What do you sit on when at your spinning wheel?

This is a question I often ask other spinners, as I can get quite uncomfortable if I don’t set myself up on the right chair for the wheel I am using. I must admit to being a bit of a voyeur at my local spinning group, because I like to watch how others set themselves up and see how they work their wheel, its fascinating to watch different techniques. I never stop learning!

I have several wheels that all have different height flyers and orifice, so have found that I need to change position depending on which I am using. The lowest is my vintage double drive lace wheel (single, tiny treadle, named Penny) which comes in at just above knee height, followed by a Louet Victoria (Vicky, single drive, double treadle) and then my single treadle, double drive Ashford Traditional (Hamish). I’m considering adding a double treadle kit to him, but he has been stained mahoghany by the former owner and I don’t think I could bring myself to do that to the new treadles.

The highest orifice is on my double treadle Ashford Traveller (Dora), which is the one I use most. The Traveller is easy to manoeuvre around the living room, has a small footprint, and I’ve added a jumbo flyer as well as a wide ratio standard, so its pretty versatile. I just wish it was a double drive as I prefer this set up, but you can’t have everything. One day I might come across a double drive Traveller and have the spare cash to make the upgrade.

I digress – apologies, but I do that a lot.

Back to chairs. After attempts at trying other set ups, I’ve found a dining room chair best for the Traveller – with a firm cushion at my back and one on my lap. The back cushion supports my lower back, encouraging me to stay upright, and also pushes my bum forward so that I don’t get compression from then front edge of the chair seat pushing into the back of my knees. The lap cushion helps to prevent neck and shoulder strain. An added perk is that I seem to spin a more consistent yarn when using the lap cushion.

Before I discovered that this type of chair worked for me I was sitting in a soft armchair, albeit an high and upright one. Trouble with this was I had to have lots of cushions to sit forward, and then, although my lower back was OK, my bum tended to slide forwards because the soft seat didn’t support the backs of my thighs enough to keep upright. Plus the seat is quite narrow and I got neck strain from avoiding the arms when I worked long-draw or was plying.

So I am now reasonably comfy on the dining room chair with the Traveller, but I think I’d be better with a slightly lower seat. Its just the palaver of carrying chair and wheel to a good position where: it doesn’t rock on the edge of the rug, there is a table near me to put mycup of tea on, the dog won’t walk through my fibre, and I can see the TV – not too much to ask I feel.

Working on the low lace wheel I use a nursing chair that is only 12″ (about 26cm) from the floor. This chair has a big seat and no arms, whilst the back is quite high so its a good shape for spinning. The back is a good height, but I’d like it a bit narrower to allow full movement in my shoulders.

The Traditional is in another room and I use a swivel office chair with adjustable everything. This is good, but is sadly an ugly (and patchily faded) royal blue and too heavy to carry from room to room. So its not an option for the living room where I like to spin in the evenings watching TV with my partner.

My Louet Victoria (Vicky) is a folding, portable, lightweight wheel for use outdoors or at workshops, so sometimes when using her there is no choice about where I can sit. If I can take a chair with me, I have a very lightweight aluminium folding directors chair that doesn’t have that awfully uncomfortable bar across the front under my knees. I like to take a cushion for the seat to make it super comfy and this helps me sit upright. It also keeps my bum warm if the day is cold. However this type of chair has arms – but they are pretty low and wide apart and I seem OK on this.

I’ve tried a backless stool and ended up with terrible back ache, so thats not an option for me. I am toying with the idea of a traditional ‘spinning chair’ with a low seat and narrow back, but the seats all seem really small, and I am worried my bum will overflow the sides!

So that is a summary of where my spinning chair experiments have led me.

Sometimes, depending on my overall muscular-skeletal day-to-day twinges I find working the treadle wearing a soft shoe rather than barefoot alleviates foot and knee pains. But I love spinning barefoot outdoors in warm weather.

Colour-changing yarn spun from a distaff

I’ve had a number of different colour hand dyed carded batts sitting waiting for me to find inspiration. They are all from fleece I have scored and carder myself, so are a mix of Shetland, Suffolk and Texel, with maybe a little Alpaca blended into some of them. Some are in 200g amounts, some less. I’d got a bit stuck about how to use them until I saw a useful tip by Anna from my spinning group that she has put on YouTube.

