Category Archives: Tools and Equipment

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.

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.

An easy, inexpensive cone holder for all your weaving needs

When winding a warp, it’s very helpful to use a stand to hold your cones or tubes of yarn upright so that you can pull the yarn off the cone smoothly and at an even tension. However, these stands can run fairly steep in price, and even more economical alternatives aren’t always readily accessible.

Solution?

Locate an empty CD spindle.

Or empty a full one, if necessary. This is weaving time! Priorities!

Next, remove the lid and plonk on your yarn.

That’s the stuff.

There are a few disadvantages to the Spindle Solution, but nothing too dire. First, there’s no built-in tensioning device for the thread, but holding it carefully seems to work reasonably well. In a pinch, I imagine that you could feed it through some sort of freestanding hook, but so far I haven’t found it necessary. Second, a CD spindle is very lightweight, and can be dragged around if you’re not feeding the yarn straight upwards. A couple of clamps can take care of this, or (less elegantly) something heavy– like a weaving book–  laid across one side. Of course, if you’re working with more than a couple of cones at a time, further creativity might be called for.

Also, it’s kind of ugly.

Decoupage, anyone?

Update! Update!

Since I posted this entry, I came up with another option:

It’s an expanding mug rack, intended for wall use, just lying flat on the table. I’m considering screwing it into a flat piece of wood for even better stability, but even as it is it’s pretty decent.