Statement Hat

This year, I made a hat. Not just any hat, but a hand-sewn hat made from sealskin and coyote skin. It was made with a ton of help at every step from the Monday night Anglican women’s group, which I attended faithfully this year. One friend basically adopted me, gave me patterns, let me use her tools, gave me supplies when I’d picked the wrong ones. I made slow progress, since my spinning obsession meant I only worked on it Monday nights, but I did make progress. All the ladies followed my progress with encouragement, and not a little amusement. By the time we were out skidooing regularly in April, it was nearly done. It just needed a liner. 

I wore it once. And then it disappeared. 

We’re not sure it happened. The day I lost it, I’m pretty sure it made it inside the house, but I can’t be certain. We weren’t always the best about locking the door (we’re better now) and things like this do go missing. I put out a plea on Facebook, asked everyone who was at places I had been, checked around, but it’s just gone. 

I could not accept this. This was not just a hat. This was my year. This was the time I spent with people who have become very important to me. This is cultural learning that came through actual relationships.

I knew that even though the hat was gone, the relationships and learning were all still there, but still, I couldn’t just accept this. I had two weeks before vacation. I had enough supplies. I decided to make another one. 

I have documented it here in a rudimentary way for your interest. This is not a tutorial because it is not my cultural knowledge to share. But I thought you might like a hint of the process, primarily in pictures. 

Step 1: cut pieces. (Tracing them incorrectly and then retracing them with help in a different color is an optional sub-step.)


Step 2: sew up the slices of hat top. 


Step. 3: sew halves together


Step 4: attach outer ear flaps


Step 5: attach “outer” front flap


Step 6: attach earlap lining


Step 7: attach snaps for front flap  (allowing a four year old to attempt to hammer the snaps in while you hold the thingie on your hand with your fingers that you value very much… is again an optional addition of flavour)

Step 8: attach front flap lining (doing this at 2 am is not recommended)

Step 9: make lining (same as step 1-3 but on some kind of fleece lining – at lest I still had the liner from the first hat and didn’t have to make it again)

Step 10: attach lining, praying that your guess on how to turn it inside out and attach it was right, because it’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re leaving town for 7 weeks the next day

Right up until yesterday; I didn’t know if I was going to finish this hat before I left. I had accepted that I might not. Staying up so late last night to finish was certainly not the best advised step I’ve ever taken. 

But I’m so glad I did. This year has been hard in a lot of ways, and I’ve been ready for a break for longer than I care to admit. The last few months have included some real struggle. Making this second hat was an act of defiance against all that. It’s me shouting at the universe, at myself: this year has been hard, but it’s also been amazing. It’s been beautiful, and it’s won things for me personally that could not have come any other way. I’m sure God has done things in my ministry over past year that I don’t even get to know about, but which are exactly why I do what I do. It’s me saying, there are parts of this year that have been precious and irreplaceable, and I’m putting them first. It’s me saying, I need a rest, but I AM COMING BACK. 

It was something I needed to say. And I guess I needed to say it with a hat. 

Delicious Indecision

I am in between spins at the moment- I just finished something you’ll hear about soon, but right now  my bobbins are clear. It was an opportune moment to pull out a big braid I’ve had for a while and do some sampling. 

This is 8 oz. (actually 7.3) of 50/50 Merino/Yak, from Blue Moon Fiber Arts, in the colorway Supercolorfragilistic. 

I bought it from the late great Natural Stitches in the East Liberty neighbourhood of downtown Pittsburgh. It was the last fiber stash acquisition before my spinning hiatus, which ended this past January. As such, it’s always been on the top of the pile, but I’ve been too intimidated to spin it. I always felt it deserved to be something fine, and I knew I didn’t have that spin in me. 

I’m still not quite there, but I’m getting closer. Close enough that I spent part of the weekend sampling. 

I was encouraged by another member of the Wool n’ Spinning ravelry group, mjm, who had recently completed a light fingering weight 2-ply from her yak/merino. That’s what I wanted too. Above you see my three preps for sampling: from right to left, stripped 6x, laid on a handcard and rolled into a rolag (not actually carded; this is what mjm did), and staple lengths for over the fold. 

