Monday, January 13, 2020

Fiber types

I've agreed to teach a six-week course on textiles - super exciting! With so much time to work with, I'm going more in-depth this time. For the first class, we will be talking about different types of fiber: plant, animal, and synthetic.

Wool is what I have most of and know most about. Here are some Merino sheep:

Alpacas and llamas:

Angora goat:

Angora rabbit:

Flax in the field

Flax being hackled

What medieval Europeans thought cotton looked like -- a tree with lambs growing on it!

Cotton in the field

Wool under a microscope

Different types of fiber under a microscope:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Weaving presentation

Here are the pictures and videos for a presentation I am doing on weaving: history, materials, and a how-to.  At the end we'll make a scarf on my rigid heddle loom!

 Greek women weaving on a warp-weighted vertical loom:

Egyptian vertical loom

The Bayeau tapestry, all hand-woven

Tapestry loom


Parts of a modern floor loom

Warp weighted loom

Backstrap loom

Tablet weaving

Jack, counterbalance, and countermarche looms

 Jacquard loom

Thursday, September 19, 2019

History of spinning

This week I have a fun event coming up: demonstrating spinning for a friend's elementary school class! So I've gathered some pictures and videos of spinning to show them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spinning on a wheel

You all know I'm a spindle person, so if left to myself I might never have gotten a wheel.  But when a friend of mine offered me a spinning wheel she had inherited and couldn't use, I decided to accept.  After all, it doesn't mean I'll abandon my spindle -- it means I'll be able to do twice as much spinning!  

And so far it's definitely adding to my spinning game.  I can spin till I'm tired on the spindle, working on one project, and then move to the spinning wheel and another project, because each uses different muscles.  The spindle is definitely a lot more adaptable to different postures and activities -- I can take it with me; I can spin sitting, standing, or walking; and I can use it when my leg joints hurt.  But the wheel goes a whole lot faster -- I spun about 400 yards in a couple of days, while with the spindle it always seems to take forever to spin for much smaller projects.

The big thing I've found it's useful for is chunkier yarn.  Maybe it's the size of my spindle or my own muscle memory, but I can't for the life of me do chunky yarn on my spindle.  Even if I could, I couldn't hold very much on the spindle at a time, so it would be tedious spinning little balls of it.  With the spinning wheel, my instinct leads me to make a fatter yarn, so it's easier to keep my yarn consistently chunky if that's what I'm going for.

It took a couple days for me to figure out how to make yarn on it at all.  I don't have a manual, so I've had to read a lot of websites and try to guess what sort of tensioning system it has.  (Honestly, I ... still don't know what it's called.  But I've figured out how it works, anyway.)  The trick, which I'm sure any wheel spinner could have told me, is that you control the twistiness of the thread by how fast you let it go onto the bobbin.  You don't have to follow the speed the wheel tries to wind it on -- you can hold the yarn back and let more twist go into it before you let it on.  I had thought the twist was pretty much set and you couldn't change it without messing with the brake or something, but it turns out I have a lot more control than I thought.  I just have to be very conscious of how fast I'm drafting and pedaling, because if I get distracted I either start pedaling way too fast, or I slow down on drafting and the yarn starts to get all kinky.

The other challenge for me is that it goes by so fast.  You need to have the wool really fully prepped, because you don't have time to fuss with it before the spinning wheel gets to it.  I'm used to using rather sticky or messy wool on my spindle, because at any time I can just pause a moment and pick a piece of hay out of it or untangle something, and with the wheel you can't easily do that.  It takes a moment to slow and stop on the pedals and by then you've got all this extra twist built up waiting for you.  So for the wheel it's really better to have a nice smooth roving, even if it takes extra time prepping it.

My friend handed down, along with the wheel, a number of bags of really gorgeous roving.  Some was a bit compacted (apparently it had sat in her grandma's craft room for years!) but a little pre-drafting made it cooperate.  It was like Christmas unpacking what she'd given me!  Normally I measure wool by the ounce, and the prep work takes me ages, but this came in pounds and was already combed, so I could get right to spinning.

My favorite was a bag containing dark green and dark reddish-purple Corriedale, plus some white Wensleydale.  Both the colored wools were mixed with small amounts of other colors, making a nice deep interesting color in each, and all three went together well, so I did a couple projects incorporating all of them.  I spun them at a light worsted weight -- very chunky for me!

