This is my blog to share my adventures, misadventures, exploration, and experimentation with fibre- and as it turns out, with life as well. There is some of both. One thing leads to another. Collecting, spinning, weaving, dying, learning, building a web of relationships. Here we are: welcome.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What do you do when the temp is -18F (-28C) and the snow is deep?

Well, I sit at my spinning wheel.  For several weeks now the temp has been low enough that the only urge I have to go outside is to get more firewood so I can stay warm inside.  The days alternate between snowing some more, and being sunny but just dang cold.  I can't think of anything better than keeping a pot of soup on the stove, and spending my time spinning yarn, looking out the window at the sunlit, snowbound landscape.

Last fall I acquired about seven and a half ounces of what I think is either merino/angora or alpaca/angora blend from a neighbor who keeps angora goats.  Some of her goats have fibre that is angora quality, and this is what she used when she blended the roving.  Unspun, it is a lovely frosty fawn color.  Spun, the color retains its delicacy, but condenses into cafe au lait.  Very fine, very soft, almost slippery in feel, but it spins easily into a fine single. At first, I intended to make 2 ply, but as I spun, I decided I wanted to make 3 ply.  I decided to spin all of the roving and make 2 skeins. 

But I was frustrated, because I have always preferred to make 6 ounce skeins.  This was a challenge.  Although I have managed quite a few 6 ounce skeins if the yarn is compact enough, my bobbins are really meant to hold only 4 oz at most, less with a lofty yarn.  Those last two ounces were a challenge to do and maintain the quality of the plying.  (When you ply, you are taking all the the singles off two or more bobbins and putting them together on one bobbin, so space is an issue.)  Most of the time I limited the amount of singles I spun onto each bobbin. Like this (that is a photo of the merino blend, by the way):

At one point, a couple of years ago, I acquired a second-hand Louet wheel and refurbished it. Louets have larger bobbins, and my plan was to use it as a dedicated plying wheel.  My plan didn't work out for me.  While many people do well with Louets, the manner in which the Louet works is quite different than my main wheel (A Shacht Matchless), and I found the adjusting back and forth difficult, and made more difficult by the fact that the Louet I had acquired had only a single treadle.  It wanted to spin one direction, and that direction was not the direction I wanted to ply.  So the Louet got relegated to a corner and someday will find a new home.  In the meantime, I made do with smaller skeins.

I should have used the money to get a bulky flyer for my Matchless.  And I kicked myself because I didn't and then the price went up this February.  Dang.  So badly did I want to spin this yarn as a single skein that I went online and scouted around to see if anyone still had them at the old price.  I found one, at a tiny shop in Maine, run by a mom (Funky Eclectic).  My natural tendency to keep a tight rein on my skimpy budget was overridden by two things: my conviction that I truly needed that bulky flyer. I didn't really; I could live without it. Small skeins are fine. Sort of.  But it is really hard to convince a spinner she doesn't need something she has her heart set on. And then there was the charm of this little shop. So I ordered it (gulp).  It came in only a few days. It took a little fiddling and adjusting to install on my wheel, because it comes with a whole new mother of all and front maiden,  but here it is, all set to go: 

That is the large bobbin in place.  And the HUGE orifice (in comparison to the standard flyer).  And, oh, look, instead of stationary hooks, it has a sliding hook on each arm!  I thought they'd be hard to use, but they turned out to be easy, a quick push.  To compare, here is the old flyer: 

The new flyer with its big bobbin means I can ply up to 8 ounce skeins.  It also works with the smaller original bobbins, and though the new flyer is a little noisier than the old one, I found spinning on it goes even more smoothly (perhaps because the added weight evens out the momentum).  So I put the partially filled bobbins back on one by one, and finished spinning the rest of the merino blend. 

But another thing kept popping up.  Even when I was planning how I was going to spin this beautiful  roving, from the beginning a vision kept popping into my head: a thin red silk thread winding its way through the finished yarn.  I could not get this vision out of my head.  I thought perhaps I could find silk embroidery thread to use.  I did find a source, but it was so expensive, I dismissed the idea before I even started spinning. I couldn't justify the cost. But I couldn't dismiss the vision.  I could not, would not ply those singles without the fine red silk thread. 

