Just Give It a Whirl

Words and Photos by Michele Marshall

“What if…?” might be the most exciting phrase in a maker’s world.

I have dabbled in various forms of fiber, paper, and mixed media arts for most of my adult life. In each creative endeavor, I’ve discovered “what if” often precedes an exciting and fun phase of exploration that extends my knowledge and enjoyment of my craft.

Put simply, I’ve made a lot of ugly stuff!

Okay, put graciously, I’ve made a lot of things that were “less than attractive” and had no purpose whatsoever.

The trick is learning to accept things don’t always work and to reflect on why they didn’t or what was learned in the doing. Then you figure out how to apply those lessons to future explorations or extend what you already know. It’s called playing, except as adults we have forgotten how much fun it is!

I know people who collect and use support spindles, and I had wondered why they felt the need for another spinning tool. Then I encountered cotton. While I can spin it, laboriously, on my wheel, I started to think “What if I tried cotton on a support spindle? Would it be more fun?” Support spindles are relatively inexpensive, so I acquired one (or more) and started with cotton. It went well, and I found cotton took no more time on a support spindle because I traded all that treadling time for drafting time.

But support spindles took me by surprise. I hadn’t really thought about what “supported” spindling really meant. It makes all sorts of “what if” options come alive! The single needn’t be strong, just able to hold together reasonably well.

“What if I try supported spinning?” became a minor fixation for me. I started a collection of things I wanted to try spinning on my support spindles when time and motivation allowed. I collected bits of moss, air plants, pharmaceutical cotton, clean dryer lint, finely shredded paper, steel wool, hand-combing waste, pygmy goat down, cottonwood seeds – and looked forward to a day to play.

One of the first things I considered was some of my materials might not be friendly to my traditional fiber tools. It’s one thing to expose the metal or carbon fiber shaft of a support spindle to something organic but quite another to consider putting those organic materials into, say, your hand cards or drum carder. Fortunately, I have a pair of cat combs I had purchased early in my cotton spinning explorations, both inexpensive and washable or disposable.

Cat combs with faux batts of wool and wool/steel, prior to rolling

I started with some combing waste, mostly because I had a fair amount of it on hand from a recent spin. It was a bit neppy and soft, but also not something I had to worry about ruining. Think of it like the mud in mud pies; if it turns out well, you can always upgrade the ingredients! I decided to try blending it with steel wool. The steel has a longer “staple” length than my wool, so I added it to one card after I finished the blending, removing that batch without any rolling, like a batt. I added a second, wool only, blended “batt” on top and then rolled the two together from the side, rather than the tip, and drafted from the tip end.

“Batts” of wool/steel, John Galen support spindle

I plied the single, creating a sparkly 2-ply yarn that is surprisingly strong. I certainly wouldn’t wear it, but it could make an interesting addition to a tapestry weaving or a needle felting project.

The collection of “what if” items itself taught me a few things, one of which is that sometimes you have to stop and play in the moment. While in Florida, I collected some air plants, thinking their short, flexible stems might be something I could spin. Sadly, I didn’t have a support spindle with me, and by the time I was able to get to my spindles, the plants had dried too much to be of use.

I had no such problems with the moss, which I tried spinning on its own, but it either broke apart with too much twist or refused to take twist at all. By blending the moss with cotton, in the same way I used the steel wool and combing waste, I got a passable single. The moss, however, became bruised in the process and eventually caused the cotton to weaken with dampness. It also made a mess, one I am glad I didn’t have to clean away from the moving parts of a wheel.

Coin tahkli from The Woolery with cotton/moss single

Some things that seem like they might be spinnable simply refuse to be spun on their own. Dryer lint was a disaster. I thought I could spin it just as it was, holding it loosely in my hand and letting my leader work some twist into the fluff.

Several sneezes later, I gave this up. There simply wasn’t any staple length at all to the fluff.

Combining a couple of “What if” ideas, I carded some pharmaceutical cotton, the type they stuff in the top of medicine bottles, with the dryer lint. With this blend, I made an interesting sort of Donegal tweed-like yarn. The lint isn’t terribly strong and tends to shed a bit, but it presents all sorts of interesting ideas about adding it to batts or carding it into singles. I started thinking about collecting “sentimental lint” from washing things like children’s clothes or old flannel shirts and realized I get a consistent beige-colored lint from washing flannel sheets.

