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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women spinning on a spindle

Spindles – They are for everybody

I’m primarily a wheel spinner. Actually it’s been that way since I learned to spin. I love my wheels. I love how they look. I love how I imagine I look when I’m using them (don’t laugh). Many of the classes I teach are wheel focused classes.

But I like spindles too. I have plenty of them. Don’t ask how many. It’s not important.

When I learned to spin I began on a spindle but it was slow going and I was convinced that my lack of progress was because of the tool I was using and I needed a wheel. So I bought myself a used Ashford Traditional. Needless to say, the tool was not my problem. But that’s another story. Anyway, I took some lessons and got to be decent on the wheel. When I was satisfied that I was learning and improving I picked up the spindle again and magically I could do it! From then on I was a fan.

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Let me tell you why I think you should like spindles too – beyond the fact that they can be beautiful.

For the last couple of years I have been immersed in a couple of projects that needed a wheel to complete so I hadn’t picked up a spindle in a while. Then, last month I was teaching at the Palouse Fiber Festival in Moscow, Idaho and I was there with my friend Esther Rodgers who was also teaching. Esther had been told several times by Abby Franquemont that her arm problems when she used a spindle were because she was using a spindle that we lovingly refer to as a boat anchor. What that means is that is was too heavy. I was able to drag Esther to the table of Greensleeves Spindles. I own at least 10 of their spindles myself and I know that they are super good spindles. Well, Esther began to spin IMG_20160702_182904and try some out and she chose one to buy. Well, she didn’t stop spinning on that spindle for the whole weekend and I think she’s still spinning with it! I also think she may have visited the Jenkins table and bought a second one before we left Idaho.

So I was inspired and last week we were headed to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan just to spend the day with all of our kids and grandkids and on the way out the door I grabbed a spindle and an illusive Abby Batt to work on while we walked around. I got pretty much done in the midst of semi chaos. and I began to think about what I learned from spinning on a spindle. all of the things I’ve learned translate to wheel spinning and make me a better overall spinner.

I learned to better handle live singles. I rarely have tangles. I learned this by butterflying the yarn onto one hand to raise the spindle rather than reaching for the spindle when it is hanging by a super long thread. If you are unsure what I mean by butterflying the yarn you can see it here at around the 5 minute mark. (yes, that’s me a few years ago.)

I learned that sometimes it’s better to take some time with a project rather than always trying to be in production mode. Please don’t mistake me, spinners all over the world spin pounds and pounds of yarn using only spindles but I am not as practiced at it as they are since my focus has been a different tool. I am thoroughly convinced if I made yarn exclusively on a spindle and carried one with me all of the time I would be able to do it too. but since that isn’t the case, I like to use a spindle for special fibers that I only ahve a little of so that I can savor the experience.

I learned (again) that the right tool for the job is often key to getting the results that I want. spindles can add twist extremely quickly and with very little tension on the yanr being made so they are perfect for spinning super fine/gossamer type yarns that spinning wheels may not be as good at.

I’m sure there is more that I’ve learned but it’s all in my hands and not in my brain right now.

Do you spin on a spindle? What have spindles taught you?

Maximizing Yardage for Spinning Cotton

Susan Hector visits the blog today with an explanation of how she maximizes her yardage when spinning cotton on spinning tools that don’t have a lot of storage capacity for singles. Thanks so much for being here, Susan!


I spin a lot of cotton.  Living in sunny and warm San Diego, it makes sense.  I spin Sea Island cotton, Arizona short and long staple cotton, and naturally colored cotton from California and South America.  I even grow my own cotton and spin it – I have over a dozen Acala cotton bushes in the back yard, watered with washing machine rinse water and fertilized with our compost. I dye cotton that is white and brown into the most astonishing range of indigo shades.  I generally weave with the cotton I spin and dye, although I have done some knitted lace collars and scarves.

Singles on a driven spindle wheel. A paper straw quill was used on the spindle to hold the spun singles yarn.

Singles on a driven spindle wheel. A paper straw quill was used on the spindle to hold the spun singles yarn.

