December 31, 2009

That Skein Didn't Last Long

I knit the thirty-sixth skein into the scarf and now I must spin some more. Everything you see after the unsewn ends is progress.

December 30, 2009

Cue the Music!

Why do I tire of counting sheep
When I'm too tired to fall asleep?
-"Fireflies," Owl City
My spinning goes more quickly when I listen to music with a quick tempo. Yes, these are the things you only find out by trying.

December 29, 2009

thirty-sixth skein

I forgot to take a photograph before wrapping this skein into a centre-pull ball, so you get to see it this way in all its mathematical perfection.

1 ounce Ashland Bay merino top in peacock colour
102 yards, which is what I was going for. I checked the gauge as I went along rather frequently to make sure I didn't bungle this skein like the last one I spun in this colour. Needs to match the skein in the scarf so I can keep knitting.

December 28, 2009

Voyez, des Moutons!

You know handspinning has changed you when you watch a documentary called Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution and you get excited at the 101 minute mark when the camera pans over a flock of sheep, and again at the credits (a shorn flock this time).

The original film title is Nos Enfants Nous Accuseront, or "our children accuse us," because the film looks at the impact of organic and non-organic food and agriculture on children at a particular school district that changed its cafeteria policy to organic, local food sources.

December 26, 2009

Another Link to another Viking Whorl Artifact

Happy Boxing Day!

I just can't leave the L'Anse aux Meadows soapstone spindle whorls alone. Here's another link, this time to a page on the Parks Canada website.* Photo of the whorl is partway down the page.

The whorl looks something like the top half of a miniature pumpernickel bagel.

*Parks Canada administers the national historic site, the actual site of the excavations which is, to be redundant, a park. A park on land on which Vikings once settled. And in one field there is a sheep, one side of which is black...Sorry, that's the punchline of an old physics joke.

December 25, 2009

Fly-a-way Sheep

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy this comic strip from Orkney, a set of islands in Scotland where they raise sheep and where the wind must be something fierce: and this panel too:

and this panel which is a good one for today when hopefully we are all enjoying a bit of a feast:

The comic strip is called The Giddy Limit.

December 24, 2009

Haven't Quite Got a Handle on Wool Cards

I used a pair of cotton cards on the downy Icelandic fibre and made absolute hash out of the process.

December 23, 2009

Buying Courage

Bought a lightweight spindle from the Spanish Peacock to help me get the courage to spin Icelandic fibre from a fleece I labouriously scoured and combed last spring, back when I couldn't spin well enough to do justice to the fibre.

Did a little test spin.

Spindle is in cherry wood with a walnut shaft, and is about 15 grams or half an ounce.

December 22, 2009

thirty-fifth skein

The thirty-fifth skein I've spun.
Ashland Bay merino in ruby
1 oz
100 yards
a little underplied, so will set the twist with hot water

December 21, 2009

Palpable Difference

If you could touch this scarf in progress, you'd notice the new section on the right feels stiff and thick. I spun the yarn too thick and it doesn't match. I think it might also be spun more tightly, though I'm not sure how I managed that.

There's no sense having a scarf whose fabric doesn't drape, especially around the neck area.

Will need to pull out the stitches, use the skein for something else, and spin replacement wool.

December 19, 2009

No Longer a Beginner Spinner

A year has gone by since I took up spinning in earnest.

I fell hard for the process and results of handspun. This level of commitment and love was entirely unexpected. So was finding out I'd had latent natural talent all along.

I feel grateful. I feel cheesy for feeling grateful, but it's true. Spinning came easy, progress came after practice, many many friendly folks helped me and encouraged me, quality tools and materials were within reach, all that and more.

Here's the Coles Notes for the past year:

I love using a top whorl drop spindle, rather than a spinning wheel. I relish the way a drop spindle feels. It hums. I appreciate the price, the portability, the simplicity (no moving parts but me*), the quiet operation, the connection to thousands of years of history, the versatility of the tool for producing thick and thin yarns.

I love spinning Blue Face Leicester wool of all the wools I've tried because BFL is glossy, soft, and well-priced, and also because the sheep that grows BFL wool is derived from a heritage breed and I think that's cool.

I like using wool combs to prepare wool, even though the amount of waste and work is considerable. The result has qualities you just can't buy.

My favourite way to get spinning equipment and materials is directly from an independent, small-scale producer, preferably in person.

I love to demonstrate the drop spindle and get people to try spinning. I think the skill is useful and would like more people to know about the tool.

I don't want people to think of spinning as only something quaint done by folks in funny costumes on special occasions for spectators.

*see a video clip of me, spinning

December 18, 2009

thirty-fourth skein

the thirty-fourth skein I've spun
Ashland Bay merino in peacock
1 oz
didn't remember to count the yardage

December 17, 2009

In Line at the Post Office; Wish I'd Brought a Drop Spindle

I was in a very long line at the post office recently. Had to mail a parcel to Canada, so couldn't go for the automated machine's shorter line. (The automated machine only takes domestic parcels as far as I know.)

Should have made my trip to the post office very early in the day, since it is the holiday rush, but didn't.

Should have brought a drop spindle to occupy myself, but didn't. Would have loved to have seen the reaction from the parent and child in line ahead of me.

Would also love to have had the nerve to sing carols in line, but didn't. Do you suppose anyone would have joined in?

December 16, 2009

Inadvertent Gauge Increase

I need to return to checking the gauge as I spin. My gauge has inadvertently increased on two recent skeins. One skein was supposed to match a previous skein (which had gauge creep already itself) but this skein doesn't match at all. It's unsuitable for the scarf project and I'll have to spin another skein to replace it. Not that I mind spinning, but I regret not hitting my target because of mistaken, careless thinking.

December 15, 2009

Smallest Hole on the Diz

The diz I used for the first time recently has three holes in it of varying sizes. I used the smallest hole. Strands go through and then puff up amazingly, at least the springy Romney fibre did.

I used the smallest hole to get something like pencil roving, a very thin long strip of fibre that holds together. With such a preparation, a novice* can spin the combed fibre on a drop spindle without drafting at all, in order to get used to managing the spindle.

I suppose you could tear top into very thin strips to spin without drafting. Predrafting a roving is another option. I find when I predraft top too much the fibres drift apart, probably since the fibres are aligned rather than randomized like roving and have fewer points where friction can keep the strands together.

*by novice I don't mean me, I mean someone who has never spun. I gave away the combed fibre as a gift.

December 14, 2009

Wool Comb Plus Clamp, Hackle, and Diz

Took the Romney wool I was combing and used the comb to lash the wool onto my blending hackle, then used a diz to pull the wool off into long pieces of prepared wool that's ready to go.

Used upper back muscles I forgot I had.

Could have stood to comb the wool once more, as a few little bits clogged up the hole in the diz every so often.

The result looked really soft, lofty, and orderly. The wool has gone as a gift so I can't report on how it spun up, and since I prepared the wool at night there are no photos to share, but I assure you the endeavor was a success.

December 12, 2009

Autumnal Cowl

I made a cowl in a spiral rib stitch.

I'd expected it to hug the neck more closely but discovered spiral rib doesn't draw in the way a straight rib does.

I think the look of the texture will suit the intended recipient's taste.

December 11, 2009

Will the Scarf Never End?

And it was at this point that I decided I like knitting slightly better than I like vacuuming the carpet, which is to say not much.

Perhaps I shouldn't knit until my fingers bleed, trying to finish the ball.

I do like spinning wool into yarn, though.

December 10, 2009

Wool Comb Plus a Clamp

A clamp on one wool comb, to make the comb stationary, is brilliant. Half the work, feels like.

Not that combing becomes effort-free or anything. But compared to holding the comb stationary on the knee, a clamp certainly makes the whole operation more comfortable because you don't have to withstand the pull of the moving comb.

