Friday, May 29, 2009


I'm flying around like the proverbial, and seem to have precious little to show for it. Maybe blogging will put some sort of order on to the chaos?

Or not?

We had a pretty much excellent trip to Cornwall. DMIL was in her usual terrific form, she really did look well. Her new next door neighbours are a bit of a tonic for her, I think. A nice couple and their three children. All boys, so DMIL was waxing very lyrical about the joys of boys, and had great fun in the pub over lunch enjoying the antics of a couple of brothers who reminded her irresistibly of her own pair now grown so large.

I came across an even better pair later, twin thuglets (in the nicest possible way) down at Gorran Haven. Even I could have carried them home in my pocketses.

What did we do? Not a lot. Weather was very kind, and as a consequence, the hordes were out, so we didn't go to the coast on Sunday afternoon but spent a few hours in the Luxulyan valley. And very nice it was, too, warm but not too warm for walking a bit,and admiring the extremely exuberant plant life swarming all over everywhere. We did go to the sea late on, but not this time to Hemmick, it seemed a bit daft given the very limited parking there. So we went down to Gorran, and blagged the closing shop to sell us ice creams and just sat and watching everyone packing up and going home in the late sun. Glorious.


Sun through the trees

Enjoying the evening tide

Tine mine

Pretty nice, eh?

The only ointmental fly was coming home on Monday, when Newquay Airport seemed to be entirely staffed by jobsworths on behalf of the blessed bmibaby. Seemingly, they have fairly recently changed their rules to limit you to one piece of hand luggage, and yes, it is on the website (although no, it does not have anything to do with the CAA) but the website is not clear whether or not this includes handbags. In my case it did not, although in the cases of several younger and more attractive chickies, it did. Humph. What is more, nothing whatever had been said about it at Manchester. Personally, I think the fact that it was a Bank Holiday had something to do with it......

What else? Gallery sitting, amongst other things.


I have enjoyed the current "Beermat" exhibition, lots of interest. Clever idea.

I've been a bit glued to the computer as well, struggling - still, sorry! - with organising my thoughts about courses and talks this summer. Woolfest is nearly upon us - and that I am pleased about - but I need to have quite a bit sorted before I go jaunting off to Cockermouth. Although I will take the laptop with me, I would prefer not to have to spend the time working on course notes!

And, lest I forget that this is meant to be a record of fibre stuff that I do, here we have a couple of small, but rather choice, FOs. Crocheted, no less.

Crocheted neck thingy

Crocheted wrist warmers

I am also knitting socks, of course. The Jitterbug buggers are nearly finished, and about bloody time, too. Frogged almost as much as a lace shawl (speaking of which, watch this space). The Rainforest "Tigers" went on to the needles to travel with, and the first one is almost done (second next year some time, I should think!) And I have cast on a scarfish sort of thing with some utterly wonderful merino/bamboo (Bonkers, Obscure Rainbow) that I spun a while back. Quite fabulous to work with. Must do more. Good job I have a new stock for Woolfest!

Oh, it's all going on, and more besides. Just don't have too much time to write about it!

Edited to add: Sorry, Susanna, I forgot your request for the Cat Gallery details. They do mail order!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


.....things just take your breath away.

I had a new young spinner come to me for her first lesson yesterday. This video was taken about forty minutes in to the session. At least half of that time had been taken up with talking, handling fibre, treadling practice. So this is twenty minutes max of actual putting it all together spinning time. She had never even seen a spinning wheel before, and only handled a few alpaca locks.

What can one say?

(Oh, and watch out down in the bottom right hand corner for a fleeting guest appearance by Ruby!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spindling again

Friday was the AH class, and in the teeth of a certain amount of twining I was bound and determined to do spindle spinning as the topic for the day. So I rousted out a selection of our own personal spindles and dusted down the box of teaching ones.

The DSM and I have done the spindles guided tour a few times now, and find that it works well. Once you start talking seriously about the different types of spindles, what you like, what you don't like, points to look for when choosing one yourself, and the importance of trying them out to see if you like one another, we are seeing that people are becoming interested - before, to them, a spindle was a spindle was a spindle. Start discussing the differences, what weight to use, little things like balance and hook tweaking, and you can get a good discussion going.

