Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on January 16, 2015

2015 already?

Last year, and the year before last, I made the mistake of mixing business and pleasure, of taking crafts that I enjoy and friends that I like spending time with and putting myself in charge of stuff. It turns out that I am 100% incapable of handling that, of having stress in my fun time or of having fun during stress time, of disappointing my friends and myself over things that are supposed to be my happy place. It put me into a yucky avoidant place that took about 18 months to get through. Not past, yet, not really. But getting there.

My job gives us the whole week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and I spent that time organizing the craft stuff. For the first time in a long time, sorting through the fiber, yarn, books, and long-abandoned projects filled me with pleasure and excitement rather than dread and exhaustion. At the end of the week, everything was in its place and I had about two dozen ideas for projects. I finished a couple of easy-to-finish projects, including two shawls that literally just needed to be blocked. I ordered some things I need to do the minor finishing jobs on others. In chatting with my son about yarn and fiber, he asked if I could make a teddy bear for him, so we went on Ravelry together, found one with a face he liked, and I started working on it. I frogged some dreary projects and found new uses for the yarn. I cataloged the stash and made a note of some high-impact ways of clearing out some stash.

I enjoyed the process. Which hadn’t happened in a long time.

My goals for the year are to make more things, clean more things, volunteer for less, and to show my love through more, more conscious, actions.


Brief Digression

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on September 17, 2013

Sorry folks, disjointed sadness ahead.

A craft friend passed away two weeks ago. Craft friends are a little funny–there are ways you get to know them, and ways that you don’t. Ruth was an incredibly generous maker of things; she was usually knitting, spinning, or quilting something for her kids or friends or distant relations, or doing finishing work for various people who would pop out of the woodwork. She didn’t keep much knitting for herself because she ran warm; even in the winter she’d be wearing a light shell. She recommended a book on tape series that I thoroughly enjoyed. She preferred teals and purples. She would always be the one to offer to help to hold a skein or untangle a yarn barf. On the other hand, I never laid eyes on her husband until the funeral. I had only the vaguest sense of where in town she lived. A bunch of the things I think of as friendship (at least, the college student and 20-something versions of it), we didn’t share.

She made me a crib quilt when Theo was born. Of course she did. Bright cheerful blocks, warm but breathable and not too stiff, just the right size to move from baby cover to kid lap blanket. The quilting follows the blocks in erratic zigzags. I spent a lot of time looking at it draped over the crib in the dim predawn light while nursing, half-dozing, half-thinking about its construction.

It’s been getting cooler around here (frost last night!), and, thinking of her in hospice, I pulled her quilt out of the closet a few weeks ago. Not close friends, but craft friends. She wanted to keep everyone she knew warm and cozy and cheerful, and spent much of her too-short life working on that. There’s not much better way of showing love. The best way I can show my love right back is to keep letting her do that work, and thinking of her. I think her quilt is going to get a lot of use this winter.



Working with Handdyed Fiber Part 3: Splitting and Breaking

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on September 2, 2013

A number of common questions from both new and experienced spinners involves the use of those pretty, colorful braids of fiber that indie dyers sell. What do we do with them? How do we prevent them from turning to mud? How can I make it look the way it looks in my head?

Over the next few weeks I’m going to work on answering some of those questions. Taken together, they should add up to a handy little workshop on working with a particular fiber.

Previous posts:

Part 1: Deciding on some fiber
Part 2: Color
The next few entries are going to talk about fiber management tricks. They’re all going to employ a fair amount of what I’m going to call splitting and breaking. So, time to define some terms.


Splitting refers to tearing off pieces of top “long” direction, the direction of fiber alignment in top. The result is turning one comparatively wide strip of fiber more, thinner, strips. Several good reasons you may want to split your fiber:

1) You want thinner stripes than can be achieved with the fiber at its full width. (Note, you do not need to use thinner pieces for every singles that compose a yarn! See the “fractal yarn” section.)

2) You want multiple plies with colors that will line up closely (see other techniques below for more options on achieving this goal). In this case, you will want to split the fiber as evenly as you can. A scale that can weigh to grams or tenths of a gram is useful for this. When I am doing this, I typically break (see “breaking”) my fiber into 1-ounce pieces. This way, if one piece ends up slightly heavier in the first ounce, I can make up for it by using the lighter piece in the second ounce. Over the course of the yarn, small areas of barberpoling serve to soften the transitions between colors. I like this effect, but if you don’t, you can break the singles and rejoin where the color of the singles is perfectly aligned.

A couple of crummy reasons for splitting your fiber:

1) Someone told you to and you don’t know why. Honey child, just try it.

2) You have a hard time managing more than a skinny piece of fiber at a time. If this describes you, I’d really encourage you to work on the fiber management skills that will allow you to get what you want from any sized piece of fiber. Having the option to do something means that you can choose to do it or not to get a particular effect. It’ll give you a lot more choices.

-Well-prepared top has its fibers perfectly aligned, and this order can be disarrayed by the process of splitting the top. I have seen other spinners report differences in their yarn; I haven’t seen it personally, but I don’t usually work on the extreme worsted end of the spectrum. In any case, it’s worth a mention.

