Spinning Light Bulbs and the Mindful Now

I so seldom write to this blog. Besides, does anyone read blogs anymore? We are so inundated with online musings into the ether. But when life has compelled the muse, as it has for me recently, I think that writing musings into the “ether” is better than writing nothing at all. So here comes another post into the World Wide Web as another year comes to a close…

Wheel-imageThe idea for this post came to me after teaching a beginning spinning class this fall. The class was proceeding fine. As usual, the common expressions of angst and anxiety occurred just before “light bulbs” started going off. (The Light Bulb moment in spinning is when body and mind join as one and real yarn starts to emerge.) But this time, just as that moment of enlightenment came upon them, a few students became obsessed with the over-twisted yarn on their bobbins. As soon as they stopped spinning in concern over these over-twisted “pigtails” in their spun yarn, their light bulbs turned off and progress came to an immediate halt. They experienced a self-constructed roadblock made of internal voices saying: “It’s not perfect”!

I’m not sure why some in this class displayed such a strong reaction to their “lack” of perfection except that perhaps our culture has become more concerned with the goal of creating a final product and less concerned with the process of simply making. When the mind becomes obsessed with the past (how it should have been better according to past expectation thinking), the present disappears. But it’s in the present—that “now” place—where all past deeds are washed away with fresh thought and action. (You could say that “now” is really the only thing that IS real since it’s now.) Because the students were focused on expectations, they could only see what was wrong and were blind to what was actually happening—in a positive way—in the present. Even though the past was only a few minutes or even seconds ago, it was still not the reality of what they were making in the “now.” And what was in their hands at the time of their loss of the light of reality was fine work!

Thinking in the reality of “now” is found in the practice of mindfulness. Spinning is an activity that brings manifestation to the practice of mindfulness. Its action happens in real time, in the “now,” and the creation of material (yarn) is the immediate result. It’s not surprising that these students were struggling since they were so oblivious to seeing the good work that really existed in the present in their own hands. They were fighting with reality!

I am very interested in the strong connection between spinning and the mindfulness state. In fact, because of its “now” centeredness, I believe spinning is a wonderful outlet to practice MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction). MBSR is a practice that we can all benefit from during this, often stressful, time of year. It encourages present moment focus. It can be a tool in pain management, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) treatment, and in other life-coping situations. It’s a meditative practice for healing as it puts our minds into the real world that only exists NOW with each breath we take. It puts anxiety of the past or future aside, as those states cannot exist in conjunction with the present moment.

Spinning is such a great MBSR activity—if only we can put aside ego and the expectations that accompany our desire for perfection. The over-twist that just happened a few moments ago no longer matters. That’s in the past. Look at what is in your hands NOW. Put your effort into this moment, place, and time, as that is the clay—the yarn—of the future. The past pulls you onto the bobbin but it doesn’t define what you can do NOW or what the rest of your unspun fiber might become. Focus more on the fiber in your hands and worry less about what was wrong in the past. Consider the potential of your fiber as it comes into the draft but focus on the twist in your hands. This is where spinning lives. It is mindfulness in action! You will be amazed at how much better your spinning will become when you spin in the now—in the mindful now.

For 2015… fiber spinners (and non-spinners), may you find peace in the eternal moment within your own hands.

[To learn more about the subject of mindfulness, I recommend any books written or edited by Jon Kabat-Zinn.]

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Keep Calm and Carry On—Beginning Fiber Spinning and Life-Long Neuroplasticity of the Brain

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When I teach fiber spinning, I try to encourage students to look beyond the struggles they initially have with coordinating their hands with their brains. Sometimes I take on the role of a counselor, reassuring them that their frustration is only temporary. Their brains WILL coordinate with their bodies and soon all WILL come together and they WILL BE SPINNERS! The coordination isn’t instant for anyone and the amount of time to develop it varies with each person. There’s nothing wrong with being a slow learner when trying to coordinate the left and right brain. Calm down. Take a break. Re-approach and try again. This process of pausing, re-evaluating, and proceeding (remains me of the UK slogan: Keep Calm and Carry On), is actually an aspect of developing the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to act and react in new ways) is becoming a hot field within aging research. Researchers are finding that the brain DOES have the capacity to develop new “brain cells” aka “connections” as we age. In fact, if given the chance, the brain will thrive on new experiences. And this “garden” of growth can continue long into our aging—in fact, never ceasing until our death. Here’s a brief discussion of the longevity of neuroplasticity from memoryzine.com:

NEUROPLASTICITY CAN’T LAST FOREVER . . . CAN IT?
From Fresh Experiences Throughout Your Lifetime.

