As Pam Howard and I continue to expand the Fiber Arts group of EAIA we came up with idea (well, Pam did but agreed enthusiastically) to spin, knit and weave some wool yarn from scratch and include the products in the annual EAIA Silent Auction at the upcoming meeting at Old Sturbridge Village. Mark your calendars for May 17 – 20. This is going to be a fabulous place for our meeting as we get to immerse ourselves in the culture of old Massachusetts.
Getting back to the project…Pam obtained a very large load of white Shetland wool from a friend and had it processed at a woolen mill. She shipped a portion to me so I can start spinning for my part of the project – a knitted cap. A true friend, she included a baggie full of Piedmont Candy Company’s famous Red Bird Peppermints. Don’t expect to see them at the auction. They didn’t last long. ‘Nuff said.
This blog is going to highlight the process steps involved in a simple spinning project. I won’t be describing the fiber prep part because that was done at the mill. It is common for spinners to purchase (or raise) fleece and do the processing themselves. That will be enough for another time. When I received the wool it was ready to go to the spinning wheel.
My wheel is modern made, however, the basic action of a spinning wheel (and a drop spindle) has not changed in thousands of years. I have antique wheels as well but for a big project I prefer to go to my “working wheel.” My old friend, the Krompski Minstrel.The fiber was clean and combed smooth but was in a large rolled sheet called a batt. I worked with large handfulls of fiber pulled from the batt. By pulling gently I was able to stretch a softball sized fiber ball into a long and loose rope. This can be called “roving” but has many names (every craft has it’s own vocabulary and spinning has some fun names for things!
At the wheel, the roving is further stretched, or “drawn” so the fibers are aligned and as they are twisted into a thread the thickness is consistent. This is the step where “practice makes perfect.” The “drawing” of the fiber determines the thickness or fineness of the thread. And remember; the thread will be plied with others to make a yarn.
The twisted thread winds onto a bobbin that looks similar to a large wooden spool. When all of the fiber has been spun then the plying can begin.
Plying the threads into real yarn is what I like to call the “money shot.” This is what I come to the game to see. Real handmade yarn. There are different styles for plying yarns but for this project I made a simple two-ply; commonly called spinners yarn. It can be knitted, crocheted, or woven. It is not very thick or lofty but it is the easiest to make. I hold the two threads as they come off the bobbins and allow them to be pulled into the flyer of the spinning wheel were they are twisted and then wound on another bobbin. Remember the curly cord on the telephones of “olden times?” The cord would twist back on itself and it was tough to pull them apart. Sort of like that but neater.
Once all the single threads are plied into double ply yarn the newly minted yarn is wound off onto an apparatus called a “niddy noddy.” One of those great spinning words. The yarn is measured as it winds so I can determine how much yarn I have and if it’s enough for my project. After the “hank” or “skein” of yarn is tied off and removed from the niddy noddy it is gently washed and hung to dry until I’m ready to knit.
I hope you will look for mine and Pam’s projects at the 2017 EAIA Annual Meeting at Old Sturbridge Village Silent Auction. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning to spin, find a spinning/weaving guild or yarn/fiber shop in your area (they are out there, I promise!). You will be able to get a wheel, take lessons, and make lots of new “fiber” friends.
As for me, I’m ready to cast on with my new yarn. If you would like to talk about spinning or any fiber crafts, look for me at OSV in May. I’ll be there…hangin’ by a thread.