If it hadn't been for that fateful day 40 years ago today, this wouldn't be here for you to read.
Leap Day ~ the official 10th anniversary of my entry to the U S of A!
I was digging around last night for the wonderful "immigrant" photo of Family Read at the airport, but had to settle for this early American portrait to put next to the newspaper clipping of the news of his departure.
Then I read the clipping more closely ... waaaait ... my father, my father invented a new device for computers! How cool is that. I knew he designed printers, then disk drives. And I recently learned he had a hand in the early days of the internet. So, in more ways than one, he's the reason I can talk with you about all things spinning! What a great dad! (Thanks, Dad!)
Happy Leap Day, everyone!
Friday, February 29, 2008
If it hadn't been for that fateful day 40 years ago today, this wouldn't be here for you to read.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
First, you need to determine what the ratio on your wheel is.
Ratio on a wheel is the ratio of the number of times the flyer goes around (== the number of complete revolutions or twists put into your fiber) to one complete revolution of the drive (big) wheel. Most "slow" whorls on wheels are a 4:1 or 6:1 ratio ... "hi speed" whorls can be anything from 18:1 to 32:1 and up ... charkas are typically at least 20:1, and go up to 100:1 (maybe they should be called "light speed").
The wheel shown in the picture - a Clemes & Clemes wheel - has a ratio of 5.5:1. For each full revolution of the drive wheel, the flyer arm with the red tie on it goes around five and a half times.
To count the ratio on my wheel, I usually tie a bright piece of yarn to one flyer and count each time it passes through the top of its revolution, while I turn the large drive wheel. Alternatively, you could take a tape measure and measure the diameter of the drive wheel and the flyer whorl -- but accurately measuring the depth of the groove might get tricky.
Yes, charkas don't have flyers -- one complete revolution of the spindle is used in their case, because that puts the twist into the fiber.
The bobbin doesn't go around as quickly/as often as the flyer, esp. with scotch tension -- it has to stop to let the fiber wind onto it. And with double drive, well, I get very iffy there because the bobbin and flyer move at different speeds throughout ... Alden Amos explains it all very thoroughly, I just haven't felt like tackling those pages in his Big Book of Handspinning.
Now, what's the ratio for? Well, this wheel of mine has only one ratio, so it's for everything. And with enough gumption, I could spin fine, high-twist yarn on it. But generally speaking, I'll use lower ratios like this for my thicker, lower-twist yarn.
On my wheels with different ratios, I may move between ratios even with the same spinning -- when I'm starting with a mixed-staple-length blend, I may use a low ratio so I can put twist in more slowly as I figure out what style of drafting works best with the fiber, and then switch to a higher ratio once I've figured out the drafting and am ready to move at a faster clip -- especially if it was the long walk with the dog that morning, or if I managed to shine my shin against the edge of the step again.
So, I use a low ratio for putting in twist more slowly, and a high ratio for putting in twist more quickly. Generally.
That said, you can also use ratios to help you spin a thicker yarn or a finer yarn.
If you want to spin a thicker yarn, move to a lower ratio. Why does this work? For a couple of reasons. The lower ratio will have a wider diameter flyer whorl, which puts the drive band in contact over a larger surface, increasing the draw-in tension on the wheel. The faster the fiber is pulled onto the whorl, the less twist it will have in it. So, all other things being equal, the wider flyer whorl will increase the take-up of your fiber, helping you to spin thicker. There's less time to draft if the take-up speed is increased, and the thicker yarn needs less twist to hang together.
If you want to spin a thinner yarn, move to a higher ratio. This works because it reduces the surface contact area of the drive band with the flyer whorl, reducing the draw-in tension on the wheel. So, you can hang onto the fiber supply a little more easily, keeping it from drawing in, drafting it out a bit finer and getting more twist into it before it goes onto the bobbin.
Now, these last two points on thicker/thinner are in a way, secondary effects -- if you take your default spinning and apply these to it, you will see these effects. There are other techniques that also help you spin thicker and spin finer.
Also, all credit for clarifying this for me goes to the wonderful Judith Mackenzie McCuin, who applied the second technique, among several other nifty tricks, in teaching us to spin sewing machine thread at Madrona ... I almost got there!
For notes on spinning thicker, see tagged SinglesYarn. And for notes on spinning finer, see posts tagged SockSpinning.
Whew! I could go on and on about ratios ... do you want to know ...
