June 28, 2011

Gone Fishing

Need to put the "gone fishing" sign out.  Back when I can.  I do have handspun-related stuff to write about but no time to do so right now.

June 27, 2011

"We'd Be Sheep"

I heard a droll saying the other day about the dangers of gullibility: "if that were true"-that is, if we were that gullible-"they could knit us, for we'd be sheep." 

I laughed and laughed.

June 25, 2011


Some BFL waiting to be plied. Came out a titch thicker than I meant to make it.

June 24, 2011

Take two spindles and call me in the morning

I met a woman who told me she spins yarn with supported spindle and Saxony wheel as a form of pain management, because the mind can only focus on so much at a time and handspinning helps.

June 23, 2011


We sat around the dinner table
And they told their stories
Of a strong woman
Whose mother-love
Had covered her children
With handknit sweaters
And mittens with strings
And care
And sent them out in the world.

June 22, 2011

"A Scarf's a Scarf"

Here's a quote from Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement, regarding the absurdity of importing and exporting things that might as well be consumed domestically: "We [U.K.] send 43 000 scarves to Canada every year and we import 49 000 scarves from Canada.  I think a scarf's a scarf, isn't it really.  Frankly.  I've never seen someone say, 'Oh, it's Canadian.'"

It's funny he makes the potshot, actually, because he goes on to talk positively about things that are representative of a region.  As a loyal Canadian I think a well-made Canadian scarf could be representative of its place of origin and be worth owning on that basis.  I do take his point though and understand he makes it in the context of trying to reduce redundant world-wide shipping to decrease fossil fuel use and foster local production and consumption.

Here's the whole speech, "Recipes for Resilience at Dartington" which contains props and stories about initiatives like the Trash Catcher's Carnival, public nut trees, and the Gasketeers.  Runs 39 minutes.  Good if you like to spin or knit while listening to audio.

June 21, 2011

Supplement that Quarter Pound of Fibre

I wrote the other day about handspun integrity, how handspinners as a whole do not limit themselves to working only with handspun but use commerical yarn as well, either on its own or in combination.  I myself keep pretty strictly to handspun.  I didn't mention the fact in that post.  I don't like drawing attention to areas where I fall in a lonely place on the Venn diagram of handspinners and I didn't want anyone to get the idea I judge anyone who uses commercial yarn because I don't.  I can't relate but I know one man's fish is another man's poisson.  They always seem happy so I am happy for them.

These multi-coloured braids I have, I don't want to stretch the fibre by combining it with commercial yarn.  This is mainly because getting to spin is the whole attraction for me.  Buying yarn means missing an opportunity to spin yarn.  The other consideration is my desire for the whole project to look coherent and undiluted.  I think, given my inexperience and middling skill in creating wearable fabric, my chances of achieving clarity go up if I use only one type and one colourway of fibre.

Let's have a photo of the braids in question.

Gale's Art BFL in Velvet Elvis (4 braids) and a turquoise semi-solid
There they are and there's a plain semi-solid as well.  They're all from the same dye artist, Gale's Art.  The multi-coloured braids are named Velvet Elvis and the semi-solid is called turquoise.  I bought the Velvet Elvis first.  Later I bought a semi-solids colour card from Gale and I realized that some of the colours that go into the Velvet Elvis are available as semi-solids.  Oh, I felt clever and pleased with myself.  That's why I was prepared at Maryland Sheep and Wool to buy turquoise at Gale's booth.  I bypassed another semi-solid called ashes that would have matched Velvet Elvis as well.  The turquoise is much more me.  Not only do the semi-solids partner well, they're priced lower.

Having these related braids makes me feel like I have some versatility.  I can make a separate items and wear them together looking impressively coordinated.  Or, I can make them all into one item.  You've probably seen a sweater with a different colour at the ribbed collar and cuffs.  There's the possibilities of stripes in the body or Fair Isle patterns.  Intarsia might look dated.  Woven chequer fabric is possible too, though difficult to match at seams in a garment.  

