31 August, 2009


According to Spin•Off magazine and Rita Buchanan's The Weaver's Garden, it's possible to spin kudzu fibre, and kudzu vines should be gathered in July and August.

That means the time for harvesting kudzu is over for the year today.

I am letting this fantastic and exotic gleaning opportunity go by the boards, yes, I am.

I did, however, go for a drive on a Virginia backroad to take a closer look at The Vine that Ate the South. Here's a photo of the roadside and some trees festooned with kudzu vines:

Here's a close up. The flowers smelled very nice.

Here's a short little video I took. The buzzing you can hear comes from cicadas. There were bees too.

I'm from Vancouver Island, Canada, so I'm used to invasive blackberry vines and English ivy trying to take over the landscape. Kudzu is really something here in Virginia. Nice to think it could be spun.

Processing kudzu fibre, as described in the magazine and book above, sounds rather labour intensive and (worse) smelly. Fermentation breaks the fibres down.

I expect the labour up front is balanced by the durability of the fabric since the resulting fabric is supposed to last for three generations when worn as a family's clothes, getting progressively softer as it's passed down.

29 August, 2009

Attempting to Knit a Handspun Hat

So, I've been attempting for months to knit a hat out of the fourth skein I spun.

As you read this, remember: this is my first time using double pointed needles and I've only ever knitted simple dish cloths. It's my goal to get something wearable made with my own hands at some point. I kept holding up skeins as I finished spinning them and asking experienced people what I should make, and they kept saying "hat."

So, hat it was. I bought needles.

I cast on. I had no clue how many needles to cast on or that I should keep one needle free for working. I frogged. I took a break until I could get to a spinning guild meeting for a mini lesson.

I knit the wrong stitch, moss when I intended K2 P2 rib knit. I frogged. I cast on. Then I did this all again.

I twisted when I joined the ends. (You can see the twist on the bottom needle in the photo.) I took it to an LYS. Knitters, who were gathered there for knitting and a book signing, confirmed this twist was a problem. I frogged. I cast on.

I took a break.

I knit a K2 P2 rib stitch. I got out of sync.

I took a very, very long break.

I tinked slowly backwards, picking up unravelled stitches back to where the rib knit was good and pure.

I knit the K2 P2 stitch. I felt like I did when I finally learned to ride a bicycle. I knit on.

I discovered the rib knit had sucked up half my yarn after only 2¼ inches of knitting, which I thought was odd because everyone I'd talked to seemed to think a hat would only take one skein.

The original wool was all spun up. Much as I would have liked to spin a new skein to make stripes, I couldn't find any wool in my stash that coordinated with the original colour.

I frogged, cast on fewer stitches, and knit stockinette. I managed to produce an uncomfortably tight fabric.

I am poised to frog again and buy larger needles.

28 August, 2009

twenty-first skein

1¼ ounces
104 yards
about 14 wpi
three ply
mixed wool

Leftover bits from the uneven lengths of singles made into two ply

27 August, 2009

Plying the Striped Roving

Here's what happened when I made three ply out of the striped roving.

The middle bobbin is left with a fair bit of leftover singles: not so good.

There are three possibilities for the leftovers.

One, I failed to use the correct amount of roving strips for each bobbin. I don't think I did this.

Two, when I tore the strips they were not equal. I think they were fairly equal but since I didn't weigh them all, this could be the case.

Three, I varied in my gauge and since some of the singles or parts of the singles were thinner than others, the colours failed to match up.

I am guessing the cause is a combination of unequal strips and uneven gauge.

The result is a yarn that has three colours going on at once in almost every part, except for the dusty pink beginning which makes sense as that's the only place where the three singles' colours were in sync.

I was trying to achieve more of a space-dyed look, but the result is interesting anyway and I'll take what I can get. I am pleased that I've made a sport weight three ply that is much thinner than the last bulky one.

26 August, 2009

Striped Roving

This is my first use of colour-striped roving. It was either a test strip or seconds from the free bin of a trunk sale an independent dyer held, Scarlet Fleece.

Remember I said I would be upfront and disclose when I received anything from a company, so that you would know if this blog is influenced by outside considerations? This is disclosure.

Also on the theme of disclosure, you might remember the woman I've mentioned whose husband makes drop spindles (the name he uses is Leaf Squeezer spindles). She recently gave me two drop spindles made out of wood I gave her from my dad's scrap bin. I gave the wood outright thinking her husband would enjoy using it; I wasn't expecting anything back.

