Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Yesterday was the first day of fall.

It doesn't feel that way around here--it was +27 yesterday. We haven't had a frost yet.
Honeybees are still visiting the few remaining sunflowers in my garden.
It doesn't feel like fall at all.
But it is, and the last of the veggies are being harvested out of my wee garden. Preserves are being made, and winter planning is going on.
At times like this, I sometimes pause to reflect on the abundance in my life.
Not just the bumper crop of crab apples, but the things that really count.
I have great friends, a wonderful family, a home of my own, a few little luxuries. I have a passtime that I love, that has evolved into a career of sorts. I have the freedom to express myself without fear of serious repercussions. I have more opportunities than I know what to do with. My life is abundant in joys and laughter.
But sometimes, abundance just gets out of hand.

Yes, Louet Northern Lights in the Mulled Wine colorway. Count 'em. Eleven 225g bags. That's jsut shy of 2.5 kg, for those of you keepin score at home. (I have bag number 12 already spun up. In the end there are 2.6 kg kicking around here.)

Somewhere along the line, I decided that this would be a good idea. I'm sure the planned project will turn out to be fabulous, but right now, that stack is a little daunting.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's such a good thing to have brilliant ideas in abundance...

Friday, September 18, 2009


Don't you wish life had an undo function?

Oh, come on! Don't tell me you've ever made a mistake you wish you could go back and delete. I'm not talking about big things, here, just those little things that nag at your conscience. Haven't you called someone by the wrong name? Gotten home from the store with something you didn't pay for in your pocket? Given someone the wrong time or date for an appointment? I freely admit that I do these things all the time, and that I actually lose sleep when I realize that I've done it.
Most of the time, once I get past the initial shock of realizing of the error, I can shrug it off as an honest mistake and go on. With so much going on in my life, it's a wonder I can remember my name some days! This is why I always write things down.
But when I teach workshops, it should be different, right? I know a lot about spinning. I should be well-prepared and able to recall accurate information at the drop of a hat. I should have weeded through the bad information and stacked the good neatly where it can be pulled out in an orderly manner. And usually, I do.
Which is why I have been losing sleep over this little misstep. No big deal, really, but it's bugging me.

You see, I was taught by a fairly high-profile spinning instructor that you should never self-ply your yarns from an Andean plying bracelet, a centre-pull ball, or using Navajo ply. The reasoning behind this was that you would be reversing the twist in one end of your singles and applying more twist into one single in the ply direction than into the other.

So, for example, if one spins one's singles in the Z direction, then folds the single in half and plies from the beginning and the end, you are reversing the twist direction of the folded bit to be S. This means the end part will be getting overspun in the S direction while the beginning part will be getting underspun. Bad news all around.

For some reason, this made a lot of sense to me at the time, and it took me some time to unlearn this kernel of wisdom. It is, in fact, utter nonsense.

Yet, I shared this in a workshop this summer. I passed this unbelievable bit of pap onto a room full of unsuspecting spinners. And when I realized it days later, I had no way of rewinding time and editing out my stupidity. And it has bothered me ever since.
So here I sit, feeling the burning compulsion to set the record straight. It may not matter one whit to you, but I am constantly amazed by how pervasive these sorts of silly bits of misinformation are in the spinning world. I get on my soap box constantly about bad information showing up in new books, on the internet, and being taught in workshops. I have taken it on as my personal mission to correct that information before more damage is done, yet I have spread some foolishness myself.

This must be remedied!

So, without further ado, I shall clarify what happens when one self-plies a single.

Here is our lovely single. I have spun it with 2 colors and laid it on top of some arrows showing that the twist is indeed in the Z direction.
Then I wound it into a centre-pull ball on my ball winder. This is where some of the problems with self-plying come from, not from reversing the twist. Because, as you can see...

...the twist still runs Z when I fold the beginning bit and the end bit beside each other. And then, when I ply...

...the twists are balanced together and you can see that the stripes of colour align perpendicularly up and down.

So, I hope I have clarified that issue and have set the Spinning Universe back into balance.

However. (Oh, when isn't there a "however", Michelle?)