The cotton/lint play taught me that not all pharmaceutical cotton is the same. The first bits I played with were very nice, much like the handspinners’ cotton I’ve purchased. The second bits, however, were bluntly cut, full of nepps, and lumpy. But these less-than-nice cotton pieces allowed me to see the fibers in the clumps move apart and into place when it double drafts, something I find particularly difficult to see in smoother preparations.

By now my spinning area was a mess. I had moss, lint, fluff, wool, and steel dust surrounding me. But I couldn’t clean up until I saw what I could do with the cottonwood seeds.

Hipstrings Mistral spindle with cottonwood single

I was encouraged because, unlike dryer lint, the seeds have a staple. It might be only 1/4-inch long, but it is something to work with. On a whim, I tried spinning the seeds from their cloud. And it works! The single is soft and prone to breaking easily, but it’s a single. I started thinking about goose down. Haven’t I read that people used to weave with such things?

And what if I combine desirable seeds, dryer lint, and cotton? I think cosmos seeds might be a good candidate for the experiment. The cotton and dryer lint are biodegradable, and I’m told wool makes good compost, too. What if I use a little square loom and make the base from the cotton/lint/seed single and then do the final weaving with a fine wool single? What if I planted and watered this square? I could mail them to family and friends in their birthday cards.

I have so many more options I want to try, ideas generated through playing with inspiration and materials. Playing opens up our stash, and our minds, to potentially exciting discoveries. It gives us new muscle memory for taking into our default and new spins. And it makes spinning a never-ending rabbit hole of exploration and possibility.

Now, go play in your stash!

Michele Marshall has always been fascinated by people make things and usually has to try it herself if give half a chance. She lives with her husband in the hills of Indiana and can be found on Ravelry as Mingo08.

Winter 2020 ads on sale

Ads are officially on sale for the next issue on Warmth (Winter 2020).

We are dedicated to keeping this magazine content heavy and ad light (ads are only 12–15% of our content). Hopefully you’ve noticed this, and hopefully you’ve noticed the ads. We love our advertisers – without them, we couldn’t bring you this magazine. So if you’ve got a spinning-related business, consider advertising! We’ve got a limited number of spaces available at a variety of sizes/aspects and affordable prices.

Art due September 1, with the issue shipped December 10, 2020.

Check out all the details about ads here.

Introducing PLY’s new graphic designer

Elizabeth Fitzpatrick is the new graphic designer/layout artist for PLY, and we asked her a few questions so we could all get to know her a little better. Her first issue is the Summer 2020 issue on Supported Spindles.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what fiber craft(s) you do, and how you got started in the fiber world.

My introduction to the fiber world is through my partner of 22 years, Maxine. She learned how to crochet when she was young, but about 15 years ago we were on vacation and walked into a yarn store. Thus began her true fiber journey. I just tag along. She tried to teach me how to knit, which is when I discovered I’m really terrible at counting. So I don’t do any spinning, knitting, or fiber-ing. A few years ago we started our company, knittingbuddha studio. Maxine does the handspun, knitting, and teaching, I do the design. My one foray into fiber was doing the felted sign of a knitting Buddha that hangs in our show booth.

Tell us about your journey in graphic design. What made you get started with it and what is your past experience?

When I was young and living in the NY area, every Sunday one summer, the newspaper featured a Peter Max painting as a full spread. I loved his work. It was fun and colorful, but it also bridged this gap between fine art and commercial art, and that spoke to me. At the same time, John Lennon and Yoko Ono launched a billboard campaign titled “War Is Over.” In our small town of 1,000 people, a “War Is Over” billboard was posted right before the river bridge. It was a small billboard, but I remember staring at it and thinking it was different than any billboard I had ever seen before. Simple black text on a white background. It was a message, it was art, and it was performance. And it was on a billboard! I wanted to do that.

I started my design career in the early 80s, back when being a graphic designer was a hands-on craft involving mechanical layouts, t-squares, drawing boards, proportion wheels, and amberlith overlays. I’ve worked as a designer laying out newspaper ads, designing logos, and creating graphics for K-12 English learning programs and as the artistic director for a non-profit arts organization. Plus, I have 20 years of experience as an art director for several trade magazines, and now PLY!

What was it like when you found out you were going to be the new graphic designer for PLY? How has the experience been so far?

I was a bit blown away to be chosen as the PLY designer. When I applied, I wasn’t originally picked as a finalist. But those who weren’t chosen were given the opportunity to go ahead and submit a mock up. I decided to do it because, at the very least, I could use it as a portfolio piece. I received some great feedback from Jacey, she had me do a couple of other pieces, and then she offered me the job. It was awesome. I celebrated with wine and cake.