I doubt either of them knows that I even have a blog. I got the roving well before I started this blog.

Right, back to the roving.

Here it is the way I got it:

And here it is, from left to right, torn into sixths, torn into twelfths, spun at 40 wpi on the spindle, and wrapped by hand on a bobbin ready for the lazy Kate in order to spin the singles into three ply yarn.

The idea is to get the colour repeats in the singles to match up with each other when plied to create a self-striping yarn.

25 August, 2009

Cotton Plant

Here's what Brenda's cotton plant looked like in July

and in August

24 August, 2009

Where Do I Gatecrash?

I came across a quote that makes me think I'm getting invited to the wrong sort of parties:
Wool is the only fiber that can be contract-processed in small lots. Cotton? Unlikely. Cotton gins deal in multiple bales of 500 pounds each. Flax? Outside of historical sites and private parties, no flax processing is being done. Silk? Not in the U.S.A.
Alden Amos, The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning (Loveland, CO: Interweave, 2001) p. 145.

How do I get on that guest list, eh?

22 August, 2009


Since I don't want to buy spinning fibre by mail and wind up with fibre that has a chemical smell to it again, I asked a shop owner to tell me about some fibre she offers.

She phoned her supplier and found their product meets Oeko-tex® standards.

This was the first time I'd heard of Oeko-Tex®. According to the site, Oeko-Tex® does tests for "textile products of all types which pose no risk whatsoever to health." Their tagline is "Confidence in Textiles."

Sounds good to me.

Got a sample. There's a faint smell that might be processing oil.

21 August, 2009

twentieth skein

Hopefully this skein looks just like the last one, since that's what I was going for.

The consistency of the singles isn't quite as regular, I don't think.

I started it and then left it on the spindle for the better part of a week before finishing up, and when I went to ply it the earlier work lacked twist energy. The twist had set.

Anne told me that set twist has caused uneven plying for her, underplying, so I'm going to try and finish skeins more quickly.

20 August, 2009

Of Tea Towels Past

So as I said, I am a bit disconcerted that the unsoftened linen cloth I bought to make tea towels was, well, not softened.

You might be wondering why the texture would throw me enough to mention it. Or maybe you're not, since most people interested in textiles and spinning are sensitive to texture. But, there is an additional explanation. Unsoftened linen tea towels have an old association for me.

In my childhood there were two sorts of tea towels. One was softened and one was not.

There was a soft linen set that came in wide vertical bands of monochromatic colours: shades of blue, or shades of orange. These were attractive. Well, not the orange but I don't think you could get through that decade without some orange. They were durable, and possessed that fantastic movement linen cloth has when you shake it.

I used a set a couple decades later in someone else's house and it took me back pleasantly, in a "yes, this is just like one of the objects I grew up with" way.

Then there were the other tea towels, the scratchy kind. I never wanted to touch them. They were, however, so assertive in their personalities I couldn't ignore them. I also couldn't see the attraction.

Never a set, these tea towels were printed with calendars or very, very English urban scenes showing all the sights in London. These were small symbols of empire, of our colonialism, of our genealogy.

The printing was crude, the colours were garish, and (to repeat myself) the texture was scratchy. I thought the manufacturers' attempts at imperial hegemony were odd, but more importantly I though their passing off loud and scratchy products was bad taste.

19 August, 2009

Crunchy Linen Cloth

Need to amend my statement to "I love the feel of softened linen cloth."

The stuff that arrived in the mail feels like it might soften mechanically through repeated washing sometime next decade.

I am surprised, but undaunted. Yeah, that's why it's in a box in the closet. I'm not afraid it won't make nice tea towels. Not at all.

18 August, 2009

What a Difference Colour Makes

I came into possession of a small amount of dyed wool roving from someone's destash.

It wasn't something I was most excited about spinning, but that suddenly changed when I separated out the electric blue strip from the mixed medium purples. Intense blue for me, muted purple for someone else. Anyone else. Just not me.

The strips came apart very easily. I expect they came off a commercial carder separately and were pindrafted together to make the roving.

What a difference colour makes.

You can see the purple fibre spun up in the photo, along with the Lendrum niddy noddy I just got.

17 August, 2009

Hudson's Bay Co. Blankets

Hudson's Bay Company blankets got a mention in the Alden Amos book. The blankets are one of those things that if you grow up Canadian you don't really think about: they are just there. So I thought I'd go to the source and learn a bit more about them.

The Bay's site has information on the blanket's history here and faq here including information on dyes (like indigo) and the source of the wool (Britain and New Zealand).

