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

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

How It All Began

I was never interested in knitting.  I have done the scarf thing long ago in junior high, but that was it.  I’m not sure the scarf was ever finished.

One day at a playgroup (my son was about 18 months old, circa 2005), another mother was knitting a raglan sweater on circulars.  I was so intrigued: the pattern was top down, with no piecework required, and by using circulars, there was no back and forth with the whole heavy sweater on one needle or the other; but most of all, the elegance, the symmetry of the design!  I ran out to Michael’s and purchased exactly the same yarn and needles, and started the same pattern that very afternoon.  I wish I could say the rest was history, but unfortunately, the next two years were tough going.  I was so busy with baby that I couldn’t get any time away for a knitting group, let alone a class.  Plus, in general I’m against spending money on classes, since that takes away from my limited fibre or equipment budget, and I like figuring things out on my own.  I had so much problem with that pattern!  There was a trick of starting the neck by leaving the loop open until later, when you add more stitches for a dropped front so the opening can be pulled over the head, but the directions were so difficult to understand.  In fact, I didn’t understand them until nearly two years later, when a friend saw me struggling and gave me a copy of the same pattern, written up by someone else.  Light bulb on!  Before my revised pattern, I had started the sweater at least five separate times, finishing one that could fit only a teddy bear.  (After the new pattern, it still took two tries to get it right, because I changed the yarn and was too impatient to gauge swatch the new yarn.)

Things progressed very quickly after that.  I saw another mother at a different playgroup knitting little animals on tiny, tiny needles.  I was charmed.  And because of her, I purchased both Knitpicks options and harmony needle sets.  Then I e-mailed my saga to a good friend of mine who had moved away to Montana.  When I saw her start knitting many years ago, I inwardly laughed, thinking the knitting bug would never catch me.  Well, she had the last laugh.  And she told me that because she missed her knitting group so much, she didn’t knit as much as before, so I would be the beneficiary of many, many boxes of her knitting stash (all natural fibres) and needles.  Thousands of dollars worth.  Before that, I did not have any yarn besides what I had purchased for that still not completed raglan sweater, although I had already decided that would be the last time I knit acrylic.   I went from several skeins of acrylic to an instant serious stash mountain.  But the nicest thing about receiving so many boxes of yarn from my friend is that I could get away with surreptitiously adding to it.  (To my husband: “That?  It’s one of the hundreds that R- sent me!”)

Oh, yes, the stash has grown.  Even on my non-existent budget, although I cannot afford to buy anything full price.  Fifty dollars for a new “educational” toy for my son?   No problem!  Five dollars for one skein yarn for myself?  Unthinkable!  I don’t frequent garage sales, but I happened on one where amazing yarns (all wools, mohair, cashmere) were being sold at ten cents on the dollar!  Not only that, it was a serious stash, with every yarn being sold in lots of 10 skeins or more of the same dye lot.  I spent eighty dollars, but the woman gave me more, and I left with more than a thousand dollars’ worth of yarn.

My son (he will be four in a week!) has told me: “Mama, when I grow up, I will buy yarn for you.”

So, I finally finished the raglan sweater, then knit a pair a socks over the 2007 Christmas holiday.  (The sweater is too big for my son, but luckily, he likes it, and pretends that it is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s costume.  He’ll grow into it.)  That’s all I’ve knitted to date.  Because as much as I love knitting, it’s nothing compared to what I feel about spinning.

Every October, the Seattle Weavers’ Guild holds a sale of items produced by members.  I found out about it well over 10 years ago, and having not gone for more than 5 years, decided to last October (2007).  I’ve always known that I would one day take up spinning, although I knew nothing of the craft.  (This is a recurrent theme in my life!)  When I saw one lonely drop spindle left on a table, I knew it was time.  That drop spindle came home with me, much to my husband’s future financial woes.

This time, I found a local spinning guild, and with much guilt (at first, anyway), began attending the weekly spin-ins.  My drop spindle was a bottom-whorl, and I had soon created my own top-whorl  spindle out of a CD.  I was so happy with it, I thought I would never need a spinning wheel, so I told the others in my group.  I learned to Navajo 3-ply on the drop spindle, doing a Navajo 4-ply (from an article from the Bellwether’s blog) on the drop spindle was beyond me.  I knew I had to have a wheel.