December 09, 2009

thirty-third skein and the BFL Earwarmer Band

One windy day recently, I came home and spun and knit this earwarmer in one sitting.

one ounce of Blue Face Leicester from Louet
singles spun about 28 wpi
finished 2 ply yarn is about 10 wpi
Cast on 96 stitches using long tail cast on with double point needles, knit 2 purled 2 around, then bound off.

Should learn to do a more stretchy cast on, and could have used a bit more yardage.

No laddering with K2P2 the way there is with my stockingette knit in the round on dpns, which is good.

December 08, 2009

thirty-second skein and a Hat

Imagine, if you will, that the red band on the edge there was once a small skein. The thirty-second skein I've spun, in fact.

superwash merino

December 07, 2009

To Fix or Not?

So I'm knitting the blue merino into a K2P2 scarf. I accidentally purled one stitch and only noticed inches later. Showed it to a passionate and experienced knitter who offered to drop the stitch for me and knit up the ladder, effectively putting it all as it should be.

You can do that? And more to the point, I could learn to do that? Ah! Scary. No!

Maybe next time I will be brave and fix a stitch.

I learn a lot from other people. So great to be around people and bring up something, and have them tell you and show you what they do in such a case.

December 05, 2009

Releasing Knit Hats into the Wild

I will soon be releasing into the wild the second and third hats that I knitted. In other words, I'm mailing them to relatives. Feels weird.

December 03, 2009

Advantages of a Head Start

Franquemont stresses in Respect the Spindle how other cultures today and in the past have incorporated thorough, early childhood training in the use of spindles to develop advanced skill.

I've heard Max Hamrick, Jr., the weaver at Colonial Williamsburg, say much the same thing, that someone who started weaving younger than he did will get much farther along in skill and understanding.

Never too late to start, though.

December 02, 2009

The Spindle, and Long-lost Routine Skills

Earlier this month I posted about America turning to a crash course in domestic handspun production shortly before gaining national independence, then dropping production. Wealthy Americans turned back to imported Asian silks.

In Respect the Spindle, Abby Franquemont states
although Europe's production of fine flaxen and thicker of heavier-weight wool yarns had expanded thanks to the flyer wheel, almost all fine yarns and fabrics were imported to Europe from other parts of the world, specifically Asia and the East Indies, where such textiles were still produced with handspindles, driven spindles, and relling systems for silk.

Because practically everyone in the English-speaking world (and much of Europe) has been accustomed to buying these goods from far away for centuries, they've lost the routine skills needed to produce them. (p. 40)
She urges people to develop skill with the spindle.

She also points to the spindle for getting skinny yarn. For skinny, read fine, refined, smooth yarn that yields a luxe fabric. She describes on page 39 the physics that make rapid insertion of twist, and very skinny yarn, difficult for a flyer wheel.

Right on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, spindle-spun Asian silks were produced in quantity for export. Shows you what can be done when there's enough monetary incentive, a desirable luxury product, a trade monopoly, capital investment, established trade relations and trade routes, and a skilled workforce. Low carbon production and distribution, too. The mind bogs.

December 01, 2009

Blue Merino Scarf in Progress

Here is the blue merino scarf in progress. I got to knit in public with this a little, at a cafe and some other places, so this scarf has been out and about.

November 30, 2009

Shape of the French Spindle

There's a French supported spindle pictured in Abby Franquemont's Respect the Spindle, on page 16. I'd read in Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels that the spindles used in New France had no whorl. Now I have an idea what they would have looked like.

You're still wondering? Well, I recommend you look at Franquemont's book, but if you imagine one of the uprights under the handrail on a banister, you'd be close.

November 28, 2009


You know the saying that knitting a sweater for a boyfriend ensures a breakup? Rocketboom did a segment on it. The host analyses elements of the phenomenon, giving reasons why a handknit sweater can trigger reevaluation of a relationship.

As she talks, she fakes knitting by twirling the yarn like spaghetti on the needles, which is pretty funny. So are the outrageous patterned sweaters.

Direct link is

November 27, 2009

Drying Out Wool and Flax

The streaky skein is taking a while to dry. Not that much of a problem for me, other than having to wait to see what it will look like knitted up with the red skein at the edge. (I expect it will look like a peppermint candy that ran in the rain.)

The other day I was talking to someone who said she was looking for ways to speed up the drying of skeins. She dyes yarn as part of her business.

I mentioned the Spin-X spin dryer machine. The blurbs for the Spin-X sound too good to be true, but the centrifugal force really does whip the water out of cloth. You're not really supposed to put sopping wet items in it. The manufacturer expects the stuff to be coming out of a washing machine. You're also not supposed to put the Spin-X to commercial use, but I told her there might be a commercial model that could handle frequent loads.

I also mentioned airing cupboards. I had the name wrong and said warming closet, I think, but I meant airing cupboards. I've never seen one. An airing cupboard figured in an English children's book I loved as a kid, Haffertee Finds a Place of His Own. This puts airing cupboards for me on a level with gingerbread houses in the forest and glass slippers, but really, a cupboard with a hot water tank in it acting as a radiator to keep linens dry in a damp English climate sounds plausible. Useful, even. And transferable to Vancouver Island's climate which is supposed to be the same as London's. The south end of the island, anyway. We have quite a lot of variation depending on whether you're inland, at sea level, up a mountain, and so on.

I read recently somewhere that people used to keep flax stricks in the airing cupboard, then hackle it once a year until they had very, very fine strands to spin.

November 26, 2009

A Bit of Red

A while back I made a streaky red and white skein of merino superwash. There was small amount of red superwash merino leftover. The other day I spun those leftovers into a small skein to coordinate with the streaky one.

Spinning the bit of red was a treat to myself for making progress on the BFL skeins. They say a change is as good as a rest. Using my larger spindle felt very different after so long on a light, centerweighted spindle.

Both the streaky skein and little red skein are hanging up to dry and set. They do look like they go together. Too bad I couldn't make myself introduce thick and thin sections on purpose to match the irregularity of my early spinning. Happily, there are a few thick sections I spun unwittingly.

November 25, 2009

In the Homestretch with the Series of BFL Skeins

I am in the homestretch with the series of Blue Face Leicester skeins I'm spinning.

I finally got that underplied skein plied again to correct the twist.

I'm partway through spinning the final skein.

All the skeins are supposed to be one ounce. I started with eight ounces of BFL, used a scale to divide the fibre, and somehow wound up with half an ounce leftover. Does this mean the skeins are not, in fact, all exactly one ounce? I will never know, since I've already given the first four skeins to the intended recipient. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the discrepancy happened with the first skein since it has considerably longer yardage than the others.

I'm pretty happy with how similar in yardage the others were. I was aiming to develop my skill at making a consistent product. It may be that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but consistency is a good quality in handspun.

November 24, 2009

The Merino Improves with Slick Needles

I took the merino handspun that wasn't working for me, and I put it on needles that are more slick. Knitting this yarn suddenly got a lot more easy.

Means knitting in the round is out, since these are straights and not double points, but that's okay.

November 23, 2009

Merino Apathy

I've been swatching and swatching the blue merino. I've finally got the correct number of stitches and pretty much the correct needle size. Still, I'm not thrilled enough with the results to want to knit on.

It was supposed to be a tube of twisted knit stitch stockinette joined at the ends and worn as an earwarmer band to keep the wind off my ears.

Probably it's the dull texture of the merino that's putting me off.

November 21, 2009

Emily Post and Homespun

Every so often I re-read Emily Post's chapter on clothing in Etiquette* as sort of a booster shot for good intentions. This time I noticed she mentions "homespun" fabric.

As in, it was good etiquette to wear clothes made of homespun when out in the country or on a golf course.

As in, rich people wore it.

I'm guessing with all the social occasions Post describes, they didn't have time to spin the stuff themselves.

*I have the "new and enlarged edition," fourteenth edition, printed in 1934.

