Wednesday, February 23, 2011


You know, it's been a while since I bought yarn from a store.

If I have to disembowel a center-pull skein of yarn three times to find the yarn end, you have pretty much defeated the purpose of winding yarn like this. Also, when I finally found the end, it was wrapped in such a way as to prove that the manufacturer had NO intention of anyone ever getting the damn thing out of the ball. 

That said, this is the only manufacturer of laceweight yarn I can find at the store. So when you buy it, I highly suggest picking up one of these:

No. This is not a Harry Potter Wand.

It's called a nostepinne. It's a manual ball winder that creates sane center-pull balls. I did not think of adding this to your shopping list because silly me, I thought a yarn maker would make a skein you didn't have to freaking gut to get to the start-end. Here is a youtube video on how to use one:

It can be a dowel or a stick or your fingers or a paper tube, but anything is better than having to work off of this:

Also, while we're on the subject of youtube ball-winding related videos?

Best. Winder. Ever.

Writerly ... stuff. Pt 2

I've encountered an interesting problem with the thing I'm writing now. Even though I am convinced it is doomed to fail, I am writing "Webber"'s sequel. Because I want to, and because I really want to get to read this whole story in one sitting and this is the only way to get it out.

Anyway, one of the things I worked out with Webber is that event timing is important. Not just when an event happens in a plot, but when they happen in a chapter, and how letting a certain phase (say, the start or finish of an action scene) fall at the end of a chapter adds weight and energy to the reader experiance. This was easy...ish to screw with reguarding Webber, because I had an A plot and a B plot, and I could alternate the scenes so that when the A plot is in a necessary lull, the B plot is peaking, and vice-versa (and also about six other things I'm hoping I did with that set up)

I decided to keep that format for the second book, as there's a lot of stuff the main character is not in a position to discover and I don't want to wait until book three to expose these elements of the story, and the B plot pretty much fell into my hand over the last couple of days. Not a blinding flash of inspiration, but more like assembling a jigsaw puzzle and discovering that all the right pieces are sitting next to each other.

What I've hit is a funny thing, which will probably make no sense to anybody but me, but I've never had this problem before. I've got a scene that needs to happen that's one of those perfect "end the chapter on this note and completely blow the reader's mind" kind of scenes. The problem is that I don't want to blow the reader's mind just yet. There isn't enough weight for one of those OH NO YOU F***KING DIDN'T kind of reactions. Which I love. If you ever read something I have written and hit a particularly nasty cliffhanger you have my full permission to contact me via blog or whatever and say "Fuck you" in reaction. In fact, this would be exceedingly satisfying because it would mean I had done my job, and done it fairly well. But as much as I like doing this to people, I don't want to do it here.

(WRITING THEORY ACCORDING TO CW WARNING this is unproven non-science read with grain of salt). One of the things about the human brain is, when you notice how you feel, you're actually experiencing a moment of release. This breaks whatever tension you felt before and requires whomever is building the tension to start over. Some of it stays, and there are ways to simultaneously build more tension and effect a release (which is why punching a pillow never works. Aggression tends to echo) but a lot of it is still released. One of the few things that doesn't work this way is humor. Like aggression, the more you laugh the more you want to. But if you're scared and are made to either jump or laugh (or both) the tension is broken and there's a kind of nervious release of it. Most writing, most good writing anyway, aims to effect both a building of tension and a release, and to time each subsequent build-and-release in such a way that they also build upon each other. If you can nail the timing, and combine it with subtle, yet effective emotional manipulation (look. When I'm writing and you're reading it, if you feel a certain way about a scene and that is how I wanted you to feel when I wrote it, then I am purposefully manipulating your emotions. I'm not going to put a polite hat on it.) then you can pull off a pretty fun ride.

With Webber, originally I had two sequencial scenes for the ending which I shall not spoil for anyone. On a second draft I decided that a third scene needed to be inserted because it was kind of anticlimatic and because there was a plot thread I had forgotten to resolve. On the third draft (there are currently seven, and if I can find a way to tweak it further there will probably be eight. I like editing more than I do actually writing. There's less emphasis on getting things down and I can play a bit more at what I'm doing.) I revised the second-to-last scene to have more tension, and went a bit too far. It was so intense and the release was so huge, the book was emphatically done after that. I could get the energy level back up for the final scene, but it took a lot of work and my emotional reaction upon reading this was a kind of car-bottom-dragging sensation, as if I had gone through a ditch and scraped the bottom of my mind on the edge getting back out. But I still needed the scenes at the end of it. Fixing this was a challenge, but I think I did it.

