Many of you are aware of the talks happening on racism in the fiber community. If you’re not aware, please make yourself aware now. It’s important stuff, some of the most important stuff, in fact. And it does impact you, even if you think it doesn’t. Especially if you think it doesn’t. I know it’s hard to be called out. I know we’re all fragile beings that, I hope, go through life trying to do our best to be good people. And if that’s true about you, like it’s true about me, this is gonna be hard. Yes, it’s hard, but realize it’s the right thing and the company you’re in is huge. HUGE. If we all try, we can make a difference.
I know that some of you might say “but I just want to knit and be happy” or “I just came for the fiber/knitting/spinning” but that’s just not how life is. I’m sorry. I wish it could be that easy for everyone but it’s not. And until it is that easy for everyone, it can’t be that easy for anyone. Believe me, BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People/Person(s) of Color) just want to knit and be happy too, they just came for the fiber/spinning/knitting too but the color of their skin combined with a history fraught with injustice and a present rife with hate and fear, makes that an impossibility. Can you imagine? Really, can you imagine? We think we can, but the truth is, we can’t. We can’t imagine what it’s like to be different than we are, not really. We have to listen and believe when others tell us how it is for them.
It’s up to us to help make the fiber community safe and welcoming for BIPOC. Not being actively racist is not enough. You’ve got to actively be inclusive. You’ve got to actively be anti-racist. You’ve got to actively seek out BIPOC as designers, as spinners, as dyers, as companions. And I hear you again, “But why? Isn’t it more fair if I just purchase their wares when and if they appeal to me? That seems less racist, just taking race out of it.” Except that’s not actually feasible in the world we live in. It’s not. You are far less likely to see their work, their designs, their dyed fiber, their spun yarn because of our current paradigms. For now, we’ve gotta do a little work to make the world a better and safer place.
And don’t just make a change real quick because it’s being talked about in this moment. Make a change, yes, but keep doing it. We’ve gotta change ourselves, train ourselves. The world has trained us for far too long to think other and different means negative and/or invisible, we need retraining. It’s hard work and it’s ongoing work. It’s easier to settle into our comfortable lives and “just knit” or “just spin” but don’t. Work to make the world better. That’s what we’re here for, my friends. That discomfort you’re feeling about this subject, dig into that. Examine your feelings of defensiveness, your impulse to silence this conversation, your desire to have this conversation on your own terms, your need to say “you’re just here for the fiber”. LISTEN to the voices of BIPOC in our community before you brush this conversation aside.
PLY will be doing just that. The work. PLY welcomes and encourages BIPOC to write, to design, to model, but we need to do more. We don’t do enough. We made a decision on day one to actively seek and feature BIPOC models. But we are going to do more. We are going to actively seek BIPOC as writers, spinners, designers, dyers, and teachers.
I hope you’ll take this in with the love and peace with which it’s written. I’m white and I’m at fault. I try and will continue to try to be a better ally. I hope you’ll join in listening and fighting for what’s right.
Colour and Power
Words and Graphics by Katie Weston
As handcrafters and spinners, colour is vitally important. The colour you choose to dye, spin, knit, or weave impacts your final work, your feelings about it, and others’ interpretations of it. This has long been true of colour, which has often been associated with power, as humans have used certain colours to signify position and status. Roman Emperors limited access to Murex Purple so only those in a position of power could wear that shade. In Medieval Europe, the Sumptuary Laws limited what people could wear according to their position in society. Peasants wore a dull earthy colour, whereas only nobles could wear a bright saturated colour such as scarlet.
Most modern colour rules would dictate that Elizabeth I, famously a redhead, really shouldn’t have worn a bright orange-red such as scarlet. However, the power of the colour was far more important to Elizabeth. During her time as a princess, she regularly wore scarlet, amplifying her message that she was the heir to her sister Mary I. Once she became Queen, however, she changed her message; scarlet was still a colour associated with promiscuity, and that was not the message the Virgin Queen wished to send. Instead, she dressed her ladies and retainers in scarlet to act as a symbolic backdrop to the paler colours she adopted in her own clothing.
