A New Spinner

Yesterday my friend, Marsha, came over to learn to spin on her new Ashford Kiwi. She bought the wheel before she knew how to spin – an awesomely brave woman (must be a Gryffindor) – a year ago! Now she felt she was ready to forge ahead and forge she did. She spun four yarns from four different preparations and did fabulously. When she left, she was trying to decide if she wanted to save her first yarn as her “First Yarn” or crochet it into a coaster.

It was a wonderful day for me getting to discuss with Marsha such things as muscle memory, knowing “on the inside” when the time is right to try something new; the thrill of simply “plunging in” and learning what you want to learn without all the pre-lectures on history, means, and methods; learning something new when everyone else says you are “too old”; creativity (and noting that awesome quality in our friend Kathy who is never afraid to boldly go where no one has gone before); and other great discussion topics. We had such fun with Marsha learning to spin and seeing proof before her very eyes that even those of us who have been spinning for years make mistakes (I accidently plied in the same direction as I spun my teaching sample and, well, you spinners will know what happened. Not a pretty sight, but an excellent teaching tool!).

On the knitting side, I am working on a Knitting Pure and Simple pullover with stash yarn toward my goal of using up as much of my stash as possible this year. As usual, I can’t leave even such a great pattern as this alone and am toying with the idea of using ribbing instead of the rolled edgings on the sweater. Not a big change, but one that works better for me and my lifestyle. Also, yesterday’s spinning class got me excited about getting back to spinning more of the top for my multi-colored vest, so I may be sitting at the wheel more in the upcoming month. So much fiber excitement! What is the fiber excitement in your life?

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“Almost” Weaving

Back from the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival. My classes were so much fun! I got to hang out with Gale Evans of Gale’s Art and watch the shoppers drool over her beautiful rovings. In the next booth was Red Fish Dyeworks. They had dyed silk yarns in almost every color of the rainbow. Truly awesome colors! I bought some blue and ordered a particular color of gold to be shipped to me in a few weeks for a project I’m in the process of designing. I had my beautiful merino/silk singles with me to show my spinning class and took them to the booth. I bought a purple silk thread to use as warp to my singles weft for a scarf.

Yesterday I actually wound the thread into a ball with the ball winder. I will have to double the thread for warp, but there is plenty to do that. Now I am ready to warp! Since this will be a skinny scarf, the warping shouldn’t take long and then I can begin weaving. This is the closest I have been to a weaving project in eight months and I am really excited. I will keep you posted on the progress/outcome.

Too Much Ravelry Reading

Ravelry is absolutely wonderful – IF I could stop spending massive amounts of time reading all the cool information there. Today I was perusing, as usual, the spinning sites and got to thinking about finishing singles. This is something that came up several times at my CT workshop. It seems that several folks were plunging their singles in hot water, then plunging them in cold water, then thwacking them against the deck railings to finish them. WHAT??? Well, after several people told me that they do it this way, I started asking questions and the answer I got most often was “because Judith says to do it that way.” Don’t get me wrong, I really, really, really admire Judith McKenzie McCuin. In fact, I have been chasing her all over the country, keeping up with her teaching schedule in the hopes that she will be giving a workshop close enough for me to attend. I’m sure that any class she teaches will be a wonderland of information. HOWEVER…. why go to all that work when you can finish singles more simply and still get great, useable singles to make into a fabulous project? If I were going to weave with my singles, I would be tempted to finish them Judith’s way. They should end up slightly felted and would probably better withstand all the banging about that accompanies weaving. I don’t usually weave with my singles, though, I knit with them or crochet with them. For that, I simply soak them thoroughly in whatever temperature water comes from the tap, spin the water out in the spin cycle of the washer, pop my hands around the inside of the hank to straighten it out, and hang the hank from the kitchen cabinet knobs to dry. If there is a bit too much twist, I might hang a dishcloth over the hank to keep it a bit straighter, though not anything heavy because I want the elasticity to stay in the singles.

This brings me to Spin Off Magazine. Again, I have great admiration for the information that is so generously given in that magazine. I have learned a great deal from reading it every quarter and often wish that it would be published more frequently. HOWEVER…. if all I want to do is replicate a hat that is made from two-ply yarn spun to equal a worsted weight yarn, do I really need to know how many twists or bumps per inch I need to have? I would go mad trying to stop and start my wheel to keep track of my twists per inch. I spin for the relaxation of it and to see what happens IF…. My classes have all come from my experiments of what would happen IF I did such and such. I am the eternally curious spinner. I’m not saying not to take such things into consideration if it matters to you, just that there is no Spinning Police (SP) that will come and take your spindle or wheel away if you don’t happen to know off the top of your head what your twist count is.

