Desert Island Spinning: 3 Small Tools

If you were stranded and limited to only three small spinning tools, what would you choose?

What are the tools you can’t live without, at least this week?

I have never grown out of playing ‘what if’ games. It’s just fun and I always want to know what other people would choose.

I will add the caveat that you already have your favorite spinning wheel and all of the fiber you could want. And don’t choose books, we’ll do that one on a different day.

 

 

Here are mine:

  • oil – to keep my wheel happy and humming along.
  • a solar powered scale –  for measuring weight and grist. I can measure inches and yards with parts of my body, so I don’t need a wpi measure or yardage counter.
  • tags – to remember all the yarn and fiber details for me. I have to write everything down.

Your turn, if you were limited to just three small spinning tools what would you choose?

Little Tricks

So, last week I was trying to spin on my Norm Hall Saxony wheel. I love the wheel but I’ve never really been able to spin fine on it. It’s been frustrating. I’m in the midst of trying to get the last bit of weft spun for the skirt project and weather changes and all kinds of other issues made me get out another wheel.

Anyway, I was struggling to get the yarn as fine as it needs to be. The Norm Hall wheels have pretty giant bobbins and big flyers that go along with the bobbins. The ratios are good though so I am able to get a lot of twist easily. 

I know how to spin fine but sometimes I’m too stubborn to put my knowledge in play. I just want the wheel to do all the work. Sometimes that isn’t good enough and so I decided to put my money where my mouth is this time.

First, I changed to a finer drive band. That helped a bit but it wasn’t the solution I was after.

I oiled everything again. Still no luck.

So, I got out my secret weapon. Pipe insulation. 

I’m humming right along now. Why did I make myself suffer for 4 days?

PlyAway registration is open and there are lots of people already registered. One of the classes I’ll be teaching there is how to spin fine yarns. I’m going to go right out on a limb here and tell you that my fine spinning class is a little different than the classes other spinning teachers’ and I happen to know that there are a few more spots still available.

If you sign up, I’ll teach you every one of my fine spinning tricks no matter what wheel you are working with.

Oil That Spinning Wheel

The week before Christmas I went to Jillian’s house to spin with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. We were all spinning along and soon Jillian stated to struggle with her wheel. I don’t remember exactly what was happening (something about noise I think) but I do remember saying to her, quietly, in my most respectful voice, “oil it”. She said back to me in that way that she does, “I just oiled it!” I smiled at her.

She struggled for a few more minutes and then got out the oil bottle and oiled the appropriate spots. I tried to look natural and not gloaty as her problem was fixed. just a few small drops of oil and 30 seconds.

I’m not saying that oil fixes everything but it is definitely my first step when things begin to go down hill.

This same scenario happens often in classes while I’m teaching. Some people didn’t even realize they needed to oil their spinning wheel at all ever. Then 3 or 4 drops later the whole experience changes for them.

Where?

This is where it can get tricky because it depends on your wheel but I will say this. Every bobbin shaft needs to be oiled. I just put a drop of oil at each end of the bobbin if the bobbin is already on. If I’m changing the bobbin, I wipe the shaft clean and add a thin line of oil along the shaft before I put the bobbin on.

Also a drop of oil where the orifice goes through the front maiden and a drop where the bobbin shaft fits into the rear maiden.

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If you have a wheel with sealed bearings then the wheel hub doesn’t need oil. If it doesn’t then a bit of oil there periodically helps.

Also, once in a while I put a drop of oil where the footmen attach to the crank.

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How Often?

I oil 4 places on the mother of all on my wheel about once every hour to hour and a half of spinning and always right at the beginning of spinning even if the last time was only 15 minutes.

The rest of the places I oil about once per week or so. Sometimes more if I’m spinning a lot – like more than 20 hours in a week.

What to Use

I have two favorites. 30 weight motor oil which is what many wheel manufacturers recommend is the one that is most available. Gun oil is also great to use.

What not to use is sewing machine oil, or 3 in 1 oil. These are too thin, they break down faster resulting in having to oil more frequently. They also aren;t made for the amount of friction you get with a spinning wheel.

Also, I don’t recommend vaseline. It’s super thick and goopy and attracts dirt. The dirt that gets in there is gritty and will break down your spinning wheel parts more quickly.

Why?

Oil because it will help your wheel to last longer and wear better. You wouldn’t drive your car without oil. The oil in your car is there to lubricate all of the parts that are moving against each other. The same with oiling your wheel. There is a lot of friction and sometimes a little heat happens if it isn’t well lubricated.

If you aren’t sure about where to oil your particular wheel, most modern wheels wheels have a manual which you can probably find on line. If it is an older or antique wheel you can feel comfortable just putting oil anywhere there is a moving part.

