Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Not A Happy Camper

Dear Reader,

It’s been two years since my last post, not for lack of words, but time. Looking in my draft folder, I find I have almost a dozen posts in various stages of completeness. A friend urged me: “Just publish them, even without photos!” So here is my first post without photos. I’ll try to find time down the line to add them in…

This post was mostly written six years ago:

Eight years ago, when I learned how to spin on a drop spindle, I was very sure it was adequate for my needs, and I did not ask anyone in my spinning group to let me try out their spinning wheel. What would be the point, if I never needed a wheel?

So, when I realised the error of my ways (within a couple months!), my first time trying out a spinning wheel at a store was also my first time sitting at a wheel. That wheel was a Louet Victoria, and I learnt enough, an hour later, (learning to spin on my own, as the store kindly left me to my own devices), to determine that the Victoria was too small and expensive for my needs.

At another store, I tried out a Lendrum DT, and thought it spun very well; after having cut my teeth on the Victoria, it was too easy, and… shouldn’t there be more pain and learning curve to this learning process?! The saleswoman at that store mentioned the existence of walnut Lendrums, in the “they’re not available, to anyone” tone of voice, sniff sniff. I have no idea why she brought up the subject, as I had never paid attention to Lendrum wheels, any sort of Lendrum, prior to that day, and certainly didn’t know enough to ask. I didn’t purchase a wheel that day, because Lendrums were backordered with a wait-time of up to a year. But, to be honest, the price of a new wheel was also too far beyond my thinking as to what I wanted to spend.

I began to pay attention to advertisements for second-hand wheels, and my first was the trusty Ashford Traditional. After a month-long flirtation with the Traddie, I found, purely by luck, a walnut anniversary Lendrum DT in an essentially unused, new condition!

The Traddie was fun, but wasn’t fun to tote around in the car, to spinning meets. It had come with only the basic ratios, so I had to decide if wanted to spend the extra money to upgrade the Traddie, or put that money into a more modern wheel. I sold the Traddie, due to lack of space. (I have to laugh now, as I look around at the looms eating up every available inch of room!) The Lendrum was easier to go out with, and life was grand. Why did people need more than one wheel, anyway?!

A few months later, I met some new spinners at a fibre day at a wool-processing mill — and saw another walnut Lendrum!  I asked the owner how long she had had hers (I don’t know why I assumed she had acquired hers second-hand, as I did), she looked to at the golden plaque (found on the front of all walnut anniversary Lendrums) and told me, “since they came out in 2001”. (By the way, I wasted ten minutes searching the internet to come up with that year, before padding the few paces down the hallway to check out my own!) I was aghast. Her walnut was faded, dented, and generally looking like an aged beauty whose best days were clearly in the past, nothing like the deep, glossy shine of my own. Is that what happens to a walnut Lendrum that goes everywhere? When it rained at the end of a spinning workshop I took, taught by Judith MacKenzie-McCuin (JMM), she helped me put a plastic cover over the top of my wheel, which stuck out a few inches from my makeshift spinning-wheel bag (a canvas artist’s box-easel backpack). When JMM said, “you need to be extra careful with walnut in the rain; any water drops that get on it will leave spots on the wood,” the days of leaving the house with my Lendrum became numbered.

I thought I could muddle through by getting a proper carrying bag for it. But I couldn’t stomach the expense of a new bag (used bags were simply not available!), which wouldn’t cost me less than $100, but probably closer to $150. But even for that price, I couldn’t find a trim and tailored bag that met all my requirements. My easel-box bag was both those things, except for the two inches of wheel it failed to cover, and except when it rained. (Ha! I live in the drizzly Pacific Northwest.)  I would make my own bag, I thought. I’m not proficient at sewing anything but straight lines, but I thought I could do it. After spending many hours designing the bag, I psyched myself out at the prospect of sewing curves, and couldn’t bring myself to make the first cut into the the fabric I acquired for the project.

It also became apparent to me that, at close to fourteen pounds (more, with accessories), the Lendrum pushes the limit of easy portability, although its bulk, rather than weight, is the greater encumbrance. I needed a smaller wheel. But, not just any smaller wheel. I also needed high ratios, because anything slower than 20:1 means I wouldn’t enjoy spinning long-draw. There’s a charming, ultra-portable wheel called the Pocket Wheel, but it maxes out at a low 13:1 — a starting point ratio for me.

Then in 2009 February, a solution presented itself to me in the form of a Louet S45. The previous owner bought it new, but had barely used it. It took me a couple of months to tweak it by replacing the two ball-bearings on the flyer and a crosspiece with two spring-mounted bearing balls (used as a lazy kate to mount bobbins); but it soon spun perfectly. It’s a little dynamo, and an engineering marvel, with the only drawback of maxing out at a ratio of 20:1.

