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
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.
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)
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.
is ready to go out into the world!
At any rate, it is as ready as it and I can be today
given the messiness of process,
the joys of editing and rewriting,
the trails of drawing and and redrawing,
my penchant for carets, corrections,
and the angst of sharing all of this.
Once upon a time I hoped to have this done back in June, but along with all of the above (and the distraction of exhibitions),
it took me a while to figure out the ins and outs of actual production.
Backstrap Dialogues is almost 3x longer than the Bag on a Box zine and after making a bunch of proofs I decided I wasn't ready to photocopy, fold and bind that many pages myself.
Actually, I would love to have done the binding, but once you have someone's machine print and fold hundreds of sheets, it turns out to be a huge hassle not to let them staple too.
I also wanted to use a heftier paper than standard photocopy paper, but not so hefty that the mailing cost would go too high, so had to do some experimenting.
It's amazing what a difference the weight of the paper makes, both with mailing costs and how the booklet fits in its envelope--esp for shipping overseas-- and I really want to keep them in the first class letter category.
But perhaps this won't be as much of an issue with this zine, as I am offering it as a downloadable PDF as well as a paper booklet. Yipes!
As with everything I undertake, it's all a bit of an experiment with a steep learning curve.
But as of today, my Etsy shop has
1. Backstrap Dialogues-- 56 page saddle stitched zine
2. Backstrap Dialogues--56 page downloadable PDF
3. How to Weave a Bag on a Box--20 page saddle stitched zine
4. How to Weave a Bag on a Box--20 page downloadable PDF
Off we go!
(hope it all works... eek)
ps. As I don't have any system for computer generated address labels, everything is hand written, which means it takes a little bit to send them off
Thanks for being patient!
My spindle and I just got back from visiting my son in Sandpoint, Idaho, a small town on the shores of the largest lake in the state and a sensible place to live if you happen to be an Idaho boatbuilder. And summer (Happy Solstice by the way --summer or winter depending on your hemisphere), by the water is generally pretty boat-centric if you are thus inclined.
But sometimes boatbuilders (or boat menders as the case often is when your boats of choice are made out of wood), whose mothers are obsessive spindle spinners, can't resist trying other things with interesting scraps in the stash, and a couple of days ago I actually got to watch a few Hepty spindles being finished.
(It turns out I'm too distracting for focused boat work, which makes sense as my work also comes to a screeching halt when anyone is around, and is also
1. a good reason to keep my visits short, because who wants to slow work in progress?
2. a good reason to keep a spindle handy wherever I am, so I never have to fully stop working .)
As some of you know, I've been seriously into these spindles for the last year and a half or so ago when Henry made his first hepty as an experiment. I was only supposed to test a few design ideas, but fell so hard for this one that it has been my primary spindle ever since and has, among other things, been the tool I used for all the yarn for this cloth.
Henry has now made and sold quite a few of these spindles, and I hope the new owners are as happy with theirs as I have been with mine.
Christened the "Hepty" for the heptagonal shape, they are fast and functional, the perfect tool for making the kind of yarn I like best-- fine, well twisted singles that I sometimes ply (2 or 3 or 4 depending), and sometimes use as is for weaving.
The Hepty is one of the few spindles I've ever had I haven't had to wait for.
One good twirl on my thigh and I can spin a body length of yarn with a decent amount of twist without stopping or needing a second twirl. They are probably not spindles for the beginner as they don't much care for spinning anything thicker than the 7000 ish yards/lb singles that I like best, but that's physics for you. And since I tend to make and use a great deal of the same size yarn, I couldn't ask for anything more. And how else to get work done?
The design has evolved over time:
among other things the spindles now have a longer shaft for easier spinning when the cop gets big, and this is the first batch with spring steel (rather than brass) hooks for extra 'drop' strength (check out the video in this two-image post).
They remain, however, within a gram or two of the original.
Because they are faceted, these spindles won't roll of the table accidentally,
but because each facet is individually finished, the relationship between facet, hook and yarn is subtly different for each spindle. Most spin the most smoothly when the yarn comes from the facet at the back of the hook, but some prefer to go through the hook from left to right, some right to left, and still others want a single twist around. Still others (mine, actually), prefer one facet to the left or right of the back.
But though each one feels subtly different to me depending on hook and wood (amazing the difference a gram or two makes), I'd happily wander off with any one of them because they all feel like the excellent yarn-making tools I find them to be.
