Category Archives: Spinning

Proudly wearing the maillot de mouton

So I’ve wrapped up my first Tour de Fleece, literally and figuratively.

I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish: maybe not the plentiful miles of yarn I was vaguely picturing, but a huge improvement in technique. During the rare spinning downtimes, in lieu of posting here, I worked my way through Anne Field’s Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics, as well as large chunks of the Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning, a couple of DVD workshops, and various other pedagogical materials. (Question: would you be interested in reviews?)

While all this frenzied reading has been humbling– there’s so much left to learn!– I’m already much happier with the yarn I’m able to produce. I’ve successfully spun woolen yarns, reined in my tendency to overply, created and dyed a hideous bouclé yarn, and experimented with some new and interesting breed-specific wools. I think my favorite of those so far is a half-ounce Finn sample that I picked up in Vermont:

I’d like to try some more of this soon. There’s something in the luster and the shade of white that’s very appealing– and it was fun to spin. (In point of fact, I think I am developing a small problem when it comes to breed-specific wools. And sheep. My computer desktop wallpaper is presently adorned with a charming Herdwick.)

As you may have read in my last post, the hardest part of the Tour for me was actually keeping up with the Ravelry forum. (In my defense: it’s gigantic!) I focused my posting efforts on a once-a-day photo, but even one photo is surprisingly difficult to wrangle when you’re taking it late at night: poor lighting and operator fatigue do not make for the greatest shots. However, results of the experiment are presented below for your consideration.

There are some more crafty activities occurring around here, but I think we’ll save them for a future post. Spinning may not be physical exertion like… well, riding a bike*… but I am bushed.

___

*Not necessarily true. I have had the pleasure of observing a homemade bicycle-spinning wheel hybrid in action.

A Regular Fleecing

For the last week and a bit, I’ve been participating in the Tour de Fleece, which is an online spinning event that corresponds to the, you know, bike thing.

Sorting out your fluff and spindles: the handspinning equivalent of carbo-loading.

Here are a few glimpses of what I’ve spun so far:

There are no specific objectives for participants, but since I am a person who needs structure, I put together a list of tasks and a calendar for tracking my progress. On any given day, I will do anything spinning-related so long as it’s on the Official List. Side projects need not apply: any fiendish ideas that come along (about, say, building a flax distaff or learning to spin cotton) are on ice until after this event.

Of course, I put enough on the list to keep me busy:

The event takes place largely on Ravelry, which I am finding more or less impossible to keep up with. (It’s like trying to have a conversation around a dinner table with thousand other people: by the time I start to respond to a post, the topic of conversation has already zipped along to something else.) But so far, I’ve spun a few hundred yards and made a couple of little spindles. I’m going to see if I can manage a mile of plied yarn by the end of the Tour on the 22nd. Wish me luck– or join in yourself!

House Blend

One of the problems I’m having in the studio is pacing myself. I want to try everything, all at once, while simultaneously mastering every detail. (I think there’s a contradiction inherent to this sentiment.)

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the allure of fiber preparation. Not having any raw fiber handy, I consoled myself with combing together an ounce apiece of baby camel down and tussah silk. I took to my trusty Ashford spindle with the resulting globs of fluff. I think this will turn into a weft yarn for a warp of some leftover Tencel that I have lying around.

This is coming in at about 45 wraps per inch, and 6400 yards per pound. I think it wouldn’t mind being finer, or being spun on a lighter spindle, but I’m liking this grist.
A plied sample incorporating various grists.

I used a dog slicker for the actual blending. Here’s a comparison of the fibers before spinning:

From left to right: tussah silk, camel down, and a 50/50 blend.

I’ve also been trying to learn different methods of drafting on the spinning wheel. Strangely enough, I’ve got my antique wheel to a point of relative stability, and it’s spinning well. I’m still planning to take the flyer in for a permanent repair as soon as possible, but with a little bit of shimming here and there, things are moving just fine.

