Gardening: Spring Begins

So… my house is having some remodeling, which includes the kitchen where I dye, and the basement where I dry. This is actually awesome because both spaces are going to be FAR more useable when it’s done (storage space in the kitchen!? AN ACTUAL VENT TO DRY THINGS!!?!) however it’s put a severe crimp in the amount of dyeing getting done.

I am continuing to work away at the Golden Hour yarn, which will take a bit, but the nice weather has been helpful (he says as he looks out at the grey and rain).

So, since I can’t write about dyeing, and I haven’t finished my spinning, and my knitting is stalled… it’s Spring, gardening time!

The vegetable garden is still pretty quiet. I planted the peas! Then, just as they started to come up, some squirrels decided to dig about a quarter of them up. Not to eat, just to… leave on the ground, mocking me.


So I replanted in the holes and spread ghost pepper flakes on the ground. Stick your nose in THAT, fuzzy little jerks. For anyone worried, they get plenty of sunflower seeds, they do not need to dig up (and not eat) my peas.

Things were further slowed by several frosts WAY after we were supposed to be getting frost. Which required covering everything with remay to make sure it didn’t die off again.

But! We seem to be beyond that now. The root veggies (beets, carrots) and some lettuce just finally went in. I planted a bunch of seeds inside in trays, and they’re all up, waiting for days warm enough or enough size to go outside. But they get to take trips to visit the outside (i.e. get real sun). Peppers, basil, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, parsley, celeriac, eggplant, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and some sunflowers (not for the veggie garden).

The flower garden is coming up and I’ve added plants back to fill in the holes that last year’s weird winter left. It didn’t get cold, but it got so NOT cold that things didn’t go fully dormant. Because of that, they still needed water they weren’t getting because we had no snow. I did not water. Doh. Lost some things, may still lose a few more.

Mostly, things are coming back (that’s my butterfly weed below), yay! The weeds are just starting to sprout, so I desperately need to mulch.

Now that I’ve got one done, I’m trying to establish more planting spaces in the yard, and make the yard a little easier to maintain. So I started building my biggest garden. I used neat stackable stones from Home Depot for this to make it simpler. It turned into a real construction project…


Took a couple days, but I’m happy with it! Now I just need more dirt for it. And obviously… plants.

Once I got the hang of the hard wall, I made some much simpler non-stacked ones just to define edges for easier mowing/weed whacking.

The birds think this is all quite nice, though some appear dubious

But generally everyone seems to be happy with the progress.

Hopefully the disruption will be over soon and I’ll be back to the dye pots! I have been doing a bit for a future project…

That’s all for now!
~The Gnome

Spinning: Manx Loaghtan – Color Choices While Spinning

House is having remodeling done, so I’m a bit limited in my ability to dye right now. Should be done soon, I hope!

So, spinning! Color! A lot of people ask me, “How do you know how a fiber will spin up in terms of color?”

Like just about every question in textiles, the answer is a very clear, “it depends.” Depends on the length of the fiber, how you spin it, how you divide it, how even your spinning is…

But there are definitely guidelines. The most obvious being, as long as it’s not solid, you can probably spin it so it looks “tweedy.” But that’s honestly not all that helpful, now is it?

Manx Loaghtan:
Manx Loaghtan is a very English breed of sheep, with 4 horns similar to a jacob. They are native to the Isle of Man. Soft enough for most next to skin wear. With a soft loftiness, very warm! My favorite pair of fingerless gloves are made with Manx! It’s resistant to felting, though if you try it will certainly felt. This is a very “poofy” fiber, so make sure to spin it finer than the final result you want!

This fiber is naturally a fawn brown, and it takes dye well to make great rich earth tones. My next-to-skin tolerance is fairly high as things go, and this one (as I’ll talk about later) is quite susceptible to different spinning styles in relation to softness.

So I started with something fairly simple in the braid for a couple reasons, primarily to make it easy to show the process. For this we can only think about color in terms of what’s next to what.

A simple, two-color space dye. Red – Long Gold – Long Red – Gold.

Something you can quickly see from this photo is how it was probably dyed (hint: it was), folded in thirds, then half dyed each color. I’ve also shown the braid here so you can see what it looks like braided. This is a useful thing to remember, if you’ve got colors next to each other on different strands of the braids, they’re a third apart on the actual fiber. We’ll get back to that.

So here’s a super accurate schematic of what I’m working with:

If I spin a singles yarn, one end to the other, it’ll look exactly as is, and knit up in similar as stripes.

Another super accurate schematic:

Similarly, if I strip the braid lengthwise into more pieces and then spin and ply them back together, they’ll still be the same striping pattern… with a small margin of error for differences in spinning between the singles.