I'm having a kind of opposite problem here. I need to give the characters a very good reason for doing something, but I don't have enough energy invested in the B-plot to do what I originally wanted to (it's the emotional equivilant of switching between your house power and a car battery). I think I know what to do with it, and if I don't right now I can probably get it in the eighth (or ninth. Or tenth) edit later (I. Like. Editing. I'm sorry.) It's just an interesting dilemma I've never hit before. 

So yeah. Thank God I have tonight off.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spinning Lesson 0.5: Jury rigging supplies

I'm hesitant to start with this. Working with good tools when you're just learning is vital. If you use poor quality goods, you may run into problems that are not you. When you have experiance as a spinner, you'll be able to tell good quality fiber from bad, good tools from poor ones, and thus be able to figure out if the reason the frickin' thing won't do what you want it to is because it's not possible, or if it's because you bought bad fiber or a bad spindle.

However, the downside to spinning as a hobby is, unless you live within driving distance of a specialty shop, you won't be able to find good supplies quickly. Ordering online is good, but it can take time, and sometimes these things are expensive. So, we're going to do a quick rundown on how to make a spindle, and how to salvage fiber from things like yarn and cotton balls.

First up, the spindle. In order to know how to make one, you first have to understand how it works. And it is really, really easy. A spindle is a stick that you twirl to put twist into string. A quick excercise is to go get something with a pointy end, like a pencil or a knitting needle, and about a yard and a half of string. Yarn will work too. Tie the string into a loop and then to the eraser end of the pencil (or knitting needle). Hold the free end of the string in your left hand and roll the pencil down your thigh. The string should wrap itself around the pencil shaft and then start coming off the tip. You should notice the two strands of your loop twisting together as well. If you repeat this motion a few times (rolling the pencil down your thigh in the same direction each time) you should build up a good deal of twist in your string.

You can actually spin this way. It's just irksome and it will take a very long time to produce even a few yards of yarn. Also, it's a pencil attached to string. It doesn't look very cool.

You speed up the spinning process by making the shaft spin faster. This puts more twist into your yarn, which will speed the other aspects of the process up nicely. So remember this in the future: the faster and longer your spindle spins, the more yarn you can produce.

One way to speed up a spindle is to add weight to it. This gives the spinning motion momentum, causes the spin to last longer, and when you have it parked, makes it reluctant to spin in the opposite direction. You want it to spin a little like a gyroscope or a top, so whatever weight you add needs to be evenly balanced. The simplest way to accomplish this is to use something round.

I use toy car wheels. They sell them at craft stores, they're light enough for me to do lacewieght or lighter yarns, and yet they have enough weight to get a fast, sustained spin. You can also use:

-Jar lids
-Plumbing parts
-circles cut out of cardboard
-Circles cut out of anything, really

If it has a hole, can be made to have a hole, and is relatively even all the way around, you can probably turn it into a weight for a spindle. 

As for your shaft, you want it to be long. A foot long shaft with a good weight on the end will make a pretty decent spindle. The longer your shaft is, the more room you'll have to wrap yarn on it. (and OMG I just realized how many dirty jokes I could make about this. For your sake, I shall restrain myself) (but really. Shaft. LOL) and the more yarn you can fit on the spindle, the better. Another consideration is if you can get a hook on one end or not. Hooks are not necessary, but they secure your yarn and keep it from unwinding when you're spinning. Wooden dowels, at least the kind sold in craft stores, tend to split in half when you try to screw a hook in to one end. Another solution would be using a thick piece of wire, like from a hanger, and bending one end into a hook, but this could be a little difficult to use.

I use crochet hooks, the long kind for afghan making. These usually come with some kind of stopper on one end, which can be useful for keeping the weight on, and of course, they already have a hook. No drilling, screwing, gluing, bending or taping required.

The third thing one must keep in mind is whatever you use as a weight needs to stay put. And I don't mean fall off. The biggest problem I have with the toy car wheels is that they will spin in the opposite direction when I get the thing moving. This shortens the spinning motion and it doesn't feel very good. So glue and tape may be required after all.

This is my shopping list for making your own spindle:

-1 pack of toy car wheels with a 1/4th inch diameter hole
-1 afghan crochet hook with a stopper on one end and a shaft as close to 1/4th an inch thick as possible.
-a piece of paper. You don't need much.
-(optional) electrical tape.

The directions are pretty simple. Put the crochet hook through the toy car wheel. It will probably be a loose fit. If the wheel moves on the shaft, take it back off. Take a small strip of paper, fold it up and slip it into the wheel well, then jam the shaft back in. If it won't fit, use less paper. You want a really tight fit. You don't want this moving AT ALL.

