Hello! Welcome to A Way with Wool. My name is Rachel and I innocently tiptoed into the fiber arts rabbit hole in July 2013. That tiptoe quickly became a headfirst plunge. So far, I’ve explored crochet, knitting, spinning, and dyeing, and I’m sure new adventures lay ahead. I have a passion for color and am a student of its nuances, a captive of its charms. Come with me as I dive deeper into the wonderful world of fiber.
I haven’t blogged in months, and I’ve missed it. I love to write, and I’ve written so many entries in my head. What’s stopped me from posting here then?
To put it bluntly, the pressure to make my entries perfect, especially the photography. I’d convinced myself that a blog is only as good as the pictures, and they had better be spectacular. I spent a long time selecting and editing the perfect photos for each of my previous entries, and that sucked a lot of the fun out of it.
I’ve decided enough is enough. Good enough is still good. I am not trying to make a living from this blog. I will still strive to produce a quality product, but if that doesn’t include photographic accompaniment, so be it. I do love photography and have the technical know-how, equipment, and software to produce very nice photos. But sometimes I just want to write, and that is wonderful too.
So here’s to the relaunch of my neglected, but not forgotten, blog. I have so much that I want to share with you.
Last Wednesday, I woke up and really wanted to crochet myself a bunny. I completely adore the rabbit I’m pet sitting, Snowflake, and my love for her has led to bunny fever. I already knew I wanted to use the Planet June Baby Bunnies pattern. As for yarn, I chose some Lion Brand Wool-Ease because it’s off-white, just like Flakey, and it didn’t need to be wound.
Crocheting my bunny was not only fun, but liberating as well. I was very intimidated by the fact that I was going to have to make a bunch of components and then join them. It sounded fiddly and tedious. I now know that I was being ridiculous. Even though the bunny consisted of 8 parts, 7 of those 8 parts only took a few minutes each to make. They were neither difficult nor time-consuming. And the joining? Not a problem. I cannot continue to discard awesome patterns simply because they require joining/seaming!
As much as I adored my crocheted bunny, I mailed her off right after I finished her. While I was crocheting this rabbit, I decided that she should live with a friend of mine, whose family recently suffered the loss of one of their rescued rabbits. This sweet little girl was saved from a hoarding situation by Sweet Binks Rabbit Rescue, along with dozens of other bunnies. Sadly, in spite of heroic efforts and much love, her health issues were too severe for her to overcome. The sad death of this bunny underscores the importance of responsible pet ownership.
With Easter coming up in just a few days, we’re swamped with images of adorable rabbits, and the temptation to get one can be strong. Rabbits are amazing companions, but in order to be happy together, it’s important to know about the relationship you’re entering. Expect a healthy rabbit to live at least ten, if not twelve, years. Be prepared to provide fresh hay and vegetables, in addition to hours of supervised playtime, every day for those ten+ years. Though it used to be common practice to keep rabbits in backyard hutches, many experts believe that rabbits are healthiest and happiest inside with the family. This means you need to rabbit proof your home because rabbits really need to get their exercise. Be prepared to provide regular veterinary care, which can be costly. This includes spay/neuter, which eliminates many undesirable behaviors and is also essential for preventing uterine cancer in females. Most of all, you must be committed to educating yourself about how to form a successful relationship with a very unique animal. Rabbits are not dogs, or cats, and have very different behaviors and requirements.
If you are seriously considering adding a rabbit (or two, they’re very social) to your family, I urge you to get in touch with a local rabbit adoption agency or animal shelter. There are thousands of adorable, sweet bunnies looking for new homes, oftentimes because their original owners weren’t prepared to commit to them. Rescue groups are great sources of information, and can help you decide if a rabbit is the right addition to your family. Browsing The House Rabbit Society website is an excellent way to learn more about pet rabbits or find a rescue group near you.
After I mailed off my first bunny to my friend, I had to start another one. Meet Flopsy, the English Lop.
For the past few days, I’ve been wondering if I need to alter the system that I implemented to help me save up for a spinning wheel. A couple of issues have arisen, and I want to address them.
I had a destash fall through, and this really upset me. Why? Because I got really excited at the prospect of earning an extra point that day and then it didn’t happen.
