Guest post: A beginner’s journey into spinning

Spinning is not something I’d ever thought about until a few months ago when I met Frances. I knit, make my own clothes, craft and adore the process of creating slow fashion – a counter-fashion industry movement that aims to make things that aren’t disposable from one season to the next but something treasured for many years. My introduction to spinning has been recent but it has fast become an obsession.

When I met Frances she was constantly tinkering with what I thought was a bizarre thing, which I now know intimately as the “Turkish drop spindle” or her beautiful Jenkins’s finch Turkish drop spindle fondly known as “Vera”. We would be sitting at a café or going out to lunch and she would always have Vera. People would glance across their tofu and pesto scrambled eggs and turn their heads on their side inquisitively. Brave children would come over and ask out of curiosity what she was doing.

I finally caved and asked to have a go at spinning. It was a lot harder than I had initially anticipated. I started on park and draft. Pinch, park, draft, spin, pinch, park, draft spin. I’d pull too hard and my fiber would snap or I wouldn’t spin enough and my fiber would fall apart. The whole ordeal would become too overwhelming and I’d have to put it down to give my poor brain a break. I’d sit and watch Frances spin, making everything look so simple, effortless and easy. I’d look down at mine to see some kind of reincarnation of earthworms on steroids.

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All my little turtles and balls of handspun yarn waiting to be plied on my 1930s dresser

Perseverance is key when learning to spin. I would sit watching Frances, elegantly spinning the most fine lace Muga silk yarn, “It’s all in your fingers. You’ll get the hang of it.” I finally finished my first batch of yarn. Slubby, brown-green, slug-like thing that we plied together, washed and hung out to dry. It was hideous but it’s so special.

I hadn’t touched the spindle for about month when I came back to visit Frances. She put a little second hand Turkish spindle in my hands with a little packet of white mulberry silk fiber. It might’ve felt like a long time since spinning but my hands had retained all the information. Everything suddenly made more sense. I started spinning over the fold and everything was easier, more fluid, thinner with the odd slub that I was slowly learning to work out with soft persuasion and a gentle tug.

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My first attempt at spinning Mulberry silk

We ventured out one day to a local café to sit together in solidarity, with a cappuccino and our spindles and began what Frances calls “a public display of spinning.” Sitting out in the open was an entirely new experience but I reveled in the experience and now spin regularly while I’m out. I have even taken to keeping my fibre in my ancient kindergarden library bags.

With patience and practice I am becoming more confident, my strands are becoming thinner and my turtles elegantly wound on in beautiful colour combinations. I’m still a bit nervous every time I have to ply my little handmade creations but I’m sure this will pass.

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Beloved little colour turtles

I’ve just received my first order from http://www.feltfine.com and I can say with all honesty that I went a bit overboard. However, with three new spindles turning up (from Malcolm Fielding, Sistermaide woodworks and Snyder spindles) I figured I would need a lot. I’ve even begun learning to crochet after following in my Mother’s knitting footsteps since childhood.

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Candy stripe pink Merino getting finer with every attempt

I love the fact that I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a new world with spinning and discovered something I never knew existed. I can’t wait to introduce spinning to my crafty friends and watch what I’ve dubbed “the spinning cult of Frances” spread like wildfire. The move towards slow fashion, handmade wares and creating with love is gaining the popularity it deserves.

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– Alyssa Hanley

Something different…

All cards on the table, this isn’t a family friendly, safe for work, post. I do like to keep this blog as somewhere that everyone can feel comfortable, but sometimes in life crochet genitalia happens, and I just have to share. So if crochet genitalia isn’t your thing, please enjoy this rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten. If you want to see more, follow the jump and scroll down.

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Winter flower shawl, handspun!

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Today I have something that I’m really proud of to show you… it’s a shawl made entirely from handspun yarn! You might remember the yarn, which I spun on a Turkish spindle and plied on my espinner.

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Here’s a reminder.

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And here’s the shawl. I made it using the pattern Flores de invierno (meaning winter’s flowers), by Gabriela. It was a lovely pattern to work from, both written and charted (don’t forget my serious on following crochet charts). And it worked up relatively quickly, which in part would be due to my growing experience with crochet, but the fact that the body of the shawl is largely composed on v-stitches would also contribute to making it a faster project than many other lace shawls. A v-stitch is a *double crochet, chain, double crochet* worked into a single stitch from the row below. When there are multiple rows of v-stitches, the stitches are worked into the chain spaces of the previous row of vs. the v-stitch itself grows quickly, and working into a chain space is quicker than working into the top of a stitch, because it’s simply quicker to insert your hook into the larger space. If you’re a fast crochet, the time save will be a fraction of a second, but other hundreds of stitches, it really does add up. (The same was also true for my granny stitch beret, as with the v-stitch, the granny stitch works into a chain space, and so works up particularly quickly.)

