Through the Back Loop

Adventures in knitting, fiber arts, and family.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Spinning Wheel, Got to Go Round - (Blood Sweat & Tears)

Isn't it amazing that it only takes two weeks to become an expert? Well, I may be stretching it a bit, but after a week, I did this!

It plyed it into a beautiful yarn, and it's very soft. A HUGE improvement from my first attempt (no pictures.. I'm even afraid to show it to people. Except that it can be called "artistic", but even that 's strecthing it).

I went back for the final class last Thursday. I brought two full bobbins like the one pictured above and learned how to ply on the Louet wheel. Then I tried an Ashford Elizabeth 2 wheel. It looks like this:

Anyway. Here is a brief review of both wheels from a two week spinning master!

Louet S51DT

This was a great wheel to start on. The tension was great, once I got it set appropriately, and it took my beginner rope without complaining that it looked like crap. My first 1/2 pound of roving was gone in 4 days, and I tried plying by myself without great success. The first roving was sticky and hard to draft. It was very tough. I bought it from the shop that offered the class, and I didn't like it. I don't think it was a good quality. My next roving came from down the road at Hidden Valley Woolen Mill. Carol was so nice! I bought a color called "Lady of the Lake" and started filling up my bobbins. This time I waited until class night to ply. I didn't want to ruin this soft, pretty yarn. The first roving I didn't care about, it didn't even feel nice on the bobbin, so I knew that I wouldn't want to work with it, but Lady of the Lake had a lot of potential as a final product. The Louet was a nice, forgiving wheel. It went and went and went, and asked for more. The only problem I had was when I wanted to make a thin yarn. It wasn't possible, even when I predrafted like a fiend. No matter how hard I tried, I seemed to end up with DK weight yarn. If I predrafted very thin, the yarn would just break and I was forced to go thicker. When I brought the wheel back to class, the teacher told me that this was a typical problem with this wheel. She encouraged me to try a different wheel. So I did.

Ashford Elizabeth 2
Well first of all, this was a dream because the wheel is from New Zealand. The roving is from sheep down the road which are a New Zealand breed. I have been to Ashburton, New Zealand, where the company is located. Right here the wheel had me hooked. I knew this had to be the perfect wheel for me.

I started spinning on Elizabeth in class. It went smoothly from the start. I had no trouble switching to the single treadle, although I did have to pay close attention at first to make sure the wheel didn't reverse direction when I started spinning. At home, I had a hard time getting the wheel to take the yarn at first, but after playing with it for awhile, the tension seemed to improve. I'm not really sure how. Starting the wheel by hand really helped with this. After I got going, I felt like a pro. DH and the girls went to Hidden Valley for me and picked out a new roving. I didn't want to tell the girls that my plan was to spin yarn to make them each a pair of mittens, but I ended up telling them anyway after they picked out "Royal Flush" as a colorway. My DH and children gasped as I spun silky, thin thread almost invisible to the naked eye! I worked magic! The yarn was beautiful and it was soft. Today I brought it to show my MIL, and she oohed and aahed over it, too. Back at home I went to ply it. No luck. I sat and sat for over an hour, but again the yarn wouldn't feed onto the bobbin. The bobbin just spun and spun and my yarn twisted into a mess. I tried to change over to Scotch tension, but there was no manual, so I just played around until finally it kind of worked when I ran both belts around the spool and put the clear wire around them for some drag. I worked forever plying, often having to wind the yarn onto the bobbin by hand. It was not fun. I finally finished and wanted to spin a single again, but again it wouldn't draw. I had it set up with the original tension of one belt on the whorl and the other on the bobbin, but no luck. I ended up going to bed. Disgusted.

So, which wheel do I like better? Neither. Jury is still out on what will work best for me. I love how easy the Louet was to work, but I couldn't get the yarn I wanted. The Elizabeth is from New Zealand, which wins many points with me, easily makes thin yarn once it gets started, but is very, very, very touchy. It demands patience. Or someone who knows what they are doing, and I clearly don't.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Oh, and yes. I am still working on the mittens. They are progressing slowly now because my "spinning wheel's got to go round." The second mitten is only a little farther and doesn't warrant a photo, yet.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Glory Days

I remember high school in the eighties. Friday nights were all about finding the 18 year-old in Wisconsin who could still legally drink and was willing to buy us minors the booze we craved. Sometimes it involved going to one of the two high school sock hops that were held after the varsity basketball game. On occasion, we would use our activity pass to be one of the 45 people attending the game. The stands were empty, except for the 40 parents of the basketball players and cheerleaders, and the 5 die-hard basketball fans who actually understood what “zone defense” meant. My friends and I were the girls who popped in for the final 2 minutes of the game and cheered at all the wrong times. We didn’t care. We were cheering for the game to be over so that the dance could start.

