The Big Reveal

As promised yesterday, I'm delivering the photos of my climb through the Pyrenees that results in my first real skein of yarn. The roving is some generic Louet sliver that came along with my Learn to Spin kit from Webs. I've been practicing with this Big Bag 'o Wool since the start of the Tour. It's spent time on the floor, time in the Sierra, and even time in the garbage can when I couldn't seem to even get started.

My first big breakthrough was learning to pre-draft. Realizing that I could save myself oceans of frustration by starting with a smaller and more malleable bit of fiber was the thing that finally pushed me over the hump and got me rolling. I was able to get a spindle full of thick-ish singles that I wound off and set aside, but I didn't want to call that my first skein. I also didn't want to give up until I was able to get the spinning wheel going.

Next was just me and the wheel. Pre-drafting and general techniques being ok, it was all about adjusting tension, tying on a leader and not getting hung up on the amount of twist or being afraid of the yarn winding back on itself. Thanks to some great advice on from the Louet Lovers group on Ravelry I was able to get the singles to wind on the bobbin. Once that happened, it was all about practice. Me and the bag of sliver. Me and the wheel. Me and all those bobbins. I resolved to use that first bobbin for just plain practice. Striving for consistency and learning to adjust tension, fill a bobbin and just get "comfortable" adding twist to fiber. Two solid nights of that and I moved to a new bobbin. Here's the result:
This is just over 30 grams of fiber, wound quite thinly. My goal was to get something that would allow me to do either a 2-ply or 3-ply resulting in fingering or sport weight. That's my workhorse yarn for socks, mittens and the like and if I could do that, it'd be like conquering the world. I also got very comfortable spinning a thin yarn.

My Maggie Casey book told me that a good way to test if you were satisfied with the single and the amount of twist was to allow a portion of the yarn to wind back on itself. It'd give an indication of what the final yarn's thickness would be like and also help to determine how much twist to put in during plying. So, when I finished spinning the amount of fiber I was aiming for on the bobbin, I let the last few inches of the single wind back on itself and I got this:

Not bad. Not bad at all. At risk of exhibiting hubris, the plied (plyed?!) single reminded me of the Satatkieli yarn I'm using for my Latvian Mittens. The individual plies on that yarn are very distinct and gives it a "ropey" look. Personally, I liked it, but knew it would be problematic if the yarn didn't soften up after washing. Regardless, this is practice and was in line with what I was shooting for. Good stuff, time to ply.

I'm still new to all of this and like to do things incrementally, so rather than jumping off the cliff and going for Navajo plying, I stayed safe and just did a simple 2-ply using my lazy kate and two bobbins. I also resurrected that first bobbin full of yarn since I felt most of it was useful, thought longingly about either a glass of wine or a beer, and got busy.

I have two tips for any new spinners that are wanting to do some plying. First, whatever phones might ring that you want to answer should be nearby. I think you can see where this one is going. Second, if you're watching TV and would want to answer the phone, it'd be a good idea to have any/all remotes nearby so that you can turn down the volume and pause the VCR/DVR. Again, proof is left to the reader.

So, two phone calls, Stage 11 of the Tour, an episode of Top Gear, a wash, a soak and a rinse later, I had this:

My first skein - resting comfortably in the hedge. I suspect that it will never get knitted into anything - at least not until after SOAR. It's my mascot for the time being and the launch pad from which I will improve and grow. I love this little thing.

Finally - my thanks to The Harlot and to Katherine for giving me the shove I needed to do this. My mind and heart have been working overtime ever since. What a wonderful thing to have a craft.

In which I conquer the world

Just over a week ago, I joined in the Tour de Fleece. It was a bit of a whim, to be sure, but I also recognized it as the "kick in the butt" I needed to get started on my brand spanking new wheel/spindle/etc. Learning to spin seemed like a natural progression now that I've gotten comfortable knitting and getting in to SOAR this year sealed the deal.

If you scroll down, you'll see pictures of my first efforts with a spindle, followed by a somewhat lackluster attempt at the wheel. I've been getting more "serious" these past few days and I'm now feeling quite confident. Today I took that last step - plying.

