Monthly Archives: February 2010

What I Read in February 2010

A Love Story, Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
Alden Amos’ Big Book of Handspinning by Alden Amos
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (reread)
Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith
Dates From Hell by Kim Harrison et al
Food Rules by Michael Pollan
The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes
Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes
Time Quake by Linda Buckley-Archer
Death in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope

The big news this month is A Love Story, Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner.

Full disclosure: Emily and I are acquainted.

The good news: This has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the book.

It was a thoughtful and heartfelt exploration of how the protagonist works through her sense of self and place when her best friend dies. Except it isn’t linear; Emily has performed an excellent balancing act addressing what happens before the death, what happens in the immediate storyline, and the bike journey the protagonist goes on between the two. It’s all woven together incredibly well, and my hat is off to her; I never could have done it.

Friday Photos

Somebody won two medals in the preschool Olympics. Plus he was the flagbearer in the closing ceremonies.

The Olympics was very exciting for them. They do this every year, having events like Rolling the Biggest Snowball and Sled-Pulling as well as hockey and such things, but when the Olympics are actually going on at the same time it’s extra-special. They got to watch bits of the real thing at lunchtime, and the boy told us all about building an inukshuk and spray-painting it with food colouring yesterday. I really hope that they took pictures of everything, because I’d love to see it all.

[ETA: I have just been told that the final event was Ice Cream Eating. His win in this event pushed him from the silver to gold medal standing. That’s hilarious.]

And here at home, this is what the bobbins of the singles from the crockpot-dyed fibre looked like:

(Sorry about that third one; I had begun plying them and belatedly realised that I needed a picture, so it isn’t very clear. It’s the only one I took, so it’s all we’ve got.)

And the plied yarn:

[ETA: This is actually a good example of how different yarn looks when different plying techniques are applied to the same singles. In the first photo, standard three-ply yarn is at the top of the photo, and chain-plied yarn at the bottom. The difference is that regular three-ply has three different strands coming from three different bobbins, whereas chain plying uses a single strand pulled through a loop made earlier in the strand. It’s essentially single crochet plus twist. Regular three-ply can look barber pole-y; chain-plied preserves colour change along the strand, so there’s less contrast and a smoother, more subtle shift in colour from one end of the finished plied yarn to the other.]

Fibre Photos

A look at the results of yesterday’s I’m-taking-a-break crockpot dyeing:

This was 2oz of the greyish unknown wool I got in my secondhand lazy kate/bobbin package. There was a touch of angelina or firestar in there, too, which gives it a bit of sparkle. I’d love to say this was a masterfully planned and complicated colourway, but in all honestly it’s just Wilton’s Cornflower Blue, a really strong solution of it, with a natural breaking effect that separated the colour into reds and violets when the acid met the dye solution. I didn’t add vinegar to the dye, just to the water I presoaked the wool with. And even then it wasn’t a lot.

Someday I’ll try the ‘add drops of vinegar one by one at the end of the dyeing process’ thing when I use blue food-grade dyes to preserve the colour, but for now I kind of like the funky effect created by breaking the dye into its colour components with the acid. This will spin up very nicely, I think.

Got the freelance project in yesterday, too. *pats self on the back*

What I Have Today That You Do Not

Courtesy of yesterday’s mail:

1. The spinner’s lap cloth I won from Phat Fiber! The one that’s dark on one side and light on the other so you can use whichever side provides better contrast depending on what colour fibre you’re spinning. And pockets on each end, that you can access from whichever side you’re using. Brilliant. The parts that aren’t dark brown or white (in other words, the border and the pockets) are made from a kind of minty turquoise paisley, which does not match my office at all, or indeed anything I own. I don’t care.

2. An advance reading copy of Emily (The Pirate Queen) Horner’s first published book, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, due out from the Penguin Group in June 2010. Montreal NaNo participants circa 2002-ish will remember her as Emily The Pirate Queen; I remember her fondly as my personal nemesis. And I am so freaking proud of her.

I also have a deadline. But you may have one of those, too.

Weekend Roundup

Saturday morning we went out to the la Co-op la Maison Verte store in NDG to pick up gifts for a baby shower. It was snowing, and the boy put on his sunglasses and “snowboarded” down the sidewalks. He looked great, had a tonne of fun, and it really amused me. After lunch the boy and I packed up, picked up a new friend (yay!) and her adorable baby boy, and headed out to the West Island for Miranda’s baby shower. It was terrific to see Debra again (and she hosted a lovely party indeed), and to see Tamu and Phil, neither of whom I had expected to see. (No, I didn’t think about what other guests might logically be there; you may laugh at me.) The boy was very shy and clingy, and spent a lot of time hiding behind me or cuddling me. We gave Tamu a lift back to the metro so she could stay a bit longer, so it was a full car on the way home what with three grown women, a boy, and a six-month-old baby, which was a lot of fun.

