over spring greens
flourishing in buckets of compost?
as long as I spin with the proper tool.
the precise sett and high tension
of a plastic loom.
about coming to know
when precision matters,
How not to salivate
over spring greens
flourishing in buckets of compost?
Yet another flax distaff
whipped together before the red osier dogwood got its leaves.
works just fine--
as long as I spin with the proper tool.
And experimental linen yarn
doesn't seem to mind
the precise sett and high tension
of a plastic loom.
What's not to love
about coming to know
when precision matters,
and when the half-assed
Can you see it?
It's right there--
in the wrinkled, raveled remains
of the last best idea
that wasn't quite right.
But such a relief.
For the last couple of days
I've caught myself wondering
what the yarn would 'really' become
even as I knit on.
I was, it seemed, in love the idea of the sweater,
more than the garment itself.
Also, I'd put a graft in it, which I was reluctant to undo.
(I quite like grafting, but un-grafting is just not as pleasurable as pure unraveling).
Do you ever have this experience--
continuing to knit
"it'll be all right,"
knowing all the while
that it is not?
If so, you'll understand my delight
I realized that I loved the yarn too much
to 'waste' it on a clever concept
I would never wear.
The yarn is a 5 ply Cormo:
local grey and white fleeces
blended in various ways,
spindle spun over time,
and collected as singles on toilet paper tubes
(not archival but never intended to be).
By the time I brought the whole works to my cabin a few weeks ago.
I had a fat pound waiting to be plied.
Unlike the sweater I just decided to reject,
Plying 5 strands with the Charkha was an experiment that worked,
but only when I turned it into a two step process
like when plying with a spindle:
1. wind the singles together without twisting
2. add twist.
While I wouldn't take this extra step with a treadle wheel
where both hands are available,
with the Charkha, the extra step was worth every second
because there I only have one free hand
many strands to manage
and no tensioned lazy Kate
(though my makeshift multi-mug system pictured above was ideal).
At any rate, I used the Charkha for both steps,
covering the spindle shaft with paper purns (rolled up squares)
that I could hold in one hand as I turned the crank with the other.
The weather that week was very April --
nice enough to be outside whenever it stopped raining,
but cool enough to make the cookstove a constant necessity
for cups of tea
and to dry the yarn after blocking.
You might notice that the drying skeins twist a little --
this is because the yarn sat so long as singles
that the warm water released the stored twist energy
rather than relaxing it has happens when you wet the yarn
closer to the time it is actually spun.
Kathryn Alexander of Entrelac and Energized Yarn fame.
first brought this phenomenon to my attention.
Check out her work.
It truly is beyond anything.
At any rate, the finished yarn was/is YUMMY --
squishy and super soft--
and I started knitting with it
the moment it was dry,
used double no less
with gargantuan needles --
size 9 I think.
Alas, whatever I had in mind then wasn't quite right--
or anyway another idea,
the one I decided against this very morning,
took hold and wouldn't let go
But the yarn is still waiting--
so yummy I can hardly wait to cast on with it again.
And see --
there it is--
the new idea--
So what effect does the shape of the distaff
and the length of its 'handle'
have on the spinning--
and thus the yarn?
And what about the relationships between
-the position of the distaff
-the position of the fiber
-the preparation of the fiber
-the positions of my hands
-and the style of spindle?
My first two willow distaffs
(distaves?--my computer thinks not)
are inclined toward narrowness at the bottom--
a bit like a pointed lozenge shape--
causing the ever decreasing fiber mass
to slide down as I spin.
Thinking a pear shape would be better,
I kept my eyes peeled on my morning trot,
and on Sunday spied a couple of likely whips
of red osier dogwood.
(yes - the rain poured down and the path was flooded)
Unlike the willow I used for the first two (which had been drying for a year),
the fresh osier branches are still very flexible --
and also relatively heavy.
