24 December, 2011

The Ox and Lamb Kept Time

Sean Quigley, "Little Drummer Boy," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrNcD34KFhM.


I am taking a little break and will resume posting on Distaff Day.  The only posts that might go up between now and then will be about any skeins of handspun I finish.

23 December, 2011


What wool is this, I laid to rest,
In plastic bags I’m keeping?
No name of sheep nor label sweet,
No shepherd’s business card either.
This, this is Rambouillet,
Or Manx Loghtan, or Polypay.
Ouissant, Bond, North Ronaldsay,
Not Icelandic, it isn’t that hairy.

Why lies it in a forgotten place,
Where beetle and moth are feeding?
Good spinner fear for lost projects here,
Fine intentions much too fleeting.
This, this is Corriedale,
CVM, or BFL,
Shetland, Finn, Jacob, Gotland,
Targhee, Polwarth, Merino. 

(The song is a joke and bears no relation to my stash.)

Besides parodying a carol, I knit the wee sock ornament to completion.  Pattern from Handspun, Handknit.  The angle and length of the foot still look odd and I don't yet understand what would change that.

21 December, 2011

Ear Warmer to Match Susie's Reading Mitts

Isn't the secret chocolate centre a nice touch?  That's part of the handspun skein I showed in the previous post.  Knit to go with the mitts in red Fleece Artist BFL handspun.

20 December, 2011

one hundred, forty-first skein

An ounce of naturally dark BFL wool roving from Breezy Meadows Farm, spun up into a 3 ply light fingering yarn.

19 December, 2011

Historic Banning Mills

I stayed at the Lodges at Historic Banning Mills in Georgia.  The location once had water-powered mills that ran a cotton gin and cotton spinning machines.  Here is the shell of the spinning mill building:

This is one of the dams, now washed out after a flood.  At the left there are two lines of stone wall; these are walls of a mill race that channeled water to the mills.  It's now a walking path, and you walk through the lock that controlled water flow.

If I correctly caught the narration of the Banning Mills documentary, wool, not just cotton, was spun at this site with water power to make Confederate military uniforms.  I posted once before, after reading Massey's Ersatz in the Confederacy, about the abrupt change in conditions in the American South during their civil war when there were trade embargoes and disruption of transportation lines.  Local and regional production became important, and so did the power generation (or hand power), infrastructure and tools, know-how, labour, and supplies at hand.  So different from today where these things are remote from our experience.

Here is a walking wheel that was found on the property.  The spindle and leather bearings are missing.  The spinning wheel is on display in the lodge, assembled with the wheel on the wrong side in order to fit on the mantlepiece.

In the gift shop you can buy a miniature bale of cotton for a souvenir.

There are trails in the woods and along the creek, with amphitheatres, picnic tables, and pavilions.  At the main building there is a deck with rocking chairs.  The weather was warm enough to be outside in comfort and I found some good spots in which to spin, knit, weave, and read fibre arts books.  

I think Historic Banning Mills is a place with potential for knitting retreats.  The only issue I could see handspinners, knitters, dyers, and weavers coming up against is the steep slope of the terrain.  The slope is an asset for the scenic views and the zip lines where you zip through the tree canopy riding a pulley on a cable high off the ground.  However, the stairs down to the creek and down to the conference rooms might be a barrier to access for some.

17 December, 2011

Two Degrees of Separation

I like meeting people from Scandinavia. You show them your copy of The Warp-weighted Loom and they say, my mother has one of those (meaning the loom, not the book) in the garage.

How old is it, I ask.

Not old, maybe a hundred years is the reply.

Wow.  In British Columbia a hundred years practically gets you a historical plaque.

I pull out my copy of Skowronski and Reddy's Sprang.  Seen this?  Like weaving leno except there's no weft and you keep lifting and crossing threads.  No?  Yeah, the fabric does look cool.

What about nalbinding?  What is nalbinding, um, you use something like a darning needle and you make loops–oh, you did that and made mittens in school as a child.  Norway must be a fantastic fibre arts place.

15 December, 2011

Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine Articles

Matt Kirk, "Handmade Gear," Blue Ridge Outdoors, November 3, 2011, http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/outdoor-gear-reviews/experts-analysis/handmade-gear/.
Discusses the benefits of going further than reduce, reuse, recycle: raise, repair, and regionalize.  The article may be about outdoor gear but as a handspinner I relate to much of what Kirk says about acquiring tools and learning to make and source useful local goods.

Jedd Ferris, "Natural Selection," Blue Ridge Outdoors, October 27, 2010, http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/special-sections/natural-selection/.
I would quibble about merino being the only wool that isn't itchy, but otherwise I like this profile on Jeremy Moon of Icebreaker and his non-synthetic technical performance apparel.  Funny to think of someone discovering wool as a breakthrough product, but it's a good story.