I realized that it’s beneficial for me to make a bunch of purchases on the same day to minimize the number of days on which I don’t earn a point (for not having bought anything).
Clearly my points system isn’t working quite how I want it to. First of all, I am becoming more focused on earning points than I am on getting a wheel. Points are just a mechanism to help me save up money, but I seem to be losing sight of that. Getting $20 from destashing a skein of yarn is nice, but it’s not really making a huge difference. Also, one of my objectives in creating this points system was to allow occasional acquisitions. I want to space out my purchases because I know I’ll appreciate them the most that way.
Stepping back even further, the reason I am saving up to buy a spinning wheel is because I think that having a wheel will make me really happy. However, I know that a spinning wheel isn’t the only purchase that could bring me joy. How much potential happiness do I want to bypass between now and June (or July) in order to get that wheel a few days sooner?
Specifically, I am talking about purchases that will make me a more educated and experienced spinner. I bought back issues of Ply Magazine this morning, and if I like them, I’m going to want a subscription. I’m also dreaming about new spindles. I adore my Greensleeves Bare Bonesie and am considering one of their more decorative spindles. I’ve also been eyeing some gorgeous support spindles, as I would love to try something really different. Then there are Bosworths, which have a fanatical following. In terms of possessions, nothing makes me happier than items that are both beautiful and functional. If I were to get a spindle made from cherry, or bloodwood, or another stunning material, I know I’d treasure it, and I’d be delighted every time I saw it, let alone used it. It’s not a purchase I would regret.
It’s time for me to remember the key reasons why I created my points system the way I did: 1) I have a ton of yarn 2) I don’t want to add much to my stash because I’m happy with what I have and yarn expenditures add up 3) I don’t want to stop buying yarn and and instead start buying everything that isn’t yarn. On the whole, it’s been working. I’ve bought only two skeins of yarn since going cold sheep, the Paradise Valley pictured above, which was a complete impulse buy, and the Sewer Gators that I debated so thoroughly . I’m very happy with them and have no desire to add to their ranks anytime soon. I’ve also bought 2 Craftsy classes on spinning and 3 issues of Ply. There might be something else too, but nothing major. Even though I can buy fiber with no penalty whatsoever, I bought the one braid that I’m currently spinning up and that’s it.
It was never my intention to prioritize acquiring a wheel over all other aspects of my development as a spinner. I want to keep my mind open and keep learning and growing as a spinner. Maybe I’ll fall head over heels with support spindling and decide I can take my time saving up for the wheel. I think that I’m better off buying a new spindle, or some spinning books, and waiting an extra 5 days to get my wheel, than denying myself that experience due to a desire to accumulate points as quickly as possible. With this in mind, I’m making the following revision to my point system:
Each day that I don’t buy any yarn/hobby items, I earn 1 point-Unchanged
I earn 1 point for every skein that I destash-Unchanged
Each time I buy a skein of yarn, I lose 1.5 points-Unchanged
Each time I buy a non-yarn hobby item, such as notions, I lose 0 points.
That’s right. I’m no longer penalized for purchases that aren’t yarn. However, I still don’t earn a point on those days, so that should help ensure that I’m making mindful purchases. I considered adding in a clause that penalized me for buying multiple items in one day to incentivize spacing out purchases. However, shipping costs add up, so that policy would fall apart if I’m buying multiple items from the same vendor. As long as I keep the big picture in mind and don’t get overly concerned with points, I should be okay.
And guess what? While I was writing this post, someone purchased two skeins that I was destashing 🙂
I’m still spinning every day and I absolutely love it.
Now that I’ve learned to keep twist out of the drafting zone, I am able to devote the majority of my attention to drafting and to fixing problematic singles, rather than worrying about what the spindle is up to. Rather than fret over the spindle, I pay attention to how it feels when it’s spinning quickly, slowly, and so slow that it’s about to stop. This enables me to adjust my drafting speed to produce singles with a consistent level of twist and also to avoid breaks.
