The Pisher Paradox

I always enjoy fiber art related gatherings, yet I also get annoyed.  I came up with a name for that which has long annoyed me:  The Pisher Paradox.

The Yiddish word “pisher” (פּישער) has several meanings.  I am using the “young, inexperienced person” definition from Leo Rosten (The Joys of Yiddish, 1968, p. 293).  Some examples:

  • An experienced physician might call an overconfident first year medical student a “pisher;”
  • a skilled tailor might call the person who learned to sew last month and now calls him/herself a designer a “pisher;”
  • farm-raised folk will think “pisher” when they hear a chef boast about her/his ability to make butter (a child can make butter with only whole cream and a jar); or
  • an accomplished musician with 20 years experience on the stage might call the boastful student who is still learning to read a score a “pisher.”

You probably get the gist.

So what drove me to coin this term?  The same thing that happens at every wool gathering or fiber festival I attend:  The enthusiastic (dare I say, obnoxious), newbie who seems to think her/his recent foray into a fiber-related art (e.g., dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, etc.), makes her/him a “master” and speaks to potential customers as though we have the IQs of a skein of yarn.

DyeingPictureThe case that comes to mind was when I chatted with a young woman who had recently entered the world of artisan dyeing.  I complimented her work and, as she was not a weaver-spinner-crocheter-knitter, asked what prompted her into the world of fiber dye.

“Oh,” she said loftily, “I have a chemistry background.”

As an ex-college professor with colleagues in chemistry departments who were also dyers, I was instantly interested.  (Maybe I knew her professors or advisors.)

“Where did you get your degree?” I asked curiously.  “Undergrad or grad work?”

“Ummm, well, umm, I never actually finished college,” she admitted rather reluctantly, “but I took a chemistry class.”  (She seemed to have difficulty meeting my eyes.)

Hmmm.  I – as well as most of my friends – have taken at least one chemistry class, so her chemistry “background” wasn’t impressive. But, as she was young and new to the world of fiber art and I had no wish to embarrass her, I switched my line of questioning.  Picking up a skein, I asked why she chose to work with that specific fiber blend.  Her response was complete rubbish (aka BS), so I had no wish to waste my time chatting with a pisher or buy a skein of yarn (delighfully colored though the skeins were).

The mark of a pisher is to take a narrow and generally nascent skill or ability and use that to make oneself appear superior to others.  A pisher shows little respect for the work and/or experience of people with larger and/or deeper skill sets.  Thus, in recreating the wheel, the pisher thinks everything s/he learns to do is unique, novel and/or startlingly innovative.

dyeing picture (2)The young artisan dyer mentioned above had a great (seriously great) eye for color, but her work (i.e., technique), was nothing novel, nor was her commercially-spun yarn.  People have been dyeing for millenia.

I come from the academic world and was in contact with many who believed their doctorate, post-doc work, publications, and research justified their elevated opinion of themselves.  In fact, one of my colleagues once told me, in all seriousness, that he’s academic attirethe smartest person he’s ever known.  (It was good to be told I was in the presence of greatness; I wouldn’t have realized it otherwise.)

Knowledge, experience, skill and art – like good wine, fragrant coffee, a loaf of bread or a wheel of cheese – are best when shared humbly and graciously with others.  Few people want to spend time with a pisher (unless they have no other choice).

As I near the 60 year mark, I am increasingly humbled by that which I do not know.  When I visit fiber-art related events, wool festivals, and the like, I always learn something new – generally by self-effacing people with years of experience in a fiber-related art or animal husbandry who are unfailingly more than happy to share tidbits of their knowledge and experience with me.  I know they’ve probably forgotten more than I can ever learn, and I am grateful for their time.

Tell me, have you witnessed the Pisher Paradox in the world of fiber?

Posted in Fibers, Miscellany | Tagged | 33 Comments

It Must Be June: Black Sheep Gathering

OnceBlackSheep2015-1 again, Eugene, Oregon welcomes the annual Black Sheep Gathering (June 19-21)!  This year it boasts:  a 3,000 square foot Spinner’s Circle, a wool & mohair show/sale, goats and goat show ring, alpacas and alpaca show ring, sheep show and show ring, sheep-to-shawl and demos, a huge fiber arts vendor display and a plethora of workshops.

BlackSheep2015-2I spent most of today (the opening today) wandering through the gathering.  Getting to see (and touch) the animals who give us such wonderful fibers is always fun.  It’s hard to resist petting these creatures.  Thankfully visitors can pet most of them.