The Internet is helpful in so many ways - YouTube videos, blogs, Ravelry - all these places had tips and tricks to help me ply my first yarn. In the end, I turned back to Maggie and just sat down and did it.

My skein has been wound, washed, rinsed and is now resting quietly in the bathroom. I expect it'll be dry in the morning. Pictures to follow.

Huh. Pretty cool.


I posted to the Louet Lovers group over at Ravelry on Saturday since I'd been having absolutely no success in getting the singles to wind onto bobbins on my lovely Julia. The wonderful folks over there immediately gave me suggestions on tension, threading of the wheel and even how to make sure my leader was correctly tied onto my bobbin. They were fabulous! After 3+ hours of running around on a beautiful Sunday morning, I decided to take their words to heart and give it a try. This is what happened:


Nope, me neither. I feel like I've just cycled up the Pyrenees. I really CAN do this, ya know? The rest of this bobbin is practice. Pure and simple - just practice.

I'll wind it off and leave it as a single. Then the real work starts.

I'll say this about all my issues with the wheel - it forced me to learn the bobbin. I don't think I would have been nearly as successful if I'd not spent that time filling up the bobbin and really figuring it out. I also think that the yarn I made will end up as a plied skein (I do have two bobbins full, after all) and it'll be good for me to practice that separate from the wheel.

Hey, I'm happy.

Saturday is for .. well ...

Refereeing and then a half-spindle full of yarn. I also finished up that pair of socks I started last weekend ... all to try and delay sitting at the wheel. However, after a fair bit of hemming and hawing, I sat down and tried.


For whatever reason, I just can't seem to get the yarn to wind on. There's a progression of spinning/drafting/winding that I just can't seem to contemplate while using the wheel. The spindle is working out just fine and I'm able to spin relatively consistently, but I just *know* I'd be faster and spin finer yarn if I could just figure the darned thing out. Do I wait for Maggie in October? Do I go to one of my local knitting places, buy a bag of roving and just have them teach me? Or do I just keep plugging away on the spindle and make my skein that way.

Dunno. I'll think about it tomorrow while running around in San Francisco. It's only Day 8 of the tour - there's plenty of time to sort this out.

(Way to go TEAM COLUMBIA!!!!)

How can it be Wednesday?

Time just "wooshes" by for me these days - what with me working hard to get my serious, wonderful, glorious work done (it's gonna be cool, I PROMISE), watching the Tour, learning to spin and knocking down the knitting queue ... well, I lost two whole days there. Wierd.

Ok, topic 1: How's that spinning going, really?

I've gotten past my innate fear of the spindle and I think the two of us are going to be friends. My new pal, Pre-drafted Fiber (we'll call her "Pre) and I went over to hang out with the spindle (get it? hang? heh) on Monday night and things went quite well. I managed to spin something that didn't have the same diameter as a spaghetti noodle and, for the most part, don't think I over spun anything. Much. My fingers are getting used to the feel of the twist working it's way up the fiber and "charging" it up for the next round of drafting. If the temperature goes down just a bit tonight, I may take another crack at it. Regardless - spindle #2 is good. I pronounce it so. At a minimum, I need to wind it off the spindle so that I can do something with it. Cool.

Topic 2: What about those other things you said you're knitting?

Yeah, well. A LONG while ago, I made one of the Must Have Cardigans. Very aptly named. Patons Classic Merino, on the order of 6 skeins and this think knit up so fast that it was done in, like, 1 week. Awesome. I should crochet in on the back of the collar to prevent it from opening up, and also add some reinforcement to the button holes. Whatever. The pattern also makes the cables running up the arms look vaguely skeleton-like .. but the shaping is forgiving, the length is awesome, even the shoulders are just right. It's as if the pattern were made for me.

Regardless, it's awesome. I wish the temperature would go back to "normal" at the house - which usually means in the high 40s/low 50s at night which would allow the cardigan to come back out. Today it's languishing on the chest at the foot of the bed. I know it thinks I don't love it any more. Feh.

Next thing is a pair of Riverbed socks ala Cat Bordhi. I couldn't manage to get a good picture of the whole sock, but here's some closeups of the stitching. Blue Moon sock yarn is a dream to knit with - and even the lightweight stuff is just so squishy that it's a dream to wear. The yarn was originally intended for the Sock Club pattern, but that thing foiled me completely. Enter these stripey wonders.

