Spinning Yarn. Badly. And Loving It.

Spinning yarn for Spinzilla 2015

So, Spinzilla started Monday, and I’ve been spinning yarn every day since. Not as much as I’d thought I would, and not as well. I’ve yet to produce any handspun I want to knit or crochet with, but I’m enjoying myself a lot.

And, as it happens, I’ve got a not-yet-assembled frame loom sitting on my kitchen counter, and I think I’m going to weave with some of this yarn. Oh yes.

As of yesterday in the early evening, I’ve spun just over 800 yards of Spinzilla creditable yarn (plying counts toward your total yardage!).

I’m sure I’ll make it to 1,200 yards by the end, which is an arbitrary yardage and far more than I’ve ever spun – in total – up to this point. I’m not sure my yarn will be any more even than what you see here, but I don’t care one bit.

Spinning yarn for Spinzilla 2015

Spinning yarn for Spinzilla 2015

Handspun yarn for Spinzilla 2015

Ok, so this final ply from last night is getting closer to what I’m after (and not so hair-pull-outy).


Knitting Socks

Rainbow socks in progress.

I was about a half-inch from turning the heel when I took this pic.

A couple weeks ago, there was a countrywide Etsy Made in Canada craft-show event, and the one in Vancouver was held in the centre of downtown. The weather was gorgeous, so the kid and I took the slowest bus in all the land and looked forward to buying presents for people we love.

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was less than stellar layout planning, but the place was so packed we almost turned right around without going in.

But go in we did, and we managed to make it to a handful of tables before we made a hasty escape for the slowest return trip in all the land.

One of the tables we made it to had a frame loom on it along with a bunch of small woven tapestries. Owen was intrigued, but was a little too grabby. Anyway, more about frame looms another time. (Hint.)

Another table was that of Ocean Park Yarns, and we both loved what we saw. She makes some stunning speckled yarns, you guys. And she also makes a colourway called Unapologetic Rainbow, which Owen lost his mind over.

Which is why I’m now, finally, knitting a pair of socks. His tiny feet are good motivation to actually make two socks.

I’m using this pattern, which is very straightforward so far. I’m working a 2×2 rib rather than a 3×1 rib, because my kid has extraordinarily skinny legs and feet. Also, I’m using slightly smaller needles than called for, for much the same reason (also for durability).

knitted socks, just cast on

I’m comfortable knitting with DPNs (double-pointed needles, for the uninitiated), but I’m still not used to using them at such a small gauge. I’ll get the hang of it eventually. Or, I suppose, I just won’t end up an avid sock knitter. Either way, whatever.

What’s your favourite sock pattern to knit or crochet?


How to Assemble a Cricket Rigid-Heddle Loom

Back in July, my friend Liisa posted on Facebook that she wanted to sell her barely used 10″ Cricket loom. At the time, I was diving deep into an ongoing fascination with weaving, and it was, coincidentally, my birthday. So I replied immediately that I’d buy it. Lucky for me, she was going to be in my neighbourhood that very day, so my gratification was damn near instant.

The next day, I pulled out all the pieces, which Liisa had repacked meticulously into original packaging, and set out to assemble the loom.

This was my first encounter with a rigid-heddle loom. Or, really, any loom except for those amazing massive floor looms you see in museums or weaving studios, so my knowledge of how they work was nonexistent.

Schacht, the company that makes the loom, has detailed instructions for putting it together, except for the instructions at the end. At the end, after all the screws are screwed in and handles inserted, the instructions effectively do a wild hand-wave while they mumble some incomprehensible nonsense, and then you’re told you’re all set and it’s time to warp your first warp.

So I set the mostly assembled loom aside and planned to work some Google action the next day.

Which turned into the next day.

Which turned into the very end of September.

Which is when I finally inserted into the Google something like, “What in hell are apron rods for and how do you attach them to a Cricket rigid-heddle loom.”

And what the Google returned to me was a five-minute video that explains in clear detail how to assemble the entire loom, no arm-waving or mumbling involved.

The video was produced by WEBS, a yarn store that has been dear to me for a decade and that I wish ever more longingly weren’t so far away, for they have saved me from crushing confusion.