Do I move to a higher or a lower ratio to ply?
What ratio do I need on my wheel?
Should I get the high speed whorl?
Should I get the low speed whorl?
Should I get the quill head for my spinning wheel?
How do I spin thicker plied yarns?
Wow, I'm just full of opinions this evening ;-) tell you what ... let me know if there's one there that stands out for you, and I'll move it up my writing list. Thanks!
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Announcing Ring Your Bells! The Bellwether's Fabulous Fiber Club! You'll get a monthly packet of spinning fibers, spinning notes or a knitting pattern, and a free goody each month. Currently open to Rhyme Times subscribers, the remaining slots will open to everyone Tuesday, February 26th at 9 am Pacific Time.
Coinciding with that, The Rhyme Times is changing formats -- you can subscribe for 1/2 ounce or 1 ounce samples of fiber to arrive about every 2 months -- as soon as I have four new colors, the samples are sent out. The first issue includes Purple Passion (shown here), Barn Dance, Rhiannon's Fire, and Marakesh.
Other related Crosspatch Creations/Three Bags Full news ... with the rise in feed, hay, dyes, and shipping, fiber prices will be going up; all new blends will be $19.50/4 ounces.
You may remember the lovely shot of bags of raw fleece in the last Bellefeathers ... lovely roving is coming back to me now! I've put together a Mill Sampler of Zeilinger rovings, featuring NZ Halfbreed, Merino/Finn, California Red, and Black Welsh Mountain Lamb. They are also available individually in 4 ounce packets.
In spindle news, Natalies are now on the website, including a new wood that will only be available in a limited run of about 6-8 Natalies: Argentinian Ivorywood.
And coming next ... real USA raised, combed, and de-haired Cashmere clouds ... more Shetland Kits from Thistlehill Farms ... and a few more Forresters, his Geometric series!
Stay updated -- subscribe to the whole blog for regular spinning tips and news, SpinTips for links to spinning tips I find on the internet, or Bellefeathers for the Bellefeathers newsletter (for Bellefeathers by email use this link). Thanks, and happy spinning and nalbinding!
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Have a handle on your spinning and want to take it up a notch? This will beef up your technical background in spinning. $20 per session, up to 12 students, 2-3 hours depending on class size.
Skill needed: ability to spin a steady single and basic plying.
You need to bring: wheel, 2 empty bobbins, niddy-noddy, lazy kate, ball winder or nostepinne (if you have one), scissors, pencil/pen, notecards to save samples on; contact me if you need me to bring extras.
Also, bring yarns you want to dissect or copy, and fibers you want advice on.
Being taught next: February 25, 10:30-12:00 at A Dropped Stitch in Sequim.
- Understanding wraps per inch singles -> plied
- Your Wheel's Ratio and What It Means
- Crimp, WPI, TPI, twist angle, grist, ...
- Worsted and Woolen
- Spinning from the fold
- Repeatable yarn, consistent yarn
- Dissecting commercial yarn
- Correcting yarn
Funnily enough, this session is the one that interested my Creative Spinning students the most. Perhaps they simply like the sensation of their brains melting? We are all a bit glazed over by the end of this one!
First, this is a closeup of the right edge of my drum carder (right edge as viewed from the front of the carder). See how those three teeth start there? That happens regularly in my carding cloth. The cloth is laid at a slight angle, making it very easy to pull off a continuous roving from a full drum carder.
If I start with a 1/4 inch segment at that edge and rotate the drum as I diz the fiber, it will gradually shift across the drum, following the angle of the cloth, coming off as one long, continuous "batty" roving.
With a carder with the cloth laid on straight, you can still pull roving off, but you have to keep a close eye on it to ensure that you physically keep it shifting to the right as you rotate the drum, since the teeth won't automatically do it for you.
The carder in use here is a PG Super Carder, by the way.
OK, so moving on, the critical first (carding) step -- card your fiber. Here is my drum carder full of Perendale wool. I could take it all off as a batt, but I'd rather have a continuous roving.
The steps that follow show how I get a 20 foot (I think) length of continuous roving by pulling it off in 1/2 to 1 inch segments around the drum carder, moving from left (seen from the back of the carder -- this picture is the front of the carder) to the right as I diz the roving off.
(for the techies -- technically, this isn't roving. Its closest cousin would be sliver -- carded untwisted fiber. I'm not sure it's exactly that, either, given it's being pulled off a batt. So maybe it's batty roving??)