As an adult, I have even less interest in high school sports. My children are years away from high school. I have no business there. Or do I? Welcome to my village of 1,000, located in? The Twilight Zone.

My task for you is to read this description, and tell me, honestly, if I live in the Twilight Zone or if I am a complete moron and this type of behavior is normal. Remember. I’m talking HIGH SCHOOL and MIDDLE SCHOOL.

Maybe all villages of 1,000 people are like this. I know that we were initially mesmerized by how this community rallied around the school and its children. Each Thursday our weekly newspaper has been filled with photographs of children with captions like, “The second grade students hone their square dancing skills,” or, “Girls battle against each other in the high school Powder Puff football game”. We bought it all. This, we knew, would be a great place to raise our children.

At first we were optimistic. Sure our neighbor’s first questions of if we had attended the local high school seemed odd, but surely they would warm up to us after we had spent some time chatting. Nine years later, few of them talk to us. You see we are transplants. We didn’t attend the local high school, we didn’t marry someone who attended the local high school, and we didn’t marry a relative of someone who attended the local high school. They were left with nothing to talk to us about and we have spent nine years in deafening silence.

When our oldest daughter started playing soccer, we were thrilled. Thrilled to cheer on every player. Thrilled to share adult laughter at the cute things our children did both on the field and off. When our daughter was asked to play on a 3 on 3 basketball team we were… well… surprised. She had never really played basketball before, but the fourth grade girl who wanted to put a team together was her close friend, and as my daughter practiced, I watched to learn more about the game. I thought it would be like the soccer games. “Go Team!” “Yeah!” and knowing glances with other parents about the cuteness of children as they learned new skills, but oh, was I wrong. Who invited these parents that started screaming, “SHOOT!” “USE YOUR BUTT!” and “HELP! HELP!”. Oh. God. They were the parents of a girl on my daughter’s team. That was two years ago. Since then, we have added countless other parents who scream directions from the bleachers (I call them bleacher coaches) and criticize the split second decision of 12 year old players who are lucky if they have 50 games of experience under their belts. I was even more surprised to learn that most of the parents screaming had never played the game themselves! Maybe this behavior was something particular to the parents of this team. I had caught the parents of other teams smiling at one another. Sometimes.

Last Friday we attended the boy’s varsity basketball game because our youngest daughter had participated in a pom pon clinic and performed at half time. I was shocked by what I saw. Several parents of children the same age as my children filled the stands. They had no one on the team. Parents who have groomed their own sons to be future local stars (they built a cement half court in their backyard complete with nighttime lights) smoozed with the varsity coaches, trying to create a space for their sons on the team four years from now. Parents of girls on my daughter’s team were there, also having obviously bought into the policitalness of high school sports. Maybe we should attend games on a regular basis. Everyone else seemed to. Is this the only way you get your child on a high school team? True, most of these people were born here, grew up here, and stayed to raise their children here. They still come to “the game”. Their children, no doubt, will repeat the process. Life here revolves on what you did in high school.

Tonight we went to the girl’s varsity basketball game for two reasons. First, my daughter and my husband wanted to see a game, and second, my daughter’s good friend has been a manager of the team for at least three years (when she was a third grader). Again, parents of toddlers were there with parents of elementary school students, and parents of high school students. The stands were packed. In a community of 1,000, more than a third of them were at the game. Toddlers were passed from parents to grandparents as they all stood to sing the school song. I didn’t even know my school had a “school song” until graduation day when I asked someone next to me, “What is the band playing?” We both found out only after digging through the program. At the game, the woman sitting next to me (a local) jabbed me in the ribs and told me to stand up for “the cheer” and “the song”. Everyone joined in. It was like high school all over again, especially because I am still the only one cheering at the wrong time. Now, though, I have 300 people glaring at me when I accidentally cheer for the wrong team. They don’t like it much.

They take their high school sports seriously. The grandmother in front of me had no relative on the team, but screamed out to one of the players anyway, telling her that she needed to, “Pass the ball for Christ sake,” and, “Pass it to Abby!” Adults all around us screamed profanities at the refs at almost every call. Adults on the opposing side did cat calls before our players shot free throws, trying to break their concentration. Who the hell are the kids? Do they never grow up in this village? If this story sounds familiar and you live in my neighborhood… YES. I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU!

