Category Archives: Big dumb projects

The big, dumb spinning wheel refinishing project

So I’ve been working on this project.

I got an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel a couple months ago. Me being me, instead of starting off with something easy and approachable like renting a few wheels and taking some classes until I could make an informed choice, I decided I’d just buy one! And not just one off the rack, but a used one! A cheap one that most people would overlook, that I could fix up myself!! And that I’d eventually use to spin whole fleeces from start to finish!!!

A raw light moorit Merino fleece in all its complete, barnyard-smelling glory.
Example: A raw, light moorit Merino fleece in all its complete, barnyard-smelling glory. I kinda got ahead of myself.

And the whole project would have to end up amazing because I am so amazing and ambitious and talented!!!!

Which is how I ended up with an Ashford Traditional that someone had started painting black and ditched halfway through.

Look at this poor Harvey Dent bastard.
Side one …

Which is understandable. Painting, staining and finishing is painstaking work if you want to do it right. It takes lots of scraping, sanding, care, assembly, disassembly, reassembly, tarping, cleaning, vacuuming and fussing. Not to mention turning things around, a step that didn’t seem to happen here.

… and side two. The poor Harvey Dent-looking bastard.

Goofy paint job or no, someone enjoyed this wheel, and you don’t need a nice paint job to spin. It’s pretty new and in fantastic shape, and I’m lucky to have it. So over the last couple months I’ve been researching furniture finishing, slowly removing as much of the stain as I can, and probably driving the neighbors crazy with the noise from my little power sander. I did the finish sanding by hand over many nights sitting on the living room floor by the TV and working my way through Parks & Rec with the cat curled up purring on the couch behind my head. By the time I was done the wood was silky smooth to the touch, and the entire living room was blanketed in a thin, fine layer of settled sawdust.

And because I can’t let well enough alone, I decided I didn’t just want to refinish it, I wanted to make it completely!! amazing!!! and would decorate it before applying an all-natural Danish oil. I had plenty of time while I sanded to think about what art I wanted. I finally landed on the work of one of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham, and decided I’d use a wood-burning pen to apply it.

Only thing is, it’s been more than 20 years since I last used one of those. I loved the one I had as a kid, but the usual short attention span of children (plus my undiagnosed ADD) meant my technique had never gotten very far. So every time I picked up my new pen, I’d find another excuse to delay getting started: Maybe I should sand the hand carders again! Maybe I should polish all the metal fittings! Maybe I should google “wood burning tutorial” again! Maybe I should print out copies of the art I want to use, cut it out and arrange the pieces on the wheel so I know where they should go! Maybe I need backup art arrangements!

I am not chicken about crafts by nature, so the second or third time it happened I figured out that oh, duh, I was nervous. By this point, I’d sunk hundreds of dollars and hours into the wheel and I was scared of making it look clumsy and amateurish. So I walked down to my neighborhood’s newly opened craft store — in the last couple years it’s picked up a craft store and fancy ice cream; gentrification is real — and picked out a large basswood box to practice on. It’s perfect: just the right size to hold my hand carders; big enough I can use it as a test run for staining and finishing; and at twenty bucks, cheap enough that mistakes won’t make me cry.

Because I’m gonna make mistakes. They’re inevitable, and learning is just a matter of getting your mistakes out of the way. I’ve already made a couple just doing the first panel of the box. Hot tip (ha!): If you’re trying out a new kind of nib, don’t use it anywhere near detail areas until you know how it works at every angle; and don’t hold the pen at such a low angle that the metal collar scorches a line right through the middle of your deer.

By the time I’m done with this box, I hope to be so damn bored of it that I’m falling all over myself to get started on the wheel.

Wood burning test run
One side, one new nib and two shading techniques down, and five sides to go.

The big dumb sock project: Two down, but not really

So far, project Replace My Falling-Apart Commercial Socks with Handmade Socks is going … hm.

Good: Made two pairs of socks!
“Silver lining” good, i.e. not actually good: Learned a valuable lesson about selecting yarn for socks that are durable and not just well-fitting.
Bad: I’ve been knitting for years and years, and I know tons about selecting yarn for durability: yarn composition, plying, gauge — all of it! I knew when I started that the yarns weren’t great for socks; I was just too impatient to stick it out and wait until I had more appropriate yarn before casting on.

The first ones (100% not-superwashed merino; come onnnnnnn, Arlette) popped a stitch on the first wearing, but I love them, so they now live on the family’s run-down little boat in Sausalito as part of my stash of warm boat clothing. (The boat sounds way more glamorous than it is; I call it “the RV of the Sea,” which gives you an idea of its size and mustiness.) It gets cold right on the water, so the socks are actually pretty perfect for wearing around there, but they didn’t get me very far toward replacing everyday socks, which are only getting more holey.

