An Origin Story

The origins, of the strange, the awesome…

Ok, just weird.

But first, a bit of knitting.

Still working on the mistake rib scarf in Gnomespun Woodlands – Lichen. It’s mind numbing, which I find amusing since several people suggested not doing the Yarn Harlot’s One-Row Handspun Scarf (Which I’ve made before) because it was “boring.” Heh. I really should stop listening to people. But this one is nice and sproingy and super soft in the merino/alpaca. It’s narrow (though will block a little wider than is appears here) so I’m doing it long for a doubled over, looped scarf. Which means… I have a long way to go!

I finally gave in and ordered a ball winder. ::grumbles:: Last week. I hate JoAnne’s. But I got one of the second tier ones for only 20-something dollars… even if they did just *finally* ship it yesterday. So I’m still going to have to wooden-fork-nostepinne the yarn for the hat this weekend.

In other news, I finally shaved, and managed one night of sleep (out of four attempts). I still need a haircut.
Less Scruffy

Oh right, origins. Yeah. Ok, so I sidetrack myself.

So, someone recently asked, after reading my little “About Gnomespun” blurb, how I got into spinning and dyeing. It’s something of a complicated story, thus why I refer to it as an origin story (also it makes me feel like a super hero, and who doesn’t think that’s fun?).

You see, I grew up on a small hobby farm. This may require some explanation, especially for those of you familiar with real farms.

My parents believe in being capable. That is, they like to know how to do things, such that – if they needed to – they could get by without too much outside help. They never went so far as homesteading, but instead struck a balance, with a hobby farm.

A hobby farm is a farm that doesn’t quite function like a traditional farm. That is, we didn’t make (or try to make) a living off the farm, and it was only self-sufficient by a very limited meaning of the term. It was a small “hobby” farm (though don’t let the word “hobby” make you think it was easy) of 4.7 acres. Just small enough we had to worry about neighbors not liking the sounds or smells (has to be 5 acres in order to ignore neighbor complaints of animal sounds/smells).

Luckily, we had nice neighbors.
We raised:
sheep (Corriedales)
goats (mostly Nubians, toggenbergs, and Alpines)
chickens (something black, something gold, Rhodies, and several varieties of bantams)
geese (Grey Toulouse)
and pigs
And, of course, a dog and a cat or two or four (depending on the time)

The goats were milked (after being taken to visit the daddy goat), the sheep (a pair) happily bred and made lambs (usually in February in the far back corner of the pasture, during an ice storm) which along with the goat kids and goslings, were either eaten by us, or sold to the Portuguese guys who would come by every spring.

We also had large gardens, and a small orchard.

I grew up shaking apple trees, milking goats, helping sheep give birth, and finding out my bottle-fed baby goat Oreo was, in fact, growing up to be a billy, and not a nannie (she, was a he). It was a good time.

Along with this, my family did all those associated things, like pickling and canning (which I’ve been doing myself for a few years now). So, during the course of learning how to do things, my Mother bought a spinning wheel, and Ashford Traditional, in the days when they had single treadles, little ornamentation, and one ratio.

Mom never got great at spinning, we didn’t have the time to put into great prep, and never found someone to do it for us at a price we could afford (two fleeces just aren’t economical). However, she did learn how, and so my brother and I learned the basics and played around on it despite never being able to get more than about 6 inches of “yarn” made at a time (and totally not understanding plying).

Fast forward a few years. I’m 11. Grandma comes to visit (she lived in Los Angeles at the time, now she lives in NC). Grandma crochets. I have a lovely rainbow afghan she made me when I was a kid.

She was making something or other, and I asked what she was doing. “Crochet” she said. And when I expressed more interest, she asked if I wanted to learn. Wham. The fiber bug had infected me.

