Author Archives: DianaTwiss

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.

 

The Wayfarer Tunic

I don’t have a good track record with making sweaters for myself. They tend to be too large and shapeless and were therefore quickly abandoned. This sweater changed all of that.

I saw the pattern in the Spring 2017 edition of Ply Magazine, the Down-like issue. It’s a tunic, looked like an easy knit, and I simply loved the look of it.

As Spinzilla approached, I decided to knit for a project – and spinning for this sweater was just the motivation. I had 650 grams of beautifully carded rovings from a local sheep named Daisy just waiting for a project – and nothing like a spinning contest to get the job done.

First however, I made a swatch. Yes, a swatch. I wanted to see if my default (the easiest to spin) long draw two-ply yarn, could fit the pattern requirements. No need going into Spinzilla having to significantly modify my spinning practices. It’s like changing your running gait during the marathon. Not. Going. To. Happen.

So I quickly made some yarn using the same spinning (long draw) that I’d use during Spinzilla. It was a good choice for this wool. It was a carded preparation, short stapled fibre. Daisy is a true mixed breed sheep: 1/2 North Country Cheviot, 1/4 Suffolk, 1/4 Romney/Dorset/Karakul. I wanted a light, lofty yarn that had a bit of strength. Seems like contrasting purposes, but it is what I wanted/needed for this sweater. It also had to end up, after washing, at 10 wraps per inch.

I got it. Knit up a swatch, washed and bashed it and liked the resulting fabric.

When Spinzilla began on October 2, I spun Daisy until the bag was empty. This happened sooner than I thought so I had to find other things to spin to finish out the week. I plied all my singles on Saturday morning and kept spinning because I still had another day left of the contest.

Monday was a holiday and a lovely day here in Glen Valley. So I was able to wash my newly spun yarn and get it ready for knitting. I ended up with 1,062 yards of Daisy. The pattern called for 1,200. I decided not to worry about it. I had a Plan B. If I ran out of yarn, I’d use a different one for the patterned hemline, cuff and collar.

I had a busy work week and then another knitting deadline to meet, so I didn’t get the sweater started until October 16. Once I did it knit up quickly. On size 5.5mm needles, knit from the top down, it goes fast. I am not a fast knitter. But I am steady and knit every chance I get.

I finished it on Saturday, October 28. Wove in the ends and washed it. And I had about 100 yards of yarn to spare.

Thanks to a sunny Sunday, was able to do a photo shoot on the first wearing of the Wayfarer Tunic.

It had a loose look and feel to it, but as I wore it it grew in length. It wasn’t until I was handling the swatch that I realized what was going on. In the swatch, I really washed and bashed it so the yarn fulled. It was a dense, yet still soft fabric. The sweater is so large I had a hard time really bashing it around, so it was not fulled at all and it was stretching with each wear.

So I tossed it in the washing machine on the hand wash cycle to get it to full. It worked. The fabric fulled, it got smaller and now fits perfectly. There was a tense moment when it came out of the wash. But fortune favours the brave and I got the result I was hoping for.

It’s a great pattern. Good, simple instructions. I’d knit another in a hearbeat.

Spinzilla 2017 – it’s a wrap

Spinzilla ended Sunday, October 8th at 11:59:59pm. It ended for me at 10:40pm.

It was a good week of finding ways to fit spinning into my life. I worked all week so had to find time in the morning and evenings to spin. And, when I could, I spun at work. On Tuesday, I had my wheel with me because I was heading to the Team Sweet Georgia spin-in that evening. I brought my wheel into my office and spun a bit during a department conference call – about twenty minutes. Other times, I had my Jenkins Turkish spindle with me and spun during phone calls and over lunch hour.

My plan was to spin the entire bag of “Daisy”. Daisy is a sheep owned by a fellow guild member -1/2 north country Cheviot, 1/4 Suffolk, 1/4 Romney Dorset Karakul. Quite a variety and lovely, lovely wool. Last November, I bought a large bag of Daisy carded up into inviting rovings and had plans to spin it for a sweater. Perfect task for Spinzilla. I really thought that would take my entire week, so I didn’t have much of a back-up plan. Fortunately I have a bit of a stash so when I finished spinning Daisy on Friday evening and plied it up on Saturday morning, I spun up some Clun Forest I bought from my neighbour.

