Category Archives: Spinning

Hester Hestia, the Rescue Wheel…

Over the years of going from happy experimenter to serious spinner, I’ve collected a few things here and there…3 wheels, loads of fiber and more spindles than you can shake a stick at. (And I can. Because they’re made of sticks. Heh.) But my first and most abiding love is my first spinning wheel, dubbed Hester Hestia…

Hester Hestia
Hester Hestia, my first spinning wheel. She’s a Seventies beauty, new when bellbottoms, Boogie Fever and Macrame were still a thing…

My friends on Nicollet Island discovered her in the basement of one of the old Victorian houses in the neighborhood. They knew I had just started teaching myself how to spin, so they gave her to me to play with. Hestia was beautiful, but daunting, and badly battered. She was missing parts, her only bobbin was broken, her wheel had started to separate, some rotten kid had drawn on her with a ballpoint pen, and some anonymous thing or things had chewed on her treadle. She was in rough shape.

Over time, I fixed her up. It wasn’t easy…in fact, I nearly gave up on her more than once. Maybe she was too broken. Maybe I was just too stupid about this sort of thing. I had only the vaguest knowledge about how a spinning wheel worked. There were all kinds of funky looking hooks and knobs and such. Terrifying for a very, very VERY new spinner…

Hester's flywheel
The business end of Hester…complete with spinny thing, scary hooks, weird bungee thing, bobbiny-dealio, weirdo hooky support thingies, and the Knob of Mystery…

But Halcyon Yarns had all kinds of great information, and I quickly learned about my new prize. She was an Ashford Traditional from the Seventies, made about the same time I was born. I could still get parts, and bobbins–lots and lots of bobbins! One of her support hooks was missing, so I crafted a new one out of an old metal hanger. My dad helped me reglue her wheel, and I lubed her up, waxed her drive band,figured out how her tension worked, and eventually…I could spin with her. She spun wonderfully!  The wheel was nice and heavy enough that you didn’t really have to treadle hard to keep her going.  It was particularly fun with some nice loud Ministry or KMFDM,  treadling fast and spinning nice thin singles in black and red. I was a spinner! A real spinner with a real wheel, like a demented fairy-tale person! And it was amazing!

Over the years, she’s still my best girl. I would say most of the yarns in my Etsy shop come straight from Hester. From time to time, I think about giving her a new coat of varnish, possibly sanding off those cruel pen squiggles and chew marks. But for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to. Good or bad, they were part of Hester’s mysterious history, and it felt wrong to remove them.  Instead I try to give her what she needs–more oil, a little dusting, an hour’s fun with some merino I just bought.  She’s a sweet, crabby beauty and I’d be lost without her…

 

 

 

Holiday Knitting DangerZone…

Ah, the holiday season…where everybody, including me, starts to panic about presents for the loved ones in their life. Like anybody who knits, I get loads of requests for last minute speed-knitting of pretty, warming things. Some of them are very doable. Many are too time-crunching. A few are jaw-droppingly ludicrous. Sweaters. Elaborate socks. Entire blankets. Union suits. Alien face-hugger masks with bendable leggies. Huge Dwarf helmet-hats with horns and braided beards. While it’s extremely flattering to hear that people think I have magical knitterly skills, I have to turn the big projects down. I also start getting that hunted look on my face, where I’m expecting to sprint down the corridors at work with my coworkers chasing me, yelling, “No, wait, it’s just a last-minute thing, I know you can do it by Christmas!! Come Baaaack!”

But that said, I’ve cranked out a few pretty things, here and there…

Mochi marshmallow wristwarmers
Mochi Marshmallow wristwarmers, with mohair,merino and handspun angora…
Silver angora
A skein of silver angora I plied with a soft silk thread for extra strength and shine…

Both of these lovely things have already been claimed. I should make more. When can I make more? So many things to make!! So many! Do I have enough yarn? The right kind? Do I have to make some? Why did I make this fussy, time-consuming thing that everybody wants now? I Must Make Many Many THIIIIIIIINGS!!

And then possibly ask Santa for a Time-Turner, or manybe a Margarita machine. It’s medicinal, I tellya…

Tutorial: How to spin with a drop spindle…

Ahhh, today is wonderful…dark, rainy, gloomy! Just the right kind of day to do some spinning! What’s that, you say? Don’t spin? But you’re dying to learn? *rubs hands together* Eeeeeexcellent…

Don’t be frightened–spinning is easy to learn and takes very little money to start. By now you probably have a nice little spindle you’ve made, all by yourself, with instructions from my last tutorial. Or you can buy them online–there’s all kinds of gorgeous spindles out there for beginners for reasonable prices. Wool is also easy to come by on the net–before long you’ll have your favorite suppliers to stock you up on demand, but I started out with the mother-ship of spinning acoutrements, the website at Halcyon Yarn. They have everything you need, and I do mean everything. But for a starter yarn, go easy and cheap–no alpaca or camel or angora or yak, not yet. Blue-faced Leister is a great beginners wool, as is Icelandic and Romney.

Beginner's tutorial
A simple drop spindle and a handful of fiber, waiting to be transformed into something wonderful.

The first thing you’ll want to do is fluff up your fibers. If you bought roving in long strips or braids, untie the braids and gently tear the roving into nice, manageable strips. If you have a batt, you can tear off chunks as you spin. Or you can just take locks of wool and use your fingers or a dog comb to make a nice fluffy pile. And take a minute to roll a little fiber around in your fingers. How does it feel? Twirl some around with your hands, and see what feels good to you. That’s how you’ll want your yarn to feel. Now, tie some leftover yarn to your spindle, under the whorl, and loop it through the hook on top. (This is called, the ‘leader” yarn.)Put a slip knot in the top, then thread a little fiber through the loop and pull nice and tight. This will anchor your fiber for spinning…

Spindle ready to spin
A spindle, all ready to spin!