I spin the cotton on a variety of tools: charkhas/driven spindle wheels, Akha spindles, feather weight top whorl spindles, a tahkli and other supported spindles – and also on fast flyer wheels.  With the variety of tools I use to spin cotton, I needed to come up with a way to organize and maximize the plying process.  My observation has been that when using a handspindle or driven-spindle wheel the amount of cotton you can get from one “spindle-full” is rather small.  I was constantly emptying the spindle and had to manipulate relatively short lengths to store and ply.  I had lots of quills and bobbins hanging around with resulting small skeins that were difficult to knit or weave with.  Tangles and poor singles quality were also common when trying to ply from quills or spindles.  I found a better way to do it.

Preparing the Singles

Removing the singles from the quill onto a ball. I use an old knitting needle to hold the quill.

Removing the singles from the quill onto a ball. I use an old knitting needle to hold the quill.

First, I have to prepare the singles that I spin for the plying process. I (almost) always wind off from the spinning tool onto a bobbin or other holder before plying cotton to maintain tension, distribute the twist, and find weak spots.  That’s easy enough from a handspindle.  But when using a driven spindle wheel, such as a charkha, it is not practical to wind off a spindle directly when it is full of cotton yarn.  Although some charkhas do allow the spinner to use interchangeable spindles, trying to ply directly from these has resulted in a nightmare of tangles and lost twist.  If I am using a spindle wheel that does not have an interchangeable spindle system (such as a Great Wheel), I use a traditional method of putting a wrapper onto the spindle, and spinning onto that wrapper.  The wrapper can be a piece of corn husk, sturdy drinking straw (with the base cut and slit to fit your spindle width as needed), or a firm twist of paper.  Then, when ready to remove the singles, you just carefully pull off the wrapper.  You have effectively created a quill full of singles yarn that you can wind off from without fear of tangling.  I put mine on a knitting needle to wind off from the side of the quill.

For more detail on how to unwind cotton yarn from various sources, including a handspindle, refer to Stephenie Gaustad’s book, The Practical Spinner’s Guide to Cotton, Flax, Hemp (Interweave Press 2014).  Ms. Gaustad included handspindles, charkas, and bobbins in her thorough and reasoned discussion.

Making a Plying Ball

OK, we have managed our singles so on to the plying.  Whether it’s a driven-spindle wheel, a flyer wheel, or handspindles I usually have two or more spinning tools going at the same time and multiple projects underway.  So I create a plying ball composed of singles from the various tools and projects to get the most yardage in my skeins (within reason, of course; you don’t want a huge skein with fine yarns).  Then I ply from the ball, either on a larger handspindle or on a wheel.  Thus I can combine several or many small batches from one or more spinning sources into a nice length skein which I can use for weaving or knitting.

Hector 3-

Singles successfully removed and wound onto a ball – this was one quill’s worth of singles.

Abby Franquemont discussed the use and value of plying from a multiple stranded plying ball in her book, Respect the Spindle (Interweave Press 2009).  While not referring directly to cotton, she noted that this plying method, used by Andean spinners, reduces tangles, manages the yarn, and allows the spinner to carry the plying ball anywhere to use.

The methods described below keep the yarn safe, sound, and under tension until it is plied.  If you try to ply directly from two spindles or quills you will have a nightmare of pigtails, kinks, and tangles – and breaks.  Been there, done that.  I tried two-end plying from a ball winder but I have found that this method does not keep the yarn under sufficient tension to retain the integrity of the yarn twist.  I might use that method, which is somewhat like the Andean plying bracelet, for the small amount of yarn left at the very end of the spinning project.

 

Plying from 2 or more handspindles

A. Keeping the singles on the spindles.
Spin one spindle-full of cotton yarn.  Set aside.  Spin a second spindle full on another spindle.  With one end from each, create a plying ball.  One will run out first.  Keeping the one that did not run out still attached to the plying ball, start again on another spindle.  When it is full, join to the end still attached and ply.  The original one will run out, and can be started over again.  This can go on forever but don’t make your plying ball too large.  Remember to overlap the singles while winding onto the ball and join firmly and securely when plying.  You will need to make sure this join is secure by twisting the two ends together.

B.  Wind off from 2 or more handspindles onto 2 separate balls.
Keep overlapping and joining the singles until you have a couple of ounces on each ball.  Then, with a third ball and the two singles balls in bowls, wind a plying ball being careful to join the ends as you encounter them; give them a twist and a good overlap.  Rewinding from the spindles first, before creating the plying ball, helps to distribute the twist and find any weak spots that are under twisted.

Plying from a driven-spindle wheel/charkha

Partially full ball (left) and full ball of singles; I would add at least two more spindle’s worth of singles onto the partial ball before I create a plying ball.