I can’t tell you exactly how I judge the spindle speed or how I know how to adjust accordingly; I just do it. My spinning experience is becoming a holistic, intuitive process in which I’m much more detail-oriented. I pay a great deal of attention to what’s happening and I am constantly making adjustments both to my technique and to the fiber and yarn themselves. I’m not fully aware of what I do, or how and why I do it. I just feels right. I am constantly fiddling with the yarn, adding and subtracting small amounts of twist with my fingers, sometimes drafting thick spots out a bit further. My methods aren’t perfect, but I am sure that as I continue to practice, my spinning will become highly refined. When I first began spinning, I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be able to exhibit any finesse. Spinning meant wrestling with twist that sought to gobble up my fiber supply. I’m so thankful that I kept at it, because my spinning experience is entirely different now, in such an amazing way.
When I spin, happiness floods my body. I feel so at peace with myself and with the world. This is the same way I feel when I’m outdoors and completely immersed in the experience of nature, which most often occurs when I’m photographing wildlife. I believe that the technical term for what I experience while spinning is flow. It’s incredible. As thankful as I am for how pleasant spinning on my spindle has become, I’m even more grateful that I had to struggle to reach this point. I don’t believe I’d appreciate spinning nearly this much if it had come to me easily.
There is no set of instructions that could have taught me how to spin the way that I spin now. Some things need to be felt, experienced, in order to be learned. Spinning is a process. I do not spin to churn out yarn. I spin to explore, to experiment, to let my body learn the subtleties that my mind can’t quite grasp. My joy comes from figuring out each detail that will lead me to the yarn I’m envisioning. Every second that I’m spinning, I’m making little decisions, both consciously and subconsciously, that lead to my final product. I love being such an integral part of the process.
I made perfect cookies yesterday. I first made these cookies in Fall 2013 and I loved them, as did everyone who tasted them. Since I’ve now been able to replicate my amazing success, I’m declaring them my favorite cookies. They are soft and sweet and fall apart when you eat them straight out of the oven, but are still delicious once they firm up.
The recipe is Chewy Chocolate Cookies from Food.com. I initially decided to give them a go because they have very good reviews, and I’m a sucker for good reviews. With recipes especially, I love knowing what other people’s experiences have been and if they recommend any modifications.
Modifications. These cookies are full of them. I have a tough time following recipes exactly and it hasn’t really burned me yet, so I keep experimenting. I’m sure that this cookie recipe is amazing as written, but I’ve tweaked it both times I’ve used it. I’m going to discuss the changes I made, and why, so that if you’d like to make these cookies my way, you can.
Reduce butter and sugar by ¼ cup each. I’ve done this both times I’ve made the recipe because several reviewers recommended it. If I can get away with reducing butter and sugar, I will.
Increase flour by ¼ cup. This was also recommended by several people.
Use ¾ cup white sugar and ¼ cup brown sugar. I only had ¾ cup of white sugar in the open bag. Rather than open a new package, I topped it off with brown sugar. I don’t know if this improved the cookies at all, but the cookies are amazing, so I don’t think it hurt!
Let about half of the butter melt rather than just soften. I don’t actually recommend this, but it may have affected the outcome so I want to document it. In order to soften the butter, I microwaved it, and for a bit too long, so half of it melted. I put it in the freezer for a bit, but not for long enough to make a difference.
Use Dutch process cocoa. Substitute 2 tsp baking powder for 1 tsp baking soda, and omit the salt. I didn’t do this to be fancy. Rather, I realized that all the cocoa powder I have is Dutch process/alkalized, and while I didn’t know exactly what that meant, I knew enough to decide to do some research before proceeding. In a nutshell, I learned that Dutch process cocoa won’t react with baking soda because it’s not acidic, and therefore Dutch process cocoa is generally used in recipes calling for baking powder rather than baking soda. This recipe calls for baking soda. I didn’t want flat cookies, so I decided to substitute baking powder for baking soda. I conservatively used twice as much baking powder as I would have baking soda. I also omitted the salt. I based both of these decisions upon this article. In my opinion, this was my most significant tinkering with the recipe, and I was a bit terrified that it was going to produce dozens of awful cookies. I was so relieved that they weren’t ruined!
Substitute chocolate chunks for some of the chocolate chips. I love Trader Joe’s Pound Plus of Belgian dark chocolate, and I thought it would really enhance the cookies. I borrowed a hammer from the garage and smashed up some chocolate. I need to work on my technique, because I had some issues with the chocolate getting flattened rather than fragmented. No matter. I just slammed it some more. I used 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips along with enough dark chocolate chunks/powder to get to about 2 cups total.
