Cover of the Fine issue of PLY

Put Some Fiber On It

Hi friends! We recently finished shooting the Autumn 2015 – Texture issue of PLY. Jacey and I often joke about how each new issue is our favorite, but this one is going to BLOW YOU AWAY.

Before I divulge any information about the Autumn issue, let’s chat about Summer, shall we? I think it’s going to be your favorite. Some of you have already found it in your mailbox this week. Hopefully the postal system will be kind to the rest of you.

I’m sure we’ve mentioned this before, but shooting each issue seasonally can be tricky, because we take photos about 4-5 months before the issue is printed and shipped to you. We don’t strive for perfection but we also don’t want snow in the summer issue, you know? (Sorry, folks in the southern hemisphere, nothing is ever on time for you. I apologize for the hemisphere discrimination you face on a frequent basis.)

When the time came for our scheduled shoot, it was bitterly cold, the ground covered in snow. Clearly we couldn’t shoot outside, for reasons both aesthetic and practical. Fortunately Powell Gardens, only 30 miles away, had an exhibit in their natural light conservatory called Desert in Bloom. Because of the weather we even had the whole space to ourselves.

When evaluating a space for shooting, obviously we have some specific needs. Natural light is a must. While we have studio lighting, it adds a lot of time to the process and it simply doesn’t compare to the real thing. We also look at the colors in the environment, the availability of textured, interesting surfaces for backgrounds, and the variety of settings. Every set of photos has different requirements. Spinning shots take up more space and the background has to be interesting but not TOO interesting. Shots with models in garments need great light and good background, and they often set the scene for the magazine – they give the photography in the issue a unifying sense of place. Swatch shots need a flat surface that has texture but doesn’t compete with the texture of the fiber. The conservatory was perfect for our needs, and additionally provided the material for my FAVORITE cover shot so far.

When I spotted the beautiful Queen Victoria agave specimen in a pot beside the conservatory’s central pool, I knew it had to be in the issue. After taking a few shots of it, I employed the PLY equivalent of “put a bird on it,” which is to stick some fiber on the thing I find pretty and hope I get away with it. I think it worked this time.

Cover of the Fine issue of PLY

After the shoot I had to get a Queen Victoria Agave of my own. I ordered some seeds and within a week they were planted in a pot in my kitchen window. It has been 14 weeks and I have three plants. I had read that they are slow-growing…yeah, they’re not kidding. I’ll get back to you in 15-20 years with an update. In the meantime, enjoy the Fine issue! ~ Bernadette




A little Sheepspot

A little Sheepspot

I get rejected a lot. I propose a lot of classes and articles all over the place and most of the time the answer is no. Even when I get asked to propose, frequently I get a no.

I used to wallow in the gross feeling of not getting picked, but now I don’t.

It’s not instantly sunshine and lollypops, I take my moment to relive not getting picked for dodgeball in 5th grade, then move on. It’s part of the process.


Then I’m back at the work of ideas and proposals.  Here’s a not so secret, secret, the stuff that gets rejected will get accepted. It may become a small part of something else, it might get combined with two or three other things, it might get accepted, as is, somewhere else. Any thinking or planning is good work.


A little Fiberstory

A little Fiberstory

This week I got rejected by PLY. I sent in an article proposal awhile back and this week I got a nice form email from Jacey saying basically, thanks, but no thanks.

Guess what? I’m happy about it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had a minute or two of that cruddy rejection feeling, but quickly thought differently. It’s not about my idea’s worth or even my personal worth, it’s about the magazine, and that made me happy.


What quickly pushed any gloomy thoughts out of my brain was the thought of getting that finished magazine in my inbox and seeing how it was built into a great issue. How the articles and projects balance each other and the idea of the theme. I know I’ll see instantly that my idea would have been OK, but wasn’t quite right.

Jacey has proved herself again and again that she knows how to make an excellent issue of our excellent magazine. When I get to be part of the inside I am overjoyed. When I get to participate as a reader I am completely content to roll around in other people’s ideas and learn a bunch about spinning.


And that rejected idea? I’m already using it somewhere else!

Studio Time

Sometimes I call my work room at home my studio. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I was in an actual recording studio with cameras and stuff!

