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.

Thursday, March 31, 2005


Fiber for spinning

Stamps for sorting

Which picture makes your fingers twitch to dig in?

I suspect most of you will say the first. The fiber does that to me too, at least when I was shopping, as this is a picture of my latest shopping spree at the SWIFT meeting.

But the picture of the shoeboxes of stamps is what my fingers are digging through right now, and I have been thinking lately about the reasons why. And that led to thinking about how I blog about many of my hobbies, but not stamp collecting.

On a whim last Friday I spent an hour searching to see if anyone was blogging about stamps. I found some neat blog search tools, and out of the many blogs I scanned I only found three related strictly to stamp collecting. Compare that to the hundreds of fiber blogs now being kept, often daily, it really does make one stop and wonder just what it is about this fiber, knitting, textile hobby that makes it so intensely interesting, Conversely, for me it leads me to wonder just what keeps me going back to the stamp collecting hobby since childhood.

Oh I have answers! Did you think those were rhetorical questions? Answers are what I hope come out of writing this entry.

First of all, do you have a hobby that directly reminds you of happy times with a parent? If so, then I bet you go back to that hobby at least now and then in your life. With stamp collecting, I remember my Dad, and time spent with him, learning all about how to recognize what country issued the stamp (so I still collect worldwide) learning the tiny details of how a stamp is created, learning at last how to value the stamp. There are two values to that tiny piece of paper, one, money because so few exist anymore, or two, even if it is only worth a nickel, if it is that last stamp a collector needs to fill a space in their album the value to them is priceless. Especially if they found it all on their own, while going through a big pile of stamps.

So to follow this line of thought, are many of us blogging about fiber because it reminds us of a childhood relative? I know I think of my one grandmother every time I knit. And many more relatives would have had to knit, weave, quilt, etc so there are more of us blogging about those skills.

In truth though, I know there are few stamp blogs because there is just no way to make the hobby interesting to a large number of people. It is an intensely personal hobby, sometimes shared but often persued in the quiet evening hours or a long rainy day (my Dad once told me that a neighbor said to him when it was raining, that he supposed he was having another dumb stamp day!) Even I, as much as I love stamp collecting, found the three blogs about the hobby, well, er, boring! It helped me make the decision that it really was not worth my precious internet time to start a blog about stamps, unless I could write a beginners how to....oh oh, I hate it when I have more ideas than time.

I found out some other interesting information about searching blogs, while looking for stamp blogs. It seems it is still very difficult to search the internal information of blogs. What is being searched is the title of your blog. I read several articles encouraging bloggers to make many blogs of specific information and then label your blog with key words pertinent to that topic. And those that carve and create the internet are working hard to find ways to search the internal content. At least I hit it right when naming this blog, it really is mostly about my spinning (and I am sure the reader doubts it at this point, but I promise this is the last of the stamp blogging here). I like having the link function on my sidebar that shows where this blog was discovered. Mostly of course it is from the rings, but now and then I see hits from Google.

The picture of the boxes of stamps are what I have to go through, left over from cleaning out my Dad's accumulation. Over the last three weeks, I have done nine boxes already. Hey, each box weighs from 1-2 lbs, even spinners can relate to the feel of victory over 9-18 lbs of anything! What does that mean, going through the nine boxes? It a thrill of the hunt. I could blog about the elation of finding a PNC #2 single of a bread wagon issue. Huh? It's just a different language. If I said I spun a 2 ply 21 WPI yarn on a 17:1 ratio, you'd know exactly what I mean.

The difference is in the fact that the yarn will have a future use, the stamp is just plain treasure. And we all know one man's treasure is another man's trash. That is why I and many others wade through piles of common everyday stamps. We are looking for the one that will make us go WOO HOO. The stamp I mentioned above is not worth much. It would catalog for .65 and I could probably sell it for a quarter. Why was it a find? Because I had it's siblings, plate numbers 1-3 and now I have added to that collection. Would anyone else find that interesting? Probably not.

In the end, it is probably just the old childhood language coming back to life in me: finders-keepers!


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Long Ago Sewing Lesson

I love a good auction, and I had the good fortune to attend one this last weekend. What makes it a good auction? Ah, that would be answered differently by everyone. For some, it is finding a great bargain. For others, it might be finding the rare item in their favorite collection. For me, it is finding a bit of personal history, tucked away where few would look.

In one of the box lots at the auction I noticed an old composition book. It was paper covered, somewhat dirty and well used. The yellowed pages were intact though and to my surprise contained some young girl's hand sewing lesson. I had to buy a box full of uninteresting postcards, as well as seven Top Value Stamp books, to win this little gem of personal history.

