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.

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.

A tale of two turtles

So this is a continuation of the last post, where I spun 40 grams of fibre onto my Jenkins Swan. I wound the turtle in that neat and tidy way that I saw most spindlers on Instagram doing. They are lovely. 2016-03-24 15.28.03However, I discovered that when I removed the shaft and arms, the edges started to peel away. I had noticed this on several earlier occasions, but just figured that I was somehow doing something wrong in my wrapping. Not this time. I paid close attention.

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The quality of this photo is awful and I apologize for that. However, You can see the layers clearly coming apart.

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So when I spun the second 40 grams, I continued to wind “over two, under one” but didn’t try to line the fibre up in a neat way. The turtles ended up being the same size, so there goes that theory that winding it neatly allows you to get more yarn onto your spindle. (This was my theory.)

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So here they are side by side. The random wind-on is on the left. The carefully wound one is on the right.2016-03-27 08.10.21

For plying I made a two-stranded ball and to assist me in this I put the turtles into our French Onion Soup bowls. They are the perfect size and heavy. Things went well for the first half, but as the centre hole got larger, the yarn from the carefully wound turtle started coming out in clumps. I think the fibres stick to each other when they are carefully wound like that.

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Here’s an 80 gram double stranded ball that I plied using my Snyder Steampunk spindle. It’s my go-to spindle for plying. It’s heavy, fast and I can get a lot of yarn onto it.

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There’s 80 grams on this baby. Measured out at 192 yards or 177 metres.

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The moral of the story?  Carefully wound turtles, while beautiful, take longer to wind and are not solid stable balls. In the singles stage when the twist is really active, you want as much stability as you can get.

That’s my story.

A decent obsession: my Jenkins Turkish spindles

In the last year or so I’ve fallen in love with Turkish spindles. I consider myself to be a hard-core spindler and work mostly on Houndesign Henry Dervish spindles. They are beautiful tools and at 35 – 40 grams, are of a good weight to make most kinds of yarn. And, they have a slender shaft that allows me to run it up (or down) my thigh and get into really high speed spindling fast.

The Turkish spindles, while of a similar weight, are not fast. You can’t run them up or down your thigh, you have to flick them to put them into motion. So they are slower. This slowness has proven to be a good thing. The slowness coupled with the weight makes a different kind of yarn than what I was making on my Houndesign. The weight of the Jenkins stretches the fibre. The twist enters slower than it normally does, while the fibre is stretched. Once plied and washed, the fibres bounce back and the yarn is soft, lofty, and light.

Here’s my first Jenkins – 50 grams. The turtle (that’s what the cop on a Turkish spindle is called) is blended Corriedale. As I was newly into Turkish spindle spinning, I was following what the spindlers on Instagram were doing to wind their turtles. “Over two, under one” around and around lining the strands up in a neat sequence. It makes for a very pretty turtle, especially when you use multi-coloured fibre like in the second photo – but it is time consuming.

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And this is my newest Jenkins – a Swan 34 grams. After moving away from winding on in a methodical way, I decided to revisit it to see if it makes a difference. Here it is with 43 grams of fibre on it, all carefully wound.

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But look what happened when I removed the arms and shaft. The last layer of wound fibre is peeling off. Not impressed at all. What I noticed in other instances of winding on this way was that the yarn came off in layers and I didn’t like that either.

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I am going to fill this spindle with another 43 grams of fibre and wind it – still “over two, under one” but not worry about lining up the strands of yarn. More like what you see in these photos:2015-11-11 19.37.412015-11-29 08.45.09

I am thinking that the turtle will be much larger because the yarn is not neatly wound. But at least it will stay in place. We shall see.

Stay tuned.

Teaching at Olds College Fibre Week 2016

I am so happy to announce that registrations classes at Olds College Fibre Week are open. Equally excited to say that I am on the roster! There are four full-day spinning classes I’m on track for.

Here are the workshop descriptions for each one:

Wild about Colour

2014-10-19 12.41.08Do you have braids of hand painted top in your stash that you are afraid to spin? Or have you spun up a hand painted braid but then were disappointed with the yarn because the colours blended in a way you didn’t want and it ended up muddy and muted?

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.

Spindling 1.0 — We’re Making Yarn!

DianaDrop1-e1421434010552In 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.

Be the Boss of Your Yarn — a default-yarn busting workshop

2016-02-13 07.49.17Are you tired of making the same yarn – that no matter what you do, you are always spinning the same stuff? Do you want to be able to make yarn for a variety of purposes – so you direct the project instead of the yarn telling you what it will be? Well, you are not alone. This full-day 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.

