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.

Return of the dyer.

Spring break draws to a close tonight. Yes, I am sad it’s over, but I am oh-so-happy that I spent this week getting back in touch with my fiber mojo.

In the past few months, I’ve been knitting, crocheting, and spinning-—yarning, in general—more lately, but this week, I reconnected more fully with the fluff that I love by…

  • reclaiming my office space. Spending time in here makes me feel more like me.
  • organizing the stash. I like having a sense of what I have, embarrassing as the volume may be.
  • spinning up the last hunk of Hunk a Burning Love.

  • starting to spin something with which to ply Hunk. It’s colonial dyed in a solid sienna. I think it will strengthen the merino/tencel blend of Hunk, and the merino/tencel will soften up the colonial.

  • mixing up some fibers together on the blending board to make rolags, which I spun and knitted.
  • cleaning up my dyeing station in the garage.

(This is where this list breaks off and becomes a post of its own.)

    About four years ago, I became a dyer. I had previously quit teaching because it was making me crazy, and in my new job role, I was able to use my time off work freely and not obsess about work. I allowed myself to dream and to play, and what I came up with was a little line of hand-painted gradient spinning fiber inspired by the plants and animals that live Kentucky fencerows. It was a short-lived venture, but when I was working on it, I finally felt alive.

    It’s hard to explain how I walked away from it, but it mainly had to do with my going back to teaching. Returning to the classroom not only meant taking on all the responsibilities of being a teacher, but also getting back into graduate studies, as a master’s degree—earned in a certain dwindling amount of time—was necessary to maintain my teaching certification.

    So that was, like, three years ago.

    And when I say I walked away from the dyeing thing, I mean it literally. I left all my stuff—jugs of dye, bags of fiber, gutters (yes, gutters)—strung out in the garage and never looked back. I am thankful for Dale, who never demanded that I get out there and buckle that business up. To do so would have been to let go of a dream, to fling it into the abyss. Metaphorically speaking. Even though it was a mess, leaving it all set up helped me hold onto the hope that I might dye again.

    And this week, I did.

    The plan was to do it the day after I cleaned up my office, but that day was so chilly and blustery. Staying inside to play with the blending board and spinning wheel just felt preferable. There was a little thought niggling in the back of my mind, saying, See, you’re not going to get back out there. Your dyeing days are done.

    That voice has many names, one of which is the Inner Critic. In case you didn’t know, the IC is a lying SOB.

    I think it was three days ago that I stomped out to the garage and lassoed my dyeing tools back to me. It’s hard to remember how long ago it was because I seem to have lost track of time since then.

    First, I moved three years of accumulated things out of the way. I swept away dirt and sawdust. Then, I disassembled the remnants of my last dyeing session, which had anticipated a next dyeing session—a dyeing session that never came. The pinned out plastic wrap was covered in dust. The waste-water pan was rusted.

    And then, I found what I needed to try again.

    To my surprise, the dye stock was still good, except for one color, which I had foolishly stored in a milk jug. (For the record, dye will eat right through the bottom of a milk jug, given enough time.) I dusted off a bag of merino, tied it up, and dunked it in a fresh bucket of citric acid solution. I rolled out new plastic wrap and pinned it to the gutters.

    With each step, I rediscovered the purpose of the tools I had laid out years ago. Oh, this is why I have this pan! That’s what these fingernail clippers are for! No wonder I used turkey basters!

    It was seriously like coming out of amnesia.

    A pair of twenty-foot gutters for dyeing looong colorways.

    A dozen jars for mixing dyes.

    A sock blank—a years-old gift from my dear friend Kim—newly dyed and steaming.

    The sock blank and two lengths of merino top—all dyed in experimental colorways.

    The sock yarn all wound up into two mirror-image balls. Teal to kelly green to lime to lemon.

    The top braided.

    A third colorway drying in today’s breezy shade.

    Today’s braid.

    Pinky-purple and minty-green color studies, left to dry overnight.


    Can you tell I’m having fun?

    While I loved my former fencerow concept, which guided all my color experiments years ago, I am just letting myself play now. I am still (obviously) drawn to gradient colorways, but I’m letting myself be open to new ideas. I’m not trying to force my color play into strict rules of inspiration.

    And I am loving it.

    The deeper I let myself go down this fibery rabbit hole, the more I feel like throwing a power-fist into the air and shouting, “I’m back, y’all!”

    Ragtag rolags.

    I made rolags today!

    Actually, I made rolags and then made other stuff from the rolags, but let me back up.

    Another item I came across yesterday in The Great Office Reorganization of 2017 was the blending board that Dale made for me a few years ago.

    Back in 2013, my friend Kim and I went to the Midwest Fiber and Folk Festival near Chicago. We were sharing a booth. She sold her handmade soap, and I sold my handdyed spinning fiber. It was a wonderful time, and occasionally, one of us would wander around from booth to colorful booth checking things out while the other manned our station. On one of my jaunts, I saw something I had never seen before: a blending board. A woman was doing a demonstration of one, showing how you can make these long, skinny batts of spinning fiber using something other than a drum carder.

    I was sold. Well, except that I wasn’t because those suckers cost, like, $300. I mean, I own two spinning wheels; I’m not above dropping a big chunk of change on a fiber tool. That price tag just didn’t seem to match what I was seeing. So I came home and told the husband about it. We found a decent DIY how-to online (I would link to it, but I don’t remember which one it was), and he agreed to do it.

    He’s a keeper. I know.

    Yep, that’s a cutting board with a carding cloth tacked to it. Also pictured here are the knitting needles I used instead of dowel rods—and a dog brush that I tried to use as a burnishing brush, but nope, that didn’t work.

    I tried to use this board once a few years ago, and I don’t know what I did wrong, but it didn’t work. And that was during a rough time, which has only recently subsided, when I felt like I was so busy I couldn’t do anything other than be a teacher and work on graduate school.

    Well, today, I mended things between me and the ol’ blending board.

    I got into my newly organized closet and the newly organized spinning fiber tub, and out came these.

    That’s undyed merino, brightly dyed mohair locks, and a mystery bag that I think might contain a silk hanky. I also mixed in a handful of the merino/tencel from Fiber Optic.

    What I didn’t take a picture of was the blending.

    I was spraddle-legged in the floor with the blending board, and fiber was flying every which way. I was having so much fun that I didn’t think to snap any pictures. However, you can watch this video to see more or less what I did. It’s what I, myself, watched this morning to brush up on blending technique.

    Here’s what the blending yielded!

    For that first photo up top, I coiled them into neat little buns, but this is what they looked like when I pulled them off the needles rods.

    I immediately started spinning.

    As I spun, I listened to Brené Brown’s talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” Over the course of the last year, I have been listening to snippets of it here and there. Part of what I heard today was about creativity and play.

    She says that creativity is making something that never existed before.

     And that sharing it requires us to be vulnerable.

    And willingness to be vulnerable is the defining characteristic of people who live whole-heartedly.

    She also referenced a quote about play, which is also so important for whole-hearted living. It said that play isn’t the opposite of work; it is the opposite of depression.

    Brené Brown also mentioned Stuart Brown (no relation) and what he calls the properties of play. He says that play is time spent without purpose,

    something that you don’t want to end,

    and something during which you lose self-consciousness and all sense of time.

    Today, I played.

    Today, I was creative.