Thursday, December 05, 2013

Make Do and Mend

I have a favourite sweater. It is a grey handspun Merino/silk pullover, knit in a travelling cable pattern and I designed it and made it almost 8 years ago. It is that go-to sweater that I pull over everything. Warm enough to fend off our 40 below winter days, light enough to toss on over a t-shirt on a cooler summer evening. Sturdy enough to wear as winter outerwear, soft enough to wear against bare skin. I love this sweater.

I love this sweater not only because it is practical and pretty and I made it with my own two little hands. I love this sweater for what it represents.

I bought the fibre for this sweater,  roving in a blend of "Oreo" Merino and Tussah silk from Silver Valley Fibres, as my reward for completing Level 6 of the Olds Master Spinner Program in 2005. It was a difficult year, fraught with personality conflicts and teacher drama, and I deserved a treat. I packed up my lovely fibre and brought it home, intending to use it as my reward spinning as I produced each sample for my In-Depth Study.

Meanwhile, life moved on. I gardened and hiked and enjoyed the rest of the summer. After all, spinning wool, in my mind, was a winter thing, anyway. I joined the cast of a student-directed production of The Rez Sisters and had a wonderful time learning the role Annie, the aspiring country singer. And, yes, I was learning to sing. Then, on our first rehearsal on stage, disaster struck. While rehearsing a house exit, I was tripped by another actor while we dashed down a concrete ramp. I bounced off my right knee and I whacked my left wrist on a metal railing as I went down. Torn ligaments and cartilage in my knee, but, far worse, I had broken the scaphoid in my left wrist and there was a possible hairline fracture in the radius.

I was in a cast for almost 3 months, with my knee bandaged and supported. I spent most of the fall of  2005 on the couch, heavily drugged and fearing that my life as a spinner was over. I was in pain and scared and depressed. And then, when the cast came off, my worst fears were confirmed. My wrist was locked and there was incredible pain and inflammation in the joints of my wrist and thumb. I was referred for an MRI, which showed an inexplicable inflammation of the tendon. The surgeon decided that the best option was to simply slit the tendon sheath and allow the tendon to move more freely, assuming that the inflammation would then resolve itself.

It took 2 surgeries to eventually correct the issue, which left me in casts for nearly another 4 months, off and on. I was going stir crazy and I was certainly not about to give up the craft that not only had become my source of income, but was often my only tenuous link to sanity in a busy house full of teens. I managed to teach myself to knit while holding the left-hand needle tucked between the exposed fingertips at the end of my cast and letting the right hand do all the work. And I decided to try an unsupported long draw. At first, I was not very good, mostly because I spin left-handed. My right hand was not as attuned to the feel of the fibre, the tug of the twist. I struggled and fought. But, pretty soon, I got the hang of it, and that was when I went looking for more roving to spin. I found my reward fibre.

I spun the yarn for the sweater using a completely unsupported long draw with the hand less accustomed to spinning while in a cast. This is something of an accomplishment, as any spinner can tell you. And, once I was out of casts, I used knitting as my physiotherapy to recover. Doctors and physiotherapists comment often on how great the range of motion is in that thumb, and I give all the credit to this sweater. I called the sweater Phoenix, because it chronicles my rise out of the ashes of injury and my renewed flight as a maker and teacher. The story of the sweater is a great one, and a reminder to me that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome.

However, over the past few months, I have met a new obstacle. The pain and stiffness of RA make the frustration of spending months in a cast pale by comparison. Side effects from medications are making day-to-day living challenging. And this week, I had a full physio assessment that has shown me exactly how bad this flare is. I not only have inflammation in my hands and feet, but in my jaw, shoulder, spine, hips, knees. I even have inflammation at the points where my ribs meet my sternum. I am a mass of messed up joints, and some of the joints in my hands are showing signs of permanent damage. The headaches, the sore neck, the shortness of breath, the lower back pain--all of which I had attributed to being out of shape and lazy--are all disease. I am actually ill. I am wallowing in frustration and fear and pain, with little hope of a speedy resolution to the mess. I am, once again, facing the fear of losing the thing that defines me as an individual, my craft, my career.

So, in this state of mind, I pulled out the Phoenix sweater to warm my achey joints on a very cold Northern Alberta morning. As I pulled it over my head, I noticed a spot where there was light shining through. A hole. In my precious sweater. The sweater had survived the Great M*th Attack of ought-twelve. It has been washed and worn and stuffed in the bottom of gym bags. It has ridden around on the floor of the car. And now, after sitting in the closet for a few months, it has a hole.

I will freely admit that I cried. I stood staring at this hole and cried.

Then I remembered that I still had a tiny ball of that precious yarn that I had fought so hard to make. I had kept it because it reminded me that I could. I could find a way around the problems. I could make things, even under adverse conditions. I could persevere and recover. And I could mend my sweater.

The mend is not pretty. The hole was in the spot between the reverse stockinette stitch and the knit stitches of the cable pattern, plus the hands doing the stitching are stiff and clumsy these days. But the hole is gone. The patch will make the sweater last another 6 years, or more.

Sometimes, when a thing gets damaged, we are quick to discard it. It is easier to just get another one, or do without. But, sometimes, something is worth mending. It will not be perfect anymore. It may not look the same as it used to, and it may even be totally different, but we still have it. We just have to take the time to make do and mend.

As a tiny footnote to this story, I would like to share this with you: The physiotherapists were amazed that with the amount of inflammation and joint damage that exists in my hands that I still had better than average range of motion. They attribute that to the fact that, in spite of the pain and the slowness of the process with swollen fingers, I am continuing to knit and spin. And they encouraged me to keep it up.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

And Another Month Flies By

Just like that, we're into the middle of November! The gift knitting is going on, and the baking of seasonal favourites has begun. It seems that as the days get darker, they get shorter, and time seems to zoom by.

It's been a hectic month since I last posted. There was that diagnosis thing, then a great vacation, then home to a house full of puppeteers, then Halloween, then…well…CRASH AND BURN. My rheumatologist gave me as steroid shot to get me through the holiday…

…which was awesome.

We walked on the beach in Ventura every day…

We went to Universal Studios for a day…

Then we went back for Halloween Horror Nights…

We picked up Miss Lexi and her fine young man at the airport and went down to Disneyland…

…where we went to Mickey's Halloween Party…

…and had an all-around fabulous time.

I kept up remarkably well, considering the shape I've been in for the past few months. I now totally understand why athletes turn to steroids for performance enhancement. I felt relatively superhuman for the couple of weeks that stuff was in my system.

Coming home was another matter. I kept up the superhuman thing for another week, but by the first weekend of November the steroids had worn off and pure exhaustion had set in. So, for the last couple of weeks, there has been much sitting and knitting and navel gazing. I am charting a new life for myself, rearranging priorities, and shuffling responsibilities. And knitting. A lot of knitting.

