December 31, 2012

Review of My 2012 Fibre Resolutions

Last January I posted a list of goals.  Let's see what I did and what went by the board, and why.

"comb a whole lot of Romney"
Nope, didn't do it.  Instead I spun yarn out of fibre that was already prepared and ready to go.  Got weary just thinking about combing.  Decided that a lot of the Romney hogget was not what I wanted anyway.  I de-stashed it.

"focus on making lovely handspun stuff for me to use and wear, not for gifts"
Fail.  I wove myself a handspun vest but that was it.  Was diverted by opportunities to learn, pass on information, and give away woolly things.  I'm okay with that.

"knit first pair of socks"
Yes.  The socks may not fit tightly enough at the heel, the next two pairs may be stuck in limbo, and sock knitting failed to change my world despite others' assurances that it would, but at least I have knit my first pair of socks.

"learn språng"
Yes.  This is what changed my world.  I enjoy making cloth with the språng technique.  By agreeing to present a program about it in public, I built in a deadline which motivated me to research, produce, and organize everything into a coherent whole.  Deadlines are good.  I resolve to put deadlines on a few of my new resolutions.

"learn to knit a sweater"
Nope.  Can't really muster up sufficient enthusiasm, either.  So much knitting required and so much potential for the fit to go wrong.  I'd like a handspun sweater in my closet but I don't want it that badly.

"learn to weave plain weave and to use a loom"
Yes.  See handspun vest, above.

"make enough handspun clothes for an outfit"
No, which is fine because I expected completion to be further out than one year.  I have a vest now and I should try next for a skirt or a shirt but probably won't anytime soon.  We don't always do what we ought.  Part of this project will entail learning to spin flax, a skill I haven't acquired yet.

"make small handspun shoulder bag"
No.  Had other things to do.

"no more synthetic dyes (use up what dyed wool I have on hand)"
Yes, almost.  Dyed a small amount of wool with Kool Aid to demonstrate a språng technique for the program.  It was expedient and I'm fine with the choice.  I spun seven ounces from indie-dyed braids in synthetic colours and have three ounces left.  Recently in a shop I stuck to my resolution: I did not buy a braid of dyed BFL wool even though it matched my Susie's Reading mitts since the braid was from the same stock.
The corollary of this goal is to increase my use of natural dyes.  I dyed wool with natural dyes twice this year.  One of those dye sessions was done on my own initiative with me in charge of the process, though I got assistance using the campstove and gathering the plant material.  I also enabled someone else in natural dyeing by giving her jars of madder and weld.

"spin and weave hooded jacket"
A vest is close enough.  It has a hood.

"spin flax"
Still feel unprepared for this.  Am working backwards toward this goal: I wove with linen yarn this year.

"spin from stash to cull stash"
Made enough progress on this to be happy.  Focussed on getting rid of oddments and mistakes.

"spin the rest of the merino to get rid of it"
I sold and gave away the merino instead.  Just as acceptable and much preferable.  Finewools, bah.

"stash enhancement: buy more BFL fibre! buy local!"
Did well here.  Helped that I travelled more than usual and went to extra fibre festivals, fibre events, guild sales, and handspinners' supply stores.  Bought small batch, traceable Coopworth lambswool, Leicester Longwool, Romney, and Targhee wool from North America.  Also more untraceable wool pool BFL from abroad.  Much of the wool I bought this year was longwool.  Got a bit of glossy Perendale, probably imported from NZ.  I got a staggering amount of the Romney, both white and natural dark, and I'm excited about it the most.  Will drop the stash enhancement goal for the coming year.

"take a risk and spin the good stuff; don't hold off out of fear, there is more good wool out there"
Am glad I spun the Jacob wool with its beautiful grey colour.  That was one that I could have been afraid to ruin.  Other than that, no progress.  Spent a lot of time with Heinz 57 wool this year because I wanted a lot of handspun for the språng samples and the price was right.  Pleasant stuff to spin but it's not anything that stretches me out of my comfort zone.  Neither was the BFL I spun, since buying more is easy.  It's going to take trust and courage for me to dip into the natural dark Romney this coming year.  I can't buy any more exactly like it and it is pretty.

"use my wool combs more often because combed fibre is so very, very nice"
No; however, I am optimistic that I will comb some wool in the coming year.  I am newly motivated to comb the large quantity of Hampshire on hand now that I know I can remove the excess grease by re-washing the roving in very hot water.  I don't know if I'll get to the tangled two ounces of Romney dyed with Scotch broom.  Would have been better if I'd spun the wool first and dyed it as yarn.

"use up stashed skeins of handspun yarn"
Needs improvement.

