Saturday, October 10, 2009

Spinning at Alexandria Arts Safari

I had a very pleasant afternoon doing spinning demonstration at the Alexandria Arts Safari. The event is at the Torpedo Factory, a venue in Alexandria, Virginia for artisans. The Arts Safari is geared towards kids. The parents seem to really enjoy it too, though, as their kids learn about and even try different crafts including the textile arts.

The weather was somewhat chilly and drizzly but there was a good crowd, a pretty much constant stream to chat with. We provided explanations and demonstration. The was an opportunity to touch different fibers like silk, wool and alpaca, make felted necklaces, and make yarn to tie as bracelets.

Friday, August 28, 2009

An Ode to Low-Tech

Of course I think about spinning A LOT, and today the thought I had is that I like it partly because it is low-tech. That's what flashed in my mind as I was pumping gas - yes, pumping gas. Gee (I was thinking), I'm enjoying this SO much more - or at least it's less annoying - than when I fill up at one of those places with the gas pumps that talk to me. Also - power toothbrushes. I have to confess I haven't tried one, but I'm simply against the idea. Oh, and I have a car with a lot of sensors and sometimes that gets annoying.

So - though I love my computer and gadgets, I like going low-tech. I like powering the spinning wheel myself - I don't foresee myself buying an electric wheel. I like the fact that a drop spindle has no moving parts. I like working with wool and thinking about the animal it came from. For me there's even some interest generated in having to deal with the bits and pieces of hay and everything in the fiber.

Please take my poll and let me know how you feel about power toothbrushes. I need to know if I have some backing on this extremely important issue.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shades of Gray

This yarn is spun from a fiber blend that includes some from the sheep at Star Gazing Farm. It is a perendale sheep breed, blended with mohair (which is from a goat). You can read some interesting information about the perendale breed at wikipedia: The fiber was so much fun to spin. The dark gray blended with the white to create a barber shop pole effect on some of it, but I also got plain white or plain gray on other parts. I decided to ply it as a three-ply.

Autumn Leaves

This yarn I spun from fiber I dyed at a dyeing workshop at Misty Mountain Farm. We used chemical dyes - sorry, I don't remember what colors I used for this one and I'm not sure what type of sheep the wool is from. It was really interesting to work with the fiber because it wasn't combed when we dyed it - the locks had been clean but were not otherwise prepared. After the dyeing session, I let it dry thoroughly but then I wasn't quite sure how to deal with it since all the wool was sort of tangled together. I didn't want to put it through a carder because that could cause the colors to blend too much and appear muddy. With encouragement from my friend Sue, I just picked it up and started spinning. I fluffed it up and teased it out a bit before spinning then used the woolen method, letting it sort of draft itself. It was slow going - there was lots of bits and pieces of vegetable matter and quite a bit of dust in the fiber which fell out as I spun it. I decided to navajo ply it, to get gradiations in color. It's sort of thick and thin novelty yarn. I think it looks like autumn leaves.

Gruff Yarn

This is yarn I spun from Gruff, a sheep from Star Gazing Farm. Gruff is a romney breed. Our sheep-to-shawl team was to use Gruff for our competition at Maryland Sheep and Wool in May 2009, so our team practiced spinning Gruff's raw locks (unwashed, hand combed). For this yarn, though, I spun from clean wool that had been carded - put through a drum carder 3 or 4 times. We spun it at a demonstration at Star Gazing Farm in July. It was nice to spin - I used a woolen technique and it came out soft and fluffy. To learn more about the romney breed, take a look at or check out the American Romney Breeders Association

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Four-Ply Yarn

At the homespun yarn party (Savage Mills, MD, March 2009), I purchased a wool and bamboo fiber. I decided to try it on my drop spindle. Once I had enough I wanted to test plying it, and decided to try a four-ply yarn. This means four different threads plied together. I swatched it, and you can see the result in the photo.
I think it's a great tweed. It turned out that it sort of self-striped.

New Party Tricks with Spinning Wheels

So, loyal readers will know I spin on a wheel (I own two), and on a drop spindle (I own several). But I've found that once I have fiber spun on a drop spindle, it's hard to get it prepared for plying. There is no device that makes it easy to hold a drop spindle and ply from it or from several.

One technique I've tried is winding the spun fiber onto a core (an empty toilet paper roll, if you must know). However, it's not that easy to ply from. Since I think it's sometimes easier to spin using a lazy kate (built to hold bobbins), I decided I'd try to wind from my spindle onto a bobbin. So I configured my Ashford Traditional double-drive to spin the bobbin but not the flyer.

