Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finishing Feels Good

Impending deadlines are highly motivating for me. I finished and submitted an article today, just making tomorrow’s deadline.

There is always a crazy balance between anxiety and inspiration when a deadline approaches. I lose sleep with worry. But when I finally do sleep, I often dream of solutions. This is a small miracle that leads me to believe I’m doing the work I’m supposed to do. This article was no exception. Because I’d lost some time being sick, I was especially worried about meeting this deadline. Writing articles takes time; time I could not compress. It takes time to spin. It takes time for the finished yarn to dry. It takes time to measure the yarn. It takes time to knit swatches. It takes time to block and dry the swatches. It takes time to write and compose my thoughts.

Months ago, when I’d proposed the article, I enumerated what I planned to accomplish within its content. Some content was concrete, other aspects were vague. It’s that vague part that eats at me. How do I express the ideas? What order do I put them in? What balance of technical versus chatty is right? Have I made appropriate samples to make my points most clearly?

Is it perfect?

In the Facebook feed this morning was a reminder from Creative Something: “Finished is better than perfect. Something is better than nothing.”

I finished making the yarns last Friday. I finished knitting the swatches on Monday. The swatches are still drying (the yarns are especially thick and do not dry quickly). On Monday night I tossed and turned and finally dreamed. By the time I awoke on Tuesday, my mind had lined up a general plan, which I turned into an outline listing all the topics I wanted to address. On Wednesday and today I fleshed it out and rearranged it to my satisfaction. And I emailed it off.

That feels good. Except now I’ve got another article due in seven days. So, for both the closing of 2015 and the opening of 2016, I will be anxious and inspired. And I will finish.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Action in January

I’m optimistic about 2016. At least January’s line up is solid.

I’ve got two articles due in January; one for PLY Magazine about what I call “lumberjack yarns”, and the fourth installment of “Ask a Spinning Teacher” for Spin-Off. These assignments will keep me plenty busy for the rest of this month.

In addition to meeting those deadlines, I’m doing a bit of teaching. My friend, Becky McD, asked me provide some lessons on knitting boot socks for her and a friend. I asked her if it’d be OK if I opened those lessons up to a broader audience. She agreed.

So, I’m teaching a three-session class at my house in Lake Ann, Michigan on Knitting Boot Socks.

Thursday, January 7
Wednesday January 13
Thursday January 21

Classes start at 11am and go for 1 ½ - 2 hours.

Description: This workshop is for those with basic knitting skills but who may be new to sock knitting. We will knit a boot sock: a sock that is thicker and warmer than standard socks, using a sturdy 100% wool yarn. We will cover how to use double pointed needles for knitting in the round, how to work a basic heel flap and heel turn, how to pick up stitches for the gusset, basic decreases, and the Kitchener stitch for creating a seamless toe. We will also cover how to wash and care for your new boot socks.
Class Fee: $45
Materials Fee: $13, which covers the cost of 2 skeins of Briggs & Little “Heritage” yarn.
Participants to Bring: one set of 4 US size 6 double pointed needles, one set of 4 US size 4 double pointed needles, a darning needle.

Because these sessions will be in my home, class size is limited to 6 people. If you are interested in attending, email me:

At the end of January, I’m headed to St. Joseph, Michigan to teach a 2-day workshop – Spinning Wools of North America – for a small group of fiber enthusiasts called the Lighthouse Knitters. I went down there last year in April for a wonderful weekend of spinning. I’m sure I’ll have just as wonderful a time this January too.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Seventh Sock

Here’s another pair of boot socks. I think I like these best of this most recent batch.

There is one thing I forgot to mention in my last blog about knitting these socks: the needles I used. I am so very fond of knitting socks with double pointed needles. Many sock knitters these days use either two circular needles or one very long circular needle. I just can’t seem to give up my double points. They fit so nicely and naturally in my hands. And I’m very happy with my sock knitting. On occasion, there are sock patterns that are just easier to knit on two circulars. But usually I go for the double points.

