Creativity, Life, Peace

Spinning = Happiness

My, my, my … how the time does get away. Life intervenes with plans … and even hopes and dreams. The necessity of earning a paycheck often takes up the time we romantics would rather spend spinning, knitting, creating, or otherwise engaging in activities for which we do not get paid. Thankfully, we have friends who can drag us back into the worlds we love!

Arabella encouraged me to go with her to Mary Berry’s Fiber Retreat over Valentine’s weekend. I am so happy that I went! The entire experience was such a reminder how much I need creative input into my life — and I believe this is true for all of us, whether we realize it or not. It can become difficult to set aside the time, but the peace that a creative experience can bring into your life is so worth the effort.

various fibers for spinning
All happily spun during the fiber weekend

 

I LOVE spinning! But I haven’t done much of it in the last two years. The weekend was an immersion in luxurious and delicious fiber–so many types of wool, silk, camel, alpaca–it felt so good to get them running through my hands again. The retreat also included a multitude of workshops on knitting techniques, spinning, weaving and even dyeing. It was a lovely group (I think around 90 women) with knitting needles, spinning wheels and portable looms.

I was able to spin this gorgeous teal skein (top of pic) that I purchased from Christine, who owns Spinning Straw into Gold. It is a 50/50 blend of silk and a material called tencel, which is fascinating! Tencel is a fiber made from wood pulp, it absorbs dye beautifully, blends well with others, has natural breath-ability like cotton but can absorb a lot more moisture, AND it makes beautiful yarn!

I was also able to finish spinning the fabulous Jacob wool that I got from Cindy’s farm (Jacob’s Reward), and a wonderful art batt that Arabella had made.

The silk/tencel was wonderful to spin!

silk and tencil batt
Spinning silk tencel blend
Spinning

Finally, the Dyepot!

On a gorgeous Texas day in February (yes, we have those!), Arabella invited me over to learn some color dyeing techniques. She has a very high-tech operation going on in her kitchen:

Arabella's high-tech dye pot

Sometimes it’s nice to know that the practices from 10,000 years ago still work! Get a pot, get some water, get it hot, you can dye wool! Yes, that is a large aluminum mixing bowl set directly upon her electric stove burner, filled with water and roving. Do NOT boil the water, or you will end up doing something else that is 10,000 years old — Fulling. (You’ll have to click to get the rest of that story…)

The water should be hot, but not at all boiling or simmering. Add some vinegar. When I asked Arabella how much vinegar, she moved her hand as if she were pouring out vinegar from a bottle, and she said, “I put glug, glug, glug.” Classic instructions! (Good news: you can’t really go wrong. So glug, glug, glug, and you’ll be fine!)

So far we have roving

Roving ready to dye

we have the dye pot, some water, and some vinegar…..which makes delicious hot roving soup!

Soup, anyone?

Now we mix the dyes. We used Jacquard acid dyes. Mix the powder with water in a jar according to package directions.

Mixing the dye with water

Remember your color wheel from high school art class? It still works! We used our primary colors yellow, red and blue.

Add yellow...
A large syringe and a chopstick work perfectly!
Add red and blue...

With more high-tech tools such as a chopstick and syringe, add the dye and work it into the layers of roving by poking at them with the chopstick. You can also create additional colors by blending where the colors meet each other. Simply use the chopstick to move the roving a bit, adding more of whatever primary color you want to that area with the syringe. Stir a bit, and voila! new colors.

Mixing to produce green, purple, and orange

Let the roving soup sit on the stove until all the dye is absorbed into the roving. Like all things good, it takes a little doing before you’re going to feel like you’ve got it! Take the dyepot off the heat and let it cool down naturally. Once you can put your hands into the water, then rinse the roving a few times with the same temperature of water. You are rinsing out any unabsorbed dye, and the vinegar.

Rinsing the roving

Cooling and rinsing the roving is a S L O W process, and you should not be eager to hurry it up, or you can end up “shocking” the wool into felt!  Once the roving is very cool, you can put it in the spin cycle of your washer (on cold!) to remove excess water. Then air dry.

