I think in my last entry I said I was going to make granny squares from the Cheviot fleece that I have been spinning. I’ll sew them all into a big blanket then when I have enough. At this point I have only about 8 so quite a bit to go yet. It eats up the spun yarn though and that is my objective. What I am spinning is just not good enough for anything else.
I am trying to spin every day and there is no doubt that the yarn on my bobbins is getting finer but I still feel that the final washed product is too fluffy and uneven. Some parts are lovely and others look just terrible. I am making a two ply yarn from the bobbins and it makes it very thick to crochet.
I was reading How to Spin Just About Anything, and the author said that you shouldn’t spin fleece ‘in the grease’ after Christmas – the logic being that the fleece was shorn probably in June and the grease has been hardening all that time and it’s just not good for the wheel and bobbins etc. to keep running the dirty fleece through it after so many months. Taking this on board I decided to wash all the fleece that I have left unspun. I divided it into roughly three parts and after researching a little online I soaked each one in ‘hottish’ water with some dish detergent and then a few rinses of cold. I tried to agitate it as little as possible and then put it in a laundry bag and gave it a short spin in my washing machine. Getting it dry was the hardest part! The weather here in North Dublin has been very cold and when it isn’t cold it has been wet. I needed to dry the fleece outside in the garden as I had it inside for a while and it was just too ‘sheepy’ (unsurprisingly!). My family already comment on the fact that they can smell when I have been spinning so I thought I couldn’t inflict days of wet sheep scent on them inside the house. Getting the fleece dry outside involved spreading it on my picnic table and then running out every time it seemed like the weather was changing to bring it back in. I kept that up and it dried over about four days. What was a half empty bag of greasy fleece is now full to the top with creamy fluff. It’s like starting all over again!
We have had some lovely days so far this Spring. With the beach only a few minutes drive away it is great to be able to have a morning walk there. It really blows the cobwebs away. I feel lucky that I can live only a few miles from the centre of Dublin and have such lovely places nearby.
It is a different experience to spin the Cheviot clean as it doesn’t grip to itself as much, I had to start off very slowly and on a low ratio before being able to build up the speed again.
It looked good on the bobbin, the nicest that I have ever spun. I was able to spin it with a lot of twist but I should have plied it tighter. However it is still very loose and fluffy now that it is done. I’m a bit tired of the natural colour so I used some Kool-Aid I had on hand to give it a bit more life. I dyed one single yellow and one pink before plying just to give it a bit of interest. It will liven up the blanket!
It is harder than it seems to commit to blogging regularly! Time slips by and it gets harder and harder to catch up. I find myself thinking “I’ve missed writing about that thing so now I can’t write about what just happened”. And time continues to pass and nothing gets written.
In Mid-November I had returned to Mary O’Rourke for a second lesson and to pick up my new wheel. I had decided on a Louet Julia and it took a few weeks from when I ordered it, to when Mary emailed to say it had arrived. It was so exciting to arrive down there and be able to unpack the box and assemble what was to be my own spinning wheel. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought and because I did all the assembly myself I felt ownership right from the start – I understand how it all works. I love the modern look of it. It could be designed by Ikea (which to me is a positive thing). It’s small and compact and makes so little noise, just a soothing whirr of the wheel and the flyer. It has a double treadle which I have found much easier to get the hang of than the single treadle wheels I have used previously.
But knitting at Christmas took up so much of my time! As well as some charity knitting I was making a Hitchhiker for each of my two sisters out of some lovely Coolree yarn and although they were just garter stitch shawlettes they took a lot longer than I thought they would. I took to working on them each day on the Dart as my commute gave me an hour of dedicated knitting time. I got used to people getting on to the train and hesitating to sit by me. Knitting in public is still not the norm in Dublin.
I also had a large crochet blanket to finish for my daughter and some King Cole Tinsel stuffed animals that she fell in love with when she saw them at the Knitting and Stitching show. They had been promised for so long and so spinning went on hold and they were all completed by Christmas Eve. Great happiness all round!