The S45 flyer assembly with thread guides is simply genius. After I grew accustomed to using the delta flyer, I truly appreciated the ease of threading the flyer.

A ball bearing on either side holds the bobbin in place for plying. I talked to Louet, and they said the inner measurement of the bobbin was engineered to be 1mm smaller on one side, specifically so that the bobbin would stay in place. Amazing craftsmanship!

For a travelling bag, I found a collapsible, soft-sided food cooler with rolling cart from Costco for $20. The S45 is squat and pyramidal, and does not require any extra time to set up. I find it very useful at home, as I can easily tote it to any spot where I want to spin. The Lendrum is parked in its little nook, too unwieldy to move about in my crowded house, but always ready when I want to use the VFF.

The Lendrum’s Very Fast Flyer (VFF) includes a respectable 44:1 ratio, but in general I’m afraid to treat myself to using it. Recently, I spent several hours spinning laceweight singles with the VFF, but afterwards couldn’t get my S45 to work properly spinning something similar; I thought it was somehow broken. Investigation showed that I had mistakenly set the Lendrum’s VFF at 44:1 rather than 26:1; and the S45’s upper limit of 20:1 just couldn’t compete. It took a bit of retraining, spinning lots of thick singles, for me to be happy with the slower wheel again. Spinning frequently on the Louet S45, I discovered what well-built, rock-solid construction it has.

The S45 in a rolling cooler bag was supposed to set me free, but I had problems when I towed it over three blocks of clean city sidewalks. I pulled my back out of alignment, and it took a visit to my doctor to straighten that out. When I found that the S45 was no longer being manufactured, I felt again the same angst of owning another wheel that could not be easily replaced. And again, (being completely neurotic), I could not enjoy bringing it out to spin in public where it might be assaulted by an unlucky event (a raindrop, sticky fingers, a harsh glance…).

What does this have to do with camping? Sometime during the days before having a child, I made a somewhat vague, if rash, promise to go camping if we had a son, on the premise that it is supposedly a rite of passage into manhood. (Now that I think of it, I don’t think it was actually a promise, more a capitulation under duress…) Our son has now lived eleven years without having undergone that dreaded ritual (although I did agree to backyard camping this summer, and have suffered through three summers of cub scout day camp), and the noose is closing about my neck. Let me clarify this by stating that I am a city person and homebody, and my idea of camping would be staying at almost any other place than home. To make matters worse, I think I may have also agreed to something about fishing. Frankly, I don’t see the point. There’s so much else I want to do, and, having a child (definition: force of nature into which all time and energies gravitate), so little time. There’s simply not enough time for me to sit at a lake in the middle of nowhere, dangling a sacrificial worm impaled on a hook tied to a line attached to a stick on the off-chance that some hapless fish might laugh so hard at the setup that he’ll decide to commit suicide. I don’t even like to eat fish, and besides, there are these things called supermarkets… And don’t get me started on flying and biting insects. I seem to broadcast “bug bait” from every pore.

Before you think I’ve gone loopy with this digression, I am actually trying to get somewhere. In my family, I am the one who is relied upon to assemble or install anything, from toys to bicycles and software. We have a GPS on loan to us from a friend; while it would be wonderful for my husband to use it to find his way home on his own (I rarely get lost, and don’t really need it), it would require his actually exerting himself to turn it on and input an address. Here’s a true story: Once, I fell asleep on a subway ride from New York City to the airport. I woke when I heard the announcement that we were nearing the end of the line, at Rockaway. I was astonished that we were at the farthest point away from our destination, having boarded the train going the wrong direction, and that it would take more than an extra hour to backtrack and reach the airport.  My husband had such belief in my navigational ability, he never questioned our route, even though we were sitting directly across from a subway map! Another true story: After living in Seattle for several years, and having in that time had occasion to travel both north to Canada and south to Portland numerous times (it’s different directions on the same highway), I once fell asleep right after leaving our house, and again awoke to find that my husband had been blissfully driving to Portland when our destination was Canada! Try as I might, I have not been able to dispell the myth pervading our family that my presence would be needed to provide shelter (set up a tent), sustenance (find the ignition switch on the campstove), and navigate our way home from camp (follow the exit signs from the parking lot). My attempts to negotiate a loophole or moratorium to this impending camping/fishing nightmare has only resulted in the concession that a portable spinning wheel might well smooth the way toward my not being completely unbearable company during such an outing.