Now, start the roving: using your doffing pin (a knitting needle or sharpened dowel, a handy pen or pencil works in a pinch), lift the first quarter inch only of wool off the drum carder. You'll be pulling up an end of your roving-to-be here, separating it from the left (in this picture) side of the separator, and rotating your drum counter clockwise as you pull the roving off around-and-around the drum.
Next, take that first quarter inch and pull up a little in the direction the drum rotates. You'll separate it from the section above the separator so you have an "end" to your roving in your hand.
Don't pull too far -- not more than a bit more than the staple length of your fiber -- so that your segment is still firmly connected to the fiber on the drum carder, except for the part you've lifted off the drum carder.
Fold over the top inch of the roving you've tugged off the carder to prepare for the next step.
Push the folded over tip through a hole in your diz. I use the "middle" hole in mine; the tiny hole is really hard to pull through, and the big hole lets me pull way too much off. This hole is about 1/8" high and 1/4" wide. (It's the diz that came with my Supercarder for this purpose -- I haven't seen a commercial one like it, though a hole drilled in PVC pipe would be similar.)
If you don't have a diz, a large hole on a spice jar cap might work, or perhaps take a hole punch to a yogurt lid.
Now we start "dizzing" the fiber off the carder into roving form. Standing behind the drum carder, with the end you put through the diz, start drafting off the carder through the diz. Rotate the carder as you go. I stop tugging on the fiber and give the drum a little nudge as I need to expose the drum to diz off the fiber.
If your drum doesn't freely rotate, you'll need to take the band off so that it can (or finagle it some other way).
Never pull out more than the staple length of the fiber at a time. That is to say, never let your hand get more than a staple length away from the drum cloth.
I'm just at maximum extension in this, the first tug through the diz. Any further, and I'd end up with a thin spot in my roving (if I'm lucky) or, more likely, a break.
Continue drafting while you rotate the drum. Check (or force it) each time you come to the solid metal band that you are nudging to the right across the teeth to keep the roving continuous.
Remember, try to never draft more than the staple length of the fiber -- this gives a more consistent roving diameter and prevents it from breaking.
The final roving, wound into a ball.
To see the tutorial as a slideshow, see it on flickr!
Some more tips for you, from other bloggers:
Abby's How To Clean a Drum Carder
The Redhead's How to turn a batt into roving (off the drum carder)
Rexenne's Drum Carding on YouTube (this link is to part 1, it has 3 parts)
My earlier take on this topic: How do you pull roving off a drum carder?
And related posts:
What's the difference between roving and top?
What's the difference between batts and roving?
I washed the fleece, now what?
What are a doffer brush and a burnishing tool used for?
When do I use oils in carding?
To Drumcard, to Handcard, or to Comb?
If you have any comments or questions on this post, please post them on the blog or contact me. Thanks!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
They're out there -- you see fiber contests on blogs (even this one!), in forums, and in magazines.
My current favorite contest is SimpleKnits' "What can I knit with 1-285 yards?" -- send in some details on a free online pattern, and you are entered to win. She has lots of cool prizes -- yarn (including a 258 yard skein of minis from me -- I'm sure you can see the relevance of that!), stitch markers, and more.
I found a cool heart pattern to send her -- Mochi Mochi (who blogged the amazing stash) has a free heart pattern that takes only 11 yards (I knit one up! just need to find the bits to sew them together, now that I found my heart-shape rock to put inside it...).
And speaking of small yardage, did you know -- a 4" weave-it loom takes 7.5 yards of a DK to worsted weight yarn to make a square? I do :-) that's a bit under 2 yards per "trip" around the loom.
Why, you ask, do I know this? Because! eLoomanator is having a "Square Deal Weave-Along". Okay, so it started in October 2007, and they are already 15 weaves into it ... but sounds like it can go on for a while, and it's fun! Wish me luck -- my last attempted -along was frogged and the yarn given away. It's harder to unweave!
The really cool thing with this -along is that, not only can I make a nice little blanket if I stick with it long enough, but eLoomanator is also posting some really cool ideas for these squares -- there's a cute lion, a fabulous pocketbook, and the Six Square Smackdown has some cool results showing up.
Well, I didn't really need to start a new project (or two!) but these have both been fun and seem well worth sharing.
Now I'll get back to carding that Romney/Alpaca/Sari Silk blend ...