Air-drying the roving outside
Spinning

Understanding “Dyed-in-the-wool”

Ahhh! I get it! Dyeing the wool before it is spun (i.e., dyed-in-the-wool) is the best way to ensure the color doesn’t fade once the wool is spun into yarn or thread, and then fashioned into a garment worn around town. The literal meaning of the phrase is simply a description of when the dye is added.

The phrase has evolved over time to mean something metaphorical as well. We use this expression “dyed-in-the-wool” to indicate a person who is committed to an ideal so deeply that it has become a permanent part of their being, as if they had been “dyed” that way prior to being “formed.” For example, I would say, “My dear Arabella is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic.”

Here, Arabella is rinsing some Corriedale roving that she dyed while it was “in the wool.”

Corriedale "dyed-in-the-wool"

I have been anxious to get my hands into the dye pot, and finally had opportunity at Arabella’s. She had received a 3-lb bump of lovely Corriedale, and shared a generous portion with me as a birthday present.

A “bump” is simply a bunch of roving, usually 1 to 3 pounds in weight.

A "bump" from a lovely Corriedale sheep

 

 

Here is what our lovely and generous sheep might have looked like when the wool was still a part of him!

Truly "in-the-wool!"

Gorgeous and generous sheep! They have been supplying us with fiber for our clothes, blankets, coverlets, coats and carpets for centuries!

Spinning

Spinning Tips: Camel | International Fleeces

Spinning Tips: Camel | International Fleeces.

Check out International Fleece’s blog post on spinning camel fiber! Talia says camel fiber is 1/2 the price of cashmere, yet as soft with a micron count of 15-22; cashmere falls in the micron range of 14-18.5.

What’s a micron count?

Basically, micron count is a way to measure the quality of fineness or coarseness of fiber. A micron is equal to 1/25400th of an inch, or about a millionth of a meter! Special lab equipment is used to measure the actual diameter of each fiber in these tiny fractions. The lower the number, the softer and finer the quality of the fiber.

Click through to this brief article from bellaOnline about the three grading systems of fiber.

Did you know that the finest cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of Kashmir goats primarily raised in Mongolia, Tibet, India and China? Lesser grade cashmere (thicker in micron count, and also shorter in length) comes from the Kashmir goat’s back and legs. It is said to take four years for one goat to shed enough wool to make just one sweater! No wonder it is so pricey!

Watch out once you start spinning luxury fibers such as alpaca and mohair. The incredible feel of the fibers in your hands is completely addicting, and soon you’ll be panting after some cashmere…so I am thrilled to hear Talia’s explanation that camel fiber is half the cost but in the same range as cashmere. More luxury fiber for less money!

You can find out more about these incredible fibers at the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute (CCMI).

But you simply must go to Talia’s site to see the GORGEOUS luxury fibers she has available, especially the baby camel and bleached tussah silk blend. Oh my goodness, I just want to eat it!

 

 

Peace, Spinning

Time at the Wheel

“Good,” Arabella told me, “you understand the basics.  Now what you need is time at the wheel. Nothing else can teach you what you need.”

Click here to go to post

As I come to the end of the marvelous green bump that MonChere brought me on Mother’s Day, I have tangible evidence of the truth of Arabella’s statement.  The green bump (that’s what a large roll of roving is called) spun into about 9 skeins. Oh, the difference between the first skein and the last!

As beginning spinners, we are inconsistent in the size of yarn we are spinning, and also in the amount of twist we are adding to the yarn in the spinning process. The result is a finished yarn that is really too curly and twirly to be usefully knitted. (Which is one reason why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on the wool you are learning upon!)

Notice the "skinny" strands and the "fat" strands

In this first skein, notice the uneven strands–some are “skinny” and some are “fat.”  This occurs when the spinning of the singles is uneven–of course, the hallmark of a beginner!  This is one of the skills that can only be gained by “time at the wheel.” Spinning such a large bump of wool gave me enough time at the wheel to really improve on my consistency.

Another issue for beginners is “overspinning,” which is also a consistency issue. It happens when too much twist is added to the single during spinning. When plying two singles, spinning in the opposite direction from which the singles were originally spun “balances” the finished yarn as they are twined together–except when both singles are inconsistently overspun. Then you just get what’s pictured here–evidence that this spinner needs more time at the wheel!