"weave linen into Ms and Os cloth"
Yes, done.  If I had access to a countermarch loom, I would revise the goal to weaving cloth in fine single ply linen thread with smaller blocks of pattern.

December 25, 2012

Giving Knowledge

The beginnings of a garter stitch scarf and a white Christmas.  I was showing someone how to knit on needles and yarn she'd gotten.

December 24, 2012

Red Worsted Scarves in The Wind in the Willows

An excerpt from an old children's book, where red scarves add to the festive scene:
It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open.  In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semi-circle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth.  With bright bead eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal.  As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
-Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

December 20, 2012

The Fiberarts book of Wearable Art

I read Katherine Duncan Aimone's The Fiberarts Book of Wearable Art (New York: Lark Books, 2002).

The chapter on Carol Lee Shanks appeals to me, since the designer uses handspun, hand-dyed, handwoven cloth made by Kathryn Alexander.  The cloth has a light texture like gauze.  The cloth is made with energized singles yarn.  I had been wondering how the weight of a jacket would drag down the crinkles in collapse cloth like this, so it was helpful to see the drape.

There is one dye technique in the book that I would like to do because I like the effect.  It's shown on page 53 and looks like crazing on porcelain glaze.  It is done by Kay Disbrow and is called a dextrin resist.
Some of her most interesting pieces have resulted from her experimentation with dextrin resist--a vegetable paste made of potato (dextrin) powder.  To undertake this technique, fabric is stretched and anchored to a table and the cooled paste is spread on selected areas.  When the resist dries, it crackles.  Thickened dyes are spread over the paste, allowing the color to penetrate the cracks.  The dextrin is eventually removed to reveal the spontaneous patterns created by the natural course revealed in the drying.  (p. 54)

December 19, 2012

Anne Field's Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics

Am reading Anne Field's Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics, revised edition  (North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square, 2010). 

The picture of the Ashford Elizabeth wheel on page 68 is reversed and some quantities read incorrectly because the dots are missing in the numbers so the place values are off.  Other than that, the information is laid out well and the section on wheels is keeping the attention of me, a drop spindle user. 

I like it best when Field gives glimpses into what it's like to spin with wool raised in her native New Zealand and what her background and experience has been, both personally and as a handspinning teacher. 

December 18, 2012

Beyond Weaving

I skimmed Marcia Chamberlain and Candace Crockett's Beyond Weaving (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1974).  I bypassed the recommendations to spin greasy wool with a three-ounce drop spindle, and concentrated on chapter seven, "Braiding and Plaiting," which included språng.

I would be interested to know why S twist interlinking, and S twist only, sprang is shown, if this was done historically or what the rationale is.  Same for why the Hopi wedding sash is described as a distinct thing and not språng, where other authors treat it as interlinked språng.

I was pleased that specifications are given for the sash and the frame:
The traditional Hopi sash is made of two-ply white handspun cotton, braided into a strip from 8" to 10" wide and from 8 to 10 feet long, including a long twisted fringe at each end.  (p. 139) 
In the traditional Hopi method, the top bar of the stretched warp is anchored to the wall of the house or kiva and the other bar to a heavy stone, so the warp is stretched horizontally just above the floor.  The braid is worked with the weaver or braider sitting parallel to the bar.  The sticks are inserted at the end where he is working, brought toward the body and then pushed away.  After a number of sticks have been inserted they are worked all the way around the warp, over and around the other anchor bar and down the underneath side, so the interlinking butts up with the top set of interlinked threads.  As braiding continues the entire warp is periodically shifted to move the interlinked fabric to the bottom so the braider does not have stretch too far or move out of position.  Eventually the warp threads are cut in the center, forming a long braided sash with fringe at each end.  There is a kind of seam at the sash center where the two parts of the braid meet, but no separate center cord is worked across.  (p. 142)

December 17, 2012

Rumpelstilskin Collector's Plate

I've been buying more hand spinner-themed kitsch, this time a collector's plate showing Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold.  It's amusing to pick out the inaccuracies.  The spinning wheel is perfect, which is not always the case in fairy tale illustrations; what's wrong is the way it's being used.

December 13, 2012


I read Barbara McLean's Lambsquarters: Scenes from a Handmade Life (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2002).  She writes about raising sheep in Ontario, learning to spin yarn, weaving and knitting clothes with her own sheep's wool for her family to wear, and acquiring many other skills.
I had a neighbour who spun.  I followed her home from Alderney one day and boldly turned in her lane.  She got out of her car, gave me a quizzical look, and I told her my business, asked her to help me, begged for the knowledge to spin.  Malka gave me a start right then and there, invited me into her home, her studio, and slowly showed me the wool, the wheel, the magic of thread.  (p. 50)
McLean doesn't go into a lot of detail about the her loom or the wool baby clothes she made or the handspinners events she went to.  She must have gone to some events because she mentions that she got an angora rabbit at one.  She gives specifics when it serves the story, like the story about a special sheep she raised.  After its natural death, she saved some of its wool and incorporated it into sweaters. 

