Stepping Back

It’s Ash Wednesday today, but I’m writing this on Shrove Tuesday, for reasons you will soon see.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become very curved in on myself this winter. I’ve become very focused on myself and my personal pursuits, often to the detriment of attention that my family or others need or deserve. January and February have been my excuse, as well as the Big Work Thing and illness. To be fair, those a pretty good excuses. But I’m better now, work is into a good pattern, and it’s now March. And Lent is a good time for facing down our excuses.

So I’m praying about letting go of a few things for this season of Lent. Do you mind if I share them with you, for accountability purposes? Not because I’m awesome for giving up a lot of things – quite the opposite. These are my struggles, and it’s a season for being real about our struggles.

Probably the biggest will be to cut down on blogging. If you had told me in December that I would write a blog post for every day in January and February, I wouldn’t have believed you. I got into a groove, and it was really fun. However, it takes up a lot of time, and it can be an excuse for me to spend too much time and creative energy on crafting. I won’t stop crafting, but I’ll cut back to one post a week (on Sunday – Sundays aren’t part of Lent, you know). I’m still on Instagram, Facebook, and Ravelry, but we plan to cut back severely on phone usage during Lent as well, so it will be less.

I’ve even become literally inward: I haven’t gotten outside much at all this winter, even though it’s been a much milder winter than last year. I’ve become a little removed from the reality of my geography. So I want to commit to spending at least 15 minutes outside every day during Lent.

You live in the Arctic, Rebecca. Get a grip.


After all this conviction about being curved in on myself, this one is pretty silly, but the timing coincides, and it’s knitterly. I’ll be participating in willfulmina’s chill Lenten KAL on Instagram. The timing was good: since I’ve recently finished several projects, it’s a good time to start a bigger project. I’ve been wanting to knit “Galadriel’s Mirror” by Susan Pandorf for a very long time, and I have some Araucania Huasco I’ve planned for years now to use on it. This is hardly a discipline, and I don’t know that I’ll finish it by Easter, but you may want to participate too, so I thought I’d mention it. Besides, Lent isn’t just a time for giving up bad things, but also for doing positive things, like being outside.

Huasco is a sprongy 3-ply superfine merino, perfect for all those twisted stitches. VERY penitential, I know.


There are other things our family will do to set aside some distractions and renew our commitment to each other. But the above are just practices for me. Jared reminded me yesterday that the point of giving anything up for Lent is to better love God and your neighbor. I hope these will help me make more room to do that.

That said, I’ll miss these daily shares! Thank you so much for reading. That is a very pale expression of the deep appreciation I feel for the time you spend here in my online living room, reading and commenting. 
How about you? How is God calling you out of yourself and deeper into life this Lent?

Punis and Pancakes

It’s Shrove Tuesday today. We’re making pancakes for dinner, and thinking about what we should give up for Lent.

There’s a sense of completion, in finishing a few things right before starting a new season. Punis are done, and I took a few glamour shots of them the other day.

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The color of pancake batter and pancakes, maybe? With syrup on top. These aren’t syrupy, though, but fine and fluffy.

It’s interesting that even after finishing – a long warm soak with Eucalan and several snaps – the yarn looks quite wobbly. Maybe it’ll just take a while to relax completely. You can see that the white, at least, is not very energized:

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The brown, however, remains quite energized, despite being spun and finished the same as the white. When I asked for insights on Instagram, Rachel of Wool N’ Spinning guessed that the brown is some kind of slightly thicker wool, that just couldn’t handle the twist as well. That seems logical to me. I was just very tied to the label, which said “Superfine merino, yak, cashmere, bamboo, silk, Angelina.” The yak or cashmere could handle the twist, and I could tell there wasn’t much bamboo, silk, or Angelina. The brown was either slightly-less-superfine, or the label was mistaken. After all, these are mystery punis, and I think they were made from leftovers! My intended use for these skeins will make use of the extra energy and firmness in the brown, not to worry.

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The Nerd Numbers:

  • Both spun at 15:1
  • Short forward draft, about 1″ draft
  • Therefore about 15 TPI in the singles. 
  • Navajo plied at 11.5:1, 13 treadles per 18″ (measured), so should have been about 8 TPI plied. 
  • White: after finishing, ~20 WPI, 8-9 TPI. 63 yards in .4 oz, so 2520 YPP. 
  • Brown: after finishing, 17 WPI, 9-10 TPI. 40 yards in .4 oz, so 1600 YPP. 
  • Total yardage inc. sample: 115 yards in 1 oz, so 1840 YPP. 