Before you start, select a group of colours that work together. After a designing session during which I wrapped different colours together, I chose five: orange, pale green, mid blue, pale blue and lilac.

Anna used a combination of hand dyed and commercial roving, but the principle is the same with your own carded batts.

1. First of all split the roving/batt into the required lengths, (I just used the whole length of the batt of my drum carder).

2. Then split each length lengthwise into 4, (or more, depending on the thickness of the roving/batt).

3. Next, lay out the colours lengthwise, next to each other in the order you want to spin them into yarn. Test this beforehand to see how they mix throughout one repeat of a yarn, and if this works for your chosen outcome, such as knitting.

4. Repeat the colour sequence three more times so you have a table full of ‘stripes’ of fibre. If you have more than four lengths let colour, carry on until all are used up.

5. Now this is the clever part. I have hand spun colour changing yarns before and got the sequence wrong because I put it all away in a box between spinning sessions. To keep the sequence do the following.

6. Take a metre + long length off ribbon and tie a pencil or empty pen across one end. This is your fibre-stopper. Tie a hand-sized loop on the other end. This is your distaff.

7. Starting at one end of the ‘stripes’, wind each length off fibre into a loose roll and slip the looped end of the ribbon through the centre hole. Carry on doing this, working methodically through the fibre lengths, keeping the colour order as mapped out in your ‘stripes’.

8. You will end up with a ‘necklace’ of colour ordered fibre rolls on the ribbon. Tie the ends together to stop the fibre sliding off.

The dyed fibre arranged on the ribbon distaff before spinning

Now to can put them in a box and they won’t get muddled. To start spinning, simply lift the necklace out, untie the ends, and slip the loop over your hand. It acts as a distaff and will hold your fibre nicely as you spin each colour.

Spinning the lengths into singles

What a great tip!

I plied the colour changing yarn with a single spun made from navy blue Corriedale. This made a lovely marl yarn that to me resembles stained glass windows. I can’t wait to see what it looks like knitted.

The plied yarn

Here is the link to Anna’s video

Acid dyeing handspun remainders

A recent stock-take of the various bits of hand-spun yarn sitting on bobbins I now want to use for other projects inspired me to ply them all up and dye them into interesting yarns. Only small quantites of most, but great for small items.

One was a test of blending Tussah silk with Lleyn fleece, and I plied this with some nice soft spun Dorset singles. The silk added a pleasant dry handle to the plied yarn, and the noils added texture. There was more Dorset singles left, so I plied these together as a separate yarns. Next I plied two ends of Suffolk together, they were somewhat different thicknesses and twists, so made a slightly uneven, spiralled yarn. Finally I worked with a lovely colour changing singles, spun from a blend of Alpaca and Texel (cream) and Black Alpaca and Dark Grey (almost black) Suffolk fleece. The Alpaca blends had been carded in stripes on the drum carder so that when it was spun off the batt it alternated in dark and then light lengths. I plied this with a pale grey Suffolk single that I had acquired from a farm in Hereford last summer.

All these came out as interesting yarns in their own right, but I wanted to add some COLOUR. So I got out the dye kettle and the acid dyes. After some thought I decided to aim for a Deep Red and a Blue-Violet. I’ve been trying to be more technical about my dye mixing, and so with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet I have devised, I carefully mixed the solutions, but the Blue-Violet still emerged as Violet.

There was 66g of the Dorset and Suffolk/Dorset, and they went into the Red dyebath, whilst the 45g of Lleyn/Tussah/Dorset went into the Blue-Violet bath and they gently cooked away for an hour or so.

Part of my improved technique is to use a jam thermometer to keep the bath below 90C, preferably just above 89C to prevent felting. I also walk away so I am not tempted to STIR IT! The only stir I am allowed is after teh bath gets to temperature, when I gently remove the yarns, add the vinegar and stir it in. I read that doing this allows the different colours in the mix to be absorbed into the yarn (or fibre), before the acid does its work to set the dye to the fibres. Both these techniques seem to work well for me as I am getting less felting and more even, accurate colours (apart from the Blue Violet of course).

