31 December, 2010

30 December, 2010

Contemplating a Stalled WIP Mitten

Yesterday I mentioned my upcycled linen bag.  For more weeks than I'd like to contemplate, that bag has been holding some of my handspun yarn with the yarn knit into the beginning of a mitten cuff, knit in the round with some very sharp needles.  Imagine the needles sticking through the cloth, looking horrid.  (Did you know that the word horrid means bristling, like an army bristling with spears?)

I needed to find a larger size needle for the mitten cuff.  The needles weren't in the usual box.  I had already swatched more sizes of needles than I care to, trying to find that Goldilocks spot where the fabric comes out just right.

I forced myself to locate the needles and go again.  What you see pictured above has been knit and ripped back to the cuff, where I inserted some decreases and reknit.  I think I need to rip it out again, undoing part of the cuff this time, and make even more decreases to get rid of the extra fabric.  It's not a mitten made for giant sloths, by any means, but it is not quite right as it stands now.
There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.
Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
A Child's Christmas in Wales is available in audio form on the National Public Radio website, read by the author.

29 December, 2010

Green Genius bags

I recently found Green Genius biodegradable plastic double zip storage bags in the one gallon size.  According to the label, the bags should break down through anaerobic composting in a landfill within 15 years.  Their website states that after the bags break down, the final products will be water, carbon dioxide, methane, and humus.  This sounds much better than little tiny bits of plastic, which I've heard is the final product of some bags marketed as degradable.

I plan to use these instead of the ordinary plastic zipper bags I've been using for my handspinning projects, once those are worn out.

A one gallon bag is a good size for an ounce of wool and a drop spindle.  The wool comes out of the bag intact more easily than it does with a cloth bag, and the project is also more visible than it is when mewed up in a cloth bag.

Environmentally, I would probably do better to use an upcycled cloth bag, like this one that I made.  There are also cellophane bags made from true cellulose that breaks down through aerobic composting, the kind made to line kitchen composting bins.  I might switch in the future, but for now I'm going to try this.

28 December, 2010

Barber Pole Yarn is Exclusive to Handspun

Someone told me the other day that she learned to spin yarn because she wanted barber pole yarn (the kind I made into my third scarf, for example) and couldn't buy it.  A mutual friend joined in the conversation and said, yes, the only way to get it is to make it yourself or buy someone else's handspun.

I hardly ever shop for yarn, so I had no idea.

27 December, 2010

Reverse Engineering a Fibre Arts Tool

I spent a couple of hours figuring out the dimensions of that card weaving tool shown in the Old Believers film I mentioned earlier.  Took a lot of tedious measuring, scaling up, converting from metric to Imperial units, and estimating, but I did it.  Discovered that the dimensions contain the proportions of phi and a Fibonacci number sequence, which would explain why I instinctively admired the shape when I first saw it.

ETA: I have posted directions on how to make the tool here.

26 December, 2010

A Little BFL Gift for Myself

Shropshire, top, BFL, bottom

I got a little gift for myself, a sample of Blue Face Leicester roving.

This BFL is different from the usual.  It is in the form of roving, not top, and it is traceable to a single flock located one state over from me.  This means it didn't come from a homogenized blend of anonymous wool from overseas.  Roving means that all the wool is there, not just the longest strands, and that the strands are randomized rather than aligned.  This gives a different structure when spun, a more lofty fuzzy yarn.

singles spun from BFL wool roving

singles spun from BFL wool top
The roving is sold directly from the farm.  Direct sales are supposed to let producers get more profit from their products than they would selling to wholesalers.  I found the farm using the Local Harvest directory and I ordered through that website, which was convenient.  Direct sales are also supposed to let buyers get items that are low in "food miles."  The farm probably sent their wool out to be processed by a custom mill, so there's no telling how much distance the wool has travelled but I would guess no farther than the midwest.

The shepherds market their wool as coming from sheep that live natural lives.  Along with wool, the farm sells meat and sheepskins, so if you take "natural lives" to mean sheep gamboling in the fields until they are full of years and gathered to their ancestors, then no, I don't think that is what it means.  The farm's page says the sheep live on pasture and are not given growth hormones.

25 December, 2010

Peace on Earth

May you have peace in your little bit of the Earth, and happy handspinning.

Never mind reindeer!  With the crazy weather we've had this December, watch out for sheep blown up onto the rooftops, as in this Giddy Limit comic strip, http://www.giddy-limit.com/Year5Archive/no.230.html.

24 December, 2010

Is the Use of Electrical Power Really Cheating

I happened to use my drop spindle out in public and a woman was very taken with its action, exclaiming how she'd never seen anything like it.  She, and the man with her, asked questions about how it worked and how spinning wheels work.

I talked about the action of flyers and bobbins and treadles.  I held my drop spindle sideways to show how twisting fibre falls off the tip of a great wheel's spindle.

I said there were also electric spinners that look like sewing machines.

"Oh, but that's cheating!" the man said.

Lenox "Le Printemps Spring"

23 December, 2010

ninety-first skein

The ninety-first skein I spun is made out of two strands of Louet merino wool top in fuschia and one strand of Ashland Bay merino wool top in ruby each spun to about 16 wpi for a bulky yarn.

I am knitting it with a yarn made of the thirty-fifth skein, seventieth skein, and seventy-third skein.  These skeins were all fingering weight two-ply yarn that I didn't really know what to do with because the gauge was so thin.  I gave each yarn more twist and plied them together.  The result is not quite as bulky as the ninety-first skein, but when knit in alternate rows the difference is not too noticeable.  I like how the bit of ruby in the fuschia and ruby yarn blends with the all-ruby yarn and makes the fabric looked flecked with fuschia.

22 December, 2010

GalGael's Rugs

The Scottish group Woolcraft at GalGael has a YouTube video, "Cutting Down the 3 Rugs" which features a handspun, handwoven rug at the two minute mark.

I like the videos of theirs that I've seen.  They look like they have great camaraderie and they use interesting fibre arts equipment.

21 December, 2010

third scarf

I knit another scarf.  It is a lot like the second, only longer and brown, not purple.

I spun the eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins, what I called leftover stew, for this pattern, One Row Handspun scarf.  I think this pattern does best with yarn full of different colours.  I've seen examples of the same pattern in solid colours and the effect of multiple colours strikes me as much more interesting and suitable.  I spun the leftover stew of BFL roving with a drop spindle and put the singles on bobbins, then plied them together.

The last time I made this pattern with four ounces of yarn, I was left wanting a longer scarf, so this time with five ounces of leftovers I was looking to make the most of them.  I originally spun some ecru BFL into the leftover stew but that created a lot of contrast and I took exception to it.  I backtracked and spun without it.

One of the bobbins ran out of spun yarn early, leaving me with extra on the other bobbins.  I spun some ecru BFL, put that on bobbins and plied a barber pole yarn.  This supplied me with half an ounce of light-coloured stuff that coordinated with the leftover stew yarn.

Then I took the ounce of sunflower BFL I had leftover from the tam of the orange cat and knit that yarn with the barber pole yarn, alternating rows.  This made up the tips of the scarf, allowing me to eke out the leftover stew yarn and create a long scarf.

There were a lot of ends to sew in.

20 December, 2010

Drop Spindle Lathe

Robin Wood, wood turner, discusses traditional Eurasian foot-powered drop spindle lathes on his blog in the 25 Sept 2010 post, "Old Lathes" and shows what he thinks might be a photograph of a spindle lathe in Italy.

