How to Shoot a Magazine, Prelude



When Jacey first told me that she was starting a spinning magazine, I said something like “Awesome! You’ll do great!” I even meant it. Next she said she wanted me to take the photos, to which I replied something like “Are you crazy?” The thing is, and if you know Jacey you will totally understand, when Jacey wants something, she usually gets it. The obvious next step was for me to figure out how to take pictures that would make Jacey happy. I had a million questions about how to face this project and approximately seven answers. I was painfully aware that I had no idea what I was doing.

My first approach was to do a lot of research. I was hoping to find a book in the library called How to be a Really Great Fiber Photographer in Four Easy Lessons. That book was checked out, so I ended up with some self-help books on coping with anxiety. I read way too many photography blogs, books, and magazines, and ultimately decided that beginners luck has to be a real thing. Six issues later, I am so enthusiastic about the future of my work with PLY, in large part because I can now at least identify what I don’t know. Each shoot is a little more relaxed, the editing workflow less frustrating.

In this series, I plan to explore each issue of PLY, its challenges and successes, and delve into what we learned in each shoot. I’ll share some photography techniques I have found helpful in getting more accurate photos of fiber and finished projects. I’ll also address some post processing work to correct common issues like color casts and blown out highlights. Of course I’ll share favorite photos, embarrassing photos, and behind-the-scenes shots of Jacey eating chocolate and Levi being Levi. I look forward to your questions, comments, and insight!

Ideas: What Am I Going to Write About?

I write about spinning. That’s a big part of my job and I feel grateful every day. When I first started getting more writing work I started freaking out about ideas – what am I going to write about?

I think writing about spinning is important, so I wanted to have IDEAS, and write about Big Important Things. When I approached my writing that way it made me feel tired, uninspired and unlikely to get any words on paper. I quickly shifted my thinking and have it down to a more or less 5 step process. I do these in any order and sometimes skip over or merge steps.

1) What am I curious about?

One of the main reasons I write is to learn. If something is knocking on my brain asking me to explore it there’s a good chance that I’m going to find a writing idea there. Especially if this something keeps circling around and kicking me in the shin. It  happens a lot when I’m spinning,  all of the questions start flowing in, what if I did this differently, why do I have so much trouble with this? I grab onto one or two or ten things that flow in and write them down. Then I keep moving through my process.

2) What are other people curious and excited about?

I don’t intentionally go looking for the questions or ideas that have made me curious, instead I listen to the spinners’ ether. I just keep reading the same blogs, magazines, boards, books that I always do, but now part of my attention is tuned to those idea seeds. It’s amazing to me how those threads always pop up. Everyone is curious, lots of times about the same thing, but not in the same way. This week I got curious about blending boards and I found so many words about different aspects of them – better overall blending of fibers, easier to keep color distinct, faster than handcards, easier than a drum carder, etc.

3) Distill

At some point the idea gets too big or confusing in my mind to write about easily or I start only thinking about one part of the idea  and I know it’s time to focus. I distill the idea down like corn into moonshine. Again, it comes down to interest and curiosity, what do I want to know or what sounds fun or interesting? Do I want to do an overview of something or get deep into a single aspect? Thinking about woolen preparation can become an overview of three or four ways to do woolen prep or the difference flat-back or curved-back hand cards make to carding.

4) Visuals

I like to think about how it will all look when it’s done. That helps me focus even more. What pictures do I need? What has to be shown, what would be nice to have if there is space. I don’t just think about pictures for this step, I also think about what could stand alone as a sidebar or box. It could be something to emphasize in the article or the answer to a frequently asked question. For an article on buying hand cards it could be Three Things to Think About When Buying Cards or Cotton Cards for Wool?

5) Be true to me

Back when I was trying to write about IDEAS I wanted to sound important too. But I never felt like more of a fraud than when I didn’t sound like myself, whether it was my approach to an idea or the actual words I used. Every spinning writer has their own unique approach and style. You can give four writers the article prompt Rolags for Woolen Spinning and get four very different articles back. Now I know pretty quickly if I’m veering from Jillian-style into Not-Jilian-Style. This has helped me say no to or reconfigure article pitches that really don’t fit my style. I wouldn’t write an article on Carding a Structurally Sound Rolag, but would love to write Carding Rolags for Beautiful Sweater Yarn.


Back to the wheel for me, I have writing deadlines!

