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.