A Priest Crafts Episode 6: Longdraw and Limits

It’s been a few months, but I have some progress to share on my spinning (big progress!) and lots of rambling to do about it.

The fiber I am spinning in this show is a hand-carded blend of Shetland wool – Natural White top from Jamieson & Smith which I dyed with pokeberries umpteen years ago – blended with some black alpaca local to my mom. Total of 23-24 oz of fiber. The Ravelry page for this spin is here.

I mentioned a Wool N’ Spinning video in which different wheels were discussed, as well as the concept of “outgrowing” a wheel. That was a super-helpful discussion and it was in Rachel’s most recent episode, number 88. Watch here. Of course the first thing I did after watching that video was check out the specs on the Majacraft Susie Pro, which is pretty much the opposite of what she was saying! I hope I do not come across as complaining. I think what you see in this video is me struggling with the process of accepting my tools. I will have to decide whether to continue making the most of what I have and being content, or to invest in something different.

There are a LOT of videos on youtube about long draw. The most helpful videos I found (actually, which I was directed to by a fellow Wool n’ Spinning member), which led to a real “aha” moment for me, were two videos of Stephanie Gaustad: first and second. The audio is quiet, but it’s worth turning it up to hear what she’s saying as well. I can see now that she’s definitely doing more double drafting – drafting out and then drafting it thinner while the twist is going into it. I’m only starting to do that more as I get a feel for it, now toward the end of this spin!

I realize this video doesn’t have much of a reflection piece in it. I thought about adding one, but it was already getting pretty long, and the things I have to reflect about – being at home full time, how my crafting life is changing with that – those thoughts are still in process and not ready to be shared. This is more part of a larger conversation that seems to be going on in the fiber/yarn community (and in my corner of it) about stashing, tools, and materialism, and how we handle it.

Thanks very much for watching, and I’m looking forward to showing you a big pile of finished yarn very soon!

You Don’t Need to Know

I am a planner. I enjoy anticipating the future. I’m an Enneagram 7, and my Enneathought often reminds me that I get so focused on the future that I cause myself and others pain with my lack of presence in the present.

I have been aware of this about myself for a long time. I remember when I was first discovering Star Wars, in my early teens, I heard Yoda say of Luke, “All his life has he looked away, towards the future, towards the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” I knew, profoundly, that those words described me. And I never knew what I could do about it.

Advent is all about the anticipation. Both in the Christian and secular worlds, we are looking forward with joy. As you might imagine, I usually enjoy this mightily! Or, at least, I enjoy anticipating it, sometime in November- my actual practice peters out. How’s that for case-in-point irony? Still, I enjoy the spirit of the season. I love the making and planning that goes into getting ready for Christmas.

But this year, I discovered, there are two kinds of anticipation. The kind I like is anticipating a future you know, or think you know. When you can hold a picture of the future in your mind, you can plan for it, strategize for it, and generally use your own agency to mold that picture of the future to your desire.

But what about when the future is a blank? What about when you don’t know what is coming? Or when you don’t know what it will be like? Or when you know it will be different, and have very little control over how? Anticipating a future that is unknown can be exciting, but it can also be terrifying. I can only imagine what it’s like when your future is unknown because of unreliable family members, or an ominous medical diagnosis or event. When your present involves a lot of hard work and discomfort, and the future promises even more and unknown hard work and discomfort, this may carry a certain dread.

That is where I found myself at the beginning of Advent. A lot of changes are in my future, and the specifics about most of them are unknown. This is true long term, but also short term, in the planning of Christmas services, the drama of dealing with unknowns was a recurring cycle. Even in daily life with kids, both at an age of transition and boundary-pushing, my planning and routine can only go so far in leading to mutual enjoyment.

It all came to a head for me when I as helping plan an ecumenical Christmas service early in Advent. Communicating and collaborating across cultures, churches, and languages is always a bit of work, but a few extra challenges were thrown in at the last minute. My repeated attempts to plan were thwarted and sometimes did more harm than good. After a couple of years my expectations have come a long way in adjusting to my context, but I was left frankly not knowing if I’d even be able to do my bit.

Then, it was fine. It was all fine. Yeah, some bits got lost in the shuffle, but people are used to these things up here and were gracious. I found out three hours before the service how my bit was going to go, but everyone that I solely was responsible for communicating with uses texting. It was enjoyable. It was a bit haphazard, but the overall effect was feeling relaxed. It was fine.