Partially full ball (left) and full ball of singles; I would add at least two more spindle’s worth of singles onto the partial ball before I create a plying ball.

If the wheel does not have interchangeable spindles, put a quill on the spindle (see above). Spin one quill full.  Wind this off onto a tennis ball or some other source under tension.  Spin another spindle, making sure that there is a little more on the second spindle than the first.  Using the yarn on the ball and the yarn still on the spindle, create a plying ball.  There should be some left on the spindle to join and begin again.  You can also use Method 1 with a driven-spindle wheel; just keep adding to the ball as the spindles fill up, making sure to create a good join.

 

Using a flyer wheel

In this case, I can put a lot more singles yarn on the wheel bobbin. I fill up one bobbin, then wind it off onto a ball or a spare bobbin.  Setting that aside, I fill up another bobbin at least as full as the first one.  I can then create a plying ball using the first bobbin and the second one still on the wheel or wound off as well.  As with Method 2, there should be some left on the wheel’s second bobbin to start up another batch.

 

Plying balls of various cotton yarns ready to ply. Notice double strands on the balls. It is critical to wind the singles together onto the balls with even tension, removing any pigtails or tangles as you wind. Uneven tension between the two singles will result in poor plied yarn.

Plying balls of various cotton yarns ready to ply. Notice double strands on the balls. It is critical to wind the singles together onto the balls with even tension, removing any pigtails or tangles as you wind. Uneven tension between the two singles will result in poor plied yarn.

I put the balls in a bowl when I am winding or plying.  My son made several shallow heavy ceramic bowls that are perfect for this purpose.  I use tennis balls for winding off and plying but you could use felt balls.  I recommend that the ball have a fuzzy surface to hold the layers of cotton yarn in place.  When you are making the balls, either from singles or with two singles held together for plying, make sure you keep even tension and open up any pigtails or tangles.  Hide these from your cat, by the way!

 

 

 

 

 

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SusanHectorSusan Hector is an anthropology professor at a local community college, and a consulting archaeologist for an environmental studies company.  She and her husband spin in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park in period attire, as part of the park’s Fiber Arts Guild, which is a living history program.  She has been spinning and weaving for over 30 years and can be found at SanDiegoFiberArtist@gmail.com.    

How to Spin

So early last month my new book came out. It’s by Storey Publishing and it’s called How to Spin. The title is right to the point I think.

Here’s what I know about learning to spin:

  1. It takes some time
  2. It takes some practice
  3. It takes some patience
  4. It’s best if you can have an in person teacher

Really, you can learn on almost any wheel. Consider all this years ago when the family had whatever wheel was available and whoever was learning learned on that wheel.

If you can’t get a wheel get a spindle. You can learn on any spindle.how to spin

You can learn with any fiber. People all over the world learn to spin with cotton or silk or cashmere as their first fiber.

As with everything, once you learn and begin to try things you can figure out what you love the most or what works best for you.

Stop worrying and wondering and thinking and just start trying. And if you already know how to spin, start trying new things and brooadening your horizons.

As far as the book goes, I think it’s good for most spinners. Sometimes you just forget something or there is some basic thing you never really got. Maybe check out How to Spin and see if I can answer your question.

 

Growing and Spinning Florida Native Cotton

Today we’ll hear from guest blogger Caroline Tacker, who tells us about how she got started in the fiber world with a spur-of-the moment purchase of some inexpensive cotton plants!


I grow and spin Florida Native Cotton, which at its best has a ¾-inch staple. I currently use an Ashford Kiwi and Traditional for my spinning, but I can also use a Tahkli spindle. This cotton was grown in my front yard.

The Cotton that Almost Wasn’t

The bloom from a Florida Native cotton plant

The bloom from a Florida Native cotton plant

Florida Native Cotton is part of the Hibiscus family, as are all cottons. It is an endangered plant in Florida. In the early 1940s a new bug was found on the cotton that resembled the boll weevil. Fearing another boll weevil-like attack, they decided to systematically destroy the plants. It just so happened that World War II broke out and those men left this project to join the armed forces. Hence some of this cotton survived… and NO new boll weevil was ever verified. There is an original strand of this cotton behind a synagogue at mile marker 31 on the way down to Key West. I can verify it’s there as I have seen it!

