Tim the helpful spinning cat

Apologies for having been so quite on the blogging front lately, I’m hard at work finishing up my PhD thesis, so other things have (reluctantly) had to take a backseat. But nothing can keep me from my spinning, it’s my form of meditation.

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Tim enjoys spinning too. Normally he likes to bite the spindle, but sometimes he’s more helpful, and holds the bowl for me. (Yes, those are my pyjamas.)

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I liberated this glass bowl from my mother’s cupboard, it’s mine now :) It’s a good right size and shape for my spinning. I don’t like very tiny bowls because I spin a lot on my lap and they are hard to balance there. But if a bowl is too large the spindle is likely to bounce off the sides as it spins, which slows it down. Different spindles, with different dimensions, can also need different things in their bowls… but this one works well for all the spindles that I use regularly. Though I also do tend to spin a lot without a bowl, often on my knee.

Fibre to finished

Today I have a guest post from Choni, who’s be undertaking her own spinning adventure of the last few months (and showing some amazing skill!). She’s sharing the first project that she completed, from fibre all the way to a finished shawl.

Ok so my friend Frances started spinning yarn a while back as an extension of her crochet hobby. I thought it was kind of neat so one day she let me borrow her Russian spindle and some horrible grey fiber (note from Frances: The boyfriend bought me that fibre, let’s hope that he doesn’t read this!) that she said really helped her when she was learning.

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Having no idea what I was really doing, me and the grey fiber had some interesting arguments. After this Frances being a lovely friend gave me some other interesting fibers and I had varying levels of success but was already looking at pretty hand dyed rovings on etsy, because I’m a really good online shopper. This is probably where I should mention that without knowing really anything I taught myself a pre-drawing technique that is affectionately referred to as twiddling, it is in Frances’ opinion slower and requires more patience but I enjoy it and find what she does impossible.

(Note from Frances:

Pre-drawing or predrafting involves drafting the fibre to the thickness the single is going to be, and then adding the twist in a separate step. It’s a technique that is well suited to spindles with fast spins but low sustains, like a Russian spindle. And it results in a very consistent single, because you can take the time to make sure everything is even, without having to manage the spindle and the twist at the same time.

However, this technique is not one that would work on very short staple length fibres, like cotton or cashmere, and it would be tricky with very slick fibres, like silk, because the predrafted fibres wouldn’t hold together long enough to add the twist. For the same reason it wouldn’t work if you were making very fine singles.

There’s nothing wrong with predrafting, even if I give Choni a hard time about it sometimes :) But in all honesty I just wouldn’t have the patience! I like to jump straight into the twist, and draft as I go. As a result my singles are rarely as even as Choni’s were right after she’d started spinning, but I’m getting better with practice.

‘Twiddling’ (some of these fibre terms really have me shaking my head… ‘fingering weight’ anyone?) is a related technique, but a bit different. It’s a way of adding twist where instead of setting the spindle spinning on its tip, you twist the spindle around in fingers, never letting it spin on its own. It’s a technique that is used with spindles that have very little sustain, like some Russians, as well as French style spindles. I Imagine that it’s easier with predrafted fibre because you’re not worrying about the draw while manually creating every twist. It also lets you have ultimate control of how much spin is entering the fibre… and it’s another thing that I would never have the patience for!!!)

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My first fiber order, mostly filled with things Frances got but there was one in there for me. (Note from Frances: nothing better than having an internet shopping expert as a friend, particularly when they share a hobby with you… or worse, depending on your bank account. But it doesn’t count if you don’t have to pay postage right? This order was from Woolgatherings and included the beautiful baby camel blends that I used to spin my Camel colour yarns, as well as a fibre sampler of 28 breed specific wools, which will be wonderful to spin when I find the time!)

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Look at that turquoise! It’s funny I’m a goth but I love color, especially strong colors. I’ve dyed my hair every color of the rainbow.

And then after lots of time on my lounge room floor happily twiddling away (I find it quite peaceful)

I finished it!

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And then there was some plying, which hurt my brain because I hadn’t developed my ingenious bottle technique (stay tuned for this simple solution to a painful tangling problem)

And then there was a ball and some knitting needles

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My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was about 10,

I think I made a scarf but I remember it being pretty dodgey,

But I can’t crochet despite Frances’ enthusiasm for me to learn how.

So I figured I’d knit my handspun into something a bit harder than a scarf because I like to think I’ve gotten a bit more skilled with age.