I like the ethics information section on the Icebreaker site, regarding the way the fibre animals are treated.  They have a mulseing-free guarantee for their products, which is good.  So is their traceability.  You type your piece's code into their site and see the sheep station(s) it came from.  This website feature is fun even if you don't own their clothes; a demo code leads you to video and written interviews with one of the fibre producers.

14 December, 2011

Almost Knit a Wee Sock

I pulled out sock needles, one of the scratchy down breed skeins I spun this summer, and my copy of the original Handspun, Handknit.  I followed the sock ornament pattern all the way to the toe but didn't Kitchener because I didn't like the shape of the foot.  I frogged it back to the leg.  So, no photo.  No first sock.

13 December, 2011

Merino and Supported Spindle

I have taken up my barely-used supported Russian spindle again.  It's working quite nicely now with combed merino (from Alberta) instead of Shetland.  The merino fibres draft more easily; Shetland fibres grip each other.

I brought it along to the knit and natter.  It was cool.  A man and a woman were in the sandwich shop.  They noticed me spinning and tried to get a better look without drawing attention.  I think they might have been from India or somewhere in Asia where people spin with supported spindles.

12 December, 2011

Wrong Tool for the Job

Those Leicester Longwool locks, I tried processing a lock with a Strauch mini hand card cleaner, the cute little thing that looks like a tiny flicker and that can be used as a tree ornament.  What an exercise in frustration.   The lock is too long for short carding teeth, it needs wool combs.  Not sure why I thought it would work, actually.  I packed it to take along for an informal knit and natter with friends at a sandwich shop.  You can't do that with wool combs.  They'd throw you out.

10 December, 2011

Farmer Boy

A friend mentioned that she finds inspiration in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, part of the autobiographical Little House on the Prairie series, because it contains descriptions of home textile production, such as weaving and shearing.  Re-reading, I found it to be so.  For a children's book, there is a fair bit of detail in the text too.

The breed of sheep is named (merino) and reasons given for why Wilder's father-in-law raised them and not Cotswolds (finer quality wool).  The action of the loom is given (horizontal treadle), as well as the benefits of fulling cloth (warmth) and of sending wool to a commercial carding mill (cost-effectiveness).  I'm not sure if the loom had an actual flying shuttle or if the shuttle flew back and forth.

For people who like to dye, there are descriptions the family dyeing skeins with natural dyes of roots and bark.  In addition, there's a mention of colour blending using naturally-coloured wool with white wool.  I would guess this was probably done by plying a strand of one with another or by holding two rolags together to spin a single.  However, the blending by twisting is mentioned in the context of weaving so I'm not sure whether the blending was done at the spinning stage or weaving stage.

The only thing that isn't clearly identified is Wilder's mother-in-law's spinning wheel.  All I could tell is that it must have been a treadle wheel not a walking wheel, since she "never sat down in the daytime, except at her spinning wheel or loom."  The woman must have been industrious: "She knitted so fast that the needles got hot from rubbing together."  And her work is given priority.  The bedrooms might be cold in winter but her workroom has heat and good natural light to work by, storage shelves for yarn, and room for her floor loom and wheel.

The origin of the linen cloth the family uses is never given: they don't seem to have raised, processed, spun, or woven it.

Textiles and the steps of production are scattered all through the narrative, artfully imbedded in vignettes that show them as part of family life.  The trick Wilder's husband plays during shearing, his envy over a cousin's store-bought, machine-woven hat with a clever new design.  I know the series is American agitprop but it's still easy to take, the writing is so well done.

09 December, 2011

Leicester Longwool Locks

At left, Leicester Longwool locks from Colonial Williamsburg's flock.  (You might remember the sheep photo I posted last month.)  At right is wool from a Shetland cross sheep.  What a difference in lustre.

08 December, 2011


A quote pulled from a CBC Radio North by Northwest interview with Laura Fry:
That's what keeps me coming back to the loom all the time.  People say, "Well, don't you get bored?" and, no, because every time you change one little aspect of how you construct a textile, everything changes.  You can fine tune your textile to be as perfect as possible for the function it is supposed to serve.
The full interview is here at the 8:10 mark: "Craft Fairs!" North by Northwest, November 12, 2011, http://www.cbc.ca/nxnw/2011/11/12/circle-craft/.

07 December, 2011

Ruffled Etta-inspired Wristlets

Ruffled wristlets that convert to a corsage.  There's a band of the lace pattern from the Etta hat pattern in there to tie it in with yesterday's hat.  Had to do something with the leftover handspun from the Etta hat and the Navajo-plied skein meant for the Etta hat that didn't work out.

06 December, 2011

Etta hat

Hurray, I have finished the Etta hat and can mail it off.  Spun, knit, and blocked to show the lace.  Christmas knitting, finished.