The S45, being slightly chunky, as well as difficult to replace, loses it status as a portable wheel that wouldn’t make me more neurotic from protecting its pristine excellence. So, in 2010, I was forced!, to order another spinning wheel, a Louet Victoria, and I had to order it brand-new. Brand-new prices are simply unbelievable (again, I was forced!), with steep depreciation for resale, while used-wheel prices keep their value very well. Because I wanted the oak rather than beech model, I had to wait a month after ordering it to receive it. Just before ordering it, I came across a little-used, oak Victoria with high-speed kit for a decent price, but because Vics that were made more recently have some improvements that models older than eight years do not have, DH insisted on the purchase of a new one to forestall any renegotiations on my part.

The last Vic I saw in person, made of beech, was the one I first tried one out at a store, years ago. Since receiving my own oak Vic, I am surprised to see so much variation in appearance from one oak wheel to the next; due, I suppose, to its its oak veneer over MDF (medium density fibreboard) construction. I’ve seen other oak Vics which I did not consider beautiful (again, the chance of veneer), although I am happy to say I love mine. I wonder if the beech Vics also have as much variance.

The Vic is small, and has the awesome mechanical construction I’ve come to expect in a Louet. It’s top ratio of 20:1 is similar to the the S45, although the S45 is a more stable and solid spinner. At ten pounds, it’s still not as lightweight as I’d like, but there are no other (non-electrical!) options available that would be an improvement. I have taken the Victoria with me as carry-on baggage on an international trip, and found it travelled beautifully, albeit still a bit heavily. I’m happy to say it went through Seattle-Tacoma TSA security with flying colours. The two TSA agents examining the x-ray took their time, and one asked me, as if to settle a bet, “Is it a spinning wheel?” I was relieved not to have to take the wheel out to prove it!

As the third wheel in my house, I keep the Vic always in its carrying case, so I can grab it and run out the door at a moment’s notice. How lazy is that?! It’s a great portable wheel, although I don’t think it’s the perfect wheel for camping.

With ever-more affordability of battery choices, it seems that a small electric spinner might be the most portable route, but I don’t think I can push my luck. Especially since I’ve recently rediscovered how much fun spinning on a drop spindle is. There is such a Zen to spinning, and I’ve been enjoying it even at the drop spindle’s leisurely and rustic pace. Which is more than I can say for camping.


27 September 2015 Posted by | Ashford, Equipment, Lendrum, Louet, Spinning, Wheels | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Loot From Madrona

Every year in mid-February, the Madrona Fiber Arts Festival takes place in Tacoma, Washington.  I’ve heard of it twice before without being able to see for myself the fun I was purportedly missing.  This year, the last day of the Madrona fell on a Sunday, which also happened to be Valentines Day.  In addition, the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma has been running a Sasquatch exhibit, and my five year-old son (who has been hunting for Bigfoot for going on two years now, go figure!) has been bugging us to take him to see it, so I actually had an excuse to be in Tacoma, even chauffered there!  Not only that, we received free admission to the museum through our local library system.  Sunday was even Chinese New Year, so you can see that the very universe and stars were well and truly in alignment, which meant that I got to spend some time chatting with friends and shopping at Madrona for the very first time.

I purchased some yummy hand-dyed BFL (Blue-Faced Leceister) from Stephanie of Rainy Days & Wooly Dogs, a sister Eastside Spinner, who was one of the vendors.  And, anticipating many more woven scarves in my future, I invested in a four-prong fringe twister.

I love all the tools made by Howell, that have the signature “Little Man” symbol burned into them.  The mini niddy-noddy comes apart in three sticks that fit neatly in a little case I use to carry my spinning wheel’s orifice hook; this the 1/3-yard sampling skein size.  The 1-inch wpi (wraps per inch) yarn guides are pure simplicity; you can tell how irresistible I find the “Little Man” design.

And last, these are Bluster Bay poke shuttles, designed to prevent weft from catching on warp threads, and which I heard are great for weaving through narrow warps and small sheds.

I couldn’t justify the purchase of some gorgeous, hand-dyed tencels and bamboo weaving yarns.  Hopefully, I can weave through a good portion of my yarn stash this year, as that will give me a good excuse to splurge at the next Madrona.

23 February 2010 Posted by | Equipment, Fibre, Spinning, Weaving | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ultra-Portable Bobbin Winder

I’m so pleased to learn about this technique from K2Karen, who posted about it on Ravelry; I hope it will be just as delightful for you!

