Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Yearly Slump - Joy Spinning

 This time of year is always difficult for me, the joy of the holidays is over and Minnesota winters are still dark. The subzero (F) temps arrive with the new year and while I LOVE living in a place with four seasons and appreciate the beauty of winter this is the time of the year when I struggle with the lack of light, the cold, the long wait for spring. This is the time of year when I have a hard time feeling creative and where spinning and mindless knitting are the projects I gravitate towards. 

I always have long term spinning projects going on and currently I am spinning 7 lbs of Corriedale x Romney roving into three ply knitting yarn. I am about halfway through and it's a great, mindless enjoyable spin but is not bringing my any joy when I sit down to it. To brighten my spinning time I have instead been focusing on things which bring a smile to my face when I start spinning. One project is a set of Batts I carded after returning from SOAR21, inspired by the 'Spinner's Palette' class I took with Maggie Casey. I was particularly enamored with the heathered batts I learned to card and  once home I combined much of my 'bits and pieces' bag of small bits of fleece, top, and roving on my drumcarder and carded them into a complex heathered blend. I added hemp to half the batts and left the other just wool and recently pulled out the all wool batts to spin during a weekly zoom happy hour I have with friends. I am spinning it longdraw on spindles to maximize the pleasure and am SO enjoying it. It is just default spinning, but the smoothly carded batts flow through my fingers almost effortlessly and the complex colors are satisfying to watch. I do not have the photography skills to capture the blend of colors, everything is looking very washed out in these photos. 

The other spinning project I am working on is spinning some Montadale fleece I carded into rolags on hand cards and which I am spinning on my antique Norwegian broken table slanty wheel.  Carding the soft fleece lets me spend time appreciating the fiber, and rolling up the rolags on the carder brings a satisfying sense of accomplishment, as does watching the rolags pile up. Spinning on this particular wheel is still a novelty for me, I have only had it since July, and I am still getting to know this sometimes temperamental, but beautiful survivor. I have found that it is well suited to spinning a fine thread and I enjoy seeing the yarn build up on the small beautifully turned bobbins. Spinning a fine yarn from soft fleece is a sensory joy added to by the rattle of the flyer and bobbin and the slight noise from the treadle. 

I have no end use planned for either of these yarns and instead am just taking comfort and joy from the process of turning fiber into yarn and seeing order come out of chaos. The sense of making and creating when I see so much destruction happen around the world is a comfort. Do you have anything you are working on just for the Joy of it?

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Unsized Warp Experiment

 It is no secret that I love bast fiber, spinning it and teaching about it. Something about the sturdy practicality of the resulting cloth appeals to me and I aspire to surrounding myself with handspun and handwoven linen and hemp household textiles and clothing. Every time I have woven with bast fiber I have sized the warp, per all advice i have been told or read and I have passed this on to students. I prefer, however, to speak from experience and so determined that I would attempt to weave a piece with handspun linen with no sizing, just to see what would happen and the pitfalls, problems, and frustrations that would occur. 

I have been excited by the 'Berta's Flax' project originating in Austria and flowing across the world via the Facebook Group and ordered several kilos of fine  pre 1950s line flax, grown and processed on farms in rural Austria and when I received them, of higher quality than I had been able to acquire before. To make room for this I spun up the line flax I had acquired prior to this, of varying quality and sources, experimenting with various ways of dressing my distaves. This led to a collection of yarn that was widely variable in quality and grist and I used this for my unsized experiment. 

a basket of handspun flax singles wound into balls

I created a 7 yard warp 20 inches wide sett at 30 epi and dressed my loom. I sett it more loosely than I normally would as I expected a lot of sticking from hairiness raised by the abrasion of weaving unsized yarn.  I use a newcomb studio loom , which has a sectional beam dress the loom back to front, it has metal wire heddles (with a few flat steel ones as well) and a 12 dent reed. I wove plainweave. The first day of weaving went well, with one snapped warp and no trouble weaving, after about 12 inches of weaving. 

As I continued to weave over the next few days I had 6 or 7 warp ends that consistently broke, and realized a skein I had set aside for weft as being indifferently spun had gotten into the pile I used for warp. I also had very large amounts of lint abrading off the warp accumulating behind the beater. This would occasionally form 'clots' around a group of warps and I needed to manually clear and separate them to get a clear shed. I did not have trouble with individual warp threads sticking to their neighbors apart from the clots of lint, which was a surprise to me. I expected them to stick. 