UFOs are getting finished, Christmas gifts are finished, socks are being churned out. My medications are starting to work, and I am starting to adapt to their side effects. And, yesterday, for the first time in weeks (months!), I sat down at the spinning wheel. I had no idea how much I missed it! It was like being set free after months in captivity. The treadling did my stiff ankles in after an hour or so, but I felt like a great weight was lifted the moment I started drafting. Today, I managed almost 2 hours and I'm planning another hour before dinner. I'm BACK.

As I spin, I am gaining back the confidence that this illness and the months of pain had drained. I am having moments of clarity and perspective that I had lost while mired in pain. I am relaxing, and accepting. And I'm making beautiful yarn.

I had forgotten that spinning could be so therapeutic. It had almost become a chore, making samples for articles, teaching rules and precision, doing production work for hours on end. Spinning is not a necessity in today's world, it is a pleasure, and with my busy schedule, I had forgotten that.

I still have article samples to spin, and I will continue to teach, but I will also remember that there is sheer joy and peace to be found in the rhythm of the wheel and the drift of soft wool between your fingers. I will be making yarn for the simple sake of making yarn today.

And tomorrow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


It started small. In early March, three little toes on my left foot started to swell and ache after a long day of teaching. Maybe it was the new shoes.

Then the toes on my right foot started doing the same thing. Within a week, the tops of both feet were sore and red at the base of my toes. A month later, my ankles started to swell and ache. I woke up some mornings totally unable to walk without sharp pain, my ankles locked, sometimes for 2 or 3 hours. It wasn't the shoes.

I was totally fatigued. Exhausted. I have never been a napper, yet afternoon naps started to happen. Whether I wanted them to or not. I was having trouble concentrating. I figured I just had too much on my plate, what with teaching and writing and organizing and designing and making.

I went to my doctor, and he diagnosed me with a bad case of menopause. He sent me home with a prescription for anti-psychotics and hormones, which I promptly threw in the garbage. I soldiered on, becoming irritable and impatient with myself for being so easily worn out.

A little more yoga, slower mornings, cleaning up my diet, letting go of some responsibilities. These were my solutions. Solutions that didn't seem to make any difference and that got abandoned as the weeks progressed without any noticeable improvements.

In mid-June, I started noticing that my wrists were very sore. Not after a marathon knitting session or hours of hand-carding. First thing in the morning. And all night long. I was beginning to wake up in the middle of the night with the sensation that I had just been hit on a finger with a hammer. Sharp, deep, bruised pain in the joints.

And all this time, my feet continued to malfunction and the fatigue increased. It was now a giant task to get up a flight of stairs, a painful journey that left me breathless and exhausted. I was going to bed loaded with over-the-counter pain killers and covered in pain patches.

I started developing headaches. Just that low-level, grinding, annoying tension headache. There was a sharp pain in my jaw when I yawned, and an achey sensation in my ears.

I gave in and went back to my doctor. He ordered a series of blood tests, including screening for celiac and rheumatoid factor. When those came back negative, he prescribed a whack of painkillers and anti-inflammatories and told me to stop knitting so much because I was causing excess wear and tear on my wrists and fingers. I filled those painkiller prescriptions. Immediately.

And I demanded a referral to a rheumatologist. He said no at first, but when I burst into tears, he wrote a quick referral to get me out of his office.

Most of the summer was spent under the body- and mind-numbing influences of those painkillers. I missed appointments, forgot to do things, slept a ridiculous amount. But I was never rested and recharged. I was mostly just stoned and grumpy.

By this time, my fingers were all clearly involved. Big, red, hot knobs were forming on each joint. Some days, even with the drugs, all I could do is lay on the couch with my hands curled against my chest.

Other days, I bit the bullet, skipped the drugs and pushed to get things done. Life had to be lived. Deadlines had to be met. I have a family and a household and a career. I passed on the pills and got what needed to be done done. And then suffered for it for days afterward.

I was in bed every night at 9 or 10 o'clock. I slept for 12 to 14 hours, and still woke up stiff and sore and cranky. It was like waking up each morning wearing barbwire mittens and socks.

Still, my doctor assured me that, since I had a negative rheumatoid factor test, I couldn't possibly have Rheumatoid Arthritis. However, he reluctantly admitted that he couldn't think what else could possibly be and said that he would leave it to the rheumatologist to make the call. And prescribed stronger painkillers.

And, through all of this, I tried as hard as possible to maintain at least the surface appearance of normalcy. I don't think I fooled anyone, especially those who know me well, but I worked very hard to fool myself. It was the only thing that got me out of bed some days, that drive to look "normal".

Yesterday, I finally got in to see that rheumatologist I had insisted on seeing. And my entire life changed within 10 minutes. That was how long it took him to look at my fingers and, in his best "I have some bad news for you, ma'am" voice inform me that I had moderate to advanced symptoms of RA. I don't think he was quite prepared for me to respond with "Oh, thank God!"

I knew what was going on. You see, I have a child who has suffered from Juvenile Arthritis for the past 6 years--longer, if truth be told, because we had a series of doctors tell us that it was something else and prescribe painkillers before she saw a rheumatologist, too. I am something of an expert on arthritis and its treatment, from the mother perspective, anyway.

Everything that took place yesterday was familiar, but utterly surreal because, this time, it was happening to me. Blood tests, x-rays, injection education, pages of prescriptions. This was my life, not someone else's.

So, today is the first day of a new life for me. I have some serious thinking to do about work, therapies, and medications. I have to make some decisions about how to proceed. The initial giddy joy of a diagnosis, any diagnosis, has worn off and the reality of the struggles I will face is beginning to set in. I will have to make some big changes, trim down my commitments, set clear priorities, and learn a new way of living. The good news, though, is that my rheumatologist considers knitting excellent therapy for the joints and encourages me to do some knitting every day, no matter what else is going on.

I am moving forward. I will not let this thing knock me on my butt anymore, but it will be some time before I learn the steps to the new dance that my life will become. A good doctor, the right medications, and the support of my amazing family and friends will make things easier. There will be good days and bad days. But through it all, I will spin and knit and teach and write because my rheumatologist gave me a great piece of advice:

"Live your life, and make the things that are important to you your priorities. That will keep you positive."

Words we should all live by.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Support Your Local Artist. Please.

If you are reading this blog, you probably already know that I am a fibre artist. While I have spent the last several years focussing more on the educational side of my art, I am, at heart, an artist first. I live in a relatively remote community, Fort McMurray, in Northern Alberta, where we are 4.5 hours from anything connected to the fibre arts--materials, classes, guilds.