Language of Colour
In addition to the colours themselves, the language we use to describe colour reveals a lot about the way a culture thinks about the world. Homer famously described the sea as being wine-dark. He uses the expression many times throughout his epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, to describe the colour of the Aegean sea. This sea is very much the same blue colour as all the other bodies of water across the planet. So why doesn’t Homer describe it as being blue?
Well, for starters, the Ancient Greeks didn’t have a single word to signify blue.
Homer gives the sky the non-blue descriptive treatment as well: big, starry, or of iron or bronze. The sea is also described as whitish (polios), blue-grey (glaukos), almost black (kuaneos), and on occasion it’s even described as being purple (porphureos). So given the dominance of blue in the Greek landscape, why is there no word for blue?
Describing the June sky above the Aegean as the same colour as that Aegean sea in December during a storm does seem a little limiting. Instead, the Greeks used far more descriptive language; when the sea is described as wine-dark, it doesn’t mean the sea was the colour of red wine. Wine-dark is used in Greek literature to describe darkened blood, a cloud, a tree, and the glint of metal. It’s not actually a colour description as we would recognise today. Wine-dark doesn’t mean red; it has more to do with the lustre or superficial effect than anything related to a spectrum of shades. It’s a very different way of thinking about colour than the one we presently use.
How the Greeks perceived colour as a continuum from light to dark.
The Colour Spectrum
The Greeks created their spectrum on a different basis than ours, where light or dark were far more important than the actual hue of a colour. Colours were arranged on a spectrum from white to black. Yellow was considered to be so light as to merge into white, with red and green being mid-tones and with blue being seen as a shade of black at the darkest end. This way of perceiving and describing colours is by no means unique to the Ancient Greeks, and blue is not the only colour missing from their vocabulary. Yellow is also absent, as it is in some Slavic languages, Ainu from Northern Japan, Daza from Nigeria, and the language used by the Mechopdo, in what is now California. Each uses the same word within their language to describe what Western languages call blue and yellow. The use of the same word for blue and green is even more common. The Celtic languages use the word glas to describe a shade the colour of a mountain lake; it covers every colour from a brown-ish green to blue. In Japanese, awo can mean blue, green, or even dark depending on the context.
This way of looking at colour is not something unique to the Greeks. In nearly all cultures, the linguistic distinction between light and dark happens first. After that, the word for red tends to be used, then yellow, then green, then blue. There are of course many exceptions to this, but broadly speaking, the distinction between light and dark is something most cultures develop long before any need to give specific hues a single name.
The modern colour wheel in which opposite colours are said to be complementary. However, when viewed in greyscale, some of the colours are revealed as lacking contrast, so they do not tend to stand out from one another.
In Western culture, our modern spectrum is a comparatively recent development. For example, a Medieval painter was unconcerned about portraying a colour accurately; the significance of the colours were far more important, especially when used to portray awe and respect. Pigments were costly, so the use of certain colours displayed the wealth of a patron. Vast expanses of ultramarine, vermillion, and gold were not important for colour accuracy – they were important for prestige and power. But those Medieval artists also understood colour theory and how to further enhance the brilliance of a particular shade. The Italian Leon Battista Alberti wrote De Pictura, a technical painting guide, in 1435 for any would-be artist. He offered this advice on the placement of colours: “If red stands between blue and green, it somehow enhances their beauty as well as its own. White lends gaiety, not only when placed between green and yellow, but almost to any colour. But dark colours acquire a certain dignity when between light colours, similarly light colours may be placed to good effect among dark.”
What’s amazing is how this nearly 600 year-old advice could actually come out of any book you might read today. When thinking about colourwork knitting, the interactions of colours in a warp and weft, or whether to ply 2 different hand-dyed colourways together, the impact of light next to dark is just as important as the hue of the chosen yarns.
Light and dark are crucial for colour combinations, and we are often advised to take a photograph and switch the colours to greyscale. To enhance one another, the colours should be different shades of grey. In a way, this idea reverts back to the Ancient Greek way of thinking about colour. Colours of a similar value will blend together, even if they are quite different hues. Colours that are different in value will stand out from one another.
