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Wild about Colour: finally there!

I am going to be teaching 4 full-day workshops at Olds College in Olds, Alberta this year during Fibre Week 2016. As you can imagine, I am over the moon to have been asked, to have my proposals accepted and then to have the classes get sufficient enrollment that they are a go!

The first one up is called Wild About Colour. Here is the short description for it:

This workshop is all about making sense of those wonderful hand painted braids we are seeing everywhere. Learn how to make a series of decisions that will help you get the yarn and effect you want from the colours in your painted braids. In this full-day workshop you will learn some basic and advanced techniques for working with hand painted top. Colour theory will be discussed and practically applied throughout the day.

We will start with basic 2-ply techniques and move into the wondrous world of fractal spinning. After making several fractal samples, we will work on combination drafting and also learn how to make ombre yarn. Skills such as hand carding and Navajo plying will be learned along the way. At the end of this workshop you will be wild about colour and never again hesitant about working with hand painted top.

This is a newly developed class, and though I’ve been thinking about it for years, I haven’t actually had the chance to make it a reality, until now.

For the last while I’ve been puzzling over how to get the most learning out of a 6-hour class. How many exercises can people complete in that time? What number of exercises and which ones will help people understand the fundamental principles of working with hand painted braids and then be able to apply them in other situations?

What’s the best way to teach colour theory, so we don’t get bogged down in it or confused by it, but inspired? These and several other questions have kept me up at night. In the last couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with the workshop plan. I’ve put myself through this class three times already, as each time I tinker with the exercises, the fibre and the flow of the day.

There’s no spoiler alert necessary here, because I have decided that I am not going to tell you my plan, until after the workshop. I want the 12 participants to be the first to see what’s up and how things are going to roll out. All I will say is that there will be seven different lovely coloured superwash BFL colourways from Sweet Georgia Yarns, and 14 different colours of Corriedale top from Fibres Plus that folks will be playing with.

The photos below are some of the shots of my planning and organizing for the class. More about the other classes in future posts.

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Meet the wristlet: a practical way to swatch

While not a huge fan of the swatching process, I do swatch. In my own way. See below for proof of my swatching for Glenfiddich Cardigan. The idea behind swatching is to see how the yarn behaves; what it looks and feels like knitted up and to check for gauge. Frankly, when I want to jump into a new project, the last thing I want to do make a swatch. But in some instances, like when you want to make a sweater that will fit you, it is a good idea.

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Another aspect of making a swatch is to see what the yarn in the swatch fabric will do when washed and put through the paces. Some recommend carrying it around in your back pocket. But what kind of abrasion do you get from something comfortably enveloped in two layers of denim?

A couple of weeks ago I was out of town and I had my spindle with me. I have a collection wristlets that I knit up using scrap yarn to use as distaffs, or bracelets to hold the fibre. I didn’t have one with me, so I quickly knit one up using some of the leftover yarn from the second turtle I wound on the plane. That’s the multi-coloured one at the bottom.

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It’s a pretty thing and I enjoyed wearing it and using it to hold my fibre while I spindled. It was so lovely I kept wearing it long after I finished spinning. After having it on for the entire day, I noticed that this wee wristlet was getting some wear and tear. And then it occurred to me that this may be a better way to see how a yarn/fabric behaves. It certainly was put through the paces of being stretched as I pushed it up my arm to avoid getting wet, or if I forgot, it got wet, it was rubbed against things, and generally treated as any cuff would.

2016-04-22 07.03.24So with the next fibre I sampled, Clun Forest from my neighbour up the road, I made a skein, washed it, and knit it into a wristlet. I wore it around for the day to get a sense of what that wool/fibre/fabric would feel like knit up into a sweater.

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The wristlet is on top, the unwashed swatch is on the bottom. The wristlet gave me much more information about the yarn than this swatch does. So, new discovery for me. It’s a beautiful and functional. My good friend Rachel confirmed this belief in her latest blog post.

A wristlet is a practical way to swatch. It gives information about the yarn, about the size of needle to use, and most importantly, gives me a chance to really check for wear and tear.

Honey, why do you have so many spindles?