You. The person who kept screaming, “Swing it” when our team was on offense. You. The person who called all of the players by their first name even though your own children graduated 10 years ago and you don’t know these kids. You. Who came to the game because your daughter’s boyfriend played in the band before the game and you need to make an “appearance”. You. My neighbor, who caught my eye, AGAIN, and couldn’t be polite enough to even say, “Hello”. You. Who came to the game thinking that it would improve your chance to be the coach when your kid is on the team that will no doubt win the state champion bringing glory and honor to your name and this community. You people are the reason I want to move. Fast.

I feel so sorry for those kids playing. I can’t even imagine the pressure they must feel.

I just want to tell all of you that after you graduate from high school, you really aren’t supposed to relive it every Friday night until your ashes are spread over the outdoor football field. Get over it. You graduated, and now it is someone else’s turn to be a kid, not yours. You don’t need to do “the cheer” or call out kid’s first names as if you just had them in your study hall. Those days are OVER for you.

This cute, quaint village with the smiling faces peering out from each week’s newspaper has shown its true face. It is a bad episode of the Twilight Zone or Pleasantville, minus the pleasant. Are all small villages like this? Please tell me!

Lucky me, I get to spend the next two days surrounded by these morons who don’t seem to understand the rules that are read out prior to each game about sportsmanlike conduct of players and fans. Just because you pay a fee to watch a game doesn’t give you the right to taunt the players and the refs as though it were a professional game.

Saturday and Sunday are all-day 5th and 6th grade basketball tournaments on our high school court. Yippee. “USE YOUR BUTT” and all of the other adults who act like spoiled children will be there. Smoozing. The same community members who were at the games tonight will no doubt show up and scream at these little 11 and 12 year old as though they don’t know how to play correctly. Well, they don’t. That’s the point!

I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Evil Mamma

How cruel is it to wake up and be excited because your daughter is running a temp of 102 and you can stay home? Pretty cruel. I know. Sorry, I got a 65% on the bitchy test, and this is just an example of my total evilness.

As usual, I was slow to wake up this morning. I layed in bed hoping that if I refused to acknowledge the morning, maybe it would go away. Maybe, if I slept long enough, I could reverse time and it would still be the middle of the night. I need to get over this idea that I can manipulate time. It never works.

I finally dragged my butt out of bed and, feeling guilty about my excitement over a sick child, made a nice breakfast, drove the healthy child to school, came home and disinfected the house. The sweetest thing? Being told by my 12 year-old patient that she wanted me home with her instead of being left home alone. She's at that age, you know. Parents aren't always cool and only babies have mom stay home with them when they have the sniffles. She, on the other hand, is grossly ill. Fever of 102, sore throat, raspy cough, and sneezing. I don't remember ever hearing her sneeze before. They are kind of cute sneezes, except for the time she sneezed into the refrigerator without covering her mouth and then locked in all of the germs to be preserved in refrigeration (now that our refrigerator is working again). Total house disinfection is required after this.

Being February, it seemed like a good time to finally put away the Christmas decorations that were still sitting out. Uh-huh. Really, they were all over the place. The Christmas cards were still hanging from the ribbons. The miniature trees and Santas had pretty much been put away, but I had kept out the generic "winter" decorations. Snow men, snow women, snow people, and a Santa and a reindeer that had hidden themselves behind a snowman to avoid being put away a month ago.

Then I vacuumed. Seriously vacuumed. Those dust bunnies along the edge where the carpeting meets the baseboard? Gone. The dust bunnies on my valences. Also gone. The basement dust bunnies. Sucked up. Gone. Finito! Next, I dusted, and cleaned the bird cage. It's amazing how much birds poop. One little parakeet can make quite a mess. I suppose that regular cleaning would prevent this, but animals in our house have learned to wait patiently for clean cages. I even washed her "little friend" - the mirror. She can actually see her "little friend" again. Happy chirpy sounds have come from her cage all morning.

After administering more Motrin, feeding the patient some soup, and washing up the dishes, I proclaimed it nap time. This would have been perfect knitting time, but instead I started my favorite annual hobby - taxes. I could have used this time to spin more, but I have been a spinning fiend... all of my roving is gone. I'm hoping to run down the road to my local woolen mill and purchase some more this afternoon. Tomorrow will be another sick day I'm sure.. she doesn't seem much better, but DH will take his turn tomorrow. I don't think he will clean, though.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Update! Update!

Ok.. I have lots to cover. This week has been nutso!

First... spinning.