The lesson I carried away from that night was, you don’t need to know. There are lots of things I feel I need to know in order to carry out my various responsibilities well. I assume that control is an important part of leadership. But, well, it’s not.

The really surprising thing was, by the time Christmas Eve services rolled around, I had actually internalized this lesson. There were some major wrenches thrown into our planning process that we thought would make it all even harder than usual. But they didn’t. More work with less stress, Jared and I discovered, is easier. As the weekend approached, we were nose to the grindstone, but we were sleeping. We were okay.

It all came to a head again at the family service, which was my main bag this year, and involved coordinating and directing a Nativity Play, which is way outside my experience. I had a solid team with me and had observed the process before, but I was still nervous. And you know Nativity Plays… they’re fun, but do not go well with a type-A personality. I was determined to go in well-armed with support, preparation, and a good attitude, but there was just no way for me to picture how it would go.

And you know what’s coming next: it was fine. More than fine; it was fun. Everyone involved seemed to have a blast, or at least said so afterwards and seemed to mean it. I even enjoyed it. The usual quota of things went wrong, some adorably and some less so. But they were all just my people being themselves. And I loved that.

Maybe it was because I was the director who couldn’t give any direction. I was also leading the service, so I spent the play visibly on the stage. Aside from a couple of significant looks, I just had to let folks do their thing, and I knew that the best way I could help was to smile, have an encouraging look on my face, and appear as genuinely as possible to be enjoying myself. It turns out that this wasn’t that hard, because I love my people, and I delight in watching them be themselves. In fact, having no other control over them was a gift.

Responsibility without influence is impossible. It’s a recipe for burnout. But responsibility without control is normal. The actual line between those two, and where my psyche thinks it is, are not the same, but by the grace of God are getting closer.

Now the services are over, the gifts are opened, the pressure is off for a little bit. My imagination is free to explore the future with less weight on my explorations. I wonder again about what is coming, and I wonder if my wondering has changed.

I tried to plan this Advent. Heck, I tried to plan this year. But I couldn’t. The Holy Spirit was not forthcoming, except to say, “something will come up.” I couldn’t pick themes for study or planning, except in my own invention, and I knew that was pointless, so I didn’t bother. In so doing, the year’s theme found me: not knowing. By means of a whole lot of safe, gracious discomfort, I am encouraged to realize I have been made to learn something.

I don’t know the future, but I know God is in it. And it will be okay.

All is well.

From the ordination service in the Canadian Book of Common Prayer 196, before the laundry list of responsibilities of a priest (which I find applies to the analogously overwhelming demands of parenting, or general adulting):

However, being that ye cannot have a mind and will in yourself to do all these things; for that will and ability is given of God alone. Therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit.” (Slightly paraphrased, emphasis mine)

We Are All Still Here

Made pies with cranky cabin-fevered children this morning, and I asked myself, why? Why do I bust my butt every year to have American Thanksgiving in Canada? Why do I make all these dishes and clean the house in the middle of what inevitably becomes an outlandishly busy week?

I figured it out today. It's because Thanksgiving is a time when our family gets together, looks at each other, and says "we're all still here." We might still be weird and stressed and disagree with each other's politics and life choices, but we're here.

And of course, we are not. We're thousands of miles away.

So I bring my family north. I make my grandma's apple sausage stuffing. I make my mother-in-law's yam bake, with the mushrooms on top that made the sweet potato thing my moms favorite. And a ton of gravy, without which the whole feast is pointless for my dad.

I bring these things to the northern friends who have become our family. And I'll take them with me when we go. The green bean casserole with cashew cream for the dairy-freesters always present is now "my" green bean casserole recipe, since I've made it three years. My friends bread machine bun recipe is the ONLY bun recipe. And mashed potatoes have been traded for deep fried potatoes that appear at a holiday party wherever my bishop and his family do.

So that's why I am doing it. For my family far away that is so supportive, but once in a long while I miss till it hurts. And for my friends up here, who would laugh if I apologized for the state of my floors, and then do all the dishes. It's worth one hectic week.

A Priest Crafts Episode 5: Carding and Rambling

Good day, friends.

That last post exorcised whatever was holding me back from crafting at all, and I’ve tentatively picked up a few things. I’ve even found some time to make a new vlog post for you.