18 December, 2010

Stash Reduction Progress

As you know, I just spun a leftover stew of BFL from the remains of a couple of braids used in other projects.  Between that and the wool I used for the doll hats, I have emptied enough of my Gamma seal bucket, the one that's dedicated to dyed BFL, to the point where I could consolidate its contents with another's.  The last pound of dyed wool is now in my bucket of undyed BFL top, which had headroom.  Just in time too, since I bought a large amount of emmer grain that needs to go in a bucket to keep out the other sort of moth.

I have destashed the remainder of the hot pink merino wool top and given it to someone I hope will try spinning, a move I feel quite good about.

I am going to give away fibre in my guild's holiday gift exchange.  It's fibre I got purposely to give as a gift, but it's in the same spot as my stash and therefore counts for reduction points in my book.

Since I decided to reduce my stash, I have only bought the BFL in sunflower that became the orange tam and the BFL in lapis.  (I've spun the sunflower and half the lapis.)  This represents quite the leveling off in my rate of stash acquisition, so I think I'm doing quite well there.  Not sure at what point I'll let myself play quartermaster again and start to buy.

I did promise you that I was going to go in November to a shearing day to see about a local BFL or BFL cross fleece.  I had to be somewhere else that day and couldn't go; however, this month the same shepherd had her fleeces for sale at a historic home's holiday open house.  Sadly for me, while she has fifty fleeces for sale, her sole purebred Blue Face Leicester sheep was new to her and, having been shorn once already this year, did not grow enough of a staple in time for shearing.

17 December, 2010

eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins

Here are the eighty-ninth and ninetieth skeins I've spun.  The fibre comes from leftover sections of Frabjous Fibers BFL in redwood forest and stained glass.  The singles were spun to about 32 wpi, to give a worsted weight yarn.  The skeins were 2 1/4 ounces with 114 yards and 2 3/8 ounces with 122 yards.

16 December, 2010

Trying Something New

You might think, going by what I've knit in the past, that this is another hat in the making.

You would be wrong.  At least that's the plan.  Instead of making hats to give away to other people, I am doing something about one of my two goals for once: making something handspun for me to wear.

I had this much knit in garter stitch.  I told myself how wonderfully stretchy garter stitch is, and how suitable the stitch was for the item.  Then I faced how much I dislike the look of garter stitch and I ripped it all out.

Good to deal with these things early.  Good to make only what you like in the first place.  But still good to make stuff, even stuff that's not optimal.

15 December, 2010

Leftover Stew Handspun Ready for Plying

Here's the leftover stew of BFL singles, transferred from the drop spindle to bobbins, ready for plying together.

13 December, 2010

Sitting with the Bar-Raisers

Picture yourself sitting at a holiday potluck where everyone but you has a placemat of their own handweaving.

It's important to spend time with people who raise the bar.

11 December, 2010

Early on a Saturday Morning

This is how my table looked last Saturday.  The makings of leftover stew, that's what this is.

10 December, 2010

Pass the Napkin So I Can Draw

It's really funny when you've known someone over a decade, and suddenly find out she knits.  Then you're pantomiming for her how knitting in the round works, and begging for scrap paper to draw diagrams of how to graft two rows of live stitches, and writing down words like "Ravelry," and "provisional cast-on," and "kitchener."  Kitchener the stitch, not the city.

09 December, 2010

Old Believers Film

At the 8:26 mark of the film, Old Believers by Margaret Hixon, on the Folkstreams website, a woman weaves a belt using cards or tablets.  The documentary was filmed in the early 1980s, at the same time as the research for Burnham's Unlike the Lilies was done.  The weaver is from a different people group, but there are similarities.

She talks, through a translator, for two minutes as she works.  She talks about the belts' function in weddings as part of customary gift exchanges, and the belts' religious importance.  She names different belt weaving techniques.  She describes how she learned to weave from her mother, and discusses her difficulty in getting her grandchildren to learn from her.  She talks about the correlation between self-sufficiency and economic necessity:
There are many Russian people here [Oregon], and nobody knows how to weave belts.  In general they work in factories and it's hard.  The young now cannot weave.  It's only the old.  And furthermore, the young aren't interested.  They can work one day and earn enough money to buy two belts.  In China everyone wove belts for himself.  When we went to Brasil, people started to get, well, a little better off.  And when there's money, it's better to buy than to make it yourself, right?  And then we came to America.  People really started getting rich.  In America everybody buys their belts.
It's fascinating to watch her turn the cards.  She beats the weft in place with the blunt side of a large kitchen knife.  The weaver uses a wooden tool to attach the belt she is weaving to the sash or belt she is wearing.  I am trying to figure out how it works.

There is also a short clip of card weaving at the 3:10 mark in the film.

08 December, 2010

Lessons from the Doukhobor

You can read Burnham's Unlike the Lilies, which I wrote about yesterday, just for interest's sake.  But there are people out there trying to establish programs and courses of action for ecovillages, social enterprise, Transition Towns, cooperatives, intentional communities, and individual efforts to create low carbon or zero carbon or carbon-neutral, low-pollution, fair-trade, resilient, locavore clothes.  So what potentially useful things could the book tell us about the Doukhobor and their grassroots textile production?

One, their attitudes and their operational setups boosted their textile accomplishments.  Yes, they practiced regular, skilled use of appropriate technologies like handlooms and spinning wheels.  But it wasn't just what they did, it's how they were.  As a people, they were dedicated to an extraordinary degree to what they were doing.  They practiced a high degree of cooperation amongst themselves.  While their people had overall a good level of know-how regarding production of fibre tools, clothes, and rugs, they had particularly skilled workers who could barter their products and services.  Burnham writes, "the exchange of skills was a way of life."  Communal living fostered transmission and teaching of textile production because people lived in close quarters, modeling the skills and working together.  Burnham puts the textile proficiency rate, as it were, at 100 percent for women among the Doukhobor in the early twentieth century and notes that a girl would have many textile mentors.  Communal schedules of chores gave women uninterrupted time to work on textiles.  Both the men and women were skilled, ingenious, resourceful, and productive.  The specific fiber tools and techniques of the Doukhobor are worth a look.

Two, while they were very much a closed society bent on self-sufficiency, they used some inputs that originated elsewhere.  The men worked for wages off the farm.  Doukhobor women in Saskatchewan sheared sheep for area farmers and brought back wool.  The Doukhobor in British Columbia got wool from the prairies.  They gleaned canvas from a mill and turned them into pants, used flour sacks for linings, and made shoe soles out of rubber belting from farm equipment.  They cut knitting needles out of umbrella spokes and rigged some spinning wheels out of metal pipe and sewing machine wheels.  They bought commercial dyes and cotton yarn.  The Doukhobor received donations of money and supplies (including spinning wheels) from a number of sources, including author Leo Tolstoy, the Quakers, and the Canadian Council of Women.  Land was initially obtained through the Homesteading program run by the Canadian government.  As an organization, the Doukhobor took out loans from commercial banks.

Three, the book states that the loans with which the Doukhobor leveraged themselves left them vulnerable to the shocks of the Great Depression, and eventually resulted in them losing title to their land.

ETA: you may also be interested in another post that shows cloth and tools used by the Doukhobor in British Columbia, from a museum I visited.  http://thesojourningspinner.blogspot.com/2011/11/doukhobor-discovery-centre.html

07 December, 2010

Doukhobor Fiber Tools

In my misspent youth, during my free time at university, I holed up in a carrel with a panoramic view of Georgia Strait and the snow-topped Coast mountains, a carrel within arm's reach of all the library's back issues of Harrowsmith magazine, and there I sat and read every single one.

