap a little around my leader, and start spinning, exactly as I would if it were wool.

The fiber is quite silky, and because it is not washed prior to spinning, it retains enough natural oil that the individual fibers slide easily past one another to make drafting smooth and pleasant. The final product is a soft, slightly fuzzy yarn, similar to an angora/wool blend. I am looking forward to spinning and plying some more of this so that I can knit a swatch and see how it turns out. So, yes, there will be knitting content shortly!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

It's dog hair. All of it. I've been saving it for more than two years.

For perspective, the kid in the photo is ten years old and about five feet tall. And the hair is rolled and compacted. Trust me. It's a lot of hair. If I fluffed it up, it wouldn't fit on the counter.

See, I had this idea that I could do something with all that fur besides vacuuming it up off the floor every day. So I started saving it. After a while, I made myself a little spindle out of Tinker Toys and gave it a shot. (You wouldn't believe how useful these things are.) It didn't work. But it did spark a small yet growing flame that eventually became enough of a fire that I ended up buying a spinning wheel. And while you may think I'm crazy...

...I'm not the only one.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

So THAT's Pre-Drafting...

A lot of people have mentioned the importance of "pre-drafting" fiber before spinning it, especially for beginners. And I did correctly understand the term to mean "loosening up the fiber" so that it is easier to draft while spinning. I gave it a few tugs, until I felt the fibers begin to separate, and then started spinning.

And then I read about pre-drafting in Spin to Knit. As it turns out, my understanding of pre-drafting was a little off. According to the book, this is how you pre-draft.

First, you pull off a strip of fiber from the roving. It looks like this:

Then, you pull it apart gently from side to side, to get this:

Finally, you stretch it vertically, to make a long, narrow tail-like creation, like this:

And then you can spin it.

And you know what? It works!

My yarn may still be uneven, but it's definitely much, much finer. Now, if I can just figure out how to get it off the bobbin without it untwisting...

Worsted Wonder

I had almost forgotten how quickly worsted weight yarn knits up. Check this out:

This is the result of maybe two hours of work. And, um, this is the result of maybe two more hours...

The yarn is Malabrigo (squishy, single ply, hand-dyed merino--unbelievably soft!) in Velvet Grapes. I ordered mine from WEBS, which seems to be the least expensive North American source. I love this yarn. I've had it in the stash for over a year, because I just couldn't bring myself to knit it, and, you know, use it up. I finally bit the bullet, as I was unable to find any excuse not to use it for this lovely, stockinette sweater coat that will show off its variegation so perfectly.

The last six or so sweaters I've done have all been DK weight. And then there's Icarus. So working at 4.5 stitches to the inch feels like super bulky to me, and I'm really, really enjoying the change.

As for the spinning, I'm bringing out the big guns.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shoulda Stayed in Bed

Long, long, long, long day. Much ranting follows. You can skip to the end for knitting content.

My 7-year-old is in an anti-camp mood. Yesterday he had a nuclear meltdown at the drop-off site. It's been a long time since he melted down, and I've really been enjoying life-after-meltdowns, so today I made a deal with him: he would go to camp for the morning session, and I would pick him up after lunch. Seems simple, no? No. Our local YMCA does not have room to hold day camps on site. But there are many, many kids in this area, and the Y does offer many, many camps to accommodate them. They pull this off by having parents drop kids off at a bus stop, where a bus takes them to "home base" (which is a large parking lot with a big, empty field attached). Counselors sort the kids into camps, and then they're bussed off to various sites all over the city. Most camps go to one site in the morning, then get on another bus and go to a different site in the afternoon, then get on another bus and go back to home base, then get on a different bus to go back to the original bus stop. All of which explains why my son is in an anti-camp mood. Several hours a day on noisy, unairconditioned buses in the middle of a heat wave makes for one very unhappy camper.

