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Hackles – Another Funny Named Fiber Processing tool

What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out...
What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out…

In late January I ordered another cool fiber processing tool but it arrived around the time my baby cat passed away, so it took me awhile to get around to use it. I’ve always seen hackles as a tool for blending fleece & fiber, and since I own a drum carder, poo-poo’d investing in one.

Then it occured to me one day that hackles could make my life so much easier when it comes to combing fleece top. A drum carder is great for blending and making your fleece & fiber somewhat smooth, but it won’t remove all the noils or tiny gnarly bits nor is the fleece/fiber guaranteed to be lined completely straight like it would be if combed. This texture has merit for spinning, particularly chunky or woolen yarn. Of course I do like to spin a textured art yarn as well. For certain fleece that I hand process I prefer them to be smooth – like merino for instance. I love a nice, smooth, merino top. Plus I get the added bonus of felting with the leftovers. I love my St. Blaise combs, but there is only so much you can comb at once. With hackles, I can load a larger amount of fleece, then comb it out with my combs.

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I’m still working out my process with the hackles, but what I find is that I can load the uncombed merino onto the hackles, then comb with just one comb: added bonus is this is so much easier on my neck/shoulders/back. The hackles are clamped to the table, so instead of motion with two of my arms, I only need to used one arm.

This merino is pretty rough so I will comb as much will fit onto the comb, then finish it by hand combing with both combs, then pulling a small top. After the top is pulled the process repeats: back for more fleece from the hackles, combing out, and so on. This makes the process so much easier! I was amazed how fast I went through the fleece – it cuts the time in half, at least, not to mention it really saves my body from the wear and tear which is the biggest advantage. I love to work with my hands, whether it be jewelry making, paper crafting, fiber washing, dyeing, combing or spinning, but it does wreak havoc on my muscles and tendons so any tool which makes it go easier is worth it to invest in.

Hackles is mostly used for blending and I have yet to try that. You can pull a nice long roving off of it rather than the little top I pull from my combs and coil into a nest. I purchased my hackles from Gemini Fibers here in Canada, and I appreciate that they are handcrafted in Ontario.

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Making Balled Headpins

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newly made ball headpin

 

Since the New Year I started making balled headpins again. I really like the look of them versus the more common flat head (although they certainly have their place in design). For awhile I just couldn’t be bothered and would buy sterling silver headpins in bulk. Now that I got the (mini) torch out again I have to ask myself why I didn’t just stick with making my own. Yes it gets tedious cutting the wire to size. Yes I have to set up the workspace including protecting my desk with a fire resistant mat. But having the freedom of making the gauge and length of headpin that I need for projects is a luxury, and watching the silver ball form at the end of the wire in the orange flame is mesmerizing. Using fine silver – a more pure silver than sterling – means no fire scale to clean off so it’s incredibly quick.

Instead of walking through the steps of making balled headpins, I’m sharing a very thorough and straight forward video from Beaducation. Why reinvent the wheel? She is also using the same torch that I own, only here in Canada I bought mine from Lee Valley.

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Until I watched this video, it never occurred to me that the *kind* of butane matters and have since switched to a cleaner burning butane. I picked this one up at my local smoke shop so it should be widely available in Canada…

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Spinning Accessories: Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo

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Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo vs. standard Lendrum Niddy Noddy

I love that spinning accessories are relatively inexpensive – and are often times handcrafted. You can easily purchase a drop spindle and get started spinning without the investment in a spinning wheel (I know this will mortify spinning purists, but I hate the drop spindle. I broke the cardinal rule of spinning & bought a spinning wheel before ever mastering the spindle).

A niddy noddy is one of those inexpensive but must-have tools. It has a very amusing name. I picture someone a few hundred years ago, designed a skein wrapping tool and when asked what it was called, “niddy noddy” was what they came up with while put on the spot. Perhaps this nonsensical name has a clear meaning and if so, do tell! ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are still wondering what a niddy noddy is, it is a wrapping tool used to make skeins of yarn after spinning. They are traditionally made of wood, but I have seen homemade varieties made out of PVC pipe, and even metal/wood hybrids. There is one central bar where you hold it, and crossbars at each end that are offset from each other by 90 degrees. Here in North America, niddy noddies are most known to come in 1 yard and 2 yard lengths. I prefer to use the 2 yard length on my Lendrum niddy noddy. Before removing the skein I count the wraps & multiply by 2 to give me the length in yards.

