Book Review: Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java

reviewed by Sukrita Mahon

A part of the Fowler Museum’s series on textiles around the world, this book explores the textiles in a small rural community in East Java. The culture and textile tradition in Kerek are extraordinarily vibrant, forming an integral part of this society. Modern-day spinners, weavers, and dyers in the west are likely to find much inspiration in its pages. It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were all cloth-makers – not for pleasure but necessity. The unique imprint of each artisan’s work somehow creates a sense of deeper connection with society, nature, and spirit.

The museum had an accompanying exhibition to this book, and the format is very much the same as an art exhibit, with many pieces of handspun and handwoven textiles featured and explained in detail. Each piece has a cultural context and is worn by certain members of society or used for certain purposes only. They indicate everything from social class, land ownership, age, and marital status to ancestry. Largely made as single lengths of cloth, they are worn by both men and women, but in recent years commercially made clothes have come to dominate the menswear.

Spinning, dyeing, and weaving are all considered mythical and ritual activities, performed mainly by the women. Nini Towok is the mythical figure of a spinner in Kerek’s oral traditions. She is considered to be visible on the surface of the moon, spinning on a wheel. With the cotton fields resembling the night sky and the stars, she feels at once close to earth and ethereal. “Part goddess, part crone, Nini Towok sends her finely spun cotton yarn to earth in the form of moonbeams.” A type of guardian spirit, she is believed to watch over each part of cloth-making, and offerings are made to her at the beginning of a project.

The dyeing process is also steeped in ritual, although the book only mentions it briefly. Natural dyes produce blacks, blues, and reds, and brown cotton is also used. The patterns are formed mainly using batik techniques (wax resist dyeing), and the symbolism is deeply connected to the natural world. Common motifs include centipedes, flowers, birds – all imbued with meaning. Some colours and symbols can be protective, and some denote youth and fertility. Abstract symbols are also used, less commonly, often in the case of men’s clothing.

The life cycle of a woman is a theme that returns again and again in the fabric of this region. From youth and marriage to motherhood, and finally old age, women adorn themselves in different ways and acquire more status with age. Special cloths are used to carry children, and these are very often handspun and handwoven, even when other clothing is not. Funeral rites also feature certain textiles that are placed on the coffin of the deceased and left there until the final moments. Afterwards, they are taken home by the family and preserved as heirlooms.

As can be imagined, environmental degradation has affected the textile practices considerably. Indigo is the only natural dye still used, since other traditional plant dyes are now difficult to come by. Traditional textile worker families are all but gone, with many people no longer interested to take up the vocation. I can’t help feeling that a lot has been left out of this book in terms of the socio-economic context, and the reader is expected to make many assumptions that may be on the idealistic end of the spectrum. For instance, many of the residents are landless labourers, who form a vulnerable demographic, subject to urban migration away from the region. There is no mention at all of how increasing globalisation might affect the future of Kerek textiles.

With such awe-inspiring textiles featured, I was left wanting more from the book. The pages about the mythology and spiritual practices connected with the textiles were too fleeting for my liking – although readers may feel a sense of familiarity in them. Since it’s a small and isolated region, there were many questions I found myself asking, for which the answers aren’t easily obtainable. For this reason, the material feels a little clinical and academic. Personally, I hope for a future in which textiles are alive with intention and meaning in our everyday life in the west – glimpses like Nini Towok make it easier to imagine.

Rating: 3.5/5

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Warm West Coast Wool: Salish style

words and photos by Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa

Cowichan sweaters are famous throughout the world for being thick, light, warm, and cosy. The yarns demonstrate ancient expertise with spinning warm yarns. The Cowichan (now known as Quw’utsun) First Nations of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada are part of the Coast Salish language family of nations surrounding the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. They, along with their neighbours, have been spinning warm yarns for thousands of years, yet sheep only arrived in the area in the mid-1850s. So how did they learn to spin such warm fibres in a land where animal fibres are rare? And what can they teach us about spinning warm yarns?

