Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Saturday, May 4, 2013
By Amelia © May 4, 2013
I've recently returned from pinch-hitting for another teacher at John C. Campbell Folk School. It was a terrific week; using the course description, I put together a romp through yarn design, moving from singles to ply constructs to art yarns as the week progressed. I learned a lot about how much information workshop participants can absorb, and on just how much work I can do in a week. We all had a great time; the fiber was enjoyed, the company was great, and the meals were wonderful.
Our group became close-knit despite arriving from all over America, from Alaska to New Jersey and several points in between. We've exchanged emails, and one topic that came up was, 'can you make a living in the fiber arts?'
The math is simple: how much money do you need to live on -- make an accurate budget; determine how much income can you make from what you want to do. If you can make enough to live on, then you're golden.
The ladies know that making enough income is a tough thing. They knew I was in a idle period, no workshops for a month, when I got the call asking if I was available to fill in. What was I living on, then? Savings. I have to deal with living on variable income, which means even when the money seems to be rolling in, you have to set some aside for a dry spell.
The hardest part can be evaluating the income opportunity. In fiber arts, we have many choices: sell supplies, sell altered supplies (dyed, spun, kitted up), sell finished pieces, develop patterns, write, teach, process fiber, spin for others, knit for others, raise fiber animals, make fiber tools, organize events ... And likely more. Business plans can be useful in organizing your thoughts and determining cash flow potential. I did business plans before I started The Bellwether as a retail business, before I began my fiber mill, and even when I decided to shift my focus to teaching and writing.
Each business choice has expenses (materials, tools, storage/work space, website, bookkeeping, advertising, and more). Generally your income comes from the time you put in: you have to market your wares to get customers; you need to hone your skills to grow your business; you must create products or track inventory to have goods to sell, and so on. It also comes from making good choices, examining what produces income and what does not. The income has to cover the business expenses and your household budget.
Pricing is a big issue for fiber arts. The market sets some prices: you can cruise handspun on Etsy, looking at yardage, weight, and fiber to get a feel for handspun pricing; wholesale suppliers often set retail prices on their goods; and boutiques in your area may carry other fiber artists' products already to give you and idea on pricing handwoven goods or hand dyed yarns. Those are good to take into consideration given your cost of materials, tool and location costs, and the time it takes you to make the items you sell or run the business you want to create.
Especially with service or finished items, it is important to consider that time. If it takes 5 hours to weave, finish, and package a scarf, $30 in materials, and say $5 in overhead costs (tools and location, fees, etc.) and you can sell it for $60 retail then you get $25 for your 5 hours of time. That may seem great if you have a day job, but $5 an hour is a pretty low wage to live on. Consider what you can do: get more efficient at weaving, change the weave structure, yarn, or item to something that adds more value without slowing you down or costing more to produce.
Now, truth be told, I often just wing it and hope to get something to cover the next bill. But the further honest truth is that I adore what I do. Every day is like a vacation for me. I don't tire of it. Today was a perfect day: I fixed a skirt hem, threaded a bit more of my twill warp on my floor loom, swapped looms with a lovely lady who not only wanted my AVL Workshop Dobby Loom but had the Louet Magic Dobby loom I really wanted, researched for some fall classes, worked on a workshop proposal for an upcoming show, and now I'm writing this. Better than a day on any beach on the planet.
And that is where the magic is...loving what you do. It makes you willing to find new ways to approach it. I've done retail, wholesale, services, e-books, workshops, online workshops, worked for others in the fiber arts, and will keep trying new things and fitting them into "Ask The Bellwether" as needed to keep it a success. I've researched suppliers, publishers, on line marketplaces, and wool shows, and will continue to find new sources for materials and venues for what I do. I know I love learning, and I have been amazed at how much I enjoy teaching. My deepest love is writing, though my skills are home grown rather than college-honed. My spindles, wheels, looms, and tools call to me and I adore passing along their lessons to others in the spoken and written word.
There are many inspiring blogs out there to help motivate you to follow your dreams. I enjoy Wakeup Cloud, in part because Henri is himself discovering his own passion in what he does, and applying it directly in his blog. His enthusiasm is infectious!
