Opening a Yarn Store online

Those of you who know me know that I am a fiber artist in my spare time. I make yarn from raw fleeces, I knit, crochet, weave, and felt. I recently created a new web site to promote my yarn proclivities – Spinning Johnny\’s Yarn Shop and More – and further, I\’ve got a page that illustrates the process from sheep\’s fleece to a scarf that I made for a friend.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the process than I presently have illustrated. I\’ve purchased four new fleeces this Spring, so I can document more of the operations as I clean these fleeces and turn them into yarn.

Yeah, I\’ve been meaning to get around to it, really

Now some two years into the program, and 20 months post surgery, I\’ve lost 120#, and sometimes more. My weight is fluctuating between 220-230 of late, and I topped out at about 351#. More important than the weight, though, is the stark drop in A1C, which is a measure of damage sugar does to your blood cells. I was at an out-of-the-world 9.0 before I started losing weight. Now I\’m at a very comfortable 5.5. I can sit in a booth at a restaurant! I\’m wearing jeans sized 36 or 38, when I had been in a 54. I tried on a sports coat this evening. It is so large it couldn\’t even be converted into double-breasted, even ignoring the pocket placement (it\’s in front now!).


Clearly I need to update more often

Hmmm. It looks like my last post was on the day of my surgery. That was a year ago yesterday. Since I started the weight loss program, I have lost over 100#. Had appointments with my nutritionist Jillian and my wonderful surgeon Laura, and I\’m doing well.


Well, so far the Gastric Sleeve procedure I had on July 11 seems to be working out pretty well[1]. I\’ve lost about 27# in the intervening five weeks – 59# since about this time (August) last year (2015). A good chunk of that weight dropped off simply by eliminating carbohydrates from my diet.

I only play a doctor on TV, but I can totally recommend that if you want to drop your blood glucose levels, or if you want to drop a relatively quick 10-20#, cut carbs from your diet for a month. The first few days are tough. I know – no pasta, no bread with oil at your favorite Italian restaurant. No ice cream, no rice. But do it for just a month. It\’s easier than quitting cigarettes, but just as good for you.

Give it a shot. Avoid having this surgery – it\’s not that much fun. Now I don\’t have ROOM for bread. I don\’t have ROOM for dessert. I don\’t have ROOM for sufficient protein and more than a few brussels sprouts or a few spears of asparagus. I don\’t have ROOM for a baked potato.

[1] \”well\” is a relative term. In terms of weight loss, I\’m doing well. The other night we went out and I had a delicious pork chop, some roasted fingerling potatoes, and roasted brussels sprouts. And a beer. I had about half of a pork chop, three or four bites of potato, and three or four bites of brussels sprouts. And about a third of that beer. That was all I could eat. But I did take it home and have another meal of it. But I left behind 2/3 of a beer. They didn\’t offer takeaway cups…

Today is the day!

Those of you that know me realize that I have never been a skinny guy. I wasn\’t so fat that the Navy didn\’t take me in 1972, but at that time I was about 6\’0\” and about 185#. Over the years I managed to pack on a few pounds here and there, and at my peak weight I was over 350#. The highest recorded weight (I have been weighing in on Wednesday morning for years now) was 348.9. Pretty stout.

I\’ve managed to lose weight here and there as well – Atkins (didn\’t work for me at all), Weight Watchers (lost 40#, gained back 60), and other attempts, none of them really successful.

Over the years the doctors started warning me about the long-term bad effects that could come along if I didn\’t lose weight. First it was mild warnings. Then \”pre-diabetes\” (whatever THAT is). Then it was diabetes. Just another word. But I wasn\’t just \”overweight\”. Or even \”obese\”. I had managed to get into the \”morbidly obese\” category, with this diabetes kicker. \”Oh, you\’ll ruin your kidneys. You\’ll have diabetic retinopathy. You\’ll have peripheral nerve damage.\” We monitored my kidneys, which are still OK. And my eyes are checked by an ophthalmologist about every year (usually about 15 month intervals, because by the time I realize it\’s been a year, they are booking 3 months out). But the peripheral nerve damage. I started getting signs of it maybe a year ago. Every once in a while, a slight twinge, only in my left foot. I\’d bring it up to the doctor and get a \”yeah, that might be it\”, and my diabetic specialist would test my extremities and not find anything conclusive.  But it seems to have progressed a bit, just to the point of where it might be considered annoying, but not pressing, and certainly not \”dangerous\”. But still.

