September 30, 2010

The Festival Approaches

Procrastination...allows us to believe temporarily that we have nothing to do.
-Monica Ramirez Basco, The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done  
The fiber festival is very soon.  It's getting rather hard to believe that I don't have to do anything yet to get ready.

September 29, 2010

Tilting the Kate

Got around to doing my "tilt the Kate" experiment.  Loaded up the bobbins, clamped the lazy Kate to the table on a forty-five degree angle, and plied my yarn.  No improvement in performance that I could tell.  Running the strands through the back of a chair helped to get proper tension.

You can get lazy Kates that hold the bobbins at a forty-five degree angle with no propping or clamping necessary.  A friend got a model called Kate 45 from cjkoho on Etsy and loves it.

September 28, 2010

Replenishing the Kate's Bobbins

I bought a bobbin.  I wanted one to wrap with spindle-spun yarn and put on my lazy Kate to help me spin three ply yarn.   Three ply is a different construction from two ply, and a year has passed since I've done any.

I like things to coordinate, and I was wondering how I was going to be able to coordinate the new bobbin with the two used bobbins that came with the second-hand Kate.

I would like to claim that my brain didn't need a prod, but it did.  Online, I saw a photo of an Ashford-compatible bobbin and realized that the bobbins on my Ashford vertical Kate were probably standard Ashford bobbins.

So I bought an Ashford standard bobbin, and if it doesn't match exactly at least it coordinates.  It is the lighter-coloured one in the picture above.  Its length is greater but the bushings are set in, making the bobbin about equal with the others.  I expect that if I ever rent the guild's Ashford Traditional spinning wheel, I could use these bobbins on it.

No hurry, though.

September 27, 2010

Jiggety Jig

So I went to the farmers' market and came home again, pleased with the way the handspinning demonstration went.

It was me and another member of our guild, who brought lovely samples of fiber and knitted handspun articles.  The samples, set out on the table kindly provided by the market, worked very well to promote interaction with shoppers: they would linger, touch the items, take a brochure, and ask questions.  I put half the festival brochures on the empty seat of my folding chair and put half the brochures on the table; the brochures on the table got taken.  Best to put things right at peoples' fingertips.

I think it helped to have the table off to the side.  People could get close to the display without feeling they were under scrutiny, and they could also get close to us because we weren't behind a table.  Not that any spinner doing a demonstration would sit behind a table, that would obscure the wheel or spindle.

The amount of discussion, counting both the number of people who talked to us and the length of time they spent, was easily more than that of the last three demonstrations I've done combined.  

It's always the uncomfortable moments you remember.  There were some questions for which I would have liked to have better answers.   For example, do we sell handspun, and what advantage does handspun have over commercial yarn.

We don't sell handspun.  Like most handspinners we know, we spin for our own use.  In general the amount of labour embodied in a skein of handspun makes their sale rare.  You're much more likely to see sales of commercially prepared roving or commercially spun yarn dyed by indie dyers where the profit margin (we assume) is better.  I'm sure this is a rather unsatisfactory answer to someone who knits and hopes to pick up a bit of yarn at a market.  And I feel bad for alarming someone by telling them how high a measly 3 ounce skein of handspun gets priced on consignment at a local yarn store.  I should have made sure to say we handspinners can buy a pound of undyed wool to spin for the same price; the difference is labour and overhead.

We talked about handspun giving us yarn with superior properties, for example the way long-staple wool gives yarn that doesn't pill as readily as short staple wool does.  I remembered afterward that you can buy long-staple commercial yarn such as Blue Face Leicester, so perhaps we overstressed that aspect of handspun.  I forgot to mention a handspinner's ability to create structure in yarn that isn't available in commercial yarn, such as energized singles for woven collapse fabrics and knitted bias fabrics or yarn made with five strands of singles for knitting high-relief cables.

The question kind of stymied me because there are so many benefits of handspun that have nothing to do with the structural properties of the yarn.  In the few days before the demonstration, I wrote a pamphlet about handspinning's benefits and how to learn to spin yarn.  I never did distribute it, because my computer printer broke a while back and never got replaced, and I didn't get out to a shop to get copies done in time.  Fortunately writing and rewriting the pamphlet's points helped me rehearse what I wanted to say at the demonstration.  Talking to someone who only wanted to know how knitting with handspun would be better, I went blank and felt it would be trite and irrelevant to speak of handspun's environmental or sustainable virtues, or handspun's traditional role in resiliency and independence movements, or the pleasure of handspinning as an end in itself.

