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Posts Tagged ‘homesteading’

Spring is for growth and change.  I think I’m doing a pretty good job of celebrating that this year.  But I’m also prone to biting off more than I can chew, so we’ll have to see how this all plays out.

I’m sorting, purging, and cleaning of course. I spent three weeks with a stupid back injury from some ridiculously mundane activity and haven’t been able to do a normal spring clean and it has been DRIVING ME CRAZY.  I’m going against my nature and trying NOT to make up for lost time but rather pace myself and be content with small victories.  Ugh. Small victories suck. I want ACTION!

So, I completed cleaned and sorted my file cabinet.  Who still has tax returns from 1996? This girl did.  I also had manuals for appliances purchased 15 years ago-even if I still have the appliance, I confess that there have only been 2 times in the last TWENTY YEARS that I actually have needed to look at a manual. And yet I saved them all.  Not anymore!

One really neat thing that I found was a bunch of my writing.  For several years before I began this blog, I had another one with quite a bit more traffic.  It was….more colorful than this one.  I generally try to keep this pretty tame, but the other was full of personal information and a bit of scandalous behavior.  I wrote a lot between 2001-2006, and it was neat to see some of that work.  I also found a bunch of my old zines.  For those who aren’t familiar with the term, they are a low cost publication, often in black and white, sometimes created by an individual and other times with a group. They can be a single publication but are often published as a series.

Anyway, I found some of my old zines and it was interesting to look through them. I’ve decided to publish them as e-books here.

I’m also sorting through other areas of my home.  I have a lot of cool stuff. Not as much cool stuff as my mother, but since many of my cool things are hand-me-downs from her house, I still have some neat things.  If you like antique oddities.  She most recently gave me a box of old books-one on Eugenics from 1904 which, at quick glance, has little to do with racism and more to do with how to feed your baby so that it doesn’t have “fits”, like…bonafide daily convulsions which were apparently commonplace 112 years ago.

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She also gave me a complete set of first edition Foxfire books, including the one with my husband’s grandparents in it.

I love old things.

Yesterday I scored a couple of neat old things.  A vintage suitcase (the one on top) to go with my collection.  I use them in my studio to store all of my supplies (2nd photo), and I need a few more for my Pike Place Market display.

But my big score yesterday was a 1936 Figidaire.  We’re going to repaint it and have to replace the handle (right now we’re opening it with a screwdriver) but it seems to be going strong and keeping things cold at 80 years old.

 

I’ve been in this appliance quandary and am glad to have it settled.  As you may know, our household has access to about 10 amps of electricity (most U.S. homes have 200).  We seem to do just fine with this, but it does require consideration for new purchases.  It’s not as if we couldn’t have more…we could upgrade the lines and put in bigger power, but this self-imposed limit is a good thing for us.  It’s a good thing for everyone.  And since we heat with wood, cook with gas or wood, use an outdoor bath tub, and do our washing at the laundromat…the refrigerator is probably our biggest electricity draw.   In case you were wondering, our electric bill is about $15 per month. We have a small (about 3.7 cubic feet) refrigerator which we purchased new about 5 years ago and is already a piece of junk.  It’s the 3rd one we’ve owned in the past 12 years.  Supposedly, refrigerators made prior to the late 1940s rival today’s energy efficient ones and from what I’ve read…the slightly larger one (4.7 cubic feet) we’ve just purchased will use the same amount that we’re using.  And it’ll match our 1920s green and cream cookstove perfectly.

FYI, no home we visited in Europe had even an apartment sized fridge.  They were all in the 3-4 cubic foot range.  Even for families.  Even houses in rural areas.

Okay, back to more new stuff.  I PASSED MY ENTRANCE EXAMS AND WAS ACCEPTED INTO COLLEGE!  That’s really the biggest news.  I’m going back to finish my teaching degree. Because of my schedule and location, I wanted an online program with a lot of flexibility but a good reputation and accreditation.  I think this one will work. It is competency based, which may allow me to move more quickly through some courses since I have years of teaching experience.

The reason for going back to school?  Earning a degree is important to me, but looking ahead I’ve realized that I can’t keep up this level of yarn production. I may choose to partner with another spinner (if my daughters are reading this, I’m looking at YOU!) or even start over with yet another fiber business.  But, I’m thinking that it would be good for me to have a backup plan and that could be substitute teaching. While I don’t see myself working full time in a public school, the local districts need help and working a couple of days a week might pair nicely with a fiber business. Or social security.