There was an article about a certain plant, one that I will not name so that this post won't get picked up on search engines for the wrong reasons.  Canada had banned cultivation of this plant decades before.  If I'm not mistaken, you can grow the fiber-producing variety of this plant now in Canada if you have a permit and are prepared for scrutiny from the Mounties (though it's still banned in the U.S.) but at the time the article was published, you couldn't.  The writer investigated the uses of the plant for fiber as well as the impacts and implications of the ban.  One interview was with a Doukhobor woman who had kept for years a very durable set of men's clothing.  If I remember correctly, it was a suit.  Her family or her community had made the clothes from scratch out of the plant material back in the days when cultivation was legal and commonplace.

I was terribly impressed to know that any people group in the twentieth century had once had the skills to make clothes starting with raw materials.  Not only that, but nice clothes.  The article made me see the Doukhobors in a different light than what our high school Social Studies books had presented.

I recently got the book Unlike the Lilies: Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada by Dorothy K. Burnham.

I like to see what fiber tools and materials have been used throughout history, especially in folk culture, to meet people's need for clothes, bedding, and so on.  Lets me delude myself into imagining I could make the tools and raise the fiber too.

The book shows a Tartar wool comb, which was new to me.  Normally when I use a set of wool combs I like to clamp one down so I don't have to brace one against the pull of the other.  A tartar wool comb stays stationary without a clamp.  Two rows of tines are set in a block of wood attached to the top of a triangle of wood, the peak of which is made from two boards, and the base of which is a long board that sticks out to one side or to either side depending on the model.  You sit on the board and let gravity hold the comb in place.  Only one comb was used and the wool was pulled through the tines by hand.

I was interested to see retted flax stalks being broken with a pestle in a large mortar made of a log.  They had regular flax brakes too, but no scutching boards: they would whip the stems up and down across a sawhorse instead.  The flax combs were made of thin wooden boards, very different from the metal hackles I usually see in vintage or reproduction flax tools, and these combs had only one row of teeth.  When harvesting the flax, a hammer was used to remove seed heads by beating them; the flax was not pulled through a more usual ripple, which looks like a rake and does the same job as the hammer except by pulling the seed heads off.

Burnham confirms some facts about flax processing I've read before, such as getting the finest flax by sowing thickly, harvesting before the seeds ripen, and using the dew retting method instead of the water method.

ETA: see also another post with photos from a museum visit http://thesojourningspinner.blogspot.com/2011/11/doukhobor-discovery-centre.html

06 December, 2010

Nineteenth Hat

I knit much of the eighty-seventh and eighty-eighth skeins into this tam-o-shanter.  The pattern is A Classic Mohair Tam, in the book Homespun Handknit.

After sewing in the ends, I soaked the hat and put a dinner plate inside to block it.  That's how it looked, below.  I'd never made a tam before, and while the wool dried I was in suspense.  The result was a total change, from amorphous blob to tam.

04 December, 2010

Button Salvage

I removed some buttons from an ugly, unworthy thrift shop dress I bought on a fifty-percent-off day.  One of the buttons is facedown; you can see they are made of shell.  I do like things with a nice luster to them.  I also like a spot of salvage work.

03 December, 2010

eighty-seventh, eighty-eighth skeins

These two skeins, my eighty-seventh and eighty-eighth, are yet more Blue Face Leicester wool.  This time the wool is from Kimber Baldwin Designs (FiberOptic on Etsy), dyed in the colour sunflower.  Four ounces total, 160 yards total, worsted weight yarn, singles spun to about 32 wpi.  Plied into unevenly-sized skeins because my digital scale gave me inaccurate readings again.

The colour makes me laugh because it looks so much like the colour of an orange cat.  I like cats very much; the only time I like the colour orange is when it is on a cat.  Picked this wool to make a gift for a family member who favours autumn colours (and cats).

02 December, 2010

Spinning Yarn, Perched on a Stool

Know why, historically, people ditched handspindles and great wheels and went for flyer-driven spinning wheels?  They got tired of standing for hours at a time, for one.

You'll have to pry my handspindles out of my hands, I like using them so much.  That's why I bought a 25.5 inch tall stool, so I could sit down but still spin long lengths of yarn with a drop spindle.  More comfortable than perching on the corner edge of the dining table.  Not as good for me in the long run as standing, since I slump, but still good to have.

The stool is oak, and secondhand from an antiques shop.  I am happy with the price I paid for it, and I'm happy the shop owner thinks the piece is almost certainly domestically manufactured.  I've found that I've had to search for used furniture to get pieces that are locally-sourced, attractive, and well-priced, made with solid materials.

01 December, 2010

eighty-sixth skein

Here is the eighty-sixth skein I've spun.  It is an ounce of ecru Blue Face Leicester.  I spun it while I was at the conferences, either waiting for things to start or waiting for things to finish at the ends of very long days.

The yarn shows that I wasn't able to control the gauge as well as I usually do.  Not only did I unintentionally spin thick and thin, but I didn't spin nearly as thin overall as I meant to.  I knew it, and could have put it down and tried again another time, but decided that bad spinning was better than no spinning.

30 November, 2010

Knitting in Tight Quarters

I knit the crown of the Targhee hat while sandwiched in between two other conference attendees in a packed room.  They came in late and sat down while I was knitting.  I figured that they knew what they were getting into and as long as my 10 inch long double pointed needles didn't jab anybody, I could knit on.  So I did.  I was rattled by their nearness, though.  When I got to the very last round of stitches, I found I was one stitch short.  I let the error stand.  I had already ripped out and reknit the decreases twice to get the curve of the crown correct.  I couldn't find a dropped stitch, so I assume I did an extra decrease stitch by accident.

You may question the wisdom of knitting decreases on such long needles when shorter ones would do the job and be much easier to manipulate.  My excuse is that I don't have them.  I have short dpns in sizes 0 to 3, but this hat was knitted on something like size 8.  My thrifty self balks at buying more short needles in larger sizes when I can get by with my long ones.  My extravagant self would rather spend on textile history books and indie-dyed BFL fiber.

29 November, 2010

Knitting as a Memory Aid

The hats I showed you last week were knit at two conferences my husband and I attended.  I told my husband that knitting helps me pay attention to whoever is giving the presentation, paper, or plenary address and that I can hold the object later and remember what I heard when I made it.  We have a lively sense of the ridiculous and like to joke, so he held up the little blue hat and asked me to remember, down to the very row.  Well, okay, I can't.  But there were a lot of speakers.

About half a dozen people who saw me knitting and spinning talked to me about what I was doing.  A older couple saw my merino wool and told me about the merino sheep they'd seen in Australia.  I learned from someone who reads Hebrew that the passage describing the idealized virtuous woman–who is described among other things as a serious handspinner–in Proverbs 31 are written as an Abecedarius, that is, the first letter of each line taken in succession together form the alphabet.  I learned from an archaeologist that loom weights and spindle whorls in the Near East are typically excavated at domestic sites, inside houses.

I slipped away from the conference to go to the local fine art museum, where I saw a large coverlet made of handspun.  I also went to a university museum that had a number of antiquities, including a selection of pre-Columbian spindle whorls which were made of pottery, a Greek vase depicting Odysseus' escape from the Cyclops which involves sheep if you've forgotten, and a number of examples of ancient Egyptian linen burial cloths which were unfortunately still occupied.

27 November, 2010

seventeenth and eighteenth hats

My seventeenth and eighteenth hats are doll-sized, to fit American Girl dolls owned by the girls who got the eighth and tenth hats, which if you remember are pretty much the same thing only bigger.  I reduced the number of stitches to fit the doll dimensions I found somewhere online.  I knit one of the hats in public and people mistook it for a newborn hat, so that gives you an idea of size. 

I finished up the remainder of the eighty-first and eighty-second skeins by knitting wee scarves to go with the hats.