I went to class on Thursday and sat down at a Louet S51DT. It looks like this:

At class, I did pretty well. Here was my first single, that the instructor had ply onto itself.

Not pretty, but I knew that this would be a process. I knew that this would not be something that I could just sit down and do easily. It makes me think of a potter's wheel, which is odd because I've never used a potter's wheel, but the idea works. The first thing you make on a potter's wheel is mostly crappy, but as you learn, you improve. So it seems that spinning will also be this kind of process.

At class I did pretty well. Near the end of class, the fiber wouldn't feed into the bobbin anymore and the teacher said, "Oh, you just need to play with the tension."

"Ok," I thought. "I can do that at home."

I got home and the girls were waiting up for me, as was DH. They wanted to see me spin. I sat down and tried and tried, but the damn thing wouldn't work. "How come it's not working?" DH asked. He's lucky to have complete use of all of his body parts after that comment. If I knew why it wasn't working I could make it work. After 45 minutes, after sending the girls to bed, and almost breaking down into tears at least 5,000 times. I got it to work. Not well, but it did draw in the fiber. It was ugly, but I was spinning at home. By myself.

Friday night I came home and moved the wheel to my kitchen vinyl flooring instead of the living room carpeting. I played with the tension a little bit and Wowee! I was spinnning. Pretty well, if I do say so myself. The yarn was thick, but it was spun. After the first round of bleacher butt watching my youngest daughter do her pompon routine at the halftime varsity basketball game, I went home and spun some more.

This morning we were up with the sun and off to the oldest daughter's BBall game. They won 48 to 8 and played very well... next week the tournaments start. We came home, ate quick and washed dishes quick and I showed them how to spin. They got it pretty easily. Sometimes I really hate how easily kids learn things! How come our old brain cells can't do that?

Well, I'm now trying to find an Internet site that will show me how to ply so that I can try it. It sounds fairly simple in theory, but so did spinning! YIKES!

The mittens were coming along slowly and now all work has ceased until I get the spinning bug settled down some. Here is my progress:

I know, it's not even blocked yet. Can you sense their feeling of dejection?

This afternoon we were at the youngest daughter's swim meet. She was nervous, but completed every event without having to be pried from my hip. She did pretty well, took 3rd or 4th in almost every race. WooHoo!

Tomorrow? Shopping. Then home to spin some more!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Spinning Day!

Tonight is my first class to learn how to spin! I get to keep the wheel for a month, so I can practice at home! YEEHAA! I hope I'm not all thumbs! Class is from 6:30 until 8:30 and I get to go right after school and enjoy a coffee, have a quiet supper, and then head to class.

Slow progress on the second mitten... just like the second anything. The pattern is easier to work, but for some reason it's not as exciting as the first time.

Very, very short post.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Proud Mamma

First, let me say that the first mitten is done. Or have I already said that and still have not posted a picture? Hmmmm.

Let me just say that the second mitten is going well. Better than the first, and the first went well. I think that's how it goes when you have to make two. The second sleeve is always easier, the second sock flows along more quickly with fewer glances to the pattern, and the second mitten is more relaxed (hopefully the tension doesn't have a noticeable difference - it seems ok) and I only have to glance at the chart once to know what needs to happen each row. Ok, twice. Well sometimes three times, but only when one of the girls interrupts me and asks where her red shirt is, or if I can sign her assignment notebook, or if I am planning to cook. Ever. And I am forced to leave my knitting for a moment to deal with them.

Speaking of the girls, we now have four instead of two! No, I wasn't pregnant without reporting (that would be the day that I wouldn't SHOUT OUT if I found out I was pregnant) - both girls are having friends sleep over. Am I nuts? Actually no! My plan worked. One daughter asked for a friend to sleep over, and normally this means that my other daughter becomes a pain in the butt, saying, "They won't let me.............," "I want to do ......................., but ................, " "So and so won't let me play.................," blah blah blah. Having both girls invite a friend to sleep over means? Peace! Really! I sat and knit last night and right now the 12 year olds are sleeping (probably until noon) and the 9 year olds are watching TV and playing. Peacefully. Happily. No one wants anything. I love it. Well, they do want to eat, but I still love it!

Last night was a school event. For the tsunami. Funny, about two weeks ago, my 12 year old asked if she could bake something and sell it outside on the corner to make money for the tsunami. Ok. We live on a street that has NO LIFE! Seriously! In summer, at 9:00 at night, my husband and I will be sitting on the deck and the entire neighborhood is IN BED! SLEEPING! We feel like such hipsters... drinking beer at night after 9:00. Rebels we are.

