Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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On fibers

I’ve not been spinning as much as I ought.  Given the way this year is scheduled, I’m never going to catch up to the fiber in the stash.  It doesn’t mean I’m not spinning, I am.  Right now I have two active projects on the bobbins (a blue and white twining cable, spun Z/S/Z, to end up with a 2×2 cable, which I am sending to be used in crochet), and a striping Targhee on the wheel right now (2-ply Z/S: which means it will be better for Continental/German/Pick knitting: It turns out I’ve been making yarns for the less common style of knitting in the US, which is British/Throw knitting.  On the flip side, this seems to be the more common style of yarn, so no one has complained.  It seems the books I was using as reference assumed the default was Continental, that or I misunderstood them).

I’ve also got a batch of generic white, which I’ve dyed with saffron. It’s got a lovely yellow shade to it.  I’ve washed about 6 oz of dirty wool (from an Arapawa fleece I was sent), so I need to pick/card that and see how it does.

But I’ve spun about ten different fiber types in the past year. I have been “chasing cobwebs” (i.e. I spin pretty fine yarns).

Merino:  Smooth, but a bit grippy.  It want’s a lot of opening our before drafting.  It’s also pulls fairly slowly, even when being done as a woolen.  I’ve gotten better at avoiding “slubby” patches, but I’m still not spinning it as evenly as I’d like.

Herdwick: Not sure what I think.  Short, tough, rough.  Has some kemp.  Spins to a very durable; if prickly, thread when fine.  I’ve not managed to spin any up with any bulk.  Would be great for weaving carpet-backs.  Could be used as an outer sweater.  Face the cuffs and neck.

Lopi:  Easy spinner.  The yarns I’ve had the easiest time getting some intentional bulk into.  A bit less than soft, but not all that rough.  Blended with some silk it might make warm, long wearing, socks.   Good for sweaters.  Not best for large areas against the skin, but would be nice as a hat.

Polwarth: CREAMY!  This is (to date) the nicest spinning I know.  It’s a long-wool (like the Targhee, and Merino), but it slides easily, so pre-drafting is both easy and less critical.  It’s smooth through the fingers, responding well to being semi-worsted (by passing the yarn over, then under, the fingers in my orifice hand).  As with all long wools it benefits from a more open hand position.  It’s very nice to spin fine. The time it takes seems to be less, because the feel is so nice.  One gets a little lost in the sybaritic pleasure of it sliding through the fingers.

Suri (Alpaca): A different sort of longwool.  Not as grippy as those from sheep.  Has to be handled with some care, as it gets really wiry (and harsh) when overspun.  Underspinning is easy to do, and that can make plying a bit more tedious (to say nothing of the frustrations that can lead to when one loses the drafting end and has to fish it off the bobbin; at which time bit, after bit, after bit, just frays to nothing).

Huacaya (Alpaca): Shorter, a bit less soft.  Easier to spin woolen, though it also needs to have a careful balance of twist.

Yak: Very short.  Warm, and soft in the hand. Not as elastic a yarn as wool, nor even as Alpaca, but the spring to the plied yarns is wonderful.  It’s plush.  Good for scarves and gloves.  If you can find some white/tan yak it would make a very nice shawl; from fairly open, to middling dense lacework.

Targhee: A lot like Merino.  Feltier, so it needs more opening before drafting, but it’s more forgiving in the working; both sliding a bit more before it locks up, and locking up pretty solidly when the twist sets in.  Spins very finely.  It would probably full very well,  so weaving it into peacloth, or a a beret/tam o’shanter would be a good use for it too.  Might not be as good for socks (felting), certainly that would want a fair bit of silk/tencel/bamboo added to the wool.

Suri Alpaca/Silk (80/20):  Nice to be done with.  The silk makes it very prone to the top/roving developing halo (this might be static, so a little water/spinning oil might help, if you don’t mind the way they make the fiber feel in your hands).  Once it’s spun it’s lovely stuff, but it does need more handling.  It’s also very slippy, so you have to be careful with your hands, not to tight (or the twist runs tighter than anything), nor too loose (or it flies out of your hand, onto the bobbin, and needs to be fished out).    [I’ll be playing with some plain silk, and that should help some.  I wonder what a 70/30 ratio would do, since the silk has a different luster (larger bundles stand out, as chatoyent gleam).  I suspect being better with silk (which has huge issues with trying to fly away), will help with this.

Finnish:  Very nice.  Easy spinner, moderate staple.  Can be spun fine, so 5-plies for guernsey/aran sweaters with lots of clean cabling would be doable.  Has a moderate halo (but not prickly), so blending it with some alpaca to make it a bit softer (with looser decorative elements) would still look/feel good.