Most people who claim not to like spindling are those who have only encountered evil unbalanced boat anchors. I had a near-beginner on Friday who had one of those. Dear merciful heaven was it evil! She was a re-enactor and therefore had to use a bottom whorl, fair enough. But her bottom whorl would barely twirl, staggering around twice to each mighty flick of the fingers. She was so frustrated with it. I had known that she was coming, and taken my few with me, but they were too light for her to use with the rather thicker yarn that she was producing. Fortunately, I had a centre-whorl - the kind you see described sometimes as a "wool akha" with me which we could pretend was a bottom whorl, and with that, she got on famously. After the event, another class member suddenly pulled out a rather lovely bottom whorl to show me that performed beautifully, so all in all, that went ok.

Other class members had a good go, as well, and several of them, to their great surprise, enjoyed the experience. Were even heard to say that my rather heavy Louet teaching spindles were the best spindles they had ever tried and well, they might just buy themselves one. Could I be creating some new addicts here? I do hope so!

spindling cooperation

I'm not entirely sure what was going on here. But I managed to catch the repeat performance on video as well....

(Assuming this works, I haven't done video links with Flickr before.)

The, yesterday was Guild, another really good meeting. Fiona Morris came, and I always enjoy her talks and courses. At one point, interested intensified to the point of a competitive cast-on bout spontaneously taking place, and the conversation grew more and more esoteric. And to think that all we were doing was considering what to do with a few pointy sticks......

All good fun for the kiddies!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Playing hookey, dyeing and more on spindling

I ran away for a couple of days to visit an old friend and go on a beading course. Fun. Very simple design, so a nice relaxing day doing something I enjoy with no distractions like what to get for supper, or noticing grubby windows. Although a simple design, it was time-consuming to do, so I have nowhere near finished. I intend to keep going with it this weekend. Ahem.

In talking about spindles, I did own up to having completely forgotten the Spring Spin Off. I really have no idea how that all went out of what passes for my brain, but there we go, I suppose this is the future screaming to a halt at the platform. Anyway, two excellent articles on spindling, one on spinning a balanced yarn (by Jennifer Shafer) who has cleverly managed to keep the technical stuff accessible to those such as myself. The other by Abby Franquemont, on - top or bottom whorl. (Could have been embarrassing....) Read it - it's good stuff. Even though I don't agree with her on every point (how do you do a "grin" in Blogger?)

I have a really bad habit (one amongst many) of reading around something, thinking "wow, that's it, that's great" and then forgetting where I saw it. Just so with some of the information lodged somewhere in the aforementioned brain about spindling. So, I need to squeeze in some research time. Ah, well....

In ongoing "research" - or, playing around with, in real terms. I have been running a series of dye baths in readiness for my talk at Woolfest.

onion, alkanet, paprika, turmeric

Here we have, from left to right: onion, alkanet, paprika and turmeric. These, and the others to come, are chosen for do I want to put it? Accessibility? Not quite. I'm looking at dyestuffs and methods that are as safe and feasible to use as possible for those wanting to dip a toe a very little way into the water of natural dyeing.

But I've done a cochineal series as well.


Again, from left to right, second exhaust, in a bath that had had alum in it; colour shifted with citric acid; first exhaust; first bath (alum added). I used around 30% WOF, and 10% alum, my usual amount of mordant.

But that is not what is so interesting here, as is probably obvious. I acquired these cochineal bugs around ten years ago. A package that would only just go through my letterbox dropped onto the doormat one fine morning, nearly giving me palpitations when I realised what it was. Ed Franquemont had been staying with us earlier that same year, and had sent me a care parcel. (Of bugs? Most people would consider this odd - I considered it utterly fabulous!) But over the years, I am quite sure that the obtainable colour has changed. Where you see a true purple, I am sure I would once have got much closer to red. This by itself is fascinating. I have wondered about using it all up before any really bad changes happen, but actually simply slowly using it and monitoring the changes - if any - will be even more interesting. Although I do now need to get hold of some bugs from Peru to compare and contrast.

So, I'm more or less giving up natural dyeing, am I? Doesn't look too much like it, far too interesting. As well as the spindle research, and....and.

Can I have three more lifetimes, please?

Monday, May 04, 2009

An age-related post.