The two plants also branch differently --
the willows alternating as they go up,
the osier branches sticking out in pairs,
(what is the botanical word for this phenomenon?)
allowing for distaff symmetry.
I'm not generally all that attached to symmetry.
But I'm pleased with the shape,
though can't so much about its effetiveness
or the increase in weight
since I've only just begun to spin.
And since this box of fleece just arrived
I might get a teensy bit distracted.
Thanks as ever for all the wonderful comments and ideas --
I do so enjoy them even if I rarely seem to answer -- except in my head, alas.
Also -- any thoughts on this combination of comics and 'regular' photos?
Somehow it seems best to me to stick with one or the other--
the transition can be jarring.
But sometimes I don't have enough drawings
for all I have to say.
Hmmm -- a lesson there?
So just as I pushed ‘post’ on last week’s blog,
a package arrived at my door:
two plastic Turkish style spindles (10g and 14g),
3-D printed by my son.
Wetspinning flax is a drippy business
and I didn’t think all that moisture was good for my lovely wooden spindles,
so before tackling my second strick of flax (this one from Vävstuga),
I asked him to make one for me.
He thought I needed weight options, so made two.
Though they lack the romance and sweet hand feel of wood,
both spin beautifully and I don’t have to worry about wrecking them.
Well, that’s not strictly true --
I can’t help but grow attached to most useful tools
(note previous love letters to my PVC loom),
but at least moisture won’t be a problem with these.
They’ve already survived the odd clunk to the floor
and so far are none the worse for wear.
Note: there is open source code (google)
that you can take to your local 3-D Printer
Of course I had to try them out instantly
and as I’d promised myself I’d try ‘properly’ dressing a distaff with this new strick
(before I’d used the strick-wrapped-in-a-towel-and-draped-over-my-shoulder method),
I ran outside, cut a piece of willow
bent a couple of thin branches into a vague oval,
and tied them together with a bit of string.
Though not really like the distaffs described in the books I’d consulted*
it worked astonishing well --
the linen fanned out in thin, curved layers on a bed
just as they all said it should,
and when I’d wrapped the delicate array around the willow,
tied it with a ribbon,
lashed it to my body with an apron and stuck the butt end into my leg warmer
(this last was not described in any my sources but made a big difference for this novice),
the strands of flax poured smoothly down into my waiting hands.
Not that the videos above and below show this exactly --
but take it from me, it felt simply amazing.
The fibers drafted more smoothly and evenly than with my first attempts at the towel method,
and though it took a while to figure out where to put my dish of water
the time-honored and oh-so-elegant spit technique helped me get started..
*Linen: Hand Spinning and Weaving by Patricia Baines (Batesford 1989)
-Your Handspinning by Elsie G. Davenport (1953 and 1964)
-the handout from my 1992workshop with Marge Bentley from whence came the flax I talked about before
-a couple of You Tube Videos on dressing a distaff
All gave essentially the same information,
though the Baines book was the most specific and gave the widest range of. options,
many of which I look forward to trying.
Making these two videos I learned:
1. A belt works better than an apron (and looks classier too)
2. It’s easier to see at that focal length without my glasses
3. I look awfully grim when I’m concentrating.
4. The website upgrade that now allows me to put videos in my blog posts might be a dangerous thing.
The rest of the evening was spent clutching the distaff with my elbow and
alternately filling yellow and white spindles.
I got pretty comfortable with the whole business after a while,
but next morning I strapped the distaff to an old tripod we’d fished out of a dumpster,
and found that this, though still less portable,
allowed for a little more elbow room and general drafting ease.
It also makes it possible for me to spin without a belt,
and with my glasses.
I imagine it’ll be quite some time before I can read and spin flax
as I can with wool,
but next I want to try a hand held distaff and some other ways of dressing it
so I can practice spinning while walking around the yard --
or at least around the studio while waiting for spring.