Believe it or not, after that post asking which project I should start next, I decided on the big carding effort. I got through six whole ounces of carding before I petered out, but now I’m motivated to pick it back up. In this video I talk about and demonstrate some of that carding project, and I talk about some of these big life changes during a complicated time of year.

I think I was really sleepy when I recorded this – sleepier than I realized. Some things going on with the kids have meant even less sleep than usual, so please forgive me if I look half-asleep. I know I ramble on even more than usual! But it was a lot of fun for me to share this with you, so I hope you enjoy it.

Hand Carding Resources:

If you’re new to hand carding, I hope my little demo piqued your interest. But please get more input than what I have to say.

Beth Smith’s book, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, got me started. There are great basic introductions in this book to several fleece processing techniques, and of course a ton of info about spinning boku varieties of wool.

This tutorial, “Wool Carding and Combing” from Interweave is a long, free PDF. It has a more detailed introduction to both topics and I recommend reading it carefully.

Specifically on the topic of blending using handcards, Knitty had a great article on the subject in their Spring 2007 by Lorraine Smith: “Carding Beautiful Blends”.  But if you just google “blending with handcards,” you’ll find several lovely articles and blog posts to inspire you.

Additionally, get on YouTube and search for some handcarding videos. I did not do this myself as I found the still images were enough for me, but Beth Smith herself in her book recommends looking up some videos. If you find some you think are particularly helpful, would you please share in the comments?

Other Notes:

Rachel Smith is Wool N’ Spinning. Here is her blog, her youtube channel, her patreon, and the ravelry group. I know I’ve shared her stuff a lot, but right now her show is most of what is keeping me motivated to spin and prep, so I’m going to keep giving her shout outs.

Here is the blog post about the new color study. I love that Lakeside colorway too.

(Also, how cool is this! Rachel just posted the “Spinner’s Spotlight” bio I wrote for her.)

Katrina is CraftyJAKs. Here is her website, and her etsy shop.

And also a big shout-out to my mom, Linda. She did an awesome job at the Maryland Alpaca Festival this weekend. I always have her button in my sidebar to the left, but in case you didn’t know, she’s Colorstorms. She’s recently mastered indigo dyeing. She dyes yarn with only natural ingredients, and her colors get more saturated, colorfast, and lightfast every year.

What do you call pink + black? Hopefully not “plaque.” Happy crafting!

Not the Next Post I Thought I’d Write

So I have good news and… odd news.

The good news is, we're expecting again. Yay! Babies! To answer all the questions you are too polite to ask: 15.5 weeks at present, due mid-April; for sure just one; everyone says it's going to be a boy, but we'll find out (if possible) next month.

The other news… not bad, but just strange… is that I haven't been knitting. Or spinning. Or sewing. For a solid month now.

This baby, bless him/her, has been a bit of a personality transplant. I haven't been very nauseous (though I was more so six weeks ago), but I've had a sort of low-level feeling of illness that I can ignore most of the time by keeping busy. I only notice it when I sit down to knit.

That's right: knitting makes me sick.

The even weirder part is, I haven't missed it. It isn't as if I wanted to do all these crafty things and couldn't; for a while there, I didn't even remember why I would want to do something like that. 

The bit of knitting that has been sitting on the side table, staring at me with the empty eyes of an accusing cow. I finally had to put it away in a drawer because I would feel sick just looking at it. I don't even want to show you this picture, because, blegh.

 

The handspun I made in August for M's vest. I started thinking it was the colors – orange plus blue? But I think cause and effect has worked the other way. Because this project has been making me nauseous for so long, I now cringe when I see anything orange and blue together.

 

I did get through a whole six ounces of carding before also dropping that like a hot potato.

It looks redder in person.

But by halfway through September, I didn't want to touch it anymore. Spinzilla was off the table. I couldn't even follow the action: by early October, even scrolling through Instagram looking at other people's yarn was making me queasy.

I was entertaining thoughts of some sealskin sewing, and somehow talked my husband into buying the skins I need for making kamiik. These are sealskin boots, the pinnacle of Inuit sewing skill, and I don't know what makes me think this is a good time to start some.

So I wasn't crafting, and I wasn't missing it. I wasn't feeling guilty about it. I was just… resting. My body, my brain, my subconscious, were all just saying, you don't have to. It felt less like a disability, and more like being miraculously delivered from an addiction. I'm suddenly physically allergic to the fictional crafting-related obligations I've been laying on myself for years and years.

