Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Classes at SOAR

My first class Friday morning was Making Your Old Wheel do New Tricks (which had many other versions suggested for the same class, like making your new wheel do old tricks). This was taught by Maggie Casey. Although she stated in her introduction that she was quite willing to take a hammer to a wheel if necessary, I seriously doubt that would become necessary under her skillful hands. She knows many wheels, inside and out. The class of eleven all gathered with their wheels, and in introductions stated just what problems they had been having with the wheel. I took my Haldane, a wheel I have had for two years, and that I only seemed to be able to spin sock weight 2 ply yarn on it. I wanted to learn if it was indeed the wheel’s limitation, or my not understanding the wheel’s potential. I use this wheel all the time as my travel wheel, like for my Tuesday night spinning group. It fits so nicely in the front floorboard of my car, and is light enough for me to carry with one hand.

The first thing we did was to take the bobbin and flyer off for a good cleaning. None of the wheels there had too much wear on the shafts, but if there was it was suggested that a light rub with a very fine steel wool or green scrubber pad would help. We also used a rig-up by Maggie to clean inside the bobbins. She took a heddle from a loom and tied just short and narrow pieces of cloth on one end. This could then be pulled though the bobbin to clean out the inside. She said she got the idea from watching a gun being cleaned. The rag on the end does make it a tight fit going through the bobbin but that does give it a good cleaning.

Other areas to clean were where the bobbin rests. I had always thought I was cleaning and oiling the wheel, but even I found one spot (one end where the shaft fits into a leather hole) that I hadn’t cleaned and a Q-tip removed a big build up of dirt.

And then we all oil everything, and were given hints as to whether our particular wheel needed oil in certain spots or not. Some wheels have the areas encased and so do not need oil. Others like mine benefit from oil on the actual wheel and shaft, and at the footman and treadle joint.

Next we talked about drive bands. Some drive bands were replaced on some wheels. Mine is a double drive, and probably could have been replaced, however the driveband on it right now is nicely sewn with a whip stitch, and we all agreed it was better to leave that alone until I really felt it being too loose. After discussing the condition of our drivebands, Maggie went into the different types of drives. The double drive band is the most traditional and most efficient. It allows yarn to wind on by the slippage method. The single drive allows the yarn to wind on by stalling the bobbin. And the Irish or Indian head tension, allows the yarn to wind on by stalling the flyer. This is all a bit over my head, however my fingers know the difference. I have a wheel of each type (and that was luck, I did not plan it that way) and have to change how I spin with each one.

We learned how to count the ratios on our flyers. You do this by putting a brightly colored yarn on a hook of your flyer. Then you slowly turn your big wheel one complete revolution and count the number of times the colored yarn goes over the top. I found out my Haldane had one ratio of 8 to 1 and another of 9.5 to 1. Not a big difference, and when I pondered outloud why there would be such a little bit of difference, Maggie replied, it just looks prettier with two ratios Well, in truth I knew the wheel was ratio challenged when I bought it, I only really wanted it for it’s overall size. One useful thing to remember, when dealing with a wheel with many ratios, is that a larger whorl =slower=less twist. Or the reverse, the smaller the whorl=faster=more twist.

Once we had given our wheels a good going over, we all started spinning. First just whatever type yarn was our habitual spinning. Then using what we had learned about drives and ratios, we worked on spinning finer. And later, doing the opposite, spinning fat yarn.

Maggie's whole point was that so many of us long time spinners learned on a very limited wheel (like the Ashford traditional) made back in the 70's. We taught our fingers how to make the type of yarn we wanted. The wheels being made today are highly engineered, and so we need to learn to let the wheel spin the type of yarn we want, not our fingers. For those in my class with the newer wheels it was very informative. My little old Haldane, is still only going to make very fine yarn if I control the process with my fingers. However, by having it in much better working position, I was able to spin much finer than sock yarn and I was very pleased with the resulting yarn samples.

There was so much more information in the class, I can only hit on the highlights here. And to be honest, if it didn't relate to my wheel, I only listened halfway, and wouldn't trust my memory now. Let me just say I highly recommend taking a class with Maggie, if you want to make the most of your wheel.

Combing class

I honestely have never seen so many combs in one place at one time! The teacher, Robin Russo had a variety of types (and I will not try and list each type, my memory would not guarantee that I get that right) and provided washed fibers for sampling. She had a lovely notebook page made up, with a space to write the fiber type, and
holes punched so you could attach the yarn sample. Yes she had us spin a sample of yarn, not much, maybe a yard or so, from every fiber we combed.