2008 February, I purchased my first wheel, an Ashford Traditional.  (Raise your hands, all of you who had that as your first wheel!)  Prior to that, I had no experience spinning on a wheel.  I got it because of good karma.  I was being very good: when my husband offered to take Valentines Day off to drive me to the Madrona Fibre Festival being held, I turned him down because I “needed to save money for a spinning wheel”.  The following Monday was Presidents’ Day, and I snagged the Traditional deal from CraigsList.  It was a brand-new, still in the box wheel (they come unfinished and un-assembled) — that had been stored in the garage for something like twenty years.  I brought it home and started the finishing that evening.  A few days later, my wheel was assembled, and I was spinning.

Ashford Traditional, my first wheel

I loved that wheel!  But because of posture, I felt I needed to find a double-treadle wheel.  Also, I wanted a wheel that wasn’t so bulky when I took it along to spinning meets.  Then my current fell into my lap in 2008 March.  It is a Lendrum DT folding wheel, in the lovely walnut anniversary edition.  The woman I purchased it from bought it new in 2001, took a spinning class with it, then never used it again.  It had been used for less than 10 hours.  The wheel was always stored indoors, on display, so it was in new, perfect condition.  Some of the bobbins on the lazy kate were still contained in original wrappers, and the wheel had never even been folded down (the woman didn’t know how).  My Lendrum fits perfectly in the tiny nook between my sewing table and the dining table, whereas I was always having to move the Traditional in or out of place.  I had thought I would keep both wheels, especially since the Traditional had such a nice wheel weight and momentum, but after a month of no use, I decided that it was time to let the it go to someone who would.  Good thing I never named it.  (Hmmm, my Lendrum also has no name.  I wonder what that means?)

Lendrum DT, my second wheel

Recently, I began thinking of a loom.  I don’t know why.  It wasn’t on my “always thought I would” list.  Also, I should point out that I have no room for a loom.  I barely have room for my portable spinning wheel.  However, I try not to let that sort of thinking stop me.

Anyway, I didn’t do much (any) research.  I made several half-hearted attempts to acquire a loom.  None made it past the inquiry stage, because none of them felt right.  A week ago, I began to think I should get a floor loom, with at least 10 treddles and 8 shafts.  And then my loom found me.

I went to see the loom this past Friday (Friday the 13th, 2008 June!), and at first all I saw was a pile of dusty, spider-web encrusted old (and in some places splintering) wood. I helped the seller clean off most of the spider-webs, and the loom began emerging. I don’t know what the magic was, but after spending an hour with it piecing it together, (the seller meant to, but never used it herself so she didn’t know how it worked; it had been stored over 30 years in her garage), I got the sense of a very solid and beautifully engineered loom which (by it’s worn appearance) had woven many things and is waiting to weave again. It seemed to me that everything was there, and knowing nothing about looms, my gut instinct was that everything would become intact and functioning, even though it was in pieces.  I could feel this was a special loom with character.  I had heard about Bergman looms for the first time just earlier this week, since becoming aware of the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard and making plans to visit it soon.   As I unfolded the loom, I got a sense of a connection to Margaret Bergman — and I believe this may have been a loom she used to teach on.  I would be proud to have a share in that long history.  I told the seller I didn’t know why I loved it, but I would be back to pick it up the next day.

Friday night, I e-mailed a spinning friend, who asked me what type of loom it was (jack, counterbalance, or countermarche).  Some research found a blog by someone else who recently purchased a Bergman loom, and it was a countermarche. What a relief!  If I had a choice, based on what was learning, I would choose countermarche.  Am I lucky or what!

I had to worry about how to bring the the loom home.  Our truck is so old, it no longer needs emission tests, and it had not been used in more than four years, since before my son was born.  (We used it for trucking yard waste to the transfer station, but we’re not very fond of gardening.)  When I told my husband we would be picking up a loom, he had doubts, and tried to tell me we might have to rent one instead.  Happily, everything has worked out.  (It ended up taking the truck AND my car to bring everything home.)

So, my loom, the first loom I’ve looked at, is home.  I spent a few hours cleaning it off yesterday, and she told me her name is Beauty.  I have to clean up my house and make room for it, so she is waiting patiently to come inside and start weaving.

Beauty, my Bergman Loom

So for any uninitiated out there, let me tell what Judith MacKenzie, teacher extraordinaire, told me last week: “After you start knitting, it’s a slippery slope downhill from there.”  For the others of you already in the know, I’m very happy to be joining your ranks.

16 June 2008 Posted by | General, Weaving | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments