30 May, 2009

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing


Still tickled that I now know enough to know that this spinning wheel on exhibit has the drive wheel on backwards.

29 May, 2009

The Feel of Dyed Wool

I read Peter Teal's Hand Woolcombing and Spinning. Teal recommends dying wool and then combining it (using wool combs, naturally) with undyed wool because, said he, the result feels better than wool where the whole amount is dyed.

I wondered if this was so.

Then I got to handle someone's skein that they had dyed and then over-dyed with black. The colour was very rich and deep. The feel of the wool was, well, I don't really have a vocabulary for judging skeins. But I can tell you it started out as the same white superwash merino as was in my sixteenth skein, which I knew by feel, and this felt different. Less slick.

I'm not saying this was bad or anything. Nor am I drawing conclusions based on an abstract book rule and a single skein. It was just interesting to make the connection.

28 May, 2009

Indigo Hound Wool Combs


Sorry, forgot to post this when I talked earlier about Indigo Hound's wool combs. Here you can see Indigo Hound English combs at their Maryland Sheep and Wool vendor booth. There are also Comblings, Viking combs, and double row Viking combs on the table but they're a little hard to see.

Here's a bucket of more Indigo Hound Viking combs:

27 May, 2009

Unabashedly Cute Fibre Animal Pic


because photos like this just confirm that spinning is a good thing to be into

25 May, 2009

The Spanish Peacock



Meet Mike and TJ King, of the Spanish Peacock in Middletown, MD.

Mike makes tools such as drop spindles, supported spindles, Turkish spindles, bone sewing needles, wooden knitting needles, nalbinding needles, nostepinnes, and lace bobbins. He also does large pieces like looms.

The Kings had a booth Maryland Sheep and Wool festival. I got my shopping done (mostly nalbinding pattern books) before the crowds started.



The pace was more relaxed when I caught up with the Spanish Peacock merchant tent at the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event Sapphire Joust X. Mike suggested the event when I said I wanted to learn historical textile skills.




I was able to get a good photo of the spindles and things for sale



before settling down to hear about period costumes, fibre arts, and the SCA. It was very cool to listen to armour clank by, and to find people who like knowing and recreating history, and to hear what they're into.

I had never seen so many people wearing clothing that was not mass-manufactured, not even in Lancaster county.

You can just see someone spinning on a drop spindle in the group photo above, on the right. To see a lot of fibre arts demonstrations and learn about weaving, sewing, and nalbinding, TJ suggested I check out local SCA demo days and a couple up-coming SCA events that will have artists' rows.

I got to show a couple passers-by how a drop spindle works. Love the moment when they see the twist go up the fibre and they get it. Especially appreciate them stopping to watch when they're not people into fibre at all, particularly. One was just on a scavenger hunt, trying to find someone working with wool.

23 May, 2009

Pair-a-Dice Farm Handspun and Roving

Was wandering around a farmers' market last week, munching on a bunch of radishes, when I met Joe Hollick of Pair-a-Dice Farm in Lunenburg, VA. His booth had a selection of dyed yarn spun by Dawn Hollick.

I immediately asked if he had roving for sale.

The Hollicks sell roving. While Joe did not have any on hand to show me, he did present a binder of photos that showed how they process the wool. They scour the wool in a dedicated machine, use a manual picking machine, put the fibre through a small industrial drum carder, and spin on (what looks from the flyer close up) a regular treadle-operated spinning machine. You can see the same presentation of their processing online here.

I hope you can see the range of dyed colours available:



And in other farmers' market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) news, I hear a rumour in the blogosphere that fibre CSAs are available. Think of it! Sign up for fibre and have it delivered just like a vegetable box scheme. There's at least one listed on the Local Harvest website.

22 May, 2009

Spindolyn Supported Spindle


After a few days of different spinning wheel models, I thought a spindle would be a good change of pace.

This is a Spindolyn, a supported spindle suited to fine, short fibres such as cotton. When the spindle rod is placed in the cylinder and the spindle is spun, very little tension is placed on the fibre. This Spindolyn belongs to Carol in our guild.

