A front row seat to what it takes to get great food on your table.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

OMG, it's yarn!

When I left off last on the chronicle of this journey fromsheep-to-socks I had just gotten the hang of spinning after months offrustration. Turned out the the root of the problem lay not only in understandingthe mechanics of the wheel, but of spinningin and of itself.

Cakes of double-ply hand-spun yarn.
After taking Abby Franquemont’s spinning bootcamp class atMaryland Sheep and Wool this past spring, I sprung for her book, Respect the Spindle, to get a better understanding. Having both top and bottom drivespindles, I experimented, but cats and spindles had become an insufferable gameof Battleship. I lost. After each being caught up once one way or another withthe wheel, the cats steer clear when I sit in the rocking chair and start totreadle. 

My summer and fall were spent spinning a variety of professionally prepared rovings as they were much easier to spin than my nep-infested roving from the ram. Spinning with a higher quality wool also gave me the win needed to keep me moving forward. 

With all available spindles full, it was time for a plyinglesson. This stage presented itself perfectly as I was able to pair it with analpaca neck roast dinner with my fellow fiber enthusiast and teacher. She keepscamelids; I do not but was at my butcher’s on a day when a four-year old femalewho failed to breed was being slaughtered for meat. “I want the neck roast,” Ichirped. A few swift cuts and I was handed a four-pound slug of meat.
Alpaca: it's what's for dinner.

After our meal we began by transforming a bobbin’s worth ofsingle-ply into a cake using a gadget she had brought along. A quick lesson on cake-windingcompleted, my hand-spun wool was starting to look better. Unfortunately, that feelingwould be short-lived once I began plying from a cake and encountered “yarn barf”,the not-so-technical term for when a tangled rat nest emerges from thecenter-pull yarn of the cake requiring mind-numbing patience to unravel beforecontinuing to ply.

Plying, for the uninitiated, is when multiple strands ofsingle-ply yarn are twisted together using the wheel. Plying from the ends of asingle cake is a bit of a work-around for not having multiple bobbins set up ona holder (a.k.a. lazy kate) to feed into the orifice of the wheel.

The second gotcha, much easier to overcome than most of mychallenges thus far, was remember that the wheel spins counter to the directionin which the single-ply was originally spun. I spin clockwise so my plyingwould be counter-clockwise.

Lazy Kate
My cake had a bad case of food poisoning and puked theentire time during my first attempt at making a double-ply yarn. It was duringthis time I had the realization that if I had spent the time spinning a secondbobbin of the same roving in order to ply using a lazy kate,  it would have beenfaster. Instead of falling victim to the frustration of untangling for hours I spuna second bobbin of a project using purple and green rovings I purchased lastyear on my trip to New Hampshire.
Another yarn barf while plying from a single cake.

During the spinning I had alternated between the two colorsin an attempt to create a variegated yarn when plied but realized my error. Ishould have spun whole bobbins of the same color and then plied them. I’m coolwith the learning process and my finished double-ply yarn turned out betterthan expected. 

After plying it was time to wind the yarn off the bobbin using a gadget made from some wooden dowels and plastic T's called a niddy noddy. Who comes up with these names?

Using a niddy noddy allows you to gain a better ideas of how much in length the finished yarn hank is. While on the niddy noddy I tied the hank in four places before removing the yarn and soaking it in warm water for a half hour. Similar to the felting projects, the yarn needed fulling which is basically thwacking the hell out of it while damp against a hard surface. When the yarn hank had dried I wound it back into a cake using the gadget my teacher has left with me since she got herself a newer, much fancier unit. 
Plied yarn on niddy noddy. 

With several empty bobbins I’ve returned to spinning the ram’sfleece from which my goal is to make a pair of socks. The roving isn’t as easyto spin as professionally prepared fleece, but I’m working through it.

In the mean time, I started a simple knitted scarf projectwith my purple and green double-ply yarn and am attempting a pair of socks frompurchased yarn, however Judy’s Magic Cast-On is more like an evil spell castupon me straight from the devil himself. Note to YouTube instructors: slow downso we can see what you are doing and don’t cast on five stitches and then moveon. Do it over and over and over slowly so challenged folks like me can get thehang of it.

