Distaffs

I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.

At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.

I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.

Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.

Another Spinning wheel

Rather like buses, spinning wheels come along when you are not looking in the right direction. I didn’t intend to gather another into my collection, but could not resist this one.

My new-to-me Norwegian wheel

This one is a Frank Herring imported Norwegian wheel from the 1970s (I think). It’s had a lot of use and a bit of abuse, but works fine. They are after all meant to be used!

I really wanted a double drive wheel with a large wheel that has a good solid tensioning system. My converted d drive is OK, but it’s really hard to get the take up going without cranking the mother of all up at quite an angle.

Part of my rationale for the wheel is that I grew up near to Dorchester, where Herrings are based. I used to see this very (maybe?) wheel in their window in the High St as we went past on the bus when visiting my grandparents in South St, and found it a magical thing, even as a child. So it’s a short of revisiting childhood, reclaiming the magic, back to my roots thing!

I never could have imagined the path my life would take as I gazed at that wheel, and now I own one. Definitely a personal journey. I don’t care if it creaks!

Actually it spins beautifully, plenty of take up and very easy to adjust. I probably need to use a slightly better drive band than kitchen string…

I just need a few more bobbins as it only came with one.

Ryeland on the bobbin… Should be Dorset really…

I am in love….

Plein-aire spinning

A bit like outdoor anything – providing its not raining or freezing – spinning is enhanced by the open-air. I took my little Louet wheel with me whilst on holiday on the Pembroke coast recently. We were being careful and avoiding towns etc in our caravan sitting on a farm, so there was plenty of opportunity to spin in the lovely sunshine. It seems ages ago now, but was so refreshing.

Victoria beside the caravan, enjoying the view.

I took a bag full of mixed colour Jacob’s fleece and sorted it into dark and light before hand carding it. Ifirst of all spun a skein of cream to test the tpi and grist I was aiming at and on a rainy day decided to dye it with the onion skins from our soup.

All very earthy!

I can’t resist a marl yarn, so plied the colours into variations on this.

From left: knot or knop marl, slubby marl, onion dyed 2 ply, chain plied random carded colours

First ‘in person’ TAG meeting of 2021

Our local Textile Arts Group (TAG), finally managed to meet today. Eight of us met up with Covid secure arrangements and as the weather was sunny we were in fact able to sit outside the hall to spin, knit and talk.

It was lovely, and everyone has been busy learning new things and perfecting their skills during lockdown.

Wheels all going madly
Natural dyed fibre

I took my Louet Victoria folding wheel and spun up a bag of Suffolk fibre that will be used as the core for a fancy yarn.

New members are always welcomed. If you live near Brighton and like to know more, or would like to come for a taster session, do get in touch.

With good weather, fleece washing starts…

Although I promised myself not to get any more fleece until I had emptied my cupboard, I’ve cheated . Well only a bit. Over the winter I have used a lot up, but not all of it!

Having been to Herefordshire and seen the Ryeland sheep sculpture in Leominster I read up about the Ryeland breed and wanted to try a fleece. From what I understand the Ryeland was one of the breeds that can from the Romans crossing their imported Merino sheep with local British breeds. This is probably why they look like Teddy Bears with dense fleece. This breed was instrumental in the success of the British wool trade in the Middle Ages and after, which laid the foundations for wealth in Britain, especially in Herefordshire. Fascinating stuff!

The Old Market hall. Tenbury Wells.
Sculpture of a Ryeland sheep in Leominster.

The long and the short of it is that I now have a Ryeland fleece to play with. I sorted out today and have started to wash it with promising results. Not to much VM, but a bit yellowed – the name for this escapes me right now, is it ‘yoked’? I’m guessing its last years crop.

You can see a staple in the photo, and i’ll post once I start spinning. I plan to spin Long Draw, ply and then to dye it.

Washed Ryeland staple. Its about 3.5 inches when straight, but is quite crimpy. Yummy.

Singer 401g

A while ago I posted about this new acquisition. I’ve not been able to use it much recently as I have two knitting machines up. I’m busy writing my latest book on machine knitting which has to take priority.

Before going any further I must point out that the machine now had been rewired and has a new for pedal, so is not as precariously wired as in the photo any longer.

However, I need to plant out my tomato plants and have to make grow bags for them, so it out came! I’d forgotten how great it is to sew with. It went through six layers of hessian without batting an eyelid. The big ‘but’ was that I had forgotten it’s little foibles.

When start a seam on my Bernina I go forward, back and then sew the seam. Singer-babe is different, she needs special measures. To prevent that worrying sounds of jammed threads in the bobbin and a jammed feed, I’ve learned to drop the foot 1cm or so into the seam, sew backwards and then go forward. The manual clearly explains this point, but who reads manuals? Once I remembered this, all went well.

I’m still annoyed that I can’t get her to use metal bobbins. Plastic ones were in the box when I got the machine, and I really dislike these. So I invested in several metal ones to fit, but they don’t work well at all. I’ve adjusted bottom and top tensions to try to get a good stitch, not nothing works. So it’s back to the plastic ones before they all go out the window.