And, as my partner Chris says, some people make the music and some people listen to it. He is a professional listener ... always in the audience, never in the band. Someone has to be! So if fiber arts are your hobby, I thank you for that. Without folks looking to simply enjoy the fiber arts, those of us who pursue it as a lifestyle would not have an audience. Thank you for listening to my music :-) it brings me great joy to make it, in all its woolly goodness!
This article © 2013 Amelia Garripoli, Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog.
The pictures are from the workshop: supplies, my necklace of textured yarns, and the circle of wheels in our classroom.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
It was really great to see you and your amazing spindle and wheel collection when I was in Colorado last summer. Thanks for asking then about my Columbine wheel ( www.r-e-solutions.org/Columbine/about.html ). The bright yellow was a good choice for me -- very cheerful. There are several color options available, including a much more sedate forest green and a yummy plum. These are unique wheels, being made from metal rather than wood.
I'd compare it to a Louet for spinning feel, despite it being a double drive wheel. In my experience, most double drive wheels have fairly soft draw in. But then, most have cotton drive bands on wooden grooves. The Columbine has poly drive bands on metal grooves -- very much grippier (is that a word?) than the traditional cotton on wood. So, the draw in is very strong, like Louets' Irish tension tends to be.
Since I like Louets, I felt comfortable spinning it. I am tempted to try a hemp drive band to see if that softens the drive band -- but you know me. If it took me 6 months to write this to you, it could be another 6 before I try a different drive band material.
The bobbins are immense -- though not much wider than traditional bobbins, they are easily twice as long as Ashford's. So they hold a lot! I spun up a 4 ounce skein and even the full plied 4 ounces looked like not much on the bobbin. You can say the beauty of the yarn is from the skill of the spinner, but the wheel also had to contribute, as I spun a yarn outside of my default yarn, a plump, soft, squishy two-ply. As you can see from the skein-shot, it turned out really well -- I attribute that to the quality of the wheel as much as to the talent of my hands.
One thing I had to get used to -- you cannot lift the wheel by the bobbin/flyer, as the flyer's rod (the spindle) is resting in a bracket at the back, rather than being pushed into a holder. Sure, it's not wise to lift a wheel that way in general, so I'm happy to have to correct a bad habit. My other wheels will benefit.
I got my Columbine with the matching lazy kate. The bobbins are extra-tall, so I'm not sure if they would fit on my other kates. They do have a very wide center tube, so the rod diameter would not matter. But you would want a long kate rod (how long, you ask? ummm... I will follow up with that info). I am a plyer who likes to position her kate away from her wheel, so that works well for me. And I can "store" the kate on the wide treadle of the Columbine, so it is pretty easy to tote along with the wheel. There is also an option for an on-board kate, which would be appealing for bobbin storage at least, if you have a kate for plying on hand already.
My past experience with Columbines before this wheel was helping a lady with one get it to spin well. She needed to set and then refine the tension, it didn't take long to get it spinning well. It was enough to make me interested in the wheel, so when the maker had a booth near mine at Black Sheep Gathering, I trotted on over to see cost and if I could carry them to offer them to my spinning students.
Being me, I ended up taking one home. Nothing like a skein or threes' experience to tell me how a beginner would take to the wheel. It is a good beginner-and-grow-into wheel. I would feel comfortable teaching someone on it, and would know they could have an entire spinning career on just this wheel. There's a decent range of ratios, it's sturdy and travels in cars well, and bobbin size is a big plus. It has the modern amenity of sliders instead of hooks on the flyer -- the best improvement to wheels in the past several decades.
I continue to be a big fan of castle wheels in general, and would love to find a Louet S-90 like yours with its lovely painted wheel. My teaching herd (Louets, Spinolutions, Ashfords, a Babe and a Sequoia) is happy to welcome in the cheerful yellow Columbine.
Until we meet again (will I see you at Blacksheep Gathering? I'm teaching there this year!),
© February 28, 2013 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog
Monday, December 31, 2012
By Amelia © December 31, 2012
One of the first things I tell spinners-in-training is that spinning is an ambidextrous sport. So, actually, it isn't truly a right-handed or a left-handed activity. Both hands are involved. And feet, on a treadle wheel.
