Spin me right round

I bet more blog posts about spinning have quoted that song than anything else in the world, and I just acquired another check mark on a right of passage or something. But in any case! Spinning! That’s what I’ve been working on of late. (Not <coughahem> the flax so much, cause wow, that is not my happy place yet. Apparently you actually have to practice to get better, how irritating.)

I’ve been continuing my wander through the stash, some of which is a few years old, some of which is ‘I think I’ve moved this twice, and we’ve been at the ‘new house’ for 8 and a half years’ sort of elderly. The colourful mystery wool yarn I was working on in the status update at the beginning of the month.. done. The purple/charcoal alpaca that came next.. done. The dark brown Cormo that came after that.. done. Now I’ve got some spectacularly terrible Corriedale on the spindle, dark brown first, but I have an equal amount of white. All of those have averaged between 25  – 50 grams, so none of them are especially long projects to get them spun up. I’ve been leaving them as singles, to wait and decide what they want to be when they grow up.


Colourful mystery wool!

That being said, the differences in spinning so many different things in quick succession has been fascinating. Basically after you wash the fleece you need to take the wool and make it ready for spinning. There are two main kinds of fibre preparation. (Spinning from locks of wool is a third, that’s a really light processing to just open them up, but I’m not covering it here.. I’ve never actually tried it. Another thing for the list.)


Purple alpaca

I’m working in big generalities here, there’s exceptions everywhere.. but carded wool tends to have its fibres all willy nilly and puffy full of air, and combed wool has it’s fibres all lined up in perfectly neat rows. Everything in my stash was commercially prepared for modern spinners, which means my fibre tends to not be a perfect example of either, but lean strongly one way or another. That carded wool all willy nilly and puffy? It is supposed to be spun with a long draw and makes woolen yarn, which is all bouncy and full of air and vaguely fuzzy. Combed wool that’s all straight and lined up? It is spun with short draw and makes worsted yarn (which is not the same as worsted weight yarn, because language is cruel.) that’s all firm and solid and has awesome stitch definition and makes great warp.


Cormo in a sunbeam

My colourful mystery fleece, the lincoln and the alpaca.. all worsted. The Cormo and Corriedale.. woolen. Oh the bounce! Oh the fuzzies! Oh I am such a worsted spinner! Long draw and I have a frustrating relationship, but we’re working on it. I’m also trying to let go the notions of perfection in these woolen yarns, there’ll be fuzzy bits, and kinda extra bits and please stop overtwisting the snot out of it! (That’s not panning out for me so much.)


Messy Corriedale batt

Still, it is nice to move a few things from the overflowing fleece bins to the overflowing yarn bins. Hrm. Perhaps not quite the stash busting I was hoping for!

Alchemy 101: A new class

The title phrased that way sounds like I’ve wandered off into the Star Wars universe, which is not wholly wrong for this reign, but I digress.

I had an inspiration after an advanced natural dye class down at Gulf Wars in 2018 that I’d love to bring something like that up to Ealdormere. Time passes, distractions happen and then I end up on a ‘no string’ diet and go off to find other things to keep me busy, mostly beer and soap, two things I’ve long wanted to experiment with. Then the thinking happens. <insert dramatic key change here>

Beer and soap are basically alchemy. Certainly they would have been in period, even if not defined as such. Substances go in, ritual happens (slow or not), and then completely different substances come out. Dye is much the same way. White goes into a ritually prepared vat of disgusting, other colours come out that don’t wash out (much). Ritual here being used in a non-religious sense.. a cooking recipe is a ritual.. something you do by rote, the same every time. (Okay.. apparently some people cook like that, I don’t, but the theory is sound.. just work with me on that comparison.)

The next thought came: ‘I know a lot of folks doing this who don’t wholly understand the science behind it. The SCA attracts a lot of folks from the arts (woot!) but if they took high school chemistry, it was a) a class they detested and got out of asap, and b) was <coughmumble> number of years ago.’ The thinking continued into ‘Hey, I have a chemistry background <blows the heavy layer of dust off that degree>, I could translate out of chemistry into normal and give people some clue what’s happening in there’.

And so ‘Alchemy 101: What’s really happening in your dye pot?’ class was born. It only covers mordants. Class is designed to be only an hour long, lest the whole pack of us get to eye crossed overwhelmed with big words and thoughts. It has its inaugural teaching at FooL this past weekend, and while I was fully prepared to sit by myself for an hour when no one turned up.. class was full! I ran out of handouts (I had only printed 5, I thought that was plenty optimistic!) It seemed to go well, there’s a few spots I want to do more clarification and of course the first time running any class is a bit of a scattered mess of getting off topic and reordering the ideas to more closely follow class questions.