But still. It was time to do something. I went to a Bariatric Weight Loss clinic at Emerson Hospital several months ago, and everything clicked.

For the past several months, after joining their program, I have been prepping for surgery. I have lost 31.6#, down to 317.4 today, the lightest I have been since my Grandfather\’s birthday (August 19) in 2009.

I\’m going in for surgery today. Dr Laura Doyon is going to punch five holes in my abdomen, inflate me with CO2 gas, stick in a camera, a fancy stapler, and a few other implements of medical destruction, and then run four rows of staples into my stomach, sealing off what will remain, sealing off what will be removed, and then cut between rows 2 & 3 of the staples, and pull out about 70% of my stomach. She\’s also going to fix a small hiatal hernia, where my esophagus passes through my diaphragm, then pull everything out ( I do wonder if I\’ll sound like a deflating balloon when she takes out the CO2 tube…), and close up the small incisions.

No longer will I be able to eat eight lobsters, a couple ears of corn, and have room for pie. I might be able to eat one lobster, perhaps two, but there won\’t be room for pie. I won\’t be \”filling up\” on salad before the meal, because salad has so very little nutrient value. Rather I\’ll be concentrating on the important stuff – protein. A cheeseburger will be OK. Well, initially maybe half a cheeseburger. Hold the bread. Hold the fries. Hold the Diet Coke (which I hated anyway. I do not like artificial sweetener) because apparently the carbonation wreaks havoc on the little tiny pouch of a stomach you have left. Oh, crap. No beer? Oh, crap.

Over time, this tiny pouch will stretch a bit, so eventually I might be able to get in a whole cheeseburger. Hold the bread. Hold the fries.

And pizza? Please cut it into six slices. I\’d never be able to eat eight.

I\’ll keep you updated.

Be well,



Spinning Wheels

I recently purchased another spinning wheel – a Wee Peggy, made in New Zealand. That picture isn\’t mine – I picked an image from the internet and give full credit to a lady named Melanie who lives in Queensland Australia. She had a better picture than I could provide. Here  is her blog if you want to visit.


And just yesterday I drove down to Seekonk (yes, that\’s a real town – this is Massachusetts) to buy an electric spinner – the Electric Eel Wheel. Hard to call it a spinning wheel as it really is just a box. Here is a link to the website, and a picture of the wheel, linked from the website:\"ElectricIt\’s made of laser-cut plywood and is driven by an Atmel ATtiny45 microcontroller, which likely means nothing to you, but to me it means I can hack the software. I know the processor family and the program is written in C, where I claim some expertise. The Electric Eel is open source, meaning that the designer has made the plans, the code, the entire design available to the general public. He only restricts that one cannot make them to sell – he (rightfully so) reserves that for himself.

I\’m now up to six wheels, two looms, and an e-spinner.


The Fermented Suint Method

Most of you know that I\’m deeply involved in fiber. I deal primarily in wool, as a knitter, dyer, spinner, and sometime weaver. Most of you know that I am also on a quest to become omniscient, or all-knowing. In order to achieve that goal, I figure I have to know only know everything, but know how to do everything. Toward that end, last year I bought a couple of raw fleeces – either at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival or the Fiber Festival of New England (both of which are just a hoot to attend), figuring that I could learn how to process raw fleece into dyed yarn.

One of the fleeces I bought was washed in the \”conventional\” way, that is to say, it\’s divided into several mesh laundry bags, then gently placed into the washing machine, prefilled with the hottest water the water heater could produce. I used Dawn dishwashing detergent, and let the fleece soak for about a half hour. Then I used the spin cycle to spin out all of the (really nasty) wash water. I washed it three or four times. I neglected to take notes. (I don\’t even remember what kind of fleece it was – I think Border Leicester). Then I rinsed it three times the same way – very hot water, soak, then spin. NO AGITATION. That would turn it into a big felted mess. But it didn\’t get as clean as I\’d like it to be. I am carding that fleece right now, and it\’s rather a tough slog. There has to be a better way.