Crochet slept in my blood for many years, until about 6 years ago, when I started graduate school. I discovered that crocheting helped my mind to settle, and gave me something to do while I spaced out after long days of intense thought in lab. So, I started making scarves and box fold hot pads.
Dark ScarfPotholder

And then, my Grandma’s 80th birthday came around. In return for the gift she’d given me, I made her this afghan, which is about… 8-10 feet square

And that’s when it started to hit. I didn’t have to make things that other people had made. I could come up with my own designs, my own patterns. My brain started to turn…

And so, about a year and ~1,000 hours later, I had designed, and crocheted, from scratch, a full length, a-line skirt, lined it with silk that I had hand dyed myself. All because Mom mentioned no one made skirts for people her size and shape (as far as I can tell, no one makes clothes for any actually existing people).

This was where the bug really took hold and wouldn’t let go, ever again. You see, it’s really my Parents’ fault. If they hadn’t been so competent, and encouraging of competence and capability, then this would never have happened. I mean really, who thinks it’s a good idea to go from granny squares to fitted garments and hand dyeing silk?

Oh right. Me.

Because my family’s modus operendi is, “If you don’t know how, find a book or someone who does, and then you can learn.” Basically, that, barring physical limitations, there’s no particular reason you shouldn’t be able to learn to do anything. So, it never ocurred to me, despite having never sewn a garment without a pattern or dyed anything more complicated than tie-dye, that I couldn’t do these things, given enough time, patience, and research.

Then, I doomed myself. A friend pointed me to this thing called “Ravelry.” Twice, actually, before I bothered to wander over there. Oh. Boy. You see, once I was there I found a local knitting group. I asked if they would mind having a male crocheter, and they were more than welcoming. They were my people.

A month and a half later, I asked them to help me learn to knit. Two weeks later, I started to knit the Thuja socks. I was hooked. I love crochet, and will always love it. But knitting makes sense to me. That is, I have a natural affinity for the structure, the way the stitches form the fabric. Damnit. ‘Cause really, I needed another hobby, right?

Well, another… month? After that, I succombed to the spinning bug. Again, you can blame my knitting group. The bastards… I mean wonderful people include quite a few spinners. So they kept bringing these soft, luscious fibers and beautiful handspun yarns which we’d all ooh and ah over.

Now, something you have to understand about spinning. It’s a disease that wants to be spread. There’s something in a spinner that makes them want to convert non-spinners. All the protestations of, “But I don’t have time! I don’t need another hobby!” were for naught.

It wasn’t long before I succumbed, and planned to borrow my Mother’s old wheel to see if I could do what these talented people were doing.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I found more people on Ravelry, the most sincere, and adept enablers I have ever met. Who instantly decided (before I had actually begun to spin, mind you) that I should not only spin, but make a business of it. “Uh, sure, why not?” I laughed.

And then… came the Sheep and Wool festivals. I spent a bunch of money at New Hampshire sheep and wool, hung out with Bowerbird, and had a good time, screwed around on one of the newer Ashford Trads, and reminded myself what I was doing again. Ok, I was ok. Spent a lot of money, but I thought, “No problem, I can stop whenever I want, I mean, heck, I haven’t even started yet! I don’t have the wheel yet!”

Ha. Ha. ha. Hush you, I can hear you laughing at me.

Yeah. Because clearly, the bug wasn’t hooked yet (or so I kept telling myself). You see, then I went to the MA Sheep and Wool festival, and ran into these people I had somehow managed to miss at NH.
Tsocky and Jennifer

That’s right, the Tsock Tsarina and Jennifer.

Now, let me tell you at this point, I have had like two or three really brief contacts with Tsocky on Ravelry, and I don’t think any with Jennifer. I was (am) a bit infamous among a certain subset (and if you don’t know why, I’m not telling, yes Silver I am still planning that colorway someday), but still I didn’t know these people…

Suddenly, I’m being informed, not asked, informed, that I’m going to Rhinebeck. And encouraged, encouraged! by people I’ve hardly met, to spin yarn and sell it! What? Guys, hey! I haven’t actually spun anything yet, remember?

