Introducing Fencerow Fibers.

Approximately twenty-four hours ago, I opened up my Etsy shop. Fencerow Fibers: hand-dyed yarn & spinning fiber inspired by the flora & fauna of Kentucky’s fencerows.

Yesterday morning and early afternoon, I hung out with Kim at the local lawn & garden fair, while she sold her handmade soaps and homegrown gourds.

It wasn’t really the market for fibery wares, but I had fun spinning and talking to interested folks about the wheel and yarn-making process.

And then I came home—with my half-body sunburn from sitting too near the tent’s edge—and stocked up the Etsy shop I’ve been dreaming about for four years.

I wrote a long-winded About page and dug up my old Flickr account, where I had stashed photographs of my homeplace’s fencerows.

Before midnight, I received my first order from my fellow fiber enthusiast and friend from way-back, Heather. (Check out her Etsy shop, Skittish Coyote Studio! She crochets some killer goods with a real eye for style.) I happily prepared this first shipment earlier tonight.

I put together a Facebook page for Fencerow Fibers, and now I’m mulling over my options with Instagram and Twitter. I’m not sure if I should create new profiles for this entrepreneurial project or if I should just change my personal handle from @raisininthespun to @fencerowfibers or what. I don’t want to spread my social media “presence” too thin, but I also don’t want to bombard my non-fiber friends with marketing-type posts. Also, I don’t want to lose the identity of this blog with the name change. I suppose there is the option of changing the name of the blog to Fencerow Fibers…

I’m just not sure what to do.

Well, except go to bed. It’s been an eventful weekend, I’m tired, and it’s late. Good night, friends!

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Wholeheartedly.

On a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon last weekend, I trudged back and forth across our wet back yard in the rain to fill and carry two five-gallon buckets with the water I needed for dyeing in the garage.

As I slipped and sloshed—hood up and hands full—I thought, I am willingly enduring long hours and physical labor, and I’m loving every minute.

That’s not something I’ve said or thought about other occupations or creative endeavors. Regular “work” and even writing fill me with dread and garner lots of avoidance.

 Not this. I am wholeheartedly in it.

The fast lane.

I am not a speedy doer of things—except for eating, drinking, and talking.

An abridged list of things I do more slowly than most other people who do them:

  • Write. I agonize over every single word. (Yes, even these.)
  • Read. I read, reread, and research the things I’m reading about. One page can turn into an hour-long rabbit chase.
  • Knit. I throw, not pick. My skill set doesn’t include continental- or Portuguese-style knitting, even though I’ve tried.
  • Crochet. It astounds me how much faster crochet is than knitting, but still, I don’t zoom along.
  • Spin. Even though I spin fairly lightweight yarn, I keep my wheel set on the slowest ratio. And I might as well just forget the fast flyer that I got when I thought I would get faster over time. Who was I kidding?
  • Dye. The technique that I use to dye top and yarn for gradient effects is time- and space-consuming. There are faster ways of getting color on fiber, but I am not wiling to sacrifice my envisioned design in the name of speed.

I like doing these things, but I just don’t do them quickly.

So when I bought an Addi Express knitting machine to make tubes of knitted yarn for dyeing, you would think the speed at which I could simply turn a handle and crank out row after row would be satisfyingly fast. Maybe even too fast for me, the slow poke.

Nope.

My goal was to produce 100-gram yarn blanks—kind of like sock blanks, but tubular and waaay longer—and after I found myself cranking for over twenty minutes with only about fifty grams knittted, I knew my problem wasn’t solved. Yes, I was “knitting” a million times faster than I ever could by hand, but it wasn’t efficient enough, even for me. The point was to have a quick and relatively easy way to prepare the yarn for dyeing, and at that rate, it was going to take far more time to prepare the yarn for dyeing than actually dyeing it.

With less than an hour of having the Addi out of the box, I ordered a sewing machine motor off eBay after watching this video. A few days later, the motor arrived, and it was time to give the Addi Express the Binford 5000 treatment.

It took lots of finagling. I went through several rubber bands. I enlisted the help of a gigantic wood clamp. I trashed many yards of yarn while test knitting. I cursed and even walked away at one point. But eventually, I figured out how to adjust everything just right, and finally, I got what I was after.

And boy, is it fast. It still takes some time and patience, but the effort it takes to produce a dyeable yarn blank is well worth it.

On Easter Sunday, I took two machine-knitted blanks out to the garage to dye, and this is what I got.

I decided to go with a rainbow scheme. It was my first time dyeing pastel colors!

I dyed both “skeins” in the same colorway-—except for the part where I momentarily got my jars of yellow and orange dye swapped around.

Yes, there is some rainbow top hiding in there, too.

