As the Yarn Winds…

Winding yarn from the skein to the ball while watching MOndat Night Football...How many man points does that cost me?
Winding yarn from the skein to the ball while watching Monday Night Football…How many man points does that cost me?

I knit.

There, I said it. I’m out of the closet, and can breathe free and clear air for the first time in a long time. I knit, and I’m proud! I also crochet, I’m learning to spin, and I want to learn to weave on a loom. But I won’t do needlepoint, dammit! That would just be too weird…

Actually, I’ve been out for a long time. I taught myself to knit while I was out at sea on a 6 month deployment as a sailor in the US Navy. I figured if I was going to be stuck out at sea away from my family for a half year, I might as well come back with something to show for it. A store on base had some yarn and patterns, and I picked up one with lots of cables and dangly bits that looked difficult enough to be interesting, and a beginners knitting book and began my adventure.

For those of you who knit, yes, my first project was an Aran sweater fairly similar to this one:

My first project looked a lot like this one, only with more bobbles and popcorn.
My first project looked a lot like this one, only with more bobbles and popcorn.

It actually turned out way better than I had any right to expect, given that it was an advanced pattern and I was a rank beginner. My wife was pleased and I had a new hobby to pass away otherwise wasted time.

My next couple of sweaters met with varying degrees of success, including one which was entirely unwearable since it came out as abut a size 16X, and I’m big, but not that big. I donated it to the Red Cross as a disaster relief tent.

Then I had kids and a job, and more kids, and the time for knitting just seemed to get swallowed up in doctor’s appointments, school plays, soccer, football, work, and more and I went years without picking up my needles.

Lissa and I spent last weekend in Asheville, NC at the Southeaster Animal Fiber Fair. (One of the great things about living in East Tennessee is that we are less than 4 hours away from just about anything we’d like to do. We live in the mountains; Atlanta is less than 4 hours away, and Asheville is 90 minutes. If you like crafts or culture, you can get there from here.) SAFF is a craft show that covers the entire spectrum from live animals to finished product. We talked with folks who raised alpacas, sheep, goats, and/or rabbits. We learned how to turn a newly shorn fleece into spun yarn, thread, or woven cloth. We took a beginning spinning class, and Lissa took several more while I wandered around practicing my people skills.

As a technical writer/web developer/tech support guru, sometimes I get a little bit rusty in dealing with people face to face.

What made the trip so enjoyable was the enthusiasm on display by all the people. You could tell that they were motivated by joy in what they were doing. For many of them, this was not just a living, but a way of life. And they were so eager to share their passion!

While we were there, Lissa and I both got interested in the idea of raising a few alpacas of our own and the people there could not have been more eager to help. I talked to farmers who had huge herds and traveled the country going to fairs for weeks at a time, and others who kept 4-6 animals as a hobby. Each one was happy to spend some time with a complete stranger, telling me all about their animals, how to care for them, what to look out for, and other tips and tricks. And every one of them made sure I had their phone number and told me to call them any time with any questions.

You don’t run into that kind of attitude every day, and it was the perfect antidote to my political overdose.

So I bought some alpaca yarn.

One skein of prime alpaca tarn. The picture doesn't show just how soft it is...
One skein of prime alpaca tarn. The picture doesn’t show just how soft it is…

Unlike the hobby store, where yarn comes in neatly wrapped little balls, this yarn came in skeins, which fold out into a large, floppy loop. Knitting from a large floppy loop would be challenging, particularly when two young, curious kittens happen to share your knitting space. I needed to rearrange my new yarn into something a little more usable. The best way I’ve found is to wind it into balls that pull from the inside. In order to do that, you need either an understanding spouse who will hold the skein in his/her arms while you wind it into a ball, or a convenient chair back which serves the same purpose without engendering any guilt or sense of obligation.

Or you can use a gadget called a swift.

This is your skein. This is your skein on a swift.
This is your skein. This is your skein on a swift.

You place the skein on the swift and remove any ties holding the yarn together. You then use a winder to take the yarn off of the swift and form a ball like the three shown below. Now, while the winder is spinning, it is pulling on the swift, which begins to rotate, well, swiftly.

Now, if you remember, I mentioned cats. Cats love to attack a rotating swift, even though it usually ends badly for them. The idea of momentum and centrifugal force seems to fly over the heads, usually along with their tales as the wheel slings them across the room.

Of course, being cats, they land on their feet, but the expression on their little faces is pretty funny.

When the yarn comes off of the swift, you can tie up your balls, and you are ready to knit!

Three down, two to go.
Three down, two to go.


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