So imagine my delight when our local recreation facility, MacDonald Island, announced that they would be presenting a fibre arts event in celebration of Alberta Culture Days. The event, titled Silk Caravanna, will involve students in both Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan as well as interested community members in an exhibit of silk paintings. I found this concept brilliant and was fully prepared to dive in and participate.


Yesterday, I read the press release that I linked to above. If you read it, you will see that the General Manager of MacDonald Island is delighted to be bringing a Northwest Territories artist to lead their celebration of Alberta Culture Days. Stop for a moment and let that sink in.

Now, I have no problem at all with the artist in question, Janet Procure. Take a moment to look at her website and blog. She's very good at what she does. I'm sure she's a marvellous human being, because people who work with fibre always are. And I think the project that she is tackling is quite brilliant.


I am a full-time artist and fibre arts instructor who lives and works in Alberta. So are dozens of my friends, some of whom do work similar to Ms. Procure's. And most of us rarely, if ever, work in our own home town or even our own home province. I know dyers, surface designers, felt makers, knitters, weavers, and spinners who are internationally recognized, yet insignificant in Alberta. I know people who have been published in Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, Handwoven, and Spin-Off or have had work exhibited in Europe who are overlooked in favour of "big names" from outside of Alberta by guilds and galleries in the province. I myself struggle each year with bringing balance to the Fibre Week roster by finding local instructors while others would prefer to see those out-of-town headliners.

I wrote and asked the person at MacDonald Island why she had chosen an out-of-province artist for this project and she was kind enough to respond. She told me that Mac Island had a longstanding working relationship with this artist and that the artist had taken pains to secure a grant from the NWT government to facilitate her travel. She told me that Albertans were being invited to participate, and that they would benefit from the exchange. All of this is fine and good, but it suggests one of two things to me.

The first is that the familiar choice is the best choice. Someone you know, with a proven track record, comes to you with an idea. You know this person does quality work, you know you can work with them, and the idea is great. We all do this. I do it all the time at Fibre Week--there are two or three instructors who come to me every year with something brilliant, and it works. You know it's going to be good, there is no risk. I am assuming, based upon my reply from MacDonald Island that this is the case in this instance and I cannot fault that.

The other way of looking at this is that the grass is always greener somewhere else. Somebody from here is okay, but somebody from somewhere else is better. Because they are from somewhere else. This does not just apply to Albertans, or to fibre artists. This is a thing in every field. My husband currently deals with construction, and the hierarchy under which he works seems to think that an architect from Edmonton is okay, but one from Vancouver is far better. Because they are from somewhere else. The troubling implication in this, of course, it that the homegrown is somehow inferior.

Now, it is not easy to make a living as a fibre artist. Or as an artist of any medium, be it visual, written, or performed. It is especially difficult in hard times, when arts and culture budgets are the first ones axed. Or in a busy province like Alberta, where people are working hard to keep up with a boom economy. It is extremely challenging to work in the arts. And it is almost impossible to succeed locally in the arts, since everyone thinks that the arts and culture scene is better somewhere else. Special guest artists from anywhere else draw a larger crowd than the local talent.

This is why the Alberta government instigated Alberta Culture Days, to "recognize the value of Alberta's arts and cultural communities" in the words used on their website. They go on to say "Alberta Culture Days 2013, September 27 to 29, will continue to showcase the province's arts, multicultural, heritage and nonprofit/voluntary organizations; creative industries and individual artists, while encouraging all Albertans to discover the important contributions of culture to a prosperous, vibrant society."

If you take some time to peruse the Culture Days website (and I encourage you to do so), you will see that the communities participating have invited a wide variety of Alberta artists. Writers, painters, musicians, photographers, sculptors, and fine craftspersons will all be presenting events for public participation. Every single one of them Albertans, or at least, successful artists who got their start in Alberta.

Now, it is really important to present art and artists from outside of Alberta to the folks living here. Exposing the public to the arts in all its complexity and richness makes for a better society. And there are any number of venues that do this, year round. But these three days are for celebrating and encouraging Alberta artists. It just seems to me that MacDonald Island is missing the spirit of the thing by bringing in an outside artist to celebrate the art in our own home province. I am going to participate in events that focus on local talent, both professional and amateur, because they are the warp and weft that make up Alberta's culture.

And for those of you outside of Alberta, take a moment to look around your community. I bet you will find amazing fibre artists, painters, potters, singers, actors, and basket weavers in your own back yard. Take a moment to appreciate what you have right there at home and support your local artists.

Because I am from somewhere else, too. And I can tell you that the grass is no greener here than it is in your own backyard. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013


                                              Turn and face the strange...

A little over a year ago, I resigned from the Olds College Master Spinner Program' teaching roster and went into a bit of a sabbatical, if you will. It has been an interesting year, to say the least. I intended to spend the year resting and revitalizing, but very quickly discovered that what I was doing was more like a caterpillar's cocoon stage. I isolated myself in a small, cozy spot and transformed.

A year ago, I was driven by my need to please. I rarely, if ever, said no. I revelled in the admiring coos of "Ohhh, you're so busy." I was addicted to my inbox-if I had fewer than 30 emails on any given day, I would wonder what was wrong. I travelled and taught and spun and knit and organized and emailed 7 days a week.

Sure, I was beginning to feel a few aches and pains. I had a little trouble sleeping. I tended to fly off the handle when something went wrong. And that constant, grinding pain in my stomach was a little annoying. But, hey, everybody just sits down at two o'clock in the afternoon and bursts into tears, right?

I told the story of my breaking point, and of the realization that I was addicted to stress on this blog. What I haven't told you is how much I've changed.

Oh, don't get me wrong! I'm still prone to hyper-organization and over-doing things. I'm still busy, juggling travel and teaching and organizing. I've begun writing more, with a series of magazine articles in the pipeline and the outline of a book filling in nicely. I'm still spinning and knitting and dabbling in the weaving world. I still manage to cook fabulous meals and keep the house from total chaos and occasionally get a load of laundry done.

What has changed is my engagement to the outcome. I am no longer doing the things I do for the approval of others. I am doing it for my own approval. I am saying no to things that will cause me more stress and work, though I am still finding that hard to do. I am saying yes to an afternoon of reading, where nothing measurable gets accomplished at all. If I get stalled on something, I will simply walk away and clear my mind, then come back when I am ready. I have learned to set boundaries and limits, and I'm working hard to stay within them.

And as I have been changing, the world around me has been changing, too. My youngest baby has graduated from high school and turned 18, becoming an adult overnight. She will be moving out of our house and into her own home in Edmonton next month in preparation for starting culinary school in January, leaving me with a truly empty nest. We are already finding that we are changing our routines, that the pace of life is changing, too.

Another exodus of friends from Fort McMurray has begun as well. Comfortable, long-term friendships that could be counted on will now become long-distance friendships. This will bring another change in routines, another change in pace.