I promise, you’ll thank me.

 

Judging Fleeces – A dream come true

I’ve been judging fleeces on my own, for friends, and in classes for years! I know what I’m looking for, I understand the categories and I certainly know what makes a good fleece.

This year I was asked to judge the Fleece Competition at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Asheville, NC. I immediately said yes! Judging fleeces for a fleece competition is something that I have been wanting to do and just hadn’t gotten around to applying for. I was super excited for about 15 minutes. And then all of my self confidence and everything I knew about fleeces seemed to be questionable. And I had about 5 months to question  myself and worry.

At SAFF the fleece judging is a bit different than how they do it at Rhinebeck. At the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival the judges go in and judge the fleeces with no audience. At SAFF there is an audience and they are welcome to ask questions of the judge during the judging. That’s my favorite kind. I’ve been there at the Fleece judging at the Michigan Fiber Festival and I have learned so much watching those judges and asking questions.

But here’s what happened. I went to North Carolina. I walked into the place of judging. There were a lot of people in the chairs. My face was a little flushed, my hands shook a little and then they started spreading fleeces out in front of me and when I put my hands in the wool I began to talk and after a few minutes I wasn’t nervous anymore and I got to touch some fantastic fleece. (thanks to Jackie Ottino Graf for the photo.)

Check out my Madonna headset too!

The whole thing took about four hours. I judged 36 fleeces, if I’m remembering correctly, in four categories (more than that if you count the separation of white and colored fleeces into different groups). saff-grand-champion

Yuo know how ther ar things you want to do but they are scary but then you bravely do it and then you want to do it more? Well, that’s how I feel about the whole fleece judging experience. I want to do it every week. Anyone need a fleece judge? I can just come to your house…

 

Anyway, here is a picture of me and Joanne Maki (left) from Georgia Rustic Wool with her Grand Champion Gulf Coast Native. She was super excited and I was super excited to see that fleece. Not for sale though. boo hoo.

Loops, Plies, and Binding? Oh, my!

We’re delighted to have Rachel Anne MacGillivray back at the blog today! If you’ve been intimidated to try to spin a Bouclé yarn, you are not alone! In today’s post Rachel takes us through her beginner’s attempt at spinning this type of yarn.


My first, finished skein of boucle, after a go in the dye pot

My first, finished skein of boucle, after a go in the dye pot

I’d like to share with you all my deep, dark, spinning secret.  *deep breath* Ok. Here goes… I’ve never spun bouclé.  I’ve never even ATTEMPTED bouclé before and it’s not because I’m not into texture. I LOVE texture! I love playing with different thicknesses and tensions when plying; I LOVE using different fibers together, wild batts, and throwing in add-ins.  I love spirals and coils and knopps and bibs and bobs and springs and things… but bouclés? Teeny tiny sweet little loops? I dunno, they were always overlooked by my pinch and draft. 

Maybe I’m being deliberately misleading here… I implied I don’t know why I’ve never spun bouclé but I can tell you exactly why: It’s intimidating. It always seemed very technical, challenging, and time consuming. Then, the bouclé issue of PLY came out and, feeling inspired, I decided now is the time. I would attempt the most mythical (to me) of yarn structures: The Bouclé.

 First thing I did was gather my resources (I’m a book hound and having new reasons to go leafing through books fills me with glee). 

After some research, I started to understand how bouclé works:

Two plies: one high twist, one low twist and spun in opposite directions, then plied together in the same direction as the low twist yarn.  Some fancy handwork to make loops from the high twist yarn, then ply it all again in the direction opposite the first plying to bind it up with a fine yarn.  Uh… simple…. Right?

 On to materials: Wensleydale top for the loops because it’s long stapled, lustrous, and gorgeous; a wild carded batt for the core; and a fine, commercial spun silk noil for the binder because, well, it was purple.  Instead of the batt, I should have used something easier to draft consistently so I eventually switched to BFL top.

 Books & research? Check.  Materials? Check.

 *inhales and holds breath for a minute*

 OK. Go.

My first loop!

My first loop!

I spun my first bouclé ply VERY high twist and fine, and did the core ply exaggeratedly slowly to add little twist to that ply.  After awhile I started to doubt my definition of low twist and gave the second half of my core yarn a more medium twist.  I didn’t dive in and fill bobbins with these because I wasn’t sure how they’d work out.

On to plying.

The first note I made? “Whoa. This is tough.” But you know, lots of things are tough, especially when you first start, so I gave my hands some time to settle into a groove and start to understand the new motions.  I found I had to go rogue from what the books told me in terms of how to move my hands and got into this funny trick of passing the bouclé ply from one hand to the other and pinching it with the core.  It worked for my hands and I just trusted my body and went with it.  Refining technique can always come later. 

