It’s that time of year again. I’m sure it rolls around quicker every year, a bit like Christmas. Maybe it’s my age…
Anyway I always look forward to the Tour as it usually comes at the point where my crafting mojo has got up and left so it’s good to get back in the saddle. I’m going to spend some time working on my spinning techniques. I say this every year and never do, but this year I really mean it. I’d like to work on neatening up my joins and thinking a bit more about what I want to be spinning. I like a default brainless spin but these are the spins that always end up in stash because I don’t know what to do with them.
So here are my plans for this year’s Tour. From L-R:
two braids from Velvet Sixpence that I picked up at Wonder Wool this year. I don’t really have much of a plan for these yet so I’ll see how things go
Some down breed fibres for a breed study
A Fellview Fibres merino/cashmere/silk blend I want to try and spin as a lace weight
The final braid in a Hilltop Cloud fade sweater spin. It’s been a little while since I spun the last one so I’m hoping I can keep the consistency.
So these are my bigger plans but I have some bits and pieces for playing around with too. For now I still have fibre on the wheel to finish off so I’ll get on with plying that and then see what to work on next.
Earlier this week I attended an online workshop run by Katie Weston at Hilltop Cloud on spinning silk fibre. I have very little experience of spinning silk beyond a silk brick preparation I tried a few years ago which ended in complete disaster. I found it impossible to draft and quite ‘messy’ as a prep. After that I stayed well away from pure silk although a do like it in blends.
So this workshop was a great opportunity to try it out again being a little bit older (definitely) and wiser (ish) as a spinner. The workshop looked at tussah, mulberry, penduncle, eri, and sari silks, as well as mulberry silk hankies. We had a good introduction to the silk making process, I had no idea that different silks came from different worms, and Katie was really good at seamlessly manipulating camera views so that we could see her hands during the tutorial sections. We also covered the key differences between types of silk and their properties, with the lack of any crimp at all to mulberry giving it its very lustrous but slippery feel, and the others being a little more textured and easier to handle.
These samples were spun from the end of the top with a short backwards draw and a moderate amount of twist. This produced reasonably consistent (for a first attempt!) samples which retained lustre a made for a soft, drapey yarn. Both the hankie and the sari silk made for more textured yarns. I made a singles yarn with the silk hankie although I drafted it out a bit too finely so ended up with a very thin yarn. Despite this it’s reasonably balanced which is a first for me in terms of singles yarns. Silk wants to spin very fine, particularly mulberry, although I found penduncle seemed easier to spin slightly thicker without much effort on my part.
These were spun longdraw (ish) from the fold, with high twist in both the singles and the ply. The mulberry was very challenging to spin this way and is more of a ‘spin-however-you-can-get-it-on-to-the-bobbin draw’. Mulberry is definitely not my friend yet! Visually I prefer the look of these although the high twist sacrifices some of the softness.
I switched to only spinning tussah blends some time ago having read this was a wild silk where moths were allowed to hatch before the silk was harvested. I now understand that this is not really the case although eri, also known as peace silk, allows for this. However the industry is complicated and, as noted in the workshop, has very long supply chains where it’s not always possible to be accurate about sources. As a vegetarian I’d be much happier being able to buy naturally hatched silk, rather like I only buy angora from small producers I know have excellent welfare standards, but this seems to be a more complicated topic than I realised.
Overall I really enjoyed this workshop and I have plenty of silk left to experiment a little more with different twist levels. I really liked the penduncle and eri, and was surprised to hear that these were both supplied by HTC in their undyed form. The grey/brown of the penduncle is particularly beautiful and I can imagine a very nice shawl or cowl made from this in its undyed state.
I finished this up a few weeks ago now but am only just getting around to posting the details. This is the core spun yarn I made from the Fellview Fibres 2020 12 Days of Christmas calendar.
The fibre is Elegance and is a BFL and silk blend. I feel a little bit guilty for using such a lovely blend in an art yarn but I have a lot of gradient yarns (mostly because I love Fellview Fibres so much) so I wanted to try something different with this one. It has a lace weight cotton core yarn which made a good grippy base for the wrapping, and I plied it with a gold thread. I finished it by washing in alternating hot and cold baths to felt it slightly.
I’ve played around with core spinning before but this is my first full yarn. I have no idea what I will do with it yet, I might use it in a weaving project, maybe alongside another batch of the gradient spun as a chain ply. That’s what I did with the other half of the 12 Days of Christmas set and it made a beautiful yarn:
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d been looking at the School of SweetGeorgia classes and after poking around with my two week introductory price I thought I’d stay at least long enough to complete the Spinning Study Group.
