Call for Proposals: Winter 2021 issue on Head and Hands

The end of the year in the Northern hemisphere means winter and lots of accessories to keep warm. Projects that keep your head and hands warm are some of the most satisfying projects to spin. They are reasonably sized, and the sky is the limit as far as the yarn you spin.

What are your favorite yarns for hats, mittens, and gloves to keep you cozy from the first snap of cool through seriously cold and why? How do you spin a durable yarn for mittens or gloves that will last a season or more of dog walking in the cold mornings? Do you ski or sled? What fibers, yarns, and garments deal best with cold and wet?

Head, hands, and heart, what do you keep in mind when spinning and knitting to keep your family warm? Show us how you recreate historic mittens or gloves. Do you have any traditional knitting in your family tree? Tell us the story.

Small projects are a great way to sample brand-new-to-you yarns; tell us how you do it. Or maybe you use a small project like a hat as the sample and swatch for a bigger project? Share your process! Small accessories are wonderful for special yarns, yarns that might be too fragile (or expensive) for a whole sweater. What is the most luxurious yarn you would make a hat out of?

Not all hats, mitts, and gloves are about keeping warm; there are plenty of times you wear them for style – they are great for showing off yarns. What yarns are great to show off color, color, color? Have you even knit gloves in a wild color combo that you’d never use anywhere else? What is the best yarn structure for different types of colorwork? Fair Isle, intarsia, multi-color brioche, or slip stitch?

Quick but never boring, what’s your favorite yarn for heads and hands? Accessories beg to be embellished; how do you spin to embroider on your handspun projects?

Submit your ideas here

Proposals of articles and projects are due by December 1, 2020. We’ll get back to you in January, and final pieces are due June 1, 2021.

How to Choose a Second Spindle

words and photos by Amelia Garripoli

Great! You got your hands on a starter spindle and have been impressing friends with your new-found skills. But you know there’s more. You see lots of other spindles online and among your spindle-spinning friends. How do you choose what to get next?


For me, the answer was easy – my son, a toddler at the time, sat on my first spindle, a homemade CD spindle. So I went to the only local fiber store at the time and bought the only spindle they offered, a top-whorl Mongold spindle. I got lucky as the Mongold was one of the best spindles available at the time. I didn’t mind the price as I was adoring this new skill and knew I would be doing it a lot. And it was worth it!

So, one approach to take is to choose an “upgrade” from your starter spindle, toddler-damaged or not. Given you have put in time on that spindle already, the most straightforward upgrade is a well-made spindle of the same type so you can continue applying the skills you are developing.

Try a different type

But perhaps you are more adventurous than that; if so, you might want to choose a different type of spindle as your second spindle. If you started with a top-whorl, perhaps try a Turkish spindle. If you started with a tahkli, perhaps try a Navajo spindle. If you started with a bottom-whorl, perhaps try a Tibetan spindle. You will find you have a lot more to learn, as each type of spindle has its own techniques to master. But having 2 different types of spindles also means you can put one down when you get overwhelmed by it and try the other.

My third spindle helped me – after the Mongold, I got a Navajo spindle. Having the chance to put one down and try the other, I could apply skills common to all spindles such as drafting, while moving between suspended and supported spindle skill development. This let me persevere. When the Navajo spindle frustrated me, I would return to the Mongold spindle.

Match your skills

Your current skills may also be pointing you to a second spindle. If you are spinning super-fine and fighting your spindle to do so, try a featherweight – Bosworth makes excellent ones, or look for an Ahka spindle, which are typically also light. Or if you are loving chunky yarn, you may want to try a Navajo spindle or a Portuguese spindle. These supported spindles are good for spinning thicker yarns, as are heavier suspended spindles. Focus your choice to focus your spinning, choosing the spindle appropriate for the yarn you want to spin.

Choose lightweight spindles for finer yarns, heavier spindles for thicker yarns. Or look to the historical spindle used for the yarn you want to produce – spinning is such an ancient skill that historically appropriate spindles often are the best tool for the job.

Watch a friend

A fourth way to make the choice is to see what your spindle-spinning friends spin. Find out what spindle type they like, and get one of those. Your friend may happily help you learn its techniques and provide you with ample demonstrations of how to spin on it. In fact, learning by mimicking those who already have the skills is a time-tested way of developing spinning skills.

I have a friend whose favorite spindle is the tahkli. The tahkli is not a common beginner spindle, but she gravitated toward it due to her love of cotton. Her demonstrations, calm technique, and results convinced me I could master this spindle’s needs and kept me going when I struggled to become a supported spindle spinner.