During my last visit to Mary in Glennasmole I also brought home a fleece to get spinning with – a Cheviot that is apparently a ‘great all round fleece’ and so I have found it so far. I have spun up some skeins and plied them on the wheel and am mostly happy with the results. They are nice and softer than I thought they would be. I can see that I am improving all the time but I still feel that I am spinning a yarn that is much too thick, with two plies, to be very useful. I want to spin my singles thinner and be able to ply them into a two or three ply and not end up with something so chunky.
Anyway this weekend then I sat down with the hand carders that I have also bought and carded a huge amount of fleece. I’ve been told that it takes seven times as long to card a fleece than it takes to spin so I spent several hours with the carders and some helpful YouTube videos. It takes a much lighter touch than I thought and I am not 100% sure that I am doing it right but like everything else it’s all practice and by the time I was finished I was definitely able to produce something that looked like a proper carded rolag.
Spinning those has been a different experience. I have had to slow right down again and concentrate a lot more than I had been. The carded fleece seems to spin up much more quickly and definitely finer than when I spun the unprepared fibre. I think I like the result better but I can only really tell once it is washed and dried after plying.
So progress has been made but I need many many more hours to feel that I know what I am doing and to be happy with the results! I’m going to make some sort of crochet blanket from my current efforts. I want to make a large project that I can add to over time and I think I would find it hard to knit something from yarn that varies so much in weight each time I finish a skein. That plan is only just forming – I’ll work it out as I go along I expect!
As I left my wheel spinning class Mary gave me a drop spindle and a bag of fleece to practice with. I’ve tried a drop spindle before with no great success. However I thought that it was worth a try as at least at this stage I have something of an understanding of what is supposed to happen when I spin. The spindle that Mary gave me has a heavy flat bottom and she explained that this design meant that once I had spun it I could put it on the ground and it wouldn’t back spin. It also has no hook so I have to secure the leader with a half-hitch when starting to spin.
I decided to give it a try a couple of days after the class and it really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It’s great that it has a flat end as I could give it a spin and leave it on the ground and then draft the fleece and leave in the twist until it needed another spin. So it seemed easy to control. My hands didn’t need to be twisting, drafting, and spinning all at the same time. I got to really hate the sound of the spindle crashing to the floor when I dropped it because my half-hitch came undone or because I drafted too thinly. It took time to work out how to get everything to happen at the same time.
So over a number of days I have spun over half the bag I brought home with me and I can see the yarn slowly becoming more consistent and I no longer need to pause the spindle while I draft, I can flick it into motion as it slows and carry on spinning so my speed is improving too. Best of all as long as I am not dropping my spindle (as much) I can relax and just enjoy the process.
I got the spindle about as full as it is in that picture on the left and then it just seemed to fall all the time so I took that to mean that enough was enough and it was time to take it off. I wound it into a skein just by winding it from the crook of my thumb around my elbow – I have no niddy-noddy yet.
I let it soak overnight in cold water and then washed it with some washing-up liquid and hot water the next day. After a rinse it was hung it out to dry in the garden. I guess that this must have been a pretty regular sight in the past in Ireland but maybe not from an olive tree!
One thing though that had not occurred to me is that I need to do something with all this woollen yarn that I am producing so I have to find time to knit the proceeds too. Any spinning advice I have read or listened to says you need to knit as you spin because if you come back to the yarn in 12 months time your spinning will have improved so much you won’t want to work with it.
Basket Weave Hat
I have knit this cosy basket weave hat to use up my first wheel spun wool. It’s a Ravelry pattern. It was just luck that I finished the skein with enough Black-Faced Leicester for two rows at the start. One funny thing about the hat though is that, of course, it smells of wool as it is really just taken straight off the sheep with minimal processing. So when I wear it on my morning commute and it gets warm on my head I really notice a distinctly ‘sheepy’ aroma starting to surround me. I have no idea if anyone else notices but I’ve started stuffing my hat into my bag for the public transport section of my morning. I like the scent I have to say, it brings me back to my spinning happy place.
Now I need to find another project for the next two skeins!
In search of more spinning I did a bit of on-line investigation and made contact with Mary O’Rourke, a spinner and fiber artist who lives in Glenasmole in Co. Dublin. She gives one-to-one classes in spinning so I arranged to meet her one torrentially rainy Friday in early October. Despite the rain the setting for her lovely farmhouse is idyllic, a perfect location for an afternoon learning how to spin.