The main purpose of this nine week class is to think about how to plan your spinning for a project. I admit I’ve been spinning for years and I rarely think about what I’m actually going to do with the yarn I spin – maybe this is why there is an enormous tub of handspun yarn under the bed right now! Spinning is my relaxation. I don’t think too hard about it. I like to watch tv or listen to an audio book and just let the fibre do its thing.
Mostly this is fine. Sometimes this is terrible! I’m a fast treadler. If treadling was an Olympic sport I’d be lapping Chris Hoy. If I don’t pay attention I can end up with very twisty yarn that’s always just a bit tougher than it should be. So spending nine weeks learning to think a bit more about each of the processes, from fibre choice to final product, sounds like it is the kind of thing I should do.
After watching a few videos of other spinners talking about their thought processes in designing yarn for particular projects, the first week’s homework is to assess a commercial yarn in the style we’d like to spin over the next few weeks. I considered bulking up a bit and trying for at least a DK/aran weight but then I decided since fingering weight is what I use the most, mastering that would probably be a better use of my time. So today’s job is to finish off gathering information about the John Arbon Exmoor Sock yarn (wpi, tpi etc) which I’m going to use as my guiding yarn for this spin and I’ve ordered some sock fibre as that’s what I’m aiming for as my final project.
Other than working on the workshop there has been some small progress on the next pair of socks I’m knitting and I’ve finished blocking my Mothed jumper – I will get around to posting pictures next week.
I’ve had a blending board under my bed for over a year now. I bought it early on in the first UK lockdown thinking investing in crafting materials would probably be a very good investment for the months ahead and then I just never got around to using it.
It’s a Golden Fleece Carders blending board which comes with the blending brush and the rolling dowels. I think the TPI is probably 108 as I work mostly with finer fibres although I’m trying to get out of my rut of merino and silk at the moment, There isn’t a stand with this one that I have seen on the back of others so you need to work it flat, but it does have a non-slip backing to the board.
I don’t really know why I’ve left it untouched for so long as getting going was pretty straight forward at least, it really does feel like painting the fibre on. The silk was a bit hard going but I think that was a little bit compacted from the dyeing process. The hard work of putting the colours together was done for me by Katie at Hilltop Cloud and I think I will pick up a few of her colour co-ordinated packs while I get to grips with the process as it’s possible to make great looking rolags even if the technique needs some work.
I really like the paintings of Van Gogh and as I was filling the blending board I was reminded of The Starry Night and how much I love the colour and texture of that painting, so here are my Starry Night rolags.
I followed the recommendation I’d been given to offset the wooden dowel rods to make it easier to slide the fibre off. Despite my best efforts I think I loaded too much fibre on to the board so pulling it off the board was a bit more difficult. My first rolag turned out to be a giant one as I hadn’t quite got the idea that you pull and roll in one movement rather than roll and roll and then try pulling. As a result I ended up with far too much fibre in the first one.
I think the other ones turned out ok though for a first attempt. I have so much respect for the people who make those lovely neat, tight rolags I get in the post! I now need to work out how to not get thick/thin spots. And how to not get holes in my thumbs from the carding cloth!
So the Tour de Fleece comes to a close. I managed to complete my Witch Hazel gradient from Fellview Fibres. I really love the colours in this one and although there are some subtle differences in the spinning between the first part which I spun last year and this year’s two skeins, I don’t think it is enough to make much difference.
This year I’ve committed myself to keeping better notes on Ravelry about my projects so I’m pleased to say this is already logged and stashed. I can also say that the project worked out to be:
Wheel: Schacht Matchless
Angle of Twist: 40°
Grist: 1321 YPP
I’m not yet sure what I’m going to do with it so I’ll get to spend some time poking around Ravelry looking for ideas.
In other project news this week has seen some garden related productivity. I planted some shallots last autumn and harvested these a couple of weeks ago. Courtesy of my partner they’re now on their way to being our first pickles of the season. We have cider, red wine, and balsamic vinegars here – just waiting for some more red wine to top up the middle one. We’re hoping for a good crop of chillies for pickling later in the year.
It’s been slow progress this week with one thing and another. Work was hectic at the start of the week and then we had a couple of days in Hay on Wye. I love mooching bookstores and there are certainly plenty in Hay, the town of books. I was surprised at how utterly exhausted I was but I think it’s probably the most I’ve done in a single day since we went back into lockdown at the end of last year!
Anyway, being busy and away from my wheel means there isn’t a lot of progress to report this week but I have made some progress on my gradient spin. I have one more batt to spin and then some chain plying, I’m hoping to finish up that in the next day or so. My next project is this sweater spin:
I’m spinning this as a traditional 3 ply. Annoyingly I can’t remember what the base is so I’m hoping I come across the packaging soon. Keeping better records, either using Ravelry or a paper journal, is one of my goals for this year as I hardly ever remember to log them properly.