Except that I won't, because I'm still so in love with mine that I couldn't bear to cheat on her or hurt her feelings.
All of this sounds like a great deal of flagrant advertising, and I suppose in one sense it is as I cannot help being thrilled that my kid can make such fabulous tools. But since he only makes them when he has time between boat projects, usually just in the winter, and two of the spindles shown above are already spoken for, it's a little silly to 'advertise' now, so mostly I'm writing because I was so tickled to get to hang out in Sandpoint, watch these babes being made, and 'test' them till I ran out of fleece.
That said, though there will probably be quite a wait for the next batch, you can contact him at henrycedwards @ gmail.com (delete the spaces to make it work) and get on his list. And perhaps if said list gets long, and the wood stash gets interesting, and the belaying pins are all in place, and the boat deck gets done...
This morning I made myself a new comic diary.
Back in January I wrote a little about my diary habit/ practice/ addiction;
my hope, then, was that I'd keep using watercolor in my (mostly) daily entries.
So far, this has not been a problem -- indeed adding the color has become one of my favorite parts.
What did become a problem was the paper in the Moleskine notebooks.
Part of my early thinking about the diaries was that if I made them too fancy
I might expect myself to produce something 'good' every day,
and that would be inhibiting.
So instead of books with 'drawing' paper (which I find a little slimy anyway),
I chose the ones with thin lined paper and, coincidentally, the most pages
so I didn't need a new one very often.
This strategy worked very well until the inking/watercolor thing became habit
and I found myself with wrinkled paper, bleeding color and pages torn and taped after a too vigorous erasing of pencil lines.
Taping pages is a hassle.
And I do like water in my watercolor.
Finally, annoyed and brave in equal measure,
I ordered a Moleskine with their 'special' watercolor paper (none in the local book store).
Alas, however, when it finally arrived I was disconcerted to find that it was Landscape rather than portrait format. How had I missed that?
Now I had two things to get used to: new paper AND new layout. Arrrghghghg.
My assumption was that I would like the the paper
but not the stretched out format -- so linear.
As so often happens, however,
what I think I'll like, I don't
and what I don't think I'll like, I do.
Who knew I could put my entire backyard on one two page spread?
But that notebook is almost full (a drawback to thick paper)
and I this morning I had to decide -- re-order or make one.
Happily, I had one piece of Arches 300 lb cold press in the basement
and though not a full sheet, it was exactly divisible by 3 1/2" and 11" (for a 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" book)
It's really nice paper, but I believe I'm now committed enough to this practice to just bliss out on the way the paint skips and dances across the bumps and settles with such richness into the holes. The cold press is not terrific for inking (not like the hot press on the adjacent test page above), but right now it feels just right.
And if i don't like it -- well it'll probably be full in a couple of months (or less),
and I can revisit the question.
And in the meantime: score, tear, fold, score, tear, fold, score, tear, fold...
Such a treat to get to work with my trusty paper tools:
bone folder, beeswax, linen thread, translucent ruler, and my super deluxe hole poker.
Happily, I do not have perfectionist tendencies in the book making realm.
Soon is better than perfect.
But no, that's not true.
Given my fussyness about paper and format, I guess my perfectionist tendencies are reserved for the endless process of refining tools and processes that, however half-assed, are somehow perfect for me.
I feel so fortunate to have these choices,
to be able to commit my angst to paper in a way that somehow helps to make it (the angst), less important, leaving me free to -- well, you know, save the world and stuff.
Wool is my favorite fiber.
Raw fleece (from a known and preferably local source), is my favorite form in which to get it.
And once I've washed said wool (subject for another blog post),
my favorite preparation method is hand teasing then Drum Carding.
Here's a quick pictorial overview of my standard procedure
as that is what I was doing yesterday!
Starting with a pile of clean fleece, I gently grab both sides of each lock or vaguely lock-shaped wad of fleece, pull it apart to open it up, then toss it into a basket.
If there are second cuts or egregious bits of Vegetable Matter (VM) I try to pick them out at this stage.
I used to long for a picker which would make this part really fast, but over time have come to realize that I get a sense of the fiber's nature by handling every lock, even if briefly, and I don't want to miss that.
Best done outside with birds singing and a cup of tea that is slightly upwind.
My Drum Carder is a Pat Green that I bought in 1984 or so, in Missoula, Montana.
It has processed more pounds of wool than I care to stop and calculate but I've not yet had to replace the carding cloth, which I would describe as "medium."