The cuff is a 4 row pattern of 1 purl followed by 3 knit. Then, an additional 3 knit to make it roll ever so amazingly down to meet that last row of purl. These babies fit like no sock I've ever made fits. I'm in love with the book, with the pattern and with math in general. Seeing as I had, like, 12 YEARS of math, you'd think I'd had enough - but nope, it's good. Love the stripes, love everything about this sock. Just need to start on #2.

Finally, there's a Dragon Skin Baby Jacket in process. As always, the "third time's the charm" for this kind of think. First try, the edge was too tight. Second try, I couldn't count. Third try, I found a mistake about 8 rows down after casting on for the sleeve, and there was NO WAY I was frogging that far back. Enter two bamboo DPNs, a glass of wine and my fan.

Yes, that's a blackberry in the background. If it weren't for that thing, I'd never go home. Also, I think that this is a tremendous sign of optimism that I'm bringing knitting to the office. And not just socks, but FiddlyKnitting. The kind where interruptions and short bursts of time are sure to wreak havoc.

The baby is due in 1 week. Think I'm gonna make it?

Me neither.

Day 2 - The Recap and Some Plotting

As promised, I got out the spindle and the Louet sliver and spent a little time messing around last night. I'd been knitting away at a pair of socks based on Cat Bordhi's ingenious toe-up creations and had gotten past the heel turn so I felt ok putting it down. After The Harlot threw down the gauntlet, I knew I couldn't just let the first day go by and not do anything.

Step 1 was to get serious about separating the sliver and doing some pre-drafting. The video on the Tour de Fleece blog is the same one I watched before we left for the cabin so I proceeded to split the sliver in two, then in four, then in eighths. It resulted in a much lighter mass of fiber to start with and I hoped it would make the going easier. Still a very short piece of wool, but I didn't want to bite off too much. In the end, it looked like this before I got started:

So, with the pre-drafted wool, I got started. Yes, I'm still firmly in the "park and draft" mode, but it certainly allows me to really control what I'm doing. I went slowly and just a bit at a time. After winding on the second time, I started experimenting with drafting the wool a bit more before allowing the twist to travel up the yarn. I also switched to my right hand as the "pinching" hand and my left as the drafting hand. Worked much better - I was able to smooth the ends down much more and the yarn was also much smoother.

The wool gets eaten up so fast ... I can tell that the majority of my time spinning will be pre-drafting. I guess that's the equivalent of swatching.

Anyway - here's the end result:

Just about 14 yards of a DK-ish weight single. I wound it off onto my niddy noddy, then let it rest overnight before winding it on to a toilet paper roll.

Today? Today I'm catching up on the Tour (go Alejandro Valverde!) and am secretly hoping that this is the year that George Hincappe makes it happen.

Oh, and I'm doing research. I've got Maggie's book out along with Lee Raven's Spin It. I'm going to read up a bit more about pre-drafting and also a bit about plying. More actual spinning tomorrow.

Finally, I'm enjoying a long, tall Boont Amber Ale along with a huge bowl of noodles. We overslept this morning and missed out on the annual Hernia Hill Half Marathon. That being said, I managed to get myself mightily lost while running in the park. The planned 13.1 miles (yes, there's a race I do in that park and I know the route) probably was more like 15. Pasta and beer is the only remedy.

Darn shame, that.

Day 1 - The Tour Opens!

It's the first day of the Tour de Fleece and I've nothing to report - yet.

We're currently enjoying the Independence Day holiday up in the Sierra; a cold beer at my elbow and filching wi-fi at the Camp Connell General Store. It's pretty darned hot ouside and the thought of spinning is pretty far away.

I brought the spindle and some of the Louet roving with me in case I decide to do something about it. Perhaps today is perfect for some drafting and an attempt at spinning up something smaller than worsted weight singles.

Regardless, it's the first day of my month-long quest to spin a skein. One beautiful, relatively even, plyed skein.

I know I can do this.