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Turns out I wasn’t half wrong and my shawl attempt was going reasonably well (note from Frances: this is knitting with handspun from someone who’d hardly ever knitted before (or spun before!), I think that ‘going reasonably well’ is an understatement!)

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I’m pretty sure I made a few mistakes out of thoughtlessness but overall it was growing pretty good, only problem was that I was running out of handspun. Oh no!

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Generic crappy black yarn to the rescue (note from Frances: this is why top down shawls are great patterns when you’re not sure if you’ll have enough yarn). This is a casting off picture, omg I actually finished a knitting project! All the way from fiber to finished.

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It turned out a bit small but I haven’t blocked it yet so it has the potential to grow. Now onward to many more spinning adventures including the its so pretty pink yarn currently on the French spindle and the wonders of the Birthday/Christmas/Love Goth spindle.

Goth spindle

Over the last few months, I’ve managed to convert my friend Choni (of Choni’s slouch hat) to spinning… mostly by ‘lending’ her spindles that I was willing to part with. Actually it wasn’t hard at all, she took to it straight away and have really been enjoying the meditative aspects of the craft… not to mention making some lovely yarn!

It was recently Choni’s birthday, and with Christmas coming up I decided that I wanted her to have a very special birthday/christmas/love you present. Now Choni quite a ‘goth’ style and I’d noticed that my favourite of spindle makers Malcolm Fielding had available black and red Dymondwood, perfectly goth (plus black and red are her favourite colours)!

Dymondwood is a composite material made from wood veneers which are layered together and then infused with resin under massive pressure and heat. The resin fills all of the air pockets that are left after wood has been dried for woodworking. It makes the wood extremely hard and inert, and resilient to any warping that would normally be cause by time and changes in humidity. Hence it’s perfect for spindle shafts, or in this case, the entire spindle. An added advantage is that the wood veneers can be dyed different colours before they’re layered together, resulting in beautiful pieces of engineered wood, in which the natural looking grain is composed of wonderful bright colours (it can also be left undyed for a more natural look).

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And here’s the spindle Malcolm custom made for me. A rose Dymondwood shaft, black and red Dymondwood whorl with a charcoal Dymondwood trim. And to top it all off, a titanium tip!

Malcolm was amazing about making this spindle for me… and I think may have been rather amused by my request for a ‘goth spindle’. Dyavol show up quite regularly in his Etsy store. Custom makes can be requested on his Ravelry group, which is where my goth spindle came from. (There’s also his website, although it isn’t updated with all current designs.)

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(Left to right: A Purse Tibetan, with a Dymondwood shaft, lace sheoak whorl, and charcoal Dymondwood trim. The Dyavol. A Dervish, with a Dymondwood shaft and lace sheoak whorl. A Pu Yok, also with a Dymondwood shaft and lace sheoak whorl. All on some of Malcolm’s amazing Tasmanian Corriedale fibre)

And here’s the goth spindle with my little family of MF spindles, before it goes off to its new home. I chose the Dyavol design for Choni for two main reasons. First, I thought that the unique angles of the whorl would complement the overall ‘goth’ look nicely. And second, Choni has so far been spinning on Russian style spindles (in which the whorl isn’t a separate piece of the spindle, but instead a widened section of the shaft towards the spindles base).

Russian spindles spin fast, they’re great for spinning very fine singles with short staple length fibres. But without a pronounced whorl, they tend to lack the stability of something like a Tibetan spindle (of which the first and last spindles in the photo above are varieties), so while they spin fast, they don’t spin as long (these two factors tend to be a trade off). Choni has been getting wonderfully consistent yarn through the predrafting technique, in which she drafts the fibre almost to the weight she wants her single to be, before adding the twist with the spindle… I wouldn’t have the patience for it! But I wanted to gift her a spindle that would have more stability than her Russians, making it easier for her to experiment with drafting as she works (or baring that, getting more of her predrafted fibre spun before the spindle gives up the spin).

However, she loves the Russians, and I wouldn’t want to gift something that isn’t going to be loved. Hence the Dyavol (Russian for devil), a spindle design that is intermediate between Russian and Tibetan, but leaning towards the Russian end of the spectrum. Malcolm has done a lot of work experimenting with the different traits of these two spindle types, creating designs that express the advantages of both (fast but steady). My Dervish spindle is another example of this, though it leans more towards the Tibetan end. (He also has a ‘Tasmanian Devil’, that looks to me like it might be between the Dyavol and the Dervish. It has a similar shape to the Dervish by the whorl is considerably narrower. Like the Dervish the whorl is hollowed, making it lighter and faster.)