My experience with this fiber was rather different from what I’ve heard from others because of how compacted the fiber was from sitting in my stash for over two and a half years. I’ve heard others say they found it too slippery for standard short forward, but this spin into a fine single with short forward as if that was what it was made for. The compacting helped with that. 

By contrast, spinning woollen style off a rolag was pretty difficult. It wanted to be thicker than I was willing to go, the uneven density made it temperamental, and there was no way to deal with all the neps and things. The final yarn is almost too light. Yak already has a lot of fuzz; spinning this way almost made it too light. One wants a shawl to have SOME drape. 

A happy middle ground was spinning over the fold. It was challenging enough to demand my attention, but I got a consistent enough yarn to make me happy. Still, I don’t know if it can compete with how effortless it was to spin short forward off the stripped fiber. 

As you see, all three tiny skeins barely tipped our postal scale. But through slightly illicit means, I got a much more accurate measurement. 

I was able to determine that either over the fold or stripped and spun worsted would give me the wpi and yardage I want. The decision will come down to what sort of spinning experience I want, the behaviour of each skein in a swatch, and how I want to work the color. 

That’s the other big question about this spin: what should I do with this wild rumpus of colors?

I’m new to color management in spinning, especially with these painted tops. I find when I’m new at something, the choices can be overwhelming. I don’t know what I want well enough to rule anything out. 

I’ll tell you now that  I’m spinning for Emyn Muil by Susan Pandorf. Hence the 2 ply fingering. 
The choices are many. Gradients are always interesting, but what kind? End-to-end as above, or out-and-back for a mirrored effect? Lined up as much as possible, or intentionally misaligned a little for some extra blending in the transitions? In rainbowish order as dyed, or differently- I’m toying with the idea of grading by value instead of shade (look across the middle of the picture below and squint). 

Honestly, I’m not sure I like the reality of gradients as much as the idea of them, either in the making or the wearing. Being inspired by the grey and brown rocks of Emyn Muil, I’m quite tempted to just pull it apart and scramble it randomly to mix as much as possible. Would that make a yarn so busy that the patterning would be pointless? Or would that be mitigated by all the brown that brings the values fairly close together?

Puzzle, puzzle, puzzle! It’s funny, because in all other areas of my life, I like to make decisions as quickly as possible. Unless I’m ignoring it entirely. If I have to face a question, I want it solved. But with these spinning conundrums, I just love sitting with the questions. I like collecting them and tasting each possibility, and I very much like hearing what everyone else thinks. (Hint hint! Comment with your opinions!) Maybe that’s because making a yarn in my mind is much easier than making it in long hours with my hands! I get to sort of date around with lots of different yarns before settling down to a committed spin, which can easily lose its romance. But I feel no guilt for savouring this initial excitement, enjoying all the unknowns. I’ll try to remember this feeling next time I find myself stuck in some transitional phase of life. 

Realistically, I don’t have to decide anytime soon; we will be traveling for seven weeks starting on May 15. I am hesitant to start a big spin right before we leave, and I have some other projects I want to finish in the meantime. As much as it pains me, it looks like I won’t be spinning for the next few weeks. But I will enjoy my sewing and knitting, and spin every variation of yak and merino in my head!

Totoro and Tinies

This has been the year of Totoro in our house. 

I knew I liked Miyazaki and that Ny Neighbor Totoro was kid friendly, having watched it in the dim past. But nothing prepared me for the experience of watching it with two little girls of my own. We received a copy as a Christmas gift, and I cried the first five times we watched it. 

It’s hard to put all my thoughts about this film in a paragraph. There are so many moments that capture, with insightful care, exactly what a moment of real life is like, if you give it your full attention. It shows you the magic of the ordinary, until you fall in love with it, then it shows you ordinary magic. 

This is my girls’ favourite movie. It’s actually the main reason we gave up TV for lent, because we were watching it every day. 

Ever since I bought my mystery punis years ago, I had imagined them as little fingerless mitts, somehow working a contrast color into dots on the back. Since we have been so besotted with Totoro, the dots became Totoro spots. 

They are super soft. I didn’t know anything could feel so buttery on my dry hands. And hopefully, thanks to the tight three-ply, they’ll be durable too. 

I showed them to N, who took them, tried them on, and announced, “you can make some for me in the opposite colors.”