There you have it. A road map to flavorful, soft cookies. Maybe I should mention that I didn’t think I was making my cookies particularly small, but I ended up with over 100, double what the recipe is supposed to yield. I’m not complaining. My final word of advice: do NOT over cook them! I took the cookies out of the oven at exactly 8 minutes, and they didn’t look cooked. Don’t be fooled. For my final batch, I did make big cookies with fistfuls of dough, and those got to cook for 9 minutes. This is also up to your personal preference. I love gooey, barely cooked baked goods.
You may be wondering what the best cookies on the planet have to do with fiber arts. Well, yesterday I got the urge to cake up a bunch of yarn. Then I decided I should bake cake while I caked the yarn. I only made it as far as looking up cream cheese frosting recipes before deciding I’d rather try to re-create my favorite cookies of all time. Caking yarn -> baking cake -> baking cookies. See? These cookies were brought to you by knitting. Kind of. Never mind the fact that I never even set up the swift.
Do you have a recipe you swear by? Please, share! I’d love it if you could convince me that there are cookies out there that are even better than these.
Those of you who are familiar with my stash are aware that I’m a huge fan of yarns from The Verdant Gryphon. Verdant Gryphon (VG) was one of the first indie dyers that I discovered, and I haven’t been able to stay away for long since. Variegated yarns, and Gryphon’s in particular, just sing to me.
Along with a lovely catalog of standard colorways, VG features limited runs of special colorways several times a month. This Monday’s update featured two of Gryphon’s personal favorites, Gopher Tuna and Sewer Gators. I think the name Gopher Tuna is hilarious (it’s a mondegreen of O Fortuna) and it is a very pretty magenta and saffron colorway. However, I decided that I can let it go this time, for the sake of my yarn diet. It helps that Gopher Tuna is similar to my beloved skeins of Verdant Gryphon Dryad of the Old Oak, which I still need to match to a pattern.
Sewer Gators. That’s another name I can get behind. I’m not a huge fan of how it looks on Bugga (sport weight) and Mithril (lace weight), but it’s AMAZING on Odyssey (bulky) and Traveller (DK). I would describe it as a rusty, golden rainbow. It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Darn it!
Why am I cursing the fact that I found a beautiful colorway? The yarn diet. Although yarn purchases aren’t forbidden, the more yarn that I buy, the longer it will take me to earn my sweet Ladybug spinning wheel.
This was my reaction to seeing that Sewer Gators:
The case for Sewer Gators:
Sewer Gators is stunningly beautiful.
It is one of Gryphon’s favorite colorways. She’s surrounded by pretty yarn. If she thinks it’s special, it’s special.
Wow, is it ever beautiful!
I haven’t bought any new yarn (premeditated subscription aside) since Stitches, which ended 3 weeks ago. That’s pretty impressive!
I destashed a skein of yarn today, and therefore buying a skein of Sewer Gators would put me only half a point behind where I was yesterday (+1 for destash, -1.5 for purchasing yarn).
Sewer Gators is vaguely similar to my Cinque Terre, which is a gorgeous colorway that I’m glad I own (see below). Shouldn’t my stash be full of my favorite things?
There’s always destash.
Traveller knits up quickly, and this skein might make me excited about knitting again. I like the Odyssey as well, but I’ve stashed enough bulky yarn.
The case against Sewer Gators
I do want to keep on track to earn the spinning wheel.
I’m very proud of myself every day that I don’t buy yarn.
I haven’t been knitting much, and therefore I don’t really need to replenish my stash.
Sewer Gators is vaguely similar to Cinque Terre, which I have on Traveller. I don’t need a redundant stash.
I don’t know that owning a skein of Sewer Gators will significantly improve my quality of life.
I searched Ravelry stashes for Sewer Gators on Traveller (under its former name, São Paulo), and it looks very different from this current batch. I’m not crazy about these stash photos, so it’s possible I won’t like the yarn that I receive.
I can live without it.
There’s no shortage of glorious yarn in this world. There are plenty of skeins in the sea. I know this isn’t the be-all, end-all yarn for me.
So, what did I decide?
