Sunday, June 21, 2009

learning with my dad

In the midst of packing, (148 boxes, as of yesterday--including several boxes of framed photos/art wrapped in paper and cushioned by the ever versatile wool roving) I found I'd forgotten about Father's Day...but I never really forget my dad! (I'm a daddy's girl!) Lately I've been speaking to him often on the phone to update my parents on the moving details and to check in on my grandmother, who isn't well.

Yesterday, I had a chance to make my father proud. The new carding cloth arrived in the mail from Howard Brush Company. It's very hot out, so the professor and I took time out from packing and decided to have a fix-it project together. We took the old carding cloth off two sets of antique handcards and put on new cloth. First, we had to pry out the upholstery tacks that held the old cloth on. (look at the last post to see the rusted tines of the old hand cards.) Then, we fit the new cloth to the wooden card "backs" and tacked on the new carding cloth.

This sounds easy, but as I pried out ancient tacks and rotten carding cloth with two kinds of screw drivers, plyers, and sheer force of will, I spent a lot of time thinking about my dad. (Imagine lots of dust, rusted sharp metal, and a good chance of tetanus if we weren't careful!) My dad had me out in the garage, building and fixing things, when I was in preschool. Both my parents believe in "making things"--many of my school clothes were sewn by my mom, and my toys were made or fixed by my parents. This wasn't because we couldn't afford new--it was because we could both make whatever it was "better" and enjoy the process more at home. It also gave us lots of time to experiment and learn new (or old?) skills.

I reflected on that this week while I set yarn twist by washing a lot of handspun. I tend to let center pull balls of single yarns pile up and then do my plying all at once. A few days ago, I washed 600-700 yards of chocolate brown Shetland two ply. (approximately 14 wpi, a lofty sportweight or heavy fingering weight yarn, I think) I also washed one skein of heavy worsted two ply Fleece Artist hand-dyed yarn, and some Polwarth and silk yarn. My dad enabled much of this fiber art stuff. He helped me learn to spin when I was twelve by driving me 45 minutes each way to a 3 hour class, once a week, for 12 weeks. My dad also took sewing and weaving lessons with me. My mom taught me to knit (Dad learned at the beach as a kid with his mom, although he doesn't knit now) and both parents taught me to think that if I wanted to learn to do anything with my hands, I just had to apply myself. Experiment, take a class, and practice--and then I'd know enough to decide if I wanted to keep doing whatever it was!

You'll note from the hand card photo that the professor and I aren't experts in restoring cards yet. (that is, we may not want to keep doing it!) One of the cards wasn't overly sturdy. The wooden back was held together by glue and the rotten carding cloth. When we took that cloth off, we had to reglue the back. The thickness of the wood wasn't consistent--some of the new staples came through the card back. This is now fixed with glue the professor puts it... "one of the five forces of the universe." That is: gravity, electromagnetism, the weak force, the strong force...and, our hero: DUCK TAPE. The cards work fine again, and I can't wait to show them off to my dad! We fixed it! They work again!

Last, my dad helped me learn--especially to teach myself via experimentation and self discipline. I'm usually not a trendy or "competitive" spinner, although I've won ribbons at a couple of state fairs for my handiwork. Lately, 3 ply sock yarn has become the rage of the spinning world. The challenge: Is a spinner skilled enough to produce so fine a yarn that, when made into a 3 ply, it is good for socks?

I mostly make 2 ply, or Navajo 3 ply yarns. I don't knit with laceweight yarns all that often. I don't enjoy spinning extremely thin, fine wools all that much. I sometimes find plying very fine yarns unenjoyable. I wear the heck out of my socks, so most of my handknit socks are coarser wool fibers, blended with nylon or mohair, and machine washable. That said, I couldn't sleep the other night. (heat/moving stress/concern over my grandmother...)

At midnight, I spun very fine Finn wool yarn on my Little Gem spinning wheel. I think it was roughly 36 wpi, but I find wraps per inch can be somewhat inexact as a measurement when things are this fine. I then used my favorite Icelandic drop spindle (got it on our honeymoon) and spun it into a navajo 3 ply right off the spinning wheel bobbin. I knit the resulting chained 3 ply on #0(2.25mm) double pointed needles. It made a finger sized sock at 8 stitches to the inch. The resulting "finger sock" has a halo to it, and I can feel the twist of the yarn and firmness of the stitches on my finger tip. It hasn't sold me, for all time, on the necessity of this 3 ply yarn, but it was a learning meditation that calmed 1:30 AM, I fell asleep.

It also helps me celebrate the learning through experimentation that my dad taught me. It's what keeps me up at night, thinking and trying new things until I learn what I need to know. My dad also gives me a stubborn trial and error determination, a learning through intuition, (gut instinct!) and the willingness to make mistakes until I get it right.

Thanks, Dad, for doing all that driving, warping the loom, lugging the sewing machine and helping put together my first Ashford kit spinning wheel.
Happy Father's Day.

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Blogger Cathy said...

I'm a daddy's girl too - and that "apply yourself" is out of his handbook (along with "keep plodding along" - meaning, don't quit when the going gets tough, just keep moving one foot ahead of the other)

All that packing - with a gem of a house (and one hopes, a life) at the other end.

June 22, 2009 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

You are really lucky to have such a great Dad! What beautiful colour handspun shetland.

June 22, 2009 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous AlisonH said...

Go Dad!

June 24, 2009 at 1:22 PM  

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