Weaving was possible though not as pleasurable as i would like. I had to stop to mend a broken warp every foot or two, and had to be 'delicate' in the weaving and pay a great deal of attention to tension every time I advanced the warp. I advanced the warp about every two inches and kept the tension slightly looser than normal and was pleased that other weavers confirmed they too kept linen at a looser tension. 

Once off the loom I mended some errors and then washed the fabric in hot water with detergent in my washing machine on the normal cycle and then put it though the standard cycle of the dryer on hot. A huge amount of lint came off in both processes and the resulting cloth was pleasantly rough but not stiff and has great drape. I ironed it on both sides, but did not press, mangle, or beetle the cloth.

Before wet finishing

After wet finishing


I am satisfied with the fabric which I will make into bath towels, it has a drape and hand very similar to commercial linen towels we had and which have worn out. I am looking forward to making them, which I will as soon as I weave some linen tape for hanging. 

What I learned from this is that for a loosely sett handspun flax yarn I CAN weave unsized singles but I don't really want to. It is easier to use sized singles and I can justify taking the time to size my handspun bast yarns before using them as warp. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

New Year Thoughts

 I haven't made New Year's Resolutions for several years, it adds too much pressure to my life I find, and they always get discarded sometime before I plant my spring garden so they add nothing to my life. What I have done for many years is to make some fiber plots and plans for the coming year. I always did this on Ravelry where I spent a lot of time and energy as part of various online communities. With the new user interface causing me migraines and eye pain after even a few minutes of time I deleted my Ravelry profile and have not been back since the change. It was an adjustment for me, but I found that I enjoy the time I spend on zoom or in real life with fiber friends immensely more since losing the fiber communities I was a part of, and with viewing things on instagram and twitter I also get to see the amazing work textile folks are creating. 

What I miss though, is the accountability and clarity that having a public list of annual fiber goals and the discussion that happens around them. In order to have a place I can refer back to I will list out my fiber goals hear and review 2021's accomplishments. 

In 2020 I pushed my boundaries and hand sewed several garments; two shirts and a vest with commercial fabric and one vest with handspun, handwoven fabric.

I spun and wove two tablet woven bands, which was a particular pleasure for me, as in the past I had always failed when attempting to warp and weave anything tablet woven outside of classes where the teacher was available for questions and problem solving. I wove a shawl with singles handspun wool which I had dyed using natural dyes and explored natural dyeing much more extensively than I had in the past, continuing what had started in 2019.

 I also proposed and wrote webposts and articles which were published, furthering the writing goals I have had since attending an arts based highschool for writing. 

Looking forward into 2022 there are several goals i have for the year. 

  • Weave handspun linen singles into fabric and make household textiles with it
  • Complete a project using Ramie handspun yarn
  • Complete a sewn garment using handspun and handwoven fabric
  • Continue to write and seek out opportunities to be published and to teach
The biggest goal for the year, however, is to ENJOY MY SPINNING. Everything I do with textiles confirms that at heart I am a spinner. I enjoy weaving most when doing it with my handspun, I love knitting with and spending time with yarn I have spun. Even with the longest slogs of spinning for large projects where I get bored, I still enjoy the actual process of spinning, the tactile feeling of the fiber turning into yarn in my hands, or at the very least the satisfaction of seeing the yarn build up on the bobbin or a pile of skeins get larger. Nothing has brought me more calm in the years of the pandemic and some considerable personal social upheavals than time at my wheel(s) or with my spindle creating yarn and dreaming of what it will be used for. Currently I am loving the time I am spending with my antique super-slanty Norwegian wheel which I picked up at a local antique shop on my birthday for only $60 and dreaming of the warmer weather when I can spin in my favorite spot on the back patio, as pictured here. 

What are your fiber goals or aspirations for 2022?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

In which I sample

This winter I have been spinning large amounts of cotton. I spun a pound of sea green cotton sliver from Sally Fox, a gorgeous easy to spin delightful wonderful fiber to spin. After finishing in an alkaline simmer it turned a lovely olive green. As I was spinning it I knew that I wanted to make a summery fabric that would be cool to wear in the warm summer weather of Minnesota. I love the idea of a seersucker style fabric that has some 3d effect and I want to try and get that texture and so I made a warp with stripes of the green cotton and cream tussah silk handspun, I am hoping that when the fabric is wet finished there will be differential shrinkage in the different fibers to make a seersucker style effect. Instead of weaving an entire shirt's worth I wound a warp that is 9.5 inches wide and am weaving three samples, two will be scarfs; one a plainweave (unpictured) and one plain twill. The last bit of the warp I am playing with different twill treadling and will then be able to choose the fabric I like best. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cotton Cotton Cotton

 For the past several months I have been spinning cotton almost to the exclusion of anything else, apart from some already agreed upon spinning I did for a friend. It started out as something to do during long work meetings where I had to pay close attention. Keeping my hands occupied keeps my mind from wandering and I started out by spinning some of a large stash of cotton bolls an online friend sent me several years ago, several different colors and variety that had been grown in her garden. I spun singles on a takhli spindle and plyed the resulting singles on a high whorl spindle. 