Twist cover

PLY like an eagle


Spinzilla invited me to be part of their 2015 blog tour.  I was assigned the topic of plying and if there’s anything I know, it’s plying.  I’ve plied even, I’ve plied off-tensioned, I’ve plied with a push up and a squiggle, I’ve plied the same yarn this way and that way and over and over.  I used to devote one workday a week to experimental plying. Once I plied a yarn 6 times, just to see what would happen.

Yep, it’s no secret that I’ve made my career off of plying, from the beginning to now and into the foreseeable future.  My first years selling yarn, teaching and writing were based on plying.  Man alive did I love spinning coils.  It’s all I wanted to do for a while.  Did I ever tell you how I learned?  It was way back before etsy and ravelry.  People were still using LJ (live journal) and I happened upon a photo of a yarn by Adrian Bazilia.  I’d been spinning straight and sturdy yarn for 2 years and here was this poppy, fun yarn that sung to my spinning soul.  I e-mailed her and asked her how she accomplished such a feat.  She (gracefully, for I was a complete stranger asking her to write a tutorial for me when she’d rather be spinning, canning, and dying fiber) sent me a quick run down of the steps needed to coil .*

plycoilscover1The first 5 years of my spinning career was all about plying.  I supported a family of 3 and then 4 with what Esther Rodgers now calls “wild-plied yarns” but what I called “textured spinning” in an attempt to escape the moniker “art yarn”.  I spun 6 hours a day 5 days a week and we scraped by. I mean, seriously scraped by. Of course, Sit and Spin came and went and then articles for Spin Off (and my first cover!).  Thank goodness for Spin Off!  I really feel like it was due to that long-running magazine that current-day textured spinning got legitimatized in the eyes of the larger spinning community.  And then Spin Art.  All the while, my adventures with plying stayed the course.

For me, for a long while, plying was about texture and balance.  I was really concerned with balance.  I remember telling the Yarn Harlot once, on a shuttle to Madrona, that I felt like everything I spun must be balanced.  She asked me why I hated singles so much and I replied that it wasn’t that I hated singles, it’s that I felt like the yarns I was spinning, teaching, basing my career on, were assumed by many to be novelty, unbalance-able, unworkable, and to be taken seriously I needed to show everyone that everything that came off my wheel could hang perfectly straight and was never tension-set.  She told me that was silly.  She also told me that wearing a sweater the first hour of class until everyone realized I was nice before I took it off and revealed my tattoo-covered arms, was silly too.

She was right on both accounts.

Just like it took me years to find comfort in spinning longdraw, it took me a long time to understand the subtlety of plying.  Back before the Yarn Harlot took me to task for not giving fiber people enough credit, both as spinners and as people, I  didn’t realize that different yarns required different plying (outside of textured techniques, of course). I was long into spinning before I knew very much.  Here’s a few things I’ve picked up about plying:

Yarn shouldn’t come off bobbin hanging straight and limp. I used to feel such a swell of pride taking my yarn off my bobbin seeing no twist in the skein. Limp and flaccid, bah. That’s not how we want our yarns! Give it some life!  Let that baby have a bit more twist. You want it coming off the bobbin with a twist or 2 in the skein. It’ll balance out in the end but you’ll have a yarn that feels and looks better, a yarn that says “I’m alive!!

Woolen and worsted yarns don’t’ get the same amount of ply twist.  It’s true.  A woolen yarn’s structure is in the PLY, that’s what really holds that light and fluffy thing together.  It’s what gives it strength and the ability to ward off the dreaded pill.  It needs more ply-twist than singles-twist.  For reals.  Worsted yarn, on the other hand, has it’s structure in the single and it wants less ply-twist, relatively speaking.  Truth.

The tighter the ply, the better the wear (not the tighter that single, that way lies rope, my friends).

plysweater1Oh my, this one took seeing my sweet Olive wearing a handspun, handknit sweater to really sink in.  Spun out of the softest merino but with lots of singles-twist for (I thought) better wear and then a balancing amount of ply-twist, it was lovely to look at.  To look at.  When had her put the jacket on, baby, did we both have a surprise!  A surprising amount of strength was necessary to get her arms down by her side. I pushed them down and they popped right back up! Look how she has to hold on to the body of the sweater to keep her arms down! I managed to get a couple of shots off before she shed the thick, stiff sweater complaining of ickiness.

Remember when I said it doesn’t always have to be perfectly balanced? if current-jacey-spinner could talk to past-jacey-spinner this is what I’d say – dude, don’t increase your single- twist, increase your ply-twist or your going to have to store that sweater, unworn for the rest of your life and when you die, it’ll get passed down and down and everyone will wonder how you ever ran a spinning magazine because it’ll be the only example of your spinning left since nobody ever wore or touched the sweater more than once, and that, past-jacey-spinner, is not the example of your spinning you want standing the test of time.  Also, it’s okay to take off your sweater, especially if it’s hot, they don’t mind.