Speaking of cotton, another guild member told me that last fall, she gleaned cotton from the side of a field. So, I might have a line on going out and gathering some local fibre. Not crazy about the defoliant spray on the plants, but would take precautions.

20 May, 2009

A More Delicate Wheel


The owner of this delicate-looking spinning wheel said it was a Babe, a model intended for children. She said people really like it when they see it, and she likes spinning on it. (She was spinning angora bunny fibre.)

The only drawback, she said, was the mess of lubricating oil that leaks onto the PVC pipe, attracts lint, and dries there. I told her she might try some Bon Ami scouring powder (powdered calcium carbonate), which gets cooking grease off my Pyrex casserole dishes.

The Babe's Fiber Garden Web site identifies the wheel as their Pinkie spinning wheel, single treadle.

19 May, 2009

Great Wheel




Tried it. Loved it. Want one. Could find room.

From top, a great wheel up for auction at Maryland Sheep and Wool, a great wheel at Plimoth Plantation, and a great wheel at the Frontier Culture museum which is the wheel I got to try. This is the first time I managed to successfully do long draw drafting. Felt effortless. One long swoop, just like I’d seen a man do on his charkha at our guild.

My second pass ran into some snags. This rolag’s fibres had more grease and were not as well aligned as the first rolag’s. I produced slubs, then a consistent patch, and then a broken strand. (This pass, of course, I got on video. Not the first pass, which Sara the museum interpreter said was the best first try she’d ever seen of any museum visitor. She said it, not me. I’m just repeating her words rather immodestly.)

The obvious fix would be to spend more time carding the rolag. Additionally, the wool should be spun on a warmer day so that the grease won’t seize up and retard the drafting action. I wouldn’t have known this if Karen, another interpreter at the museum, hadn’t pointed it out later when I described my problem to her.

Karen also recommended a shorter staple fleece for long draw. Sara had been using a basket of washed Cotswold locks in order to show the sort of wool an English family of the period would have been raising for export. A lock was ten inches long on the fleece we looked at outside near the scouring pots.

After the strand broke, I sat and carded rolags for a bit. Wasn’t sure if I completely remembered the proper way a friend from our guild had taught me, but I persisted. Sara was able to use one rolag for a school tour that came through, which pleased the kids. They said they hadn’t gotten to see the great wheel in action on their visit the year before.

One boy was much more interested than the others in the mechanics of spinning and, with Sara’s permission, I gave him a rolag to try twisting the fibres by hand as he went out the door. Hope the rolag didn’t get too felted in his pocket, where his teacher made him put it for later.

I’ve been very impressed with the level of intense interest in a few of boys I’ve seen, at the Fall Fiber Festival, Meadow Farm’s Sheep to Shawl, and at the Frontier Culture museum. They approach a spinner’s wheel with total confidence and declare they want to try it. I’m waiting for a spinner to let them…

Spinning in public is fun.

Additional note: I flipped through the copy of Foxfire 2 I got from the public library and found diagrams of a great wheel. Nice.

18 May, 2009

sixteenth skein


Happy Victoria Day!

This is the sixteenth skein that ever I spun.

To two ounces of white superwash merino, I added a little over half an ounce of red superwash merino that I bought at Maryland Sheep and Wool. The red merino was not in roving: it was loose and the fibres were not aligned.

I tore the white roving into chunks, overlaid each chunk with some red, and predrafted. Predrafting made the two parts stick together and helped align the red fibres.

The combination produced an inconsistent streaky effect. The technique produced some weak areas at the spots where one chunk ran out and overlapped with the next.

I spun the fibre on a Schacht 1 ½ ounce top whorl drop spindle. I wrapped the singles for the Andean plying method, plying from both ends of the strand off my wrist.

Here's a colourful fibre shopping shot; the red stuff I got is at the bottom right:

16 May, 2009

Grasp the Spindle, Grasp the Concept

Until I actually grasped a spindle, like the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 in the Bible, I didn’t really get it.

The first time I saw drop spindles, they were in a series of photographs of artifacts in a local history book. How could that object produce yarn? I thought. No moving parts that I could see. I couldn’t think of anyone who would know and I left it a mystery.

This is why I like to spin in public on drop spindles, so people know.