I have enjoyed going through each lesson and admiring the handworked samples attached to the pages, and thought I would share some of it here.

Lesson one looks so neat! Here is the student, new book, maybe new fountain pen, new start of the lesson. Impressing the teacher was a priority. The writing is lovely script, and the lesson is just a group of sewing term definitions. The student recieved a B.

Starting with lesson two, there is a list at the top, obviously the lesson plan. It lists what the sample shows, the material, the type of stitching, the thread and needle used. Linen toweling is used to show bastings, and various hemming styles. The scant lesson states that the overhanding (sic) stitch is one thread deep and two threads over, a permanent stitch, straight and close together, done with the needle pointed toward the chest. The lesson was too scant for the teacher though, the student received a C-.

Now the lessons get harder and each take several pages of the students unique handwriting to convey. In lesson three cuffs are discussed as well as how to lay a pattern on the material for cutting. For some reason there is no fabric sample for this lesson, although the lesson plan calls for a cambric fabric. Lesson four makes a hemmed patch in a damaged garment, the sample showing 'material from home'. Remember, this is all hand stitiching. In lesson five, a komono was constructed, using according to the lesson plan, a combination stitch, catch stitch, feather stitch, flat hangers, hooks and eyes, and self made bias facings. The type of fabric used was not listed, and there is no fabric sample for this lesson. The notes go on for eight pages and looked hurried, like maybe now these lessons are pushing the student hard to stay with the class. The teacher did not like the students explanation of making bias strips and noted that on the lesson.

Suddenly the next page is lesson 8 and it is one that impressed me the most. In it the student does a blanket stitch, and invisible mending. This is where I started again realizing how much of the hand sewing skills I have not learned, being so relient on my fancy sewing machines. When one looks at the black piece of fabric, with the white blanket stitching on the edge, that seems to be the only thing there. On close examination though, you can see where an 'O' and 'J' had been cut out of the fabric and then invisably mended! If you turn the fabric over you can see the square of like fabric attached to it, but the stitching is so fine (and I might add, so black!) that from the front none of that is visable. I gave the student an A+ in my mind, but the teacher, ever strict gave a B.

The student is now ready to do visable stitching, and so the next lesson is button holes. Yes, hand stitched button holes, thirteen in all, running in a straight line up the muslin fabric sample. The sample piece is folded over, doubling the fabric as in real sewing and the edge of the sample was (although not neatly) stitched closed. No frayed edges for this sample! Also practiced were six blind loops, used I believe for hooks. The student is concentrating hard now on the hand sewing, because the written lesson looks just like any of us would write, when in a hurry. There are many spelling errors, corrections of syntax by the teacher, and in a list of questions at the end are points to the lesson that were not addressed.

We are now up to lesson 11. At the top of the lesson plan are the words, Gathering & Stroking. Stroking? Turns out, as I read through the less hurried lesson (and so much better handwriting) that after doing the traditional running stitch and pulling up the gathers the student writes "We then stroked the gathers in this way: We took a sharp steal (sic) pin and pushed each gather close to one another and the first real close to the needle and brought that pin on down this leaving each gather finished." While there could probably be a few punction marks to make it clearer, I realized that stroking was the process of straightening and aligning the gathers before attaching the cuff band. The three written pages of the lesson was not enough for the teacher, at the end was written, in a lovely script, "How is band placed to garment? Which side was held toward you while gathering and stroking? Which was held toward you while pinning, basting and sewing on band?" Ah, details, details, that teacher definitely wanted details!

There are two lesson 11's in the book. I am sure by now our student has lost count! This lesson constructed an apron, both a large 'for real' size one (which the student got to put lace trim on the hem line) and a tiny two inch sample. The material is listed as Indian Linen, and is a fine sheer muslin. The tiny apron is complete in all details, tiny hem, tiny gathers, tiny band. The only thing missing is a tiny button on the back of the band, used in the real garment to wear the apron.

That was the last lesson in the book. Spring's here, school is out. Or were these after school lessons, given by the local seamstress for the improvement of the young ladies sewing skills? I will never know. Still looking into a bit of that one girl's young life is something I treasure. I know somewhere along the line, she had spring fever because on the very last page is written this poem:

Just a bunch of wildflowers from your far off home,
Gathered in the valley where we used to roam.
Maybe they'll remind you of a heart still true,
Just a bunch of wildflowers that I picked for you.

She may have never given that old composition book a second glance after that class. She may have hated sewing and never took up needle and thread again. But I am glad if was saved and will pass it on someday, for the sheer history of it, and use it while I own it, for the inspiration of just what could be done with only a needle, thread and fine fabric.


Auction finds

Look what a dime use to buy!