I begin by hand ginning the cotton and then carding the lint into punis, of a sort. I use cotton carders and then form the rolag around a metal knitting needle, rolling it against the carder surface until the rolag compacts into a puni. I find that I prefer spinning from handcarded punis rather than rolags. 

I also have been spinning large amounts of card sliver from Sally Fox in natural colors using my 
minispinner, long relaxing sessions of spinning while I listened to audio books.

 Once the yarn was plied I skeined it up, on a small one yard niddy noddy for the spindle spun yarn and on a 2 yard skeinwinder for the minispinner spun yarn. Now I could finish the yarn by simmering it in a pot with washing soda and dishsoap, revealing the final colors in the cotton. It is always a fun surprise to see how cotton colors develop with an alkaline simmer. It makes me so happy to see the various shades hanging to dry. 

Some of the cotton is destined for knitting and some is destined for weaving. I will continue to spin cotton until a different fiber becomes my primary focus for a while, knowing that I will return to cotton again sometime in the future. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Finished sweater vest

I was reminded by a comment that I never posted my September Stashdown sweater. 
Here it is and I wear it often! 

Monday, March 16, 2020

(Fiber) love in the time of Coronavirus

It is a frightening time. We are all being asked to isolate for the good of us all and news headlines are popping up minute by minute with terrifying new updates. Those of us who work with fiber have some fantastic resources at hand and we can use these to combat the stress of the global Covid-19 crisis, fill some of the hours and boredom that might come with the need to practice social distancing and isolate, and give us some pure joy on days when we need it.

One thing I have needed desperately as the news changes and unfolds day to day is comfort knitting which I can pay little attention to, but will be pleasant to hand and relaxing. I chose to begin a new top down raglan sleeve sweater in handspun Corriedale cross yarn. Two ply. This is from a fleece I got last spring from Strawberry Ridge Farm and which I had processed into roving at Rach-Al-Paca fiber mill. It was a complete joy to spin (and i have several lbs of roving left, which is a wonderful thing) and It makes a wonderful yarn to touch. Sturdy yet pleasant against my skin and wonderful to knit with. This has been my go to at night when we watch the news or episodes of Poirot, something to keep my hands occupied and it also lets me enjoy the feel of the yarn.

Sometimes we need to focus, to take our minds off of worry and fear and this is where a project that takes all your attention can be useful. A friend of mine is making a new reed to use when she weaves with her backstrap loom. This takes incredible precision and attention and I admire her skill so much. I am spinning singles for weaving. This makes me pay much closer attention to what I am doing as I want a smooth even yarn and so need to pay extra attention to my drafting. My standard default yarn is mostly spun with much less attention but for weft I want to make sure my yarn is as good as I can make it. This attention grounds me and that helps so much to focus my mind on what I am doing, leaving no thinking space for worry. When I am spinning this yarn I am focused on the fiber source, the drafting, the grist, the feel of the wool as it passes through my hands. It is an active meditation. I am spinning Border Leicester from a fleece I purchased from Kate Larson several years ago. I dyed the fleece with various natural dyes and will use it as singles for warp.

For pure joy I have a plan to dig into my stash and pull out the treasures I have been hoarding like Smaug and his stash of gold. The braids of fiber whose colors make my heart sing, the blends that feel like air against my fingers. Right now I am not sure what I will grab first, it could be the box of silk I have been hoarding,  or the indie braids that are so pretty to look at, or perhaps some of the special camel or cashmere blends I have tucked away. If there ever was a time to break something out that we have been saving 'For that special day' or 'Just in Case' this is it.'

For those of use who are able, this can be the time to support our fiber small business and teachers by purchasing that pattern we have looked and looked at, or place an order for that hemp or alpaca or fleece that has always looked intriguing. With festivals being canceled we can use our privilege to both add spice to our fiber life and support those whose livelihoods are so endangered.