Drawing the above was a good reminder
of how much pleasure I get from the act of making yarn--
the sensation of fibers in my fingers,
the energy of the twist transforming fleece into wool or flax into linen,
and the subtle vibrations that flow up the yarn and into my hands
from the twirling tool below.
It also reminded me how much I dislike drawing my hair in a messy ponytail,
so this morning I got out the scissors,
and now there will be NO ponytail drawings
for at least a couple of months.
One final note —issue 20 (Spring 2018) of PLY magazine is devoted to flax,
so I ordered a copy and it came a few days ago.
- info about growing and processing, which of course makes me want to do that,
-articles on scouring and bleaching (another fascinating topic)
-a fair bit about working with tow top (which so far I don’t like nearly as much as the line).
-and naturally quite a few very useful discussions on spinning (twist, handling the fiber, water in the drafting zone etc).
The only specific how-to discussion of dressing a distaff is by Hannah Merritt Woods,
and she shows a different method again from the sources mentioned above
(fibers hanging straight down rather than swooping across and around),
so I will probably try that eventually too.
In the meantime there is another freshly sized linen warp waiting on my loom.
Cuz yeah -- there is that cool thing to do too.
despite years of serious misgivings
about mixing wool and linen
I'm doing it anyway.
And naturally, it is a blast.
What fun to poke at my prejudices--
to weave spindle wool and flax
into unwearable sweaters,
on a loom made of plastic?
How freeing to 'hackle' a messy strick of flax,
(using Russian Paddle combs that have been gathering dust for years),
and make deliciously lumpy yarn from the disorganized tow,
then to spin some rather nice singles
from the now silky smooth hackled flax
and ply it for warp for the next tapestry?
note: plying stick HIGHLY recommended for keeping the fine line linen orderly
Then to discover that my wet spinning technique
left much to be desired,
for after plying, washing and warping --
Then to remember that I wanted to try flour and water size
(approx 1 teaspoon flour mixed with water till consistency of thin cream
applied with my fingers then allowed to dry).
Then to find that some of the hairiness returned with all the handling
(perhaps particularly with finger picking?)
but that it all worked fine anyway,
(though perhaps if I'd soaked the warp with size
rather than just lightly coating it,
it'd have stayed glued down?)
Then to notice that I had some selvedge wonkiness --
in part because of my carelessness
(as Susan Iverson says, "if you weave it right you don't have to block it ")
and in part because I wasn't taking into account
the huge differences in the size and properties of my wefts:
--ground: the lumpy tow I showed being spun up above (singles)
--house: leftover warp (two ply wet spun line)
--sky: two strands of cotton I've had floating around for years,
( Sally Fox organic roving spun on a supported spindle
and purchased punis spun on a book charkha--
the latter the source of the black flecks).
But also to notice how interesting it all is.
And how much I want to keep experimenting.
It is worth noting that all three tapestries were woven at 10 epi
but because of differences in grist
between the hand spun warp,
the commercial linen warp in the two pictured at the top,
and all the different weft materials--
the surfaces vary as much as the selvedges.
(Note: Rebecca Mezoff is in the midst of writing
an amazingly clear and useful series of blog posts on the relationship between
sett, warp and weft size.
The photos of her samples make this deliciously clear!)
This is all I can think to say,
at this point on my creative oxbow,
but hopefully there will be more.
This strick of flax has been waiting in my somewhat minimal stash since about 1992 --
untouched but for some reason, uncullable.
Almost exactly a year ago I got it out and spun a little bit,
then set it aside once again when I realized I wasn’t going to use it for the project at hand.
There were some wonderful comments on the post linked above
and as luck, or fortune, would have it
Tracey even came to opening of my show in LaConner,
spindle in hand, towel over her shoulder,
to give me a short tutorial on wet-spinning flax on the fly.
A dream come true.
Naturally, I intended to try the moment I got home --
Perhaps in the greater scheme of things,
10 months is but a moment?