Sunday morning I made big pancake breakfast, then realised I didn’t have the energy to go out and do the groceries. So HRH went alone, bless him, and I dozed in a chair while the boy played. When HRH got home I dragged myself to bed and had a two-hour nap.

Once awake again I made lunch, then made peanut butter-chocolate brownies from the Martha Stewart’s Cookies book, and hmm; her recipes are usually great, but this one wasn’t quite right. I substituted cocoa for the chocolate (I usuallly do this, because it’s less expensive) and cut a bit of the sugar comme d’habitude, but next time I’ll use less cocoa, a tad more sugar, and make twice as much peanut butter filling! Then I made hasty chocolate pudding, because I had promised the boy a few days earlier that we’d make pudding for the first time. The boy made it with me, stirring ingredients together and pressing the buttons on the microwave to cook it. (Recipe review: Pretty good for six-minute pudding. I halved the recipe, used brown sugar, added a tablespoonful of butter with the vanilla, and it was great. Next time, I’m cutting a bit of the cocoa, though, and I can’t believe I said that. And it really needs whipped cream to balance the chocolate. Although it occurs to me that a peanut butter swirl through it would be amazing. Hmm.) Then I puttered while the boy napped and HRH briefly went over to his parents’ house.

My monthly group cello lesson later that afternoon was great; we had a new student there, and did some good work on the Corelli. I’m having a stupid time counting, for some reason; I got lost in the middle of everything that I wasn’t playing the first cello line for (I’m fine with first and whatever the bottom line is, but I’m wobbly on the middle voices because I’m not sure how the harmonies are supposed to move or sound like yet). Despite this, our first read-through of Joplin’s “The Entertainer” went pretty well. We sight-read a new piece, “Soldier’s Joy,” that will be paired with “The Ashokan Farewell,” as well as getting the official new music for our quartets and trios. I really enjoy my group lessons, and I wish we could do them more often, although I know they’re a tonne of work for my teacher and the scheduling is enough of a nightmare.

Here’s some pictures of the plied Coopworth I spun up on Friday. The colour on the top photo is more accurate.

That’s 191 yards of nice, springy, lofty, woollen-spun yarn made from 4 oz of chocolate Coopworth roving (real roving, not misnamed combed top), two-ply, 11 wpi.

More Coopworth — And This Is Not A Bad Thing

Well, after I handed in that freelance assignment yesterday I was so fried that I decided I wasn’t good for much more than watching the new spinning DVD I got last week, Abby Franquemont’s Drafting: The Long and Short of It. And watching her demonstrate long draw with Coopworth — the very same commercially prepared Coopworth I’d struggled with, in fact, with all the neps and VM — was like an epiphany. The Coopworth was prepared differently. It’s not smooth combed top like the BFL and Corriedale. It’s actual roving: carded, not combed. Which means the fibers aren’t perfectly aligned; they’re every which way.


I spin pretty things, but the fine details do still escape me, because, well, six months of experience isn’t a heck of a lot in the grand scheme of the universe. And most of that experience lies with commercially prepared combed top.

Still being a rookie, this different prep was something I didn’t consciously notice. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did notice. But what I noticed was that it was different, that it didn’t draft smoothly the way the other fibres I’d worked with did, it didn’t break off evenly when I pulled it apart like combed top does (that should have been the real giveaway, and I missed it) and that the single I spun with it was springy, not drapey and smooth. What I didn’t figure out as a result of observing all these things was that a long draw would be better for this type of preparation. I didn’t know it was carded instead of combed; if I had, I might have better understood why it was in the state it was.

I was so struck by the ease with which Abby was throwing the Coopworth around that I decided to pull out my wheel and that other bag of dark Coopworth that had come with my wheel to see if I could approximate it. This bag does, in fact, identify the contents as ‘carded wool roving.’ Note to self: Read the damn label next time. (Although in my defense, the first Coopworth was not identified thusly; I just checked. All it said on the label was ‘light brown Coopworth.’) Abby didn’t split or predraft; she just grabbed a length of the roving and started spinning from it. So I found an end, pulled it out of the bag a bit, and started spinning long draw.

And it worked. Oh, glory be, it worked. The Coopworth practically leapt into a finer woollen-spun single without catching, or digging its heels in, or arguing with me. The drafting zone travelled back and forth across the end of the roving evenly. I got a nice swoopy long draw backwards arm throw happening, pinching off the twist by the orifice with the other hand to give the forming single an extra steady pull to smooth out lumps and bumps, and it was glorious. Occasionally I double-drafted to get rid of slubs that wouldn’t straighten with the regular gentle pull.