I’ve also spent some time digging around some of my WIPs:
Mothed 3/4 of body done and 3/4 of one sleeve. I think I’m going to have to start the sleeve again as I’m not too sure where I got to with the stitch decreases. This is a handspun project.
Le Facteur another handspun project that’s been on the needles for over three years. I will probably frog this.
Elizabeth Montagu socks as part of the Bluestockings knit along. I’ve fallen waaaay behind with this KAL
Fyne Vest I lost heart with this a bit when I kept having to rip it back but I’m determined to finish it!
A project on the loom that I haven’t looked at in a couple of years. It’s a straightforward wrap, nothing fancy but I hand dyed the yarn to go with a dress for a friend’s wedding. I had to go out and buy a cardigan instead!
To be fair there aren’t as many as I expected, but I’m not ruling out finding some more stashed in odd places. This week I want to push on with spinning and see what I can get done in the last few days of the TdF.
I stumbled across the Year of Projects group on Ravelry this week. The group set out their crafting plans and projects for the year and then blog about their progress each week. You can read more about the group here.
As you might have guessed, I like the camaraderie of this, not to mention the hint of accountability. I love planning things. I love planners. I love getting behind systems that this year will absolutely revolutionise my sloth-like tendencies and make me more productive. But I’m trying to get away from that at the moment so I’m not going to be planning anything in minute detail, I just want to spend the year working on things that interest me and sharing them with people who I hope will also find them interesting.
That said, I have some plans, obviously. I want to do some stash reduction (doesn’t everyone?) I have both fibre and yarn to use up and it might be good to get it in to Ravelry, so there’s a project right there.
I have some fleece I need to finish prepping. I’ve not been great with prepping my own fibre, it always seems to be a bit disappointing so this is definitively an area I’d like to explore. I also have some equipment I’ve not used very much like my loom and blending board. It would be good to get to grips with these.
I’d like to finish the sweater spin that I’m doing at the moment for this pattern, although I’m open to other gradient patterns. I ‘think’ I will get enough yardage out of the fibre but I’ll have to wait and see. I also have this double knit scarf on the list. I have done double knitting before but I admit I’ve struggled to get going with this in a lace weight yarn so that will be an ongoing labour of love I think.
Oh and WIPs. I want to take stock of WIPs and decide to finish them or frog them. I’m tired of their silent taunting from the various cupboards I’ve stashed them in. I’m also tired of them falling out of every cupboard I open!
But first up for me is to finish my TdF. I’ve made some decent progress on the gradient spin I’ve been working on. I hope to finish that this week and move on to my next project, probably the sweater spin I mentioned which I am 3/5ths of the way though. Here’s my tour spinning to date.
It’s been a year between the two skeins and I think I’ve spun the second skein a little more semi-worsted than the first so there is some variance. I’m not sure how this will play out in a project. Depending on length I’d planned a cowl or shawl so hopefully it won’t make too much difference.
So it’s Tour de Fleece time of year again. My job means that July and August are my somewhat quieter times of the year and so the Tour generally signifies the start of a slower pace of life and an opportunity to transfer some of the year’s pent up tension into some fibre.
Despite the calm the Tour ushers in, I always make a ridiculous amount of plans and line up way too many projects than I could ever hope to spin in the time available. ‘This year I’ll learn long draw/process a fleece from scratch/finally spin lace weight/complete a jumper’s worth just on a spindle…’, you get the idea. I just seem to try and make things complicated. And no, I don’t ever really get to any of that.
This past year I’ve started taking running a bit more seriously. I’ve come to appreciate the need for goals. I understand why just going out there and doing what feels good (or least bad) won’t help me break any records or go any further. I need structure and I need challenges. More importantly however, I’ve learned that improvement comes with rest days and slower days as much as it does with hill drills and sprints. And I’ve come to enjoy these days instead of thinking I should be doing more/faster/further. I’m thinking there is possibly something to take from this into my spinning.
So this TdF there are no big plans for me. There is no photo of the several kilos of fibre I want to get through; there are no hoops to jump through; there isn’t even a stack of books on my bedside table. What there is this year is the equivalent of that weekend longer run. I’m going to oil up my wheel, pick the next fibre project to hand, and just enjoy my time at the wheel and with the spinning community. I think the running and the fibre craft community are two of the most supportive corners of the Internet so here’s a shout out to you both and thanks for everything.
Oh, and since we’re here, this is my progress to date after Day One.