(oh, and I've Tivo'd the first stage ... will be catching up on all of that tomorrow)

Tour de Fleece

My friends know that I'm a big fan of the French cycling event - I would spend mornings watching it before heading in to work (one of the benefits of living on the West Coast). That being said, I'm doing my part to play along with the Tour by doing the Tour de Fleece.

This is just the kick in the butt I need to get me started spinning. I finally assembled the Julia even though it arrived almost a week ago. Me, some fleece, one spindle and a wheel. The four of us are hereby charged with making a skein of yarn.

In the immortal words of Mr. Clarkson, "How hard can it be?"

Rabbit rabbit rabbit

(yes, it's been a while)

A very dear friend from college days turned me on to this tradition. The first person to say "Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit" to the other person, on the first day of the month, won. Won what? No idea. Won something. We'd sneak up on each other, we'd leave messages on the answering machine, or even ping if logged in to the UNIX system. No, there wasn't really email in those days .. not really.

Anyway, it's been a while - and I miss her.

Email sent.

Update: The Wikipedia rules all. Problem solved.


Commuting back and forth to work over here can be a harrowing experience. Anyone familiar with Asia will agree that the driving style is a mixture of chaos and zen - cars seem to move randomly from lane to lane (and I say "lane" in the loosest of ways) and everyone cuts everyone else off. It's the automotive version of the way Chinese crowds work - no notion of waiting in line and priority of place. It's just about getting where you're going as quickly as possible.

Shenzhen is a crowded city with lots of traffic. A good portion of our ~45 minute commute is either trying to get to the expressway or get across the city. Cars move quickly in a never-ending game of chicken.

Once outside the crowded downtown, things open up and you get an idea of what it was like ten years ago. I remember lots of hills, huge expanses of red-orange dirt and a patchy canopy of trees. The sides of the road are lined with huge campuses emblazoned with odd-sounding Westernized names. Whether it's a literal translation of the actual company name or a description of their goals, there's no mistaking that the ownership is local.

Those little patches of greenery are the exception, however. Most of the streets are lined with aging high-rise apartment blocks that are desperately in need of a power wash and a coat of paint. There's a perpetual curtain of laundry hanging in every window and the "indoor" plumbing was clearly an afterthought.

There's an upside to all this madness, though. No matter where you are, no matter how long you've been in the van, you can always get something to eat. They even deliver.

The glamor of business travel

First of all, let me apologize because it's been so long since I've posted. Not that I really believe that there's a dedicated group of folks out there just aching to know what I've been up to, but more because I was starting to really enjoy this and I've been neglecting it. Well, hopefully, I'll be able to do better - at least for a while.

That being said, I thought I would take the next week to give folks a taste of the "business travel" life. I'm sure many people have a notion that going somewhere on business means great food, lots of partying, and is generally a boondoggle. Let me be clear - business travel is (for me) nothing like that. It's darned tiring first of all and it's also hard to be away from home. A phone call is not the same as being there (despite what the phone company would have you believe). So without further ado, here goes.

Step 1: The Flight

Company policy is that we fly coach rather than business class. The UA planes on the Asia routes are some of the oldest in the fleet - and the ones on the Hong Kong schedule are no exception. Ah, stowing bags on a 747 ...

This is one of my colleagues bracing himself for the 14.5 hour flight. Yup, that's right - fourteen and a half hours. That translates into three "meals" (I can hardly call that slop we're fed a "meal"), four movies, two short subjects, four Disney Channel sit coms and a bunch of time looking at the Map Channel. Note all that leg room - hey, we're in Economy Plus!

In economy, there's no choice of program - you get what you get. So, I do my best to make good use of the time. Generally, that translates to knitting and reading. I did this:

Two copies of The Atlantic, a copy of Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters and the pattern from the current Rockin' Sock Club. The yarn is Sockotta by Patons, rather than the BMFA yarn that came with the kit as I thought the kit would be too stripey. Imagine my surprise when this stuff started striping! I thought it would be more "flecky", but I'm liking the way the sock both looks and fits. I didn't get to either the magazines or the book because it took almost 10h to do the one sock, but that means I have them for the flight back!

