Colour and Spinning Playground – new workshop

My newest workshop is a full day of colour, experimentation and fun devoted to learning how to use blending equipment, blending colours and spinning the results. In this class you can make all the yarn needed for the wrap featured in the photo.

In the first half of the day, we use the most portable tools for blending colour for spinning: hand carders, blending boards, combs and hackles. In the second part, we will spin it up and reflect on our results. In addition to experimenting with different blending tools, participan learn colour theory in a practical and applied way.

And here are the results of several of those colour/yarn experiments.

To promote my classes, I carry around several skeins to show what the results could be. After all the trial and error for this class, I ended up with a lot of yarn.

Instead of the hassle of all the skeins, I decided to make a large piece of fabric, leave the fringes long, to show you what the yarns and colours look like woven up.

Below is the warping process on my 32″ Ashford rigid heddle loom.

I saved yardage from each of the warp yarns to use in the weft, and wove it all in a random way.

And many thanks to Kylan Rivers at Kinfolk Yarn for the photo of my finished piece, modelled by yours truly.

Now I can show the yarn and colours in action.

So join my in my class on March 14 – at Fibres West in Langley, BC, and you can make all the yarn needed for this wrap.

Does spindle weight matter?

At the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild Annual Sale, I added two Turkish spindles to my collection — a 20 gram Pacific Yew and a 35 gram Arbutus. They are beautiful tools, lovingly and carefully made by a high level spindle maker and crafter – Ed Jenkins.

I am often asked the question – what effect does spindle weights have on the yarn we make? Or more specifically – what weight of spindle should I buy?

So I felt a bit of an experiment was in order. I lined up three Turkish spindles – of three different weights — 20, 35, and 50 grams. I used the same fibre to spin yarn on each spindle, trying to keep the yarn weights similar.

For clarity in this discussion, let’s call them spindle 1, 2, and 3 from smallest to largest. Here are my observations:

When spinning spindle 1, the smallest one, I noticed that it didn’t keep a spin for as long as the others. It was easier to set into motion than the other two, but even so, I had to flick it twice as often to get enough twist into my yarn. It was also hard to keep the yarn the thickness I wanted. This spindle wanted me to spin fine yarn. The thicker the yarn, the more it slowed the spindle down.

Spindle 2 kept a spin going for a long time. It needed a bit more of a flick than 1, but kept the spin going. It was easy to draft the fibre and keep the yarn density the same throughout.

Spindle 3 kept a spin going the longest, but it was the one that needed the most effort to flick. Once the spindle got the weight of fibre on it, it got harder to flick.

Once all the spinning was done I made plying balls from each turtle – that’s what we call the singles yarn that is being stored on the spindle. I marked them with removable stitch markers so I would know which yarn belonged to which spindle.

I plied the singles with my Snyder Steampunk spindle and then washed the yarn.

I’m having trouble with my camera, so photos of the washed skeins will follow later.

LESSONS LEARNED:

The main thing I learned from this exercise is that it is difficult to spin yarn of equal weight with different weights of spindles.

The smallest and lightest spindle (1 – 20 grams) wanted the yarn spun fine. When I spun fine yarn on it, the spindle kept the spin. When I made the yarn thicker, to meet the grist of the other two spindles, the spindle slowed down quickly and need more effort to spin. The resulting yarn is not as consistently spun as the other two.

There wasn’t as dramatic a difference between the two heavier spindles, despite there being 15 gram difference between them also. What was noticeable was for the heaviest one how much more effort it took to put the spindle into motion once it started to accumulate spun yarn. A 50 gram spindle with 15 grams of fibre on it means 65 grams you are putting into motion.

So what weight of spindle should you buy? Whatever one you want to make the kind of yarn you want. Just know that it is more difficult to spin thick yarn with a light spindle, and more difficult (but possible) to spin fine yarn on a heavy spindle.

Finding pink

This year I am joining in on Spin Off magazine’s Mitt Along. Despite living in the lower mainland of British Columbia where we rarely see below zero weather, I decided to make a super warm pair of mitts. So in my experience, that calls for a stranded knitted pattern.

Last weekend I experimented with several fibres and made the main colour yarn. That’s the skein of green you can see below. For the contrast colour, I want to pick up on the pink noil flecks I put into the green yarn, and so the search is on for the right pink.

I want the yarn to behave just like the green yarn – meaning I want it to be the same thickness and have the same bounce. To do this I thought that adding a small amount of the dark brown Friesian (that’s the name of the breed of sheep from whence the brown fleece came) to some pink and white rolags I had in my stash.

I carded up a sample on my hand carders and this rolag below was the second sample. The first sample is the small skein of yarn to the left of the rolag.

And here is what it looked like spun up. It turned out darker than I wanted it to be. But the brown fibre produced the bounce I wanted. Back to the drawing board to find some white fibre with similar properties of the brown Friesian and make another sample.

Stay tuned.