I know my measurements can only be so specific with my scale, but we do what we can. 

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It’s hard to believe, but I only have two projects on the go at all right now. A sealskin sewing project, and one knitting project. Nothing on the wheel. 

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I think I’ll just bask in that feeling for a little bit. 

Bag in the Bag

Next time I get some exciting idea for a knitting project that requires a bunch of finishing involving extra fabric and sewing machine etc., just say two words: “laptop bag”. That should get me to back away slowly. 

The knitted bag pictured above is adapted from an Interweave Knits pattern called Grace’s Bag; knitting described here. Today was entirely structured around giving me four continuous kid-free hours to assemble the liner necessary to turn this floppy bit of knitting into a functional laptop bag. 

I wanted to do this thing right, so I consulted nobody, came up with a half-baked idea, and started cutting without measuring properly. You know, my usual. 
At least this time my half-baked idea was pretty simple: two rectangles sewn together with a zipper on top. It was made annoying by the composition of said rectangles. I wanted a laptop with some substance, not floppy, but feeling like it offered some protection. So I bought some nice fleece-lined polyester for the inner lining, and bulked it up with two layers of quilt batting, and for an outer layer I cut up an old grocery bag. It kinda makes sense right? 

This was seriously unwieldy to measure, pin, and cut. The new sewing pins I had bought could not handle it at all, and my sewing machine had fits. In the end, it only worked out because of a lot of basting, and because I had purchased some leather needles for my sewing machine in anticipation of a different project idea long ago abandoned. 

I thought my knitted bag was a little wide, so much so that I had this crazy plan for making an extra side pocket. But once I put in all these insane layers of padding, it fit just right in width and was in fact quite short. Thankfully knitted fabric is stretchy, and I attached it over the zipper with some secure whipstitch. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sewing from hanging around with Inuit it’s this: when in doubt, whipstitch. 

All’s well that ends well, I guess. Even though I don’t enjoy machine sewing, I am glad I have the basic knowledge – I won’t say competency – to execute these basic things. I could like machine sewing, if it fit into my life better, if I were more thoughtful about my tools and project selection, and if I sought out a supportive sewing community. 

For now I am content to machine sew only in emergency situations, and stick to the sewing I enjoy – by hand, with skins. (I do have a sealskin project on the go that I haven’t shown you yet; I keep forgetting to write about it because my progress is so slow. I’ll get to it soon.)

In the meantime I will enjoy my awesome new laptop bag. Just don’t let me get any ideas about making another one. 

Second Guessing the Third Ply

It turns out, being well enough to sit upright at a wheel does not by itself provide time to spin. Somehow, between yesterday and today I snuck away for long enough to finish spinning the punis and ply them. 

These proved an interesting puzzle to spin, because I don’t know exactly what’s in them. The tag says “superfine merino, cashmere, yak, silk, bamboo, Angelina”, but with no clue about proportions. I’m just assuming that the list works like Nutrition Facts on the side of a box of cereal, and the first ingredient is dominant by weight. So I spun them as if the dominant fiber was superfine merino- that’s probably the cheapest ingredient on the list, too, so it seems likely enough. 

Now, I say that as if I know how to spin superfine merino. Halfway through this spin I acquired Beth Smiths book The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, and realized I do not at all know how to spin superfine merino. But I wasn’t far off: I spun the singles at 15 tpi or so. 

But how to ply? I’ve read far enough in Beth’s book to get a little bit of the math for calculating ply, so I ran with that: 8 tpi for the ply, or a little more than half the singles twist. Of course, I realized halfway throughplying that that calculation probably only applies to 2-ply. I haven’t read far enough to know if that’s right for 3-ply or not. 

I got into my own groove with Navajo plying; by the end it was downright enjoyable. I have my own variation on Sarah Andersons YouTube video. It’s very handy to be spinning in a large office chair with armrests to help me position my arms without too much strain. I have this handy 18″ ruler that N found at the thrift store that lays nicely across my lap to measure my lengths precisely. 