These two yarns, for instance, are the same fiber, the same dye-job, the same ypp!  The only difference is that the one on the right has lots of singles-twist and is plied to balance and the one on the left has smaller amount of singles-twist but the same amount of ply-twist as the other!  That’s right, the ply-twist amounts are the same.  If you could feel these yarns, one would make you swoon while the other would make you avert your eyes and secretly wonder how I manage to fill any class, spinning cord-y yarn like that!

The more plies in a yarn, the less ply-twist it takes to reach balance (I knew this before Patsy Z’s illuminating article, but just barely).  Math is cool, right?


So don’t think I hate singles yarns.  I love singles yarns!  I just love plying too.  Theoretically, you could say that singles yarns are about the individual and Plying is about the team. It’s part of the reason I named the magazine PLY.  PLYing is about texture and balance and strength and bringing different things together so they can lean and benefit and support.  And if, in 10 years time, I wrote another post about plying, I’m sure the things I will have learned since now will be far more than I’ve learned so far.  That’s the way of spinning, the more you learn, the father you have to go, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, right?

Spinzilla is a global event where teams and individuals compete in a friendly challenge to see who can spin the most yarn in a week! Spinzilla team registration is open until September 22. The Ply team is full, but there are plenty of teams that still need you! There will be prizes! Click here to register.  One hundred percent of your registration fee will go to the NeedleArts Mentoring Program.  For more information, see their FAQ page.

* Huh, I’ve never put that together before.  The first time I asked a stranger to share their spinning know-how with me, she did.  Just like that.  I asked, she told.  Must have sunk in on some level I didn’t realize because that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.  Silly me to have never seen that, thanks, Adrian!


Am I Write?


In 2008 I wrote my first article that ever got published. It was for KnittySpin and it was about scouring and spinning Cormo. Not a bad article and I got some good feedback so I decided to carry on. I proposed articles for a couple of other spinning magazines, both in print and electronic. Some of them got accepted which was good for my ego.

Over time I proposed more things to magazines and of course there were a couple of book proposals. Of course, it goes without saying that I love writing for Ply.


I learned some things about proposals over time. The first ones were just a few sentences describing as well as I could. Luckily, a few used words that got my message across. Some of the ones I thought were great ideas were turned down. I suspect that sometimes my idea just didn’t fit or there was someone else who got chosen who proposed the same thing or sometimes I didn’t communicate the idea that was in my brain very well.

So, I’d like to tell you a few things that I now do in just about every proposal to write an article. I’m not saying I get a yes every time but I do get a yes more often than I did even up to 2 years ago.

1. Know the magazine you are proposing to. Think about who their audience is.

2. Make sure you are proposing an article that will fit the particular issue you are proposing for.

3. Use details. talk about what point of view you will be coming from. Be specific about what things you will include in your article.

4. Sometimes it helps to include an outline. When you actually write the article, things may switch around a bit but an outline is a great communicator.

5. Say how many words or pages you think you’ll need to clearly explain what you are writing about.

6. Include a photo or two if you’ve done this technique or made this thing before. They don’t have to be photos of any samples you send for photography in the end but, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

This all may seem like a lot of work before you even get a yes but in the end it is so worth it.


Reprinting Color and Woolen!

If you’re one of the PLY readers that missed out on issue #2 and #3 (Color and Woolen), guess what?  We are reprinting!  However, since we are a small operation, we don’t have green enough just sitting around, so we’re going to have to do what we did for the Summer 2013 (#1, first).

Here’s how it works.  If you don’t have the issue but you want it, you order it.  I take your money but don’t send you anything. Not for a while anyway.  I have to wait until we have enough orders to cover a print run.  For the #1 issue, I said it could take anywhere from 2 months to 12 months.  It made it in 6 months and the reprint went out last month.

I suspect it’ll take about the same time for #2 and #3, but it could take longer.  Again, I’ll print by July 2015 if we haven’t made the numbers yet, even if I have to sell handspun on the street!

It’s been up for 2 weeks and we’re 10% there, so that’s pretty promising.

If you’re torn about the issues, don’t be, they’re both really good.  Woolen is one of my favorites (mostly because I think it has changed the most people’s spinning) and Color is one of the most beautiful issues (not just because my lovely mom is in it).

If you want to help us get it back in stock faster, order!  Tell your friends!