I’m comfortable with a couple of different drafting techniques on a spindle, but the options for wheel spinning are numerous and new to me. I’m working my way through the techniques in the DVD A Spinner’s Toolbox, and discovered that what I’ve been doing naturally is actually a variant of woolen spinning. (When I heard Judith MacKenzie say that everyone is either a worsted spinner or a woolen spinner, it was as the footsteps of doom. Worsted spinning seems the logical choice for most of the projects I want to make. But this long-draw thing is… weirdly compelling.)

In fact, spinning with a short forward draw at all presents me with some ergonomic challenges. Why? Well, on my wheel, the mother-of-all on my wheel sits to the left, and I treadle with the right foot. But my hands are used to spindle spinning, where I hold the fiber in my left hand and draft with the right.

How I tried to spin a short forward draw with my right hand in front. Not good: sitting like this makes you twist uncomfortably to the left, no matter how you angle your seat.

The technique I’ve slipped into could be classed as an attenuated long draw. It’s not ideal for what I want to do (spin warp yarn), but it should work.

How I’m spinning now: supported long draw with my right hand in front.

I’ll still probably have to figure out how to draft left-handed– not a bad idea in any case– but I think it will take some time to get my hands coordinated.

How I should probably learn to spin: left hand in front. I don’t have as much control over the yarn like this, but I’m making an effort to practice.

This is the resulting yarn, before washing:

I did whip up a woven sample with some of the wheel-spun yarn. This was a one-morning warping job: 60 ends go fast. I took the opportunity to work on my plain weave, which is a surprisingly challenging thing. Any unevenness in the beat or selvedges sticks out like a sore thumb.

Since the warp was short, and I was weaving at ten picks per inch, I had the sample off the loom and into the bathtub in no time.

I can’t actually wear much wool (due to a strong inclination to sneeze), so this will remain in the Basket of Interesting Experiments, but I do have an official Finished Project to share. I’ve been knitting this hat on the sly as a gift:

Okay, the shuttle is gratuitous. But the light was better on the weaving bench.

I’m surprised to find that I really enjoy knitting stranded colorwork. Innumerable possibilities present themselves.

Now, it’s time to get ready for the Tour de Fleece. More to come!

Voyages in Lace

You know that the Almighty Fluff has taken over your life when, on a vacation, the first thing you do is scope out the local yarn shop.

Naturally, when I went to Quebec City for a few days, one of my first stops was this store. I treated myself to some delicious (and affordable!) alpaca, which also happened to match the tea set in my hotel room. I think this justifies the purchase.

This is not the yarn shop. I just liked the view.

I also spent lots of time touring the touristy historical district, and found all sorts of handwoven goods to admire: napkins, placemats, and so on, but also some interesting-looking objects that I assumed were scarves. But after seeing them at a number of shops and booths, I started to wonder: they were everywhere, and each one had a different maker’s tag. Clearly, this was some sort of cultural… thing… that I wasn’t getting. (You know what else I didn’t get? Photos. In retrospect, I wish I had, but I found one on ever-useful Wikipedia.)

Ceinture-fléchée-ftl

A bit of Google research has answered some questions as well as increased my curiosity. Apparently, what I saw were examples of the ceinture fléchée, a piece of folk costume with some historical significance. (Other useful keywords turned out to include Métis sash, Assomption sash, arrow sash, and voyageur sash.) Traditionally finger-woven (!), these seem to be commonly produced now on hand looms. Interestingly enough, one of the people (or the person?) responsible for re-popularizing the sashes in the early twentieth century seems to have been none other than the Edmond Massicote of my previous post. (In more recent years, this appears to be a responsibility of the terrifying Bonhomme Carnaval.)

Anyhow, I’m planning to do much more reading about these, so you can expect to hear more from me in future posts!