I did make several purchases at the auction I attended last Sunday. The above magazine was just one of three that was in one lot, which also included several Ladies Home Companions from 1898. The Ladies Home Companions were not in very good shape, but still interesting to look through. They included a few needleworking patterns, but are mostly stories, ads and items that the ladies of the late 1800's would find enjoyable to read. I much more enjoyed the Needlework magazines, full of true 1920 knitting patterns, lace knitting, tatting, embroidery and of course ads. I think I missed my calling by not going into the advertising profession, I find it very fascinating (and yes, I watch the super bowl for the ads!)

I won very little at the auction and stayed the whole day. But the items I did win I am very happy to now own.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

SWIFT annual meeting

Last Saturday I was able to attend the annual meeting of SWIFT. This is an active guild for spinners and weavers in Indiana that draws folks like me from neighboring states. I have been a member for a number of years but usually the annual meetings fall on a weekend when I have to work, so I was pleased to be able to go this year. It is held at a place near Indianapolis called Conner Prairie, which looks like it has several interesting things going on during the year and may be a place I will want to visit again.

The first thing to greet me when I walked in and set down my spinning wheel was a 12 hour old baby goat. It was not a fiber goat, but a milking breed, an alpine. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for goats since I use to raise Saanans and Nubians. All babies are cute, but this little one was just adorable. It was the smallest of triplets and mama had not taken to it so it was being bottle-fed and was happily snoozing in a small laundry basket on a blanket.

The next best thing was shopping. I treated myself to 8 oz of Yak down for only 12.95. It is a deep brown color and I plan to spin it on a drop spindle. The next bargain was a buy one get one free pound of bleached irish linen roving. Now I have not spun linen before and I know roving is not the usual way to purchase linen. So either I got a great bargain, or two pounds of pure challenge! I have been reading on Spinlist some of the suggestions for spinning linen and will keep those in mind as I try this fiber. One suggestion was to spin outside because it tends to give off a large amount of fluff. Well, it cannot be any worse than angora for that! Another suggestion was to premoisten the fiber and keep a bowl of water near by while spinning. The biggest concern seems to be the fact the fiber is so short, and bleached which makes it even more fragile. I think I can handle the shortness; it should be similar to spinning angora (more so than cotton at least in how it feels). I will try a 2 ply well stretched while it dries. Maybe if I get a decent yarn from the linen I can use it for doilies. Or if I can get it smooth enough, maybe it will work with my knitting machine. Ah, knitted linen placemats, truly unique! As you can see, it will definitely be a challenge. The last thing I purchased was a dyed wool and linen blend roving (I detect a trend here). I fell in love with the silver purple color of the wool with the white streaks of linen. I don’t anticipate any problem spinning this unless the linen fiber just refuses to blend with the wool as I draft. I am sure there will be more posts on here about these fibers as I work with them.

SWIFT held the regular meeting after lunch, along with a roll call of guilds. Then there was a show and tell time on that year’s theme of ‘anything black and purple’. This ranged from showing a ball of black and purple handspun with many intentions, to a floor length hand-woven purple coat with a black border. In between there were felted mittens, wall hangings and cat toys as well as woven scarves and a woven band with purple sheep! There even was a quilt of purple. Next year’s theme is ‘a blue moon’. Now this stirs my creative juices, not only to anything in blue, but also the thought of doing something that one rarely attempts. Tatting? Bobbin lace? It will be an interesting show and tell.

The meeting ended with a slide show and talk present by Lewis of Little Barn Fibers on antique spinning wheels. I found it very interesting to see photos of some of the wheels unknown to me. Lewis was full of informative tips on various makers of wheels, as well as what makes them rare or common. I wish now I had taken notes. The one that I remember best is the gossip wheel. He states that this wheel was not designed for two spinners to sit and spin (and gossip) at the same time, but for one person to spin two bobbins at the same time. It boggles my mind that anyone would be able to draft and control fiber in both their right and left hand and spin a fine linen thread, but according to him that is exactly the reasoning behind the design. He said he had only seem the gossip wheel used in that fashion once, and the spinner drew the flax from one source with both hands and spun it with each hand onto separate bobbins. Since all linen thread was hand spun in those times, and since it was often children spinning 16 hours a day, I imagine it would be possible to develop that skill. I doubt though that it was a home skill used by those that spun for family use only.

For me, I was content to just spin a single bobbin with two hands, on my Haldane during the spin-in and the meeting. I cleared some of the bobbins by plying what was on them, and then spun a lovely silver gray llama fiber. And even at that, I barely filled one bobbin, with all of the eating, talking, laughing and baby goat hugging going on around me.