I’m still having fun felting here & there and would loveto try weaving, but not until my socks are done. 

One step closer but back to the wheel for now…. 

A felted picture from a class I took over the summer. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Investing in my Craft

When it comes to new hobbies, I tend to be conservative in my financial investment until I know this is something I truly want to pursue. Since embarking on this journey of Sheep2Socks my biggest investment has been time thanks to the generosity of friends from whom I have borrowed equipment and picked their brains. Given the proximity of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival--one of the pilgrimage stops for fiber enthusiasts--I decided to take a class. Mind you, this was back when I was still spinning wool breakfast sausages in abject frustration.

"The classes fill up at lightning speed," I was told by everyone. So I treated it like trying to get tickets to a popular concert, my finger hovered over the BUY button at the appointed time that EventBrite opened online registration. I sat in the van after market waiting for 2:00 PM. 2:00 PM came and went with no change to the event status. 2:02 PM, "Damn, I need to refresh the page to get it to work," I thought stupidly to myself. Four spots left in the class. Buy. Checkout. Pay with PayPal. Success. I had scored a spot to Abby Frankquenmont's Spinning Bootcamp and I felt like I had just scored front row tickets to Hamilton.

In the time between signing up for the class and the day of the class I had finally gotten the hang of spinning, but the mechanics and lingo were still swirling in the ether of my mind. What was all this about twist everyone talked about? I just knew that my roving was passing through my fingers and on to the bobbin as the wheel spun around.

The day came for class and I put on clothing without horn holes or farm stains and headed south of the Mason Dixon. I thought the class would be at the fairgrounds, but the address led to a convention center at a golf course a few miles past the fairgrounds. Parking the van between a Porsche and Masserati, I hauled out the borrowed Ashford and headed to find the class.

There were eighteen participants, including myself. Women of all ages and a token male. There was an assortment of traditional wheels, both Castle and Saxony, and a few e-spinners, including the instructor's which had a tachometer her performance engine mechanic husband had installed for her so she could prove a point in an online slap-fight with another spinner. Who knew it could be such a competitive arena?

One of the main reasons I chose this class was for the instructor's personal experiences as the child of cultural anthropologists studying textiles in Peru. I knew this chick was going to be as interesting as she was informative. An excellent instructor in spinning as well as history, economics, design and mechanics, Abby is also an opinionated woman; I felt right at home.

Also the wife of a performance car mechanic, Abby was able to explain the technical aspects of spinning in terms with which I was familiar. What held interest for me, though, was the idea that textiles were an act of independence.

You ever notice how when you take up an interest in something it tends to begin popping up everywhere? So there's this wonderful conversation with a group of people about spinning for fun versus necessity.

The following month I listened to Jefferson's Daughters: Threee Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison in which it detailed a number of issues that were discussed in the workshop. At the time of the Revolutionary War most textiles were imported from England. In the struggle for independence, domestic textile production became an act of rebellion. Founding fathers who were also farmers and plantation owners planted flax, cotton and hemp to be transformed into cloth onsite. Young slave girls not yet capable of working in the fields were put to work in small mills processing fibers, spinning and weaving. Young women of the house were traditionally gifted a fine spinning wheel for their 16th birthday although their spinning was limited to the finer wools that were gentle on the hands. Despite Sally Hemming's children to Jefferson were still slaves, he rewarded them with positions of relative ease compared to that of the other slaves. For instance, one of Sally's daughters worked in the textile mill, but she was only allowed to spin wool and was able to remain at her work in the mill far past when most girls were sent into the fields.

Another take-away from the workshop dealt with the physical and mental mechanics of spinning. Instead of spinning for hours and hours to learn a particular skill, Abby suggested just fifteen minutes at a time and then sleep on it so the brain can process what the hands had done. Instead of sitting for an hour to spin and getting up stiff, I now break up my spinning time into ten or fifteen minute increments during the day.

The big break-through came when I began switching from spinning my nep-infested (nep is a new word meaning small knots of fibers that are a result of second cuts during shearing) to professionally carded roving. The first win was with a tie-dyed colored ball of Merino gifted to me by one of my regular market customers. Working with variegated roving allowed me to see the twist thus understanding the dynamics I had been missing until then.