. . . My darling husband asked the other day, when four large Capar spindles from Natural Knot Wood Designs arrived in the mail. (Four had arrived the week before from TurtleMade, and four medium Capar spindles two weeks before. And there were even more that he didn’t even know about. . . but this isn’t an AA meeting.)

I have to admit, it is an honest question. A dangerous question, but an honest one.

There are three reasons why I have so many a wide assortment of spindles.

1. For teaching

I need an assortment of styles and sizes for my spindling instruction. I teach people how to make yarn with a spindle: I work with absolute beginners to more advanced spindlers. People learning how to spin on a well-balanced medium-weight spindle (30 – 40 grams) have a greater chance of success and limited frustration in the learning process when they are working with a good piece of equipment. So I have several top-whorl spindles (enough to cover the entire class of eight) that participants can use during the workshop if their spindle is giving them grief.

There are also people wanting to learn how to stretch their skills like learning how to spin cotton or short stapled fibres like cashmere. They want to move beyond the suspended (drop) spindle and move to supported spindles. They may simply want to try it out before they decide to jump in and buy one. For this, I have two Tahkli spindles, three Houndesign Little Twisters, three Russian Spindles, two antique supported spindles – stick and clay whorl – from Guatemala, and a Navajo spindle made by Houndesign. From left to right are the Little Twister from Houndesign; Tahkli; and the two antique spindles from Guatemala.

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They may also want to learn how to work with a Turkish spindle. As a suspended spindle, it is similar to the others in the drafting and spinning process. Where it differs and people may want tips or practice, is in the starting and winding on process. So I have a fleet of Turkish spindles for them to use during the workshop. Below is one of them from TurtleMade. It is made on a 3-D printer.

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2. For making different kinds of yarn

The spinning wheels that give us the greatest variety of yarns with ease are the ones with multiple whorls and drive options. Why not so with spindles?

I have some spindles that are really light (16 grams) and have a smooth shaft, which allows me to spin off my thigh and put a LOT of twist into my yarn FAST. I also have a spindle that is heavy (50 grams) and as a Turkish spindle, it requires a flick of the fingers to get it in motion – much slower than rolling it off my thigh. Because of the weight of the spindle and the slower speed of the spin, the twist goes into the stretched out fibre slower than it does on the fast light one. I can take the exact same fibre, with the exact same fibre prep and spin on each spindle the light one and the heavy one – and I get very different yarn. In fact, I’ll do that experiment over the weekend and will prove it.

So depending on the yarn I want to make and/or the fibre I am working with, I will select my spindle accordingly. The same way that if I want to make soft singles using my Ashford Joy, I’ll set it on the largest whorl – so there are fewer revolutions per treadle and set my tension for a slightly stronger uptake. If I want to spin for socks and I’m making a three-ply sock yarn, I’ll change to my smallest whorl so I get more revolutions per treadle, and slow the uptake down so a lot of twist can get into the finely drafted singles yarn.

It’s easier to change your whorl and uptake than it is to change what your body does. Because of body or motion memory, we easily and quickly go back into the rhythm we generally use to spin – hence the phenomenon of default yarn. So using the same principle, I change my spindle to get a different result for a different kind of yarn.

The Steampunk spindle, shown below, is a terrific spindle for making singles and especially for plying. Since it is large and can fit 4 ounces (and probably more) plied yarn onto it, it has become my go-to plying spindle. No messing around with the smaller ones. This one is the King!

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3. For the simple and undeniable fact that they are beautiful tools

They are beautifully crafted, often made from exotic woods, and are delightful to look at and hold. For the most part, the ones I own are made by artisans I have had conversations with and are people I want to support in their craft. Here’s a small sampling of some of the spindles. There are a few more tucked away here and there in my studio.

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So the long and short of it is this: there are three good reasons why I collect spindles and since all fall within the parameters of my hero William Morris’ famous quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I’m good. Really good.

PS –  I reached a point last week after ordering more spindles, that I had to stage an intervention on myself. That consisted of deleting the Etsy app from my smartphone!

Spinning, plying, flying oh my!

This week I flew to Castlegar, BC for a conference presentation in Nelson. While waiting for my flight, I finished spinning the last bit of my Wistmas fibre on my Jenkins Turkish spindle and was contemplating plying while on the plane. I had another similar sized turtle spun up and waiting for its mate.