Make one spindle work for you

I have run across people who have only one spindle and do not desire to own more. I applaud their minimalism, and with persistence you can make one basic spindle spin a wide variety of yarn, despite everything written to encourage you to own more than one spindle, including this article! That one spindle could be a simple homemade spindle; it could be a suspended spindle or a supported spindle. My go-to “solitary” spindle would be a Turkish spindle just under an ounce with a long enough stem below the arms that I could use it supported or suspended. This would let me spin fine spindles, and it would also spin thicker yarns and ply, albeit a little slowly at first until the weight of the yarn on it helped speed it up. 

Now, these 4 sensible options – upgrade, adventure, focus, or friend – may all fly out the window if you get the opportunity to go to a wool festival vendor hall, in person or virtually. If you see a spindle that appeals to you, it may become your second spindle. Like choosing fiber that appeals to you, having a tool you like will help you persist as you learn.

Happy spindling!

Amelia Read Garripoli spins, weaves, and dyes near her parents in Colorado, having recently relocated her stash, spindles, and lots more from Washington. She’s spinning and weaving her way through the pandemic at home but can’t wait to attend and teach at Colorado guilds and festivals!

The tahklis and a leather strip to spin them on. With the strip on my leg, I can spin in a small space.

I was interested to try out some of the beads I have; the conic ones are African and the round one is South American – or so I was told at the point of purchase. The one on the double-pointed knitting needle spun the best, nicely balanced. A little fimo bowl travels with these in a pencil case for use while spinning. I still like my tahklis better but was pleased with the bead that spun well.

Ahkas! These are my favorite support spindle, though you wouldn’t know that from their nakedness.

Spindles can be special just because someone cared; the red ladybug style was made by my BFF Debbie, and the black polka-dotted one was made by my daughter Natalie when Debbie gifted her the paints and parts. They are sweet spinners, at just about an ounce in weight, and the dots on the shaft give them a nice grippability for flicking. Even toy wheel spindles rock!


A flight of spindles! Lovely Turkish/cross-arm spindles, along with a metal bowl and dimpled wooden saucer to try out support spindling. As you can tell, I got mesmerized winding the mandala on the Snyder weighted-arm spindle.

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.

Antique Wheel Resources

gathered by Danielle Bombard

Danielle’s article on Antique Wheels is in the Basics (Autumn 2020) issue of PLY. She’s collected these resources as a companion piece to her article.

It can be very confusing and daunting when starting with antiques, such as where to find the maintenance kit items, parts, and even knowledgeable people. This is my top list of references and supplies to help you amass a herd and to maintain it.


A Pictorial Guide to American Spinning Wheels by David A. Pennington and Michael B. Taylor (ISBN-13: 978-0915836017)
This book is essential to finding the history, missing parts, and the dating your wheel and can help you figure out how to price your antiques for sale. Although I won’t be parting with my wheels anytime soon, it is great to know the value of them.

Spinning Wheels and Accessories (Schiffer Book for Collectors) by Michael B Taylor and David A. Pennington (ISBN-13: 978-0764319730)

This is the book that helped me find a definitive answer to the mystery of my wheels. It has colored pictures and pricing of wheels. However, keep in mind that the prices listed are at least 10 years of age.

The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning: Being A Compendium of Information, Advice, and Opinions On the Noble Art & Craft by Alden Amos (ISBN-13: 978-1883010881)
While this book has no identifications of older wheels, it does provide key terms and the history of the spinning wheel.


Forums are great for quick and more in-depth information. (I also list my wheels in the handspun section of Ravelry. It is easier to keep track of parts and when they were serviced by Skip. Plus, I am always perpetually losing paperwork in regards to my fiber arts.) These forums are the first places to start. 

Antique Spinning Wheels

This Ravelry group is great for initial identification and for even purchasing old wheels on the Wheel Railroad. This is where I was able to identify my J.Jacobs wheel and to find out about some missing parts. 

Spindle Wheels

This Ravelry group strictly deals with Great Walking Wheels, pendulum wheels, and wheels with spindles on them.

CPW Lovers

The Ravlery CPW Lovers strictly deals with Canadian Production Wheels. The hallmarks of a CPW are metal treadles, a metal sliding tensioner, and sometimes a metal footman. The wheels are sometimes marked with a maker’s mark. Most CPWs come from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

The Spinning Wheel Sleuth

Great all around information on wheels and, in particular, antiques. They also cover antique looms. It is worth purchasing a subscription.

