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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Weaving with Handspun: Sizing the Warp

I'm working my way through Paula Simmon's classic book Spinning and Weaving With Wool and came to the chapter on warp.  (For those of you who don't weave yet, warp is the name of the long, up and down threads.  Weft is the side-to-side thread.)  I'm planning to weave a piece of twill fabric that is 6 yards long and 20 inches wide, and I want to use handspun.  Paula says to size handspun warp with rabbit skin glue.

Sizing is basically putting something starchy or stiff on the yarn so that it is more able to withstand the punishment of being warp - abrasion from heddles and reed, tension from the warp beam.  I bought a package of powdered rabbit skin glue from the art store.

The first thing I did was dye the yarn scarlet - that's the color I wanted - so when I was finished with that I had hot, rinsed, wet yarn.  While the dyepot was simmering I'd sprinkled 6 tablespoons of rabbit skin glue powder on cold water, stirred it in, and let it all sit.  It gelled into a gray/beige goopy, thick mess.

 I took a big bucket and poured in this goop.  To this I added 8 cups of boiling water and stirred the sizing until the goop had completely dissolved.  Next I put the skeins in, one by one, and pushed them down, making sure they were saturated.  (I wore gloves for this.)

I carried the bucket downstairs and spun the yarn out in my washing machine spin cycle, and then removed it.  I immediately ran a small hot water load of rags, with detergent, to wash the glue out of my machine.

It's a gorgeous, breezy day, so I hung the skeins out to dry.  So far they still looked like regular wet yarn!  The yarn is fine so it dried right away.  AND it is SIZED!  It is stiff, as though it were over-starched, but the strands are not very stuck together - it will be easy to wind everything into balls.  There is no weird smell. 

After I take the final cloth off the loom I'll finish it with gentle washing - this will remove all of the rabbit skin glue.  I have that triumphant feeling - followed the directions and everything worked.  The only thing I did differently was to size the yarn in skeins, rather than wait until I had it measured into warp chains.  I don't know if this will make a difference or not.

It looks like the stiff yarn will also be easier to thread through heddles and reed.  YAY!  Now I have to finish spinning the weft yarn and I'll be ready to test my sized warp on my loom.  Sizing was not a big task, was not very messy, and if it makes my handspun easier to weave, I'm all for it.

I wonder if I can buy rabbit skin glue in BULK??

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Confessions of a Notorious Non-Swatcher

I have never been much of a swatch-maker.  If I start knitting something and don't like it, I rip it out.  I don't keep records of my spun yarn.  I don't try to figure out twists per inch - I just decide if I like it or not.

This habit (or non-habit) is not going to serve me very well as a weaver.  Could it be that a reformed attitude is in order?

Although I am getting much faster at warping my loom, it is still time-consuming.  Once the loom is set up, I want to weave.  If after an inch of weaving I decide I don't like what I'm seeing, I am in trouble.  It is no easy task to "rip out" a warp and start over!

So, I am sampling.  Check out these two samples/practice mats.  I used the same three colors in each of the projects.  In the runner I used hot pink for the weft.  In the place mats I used bright turquoise.  What a difference.  (I also made fewer mistakes in the placemats - learning curve!)

For plain weave items I can sample on my Cricket loom (another good reason to have one) but for bigger, more complicated projects I'll have to sample on the big loom.  Can do.  Can do!  I can see that in the long run it is going to be worth it.  I am going to reform.  At least as a weaver!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Greatest Work of Art - Kids!

I had to take a break from fiber to watch my daughter Jody graduate from college.  (That cord around her neck means she graduated Summa Cum Laude.) She is now an official Bachelor...of Music.

Ok, back to weaving!  I am working on a table runner now.  It has mistakes.  It has wavy selvedges.  AND I LOVE IT!  Hope your week is off to a good start!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learning to Weave: Overcoming the Perfection Barrier

My daughter  Jody will graduate this weekend with a degree in music performance (pipe organ).  She is a talented young woman, and very accomplished, but while I was listening to her senior recital I kept thinking back to the little girl who sat at the piano and cried at least once a week - because she knew how the music was supposed to sound but couldn't yet play it.

When I heard her crying (or pounding the poor old piano in frustration) I would sit beside her on the bench, put my arm around her, and remind her of all the music she had already learned; how she had not been able to play those pieces perfectly the first time; and that with practice it was certain she would learn the new music.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to give that pep talk, but it worked.  She didn't give up.  She learned to love the process of learning as much as the accomplishment.

When I tell people that I'm learning to weave I often hear some horror story about warping a loom.  In fact, I have found that it is one of the things that keeps people from this ancient and wonderful craft.  "Oh, but the setup, I've heard it's awful."