I love the way the tube of yarn looks coiled up like this.

I wound one up immediately, straight from the blank. I simply loosened the yarn on the end, looped it on the ballwinder, and frogged it into a cake.

Here they are side by side. They are the same amount of yarn in the same colorway—one wound, one not. Of course, the order of color on the wound one is reversed from the coiled one, as I frogged from the pink end. If I were planning to sell this yarn, I think the coiled presentation is much more eye-catching, don’t you?

As soon as I had this finished yarn in my hands, I started having ideas about knitting it. I tried out a few ideas before I settled on a garter striped wrap in a rhombus-like shape.

I’m designing it myself, though it is a super-simple concept.

I get giddy when a new color in the gradient starts to peek out in the knitting.

I am enjoying the process of making this. It is simple, but engaging. I like seeing the stripes add up, the slanted angles grow, and of course, the colors evolve. The blue finally started to emerge yesterday. I don’t know what it is about seeing it appear, but that color change just never gets old.

If this wrap turns out to be of practical dimensions, I might be putting the pattern on here for you—aaand maybe even a link to an Etsy shop where you can purchase the yarn to knit it.

Plot twist!

Just two hanks of burnin’ love.

My latest spinning project is done!

Well, if you don’t count the top I started spinning immediately afterward, or the tiny bit of blue silk and merino chilling on a Lendrum bobbin, or the brown-and-white BFL still hanging out on the Matchless. Or the rolags I’m collecting and dreaming of spinning. Or this idea I have about core-spinning…

Let’s just say I finished one of my many spinning projects.

This is exactly eight ounces of two-ply colonial (the darker, solid orange) and merino/tencel (the shiny, color-shifty yellow-orange-red). I had never plied two different fibers together, so this was a lovely experiment, if nothing else.

I am not sure how I feel about it yet. The hand is interesting. It’s slick, but not particularly soft. It feels distinctly cool, which is an odd attribute for wool; I image its the tencel. The shininess makes up for a whole lot of tactile weirdness. It is pretty, as its varying depth of shade is striking. It’s hard to tell in the skein, but it will be subtly striping.

It doesn’t know what it wants to be yet—or at least it hasn’t told me. There’s half a pound of this fingering weight yarn, so it could make a decent-sized shawl. Maybe something lacy.

For now, it can go live in the stash with all the other skeins of orange yarn. There’s a lot of orange yarn. It will find warmth and fellowship, for sure.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo retrospective of this yarn’s path to existence.

Shoutout to Kimber Baldwin and Fiber Optic for some delicious spinning fiber!

The Smoky Mountain Spinnery is a required stop every time we’re in Gatlinburg!

This week, I popped into a local trader’s mall / fleamarket / whatever you wanna call it and found a few pieces of colorful antique glassware that I just couldn’t live without. I thought they might look nice in photos alongside some fibery goodness, and these skeins of yarn got the honor of each dish’s maiden voyage.

Yes, I love the way that penultimate one has exactly the perfect dimensions for cradling a skein of yarn.

The rainbow connection.

I know it sounds crazy, but I think I might look back on 2017 as the year that yarn saved me.

(I already feel this way about 2012.)

The last couple months of 2016 and the first few months of this year simply pulled me down into a darkness that I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to clamber and climb out of. The general mood of each ensuing day was growing resentment and persistent sadness.

I am not going to pretend that the presidential election didn’t have anything (everything) to do with it. The significance of November 8, 2016 and its devastating effects are undeniable, but I was unprepared for it to affect me so personally. I have been forced to question: Is Trump why I’m depressed?

To be honest, I’m not sure about the answer.

But I do know that the subsequent drive to do something brought with it more questions of what to do, and those questions opened up unexpected vulnerabilities. It became easier to see the hidden discontent that had welled up darkly in the corners of my current occupations. The recipients of my time and money no longer seemed worthy, but I wasn’t sure where to direct those resources now.

I was stuck.

The stuckness hasn’t completely dissipated and I definitely haven’t completely solved the question of what to do with myself, but I can say this: Allowing myself to gravitate toward color and playfulness has lessened the pull of that engulfing darkness.

When I started putting my energy—which had been dwindling down to nothing at an unfathomable rate—toward making things in colors that made me happy, discontent and dread began to be replaced with hopes and dreams.

(It’s so incredibly cheesy, I know.)

But when I say hopes and dreams, I mean it literally. Instead of wallowing in total despair, I started to imagine a future again. Instead of feeling indifferent toward everything, I began to look at tools and materials and see possibilities.

This Frog Prince yarn that I finished spinning the weekend before the election? I had previously lost total interest in it.