Contrary to widespread belief, the “garden” of the brain never ceases being pruned and newly planted. Though long believed by scientists to be the case, research over the past decade or so has proven that our neural connections do not ever reach, by some age, a fixed pattern that thereafter cannot change. Rather, the ongoing process of synaptic reformation and death is what gives the brain its plasticity – its ability to learn and remember, to adapt to its environment and all the challenges brought with it, to acquire new knowledge and learn from fresh experiences – throughout an individual’s lifetime. Groundbreaking new research suggests that, beyond modifying pathways and forming new ones between existing neurons, the human brain is even able to generate entirely new brain cells. While this neural regeneration was long believed to be impossible after age three or four, research now shows that new neurons can develop late into the life span, even into the golden years of age 70 and beyond. Thus, the old adage “use it or lose it” is brought soundly home. If one’s brain is constantly challenged by and engaged with a variety of stimulations and new experiences, while also exposed regularly to that which it already knows, it is better able to retain its adaptive flexibility, regenerative capacity, and remarkable efficiency throughout life.

Learn more about Neuroplasticity here: http://memoryzine.com/2010/07/02/introduction-to-neuroplasticity/

So I present to you that learning to spin fiber is not only a lovely activity to create something unique and useful but also a way to further develop the neuroplasticity of your brain. It will provide a lifetime of benefits!

So… Keep Calm and Spin –

KeepCalmSpinImage

so your brain may Carry On!

 

 

 

 

 

Have you experienced a brain boost from spinning or another brain/body coordination activity such as knitting? Please share here!


For non-spinners, I encourage you to experience the brain benefits found in the spinning process. One tool to get you on your way is my new book “Yarn Works: How to Spin, Dye, and Knit Your Own Yarn”. In this book, you will learn about fibers; how to spin, dye and knit them; and discover the history of all aspects of yarn making by hand. See http://www.sagahill.com/Publications-Kits.html for more info.


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“Bio-Fibersity”: Consider Bio-Diversity When Selecting Fibers

Hepatica has been the first spring plant to emerge in our woods this spring.

Hepatica has been the first spring plant to emerge in our woods this spring.

Based on the Hepatica coming up in our woods, spring has finally arrived in this part of the country. I say this with some hesitation since our temperature is supposed to drop back into the 40s for highs next week. Nevertheless, there is a feeling of spring in the air and a desire among many fiber folks to get out to farms for shearing events or to pick up a newly shorn fleece. And this brings up a subject that has been gnawing on my brain for the past couple of months…

In February (Feb. 27 in fact), Clara Parkes, from the online knitting news site Knitter’s Review >http://knittersreview.com/newsletter/newsletter.asp<, discussed the importance of maintaining diversity in the sheep industry so knitters may continue to have options in their fiber choices. She said “too many of us are still hooked on the super-soft Merinos of the world. So hooked… that most yarn companies are afraid to offer anything else. … If we want any variety in our stashes, we must buck the trend.”

These comments have stuck in my mind as I’ve become more aware of how much consumer fiber preference drives the marketplace. In fact, I’ve just seen personal evidence of this. One of my wholesale vendors has recently dropped an old standby and solid spinning fiber (Corriedale) due to dwindling consumer interest in the fiber. This sheep fiber is perfect for beginning spinners. It’s inexpensive and my go-to fiber for dye testing, steadfast garment spinning, and a great fiber for beginning spinners to control since it isn’t really slippery. Although it isn’t the softest of fibers, it isn’t horrible against the skin. But the wholesaler has decided to go with the flow of the times and focus on the more expensive and in-demand Merino fibers and other fibers within that soft quality.

I can’t deny that soft fibers are great. They are wonderful next to the skin and often perfect for felters. But such fibers are not the best choice for long-wearing garments. Soft fibers usually need another structural fiber to make garments (especially socks) last longer than just a few wears. They also cost more than other less-fine fibers, thereby narrowing the choices for those of us on a budget.

To widen the focus a bit more, bio-diversity is essential for a balanced world. If we insist on only one fiber in our palette, we are missing out on a world of other fibers with their own unique and important qualities, limiting our opportunity to experience the full palette.

So fiber people, I challenge you to be truly sustainable in your fiber choices. Every so often, consider a fiber with some grit. Look at the entire range of possibilities when selecting a fiber so we may continue to have a world of diversity in our choices. If we don’t widen our horizons now, our fiber choices may change from a supermarket variety that offers us many options, to much more limited options that may be likened to the food selection found in a gas station grocery aisle.