November 20, 2009

K2P2 hat

the K2P2 hat

It's made from two skeins that I did when I was a very new spinner. You can see those skeins in this post.

The fibre was an interesting mishmash that gradually changed content along the length of the roving, so one end of a skein was unlike another. I alternated between ends of skeins and between skeins in order to take advantage of this and create stripes. You'll notice that one section was fuzzy. It stands out.

November 19, 2009

twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth skeins

the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth skeins that ever I spun.
Blue Face Leicester from Ashland Bay in ecru
one ounce each
just over 60 yards each

November 17, 2009

As My Whimsy Takes Me

I forgot to mention why I'm doing another hat right in the middle of my batch of six BFL skeins. I needed to get a handle on how to fix the unfortunately underplied skein, and I practiced on an old skein that had the same problem. Two old skeins, actually. Those skeins are what're in the K2P2 hat.

The skeins came out a titch overplied. I set them in hot water and they were fine after that. Then I wrapped them into centre-pull balls, then I cast on...

Well, at least I haven't hied off and started knitting something out of the blue merino skein too. Sheer grit and discipline and the knowledge that I promised to give the BFL skeins to someone, I tell you.

November 16, 2009

The K2P2 Hat got Frogged Some More

You know how novelists in interviews describe how they felt that their writing stayed three chapters from the end for about six chapters?

That's kind of my experience with the K2P2 hat I'm working on.

Part of the reason is that I just got going and then wound up trying to wing the decreases. What worked for a stockinette hat looked like a mess on a ribbed hat.

Then I looked at Handspun Handknit and tried a different method of decreasing, one that decreased much more rapidly with fewer rows. I tried on the hat and discovered the length was insufficient. The hat and my ears were strangers to each other.

So I had the conversation with myself whether I wanted to give the hat to a child or take out the decreases and knit more rows so the hat would fit an adult as originally intended.

As with my last post, I chose option B. Getting to be like a choose your own knitting adventure, eh?

November 14, 2009

Concentrating on the K2P2 Stitch

In order to remake the jellyfish-like hat into something head-sized, I ripped it back to the first two rows which were K2P2 rib. I then kept going with K2P2 rib.

When I'd knitted about an inch and a half, I realized I'd made a mistake three-quarters of an inch back. I'd purled two knit stitches.

I had the old "forget about it, it'll be the Amish mistake, something to keep you humble" conversation with myself, then countered the argument with "what will I regret more, continuing and leaving the mistake or going back and making a hat that when I show it to people I won't have to say, 'Thanks, but there's a mistake right there, see?'"

I went with option B.

Now I am paranoid and check every time I move from one double-pointed needle to another that all the knits are knit and purls are purls.

November 13, 2009

Jellyfish-shaped Knitted Mistake

I'd hoped to have a finished object to post today, but no.

The six skeins of BFL are still in the works.

I knit a striped stockinette hat, then frogged the thing. Looked like a jellyfish complete with tendrils of yarn ends.

November 12, 2009

Silent Running

Watched a TED Talk, The 4 Ways Sound Affects Us.

One of the reasons I love the drop spindle is that there is no sound at all when I use it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find my copy of Linley Valley Sounds of Spring and listen to frogs and birds and running water.

November 11, 2009

Redoing a Ply with More Twist

Remembrance Day. Lest we forget.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
Excerpt, "In Flander's Fields" by John MaCrae

I'm plugging away at the ecru Blue Face Leicester one ounce skein at a time. Well, that's not entirely true, I let the stuff sit for a bit when I ran into a problem.

One of the first skeins was terribly underplied. To fix this, I'm going to turn the skein into a centre-pull ball and then give the yarn more twist with a drop spindle.

I practiced first on an old skein that has the same problem.

I've been compensating for my habit of underplying by giving subsequent skeins more twist when plying. I've gotten more balanced results, but there's still a tiny bit of undertwist.

One of the nice things about practicing spinning is that the yarn gives clear feedback on how well I'm doing. There is no hiding or wishful thinking.

November 10, 2009

No, I'm Not Knitting to Save Christmas

I am not knitting to save Christmas.

You know all those holiday TV shows and movies where the plucky hero(ine) saves Christmas?

For some reason my mind keeps matching up fibre contents and colours and patterns with the taste of people I know, people that aren't even on my gift list.*

I am resisting the pull.

I have other spinning projects on the go, I am not that quick at producing stuff, and I haven't made myself useful and necessary knitted items.

Just say no. No, no, no. Christmas does not need to be saved by toques.

*even though I love them dearly

November 09, 2009

Linen Closet

I am happy to report I made the first incision in the linen cloth I bought way back when. Sewed a pillow slip to fit an oversized pillow that I'd also bought way back when, that had been sitting around unusable without said pillow slip. So that's nice to have out of the way.

I have not yet gotten to the tea towels I want to sew up.

I had thought about weaving dish cloths. Fortunately, I was able to buy a dozen organic cotton dish cloths, so was not forced to the extremity of weaving some to replace my ratty ones. There was a nice moment there when the new ones were washed and stacked, all unsullied and bright white. Now they're in use.

Some of the people I know that spin are also avid weavers. If I ever do wish to weave dish cloths, my weaving friends tell me the pattern to use is New Canaan Check: Waffle Weave in Davison's A Handweaver's Pattern Book, p. 118. They kindly went over with me the way to read weaving patterns. I hope I've retained it.

November 07, 2009

Hats and The Sisters of Dorcas

Once upon a time, long long ago, I belonged to a church that would occasionally announce that the Sisters of Dorcas* were collecting watchcaps to give to commercial sailors on foreign ships visiting the habour.

I didn't know how to knit, couldn't think who would teach me, and doubted I had money for the kind of yarn I'd like to use.

So I sat there, feeling sorry for the sailors' frozen ears and feeling bad that I wasn't doing my bit.

Therefore, learning to knit a hat has given me a sense of something being resolved. Spinning the yarn first is an unlooked for bonus.

*Why the name Dorcas? You might wonder, especially since the name Dorcas is a homonym for an insult that was popular when I went to school. But the name refers to a kind and productive woman who made clothes for the poor.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.
And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room.
Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, "Do not delay in coming to us."
So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. Acts 9:36-39 NASB
The Greek name Dorcas translates as "gazelle" and is a compliment. Tabitha is the name word in Aramaic.

November 06, 2009

Second Hat

I made a second hat! Here is the pudding bowl modeling it nicely.

This hat is made from the second and third skeins of wool I ever spun. The wool is naturally-coloured Coopworth.

November 05, 2009

The Homespun Revolution Didn't Stick (Twice) so What are the Odds for Another?

I got to view Colonial Williamsburg's open house at the Costume Design Center in Williamsburg, VA.

One of the staff pointed out that during the time period that Colonial Williamsburg depicts, wealthier residents did not wear local cloth made of handspun any longer than they had to. They went right back to imported silk cloth after the American Revolutionary war because it better signaled their status.

When I skimmed Lisa Trivedi's Clothing Gandhi's Nation: Homespun and Modern India, I noticed the same issue surfaced when wealthy women were asked to adopt relatively expensive yet heavy locally-produced cloth of handspun for their clothes as part of India's struggle for independence.

Now, handspun does not necessarily have to equal lumpy, coarse cloth. Handspun done well was good enough for the Pharoahs. However, I can see how it could be an issue in a situation where spinners are charged with suddenly clothing a large number of people who are used to luxury goods. I can also see handspun being very costly to buy.

I'd like to throw out a "what if." The locavore or local economy movement could lead to people beginning to demand locally-produced clothing the way they are adopting local food.

It's already happening with knitters, weavers, and spinners searching for yarn and fibre that has never left their region.

So, say ordinary people start looking for cloth and clothes that have the equivalent of 100 food miles, or zero food miles. What would they find?

I hope they get offered quality products by local producers. I fear they may not get offered anything at all, because local production involves such investment in skill, materials and tools, and hand labour.

I hope mentors will offer to help these potential fibre locavores learn to spin, knit, and weave the way community gardens and universities are offering to teach people to tend gardens and orchards and fields.

November 04, 2009

Physics has more to say, apparently

A few weeks ago, I was all, "Says who? Says physics!"

Well, according to Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels in Perspective, what I said was incomplete. It's not just the potential energy stored in a drive wheel that lets a large wheel do more work than a small one. It's (and here I turn to the book to get the terms correct) the differential in diameter between the drive wheel and the driven spindle or bobbin.

Larger drive wheel diameter means higher speed ratio. The speed ratio is figured out with an equation that reads speed of drive wheel over speed of bobbin equals diameter of drive wheel over diameter of bobbin (p. 65).

Speed ratio translates as mechanical advantage. The pulley system between the drive wheel and the bobbin acts to leverage the differential. The drive wheel's large circumference makes the drive band move quickly and because the bobbin turns with the drive band, all the benefit gets transferred.

So, nyaah on me.

I'm going back to my nice drop spindles now. They don't use pulley systems at all.

November 03, 2009

Spindle Whorl at L'Anse aux Meadows

According to one of the Historica Minutes, the soapstone spindle whorl found at L'Anse aux Meadows was the clincher that proved there was Norse settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador around 1000 C.E.


November 02, 2009

Drop Spindles in New France

Dipping into Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels again produced this:
Drop spindles in Canada are mainly of European origin. Spindles brought here by settlers from the British Isles are usually equipped with a spindle whorl whereas drop spindles in the French tradition often lack the whorl and instead are shaped to expand towards the lower end. (p. 39)
I am the product of both types of settlers (colonists in New France and Upper Canada*). I wonder, what were my ancestors' spindles like, and how many generations back would I have to go to find someone who spun on one, with or without a whorl?

Notice that the passage specifies drop spindles. There are other types of spindles. For example, a few pages later the book lists rolled spindles as common to Canadian settlers of Ukrainian descent.

*I'm also descended from Barr colonists. Though I doubt they put spindles in their baggage, I am not ruling out the possibility. I am from Vancouver Island and I know better than to make assumptions. What was it Jack Hodgins wrote, Vancouver Island is "littered with failed utopias"?

Depictions of colonies on map are approximate and not to scale, and the colonies' existences span a few hundred years.

October 31, 2009

2010 Winter Games Sweater Compromise

"Members of the Cowichan Tribes say they are no longer planning to protest during the Olympic torch relay later this week, after reaching a deal to sell their traditional sweaters at the Olympic Games." CBC News, Oct 28, 2009

October 30, 2009

twenty-fifth skein

1 oz Ashland Bay merino wool top in magenta
47 yards
Singles spun at 40 wpi
Two ply spun tightly and then cabled (plied again) to make a strand 10 wpi thick with a very interesting texture.

Was very happy that I put in enough twist in the cable to make the skein hang in a proper circle, with no need for corrective blocking.

October 29, 2009

Rio Grande Spinning Wheel

Someone kindly let me try her Rio Grande spinning wheel. It's very tall and long, and the width is disproportionately slender. You treadle it, even though it looks like a great wheel. The wool is spun off the spindle tip, a feature which the owner prefers over a flyer. She is able to spin extraordinarily fine yarn on it. She is also able to spin these fine yarns quickly, which means this wheel possesses a mechanical advantage over other spinning means. Normally the thinner you, go the longer it takes to spin the same weight of wool.

The Rio Grande's treadle foot can be raised or lowered to match an uneven surface. The wheel incorporates modern parts. For example, rather than the drive band adjustment being on the spindle head side, the upright for the wheel adjusts using a very large bit of metal hardware.

I spent, oh, perhaps twenty minutes using the Rio Grande (I wasn't watching the time), first with the treadle attached, then with the treadle unattached and powering the wheel by hand.

I've been saying I'd like access to a great wheel. I feel like my bluff has been called.

My first turn at a great wheel this past spring was absolutely stupendously smooth and effortless. My performance on the Rio Grande was less than satisfactory. My treadling was awkward and choppy. My yarn was woefully underspun. There were slubs. I kept missing the wheel spokes when I tried turning by hand. Winding on took concentration and backpedaling to try and rapidly fix errors in judgment.

It was like how I kept ordering crab cakes in restaurants there for a while when I first moved to Virginia because the first one I ever ate was so good. The rest were disappointing.

The wheel is good; it was me that wasn't working properly. Sometimes you need to practice a great deal before you get the hang of a new task. And some days it just doesn't happen.

October 28, 2009

Dimensioned Drawings of a Flax Break Tool

Found dimensioned drawings of a flax break tool, along with specifications for hackles, in SpinOff Winter 1983. Been looking for such a thing. Filing this under "good to know," and "someday maybe."

October 27, 2009

Cascade variety Flax

I read in SpinOff Spring 1983 about a variety of flax plant good for fibre called Cascade, developed in Oregon, and I discovered this pdf from Oregon State University that discusses flax.

Page 6 states, "Many excellent fiber flax varieties were developed in Oregon in the mid-1900s, but modern European fiber flax varieties have much higher fiber content (approximately 30 percent vs. 15 percent). They are also more disease- and lodging-resistant than early varieties."

I'm curious to know what these varieties are called and where to get seeds. Not that I want to plant and harvest any, but just for curiosity's sake.

October 26, 2009

Sprang Frame Features

I'm looking at Collingwood's book The Techniques of Sprang.

The free-standing sprang frames in the first photo plate interest me especially. The uprights are slender poles, not dimensional lumber, and so I consider them environmentally friendly because they require saplings and not mature trees.

The frames look ergonomic to use and lightweight, though getting one into a car might be a bit of a proposition.

They appear neither precision crafted nor mechanically complex, which leads me to expect they would possess similar advantages over a loom as a drop spindle enjoys over a spinning wheel such as price, ease of construction, and no maintenance apart from keeping the joints sound.

October 24, 2009

Farmhouse Style

I was reading David Larkin's The Farmhouse Book: Tradition, Style, and Experience (New York: Universe, 2005), as a sort of vicarious pastoral experience with some information on how spinning used to be part of people's lives thrown in. For instance,
The sheets and pillowcases used in farmhouse bedchambers were always made of linen, and the blankets were homemade, woven from the wool of the sheep sheared from the farm. They were thick and heavy and represented a lot of spinning and weaving work. (p. 92)
(The quote strikes me a generalization that could use some qualification. Interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg and Humpback Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway have told me people would buy blankets and cloth at times in history where modern people assume the people made them at home.)

Page 114 describes a stage in home linen production as part of the daily chores: "If there was linen whitening on the grass, as was usual at this season, that must be sprinkled." The linen was taken into the house after tea.

Page 116 has a reminiscence from Harriet Beecher Stowe about "refreshing our faces and hands by a brisk rub upon a coarse rolling-towel of brown homespun linen." I wonder what the rolling-towel looked like, as it couldn't be like the ones they used to have in public restrooms that automatically dispensed and wound up the cloth when you pulled.

Page 126 is very sad: "Spinning wheels for flax and wool ended up there [the attic] as the availability of cotton made them less necessary downstairs."

Page 167 shows a photograph of a kitchen with a great wheel at the back wall.

October 23, 2009

twenty-fourth skein

1 oz Ashland Bay Blue Faced Leicester wool top in ecru
75 yards
Singles spun at 40 wpi on lightweight drop spindle. Two ply around 16 wpi.

October 22, 2009

Spinning in Historic Nova Scotia

In No Place Like Home: Diaries and Letters of Nova Scotia Women 1771-1938, edited by Margaret Conrad, Toni Laidlaw, and Donna Smyth (Halifax: Formac, 1988) there are a few diary entries that mention handspinning. They are rather maddening because the diarists give little detail about what, how, and why.

