November 30, 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.

November 29, 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.

November 27, 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.

November 26, 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.

November 25, 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.

November 24, 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.

November 23, 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.

November 22, 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.

November 20, 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.

November 19, 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.

November 18, 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.

November 17, 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.

November 16, 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.

November 15, 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.

November 13, 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.

November 12, 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)
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

November 11, 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.

November 10, 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.

November 09, 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.

November 08, 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.

November 06, 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.

November 05, 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

November 04, 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:

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

November 03, 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.

November 02, 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

November 01, 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.