What's it like to teach?

By Amelia © June 24, 2016

I've been around for a while now — I think you all know that, I know that I know that, for sure. I've often thought about writing about teaching, what it's like, how I prepare, that sort of thing. I think all teachers go there at some point.

But I got to thinking about the other side — what's it like to sit in a student's chair.

>> Did you remember to prepare and bring what was requested?

>> Did you get enough sleep and food to be ready to pick up some new skills?

You see, I've been there too. I've forgotten to bring my stuff, I've come tired/hungry/upset/angry/late. It's a very frustrating position to be in as a student, and believe me, your teacher knows it.

So part of what I do as a teacher is always bring things to make it better. Bandaids are good — real ones, and figurative ones. I do consider it my responsibility to help folks' wheels stop squeaking (oil, screw drivers, allen wrenches) or rig up a temporary drive band or brake band (hemp twine and elastic hair bands), and a whole second wheel just in case someone's totally implodes or, they forgot — but they made it to class, and that's a start.

And for my spindle classes, I have collected the best of the best so that I can help students succeed. Learning to spin on a spindle someone gave you, or you found in an attic, is often frustrating. I know I don't give away my best spindles, and I see that in new students too — the spindle they were gifted I wouldn't give my meanest aunt. (I only have one aunt, and she's really cool, actually. Worth a Golding or three, if you ask me.) So my Turkish classes run on Jenkins Woodworking's Swans, my beginner top whorl classes run on my own Bellwether Spindle, and my Exotic spindling classes run on Bosworth featherweights and Forrester Akhas (sadly, no longer made). Do other spindles compare to those? Sure. And I'm always happy to see a student with a good spindle, I encourage them to use it and even compare it to the ones I've brought so they can understand what they have is good. I'm especially thrilled to see a spindle I don't have yet ... my students help me find treasures at the same time as I show them my own spindle-loves.

So before I head to a show, I get my sleep, eat my meals, and make my lists — to be a good teacher and a good student.

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© June 24, 2016 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/

Do you have muddy tips?

By Amelia © June 20, 2016

I was recently asked how to deal with muddy tips in a fleece, and having been through a few fleeces, I had this advice:
My favorite "tough fleece" cleaner is Louet's FiberMaster [I bought lots of this; if you can't find any, Unicorn Power Scour is good, too]. I don't use it for just any fleece -- most fleeces come clean with either self-fermenting cleaning or a milder cleaner like Sodium Laurel Sulfate. SLS is the primary ingredient in cheap shampoo, and sold on its own in feed stores, in the horse aisles.

I had a particularly dirty/gummy Targhee fleece a few years ago, and FiberMaster didn't work, so I thought I'd step it up and try some Borax and detergent. Bad idea -- that combination was very pH basic, and it not only ate the finish off my new granite sink, it also broke the fleece. Lots of fluffy clean locks (it did clean it!) that now break when you tug on them. Sigh. The fleece now lives in my "what not to do" samples on fleece washing.

So now I am back to my older tricks for muddy tips, which include trying these, in order of difficulty/time involved:

If I need to get it done quickly, I'll try to pre-soak it overnight in tepid water and then use Louet FiberMaster to wash it. I've discussed this type of fleece washing before in "How do I wash raw fleece?"

If I have time, I will use the suint washing method, letting it sit in its own water for several days. I discussed this process on some fleeces before in "Slow Wool".

If neither of those work, I know I'm going to need to rewash the fleece, so I sample a couple of solutions:

1) put a few locks in a sink of hot soapy water, put on my extra-hot-water-protection gloves, and rub the tips while they are submerged. This usually works, but involves alot of under-water rubbing, which takes time, as each lock is rubbed on its own.  When you keep them all submerged, and don't over-agitate, this is unlikely to cause matting.

2) once it's dry, pick open the fiber, with a wool picker. These are beasts, so you might ask around before you run out and buy one. Your guild or a fiber friend may have one you can try. This is usually pretty effective at opening up the tips after the first wash. Once it's all picked open, I will re-pick any that didn't open, or flick-card them open if there aren't too many, and rewash the fleece to get out that now-accessible dirt.