I made one garter-knit scarf and one woven scarf. The woven scarf was a sudden inspiration that got me very excited, because three coordinating colors means plaid and I love plaid.  I used an online program to try to help me plan the pattern, but I found that difficult to use, so in the end I just used colored pencils to draw out what I wanted.

The only unexpected problem was that the Wensleydale didn't react at all like the Corriedale -- it spun a bit thinner and didn't draw in as much, so the white stripes have little loops hanging out on the sides.  I'm sure no one notices this but me, though. Next time I'll probably try to use all the same kind of wool for a weaving project.  The knit scarf didn't have the same problem, because I was able to correct it in blocking.  But for next time, I definitely will keep the Wensleydale separate -- it is a beautiful, luminous wool but it has almost no spring to it.  It was like spinning llama!  I'd love to spin the rest of it pretty fine and make something lacy out of it -- possibly a shawl.  It naturally made very open loops when knitted, so it's sure to show off a fancy pattern really well.

Next adventure planned with the wheel: trying some of the fancy plying methods (boucle, spiral) that seemed so difficult to even try on a spindle.  We'll see what I manage to accomplish!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Every baby a knitted-for baby

It's been a long time since I've posted here, I admit.  Life gets away from you.  This past year has brought me a pregnancy that couldn't have been more unplanned or unwished-for, as well as a number of other distractions from crafting.

I have heard the slogan that every baby should be a wanted and chosen baby, and I think that would be pretty nice.  On the other hand, half of babies aren't planned, and that doesn't necessarily make them less loved or appreciated once they arrive.  Even when the choice wasn't yours at the beginning, you can make the choice to accept and make the best of it.

One way I tried to deal with this was by knitting.  I think every baby should have something handmade -- it's a way of saying "I loved you enough to work for you before you were even born."  My first two kids had this done for them by other people, because I didn't do much crafting at the time, but my third got quite a few pretty things I made for her.  Many of these have since been passed on (because the gift of handmade baby clothes should be shared!) so this new baby needed some original knitting done.

It's hard to get yourself geared up to knit for a baby you have never met and still feel iffy about having.  But I found that as the knitting went on, I started to feel more positive about it.  This stranger -- this baby currently sucking up my body's resources and making me worry -- would soon be wearing little baby leggings on its tiny little legs.  I didn't know anything else about it -- I still don't know the sex -- but I can picture little legs wearing little leggings, and that worked for me.

After I finished that, I made a hat for a friend's baby, got some Christmas knitting done, and have now cast on a diaper cover.  Diaper covers are one of my favorite things to knit because they're easy, practical, and use small amounts of wool yarn -- something which, as a spinner, I always have lots of.

Diaper Cover Pattern

You can use any weight of yarn for this pattern, but it has to be wool, and it should be as soft as possible.  Choose a size needle that gives you pretty dense stitches -- if there are gaps and holes, it won't be waterproof.  Do a swatch to test your gauge, and then cast on enough stitches to make 12 inches.

First, do k1 p1 ribbing for one inch.  Then follow this pattern: on right-side rows, k5, s1k1psso, knit till seven stitches from end, k2tog, k5. On wrong side rows, k5, purl till five stitches from end, k5.  This will give you a nice garter-stitch edging so the sides won't curl in.

Continue this pattern for about five inches.  Then stop the decreases, so you're just knitting all the right-side rows, and k5, purl, k5 on the wrong-side rows.  After five inches of that, finish with one more inch of k1, p1 rib. That's it!

You can add snaps to hold it together, or adjust the pattern to add buttons and buttonholes, but I just use a Snappi.  To use it, lay a prefold diaper on top, folded to fit inside, bring up the front, and fasten with the Snappi (or whatever).

(This is my third baby, with the cover I made for her)

If your wool is clean (as opposed to raw from the sheep -- which you can use if you have it!), it won't be as waterproof unless you lanolize it -- basically replacing the natural lanolin that made the wool so waterproof while it was on the sheep.  Here are some instructions for lanolizing -- you'll want to repeat the steps any time the cover starts to get leaky.  For basic cleaning, which you do if the cover gets soiled or stinky, you can hand wash in cold water with wool detergent or plain dish soap.

Happy baby knitting!  If you know any babies on the way, go ahead and knit them something.  It's our way of saying "welcome to the world!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

St. Distaff's Day

Today is St. Distaff's Day, or Roc Day, official holiday of spinning.  In the Middle Ages, this was the day that women got back to spinning after the twelve days of Christmas.

