July 31, 2009

Canada Organic/Biologique Canada

Organic Products Regulation, 2009 came into effect in Canada on June 30, 2009. I'm looking at the information the federal government released here, and trying to see whether fibre for spinning must be certified to be marketed in Canada as organic.
Scope of the Regulations

In the OPR 2009, a new section is included which limits the scope of their application to food and drink intended for human consumption and food intended to feed livestock, including agricultural crops used for those purposes, and also to the cultivation of plants.
This section further down under the heading Consultation looks to me as though spinning fibre is not regulated by this annexation to the Canadian Agricultural Products Act:
Some sectors of the industry (aquaculture, personal care products, textiles, pet food and cosmetics) and stakeholders in Quebec expressed concern that a number of organic products which are regulated at the provincial level are not included in the scope of application of OPR 2009.
So I went to the Islands Organic Producers Association website and looked at a pdf from Canadian Organic Growers called "A Guide to Understanding the Canadian Organic Standards." Pages six and seven says textiles are excluded from organic certification under the OPR but organic claims on textiles are subject to the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act (truth in advertising legislation).

Wondering if organic certification of textiles is regulated at the provincial level in British Columbia, I looked at the website of the Certified Organic Associations of B.C., which administers the British Columbia Certified Organic program. The COABC website states, "COABC adopted the Canada Organic Standard as the standard for the BC Certified Organic Program as of Jan 1, 2009."

That would bring us back to do (DO RE MI...).

July 30, 2009

Another Reason to Love the Drop Spindle

I have yet another reason to love using the simple, thrifty drop spindle: I don't need new equipment to spin skinny lace weight yarn.

Don't need to buy a new flyer. Don't need to buy new bobbins with a higher ratio. Just need to draft the fibre more.

July 29, 2009


I enjoyed reading Anne L. Macdonald's No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting (New York: Ballantine, 1988).

There is some information about spinning in it, mostly in the first few chapters which is understandable as the chapters are arranged chronologically.

I learned that the association of grandmother and knitting, the expectation that (only) grandmothers knit, the stereotype of sweet old grandmothers knitting, the relegation of knitting to grandmothers, and all variations on that theme have been around a long, long time.

It was cool to find stories about places I've visited. The mass spin-ins in Boston Common, for example, were very inspiring.

I wish there was an addendum to No Idle Hands, discussing the twenty years that have passed since this book's publication date that would show me the roots and development of all the fads and trends I catch glimpses of on Ravelry.

I have one quibble with No Idle Hands. Macdonald writes on page 4 about a 1642 decree by the township of Andover, MA that the men who keep cattle also spin "upon the rock," knit, and weave tape. She states that
While this ordinance might evoke a pastoral scene of children balancing their wheels on boulders in hilly grazing areas as they spun and knit, 'spinning on a rock' meant using a distaff or whorl to hold the flax or wool, not relaxing on a geologic formation.
My quibble is that Macdonald makes it sound as though the herdsmen were using spinning wheels with distaffs. I don't think they were. I think they were using drop spindles.

According to Baines on page 94 of Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, the word rock is another word for distaff. The phrase spinning on a rock is used to mean spinning with a distaff and drop spindle. If you were spinning on a spindle wheel (like a great wheel) which took rolags held in one hand with no distaff, people in the Middle Ages said you were spinning on a wheel. If you were spinning on a drop spindle, people said you were spinning on a distaff (or rock).

Baines notes, "This has unfortunately led a few, unfamiliar with the processes of yarn making, to believe that in the latter case the distaff did the actual twisting." I don't think that Macdonald, in the passage above, is stating that the distaff does the spinning. I also don't think she outright says that wheels were involved. It's just that she isn't entirely clear what was technically going on and what the township intended with their decree. I assure you that in the rest of the book's many pages and miles of endnotes, Macdonald is eminently clear and authorial on everything else.

