Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dad

It has been a long time since we last met. Approximately a year and a half. It's not that I haven't had things to tell you, exciting things! It's just that my life has been so busy and eventful that there just wasn't time. Yes. That's it. That's the reason. Shut up now.

However, the time has finally come to put this hiatus to an end and resume our beautiful friendship. It's for a VERY exciting reason. My dear friends, I have become a spinner of yarns.

Wordplay aside, I've taken up spinning as a hobby. Now, I know what you're thinking. "But Abra," you're saying in your head. "You already have so many hobbies! Maybe you should get a job?" Hush, my little friends. I've been mildly interested in spinning for a long time-- ever since Ayala and I attempted to make our own yarn from the fleece of a kibbutz sheep. That is a cool story, actually, but we'll save it for another time. The point is that the seed was planted several years ago, then hibernated under my bed in the form of a plastic bag full of itchy, stained sheep's wool full of burrs and other plant matter, and then finally came to fruition about three months ago, when I happened to learn of a woman in my neighborhood who offers free spinning lessons to any interested comers. I called her and started taking lessons. We sat in her kitchen drinking tea, chatting, and spinning on her two Ashford wheels. It wasn't a totally intuitive skill, and it took a few lessons before I could maintain a good, steady pace. The resulting yarn was overspun, underspun, kinked, slubbed, and generally hideous, but hey, it was yarn that I had made out of wool, and that was pretty cool. "You need a wheel," Paula told me, and I agreed.

First spinning attempts with Paula.

Soon after we began our lessons, I flew home to New York for a cousin's wedding and a quick family visit. I had told my dad I wanted a wheel and we determined to put our heads together and see what could be done. He offered to build me one from an Etsy schematic, but we were short on time and I wasn't sure how I'd be able to get it back to Israel with me, so instead he found a prospective wheel on Craigslist and one freezing night we drove out to Ronkonkoma to check it out. The Nilus Leclerc wheel wasn't new-- the model was produced between 1974 and 1976-- and it was missing a small part or two and had some chinks in it, but it was a good make and Daddy managed to bargain it down to $100. (In contrast, a new Ashford wheel costs about $700, and non-brand-name models are about $230 at the cheapest.) It was an early birthday present.

Elizabeth at home.

We had some work to do, though-- Daddy had to use his ingenuity and garage resources to fabricate a few parts, and we had to buy candlewicking to make a drive band. And we also had to figure out how to make a drive band. There was a lot of research done (by my dad) and a lot of nagging and worrying done (by me) but by the time I was ready to fly back, we had practiced disassembling and reassembling the wheel several times, managed to provide all missing parts, and packed it carefully, in pieces, into a garment bag. The first thing I did when I got back was reassemble the wheel.

Then there were a few very frustrating weeks in which I would fiddle with the wheel, try to figure out why it wasn't running smoothly, do some online research, try this and that solution, send my dad long ranting emails about my attempts to fix the wheel, get back dozens of links to useful websites and tutorials that confused me, and generally fail to get the wheel into working condition. It was a rough time. I knew if my father had been there we would have figured it out in a day, but on my own it was a lot harder and I wasn't sure if I would ever get it working. There were small victories (the day I finally figured out how a drive band works, for example), but the wheel just wouldn't turn smoothly no matter what I did.

First yarn I spun on a dysfunctional Elizabeth. (Crappy, in case you can't tell.)

Then I had the breakthrough. The woman who had sold us the wheel found some accessories in her storage and mailed them to my dad, who sent them to Israel through the kindness of a fiber friend. The package included two carders (for combing raw wool into spinnable pieces), a niddy-noddy (for winding spun yarn into skeins) and, most importantly, a 1953 manual on spinning, which turned out to be instrumental. This book, "Your Handspinning", by Elsie G. Davenport, complete with tons of hand-drawn illustrations, troubleshooting, and stern gems such as "Skeins which come undone in the dyebath, skeins of which the beginning and end are lost when they are wanted for use, skeins with so few ties that they cannot be properly shaken out, are a disgrace to the spinner who made them", broke the whole thing wide open. ("What about buying an old wheel?" Elsie warned. "Here are temptations and pitfalls innumerable!" Thanks, Elsie.)

Spinning manual with attitude.

I read it cover-to-cover. When I was done, I KNEW WHAT I HAD TO DO. It was the easiest fix in the world. I will not bore you with the details. The only thing I had to do was tie a loop instead of a cord and voila. It worked. It worked like a charm. Like a dream. Before I knew it I was spinning that scratchy old sheep's wool like a pro. Or rather, like a person who has just learned how to spin.

Spinning like a pro.

