I have a lot of occupations. I suppose the better word is probably hobbies, or distractions, or even entertainments. We don’t use occupation much anymore, save for things we do to earn money. When someone asks me what I do they don’t want to hear that I blog, or rock climb, or cook, or sharpen things, or ride motorcycles, or travel, or dance, or sing, or play the pennywhistle, or act, or study banjo, or garden, or do bonsai, or write haiku, or talk about torture, or dabble in woodworking, or drink whisk(e)y, or make mead, or, play go, or…
They want to hear that I’m semi-retired, or that I sell photographs, or that I sell cookware, or teach people to use knives.
As a culture we seem to have this odd idea that people who do something for love (an amateur) are somehow less doers of a thing than one who does it for money. The Mr. Tanner’s of the world get short shrift. I act. I did it in high school. I studied it some in college. I did renaissance and Dicken’s Faires from 1986 to 2011. I am an actor. If I tell people about it (apart from other actors) they are dismissive.
I am not a workaholic. I don’t measure my worth against my job. Most of the people I know are the same way. No one is all of a piece, and the pieces are interesting; often a lot more interesting than the means one uses to keep body and soul together.
I know how to knit, basically, but I can’t, not really. I can’t because my disability prevents me from making the small, repetitive, motions for as long as I would like to when I have needles in my hands. But I also like to make things, and making things which are durable has a pleasure all it’s own. A pleasure which grows as one makes things which are useful, as well as pretty. So I dug back into the past, and recalled that I had been taught to spin. One of the fellow actors at a faire had taught me; I’d wanted to be able to be something of a topical show off in my history class, which was covering the rise of wool making in England. Last year we were in Northampton, Mass., where there is a splendid store for fiber arts, and I bought a spindle.
I also got some mulberry silk roving. It was a mixed success. Spinning is a balancing act, and the spindle they had was too heavy. I was spinning really chunky yarn, and the silk was getting everywhere; because I didn’t have the knack of managing the unspun fiber. So I got a lighter spindle and some alpaca. I got decent at it. I can lay out a pretty good single in it. Mid-weight, semi-worsted (Have some terms of art on the nature of spun yarn). On the flip side, it has some of the same problems, for me, that knitting does. The repetitive motion of pinching the spindle, and then spinning it leads to discomfort. I can do it more than I can knit, but I can’t do it as much as I’d like, and the amount of yarn I can make is, as a result, not quite what I’d like.
The solution was this year’s trip to Webb’s. I (with more than a little help from my partners) bought a Schact Sidekick.
It looks like this:
It’s a double treadle, Scotch Tension wheel. It weighs 13 lbs, and it folds up for easier transport.
It’s a lot of fun. The learning curve is tolerably steep. Getting the balance of spin to fiber is trickier than it is for the spindle, because I can feel the way the twist is being taken up. A spindle also has interruption. The wheel, not so much. So long as I treadle, the flyer goes round and twist is being manufactured. On the upside, having used a spindle I know I can stop the wheel and, to a degree, let pent up twist out into the fiber in my hand. I am nowhere near the consistency of my spinning on the spindle, but I’m getting better.
This is what my second bobbin looked like.
Spinning has such wonderful terms… Double Drive, Scotch Tension, Bobbin Lead, Flyer, Niddy-Noddy, Lazy Kate. When you get some of them (e.g. my niddy-noddy) need to have some work done to them. I did a bit too much to the niddy-noddy.
They come in need of a bit of sanding. I did a fine job on the exposed portions, but the joints are now a bit too smooth, and it’s a bit tricky to get the yarn to start, when it’s being wound off the bobbin after it’s been plied. I’ve used some compounded beeswax and mineral oil to see if I can make it a but stiffer.
I’ve also had some truly horrid frustrations. From the books was given for Christmas I discovered that alpaca is not all that pleasant if spun worsted. I am spinning worsted. I’ve never spun woolen. So I tried. It was… awful. Nothing I did worked. My roving was all “top”, i.e. prepared for spinning worsted, and it just plain doesn’t behave when one tries to spin it woolen. But the books (all hail reference works, and the benefits of others experience), say that putting roving into hot water will return the crimp, and make it easier to spin woolen (which looks really easy, and a lot more graceful/hypnotic than spinning worsted). I did that yesterday, before I left for work.
The roving is a lot fluffier now. Tomorrow I shall probably give it a go.
This is an occupation which has two drawbacks. It’s not without cost, and when I’m done I have these skeins of yarn which I can’t really afford to do anything with. That means I need to find a way to 1: not go broke buying fiber, and 2: find a way to dispose of the finished yarn. I guess that means I need to figure out how to use Etsy.
But, for those who are willing to take a gamble, if you want some yarn, I’m willing to spin it for you. Buy the fiber, and I’ll turn it into yarn. I won’t do it for free, but the cost will be a less than if I am pricing in my time on top of the investments needed to procure the fiber myself.