From prior experiments, like the chair pad I made, I expect that spinning singles from these multi-coloured and semi-solid braids and combining the colours in the plying stage would fleck the fabric erratically.  Not the best look.  Holding the braids together to spin a single would take more concentration and skill in blending than I'm willing to dedicate.  Besides, what is the point of that last option?  Velvet Elvis already contains turquoise and blending in a little bit more won't give much return for the effort.

There is another way you could stretch the braids: run them through a drum carder with more fibre, the fifteen ounces of humbug BFL I have for example.  (Velvet Elvis is dyed over a 75/25 mix of light and naturally dark fibre, sometimes called swirl or humbug.  I bought my humbug for $24/pound; it has gone up since then but is still about half the price of an equivalent weight of dyed braids.)  I saw on Ravelry pictures of someone's before and after shots where she took a few multi-coloured braids in related colourways and made batts.  The result was pleasant.  The fibre lost the distinct colours and gained a soft heathered look.  Brilliant solution if you've shopped impulsively and wound up with an assortment of braids that would produce one-skein wonders otherwise.

I don't plan to make heathered batts.  The guild's drum carder is out for refurbishment.  I have little experience using a carder and while I'm sure a drum carder favours the brave I think it also favours those that have the touch.  I feel inauthentic when I wear heathered colours in commercial fabric.  Clarity and intensity are what I like.  A batt gives a fuzzier yarn and I like a smoother yarn that shows the gloss of Blue Face wool better.  I like to know what I'm getting into and who knows what would come out of the drum carder: snarled neppy bits, irregularly blended colour, chaos.

June 20, 2011

Augment that Quarter Pound of Fibre

Assuming you're not making a project from scraps and oddments, it is generally true that a large handspun project requires you to buy a large amount of the same fibre.  The supply issue can be as much of a deterrent as the project management involved in spinning skein after uniform skein.

Let's take a food analogy.  You buy a delicious loaf of organic, crusty bread with lots of seeds on top to make lunch for a few friends.  Say you spend five dollars for the loaf and some extra for a jar of almond butter and a jar of blackberry blossom honey to spread on the slices.  Lunch goes well.  You get ideas about catering lunch for your guild or filling your freezer and pantry with a year's supply for yourself.  Now, what was a reasonable price to spend on a small lunch starts to look prohibitive when you calculate the cost for lots of lunches.  It's much the same situation with spinning fibre.

A lovely, dyed four ounce braid for $15+ is a manageable cost.  That amount of fibre is small-time.  Multiply that by six or eight times the amount and you'll want to start looking at undyed roving by the pound or whole raw fleece which costs less by weight.  A pound or a fleece costs more at one go and because of this it appears cheaper to buy a braid here and there.  Much more colourful, too.  Supply shops' packaging makes a quarter pound amount the easy default option to select, just like bakeries sell one loaf in a bag, not a dozen.  Therefore, I have turned my mind to consider ways in which these braids can be made to amount to larger quantities.

There's the obvious: buy more of them.  I have four of the same multi-coloured dyed braids that I ordered by mail last year on a day I was in a buying mood.  I haven't touched them.  They intimidate me with sheer numbers.  You know how you put off using the good stuff?  Four is the highest number of braids of any one colourway I've ever bought and a pound is the most I've ever bought of one type of fibre in one colour.  I originally thought I'd make some small items with these braids for other people.  Then I thought I'd make one large item for myself, but held off because based on what experienced knitters and spinners told me I doubted the amount would stretch far enough.  I can get more; the dye artist is able to replicate the colourway.  Maybe I should if it means being able to get on with the project.

New braids would be a different dye-lot but there is not such a difficulty avoiding demarcation with unspun fibre as there is with balls of commercial yarn.  You spin a little from one braid and a little from another and thereby blend the whole.

As an alternative to buying more of the same, there is the meatloaf trick where you extend the premium fibre with cheaper ingredients.  There are three types of fibre to add, commercial yarn, solid-colour braids, and undyed fibre, and there are a few ways to incorporate them.  This post is getting lengthly so I will write about supplementing fibre tomorrow.  It's interesting.  It gives the opportunity to use more brains than money, and I trust it takes just as much good taste as it does to simply buy more of the exact same pretty fibre.

