Spinning Plant Fibers

Many people have expressed surprise and doubt when I’ve mention spinning cotton on Turkish spindles. Or flax.

No, this won’t be a tutorial on spinning bast fibers, rather it’s a look back at one of my main spinning projects this past summer: becoming adept at spinning various plant fibers with Turkish spindles in order to teach at workshop at OFFF in September.

Starting off with flax, I chose an Egret for its capacity and the long somewhat slower spin which would allow plenty of time to coax the long flax line, also called strick, from the bundle. Oh my, the hoops I jumped through in my search for a method of handling the long fibers, methods I’d read about in various books: Distaffs – a long one reaching into the air next to my chair and short ones tucked into my belt; Towel – laying the flax on a smooth dish towel then folding the sides over it and putting the whole over my shoulder; Ribbon – lightly criss-cross tied around the length.

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There was a point, at the beginning of August when in desperation of ever gaining enough skill spinning flax, I phoned a nearby friend who years ago had been commissioned to spin flax and make the drapery cords used in Jefferson’s Monticello when it was restored. “Why,” she said, “Flax isn’t easy to spin! I never did like spinning the long stuff.” With a laughed she added, “I always cut the long fibers in half; it’s so much easier!” With that, a hurdle was jumped. Instead of fighting the length it was cut and no longer a hassle to spin.

Low and behold, cut and draped over my left leg worked best.

Through trial and error I learned that slightly dipping my right thumb into a small bowl of water provided sufficient moisture. Even better is to run the spun length through the mouth as the enzymes in saliva is excellent with flax. For sanitation sake I only did that when walking.

Yes! It even got to where it was fun to spin flax with a Delight during morning walks.
DSC00346One of Ed’s original Delights which is quite clunky.

From long fiber to short! Spinning cotton on a swift flying, 26 grams Lark was a treat.DSC00339

After the cotton came hemp, also spun with an Egret. Having overcome the struggle with flax, the hemp posed no challenge.

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2-Plyed hemp.
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Towards the end of August I was reading more about spinning plant fibers when I came across ramie. Intrigued, I immediately ordered some. As soon as it arrived I selected an Aegean and set to not knowing what to expect.

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The silky fiber was lovely to work with. To me, it felt sort of like of a cross between silk and cotton. A couple of the women in the workshop did not like spinning with it, at all. Seeing their reactions and listening to their comments it seems that ramie is one of those fibers which people either like almost right away or they can hardly stand to spin it. I’m looking forward to some big spinning project with it someday.

My favorite spindle spinning is chain-plying as each span of singles is spun.  For an example of the method I planned to teach during the workshop I spun and chain-plyed cotton on an Aegean. Wanting to push conventional thinking about spinning cotton a 31 grams Aegean was used. DSC00369
The workshop was a great success.Everyone seemed have a blast spinning the various fibers on Aegeans.

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Writing on wood

Brrr. I hope you all are staying warm these freezing days that feel more like the deep of mid-winter than late autumn. It’s rare that this part of Western Oregon sees temperatures into the low twenties though occasionally there might be as much as a week of such temps in January or February but it’s been getting down into the low teens without warming much above freezing – only where the sun is directly shining for a sufficient length of time. This morning the thermometer read 10 degrees. At 7:30. On our back porch. Inside the house we’ve been putting a hefty oak log in the woodstove, partially banked with the damper slightly open, before heading for bed. Then Ed or I put another log on around 3am otherwise this place would be unbearably cold. The inside thermometer registered 48 in the kitchen/living room. Our bedroom was colder. I’m so thankful for the three Pendleton blankets and a comforter! Even so, tonight we’ll add another wool blanket, the temperature is predicted to be even colder. (No, we have no other source of heat in the house. The furnace died the second time we turned it on a month or two ago.)

Over the course of the year I’ve been asked by several different people for information about how I write on our crochet hooks and spindles. Spindle underneathAt first I wasn’t keen to share my “trade secrets” since they were something that I’ve had to learn through trial and error. Many trials, especially with finding the best writing implements and ink/paints/acrylics… If a pen looked like it might work I’d buy it only to return to one of my original choices when first embarking along the lines of writing on wood.

I began the quest when Ed first started making large maple crochet hooks to sell, somewhere around 2002. Ink on maple usually bleeds and feathers easily. Not good. Hooks and needles need the sizes written on them.