The fine art of sampling

Early in my spinning career I learned about fibre prep, drafting, and twist and how they all work together. What I didn’t truly appreciate until years into it, was that there are so many variations on the theme.

I thought that if you had a long-stapled fibre, you’d flick card or comb it and then spin it with a short forward draw for worsted yarn. If you had a shorter staple length fibre you’d drum or hand card into rolags and then spin long draw for woollen yarn.

But I was breaking the rules right from the beginning. I was hand carding long stapled fibres because that’s all I had at hand. And I spun the rolags I made from short stapled fibres with a short forward draw because I couldn’t yet do the beautiful and balletic long draw.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 – when I attended a three-day workshop with Abby Franquemont (Spinning for a Purpose – Taos, New Mexico) that I transitioned from being a recreational spinner into an intentional one. This means that I learned how to make yarn for a specific purpose, when and if I wanted to. And most importantly, I learned the fine art of sampling.

Here are two good reasons why sampling is something to check out:

  1. Sampling uses a small amount of  fibre – make your mistakes or confirm your plan using less than one ounce of fibre
  2. Along that same theme, sampling is a small commitment of time – make your mistakes or confirm your plan in under an hour (doesn’t count drying time!

When you sample you can explore a wide range of things including, but not limited to:

  • washing technique
  • fibre preparation
  • drafting technique
  • amount of twist
  • yarn structure
  • yarn finishing process
  • fibre and/or colour blending

In a series of samples shown above, I tested the dark brown wool (Friesian), decided I wanted to lighten it up with colour; tested colour and adding silk noil;  and played around making small samples and mini-skeins until I settled on the yarn I wanted.

And here is another series of samples as I experimented with colour and texture.

Trust me. Sampling has saved me from near disasters and has helped me really refine the yarn for a specific project. Try it out for yourself.

Spinning with Suspended Spindles – online course

Hi All, 

Here is something new on the School of SweetGeorgia website – Spinning with Suspended Spindles with yours truly. We filmed it in August and it is ready for you all as of today!! I am really excited about the potential that this course has and am hoping that an online course is yet another way to help spinners get started on the journey of making yarn.

This course is taught in much the same way as my half-day workshops. Here is what we cover:

  1. About the spindle:
    1. The variety, choosing one
    1. How they work
  2. Wool
    1. Properties of wool
    1. Working with wool
  3. Spinning on a suspended spindle
    1. Making a leader
    1. Park & draft technique
    1. Joining new fibre
    1. Winding on – making a cop
    1. Dealing with a full spindle
  4. Spinning with Turkish spindles
  5. Plying your singles
  6. Finishing your yarn

Click here to check it out!


Gotland/Shetland sampling

In my last post, I wrote about the important things I learned from sampling a small amount (80 grams) of the Gotland/Shetland fleece from my neighbour’s sheep named Aubrey.

Here are photos of processing and spinning the fibre to make a sample skein for knitting. The teasing took longer than it normally does because many of the butt ends were fused from my handling. See previous post.

I started out by hand carding some rolags. However, this fibre, and probably the Gotland part of it, is sleek and smooth. When I tried to roll the fibre into a rolag, it just wouldn’t stay rolled. So I ended up using my drum carder to make two, roughly 40 gram batts.

I spun it with a short backwards draw, re-wound the yarn onto weaving bobbins and let them sit for a couple of days. Then I plied them into a two-ply yarn. I skeined and washed the yarn, finishing it in a cold water bath to fuse some of the fibres, yet keep the drape. It is a lovely yarn and my neighbour loves it. So much in fact she’s not yet knit a sample swatch.

My next experiment with the yarn is to make a three-ply. It will be rounder and I think more durable for the sweater function.

Stay tuned.

A small pile of teased light grey fibre. Shows the shine and curly nature of the wool.
Washed and dried fibre all teased and ready for drum carding
A twelve inch by twenty-four inch batt of drum carded fibre.
Drum carded batt – two passes
Two weaving bobbins wound with grey singles yarn.
Two bobbins of singles yarn – approximately 35 grams each
A finished skein of two-ply yarn.
Two-ply yarn, 125 yards, 75 grams.

Test it out: the power of sampling

I have a lot of experience working with wool from fleece to fabric. Despite all that experience, I really surprised myself with my last sample.

Let me explain. My neighbour has a lovely flock of Gotland, Shetland and Gotland/Shetland cross sheep. I have three of her fleeces here – the task at hand is to find out which one would make the ideal sweater yarn.

I started by sifting through the three bags, two Gotland and one Gotland/Shetland (GS). I decided to start with the GS because it seemed the softest and had the nicest crimp and staple length of the three.

I was anxious to see what it looked like spun up, so I grabbed a small amount, put it into a lingerie bag and washed it.

When I started working with it to figure out the best fibre preparation technique to use, I found that many of the locks had fused or felted a bit at the cut end. I’ve been washing fibre for years and have always been careful, and this has never happened to me. When I reviewed (admitted to myself) my technique, I noted that I gently squeezed the bag of wet fibre. Was that the thing that caused the felting? Not entirely sure.