Learning to make a magazine pt.2

How about another  installment of learning to make a magazine?

First to set the stage —  here’s where we are in the grand scheme of cycles and status:

End of the Autumn 2014 cycle

Middle of the Winter 2014 cycle

Planning of the Summer 2015 cycle

That sounds easy enough, right?  Let’s look closer, things are always more difficult and dirty when you look closer and making a magazine is no exception, my spinnerly friends.

End of Autumn 2014 cycle —  Kitten sends me PDF of the final design and layout and I review them.  However, he’s a bit behind (this sometimes happens where one of us is a bit behind, we always catch up) so I don’t have any to review this week.  Which is actually not a bad thing for me since much of my time needs to be spent planning, and spinning samples for, my Craftsy class.  Yes, folks, I’m doing a craftsy class. Very excited! Amy King just did one (and it’s great) and if there’s anything else in this world I want to be, it’s Amy King!

Middle of Winter 2014 cycle — there’s more work here for me, mainly, finishing all the first edits and re-orgs or author’s articles.  There are still 2 articles out with the authors (extended deadlines) but everything else is in and I’ve gone over all of it once.  Now I’m in the middle of going over it again so that I can make sure there’s not too much overlap, repeating of information and so on.  Again, with the themed issues,  it’s more of a threat than not.  I’ve already got most of these done and by the end of the week I’ll send them all to Levi for a 2nd round of editing.

I just sent the Winter 2014 patterns to Amy P,  our tech editor.  Except that we have a inkle weaving project and so I’m on the hunt for a inkle weaver for a little tech editing.  It’s small and simple so if you have experience, let me know!

Planning of the Summer 2015 cycle: The best part of my week is the planning of the Summer 2015 issue.  We got so many fantastic proposals and it’s my job to sort through them.  I told you before that I’ve got a folders in my mail client, right?  Under Summer 2015 there’s Yes, No, and Maybe.  In my Yes there’s 5, in No (which later I will transfer to my trello board in case we can use them elsewhere) there’s 39, and in Maybe there’s 56!  It’s a lot to go through but building the issues like this is something I really enjoy.

I used to use a giant sheet of butcher paper but since I discovered Trello, I do it there.  I have several things I look for when I first start this job. I have to make sure that there’s a great intro article, something introducing the topic, broad and focused (it’s a thing, really).  There’s not one in the proposals this time so I have to go hunt for one.  I’ve already put out an e-mail to who I’d like to write it, negotiating with her now.  I hope she consents, if so, it’ll be a great opener.

After finding that article, I try to make sure there’s a good mix of what I label light, medium, and heavy.  That refers to the content and how much brain power it takes to make it through the articles.  Deb Robson and Diane Palme are examples of heavy!  Smarty ladies, they are!  But it’s important to have a mix, take the reader on a journey they’re going to enjoy, not just fill it with heavy, dense facts.  I try for 40% heavy, 40% medium, and 20% light. Our regular features take care of some of that, you know, stuff like fiber study is usually heavy while guilded, who’s that spinner, and follow the fiber are usually light, and spin it’s are often medium.  The articles that don’t fit into those categories — the extras — are the ones that I have to make sure have a good balance and cover everything the issue should cover.

So after considering the intro article, and a good mix of article weights, I also consider authors.  I like to have a mix of those, as well.  I try to make sure we have at least 4 new authors in each issue.  There can be more, but I make sure there’s no less!  It’s important to me that we don’t just hear the same voices, that we involve the community, that we recognize that we are more than just our known teachers.

Finally I consider word count.  We have space for about 37,000 words in each issue but I probably won’t get to word count this week so we’ll skip talking about that for now.

It’s interesting, and I’ll tell this to the spinners I have to send the “thanks but no thanks” email to – sometimes a really great article doesn’t get in because it doesn’t work with the rest of the issue.  It could be fantastic but if there’s a gap in the issue and it doesn’t fill it, or if it’s too heavy or long or whatever, and I can’t make it work, I have to take the article that is lighter or shorter and gives the issue the roundness it needs.  It’s probably the hardest (and most interesting) part of my job.  Sometimes I am very happy with the results.  For instance, I think the Silk and Twist issues both are very full and round and diverse.  I don’t think the First issue or the Color issue  are as much, though I think the stuff in there is wonderful. That early in the process I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing yet and didn’t know how to really put together an issue. The winter issue is better but not quite as finished as the last two.  That just means I’m getting better at it, which is good. Hopefully I’ll just keep getting better at it!