In order to pick him up mid-way through the day, I have to figure out where the camp is going that day and what time they will be there. Both of these things are subject to change during the course of the day, especially since there are many camps but few buses, and so they must all coordinate their many different trips and stops, and this seldom runs smoothly. The end result is, I did finally get my camper--but only after spending an hour sitting in a blazing hot parking lot and making many phone calls to determine whether the camp was in fact going to show up at that spot. For the first time in, oh, forever, I had no knitting in my purse and no book in my car. It was just me and the heat. And then, he told me he wanted to stay and play. I won't repeat what I said.

My 10-year-old son is in an extended-year program, so he started school three weeks ago. But since our school is undergoing massive renovations, his program has been meeting at a different school. There are three days left of the summer session. For some reason that is unclear to me but must make sense to someone, somewhere, the powers that be decided that his class should move back into the completely torn up school now--with three days left before the summer break. The regular school year starts in two weeks. So, with bulldozers chomping away, trailers for classrooms, and a torn-up parking lot, we tramped back to our school. The entire thing is surrounded by security fences, and the only way in is through a gate that must be opened by the foreman before and after school. There is no parking, no walking, and only a very slow and difficult single lane of traffic through the parking lot to the spot where the teachers must line up kids to wait and then direct traffic back out into the street. Traffic goes only one way--opposite the way I need to go to get home.

My 7-year-old started playing Pop Warner Football this year. I have no idea where he came up with the idea. Football here is not the center of the universe the way it is in a lot of smaller towns, especially in the Midwest and the South. We don't watch professional sports (or any sports, for that matter), and our kids have never been excited by the prospect of Little League of AYSO. So maybe it's just me, but I was stunned to learn that the 5-7 year old teams practice 3 evenings a week from 5:30-7:00! The 8-year-olds and up practice 5 evenings a week! Does this seem excessive to you? Completely apart from the fact that practice is smack in the middle of dinner time, and my kids' bedtime is 7:30, that just seems like an awful lot of time to me. And then there were all sorts of disturbing little comments in the registration package, like "Football is a serious commitment..." Serious? Commitment? They're babies, for Pete's sake! And I think the coach is an alien. He has blocking patterns and playbooks and doesn't seem to realize that half the kids have never seen a football before, and the rest are too busy contemplating their belly buttons and pulling their shirts over their heads to follow what he's saying. He doesn't have kids--which kind of confirms my theory that he's an alien, because why else would anyone agree to take on a job like that? But he has six assistant coaches--all dads. Ask me how many times in the five years I've been volunteering at my kids' school I've ever seen a dad helping out in a classroom. Go ahead. Ask me. Never once. And I spend a lot of time at the school. But get out a stupid ball and--hey!--they all show up three times a frickin' week! I'm glad they want to spend time with their kids. I am. But the question of priorities keeps getting in my way, here.

Point is, my son has practice three evenings a week during dinner time, and my husband is one of the assistant coaches. This means that, three times a week, I have to come up with a dinner that can either wait until after practice to be eaten or be prepared within ten minutes when they finally get home. Tonight, I thought I would make it easy on myself and make hot dogs and tater tots with a nice salad. But it turns out the grocery store has stopped carrying the (soy) hot dogs we eat, and I forgot the croutons. Oh. And my purse. Not my car keys and sunglasses, which I evidently removed from my purse prior to replacing my purse in the cart and returning the cart to the store before driving off. By some miracle, a store employee not only found my purse before it was stolen, but also had the presence of mind to call "Home" on my cell phone (also in my purse) to tell me that I had left it behind. The return trip to the store allowed me to pick up the croutons, too, so it wasn't all bad. Still no hot dogs, though. I wonder if I can talk the kids into eating crouton dogs?

And now, for a change of pace, I thought I'd rant about knitting.

Remember this?

This is our old friend Icarus, the wedding shawl-to-be. To be precise, this is Icarus two months ago.

