Glorious Hairball

So last blog post I said that plying all my little yarn turtles together into a 2-ply lace weight was either going to be glorious or a total hairball.  As it turned out: both, actually.

I had an intimation that there was going to be trouble because I am one of those people who is absolutely incapable of reaching into the center of a center-pull ball and coming out with a single strand.  My center-pull balls are invariably gutted, spewing forth a wad of yarn at least half the size of the original ball, which may (or may not) contain that elusive free end.  Before I’m done there is yarn spread all over the room and I may (or may not) be restraining myself from cursing.

So while the logical side of my brain was saying “Turkish spindle, center-pull ball, no winding off before plying, this is gonna be great!” my intuition was saying “uh-oh.”

I started the way one usually would with a center-pull ball.  I reached into the top of my little yarn turtle with a wee hook and started fishing around for the free end.  The first two balls gave up the free end relatively easily, lulling me into a false sense of security…

(Note: when plying fine silk, do not let one of the singles fall into this crease at your knuckle, it hurts!)

Hand position

The third and subsequent balls, however, were not so cooperative.

Now, when a ball of commercial sock yarn turns itself inside out.  It’s a mess, but not a disaster.  The yarn is nice and balanced and needs a bit of winding up before you begin weaving or knitting, but it’s not the end of the world.

Overspun silk and cashmere singles?  Where not only does the yarn, off tension, immediately curl itself up into eensy weensy beehives…but the short-stapled cashmere reaches across the singles and twists together creating “handcuffs” that weld the beehives together.

It was not pretty.


The picture above does not tell the full story.  Imagine me, standing in my kitchen, tensioning an ever-elongating snarl of yarn with my left foot, right knee, both elbows, ten fingers, and my mouth.

There is no picture of that because these things always happen to me late at night when the whole house is asleep.  And really, would you wake your husband up in the middle of the night to take a picture of you half-strangled by yarn?

Things working in my favor at this point?

  1. I am one of those folks who considers untangling knots a fun intellectual challenge.
  2. I’d just spent six weeks spinning these damn singles, they’re hand-painted cashmere and silk, and failure was not an option.
  3. A book on tape was playing in the background, House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones (who also wrote Howl’s Moving Castle.)  The narrator had a very soothing voice which was a big help at crucial moments.

After untangling about 100 yards of snarl, and suffering only two yarn breaks along the way (overspun silk and cashmere is surprisingly strong, I was amazed at the abrasion and tension the singles could handle) I decided THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY.

And then I had what I can only describe as a “duh” moment.  And made an amazing discovery.  Are you ready for this?  I turned the yarn turtle over.

See, when you reach in from the top of the cop (yarn turtle) that you’ve just spun on your Turkish spindle, you have to dig all the way to the bottom to find that free end.  And then you have to drag it up through all the layers you wrapped on top of that free end while you were spinning.

When you turn the yarn turtle over, the free end is right there.  And best of all, it’s not covered with any layers it has to drag through.  It’s like the top of a cone of yarn, or a weaving pirn.  It just pulls the heck off with NO TANGLING OR SNARLING WHATSOEVER.  You have to keep it under tension with your hand, to keep it from plying back on itself, but you don’t have to worry about it tangling with the other layers of yarn.

From the Bottom

I finished plying all the rest of the yarn turtles with no further tangling issues whatsoever.  The bottom of the turtle poofed up a bit during plying (like a cone) but because it was feeding from the top layers, there was no friction with other layers and no snarls.

Mama Turtle

I swear, standing there in my kitchen in the middle of the night, I felt like I’d discovered fire.  I was simultaneously hit with the feeling that (a) I was a genius and (b) the absolute certainty that if I took this discovery to Judith MacKenzie McCuin she would smile kindly, pat my shoulder, and say, “Of course Syne, everyone knows that.”

I’m 100% sure all spinners in Turkey know this.  What I don’t know is whether this is common knowledge with the spinners over here.

So tell me, if you use a Turkish spindle, did you know about the whole ply-from-the-bottom thing?  Am I the only one who missed the memo?

In any event, the payoff is below.  330 yards of 2-ply lace weight spun at 2640 ypp.


It is soft, lustrous, and has a wonderful play of colors that this photo just can’t do justice.  I am totally smitten.  And I have no idea what to do with it.  Ideas percolating in my head currently are:

  • Weave huck-lace.  (I’d love to see the silk shine in the floats.)
  • Knit a Faroese shawl. (I doubt I have enough yarn.  Right, knitters?)
  • Put it in the stash and wait until the perfect project presents itself. (This works more often than I’d believe possible.)
  • Buy more of the hand painted top and make a bigger project.  (Trying hard to resist this last, because I want to spin from my stash this year.)

