September 29, 2012

September 28, 2012

Imported Corriedale on the Spindle, Local Fibre on the Brain

I'm spinning some naturally dark Corriedale wool from Ashford in New Zealand.  Not a local product, sadly, but I have it on hand and it will do for a certain project that I plan to give away.

I'm listening to a CBC radio report on Vancouver Islanders' commitment to local wool and flax, "Dyeing, Spinning, Weaving and Knitting," on All Points West, September 25, 2012.

September 27, 2012

Tiny Persian Rug Loom

A tiny Persian rug loom I saw a couple of weeks ago at the West End Antiques Mall, booth B27.  Tag said these used to be used as sales samples.

September 26, 2012

Freshly-spun Yarn, Outside, in Perfect Weather

Enjoyed myself at the educational demonstration of handspinning this past weekend, out in public on a sunny day with friends, chatting strangers up about yarn and local fiber.

Remembered to bring along a strick of flax for the display table and it went over well.  Flax looks and feels so much different than wool yarn or roving.  One of our group was spinning flax on her wheel so it was nice to have flax for people to handle.

A couple of the handspinners took a shot at working a row or two of interlinking on my språng frame, which made me happy.  

Saw a little girl picked a walnut up off the ground, and I went over and showed her a lock of wool dyed brown with walnut hulls.

The best moment for me was introducing a teacher and naturalist to the handspinner who grows and uses natural dye plants.  Oh, there was some excitement there.

"Isn't that a contradiction?" someone said, pointing to one of us who was sitting in front of her spinning wheel using a smart phone on her lap.

"Not really," I said, "if you notice near her foot, you'll see that her spinning wheel has plastic parts.  We're not re-enacting history."

September 22, 2012

Another for Working-days

Last week I told you that I left my copy of Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Sprang safe in my car while I participated in a demonstration of handspinning and weaving, even though I would have liked to bring the book out in public to show people its content.  Right after, I bought a second copy.
Beatrice: I may sit in a corner, and cry heigh-ho for a husband!
Don Pedro: Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
Beatrice: I would rather have one of your father's getting.  Hath your grace ne'er a brother like you?  Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.
Don Pedro: Will you have me, lady?
Beatrice: No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days: your grace is too costly to wear every day.  But, I beseech your grace, pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.
–Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, scene I
This out-of-print book can be expensive and I'm fortunate I got a good price.  The price was high enough to make me think hard about it but not as high as the usual price.  I felt a little spendthrift about buying a copy just to bring out and show occasionally to people.  Not like the extra copy of The Family Creative Workshop, Vol 17 on the bottom of the stack in the photo, that was cheap like borscht and easy to justify.

The språng book is stamped withdrawn from a library at, curiously enough, a college in Minnesota with "a Swedish and Lutheran heritage."  That dovetails a bit with a book about a cloth-making technique that was practiced in Sweden.

I can't see any wear on this copy.  There's an interview of Collingwood, in Handwoven and reprinted on the Schatch Spindle blog, where he says his språng book is the one people buy then never seem to use.

Hopefully today it will get a little wear as I go to another handspinning demo with some other guild volunteers.  I've told the market manager I'll show how språng is done.

In the meantime, have a short documentary from Minnesota Original with an interview and charcoal drawings of sheep done by an assistant professor of art and art history from the same college that discarded the språng book.  Kristen Lowe shows drawings of flocks and sheep-shearing, and from the way she talks, she has given thought not only to art but to the relationship between sheep and people.

September 21, 2012

Goat Coat Weather Forecast

I heard a cashmere goat owner say that her goats have put on coats twice as thick as last year, which she takes as a forecast of winter weather that will be colder than last year's mild winter.

September 20, 2012

B.C. Sheep and Wool Industry Overview 1990

I ran across a report, "British Columbia Sheep and Wool Industry Overview, April 1990" on the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture website, which is exactly what it says.  I found it interesting.

Vegetarians and vegans, who find consumption of animal products distasteful and objectionable, may not want to read the report.