There are big changes on the work front as well. Not only am I morphing from hands-on teacher to writer/teacher, but the administration of the Master Spinners/Fibre Week at Olds College has changed. I am back on the teaching roster and still volunteering for Fibre Week, but I am learning new systems and new personalities. The administration of the programs is being pulled more tightly into alignment with the policies of the rest of the college, and there are several places where we are not going to be a smooth fit, but it is working out so far. In all of this transition, I have gone from being an insider in the decision-making process to someone who works among the ranks. The new administration team is wonderful, but it is odd to be dealing with, once again, new routines and the change in the pace of doing things.

Yet, oddly, with all of this change swirling around me, I am sleeping better than ever and that grinding pain in my stomach only comes when I have forgotten to each lunch. And I haven't cried at two o'clock in months. There are still aches and pains, but that is a story for another post.

Not all is well. Life is still chaotic and overwhelming, but I'm okay with that. I have simply come to accept that I don't have control of everything and I really don't need to control everything. That acceptance has set me free. Free to spin and write and design and travel and live my life.

And, really, who could ask for anything more.

                          Time may change me, but I can't trace time.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I do no usually write about local politics--or politics in general-on this blog. This is a blog about fibre and fibre arts. I am not a political junkie, one of those people who watches council meetings every two weeks. What I am is a citizen who is engaged in the day-to-day life of my community. And I think it is time for me to say something that has been on my mind for a while.

But first, some context into the title of this post. There is a classic episode of The Simpsons in which a conman sells a monorail system to the people of Springfield that turns out to be somewhat less than what it seemed. If you haven't seen it before, or if you really want an earworm, watch Lyle Lanley work his magic:

I share this clip with you because it came up on my Twitter feed the other night as members of the community were watching the Municipal Council meeting, where our council voted to pay $100,000 to something called Nexus North for a membership (local news link). What, exactly, this membership entitles the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray to, or what benefits the community will see, is yet to be determined. The presentation by the representatives of this "initiative" was filled with inspirational double-speak and jingoisms. There will be synergies and social growth and  collaborations a-plenty. The names of major corporations were casually tossed about. But what was never once mentioned was an actual action, plan, or tangible outcome.

(You can read more buzzwords and catch-phrases here on council member Russell Thomas's blog. This appears to be the most concrete information about Nexus North that appears anywhere on the internet. In an entertaining side note, a Twitter search for @NexusNorth turns up one result, an apparently defunct, Spanish-language porn site. A Google search of the phrase turns up even less. Surely, such an important initiative should have a web-presence here and now in the Information Age?)

Our mayor cannot tell us what this shadowy group does, or will do for our city. Councillors asked why, if the function of this group is too complex and arcane for the average voter to understand, money should be directed there. The local Twitterati had a field day, starting with the aforementioned monorail, and continuing with references to Ponzi schemes and Nigerian princes. But, in my mind, Nexus North is not the only problem that the current council has. It is merely a symptom.

Here is what I think is wrong with our current mayor and council: They have forgotten where they live.

There has been an enormous effort expended by the current city government and administration to make Fort McMurray a "world-class city". Their lives seem to be consumed by the fact that a couple of opinion writers for The National Post and The Globe and Mail have commented that Fort McMurray is dirty, sleazy, or somehow filled with venal, money-grabbing carpetbaggers profiting from the oil boom.  The solution, according to the current council, is to remake Fort McMurray in Toronto's image. According to them, we need to scrap long-standing institutions and geography to create a new, vibrant city centre. We need to tear down businesses and hotels and homes to build epic architecture that reflects our hip, new image. We need art galleries, and bistros, and multiple cultural and entertainment venues.

Now, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with art galleries and bistros. What I AM saying is that those already exist. Sure, they are in old industrial buildings, or housed inside other existing institutions such as The Suncor Leisure Centre at Mac Island. But we have them. And they are under-utilized. Art galleries and frozen yogurt is awesome, but affordable housing, an adequate transportation system, and decent snow clearing is what makes a city a community people want to live in.

The current council has hired outside consultants, design firms, and planning initiatives to tell the people of Fort McMurray what the future of their city will be. These plans are then presented as a fait accompli, without community consultation. It seems to me, as an ordinary citizen of this city, that the community I have lived in for 31 years is simply being scrapped for a shiny new model that will impress Toronto journalists. They appear to be saying that the outsiders are right: "Fort McMurray is bad and we have to fix it."

I'm all for change, and for grand vision. What I am not for is throwing money at shadows and grasping at tenuous schemes when the basic infrastructure of our city is crumbling. It is mid-July and I have been driving through the same pot-hole on Thickwood Boulevard since April. Traffic is a nightmare of near legendary proportions in the city as poor planning, disorganization and knee-jerk solutions are patched together and discarded. The local aging-in-place centre is bogged down in a bureaucratic quagmire because the city jumped in with a grand vision and no plan.

I am not an urban planner, or a politician. I am just a human being who wants her home to be a place that she can live. The goal of the Municipal Council's grandiose plans is supposedly to attract educated, white-collar workers to our community, and to make our community a place where the fly-in camp population can move their families to settle. They claim they need a more sophisticated city to make that happen, but I can tell you right now, as an educated, white-collar person, that when I look at a community, I do not assess it by the number of art galleries. I look at transportation and health care and sanitation. I look at whether or not the local government ensures that the infrastructure of the community meets the needs of the community. I look at the people of the community, and how much the local government values the community for what it is.

It is not, in my opinion, the job of our local elected officials to rebuild and remake our city. It is their job to nurture the city we have, warts and all, as it grows, organically, into that "world-class city" that it can be.

In that Simpsons episode monorail did not make Springfield a better place to be. It turned out to be a disaster. A monorail is not going to make Fort McMurray a better place to be. Go build your monorail somewhere else.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Tiny Ripples

Well, the mayhem of June is over and we are coasting into the hot, sunny days of July. Another Fibre Week is behind me, and I am stopping to catch my breath before I start harassing inviting instructors to join us for next year. It is a time to rest, and to reflect.

This was a milestone year at Fibre Week in many ways. This year is the centennial of the establishment of both the community of Olds and Olds College. It is also the 25th anniversary of the Master Spinner Program. This was the year that we saw the most graduates in one year from the Master Spinner Program, five in all. And this is the year that we said goodbye to the man who has been at the helm of Fibre Week for the past 12 years, Otto Pahl.

There was much talk of legacies and the impact of the actions of innovators, leaders, and decision makers on the lives of those of us who have come to love Fibre Week. New scholarships were introduced, the vision of those who first proposed the Master Spinner Program was lauded, the impact of Otto's interest in this quirky little program and his influence in its growth was celebrated. I was personally thanked for my dedication to the monumental task of creating the Fibre Week instructor roster and workshop schedule again and again. Great, sweeping decisions, long, arduous tasks, and gigantic risks were all publicly praised.