Florida Native Cotton grows much like our hibiscus: if left unattended it gets gangly and out of control. I do prune my plant back, to try and make it ascetically pleasing, and also to make it look like it belongs in the yard/garden. It is not cold tolerant; it prefers to grow below the subtropic line of Florida. I did lose all my plants to a freeze 5 years ago. Since then, a “volunteer” showed up.

The use of Florida Native Cotton in History

Caroline's cotton plant

Caroline’s cotton plant

There is limited information about Florida Native Cotton; the one thing I haven’t seen about it is whether or not it was ever really used for anything. I’m sure people used it because that would be in our nature as pioneers: use what you have. As to what they used it for or on, I have not found any information. As to spinning it, my thoughts are it would be too labor intensive and not a good use of time for people who made everything from scratch, but I cannot find anything confirming they did or did not.

My Fiber Journey

My start down the fiber path started over 11 years ago in the spring when I attended a Florida native plant sale in St Petersburg, Florida (where I live). There I found Florida Native Cotton seedlings which they were selling at 3 pots for $1. I thought… if they live great, if they don’t I’m only out $1.

I was told that cotton liked full sun and carbon monoxide, so I planted my seedlings in the easement of my front yard, next to the road. As they grew over the next several months, they bloomed and then I had this white beautiful fuzzy cotton! Now that I had this lovely fiber… I had to figure out how to process it.

harvested Florida Native cotton

harvested Florida Native cotton

I did several web searches – how to clean, gin, etc. – and after a year of not finding much about how to process cotton, other than commercially. I’d kind of given up. Then someone suggested I go to Heritage Village (our local living museum). I contacted them and asked if they could teach me how to process my cotton and in exchange I would become a volunteer. In March of 2006, I met Wendy who taught me how to “gin” my cotton by hand and spin it on a tahkli spindle. I had the process down in about 45 minutes.

While volunteering at Heritage Village during their County Jubilee Festival, I met Judy of the Pinellas Weavers Guild. She was spinning on a lovely spinning wheel. We talked for awhile and she invited me to come to a guild meeting. I did and joined the Guild in December of 2006. Have loved being around other “fiber” minded people, I am currently still a member… and I am their curre

Caroline's cotton ready to spin

Caroline’s cotton ready to spin

nt president. I have also been the past Secretary and Vice-President.

So to sum it up… almost 12 years ago I purchased three Florida Native Cotton plants for $1. I have since learned to spin on a tahkli spindle, purchased 2 spinning wheels, a drum carder, a loom and other associated small equipment. I “play” with lots of different fibers, and I do sell some of the things I make, but I ALWAYS come back to cotton. I just love it.

 

 

Samples of Caroline's cotton spinning projects

Samples of Caroline’s cotton spinning projects

 

 

 

 

Have you ever tried to grow or spin cotton straight from the plant? Tell us about your experiences & ask your questions in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

crt bio pic for PLY 2016

 

 

Caroline Tacker is a Florida native born in Orlando, living in St. Petersburg for the past 25 years. She volunteers with Heritage Village as a living history docent (spinning cotton by hand) and is a member of the Pinellas Weavers Guild, Bay Area Knitting Guild, and Florida Tropical Weavers Guild. Find her on Facebook for more information.

 

 

A Spinning Wheel in Good Working Order

I’m leaving today to teach some classes in Iowa this weekend for a guild. I’ve never been to Iowa. But it’s not that far away so I’ll pack the car and drive there. By driving I can stop for as many Starbucks hot chocolates as I want. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

The classes I’m teaching are a breeds studay and a class about woolen and worsted. The breeds study requires either a spinning wheel or a spindle and the woolen/worsted class is wheel specific. In the notes for both classes when I list the equipment needed I specify a “spinning wheel in good working order”. Many of my teacher friends use the same language. I wanted to just talk for a short time today about what exactly that means.

Most of the time the wheels people bring to class are fine but there have been several times where the a student’s wheel wasn’t fine and then things get hard for me, the student and the entire class. If a wheel shows up in class that isn;t in good working order I often will spend a bit of time trying to get it to go. Since I am often traveling a far distance to teach I don’t have an extra wheel with me to lend just in case. So the best case scenario is where I get the wheel going with just some minor tweeks. Worst case is that the wheel has bigger issues than I can fix in class and the student doesn’t have a wheel to use. If I have brought a wheel along with me I often lend mine.

I have found that most of the time when the worst happens it’s because the wheel in question was borrowed for the class and the student didn’t try it out before bringing it.