The dye baths were not exhausted – I had worked with a 2% colour to fibre weight ratio for medium depth of colour – so the lovely tweed ply was dip dyed into both pots, leaving mid-sections of the natural tweed plies undyed. I felt this needed a third colour to lift the others, so a very small section between each of the main colours was dipped into a weak yellow dye.

Dark red in front, dip dyed tweed in the middle, blue-violet at the back. You can just see the texural Tusssah silk blended purple yarn.

I’m really pleased with the products of the session – carried out whilst I watched the new TV programme ‘Roadkill’. Unfortunately I was a bit stupid, or maybe it was the effect of the programme I was watching, and whilst mixing a new batch of yellow stock solution I mindlessly poured boiling water onto the dye powder in a plastic jar. Of course the jar melted, buckled sideways and then toppled to the floor before I could catch it. Waves of strong yellow dye flooded the kitchen floor (I am exaggerating, it was only 150ml or so, it just felt like waves). It took five washes to clean the floor so that no-one would walk yellow onto the beige carpets, and my socks will never be the same again! Plus I had to start again with the stock solution. I did debate mopping the floor with some yarn, but decided that might be too hit-and-miss even for me…

In fact this morning, whilst hiding from the dog, (don’t ask why) I noticed a snail-trail of yellow dye snaking down the side of the kitchen cabinet – how did I miss that one?

What am I going to use the yarns for? I think a warm hat to cheer me up with its bright colours during this depressing winter-to-come is on the cards. I might knit it by hand or I maybe use my Brother KH260 chunky machine, and hope to report back on here when its finished.

Footnote:

Leaving the dye overnight in the pots – I was tired after all that floor-mpopping – the next morning I decided to finally extract the last from each one. So 50g of Dorset fleece went into each, and I got a rich coral pink, and surprisingly bright lilac for my troubles. It was so rewarding to empty clear water out of the dye baths afterwards.

Waste-not-want-not is a good motto.

Ancient fleece – an experiment

Whilst digging in our loft today to make space for the plumber to run new pipes, I found a fleece!

I couldn’t believe what I saw, because I was sure I remembered throwing it away years ago, and I mean years…probably the best part of twenty years! I can say that with quite a lot of certainty because it was given to my Mother when she wanted to learn to spin on her Westbury wheel. She had bought it in the 1970s I think, in Glastonbury, as a kit. My Father made it up for her and she stained it a dark walnut colour. But she didn’t have any fleece – or to be honest the faintest idea how to spin. A friend of a friend found her two Jacob fleeces from a local shepherd in Somerset, but I don’t believe she ever got any yarn off the wheel.

Not bad for a 20 year old fleece

I ‘inherited’ the wheel (and the fleece) when I bought a flat and had space to house it. Once again it sat unused, and the fleece sat lonely and unloved as well. When I had children, the wheel became the object of their attention. They delighted in treadling it and bits fell off.

After my Mother died I took the drastic decision to sell it to save it, if you see what I mean. I so regret that now, I wish I’d put it in the loft, which is somehow where this fleece ended up – I must have chucked the other one, or maybe gave it with the wheel.

Since then, I have acquired an Ashford Traveller and a Traditional, but I would love to have another Westbury for sentimental reasons. So if anyone is looking to sell a Westbury wheel do get in touch with me first.

So today the fleece saw the light of day after many years. I thought it would be absolutely ruined, if not full of moth, but no, it is fine. I don’t think it was very greasy to start with, and there isn’t much VM. I’m in the middle of a test wash of a part of it to see what happens. I can’t believe it has survived, but I’ve given parts a good tug and there isn’t any breakage, and very little discolouration. It is a beautiful chocolate brown and cream, so I plan to separate the colours and spin it as a tweed-effect, providing all goes well.

It will lovely if I can spin it; a sort of homage to my Mum who never quite got it together to spin it herself, much as she would have loved to. If I could spin it on a Westbury, my homage would be complete!

Carding raw fleece – another post!