Colour can often leave people running scared. They’ve been told long-ago, often in childhood, that 2 shades don’t go together or that a certain colour doesn’t suit them and they should never wear it. Our modern Newtonian method of describing colours and how they relate can lead to a very narrow way of looking at the materials we work with. The modern colour wheel theory says opposite shades will contrast with one another but fails to take into account the advice given by Alberti – sometimes it’s about more than opposites; you need to add some light or dark to give real power to your colours. Equally, don’t let colours have too much power over you. Channel your inner Elizabeth I, and go ahead and dye, spin, knit, weave, and wear the colour you love.
Colours are affected by the shades that surround them. The yellow box in the centre of all these colour swatches is the same shade.
 Hue describes the actual colour of any given shade. So in our modern lexicon, red, green, orange, purple, etc.
 Value describes how light or dark a colour is.
Katie Weston lives in the hills of Snowdonia, Wales. She spends her day dyeing spinning fibre in every colour of the rainbow, so it’s perhaps a little understandable that she’s obsessed with describing it, and the history of colour. She’s the author of the book A Guide to Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre.
Words and photos by Cat Ellen
The power of creation. The very phrase could conjure up poetic descriptions of galaxies swirling into being or an intimate up-close look at new generations born and raised, whether children or small animals. For others, the word creation evokes the craftroom and the workbench, raw materials, stash, tools, and supplies. It can mean warm kitchens and bubbling hearths, comfort foods, and innovative new ideas.
Those of us who create handmade textiles have a strong sense of what it takes to process a fleece; spin a thread; weave a cloth; create a reliable dye bath from natural materials; hand-stitch, design, and knit a garment; or otherwise keep our families and loved ones in blankets and clothing or protected against the elements. We can recognize a handknit scarf at 20 paces and have probably held long discussions explaining the differences between crochet, knitting, and woven techniques.
If we focus on the word power, for some this means electricity, new gadgets, and space-age technology, manufacturing, and automation. How can I rev up this engine faster? More efficiently? How fast can I cook this meal? How soon can I get this delivered? Or more broadly, can I have power over my bills, my email, my social media, my laundry, my education, my retirement?
Sometimes, I find myself pondering whether every advancement is really worth it. My social media feed is filled with memes asking, “Are you old enough to remember?” featuring pictures of tools for home repair, home production, or manual handiwork. And I have friends dedicated to home sufficiency in gardening, canning, woodworking, and sewing. They joke about the zombie apocalypse and disaster recovery planning, including who needs to be part of any recovery team. The crafty, textiles friends are tagged to help clothe us when we need to rebuild civilization.
Simply creating things with my hands is power. It’s power over the capitalistic, consumer world I live in. Rather than be a passive victim and slave to the current fashion world, instead I make design decisions based on my own artistic preferences. I choose what color is in this season, possibly based on how my friend’s crop of dyestuffs grew in her garden. Or maybe I’m supporting a local dyer I only know over the internet, but we’ve commiserated over bouts with the flu or celebrating who just finished and defended their PhD thesis. All the while, we’re knitting for the holiday season or we’re spinning for a wedding shawl or we’re fermenting an indigo pot out back.
If you’ve been raised in a western textiles tradition, you may have only been taught about tool-based solutions. Which wheel should I buy to spin bulky? Do I need a new flyer to spin for this lace project? Which vendor has the best dyes for my protein fibers? Which loom should I buy, and how many various dents do I need? Can I use this loom for my tablet weaving project, or do I need a different-sized, different-shaped loom? Should I buy a warping board and a niddy noddy and a spinning weasel?
But what if my solutions were process based rather than tool based? Could I learn to spin with simpler tools? Could I weave with nothing much more than a few sticks, dexterity, and quite a bit of practice and memorization?
When you think about weaving at its core, it is simply a matter of wrapping strings around a collection of sticks and then manipulating strings among other strings. If you describe your loom, you’re telling me what shape your sticks have been arranged in: backstrap loom, inkle loom, rigid heddle loom, warp-weighted loom, four-harness – all are just descriptions of the shape of the sticks where you’ll manipulate the strings. I needed to demonstrate this description in a park one time, so I gathered a handful of sticks. I made some string on my drop spindle and proceeded to warp a small sampler. Need some heddles? Make more string. I didn’t need money or a large piece of equipment. I can make fabric with sticks and string.