Then I broke into the bag of gorgeous roving given to me by my chicken processor's mother. "Take this, I'll never use it. It's been taking up space in my closet for years," she said handing me a bag of mystery fiber and a huge box of locks. Only after Abby's workshop did I realize the value of her gift. The mystery roving was the color and consistency of an old biker's beard, but the long staple (meaning the length of individual fibers) made roving flow through my fingers.

Now I felt comfortable to begin to experiment with different tension settings and the speed of the flier.

The shearer has been here which means I've been on this humbling journey for a year now. Things I though would be easy have required much practice and patience. With all of the bobbins I possess now almost full it's time to move on to the next step of this process--plying.

Stay tuned......

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

She was more than just a cat. She was my friend.

RIP Megs
It is with great sadness I enter spring this year with theloss of Megs the Merciless, my feline companion for over twenty years. Yeah, Iknow, that’s old for a cat. And some people will say, “It’s just a cat,” but spendthat much time with something/someone sharing your bed, hogging the pillow, stealingthe covers, being there each night when you go to bed and greeting you firstthing in the morning…you get a little attached.

Megs came to me as a tiny kitten while I was working in theIT department at Elixir Technologies. She was so tiny with her barelyperceptible squeak I said she was only a megabyte and the name stuck.

At the time I was living in a funky 1950’s era mobile homesmack dab in a citrus and avocado orchard. Critters were everywhere, especiallyrats, mice and opossums. My two-legged house mate had issued a NO CATS edict,but the vermin were outmaneuvering the traps and poisons, coming into thebathroom through the spaces between the floor and the pipes, raiding my Tampaxbox for bedding they shredded in the walls at night while we were trying tosleep. It was a losing battle with us on the wrong side.

Shopping at a neighbor’s yard sale one day we spied arat-sized live trap. “Why are you selling this?” asked my anti-feline companion.

“We got a cat,” was there reply so the cat ban was lifted.

The next day at work came an office wide email—Free Kittens.It was meant to be. The next day I arrived at my desk to find a mewing tabby ina cat carrier next to my CPU. She went home with me and has remained myfaithful companion until today.

From the very beginning, Megs was a hunter. Even though theorchard rats were bigger than she, lizards under the carport were her firstquarry. She didn’t even kill them, just grab them by the tail which popped offas a natural escape mechanism. When she finally grew into her glory, she wouldbring several offerings a day to the front door—rats, mice, bunnies, snakes andonce a raccoon kit. She avoided hawks, owls and coyotes. 

For two years her bestfriend was Rosa, a black Lab puppy we were raising for the National DisasterFoundation. Rosa would run with a blanket upon which Megs would cling for dearlife as her pal would leap off and on to the porch, the blanket flying with kittenin tow. Rosa would carry Megs around by the leg and be scolded for doing so,but them Megs would rub against the puppy’s mouth teasing her to take up theirgame again. During long walks through the orchard in the morning and eveningswith the dogs, Megs would follow along racing up trees and ambushing the dogs. WhenRosa left for her professional training, Megs was visibly depressed for severaldays over the loss of her friend.

When the time came to move across the country from Californiato Pennsylvania Megs won the award for the worst traveler. The horse had atrailer, the dogs had a futon in the back of the truck and Megs had a large dogcrate with a cardboard box for a litter pan. She was none too happy and “sang” thesong of her people for three thousand miles. 

Half way through the trip westopped for a few days in Texas at my companion’s mother’s home. She was adyed-in-the-wool cat hater capturing wayward neighborhood kitties in a livetrap, tormenting them with hose and them calling animal control to dispose ofthem. Once, she clipped the whiskers off her next-door neighbor’s pet cat witha pair of garden shears out of spite while it was being held by the owner. Ihad made arrangements to board her with my horse at the local veterinarian’sclinic, but when I arrived she was turned away due to an outbreak of contagiouscat disease. She had to go with us. Imagine my surprise when I woke the nextday to find our host with Megs on her lap, a cup of coffee in one hand and acigarette in the other. “I thought you didn’t like cats?” I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t,” she replied in her clipped German accent adding, “butthis cat is not going to shit in my garden.” Megs sat there purring. Was itbecause she was out of her crate or because she had won over the cat-hater?