If you, too, are flummoxed by how to attach the apron rods to your Cricket loom, I hope this helps you as much as it helped me:

Now that I have all that sorted, I look forward to actually weaving. Weaving! I’ve already started watching Angela Tong’s Rigid Heddle Weaving Craftsy class (which for whatever reason I can’t seem to link to), and I’ve got a copy of Liz Gipson’s brilliant book by my side. (And speaking of Spinzilla, I’ll soon have a whack of totally wonky yarn I’ll need to use for something.)

Do you weave on a rigid heddle loom? Got any favourite tips or patterns?


Spinzilla is almost here. Let’s make a mess of it!

Of course, I don’t mean let’s make a mess of the event; I mean let’s just make a mess.

Lemme take a step back for those of you who aren’t plugged deeply into the yarn world.

Spinzilla is an annual week-long yarn-spinning competition, and it starts on Monday, October 5th. Really, it’s more a celebration-slash-geek-out than a cut-throat competition, but there are teams, and each team tries collectively to spin more yarn than all the other teams. There are also rogue spinners, who prefer to to fly solo rather than as part of a team.

I’ve dabbled in spinning yarn, but I’m not very good at it. So when one of the organizers of the event invited me to participate in the Spinzilla blog tour, specifically to write about messiness and why we should embrace it, I took that as a good reason to join a team and dedicate some serious time to upping my spinning game. Though surely many participants will be experienced spinners, I’m here to encourage even total n00bs to join in. A special kind of magic can happen when we set ourselves to task for a week, and while the seasoned pros spin their miles of yarn, we beginners can embrace the mess of not knowing much about spinning so we can finish the week knowing a hell of a lot more than we did at the start.

Here’s the deal about a mess: There’s no sense trying to learn how to do something new, or trying to get better at doing something you already know how to do, if you’re simultaneously trying to nail it on the first go. On paper that’s a no-brainer, but in practice it can be a hard walk to walk. Spinzilla is a gift of dedicated time. It’s just one week, so it’s not a stressful gift. But it’s long enough that daily practice can make a serious impression.

So I’m here to champion the mess. I’ll go so far as to encourage you to make as big a mess as you can. Like the fifty pounds of clay people, let’s go for the learning and productivity that come with a focus on quantity over perfection.

Behold: The beginning of the mess I plan to make:

I'll be spinning all this up for Spinzilla 2015. Oh yeah.

Pictured above is the collection of fibre I’ve amassed over the years. I’ve had some of it, like most of the undyed stuff at the top and the lovely pink/green/cream/grey braid at the top-right, for many, many years. I picked some of it up much more recently, on our road trip last spring, in anticipation of participating in Spinzilla. The boldly labeled Vortex is, as you can see, made by a hand-dyer in Taos, NM. The two braids to the right of the Vortex are also dyed by a New Mexican, under the Widdershin Woolworks label (I suffered choosing colours of hers, man, such was the gorgeousness). I picked up some of the braids and knots at a yarn swap, I think. Oh, and there are a couple of small baggies in there, too: one of bison wool and one of wolf fur, both of which I purchased at an open-air market in Santa Fe. (I left a piece of my heart in New Mexico if you can’t tell, and I’m feeling very grateful to myself for knowing back in May that I would enjoy revisiting our travels this fall, through fibre.)

Here’s the thing about all that gorgeous stuff up there: I’m going to mangle most of it. Sure, I anticipate that by the end of a week of spinning, I’ll have a pretty even tension going. But I won’t have an even tension going at the beginning. No. At the beginning, I’m going to achieve some seriously dramatic thick-and-thin yarn action. My yarn won’t produce a solidly usable gauge. I may or may not end up wanting to even use the resulting yarn to make anything at all.

And I will keep in mind at every turn that all of that is normal. I will keep in mind at every turn that if I didn’t allow myself to mangle many ounces of fibre as I learn that I would not learn. Those mangled knots of wool will not have been wasted, because even if they aren’t useable as yarn, they were useable as learning.

Sure, I’ll probably save the New Mexican wools till the end, since I’d really love to have them turn into yarn that I’ll use to make something truly wonderful.

But all the messes I’ll make? All the thick-and-thins, all the broken strands? All the cursing over figuring out how to oil my machine? All the wondering out loud why the way I spin is considered to be left-handed even though I’m right-handed and I’ve heard it’s actually quite common for people to spin opposite their usual handedness? All the yarns I’ll make through the mess will be wonderful yarns, because they will be true results of my spinning effort.