From spindle to treadle machine

Evolution of a Coast Salish spindle to an Indian head spinner

Originally the Coast Salish spun dog wool (see my article, “The Coast Salish Woolly Dog,” in the Spring 2020 issue of PLY) and mountain goat wool, sometimes mixed, sometimes alone. First, they slightly twisted fibres on their thigh into a rough roving which they then wound into balls in preparation for spinning on a spindle. The unique spindle is long at 36 inches, similar to a Navajo spindle but with a very large whorl (6–10 inches), and is spun by rolling the spindle down the thigh or lifting it in the air above the laps to twirl it. This provided a lofty thick yarn which traditionally was plied and woven into blankets. The Coast Salish adapted their unique spindle to spin sheep wool once sheep arrived in the mid 1800s.

An Indian head mounted on a Singer treadle sewing machine

Along with sheep, settlers brought treadle sewing machines. The Coast Salish, knowing their large spindles made thick warm wool, cleverly attached their spindle to where a sewing machine would sit, added a groove on the whorl to hold the drive band and a fork to hold the other end of the spindle, and spun using the treadle machine. This became known as the Indian Head Spinner or what Ashford called the Country Spinner.

Farming their own flocks

The imported sheep were mostly Merino and cross-breed Cheviot-Leicester with some purebred Southdown, Cheviot, and Leicester. By the 1880s the Cowichan Coast Salish were farming their own flocks. These were the perfect breeds for creating Cowichan sweaters. The high crimp in these fleeces create a bulky yet lightweight and bouncy yarn. The air pockets between the fibres provide warmth. If wool fibres have a lot of crimp, the fibres will push against each other, causing the yarn to puff out and creating many air pockets to capture and keep air, creating a warm yarn. If the fibres are mixed in a jumble (woolen) rather than lying parallel (worsted), the puffier the yarn will be.

Most sheep produce lanolin which provides the animal with waterproofing. The finer the fibre, the more lanolin on the sheep. Most of the sheep imported were fine or medium breeds which produce good quantities of lanolin. On the west coast where rainfall is plentiful, having sheep with good lanolin to protect them is an advantage. If the fleece is washed with lukewarm water rather than hot, some lanolin is left in, and when spun, the yarn will retain some waterproofing qualities. Fishermen not only wore Cowichan sweaters for warmth but also wore Cowichan long johns!

The fleece qualities of high crimp and lanolin are why the Cowichan sweaters were made famous – a lightweight, warm, and waterproof sweater. The sweaters were so famous that the Coast Salish have had to fight battles with fashion houses that appropriated the Coast Salish designs for company profits and no benefit to the Coast Salish.

Making Cowichan-like yarn

A lightweight bulky vest made from descendants of the original BC coastal sheep

While you can never make a true Cowichan yarn unless you are Coast Salish and integrate your culture into the process, you can make a Cowichan-like yarn using modern equipment. But remember to respect and acknowledge the Coast Salish tradition of spinning and knitting Cowichan or Salish sweaters. Be creative, and design a yarn to provide the same good qualities of Coast Salish yarn. Colour it bold or colour it subtle, but make it yours.

If you want to make a Cowichan-like yarn, start with a good crimpy fibre and spin it in the grease or gently wash it in warm, not hot, water to remove the dirt and leave some lanolin in it. You can also start with scoured wool and add lanolin before you spin or once the garment is finished by adding lanolin to a bath as you full or finish the garment. Paradise Fibers has a great instructional tutorial on how to do this.

You need to create a woolen yarn, so prepare the wool by creating rolags. Some spinning wheels are designed for spinning bulky yarns, e.g., the Ashford Country Spinner, wheels made for art yarns (Louet), those with jumbo or bulky-head attachments (Lendrum), and those with bobbin-led flyers with large bobbin capacity. But even if you don’t have one of these types of wheels, you can make do with a wheel designed for medium yarns. The Scottish-style and double-drive wheels are designed for lace yarns; hence, they have small bobbins and might give you an airy, warm, but much much thinner yarn.

An Ashford Country spinner

Choose your largest whorl; it should have a low ratio such as 4:1 or 6:1. Wheels with a large orifice and large flyer hooks are best as you are trying to spin thick yarns. However, thick does not mean dense. You are aiming for light, lofty, big bouncy yarns. Keep the air pockets in the yarn. A thick yarn can squeeze down and fit through a smaller orifice if necessary, but it should bounce back to bulky and not impede your spinning.

