Now that I'm finally done with the semester, I am working hard to get things going in my shop again. You can expect to hear about additions to the shop here. In the meantime, for my dear readers, here is a little peek:
One of the things I love about the fiber arts is that they are all connected and they all support each other. I began primarily as a knitter and sewer, but have grown to love many other fiber arts, including spinning, weaving, and dyeing. I have been especially excited about spinning lately. During the last month or so of the spring semester, I spent most of my free time spinning. I have a wonderful Louet spinning wheel that my great-aunt has lent me, but I have been rediscovering the wonders of the drop spindle (largely thanks to this book).
Often people begin their spinning adventures on a spindle, but once they decide they like to spin they switch over to a spinning wheel. There is a sense that serious spinners use wheels, and that drop spindles are too slow and basic. Partly the spinning wheel is touted as a faster and more efficient means of achieving yarn. And this is usually the case. But the spindle has its own advantages to offer the spinner.
For one thing (and very very importantly), the drop spindle is far more portable than the spinning wheel. The implications of this portability are not to be underestimated; whereas a spinning wheel is large, heavy, and somewhat fragile (thus unappealing to carry around from room to room or from errand to errand), a drop spindle is small, light, and fairly hardy. You can tuck a spindle (or two) inside your bag or even your pocket and spin away all day, while walking, talking on the phone, waiting for appointments, watching television, and so forth. By the hour a spinning wheel may spin more yarn, but because of the spindle's portability, the spindle spins more by the day.
Furthermore, the spindle is almost always inexpensive. A spinning wheel generally costs hundreds of dollars, but a decent spindle only costs about ten or fifteen dollars (and even less if you make it yourself from wooden pieces found at the craft store, as my boyfriend and I did with the little spindle in the above photo). Many advanced spinners end up with several spinning wheels because no single wheel can spin every type of yarn that is ever desired. If you're going to need several spinning devices eventually anyway, why not buy several small and affordable drop spindles that are just as effective?
People often consider the spindle to be a child's or beginner's tool. Why? If you switch to a wheel without fully mastering the spindle, you will not gain as complete an understanding of, and control over, the yarn-making process. I find the spindle to be a more challenging and exciting tool. It need not be abandoned as one proceeds further into the handspinning world; rather, it can enhance and progress the spinner's knowledge of the craft.
Spinning, of course, starts with the sheep. This is a Babydoll Southdown lamb. I would love to have a few of my own someday! They have such sweet teddy bear faces.
Once the fleece has been shorn, it must be washed carefully. Here is a Coopworth-Cheviot fleece that I washed about a month ago. Look at all the beautiful, naturally occurring shades of brown and gray.
Once it was dry, I carded the wool into rolags with a pair of Ashford handcarders. (I don't have a drum carder, but I'd certainly love to get one someday.) Carding is a process of aligning the individual hairs so that they are basically parallel. There are many different ways of carding and combing fibers; often spinners purchase roving or some other preprocessed fiber. I do a bit of both, though I am growing to love being able to be involved in the whole process, so I'm kind of phasing out of buying preprocessed fiber.
Having carded my fleece into a nice basket of rolags, it was time to spin, which I did. I spun some of this fleece and some of the other fiber I had lying around. Once I had spun a bunch and plied what I wanted to ply, I set the twist (essentially by giving the new skeins of yarn a bath) and hung the skeins out to dry. Here, then, are some of the skeins I have spun recently:
I've also begun to experiment with dyeing my yarns. My first try was with a singles yarn that I stuck into a big glass jar with alum and a bunch of cut-up beets. I set the jar outside for a week. Thus I solar-dyed the yarn. I didn't do it perfectly, but it came out a pretty gorgeous pinkish-lavender color:
My next dyeing experience was even more exciting. I collected a basketful of dandelions from our yard and let them dry for a week. Then I mordanted my yarn with alum and rinsed it, separately simmered the dandelion heads in water to extract their dye and strained out the dyestuffs, and finally simmered the yarn in the dyebath for a while. I did it all outside with a hotplate, which took forever and ever and ever. (Meanwhile, I spun on my drop spindle.)
But look at the beautiful yellow that resulted:
Success. How satisfying to follow the fiber process from fleece to rolag to skein to dyed yarn! Now I have to figure out what to do with the sunny yellow yarn that's sitting on my shelf. Hmmm...
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