However, what I learned at Fibre Week this year was that the big things don't matter quite as much as the little things. Sure, friends and strangers alike told me stories of how decisions I had made in the dark of winter in my little studio had introduced them to a skill, an instructor, or an idea that had changed their life. And, let me tell you, it is a wondrous feeling to know that you have had that impact on someone. But, what struck me most in this year of celebrating big accomplishments was the number of people who came forward to thank me for the tiny gestures.

We rarely get to see the impact of the little things we do each day, like letting someone in the grocery store line go ahead of us, or smiling at someone on the street, but for some reason, this Fibre Week, I was repeatedly reminded that even our simplest gestures can have great impact.

I have two stories to share that are sharp illustrations of this point.

My journey to Fibre Week this year was epic in the scope and number of minor disasters that occurred en route, starting with a flat tire before I left home delaying my departure by two days, followed by a series of miscommunications and missed appointments. Once I actually got on the road, the miscommunications continued to plague me, and then the brand new tire that I had waited two days for failed. In the pouring rain, in Red Deer. After the lovely gentleman from AMA Roadside Assistance had put my spare on, I limped to the local franchise of the tire company that had installed said new tire, only to be treated with blatant sexism ("Well, honey, I don't know that I can help you...) and even more blatant lies about the cost and availability of a new tire.

After much teeth-grinding and Googling, I discovered another franchise located in Olds, which is where I wanted to be anyway, and we set off on the back roads, driving slowly and carefully on the emergency spare. The Olds franchise was happy to help me, and I worked my way back to the College.  Where I was immediately met with chaos and panic. The College was serving as an evacuation centre for the victims of the flooding that was impacting much of Southern Alberta at that time and this was causing much confusion with the housing staff. Keys were being mixed up and double bookings abounded. Instructors were stranded by mudslides and washouts. Mayhem ruled.

There was not much I could do about any of it, though, so I decided to move into my condo. Exhausted, cranky, and overwhelmed, I grabbed an armful of stuff and trudged through the rain to my accommodation. I opened the door and there was a young woman who looked very familiar to me--I presumed I recognized her from the Master Spinner Program--who said something like "Hey, looks like we get to be room mates!"

To which I replied something along the lines of "Huh."

Not really smooth and eloquent, but apropos to the moment.

The evening progressed, I ate and had a glass of wine and chatted with good friends. I went back to my condo, where my room mate, whose name I had now remembered, was already in her room. I went to bed, thinking nothing more than "Thank goodness I am warm and dry and all is well."

The next day was a busy one for me, so after a brief exchange of good mornings and small talk about the weather with my roomie, I went about my rounds, making sure instructors had everything they needed, familiarizing newbies with the campus, and shooting interviews for Fibre Optic. I had a quick supper with my son, then headed back for a quiet evening in the condos.

My room mate was in, and I poured a glass of wine and sat down to chat with her. By now, I had fully remembered who she was--she had taken a class from me last year at Fibre Week. And, unfortunately for her, she had been there when I had my momentous meltdown. And worse yet, she had felt that she may have triggered it by raising the question about the handout that threw me for a loop. And then I had been rude and abrupt with her as I moved in.

A moment of personal doubt, and a few tiny, careless acts, and I had given this poor woman the idea that I disliked her. Which was not the least bit true, but that was how she had seen me. Hopefully, we have cleared the air, but the point that even my unconscious actions could impact someone this way really threw me for a loop.

The other story is a happier one. As I mentioned before, there were five graduates from the Master
Spinner Program this year. I was fortunate enough to have taught 3 of them, so I know I somehow influenced them, for good or for bad. But when I congratulated one of the two I had not taught, she thanked me profusely for helping her so much through the program.

Now, I had chatted with her. I had gone out for dinner with her, or sat with her at lunch. But I had never taught her. Never marked her books. Never helped her with her homework. How had I helped her through the program?

So, she told me the story of her Level One year, when she was overwhelmed and frustrated and scared that she couldn't handle the amount of work ahead of her. She was headed back to her condo, admitting defeat and thinking she didn't fit in. She was passing a bunch of Level Six students who were heading out for dinner, and one of them asked if she wanted to come along. That would have been me.

I don't remember that dinner. I have no idea who was there, or what we talked about, or where we ate. But SHE remembered that dinner as the moment she realized that she was welcome and that she fit in. A simple, careless gesture on my part--"Hey, want to join us for dinner?"--was a turning point in her life.

What both of these encounters reminded me was that it is not the great things that we do, but the little, tiny ones, that change the world. We impact people without even recognizing it with the little things we do every day.

When you drop a great big rock into a pool of water, there is a great big splash and everyone notices. When you drop a tiny pebble into that same pool of water, there are just tiny ripples that are barely noticeable. But those tiny ripples spread outward and go on and on, and we may never know where they end up.

So, while I will continue to drop big rocks and try to make a splash, what I'm really going to do is remember that I can accomplish much more by dropping the tiny pebbles and making those tiny ripples.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

California Odyssey Part Three: The Happiest Place on Earth

After a fabulous 10 days of writing and beach-walking, I sadly said goodbye to Ventura and headed southward toward LAX to return my rental car. The drive that day was worthy of a post all it's own. People in my weaving class had recommended the PCH as a route, and I decided it was worth a shot.
Or several shots...

The Pacific Coast Highway meanders along, well, the Pacific coast. The scenery is spectacular, and the traffic is fairly light and easy-going. It was a fabulous drive, and I wound up at Santa Monica just as the sun broke through the marine layer and made the day even more beautiful...

It was a lovely way to transition from peace and solitude to the hustle-bustle of one of the world's busiest theme parks. And transition I did!

My daughter Lexi flew in to join me, and we had a wonderful time. We rode the rides and ate the food and just hung out...

We met Goofy...

...and Donald Duck...

...and Tigger!

We had fun...

My whole family are big Disneyland fans, and we know a lot of the little ins and outs of the park. It's almost like coming home for us to visit both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, and I think that I have way more fun with my kids there now that they are adults than we did even when they were little.  It was great to connect with each other and play.

I've been home now for almost 4 weeks, back to my hectic life, and the rested feeling is long gone. Life marches on, bringing with it the frantic tedium of day-to-day, interspersed with bouts of stress and nonsense. But all I have to do is sit down for five minutes and remember California and it all fades away. The sights and sounds, the people, the learning and growing, and the sheer joy that I found on that trip have altered me forever.

But when you boil it all down, no matter where you come from, and no matter where you go, there's no place like home.  And my home is, truly, The Happiest Place on Earth.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Commercial Break

I just wanted to pop in and let you know that I have launched an exciting new project, and I could use your help.

