Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Woolly Pully

The bathing drawers yarn is still in transit. I'm so excited about it that I've begun to palpitate slightly at the sight of delivery vans. Is my yarn in that one? It could be! Is it? No? Well, what about that one? Is that one for me? No? Yes? No?

This must be what a labrador retriever feels like every day.

I'm turning out a pattern, three articles, and two illustrations that have somehow all ended up with the same deadline; but a boy must take occasional breaks, and when I get one I've been spinning.

The Tour de Fleece 2013 is now well under way. After the angst of my bumbling beginning, I find to my surprise that I'm starting to enjoy myself.

Before I write about that, though, I want to meditate for a moment on the angst.

Let's be honest: Until you know what you're doing, spinning can be a rollercoaster to Hell. In knitting and crochet, you work one stitch at a time at your own pace. A novice knitter might spend an hour creeping across a row of twenty stitches, but he'll get there and nobody will know the difference.

Spinning, even when you're learning by way of park-and-draft, requires a certain minimum momentum. You nudge the treadle, the whorl goes round, and suddenly the twist starts to fly up your fiber like a zombie chasing a plump child dipped in butter. You either keep up, or you don't. At the beginning, more often than not you don't.

For me, this does not feel okay.

I can't tell you why I feel this way, or what's responsible for the feeling; but from very early childhood I've felt compelled to conquer every new challenge immediately and with minimal assistance. What's more, I've needed to not only pass but to pass with flying colors. When I don't the guilt is overwhelming.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Without the desire to excel, it's easy to go nowhere and do nothing with your life. I'm not a fan of the current fashion for always telling children, "You did your best, and that's good enough." No, sometimes it's not good enough and you need to try harder. Life won't hand you a trophy just for showing up, and neither should the Little League.

On the other hand, the crying need for instant mastery has kept me from taking a lot of leaps that, in retrospect, might have led to adventure, joy, and prosperity. The funny thing about fear of failure is that it can keep you from trying anything–which ultimately leads to failure.

That's why my Tour de Fleece nearly ended before it began, after I wrecked  a twentieth of an ounce of Corriedale.

I've never spun from a batt before and I've never, ever spun with fiber as gorgeous as my Lunabudknits batt. You know what's especially horrible? I have a large bin in the workroom filled entirely with spinning fiber, and most of it is gorgeous. Fiber artists have been more than generous to me–there's silk, cormo, wool, bison, and blends thereof, heaps of it. Mostly gifts. All unspun. Unspun because I have been terrified of messing it up.

Until I know how to spin well, I'm almost certainly going to mess it up. But I can't learn to spin well without first spinning badly.

You see my difficulty?

Perhaps it sounds familiar?


With your encouragement, however (for which I thank you) I have pressed forward. When I first got a spinning wheel I went slightly bananas with the book buying, so I have been consulting a three-foot stack of spinning books (good, bad, and indifferent) on the proper technique for woolen long draw.

Of course there are now also videos (good, bad, and indifferent) to be found online, and those have been enormously helpful.

My favorite piece of advice, commonly offered by all sources, is to handle the unspun fiber as though it were a little bird. Which it turns out does not mean you scream, "Auuughhhh, yuck! Is that a bird? What the hell is a bird doing in the house? Does this thing have fleas?" and drop it like it's hot.

Frankly, that's what I'd do if somebody stuck a little bird in my hand.

The beginning of my bobbin looks like utter poo, but it's gradually disappearing beneath layers of better and better woolen drafting. Gloria in excelsis deo.


The first moment that I was able to treadle and simultaneously draft against the encroaching twist was a big moment for me; a "eureka" moment in which I actually shouted, "Eureka!"

Because my twist may not yet be consistent, but my pomposity is.

Here's a picture of me spinning, as proof that I am not having Dolores do all the work. (It was enough of a strain for her to take the picture.)



Rachel said...

Looks lovely! Once you get the hang of it, you'll find it spins up much more quickly than short draw - and it's easier on the arms.

Linda said...

I know what you mean. I hate messing up "good" wool. At our spin guild, we have beginners start with Shetland roving. Several members have flocks so it is readily available.. Once they are confident with that, it's easier to move on to top and batts.

Pam Sykes (aka Pretty Knitty) said...

Looks like you're getting it! I haven't had time to try yet...but I just got some fiber that has volunteered to be my guinea pig...that's exciting! Keep it up, you're my current, adventurous spinning hero!

Cara said...

This is a bit of a tangent, but I have to say (as a parent) that I think there's something to telling your kid "you did you're best and that's good enough." What's not okay is saying that whatever you did is your best - or that good enough is the same as excelling. My kid doesn't need to be handed a trophy for showing up, but it is absolutely okay for her not to get a trophy. Or it will be. She's only turning 3, but already I tell her "practice is how you learn" or "its okay, you just try again." But, she doesn't have to be the best at everything. She will have to put in the effort if its something she cares to excel in, though. And, I'm keeping in the back of my mind that some children (my 9 year old self, particularly) will make themselves sick to 'do their best' when they can succeed just fine at the task with less than their best. My Mom realized that my perfectionist little self couldn't always be told to do her best, but that "good enough is good enough" and "an A is an A."

Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

If you'd feel better with some crappy wool to spin, I have plenty I can send you. But honestly, just like knitting, the better your material the better your product. Welcome to the club!

FiberQat said...

I was wondering when you were going to get those wheels of yours turning. If you're too skeered to use up your pretties, before you know it they start to billow out of their confinement and swallow you up. So either spin them up or give them to me and Ted and Joe to spin. ;)

If you continue to spin, I can set you up with some lovely pygora. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Hunka hunka! Be still my heart.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, I love you. I might have said that before, but it bears repeating.

I love the image of a plump child dipped in butter, and I'd react exactly the same way to a bird in my hand.

Also, I don't think I will ever spin, because I'd never be able to beat the machine. Hooks and needles and shuttles are, not being motorised, as good as I get. I only barely coexist with my sewing machine.

lornabecky said...

Thanks for a lovely post. I have also just started spinning but with a drop spindle, so I can offer you some sympathy as to your troubles. Your yarn looks gorgeous. Keep at it. X

Cathy Johnson said...

I'm trying to conquer woollen long draw as well. Yours is looking great, beautiful batt btw!

peony said...

You know, Abby Spinninggoddes Franquemont has an article on her blog about being, and daring to be a beginner. That one do have to go through the learning curve (admittedly some do it faster than others, but still). When I learned spinning in this country I just could not find anybody who spins...NO ONE. So I took ravelry, youtube and blogs with a venegance Napoleon would envy. And I had prectice wool. A lot. I still have some of my beginner yarns so I can show to people I teach, that it is OK if a yarn is far from perfect for the first (or the 28th) try.
Nowadays I spin thin yarn for lace mostly...and workin' on my woolen long draw for thicker stuff...
So go ahead and practice, practice... and show us teh result

thecrazysheeplady said...

Have you spun any loose, fluffy, un-dyed, natural, plain wool roving? I find top and top-like batts miserable. I'd be happy to send you some good solid medium Jacob wool to try.

Kissbare said...

Your doing awesome . Your at the same place we all have been. What fun your spinning carton book will be to write. I look forward to it.

Unknown said...

Oh great guru Franklin. Do you hold these group therapy sessions often? Do you have one-on-one therapy sessions for those of us so entrenched in trying to be someone else's idea of perfec...well, you get the idea. And I hope you're happy...I'll be singing Wooly Pully all day! Where is Sam the sham when you need him? LOL

Anonymous said...

I totally sympathize with your need to be the best, immediately, at the things you want to do. Spinning just doesn't go like that. She's a temperamental mistress, much more so than knitting.

Lausanne said...

No matter how long I have been a spinner (carting an Ashford kit 45 years ago to college with me, sanding, assembling and proceeding to insult my lecture professors with its moving presence) I always consider the art of spinning to be akin to the perennial calling to to Be Here Now. I love your image of holding the wool as one would a bird in hand, and of the mini- satori moment when you first got it. Spinning can be a forever zen experience, demanding utter presence to the moment of feeding and forming the twist. Hurrah to taking risks (yes, to working with the beautiful wool and yes to taming one's perfection driven disappointment so that it is a tool and not a weapon. You are on it! Lovely yarn... Welcome among the twisted!

roxie said...

I, on the other hand, try NOT to spin perfect yarn, because I figure, If you want yarn spun with machine-like perfection, get machine-spun yarn. I want some character in my hand-spun. I cherish the irregular texture. I like it to show the touch of a fallible human.

Seanna Lea said...

I love how the batt spread across your legs looks like a technicolor hula skirt.

I am not a spinner. I realized early on that the wheel might not be interesting to the cat and dog (the wheel I don't have yet, mind), but as spindle is inherently tempting. As such, I have just never put in the practice that it would take to get comfortable with the process. Maybe I'll find a wheel when I move. Certainly not now.

Anonymous said...

I want to spin. I have a Turkish spindle, and have tried that, and a wheel that you use your foot or hand to operate, can't remember what it's called, and I've had some success with that one, but it's been a long time since I tried! Blame moving house and a new puppy, but mostly blame being afraid to mess up the beautiful fibres. You've given me hope, Franklin! I must give it another go! :) sammatrav

Renee Anne said...

My spinning looks like poo at the beginning. Always. Unfortunately, I'm working through some French blue dyed corriedale and it's driving me nuts. I love BFL and superwash BFL (or was it superwash Merino?)....but the corriedale and I are not getting along, even after 2 oz.

Unknown said...

Franklin, you're spectacular. Don't be afraid! I'm the same way; must do it perfectly the first time I try and for all successive attempts. Unfortunately, to learn, you must try, try, and try again. Your spinning looks lovely and thank you for spinning with a long draw! The inch worm is silly, I feel. Keep it up, you will do all that splendid fiber great justice.

Unknown said...

I'm very impressed. I still cannot both treadle and draft at the same time, so you're doing much better than me. I pre-draft -everything- I spin.

Badgerangel said...