That said, on a wheel, we do tend to say you are spinning right-handed if your right hand holds the fiber supply and your left hand is closer to the orifice. Most traditional wheels are set up with this assumption, putting the drive wheel to the right and the flyer to the left.
If you spin with the fiber supply in your left hand and right hand loser to the orifice, you may be surprised at how much more comfortable a "left hand" wheel can be. I was, when I visited Mr. Watson in Sydney, BC, and he pointed out my left-handedness at the wheel.
So how did this right-handed lady become a left-handed spinner? In part, it was due to my interest in spindles. They are typically taught with fiber in the left hand, right hand closer to the spindle. So, when I sat down to a wheel, I kept this configuration. Learning long draw on a charka definitely cemented it in: right hand turning te wheel, left hand single-handed lay managing fiber supply and drafting. What a marvelous feeling that remains!
New spinners can find this challenging. Especially strongly-handed people (right or left). So here are some suggestions to help strengthen your off hand:
- switch your mouse on your computer to the other side, or start using your off-hand to move around on your tablet's screen. You need to be consistent with this...the hand has to learn a level of precision that seemed to come naturally to your primary hand. Give it a week to get better, and a month to feel natural.
- pick a two-handed instrument to learn, or dust off your grade school band instrument: saxophone, flute, clarinet, guitar, piano, drums, ukulele ... All use both hands, and what fun you will have marching in the all-sax over-40s marching band in your town's next Fourth of July parade. What, your town doesn't have one? Them get it started, by all means.
- learn to brush your teeth with your off hand (culture permitting). I injured my right hand in July while building my studio, so I took on this particular challenge unexpectedly. It took a while to get the off-hand to do a good job, and it took a few months for my right hand to stop grabbing the toothbrush. But four months in, I found they both did a fairly similar job.
learn to do something else with your off-hand. A good friend had hand surgery, so during the 2 month recovery, she learned to crochet left-handed. I remember several friends in high school showing up in the fall with a cast on their primary arm, and having to master writing with their off-hand during the school year.
Strengthening your off hand will benefit more than your spinning; my left hand is now much better at whisking cream, and my hands participate more equally when I weave.
So, dive in, spin, and marvel at how talented both of your hands are!
© December 31, 2012 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
By Amelia © October 9, 2012
Getting more yarn on your spindle requires great skill. Luckily, itis a skill we all possess: recognize natural beauty. A balancedspindle-full of yarn looks nice. It's naturally appealing in itstidiness, order, and symmetry.
Okay, I hear some of you groaning. You didn't like to tidy your room,and you still don't like housecleaning. But this isn't that. It'swinding yarn on the spindle, which is a celebration. Each time youwind on, you have created a new length of yarn.
For the past year, I have lived with wood stove heat. I like beingwarm, so I chop wood. I have a choice I can make -- I can throw thewood in an untidy pile that falls and expands when new wood hits it,or I can stack the wood in an organized wall that leans on itself andstays put. The organized pile looks better. Beauty of the woodpiletranslates to compactness, keeping more wood dry, and giving easyaccess to wood. With summer arriving July 5th here, we've workedthrough several cords of alder this spring, all chopped by me. I feelquite accomplished, taking my messy piles and putting them neatly inthe woodpile for use in keeping my family warm.
How far can you take this? The most I've put on a spindle is 4 ouncesof singles and 4 ounces of plied yarn. I've seen flickr entries with 7ounces of singles on a spindle, and Andean womens' spindles seem quitea bit fuller than my 4-ouncers.
Practical advice to achieve beauty in your spindle-full:
Wind on tightly, maintaining tension between the newly formed yarn andthe yarn already on the spindle shaft. If you wind on in a closelyarranged series of rounds on the shaft, every once in a while switchover to an X-wind on to hold down the rounds and keep the rows fromcollapsing into each other. You can look for artistry in your cop likethe Turkish spindle windings that appear on flickr, or you can strivefor a balanced shape and surface of the yarn on the spindle withoutlaying bands of color on the spindle shaft.