I felt a bit at sea when thinking about the vendors at the market and what I could tell them about the incredible market handspinners represent.  (A beef vendor asked for recommendations about sheep.  Shoppers asked if we had sheep.  Regrettably, we are not the people to ask about shepherding, though some of our guild members are.)  We handspinners buy fiber, dyestuffs, and tools.  We are used to buying our equipment and supplies directly, locally, and seasonally so we are probably the kind of customers a market vendor would like.  I would like to promote local production of handspinning supplies on the vendors' side as well as local production of clothes on the handspinners' side, but I hesitate.  I cannot promise that we handspinners would buy if the vendors bought sheep to shear or planted woad.  We source from all over, we have high standards, and a lot of us have enough supplies to keep us spinning yarn for a long time without buying more.

I almost ran through the whole 2 1/3 ounces of local wool I brought with me to spin at the farmers' market.  That really caught me off guard.  I'm used to estimating the rate at which I go through fiber based on how I spin for thinner yarn, but thicker yarn uses up fiber more quickly.  On a related note, one more question I think I answered incompletely was how long handspinning takes.  That is a very common question, and the proper answer is the time you spend spinning depends on what you are making and how, but I should have held up my drop spindle and showed how much I had spun since the market opened.

The best question we got was, "I want to spin yarn, what do I do?"  We got asked this quite a lot, which was great.  We answered, come to the fiber festival next weekend, come to our guild, ask this local yarn shop and that parks and recreation department about lessons, and search for handspinning videos online.  A couple of people told us they had a wheel or spindles at home but hadn't gained proficiency yet on their own.

September 25, 2010

To Market, To Market

Off I go to the farmers' market to demonstrate handspinning.

I was thinking of bringing an attention-getting pink wool, but merino felts instead of drafting in hot weather.

Probably a slick fiber like Blue Face Leicester wool or silk would be suitable, but instead I am going to choose a crunchy local wool roving to bring along.

This local wool is what I'm working on at the moment.  I am spinning it at a fast pace without worrying too much about consistency, so whatever I spin while distracted and talking to people will match what I've already got.

If you were wondering what I've been occupied with when I should be working on something handspun to wear to the upcoming festival, this local wool is the culprit.

September 24, 2010

Thrift Store Child's Loom

A friend of mine mentioned that she wants her young daughter to weave on a simple cardboard loom the way she did as a child.

A Harrisville Lap Loom, in the original box, was half-hidden on the floor under a clothes rack at the thrift store, complete except for shuttle and yarn.  Four dollars.  Retail, new, fifty dollars.

So, not only a pretty good find, but a timely one.

September 23, 2010

Still Nothing to Wear

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Temperatures here are still so hot, I have lost enthusiasm for my plan to wear something handspun at the fast-approaching fiber festival.  This means I haven't made anything, either.

I still want to have something on me to signal that I am a handspinner so that people can spot me at fifty paces and ask me about spinning.

The goal has an inherent difficulty.  How do you make something that looks obviously handspun?  Spin yarn with a slew of slubs?  I want to look like I spin yarn; I do not want to look as though I spin badly.

Knitters wear knitted sweaters, weavers wear woven scarves, inkle weavers wear woven belts, felted-fabric felters carry felted purses, and rug hookers carry hooked tote bags but a handspinner could be any of these and be almost undetectable.  It's comparable to my experience of being a Canadian expat in the States.

The easy answer to establishing my credibility at the festival is to spin with my drop spindle while I'm there, of course, and I plan to do that.  However, I know that some of the time my hands will be occupied with Carpe Donut mostly-organic donuts and such.

September 22, 2010

The Creative Type

The more I spend time with handspinners and spin, the less I see handspinning as creative, and more I see handspun as the result of acquired skill and regular practice.  

None of my seventy skeins of handspun yarn are creative in the sense of being innovative or original.  A lot are duplicates of each other, where I plowed through the fiber trying to be consistent and repeat my work.  Call me productive, not creative.

I make handspun, and I suppose I create yarn out of fluffy fiber. 