Twelve year old Anna Green Winslow who was at school in Boston, Feb 14, 1772: "My cousin Sally reeled off a 10 knot skane [sic] of yarn today...The yarn was of my spinning. Aunt says it will do for filling. Aunt also says niece is a whimsical child." Feb 18th: "Another ten knot skane [sic] of my yarn was reel'd off today. Aunt says it is very good." Feb 22: "I have spun 30 knots of linning [sic] yarn, and (partly) new footed a pair of stockings for Lucinda." p. 37

Louia Collins, September the 6, 1815: "I have bin [sic] carding and spinning all day"; September the 12: "I was carding and spinning all morning by the afternoon mama and the girls came up in the spinning room with me." On the 16th, she "spun a large ball." p. 69-72 I wonder why she measured it as a ball?

Winslow and Collins, out of fifteen diarists, are the only ones pointed out by the editors as wearing homespun clothing, Winslow because of the boycott of British textiles (p. 28) and Collins because she came from a farming family and hadn't yet married into the middle class (p. 78). They are in the first section of the book, which is arranged chronologically. After them, there're still mentions of store-bought clothes, darned socks, laundry, and sewing, but not handspinning. In 1936-1938, Laura Kaulback Slaenwhite, a knitter, writes in her diary of dyeing a sweater, seeing weaving on cardboard forms with wool taught at the Women's Institute, and attending a guild meeting where she learned to "knit a nice cover for a hot water bag." p. 284, 289, 288.

And there was this quote in the book by Rebecca Byles writing to an aunt in 1779, a quote which I think speaks to blogging:
I have now I think discuss'd the usual Topicks in telling you we are alive and well and have not forgot you & what more shall I say? Why if I Remember right, you told me my most trivial Transactions would give you pleasure. Well then...

October 21, 2009

Tossed Spindle and Other Textile Technology

Buxton's discussion of tossed spindles in Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels in Perspective: An Analytical Approach notes that the action of a tossed spindle is very much like the action of early powered spinning machines.

I notice that it's also similar to reeling silk, where the threads are passed over a hook or through a ring.

October 20, 2009

Tossed Spindle

I'd heard a little about spindles traditionally used by the Coast Salish and, drop spindle user that I am, I was mystified why the whorls were described as bottom whorl, carved on the bottom, and why there was no notch or hook.

However, once I read that the Coast Salish used a tossed spindle and learned how a tossed spindle is used, descriptions of the spindle made sense. The carving, which would be out of sight on a drop spindle, is in view with a tossed spindle. A notch or hook, which is useful on a drop spindle, would hamper the roving on a tossed spindle since the roving is spun off the tip of the spindle.

The mechanics of a tossed spindle are described in Judith Buxton's Selected Canadian Spinning Wheels in Perspective: An Analytical Approach (Hull, QC: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1992) p. 38, 48-52. There is greater distance on the shaft under the whorl, enough for the spinner to hold the end of the shaft in one hand and with the other hand, run the palm under the shaft to toss or spin it. The roving is not drafted by the fingers, but pre-drafted and run through a ring above the spinner to let gravity draft it.

A tossed spindle is suited to thick low-twist singles such as those used in Cowichan sweaters.

Please note that what I've written here is a synopsis of the book's description concerning tossed spindles in general and it's not meant at all to represent or explain Coast Salish spinning as a whole. That's not my bailiwick.

I'm wandering around here astonished, bumping into walls, and muttering, I never would have thought of that! Of course, I never would have come up with a drop spindle either.

October 19, 2009

2010 Winter Games Sweater Controversy

In the news:
Members of the Cowichan First Nation on Vancouver Island say the Hudson's Bay Company ripped-off their design for one of the most sought-after pieces of Canada's Olympic uniforms.
First Nation alleges Olympic rip-off CBC News, Oct 7, 2009

When Sawyer-Smith saw the team sweaters to be worn by the Canadian Olympic team and sold at retail outlets across the country, she felt the Cowichan Tribes had been robbed, "like they were taking something away from what was originally Cowichan's."

Cowichan Valley NDP MLA Bill Routley called the decision a "tragedy."

He said Premier Gordon Campbell talks about a new relationship with aboriginal people and about providing them with economic opportunities.

"Well, this is one that's been sadly missed," he said.
Olympic Cowichan sweater won't be knit by First Nation Times Columnist, Oct 7, 2009

The Women's Canadian Olympic Team Lamb's Wool sweater is shown on the Hudson's Bay Co. website here.

Looking at the online image of the HBC sweater and thinking of the Cowichan sweaters I grew up around, I immediately want to point out that it contains dyed wool. I also notice the weight of the yarn and the construction of the sleeves.

October 17, 2009

Fibre Breeds: Unidentified

Didn't catch the label on this animal but I think it might be a mohair goat:

This animal, with the rather majestic nose, was in a pen with a sign saying Finnsheep:

October 16, 2009

Fibre Breeds: More Sheep

Navajo Churro sheep, which are acclimated to hot climates and produce strong, slightly stiff wool that goes into the rugs for which the Navajo are renowned:

Cormo sheep, which produce a springy wool:

Icelandic sheep, which are acclimated to cold climates and produce a wool with a long hair coat and a downy undercoat:

October 15, 2009

Fibre Breeds: Sheep and Goats

Shetland sheep showing natural colour, one of the qualities the breed is prized for:

Cashmere goats, with Scottish Blackface sheep in the background:

Rambouillet sheep, whose wool is springy to touch:

Tunis sheep

October 14, 2009

October 13, 2009

Fibre Breeds: Angora Rabbit

I believe the owner said this was an English Angora rabbit, distinguishable from the French Angora rabbit because of the long fur on the face. There are other breeds of Angora rabbit but the only one I can remember right now is German.

This rabbit was doing a little grooming.

October 12, 2009

Fibre Breeds: Roving

Happy Thanksgiving!

At the recent festival, I saw fibre from these breeds of sheep (plus yak and camel), which were new to me:

Gotland in grey



Falkland (not the country; the country of origin was Great Britain)



Navajo-churro in grey and other shades

I also discovered that my interest in obscure and diverse fibres is not sufficiently strong enough to overcome my disinclination to buy coarse fibre.

October 10, 2009

Support Your Local Shepherd

You may be wondering, given that I hadn't intended to buy (much) fibre at the festival, what it was that it made me pry open my sock and buy some.

I was moved by the opportunity to buy fibre straight from the shepherd and hear how it was raised and handled.

Bought dyed Shetland roving from Leonard Klein of Bransonas Shetlands, Staunton, VA.

Bought natural coloured CorriedaleXmerino "Latte" roving from Lynn Szarabajka of Quartz Creek Farm, Dyke, VA.

I consider these fibres to be local products, though both shepherds send their fibre out for processing in Michigan.

October 09, 2009

Skirting the Fleece Tent

At the festival this past weekend, I skirted* around the fleece tent so I can't tell you what fibre goodness was offered in there this year.

I hadn't planned on bringing back any quantity of fibre bigger than a breadbox. Let me tell you, looking at the washed and prepared fibre in the vendors' tents, my attitude was something like, "no, no, really I'm full. Well, alright. Maybe just a little bit more."

Didn't buy any tools. Did play with a trindle on display. You may have seen trindles on Etsy. It worked as well as any spindle I've tried and looked like nothing else. Instead of a round whorl there are three wires, which are radiating out of the shaft and weighted with beads at the ends to make the spindle rim-weighted.

Got use the trindle to demonstrate drop spindling to two shoppers who had only seen spinning wheels before. Always a pleasure.

*That's a spinning joke, in case you didn't get it. When a sheep is shorn, the fleece is laid out and the edges removed. This is called skirting.

