Fiber Corner

Daily life of a knitting designer/publisher of handknitting patterns

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Distaff Dressing

My workshop at the Folk School was the first time I'd attempted spinning flax. We started out in familiar territory by using roving. Patsy suggested coiling a length around your wrist to keep it under control and out of the way...

...because next we added an additional step of using water while we were spinning. It's good to keep the unspun fiber out of the way because once the flax gets wet it sticks together and won't draft. The water is really worth using if you want a smooth yarn as it sticks all the little ends of the fiber together so that the yarn looks more like linen than burlap. This is a shot of the cute little water container that Patsy hangs on her wheel. Keeping it close allows you to quickly dip your fingers in the water while spinning.
Notice, too, that Patsy is wearing a spinning apron. A very good idea! As things can get a little messy.

After practicing a bit with the roving which is made from the shorter pieces of flax, or tow, we moved on to the really long fibers of line flax. These are gathered into a long ponytail looking preparation called a strick. Generally, a distaff is used with this preparation and is sort of a third hand so the long fibers don't get tangled and using one allows you to spin a very smooth thread. There are several different ways to prepare distaffs for spinning and I thought it would be fun to show them since we tried out so many.

The first one we tried was probably the easiest and needed no additional equipment.
Basically, you tuck each end of the prepared strick (to prepare it, you comb out the shorter lengths) into the pockets of your pants and basically spin from the fold.
Another way to do this is to hang the strick in a loop and tie it to the distaff. Pat came prepared with a dogwood branch distaff (note Nat's Alden Amos charkha in the background) that she clamped to the arm of her spinning chair.
The method I liked best was just to leave the pony tale hanging down as it shows in this photo. (and that's Elizabeth's great wheel, well, one of them, in the background)
You can do this with just a straight distaff but this one is a special one Patsy's husband made for her.
The scariest one to make, at least to me, was this one. Patsy tied the strick to her waist and spread the fibers out on the apron on her lap. Imagine the mess that would happen if you were interrupted halfway through the process!
Carefully, take off the apron and lay it on a table.
Then, make a cone of paper and wrap the fibers around it.
And, tie them up with a ribbon.
Place on the top of a distaff.
And, start to spin.
A few fibers at a time. Patsy's linen spinning is utter perfection!
The last distaff we prepared was sort of like making cotton candy. Here you see the fibers laying on the table and being lifted into the air and wrapped around the distaff.
It's wrapped up with ribbon when it's finished, too.
One thing we all agreed on was the need for free standing distaffs to be made available for sale. (maybe by some of those great spindle makers we all love) Some of the wheels manufacturers have models that can be attached but I really liked the ones that sat just behind my shoulder. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for something like that at the next fiber festival I attend!

All in all, I liked spinning flax. Just need ALOT more practice.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm B-a-a-a-c-k

I'm back from my class on spinning the Long and the Short--Cotton, Silk and Flax at the John C Campbell Folk School in NC. It's the second workshop I've taken there and was even more fun than the first one. Here's our class photo--from left to right Natalie, Pat, Patsy, Joan, Sue, me, Kate, Roberta, and Elizabeth. Happy faces, Yes?
It was a wide range of spinning experience levels--from Kate who had only been spinning a couple of weeks to Pat who holds her COE in spinning from the Handweavers Guild of America. I learned so much!

Here's my ring of sample skeins from the class. The rings were heart shaped this time since Valentine's Day occurred during our time there.
We started with spinning flax into linen but then quickly moved to cotton, then silk and back and forth never spending more than a couple of hours on one type of fiber. Patsy thought it best to mix up the fibers as much as possible so that your hands wouldn't get stuck in one type of drafting style. That what you learned spinning one type of fiber would transfer over when spinning another. We even dyed some cotton (the bright pink skein in the middle) and also the marled looking one on the right. And, I learned alot about blending fibers and mixing fiber plys--the options seem endless.

I'll write some separate posts on some of the class material but I'm sure you're all waiting to hear what I bought there so I'll happily accommodate.

The week started off by spending a day with Roberta. You know what they say about southern hospitality--it's all true! Especially when it refers to her. She picked me up at the northern most MARTA stop and after stopping for lunch, whisked me off to visit her local LYS. It was a very nice shop; part knitting store and the other half quilting supplies and what a lovely owner and patrons. Then after a stop at her lovely house we went down to a meeting of the local spinning guild. So many spinners all in one room! It was wonderful. One lady has a flock of Corriedale sheep and brought some hand dyed roving to sell that I simply couldn't resist. I'm thinking it should make great socks.

There's also a little knit shop near the Folk School and I found this lovely spindle there. It's made by Janet Yost and the whorl is Macassar Ebony with a Redheart shaft. It's really a beauty and a terrific spinner. The pic has the hook cut off but it's very similar to those on Tabachek spindles. There's only two things about it that take some getting used to--there is no notch on the whorl and the shaft tapers in and then out again so the cop can't be removed by sliding it down the shaft but needs to be wound off instead. No matter, as I just love the size--it's great for using while sitting.

The shop had lots of fibers. I bought some colored cottons but didn't bother taking pictures of them. But it also had raw fleece! Yum, just what I needed to see in my Year of the Fleece.