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It’s a one-hour flight from Vancouver to Castlegar so I knew it was a perfect escape to wind the double-stranded ball from the turtle spun a week or so ago and the newly spun one. What’s the “key word” that could have/should have set off alarm bells for me?

Newly spun.

It was just the last 2 grams or so I swear, but man-oh-man, it made my winding experience hell.

Fortunately I was sitting all by myself so I didn’t get the chance to enjoy the experience with anyone else. I had a small felted ball at the ready, took the beginning strand (the one that we push into the arms with the shaft) from each turtle and started casually and happily winding a two-stranded ball. It went well for a good while. I listened to music. I looked out the window at the snow covered mountain ranges. I thought about what I wanted to do with this lovely yarn once it was made. I wound and wound. The ball got larger and larger. During that time I thought I may even have time to ply the yarn during the flight. It was at this high point of optimism and over confidence that things started to go wrong. Seriously wrong.

Singles from the newly spun turtle started coming out in small tangles. Clumps of them at a time. I was able to manage them at first by creating a tensioning sytem by wrapping the singles around my leg.  It worked for a short while. I can’t even begin to describe how I got most of it done.  It wasn’t a pretty sight. I had a two-stranded evenly wound ball in my right hand, and in my left hand and wrapped around my leg to hold it in place I was trying to untangle a twisted mess of singles.  And because I was fully ensconced  (well maybe not securely or snugly – I was in deep) with both hands full of the yarn, I couldn’t take photos.

When the flight attendant came along to offer snacks and beverage, at one point of this horribly frustrating activity adventure, I hid my mess for fear she would consider it a safety issue and confiscate it.  I told her I didn’t need anything. Please note: I gave up the Air Canada pretzels and free Ginger Ale for art!

I was born in the Year of the Ox. I am persistent and determined (my good qualities). Or some family members will say stubborn. No matter, I got through it. For the sake of sanity I abandoned the last several yards of one of the singles. I just couldn’t do it.

Lessons learned:

  1. If I can I will let my singles sit.
  2. If my singles yarn is particularly fuzzy (because I didn’t smooth out the yarn as I spun it), I will be prepared for it to stick. In that case, it especially needs to have the twist settled before plying – or doing any of the prep for plying like making a double-stranded ball.
  3. If you are trying to make yarn in a place that doesn’t understand yarn making, like on a plane, don’t expect to have special compensation. [“We are starting our descent, you will need to put that away and get yourself more . . . . .organized.” — poor, sweet woman, she couldn’t quite describe what needed happen to make it right.] Rest assured, I complied.

So the long and short of it is: air travel gives us a great amount of time for spinning and knitting. However, we need to carefully consider the scope of our projects so we can make the best use of this time, escape from the boredom of waiting and maximize the potential for relaxation.

That last phrase makes me laugh!

It wasn’t a total disaster. But I did lose several yards of yarn that I may very well may need for this special skein.

I have a large double-stranded ball that will be plied this weekend. NOT ON A PLANE . But at the Bradner Flower Show.

Hope to see you there.

Sneak peak at my zombie

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He finally has some clothing. As soon as my wrist mends I’ll finish his coat. But isn’t he the cutest thing?

Since this photo was taken he has been given some hair and had some (rotten and crooked) teeth sewn on. You’ll see all that along with his new coat.

Fibre arts goals for 2016

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This year I decided not to have any New Year’s resolutions, but instead to focus on some goals, some fibre related things that I want to learn how to do. Here is my list of the goals I have for 2016*:

Learn brioche knitting. It looks amazing and fun – especially when used with a solid and a variegated yarn. But I haven’t a clue how to do it. Couldn’t even fake it if I needed to. So that one is at the top of my list.

Learn double knitting. I’ve been inspired by Lucy Neatby for a long time, especially her use of colour and the amazing patterns she creates using double knitting. I have a bit of an understanding about how to do it, but haven’t ever done more than read about it. Now’s the time.