I spun up two ounces in about an hour and they made lovely lofty 18 wpi singles. I’ll spin up another two ounces today and ply them together. [ETA: Pictures here.]

I figured out the Coopworth. I feel mighty. Thank you, Abby.

I can’t remember if I tried spinning it woollen with a long draw before or not (my notes are unclear) but I know I kept returning to the short draw for worsted, struggling with it to try to make it work. No wonder my six ounces of Coopworth only made 133 yards of very heavy thick and thin single. (In worsted spinning you squish all the air out of the yarn and try to make the fibres align and lie flat, making it smoother and denser; in woollen-spun yarn there’s a lot of air trapped between the fibres that are lying in all different directions, so the yarn is airier and fluffier. It’s what makes woollen sweaters so very warm but light enough to wear.) The single will be great for knitting something that’s destined to be felted, or something small and very warm like mittens, but I’d hate a sweater out of it; you’d be exhausted after wearing it for an hour. (Not that I have enough with which to knit a sweater. 133 yards doesn’t go very far.)

The DVD was very helpful. I was moderately concerned about how much I’d get out of it over the long term after watching it once, but it was on sale, and I’m so glad I bought it. I’ll be watching it every once in a while to remind myself of little things. I learned about woollen joins, for example. I got to watch her use both a Louet S10 (which is what my wheel essentially is) and a Julia wheel. All the fibre she used was Louet fibre, as the video was sponsored by Louet, so I know most of what she was working with and can now apply specific techniques to it. Just watching her hands, her treadling, and her posture was illuminating.

And this is what one doesn’t get when one takes a hobby up alone. If there isn’t a community with whom you can regularly interact in person, you don’t necessarily pick certain things up. You reinvent the wheel, so to speak, by reading books and experimenting on your own and talking to people online. But my spinning 102 class was the first time I’d sat down with other spinners since I tested the wheel at my LYS last summer, and I reinforced a lot of what I do by watching how the others handled their fibre and wheels. Curiously, yesterday Bonnie told me she’d attended the annual Chesterville spin-in this week and invited me along for next year’s session, and I’d already agreed. It’s a one-day event with a vendor’s area (dangerous!), and she said there were about fifty people all spinning together in one room. I can only imagine the kind of tips and tricks you could pick up just by watching the people around you. I’d love to attend something like SOAR, but financially (and probably fibro-wise) that’s impossible. The idea of being with hundreds of people I don’t know in a place I’m unfamiliar with is also enough to put me off the enterprise: I can’t even muster up the courage to contact the local weaver’s guild to see if they have spinners who meet regularly (although part of that comes from familiarity with how unintentionally grasping and overly eager guilds and small groups can be when presented with new blood, although I hasten to add that I have never met anyone of the local guild and so I might be completely wrong in this instance).

In the meantime, though, I have another video to inspire me: Maggie Casey’s two-DVD set Start Spinning. And next on my list will be Judith McKenzie’s newly released Popular Wheel Mechanics, although I won’t be able to order that till summertime.

Also, in somewhat unrelated news, if I ever get a Saxony, I suspect it may be the Kromski Symphony. I won’t know that until I’ve tried it (and that may be difficult as the closest Kromski rep is two hours away), but it’s said that the Symphony is comparable to the Schacht-Reeves Saxony wheels and it’s much less expensive. That’s miles down the road, though, if ever. And since I’m dreaming in brilliant colour, here, I would like the walnut model.

The Thing Is…

… if you stick with something long enough, the bad parts usually get better.

Yes, orchestra rocked. Why would I drop something that challenges and rewards me? When it’s going badly it’s bad, but when it works, when everything comes together, it’s glorious. And I wouldn’t give that up.

Besides, Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow” alone makes up for any frustration. (Including the frustrating passage of stormy strings a third of the way through where everything sounds like it’s falling apart, but is actually building before the absolutely gorgeous climax.) I’ve played some very pretty things, but I find this piece absolutely spectacular and it gets me every time. The transition in the middle is throat-clenchingly exquisite, and then the arrangement of the folk song at the end (the same one that Vaughn Williams used as the second movement of his Folk Song Suite, “The Bonny Boy”; Butterworth and Vaughn Williams were both interested in English folk songs, and Butterworth worked with Cecil Sharp to collect them) is gentle and ethereally beautiful in its simplicity.

I loved this piece even before I found out that Butterworth was killed in the First World War, after destroying the music he though unworthy of survival should he not return. His remaining catalogue is slim, and you can’t help but wonder what he destroyed, and what he might have composed had he lived through the war. Knowing it’s one of the few pieces that survived makes it all the more precious.