 

Anyway, There are things I check on my wheel before I bring it to class and there are things that should b checked out before trying to use a wheel that you may not be familiar with. So here goes. long draw

  1. The bobbins should all spin freely on the bobbin shaft. Dont just try one bobbin. If the class calls for more than one, try them all out. Spinning freely means that you give it a push and it spins several complete revolutions before you touch it again.
  2. When treadling with no yarn or tension, the wheel spins freely and treadling is almost effortless.
  3. The treadles are actually attached to the footmen and those attachments don’t look like they will fall apart at any moment.
  4. All bolts and screws are tightened and will remain tight oveer the length of the class.
  5. All front feet are present and accounted for. (This pertains to especially Schacht Wheels that have adjustable feet.) I check this before I leave for a class and then again before I put my wheel in the car after a class.
  6. If the drive band hasn’t been changed in the last 6 months and it’s cotton, change it.
  7. If it’s scotch tension, make sure there is a scotch tension brake band attached along with a spring or other bouncy option.

I thnk that’s it. It looks like a lot but it really only will take about 5 to 10 minutes to get it all in order and make sure you’re all set.

Let me know if you have any questions!

While I have your attention, I still have a couple of spots left in one or two of my Plyaway classes so if you can get to Kansas City in April, sign up!

 

Singles on a Sock Machine

Guest blogger Cindy Craft is here to share her experiments with using a Circular Sock Machine to knit single ply socks. She also uses a flatbed machine for color work using singles. If you’ve ever wondered about knitting machines, we think you’ll be very inspired by her post!

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I’m a hand spinner. I spin every night; it’s the way I wind down at the end of the day. As a result, I make a lot of yarn – there are several blanket chests in my house full of handspun yarn.  I knit with my handspun yarn but I spin much faster and much more often than I knit.  Several years ago it occurred to me that unless I wanted to die with a small mountain of handspun yarn, I needed to find a way to use my handspun faster.

circular sock machine

A sock in progress on Cindy’s CSM.

Circular Sock Machines had been on my radar for many years, but I was reluctant to buy an antique as they’re expensive and not always functional, so I had never purchased one. Then one day I was vending at a local sheep shearing show and a vendor a couple of booths down had a CSM that they were demonstrating – and not just any CSM but a new CSM! So I marched down with a small skein of handspun to see if it would knit on the machine. It did, and within a month we had our own CSM and I was happily using it to knit socks out of my vast supply of handspun.

 

The resulting Navajo Churro socks.

The resulting Navajo Churro socks.

On one of the Ravelry CSM forums I encountered someone who was knitting socks on their CSM from handspun singles. This blew my mind, because I had always been taught to ply my yarn for knitting. I had always thought it might be possible to use singles for weaving but never for knitting – there would just be too much biasing of the knitted fabric. I figured I’d give it a try; even if it was a disaster I wouldn’t have invested more than a couple of hours to make the socks.   The resulting socks were just fine. If I looked carefully I could see that the loops were not quite even but the resulting fabric wasn’t twisted or misshapen.

 

grey purple sock

If you look at the photo to the right, you can see that the right side of the knit loops is narrower than the left side but the shape of the socks themselves is even and not twisted.  These socks were made from handspun singles of 50% wool of unknown breeding and 50% alpaca that I processed from raw fiber. This photo was before washing.


 

 

trio of socks To the left is a photo of three different pairs of socks I made using singles yarns on the CSM. In this photo you’ll see three socks all made from handspun singles and knit on the sock machine. These are all socks that I have been wearing and washing by hand for at least a few months.   The striped sock is made from a BFL x Romney fleece and was dyed – there is almost no biasing of the stitches present in that sample.  The blue sock was made from a Dorset x Southdown.  It might be 50/50 or 25/75 as it came from a fleece from a local flock but I don’t know which sheep. There’s lots of biasing in this sock to the point where you can actually see the stitches twist on the sock. The third sock is undyed Romney with a bit of sparkle blended in.  This is the oldest of the three socks and you can see some of the wear in the right hand corner.  This pair is starting its third year.  I spun and knitted these socks in very similar ways – the only real difference is the wool type used.

