Author Archives: DianaTwiss

An Exploration of the Desire to Make: Keynote for Olds College Fibre Week 2017

My name is Diana Twiss. I live in north east Langley in a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse on the Fraser River. For the last twenty-two years, I have worked full-time in the world of adult literacy and learning. This work takes me into the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver. My commute takes an average of 3 hours a day four days a week. I knit on the bus and train as often as I can.

I started spinning in January 2000, and it saved me. That may sound dramatic, but looking back on where I was and where I was heading, it really did.

This is my story.

For as long as I can remember, I have identified with the behaviours similar to those of an artist. I draw, paint, colour, and design. I benefit from visuals and easily create them as a way to express myself.

But I never called myself an artist. In fact, I spent years calling myself a “wannabe” artist and once I fell down the rabbit hole of fibre arts, I called myself a “wannabe” fibre artist.

Leading up to the year 2000, I wasn’t well. I was working full-time teaching, mothering a crew of three dynamic children, maintaining a marriage (it’s a good marriage, but like any, needs attention), reconstructing the homestead site we lived on to reflect the heritage designation and doing nothing, absolutely nothing for myself. I didn’t have time, energy or mental space to draw or paint like I used to. My creativity leaked out in the clothes I sewed for my children, sweaters I knit and gardens we built.

I was usually a patient, loving person. Easy to laugh and optimistic. But I started feeling more negative about things, more gloom and doom, less optimistic, less patient and easy to anger. Every day was a struggle.

In my early years, I had spent hours a day doing art. I studied studio art in London, Ontario for two years before switching to the University of Guelph to complete a degree in fine art. While I loved my time in the studio, devoting myself entirely to painting or drawing, I never truly identified with the other student artists who were aiming to have studio shows and to sell their works in the Toronto galleries.  I was drawn to William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts movement, seeing how art, design, and beautiful, well-considered craftsmanship had been brought into the everyday. Functional art.  Fast forward fifteen years, a teaching career, three children, chickens, dogs and cats, and those ideas started to fade – and the sad, mad, and tired person took over.

One of my only creative outlets was knitting, and it was increasingly difficult to get natural fibre yarns at an affordable price. Reading the local newspaper (Langley Advance) I saw a small ad for the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild and a phone number. I called the number. And the following month, I attended my first meeting.

I’ll never forget that evening. In a room full of women, mostly knitting and talking about spinning and weaving, there was a business meeting. And then there was an educational program. It was a slide show featuring the work of a local painter, focussing on her design elements and colour work. WOW.

A room full of grownups. Talking about art. Talking about art like it mattered, like it was something important and valuable. Something inside of me stirred and woke up.

I wasn’t alone.

I realized that evening, that somewhere along the line I started losing myself. And the first part of myself that I had let go was the artist in me. I had somehow accepted the message that doing art was a frivolity, it was an extra, if you had time and resources, a hobby. Other things were much more important.

But that wasn’t true. It was only after I climbed out of that dark time that I realized how dark things were.

When you have a creative spirit, you must honour and feed that creative spirit or it gets sick and withers, and eventually dies. Feeding a creative spirit is not a frivolous activity any more than exercising regularly and eating well are not considered frivolous (only-do-it-if-you-have-time) activities.

It is not optional.

That is why, for so many of us, the concept of “passion”, “having a love affair”, and “falling in love”, come up in the descriptions of our fibre work. We have deep and intense connections to our crafts. The desire to create is strong. And words like obsession, addiction, enabler are all regulars in our lexicon. These are important things to pay attention to.

In my guild (the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild) there is a surprising number of young women, with young families who have recently joined. I am inspired by their work and their passion, and also reminded about that time – when I had very young children and great demands on my physical and emotional energy. I see the way they struggle to carve out time to create, and the amazing result that ensue.

They are doing it because they need to create to stay sane. To keep a balance in their lives.

When we engage in creative pursuits, are entire brains are activated in the activity. That is why it is so satisfying an experience. Three of the major networks in our brain are activated:

Source: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

The affective network – where our motivation and emotional desire to create exist and are maintained.