And, not just fleece from anywhere--Shetland fleeces FROM Shetland! I had to get two. :) The one on the left is very multicolored and so soft and crimpy. The one on the right is what she called a more open fleece--the lock structure is very different but I loved the silver grey color.

Not much knitting was accomplished while I was gone. But, I did finish these mittens since returning.
These are the Fanning the Flame mittens knit with Lisa's Angora/Merino in Mars Quake. I just love this yarn; so soft with a nice little halo. The weather has been cold and these mitts have been keeping my hands nice and warm, too.

Next up--my flax spinning adventures.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fiber Deliveries

My blog post for this week is a little early as I'll be taking off tomorrow morning for a weeklong spinning workshop at the John C Campbell Folk School. It's been quite the week for fiber deliveries. Take a look.

First off a big Thanks! to Lisa for accommodating an emergency order--a skein of her Angora/Merino in Mars Quake. It's fun to start a new project when you're gone and this will be just perfect. It's destined to be mittens (or gloves) and perfectly matches my new winter jacket. Love it!
Oh, and did you hear? Lisa will be carrying Heartland Knits patterns in her booth at Stitches West! Whee!

The next day the mailman brought the box of goodies my personal shopper at Madrona picked up for me. She found a lovely skein of Chasing Rainbows Bombyx silk in Moody Blues. The fibers are so fine it scares me. ;) Then, there's the Merino/Angora she called me from Tacoma about--asking if I could raise my $ limit because it was incredible. Let me tell you, if Kerry says she found some wonderful fiber, Believe her! This stuff is to die for!
And, she also sent along some of the gorgeous mohair she bought from Persimmon Tree at MS&W last spring. I can't wait to spin that up.

Next came a dark chocolate brown Polwarth fleece from Treenway. This picture isn't quite representative as it is a deep dark brown and only has some lighter tips.
The staple is quite long and I'm wondering if I should take those tips off. They didn't seem brittle on the one lock I pulled out but I'm wondering how they'll look in the spun yarn. It was hard not to sit down and try it out but it's a busy, busy day and there just was no time.

The only spinning I managed this week was plying this skein of laceweight yarn. I spun the singles last summer. It's one strand of Merino and one of Merino/Silk--both in Lisa's Wild Things. I never thought I'd finish plying it and I fear I was in too much of a hurry at times. It measures 40 WPI and there's just over 2000 yds in the skein.
And, here's the start of a hat out of my Blue Moon Novelty yarns. I took Lara's excellent suggestion to pair it with navy blue. The navajo plyed stuff is really nasty yarn--you can't see all the corkscrew bits but I sure could feel them while knitting it. And, you can see how muted down the colors look compared to the slub yarn.

I'll have to finish knitting the hat on the plane. I wanted to have something made out of novelty yarns to show Patsy since that was the subject of the workshop last April. This year we're going to be spinning cotton, silk and flax. I can't wait!

And never fear, I'll be back with pics for all of you next week.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Year of the Fleece

My fleeces from Treenway arrived this week! First up is a sweet little Perendale that I'm calling Snow because it washes up into the whitest of whites! It has incredible crimp, too. Really, is very different from last year's Perendale; softer and with much more luster and bulk. It's definitely my favorite fleece to date and I can't wait to do a little test spinning with it.

The second fleece is a Gotland lamb. I haven't done anything with it, except open the bag to take this photo. It was supposed to be silver and white but it looks to have more white than I anticipated. But, it is very silky and soft!
I loved both of these fleeces so much, that I immediately called Treenway to order another; a dark chocolate Polwarth. :) I can't wait til it arrives. Together these three fleeces will be about the same size as the Perendale from last year so it makes sense to get three. Right!?

But, I fully intend to stock up on US grown fleeces this year, too. Kerry told me about a great place in Door County with Corriedale and has been plying me with tales of the fleeces at Shepherd's Harvest last year. If possible, I'm going to try to make it over to the festival in May. Plus, I have my eye on a little cria alpaca named Sweet Cheeks.

Since I've been spending part of every day washing Snow, I figured I'd take a few photos to show how I do it. It might be way too time intensive for some but it works for me. On a piece of tulle, all the locks are laid out separately. Going through the fleece this way, I can get rid of any second cuts right away and keep the locks nice and neat in case I just want to flick them before spinning. Then, I roll the tulle up and quickly baste the openings closed. The sewing doesn't take long at all. Really. Then, it's two soaks in the sink (a fleece with more grease might need more) with lots of Dawn (the first for 15 min, the second for 10 min), and three rinses, the second one with a big glug of vinegar added. Spin them in the washer to remove as much water as possible and then hang the bundles up to dry. In this dry winter weather it only takes overnight. Then the dry bundles are stored in a pillowcase. I like this method because I can do a little each day and keeps it fun instead of feeling like a chore. And from beginning to end each session of two bundles will only take about an hour.

This second shot is of two rolled up bundles. The unwashed one at the top of the picture and the clean and dry bundle at the bottom. See why I call this fleece Snow!

In knitting news, I finished my Faroese shawl on Friday and almost met my self imposed deadline of the end of Jan. Pretty good.

And in spinning, added another skein from the Blue Moon roving--this one a thick softly spun singles. It reminds me of Manos but feels much much softer since it's Merino.

That's it for this week.