I still say almost anyone can learn how to spin yarn if they get a mentor and put in the work to learn the steps.

Hopefully, if I say so enough and spin enough and go "Yum, yum," the way a parent does over a toddler's bowl of peas, some uncreative type will try.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.  Hebrews 11:3 NASB

September 21, 2010

The Scarf Gets Longer

I give you proof the scarf is getting longer.

In other news, I have been spinning and leaving a lot of projects half-spun or half-knit the last little while.

September 20, 2010

SIP Handspun Bracelets Were Better in Theory

I was out spinning in public yesterday afternoon at an agricultural-type festival with some of my guildmates at the Hope of Glory Farm tent.

I think my favourite moment was when a small boy went by.  He looked uncomfortable and upset about something and he was grousing to his parents who were in the lead going down the path, but he turned back to watch my spindle spin.

A young woman thought the spindle in motion was "awesome!" and to reward her enthusiasm I handed her a brochure for the upcoming fiber festival.  I gave a brochure to a couple of young men who wanted to know, "What are you doing?"  They laughed when I put down my magenta wool and showed them the olive drab wool to prove spinning didn't have to be all pink stuff.

People didn't reach down to the pile and take brochures at all.  Most were walking along at a pretty good clip going somewhere.  The brochures are subtle and probably take more time to scan than a perambulating person has.

Some handspinners that have long experience spinning in public have told me they make handspun bracelets for children.  I made half a dozen, and gave them out.  I put in fisherman's knots so the bracelet would be adjustable in size, and the knots took a lot of time to do.  Also, I did each bracelet individually and because of the way I start my yarn, that meant I had to create a leader each time.  I was drafting out the wool and catching it in the spindle's hook while standing with no lap to rest the spindle in, and the result was uncharacteristically lumpy yarn.  I was making so few bracelets, stopping and starting so much, and making such poor yarn that I gave up and spun as normal.  It made no sense for so many people to pass by me and only see me fiddling with leaders and knots.

September 18, 2010

Handspinners On Public Display

Handspun is not an impenetrable mystery formed secretly at midnight in the light of the moon by initiates in hoods.  Well, maybe for those who like that sort of thing.

Happy World Wide Spin in Public Day!

September 17, 2010

September 16, 2010

Using an RSS feed reader

If you like my blog but forget to read it, consider using an RSS feed reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  A feed reader checks online sites for you, gathers new content, and puts it in a list.  When you read the content, the content goes away.

An RSS feed reader relieves you of having to keep track mentally of what you have and have not read, and it saves you time because you don't have to continually revisit multiple sites.

I use an RSS reader to get updates whenever my favourite Etsy sellers list new fiber and tools.  I also use it for blogs, a knitting podcast, and some online forum discussions about handspinning that I want to follow.

You should know that in exchange for this convenience, I give away some of my privacy, since the feed reader knows what I read and when I read it.  The one I use analyses the content of my RSS feed subscriptions and then makes recommendations for new feeds, overt evidence of data mining which I find a little disconcerting.

I'll leave you with a quote from Stephen Baker in the October 21, 2008 CBC online article, "Mining for Data"
Society is moving in such a way that it [privacy] is going to become increasingly inconvenient. Like, try to find a pay phone in Vancouver. There are not too many anymore. Or if you want to throw quarters into the [electronic toll booth] every year there is one less tollbooth for you. So you've got all the losers lining up to throw their quarters in the machine and all the people that are free and easy with their data just zipping past.
I think we talk a lot about privacy and people complain about it and fret about it, but at least in this country and I'm not sure about Canada, when given a choice between privacy and monetary savings, they go for the savings every time. And given a choice between privacy and convenience, they go for convenience. And given a choice between privacy and the promise of security, they go for the promise of security.

September 15, 2010

Refurbishing the Kate

I refurbished my second-hand Ashford lazy Kate by replacing the make-shift pins with real manufacturer's parts.

So nice to have fixed it. Somehow when an item is cobbled together and functional but isn't quite right, it preys on the mind. I came across the replacement parts by chance on the Woodland Woolworks site.

I don't use the lazy Kate very often, because Andean plying is more comfortable, but the next time I do use it I will try clamping it so that the bobbins sit at a 45 degree angle. I want to see if that acts to give them some drag and improves my ability to manage the strands.