Well, I tell you, I was starting to feel like bouclé was overrated when then, like a tiny, bright, shining star, my first bouclé appeared! My hands must have made the right motion and timing worked out and there it was: a perfect little circle sitting on top of my yarn.  I was delighted!  Also hooked. Definitely hooked.  That tiny loop stole my heart.

After my first round of plying, sitting on my bobbin. I admit, at this point I was petty skeptical.

After my first round of plying, sitting on my bobbin. I admit, at this point I was petty skeptical.

Let me clear – it was not all sunshine, rainbows, and perfect little loops from there on in. My medium twist core really wasn’t loose enough, but the barely spun core worked quite a bit better.  My bouclé ply was too fine and highly twisted so I tried thicker and looser. It worked better, but still not quite right.

As I practiced I got more loops and they are totally darling!  I let out a little squeal with each one that appeared, but I wasn’t loving the yarn as a whole.

I set it down for awhile, busy with life and not convinced I’d done a good job. Finally, I decided to come back to it and plied it with the binder. Well, if I have any advice here, it’s don’t wait to add your third ply! All of a sudden I was totally in love with my yarn! Yes, it needs some work and I’ll learn more and make it better, BUT something completely magical happens when you do the final ply. Everything seemed to bloom and standout, and say “hey, here I am! I’m a bouclé!”

(Technical tip: I did a slight spiral ply here and loved the effect.)

So, I can finally say I’ve spun bouclé.  Was it perfect? No way! Was my yarn even all that good? Probably not. But, that’s what learning is! Trying things, making mistakes, trying new things, and having thrilling moments that get you closer to what you want. It was fun, and challenging, and I’ll keep at it – letting those little loops shine their light into my life.


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In love with all things Textiley, Rachel Ann MacGillivray teaches spinning & other things at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton, Canada.  A farm kid, spinning and wool are in her bones (well, not literally in her bones, that would be just a bit too wobbly).  Oh yeah, and she loves drinking tea.  Like, a lot.

Rhinebeck Sweater?

I’m leaving for New York in less than a week. It’s the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. I’m excited to see the festival. I haven’t been able to see the festival on my own terms for years and I’ve written myself a little schedule. I did leave some open spaces in case somebody wants to meet up with me for a snack or something.

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Anyway, I’ve been thinking for many months that my favorite sweaters are looking a little ratty. My two favorites have been repaired several times. The one called Hiro has ripped at the neck a coouple of times and I just do a bit of a crocheted edge and put her back together. The one that I made from a Jacob fleece has gotten several holes and so I have started embroidering flowers over the holes; a sort of visible mending.20161006_080641_001

Those repairs are working but for crying out loud I need a new sweater. Yes I have other sweaters…but another one of my favorites, Tappan Zee, also has a hole that I have yet to repair. Hiro is about 3 years old, the Jacob is probably 4 years old and Tappan Zee is maybe 5 or 6 years old. Even without the holes and things I would still need a new sweater. And it’s not like I haven;t been spinning! Lots! But that’s all for weaving the next skirt.

So, anyway, I was digging around in my stash and I came across a cotton project bg from Cooperative Press. When I looked inside there was a handspun sweater that was well under way! I totally forgot about it. I immediatley remembered why I had put it aside. I was looking for a sweater with certain attributes a couple of years ago and my friend, Amy King, offered to design a sweater just for me. And she did! And so I started knitting but then I was a bit confused about an instruction on the left front…and I stopped.

20161006_081022I called Amy! She found her electronic copy! She answered my question. Now I’m moving forward. The body of the sweater is finished and I’m working on the first sleeve. But I have another issue. The yarn is made from BFL/Silk that was specially dyed for me – also by Amy King (Spunky Eclectic) I have no more to spin and I think the sleeves are going to be tight and I still have edgings to do…

After all of that explanation, here’s the question, if I knit faster, will it make the yarn go further?

Spinning Confession: I Write On My Bobbins

 

bobbins PLY

Yes, you read that right. I take a brand new piece of equipment that costs between $30 & $50 and write on it. With a Sharpie. And it keeps me sane. My spinning tools are just that, tools that I use to make yarn.

It took me a long time to finally break down and write on a bobbin. I remember exactly when, too. It was at SOAR in a Kathryn Alexander class on energized singles. We had to spin some singles Z and some singles S. I tried to keep S on one side of my chair and Z on the other, but they kept rolling together.

Kathryn sees my struggle, comes over and says, “Just write on them, with a pencil, S or Z”.  I did and have never looked back.