This is Icarus today:

And therein lies the problem. The wedding is next April, but I just learned that the bridal shower is in October, and I'd like to have the shawl done in time for the shower. I'd also like for replicators and transporters to become standard household appliances, which seems a bit more likely. I swear to you that I have been working on Icarus all this time. I have probably knitted 10 million stitches. I think they are dropping into some sort of knitting black hole. I keep looking for some missed line in the pattern, like "at the end of row 2, wave your magic wand," but I can't find it. I know it is possible to finish this shawl, because I have seen lots of Icarus shawls online, but I think I must have missed something. Mine is not growing at a rate that will allow it to be finished in my natural lifetime. Do you think the bride would be satisfied with a cashmere lace wedding hanky?

Whew. I feel much better. If you'll come back tomorrow, I promise I'll be sane again. Or what passes for sane around here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

FO: Grecian Plaits

Pattern: Grecian Plaits from the Summer 2007 Knitter's magazine.
Size: Small (37" finished chest)
Yarn: Four skeins Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece in Teddy Bear
Modifications: Very few. I made this two inches longer than the pattern called for (one inch above the waist, one inch below) to accommodate my height. I also worked a row of single crochet around the neck (in place of picking up and knitting 300+ stitches and then binding them all off again after one row, as the pattern called for), and around the armholes, to close them up a little. And yes, I did redo the kitchener seam at the shoulder, for those who are keeping track.

I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but I got sort of side-tracked by all the spinning and didn't get around to taking a picture until today. I loved knitting this. The pattern was delightful and the yarn was a dream. Sadly, I don't think I'll wear it much. The style is not terribly versatile, which I knew before I started. In addition, although I made the smallest size, I find it a little big and shapeless. I think this design really needs to be worn by someone with a bit more of a "front porch" to give it some shape. If you like the design and you're curvy, and not too short, I highly recommend this one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Crack (Me Up) Saturday--1980s Knitting Edition

In honor of Crack (Me Up) Saturday, I dug up some of my knitting projects from the 1980s. If you are old enough to remember 80s fashion (whether you were knitting then or not), these probably look familiar to you. Unfortunately, I cannot blame these on anyone but myself--I hadn't learned to use patterns yet, so these are all my own designs. My only excuse is that I was a teenager--and it was the 80s. You will not find these in my Flickr set--or anywhere else, for that matter!

Project #1:
Turquoise mohair funnel neck with silver metallic accent thread. (Complete with runway pout. It's not easy to pout when you're giggling.)
This was actually my first-ever knitting project. I was living in Germany as a foreign exchange student, and my host-mom taught me to knit. For my birthday, she took me to the LYS and let me pick out a sweater's worth of yarn. I remember the odd look she gave me when I handed her this, but at the time, I didn't understand it.

Project #2:
The ubiquitous oversized, belted tunic, also in mohair.
This didn't start out as a two-toned project. I bought the reddish yarn on clearance at a time when I had no idea how to estimate yardage. So when I ran out, I bought the green yarn, also on clearance, to do the sleeves and collar. Sadly, I no longer have the five-inch-wide belt I used to wear over this.

Project #3:
Uh...maybe the less said, the better. Made out of...mohair! (I'm seeing a trend, here.)
This was an early attempt at cabling, and I think I just did a cable row whenever it looked about right. And obviously, I still hadn't figured out the whole yardage thing...

Project #4:
Yeah. I don't know. The yarn is some kind of metallic fun fur. I ran out before finishing the sweater (thank God), and evidently couldn't find any other yarn to go with it. Because, after all, what could? Instead, I made it into a vest. In my defense, I never actually wore this.

There you have it. The next time you knit one of those "What was I thinking?" projects, you can refer back to this and congratulate yourself on your excellent taste and superior discernment. Just don't tell anyone, okay?

P.S. Special thanks go to my very tolerant husband, who delayed his trip to the gym to take these pictures for me. But let this be a warning to the ignorant: never leave a bored man alone with a camera...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Spider,

I am writing to express my sincere apologies for my deplorable behavior of last night. The altercation was entirely my fault. The whole unfortunate incident could have been avoided had I not carelessly--recklessly--failed to notice you and your lovely web hanging from the shower head. It must have been quite a shock for you, being awakened from your nap so rudely by my head crashing through your web. You were well within your rights to scamper across my face and down my back to escape my unwelcome attentions. I am certain that little detour down the crack of my rear was completely unintentional.