Any other suggestions?

Yarn Turtles

When I was at Sock Summit this summer, I picked up a Jenkins Turkish spindle and 2 oz of a delicious blend of 50% tussah silk and 50% cashmere fiber painted by Chasing Rainbows and sold to me by Klaus at Crown Mountain Farms.  This tussah/cashmere blend is something I’ve spun before, and it’s irrestistable: soft, lustrous, and spins up like a dream.  The only color they had left in the basket when I got there was called “Sandstone” which is a blend of beige, brown, and teal.  It was not my fave (I have an unreasoning passionate dislike of beige) but since I had a brand new spindle burning a hole in my pocket, I bought it anyway.

Yarn Turtles

The day after I got back from Sock Summit, the family traveled to Montana to visit Eric’s folks.  His family gets together at least once a year and it’s always fun to see how how the neices have grown and to catch up with everyone.

I don’t do well when my hands are empty, so I took along my new-to-me drop spindle and the 2 oz of luschious fiber.  Happily, the wee little spindle was so small I could spin in the car while Eric drove.  I spun during the family visit.  This caused some comment and interest.  I think my mother-in-law was a bit worried about fluff getting everywhere at first, but she settled down after I told her the fiber. Silk and cashmere lends a bit of authority that “some fluff I plucked off my sheep” just doesn’t have.

My youngest neice, Ali, looked at the Turkish spindle and pronounced: “You’re making yarn turtles!”  I took a second look at the spindle, with its yarn-wrapped cross arms, and it did indeed look like a yarn turtle.  It’s such a charming and apt description, that I think I’ll now always think of the center-pull balls created by a Turkish spindle as “yarn turtles.”

So I made yarn turtles all the way to Montana, and through barbeques and family visiting, back home, while waiting in line, at traffic lights, at the orthodontist’s, at home in the evening while the boys watched movies, while waiting for the computer to load and install updates, etc.

singles yarn

It’s taken me five weeks, but I am finally to the end of the 2oz of fiber.  That beige grew on me, and I’m actually sad to get to the end of this colorway.  I’m not exactly sure what I can make with 2oz of this yarn.  In the past, I’ve woven directly with the singles, making a scarf that, when it was off the loom and immersed in water, immediately set into permanent pleats.  Fun!

I don’t like repeating myself, however, so I’m planning to ply this yarn.  Judith MacKenzie McCuin said in the Spinning to Weave audio interview that a 2-ply yarn is best for weaving or lace knitting.  And since I always love to weave, and I’m playing around with lace knitting again, I plan to turn these singles into 2-ply.

This being my first experience with Turkish spindles, and those “yarn turtles” looking a bit delicate once you slipped them off the spindle’s arms, I didn’t want my first experiment with prying directly from a center-pull ball to be with my precious tussah/cashmere singles.  (And truly, after 5 weeks of spinning, I was really hoping that the whole “Turkish spindles create center-pull balls that you can work with without rewinding” thing was true.)

I had some Targhee wool singles that I’d spun up.  A delightful vendor at Sock Summit gave me a sample of the Targhee to play with.  She was also a weaver.  If anyone knows who I’m talking about, could you please leave a comment?  Because I plied up the lace-weight Targhee singles (plying from the inside and outside of the ball) and not only did the Targhee wool spin up like a dream, but it made the softest, most cushy lace-weight plied yarn.  I am in love and dreaming about spinning and knitting a Faroese lace shawl and need more fiber, only…I can’t figure out which of the umpteen business cards I picked up at Sock Summit was hers.  Weaver, has Targhee sheep, sells Targhee roving.  Ring any bells?

targhee plied yarn

But back to the original project: I’ve finished the last of the nine yarn turtles.  Bouyed by my success with the Targhee, I’m going to spend today plying them on a larger spindle.  My plan is to pull from two center-pull balls (so the fiber goes into the ply in the same direction it was spun) and splice in new yarn as one center-pull ball runs out.  (That was the only downside of my wee Turkish spindle, you could take it anywhere, but then only put so much fiber on it at one time.)

Stay tuned.  This will either be glorious, or a total hairball.

OWG and Shipwreck Beads

Yesterday I gave a talk on “Online Selling” to the Olympia Weaver’s Guild.  What a great group of women!  I got to sit through their show-and-tell before the talk and found myself getting inspired by all the wonderful things folks held up and talked about: amazing knit fish, a window curtain from recycled plastic, a coat with fringe on the sleeve, vintage kente cloth, and a knit sweater with woven strips (and much, much more.)

