Visit My Etsy Shop

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Ken the Outdoorsy Type?

My friend Kerry spun the wool for this sweater on her Rose. She used Finn top, spun it fine, and Navajo-plied it to make a fine, fluffy 3-ply. Noting that her daughter's Ken doll (renamed Sven Doll) was looking mighty cold in February wearing only beach gear, she knitted him up a little sweater. She tried out some new cast-on and cast-off techniques, knitted it in the round to the armholes (with tiny gussets!) and put a draw string around the rolled neck so her 4-yr-old daughter can easily get it over Sven's head.

The sweater has the effect of making a hard plastic doll somewhat cuddly. That must be why Sven's dating life has improved so dramatically. Rumor has it that he has ditched Barbie and is now going out with Cinderella.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My First (And Hopefully Helpful) Spinning Video!

I am paranoid about dinging up my treadles. Call me fussy. Here is a way to take the flyer off and put it back on without risking that lovely Rimu wood or bruising up your feet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Idea of Sheer Bliss...

Note To Self: Take time to live in the moment.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

U Can Spin From the Fold!

Here is my favorite video on how to spin from the fold. Spinning from the fold is great for long flicked locks or a roving made from a longwool - like Shetland, Romney, Wensleydale, etc. It is also nice to try if the wool or fiber blend is giving you problems - very fine, for instance, or full of slick fibers like silk or bamboo.

Happy Spinning!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neps. One Lump, or Two?

In the top part of the photo you can see a pre-drafted section of the neppy neon wool I'm currently spinning. There are lumps created by short bits of wool (neps) and coiled wool fibers (noils) and the neps and noils create slubs (fat places in the yarn) which are usually followed by twits (skinny places in the yarn).

I bought this wool as a fleece. It's easy to get lumps when you start with the fleece. But what if you want lumps, and all you have to work with is nice, smooth, perfect combed, commercial top?

Add lumps. Here are a couple of ways to do it.

Snip up some other yarn into tiny bits and put a pile of it into your fiber hand first, UNDER the commercial top. As you draft, make sure to let some of the lumps into the triangle.

Hand-pick a blob of silk noil, pulling it into a tiny roving. Hold this wispy, lumpy roving with your commercial top and spin them at the same time. The bottom of the photo shows two piles of dyed silk noil - I have silk noil samplers for sale at my etsy shop.

It takes a little practice to get good at adding lumps (like ALL new skills) but it's worth the effort if you like texture and want to work from combed tops.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Got Gray Wool? Overdye!

I finished two pounds of Romney singles and...didn't love them. I thought I'd like the natural color but the swatch made me feel blah. Solution? Dyepot!

I cut ten 12-inch pieces of the gray yarn. I placed each one in the bottom of a glass jelly jar, added 1/4 cup water, a drip of vinegar, a squirt of dye, and microwaved the batch for ten minutes. Then I dried them and waited to see which one I'd like the best. Goldenrod won.

Now I'm happily knitting away on this gold sweater. The gray yarn gives the color a depth I couldn't have gotten any other way. Now I love it! None of my hard work was wasted, and somebody is going to get a really great-looking sweater.

Success is sweet!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Good Advice for Spinners

Don't hurry.
Don't push.
You'll get there.
One step at a time.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The UNintentional Spinner

This week I am sick of intentional spinning. For months I've been working on laceweight skills, both on the spindle and on the wheel, and I've made some lovely yarn, but now I need a break. I can tell that I'm becoming anal about spinning and that's a BAD THING.

Here's my therapeutic, non-intentional yarn. I had some leftover Romney from one of last year's fleeces. I dyed half of it neon green and half of it sky blue. I cranked it through the drum carder, but only once. Yeah, there are neps and noils. Who cares? I'm spinning it on my second-to-the-largest whorl, going as fast as I can. It's lumpy. It's bumpy. It restoreth my soul.

Don't spend all your spinning time trying to get it "right". Play with colors and textures, wool and wheel. Spin something goofy. Spin something imperfect.

Spin some yarn that makes you laugh.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Perendale Sheep: Which Ewe Are You?

I took the "Which Ewe Are You?" online quiz and found out that I'm a Perendale. Since I didn't know much about the breed I did some reading.

The Perendale is a dual-purpose sheep developed in New Zealand in the 1950s by crossing Romneys with Cheviots. It grows quickly, can thrive in many different environments, is a prolific breeder, and the ewes are good mothers who typcially need no help during lambing. It is a very popular breed in New Zealand but harder to find in America. Read more about the breed here.

Perendale wool has an average staple length of 5" making it a longwool breed. The wool varies in fineness from 28 to 40 microns, in other words, soft to Brillo. If you buy a Perendale fleece sight unseen (and untouched) be sure you're buying from a breeder who selects for wool as well as meat.

So, which ewe are YOU?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catching Plies

The phone rings. The UPS guy knocks on your door. The cat attacks your drive wheel. Quick! Loop the end of your ply around one of the hooks and HOPE it holds...