But this week I’ll just decide on the articles and build my trello board.  My next work week I’ll deal with word counts, contracts, e-mailing authors, and all the in-house stuff. I’ll tell you about it as it comes.

And that’s what the editor-in-chief is doing this week.

But there’s more!  Here’s the less interesting stuff, in list form so I don’t lose you completely.


  • Stuff backorders and mail them (we got pre-paid envelopes so it’s a bit faster now!)
  • Resend copies of the magazine that got lost in the mail.
  • Answer e-mails.
  • Sell website ads for September!  Wanna buy one?  Only $15!
  • E-mail all the people that have a credit card on file with us (LYS and advertisers) because the recent Quickbooks update erased that info and I need to re-input it.
  • Sell the rest of the Winter 2014 issue ads there’s still some of every size except full page.
  • Send in payroll taxes to the government.  Government, if you’re reading this, thanks for understanding that I’m late, I’m sure you can see why, right? It’s busy up in here.
  • Secure a time and location for Winter shoot. It’s gotta be soon and it’s gotta be wintery!
  • The winter issue has a glaring gap so I need to whip up a short little article on worsted joins.
  • Start thinking about our Spinzilla team!
  • E-mail the LYSs and advertisers that are behind in paying us.  I’m reading (listening to on Audible while I work out at the gym) Gold Finch right now and there’s a whole section where he’s in Las Vegas with a gambling dad.  Me collecting from those that owe the magazine will be NOTHING like what happens in the book, I promise.  It mostly includes me saying “please”.

So that’s my work week.  What’s yours like?

ps.  if anyone wants to make me a graphic for this series (you can see the terrible one I made at the top of the page), I’m sure we could trade something good for it.  Please?



Sweater detail

Brighton top fiber give-a-way!

Man alive, did you just love Anne Podlesak’s new design in the Twist issue of PLY?  I adore it.  I also adore the woman that modeled it for us.  So wonderful.  We were just out shooting and out runs this woman with my book in hand asking me to sign it, saying she’d just taken a class with Lexi Boeger (Pluckyfluff), and that she absolutely loved spinning!  Of course we asked her to model and of course she was stunning.

Anne Podlesak used energized singles to create a ziggity-zag edge and very cool slanting stripes and now you can use the same exact fiber and create your own — merino/bamboo blend (60/40) in cool blues from Wooly Wonka Fibers!

Brighton sweater front

If you want to win this fiber (enough to do the exact sweater Marilou is wearing, here’s what you have to do — leave a short (or long) (or really long) review of the issue here  for the twist issue of PLY.  Just click on the review tab under the add to cart button.  Be honest, the winner will be chosen at random, not for the content of the review (though if your content contains links to diet sites, fake fancy handbags, or sites with more than one naked person, chances are  you won’t win).  Sound good?  If you’ve already reviewed it, you’re entered!

I’ll pick and announce the winner on Monday, the 11th (one solid week).





ps.  it’s okay if you put your review here too, but make sure you put it here!

Spinzilla — Team PLY!

Spinzilla — there are a whopping 56 teams of awesomeness this year and we’re one of them! Each team is allowed 25 spinners and those spinners spin spin spin from Oct 6-11th. Then all the yardage is counted up and whichever team has more — wins!  Of course it does other things too, good things — promotes spinning, encourages learning, facilitates experimentation, grows community — but also there is winning involved! WINNING!


PLY wants to win.  I think PLY can win.  Don’t you?  We’ve got some amazing spinners all slated to sign up to be on the team and I can’t wait!  I’ve got big plans for these spinners, lots of motivation and challenges and prizes!  And if we win, I mean, when we win, something awesome!

Sign ups start at 10am tomorrow!  Do you want to be on the team?  Can you commit to spinning like the dickens?  We don’t ask for bloody fingertips but some crossed eyes would be okay.



Maureen Burns, come on down!

Using a random number generator  and the comments on the last blog post, it turns out that luck was on the side of Maureen Brown tonight!  She’s our fiber winner!  Shipping out to her is 6 ounces of Spunky Eclectic’s Golddigger in merino/linen!

Stay tuned, we have the fiber from Anne Podlesak’s Brighton top to give away too!  Plus lots of other goodies.

And if you haven’t noticed that we now have cute little web ads over there  ————————->

Notice, darn it!  Do you want one?  They’re super adorable and very affordable!  If you don’t want one, consider supporting the companies that do advertise with us (just make sure you do it via the ad or they won’t know that their ad is working! Without them we couldn’t make PLY, plus they make cool stuff.