The other idea is that it might allow me to travel.  I’m not too keen on teaching English in Asia, but I might be interested in teaching 3rd grade in Scotland for a year.

And who knows? What I’d really like to do is to design curriculum. I mean, I already do this…but am hoping that having a degree might allow me to better market myself and perhaps I could find work if I’m a certified teacher.

So yeah. Big news.

At this moment, I’ve got way too much on my plate and I’m trying to sort out which thing will have to go.  School, yarn business online with occasional events, yarn business as a Pike Place Vendor, part time health and nutrition program coordinator at Washington State University, teaching summer quarter for kids academic enrichment program (ala Hogwarts) at a local community college, Finney Farm education outreach, farming, homeschooling my soon to be 15 year old.  I can’t complain about having too many options, but I’m going to have to spend some time in the next few months sorting out my game plan, since I’m set to being school in the fall.

And finally, as a reward for getting through this long winded post, I’ll post some food porn and a recipe for MAPLE BLOSSOM FRITTERS. Which are amazing.

To make them, collect new blossoms and shake them off a bit in case they contain any little critters. Mine didn’t, but I guess it’s possible.  Make the fritter batter (simple vegan and gluten free recipe below) and dredge the blossoms in it.  Dredging is a culinary term mostly used for dry coatings, but the process is the same…you don’t need to really immerse but rather drag the blossom through the batter. I used a fork laid across the blossom as I was pulling it out to remove extra batter.  Fry in oil. I had intended to do some as savory treats with a homemade chutney or sauce but wound up coating all of the ones in this batch in powdered sugar.  Which was amazing.

4-6 cups blossoms
2 cups flour (I used half gluten free flour mix and half rice flour)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp corn starch
2 cups cold  water
vegetable oil
powdered sugar

And finally…coupon code for free shipping at www.yarnarchy.etsy.com
SPRINGSHIPPING

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So…I have a job.  It’s a pretty neat job as jobs go.  It is part time, and has a few different components but the basic theme is teaching nutrition to elementary school students and helping initiate a cafeteria reform program to encourage healthier lunchrooms.

As some of you may have heard, for most sellers Etsy has been slowly tanking since they went public.  August 2013 saw some big organizational changes including the option of designers outsourcing the making/shipping of their products. This opened up the Etsy market to hundreds of thousands of new shops, changing much of the dynamic from artisan products to mass produced imports.  So this kind of sucked, and my sales declined quite a bit for the next 6 months.  It has been a year and half since that change, and although my sales have increased, they’re still not back to 2010-2012 levels.  I increased the number craft/art shows I participate in, dropped the local farmer’s market as it was definitely not profitable, and worried about the security of my income a LOT more.

I tend to be somewhat conservative, business and money wise.  When I was growing up, my family made their income from the commercial fishing industry and you may have heard the saying “Spend money like a fisherman.”  There was either a lot of money or none at all.  As an adult, I’ve tried for a more secure middle ground.  My idea of “security” is vastly different than most though; I’d never (even as a child) had health care until the recent standardized program, I’ve never had vacation or sick leave, no 401k, and so on. I’ve mostly build security by having little to no debt.  I own my house outright, no car payments, and I really try to keep our overhead low.  We shop at thrift stores, grow much of our own food, do most repairs ourselves, and try to lead a good life with what we have now rather than what we can pay back later.

But I don’t have a lot of disposable income, preferring to spend time with my family and working in our non-profit land trust project rather than working to build a hefty savings account.  So when my sales drop, I see a pretty immediate affect.  As a sole proprietor I also don’t have any protection if I’m injured on the job, which is inevitable given that most of my work involves repetitive motion.  Because of the way I’ve chosen to run my business, I basically make enough but not much more than that.  I could change things….I haven’t raised my prices in 6 years in spite of the fact my fiber cost has doubled since then.  I do little or no wholesale, so that I can keep my price points low. I want people like me to be able to buy my yarn. Maybe I couldn’t afford to knit a dozen $200 sweaters, but I could save up and make one.  Maybe not all of my knitting could be with $20 per skein yarn, but certainly some of it could be.  I could outsource the making to other spinners who are willing to work for a pittance and profit off of their labor; they’re out there, both locally and internationally.  I could switch most of the production to millspun, as Spincycle has done.  I could focus on being an indie dyer and move toward little to no handspun.