I did.  It's not just that I am a handspinner who turns wool into yarn and that I'm a person concerned for the viability and continuation of local production of necessary goods.  Never mind folks who avoid sheep products their whole lives and eat beef or lentils and wear polyester fleece and never eat sheep's milk Parmesan or benefit from brush-grazing in orchards and clear-cuts after logging operations.  They may not find sheep products all that essential.  Sorry, I was telling you why the report interested me.  I am from B.C., from Vancouver Island, and I have great affection for the place.  Before going to live in the States I didn't spend time with shepherds so I had fuzzy impressions of the industry at home.  The report brought it into focus, at least what it was twenty years ago.

It shows that I am from a place with a lot of sheep, the highest number of any region in the province.  You could look at the map and see that the next one, the Lower Mainland which is a close second, is in a smaller area; however, I would guess that the total amount of land for farming on Vancouver Island is small too.  We have a mountain range and forest and uninhabited places.  The island is really different from the Fraser delta.

Some of the producers' concerns went over my head.  But I did learn more about them, as well as about the prices in 1990, how terrain in B.C.'s various regions determines the density of flocks (spread out in the dry cold north, dense in the wet temperate coast), the lack of processing facilities, disease management, competition from the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, duty on imports (none on NZ lamb, which was imported the most), low or non-existant profitability for flock-keeping, influences on price, spikes in demand at Christmas and Easter, the high proportion (70 per cent) of farm-gate sales for lamb, weight of sheep which is closely tied to price, very small proportion of rams to ewes, and the small size of the average flock: 32 sheep.

The report covers reasons why supermarkets' and restaurants' buying practices would predispose them to chose imported products: "convenience, availability, and uniformity of supply" along with quality and ease of storage because the items are already processed, vacuum-sealed, and frozen.  I would think that departments stores and boutiques buy imported wool clothing and blankets for the same reasons, sealing and freezing omitted of course.  And cheaper price.

The report shows the consumer side, stating that there is very limited customer demand for the local product at chain store supermarkets.  I would say ditto for wool.  Do B.C. shoppers demand much and ask for changes?  I pick from what's available.  I remember my high school classmates telling me how on a school trip they'd staged a protest to demand that a certain fast food chain stop using non-biodegradable, chlorofluorocarbon-producing packaging and replace it with something that polluted less.  (We all lived in such small remote places that the fast food chain's closest branch was hours away, that's why they had to wait for a school trip to exercise their power as consumers.)  Our science and social studies teachers told us about depletion of the ozone layer, Amazon deforestation, and the links to consumer habits with the implication that we should do something.  No mention of wool going to landfill or our consumer power regarding wool.  I didn't take textiles, but I doubt the teacher presented comparisons of local fibres or cloth samples and imported goods.  I can't even think what commercially-available local goods there would be to show, other than a Cowichan sweater.  While a teen, I was taught by my grandmother to select a B.C. grown apple over a New Zealand apple at the store because it meant earnings for local orchardists in her valley.  She's worried about environmental degradation now but back then she wanted me to buy local food because it was good for the local community's prosperity.  I doubt my grandmother had a local option for picking yarn to make my reindeer sweater and socks for my sock monkey.

The disconnect with local wool must arise from the lack of traceability and local manufacture.  Again, the report notes that the Cowichan sweater industry is the exception since yarn came from a dedicated carding and spinning operation in Duncan, B.C.  There was a facility for processing local wool in 100 Mile House, B.C.  Birkeland in Vancouver did some local wool but mostly U.S. wool.  (Remember the report is dated 1990, Birkeland is now closed and there are mills in Qualicum Bay and Salt Spring Island.  I can't remember the status of the Cowichan mill.)  The bulk of B.C. wool went to a warehouse in Lethbridge, AB, the next province over (and our provinces are large) then crossed two more provinces to reach the province of Ontario for grading, repackaging, and sale to the U.K. and Europe, Japan, and China.  The report doesn't give a number for the province's self-sufficiency in wool but it gives the country's in 1990: 10 per cent.  In other words, Canada produces wool, keeps a little, sells the lion's share to other countries, and buys foreign wool and finished products by the boatload.  At the time of the report, Canada was having trouble selling half its wool as China wasn't buying much, a change from a couple years before when most sold.