After ten days we arrived at the farm which was right on theroad. I had visions of finding her splattered on the asphalt, but in all theyears there she managed to avoid tragedy while numerous barn cats did not. Sheopted for the opposite direction, hunting down in the pines where there wereplenty of bunny nests. Bush-hogging days were her favorites when she wouldpounce on moles, voles, mice and of course, baby bunnies exposed in the mowedgrasses. She nabbed chipmunks, squirrels, baby groundhogs and once, a fledglingowl. Much to the horror of our bird-watching neighbors, she raided the birdnests in their ornamental trees grabbing one at a time, bringing it home to eatand then going back for another until the nest was empty.

Her modus operandi also got her into trouble with thefarming activities when she chewed the heads off a few dozen turkey poults oneyear. While the initial loss was around a hundred bucks, had those turkeysgrown up for Thanksgiving dinners they would have brought in well over athousand dollars. It wouldn’t be the first time someone who slept in my bedcaused thousands in damages. From then on during poult brooding Megs wasunhappily confined to the house. Angered by this, she tore through a second-storywindow and escaped for another pre-Thanksgiving feast. We learned to Megs-proofthe brooders.

Like our walks in the orchard, Megs
would tag along withwalks around the farm with the dogs, the bottle baby goats, the calves and thehorses.

A year into the farm in Pennsylvania I brought home a friendfor her, Bugs. Megs was having none of it. They were mortal enemies for manyyears until a visiting dog grabbed Bugs by the neck violently shaking her. Shelay on my bed for two days unable to get her bearings. I was afraid she wasgoing to die. It was at the height of market season when I had three marketdays in a row over the weekend and not the funds, let alone time, for a trip tothe emergency vet clinic. I came home to find Megs in bed next to Bugs with hertail draped over her once hated housemate in a gesture of comfort. Bugsrecovered and the outright fighting between the two ceased.

Although a new feline friend was not to her liking, thefirst Great Pyrenees puppy—Sherman was love at first sight. They play racetrackaround the house for hours at a time, bounding on to the furniture beforefalling together in a fit of exhaustion. Despite his enormous size, she was theone to play rough always going for his lips causing him to freeze while sheretracted her needle-like claws. He would hold her down in his massive paws andlick her while she yowled, but she never physically protested. 

When Sherman washit on the road in front of the barn one morning, Megs entered anotherdepression like that of when Rosa left. She never became attached to any of thepuppies to enter her life again and was equally indifferent to a tuxedo kittenrife with lice, ear mites and eye infection that was dumped in the driveway atfour am one July morning. She tolerated Lucky, but neither played or foughtwith him.

One summer I thought I had lost Megs for good when shedisappeared for nearly two months. An owl, a hawk, the road, a leg trap…whoknows, she was gone. As suddenly as she had disappeared, she reappeared seemingnone worse for wear, fat and clean, however, she seemed to stick close to thehouse. It wasn’t until the Amish family a few doors over were walking by onedays when they noticed her sunning herself on the bench in front of my house. 

“Oh,there’s our kitty,” the woman said asher little girl rushed to grab Megs who eluded the child’s attempt. I explainedthat Megs was mine and had traveled from California with me several yearsearlier. She would not be going home with them. The woman was incensed I woulddo something so mean as to take away a child’s pet. I didn’t give a shit whatshe said, Megs was my cat. 

When a tame orphaned deer was left at my farm, Megs befriended Buttercup who would lick Megs' ears. Whenever the doe would see Megs, she would rush over to lick the kitty slick. I was fortunate to catch one of their sessions on video. 
Megs had a wicked sense of humor. She knew when someone wasn’t a cat or animal person, making it a pointto win over their hearts or harass the daylights out of them until they leftthe property. Once, she shed a huge gravid tick the size of a lima bean on afriend with a tick phobia. She didn’t run when he tossed her off his lapshrieking at the top of his lungs. Each time he would visit, she would make abee line for him, but for pet people, she could care less.

When I gathered up all the critters to move to a differentfarm four years ago, Megs only had twenty minutes to sing. She, along with Bugsand Lucky, were forced to share my bedroom and the master bath for a week untilI opened to door to their new home.

