Well over a year ago I was in Prick Your Finger and somebody was in the shop, spinning at a spinning wheel. Seeing that I like all things woolly, I was most intrigued. As spinning wheels are a serious investment, I thought I could explore the art of spinning by starting off on a cheap spindle and some fleece. The fleece was rather special, yet of unknown provenance as far as breeds go. It was called “M25” fleece, which was unwanted fleece they had gathered for within the M25 for their installation at the Stanley Picker Gallery. Unhindered by any knowledge of fibre preparation I made an attempt at spinning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t do a very good job of it and in fact, I didn’t even enjoy the process. But, as you can see in the following picture, things have changed since:
two spindles, Wensleydale combed tops, textured merino yarn, two ply M25 yarn, dyed Portland
Somehow I couldn’t let go of the dream of spinning my own yarn and late last year, in fact, just before the start of Wovember2012, I had a chat with Felix, as she had been spinning for a little while and I decided to plunge in again. This time I bought myself a nice spindle:
22 gram Spindle from Ian Tait, shaft from Ash, whorl from Sycamore with a pippy Yew finish
I got my spindle from IST Crafts and it is a thing of beauty. The shaft is made from Ash, the whorl is made from Sycamore, and is finished with a layer of pippy Yew. It is extremely well-balanced, and the whorl is rim-weighted, so it keeps spinning. I also availed myself of two books:
Your Handspinning, by Elsie G Davenport
Your Handspinning by Elsie G Davenport was originally published in the 1950s and is considered a classic by many. I was lucky to find it in a secondhand bookshop. It takes you through all the basics of spinning on a spindle and a wheel. But for me, one book on a subject is never enough*, so I also bought the following book:
Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont
It’s Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, and she covers a lot of ground, going into great detail of the intricacies of spinning with a spindle. Well worth the investment if you when you’re starting out.
At the same time my spindle arrived in the post, Felix had very kindly put together a parcel full of fibre to play with. It was all ready to be spun, so I didn’t have to worry about combing or carding it.
Here’s one of my very-first-for-the-second-time handspun:
As you can see, it’s is rather textured. Anyone who spins will recognise the unintentional thick and thin nature of this first handspun yarn. But it didn’t take me that long to get more consistent; just spin for 15-30min each day and slowly but surely it starts to get easier and easier. I started of with the park-and-draft technique, explained in detail in Abby Franquemont’s video here. In fact, I find her video very instructional and although she made it well before her book was published, they go together well. I spun all the Merino, then some Masham, Jacob and also some Shetland: Felix’s parcel was stuffed full of goodies!
However, I still had that bag of washed, but otherwise unprepared M25 fleece. So Felix came to visit and she brought along some of her spinning tools. Of course a spindle, but also some hand carders and mini combs. I took to the combs with vigour and I really enjoyed prepping the fibre and I worked my way through the bag in no time. We noticed a few locks were coarses than others, so I processsed that separately. Once spun up and plied, you can see how the coarser fleece has turned into a yarn with a bit more halo:
M25 fleece, combed and spun by myself. Coarse fibre yarn at the front, finer fibre yarn at the back.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so proud of this achievement and the difference between fibre quality within a fleece shows so well in these two yarns, that I just have to share some close-ups:
M25 fleece, finer fibre yarn
M25 fleece, coarse fibre yarn
Aren’t they beautiful? The waste fibre left over from the combing was used to practise carding and making rolags. Definitely more difficult than combing and we didn’t have a lot to play with, but here is the yarn we managed to spin from it, and it clearly has a more woollen spun nature to it:
Woollen spun M25 fleece
For my latest experiments I used some dyed fibres. Portland in fact, and all dyed by Felix herself. Here are the four colours, in the lock:
Portland fleece, dyed by Dr Felicity Ford
The browns are dyed using black walnut (I’m assuming the lighter brown is from a second dye bath), the green was made with now forgotten plants and the “crazy pink” from dylon cold dye. Although I think my main interest will be breed specific wool and their natural colours, I did enjoy spinning this up and playing around a bit. I found Cecilia Hewett’s series of posts on spinning for Wovember very inspirational. I particularly like the yarn she showed in part II, a yarn that appears to be brown from afar, yet up close it reveals a myriad of colours. Amazing!
My attempts are not half as fancy, but it was fun to do nonetheless:
yarn from the dyed Portland
I mixed up the fibres by taking chunks of the combed tops and using them one after another for one single ply yarn, and then I made a much longer repeat on the second single ply. I have tried plying the yarns together from a centre pull ball but I don’t get on with that technique. Instead I followed Abby Franquemont’s advise of creating a plying ball. Simply wind the two single ply yarns together in a ball, making sure the tension is equal on both yarns; you can use a tennis ball or similar as a core for the plying ball, but I just started winding without it. You might already introduce a bit of twist when doing this, but once you’ve wound up your ball you are going to ply it proper on a spindle. As you can see, the Prick Your Finger spindle, which is larger and heavier than my IST spindle, is perfect for this.
I created two small quantities of this coloured Portland yarn, one with a balanced twist, and one very much overtwisted in order to see what would happen. It will also allow me to try something out I have wanted to swatch for a long time: the bias effect that an overtwisted yarn introduces to a fabric knitted in stocking stitch. But that, dear readers, is the subject for another blog post.
*) whilst I’m writing this post, two more books on spinning and preparing fibre are on the way. Peter Teal’s Hand Wool Combing and Spinning; and Judith MacKenzie’s The Intentional Spinner.