One of my Ravelry friends, who is a self-taught weaver, calls this "the Perfection Barrier," and I think that is an apt title for the main reason more people don't weave.  They are afraid of failure and frustration so they don't even try. They know how the music is supposed to sound but they never get around to making it themselves because they are so afraid of the process.

Our fiber guild doesn't meet in the summer so I am on my own.  I got a book, Learning to Weave, and a Schacht's newest loom, the Wolf Pup LT.  When the loom arrived I assembled it myself in just two hours.  I've never touched a floor loom before, but I had studied the book and knew the terms and parts.  Yesterday I warped it for the first time, following the lesson in the book.

I had to retie the warps more than once to fix the mistakes.  I had to color-code the heddles with Sharpie so I knew which shaft I was looking at.  I don't have a bobbin-winder, so I wound the shuttle bobbins on my sewing machine bobbin-winder.  By the time I had the loom ready to go it was late, I was tired, but I couldn't wait.
Here is what I wove before bed.  It is not perfect.  But it is a great beginning!  I'm weaving! 

I refuse to be stopped by the Perfection Barrier.  In fact, I have made a vow to myself - I am going to learn to LOVE warping my loom, and I am going to give myself permission to weave many imperfect things and to embrace the learning process.  Someday I'll be a good weaver.  And maybe I'll even be a great weaver!

Don't let the Perfection Barrier stop you from trying something new.  Get a book, take a class, JUMP IN!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Schacht Ladybug - Special Introductory Price $539

In March I picked up the Schacht dealership for my area.  At first I thought I would just carry looms.  "We would love it if you'd carry the wheels as well," they said.  I said, no thanks, I didn't have room.

Well, I made room because I thought it would be nice to give my customers a choice.  Schacht has a spotless reputation, the wheels are made in America, and hey, I have room in my heart to love more than one kind of spinning wheel. 

I am going to place my first order for Ladybug Spinning Wheels at the end of this month.  I'd like to take this opportunity to offer the wheel for $539 (plus free shipping) to anyone who orders the wheel between now and May 27th, 2010.  Delivery will be at the end of June. 

E-mail me if you'd like to take advantage of this offer.  The Ladybug isn't a new wheel but it is new to my workshop, so we'll call it an introduction.  I'm hoping the size and quality will make it a big seller.  

Here is what the Schacht website says about the Ladybug:

The Ladybug Spinning Wheel is friendly to entry-level spinners, easy to treadle, easy to take with you, and…as cute as a bug! The Ladybug has the characteristic solid Schacht construction and its unique design is both functional and charming. Designed-in carrying handles in the legs and light weight make the Ladybug easy to pick up and transport. An optional attached tensioned Lazy Kate integrates into the front leg and makes it easy to take along, too!

The Ladybug Spinning Wheel uses Scotch tension, and can also be used in double drive mode. The Ladybug comes with medium and fast flyer whorls; the slow and high speed whorls can also be used for a wide range of ratios.

Included with each Schacht Ladybug Spinning Wheel are a poly drive band, threading hook, three bobbins, medium and fast whorls, and double drive band. Each Ladybug Spinning Wheel is unique - somewhere on your wheel is your very own Ladybug pal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Majacraft Aura: At Last! Photos and a Review

The Aura arrived here in Minnesota on Thursday.  I invited my spinner friend Kerry over to help me assemble the wheel and take photos, so THANKS to Kerry.

First impressions:  The box was much smaller than the boxes that the Rose and Suzy come in.  Here is what I saw when I opened it up, removed the top piece of styrofoam.
I lifted up the wheel and gasped.  It is GORGEOUS, SOLID bamboo, and very heavy.  In my opinion it is the most beautiful of all the drive wheels Majacraft makes.

Next we unpacked the pieces.  The treadles are lovely, and have a curvy new look.

The spinning head has been completely redesigned.  The only thing that looks the same is the shaft.  There are two whorls in place of the one whorl in previous models.  They rotate independently.

The jumbo flyer has the aerodynamic wooden crossbar, jumbo sliding hook, and a unique orifice called a "pigtail".  It is very easy to thread and has options for threading fine or lumpy yarns.  It is quite easy to spin at an angle to the pigtail.

The jumbo bobbins are bamboo!  That was a surprise. 

And of course the signature at the base is very important.


Here are some photos of the wheel after assembly.

And here is a close up of the spinning head with the pulleys and whorls and drive wheel connected by bands.

The white band is not stretchy.  It goes from the front whorls (which rotate at the same speed as the bobbin) to a "holder" pulley (small pulley on the opposite side) and then down to a special, deep groove on the drive wheel.  The green stretchy band goes from the whorl groove to the wheel, as in the other Majacraft wheels.  This whorl is very large and has three grooves.