She refers here to either distaffs or whorls holding flax or wool, but makes no distinction between teased locks and spun yarn. I can't really see how a whorl could hold unspun fibre, and of course it's not the whorl but the shaft of a drop spindle that holds yarn above or below the whorl. But because Macdonald brings spinning wheels into the discussion and does not mention drop spindles, in my opinion she leaves the reader with the impression that herdsmen used spinning wheels. This, as you can tell, bothers me.

To totally confuse the issue for a modern reader who doesn't know that the term rock for distaff came from other languages into English according to Baines, some whorls are made of soapstone, a type of rock. I mean, I don't associate the word rock with a wooden distaff or consider the distaff as a natural metonymy or stand-in for drop spindle. But people used to and it worked for them. Names are always a bit of a tricky shibboleth* creating elitist dividing lines. The whole thing where, if you don't know, you aren't "in." I feel bad for being picky enough to quibble.

One more point before I leave 1642 alone. Baines, on page 181, states
In 1686 John Aubrey in his Natural History of Wiltshire made a memorandum: "The art of spinning is so much improved within these last forty years that one pound of Wooll makes twice as much cloath as it did before the Civill warres" [1642]. This would surely be because people had mastered the art of using the spinning wheels, as he adds "in the old time...they used to spinne with Rocks; in Staffordshire they use them still.
From this, I gather that drop spindles would probably have been authentic for English colonists in Andover, MA at this time. I would add to this the greater suitability of drop spindles over spinning wheels for use beside cow pastures.

* The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the men of Gilead would say to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he said, "No," then they would say to him, "Say now, 'Shibboleh.'" But he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him...
Judges 12:5,6a NASB

July 28, 2009

Spinning Sub Rosa (or Under the Cone of Silence)

There's a skein competition coming up at a certain festival.

The novice category is only open to beginner spinners who've been spinning less than one year. If I don't enter a skein in that category this year, I'll have missed my chance.

Knowing this, and otherwise not really knowing much about skein competitions, I asked for tips from other members of our guild.

The tip that struck me most was this: the competition is judged blind and judges are taken from our area.

Therefore, whatever I spin and submit for entry, I have to keep secret.

No skeins I've taken to a guild meeting for show and tell.

No fibre I've shown around to other guild members and asked for advice on.

No fibre I've bought from guild members or been given by guild members.

Nothing I've mentioned on my blog.


Speaking of super-secret fibre, there is a sheep breed called Bond. I've seen some Bond fleece. I believe the owner of the fibre got it from Gleason's Fine Woolies Ranch in Lyons, CO.

July 27, 2009

Spinning Lace Weight

A couple (obvious) observations about spinning lace weight:

the drop spindle spins around a lot longer than it does for thicker strands (which I like)

winding on takes longer (which is a little hard on the fingers but mustn't complain)

July 25, 2009

Spindles in Early Canadian History

In Canada, spindle whorls were only found in British Columbia, prior to European contact.
Karen Albright Murchison, "What's a Whatzit?" Canadian Museum of Civilization, http://www.civilisations.ca/cmc/education/teacher-resources/oracles/archaeology/kmurchison/whats-a-whatzit
Other objects include a bronze-ringed cloak pin...a soapstone spindle whorl, and a stone lamp. The discovery of the spindle whorl, used by women to spin wool, is evidence that families came to the site [L'Anse aux Meadows]. In other words, this was a genuine attempt at settlement, not just an outpost for explorers.
"The Norse," Canadian Museum of Civilization, http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/canp1/ca01eng.shtml

There's a photo of a steatite whorl from L'Anse aux Meadows on the same website here. I think the shape is beautiful.

If you don't know your Canadian geography and history, L'Anse aux Meadows is in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador on Canada's east coast; British Columbia is on our west coast.

July 24, 2009

Tea Stain Floral Print Linen Grocery Sack

I made this linen grocery sack made out of a Talbot's skirt I got for $1.75 from a local thrift shop.

The fabric pattern is not my cup of tea.