I write on the bare wood before the item gets its coats of finish. The ink will penetrate into the wood and the two coats of finish will seal it in place. This is especially helpful when writing on dense hardwoods where the ink is more likely to sit on top of the wood. Acrylic is thicker and will be slightly above the surface, the finish will help to keep it from slowly being worn away with time and use. Ed uses a very old recipe to make the finish for the first coat which takes 24 hours to dry. Once it’s dry I buff the finish and add a second coat. Spindles and hairpin looms get a coat of Wood Beams (a natural product made by Aubrey of Goodies Unlimited), crochet hooks and knitting needles receive a paste wax finish.Spindle side

– Pen:  Pilot P-500 extra-fine pen is by far the best for writing on wood: wonderfully fine point; blue and black inks; quick drying ink. They’re not easy to find but worth the hunt.
– Metal yarn gauge. It’s perfect for resting your hand on while writing on a narrow, curving surface as well as providing a guide to keep letters and lines even.
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When Ed began making spindles in 2005 I had no clue how to go about writing on the darker woods so for the first year I didn’t write anything. Then we realized we really needed to at least put Jenkins on them since we’d periodically see a spindle similar to Ed’s design that he hadn’t made. While I could write on the light colored woods with my trusty P-500, the hunt was on for a solution of something light that would show up clearly. Ed even joined in the hunt, often bringing home a new marker that he’d see while shopping.

While in a large office / stationery store (Cooks) in downtown Salem I saw an organizer filled with different sized nibs next to jars of styluses, all located across the aisle from a colorful array of Calligrapher acrylic inks. I bought a few nibs with different points, a jar of white acrylic and black along with a small bottle of pen cleaner. Violé! Success!acrylicsThe starkness of the white acrylic on some of the dark woods seemed too jarring after a couple of years so I began mixing my own colors using the white as a base and adding bits of other colors until I found the combination that looked good on wood. Granted, there are a few very odd spindles spinning around out there that have mint green or pinkish inks in my pursuit to figure out what worked. Once ink has dried it takes some serious sanding to remove it which would make the spindle unbalanced.

Items to have:
– Square of canvas duck cloth for catching the inevitable blobs and drips.
– Nibs: The higher the number on the nib, the finer the point. (Those numbers can be very hard to see!) N° 109 is best though 107 seems easier to find.
– Stylus that is comfortable in your hand and fits with the way you like to hold your pen. If a nib is a bit loose in the stylus wrap it with some masking tape to keep it securely in the stylus. You don’t want it falling out into the jar of ink!
– Calligraphy acrylic ink.  Not all black calligraphy inks are created equal! Speedball is the best for writing on wood. Other brands tend to be thinner causing it to feather on wood. One exception is the sepia that I use to temper the white’s brightness which Speedball doesn’t seem to carry.
– Pen cleaner (Higgins or Speedball) If the acrylic gets thick and you find yourself needing to continually clean the nib and re-dip, add some drops of the pen cleaner  to the acrylic and shake well.
– Lint-free cloth to wipe the nib before dipping it in the cleaner and for wiping it dry. This will keep the pen cleaner from getting muddy and useless.
– Sharp knife (The kind used for fancy paper-cutting art) for those accidents that are bound to happen from time to time. (Twice the other day I wrote 2014 on a couple of spindles. I must be getting eager for the New Year!)090
If this happens, immediately, delicately scrape the acrylic with the edge of the knife blade to remove it without too much of a mess. (It’s a practiced thing!) Hard, dense woods have smooth surfaces which are best for writing on such as Holly, Bolivian Rosewood. Be extra careful with porous woods such as purpleheart, and spalted woods- not only do the pores hinder the nib, the acrylic will immediately settle into the pores making it very hard to remove.
– Small postal scale that can toggle between ounces and one gram increments for weighing the spindles.
– Last put perhaps most important – reading glasses! Seriously. You’ll be writing fine print on a small surface and though you may think it’s not a strain on your eyes, it can be. Especially if you do very much. I use to have excellent close-work eyesight until after a couple of years of writing on hundreds of hooks and needles. By not using reading glasses I unknowingly strained my eyes to the point that I now have to use reading glasses for most of the handwork I do.

Writing on spindles and Ed’s other fiber arts tools is my favorite job!

If you should ever find yourself wanting to write on wood and you have questions about the process please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.

My feet and legs are feeling chilled. Time to put the oak piece in the woodstove and call it a night.

Necklace of needles

Black sheep pt 2

Selling spindles makes for quick setting up time. We store the spindles in bins that ride on a trolly and sit under the cloth covered table. Assemble the display shelves hang our sign and we’re ready in less than half an hour. Which gave us time to look through the market to see others setting up without the pressure to scurry back to the booth.

The pleasant slanting evening light drew people out of their RVs to sit in scattered circles chatting to friends and acquaintances.  The ladies of Abstract Fiber had set up their RV across the way from us and soon we found ourselves sitting down to pies that Susan had made the night before. Yummy! A huge marionberry as well as a huge apricot pie. Enjoyed every morsel of a sliver of each,  and their delightful company, which included an engaging African whose booth was right behind Abstract Fibers, selling baskets, bags and jewelry. Sadly, his name is gone from my memory.
It was still light when Ed and I crawled into our sleeping bags. All night it was light. The nearby parking lot light was so bright I literally could have read my book.

Pitter-pattering against the tent woke us up. Rain. What started out gentle turned into a cold, day-long deluge.
Diehard fiber and fiber animal enthusiasts braved the rain.

Sights and goods like these were well worth it. Such tempting vibrant colors and beautiful skeins.I was quite taken with the young lady who was elegantly dressed as though for high tea. She and her friend sat there for some time as he knitted away. Our booth was right beside the main door and when I caught a glimpse of them leaving I couldn’t resist a picture of contrasts.