However, I like the way I run my business.  I just wish the sales were a bit higher and more consistent.  Except that I can’t keep production spinning for years. Yeah, forgot about that.

In May of last year I contacted a former employer about a coordinator position.  This employer is federally funded and is geared toward research and education for agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, and community members.  The position was already filled, but they continued to stay in contact-applying for a grant which would allow me to join their program.  I began in October, and the position runs through the school year.  18 hours a week, teaching kids about nutrition, a nearly perfect fit with my lifestyle.  I can still make yarn but would have a financial cushion.  I could spend time teaching kids during the year instead of just during the summer months as I normally teach a summer camp program at a local college.

Yesterday I discovered that the original coordinator position has re-opened, and I was asked to step in as interim.  I haven’t begun yet, but this job sounds great.  Exactly the sort of thing I have experience doing, and makes use of my inclination toward teaching as well as program organization and management.  It also allows me to work with adults including the senior population.  I think it even pays a bit better.

The drawback is that it is a year round program.  This should be a good thing but I do teach full time for 7 weeks in the summer and adding a part time job to my schedule during a super busy time on the farm….is daunting.  However, I think the biggest thing is that I am so very used to being self-employed.  My whole life operates according to the seasons.  I don’t know if most people can even conceive of this.  Here’s a tiny part of what it looks like:

Jan-March:  replenish yarn inventory, focus on homeschool, start working in the greenhouse, work on seed distro program, first farm intern arrives in Feb or March, catch up on admin duties like grant writing, applications for craft fairs, web design.

April-June: decreasing focus on yarn, more homeschool, 3 or 4 interns to education and manage, much work on planning/growing/installing 2 acres of annual food crops.

July-Sept: teach 7 week program at college, 3-5 interns, continue work on garden but begin CSA plus harvesting, food preservation, fall garden, try to get a week long family camping vacation in, mid August begin replenishing yarn inventory, back to homeschool in the fall.

Oct-Dec: extremely busy with yarn business including 6-8 craft fairs plus busiest Etsy quarter, finish farm harvest and food preservation, interns leave late November, work on seed distro program by harvesting/curing/processing seed, knit/crochet 100+ ready to wear items for sale, christmas.

So the year round thing is worrisome but do-able.  But they also wanted to know if I’d be interested in full time employment!  Full time!  I do like the work–both practically and ideologically–but what a change that would be.  In regard to financial security…it would be pretty awesome.  Health Care! Vacation!  401k!  But right now, I just don’t think I can give up the rest of what I have going on.  If nothing else, I have a 13 year old who’ll only be spending every day with me for a few more years at best.

And yarn. I love yarn.  I love fiber.  I’m wrecking havoc on my body parts by spinning 200ish pounds of fiber a year, and I’m accepting that I need to change what I’m doing. I can’t do this full time for the next decade, even if the money was great. My fiber goals is 2015 are:  buy an e-spinner (cheaper than replacing my knees and ankles), design 6 more patterns, do more sewing (my first fiber love), increase number of yarn subscriptions (I’d love for 25% of my business to be memberships!), learn to use my knitting machines, do more home yarn parties.

I felt like I was working, working, working in my thirties. Maybe my forties will be about working less but making more. That would be pretty darn awesome.

Speaking of awesome, I did promise some yarn photos.  I have a limited amount of this new yarn-Bliss, a single ply fingerling, 100 gram skeins measure 329 yards, 50% Baby Alpaca and 50% Mulberry Silk.  Pretty amazing.  I really can’t even describe the softness.

I’ve also been selling quite a bit more art yarns, both Thicket and Thin as well as Shearlocked.  So I’ve been making more of that as well. Right now, my shop is decently stocked with over 120 different colorways or products. I’ll probably have another 20 over the next couple of weeks.  Don’t forget that January is my Knitting For Pleasure month.  I offer a coupon code for 10% off (KNITTINGFORPLEASURE)  because I want to acknowledge and reward all of the dedication and hard work my fellow knitters put in over the fall and early winter for holiday gifting.  This is the time to do something for yourself.  As for me, I’ve been into stranded colorwork lately and thrummed mittens. I’ll post a photo of those projects too.