I was, for some reason I can’t totally articulate now, disappointed with it—so much so that, for months on end, I never washed and dried to set the twist. It just stayed buried and forgotten in a tote bag.

And then, once I reconnected with yarn, color, and making things, I decided to give Frog Prince a second chance.

And once I cast on, it was like coming out of a trance: I had loved this yarn all along.

The colors that I thought had been muddled in the spinning process suddenly were forming subtle stripes that put me in mind of a graceful rainbow.

As it grew so did my tentative joy.

Its pull became stronger than the darkness, and I began carrying it with me everywhere, like a talisman.

Stitches knit here and there were little acts of hope and, yes, comfort.

I even snuck a few stitches at work. (Shhh.)

Light shone brighter and brighter.

Until finally, yarn was beginning to run out and it was time to cast off all those stitches.

It wasn’t until then that I realized for whom I was knitting this shawl.

I mean, yes, the process of spinning the yarn and knitting the stitches was an act of self-care. Unwittingly, I made this thing for my own healing, but I also made it for someone else.

The making was for me, but the made was for my niece, Victoria.

This gorgeous young woman is a maker, too—an artist.

She is a dreamer about to take flight on her own hopeful adventures. 

So for her belated birthday, for this sunny Easter, for her fast-approaching college graduation, and for her beautifully unfolding future, I handed over the shawl that helped me find the Rainbow Connection.

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection—the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

Moonlighting.

Confession: I was worried that, after spring break’s total immersion of fibery fun, I wouldn’t be able to incorporate all that play into my regular work day. Yesterday was my first day back to work, and y’all? No worries.

I came home and hit it hard.

First, I braided up the two color studies I did on Sunday.

When I dyed the one on the left, I was looking for a color I could call “mint.” I know there isn’t a ton of variety across the braid, but I think I found what I was looking for. I was literally mixing and matching colors until I had six subtly different shades, which I then used to dye the top


The second braid was a little less what I expected. I was looking for pink, which I more or less found, but I ended up with more in the way of soft purples. When I was mixing the dye, it looked like I was getting a lot of pale red instead of pink (which I feel is somehow different) , and on a whim, I put some blue in. I know. Red + blue = purple. But I thought I liked what I was seeing, so I went with it. A little too capriciously, I added a dab of blue to all the jars—and got this.

There is pink in there. On the whole, this reminds me of the redbuds that are in bloom now. (Dogwoods have started peeking out, too. Have you noticed?)

I know that I could test these colors on smaller samples of wool—or hell, coffee filters—but I do like making a whole “colorway” out of it. Who knows? I might find a combination worth repeating!

After I braided those up, I grabbed the blending board and tried out the new finishing brush that came in the mail yesterday. As vicious as that brush looks, it’s the blending board that bit me hard and made me bleed a little bit. Ouch.

I put bits of luxury fibers like camel and tussah silk in there, along with wild strips of colorful merino and a base of natural, undyed merino. These fun little blending experiments are going into a bag until I get about four ounces of them, and then I’ll spin ’em up. I may get extra crazy and try some art-yarn spinning techniques.

I know. It’s insanity!

Speaking of spinning, I finally finished spinning the sienna-colored colonial, readying it to ply with the fiery Hunk a Burning Love merino/tencel.

I started plying those together tonight, and it’s taking forever. I’m trying my best to over-ply them a bit, but try as I may, I come closer to under-plying.

Anyway, I’ll let that yarn have its own post.

My point here is that I’m getting off to a groovy start with maintaining my fiber mojo when school is in session. (Even though I had to miss knit night at Maria’s studio tonight. We procrastinators finally filed our taxes.) With only six weeks of school left until summer, I think I will be able to ride this wave out to the end of the year. And then it’ll be summer-summer-summertime.

I know that I won’t be able to knock out three projects every single school night. I’m flying high on fiber fumes right now, but it’s good just knowing that I can remember to enjoy things.

As I spun up the last of that colonial, I picked up with listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, hence the quote I posted last night. It’s another audiobook I’ve been sipping on in small doses (like Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability, which I finished at long last). The crazy thing about Big Magic, which is about allowing yourself to live a creative life, is that when I listened to it thinking about writing as my creative outlet, it made me a little anxious. But now, when I hear EG speak on creativity, I think of the pure joyfulness that comes from playing with colorful, fluffy wool. Or from tinkering with sticks and string, as Dale calls it.

I’m not saying that my writing days are over. (Obviously they are not, because here I am.) But EG talks about loving your craft and your craft loving you back. With writing, it is so often a love-hate relationship with me. There’s something about wool, though. I just love it—the look, the feel, even the sheepy smell. Does it love me back? The softness, the warmth, the explosions of color? Well, they all seem to point in one direction.