I recorded two vidoes. One called Spin Thin all abut how to spin fine yarns and the other is Getting Even, all about spinning more consistently. It was scary and fun all at the same time.

Plus I had professional makeup with EYELASHES!



I took a lot of stuff.




There were plenty of samples.

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I was really nervous but I pushed through it.

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The camera guys were awesome. And funny.

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And then it was all over.

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The videos are being produced by Interweave and will be out in July and August of this year if all goes according to plan. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you when they are ready.


I’ve been spinning a lot lately. Sometimes there are so many deadlines for writing that the spinning kind of gets pushed to the back but other times I need samples and things for articles as well as classes and I also get sad that my personal projects are being neglected and so i spin and spin and spin for hours every day.

This amount of spinning has gotten me thinking about bobbins. 2015-01-29 12.59.52

I started a project on my Norm Hall Wheel. I have 6 bobbins for that wheel but 4 of them are full with the yarn for the personal project. I have been spinning samples on my Matchless. I have about 18 bobbins for that wheel I think but usually only about 4 of them don’t have yarn. There’s another personal project in process on the Schacht Reeves. I only have 4 bobbins for that wheel and 3 are currently full.

As you can see, no matter how many bobbins you have for a particular wheel, it never seems to be enough for me.

Bobbins can be pricey. so what’s a spinner to do? Storage bobbins!

For storage of singles that I have spun for a project but I’m not ready to ply yet I like to use a couple of different types of bobbins for storage. There are 6 inch weaving bobbins that are great for finer yarns. They look small but you will be surprised at how much yardage can fit on one bobbin. Also, I like the cardboard bobbins that weavers use for warping. They are very cheap – less than $2.00 each – and can be reused.





Now using these bobbins for storage may bring up an issue about how best to wind the yarn from the spinning wheel bobbin onto the storage bobbin. If you are a weaver, you probably already have a winding tool for weaving bobbins and this will work just great whether it is electric or hand cranked. Another option is an electric drill with a dowel put in where the bit goes. Then you put the storage bobbin onto the end. If the bobbin opening is too big, just use some wool and jam the bobbin on tightly.

I choose to use other bobbins as storage rather than winding the yarn from the bobbin by hand into a ball because it’s faster and also because I can put my storage bobbin right onto my kate for plying.

If you do choose to wind into a ball, make sure you wind from the side of the bobbin and not over the end as this can change the amount of twist in the yarn and mess up any calculations or work you have put into planning.

What do you do about bobbin storage?

A longwool stole

Leicester Longwool Give-a-way

One of my favorite projects in any PLY is the Pacific Trillium Stole by Melinda VerMeer. I love the drape of the Leicester Longwool, the running lace stitches throughout the length and the gentle lace edgings. I like that it’s so wide and so long. It feels substantial and delicate at the same time. The color is also perfect, a silvery purple dyed to perfection by Solitude Wool. If you don’t know Solitude Wool, check them out. As spinners, any time we can get breed-specific fiber is a good time. Clun forest, Karakul, Jacob, Tunis, Leicesters, Romney…it’s all there. Did I mention they have black Karakul? I want somebody to make something fantastic out of the black Karakul!

I also want somebody to make the Pacific Trillium Stole and I want to give you the fiber to do it! I have the same silvery-purple Leicester Longwool from Solitude Wool that we used in the Leicester issue and I’m giving it away. Leave a review of the Leicester issue of PLY Magazine here (on the Leicester page under the review tab) and on April 17th I’ll randomly pick the winner from everyone that left a review!

*don’t leave your review here in the comments, go here to do it!

Ideas and proposals

I’m in New Mexico. I’m not supposed to be here, but here I am. I had a fantastic weekend with the Las Aranas guild, spinning and braving the snow and ice covered roads (in New Mexico!). While I was here I received the most amazing indigo-dyed gossamer shawl I’ve ever had the luck to fold in half and drape around my shoulders.  Knit by mara bishop statnekov, I can’t take it off.  Ever.  As kind as it is beautiful.