Having spun and plied these two colors, I think I was probably right about there being mostly superfine merino in the white punis. However, the brown is quite different. I spun them exactly the same, or at least as much the same as I’m capable of. The white is sprongy, fine, and happy. The brown is slightly thicker, over-energized, and ropey. You can see the difference in the picture below, straight off the niddy noddy. Looking at that list of ingredients, I’m not sure what else the brown could be? This is one mystery that will probably go unsolved. 


Glamour shots and conclusions after they’re dry. For now I’m just happy they’re done!

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A day off wool blogging because this little looney toon turns 4 today. 


That’s right, 4! My wiggly snuggler is a kid. It’s not so much that the time has flown as that I’m shocked the time passed at all! But here she is, and I enjoy her more every day, and the person she’s becoming. My crafty lady. 


Happy birthday, Naomi. 

Owning It: Goals for Spinning 2017

As I’ve been stumblingly re-learning old skills and learning new ones, guzzling down new information and finally practicing ideas I’d only understood abstractly, I realized something.

I didn’t think of myself as a spinner.

I felt like a poser – I had the stuff, but not the love. It’s been so long since I’ve made time for spinning that I’d taken it for granted that I couldn’t make time for spinning. The truth is, it’s been a long time since I loved it, since I really connected with it, though I’m sure I must have at some point. I’ve seriously considered selling my wheels and stash, just because unused useful things are oppressive to me.

But now, as I’ve started making yarn again, I’ve suddenly had so much joy in it – in the learning process, in all the variation in a series of tiny projects, in the experimentation and trial and error. Along the way, I’ve come to accept that I am a spinner. I have been a spinner. Actually, I’ve made some pretty lovely yarns over the years. I was critical of them because they weren’t always what I expected, and they didn’t always do what I wanted them to. But they were dang fine yarns. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it pretty well!

I go through pretty intense phases with things sometimes. I make spreadsheets. I make plans. They’re often about escapism: am I really going to celebrate all the holy days in the church with the kids? no. Do I really want to write a cooking blog? no. Am I ever going to live on a farm? no. Am I really going to read the entire works of C.S. Lewis? Being a third of the way through his first volume of letters, I can say no. Usually, I burn myself out after a few weeks, figure out what I’m avoiding and deal with it, and if I’m lucky I haven’t bought anything.

But this…. this is different. Yes, it’s definitely subconscious – I have a big work thing that is awesome but intense and it takes something intense to keep me from being stuck on it, and this is serving that purpose. But I don’t want to burn out on this.

There’s no pretense here: I am a spinner. I own three wheels. I have enough stash to keep me spinning for three years. I don’t have to buy anything. This is an avocation that is allowed.

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace the melding of intention and creativity, and set some goals for this year. Not rules, not grand plans – just guidelines for how I want to spin this next year.

GUIDELINES FOR 2017

  • DO spin during any free alone time – don’t feel like you’re not allowed to spin just because you have other crafts on the go. 
  • DO knit with handspun
  • DO make sweaters or other big projects with handspun as an accent
  • DO bring up a ton of fiber stash from Mom’s house this summer (Enough for Spin-the-Bin next year)
  • DO participate in Tour de Fleece
  • DO spin lots of small quantities
  • DO practice lots of different techniques
  • DO sample every time and make sample cards
  • DO spin ONE sweater quantity (after August, if you’ve spun at least 6 projects)
  • DO spin only one project at a time.
  • DO instagram and ravel it up – these communities are very inspiring and motivating if I don’t overdo it
  • DON’T buy more fiber until 2018
  • DON’T spend time shopping when you would rather be spinning
  • DON’T plan to join any more big spin-along events (but go for smaller ones if they come up and don’t require buying anything!!!)
  • DON’T plan too far ahead
  • DON’T spin any lace or large quantities of fingering
  • DON’T choose any long projects (aside from maybe 1 sweater if you’re ready)
  • DON’T do any fleece prep this year

I think if this is going to be sustainable, I am going to have to seriously resist getting bogged down in any long projects or grand plans. I love making plans, but unlike with knitting, if I lose the love on a spinning project, I’m stalled. It’s much harder for me to power through a spinning project gone wrong than a knitting one.  Still, I do have a ball winder. If I need a break and to start something else, it’s possible, and I should give myself permission to do that if I really need to. But for this first year back, I want to avoid that kind of situation. It’s happened to me so many times!