Making more and more funky art yarn on my Spinolution wheel these days, I was finding the Lendrum niddy noddy to be too small to fit some of my skeins. I would make them fit, but it was not easy. I was excited to find that Ashford had a jumbo Niddy Noddy. I purchased mine from Gemini Fibres for $39.

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a side by side comparison of a standard size niddy noddy (Lendrum) vs. Ashford niddy noddy jumbo

I’ve put in a lot of hours with my Lendrum and can pretty much wrap without thinking (it takes a bit to get the right rhythm the first few times). Due to the larger size of the niddy noddy jumbo it took a bit of getting used to all over again. The pro is that I don’t have to worry about running out of space when skeining my bulky art yarns. It holds over 1 kg (2.2lbs) of yarn. The cons are that it is heavier and more cumbersome to use compared to my standard Lendrum. I also like that my Lendrum has notches on the cross bars so that if I need to squeeze the wraps together more tightly they are not overlapping the wraps on the other side which can get confusing when you pull off the yarn or tie it off.

Another quirk is that, coming from New Zealand I have to remember that this niddy noddy measures in metres and not yards. So when counting wraps if I forget and calculate yardage rather than converting the meter length to yards (1 metre = approx. 1.09 yards) I will end up with more yarn per skein. This is not a bad problem to have of course, but I like to try to be exact so that I can keep track of my materials & how long it takes me to spin it.

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jumbo coil plied yarn vs. bouclรฉ

Despite its nuances I am really happy to add this tool to my studio and suspect I will use it very often in the coming months.

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Jumbo Knitting Needles: (Not Quite) The Biggest I Have Seen

Officially the largest knitting needles and crochet hooks I own.
Officially the largest knitting needles and crochet hooks I own.

I was browsing Michael’s the other day and I was happy to see these jumbo knitting needles size 50(!). Since I had a coupon I decided to add them to my needles collection (along with the crochet hook to match).

trying out the needles
trying out the needles

I haven’t made anything with them yet, just playing around with some of my jumbo handspun. Other than a scarf I wonder what I could make with these. I’d happily take suggestions and advice! I love jumbo yarns and large needles, but I am definitely out of my element with these.

As far as the largest needles I have seen, here is one of my all-time fave extreme knitting videos:

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Tabletop Fleece Picker

picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)
picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)

I have been combing and carding a lot of fleece this month. I’m actually squirreling away my pulled top. It’s the “premium” stuff so I am not sure whether I will make yarn with it, or sell them in batches eventually so others can spin/felt with it. I’ve actually been been enjoying spinning the “waste” product from pulling top – the lumpy bumpy stuff. Such interesting yarns! That’s a textured yarn addict for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that is a post for another day…

I realized I never blogged about my tabletop fleece picker I acquired last fall. I have written before how I like to hand pick fleece, but I finally conceded that I needed something that would get the job done quicker. I did not have the funds for what I’d really like (a triple picker!) nor the time/inclination to build my own so I found this inexpensive one. Above you can see the difference in fleece before and after it is picked with said picker. Note: the wool on the right is not the same color as the wool on the left. It is from the same batch, however.

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note all the dirt/dust that comes off when the fleece is picked

The picker has heavy sharp teeth on the bottom as well as the top piece, that slides back and forth, teasing the fleece apart; opening up those fibers so that they are easier to comb or card. I really like that this one locks in place when not in use particularly since there are many curious little hands in my house. You could even add a pad locks to it, if you wanted to.

close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.
close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.

How well does it work? You ask. It is adequate. For the price I had really low expectations so I was pleasantly surprised at how well it works. It still requires a bit of elbow grease and it’s no triple picker, but it certainly aids me into getting fleece picked faster than I could do it by hand. But someday, triple picker – you will be mine! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Combing Fiber with St. Blaise Carding Combs

St. Blaise combs and hand processed/dyed sheep fleece
St. Blaise combs and hand processed/dyed sheep fleece

I’ve been combing fiber like mad while we’ve been here in Nova Scotia. After watching Robin Russo’s DVD Combing Fiberย I was convinced to give it a try, and purchased her St. Blaise combs the next time we were in Vermont.