It isn't as if I haven't been busy, or obsessed with random things. I've been playing a few video games. Oddly, I've been very much enjoying adventurous cooking again. And I've been circling the rabbit hole that is essential oils. But these are all very undemanding things. I could drop them tomorrow with very little consequence.

I mean, in a way it makes perfect sense. I am stepping into a season in my life with more responsibility than ever before: officially outnumbered by kids, first child in school, and some upcoming changes at work with a lot of unknowns. It makes sense that my brain would want to prepare by really letting go of all superfluous sense of obligation.

In January, when I took up spinning with a vengeance, I needed to learn about intention and focus in many areas, and spinning helped with that. Now, I have very little plans, very little concrete intention. I'm very much having to live in the present, one day at a time, because in the most important areas of my life, I don't have a choice but to do that right now.

Part of it is my own fault, for letting spinning and knitting become such A Big Thing. I've been struggling for quite some time with the question of how crafting fits in with the rest of my calling, with the fact that my spinning and knitting community online has almost no overlap with my real life as a priest, wife, and mom in the Arctic. This struggle had become so pressing that it seemed to permeate, almost poison, all of my crafting. One of them had to really lose for a bit, and I'm pretty relieved my subconscious (/the Holy Spirit?) picked the right one. My larger crafting ambitions really had to die.

It's been long enough now that I've started at least thinking about knitting again. I can't quite think about spinning – my new PLY magazine arrived today, and I had to put it away still in its wrapper. I might not be able to pick up that Orange Thing again (I feel like I owe it to M for Christmas, but even typing that makes me blegh, so maybe not)… but I could start something small. Something in bulky yarn. Something for the baby. Something I don't really have to finish. Or not.

At the same time, a week ago I also passed off outlines of my family's feet to an elder friend, and she's going to make kamik patterns for me. Because even though that project is enormous, and time sensitive once I get going, it has everything to do with my real life here.

It's very very strange. This is not the 1001st blog post I thought I'd be writing, and it's taken me these weeks to figure out how to write it. But here we are. Hm.

Big Choices

I polished off two big projects over the last few weeks, and at present have nothing major on the needles, or on the wheel.* At this point in my life, I am done with having a lot of things on the go at once. I don't mind quick things on the side, or a plain sock for the movies or reading, but when it comes to BIG projects – sweaters, long spins, big shawls, major sewing endeavors, intricate things – I'd be more comfortable if I only had one on the go at any given time. Between knitting, spinning, and hand sewing, I'd like to really limit myself, so I feel like I'm actually making progress.

But… what to start? As the finish line approached and passed on these two big knits, I've hemmed and hawed on what's next, and I can't decide. Will you let me process out loud, so to speak, with you?

  1. Cabled Coat for Jared

Like most knitters, my husband likes to stash more than knit, but at his current rate of production he is already at SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy). He's let me talk him into knitting him some of the sweaters he's had planned. Not a lot, just one every year or two, so the beautiful yarn he has acquired gets used.

The Appeal: Lots and lots of repetitive, simple cabling in a bulky yarn sounds right up my mental alley right now. I think I would really enjoy knitting it.

The Hesitation: My track record in knitting Jared things he will actually wear is… not great. Then again, he hardly wears any of his handknits, knit by anyone, so I don't think it's just me. But I have long thought that this sillouhette isn't really his style. He just really wants it, and has wanted it for years. Probably because he really likes the book (Knitting with Balls by Michael De Vecchio) and is even more of a completionist than I am. (Actually much more of one). I would be fulfilling a long-term request… but would it get worn?

2. Argonath

I pulled this yarn out to photograph it today, and oh my, I still love it. It's Dorset, it's my own natural dyes, and there's loads of it. I spun it something like 6 years ago, thinking to make the Argonath shawl. That's what the swatch is for. (I submitted the yarn, swatch, and pattern in a basket to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in the handspun "project plan basket" category and got a red ribbon for it; the yellow ribbon was from an individual skein I submitted as well!) I'm now thinking about adapting the stitch patterns from the shawl into a sweater of some kind.

The Appeal: This is the last pattern for me to knit in my Fellowship of the Ring knit-through. It would be glorious to bring this project home. And dear me, I love the yarn still!

The Hesitation: This is another very intensely patterned piece, like Galadriel's Mirror. I just don't know if I have this in me right now. If I adapt it into a sweater, it would be even more complicated. I could push through if I basically gave up spinning for a while, though.