On Sunday evening at 7pm, after plying all the Clun Forest, I still felt like spinning. I had about 7grams of spun fibre on my Turkish spindle so grabbed the bag of that fibre, (Shetland 70%; Silk 30%) and finished spinning all that up while I watched two episodes of Shetland. Fitting isn’t it? It spun quickly due to an excellent fibre prep and silk. And I plied it while I watched Scott and Bailey.

All in all I had 6 bobbins of Daisy, 3 of Clun Forest, 1 Shetland/silk, and small bobbin of Turquiose Perendale/silk I spun at the spin-in after I spun up all the Daisy I bought with me. That all measured out to be 1,683 yards of 2-ply yarn, which translates into 5,049 yards of spinning for Team Sweet Georgia.

I’m happy with this result. I managed to spin a decent amount and I stayed sane. I didn’t stress myself out with trying to spin, spin, spin. I relaxed, went running on my days off. Did errands, and prepared an entire Thanksgiving Dinner.

I’m extra happy because I have all Daisy spun up and enough of it for a sweater – 1,100 yards. The Clun Forest is going to be added to the Clun Forest I spun for the last Spinzilla, dyed and woven into a shawl/blanket.

I love Spinzilla. It forces me to focus exclusively on spinning, and while it is only a week long, that is long enough to get a significant amount of yarn made. I also love it because it brings a community of spinners together, the members of our Team Sweet Georgia, and also other spinners from all around the world spinning for this competition. While there are team prizes for the most spun, and individual prizes for the same, I like to think about the grand total that all the teams are creating. Can we beat the total we reached last year, and if so, by how much?

So that’s ones in the books. What’s next?

(Photo on top is all skeins washed and drying in the Monday sunshine.)

Spinzilla 2017 – day 1

(Photo above is yarn spun for Spinzilla 2016)

Spinzilla – the monster of a spinning contest, started in 2013. Since then it has grown in size in terms of the number of teams participating and the number of miles (kilometres) spun. It is a fun, wild week.

I have participated every year it has been held – spinning for Team Sweet Georgia. Over time I have learned some things that have made my spinning week more pleasurable. And here they are:

  1. Spin for a project: this is a great time to spin up a huge amount of yarn. So if you have been wanting to spin up for a sweater or to weave a blanket, now is the time. This year I am spinning for a sweater I want to knit. It’s in the Down issue of Ply Magazine. It is a good time to get it all done, and to ensure that it’s the same weight and grist.
  2. Add some fun, wild spinning moments into the marathon of project spinning. Last year, I spun for a weaving project. It was grey Romney, yards and yards and yards of it. After a few days of that, I took a break and spun a two-ply thick and thin yarn. It was only 100 yards or so, but it also only took 1 1/2 hours and gave me such joy to be doing something with colour and something different with my fingers.
  3. Spin on days 1 – 5 and ply on day 6 and 7. Or some variation on that theme. I learned that my yarn benefits from sitting a bit. The twist relaxes and this makes plying a bit easier. This means you have to have a lot of bobbins, but it’s a good excuse to get more. Or borrow some from non-Spinzilla spinning friends.
  4. Skein and measure yarn when Spinzilla is over. As curious as I am about how much yarn I’ve made, taking the time to skein and measure is time away from spinning. So unless you desperately need those bobbins, don’t waste time on it. You will have time after the event is over, a couple of days, to skein and measure.
  5. Have fun. Seriously, everyone says it, I say it.  And then I put my head down to my spinning and get all competitive and lose track of things. Feel resentful when I have to work, make dinner or do anything else beyond spinning. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy this more when I re-focus the competition. For me this is about how much yarn I can make in spite of the busy life I lead as a woman in the twenty-first century working full-time and involved in my community.

So this morning I was up at my regular time – 6am. Got a cup of coffee, took a few sips and then sat down at my Ashford Traditional to spin some lovely wool into a sweater. Just starting the day spinning is the thing that makes this competition worth while.

And now I have to get down to work and move away from the wheel. So enjoy the week, enjoy the attention spinning is going to get this week and the role you will play in drawing attention to the wonderful activity of making yarn.

Happy spinning!

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 spent several 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, those ideas started to fade – and the sad, mad, and tired me 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, focusing 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. 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, our 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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