Monday, April 30, 2012

Spindle project - ready to ply!

I began spinning handpainted BFL wool on a 1 ounce spindle back on February 22nd.  I like to have a random, easy spindle project available at all times.  On the days when I'm otherwise busy and can't really work on my fiber craft for a long period of time, I can pick up this spindle and spin for a few minutes and still have my "fiber fix" for the day.  (Or at least that's the theory - I didn't even do much of this kind of quick spinning in April.  I'm really glad today is the last day of this fiber-unfriendly month.)

These easy, ready-to-grab spindle projects are starting to become one of my "default" yarns.  I use a semiwoolen drafting method with no particular plans for specific color repeats with the yarn.  I spin sections of the wool until the spindle starts to feel heavy, then I wind off the cop to a storage bobbin. I rejoin the remaining single to new fiber and keep spinning until I have enough to fill another bobbin.  Then I like to make a final 3-ply yarn from these singles.  These random spindle projects tend to produce soft, slightly fuzzy, elastic yarn that are around light fingering to fingering weight, usually 350 - 450 yards from 4 ounces of fiber. 

I finishing spinning the singles of this yarn over Easter weekend, and then the rest of April whooshed by me in a blur, so I still haven't plied the singles.  Having these singles sitting around is starting to feel a bit like a splinter under my skin - really, really annoying!  I want to see how the final yarn turns out!  So my spinning project this week is to ply my singles together, which I will do on my wheel.

Here are the six bobbins full of my singles, pictured with the spindle I used for this project:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Um, can't you just buy yarn from a store?

I was recently asked this question: "Um, can't you just buy yarn from a store?"

The short answer?  No, you absolutely cannot buy this yarn from a store, unless I opened one.  This yarn is a handmade gem and represents skill, craft, and even a little bit of love. 

The long answer?  Keep reading. 

Yes, of course you can buy yarn from a store.  And I do buy yarn from stores.  I can get national brand, workhorse kinds of yarn from big box stores (JoAnn's, Michaels, etc.), and I can get specialty and luxury yarns from local yarn shops and several online stores.  In fact, I have a particular weakness for Koigu yarns and sock yarns. 

So it seems to me that the real question is, why do you spin yarn in this modern age?

I don't resent this question.  The first time I heard of someone spinning her own yarn, I thought it was a little nutty.  "Hm, that's odd.  It's an interesting idea, but isn't that kinda like wasting time better spent on knitting when you can just buy yarn?"  I didn't get it. 

Out of all handcrafts and handmade pursuits, from woodworking to knitting to canning your own pickles, spinning seems to stand out in the public eye as a particularly strange, unfamiliar choice.  The irony is that for thousands of years in all cultures, and still today in a few places in the world, spinning yarn was a daily household chore.  But in the industrialized Western world, spinning yarn is so unnecessary for daily life that it is now extremely old-fashioned, really bordering on archaic, and is therefore a little bit bizarre.  I've thought about this a lot, and my theory is that spinning appears to be an odd choice because it doesn't have a final product that is ready to use in & of itself.  A woodworker creates a piece of furniture, a knitter creates a sweater, and the pickles are very tasty -- and all of these kind of handmade items are immediately functional.  But yarn is an intermediary step to the final product, such as the sweater, and therefore from an outside point of view, spinning would appear a very inefficient use of one's time.

The general unfamiliarity of spinning is actually a very good thing.  I know that I would not want to have the burden of spinning all the yarn that was necessary for my family's life or income.  Leaving the bulk of textile manufacture to the big mills suits me just fine.  It allows spinning to become a deliberate choice, a form of craft and self-expression.

But I still haven't answered the question, why spin? why make this choice?

Spinning just clicked with me on some fundamental level.  Once I picked up a spindle and gained a tiny bit of competence with it (it didn't take much!), I thought, "Whoa, this is awesome.  This is fun, this feels good, this is interesting, this is unique!"

I love to knit, to crochet, to play with paper & ink, but spinning has become my favorite craft.  I experience joy and quiet satisfaction in the competence of my hands while making yarn.  I love preparing fiber for spinning.  I love the feel of the fiber moving through my fingers.  Spinning is a very rhythmic and repetitive craft, and once I'm in the zone so to speak, there is a meditative quality to the work.  My hands know what to do, and my mind is able to wander, but not aimlessly.  I do some of my best thinking while I spin. 

I was so utterly wrong to first think of spinning as a waste or inefficient use of time.  There is actually a gift of time with spinning.  When I grab a spindle or sit in front of my wheel and spin, I am giving that time to myself.  I'm giving myself the space to sit, breathe, think, and feel good. 

So, my final answer to the question is, yes, I can buy yarn from a store.  But no, I can't buy this yarn from a store, and this yarn represents an investment in a good life.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finished Femme Fatale yarn

Aaaaaahhh!!  Where did April go?  I can't believe it's April 23rd.  The month started out with a trip to Indiana and only built from there.  It's been a really busy month and all of my blogging habits bit the dust.  Actually, my fiber craft in general bit the dust, and it's time to get back on track with it.  This probably explains my recent irritability - I must be in severe wool withdrawal. 

I did manage to finish my Femme Fatale yarn by the end of March, just in the nick of time for the Spindlers monthly challenge.  So I will reconnect with my blog by publishing the details of this yarn.

I'm really happy with this yarn!  It is the finest and most consistent yarn I've produced to date, and I have decided to submit it to the upcoming Shepherd's Harvest skein competition.  There are a lot of excellent spinners in this region, so I don't expect to win anything, but it will be a lot of fun to add my yarn to the competition.  It means I've reached an important milestone for my fiber craft - I feel confident enough about my skills in order to submit my work for judgement. 

To refresh everyone's memory, the Spindlers group in Ravelry has a monthly challenge, where a theme is announced and whoever wants to participate must start & finish a spindle-spun yarn within that calendar month.  March's theme was Femme Fatale, which was very fun to interpret in yarn.  (Here is my announcement of this yarn project, and the update in the middle of the project.)

I created a seductive laceweight yarn in jewel tones, using handpainted BFL wool & tussah silk blend fiber.  My plan was to spin a very fine yarn with lots of drape and as much luster as possible.  Using a one ounce cherry wood spindle and worsted drafting, I started spinning very fine singles.  I was very careful with my drafting, making sure that I evenly drafted out the wool & silk together.  It's easy to draft the longer silk fibers out of the blend, leaving the wool behind in your fiber hand, and I wanted to avoid that problem.  The singles averaged 70 WPI:

I spun two singles, which I then plied together to create the final 2-ply yarn.  Since this is a worsted yarn, I finished the yarn very simply, just to set the twist and not to full the yarn in any way.  I soaked the skein in hot water for several minutes, changing the water a couple of times, but that's about it.  I pressed out the water, snapped the yarn over my wrists a few times, then hung the yarn to dry without any weight on the skein.

The finished yarn is beautifully balanced, with no overspun or overplied areas.  It has a lovely drape, not much elasticity, and a really pretty shimmer from the silk that is evenly blended throughout the yarn.  Mission accomplished!  Eventually, this yarn will become a scarf or shawl.  I'm researching patterns for it and haven't quite made up my mind yet.  Any pattern recommendations are welcome!

The final yarn:

BFL wool & tussah silk blend
2-ply, worsted drafting
2.5 ounces (70 grams), 42 WPI (laceweight), 500 yards