Changes and transformations

I genuinely don’t know where to start. I’ve let the blog lie idle for a long time and, quite frankly, most of you haven’t needed to know what was going on at the moment. The year has been as I expected thus far—one of change and adjustment—with ups and downs and a few level places. I cannot yet say that things are good or that I am well. Don’t expect that any time soon. But I can say that things are “less worse,” as a friend put it. And there has been a lot happening.  So let’s see if I cannot get myself back into writing and give you an update at the same time. Grab your cuppa and put your feet up, because this promises to be a long one and a picture-heavy post.

First, the year’s Trøndertreff is done, and we were pleased. We had roughly 35 spinners from all over the country, with a collection of wheels, fibers, questions, and discoveries, and all bubbling with enthusiasm.

Even the new folks who were intimidated about the idea of participating in an event where they knew no one else discovered that fiber and spinning creates common ground—and that we are a pretty harmless bunch, barring the presence of sharp and pointy objects such as knitting needles and wool combs. mg-1

And seriously, how can anyone not smile when they’re in the company of other fiberholics and given the chance to play with fresh fiber?

These photos are from last year, but the images—and many of the faces—are the same from this year. If you feel as if you’ve seen the images before, you may have: I used them in the “Nød lærer nakne kvinner å spinne” (“Necessity teaches naked women to spin”) article for the “Worsted” issue of Ply (Winter 2014). (A reluctant aside: the revised title and large grammatical error around para 4 are not mine; they are an editorial glitch which has hopefully been resolved for future publications.) 

With the completion of this year’s gathering, however, we can say that a whole new crop of Norwegian spinners have been introduced to all sorts of different ideas and techniques, the comradery that comes with sharing one’s passion, and have had breed introductions to Merino, Suffolk, Blue-faced Leicester, Norsk Pelssau, Gammelnorsk Spælsau, Shetland, Polwarth, and Romney for their spinner’s notebooks. That’s not a bad line-up, is it? And I have next year’s breeds already coordinated with some absolutely gorgeous samples. Folks will just have to come next year to see what they are. 🙂

In short, it was an exhausting but very good gathering, and we are very much looking forward to the 2016 gathering which will be held in the same location on 5-6 March 2016.  

One of the things that comes with loss is a sense of emptiness. Not just an internal one, but one connected with physical space. We connect people with locations; we expect to see them in their usual places, their accustomed corners, and that now-empty space can be just as difficult as anything else. Somehow, we have to find a way to minimize that effect, to keep a presence without seeing ghosts or feeling that we are surrounded by empty spaces. Somehow we have to find a way to own a space we had previously shared. It isn’t something anyone tells you, and the depth or severity of the need varies from individual to individual. Sometimes it is enough to change a single feature–a bowl where someone always put their keys when they came in the house, or the row of toiletries in the bathroom, or the chair they always sat in.

But sometimes, perhaps especially in smaller spaces, those little things aren’t enough. If you find yourself not wanting to leave the house because you struggle with the idea of going home, or if you find yourself not knowing where to sit because every space seems to have been “ours,” or if you quite simply cannot seem to find peace in the place you are, then you need to make a change.

You are the only one who can say how big those changes need to be, or which changes need to be made. They may be changes you had talked about or planned to make, or they may be impromptu flashes of inspiration and personal choice. They may be changes you wish the other person could be there to see, and you may find yourself feeling rather as if you’re doing something wrong by making the changes. Let me reassure you: you are not. This is a matter of survival. Specifically, this is a matter of your survival. You are the only one who can decide what you need, and you are also the only one who can remind yourself that you should not feel guilty about making those changes. Your life has changed. It’s perfectly ok that your surroundings change as well and, in fact, healthy.

That lesson took a little while to sink in, but I’ve learned it. But I’ve learned a few other things as well. For instance, did you know that user manuals for power tools are universally badly written? I am absolutely convinced they are written by folks who are communications challenged. Ikea instructions for assembly of a thousand-piece flat-pack piece of furniture are worlds better. I discovered that with the compressor-powered finishing gun where I had to bundle the entire thing together and go back to the hardware store and ask for instructions. I rediscovered it with this little gizmo:

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A miter saw. A simple little miter saw. And the only thing that kept me sane was the help of a dear friend who managed to puzzle it together. On a more positive note, I now know how to use an air finishing gun and a miter saw.

And a few other things.