And usually I pull out my needles that are made of rosewood. They are so pretty, and they are smooth yet not slippery, and they are warm. But on this sock pattern, I also use my very old aluminum needles. For the leg of the sock, I use a US size 6 (4mm) set of needles; the rosewood needles. For the foot, I use a US size 4 (3.5mm) set. Now, the yarn I use – B B&L “Heritage” – is a sturdy worsted weight yarn. Such yarn is typically knitted on US size 7 or 8 or even 9 needles. But for socks, I knit at a tight gauge. Knitting this yarn on size 4 needles can be a physical challenge. I really struggle when I use my rosewood needles; for one thing, I’m worried about breaking them. That would be bad. I have no such worry with the aluminum needles. I’m so very glad I’ve kept them as part of my needle stable.

I was asked to share the pattern. Here is the basic outline:

Cast on 40 sts. Work in K1P1 ribbing for the leg of the sock on size 6 needles. Then change to size 4 needles for the foot. Work a heel flap on 20 sts, leaving the other 20 sts for the instep. Do a regular heel turn, ending with 12 sts rem on heel needle. Pick up 12 sts along each gusset side. Work the rest of the sock in st st. Do a standard gusset decrease, going from 56 sts to 40 sts. Work even until approx. 2 ½ inches short of foot length. Work a graduated wedge toe. Kitchener stitch the toe. Presto! If you’d like more detail, email me:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Six Sick Socks

You're out of the woods
You're out of the dark
You're out of the night
Step into the sun
Step into the light
           Lyrics by Edgar Harburg, from The Wizard of Oz

I’m finally feeling like a human being again. At last, food tastes good – especially that spoonful of peanut butter I had late last night.

While under the weather, I drank a lot of herbal tea and water, did some nasal rinses, took antibiotics, watched TV, and knitted boot socks. Six pairs. (I’m nearly done with a seventh pair.)

This is the same boot sock pattern I’ve been knitting for 30 years. So it’s as mindless a pattern as can be. I use this pattern to play with constraints. I try to make every pair unique. I use the same yarn (used to be Reynold’s Candide, now it’s Briggs & Little Heritage). I never change the stitch pattern. I only change colors.

There is one exception to my every-pair-unique strategy. I always have a pair of red socks with pink toes. I call them my CiCi Socks, in memory of my dear friend CiCi Rock. She taught me to knit socks after she gave me a pair of boot socks that were red with pink toes. She changed my life. She died just after I moved to Michigan to begin my life as a fiber artist. Damn cancer.

Don’t think for a minute that I have too many pairs of boot socks. Even though there is no snow on the ground right now, there will be. And winter is long here. So I use boot socks nearly every day. And they wear out; typically the heel goes first because of the abrasion in the boot.

When I wear a hole in the heel, I give the socks to my dear friend, Becky McD. We wear the same size socks/shoes. And she likes to darn socks. So these socks get a new life. And I get to knit more boot socks. A win-win, I’d say.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Spin-Off Arrived

Early last week my copy of the Winter issue of Spin-Off arrived in the mail. The “luxury” issue.

My second column of the “Ask a Spinning Teacher” is on page 24. I also have a project included in this issue: “The Last of Lucy. A Christmas Stocking” on page 92.

In my Marchblog entry, I mentioned that the sheep known as Lucy had passed away.

Although her wool wasn’t strictly a luxury fiber, I consider it precious to me. With the last of her wool, I spun and knitted a Christmas stocking. I’m pretty happy with the pattern. As with all my designs, I’d change a few things if I did it again.

Anyway, when I submitted the article, I had included an email from Marie Glaesemann, Lucy's shepherd. Spin-Off didn’t have room for it, so I’d like to share Marie’s reminiscence here:

“A sheep’s life is not very long or exciting to write about but Lucy was special. She was born in 2005. She died in September 2014. We hadn’t bred her that year because she had such a hard time the year before. Paul found her lying in the overhang of the hay shed and thought she was just sleeping but she had peacefully died. At least it surely looked like she had just died in her sleep. A good way for a “pet” to go – I suppose animals can have weak hearts just as people do and if I had to guess, that is what I would think. That was probably why she was so docile, easy going and sweet – even when her babies were born, she was an exceptionally caring mother but she did, although reluctantly, let us do all the necessary things with them. As you know she was 1/2 Romney, 1/4 Corriedale and 1/4 Border Leicester - seemed to be quite a combination. Wish we had had more with that fleece. Lucy had 11 babies in the 7 years we bred her so her claim to fame was not in lamb production but instead it was her fleece production. I really am glad that you had those years of enjoying spinning her fleece.”