3) once it's dry, flick the dirty ends. This is time intensive as it, like the first, is done lock-by-lock. However, it will open the ends, and will also show you if the tips are weak. I often find that muddy tips are also weak tips. All that weather weakened their ability to shed the muck, and that seems correlated to their strength. Like the second method, you will need to re-wash the fleece after doing this, to remove the dirt that remains on the individual fibers.


Beth Smith (author of The Spinner's Book of Fleece, fiber artist, author and teacher) recently posted about fleece washing, she has some good tips on fleece washing (sorry for the pun!), and consistently gets good results: "Wool Scouring - Simple and Mostly Quick".

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© June 20, 2016 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/

Where can I find a retired spindle?

By Amelia © January 4, 2016

The cost of a new wheel, drum carder, or loom is a lot of money for most of us. At the other end of the spectrum, the cost for a no-longer-made wheel, spindle, or book can also be right up there.

I've posted several entries here in the past about finding wheels and looms second-hand, and out of print books:

I put my own website sales on hiatus in mid-2014 when I started back in the workforce, as I didn't know if I would have time to respond to orders. That was the right thing to do, because it was a whirlwind first year!

However, I was still shipping it to Unicorn, so felt that would keep it available. I never dreamed they would stop being in business. But, they did. And the price on Amazon went up to $46 - I am glad the book is considered valuable, but was dismayed that folks had to pay so much for it.

The one retailer that had always contacted me directly still was, Bosworth Spindles. They have always been a big supporter of me, and me of them (great spindles!) So it could still be had for $18 from their website and at shows they attend on the USA's east coast.

I am pleased to have the new job in hand well enough, and enough support from my family, to return to offering Productive Spindling, my student spindles, and learn to spin kits on the website here.

But this post is supposed to be about finding retired spindles. Here are my tips for that:

Google the spindle maker and model - you may find that the maker has reduced their distribution, but still sells it directly. Besides, what's more fun than ordering it directly from the maker?

Define a watch on eBay, for the spindle maker and model. You can have it email you search results daily, if the spindle doesn't come up on the first try. I found several obscure weaving books there with patience. Also searched for completed auctions, which will tell you if any have been there recently, and what they sell for (or if they generally don't sell there).

Etsy is a good place to check, just in case someone decides to do some destashing there.

The Spinner's and Weaver's Housecleaning Pages often is for big tools, but spindles and spindle collections show up there from time to time.

The big one: ravelry. There are several spindle groups there, and spindle de-stashes show up in appropriate forums. Check out Spindle Candy - they have ISO (in search of) threads, Spindle De-stashing threads, and lots of great spindle information. There are other used equipment groups on ravelry as well -- it's a good idea to look in several, as a primarily wheel spinner may not be on Spindle Cnady. Always remember to follow group rules for sales and want ads.

Facebook now has a variety of spinning groups and barter forums - I haven't explored these much, but check. Maybe there's a group of spinners near you, so you could use this next item:

And last, let your local guild or spinning buddies know - you never know who has the toy you want, hiding in a cupboard. I've been fortunate to have friends with tools I was on the hunt for, so I could at least borrow them or give them a road test.

I hope these suggestions are useful to you; click through to those three links listed above for more ideas. Finding spindles can use the methods for wheels, looms, and books as well. Happy searching!

The spindles in the picture are Spin Dizzy's, made by Kat Walton. I wish I hadn't lost touch with her, as these are amazing spindles and folks always ask me where to get them. I sold them for Kat back in the day, but the ones I have left are definitely mine, and not up for sale (sorry).

What spindle are you on the hunt for? I admit my own flock is sizeable (and could use reducing), but I always keep an eye out for unique spindles.

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© January 4, 2016 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/

What's your spindle made of?

By Amelia © December 30, 2015

I admit to being one of "those" people that pooh-pooh's spindles not made of wood. I love the warmth, the knowledge that my spindle was once part of a tree stretching out under the sun somewhere on the planet.