My first tiny skein is more than a little bit rough --
and this pleases me no end as
I love being a crappy beginner.
It means I’ve moved beyond the thinking phase
and actually started whatever it is--
entering a thrilling period of focus, learning and improvement.
And since one new thing leads to another,
why not a four selvedge linen warp
on my beloved and absurd plastic pipe loom?
The four selvedge part is not new, duh,
nor is the PVC loom (a trifle bendy but still works beautifully).
But barring my backstrap experiments of last year,
linen has not been my tapestry warp of choice since I switched to wool in 1995.
There were two main reasons for that switch:
1. I didn’t like the way the wool weft kind of ‘hung’ on the linen warp.
It always seemed that the warp could just slip out of the finished tapestry
as though warp and weft didn't really belong together.
2. I could make my own warp if I so chose.
The four selvedge technique, however, eliminates problem #1,
as the weft is locked into place when I’m done weaving.
Indeed, barring some untoward scissor action, it can’t slip out in any direction.
And linen definitely works with linen!
Problem #2 is still in the works
as I’m not quite ready to warp a loom with my very first spindle spun linen,
but the stuff is astonishingly strong,
especially the two ply,
so I might have to try pretty soon.
I mean, why not?
And while in trying mode, why not go all the way?
Inspired by the results of an American Tapestry Alliance member survey
on favorite tools, materials and techniques
(alas only available to members, but check out the website anyway if you're not),
I decided to use all manner of stuff as weft too.
Granted, half-assedly cleaned dogbane fiber with bark still clinging to the strands
Is not my favorite thing to wind on a bobbin, but it looks interseting once packed into place
and at the very least it made weaving with my little skein of spindle spun linen
feel like the height of sophistication.
And then there were those wheel spun singles experiments from last year:
silk (bombyx and tussah)
cotton: (Sally Fox’s natural brown and some white of unknown origin)
linen: (the strick that has now re-appeared to do its thing).
A wee cotton house, anyone?
Clearly, the tapestry isn’t yet done
but it’s blog day,
and I’m having such fun as a wool girl in linen land
that I thought I’d share.
What I know so far:
—Linen warp is harder to put on than wool
mostly because of all the precise tension issues it’s famous for,
but once in place it is lovely on my hands and I like weaving with it as much as I remember.
—The various wefts pack into place very nicely on the nice tight warp,
and feel astonishingly normal to work with.
—The PVC loom will always make my tapestries look good
but for all its aesthetic imperfections is still utterly functional,
with a fine tension adjustment
and the best price in town.
When I know more,
you will too...
If you’re interested in the fibers, from bottom to top they are:
Linen warp used as weft — 7 ply yarn from the stash of dear Winnie Robinson who left us in January
Linen Twine — too hefty for comfortable weaving, but interesting (also from Winnie’s Stash)
Dogbane fiber and bark
First spindle spun linen (two ply)
Sally Fox Brown Cotton (house)
Tussah Silk (window)
One strand each of fine cotton and linen from Winnie’s Stash, wound together onto bobbins (sky).
The spindle is a Jenkins Lark (17 g)
As winter draws to a close (or pretends to),
the pile of sweaters in need of a minor mend
grows ever larger --
one more unfinished task among many.
Knitting sleeves from shoulder to cuff with mending in mind
means it’s generally just a matter of removing the worn out fragments,
ripping back a few rows (admiring the shape the currugated rib yarn while I’m about it),
and picking up the waiting stitches to cast off again--
so I know I’ll be thoroughly engaged in the process once I start.
Indeed, I love mending--
just as I love the satisfaction of having mended
and of using/wearing things that have proven their worth over time--
so I’m not sure why I put it off.
But I do,
and this makes think yet again about how much,
despite awareness and effort,
I am influenced by this culture that pushes ever toward the new--
be it garment, phone, home, place, artwork--
as though it is obvious that the unknown is inherently more compelling (or worthwhile)
than the thing or idea or place that has proven its worth over time--
and was the new best beloved weeks or decades ago.