I've actually never really used any other drum carder so can't make comparisons, but this has been a faithful workhorse and an essential part of my practice since then and I've
never begrudged it the space it takes up, even in the years I lived in a 200 square foot house.
(note: I just went to the Pat Green website to make the link above and read that the drum carders they make now are vastly superior to the ones they were making 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but I'm still happy with mine!)
With one hand I put thin bundles of the teased fleece onto the tray while the other turns the crank. One of the big reasons for teasing is so that clumps of fleece to not jam and put strain on the carding cloth. There should be a gentle pulling feeling but no fierce resistance.
The teeth on the licker-in (smaller drum) always get clogged with bits of fiber but somehow, as long as the distance between the two drums is right for the weight of the fiber, most slips neatly into the teeth of the big drum.
I do not try to keep all the locks going one direction as I will end up spinning the batt from both ends. At other times in my spinning life I have worked to keep all the locks going one way, teasing with extreme care and only spinning from one end of the batt, but not just now. If I want that kind of directional preparation I am more likely to use use combs.
When the big drum is full (sooner than I usually think because sometimes I prop a book up in front of me and read while I feed the carder and turn the crank and I have been known to get lost in the pages), I slip the doffer into the open spot in the carding cloth and lift, first one end then the other, separating the strands of wool until-- Pooof-- they slip apart and there are two ends.
Grabbing one of these and unwinding the drum, I peel the batt off the teeth.
I see that there are some neps in this batt, and it is still pretty uneven, but a second trip through will smooth things out, and the neps are nothing I can't pick out while spinning.
Tearing the batt lengthwise into four or five strips (forgot to take a photo), I then feed each through individually, spreading it out in the tray so the fibers hit the teeth slightly differently than they did the first time through.
This can be a great moment for blending-- different parts within an uneven fleece or two different fleeces carded together in the second or even a third run through can produce interesting batts. In general though, I'm not that into blending as I don't like to spin in color.
Rolling each batt keeps it tidy and separate for storage.
I have breathable insect/ dog/ dust/neglect resistant bags that I put them in, though I imagine plastic tubs with good lids would work well too.
When ready to spin I take them out individually,
unroll, shake a little, then tear into zig zags as you can see below.
Attenuating this is what gives me a lovely long continuous length of fiber to spin.
I start by tugging gently along the length of each 'leg' to even things out and to remind the fiber that it's current position has been only temporary, then when I get to the 'turns' a few gentle tugs on each side allows the fibers to switch direction without much of an interruption to the flow.
A slight twist with my wrist as I wind it into a ball helps hold thingstogether for spinning on a wheel.
A little twist is also a good idea when winding onto a wrist distaff, a tool I am never without when spindle spinning--these days my primary method for making yarn.
The usefulness of a wrist distaff belies the simplicity of its structure, for with it and fiber stays contained and orderly, is unaffected by wind or an urgent need to divest oneself of spindle and distaff to rescue a child or move a pressure canner or make a piece of cinnamon toast. Without said distaff, a spinner is forever making joins or wrapping and unwrapping great wads of fiber from head or shoulder, or mashing and felting the poor wool in a sweaty armpit, or stopping the spindle because a breath of air has just blown the dangling loose fiber mass into the newly spun length of yarn.
Not that any of those things ever happened to me... But in theory, it could.
Here is a slightly awkward pic of me using said distaff, trying to make sure that both my hands, the spindle and the distaff are in the photo before the timer goes off.
Selfie taking is way more angst inducing than preparing fleece, methinks.
Weavers call it the 'fell'.
My dictionary (The Oxford American)
has five definitions of fell:
-- v. past tense of Fall
-- v. to cut down, knock down or stitch down (i.e. flat fell seam)
--n. a hill, stretch of hills or moorland
--adj. fierce; ruthless; terrible; destructive
--n. animal hide or skin with hair
It says nothing of weaving, so I would add:
--n. the place where the cloth that has been woven
meets the waiting warp.
Like time, the fell is never static.
Each pick (or half pass if you're a tapestry weaver), moves it along.
This requires little more than a few taps with the point of a bobbin,
or a controlled press with reed or rigid heddle.
Sometimes, of course,
it takes a great WHACK.
It all depends on the cloth you are after.
I like 'em all
and hope I get to stay
with the yarn and the cloth
at the fell,
wherever it is,
for a long, long time.
Sarah C Swett