Fibre

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Here is the next step towards my yarn from these batts I made:

curlybits

I haven’t done any yarn with curls before. I am very excited about how it will turn out, but not ironically excited enough to ply it yet. Perhaps today will be the day.

I am so very smitten with my yarn and my spinning and my wheel.

This is the alpaca I wanted to spin, and I wanted to have a yarn kind of pull up from a ball something like this when it was being plied, but when I started touching the fibre it seemed too loose and liable to pull apart to do that with, so I spun it in a thick and thin single:

But I felt that leaving it to untwist as it went back through the wheel it would fall apart, so I wanted to ply it with something to help it stay together. I raided my stash and came up with some brown Sisu from some gloves I knit my mom about five years ago:

I am running out of Sisu, so I will have to find some other brown yarn and just hope it isn’t too different, but how could one not be proud of oneself to have created this:

My mind is running a mile a minute trying to figure out what I want to do with it. I am thinking it would be fun to knit it all on one size of needles, but switch to larger ones for the bulky sections. I figure that would make a really textured knit, but the only problem is that you would almost certainly need to make it into a scarf — surely I can come up with something more exciting than that.

I am quite pleased with myself and my yarn. I spun the roving and rigged myself up a lazy kate:

(It’s a shoe box with knitting needles jabbed through it)

I plied the yarn, but as you can see I wasn’t quite perfect on making the bobbins the same length. Can anyone tell me if there a fix for this that I don’t know about?

I had a little trouble getting the feel for the plying at first, but by the end the yarn was beautifully balanced with no weird twistiness, and for what I want to use it for I don’t think the mis-plied sections will matter that much (I am keeping my plans up my sleeve for now).

Here it is on the bobbin:

And off:

I am quite pleased with my results and have a bigger bag of the same stuff in a red colour way to work with in a little while after I try out a few more things. I fancy a matching beret and gloves out of that one as I think it will be enough.

I am messing around with different fibre I have, trying out different yarns — trying to figure out what works and how best to use each kind.

This is the roving I have decided to tackle next:

It is hand painted alpaca.

There isn’t that much of it. I have split it in half and am spinning it thin:

I plan to spin the other half the same and ply them.

In bloom

The flax is just coming into bloom:

I am glad I will have a bit of time to figure out what to do with it before I need to do anything with it. The spinning is coming along nicely.

The flax has sprouted:

Or else I have very well behaved and uniformly sized weeds, but I figure the weeds look more like this:

I am a little worried I have cleared away some perfectly verdant vegetation, made the backyard look like the surface of the moon and planted something that won’t grow.

Within the next few days I will be posting the free pattern for the scarf I made with the Girls Throw Snow Handspun Yarn I bought from Milkyrobot a few months ago.

Here is a sneak peak:

I have finally got the flax in the ground. It’s a few days later than the middle of May, but spring was late too.

You may have divined that I have no idea what I am doing, but I have been asking around and apparently you can just prepare the dirt, sprinkle the seed, rake it a bit, and water it — who knew?

Here is the all important flax seed and some other stuff I may be able to grow.

For all that I am not supposed to anthropomorphize other living things, and plants don’t really want anything, I figure plants do want to grow and live and will do it where ever they can, so they are on my side.

This is a series of questions Jess Rollar of Milkyrobot was kind enough to answer for me about spinning and her process. You can buy Jess’ yarns and fibre from her Etsy store (also called Milkyrobot). I have bought some, and please let me say that they are as wonderful as they look in the pictures.

How did you get started spinning?

After teaching myself knitting, I became very interested in handspun yarn. I kept drooling over handspun and wondered if I could do the same. Once I got spinning I was hooked!

How long have you been spinning and how long were you doing it before you considered yourself good?

I started spinning in 2002. My mom bought me a wheel for my 21st birthday with no experience what so ever. It took me a couple tries to actually get any yarn to twist and not break. I finally mastered the skill later in the month. It was about 8 months to a year until I fell in love with my yarn. Some were kinda creepy at first and didn’t actually look like yarn!

Who taught you how to spin?

I taught myself how to spin after getting my wheel. I’ve never used a drop spindle and still haven’t. Just could never get it to work right.

What is your process?

I always start out with an image or idea before gathering my materials. I usually base my yarn and batts off of graffiti art, nature or just random objects that catch my eye. Once I have an idea of what I want to create, I gather all the fibers together and card them into a squishy batt, then spin away! Some yarns get plied and some stay single, the yarns do the talking!

What equipment do you need to create the yarns your post on your Etsy shop and blog?

The equipment I use the most would be my spinning wheel, of course, and my Ashford drum carder.

What kind of wheel do you have and what kinds have you had in the past?

I spin on a Louet S-17. This is the first and only wheel I’ve had. I do have plans to pick up an Ashford Country Spinner sometime this year.

Where do you buy your materials?