I will spin slowly, most likely. My poor team will not consider me to be, shall we say, an asset. But I won’t apologize and I won’t feel bad. Because I’m going to get to know local spinners I’ve never met before. And I’m going to accept their advice. And I’m going to allow them to remind me that my fibre – no matter how gorgeous it might be combed and braided, no matter how much it cost to buy – is not precious, and it must be spun.

If you’re a beginner spinner looking for an excuse to up your game, please join me next week! And if you’re an ace spinner waiting to be nudged to join in, consider this your nudge! If you’re a #yearofmaking person, won’t it be cool to spend one of your 52 weeks doing this? Yes, I think so, too. Spinzilla registration is open until 5PM Eastern on Friday, October 2nd.


On Being an Expert in Doing Things I Have No Idea How to Do

image of collage in progress

Several weeks ago, I got an email from the manager of an art-supply store here in Vancouver, asking if I’d like to teach a collage workshop in the store – specifically about how/where to start when you haven’t a clue. One of the things I love about Opus is that they have a very liberal view of whom they consider to be an artist.

Of course, I don’t really do collage. Like, ever.

But I want to. And I’ve wanted to for a long time.

So I considered the where-to-start thing to be totally in line with my goal of experimenting with collage, and I said yes. An enthusiastic yes to teaching this workshop.

Because though I know very little about collage, I am an expert in doing things I have no idea how to do. In fact, I have spent my whole life honing my not-knowing-where-to-start skills.

And very specifically, I’ve become truly ace at not knowing where to start and starting anyway.


So the way I see it, and the store manager seemed to agree, I’m totally qualified to teach this workshop. And teach it I will.

The first thing I had to do to start preparing for the workshop is to start starting. So I laid out my ideas for how to start a collage when you don’t know how or where to start, and then I started executing those ideas.

It’s tremendous fun. You should give it a shot!

Stay tuned for more workshop details. I’ll post about it on Instagram and Twitter (and also here on the blog, obviously) when registration opens!

Note: the very brief bits I wrote about collage in Make It Mighty Ugly were bits I really struggled to write, because I knew I was writing good advice, but I also knew it’s advice I’ve had a very hard time following. I think this workshop will finally be the death of those particular creative demons. Hallelujah!


Tried and True (AKA My Favourite Crochet Pattern)

I come back to the Seraphina's Shawl crochet pattern over and over again.

It’s been well over a decade since I really and truly started crocheting, and in that time I’ve been intimate with dozens, probably more like hundreds, of crochet patterns. Many have taken my breath away. But there’s one I’ve come back to over and over throughout the years, and I’ve been trying very hard to figure out why. It’s Seraphina’s Shawl.

I mean yes, certainly, one of the main reasons is that I just love making it, and it looks so good in a wide variety of yarn weights.

But what about it makes me enjoy it so much? And why does it look so good when made in so many varying ways?

The pattern is easy to memorize, that’s for sure a part of it. When it comes to crochet (and knitting), I just love not having to look at the pattern after I get the hang of it. I’ll count rows and repeats if I need to, of course, but I just love not needing to.

And one of the reasons this pattern is so easy to remember is that it’s very elegantly designed. Not elegant as in fashion or style elegance, but elegant in the way it’s engineered. There are four increase points in every row: one at each end, and two flanking the centre shell. So there isn’t much to keep track of, and that there are increases on every row means you don’t have to keep track of whether you’re on the right or wrong side.

This is the fourth time I’ve made this pattern. The first time, I made it over a weekend in chunky-weight alpaca. The second time I made it for my new sister-in-law, out of laceweight silk. The third time I made it in DK merino held double throughout for a friend to wear at her rustic-styled wedding. This time it’s DK merino singles held on its own.

I’ve crocheted other shawls and enjoyed it, but this is the pattern I come back to over and over. It’s for all of the reasons I’ve listed, and I think it’s also for the interplay of the shells and double crochets. Isn’t it odd that there aren’t more patterns that involve an interplay like that? Many crocheted shawl patterns involve shells of one kind or another, and for good reason. They’re lovely and can be very lacy or not-very lacy, and any way you do it you end up with a lovely project that’s probably easy to memorize.

Anyway, now I’m thinking about solid sections and shell sections, and I’m feeling a hankering to design something new using these two elements together. I’m feeling a hankering to play.