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Normally I consider myself to be an early riser. I am, in fact, the only early riser in my household.  I like to be in bed around 10:30, and wake around 6:30.  However, even though I am a native Washingtonian (such a rare breed these days), November is a difficult month for me.  I am fat and sleepy.  I’ve been a vegan for over a decade and I know that many people think that we are all emaciated anemics, but those types clearly don’t have my awesome inherited metabolism which hoards every calorie, like a greedy dragon sitting on a big, round, bulging pile of jewels.  I have been on enough diets to know that I can’t lose anything unless I’m eating 1000 calories or less per day (15-20 points on the ol’ weight watchers system) which I am clearly not doing, but dang it! I’m hungry! It is cold outside and I just want to eat soup and bread all day. Even when the bread is gluten free, and I’m topping it with Earth’s Balance organic vegan margarine, and even when the soup is basically fat free…somehow I’m still managing to round up.

But let me tell you….when the system collapses, my people will still be healthy while my husband’s tribe, the 5000+ calorie a day type, perish within weeks.  My people are savers.

So I’m hungry, and I’m tired.  I am dragging myself out of bed at 8:30, which wouldn’t be so bad except that I WENT TO BED AT 7:30.  Seriously.  It is just so darn dreary in November.

A few years back, we had some visitors who were thinking of moving to our farm.  One was originally from Israel, and the other from California.  They asked me “Some friends told us that you can’t see the sun here for months at a time, is it true?”  I sputtered and told them of course we could see the sun!  I didn’t know where their friends got the information but they were clearly misinformed.  A few overcast days later, it occurred to me that I was thinking of northern Alaska weather, with their months of darkness.  I asked the visitors “Do you mean can we see the actual sun?  Like actually the orb in the sky, not just the light from it?  Oh. No, we totally can’t see that.”  We get about 97 inches of rainfall per year in my little microclimate, and about 1/6 of that (12+ inches) happens in November.  Although Seattle is behind several other major US cities in terms of rainfall…we are hours from the city and it’s a heck of a lot wetter in this neck of the woods.

I’ll stop bellyaching about the darn weather, and get back to the good stuff.

The weather (and bowls of hot soup) officially signify the beginning of knitting season. I am spinning and knitting my days away, and gearing up for a couple of big shows in December…not to mention my biggest sale of the year. What? You forgot?  Mark it on your calendars!!!!

  • November 28th –Dec 1st SALE-free US shipping from all three of my Etsy shops.  For international customers, I will subtract and refund the cost of US shipping from your order.
  • Additionally, you may use a coupon code for 10% off nearly everything in the store-no discount on bulk pricing listings or membership/yarn clubs although you may use it on gift certificates.  This coupon is good in all three of my Etsy shops. With free shipping and 10% off, this is my largest sale of 2013.  The coupon code is: BUYNOTHINGBUTETSY
  • I will still be offering my Buy 6 Get 1 Free promotion, and the coupon code may be used for that as well.  This only happens once a year!!!
  • For those of you shopping other times throughout the month, please feel free to use this coupon code for free shipping: WINTERSHIPPING
  • Drawings!  I like to offer some customer appreciation around this time of year—with each Etsy order, new blog subscriber, new Facebook follower, or new Ravelry project through Dec 15th, your name will be entered into a drawing.   I’ll be giving away three $25 gift certificates on Dec 16th.
  • Speaking of gift certificates, I can offer them in any dollar amount. These make fabulous gifts, as do my yarn club membership packages.  You may want to add these to your holiday wish or gift giving list!
  • Event schedule:Belling ham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, Urban Craft Uprising  in Seattle Dec 7th and 8th, and Crafty Wonderland in Portland Dec 14th and 15th.
  • SHOP EARLY FOR THE BEST SELECTION!  I have SO many upcoming events, don’t wait until the last moment!

I’m serious about those yarn club memberships making great gifts.  Don’t forget to put it on your wish list!  I have them in 3, 6, and 12 month increments, you can get handspun or sock yarn or a combination of both. You can upgrade any of them to a deluxe membership which includes luxury fibers and art yarns…oh the possibilities!  I have had several customers use their membership to make a sweater or wrap–I chose themed colors (fall, jewel tones, etc) and each month was a new and wonderful addition to their growing project.