The tricky part is going to be this: You want the wheel secured at the top, about a quarter of an inch from the hook. Why?

Well, that's the next part of spindle mechanics: Where you put the weight.

The weight, BTW, is called a "whorl". What we are making is called a "drop" spindle, and the name is very appropriate while you're learning because that's what you're going to do more often than not. Drop spindles have two major categories: Top whorl and bottom whorl.

My personal preference is for bottom whorl, but this is because bottom whorl is easiest to turn into a support spindle. When you're learning you want a spindle that doesn't wobble much, and all other virtues aside, even a well made bottom whorl spindle will wobble because of the way it's weighted. Top whorl has a more stable, centralized spin, and will be much easier for you to learn on. However, it's going to be a bitch to get the wheel to stay a quarter of an inch down, not go sliding up and not go sliding off.

Get out the electrical tape. I would suggest cutting several small pieces to wrap around the top of the shaft above the whorl. You can go nuts below the whorl, as long as you have no sticky bits hanging out (these will catch your fiber and make a bit of a mess out of it). You can also use glue, but it may only work if you've acquired a wooden crochet hook.

When you have everything assembled, the glue is dry, the tape is securely taped and the wheel won't budge, get out that loop of string and tie it to the shaft just below the whorl. Run one end up above the whorl and wrap it around the hook a few times. Hold it up, and then give the shaft a good hard twist to the right. If it spins without a significant wobble and the spin lasts a decent amount of time, congrats. You've just made yourself a functional spindle.

Now for fiber.

Lemme tell you this right now. You get really into spinning, you will consider polyester to be the spawn of Satan, but that's the easiest-to-salvage fiber I can think of, other than cotton balls (which you do not want to start with because the quality is really crap)

When you go to the craft store, first check for felting supplies. Sometimes they will have okay-ish wool roving in packs of about four ounces. If not, look for a skein of bulky yarn made of three strands: A thick colored strand, which is what we're salvaging, a thin inner core, and an even thinner strand of nylon binding the whole thing together. You can pull all three apart in pretty short order.

This is how to do it: cut a strand about a couple yards long. Untwist one end until you can grab the nylon strand, and then start pulling it out. The yarn may snarl a bit, so be kind of gentle, and if it does snarl, go down to the clump and kind of ease it on down. When it's off, throw it away. You won't need it again. Repeat the process with the inner core. What you should be left with is a loose, light, fluffy bundle of fiber to play with.

Again, these are not the best supplies to use, especially not for learning, but if you cannot get hold of anything else, or you're in a hurry to get started, these will do in a pinch.

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Subject: Spinning and Knitting lessons.

So a friend of mine has asked me to teach her how to knit lace and spin. The sad part is, she lives several hours away from me, and my work hours make communication with all you daylight people virtually impossible.

But there is good news! I can communicate with her via this blog, and leave the lessons up for her education, and for everyone else's as well! Joy and rapture, my friends. Joy and rapture.

The first thing we're going to have to do, of course, is acquire the supplies with which we shall learn.

So to follow each subject, this is what I propose you acquire over the next several days (or weeks):

Two sets of needles, one large (8-10 or 11 US. An 8US knitting needle is about 5.0mm) and one small (2-3)
Two skeins of yarn, one thick (I suggest Red Heart, because it's everywhere) and one laceweight.

The laceweight yarn will be difficult to find. Hobby Lobby (our local craft store) only just began carrying it, and what they have is acrylic. A specialty yarn store will be more likely to have it, if you have a specialty yarn store within decent driving distance. However, I assume if you want to know how to knit lace, you want to do the fine stuff. You don't want anything thicker than sport. I will cover yarn weights at a later date. If you can't find decent laceweight, you can use crochet cotton for now, and order the good stuff when you feel a bit more confident.


-A top-whorl drop spindle (I will explain WTF this means later).
-Fiber. 2-4oz of wool. The magic words to look for are "roving" or "top". These will give you a pre-processed fiber that should be relatively easy to work with.


A "learn how to spin" kit that contains a spindle and several ounces of DECENT fiber.

You can rig a usable spindle for about ten bucks, counting the gas to get to the craft store and back. I will cover this in detail tomorrow. Fiber will be harder to fudge. There's a couple of tricks I've learned out of desperation (did you know you can spin admittedly crappy yarn out of cotton balls?) but I do not recommend these for beginners.