The Bay is a major department store in Canada. They've sold Hudson's Bay blankets continuously since 1668. Hudson Bay is the big dip you see on the map in Northern Canada. Back in the 1600s, the Crown (the government of England) gave the Hudson's Bay Company a Royal Charter so they could trade for furs with the indigenous people. The company's activities had a significant impact on the development of our country.

HBC set up forts all over, not just Hudson Bay. There was one in Victoria, British Columbia; the former outline is marked in special bricks along Government street and Bastion square is named for the fort's tower. There's a bastion standing in Nanaimo, B.C. on the old HBC site which you can see in this photo.

15 August, 2009

Alpaca Pyramid

On a Ravelry thread someone was asking for advice about getting an alpaca and someone replied that in her experience people only make money from alpacas by raising breeding pairs for sale.

I have no idea if this person's advice is accurate and what I'm about to say is no reflection on those who raise alpacas, but my terrible sense of humour was tickled at the thought of a gigantic alpaca pyramid scheme going on out there.

14 August, 2009

nineteenth skein

2 oz brown wool (Coopworth?)
112 yards
singles spun at 32 wpi
two ply 14 wpi

I set the twist and now the skein hangs open without corkscrewing.

On Becky's advice, I removed the crochet cotton that I'd garrotted the skein with originally and replaced it with self ties (ties made of the skein's own yarn) in figure eight loops rather than single tight loops.

13 August, 2009

Just as I Feared

The skein came out twisted.

However, I am told that once I set the twist the skein will hang straight.

So, let's try that.

12 August, 2009

Playing with Twisty Sticks

A couple members of our guild did an educational display and demonstration at a farmers' market so I joined them.

I showed some kids how to spin yarn with a twisty-stick. In the photo I'm holding the end of a strip of wool and the kid is twisting the stick, which has the fibre secured in the fork of the stick. He got a wrist strap of wool to take home.

The Alen Amos Big Book of Handspinning shows an attractively-shaped Scandinavian twisty-stick on page 19 along with directions for making one out of a coat hanger. (Looking at twisty-stick in the index, I just discovered there are plans with dimensions for making all sorts of spinning tools at the back of the book. Yeah! This is all I know about this book; don't tell me how it ends.)

improvised twisty-stick:

11 August, 2009

Increasing the Linen in my Life

I love, love, love the feel of linen cloth. I kind of wish cotton hadn't become the path of least technological resistance, in a sort of romantic hope that that would make linen products more widely available.

So anyway, in the real world, I'm trying to get more linen in my daily life.

I have some linen cloth and thread on order. I plan to sew tea towels and an apron to replace my tatty cotton specimens. Am very thankful for businesses out there serving re-enactors, on-line shops that carry fine linen materials at good prices.

Speaking of replacing tattered scruffy stuff, I have some (disreputable-looking) dish cloths and I'm trying to identify their weave pattern in my in the copy of Marguerite Porter Davison's A Handweaver's Pattern Book that a kind member of our guild passed along to me. Perhaps I will learn to weave proper dish cloths, the kind that pucker and crinkle, in linen thread.

The pattern might be huck-a-back. The next step after identifying the pattern would be learning how to read weaving patterns.

Another next step in increasing the linen in my life? That would be to get out the linen fibre I have (also given to me by the same kind person, fibre raised by her own hand, wow) and try spinning it.

10 August, 2009

Cotton and Javon's Paradox

Javon's Paradox states roughly that the more efficient you get at using a resource, the more you'll use it.

So I guess Javon's Paradox kicked in with the invention of the cotton gin. (That's a cotton gin pictured above.) The use of cotton eclipsed the use of linen once processing cotton became more efficient.

08 August, 2009

Afraid to Look

I have finished plying the brown wool and I'm afraid to look and see if this skein will be twisted like the others.

I haven't gotten around to getting a proper niddy noddy either.

While I procrastinate, I've been checking the previous skein. It twists in the direction of the ply (S twist). I think I know which direction to compensate in next time, if this new skein is twisted, but not how much to compensate.

07 August, 2009

Bit of Cabled Yarn

I spun a bit of cable yarn for the first time. The technique seemed most appropriate for the wool, which was a few locks with a stiff hairy overcoat and an undercoat.

When I washed the locks so that they would loosen and I combed the fibres to align them, I wasn't able to save the undercoat. So I spun the long hairy strands.

On the first ply, the angle of the twist was very steep because the singles were so stiff in texture. The fibres did not fill in the gaps at all like a crimpy fine wool would.

