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Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't Prick Your Finger on This!

When I got my first spinning wheel several people joked that I'd better be careful not to prick my finger. They didn't know that modern spinning wheels don't have a sharp spindle, unless you add it as an accessory.

Now you can make your modern wheel into a Sleeping Beauty Wheel! Using a stylus, (also called a quill) adds speed to your spinning - the tip of the stylus rotates at a very high rate in relationship to the drive wheel. It is also allows you to spin at a sharp angle to the wheel - for some people this is the most comfortable way to spin.

I haven't tried the stylus yet but this video tempts me. The stylus comes with either one or two bobbins. The magic spell for putting people to sleep for a hundred years is extra.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Poodle Two-Ply

I live in town so I can't keep sheep. A poodle is a pretty close second.

This is Carl. He is a 75-pound standard poodle and has a lovely black coat. I didn't get him because of his coat (no, really) but once I started spinning I began to look at those black curls in a whole new way.

And yes, I did spin some of his fur into a fine two-ply. My poodle yarn made it into last Fall's Spin-Off Magazine! Here's what I did and what I learned in the process.

I clipped off Carl's winter coat and then washed it, like I would a sheep's fleece. Bad idea. I lost most of it to matting. I had NO idea it would felt so quickly. Lesson Number One: Wash and dry and comb out dog first. THEN clip.

I carded the good fiber on hand cards and spun from a poodle rolag. It was VERY easy to spin. The fibers were 3-4 inches long. I would compare it to spinning short Romney or Coopworth. I plied the yarn back onto itself for two-ply. It was kind of hairy and had a bit of luster.

Several people have contacted me about spinning dog hair - YES, it can be done. Poodles don't shed and have a single coat, so there is no sorting of useful vs non-useful fur. If you have a single-coated dog you can clean and clip (in that order!) If you have a double-coated dog, keep what you brush out of its coat - the soft, fluffy stuff that likes to live under beds. If it's at least two and a half to three inches long, it can be spun. There are lots of good websites out there dedicated to dog fur yarn. Check them out!

I like a clean, clipped poodle better than I like poodle yarn so I may not do it again. It was fun though, and if you have a dog I'd urge you to try it at least once!

Happy Spinning!

Twits and Snits and Slubs, Oh My!

In a snit over twits and slubs?

One of the greatest things about learning a new craft is all the words that go with it. It's like learning code. Here are a couple of my faves.

Slub - a fat place in the spun strand. Pure Evil if you want a consistent diameter. Pure Fun if you're going for funky. A slub can also be called a burl.

Twit - a too-skinny place in the spun strand. Also, a bad-mannered, preferably skinny, bratty English kid.

Snit - a state of emotional irritation. Not a spinning term but one that often applies, especially when I am trying to make nice, even, consistent, smooth, perfect yarn but what comes out of my hands are twits and slubs.

Illustration by Quentin Blake, from The Twits, by Roald Dahl

The Bag Lady Bag

Here's my Little Gem inside its new Bag Lady bag. I sent in my own fabric - this is patio furniture fabric - and waited about three weeks. The Little Gem fits inside with plenty of room left for fiber and tools. There are three pockets on the outside and a laminated name tag.

If you have a portable spinning wheel, Ellie can make a bag for you. She has two basic fabrics - denim and tapestry - but you can special order if you send her your own fabric. There is an additional charge for a special order bag.

Click here for more info.

I'm off to spin by the lake!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Teach a Grown-Up to Spin!

An old pro spinner at what, nine years old? She's plying and grinning and showing the grown-ups how it's done. I love her joy and confidence.

Have a great weekend!

Photo by Wanda da Rosa: Little Girl Spinning in La Libertad, Peru

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Little Gem Goes Green

Majacraft has upgraded the Little Gem and is now using bamboo in the construction of the drive wheel. Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable wood and has the benefit of being able to withstand wide swings in the humidity without cracking or warping.

This is especially good news for those of us who live where humidity is high in the summer and low in the winter. My very first spinning wheel (not a Majacraft!) warped when the humidity increased in the summer, and had to be replaced.

The Little Gem upgrade is just one more proof that Majacraft is both committed to the environment and to making spinning wheels that will stand up to many, many years of use.

Happy Spinning!

Must-Read Book for Spinners??

Does anyone have a copy of this? I'm dying to read it! Looks steamy. Their feet are almost touching!!!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wool Fair Savvy For First-Time Fair-Goers

Every Mother's Day weekend my hubby drives me 200 miles to the Minnesota Shepherd's Harvest Festival. It's a lot of fun, even for my non-spinning spouse, who hangs out in the livestock barns and chats with farmers. There are sheep dog demos, shearing demos, fiber arts classes, and lots of junk food. Every wool product imaginable is on sale - rovings, yarn, batts, and bags and bags and BAGS of fleece. The above photo is typical of a small booth. And yes, it makes my mouth water.