I was in it for the fabric, which was very pleasant to handle, press, and sew by hand.

July 23, 2009

Rimless Wheel: Roll Up the Rim to Win

There's a variety of spinning wheel, a spindle wheel not a flyer wheel, that has a lashed rim instead of a solid wooden hoop. It's called a rimless wheel. The wheel has two sets of spokes. The spoke ends are interlaced in a zigzag back and forth between the sets of spokes, and the drive band runs on the interlacing.

I find this construction interesting, because it seems useful (from the perspective of getting more people to try spinning) to be able to get spinning wheels made with fewer materials or less expensive materials and with less skill.

In some of the pictures of rimless wheels I've seen, the spokes don't seem difficult. They aren't spokes fitted into slots carved in a hub. They are not turned on a lathe.

Instead, they look like a series of flat sticks tapered at each end, three of them to create six spokes for example, or four to create eight spokes. The sticks all have holes in their middles to take the axle. They have small holes at the ends to take the interlacing. The sticks are crossed evenly in a star-like arrangement to make wheel spokes and then kept in that position (by glue or possibly by friction on the axle).

It looks like a number of spacers go next on the axle, and another set of spokes, and a crank handle on the axle. The axle is supported by uprights on either side set on a stretcher bar and stabilized by another, perpendicular stretcher bar leading to the spindle head. This is very similar to a great wheel. There may or may not be legs, and may or may not be a way to adjust the distance between spindle and wheel.

Apologies for using the Tim Horton's ad jingle for a silly blog post title.

July 22, 2009

Border Crossing: Strange Customs

Thought you might be amused to hear how my border crossing went the last time I went to Canada, which was the first time going back for a visit since I learned to spin.

Canada customs requires you to declare all wooden articles, even if these articles are your personal effects or gifts under the allowable limit. I pulled out my drop spindle, declared it, and then identified what it was for the customs agent.

U.S. custom's agriculture inspection agents inspected my shoes since I declared I had been on a farm, and they inspected the roving and wool locks I declared as my personal purchases or gifts given to me. They asked me to confirm the fibres were free of blood, which I did because they were. I was all prepared to give them details about my block of spalted broadleaf maple that I was bringing back as a gift for a wood turner, but they didn't ask about wood at all.

July 21, 2009

Guild Membership Benefits

I took this brown wool to a farmers' market on Saturday to demonstrate the drop spindle, let people try it, and talk about the spinning guild I belong to.

The market manager was happy I came. She was interested to hear about the equipment rental our guild offers members. One of the reasons she hasn't taken up spinning herself is the thought of buying a spinning wheel without knowing whether she would like to use it or not. A rental wheel would solve that problem for her.

A market vendor was interested to hear that we have guild members who enjoy helping people who own new or "new to them" spinning wheels. Everything the vendor said she'd like to do her antique walking wheel and didn't quite know how—assemble the wheel, repair it or find a restoration specialist if needed, practice using it, and even sell it—I've seen people get help with at guild meetings.

July 20, 2009

Contrariness Explained

I realized why I was avoiding the mountain of superwash roving. It has a chemical smell.

I expect all my fibre purchases in the future will be made in person (within smelling distance) and not online.

July 18, 2009


There to and fro she paced through many a day
Of the warm summer, from a belt of flax
That girt her waist, spinning the long-drawn thread
With backward steps.
William Wordsworth, "The Ruined Cottage," 1797, lines 459-462

Baines' Spinning Wheels, Spinners & Spinning cited lines from Wordsworth in one or two places.

I knew that Wordsworth made a practice of looking at the little details of ordinary things as a way of looking at the meaning of life, and thought there was a chance he could shed light on how people used to spin.

I dipped into my copy of Major British Poets of the Romantic Period and found the quote above.