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Of the interesting tidbits I found out in this DVD, like St. Blaise was the patron saint of wool carders (who knew there was a patron saint of wool carders!!), I also gained a greater understanding of the difference between woolen & worsted yarn. It goes beyond how the wool is spun which I naively thought, and also about how the fiber is processed. In a worsted yarn, all the fibers are aligned in the same direction prior to spinning. Half of the fiber is discarded as waste product leaving only the smoothest best quality fibers (aka: top). This is what gives that smooth even texture many knitters and crocheters enjoy.

Robin reviews the different types of combs and their pitches and what fleece is combed with each. In the end I was convinced her own designed St. Blaise combs that are made in her studio in Vermont would be the best option for me as a well-rounded go to comb.

I definitely was not disappointed, and thanks to her instruction via the DVD, I was combing fleece like a pro in no time. Although I own a drum carder I wanted the combs for working with a fleece requiring a little extra TLC. The combs do a stellar job at removing VM (vegetable matter) and are a must-have for separating the longer/coarser strands found in fibers like icelandic sheep or llama. The other plus is that they are portable, so now I can continue processing fleece while we are in Nova Scotia and leave the drum carder behind in the studio.

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Cool Tool: Bond America’s USM (Ultimate Sweater Machine)

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My husband & children got me the USM (Ultimate Sweater Machine) by Bond America for my birthday this year. I have been researching and going back & forth as to whether or not to buy this tool for a couple years now. During a recent trip to Vermont, my husband, armed with a Michael’s 40% off one item coupon was determined to get me one. He found it at AC Moore, and did you know they will accept Michael’s coupons?? I’m so glad he inquired because Michael’s wasn’t carrying it and AC Moore had no great coupons that week.

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The USM is a hobby knitting board, that is mostly made of plastic, which I admit was a turn-off for me at first, but you can’t deny that it’s affordable. I wanted a way to use up some yarn I’ve had laying around for quite some time that is perfectly fine but not all that exciting to me for hand knitting. I figured a knitting machine would help me make some simple projects in minutes thus helping me diminish the stash more quickly. The USM basically comprises of a plastic board with metal needles, a plastic carriage with 4 different keyplates for different sizes of yarn, clamps for attaching it to a table & a weighted hem. It also comes with an instructional DVD and pattern book, practice skein of yarn, as well as a few other small accessories like wax, hooks, etc. Some assembly is required but it is relatively quick and straight forward.

Here’s some tips beyond those mentioned in the DVD that I found helped me:

– After getting the board set up, do watch not only the DVD included but any and all videos you can find on YouTube. I find that watching how different people do the same activity helps me decide the best approach for me. This is actually how I learned to knit and crochet by hand. On Bond America’s YouTube channel, they have some really informative videos by expert knitter Vicki Howell. Her videos ultimately led me to success using the USM, as well helped me develop my own approach to learning, which I think is the key to anyone’s success.

– The cast on, followed by the first several rows, is the hardest. I found using waste yarn (WY) really helped, as I did not have to worry so much for these rows to be perfect. I also found casting-on with the needles completely pushed in, as Vicki Howell explains in her Tips for Casting on and First Row video way easier than lining it up the way indicated in the instructions.

– You will hear this over and over, but the right kind of table is key. Flat, solid surface with no lip or rounded edges. The USM does come with a non-slip mat for use with incompatible tables temporarily, but you will thank yourself to have the board securely anchored. Nothing like the board flipping forward or sliding away from you when you are trying to master the movement.

– ย Wax the keyplate really well. Like redundantly well, at least in the beginning. It says to only wax these 2 raised diagonal center pieces but once I waxed all raised middle pieces I found the cartridge would slide like butter.

– Before casting on, do run your finger across the hem to make sure it is snugly against the board and not in the way of your cartridge. Many times that I could not get the cartridge to glide along smoothly was simply because the hem was in the way.

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– You don’t want to press down with a lot of pressure on the cartridge. Gliding it across the board is a firm, steady motion and many times you can slide it along with very little to no pressure whatsoever. I found concentrating the weight of the tips of my fingers toward the back of the cartridge helped, with the grip itself very light. It takes a bit to get the even pressure needed from start to finish. I found it really easy to drop stitches if I didn’t get firm, steady pressure from one end to the other.

– If you find like I did that you struggle with using every needle, try every other needle or even every second needle to start. As soon as I spaced out the needles I found I was gliding along smoothly. It was also very easy to see where I dropped stitches, usually consistently in the same place row after row, so then I knew where I would have to work on applying even pressure in these areas. Now that I have a feel for the USM, I have no problem using every needle and rarely drop a stitch.

