This summer, a pair of robins built a nest on top of my back porch light, right outside my backdoor, and consigned me to using only the front porch for the whole month of June. And I (and you) got to watch as the eggs appeared, and the babies hatched and grew. It was magical thing to witness so close.
Also this summer, the family next door moved away. As she was in the middle of the chaos of packing up her house, my neighbour mentioned to me one day that she always collects a bird’s nest from every house that she lives in. But her husband had already started his new job on the other side of the country and she was having to pack up the house and move the (5!) kids all on her own, and I suspected that she never got a chance to collect a bird’s nest.
And I have a beautiful nest sitting empty right outside my back door…
So today, we very carefully took it down.
It came away without too much difficulty and all in one piece. It was made from sticks and leaves, as you’d expect, but I was intrigued to see string, yarn, and bits of dried grapevines (complete with old grapes!) tucked in there as well.
We put the nest into a bag to keep it safe.
And then wrapped it in tissue paper… just because.
And packed it up with all the love and care that I package my yarn. More, probably — this is precious cargo!
And, just like that, the little nest that gave three baby robins their happy start in life was ready to travel all the way to the other end of the country.
Where, I do believe, it will be absolutely cherished.
What do you need for successful spinning? What is essential to produce a gorgeous, soft, lofty yarn? Well, you start with beautiful fiber that runs through your fingers like butter, and you spin on well-made equipment that you love and that loves you back. But that’s not all you need…
Spinning can be done in isolation — and there’s something really lovely about the meditative aspect of spinning on one’s own — but, in my opinion, spinning is most enjoyable when it’s done in the company of other spinners. Other spinners inspire, they teach, they encourage, and — most of all — other spinners understand.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine invited to me come to her spinning group. It was some considerable distance away and, when I realised how long the drive would be, I had second thoughts. But I decided to go anyway, and I am so glad I did. I met a wonderful group of women who welcomed me warmly and whose company I thoroughly enjoyed. And they were knowledgeable — so knowledgeable, years and years of collective experience all gathered up together and shared out, happily, freely. It was an absolute pleasure to spin with them.
If you are a new spinner or wanting to learn to spin, seek out the company of other spinners. It will enhance your experience and your learning immensely. It will inspire you. And I’ve never once met a group of spinners who didn’t welcome with open arms a fellow fiber-lover! So don’t be shy — you can find other spinners through your local yarn shop or knitting group, by looking up spinning guilds, or searching on Ravelry.
And if you happen to find one that meets in a beautiful rural setting on warm summer afternoons, cooled by shade of tall trees and a breeze scented by a garden in bloom, then you will be as lucky as I was. There simply cannot be a better way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Wilson belonged to my friend Leslie (who was instrumental in creating the SpaceCadet logo) and he was a great dog. Everyone says that about their dogs, I know, but Wilson really was. I met him when he was starting his retirement career as a Pets as Therapy dog, visiting long-term residents at his local hospital who benefited from a bit of borrowed canine company. He was also an “Ambassa-dog” for a charity called the Dogs Trust, attending talks and events with Leslie and showing people just how lovely rescue dogs can be. And he worked behind the scenes at the charity too, where they used his excellent communication skills to help less confident rescue dogs become used to being around others. When I met him, Wilson was gentle and kind, tolerated my (then) 1-year-old’s clumsy curiosity, and lent against my leg with the kind of heaviness that tells you this dog would really like a nice scratch behind his ear.
Last month, Wilson lost his battle with a brain tumour, and when Leslie realised he didn’t have much time left, she asked me and another mutual spinning friend, Stephanie of OttertopWorkshop, whether it would be possible to spin up Wilson’s fur to knit a small square to go into his keepsake box. Or was that a crazy idea…? Stephanie and I both assured her it wasn’t at all crazy — it’d be a nice way to remember him — and we agreed that she should spend some quality time with Wilson in his last few day, fussing over him and brushing him, until she’d collected enough of his undercoat to spin a bit of yarn. I warned Leslie that it might need to be mixed with wool if it didn’t hold together well on its own and, though she agreed, I could sense that wasn’t what she really wanted. She wanted 100% Wilson — and I understood.
The bag of fur arrived on Friday, and I sat down immediately at my wheel. I’ve never successfully spun dog before — I’d tried years and years ago, with some Husky fur that a colleague had given me, but I couldn’t make a yarn that held together. But that was when I was a relatively new spinner, and I hoped I’d gained enough experience by now to coax a yarn out of Wilson’s uncooperative-looking fluff.
I began the wheel turning… slowly… slowly… just to see how the fur would behave. With such a short-stapled, uncrimped fiber, my hands quite naturally went to a long draw, and spun it with a bit of thickness. And it seemed to be holding together pretty well. I stopped the wheel and let the yarn twist back on itself and it looked good but… here… and there… I could see it wanted to come apart. I moved the drive band to a slower whorl for more control, loosened the brake a wee bit, and decided to go a bit thicker and to overspin it. It wouldn’t be as soft as I would like, but needs must. I could see that with a little overspin, Leslie could get the 100% Wilson yarn she really wanted, and I was determined to give her that if it were at all possible.
The overspinning worked and the yarn was (fairly) stable, thick, and surprisingly fuzzy. And I was covered in dog hair, which made laugh — all dogs shed, all humans complain about it, and here was Wilson being cheeky and still shedding on someone from beyond the grave! I took the bobbin off and put it on the lazy kate for Navajo plying — there hadn’t been enough fiber to split between two or three bobbins for proper plying, as I would have preferred.
Navajo plying was a bit of a trial — pulling the yarn through the loop was more friction than it could handle in places and it fell apart on me quite a few times — but I managed it in the end. Again, a little overtwist helped to hold it and, in this case, balanced the overtwist in the singles. When I was done plying, I grabbed my needles and knit it straight off the wheel. Normally I’d let the yarn rest and give it a wash, of course, but I didn’t want to lose any of the fiber’s Wilson-ness for Leslie, so I decided to leave it as it was.
Unfortunately, I got lost in my thoughts and cast too many stitches, so it came out as more of a rectangle than a square, but the yarn had held together surprisingly well during the knitting and so I decided to leave it as it was rather than stress the yarn by ripping back. When I cast off, I looked at the fuzzy rectangle in my hand, and decided that was probably just about right.
Before I wrote this piece, I emailed Leslie and asked her to clarify Wilson’s various jobs. I remembered them roughly, but wanted to be sure I got it all right. She replied with a list, and the last point on it read simply, “my best friend.” Of all the jobs that Wilson did, and all the joy he brought to people’s lives, I suspect his most important role was being Leslie’s best friend. I am honoured to have been able to help give her something to remind her forever of her lovely Wilson.