All of my bobbins have been weighed and marked with their empty weight. With that information I can weigh my bobbin mid-spin, subtract the empty weight and know how much yarn I’ve spun so far.

I mark my bobbins for direction of spin, especially when I’m making crepes or cable yarns.

The orange sticker on the Schacht bobbin in the photo is a note to tell me where in a multi-color, multi-ply, multi-yarn project this bobbin belongs.

Storage bobbins get all of the writing love. The one in the photo reminds me that it weighs .65 ounces empty, the yarn on it is Vegetable Medley (from Into the Whirled) and I spun it to chain ply. When I pull it out of my spinning basket I know exactly what it’s for.

I often mark my bobbins with the name of the project, article, sample that the yarn is destined to be since I work on several projects at the same time.

Writing on my bobbins saves me so much time, stress and mental space. I rarely  have to play the ‘what’s on this bobbin’ game.

Now I just have to get better at erasing all the project info off of my bobbins when I’m done with the yarn!

My Hero – Mabel Ross

I’ve been thinking lately about my spinning heros. The people who have pushed me and educated me and made me a better spinner

Of course some of them are alive and I actually get to talk to a few of them. Some of them are no longer living, but I have their books and videos. mabelross

One in particular has been on my mind a lot. Her name is Mabel Ross. Maybe you have never heard of her. If you haven’t, please look up her work. Her methods may not be for everyone but I love the way she speaks and teaches. The reason I’ve been thinking about her is because when I was at the Palouse Fiber Fest in Idaho in June, one of my other spinning heros, Sarah Swett, gave me a Mabel Ross lap cloth that was signed by Mabel herself! I don’t think that Sarah had any idea how much that little gift would mean to me when she gave it to me.

Mabel’s style can be a little rigid but she has a lot to teach you. She’s very precise. As you can see from the markings on the lap cloth, those lines are there to help you have each draft be a precise length. Mabel loved the math of spinning and she didn’t mind telling you.

There are several books written by Mabel Ross as well as a video which is the first thing I bought of her’s (my first copy was VHS). The video is called Handspinning; Advanced Techniques. This one you can still find at some retailers. The books, as far as I know, are all out of print. But let me give you the titles in case you want to go searching for them.

The Encyclopedia of Handspinning

The Essentials of Handspinning

The Essentials of Yarn Design for Handspinners (this is the most expensive one)

Handspinner’s Workbook: Fancy Yarns (This one is also usually pretty expensive.)

Just keep your eyes open. Sometimes you come accross these books at a bargain. But i feel like they are worth every penny.

Hand Prepping the Itch – All the Mistakes

rolags batts editedI am not a very patient person. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve shied away from hand prepping fiber. But now that I want to learn to hand prep I have to slow down and be patient. I knew that somewhere along the way it was going to be a struggle, and I just found the spot. I enjoyed washing the Bond fleece, didn’t mind the mess or all of the water; I loved the smell. It went pretty quickly, or seemed to because I could do other things in between washing and rinsing.

 

Not so open and opened. Guess which carded easier?

Not so open and opened. Guess which carded easier?

I assumed I would put the Bond fleece on my drum carder and zip, zip I would have lovely fluffy batts to spin. Not exactly. I made a bunch of errors, all because I rushed. First, I didn’t open up the fiber enough before I ran it through the carder and I got neps, lots of little tangled fibers. After sighing like a teenager denied car keys, I spent more time teasing open the fiber and applying it in thinner layers to the drum carder. There were fewer neps, but there were still neps. More sighing and maybe I stomped my foot. I will shamefully tell you that I tried both original carding techniques multiple times before admitting that they didn’t work.

 

Neps, gross!

Neps, gross!

I sat; I hated on hand prepping; I thought about what causes neps. Neps can happen when a fine, crimpy fiber is treated poorly. If it gets stretched too far, too fast, some of the fibers spring back and wrap around themselves forming neps. I had been operating this prepping expedition with the idea that Bond is like Corriedale. It is, but it isn’t. I went back and looked at my fiber. I pulled out a bit, I held it up to the light, I twanged it and watched it spring back. Then I petted it and apologized. It was finer and more crimpy than Corriedale that I would zip through my drum carder. I dug out my hand cards.

 

Not so many neps with the hand carding.

Not so many neps with the hand carding.

 

Hand carding made the Bond much happier, but really tested my patience. It takes a long time! Granted I don’t practice much, so my technique is, well, saying it’s wonky wouldn’t be too far off. But I am going to persevere and hand card the rest of the Bond. I suspect by the end of these couple of pounds of fiber I won’t be eye-rolling and head shaking anymore, but just enjoying the ride.

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