To do this, the double-drive band must be placed around the bobbin only. For spinning one band is placed around the bobbin and one band around the whorl, so the bobbin and the flyer both spin. But, with the band only around the bobbin, the flyer doesn't move. See, in the photo the flyer is the wood with the hooks in it - like arms. You can see the drive band - it is the pink band horizontal in the picture. The whorl is the piece with the two grooves, in the center of the photo. It is slightly darker wood than the bobbin.

Here's the technique:
1. I put the empty bobbin in place.
2. I placed the band around the bobbin
3. I attached the thread I'd spun on the drop spindle, to the leader on the bobbin.
4. I started treadling, clockwise
5. Continued treadling and winding onto the bobbin until all the fiber was off the spindle.

Simple as that. The flyer never moved so it didn't get in the way as the thread wound onto the bobbin. I found it was somewhat difficult to hold the spindle in place and let it spin as the fiber wound off, but I managed it with a little finesse.

Clun Forest Hat

I knit the clun forest hat from my handspun! It is a pattern from the Spring 2009 edition (I believe) of Spin-Off magazine. Clun Forest is a breed of sheep, but I used yarn that wasn't spun from Clun Forest fiber. Nevertheless I thought it turned out well. Alarmingly, it was tremendously oversized once I washed it. Not to be distressed - I realized it would probably make a good felting experiment. And so it did. If you are interested in Clun Forest sheep, check out this link:

Bamboo Follow-Up

I got far enough along with the bamboo to attempt to ply it. I was NOT happy with the result. Way too loose a ply. In my frustration I totally trashed the singles. I do still have plenty of fiber left, and I think that it's just a matter of finding the right project for it.

PLYING TIP: Part of what gives me hope is that I've learned something about plying since the failure with the bamboo. My friend Liz saw yarn of mine underplied, and we simply ran it through the spinning wheel again in the direction of the original ply, to ply it tighter. The resulting yarn just after plying was coiling up on itself. Now, I had worked under the assumption that the coiling indicated the ply was too tight and it wouldn't result in a balanced yarn. NOT SO! Once I washed the yarn, the coiling and kinkiness were gone - I didn't even have to weight the yarn down when drying it. So, this makes me think that I can ply the bamboo much tighter than I thought I could, and end up with a wonderful yarn.

The other thing I'm considering with the bamboo is creating a kind of boucle style yarn. With a boucle, I can spin two singles with opposite twist (one Z twist and the other S). In plying, one will get tighter and the other will fluff out, yet stay held together by the other. The bamboo would be good for the one that gets tighter.

Here is an example of a sort of boucle which I spun with silk and wool Sue H. gave me. The thin is the silk, the blue is the wool.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spinning Bamboo - Tips

Spinning Bamboo is challenging, but I've been enjoying it. I've been spinning it on my lightweight Golding spindle, the tsunami. My best advice is to pull out and spin from very small tufts of the fiber. Otherwise it's difficult to handle because it is very fine and can tangle easily. Spinning in very small tufts, I can preserve the color variegation. You can see it in the first photo - in the fiber and on the spindle. The brownish colors are actually very similar but with careful spinning you can prevent them from blending too much and getting muddy.
To achieve this, I sort of stripped the hank of fiber so that it's in thin, very long strips. To spin, I pull out about five small tufts, three or four inches long as you see in the second photo. There's no strict rule - you can pull out about 10 tufts if you wish. It's simply for convenience to have them at hand when you are ready to join them to what you've already got on the spindle.
As you can see on the spindle, the result is a fine singles with a very nice sheen. It can be spun thin because it's very strong.

Cormo & Bamboo

More bamboo - this time blended. I bought some 70 percent cormo wool/30 percent bamboo fiber at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival and I finally got around to spinning up some of it. I used the Andean plying technique to see what a 2-ply would look like. I spun the fiber on my Golding medium-weight spindle. I love the brilliant colors, and the texture. It wasn't combed top, more like roving, so it comes out with a nice nubbly texture.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Plying Experiment

My experiments plying a singles with plain sewing thread really didn't work well at all. However, I was inspired to try to spin directly with the thread, then ply the resulting yarn on itself. That created an interesting helical effect (because they were different colors). You can see it in the photo - it's the one on the left. Try and click on the photo and you will be able to see a very enlarged version so the effect will be really clear.

Then I wanted to try it with yarn I made, instead of sewing thread. So, follow the bouncing ball (of yarn!):
- I spun a singles Z twist
- I plied the singles S twist
So far, normal two ply yarn.
- Then I spun the yarn Z twist with some fiber.
- Then I plied the resulting yarn S twist on itself.
I got the same interesting helical effect as with the thread, of course. It wasn't terribly uniform, so it created a sort of interesting funky yarn. It's in the photo, on the right. I think it's overspun and overplied.
I want to see how it knits up - I fear it might not be very attractive.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Catch-up - MD Sheep & Wool, Recent Inspirations

So, no postings since February...that is embarrassing. Put it down to doing, not writing about doing.