I was so proud of my daughter's idea, but it was hard to make her understand that she wouldn't really be happy with the sales from her corner bake sale. I told her to talk to her school about having a bake sale for the tsunami. That would definitely bring in some donations. She did. Others must have, too. The school had a winter carnival last night with all proceeds going to the tsunami. I hadn't donated anything to this point, but I had wanted to desperately. Don't ask me why I hadn't, I'm a very complicated, strange thinker. Something about "will the funds really go where we want them too?" "How about we adopt a little boy who has been orphaned?" "We don't even have money to replace a broken winter coat for our child, where will we find a donation?" Well, we did. They had a silent auction and we spent $21 on season tickets to a local baseball team. I can do a lot of knitting there, and be proud of the charity. We spent $5 on food. No cooking for me! They served chili, hot dogs, and nachos. Not to mention a bake sale. We spent at least $15 more on tickets for games. They had all kinds of great carnival games - pick a duck, cowboy candle game, avalanche game, snowman game, and a free throw competition.

My youngest daughter has ADD. Many times you don't notice that she has it, but put her in a large group of people where it is noisy and expect her to do something new for the first time - you can tell. She whines, she cries, she gets angry and defiant. This was her reaction to the free-throw competition after she had signed up. She walked into the gym and saw that she would be shooting in front of people. Scared. Really scared. Just like at swim meets. She clung to me and begged for me to let her drop out. I wouldn't. I try never to let her quit when she has signed up for something. DH and I helped her face her fears. She watched for a long time. She stood in line and we told her that we wouldn't force her to shoot when it was her turn, and we wouldn't have. But we knew that she would be more comfortable after watching others shoot, like her friend. Her friend missed all 15. When it was my daughter's turn, she was confident and wanted to take her free throws. She got 5 of 15! Pretty darn good. Good enough to be in a three way tie for 1st place! Now she had to shoot again - in a shoot out, but she wasn't nervous. She went up there and popped in 2 of 5. Some idiot told her she stunk and that she wouldn't win anything. That kid is lucky I didn't tar and feather her on the spot! She had NO IDEA how hard this had been for my daughter. So there my 9 year old stood. In the middle of the gym. In front of everyone. Crying. Sobbing. Gasping for air. Because that evil child had told her something mean. She wouldn't believe us when we told her that there were prizes for 1rst - 3rd place and that in a shootout for 1rst between 3 girls she had to win something. She finally got herself together and waited for the prize announcements with big, red, puffy eyes. As usually, other parents stared at her and at us. How come, when you are dying for the announcement it takes so much longer to happen? She really needed to know. She waited and waited and waited. Finally. 3rd grade girls - third place? To the cousin of the evil child who told my daughter she wouldn't get anything. 2nd place? MY DAUGHTER!! YEEHAAA! 1rst place? A nice little girl who beat my daughter by one shot. Good for her!

My oldest, who plays on the 6th grade BBall team also competed. HA! Her first try she got 1 of 15. She paid another dollar and tried again. 7 of 15. She was in a four way shoot out for second place. Against her teammates. One teammate, who will no doubt be offered a full scholarship to the college of her choice some day, seriously, was in first place. She is my daughter's sleepover friend. My daughter goes for her shoot out. 3 of 5. The other girls? Not so good, in fact the 3rd place girl got 1 in, and the other two didn't get any in.

So. Both of my daughters walked out with 2nd place medals for their grade level. Cool! They don't' get any athletic talent from me. It all comes from my DH. And I'm a proud Mamma!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My new Friends

Last night was awesome!
I went to the Black Sheep Spinners Guild meeting last night at Carol's Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill. Ann, the woman from the school knitting field trip, wasn't able to be there last night but she called meover the weekendand told me hat I should go. I'm so glad that I did.

I met Marianne, Marilyn, Carol, and two other women who's names I can't remember (sorry ladies!) They sat and spun while they talked and held a "sort of" business meeting. I got to see a few different wheels, and learned a little bit about how they run - this should help me before my first spinning class on Feb. 10th. Only 8 days!

YIPPEE! I knew it would come quick, but I'm still amazed that it's only 8 days away!

These women were not only good spinners, but also accomplished knitters. I can't wait until next month's meeting. Maybe I will be able to show them what I have learned (I get to rent the wheel from class for a month).

They liked my finished Latvian mitten and tried it on. I am pleased with how it turned out, even with some mistakes (pictures to come).

Tonight I plan to enjoy the warm weather by walking to the store for toilet paper, and then knit while watching the "State of the Union" address.