I have two sets of combs, the large Indigo Hound 5 pitch, which I did not take, and a handheld set of Forsythe 2 pitch. The class was listed as making the most of your hand held combs, so that was what everyone used. Robin had some larger combs mounted to a table for demo and for a few to try if they had not experienced working with them.

Robin was very insistent about using specific combs for specific types of fibers. In general, the number of rows of teeth determine how quickly the fiber can be processed. The diameter of the teeth determine what kind of fiber can be used on that comb. The length of the teeth will determine how much fiber the comb will hold.

She had samples of three types of wools so the class could see and feel the difference. She used a border leicester for the coarse wool, a romney for the medium type of texture and California variegated mutant (CVM) for the fine wool. All were lovely samples, and she suggested we split what we combed and spin into yard samples of bulky, sport and fine. I used a drop spindle for my sampling, it's just so much faster to spin up some, and let it self ply back on itself. Since I was using a lightweight spindle, trying to get bulky samples was hard. But I certainly enjoyed spinning super fine samples from the wonderful combed top, especially with the very fine CVM wool.

She also had a selection of exotic fibers, angora, mohair and alpaca. We combed each separately and made our sample yarn.

The most fun was getting into blends. She had lovely little bags of dyed silk, mohair locks, angora and white cormo. She had written suggestions of blends, like silk/angora or mohair and wool. I love combing mohair. It just burst into the shiniest top, and glowed with color. The cormo was too short in staple to really work with the very long locks of mohair so we were give coopworth instead. It was a good lesson to see that the staples of the fibers being blended need to be close in length.

That reminds me of an important point I learned, especially working with mohair. She had combing milk, and also plain olive oil and just plain water available and encouraged us to dampen the fiber slightly before combing. Her comment was if it use to have oil in the fiber use the oils, if not use the water. So no oils for the non lanolin
exotics, just water. I have been quilty of combing without that step and I got to experience the difference it makes. It really made the fiber manageable to have it just slightly damp.

I also have to report that I combed every single fiber on my Forsythe 2 pitch without a single bit of problems. The only fiber I had just a touch of problems with was the angora (and me the angora raiser! but I generally card my angora not comb it) The biggest problem I had with the angora was instead of wanting to fly all over, like it
usually does, I got it too damp and it stuck to my fingers

I also got to see Robin demo a set of Russian paddle combs. Oh now those are very nice! I think because they have so many close set teeth the colors are blended beautifully and compared to my wide set teeth on the Indigo viking combs, the top coming off those russian combs was very lovely and very fine.

I think that hits on most of the highlights of the class. If you have a chance to take a class with Robin, I would give a thumbs up for you to do so.

Tapestry crochet
Elaine Benfatto

This is going to be a hard class to describe. It really would be good if at this point you click on Elaine’s name and link and go to her blog to see pictures of some of her work in this technique. You will have to go back in time to her entries sometime around Aug or so.

I can not begin to try and tell you just how to do the technique especially if you are not familiar with crochet in the first place. Elaine had a good teaching challenge, with various levels of crocheting skills among her students. I was impressed with one teaching aide she used, a very thick yarn and a crochet hook about the size of Texas (well, you know what I mean) The students all sat on one side of tables, so that we all faced inward. She sat in the middle of the tables, and would demonstrate what she was saying with the fat yarn and hook. Made it very easy to see without all crowding around her. She also spent most of the class checking and working with each one of use individually.

What makes tapestry crochet so unique is that you work with two colors, making designs. You only crochet with one color at a time, and the other color is hidden under the bars of the color you are using. This makes a very stiff fabric, so much so, that if you make upright circles or squares, you get crochets bottles or boxes. And since the unused color is hidden, the project is completely reversable, or if not reversed, at least very usable without strands of color running on the back side.

Crochet makes a specific shaped stitch too, that will not work with regular knit patterns. So for designs, Elaine has researched Indian beading work, in particular the brick stitch. These tend to fit the crochet stitch better. So many of the designs are very Indian in motif.

I picked up the technique quickly but found it difficult for a number of reasons. First I had to relearn how to hold my crochet hook. I have always held my hook like I hold a pencil to write. This technique requires more of a stabbing into the work below it, especially if you work in the very fine cotton yarns and tiny crochet hooks. It is easier if the hook is held in an overhand method, your hand is on top of the hook, thumb on the left side of the hook, pointer finger on top and the other three fingers to the right side.

Another new skill needed is to tension two colors at the same time with your non hook hand. It is not necessary to do this, but just like working two colors in knitting, it goes quicker if one does not need to drop and pick up colors all the time. Dropping each color produces twists. Elaine has worked up a ‘path’ so that both colors are wrapped on your non hook hand, and the hook travels in and out of the colors. This way, no twist is developed, and one does not have to stop and realign the yarns all the time.