I discovered a few interesting bits about compressed insulation/sealant—you know, the stuff that looks like exploding clouds and which you normally would use to seal the wall spaces around where you put windows or doors and which comes in a can? That stuff.  Did you know that it not only expands quickly—and by “quickly” I mean bloody fast–but that it expands exponentially fast when it’s affected by gravity? Such as when you use it to seal a crack over your head? And did you also know that it comes out with nail polish remover? And that no, neither the foam nor the nail polish remover (at least, not the five-year old version of Cutex “gentle” stuff I had) will leave you with a white spot in your hair so that you could enter a Dr. Strange or Lily Munster look-alike contest?

It’s amazing what one can learn.

Did you also know that it is possible to cheat when you install click paneling in a crooked room so that when you eventually get to the other side you aren’t looking at a full 10″ panel on one end of the room and a perfect scalene triangle on the other?

Or that there is a nifty little laser gismo you can use to measure distances so that you aren’t standing on a ladder in the middle of a room which is considerably longer than your own arm span, holding a metal retracting tape measure over your head and trying to keep the thing from flopping all over the place so you can get at least a moderately accurate measurement?

Or that the peculiar strip along one edge of the plastic you use when you add sheet insulation—you know, the heavy bluish plastic which is folded in half and rolled up on 4-foot long rolls and which you’ve struggled to find a way to connect the edges, including glue, tape, and staples—is actually a very strong adhesive tape? The kind with a peel-strip like a self-sealing envelope, so that you can just peel the strip off and then stick that piece of plastic to the end of the previous one?

See, one learns all sorts of amazing things.

The fact that one learns half of them after the fact is completely beside the point.

Trond would have laughed himself silly over some of these things.

The certified master carpenters who happen to be my neighbors and who were helping with some of these changes were polite enough not to laugh too much . . . at least, not in my presence. I’m fairly certain a couple of things—such as the discovery of new “helmetized” interpretations for that foam sealant—kept them in giggles and snickers in the privacy of their own four walls.

So, what exactly have I been learning this with?

Well, changes. Some changes we had talked about, some changes to make life easier, some changes to create peace. Changes to help shift from “ours” to “mine” without entirely eliminating the past. For instance, see the old combo oil/wood stove in the corner here?


The thing behind and under which the previous owner had never sealed the wall or floor so that there was a constant draft, provided a tunnel for the occasional mouse in winter, and which was hopelessly ineffective? It’s gone. It was ripped out, the wall and floor sealed and reworked, stone laid . . .

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and a new and very effective wood stove put in so that the house is no longer entirely dependent on electricity for heating. Isn’t it a clever little thing?

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(By the way, the raw doorframe to the right is where there was a door; the frame has now been sealed into a framed opening. Really, everyone should have carpenters for neighbors.)

And see the big and totally useless combo oil/wood stove in the back right corner here?


Also gone. The old oil supply line was removed, the brick was repaired . . .

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. . . new flooring was put in place, and bookshelves were relocated from another room. No more draft there, either.

I don’t have a photo of the crumbling cement fireplace which was on the other side of the wall where the wood stove is now, but that too was ripped out. That was a VERY good thing, because it gave them a chance to not only seal the floor and wall, but also to rehabilitate the bricking of the chimney.

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The wall was resealed . . .

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and new stone laid on the floor in the event a wood stove wanted to find a home there in the future. But in the meantime, see the ceiling? The old panels? The entire room . . .

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has now had the warped corners sealed (with that infamous compressed foam) and a new layer of insulation (and that infamous plastic!) and looks like this:

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It’s amazing what a difference a bit of insulation in a ceiling can make.

This room now looks like this:

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and has more light:

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and a cupboard for spindles, fiber, and knitting. (And no, no this is not where I keep the stash. That has its own room elsewhere.)

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The room with the new wood stove? It now looks like this:

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. . . and the wood stove has this perfect ash bucket and fireplace tools set.

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The changes are dramatic in some ways, not so much in others. Most dramatic is the difference in how it feels and how much warmer it is now that the drafts have been drastically reduced. And perhaps most importantly, the holes are smaller.

But I’ve learned a few other things as well.

Ok, perhaps that’s putting it a bit strongly. I’ve been reminded of a few other things.

One is that I can’t estimate volume worth beans. The other is that clearly my head is still not working as well as it should be or else I’d remember that I can’t estimate volume worth beans.