I have been doing quite a bit of drum carding of raw fleece I have gathered over the summer, and whilst doing this I recorded a couple of videos of the process.

This is the first one; picking and running the fibre through the carder the first time

I always put the batt back through the drum carder. I find this second carding makes a much nicer fibre for spinning. The second video covers doffing the fibre, splitting it and putting it back through. After this you can either take the batt off, as shown in the video below, or use a diz to take it off in a continuous roving. To do this, only separate one end of the batt (to the width of the diz), and pull the fibre off in a spiral as the drum reverses around.

The wool is from a Dorset sheep, and I have hand-dyed it in acid dye to this rather pretty duck-egg blue.

The second video shows doffing the fibre and putting it back through the carder after splitting and drafting to thin it out.

I haven’t spun this fibre into any meaningful amount of yarn as yet. That is a pleasure I am saving for later.

In the video below you can see the fibre being picked prior to the carding.

Aplologies for the portrait aspect filming of this video!
This was the fleece just after dyeing

Spinning outdoors

Is it risque? It’s certainly liberating. Given the restrictions on meeting up indoors, going to the park seemed the the perfect way to meet up when we can’t go to our normal groups.

This is the second one I’ve organised and it was lovely way to spend a Friday afternoon. I took my portable Louet wheel and others brought wheels, drop spindles, knitting and crochet. And a picnic lunch!

Shade was mandatory as it was so hot, and we found a generous tree that have us a shady space big enough for plenty of social distancing.

I’m taking the photo…
So someone kindly took one of me

I took along a sack of stove-top rainbow dyed fleece as described on my Dyeing Wool page. It’s a little coarse, but in nicely formed locks, so I am flick carding it and spinning it quite thick for use in a rug, (maybe)?

Exhausted after another long fleece-washing session and mulling over the costs and benefits of Power Scour and Fibre Scour

We had a few rainy days recently so I put a lot of fleece to soak outside – hoping the rain water would help the process along. The catch of course was that I then didn’t want the waste the opportunity that the glorious weather we had today offered for washing the fleece in the garden and getting a head start on the drying.

When will I learn? Four hours later I do have a load of lovely white fleece hanging up to dry on meshes, but I am exhausted.

Because I had soaked the fleece in cold water for a few days, I had to wash it by slowly heating it in batches in a pot on a stove. I wish I had an old Burco boiler – my Mum used to use one for washing the bed linen. I will keep an eye out for one. Using pots meant that I had to do four batches. I have two big maslin pans I use for this and for dyeing, so after heating the first one, the second could be warming whilst the first was cooling sufficiently for me to handle it.

It was a pretty filthy fleece and the overnight cold water soak had really helped loosen the dirt, but I still had to give each batch two washes before rinsing twice.

I’ve invested in both Fibre Scour and Power Scour for washing fleece, as well as working with washing up liquid. I’ve not tried Kookaburra or any other as I haven’t found them for sale in the UK. The results of both of the ‘professional’ scourers I have tested are very good, there is no doubt about it. But, and its a big BUT, is it financially worth it?

This was the first lot I have washed using Power Scour, but because I did all the fleece with this, I don’t have any of the same fleece washed in any other way to compare. However, the Power Scour has done a good job. It doesn’t foam up so is easier to use than washing up liquid. Price-wise per wash some people claim its no more expensive than using washing up liquid, but in the UK the 473ml (16 oz) bottle of Power Scour cost me £21! OK, they claim you only need a tablespoon to wash a pound of fleece, using around 2 gallons of water (that is 15ml to wash approximately 450g of fleece in 9 litres of water), but I think this will still work out more expensive than using washing up liquid.

UPDATE 11th August 2020
The Unicorn website recommend using 1 tablespoon of Power Scour to 2 gallons of water (15ml to 9 litres of water) when washing in a washing machine. As those of us in the UK don’t generally have top-loader washing machines this is not usually an option for us, but it is useful to know the water to detergent ratio as opposed to the fibre weight to detergent ratio.

https://www.unicornclean.com/fibre

2 gallons being equivalent to 9 litres is neat as that is the capacity of my maslin pans. My fleece was in batches of around 250-300g, so I used 10ml per batch). My frugal soul overrode my experimental spirit and I have to admit that I did the second wash in washing up liquid.