The spinner in the cottage had a husband who used to weave in their cottage:
I have heard her say
That he was up and busy at his loom
In summer ere the mower's scythe had swept
The dewy grass (lines 121-124)
There was a war and an economic downturn, and one day she found he had gone to war. So she always looked for him to come back:
Yet ever as there passed
A man whose garments shewed the Soldier's red,
Or crippled Mendicant in Sailor's garb,
The little child who sate to turn the wheel
Ceased from his toil, and she, with faltering voice,
Expecting still to learn her husband's fate,
Made many a fond inquiry (lines 462-468)
You can see that Wordsworth describes a particular type of spinning. The method seems odd.

The wheel is turned by a child rather than the spinner, the spinner keeps her fibre at her waist rather than on a typical flax distaff, and the spinner walks backward but does not control the wheel as with a great wheel (spindle wheel).

It's enough to wonder whether Wordsworth got it wrong.

However,in Spinning Wheels, Spinners & Spinning, Baines describes a method of spinning twine for fishing lines and nets, and provides an illustration taken from a painting that makes it look like Wordsworth did get it right. The method in question acts more like a rope machine than a spinning wheel.

Everything matches up with Wordsworth's poem. In Baines' description, on pages 63 and 64, there is more than one woman spinning. Each spinner ties flax around the waist. A child turns the large wheel, which rotates hooks above it. The spinners walk backward, making two strands each on a hook, then walk forward twisting the strands together. The strands are supported in mid-air by what look like upside-down rakes every so often; you can see them in the book, where they are called wooden skirders.

July 17, 2009

It Followed Me Home

A 2 oz bag of dark brown alpaca fibre mysteriously made its way into my possession at the last guild meeting.

Seriously, I left my seat to look at a book on display, got talking to a drop spindle spinner, came back, and found a baggie of alpaca in my bag.

It was part of the leftovers from the skein challenge and they were getting rid of it.

So the alpaca fibre followed me home and I could keep it but, instead, it will give me much more happiness to pass it along to a friend I have in mind who has a drop spindle but no fibre.

July 16, 2009


Why am I blithely off spinning lace weight mohair when I'm supposed to be making sport weight inroads on Mount Superwash here?

July 15, 2009

The Spoils of War

'Hugh Macneil Oge lamented that the invading Scots had carried off numbers of spinning wheels from the people of Ulster during one of their depredatory incursions against the North Irish' - so writes Hugh McCall (1855).

Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels, Spinners & Spinning (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977, p. 121)

I had never really thought of spinning wheels as ever being the spoils of war. Gold, yes. Luxury fabric, yes.

This book has quite a bit of information I found novel and interesting.

For example, in the second half of the eighteenth century, a type of spinning wheel was developed that a spinner could take and use while riding in a horse-drawn carriage (p. 158). It is small, so the wheel is either made of metal or weighted with metal to give it enough momentum.

A girdle or belt spinning wheel was also developed. The main part looks like a fishing reel (p. 162-164). The flyer is made of brass, and these wheels were made by clockmakers.

July 14, 2009

Tomorrow the World

I showed my spinning to a friend and she asked what my goal was.

I said, my goal is to make something I can wear and to let as many people as possible know about drop spindles.

She asked if I meant to teach.

Not formally, I said. I want people to know drop spindles exist and have an idea how they work.

QED, I recently walked and spun in a holiday parade.

Two thousand down, six point seven billion people to go.

I think the simple sign on my front helped the parade watchers get what I was doing. I heard quite a few people read aloud the words "Hand Spun Yarn."

There were a number of poor kids who mothers ordered them to "look what she's doing! She's making yarn."

I had a sign on my back with the name of the guild where I'm a member. The parade pace allowed for talking with bystanders, and I got to give an invitation to our meetings to one woman who asked about hand spinning.

I attached the signs together with hand spun yarn, naturally.