You might wonder what a Canadian like me is doing knitting hats for American Girl dolls, and all I can say is the girls that own these particular dolls are terribly winsome and enthusiastic, and they are suitably interested in handspinning and knitting.

I am disposed to like doll clothes generally, especially stuff made by hand.  I had such a lot of fun with the pieces I had when I was young and I remember each clearly.  I don't plan to make any more in the immediate future, though, as I have other things to make.

26 November, 2010

Commodities and Currencies

Happy Buy Nothing Day!  Or Black Friday, if you prefer.

The price of cotton has jumped recently, and anytime a commodity changes you can reasonably expect a change in the price of finished goods, clothes in this case.  I am interested to see what sort of impact this will have, whether anyone will turn to other fibres.

Currencies have also changed.  At the Virginia fiber festival last month, I told someone they could get a basic wooden spindle manufactured in New Zealand for sale at the vendors' tents for x number of dollars.  A fellow handspinner and spindle enthusiast pointed out that the price had changed, it had risen a lot in the last while, and she said it was because of the difference in exchange rates.

I think currency changes have the potential to give a competitive edge to domestic production of handspinning tools.  I hope the manufacturers in New Zealand and Europe will be able to continue exports, as they have good products.

We are fortunate, in this age of cheap imports and offshore manufacturing done with the cheapest labour, that fibre arts tool producers still operate in developed countries.  When I went shopping for a bicycle the other week at a local bike shop here in Virginia, I couldn't find anything in my price range that was manufactured domestically.  The salesman told me that as recently as a couple of years ago, you could find a $1000 bicycle for sale that was manufactured domestically, but now they start at $3000.  I was hoping to find something under $200, so I asked if used bikes were available.  He told me that bike shops only recondition and resell high-end used bicycles that are worth the labour needed to meet safety requirements and avoid liability.  I would hate for this to ever happen to fibre arts equipment like looms or spinning wheels.

25 November, 2010

Action Shot of the Sixth Hat

used with permission

My dad sent me an action shot of him proudly wearing the sixth hat.  Behind him you can see the snow Vancouver Island got this week.

The island doesn't normally get snow very often or for very long, even though it is part of Canada.  (The island is near Vancouver and Seattle.  Here's a map of the province from Tourism British Columbia that's clear, though slightly out of date for place names; Vancouver Island is outlined with a large box.)  This year forecasters are predicting a particularly cold winter there this year.

24 November, 2010

sixteenth hat

Here is the sixteenth hat I've knit.  It is knit in the round on double pointed needles as usual, with good old K2togs and SSKs paired up for the decreases.  The yarn is my handspun Targhee, the eighty-fifth and seventy-second skeins.

The brim of the hat is formed in the same way as my eleventh hat.  You start with a provisional cast on, knit in stockinette for about three inches, then knit a row of purl for a turning edge, and knit in stockinette for three more inches, after which you fold the fabric and knit the edges together.  Because you knit them together using both rows of live stitches then carry on knitting the rest of the hat, the brim has a very tidy seam.

The brim of the hat, as I said is a double layer of knitted Targhee yarn, so it is very thick, about half an inch deep.  Hopefully the hat will be warm enough to protect my mother's ears whenever she goes out for a walk this winter on windy, wet Vancouver Island.  She says she has not yet seen a wool hat that can do this.  I didn't originally set out to learn to knit hats so I could rise to such challenges, but I have to say it is a nice perquisite.

After the photo was taken, I made a pompom and put it on top.

23 November, 2010

New Brunswick Hooked Rug Registry

New Brunswick is developing a registry of hooked rugs 25 years and older in the province.  You can read an article, "Our Hooked History" on the Telegraph Journal website, which describes the source fibres and natural dyes used and gives some stories about the origins of designs.  No word if handspun is used in any of the rugs, but interesting reading.  The registry's website contains little actual information on the rugs; it's more a call for people to register.  The article and the CBC article, "Hooked Rug Registry Planned for N.B." states that there are registries already for every other Atlantic province but unfortunately they do not provide links.

22 November, 2010

You Never Know Who Knits

You never know who knits.  I came cross this quote:
I learned to knit when I was about seven, and my mother and I made socks for my father and brother.  I remember the triumph I felt when I was able to turn a heel for the first time.  I don't think we thought of this as being frugal; everybody knitted socks.
Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, in Marjorie Harris' Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style
If you're not familiar with the title, in Canada the Governor General is authorized to "exercise the powers and responsibilities belonging to the Sovereign." The Governor General is commander-in-chief and representative abroad.

20 November, 2010

eighty-fifth skein

The eighty-fifth skein I've spun is another skein of Targhee wool, spun as 20 wpi singles and plied as 2 ply for a total of 84 yards, to match the gauge of the seventy-second skein.  That's it for all the Targhee I bought, 4 oz total.  Should make a nice cushiony hat.

19 November, 2010

eighty-third and eighty-fourth skeins

These are the eighty-third and eighty-fourth skeins I've spun.  They are each 1 3/4 ounces and 115 yards.  Well, 114 and 116 yards really, but who's counting.  Blue Face Leicester wool from Gale's Art in the colour lapis.  Spindle spun.

The yarn is 3 ply.  I thought I'd measured out a full two ounces correctly on the digital scale, and there was considerable waste leftover so I probably did.  Tried to spin each of the three singles to a consistent 40 wpi, but the leftovers mean I must have gone thinner with one of the spun singles.

You might remember the multi-coloured scarf I recently spun and knit from Gale's Art BFL in cocktail.  This yarn is supposed to be like it but thinner.  It is certainly thinner.  It feels very different, less substantial.

18 November, 2010

eighty-second skein

The eighty-second skein I've spun, 1 3/8 ounce and 124 yards of Blue Face Leicester from Frabjous Fibers in the colour chocolate cherry.  This is the last of the four ounce braid so, as with yesterday's skein, spinning this was a stash reduction exercise.

17 November, 2010

eighty-first skein

This is the eighty-first skein I've spun, with just under 1 ounce and 84 yards of Blue Face Leicester from Frabjous Fibers in the colour deep space.  This is the last of the four ounce braid, so I've done a nice touch of stash reduction here.

Not that an ounce is much to clear out of the stash compared to the overall weight of fiber I have in there.  The benefit is more from being completely done with this braid.  Move on over to the stash of completed yarn, little skein.  Hopefully you won't linger there long.

16 November, 2010

eightieth skein

My eightieth skein, Blue Face Leicester, spun the match the sixty-eighth.  After taking this photo, I plied the yarn a little more tightly so the skein would be balanced properly.

15 November, 2010

Two Years Learning Summed Up

The other week I wrote to an organization asking them to consider asking their members to visit local handspinning and weaving guilds in order to learn the skills and develop useful contacts.  The leadership plans to get a local workshop presenter to bring handspinning and weaving to their national conference, so I am very pleased.

I wrote them a sample workshop outline, in case its content might help them evaluate workshop proposals or group projects.  The outline is a summation, in a way, of my last two years of study and practice.  The points are as clear and accurate as I could get them, and took into account the constraints the group is likely to work within.  Hopefully what I wrote would be enough for beginners to go on, at least to start, and wouldn't get them too far off into the rhubarb patch.  I don't know if what I wrote will actually get used at all.  Whoever they get for the workshop will likely have their own ideas of what to present.

The outline follows, with a few more comments afterward.  I tried to give an overview of essential facts along with practical suggestions.

Fibre holds together and becomes strong when you twist it.  A drop spindle or spinning wheel twists and stores fibre.

If you set aside materials such as skins, hides, woven cedar bark, kudzu vine, rabbit fur, yak hair, nettles, wooden shoes, etc, and narrow your focus to materials that have been under cultivation to clothe the majority of humankind for thousands of years, the big four are wool, linen, cotton, and silk.