Antique Spinning Wheels, Looms and Fiber Equipment

This Facebook group is the largest and most knowledgeable group. You will get answers within 8 hours. Some members of this group do Wheel Railroad transporting. 


I’m sure there are more wheelwrights out there, but these are the 2 I know of. Skip Watt of Watt Heritage Fiber Tools is my go-to guy because he is local and is good at what he does. Note: Most antique wheels are not recommended for shipping via postal systems of any kind. More than heartache will come to you if shipping. I have seen pictures of nearly 300-year-old wheels in splinters because of careless shipping, no matter how well packaged they were.

Watt Heritage Fiber Tools, Greenville, NY. Once on this website you will need to click on Products and then scroll down to the Fiber Tools section (note: website automatically plays music upon visit). Skip also has a Facebook page.

Bobbin Boy, North Carolina


I have a wicker basket full of my supplies for keeping my wheels going. It’s helpful to keep extra parts nearby since help may not be anywhere close to hand.

Howard’s Feed and Wax

Howard’s Feed and Wax is my go to for reconditioning old wood and making it glow like new. I can find this at True Value or at Lowe’s for under 10 dollars in the paint department. 

Cloth Baby Diapers
These make fantastic rags for cleaning. The featured cloth diaper was my own as a baby, and my parents and I reused them for all the wood polishing we have.

Tandy Leather Company

Tandy Leather is great for those bearings and other leather parts. Depending on where you live, you might also look for local Amish makers that have leather goods and are willing to work with you.

Cotton Kitchen or Butcher’s Twine

Good old cotton kitchen twine on the cone has saved me on more than one occasion. I try to precut a few drive bands and put them into a kit if I go traveling. I even keep a few drive bands in my car just in case I pull over to stop at an antique store for that special wheel to try out. I can find butcher’s twine at my local kitchen/restaurant supply store. There are a variety of weights of twine. For the Saxony and table styled wheels, the thinnest ones possible without being thread are best, in my opinion.

Hoppe’s Gun Oil or Grease

I use Hoppe’s Gun Oil or Grease as an alternative to regular spinning wheel oil since I live in the middle of nowhere without the benefit of a local yarn shop. My wheelwright approved of the notion. Plus, it is half of the price tag of regular spinning oil. More money for fleeces!

Some people use Danish Oil to seal in the final cleaning.


Beeswax bars are great for waxing down drive bands so they do not slip when in use. You can also melt down the beeswax and use it in a homemade recipe for polishing old wood. Better Bee is a local company to me that has excellent customer service and can answer the most far-out questions.

For the Great Wheels and their maiden bearings

Most of the Great Wheels use corn husks for bearings and to hold the spindle in place. You can pick some up from a Mexican grocery store or even many other grocery stores.

Happy antique shopping, spinning, and finding another deep rabbit hole!

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.

Coronavirus Spindles

A few months ago in a spinning group on Ravelry, a spinner posted about how the image of the coronavirus might make a good spindle whorl, with the weight on the outside. She made one out of a wooden bead and wood screws. Inspired by this post, Jame A. (distaff on Ravelry), decided to make her own version out of polymer clay, wood toothpicks, and dowels. (“I chose to make the spindles with old polymer clay I had on hand as a reflection of the need to isolate and stay close to home. For me, spinning has been a comforting constant during the disruption of this pandemic.”) She says the spindles are a bit fragile and need more glue or something, but they are effective spindles. Here’s what Jame wrote on the forum post about creating her own version of a coronavirus spindle:

“For me, making a model of a virus and using it for a spindle serves a couple of purposes. One: the creative act helps provide a distraction from current events, and two: the fact that we know what the virus looks like represents all the scientific knowledge that is available about viruses and provides some comfort that the medical community will be able to come up with appropriate measures to alleviate the illness.

“There is also some bleak humor in watching a whole lot of people realize that the term ‘viral’ does not just apply to a cute meme becoming very popular. Going viral has real and serious consequences. ([The original poster] had expressed the thought that if others picked up on and spread the idea of making a coronavirus spindle, it would ‘go viral.’)”

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.

The Basics Issue is coming: sneak peek

The new issue of PLY is almost ready! Make sure you get your subscription in/renewed by August 25th to get this fantastic issue.