As for the kit route ... most of the kit spindles are decent, but I have yet to see a kit come with decent fiber.
My suggestion, if you want to learn on good stuff, is to buy the spindle and the fiber as seperate products, and not to buy a kit. I'll be ordering this stuff and probably a couple of spindles (it's my birthday. Also, if I'm going to play at teaching I want a spindle that isn't made out of a toy car wheel) I will let you know both when I put the order in, and when I get it. The other fiber I can recommend is Shetland Top, though it's pretty fine and a little more expensive.

Do not order the merino for your first lesson. It is very, very lovely, but it is also expensive and a little tricky to work with. Once we get the basics of spinning down, we can start going into the fibers themselves. And trust me, 8oz of fiber does not sound like a lot, but it is.

Also ... my ability to get these lessons out is completely dependent on my ability to not die while I'm working.  So if I have a particularly hard series of days you may not see many lessons out of me. Do not shoot me, if and when this happens.

Friday, February 18, 2011


85 dozen doughnuts.

Somebody ordered 85 dozen doughnuts. For the next two weeks.

This is one thousand and twenty individual pieces of fried dough. This is also on top of what I normally make for the store. You remember a couple days ago when I ranted about SI and acute stress? This is that.

What's interesting is this little side drama that comes with. See, my boss doesn't want to do this order. In reality we are doing half of what the customer wants. It's a catering company and one of her customers is a refinery. Our store boss really wants to (it's a three hundred dollar order with potential to be six) and one of the gee-I-wanna-supervise ladies really REALLY wants to do it. The only other time the woman has been in this good of a mood is when we failed our sanitation audit. She will do whatever it takes to ensure this order gets done, up to and including sacrificing her days off to help, and when she's here, she talks about two subjects:

1. How much this order could bring and how happy the customer is with us (apparently it is too much work for another store. Dude. If I can manage to fry eighty-five-dozen doughnuts in one night, YOU can fry them too. And sorting them out into boxes for the customer should not be too much work. This woman is paying you three hundred dollars, which is more than you can expect to make on store doughnuts in a single day.)

2. How little confidence our boss has in her staff. Which I agree with, but I think her reluctance to do this order lies less in no confidence in staff and more in not wanting to run the logistics for making this work. We basically have to double our order for doughnut supplies, doughnuts and boxes, and arrange for help to box (and god it would be so nice if we had someone to help fry). The order WILL pay for the supply increase, so the only work for the boss is ordering the doughnuts and arranging the schedule so someone is there to help me every night.

Have I mentioned yet, that I have run out of doughnuts at some point for three weeks in a row? Yes, one time they were on a pallet in another department's freezer (as they were tonight when my helper discovered them. On the bottom no less.)

In reality, I don't care. I stopped caring at about two a.m. last night when I forgot about how my shoes don't go all the way under my pants and I dribbled hot grease through my sock. (ow) The social dynamic in my workplace is so dysfunctional, it makes my family (including my alcoholic racist aunt and alcoholic OCD racist step-father) look like a model for healthy mental development, and it just got more interesting. And for once, it's not pointed at me. So as long as I can keep up with the workload (see title of post) I can just sit back and watch the show.

Yes. I am a bitch. Not a miserable one, though. Rather pleased and self-satisfied, actually.

Peace. Out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

State of the CW post

So I exparamented a bit with that merino I got last week. This is how it spun up:

Everybody say "Hi, Abbot!"

What I wasn't prepared for was how short the staple length on this stuff was.

"Staple" refers to how long the individual hairs are. This effects your draft--aka, the motion of pulling out fiber before you allow it to twist. (Interesting side note: The relationship between textiles and publishing is another thing on the spinning-related subjects to study list. I like how you draft a book the same as you draft the fiber. Poor drafting=poor finished product.)
Anyway, this is a staple comparison:

On the left we have the merino, then a piece of paper, and then the shetland wool I'm still working through. And then the kitty. Because we may do nothing without kitty. You can also KIND of see how much finer the merino is, in that you can only see this white blur, whereas with the Shetland you can see individual fibers. So it's about half as long as the shetland, and twice as fine. It'll be interesting getting used to, but as I already know, it spins up like a dream. It'll be worth the effort.

And the next part might trigger people so it's behind a cut.

Book Bitch: Night Tides

Today, my friends, is a very special day, because I have discovered a very special book (actually I discovered it months ago and only just found it again, but we're not going to discuss why my housecleaning skills sometimes bite the big one). Once again, we will be delving into the dark jungle of WTF-ness that is Paranormal Romance, exploring the darkest reaches of the human imagination and discovering whole new species of purple prose.

BUT! This book! This, my dear beloved readers, is no typical book. We shall not be dancing with demons or swapping hemoglobin with vampires. We will not be snogging angels or watching witches. No. No my friends, we have special fare today.