Learn how to ply on the fly. I’ve seen many examples of spindles full of yarn that was “plied on the fly.” Part of me feels like it is just a party trick as opposed to a good way to make yarn. But I can’t really judge the quality of the yarn on the basis of my imagination. So I’ll just have to learn how to do it and to sample the results.

Master short rows. I mean really. I know how to do them, in the sense that I follow the instructions in the pattern to the letter. But I’ve been told that there are many ways to do the “wrap and turn” piece. I only ever do the one that the pattern tells me to do. Several years ago I completed the Level One of the TKGA Masters program for Hand Knitting. A major portion of the study was learning about increases and decreases. Of course we all know how to do them, but there are so many different ways to increase and decrease. Each one giving a different result. Sometimes a knitting pattern will say to “decrease” at the end of the row. But when you have a larger repetiore, you have greater control of the look that your fabric will get.

Plant some cotton. A few years ago I did plant some cotton. I had five plants. They came up nicely and even flowered. But I planted them too late in the season and by the time they flowered, the September rains came and they never turned into bolls of cotton. Last summer was stunningly hot and dry, perfect weather for cotton. Weather predictions say we are going to have a similarly hot and dry summer, so I’m all for trying it again, but starting much earlier in the season. So I have to find and buy some seeds.

Find two new venues to teach in this year. I love teaching, and I especially love teaching fibre arts. For last few years I’ve been teaching spindle spinning at Fibres West and at Knit City, both in the lower mainland of BC. They  are wonderful fibre events, but in order to really hone my skills, I want to do more than two fibre festivals a year. I’m still working full-time in the world of adult literacy, but I can manage to fit another two festivals/events in. (I already have a new one in the cooker, will let you know more when/if the deal is signed.)

And finally, learn WordPress! Last year I changed my blogging platform from Blogspot to WordPress and haven’t really mastered it. As a result, I don’t post very often because it feels like work. But if I do it more often, or more regularly, like once a week, I could actually learn it, and retain what I’ve learned.

During my Christmas holidays I over did it. I knit and spun to my heart’s content. From the beginning of December until Christmas day I knit seven pairs of half-mitts, a pair of women’s sized socks, a cable head band, spindle spun about 100g of various coloured fibre for my zombie project, and knit items for him. Because of that I’ve developed tendinitis in my right wrist. To mend, I’ve been icing my wrist, taking ibuprofen, and NOT knitting or spindle spinning. It’s been hard – I didn’t realize what a fibre addict I am. “Hello, my name is Diana and I am a fibre addict.” So some of these fibre goals will be entirely web based research until the swelling goes down.

But do stay tuned.

*I reserve the right to alter, modify, add to or delete any of these goals at any time.

Z is for Zombie

This year our guild, the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild, worked with the Langley Centennial Museum to plan a gallery show. The show will be in the spring 2017.

We struggled for a while to find a theme that fibre artists in our guild could get their heads and hearts around, and be inspired to create something new for the show. Taking a very linear approach, we came up with this: The A, B, C’s of Fibre Arts. The idea is that everyone will choose or be given a letter. Using that letter they will come up with something related to fibre arts to make, explain, or showcase in some way.

I took the letter “Z”. And immediately thought of knitting a zombie parade. Let me explain. I am not a particularly gruesome person, nor am I a zombie fan. I actually find them quite disturbing and photos of zombie parades quite disgusting. However, a few years ago a friend of mine showed me some photos of knitting that her young daughter did as one of her first knitting projects – it was a knitted zombie. It was the craziest looking thing. Yes it was a zombie, hands rotted off, blood dripping from the eyeball, oozing entrails and so forth. But it also looked so darling having been hand knit.  So that’s what I decided to try. I like the contrast of taking lovely, loving and heart warming crafts like spinning and knitting and making something horrifying and disgusting from them. Besides, I think the kids will really like it.

A quick search on Ravelry and I came up with this pattern by Fiona Goble. I got her book Knit your own Zombie from the library and looked over the entire suite of patterns. This was going to be some fun!

Here’s my plan: All the yarn for the zombies is going to be spindle spun in small batches. This will allow me to mix the colours just right to get the correct “flesh” and “blood” colours. To make the flesh, I started by blending white, orange, and yellow corriedale. I then added some tan alpaca that had serious noils from a bad adventure with a picker – a story for another time. Then to “deaden” the flesh look I added in some green and blue corriedale. I did the early blending on my hand carders, but then moved onto the drum carder to really mix it up and get a good volume of fibre. Here it is right of the drumcarder, ready to be spun.