-The preexisting misalignment of fibers makes this a difficult technique to achieve in a carded roving, though true rovings are rarely found in a space dyed form.

-When splitting off pieces that are so thin that no drafting is necessary, a very dense yarn is often the result. Better yardage will usually be achieved with some drafting. If you want very short lengths of color in your yarn, consider dyeing the finished yarn and not the fiber, or prepare yourself for a denser yarn in that section (I have come darn close to this in a few projects for color effect purposes, and just lived with denseness.)


This refers to tearing off pieces of top or roving perpendicular to the “short” direction of the long piece of fiber–against the grain of the fiber, in top. Hold your hands at least one staple length apart and pull until the fiber has come apart. You may want to break the fiber into a shorter piece for ease of handling, or when spinning from the fold.

Downsides: Breaking the fiber to manage the color will be less effective when the blocks of color are shorter than one staple length.

Other things to consider: As a color management technique, you may want to use it to change the order that the colors appear, or to remove a color that does not appeal to you. I have done this with a lively pink-orange colorway with a just a bit of dusty purple that did not appeal to me. I simply removed the purple and set it aside for another project. You can also completely reorder the colorway. In the example below, I wanted to maximize the mixing amongst the colors available. The fiber has light blue, dark blue, green and brown in roughly equal amounts. I broke the top at every color change and put the colors into 4 groups based on color. I’ll spin each color into one ply of a 4-ply yarn. A similar technique could be used to make stripes longer than would be possible from spinning the full width of the fiber.


What happened?

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on June 19, 2013

I got a smartphone, that’s what happened.

There are some good things about it–my mom got one at about the same time, and talking face-to-face has been pretty cool. And yeah, it is handy to look up the hours of a restaurant as we’re headed downtown, and decide to go somewhere else for dinner instead. And it’s nice to not be openly mocked for my phone.

But, um, the last 3 months kind of fell into a little screen. I’m getting better at setting it down, but still not great.

You see, this is why I’ve lived a damn near close to straight-edge life, my whole life. There are plenty of addictive behaviors in my family, and the best way to avoid stepping over the line seems to be to keep the line so far away that it’s not even visible. And now I have this little addictive-behavior-promoter and it is not healthy, people.

More not-explicitly spinning thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 14, 2013

This essay speaks truth, and I’m putting it here because I need to come back to it later after thinking about how much time I spend advocating for a simpler life while accreting stuff.

A few brief things it’s making me think of:

The accumulation of stuff is a way to make it through to the next payday in case of minor emergency. If you’ve got extra groceries, extra clothes (even crummy stuff), there’s still that safety net, for yourself and also for your friends. Even though I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck, I still have my working-class approaches.

Cleaning and sorting and winnowing and reassessing, all that needs to pretty much be a constant thing, to maintain a more minimal kind of lifestyle. The factors that play into poverty often mean that people don’t have the spoons to fight that constant fight.

It doesn’t mean that there’s not a value to getting rid of things that have no use, or things that need to be maintained that no one in a family derives pleasure from. But it’s giving me pause about some of my judginess.

A brief thought

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 8, 2013

Brief because work has been high-intensity lately, and my brain’s about to leak out of my ear.

Easy and simple are not the same thing.

I was doing a spinning demo at a local yarn shop a few weekends ago, and I had a a lot of curious people asking thoughtful questions. One particular person stuck around for quite a while, and was asking the sorts of questions where I just know she’ll be a capital-S Spinner the next time I see her. Towards the end of the conversation, she sat back and sighed happily. “Now that I know how it works, it seems really simple! I just can’t do it, is all.”

And it’s true. It is simple. I’ve successfully explained spinning to four year old children, and children younger than that can grok it perfectly well, I just don’t need to explain it with pesky words. But knowing how it works, and actually doing it, are really different things.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At least, not at first.


The difference between simple and easy seems useful for my life in general right now. Doing right by everyone in my life–the actual behaviors are pretty obvious. But that doesn’t mean that the implementation is straightforward, or that they can be done in fewer than 24 hours per day, or with a still-imperfect ankle, or that being surrounded by people happy with me will mean I’m happy with myself. Just thinkin.’

Doin It Rong

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 5, 2013

Some things you’re probably doing wrong.

Peeling bananas.

Tying your shoes. Another about shoe tying.

Drying your hands with a paper towel.

Cutting up a mango.

Personally, I enjoy being one of Today’s 10,000. Any of these types of things you’ve encountered before? I just saw the paper towel video, which is what reminded me of the others.


Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on February 12, 2013

Let this be a lesson to all you fine crafters out there.

This morning, I was running for the bus in A Lot, as one always does. I stepped the wrong way and found myself horizontal, with an instant, very impressive, swelling about the ankle. I then got the opportunity to chat with the university EMS squad about all the interesting things you chat about to prove you didn’t bonk your head on the way down. (The EMS kids, by the way. They are very helpful but VERY ADORABLY YOUNG and insufficiently concerned with their own health. “Young man, you are wearing a short sleeved polo shirt and it is below freezing out here. You’ll catch your death,” I might have been heard to say if I were not paying so much attention to all those pain-management techniques I learned during childbirth.)

