Tag Archives: Drop spindle

Tutorial: Spinning Seed Beads into a Single

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Tutorial: Spinning Seed Beads into a Single

December’s rolag club, seen here, featured ‘Evergreen’ rolags and ‘Holly Berry’ beads. I have done quite a few beaded yarns in the past and there are several ways to add these kind of inclusions into yarn. In a plied yarn it is easy enough to thread your beads or sequins onto a thread and ply that thread along with the singles, as in this yarn, or you may be able to thread your beads directly onto one or more of your singles, but sometimes you want to spin your beads directly into the yarn. Here’s how:

Assumed knowledge

  • Staple length of fibre: refresher available here.
  • Basic Spinning: refresher available here.
  • Park and Draft for the Wheel: refresher available here.

Materials

  • Fibre
  • Beads
  • A beading (or very fine) hook if you have one, and
  • Cotton thread if you don’t.
  • Something to spin on! A wheel or spindle.

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Method

I don’t have a hook fine enough for seed beads, so I am going to show you a method for threading beads onto fibre using ordinary sewing thread.

  1. Cut a length of cotton, around 20cm long.
  2. Thread the bead onto the cotton, just as if you were threading a needle.
  3. Pull a reasonable length of thread through the bead, so that the bead sits roughly in the middle of the thread.
  4. Now take the end of the cotton once more and, leaving a large loop, thread it back through the bead. Take it slowly at first, and leave yourself plenty of length on either side of the bead.
  5. Now you should have a seed bead threaded such that you have a large loop on one side, and two ends of the thread on the other side.

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Now let’s consider the fibre:

  1. Take the fibre you wish to spin and draft out a few fibres from one end.
  2. Pull out a few fibres. Just pinch at the very top as you pull gently, so that the fibres removed are a single staple length. Your bead will sit in the centre of this staple length.
  3. Twist them with your fingers, just as if you were spinning them, to make them easier to handle.

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  1. Carefully thread your twisted fibres through the loop of your cotton thread.
  2. Move your bead along the thread, towards your fibre.
  3. Pinch your fibre back on itself, such that your bead can slide from the thread to the fibre.
  4. Move your bead along and then gently pinch one end of the fibre, so that the bead cannot come off, and ease the other end of the fibre right through the bead so that the bead ends up placed in the middle of your staple length of fibre.

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Here is a close-up showing the bead being threaded into the fibre. You can see that, having twisted the fibres, they show a clear distinction between each end of the fibre, as if it were a thread. The loop which has just passed through the bead has distinct ‘legs’. As you hold one end of the fibre, pull gently on one of these legs. If you feel a firm tug on the fibres you’re holding, try the other leg. It should connect to the free end of the fibre and allow you to pull that free end right through the bead.

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Follow this procedure for each of the beads you want to spin into your yarn:

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Now put the beads aside and start spinning your fibre. Here I am attaching my fibre to my leader:

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I like to get the spun single established first before I think about spinning in the beads. Here I am checking the gauge of the singles yarn against the commercial yarn (a worsted weight single spun yarn) that I am using in my project.

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Now it’s time to start adding the beads into the yarn:

  1. In order to control the spin, I will stop the wheel when I get to the point of attaching the first bead, just as in the Park and Draft for Wheels video, seen here.
  2. When I want to attach a bead, I stop spinning the wheel and draft some fibre out to my desired thickness, just behind the pinched off twist.
  3. I take a pre-threaded bead. (It is easier to handle these by picking the beads up, rather than by picking the fibre up.)
  4. I hold the end of the fibre that passes through the bead with the thumb and fingers that are holding the twist in place, and lay the beaded fibre parallel to the section just drafted.
  5. I restart the wheel and allow the twist to run up the drafted fibres, capturing the bead and the fibre onto which it was threaded in the process.

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  1. Repeat as often as desired, and the result is a beautifully beaded singles yarn:

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Adding beads whilst spindle spinning

This is slightly trickier as you have to control the spin, as well as the beads, with your hands. Review the technique of Park and Draft on the Spindle, shown here. I would spin this sitting down so I could hold the spindle between my knees to keep it still when needed.

Follow the steps as above, to the point you want to add your first bead into your yarn.