Enter the Fermented Suint Method (FSM). Apparently it\’s been used for centuries. It\’s very cheap. It works very well. Oh, did I mention it\’s cheap? But is is disgusting. No, make that DISGUSTING.  I had it on good authority that it might smell a bit. Or a lot. Something akin to a barnyard. In the summer. Having grown up on a farm between two farms, and having raised chickens and even a couple of goats, I forged ahead. And the smell is nowhere as near as bad as chickens.\"fsm\"

When sheep sweat, they produce this substance called suint, which is, by itself, something of a natural soap. This stuff helps the sheep healthy by continuously pushing dirt away from the skin. The dirt migrates out toward the outer tip of the fleece, and the suint keeps it stuck there, where it remains until the sheep is shorn, typically in the spring.

Washing a fleece with FSM is just dead easy. I have a 10-gallon container from the \”big box store\”. It\’s opaque, which helps prevent the growth of algae, which I understand can be problematic. I got a couple of 5-gallon buckets, too, at another \”big box store\”. They are orange, if that gives you a hint. I collected 10 gallons of rainwater in the next storm, and poured the bulk of that into the big container, and submerged a whole fleece into it. That\’s the FSM to the left. Looks nice, right? (Apparently, the odor has killed one of Peg\’s plastic flamingos.)

Then, following the incredibly easy instructions, I waited. Of course I checked it a couple of times. But when I returned from Maine (oops – with two more fleeces) the next Sunday, I checked, and quite amazingly, the fleece was clean. No dirt in the tips. None! That was in stark contrast with the fleece that I\’d washed \”conventionally\” four times.

I then washed the fleece \”conventionally\” but with considerably less detergent, and rinsed once. I set the fleece out to dry on a sweater drying rack (one that I use specifically for fleece – I am not stupid!), and it turned out lovely.\"fleece\" You can see that in the photo to the left.

I immediately followed that fleece with another, a Lincoln fleece from Minnesota (below). After pulling it out four days later, it\’s also very clean. Washed once  and rinsed twice, it is now drying, and another fleece is in the FSM. While the fleece is still wet, you can see that the dirt has come right out of it. I was questioning that two days ago. Now I\’m very happy!\"lincoln\"

I have several other fleeces to process, but now that I have a method that is not too painful, I don\’t mind. I\’m still working on the first fleece – picking and carding, to produce something that I can spin. Subjects for more blogging. Plus I am making a picking machine.

Happy Spinning!

Out of work again

Though that last contract was supposed to convert to a permanent job, funding reigned, and the job slipped through my fingers. So once again I am a job seeker. I am taking the opportunity to learn some new skills – I\’m taking an online course on Web Development, and have several other courses paid for and queued up.

The Wool Picker

I\’m making a wool picker, which is a device used to break up clumps of wool from a sheep\’s fleece into individual fibers, which can then be carded or combed before spinning. You can Google it if you want to know more.

I\’m documenting this for my spinning audience, where this might be of some interest.

I don\’t have any pictures to post at this point, so a progress report and a simple description is about all I have to provide.

I started the picker by cutting the sides, top, and bottom to length. The sides are made out of 1×10\” pine, which is really about 3/4\” x 9 1/4\”. The top and bottom, which will be inside the sides, are 1×8 stock, or about 3/4\” x 7 1/4\”.

I fashioned and attached (glue and countersunk screws) a couple of cleats (1×3\”) at the top inside of the sides, about 3/4\” from the top edge. The top piece is intended to rest on the cleats with the top flush with the top edge of the sides.

I don\’t yet know where to place the bottom of the box. That all depends on how the teeth of the picker end up, so making those is the next step. I failed in my first attempt, so I purchased more lumber for my next try.

I started the toothed inserts with 3\” 20d finish nails. The nails are angled about 45 degrees from the vertical, with five rows angled left, the next five rows angled left, and the last five rows angled left again. I drilled slightly undersized holes for each nail (13 nails per row x 15 rows = 195 nails. Then I started hammering in the nails, row by row. Due to my miscalculation, about two rows in, the board split right down the middle.

The next run at it I\’ll use a 1/8\” drill bit, which just allows the nails to slide through.