There's a joy to getting back to work.  On my way back from a visit to our family at Christmastime, I remarked to my husband, "I can't wait for Monday."

"When I'm back at work?" he asked.

"No," I said, "I just want to get back to my routine."  But it's more than just routine; a routine of sitting around all day would be boring.  A routine of work is what I craved -- the daily pressure of work to be done, resolved by the joy of work completed.  The pride in yourself that comes from knowing you're good at your job.

This last can be hard to come by as a housewife.  There's no boss to give you performance reviews; you don't get a raise if you're better at it.  No one ever is impressed by hearing you are a housewife. You have to develop the ability to judge yourself honestly, to be your own standard, so that you know when you're slacking off and when you can be honestly proud of the good day's work you put in.  But it's freeing, too, not to depend on society or money to validate what you do all day.

Someone asked on Facebook the other day if Adam and Eve would have worked in the garden of Eden.  I say, absolutely.  What would you do if you had all the money you needed?  Watch TV for sixty years?  Or would you take all that wonderful free time and invest it in finally perfecting your hobbies?  I imagine Adam and Eve took delight every day in tending the garden just so, just like hobby gardeners do now -- perhaps meeting at the evening of every day full of the story of the fig tree they'd planted on this hill and the weeds they'd pulled out of that flower bed.  Without work, what would we have to be proud of?  How could we measure our own improvement?  How would we imitate God?

Our creative power is one of the greatest ways we imitate God the creator.  God set the stars in the heavens, spun the earth on its axis, drew out the blue threads of the rivers.  We set our distaff beneath our arm, spin the spindle, draw out the thread -- and when we do so, we learn what it means to love our creation.  What is the most beautiful thing you've ever made, the thing whose flaws couldn't lessen your love for it, because you made it?  Surely God loves you more than you could ever love that thing.

And that's why it's Saint Distaff's Day, even though there's no person named St. Distaff.  Saint means holy -- and our work is holy.  It makes us like God.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sock yarn

I got it in my head awhile back to make sock yarn, just to see if I could.

There's a lot of details you want to get right about sock yarn.  It has to be strong, if you don't want your socks to wear out, but it should also be somewhat elastic.  For this reason, semiworsted spinning is often preferred.  Blue-faced Lancaster is one popular wool for sock yarn; others prefer superwash or one of the felt-resistant down breeds like Devon.  I only had Rambouillet, so that's what I used.

I used the wool I had dyed previously with black walnuts, coffee, and food coloring.

 I spun it pretty much as fine as I could, which wound up being about 60 wpi in the singles.

I aimed for about 400 yards, which apparently is what you need for an average pair of socks.  You should be able to get that out of 4 oz. of wool, but I have no idea what weight I used -- I don't have a scale.

Then I three-plied the yarn, for extra strength.  Three-ply is a big hassle compared to two-ply -- half again as much spinning to do, and then three balls of singles trying to get away from you as you ply -- but the results are definitely more durable.

 The final thickness of the yarn was 22 wpi -- good for knitting on size 1 or 2 sock needles.

I was really happy with the way the colors blended and interacted in this yarn.  The color changes happen every 30 yards or so, shifting from green with bits of yellow to brown with bits of green.  If I knit it up, I'd find subtle bands of colors interacting.

I had a goal in my mind while I spun this yarn -- to get it done before my daughter was born in late August.  I had my doubts that I'd make it, considering what slow going it was and my history of going into labor early.  But in the end, I did get it finished with several days to spare.

My intention was to sell this yarn.  And it's certainly good enough -- it is truly fabulous yarn, strong, soft, springy, and just beautiful.  Not a lot of flaws in it anywhere.  However, considering it took me a month to make, I'm not sure how I'd price it.  Most spinners agree that charging less than ten cents per yard per ply is undercutting those who spin professionally, making it impossible for them to make a living.  So that would give me .... 400 yd x 3 plies is 1200 ply yds; 1200 x 10 cents is $120.  As a minimum, not counting the high quality of the wool or the natural dyeing.

Do you know anyone who would pay $120 for socks, even the world's most gorgeous socks (as these certainly would be)?  I have my doubts.  So perhaps someone I know will have to get a truly princely gift.  You see why handspun available online is often in small hanks -- 100 yd of singles, for instance.  Spinners can make more, but not many can afford to buy it.

More pictures of my absolutely gorgeous yarn:

So far it's the spinning project I'm proudest of!