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I spun it on my Jenkins Turkish spindle. It’s a 50 gram spindle and because of that weight, it stretches out the corriedale. When it’s done the yarn bounces back and gives a light, bouncy yarn. I loved the way the noils were coming through in this yarn. In the finished item, the noils could be viewed as maggots or seeping pustules. I’ll leave that up to the imagination of the viewer.

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And here it is being plied on my Snyder Steampunk spindle. It’s a great workhorse for plying.

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Newly washed and ready for knitting. This yarn did not disappoint. 2015-11-30 07.28.17

I’ve knit up the first zombie and will post photos of him/her tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Making the Glenfiddich Cardigan

In mid-September I took a trip to Ireland. I attended a conference in Dublin and following that, toured around for another six days before heading home.

On day three I found a local yarn store called The Constant Knitter. It’s on Francis Street, a part of Dublin that was on my way home every day! To celebrate the spirit of local, I wanted to buy some locally made Irish wool to make something that will remind me of my trip.

The only locally milled yarn that was made with a good percentage of Irish wool that she carried, was Cushendale Woollen Mills. There were all kinds of colours, but I fixated on “Butter”. A gentle, warm yellow with wee shots of orange in it making it ever so slightly heathered. I had no idea what I wanted to make, just that I wanted to make something memorable. Long story short, before long I settled on 7 balls of yarn – 100 g and 200 m. Giving me a total of 1,400 m of yarn to work with. Whatever the pattern.

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So the search for the pattern started. By this time I had convinced myself that I would make an Aran style sweater – which is quite an interesting thing as I hardly ever make sweaters. And those I made for myself, didn’t end well.

Ravelry has a fantastic search engine. I put in the amount of yarn I had, the yarn weight, the kind of sweater I had in mind, and before long I had several pages of options to explore. During my time in Ireland I viewed them (easy to do as there is free-wifi just about everywhere, even on the tour buses) and made my decision when I came home.

Glenfiddich by Annamaria Otvos. That’s it at the top of this post. Have a closer look at it on Ravelry by clicking on the name.

The following posts will be progress posts on this cardigan. I am knitting at the far edge of my knitting skills, but thanks to Ravelry – an amazing knitting community, and a designer who answers questions with photographs to help you figure out how to pick up stitches. I will get this done.

Spinzilla 2015

For a third year in a row I joined Team Sweet Georgia for Spinzilla 2015. At the outset of this wonderful spinning challenge I decided two things:

  1. I was going to spin for a project or two. You make an enormous amount of yarn when you do nothing but spin for an entire week. This was a good chance to spin for a blanket or a sweater.
  2. I wasn’t going to kill myself or make my life miserable. I was just going to spin whenever and where ever I could and hope I’d at least match my total from 2014 – 6,574 yards.

So with those decisions made, I set out to get my fibre ready. First this was to card all the rest of the beautiful, white Targhee wool I used in the Blanket Project post. Over a couple of days I made 15 – 50g batts. That’s a decent amount of fibre. I would spin this in the same way I spun for the Blanket Project, with the goal of making my own blanket – warp and weft.

I also rooted through my fibre stash from the Sweet Georgia Fibre Club and came up with three braids that looked a lot alike. Not exactly, but all three had purple, a fushia and a strong red in them. I decided that I’d spin each on fairly fine and make a three-ply yarn. Twelve ounces of fibre, that would make a decent amount of yarn.

And here are the results:

By the end of day #5, I had most of the white wool spun and some of it plied. I finished plying it on Saturday morning (day #6)

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Then on day #6, I finally started spinning colour!  Here’s the first braid – it’s superwash Targhee and the colourway is called “Open Hands.”

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Here are all three being plied on the evening of day #7. From top to bottom: Open Hands, Modern Mandarin, Bougainvillea – all from Sweet Georgia Yarns. Word of warning: plying three bobbins that were recently spun is a recipe for disaster. The twist in the newly spun singles was fresh and quite active. I wasted a lot of time untangling things. In hindsight, I should have spun these three braids first, then all the white wool. That way these bobbins would have rested for at leave five days before plying and wouldn’t have been such a nightmare.