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Looking closer you can see the puff- or cluster-stitches which are used to create the winter flowers, and add interest to the pattern. These introduce a lovely level of texture to the shawl, which works particularly well with my Polworth/silk blend yarn, where the Polworth adds a degree of loft and body, so that the puff-stitches are nicely supported.

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Closer again, you can see the lovely boarder, with even more puff-stitches. And between the boarder and the body of the shawl, three rows of alternating back- and front post-stitches, resulting in a row of cables that separates the two sections and adds a bit of a weight to the edge.. I really liked this touch .

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In the sun you can get a glimpse of lustre from the silk in the blend.

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And here you can get a feel for the drape, which isn’t a drapey as it could be, probably a result of the fact that I spun the fibre over the fold, using a long draw (i.e. spun using a ‘woolen’ technique), which incorporates a lot of air into the yarn and leads to that loft and body that works so well with the puff-stitches. See for contrast my Dahlia shawl, which was made from a commercial Merino/silk blend. The Dahlia yarn would have been spun in a more ‘worsted’ style, with all the fibres arranged parallel, so that not much air is trapped in the yarn. As a result the Dahlia yarn has more drape than my forest to sea yarn, it’s also much less fuzzy looking. One isn’t in anyway better than the other, they’re just different, with different qualities. Perhaps one of the clearest differences between the two yarns is how much warmer the forest to sea shawl feels to the touch, which is a factor of insulation, all the air trapped in the yarn, and between the fuzzy fibres on its surface, dramatically slow the transmission to heat away from the body. Where as the Dahlia shawl feels quite cool in comparison. Dahlia is great for taking the edge of on a chilly summer night, but Winter flower will hold its own when the cold stats to bite.

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(Obligatory Delle photobomb.)

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was able to go from fibre all the way to a finished lace shawl, not that it wasn’t a big project, but in my mind I’d always thought that it would be far less do-able. I think part of it was that I saved time with the pattern itself, and by spinning with a long draw. But more than anything, I think that we tend to assume that these big projects are just too big, because we’re not use to facing them, but in reality, for the vast majority of human history, this was the only way things got down, by hand, from state to finish, and here’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to do it that way now.

This shawl is a present from my wonderful friend Amiee, I haven’t been able to give it too her (don’t worry, it’s not a surprise), but when I do I shall force her to pose for some photos so that you can see the shawl with its owner :)

Vera’s new coat (also naked)

As promised, today I have my favourite Turkish spindle Vera, unclothed. I also have a new way of storing her when she’s not in use, I’ll show you that first.

It’s been rare in the last couple of months for me to go anywhere without Vera in my bag, and so I’ve been wanting something safe and secure to store her in. As a Turkish spindle, she has the advantage of a removable shaft, which converts her to two flat(ish) pieces that are easier to store. As much as I love Vera, I’m not one to be very precise with my spindles. Spindles are meant to spin, I’d rather see one used and go through everyday wear and tear, than kept on a shelf and not doing what they’re made for. However, there’s no need to put Vera at undue risk of damage, and I was particularly concerned about her shaft, which is made from a lighter wood than her Verawood crosspieces, and comes to a delicate point.

A lot of people seem to store their Turkish spindles in ice-cream jars or tupperware, which would certainly do the job, but wouldn’t be particularly practical for me. I wanted something that I’d carry in my purse, so not too bulky was a must, pretty is nice too :)

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And here’s my solution, a cute little leather pure… with a dragon pattern!

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Vera fits in when disassembled, along with a decent amount of fibre, enough to do me for at least a day of spinning fine.

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And importantly, Vera’s shaft is safe at the bottom, since the purse has enough structure that it wont fold in my bag (while still being able to collapse down somewhat at the top, so that it doesn’t take up too much room).

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And here’s Vera next to her new dragon-skin coat, looking pretty, (plus obligatory Peekay photobomb).

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Since Vera was feeling pretty weighed down, I thought that it was just about time to remove her turtle (aka cop), which gives me a chance to show her to you in all her beauty.

You might be thinking that she didn’t exactly look full, and you’d be right. Vera has long delicate arms, she could hold a lot of fibre if I wanted to pack as much as possible on. But the more fibre that’s on her, the heavier she gets, and the slower she spins. I’m spinning quite fine, with a high twist, and silk weighs her down quickly. Once she starts to slow down, it becomes difficult to get enough twist into the fine yarn.

I could persist, slowing down my draft to let the twist accumulate, but that wouldn’t actually achieve much. While this turtle might be small, I’m spinning fine enough that there are still many many meters worth of single in it, and I’m planing on weaving with this yarn eventually, so it will have to be cut into shorter lengths anyway. Plus it’s so easy to remove the turtle from a Turkish spindle and start a new one, there’s really very little to be gained (beyond enjoying the challenge) from trying to pack a huge amount of fibre on.