September 14, 2010


I was trying to think what else I found in The Principles of Knitting that looked fantastic, besides the embossed exchange motif. Now I remember: fourchettes, which are diamond-shaped gussets.

Whenever I get around to making my first pair of mittens, mark my words, there will be fourchettes involved even if I have to insert them into the pattern.

September 13, 2010

Industrial and Non-Industrial Design

The movie Objectified is about industrial design's impact on people. I found a great deal of the discussion to be relevant to non-industrial fiber design.
What I want to do is to be able have things that don't exist. You know, things that you can't go out and buy. Or things that irritate you. Anger or dissatisfaction at the very least play such an important role in motivating you to sort of do what we do.
-Marc Newson
Industrial design has been so closely tied to industry and working within the constraints set by industry. Very quickly you come to the edges of the spectrum of choice, the official choice about what kinds of things that companies that produce these products believe people want. We know people want a lot more interesting things but so far we haven't managed to cross that gap.
-Anthony Dunne

September 11, 2010

Handspun is Not Exactly Like Food

I have been going on about how fiber is like food in many ways. However, in some ways it's not.

I don't feel guilty for leaving shelf-stable food unused for months, and I don't tell myself I should really use the items up. With wool, I do.

When I share lavender-flavoured brownies, no one offers me money to make an extra pan. For some reason, handspun hats are different.

September 10, 2010

Handspun's Like Food: Selling the Idea

As I said, I'm going to put on a handspinning demonstration at a farmer's market along with any guild members who can join me.

I am thinking of putting up a sign like regular vendors use to list products and prices. My list would say,
Fresh Spun
mohair goat hair
angora bunny
I am not selling any of these. I am giving out pamphlets about our guild and the upcoming fiber festival. Do you think people will be confused?

I have seen all of the above fibers raised or gathered by fellow guild members. The Virginia-grown flax, kudzu, and silk, those I don't think I've actually seen spun.

September 09, 2010

Handspun's Like Food: No Clear Definition of Local

Slap the label "local" on food and you have a selling point. Grocery stores are putting up signs next to their locally-sourced products, complete with the name of the farm or how many miles the food travelled.

There are legally-enforced standards for organic, but not for local. This works for an ear of corn, but what about your local chocolate bar-maker or coffee bean roasting company? Their ingredients are imported, but the processing is local. Do they count? Not that I am against local chocolate or anything.

If local clothing ever gets going the way local food is, we could benefit from a public discussion and consensus on what constitutes a local product, and to what degree something is local.

I have seen Romney wool and Icelandic wool for handspinning that have never left their province or state, Shetland wool that was raised in one place and sent on a round trip of hundreds of miles for processing into roving, and Gulf Coast Native wool and mixed-breed wool that have never left the county or regional district. I've handled merino, silk, Bond wool, Scottish Black Face, Navajo Churro, and Blue Face Leicester wool that came from other provinces, other states, and other countries. I have seen fiber whose origins are a complete mystery as well as angora fiber raised in someone's suburban back yard traceable to the actual animal of origin.

You'd think the Bond wool I saw would have been from Australia, but it was raised in the U.S.A., as was the Shetland, which came from purebred stock originating on the U.K.'s Shetland islands. The bit of Scottish Black Face was truly from Scotland, and I can't remember if the Navajo Churro came from the U.S.'s Southwest or not.

Anyway, wherever fiber comes from, it allows a particular degree of transparency for the way it was raised, a level of carbon footprint, a connection to the producer, and a boost to the local economy or to the barter economy or gift economy. I think it would be valuable for those qualities to be reflected when we talk about local fiber, which usually lends itself to all of these.

Another positive point about local products is that they can become distinctive and representative of a locality. There are many regional food examples in Peter Mayle's book French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew. Once a local specialty is established as valuable, profiteers are going to try to adulterate the product or try to pass off inauthentic copies. So, a definition of local is needed.

September 08, 2010

Handspun's Like Food, Apart from Being Unobtainable

I am going to try to sell customers at a farmers' market on the idea of handspinning, but I keep bumping into the problem of accessibility.

With food, at the farmers' market the food is right there. Quite a lot of it is even prepared for you, like jam or bread or sausage. With the food that is unprocessed, even a lot of that can be eaten out of hand, like carrots or apples. The food is accessible.