Many people who work with fibre have a primary skill they like best and I think from her descriptions she is more a weaver than a spinner, but that's speculation.

December 10, 2012


I read Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1979) in order to find out about handspinning and wool in France in the 1300s.  The cover had a picture of a flock of sheep.  Those sheep must stand more for a flock in the sense of a group of adherents to a religious sect, in this case Catharism, rather than actual sheep.  I say this because the bulk of the book was concerned with what the people believed, what they did, how they differed from others around them, and the influences on their lives.  However, there was some information about textiles.  
They certainly would have grown hemp.  It was the women's job to swingle and comb it during the winter.  At that altitude and at that time, it is more than likely that flax to was grown.  [Livestock included] hundreds of sheep.  This did not include the large flocks which the migrant shepherds used to lead every year to and from the winter pastures of Lauragais and Catalonia.  (p. 4)
"Swingle" is another word for scutch.  Scutching is part of the processing method for hemp or flax where you strike the bast fibres with a piece of wood, shaped like a large knife, down the side of a board stood on end.
The women span around the fire in the evening, of course, either at home or with neighbours; and even in prison when the Inquisitor sent them there.  But local weaving was clearly intended only for local wearing; there was just one weaver, Raymond Maur, in Montaillou.  He plied his trade (it probably called for a certain amount of humidity) in a deep, wood-lined room, a kind of half-underground cave, specially fitted up in his house.  But he also reared sheep, and his children became shepherds....In this part of the world, everybody worked with his hands, and often very skilfully too.  (p. 6)
There was a brief reference to sericulture near the end of the book which I cannot find now.  I think it said that silk was raised in the region.

December 08, 2012

Mabel Ross' Yarn Design Book

I read Mabel Ross' classic The Essentials of Yarn Design for Handspinners.  It's a plain, unassuming book with a lot in it.

Ross almost persuades me that I need to get hand cards again and use them.  I also like her discussion about the way to set the tension properly on a spinning wheel.  Almost makes me want to try a spinning wheel again.

December 07, 2012

Språng Stocking Purse at Dewitt-Wallace Gallery, Williamsburg

Here are photos I took of the English språng stocking purse currently on exhibit at the Dewitt-Wallace gallery in Williamsburg, VA, item 1971-1421.

The exhibit's label states
This purse is made in an ancient technique called sprang, in which threads are stretched on a frame and manipulated with the fingers to interlink or twine them, working from the ends toward the middle, and often using a stick to control the twists and keep them from unravelling.  The resulting fabric has natural elasticity, similar to knitted products, although the techniques are very different.
The distance between the rows on this purse strikes me as very small but that's just because I've been using bulky yarn for my pieces.  The cloth's fineness provides enough stability for the embroidery at the bottom.  The yarn is a fine two ply silk, and I expect it is handspun since the date is estimated to be between 1650-1720.

There is a slit in the top third edged with metallic thread.  The same thread runs along seams on either side and across the bottom.  The bottom seam and the looped threads in the tassel make me think that this piece was worked flat then folded, not worked on a circular warp.  The tassel is the meeting line.  In this photo you can see the loops.  I had to take the photo without flash then adjust the light levels on the computer so the colour is distorted.

I looked but could not tell if there was a slit on the back side.  I don't think there is.  Everything you do on the working half of språng fabric also happens on the other side.  If there's a slit interlinked on the front you get a slit on the back.  It may be that the interlinking was solid and afterward a vertical line was cut and secured on the front only.

Just behind the wrapped part of the tassel there is a metal ring that is used to shut the purse.  You slide it down past the slit to keep coins inside.

The holes of the centre diamonds appear to be twice the height of the outer diamonds.  There were four motifs up and down, and seven across I believe, though with part of the purse folded under a little it was hard to tell.

This purse's shape and proportions struck me as more pleasant than others in the case.  As I said, the slit runs down the top third.  That gives a ratio between the slitted and solid parts of 1:1.5, very close to the golden ratio, phi, 1:1.618.  The other purses were made with techniques such as crochet and knitting.

December 06, 2012

Spun Targhee in Progress

A little Targhee wool in progress, being spun to about 30 wpi.  I am hoping that when I make it into 2 ply and use it for interlaced språng, the strands won't stick together the way BFL does.

December 05, 2012

Collapse Fabric

I successfully made a sample of collapse fabric using interlaced språng and an energized single in Heinz 57 wool, my one hundred, seventy-eighth skein.

I adore the texture.  Must do more of this.  Will add even more twist next time.