The thing about PLY is it’s very much a showcase magazine with big, beautiful pictures and wonderful illustrations. My previous magazine work involved pipelines and construction. There wasn’t much room for interesting design work, so it’s great to work on a magazine with an artistically receptive audience. Like spinning, the joy of designing is in the process. It’s always nice to have the finished product, but it’s the process that makes it worthwhile, and that’s how I felt working on my first issue of PLY.

What do you do with your free time? What else would you like to share about yourself?

I am also a fine artist. I’ve sold some paintings over the years and was active in the Art Car scene for a little while. I’ve painted five cars and a VW bus. A few years ago I received a ukulele as a gift and have worked my way to the ceiling of beginner and the floor of intermediate. I now have a repertoire and play for our four dogs. They don’t seem to ever tire of hearing “Dock of the Bay.” I’ve got a bunch of DIY projects that I continually procrastinate on. I consider our house a big sculpture I will probably never finish. It’s all in the process.

A Study of the Effects of Canis Lupus Familiaris (Dog) Fiber on Achieving Nirvana

words and photos by Brittany Trask

As I walked my 17-year-old Chow Chow Bear, otherwise known as “Chookie,” for what was to be our final time in September 2018, I stood proud and transfixed. I was mesmerized by a piece of fur that had shaken itself loose from Chookie’s cuddly frame, drifting through the twilight like shimmering copper, only to assuredly land on my partially untied tennis shoe. It was during this moment that I began to realize how Chookie’s meaning to me had changed over the years. Her fur had became something to use rather than a place to bury my tearstained face after yet another abusive incident with my parents. I thought about how lovely it would be to simultaneously commemorate Chookie and make the argument that fibers – specifically those of a Chow Chow and Suri Alpaca – and the fiber arts as a whole can save a life and beautify even the darkest of souls.

This is a difficult piece to write, much like anything that is worthwhile, because there’s so much I have experienced both positive and negative. I’ve served as a lightning rod for irrational anger and have allegedly been the reason for my parent’s alcoholism and abusive behaviors; I am a sexual assault survivor, recovered self-mutilator, perennial scapegoat, and recovered anorectic. To Chookie though, I was her human, someone who could always be counted on to appreciate the freshly killed prey she’d set at my feet because I knew it was her way of showing love. She’d accompany me on my runs, sans leash, or sleep on the topmost stair since my bedroom door didn’t have a lock, or climb into bed with me in the winter because heat was only available downstairs where my parents were. In essence, she became my confidant and protector since her arrival as an 8-week-old puppy when I was 11 years old, and she remained thus throughout 3 moves, a graduate school experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and the start of a stable loving relationship with another human being, all the while acting as a better role model to me than those who thought themselves suited to the task.

After a temporary separation caused by college, Chookie and I were reunited under odd circumstances and she found a second-favorite human and home in/with my boyfriend Brad, effortlessly made friends with the cats we’d taken in, which was surprising given the higher-than-average prey drive she’d possessed throughout her life. In the meantime, I began spinning yarn, saving her fur, and preparing to move to North Dakota for graduate school with Chookie and Trillian the kitten in tow. What I didn’t realize was her ability to console and comfort would increase exponentially while I navigated a difficult Master’s degree in English by myself. 

After 2 years of long-distance pep talks and annual visits, Brad asked me to come back to Ohio with Chookie and Trillian, which I accepted because I was growing to really love him and what he brought to my life. I was freer, able to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to be and love myself. Over the next 2 years, as I gave in to the gnawing thought that I should at least try to get the fiber arts business set up that I’d been dreaming of for years, Chookie and her soft fibrous constancy were there for a nuzzle, or a leisurely walk on Gladys St where she was much beloved by the neighborhood for being the elegant, amicable old dog she was, spry frame galloping up and down the street.

All this time, I was spinning the most amazing suri alpaca fiber and becoming friends with the owners to the point where shearing day was my Christmas in May. Spinning fiber from animals you have gotten to know is a very rewarding pastime, but spinning chiengora for not just myself and others (there was a commissioned spin for someone’s Australian Shepherd) takes what is a truly transcendental experience and transforms it into something akin to nirvana or moksha.

When Chookie died on 14 September 2018, I requested the vet shave her so I could spin it. A week had gone by since that transfixing walk, and I didn’t want to honor such a noble member of my family with a glass necklace full of ashes. I wanted to do something meaningful with what I had left but wasn’t sure I would have enough for a huge project, so I have been plain-weaving tiny pieces that combine the fur and fiber of animals no longer with us to give to people who knew Chookie and helped take care of her while we were away. This piece is not just about Chookie or the 2 alpacas, Blaze and Diva, who died, but about all the fiber-producing animals that have warmed our hearts and souls as fiber artists over the years, helped us through trauma and painful moments, inspired us to be our best selves, and showed us that the path to happiness lies in the simple motions of picking up and holding some fiber.