It does happen, though.  The improvement does happen. Compare this last skein (hooray!) with the first above. Notice the evenness of the strands compared to each other, and the evenness of the whole skein compared to the first. This last skein even felt completely different in my hands as I wound it–lighter, fluffier, balanced.

The yarn is more consistent

As for the improvement, I can’t tell you what to do specifically, except keep spinning. It’s very strange, really. A spinner begins as an uncoordinated, goofy, stumbling upon oneself, uncertain being, but sticking with it, somehow she manages to bring it all together by not thinking about it, but simply doing it. Time at the wheel, says wise Arabella.

Spinning

International Fleeces–Meet Talia!

You simply must meet Talia Sommer of International Fleeces, and read how she began her business because of a mosquito, and her love of spinning. Her website is beautiful and informative, and she sells everything the spinner or fiber artist needs to dive into the wool and never come out!

I am interested in natural dyeing techniques, and plan to do some of this over the summer. How providential that I received her newsletter today, promoting the joy of dyeing with natural dyes!

International Fleeces Newsletter

Her pricing is extremely reasonable, and she has a wide range of fibers (I cannot wait to get my hands on this baby camel and silk tussah blend at only $4 per oz.) Go visit her and sign up for her newsletter!

Talia also writes a very informative and well-researched blog. As a new spinner, I am learning the differences between the fibers–wool, plant fibers, blends, and what sheep was that?  Talia has a series in her blog of “Focus on Fiber” in which she gives great information on breeds, their history, and the characteristics of their wool. Interested in Merino, Jacob, Romney, or White Faced Woodland?

But mainly I like Talia for her story and her picture. Doesn’t she just look like someone you’d like to know? I think so.

Screen Grab of "About Us" with Talia
Spinning

Ancient Spindles

I’m not sure how long it will take me to get over being flabbergasted at the discovery that the spinning wheel is modern compared to the length of time humanity has been wearing clothing.  Which of course means that prior to the 14th century (12th in China) every length of thread or yarn on earth was spun with a spindle and a pair of human hands. Though trade centers probably developed very early in human history for cloth as it did for other necessities, still somebody had to take that wool or flax and turn it into usable thread and yarn.

Two Egyptian Spindles and a Net Needle

Pictured here are two spindles and a netting needle from ancient Egyptian finds. This is the tool that wove history! (Honestly now, aren’t you amazed??) I read recently that the Egyptians didn’t wear much wool; they mainly spun flax into linen cloth for clothing. But the tool remained the same across all cultures, whether you spun from sheep, goats, camels, buffalo or flax or silk.

Notice the notch in the top of this spindle. This marks the place where the magic happens in spinning. Loose plant or animal fibers are held in one hand, and fed onto a device that “spins” the fibers, which causes them to grab onto each other and basically lock together. That is an astounding bit of physical science and physics all its own that we’ll get to one day!

Notice the notch!
Ancient Egyptian Spinning Tools

This photo was taken of a case in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt and shows an ancient carder, spindle, and two whorls (those round disks at the top). Carders were used to pull the fibers in the same direction to make spinning more efficient. The whorls were used on the spindle to change the thickness of the thread/yarn being spun by increasing or decreasing the amount of “spin” added to the fibers.

Hey, now the political practice of spinning makes a lot more sense! The aides are the “whorls” that control how thick or thin the cover stories need to be!

Spinning

From Batts to Roving

Though some spinners prefer to spin directly from the batt, there are additional steps that prepare wool to be spun by the rest of us mortals.  Each step in the process of preparing raw wool is designed to “organize the fibers” to make spinning easier.  The batts that come off the carder have their fibers more aligned, and there’s more air between the fibers than there was in the loose fleece; however, the batts can still be very compressed. This can make spinning more difficult, especially for us newbies!

If you’ve bought a batt or two, and are having difficulty spinning, you can easily turn your batts into roving. Here’s how:

1: Divide the batt leaving a bit attached

Divide the batt in half by pulling the fibers apart down the middle to the near edge, where you will leave a bit attached (about 1½”).