Fibre sources that can be raised locally in the UK are sheep, goats, and flax.  These can be raised in small-scale amounts on marginal and moderately fertile land.  Cotton cannot because it matures at lower latitudes and silkworms cannot because they need a lot of mulberry leaves.

There are two materials suitable for hand processing: wool and flax.  Wool can be sheared by hand then washed and combed or carded to prepare it for spinning.  Flax can be harvested by hand by pulling it up by the roots.  Flax is then retted, broken, scutched, and hackled to prepare it.  You want sheep breeds that are raised specifically for fibre and not meat or dairy.  Good wool sheep are well-fed and not stressed so they have strong fibres, and their fleeces are kept clean of vegetable matter like burrs.  You want flax plant varieties meant for linen fiber production and not oilseed production.

Not all wool and flax make materials suitable for clothing.  Some breeds of sheep give wool good for rugs, not clothes.  You have to process flax very fine to get linen you'd want to wear.

There is a great variety of tools in common use by handspinners and weavers.  There are many models of spindles, spinning wheels, looms, and other equipment used to skein the yarn, etc..  For example, a walking wheel also known as a great wheel, wool wheel, or muckle wheel looks and functions differently from the portable charkha Gandhi used to spin cotton.  Both a walking wheel and a charkha are very different from Saxony and castle wheels which have flyers.  You can get wooden wheels beautifully turned on a lathe, or a wheel made out of bicycle parts or PVC pipe.  You can get custom models or production models or plans with dimensional drawings to make your own.

Certain tools are low-cost and basic but functional.  These include the drop spindle, supported spindle, twisty sticks, card weaving also known as tablet weaving, backstrap loom, horizontal ground loom, warp-weighted loom, tape loom, sprang frame, and nalbinding needles.  You don't even have to have great woodworking or pottery skills to make these.  They are mechanically simple so you won't be stuck with a broken tool you can't fix.  They are versatile, lending themselves to a broad range of gauge (yarn) and patterns (weaving).  Although they produce less than more sophisticated equipment, their cost and simplicity mean more people can be producing.  They have been used for millennia.  You may find them better suited to a re-skilling movement than industrially-produced tools commonly used by contemporary spinners, weavers, and knitters.

The minimum equipment needed to process wool at the cottage industry level to get it ready for spinning is hot water, basins, detergent or ammonia, drying racks, wool combs or wool cards, and a mechanical balance scale.  To process flax, you need a stream or tanks for water retting assuming you don't do dew retting, a flax break, a scutching board and knife, coarse and fine flax hackles, and possibly an airing cupboard to store the flax.

Retting flax is a microbial process that takes a high level of skill, like brewing or making cheese.  This is an area where contemporary handspinners have very little practical knowledge.  This knowledge used to be very commonly held and practiced by ordinary people.

Short, soft fibres must be spun with a lot of twist compared to long, strong fibres so they hold together and don't pill.  This has implications for what tools you select and how much work is involved, for example when spinning short, soft merino wool, cashmere, or cotton compared to a Leicester longwool or flax stricks also known as longline flax.

There is a lot of twist in spun fibre.  A single strand is plied with one or more additional strands to balance out the twist and make it stable, as well as stronger.  Some woven fabrics use a loosely spun single strand.

Traditional clothing (the sort made of local materials by the people who wore it) makes full use of the material, makes use of narrow-width weaving, is cut and assembled using proportions rather than complicated patterns, is cut to allow for a range of sizes and for changes such as pregnancy or children's growth, and is fastened with locally available materials such as toggles.  It is adapted to local weather conditions.  For example, mittens of nalbinding in Finland were much warmer than knitted mittens and the hairy wool made a moisture-wicking fabric.  Wool spun in the original grease or with oil added during combing makes a water-resistant fisherman's jersey.

Tools and supplies are available to purchase, sometimes locally.  There are new tools, it's not all antiques.

In your garden, you can grow a patch of long-stemmed flax suitable for linen, even if you don't use it, in order to preserve a local source of seed.

Useful sheep breeds need conservation.  Different sheep breeds produce wool with comparatively different properties.

You can follow up by going to your local handspinners and weavers guild.  Ask where you can get lessons, supplies, and tools.

Children can be given spinning and weaving tools with lessons, the way they are given musical instruments and sports equipment.

It is most economical to learn to spin and weave yourself, rather than commissioning local work, because local clothes mean labour-intensive processes and are thus expensive to buy compared to doing it yourself.  And anyway, most handspinners, knitters, etc. produce for their own use and not for sale.

Once you learn how, handspinning is a soothing process that may help people cope with the stress of needing to change and do Transition projects.

Handspinning and weaving take as much practice to learn as learning to type, drive, or skate.  Most everyone is capable of spinning and weaving.

So those are the facts and the advice I would give.  I could go back over it all, and correct "longline flax" with "line flax," and brood over everything I wrote.  There are a couple of broad generalizations in there which I hope would stand up to fact-checking, such as the one about what fibers clothed the majority of humankind.  I really hope polyester hasn't clothed more people than wool, silk, etc.  At least I know for certain that polyester hasn't clothed folks for thousands of years.

I had to leave out a lot of my reasoning and information for the sake of brevity.  There is more I'd like to explain; for example, my basis for leaving out dyeing and knitting.  I left them out because if you need to whip up local clothes quickly from scratch, you'll do best weaving naturally-coloured fiber.  Dyeing is an extra step you can dispense with yet still be clothed, and knitting takes longer than weaving.  Also, knitting requires knitting needles that are formed with precise diameters, so you can't just whittle yourself a set the way you can whittle a backstrap loom or a nalbinding needle.

I left out the ways renewable energy can be used with handspinning, weaving, and fiber preparation.  They are mechanically complicated, expensive, and in the case of a water-driven scutching machine, historically prone to causing workplace injuries.  But solar thermal power, such as from a solar cooker, could certainly warm up the wash water to clean wool.  I've seen video of a windmill hooked up to a crank-powered sock machine.  Kevin Hansen tells me his electric spinning machine, the HansenCraft miniSpinner, can run directly on power from a photovoltaic panel, though he recommends a battery pack.

I forgot to put in an additional point about the list of basic but functional tools, the tools that can be made without great woodworking or pottery skills.  Those can be made from coppiced branches or saplings which means they are an efficient use of natural resources and readily attainable.  That is, the materials can be cultivated or gleaned rather than bought, which is significant.  I also should have left the tape loom off the list since it requires some precise sawing and drilling.  Ah, well.  At some point you have to stop and let the other person have what you wrote.

13 November, 2010

Antique Squirrel Cage Swift on Exhibit

Far away, off the beaten path past twisty mountain passes, in McDowell, Virginia, out in Highland county where the maple sap runs and the sheep population is supposed to be the highest in the state, there is a little country historical museum and in it is an old squirrel cage swift.

A squirrel cage swift, also called a rice, holds a skein of yarn while you pull from one end and wrap the yarn into a ball.  It is supposed to work better than the umbrella type, but the size, fixed (non-collapsable) shape, and cost is probably why you don't see them much.  It looks like two hamster cages set a yard apart on one upright pole.

The size of the swift in the museum is huge.  The skein spool parts are each almost as big as a bread box.  I didn't measure the swift so I can't be sure, but taking for scale David Bryant's measured drawings of a rice in Wheels and Looms: Making Equipment for Spinning and Weaving which gives the spokes of the spools as a mere 6 inches long, I would say the antique swift I saw was close to twice the size.  The height of the vertical piece was about as tall as me.