This is a book about a woman who has sex. With a lake.

Book: Night Tides
Author: Alex Prentiss
Readability: It's about a woman who has sex with a lake. With a lake.

What you need to know before you buy: This is on the back cover: (heroine) feels the water caressing her bare skin, teasing her senses, drawing her body into a lush erotic embrace. So this is not hyperbole. Sex with a lake.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fiber porn

Just got a full pound of merino top from the Woolery:

This stuff is heavenly soft, and I thought the Shetland top I've had the last year was fantastic. It's brillo pads compared to this merino.

I could do this all day.

Unfortunately I need to finish up the current project, that full pound of Shetland top I ordered three years ago, and the alpaca/merino blend I got two years ago, before I can start playing with the merino (OMG HEAVEN LET ME DO THIS AGAIN)
More fiber porn? You shouldn't have asked! (Actually you didn't, but I can imagine, can't I?)

This is my absolutely stellar spindle, made from a crochet hook and a toy car wheel (you can't see the wheel, unfortunately) and my even more stellar andean plying tool, made from cardboard and a dowel. You're actually supposed to use your hands for andean plying, but setting up the single will hurt after a while, and if you've got a lot of single, you can break your finger getting the central loop off (for those of you currently WTF-ing, andean plying is a method of folding a single strand of yarn, so that when you unwind it you effectively double it in half. It reduces waste). Fortunately a plying tool is really easy to improv.

This is the Shetland shawl. I'm almost halfway through the last pattern band. Up until this project I was used to knitting lace on a garter stitch (all rows knitted, rather than alternating knit and pearl rows) but the pi-shawl pattern means you knit in the round. Most of the elements here have pattern stitches in every row. I have no idea how this will work out when I block it, so I'm getting kind of nervy on this.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Bitch: Anthem.

So I saw my younger brother reading today. I know. Stunning, right? This is like the third Sign of the Apocalypse I’ve seen this week (the first two being a quarter inch of ice on EVERYTHING on Sunday and Unholy Bitch from work being nice to me when she came in for her shift). What stunned me even more, though, was what he was reading: Anthem, by Ayn Rand. Shocking. My brother, who never reads, was nose deep in a “real” book.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Knitting and feminism? A hypothesis.

I had a thought that probably has nothing to do with anything and is probably total bullshit, but I want to write it down so I can remember it later, and I'd like to open it for discussion.

One of the reasons lace knitting was such a strong industry where it appeared was that it gave women an additional source of income. A woman who could knit well would have been a very valuable person because she could contribute something of great importance to her household. The same would go for all of the "women's work" things in European culture--knitting, spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidery. All these things weren't just keeping houses pretty for husbands. They were things they could take to market and sell, like the veggies and the other things their husbands did.

Because the finer stuff (ie wedding ring weight shawls, brussles lace, anything involving silk) was more valuable than the rougher stuff, the women had to avoid rough work. You CANNOT work with fine fibers if you have rough hands (as proven by the amount of hand lotion I go through when I'm spinning lace wool, an option women in the 'teens wouldn't have had). So the husbands would have had to do the heavy lifting and the digging and the other things considered "men's work" while the wives stayed home to do the jobs that wouldn't ruin their hands, and to knit, or sew, or embroider. Both members of the household were doing something that would earn money. It was (in theory) an equal division of labor with both members of the household contributing.

Then you had the industrial revolution, where thread, cloth and clothing production were shifted out of the home and into factories. There was no longer any value in handcraft skills, and the women who had them lost their value. Lacemaking, knitting, spinning and such were the industry of the poor. When the skill was made obsolete by factory production, the women who had them became, well, useless ornaments. The division of labor had been set in culture--because in a culture where spinning and knitting HAD value, a woman who had to work outside the home was a woman without valuable skills, and could be looked down upon by her neighbors--so the devalued woman had very few options available. They couldn't regain a valuable skillset without first changing the culture to allow it.

If the above is true, then one could argue that feminism and sufferage was an outgrowth of a (relatively) sudden devaluation and not a long-term cultural disregard for women. The girls stayed home because the work they could do at home earned more money than they work they could do outside the home. When handcrafts lost their value, however, a women who could only knit and embroider and who couldn't do something more valuable in the NEW skillset became an ornament for her husband, a way for him to say, "look, I can support someone who is worthless", the way footbinding worked in China. Feminism did not alter gender roles. Rather, it fixed them.

I think I shall study both and find out if this argument could be made reasonably, and if it might have historical support. Should be interesting if nothing else.