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And here is the final result. 8,627 yards, that’s 4.9 miles. That’s a lot of yarn. That small blue and gold skein is 185 yards of singles from my spindle. I took it to work with me on day #3 and got a lot done during a 2.5 hour meeting.

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Learning to spin faster

I love spinning, especially spinning on my spindles. They are beautiful tools and I take any excuse to spend time with them. I love all kinds of fibres, but especially the variety of wool we have available to us these days. It seems though there are not enough hours in a day to play with spindles, play with fibres, make yarn, and then do something with it, like knit.

I figured that I needed to start spinning faster. What would it look like if I only worked on one project from start to finish? And during that period, tried to spin as quickly and as efficiently as possible? How fast is fast? At least for me.

I work full time, Monday to Friday. So my fibre arts happen in the evenings and on weekends. On Wednesday evening I pulled out the March 2015 Sweet Georgia Yarns (SGY) fibre club installment. It was a 100g braid of 100% corriedale – the colourway is Beginner’s Luck.

Here’s the photo shoot:

This is the fibre opened up so you can see the colour way. It’s blue with several gradations of green. All the colour changes are gentle and not dramatic. I decided that I wanted the colours to blend as much as possible, so I split the entire roving in half, weighed them to make sure I’d have equal amounts, then split the fibre further into pencil rovings and started spinning.

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It took Wednesday and Thursday evening to fill spindle one. And Friday to spin spindle two.
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On Saturday morning I wound the singles from both spindles into a double stranded ball for plying. And brought out my Steampunk spindle by Scott Snyder for the job. I wanted to try to make one skein of plied yarn.

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And here is the spindle, as filled with yarn as you could get. It was getting heavy and I was in danger of running out of shaft to spin. 2015-05-16 19.49.14 2015-05-16 19.49.29

After plying I let it sit overnight and this morning wound it off into a skein.

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One nice skein – measures 241 yds or 223 metres and weighs 109 grams. A decent amount of yarn produced in three evenings, one day and a morning. All found time.2015-05-17 08.16.21 So what did I learn? Here are some things I noticed that can help me spin faster into the future:

1. Have a plan

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with this yarn, how I wanted to spin it and how I wanted to play with the colourway. I wasn’t making decisions every time I picked up the fibre. The experimenting was over and I was just down to spinning.

2. Just spin

Yes, just spin. Don’t stop and admire your yarn in between each piece you complete and when you pick up another to join on. I tend to do that and it’s a time sink. Just spin, and spin, and spin.

3. Notice where you are using your time

Take note of how long things take you to do. Getting the fibre onto the wrist so it’s out of the way was taking me too much time. I had to put down the spindle, grab the new fibre, wrap it around my wrist, pick up the spindle and get started again. I figured out a seamless way to grap the new fibre and tuck it into a knitted wrist distaff without having to stop and put down the spindle. That saved a minute or less. But when you figure that you are doing that several dozens of times – it starts to add up.

I also noticed that winding on takes time. And there is the temptation to spin a long amount, but then when you wind that on, in order to keep it under tension I’d have to butterfly it until I can comfortably grab the spindle. So for me, I was more efficient to spin an amount I can comfortably manage and then wind that on.

4. Work with more than one spindle

Now here’s a rationale for having more than one spindle on hand! You can and I have on several occasions spun yarn using one spindle for the entire project. I spin singles one on the spindle and then wind it off into a neat, hard ball. Then I spin singles two using the same spindle. When that is done I wind that singles, along with the singles from the first spinning (the one that is sitting neatly in a hard ball) into a double stranded ball. It is this ball I use for plying.

Working with more than one spindle allowed me to save time winding off the singles yarn. I filled spindle one. Then I filled spindle two. I put both of them into the lazy kate and wound my double stranded ball from both spindles – it took 20 full minutes.

I am sure I will think up a few more things that made this go faster. But that’s it for now. I am going to wash the skein and will measure it again for the final total.

Have a great long weekend, and thanks for reading.