December 04, 2012

Greek Drama

As I posted recently, I read Greek Drama: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes edited by Moses Hadas (Toronto: Bantam, 1982).  Besides Agamemnon, there were some other plays that contained a little information about textiles in the ancient world.

Let's start with Sophocle's Oedipus the King, which you may know as Oedipus Rex, the most perfectly constructed play according to critics.  Leading up the full revelation of who Oedipus is and where he came from, there's a description of how sheep were pastured out on the range by hired shepherds: "I am sure that he well remembers the time when we abode in the region of Cithaeron–he with two flocks, I, his comrade, with one–three full half-winters, from spring to Arcturus; and then for the winter I used to drive my flocks to my own fold and he took his to the fold of Laius." (p. 140)  These specifics are meant to establish the truth of the testimony give by the messenger and former shepherd.

In Euripides' Trojan Women the chorus members, women, are all expecting deportation after the fall of Troy, and they make comments about how much they have lost in their captivity, what their probable futures will be, and how much they are grieved.  One says, "No more shall I ply my flying shuttle in Trojan looms." (p. 261)  It is a moment of lamentation and one that specifically expresses a woman's points of view since it was women who wove.

In Sophocles' Antigone, in a list of the stories of famous prisoners in Greek mythology and history, the chorus mentions the shuttle of Phineas' wife: "And by the waters of the Dark Rocks, the waters of the twofold sea, are the shores of the Bosporus, and Thracian Salmydessus; where Ares, neighbor to the city, saw the accursed blinding wound dealt to the two sons of Phineas by his fierce wife–the wound that brought darkness to those vengeance-craving orbs, smitten with her bloody hands, smitten with her shuttle for a dagger." (p. 102)  The chorus goes on to comment about her motivation and the influences on her from her parentage and upbringing.  I didn't look too deeply into commentaries on this play but it sounds as though the chorus attributes the wife's fierceness to her marriage, which didn't go well, and to her parentage and upbringing somewhere far away.  One commentary interpreted "a mother hapless in her marriage" (p. 102) to mean that her marriage was set aside making her children illegitimate.

Euripides' Medea centres on a woman in a black rage for that very same reason.  She is a foreigner, has few rights, her husband Jason is abandoning her to marry a princess, and she's expected to accept the situation.  Jason understands she's angry: "Keep on saying that Jason is a villain of the deepest dye."  (p. 199)  But he tells her to be reasonable and get over it.  She doesn't.  Medea describes herself as having a natural gift for poison (p. 198) and she says she has on hand "a dainty robe and a headdress of beaten gold.  If she [the princess] takes the finery and puts it on her, she will die in agony.  She and anyone who touches her.  So deadly are the poisons in which I shall steep my gifts." (p. 207)  A few pages later she describes the robe and headdress as "gifts far surpassing the things men make today...raiment which the Sun, my father's father, gave to his children." (p. 210)  It sounds as though she's claiming that the items are vintage or antique, and possibly supernatural.  The chorus attributes an irresistible heavenly sheen to the items.  (p. 211)  I think the text indicates the poison belongs solely to Medea, though.

The goods are delivered and a messenger comes back to tell Medea in detail how the princess died from the poisoned robe and headdress.  He calls the robe "elaborate" and says that before the poison acted the princess walked around admiring herself, then stood and "gazed with all her eyes at her ankles," (p. 215) possibly at a specially-woven or embroidered edging.  The poison sounds as though it was caustic.

The Greek plays in the book are, in a word, intense, even Aristophanes' Frogs, which is intensely silly.  For me a most affecting passage in Medea was her lament over her children, "But I must go into exile in a strange land, before I have ever tasted the joy of seeing your happiness, before I have got you brides and bedecked your marriage beds and held aloft the bridal torches...Ah, me, there was a time when I had strong hopes, fool as I was, that you would tend my old age and with your own hands dress my body for the grave..." (p. 212)  There were textiles expected at the milestones of weddings and funerals, the bedsheets and the winding sheet or shroud.  These customary cloths and the personal touch that Medea expected, these traditions persisted thousands of years up until recently when we started outsourcing to hotels and funeral homes.  Medea is a dynamic forceful character and it is at the same time astounding and completely understandable that these simple hopes and joys are all she regrets letting go of.

December 01, 2012

Lady Jean's work table

From a lecture on material culture, a clue about life before industrialization:
This is Lady Jean's work table.  If you will notice here, the drawer has the dividers as women were always busy with darning, embroidering, or making something of that nature.  Then the writing slide with the original baize cloth on it that you pull out for writing.
-Julian Hudson, "Preswould: Gracious Living on the American Frontier, 1790-1830," Virginia Historical Society, October 1, 2009, around the 24 minute mark