When I spun while waiting for my flight at Vancouver International the other month, a man watched to see how the drop spindle worked. We talked. He said his family, which is Lebanese, has a painting in their home of a woman spinning on a drop spindle. No one in the family knew how a drop spindle worked, and his children wanted to learn. He watched me spin so he could tell them.

Historians that don't spin can confuse the distaff with the drop spindle. For example, Arthur W. Klinck states in Home Life in Bible Times that
she could accomplish her purpose somewhat more rapidly and uniformly by the use of a distaff, which held a large handful of unspun wool. She gradually drew it out into a strand of the required thickness, meanwhile letting the distaff hang from the twisted yarn and keeping it spinning freely.

The accompanying illustration shows a distaff, shaped like a trident, with its fluffy mass suspended freely at the bottom of a twisted thread. This will not physically work! The fluff will separate and the distaff will drop immediately.

The following description is accurate, however; it was written in a culture and at a time where drop spindles were in widespread everyday use:
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies...
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
Proverbs 31:10,19 NIV

Note the distaff is held in place, and the spindle is grasped to turn it.

With commercially prepared roving nowadays you can get along without a distaff if you wrap the long strip of fibre around your wrist. You can also spin from individually teased locks of wool or individual cotton bolls, feeding one into the twist and overlapping its end with the next.

A lot of people ask, when I spin in public, "What if it breaks?" I horrify them a bit by tearing the fibre and re-mating it to show them this is not an irreparable mistake. They comment on how strong the twisted fibres are compared to the roving it came out of, and that's when I know they've grasped the concept. Twist introduces friction that holds the fibres together.

Plying increases the strength, which is why plying is used in another verse as an analogy about the benefits derived from strong community ties:
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Guess I should move up my spinning from two ply to three.

15 May, 2009

Wool Combs Lesson from Indigo Hound



John and Carol Huff, of Indigo Hound in Delta, PA gave me a lesson in using wool combs at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

I found the Viking combs, pictured, a very good weight and size for me. They came with a useful instructional brochure and a catalogue full of wit and information with a lot more inventory that I had expected having before only seen one or two Indigo Hound products on other shops' websites.

Hope you can see the change in the wool before and after going through the combs.

ETA: when I first wrote this blog post, I did not actually write down what the lesson was.  I find that this post gets a lot of hits.  If you came looking to learn how to use wool combs, below I will recommend places to learn and give a few pointers from me.  If you came looking for an Indigo Hound website, at this time there is no such site.  They sell at festivals and by mail.

I recommend you watch a good YouTube video on the subject, like the one by Forsyth (user name woolcombs), Paradise Fibers, or Blue Mountain Handcrafts (bluemtnhandcrafts), or that you read the Indigo Hound booklet and Peter Teal's book Hand Woolcombing and Spinning.  These will be much better than my few rough pointers, which I'll give now.

Note that the combs are held at 90 degrees to each other.  The moving comb passes across the stationary comb held on John's knee.

To begin, you put wool on a comb.  Take a lock of wool and drape the bottom of the lock over the comb's tines, and repeat until the locks fill the tines halfway up the comb.

You comb the tips at first.  With each pass you comb deeper into the wool and transfer more and more of the combed wool to the moving comb.   A little bit of waste wool will remain, with short fibres and snarled bits.  Throw that away, then switch position of the combs and repeat the process.  Once the wool is well combed, you slowly tug the wool off the comb so it forms a long piece.

14 May, 2009

fifteenth skein


I have no idea what my fifteenth ever skein is made from. Wool, we'll guess. 2 ¼ oz of wool.

A friend gave me this fibre and a 1 ½ oz Schacht top whorl drop spindle. She had come by them accidently and realized how they were used once she saw me using my bottom whorl drop spindle.

Here I am using it at a Sheep to Shawl where my guild did demonstrations. I am trying to convince a knitter to visit one of our regular guild meetings and become a hand-spinner.

You can see a closer picture of the spindle and the yarn in singles in my post Cedar Dreams.

The spindle spins longer, I think, than the others I use.

The day I got the fibre and Schacht spindle, I tried them out while I was standing and chatting with another friend who had her young daughters with her. The girls were very interested. As a reward they got to take the spindle and fibre home for a week and try spinning under their mother's supervision, which is cool.