  1. Stop the spindle and hold it still.
  2. Make sure you have your pre-threaded beads to hand.
  3. draft out a length of fibre to your desired thickness.
  4. Pick up a bead and lay the threaded bead alongside the freshly drafted fibre.
  5. Position your hands such that the finger and thumb that are pinching off the twist can hold one end of the threaded fibre in place, and you have other fingers available to stabilise the other end of the threaded fibre.
  6. Use your free hand to restart the spindle spinning and let the twist travel into the drafted fibres, capturing the bead as you go.

A video tutorial will follow as soon as possible and I will add it to this post.

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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.

Odds and Ends

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Odds and Ends

As an experimental spinner, I often end up with little bits of spun singles here, there and everywhere. They may be left over after making a plied yarn from two or more singles. They may be from a yarn experiment that didn’t work out as planned, or one that was abandoned. Or they may just have been bits and pieces that I was trying out, such as this bobbin that was created during a Wingham Wool Work sample day:

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This is an eclectic bobbin containing the following fibres:

Soya bean

Cashmere

50/50 Cashmere & silk

Pure mulberry silk

Recycled plastic bottles

Milk protein fibre

Alpaca

Camel Down

Camel Hair

Herdwick wool

Carded sari silk

Yak

Acrylic

Cotton

Vicuna

… and possibly more that I’ve forgotten.

This week has been “Clear the Bobbins” week, which is a perfect opportunity for experimental yarn-making. I also had a couple of drop spindles full of Bluefaced Leicester:

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So, the obvious solution was to ply off the sampler bobbin with the bluefaced leicester.

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Here, in the middle, is the resulting skein called “Pick ‘n’ Mix”. It is joined by “Lapis”, made from remnants of a merino & silk mix 2-plied with itself from a centre-pull ball, and “Jovian Joy”, named by my daughter, which is 50% alpaca and 50% merino.

I think this trio demonstrates that you can make beautiful, useful yarn from virtually any combination of colour and fibre mixes. Freedom to experiment is vital to creativity and growth. The things I have learnt from this experiment, some of them very unexpected, take me further forward in my learning journey and will certainly be seen again in future yarn.

Early work

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Early work

In the beginning was the yarn.

Yarn has always been a part of my life, though during my childhood we called it “wool”. As I’ve started to work with a wide variety of fibres, “yarn” has become a more useful term. As a small child it was for knitting, and that hobby sustained me for many years.

In 2010 I decided to learn to crochet. I had tried to crochet a few times before, always ending in failure. I found it so different to knitting. I didn’t really understand how it could make the shapes I wanted. But this time was different. I took a massive step forward. I decided that this time I would allow myself to fail.

Instead of failure being a disappointing end result, it became a vital part of the learning process. I’d tried to crochet before, so I knew how it was going to go. I knew I wouldn’t get it straight away. But I decided that this time I would try and then fail, and through that experience I’d learn something to take with me into the next attempt. Frustration was transformed into joy.

I hooked and frogged a few things (and ‘things’ is honestly the most descriptive word I have for them!) until at last, my first success! A granny square. OK, it had 5 sides, but at least it was recognisable. I frogged my 5-sided granny square and started again. This time on a fan stitch square. And this time, it worked! I still have that square. It’s part of my patchwork sampler blanket, worked over two years and a visual record of my learning journey. I can see it and point to it and touch it today. A concrete memory.

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One day a very good friend showed me the drop spindle kit she was considering. It suddenly occurred that I’d like to try that too. And a passion was born. I started on the drop spindle, which is a lovely way to learn, and right at the end of 2012 I was gifted my spinning wheel; the very aptly named Ashford “Joy”.

I took my learning process into my spinning work. Of course, it didn’t go smoothly. I no longer expected it to. No experience was wasted, it all added to my knowledge. By early 2013 I was producing my own yarn. Sure, at first it was lumpy and bumpy. I wasn’t spinning it for a knitting or crochet projet. I was spinning it to learn how to spin. I squirrelled each skein away and sooner or later a project would emerge, for which my thick ‘n’ thin, quirky old yarn was just perfect.

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It’s not about producing a flawless product. It’s about matching the project with the yarn.

It’s not about never making a mistake. It’s about learning what you can from every experience.

It’s not about mindless, mechanical production. It’s about the joy of the creative process.