I am developing a new web series about fibre and the people who raise it, process it, and work with it called Fibre Optic Television. I am very excited about this project, even though the size and scope of it seem a little overwhelming at times.

If you want some more information about what I'm up to, you can like my Facebook Page:

Or you can check out my Indiegogo fundraising campaign: and maybe even throw a couple of bucks my way to get this thing up and running.

Hopefully, if a few people are willing to help cover the travel and production costs, I will have this series recorded and ready to air by early January, 2014.  I'm really excited and I hope I can get the rest of the fibre world excited, too.  Spread the word!

And stay tuned to a computer near you...

We will now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.

Monday, May 13, 2013

California Odyssey Part Two: Ventura and Points Beyond

When we last left the tale of my California Odyssey, I had packed my bags and trundled my new loom into my rented chariot and travelled down the mountain to Ventura.  I was, all of a sudden, in a new town without adult supervision.

Ventura is a lovely little city on the California coast, just north of the Malibu area. I had rented a cottage that turned out to be in a lovely little spot on top of a hill just above the Mission, walking distance from downtown and the beach. It was a quiet and extremely charming spot, with a huge garden that was constantly filled with the singing of birds and the buzzing of hummingbirds. I had a view of orange groves up the side of a mountain, and a wee glimpse of the ocean. But mostly, I had solitude.

You see, I am writing a book. THERE! I put it on the interwebs for all to see. I am writing a book about spinning. I do not have a publishing deal, I do not have an agent, and, frankly, I do not have a deadline. But, I am writing.

I had started chipping away at an outline and an early draft in January, but life being life, there were too many distractions.  I got the flu, we had medical appointments, there was laundry to be washed. Life. And a wee bit of procrastination. So we figured a change of scenery, a break in the routine, would be the answer.

Turns out it was. I wrote every morning until I ran out of words, or until my fingers started to cramp from the typing. Then I went on an adventure.

I would walk down to the Mission...

or out to Surfer's Point...

I walked on the State Beach...

...or out on the pier ...

And I had bigger adventures, too.

Through one of the women I met in my class in Ojai, I was introduced to Randy, a spinner from Santa Barbara, who invited me up to her community for a day. So, one drizzly morning, I set out for Santa Barbara, where I had a marvellous visit with Randy and a tour of that gorgeous city. The rain had lifted by the time I got to Santa Barbara, and we talked fibre and spinning before heading for lunch on the terrace of El Encanto. We continued to talk fibre and spinning through lunch, when we were not distracted by the incredible view. And we talked fibre and spinning as we drove around and explored Santa Barbara until it was time for me to head home. And, I TOOK NOT ONE PICTURE. No, not a one, so I have to rely on my already sketchy memory to remind me of the beautiful day. Or, maybe, I will just have to go back.

Then there was more writing and more meandering around Ventura. I discovered the whereabouts of the local Trader Joe's and stocked up on some of my favourite goodies there. I rambled through the shops downtown and treated myself to some new clothes. I even checked out the Local Yarn Shop--Anacapa Fine Yarns, (which leads to another story that I will tell later, because it is not a story about Ventura or the lovely folks at Anacapa). Did I mention there was writing? I know I have a lot to say about yarn, but...WOW. I have a LOT to say about yarn.

After a couple of days of just hanging out, I set out on another adventure, this time with one of my classmates from the weaving class. We went to Solvang to visit Village Spinning and Weaving. Solvang is a stunning drive north from Ventura along the Pacific Coast and a quick turn inland, where you suddenly find yourself in a totally different world. Solvang's architecture and layout is based on a Danish village, so you see things like...

...windmills on the main drag...

...and Hamlet square.

The downtown area is filled with lovely little boutiques and quirky shops, and, of course, Village Spinning and Weaving, where no small amounts of time and money were spent. We had lunch, then meandered the non-spinning-and-weaving shops for a while, then discovered that it was farmer's market day.

Now, I am a bit of a farmer's market junkie. I cannot walk away from one empty-handed. I went to the farmer's market in Ojai, I had been to the one in Ventura just days before, but we had to poke along through this one, too. So I managed to toddle on home from Solvang with plenty of yarn and a big sack of strawberries and veggies.

More writing and beach strolling, with a bit of weaving in the sunshine...

...filled up my week, and before I knew it, it was time to move on again.

I was actually a little sad to leave Ventura and my little nest, but that didn't last too long because my next stop was Disneyland!

Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 09, 2013

California Odyssey Part One: Navajo Weaving


I'm back.

You may recall that when I last checked in, I was in a bit of a funk. Not so much a funk as a period of distraction. I was not interested in spinning or knitting, I couldn't write a coherent sentence to save my soul, and I was flitting about, keeping busy doing nothing.

I will freely admit that I did plan a period of nothing in my life after the stress overdose of the past few years, but I had no idea it would be so...well...boring and crazy-making.

Fortunately for me, though, the brilliant man that I married saw this coming and sort of forced and adventure on my restless spirit. He was getting a little tired of me saying that I would write a book someday and then spending my days baking bread and folding laundry into shapes that would make an origami master green with envy. He wanted me to focus, and I couldn't focus when there were distractions like trying to find a way out of walking the dog when it's 30 below. And he knew that it would take an adventure to snap me out of my funk. So he gave me a budget and set me loose on Expedia.

I looked at The Tropics and Europe and Asia. I pondered a snowy cabin in the woods, and a spa in the desert. And I finally decided that I would go to Arizona. ("Wait!", you say, "Isn't this about a CALIFORNIA odyssey?" Yes. Yes it is. Hang in there, I'm getting to it.)

I hunted for plane tickets and vacation rentals and museums and libraries and all the things to do in Arizona. And one of the things that drifted through my searching was a Navajo weaving workshop in Canyon de Chelly. This one little thing piqued my interest in all things string that had been laying dormant for so long, and I started to hunt around for information about the tour and the instructors. This led to the discovery that the same instructors were leading a workshop in Ojai, California the week prior to the Canyon de Chelly class. A longer class, for a lower cost. A search for Ojai led to some interesting points of interest, some fibery, some not. And I found a great deal on a vacation rental in Ventura, not far from Ojai. And it all clicked. A seat sale came along, then a deal on a hotel room in Ojai. There was room in the workshop for me, and I even had that stroke of inspiration that started the book.

So, off I set for Ojai. I knew Ojai was north of Los Angeles, so I flew into LAX and hopped into a rental car and set off for Ojai. The GPS told me it would be about an hour and a half, but what it didn't tell me is that the first 45 minutes was on the busiest freeway in the known universe at rush hour. Eight lanes of traffic, all changing lanes and zinging past at light speed, and me not knowing where I was going...EEP. However, I managed to survive and get to the relatively quieter 101 and to Ventura without incident and up the now dark, windy road to Ojai.