Anyone else have this problem, or have any advice to offer?

UPDATE. May 2021


I the problem I was having with the bobbin was that the thread was not looking over the bobbin, but catching around it instead. I found a video by Andy Tube on You Tube which explained how to check the thread gap on the bobbin case, which prompted me to check mine. Oh yes, it was way out.

I can see how this happens; the black spring that holds the bobbin case in place has a tempting little finger that looks as if it should be used to lift the spring up. BUT DON’T. That is clearly one of the ways it can get out of line. So with the help of a feeler gauge and Andy’s helpful video I think I have largely fixed the problem.

Andy suggested that the bobbin case might be worn, and that also might be contributing to the thread dropping underneath. So I have ordered a new one. After all, it is probably 50 years old, ( this machine was made in the late 1950 early 60s. Maybe it’s had a new bobbin case in that time, but maybe it hasn’t!

I still haven’t solved why the zig zag stitch missed sometimes, that is my next challenge.

UPDATE July 2021


Ok another update.

I think the zig zag daily is because the needle arm is slightly out of line. Another Andy Tube video shows how to fix this, so that my next challenge.

Picking fleece for a marathon carding session

I have a large sack of Texel fleece that had been making me feel guilty for a while. It’s not the most soft of fleece so I decided to blend it with some Alpaca that has also been lurking in the cupboard. Unfortunately the Alpaca (from an animal called Kiki), has quite a bit of VM in it, but it is deliciously soft.

Picking and hand picking got a lot of the VM out, but sadly not everything. I carded both the Texel and Alpaca separately and then split the batts and layered them up in alternate layers; one wool, one Alpaca etc, and put them back in smaller batches through the drum carder.

As my carder is quite coarse I do a second run through for most fibres. So I did it for these batts. I think I probably should have done a third run, but I was afraid of over-carding the fibres and decided they had blended well enough. The result is a little uneven!

I’ve spun two small samples, one thick singles sort of semi-woollen and the other long draw woollen spun.

I’m now perfecting, (ha ha) my long draw technique with several hundred grams of comb waste that I have carded up. Hopefully by the time I get through that I will be proficient enough to tackle long draw spinning that large amount of Texel/Alpaca fibre!

I’ve hand knitted small samples of the both yarns The thicker spun on 6mm needles and the long-draw spun on 5mm needles

Left: Long draw spun yarn hand knitted on 5mm . Right: Thicker semi-woolen spun hand knittedon 6mm needles.

Spinning fine yarns for machine knitting

If you have seen some of my earlier posts about machine knitting and spinning you might realise that I am keen to put the two together. I was given a fleece that is long-staple, not-very crimped and quite lustrous, but I don’t know what breed it is from. Its also quite coarse with well defined locks. The first batch I stove-top rainbow dyed, and spun from flicked locks. It worked OK, and I got a reasonably fine yarn. I also have a lovely soft, long staple Alpaca fleece, so I worked with the two as separate singles to ply together. This yarn worked at tension 8 on a standard gauge knitting machine.

However, I was determined to get it thinner. I started with the Alpaca, and after hand carding the fibres, spun it worsted using a double drive wheel with the lace flyer and was so pleased with the results. I got a 28wpi singles from the Alpaca which was quite dense, not light an airy, but I wanted it to match the coarser fibre’s density. To prepare the long-staple wool I decided to comb the locks on wool combs. At first I was slow, because although I have done this before I’ve not practised a lot. It was exciting to find I got faster quite quickly and began to get some lovely long slivers coming off the comb. After spinning in the same set up as the Alpaca, I have also managed to get the rather coarser wool to produce a 28wpi singles, so I am pretty pleased as this will give around 14wpi 2ply.

I have plied all of the yarn, and am waiting for the second skein to dry. Meanwhile I have knitted a tension swatch on the Knitmaste SK840 and can get it to knit at either tension 5 or 6. Tension 5 is a nice looking stitch, but the handle is stiff, so I opted for tension 6 instead. I probably should have tried between the two, but when each metre of yarn takes so long to prepare and spin I was reluctant to use too much on sampling at this stage. I will add photos of the fabric once I have given it a wash and steam.

Woolly Umbrella, new website

I belong to a local community textile group, and we have just launched our new website. Please take a look and see what we have been doing. Of course that has not been a lot since April 2020 as much of what we do involves going to outside events to share skills and demonstrate.

Lets hope the coming year will allow us to start doing this again. Meanwhile we have been meeting (in 6’s only) during the summer to spin outdoors, but the latest lockdown, along with the colder, shorter days has put a stop to that. Online meetings are OK, and I have organised a few, but its not the same!

We hope to be able to take ourselves along to demonstrate natural dyeing, eco dyeing, spinning, and fibre preparation at Bentley Wood Fair near Ringmer in September. Allan will hopefully demonstrate his fascinating nettle fibre preparation methods, and we will all be suitably masked and socially distanced of course.