I am still learning how to manipulate strings – whether described as backstrap weaving or card weaving, the weaving complexity is not defined by how many thousands of dollars I spent on tools nor how large a workshop I need to dedicate to my craft. The power of my creation is limited only by the hours I put into my skill development, the research put into learning from those who have come before me, and the creativity of my own innovation.
Recently, a musician friend passed away. In lieu of a memorial service, we held a Life Celebration event. Dozens of friends showed up to sing, play music, and celebrate our friend’s life. I’d left the house without any spinning, but another friend was destashing art supplies from her home. I arrived at the event, and she handed me 4 ounces of wool. All I needed was a stick, which we found on the grounds of this industrial park. I spent a happy 5 hours twirling a stick and some fluff and making yarn.
Go ahead. Take all my worldly spinning goods. I will bounce back immediately. There’s always another stick somewhere. The power of my creation, of my creativity, is not limited by my possessions. Instead, I find an exciting challenge in taking scraps and creating something new. The problem fleece someone thought was only good for mulch? I can soak it in cold water, pick it clean, spin it by hand, and dye it with cochineal, and you would never know the wool wasn’t originally the best in the stash.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be disappointed at the limit of our budgets or our current collection of tools, we have the power to do more than just be a consumer. We are makers.
That’s the power of creation: making something greater than the sum of its parts.
Cat Ellen has been spinning for about 20 years and prefers a drop spindle over anything else. When not teaching people to make string from sticks and fluff, she can be found teaching American Tribal Style bellydance or copyediting performance material for the Santa community.
 I credit Abby Franquemont for teaching me to distinguish between tool-based and process-based solutions at PlyAway 2 in 2017.
We have been lucky enough to work with Brooke Logan from The Painted Tiger on a number of PLY projects. Today, we’ve got a sneak peek behind the scenes into Brooke’s business and a giveaway of her gorgeous Gotland fiber!
About The Painted Tiger
It is always interesting to hear how people got into the fiber arts for a career. My story is a long-ish and convoluted one. I grew up on a small homestead, and my mom raised orphan lambs, both to help with the endless lawn mowing and for some pin money. I got to help feed the bottle lambs. One summer, Mom went off to Siever’s School of Fiber Arts in Wisconsin and returned with a spindle and all kinds of plans for spinning and weaving. She established a flock of brown sheep and bought a spinning wheel and handcards. Her plans fizzled after the first lambing season – and the first giant felt donut she made in the washing machine – and when the ram came after my brother and me – but we still had orphan lambs every year from spring to fall. One year, she got them just in time for my Spring Break! (Because they are newborns, orphan lambs need to be fed every 4 hours around the clock the first week.)
Fast forward to 2002 when I was a SAHM with a toddler, looking to make my own pin money. Ebay was a great work-at-home option, and after many tries at a username, The Painted Tiger was it! Looking for a more consistent product to sell to streamline shipping, I started making custom knit striped scarves, which tied in with the Tiger part quite well. In 2004, I joined the community choir that had just formed and found myself in charge of wardrobe. When I couldn’t find the scarves and ties I wanted to reflect the “river” part of our choir name, I learned how to dye them.
In the process of my research, I discovered the new indie dyer scene. I had enjoyed dyeing the scarves and ties and was ready to apply my knowledge to yarn – voila, Painted! I started selling on Ebay and Etsy and then launched ThePaintedTiger.com in 2008. I improved my childhood spinning skills and decided to dye fiber, too. In keeping with my business name, I specialize in handpainted colorways and enjoy making stripes and gradients on yarn and fiber. One of my favorite things to dye is for Tiger Club, my monthly yarn and/or fiber club, because I love to come up with new ways to put color on wool, and it gives me an excuse to try new fibers, as I try to offer a different one each month of the year.
About Gotland Wool
It is believed that Gotland sheep originated from sheep brought by the Vikings to the Swedish island of Gotland. The original Gutefår sheep were horned, with no belly wool and white markings around the eyes and nose. In the 1920s, the Gotland sheep was developed by a farmer who wished to refine the breed and saw a ram he liked being transported on a train to slaughter. He purchased the ram and started a breeding program to create a polled (no horns) sheep with a beautiful curly fleece.
Gotland wool can vary from pale silver to nearly black. It can range from 29–34 microns. When spun into a laceweight yarn, Gotland will knit into a light and drapey fabric. It will have a soft halo, giving the garment warmth. The long fibers have a wonderful natural luster, which can be brought out by spinning worsted.