The second socks looked damn good.

They held up better than the first ones, but after a day of wear, the heels were fuzzy and haloed something fierce. They do a little better with shoes that don’t grip my feet too tightly, so they’re now my “don’t have too walk too far today in these cowboy boots” socks. I got to learn how to match self-striping yarn, but since almost all my commercial socks are plain black, I think I have to admit that dark solid colors are what I’ll actually wear and love.

Unfortunately, after accidentally knitting two pairs of warm and delicate socks, I’ve gotten all spooked. Lately when I go to a yarn store to scope out sock yarn I end up anxiously haunting the aisles looking up reviews on Ravelry and desperately scanning for the words “pilling” and “felted,” and remembering the sweaty-verging-on-soupy feeling in my shoes when I wore the second pair in the current crushing heat wave. That’s right about when I give up and buy something that’d look good as a hat, since that’s both figuratively and literally as far from socks as you can get.

There’s hope, though. The last sock yarn skein I got mostly because it was too hot to think straight and the yarn was a relatively plain and desaturated blue, but it turns out it’s actually a pretty well-rated yarn for socks. Once I manage to finish the thick, cabled boot sock I’m working on — WHY?! it’s like 80 degrees out! — and if I can stop losing my empty circular needles by hanging them around the back of my neck when I focus on something and then having them fall off somewhere mysterious after I forget about them, maybe I’ll make some real headway!

The big, dumb sock project

I kinda have a sock problem.

These are not the trouble

Usually when people have a something problem, it’s shorthand for I have way, way, way too much of something. I understand that: I’ve got the beginning of a yarn problem, something of a coat problem and a definite boot problem. (Current count: two pairs of cowboy boots, one pair of motorcycle boots, one pair of knee-high lace-up lineman boots, one pair of knee-high red Fluevogs and a pair of roper boots I just picked up today from the cobbler’s.)

My sock problem is the opposite. I’ve got some socks. Not long ago I had more socks, but then I got rid of almost all of them in a mad quest to have only one kind of sock. Then I bought about a dozen pairs of what I thought were OK basic socks — solid black; the right size, sort of, not too long for my short, wide feet; not a zillion bucks; and more cotton than polyester (it’s damn hard to find non-polyester socks at the department store, so my standards were pretty low). Everything was great!

Then I wore the socks.

They disintegrated.

Not, like, “I wore them for a few months and they fell apart.” The first time I wore them, wherever they were trapped between my foot and some part of my shoes, they literally dissolved in a cloud of hazy black fuzz. I found this out when I took my shoes off at a friend’s house and left inky, fuzzy footprints wherever I went. The remaining sock was worn down as thin as pantyhose. I think those cheap damn socks were polyester netting, with cotton not woven in but sort of … stuck on, somehow.  They weren’t the perfect socks, and they were so bad I couldn’t even feel good about donating them. I threw them out and swore, a lot.

I’m trying to make do with my few remaining pairs of socks while I find the new gold standard in socks, and it’s pretty disheartening. Unless I can find amazing-quality kids’ socks, everything’s too big, and I’m tired of having sock heels that land so far from my own heels that they creep up over the backs of my shoes.

So I’ve been making socks. And it’s great, except the part where converting the awesome There & Back Again socks to knee-high made me so sick of them that I can’t bring myself to fix the too-tight bind-off that is the only thing keeping me from wearing them, other than the fact that they’re knee-high socks and it’s hot in July in California.

And also the part where I’ve ripped out the ankle of the same Skew four (five, since I started this post) times thanks to my chronic distraction and stress over work. The first time I made it, I totally nailed the directions, but I still ended up with a sock that bagged around my heel; I could pinch a clean inch of fabric away from my foot before it could even begin to fit. I ripped back and shortened the foot, but it was still too short. I started again with a dramatically shorter foot that I’m pretty confident will fit, but I’ve still had to rip out like crazy because even after carefully counting stitches and memorizing the pattern to where I feel like I could do it in my sleep, I keep turning up a few stitches short or a few stitches over and have to rip back to the last place where I had the right number of stitches and felt like I understood how the world worked.

This is not unlike what’s currently happening with my development environment at work, where fixing and re-fixing and re-re-fixing the same files still gets me the same crazy security error.

I will get there. I will fix this environment issue, and one day soon this work project I’ve spent the last six months on will be over and I’ll be able to do laundry and wash the socks I already have instead of wearing the same sockless loafers every day for weeks.

Maybe by then I’ll have some real, live knit socks, too.