July 13, 2009

eighteenth skein

my first three ply yarn
wool from a sheep named Bobby, raised and processed by Anna Runnings of Qualicum Bay Fibre Works on Vancouver Island, B.C.
70 yards
3 3/8 ounces

July 11, 2009

Spinning to Gauge

I did a little exercise with a couple of small bits of roving I got free in a grab bag at a guild sale. Both the cream coloured fibre and the dyed fibre struck me as being the same sort: very soft and very crimpy with a matte texture. My exercise was to spin the first one very thin, thinner than I'd gone before, and then get the same exact gauge with the other stuff.

I was able to spin thin, and spin to gauge. It's good to know I can repeat what I did and replicate my work. I'm also pleased with the level of consistency throughout.

The yarn in the bundles is actually balanced. They look twisted because I wrapped then in a weaver's butterfly around thumb and pinkie.

I also spun twice as thin again, just for a minute or two. You can see that yarn going in a line around the two bundles.

The singles for this didn't even register on the VIP Fibers yarn gauge I use. I could have used the half inch side of a wraps per inch tool, but wrapping would have taken forever.

Spinning this thin has been a goal ever since spring when a spinner sat down beside me at the Thursday Spinners in Coombs, talked about how she got into spinning through her love of laceweight yarn, and showed me how thin she drafts. I could have fallen over when I saw her demonstration, those fibres seemed drafted so impossibly thin.

July 10, 2009

Over the Bobbin or Under

Place the bobbins of yarn to be plyed on a Lazy Kate or spool rack. The bobbins are either placed side by side of one above the other, and they must be free to rotate, the yarns coming from underneath as they wind.

Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels, Spinners & Spinning (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977, p. 217)

Yarns should come from underneath. That might have saved me from some snarls as I plyed.

And to further increase my ignominy, I failed to load the bobbins with even amounts of singles despite using a digital scale and deducting the bobbin weights. The top bobbin is empty and the bottom two bobbins look like they have about half an ounce left apiece.

I spun some more singles recently but they look a bit thinner, and being an inexperienced spinner I don't know if I want to introduce one thinner single into a three ply mix.

July 09, 2009


Small washers on string loops attached to each bobbin introduce enough tension to slow down the singles as they unreel, and make plying more orderly.

I can't remember what book I saw this in. It was given as a way to slow down a bobbin on a spinning machine.

The other thing that helped unsnarl the yarn was raising the lazy kate from the floor to a ledge at shoulder height, the same height roving is when I spin. This allowed each single to unreel at an angle as far from the others as possible.

July 08, 2009


I ran into a snarl plying three strands.

The lazy kate is not tensioned. I had a suspicion this would be a problem, since tension bands on lazy kates are always pointed out in sales blurbs as significant.

At our guild, I saw Sarah plying trouble-free off two bobbins on an untensioned lazy kate onto her drop spindle, which made me hope my attempt with three bobbins was going to go well.

All is not going well. The snarl is enough to stop progress.

Sarah's lazy kate holds bobbins horizontally side by side about a foot apart. The singles don't touch until they meet at her fingertips. The bobbins are held on wooden pins if I remember correctly, introducing some friction to tension the bobbins a little. She had the lazy kate up on a table, providing a good angle for plying on the drop spindle.

My lazy kate needs some help. Just putting it up on a table is not going to be enough.

Eileen Chadwick in The Craft of Handspinning (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980, p. 61) shows a homemade tension device. I sketched this from what I could see in Chadwick's photo:

The singles go under and over knitting needles stuck into a cardboard box, sort of like the way microfilm threads through a microfilm reader only there are multiple singles and, well, nevermind. The book's actual photo is clear, so I recommend you get the book if you want to understand Chadwick's solution.

I don't have a lot of knitting needles to make a Chadwickian box. I am going to go in a different direction. At least that's the plan.

July 07, 2009

eighteenth skein in waiting

"Bobby" roving, very springy to the touch, from Anna Runnings' Qualicum Bay Fibre Works. Runnings raised this fibre, as well as prepared it, so hearing about the sheep that produced the wool was an added bonus when I bought it from her.