Most of my materials are bought from two local fiber shops, The Fiber Factory and Tempe Yarn and Fiber in Arizona. I get some unusual spinning fiber online or from etsy shops as well.

Do you dye your own fiber, if not, how do you get the exact colors you want?

I have dyed my own fiber in the past. I’m currently getting ready to start dyeing sock yarn soon. When I can’t find the exact colors I want, I find other materials to spin into my yarn such as sequins or random strings and things.

What do you think would be a basic start up spinning kit? Wheel? Fiber? Carders?

I always suggest starting with a Louet or Ashford wheel. I find these wheels very easy to understand and use. As for fiber, I would suggest wool or dyed roving to start with. Once your comfortable with your wheel, try adding in random fibers and see how they spin and feel. I’ve only used Ashford hand carders and drum carders and very much love them! I suggest starting with that to anyone!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with spinning and get excited about the yarns you make and sell?

You must have lots of patience and lots of creativity! Let your fingers do the work and let the fiber do the talking. Anything can be spun even plastic spiders and feathers! Get super creative and don’t hold back.

What tips would you give to a new spinner on how to spin your batts? How do you incorporate the sequins into the spinning?

Whenever I spin my own batts or even others, I always strip the fiber into 8 pieces. Once split up, I spin each strip one after another and let the colors pop up how they please. Sometimes I even mix other fiber clumps into the spinning or solid merino strips. With the sequins, I usually just catch the tip of the sequin strand to some fiber and let the wheel pull the in, twisting the sequin strand around the roving.

How close are you to being able to support yourself on spinning?

If it wasn’t for the economy today and if I could get my yarn into a few more shops, I would most likely be able to live off my yarn and fiber sales. But in this case, maybe next year if I push myself hard enough!

This yarn is very nice to work with. It has good memory and sheen, and feels wonderfully smooth to wear.

The only problem that I found with working with it is that it is prone to splitting and is easily damaged by the needles if you are not careful. For that reason, I would suggest that this yarn is not appropriate for beginning knitters, but I would recommend it for anyone else who wants a nice light smooth fitted summer sweater.

Channel your inner Becky Sharpe — I suggest wearing it “tailored to a nicety” (read tight).

I was in the Wool Emporium ordering my spinning wheel and Glenda mentioned that some people are growing flax in Saskatchewan for fibre already, and all they do to ret it is cut it down and let it sit under the snow over the winter.

That sounds like it can be accomplished. I was a little worried about how it would work before, but laying it on the ground and letting it rot is something I think I can do.

Note: retting is when you let the stalks rot a little, so the soft part of the stem is gone, which frees the long fibres, which make up the linen.

She also says that spinning flax on a spinning wheel is easy.

I started digging the garden today in my quest for my own home grown flax:

I am quite tired now. I have spent practically my entire adult life living in apartments and am wimpy about digging. I figure that if I dig about this much every day left this week, I will be ready to plant on the weekend.

It is not as hard as I anticipated. I grew up on glacial till, and there are more rocks in that dirt than you can shake a stick at. It might have given me a distorted view of how hard gardening is.

I plan on going to my local yarn store and looking at spinning wheels etc. on the weekend. It’s all coming together.

I have just finished reading Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years – Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber; it was wonderful and transported me through time to see the work all those women did making things to make their lives a little more beautiful. It appears to be out of print, but I was able to order a copy from ABE Books without difficulty.

I loved the descriptions of making linen and wool, and I have come up with the brilliant idea of growing flax in the backyard.

Sure, it may not look like much now, but I will dig it and plant my flax and grow it and ret it and spin it. I anticipate that the flax I grow will not be good for “clothing,” but I can always knit a table cloth or a rug or something from it.

I need to dig the garden soon as the weeds are already growing. You see, last year I let it go “fallow” so there may be a bit of a battle to get this started, but I think it is a wonderful, if somewhat eccentric, idea. I have looked up the Flax Council of Canada’s website and they advise the farmers to plant it in the middle of May, and I plan to do the same.

I’ll keep you posted.

I have been fantasizing about fibre lately and then I was looking Etsy, which is a hobby dangerous to one’s pocket book. I recently gave in to two skeins from Milkyrobot. I also got a little excited at McNally Robinson and bought Intertwined by Lexi Boeger and Spinning the Old Way by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts.

It is only a matter of time.

I have spun before, but what I ended up with was pretty dull:

Handspun scarf

Yes, it is a grey garter stitch scarf. Please try to contain your excitement.

Handspun scarf - 2

I quit because it seemed boring. I didn’t know that spinning like this was possible: here, here, and here.

Just contemplate Fabulosity, Milkyrobot, and Pluckyfluff. It is only a matter of time, but I will refrain from buying a spinning wheel yet, as I don’t think I need an expensive dusty carpet ornament.  I will ease my way in with a spindle.

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