A leisurely stroll can be a beautiful thing, but the addition of a 4-legged companion can make such a venture all the better. Chookie hated the leash when she was younger but came to appreciate it as her vision deteriorated and our walks became an intermittent switching of who was walking whom. One thing’s for sure, Chookie has taught me what Bill Maher firmly believes:

“It just doesn’t matter.”

Enjoy the walk, Chookie!

Brittany Trask resides in Northeast Ohio where she owns and operates The Medicinal Spinner and lives with her boyfriend Brad and 3 kooky cats. She enjoys teaching others about the healing power of the fiber arts, reenacting, writing, and the macabre. Find her on Facebook or at www.themedicinalspinner.com.

Last Call for Electric Submissions

Summer 2021 is going to have a jolt of electricity!

Yes, that’s right, it’s all about tools that go vroom vroom, buzz buzz, or even purr quietly. Let’s start with the one so many of us have and enjoy: the electric spinning wheel. What do you know about electric spinning wheels? What do you want to know about them? How do you choose between all the new kinds? And what about you purists, do you really think e-spinning is cheating? Tell us why or why not.

How do you keep track, keep consistent, or keep count on an electric wheel? Can you share any benefits or disadvantages of these compact yarn creators? Electric wheels can spin speedy, so how can you increase your speed while still making the yarn you want? How about ergonomics – what is the most comfortable way to spin on an electric wheel? How do you keep your electric spinner happy? What tools are essential for helping your e-spinner keep you happy?

Of course, e-spinners aren’t the only electric tools. How about electric drum carders, bobbin winders, skein winders – if it’s electric, we want to know how it works, why spinners should have it, how to lug it around, and how to take care of it.

Finally, what about electric yarns? Can you spin a yarn with lights? Yarns that conduct electricity? Yarns full of spark(le)? Surprise us! Do you have electric projects you’d like to share with us?

Proposals of articles and projects are due by June 1, 2020.

We’ll get back to you in July, and final pieces are due December 1, 2020.

Submit proposals to jacey@plymagazine.com or on the website.

Spinning Daisy

words and photos by Vicki Robinson

In 2016, my husband and I adopted a bonded pair of senior dogs from the SPCA: a short-haired dachshund and a 3-pound long-haired chihuahua. I’d spun dog hair (chiengora) before, so with the tiniest of slicker brushes, I groomed my sweet Daisy daily. She loved it and would jump on my foot when she wanted up for her brush. Of course, with such beautifully soft fiber, I wasn’t about to throw it away. Our district already has the brightest and softest nests from my fiber and yarn discards.

Almost nightly, I would sit in my chair and spin long draw from the cloud, straight off the brush, on my John Galen Daisy bead supported spindle. Maybe I’d get an arm’s length, more or less. Surprisingly, it was very easy to spin, even and soft.

Fast forward to our annual RV trip to Oregon, loaded with wheel, spindles, fiber, husband, and dogs, destination: Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival (OFFF). Perusing the OFFF brochure, I saw applications to enter various fiber show categories. Why not? I’d never done anything like that before and I had a couple spindles full of Daisy, so I sent off my application.

I plied my singles into a 2-ply yarn and counted my yardage. Success! I had 58 yards and the minimum was 50. I filled out my yarn description of this yarn that had taken me a year to collect and spin but paused at the question regarding possible intended use. I thought an open lace shawl would be beautiful – in about 10 years! Instead, it would be just a very special keepsake as our Daisy passed very unexpectedly on my husband’s birthday whilst undergoing dentalwork to remove all her teeth.

I submitted my yarn, much to the delight of the wonderful staff signing in entries. They had read “Chihuahua yarn” but were boggled as to what to expect.

Fast forward to judging day, when we headed up to the gallery. I could hardly believe my eyes as we approached and saw ribbons near my yarn. A blue 1st, a big green Judges’ Choice, and a big blue and pink Grand Reserve Champion were actually attached to my skein! I don’t remember much of that weekend after that. I think I was bouncing around too much and it addled my memory. My skein had scored 99/100. Perhaps I lost a point for not including a swatch, but I had still been urged to submit my yarn after explaining a swatch would likely take me another year. I had also almost overlooked the fiber sample, but fortunately Daisy had yet to be brushed on submission day, so we managed to squeak in on that.