BlackSheep2015-11I kept an eye open for sock yarn and, in so doing met Marit Federcell of Las Flores del Altiplano Alpacas.  I loved that her fleece and yarns bear the name of the alpacas from which they came!  This picture is of Spring Bouquet.  I bought sock yarn from Zinnia and Lacey.  :)  Lacey’s sock yarn is destined for Wei Siew Leong’s Seadragonus.  Zinnia’s sock yarn will be going into the post to a certain New Zealand knit designer.

BlackSheep2015-13In this picture on the right … from the bottom is yarn from Zinnia, then Lacey, on top of Lacey is a tuft of Zinnia fleece (undyed), and on top of that is a skein of undyed Lacey.  They all sit atop Dave Yocon’sSock Buddy.” After eying Dave’s amazing woodworking at last year’s Black Sheep Gathering, I told myself that if he were at this year’s – well, it would be a sign (yes, a sign!) that I needed one.  So how could I argue with fate?!

BlackSheep2015-9I also got the opportunity listen to the ever charming and talented Judith MacKenzie judge hand spinning.  If you ever take a class with Judith, you BlackSheep2015-6won’t be disappointed!

This gizmo to the right is an antique sock machine demonstrated by Angora Valley Fibers.  (For those of you with a hankering to learn more, AVF restores and sells antique sock machines.)

BlackSheep2015-8Of course, I had to take a picture of the what is probably the most macabre hand felting I’d ever seen.  Such creativity – by Simply Holly Needlefelting!

The Black Sheep Gathering is always a wonderful three days.  Today I ran into friends, lunched next to a lifelong professional weaver who shared warping tips with me, and on my way out bumped into Irina of Blizzard Yarn & Fiber, whom I met at last year’s gathering.

More signs to be seen at Black Sheep:  Marit and her husband raise their alpacas in an area North of Vancouver, Washington, and Blizzard Yarn is in Vancouver.   And it just so happens Thor and I are looking for a house to buy in Vancouver, Washington.  :)

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Yesterday, June 13, was World Wide Knit in Public Day.  Begun 10 years ago by Danielle Landes, its purpose is to help create a community of knitters by publicly introducing oneself as a knitter.  I only heard about KIP a few days ago, though my whole life I’ve knit in public.  If it helps other knitters “come out,” as it were, however, I was willing to give KIP a try.

The problem was that I had nothing on my needles that would be good for knitting in public; lately I’ve been immersed in dyeing and weaving projects.   But that’s what stashes SockYarnTealare for.  But what to knit?  Socks!  I reached for a lovely teal skein of John Q Earth Wear (100g/361m, 85% recycled possum merino blend, 15% nylon) sent to me by Wei S. Leong of Kiwiyarns Knits.  (To read about possum yarns of New Zealand, see her post or about possum yarn more generally, see mine.)

I had long had my eyes on Wei Leong’s sock pattern Seadragonus anLeongSocksd thought Earth Wear would showcase it beautifully.  Problem:  I come Feetfrom a family of women with long (long) feet. I have never been able to knit a pair of socks out of a 100g skein of sock yarn that would fit me.  I have to buy 3 skeins and knit 2 pairs – one for me and one for my equally long-footed daughter.  Even Granddaughter F’s once dainty little feet (pic from 3 years ago, my foot on the left, her foot on the right) are now now nearly as big as her older brother’s feet.

So what to do?  I decided on a pair ankle socks.  I took some foot measurements, knit a gauge swatch, and jotted down my calculations for a pair of socks.  In order to give my socks a little pizzazz, I decided to use a provisional cast on and then knit on a ruffle.

SockKnitting2Thor and I walked to the nearest cafe and I started to knit. No one showed any interest in my knitting, so walked to another public place: Costco (with its Saturday mob scene).  We sat at the Costco lunch tables, and I again pulled out my knitting.  A few children SockKnitting3looked curiously my way, but other than that, my knitting sparked no interest.  As Costco isn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing knitting session, after knitting a few inches, we walked home where I continued to knit in peace and comfort.

SockKnitting8By the end of Knit in Public Day, the first sock was well on its way to completion.

SockKnittingI pulled out the provisional cast on and knit on the ruffle so I could show how a simple sock – in great yarn – sets it off.  (I just may have to knit more ruffled pairs for the other long-footed females in my life!)