I am pleased. We’ll see what Alchemy 102 looks like (more dye? care and feeding of yeastie beasties? saponification? So many options!), and of course..comments and suggestions on Alchemy 101 are always welcom.

Flax vs Spindle, Round one

So the next obvious portable part of the Big Stupid Project(tm) (BSP) is to get the flax spun up for the strap. I’m sure there’s many who would say that wood carving is totally portable, but not gonna lie, I’m still working up the nerve to figure out what to do with wood, so spinning. I can spin.

It has been a very long time since I spun flax. Long enough that those same brain weasels that are having a heyday with the notion of wood carving made a stab at freaking out about the flax. Which is, by the by, patently ridiculous. I’ve spun flax before, it wasn’t amazing, but it was possible, and that was easily 15 or more years ago, and I’m a helluva better spinner now!

So in a bid to ignore the rest of my to-do list (productive procrastination ftw!), I poured some water into a dish, grabbed flax and spindle and off we went.

Flax can be spun either wet or dry, although wet spun flax is generally considered to be smoother and stronger. We’re not talking soggy here, but wet fingers smoothing over the flax and little dribbles end up everywhere. There is also popular assumption that flax must be spun S-twist (it’s Traditional! For Reasons! Because the flax plant likes to twist around things clockwise!), but as the archeological record shows that no one told the Norse that, they spun it Z. My habits are to spin Z and ply S, and that’s what the flax is getting too.


My flax is exceptionally dry and brittle, it’s been hanging out in stash for I have no clue how long, and it’s still closer to winter humidity than summer humidity around here. Flax staple length can be measured in feet rather than a small handful of inches. It has all the quirks of long staple spinning, all the irritation of silk’s desire to catch on everything, all the obnoxious of unending fuzzies like mohair, all the lack of felting like cotton (Why do you catch on everything EXCEPT when I’m trying to connect a broken spot!?), and all the stubborn cussedness of linen. (That last one.. not exactly surprising).


I got thread!

In an effort to try and tame the flax a bit, I poured some water in the bottom of a plastic bucket, stuck the flax in a tupperware container and floated the tupperware in the bucket, the lid pinned down by a C-clamp. (Feel free to envy my high class fibre tools.  Between toy wheel spindles, pvc pipe niddy noddies and various buckets, boxes and dowels, a fully functional spinning set up is under 10 bucks and a little time with a saw.) I haven’t had time to try spinning my humidified flax yet, but just the feel of it is so much nicer, for that alone, it’s totally worth the bucket trouble. Mother nature seems to be insistent on trying to keep my flax more damp for me by providing unendingly rainy weather, but honestly.. sunny and dry any time now.. I am happy with the bucket tactic!


Flax in its tupperware.

The next task is to try and spin a little less fuzzy and a bit thicker. The prospect of weaving with sewing thread is one that I’m willing to do, but not excited to do. Hopefully practice makes for more perfect, or even just less sucktastic.

The Warp Weighted Loom: A book review

While working on my BSP(tm), I went digging for resources on warp weighted looms. A number of posts came up, and when chatting with some out of kingdom weaving friends of mine, this one book got mentioned as being a really great resource. Long story short, I managed to get a hold of a copy via University InterLibrary Loan (Thank you Princeton for buying cool textile books.) to be able to have a wee look see before I ordered from Norway.

The Warp-Weighted Loom I Oppstadveven I Kljásteinavefstaður by Hildur Hákonardóttir, Elizabeth Johnston and Marta Kløve Juuhl 

It’s a hefty book, at about 300 pages, and while I didn’t stick it on the scale, hauling it around in my backpack, I absolutely knew it was there. It has a solid cardboard cover, heavy pages within, and is bound such that it will lie utterly flat and stay open. It is a very pretty book.


The book itself is divided into three sections. The first section is a look at the history of warp weighted looms in three different locations; Iceland, Shetland, and Norway. The second section was a practical ‘how to’ for making and weaving on a warp weighted loom and the third section was a series of articles, essays and reports relevant to warp weighted looms.

The history of the loom was really engaging and interesting. They took a very personal tack on how the loom fit into the culture and society in each place. The inclusion of Shetland is unusual from what I can read, and I really appreciated it. They went as far back as they could find information for, solidly into our early period and discussed the loom in each of those areas up to when it was replaced, often in the 19th century sometime.

The practical section included clear photographs next to each description of what to do next. This section was written in English, Icelandic and Norwegian. There was both how to start with a tablet band and without, and how to thread heddles both for tabby and twill. While I haven’t yet tested the directions myself, reading them over made the experience seem accessible and possible. I look forward to trying them out soon (and a friend swears by those directions to get her heddles knitted on).