With this challenge in mind, the following is a general chart of sheep breeds and their fineness counts. It didn’t make the final cut of my Yarn Works book so I’m offering it here as a service to you. Please explore the breeds and support the shepherds who continue to maintain diversity in their flock choices.


A Few Common Spinning Sheep Breeds by Micron Count, Bradford Count, General Staple Length, and Staple Crimp

(This chart shows a sampling of the primary breeds of sheep raised in the U.S. as pure or mixed breed fleece for hand spinners. No fleece is exactly alike. It may vary in all categories depending on health, environment, and breeding. This chart is a general guide to breeds and their fleece characteristics. The lower the micron number, the finer the fiber. Note that these count numbers show an average range and some fibers may actually measure outside the noted range.) 

Sheep Breed

Micron Count

Bradford Count

Staple Length

Crimps per inch (2.5 cm)  average

Blue Faced Leicester

24-28

60s-56s

Medium-Long

3-6 in (8-15 cm)

6.5

Border Leicester

37-40

48s-36s

Long

6-8 in (15-20 cm)

2.5

Coopworth

35-39

48s-44s

Long

5-7 in (13-18 cm)

3.5

Cormo

21-23

64s-58s

Medium-Long

4-5 in (10-13 cm)

16

Corriedale

26-33

58s-50s

Medium-Long

3-8 in (8-20 cm)

5

Icelandic thel-innercoat /tog-outercoat

19-22 / 28-31

70s-64s / 54s-50s

Short-Long

2–3 in (5–8 cm)/5-15 in (13-38 cm)

6.5 / NA

Lincoln

36-38

40s-36s

Long

7-10 in (18-25 cm)

1.5

Merino

18-24

70s-60s

Medium

2.5-4 in (7-10 cm)

11

Rambouillet

18-24

80s-60s

Short-Medium

2-4 in (5-10 cm)

16

Romney

33-37

50s-46s

Long

5-7 in (13-18 cm)

4

Shetland

23-30

60s-50s

Short-Long

2-5 in (5-13 cm)

12


Endangered Breeds

There are also a number of shepherds who have begun to raise awareness of breeds that are in danger of total extinction. Gleaned from the LivestockConservancy.org site is the following list of a few breeds in current danger and links to more information about these breeds.

Critical Status:

Florida Cracker

Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native

Hog Island

Leicester Longwool

Romeldale/CVM

Santa Cruz


Threatened:

Black Welsh Mountain

Clun Forest

Cotswold

Dorset Horn

Jacob – American

Karakul – American

Navajo-Churro

St. Croix


Being Watched:

Lincoln

Oxford

Shropshire

Tunis


Recovering:  

Barbados Blackbelly

Shetland

Southdown

Wiltshire Horn


Let’s all try to keep our sheep breeds diverse and thriving by buying spun yarn or raw fleece from a wider variety of sheep breeds for our spinning, felting, or knitting pleasure!

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Making Clean While the Snow Falls – a new/old way to wash your woolens

For those of us living through this year’s interminable winter with snow up to our eyeballs, take heart! That white stuff outside of your door is a blessing—in the form of a free, safe, and easy wool wash.

For centuries, snow washing has been used in Nordic countries to wash wool rugs. Here’s the simple process: step on the rug in the snow, rub it around, flip it over and do the same to the other side. Shake out the snow and, if you need to, repeat. In just a few minutes, the rug will be bright and clean. Then take the clean rug inside to air-dry.

But did you know that a variation of this rug washing technique could also be used for woolen garments? In fact, it’s a centuries-old wool cleaning method. Even the Vikings are known to have snow-washed their woolen garments.

Sweaters, mittens, socks – anything woolen can be snow washed and here’s the process: Lay your woolen item on a clean area of fresh snow. (I shouldn’t need to say “clean” but these days, even fresh snow can be full of dirty particulates.)

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Sprinkle snow on it.

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Gently rub it around in the snow.

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Shake the snow out, then flip it over and “wash” it again. 

In only a matter of a few minutes, the snow will do its job.

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Shake the bulk of the snow out of the item and bring it inside to air-dry.

Your woolens will look bright and smell fresh as if they were hung on a summer clothesline. Plus, no felting will occur since you are working with really cold “water”.

[Note: SUPER soiled woolens may require soap to fully clean them but this snow method will work for the general cleaning and freshening of wools. If the garment needs a soap and water method, ONLY use a neutral pH soap and cold water. Most dishwashing soaps are excellent for cleaning woolens. Avoid those that are sold for cleaning “delicates”. I don’t want to get sued for bad-mouthing brand names that try to sell their product for woolens so check the pH for the product you are considering (their website should tell you what it is). The goal is a pH of 7.]