For the moment, back to the vacation. I found some other interesting craft-related goodies that I didn’t photograph: a spinning wheel faintly visible from the window of a closed antique shop, for one, that induced a number of hopeful visits until we finally managed to find the store open. It was a cute little Canadian wheel: unmarked, screw tension, all wood, looking to date from the early nineteenth century. Fun to visit, although I didn’t wind up taking it home with me. (This is not to say that part of my mind didn’t consider it. It would have fit on the train!)

My hotel also happened to have some especially endearing hosts in the breakfast room:

I wanted to share.

Now that I’m home, I’m itching to get back to the loom, but there’s just one more needly project in the works. In keeping with my goal to Enjoy Knitting, Dammit, trying out a knit-along seemed like the thing to do. Also, it’s a puzzle: you don’t find out what the shawl looks like until you finish it. I always liked a mystery.

There’s only one decision to be made:

Which do you like better?

A Newcomer

Last Saturday, I welcomed home a new member of the family.

Can you guess what it is?

Part of it looks like this.

Here’s a clue. A small piece of wool, probably quite old, stuck to the wood under the mark “FRS. BORDUA, ST CHARLES, R.C”.

If you’re still stuck, how about this?

Yep: it’s a new-to-me-but-actually-quite-antique spinning wheel.

Last week I was listening to a podcast that mentioned Canadian tilt-tension production wheels. I’m lucky enough to live in the general area where these wheels were manufactured, so on a whim, I stopped by ye olde Craigslist. The next thing I knew….

My spindles were a little nervous, but I’ve promised them that they won’t be neglected.

It’s a perfect fit for my needs, not to mention my tastes. I’ve been saving up for a Saxony-style wheel with a single treadle, and I knew that I wanted to make primarily fine yarns for weaving, and I like antiques, and this puppy fits the bill on all counts. It’s a François Bordua wheel from St. Charles, which according to this site dates it to somewhere between 1843 and 1903.

So it is an antique, and there are a few issues. The flyer was repaired sometime in the distant past, and it’s still a little wibbly. I’m telling myself that this has nothing to do with the fact that I DROPPED IT the first time I sat down to spin. (Yes, really. I almost cried.*) The arms of the flyer are wired together with what looks to be fairly heavy-gauge steel, so it’s not going to fall apart, it’s just… wibbly. Naturally, I’m a little concerned about doing further damage, so before I settle in to any serious spinning I’d like to research repairs, replacements, and what I should and shouldn’t do.

That isn’t to say I didn’t try it out.

And it was delightful! (For what my opinion is worth, anyway, since I’d never tried wheel spinning before.) It was also very fast. I love this thing.

As with most wheels of this kind, there’s only one bobbin, but that’s fine. No different than spindle spinning. Fortunately, my loom came with a swift and a ball winder, so I am well equipped.

Have any of you ever worked with an antique wheel? The owners of this one for the last twenty years used it as a decoration, so I don’t know how long it’s been since it was used. I think it’s time to put it back to work. Carefully!

*Actually, what happened was that the front leather bearing was too loose, so the flyer slipped out and skidded across the floor once the wheel started spinning. I think the skidding motion is what saved it: if it had dropped straight onto the floor, I suspect that it would have broken into pieces and that I would have been a sad blogger. Hopefully we will never find out.

Tastes Better in Twill

Hello to readers old and new! Sorry about the gap between posts. I’ve been trying to write about my experiments in fiber blending, but it just hasn’t been clicking– I finally realized that, for it to work, I’ll need to include details of what the blended fiber will ultimately make. (And I’m not there yet!) In the meantime, here are some other things I’ve been up to.

First, I’ve been weaving. Actually, I’ve been weaving for years without realizing it: not fiber, but pie crust!

This time I decided to get just a smidgeon more adventurous than plain weave and try a 2/2 twill. I made a very cheaty pie with a store-bought crust and frozen berries, so the time investment was minimal. Pre-made crust isn’t as delicious as the real thing, but it slices up quite nicely when you’re making lattice tops in the weave structure of your choice, and a frozen berry mix makes a quick pie filling when tossed with a bit of sugar and flour. Perfect for weaving experiments.