The rain hadn’t let up at all during the day, and at times it poured hard. About 4 that afternoon Ed decided to check on our tent and soon return with a gloomy face. The rain had managed to seep through one spot  where we hadn’t been able to completely pull the rain fly taut. Being on asphalt we used the car to tie down two sides and water jugs for the other two corners. His sleeping bag was seriously soaked.

In January when I’d tried booking a motel room for BSG all the reasonable rooms were already reserved. Any motels/hotels with a room were asking close to $200 and up per night. The Olympic Track & Field Trials were beginning the same weekend as BSG, and Eugene as Track Town USA draws the running fans. We were prepared to pack it in and drive home if absolutely necessary but hoped to find a cancellation. Having a smart phone turned out to be a huge blessing! (We’d not owned one before but knowing there was no wi-fi in the barns we bit the bullet and bought one to use our card reader. Almost the very first thing after setting up and trying to run a card we discovered that the signal wasn’t strong enough and the call was dropped. The customer happened to be the very person who’d talked with us at Sock Summit about a new contraption he carried around to connect to the internet. Next thing we knew, he was back at our booth, mi-fi modem in hand with accompanying power cord. God bless him! He gave us his Mi-Fi to keep! )

Wow, the info one can access with a smart phone. Typing in motels, Eugene OR, a list popped up of all the motels with vacancies, and the number of rooms available, plus rates. Even as I scrolled through the list rooms were filling up so I frantically called one with decent rates (just over $100/night!) and secured a room for two nights. Apparently enough people who’d made reservations last January had last minute change of plans. (High gas/bad economy)

Shortly before 6pm the skies lightened a bit and the rain stopped. At six we were closing shop and rushing out to gather all of our camping gear, stuffing it in the car, wetness and all. About five blocks from the fairgrounds is a Five Guys. We were starving so pulled in for the first decent meal of the day. Just as we sat down with our hamburgers and fries the sky grew black and the rain drummed down.

Saturday brought a number of previous customers who stopped by to buy another spindle and/or show us what they’ve been spinning.
John, a friend of several years now, had just taken a workshop and one of the things they did was grab random bits of fibery fluff and spin it all together. His yarn is from various silk bits.

Ilisha, whom we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know since last year’s Sock Summit, had a bunch of yarn turtles she’d recently spun.And what does she do with these relatively small batches of yarn?
She’s the Jazz Knitter! Look at what her creative mind does with yarn! There’s no end to the scope of her imagination for using colorful yarn.

Lauri stopped by not only with her spinning but with a tool that are over a hundred years old: Turkish distaff! How exciting it was to see her putting one to use.

There were a number of weekender kids who gravitated to our spindles (and probably all the other spindle makers!) Their enthusiasm is contagious. These two were in an RV next to our tent the first night. They were at BSG to show their sheep. The girl took home at least one blue ribbon, and they both took home a Delight. 🙂

Hope everyone had a great Independence Day! I made good headway on the new website and hope that by this time next week it will be finished. I keep getting badly sidetracked by needing to maintain the ongoing regular office work.

This afternoon Ed and I headed in to town to help with the weekly community dinner (served 187 people tonight, down from the usual 450+). The core team had finished most of the prep work by the time we got there at 2:30 so we headed to the street fair happening downtown.

We saw a sweet, old spinning wheel that was in good condition for a terrific price, but alas, she didn’t take credit cards and we hadn’t taken the check book. My Tour de Fleece spinning was quite happy not to have the extra competition.

More Videos, More WIPS

I’ve posted two more videos: One of Ed making a Turkish Spindle shaft. It’s a silent film. For some reason the sound didn’t record and I still haven’t figured out how to add sound while editing. The second shows the setup of a hairpin loom and the start of making a strip.

Works in Progress?
How about some socks?

Sock Pattern: Brigid

Yarn: Ball and Skein Sock Yarn: Mountain Spring
75% merino / 25% nylon
450 yd. skein … 4 ply
Needles: DPN Brittany US3
The second sock leg part is almost done, the cables seem to make the rounds go by quickly. This is a wonderful introduction to knitting cables.

Want a quick gift idea? Hairpin lace bracelets. Fast and fun.

The first one was for an exchange. To personalize it even more I used some of my handspun silk. The clasp part still needs some refining, at this point I’m just crocheting a knotty ball.

Next I made one for myself with linen thread.

Hairpin Linen Bracelet

I could get addicted.

Linen warp was put on the loom last Thursday. We had Faith on Friday and she spent the night with us not much was accomplished those days but I’m hoping to make decent headway on the my first block rug. I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around new concepts for tying up and block weaving.
Linen rug warp
Faith’s little brother was due to make his appearance last Tuesday, May 20th. He’s taking his merry time. I’ve been taking the phone to our bedroom at night, just in case. Faith will be staying with us while Mandy’s at the hospital. Any bets on when he’ll make his appearance?