The older daughter said she would like to have a spindle. I told her, for your birthday tell your parents you want a sheep. Then, when you tell them you don't want a sheep after all, your parents will be so relieved they will agree to get you a spindle.

The one thing with young children spinning is the potential for wasted wool and regret over the waste. I expect that even seven to twelve-year-olds, who can hold a pencil and write quickly, would need considerable practice to produce a consistent strand and they would waste fibre in the process.

Even if you grew cotton in the garden, making it pretty much free, you would waste some. Worse, you would likely set kids up to get discouraged over spinning because cotton is a short fibre that works best spun fine with a tight twist.

If I was going to send a spindle and fibre home with a child again to use, I would make sure the fibre was not particularly expensive and good for a beginner (medium staple wool, neither too slick nor the opposite, good to spin thick) so I could tell the parent the child was allowed to burn through it all without regret.

Another thing I would do, if I could, would be to arrange for the child to watch a drop spindle in use for quite a while. Someone told me her experience: she tried drop spindling, couldn't, spent a couple years sitting next to someone drop spindling at their children's sports practice, tried to spin again, and could.

My Grannie is a nonagenarian, close to a centarian. She says people were always knitting when she was a child. No one ever taught her directly. She picked up the skill because it was around.

13 May, 2009

The Wool Underground

Conversation over Mother's Day weekend

me: When I was on holiday, my mom and I went to a spinners' drop-in group, and we spent time at a retreat too with all these spinners, and we toured a custom wool mill where you send in fleece from your own sheep and get the same wool back...

friend: I had no idea places like that existed!

me: I know! It's like a whole Wool Underground.

The equivalent of an LYS (local yarn store) crawl for spinners:



Victoria Handweavers and Spinners Guild's 2009 retreat at Cowichan Bay, during the lunch break when most spinners had abandoned their wheels to go forage:

Mid-Island Weavers and Spinners Guild sale:


Road leading back from Anna Runnings' custom fibre mill, Qualicum Bay Fibre Works:

12 May, 2009

seventh through fourteenth skeins

I made two ply yarn out of the twelfth skein in waiting, the queue jumper singles, and the last 2 oz left of the pound of mystery fibre my generous mother bought from Anna Runnings, of Qualicum Bay Fibre Works, and gave to me.

The drop spindle is the ¾ ounce top whorl rim-weighted maple spindle. The spindle was made by the husband of a fellow guild member.

Here's the last 2 oz, near the end of plying. Singles are in an Andean bracelet around my wrist, for plying from either end of the strand.

And here are all the skeins from the roving, my seventh through fourteenth skeins that ever I spun (all on the same spindle):
You can see subtle colour variations. Runnings created the roving by putting the sweepings from the floor of her fibre mill through her industrial carding machine. Think of it as pre-consumer recycled material. The feel is soft, and there is a lot of alpaca in the mix.

For now the skeins are finished objects. Perhaps in the future I will overply and cable the skeins to even out the gauges a bit, give more cylindrical shapes to the strands (as compared to a two ply's characteristic "string of pearls" shape) and make the strands more resistant to abrasion for weaving.

11 May, 2009

Queue Jumper


and did I ply the twelfth skein in waiting? Nooooooo. I spun another 2 oz of singles from the same roving.

09 May, 2009

Charkha Lesson from Jonathan Bosworth



Jonathan Bosworth, of Journey Wheel in Acton, MA, gave me a lesson on using one of his charkha wheels at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

“The idea of spinning, in general,” he says, “is taking a bunch of fibres which have been combed parallel by hand or by machine. What a spinner does is decide how big a yarn they want to make and then control the amount of twist that goes in.”

In the first photo you can see him demonstrate the correct angle to draw out the cotton in a long draw.

I was interested to note that you pinch the end of the strand, after drawing it out, and you hold it there “for a good two turns of the wheel,” he says, to let twist build up before winding on.

I was also surprised how little of a wheel revolution it takes to wind on.

I tried my hand with it using cotton top. The charkha suits short, fine staples such as cotton and some animal fibres, including qiviut. Bosworth regrets he is not rich enough to demonstrate his charkhas with qiviut fibre.