I always wind off my spinning singles onto storage bobbins before plying.  I have three bobbin winders, one for each room I’m likely to be weaving or spinning in (how lazy is that!), but have been wanting an inexpensive and portable winder I can take along with me on trips.  For the past few months, I have been half-heartedly bidding on (without winning) a Swedish winder on eBay, but have been put-off by the prices, even old and used.  Although the winding ratio on the Swedish winder is supposedly slightly higher than that on my Harrisville Designs models, the HD serves my purposes well enough.  Plus, the Swedish winders don’t offer much savings in terms of weight or bulk, i.e. portability.  And then again, the cost.

Enter the portable mini-mixer.  Upon learning of it, I immediately ran to my kitchen drawer where mine (even cheaper!) has been sitting untouched for at least five years.  It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, as a tool to whip milk or cream into froth.  Because of dairy allergies, I’ve used it just a few times, but kept it because it’s so cool (it never once occurred to me to mix drinks!).

I’m relieved to find that the batteries haven’t leaked and corroded.  I thought the mixer had been there only half a decade, but finding that that batteries have expired in 2002, wonder if it isn’t closer to twice that!

Then it was a mad dash to the SpinningLizzy laboratories for rigourous testing…

The fancier mixer has all sorts of attachments, but the stick-like attachment (the only one that came with my no-frills model) is the one we’ll be using here.  Wind a rubber band around the stick, and Leclerc polystyrene bobbins will fit snugly.

I decided to wind off a skein of 3-ply handspun (that had been first transferred to a cone) onto Leclerc’s largest bobbin.  I was surprised how fast the mixer spun the bobbin.  Of course, it slowed down noticeably by the time the bobbin was halfway-filled.  As long as the yarn feed was kept free of tension, the mixer was able to wind, up until the time the bobbin started to overfill.  It was an unfair test.  The mixer with batteries weighs 3-3/8 ounces, whilst the yarn wound on the Leclerc bobbin, it (without mixer) weighs 3-7/8 ounces.   

I then tested the mixer by winding off some laceweight singles from my Lendrum spinning wheel, with the brake band completely removed.  With the small 4″ bobbins, winding was amazingly fast and smooth.   (Actual winding was done with the bobbins much farther apart, not close together as shown for the purposes of the photograph below.)

I wound a few other bobbins, including a full 6″ bobbin, wound off from another identical 6″ bobbin placed on an untensioned but angled (45-degrees) lazy kate.  Winding went well until the last third, probably because that bobbin is 2″ longer than the mixer stick attachment, and because the angle of the kate added too much tension on the mixer.

The battery life is unbelievable — those same old batteries from years ago are still going strong after winding close to a dozen bobbins.  The mixer is a tad weak for filling the two larger Leclerc bobbins completely, but partially filling either of those bobbins is a good option.  It works best for winding the 4″ bobbins with yarn under little or no tension.  What a wonderful tool to have in your weaving or spinning arsenal and travel bag!

23 January 2010 Posted by | Spinning, Weaving | | 2 Comments

It Fell Off The Back Of A Truck

“Can you meet an hour earlier, same place?” I hear from my mobile phone.

“Yeah,” I say, “the sooner, the better.”

I arrive at the parking lot, and pull up next to the van.  Looking around, I see we are alone; no witnesses.  The woman there greets me, and pulls open the back hatch of the van.  There it is, stashed in plastic bags.  I check each out, sampling each for quality and cut.  I’m too nervous to haggle over price; I just want the merchandise, and to be away from there.  Money and bags exchanged, I toss my purchases into the trunk of our car, and call to my driver (husband): “Hit the road!”

It was a necessity to be on our way as swfitly as possible, as we did not want to be caught in closed quarters with this merchandise for long.  I’m talking about raw fleece, from a local farmer (is that what you guessed?).  Raw Southdown Babydoll fleece, to be exact; yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.  In Sheep’s Clothing, by Nola Fournier and Jane Fournier, describes Southdown as: “it provides the finest of the down wools — it is full-handling and spongy.”

At home, a closer inspection revealed lots of vm (vegetable matter) — lots of it.  I had been dreaming of rare and exotic wool for spinning, but had not looked close enough before buying.  Now I could see that not only were the fleeces filled with vm, but the staple length was also incredibly short at 1-1/2″.  I would have loved to throw a tantrum, but knew that DH would not be sympathetic, and tears would not wash the fleece clean.  I would never forgive myself for spending so much money on something I’d prefer to throw away, so there was nothing to do but resign myself to the dismal chore of washing it.

I’ve washed raw fleece before, but never this much at once.  It took an entire weekend to wash two fleeces, one almost-black and the other a medium-grey.  The black fleece held more lanolin, and so being stickier, also more vm.  Like all the previous times I’ve washed raw fleece, I resolve it will by my last; I like having cleaned fleece, I’m just not fond of the smells involved.