Cabling, overspinning and plying again, had the effect of filling in the gaps. I am satisfied with the result.

Thanks to Lora for giving me the locks to try.

06 August, 2009

Ancient Egytian Linen Manufacture

I was reading the book of Isaiah and came across this phrase: "the manufacturers of linen made from combed flax/And the weavers of white cloth." The phrase is in Is 19:9, NASB, in a passage describing Egypt under a Pharaoh; he gets a mention in verse 11.

I think the description is interesting in its specificity. Not just flax but combed flax; not just cloth but white cloth.

The description is also interesting because, in context of the whole passage, it identifies Ancient Egypt so strongly with linen manufacture and also with the Nile (verses 5-8) just like we do today. Isaiah wrote in the eight century B.C.E.

05 August, 2009

Old Film with a Turkish Spindle Scene

I watched the 1925 documentary Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, about a nomadic people's migration to find pasture in the Middle East, and was happy to find in it a short scene of women spinning on drop spindles. It's right at the beginning of the part where the filmmakers find the people.

The spinners are sitting on the ground. They wind on in ball shapes around the crossed pieces of Turkish spindles. The fibre is in a strip wrapped around the left wrist.

I'm guessing that the fibre they use is wool. Their sheep look like the fat-tailed type.

Just a note on watching this old film. You know how films will say no animals were harmed in the making of the film? This is not one of those films. The animal deaths were a genuine part of the people's daily lives. The filmmakers are quite clear that the hunter ate the wild animal he killed, and that all of the domesticated flocks would have died of starvation if their owners hadn't forced the animals to cross the river. Still, it was really unpleasant to see sheep go under.

04 August, 2009

Fugitive Dyes

Perhaps it is worth mentioning, on the question of fugitive colours, that whereas the transitory nature of the colour appears to modern eyes in the twentieth century as a distinct drawback, in more primitive societies dyeing with a substantive dye was no more arduous than washing, and the cloth would from time to time simply be re-dipped, especially prior to a festival or some other special occasion.
Ann Hecht, The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Across the World (New York: Rizzoli, 1989) pages 22, 23

Well, no, I didn't re-dip my cloth to celebrate B.C. day yesterday, thank you for asking, but that does sound like a fun way to get in the holiday mood.

We worry about colours running in the wash and wrecking the load of laundry. We sew seams in our clothes with thread that takes dye differently than the cloth, and if the dye gradually leached out of the cloth the thread would no longer match. It's interesting to think how previous cultures didn't have a problem with fading colour.

03 August, 2009

Reading The Art of the Loom

Happy B.C. Day!

Ann Hecht's The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Across the World contained more information about spinning than I expected.

I would certainly quit saying rakestraw spinner and say maguey spinner as in Hecht's book instead, if only I knew how to pronounce the word.

There are many photos in the book from Nepal, Peru, the American Southwest, and Nigeria that show outdoor looms that look like permanent setups, not something you'd fold up and bring inside. I've come to the conclusion that low rainfall is an asset for weavers. This is a terrible realization for someone like me who comes from a temperate rain forest dripping with drizzle and moss.

Most of the examples of world culture textiles I had seen before. A large amount of the weaving information was more advanced than I want to be at this point, so I glossed over it and caught a small idea about how and why these distinctive textiles are the way they are.

It was interesting to read about Middle Eastern tent making. The photo on page 62 shows an amazing ground loom in Israel that stretches away into the distance. There is thick shaggy yarn in natural colours, pegs, and weavers beams propped up on seriously solid rocks. The cloth beam sits right on the dirt.

1 Samuel 17:7 compares Goliath's (as in David and Goliath) spear shaft to a weaver's beam to describe how much larger this spear was than ordinary. Looking at Hecht's photo, I finally understand the sense of scale.
Paul went to see them [Aquila and Priscilla], and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
Acts 18:2b,3 NIV

01 August, 2009

The Problem of the Twisted Skein

I have a problem that I'm hoping to correct. My skeins have twists to them when held open.

It's not a lot of twist but it's definitely there. I want to prevent it at the source rather than try and correct the problem with washing and stretching.

When I ply, I check that every single yard length is exactly balanced before I wind on to the drop spindle. I think the extra twist is getting introduced when I wind on.

The yarn I'm currently plying, I'm winding it on to the spindle at a ninety degree angle instead of my usual forty-five. Hopefully that will make a difference.

I should get a niddy noddy and quit making do with two c clamps spaced a yard apart on the table edge, just in case that helps.