If instead I divided it in half shortways and spun/plied into a two ply…

This super accurate schematic:

Becomes EITHER this super accurate schematic:

or this one:

Which brings us to thinking about plying. If we again assume this second theoretically flawless schematic is spun by an equally flawless spinner, red will be next to gold for the entire length of the yarn once plied. You’ll get an even barber pole effect. Interesting, but not what I’m looking for.

If you go back to the one above, you’ve got 3 regions of color. Red next to red, red next to gold, and gold next to gold. So you’ll get three stripes of color when you knit it up, all red, then a barber pole red/gold, and then all gold. When knit up, barber pole tends to look like a tweed version of the brighter color. So solid red, reddish gold tweed, gold.

Interesting, but still not what I’m looking for.

Now we get FANCEH. Ok, totally not, but we talk about other options.

Relevant here is obviously what you’re making. If you’re making a series of small things, these big long color repeats are just going to result in say, a mostly gold glove and a mostly red glove. Now, I don’t have a plan for this yarn (or didn’t when I was spinning it) though I had vague hat thoughts, which show off stripes well.

Back to our original schematic:

I said originally if I strip it the long way instead of the short, it will spin up exactly like this, and knit up the same. That, obviously, assumes you spin both pieces from the same end. If instead you flip one, you get…

And we’re back to red always being next to gold… Two-ply obviously has limited options. Let’s see what three-ply has to offer! As noted before if you don’t move anything around, you just get a three-ply in the colors as is. But if you DO flip one of your strips…

Oh! Well now, that’s interesting… But what’s it going to LOOK like, you’re asking, I’m sure. Because these colors don’t just all sit next to each other in three lines, do they? From a quick and dirty perspective, you’ll get a striped yarn that goes from red tweed, to gold tweed, to red tweed, to gold tweed.

Another flawless schematic, this time a “close up” of the yarn, so you can see each ply going around.

Ok, I think this is interesting enough! Obviously, you could also split the whole thing into red and gold, and then do whatever you felt like with the two colors.

Time for spinning. Last yarn was a long draw to warm up that skill again, we’ll do a short forward draw on this one. Why not, right? Again, I decided I was focused on the technique itself, so I wasn’t going to obsess over having it be flawless in terms of evenness. So I tried ot keep consistent, but didn’t use a control card or sample or anything.

Important, once stripped longwise, make sure I’ve got one flipped.

Now, here it’s worth mentioning that roving and top can have direction. That is, they can be far easier to spin from one end than the other. This particular one didn’t have that problem, but if it had, I would have simply pulled off the whole of the next color, and spun from the other end of that color.

Ok, pretty fast spin, Manx drafts really easily because its so lofty. Nice fiber, my hands mostly remember the motions with periodic problems like realizing my position was making my hip hurt. Good good.

To keep the fiber I wasn’t spinning safe, I used one of the large wedge bags from Stitched by Jessalu (in a great Gnome pattern).

Spinning spinning… yay! 3 bobbins!

You’ll see even from this photo how it’s generally going to spin up, two of one to one of the other. Next, plying! I plied this fairly tightly. No particular reason.

Well, as you can see… my spinning wasn’t identical on all three strips. Though really, for stripping by eye, and spinning by eye with no control card I didn’t do badly.

So I don’t have my perfect schematic, quite. I’ve got some offset between the strips, so instead of

I’ve got something more like this

Where periodically all three plies are the same color. Well that’s not awful, I’ll get pure color stripes between my tweed stripes, but they’ll be short since it’s just the offset. Could be an interesting effect!

Ok, time to wind off the bobbin, and loosely tie it with figure eights.

Then a wash in hot water with some medium heavy beating. It was at this point I started to realize I’d actually used the short forward draw fully. I have a tendency to fall back into a sort of double-draw/supported draw hybrid thing. This was not that, even with beating, it had little halo, and was quite dense. Well, so maybe not hat material. A lesson for others, if you want to wear it, spin it with some woolen quality. Though as spun it will be lovely and durable.

But it did make a pretty yarn!

Pretty pleased with the color, which is what I was going for. And, while it wasn’t what I expected, I’m actually pleased that my short forward draw resulted in a very worsted spun yarn, means I can still do the two ends of the spinning spectrum.

Here you can see three of the four color sections. Red/Red/Red, Red/Gold/Gold, Red/Red/Gold. I couldn’t get a Gold/Gold close enough to get it on the dime.

Given the durability and other characters, this yarn has now gone off to undergo a very secret Becoming ceremony at the fabulous Creechure Shop. I think the yarn is hoping for the ceremony to result in a Dragon, but you never know with Becomings. It could come back as an Arboreal Octopus or almost anything! Stay tuned!

Next up, Gotland (probably)! That mysterious fiber of Hobbit cloaks and deceptive halo and softness!

Until then, The Princess demands more naps.

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome

Spinning Philosophy Continued

So, last week I talked about The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind

A couple people have asked about this, mostly a form of, “But if you’re always starting as a beginner, how do you improve? Don’t you want to make better stuff?”