June 18, 2011

Beginning of an Onion/Indigo Dyed Mitten

You could say I'm not one to let grass-green yarn grow under my feet.

Wish I'd spun the yarn a touch fatter since the fit of the mitten cuff is a little tight on me.  Fortunately, this mitten doesn't need to fit me and most women have smaller hands than I do.  The other day I tried on a friend's Chrysanthemum mitten and found it snug.  Colourwork doesn't stretch like stockinette.  I am either going to have to guess where to end the tip of this mitten or borrow someone's hand to check the fit.

I am apprehensive over whether there's enough yardage for complete mittens in the two wee skeins.  I've done fingerless mitts before but not full mittens.

Happy World Wide Knit in Public Day!  Find a KIP event near you with wwkipday.com.

June 17, 2011

one hundred-eighteenth skein

This skein is a match for the previous one, and comes in a few yards shorter.  Tried to keep the singles to 36 wpi so the yarn wouldn't be too thin.

June 16, 2011

Historic Integrity

Someone told me the other day about a living history museum she worked at before moving here.  The museum had an interpretive program and collection that remained the same for quite a long time.  Then the museum changed them.  I gather these were sweeping changes.  She said the staff was told the museum would only present to the public objects and information they could prove were accurate for that place for those that lived there during the historical time period.  

Textile pieces that did not meet the new criteria were taken off display.  These were pieces that had been part of the exhibits for a long time and that were missed by the public once they were removed.  Given the time period, I expect these textiles were made of handspun if original.

I'm sure that rigorous application of historical research is commendable.  At the same time, it makes me sad to think that textiles should have no place when they were once considered museum quality.  Sad that concern for conformity and authenticity should crowd out the long-established and the familiar.  That inherent value due to workmanship, age, or rarity should be eclipsed by the textile's contextual value, the fact that they don't belong because the rules have changed.

I suppose a museum can't exhibit everything but personally I would find interesting an exhibit that displayed misfit textile artifacts with explanations.

June 15, 2011

Handspun Integrity

I saw a sign at a bakery that urged people, those concerned about the organic integrity of the loaves they buy, to slice their bread at home because the bakery slices both organic and conventional bread using the same machine.

I thought that was a bit much.

I asked the baker and he said yes, there are customers who have expressed concern to him about the integrity of the bread.

You, you who have read this far and who understands this blog is about handpun yarn, know that somehow I am going to bring the conversation around to the inedible sort of fibre.

Let me describe handspinners to you.  The ones I know are eclectic.  They'll make items from only handspun and they'll make items from commercially-spun yarn.  They'll undo sweaters, dye the yarn, and knit new things.  They'll spin a strand of yarn by hand and ply it with commercial thread or yarn rather than more handspun.  They are very knowledgeable about the fibre they spin and the yarn they buy, and they keep different types compartmentalized and separate for their projects unless blending to achieve a particular purpose; however, there is not the same attitude of, shall we say, alarm over the prospect of commingling as there seems to be regarding rogue crumbs at that bakery.

There's at least one sweater pattern, King of Confidence on Knitty, that cleverly uses commercial yarn for the body of the sweater and handspun yarn for the circular yoke.  The colourful thick and thin handspun creates a decorative accent near the face.

June 14, 2011

one hundred-seventeenth skein

An ounce of superwash BFL wool dyed with onion skins and mordanted with tin, overdyed with indigo, spun into about 104 yards.

The original blotchy look evened out with spinning into a more overall olive colour.

I have another ounce left.  I could spin it the same way, the roving torn lengthwise into thin strips, or I could predraft the fibre (attenuate the thick roving into a thinner roving) which when spun would produce long stretches of distinct colour.  I hope to knit the yarn into mittens.  The mittens will be fraternal anyway but spinning the second half differently would produce a more noticeable fraternal effect.  I think I'm talking myself out of that option.  Maybe another time.