The Basics issue is anything but basic! Since all of us learn about spinning in vastly different ways, in various places, and at different times, we’ve all got knowledge gaps. This issue strives to rectify that, informing newer spinners while exciting those who have been adding twist to fiber for some time – from what you should have in your spinning toolkit to why staple length matters to different types of joins to what to do if a strand breaks while plying (2-ply, cables, chain plied, etc). We cover balance and measuring your yarns as well as color, treadling, and the difference between woolen and worsted. Plus, there are some fantastic projects you’ll want to knit over and over, in all the yarn sizes! This is an issue to keep and refer back to again and again.

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.

Putting Your Best Skein Forward: Tips for Preparing Skeins for Fair Competition

words and photos by Sue Meissner

You may be considering entering a skein in the handspun competition of a fair, but you may not know how to enter. Or you may have entered but did not have a pleasing outcome. Let’s talk about how to put your best skein forward – not in terms of technical spinning but the very basics of getting your handspun skein pleasantly noticed by the judge. These top 5 tips will improve your chances even before the judge looks at your twists per inch.

Read all the entry rules for the handspun category

Each fair publishes its own entry or program book. These list the entry classes or categories for fair submissions, and in the thick, small font books, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by unfamiliar terms. For county and state fairs in the U.S., the 2 broad entrant divisions are 4-H and Open Class, though actual nomenclature could be different from state to state. Unless you are entering under the county youth agriculture club, you will be considered Open Class, a catch-all for anyone not in 4-H. If you are a youth but not in 4-H, you too can enter under the Open Class division.

Handspinning may take a bit of searching to find in the program book as it may be a subcategory under Needle Arts or Fiber Arts. Getting the correct category or class number is important. You must know the specific competition number in order to enter. You could lose valuable points or even be disqualified if you do not enter the correct competition class number. Double check or have the entry fair official verify you are submitting the correct item in the correct class number. Fair officials and judges are not allowed to correct tag entries once submitted.

Next, carefully read the rules for handspun skein entries. Rules may be revised with updated requirements. Competitions may have very specific rules on weight, yardage, ply, fiber content, tie up, number of skeins per class, accompanying material, and label requirements. Be sure you read every word, and check the next page as rules may carry over. It is up to the entrant to have read and complied with the published rules.

Submit your best yardage

Each competition should have printed rules on yardage or weight required. Read these carefully. A search of 5 state fair competitions listed ranges of 1-oz to 2-oz skeins depending on the actual entry requirements for that particular class. Why fixed lengths or weights? Judges need to see a certain length of yarn to properly evaluate. And if the skeins of a particular class are set side by side, it makes judging easier as the skeins are approximately the same size.

Some spinners are so thrilled with their bobbin full of yarn that they feel they should submit every inch. That is not required. Choose the best continuous length of yardage that meets the minimum requirement. It is common for the first yards and final yards to differ from the center section. Chop off those uneven, lumpy beginning and ending yards and keep the best continuous center section. Always put your best yardage forward.

Present skeins well

One of the most important things you can do is to present a beautiful skein. That means well tied and labeled according to the rules. Some fair books are explicit about the length, weight, or tie up of the skeins. Even if entry books are vague, skein presentation follows some basic conventions.

Suggested tools to help you with skein preparation: scale, ties, 1-yard niddy noddy, index card label

Some fair entry rules require 1- or 2-yard wound skeins. To achieve this, be sure your niddy noddy measures a standard length. Use a tape measure and wind around as if you were winding your yarn. My first niddy noddy measured 54 inches. I decided to invest in 1-yard and 2-yard niddy noddys. If you are required to submit in metric, use a metric niddy noddy.

How do you know which length to use? If the competition rules specify, apply those. A general rule of thumb is to use a niddy noddy of sufficient length for the type of yarn and yardage or weight required. So, for a 1-oz laceweight, I would probably use the 1-yard niddy noddy. For thicker worsted yarn, I would reach for a 2-yard winder. Basically, what I want is to make sure it will not look too thin nor too thick as a skein.

Some competitions may emphasize weight minimums. Be sure to pre-weigh your entry skein at home. Yes, some judges do weigh if they suspect the minimum weight was not submitted. Yet overly heavy skeins with excessive weight will not win any bonus points.

Once the yarn is wound on the niddy noddy, be sure the ends and the yarn threads are secure. When you get to the end of winding on your best continuous length of yarn, be sure you secure the beginning to the end of the yarn with a little knot. That will make a continuous hank with no loose, dangling ends.