Blah blah urgent care blah x-ray blah. *Very* sprained ankle. Possible chipped bone, but no real break. Through most of this I was too busy managing pain or texting work and J to have any interest in crafty pursuits. Crutches, Ace bandage, taxi home, a brief foray around the house for essential supplies (laptop, ibuprofen, water, snacks, purse), and I found myself very comfortably ensconced. I’m not in any pain, as long as I don’t do a damn thing.

And guess what? I do not have a single project on the needles right now. None.

This is the sort of thing all those TKGA-funded 80’s after-school specials warned you about. “Don’t be caught without knitting. Ever.”

(I said this to a friend who linked to this and asked me if I would be moving on to caffeine pills in my continuing downward spiral.)

Apple Butter

Posted in food, toddler, Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on October 12, 2012

A few weekends ago, we stopped at the Cornell orchard store after deciding that the weather was too poor to apple picking but *perfect* for apple cooking. So we skipped the picking entirely, picked up three big bags of early apples, and spent the weekend surrounded by the smell of cinnamon, making double batches of apple muffins and cake and apple butter (apparently I’m not the only local thinking of apple butter right now!)

Everyone pitched in:

Don't ask me.

(Putting apples in a cat bed is an Absolutely Necessary step in cooking them, right?)

I got one of those old fashioned apple peelers last year for just this purpose, and prepping apples has never been so easy and fun. Even the toddler peeled a few, when he wasn’t doing his darnedest to eat the apples faster than I could cut them.

The muffins were a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook we have, the apple cake was the standard Better Homes and Gardens recipe (actually it was the “apple bread” recipe, but I sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on top and come on. It’s cake. It’s not fooling anyone.) I made the apple butter in my usual slapdash way–calling it a recipe seems silly, but here’s my general technique.

Peel and core a truckload of apples, about half again what would fit into your crock pot. Two of those paper sacks they sell in the grocery store or farmer’s markets this time of year should be enough with extras. (We bought three big bags and had about half a bag left over after the weekend was through.) My peeler slices the apples into these amazing spirals, but before I had the fancy peeler, I’d quarter the apples. Doesn’t need to be too precise, as they’re all getting cooked to a fare-thee-well.

Into your crock pot, put as many apples as will fit, about a cup of water, cider, orange juice, or watered down lemon juice, a thumb-sized knob of ginger, and maybe a teaspoon of cinnamon. (I usually add more cinnamon or other spices to taste later on when I have a better sense of how a particular batch tastes, so for now it’s just there to make the house smell amazing.) Put the extra apples in the fridge. Turn the crock pot on to low, if you have that option, and go do something else for a few hours. Stir it once in a while if you’re nearby to help smoosh the cooking apple pieces. After a few hours, you’ll have applesauce that takes up about 3/4 of the pot. (If you wanted applesauce you could stop here. I have pulled some out and made potato pancakes some years.) When there’s space, add some of those extra chopped apples until it’s full again.

Leave it overnight. If you wake up at some point in the night, stop downstairs to peek.

In the morning, add the rest of the apples. Let everything cook, stirring every so often, until it’s got a smooth dark unwatery look.

Taste. Add citrus or sweetener or spice as needed. This time around I used a little nutmeg and about a quarter cup of local maple syrup, and it had over-evaporated so I added a little water.

Can or freeze or eat in one sitting. Wait, not that last one; I’m not sure I want to be responsible for someone eating 30 apples in a go.


We ended up with about 12 jars. Mostly 8 ounce, a couple of 4’s. Two of them will be “extra spicy” variants, I put all the ginger chunks into them, and I’m really curious how they’ll come out. As always happens while canning, I burned the ever-loving craparoonie out of my hand, but I’m pleased with how much we got this year. In previous years, the number of apples used has largely depended on how many apples I could chop and peel before my hands got tired, and the new peeler got rid of that problem.

The Morrreee You Knooowwwwww

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on September 7, 2012

At a recent visit to the in-laws, they gave us an old box of crayons that had belonged to my husband as a child. We brought them home and threw them in our own crayon box, and enjoyed using the new colors and noticing the now-retired Crayola shades (I missed you, Burnt Sienna! I used to use you to draw my mom’s hair.)

I grabbed a greenish-blue crayon with a wrapper that didn’t go with the other blue-green crayons, and read the name.

Copper. Huh.

I got curious.


Apparently, the copper Crayola color uses actual copper, and ~15 years of sitting undisturbed in a box of crayons is long enough to tarnish the outside. The crayon wax provided enough of a coating for the metal flakes to protect the stuff on the inside–the patina extends about 0.5 mm into the crayon itself.

I went digging through the box for the other two metallic shades. The gold is also patina’ed, though it’s a slightly greener color, so it’s either some kind of alloy or they mix the copper flakes with yellow crayon. The silver looks just about as shiny as it would have been in the early 90’s; I assume they use aluminum and not silver.

There, now you learned something today. You can go take the rest of the day off to knit.