Is it wrong that the first thing that came to mind, while reading the paragraph regarding the bathing suit yarn in transit, was "Oh, see the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street, oh please let it be for me..."

I know, I'm a nerd. The fiber is beautiful, and you're much braver than I am, Franklin.

Dorothy said...

Good work on the blog, the spinning, and the knitting

Purple Fuzzy Mittens said...

I knitted my first lumpy, rope-like yarn into a 3lb scarf which I took along when demoing for the public. At one fair the same gentleman came back every day and kept upping his offer to buy it. I never did take him up on it, but it goes to show that one person's icky-lumpy is another's boutique yarn.

Sandra from Pensacola said...

I have never spun wool in my life, but it sounds lovely... and I am glad you did not let Dolores do the spinning! Her fleece may have caught in the spinning fiber and end up naked, lol.

I don't know if I am ready to spin, but you are my inspiration to step my knitting skills up.

May the force be with you while you spin, and may it keep Dolores away, too!

Anonymous said...

Franklin, your spinning is looking great! It will come. Keep spinning...

And I love that you are using a Traddy, one of the most underapreciated, sturdy, reliable wheels out there!


Patti said...

When I first started spinning I was so bad at it, and I was so bad at it for so long, that I was having a severe crises of self worth, especially when someone who had been spinning for an ENTIRE WEEK was producing beautiful perfectly balanced yarn (and waving it in my face, thank you). In my old age however, I have learned that i don't give a crap. I love my yarn, the good, the bad the ugly (the bad and ugly gets felted) and knitting with your own yarn is better than eating your own home grown tomatoes.

Leigh in Portland (we are not burning down) said...

I'm SO with you on the whole 'fear of messing up'. I blame my strong-willed Depression era grandparents who said "Do It Right The First Time!" and "Don't waste that!" Which is funny as Papa was a wonderful artist , and you KNOW that at least ONE piece of paper was 'wasted' in his 70+ years of sketching. Every last one isn't in the Met.

Here, perhaps this will help. Repeat after me. Its just fiber. They'll make more.

terri said...

i'm wondering if any of the people who suggest handling the unspun fiber as though it were a little bird have ever actually tried to hold a little bird in their hand. while you're freaking out, what do you imagine the bird would be doing, assuming it's not drugged or dead? :)

NeoYankee said...

Your opening paragraph put me in mind of this: http://youtu.be/QCEtulMmR9A

Joan said...

I love the juxtaposition of computer and spinning wheel.

EGunn said...

I am one of those very good, very fast types, too. I've learned to let that go for the first few hours of any new thing. Get out the fingerpaints, put on your best 3-year-old face, and make a perfect mess of things, as only a beginner can.

I taught myself to spin, in isolation, and fairly quickly. Took me about 8 oz of absolutely terrible yarn, which I ruined with wild abandon. I still delight at the horror of it...want to see a picture?

After much playing around and getting it completely wrong, I ended up at longdraw. It's the spinning style where all you have to do is listen to your fingers. After a little practice and a little paying attention, you'll be able to feel the right amount of wool pulling through your fingers (I also feel the tension at the base of my palm). You'll get it, and then you'll love it. And your first bobbin looks awesome from here!

Also, "This must be what a labrador retriever feels like every day." Made me laugh out loud. Apt. Very apt.

Elaine said...

Spin on, Franklin. Perserverance is a mighty tool!

Deborah Castellano said...

"Until you know what you're doing, spinning can be a rollercoaster to Hell."


Yvonne said...

Way to go, Franklin! If that's your early yarn, you are a *natural*! Keep at it (20 minutes/day, every day), and in about two weeks you'll feel pretty comfortable. And save some of your early yarn, so that you'll be able to see your improvement from one week to the next. Some breeds are easier spinning. I've used Corriedale, Romney & Shetland for my beginning students. Roving, not combed top. :-) Great job!

Liz said...

Just tried spinning on a wheel for the first time yesterday. Came home, thought about it for about 30 seconds, then called the shop (an hour away) and told them to order me a wheel (a Schacht Ladybug). It took me ages to become a semi-competent spindler (my Knitty contribution last spring was the first real garment I made from my own handspun), but having done that, the wheel doesn't seem like too far a stetch. Long-draw woollen spinning is going to be a long way off, though. Can it get too hot to spin? Just wondering...

SallyT said...

I'm totally with you. I'm working on some "easy" fibre right now because I wasn't "good enough" on the more challenging stuff. But I am continuing. I'm trying to get on with it and hope to improve. I'm telling myself that each new fibre challenge is good for my brain if not for my yarn stash.

Northmoon said...

Love your computer table.

KerrSplash said...

You are my inspiration! Maybe I'll now be able to take a serious, devoted spinning plunge, AFTER the Tour de Sock, however. One TOUR at a time!

Jankitz said...

"This must be what a labrador retriever feels like every day."

You made me larf! Lines like this are why I check your blog daily, even when you don't post for AGES!

Christine said...

Ok, my new favorite phrase of all time is now "like a zombie chasing a plump child dipped in butter!" Cackle cackle snort!

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