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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.)

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!

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.

Be the Boss of your Yarn*

*In 2011 I attended a 3-day spinning workshop “Spinning with a Purpose” with Abby Franquemont at the Taos Wool Festival in Taos, New Mexico. Written on the whiteboard as a welcome was the workshop title along with the message, aka “Being the Boss of your Yarn”. I give full credit to Abby for this variation of her title. This is not an imitation or repetition of the workshop she offered. Hers was much more in-depth and moved along with our learning needs. Mine is more directed – is all about learning a set of skills and strategies that put you in charge of the yarn you want to make, rather than making the same default yarn over and over and over again.

Be the Boss of your Yarn is the final full-day class I’ll be teaching at Olds College this coming June. Here’s what I have in store:

This workshop is all about busting through “default-yarn” – that yarn you make over and over again despite attempts to do it differently. In this workshop you will learn techniques that will expand your yarn repertoire. You will experiment with and learn about the effect of twist on your singles and your plied yarns. You will also learn about yarn structure by making samples of soft singles, 2-ply, chained (Navajo ply), and cabled yarns. You will learn strategies for making the yarn you want. At the end of the day, YOU will be the boss of your yarn.

I’ve taught this class a few times already and it is a blast. What is the most fun is seeing the excitement and sometimes awe as people realize some fundamental elements they can change to alter the look (and function) of the yarn they are making. Some of us, when we learn to spin, develop a fear of too much twist, like it is a bad thing. Too much twist will make your yarn hard and other silly things. Well, that is true, however the margin of what is too much twist is much wider than you can imagine. And in the first part of this class, we set out to explore this.

We make a series of two-ply yarn samples, first putting a lot of twist into the singles and then alternatively, plying with a lot of twist and then in another sample, plying with as little twist as we can get away with. In the next series of two-ply yarn we make singles using as little twist as possible and then plying with a lot of twist and another sample plying with very little twist. Then we look at the yarn, and feel the yarn. We measure the angle of twist. The idea is to push the element of twist to both extremes so we can see what too much and too little twist looks and feels like.

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Then we do a bunch of other things in the afternoon, building on this knowledge and new found comfort with varying amounts of twist.

This photo is what was left over after everyone left the class at Fibres West 2016. Scraps of yarn that didn’t make it to the sample cards and other bits from various experiments. I’m looking forward to doing this again.

I hope to see you there.

 

Twist and Draft: worsted to woolen and everything in between

The third class I’ll be doing at Olds College during Fibre Week 2016 is Twist and Draft. The subtitle is “worsted to woolen and everything in between.”

Here’s an excerpt from the description:

Explore and experiment with a variety of drafting techniques from worsted to woolen. Learn when and why, and most importantly, how to use these different drafting and spinning techniques, from short forward draw (worsted) through to the long draw (woolen). You will also get some tips on fibre preparation to help you get the yarn you want for your project.

Expand your spinning repertoire so you have more choices in making the yarn you want, from strong, fine yarn for socks through to lofty, soft yarn for hats and sweaters. You’ll come away from this class knowing how to answer the worsted vs woolen question with confidence.

I have the teaching plan all sorted out and now I’m working on assembling the right materials to support the exercises. I have carded rovings of local Clun Forest and Suffolk to use as we start playing with the drafting techniques that are used when making woolen type yarn.

For the worsted portion I have combed top in BFL and Merino. I also have some Romney lamb locks, and Merino locks that we will comb as part of learning the fibre prep for worsted yarn. I wanted another wool to sample with and decided to use some California Variegated Mutuant (CVM) that I purchased at the Fleece sale back in October. It’s a beautiful colour and I have a lot of it.

To check it out, I combed up 16 grams of the fibre. What you see below are the results. Nine grams of combed top, simply beautiful and soft. What’s in the scale is the waste, or the stuff that is left over after combing. I usually make felted balls with it. But what if this was the only fleece you had to make all the knitted items for your family? If that was the case, you’d think differently about calling this waste.