Bulky yarns need little twist, especially if you are starting with good crimpy, grabby fleece. If you have a bobbin-led wheel (the drive band turns the bobbin), put a lot of tension on the drive belt. Higher tension will practically grab the fibres out of your hand and onto the bobbin quickly. If you have a flyer-led wheel (the drive band turns the flyer), loosen the brake on the bobbin. Twist will build up quickly, so let it onto the bobbin even before you think it has enough twist. By the time it gets wound on, it will have enough twist. (Check out Michelle Boyd’s article “The Truth about Take-up” in the Summer 2016 issue of PLY for more information.)

Spin, as Paula Simmons describes in her classic book Spinning for Softness and Speed, using an unsupported long-draw technique. This is often a zen-like one-handed technique. Hold the rolag in one hand. Pinch off about an inch and pull the hand away from the orifice after allowing the twist to build up a little, grabbing and twisting the loose fibres to the thickness you are looking for. Keep tension on the fibres and let the twist chase your hand steadily, gobbling up the wool as you pull back to your side. Treadle slowly and then gracefully return your hand to the orifice and repeat. Relax, breath slowly, treadle slowly, and enjoy the Zen of it.

Some people suggest you pre-draft a roving to the thickness you want and let it run onto the bobbin with barely any twist. This will get you a bulky yarn but not a lightweight one. It will instead be heavy and dense, full of fibres but not air. Remember, for this yarn you want to let the air into the yarn.

If you do not have a low ratio whorl or end up with too much twist, one of our spinning saints, Judith MacKenzie, has a trick: spin a thick yarn and do not worry about putting in too much twist. Once you have filled the bobbin, take it off your spinner, put it on the floor, and run it through your spinner very quickly in the opposite direction to take out some of the extra twist.

You can use the yarn as a singles yarn or ply it. Traditionally, the Coast Salish plied the yarn for their blankets but made Cowichan sweaters from a singles yarn. If it is a singles yarn you are looking for, avoid weighting the yarn to set the twist as you are really stretching it and losing the lofty bulk you want to keep. Instead, finish them boldly in hot soapy water, agitating before plunging the yarn into cold water. You are trying to bloom or full the yarn, not felt it, but full it enough that it creates a slightly protective web around it to prevent easy pilling. Alternatively, you can full the finished product. Whichever you do, think about trying to maintain or add some lanolin to the final soaking to give the end product some weatherproofing if wanted.

Further reading

Gibson-Roberts, Priscilla A. Salish Indian Sweaters: A Pacific Northwest Tradition. Saint Paul, MN: Dos Tejedoras Fiber Arts Publications, 1989.

Gustafson, Paula. Salish Weaving. Seattle: Douglas & McIntyre, 1980.

Simmons, Paula. Spinning for Softness and Speed. Madrona Pub, 1982.

Every time Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa, a Master Spinner, sees a Coast Salish blanket or sweater, the world stands still for just a moment, but packed into that moment are many women’s lives: the spinner, her children teasing and carding, the carvers of her spindles and looms, and the ceremonies where the blanket or sweater was worn. These objects radiate those moments. Visit her website for more resources.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Send Us Your Tips

What are your best tips and hacks for traveling with, and setting up, your e-spinner? What’s the easiest way to get them to spin-ins and classes and what are the slickest ways to use them once you’re there?!

Share your tip by going to our Tip Jar submission page. 

We share tips in every issue of PLY, these tips will be for the Electric Summer 2021 issue.

The person who submits our favorite tip will get a prize from us! It’s our way of saying thanks for sharing your wisdom with the PLY readers.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

PLY Spring 2022 The Goat Mood Board

Goats Goats Goats! Their fiber has been spun for centuries, creating a continuum of yarn that spans super strong to downright luxurious. Come celebrate these glorious creatures with us!

Tell us what you know about the difference between goat fiber and sheep’s wool.

What are some excellent blends that combine the two, and why are they so good?

What is the difference between kid, yearling, and adult mohair, and what are each good for? Do they require different prep, spinning, finishing techniques? Do you have a favorite way to work with these fibers?

Do you have a favorite yarn that uses goat fibers, even, textured, or art? Can you show us how to tail spin? Lock spin? Can you reproduce the very popular mohair and silk commercial yarns? What about yarns for strength and reinforcing? What about socks? Tell us what you know about mohair vs nylon in sock yarns. Do you know the history of mohair or cashmere? Have a good goat story?