Over the last several months I've been part of a team learning to spin raw wool for a sheep-to-shawl competition. Summary - 5 team members, 3 hours to shear a sheep, spin its wool and weave it into a shawl. We were to compete at Maryland Sheep & Wool, but there were tremendous circumstances (really, forces of fate!) against us so we withdrew. We haven't disbanded though, and we will be giving demonstrations and I'm sure practicing in the coming months. I'm really glad I had a chance to get to know the members of my team, and I want to thank Anne at Star Gazing Farm, in Maryland. Anne participated as our shearer, and agreed to provide the sheep, Gruff. Check out her website - It's a rescue farm, so if you're an animal lover you'll understand the work Anne does.

Recent product - this handspun. I don't have enough for a large project. Perhaps it will be good for a hat.

So Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival was the first weekend in May, and though our team didn't compete at the festival, it was inspiring. I wanted to try drop spindle again to see if I can actually gain some proficiency. So I bought two Golding spindles and I have been enjoying them tremendously. Over the last two weeks I have spent hours practicing and I have gotten much better. Yes, it still drops, but it's getting easier!!

I really like spinning merino wool, but at the sheep and wool festival there are more unusual fibers available so I like to try those. Bamboo is getting very popular, and straight bamboo and blends were available at the festival. I bought some 100 percent bamboo to try with the drop spindle. The colorway is Rainforest. I didn't realize it would be so tricky to spin - very fine, slippery. It doesn't have scales like on wool to make the fibers naturally grab each other.
Another one of my purchases was a nostepinne. It's a simple tool (a thick, tapered dowel, really) to wrap a center-pull ball of yarn. There is a good description and instructions at

After the festival, at Nature's Yarns I bought the book Fiber Gathering by Joanne Seiff. There was a good section on Andean plying, which motivated me to learn that skill. I recommend the book - it's got fun descriptions of the fiber festivals all around the US, focusing on the unique flavor of each. Makes me want to jump in an old VW microbus and go to each show! The book also has projects, and great pictures.
All in all, it's been a very rich fiber immersion week since Maryland Sheep & Wool!

Monday, February 23, 2009


This is the result of my first try spinning mohair. I consider it successful. I decided to ply this yarn with the Navajo ply method. That helped maintain the color variegation, and also gave me some practice, since I hadn't done Navajo ply in a little while. I like the colors, I like the sheen on the yarn, and it turned out to be a well-balanced yarn. This Web page has a very informative tutorial about what balanced yarn is, and good tips on obtaining a balanced yarn:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Homespun Fetching

Fetching is a very popular pattern for fingerless gloves. It's available for free on,
If you haven't checked out, you must - it's inspiring, and a great source for free patterns.
I made these out of my handspun. I posted pics of the yarn on the blog October 25, 2008 (Banana Blue - I'm really glad to finally make something out of it! I will probably have enough fiber to knit a matching hat.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Finished Fishtail Fingerless

The fishtail fingerless gloves turned out well. I'm just pleased to have used some of my handspun. I took the picture just after completing them. I haven't blocked them, and after blocking the pattern will probably appear more distinctly. The handspun is very springy.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Project with Handspun - Fingerless Gloves

I haven't knit much with my handspun because I am still learning and because it can be difficult to find appropriate patterns. It has to be the right gauge, of course, and something that looks great in the color of the handspun you've got. But, I don't have very big lots to work with, or different handspun that would work together combined in a garment. I checked out the Wraps Per Inch on my yarns that I wanted to use, checked out my patterns, and found a good match. I was happy to find a pattern for fingerless gloves that takes only about two ounces of worsted yarn. I must have started them at least 4 times, trying a couple of different cast-ons and couple of different needle sizes. I am happiest with the latest - the knit-on cast on, on size 6 US needles. Here you see the work in progess, knit on dpns from the wrist up. I will need to do another pattern repeat then knit flat in order to create the thumb hole. I'll likely post another pic once they are completed. It's a fun pattern, knits up pretty quickly and I think they'll be fun to wear.

Wheels Turning

Spinning wheels and color wheels! I took a great class at Nature's Yarns with Martha Slover on color in spinning. I had never been introduced to the color wheel before, so I learned a lot. I had never practiced carding, but at the class I got plenty of practice carding in order to blend the colored fiber. We created new color blends out of the secondary and primary colors, including adding white, grey, brown and black. Then we spun yarn out of some of it. The beginning of my own color wheel!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spinning Vocab

I found some good Web sites with spinning terms. I think my favorites are noils, and strick, and kempy. (this has general textile terms)
Impress your friends with your spinning and fiber vocabulary, and use the word knowledge to your advantage playing Scrabble.