Back then, whenever back then was, the usefulness of the swift must have outweighed space considerations.

While the swift is constructed mostly of cut lumber and dowels, the base of the swift is made of little splayed feet under a large rough-hewn hunk of wood that retains some of the natural log shape.  I'm sure its mass lends a lot of stability.  Old great wheels have the same sort of construction in the base and legs, only the dimensions are necessarily longer and trimmer.

The grain of wood in the dowels reminds me of broom handles made at old-time festivals with vintage automatic machines.

The swift might be homemade.  It is on loan to the museum from a local family.  This is why I am not posting photos, because it is from a private collection.

The swift has lost the original peg used to adjust the height of the top spool to accommodate different sized skeins.  In the peg's place is a quill spindle that has lost its great wheel.  I think this is a great glimpse into what fiber tools people used to have around.

12 November, 2010


Was out talking about sheep and wool and handspun with random strangers, and I got–yet again–the question, "Do you sell your handspun yarn?"

As you know, I don't.  I might sell my handspun someday, but for now the payoff comes from other aspects.

I find the question strange.  Is this an idle question?  They don't know me or my skill level.  I wonder about their motives, what they are seeking to get out of handspun yarn.  I was asked once by a re-enactor, and her request made sense.  She wanted to get yarn that looked authentic and non-commercial.  I need to start asking everyone else what they are looking for.

I feel unsettled when they ask.  Niggling self-doubt rises up.  Who am I to disoblige, to disregard the market demand implicit in their question.  My sybaritic pursuit of yarn for yarn's sake and my lodestone of a personal handspun wardrobe: these look small and selfish.  My delight in ephemeral spin-in-public demos, where nothing quantifiable is exchanged or transacted: this evaporates when I encounter someone who wants to talk cents.

I came across a quote about craft that makes me think of these handspun-seekers.  The passage describes New Zealand in the early 1970s:
Live pottery demonstrations, frequently staged as a low-tech type of tourist attraction, induced many audience members to sign up for evening classes.  Craft retail shops were represented in every small town the length of the country.  Many rural potters sold their wares direct from the kiln.  Sunday day-trippers from the cities could purchase direct from the maker and in so doing vicariously experience the 'back to the land' lifestyle and ethos.  
Richard Fahey, "'Colonial Shino': a case study of cultural importation translation and transaction" in Making Futures, Vol 1 (Plymouth College 2009)  http://makingfutures.plymouthart.ac.uk/journalvol1/papers/richard-fahey.pdf
The word "vicariously" bothers me.  I don't want people to experience handspun vicariously.  I want them signing up for the evening classes.  Not that I want to give evening classes myself either, but there are classes out there to take.  There's handspun out there to buy, too.

I'm disquietened by Fahey's description of the 1970s New Zealand commercial market for studio pottery because demand flared up spectacularly before burning out utterly.  I don't want handspun to be a thing, a craze that sells really well for a short time and never sells again.

1970s Canadian pottery

11 November, 2010

second scarf

This is a closeup of the second scarf I've knit.  The pattern is One Row Handspun Scarf by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  The pattern creates a pleasing effect with the colour changes.  The yarn is my seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth skeins, just under 4 ounces of handspun BFL in the colourway cocktail from Gale's Art.

The scarf is 5 by 37 inches long, just long enough to tie in a half hitch.  There is no more yarn and no more of that colour fibre on hand to make a longer scarf, so that's how long the scarf will stay.

One more handspun gift for a family member, off the list.  One more piece from the stash, used.  A new-to-me pattern, tried.  Very pleasant to be able to meet multiple goals in one project.  Also good to have spun and knit this scarf in a week, considering the previous one took me over a year.

10 November, 2010

Scalability - Supply

There is one more area I think handspinning has a scalability issue: in the supply of materials.

There are custom spinning wheel manufacturers who have waiting lists that are years long.  There are fleece producers who would need lead time to increase their flocks to meet greater demand.  But in the meantime, there are production model spinning wheels and existing fiber available.  We're not likely to experience an event like the seed companies had in the Spring of 2009 when so many people planted vegetable gardens and the companies ran out of stock.

Mostly what is scarce is the public's awareness that handspinning products are for sale.

Try filling in these blanks:
To buy clothes you go to the ____.
To buy food you go to the __________.
To buy a house you go to the office of a ____ ______ agent.
To buy a car you go to the ___ ___.
To buy a book you go to the _________.
To buy a spinning wheel you go to the __________________________.

I once heard someone explain what the place-name Pouce Coupe means, and how the meaning could be encapsulated in two words in the native language whereas in translation a lot more words would need to be added to make sense.

I run into a similar problem when people ask me where I buy my wool.  Ask me where I buy food and I can tell you briefly.  Ask me where I buy wool and I start hemming and hawing because I know I'll have to explain what Etsy is, tell you I have had conversations with shepherds you've never met, and warn you that you'll have to call ahead to a particular spinning supply store to make sure the owner is in.  It's complicated to communicate where my sources are.  There are so many and they must sound so far off the beaten track to anyone who doesn't spin.

09 November, 2010

Scalability - Public Connection

The public makes a connection to handspinning through fairy tales where spinning yarn sounds either onerous or dangerous, through historical reenactment or living history museums where spinning yarn seems to require funny clothes and handy sheep one field over, and through gallery or fair displays where the yarn looks static as though it sprang fully formed from the mind of the impossibly artistic handspinner.

I doubt any of these have ever been the means to make anyone want to learn to spin.  As in, seriously, "hand me a spindle and I'll try it right now" wanting to learn.  Well, maybe the history programs, but in my experience those don't consistently have what marketers term a "call to action."  There doesn't seem to be a organized followup program to take to master handspinning yourself.  The public is just asked to admire and understand.  There's no expectation that once they see the quaint interpreter, they're going to go off and spin yarn themselves regularly on their own steam all next winter.

I am fine with that.  I'm just interested in handspinning having more relevance and a higher adoption rate.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that stories and vignettes didn't do it for me.  I read Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin as a child.  In the late 1990s, I saw a lovely gallery display of handspun objects at the Maritime Museum put on by the Victoria Handweavers & Spinners Guild.  I saw wool carding at Colonial Williamsburg; I saw spinning wheels and flax at Scotchtown and even got the name of a guild from the docent, but did nothing about it.  I took up handspinning after I met a handspinner at an agricultural fair.  She let me try her wheel, told me she was a guild member, and suggested I go to a fiber festival to shop and watch more demonstrations, then join the guild.

I met two handspinners at that fair, actually.  The first handspinner was excellent at telling me about spinning wheels and spinning.  The second handspinner was excellent at telling me how I could get started spinning.

Now that I spin, I try to pass on the favour.  What I do is, be an ordinary person, spin in public, show that handspinning is a useful part of my regular life, invite people to consider spinning yarn themselves, and (as precisely as I can) tell them how to go about it.

Guilds ordinarily meet in community halls where hardly anyone will stumble across them, so members will go out as a group to spin in public.  We've done SIPs at outdoor museums, farmers' markets, festivals, and farm open houses.  I also spin as part of my regular life out and about, combining it with other activities.  The other day I sat at an auction and spun on my spindle.  Fortunately the auctioneer could see what I was doing and didn't mistake my motion for a bid.

Onlookers ask me very pointed questions about what's involved, how much time it takes, how much it costs, and where to get supplies.  I like to think these are not casual questions; they are geared to let an onlooker evaluate the next step and decide whether they want to take that step and spin yarn.

The peer-to-peer method for connecting with the public works admirably, yet has scalability issues.  In the general population, there are few people who can spin yarn.  Fewer still like to spin in public.  Fewer still like to challenge people to try spinning.  Handspinners have only so much time and only get around to connecting with so many non-spinners in a year.