The recognition network – where the background knowledge, the stuff of what we are learning sits, as we add new knowledge, new experiences, this area gets activated

And the strategic network – the part of the brain that looks after the things we call “executive function”.  This is where strategic planning, designing, making decisions, setting goals exist.

You can see that for any project we embark upon, each part of our brain is fully activated. This leads to an increase in the production of wonderful mood enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

This is why the desire to create is so strong and if not maintained, we simply don’t feel right. Our dopamine and serotonin levels take a hit and we start feeling low.

So do what you need to do to keep your spirits high. And remember, feeding a creative spirit is not optional. It is not simply recreation. It is essential to keeping you mentally strong. It is a vital thing we do to honour the creative spirit that exists in all of us.

Thank you and have a wonderful week at Olds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lupine Forest – experiment #2

Welcome to 2017. Here’s a blog post that’s been sitting in my drafts for a while waiting for some photos to attach to it. Finally, I finished it.

A while back I wrote about working with this colourway – Lupine Forest from Kinfolk Yarn and Fibre. I liked the result, but also felt that the purples, the Lupine buds, were lost in the yarn. So I decided to try spinning it differently so that I could try to get the purple buds to POP.

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I spun it on a drop spindle because I made this spinning decision at a guild demonstration where I only brought my spindles. I’d never really tried to spin thick and thin on a spindle, but I am always up for a challenge and the chance to learn new things. I hate making mistakes, which may surprise you for the number of mistakes I make, but once I get over the ego-bruising of a mistake, I have always learned something valuable.

Below is the result. Notice that the purple pieces are thicker than the other colours.

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And here is is next to ball of varigated greens that it was plied with.

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I plied it on my wheel. I wanted to try different plying techniques that I have only learned and practiced on my wheel, so comfort was the key to confidence. First I tried differential tension with the plying that you can see along the bottom right of this skein. I didn’t think I wanted that. Then in a fit of enthusiasm, I made a couple of super coils. I didn’t think that would work with the knitting pattern and plan that I wanted to compare it to, so I continued with straight on plying.

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And here’s the final yarn. The purple pops, and when knitted up into half-mitts it popped a bit. Not as much as I thought it would. So there’s a message to those who think their uneven yarn won’t look nice.

And here it is knit up into my Simple Lines pattern. The purple bits did exactly what I wanted them to do.

And here’s a close-up. I love the texture it brings to the mitts.

And I continued the experiment by doing the thick purple parts and this time plying it with variegated brown instead of with green. I haven’t knit it up yet, but it’s a good example of the many yarns you can make from one painted braid.

Happy Spinning!

Weaving project #3: a couch blanket

The third weaving project was one that I had in mind for months. At Olds College Fibre Week I purchased some dark grey and light grey rovings from a local producer. It wasn’t super soft, but it was beautiful greys. I spun them up (woolen) and when I lined them up next to the white yarn I made in Spinzilla 2015 – I new my dream for a blanket was going to be realized.

I planned to use the full width of the loom and to do a kind of checked pattern – 20 dark grey; 20 light grey; 20 white, and to weave it with the same pattern. But at the last minute, I decided to add a shot of red yarn to the pattern. So the threading became 18 dark grey; 18 light grey; 18 white, 6 red.

I was so excited to get this started that for a while I lost my mind weaving smarts. I couldn’t work at the desk in my studio because my youngest daughter was using the entire space as a study to finish up her final papers and study for university exams.

So I set myself up on the landing – it’s a large space and I believed it would be perfect for making the warp. Except for the fact that it didn’t have any solid heavy tables that I learned, serve an important function when making the warp. Tension. It holds the tension that is created when you are pulling the yarns through the reed and wrapping them around a warping peg on the other side of the room.

I also learned the hard way that the clamps they provide you with in the kit serve a function. They aren’t optional. And I also learned that when your loom starts to tilt and move towards the warping peg, threatening the length of future warp threads, duct tape won’t hold it in place. There were a few other rookie mistakes I made in the process of making the warp for this blanket, but that’s enough for now. I promise, I won’t be making them again, so no reason to re-live the humiliation.

Once I got the loom fully dressed and ready to weave, the weaving went well. The 100% wool handspun had a tendency to stick to each other sometimes, so I had to be careful when lifting or lowering the reed, that the correct threads were moving.