When I washed up another batch – I made sure that I didn’t squeeze at all. I let the water drip. It was painful, but I did resist the urge to squeeze. After the final rinse, I let the bags hang until the water was cool. And then I put them in my salad spinner. I gently spun them to remove some more water.

Then I put it to dry and much to my delight, all the locks easily and willingly came apart. Teasing was a dream instead of a struggle.

So the moral of this story: test it out. I was focused on making a spinning test sample – but I was reminded that the way you wash the fibre needs to be tested out as well.

Good thing I didn’t wash the entire fleece!

Harvesting flax – Summer 2018

There are few tasks easier than harvesting flax. You grab a handful of it right down near the base and pull. Roots and all. Give it a good shake to remove all the soil and put it somewhere to dry out. That’s it.

The trick, and yes there’s always a trick, is to decide WHEN to harvest the flax.

Let’s take a look at flax. The flax in the photo below is in full bloom. It’s an amazing sight.

You can read a lot of things about when to harvest flax, and some of it is different. In essence, you want to harvest the flax then the plant has reached a certain level of maturity. The older or more mature the plant, the stronger/thicker/coarser the fibres. When a plant flowers that’s a sign that it has reached a particular stage. After the flowering, the seed bolls form. Another stage you witness. After that, the leaves start to dry out moving from the bottom of the plant up to the top.  Many sources suggest you harvest the flax when most of the plants have stopped blooming. The thinking is that if you wait too long, the fibres will be too coarse. But if you don’t wait long enough, the fibres won’t be strong enough to withstand the breaking, scrutching and hackling to get the fibres.

I decided to harvest bed #1 when most of the flowers had stopped blooming and the bottom half of the plant started to dry out. See below.

 I’ve had best results drying my flax by leaning it against something – like a post or fence. I think it helps with the initial drying as the air can circulate.

I waited a bit longer to harvest bed #3. All the flowers had stopped blooming, the seed bolls starting to form and most of the plant dried out.

Our days were still long and hot so after a few days drying against the fence, I spread them out on the ground. The other two beds had already been harvested, dried, rippled and bed #1 retted. So I felt I was a bit behind with this one. I had to stave off that feeling as I was trying to do different experiments.

This is bed #3. The last one harvested, drying on my front yard.

If you want to see a really quick video on harvesting/pulling flax, check out my Instagram feed. I can’t figure out how to embed videos – so that will have to do. I’m @dianatwiss on Instagram.

Growing flax – Summer 2018

I planted my three flax beds on May 19. The Fraser River had still not crested, the berm was still in place in the event of flooding, but I took a chance. The beds had been covered with landscape cloth for a few months, so there were no weeds, and the soil was not compacted from the winter rains. I raked up the top few inches and measured out three beds.

I had seeds from three different sources and a deep desire to learn more about growing and processing flax. We have a good amount of space out here and I had time off from my day job, aka Holidays.

Working from right to left – bed #1 (5′ x 13′) was sown with seeds (Marilyn variety) purchased from Wild Fibres in the UK. Bed #2 (3′ x 13′) was sown with seeds purchased from Richter’s in Canada, and bed #3 (2′ x 13′) was sown with seeds from my own harvest a couple of years ago.

Germination occurred on day 4! Seriously, only four days to germination. The weather was warm, the soil nicely warmed up, and I kept the soil moist – not wet.

Three weeks later, they continue to grow. There were some patchy spots that I tried to re-seed. Those plants never caught up.

The weather continued to cooperate. A little over a month later, on June 21, the flax beds were very well established and mostly measured 12′.

Six weeks later, the flax was well over two feet tall. My cat discovered that a flax bed is a nice place to escape the heat. She tunnelled in and made herself a small bed. It caused several of the plants to bend and those plants stayed thin. Next year, I figure out some kind of fencing to keep her out.

This last photo was taken July 20 – two months since planting. And the flax is starting to bloom. It blooms in the morning and closes in the evening. Lovely blue flowers. Bed #1 was the tallest, #2 the second tallest, and #3 the shortest – but still of good length for processing to linen. 

More coming on harvesting, rippling, and retting.

Stay tuned.

Planting flax in 2018 – things to think about now

If you are planning to have a harvest of flax this summer, now is the time to start getting ready for it.

  1. Plan your wee garden plot. Mine is under a black landscape cloth, which is helping to warm up the soil and kill the  weeds. The rain can get through the cloth and it keeps the worms and other soil critters happy. When I lift the cloth, the soil underneath is not compacted from rains pouring down on it. When things warm up a bit more, say in a couple of weeks, I’ll lift the cover and loosen the soil with a garden fork. But that’s a few weeks away.
  2. Buy your seeds. Get them now before they are all sold out. Flax growing for fibre enthusiasts has increased over the last few years. Here are a few places to order seeds: in Canada: in the US: and in the UK.

That’s all I can think of for now. Garden plot about 3 feet x 12 feet, if you can manage it. Smaller if you can’t. And seeds.