Lucy was special, and I am glad that I got to enjoy her fleece for so many years.

My “Ask a Spinning Teacher” column is on plying balanced yarns. I like writing technical articles such as this one for two reasons. First, it forces – er, encourages – me to clarify and elaborate my thoughts on a topic. I think I did that here. Second, it prompts me to create a systematic series of samples to make my points. Spin-Off did a nice job of photographing those samples. And now I’ll have them when I teach workshops. So, I’m pretty happy with is article too.

On Saturday, I received a charming note in the mail from Beth Pennington. She lives nearby. Beth is a master spinner. And her husband, Dave, is a renowned expert on antique American spinning equipment. He is co- author, with Michael B. Taylor, of the book, “Spinning Wheels and Accessories” (2004, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA). Beth and Dave’s house is loaded with lovely antique wheels, all functional.

So, here’s the content of Beth’s note:

“Spin-Off had an article that caught my eye immediately. It had photos and clear descriptions of yarns, and balanced yarns at that! I thought to myself, ‘At last someone who clearly understands and can write about it!’ And then I looked at who wrote it. Congratulations for your wonderful article – and thank you! Thinking of you with a big smile on my face! Fondly, Beth.”

I giggled and turned slightly red. Thanks, Beth!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I Mostly Like Free-Lance

I’ve been self-employed for just over ten years now, scraping by on a meager income. I love the independence. I can say “yes” when I want and “no” when I want. I do work that I enjoy and value. I interact with people who are sincere and generous.

I don’t mind having very little money because I don’t crave stuff and things. I live modestly. I’m fortunate that I’ve found a rental situation that I can afford and is safe and comfortable. I’m fortunate that I enjoy cooking and baking, so I eat well despite not being able to dine frequently at all the wonderful restaurants nearby. Most importantly, I’m fortunate that I live in an area I truly love. So, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have money to travel the world; there is so much right around me that is endlessly delightful.

But. There are downsides to free-lance work. Basically, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I have no sick leave and no paid vacation. I don’t usually consider these to be problems; I like working and I’m mostly healthy. Right now, however, I’m not. Nothing serious or life-threatening. I’ve had a sinus infection for nearly three weeks. I feel like crap. It is very hard to get any work done. I’ve got deadlines to meet, and proposals for work to send out.

And I can’t smell anything. Food doesn’t taste good. This is especially frustrating during the time of year when food is my focus. Not wanting to eat on Thanksgiving is a drag.

I have a bad attitude. I’ve tried not to dwell on it, but damn! I am sick of being sick. I’ve only been able to do mindless work: I’ve been knitting boot socks. Lots of boot socks. At least that’s something. I’m on my sixth pair. I do need them. So, these past couple weeks haven’t been a total loss.

When I feel better (soon), I will completely – not just mostly – like free-lance.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blog Reboot

This is a sincere effort to start writing regular – and more frequent – blog entries.

For as long as I’ve posted on this blog, I’ve thought about these posts as being mostly for my benefit. After all, I only have 49 official “followers”. That’s pitiful.

But, in my blogging absence, I’ve learned that there are folks out there who really miss my writings. (I’m sorta embarrassed to say that; it sounds so braggy.) I’ve been scolded by many folks at several of my teaching events this year. And last week, I even got an email from a reader who asked if all was well. She was worried about me! And she missed my blog entries.

I miss them too. I realize that they help me keep track of my travels, teaching, creating, writing, and living. Of course I regularly update my resume and my teaching schedule, but they are only lists of events. They don’t include any of the flavor, like catching up with old friends and making new ones, or the impulse buys, or charming gifts that I’ve received, or the number of times people say I look just like their aunt, or the events with terrific food (or not-so-terrific food).