I am not a philosopher. I can’t tell you that this is the “right” way to interpret these concepts, but this is how I see them and use them.

The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind aren’t about not moving, in fact, quite the opposite. They’re about being where you are, now, SO THAT you can move. It is very easy to get bogged down with where we “should” be, how skilled we “should” be, what we “should” be able to make. In fact, it’s easy to get so bogged down, so frustrated at the “should” that you can’t make anything at all.

Those are thoughts antithetical to the both the Uncarved Block and the Beginner’s Mind. The block doesn’t think about what it should be, it is pure potential. The true beginner doesn’t think about what they SHOULD be able to make, they are a beginner, so they start at the beginning.

I have been spinning for years now. My hands mostly know the motions. I can walk while spindle spinning. When I sit down at the wheel, I don’t forget all that! What I DO do, though, is sit down and say, “This IS where I am, THIS is my starting point, TODAY’S beginning.”

I mentioned in the last post that I often take on hard projects to help me with this mindset. Basically, I’m deliberately pushing the “should” toward where I am. If I can tell myself “this SHOULD be hard, it’s a hard project” then it’s a lot easier for me to let go of that voice in the back of my head that says, “You SHOULD be perfect at this, you SHOULD be better at this, WHY aren’t you?” I think of it as artificial Beginner’s Mind.

It’s also why I keep my first yarn. I can hold up that yarn in front of that mean little voice in the back of my head and say, “This is where I started. Look where I am today! So screw off with your should’s!”

Which brings us to improvement. These ideas aren’t about not improving, they’re about giving yourself the space to improve at the pace you improve. If you can start a project with a beginner’s mind, an uncarved block, aware of where you actually are, not where you “should” be, then you can also accurately evaluate your progress from that point. You can say, “Ok, my hands know how to make a thin yarn now, but my consistency is still struggling a little, maybe next time I’ll try a reference card.” Without that mindset, it’s far too easy to look and see all the faults at once, think you’re not improving, and thus not know where to focus your efforts. It’s also easy to get frustrated that your yarn isn’t perfect and just stop.

And I’ll tell you a secret. Shh, don’t tell anyone but… your yarn will never be perfect.

Never. Mine isn’t. No one’s is! The more you learn, the more you can see every flaw, and the more you know what’s possible. I know people who’ve been spinning for 40 years and make AMAZING yarn… they still can see improvements to be made. Each day they start where they are, and move forward from there.

The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind are not about perfection, they are about improvement. Start where you are, and move forward. If you believe you “should” be “perfect” then you’ve already lost the battle, because no yarn is perfect, even the yarns spun by the Moerae* have snags.

So get spinning. Wherever you are in the journey, start there, every time.

That’s all for now!

*Moerae: Greek Fates – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos who spun the lives/destinies of humanity

~The Gnome

Spinning: Romney and The Uncarved Block

It has been a long time since I spun. I mean a LONG time.

I recently plied a rideau arcotte two-ply that had been sitting, completely spun, on my wheel for at least 5 years, and maybe more.

So, I decided it was time to get back into it. I love it, and it’s good to know the fiber I’m dyeing in a more intimate fashion than just how it behaves in the pot. So, a taste for the future, I plan to do more of these blog posts. We’ll see if I succeed.

I have this lovely soft lofty romney I got from a local breeder and got processed by my favorite processor into roving (the same romney that’s in the shop). Romney is a medium wool that’s used all over the country for a lot of different purposes, leading to a significantly variant fiber characteristic. It can be SUPER long, or only moderately. It can be pretty coarse (think 70’s wool sweater prickly) or downright silky. This particular batch of small farm Romney was on the average length, extra fine ends of the spectrum, and quite clean. Once back from the processor, it begged to be spun into a nice lofty, fuzzy yarn. This made it perfect for my purposes of getting back into spinning. And along with getting back into spinning, a dose of spinning philosophy.

Why, you ask?

Because I am not very good at longdraw, and that would be a great way to spin this.

Wait, you’re saying, it’s perfect because you need to spin it a way you’re bad at?

Exactly! Using a technique I know I’m not an expert in lets me more easily hang onto a concept known as “P’u” or “The Uncarved Block” from Taoism. There is what I think of as an outgrowth of this idea, though it’s technically a separate Buddhist one, referred to as “Shoshin” or “the Beginner’s Mind.” Which is all a very long lead-in to say that when I am learning something, or RElearning something, I work very hard to be Pooh, and not Rabbit.

You’re giving me that look again. Ah, yes, I learned about the idea of P’u from the fabulous book, “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, and the idea has stuck with me for my whole life as I’ve struggled, or not, to learn things. Basically, the idea is that you can’t overcomplicate things with expectations and assumptions and all the things something “should” be and how it “should” work. You have to approach each thing with a fresh mind, an uncarved block, and each task with a mind open to learning and working to learn new things, a beginner’s mind. In a word, be like Winnie the Pooh.