Here's a great Twist Saving fix, shared by Vanessa (a.k.a. BeingV on Ravelry) who gave me permission to post her photo here. Vanessa has stuck a Velcro dot to the end of her flyer to catch wayward plies. Brilliant! JoAnn Fabrics, here I come!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Plying in Ancient Egypt

This drawing was copied from a 4,000 year old Egyptian tomb. I'm glad to see that some things never change - like putting two balls of yarn into separate bowls or jars in order to ply.

At the time this tomb was built the Egyptians only had linen and wool to work with - no cotton. Men who held positions of authority wore a white, pleated linen skirt to signify their importance. Neckties had not yet been invented.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Majacraft Pioneer: Beautification Project

The first time I saw a Pioneer spinning wheel I thought, "It begs for decoration." The smooth wheel is a perfect palette...if you are an artist. I am not. So I looked around on Etsy and found someone whose art I liked, Mrs. Carolyn Gardner. See her other work here.

I e-mailed Carolyn and asked if she'd paint a spinning wheel, and she said she'd be happy to try it. I told her I wanted her to have complete freedom, as long as the work had sheep in it! This is the result. The wheel is identical on both sides. I love it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fiber Art at the Franklin's

No matter how many cool and tempting spinning wheels I have set up around the house, I haven't been able to interest any of my family members in learning to spin. Here they are, making baskets instead. Ok, it counts as fiber art, so I shouldn't complain. The kids are home from college for a few days, it's too cold to camp. Craft time!

On the left, my husband Marty - high school Spanish teacher, tree-climber, philosopher and Best Friend. Was voted Teacher of the Year by the school district this year. Loves gardening and has turned half of our front lawn into a mini-forest. Collects ferns. He's the basket-weaving guy - the kids are just learning.

Center, son Kelly. Just finished his Master's Degree in English Lit and will start his doctoral studies at the U of Iowa in August. In the meantime, he's going to start work on his Master's in Spanish this summer. Great guy, cooks and does dishes, plays guitar, makes me laugh at the drop of a hat.

Right, daughter Jody. In her last year of music studies at the U of Wisconsin. Is taller than both parents, sews, quilts, draws, laughs a lot, and plays a mean buncha Bach on the pipe organ. She also sings in operas, loves to speak French, and kisses the big poodle on the nose at least once a day.

These are the people I love most, and the ones who get all the sweaters.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What I Wish I Could Ask A Jacob Sheep

Do those big horns hurt? That's what I want to know. My head hurts if my ponytail is too heavy. These sheep are carrying a lot more weight than hair. Not only are Jacob Sheep famous for their spotty, multi-colored wool, but also for their horns. This guy has four. It is not unknown for a Jacob Sheep to have six!

Jacob Sheep are a very old breed, probably originating at least 3000 years ago in the region of modern-day Syria. They are an "Old World" sheep and haven't been cross-bred like so many modern sheep, so their body type and shape is closer to the first domesticated sheep than Romneys or Merinos. When I saw my first Jacob Sheep at a fiber fair I was surprised at their small, compact size. I was also amazed by the horns!

Jacob Sheep are named for the spotted, striped, and black sheep that were bred by Jacob in the Old Testament story. Unlike other ancient breeds of sheep, Jacob Sheep have a medium fleece and no outer coat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Little Gem Booties

The instructions that come with the Little Gem say to put a towel on the treadles when the wheel is folded in half to protect the treadles from getting banged around during transport. I've tried the towel trick but a towel moves around. I wanted something a little more secure. Yesterday I made these booties for my Gem. Here are the instructions to make your own.

Out of heavy fabric cut 2 rectangles - 17.5 x 8.5 inches. Fold the rectangles into fourths and trim the corners until they're nicely curved.

You'll need about 2 yds of stiff elastic. I used 1/2 inch elastic. On the wrong side of one of the rectangles, secure one end of the elastic to a long edge with a few stitches. Once the elastic is securely sewn down, stretch it really tight and continue to sew it around the circumference of the fabric, using a zig zag or elastic stitch.

That's it! Do the same for the other one. Gem Booties.

I can spin with the Booties in place.

Friday, June 5, 2009

RARE SPINNING ELF! Seeing is Believing!

Now and then I'll find that a bobbin I've left half-filled at night will be full the next morning. There's nothing I love more than a good mystery, so I taught my dog to take photos and told him there would be extra biscuits for a good shot of whatever, or whoever is messing with my spinning wheel while I sleep.

Look what he got!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flax to Linen: A Whole Lotta Workin' Goin' On.

I'm still listening to the series of lectures about Ancient Egypt and just learned that linen was the only fiber available to the Egyptians. All those gowns. All those mummy wrappings...(which were most likely torn from bedsheets used by the deceased during his/her lifetime). Making linen is a very work-intensive craft. The following is a summary taken from an article by Gael Stirler. You can find the full article here.

History of Flax Production

The oldest evidence of flax horticulture was found in a Swiss lake bed and dated at 10,000 years old. The oldest evidence of woven linen cloth comes from Egypt and is 8,000 years old. Some remarkable examples of finely woven linen have been found in Egypt. When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who died 1213 B.C.E., was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation - after more than 3000 years...When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened, the linen curtains were found intact. Egyptian men wore kilts made of white linen and the women are often depicted wearing gowns of such fine linen fabric that you can see right through it.