How do you spin mohair for shine and drape? For fuzz? Do you have tips on finishing for maximum fuzz? What is cashmere? Is it a particular goat or a particular fiber? How fine is it really? How do you choose and prep cashmere? What is the best way to spin and finish cashmere? Does it felt? How do you blend cashmere with other fibers? How much cashmere do you need in a blend to notice it in a yarn?

What is dehairing and how do you do it? What is faux cashmere, and is it worth using?

What about color? How do you keep the shine when dyeing mohair? How do you dye locks? What are tips for dyeing over a natural cream or brown cashmere?

What about other goats? What can you tell us about Cashgora, Pygora, Pycazz, and Nigora? Why would you choose these fibers instead of mohair or cashmere?

What luscious things do you make with goat fibers? Are they warm? Do they have extra drape? Or are they just amazingly luxurious?

If you can help answer any of these questions or have a good idea for an article, please let us know! If you’ve got an idea for a fantastic project, let us know that too! Whether it’s your first time proposing an article or your 100th, we want to hear from you!

Submit your ideas here

Proposals of articles and projects are due by March 1, 2021. We’ll get back to you in April, and final pieces are due Sept 1, 2021.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Reader Feature: Ruth Venables

words and photos by Ruth Venables

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started spinning. My mother and grandmother always encouraged me to be creative, and I really enjoyed visiting craft shows with them growing up. I was lucky that my primary school had some great volunteers who came in each week to teach us art and craft, and this is where I discovered weaving and then spinning, which was demonstrated for us to learn where yarn came from. My mum made me a drop spindle, and one of the school volunteers agreed to give me a few lessons on her wheel, and that’s where my love of spinning really began. I joined a local group and got my first wheel (an Ashford Traveller) soon after.

Rainbow through the clouds fibre club yarn, wheel spun and chain plied

Do you have a favorite type of yarn to spin? At the moment, my standard yarn seems to be a sport weight 2 ply; I’ve been really focusing on creating smooth and consistent yarns to knit a sweater, but I’ve also been spinning lace and thread weight on my Turkish spindle. I’d like to have a go at creating art yarns next.

Wheel spun yarn for a fade sweater

What do you like to make with your handspun yarn? I love a good scarf or shawl knitted in handspun yarn; now the weather is cooler I really look forward to choosing one to wear because it makes me so happy to be wearing something I’ve made! I’ve also been using my handspun yarns for weaving on my knitter’s loom to create scarves and cloth I can cut for jackets.

How long have you been reading PLY? I’ve been reading PLY since the very first issue. I was so pleased to find a spinning magazine that was colourful and relevant for the modern spinner. Before I read PLY, I had been led to believe that handspun yarn had to be woollen, 2-ply, and never, ever forward drafted. Imagine how my eyes were opened!

What do you look forward to most when you get an issue? I love to find a quiet moment and sit down with a cup of tea when I open my issue of PLY. My favourite articles are about techniques as I always find there’s something new to learn and I also love reading the reviews of wheels, spindles, and equipment. Although I sometimes find the articles quite technical, it really deepens my understanding and I’m a better spinner because of it.

Turkish spindle in yarn bowl

Tell us about a project you worked on that was inspired by an article, project, or issue of PLY. I was really excited to read the support spindle issue as this is a new technique I’ve learned this year. I have used a drop spindle since I learned to spin, and last year I bought a Turkish spindle to add to my flock. This was soon joined by a support spindle, and I figured that if I could spin on a drop spindle it would be easy to transition. I watched a couple of videos and read an e-book and could spin quite smoothly, but I was finding it hard work; I could control the spindle, but the fibre and yarn was unruly – maybe it wasn’t for me?

My first batt and singles on my support spindle

When I swapped to a support spindle, I presumed that I would use my normal fibres, straight from the braid like I would for spinning at my wheel, but after reading PLY I could see where I was making mistakes, and I realised I needed to make some changes and start over. I changed my fibre straight away and reached for 100% alpaca; I would never consider using this with my wheel as it’s so fine, but it seemed it was made for the gentle art of support spindling.

I also read with amusement that I had been holding my fibre supply incorrectly and needed a lighter, more lady-like hold, so I carded an airy rolag and followed the photos and directions – suddenly I could spin on my support spindle without a death grip on either the fibre or the spindle and the yarn was flowing beautifully! My support spindle is now my friend, and we spend many happy evenings together spinning superfine fibres into yarn.