For further reading, here’s a story about how a Nordic Arts class at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, used this ancient cleaning technique to wash some rya rugs: http://norwegiantextileletter.com/article/snow-washing-an-american-account-and-a-norwegian-story/

So now, go out and enjoy the last of this winter’s snow by giving your woolens a good washing!

______

Spinners…

You may wonder if that dirty old raw fleece that you’ve been waiting to wash could be cleaned this way. Sorry. No go. Raw fleece has more than just “dirt” in it but also suint and grease that needs hot water and soap to release it from the fiber hairs. My book Yarn Works has a section on how to wash a raw fleece so check that out if you want more info on cleaning that nasty fleece. Find out more about my book here: http://www.sagahill.com/images/PressReleaseYarnWorks.pdf and a link on how to purchase the book directly from me (it’s also available at all book sellers): http://www.sagahill.com/Publications-Kits.html

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Could Spinning Be Anti-Inflammatory?

Meditative-spinning

For those who have mastered the rhythms of spinning fiber, you know the meditative nature of spinning. The wheel or spindle moves with your body at a pace similar to the pace of breathing. A deep breath in, the spin of the wheel – a deep breath out, the winding of the spin… Very rhythmic and consciousness freeing. (BTW… This meditative nature of spinning is also a primary reason behind why I like to spin and therefore it’s a subject I’ve featured in my book Yarn Works: How to Spin, Dye, and Knit Your Own Yarn.)

I just came across some news that relates to this meditative aspect of spinning. There is a study, recently released by the University of Wisconsin, that discusses how meditation can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the genes that cause inflammation. Here’s a synopsis of that study (pulled from www.drweil.com)…

Reprogramming Inflammation with Meditation
We know that over time chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation can contribute to serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. A new study from the University of Wisconsin shows that meditation can actually affect the genes that cause inflammation. Researchers measured the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness meditation in a group of experienced mediators and compared them with those of quiet, non-meditative activities by a group of untrained volunteers. After eight hours of meditation, the researchers found altered levels of gene-regulating compounds and reduced activity levels of the pro-inflammatory genes in the experienced meditators. These changes were correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation, the investigators explained. They reported that these findings are the first to show that mediation can inhibit production of proteins by some genes that cause inflammation and noted that at the study’s outset there were no differences in the genes tested in both groups. They also reported that the positive changes were seen in genes that are the targets of anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs.

So I present to you the possibility that spinning, as a meditative practice, may just be anti-inflammatory!

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Room to Grow (& be creative)

2013 – the year of the big ADDITION PROJECT!

It may have taken from April to December, but I’m back to blogging. My excuse for the absence is that I have been a little preoccupied this year. After 20 years of sharing a small home office space with my husband (we both work out of the home), we finally bit the bullet and decided to add-on dedicated office spaces for each of us. No more listening to each other’s phone conversations (whether intentionally or not), being an unexpected participant in the other’s Skype meeting (sometimes working in pajamas is not a good idea), and dealing with competing work styles (neat nit vs., well let’s just say, another type of organization style).

We started planning the project in March and I am writing this announcement in December. You can fill in the months between. Suffice it to say, it’s been a fairly stressful year.

The carrots on the stick are the soon-to-be-done (oh Lordy, we hope) individual offices. The extra carrot for me is a dedicated studio space in the addition basement! I have to say I’m more excited about this nearly 24 x 14 foot space than anything. For years, I’ve been dyeing and doing my artwork in, essentially, an alley of our basement with no natural light or ventilation. I had to crawl over my work table to get to the freezer, do a shimmy past my felting table to get to the washer and dryer. You get the picture.

When we built our house 20 years ago, I designed it and was very involved with the general contracting. I even became THE general contractor from drywall to finish. So I figured it was time to break out the designer/contractor’s hard hat again—this time being not only the designer but the GC for the entire project. A self-contracting “coach” has been holding my hand during the process since the building industry has changed a bit in 20 years. He was a great help for getting quality subs. But the hands-on supervision has been my baby—and a cranky baby at times.

This was NOT the year to do any building project, mainly because everyone and their uncle has had the idea that this is the PERFECT year to build. So getting subcontractors to come within a reasonable timeframe has been a major task and continues to be a challenge. With all the customer juggling and working overtime, by the time the subs get here, they are often quite burned out. Plus this popular year for building has created a seller’s market, causing the costs to rise as the year moved along. Nevertheless, we managed to fit the project into our budget without too many painful cuts and broke soil in October.