October 08, 2009

Says Who? Physics, That's Who

him: look, these spinning wheels are really small
me: large wheels are better
him: says who?
me: physics! The whole point is to take advantage of the energy in the flywheel

October 07, 2009

Kinnearing Strauch

At the festival, I saw the display for Strauch Fiber Equipment Co. of New Castle, VA. The owner was doffing fibre off the teeth of a drum carder.

I talked to him last year, when I was wandering around the festival trying to decide whether I wanted to take up spinning. He was helpful. We talked about drum carders. I had never heard about Strauch products and had no idea he distributes internationally.

This year I was shy. I kinneared.

And now I realize I didn't ask if it was okay to put a photo of him on this blog. So I'm limiting myself to a closeup of the Strauch display.

October 06, 2009

Can't Buy Me Lace

Can't buy me lace...

While I was doing a stint of guard duty at the festival's skein and garment display with other monitors, two women discovered a lace scarf there and asked us urgently where they could buy yarn that was that thin.

We told them, out in the vendors' tents.

Later I mentioned their interest to the maker of the scarf, and she said you can't buy yarn that weight.

I knew she'd spun the yarn, but I hadn't realized that was the only way to get it. Oops.

In the same vein, last week someone wanted to find a source of thin nettle yarn and, having seen the little bit of thin nettle yarn I'd spun,* asked whether I had, or could make up, an entire skein to sell.

Regretfully I had to decline, because I'd spun all the nettle fibre there was to spin and I wouldn't be able to produce thin nettle yarn economically given my experience level and the type of tools I use.

Was able to give the person some information that might serve to help source suitable yarn, facts about spinning methods and principles and how they relate to the properties of bast fibres, processing, and finishing treatments. That was cool.

*Yeah, I spun nettle! You know I'd been looking forward to that.

October 05, 2009

twenty-second skein

The stealth skein can finally be revealed, now that the festival skein and garment competition has happened.

Handspun division, novice class.

First place in class, needlefelting kit from Thistledown Alpacas
Leslie Woodward memorial prize, $25 gift certificate from Mangham Wool & Mohair Farm
Best of division, $25 gift certificate from Stony Mountain Fibers

Stony Mountain Fibers owner Barbara Gentry tossed in an extra dollar and tax since I selected two pre-measured bags of fibre that added up to $26. (Sorry to bore you with the details, but I promised to disclose any gifts that I get that could influence my blog content.)

For this skein, I selected colours that went against my type. I did this because I wanted to disguise the fact that I made it. I also had noticed that a lot of people in our guild favour autumnal colours and since the judges were drawn from the guild, I wanted to increase my chances of the skein's colour appealing to the people who were likely to judge it.

I have very strong colour preferences myself, and ever since I was "colour draped" as a child I have stuck very closely to winter colours for my own clothing.

However, when I select colours for other people, for gifts and such, I squelch my ideas of what's hideous and pay attention to the colours they wear. Some people are so attuned to what colours they like, they make it easy for me to discover their preferences because they mention their favourites in conversation quite a bit.

I find it delightful the enthusiasm they express over purple or hot pink or whatever has their permanent fancy. They talk about indulging cravings for their colour the way people talk about chocolate.

Back to the skein. The fibre is Ashland Bay merino top in buff, mocha, and olive. Each colour was spun separately in 40 wpi singles on a lightweight drop spindle lined with a paper quill, transferred to the lazy Kate, run over and under through a box impaled with chopsticks to add tension,* and made into 3 ply yarn on a regular drop spindle. Set with hot water and weight, then reskeined on the niddy noddy to even out the strands' tension again.

*Thanks, Annie, chopsticks worked well.

October 03, 2009

I Made Something I Can Wear!

I made something I can wear. Yeah! First time ever. (I never took Textiles in school.) After getting the proper-sized needles and letting them sit in a box for a while, I cast on with the fourth skein. The poor yarn was looking rather felted from all my frogging of failed hats. Next day, I was done.

The beanie hat is loosely based on advice from spinning guild friends and directions for a sock toe in de Dillmont's Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. A friend of mine is kindly modeling it for me in the photo.

I discovered something. Out of my non-fibre friends, there are more of them that are excited to see this hat than there have been to see my handspun yarn. They like clothes.

October 02, 2009

Compelling Stuff

I found the facts compelling in Jayme Otto's article, "The Sustainable Fashionista," in Breathe Fall 2009

The percentage of clothing in municipal waste. The percentage (much smaller than I thought) of donated clothes thrift shops can actually use and why. How a very eco-conscious retailer has made the hard decision that natural dyes aren't commercially viable for them. The number of deaths linked to endosulfan on cotton. How even a low-carbon T-shirt travels the world.

Let me just repeat the one of my goals with handspinning is to make items I can wear.

October 01, 2009

"It's a bit embarassing..."

Here's a quote that I love: "I should also plan and weave a belt or something more practical too. It’s a bit embarrassing to be me and not have any tablet weaving that I wear routinely." (Phiala, "Lazy Sunday," String Notes, August 23, 2009,

September 30, 2009

Blue Face Leicester

Blue Face Leicester.

It really is everything they say it is.

I want to spin nothing else, now that I've tried BFL. Will I change, or will I always feel this way?

September 29, 2009

Trying to Influence a Seed Saver

One of the bolls on Brenda's cotton plant opened.

I was at the farmers' market again and while I was there, I tried a little harder than usual to influence people.

One person is a wood carver. I talked to him about drop spindles, and he's now interested in making some for sale.

The other person is a seed saver and exchanger. I talked to him about seeds for plants that are used for spinning fibre. The idea of saving such seeds was new to him. After I talked to him, he had no immediate plans to save and exchange such seeds.

He thinks the idea is interesting but has some barriers to people actually wanting the seeds. For example, hands get damaged when picking cotton.

He's right. I would add that flax is labour intensive when processed by hand. Few people are up to the job of turning flax or cotton into cloth, and few people are invested in preserving genetic diversity and biological wealth against future need in regard to spinning. Veggies yes, inedible fibre no. I would guess that current demand for fibre seeds is pretty small.

I think it's important that ordinary people preserve, cultivate, and pass along a variety of useful seeds and disperse them into many holdings in multiple communities.

As a handspinner, I'd like seed savers and seed exchanges to consider plants that you can turn into clothes, nets, bed linens, etc.

September 28, 2009

twenty-third skein

merino wool
2 oz
about 220 yards
drop spindle spun
My gauge started out small but got larger at one point and then stayed there. Too much wool at one time to load on the lightweight spindle.

September 26, 2009

Springing for a Sprang Book

The lowest-priced copy of Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Sprang: Plaiting on Stretched Threads on the Advanced Book Exchange was, get this, in a used bookstore in Nanaimo. Sold! What are the chances it would be in a bookstore I've probably been in before?

This book acquisition is in aid of my ambition to
-learn ways to turn handspun into useful wearable clothes
-try obscure, ancient techniques of making cloth
-use tools and equipment that are handpowered and within reach of your average urban peasant*

*I loved the Urban Peasant cooking show and cookbooks. In the words of the host, James Barber, "Cooking ought to be fun, and it ought to be easy, and it ought to be something we can all do together, and enjoy, together."

September 25, 2009

"You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin"

Since I've begun spinning lace weight yarn out and about in public with the drop spindle, I've starting to get a new question from non-spinners: "Does it have to be that thin?"

I say no, it doesn't, and actually this particular yarn won't end up this thin when I'm done plying it. I let the single relax and curl back on itself to show them an idea of the plied size.

They say, "oh," but their eyes look unconvinced. I'm deviating wildly from their expectations about yarn, evidently.

By contrast, talking with spinners, it's all, "How thin can you spin?"

September 24, 2009

Not for the Purist

Of course, if I do get a great wheel, it will probably look more like the one on the Mother Earth News website that's made from scrap wood and a bicycle tire.

Not that I'd mind. I don't require a great wheel that looks authentic to a time-period.

On the contrary, I am keen on showing spinning as an activity for everyday life today.