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I decided to make yarn with it. I carded it into rovings on my Ashford carders. It was pretty messy stuff. Lots of short bits, some VM, and fibres of all lengths. No less, I soldiered on and got it done. After spinning the combed top, using a short forward draw. I changed bobbins and spun these rolags with a supported long-draw letting the twist get into the fibre and pulling back. I plied it the next morning using a centre pull ball. As I plied I pinched the bumpy parts so smooth them out a bit and try to make the yarn more even.

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Here are the two finished skeins before they were washed. On the left is the worsted: combed top, long staple length, spun with short forward draw. On the right is the woolen: hand carded, short fibres, supported long-draw. On the side is the true waste, doesn’t even weigh half a gram.

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I washed the skeins in hot soapy water and rinsed them in hot water. For the woolen skein I did two rinses, one in hot water for a few minutes, and then into ice cold water for a few minutes. While in this water I roughed it up and then back into the hot water. I finished it in the cold water. I squeezed water out of both and gave both some good thwacks on the side of the tub. Then I rolled them in an old towel and took them outside for their photo shoot.

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One of the things people don’t like about combing as a fibre preparation is the amount of waste. But if you decide to use the waste to make a different kind of yarn, you may just feel differently about it. I love the look of both of they yarns can’t wait to knit them up into wristlets.

Spindling 1.0 at Olds College Fibre Week 2016

The second full-day workshop that I’ll be teaching is Spindling 1.0.

Here’s the description:

In this workshop, you will learn basic spinning techniques for suspended spinning. These techniques will allow you to further explore making a variety of yarns with these noble tools. This class is for absolute beginning spinners, or for those who know how to spin with a wheel, but don’t know how to do it with a spindle.

In this introduction to the spindle as a tool for making yarn, you will also earn about the properties of wool as a protein fibre for making yarn. You will learn how to draft fibre, put twist into it, ply and set the yarn– everything you need to get you started on your yarn making journey.

I’ve taught this class several times. Sometimes it is a 3-hour class, sometimes 4-hours. Having a full 6-hour class is a true luxury and I feel blessed as an instructor and happy for the students. It gives us the chance to explore things just that wee bit deeper. To ask more questions, to play a bit more.

For a long time I’ve had a wonderful spindle maker create amazing spindles for my classes. These are top whorl spindles made by Dave Smith of Houndesign. Dave is now following another passion: music and leaving wood turning behind. Here’s a glimpse of these lovely tools.

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As a spindle instructor, one of the biggest frustrations is the tools people bring to the class. People who don’t yet know how to spin, especially spindle spin, often don’t know how to select the right kind of spindle. They often come to my class with really heavy, bottom whorl spindles, and then are frustrated that they can’t spin on it. Having good spindles on hand was key and was a big reason for spindling success.

So now I have to do this differently. I don’t have a spindle maker and frankly getting out of the spindle purchase and re-sale thing is fine with me. It is one level of detail I don’t need at this time. What I’ve decided to do is to have a class set of spindles that are good quality spindles. If someone shows up to my class with a strangely balanced or heavy one, I can offer one of mine on loan.

The spindles that I’ve played around with and have fallen in love with are TurtleMade spindles from Jen Kemery. They are gorgeous. Available in 26 colours it is difficult to choose just one. They are affordable ($20 Canadian plus shipping) and they work beautifully. I now own a class fleet. Everyone can try it out. They can learn spindling and can also learn how to work with a Turkish spindle at the same time. If they love these and want their own, they can order one from Jen. Win-win-win. Here’s a shot of the fleet. Aren’t they lovely?

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And a couple of close-ups so you can really see them. They are made on a 3-D printer and weigh between 34 – 36 grams. I think this is a perfect weight for an all-purpose spindle. You can spin fine singles on these and you can spin thicker singles too. If you drop them, and who doesn’t at any given time in the spindling process, you don’t have to worry about them chipping or cracking.2016-03-22 18.42.39

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On the weekend we had three of these spindles being featured at the Surrey Museum Sheep-to-Shawl, for our demos. Kids gathered around these spindles and wanted to try them out. They were drawn to the colours and the fibres. The process of teaching the kids a bit about spindling was doable because we weren’t worried about breaking a $20 polymer spindle. Happy to report that not a single one was broken or damaged in any way, despite being dropped several times.

Looking forward to featuring these at Olds College. Hope to see you there.