December 24, 2011

The Ox and Lamb Kept Time

Sean Quigley, "Little Drummer Boy,"

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.

December 23, 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.

December 21, 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.

December 20, 2011

December 19, 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.

December 17, 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.

December 15, 2011

Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine Articles

Matt Kirk, "Handmade Gear," Blue Ridge Outdoors, November 3, 2011,
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,
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.

December 14, 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.

December 13, 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.

December 12, 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.

December 10, 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.

December 09, 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.

December 08, 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,

December 07, 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.

December 06, 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.

December 03, 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!

December 02, 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,"