03 December, 2011

Dexter, Sinister

Judith MacKenzie's Gentle Art of Plying DVD says for knitting continental-style, spin to the left and ply to the right.

All this time, I've been doing it wrong!

02 December, 2011


If you like to see photos of items made by other guilds and like to hear stories about their group endeavours, have a look at the Qualicum Weavers and Spinners Guild's post, "Annual Show and Sale November 2011," http://qualicumweaversandspinners.blogspot.com/2011/12/annual-show-and-sale-november-2011.html.

30 November, 2011

29 November, 2011

The Sequel

Am knitting a band to warm my ears and match my Susie's Reading Mitts.  Am amusing myself by calling it Susie's Audiobook.

Have run out of this handspun.  I have a plan.  Well, there are three options for finishing up this project but I know which one I want to take.  For now, this goes into a project bag to wait.

28 November, 2011

Susie's Reading Mitts

So pretty.

It's a rare knitting pattern that has sample photos I take to immediately, where I want to wear the finished product or incorporate a detail from it into something else.  This is one of those patterns.

I didn't follow the pattern construction exactly but the essential details are there.  My handspun yarn worked out very well.

ETA: I made a matching ear warmer band.

26 November, 2011

Finishing up a Hem My Own Way

My Susie's Reading Mitts are nearing completion.  One's waiting for a thumb, the other for its picot top to be folded over and its live stitches grafted to the inside surface.  The pattern says bind off and sew.  I'd rather not.

25 November, 2011

one hundred, thirty-ninth skein

While every American woman I know was stuffing a turkey, I was stuffing lots of yarn onto a spindle.  Fifty-six grams, 102 yards.

The one hundred, thirty-ninth skein was spun to match the one hundred, thirty-seventh.  I am thankful to be done.  This yarn is for the single Christmas gift I've committed to making.  Considering when I started spinning and when the knitted hat needs to be mailed, my progress is slow.

23 November, 2011

one hundred, thirty-eighth skein

This is my first tweed yarn, and my first skein spun from a batt.  The art batt was created by Gale's Art and contains "mostly wool with a little pink mohair and chunky felted bits in purple, yellow, and orange."  66 grams, 64 yards.  The singles were spun around 16 wpi.  I spun thick yarn because I wanted the large tweed bits to stay in.

At this time I am not sure what I will make this skein into but I'm pretty sure that a whatever it is will be meant for a small girl.  Which one I'm not sure.  I know several little girls and at least two of them adore pink.

22 November, 2011

The Bookstack Is Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

I applied and got a library card in a neighbouring library system.  Why?  Because their collection has some fibre arts books my system doesn't.  I feel silly for going to these lengths but I feel sharp for getting what I want.

Also on the topic of libraries and opportunities, my system used to have Alice Starmore and Anne Matheson's Knitting from the British Islands.  Now the catalogue no longer lists it.  Someone, somewhere got to buy the discarded book for fifty cents and it wasn't me.  A Starmore!*  That Starmore!

I like one of the pattens in the book, despite two aspects that concern me.  I don't know if I have the high level of understanding and stern degree of determination I would need in order to alter it to suit my taste.  Cullercoats is written in a way that does not mesh with the way I like to read and understand patterns.  Moreover, it is shaped in such a way as to make a person look lumpish and to bruit to the world that the wearer stopped paying attention to the fit of her clothes decades ago when dropped shoulders were cool.  The book was published in 1983, so that's understandable.

The look of Cullercoats is a wee bit like Susie's Reading Mitts with thin lines of purl stitches at the cuffs.  I am back to knitting on those mitts after revising my ideas about modifying the pattern.  Good to be moving forward with a project.

*Her books, used, can sell for huge amounts of money.  Fortunately I got a copy of this one for $20.

21 November, 2011

one hundred, thirty-seventh skein

My one hundred, thirty-seventh skein.  Singles spun to 32 wpi, three singles plied together.  Ranges from about 14 wpi to 10 wpi, so it probably falls short of the worsted weight I was going for.  66 grams (a little over 2 ounces) and 114 yards.  BFL wool dyed by Gale's Art in turquoise.

19 November, 2011

Tiny Castle Spinning Wheel

Saw this tiny castle-style spinning wheel at the West End Antiques Mall, booth JWM, labeled "spinning wheel, as is."  It's about one yard high, top to bottom.  It must have been quite cute when it was new.

I have no idea what this part is for.  I'm also not sure what the white finials are made from; I've never seen ornamentation like this before on a wheel.

I know from reading books that this bit of metal inset in the rim is meant to give the wheel more momentum than it would ordinarily get (being small), and thereby make it more efficient.  I assume originally there were more pieces all around the wheel.  You can see the footman behind the hub has split along the grain, damage that must have been inevitable given the nature of wood and the use this wheel probably saw.  The treadle is in worn condition.