Now, hold the yarn loop with your dominant hand, and let the spindle hang down from the leader yarn. Spin it with your fingers, counterclockwise. Let the twist go up into your fiber. You can stop your spindle anytime and use your fingers to smooth out your yarn. One hand will end up controlling the twist by pinching off the yarn, and the other hand will end up “drafting”; basically pulling at your fiber until it’s the thickness you want. Don’t be too worried about drafting right now–you just want to get the hang of the twisting from the spindle running up into your fiber the way you want.

Spindle with yarn
Spinning up the first bit of yarn. Let the twist from your spindle run up into the fiber.

How’s a good way to tell how your yarn is going? You can let it loop back on itself to see if it feels soft and comfortable. If it feels too tight and harsh, it has too much twist, and you can fix it by letting the twist run further up the fibers. If it’s coming apart, twist it a little more. But trust your fingers; they know what they want your yarn to feel like. You can always stop, untwist all the fiber and start over if it’s not the way you want it.

Looped fiber
This fiber looped onto itself really nicely. it’s not too tight, not too loose.

Running out of fiber? Add a little more! Just take your next bit of fiber and layer it over the end of your yarn. Give your spindle a spin and watch the twist run up into the new addition. Wool wants to hang onto wool, and you can keep adding on and on until your spindle is full or you’re tired of spinning, whichever comes first.

New fiber!
New fiber added onto the first bit of fiber. The twist holds everything together!

Now, while you’re spinning and spinning, you’ll make mistakes for sure. Your wool will be lumpy. You’ll drop your spindle a dozen times or more. Your hands won’t know what to do. Just keep at it–eventually your hands will find a rhythm that makes sense, and things will get much easier. My rhythm goes like this: “Spin the spindle, pinch the yarn, pull the fibers”. The pinching is to stop the twist going further than I want it too, the pulling is to even out the next fibers to be spun up. And you can stop whenever you want, start back up whenever you want, and keep going until you can no longer fit anything onto your spindle.

Very full spindle
A very, very, very full spindle…

So what do you do with your spindle full of yarn? You can wind your new yarn into a ball as it is and knit with it. I usually prefer to set the twist–I wrap it around a niddy-noddy, a wonderful tool used to measure and skein up yarn, then take the yarn off, give it a good gentle soak in lukewarm water, *very* gently wring out the water and hang it in my shower to dry. (I use clothes hangars to weigh down the bottom of the skein so the yarn doesn’t kink.) When it’s dry, it’s nicely balanced and much easier to use. You can use that first yarn to make a funky potholder, or a headband, or a little bag to put in spinning fluff for later. But be proud of that first wonderful, lumpy, blobby yarn, and be proud of yourself!! Not everybody sticks it out with something new, and you just did!!

(If you have any extra questions about spinning, or get stuck and need a little coaching, ask me in the comments section!! I’ll walk you through any fiber kinks you run into. But I think you’ll do better than you expected.)

Even in the darkest hour, you can always find me…

…Because I just bought some glow-in-the-dark spinning fiber!

It glows!! How cool is that?

I have always played around with glow-thread and it makes for some really fun Halloween yarns…but this looks pleasingly chunky and wonderful to play with. I can hardly wait to get my mitts on it!!
There’s so much opportunity for fun here.

Meanwhile, I’m almost done with a chemo cap for a friend of a friend…and a little more spinning here and there. I’ve been spinning more on breaks at the Mines, just to relax. It’s fun to watch my coworkers when the spindle goes around and around…sometimes I’ll laugh and whisper, “Sleepy…you are getting sleepy…ALL HAIL THE HYPNO-TOAD!!” and we’ll have a good chortle. This weekend I’d like to put up a nice spinning tutorial for beginners, so I’ll play with the camera a bit this afternoon. The last tutorial was so much fun, I want to do more…

My favorite month! At last!!!

It’s cooling off…the sky is darkening…the leaves are falling…and I love every second of it!!
Finally, the month I’ve been waiting for!! Delicious, wonderful October!

So to celebrate I’ve been spinning a cheerful Halloween yarn or two. Look at these happy, happy skulls!

Skully yarn!
A promising start to some happy, happy skully yarn!

While I love my spinning wheels to distraction, sometimes a spindle is ideal when you’re adding on loads of bulky things like beads or cocoons or scraps of silk and whatnot. I’ve also been using a cool trick for adding the beads: Stringing them into small bits of the roving with a needle-threader, then fluffing out the roving so it grabs on to the rest of the yarn. It doesn’t ladder like a thread can do with a heavy bead, and is remarkably stable!

Meanwhile, last night I just got back from visiting a friend who has an art studio at the Northrup King building in Northeast. I love those spaces, full of color and light. I kind of covet them, to be truthful. Studio spaces are so great. I never really used one myself, though. Why? Welllll, when you really get down to it; creatively I can be a bit lazy. When inspiration hits, the last thing I want to do is haul myself down through the cold, windry weather to where I put all my tools, paints, wool, etcetera. I’d just rather hop out of bed, have a wash, run downstairs or upstairs to the wool-bins and start mixing the fluff. These days I’m awfully lucky to have enough space at home where this is doable. If I was doing this sort of thing full-time, a space would make more sense,but I’m grateful at the moment I don’t need it. There are times though, when the paying job gets stressful and I think about starting a small yarn shop. There’s a bit of a yarn-shop gap in my neighborhood, and maybe , just maybe…