The report notes there was wool that never got to market at all: "a considerable amount of wool from small producers is destroyed or discarded because of the lack of opportunity for marketing, or because of the time and effort of getting small amounts of wool to a collection point" (p. 31).  Again, the average flock in B.C. was small, 32 sheep.  Wool takes up a fair bit of room for its weight, even compressed for transport.  (On the weekend, I bought three pounds of local Romney and it fills a pillow slip.)  I'm trying to think how large a truck you'd need for 32 fleeces.

So B.C. wool got ditched because it wasn't economical to bring it to market in small batches or it got sent away because it was economical to transport large batches to countries with established textile manufacturing, economies of scale, skilled labour, and/or low wages.  (With food this is the sort of situation that drives locavores nuts.)  The report states the province lacked an industrial scouring facility to wash wool.  Western Canada generally has based its economy on wholesale extraction of resources (logs, fish, coal) and export of raw or minimally-processed goods.  It's either that or real estate development, services, and retail, not manufacturing.  Well, paper mills, which go back to wood products.  It's the colonial legacy (our colonial past being less than 150 years behind us) and it persists because B.C. has valuable resources, a lot of investment in extraction infrastructure (rail lines, shipping ports), trained labour, and profitable sales.  I'll point out that a good part of the report covers the potential in sheep grazing on clear-cut land for the summer so that farmers can put the pasture to alternative use raising hay, a cash crop.

Now, I have a rudimentary understanding of the way wool is measured and processed and I am going to speculate on further reasons why hardly anyone wanted to use B.C. wool in the province.  According to the report, there was a complaint: "More care is requested in preparing the fleece thoroughly by removing belly wool and tags" as well as the statement that "Much of B.C. wool is reported to have a yield of only 50-56%."  The low yield could be because belly wool and tags were included in the original weight and had to be removed at a loss, or because the fleece contained a lot of lanolin that got washed out (some sheep breeds give more lanolin, some less), or some fleeces were structurally unsound from stressed and ill sheep, or some other quality issue.  The preparation method could also reduce yield, for example, combing out some wool to turn the rest into top.  Let's turn to the type of wool.  The report says nothing about specific sheep breeds, it only mentions in passing that down breed wools are suitable for batts.  Spinning counts are given.  The spinning count numbers measured go from 50-60+ for range wool (sheep pastured on a range) and 48-58 for domestic wool.  Most range and domestic wool (76% and 70% respectively) landed at a spinning count of 56-58.  That corresponds, according to Paula Simmons' Turning Wool Into a Cottage Industry, to a micron count of 24.95-27.84 if you're used to buying wool that way, and probably (going by her list of breeds with their spinning counts) reflects medium wools, a category that includes Columbia, Corriedale, Targhee, Tunis, Clun Forest, and Finnish Landrace.  This spinning count is not going to produce a fine, soft yarn.  And people want soft sweaters that don't itch.  This importance of wool quality to the local market is demonstrated in van der Klift-Tellegen's Knitting from the Netherlands: the market for yarn made of coarse, short-stapled domestic wool collapsed after knitters got more spending money and access to expensive imported yarn they thought was nicer, even though this meant taking earnings away from farm women with fleeces to sell.

The B.C. sheep and wool industry doesn't stand still, I'm sure.  Fibre artists on Vancouver Island are trying to source local fibre, experimenting with flax and holding fleece sales restricted to producers within 100 miles.  New food safety regulations in 2007 restricted lamb processing to government-inspected facilities as seen in this video which includes footage inside a slaughterhouse if you'd rather skip it  Farmers on Salt Spring Island were no longer able to process locally and thus economically, and they reduced the number of sheep there by more than half.