Here are a few Do's and Don'ts for a visit to the Fiber Fair in your area.

Take cash.
Take a shopping list - do your homework ahead of time and write down the fleeces you're specifically looking for.
Make a quick circuit of the fleece sales and find your Must Have fleeces first. You can browse later.
Ask questions. Most sheep growers love to talk about their sheep. Find out if the sheep have worn coats (more exensive). Check to make sure you are buying a fleece from this year's clip - last year's clip may be harder to wash and should be discounted. Ram's fleece/ewe's fleece/lamb's fleece? If it's not labeled, ask.
Handle the goods. Pull out a staple and check its length, strength, color, and amount of dirt. Check the tips for matting or brittleness or discoloration. Dig gently through the wool and look for really dirty stuff - caked manure, big chunks of alfalfa or straw.
Sniff. Put your face near the bag of fleece and take a good whiff. It should not smell like manure.
Bargain. Fleeces are usually labeled with prices but if you buy two or more from the same person make an offer. This is especially worthwhile toward the end of the fair - farmers don't want to haul the fleeces back home.
Remember the grease. You will lose up to 40 percent of the weight of the fleece after scouring, depending on the breed. Calculate that into the per pound cost.
Carry wet wipes if you don't like the feel of wool grease on your hands. I just rub it in, but that's not for everyone.
Buy The Big Stuff if you have planned ahead. This might be a great day to pick up your second spinning wheel or first loom. If you're in the market and have an idea of what you want, you might get a good "fiber fair" deal. Be sure to check prices ahead of time - the deal may or may not really be a deal. Be sure the equipment dealer is a genuine business and can support your warranty. Get contact info. Ask if the fair deal extends for a few days afterwards - give yourself time to be sure.
Get on the Mailing List for next year.

Shop without a plan.
Seriously. This is a big temptation. Unless you limit yourself to the cash you brought, you could end up with a basement full of dirty wool and no money in the bank.
Buy Impulsively. If you purchase a fleece you should have spent a good amount of time examining it and talking to the farmer.
Hurry. If you buy a raw fleece and process it all the way to a knitted garment you are going to spend a LOT of time with that baby. Be sure you love it, that it is good quality, within your budget, and is a fleece you are capable of processing. For instance, if a fleece needs combing and all you have are hand cards, Just Say No. (Or step over to the wool supplies table and buy combs.)
Park Far Away. If you have to pay for close-up parking, do it. Otherwise you'll be hiking back and forth to your car with big bags of wool.

I love the fiber fair. It is a highlight of my year. Get to one if you can, go with a friend or fun-loving Significant Other.

Happy Spinning!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spinning in 800 B.C.

In the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History there is a display of things that were found at the site of ancient Troy. In the collection are two spindle whorls. They look like blobs of baked clay with holes poked in them, about the size of large cherries. The shafts are long gone, as are the many yards of yarn or thread that were made with them. Remember, in ancient times, every thread of every woven garment was made by hand. Women spent many hours each day spinning the thread for the clothes they would later weave for their families.

Here is a lovely bas relief from ancient Iran, from about the time of Homer's Odyssey - 800-700 B.C. It's on display at the Louvre. There are a few things we can learn from the picture. The spinner is a wealthy lady - she is wearing a fancy wig and is attended by a slave with a fan. A wealthy lady would not have to spin - she could afford to pay spinners (if she didn't own a few already) or purchase cloth, so we know she is spinning for pleasure, not out of necessity. She is using a top-whorl spindle and setting it into motion with her hand, not a thigh spin. She has a snack available, and probably another slave waits nearby to break off pieces of fish and put them into her mouth so she doesn't lose her rhythm or stain her fiber. The spinner sits barefoot and cross-legged on the stool and fills her spindle with wool yarn. It's a lovely, leisurely domestic scene.

We spin our threads as well. We have electric fans and air-conditioning, not slaves. We don't prove our wealth by our wigs, and it is more likely that we keep a cup of coffee on hand for our refreshment, rather than a fish in a bowl. We may use a spindle, and we may sit barefoot and cross-legged. Or we may use that miracle of modern invention, the spinning wheel, but like the lady in the picture we spin for pleasure, for the joy of making something beautiful by hand. We may be separated by a thousand years, but in our craft we are sisters.

Happy Spinning!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dyeing to Dye

Here is a photo of the top of my stove on most days. Forget food. I cook wool.

I can't decide whatI love most about dyeing fiber. Maybe it's the smell of vinegar and wet wool permeating my house. Maybe it's that my fingertips turn a lovely shade of blue/green/red/brown/yellow that won't wash off for days. Maybe it's lugging heavy pots of hot dyebath and wool up and down stairs, setting them in the yard to cool (only if its snowy) and getting a backache in the meantime. There are so MANY reasons I love dyeing!