I had less leftovers than I thought, so they ended up more as palm warmers than anything. But she won’t even take them off long enough to let me put the dots on right, so I guess she’s happy!

These little associations and integrations of the stories we love with everyday life always make me happy, but especially this story, which is such a celebration of everyday life and childhood. 

What are the stories your whole family has enjoyed lately?

Stashdown 2017

I have a problem with my stash. I don’t like having one. I don’t judge anyone who has one, I just dislike having one myself. 

It’s so much fun to buy things, and the world of making is full of opportunities to buy things. It’s so easy to confuse the joy of making with the thrill of acquisition, for inspiration to become lust. My stash, as much as I do like the things in it, is a reminder of that confusion. I have no problem buying things; but now, I just want my buying to be directly and intentionally related to my making. Right now, my making is instead shaped around the aftermath of a long-forgotten spending spree. That can be fun too, and limits are really just opportunities for creativity. But I’m getting to the point where I want to do more than that. 

I’ve gotten pretty good about buying yarn. Somehow years of working in yarn shops convinced me that there is nothing new under the sun, that there will always be good yarn ready to buy when I’m ready to knit it, and there’s not much reason to buy yarn unless I’m about to use it. For the last 4 years at least, I have bought yarn only when I’m going to use it in the next 6 months. I still have a good bit of languishing yarn, though, even after all that time.

Fiber, though… fiber is a big issue. Every day on Instagram I see dozens of indie creations, and once they’re gone, they might not come back. There are more fiber clubs than I can count. To say nothing of all the possibilities in prepping one’s own fiber. It’s no wonder that many spinners have a stash that makes mine look like a sneeze.

I have about eight pounds of prepared fiber, and half a dirty cormo x fleece. It doesn’t sound so scary when I put it that way. But all of it is between three and eight years old. And that fiber that weighs about as much as my newborn babies takes up two large boxes in my mom’s basement. Even at my currrent rate of spinning, it would take a good two or three years to spin all that up. And it would be very easy to buy that much again every year.

I know I can’t make myself buy nothing. That’s a wagon I know I can’t stay on. So instead, I made myself a two-for-one deal. It worked with my WIP-down, and even though it took a year and a half to get down to one project, by the end of that time, my habits were different.

So here’s my program of fiber stash control: I’m allowed to buy fiber when I have spun twice the amount I want to buy. That sounds confusing. What I mean is, if I want to buy some 4-oz braid of fiber, I have to spin 8 oz before I can order it. I’ll show you the chart I made in my journal to keep track.

It’s pretty basic. The column on the left is purchases; on the right is what I’ve spun. The dashes along the middle line are my unit of measure. In the right column, one ounce is worth one dash. In the left, one ounce is worth two dashes. So when I spin, it goes into the right column, making room for more on the left. (True confessions: already sometimes it’s the right column trying to catch up with the left.)

The age of what I spin doesn’t matter; even if I spin what I’ve just bought, it still goes into the right column to earn more. In fact, I prefer that; I’d like to get in the habit of spinning what I buy fairly quickly. And since this system means I have to consider every purchase I make very carefully, I tend to want to spin those purchases right away; I’ve been looking forward to them, and they take so long to get here!

I’ve come up with a similar program for yarn. Like I said, I’m pretty good about buying commercial yarn with immediate intention, but I’m still buying, and there’s plenty of stash not getting used. Plus I am now generating all this handspun I want to use as well. Here’s the chart for that.

There’s one rule for this chart. For every project I start that has any new yarn in it, meaning yarn I’ve purchased in the last year, I have to finish two projects out of older yarn.

“Older yarn” can be anything: yarn I’ve had for a while, gifts (even recent), any handspun (for now, even newly spun yarn from newly bought fiber). Basically any yarn that was acquired without a particular intention, that will not get used unless I make a use for it.

There are no rules for how big a project has to be; I can totally cheat and crank out a couple of baby hats from old yarn to start a sweater with new yarn. The catch is, to go in the right column, the project has to be ALL old yarn. If I have to buy more yarn in order to use the old yarn how I want to (like with many of my ideas for using my handspun) it has to wait for a spot in the left column.