3. Colorwork sweater for Moi

This is Brooklyn Tweed "Loft." I had originally bought the six skeins on the right to make Rohan, but I decided a while ago that I didn't really want the shawl. I love the colors I picked, and I love the stitch pattern (to say nothing of the theme), so I bought a few extra "Hayloft" skeins this summer to adapt it into a sweater (see a theme here?) putting the Rohan colorwork into a fair isle yoke.

After my success (Okay, dubious success) with the Blendlings sweater, having thoroughly fallen in love with The Opinionated Knitter, I would like to use the instructions from Elizabeth Zimmermann's very first self-published pattern: a bottom-up fair isle yoke sweater. (And yes, actually follow the directions this time.)

The Appeal: All those miles of stockinette sound really nice right now. The colors are my very favorites, everything I miss about fall.

The Hesitation: Can I really start a Two Towers Pattern before I've finished with Fellowship? I honestly don't know if I'm capable of such an act. Also, Mum wants to knit one with me (though she wants to knit it top down and we haven't hashed that out yet) and I don't know if she's ready.

So those are my knitting meditations. What about keeping the knitting on the small side, and diving into a larger spinning project instead?

4. Alpaca + Shetland Sweater Quantity

This is a carding project as much as a spinning project. I have 12 oz of Shetland that I handdyed with pokeberries a shocking number of years ago, and a good lb of (unwashed?) black alpaca that mom gifted me about as long ago. I'm thinking of blending them together to make a proper big sweater quantity in a lovely ruddy brown. (I might throw in a little of that orange on the right if things get too dull or black.)

The Appeal: I really like carding (well, OK, I say that based on one six-ounce card that I've done ever, but it was a really good experience). And this would be a solid, fun, fast sweater spin. I'd do it as a two-ply worsted weight, woolen spun. My dream is to get it prepped for Spinzilla and spin it all in a week. Wouldn't that be fun?

The Hesitation: I just… I don't know if I can do it. I'm straight up intimidated. What if washing the alpaca goes horribly wrong? What if the blended color is gross? It seems very overwhelming right now. I know I just need to sample a bit, but I haven't wrapped my head around it.

5. Orange & Brown Sweater Quantity

This is the other big, fast sweater spin I have planned for this year, another potential candidate for participation in Spinzilla. There's a lb of the brown (not all pictured) and 8 oz of the orange, so my idea is to spin 1 bobbin of the orange for every 2 bobbins of brown and make a nice worsted-weight 3 ply.

The Appeal: No prep, aside from fluffing the batts a bit. A relatively low-risk introduction to a larger woolen-spun project.

The Hesitation: Well OK, there isn't one. If Spinzilla rolls around, I'm up for it, and our family decides we're in a place that I can participate, and I don't have anything else major started, I'll do this.

6. Long Shawl Spin

Now it's time for me to own up to that * after the first sentence. I could, of course, go back to this big spin I've had on the wheel since May. I started this a couple weeks before vacation, knowing it was ill-advised, but I was still so into spinning, and had literally nothing else to spin. I sampled the living daylights out of it, came up with a beautiful plan, and had this excellent start. But I haven't wanted to touch it since I got home. I've been so tired, and this just seems so long.

The Appeal: I do like finishing what I start. I have never hibernated a spinning project, or taken singles off a bobbin just to set them aside. (I'd have to do this for #5 above; I'd want all four bobbins handy.) It is gorgeous.

The Hesitation: Trying to spin this right now feels like trying to knit Galadriel's Mirror did back in March. It just doesn't work for my life right now. Besides, even starting it was breaking one of the guidelines I set for myself back when I made my Spinning Goals for 2017: No Fingering (at least in large amounts)! So, setting it aside might even be construed as following rather than breaking my personal rules. This spin has been hanging over my head so heavily that it's the reason I didn't spin for a month after Tour de Fleece. If I'm really honest with myself, it might be a choice between setting this aside and not spinning at all for a while. Unless I'm ready to exert a supreme act of will, which effort I should really save for parenting my toddler.

***

So… I'm a little stuck. I have a wee spinning snack I'm almost finished with, and a couple little knitting projects I'm pecking away at. But I know I'll want to sink my teeth into something bigger soon. Do you have any advice? Can you hear what I really want, even though I can't seem to hear it myself?

 

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.