Tag Archives: knitting equipment

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.

Elizabeth Zimmerman saves the (deep fried) day

Today was the inauguration of my new deep fryer, a Christmas present from the boyfriend’s grandmother. My friend Jenny and I share a deep love of fried and otherwise ridiculously unhealthy foods, so we hit the grocery store and settled in for some serious caloric overkill with Julia, as we dubbed the sleek little machine — named, of course, for the dear departed Julia Child, whom I love for her habit of peeking over the shoulders of the guests on her cooking show as they worked and constantly sneaking bites of the food at every opportunity, regardless of whether it was ready or even cooked yet.

    Things we covered in batter and then deep fried and ate as we consumed a steady stream of Newcastles:

  1. Zucchini
  2. Mozzarella cubes
  3. One Snickers bar
  4. Twinkies
  5. One Ding-Dong

There were, as you can see, two main courses: savory and dessert. There was an uncomfortably long intermission between them when the deep fryer suddenly turned itself off and refused to switch back on. We panicked at the threat of ending our deep-frying adventures early and dessertless, fried a couple more pieces of zucchini in the still-hot oil to fortify ourselves with, and consulted the manual. After unplugging and re-plugging everything we could, we determined that the incredibly safety-conscious designers of the deep fryer had calibrated the fryer to switch itself off at a temperature only slightly above the highest setting — the most important one, since it is the one used to make French fries — and turning it back on meant resetting the safety switch.

The switch lived at the bottom of a narrow, half-inch-deep hole in the back of the fryer. After gingerly turning the little tank of boiling hot oil around, I poked at the little recess with a ballpoint pen, just like the manual said. Problem: a pen wouldn’t fit in the hole. The long, narrow reset button could only be pressed with something flat, since anything pointy (like, for example, the recommended ballpoint pen) would slip right off it.

After various pens, a pencil, a thermometer and everything else in the kitchen failed to reach the switch, I searched the whole house for something not-pointy, narrow and long enough to hit the damn switch, and I kept coming up with nothing. As I went from room to room, nothing jumped out at me, until I saw the jar full of old Susan Bates plastic knitting needles on my desk. Something kicked in the back of my head and I remembered a brief reference in “Knitting Without Tears” to fixing a broken outboard motor with an aluminum knitting needle. Of course!

I tried a #5, but it was too big. So was the #3. I took down my big roll of needles, dug out a pair of weird old German steel needles I found for a dollar at Saver’s, and returned to the kitchen. I poked the switch with the head of the needle and Jenny and I glowed as we heard a gentle but definite click. Success! Elizabeth Zimmerman had saved the calorie-saturated, Twinkie-laden day!

“A #6 aluminum needle has been known to furnish an excellent emergency shearpin for an outboard motor. It once saved us seven miles of paddling. Then I had to spend hours re-pointing the needle on rocks, having nobly, but foolishly, offered the business end instead of the knob end for sacrifice.”
— Elizabeth Zimmerman, “Knitting Without Tears”

And if you were wondering, a deep-fried Twinkie tastes as amazing as it sounds disgusting. Promise me you’ll try it at least once in your life.