But there is no stopping destiny. And so, sure enough, there I was at Rhinebeck. And here I am now.

So, how did I get here?

Blame my parents.

~The Gnome

7 thoughts on “An Origin Story

  1. Are you sure your parents and mine weren’t related? [g] Great post, it’s fantastic to hear the story all in one place! Loved to hear about your Grandma. Both afghans are wonderful. And your brother’s scarf is looking great. The mistake rib may be driving you crazy, but it’s showing off the different shades in the Lichen beautifully.

    Thanks for lovely post!

    (One of the subset. [g])

  2. I think I have heard [read] most of this before, but I did enjoy it all over again! I’m a bit jealous that you had such wonderful experiences growing up.

  3. Always lovely to find out about the person/people directly across from you at sheep festivals…so I looked you up. Great story. I also had a grandmother who taught me how to crochet…but she was lefthanded, so she held it up, and I looked at it from the other side and recreated it right handed. I learn to knit in Brownies in 3rd grade; and was re-infected in college by a college roommate who knit with a book in front of her. In fact, I never saw her reading without knitting in her hands,mostly sweaters knitted for the Red Cross. My first sweater was for my then boyfriend (who married me anyway). It would have fit Hagrid. No idea what happened to that sweater, but I’m not sorry it went wherever. That was 49 years ago, and I’m still knitting. Delightful to (sort of) meet you and talk HP and Jacob a bit. See you next year…won’t be at Rhinebeck, will be at Vermont…maybe you’ll be there?

  4. Another scientist who plays with fibers! I have been a spinner and weaver and natural dyer since the early 1970’s — except for a number of years when I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and worked in social work to help put our 3 sons though college. One of those sons earned a bachelors (University of the Arts) and a masters (Cranbrook) in art with a focus on fibers. (He started on my loom when he was in 9th grade.) After 14 years designing furniture fabric in Michigan for a small firm, working increasingly fewer hours, making less, and turning into the starving artist we always worried about he moved back to Penna. to work for a medical company. He is now a textile design engineer and creates materials for medical implant — stents, artificial organs, scaffolding for growing cells, etc. He is also doing collaborative work with Drexel Med. School. (And he is dating a women who is potter earning her nursing degree.)
    And I am happily spinning, dyeing, and weaving in my retirement….. However, when I ask him to help me warp my loom, he says, “Mom, I have people for that.”

  5. I have an almost identical wheel! A ceramics professor I had in college first taught me to spin and gave it to me – a 70s era Ashford Traditional. Mine developed ‘clunky wheel syndrome’ and it turns out Ashford makes a repair kit just for that problem, which really won me to their brand – any company that supports products they made 40 years ago is doing something right. A few years ago I bought a new Ashford, and fitted my old one with a large flyer for plying.

    You do beautiful work. How do you do it, with earning a Ph.D. and all? Amazing! I just finished three skeins of cabled yarn and it took me since the beginning of summer. If I tried to do this for a living I would surely starve… I am humbly impressed.

    Is it OK if I friend you on Ravelry?

  6. You certainly may.

    And… by will and neurosis? ::laughs:: I like to create, and it balances my scientific side.

  7. Following a link to a a post on your blog, I was curious about the author. If my daughter read this introduction she might say, “OMG! His parents sound like mine!”, or “Mom, he must be your twin.” As a retired biologist I can now return to all the things I used to do before work became a life-sucker. That includes washing and prepping fiber, spinning, knitting, and experimenting with other fiber adventures. (No more animals, though. I enjoy them again vicariously through others.) And kayaking.

    But a scientist never really retires. Volunteering part-time with the biologists at national wildlife refuges satisfies my persistant science urges. And I enjoy reading or meeting other scientists with artistic and creative endeavors.
    Glad to have ‘met’ you!! You are exemplary. 🙂

Leave a Comment