Bosworth’s Attaché Case and Book-Size charkhas are small and light for portability. He says one available style of charkha spindles has been rejected by airport security officials and another style has been accepted. The difference is in the tips. Forewarned is forearmed. Or unarmed, rather.


His charkhas attract a good amount of attention from people who have never spun before and are curious to know how it works or what advantage a charkha has over the highly popularized Saxony style.

The charkha's advantages would be portability, suitability to fine short fibres, an unusual attractive design, and historical significance. The charkha design came out of a contest occasioned by Gandhi's struggle for India's independence. He aimed to get everyone in India spinning for themselves a little each day, increase home production of cotton textiles, and boycott British textile manufacture to alter the economy.

The charkha is useful for showing non-spinners how twist enters spun fibre to form yarn, as the mechanics of its spindle are easier to see and understand than that of a Saxony's spindle shaft and orifice arrangement.

Bosworth asked if the name of my blog, The Sojourning Spinner, meant I intended to travel around to various countries and spin.* He said one of his customers reported traveling with her Journey Wheel charkha to the white cliffs of Dover, England and spinning at the top of the cliffs, “quite an experience for her.”


*It doesn’t, it means I am a stranger in a strange land right now, here. You’ll be amused to know that I hit the festival’s Justamere Tree Farm maple syrup booth to show allegiance to my roots.
One interesting thing about Justamere Farm's maple syrup: Marian Welch says not only is their syrup certified organic but vegan and dairy-free too (although they don't advertise it). During evaporation, to cut foaming, they use an additive that is not based on cream.

08 May, 2009

HitchHiker: the Science Fiction Fan’s Spinning Wheel

If you don’t get my literary allusion in the blog title, Don’t Panic. You can Google it.

This is the HitchHiker™. See the cutout in the handle?

And this is its maker, David Paul of The Merlin Tree in Albany, VT, at his booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

Paul developed the HitchHiker™ and the RoadBug ™ spinning wheels four years ago because his wife and the other spinners in her guild wanted spinning wheels they could carry on airplanes.

When the wheels were under development, a guild member posted a photo of the prototype on her blog. The results, Paul says, were numerous advance orders and deposits—and ironically a longer wait for the guild members’ original orders. Now there are 660 of his spinning wheels worldwide.

After filling me in on why he is understandably blog-shy, Paul described the two wheels’ attributes. Each feature seemed to be tied to making the wheels work from a spinner's perspective or a construction perspective or both. The bobbins are compatible with standard Ashford bobbins for convenience. The flyers, which use Scotch tension, are large to give extra room for plying. He expects experienced spinners will need to get used to the wheels’ pull and the treadles’ heel and toe action. These wheels are designed to be carry-on compatible and each weighs about nine pounds. They can be pulled out of a carry bag and used without unfolding or set-up.

07 May, 2009

Beware of the Wool Blob


"O beware of the (wool) blob: it leaps and creeps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door..."

Someone at Maryland Sheep and Wool kindly posed with her sheepskin for me.

05 May, 2009

twelfth skein in waiting


2 oz Anna Runnings mystery fibre spun in singles and wrapped for Andean plying.

The photo flash is distorting the colour a bit.

04 May, 2009

Casey and the Rav Buttons


I got to get a Ravelry button from Casey at Maryland Sheep and Wool and tell him a bit about how I use the site he codes.

I burbled about how thrilled I had been when a group moderator welcomed me online and then a couple weeks recognized me at a handspinners' retreat in real life, and I recommended to him the stall of a Sheep and Wool vendor who I'd first learned about through a Rav group.

He said Jessica was out back, but I didn't want to interrupt the group photo she was in:


Thanks, Casey and Jessica, and I hope you got some good shopping in.

01 May, 2009

A Very Canadian Nostepinne

While on holiday on Vancouver Island, Canada I went to see a friend of the family who turns wood.

He kindly made me a beautiful nostepinne out of curly maple.

The tree had grown within a mile of his workshop. He waxed the nostepinne with beeswax that also came from the area through a beekeeper he knew.

Here he is checking the diameter:


Wax on (wax off):
Action shot: ETA: I now find a large knitting needle has a better balance.