(Information paraphrased from http://gsbana.org, the Gotland Sheep Breeders Association of North America.)
Why do I love to dye Gotland?
This fiber just has a wonderful sheen to it, and I always love dyeing non-white wools – the way the natural color interacts with the dyes is amazing. This particular wool is a very dark grey, so the effects are subtle yet stunning. Here are a couple of my favorite gradients, plus a comparison of the Gotland with Polwarth dyed in the exact same colors.
Want to WIN a braid of Brooke’s gorgeous gradient Gotland? (Try saying that 3 times fast!) Leave a tip for our Spring 2018 issue, and our favorite tip will be the lucky winner! (See below.)
We need a few good Tips!
Our Spring issue is all about flax, and we know that can be a scary fiber to work with the first few times: even just the idea of it can make spinners too timid to try. What’s your best tip for getting over the fear of the unknown and giving it a try, or what’s the best way to start? How do you build the best first flax experience?
The person who submits our absolutely favorite tip will get a prize from us! It’s our way of saying thanks for sharing your wisdom with the PLY readers. (One prize for one tip per issue, subject to our selection and you’ll know the winning tip by which one we print first!).
Click here to submit your tip for this issue: https://plymagazine.com/contribute/tip-jar/
If you’ve ever bought a fleece, chances are you’ve had at least a fleeting dream of owning your own fiber mill. What’s it really like to run an operation like that? Today, Kim Biegler of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill gives us the inside scoop!
People who come to tour Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill often ask me, “How did you ever get into doing this?”
My fiber story is short and sweet: It involves a love for animals, knitting, and a husband who I refer to as my “supportive enabler.” My mom taught me to knit when I was young and my aunt taught me to crochet; fiber and needles have been in my life for as long as I can remember. I knitted on and off throughout my life but always seemed “too busy” to devote much time to it.
Once my husband, Mitch, and I moved to the country, my passion for everything fiber progressed quickly. I had more peace and quiet time, which naturally evolved into more knitting time. One day I saw a Shetland sheep for sale on Craigslist, and Mitch encouraged me to buy him. Turns out, you can’t have just one sheep, so more came to live on the farm. Mitch then bought me a spinning wheel for Christmas and my love of spinning was solidified!
I thought long and hard about opening a mini fiber mill. The main reasons for my hesitation were
- Financial – starting a mill is very expensive.
- The level of setup involved – electrical, plumbing, air circulation – all seemed very overwhelming. Not to mention that there is serious mechanical equipment involved.
- I was concerned that at the end of the day, I would be too tired of fiber to knit or spin.
Eventually, I worked through these concerns and challenges, and with the help of my husband and family, Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill opened in the spring of 2017.
What’s it actually like to own a mini fiber mill? I’m not going to lie, it’s absolutely amazing. I’m still able to write that, even after spending a whole day trying to get my first real attempt at “the perfect yarn” to come to fruition. A 2-ply fingering turned out as a 2-ply sport – a little overplied and a few more slubs than I’d like. So goes the life of a spinner!
I’ve only just started my milling career and some days the learning curve feels huge. I anticipate learning until my very last day at the mill. While I’m sure there will be fewer hurdles over time, I’m not sure they will ever get less frustrating; however, even with the challenges, there are many highs in the fiber business. As I get more familiar with my equipment and its capabilities, I try to have a game plan before I walk in the door of the mill. As with any business, establishing your priorities for each day will help keep your head on straight.
As other fiber addicts know, it can be overwhelming to walk into a space full of dirty fleeces needing washing, clean fleeces needing carding or blending, and roving needing to be spun into yarn. It’s easy to run frenetically between machines, all the while accomplishing very little.