I only got better from there. I figured out the rhythm of my spinning wheel (which I have named Elizabeth, by the way), figured out how to solve all the niggly problems I'd had, figured out how to stop twist from coming down into my roving, figured out how to make a fairly even, continuous thread. I am far from perfect or even good, but since I got my wheel I've been steadily improving. Here's an early example and a later one for comparison. The yarn is much less slubby and uneven now. I GET how it works now.

Left: early attempt. Right: more advanced. You are very impressed.

In the meantime, my dad's birthday was growing closer. He loves when I knit him presents, so my mind started churning. What better present, I reasoned, could I give my dad than something I made from yarn that I spun using the wheel that he had procured and fixed up for me? The wheel that I had somehow made work, using the mechanical and mental problem-solving skills with which he had gifted ME? Nothing could be better. However, I was then faced with the problem of what to make him, because the yarn I'd made was, well, pretty ugly to tell the truth and there also wasn't a lot of it. Certainly not nearly enough to make a pair of the trademark socks I usually knit for him. Not enough for a hat, which wouldn't be useful anyway, as my dad's birthday is in May. What in the world could I make for an adult male out of bits of beginner handspun? A coffee-cup cozy, perhaps?

This was the thought process that led me to making the ugliest thing in the world.

The idea of a coffee-cup cozy was cute, but impractical; my dad would never use it. I wanted to make something useful above all. So I decided to make a bowl. The yarn I had made was pure wool-- it would felt easily into a sturdy, useful receptacle for nails or screws or other doo-dads, of which my father has many. The colors were bad, but felted, I figured, they wouldn't be THAT bad. So I started, with the first successful wool I had spun-- a mint/forest-green blend. But as I knit, it soon became clear that there just wouldn't be enough. So, reluctantly, I added in the second yarn I had spun, a colorway I'd named "Yellow Lemonade" for obvious reasons.

Forest Mint and Yellow Lemonade.

Well, dear friends, Yellow Lemonade and Forest Mint did not mesh well together. But I had already begun, and I wasn't going to give up now. (Though I should have.) The colors weren't the point, after all. After a few hours of knitting I had produced a hideous, shapeless piece of knitting that looked like a hat for a blind bucket. Luckily there is no photographic evidence of this stage of its existence.

The next day I prepared to felt. Since my washing machine locks when it starts a cycle I can't use it for felting, which requires frequent checking and shaping during the felting process. I poured out a bucketful of hot soapy water, dropped in the knitted thing and began to agitate it with a broomstick. I did this in my backyard. I can only imagine what my neighbors thought I was doing. Perhaps interrogating a hat for sensitive information, or simply torturing it in order to avenge some crime it had committed against me.


I went through three bucketfuls of hot water. The bowl quickly began to shrink and shed, growing smaller and hairier with every slosh. The colors blended in an unholy mixture of hot pink and green-gray, colors that God had never intended to be joined together. I withdrew the thing from the water, gave it a last wring, and wrangled it onto a glass bowl for shaping.


It was hard to look at, honestly. But I didn't see a way out. Then another Ravelry user commented on my picture, suggesting I dye it. That wasn't possible because I don't have any dye or means of getting some, but it did give me an idea-- I could embroider pleasing designs on the bowl to distract the eye from its monstrosity. I did so. It sort of worked.

Last resort embroidery.

Well, it wasn't WORSE. But now I had to hide all those ugly knots and things on the inside of the bowl. I lined it with some felt and added one of my "Made by Abra" labels.

Yes, I admit that I Frankensteined this into existence.

I am not proud of creating the ugliest thing in the world. But here it is: a felted bowl knit from the very first yarn that I ever spun on my spinning wheel, made as a tribute to my father. There is love in every awful stitch. Hopefully, one day the yarn that Elizabeth and I make together will be worthy of a pair of socks for my dad, and on that day we will lay those socks next to this bowl and we will laugh and laugh. But until then, this thing exists as a testament to my parents' generosity, my dad's handiness, and my own stubborn perseverance. May this bowl go on to live a long, fruitful life, hidden from the view of decent people, in my dad's garage, full of drill bits or zip ties. Happy birthday, Daddy!

(P.S. Let it be noted that I wrote this post approximately 3 weeks prior to my dad's birthday AND his suggestion that I write a post about spinning. Do I know him or what?!?)

Couldn't have done it with you, Dad!


  1. This is the best blog post ever!!! I love everything about it!!!

  2. Waba,

    Thank you for this heartfelt & beautifully crafted post, and hopefully-to-arrive-any-minute-now present. Schpilkas and kvelling galore!!!


  3. Beautiful!!! i cant wait to see more "ugly" creations bu Abra And Elizabeth!!!