The flyer and bobbin are not set where they should be, which is understandable since one of the leather bearings is missing and therefore can't hold them anyway.  But the function of the crosspiece they are set into is a bit of a mystery to me.

18 November, 2011

Working on Something Frivolous

I've been working on something frivolous, a pair of arm warmers out of the Fleece Artist wool I spun recently.  Uses the edging from Janelle Masters' Susie's Reading Mitts and combines it with the unshaped thumbless design of Leslie Friend's Toast.

Well, I was working on them.  Now I'm procrastinating.  I knit this far, started its mate, knit the same amount again, and stalled out on that one too.  Something about them is bothering me.  Perhaps there's not enough ease.  Perhaps I don't want arm warmers as much as I thought.

17 November, 2011

Jerusalem Garter

Went to Colonial Williamsburg and saw the Jerusalem garter.  It appears in chapter twelve of Peter Collingwood's Techniques of Tablet Weaving.

You can see a good photograph of it here http://www.history.org/history/museums/clothingexhibit/museum_accessories_timeline.cfm?section=acc1600_1700#12.

By examining the structure, I was able to see that when the piece was woven at least some of the cards must have alternated S and Z threading because there are small black chevrons in the warp-faced fabric at the borders.  According to Collingwood, alternated S and Z threading is common practice and is done to prevent the narrow fabric from corkscrewing.  Every so often the cards at the border were turned in reverse: you can see where the direction of the black chevrons changes in the photo below.  However, in the centre of the band the outline of the large red arrow in the middle remains smooth.  The centre would have been turned forward and reverse much more frequently to get double-weave.

The yarn is very fine silk.

doubleweave pattern down the centre: front and back
have the same pattern but the colours are reversed

15 November, 2011

Doukhobor Discovery Centre

Went to the Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society's Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar, B.C., Canada in search of exhibited tools and textiles.  Found them.

The Doukhobor are a people group that immigrated to Canada from Russia in 1899.  For decades they lived communally and met almost all of their own textile needs themselves.  I find it impressive what they got done.

This is a long blog post.  I will start out with some clothes, go on to fibre arts tools for processing, spinning, and weaving, and then finish with examples of woven textiles.

First, something not strictly a textile: a sheepskin coat.  If you remember your Canadian post-Confederation history, Laurier's Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton went against public expectation that settlers in the Prairie provinces would preferably come from Britain and places like it.  If they could do agriculture, they were in.  He said, "I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality."

I'm guessing that the sheepskin coat came from an early period, as later the community adopted vegetarianism right down to their shoes.  There are quite a few pairs of shoes made of cordage on display.  There's a slip-on pair that is very coarse and bristly.  This pair is made with particularly fine materials.

Here's a spinning wheel.  There are several, and they looked very similar to each other.  Note that the maiden supporting the orifice is considerably thicker than the other maiden, a design I hadn't seen before.  Burnham's Unlike the Lilies: Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada states that the community received gifts of spinning wheels from the Quakers and the Canadian Council of Women, but since Burnham identifies this style of wheel as Russian, the one below could be imported.  Most wheels on display were of this design.  Burnham believes the gifts of wheels explain why there is rare evidence (one photograph and one memory from interviewees) for the use of hand spindles.

I found a spindle on display.

weft beater, spindle, tool for pressing linen

Here are fibre preparation and weaving tools: paddle combs bottom left and at top, bobbins, flax comb-type distaffs and matching small combs, boat shuttles, hand cards, and pulleys from a loom.  I think the proportions and the curve detail on the flax combs in the middle are beautiful, and I really wish these were commercially available.  Want to know how much?  Earlier this year I gave information about flax combs and distaffs to three different professional fibre arts tool makers in hopes they would consider adding these items to their line.  Every other tool on the table you can get new.  I know this makes sense given how many people weave and comb and card wool compared to how few work with flax, but the heart knows no reason.

The long stem of the flax distaff fits into the same sort of board that supports paddle combs for wool, holding the fibre at convenient height first to comb the fibre out then to draw the fibre off for spinning.

Board and post supporting paddle combs set in distaff position
There are two looms on display, a horizontal loom with treadles and an upright tapestry loom.  The rough construction is interesting.  Makes you feel like anyone who's handy enough could have a loom, not just folks with hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy one.  See how the shafts are made of bowed wood.  See how a metal bracket braces the top corner of the tapestry loom.  Also of note, at the right side of the horizontal loom on the floor is another board for holding combs or distaffs, one that I think has nicer lines than the one in the photo above.

Did you notice, on the tableful of tools, that underneath was a linen tablecloth?  There are handspun handwoven linen cloths everywhere in the museum.  The rug on the wall is one of many as well, and there are not only weft-faced tapestry rugs but pile rugs.

Hemp camel bags, probably purchased in Russia
drum carder

Thanks to curator Netta Zeberoff who gave me permission to post these photos.