A hitch, you may notice, is that there’s no limit to how many projects I can start with old yarn, nor do have to ever finish any projects with new yarn. If I’m not careful, I could end up with my WIPs out of control again. I’m relying on my own sense of being easily overwhelmed to keep this under control, and the hope that my WIP-down formed habits that will stick. I’m pretty reliably down to two projects now, an easy travel one and a complex stationary one, with the occasional quickie on the side, though I do have another big one hibernating right now. I’m committed to finishing that this summer. 

A look at my ravelry account tells me that, if I stick to this plan, I’ll have to spin about 15 lbs to get down to less than 1. Yarn is harder to estimate, but assuming one project per type of yarn, and that I’ll be adding to nominal “old yarn” with more spinning… I’m looking at a good 75 projects before I’m done with old yarn.

Wow. For both yarn and fiber, that’s at least a four-year program! I don’t know if that’s realistic. It’s also a strong argument against stashing, because even if I love something now, am I still going to be interested in it four years later?! And much of my stash is already much older than that. 

I’d like to stick with it for a year and see if I seem to be making any progress. In an effort to find a wagon I can stay on, I may have picked one that’s never going to reach its destination.

My goal is to not be creatively limited by my stash. But really, it’s not my stash that’s limiting me; it’s how legalistic I feel about my stash. It does not really matter, in the light of eternity, how much yarn or fiber I own. If it were taking over my house or making me broke that would be one thing, but that’s not the case. What I’m trying to say is, I could also free myself creatively from my stash by… freeing myself mentally from my stash. Letting it go. Not worrying about it.

 In describing the program above, I can sense the old perfectionism rearing its head again. This is only going to work if I remember that this is a guideline to help me do what I want to do, not a law I have to feel guilty about breaking.

My fantasy is to own only the yarn and fiber I’ll need for the next year, and that it will all fit in this chest!

I do want to make this effort and see how it goes. Of course, the real question is, how am I going to control myself on vacation, when my list of fiber-related visits keeps growing??

How about you? What sort of animal is your stash? How much does it bother you, or do you not worry about it?

Creation Creating

Sometimes a project just takes hold of you. It consumes your imagination and doesn’t let go of you until you’ve discovered what it is, what it wants to be. It takes up brain space and heart space, and you have to remind yourself to do things like cook food and go to work.

That happened with this sweater. From the very first predrafting of fiber, through sampling, spinning, and knitting, to final bind-off, was 15 days. With a pretty major head cold and Work Stuff in there.

Several times I had to remind myself: Rebecca, it’s just a piece of clothing. It’s not going to survive the apocalypse unto eternity. But this only seemed to free me more. Ultimately, what do I have to lose? Might as well experiment, dream big, and go crazy!

Inspiration image sent to me by Nicole. Not sure which nebula this is?

Detail on the irregularities I added. I didn’t want a straight stripe of purple to blue to green; I wanted a little bit of green gas cloud interfering between. Where the greens came together on two rounds, I purled for a bit of extra cloudy texture.

At some point, I realized there was a good chance I could have this finished for Easter. Which was perfect, because Easter might be the only occasion that I could actually wear this in public, my life being what it is. It’s still a bit of a stretch for my modest, clerical taste. But I decided: forget that. This is the highest holiday of the year. I am going to put on my best for Jesus, and at the same time, submit my avocation to my vocation. Another expression of my continuing desire to use what I love to glorify whom I serve.

Here’s my extremely profound and completely obvious devotional thought from this project: if I can feel this much affection and investment in my creation, which is ultimately just a thing – how much more does my creator feel affection for and investment in me? I felt something analogous when I had children, but not all of us have children. Not all of us get to learn about God’s love that way. But we can all make things. We’re created in God’s image, and that stamp of his likeness included the ability to create in our turn. The temptation is to worship the work of our hands, but if we can get over that, the love of the work of our hands hints to us of the love of the one worthy of worship.

My plan is to generate this into a pattern suitable for handspun, and it’s almost finished. Well, the pattern writing is finished, but next comes grading for size, and charting out suggestions for adaptation, because this will be easy to adapt to any gauge, and to combine any amount of handspun with a commercial border, with a little extra instruction. It’ll be a free pattern since it’s my first pattern for handspun, and since it won’t be possible to thoroughly test it (though if you’re interested in testing, give me a shout.)