I like that this great wheel takes advantage of common modern scrap materials.

And, consider this: a reproduction great wheel with wooden hoop rim can list around $1 500, but the bicycle tire rim great wheel cost its makers $2.50 at the time of publication. If I asked myself whether I really thought one was really 600 times better than the other, I would have to say, let's at least try the cheaper option first.

Though preferably with an added Minor's head attachment and a way to adjust the tension.

September 23, 2009

"Watson, come here. I need you."

When I found the listing for Houndesign, I also found one for Watson Wheels.

It's good to know that someone on Vancouver Island has built a great wheel.

Watson Wheels has a write up in SpinOff magazine, Fall 2008. James Watson considers "supply rather than demand the limiting factor," that is, there are more spinners wanting to buy quality, ergonomic wheels like his and his son's than they can make.

September 22, 2009

Local Fibre is like Local Food

If you remember my post from yesterday, I'd run into someone I knew who's vendor at a farmers' market, and I was telling her that I'd taken up the drop spindle.

Well, I took my drop spindle and wool to that farmers' market and got to show her. She was fascinated, and so were a number of other vendors.

One asked if the roving came that way off the sheep. I described how wool comes off in locks like locks of hair which then get put through a machine to make the continuous strip of wool roving.

There was a boy who saw the drop spindle spinning and said wow. That's always fun.

One shopper didn't just ask the usual "how long does spinning take." He wanted to know what the cost benefit worked out to.

I said the raw material was maybe about a third the cost of yarn but you had to account for labour. Spinning was like vegetable gardening, I said: you buy tools and you have to learn what to do and then you put a lot of labour in. I allowed that there was the possibility of spending so much it wouldn't be cost effective, unless you're really disciplined.

He supposed that if someone gave you the wool that would make spinning economical and I agreed, saying that would be like picking walnuts up off the side of the road (to continue the gardening metaphor).

In my experience, it hasn't been the cost of fibre that's gotten me so much as the cost of wool cards, wool combs, knitting needles, and that superfluous drop spindle I bought because it's so pretty.

From stories other people have told me, it isn't the fibre for them either but the additions they've had to build on the house to hold their stash, the six spinning wheels, multiple looms, knitting machines, and so on.

It was cool to talk at the market to people who are interested in local food and say, hey, pretty much anything you can say about local food is true of local fibre. There are heritage breeds. You can get a variety of breeds or strains and promote biodiversity. There are local producers who can tell you how the fibre was raised. Buying local fibre supports the local economy. As with cooking food from a famers' market, spinning local fibre is a chance to have more control and involvement in the way you meet your daily needs.

September 21, 2009

Missed a Chance to Demonstrate Spinning

her: Hi! I haven't seen you in a while.
me: Hi! Yeah, I haven't been to your farmers' market all season.
her: What are you up to?
me: I took up a new hobby, spinning yarn.
her: That sounds really interesting.
me: I wish I had my drop spindle out in the car to show you.

Maybe I should keep a spare in the trunk?

September 19, 2009

A Year Ago

A year ago at an agricultural fair, someone offered to let me try her spinning wheel.

Be careful what you try at festivals.

September 18, 2009

Top Secret Report

I can neither confirm nor deny that I have finished an entry for the blind-judged skein competition at an upcoming festival.

I hear winners get fibre as a prize.

Happy World Wide Spin In Public day tomorrow!

September 17, 2009

Cedar Lining

What's that scraping noise? Me, sanding the cedar planks that line my hope chest to release fresh cedar oil.

I'm worried that I've been lax with all the wool I've accumulated for spinning, leaving the fibre around open to moths in their original plastic bags and cardboard boxes.

Moths, destroyers of wool!
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destoys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:20,21 NASB

September 16, 2009

Trying not to Intrude

In case you're curious, I follow these principles with my blog for privacy online because once content is out there, it's out there and also I don't like to intrude.


I don't track page views or visitor's IP addresses.  [edited October 20, 2010 to add that Blogger has a new statistics function.  I can now get a report of what posts and pages were viewed and how many times they were viewed, but I cannnot see who viewed them.  You should know that through the stats I can get a list of referring websites and search words that led visitors to my blog.  Some of the websites have been Ravelry profiles with users' profile names on them, which means I can tell when someone who has me listed in their Ravelry friends clicks through from their friends' blogs activity page.  If you don't want me to get this information in my stats, you can click through to my blog from my Ravelry profile (from the friends' blogs tab, go to the friends tab, click on my Ravatar to go to my profile, then click on the website link). Alternatively, you can bookmark the blog URL on your browser and use that to go right to my blog.  You won't go directly to the post that interested you on your Ravelry activity, but probably it will appear close to the top of the page and the archive list in the right hand column makes navigation easy.  For a link to my blog on Ravelry that appears in a group or a list of projects for a pattern, if you click on it, the stats will show that as the referring website and show nothing about your personal profile.]

I do look at whoever signs up to follow publicly or whoever comments while signed in, visiting their profile and blog if available.

I occasionally check the number of total subscribers in Google Reader.

I moderate comments. I may decline or delay publishing your comment.


I restrict references to people to relevant parts of my spinning journey where I'm learning something about the skill.

Wherever I post a photo that singles out someone's face and makes them personally identifiable, I have gotten that person's verbal release to use their image on this blog.

I mention the full names and location of people who operate in a public capacity, for example, wool vendors. Often I speak to these people before posting about them, but sometimes I don't.

I mention only the first name of people who operate in a private capacity, for example, friends and fellow guild members. Sometimes I don't even mention their name. This is an effort to not be intrusive and to not treat all y'all like blog fodder. However, if you want your fifteen minutes of fame, let me know and I'll consider it.

I don't give away the location or schedule of people I know in a private capacity. Well, sometimes I might mention the country.

I never name children and minors or show a child's face.

I cite the references for all quotes from published sources, limit quotes' lengths, and balance each quote with an equal amount of original content.

Hopefully the reasons for my principles are clear, but do ask if you'd like to know about any point.

While my experiences with putting content out there online have been good, mostly, online content is a wild and woolly thing which can persist and spread beyond the originator's control.

September 15, 2009


I'd been looking for a while for the direct contact information of Houndesign, ever since I saw a couple of their rim-weighted, top whorl drop spindles at a spinning retreat on Vancouver Island.

Houndesign makes spinning tools in the city of Vancouver, B.C., out of local and exotic wood.

They were, at the time of the retreat, the closest known local commercial spindle supplier.

I hear that since then, starting on Victoria Day, someone started selling Vancouver Island-made drop spindles at the Moss Street Market in the city of Victoria.

If you're not familiar with the geography, the city of Victoria is on the south end of Vancouver Island, which is 200 miles long. To travel between Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver across the Strait requires a long ferry trip. When you say local to someone on Vancouver Island, they do not think city of Vancouver.

Victoria Day has nothing to do with the city of Victoria, though they hold a nice parade. The day is a statutory holiday (bank holiday, long weekend) in late May across Canada.

September 14, 2009

Hezekiah's Textile Metaphors

Hezekiah wrote this about when he was sick and dying (he got better):
"'Like a shepherd's tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me;
As a weaver I rolled up my life.
He [the Lord] cuts me off from the loom;
From day until night You make an end of me.'"
Isaiah 38:12 NASB

I think it's beautiful how he uses the imagery of textiles as a metaphor for his physical and spiritual condition.

I am also impressed with how much a part of everyday life textile manufacture and sheep-raising appear in the book of Isaiah.

The prophet refers to an enemy commander turning up to have a parlay with the king's representatives (and to deliver some choice threats): the man "stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway of the fuller's field." Is 36:2b NASB

If there are any fuller's fields around here as landmarks, I don't know about them.