I don't really recommend this method of plying. Oh, a quick self-ply is great for sampling, and Navajo plying has its uses in making novelty effects in yarns, but overall, I would highly recommend sticking to plying from bobbins on a Kate.
And why is that? Well, let's look at our centre-pull ball.

As you can see, the inner part (magenta) has been wound more tightly and is more easily controlled as it is pulled out of the ball. The outer end (white) is more loosely wound and tends to unwind in longer loops, resulting in those pigtail building up. It doesn't take very long before issues can develop if you don't keep on top of those guys!

What tends to happen when the outer layer unwraps faster than the inner layer is that the singles are not twisting evenly over each other, but the outer layer tends to wrap around the inner at an angle, making your ply uneven.

Next, a ball-winder or an Andean plying bracelet both create a weavers' cross in order to reduce the tangling as each layer passes over the last one. This is great, as it keeps the unwinding neat and orderly, but...the twist that is created in uncrossing the fibres builds up behind your plying control hand and starts twisting your singles across each other before they are properly plied. The result, again, is an uneven ply. As well, you have to stop more frequently to uncross the singles, breaking the rhythm of your plying, which will not help that unevenness issue, either.

So, fine. Being expert spinners, we learn to compensate for those little drawbacks by adjusting our plying technique. We hold our ball of singles under tension, we control the entry of the twist carefully, we work out the pigtails before we allow twist into the ply. No problem!


Yep, yarn barf.
The biggest problem with using self-plying methods for a large amount of singles, or for very fine or very fuzzy yarns, is that the singles will, at some point, invariably snag on themselves and drag out a mess of twist. Now what.
This is where we begin the elaborate yoga-like posing that has to happen as we extend the excess singles to even out the tension with the rest of the ball. Sometime we have to use our mouths, or innocent bystanders, to pull that bit of madness back straight. Somehow, our quick little self-ply has turned into a 4-hour epic with a cast of thousands! (Ask me how I know this--I dare ya!)
Now, in the end, we do have a reasonable yarn. But we could have a better yarn. The sample I made, using all of the problems that I could possibly build into a self-plying exercise, still looks pretty nice overall. However...

...we see piggy tails sticking out...

...uneven tension and twist...

...and underplying. (And apparently, out of focus. No doubt, also related to plying from the centre-pull ball!) Even after finishing, my plies want to separate from each other and, in fact, the yarn looks even worse.
Am I being finicky? Yes. But someone has to be, so that we can get past the bad information and stop making mistakes that make spinning harder than it has to be.
So consider this my pennance for my error, and please accept my apologies. I do promise to think before I speak next time.
Until I call you by your mother-in-law's name again....

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Six Short Stories About August

Whoa! What just happened?
The last thing I remember, it was July 30. I sat down to finish and polish up my handouts for a couple of workshops. Then there is this blur. And now it's September!
So what did happen to August? Let's look...
1.) As I mentioned, I sat down to finish a few handouts for my workshops in Gibsons. This, somehow led to me deciding that I needed to make illustrations, which led to buying a new scanner, which led to having to learn a new Adobe Photoshop program, which led to no time to eat, sleep, or pack.

I still have work to do honing my computer skills, but I now believe I understand why so many techno types are so pale and skinny. I takes forever to create even the simplest illustrations with this modern convenience we call the computer. You do not see the light of day, and the only food you have time to prepare is Pizza Pops. Give me a pencil and paper any day!

2.) At some point, I decided enough was enough and packed a bag full of clothes and a couple of bins of fibre. I gathered up my family, including Brendan, and we set off for the West Coast.

Awwww, look at us! Four-fifths of the clan, on our way to join the fifth one in Vancouver. What could possibly go wrong?


Yep. Car died, just a few kilometers past Mount Robson. We had to be towed into Valemount to get it fixed, but the CAA guy neglected to mention to the tow truck driver that there were 4 of us to transport. Steve and Julia went off with Doug, our friendly tow-truck dude, and Brendan and I waited for the local taxi. When we hopped in, we were informed that we would be sharing with "some rock band" that was coming back from whitewater rafting. Okay.

I rode shotgun with the driver and learned a lot life in Valemount. Brendan got tucked in the back with her young sons and learned a lot about T. Rex (the dinosaur, not the band) The band got in and pretty much chatted amongst themselves and, occasionally with me and the driver. Turns out that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are pretty decent travelling companions. (I'm sure that will do wonders for their reputation!)