There was surely no cause for all that dancing and screaming. I am truly sorry to have interfered with your quiet enjoyment of the beautiful evening. I overreacted. It is perfectly understandable that you mistakenly ran up my leg to get out of that puddle. I am sorry I kicked so hard. I did not intend you any harm, and at least you did end up on that dry spot on the wall. You must have been terrified, which would account for your failure to depart through the window that I opened for you. I was only trying to nudge you in that direction; the loss of your leg was a tragic accident, for which I take full responsibility.

Had I been in complete possession of my ordinary self-control, I would have gently removed you from the shower and carried you outside. But it was rather late, and my judgment may have been a little impaired by my surprise at your unexpected appearance. And then there was the small matter of your unfortunate resemblance to the dreaded Brown Recluse. You do have the same long legs. And the same little brown body. And you are rather large for an arachnid. Most spiders of my acquaintance are slightly smaller than a frisbee. When you charged toward me like that, I failed to recognize the universal symbol for "Hi, let's be friends." I am afraid I mistook it for the universal symbol for "Hi, I am a huge, scary, poisonous spider and I'm going to bite you." Again, my fault entirely.

My behavior was inexcusable. I do not expect you to forgive me--what I did was unforgivable. But I do hope you will be able to find it in your heart to accept my most humble and sincere apologies for squishing you like that.

With deepest regrets,


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Spinning in Circles

I'm not quite sure whether to be amused or offended by the blank, slightly baffled looks I get when I mention to the uninitiated that I just bought a spinning wheel. My mother, my neighbor, my best friend...they've each looked at me, a little taken aback, and repeated in a dazed tone, "Spinning wheel? You make, uh, yarn?" Actually, my best friend thought I meant some sort of exercise equipment, but she recovered pretty gracefully.

I'm still working at it. My singles are still lumpy and overtwisted, but I think they may be getting slightly better:

There are some parts that almost look like yarn. I seem to be having a lot of trouble getting the tension right on my wheel (Spinners will understand. For everyone else, there is a little knob on the wheel that controls how hard the bobbin pulls on the fiber as you spin it.) Either the yarn won't wind on fast enough and gets overtwisted (more overtwisted than usual, I mean), or the fiber breaks. I am sure this has more to do with my drafting than the wheel.

For non-spinners, drafting seems to be the most important aspect of spinning actual yarn, as opposed to what I am making. It means pulling a little fiber out of the roving to be spun, and controlling how much gets spun at a time. The trick is pulling out just the right amount of fiber at a time, and continuing to pull it out evenly as you spin. This is more difficult than it sounds. You need to draft evenly to spin smooth yarn, which is my--apparently rather distant--goal. Uneven drafting gives you thick-and-thin yarn, which is, of course, a legitimate sort of yarn, but it's not the kind I enjoy working with. I am trying to spin smooth, fine yarn, which means continually drafting a small amount of fiber at a time. Problems arise when I draft too much fiber (lumps) or too little fiber (the yarn breaks). Because the wheel keeps spinning all the time, if I pause to get a better grip on the fiber or hit a snag while drafting or my hands just don't move steadily, I get uneven parts or breaks.

It's pretty fascinating, in a hypnotic sort of way. The wheel spins and the fiber slides through my fingers and I am constantly focused on keeping my drafting even. I can see how it could easily become addictive as one gets better and doesn't have to stop to fish the broken yarn end back through the flyer orifice or untwist the roving that has accidentally entered the draft zone and the drafting becomes smooth and automatic. Not that I would know from personal experience, mind you. But I can imagine.

Monday, August 6, 2007

So Much Cooler Online

It had to happen eventually. As ubiquitous as the internet has become in our lives, people had to start writing songs about it. This morning I heard a song on the radio with the unlikely chorus: "I'm so much cooler online." I laughed, because so many, many people lie about themselves on internet dating sites and whatnot (I do not know this from personal experience. I have been married forever. Or at least since before internet dating. But I have friends, and I've heard the stories.)