I like to put 2 ounces on spindles as singles, and then ply thattogether into a 4-ounce spindle-full. If I'm spinning thinner, I mayput less on the spindle. Consider the final spindle weight. I spinfine yarn on a 1/2- ounce spindle, and I don't want it to get muchover an ounce in total weight, so I only put 1/2 ounce on it. I spinthicker yarns (DK singles and thicker) on a 1.5 -ounce spindle; afterthere's an ounce on it, it's 2.5 ounces, which starts to feel heavy.At 3.5 ounces it's heavy enough that I'm done, even if the spindleisn't wobbling.
You may be able to tolerate a heavier spindle - or you may want tostop at a lighter final weight. It's a matter of preference, part ofyour spinning personality.
Plying goes so quickly that I don't mind doubling two 2-ouncespindle-fulls of singles and piling on 4 ounces of plied yarn. It'ssatisfying to see how closely I can match the length of each half ofthe fiber, a bit like trying to see how few blows it takes to chop around into burnable logs for my woodstove. And it's really satisfyingto see that huge cop of yarn on the spindle!
Yes, I have been posting less. That's because this past year has been full of studio building! It's done and workshops are underway. I post schedules to my email list (contact me to be added), on Ravelry's Spinning Workshops forum, and on Ask The Bellwether's Facebook page.
© October 9, 2012 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
By Amelia © January 18, 2012
With the new year, I am looking to re-inspire my fiber arts. Writing is always a joy, but life has kept me from pursuing activities as much as I would like. So a chance run-in with a local weaver and invitation to their guild meeting was too lucky to pass up.
And can you believe it, the topic was finding inspiration! A few of my fibery friends were there, and one handed me the feather you see above. The table was full of yarn, so finding colors was pretty easy. We chatted as we made "wraps", to sample color combinations and decide what colors were in our inspiration.
Wrapped samples like this are a common tool among weavers. They are a great way to sample colors and proportions. As I was winding mine to "match" my feather, it started working its way into my mind, firing off ideas of what to weave.
The feather and the colors reminded me of a color-and-weave I have not yet done, so I took the idea and worked with it, weaving a sample to see how it would look:
Plaid. Yes, not a 2/2 twill that would make it an authentic plaid, but symmetric stripes with border colors. I like it!
The fun part of the project was also the instant gratification -- one of the ladies cut matt board for us, so we can mount our inspiration and our sample weaving, frame it and have a new piece of art for our weaving corner. That is where mine will hang...
You can find inspiration in anything -- a rock, a feather, a picture, last year's calendar, furniture, the snow on the trees, a sunset. Look at it, explore its colors and textures, wrap or sample and wa-la! you will have made a new fabric that is all your own.
© January 18, 2012 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
By Amelia © December 27, 2011
Did the holidays bring you an espinner? Lucky you! Here are some tips to help you transfer your wheel skills to your newest toy/tool.
With espinners, start out slow and find what pace works best for you. It's a different mindset from a treadle wheel, in that the motor speed is constant once it is set. With a treadle wheel, you can change speed with each push of a treadle. So your hands need to learn to move in a regular rhythm that matches the espinner's speed.
I tend to set the speed on my HansenCrafts espinner based on how fine I am spinning. I set it slower for thicker yarns and faster for finer yarns. Which wool breed it is isn't usually my focus, beyond realizing how thick or thin that breed likes to be spun. And when I am starting with a new to me wool, I start out slow and increase a little bit at a time until I find a speed that works for my hands, the fiber, and the yarn I want to produce.
When I am spinning fibers other than wool, I look at how slippery they are, and adjust accordingly. If it is more slippery, I use a slower speed to start until my hands have control of the fiber.
And with all fibers, I bring forward a philosophy I use on my treadle wheel as well... Only set e scotch tension brake just tight enough to draw fiber onto the bobbin. Tis is even more important with an espinner, because it's not your feet getting tired pushing against that break -- it's the motor working against it. Light tension ensures you get the most effort out of your motor.
Are you curious about but don't have one yet? HansenCrafts has a great page listing their competition here: http://hansencrafts.com/hansencrafts/misc_stuff/spinning_wheels_competitors.htm
Ravelry has both an electric spinners group and a HansenCrafts group, full of information about espinners.
The one shown here is an early HansenCrafts espinner. I've since upgraded it to have a WooLee Winder and am looking forward to the new manual flyer HansenCrafts are developing.
© December 27, 2011 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/blog