When I started using singles for socks it got me thinking about using singles for other knitting projects.  At the same time, using the CSM got me thinking about using a flatbed knitting machine to speed up my knitting.  I’ve been knitting singles on a flatbed for the past couple of years now, and I have found the biasing to be nearly imperceptible.  Below are a couple of photos of items knit on the flatbed.
IMG_0775       mittens

The black and white hat is made from a black Shetland fleece, and I think the white is probably some of the Dorset/Southdown cross fleeces I got in 2014. I am hard pressed to see any biasing in this knitting. The blue and white mittens are made from the 2015 Dorset/Southdown cross fleeces, and the biasing is more visible in this knitting.  Perhaps the all over pattern in the black and white hat helps to disguise any biasing that may be present.

Do you knit with singles? Have you ever used them on a knitting machine? What have your experiences been?

 

cindy photo

 

Meet Cindy: Spinning is at the core of what I do but yarn is not a finished object so I’m always exploring new ways and tools to use my yarn. You can see more of the ways I use my yarn at our website, www.subitofarm.com.

 

Spinning for Something Big

So I’m in the midst of this big project that I brought on myself. I2015-08-02 18.19.05 probably have at least another year of spinning and weaving before I finish the original plan and since I began I’ve thought of new questions and experiments I want to look into.

The thing is there are many smaller projects inside the big project but the smaller projects aren”t even that small. You’ve probably heard that I’m spinning for weaving. I’m weaving yardage for skirts. The original plan has 7 skirts.

There are 4 blog posts about this project on my website starting here http://bethsmithspinning.com/the-great-skirt-project/

The Schacht Blog followed Jillian and I throough a weaving project. http://schachtspindle.com/smith-and-moreno-take-on-weaving/ There are 8 total posts there.

Now here’s the thing; each skirt needs a minimum of 5000 yards of 2 ply yarn. That’s 10,000 yards of singles. For the yarns I’m spinning for this skirts each bobbin takes 9 to 10 hours to fill. And I’d actually like to spin the next one a bit finer.

Please don’t misunderstand. I make my share of hats and scarves and cowls. They take a little less planning. But I’ve always like to go big. Big bags, big baskets and big projects.

See the card on top of the wool and bobbins and yarn? That’s my control card. It has singles wrapped around it and a 2 ply and 3 ply sample attached. See how it’s all bent up? By the time of this photo I had spun about 3000 yards of 2 ply plus those 3 bobbins of singles. So the card had been through a lot of handling. That’s how I make the same yarn over a long time.

2015-11-30 07.52.27But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. Many, many people have asked me how I can spin that much yarn that is the same. Same size, same color, same everything. There’s no real secret. But I’ll tell yoou what I know now that I’ve finished three skirts and I’m spinning for the 4th.

After the first bobbin, the yarn begins to be something I can spin without a lot of thought. I’m not switching back and forth between projects too much so it’s not difficult to get back in the groove from one day to the next. I try to spin every day for at least an hour and usually 2 to 3 hours when I can. Practice makes perfect.

Also, I watch a lot of TV. I DVR plenty of things and there are also several series on Netflix that I watch. Since the yarn gets to be something I don’t have to think about I can watch the TV and spin at the same time. Lou is often amazed at that.

I’m very goal oriented. I like to set goals, and set a date for accomplishing that goal. Sometimes I am a bit late – ask Jacey! But usually I get there.

And finally, I like to spin. Come on, you can’t fool me. You have a favorite yarn size that you spin the most. So here’s what i would recommend if you have the desire to spin for a larger project such as a sweater…or crocheted pants. Begin with your favorite yarn. Once you finish the project, I promise you’ll want to do it all over again.

Want help planning your project? Let me know. Need moral support? I’m a great cheerleader!

 

 

Spinning “Lopi” Singles

Guest blogger Beth Abbott is here to share with us her experiences spinning “Lopi” style singles yarns and using them in her knitting. Follow along with her exploration of the history of these yarns and her efforts to engineer a way to spin them for herself.

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When I started my study on Icelandic fleece, one of the first things I learned was that although traditionally the fleece had been separated into the two coats, thel (undercoat) and tog (long hairy outer coat), currently in Iceland, to my knowledge, there was/is no one spinning the coats separately. The two coats are now spun combined into several styles of singles yarns.

Lopi in History

In the late 1980’s there was “Lopi” under the brand name of Alafoss and a yarn that was mostly used in Iceland called “eingirni” meaning “singles”, a fine fairly firmly twisted yarn used in lace knitting. In early 2000 there were two more yarns added to the collection called Lett (light) Lopi (about half the diameter of the original Lopi) and a Heavy Lopi which was about twice the diameter of the regular Lopi. The company has undergone a reorganization and is now Istex.