But it did make me think: are we all cooler online? Not because we lie, but because we interact only on our own schedules, when we're in the mood for it, and we only show those parts of ourselves that are funny, interesting, and intelligent? If you could see me when I first wake up in the morning, when I'm scowling and incoherent and even making coffee is beyond my creative abilities, would you still want to read what I have to say? If you could hear me when I'm being completely unreasonable and more than a little bitchy in an argument that I know I'm losing, would you still find me likable? What if you discovered that my politics are offensive to you, or that I'm not raising my kids in a way that you can approve of, or I haven't mowed my lawn in a month?

We all make judgments about people we meet. Often they are based on early impressions or isolated incidents, and often we will never be able to see beyond our initial view of a person, even if we know that person for years after the initial meeting. Maybe we should all meet online first, where we can't see race or age or weight or attractiveness or social status, and where we all get a chance to think about how we want to present ourselves, and hit the backspace key as many times as necessary before we post for public consumption. Maybe the world would be better if we had to share our thoughts before we could interact in person. I wonder how many people I already know, but have written off as potential friends, who would be really interesting and fun if I met them in the blogosphere. Maybe we're all cooler online.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Spinning Out of Control

Thank you all for your compliments on my new wheel. I'm very happy with it. As for Sophie, she is indeed a Newfoundland. They are large working dogs, bred for fishing, water rescue, and as draft animals. They have webbed feet and coats that keep their skin dry even after hours in the water, which keeps them from getting cold while swimming. Females are usually between 100-130 pounds, while males (which look strikingly like black bears) can reach nearly 200 pounds. Sophie is very tall for a female, but lean. Most Newfies are bulkier looking.

But I'll bet you'd like to hear how the spinning is going. Learning to spin is a lot like learning to drive a car. It looks pretty easy to begin with. Lots of people do it. You read the book, you listen to the teacher. Seems straightforward enough. You put the key in the ignition...and suddenly it's like you have twelve hands and feet and they're all doing different things at the same time and you can't possibly keep track of all of them at once. There's a lot of stalling, some backing up, some restarting, and maybe a few moments of panic. And there seem to be a lot of people yelling at you and telling you what to do. At least with spinning, you don't have to worry about killing anyone while you're learning to tell up from down. (Except maybe family members who hang over you, pointing out that your roving is twisting up, your hands are moving too slow, and "that doesn't look much like yarn".)

I did manage to spin two bobbins of lumpy, overtwisted, totally unusable singles, which I then plied into one bobbin of even lumpier, overtwisted, totally unusable super bulky two-ply not-yarn. But I still consider it a success, since there was noticeable improvement over my first attempt.

I hope the learning curve for this activity is steep. I'd hate to spend the next year turning lovely roving into really ugly hamster bedding.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

FO: Spinning Wheel

My latest FO (the wheel--the child is still a WIP).

Ashford Traveller, bought unfinished, stained with Minwax water-based stain in Vermont Maple, applied with a very light hand, and two applications of Minwax finishing paste wax instead of polyurethane, for that hand-polished look.

Everyone in the family seems fascinated by the new addition. I think Sophie is wondering where the sheep are. Or how it will taste. Either way, I think I'm going to have to store the wheel in a locked closet, which is the only place she can't reach. (And in case you're wondering, it's not an optical illusion. She really is that big.)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Reality Check

Fact: It takes more than an hour to stain a spinning wheel.

I'm not sure why this came as a surprise to me. I did, after all, unpack the box, unwrap all the carefully wrapped little parts, and lay them all out on the newspaper before I ever even opened the can of stain. I admit, I may have been a little excited. I also admit that I may have been a little tired, what with it being after 10 pm and all. But surely I should have noticed that there are sort of a lot of parts, and that those parts have sort of a lot of crevices. Shouldn't I? I'm not new to staining, after all. I ought to know how long these things take.