We were in York on Saturday, visiting the mater and doing a little more shopping. Actually, quite a lot of shopping in some ways, as we finally took the decision that as the spare room is used only very rarely as such, it would be much more use to change the primary focus to additional workroom that could be very nice to sleep in. So we have on order what seems to be a very comfortable futon, and some matching shelving with a nifty bureau insert.

Although that is all rather by the by.

We walked down as far as Stonegate looking for somewhere to have lunch, and I found a cat shop. And inside the cat shop, I found a wonderful toy, at least, I thought it was, although the DSM was extremely sniffy about it. I bought it - and he has had to eat his words.

This was intended, of course, for the young cats. And indeed, they have been having fun with it. Ruby most ingeniously toppled it over and proceeded to drag as much of it as possible through various holes in the box it was packed in. We are not quite sure how she managed it, but she had a lot of fum in the process.


The favourite tunnel is also used in the great game.

But the big surprise was that Neelix, all of twelve years old, has been absolutely fascinated by the thing (it is battery driven to whisk around fairly randomly) and will spend as long as we will let him playing with it. And the kids defer to him, too.


So, after York, we went to Leeds where we had tickets for the opera. Time to kill, so we went in to Borders. I found a Spin Off on the news stand, which I was convinced that I hadn't seen, but as it is the Spring one, I must have done. Seen briefly and then lost. And lo, it is full of articles about spindle spinning and top and bottom whorls. Which I had completely forgotten - duh. I am now feeling both elderly and foolish, I would have referred to it in my last post if my brain had been functioning. Ah, well.

The opera - Don Carlos - was lovely, musically, but a terrible staging, dark and full of odd walls and channels and things. I could see what the designer was getting at, but I didn't feel that it worked, and that is always distracting. Posa and Carlos - especially the former - were lovely, likewise Eboli, but Elizabeth, although possessed of a good voice mostly didn't cut it for me, except when her lady in waiting was dismissed. Then, she created an atmosphere of dignity and emotion that worked well.

But I never see Don Carlos without viewing it as the story of Posa's unrequited love for Carlos, rather than Carlos's for Elizabeth. Works much better that way for me! And then of course, there are all the flights of fancy about a prince, Charles, with a father, Philip, who doesn't really rate him, and a mother, Elizabeth, who....but there I tend to get stuck!

I have been running some of the quick and easy dye baths for the Woolfest talk, with reasonable success, mostly. I'll do a proper post when it is all finished. I'm going to spend the rest of this chilly Bank Holiday with a crochet scarf I am trialling, and some spinning of silk. Wrapped up in a shalw and with the heating on!

May? May-be!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Thoughts upon spindles and spindling

There is a lot of chatter at the moment about spindles. This is a very good thing. Much of it on Ravelry, much elsewhere. Young knitters wanting to learn how yarn is made and choosing a spindle as inexpensive and accessible way to find out. Long-time afficionados passing on valuable information and views. Others who - well, maybe I should keep some opinions to myself.

I am a spindler. Back in 1994, I went to SOAR for the first time, and found that the clunky, infuriating things that I had been struggling to use could be turned upside down and become flights of fancy at the same time as things of utility. The tradition in my part of Europe was for bottom whorl spindles, and I did not at that stage know that any others existed. To talk about that aspect of spindling adequately, I would need to refresh my memory from a couple of books, but I did soon learn that top whorl spindles were widespread in the world and had indeed occurred in Britain and Northern Europe, if not as frequently as bottom whorl.

There is much talk of the physics of spindle spinning, too. I try, I really do, but to me, spindling is a tactile and dare I say it, intuitive thing, not a cerebral. There is a good article here, for those who are interested; and there is a quote from Michael Williams about his square top whorl spindles that goes a long way to explaining my point of view, maths-phobic that I am. (So, tell me, how come I ended up marrying a maths graduate?)

“The four corners have weight which is further from the axis and will produce a longer duration of spin. A square spindle with sides of a given dimension can spin up to 33% longer than a circular whorl of the same diameter and weight. (I used applied mathematics to calculate the improvement).”

Mind you, the performance of Michael's spindles is right up there with the best of the best, so he must be right - I just can't relate to it at all in those terms!