Monday, February 11, 2008
The Blogosphere is full of really interesting, fun blogs to read. Between that, ravelry, flickr, and Yahoo groups, I could stay quite busy! So, I keep my own blog fairly focused (as you know, since you read it! (waves!!))
Abby gave me a You Make My Day award this past Monday; not because of my blog, mind you -- have you read hers? she has (a) a far more interesting childhood and (b) knows so much about spinning I'd gladly sign up for a class from her. We refer to each other as our Evil Twin (with a big grin!) ... because she "ran" into me after my own enforced absence from the internet for a few months -- turned out she'd discovered my neck of the internet while I was away, and she'd been filling my shoes. Yay! It makes me feel much better knowing I can skip out on the groups I try to support if I need to. And despite our wildly different childhoods, we have so much in common it can be scary sometimes! So, Abby, You Make My Day, Too!!
So here are the rules: Give the award to up to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel so happy about blogland! Beware! You may get the award several times! Let them know by posting a note on their blog so they can pass it on.
Here is a list of some of the blogs that make me happy and make my day! I wish I could put my whole subscription list here, but y'all wouldn't bear with me through the 200+ blogs (grin).
Y'all know from past pass-the-love awards that there are a few more spinning blogs I frequent as well. But, there are more! With my entry into Ravelry, I've found pointers to other interesting (to me!) spinning blogs: Hello Yarn, The Redhead, and Boogie Knits all touch on educational topics and spread the wealth of their knowledge to others. So, ladies, You Make My Day!
Then there are the sheep-as-art postings on Habetrot -- when she has a new post, I fall over myself clicking through to see it. And the sheep breed thread on sheepwreck -- same thing. And the sheep of the century himself, Benny -- if you haven't read his blog, get on it! Those three blogs may not post every day, but when they do, They Make My Day!
I wanted to concentrate on new blogs for you -- but two (three, counting Abby's Yarns!) are very valuable to me: Leigh's Fiber Journal and Spinning Spider Jenny are terrific spinning blogs. Leigh also dives into weaving, which is something I'm trying to pursue more in 2008. But eLoomanator has recently re-acquainted me with my weavette, and SimpleKnits has me hunting for small patterns ... so I will enjoy Leigh's weaving and keep trying to carve out time for my own around smaller pursuits. There you go -- four more bloggers that Make My Day!
And here's to you, dear readers -- thanks for making Ask The Bellwether a part of your day! You Make My Day!
Saturday, February 9, 2008
I was thinking about yesterday's post -- How can you spin a low twist yarn? -- and how hard it can be for beginners to do that. A question I've run across in several forums lately is related -- Why do my singles fall apart when plying?
In my experience (always a risky statement, but for the sake of disclosure, there it is), my singles fall apart when I'm plying because of low twist in the singles.
But wait, you say, didn't you just tell me I could ply low twist singles?
Why yes, I did.
Let me clarify. First, yesterday's skein (aaah, I impressed myself with that one!) didn't drift apart, so I have no eye-pain of this phenomenon for you. If it's happened to you, you know what it looks like -- and how it feels.
Now then. Also, the singles fall apart from time to time, not all the time, right? At least, that's how it has been for me. Finally, recently, in reviewing my pluckyfluff study, I realized the cause. It's the same thing the county fair judge dings me on every year. Inconsistent Twist.
As you spin your singles, if the amount of twist in one length of singles doesn't match the amount of twist in the next length, then you get, Inconsistent Twist. Now, when you are spinning singles, your hands are doing alot. Alot. Drafting, letting twist up, picking out VM or neps, smoothing the surface of the yarn. And your feet are pedaling and your brain is wandering, and you may be talking or listening to something. There's alot going on!
When you ply, you have two nice, strong (you think!) singles, and you can just rip right through them. It's alot easier. Alot. And, it's muuuuch easier to get consistent twist during plying -- your yarns are fairly regular, and you can move along them at a regular clip. No drafting, no picking, just pull and pedal and wind on. (And remember to change hooks!)
So, if you singles have inconsistent twist and your plying has consistent twist, what happens? Most likely, your plying twist matches the median twist (how's that for throwing a heavy weight math term in there... hmmm, actually, the plying twist most likely matches the most prevalent twist in your yarn, which may not be the median ... but then again, I have to give the commenters something to discuss. Discuss away, I love to hear it all!) Anyway, as I was saying.