Someone on Saturna Island put money into a government-inspected facility.  The report talked about investment, specifically money to hire "sheep specialists" (technicians) for "technology transfer" (education) to farmers.  Investment is what makes producers able to change an industry and add value to their product and market in their region, or merchants to be able to carry an inventory of new local products.  It's an opt-in situation and costs time, money, and effort.  Consumer demand and promised profit is what makes them want to change.  With local food in B.C., that was spurred by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon's The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, published in the U.S. under the title Plenty.  Not everybody but enough British Columbians committed to buy local food that shops and farms responded.  I came back for a visit and discovered signs in little shops telling how many food miles the bakery's wheat or the cheese had travelled.

September 19, 2012

Start of a Linen Warp

I'm taking a weaving class and this is the result of the beginners' orientation session.  It's the start of a linen warp I plan to weave into tea towels in an Ms and Os pattern using Bokens 16/2 line linen.

Nice to be moving on another point from my January list of goals.

September 18, 2012

What Walnut Hulls Look Like

Walnut hulls to dye wool brown.  If you haven't gathered walnuts before, this is what to look for and they should be on the ground now.  The trees have long skinny leaves, a bit like fingers on a hand.  Wear gloves.  Someone once remarked years afterward how they remembered me having stained hands from picking up walnuts.

September 17, 2012

Autumn Vista Språng Shawl

The Autumn Vista shawl gets its long length from a circular warp.  You can see in the photo the last few strands are ready to be cut and fringed.  I've worked all the språng pieces I've done with a warp that is wrapped in a circle between two rods on a frame.  This is the first time I've worked only with the strands lying in front of the rod and pushed the bottom twists all the way to the bottom of the frame, over it, and all the way up the back to meet the twist at the top.  That's why I say this was worked with a circular warp.  Up until now I've incorporated the strands at the front and the strands in the back into one flat piece.

When on the frame the interlinking is about ten inches wide.  Taken off, it stretches and it drapes well.

The new owner says she is very happy with the result.  I am pleased too.  I tried a new method and accomplished my first språng project that's wearable.  Concept pieces and samples are fine but I like function.  I like that a person can use this as a walking advertisement for local wool and ancient textile techniques.

That was another great aspect of making this shawl, I contributed some skill and labour to the cause of locally-raised fibre.  The owner, who provided the handspun from her own sheep's wool, will display the shawl to promote her goods in the Leicester Longwool Ladies booth at the upcoming Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival and the Fall Fiber Festival of Virginia.

She kindly gave me some Leicester longwool of my own.

The Autumn Vista shawl would have pleased me more if I could have managed to work the initials AV into it with 1/1 interlinking on the background of allover 2/2 holes.  Letters with diagonal lines are suited to patterns in språng cloth.  You might remember I did a diamond pattern of 2/2 holes on a background of 1/1 interlinking.  My last post shows how off-track I got with the initials.  I had to give up and get on with finishing.

September 15, 2012

Lost My Way in a Sprang Pattern

This is not what I meant to do.  There's supposed to be 1/1 interlinking here, not elongated holes.

At least the circular warp is working now.  For a while I was wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

September 14, 2012

Språng, Stickless

This språng was done with a stick only under the last worked row, not the last three as usual.  I compacted each row.

The fabric is firm, it skews more, and the top and bottom piece came out the same length without any special attention.  Would be a good way to make a bag.

skewing 90˚
Here you can see a closeup of rows of 1/1 interlinking, then rows of 2/2 interlinking below them.  I wanted to try 4/4 but the warp had the wrong number of threads.

September 13, 2012

Sprang Video from National Trust's Chedworth Roman Villa


As far as I can tell, this video shows the approximate dimensions to use to make a hairnet based on historical data.  The National Trust's Chedworth Roman Villa interprets fourth century Roman times in England.

