November 30, 2009

Shape of the French Spindle

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

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

November 28, 2009


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

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

Direct link is

November 27, 2009

Drying Out Wool and Flax

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

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

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

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

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

November 26, 2009

A Bit of Red

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

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

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

November 25, 2009

In the Homestretch with the Series of BFL Skeins

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

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

I'm partway through spinning the final skein.

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

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

November 24, 2009

The Merino Improves with Slick Needles

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

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

November 23, 2009

Merino Apathy

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

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

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

November 21, 2009

Emily Post and Homespun

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

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

As in, rich people wore it.

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

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

November 20, 2009

K2P2 hat

the K2P2 hat

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

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

November 19, 2009

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

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

November 17, 2009

As My Whimsy Takes Me

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

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

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

November 16, 2009

The K2P2 Hat got Frogged Some More

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2009

Concentrating on the K2P2 Stitch

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

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

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

I went with option B.

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

November 13, 2009

Jellyfish-shaped Knitted Mistake

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

The six skeins of BFL are still in the works.

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

November 12, 2009

Silent Running

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

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

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

November 11, 2009

Redoing a Ply with More Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 10, 2009

No, I'm Not Knitting to Save Christmas

I am not knitting to save Christmas.

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

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

I am resisting the pull.

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

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

*even though I love them dearly

November 09, 2009

Linen Closet

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

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

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

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

November 07, 2009

Hats and The Sisters of Dorcas

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

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

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

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

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

November 06, 2009

Second Hat

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

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

November 05, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 04, 2009

Physics has more to say, apparently

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

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

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

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

So, nyaah on me.

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

November 03, 2009

Spindle Whorl at L'Anse aux Meadows

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


November 02, 2009

Drop Spindles in New France

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

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

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

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