Most likely, your plying twist matches the amount of twist some length of your singles needs. If it's the low twist section, then you're okay and you ply away successfully. Of course, your final skein twists showing a need for more plying twist, but that's another problem. So, to continue, let's assume that's not the case.
Guess what -- as you add plying twist, you are removing singles twist. That's what spinning is! So, on the low twist sections of your singles, you may end up removing all the twist in one, or if you are supremely Murphy'd, both, single. And when all the twist is removed from the single, the tension you are keeping it under to keep it straight for the ply pulls it apart.
Whoosh! it flaps out, you find one of the singles not moving forward any more. You stop pedaling, the bobbin keeps turning and you fume silently (or not so silently) as you try to figure out why this is happening to you. Well, don't take it personally. It's happened to me. It's happened to most of us!
Once everything has calmed down (me included), I lay the separated single in on top of itself; I may try to put some twist in, especially if there's a high twist section of that single nearby. If they are on two bobbins or in two separate balls, I will try a bobbin variant of spindle splicing. If I'm worried, I may try some other type of join. Then I ply over the laid-in section and keep going. Lesson learned.
If there's something I can see as a cause -- like that underspun bit is also thicker -- then I'll try to apply that if I see a similar section coming up, to prevent it falling apart as well.
And for an earlier, less wordy discussion on this very same topic, see
Why are my singles separating during plying?
Questions or comments? Post on the blog or contact me. Thanks!
Friday, February 8, 2008
Mainly for me, spinning a low twist yarn means knowing what twists per inch I want, the ratio on my wheel, and then paying attention to how much I draft for each treadle. When I was starting to spin, it was also a matter of having confidence that the yarn would stay together.
Here is my most recent (skeined last night, washed this morning!) skein of low twist yarn:
This is Icelandic top, "Snow Squall", from the Spunky Eclectic fiber club. I'm experimenting with fiber clubs this year -- last year it was sock yarn clubs (grin).
I would not have thought this would be a strong yarn, since the singles have 5 twists per inch and then the plying has 3 twists per inch, but it does!
Oh yes – I wasn’t aiming for airy, so I was squeezing as I went. I wanted strong-but-low-twist, since it’s for weaving. I also abused the heck out of it when I was washing/finishing it. It was washed and squished around alot, moved from hot to cold and back again several times with agitation galore. Then I spun the water out, and smashed the heck out of it on the counter top. It didn’t felt!
Here’s a shot of the strands:
The yarn stands up to the tug test, so I’m going to incorporate it into the scarf I’m planning to weave from some grey millspun icelandic. This turned out a bit hairier than the millspun, but I figure it’ll be nice contrast, for color and texture. Other than that, they look _very_ similar. Nice to know I can spin just like a machine :-p
For those who are into ratios -- I spun this inch-worm on my Majacraft Alpaca Wheel with the high speed whorl, singles spun 11:1 ratio, drafting 2-and-a-smidge inches per full revolution (double treadle, so each foot went down and up); plied it at 18:1, drafting out 6 inches per full rotation. The singles are 18 wraps per inch/5 twists per inch, the 2-ply is 12 wraps per inch/3 twists per inch.
I did test spin some on my Forrester Dervish before moving to the wheel -- I want to have this warped on the loom and underway in February! The rest of my weaving group is already moving on to Canvas Weaves, I'm still unstarted on Basket Weave. It'll be good, though, Really!
For more on spinning singles (my usual low-twist target!) see the articles under SinglesYarn.
And for my previous opinions on twists per inch see Do you really measure twists per inch?
Any comments or questions? Please post them on the blog or contact me. Thanks!
Saturday, February 2, 2008
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste.
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since canceled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.
- William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets
This was the poem I recited to my husband on Valentine's day two years ago -- thus my own Brigid tradition continues. Once again, I learned alot while memorizing it. I love how this poem ends, as I'm always a sucker for good endings.
There are many online analyses of Shakespeare's sonnets. For more on this particular sonnet, see here or here.
Why a poem today? It's the Thid Annual Blogger's Poetry Reading in honor of the Feast of Brigid and Groundhog's Day. Here's to hoping he doesn't see his shadow!
And did I remember on my own this year? No. I was reminded by this lovely poem on ispindle's blog. Not to worry, this year's Valentine's poem is already memorized ... you'll see it here in 2010 :-)