June 13, 2011

Another Saturday, Another Market

I was at an outdoor market on Saturday, hanging out with friends, and I took along my drop spindle to occupy my hands and (hopefully) attract shoppers to my friends' booth.  We were on pavement so I picked this colour of BFL to spin: it was easily visible against the dark surface.  Though picked is probably overstating the case.  What I actually did was open up a bucket of fibre and grab the first thing off the top that was pre-measured and ready to go out the door with me.

I like to weigh out an amount to spin, rather than spinning until there's too much crammed on the spindle for it to turn.  Sort of like putting potato chips into a bowl rather than eating out of the bag.  I can see how much I've gone through.

I also like to tear strips off the side of multi-coloured roving, strips about the width of a pencil, and spin them one after the other.  That way you go from one colour to the next rapidly and there's less chance of colour pooling in one area later in the fabric.  This fibre was already torn into strips which was good because the procedure is best done indoors over a clean floor that won't add bits to the fibre as you move it around.

This piece of roving was kettle-dyed, not handpainted so the colour is very blotchy.  I don't know if spinning it in strips will make all that much difference the way it would to something done on a gradient or done with multiple, distinct colours.  Still, I find drafting from a thin strip is easier for me to do.  With the whole piece of roving, I somehow always manage to draft from only one side of the full width and leave the rest of the working end untouched.  Makes me feel inept.  Thin strips make me feel capable.  They also make me feel quick because I get to the end of one so much faster than I get through whole roving.

Back to the market.  The weather was hot enough to be uncomfortable, so I didn't spin all that much.  There were only a few people who were curious.  One woman said she had never seen anything like it.  I could tell she was pleased to run across something so novel.  I sensed someone looking over my shoulder and found a tall, dark young man in an Ecuador soccer jersey trying to see how the drop spindle worked.  I got out the spare and let him try, talking him through it.

June 11, 2011

one hundred-sixteenth skein

The ounce of humbug BFL, spun to make about 108 yards.  Irregular because I spun this in public while talking, picking it up and putting it down, and generally being careless.  That's the way it goes sometimes and that's okay.

June 10, 2011

Handspinners and Hot Weather

After reading my last post you might be wondering why I'm thinking about wearing woolly things in hot weather.  I spin yarn and almost all of my handspun to date has been made out of wool and I expect that will continue until I find some really nice flax to spin and I get up my courage to spin flax.  I like to talk to unsuspecting people about handspun to try and get them to consider spinning yarn themselves because handspun is a pleasure to make and gets you beautiful fabric.  When I chat up handspun's fine points it's nice to have some handspun on me.  The handspun items I have been able to make so far have been accessories for winter wear and it would look more than a little demented to pull a fuzzy mitten out of my pocket in mid-summer to show it around.

I think other handspinners and knitters have the same sort of seasonal dilemma.  (Based on all the finished objects at guild show and tell displays, I think the majority of handspinners today spin yarn to knit, whereas several decades ago they were more likely to weave what they spun.  Very few handspinners spin flax, probably because flax is not as easy to manage as wool and because linen yarn is better for weaving than it is for knitting.)  They may not necessarily be out to promote handspun as much as I am but they want to wear what they've made.  I hear that the wool festival in October known as Rhinebeck has an advantage over Maryland Sheep and Wool in May in terms of being an opportunity to wear handknits and to watch a parade of handknits go by.

To try to design a handspun wool item for wear in warmer weather, I would spin as thin as possible to create a fabric that would trap the least heat.  I would spin as semi-worsted as possible for the same reason, rather than semi-woolen.  I would weave rather than knit to make the fabric as flat and thin as possible.  I would make an item that would be worn loosely around the body, such as a loose jacket or a skirt, or an item to be carried, such as a satchel.  Still, I don't think I could come up with anything for hot weather.

I have heard that alpaca and qiviut create fabrics that keep you warmer than sheeps' wool does.  I wonder if there is any difference between wools from different sheep breeds and what the general principles would be.  I expect that longwool types would give you the flattest, least lofty fabric.

