31 October, 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 http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/10/28/bc-cowichan-tribes-olympic-sweater.html

30 October, 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.

29 October, 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.

28 October, 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."

27 October, 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 extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/em/em8952-e.pdf 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.

26 October, 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.

24 October, 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.

23 October, 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.

22 October, 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 myself...in 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...

21 October, 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.

20 October, 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.

19 October, 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.

17 October, 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:

16 October, 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:

15 October, 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

14 October, 2009

Fibre Breeds: Alpaca and Llama

Alpacas were on display at the festival

as well as llamas. Here's a llama yawning.

13 October, 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.

12 October, 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.

10 October, 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.

09 October, 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.

08 October, 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

07 October, 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.

06 October, 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.

05 October, 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.

03 October, 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.

02 October, 2009

Compelling Stuff

I found the facts compelling in Jayme Otto's article, "The Sustainable Fashionista," in Breathe Fall 2009 http://www.readbreathe.com/the-sustainable-fashionista/.

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.

01 October, 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, http://stringpage.com/blog/?p=349)