Sooo, we spent a day in Valemount, B.C. waiting for a part to come from Kamloops. There is a salmon spawning viewpoint in Valemount, and we spent a lot of time pondering the life cycle of the Coho salmon and watching them struggle to reproduce. Lots of little fishy fights!

Saturday morning, we were ready to go, but not before photographing the culprit in this little detour. Cracked manifold. Seriously, Ford, who puts a plastic manifold into the largest vehicle they manufacture?

3.) We made it to the Coast with out further incident. All was well. We went to White Rock on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. All was wonderful!

Look at the fun we were having!

Then I dropped my cell phone in the ocean.

There are no photos of me sitting on the beach, crying. Or of the mad dash up to the mall to buy a new phone. Or of the lovely and helpful young woman who helped me get a great deal on the new phone.

But there are pictures of me and all my babies together.

Once I recovered my equilibrium, it was a wonderful day...

...ending in a spectacular sunset. All was good again.

4.) Many adventures ensued in Vancouver. We went to the Vancouver Aquarium.

There were jellyfish.

We explored Stanley Park.

We played on Jericho Beach.

We ate wonderful meals and just plain enjoyed one another's company. I have amazing children (two of whom are now, technically, amazing adults) and I love spending time with them, both individually and as a group. Sadly, we are getting rather spread out, so this time together was extra-special for me. Well worth the car repairs and the cell phone!

5.) Off to Gibson's Landing Fibre Arts Festival! This was my second year teaching there, and I absolutely love this festival. The organizers, the students, the vendors and the community all combine to make the festival...simply amazing.

I taught two workshops, String Theory and Short and Sweet. I had two wonderful, smart and inquisitive groups of students who kept me on my toes, and, I must confess, I did a wee bit of shopping. (More on that in another post.)

Steve and Julia went kayaking and explored the Gibsons area and took me out for some more fabulous meals.

I eated a crab.

All was good. (Well, for me. Things didn't work out so well for the crab.)

6.) We came home.

Fort McMurray holds an annual event called The Country Fair. Though this arts and crafts exhibition and competition has struggled to go on after the demise of the Blueberry Festival, which used to host it, The Country Fair has persevered.

So, almost on impulse, I thought I should put some items in, if for no other reason than to raise the profile of handspinning hereabouts. On Friday evening, I dropped off my Fire and Water shawls, a crocheted top of handspun tussah silk, and 3 skeins of novelty yarn.

I popped in to see the show on Saturday afternoon. All I can say is "Wow". There is a wealth of hidden talent lurking out there in a community that has a very low-profile arts and crafts community. Knitting, crochet, painting, quilting, photography, pottery, sewing, and Lego artists abound.

There was no judging, but rather, winners were chosen by popular vote by the public.

The people spoke. And I won 5 ribbons! The crocheted top took first in Crochet-Garments, Fire took 3rd in Knitted-Garments, one of my skeins took 3rd in "Miscellaneous" (in competition with turned wood bowls and scrapbooking!), and Water took 1st in Knitted-Garments as well as Best of Division (Knitting). Whoo-hoo!

I'm not really in this for the prizes. I spin for my own pleasure and I'm thrilled when others acknowledge my skill, but I'm not terribly competitive. However, I am inordinately proud of the fact that the general public liked my work enough to vote for it. Especially my skein of yarn.

At first glance, a 3rd-place ribbon doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment for a Master Spinner, but in context, it is astonishing. There was no category for handspinning, and the organizers had no idea where to put my skeins. So, miscellaneous it was. A catch-all category that included wood-turning, beading, and scrapbooking. Amongst this wild array of very different craft techniques, my skein was acknowledged. Thank you, Fort McMurray!

So, now I'm home and it's September. There is much to be done, preserving fresh veggies from the local market garden and my own wee patch, clearing up the paperwork from the last couple of months, much spinning.

Last night a flock of geese flew overhead, headed south. I was serenaded to sleep by the coyotes on Birchwood Trail. The stars are bright and clear and the leaves are turning.

Time to settle in for the fall.