June 09, 2011

More About Hot Weather and Wool

At an event this past weekend, I asked some men wearing kilts about the fibre content of their kilts and about their experiences of wearing wool in hot weather.

One man said that his kilt was acrylic.  Another said his was wool, and he'd chosen to wear a kilt made from 10 ounce weight fabric as most suitable for the hot weather, and moreover, except for around the waist where the fabric is close to the body, the design of the kilt makes it comfortable in hot weather.

They had some tartan fabric on display and I got to feel the difference between 10 ounce fabric and a heavier weight which I believe from looking at the shop they recommended, Scottish Lion, could be as heavy as 16 ounces.

Another man, when he heard me asking about wool in hot weather, said that when he was young he wore a baseball uniform made out of wool.  The team was told that wool would cause an evaporating effect with their perspiration and keep them cool, but he doesn't think it ever worked.

June 08, 2011

Longevity of Wool Items

Someone told me they'd been shopping for rugs and been told, "Here is a rug that will last you a hundred years, here is another rug but it has inferior fibre and silk in it so it will only last fifty years."

Only fifty years.  Wow.  I wonder how long my handspun items could last.  I suppose it's a combination of the type of fibre you spin, the method of constructing the fabric, and the wear it has to withstand.  I hear handspun socks can last a distressingly short amount of time or conversely a longer time if knit tightly and reinforced.

June 07, 2011

Drop Spindles are Fascinating

Forgot to say, when I was out spinning in public with my drop spindle, some people stood and watched the motion of the spindle with fascination.  Normal for that to happen.

June 06, 2011

Lots of Foot Traffic at our SIP

Went through most of the ounce of the humbug wool while spinning in public (SIP) at the farmers' market Saturday.

We got a lot of foot traffic and inquiries at our guild booth.  Wish I'd brought more fibre festival brochures to give out.

We had four spinning wheels and my drop spindle going.  Our display table was covered in a wonderfully fuzzy hodgepodge of assorted fibres, skeins, mitts and other small handspun accessories, and a beaded Citron shawl.

Spinning yarn outside with friends is pretty good.  There was music from an acoustic band.  We had grass underfoot and trees ringing the area around us.

When you take yarn spinning outside, you have to talk about the weather.  The temperature started out okay, fortunately, although it rose to 26 C / 80 F by midday when the market closed.  We had a canopy over us shielding us from the sun which made a great deal of difference to our comfort.  With SIPs in Virginia, there's a slim window of weather where we're able to spin, where our fingers aren't either too chilly or too sticky from humidity and heat to draft fibre.

Enough talking about the weather.  You are waiting for me to tell you stories about the people we met.  They asked the usual questions.  As you might expect at a farmers' market, folks were interested in fibre as a useful product of nature.  Some of them showed ambition beyond what we have ourselves.  We were asked, "I've planted cotton on my property and wish to learn how to spin it, can you advise me?" and "I plan to get a small flock of sheep for meat and wool, what breed do you recommend?"  I could joke that one reason our little group of volunteers has time to demonstrate handspinning in public is because we are not spinning fine cotton yarns and managing flocks of fibre animals.  Probably a truer reason is because we like a good SIP.  You make time for what you like to do.  Other members of our guild do spin cotton and raise sheep–or alpacas, cashmere goats, and angora rabbits.

A man at the farmers' market told me there was an alpaca farm near his place and then one day the alpacas and the owners were gone and a foreclosure notice went up.

There was a woman who came and talked to us, a knitter whose voice had a trace of an English accent.  She said that in England everyone used to knit but they didn't teach it in schools, and you would knit because a sweater was too expensive to buy.  I've never known a world where a sweater was too expensive to buy.  Certain sweaters, yes.  Sweaters as a category, no.

June 04, 2011

Dip into the Fibre Stash and Pick...What?

It's sort of like having nothing to wear.  I am considering criteria and possibilities as I chose which fibre I will take with me today to spin in public on a drop spindle.