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Fiber log

I’ve spun up samples of two of the new wools.

First was some Masham. It’s just a bit rough in the hand.  The roving splits easily, and opening it up to spin (pre-drafting) is easy.  Set the wheel to the most open of configurations; as it’s not supposed to like, “too much twist”.  Had some trouble with it, mostly because I was afraid of getting too fine, and overtwisting it.  Some of it was undertwisted, which made plying a bit of a hassle.  Seems to have a nice drape.  It’s a bit prickly for next to the skin, but would probably be good for warp in a tweed, or for sweaters, etc.

I got about 60 yards of singles, but with the plying problems I made for myself, only 57 yards of 2-ply from the oz. I had to spin.

Next was some Polwarth. Very soft in the hand.  Loftier, as roving, than the Masham.  A bit stickier.  It took more work to pre-draft.  Moderately grabby at first, but a very even spinner.  The only word (and I was using it a lot) I can think of to convey how nice it was to spin is, that it was, “creamy”.  It was very steady as it moved onto the bobbin (though I think I am being too attentive when working the samples.  I want to see how they behave, and how they will best spin; so I’m seeing what people say about it, and trying to match that. I’m not sure this is doing justice to the experience I’ve built up)  I do think I can do  pretty much what I want with it.  It’s very smooth when spun up, even with a woolen treatment.  I’ll bet I can spin 3-ply lace weight with it, on the wheel.

I am glad I didn’t start with it though, as it’s got more “tooth” than Merino (and a lot more than Alpaca).  In the very beginning it would have been hard to manage because it’s so responsive; any of the problems which come from lack of skill/co-ordination would be magnified.  Then, when I got the hang of it, that same responsiveness would have been too kind.  The Alpaca, and Romney, and even the sort of finicky Merino I spun, required me to be attentive, in ways the Polwarth doesn’t.  But now that I’ve got some skill, I’m going to be spinning a lot of this, because it’s really easy to keep fairly even.

I already have a cable-project in mind, and the first two oz. of that have already started going onto bobbins.


All the fiber

For Christmas this year I got LOTS of fiber*. If I did the math correctly I added 8 1/2 lbs of raw fiber to the stash, as well as an unknown amount of unset cashmere mill ends.

Among the things I got was a sample pack of 24 different wools, from different breeds of sheep, 1 oz of each:

California Variegated Mutant (CVM)
Dorset Horn
Manx Loaghtan

Some of them are visually interesting (the Welsh has some very short, very thick, fibers in the mix, they seem brittle.  I can’t tell if they will disappear, or make a stiff sort of halo).  So I’ll be do doing some research on how to best spin them (perhaps I will finally get The Field Guide to Fleece and Fiber).  I’m looking forward to spinning them up, because they will be quick spins (yay for instant gratification) as well as being a chance to play with different fibers.  (I also got some quivut, I’m not going to be spinning that anytime soon, as I want to get some more, and be able to spin up enough to make into something.  I suspect I am going to have that something be a scarf, and I’m going to keep it for myself)

What they won’t be is all that useful as yarn.  They are great as a study aid/familiarisation project for me, but I don’t know they will be all that great as a knitting crochet project.  But, if any one wants to have an .oz of something new to play with, on the relatively cheap; perhaps to decide on getting some yarn made to order, I’m figuring to offer it for $15 a skein, postage included, for a 2-ply woolen, spun for knitting (some, like the Wensleydale, will be fairly fine; I can see the staple will like that; others (e.g. the Welsh, will be spun as best I can manage to the general recommendations of my research).

If you have a hankering to try one, and want it spun in some more specific way (really fine, 3-ply, spun for chrochet, etc), let me know, and I’ll spin it that way for you.

I’ll try to remember to write up the interesting ones, and may even do some youtubing.  With all of that, (and the extant stash, and the share of lopi being delivered in April) I need to spin about 1 lb. a month to reduce my stash to the level I was at on 23. Dec, by the end of 2014.  That doesn’t include the mill ends (though I already have one project in mind for them).

Among the other things I got was some really nice black alpaca (suri), mixed 80/20 with purple silk (I can’t tell if the alpaca has been dyed at all, it might have been).  The color is superb, and it’s a joy to spin, so right now I have done about 1.5 oz. of my needed 192.