It’s been a crazy Lent, and I’m glad it’s over. This break from blogging has been a great chance to refine my vision of what I’m going for in my writing and nascent efforts at video-making. I don’t know where this journey will take us, but I’m always so grateful you’re along for the ride.

Happy Easter everyone!

Project page on Ravelry

Handspun page on Ravelry

Video about making this yarn

Nicmarie’s etsy page (note she is closed until mid-June)


I think it was Anne Kennedy who said, in a podcast or something, that “struggle is the Christian world for failure.” I don’t know if she meant that in a negative sense, like it’s the Christianese word, but I’ve found this thought comforting in these past few weeks. I think, “I’m failing at this,” then remember that thought and think, “no, I’m just struggling.” Conversely, it’s also nice to use the word “struggling” and imagine that my hearers don’t just hear some platitude about a bad day, but an honest confession of something balder: nope, I’m really failing at this. 

I’ve been struggling with my Lenten disciplines. 

One of the limits I put on myself was to blog only once a week during Lent. My hope was that this would encourage me to reach out and make more one-to-one contact. It has occasionally, but it’s still deeply instinctive for me to reach for my phone and scroll through Instagram rather than open my contacts. I tried limiting my phone too, but that’s been another total “struggle.”

Last night, I cheated. Just a bit. I’ve been having thoughts about making the occasional video blog, since I have been enjoying spinning videos a great deal lately. Last night I gave it a go. I told myself it was just my Sunday blog done a night early. 

It was surprisingly fun. Well, really it felt incredibly self-indulgent to ramble at a camera about yarn for half an hour. Then it felt even more self-indulgent to watch myself, despite all my ums, my bad hair and the atrocious lighting. It was a very literal form of self-love, and imagining that I could throw these images of myself on YouTube and others would also look and know and love me? Well, it’s the intrinsic delight of “sharing”, but amplified exponentially. 

(If you are reading this and you do a video blog, please don’t imagine I’m accusing you of this mindset. I do presume myself to be the worst of sinners. What’s problematic for me may not be for you. Or maybe it is. That’s between you and Jesus.)

Imagine my frustration, then, when I’ve accidentally spent most of an evening in this pursuit, and I’m about to export my video (including a musical intro and everything), when it doesn’t work. The software I’ve downloaded is – surprise! – a trial version of some kind, and if you try to export without paying a chunk of money, your video has a giant watermark in the middle of your face. A bit of a blockade between me and all my potential adoring watchers. 

You missed out on ten solid minutes of me rambling about this one skein of yarn. Aren’t you heartbroken?

I was frustrated with myself. I could have spent that time spinning! I didn’t want to write all that up into a blog post now; it wouldn’t be the same. I mean, video-making was fun, I learned a lot, and it was good practice for any potential future video projects. I’m sure I’ve wasted evenings doing dumber things. But in the moment, I was pretty bummed. My time is pretty precious these days. 

As I wrote about last week, these unexpected deprivations and “struggles” have been more “Lenten” than even the intentional sacrifices. This is making me stop and ask, why? Why do I want this? Where is this even coming from?

We sang “abide with me” in church this morning, which was a little awkward since it’s an evening hymn, but it touched me right where it counts. “When comforts fail,” said the second verse, “abide with me.” Then we sang “fairest lord Jesus,” in which we enumerate some of my favorite landscapes of home, the meadows and woodlands and the twinkling starry host, then sing “Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer.” And the conviction of having missed this basic truth was overwhelming. The most obvious solution to our bentness is somehow the easiest to forget, because our bentness is so persistent. 

My latest fiber prep last night. It’s gorgeous, but how could I forget Jesus is fairer than this? It’s not a flattering measure of my spiritual intelligence.

The lie is that the temptation will bring life and peace, excitement and freedom; that self indulgence is the same as self care, that following my flesh is the escape from dull duty. The truth is that surrender to flesh is a dead wasteland, where bones go to dry out, where the Spirit is just an offensive, noisy wind. And the duty, if surrendered to, surprises me as a jungle teeming with life and growth and potential. This is what Jesus has been very patiently and repeatedly revealing to me these past weeks. I share it with you in the expectation that you will be quicker to pick up the lesson than I am. 

I definitely got more out of failing to vlog than I would have out of succeeding.

How about you? What are you “struggling” with?

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?