Oh, I almost forgot (this event still gets me so excited), when we went to pick up my yarn and ribbons, it wasn’t displayed where it was previously. As my heart came up to my throat, the attendant saw it on a long wall. Little Daisy had also garnered herself the Barb Quinn memorial award from Vancouver Handspinners. It was fancy dinner for all that night.

We still miss our Daisy terribly and think we see and hear her. I feel blessed to have this skein of her, with or without the fabulous adventure.

Originally from Australia, Vicki Robinson lives in British Columbia, Canada, where she dreams of owning her own fiber flock in their condo. Ever-enabling husband Joe laughs and jokes that 6 long-haired chihuahas should suffice. They currently share their home with 3 rescue dogs, only one of which has longer hair, albeit like wire, perhaps hair for potscrubbers in his future! Vicki is on Ravelry as Vickistickis and is the originator of Sisterhood of Fun Ideas…and Other Great Stuff on Facebook and Etsy.

Reader Feature: Johanna Carter

We asked long-time PLY reader Johanna Carter a few questions about her spinning and crafting life.

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

I knit quite fast and wanted to slow my knitting down, as it is not so cheap to buy yarn, so I asked a friend to show me how to spin on a spindle. We only had a short time, and then she left me with a spindle and some fibre. The next day I ordered a small spindle, fibre, and Abby Franquemont’s Respect the Spindle.

The first fibre I spun was Merino and BFL. After 3 weeks, I finished making my first sweater from my handspun. I had no idea about plying or finishing the yarn; I just made balls of wool and knitted a sweater. Though now it is old, it is very soft, a little bit felted and pilling, but I still like it.

After spinning on a spindle for 6 months, I had made 3 sweaters, a cardigan for my husband, and lots of other things. That Christmas, my family gave me an Ashford Traditional double drive spinning wheel as a present.

Do you have a favorite type of yarn to spin?

My favorite fibre is Shetland. We even went to Shetland for a holiday! All the natural colors are just so nice, and I love to do Fair Isle and stranded knitting. I also like to work with soft yarns, such as Falkland, Rambouillet, alpaca, BFL, Chubut, cashmere, and silk.

What do you like to make with your handspun?

I love making soft sweaters I can wear next to my skin, tams, wristwarmers, and cowls, all with lots of color.

I knit without patterns, and I invent the sweaters as I knit. What I don’t like to do is follow a pattern or knit plain sweaters as I get bored too quickly.

How long have you been reading PLY?

When I started spinning in the summer of 2013, my friend left me a copy. I liked it so much that I ordered it and have all the issues from the beginning.

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

I look forward to everything. I like to read about different sheep and their fleece or about spindles. I like the articles about history or different ways to spin. What I miss are the Stealth Reviews; for me they were really helpful. I loved the one about spindles, which is how I got to know Bosworth spindles, which are my favorites.

Tell us about a project you worked on that was inspired by an article, project or issue of PLY.

I made a sweater with natural dyes – madder, onion skins, rose petals, cochineal, and especially indigo – which I have not tried before.

The project started with carding different fibers and colors on my drumcarder.
I used mostly Falkland and blended it with a bit of grey Shetland, baby alpaca, and recycled Sari silk. I also blended different colors together to get various colors and shades; in total I worked with 24 different shades. I used traditional Fair Isle motifs but also made up a few. I knit the sweater from the top down, which is my preferred method.

For this project I learned a lot about blending and mixing fibre on my drumcarder; it was nice to see the colors transform into a new shade. I learned how to make a tweed yarn with the recycled Sari silk, which I like very much. The yarn I spun is very soft, and it has a bit of a halo because of the baby alpaca.

As I used lots of little balls of wool, I just spun small amounts and did a ply ball so I only needed one bobbin and there were no singles left over.

It is very difficult to pinpoint which issue or article inspired the project because I’ve learned so much from PLY and get so many ideas. I guess lots of articles about blending or color gave me inspiration for this project.

For more of Johanna’s projects, check out her Ravelry page: johannarichard

If you would like to participate in a reader feature, fill out the reader feature interest form.

We Need Photos of Your Spinning Hands!

We are gathering photos of the different ways that spinners spin (how you hold your hands, how you hold your fiber, the position of drafting) for the Autumn issue of PLY. If you have a close-up photo of just your hands spinning (the bigger the file, the better) and you don’t mind us using it in our Autumn issue, please email your photo to jacey@plymagazine.com.