Here’s a a close-up of the fabric being made. I gently beat each strand into place, leaving as much space as the width of the strand itself.

Here is a shot of it right off the loom. 60″ x 30″. I had hoped it would be longer, but my bungles with the warping process is what reduced the length.

And here it is after it has been washed, bashed and dried in the dryer for 10 minutes. The yarn fulled and filled in the spaces, but because I kept the beat light, it is still very soft and has a lovely drape. The final measurements are 49″ x 25″.

I am officially hooked as a weaver. All I can think about is what is next?

Weaving project #2

Project notes:  The warp is polwarth and silk from a colourway called Eden. The weft is SW merino, cashmere and nylon in a colourway called Temptress. Fibre from both came from the Sweet Georgia Yarns Fibre Club.

Here it is on the 32″ Ashford Rigid Heddle loom. It was easy to weave, the colour changes that naturally occurred from the variegated yarn created interest. I did have a difficult time keeping the beat soft. The yarn wanted to snug tightly against the yarn in the previous row.

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And here it is off the loom, before I washed it. At this time it measured 71″ x 18″.

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Here’s a closeup of the fabric after I washed it. Everything shrunk and fulled a wee bit, filling in the spaces. It is soft and has a lovely drape. Final measurements are 61″ x 14.5″. That’s a lot of shrinkage, but that’s the way it goes in weaving I guess. (Measurement doesn’t include the 5″ twisted fringe on each end.)

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A new fibre adventure: rigid heddle weaving

I love making yarn. That is one of my all-time passions. I love preparing fibre, strategizing how to manage colours, and playing with texture in my yarns. As a result of this passion, I have a lot of handspun yarn. A. Lot. Of. Yarn.

I’m not the most prolific knitter because when given the choice, I choose to spin. So my knitting is limited to my commuting time and some evenings in front of the TV.

A while back I decided that a way to use up my yarn was to start weaving. So I got myself a 4-harness floor-loom. I wove a scarf. Yay, I used up an entire skein of handspun. And then it sat. It sat for so long I forgot how to dress it again. And how to make a warp. And all the other bits that made sense when I did it the first time, put which flew right out of my head after the job was done.

So the handspun continued to add up. A few good years spinning during Spinzilla only added to the handspun stash. I decided I needed to get a bit more serious about this weaving thing, and then stumbled upon the rigid heddle loom.

The rigid heddle loom – the answer to my desire to have a weaving adventure. I called a fellow guild member who had showed her amazing handwoven/handspun shawls at our guild meeting and chatted her up about her loom and her approach. She has a 32″ Ashford rigid heddle loom and takes a Saori approach to her weaving.

I ordered one and it arrived within days of putting in the order. I sealed the wood and assembled it on Saturday morning. Saturday early evening I was making the warp and dressing the loom. Here’s the photo essay of my adventure.

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Making the warp and sleying the reed. It was dead easy and fast.

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Tying it onto the front beam.??????????????

Another view of the tie-up.

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Weaving that I completed by bedtime on Saturday. I wove about 24′.

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And here it is, off the loom at about 3pm on Sunday. Before I washed it, it was 67″ x 28″

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I’ve washed it and it shrunk a bit. I still have to decide how I want to finish the fringes. So final photos will have to wait until I get to that on the weekend.

This was not made with my handspun, it was a bunch of commercial yarn from my stash. I wanted to practice with this before I dove into my handspun stash.  That will also happen this weekend.

Happy weaving!

Spinzilla 2016 — 4,661 yards (4,262 metres)

Last week I participated in my fourth Spinzilla event. Spinzilla is a monster of a spinning contest that lasts an entire week. Starting at 12:01am on Monday, October 3 and ending at 11:59pm on October 9, teams of as many as 25 spinners spin like mad and submit their yardage to their team captains. It’s all done on the honour system – anyone who lies about their yardage will be plagued with snapped drive bands and shattered spindles.

Much to my surprise I am a very competitive person about some things – seems that a spinning contest is one of them. So for the first three years of the contest I worked harder and harder to spin as much as possible. Even booking three days off work last year so I could maximize my spinning time. I was rewarded in year 3 with a spinning total of 8,672 yards. That’s nearly 5 miles of spinning.