I’ve got a video of it being spun out:

*the small bit of fluff I’m cuddling to my cheek, is Quivut)

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A color runs through it

A livejournal post, on progress in spinning was the spark to do more than just the recap of a really nice skein of yarn (which I will also do).  I’ve been spinning on the wheel for about a year (not quite, I got the wheel in mid-November).  According to my spinnenboek I’ve started 16 projects on the wheel in the past nine months, and 15 of them have come off of it.  That’s not too bad.  It’s not great, but it’s more than one a month, and as I’m spinning in the odd moments, or when we are sitting watching television, etc. it’s not too bad.  As a crafty-purchase it’s not sitting idle in the corner, so it’s a win.

I’ve still got my first skein of yarn, and as I was promised, I can’t do it again.  The slubby-mess it is (which is both a term of art, and a misnomer.  I don’t care for it much; though it’s got some charms; I know people who will pay good money for skeins of thick and thin.  I saw a shawl made from some just yesterday.  It was attractive, so what do I know, me with my aesthetic for more even yarns?), it no longer something I know how to make.  I have become a fine spinner.  I may not be a “good” spinner (by my lights), but the yarns I make are not thick, though I can still see the ghost of that first skein.

How has my spinning changed in the past nine months?  I’ve gotten more confident.  I don’t look at a hank of roving and say, “OMG… I’m going to screw it up!”.  I have taken to planning my yarns.  I’m also managing to get what I want (mostly) out of them.  I need more practice to have a solid sense of how the colors work out, but I’m getting there too.  I’m willing to take commissions.  I’m not looking to make a living at it.  I’m not even looking to make pin-money.  I’d like to make it pay for itself, so that I’m not pouring money into fiber, and in need of giving the yarn away to have room to make more.

So, for a basic commission (i.e. some sees a roving they like, and want’s to have some yarn from it), I’m happy to do that.  If they send me twice as much fiber as they want yarn.  It’s a pretty good deal actually, given what it takes me in terms of time, and what yarns cost on Etsy, etc.

So what does my present level of skill look like?

I started with a varigated roving, and split it down the middle, end to end.

Top in the Bowl

Then I spun it up.
Single on the wheel

You can see the banding.  It’s a bit more evident when the full bobbins are next to each other.

Ready to Reel

Once it’s been spun back, to make it more even on the bobbins, for more even plying, the striping isn’t really apparent.

Ready to ply

This is how they look, coming together off the lazy-kate, and into the wheel.


As you see, the two singles are from the same part of the roving, so they blend into a single color.  There are some differences in the way the two sides spun, so the transitions have some interference, which has its own charm. When done the bobbin was pretty full.


But it was balanced.  The yarn hung straight, and draped easily, before I set it. Afterwards it looked like this:


If you look you can see some of the interference zones.  This is all I had left


So, all in all, I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but with an average of about 3oz per project, I’ve only spun 45oz, or a bit less than 3lbs. It’s not that much, so I’ve really got no reason to think poorly of my work, in fact, when I look at it objectively, I’ve every reason to think I’m coming along fairly well.

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Attention leads to intention

Nero Wolfe, half of the great detective created by Rex Stout (Archie Goodwin being the other half), spends two hours, twice a day with his orchids.  It’s not that he has 10,000 (he does) it’s that it pleases him.  Some of the time is spent potting, or breeding, but a lot of it is almost certainly spent just looking at the plants.  I don’t have that many plants.  I have a few, a couple of orchids, a grape, an olive, a pair of etrogim (in the same pot, for the nonce), rosemary, gardenia, some “Peruvian Sea Lilies”, Freesia, various pot herbs, etc.

I also volunteered for the position of gardener for our condo.  So I try to spend a few minutes a day with the plants.  Some of it is to work (the forsythia is horrid, and the junipers are overgrown, in part because of the forsythia:  As a Californinian my first question when pondering a planting isn’t, “will it grow here?”, but “will it take over?”.  The designer of the landscaping does not seem to have ever considered this).

Because I can’t just rip things out and go whole hog (though some forsythia may be removed, and roses put in their stead), and because I have to consider some of the plants  (rosemary, gardenia, etrogim) as indoor/outdoor plants and some (the grapes, the pomegranite, the olive) are actual bonsai, I am forced to do a fair bit of trimming/training/constraining.  Herb Gustafson tells a story about someone who was visiting him; this was a semi-professional visit.  Herb is a a really well known bonsaist (no, I don’t know him, but some years ago we were both active on the same usenet groups, about bonsai).  This was something of a squeeful visit, and something like the “martial artist meets the great master” moment.  They went out to look at the plants.  The guest was all sorts of eager.  Herb watered some, looked at some.  Pinched a leaf, here and there, and in a short chunk of time, they were done.