By default, I want to be perfect. I am very definitively… not. What this means, practically speaking, is that I don’t like it when things I make aren’t perfect or I am not skilled at things. I have figured out a way around this, purposefully make things hard for myself. By making things hard, I then can convince myself it SHOULD be hard, and therefor that it’s ok to struggle. Which brings us back to the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind. (All pictures can be clicked to embiggen)

This is the first yarn I spun. It is three-ply, corriedale, spun on my Ashford Traditional. It is thick as my thumb in some places, so large that when spinning it I often had to literally shove it through the orifice to wind it on the bobbin. There are a thousand things wrong with this yarn, and if I wanted to, I could go through them all. But I don’t. I’ve been spinning (with obvious breaks) for 10 years, and I have never sat down and critiqued this yarn.

Because this is the first yarn I spun. The first fiber I took from a fluffy cloud, spun, and plied into an actual yarn that could, theoretically, be crocheted or knit with (given large enough hooks/needles). It is just over 2 ounces, and I MADE it. When I had almost no idea what I was doing, I made this thing.

I LOVE this ridiculous skein of yarn.

It’s soft, it’s squishy, and I MADE IT.

When I spin, I try (and often fail) to catch that sense of wonder and acceptance that things won’t be perfect. A great spinner and talented woman, Abby Franquemont, put it this way, “Let yourself suck.” Which is, of course, a restatement of the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind mantras. When I spun that first skein, I was DELIGHTED. Whatever else was wrong with it, it looked recognizably like yarn, and it was magic. I wasn’t concerned with making it perfect, I was “letting myself suck” because I knew I was learning. There’s a bit of magic every time you make something, and by the time I broke off regular spinning, I could pretty easily spin super fine yarn on a wheel or on a spindle while walking.

But that first skein will always be special, which is why I keep it. As a reminder of where I came from, and the magic of that first moment of “OMG It’s working!” Which all finally brings us back to the Romney and my relearning to spin. I knew that my hands and muscles would be out of practice. So I purposefully picked a fiber that was well suited to a skill I had only been passable at when I went on break. The idea being that I could be patient with myself, get myself into the beginner’s mind and let myself suck a little. I also didn’t make plans on use or much in the way of an idea of fineness. Long draw would help keep the fluff in the Romney, and not compact it, since I really wanted to preserve its rare softness.

So I dyed up some muddy green/brown colors I loved and got down to business. I’ll do another post (or series of posts) later about how exactly I control colors, but that would be a bit much for this post.

I decided on a three-ply because… because. No particular reason besides I felt like it and three-ply with multicolor tends to maximize tweediness if I wanted to use it for something later. And then I finally started spinning!

It came back fairly quickly. Main challenges were getting enough tension on my Schact-Reeves 30 inch. If I was doing this more often, I would likely switch to a heavier drive band. But it mostly worked, and I did some experiments on compensating with additives that I’ll post about later as well. I still tended to default to a supported long draw, which gave me a little more control. I also quickly relearned that longdraw is WAY easier if you open up the fibers first, and that it was way easier to spin from one end of the roving (though by no means impossible).

Then it was time for plying, which is always fun! I tension with my plying hand, because I’ve never gotten a braking lazy-kate. It works for me, and resulted in… yarn!

4oz fits just about exactly plied on these Schact bobbins, which is always a bonus. And it measured up to… 134yds.

With some left over. I knew there would be left overs because I was carefully not worrying about that, choosing to focus on the technique to the exclusion of other things. This meant more leftover than usual.

Leftovers were plied into a two ply. STILL remaining leftovers (you’ll notice the leftover bobbins aren’t the same either) were plied back with themselves. All the yarns were measured, given a warm bath, snap, and light thwack to even out the plying. Much to my surprise, they’re pretty balanced (another thing I didn’t plan, I just plyed until I liked the look).

134 yds of three-ply
38 yds of two-ply
12 yds of two-plied back on itself

And the final yarn?

A surprisingly even dk/worstedish yarn, with plenty of flaws, but no monumental ones that would prevent its use. Which is pretty neat, since I was not worrying at all about those things. But when I let myself have an empty mind about it, I didn’t worry and overanalyze. So I guess I naturally evened it out instead of ending up trying too hard to control it and ending up with a thick-thin monstrosity. Yay!

And my goals? Definitely got better at supported long draw. Definitely remembered how much I love spinning. Definitely saved the softness and loft of the original fiber. It’s very squishy and enjoyable.

I call that a win.

Next up on the wheel is some Manx Loaghtan

And, as a bonus for reading this far… a sneak peek of a current Gnomespun project:

That’s all for now!
~The Gnome