It’s shocking how much time is involved to process raw fleece into a product that’s ready to spin.  With all the work involved cleaning raw fleece, it may seem that purchasing procesed roving is cheaper.  It’s certainly faster, but for the work you put into cleaning and prepping the fleece for spinning, you get wool that has not been chemically washed to dissolve away the poop, grime, vegetation, or lanolin.  I know I can get away with fewer rinsings, but I do extra ones anyway.  I’ve found that when superficially clean wool is dry, it often doesn’t smell, even when I know it contains traces of dried poop.  With all the rinsings I do, I know that my wool is cleaner, and chemical-free.  I often wonder if the wool used in expensive designer clothing has any of these advantages.  The clothing may look and feel luxurious, but is it truly clean?  And I wonder if those with wool sensitivities are irritated by the chemicals used or the traces of poop present rather than lanolin or the wool itself.

DH has remarked that I might save myself time, money, and grief if I decide to skip the raw fleece step to purchase and use only cashmere roving instead.  I’m not against using cashmere, but the few ounces of it I have exude a strong poopy smell, even though they look clean.  It also bothers me that the over-production of it causes global problems, as you can read about here.

My resulting Southdown Babydoll fleece is very difficult to work with.  There is too much vm in the black fleece to card easily, and most of it might be usable only as stuffing.  Still, the little I’ve spun of it is remarkably different from anything I’ve worked with before.  While it isn’t as soft as merino — I would equate it to soft Romney in softness — it is incredibly springy, with a crisp and bouncy feel that is very unusual and delightful in its sproingy-ness.


I suppose I had not learned any lessons, as all resolutions that this raw fleece be my the last — caved within a week.  I thought I would be more wary the next time around, but I was sucker-punched by the words “award-winning” and “six other buyers if you don’t want it”.   The result was nine pounds of long-stapled white Romney.  Very lustrous and clean, although what I consider only rug-worthy softness.  Perfect for a future tapestry.

I was in a hurry to clean it, so made the terrible mistake of washing too much at once.  I washed about five pounds in a large mesh bag, but it proved to be too much; I found within clumps of tips still soiled.  Sigh, I will need to re-wash that entire lot.

Before I could wash the rest of the white Romney, free Romney fleeces were offered to my spinning group.  I went with my friend forestgnome, (who is at least as crazy as I am; read her post about a CVM fleece that we split) to look at the fleeces, and came home with three fleeces between the two of us.

I  had been washing raw fleece, rinsing up to ten times in hot water.  That was very wearing, as I can only do it outdoors in a (horse) watering trough, and it’s slow and difficult getting all that hot water outside.  I had obtained permission from DH to use the bathtub inside, but in the end, I couldn’t bear to bring the fleece indoors.  Too much in energy and resources was being expended, and a new method must be found.  Right after I had that thought, I happened to read about the fermented suint method (FSM) of washing raw fleece on Ravelry.  It is a method developed in New Zealand, but not well-known in this part of the world.  Judith Mackenzie-McCuin wrote an article about it in the 2008 Fall issue of Spin-Off magazine.  I ordered a copy of that issue, but even before it arrived, I already had four buckets of fleece soaking.  Briefly, it entails soaking a first batch of raw fleece for seven days to dissolve the suint, or sheep perspiration; dirt, and poop from the fleece.  Thereafter, that mixture is kept to be reused over and over again, until, in Judith’s words: “it is too thick to swim in, and too thin to plow”.  Each re-use concentrates and ferments the suint mixture further, and each cleaning becomes more efficient.  Soaking fleece in the FSM for a couple of days, then rinsing well in cold water until the smell is (mostly) gone is all that is necessary for some fleece; others with higher lanolin content may need additional washing and rinsing in hot, soapy water.  

My first trial of the FSM went amazingly well.  My spinning friend Jane (Thank You!) gave me half a dozen empty TidyCat covered bins before she moved back to Florida.  They are a perfect size for the FSM because they are still easy to transport when filled with liquid.  I could soak approximately a 3/4 pound of raw fleece in each bucket.  I use mesh laundry bags to keep the fleece together while soaking.


Of course, I would never consider stopping with only cold rinses to clean; I wouldn’t feel comfortable without the last soapy wash and rinse in hot water.   By the time of the hot wash and rinse, I could tell that the washing liquid extracted mostly lanolin.  While this method does not use less water (in my case), it is still a lot faster and easier, as I can use the garden hose and a little agitation for the cold rinsings.  The best part of this method is that the resulting wool is even cleaner than what I could accomplish in ten hot-water washings without the FSM soaking.