I'm going to have to blame this one on Inspiration. Around here, Inspiration always strikes late at night, after Reason has sensibly gone to bed. Inspiration is the party animal of my psyche, and like all good party animals, it is a night owl. Inspiration is responsible for many of my more questionable projects. That wall I just had to paint Pepto Bismol pink at 11 pm? Inspiration. The bizarre faux finish in the bathroom? Inspiration. The fun fur collar on that silk cardigan? Yup. Inspiration.

And in the morning, when Reason wakes up and sees the results, where do you think Inspiration is? That's right. Sleeping. It's left to Reason to repaint, retexture, and frog. Reason tends to get a little annoyed at Inspiration in the bright light of day. Especially when that light comes on at 7 am after a particularly long night.

The staining went well, actually. I was in the garage, alone, no radio or tv. So it didn't occur to me the first time my foot fell asleep that I might have been sitting there a bit longer than I realized. And I was focusing pretty hard on what I was doing, so I wasn't that surprised that my eyes felt a little like my lids had turned to sandpaper. In fact, it wasn't until I stood up and realized that all of my spinal vertebrae had fused that I first thought I might want to consider stopping and going up to bed. But I was almost done (or, at least, almost halfway done), so it didn't really make sense to stop. I soldiered on until my husband finally came downstairs and asked, perhaps a little crankily, if I was planning on coming to bed at all. He may have asked a few times before that; I'm not sure.

Anyway, I did get it done. Now all I have to do is wax it and put it together. It shouldn't take more than an hour.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Urban Sheep

So, you saw my post from yesterday, right? I did indeed buy a spinning wheel! The reason it is still in its box is that I bought it unfinished, thinking it would be fun to choose my own stain and do it myself. In making this decision, I completely ignored the fact that I find this sort of choice absolutely crippling. After an hour of standing in front of the stain samples at Home Depot--China Red? Spice? Antique Red? Cherry Blossom? Clear Poly? Tung Oil? Wax?--I left empty-handed. Since I need to finish the wheel before I assemble it, I am temporarily stalled. This condition will correct itself in a day or two and I'll be able to show you a picture of the wheel itself (finished, I hope), instead of the box.

But aside from the glorious excitement of buying the wheel, the journey to get it was an adventure in itself. There is only one spinning wheel dealer within 100 miles of my house. It is a sheep farm in one of the many unincorporated areas that surround the city of San Diego. Are you surprised that there is a sheep farm in San Diego? Me, too. I always forget, living here, that outside the city is the country. This farm is only 20 miles from my house, but it would never have occurred to me that wool-on-the-hoof was available so close to home!

So I drove out past the city limits, off the main road, onto a dirt road with streets named "Peace Valley Lane" and "Shady Grove Street" and "Keep Out Road", past the Lemurian Fellowship (who'd have thought lemurs would have their own church?), and out into farm country. There were horses! And cows! And--best of all--sheep! I pulled up to the farmhouse and got out of my car. There didn't seem to be anyone around (man, was it quiet), so I wandered over to the goat pen, where a very friendly angora goat climbed up the fence and licked my elbow. Ever wonder where mohair comes from? From him. I call him Fred.

Eventually, it occurred to me to call the owner on my cell phone and let her know I was there. She appeared from somewhere and took me to her shop. And in the name of all that's holy, I almost passed out from sheer joy. It was a whole building just full of yarn and roving and looms and spinning wheels and every imaginable sort of fiber in every possible color and some I think may not have been discovered yet. I just kept turning in circles and babbling and picking things up and putting them down and babbling some more. I think she laughed, but I was pretty distracted.

Finally, I calmed down enough that she was able to show me the wheels and set me up with some roving and I spun my very first, absolutely disastrous, ugly, lumpy, overtwisted, undertwisted, bright orange yarn. See? (It kind of came untwisted on the way home, so it looks even worse now than it did when it came off the wheel.)

I'm so proud. I have high hopes that my next attempt will be, well, better comes to mind.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007