This year I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the time from work so my spinning from Monday to Thursday was limited to lunch hour spindling and wheel spinning in the evenings. As I have an early start to my day, I couldn’t stay up late or get up too much earlier to get in some spinning.

So I resigned myself to simply doing my very best with the time I did have, and not to fret about what I couldn’t get done. Here’s the photo story.

I started Spinzilla spinning some lovely grey Romney/Crossbreed fibre that I washed and combed over the summer. My aim is to make a fingering weight yarn for a friend’s weaving project. By Thursday evening I was tired of spinning fine and grey, so I switched it up, grabbed a bag of Mardi Gras by Kinfolk Yarn and Fibre. I took this lovely yarn and spun a two-ply thick and thin yarn. It only took about two hours to do both bobbins. Spinning slubs really chews into the fibre. It wasn’t going to give me a lot of yardage, but it was such a treat to make that yarn and play with colour and texture for a while.  Here’s a photo of what I had spun by Friday morning.

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On Friday I finished spinning all the grey I had prepped and started plying.

On Saturday I pulled out some Clun Forest roving from my neighbour. Talk about 100-mile wear – this yarn is from sheep living one mile away. I spun this woollen — using a long backwards draw. Here’s the first bobbin.

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And I spun for most of Saturday, in between making vegan cabbage rolls, pumpkin pie and apple crumble for Thanksgiving dinner. This is what I had by the end of the day.

On Sunday, I plied all the singles I made. Spun a bit more to finish up a bobbin and plied that in between stuffing and roasting a turkey and getting other items for the meal prepared and eaten!  By 9pm I was done. Really done. Unlike last year where I stayed up right until the last minute wildly plying hyper-energized singles into a three-ply yarn, I was ready to pack up my wheel. And so I did.

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Here’s my total production for the week. Eight skeins of two-ply yarn and two mini-skeins of singles yarn from my spindles for a total of 4,661 yards.

It’s a decent amount of yarn. Yarn that I am very happy with and have plans for. It was a good week.

Yosemite Colourway: Managing Colours

After my self-proclaimed success pleasant experience with the Lupine Forest colourway, I decided that I needed to stretch myself right out of my comfort zone: colourwise. So when I visited the Peace Arch Weavers and Spinners Guild annual Spin-In a few weekends ago, (where there are VENDORS so you can BUY FIBRE) I came away with four additional colourways from my newly discovered local dyer Kinfolk Yarn and Fibre. One of them was Yosemite (on Organic Polwarth), fraught with primary colours and all the secondary colours but purple. Take note of that.

Here it is on display just hours after I bought it. I met my husband for lunch and simply couldn’t leave it in the car. I had to look at it and start studying it because it scared me. Okay, scared is too strong a word, but was not sure how to work with it. What scared me about it? All the strong contrasting colours. What would they look like plied against each other. Would it be a muted yarn with all the intensity of the colours washed out from the balancing that comes from putting complementary colours next to each other?

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When I approach spinning these lovely dyed braids, I pull them apart and try to line them up so I can see the colours and the colour repeats. Given this, see below, I initially thought about making a 4-ply yarn. There are eight repeats that could work. But I don’t have a lazy kate that holds 4 bobbins (weak excuse I know).  Seriously, I wanted the colours to be strong so the singles needed to be thicker than I normally spin. If I made a 4-ply yarn I’d have a bulky yarn and that wasn’t what I wanted, at this point anyway.

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I decided to make a 3-ply yarn and spin the singles a bit thicker than I normally do. That way the colour intensity would prevail. I divided the roving in three equal lengths. I further divided those rovings into 2 parts, 4 parts, and 8 parts – width wise, as seen in the wee balls below ready for spinning.

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I first spun the balls of four onto bobbin one, and then spun another bobbin with the balls of eight sections. After further reflection I decided that wanted the yarn to be a “wildly dancing fractal yarn” so I needed to further divide it. Thus the bobbin that was to have a roving split only into two sections was divided into 16. Yes, 16. That was challenging, but it promised no long lengths of any one colour.