The road was a quarter mile away. The house sat in themiddle of a hay field. There were threeporches on which to laze in the sun—one for each cat which suited them all justfine.

About a year into her third farm it became apparent Megs wasaging. She could still catch and wolf down baby bunnies. She knew there was amouse trap on the counter and would jump up when it snapped, stealing theentire trap to go and eat the mouse out of the bale wire. I found a stash oftraps under my bed recently. But she wasn’t grooming herself. Tufts of excessfur were matting on her haunches. She was staring to shrink from her sleek, yetmuscular self. I bought a pet brush and we learned to deal with it.

Another year went by and while her body continued to shrink Megscontinued to hunt, to eat, to jump up and down on the bed. Her one eye grewcloudy with what else… a cataract! She was old.When the weight really began dropping off her I splurged on wet cat food, thenice stuff which she gobbled two cans each day. She could still hear becauseshe would dance in excitement each time the mouse trap snapped, waiting for meto drop it in front of her to promptly gobble down. Even when she quit eatingthe fancy wet cat food, only licking the gravy off the chunks, she could stilldevour an entire mouse and not barf it up. I tried to entice her with raw chicken livers, another favorite, and she turned up her nose. 

This past summer Megs developed an ulcerated tumor on herside. The vet said she could sew it closed but it would require anesthetizingMegs and wouldn’t guarantee it would not open right back up. I didn’t want totake the chance and instead kept the open sore clean and medicated. It didn’tstart to expand until about a month ago. Then it began to smell. I consideredhaving her euthanized, but each time she would jump up on my lap showing nopain with a relatively clean sore. Then it began toooze. The fur fell out around it. She quit eating altogether, but anytime I satdown she climbed up on my lap and purred. I knew the end was near. I would notterrify her by loading her into a strange carrier andtaking her somewhere to be put down out of convenience for me. She was not inpain. She was not suffering. She was going to die on her own terms.

For the last few weeks she mostly slept, ate little andspent her time awake when I was around. Each morning when I would wake up, she’dbe waiting outside of my door as I had to quit letting her sleep in bed withme when she refused to get out of the way when I rolled over. She tried to getas close as possible and I was afraid of squishing her. To be honest, the oozingsore was also something I did not want in my bed.

Last week, Megs had her celebrity fan moment when myneighbor’s brother gave me a ride to the mechanic to pick up my van after I hadsome maintenance done. He is none other than Dale Midkiff who played DoctorLouis Creed in the Stephen King thriller, Pet Cemetery. We had been jokingabout Megs smelling like Church, the cat-returned-from-the-dead. 

“Would you dome a favor, Dale? Hold Megs and let me take your picture,” I asked. He obliged,adding to hurry up because she smelled like death and he was going to puke.  I swore she smiled having played the part to a T. I placated Dale byletting him cuddle the house lamb which smelled like a wool sweater for a few minutes.

This morning when I woke up, Megs did not greet me at thebedroom door as usual. She was laying on the floor in the living room with Bugs at herside. They hadn’t laid like that since Bugs’ encounter with the nasty dog. Megscouldn't stand up. Her eyes weren’t focusing and the pads on her pawswere ice cold. I wrapped her in a towel and a blanket and laid her on my bed.As I went about my work today, checking in on her regularly, I could see shewas gradually shutting down, fading just as I had seen with my grandmother asher breathing grew irregular in her final hours of life, an occasional largeinhale, a small squeak when I squeezed her paw or stroked her fur.  As a farmer, I know death isn’t pretty. 

In the early afternoon as her breathing grew shallow and irregular, I gota telephone call from an acquaintance who suggested I bang her on the head witha shovel or shoot her and get it over with. I hung up, blocked their number on my iPhone and went back to ensurethat Megs faded quietlyacross the rainbow bridge. 

Megs passed peacefully wrapped in her favorite blanket on my bed on thefirst day of Spring despite a snow storm. 

She likes to leave kitty tongue marks on butter left out and in the pan when grease congealed. Salmon skin was her favorite thing next to whole mice and she would be underfoot singing each time I opened a package of salmon. The vacuum cleaner didn't frighten her, but helium balloons were on par with evil clowns for her.  

