Sunday 28 November 2010

Three upright spinning wheels.

A family photo of my upright single treadle spinning wheels. All production wheels, all developed from the traditional Scottish upright wheels taken by settlers to New Zealand. Click on the photo to see a larger version hosted on Flickr.

On the left we have a 1976 Rappard Little Peggy. She's a two speed wheel and has seen considerable use at some time in the past, the metal of her flyer shaft is worn and you can see the footprint on her treadle. Recently aquired from ebay and in need of new leather flyer and bobbin bearings, otherwise in good working order.

In the centre, a little old Ashford Traveller, the original model as made from 1977-79 and identified with help of previous owner who bought it secondhand in 1980 and Mary Knox's website and book "New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their Makers", recommended to me by Spinningfishwife because shoulder problems can make righthand flyer wheels uncomfortable for me to use.

On the right, a modified Ashford Traveller, around 12-15 years old (I think..) with modern sliding hook flyer. Modifcations include the sycamore treadle that operates centrally and a lead weight on the inside of the wheel rim to balance the weight of the footman and give smoother treadling.

In the background you can see part of my American pendulum wheel.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Exhibition celebrating the work of weavers in Wales

I have just learnt about a current exhibition at the National Wool Museum of Wales, on until 8th January: Warp and Weft 2 - from handloom to production. This coincides with another superb event at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen,Warp + weft, contemporary woven textiles, which features work by the following weavers - Peter Collingwood, Sue Hiley Harris, Ainsley Hillard, Makeba Lewis, Lucy McMullen, Ptolemy Mann, Ann Richards, Ismini Samanidou in collaboration with Gary Allson, Kathy Schicker, Reiko Sudo, Ann Sutton, Hiroko Takeda, Laura Thomas, Priti Veja.

Time to plan a trip to Wales?

Tuesday 6 July 2010

YarnMaker news

The first edition of YarnMaker is coming together, and a subscription form can now be downloaded from the website for anyone wanting to book their copy in advance of publication. The admin side of business is demanding for a newly set up company, but talking to people who want to write about their special interest makes up for all the dull moments, and assembling the articles and photos is superb fun. I am enjoying my new job. So, with the layout coming together now, it's time to reveal what's going to be in the very first edition. There is a focus on spindle spinning, with an article from expert spinner and teacher Carol Leonard accompanied by book reviews and a showcase of spindles handmade in Britain. Mike Williams is kindly donating a spindle to be won by one of our lucky readers. A different aspect of spinning (wheel or spindle) is looked at by Alison Daykin in an article on art yarns and design, this will be the first in a series on yarn design from Alison, co-author of Creative Spinning. Elizabeth Lovick of Northern Lace has provided a pattern you can knit in any weight of handspun yarn, while at the other end of the process Jill Shepherd starts a series on scouring methods, Angie Corbet finds free fleece, and Karen Tesson tells us about her small flock of Ryeland sheep. Jill Shepherd has also written of teaching children spinning on a simple-to-make spindle, and wheel maker and restorer Joan Jones of Woodland Turnery offers advice on buying 2nd hand wheels. Ann Kingstone tells her story of growing and using Japanese Indigo, and Innes Carmichael of Scotland relates how she took up spinning and got involved in a Gaelic Waulking group. It's too early to announce details of the second edition, but articles are already coming in and you can look forward to another edition with a wide range of subject matter for your enjoyment and inspiration. Meanwhile, I'm delighted to have this, which arrived in the post on Friday: It is the UK Trademark Certificate for "YarnMaker". Since I last wrote, I've been to Wonderwool Wales and Woolfest to meet people and promote YarnMaker, and this last weekend I had a small stall at the Wool Experience, held at Blase Farm, Wildboarclough. It was a fun event, with local businesses and guilds. There was a sheep shearing display and plenty of the ice cream for which Blase Farm is well known. And, although weaving does not fit into my life at present, mostly because of having to re-arrange the furniture and stuff and stash to make office space, I have found time for growing dye plants and purchasing and washing fleece. Here are this year's Japanese Indigo plants. And new madder plants settling in well. These are grown from root a friend sent me, and in a well drained sunny spot. I lost the madder plants I had before due to last year's wet summer when the bed they were planted in was so wet it grew spagnum moss! At Wonderwool Wales I was delighted to find and purchase a magnificent Corriedale x Shetland fleece on the Coloured Sheep Breeders Association stand, it was produced by Yvonne Hoskins who specialises in producing fine fleece for hand spinners. I'm spinning a fine yarn that I envisage weaving into a beautiful soft scarf or shawl. One of the fleece I purchased this year is Derbyshire Gritstone from a local flock, a very fine fleece.