Some of the free brown Romney, after washed with the FSM:


I compared the five-pound lot of white Romney (top, in the picture below) I washed with the old hot-water way with half a pound of the same fleece washed with the FSM:


Even through the mesh bags, you can tell that the fleece inside the bottom bag is much cleaner than the fleece in the top.  A close-up of the two:


The only drawback to this method is the smell.  Start with raw fleece (sheep poop).  Now, imagine that smell concentrated and fermented.  Within minutes of removing the cover from the first of my buckets, I noticed that my next-door neighbour, twenty feet away, was no longer taking the sun on his balcony.  Coincidence?

A clothes-washing machine would speed up the washing process wonderfully.  But even were I not banned from touching our washing machine, I shudder at the thought of using it.  It would be lovely to have a second machine installed outdoors someday.  But then, of course, I wouldn’t need it, because I plan never to buy another raw fleece…

26 August 2009 Posted by | Spinning | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Summer Spinning

It’s summer, but I managed to become sick sick sick with pneumonia, which is why I’ve been absent from things.  Until recently, I couldn’t even sit in front of a computer screen for more than a few minutes without getting dizzy.  But, I’m finally better, and have been able to spin again.  I’ll probably get back into the weaving by next week; it requires more energy.

Some grey wool mill ends that were dyed purple, and spun worsted:


Burgundy, pink, and grey wool top, spun worsted:


Lavender, green, and blue superwash merino batt, spun woolen/attenuated long-draw:


Wool and cotton top containing lots of cotton pills, spun woolen/attenuated long-draw for a slubby, bouclé-like effect:


My spinning preference is overwhelmingly long-draw, but I force myself to spin worsted for the practise, and because the resulting yarn is much shinier, cooler, and drapes better.  I’m much faster at spinning long-draw than worsted, but I find I don’t need to look as much while spinning worsted, and can do something else (like watch television or read a book) at the same time.  All the pictures in this post show spun singles.  Everything will be two-plied, and used for weaving.

1 July 2009 Posted by | Spinning | 6 Comments

Spinning: Winter Blues

I’ve been spinning some hand-dyed superwash merino I picked up last year. 


Spinning singles:


Singles on a skeiner:


Singles re-wound onto bobbins, ready for plying:


Three-plied on the spinning wheel:


My Lendrum VFF (Very Fast Flyer) has a very small bobbin that I’ve only managed to fill with 1-1/2 oz of wool; the cakes of yarn below are each a bobbin-full of plied yarn,  measuring 85 to 120 yards.  The skein of plied yarn is made from two more bobbins of  yarn tied together, but not washed yet.


The roving had ice-green ends that didn’t match the rest of the blues and whites, so I pulled that part off and spun it separately.  It was enough to knit a small neck scarf.


Another cake of some odds and ends (non-superwash merino; 155 yards, 2-3/8 oz) spun and 3-plied:


20 May 2009 Posted by | Spinning | | 1 Comment

Ruffled Scarf

The rambouillet/cashmere ruffle scarf is finished!


The neatness of using up the last little bit of things is inordinately pleasing to me; in this case, not even a single inch of yarn is left over.  The pattern had called for a mohair yarn that was 235 yards in 24 grammes, but my yarn came out to something like 350 yards in two ounces.  (I can’t find my notes on the exact numbers.)  The scarf is a tad short, but it is just enough to wrap and overlap once around my neck.


The pattern was “Mohair Portrait Scarf”, from Véronik Avery’s book, “Knitting Classic Style”.  It’s a wonderful way to learn the difference between right- and left-slanting decreases, as well as an easy introduction to lace knitting.  In fact, I’m going to try the pattern again.  I’ve already spun a two-ply rambouillet/alpaca mix for it that promises to be a more successful yarn for this project:


Winding off the singles onto bobbins:


The singles are so delicate that I couldn’t measure the yardage with my yarn measure.  But, this old skein-winder (two-yards per revolution) performed admirably:


Two-ply (pre-wash) closeup:


350-yards of two-ply yarn in one ounce:


I also spent a couple hours hand-carding up another two ounces of rolags:


I’m envisioning the second scarf as a fluffy, light-as-air, cloud; and can’t wait to see how it turns out.


22 November 2008 Posted by | Knitting, Spinning | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bobbin Winders For Spinners

Sounds like a campaign slogan to me.  Tax cuts for every citizen!

I was so ecstatic about purchasing my first bobbin winder earlier this May, I wanted to share about it with everyone.  I didn’t have a blog until June, but it has been been on my mind to to post about since.  Between wanting to write and finding time for it, I probably would not have gotten to it if not for recent discussions with fellow Ravelers on this very topic.