We’ll see…

PS I wrote about this pattern last week in my newsletter, and in my continuing inability to think about anything else, felt compelled to blog about it, too.

PPS I teach shells in my Next Steps in Crochet class, in a lesson introducing the foundations of lace. Here’s a link for half-off the class (that’s just about $15)!


Best Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Ever

Best roasted pumpkin seeds EVER. Boil in saltwater before baking!

The warm, dry summer really messed with food-growing, and I was surprised to see an abundance of pumpkins earlier this month when we went apple picking. Thankfully, it was feeling more like fall than summer that day, and those pumpkins made me think of soup. So soup I made, and lots of it.

Which left me with the seeds, and that left me with some questions. I’ve roasted pumpkin seeds loads of times, and though I love the idea of them, I never managed to make them truly delicious. They were always partly overcooked, or too mushy, or mealy, or not crunchy enough, and never, ever tasty enough.

And then I found these instructions for making roasted pumpkin seeds that are infused with salty goodness.

So I boiled the seeds in saltwater before I baked them, and they turned out perfect. Perfect, I tell you. They’re very salty, which is how I love my snacks. I dusted them with paprika and smoked paprika before baking for a hint of colour and smokiness.

Gutting pumpkins is a total slimy pain in the ass, but I’ll happily spend another few hours creating a sticky mess all over my kitchen for a shot to make several more batches of perfect roasted seeds.


Hello, New Android Phone

I decided to do it. Earlier this week, I ditched my iPhone for an LG 4G Android phone.

I’ve got all my most-used apps loaded up already, but I’m always game to learn about others. So tell me, Android users, what are your favourite apps and tips?


Great-Gramma Dorothy’s Banana Cake Recipe

image of banana cake batter and old recipe

When Greg’s grandmother died almost five years ago, I became the keeper of her recipe box. I’m not sure why, given my general lack of interest in cooking – which was even less existent five years ago – but I’ve treasured it.

Dorothy was a woman of infinite banana cake. It was her go-to contribution to any family dinner, large or small. Greg’s parents always seemed to have at least a couple in their freezer, such was the abundance of the cakes.

The recipe for it, written in blue ink on a stained and yellowing index card, was at the top of the box when I first opened it, and for years I intended to adopt it as my own.

It’s a sour-cream cake, but we have dairy issues in my house, so it took till I became more proficient in non-dairy baking for me to finally give the iconic cake a shot. It quickly became a household staple.

I made a pair of the cakes – for the recipe is for two loaves’ worth – for Rosh Hashanah dinner, and when I posted a photo, a couple of people requested the recipe. So here it is, as written and with my mods.

Great-Gramma Dorothy’s Banana Cake

Yields two loaves.
You’ll notice this recipe would be a pain in the ass to halve, but it’s very forgiving in all the best of ways, so if you want only one loaf, by all means round up or down as you see fit. (But I recommend making two and freezing one if you don’t have use for it now; you’ll thank yourself later.)


  • 2 1/4 cups flour (I use half whole-wheat and half white)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup margarine (for Dorothy was of the margarine generation; I imagine butter would work fine, softened so you can mix it in; I use vegan margarine so it’s non-dairy)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream or buttermilk (I use cultured coconut or cultured soy – sometimes half of each – and I may go up to 3/4 cup for moister cake)
  • 2 bananas mashed (the riper the better)
  • chocolate chips (to taste; I probably use about a half cup so they don’t overtake the taste of the cake itself)
  • cinnamon (to taste, for sprinkling on top)

Make It

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease two loaf pans (I wipe them with vegan margarine using my fingers or a paper towel).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Whisk well to distribute the baking powder and soda.
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients and mix. I use a fork. The margarine looks gross mixed in with the yellow of the egg yolks and the slimy bananas, but it all works out fine in the end.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and combine thoroughly.
  5. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  6. Pour evenly into two loaf pans, and sprinkle cinnamon on top.
  7. Bake for 35-45 minutes depending on your oven. Use a toothpick to see that it’s done. (Mine cook for 36 minutes.)
  8. Cool, then remove from pans. In homage to Dorothy, wrap heavily in plastic wrap; freeze one loaf and enjoy the other with people you love.

Great-Gramma Dorothy's (Non-dairy) Banana Cake