Monday 19 April 2010


My new website is now up on the 'net, see here: YarnMaker: handspinning from fibre to textiles, it's a fairly basic site for now as I am busy working on the first edition, I'll revise it when the magazine is in print.

Thanks to everyone who is taking an interest, I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

Monday 29 March 2010

Behind the scenes...

I have reached the point where I need to declare a blog holiday, though I'm sure regular readers have spotted a slowing up in posts and detected a lack of weaving time.

I'm not short of things I want to make and write about, and there's pile of books by my desk that I was going to review. Top of the pile however was the wonderful true live adventures of Christopher Aslan Alexander, described in his book "A Carpet Ride to Khiva" and Cally's review tells you some of the reasons I love this book (but she didn't mention the amazing descriptions of rearing silk moths, the tales of hunting out knowledgeable dyers willing to share their skills, tracking down ingredients for the dyebaths, accounts of how looms were built and the weaving.)

The reason for the holiday is the project I'm working on in the new office space I mentioned in my last post: I am setting up a business to publish and edit a new bi-monthly British / European magazine for handspinners.

new magazine title

Obviously this draws on my ongoing curiosity and interest in creating yarns and textiles and love of passing on what I learn. I'm also bringing to it business admin. and legal skills, experience of working as an NCTJ trained local newspaper journalist, and work in marketing and public relations, plus I have always enjoyed photography, drawing, and writing.

I have previous of experience of magazine layout and editing and graphic design for print. I started out on the university student newspaper which we designed and laid out on an Apple Mac back in the mid-1980s, later produced all kinds of publicity materials, newsletters, magazines, advertising copy and for 5 years I've produced the pretty membership cards issued to members of the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers which some of my blog friends possess.

I look forward to getting back to weaving and blogging once the magazine is established.

Meanwhile, I will be officially starting my business soon after Easter and putting up a website with more details of the magazine (I'll post a link here when it's done). You can now contact me at my new email address: editor [at] yarnmaker [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday 7 March 2010

Weaving and spinning

My sister pointed out that I haven't blogged for a while, days have slipped past here and I hadn't realised how they were turning to weeks, so here's a bit of an update on a couple of projects.

I finished the scarf that I was weaving with a handspun madder warp and have enjoyed wearing it the past couple of weeks. Here it is pictured with one of the scarves I wove last year. They both had similar Noro Sock Yarn warps, both 2.5m long on the loom and 8 inches wide, however, the scarf with the handspun warp is narrower because there are less interactions between warp and weft in the weave pattern and because the weft yarn shrank.

Both are lovely to wear, the wider scarf I wear folded, the narrow one wraps around like a stiff, warm collar. Longer tassels looked right on the narrower scarf, and I have been interested to notice that they swing about gracefully when I wear the scarf (unless it is tightly tucked in my button coat for extra warmth - still very wintery here!).

The Ashford Traveller wheel has been in use most evenings as I spin my natural dyed wool into yarns, pictured here in one of those useful baskets I wove last month.

The Traveller got to misbehaving again, lots of creaks and groans. I have removed the cardboard shim I used to fix a loose leg and replaced it with a slip of plastic cut from a milk carton, which should not compress so easily. Having done that, I realised all the legs were now loose so have done the same to them all! It is spinning beautifully again now. I hope to get some good tips on wheel care at an event organised by Wingham Wool Work at the start of next month when Richard Ashford will be visiting along with David Herring from the UK importers for talks, demos, art yarn lessons and wheel care. Richard Ashford is due to be at an event hosted by Wingham Wool on 1st and 2nd April, with The Threshing Barn on 3rd April, and possibly also Twist Fibre Craft studio on 30th March if enough people are interested, so if you do want to go along phone the appropriate shop now and book.

Getting back now to the weaving of my scarf, it occured to me that maybe not everyone knows about this handy little gadget which I bought from Handweavers Studio.

It is a balloon spring and fits on the shaft of my bobbin winder enabling me to wind my plastic Leclerc shuttle bobbins easily. The bobbin winder shaft is narrow and fits the cheap cardboard bobbins perfectly, but everything else needs wedging on somehow.

The Leclerc shuttles are lovely to hold and use.

I have got to know more new weavers recently, and more people taking up weaving for the first time, so thought it might be handy to include the odd weaving technique tip nowadays. This is what I do with the yarn end when I empty a shuttle bobbin. It slips into the same shed as the last pick, I take it across 1-2" and leave an end poling out of the cloth. The new yarn is started in reverse fashion, I lay a short end into the next shed, wrap it around the selvedge, then weave as normal. On the floor loom when working on wide warps with a heavy shuttle I find it necessary to hold the little end of the new thread while throwing the shuttle to stop it from pulling out.