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And finally, after I’ve probably bored you with all my talk of spindle technicalities. Here’s the important thing, goth spindle finds its spinner and goes off to its new home. Much happy spinning is ahead of it xxx

Falling for the spindle

So I finally did it, I gave in to temptation and bought myself a drop spindle. So far I’ve focused on supported spinning, and for plenty of reasons I do think it’s the style of spindling that suits me best. But there’s nothing wrong with branching out and trying new things. And for months now, lovely little Turkish spindles from Sistermaide on Etsy have been calling out to me.

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Here it is, spindle #229, it’s tiny and adorable, only 16.6 grams, with bands of pink inked onto the base.

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One thing that drew me to these spindles was the heavy tip to the shaft, which looks something like a Russian spindle. I suspected that I’d be able to use it supported as well as suspended. And I was right. Here you can see my using it suspended, but at the end of drafting out the tip has reached the table and the spindles continues to spin happily supported.

I’m spinning some sari silk fibre here, different to what I’ve used before. This was from Raxor, and has an overall greyish colour, as well as the rainbow of course. It made for a strange kind of yarn, but fun to try out. I put the rest away to use in a blend sometime.

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This is a Turkish spindle, a type of suspended spindle in which the whorl is composed of interlocking cross pieces. The cop is built up by winding the yarn over and under the cross pieces (over two, under one).

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When you’re finished building the cop, the shaft is pulled out,

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One cross piece is removed,

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And then the other. Leaving a neat centre pull ball, ready to ply from.

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Having such a little ball of single, I made a quick Andean bracelet of ply.

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And here’s my finished yarn, very very strange yarn that it is. With the components of my little spindle, and my Royale Hare spindle which I used for plying.

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Once I finished playing around with the sari silk, I started spinning this lovely Eri silk fibre from ecoyarns, another of the different varieties of silk available. This is a very rough preparation of Eri silk. Perfect for the short draw you use in suspended spindling. And my #229 is so small and light, it makes a lovely, fine, high twist single, ideal for silk.

hats hats hats

You might think that I’d get over hats, but if that’s the case, it hasn’t happened yet. I have two hats today, one made for my friend James, Flick’s partner, and one for my boyfriends father.

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Here they are unblocked. They both made from patterns by Aaron Matthew Asmussen. The black beanie, for my boyfriends father is from the Open Weave pattern. And the blue beanie for James from the Zig (aka Charlie Brown) pattern.

The first hat I made from Aaron’s patterns used the Open Weave pattern, this one was for my boyfriend, it’s interesting going back to the pattern now that I have much more experience with these cable hats. The Open Weave remains the most complicated of Aaron’s patterns that I’ve tried. I think it’s because his other pattern use only front-post and normal stitches, where as Open weave also uses back-post stitches as well. And the number of pattern repeats changes between rounds, which adds another level of complication. As with any pattern like this, it’s a matter of following the pattern carefully and having patience, particularly with the changing repeats, because it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about rounds.

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Here are the two hats, blocking over balloons, which have been blown to the circumference of a larger man’s head. You might remember that when I blocked Flick’s hat this way, I ended up having to rip back the last round, because the brim was still curling up. This is because front-post stitches tend to curl outward, and the balloon curves inwards, so while the rest of the hat is blocked nicely the brim needs a bit more attention.

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To address this problem, I took some yarn (actually crochet cotton) and threaded it through the last round, so that I could pull it in to the base of the balloon. I made sure that the round was sitting flat, without any curl. Since the balloon is narrower at the bottom, I obviously wasn’t introducing any stretch in the brim, but I wasn’t worried about that, I just wanted to straighten it out, in fact a snug brim is nice, it will stretch to the prefect size with wear.

(I didn’t have to worry about this with the black hat, because I ended it with a few rounds of alternating front-post and back-post stitches. Front-post stitches curl out, back-post stitches curl in, so the brim ended up straight :) )

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Here’s the blue hat, ready to go to it’s new home. But the way, I used Morris empire, worsted weight (10-ply) for this hat, and a 5.5 mm hook, half a size bigger than the pattern suggests to make the hat a bit bigger.

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And the black hat, this one from Grignasco Loden, again with the 5.5 mm hook

But shhh, don’t tell, they’re both surprises :)

Spinning Tasmanian Corriedale

Yesterday I showed you my new pu yok spindle from Malcolm Fielding, on which I’d already the sample of Tasmanian Corriedale fibre Malcolm packs all his spindles with.