Oh, the sheep-raising verse I promised:
"For thus says the Lord to me,
'As the lion or the young lion growls over his prey,
Against which a band of shpherds is called out,
And he will not be terrified at their voice nor disturbed at their noise,'"
Isaiah 31:4 NASB

I get that metaphor but not the way people back in the day, who actually kept sheep with lions around, would have gotten it.

September 12, 2009

Indigo Wears Off

Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden is a useful book for making the connection between plants' properties and how things came to be, or why certain products have traditionally been made in a certain way.

For example, she notes
[indigo] doesn't react with the fibers, it just adheres to their surface, forming a mechanical but not a chemical bond....Indigo doesn't fade over time or change from dark to pale blue, but indigo-dyed fabrics (such as blue jeans) gradually fade as the dye molecules are rubbed off the fibers, like chalk marks are erased from a blackboard.
Rita Buchanan, A Weaver's Garden (Loveland, CO: Interweave, 1987) p. 117.

People came to expect jeans to lighten with wear and found softer, worn jeans more desirable.

Consequently, producers began to simulate mechanically worn indigo's look by treating jeans with rapid chemical and mechanical processes.

I'm sure you could go look up information on the environmental impact of modern processing for blue jeans and get all horrified, but I'll just leave you with the thought that the process (and impact) is driven by long-standing expectations people have of indigo, based on its particular natural properties. I think that's pretty neat.

September 11, 2009

Useful Plants: Horse Chestnuts

Another useful plant from Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden

Page 139: Nuts from horse chestnuts give saponin for washing wool, apparently with no need to process or add anything. Perhaps you need to chop the chestnuts, I don't know.

I used to be very sad that the glossy nuts littering the streets of Cook Street Village in Victoria and the Old City Quarter in Nanaimo were inedible. Now I know what they can be used for.

September 10, 2009

Useful Plants: Kelp

Another useful plant from Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden

Page 124, 126: Kelp is a source of sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide (lye) and can be used to make hard soap.

Kelp is a very common seaweed around Vancouver Island. I know how to top and tail a piece of fresh kelp and play it like a horn. For those of you who didn't play with kelp as a kid, it is shaped like a very long, flexible hollow tube. It is many feet long and tapers from a bulb about five inches in diameter to a pencil thick end. If you cut the bulb off one end, it looks like the bell of a trumpet and if you cut across the skinny end where it is still about an inch thick, you get something a little like a trumpet mouthpiece only slimy and salty.

Now I have a second use for kelp if I want.

September 09, 2009

Useful Plants: Walnuts

Another useful plant for spinning listed in Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden

Page 97: Walnuts hulls for brown dye. I have stained my hands gathering walnuts for eating so I knew dyeing wool with walnut hulls was possible.

I got to see this piece of wool a skilled dyer in our guild had dyed with walnuts and some other natural dyes. You can see the wool draped over her spinning wheel's tensioner, which is the knob at the end. She said the dye bath was partially exhausted when she put this wool in, and that's why the colour is relatively light for a walnut dye.

September 08, 2009

Useful Plants: Scotch Broom

I'm learning new uses for familiar plants from Rita Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden (Loveland, CO: Interweave, 1987).

Page 81: Scotch broom stems and flowers, fresh or dried, for yellow dye.

Imagine, something useful from this blight on southern Vancouver Island that crowds out native plants and makes people sneeze.

September 07, 2009

Mugshots of Useful Plants

I'm reading Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden. The line drawings of weld and woad look awfully familiar. Have I seen them in the wild? Ah! It's aggravating to be unsure.

September 05, 2009

Bunny Suit

I gave this post the silly title of "bunny suit" but actually I do want to talk about bunny, hareskin from the Arctic specifically.

I got a few Canadian books sent to me recently from a bookstore in Nova Scotia.

The mere sight of Canada Post labels on a parcel does an ex-pat's heart good.

Before ordering, I must not have looked all that closely at the description of one book, Hall, Tepper and Thompson's Threads of the Land: Clothing Traditions from Three Indigenous Cultures/Liens à la Terre: Traditions Vestimentaires de Trois cultures Autochtones (Hull, QC: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1994), because I was expecting something thicker than its actual twenty-four pages.

The last outfit is the one that interests me. First, the look. The hooded parka and pants combination makes me think of the Abominable Snowman: rumpled, white, and fuzzy, head to toe. Second, the diagram of the construction technique, called looped netting, looks like very simple nalbinding on a frame.

The description states the fragile hareskin is cut in a spiral, cured (soaked, twisted, and dried), and "joined to others to form a long, furry cord. A looped netting technique converted the cord into warm garments." (p. 21)

From what little I understand about nalbinding, I strongly suspect this means a strip is looped into net first and then its end is joined to the next which is then looped into more net, eventually producing a continuous cord. Otherwise you'd be trying to cram multiple hare pelts through small loops.

The book gives the outfit's provenance as Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories, 1964, and notes that hareskin clothing used to be common for adults and children.

The hareskin outfit appears functional, locally made with local tools and local material, culturally appropriate, environmentally low-impact, biodegradable, and biodiverse. And fuzzy.

September 04, 2009

Miniature Sweater

I made a miniature sweater!

It's out of the bit of blue wool that I separated from the purple wool I mentioned in the "What a Difference Colour Makes" post and that I spun (start to finish) at the last guild meeting.

September 03, 2009

Spinning in the Poem The Faerie Queene

There's this very long poem published in 1596 called The Faerie Queene written by a man who for a long time was as famous as Shakespeare. In the poem there are descriptions of clothes, tapestry, and spinning.

Here's the bit about spinning. Our hero Sir Artegall has just been thrown in prison.

Note that the language is deliberately archaic even for 1596, and the text is typeset with v's where you'd expect u's and a few other spelling oddities.

If you want a version that's a little easier to read, I recommend you get the one edited by Hamilton (who's Canadian by the way) and look up Book V of The Faerie Queene, Canto V, stanza 22 and part of stanza 23.
There entred in, he round about him saw
Many braue knights, whose names right well he knew,
There bound t'obay that Amazons proud law,
Spinning and carding all in comely rew,
That his bigge hart loth'd so vncomely vew.
But they were forst through penurie and pyne,
To doe those workes, to them appointed dew:
For nought was giuen them to sup or dyne,
But what their hands could earne by twisting linnen twyne.

Amongst them all she placed him most low,
And in his hand a distaffe to him gaue,
That he thereon should spin both flax and tow;
A sordid office for a mind so braue.
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser, ed. J.C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 297, 298.

Spenser holds very definite opinions on gender roles and the value of spinning. If you didn't catch it, the four lines that start "But they were forst..." mean that the prisoners didn't get anything to eat except what they earned by spinning. Spencer presents spinning as degrading forced labour to make his point about the unsuitability of Artegall's subjection to a warrior queen because he's a guy and she's a girl. This assertion is all the more interesting given that Spencer's entire poem is about Elizabeth I, his sovereign.* A few lines later the author carefully points out that his opinions are no reflection on her since she rules by hereditary right.

Spencer uses the word distaff, which leads me to think he means a distaff and drop spindle. (In my post Quibble, in paragraph seven I go over how distaff used to mean distaff and spindle as opposed to a wheel.)

Why Spenser should use the word carding, I'm not sure. As far as I know linen is only hackled (combed) and its strands are too long to card.

I am surprised Spenser only mentions spinning flax and tow, and not wool, given the importance of wool to England's economy in his lifetime. However, wool was an export commodity back then, processed on the Continent, and perhaps Spenser only saw domestic production of linen. It's also possible he wasn't very familiar with spinning at all and only included this scene to make a point and to add colour. It's also possible that he deliberately chose linen only because he set the poem in King Arthur's day before the rise of massive wool cash crops. (Or do I mean its rise again? Didn't the Romans raise sheep for wool in ancient Britain? Anyway.)

*In a bit of symmetry, Hamilton sweetly and self-consciously dedicated his annotated edition of Spenser's The Faerie Queene to our sovereign, Elizabeth II.