The final section was the one I wasn’t expecting. Bits and pieces of this and that.. from the book’s website, you can see the titles of this articles in this section. More history, an article on grave finds. Experimental archeology. Traditional bed covers, finishing cloth in the sea, traditional crafts in modern society. They were fascinating little tidbits. Short, about a magazine article in length, but thoughtful and well written and left me wanting to read more, or experiment.

I got the book via ILL to see if it was worth the money and hassle of importing it from Norway. It’s a small publisher, they sell direct.. there’s no Amazon machine to make international currency and shipping convenient, and I can say that this book has been added to the shortlist of book buying, once I save up my pennies. (Small press textile books are never the cheapie ones, drat it!) I was really impressed and I’m looking forward to adding it to my textile library.

Project Status Report

It feels appropriate, on the first of the SCA year (Welcome to AS LIV!) to have a moment of ‘what’s where’ and ‘you’re doing what!?’.

I eternally have lots of stuff on the go. Little stuff, big stuff, A&S stuff, modern stuff. I learned (the hard way) that too much focus makes me crazy, and drives my unreasonably fussy joints nuts. It takes me longer to get things done, but it suits my SQUIRREL! brain, and changing what I’m working on day to day, or even hour to hour keeps the stress injuries down. Even if I failed on that hardcore in the fall, and am still paying for it. (It’s healing! Slowly! I’ve never been so grateful to do a few minutes of mending in my life. Gratitude for mending will not happen again, I enjoyed it while it was there.)

That being said, there are a few projects that are in the current main rotation, and so I figured I’d share what’s on the worktable and in the project bag.

The Big Stupid Project: Ahh, scope creep is at me again. This is going to be, someday a Hedeby bag. (The Norse bag with the wooden handles, for those wondering what I’m on about). The warp weighted loom has been borrowed! The spinning for the wool has been completed! Next up is a sample warp on the loom to have some sense of what I’m doing, spinning the flax for the strap, and learning about warp sizing. There are many many steps after those ones, but let’s focus on the immediate ones, lest I fall over in a heap from my own crazy.

Pink Practice Lace: This bit of lace had exactly two purposes. To remind my hands that we still knew how to make bobbin lace, and to use up some pink tatting cotton that has been in my stash forever (and is probably easily 60 yrs old. Much of my cotton stash is vintage, that’s a whole conversation in an of itself. It’s a good thing I like stripes.) The plan was to just go ’til I ran out of cotton, there’s not THAT much on a tiny ball of tatting cotton, right? Well apparently I have an artifact of endless cotton or something, because while my bobbins are getting low, they aren’t out yet, and I’m 16″ + worth of lace done. And there’s more on the ball. So while my picots are still a dog’s breakfast, there should be at least 20″ in this (maybe more if my artifact theory pans out) and it’s been promised to a friend whose eyes lit up at the pink.


Random spinning: Now that the easy spinning for the BSP is over, and I still can’t reliably knit or use a needle (5 whole minutes! A /day/. But progress!) I still need something portable and moderately not obtrusive to work on at lunch hour at work, or when I’m sitting watching court, or just to keep the hands busy. I have some silk I’ve been spinning forever (It has a Plan!), but I also have been digging out the oddballs of dyed fleece I’ve accumulated over the years. Awesome dye jobs, totally not SCA period, but colourful and fun, generally not much more than 50g each. What I am going to do with not much colourful yarn? Excellent question. It’ll age in stash ’til needed or inspiration strikes.

Garb: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a few thousand more times. Garb is not my A&S. I can do it, sometimes its even not terrible when I’m done, but I drag my feet and grumble every moment of it. I do, however, like having new clothes for the weekend wardrobe. That last bit usually outweighs the bit that comes before it. The fact that I can’t hand sew more than mending at the moment is not helping, as I rather enjoy hand sewing, but the machine and I mostly tolerate each other. (The serger and I are not currently on speaking terms. There was an Incident involving polar fleece, and we both felt it better for everyone involved if the serger just went and lived in my husband’s workspace. It’s for the best.) There’s a few pieces I want for the coming camp season (wool coat, underdresses, chemises, new kirtle etc), and while the coat is mostly done. (see the aforementioned heel dragging), the rest are at the ‘gosh, I should probably do that, but oh look, a loom!’ stage.

That hits the highlights of what I’m working on.. there’s always more little projects here and there, and I reserve the right to Oooh Shiney! off to a new one at any moment. What are you doing at the start of AS LIV?