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This yarn was spun and plied all in the same day. Not because that is the best approach, but because I was impatient to see the result. And here it is. The mini-skein to the right is what was left of the two of the bobbins (the four and the eight).

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I love this yarn. I love the way all the colours come out and are fully present. I didn’t spin it fine, so optical mixing doesn’t have as great a chance to occur, With the thicker singles, the colour is strong. Even though I love it, I am also cautious, because I have had experience with yarn that I loved in the skein and hated once knitted and vice versa.

For now I admire it and make plans for it. A cowl, a pair of mitts and a hat? A scarf? Or another lovely skein that I pet and admire.

In Defense of Default Yarn

Default yarn has been getting a bad rap these days. When people talk or write about it, there is often a disparaging tone. I’m guilty of this. In the promotion for my class, Be the Boss of Your Yarn, I ask people if they are tired of making default yarn, and further imply that making default yarn is part of being in a rut.

I’m writing today to redeem default yarn. So let’s start by taking a closer look at what default yarn is.

Default yarn is the yarn that we make by routine. It is the yarn we make when we sit down at our wheel and simply spin. Making this yarn brings us to our spinning zone, relaxes us and gives us great pleasure.

When we make default yarn, we are often using one or more of the following:

    • our favourite fibres and fibre preparations,
    • our most preferred whorl or spindle,
    • treadling rhythms that feel the best,
    • and/or the drafting techniques we are most comfortable with.

2015-09-04 13.12.37It is important to note that default yarn is different for everyone. I know this because of all the spinners I work with in the classes I teach.

For me, it is the yarn I make when I am approaching a new fibre or fibre prep. I simply want to see what it does. So default yarn in many ways is my baseline. My default yarn is a two-ply yarn, usually spun using my largest whorl (6:1), the short forward draw, treadling about twice per draft, with a very gentle uptake. After a minute or two, I let it twist back on itself to see if I’m liking the twist angle and the thickness of the yarn. And from there I start tinkering. From the look of this wee sample, I may change whorls, increase the uptake, change my drafting technique, draft more or fewer fibres, or abandon the project altogether.

When I made the yarn for the Lupin Forest mittens, I was thinking mostly about colour and how to get the most out of it. For that project, I spun my standard default yarn. For the next project that came from that experiment, I changed my drafting technique and came up with a different kind of yarn. (The blog post for this project is on its way.)

Default yarn gets a bad rap when that is the only yarn you know how or are willing to make. So I’ve developed a way to draw attention to this and to help spinners come up with strategies to make different yarn.

In my class, Be the Boss of Your Yarn, we start the day out by making our two-ply default yarn using two colours so we can more clearly see the yarn. Then we make four samples of two-ply yarn using the same two colours, first with high twist singles and high twist plying. Then, high twist singles with low twist plying. The third sample is low twist singles with high twist plying, and the final one is low twist singles with low twist plying. These are all exaggerations, but from this exercise, we can start to better understand some of the elements of our default yarn. From knowing where we start, we are in a position to know much better what it is we need to change to get away from the default.

2016-06-20 11.30.29Here is what the sample cards from the first exercise look like. We lay them all out and chat about what we are seeing in our yarn and in other yarns. It is an ah-ha! moment for many students as they for the first time, start to understand what they are doing to make default yarn. Knowledge is power.

So don’t despair or worry about your default yarn. Embrace it. But also, try to understand it so you can do it more intentionally. And when you want to make a different yarn, you are in a better position to know which elements you need to alter.

Happy spinning.

Lupine Forest – playing with a colourway

Ever since my stint at Olds College teaching a class called Wild About Colour, I’ve been obsessed with dyed rovings. I spent a great deal of time developing this class and want to deliver it again and again and again. I also want to make it longer, maybe two days. . . . there’s so much to do and learn and discover when you open the box of colour. So I’ve been thinking about it and colour a lot lately.

One (delightful) challenge in planning and organizing my classes is finding good quality, reliable sources for my materials. And to continue my 100-mile wear sentiment, I want to support local artisans – so I went looking for them.