Speaking of projects, I have a couple to share. The first is a lovely lace cowl made with 1/3 of a skein of sock yarn-the pattern is free on Ravelry here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/horseshoe-lace-cowl

DSCF8594 DSCF8595 DSCF8596I didn’t make this one myself, I did a trade with a wonderful woman on Ravelry…but I think I’d better start knitting because I can make three of these babies from one skein and they’ll make excellent gifts!

The next one is a cowl I made a couple of years ago. The pattern was on my blog, but I can’t seem to locate it. It is super easy, a great use of art yarn, and uses less than one skein.  Plus, it can be used as a cowl or headband…what’s not to love?

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This pattern uses Yarnarchy art yarn, made with uncarded locks of kid mohair. I find the woven look of the seed stitch to look great with the contrast of the unruly locks.  The photos feature the Haint colorway, made with handpainted roving in smoky charcoal and ebony paired with bright sulphur yellow mohair locks. You’ll need  about 80 yards of yarn (heavy worsted, about 2.8 oz per 100 yards), and size 7 or 8 needles.

Cast on 22 stitches.

Row 1: K1, P1 to end

Row 2: P1, K1 to end

Continue in this manner until the cowl measures about 20-22 inches in length (depending on head /neck size and desired fit).  Beginning with a row 1, K,P,K,P Bind Off 1, continue to end. You should have 17 stitches on your needle, with a bound off stitch on every 3rd stitch.

On the next row, begin with the P1, K1 pattern but cast on one stitch in each place where one was bound off previously.  This should return you to 22 stitches on your needle, and 5 small evenly placed button holes across the edge.  Knit 1 row, then bind off next row.

If you want to use larger buttons, you can bind off two and adjust spacing to include 4 buttonholes.  I generally prefer to make tighter buttonholes as they have a tendency to grow over time. I rarely if ever unbutton my cowl, preferring to slide it over my head. This means the buttonholes can be fairly tight.

Sew 7/8” or 1” buttons on the opposite end and you’re ready to go!

If the locks are not popping out as you’d like, take a small crochet hook to pull the ends through to the right side of the fabric.

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A new blog post…  Oh my darling readers, we have so much catching up to do!  I have had such a busy autumn and looked at the calendar yesterday to realize that we’re halfway through November. Somehow seems an impossibility.

Those of you who have spent at least a  little time in Cascadia can appreciate the oddity of having 50 days without rain, broken only by an afternoon shower before another 25+ days of drought.  I know in some parts of the world this would be normal and people would go about their day, secure in their expectation of friendly, convenient, dry weather.  In our neck o’ the woods though, folks were downright disconcerted.  We spoke in hushed tones to one another in the bank, worried that we would jinx ourselves into an instant deluge.  We scanned the weather forecasts each day in rapt disbelief as a line of 7 smiling sunshines gazed up at us, bold as brass.  Our theme was incredulity, skepticism, dubiety, confusion.

At my house, we actually left some of our things OUTSIDE.  Like  I could just leave my jacket draped over a log in the yard and four days later there it would remain, intact.  Definitely not found completely soaked, spotted with mildew, and home to half a dozen slugs.

The weather was dandy and warm and we left during the second week of October for the Okanogan Family Faire, or Barter Faire.  Typically folks from the west side of the mountains practically freeze at this event with temperatures often in the teens.  This time, it was positively balmy.  Both Robert and I were coordinators this year… and between running the booth, monitoring kids and teens, and working for the fair, we were totally swamped.   Upon our return, we discovered that the drought had ended with gusto.  It was a mad rush to take care of produce before everything cracked from the increase in moisture, and more than one wet, sluggy jacket was tossed in the wash.

After gallons of applesauce and apple cider, bushels of dry beans and crocks of sauerkraut, we finally wrapped up most of what we had to accomplish and I was able to spend some much needed time on fiber.  My poor family!  If I had less pride I would post a photo of what they’ve been dealing with for the past 6 weeks.  As most of you know, I live in a small stone cottage. It’s basically a 400 square foot main room, with two little bedrooms in the tower and another little (we’re talking 70-100 square feet here) room.  I have a corner of this room for spinning. A nice antique arm chair, a couple of wheels, a 1940’s sideboard filled with yarn, and a small shelf with hooks to hang bags of roving.  Maybe the whole works takes up 40 square feet.  Lately though, I seem to have built myself a giant nest of fiber spilling out  into  nearly a quarter of the room. I’m not kidding.  Bags, baskets, boxes of fiber, loose piles of pounds of wool roving…starts at the floor and stacks to about 7 feet high all around me.  I literally sit and spin surrounded by loose fiber 2 or three feet deep.  See? I wasn’t joking about the nest thing.