A lopi plate showing the size of the strand – note the lack of twist.

The word lopi means roving in Icelandic and the plötulopi plates that the Icelanders use for knitting their popular patterned yoked sweaters are actually just the last roving step in the process of spinning the fine “eingirni.” Usually three strands of this roving are worked together and the result is a very bulky but very light airy sweater, very warm, because the air is trapped in the yarn. The Lopi yarn was developed for the export market because they thought it would be easier for non-Icelanders to knit.

 

 

a hand knit sweater from real lopi plates

a hand knit sweater from real lopi plates

An interesting point is that those yoked sweaters have only been a tradition in Iceland since the 1920s, when a creative spinner decided to try to knit on her knitting machine with the rovings as they came from the mill, without spinning them. When she found this was possible, it opened up a whole new area of knitting for the hand knitter as well as the machine knitter.

 

Re-creating a Lopi style yarn

The original Lopi yarn has about one twist per inch and a twist angle of 15º. The diameter is about 8 – 10 wraps per inch. As many of you will know, it is difficult to spin a yarn this soft and thick consistently, and with some air to prevent it from being dense and heavy. I found that preparation was key to success in spinning a Lopi style yarn.

handspun Lett lopi and regular lopi style yarns

handspun Lett lopi and regular lopi style yarns

To prepare an Icelandic fleece: wash, dry and then carefully tease out the locks, paying special attention to the butt ends which tend to clump together during the washing. It is worth noting that the “thel” or undercoat is extremely fine and short and felts very easily, so that care is also needed in the washing process – NO playing with your hands – while the fleece is in the hot soapy water. Carefully lift the fleece from the slightly cooled water to empty the tub and fill with rinse water. Try to keep the temperature of the rinse water close to that of the slightly cooled wash water. Again – no movement while it is rinsing. Carefully lift out of the rinse water and either roll in a towel and dry flat or put in the washer on JUST SPIN – no rinsing process – to take out the excess water. Then lay flat on towels to dry. Once the fleece is dry, the teasing is fairly easy, though time consuming. However, the time spent in this part of the process will save time and agony later.

6-11After carefully teasing out the locks I put them through my drum carder. I usually use a Louet drum carder for Icelandic as it has longer and finer teeth and will take the loft of the combined coats more successfully than many other carders. Usually I put the fleece through at least twice, splitting the first batt into two lengthwise and then putting each through again. I hold the batt up to the light and see if there are neps and lumps that need further carding.

Once the fleece is well carded, I split the batt into narrow strips and predraft these into a sort of roving form. These I spin on a Louet wheel, because of its larger orifice and bobbins. Using the lowest bobbin/flyer ratio you have, work slowly to draft a bulky yarn, as consistent as possible. Any lumps often tend to drift to the outside of the yarn and can be picked off. Aim for one twist per inch. If need be, because you have only a high ratio wheel, you can put the yarn through the wheel again in the opposite direction to remove a little of the twist.

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It is not easy for the hand spinner to create the roving style of Lopi but, by using my fingers to fan the fibres and letting the twist pick up the fibres, I am able to create a very light and airy, softly spun singles yarn. If I put in a little more twist, I can ply two strands together and get a Lopi diameter yarn that is airier than the original Lopi yarn, and one I like better.

 

closeup of hand knit real lopi sweater - purchased in iceland - long hairy look is due to the long tog fibres in the yarn

closeup of hand knit real lopi sweater – purchased in iceland – long hairy look is due to the long tog fibres in the yarn

The next time someone tells you that you must cut the fibres to be the same length for blending, or that fibres should be compatible for blending, remind them that the Icelandic fleece, with its strong outer coat like a long Lincoln and its fine under coat, more like the finest, shortest Merino, are regularly blended and spun in Iceland.

 

 

 

 

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Beth Abbott has been spinning since 1975 and earned her Master Spinner Certificate from Georgian College, Owen Sound Ontario, in 1990. Her in-depth study is now in print as a book. Beth teaches in the Spinning Certificate Course at Haliburton School of Art on a regular basis. For more information on the Icelandic Fleece, consult her book “The Icelandic Fleece – a Fibre for All Reasons”. It is available from Beth and Ron Abbott – contact elizabethandronabbott@gmail.com