Half hitch and balls are yarn are not suitable for competitions

The figure 8 tie in 3–4 places is a standard tie up. This tie up is often specified in the entry book rules. Beginner spinners may have been encouraged to use a half hitch method whereby you take the final length of yarn and make a half hitch with the same yarn, but do not use this method for competitions. Your skein may be untwisted and examined closely and needs to hold up under that potential handling.

Finally, after you have measured out the required length and used an appropriate tie up, twist the skein until the ends meet. This helps with presentation and handling during competition.

Well tied and presented skeins suitable for competition. Left to right: silk/cashmere, cotton, Romney wool

A beautifully tied and presented skein demonstrates the spinner understands the basics of skein tie up and presentation. And you want your skein to look as tidy and neat as possible to catch the judge’s eye. Yarn that fails to meet required length, weight, tie-up or presentation may easily be set aside by busy judges.

Note: Novelty yarns may only require a tied hank and not twisted upon itself. The rules may mention how specialty yarns should be presented.

Label skeins properly

A review of state fair guidelines shows most require not only the standard tag with class number but also information such as end use, which is what this yarn would be best used for. So a laceweight could be labeled “for a lace shawl.” It would not be labeled for a tote bag. Although this may seem obvious it shows that you the entrant understand an appropriate use for this particular yarn.

Moreover, you may be required to include other information such as ply, yardage, weight, fiber content and percentages, spinning method (e.g., worsted, woolen), or kind of spinning for novelty yarns (e.g., core spun, bouclé). Some of these may not be required but are good practice in my opinion.

Where should you put that information? My review of a few fair books says it may be written on the back of the entry tag. Other competitions specify a separate 3×5-inch information card attached to the entry tag or skein.

Supplemental submissions may also be required. For example, one fair required a 4-inch square knitted or crochet swatch along with the yarn. In such competitions, do not be surprised if your entry gets disqualified for not submitting the additional swatch requirement. Why would a swatch be required? Seeing how the yarn looks in a piece gives extra attention to balance, ply, and consistency as that yarn is used. It may also help judges scrutinize whether the yarn is truly handspun and not a commercially spun and relabeled submission.

States may promote “Made in X state” competitions that require other supporting documentation such as sales receipt from a state producer and/or submission of a staple of raw fleece. These additions help verify the fiber meets the class competition requirements. Special prize money has been set aside to promote state producers, and integrity of the stipulations needs to be upheld.

Other considerations

You have spun, tied, and labeled your skein beautifully, but it can still get disqualified. How? It was submitted under the wrong class number.

Why would this happen? Most competitions limit one skein per entrant per class. So, the entrant who really wishes to submit 2 skeins may submit the second into any other category. But a 2-ply 100% wool worsted spun skein does not belong in the alpaca/llama class, so choose the category appropriately.

In an effort to keep abreast with current spinning trends, fairs have revised and even expanded categories to encourage more submissions. There are unique categories for exotic fibers, plant fibers, camelids, and silks. There are entry categories for beginners, youth, or seniors. State-sourced fleeces and fibers are not unusual. Therefore, consider all the listed categories your skeins could be entered under. And if you have 2 skeins in mind, choose the category that best fits the skein, fiber, and your experience. Often the more specialty fiber or yarn categories have fewer entries, thus increasing your chance of winning.

Entering handspun yarn competitions can seem intimidating, but the above tips will make sure your skein is accurately and beautifully presented. Judges are human. They are under a lot of pressure to do a lot of work in a limited amount of time. One way to reduce that workload is to assign fewer points or even disqualify skeins that do not meet the printed requirements so their most valuable time can be used for actually judging the spinning.

It may seem weird to emphasize rules over the finished yarn. Isn’t a competition about judging spinning? Of course, but once the minimum requirements are met, that is when a judge brings out measuring tape, WPI tools, and linen counters for actual yarn scrutiny.

Much of a yarn competition is actually up to you. Simple attention to detail in terms of skein presentation and entry accuracy will put your best skein forward. Who knows, you could very well end up with Best in Show.

Sue Meissner’s fiber journey has led her to work through the Old’s College Master Spinner Program with her current thesis project spinning linen and metallic thread for 17th-century English bobbin lace. She has been a fair judge for several years and is in the process of opening a fiber arts shop called Nauvoo Fiber Arts in the 1840s tourist town of Nauvoo, Illinois. Her historical spinning chat and fiber arts tutorials are on her YouTube channel, Spinning the Past as well as on Facebook. And she is pleased to announce the imminent launch of a new historical handspinning/fiber arts podcast, The Spinner’s Craft.