I purchased a used Harrisville Designs manual bobbin winder for a little more than what I would have paid for two spinning wheel bobbins.  At the time, I had nary a notion of weaving; it was purely for spinning purposes.  With apologies to all who are tired of hearing me talk about my Lendrum spinning wheel being a walnut anniversary edition; but that had much to do with my search for a bobbin winder.  Regular Lendrum parts are in great demand; finding walnut parts being even more challenging.  Because I had only four bobbins at the time, I was not able to create a four-ply yarn.  (For non-spinners: you need a bobbin for each ply, plus an extra to take up the plies.)

Judith MacKenzie-McCuin told me that she felt a spinner should have no fewer than thirty bobbins for spinning, but with bobbin prices the way they are (Lendrum bobbins are currently about $17, while Schacht bobbins are about $36), it makes sense to have a bobbin winder and inexpensive storage bobbin spools instead.

Oh no, I’m forgetting — my bobbin winder pre-dates my taking her class.  (Sorry, I’ve lost many, many brain cells from the sleep deprivation I suffered during my son’s infancy.)  So much of what that riveting, soft-spoken woman has said has been repeated by those fortunate to have been in her presence, that my own memories of her words have reverently increased in stature.  I remember rightly now: It was “The Alden Amos Big Book Of Handspinning” that first prompted me to look for a bobbin winder.

Closeup of the metal rod that is split to grip a bobbin in place:

Once I started using the bobbin winder, my yarn improved dramatically.  This is because, when you wind onto a storage bobbin over a long distance (six feet or more), you even out the twist in the yarn.  Singles that have been re-wound onto storage bobbins before plying create a much more consistently plied yarn.  I eliminated many problems of breakage and overtwist by using the bobbin winder.  Even re-winding a plied yarn over a distance to a storage bobbin can re-distribute and even out more twist to improve the quality of the ply.  You can also re-wind a yarn with the intention to add or subtract twist, depending on the direction of winding and other variables like unwinding the yarn from side or end.  In these cases, I am referring to yarn that has not had its twist stabilised by heat and washing, but re-winding affects the twist of stabilised yarns as well.

Now, everything I spin is wound off onto a storage bobbin, whether it will be plied or not.  The bobbin winder makes that much of a difference.

I found this very old electric bobbin winder at a yard sale earlier this summer:

I have not used this winder much, since it is much faster than I’m used to.  In one of her books, Peggy Osterkamp recommends rigging an electric winder with a dimmer switch for more speed control.  Just another of the many items on my to-do list!

I chose to invest in Leclerc storage bobbins because they were the least expensive, most readily available, and came in three sizes.

The small bobbins cost under a dollar, and hold perhaps half an ounce of singles, while the longer bobbins (about fifty cents more) may hold up to two ounces.  These two bobbin sizes are used by weavers in boat shuttles to carry the weft.

The largest bobbins cost about three dollars each, and can hold at least six ounces of wool.  These spools are used by weavers to wind off yarn for sectional warping.

I didn’t realise until taking the picture how very close in size the Leclerc spool is to a Lendrum bobbin.

Another benefit of the Leclerc polystyrene bobbins is that they are heat-resistant.  I have not yet, but there may come a time when I will want to heat-set (steam or boil) yarn singles wound on them.

I also purchased a large lot of wooden pirn bobbins from eBay, for what amounted to about twenty-five cents apiece.  They are just so pretty to look at!

Some of the brown wood pirns even contained some antique wool thread!  It’s very instructional to see how a pirn should be properly and tightly wound.  After I started weaving, I even found a shuttle that they will fit into, although the shuttle is quite heavy and bulky.

Before I had a bobbin winder,  I was always reluctant to sample any new rovings.  I had to have my bobbins available for plying, so I had to commit to spinning and plying all the singles in a project before I could play with anything new.  Now, being rich in storage bobbins, I may even try out something crazy, like an eight-ply!  And I have the freedom to spin up something new, at any time I wish.  I know I won’t waste any yarn, as it will tucked safely away on a storage bobbin.  (Finding it later will prove the challenge, and I’ve learned long after the fact how important it is to label the wool!)