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You might have noticed that the turtle I took off Vera was looking a bit ragged. In general you can use the turtle like a ball, and ply straight from it. But the top most layers can be a bit unstable, which becomes problematic if you want to store it for a time before using it. To deal with this I’ll butterfly (wind between two fingers in a figure-eight) those layers back on my hand…

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And then wrap them back around the turtle, securing the layers below.

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And finally for Vera herself. First this is the bottom for her crosspieces, with her information, in pink, which makes me happy.

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And from the side. How does Wanda Jenkins right so neatly on such a tiny surface, it’s not even flat! You can really see that these spindles are all handmade from the space in the wide arm.

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And the top. I just adore the pattern in the Verawood.

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Plus the delicate shaft that I’m so keen to protect. I do love this shaft, the point makes it so easy to really set Vera flying.

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Step one of construction.

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And all together… it’s quite frustrating trying to photograph a Turkish spindle, the crosspieces and the shaft are never in focus at the same time.

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From the bottom again.

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And back into her coat, ready to start on a new turtle.

World of wool – Massam (Masham)

See my breed study wool samples.

I’m on a roll today, so I thought that I’d get to the first of my coloured wools… because I do love a coloured wool :) Here we have Massam (also known as Masham).

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Massam isn’t a breed per se, but rather a cross. Normally I wouldn’t include crosses in my sample, but I make an exception for those that are very well established, such as Massam.

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Massam’s are produced by breeding a Tesswater (or sometimes Wensleydale) ram, to a Dalesbred, Swaledale (or sometimes Rough Fell) ewe. They’ve existed for a least a hundred years, in the hill country of northern England.

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Interestingly, Robson and Ekarius say that Massam wool has a long staple, however in my sample, not so much. This could be due to random variation.

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Up close you can see that the coloured wool is actually a mix of different coloured staples, white and dark brown, that together look more grey. The crimp is quite low.

Stats

I don’t have numeric estimates available at the moment (I’ll have to do some more research), to the touch the fibre feels to be on the softer side of medium. Certainly not a fine fibre, but quite nice and… touchable.

NB: Much of my information is sourced from The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. A wonderful book, with far more information than I’ve included here.

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This is a dense wool, with one ounce resulting in a fairly small skein, my smallest to date. (I love how the colour intensifies between fibre and yarn, as the fibre are compressed together, resulting in more colour reaching our eyes from a given unit area.)

Yarn stats

Length: 20.6 m (22.5 y)

Weight: 28.3 g (1.00 oz)

Ratio: 0.73 m/g (22.5 y/oz)

Skein length (off a 150 cm niddy noddy): 148 cm

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The yarn isn’t exactly soft, but it has a sleek quality, not particularly fuzzy, that stops it being scratchy. This would be the result of the low crimp is the fibre, and probably means that we’re entering more of a ‘long wool’ territory, even though the particular staple I was working with was shorter.

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New to my Merino, you can see that the Massam really isn’t a fluffy yarn, it almost has a luster to it. I could see this being a lovely, hardy yarn, which could be used in outerwear when you want something with drape.

World of wool – Whitefaced Woodland

Another yarn form my breed study wool samples today, Whitefaced Woodland.

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The Whitefaced Woodland is conservation breed, from the southern end of the Pennine mountains in England. The breed emerged centuries ago, but was nearly extinct by the 1970s. It’s made a comeback, following its listing by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, though it’s still rare.

The Whitefaced Woodland has one of the finest and softest fleeces of the hill breeds. However, having been raised primarily for meat, their wool isn’t as consistent as wool breeds, and the fibre can range from maybe medium to quite coarse.

Stats

Fibre diameters: 28 – 28 microns, or coarser

Staple length: 7.5 – 20.5 cm

NB: Much of my information is sourced from The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn, by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. A wonderful book, with far more information than I’ve included here.

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My sample of Whitefaced Woodland feels maybe on the coarser side of medium, maybe a degree coarser than the Falkland that I spun last, though certainly nothing like a particularly course rug wool, which this fibre can be.

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Given that Whitefaced Woodland wool can have a staple length of up to 20.5 cm, this sample had a relatively short staple length… not like… short short, but shorter than others (I’m feeling eloquent today).

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Up close you can see the crimp… it’s crimpy, but not massively so.

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And now for the skein. This is a relatively dense wool, meaning that the length of yarn that I spun from my ounce of fibre is less than with lighter wools.

Yarn stats

Length: 26.6 m (29.1 y)

Weight: 29.1 g (1.03 oz)

Ratio: 1.32 m/g (28.2 y/oz)

Skein length (off a 150 cm niddy noddy): 140 cm

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The yarn isn’t soft, and is a bit on the scratchy side. I’d imagine it would soften up a bit with use. It seems to me to be a firmly ‘medium’ yarn, keeping in mind that my medium includes the very coarse rug wools.