Running the Mill
Now, I prioritize starting the washer and the spinning machine. These two machines are capable of running on their own. After I get them up and running I turn my attention to either the picker, carder, pin-drafter, or dehairing machine. The picker is the machine that opens up the locks and blends fibers prior to going on the carder. The carder is a larger version of the handcarders we’ve all used – with lots of rollers, swift and fancy. After the carding, the fiber moves to the pin-drafter, which is an essential part of making yarn. The pin-drafter aligns the fibers into more parallel roving. Next is the spinner. As opposed to handspinning where lumpy bumpy fiber is manipulated inch by inch, the spinner needs the most consistent and even fiber possible to create an even, slub-free yarn. Finally, the dehairing machine is capable of pulling those scratchy guard hairs from alpaca, pygora, qiviut, and other similar types of fibers. The dehairer is a slow and steady machine that processes about 2 pounds of fiber per hour.
I love going to work every day. I fall asleep thinking about what the next day will bring and what potential there is to accomplish in the day. Some fiber types give me a little more trepidation than others, but each day I continue to develop my skills – and that is good for the fiber soul. As part of my business plan, I’ve incorporated time to knit or spin for myself every day in order to keep my passions alive. This helps me reorient myself and rejuvenates my creative inspiration around the fiber arts.
About the writer:
Kim Biegler is the owner of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill in Halsey, Oregon. Ewethful processes fiber for sheep, alpaca, llama, Angora rabbit, dog hair, bison, and goat. Ewethful’s retail shop sells handmade goods, fiber products, and local antiques, and also offers classes in knitting, spinning, and fiber arts. Visit the website to learn more and to browse the online shop. Follow along on Instagram and Facebook for the latest fiber happenings!
Did you get an email from us that it’s time to renew your subscription? If so, all renewals must be in by Friday, August 25, 2017, in order to get the next issue, which comes out September 10! Remember we have digital subscriptions now!
Semi semi semi!
Yarns exist on a spectrum with the most intimidating (and sometimes unattainable) ones at each end – TRUE WOOLEN and TRUE WORSTED. Everything else is in between, and it’s this everything else that the Semi issue is focused on. Honestly, it’s probably what most of us spin most of the time, so get ready for an issue that’s about your yarn.
It’s packed full of information, experimentation, and opinion but very few hard and fast rules (because there are very few of those in spinning). It begins with prep: changing or drafting against the prep you currently have and, more importantly, why in the world you’d want to. Of course, there’s lots of semi- spinning, again with how, why, and what, if any, difference it makes on the yarn. You’ll want to read the illuminating articles on the actual wear and tear of different types of semi- yarns; it’s not what you might expect!
With those results in mind, what about end uses? Which semi- yarns are best for which applications? We’ve got that, too! We’ve also got Russian spindles (like you’ve never seen them before), a hot button where nobody really agrees, semis for weaving, a Guilded about spinning embroidery thread, and 2 fantastic projects, one knit and one crochet. So don’t miss this informing and gorgeous issue where we give you the information to finally decide: is the yarn semi-woolen or semi-worsted (does it rely on prep or draft?) or, and this is a new one, is it really the fiber?
PLY is doing something new and exciting!
Are you ready? Brace yourself, it’s big!
PLY is publishing books! We’ve wanted to publish books from the beginning but we had to learn how to make a magazine first. Then we had to learn how to throw an event. Now that we’ve got a pretty good handle on the magazine and PLYAway is a runaway success, it’s time to turn our hearts, hands, and brains to publishing spinning books.
PLY Books will offer books for spinners who want to dig even deeper into a topic, who want full immersion with an author, and who want to challenge their spinning and how they think about fiber and yarn.
We believe we can make beautiful and smart spinning books that the community will love, that support PLY Publishing, and that provide a fair wage to our authors.
PLY Books is being built on the same passion and attention to detail that started and sustains PLY Magazine and PLYAway. Some of our books will be deep and smart and technical. Other books will be fun and sexy and intuitive. All of our books will be beautiful, useful, and intriguing.
We hope you are as excited as we are!
The PLY Books team is made up of the same smart and talented folks that bring you the magazine with the addition of Jillian Moreno, who’s helping head up the new division. You know her, right? She writes a lot, teaches all over, and has a fantastic book herself — Yarnitecture. We’re excited to add her to the team and know her expertise, creativity, and organization will only make us better.
Do you want to write a book?
We’d love to talk to you about it. Head over here to get all of the information on submitting an idea to us.
Do you have ideas for book topics or authors we should consider?
Yay! Here is a survey you can fill out to get your ideas to us.
Questions or comments? Contact PLY Books: firstname.lastname@example.org