Finding the strength of flighty animals.

In the past weeks, I have spent a lot of time on our carport. I am here now. It is breezy, shady, and mostly peaceful.

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Our house sits on the corner of a busy highway—which, in rural Kentucky, is still a winding, two-lane road—and a quiet side street. READ MORE

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Questions of weight.

It is finally summer!

Not on the calendar, of course, but school is out. My grades are posted. My classroom is packed up so the floor can be waxed. I worked that last baseball game. (Well, kind of. It started to rain an hour in, and the athletic director let me leave, which I did—very, very quickly.) I am a free woman.

One of the first things I did with my freedom was (surprise, surprise) dye some yarn!

It was different, though. First of all, it was cotton. I had never dyed cotton before, but when one finds thirteen skeins of it clearance, well, one knows exactly what to do.

Buy that stuff up and get some color on it immediately.

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My inner Lisa Frank is always just under the surface.

Plus, these skeins of yarn came in two weights—lace and worsted—neither of which had I dyed before. I’m a sock yarn girl, through and through, so this was also new. Though honestly, I’m not totally buying that the “lace” yarn was really lace weight. It seemed more like a light fingering weight to me.

Over the course of a couple hours, I dyed all thirteen skeins, which I rinsed and hung out to dry the next day.

IMG_1876I freestyled some of the classic Fencerow Fiber colorways: Wild Blackberry, Honeysuckle, Red-winged Blackbird, Summer Storm, Tiger Lily…

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Same yarn, different angle.

Mockingbird, Bluebird, and what was supposed be Red Fox, which turned out to be more of a Brown Squirrel. And of course, some Rainbow Connection colorways.

I had such fun playing! And I was so impressed with how quickly cotton just sucks up dye. I think I will always be a wool loyalist, but the cotton-dyeing experience gave this plant fiber a new place in my heart.

I was able to get the lace cotton to dry enough to show off at the first MadCity Street Market of the year, which was a neat experience.

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Terrible photo, but I forgot to take one in the daylight!

The market is every third Friday of the month, May through October, from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Sugg Street in downtown Madisonville, Kentucky. I was happy to share a booth with Maria Lee of Black Dog Fiber Studio (where I’m headed here in a minute for knit night!), Kim Hardesty of Bicycle Botanicals, and local artist Susan Henley.

It was a great summer kick-off.

And then yesterday, I did something I haven’t done in several years, kind of like dyeing fiber: I went kayaking.

Frame-23-05-2017-03-59-20I know it’s not fiber-related, but it is somehow related to the part of me that I let disappear for a few years, the part of me that feels reawakened since I’ve started dyeing again.

Honesty: I gained quite a bit of weight since I’d last kayaked, and in my mind, it was something that I couldn’t do at my size.

Yesterday, I proved myself wrong.

fullsizeoutput_837And it felt good.

Body image and body positivity are themes, a little like my inner Lisa Frank, that float just beneath the surface with me. I can’t promise that they won’t make an appearance here occasionally.

But I will always try to come back to color.

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A-tisket, a-tasket.

More than once, I’ve had the idea that I would crochet a basket using yarn and rope. (Thanks, Pinterest.)

It looked like a perfect job for the cone of cotton yarn in variegated blue, green, and natural.

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Isn’t my Peter Rabbit necklace just the most perfect thing?

First, I started with some jute that I had in the closet, but the weight of the yarn and the diameter of the jute weren’t a good match. The yarn was swallowing the jute. I needed something heavier.

By my own volition, I went into Lowe’s. (I know.) And I came out with this.

fullsizeoutput_6c9Top left: sisal rope. Middle: that jute I already had. Top right: coconut husk rope. Bottom: manila rope (as you can read).

For some reason, I really wanted that coconut husk rope to work out. It might yet, but for now, it reminds me too much of my ready-for-summer, adolescent students: It’s prickly and grabby and has a mind of its own, which has zero interest in conforming to any plans I have.

It’s in timeout.

I moved on to the sisal rope, and we got along much better.

IMG_1747I love that orange crochet hook. It’s a cheap one that came in a set, but it’s the perfect size for this yarn. Plus, I am a sucker for anything amber or anything that remotely looks like amber.