The guest was comfortable to say he was sort of amazed.  He’d been hoping to see some great secret technique (you know where this is going, right?)  He had.  Staying in touch with the plants is how to make them beautiful.  By looking at them, every few days (he has enough trees that he’d need the four hours a day Wolfe spends with the orchids, to see them all, every day) he can judge their state of health, see which ones need more water, which ones less.  Where a branch is starting to go the wrong way; which plants have developed aphids, or need to be turned, or….

Doing that is how I noticed the grape had buds.‡

Bud cluster

That was a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, as I was trying to decide which growth was going the wrong way/being too vigorous, I saw the buds had bloomed.

Blooming Grapes I

Grape flowers are dull. They start as little green lumps, like tiny grapes; which are so cute, then they open, and they get that little halo of non-petalled flowers. But those turn into grapes.

Grape in bloom

Spinning is sort of the same. I try, because it pleases me, to spend at least a few minutes a day playing with fiber. It gives me a better sense of what it does (building the sense memories needed to be able to do it with an absent attention, while not losing my active intention). Spinning is sort of like running, in that regard; any amount you do is improving to your technique, stamina, etc.. For Mother’s Day I told my mother I’d make her some yarn; she knits, and crochets. She wanted some 3-ply for knitting. Since I had empty bobbins this was pretty easy to start. I’ve now done 202 yds. of 3-ply 50/50 alpaca/bamboo. I also, finally, finished the project I’ve been doing on spindles since February

On the noddy

(it’s not as bad as all that, it’s been mostly spun on the subway, and I mislaid the last third of the fiber for about three weeks).

It’s very fine. I didn’t get quite the length I thought I had, the end result was about 260 yds. My mother’s yarn is 2.8 oz. The spindled yarn is 1.8. They are both 3-ply.

How fine is it?

This fine.

Penny for your thoughts

Have a close up, so you can see that it’s three strands in concert.

The wheat and the chaff

When all is said and done, the past few weeks have been pretty productive, though to look at the fruit of that labor

Five Skeins

it doesn’t seem like so much; until I consider that’s only about ten hours of wheel time, and about 20 for the spindle (the latter is also “interstitial” time, as it’s time I was also doing something else. So rather than read, or amuse myself on my phone I spun).

Where is my spinning? It’s in a pretty good place. The interesting thing about the middle skein, and the pair on the outside† is that they represent me starting to weigh out the fiber before I spin it. The singles I spun after that, in both cases, were almost the same length (to within a yard, or so). That means, on both spindle and wheel, I am being consistent for WPI. I need to work on the Twist Per Inch, so that my plies will be more even. On the spindle it seems I am not as steady, or perhaps it’s that I can put in more twist with a lot less torsion, but the plying of the spindled yarn wasn’t as regular as I would like.  On the other hand, the end result (at 260+ yards, isn’t so much less than I thought it was going to be after all)

I also learned that I need to have a box of some sort, if I want to keep spinning on the subway, as the latter part of the exercise was hindered by the fiber being a bit felty, which meant I had more breaks, and a harder time being even in the diameter.

But by doing a little, every day (or two), my habit gets better set.  The next yarn I make is also going to be a bit on the fine side (about the same as my mothers), and then I’ll play with making some a bit bulkier (because that fiber wants to be pretty softly spun, and fine yarns are trickier to pull that off with).  I’ve put one trick in the bag, now I need to add more.


‡All the photos are available in LARGE, sizes.  Just right click on them to see the finer details

† those two, combined, are the spindle spun yarn. I made a rotational error in computing the lay, so I plied about 25 yards into a really ugly single. I tried to unply it, but that wasn’t happening. So I played Atropos, and cut it. I then became Clotho again and respun it, into a very “arty” 3-ply).


Pretty pictures

Just a quick post of photos straight out of the phone. I’ve spun up a bit more than half the batts in the post on process, and I’d like to have a record of them, in a place more accessible than buried amongst all the other photos I’ve taken with my phone.

Spinning out of the batt is pretty easy, esp. because this is really fluffy alpaca.  It was a bit, “neppy” (i.e. it had little lumps of felty fiber).  There wasn’t much “scutch” (i.e. crap which isn’t fiber).  Oddly the most common type was bits of some sort of beetle.

Bob, Bob, Bobbin along

Yarn on the bobbins. I’ve reeled it from the bobbin I spun on, to a different one, so that plying will be easier. The colors seem pretty clear, even if the focus is a bit off (if I’m going to use the phone, I need to get some sort of tripod for it).

On the Noddy

That’s what it looks like wound on the niddy-noddy.


And skeined. It’s nice, and seems to be balanced. I’ve not set the twist yet, but it hangs pretty much dead-straight.