On an impulse last Sunday, Ipurchased several dinner plate dahlia bulbs, something I’ve never grown. Megs willbe buried in my flower garden next to the porch on which she loved to sunherself, the dahlias marking the spot. I’m certain they will be gorgeous andmake me smile just as Megs did.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Pests Patrol

No, I don't have bugs in the wool...well, kind of. Not bugs, but cats and this season's house lamb, appropriately named Purl. Since my spinning lesson last month in which I finally got the hang of spinning, I've tried to sit down at and spin a few minutes every day. Audio books, not so good, but Ottmar Leibert , UsefulTree or Ray LaMontagne--absolutely.

There's something meditative about settling in at the wheel, focusing on the mantra of pinch, draft slide and letting the mind go to become lost in the feel of the fiber as it passes through my fingers. I try to evoke images of the end product, a pair of thick socks that rise a few inches above the ankle, thick enough to pad my winter boots, especially the ones that snap into the bindings of my cross country skis, which sadly, I've only been able to use once this year.

I finished the gray roving and successfully spun it off the bobbin on the spindle to a storage bobbin. That new Milwaukee drill came in handy for more than just hanging gates. With trepidation, I pulled out one of the bats I carded from the Tunis ram's wool last summer and sat down in front of the wheel with an empty bobbin. Just like that, I was one step closer to my socks as the bat transformed into a full bobbin over the course of several days.
Since I did not scour the wool, using only a mild detergent, not all of the lanolin was washed out of the fiber. When I spin my own carded bats from the ram's fleece my fingers become soft as the traces of "grease" permeate my skin.

At the same time, I've been practicing knitting. I frogged it (rip it, rip it) at least a dozen times before mastering the German twist cast-on to prevent the gap when knitting in the round. I'm about done with a hat now in the final stages as I attempt to switch from connected needles to double pointed for the final few rows. Megs insists on helping making it all but impossible to proceed.

But tonight as I sat down to spin, the critters decided that it would be more fun to chase each other through the wheel as I treadled, to grab at the roving and to bat at the hook. Purl took it a step further, punching me on the legs with her nose as if to say, "Play with me! Give me a bottle!" Finally, she sat at my feet for a few precious moments as I realized the wool I was spinning was her grandfather's and some day in the not too distant future I will shear her wool, too, eventually spinning it into yarn and making something for myself or those I love. And that is the ultimate satisfaction of this journey. Onward to the next step...plying.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pinch. Draft. Slide.

Those three words made months of frustration disappear as the white practice roving--nothing special--twirled into ropey sausages each time I sat down to spin. I felt I would never get the hang of spinning and my quest for sheep to socks would end in failure. Determined to give it another try with coaching from a friend who had first inspired me to take on this project, I invited my fiber friend over for a day. She brought her own wheel, a lovely Lendrum double treadle wheel

Once again she quickly diagnosed I was working with non-functioning equipment--a broken spindle on the Ashford and a loose footman on the Clemes & Clemes. Despite a dab of glue and an overall tightening of nuts and screws on my two borrowed wheels, she set me in front of her wheel, beginning an in-depth instruction as to how each part of the wheel affected take-up, the size of the spun fiber and the types of wheels.  I practiced treadling to understand the motion of just getting the wheel to spin consistently in one direction. With roving in hand under her watchful eye, she began drilling me--pinch, draft, slide. 

Pinch the fiber so the twist happens in front of my fingers and not on the entire string of fiber from which I was to pull the fibers held in the opposite hand--the drafting.  Working in the "triangle" as it was described, after the draft, my pinching fingers were to slide down the fiber releasing the twisted portion to be drawn on to the spindle. Pinch. Draft. Slide. Pedal. And like learning to ride a bike, suddenly the roving was spinning into yarn that actually looked like yarn. 

Once the glue dried on the broken bobbin, the Ashford was back up and functioning properly. I sat down in front of the wheel and over the course of a few hours spun an entire bobbin. Now I was back on the road toward my goal with a new enthusiasm. 

Next up after spinning will be plying, which is twisting two strands of yarn together in the direction opposite in which they were spun. This will involve yet another piece of equipment called a "Lazy Kate" however, I've been told that a shoe box and chopsticks work just as well. 

In the mean time, more woolmakers are being born.....