So I was totally bummed this morning when it snapped like a twig.

IMG_1753I wasn’t the least bit surprised because I could feel the pressure put on it by the cotton and rope, which have no give to them at all, but I was still sad and probably (definitely) muttered a few curses.

Things went completely off the rails from there for a minute.

In my flurry to find a replacement hook, I dumped the dishes from brunch into the floor.

IMG_1755Suddenly, the headache that’s been poking at my brain for the past few days decided to make itself noticed.

I took several deep breaths, cleaned up the mess, and found a slightly larger—and considerably stronger—hook.

Soon, it was time to cut the rope, and I was a little worried about how that operation could go wrong considering the preceding events.

IMG_1758It went fine, though the cool little clippers you see there in the photo literally and figuratively couldn’t cut it. (They are perfect for yarn, though. Thanks, Maria!)

I finished my first rope basket!

IMG_1760It might be hard to tell here because I was super-conscious of the camera angle, but it is really wonky.

I apparently didn’t keep even tension on the rope, so it buckles in irreparably on one side and bows out on the other.

IMG_1761I also didn’t know what I was doing when I made the handles (or any part of the basket, really), so I made the mistake of not doing the first one at the beginning of the row, leading to some seriously lopsided row-ending. (Not pictured because I would like to maintain some shred of dignity.)

IMG_1762All in all, though, I think it’s a pretty decent little piece of work considering it was my first foray into the world of basketry that actually involved rope.

And then, I went out to the garage and did something I feel a smidge more confidence in: dyeing.

This is the colorway from the Rainbow Connection Collection that I have been calling Pink, Orange, and Yellow, though I am thinking of simplifying the names to be only the middle color, since it figures most prominently in the scheme. That would make this one just Orange.

fullsizeoutput_6c8If I was going to give each individual colorway in this collection a “creative” name, which I’m not, this one’s would totally be Tequila Sunrise.

Keeping afloat.

Things have been a little quiet around here lately.

Perhaps it was a bit capricious of me to open my online shop during the last few weeks of the school year. Not only is teacher-work moving at a breakneck pace toward finals and posting grades, but there are so many springitme events. This past weekend, I was happily out of town for my niece’s college—college!—graduation. (Congrats, Victoria!) Next weekend is Mother’s Day. Then it’ll be the last week of school, though I do have to work a baseball game the following Saturday.

May is simply slipping through my fingers.

I have been playing with fiber some between traveling hither and thither and filling some Fencerow Fibers orders—yay!

When I was done dyeing Callie‘s merino top in purple, pink, and orange, I discovered that I had some excess dye, so I decided to goof off a bit.

I had pre-soaked one of those tubular yarn blanks without a plan, so suddenly, a plan was hatched! I used my expert professional dyeing tool, a turkey baster, and squirted color through the roll of yarn. I sucked up that extra dye in the dish with the spinning fiber and injected it into this totally one-of-a-kind skein.

And I love it!

I don’t have a picture of the finished yarn on me, but I will update with it later this week, hopefully. It is wonderfully variegated, and I think it would knit or crochet up beautifully.

So I have this idea. While I have a few years of experience dyeing fiber, I still occasionally end up with excess dye, especially when I am playing around to create a new colorway. Of course, throwing out leftover dye is terrible for the environment, so I’m thinking of getting some extra jars and storing these remaining bits of custom mixed color than I can’t return to the stock. And then, when I have several colors, I can dye a totally unique and non-repeatable skein of yarn or braid of top. Aside from the fun colors, the beauty of it will be its individuality and its preservation of my play. These braids and skeins would be colorful hybrids. And they would use up the excess dye.

I know it’s not a novel idea, but it’s one I’m excited about!

Before I leave the coffee shop and head out to knit night, I have to show you something awesome.

My friend Heather, who made the first purchase from the Fencerow Fibers Etsy shop, used her new yarn to crochet an unbelievably fun hat. Check it out!


Isn’t that great? It gives me the flutters to see the yarn I dyed growing up and becoming real-life things out there in the world!

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!

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.