|24 July 2017||Posted by Ness under Life, Spinning|
When I finished my undergrad, I didn’t read for a year.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as my journey as a Master Spinner student is over. With a text-heavy major and minor, I was forever reading through all five years it took to get my degree (an extra year because I took work experience). When I was done, I was literally done with reading. I continued to buy books, but just never found myself sitting down to read them. This was very out of character for me. The earliest fights my sister and I had were because I wanted to read and she wanted to play. Books were my friends, my escape, and my parents still expect me to write the great Canadian novel someday (though they may be giving up on me as I get older!). So that I didn’t read for that one whole year was… huge.
Master Spinner is a six year program, one year longer than my undergrad, and in its own way just as heavy. I have been doing spinning homework of one form or another for over half a decade, and I don’t mind telling you that at some points over the last couple of years, I’ve wondered why I was putting myself through it, and sometimes I think I got through not so much on love of the craft, but on sheer willful determination and stubbornness. And in the same way as I bought and received books throughout my undergrad and after, I’ve been buying and receiving spinning fibre throughout all the years of my certificate.
But unlike reading, spinning is a physical skill. And despite being finished, I know I have so much more to learn and practice. So this year, I actually set out with a plan for Tour de Fleece.
I was going to get through a lot of fibre. Small Spinning Box samples on my Traddy, large Spinning Box samples on my Hansen, ridiculously huge Corriedale project on my Joy, and a random Polwarth/silk I pulled from the stash on my great-grandmother’s wheel. Did I expect to get it all done? If I’m honest with myself, no. But that wasn’t the point of the plan. The point was to not have to think about it, but to just spin.
My volume of output was hampered by traveling two weekends in a row, and temperatures breaking 30 C for a good part of the Tour (and my fibretorium is one of the warmest rooms in the house given its south face, two windows, and hardwood floors). But I am not displeased. Those nine skeins measure out at 452 grams, 1,707 yards total plied, and if you want to add in the singles yardage (taking into account pieces of the two large skeins on the right were spun before), that’s another 2,818 yards, for a total of 4,525 yards that I spun over 23 days.
(As an aside, while I know why we all measure yarn in yards, the actual total means nothing to me because I’m Canadian and we measure the height of people in feet but everything else in metres. So for anyone like me, my total plied yardage is 1.56 km, my singles yardage is 2.58 km, and my total spun yardage is 4.14 km. That last is an hour’s walk if I’m having a good day!)
I used three of my four wheels and a spindle. I played with fibre I’ve never used before, and some that I have. I tried to match a singles I spun a good two years ago, and despite thinking I did pretty good, still have 40 grams of the newer singles left over. I have some great yarn, and some not so great yarn, and some yarn that really needs the right project to make it useful. I didn’t get to any part of the last two 200g skeins of the Corriedale project, nor did I do any spinning on my great-grandmother’s wheel. I still have quite a few small samples left to spin, and one big one. But you know what? I spun.
I didn’t put it aside and say that I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel burned out, like I did after my undergrad, though I was afraid I would. And my hands, even on the days where they were sore and not moving well, knew what they were doing. I spun woolen, and worsted; I plied from bobbins, I chain-plied off a plying ball, I plied on a spindle; I challenged myself, and I just let the fibre and my hands do what they wanted.
Somewhere in the last three weeks, and I’ll have to apologize because I don’t remember when or who said it, but someone was admiring my work and said, with all affection and a little teasing, “It’s almost like you’re a master spinner or something.” And I had to smile and say yes, but I’m more a master spinner in the way that Master Li was a wise man in Bridge of Birds, with the half-closed eye on his sign: “Part of the truth revealed. Some things I see, but some I don’t.” (Hughart, p. 18)
Wisdom and mastery is not about knowing it all, but about knowing how much you do not know. But after these three weeks, I know that I’m a spinner, and I’ll stay behind the wheel.
|22 July 2014||Posted by Ness under Spinning, Weaving|
Level 3 homework marches on, and it occurred to me after I’d decided to spin a three-ply silk noil for weft, that I’d already decided to spin up a two-ply mawata skein for the same part of the homework. In fact, I’d already drafted out six mawata and wrapped them around two nostepinne, just waiting for me to spin them. And I’d even put the nostepinne in the bin’o’homework’stuff that was here at the suite, and not at the storage unit! Well, how lucky. I immediately ditched the idea of the three-ply noil (for this skein), and proceeded to spin up the mawata.
First, let me say that if you draft mawata and store them on nostepinne, it’s probably best to spin them within a day or two. Don’t let them sit there and meld together, get bumped around and compressed, or you might just end up doing what I did and wasting the better part of one whole mawata and having to draft out another. But spin them I did, and the yarn itself actually turned out quite nice (if I do say so myself), and then it was time to try out the pin loom that my dad made for me.
First I just put in fifteen nails per side and wrapped the silk for warp around them, then attempted to use a crochet hook and a makeshift paper stick shuttle to do a plain weave. It looked awful, and I was going to run out of weft yarn well before the three inch mark. I pulled it all apart, and looked up proper instructions for using a pin loom. It looked fairly easy, so I set up the loom as the directions said, and wove.
You know the reason that we all have lots of knitting needles in different sizes, or different spinning wheels or spindles? It’s because we know that we need to match the right tools to the right job. There was a little problem with the pin loom that Dad made for me. It works perfectly, but for a lot heavier-weight yarn than the silk that I spun.
Now I faced a conundrum. I needed to weave a 3″ square out of these two yarns, somehow. My rigid heddle loom, which I kept out and is in the storage unit, could work, but I would need a lot more yarn for my little square. The pin loom obviously wasn’t going to work, and I only had the supplies that I had brought with me, and what I could possibly scrounge. Luckily, a little bit of searching on Google led me to this tutorial on how to make a cardboard loom, and as luck would have it, we had a cardboard box sitting in our recycling bag, waiting to be taken to the curb. A night’s work and some very sore fingers later (no hammer or really tools of any kind meant that I was pushing the nail through the cardboard by hand to ‘pre-drill’ the holes), I had a little 3″ square loom ready to go.
Macgyvering this loom together meant making do with what I had. A nail to pierce both pieces of cardboard, corrugated cardboard recycled from a shipping box, a short yarn needle, and the thin acrylic yarn I use to tie my final skeins are not the most ideal construction supplies for the loom, but they’re what I had, and it worked well enough.
It’s taken me three days to weave this little swatch. The tension isn’t great, because really how do you regulate that, and my selvages are pretty bad too, since the acrylic stretched a bit and the corrugated cardboard collapsed, and beating the weft threads into place was… an interesting experience, but the more I wove, the more infatuated I became with the fabric.
The shiny, tightly spun warp threads. The textured mawata weft, still shiny but not as much. The cool hand after I had coaxed the weft into line and felt the fabric. The adorable rusticness of the whole thing, combined with the luxurious feel of silk.
I would probably weave this way again. Not with corrugated cardboard and not with a short needle or with acrylic thread as the base, but it was fun, easy, portable, and best of all…
…did what I needed it to do. The swatch shrank a little once it was off the loom, but I’m not going to worry about that. It needs a wash, and then it’s ready for my Level 3 workbook. One down, more to go. I still need to find a place in the workbook for a three-ply silk noil skein, just because.
|26 May 2014||Posted by Ness under Spinning, Weaving|
You know, there’s something about weaving. Not necessarily the process, because that seriously took me way too long, but part of that was a) the demands on my time, and b) the set-up I had. First the loom was in the guestroom, which made it hard to weave when Mike was on nights. Then there was the standing, which I don’t mind, but the table was a touch too short, which made me lean a little awkwardly. But there was definitely something satisfying about finishing, and unrolling that cloth from the cloth beam (okay, I admit I had to look up what that part was called, or you would have gotten ‘that front roller thingy’).
What I know about weaving would fit in a slim volume, but I knew enough not to cut them apart until after washing, and I knew I’d need to seam the ends to keep them from unravelling, bringing my exceptional(ly bad) sewing skills into play. And as I noted in the podcast, they came out of the dryer, well, interesting. I knew the yarns were a little different as I was weaving them, but I didn’t expect it to be THAT different. You’re thinking, but it couldn’t have been that bad, right?
But ironing is a wonderous thing, and after ironing, cutting apart, ironing ends, sewing ends (badly), and ironing again, I have three lovely, and soft, tea towels.
I wish there was a way you could all feel these tea towels. They are soft. Like, wonderfully soft. Snuggle up with soft. And they actually look like tea towels. Sure, there are some errors, and my edges could use some work, and my sewing is sub-standard, but for my fourth weaving project ever, I’m very pleased with them.