Sometimes I wonder if I could develop a hairball.  I know I lean heavily towards hypochondria, but surely it’s possible.  I must inhale a pound of airborne fiber a year.  Can I get a hairball in my lungs?  Dang. How do I google that?

Anyway, I spent some time last night reorganizing the fiber nest and I think I have it almost under control.

Speaking of control, I seem to have  entered stage one of hibernation mode and am eating like a little piggy.  Or I guess that would be a bear, duh. Once I start baking, it’s all over.  My recent favorite was a gluten-free/vegan decadent brownie torte with a lavender infused chocolate ganache.    I am often told that I should write a cookbook and although I would love to,  the truth is that I would have to spend all of my royalties on fat camp when I was through.   I inherited this great combination: a total love of food and an incredibly slow metabolism.  My sweetie basically eats and looks like a long distance runner without ever having run 50 yards in his life.   Our older daughter and I were on weight watchers a few years back and were counting points.  My recommended daily allotment was 24 which I changed to under 20 since I can only maintain and not lose at 24 a day.  I think 24 points is somewhere around 1300 calories.  Robert was watching us and suggested that he hadn’t eaten much that day and would like to count his own points.  We would up with pen and paper and measuring cups—his total, before supper mind you—his total was 160 points.  He had snacked away in one day what I was allotted for an ENTIRE WEEK and he hadn’t even eaten dinner yet!!  That’s okay.  If a big collapse of civilization ever happens, I’m totally going to  survive and he’ll be dead of starvation in a week.  My body practically hoards each and every calorie.

Wow. I had totally meant to write a post about yarn, and the Knit Fit event in Seattle a couple of weekends ago,  and dollmaking.  Rain, hairballs, and too many calories later and I’m running out of time.

I’ll post again quite soon-I have a new pattern I want to post. Also, I’m looking for folks who may want to test knitting or crochet patterns.  I will also be having a great big sale and fun promotions in November for Yarnarchy. Here are some details, followed by some photos of new and exciting yarns.

 

November Update!

The holiday season is upon us! I will be offering some GREAT deals in November, so read on.

  • November 22nd-25th SALE-free US shipping from all three of my Etsy shops.  For international customers, I will subtract and refund the cost of US shipping from your order.
  • Additionally, you may use a coupon code for 10% off nearly everything in the store-no discount on bulk pricing listings or membership/yarn clubs although you may use it on gift certificates.  This coupon is good in all three of my Etsy shops. With free shipping and 10% off, this is my largest sale of 2012.  The coupon code is: BUYNOTHINGBUTETSY
  • I will still be offering my Buy 6 Get 1 Free promotion, and the coupon code may be used for that as well.
  • For those of you shopping other times throughout the month, please feel free to use this coupon code for free shipping: WINTERSHIPPING
  • Drawings!  I like to offer some customer appreciation around this time of year—with each Etsy order through Dec 15th, your name will be entered into a drawing. For an even greater chance of winning, subscribe to my blog, follow me on Facebook, or post your Yarnarchy project on Ravelry.  Each will get your name entered an additional time. Three fabulous prizes will be drawn on Dec 16th which include two $25 gift certificates and the grand prize: a three month subscription in my yarn club!
  • Speaking of gift certificates, I can offer them in any dollar amount. These make fabulous gifts, as do my yarn club membership packages.  You may want to add these to your holiday wish or gift giving list!
  • All orders placed in November will also receive a free pattern!

Check my blog or Facebook in November for updates on amazing sales and my upcoming craft fairs in Seattle and Portland—I would love to meet you in person!

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“Why is this yarn ‘radical’?”  I love this question and wished I was called to answer it on more occasions.  Although I’d love to think my yarn was radical because of some particularly clever design on my part, the real reason is much simpler.  It’s handspun. Handmade. Hand-dyed.  Handspun yarn is sometimes difficult to discover in your local yarn shop, but US made handspun is virtually impossible to find.  There are lots of reasons for this: we mostly utilize more efficient machines and technology to make our yarn and we are taught that all technological advances are not only better but absolutely necessary, and in choosing outdated technology we are practically branded a social pariah or nutcase.  Another reason is imported goods, but I’ll come back to this later. Onto the technology rant…

I am not a cell phone person. I regularly receive comments when it is discovered that I don’t have a cell number but what if I decided to cart around one of those early cell phones? Remember those?  They were about a foot long and had a big antenna on the end,  circa 1989, I’m thinking.  What if instead of a Blackberry, I installed one of those really early car phones complete with huge black box and car receiver?  But wait, there’s more! Let’s step further back into the dark ages…all the way to 1974, the year I was born. I’m talking CB Radios.  Got a handle?  Ten four, good buddy.  But a CB radio isn’t quite at the same level of spinning wheel technology.  Rotary phone?  Shortwave radio? Party lines?  Switchboards? Telegraph? These still use electricity, so I’m going to go out on a limb and compare the spinning wheel with “the lover’s phone” or tin can telephone.  Remember making one as a kid? We’d take a piece of string, connect it at each end to the bottom of a cup or can, stretch it out and use the cans as diaphragms to help transmit our voices as soundwaves traveling along the taut string.

Can you imagine what might happen if, when asked for my cell number, I rifled through my shoulder bag and presented the inquiring party with one end of a tin can telephone?  How eccentric!  How delightfully retro! But it’s a joke, right?

I know, dear readers, that none of you would be shocked by someone sitting in front of a spinning wheel, using pedal power to put twist into fluffs of fiber. But you are knitters! Or crocheters!  For pete’s sake, you make fabric with two sticks or a hook!  You are already carrying a tin can telephone in your shoulder bag, so you really can’t be counted on for an “average” view.  Knitting and crochet has continued to be fashionable through the ages, and although it’s no longer an absolute necessity or taught to each child in school, it’s a recognizable activity.  When knitting in a coffee shop, I receive comments like “My grandma used to do that” or “I have a sister who’s totally into knitting lately.”  Spinning is a different story altogether.  When spinning in a coffee shop yesterday, observers expressed the typical gamet of responses.  I’ve had this experience so many times, I can play a game in my head trying to guess which response the approaching person will present and am usually quite accurate.  80% have never seen it before and ask what I’m doing.  Of this 80%, about a third will walk away thinking I’m a total nutter and wasting my time, the others are fascinated but most can’t imagine choosing to make yarn when one can just buy it.  Also, nearly all of the men and usually none of the women will ask questions about the mechanics of the wheel and ratios, not leaving until they are nodding with satisfaction at having mastered the mystery of the machine.  Of the remaining 20%, three quarters will stand about 10 feet away and speak in a stage whisper to child or husband, explaining in detail what it is that I am doing.  I try not to correct them unless asked, because they’re proud to be an authority and recognize what I’m doing even if they sometimes call my wheel a loom, or say that the fiber winds around the big wheel and up into the bobbin. The remaining 5% are spinners, or used to be spinners.  Sometimes they are super nice and we gleefully talk shop for a few moments, and sometimes they are braggers. You know the type…if you’ve managed to get front row seats, they remind you that they’ve had season tickets for years.  Box seats, even.  To sum, spinning yarn is no longer part of our reality. We don’t even recognize it in our vocabulary even though we still use words such as spinster, spin doctor…heck, we see flax seeds and flax seed oil everywhere but I’ll bet that more often than not, folks don’t know that flax is used to make linen fabric.

I think handspun feels so much different than machine spun. I use rainwater or springwater pumped 150 feet into the sink. Sometimes in the winter the water lines are frozen for weeks on end and dozens of 5 gallon buckets are hauled by hand, one at a time, from the spring and creek  for dyeing days (this alone could be responsible for my miserly attitude with regards to water usage).  I heat the fiber on a 1930’s gas stove and use about 5 gallons of gas a year.  I also heat and dye on the woodstove.  I dry the colorful roving behind my woodstove or in the sun, and I do the same with yarn blocking.   Although I do use electricity for the pump and gas for the stove, this isn’t a necessity. I can easily do the whole works without relying on technological gadgetry or electricity.