At Fibres West 2016, I was drawn to the Kinfolk Yarn and Fibre booth. I was teaching a full schedule and didn’t really have time shop. Makes some of us wonder why we choose to teach. I loved her colours and from the way she presented her work I knew she was an artist at heart. If you want to challenge this, please do. That will be an excellent blog post for me to articulate in writing.

So, earlier this month, we met up and talked fibre, colours, and supply for workshops. I came away from that meeting with four colourways to play with and excitement about working with a new dyer. As much as I am a visual person, I am also inspired by language, so often the title of a colourway will get me thinking. . . Lupine Forest.  Sometimes the name of a colourway will irritate me, but in this case, it truly inspired me because for the first time, I have lupines in my garden.

This is the story of Lupine Forest.

Here is what the braid looked like when it was all rolled up.

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I pulled it apart to see how (and if) the colours repeat and to get a sense of the entire roving. Lovely, lovely stuff. Lots of purple and green with the occasional section of brown. I couldn’t wait to play with it.

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I wanted the knitted fabric to look like lupines. You know those flowers? In the wild they are mostly purple and have long stems with symmetrical repeats of blossoms along the stems. A perfect candidate for the barber-polling that some spinners dread, and go to great lengths to avoid.

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So I pulled off a length of it, ended up being a third of the roving, split that in six sections and spun that up. Here it is. A mere 44 grams.

2016-07-16 15.02.42I wanted to have a barber-polling effect, to replicate the look of lupines, so I chose a green BFL that I had in my stash. It was far too bright and consistent, so I blended it on my hand carders with two other greens that more accurately reflect the colours of the forest, and made several of the rolags you see below. The bright green that I wanted to play down is the green at the very bottom. Plied with the purples, it would look like lupines; with brown it would look like forest with underbrush; with the greens, it would simply add depth. That was my thinking.2016-07-17 11.52.32

That gave me these two bobbins that I plied into a soft-two ply yarn.

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That you see here. A 75 gram skein. A decent amount for a wee project.

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This is a perfect example, for me anyways, of a yarn that disappointed. I thought I had gone too far with the greens and washed away all the purple. What’s the use? The lupines were all lost in the sea of green. But. . . never completely judge your yarn/result until you knit it up.

Knit up into a quick half-mitt (Simple Lines) project, you can see that the purple of the lupines was maintained. The forest is there with the greens throughout and the occasional browns of the trunks of trees. (This photo doesn’t truly show the colours, they are much warmer.)

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I have another two-thirds of this braid that I have other plans for. I want to spin a yarn so the purple really “pops” so that will mean spinning a thick/thin yarn. Let’s see how that works out.

In the meantime, I want to thank Kyla for this lovely braid of fibre. It was so beautifully dyed, no felting or crunchy parts, no dye residue when I washed the yarn. Lovely and soft for a pair of hands wanting warmth in the coming months.

Have spindle, will indeed travel

I love my Turkish spindles. I love their look, their weight and the fact that they slow me down. I love the way they come apart and can be stored easily. What I didn’t like for a long time was the fact that once I got started with one, I was stuck with the shape. This made transporting it to and from work a bit tricky.

Until I spied a very interesting thing on Instagram one day. A fellow Turkish spindler posted a photo of heading to the beach with her spindle and other stuff all in a bag. What was missing from the spindle was the shaft. How is this possible?

And then another Turkish spindler, when we were discussing winding on techniques, mentioned that she removes the shaft and flips her turtle, so she can wind on, building the turtle from both sides. I haven’t quite figured that trick out yet, but what intrigued me again was this idea of removing the shaft and being able to put it back in.

I tried removing the shaft. Duh. Nothing terrible happened. All the singles stayed in place and I was able to easily put it back. Now it is easy to travel with my Turkish spindles. The photo essay below shows how. Spindle with several grams of spun singles:

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Shaft removed and turtle with arms in tact, stored safely in the carry bag along with the shaft:2016-05-28 10.07.29

Carry bag zipped up and ready for transport. Nice, neat and small package. Fits easily in my purse:

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When I want to spin again, I take my turtle out of the bag. Here’s the nice hole in which the shaft easily returns. It’s a serious no-brainer:

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And here it is with the shaft back in place, ready to spin again:

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Now I take it with me where ever I go.

The stuff we learn from each other is so helpful.