Let me say in my defense that I’ve been doing a good amount of writing in the past few months, just not on my blog. I now have a regular column in Spin-Off magazine, “Ask a Spinning Teacher”. Cool, right? (Oh, if you want to ask a question, send it to with “Ask a Spinning Teacher” in the subject line.)

And just to let you know, I do post bits and pieces on Facebook ( You are welcome to join me there. Everything I post is “public”. My posts of course include fiber, but also dance, art, creativity, puns, and how much I love living in Michigan.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lucy, Knit Repair, and Re-Mastering a Technique

I’d like to share three vignettes today.


Every Spring since 2008, I have purchased raw fleeces from Marie Glaesseman. She and her husband have a small flock of mixed breed sheep. They live near Duluth. They care for their animals. The fleeces are sheared well. Then they are skirted well. The result is beautiful, healthy, fun-to-work-with wool.

Every Spring since 2008, I have purchased Lucy’s fleece. Lucy is a mix of Romney, Corriedale, and Border Leicester: a truly lovely medium grey fleece with wavy, long locks . But Lucy is no more. Marie informed me that Lucy died this winter. I am sad. I have spun and knitted a lot of Lucy’s wool. I have shared Lucy’s wool in many workshops. I have just a bit of last year’s wool left. I will make something special with it. For myself.

Knit Repair

My friend, Sylvia VM, recently asked me to get her out of a knitting jam. She’s working on a knit-in-the-round sweater with an intriguing cable pattern going up the front and back. Somehow, 8 stitches dropped off the needle. Those stitches unraveled about 6-8 rows. She wanted me to fix it. I said sure. I started messing with it and then started getting a headache. Some of the dropped stitches had unraveled just a couple rows, while others unraveled 8 rows. There were a couple of moving 3-stitch cables. Gah!

I very quickly suggested that she just rip out the sweater 8 rounds and re-knit. Now, this would not have been a problem for me. I’m a pretty fast knitter, and ripping out is not the psychological trauma for me that is for some. Sylvia was appalled. She pointed out that she’d added the sleeves, and that each round was now over 300 stitches. OK, no ripping.

I’m not sure what exactly happened next. Sylvia said something that woke up my brain. It instantly became clear to me that all I had to do was unravel all 8 stitches all the way down to the 8th round. Then I simply re-knit each horizontal strand, following the cable pattern, starting with the bottom most strand. It took less than 5 minutes to fix the problem.

And then it occurred to me that I could use a similar approach to mending a hole in an Aran cabled sweater that has been sitting in my To-Do pile for way too long. I will make the hole bigger, take some spare yarn, and knit the first row with one strand of yarn, leaving long ends on both left and right for weaving in ends. Cut the yarn. Knit the second row with a second strand. And so forth. Of course, this is currently a mental exercise. We’ll see if theory and reality agree.

Re-Mastering a Technique

I’m working on a couple articles for Spin-Off magazine for their Fall 2015 issue. One article is a how-to about a couple of gently textured yarns. These yarns are spun from regular Z-spun singles. The plying causes the texture.

I’ve been making these yarns for years. And I’ve taught these techniques in many workshops. And I use them in my knit designs. I thought I’d just sit down and spin a few new samples of the yarns.

For some reason, I could not make one of them work (I’m being vague on purpose). I ended up spinning and plying FIVE crappy skeins of yarn. Five! I tried changing all sorts of things: the thickness of the singles, the amount of twist in singles, the wheel I used for the singles as well as for the plying. I re-read my old notes. I looked at my previous samples and knitted items. Why was I able to make this yarn then but not now?

I am happy to report that I had a breakthrough and figured it out. The plying required a strong take-up tension, but I was going overboard. When I reduced the take-up tension a very small amount, all was right with the world. And this yarn. Thank goodness!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Out of Hibernation

This winter has been cold. Really, really cold. I love winter. I love snow. But as my friend, Sylvia, says, the cold has been “inconvenient”. So, I’ve holed up at home more than I normally would. I felt a bit frozen, figuratively speaking. But now is seems that Spring may actually arrive. It's time to wake up.

