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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Learning to spin and what to do with 30 g of hand spun yarn

A couple of weeks ago I was clearing out my handbag and found a flyer for the Wool and Willow Festival in Llanidloes, about 25 miles from where we live. Looking through the list of workshops, I saw one on spinning taught by Joanna Kingston, less than a week hence. There was a limit of five students and when I called to check availability, six had already booked. Nonetheless, the organiser called me back later to let me know I could still attend the course. It turned out that a couple of students were taking their own spinning wheels, so I was in luck!

You may wonder why I haven't included this in the try something new challenge. The reason is that happening to find a course nearby and spending the day with a helpful teacher guiding me at every stage didn't really feel like much of a challenge. It certainly wasn't something I'd been putting off trying - it was more something I thought I'd get round to at some point in the future (that's not the same thing, honestly!)

I didn't take any photos on the day, as I was too busy concentrating on learning to spin, so here's a photo of the kind of wheel we used, taken from the manufacturer's website:


Ashford traditional spinning wheel. Traditional in this context means slow enough for a beginner to handle.

The day started with an introduction to the various parts of the wheel, which was essential for someone as clueless as me. Then came a very important step - practising using the treadle. Even so, there were times during the day when I was concentrating on the yarn so much that I forgot about my foot and the wheel stopped. Once I got the hang of keeping the wheel going without thinking about it, I then had to learn to stop it when I needed to. The wheel had a bad habit of snatching the wool out of my hands and running off with it.

Once we knew our way round the wheels, Joanna demonstrated how to spin, teasing out the wool as she fed it into the orifice of the bobbin, holding and realeasing the wool to twist and wind up in turn, counting as she did to ensure an even twist. When we tried for ourselves, I soon discovered that trying to do all of that all at once is a mistake. I also discovered the importance of the brake. When this is at the correct tension, the bobbin stays still when you pull against it to twist the yarn, then spins to wind up the yarn when you let go. Or possibly the other way round. I can't claim to understand this fully, but I did learn that if the brake tension is wrong, it's damn near impossible to spin a yarn.

So, I cut the counting, learnt to prepare my yarn before spinning it so I had the right thickness bundle of fluff for a single strand, and got the hang of keeping the wheel going at the same time as concentrating on the wool. Yippee! I was spinning! Then I got to the end of the bundle of fluff, the wheel snatched the yarn away from me, and suddenly I wasn't spinning any more.

Eventually I learnt to stop the wheel at that point, and some time later also got the hang of joining the spun yarn to a new bundle of fluff. That was progress indeed. By this stage I was feeling very pleased with myself, and really didn't care that I had little control over how tight the finished yarn was - I can learn that later. As it happened, I was spinning too tight, which means the yarn is less likely to fall apart than if I was not spinning tightly enough.

All that was in the morning, and in the afternoon we got to put our new skills into practice with some fabulous merino/silk fluff. This stuff was absolutely gorgeous, so no matter what we did with it, there was a good chance of ending up with some lovely yarn at the end of the day. And so, with much concentration, carefully preparing bundles of fluff and spinning them one at a time, stopping and starting the wheel as I joined in each new bundle, I ended up with two bobbins of spun yarn, which I believe are known as singles at this stage, being just a single strand each. We were then taught to ply, or twist together, these two, resulting in a two-ply yarn.

Joanna told us to gently wash and dry the yarn when we got home, to set the twist. She also mentioned to me that she used to tell people to hold it over a steaming kettle, but didn't say that any more for risk of people burning themselves. Right, that'll be the kettle for me then. Sure enough, the yarn seemed to relax in my hands, just as she'd said it would. I then wound it into a ball, and this is what I ended up with:


Finished product from the spinning class.

I have to say I'm very pleased with that. It's not just the end product, of course. I very much enjoyed the class and think this is something I'd like to do more of. I also think I learnt enough to get started on my own, provided I don't leave it too long before trying again. Once I've got started, I suspect I could make a lot of progress with just practice, though there's probably a lot I could learn from other people, too.

Having got a lovely ball of yarn that I'd spun myself, I very much wanted to do something with it. Out of curiosity, I weighed it. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, it was 30 g, which isn't a heck of a lot.

A friend had recently showed me a shawl she'd just bought, which was very pretty indeed. It looked like a rainbow cobweb. Close examination revealed it to be knitted very loosely from fine ribbon. Maybe if I knitted my wool loosely enough I might have enough for a scarf, perhaps? With that in mind, I made my biggest knooking hook yet.

My first attempt at knooking with the new hook was not encouraging. The knitting was fine, but nowhere near loose enough, and I was getting through yarn very quickly.


Not very loose knooking

I looked over at the shelf where all my mum's old knitting needles live. There is a huge pair in that set (labelled No. 1); perhaps I should try actually knitting for a change. This was an improvement, but still not quite what I was after.


There are gaps in this, but it's still a long way from cobwebby

I was chatting to a friend on skype whilst doing this, and she was also knitting (with plastic bags). She said that she'd seen people knitting with broom handles - what a good idea! If I was going to do this regularly, I'd buy a new handle, cut it to a managable size and shape the ends, and possibly polish it too. However, for a one off experiment...


It would have been easier without the black plastic bit on the end of the mop handle

It wasn't easy and as you can see I used the hook to catch the yarn and loop it around the handles. Each stitch was rather slow, but there weren't very many of them. The result was exactly what I had in mind, but sadly, not a scarf's worth.

Table-mat sized piece of lacy knitting

Now, does anyone have any ideas about what I could do with that?

1 comment:

  1. Haha, well done with the full length broomhandles - I'd have knocked everything off ever surface within 2metres and poked my boyfriend's eyes out if I'd tried such a thing!

    That yarn looks lovely - well done. I made my first small bits of spun yarn into a purse - it was only about DK thickness so worked quite well.

    If you had two of those table mat size pieces, you could make simple wrist warmers/fingerless gloves for winter...

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