And that makes me start thinking. Thinking about my original plan for my Level 3 final project, which was to weave a sampler of silk and cotton. To spin up cotton warp in all the different colours – white, brown, and green – and silk weft in both tussah and bombyx top and noil (and maybe mawata), and make a lovely plaid-box runner, probably about 2′ by 3′. I threw that idea out the window when I was having such trouble with spinning silk and cotton, switching up to wool and adding a dying component. But then this happened.
I spent a weekend spinning Tussah silk. ~8 WPI in the ply, 210 yards, so not quite enough for Level 4 dying, but close. It worked. It didn’t take too long. And since I have fifty hours, I could probably still dye the silk with padauk like I was planning to do with the wool. I still have to make friends with cotton before I decide to switch fibres back but it’s oh so tempting. Can’t you see it? White, brown and green weft, honey-tussah and white-bombyx, some overdyed with red padauk with a couple mordants, texture shifts with top and with noil… It might not be useful, or as useable as a tea towel (that has to be ironed if it rains outside), but it would make a beautiful fabric.
|29 September 2013||Posted by Ness under Life, Spinning|
When I’m teaching knitting or spinning, I always say that there are no fibre arts police. Yes, if you want to achieve a certain result, sometimes you have to do things in a certain way, but otherwise, as long as you’re making fabric or yarn that you’re happy with, go to. However, sometimes, there are judges…
Yesterday was the Edmonton Weavers’ Guild‘s Open House for their 60th anniversary, and they held a sheep-to-shawl competition as part of the fun. In August, the call went out on Ravelry for teams to take part, as there was some concern that there might only be one team (which would make for a pretty poor competition). So the Edmonton Knitters group put together two teams, just for the fun of it, and down we went early yesterday morning to see what kind of trouble we could get into.
My team was Team Sheep Shape, so there was a definite piratical flair to, well, just about everything we did. I broke out pieces of my old pirate costume, crocheted a quick eye patch for Læmmer, and actually ran back into the house to grab my sabre, which I figured might make a good prop for the table (but would get in the way as I was spinning). And from 10 to 4, we had to produce enough yarn for an 80″ x 18″ woven shawl.
Team Captain Carla had spun up the warp for our shawl and had pre-warped the loom, and decided on the pattern, and she also did all the weaving. The rest of us carded and spun singles of two washed fleeces to keep her supplied with weft for the shawl. There were some requirements: the warp had to be mostly Alberta-sourced wool and handspun, and the weft could be no more than three times the width of the warp. We went with singles instead of plied yarn for the weft, and all got to work.
All the teams were just fantastic. Speaking for myself, I was there for the experience, to see if we could do it, and to spend some time spinning and practicing woolen more than to win or for bragging rights. Spinning for our team there were two Master Spinner students, two spinners with a few years of experience, and one who’d just learned about two weeks before the competition. Carla made sure that everyone had some of their handspun in the shawl as well.
There was singing, stretching, and laughs. There were cookies and cupcakes, tea and coffee. There was wool everywhere, and people helping other people. There were members of the public coming to the open house who were just fascinated by the whole process, and we answered any questions they had.
The EWG Juniors (between the ages of 10 and 16) had put together an absolutely amazing display. They had decided on a Star Wars theme, and then just gone to town. There were just fantastic examples of felting, weaving, knitting and dying, all produced by their group. I got really great instructions on how to use an inkle loom by a young man who spent the day walking around in the Jabba the Hutt costume that he’d dyed himself.
But as we bore down on 4 pm, we remembered that this wasn’t just all in good fun, it was actually a competition. … Okay, well, not really. To be honest, we didn’t really care one way or the other, but there were judges wandering around, and in the end we were going to have our shawl judged, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was to see if we could do it, and we did.
We got our shawl off the loom just as the judges called the competition closed! Team Diamonds, the EWG home team, made 80″, but hadn’t gotten it cut off yet, and Team Weave Me Alone made about 50″ on their shawl by the end of the six hours. I wish I’d gotten photos of their shawls as well. Their weave structures were very interesting. All three shawls were very different, and all really, really lovely.
By the time the judges had scored each shawl, Team Sheep Shape brought home the silver trophy! What a fantastic experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat! But maybe not tomorrow. I’m pretty tired today. 🙂
Needless to say, it was an all-around great day. But there was one unforeseen side effect.