While it was so cold, I got a good amount of work done, but I wasn’t blogging. I am thrilled that I’m getting more teaching and writing work. Assuming this keeps up, I suspect I won’t be able to blog as often as I’d like.

Things are happening and I want to share. For one thing, I had another article published in Spin-Off (Spring 2015): “Rug Hooking With Stash. Something Old, Something New.” I blogged last November about this project. Here’s a picture of the rug. I took this one. I must say that Spin-Off did a much better job with the photography.


I’ve got more writing for Spin-Off to do. That’s a good thing. More on that later.

I do want to mention some upcoming fiber events. Yes, I’m teaching at these events. But so are many other wonderful fiber arts instructors. If you’ve got an urge to travel for a fiber fix, try out one of these:

Interlochen College of Creative Arts is sponsoring a number of Spring and Summer fiber workshops as part of their Adult Arts Programs. I’m teaching spinning in May and August, but there are also other workshops in knitting, weaving, felting, and dyeing. And, yes, there are classes in many other art forms. Check it out!

Spring Fiber Fling is a weekend event at a charming church camp in Pickford, Michigan. That’s in the Upper Peninsula. The event is held the weekend after Mother’s Day, May 15-17. You can find a pdf of the brochure on the Facebook page of the Country Spinners & Bridge Shuttlers Guild  I’m teaching two half-day workshops: “The Surprising Yarn-Over” and “Ply This Way, Ply That Way”.

Later in May, I travel to Burlington, Ontario to be part of “Panoply”, the Ontario Handweavers & Spinners Conference. This event holds two “firsts” for me: my first teaching gig outside the USA, and my first time as a keynote speaker. Oh, and I’m teaching a new workshop: “Spinning Wools of North America”.

June 5-7, I’ll be teaching at the Michigan League of Handweavers Summer Conference  “Spinning With Silk Hankies” and “Spinning and Knitting Goat Fibers”. While I’m there, I may well take the opportunity to take a class from the wonderful Kate Larson.

In July, I travel to Pennsylvania for the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association 2015 Conference. I’m teaching “Playing With Plying”. I’ve taught at MAFA a couple times and have enjoyed it. The line up of instructors this year is impressive. I’d be tempted to attend this event to take classes if I weren’t scheduled to teach!

August is the month for the Michigan Fiber Festival. I’m scheduled to teach “Spinning & Knitting Energized Singles”, “Beginning Spinning on the Wheel”, “Mechanics of Your Wheel”, and “Variations on Short Draw.” Registration is not open yet, but will be soon.

And September is the month for the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. I’m breathlessly waiting to hear what workshops of mine they’ve chosen.

In October, I travel to Chautauqua, New York for my first time at the Eastern Great Lakes Fiber Conference. I’m teaching “Beginning Spinning on the Wheel” and “Spinning With Commercial Yarns”. Hey, any festival with “Great Lakes” in the title has got to be awesome. Right?

So, you see I’m busy. I’ll do my best to avoid letting my blog languish.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Simple Series of Swatches

In January 2013, I drove up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (The “Soo”) to teach a spinning workshop and a knitting workshop.

And next weekend I get to make this trip again. The Country Spinners & Bridge Shuttlers Guild is hosting me. Classes will be held at Gloria’s Happy Hooker.

On Saturday, I’m teaching Spinning Super Stretchy Wools. I love love LOVE stretchy wools. And I love teaching this workshop.

On Sunday, I’m teaching a new workshop, Matching Yarn to Project & Project to Yarn. Here is the workshop description:

Which yarn should I buy for this sweater (shawl, socks, hat, afghan)? What would be a good knitting project for the yarn I just bought? Which yarn would be a good substitute for the yarn recommended in this pattern? We will address these questions as well as details about yarn properties (fiber content, yarn structure, softness, elasticity, strength, smoothness, sheen, drape, durability, wrinkle), how to read yarn labels, selection of stitch pattern and project structure, gauge, needle selection, and care/cleaning of your knitted projects. All this information will help you find the most suitable yarns for making the most suitable projects.