Probably the biggest reason I love to dye wool (and silk, but that's a different process) is the surprises. I may THINK I'll get some yarn or roving to look like one thing, but in the end it will have a mind of its own and look like something else. I've learned to hold my preconceived ideas loosely and wait to see what happens. I've also learned not to judge yarn or roving by its dyebath - I have to wait until it's rinsed and dried before I can see what it really looks like.

Finally, I've learned that all yarn is beautiful. I've dyed skeins and rovings that I thought were hideous only to have someone buy them and love them and make something wonderful with them. And I've dyed skeins and rovings that I thought were the most gorgeous bits of fiber art in the universe, only to have them left behind for a long time, until someone finally believed in them.

I'm getting ready to set up my etsy store! Stay tuned. EVERYTHING in the store will be beautiful, I promise.

Happy Spinning!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Busy Moms CAN Spin!

"Amazonian Woman Spinning"
Photo by Robin Hanbury-Tenison, O.B.E.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Not To Say To A Llama

The llama with the brown face is happy. See his happy ears? (Can you tell I write books for kids?) The other llama is not happy. His ears are MAD. Why is this llama mad?

I think I insulted him.

The llama on the right was humming. I matched his pitch and repeated the hum back to him. Mmmmm? He did NOT like it. I kept humming and pretty soon I started to think I could be wiping llama spit off my glasses at any moment. I decided to Be Kind To Animals, and stopped humming. Next time I'll quote poetry.

Here is a Peruvian poem I translated from an old book of South American "cradle songs."

Llama Song
(Author Unknown)

If I had a llama,
with fleece of golden wool,
as brilliant as the sun,
as strong as love,
as soft as the mist
that dissolves
with the dawn,
I'd spin myself a counting string,
so I could count the flowers that die,
the clouds that pass me by.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GREAT spindle instructions! Free!

Spin-Off Magazine provides two GREAT brochures for beginning spinners - this is my favorite!

Low Tech, High Satisfaction Spinning Brochure

Angora...Goats? Bunnies? Cats? Yarn?

My first angora sweater died in a washing machine accident. R.I.P.

I always thought angora meant fur from a fluffy rabbit. (See photo). When I started to spin I found out that angora is also a kind of goat - from which we get mohair. And then I found out there are angora cats and angora hamsters...and I started to wonder if there is such a thing as an angora dog. Nope. I checked.

I did a little fiber snooping online and this is what I found out. Angora is an old way to spell Ankara, the modern capital of Turkey. The word comes from the Greek word ankylos which means "anchor" - Ankara is a very ancient harbor.

As for Angora goats, they are first mentioned around the time of Moses - way, way, way back! They take their name from the region of the world where the breed was developed. Later, fuzzy rabbits and cats got stuck with the same name.

Angora goats look like they have silky dreadlocks. Angora rabbits have soft, fine, fly-away fur which is either plucked or snipped. I spoke to the owner of the rabbit in the photo and she said some varieties shed their coats and must be plucked. Others, like the big white one, don't shed and have to be clipped. I bought some angora rabbit and mixed it with Cormo and made a worsted-weight 3-ply. I kept wondering why it wasn't as fuzzy as I expected - until after I knitted a hat with it.

The angora fibers "bloom" after knitting, creating that soft halo effect. Love it!

If you spin with rabbit angora, keep a can of Static Guard on hand. And if you buy rabbit angora, store it in airtight ziplock bags, especially if you live in a humid climate. Rabbit angora will felt on its own without any help if not kept carefully.

Happy Spinning!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alpacas? Suzie Alpaca!!

I went to the Minnesota Shepherd's Harvest Festival yesterday. It was my hubby's Mother's Day present to me. Four hours drive there, four hours at the fair, four hours home. What could be nicer?

I bought a bag of white alpaca from an alpaca grower. Right now I'm dying it multi-colors and will offer the mixes on my etsy site (to come! I'll announce it here when I've got everything in stock.) If you've never spun with alpaca, give it a try!

Alpaca wool is very fine and very soft. It has no grease, and a well-raised alpaca doesn't have a lot of barnyard matter in its fleece (just a year's worth of dirt and dust). Alpaca doesn't have any crimp, or fiber memory, so garments knitted or crocheted from it will tend to G-R-O-W over time. This is great if you are making a shawl and you want a lot of drape. It doesn't work as well in sweaters, so for alpaca garments to retain their shape you will want to blend alpaca with some soft wool. One of my favorite blends is alpaca, merino or cormo, and silk.

Majacraft makes a spinning wheel especially for alpaca-loving spinners. The Suzie Pro Alpaca has a 10% heavier wheel than the standard Suzie, and comes equipped with a slow whorl. Spinning pure alpaca at a slower speed prevents the yarn from being overspun. Fibers (including some sheep wools, like Icelandic) with little or no crimp can easily be spun into STRING so it is important to keep some air in the strand. The Suzie Pro Alpaca Wheel also has a lovely alpaca motif on the front of the stem. If you love camelids, you'll love this wheel.