Received some wonderful wool-related mail in the last 24 hours!


That is all a very long way of saying, I am owning this. I can absolutely make time to spin, if that’s what I want. Maybe because I’ve finally gotten my knitting WIPs reliably under control, I feel like I can have spinning WIPs that actually go somewhere. I just get to choose whether to spend my free time spinning or knitting. (Or sewing or writing.) Realizing this – and realizing the whole world of learning about spinning  that is open to me if I apply myself – gives me a lot of joy and excitement about spinning as a creative outlet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve only spun 13 oz.

One sample at a time, one lesson at a time.

And seriously. NO more stashing!

Unless I see that qiviut at Malikaat again. That’s different.

Blendlings: Conclusions and Reflections

By now I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about my precious Blendlings! If you’ve stuck through all this reading, all these nerdy ramblings and color speculations, thank you. It means a lot for me to write about this learning journey in this little corner of my life. The work/spiritual side of my life is very intense right now, so it’s been therapeutic to balance that with some intense delving into something purely material – but no less beautiful for being so, as God created all this stuff too, and made us his little sub-creators, even as we learn to hold things lightly in the light of eternity. 

Total yardage: 562.8
Total weight: 13.2 oz
Average grist: 681 YPP

When I tagged them and lined them up, the majority of the skeins were in the 8.5 WPI – 10 WPI range, with a couple outliers each at 8 and 11, and one each at 6 and 13. The average, at least, landed at the target 9!

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What I’ve learned about spinning could probably be summed up like this: I’ve learned how much I don’t know about spinning! Especially in the realms of sheep breeds, drafting, and plying. I look forward to the many spins ahead of me as I slowly add to my knowledge. If I can do like my husband did with knitting, and try to learn one new thing with every spin, I’ll have years of learning ahead of me before I’m even a competent beginner! So exciting!

This time, I think my biggest “aha” moments were about:

  • BFL, and how it acts with its 2 crimps per inch. (At least, I think I was working with a mostly-BFL blend.) Those ropey early yarns I made? It’s not that you can’t make singles that twisted, it’s that BFL can’t handle it! It only has like two crimps per inch, so it does much better when more softly spun. I’ve ordered Beth Smith’s Spinners Book of Fleece and am awaiting it patiently to consult when designing future yarns.
  • Balance is… well… optional! And a lot of things come out in the wash. I had no idea I could be so flexible about how much ply twist goes into my yarns. (I basically didn’t understand how singles yarns were possible. I figured they were just voodoo beyond my ken.)
  • I have a long way to in being to emulate my samples in my spinning. Being sufficiently awake helps (another lesson: don’t spin very late at night!), as does preparing my fiber well, but I hope I can improve on this quickly. I mean, I have a long way to go in consistency, too.
  • I have to do something to mitigate the age of my stash and how compacted it is. I think giving my beloved stash a little extra TLC in preparation will make me a lot happier in spinning them.

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About color: I had a ton of fun experimenting with these twelve different colors. I was amazed how much I loved blending different shades and analogous hues, and what a difference they made to a blend that I would have just called “solid” otherwise. I can see now how much fun it would be to dye, blend, and combo draft your own unique colorway, even if it was all the same for a whole sweater.

For color mixing, my biggest takeaway is how important value is. (By “value” I mean how light or dark a color would be if you put it in greyscale, not its monetary worth or its moral worldview!) Deb Menz said something along the lines of how, from a distance, a difference in value stands out more than a difference in hue. In other words, the dots have to be smaller for optical blending to occur with big value differences. Some blends I put together went really sideways because their values were so different. All the places where you see distinct dots below would have looked quite different if carded up, while other blends look like a solid color in the picture because their dots are small enough to blend their internal differences.

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I think my nineteen blendlings do play well together, though it will be a challenge figuring out how to turn the variety of weights and quantities into a design feature. I do have a plan for how to use all (or at least most) of them together, but it’s going to take some serious swatching first. Hopefully their contrast color arrives in the mail soon.

Remember how I said I didn’t think these blendlings posts would continue being daily? Well, not only have I posted every day so far in 2017, but I actually finished these blendlings on Feb. 4th. That’s 13.2 oz in 19 days. I think I’m bit pretty hard, youse guys.