When I'm here in China, I keep my sanity by hitting the treadmill every morning. I'm generally awake at 3am so that gives me a chance to wake up, watch a movie, have a cup of coffee and a Clif Bar before hitting the gym at 5:45a. The workout room doesn't "officially" open until 6a, but the world is down there competing for treadmills well beforehand. I've been stuck on an orbital before and it was not an experience I'd like to repeat. Anyway, the outcome of all that activity is this:

Yup, sweaty running clothes hanging up in the shower. It pretty much takes 18h for stuff to dry since it's so humid and I'd rather not pack wet clothes. This is my equivalent of "flying the national flag of Singapore".

Finally, I always leave a bit of a mess in the bathroom when I head out for the day. Toiletries, grooming aids and such strewn about on the beautiful marble top.

I'll show you what they do tomorrow. If only I got this kind of treatment at home!

Hibernating ...

Not dead, just BUSY!

Good news - house sold. Furniture tomorrow.

Bad news - going to China ... again.

Blog more when over there. Lots of catch-up (knitting) to do!

What a weekend

The pictures I put up on Friday were just a taste of what we experienced during our first "storm" up here on the mountain. Remember that branch I said was resolutely guarding the Subaru? Well, it didn't do as good a job as I'd liked. About 2 hours after the picture was taken, I noticed that there were some big branches on the roof of the guest house (behind the Subaru) and that the cupola was gone. Here's a last glimpse of that bit of architecture:

See the little cupola sticking out from behind the carport? Ok, maybe you can't - but rest assured that it was *there* when that picture was taken. Anyway, the loss of the cupola was enough to persuade Chris to pull on his foul weather gear (thank the patron diety of man-made fabrics for Gore-Tex!) and head out to ensure that there wasn't a torrent of water in our proto-cottage.

After a short dash, and an even shorter disappearance into the cottage, he came back out and headed for the house. That led him to actually *LOOK* at the back of the car. What did he see? Well, basically that feared localized monsoon wasn't in the cottage - it was in the rear cargo area of the wagon. The passenger tail light assembly was also in pieces and the rearmost glass on that same side was shattered (but intact - initially). After a retreat back in to the house and some furious strategizing, we headed back to the cottage, retrieved a Big Blue Tarp (tm) and put it around the lift gate. Chris accidentally bumped the side glass and that caused a good chunk of it to cave in. Ah well. Problem solved, for now.

Power was out by this time, along with internet and also the phones. Cell service is spotty but we managed to open a claim with the insurance company and persuade the local dealership (7 miles and 2000' of elevation away) to take it and park it out of the rain. We battled window and door leaks (water coming in UNDER the thresholds), wrangled with the generator and marveled at the sheer force of the elements for most of the day. When it finally slowed down, we headed down the hill and put the car in capable hands.

Power has since come back as of about 1p on Sunday - and we're reveling in the cozy warmth of the furnace and a renewed appreciation for hot water. (electric hot water heater high on replacement list) No one was injured, no one died and we also managed to throw our annual 12th night party without the help of utilities.

2008 is certainly looking to be an interesting year.

Holy storm, Batman!

My first post of the year is one that's also quite fitting given our new house. Shortly after we bought the place, we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the deck with neighbors and spent quite a bit of time talking about the "big storms" that come "a roarin'" over the ridge in the winter time. However, over the past few years, Northern California has taken a bit of a break from heavy winter weather so I wasn't too concerned about it.

Big mistake.

Yesterday, the first of three SERIOUS storms came "a roarin'" through the Bay Area and we're currently smack dab in the middle of the worst one. Winds have been gusting above 80mph a the weather station just down the road (click on the weather station tag in the right nav bar) and it's raining to beat the band. Now the sun has come up, here's what the cars look like:

Love that branch on the Subaru! Chris gets full marks for re-parking in the rain last night as I'd backed the car in to help with unloading. The luggage rack is also doing a fine job holding that branch off the side windows.

So, that's all well and good for the driveway - but what about that great ocean view, you might ask. Well, he's what that mess looks like:

Yeah, it's a wild day. We had power up until about 7a this morning (bouncing quite a bit, I might add) and now it's truly gone. UPS is hanging in there, but we've only got about 1/2 an hour left.

Wind's a blowing, fireplace is a burnin' and candles are a flickerin'. Thank goodness the stove is gas.

Happy New Year everyone!