At the fiber festival last month, I demonstrated and taught drop spindling to passers-by for an hour and a half.  Sometimes no one was watching, but more often, I'd be answering questions from one or two people for a good stretch.  At some points I had two or three people sitting in the chairs trying out drop spindles.

Of all those I talked to and helped to try spinning, two went to go buy their own drop spindle and wool, and one or two said they would try again with a drop spindle they already owned and had abandoned to the back of the closet at home.  I don't know if this is a particularly high response rate but I'm happy with it.

08 November, 2010

Scalability - Guild Limits

In the last ten years, farmers' markets have boomed.  Got more public demand?  Add more booths and start up another location.  Farmers' markets are scalable.

I think there are number of areas where handspinning is faced with scalability issues that have potential to hold back its spread.  One is the limits of handspinning guilds.

I find guild meetings are vital living banks of support and information for fostering handspinning.  I tell anyone who is even remotely interested that they should come visit a guild meeting.  At the one I belong to, interested members will give beginners a little assistance to get them started.  Members do this on a volunteer basis as needed during regular meeting time.  I've done it, just as other did so for me.  When you volunteer, you give that time at the expense of your own handspinning and your own conversations with experienced spinners.  As a result, there's a prospect of volunteer burnout.  Our guild refers beginners to community parks and recreation programs, folk schools, and local yarn shops where they can sign up and pay to take handspinning lessons.  The guild also runs programs and hosts workshops during meetings, giving all members the benefit of the presenter's expertise.

It is common practice for handspinning guilds to be open to all new members.  Yet, guilds have practical limits for their ability to seat everyone at their location.  You can't just all get together and spin under a spreading tree.  I mean, you can, but you wouldn't call that a guild.  Think of what would happen to any volunteer organization that has to deal with an influx of new members, whether the newcomers know what they're doing or not.  Wonderful problem to have, yes, but certainly a scalability issue.  Handspinning guilds are non-profits that operate according to membership policies mandated in their by laws.  They would require time to adapt and address scalability problems.

One solution would be to establish a new guild nearby and hope the numbers naturally sort themselves out.  When you start a new farmers' market, you usually create a new paying job for a market manager.  Your market partners with municipalities or regional districts, businesses, and community groups to get land, supplies, training, publicity, and community involvement.  As far as I can tell, fiber arts guilds are much more on their own.  When spinning off a new guild, there's a risk of shattering social capital, diluting drawing power (a large, established guild can more easily book experts for workshops), and inequitably allocating resources (library, equipment, capital).

I don't know of any guild facing a sudden, significant population boom.  On one hand, I'd kind of like them to, but on the other hand, the consequences would definitely be unsettling for a while.

06 November, 2010

seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth skeins

I spun some Blue Face Leicester wool from Gale's Art in the colourway cocktail.

One skein is about 1 7/8 ounces and 92 yards, and the other is about 1 3/4 ounces and 80 yards.  The yarn is 3 ply.

The colour turned out to have more brown than the orange I'd thought it had, and the brown predominates in a way I hadn't expected.  The jewel tones were much more evident in the unspun top.

I spun the singles at about 32 wpi, and spun from thin strips torn lengthwise from the handpainted top in order to make the colours alternate frequently and so reduce the risk of pooling in the final knitted piece.

05 November, 2010

Stats, Posts Read, Referring Websites, and Your Privacy

I can now tell when someone who has me listed in their Ravelry friends clicks through to this blog from their friends' blogs activity page.  Same goes for anyone who goes from a link on their blog to mine, I see the URL of their blog.  Blogger has a new statistics function.  If you don't want me to get this information in my stats, I have suggestions for protecting your privacy.

Through the stats I get a list of referring websites and search words that lead visitors to my blog.  As I said, some of the websites have been Ravelry profiles with users' profile names on them.  To get to my blog without leaving tracks, start from your friends' blogs tab, go to the friends tab, click on my Ravatar to go to my profile, then click on the website link at the top or one of the individual post links at the bottom. Alternatively, you can bookmark the blog URL on your browser and use that to go right to my blog.  You might want to make a note of the name of my post that interested you on your Ravelry activity list so you can find it again.

There are links to my blog in other places on Ravelry such as a group, a list of projects for a pattern, or my projects.  If you click on any of these, the stats will show one of those as the referring website and show nothing about your personal profile.

For anyone who has been navigating from a link or blogroll on their own blog site and who wants to stop leaving that information, you can bookmark my blog and use that to get here.  You can also use an RSS feed reader, which is a convenient way to subscribe to content, though you lose some privacy to the company that supplies the reader.

I suppose a third party could click through from your blog or your Ravelry friends' blog activity, leaving misleading tracks.  For that, I have no solutions.

Besides referring websites, the statistics function also spits out a report of what posts and pages were viewed and how many times they were viewed.  I cannnot see who viewed what exactly.  The stats draw no correlation between the referring websites or searches and the posts viewed.  I have a hunch, though, that there's a strong link between searches for particular products and post views about those products in a particular time period.  I can see stats for a day, a week, a month, or the rather grand "all time."

I am impressed how many blog hits have been initiated by people looking for information on specific spinning tools, manufacturers, and handspinning suppliers.  There are about five sets of keywords that turn up regularly.  I have no feedback on whether anyone actually finds my posts helpful.  Some people use my blog as a quick directory to find a particular fiber arts supplier, and I trust they go on to use the websites and locations in the posts to get in touch with whoever they're looking for.  I don't know how strong my posts are for product reviews.  This blog is about my personal progress as a handspinner, and I write about a tool because I've come across it in my peregrinations so the mention of handspinning tools is incidental and not in any way comprehensive or systematic.  I understand, though, why visitors come for information on products.
People come to Web sites trying to get a job done or a question answered.
Philip Greenspun, Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing

04 November, 2010

Grazing Gulf Coast Native Sheep

Here is a little video clip of young Gulf Coast Native sheep grazing together.

A family was watching the sheep, and the parents joked about getting some.  They were surprised when I told them these ordinary-looking sheep were part of a conservation effort and on the critical list.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has information on the breed here: http://albc-usa.org/cpl/gulfcoast.html.

The forty-second skein I've spun was Gulf Coast Native wool.

03 November, 2010

Savouring the Selection Process

I am deciding what handspinning project I should tackle next and in what fiber.

This is an aspect of handspinning I enjoy.  I set criteria, weigh the options, and chose an optimal one.

I can realize satisfaction from selecting the right thing to make from a field of possibilities as much as I can from producing something nice.  The pleasure is a quiet one, savoured behind the scenes.

The fibers in my stash all have associations for me, either from the colour or the type of fiber.  There are certain colours in the stash that make me think of family members who like to wear those colours.  The bump of Cotswold and the wee bags of Shetland are from local purebred sheep and probably the only roving I'll ever buy of those breeds, so I mustn't waste them.

There's a mishmash of BFL leftovers that holds the promise of becoming a very striking item if I can blend the colours skillfully.  There's a fair amount of these leftovers to work with, too.  I put some of the stuff in the photo above, covering most of a tea towel, then found a third more than that hiding in the storage bucket under other fiber.  But since the bits are predominantly orange, there's nothing really in it for me.  I don't wear orange.  I don't even like being around orange.

What do I like in my stash?  There is half a pound of beautiful lapis blue BFL earmarked for a particularly beloved family member.  I love the person but I also love the wool.  I am kept from appropriating it for myself only because I've given my word and the person already knows about the wool's existence.

Also in the stash is a quarter-pound braid of BFL from Gale's Art in the colourway cocktail.  If it is to become a handspun gift for a family member before the year is out, I should pull it out and spin now.  The stuff contains small sections of orange.  I will push through.

