Category Archives: Technical Information

The Star of the Show

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The Star of the Show

It’s been a busy week of preparation for my first market night, and one thing people have started to ask about is my hard-working spinning wheel.

My wheel is the Ashford Joy. When I first looked at wheels back in 2012 I had some very specific needs. Firstly, I needed my wheel to be small, ideally it would be something I could fold up and put away each evening. The houses and flats we’ve shared as a family have been pretty small, and much as I’d love my own workspace, it’s just not possible for the forseeable future. So I work in our living space and need equipment that can be quickly and easily put away.

Secondly, due to the residential training I am undertaking, I travel a lot. I like the option of taking my wheel as not only do I always take at least one (usually more!) fibre project to my training weekends, but the type of training I do involves studying one’s everyday activities, and bringing more practical intelligence into the way one carries out these activities. Given that I spend a lot of time engaged in fibre-related crafts, it makes sense to study my movements during these activities and put into practice the training that will help me to perform in the most mechanically economical way. So, a light and easily transportable wheel would be ideal.

The Joy ticks all those boxes and more. Starting from the bottom, the Joy comes with the option of either single or double treadle, which seems to depend upon the spinner’s personal preference. The treadle system and the base of the wheel are hinged, fold easily when desired, and can be locked in place in either the folded or unfolded configuration. The built-in drive wheel and whorl system offer four different spinning ratios* – 6:1, 8:1, 11:1 and 14:1, which are easily selected by placing the stretchy drive band in the appropriate grooves around the circumference of drive wheel and whorl. The Joy comes with the standard sliding-hook flyer and 3 bobbins. As an extra it is possible to purchase the jumbo flyer and bobbin for spinning super bulky art yarns. The bobbin is tensioned using a simple scotch tension system which is easily adjusted. There is a built-in orifice hook and built-in holders for two bobbins which, at a pinch, can be used as a lazy kate. Finally, the portability is further enhanced by the built-in carry handle at the top of the wheel, and by the optional carry bag which keeps the Joy protected, dust-free, and ready to transport instantly.

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The only other thing I can say about the Joy is that it is very, very appropriately named!

More information, including videos of the Joy in action, can be found at Ashford and Wingham Wool Work.

* The spinning ratio describes how many revolutions of the flyer occur for each single revolution of the drive wheel.

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Neolithic technology stands the test of time

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Neolithic technology stands the test of time

The thought recently occurred to me that I am extremely easily amused. A stick, or sticks, and some fibres will keep me entertained for hours on end. A hooked stick and twisted fibre: crochet. Two pointy sticks and twisted fibre: knitting. Add a weight to the stick and start with raw fibre and you’re ready to spin.

It really is that simple. The drop spindle, made typically from a wooden shaft and a spindle whorl, is an ancient tool which has been in continuous use since at least neolithic times. It is a cheap and easily available way to try spinning your own yarn. You can even make your own spindle (a length of dowel and an old cd will do it).

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The drop spindle is a beautifully modest, stunningly effective tool. When I received my first drop spindle I hit youtube for some guidance. I didn’t know it at the time, but I struck gold. The first video that seemed worthy of investigation was by Abby Franquemont. Her clear tuition got me started, and I didn’t look back.

I did, however, look further into Abby Franquemont’s work, and bought a copy of her book “Respect the Spindle” [1]. I think the title tells you everything you need to know. The drop spindle, humble though it may be, is no poor relation of the spinning wheel (a relative newcomer, not in general use until the 16th century, or thereabouts). I do a lot of spinning on my wheel, but my drop spindles are not neglected. They are fine tools. I especially admire the craftmanship evident in my Schacht Hi-Lo spindle. I love the portability of a drop spindle. I never leave home without some kind of fibre project to hand, and a bag containing fleece and spindle fills that niche perfectly.

But the thing I love most of all, amongst the wide vista of possibilities involved in making your own yarn, is the meditative experience of spinning on a drop spindle. Flicking the spindle to set it in motion, the feel of the whorl spinning, angular momentum in your hands, the balance of drafting fibres through your fingers just in time for the twist to bind them together into a thread strong enough to support the weight of  the spindle. And seeing the classic “cop” of spun fibre build up around the spindle shaft as an undeniable measure of what you have achieved, of what you have made with your own hands, during this day. I lose all sense of time when I spin on a drop spindle, and what flows in is a profound sense of peace.

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[1] Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont. Interweave publications, 2009.

Playing with Plying

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Playing with Plying

A few weeks ago, the rather marvellous Verity from Truly Hooked [1] sent me a braid of dyed merino to test. Never one to turn down free fibre, I jumped at the chance! I spun up the single and sent my feedback to Verity, and then it sat on the bobbin for a few weeks whilst I pondered on what to do with it next. In the end I decided to experiment with some of my plant fibre stock. I spun up 50g of banana silk to ply with the dyed merino. I was hoping that the delicate colours of the original braid would be enhanced by the pure white sheen of the banana fibre.

I absolutely love the result! I cannot possibly capture the delicious lustre of this soft and silky yarn on camera. It is heavenly and I adore the look of the oh-so-delicate colours. I have named this skein “Sea Foam”.

Now, I still had a fair bit of the merino single left. I had spun the merino very fine, with a high twist, but the banana fibre drafted differently (bananas act differently to sheep! who knew?!) and, once I stopped fighting the fibre and actually worked with it, the single became smooth but somewhat thicker than the merino, and therefore made a shorter single. I had my lovely Sea Foam skein, and a bobbin still partially filled with merino. Time for a new experiment.

I’m not a fan of having odds and ends of singles left on my bobbins, so often I will chain ply (or ‘navajo’ ply) a single to make a 3-ply yarn:

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What I havent tried before is winding off my single as a centre-pull ball and plying it with itself (taking one end of the single from the middle of the ball and the other from the outside) into a 2-ply yarn:

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And ta-da:

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Two beautiful, and very different skeins made from my original braid. Sea Foam, meet Harebell.

[1] http://www.facebook.com/trulyhooked

Wraps Per Inch

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Wraps Per Inch

WPI (wraps per inch) is one of the most useful ways to categorise your yarn. It tells you if your yarn is DK, ‘4-ply’, aran or laceweight, etc.

WPI is easy to measure, it literally means ‘how many times can you line strands of this yarn next to each other, within a one-inch span. You can buy a fancy WPI gauge (they’re pretty cheap, usually under five GB pounds. Here’s a lovely one from Doodlestop) or you can use a ruler.

The difficulty can come when you try to look up what your WPI value means.There are many WPI tables out there, but they don’t always agree. I researched a lot of different tables and tried to find a consensus on yarn gauges. My conclusions are shown in the very handmade table shown here:

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