Support spindle singles Andean plied on my Turkish spindle
Support spindle woollen-spun alpaca (pink) and Jacob wool (orange)

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the PLY blog readers? Try different fibres. In general, I’m a wool or wool blend spinner, but I’ve spun some wonderful yarns on my support spindle by using finer fibres that I wouldn’t normally consider. I’ve become a better spinner by adventuring outside my comfort zone!

You can find Ruth on Ravelry as Ruthietoothie.

If you’d like to participate in an upcoming reader feature, fill out the reader feature form and Karen will contact you.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Winter SCENE

Counting Sheep: Reflections and Observations of a Swedish Shepherd by Axel Lindén. “Norwegian Wood meets The Tao of Pooh in this philosophical, witty, and heartwarming collection of daily observations from a Swedish academic-turned-sheep farmer who finds peace and meaning outside the hustle and bustle of modern, urban life.”

Color Matching Dye Formulas: Alanna Wilcox has developed a service where a dyer can select a color from a photograph or a Pantone U color and I will send them a formula designed to help them match that color. The formula includes the brand of dyes to use, the specific colors of dyes, the amount of dyes, and the amount of acid needed to dye a particular weight of fiber. Her system isn’t endorsed or affiliated with Pantone, but rather the culmination of hours of experiments and testing.

New Zealand Gamekeepers Possum Fiber: A startup business in New Zealand is selling A-grade possum fibre (with yarn and roving to come). A booklet on “How to work with possum fibre for fibre artists” is coming. You can also find them on Facebook as a page and a group.

Use Your Oops

words and photos by Carole Bournias

Let me begin by saying I am not a patient person. Once I set my mind on something, it’s full steam ahead and I want to see results as quickly as possible! Unfortunately, I have found impatience does not work well in some projects, such as dyeing experiments. However, I’ve found a few ways to use my oops fibers instead of throwing them away in disgust.

Thrumming mitts

My first foray into dyeing wool seemed simple enough. I procured the needed supplies and dyes and watched a few YouTube videos. Then I couldn’t decide between low immersion, the crockpot, or steaming methods, so I decided to do all 3 at once because, hey, everything was out and the kitchen was already wrapped in plastic to prevent any possible spills. I happily prepared my dye stocks, squirted a bunch of different colors onto my soaked rovings, and set them all to cook different ways. What I wasn’t prepared for was the time it took for them to cool to room temperature, which where my impatience reared its ugly head. After about an hour, I dumped them all into a big colander. After another hour, they were still hot, so I started rearranging and fluffing a bit so they’d cool off faster. After another hour, I thought, “Well, I’ll just gently rinse them off with water a little cooler than the fiber.” Big mistake. I rinsed and then squeezed to get most of the water out, and then I set them in the sun to dry. After drying, although the colors were brilliant, I could not for the life of me pull off a staple length! Nor any length! Hmmm. I rolled them up and decided I would worry about that later.

About that time I was getting ready to make mitts for Christmas gifts. I had made thrummed mitts in the past, but people had advised me they were so bulky that they were unable to keep hold of a snow shovel or steering wheel. And personally, making all those individual thrums drove me crazy. I decided to try using roving and stranding it on the inside of the mittens to keep the warmth but not the bulk. Ah ha! Using that felted fiber would be perfect as it would not drift apart as easily as normal roving or top but would still provide protection from the cold and wind.

I set to work stripping (scratch that, I mean ripping) apart thin strips from my felted roving, and I used a basic mitten pattern I’ve had for ages. This was a slow process because it was definitely a rip instead of a normal strip! I just did a few inches at a time, trying to keep my strips as even as possible, about a quarter inch wide. Since my roving was multi-colored, I spun some white Cheviot to use as the main color and started knitting, using the roving to knit every 3rd stitch on every other row and taking care not to pull the stranded roving too tight. They came out wonderfully! I even used the roving in the ribbing, which created more beauty in the finished item.

Since then, I’ve been looking for different ways to use my oops and have even purchased more oops fiber from a popular indie dyer that was offered at a discount. (I had asked her if she had any extra, but she replied she hoped she would not have any more!) I know I am not the first person to think of stranding roving instead of using thrums for mitts, but let me tell you this technique is perfect for using up the occasional mistake. I can’t wait to try it for hats and slippers, or perhaps a cozy sweater or wrap for these cold winter months!