Friday, November 3, 2017

Felting Fun

Patience is not one of my virtues, but I'm learning. After cleaning the Ashford wheel and playing around with it for a few days my frustration was mounting. I needed a win with all this wool or I was in danger of chucking it in the bin and admitting defeat. I'll raise them, shear them, pick, wash and card the wool, but after that I'd need to outsource anything that took hand-eye coordination and patience. But after a gracious offer from one of my fiber arts mentors to sit and spin with me earlier this week I found out my frustrations weren't as much my utter lack of talent, but yet another equipment malfunction. Not only was the Ashford's flyer broken, the tensioning band for the spindle was worn out. A quick fix with some fishing line and a hair band had the wheel up and running and me actually spinning. For continued work it will take another trip to the hardware store for wood glue and something a bit more substantial than four-pound test.  
Still, I was itching for fun fiber project that would only require hours...not months, so I signed up for a Felted Scarf Class at the Chambersburg Council for the Arts. The first night we made scarves using a technique called nuno felting which uses silk material as a base for the raw fibers. The process included bubble wrap, soapy water, a pool noodle and manual labor. Oh yeah, towels....lots of towels.  
The following week we made scarves using only wool roving in a process called "spidering" which was easier than the nuno felting with similar results. With two new felted scarves, I was feeling satisfied about making a little progress, but it was still a far cry from a pair of socks. The socks are still the goal, but I'm going to give felting a pair of slippers a try since LL Bean has discontinued making hand-stitched fleece-lined moccasins for women and my last pair are almost worn. . 
Continuing with the theme of helpful generosity on this journey, when I mentioned my new hobby to my chicken processor's mother she offered me two bags of fiber that she'd had squirreled away in a cedar chest for many years. "I'm never going to use it and I want the space," she said as she handed over a garbage bag of gorgeous roving and a box of cream colored raw locks.Using them, I embarked on my first home solo project--a set of wrist warmers. Not too shabby. Now if winter would ever show up. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Equipment Malfunction

"I've spun thousands of skeins of wool on that workhorse," is what Annie had told me when she lent me her spinning wheel. Despite the complete dismantling, refinishing, replacing visibly broken pieces and reassembling, the pitman crapped out just as I was starting to get my mojo working on the wheel.

You ask, "WTF is a pitman?"

It is the rod connecting the wheel (the big round piece) to the treadle (the thing you peddle) that is the driving piece of hardware. As the wheel goes around, the drive band attached is wound over the flyer pulley and the bobbin pulley...kind of like a serpentine belt on a diesel engine. The bobbin inserts into the flyer which spins around the bobbin as the fiber is drawn in through a metal tip with a T hole configuration that is inserted into a piece of leather attached to vertical piece of wood inserted in the top cross piece.

And the worst part---it's totally my fault.

When I refurbished the wheel I couldn't find a bolt with a smooth collar so I bought one with threads the whole way to the hex. Those grooves chewed right through the end of the pitman. A telephone call to the manufacturer who is still in business, a credit card number and a delivery from UPS a week later and I was back in action. 

However, during that lull a friend stopped by to drop off a spinning wheel that needed some TLC. "Fix it up and use it, would you," she said setting a very dusty Ashford Traditional spinning wheel in my living room. Unlike that damn diesel runabout I've been working my way through the electrical system in order to get it to run, the wheel's manufacturer had the schematic and operation manual freely down-loadable from the web site. 

An evening with an old t-shirt, a bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap and a few drops of 3-in-1 oil the old Ashford was back in business even with my poor spinning skills. Gradually with practice I'm getting the hang of it, but to get a better grip on my roving am considering taking a spinning class. 

In the mean time, I'm going to also start playing with felting. Tomorrow night at the Chambersburg Council for the Arts I'm taking a  Nuno Felted Scarf class and a Felted Hat class next month. 

This afternoon I have plans to shear a very dark wooled cull ewe with a long staple fleece (and a very bad attitude) for a felted rug prior to her ride on the Sausage Wagon. Actually, she'll be the Guest of Honor at one of Jose Andres' award-winning restaurants, Zaytinya, in Washington, D.C. so no humble sausage for her.  
Nothing goes to waste.