While the Knit in Public part of the day wasn’t exactly exciting, it was wonderful – after a several month hiatus – to have needles back in my hands!  (By the way, you know what they say about women with long feet, right?  They have more understanding!  Get it?!)

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Smelly Silk & Soda Ash (Not Smelly)

Going through my stash, I discovered two cones (each weighing over 1 lb.) of tussah silk spun at 1800 yards per pound/1646 meters per .45 kilograms.  Tussah silk, sometimes silkworm2called “wild silk,” is produced by the uncultivated silk worm and is coarser (and stronger) than cultivated silk.  The silkworms that produce tussah silk are not fed mulberry leaves; they are found wild on forest trees.

I immediately envisioned dyeing experiments and started skeining.  I made several skeins but decided to dye only enough for a wall hanging of finger-manipulated weave stitches to be made on the SilkSkeinCricket – a little over 7oz/212g.  (My floor loom is warped with another project.)

I needed to wash the skeins before dyeing, of course.  I put the skeins into my large dye pot filled with tap water, added some liquid dish soap, put on the lid and turned on the heat.  About a half an hour later I removed the lid to check in a now gently simmering pot.

The smell made me stagger and gag!  It wasn’t an overly chemical smell (though I could detect that); it was, to put it mildly, putrid.  Why?

crysalis_silkworkAs explained by Clara Parkes in The Knitter’s Book of Yarn (2011), the smell is from the “remnants of the chrysalis that weren’t properly removed during degumming – normally a sign of sloppy processing and low-quality fiber” (p.33).

Oh dear.  Oh yuck.

Time for the skeins to take a long dip in a soda ash infused bath.  Soda ash (aka washing soda) is sodium carbonate, Na2CO3 – the sodium salt of carbonic acid (water soluble).   While not expensive, soda ash is not always easy to find.  I got my soda ash from a local textile supply store, Eugene Textile Center.

If you don’t have a either a stash of soda ash at the ready or a well-stocked textile store nearby, most people have the makings of soda ash in their kitchen: baking soda!  Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, CHNaO3.

To make soda ash, I bakingsodawould start by buying a large sack of baking soda (available at Costco!).  Next, spread some baking soda onto the bottom of a shallow pan and put in a 350-400° F (176-204° C) oven for about 45-60 minutes.  As it heats up, the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) will release carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), leaving dry sodium carbonate – soda ash.  When the baking soda looks powdery and a little bit like salt, you’ve got soda ash!  (If you make more than you plan on using, store it in an airtight container.)

By the way, normal levels of CO2 are considered harmless (per U.S. BLM).  While my kitchen certainly doesn’t qualify as a “confined area” where I’d worry about CO2 build up, I would leave the kitchen window wide open as I baked it.

More on those smelly skeins in my next post!

sodaashpools (2)P.S.  It is worth mentioning that swimming pool supply companies generally carry soda ash compounds to use for pH balancing purposes.   Soda ash is one of the ingredients so you’re better off making your own.   You can also find washing soda detergents (e.g., Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda), at grocery stores, but those generally contain other chemicals (e.g., fragrances and brighteners).

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Norwegian Weaving: Veskje (Threading Explanation)

NorskWeavers (2)Following my last blog post and with the English translation of Norwegian weaving terms I prepared, a weaver should be able to decipher the instructions below.  (Give it a try!)   Yet probably still confusing for English-speaking weavers in their first attempt at deciphering a Norwegian weaving pattern is the vevskje, the threading explanation (i.e., how many warp threads per centimeter).  (Pic source)

For example …


Teknikk                  Lerret

Renning                  Solberg bomullsgarn nr. 10/2 ubleket

Inslagg                    Solberg bomullsgarn nr. 10/2 rød

Vevskje                   40-10, 1/4

While the first number, 40-10, indicates 40 threads over 10 centimeters, the second number, 1/4, indicates how many threads will be put in each heddle and each dent:  1 means one thread through each heddle; 4 means four threads through each dent.

Thus, the vevskje 40-10, 1/4, indicates you will warp your loom at 160 threads per 10 centimeters or 16 threads per centimeter.