We had an old 14-foot fiberglass rowboat which, unsurprisingly enough, was no longer seaworthy. Heck, it was no longer bathtub-worthy, could you have found a tub for it to fit in. It didn’t have visible holes. Rather, it had decided to take the sneaky approach to falling apart and develop invisible cracks or lack of seals so that the water seeped into the spaces between the layers of the hull, effectively turning it into a massive paperweight. Do you know how well a paperweight floats when you toss it into the water? Typically not well at all. In this case, the boat would hide the fact that it was going down until you realized you were having to really work to make it go somewhere—and that the waterline seemed to have risen by several inches. Clever little beast.

Unlike a paperweight, throwing away a boat isn’t exactly child’s play. You’d have to hire someone to haul the thing off. So I opened the door to my Inner Redneck.

The boat? It’s now a planter.

A big planter.

A really big planter.

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But that’s where “rediscovery” comes back in play. Remember what I said about being totally sucky at estimating volume? Can you guess where this is going? How much dirt would you think that rowboat would hold?

Apparently, I thought it would hold three times as much.

I filled the boat. And filled the filled boat with perennials.  (Mostly.  There are a few annuals here just to fill spaces until the perennials fill in.)

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And these pots.

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All five of them.
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And these barrels.

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All four of them. (Don’t let the perspective fool you; these are full-sized barrels.)

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And this wheelbarrow I had intended to use to haul the dirt to fill the boat—until I discovered it had a flat tire and a crack in the bottom.

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Would you like to know how I filled that boat? And those pots? And the barrels? And the recalcitrant wheelbarrow?


Specifically, 5-gallon buckets. Lots and lots of 5-gallon buckets.

Please don’t ask me why I didn’t just go buy a new wheelbarrow. I didn’t think about it until after the fact. So, please don’t ask me how many buckets it took to fill that boat, or those pots, or the barrels. And the broken wheelbarrow. I couldn’t tell you. I lost track after the first hundred or so. Aren’t I clever?

But, I have flowers. And will have flowers next year. I like that idea.

FIBER has had some activity.

Remember the mystery finewool fleece which I ‘fessed up to messing up in this post? It now looks like this:


There are 2126 yards of a 4-ply, and a small 180-yard leftover skein of chain-ply yarn. It’s a light worsted weight at about 9wpi, and perfect for a sweater or vest.

And about 265 yards of this Polwarth/Camel from Longdraw James:


1050 yards of this superwash blend from Enchanted Knoll Farm (“Peace Rose”):


967 yards of this Vivid sock yarn blend:


The details for the yarns are on the Spinning Gallery 2015 page.

But then there was also this one . . . A couple pounds of this Polwarth from Wendy Dennis (the home of the Polwarth breed):


and another bit of this Romney from Ramstead Ranch:


were scour-dyed into this rather large pile of fluff:


which became this 1400-gram pile of batts in a 48/52 Romney/Polwarth blend:


which became this pile of singles:


which became this pile of yarn:


There are 3611 yards in a 4-ply at a fairly consistent 14wpi, and 500 yards in 2-ply leftovers at about 20wpi, 13tpi. (very top skein.) I had planned for a 4-ply and hoped I’d have enough for a sweater, but thought I was being overly optimistic and figured I’d probably just have enough for a vest.

Remember that Fail in estimating volume? Well, clearly it extends to estimating how much yarn I’ll end up with as well. I think I have enough for a sweater. A large sweater. A large swingy sweater.

And a hat.

And a scarf.

And possibly mitts.


So what’s on the wheels now? Well, right now Tour de France is running, which also means that Tour de Fleece is running. For those of you who don’t know, Tour de Fleece is when spinners all over the world run their wheels and spindles while the cyclists run their bikes. It’s three mad weeks of concentrated fiber work in efforts to challenge themselves, explore possibllities, learn techniques, try new fibers, reduce mountains of stash, or simply do a little spinning every day of the Tour.

I’ve not accomplished a lot, but I’ll have a couple of yarns to show for the time. On the Rose at the moment, however, is this:


They’re scoured locks from a lovely little Cotswold lamb of Pickwick Cotswolds by Rob Harvey Long. It’s going a little slowly, but those 700 grams are turning into a surprisingly fine single:


It will take time to finish, but I’m very very pleased with this fleece, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit the flock from which it came. Would you like to see? Of course you would.


There is a special joy that comes with meeting the sheep which grow the fleece you spin, and the shepherd who cares for them. These are just a few of the sheep in a flock about 90 strong.


And who . . .


along with their shepherd . . .


are producing fleece that looks like this:


and this:


and this:


(Note that the fleece is not yellow or brown; my camera simply didn’t like the shadowed white exterior and gleaming white interior.)

Are they not beautiful?


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