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: Ilona Vitti

Although disappointed at having PLYAway canceled this year, Ilona didn’t let that stop her from expanding her spinning knowledge and experience.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started spinning.

My alter ego is a cat, so curiosity must be satisfied. Every year at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, I stop at the spinners and weavers area, watching as they commit acts of magic. Turning fluff into string, string into yarn, yarn into shawls – magic. One year, I was fascinated with the continuous strand weaving, the next, spinning. The week after I interrogated the poor spinning demonstrator, I found a small shop in downtown Kansas City where I acquired a spindle made of an old CD on a stick and some wool dyed by the proprietress. She showed me the basics, and I left to return to my loft studio apartment in the River Market to practice, much to the amusement of my two cats. I watched You Tube videos to see what in blue blazes I was doing wrong since my spinning didn’t look anything like what I had seen at the Ren Fest. I took classes at the Yarn Barn in Lawrence and vvveeerrryyy slowly started to produce something that looked like string if you squinted your eyes just right. Queue the training montage as the years pass, tweaking my spinning technique with a lot of practice, until one day I actually made yarn. On that day, I added “Spinner” to my self-description list of attributes.

Do you have a favorite type of yarn to spin?

Most of what I have produced has been a basic DK two-ply, but chain plying has become my latest fascination.

What do you like to make with your handspun yarn?

I’m supposed to actually make something with my handspun yarn?? I like it as the art installation it currently is – a pile of woolly satisfaction.

How long have you been reading PLY?

When was the first PlyAway? Right after that, I started reading PLY. I didn’t know it existed until I heard of a new spinning conference taking place in downtown Kansas City. Of course I learned about the conference too late to be able to take any classes, but I made a point to shop at the marketplace. I may have purchased a bump of a Merino silk blend specifically to keep on my desk at work just so I could pet it.

What do you look forward to most when you get an issue?

Learning a new skill!

Tell us about a project you worked on that was inspired by an article, project, or issue of PLY (or in your case, not being able to have PLYAway).

So, this answer requires a longer story. On October 12, 2019, I was at my desk, refreshing the PLYAway website until registration became active. Quick like a bunny, I signed up for Exploring the Drum Carder; Adventures in Drumcarding; Blending Boards: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly; and a couple of other classes. You see, I had attended a Nerd Girl Yarns Retreat earlier, and they had a drum carder we could play with, ummm, I mean, that we could try out, blending our own batts. I was hooked and wanted to learn more. Queue stalking the PLYAway website for blending classes.

On the day I signed up for my classes, I was triumphant. On the day PLYAway 5 (2020) was cancelled, I was despondent. Okay, now what? I still wanted to learn how to card my own batts, so I took the refund from the classes and bought a drum carder. The week approached when we should have been attending PLYAway, learning new things, and even though it was cancelled, I still had the week off from work. I still wanted to learn new skills. I decided to create my own set of classes to learn about carding, dyeing, and spinning across the top. Flipping through my stack of PLY magazines, I found articles I could use to set up my own classes. I created a schedule for my Craft Camp: Monday morning was for blending, Thursday afternoon was for dyeing, etc.

Monday morning rolled around. After a traditional PLYAway breakfast of a Panera bagel & schmear, I fired up the laptop. Spending time perusing YouTube, I watched various videos on how to use the drum carder. Pulling out the Woolen issue of PLY from Winter 2013, I studied Lacy Ziemkiewicz’s article on “How to Card Striped Batts” and read Jillian Moreno’s article on “9 Ways to Spin a Batt.” Okay, if I make a striped batt, I could actually spin it into something cool…

I broke out the roving I had ordered from Bartlett Yarns after reading “Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool.” It was a very toothy, woolly wool that would be great spun up woolen-style.

Following the article step by step, I finally pulled a beautiful striped batt from the carder.

I’ve created several striped batts since then, and they lie proudly on the shelf, basking in the admiration of those who visit with fingers itching to pet the softness.

Have I actually spun anything from them? Oh no, not yet. That may happen the next time I declare a Craft Camp week off from work. If it’s going to be a staycation, I might as well still have fun learning, right? After all, I still haven’t tried out Jacey Bogg Faulkner’s article on “Lying About Longdraw: Helping spinners get from worsted to woolen”…

You can find out more about Ilona on Ravelry as Crafti.

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.

Don’t miss the best new book around!