I'm trying to piece this together with some other mentions of hairnets.  Collingwood writes of Greek hairnets made with sprang on small frames.  There is a modern illustration of a hairnet on the website of the Nationalmuseet in Denmark in connection with the exhibit of the Bronze Age woman from Skrydstrup.  The illustration shows how the hairnet is worn but not how it is constructed.  There is also a picture of the woman's remains on that page, just so you know.  The caption does not say that the hairnet is made with sprang, only that the woman was buried with it and with a woollen cap made with sprang.

Chedworth has some other videos as well.  I particularly like "Dyeing with Plants,"  The green from weld over-dyed with woad looks great.

September 11, 2012

Språng Photos on the Victoria & Albert Museum and the University of Manchester Whitworth Art Gallery Sites

Go to these links and type "sprang" in the search field to see items made in språng that are hundreds of years old:

Most are caps.  One entry in the V&A refers to a miser's purse as part of a late nineteenth century Tunisian costume.  Pity it's not visible in the image.

September 10, 2012

Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds Admit Impediments

I took my språng frame out into the field, the field being Thomas Jefferson's Monticello for a Mulberry Row artisan day with other weavers and handspinners, and I worked on a piece while talking to tourists.  I found that having a frame and a piece of cloth in front of my face was a bit of an impediment to conversation.  Like I was behind a woolly duck blind.  The sitting position was restful though; ordinarily, I stand and spin with a drop spindle at fibre arts demonstrations.

I managed to pull off new språng moves, a couple of flowers and some rows that drew in the edges of the fabric by interlinking multiple threads at a time.  These build a little on what I've done so far, they're not a great leap forward like interlacing was for me.  Considering that I was talking to people and working from memory without a book it was okay.  Didn't have to undo and redo much.

My copy of Collingwood's book stayed in the car because it is so expensive and it has sentimental value as a discard from a library system in Canada I belonged to for years.  Expats cling to little things like this.  I only brought The Techniques of Sprang along so I could cram in the parking lot before going up the hill.  I put my spare copy of The Family Creative Workshop: Silversmithing to Sprang out on display.  No problem if it gets rained on or knocked over.

I did språng in the morning and spindle spinning mostly in the afternoon.  Gave away two spindles.

A blacksmith was making nails and I chatted him up about flax hackles.  Flax hackles look a lot like nails set in a board, and to my knowledge new sets of hackles only come custom ordered from a blacksmith.

September 08, 2012

More Scottish Screen Archives

Shetland Wool  Shows a knitting sheath, a lace sweater, supported spinning, flax spinning and hackling, and other things.

Making a Spinning Wheel at Portsonachan,

Eriskay - A Poem of Remote Lives  Gathering lichen, dyeing by layering lichen and wool locks in an iron pot over a fire, spinning yarn, warping, waulking.

Holidaying in Harris  More dyeing with lichen, spinning long draw with very long rolags of wool.

Enchanted Isles  Another handspinner on the island of Harris spinning with very long rolags.  Wild iris leaves shown gathered for green dye but no actual dyeing.

Evacuation of St. Kilda

Iona: Dove Across the Water  Starting at the 15 minute mark, a woman spinning with an (imported) Ashford Traveller wheel in a field with sheep, man operating a fly shuttle loom.

September 07, 2012

one hundred, sixty-second skein

Another two ounces of Heinz 57 wool, spun with low twist and heading for the språng frame.  Inconsistent and roughly spun, which will work well enough.

I posted the other day that I was going to switch to down breed wool yarn but I'm putting that off a little.  This weekend I am going to show some people how språng is worked and I want to use familiar yarn.

September 06, 2012

Scottish Screen Archives

In Sheep's Clothing in the National Library of Scotland Scottish Screen Archives is a good short documentary from the 1930s about sheep, fibre prep, handspinning, and knitting Fair Isle sweaters.  Ran across the link on Ravelry.

A Crofter's Life in Shetland, by the same filmmaker, is also interesting.  It has more about life generally but it shows some aspects of Shetland knitting the other film doesn't, such as lace shawls.