Hemstitching times two and and 6″ of weaving, all in one night. Homework? What homework? 😉
|19 September 2013||Posted by Ness under Life, Spinning|
I would have posted this last night, except I had a massage, which made me late home, and then I had to hem Mike’s work pants with my practically non-existent sewing skills, and by then all I could do was sit on the couch and not even think about taking mawata off the frame and downloading photos from the camera… Better late than never?
There would have been a blog post last night after knitting, but I had to drive all over Hell’s half-acre trying to find yams/orange sweet potatoes so we could have dinner tonight. (Seriously, does this happen to anyone else who makes a meal plan? I bought the last two tiny yams at our regular grocery store, thinking that it’d be no problem to stop by one of the others on my way home from Tuesday knitting to get the rest we’d need. After two more grocery stores that didn’t have any, I finally found a whole bunch at Safeway. So at least now we can make quinoa salad tonight without Mike having to run around to find yams, but yeah. Where are all the yams, besides at Safeway?)
Sunday before I left to teach at the library, I made more mawata for Level 3. This was also a big process, reminiscent of yesterday’s yam debacle, as I had a heck of a time finding washing soda. It wasn’t at our regular grocery store, nor at London Drugs. Found it at Superstore last week, thank goodness. Now, I remembered a bit of the process from class, but reminded myself from the textbook, and then had to do some math and testing.
At least it’s simple math, really, because there’s a lot of it in this level…
The math involved figuring out how much soap and soda I needed, because I wasn’t doing 100 grams of cocoons. The testing involved our old slow cooker.
And there’s another story. We’ve had this crock pot probably since we moved up here, and never really had a lot of luck with slow-cooker meals. If there was tomato or sugar in it, it always burned and was really rather unappetizing. I thought I was doing something wrong, like missing a step, or the recipes just didn’t like our slow cooker. But it turned out (as Mike discovered when he did the research) that this particular model always ran hot. VERY hot (for a slow cooker). So we bought a new one, and I took the old one for fibre work. So I needed to know how hot it would get and keep the water, because silk cocoons need to simmer at 65° C and really no higher to degum.
I can safely say that with the lid on, the low setting will be fine for about 65°, and with the lid off, you have to flip back and forth between low and high to keep the temperature.
So with the temperature set and 6 ml of Orvus and washing soda added to the mix, I added my eight cocoons. Now, I remembered from class that the cocoons should be held beneath the water for the half-hour, because they float, and the parts that aren’t under the water don’t get degummed, and are difficult to a) cut, and b) make into a mawata. So I found a saucer in the cupboard, and used that to submerge them.
Can anyone see where this is going? I bet you can.
Half an hour later, I raised up the saucer to find… cocoons with parts that hadn’t softened. Yes, there was a bit of air under the saucer, and the buoyancy of the cocoons meant that they rode up into that air pocket. Why didn’t I realize that?
Now I faced a crossroads. Did I attempt to soak that unsoaked part, risking the worm and its last meal inside getting all mushy and gross? I did try to turn them over, but because the wet parts were so much heavier, they kept rolling back (except where the filaments stuck together; that actually worked a bit). Did I try to get the air out from underneath the saucer and set them back under for a bit more time? That proved practically impossible with the amount of water and space I had to work with. I eventually decided to make the mawata, taking out the bit that resisted being stretched. Yes, it wasted some silk, but I hoped to have enough mawata this time to make the skein I need for my workbook.
Eight mawata later, I definitely know that the next time I make them on my own, I need to figure out a way to keep the cocoons submerged without the air pocket. Although a small plate with holes in it would be ideal, I’m not sure where one would find that (and to fit in my slow cooker). I’m contemplating if a washcloth would work, or if the silk filaments would just stick to the pile of the fabric. I suppose the only way to know would be to try.
There’s really no comparison between commercial mawata and home-made. The vinegar rinse makes them crispy, and they’re far more stringy. I did spin some in class (I had to make more because my skein wasn’t long enough), and they behave a little differently, too. But neither type of mawata spins like silk top; both are texturey and slubby and do a little bit of fighting.
Saturday is World Wide Spin In Public Day, and the Edmonton Weaver’s Guild is hosting an event at City Hall for the afternoon. I think I will take my mawata there (if I can keep my hands from being super dry) and see if I can make a ten-yard skein out of them. June is coming up fast, and there’s a lot of spinning yet to do.