More ideas

I’ve had great luck adding bits to dryer balls. I roll white wool into balls and then take a small piece of felted roving and really stretch it out, gently pulling it in all directions to cover part or most of the ball as desired but still letting the base color show through. I use the nylon stocking method of stuffing them into knee highs, tying a knot in between each one, and throwing them in with a hot load in the washing machine and dryer to felt them. I have not had any color transfer, but I made sure the dye had been fully absorbed and the water was perfectly clear when I rinsed. If you experience any color leakage after you dye, I wouldn’t recommend using your felted fiber for dryer balls.

Tapestry weaving is another area to dabble in with your oops. Felted roving holds up fabulously with the abrasion of back and forth weaving across the warp. It’s interesting to see the color variations in the woven product, and it’s a very soft organic color shifting. How about needle felting? I bet it would be simple to needlefelt to a background.

There are so many ways to use up unintended oops fiber. I’m sure there are many more applications that I have not discovered yet!

Carole Bournias is a Buyer for a large food ingredient company. Residing in a small town on the banks of the St. Clair River in Michigan, her main focus is spinning, knitting, and creating. She is currently dabbling in dyeing and weaving; next on her bucket list is designing and commissioning.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Learning to Spin Online

words by Ashley Martineau

As I was writing my book, Spinning and Dyeing Yarn, I noticed several challenges of teaching from a book. It felt nonsensical, like learning how to ride a bike by reading a sentence and looking at still photos. I realized if I was going to effectively reach my students, I needed a different avenue of instruction.

In 2015, I organized all I’d ever learned about spinning yarn into 60 methods to teach with multiple fiber types and preps. Then I started recording videos while my babies napped. Last year I started uploading these videos weekly to YouTube to inspire the next generation of textile designers and yarn spinners. I’ve already published over 40 of these videos online and continue to post them weekly.

My goal in this work was to teach anyone anywhere how to spin yarn and to provide the resources lacking on the internet when I was trying to learn from home. It does not replace the value of in-person instruction but can be a helpful resource to learn how to spin when you are isolated, can’t afford a teacher, or don’t have instructors or wool festivals in your area.

After the events of 2020, I especially hope to reach those who are looking to replace lost income by working from home (many yarn shops will gladly purchase locally spun handspun yarns at wholesale or consignment pricing) and to parents who want to provide extracurricular art instruction to their children while unexpectedly homeschooling this fall. I also want to give the next generation of textile designers and creative minds some inspiration as they navigate online college coursework.

Other Resources

  • There are many online handspinning instructors who have free lessons on YouTube when you search for “spinning yarn” or “how to spin yarn.”
  • Some spinning teachers allow you to purchase a one-on-one virtual class with them. Look for the authors of your favorite spinning books and see if they provide this option.
  • Perhaps a handspinner you admire with an online shop or social media presence might be available for a paid one-on-one zoom or skype class.
  • When the world opens again, visit your local sheep and wool festival to take a class in person. In person instruction is the highest level of instruction you can find.
  • Local yarn shops often have spinning classes available, with wheels to test drive before you purchase.

Wheel Recommendations

I recommend SpinOlution wheels for the methods I teach in my video series, as creative yarn textures require an open orifice and bypassable flyer to prevent textures getting stuck or snagged. If you have a wheel with a small bobbin, ratios faster than 1:6, a small orifice, and a closed flyer system (tiny hooks or loop), you will need to drastically minimize the textures of my videos to get them to smoothly fit through your orifice and onto your bobbin. Hand winding is common when you are using a wheel that isn’t engineered to spin untraditional texture or you’re spinning bulkier than what the wheel was engineered to uptake.

You can find a SpinOlution dealer to take a test drive and learn how to spin yarn on a wheel engineered to spin both traditional yarns and creative textures. Many SpinOlution dealers are happy to teach spinning classes virtually thru zoom or other video conferencing software.

I hope you find these resources helpful as you stay safe this season and discover your new favorite creative spinning methods. Being a teacher is a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I am excited to meet the next generation of spinners who will blow me away with their talent.

Ashley Martineau, author of Spinning and Dyeing Yarn, teaches new spinning methods at on YouTube. Ashley hopes to inspire spinners of all ages around the world to embrace their own creativity and create new, unique textures of yarn for use in fashion, craft, and art. When Ashley isn’t spinning yarn, she’s homeschooling her 3 kids, weaving tapestries inspired by ancient civilizations, and working with the SpinOlution company to create new features for their spinning wheels.

