30 September, 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?

29 September, 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.

28 September, 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.

26 September, 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."

25 September, 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?"

24 September, 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.

23 September, 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.

22 September, 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.

21 September, 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?

19 September, 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.

18 September, 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!

17 September, 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

16 September, 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.

15 September, 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.

14 September, 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.

12 September, 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.

11 September, 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.

10 September, 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.

09 September, 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.

08 September, 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.

07 September, 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.

05 September, 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.

04 September, 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.

03 September, 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.

02 September, 2009

"Fishing" with a Drop Spindle

This past weekend a friend organized a multiple vendor outdoor yard and craft sale. I went to hang out and do a little spinning in public.

A couple of preteen girls were all "Wow!" when they saw my drop spindle spinning around. Bright blue wool doesn't hurt, eh?

I went through my usual, "Here, if you take a piece of wool, you can tear it easily but if you twist it in your fingers the strands become strong and that's spinning" spiel.

They tried it and they understood the mechanics of spinning, and then the girls made what I consider a very smart connection: "There's a wood turner over there [at another booth]; maybe he has drop spindles for sale."

They went over and checked, and came back to report that he didn't.

Now, in the last year I have become a great fan of drop spindles. I think there should be more of them in the world, especially spindles made by independent local craftspeople and especially made by vendors who go to the people and sell where established fibre arts suppliers are unlikely to go (like this onetime outdoor market).

I thought it was a great pity the wood turner didn't have any drop spindles.

I judged that this lack of drop spindles on his part was likely due to lack of proper exposure. After all, until last year the drop spindle had only been an abstract name and a static image in books to me.

I felt it incumbent upon myself to ensure the man had a chance to see a drop spindle. I decided to go near the wood turner's booth in his line of vision and spin. My friend the organizer was taking photos of all the vendors, so I went with her over to the turner's spot.

Stand, spin, smile, nothing, okay, let's move on. But then, my jigging* caught his attention! The wood turner came over and quickly started sketching the drop spindle's shape, and then he asked questions to be sure that if he made and sold drop spindles he wouldn't be stealing anyone's design.

Well, no, drop spindles have been around for thousands of years so it's not as though anyone has a claim to the basic shape, and here's another one for you to look at with a different shape and weight for comparison, I told him.

So I am pretty happy about the results of my recent spinning in public.

* I use the term jigging metaphorically. We used to sing a song in school about the "Squid Jiggin' Ground." It was a song about fishing, from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. (For us British Columbian kids on the opposite side of the country this was pretty culturally foreign but then so were maple sugaring and Bonhomme from Quebec and Nanabush tales from Ontario and a lot of other things they taught us, and the song was enjoyably catchy to sing.) I've jigged for salmon, myself, in Broughton Strait (in B.C.). Jigging means you pull up the rod quickly and let it down again, so if you actually jigged with a drop spindle, you'd probably drop it.

01 September, 2009