Monthly Archives: July 2013

Spinning and the Tour de Fleece 2013

So there’s this spinning thing that runs concurrently with that big bike race in France. (They race on bicycles for about three weeks. There are mountains. I like my version better.) Basically, you spin every day the contenders cycle, and rest the days they rest. It is traditional to have some sort of personal challenge to echo the challenge days in the Tour de France.

This year, I chose two challenges: spinning silk hankies (basically an empty silk moth cocoon that’s been soaked and stretched out; the actual name is mawata), and spinning some big chunky yarn. Like so many other spinners, I lost the ability to do the latter once I’d gained the ability to spin very finely. Those plus trying to spin as often as I could would be more than enough, I figured. But to start with I rummaged through my fibre stash and pulled out what my fingers decided felt nicest that day, a 50-gram twist of green Fleece Artist Merino sliver. (Maybe I should have called that a challenge, too. I am terrible at deciding what to spin next, and this was akin to closing my eyes and choosing randomly.)

Well, I spun every single day during the three-week race. And I blew through my two challenges early on (and plied them together to boot), with the added bonuses of plying 1200 yards of luxury singles I’d spun earlier in the year for Mum’s yarn, spinning 50 g of Fleece Artist Merino, and getting halfway through 6 oz of batts I’d had in my stash for about three years. I spun and plied an awful lot of yarn.

Here’s my output:

Clockwise from top:

– Fleece Artist Merino sliver in Rainforest, spun worsted and chain-plied (239 yards)
– Spiral yarn made with my two challenges, a thread spun from silk hankies dyed by myself (also on the storage bobbin at the centre, about 7 g) and a Coopworth single (64 yards)
– Bobbin of 3 oz woollen-spun worsted weight single, from Spin Knit & Life batts (Falkland, mohair, domestic wool in blended blues and browns)
– In the bottom of the basket: the 1200 yards of plied luxury yarn, one ply of 50/50 silk/cashmere, one ply of 50/50 silk/Merino (8.5 oz, 1200 yards)

And in addition to this, I saw some fabulous yarns being made, interacted with awesome people, and made lots of notes on new indie dyers to check out and techniques to try. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.

I spun the second half of the batts the day after the Tour finished. Here’s all 455 yards of worsted weight singles, ready to be knit into a shawl:

I need to crow a bit here. I was invited to enter my Fleece Artist skein into a draw for people who’d spun fibre from that dyer, and I won! So this pretty little green skein netted me a copy of Clara Parke’s The Knitter’s Book of Yarn:

(I really wish I had more of the fibre so I could spin enough for a pair of socks. Now that I know the colourway, I can order more sometime and do just that.)

In the past week I spun an ounce of honey-coloured silk to ply with the bobbin of green Merino singles that has been waiting patiently since January (Ashland Bay ‘Sage’, to be precise). That yarn is looking very pretty indeed so far:

And last on my list of spinning stuff to journal about, it turns out that my sample skeins lied as badly as gauge swatches do in knitting. I am about 500 yards short on Mum’s yarn. Fortunately I have found an online retailer who has both the silk/Merino and the silk/cashmere in stock and will sell me two ounces of each so I can spin up the rest. As cranky as I am about being wrong, it will be lovely to spin more of these fibre blends; it was dreamy to do, and plying was a real treat as well.

Concert Reflections, And On Emily’s Quest To Be With Henri

We held our annual Canada Day concert as part of the Pointe-Claire Canada Day celebrations last week. It was really, really good. Having brass and percussion certainly kicks things up a few notches, and also relieves some stress. After dress rehearsal, some of the cello section laughed about how we no longer felt the need to practice like crazy to try to polish the last little things, because no one would be hearing them anyway. In all seriousness, though, I’m happy with how I did considering the lack of time I had to practice this material.