For one of the workshops I taught on my previous trip to The Soo, I went swatch crazy. I ended up knitting 53 swatches just for that workshop. It was a wonderful experience. I got all kinds of new ideas. I came to appreciate some stitch patterns that I’d previously overlooked. These 53 swatches sparked intense fiber creativity that continues to influence my knit designs.

And it’s happened again. To prepare for next weekend’s knitting workshop, I started knitting swatches. Oh, what fun! What bliss!

For the first series of swatches, I used three skeins of Cascade 220. This is a basic worsted weight wool yarn. I wanted to knit swatches to demonstrate the effect that needle size has on knitted fabrics. So, I knitted a bunch of swatches in garter stitch (knit every row).

All swatches were 30 stitches wide and 59 rows high, not counting cast on and bind off.

I ended up knitting 12 swatches, each on different size needles (all Addi Turbo): US 2 (2.75mm), US 3 (3.25mm), US 4 (3.50mm), US 5 (3.75mm), US 6 (4.00mm), US 7 (4.50mm), US 8 (5.00mm), US 9 (5.50mm), US 10 (6.00mm), US 10 ½ (6.50mm), US 11 (8.00mm), and US 15 (10.00mm).

This may sound like a monotonous task, but I found it intellectually stimulating. Of course I am well aware that needle size influences stitch and row gauge. But the actual knitting made many other things clear to me. There were changes in fabric elasticity, fabric drape, and stitch-to-row ratio. I could see potential design value in each and every swatch.

I encourage you to knit a similar series of swatches. Even if you are a longtime, highly skilled knitter, I think you will learn something new in the knitting of such a simple series of swatches.

I knitted other swatches too. I ended up knitting 21 swatches for next weekend. I am so excited to share them in the workshop.

And I’m so excited to be travelling north in January.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Review

Ok. I just re-read my New Year’s Resolutions for last year . Some I kept, some I didn’t; just exactly like every To-Do list I’ve ever made.

Despite not living up to all the items on the list, I feel pretty good about 2014.

I did get several articles published:
“Spin It! Mastering Mawata/Spinning Silk Hankies” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp54-57.
“Spin It! Best of Both Worlds Fingerless Mitts” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, p58.
“Knit It! Best of Both Worlds Fingerless Mitts” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp59-61.

“Quick on the Uptake” (2014) Spin-Off, Volume XXXIX, Fall 2014, pp56-59.
“Wool into Stone Afghan” (2015) Spin-Off, Volume XXXIX, Winter 2015, pp82-86.

“Spin It! Holiday Inkle Band” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 7, December 2014, pp62-63.
“Weave It! Holiday Inkle Band” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 7, December 2014, pp64-65.

I finished knitting the merino/silk “Curvy Corner Shawl”. But I haven’t written the pattern yet.
I designed and knitted a cardigan from some Briar Rose Fibers yarn. I’m mostly pleased with the design – especially the collar – but I’ll redesign the sleeves if I knit this one again.
I knitted 10 pairs of socks, all of my own design. I do plan to write up patterns for at least three of them.
I designed and knitted a linen tunic and wore it at my 40th High School reunion. The reunion was a blast and the sweater was a hit. I also wore it at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival and got several requests for the pattern. So, I may have to write that one up as well.
I re-knitted a charming wool vest. Not my design. From commercial yarn, not handspun.
I tried my hand at a few “firsts”:
I wove an inkle band with some handspun wool, recently published in PLY Magazine and pictured above. I’d woven bands before, but never with wool, and never with my handspun yarns.
I hooked my first rug. With handspun yarns. And it’ll be published in Spin-Off Magazine in the 2015 Spring issue.
I travelled far and wide to teach spinning and knitting: Alaska, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and of course Michigan.
There will not be a resolution list for 2015. But I do plan to continue writing, spinning, knitting, designing, weaving, rug hooking, teaching. And trying something new. And enjoying every single minute of it.