The fibre needs to be visually interesting, eye-catching, and that probably means dyed.  So that eliminates undyed fibre except perhaps that intense naturally dark BFL I have.

The resulting yarn needs to be good yarn despite containing inconsistencies that creep in while half my attention is given to talking to people.  That means nothing I'm planning to make into thin yarn of especially consistent gauge for a particular project.

Since I'll be out in public, I don't want any surprises or difficulty in manipulating the fibre to throw me off or hold me up.  That means selecting fibre breeds and preparation types that I've spun before, and spinning types of yarn I've made before.  The Icelandic stays home because I plan to try to make a Lopi style yarn out of it, something new to me.  The undyed Shetland stays home because ever since I combed it, the fibre doesn't draft as smoothly on the Russian spindle.  The Dorset Hampshire cross stays home because I haven't used any yet and don't know how it will go.

There's that lurid superwash BFL I dyed with onion skins then over-dyed with indigo the other week.  Would be fun for onlookers to see me spin it fine with large slubs at regular intervals.  Because of the colour, it's a showy choice, which is what I want.  As an added benefit, when I get the inevitable question, "Did you dye that wool yourself?" for once I could answer, yes.

If I pick the yellow-green BFL fibre, the colour will clash violently with the bright blue DyakCraft spindle I thought about using.  A nice bid for people's attention with loud colours, but risks me looking as though I have no artistic sense whatsoever.

Now that I think of it, I prefer to spin in public with a rim-weighted spindle because it needs fewer spins to keep going.  Additionally, picking a fibre that's a colour similar to the grass on which we will be spinning in public?  An ill-considered choice.  You want contrast between your fibre and your background so you can see the drafting zone and manipulate the fibre.

How about a nice bit of humbug BFL dredged up from deep in a forgotten corner of the stash.  The swirl of dark and light should be interesting to onlookers and should easy for me to see as I spin.  I have lots and it's not earmarked for a project.

June 02, 2011

fourth scarf

The fourth scarf I've knit, made of my eighty-third, eighty-fourth, ninty-fifth, and ninty-sixth skeins of handspun which were lapis Blue Face Leicester wool from Gale's Art.  Knit with a simple K1P1 rib.

The later skeins were spun progressively thinner than the first due to inattention to detail and unfortunately, despite attempts to compensate by alternating rows of thick strands and thin, in consequence the width at the cast-off end is smaller than the width at the start.

I've artfully tucked the telltale end out of sight.

June 01, 2011


Spun yarn and listened to another film version of a stage production of Hamlet.  This time I think caught a reference to textiles, something besides the obvious clothes that weigh down Ophelia in the stream and tapestry behind which Polonius eavesdrops.  Unlike those, this reference does not figure in the plot but rather serves to emphasis the play's themes of violence and feuding:
roasted in wrath and fire, 
and thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore, 
with eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus  
Old grandsire Priam seeks. 
If I have my weaving and my metaphor right, "o'er-sized" means Pyrrhus is drenched in blood here the way warp threads are saturated with goop and dried in order to size them so they don't stick to each other, allowing the shed to change easily.  If I have my history and literature right, this play within a play is about Pyrrhus, an ancient Greek, who is out to kill Priam, the king of Troy.

Knowing something about the fall of Troy (from having read Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida as well as Hamlet), I can make sense of the following sentence in Frances Goodrich's Mountain Homespun.  It regards naming conventions for coverlet drafts.  Drafts are the written directions or diagrammed sequences for threading heddles and tromping treadles to weave.  The same draft can have multiple names, and similar drafts or adaptations can have names related to each other.  Goodrich writes, "Why 'Downfall of Paris' should be like 'Sunrise on the Walls of Troy' is hard to tell."  It is hard if you think the name refers to the city of Paris, but not if you think it refers to the historical figure Paris.  The Trojan Paris, Priam's son, stole Helen away from the Greeks who then besieged Troy and caused Paris' downfall.  If I've got it right, the city's defeat came at sunrise.