We’ve played the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock before (twice, I do believe) but in the arrangement for string orchestra. This time we had the percussion and a BRASS SECTION (it deserves capital letters because it was VERY THERE) and it totally changed the feel of it. Also, it was a more aggressive interpretation on the part of our conductor, so all in all, a very different piece. I enjoyed the Tchaikovsky waltz from Swan Lake (also much more energetic than I’d expected), and as it was Canada Day and a dance-themed concert, we naturally played Strauss. I grumble about Strauss, but playing through waltzes gives me a much more refined appreciation of them. This year’s was Tales from the Vienna Woods, and we also did the Thunder and Lightning Polka, which was deliciously rollicking, crashy and loud thanks to the percussion, and a lot of fun. We played some Dvorak Slavonic Dances to end the concert, and while at times I think Dvorak orchestrated these with particular attention to trying to kill cellists, they do sound fabulous.

I realized that it’s been four years since I’ve officially owned this 7/8 cello. I love it. It’s a tidy, trim little thing, a workhorse that matches me in whatever I ask of it, and it’s developing some very pretty sound in the upper register as it ages and is worked in. (Or maybe that’s me. Or both of us together.) It doesn’t have any oddities that I’ve found yet, just nice even sound from bottom to top. I consider myself extremely lucky to own it. (I need to replace the strings this fall, and it really should have a check up, since it hasn’t been back since I bought it in the summer of 2009.)

I can’t even imagine not owning a cello. Playing on a borrowed instrument and not being able to allow yourself to make as deep a connection as you want to must be incredibly difficult. And yet, that’s the position my friend Emily has been in. She’s a professional cellist and teacher, and a year ago she was forced to sell her cello in order to make ends meet. We’re talking a totally different bracket of cello, here. Selling mine would maybe net me a grand. Emily’s… well, let’s just say it was a heck of a lot more than that.

But in selling it, she also sold a friend, a companion, an instrument that had been with her for the entirety of her professional life, and most of her student life, too. And while a colleague lent her a cello so she could continue to work, she was missing… well, she was missing a soul mate.

And she’s found it.

Henri is a 1938 French cello with dreamy, rich sound. He and Emily fit together beautifully. And she’s asking for help from friends and strangers in raising the last of the money she needs to buy him. In typical Emily fashion, her way of thanking sponsors is to give back to the community by working with charities, veterans, public schools, and various assistance programs. There are fun personal thank-yous, too — Emily’s quirky stick figure drawings, copies of her quite excellent cello technical manual, and so forth — but Emily’s all about giving back at large, and outreach. It’s no surprise, because she has an enormous heart and sense of justice, and she values everyone and everything.

So when HRH asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I really thought hard about it. Did I want a gift certificate to the local spinning supply studio, and a free afternoon in which to visit it? Did I want a pair of hand carders? Did I want books? And then I knew.

HRH is donating money to Emily’s fundraising campaign as my birthday present. Because I know that Emily and Henri are meant to be together, and because I know what it’s like to own your instrument and be able to allow yourself to fall in love, to make that deepest connection. And if I know that on my own superficial, amateur level, then I can only imagine what it’s like on Emily’s professional level. To be a professional musician without an instrument… it’s unthinkable. And I’m happy to be able to direct my husband’s birthday present to me towards a friend’s need, and know that many, many people will benefit by it in the long run.

Emily’s website is
Her fundraiser can be found at
Here’s an interview by Zero 2 Maestro with Emily about her situation.

Owlet: Twenty-Three Months Old!

This is it. We are in less-than-a-month countdown mode to the second birthday, now.

Lots more talking (what, in this family?), lots more running. Climbing has been the big skill expansion this past month. Owlet nows goes up and down stairs by stepping on them instead of crawling. And she decided to climb up the inclined climbing wall on the play structure to get to the little fort and go down the slide all on her own last week.

Potty training is happening, and sometimes it’s going really well, and then sometimes there are days where she kicks and screams if you even mention the potty. And then kicks and screams if you change her diaper. So, you know. She’s just about two and perfectly normal.

Owlet is fighting a nasty cold, and today I finally took her temperature because she felt really hot to the touch when she woke up. Sure enough, she had a mid-grade fever, so I gave her some Tylenol, which mitigated a bit of the whingey whininess that’s been our near-constant companion these past few days. She’s off her feed, too, which tells us that’s she really feeling poorly more than anything else. (That and waking up crying, which she never does; she usually wakes up and talks to herself for about half an hour, playing with her blankets and stuffed animals, before cheerfully calling for company.)