And for eating.

Also along weaving lines, I visited a small museum recently and came across this sketch dated July 27, 1903. Careful scrutiny of my blurry photographs reveals the artist as Edmond Massicotte. This was great fun to find alongside some of the more modern displays, including an unnerving room filled with glowing ribcages. Personally, I found the loom much more interesting: not done by a weaver, but drawn with meticulous attention to detail.

In the knitting realm, I started the Nightingale mittens. I’m using a worsted-weight, chain-plied handspun from Sweet Georgia’s BFL/silk roving in the variegated Midnight Garden colorway against a background of commercially spun Sweet Georgia yarn in Nightshade (which my significant other stealthily slipped into my yarn basket when I wasn’t looking: how nice!).

Translation for readers of the less-fiber-inclined sort: I am making the mittens out of yarn.

Since they come from the same dyer, the two colorways go together wonderfully, but I’ll need to be careful about how I spin the rest of the Midnight Garden:

Commercially spun on the left, handspun on the right. I think.

As you can see, the darkest tones are a bit too similar to the Nightshade. Since I want to avoid having long patches of the dark blue in the more complex patterning of the mitten body, I think I’ll break up the roving a little bit more as I spin. Any suggestions for how I can reduce color pooling with the yarn I’ve already spun?

When it skeins, it pours

I went away to visit family this past weekend, and somehow or other I wound up at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival. (“Somehow or other”, in this case, involved last-minute rescheduling of the weekend and a frantic bus ride at two AM. You know, these things just happen.)

Actually, it’s been an especially fibery couple of weeks over here, even though I haven’t spent much time in the studio. I went to a weaving guild meeting last week, and am hoping to join the guild in the fall. (Plus, they were nice enough to let me snag some goodies from their book sale!) I’m also planning to check out a nearby weaving conference in a couple of weeks, along with taking some road trips with friends to upcoming fiber festivals. In short, things are great!

Acquisitions!

At the New Hampshire festival, I found a beautiful cherry niddy-noddy which, incidentally, perfectly matches my also-recently-acquired cherry spindle. I was also pleased to find some Icelandic top and an interesting Icelandic-alpaca blend, each from a different farm’s booth. The latter fiber has a bit more of what we’ll tastefully refer to as “vegetable matter” than I’d like in a processed roving, but it’s spinning up into a lovely glossy yarn.

A very young, slightly overenthusiastic sheepdog and her flock.
The thing about sheep is that they have an attention span of approximately half a second. They’ll look at you with bright-eyed curiosity for just that long, then deem you completely unthreatening, uninteresting, and unworthy of posing for. I had to keep surprising new sheep to get a picture.
It was a terrible struggle not to take this absurd little creature home with me. My dad, whom I’d dragged along, had to remind me that it would be both high-maintenance and smelly. Then the rabbit breeder rushed over and flung one into his arms. A hard sell!

The next day, tired but happy, I went for a walk in the woods with my mom. She brought her dog, and I brought my spindle.

Cartwheel. Technically not a craft picture. Well, it adds atmosphere.

Though I’m not especially surefooted, don’t worry: there was a perfectly serviceable path.

Of course, when I got home, I went and started planning more projects. Because I can’t help it. I’m thinking of a handwoven Go board in an as-yet-to be determined structure (doubleweave?), as well as a pair of nice mittens for myself. Mittens in May? Well, by the time winter rolls around, I’ll be neck-deep in Christmas gifts. For the pattern, I have a copy of Nightingale, which I love– it reminds me of Jacobean embroidery and all things nice– but I’m going to adapt the chart to the Mittens to Order pattern. The Sweet Georgia roving is spinning into a very pretty singles, so I’ll chain-ply it and use it for the birdies against a navy background. I think it should work, but I hope I have the technical skill to pull it off. I’ll keep you updated on this latest insanity.