I transferred about an ounce of singles to each bobbin on the kate, wrapping the bobbins by hand from the drop spindle.

Next step is three ply. Have never done three ply. Am on tenterhooks.

Here is a close up of one of the bobbins of singles. On my spinner's gauge, it averaged around 16-18. I was hoping to make sock yarn because the roving is so springy.

Terry from our guild had a look at the singles and said they would probably ply up fairly bulky. Not sure if there is such a thing as bulky sock yarn.

July 06, 2009

Cloth Production in Ancient Ur

We have economic records from ancient Ur (circa 1900 B.C.) which analyze an annual wool cloth productions for that city-state of 4 million pounds.
Stanley Bulbach, "Tropos," Spin•Off, December 1982, p. 3.

That is a whole lot of wool cloth coming out of Abraham's hometown* (Genesis 11:27, 28.). All spun by hand, and with drop spindles, yes?

Since the information comes from economic records, I am guessing that the cloth was produced for trade or for domestic sale. Cloth produced in the home for the people in the home wouldn't get officially tallied, I don't think.

If you're trying to place Ur on the map, it would have been somewhere near the Persian Gulf.

*The "Old Testament History at a Glance" chart on p. 119 in Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, puts Abraham leaving Ur just before 1900 B.C.E.

July 04, 2009

Cheering for the Tour de Fleece

Go, everyone spinning in the Tour de Fleece!

Go, Team Van Isle!

Go to Ravelry if you would like information about this challenge to spin during La Tour de France and complete something that stretches your skill.

July 02, 2009

Andean Plying

Here is a photo of my hand with silk singles wrapped on it for Andean plying, along with photos of the progress of the plying.

You can see that the silk singles put a lot of pressure on my finger as I wrap. Ideally, all my fingers would still be straight by the end but that doesn't happen.

I didn't need to stick a chopstick in to help this time and my hand didn't hurt as much as usual, since I wasn't doing a lot of yardage.

I've thought about getting an Andean plying tool. I tried one out briefly. The tool felt a little awkward to wrap to me, especially going over the top pin.

You can see the energy in the singles in the last photo. The twist makes this plying method work. That is, the twist holds the wrapped bracelet in place.

You have to tug on the ends a fair bit to draw off the singles. I find myself tugging downward, toward the elbow.

When I tried out the Andean plying tool, I used balanced yarn. The yarn slid and did not function like I was used to, which was a bit embarrassing because I was demonstrating to the shop owner how the tool worked.

July 01, 2009

Makeshift Spindle Sleeve

Happy Canada Day!

Thought you might like to see some red and white today in honour of our national holiday.

The ball of silk top I'm spinning is rather heavy, for something so small. The fibre arrangement gets out of order very easily, unlike wool.

To start, I used the black bag to hold the silk top on my arm as I spun with the drop spindle. I found that friction on the slightly rough hemp/silk fabric caused the silk top to snag as I fed it out of the bag onto the spindle. Both my black shirt and the bag looked like they'd had a skirmish with a frantic Persian cat.*

I was running out the door on World Wide Knit in Public Day, planning to spin at a local yarn store, when I decided I had to have a better solution, right then. I cut the sleeve off a slick silk blouse, pinned the bottom shut, created a strap from more safety pins, and jammed the ball of silk top inside.

The sleeve worked. Well worth the fifty cents I spent on the blouse at the thrift shop a few months previously.

I ran out the door again to my spinning guild without having made the sleeve into a proper bag. To my embarrassment during the show and tell after my turn had passed, a friend sitting across the room saw me using the sleeve, called attention to it, and urged me to send it round the circle for examination. I declined, but hope to send around a completed sleeve in the future. I think I'll leave the cuff on, for fun.

*Speaking of Persian cats and skirmishes, when I was a kid I read that the people in ancient Persia were so fond of cats that they went to war with Persian cats on their arms. I mistook this for "Persian cats in their arms" and wondered how they ever trained their cats not to go running once the yelling started.