Silt-fence

One of the first steps in this construction project was to put up a silt fence around the perimeter. It was fairly easy to place and the dogs found it just as easy to jump over. So now it’s become an agility course as they jump back and forth from the woods to the open construction zone. (They ARE border collies after all.) The fence will come out next spring, although I may just need to keep portions of it here and there so the dogs can still have their fun!

Here are the results of 1 1/2 months of construction, from the middle of October to the first week of December:

Pre-build view.

Pre-build view.

The foundation is up.

The foundation is up.

Framing begins - here's a side view.

Framing begins – this is a side view.

Currently waiting for siding.

Currently waiting for siding.

Looking back, from October to early December, it does seem like we have progressed quite well. But when you are living in the space (and working in your living room) while the build is going on, time takes on a whole new elongated dimension!

The basement space is inherently insulated since we used ICF blocks (Insulated Concrete Forms) as the construction method for the basement walls. They are put together like Lego® blocks and then rebar is placed and concrete poured into the forms. Very energy efficient and eco-friendly since they are made from recycled styrofoam.

The basement space is inherently insulated since we used ICF blocks (Insulated Concrete Forms) as the construction method for the basement walls. They are put together like Lego® blocks and then rebar is placed and concrete poured into the forms. Very energy-efficient and eco-friendly since they are made from recycled styrofoam.

Here they are pouring the concrete into the forms.

Here they are pouring concrete into the forms. 

We expected the project would be finished by Thanksgiving—really finished. Painted, finish carpentry done, move in ready. Ha! If any of you have ever done a remodeling project, you know the Ha! that builds up in the throat over such thinking. This has been a humbling experience. I pride myself on an ability to arrange and schedule events that are well-thought-out and happen on time. The construction industry isn’t made of such cloth. Oh, I’ve had such beautifully drawn up timelines! Everything and everyone in their place. And I become more plumped up when a sub actually shows up according to my beautifully arranged schedule! The dream of all contractors: one sub moving right after another, with inspections all in a row—until someone has a vehicle break down or another customer call with a more urgent need. Then the lovely plan is torn up into tiny little pieces and rearranged into a new semblance of loveliness—for a moment—only to be torn up again by another delay or problem… well, you get the drift of how my fall has been going. Endless creative reality checks.

At this point, we are sweating out the weather (more like freezing out the weather). With winter comes new challenges for subs and lumber deliveries getting up our steep hill (it IS Saga Hill after all) and challenges for us to stay warm-ish in a house that is only partially insulated while the temps drop into the teens. (Update: Since I wrote this yesterday, the insulation sub did their thing and we are toasty warm now. It took them 6 runs to finally get up our hill with their massive truck after a slippery snow storm overnight. It’s always an adventure living on Saga Hill!)

So that gets you up-to-speed on what I’ve been doing “on the side” this year and why I’ve been so quiet in the world of fiber.

The Year Ahead… 2014 promises to be a year when I will grow new ideas from this new space and get back to creating designs—other than architectural. My book FINALLY comes out in January (Yarn Works: How to Spin, Dye, and Knit Your Own Yarn); and I have numerous new vendor gigs, a few classes, speaking and book signing engagements, and lots of great ideas to pursue in my REAL studio space! This is my year of enLIGHTenment. (More on that in a future blog.)

Let’s share with each other! Does anyone have a story to share about their remodeling or building experience? How did you cope with the life interruption and what did you learn from the experience? For artists or other creatives, I am especially curious to hear about studio/work spaces you are currently using and/or any studio dreams you may have. Share photos if you have them!

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Emerging from a LONG Winter

This morning was the first time since last November that I’ve been able to go outside without a hat and mittens. Such a long winter!

But along with me, the Earthly Coat material has emerged from the snow with no apparent sign of damage during its (our) hibernation.

Coat-in-garden-post-winter

In fact, the extreme cold and snow seemed to be kind to it since the surface is even better felted.

Coat-in-garden-post-winter-CU

Now I need to decide where to put the Coat for the next few months since I need access to our garden area for the summer. Perhaps it will become a coat for the wood pile. Decisions decisions. Good thing Mother Nature doesn’t need to decide where to put her grasses and flowers. I just hope that we will soon see some of HER work. At this time last year, we had wildflowers in full bloom but today I just see weathered leaves and dirt out there.

In the next blog, I’ll be back to work – degumming silk. It’s an interesting process. Tune in!

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