Tag Archives: Process

Slow Making

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Slow Making

Stop.

Don’t read ahead yet.

Think.

What did you think when you read the title of this blog post? “Slow Making.”

Save your answer. Write it down if you like. I’d love to hear it.

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Was it a positive or a negative emotion? Or simply neutral?

Did you think ‘This is intriguing,” or

“That sounds depressing,” or

“Time to take pleasure in the process,” or

“Sounds like a long, slow grind,” or

“Boooooring!” Or

“That sounds tedious,” or

“That sounds exciting,” or did you think I was going to tell you about something I was struggling with?

The word “slow” often has negative associations in our culture. Speed, busyness, productivity at all costs is prized. What are the key words in that sentence? At. All. Costs. For me, that isn’t a high enough aspiration for life.

Story Skeins is primarily a vehicle for our shared creative journey, and to facilitate the coming together of our fibre community (something which happens in many ways, through the work of many people.) I also offer yarn and fibre for sale, but I always try to keep in mind that making things to sell is not my primary purpose.

Why not? Well, making purely to sell focuses on the end product and the success criterion becomes whether or not someone else chooses to hand over money for what you’ve made. Now, I’m not saying you can’t run a successful, profitable business from your creative work. But if your only aim is to sell, maybe you will be losing something.

I can make yarn that I absolutely love. But if I’ve not paid attention to the process, if I’ve not been present, if I’ve not engaged with the ‘doing’, but rather focussed on just getting to the end, then instead of a joy the work itself has become a chore. That’s not how I want to live.

So I will never be a production spinner. I will never aim to produce yarn at a fast pace. I won’t make things just because other people like them, if it comes at the expense of the processes I want to try out and the yarn I want to play with. I will stick with slow making. And if you are kind enough to buy from me, you may have to wait a little while, but you will know that my precious time, attention, love and care infuses the product you receive.

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My success criteria are more to do with the question “am I living the life I want?” It has little to do with end results. I’ve made yarn I love (great!). I’ve made yarn I don’t like (great!). I’ve made yarn that others love (great!). I imagine I’ve made yarn that others hate (great!), although so far you’ve all been too polite to tell me. I’ve made yarn that’s sold well (great!). I’ve made yarn that hasn’t sold (great! More for me to play with!).

Why are all these different outcomes great? Because none of them matter to me. By the time I’ve reached the point of having a finished yarn, or a sale, or a non-sale to judge, I’ve already met my success criteria. I’m doing what I want to do, in the way I want to do it. I’m living a creative life and getting the most out of the process. And I’m enjoying, slowly, every bit of it.

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The Story So Far …

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The Story So Far …

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[Quote by Lexi Boeger.]

It’s just over two months since Story Skeins officially launched. I’m feeling reflective tonight, so I thought I’d write a little blog about it.

This time last year I was working my way through The Artist’s Way as part of the training course I started in 2012. It was challenging in lots of ways. I was challenged to explore my creativity (after having been challenged to think of myself as someone capable of creativity in the first place…). I was challenged to identify my dreams. I was challenged to become more authentically, and wholly, myself. I was challenged to drop some of the artifice I thought I was using to protect myself, but was actually trapping me in the small space I had labelled ‘safe’.

How far I have come in just a year. One of the dreams I identified was to become a yarn maker. Why does it fascinate me so? I guess it’s always been how my creativity has snuck out, even whilst I was denying it and safely labelling myself as someone capable of learning practical skills. I still deeply appreciate the practical skill element of the work I do, but it’s not what fires the heart and soul. That fire is fed by the abundance of possibility. The freedom to play with shape and space, twist and angles and geometry, fibres and textures and wacky inclusions, colours and patterns and combinations, and ideas. Every creation is unique. Every moment is unique. As long as I don’t forget that, I have the excitement of a beginner every single day.

I’ve never liked attention. Making my work public has been one of the biggest challenges for me. Because my approach to my work is very experimental (not just in the spinning, but in the writing and the planning and the kind of projects I explore) I rarely have any sense for whether the work I’ve produced is any good or not. Old me finds that very difficult. I have about three decades behind me which are full of trying to be good and trying to get things right. New me thinks a little differently. New me is excited by the uncertainty. (Old me looks on from the sidelines, wondering WTF is going on.) New me has, to a large degree, given up rushing to judge myself as succeeding or failing. New me just wants to play. Old me just wants to play it safe.

So, I took a risk. I decided to show you all my creations. You may love them, you may not. So far I’ve loved most of what I’ve made. Sometimes right from the start. Sometimes a slow burn. Sometimes not until the moment of completion. Some stuff I’m still not sure about. Every bit of it has taught me something. Being brave enough to put it out there has taught me something. Why brave? Because maybe, if you really look at the things I make, and the way I do it … maybe you’ll see the real me.