This is one that I am using at the moment. It is very small, weighing around 20gm. By a minor miracle, I still have the original label, so know that it comes from here. (And, having actually tracked them down for this post, I have contacted them...who could resist?)

ist, wasserman

The one on the right in this photograph is at the opposite end of the spectrum - big and heavy (over 50 gm, huge for me.) I fell in love with it, the feel of it in my hand and the way it spins, perfect for plying. The other is one from IST, another British maker, and also excellent.

One more before I start attempting to draw my thought into a rather more coherent form:

moosie, spindlewood, golding

From left to right, a Bosworth moosie, a Spindlewood and a small, non rim weighted Golding. These represent three more makers that I enjoy and respect - there are others!

First of all, I greatly admire those that can dissect spindling into scientific and mathematical elements, and I have to accept that I cannot. Well, only up to a very limited extent, and then in subjective terms. So, what do I do?

Well, I invariably look for top whorl spindles. I taught myself to spin on dreadful bottom whorl ones, that were heavy and unbalanced. It was always necessary to twirl them at frequent intervals, and frankly, it was a miracle that I ever took to spindling at all. It is, though, only fair to say that spindle makers today give as much attention to making them as they do to top whorl - I simply have my, to me, very good reasons for not using them.

I do actually possess three - one by Greensleeves, one by Nick Brown of York Guild, who no longer makes spindles, and one by Rod Stevens of Woodchuck, sadly ditto. They are all super things, but I don't use them.

My personal preference - and note the form of words! - is for top whorl spindles. Why? Because I believe that on balance, they perform better - that you will get a longer, better balanced spin compared with a bottom whorl of similar quality. They are more efficient to use - a quick flick on the knee should produce more than enough spin for an arm's length of yarn. Winding on and rehooking is a quicker and smoother action than that with a bottom whorl, particularly if that has a notch rather than a hook (also another route to an oscillating spin.) And yes, I am ignoring the British fashion for winding the yarn under the whorl, here.

So, how do I choose a spindle?

I see a spindle - eye appeal alone will make me pick it up. But even at that point, something about the weight and/or balance of it will make me put it down immediately. If not, I will try it out with a little bit of fibre - funny how I always seem to have something about my person.

I can't pin down what I mean - but that spindle has to also "feel" right in use. Yes, I want it to spin for a long time, time enough to allow my hands to form as much yarn as my arms can accommodate. And yes, I do know that there are ways to extend that "arm's length" and I do sometimes employ them. But in the main, people are spinning in surroundings that are restricted in one way or another, so a simple arm's length is all I ask. The spin should be as wobble-free as possible - wobbling, or oscillation, seems to waste energy and will shorten the spin time as well as "feeling" odd. Sometimes with a top whorl spindle, you can gently touch it against your leg and the oscillation will stop - that is if the wobble is due to operator error and not an inherent fault in the spindle.

The spin itself has to feel right. Now, this will vary depending on the weight of the spindle and the fibre you intend to spin on it. Silk and cotton require a very fast spin, but if you want to make a more woolly yarn (relative term - if I want a really "woollen" yarn, I would rather spin on a wheel) then a long but slower spin would be what I looked for. The size and weight of the spindle does not necessarily determine this. I imagine this is where the physics might come in - density of wood, dimensions of whorl and shaft - but I will gauge it on the fly. The whorl and the shaft have to look right together. Although you can get caught out! Last year, I was given a spindle to try that had a small, thick whorl and a short, relatively thick shaft. I expected it to be dreadful, and it wasn't - on further inspection, I found that the whorl had brass weights sunk in to it, and this will have made the difference. Still not my favourite spindle, but nice - definitely more than adequate!

An intriguing thing that I notice over and over as I teach or sell spindles is that the tingle factor will draw an individual spinner to an individual spindle. sometimes, a succession of people will try one particular spindle; most of them will reject it; someone will exclaim and fall in love. this, I suppose, is where the science fails. There is always the variable of the individual. The length and strength of someone's fingers can't be pre-determined, nor can the effect of their fondness for cocobolo or purpleheart, the scientific and the subjective.

I think I may have rabitted on for long enough for now. Not to say that I won't revisit....Lets give you a gratuitous Ruby photograph, who enjoyed helping me photograph the spindles.


And let us reflect on just how good it is that we have these lovely little things to play with, no matter what the orientation!