You can watch all of Ashley’s videos on her website, which has playlists designed to be watched in consecutive order on topics such as single-ply methods, plying methods, corespinning methods, and creative drop spindle methods. Special thanks goes to these generous fiber contributors, without which this series would not be possible.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Book Review: Dyeing to Spin and Knit by Felicia Lo

reviewed by Sukrita Mahon

With every kind of tutorial and technique easily searchable online, dyeing has never been more accessible to spinners and knitters. Most crafters are likely to experiment with some type of dyeing or colour blending at some point in their practice. The creator of Sweet Georgia Yarns, Felicia Lo, has managed to produce an extremely comprehensive guide to dyeing that proves useful for the novice and experienced dyer alike.

In the early chapters, Lo touches on some fascinating cultural aspects and responses to colour. As a child, she was drawn to bright colours and wanted to wear them often, but her peers thought it strange. It resonates a lot with my own experience in western society, where it seems that dull, muted, or neutral colours are most favoured. It leads to all kinds of complicated feelings about colour, such as which are pleasing together or not or which look good with certain complexions. I find myself suspecting that we project a lot of feelings of inadequacies into our colour senses, especially in the west. It’s a shame, when they’re really meant to bring us joy, and maybe even freedom.

The author’s journey from craving to rejecting colour to rediscovering and exploring it in depth is very compelling. The idea that we need colour in our lives in some fundamental way stands out to me. We naturally have emotional reactions to colour, and particularly as crafters, we have the ability to explore them in such a way that can end up feeling therapeutic. Many of us can resonate with that feeling of awe when working with a special colourway. For those who are perhaps wary of starting to experiment on their own, there is an excellent chapter on colour theory that provides a basis for how colours interact and are perceived.

The sections on dyeing are very thorough, with instructions on setting up a dye studio as well. A lot of small-scale dyeing can be done in the kitchen, but when using acid dyes, it is advisable to have a separate area if possible. I found a lot of invaluable tips in this section, like choosing heavier bottomed pans over thin ones to ensure even heating. Lo touches on natural dyeing and the richness of colours that can be created with it, providing lots of tantalising photos. In the case of acid dyeing, she explains how to measure dyes to get the same colour, even without the use of a precise scale.

We go on to learn how to dye yarn for all types of different effects: solid colour, tonal, variegated, hand painted, self striping, gradient, resist dyeing, layering. There is enough inspiration in these pages to pique the interest of dyers who may already know these techniques. The part on mistakes and troubleshooting mistakes is much appreciated – I could have used these at several points in my own dyeing journey.

Spinning with colour opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and this was my favourite part of the book. There are so many ideas to explore that it left me buzzing. The beautiful complexity of the yarns created with optical mixing and combination drafting, for example, made me want to pull out some fibre right away. There is plenty of material for non-dyeing spinners to experiment with, such as the ways in which grist, pre-drafting, or staple length can affect colour.

One of the key take-aways from the spinning chapters was the multitude of ways in which fibre can be split and spun to create various effects, like short or long colour repeats, gradients, or muted colour stories. Spinning straight from dyed top can be interesting but doesn’t always result in the most exciting fabric. Batts add another layer of fun and experimentation, despite being time intensive to make. The blending possibilities are greatly increased, so even mixing two colours gently can result in a more complex yarn than other methods. The author teaches us how to make layers of different colours and spin them to different effects.

Lo obviously knows spinners well, because she nudges us to actually knit, crochet, or weave with the yarn instead of calling the process finished once it’s washed. I will, Felicia, just as soon as I’m finished spinning it all…

The book helpfully tries to explain how to best use multicoloured yarn in knitting, and how stitch patterns are affected by the way it’s dyed. It ends with a chapter of knitting patterns designed by the author. Some of these are handspun, and the rest could easily be adapted to work with handspun. They are mostly cowls and shawls, a blanket and a pair of socks.

In my view, almost every dyer or spinner could find some value in this book, even if they’ve been playing with colour for a while. The ideas, inspiration, and photographs alone make it a worthwhile addition to the spinning bookshelf – the author’s passion is quite infectious.

Rating: 4/5

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