The Suzie Pro Alpaca is as versatile as every other Majacraft spinning wheel - the interchangeable slow whorl is what makes it great for low-crimp fibers. Of course you can use a regular or fast whorl on the Suzie Pro Alpaca! And any Majacraft spinning wheel can be made into an "alpaca" wheel with the addition of the slow whorl.

Happy Spinning!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doesn't It Take Forever To Make Yarn That Way?

I did a spinning demonstration for a knitting group last year. They knitted, I spun on a drop spindle. Most were fascinated. Many said, "I could never learn that." (They were wrong, BTW) And then there was one lady who said, "Doesn't it take forever to make yarn that way?" By the look on her face and her tone of voice I translated her question this way: What an idiotic waste of time.

People who think like this will be forever content to purchase yarn. That's fine! But some of us like the process as much as the result. We don't count the hours other than to count them as hours well-spent making something beautiful with our hands.

Here is a photo of some laceweight yarn I'm working on right now. So far I've got around 700 yds of 2-ply. I need 2,000 yds for the shawl I want to make. I am making this yarn one strand at a time on a tiny drop spindle. I made the batt by hand as well, starting with a raw lamb fleece and some dirty alpaca that had to be washed, picked, and carded. I added baby camel down and long strands of pure silk and made eight blended batts on my hand-cranked drum carder. I have no idea how many hours it took! When I work with fiber I feel like I am outside of time.

Those of us who love to spin don't count the hours. We count the pleasure, and we count it as a very high pleasure indeed! It's true, I knit fewer garments each year now that I'm spinning, but each sweater or scarf or pair of mittens has been made by love from the fleece. I handle the fiber from the time it is filthy and greasy and full of hay seeds until it is a warm, colorful sweater, surrounding someone I love with its warmth.

We modern people spend far too much time counting the time. If you spin, don't spin in a hurry. If you're thinking about learning to spin, I'd encourage you to do so, and discover what it means to live a few hours each day outside of time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hope For New Spinners

My first attempts at spinning were less than spectacular. I can't show you the very first yarn I took off the bobbin. It went immediately and dramatically into the trash. Here is something like my second attempt. I used a very bad wool for beginners (Gotland Lamb) because someone told me all the cloaks in Lord of the Rings had been made of it and I wanted to wear a garment with a touch of Elven magic. I imagined myself saying to friends, 'Yes, this sweater is made from the same wool as Frodo's Invisibility Cloak."

That did not happen. The yarn ended up as felted slippers because it was not good for anything else. It was a mass of twits (skinny places) and slubs (fat places). They were wonderful slippers, though.

I was afraid I'd never make slub and twit-free yarn. I felt like a klutz.

And then something happened. My brain started to get it. Treadle, draft, spin. Rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. Something clicked. All it took was practice, practice, practice. Hmmm. Seems I told my musician daughter the same thing for a lot of years. Now she gives concerts.

One month later I had made all of these. I had also spun enough yarn for a sweater. Practice, practice, practice! I practiced what I'd preached and it worked! We can learn new skills, even skills that feel impossible. I am not an artistic genius, extra talented, or super-coordinated. I am just determined.

If you are learning to spin and feel like it will never come together, have hope, keep practicing, and remember that all your yarn is beautiful. It may end up in a pair of cozy slippers instead of a magic cloak, but that's okay. That's part of the adventure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mystery Viking Spinners

Five hundred years before Columbus arrived in the Americas there were rumors circulating all over Europe about a mysterious "land of wine" that had been discovered and settled by Norsemen. It took a long time for scientists and archaeologists to unravel the mystery of the Vinland settlement - was it a fable? There was no known "land of wine" in the Americas. No record had been left other than the tales told around campfires and repeated in the villages.

In 1961 remains of a settlement were found in Newfoundland, Canada, and after much study it was determined without a doubt to be a Viking settlement. Among the things that were found was this object. A spinning whorl.

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who won't leave home without her spinning tools.

To see a three-dimensional rendition of the whorl, Click Here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who is St. Seraphina?

Seraphina was a woman who lived in Tuscany, Italy in the 13th century. Despite her poverty and the humble situation of her life she always found time to help others who were less fortunate than herself. She was known for sewing and spinning to help clothe the poor. When Seraphina was still a young woman she was struck with a disabling, paralyzing disease. Unable to walk, her friends carried her on a board so that she could continue to visit her neighbors in need.

St. Seraphina is an example of self-sacrifice and sisterly love for all. She is the patron saint of the disabled, the handicapped, and spinners.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Avoid Swine Flu

Do NOT do this.

I know, it has nothing to do with spinning. I could not resist.

Happy Friday!