I found a safe place to store away the two (!) sets of bongo drums that sat, untouched, atop my bookcases for more than two years.  They were purchased at a time when I was convinced my son would be a percussionist, we’d be the world’s first mother-son team…  Bringing the drums home put paid to that notion!  (I’m not insane, I’m a first-time mother; and no, I haven’t learned how to play them, yet.)  Now this space is dedicated as a permanent home for my winding equipment.  Before having this setup, I was always looking for a place and a free chair to attach my bobbin winder to.  It’s amazing how much time I save by not having to locate it, dig it out, affix it somewhere, then take it down and re-store it, over and over again.  I had not realised the vexation that it was until I experienced the lack thereof.  And, so delightful, the experience of the uninterrupted rhythm of creativity.

Earlier this week, I finally received a walnut bobbin for my wheel from an order I placed eight months ago. I had ordered three extra bobbins; four arrived, but in the end I chose to purchase only one.  I’m very happy with my final total of five Lendrum bobbins — the number chosen as what I think is the most I’ll ever need for a workshop (to create a four-ply yarn).  If I were only spinning at home, with my handy bobbin winder, just one bobbin would suffice.

And, yes, when I first got my bobbin winder, I did have the fleeting thought: “Perhaps this may be useful in the event I ever decide to weave…”  Who knew the mischief that would ensue?

ETA 23 January 2010: see this post for an ultra-portable bobbin winder.

17 October 2008 Posted by | Spinning | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Very Fast Flyer

Look what came in the mail!

No, it’s not the walnut Fast Flyer I’ve been waiting for since FEBRUARY, a special order placed for me by my LYS.  (Yes, I still plan getting it when it finally arrives.)  It’s a …(drumroll please)… Very Fast Flyer!

As I’m still commited to purchasing the Fast Flyer, I broke down and decided to order this even faster Lendrum Very Fast Flyer (in the walnut anniversary edition) from someplace online on a Monday, and received it, three days later.  I didn’t order one of these before because of the prohibitive expense; it’s costly because it comes with an entire new mother-of-all and maiden assembly, with several specialised machined metal parts designed for yarn stability.  The Very Fast Flyer was designed for very fine, thread-like yarn; and is not suitable for medium or larger thicknesses.

Closeup of the orifice:

Whoo Hoo! Such sssssssssspeed!  Thus far, I’ve only used the slowest ratio of 26:1, which is 2.6 times faster than the fastest ratio on my standard flyer (10:1).  I don’t know if I’m naturally a fast (some have said manic) treadler, or if I became that way to compensate for the slowness of the standard flyer.  But, I am having difficulty slowing my treaddling so I do not continually snap the thread apart.  Before, the standard flyer was too slow for my drafting.  Now, I need to increase my drafting speed just to keep up with the slowest ratio on this new flyer; I haven’t even tried any of the faster ratios yet.  I suppose I’ll eventually get to the point where I can spin without snapping the yarn every five minutes.  In the meantime, it’s very tedious to thread this this flyer, as all the points in the yarn path are teeny, teeny, tiny.  Look how tiny and flexible the new threading hook is!  The original threading hook is shown (top , shorter hook) as well; the crook of the new hook is so small, it’s nearly invisible.  I’m a tad disappointed that the new mother-of-all does not have an opening to store the new threading hook as did the original.  It is annoying to always be searching for where I last set it down.

And notice how small the bobbin capacity is!  Unless spinning a sewing thread’s thickness, this will fill up quickly.  (The larger core aids in yarn stability.)  I have only the one bobbin at this time, so my new bobbin-winder will come in handy!

Lucky for me that I decided to blog about this, since when taking pictures, I discovered a crack in the wood surrounding the orifice:

If not for the picture taking, I may never have noticed the flaw until too much time had passed.  I’ve contacted the store that sold it to me, and Mr. Lendrum will make me a replacement.  Until then, I have the use of this unit.

I have not put in any quality spinning time this past month because I was so bothered by the lack of speed; so I’m looking forward to spinning ramie (shown in the pics) to make loom tie-up cording soon.

Go, Speed Racer — Go, Speed Racer — Go, Go, Go!!!

25 September 2008 Posted by | Spinning | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Indian Head Spinning Wheel

I came across an ad for an Indian Head spinning wheel; an Indian Head wheel mounted on an old cast-iron Singer treadle.  Cursory research did not show many pictures, so I was curious enough to go take a look.  I did not purchase the wheel, but I thought it important enough to take some pictures for others who may be interested.

  • This wheel is primarily for bulky and novelty yarns, and produced lovely thick singles (think Noro worsted merino Malabrigo singles) that won awards at local fairs in the 1970s.

The bobbin is an enormous monster — ten or more inches long!

Closeup of the orifice:

Closeup of the treadle:

I heard that a buyer, who owns many spinning wheels, from one of the nearby islands was coming to collect the wheel, so it have a good home.

8 September 2008 Posted by | Spinning | , , , | 40 Comments