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Compared to my Merino, you can see that the tone of the Whitefaced Woodland isn’t as bright, and doesn’t have the same squishy look, this yarn looks more defined. This is another yarn with a decent amount of loft and body, though it’s also tending towards a bit more drape than my previous Falkland. Interestingly, it doesn’t feel so different to the Merino in how it moves, despite the massive differences in actual touch.

Eri on Vera

I have a really special project to share with you today, it’s my ‘on the go’ spinning, the project I’m most likely to have with me on any given day.

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This project is special for a couple of reasons, the first of which is Vera. Vera is a Turkish style spindle made by Ed Jenkins. You might remember my first Turkish spindle, well Jenkins spindles are the spindles that lovers of Turkish spindles dream of, in fact Ed Jenkins is attributed with started the trend of miniature Turkish spindles, when he created his little Delight spindle in 2008, and then tiny Kuchulus in 2009.

I’ve never really been one to by into hype, but when the chance to pick a little Jenkins up, exactly the size I wanted, I couldn’t resist. And what can I say… sometimes the hype is right. Vera is a Finch, another one of Ed miniature spindle designs, not the smallest, but with longer, thinner, flatter arms than his earlier designed. She can hold a fair bit of yarn, while still being light and fast. My Vera is made of Verawood, I was very imaginative with naming her. Though I must admit that I was influenced by other sources, namely Jayne from Firefly and his Vera…

Vera, my favourite gun

Vera is 16 g, which is on the heavy side for a Finch. Spindles of the same design will differ in weight depending on the density of the wood they’re made from. She’s a really wonderful versatile design, certainly best for spinning fine, she really does fly… it’s hard to explain how lovely she feels, she just spins! she’s fast, but not so fast that you’re limited to the finest of spinning, and she has amazing sustain, she just keeps going… oh how I love her.

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And she’s so pretty! The pattern in the Verawood is just lovely. I’ll have to take some photos for you, next time she’s not so covered up (which isn’t often). I’m always careful to remove her shaft when she’s not being used, since it’s the most delicate part of her.

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Wanda Jenkins, Ed’s wife, takes care of much of the customer side of the business, and also writes on the base of the all the spindles, so that each is individually identified, with all the relevant information you might want to know.

Now the thing about Jenkins spindles, is that buying one isn’t generally an easy task. They’re so popular that there’s far higher demand then can be met. Ed and Wanda have been having issues with their website for a while, because it can be difficult for small businesses that need servers which can deal with sudden influxes of a huge number of clicks when stock goes online, but that don’t sell enough over all to afford the more expensive options. It’s an issue faced by a lots of indy businesses that are very popular but limited by their own rate of production. Hopefully their website will now be able to cope with the demand, since it’s just come back online, with new and improved servers. They release spindles periodically, sometimes following announcements on their Facebook page, and sometimes without fanfare. These sales go quick, particularly when they’re announced before hand, so you have to be on your toes. However, I got Vera a different way, though a lottery of a kind… you know you’re going well when people want what you’re selling so much that they’ll enter a competition for the right to give you money for it! I was incredibly lucky that I got Vera the very first time I tried for a Jenkins spindle, it was meant to be.

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And here’s what I’m spinning on her, the other reason that this is a special project. Eri silk, I’ve been working a lot with silk lately, and I particularly love the Vanya silk, the silk that’s not the traditional mulberry silk you’re probably familiar with. I’ve covered the different types of silk in more detail here. Eric is a lovely, soft, creamy-white, it doesn’t have the high lustre of mulberry silk, and strangely enough, that’s part of what I love about it. It’s kind of what you might expect to get if you crossed mulbery silk with cotton. The individual fibres are amazingly fine, finer often than mulberry silk (taking into account the variance that will occur in natural fibres). Unlike other silks the fibres are limited in how long they can be, because that’s how the caterpillar spins them, but that’s not really an issue because we don’t tend to use very long silk fibres in spinning. And for me there’s something about Eri, it doesn’t have the ‘slipperiness’ of mulberry, and I do really appreciate the more subdued shine. It’s just my type of silk.

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I’ve been spinning the Eri by pulling off short sections, the length of the staple, and spinning them over the fold with a long draw. This is a really great way to handle silk, and it’s also a wonderfully relaxing way to spin.

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(Here you can see the boyfriend insisting on some product placement, I do recommend this alcoholic ginger beer, it’s quite delicious.)

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I’ve already finished one skein on my Eri, and I have a fair bit more ready to ply. I also have a lot more fibre to get through! I’m thinking that I’ll eventually weave something out of these, I’d love an Eri shawl. Though I’d need to get a shawl sized loom first. For now I’m happy just spinning.

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Up close, just look at how beautiful this fibre it… there really isn’t much more I can say, I do wish you could feel it though.