Perhaps that is why mending is helpful —once I start--
as it helps me to remember how much I liked this yarn,
how much I like it still.
Look —the colors glow brighter even as the re-knitting commences.
Or maybe it’s just that the sun is now shining on the snow
and bouncing into the studio,
reminding me that it is not yet spring
and an almost mended sweater will keep my best beloved warm
far sooner than the fleece I’d otherwise be carding for the next one.
It’s 2 degrees F this morning in North Idaho with no shortage of snow
so the wool shirt Henry asked for last spring
that I finished yesterday,
is still just the thing.
His shop does have a wood stove,
but one wall is an old sail
and to actually get work done,
wool layers are essential.
A boatbuilder by trade,
Henry is also the son of a spinner
and a couple of years ago
he designed a spindle
that just happens to be perfect
for the yarn I like to make.
It’s called The Hepty, and I’ve blogged about it at least twice...
Indeed, many of the spindle photos on this blog are of Hepty #1
which I’ve used almost exclusively since I snatched it out of Henry’s hands two years ago.
(Once in a while he makes a few to sell-- the Heptys
in the photo above are waiting for their very own spinners--
and since I was visiting I got to try them all...)
At any rate, from Henry’s first casual request for a shop shirt
there was no question as to how I’d spin the yarn.
Since almost every knitting project begins with fleece,
I ordered one from the Ortmann’s in Wolf Point, Montana.
Their marvelous fine fleeces have been a staple (pun sort of intended)
of my spinning life for years (Cormo, Polworth, Debouillet),
and this time I chose a Targhee/Debouillet cross--
out of curiosity and a desire for something both next-to-the-skin soft and wearably robust.
The fleece was (and still is), lovely.
About 20 microns, it is soft and silky with enough integrity that my fingers
don’t feel like they are covered with sandpaper when I touch it
as sometimes happens with superfine fleeces.
It has, indeed, been a pleasure to work with at every stage
An early sample helped me to decide that the fabric I envisioned -
fine, light and very stretchy— would begin with three ply yarn.
Of coruse I was disposed to want a three ply,
as it is so easy to chain the singles from my spindle onto a plying stick
(at left in the photo below), and then add twist when plying back onto the spindle.
—note: I wrote about plying sticks in the same February 2, 2016 blog post linked above, so no need to click again if you clicked on that one!
The joy of this technique is that I can spin and ply each spindle full of yarn
with the tools at hand, wherever I am.
By fall — I had spun about 380 grams (13.57 oz)
I never did count the yardage, but I was pretty sure the sweater would be less than a pound.
Lobaria Pulmonaira (lungwort lichen), from a particular spot near our cabin
provided the dyestuff.
I went there for a few solo days in early December,
enjoying the full circle satisfaction of dyeing on a wood cook stove
using the same aluminum pot in which I dyed my first yarn ever,
while living in the tiny house you can see a couple of photos down,
back in 1985.
These lichens work best for me when there is direct contact,
but I didn’t want bits of lichen in the skeins
so put the yarn in a net bag
and the net bag in the pot with the simmering lichen.
The color was not as even as it would have been had I let the skeins float free,
but it is luscious nonetheless,
And certain amount of a abrash can be a fine thing
on an otherwise unadorned garment.
The structure is a simple top down raglan in the round,
all in stockinette stitch, which means i could read while knitting— always a plus for me.
The pattern is the shape of Henry with numbers based on the yarn I had made.
The final garment weighs in a 295 grams (about 10.5 oz)
But this one is Henry’s.
He has things to make in his shop.
Today it's just the yarn and me--
in a four selvedge world.
A few balls of weft--
a few yards of warp--
(ends woven in on the way)--
makes for unexpectedly deep inquiry
into the minutiae--
and tapestry expectations.
What are these things anyway?
Sarah C Swett