Process

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Process

It’s not just about the spinning, there are a number of stages involved in creating yarn.

Let’s assume we’ve selected and prepared our fibre, which in itself is a whole other set of processes. When I started spinning I took advantage of the fabulous selection of fibres sold by Wingham Wool Work [1] and worked from there.

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1. Spinning the singles. I didn’t know much about the making of yarn when I started. But my years as a knitter taught me that yarn was usually plied from several thinner strands. What I learnt from my early drop spindle experiments, and from resources provided by the marvellous Abby Franquemont [2], was that you spin the fibres in one direction – let’s say clockwise – and then ply two or more of these “singles” together by spinning them in the other direction – anticlockwise.

So spinning the singles involves starting from the prepared fibre, drafting it out into the desired thickness whilst adding the twist that will hold the fibres together.

2. Plying. Now, if you stop at that point it’s likely you’ll end up with yarn that resembles silly string! The singles contain active twist. They want to coil up on themselves. They’re like a taut spring, full of potential energy. It is certainly possible to make useable yarn from singles, but the thinner they are, the more twist is needed to hold the fibres together, and the more likely you’ll have silly-string yarn unless you ply it.

Plying in the opposite direction to that in which the singles were spun balance the twist, so that the yarn no longer wants to coil back up on itself.

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3. Skeining. You now have a bobbin full of plied yarn. To turn it into a skein you use a niddy noddy (the most amusingly named tool in my collection.) Cleverly, you can measure (or look up the manufacturer’s information) the length of one complete wrap on the niddy noddy. My Ashford niddy noddy is 5′ or 60″ per wrap. So, count the wraps, multiply by the length per wrap and Ta Da!! you have the yardage and/or meterage of your skein.

4. Washing. At this stage we really want to turn these plied singles into yarn, so we set the twist. The advice I follow here comes from Jennifer Beamer of Expertly Dyed: Art by Science [3], who publishes excellent blogs and vlogs about yarn-making. To set the twist I like to wash the skein and then soak it in water with a little conditioner, just to pamper the fibres a little bit after all those times they’ve run through my fingers and the flyer on my wheel.

5. Fulling. Fulling is a process of ever so slightly felting the fibres so that the yarn becomes a unified structure. Taking the yarn out of its final rinse I squeeze excess water out, but leave it fairly wet and then it’s time to be a little rough with it. I tend to beat the skein against the side of the bathtub, moving the skein through my hands after each strike. Sounds weird, looks odd, works out great.

6. Hanging. finally I hang my skein to dry, and if my plying hasn’t quite managed to balance the twist – you can see this because any residual active twist means the skein doesn’t quite hang straight – then I hang a little weight from the bottom of the skein, to stretch it out as it dries and finish with a beautiful,  soft, balanced yarn.

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7. Labelling. Any knitter or crocheter wanting to use your skein for a project will need a bit of information about it, so I make sure to record

Composition – what fibres are included, and the percentage of each.

Weight, or WPI – WPI stands for wraps per inch and tells you if your yarn is aran, dk, ‘4ply’, etc.

Meterage – essential for planning your project!

Care instructions – hand wash? machine wash? dry flat?

So, as you can see, there’s a lot that goes into your final skein. And the very last stage is once again to create something beautiful:

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[1] Wingham Wool Work: http://www.winghamwoolwork.co.uk

[2] Respect The Spindle by Abby Franquemont. Interweave publications, 2009.

[3] Expertly Dyed: Art by Science: http://expertlydyed.blogspot.co.uk

Improving

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Improving

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What you see on the left is a skein that I spun for my mum’s birthday in the April of 2013. What you see on the right is the first ever skein I managed to spin on my wheel in January 2013. So, 4 months of improvement in one picture.

It wasn’t an arduous task, I didn’t have to work hard at it. I just kept spinning and learning and spinning some more. When I’d finished my very first skein, I was utterly thrilled. Not because I’d made beautiful yarn – I thought it was a bit of an ugly duckling. It was the pure joy of knowing that I had made something from scratch, just with my own hands and my own tools. It wasn’t beautiful yarn, it wasn’t anything I would have chosen and bought, but it was my yarn that I’d made myself.

I stashed it away and moved onto the next spinning project. But eventually it came out of the drawer and became an infinity cowl. I chose a project to suit the yarn – alternating double and treble crochet stitches to create a bumpy fabric. And now I have my own pure handspun merino cowl to keep me warm, and remind me of my very first adventures at the spinning wheel.

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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.