– Work on a small area, with just a few needles rather than trying to use the whole board at first (ask me how I know this? ;)).

– Do use the yarn that comes in with the USM for practice. I have yet to try handspun on the USM but it seems that any smooth yarn will work. I think it would easily snag on bumpy or frilly yarns, like a bouclรฉ, and definitely would not take any yarn with inclusions.

Once you get the hang of it and start knitting rows in seconds, you kind of get a little giddy, and the possibilities start racing in your head. I would never give up hand knitting, as it is a process that I enjoy, but hey, if you want the satisfaction of a quick project, I can see how this would become very addictive.

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I found the tips on the DVD incredibly helpful and have not included them all here. But all in all, despite a small learning curve, I am impressed with what this little hobby board can do. I look forward to trying handspun on it, and I’ll report my success (or failure) on that in a later post.

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Do you have a Bond USM or thinking of buying one? Questions, comments or tips? I’d love to hear from you…leave a message in the comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: Invaluable

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The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebookย has been absolutely invaluable in my studio. It is my fleece “bible”. I go to it every time I buy a new fleece before I even start to process it.

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I love the knitting examples that also are provided, & hats off to the authors, this must have been crazy to compile, not to mention fun! ๐Ÿ™‚ Fiber geeks: you need this book!

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Drum carding with the Brother Drum Carder

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Back in January, I started a thorough search for a drum carder…I had massed a decent amount of fleece and really was not looking forward to hand carding it all. If you have ever looked for a drum carder for equipment you know that they do not come cheap, and do I ever drool at all the different kinds out there on the market. I have spent a small fortune on jewelry making equipment over the years, I can`t really justify $900+ for something that is at the moment, solely a hobby. So I started my search for a used one on ebay…and was I shocked to find one in the $300 range…brand new.

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Yep, Brother Drum Carders are a no-frills economic made in the USA drum carder. I ordered one straight away in January from their website (they also sell on Etsy & Ebay). I must say, I am impressed having zero expectation & zero experience with a drum carder. I’ve used it to blend roving/angelina fibers/silk, and also to process my own fleece that I have washed.

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It is hard work cranking that thing by hand…I do dream of a motorized one if I ever get busy enough to warrant it. And the medium coarse carding cloth I chose doesn’t work very well with my alpaca or angora rabbit fibers…I will have to buy a cloth with teeth appropriate for fine fibers for this (that does make me wonder if a more expensive model could handle all/most types of fleeces) but can I really complain at the price point? I simply feel very lucky to have this tool at my disposal at such an affordable price!

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Fantastic Handcrafted Yarn Swift

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That’s a horrible picture of a fantastic product. I have wanted a yarn swift for quite some time, even before I was spinning my own yarn, but really cringed at the thought of buying those made in China umbrella ones for $50+…I also thought they’d take up quite a bit of space. So I was happy to find this table top yarn swift handcrafted in the USA by Knitting Notions in Nashville. I also could not believe it was only $55 and love that it comes apart for storage in its own bag. You can move the pegs up/down to get the right tension (so don’t go by my sloppy photo ;)).

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Leclerc Bobbin Winder & Storage Bobbins

Spinning so many singles means my handful of bobbins for my wheel just isn’t cutting it anymore for storage. Upon doing some research, I was happy to obtain a bobbin winder and 2 dozen storage bobbins from Leclerc Looms here in Quebec. I purchased their larger size styrene 4in spools, not the typical boat shuttle spools that are too small to hold much yarn for plying.

The winder is a simple heavy duty tool that I am really glad I bought. Not only is it faster than winding off by hand, it winds nice and even, and not too tight as I find the case with hand-winding. I have it screwed to this side table for my rocking chair in the livingroom for now until I move back into my studio again. What can I say it does the trick. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Making Handspun Yarn – the Tools Involved

I have been having a fabulous timeย learning all about spinning since purchasing my first spinning wheel in February.ย I’ve been spinning wool roving mostly from my collection of roving by Bartlettyarns obtained from the New Hampshire Wool Show last year (they had a buy 4 get one free sale…or something like that. At the time I had no idea I would learn to spin; I simply stocked up because it was a darn good deal and you can never have enough wool roving for felting :)). It’s very light and fluffy and I enjoy the texture it creates once spun. I am still waiting for the plying head/jumbo flyer I ordered for my Lendrum, so for now I have been spinning and storing my singles…for the most part anyway. I also have been experimenting with plying just to get a feel for it (you can most certainly ply with the regular head you just get less yardage).