I was supposed to be home early this morning.  I was supposed to leave tomorrow morning for Iceland, with a 3 hour layover in Denver. Instead, and due to the ice here in NM and in TX, I’m meeting Levi and O (my 8-year old daughter) in Denver tomorrow and then off to Iceland.  It’s all going to be fine.  It is.  I know it.

And Iceland is going to be fantastic. I can hardly wait.  I’m teaching for 2 days, giving a talk at the art school, and touring for 5 days. While I’m there, the Leicester issue will be winging it’s way to you.  You’re going to love it, I think.  I love it.  I know I always say that, but I do.

But while I’m captured by ice in New Mexico, I’d like to talk about something.

Years ago, I used to hear a few people grumble with frustration that they’d propose article ideas to Spin Off and then later they’d see their article idea in the magazine but written by somebody else. They would say that it wasn’t fair or nice that the magazine would take their proposal and get somebody else to write it. Of course, I thought that wasn’t fair or nice too. Who wouldn’t? It’s only now that I realize that was probably not at all what was really happening.

I say this because I have some personal experience with this very thing. Every issue I get (thankfully) lots and lots of proposals. Sometimes over 200. It’s wonderful and the reason the magazine is so great. However, out of those 200 proposals, there might be 100 that are actually different. What I mean is that the same general proposal will come in from 5 or 6 people. It won’t be exact, of course, but it’ll be the same in spirit. And so if it’s an article that enriches the issue, that makes it big and round and awesome, I’ll ask one of the authors that proposed it, to write it.

What that means is that several other people will later see the article in the magazine. It will look like the article they proposed, and it is, but it’s also the article the author of the article proposed.

Spinning is an old craft. Spinners are brilliant. It makes sense that several of us come up with the same ideas about a particular topic, right?

So, just in case you were wondering, and because I hate the idea of people going around feeling sad, or thinking that we don’t like them, or even that we’re not nice or fair, let me assure you, we don’t ever take one person’s idea and ask another person to write it. Not ever. I’m pretty sure that Spin Off doesn’t do it either.




In With the New

…But not out with the old.

I love lace and it’s not a secret to anyone who knows me. When I was a kid, my mom made custom wedding dresses and we lived near Philadelphia so I would travel with her to the fabric district in Philly whenever she neede to by fabric for the next wedding. I would get sucked into the room with all of the laces. From all over the world. Some hand embroidered, some beaded, some that cost hundreds of dollars per yard. I had a hard time not toouching them and I got in trouble a lot.

When I learned to knit, one of the first things I tried was lace after I had the basics down. But bobbin lace has been calling my name for years. I love the pillows and the bobbins and the very fine thread and oh how I wanted to try it. But I was a little afraid that it would be too much for me. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough.

Well, last fall Jillian – you all know her, right? – told me to just go for it. And she bugged me until I found a teacher. I was able to find someone a little less than an hour away. I got myself a pillow (not the fancy one I really want) and a few bobbins and I’ve been going for it.

This is the last project I worked on.






It’s not perfect butI can’t believe I can do it!

I have big plans for spinning for bobbin lace next. A fine, smooth, tightly plied thread. And because I am me, I will try it with a soft Romney and Blue Faced Leicester and maybe Polwarth and see how the laces differ from each other.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Breaking down the Math: the price of PLY

Do you know how much I knew about making a magazine before I actually started making a magazine? Almost exactly zero. And I believe in the truth.  I mean, I believe in telling the truth, in being as transparent as possible, even when it comes to business and money so I’m going to talk to you about why PLY is the price that it is, a price that is higher than many other magazines, especially magazines in our own genre.

PLY is $36 for a year’s US subscription.  We don’t give discounts and we don’t go on sale. I recently got a “please come back to us for only $12” email from another craft magazine and it worked, I came back to them!  However, PLY will never do that. We just can’t afford it.

Here’s why.

Most magazines don’t actually rely on the revenue from subscriptions. Surprising, right? I had no idea of that little fact. I figured that’s what supported a magazine, but it’s not. It’s why they can sell subscriptions for so cheap, $12 a year and buy one get one free and all that. The serious revenue for magazines comes from advertisements. Did you know that most magazines (and everyone that I subscribe to except Taproot, which has no ads) has between 55% and 75% advertising? That means that if I take one of the several craft magazines on my coffee table right now and thumb through all the pages counting up the space taken by ads and adding it together, there is 62 pages of ads and 38 pages of actual non-ad content. Really, I just checked.