The next morning was day one of five, and I was introduced to the basics of Navajo weaving. And I was instantly in love. I had been told once that maybe I should just accept that weaving was not my thing (and by a fairly famous weaving teacher, too!), but I had clearly just not found the right kind of weaving yet.  I was waiting for Navajo weaving.

I worked away on my little rug, loving the flow of the yarn in my hands and the rhythm of the beating of my comb...

I made mistakes and learned to correct them. I concentrated on keeping my edges straight. I made a little rug. Not a perfect rug, but MY rug...

The instructors, Lynda Pete and Barbara Ornelas, are sisters who are fifth-generation Navajo weavers in the Two Grey Hills tradition. They shared traditions and stories of their lives growing up as weavers and taught fumbling newbies like me to weave with great patience and humour. Linda was the patient soul who taught the beginners, like me and Rene....

...while Barbara worked with those in the group who had taken classes before and had an idea of what they were doing, like Steve....

...and Leslie...

...who seem to have grasped a little more than the basics.

One of the high points of my week came when Barbara was spinning warps on her mother's Navajo spindle for our warping workshop...

Well, technically, she was respinning commercially spun singles, driving more twist in to make a sturdy warp. Knowing I was a spinner, she explained the techniques and showed me the right amount of twist, then let me try...

I had nowhere near the speed and skill that Barbara has, but I have a far better understanding of the Navajo spindle now and have ordered one to practice on from Lynda's husband, Belvin, who also built the looms we used.

I finished my rug, along with a few others in the class, and Barbara said a traditional Navajo blessing over the rugs. We cut the selvedges, and I brought my ends home to plant in my garden so my rug will always know where it's home is.

I took the warping class, too. Which didn't go quite so smoothly. I made a really dumb mistake, crossing my warps at some place, which led to Barbara having to unwarp and rethread a good third of the warp by hand...

My job was to keep tension on the warp yarn as she worked it back into the selvedges, which meant I spent a lot of time with this view...

I was terribly upset by the inconvenience that I was putting the teachers to, but I learned a great lesson about patience--using it when I work, having it with myself, and the gift of the patience of others for the mistakes learners make. And in the end, I had a warp for my next rug...

..which I began weaving the next day when I moved to Ventura and Part Two of the California Odyssey.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


I'm stuck. Jammed. In a rut. Unmoving. Between a rock and a hard place. Nowhere to go.

Yup, I have come up against our old friend, Creative Block.

I had great plans back in January. I had ideas for a dozen projects, all of them brilliant. I accumulated the necessary materials. I started spinning. I cast on. I threaded a loom. I made notes for articles. I was on a roll.

Then, I just stopped rolling. Nothing terrible happened. I'm fine. The family's fine. Life is good. I just don't want to make anything right now. I pick up my knitting and put it back down five minutes later. I sit down to write a blog post and stare at the blank screen for half an hour. I spin for fifteen minutes and I have to get up and rearrange the bookshelf because it's bugging me.

I still love the projects that I have started. I am, slowly, chipping away at them. But for right now, I need to be doing something else. I just don't know what.

I'll let you know when I get back on track.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lessons from the Flu

So the media tells me that this year's flu season is off to an early and dramatic start. Sadly, this does not come as a news flash to me. You see, I am part of that early and dramatic start. (Insert sad-face emoticon of your choice here.)

Instead of plying yarn and spinning new yarn, instead of finishing up those two nagging UFO's left over from before Christmas, and instead of workshop prep, I have been laying on the couch. Moaning. Channel surfing and cruising the internet. Which was probably not wise. On the other hand, it was educational. Here is what I learned:

~Television is a mindless wasteland of Botoxed bimbos and plaid-shirted men with beards, all of whom speak in a language of bleeps and boops. They also yell a lot.

~Do not try to learn what is going on in the world from television news channels. All those are is outlets for "pundits" with "opinions", all of which seem to be about what is wrong with everyone else.

~Netflix is your friend.

~To go on Netflix you have to go on the internet.

~The internet is a series of tubes filled with cats. And people who have no basic spelling or grammar skills.

~If you are looking for angry, bigoted, uninformed, and paranoid people, go immediately to the internet. It's a virtual smorgasbord of rage.

~There is also yarn on the internet. Lots and lots of yarn.

~Sometimes it is a good thing to be too sick to get up off the couch and go across the room to where your purse containing your credit card is.

~There is also a lot of bad yarn on the internet. A. Lot. Some of it sold by those people with the bad spelling, or by the angry and paranoid. Really. You should see some of the crazy stuff people put on their Etsy pages. This is also a good reason to not get up to get your purse. Dudes, if you want to sell stuff, keep your politics and religion to yourselves.

~Do not look up your symptoms on the internet. I may or may not have actually been suffering from Anthrax.

~A cup of hot water with honey, lemon, and Jack Daniels will make you not care about television or the internet.

~You are better off not caring about television or the internet.

~Put on some soft music, knit something mindless, cuddle a kitty, and sleep. You will feel so much better.

~Most importantly, respect your body. Rest. Heal. The world will wait, and you're not missing anything.

~These lessons may also turn out to be useful when you are not sick.

And, on that note, I'm going to take a nap.

Monday, January 07, 2013

St. Distaff's Day

...or Another Excuse to Spend A Day Spinning.

Back when spinning was a "real job", St. Distaff day was the traditional day that spinners went back to work, the day after Twelfth Night. Naturally, they were thrilled to be back at their spinning wheel, and made excuses to celebrate.  There is no St. Distaff, but in those days, every holiday was in honour of one saint or another, so the spinners (clever girls that they were) made a new saint to celebrate. And we celebrate to this day.

(For you non-spinny types, a distaff is a spinning tool. It is a rod or board used to hold unspun fibre, especially flax, and keep it organized and tidy for the spinner to draft from. The actual patron saint of spinners is St. Serafina, who also happens to be the patron saint of the suffering and deformed. St. Catherine is also a patron saint to those who craft with wheels, such as spinners and potters. They have their own feast days, but not today!)

My celebration will consist of a day of plying. To be honest, I have not taken the Twelve Days of Christmas off from spinning. I have, in fact, done pretty much the opposite. I have done little else. Oh, a little cooking here and there, and ridiculous amounts of bread have been baked, but mostly, spinning.  I am running out of empty bobbins, though, so plying is becoming a must.  I have this...

 ...about 300g of Wensleydale top, handpainted by Spunky Eclectic in the November Spunky Club colour way "Not So Seaworthy" (inspired by a photo of a shipwreck, presumably a flaming shipwreck). Three singles with random colour placement for a 3-ply sock yarn.

And this...

...the rest of the NZ Crossbred roving, also from Spunky Eclectic, that I had spun before Christmas. Once this is plied, I should have enough for a vest.

St. Distaff will be well celebrated around here!