I also added a few drops of Tea Tree oil to the second wash for its antibacterial properties, and lovely clean smell. Fibre Scour already has Tea Tree oil as an ingredient which is a plus for me, as well as the clever bottle that measures the dose each time.

Power Scour ingredients are listed as:

Nonionic and Anionic Surfactants, Propylene Glycol or Ethanol, Copolymer, Lavender Fragrance & Filtered Water.


POWER SCOUR COST

Lets do the maths: At 15ml per wash you can get between 31 and 32 washes out of the 473ml bottle of Power Scour. If 15mls wash 450g fleece this means you can wash up to 14 kilos of fleece with one bottle (assuming you only do one wash using Power Scour).

My bottle of Power Scour cost £21 (including post and packing). Divide £21 by the number of washes (31) makes it about 68 pence per 450g wash, or £1.50 per kilo of fleece.

So how does this compare to washing up liquid?


WASHING UP LIQUID COSTS

Washing up liquid ranges between £5.64 per litre for Method, £3.56 for Ecover, £2.88 per litre for Fairy, down to £1.78 for supermarket own brands (all prices for Tesco website 30th July 2020).

Lets work with Fairy as it is pretty like Dawn, the one recommended by many spinners in the US. I will work with the regular sized 625ml bottle, not the giant one (it will offer a bit of a saving if you opt for that size, in the same way that buying a gallon of Power Scour should save on cost per wash).

I reckon you need a pretty good squirt of Fairy to wash even 100g fleece. I count 1-2-3 whilst squirting and find this about right. I’ve just measured this and it comes out as 20ml of washing up liquid (give or take a bit for the size of the nozzle and the viscosity of the liquid).

Lets do the maths again: At 20ml per wash you can get between 31 and 32 washes out of the 625ml bottle – so far so similar! However, here is the difference, if 20ml is needed to wash 100g fleece you can only wash up to 3 and a bit kilos of fleece with one bottle of Fairy, (assuming you only wash the fleece once).

A 675ml bottle of Fairy costs £1.80 at Tesco. Divide £1.80 by the number of washes (31) makes it about 6 pence per 100g wash, or 60 pence per kilo of fleece. Hmm, that seems a big difference; less than half the cost per kilo of Power Scour.

So unless my amounts or maths are totally off the mark, washing up liquid is clearly cheaper to use that Power Scour, even when the amount of washing up liquid used to wash a kilo of fleece is significantly more than Power Scour.

FIBRE SCOUR COSTS

Fibre Scour recommends 20ml to 10 litres of water – but does not give a fibre weight which I find really annoying – you can wash 10g or 500g of fibre in 10 litres! So lets opt for the 500g.

Lets do the maths: At 20ml per wash you can get 25 washes out of the 500ml bottle of Fibre Scour. If 20mls wash 500g fleece this means you can wash up to 12.5 kilos of fleece with one bottle (assuming you only do one wash using Fibre Scour).

My bottle of Fibre Scour cost £14.99 (including post and packing). Divide £14.99 by the number of washes (25) makes it about 60 pence per 500g wash, or £1.20 per kilo of fleece. Marginally cheaper than Power Scour, but no real economic challenge to washing up liquid.

Lets return to the fact that the results of both Fibre Scour and Power Scour are very good, there is no doubt about it. They also seem to make the washing a lot easier, removing the dirt more thoroughly and getting the stains out. But is it worth it?

CONCLUSION

In believe the reviews that compare the cost as ‘not that different’ are based on purchasing Power Scour in the US, where it is considerably cheaper than in the UK. US websites advertise it at around $19 for the 473ml bottle, whereas the cheapest I could find it in the UK was £19.99. $19 is about £14.50 at current exchange rates. Still pricey to my mind, but more in line with the Australian Fibre Scour which costs £12 for a 500ml bottle in the UK.

I wish I could afford to use either Fibre Scour or Power Scour for all my fleece as I do like the result. I’ve opted to purchase another bottle of Fibre Scour as it is a better financial option in the UK.