A Spinner’s Dozen: 14 darn useful tools
written and illustrated by Stephenie Gaustad
Available in print and digital versions

What the heck is a heck? In A Spinner’s Dozen: 14 Darn Useful Tools, Stephenie Gaustad shines a light on tools for fiber and yarn management that will make your yarn more consistent and spinning more productive. Drawing on her decades-long passion for spinning, she guides you through the what, why, and how-to of tools she finds invaluable. Using her own hand-drawn illustrations and spinning stories, Stephenie relates the wisdom and practicality of tools that have been used for generations and are still darn useful today.

About Stephenie:
For more than 45 years, Stephenie Gaustad has been educating and delighting fiber artists with her classes, articles, illustrations, and books on spinning, dyeing, and weaving. Her legendary knowledge and warmth have earned her a legion of fans and a place in the pantheon of elite fiber arts teachers and mentors. She fills her classes and written words with humor, fiber nitty-gritty, and wonderful, obscure facts. She loves nothing more than truckin’ around the country teaching about fiber, poking into attics for tools, and singing and dancing with friends.

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.

A woman’s work was never done: spinning in medieval art

by Judy Kavanagh

If you were a woman in medieval Europe (between the 5th and 15th centuries CE), you would have had many chores to perform every day such as cooking, cleaning, looking after children – and spinning. You would have needed to produce large quantities of thread from both wool and flax to weave into cloth for clothing, bedding, bags, sails, and countless other items. To get an idea of the amount of spinning required for weaving, a piece of cloth just one yard square and woven at 25 threads per inch required 900 yards of warp thread and another 900 yards of weft.

Now imagine spinning all this thread using a spindle. The spinning wheel first appeared in Europe only during the 13th century and was still very new technology. The spindle, however, is ancient and dates back thousands of years, and it was the spindle that was still the tool of choice for most of the medieval period.

To make enough thread for your needs, you would have spun everywhere and all the time – while walking, riding, gardening, doing errands, and tending your livestock. You would have used a distaff to keep your fibre clean and organized. A distaff is simply a long stick that acts as a third arm. The fibre is tied on at one end and the other end is stuck through your belt behind your waist. When you cradle the distaff shaft in the crook of your elbow, it leaves both hands free to either spin or do other tasks. If you need to stop spinning you can just stick the spindle into the fibre.

Glasgow Museum

We can learn a lot about how and where medieval spinning was done by looking at artwork of the time. The Bustling Housewife, a Swiss tapestry woven between 1470–80, shows the busy housewife spinning with a distaff and spindle with a basket of birds on her back and her baby in a sling while riding a donkey and tending her cow, goats, and pigs.

British Museum

With a distaff tucked in your belt, it’s easy to pause your spinning while you perform another chore like this woman from the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter, who has stopped spinning just long enough to feed her chicks and an enormous hen.

Illuminated manuscripts like the Luttrell Psalter were often decorated with little images in the margins. They are called drolleries and often had nothing to do with the subject of the text. Some are quite imaginative with monsters and mythical creatures, and some show wonderful glimpses of everyday life.

Medieval age spindles were not like the drop spindles most of us use today which have large whorls glued onto the shaft. A medieval spindle typically had a very small, light, removable whorl, usually at the bottom of the shaft, that was made of clay, bone, stone, or lead.

In the past few years, a few modern spinners have rediscovered the advantages of this style of spindle. As a spindle maker, I’ve made medieval-style spindles and learned to spin using a distaff. Because the whorl is compact and light, the spindle spins very fast but not for a very long time, which is perfect for making fine, high-twist yarn suitable for weaving. When a sufficiently large cop has built up on the spindle, you can remove the whorl because the cop itself acts as a whorl. Drafting is done with the hand near the distaff while your other hand flicks the spindle as needed. It’s a surprisingly comfortable position to spin in.

Bibliothèque nationale de France

This method of spinning is demonstrated in this lovely illustration in an illuminated manuscript about famous real and mythical women. The graceful woman in this picture is Pamphile, an ancient Greek woman who was credited by Pliny the Elder with inventing a method of spinning and weaving silk. The book De Mulieribus Claris was written by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), and this copy was translated into French and written out by hand between 1488 and 1496. The printing press was another bit of new technology at this time as it had only begun to be used in Europe in the mid 1400s. Before then all books were laboriously copied out and illustrated by hand.