Another thing I noticed in CT – there were a LOT of spinners there, so it was easier to notice things – was that many spinners would get in some kind of spinning or plying bind, the wheel or the fiber would be getting out of control, and they STILL KEPT TREADLING!!! There is no rule, law, or Spinning Police motto that says “Once you begin treadling on a spinning wheel, you can never stop the wheel until you finish spinning/plying.” Nope. I checked. No such thing. If the spinning is getting away from you, STOP TREADLING!!! When I noticed this most was when I was teaching Navajo-plying. I was amazed at the first-time Navajo-pliers who felt they had to keep the wheel going and ended up with the most awful mess. From my perspective, learning to Navajo-ply is best done with the wheel working almost not at all. I showed a few folks how to do it with minimal wheel involvement and the sighs of relief should have been heard all the way to Georgia.

So what is the point of all this? K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Spinner! Yes, if you are learning a new technique, learn it properly. Yes, if you are going for your COE in Handspinning, count those twists per inch. If, however, you are spinning for the joy of it and what you are doing is getting the results you want, keep doing what you are doing in the simplest possible way. Spinning has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. To finish cotton, do you think the ancient Egyptians boiled it after wrapping it around a pvc pipe with holes drilled in it? There were no pvc pipes!!! Folks did what worked in the simplest possible way to get the end product they wanted and needed to use in their finished weaving, netting, whatever. BTW, I’m not big on adding more heat to my Georgia home, so I usually finish my cotton by boiling it in the microwave in a Corning Ware casserole dish. It’s simple, easy, takes little time, doesn’t heat up the house, and gets me back to the spinning wheel in record time.

What quick and easy tips and tricks do you use with your spinning? Or are you doing something with your spinning that has you constantly saying, “There has to be a better way.”? Let’s hear it for simplicity!

Weekend With The Nutmeg Spinners

I just returned from my weekend with the Nutmeg Spinning Guild on the CT/MA border (sounds like an immigration nightmare!). What a fun time! As always, I learned as much as I taught.

On Saturday, I was embraced by over 100 spinners all in the same room with spinning wheels whirring, knitting needles clicking, and vendors, vendors, vendors! Whew! It was a wonderfully overwhelming experience. I was so, so tempted to buy, buy, buy, but Charlene had my wallet tucked firmly in my bag under her seat and kept getting her feet in the way so I couldn’t get at it. It wasn’t that she didn’t want me to buy more fiber – knowing that there is no more space in my studio (but, hey, there is still the guest bathroom that needs to be “accessorized”, right?) – but she already knew the boxes and bags that I needed somehow to get back to Georgia were already going to fill her car on the way to UPS. (Did I say that she and I visited yarn shops on Friday???) I did manage to purchase one roving in almost fluorescent colors – I had to buy it because I used it to demonstrate stripping! I couldn’t give it back after that, could I? Chris of The Painted Sheep dyed rovings in several different colorways for the workshop and every one of them was awesome! The Magic of Spinning Handpainted Fibers workshop was really fun and I got to see some award winning yarns of the spinners while walking around assisting with the various techniques. I think it is correct to say that “a good time was had by all”.

Sunday was a smaller, but no less fun group. We were on the upper floor of a fire station and had plenty of room to spread out for the Spinning The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars workshop. Again, I learned as much as the wonderful women who came for the workshop! And these women definitely know the rule that “eating and fiber arts are kindred spirits”, having brought all my favorite foods to share for lunch. After the spinning portion of the workshop, many stars were started and one was completed having each point a different color. Beautiful!

Bobbie, an alpaca farmer and the guild’s librarian, rode with me and Charlene to the meeting after which she took us on a tour of their small farm. All her alpacas are so people-friendly and I got nuzzled over and over again. Then we visited her farm store and she gave me some alpaca yarn mill-spun from the fleece of Berto, the bad boy of the ranch (he is such a bully that he gave another of the boys an ulcer!). I am going to make something that will definitely “kick butt” so Berto will be proud. Check out these cute alpacas at www.summerbrookalpacas.com.

I got so many new ideas from the great conversations with this group of awesome spinners that I will be busy with them for months to come! If you want to meet some of these wonderful women, you can visit them on Ravelry in the Nutmeg Spinners group.

So what are you working on? I will let you know my projects next time!

Getting To Know Yarn

If, like me, you are a knitter and/or crocheter, then you probably have a stash of yarn: under the bed, in the closet, or, like me, a whole room devoted to yarn! [YES!] Here’s the big question: how well do you know your yarn? Oh, I’m not talking about the brand name, the content (wool, cotton, acrylic, etc), or even the color. No, I’m talking about how the yarn is made and why you would want to know this. For instance, I really like Lion Brand Microsoft – it is so, so soft, BUT-I try to find a suitable replacement for it at every opportunity because it is made from about a gazillion plies and if you don’t get every ply caught up in every stitch, it shows – forever! Unlike Brown Sheep’s Lamb’s Pride Worsted or Bulky, which is a single ply yarn that holds texture beautifully, felts like a dream, and there is little chance of splitting the yarn while knitting.