I have never spun silk.  YouTube to the rescue.  I watched a few videos of people handspinning silk, and realized I could do it.  I couldn't find what I was looking for in the offerings of my usual vendors. So on to Etsy. I checked out the offerings and the vendors, and eventually found a vendor not too far from me and good ratings, a spinner herself.  She had for sale exactly what I wanted: 2 ounces of  undyed natural honey-colored Tussah silk top, more than enough.  The photo showed a smooth braid of good quality, at a good price.  Even better, since she was in Barbados for a week enjoying the (warm) sunshine, shipping would be delayed, so she was giving a 20% discount. 

I can wait a week. 

So, the wool singles are ready, waiting.  I'll wind them off so I can start work on something else.  When the silk gets here I'll tone-dye it with red dye (I just happen to have some....), and spin it into an ultra fine thread, which I will hold with one of the singles as I ply, so that it will wander through the plied yarn.  That's the idea, anyway.  I'll let you know how it turns out. 

In the meantime, the sun goes down on another nippy day, and there's a bit more snow.  My cottage is casting a long shadow.  The fire in the stove is keeping the house warm, and it is time to fix a cup of tea, and snuggle with small animals. 

Good-night, all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Not completely idle all this time...

Appoaching Glacier Park, MT near sunset, May 2014
Remember that old saying from way back when?  This one:  "Life is what happens after you make other plans."  Well, that pretty much describes the last year or so.  My brother thoughtlessly had emergency brain surgery while I was waiting to be scheduled to have my gall bladder out.  If this were sibling rivalry, he wins, hands down.

I'm glad to say there's no rivalry involved, but it was unnerving to have to wait several months 3000 miles away while he went through the hole-in-the-head kind of surgery and had his brain remodeled, followed by the nifty sci-fi movie kind of laser surgery with a custom-fit medieval-torture-looking helmet, followed by radiation therapy on the tumors in his head and in his lung , followed by months and months of chemo-therapy.  Which will go on for life.  Life, of course, is the point. I really wanted to be there, getting in the way, demanding answers, making his wife nuts, and fussing over my little brother (who is a foot taller than I am, but ten years younger, so is still my baby brother).

The good news is he made it, has regained all his function, and is just as ornery as he ever was, which is a relief.  He's a good guy, and I like him a lot. Most of the time.  He's still a brat sometimes.  After a year and a half, the scans show no sign of tumor activity.  The treatments sort of ate up his energy, and he ended up retiring early.  So now he goes fishing, and gets on his wife's nerves.  And sits in the sun or under the apple tree with his dog and a cup of coffee and rejoices.  From that I get great joy.

When I recovered enough from my own surgery, I took the train out to visit. It was good to just hang out with him.  I got to visit with a cousin I haven't seen in a long time, too, and that was great.  Then I took the train to visit my aunt in the Oregon valley where I grew up.  I got there just in time for her 97th birthday!  I spent a week with her, visiting her everyday, and collecting more stories about her childhood growing up in the mountains of eastern Idaho and as a young woman working for the railroad in WW2.  She is alone now and I am her only known living relative, and she is the last living member of the generation before mine. Even though we aren't related by blood, but by marriage, she was my second mother when I was growing up, and still is.  I cherish her. She is nearing 98 this year, and I hope I can make it out to be with her.

Then I took the train back across the country and collapsed.  Which one would do, but in this case I mean it literally.  I had been feeling tired, and having spells of light-headedness, which I attributed to over-doing.  Then one day, I passed out and went down while talking to a friend at our village farmers' market.  I was trying to sit down, but did a faceplant instead.  Came to with my friend in a panic and trying to call an ambulance.  I can't believe I did this: I told her it was okay, and that I'd just drive myself to the doctor about half a mile away.  Which I did.  I tell you, I was not thinking clearly.

At the clinic, when I told them what happened, they took my vitals. My pulse was 32.  Well, that would do it.  So ensued an afternoon of tests. I got sent home with a list of things, all of which started "DO NOT....".  I spent the weekend thinking "heart disease".  On the Tuesday, my doctor called me to tell me I am hypothyroid.  I had no idea that hypothyroidism could do that to a person.  I am slender, but every cell in my body was struggling to do what it needed to do, including pump blood to my brain, and digest my food, and breathe, and think. No wonder I hadn't been thinking clearly.  She had called a prescription in to my pharmacy, who were going to mail it to me.  She told me to start it immediately.  She added emphatically, "You will have to take this for the rest of your life." 

I was just relieved that all it was going to take was some pills every day for the rest of my life to replace a hormone that my body had decided not to make anymore.  What is this, compared to emergency brain surgery and lifelong chemotherapy and the enormous courage shown by my brother and others like him? 

In the meantime, I'm still spinning.  More to come on that.