When the new and old ends are several inches into the cloth I snip them off close to the fabric so that it is hard to see where they were.
Editing this post 09/03/09 to bring in this helpful comment from Alison:
Your tip is excellent, but can I suggest that you don't snip until the
fabric is fulled/washed/finished. I was taught to mend, finish, then
snip and trim fringes, in that order. If you don't overlap sufficiently
and snip first the over lap can be compromised. There's a better chance
of all being well if you finish first then snip. Thanks Alison!

While taking these photos I also thought you might like to see the swinging beater I have now fitted to my table loom. Very useful, as I can beat with the reed parallel to the cloth over a wider range.

For those of you who've missed this - The 2010 Challenge for weavers is started via Meg's blog and Kaz has already posted about it. I'm not participating due to other pressures on my time but am working on a blog post reviewing books on design.

Another blog post I'd like to call to the attention of all weavers is this wonderful post demonstrating how to tie a Weaver's Knot. Many thanks to Alison for mentioning it a few weeks back, it is a revelation as I have struggled to follow diagrams in books and been much puzzled as to how it became so well used in spite of being difficult to tie. Now I know there's a simple trick to getting it right.

Monday 22 February 2010

A handspun, madder-dyed weft.

I could ask you to guess what is pictured below:
For most people this is an unsual sight and unexpected, probably not a fair question.

This is the underside of my Ashford Traveller spinning wheel.

Ever since I got this wheel I was trying to track down and eliminate odd creaks and groans from the wheel. I tightened and replace many screws. In spite of my efforts it was getting more creaky, and becoming very hard to treadle, especially I discovered on un-carpeted floors - a clue here. With a bit of investigation I discovered that every time I pressed the treadle one of the legs moved sideways. I found the leg is fitted in with a screw, and unlike the other three legs it was loose. When I undid the screw I could easily take it out, but I could not get it to fit back in without wobbling as the hole it fitted into was oversized. What you see in the photo is a shim of old Christmas card taking up the spare space. It does the job, no more wobbly leg.

However, there was still a groaning from the treadle. I found that every single screw in the treadle needed an extra half turn. Having sorted this out, I oiled everything and went back to spinning - wow! it's like a different wheel. Tip for anyone with a grumbling & groaning wheel: check all the joints, tighten all the screws, oil all the moving parts.

So, what have I been up to with this spinning wheel? Spinning a weft yarn to weave another scarf on my table loom. After I finished the handspun, handwoven scarf at Christmas I was filled with the joy of weaving and thought "another!". I pulled a pretty multicoloured Noro yarn out of a stash box for weft, prepared the warp, warped the loom, but then I was stuck. I just couldn't find a weft to match it. I tried cotton, I tried wools in different colours, I tried bright colour and I tried neutrals.

It dawned on me that the weeks I spent thinking about colours and weave pattern for the handspun & handwoven scarf I'd just finished were not just idle thinking but very important creative planning and design time.

I stopped to think.

One thought I had was that I have many different fibres to spin and I have dyes and I can create the yarn I want. I looked at some different colours and found I had Shetland wool fibre dyed that I had dyed with madder last summer and the orange-red colour was just what I needed for this warp.

So, weaving had to wait while I spun a new weft yarn.

I had spun all the madder-dyed wool I had, but didn't even have one full bobbin. I know a bobbin holds about 100g of yarn which is the amount I have used in the past for weft in a scarf like this.

Spinning had to wait while I dyed more wool.

I managed a reasonably close match, one ball is slightly more red, the other slightly more orange so I'm weaving alternately with the two yarns in two shuttles.

The pattern I've chosen is my favourite 4-shaft undulating twill, as you can see in the header row bellow. I wove the header in high-contast thick white yarn so I can see what is happening in the warp easily. As the straight edge shows, I needed to adjust the tension on some of the warp. Towards the right of the photo you'll see the white weft yarn doesn't quite reach the straight edge, although it does on either side. Looking at this I know that means I have some tighter weft threads in that area. The weft yarn packs up closer in tight sections so the edge of the weaving dips towards the weaver, whilst in a loose section the warp threads would bulge away.

It's good to be fussy and slow when you start a piece of weaving and correct little errors like this, I have learnt that leaving anything I'm not entirely happy with at this stage is likely to mean that later on the problem has become magnified and I am unhappy with the cloth. When I was a new weaver I rushed the loom set up, but after various different disappointments I learnt that being relaxed about preparing the loom and fussing over little things would save heartache later.