So how did I come about this knowledge of “plies” or strands of fiber put together to make a yarn? I learned to spin. Actually, I picked up a lot of information simply by hanging out with spinners, but when I began making my own yarn, then the wheels started turning (figuratively and literally). Much of what I have learned through spinning has helped me when choosing “yarn shop yarn”. There is a tiny yarn shop in New Orleans, Bornside Yarns, that has the best “benefit” for shopping there – if you want to try a yarn that they carry, just ask for a length to try. Since I no longer live in New Orleans, I now call up Bette Bornside and simply ask for a length, she sticks it in the mail, and I knit it up into a tiny swatch. This tells me a lot about whether I really want to use the yarn in a project – or not. If not, I can call up Bette, tell her what the yarn did that I didn’t like, describe the project I want to do, and she and I can intelligently discuss the properties of yarns that could work for me. (BTW, the website is www.bornsideyarns.com.) If, however, the yarn does exactly what I had hoped it would, I call her back and order the yarn.

This ability to “try before you buy” is invaluable. It will tell you if the yarn is round or flat, cabled or whatever. So how does this relate to knitting? Well, some yarns hold texture better than others. If you are going to make an all-over cabled sweater, better to get a yarn that will show off the cables; otherwise, why bother doing all that work? Some yarns drape well and some too much. If you are knitting a short vest that begins (or ends) at your waist, doing a loose knit in cotton won’t get you there (but you will have a lovely nightshirt that will touch your knees by the end of the first day you wear it!). Yarn content and plies can tell you a lot about how your project will turn out.

So how do you get this invaluable knowledge? Glad you asked! Right now, there is a thread on Knitting Daily (www.knittingdaily.com) about spinning for knitting. Check the archives for previous posts on this topic because there is great information being given. So, do you have to become a spinner to appreciate yarn? Nope. In fact, I feel it is my duty to inform you that spinning is a major fiber addiction (and I am a major fiber pusher – you have been warned!). Today’s Knitting Daily post refers you to a link where you can learn to spin by making a simple CD hand spindle. These are very inexpensive to make – I just made 9 for Sunday’s guild meeting for a total of $7.17, so they are less than a dollar each. I have spun some great yarn on CD spindles, and it is always a thrill to knit with yarn I spun myself. Give it a try and see how your yarn knowledge grows exponentially!

For those of you in the area, I will be bringing CD spindles to the NE GA Handspinners (which may be changed to Fiber Arts) Guild meeting tomorrow, April 6, from 1 – 4 p.m. at the William Harris Homestead (www.harrishomestead.com). Bring your knitting, crocheting, or whatever and join us for an afternoon of fiber fun. I will have spinning fiber available for anyone who wants to try their hand at spinning. Come join us and leave with your own little spinning kit! ( I TOLD you I was a fiber pusher!)

Here is a project I made from my handspun yarns: Nessie, the Loch Ness Sea Creature Hand Puppet

From Spinning The Galaxy to Spinning The Deep Blue Sea

The spinning class was great! Everyone tried different combinations of the rovings and sparkly fibers for some awesome yarns. One learned to Navajo-ply so she could keep her handpainted colors in order and it turned out fabulously!

So how did we go from Spinning the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars to Spinning the Deep Blue Sea? One of the roving colors we used was a deep green with blue undertones. When some of Gale Evans’ Proud Peacock Firestar was placed on it – OH WOW! It was the perfect color with just the right amount of glitz for a mermaid’s tail. So, of course, I got on the computer and downloaded the freebie pattern from Kreinik (www.Kreinik.com) for the little crocheted mermaid. Then I ran back to my fiber stash and began mixing and blending for her tail, her bikini top, and her hair. Her body is going to be some pink merino/silk and the silk adds enough luster to make her body shine as much as the rest of her will. I already have the yarn spun for her hair and her bikini top. Tomorrow I will finish the yarns for the body and her tail. With each color needing only 20 yards or less, this is going to be a quick spin toward a completed project. Watch for upcoming photos!

Spinning The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars

Tomorrow is the spinning class and I am having a fun time putting together all the class supplies – lots of fiber and sparkle! I am seeing this not only as a time to make some beautiful yarn, but also to get myself readied for my interview with an astronaut in the next week or two. I love looking at all the astronomy books and the web sites of stars, gas giants, nebula, star nurseries, and just general “space”. Awesome stuff! Now with these sparkly yarns, I will be able to create my own universe. Why wait for SETI to discover if there is intelligent life in the Universe when I can create my own Universe and populate it with everything from one-celled organisms to statuesque, multi-limbed aliens. Sci-Fi meets the fiber arts – catchy title for a spinning/ knitting/ crocheting/ needle felting/ etc. conference, don’t you think?