Mary set me up at an ‘Ashford Traveller’ wheel with a basket of fleece beside me and just told me to start and see how I got on. It took a little while to get the hang of treadling again. This wheel had just one treadle and I found it tricky to keep it going until Mary suggested I also use my left foot also and I started to find my rhythm. We were able to chat while we spun. Mary has a beautiful Donegal wheel – not suitable for a beginner!
The fleece that Mary spins comes from her own sheep and we span it unwashed. I didn’t find it difficult at all to spin – I think that the fact that the wool was still coated with lanolin helped with my drafting as it felt a little sticky. My fingers found the occasional piece of grass or moss in the fleece and sometimes it ended up on the bobbin – sometimes I managed to flick it out before it got wound in. As my foot began to control the wheel I was able to get some consistency in my yarn – a little anyway! I was still overspinning a bit although Mary thought it wasn’t too bad. (She was so encouraging.) Sometimes I drafted too thinly and lost the fleece and had to join it and get it started again. I loved watching the fleece run through my fingers and releasing the spin into the drafted wool and seeing it being taken up onto the bobbin. It requires an amount of attention but the rhythm builds and your fingers work by themselves and sometimes it just flows. I could feel the stress flow out of me and wind itself onto the bobbin with the yarn.
At some point I felt things start to go wrong and this was where Mary said to pay attention to the signals I was getting from my fingers and feet as when the bobbin starts to get full the treadle gets heavier and it was time to wind off the wool.
So she showed me how to use a Niddy Noddy to wind off my first proper skein of wool and we let it soak while we had a cup of tea. I was amazed at how much lighter the colour was at the end of the washing process. A lot of the little extra bits floated away in the rinsing.
I started spinning again and Mary showed me how to card some wool and I spun that too. When it started to get dark and we finished up I left with one of Mary’s hand made drop spindles and a bag of fleece to carry on with as well as two skeins of my own hand spun yarn.
Spun yarn hanging to dry
When I got home I hung the damp yarn to dry, weighted with a shoe to help ease out the overspinning.
I think it looks amazing.
I was utterly exhausted, it was pouring rain and I was just elated with the results of the day. I felt relaxed and positive and I felt that the good effect lasted until the following Tuesday. There is no doubt that this is going to help my moods and stress.
So now I need to decide on a wheel and practice on my drop spindle. I’ve a bag of fleece to spin!
It is not New Year yet but because of one thing or another I have decided to learn to spin and I want to learn to spin well. Then as I learn to spin, I want to blog about it, so I have somewhere to track my progress and my photos. I think writing about it will help me untangle my thoughts as I learn to create some lovely smooth yarns.
Malcom Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’ said that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in a field. Now I don’t know if that is true or if there is even such a thing as a ‘world class spinner’ but I think it is a worthwhile aim and route to getting where I want to be.
So I booked my first spinning class at the ‘HandmAid Craft Fair’ in Dublin in September. This was in aid of the Laura Lynn hospice. Our class was given by Diarmuid Commins from ‘S Twist Yarn Studio’ . He talked a lot about spinning and how he came to it and I thought he was inspirational especially when he talked about the meditative quality of spinning. This is something that I really hope to find in spinning and one of my aims for wanting to learn. There were five of us in the class and a variety of wheels which were lent by some very generous spinners.
I sat in front of a Louet wheel which I really liked for its modern looks. The other wheels were ‘Ashford Travellers’ I think. What I really liked about them was how small they all were. The rest of my family think that this new hobby of mine is a little bit eccentric to say the least so I think the less room it takes up in the house the better, for now. The next thing that struck me was that they were nearly silent – all good for the same reason!
So we learned how to treadle and make the wheel turn and we started spinning with some prepared fiber. I can’t remember what type of wool it was. But I over-spun and under-spun, I broke the yarn and lost it into the bobbin, but at the end of the session Diarmuid showed us how to ply the yarn together and even though what I had was lumpy and bumpy it is probably knittable and it looks like a yarn. I was tired but thrilled as I walked away and more even more determined to find a wheel to buy, someone to teach me to use it, and some fluff to spin.
It feels like the start of something new.