Since each ad page in our type of magazines (because while fashion magazines have the same ratios, they charge far more for advertising) brings in anywhere between $1200 and $3000, average advertising revenue per issue is $75,000 – $190,000. It’s the advertising that pays a magazine’s way in this world and it’s that advertising that keeps subscriber prices so low. Subscriptions are what the magazine needs to get the advertisers. If a magazine can show a potential advertiser that they have a boatload of subscribers, the advertiser is far more likely to happily hand over the green that keeps the lights on.

So you see, it’s in the best interest of the magazine to get as many subscribers as they can, any way they can, even if it’s for $12 a year. It’s not for the direct revenue; it’s for indirect revenue. It’s for showing the advertisers how many eyeballs will be looking at the ads.

That’s how magazines work.

It is, however, not how PLY works.

We have between 12%-15% advertising in each issue of PLY. Never more. We think it’s better for our readers and better for the advertisers we do have. Plus, there’s just too much content to include in every issue, I can barely fit it all in! Also, our smaller ads (quarter and 1/12 page ads) are priced relatively low so that small, independent companies can afford to advertise. Each issue of PLY clears just under $14,000 in advertising revenue. That’s the number (it’s also the number, by the way, that we pay out each issue to contributors/writers/designers).  So our fantastic advertisers pay for our fantastic contributors.  It’s a wash.

Let me jump in here and say that I’m not discounting our advertisers. I adore them. Love them. Am completely grateful to them. I think they make the magazine better and I’m thankful that they choose to work with us. But I’m happy that we keep the ad to content ratio right where it is.

So you see, since we keep our advertising so low, we need our subscribers in a different way than most magazines need their subscribers. The subscription money is what pays the bills around here, directly. That’s not the regular magazine model but its what we’re doing. Before our first issue, everybody I know in the industry said that it couldn’t work, that people were used to very cheap subscription prices and wouldn’t pay the higher price. They all said we’d have to incorporate far more advertising.

However, so far it is working.

But the lack of advertising revenue coming in is just part of the equation in what makes our subscription price higher. The other part is the money going out.

Fiber is beautiful. We want to capture that beauty. The smooth silk, the crimp in a lock, the result of a slight difference in draft, our pages come alive with these things. However, if our pages are thin and transparent, it won’t matter how great the photography is because images and text will bleed through and muddy everything.

So PLY has good, thick, archival paper, both the cover and the inside pages. It raises the price from 0.30 – 0.45 an issue to $3.00-$4.00 an issue but it’s worth it. Not only does it mean the magazine is going to look and feel wonderful but it’s also going to (mostly) be able to stand up to the postal service (and that’s saying something, right?) and it’s going to last for the readers.

But because our paper is thick, our magazine is heavy. I just weighed 3 other craft magazines on my kitchen scale and they all fall between 6 ounces and 8 ounces. PLY weighs 14 ounces. What this means is that instead of costing 0.30 – 0.45 to mail inside the US via periodical postage, it’s over a dollar. And if I want to mail it from home (where I can’t use our periodical postage status) because a subscriber issue got lost, damaged, or the subscriber without telling me, it’s a whopping $6.00 to ship! So thick paper is great and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but I does have some drawbacks.

There are other bills too, of course: a $2 ,000 monthly IRS bill, monthly subscription management and ad-management fees, studio rental space, and little things here and there. Oh yeah, the 4 people that work for PLY, 2 of which (kitten and me) call it a full-time job.

All of this, in fact, everything except the contributors (which is what the advertiser revenue covers) is paid for by our subscription revenue and every dollar of each subscription goes somewhere it’s needed! I’ve tried to figure out how to make it cheaper but the math just doesn’t work. It’s why we can’t offer discounts or sales. It’s why it’s $36.

Low advertising, quality paper, great and in-depth writing, beautiful photography.

That’s why PLY costs more.





And the winner is…

Christine Long Derks!  A brand new LeClerc Cendrel Inkle floor loom is all yours!  Email me and we’ll talk delivery!