I look forward to a time when increased sales volume might mean that the ‘professional’ products come down to a more reasonable price. However, until then I shall be saving these for either extremely dirty (but what I hope are good quality fleece), or my ‘best’ planned and purchased special fleece, whilst continuing to use washing up liquid for everything else. I will mostly likely always use washing up liquid if a second wash is needed.

If there is a UK based chemical/cleaning company out there who would like to venture into ecological raw-fleece-washing territory it would be wonderful to hear from you.

There is more about my experiences scouring raw fleece here

Spinning outdoors

Last week a few of us got together (safely distanced and masked), to take our textiles into the park. I enjoyed myself so much I forgot to take a photo!

The thought of spinning outside in the sunshine encouraged me to use bright colours. So I took along some Shetland fleece I dyed a while ago using acid dyes, (I have written more about dyeing fleece with acid dye here).

I’d spun up a bobbin of Suffolk fleece that is not very exciting, so I planned to use that as the core for a bright, irregular spun, core-spun yarn to which I would add a charcoal wrapping yarn. All 100%wool. I took my folding Louet Victoria S95 wheel which is a joy to use.

The core yarn was Z twisted quite tight. The wrapping colours were also put on Z twist, and the final charcoal, commercial yarn was S spun over the others.

Photo taken at might, so the colours are not accurate.

After washing and drying the twist the colours hardly muted and it’s come out as lovely yarn.

Taken outdoors, but the colours are a bit light.

Rub-a-dub-a-fleece

Washing (or scouring) raw fleece is not a quick job, I think that’s something all can agree on. It’s also surprisingly contentious. Everyone wants to tell to their method, and you gradually learn that different fleece require different scouring methods, so everyone is probably right!

So I’m going to write about my experience today.

I have been given a rather nice Shetland fleece. Rather nice that is, but filthy. The fleece is very greasy and every single lock is gummed together and dirty at the tip. Underneath however, you can see the gorgeous fibre hidden under the grease-trapped dust and poo.

It doesn’t look too bad here, but thankfully this is not smelly-vision
See what I mean about those yucky tips?

I gave some of it a good hot soak  yesterday with plenty of washing up liquid. The water was like oxtail soup (sorry if you like oxtail soup), but after a few rinses it seemed OK.

However, this morning’s inspection showed it to be still greasy and those dratted dirty and sticky tips were still gummed up.

Rather than transfer that gunk to my carder I reluctantly decided to re-wash the fleece. So more really hot water baths followed. The first was so hot I couldn’t put my hand in it, with loads of washing up liquid and a dose of washing soda to break the grease. I  always wash the fleece separated into small mesh lingerie washing bags. With this second wash, I opened each bag, one at a time under the water and teased the locks apart, concentrating on those dirty tips to loosen the greasy dirt.

Yes it was time consuming, bit surprisingly gratifying as the dirty came out quite easily with this method. I think because the fleece has just been sheared the dirt hasn’t had to much time to harden-off.

Now it’s drying out looks amazing and is so soft.

I’m itching to get spinning

Having a bash at core spinning

Last night I blended some rather lumpy Southdown fleece I was trying to use up with some dyed Shetland. It was just for fun – no plan involved, just testing out my DIY blending board. When I sat at my wheel – watching ‘Hidden’, I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I remembered seeing Lexi Boeger’s method of coreless- core-spinning in her book ‘Hand Spun’. I thought the strong colours would work well against the natural if spun in this way, so I had a go.

According to Lexi the principle is to only work with a small amount of fibre at a time, and to spread the fibres wide into a trianglular web. You spin the core with the fibres at one edge of the triangle, whilst simultaneously holding the other part of the web at right angles to this so that it can wrap around the core between your drafting hand and the orifice. Its bit like patting your head and rubbing you tummy at the same time – but once I got going I enjoyed it. There were a few messy bits, which I attribute to the lumpy Southdown myself!

I love the way the colours wrap around the natural core

I’m not sure its truly core spinning, but its on the way there and I do like the effect. The yarn was very over-twisted, but after a good soak in hot water and hanging with a light weight to dry naturally it is fine now.