And what is a celebration without a feast?  January 7 also happens to be Ukrainian Christmas, which, being of Ukrainian descent, I observe with a massive feed of the family's favourite Ukrainian foods. There are holopchi (cabbage rolls)...

...and a massive number of hand-made peroghies...

Along with a big pot of borscht, some poppy seed roll, and a roast, this will be an epic feast.

I will admit that we are a day late this year with this feast. Tradition dictates that the Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve on the Gregorian calendar, but family scheduling made tonight a better night to do this. And it works out just right for me. I have to hang around the house as all of the food that I prepared over the weekend slowly cooks to perfection in the oven. I have plying to do. And it's St. Distaff day, a day to celebrate spinning.

So whatever this day brings, remember to take a moment to make a little string in honour of a non-existent saint and celebrate the magic of what it is that we do when we take a fistful of fluff and turn it into something wonderful to knit or weave with. And if you don't know how to spin, hug someone who does--and maybe they'll offer you a lesson or two! And if you don't have a spinner around to hug, celebrate anyway.

Because life is good.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Truth About "True Woolen"

I've been laying low and spinning for the past few weeks, with sporadic bursts of baking and holiday gatherings thrown in to keep things interesting. I've been pondering the projects I am taking on, preparing for my 2013 workshops, and writing. And all of this means I have been thinking way to much about the minutiae of our craft.

So I was deep in this place of over-thinking when the dreaded phrase that never fails to raise my blood pressure came up again. This phrase is one commonly used in technical spinning circles, but it's definition varies from expert to expert. It is a phrase that strikes terror in the hearts of spinners everywhere. And it is a lie. This phrase is "TRUE WOOLEN".

Spot the "true" woollen. C'mon, I dare ya!
 As spinners, we all want to do it "right". We want to make our yarns in the best traditional manner we can. But few of us actually understand the physics and mechanics of making the yarn, even the most experienced of us. We rely on the experts and gurus who have taught us for the correct language, the proper terminology, and the correct definition of the terms. As a teacher, I have seen dozens of people who have spun, successfully, for years suddenly throw everything they know out the window because a famous teacher told them that they were doing it "wrong".

Now, I am not a fan of the "there is no right or wrong" school of spinning, either. I do believe that some techniques are more effective than others, and that learning these techniques and refining them will make you a better spinner.  And, sometimes, you have to learn the less-effective techniques, too. Learning the "wrong" thing will often help you understand the "right" thing. There are several very effective ways to make yarn, each with its own virtues and shortcomings, each with a very specific outcome. It is learning which techniques works best for the result you want that sets you free to be a great spinner.

As I see it, the problem does not lie in the "right" and "wrong" techniques. It lies in the language we use to describe these techniques. And some of the most misleading and inaccurate language exists in the phrase "true woolen".

Here's what's wrong with that phrase: "true woolen" is far too often used to describe a drafting technique rather than the yarn. Woolen and worsted are words that describe YARNS, not techniques. I cringe every time I hear someone say, "I'm working on perfecting my worsted drafting." or some such other twaddle. (Though I will admit that I frequently joke that "that's some of the worsted drafting I've ever seen!") I reiterate: worsted is NOT a drafting technique. Nor is woollen. They are the resultant yarns.

Briefly, to clarify: A woolen yarn is one in which the fibres, after spinning, plying, and finishing, lie in a non-parallel arrangement. The fibres, when examined, will be jumbled in all directions, pushing outward and making a fuzzy, lofty yarn. A worsted yarn, on the other hand, is one in which the fibres, after spinning, plying, and finishing, lie parallel to each other. These fibres will be arranged in a smooth, linear manner, pulled close together and pushing up and down along the length of a smooth, compact yarn.
For the uninitiated, worsted is on the left, woolen is on the right.
What determines whether a yarn is woolen or worsted is NOT how long your drafting zone is, or how fast or slow you draft, or whether you double draft or not. It is how the twist enters the fibre and how it stays there. There are several steps to creating a woolen or a worsted yarn, which I will not go into in detail here today. Let it suffice to say that selection and preparation of fibres, spinning techniques (including spinning wheel set-up!), plying, and finishing techniques are all factors in making these different styles of yarns successfully. And the more of these steps that are appropriate to the style of the yarn, the closer to "true" woolen or worsted we get.

Woolen yarns are best spun from non-parallel arrangements of fibre, such as roving or rolags. However, there are ways of spinning parallel arrangements, such as sliver or top, to achieve a woolen result. It's just easier to start the way you intend to continue. Non-parallel arrangements will obviously be easier to turn into non-parallel yarns, and vice-versa for parallel arrangements. Drafting techniques that allow the fibres to stay non-parallel (i.e. by not pulling them out straight before allowing the twist in) will obviously keep those fibres in that configuration.

And it is at this point that I get a little testy. There is pretty much one way to draft a worsted yarn: by pulling the fibres straight and guiding twist in with your lead hand. There are several ways to draft a woolen yarn, all variations on a theme. We attenuate (pull the fibres into a thin line) and allow the twist to go where it will. We do not guide the twist in, we do not control or compact our fibres with our lead hand. We pull those fibres thin over a space of a few inches, or we can pull them out to the full extension of our arm. We can pinch fibres to control the rate at which the twist grabs them, or we can let the twist travel unimpeded. (We call the first "supported long draw" and the latter "unsupported long draw".) We can use a Scotch-tension wheel, or a bobbin-led, or a double-drive. Or a spindle. No matter how fast or slow we draft, no matter how long we pull back, these techniques all achieve the same result: a non-parallel yarn.

Adherents of the "true woolen" draft insist that we must draft quickly and with little control, relying on "double-drafting" (another bugaboo--don't get me started!) to smooth out our yarns. They sneer at slow, controlled drafting, or at "supported" drafting as being less than traditional and resulting in inferior yarns. They tell us that other methods make our yarns "too tight for woollen", or worse, the dreaded "semi-woolen".  They tell us that woolen yarns must be, by definition, uneven in the singles, lumpy and slubby. They tell us that we cannot make a lace-weight or thin woolen, that woolen must be thick to be lofty. They are wrong, or at least inaccurate, on all counts. The simple fact of the matter is, if you do not guide the twist into fully parallel fibres over a short, controlled space, you are making a woolen yarn. Tight, loose, even, uneven, thick, thin, semi-, hemi-, or demi-, WOOLEN.

 I think it is time to put a stop to this nonsense. We have got to stop labelling one drafting method as a "true woolen" technique, and we have to start looking at what the language of our craft means. Let's stop using the word "woolen" to talk about drafting and start using the proper words like long-draw and short-draw. Let's stop quibbling over "supported" and "unsupported". Let's make the yarn that we want to make, in the best way that works for us and stop putting false labels on the way we do it.

Lets make yarn that is true for us.