As I write down my thoughts about my stash and my planning process, they look rather odd and fraught with "ought's" and obligations.  Really, I do enjoy this.

02 November, 2010

A Cheerful Giver

Christmas is coming.  If you celebrate something else in the line of winter festivities, that's probably coming too.  This gift-giving time of year gives a certain piquancy to my long-term goal of giving each family member a handspun item.

I like giving handspun items away, even if it does come at the cost of my own wardrobe.  You've heard me whinge on about how I have hardly made myself any wearable handspun clothes to keep.  I would have thought that by this time, two years after learning to spin yarn and knit, I'd have made more with which to clothe myself.  I have a hat, an earwarmer band, and a cowl, none of which match and only one of which is made of my favourite breed of wool, Blue Face Leicester.

As soon as I make myself a BFL cowl, that merino one is out of here.  I keep the hat only because it's the first bit of clothing I ever made.  Its thick gauge and lumpy decreases at the top are a testament to how much better my skills are now.  The earwarmer band is BFL and it can stay.

Giving handspun gifts means I could use up the fibers in my stash that are not Blue Face Leicester.  That would get them out of the house and off my mind.  The down side is that I won't be spinning Blue Face Leicester if I do that.  I have some stashed Gale's Art dyed BFL with family members' names on them.  They too want spinning.

As my whimsy takes me.  This is supposed to be fun, not grim duty.

God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7b NIV

01 November, 2010

The K2P2 Scarf is Done

Let us rejoice greatly with singing.  Let us stick a fork in it: the K2P2 scarf in peacock merino is done and in the mail to its intended recipient.

30 October, 2010


Ever been out of touch with a friend then picked up again without a beat and known afresh all the reasons you like each other?

I picked up a wee bit of Blue Face Leicester wool in red and spun a short length.  I needed red yarn to stick onto a greeting card in the shape of a heart.  I've been spinning other fibers the last while: Targhee, Corriedale cross, and much too much merino.  These are all at the other end of the crimpy-short/longwool spectrum.  None were as great as spinning that little scrap of leftover BFL.

I wonder, with apologies to the Bard, whether 'tis nobler to suffer spinning through all the other fibers in my stash first, with the goal of getting down to just Blue Face Leicester fibers?  Or whether I should spin BFL now?

Perhaps exhuming my stash will help me decide.  It's either that or list the finished objects I want to produce in the next while and match them with appropriate fiber content.  Maybe both.

29 October, 2010

fifteenth hat

Here is a close-up view of the fifteenth hat I've made.  I used my seventy-fourth and seventy-fifth skeins.

The slubby yarn turned into an eye-catching stockinette fabric.  Knitting with slubs was a nice change from the ordinary.

My stitches look loose here and smaller needles probably would have been a better choice.

I didn't keep this hat around to use for display at a public handspinning demonstration after all.  I gave it to the intended recipient at the first opportunity.

28 October, 2010

Avoiding Buyer's Remorse

I try hard to get my money's worth from the spinning equipment and supplies I buy.  On a lot of things, I bought wisely.  Some things haven't quite hit the mark and blindsided me because I bought them I before I knew any better or before I knew my tastes.

There's a good pound or more left of the merino I overbought before realizing I dislike matte textures.  Once it's spun I can quit reproaching myself.

Mail order is great for handspinners but also tricky.  You can wind up with items that are a pig in a poke.  Sellers are reputable and honest, sure; judging items at a distance is difficult.  I've misjudged more than fiber.  I love books and I don't regret buying any, but since I get books about the fiber arts mostly second-hand on the Advanced Book Exchange, I don't always know how relevant and absorbing the content is going to be.  I try to find copies to look at before I get my own.

I need to get another lesson on using hand cards so that mine don't feel like such a total waste.  I much prefer using wool combs.  Even though combs take strength and time, they cut through fiber easily.  The little teeth on the wool cards, in contrast, grip and feel awkward to me.  I am told this is because my technique is faulty.  I knew I didn't get along with hand cards before I bought them because a friend let me try hers, but I ignored my instincts.

I got handcards because I had some idealized 1970s notion of handspinners all spinning lofty woolen yarn from fluffy rolags they handcarded.  Reality is much different, with commercially-prepared roving or top very commonplace anywhere spinners gather and with combed locks or drum-carded batts a very distant second.  You'll see the occasional basket of rolags at a meeting.  I am just reporting what I see.  I could be wrong about the popularity of fiber preparations.  Perhaps modern handspinners all whip up mountains of rolags when they're at home.

The oddball purchase that surprised me is the cheap spindle I call my "nerd glasses" spindle because I taped it up where it broke.  I use it more often than my prettier, better quality spindles with their custom hooks and hardwood shafts.  It has the light weight I prefer, same as them, and it is comfortable to hold.  It has a larger diameter whorl, which is a positive.  I would say I reach for it often because its cheapness and rough condition make me feel safe taking it places where it could be broken again or lost, but that can't be the only reason.  I use it at home a lot too.  I fear I am using it as a way to preserve my better ones.  You know, the trap of keeping nice things stored for that golden someday, even though mañana never comes.  Not particularly productive, and irrational.  There are more nice spindles to buy if mine get wrecked from accidental abuse, and normal use keeps a spindle in perfect condition.

There are some supplies and tools that I haven't gotten around to trying yet, so I don't know yet for certain whether I am going to have serious buyer's remorse over them or not.  The unused items bother me, but not enough for me to dig in the boxes and use them right this second.  Some are for related activities like weaving.  They will require me to learn new skills, which is why I put off trying them.

I have put them to some use: as deterrents.  They serve as a precautionary tale to stop me from loading up on more.  Fortunately, spin yarn long enough and you realize you're fine if you sit back and wait.  More chances to buy are always coming down the pike.

27 October, 2010

seventy-sixth and seventy-seventh skeins

Here are the seventy-sixth and seventy-seventh skeins I've spun.  Between them there is a total of 6 1/2 ounces of fiber and 120 yards.  The yarn is bulky three ply and the singles were spun to about 16 wpi.

The wool is local wool I bought directly from Lynn Szarabajka of Fish Bowl Farm in Dyke, VA.  The wool came from a naturally-coloured Corriedale cross sheep named Latte.

26 October, 2010

Plying Methods

I was asked the other day whether I am able to get skeins of a reasonable size when using Andean plying, where I wrap the singles around my hand in a certain way, slide them down to my wrist, and ply from either end.  The person asking the question was getting very small skeins.

I am able to get skeins of a reasonable size with the Andean method.  My Andean-plied skeins are normally 1 ounce for thin yarn and 2 ounces for thick yarn.  I weigh out the fiber beforehand.  The weights are based on the amount I can load onto a spindle before it stops spinning well and begins to get sluggish.  Whatever the yardage, I make sure it can be wrapped on my hand by running a chopstick straight up the back of my hand to take the brunt of the yarn's force.  Not exactly comfortable, but effective.

I'm sure it would be very tedious to do with cobweb-weight singles, but I don't spin nearly that fine.

I do sometimes spin my two ounces and transfer it to a bobbin, and repeat until I have three loaded bobbins for making three ply.  (Andean plying only gives you two ply.)  I really need to fill my bobbins with a total of two ounces, the amount that comfortably fits on a spindle, that is, 2/3 of an ounce each bobbin, plus a little extra in case one bobbin's singles are a bit thicker and come up a bit short.

When I have fully loaded bobbins to get through, I have a harder time removing one skein's worth from the spindle and starting another.  For an example of the nuttiness that can happen, see this picture of my poor overloaded spindle.