Next, turn the batt around so that the connected area is at the top, and on one side of the attachment, divide the batt again down to the other end where you will also leave a bit attached.  Continue to turn the batt and divide, always leaving a bit attached at the end.

2: Continue dividing, leaving a bit attached

When you are finished with one side, go back to the middle of the batt and start on the other side. After the batt is separated into segments, straighten it out, smoothing and “drawing” the fibers into one length.

3: Draw and smooth roving into long strand

Drawing means just gently pulling the fibers to align them.

4: Continue to draw and separate fibers

Now you’ve got roving!  But this roving is still very thick for a new spinner.  So take sections of the roving and draw (pull) them further apart, without separating the strands completely.

There are so many activities to synchronize for the new spinner that starting with thin, airy roving helps the process keep going!

Try this– you can very easily draw the fibers apart if you pull too firmly, because they simply slide past each other and separate.

Wanna know how spinning the fibers prevents the slide?

Spinning

Spinning is Brain Work

The first few times I spun with Arabella and the spinning class for 2-3 hours at a time, I was so utterly exhausted that I had to lie down when I got home.  Spinning is a very sedentary activity, so how could I be this tired?  It was my brain!  My brain was exhausted!

Probably because while spinning, the brain is working at several different tasks at once, and you have your fingers, hands, feet, and eyes active in the

God's beauty revealed in the small flowers
Flowers from Jacob's Reward Farm

process.  Your brain is processing, your eyes are carefully watching the fiber, your foot is treadling not too fast and not too slow, and you are drawing the fiber out between your hands and allowing or not allowing twist with your top hand, and then stopping the twist so you can feed the yarn onto the spool…..whew!  It takes a while just to get the coordination down! But like riding a bike, spinning seems to be movement that our bodies intuitively know how to master.

So now, after a dozen or so collective hours of spinning, I am beginning to “get it.”  Instead of just a jumble of actions and slippery wool moving or not moving through my fingers, my brain has started to isolate and understand each of the various tasks. I think this process is what will improve my spinning going forward.  Isolating, and then focusing, on the different actions will produce different results in the yarn.

Here are some of the beginning actions to isolate:

  • speed of treadling
  • amount of twist allowed in the yarn
  • drafting the wool

I’m going over to Arabella’s to practice on her Louet spinning wheel.  She says what I need now is “time at the wheel.”

Spinning

From Fleece to Batts

The day I spent at Jacob’s Reward Farm was marvelous!  Arabella and I got to help Cindy prepare for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which is happening this weekend at the Howard County Fairgrounds.  Cindy wanted to take a dozen batts with her, and we were there to help.

What? What the heck’s a batt? Now I know!  We made over two dozen batts in Cindy’s kitchen.  We started with a pile of fleece that had already been washed and air-dried before we got there.  Sinking my hands into the pile of wool felt significant–earthy and real.  Similar to the way it feels to first plant something in the garden in the spring.

I sat at the kitchen table and “picked” the fleece–which means I separated the fibers, picked out any grass, and pulled apart any tight or snarled areas.  This work prepared the fleece to go more smoothly through the drum carder.

The drum carder is what actually creates the batt–which is simply a small sheet of  wool. The carder has teeth on two barrels that mesh against one another, and in that process, the fibers are further separated, smoothed out and aligned.  This alignment really helps the spinner, as it allows the fibers to grab the twist added from the spinning wheel more easily.

Arabella made all the batts by slowly feeding bits of the picked fleece through the two drums of teeth. She cranked the handle, the drums turned, she fed more fleece through, and just kept doing this until there wasn’t any more room on the drum for any more fleece.

The batt will be as wide as the drum carder’s width, because you basically just peel it off the teeth at this point, and you have a batt!

But making batts is also where the magic lies…..in blending.  After we had the batts completed from the fleece I was picking, Arabella went to get some white Alpaca fleece (this fleece is from Boaz).  She then rolled up a handful of Alpaca fleece inside the Jacob wool batt, rolling it like a sausage.  She then fed the sausage through the drum carder, and this process blended this gorgeous, silky, fine white Alpaca wool with the gorgeous, dense, grey Jacob wool to produce the finished batts.

It was a great day!