Twist and Draft: Worsted to Woolen and everything in between

2015-10-09 15.13.49Worsted and semi-worsted, woolen and semi-woolen – you may have heard these words used to describe yarn and spinning techniques and you also may have heard conflicting answers. What does it all mean?

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.

Check it out here and sign up for a bucket load of fun and learning.

The Big Leap: SGY February Fibre Club

The February fibre club is a superwash Targhee. The colourway is called The Big Leap. Fine, soft wool. Would be a good candidate for sock yarn, but after spending 10 days spinning 413 yards of three-ply yarn for socks last month, I wanted something different. My fellow spinner friend Rachel was playing around with singles, so I thought I’d try my hand at them again.

I split the top into eight equal sections and spun them with just enough twist to lock the fibres. I tried to make them at least a DK weight. Targhee has a lot of crimp. My hope was that the DK singles would plumb up after washing and end up a wee bit thicker. Here’s what the eight nests looked like, ready and waiting to be spun.

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And here’s the bobbin, a mere two hours later! After the marathon of spinning for the sock project, this two-hour spin was a dream!

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I wound it off the bobbin and onto a niddy-noddy. Tied it up with figure eights and let it sit overnight. Here’s what it looked like when I took it off the niddy-noddy. Active twist, but not crazy so. (Terrible colour due to poor lighting, but you can still see the twist.)

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Then it went into a hot, soapy bath. I squeezed and squished it to get the fibres fully saturated with soapy water and moving back to their original crimp. Even though it is a superwash wool, I still shocked it, by tossing it from the hot soapy water into ice cold water. I was hoping that at least a few of the fibres would full and make for a stronger singles.

And here it is, dried and happy for its photo-shoot. I hung it to dry for the day with no weights. It is a lovely, soft yarn. 363 yards of soft, goodness. Not sure what to make with it yet. I am just happy to hold and admire it.

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Wintergreen: for socks

Over Christmas I suffered a knitting injury. Totally self-inflicted and I have no regrets. However, it did cut into my knitting time and spindle spinning. The adult colouring books satisfied my need to do something with my hands, for only a short while. I was at wits end. And then along came the January Fibre Club from Sweet Georgia Yarns. It was a stunning braid of Polwarth/Silk (85/15%).

I stared at it for a week, petted it for another week and then decided that I may be able to spin on my wheel without doing any further injury and impede my healing. I decided that I wanted to make socks with this fibre. Polwarth with a good amount of silk is perfect. I may have to hand wash them, but that’s okay. I’m not a big fan of the superwash fibres. They have a different feel and while I will work with them, they aren’t my first choice.

For socks I decided to spin a three-ply with medium twist in the singles and a lot of twist in the plying. I wanted a sock/fingering weight yarn, so the singles had to be spun fine. The colours in the braid are analogous, all related by the blues. I wanted the colours to mix and dance against each other. So it seemed a fractal spin was in order. I split the braid lengthwise into three sections. Weighed them and made adjustments so they were relatively even. Piece #1 I spun from one end to the next using a short forward draw, smoothing the yarn as I went. You can see the long lengths of colour on the bobbin.

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Piece #2 I split into three sections. And then I spun each of those three sections from one end to the other. Again, using a short forward draw and smoothing the yarn as I went. And I am not sure if you can tell, but the lengths of colours are getting shorter.

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Piece #3 was split into six sections, by this time they were nearly pencil rovings. Again, they were spun from one end to the next. Short forward draw.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of bobbin 3. And by that time, the colours lengths were much shorter.

I let the bobbins sit overnight and then plied the next day. I put a lot of twist into the plying.

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Here is the yarn on the niddy-noddies, getting all tied up for their bath.

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Here’s what the yarn looked like when it was taken off the tension of the niddy-noddy. Stretched out and the over twist reacting. Nothing a bath in hot soapy water can’t tame.

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I washed it in hot soapy water, rinsed it in hot water with a half-tablespoon of white vinegar. Thwacked it against my bathtub a few times, towel dried it and then hung it to dry, with no tension. Occasionally, as it dried, I’d grab it, shake it out a bit to soften up the silk that sometimes goes a bit stiff as it dries. And here it is. Completely relaxed and ready to be knit into a pair of socks. 412 yards, 115 grams, 6 twists per inch (TPI) but still wonderfully soft.

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And the final shot. For these socks I am going to try the ever-so popular Fish Lips Kiss sock pattern, and see where that takes me.  And in case you were wondering, my right wrist has healed beautifully. This spinning project, that took about a week, didn’t affect it at all. I hold the fibres in the right hand and draft with my left. So all’s good.

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