This was the first time I’d given a talk on this particular subject and thus was a bit nervous (was the talk too technical? too basic?)  The audience was perfect, however.  I quizzed the audience before I began and of the 30ish people in the room, nearly all were considering selling their handwovens online, and only two were already doing so.  (I quizzed them again at the end, and 15 or so indicated thay they were now encouraged to actually go ahead and give online selling a try.)

If there’s interest in online selling or the business of selling your handwovens, please leave a comment on this blog post.  There already are two great “business” articles on the site: Photographing Your Work by Daryl Lancaster and How Much? Pricing Handwovens by Nadine Sanders.  And if there’s enough interest in weaving-to-sell, I’ll publish more.

After the talk, I treated myself to a stop by Shipwreck Beads.  This place is HUGE.  These pictures (taken with my humble cell phone camera) cannot do it justice.

shipwreck beads outside

shipwreck beads inside

shipwreck beads checkout line
In the 1980s, I worked for Tropic Jewel in Madison, Wisconsin I manned the retail counters, helped customers design and build necklaces, did mail-order fulfillment.  It was the perfect twenty-something slacker job.  Low pay, but fun co-workers and surrounded by beautiful glittery things all day.  That was where I first learned about Shipwreck Beads, our store did business with them, and so yesterday felt like the end of a very slow pilgrimage.

It was a bit overwhelming, actually.  If you go, plan to stay the day.  You don’t even have to pack a lunch, because they have a café right there in the store.  The store is pirate themed, which adds additional fun.  I’m planning to go back with Eric and Kai, both of whom like the glittery stuff, too.  I think it’d be a fun family outing.

Laura Fry asked me on Twitter what I bought.  I was quite restrained, considering the kind of wildness that a place like Shipwreck Beads encourages.  I bought a knotting tool that I needed to make birthday presents for my Mom, 8mm bead strands for the same project, a cheap flocked disc to hold beads… and the find of the day:

Magnetized Hematite Beads!  (So cool, they had to be capitalized.)

hematite beads

They even come in three colors: natural black-grey, silver coating, and iris coating.  I can’t tell you how hard these rocked my world.  Best of all, they were inexpensive ($2.95 for a 16” strand of natural-colored 8mm beads.)  I’m not sure yet what these are going to become, but my mind is churning away with ideas!

Last night Kai and I worked together on my Mom’s necklaces.  He strung the beads and I did the knotting.

beaded necklaces

Those are 8mm round beads, strung and knotted on Griffin silk cord #10, finished length about 30-32″, no clasp.  One necklace is rose quartz, one is rose quartz and Peruvian pink opal interleaved, the blue-green one is kyanite.

A Day of Women

Most days I stay home and work on WeaveZine, or the house, or my weaving.  The only people I see day-to-day tend to be men: my husband and son.  This past Friday, however, was filled with the company of wonderful and creative women.

First up was lunch and a weaving lesson with Bonnie Tarses.  In a complete reversal of the natural order, I was the teacher and Bonnie the student.  She had never woven on a rigid-heddle loom and wanted to give it a go, so I brought over one of mine, gave her a mini-lesson and then left it with her to play on.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!  Bonnie’s work has been so much about doing amazing things in plain weave that she and a rigid-heddle loom seem destined to be together.

In the picture below, Bonnie and Kai (my teaching assistant.)

Bonnie and Kai

At first I was a bit nervous at first about teaching someone who has been weaving longer than I’ve been alive.  But it was a lot of fun.  Most of the time I teach folks who’ve never woven before, so I have to explain everything from first principles, explaining what a heddle is, what a shed in, where the shuttle goes.  Not the case this time!  I think the whole “lesson” took three minutes, then we went out for Indian food.

Later that evening, I was honored to attend a “coming of age” ceremony for the daughter of a friend of mine.  It was a women-only gathering of like-minded individuals, and we all helped this bright and wonderful new woman celebrate her status.  There were presents, and words of wisdom shared.  We talked about our own transitions and whether they were marked with a ceremony, went unmentioned, or were scary and unknown.  There was laughter, tears, and chocolate.

No pictures of this event, of course, as it was private and personal.  But I did get permission to take a picture of the first stages of decorating her feet with henna.


It was a fun and moving evening.  I wish our culture had more of these rites of passage rituals.  It’s a moment to reflect on the life that was and look forward to the life to come.  A time to get advice and support from people who’ve been down the path ahead of you.

The default ritual in this country—going down to the DMV and getting a driver’s licence—is somehow not the same…