Skjebredde                Ca 1,0 m

Inslagg pr. cm           9

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Weaving in Another Language: Vocabulary

HusflidensvevbokI had a Norwegian speaking family where knitting was commonplace and, in fact, never even looked at an knitting pattern in English until I was almost 30 years old.  Now while my wrist heals, weaving has again captured my attention.  Reading through Husflidens vevbok by Tone Elsabeth Paulsen (1983), a book long-buried in my bookshelf makes me wish someone in the family had been an active weaver!

As any fiber artist knows, each art and craft has a vocabulary onto itself.  This means that unless skilled in a specific art or craft, even a native speaker of a language most likely will not know the vocabulary specific to that art or craft.

So now I’m learning to read a Norwegian weaving pattern and quickly adding to my Norwegian vocabulary.  In the bottom of this post are JPGs of my Norwegian weaving-specific vocabulary to date.  (I’ve included the words for some basic colors too.)  The list is available as a downloadable PDF on a static page at the top of my blog.  I welcome all corrections and/or additions.  Upon receipt I will update the static page.

Thank you to Linda Marveng for connecting me to Nodland Vestol.  I knew that “lerr” meant canvas (as in a picture’s) and had a hunch it meant tabby.  Thank you to Arvid Noland for confirming that!

In my next post, I will explain how to translate a Norwegian weaving draft (draw down) and basic written instructions.


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Weaving for The Cricket

Because of an overindulgence in crocheting granny squares (something I haven’t done since the early 1970s) for this year’s Christmas present for Granddaughter F, I can’t knit right now.  My daughter tried to forbid me to finish the blanket but I can’t not finish it; I think Granddaughter F will love it!  So I am pushing the proverbial envelope by crocheting – slowly – one six-row granny square per day.  As my daughter is not nearby to snatch it from me (and believe me, she would if she could), I think Thor and my daughter are in cahoots.  Somehow he always knows if I’ve gone over my 1-square limit at which point I have to put it away until the next day.  (But, steady is as steady goes:  I need 42 squares for Granddaughter F’s blanket, and I’ve crocheted 22!)

Cricket4So as I slowly (slowly) crochet the squares for the blanket, I’ve been so happy to return to weaving!  After sanding, staining and assemblying the 15″ wide (weaving width) Cricket loom (a surprise for Granddaughter F), I decided to weave the fabric for its carry bag.  I measured and sketched out the pieces and then ran the calculations for the warp and weft requirements.

CricketFabricPocketI used the peg method (which seems to be the rage for the Cricket, at least) to measure out the warp, then easily warped the Cricket and wove fabric for two pockets – one for either side of the carry bag.  Here’s a picture of the fabric off the loom before washing.

While the peg method for warping might be fine for small projects, it’s not good for long warps (in this case, nearly 5 yards).  In addition, the amount of warp needed for the fabric was more than I wanted to wind on the beams of the little Cricket.  Further, using a floor loom and boat shuttles is faster than a rigid heddle and stick shuttles (at least for me).

CricketFabricShuttlesSo, after a long hiatus, I pulled out my Schacht warping board (warps up to 14 yards), measured out the warp, and put it on my Mighty Wolf.  Using two colors – one a solid blue, the other space dyed – I warped for a simple, modified pinwheel by alternating warp colors every two threads (and weft colors every two shots).  Those beautiful boat shuttles were made by Ken Ledbetter of KCL Woods.

It had been a while since I last used my floor loom, and I was having a blast!  Before I made my morning coffee, I was at my loom weaving!  The fabric wove up quickly, and I cut it off the loom yesterday.

CricketFabricHere’s a picture of the finished fabric (prewashed, off the loom).  Laying the length of blue fabric (for the pockets), next to this multi-colored piece, I envisioned a nice carry bag.

But something was off.  The multi-colored fabric was significantly narrower than the solid fabric!

Oh dear … For the piece woven on the Cricket, I used the heddle that came with it:  8 dents per inch.  I was so excited to warp the Mighty Wolf that I neglected to check which reed I had on; it was 10 dents per inch.


Ah well, I view mistakes as opportunities to learn from and improve (hence my two short marriages and divorces before Thor).  Now I have to go back to my sketches and redraw the carry bag.  I have plenty of both cotton yarns remaining, so if need be I’ll simply rewarp and weave some more (soooo much fun!).

While I work on redrafting and sewing the carry bag for the Cricket, I’ll be warping the Mighty Wolf for a blanket for Grandson O’s Christmas present (I’ll be sure and check and double check what reed is on) and the Cricket for some experimenting with finger manipulated stitches.  Weaving joy!

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