I noticed that the handspinners in both films do not sit and face their castle-style spinning wheels directly like everyone I see with a treadle-powered wheel today, they sit at an angle to do long draw.  Their position is something like what's used with a (hand-powered) great wheel, which also takes long draw; the left arm makes a sweeping motion.

I liked watching them card rolags, the women are skilled and quick.

Noticed that the lazy Kate had five bobbins on it, though they only show plying from two.  Five bobbins would give gansey yarn good for knitted cables.

The rooed wool from one sheep gets twisted together roughly into a bundle about a meter (about a yard) long and folded like a skein or strick so it holds together.  I noticed the same technique used in Asia on rooed cashmere fibre collected for the Scottish export market in the promotional film Cashmere is Scottish

September 05, 2012

Soumac Meeting Line on Interlaced Språng

Up till now I've been closing up the meeting line on my interlinking språng cloth samples with chained links.  The way I've been chaining the threads has distorted the cloth and created a bulge.  By re-reading Collingwood's book, I've found a method of chaining that should solve that.

This meeting line is not chained at all.  The cloth is interlaced språng with a structure like tabby weaving so I used a weaving method, soumac, to close up.

If you're a weaver and even if you're not you might look at my three lines of soumac and think the middle one looks odd.  Yes, this was me.  I was fine working soumac left to right but not right to left.  I was alone with no weaver looking over my shoulder and I was impatient.  I turned the språng frame's front to the back and did soumac on the back of the cloth, then turned the cloth to the front for another row after that.

Soumac makes a small bulge in the cloth on the frame.

When the cloth comes off the frame it widens, stretching almost double its size and the soumac lines move as well.  There's another way of creating a meeting line, to weave tabby across.  But a few shots of tabby across would not give.  They would fight the structure of the sprang, so I think that soumac has an advantage when you want a stretchy fabric.  Tabby was historically used, according to the books, to create a firm stable bottom of a bag.

I got the idea to use soumac from Glenda Stoller's article, "Sprang: Twisting Threads" in The Family Creative Workshop: Silversmithing to Sprang, Vol 17, (New York: Plenary Publications, 1976), p. 2171.  That book is the cheapest one I know of for learning språng, I paid about five dollars for a used copy on the Advanced Book Exchange.  The content is clear and practical.

September 04, 2012

one hundred, sixty-first skein

A skein of Vancouver Island-raised Hampshire wool spun with high twist, two strands plied together.  I'd originally meant to do three strands and use the yarn for socks.  Had to ditch that idea.  Months have passed since I spun the original two strands on a spindle and transferred them to bobbins, and I figured I'd never match the size of the strands and the set of the twist.

I bought the Hampshire washed but with grease still remaining.  After plying I washed the skein in hot, hot water and dish soap, rinsed it in hot water, and took the skein out before the water cooled to prevent grease from redepositing itself.  The skein's not dry yet but the texture is more ordinary, less tacky to the touch than it was.  I have pounds of this wool roving, some of it combed.  Washing sounds like a plan, even if it does mess up the combed fibre.

Hopefully the washed wool will be less smelly.  I did some of the plying outside in warm, humid air and the smell was strong.

As most handspinners know, when you leave wool spun on a bobbin the twist loses its bounce.  I plied about a metre (about a yard) and put it in hot water to see how much plying twist the yarn needed to be balanced once the bounce was restored, the way curly hair straightened with a hairdryer regains its twist in the rain.  Then I plied the skein accordingly.  The amount of twist looked correct but whenever I let up on the tension the strand refused to hang straight.  When I put the whole skein in the water I could see it change.  The skein hangs straight now.

September 01, 2012

One over One Interlaced Språng

This is a sample piece of one over one interlaced språng.  No skewing and twisting with this technique.  Looks like squashed and rhomboid-ish woven tabby, different from interlinked språng.

I overcompensated and wound up compacting the lower section too much this time instead the other way around.  Tricky thing to get right.  I didn't use the ruler enough.