Flax farming was more labor intensive than cotton, but flax plants could grow in cold climates where cotton couldn't, so flax cultivation dominated in northern Europe along with wool. Silk and cotton were imported from warmer regions but the transport costs made them much more costly than linen or wool in the Middle Ages.

The flax plant was harvested by pulling the entire plant out of the ground or cutting the stalks close to the soil. The plants were then left to rot in retting ponds or streams to breakdown the pulpy part of the stalks and release the long, shiny fibers. This took several weeks. When the retting was finished the long fibers could be separated from the rest of the plant by beating it between wooden blocks in a three-step processes call beating, scutching, and heckling.

Women making Linen veils

Seamstresses making garments of linen,
Tacuinum Sanitatis, 14th century.

By the 16th century, the production of flax had increased so much in England to satisfy the demand for linen garments that King Henry VIII made a law that no one could wear shirts or chemises made of more than "5 ells of that country cloth" or 6¼ yards in modern measure. It seems that so many of the streams, brooks, ponds, and lakes were being used for retting that the pollution caused by the rotting plant material was choking out the fish!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Long Draw Tips

If you're having trouble mastering the long draw, here are a few things to try.

1. Use hand-carded rolags. These fluffy cigars of wool are your Long Draw Best Friends. If you can't bring yourself to card by hand, spin from a piece of sliver from a carded batt. Avoid combed top.
2. Try switching hands. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially if you've been spinning one way for a long time, but try it!
3. Use undyed, medium coarse, medium length wool (3-4 inches) Shorter Romney works well, Dorset and the longer Downs breeds are also good choices. Breed really makes a difference when learning - find a farmer who will sell you washed locks or carded wool, but avoid combed top.
4. Did I say avoid combed top? Commercially prepared wool is usually combed - you can see the comb lines in the roving. All the fibers are parallel, the short stuff has been removed. It's niiiiiiiice and smooth. It is also quite compacted, and will make you crazy while you're trying to learn. Set it aside for now. Get your hands on the rougher, messier stuff.
5. Buy some practice wool. Dedicate a couple of pounds of wool to learning the technique. Plan to throw the yarn away when you're done. (You don't have to, of course, but it takes the pressure off.) There is nothing more frustrating or counter-productive than trying to learn a technique on wool we want to use for a project. Let the skill-building be the project.
6. Practice every day. It will take longer than a couple of hours to get comfortable with the long draw. You will have starts and stops, clumps and breaks, slubs and twits. That's why the next tip is so important.
7. Be patient with yourself! Set yourself a reasonable goal. "I am going to learn the long draw over the next six months." It won't take that long, but giving yourself permission to work on the skill may be the key to success.

There are some great videos on YouTube - find one you like and watch it several times, then buckle down and DO IT, one little rolag at a time. Soon you'll be stretching the wool like it was chewing gum.

Happy Spinning!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Make Yarn, Not War

I dyed 40 skeins of silk laceweight yarn on Saturday. It's one of my favorite jobs, something I always look forward to doing. It's all for sale on my Etsy store now - twisted, photographed, labeled and uploaded. Hint: Colors are MUCH better in real life than in the photos!

If you haven't ever used commercial yarn in your spinning, give it a try. Make a single ply of wool, or anything you have on hand, and ply that with a commercial yarn, like silk or wool laceweight. You can get different effects depending on the direction of twist - try it several ways. Send me a photo of your new artsy yarn and I'll post it here!

Happy Spinning!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Learn How To Make A Mummy (While You Spin!)

This is King Tut. Not bad after 3,357 years, huh?

When I spin and knit I travel through time. My hands and heart are at work making beautiful things for the people I love, and my head is busy learning about the world of Augustus and Shakespeare, and lately, King Tut. I consider the hours I spend on fiber arts as some of the highest quality time in my day. I have a hot pink Apple iPod and it is loaded with great stuff, some of it free downloads.

Here are my three main sources of audiobooks and lectures. Check them out! Turn your spinning time into learning time. You'll be richer for it.

Audible Books - I've been a member of Audible since I had dial-up internet service. There are thousands of books available for download, best-sellers and classics and everything in between. The member prices are awesome, far less than you'd pay for CD audio books at Barnes and Noble.

The Teaching Company - my favorite by far. These are college courses, taught by the best, most engaging and enthusiastic professors in the world. The courses are available on DVD, CD, cassette, and audio download. The Teaching Company always has great sales going - you'll find something you like on sale. Here's a hint. Go to the site and sign up for a catalog. They'll send you two free lectures on CD. I was utterly hooked by a lecture on Egypt - and now I have the whole series and just learned how to make a mummy, in case I ever need that skill. I have to make myself stop listening! I've purchased several sets from this company and the quality it fantastic. If you liked college, but not writing papers or taking tests or reading boring textbooks, you'll LOVE the Teaching Company courses. It's like having your very best professors all to yourself.

iTunes U - freebie lectures from universities around the world. I've listened to several series. My favorites were from Stanford and Yale. If you have an iPod you can download iTunes U courses for NOTHING. I'm not sure if there's a better deal out there.

Happy Spinning!