I could not get this technique into my fingers in just the class time. But I think given some time to work with it at home, I will be able to develop the needed skill.

Time flew by in this class, as we all worked on a small bag. I got mine about 2/3 done, and changed colors several times. I also worked on putting a triangle in as a design, because it is important to be able to see just where the color changes in the decreases to make a nice looking motif. This will be true of any design motif used, even following a chart it will be necessary to know when to pick up the new color and when to return to the background color.

There has been just a little bit written about this technique, so it really is an exciting new area to develope as more and more of us learn the technique.

Spinning with Spindles

I thought there were a great number of hand combs in that class, but it didn’t compare to the variety of spindles spread out in Andrea Mielke’s spindling class. She had done a fantastic job of gathering just about any type of spindle imaginable.

I think most of us in the class already knew how to spin on a spindle. Like me, most in the class had a particular type of spindle that had given them a hard time and were there to maybe pick up hints and tips for that.

So most of the class was made up of talking about each type, and what makes a good one in that particular class of spindles. She had spent time to create a very informative handout to take with us, a written reminder for those of us that by the fourth class of SOAR, now had overloaded brains.

The first thing I learned is that drafting for a spindle really is different than drafting for a spinning wheel. For successful spinning with a spindle one often has to be able to manipulate and draft the fiber supply with just one hand. Those of us use to a spinning wheel quickly discovered what a change this is, when we played with the most basic of spinning techniques, the hooked stick and fiber rolled on our laps. I also noticed that Andrea was holding her fiber differently, not pinched between the thumb and pointer finger, but pinched with the thumb and back two fingers (little finger and ring finger). The fiber supply was tucked between her pointer and middle finger. This feels very foriegn to my fingers that are use to the inchworm pinch method of spinning wheel spinning.

After we played with the hooked stick and trying to draft with one hand, we went on to construct a simple spindle by putting either a toy wheel, or CD's on the stick. She had these prepared before class so it was a simple matter to just slide them in place. We talked about the top whorl and bottom whorl, and how the leaders are placed for each and the yarn is wound on after spinning to create the cop.

Now we were ready to spin. All of us of course went right to our most comfortable way to spin (top whorl for me) but were encouraged to try different ways. So I slid my CD's to the bottom of my spindle and spent the rest of the class getting use to the feel of a bottom whorl. It really was nice in the lightweight CD style spindle. My only previous experience was with the very heavy wooden spindles that are so common for bottom whorl.

As we spun, Andrea showed us several 'tricks' to just make spindle spinning easier on your body. One is to spin horizontal to your body, so you are drafting out and away instead of up and away. The second was a tip for when the spindle reached the floor. Instead of leaning over and picking it up to wrap the yarn on, she wraps the yarn around some fingers of her drafting hand, bringing the spindle up to her! Then grab the spindle with the non drafting hand and wind on as usual. So simple, and yet so hard to remember to do!

The rest of the class was demonstrations of the different types of spindles, and a chance for us to try any that we wanted. I finally learned how a turkish spindle comes apart so the cop can be removed (shaft pulls up and out and then each 'arm' pulls out, leaving the cop). She demonstrated spinning with the Navajo spindle, and I spent some time trying that. It looks deceptively easy and is not. I could not keep the spindle spinning evenly with just a roll on my thigh. I could not keep it up and away from my thigh to let it continue spin. It all has to do with the spinner putting tension on the fiber/yarn to control where the spindle goes, and like any other of our fiber pursuits, takes practice to learn.

The same was true for any supported spindle I tried. When she sat and spun coton on a tiny Akha spindle she made it look so easy. The spindle kept going, the fiber flowed effortlessly out of her fingers, and the tiny cotton thread just flowed. I could not even keep the spindle going :) So it will be lots of practice for me. But that is not really surprising. One of the first things we teach to someone trying to learn on a wheel, is just treadle the wheel until they can make it do what they want. I need to just spin the spindles until that skill in is my fingers.

I think what I enjoyed the most about the class is just actually seeing all of the variations that have been created to spin yarn in a very portable way. Every culture has their own version, every woodworker their own designs, every inventor their own attempt to create the perfect spindle. It was fascinating to be able to examine these examples closely and even give them a whirl if I wanted.



cyndy said...

WOW! SOAR sounds like it was GREAT! Thanks so much for posting such an informative account of your classes.
I feel as if I have learned something vicariously!

Annie said...

I'd hoped to be able to hear you talk about your trip to SOAR in person, but just couldn't make it to the SBSTT. Shall we do something fun for Anita's birthday on the 9th? --Annie