I own two lazy kates and I use them for storing my bobbins when I am not plying. I tend to get bored spinning one color so will switch it out for another fairly often. I watched a wonderful video called “The Gentle Art of Plying” by Judith Mackenzie. Judith calls these marvelous contraptions just “kates” and I chuckled because I agree with her – how can you call something so useful lazy? When she made this remark in her video I was nodding my head in agreement! If you are looking to understand more about plying and a good method to do it, I highly recommend her video. It certainly took the intimidation out for me. I even tried plying cables. It is a whole lot of fun and really addictive. I think once you understand twist and counter-twist (S and Z as it is called in the spinning world) plying is not so intimidating. I always thought I would only make fun bulky singles, but I am really loving plying and the balance created in the finished yarns.

A niddy noddy is another useful tool with an entertaining name. One you have finished plying your yarn (or spinning your bulky single yarn as it may be) you wind it onto a niddy noddy. This helps straighten the fibers as well as a tool to count how many yards was made. For my particular niddy noddy, I count the wraps and multiply by 1.5 to get the yardage of yarn made. Winding yarn on a niddy noddy takes a bit of skill and this is where my jewelry making experience really help me out. I have heard of people who, even after years of spinning, never could master wrapping on a niddy noddy. For me, I find it quiet fluid! ๐Ÿ™‚

After winding the yarn onto the niddy noddy, you tie off the yarn and then set the twist and/or full. I will talk about this in another post. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Cool Tool: Tube Wringer

I can’t resist a new gadget, especially if it is an affordable one.

So with my Contenti order last week for polishing buffs, I found this little tool that I couldn’t help but add.

Meet the tube wringer. Technically, it is for industrial use to make seals and to squeeze every last bit of product out of well, tubes. Think toothpaste tube – on an industrial scale. ๐Ÿ™‚

However, the tube wringer can be used to make an attractive crinkle pattern on metal sheet. Consider it a cheap little rolling mill. So for $22 I thought, why not give it a try.

I got out some copper sheet and the metal snips to cut a length of the metal.

I inserted the metal and the tool clamps shut easy enough. It was awkward at first getting the length to start travelling through the tool evenly. I think with practice, I will be able to get the proper feel for even pressure. But once I got it started, the rest was very easy – very little effort was needed. I am sure this would depend on the gauge of metal sheet or wire you are using.

The crinkled metal. So many ideas come to mind: what would it look like with a patina? Hammered? Riveted to flatter metal…Hmmmmm….

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Tool & Supplies: Nu Gold Sheet

I needed some fine polishing buffs, so I decided to order a product called “nu gold” along with them to try.

I bought sheet in two gauges, 24 and 26. Nu gold is 85%ย  copper & 15% zinc. It looks like gold sheet, only at a fraction of the price. I thought it would be a great way to practice working with metal sheet with the appearance of gold without buying the real deal. If I screw this up – who cares? No need to be gun shy working with this product!

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Cool Tools: What I Got for My Birthday…

I am incredibly lucky to have an extremely supportive spouse. Perhaps maybe too much so: he loves cool tools as much as I do so he rarely tells me “no” if I want something tool related. Thankfully, I have some restraint…. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here are a few items I received for my birthday on April 22 – Earth Day! Forget flowers & chocolate: get me some tools!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

New metal shears! I have a large pair of shears but I wanted a smaller pair. The ones on the right cut on a curve. Neat-o!

Metal hole punches. I have a screw-style metal punch, but I wanted to try this type as well. I will do a comparison review in an upcoming blog post.

This is the item I wanted the most: a dapping block and punch set! I can’t wait to get my hammer on these! ๐Ÿ™‚

This is a really neat tool and a total splurge. It’s a necklace mandrel: so you can form a necklace by lightly hammering so that it lays properly across the neck. Very cool…!

This was real nifty as well…what a great way to organize all the little burs and tools. I really like that I can hang my pliers on the back as well. You don’t know how much running around I do for these items! Now, all in one place. Ahhhhh…. ๐Ÿ™‚

I also got muslin buffs for my polishing lathe and metal files but that’s BOR-ING compare to these. Now if I can get caught up housework, I can go play. ๐Ÿ™‚