This past month Owlet finally clicked into make-believe. She was on all fours one morning, reaching for some bulky yarn I’d cut lengths of so the kids could play with the cats. “Are you a kitten?” I said as I walked by. “Are you pretending you’re a cat?” “Maow, maow,” she said, delighted, and swiped at the yarn like she sees the cats do. Then later she was crouching down with her hands on the floor, being obdurate about something, and I said, “Are you a frog?” She looked at me for a moment, then beamed and said, “Fog! Reh… BEET!” And we hopped down the hall together, taking turns to jump and say “Reh… BEET!” (or, in my case, “ribbit”) when we landed. It was the only way I could get her into her room for her nap. (That’s how miserable this cold is making her. When I say it’s nap time, she usually shouts “NIGH-NIGH!” and runs for her room.) This is so much fun. I don’t remember having to teach Sparky how to play pretend. He just kind of did it on his own first.

In getting Owlet’s room ready for her nap another day, I discovered my niddy-noddy in her crib. This is:

(a) evidence that I don’t watch her closely enough while she plays;
(b) an example of how I leave potentially dangerous equipment lying around;
(c) proof that I’m indoctrinating my child into the love of fibre arts successfully.

(I should point out that I don’t actually consider the niddy to be dangerous equipment. I imagine that people unfamiliar with how my house runs might, though. It might be like seeing a toddler running around with a baseball bat, or some other kind of long piece of wood. But we don’t keep anything breakable down at Owlet-level, and even if she swings it she might knock a picture off the hall table, but that would be about the extent of the damage. I also imagine that she could theoretically ding herself in the face with one of the crosspieces, but she’d have to be moving really fast and swinging the niddy at the same time. I suppose it could be considered mildly dangerous when she pretends it’s a pony and tries to ride it around the house, and trips over the crosspiece between her feet. But that doesn’t fuss her, so it doesn’t fuss me, either.)

Owlet is now enthusiastically into reading along. Her favourite books at the moment are Mo Willem’s Pigeon books, Sandy Boynton’s Little Pookie books, and Ellen Walsh’s Mouse Paint. She provides Little Pookie’s lines of dialogue when we read those books, and it’s hilarious to hear her tiny voice say, “Um… a what?” in Let’s Dance, Little Pookie, or “No, no, nope, no THANK YOU!” in What’s Wrong, Little Pookie? While she gets the “silly!” part about the hippo borrowing the shoes, she just snores at the five lazy frogs instead of saying “silly, too!” And then she pretends to grab one of the cookies on the next page and runs off to feed it to HRH, Sparky, the cats, and whoever else she can think of. So the rest of that book doesn’t really happen for us yet.

This month she also learned how to blow bubbles with a bubble wand (or kind of; she does a short, sharp puff of air, which, if it’s directed correctly, produces one or two tiny bubbles). HRH built the kids a sandbox to stop her from digging in the vegetable garden, and Owlet supervised.

It’s a big hit. Owlet approved on the first day that there was sand in it and it was nice enough to play outdoors.

It’s summer hols now, and I am loving how the kids play together. They cook up games about playing with the cats by dragging yarn for them to chase, each of them going in opposite directions as they trot around the middle of the house. They make blanket forts downstairs on weekend or rainy mornings while they watch TV. They build block towers together, and roll balls to knock them down. There’s still frustration on Sparky’s part as Owlet jumps the gun and cuts short his planned outcome of whatever he’s doing, but that’s part of working things out between themselves.

She loved the daycare get-to-know-you picnic and played with all the things. (Chewing on the play kitchen food is probably what gave her this awful cold, but it has to happen at some point.) She enjoyed playing with the other kids, too (parallel play at this point, of course, but she was very cheerful about it), and singing songs, and doing the casual group activities. We’re in a countdown for that, too; she starts part-time daycare the week she turns two, though it will be a progressive entry and she probably won’t do full days till the following week. She’s such a big girl now, learning so much, and I know she’ll love the stimulation of daycare and socializing with other girls her age.