I'm delighted with the colour of my madder weft. Maybe I've spun it a little thick, but we'll have to see how it is when it comes off the loom.

Just to finish up, these are some of the wefts I tried that didn't work! The first was a green knitting cotton, as I like green and orange and though the shiny cotton yarn might be a good contrast with the Noro wool. It was not good.

I also tried neutrals, a grey and a soft brown.

I much prefer the madder-dyed yarn!

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Woven from willow

I have always loved willow baskets and for sometime now been wanting to learn to weave them. I bought books, tools and a some willow a couple of years back, but then I was stuck. None of the books I had told me enough to give me the confidence to get started.

In the middle of January I happened to pick up the Derbyshire County Council Adult Education brochure for Spring. In it I found a one day course called "Basket Making: taster". I phoned up to ask if it was willow baskets, and ... yes it was! So I booked.

Half a dozen keen learners made there way on a foggy morning up & down narrow country lanes to Over Haddon Village Hall, where the cheerful, friendly tutor assured us we would all go home with a finished basket. And we did. Here's mine, a bit wobbly in places but it definitely a real willow basket for all that.

All the baskets were the same basic design, all turned out different, not least because we had three colours of willow to weave with and could chose whichever we wanted. Also, as a natural material there is a lot of variety in the raw material, each stem behaves a little differently. Getting a feel for that, and learning to work with it, is essential to the art of willow weaving.

I came away not just with one woven basket, but with the knowledge of what willow feels like to work with and how the techniques I'd seen in the books actually work. It's not easy to communicate this very 3 dimensional work on the flat pages of a book.

I was also delighted when the tutor gave me some of the remaining sticks of willow. They'd already been soaked and dried out 3 times and were starting to be past their best, she said "yours if you can use it tomorrow or the next day" - of course I grinned and said "oh, yes!".

Back at home, next morning, I got out my basketry tools. Left to right, a heavy iron "rapper" for pushing the weavers into place (like the beater on a loom), a bodkin, bypass secateurs and a shop knife. Tools like this, and the willow, are available from PH Coate & Son in Somerset.

The willow I had to keep wrapped in a damp towel in the bath so it didn't dry out. So long as it is wet it remains extremely pliable.

Sitting on the kitchen floor, I tried to remember all the instructions. I should have had my camera at the workshop to record the different stages. Nevermind, making another basket the next day was a good revision exercise.

Basket number two finished. I started an hour before lunch, finished about afternoon teatime.

The wool is 100g balls of Ronaldsay from sheep kept on North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands. I bought it from Scottish Fibres.

An essential accessory for every handspinner?

For anyone wanting to know about willow basketry in the UK, here is the website of The Basketmakers Association.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Additional information about weaving a handspun scarf.

Deborahbee left a comment on my post Handwoven Scarf, from the wool to the finish that I think deserves a detailed response:

I want to use some 2 ply handspun but am nervous of holding the tension.I have 6 ends on the warping mill and then lost confidence. I am going to re read your posts seeking tips.

I think you are probably finding, just as I did, that handspun wool yarn feels different to the commercial yarns I am used to. My yarn was spun semi-worstead style, but still had significant bounce in it (although less than if I had used rolags and spun woollen style).

I found winding the warp interesting, because my yarn was springy I started off winding tight, stretching the yarn, then realised this might not be a good idea. Maybe this is the stage you are at, Deborahbee?

The consequence of this was that the first few bouts of warp were wound a bit tighter and ended up shorter than the the last couple.

The difference evened out as I wound the warp onto the loom, a light weight on the warp ends (two one pint milk cartons, one-third full, tied on with a piece of linen yarn and a simple slip knot) and lease sticks made sure of even tension on the beam and the slack collected in from of the lease sticks. (I had a similar experience of seeing the tension even out at the lease sticks when I wove with linen!).

For weaving, the tension on the loom was probably the loosest I've ever woven with, and I was interested to find that the edges did not draw in and for the first time I wove an even width without a temple.

There were slight variations in the width along the length of the finished scarf, I put this down to irregularities in the handspun wool.

So thoughts on winding a handspun wool warp:
  • concentrate carefully on just wrapping the wool around your warp board or warping mill without stretching it,
  • a gentle weight on the yarn as you wind on and using lease sticks should even out any differences,
  • the yarn is very forgiving, it is less important than with linen or cotton to have exactly even tension on all warp ends, as good as you can get it is going to be good enough, so don't fuss indefinitely,
  • give it a go!

Comments from other people's experiences of preparing a handspun warp will be most welcome!