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This fibre is amazing to spin. It drafts like butter… if butter drafted, and makes for the perfect long-draw. Just flowing out of the fibre supply and into the yarn as the twist catches it. It would make the ideal beginner fibre, as well as being great for more experienced spinners who want a really peaceful, relaxing spinning experience :)

It’s available for Malcolm’s etsy store, and it’s amazingly well priced!

Today I have the finished mini-skein of Corriedale yarn to share with you.

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And it’s truly a pleasure to share, this is such a soft, lovely, lustrous yarn, it feels like a cloud, like it might float away :)

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Because I only had a small sample of fibre spun, I used the Andean plying technique to create my two-ply yarn. Here you wind an ‘Andean bracelet’ around your wrist and hand, which allows you to ply from both ends of a single, without tangles (I know it looks scary and messy, but trust me, it really does flow of your hand). I will do a tutorial on this technique at some point, but for now there are lots of resources available, particularly on youtube.

And look… naked nails, oh my!!! (That’s the staining that comes with always wearing nail polish, I could buff it out, but that would weaken the nails, and there’s no point when I’m just going to put more polish on.)

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Here’s a more realistic image of Andean plying in motion… this kind of thing is very hard to take photos of yourself. With my Royale Hare spindle, and it’s heavy brass base, I don’t have to worry about supporting the spindle myself as a I ply.

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And the finished yarn, in the sun, showing it’s lovely creamy colour, and beautiful lustre.

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And in the shade, where you can see how much loft this fibre imparts in the yarn.

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I have a new spindle to share with you today, because… spindle!!!

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This is a pu yok spindles by Malcolm Fielding, and it’s simply gorgeous. According to Malcolm, via Fleegle Spins Supported (the book on supported spinning), and this thread on Ravelry (starting comment 67), the Malcolm Fielding pu yok started with photos taken by Malcolm’s friend, of nomadic Tibetan women spinning on larger supported spindles with high-set disk-shaped whorls (you can see the photos on the Ravelry thread). Malcolm decided to base a spindle loosely on this style, and from here the pu yok was developed.

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My pu yok has a relatively large whorl for a Tibetan style spindle. It’s made of beautiful lace sheoak. Malcolm Fielding spindles are always carefully tested for balance, and, if necessary, small sections of the whorl are drilled out and weighted so that the spin will be perfect. You can see this in the two gold dots on my spindle, and there’s another on the other side. I really love the look of these little gold points, so I was very glad when my spindle had them.

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The shaft is made of Dymondwood, a composite material made from wood veneers which are pressed together with a resin under massive pressure and heat. This results in a material that is extremely hard and inert, perfect for spindle shafts as it resists wear and warping. The pu yok shaft curves to a fine point, so that a small flick inserts a lot of twist.

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Looking at my new pu yok next to my dervish spindle (also lace sheoak and Dymondwood), also from Malcolm Fielding, you can see that the pu yok is larger, longer and with a much wider whorl. The whorl is slightly concave, so that it’s rim weighted, which makes for a longer spin. And similarly the whorl of the dervish is hollowed inside. Spinning the two, the pu yok feels heavier, but I think that in reality any difference in weight is minimal, it’s just that I’m setting a larger spindle spinning, from a smaller tip. Because of basic spindle physics, my pu yok will be spinning a bit slower than the smaller, narrower dervish, but it spins for longer, and as a result I naturally spin slightly thicker spindles on it. (An experienced spinner could spin almost any weight on any spindle, but there’s a difference between that and the weight that just comes naturally.)

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Speaking of spinning, the pu yok came packed with a sample of Tasmanian Corriedale fibre, which I’ve already spun. (You might notice that the more loved a spindle is, the less likely you’re ever going to see photos of it without fibre on it, because that requires remembering to take the photo in the short time it ever spends naked.) This is a slightly coarser fibre than I’m use to spinning supported, but still soft, and with wonderful loft. Plus it drafts beautifully… I really can’t express how well it spins, it’s just amazing.

Malcolm’s spindles (and Corriedale fibre, and Fleegle’s ebook) are available from his etsy store, and website. Spindles on his website are made to order and take up to twelve weeks, there are also new designs which aren’t listed there but can be requested from on his Ravelry group (you can have a look at the sold items on etsy to see all of the amazing designs). His etsy store is updated often, but spindles do sell quick, and his loyal fans are very good at grabbing them up. However, recently he’s started making listing for ‘new customers preferred’, so if you’ve wanted to get your hands on a Malcolm Fielding spindle, the chances are now better than ever. And they’re very very worth it!