I really like non-electric technology.  I also like old things, and bygone eras, and I like anything that helps me be less dependent.  That’s one of the reasons I knit and crochet. I greatly appreciate handmade goods and I like the idea of being able to create what I need myself or being able to source other needed items from local people like myself.  If I buy acrylic yarn at Jo-Ann’s (which of course we’ve all done from time to time), I’m depending on a whole network of non-sustainable practices and technology to bring me that yarn.  The fiber itself is man-made from petroleum!  The lab or factory where it is created is dependent on electricity to operate (more petroleum and coal) using machines made from mined metals and plastics (more petroleum), and the factory workers in foreign countries are paid practically nothing and working in poor conditions. It is transported (more petroleum) across the world, sent to various distribution centers before winding up at my local chain fabric store which is built with all manner of non-sustainable materials, uses far too much electricity, and pays most of their employees minimum wage.   I don’t like that I can’t make a baby hat without participating in this system.   If I think about it, I start to get pretty angry actually because there was a time that one could visit the local dry goods store and purchase yarn made from natural fibers, produced locally or at least in the US.  It’s practically impossible to find in chain stores, and when we are able to, it’s so much more expensive!

This is true for both commercially spun yarn and handspun, particularly the handspun.   Yarn companies like Manos del Uruguay are found in most larger private yarn stores and are well known for their women’s cooperative and humanitarian award winning reputation.  But in Uruguay, a decent yearly salary is about $6,000. In the US, the average cost of renting a two bedroom apartment for a year costs twice that amount.   Because wages are so low in Uruguay, Manos is able to wholesale their handspun yarn for about $7 per skein to yarn shops….and that’s after paying customs fees and taxes, shipping costs, administration/sales/marketing, distribution costs, and materials,  so one can imagine the worker’s wage is quite low.   I consider myself to be a pretty fast spinner but if I offered a comparable product for the same price, I’d be making about $3.50 an hour.   Low foreign wages are also the reason that Manos was able to achieve 4 million in sales last year (70% in exports) with big name contracts such as J. Crew, Banana Republic, Bloomingdales, Ralph Lauren, and Victoria’s Secret buying the yarn at an even cheaper price, and outsourcing sweatshop labor to knit all manner of high end retail goodies.

Since most of my readers are knitters or crocheters themselves, they understand all too well the problem with imported goods.  The easiest way to be taken off my handmade gift list is to compare an item I made with something purchased at Walmart for $4.99. We all know how difficult it would be to make all or even part of our living from our handwork.  If we look at handknit socks for instance, we can probably estimate 10 knitting hours in the making of them.  If we were to pay ourselves $11 an hour…which, just so you know, is the Federal Poverty Level hourly wage for a household of four, if we paid ourselves that wage we’d need to charge $110 for a pair of socks.  And that isn’t even counting materials costs which could easily add another $100 if you were talking about locally produced, handspun sock yarn made with the same poverty level wages.  Since basically no one I know is willing or able to pay $210 for a pair of wool socks, I can pretty easily draw some conclusions about our economic system and culture. Some obvious conclusions:

1. Most of us do not place an appropriate value on handmade items.

2.  Our dependence on non-sustainable technology, particularly fossil fuels/petroleum, is causing us to have a distorted view of the actual value/cost of goods and items.

3.  Exporting labor and manufacturing to areas like Asia and South America mean that we pay much less than we “should” be paying for goods.  Again, this causes us to have a distorted view–I can get a kids t-shirt made from polyester (oil) manufactured in China for a dollar!!!  Even at stores like Walmart and Target, they can be easily found for $5.  If I consider this to be a “good price,” paying $15 for a US made 100% cotton one suddenly seems outrageous when in fact it is much closer to an accurate cost.   $25 for a Union made, organic one….suddenly we start realizing why most folks only had a week’s worth of clothing prior to the whole car thing.  They were much closer to paying the real cost of goods, whether manufactured by their own hands or at a local shop or factory.

I have this idea that pops up from time to time, about turning Yarnarchy into a real handspun yarn collective.  About replacing Manos del Uruguay in yarn shops with handspun yarn made in the United States by owners all making the same living wage.  About knitters understanding and valuing handspun yarn in the same way they value their own handknit items and making an effort to use sustainably produced yarn.

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