With handspun, there's a gap.

Even if shepherds did come to a farmers' market with their wool, which they don't often do, you can't just drape a bunch of roving around your neck and call it a scarf. At least not for long.

I've seen knitters and designers of sewn goods sell hand-made products at farmers' markets, and I've seen spinners sell handspun, but I have not seen handspun articles made of local materials that are complete and ready to go. Like, a hat made of local wool is just not there.

I don't really expect these are going to appear either, because the value of the labour involved in production is so high compared to what the market would bear.

What I have to say to interested people when they ask is, the raw materials for handspinning are out there. The tools are out there. When you buy them, almost always you are supporting independent small business. I can show you where to start, and I think you will find handspinning rewarding, but to produce wearable stuff out of local fiber will cost you time and effort. It's not like buying a jar of jam.

September 07, 2010

Handspun's Like Food: Buying

I am going to spin in public at a farmer's market soon. I assume people are there buying food for reasons like fun, food security, community, local resilience, selection, quality, health and safety, biodiversity, lower carbon footprints, and ecological sustainability or humane livestock treatment.

I want to get across to people that all these considerations can be transferred to fiber, their clothes and household textiles. I want them to think about handspinning as a possible means of getting these attributes.

I hope I can figure out a way to say this in a nice short elevator speech.

September 06, 2010

Handspun's Like Food: Patterns and Recipes

With this journey of handspinning, I am reaching for a level of facility where I can easily do with the fiber what I do with food when baking.

I can eat a scone, take the biscuit recipe I use, and come up with a scone of my own by altering the biscuit. I can take my usual carrot cake recipe and make it chocolate-flavoured, then make it into different sizes like cupcakes and enormous sheet cakes, and then from there come up with a sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free chocolate carrot cake. I implement substitutions or techniques that make sense and produce what I want out of what I have.

I can do this somewhat with fiber already.

I don't ever expect to buy a knitting kit.

September 04, 2010

More of that Merino

I have more of that merino on the spindle, spun and ready for plying.  Here it is, nestling in the K2P2 scarf I have in progress.  Slow progress, I should add.

At least I've finished something.  I confirmed with the hosts all the arrangements for those two guild Spin In Public events I'm organizing for World Wide Spin In Public Day, and I sent out the announcements.

September 03, 2010

Principles of Knitting

Having talked about the merits of getting information from grassroots electronic publication, I will now turn back to the benefits of dead trees.

I borrowed The Principles of Knitting, in search a comprehensive of basic principles to round out the scattershot collection I've amassed.

Faced with an absolute door stopper of a book and possessing a whimsical mood, I flicked through the pages and read here and there.

I now know that I very much like the look of the technique of embossing, particularly exchange motifs.

Now, you either nodded your head sagely when you read that or you blanked out. Unfortunately, the book left me somewhere in between those states, with no plan of attack for knitting the motif. The page shows a photograph of fabric knitted in an exchange motif called candle flame, describes the stitch pattern in general terms, and refers to reader to a stitch dictionary. Well, actually Hemmons Hiatt doesn't refer you to a stitch dictionary, but the implication is there. So, the trail leads to more dead trees.

September 02, 2010

Paper Versus Pixels

I have read as far forward as the 1988 year of SpinOff in our guild's back issues.

Back then, people waited for the mail to bring them an editor's selection of other spinners' projects printed on paper accompanied by formatted notes.

Now we go online to a clearinghouse like Ravelry and see masses of self-published projects and documentation. Distribution of information, both media and cost, is so different today.

I like the sheer volume of projects available online and don't mind if the documentation or quality of work is occasionally sketchy.

September 01, 2010

My Two Goals

One month to go and I lack something handspun and interesting to wear to the fiber festival. Wearable handspun stuff for me, you should know, is one of my two long-term objectives.

The other objective is to demonstrate handspinning on the drop spindle to as many people as possible and practical.

Well, if I am stalled on one goal, I will work on the other. World Wide Spin in Public Day is coming up. I volunteered for my guild to find us a couple of venues where we could spin in public. So far our proposals are meeting with acceptance, and I should be able to confirm the details soon for all involved.

As I wait to make arrangements, I will have to spin some in order to try and relax. Maybe I can make myself something to wear.