I’ll admit it. I didn’t even make it through drafting this post without purchasing a skein of Sewer Gators on Traveller. It’s stunning. I know I’ll treasure it. And if I don’t, I’ll be able to find someone who will.
Do I feel conflicted because I broke my yarn diet? Not at all. This is the beauty of my points system: I have the flexibility to buy special yarn when I really want to, but I have to weigh my purchases against my goal of earning a wheel. It’s working wonderfully for me.
How do you handle situations like this? Do you have arguments with yourself over whether to buy or not? Have you ever truly regretted passing on a special skein? I’d love to hear your perspective!
Lately, I’ve had almost no desire to knit. I think I’ve knit twice in the past 3 weeks. Many many times, I’ve felt like I should be knitting, and almost forced myself to pull out a WIP and get to work.
I’ve stopped myself though, because I can’t convince myself that I need to knit. I don’t need to knit for income, or for warmth. At the moment, I also don’t need to knit for emotional well-being, as spinning is filling that role perfectly. No one is any worse off due to the fact that I haven’t been knitting. I also know from experience that my interests move in cycles. A few months ago, I had no interest in spinning because it took away from time that I could be knitting. It’s only a matter of time before I once again burn with knitting passion.
So this leaves us with the question: Why do I feel like I ought to be knitting? Here is some speculation:
When I knit, I reduce my stash, and when I reduce my stash, I can justify acquiring more stash. This is true. However, I am not in a hurry to use up my stash, and I’m also not anxious to get new yarn. I enjoy my stash very much and appreciate my yarn in skein form. Therefore, this isn’t a good reason for me to make myself knit.
The only way to become a better knitter is to knit more. By not knitting, I’m denying myself the opportunity to improve. This one is also true. I do want to become a faster, more efficient and more skilled knitter, and I do need to practice in order to do this. But what’s the rush? I hopefully have decades of knitting ahead of me. Also, think about it this way: Time that I spend knitting is time that I’m not spending on other meaningful activities. I also want to become an excellent spinner, and that takes a lot of practice, too. Because I’ve been allocating a lot of time to my spinning, I’ve seen a lot of improvement.
If I want nice handknits to wear, I need to get busy knitting them. Again, this is also grounded in truth. In reality though, there were maybe 7 days this fall/winter in which it was actually cold enough for me to wear any of my knits. It is 90 degrees outside right now. I do love the things I’ve knit for myself, but in all honesty, I don’t get to enjoy them too often. If I do move somewhere colder, I’ll be so motivated to knit then that I’ll have a pile of woolens in no time.
This is really all I can come up with. My conclusion is that if I don’t want to knit, there’s no reason why I ought to. I strongly believe that hobbies are meant to be enjoyed, and if they’re not bringing you pleasure, it’s a good idea to examine what’s going on. Maybe you need to change what you’re doing, or maybe you need to change your perspective.
Knitting has taught me that if something is supposed to be fun, and it’s not, it’s okay to stop, at least temporarily. The commitments I make to my knitting aren’t unbreakable vows. If something isn’t working out, I am allowed to take a break, change the parts that I don’t like, or even stop entirely. The yarn’s feelings aren’t going to be hurt. It’s completely unreasonable for me to expect myself to have perfect foresight and to never change my mind. This applies not only to my knitting, but to a lot of other things in life as well. Expecting everything to always go as planned isn’t realistic, and that’s okay. I can adapt and move forward.
Let me be clear that I don’t think hobbies must solely bring you pleasure. Knitting has certainly brought me frustration, disappointment, boredom, and even physical pain when I’ve pushed myself too hard. I don’t stop knitting every time it’s less than pleasant though, because it’s often worth pushing on. Knitting has taught me to be patient and dedicated and to struggle through new techniques until I succeed, because I will succeed. Knitting is teaching me how to overcome adversity in bite-sized, non-threatening doses, and that’s a big part of why I love it.
Having said all this about how I don’t feel like knitting right now, look what just arrived in the mail:
When I feel inspired, I have to seize it. These Shades of Portland minis, created by Canon Hand Dyes, are screaming to be knit up. They’re too fun to resist. Maybe I will have knitting to share with you soon after all 🙂
Readers: Do you ever knit because you feel like you ought to? What do you think I should knit with my new minis? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!