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Because the spindle whorls of this time were so small and were removed when the cop got big enough, it’s hard to see them at all in many illustrations, but you can see the whorl in this picture of a woman winding spun thread onto her spindle. She has butterflied the thread around her left hand just as I do when I wind the thread onto my spindle. This picture is entitled Husband and Wife as Equals and is from an illustrated manuscript of Le roman de la rose, an allegorical love story started by Guillaume de Lorris around 1230 and continued by Jean de Meun 40 years later. There are about 320 whole or partial versions of this book in existence, but this one is particularly lavish as it was prepared for French royalty.

Bibliothèque nationale de France

Here’s a beautiful illustration from a copy of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, a history of the Hundred Years War. The woman sits under a tree and has paused her spinning to talk to a young man. She has a distaff and a spindle, and there is an enormous strawberry growing behind them.

Hungarian National Gallery

Spindles often appear in religious art of the time. This is Maria gravida, a Hungarian altar painting from 1410. A pregnant Mary is spinning a very fine linen thread using a spindle while an angel holds her distaff containing flax wrapped in a cloth. Another angel is winding off yarn from a spindle onto a niddy noddy and there’s a skein winder holding blue dyed thread beside her. When the painting was examined under infrared light, it was discovered the artist had painted the baby Jesus in Mary’s belly underneath the paint of her gorgeous blue dress.

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

In this 15th-century drawing from Germany, Mary is spinning from a distaff, Joseph is doing woodworking, and the baby Jesus is winding thread off a spindle onto a niddy noddy. Perhaps this was a task often given to children during this time.

British Museum

Distaves often seem to have been turned into weapons in medieval art. In this drollerie from The Smithfield Decretals, Reynard the Fox, a popular trickster in medieval stories, has stolen a women’s goose, and she’s chasing after him with her distaff. The Smithfield Decretals is a collection of medieval canon law and was written out around the year 1300. The illustrations weren’t added until 40 years later, perhaps in an attempt to lighten up what must have been a rather boring book.

The Maastricht Hours is an illuminated manuscript produced in the early14th century in France. In these illustrations from facing pages, a woman has hitched up her skirt and is going after the fox who is running off with her chicken. 

Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

In this drawing in the Rothschild Canticles, a cat (or leopard?) has gotten into trouble trying to steal something from a bowl, and a woman with a distaff is chasing it.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Ishrael van Meckenem produced this engraving called The Angry Wife near the end of the medieval period, around 1500.  All I can say is that the husband must have left the toilet seat up.

Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

This illustration is from a French Arthurian romance created between 1275–1300. A woman with her headdress flying behind her is jousting with an unarmed knight. The woman looks angry and is using her distaff as a spear with the attached spindle flying in the air. Even her horse looks angry.

British Library

Spinners who own cats know what can happen when you spin with a spindle. This illustration from The Maastricht Hours shows a woman spinning using a freestanding distaff. Her tabby cat has pounced on her twirling spindle. Is she rolling her eyes?

Museum Meermanno

We love to get together with our friends and spin and chat, and it must have been the same 600 years ago. These elegant French ladies were painted around 1478 and appear to be spinning a fine linen thread on their spindles. This is from a medieval manuscript of La Cité de Dieu.

British Library

Sardanapalus, the King of Assyria, has dressed up as a woman and is spinning with his ladies. The mostly fictional story of Sardanapalus was told by the Greek historian Diodorus during the first century BCE. According to Diodorus, King Sardanapalus spent his life being lazy and indulging himself. He often dressed in women’s clothing and wore makeup and had both male and female lovers. This book was translated into French around 1480 as Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens.

British Library

Near the end of the medieval era, spinning wheels start to appear in art. They are hand-turned spindle wheels similar to what we call a great wheel or a walking wheel. Here a spinner is interrupted by a man who has draped his arm around her shoulder and is trying to feel her behind. It’s titled An amorous encounter and is from The Smithfield Decretals, c. 1275–1325.

Looking at these spinners from so long ago and spinning using a distaff and medieval-style spindle gives me a deep sense of connection to the lives of medieval women. Any of them could be my 25th great-grandmother, and I often wonder if they found satisfaction in their spinning as I do – feeling the fibre between my fingers, producing an even thread, seeing the cop build up on the spindle, and finally weaving the thread into cloth.

Judy Kavanagh is a spinner and spindle maker living in Ottawa, Canada with her 3 yarn-loving cats. She loves to experiment with making and spinning different kind of spindles. Judy is often found teaching spinning or weaving at the Ottawa Valley Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild.

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