The tensioning requires a paradigm shift in thinking about how spinning FEELS.  Adjustment of the white band controlls the amount of pull, or tug on the wool during spinning.  The green band adjusts the speed of the takeup, and the difference in size between the first and second bands is how one arrives at the correct tension/pull/takeup for the wool one is spinning.

Here are some answers to common questions about the Aura.  

Q:  Will my other Majacraft bobbins work on the Aura?  
A: No.  The Aura bobbins have holes that fit into pins on the spinning head to keep it in pace with the first (white band) whorls.  I tried to drill holes in one of my lace bobbins in order to make it work - first attempt at mod was not a success, but I haven't given up.  Right now, the only bobbins that are designed for the Aura are the jumbo Aura bobbins.  The wheel comes with three jumbo Aura bobbins.  Additional bobbins cost $45 USD.  BUT these are such large bobbins that having many extra bobbins is not essential.

Q: Will my high-speed head fit on the Aura?  
A.  No.  The spinning head on the Aura is mounted with a bolt that passes through the head. 

Q: How is the tensioning different from other Majacraft wheels?
A: Scotch tension requires tweaking as one spins.  As the bobbin fills the pull and takeup change and tension has to be increased in small increments.  With the Aura tension system, one only has to set it for the type of yarn and GO.  No readjusting.

Q: Is the Aura only for art yarn?
A: No.  The Aura can spin anything, although as it is set up now (huge bobbins, large whorls) it is perfect for art yarn, bulky yarn, or worsted weight soft singles.  I was able to spin laceweight once the bobbin was half full.  More about that later!

Q:  Would this be a good wheel for a new spinner?
A:  YES.  More about that with the review!

Q: What does the Aura cost?  
A:  It is listed at $963 USD.  It is definitely the top of the line now.

Q:  Will Majacraft make other whorls/setups for this wheel?
A:  Yes, but there are not dates on this yet.  Glynis mentioned to me that they will probably make a lace flyer with standard orifice next, but she was thinking out loud, not announcing a fact.  Right now they are busy getting the pre-orders out!

Ok, my review!

Kerry and I spent about four hours spinning, between the two of us.  Kerry spun fine merino top from the fold.  I spun Romney, Romney blend, mohair, merino, CVM from rolags and merino/bamboo.  We spun as fine as we could and I spun fat art yarn.  We took it up to speed and raced it (my job), and we tested how leisurely we could spin (that was Kerry's job).  We also brought over Kerry's son Josh who is 15, and has never been able to get the hang of spinning on the family Rose.  He was able to spin immediately.

It took a while for me to adjust to the new feel of the wheel.  I did a lot of adjusting.  Like I said above, spinning on the Aura requires a change of mindset.  The side knob controls how HARD the wheel pulls against the wool, but NOT how fast it takes up.  Changing the position of the green band up and down the whorls changes how fast the yarn takes up.  I am not used to thinking of tension and takeup as separate functions, so...being middle-aged, it took me a while to stop breaking the yarn.  

Once I got the hang of it I found my sweet spot setting and was able to spin for an hour solid making perfect, even Romney singles that would knit at about DK.  I was AMAZED at how smooth the treadling and tension are.  When I speeded up my treadling I was able to make consistent sockweight, laceweight singles, though this was nearly impossible until the bobbin was half full.  The bobbin is so large that the slightest pull would snap those fine singles.  Once the bobbin was essentially a "fat core" the fine spinning was possible and easy.

Bulky spinning was great too - no overtwisting.  I didn't have to work so fast that I lost control.  I could make slubs, twits, add in fluff, whatever, at a nice, steady pace.  The orifice can handle all manner of blobs with ease.  This wheel will make the art yarn spinners jump up and down but the rest of us have plenty to be happy about too.

The wheel is slow.  It will require gearing up for me to spin lace at the speed I want to go.  I can spin lace, but not fast.  This would be a good wheel for a tense person (that would be me) because the pace is so relaxing.  

I'm just getting used to Aura but I give her a hearty thunbs up.  I know Majacraft is going to expand the wheel in time and it will be THE spinning wheel everyone wants to have because of the versatility.  Right now (May 1, 2010)  it is already PERFECT for 1) spin control 2) soft, even singles 3) bulky, funky, lumpy, happy yarns, 4) learning to spin/draft 5) leisurely spinning of very fine yarns, once there is a bit of a core built up on the bobbin.

Please feel free to comment, to ask questions, or e-mail me for more info. stseraphinaknits at