I haven't ignored other materials, though. I have a lovely stained-glass spindle that has withstood several slimmings of the spindle flock. And my very first bought-en spindle was a Mongold, back when they were still being made. Mongolds, if you don't know, are made of resin.

And now I'd like to introduce you to two of the newest members of the flock...

I have been enjoying a massive Turkish spindle crush for the past few years, especially after figuring out I could make one with pencils.

And these two spindles have been a joy. The Riley Sci-Fi, on the left, was purchased from Mielke's Fiber Arts (a long-time favorite stop of mine on the web). It is wood, and it has the type of modification I love to see on Turkish spindles, removing some of the intermediate arm weight. That is such a boost to the spin-time of a Turkish spindle, I can't say "Yay!" loud enough.

The Turtle Made, on the right, purchased from the maker on Etsy, is a 3-D printed spindle. I got mine in translucent red, because red ones go faster (really). It's both economical and a good spinner. I'm pleased to have finally taken the plunge to trying it, after resisting the thought of a 'plastic' spindle. It's actually made from PLA, a bioplastic from renewable resources. Pretty darn cool.

So, you see, spindles can be made from any (solid) material, as long as you enjoy it, it doesn't matter.

(The makers or businesses mentioned here did not pay me to write this or provide me with anything for this. Just so you know.)

What's your favorite spindle made of?

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Related posts...
All the ones that mention Turkish spindles
Can you spin a sheep?
Which spindle spins the best?

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© December 30, 2015 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/

How do you get 4 oz. of fiber onto one spindle?

By Amelia © May 17, 2015 The New Spindle

Hi! I've a new job that is generally keeping me quite busy, but I still get to think about and touch fiber every day in my studio, so no complaints, and the steady paycheck makes up for not having an 'all fiber, all the time' life any longer!

An interesting question came across "Ask The Bellwether"'s comment feed the other day: "What I need to know and I hope you can help me, is: if you are spinning 4 oz of fiber and plying on the fly with your spindle, how do you get all 4 oz of the fiber on the spindle?"

Here, dear readers, is the answer I have to this:

To get four ounces of fiber on a spindle, there are several considerations:

  • First you want to be spinning a thickness of fiber that can support the 4-6 ounce weight of spindle-plus-fiber; so you aren't going to be spinning laceweight and doing this, as it just won't support the mass. I would aim for a single that is about sockweight for this, if you truly want your 4 ounce goal.
  • Second, you need to have a spindle that can store that amount of fiber on it. How do you know? Well, if it's top whorl, you will want a fairly wide whorl, say 3" across if you can get it, at least 2" across; and a longish shaft. That's because you are going to be storing all that yarn on the shaft under the whorl, and the cop (the wound yarn on the spindle) has to be no wider across than the whorl, or you run into other issues. If it's a bottom whorl, the long shaft is still necessary, but the whorl size isn't as important. For a Turkish spindle, you need long spindle arms so they poke out from the ball (unlike this little Turkish whose arms end inside the yarn ball).Stuffed Turkish spindle
  • Third, as you wind the cop onto the spindle, you need to keep it balanced. The spindle will get all wobbly and not fun to spin if the cop is not balanced, making you want to end the project right away.

If I were to work on this as a goal, I would start with a spindle that was about an ounce in weight, with a wide whorl or long arms, and a shaft length of at least 9-10 inches. In fact, I do have a ply-on-the-fly project going right now on just such a spindle, but I am going to split it into two 2-ounce balls, as the singles are fairly fine so that the 3-ply can be sock-to-DK weight yarn (about 14-16 wraps per inch).

I don't think that we have to get a whole braid of fiber onto a spindle to be successful; there are plenty of uses of fiber that tolerate breaks in the yarn. With knitting or crochet, Russian Joins or even other clever knitting joins are out there for making this feasible, and weaving and needlepoint are even more tolerant of breaks, expecting them in due course.

See related topics:

How much yarn can I spin on my spindle?
How can I combine two full spindles?
How can I get more yarn on my spindle?
When is the spindle full?
How much yarn can you wind onto a Turkish spindle?

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© May 17, 2015 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.com/