Ladybugs and Cold Sheep

For about a year now, I’ve been dreaming of owning a spinning wheel. In the first meeting of my spinning class* in January 2014, I got to treadle an Ashford Kiwi. I was pretty sure that I was eventually going to get a Kiwi, because I have a tough time saying no to anything with a bird on it. (Their namesake appears on the treadle.)

I started researching different wheels, because I LOVE researching products. It didn’t take me long to come across the Schacht Ladybug and as a graduate student in entomology, I was immediately smitten. Not only is this wheel called the Ladybug, there’s a little ladybug hidden on each wheel. One of the joys of getting your wheel is locating your personal bug. Squee! Adorable marketing aside, the Ladybug is very highly regarded and comes at a price point that feels reasonable to me.

However,I wasn’t sure about the red plastic drive wheel and oversize rounded treadles. Aesthetically, the Kromski Fantasia seemed like it would better match my plain IKEA furniture. Then I started reading up on the Lendrum folding wheel, and that sounded like a versatile, and attractive, option. After my Lendrum phase, I became sold on the Schacht Cherry Matchless, as I love cherry.

Although I’d fantasized about wheels quite a bit, I’d only ever treadled that single Kiwi. At Stitches West, I finally got to find out if I actually enjoy wheel spinning. I tried a Lendrum. And a Sidekick. And a Ladybug. And a Matchless. I quickly realized that I adore spinning wheels. Treadling was so rhythmic and soothing. I could see myself spending a good chunk of each day relaxing at my wheel. I was now convinced that owning a wheel was a matter of when, not if.

After flirting with a variety of wheels, I’ve come back to the Ladybug. I shouldn’t have judged her. She’s a lovely wheel, both on paper and when you’re spinning on her. And she’s named for an insect!

Smitten though I may be, I’m not rushing out to buy a Bug. Why? My fabulous time at Stitches didn’t come cheap. I bought a lot of yarn, and while I adore every skein, I bought a lot of yarn. By the time the marketplace closed, I was ready, both financially and psychologically, for an extended period of cold sheep.

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My Stitches yarn haul, spare 2 skeins

I really want that Ladybug, and that makes it the ideal motivation for me to stop buying yarn. I devised a little system to help me stay on track. I decided that I need to earn 100 points in order to purchase a wheel. Each day that I don’t buy any yarn, I earn 1 point. I also earn 1 point for every skein that I destash. Each time I buy a skein of yarn, I lose 1.5 points, and each time I buy a non-yarn hobby item, such as notions, I lose 1 point. I am not penalizing myself for purchasing fiber, as I do not have a spinning stash.

I began this system on February 23rd, and I’ve only had to subtract one point (because I purchased a Craftsy class, Drafting from Worsted to Woolen). I’m very proud of myself for sticking to my system. So far, it’s a success. Sometime in June, I should be getting my very own Ladybug 🙂

By the way, I apologize for the lack of photos in this post. I took a few nice pictures in the garden today while looking for ladybugs, so I hope to share those soon. I had to dig into my photo vault for the ladybug picture I’ve featured here.

*The first meeting of spinning class was also my last meeting. I began having issues with the skin on my hand when the class started, and I had to give up all fiber arts for quite a while.

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Spin Spin Spin

I am all about spinning at the moment. Just over 3 weeks ago, on February 12, I decided to pick up my spindle again. This wasn’t the first time I’ve tried to learn to spin, but this time, I was serious. (To be fair, I was serious last time, but had to stop due to tennis elbow.) I grabbed my Corriedale* fiber and my top whorl spindle, and sat down to practice park and draft. I was very pleased to see that not having spun for quite a few months didn’t seem to have caused me to regress.

20150308_185648A few days later, I decided to move from park and draft to suspended spinning, and well, the results weren’t pretty. My nice, even spinning became all lumpy and bumpy in a flash. My biggest problem seemed to be that I wasn’t able to draft out quickly enough to keep up with the twist rushing upward from the spindle. When I couldn’t draft, I ended up with a ton of twist in the fiber supply, and when I did manage to draft quickly, I drafted out way too much fiber, and got fat slubs in my yarn.  And sometimes, I drafted out so furiously that I separated the fiber from the newly formed yarn, sending my spindle to the floor. It was a fast, frantic process, nothing like the relaxing experience spinners praise. Something was clearly off.

20150308_233038My big spinning breakthroughs came while I was attending Stitches West, which began February 19th. Seeing people spin in person, and even getting instruction, helped me tremendously. I remember walking into one vendor’s booth to find her spinning on a spindle, seemingly effortlessly. I noticed her gently rolling the spindle along her thigh before calmly drafting out small amounts of fiber, keeping control of the process at all times.

The difference between how this spinner worked with her spindle, and how I struggled against mine, made a huge impression on me. It dawned on me that the answer wasn’t to draft at the speed of the light immediately after releasing the spindle, which is what I’d been attempting to do. Rather, the solution was to take a deep breath and slow everything down. My spindle only moves as quickly as I allow it to, and nowhere is it written that I must have my spindle going at top speed. I now set my spindle spinning with a bit less oomph and draft at a speed that makes me comfortable. More than anything, I remind myself to just relax and enjoy the process. When everything is working, spinning with my spindles is such a joy. Everything flows so easily. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that it’s actually working and that the spindle isn’t going to crash to the floor. I’m having to learn to trust myself and my instincts, and not get anxious while I’m spinning, because most of the time, I’m doing just fine.

In addition to learning how to improve my spinning while I was at Stitches, I also got some new material with which to practice. When I was at Stitches last year, I was dazzled by the colors in the fiber and yarn dyed by Greenwood Fiberworks, and impressed by how especially friendly the proprietress, Carolyn, was. However, I bought very little yarn at Stitches last year and didn’t get anything from her booth. This year, I knew that I was going to have to make a purchase. Once again, Carolyn’s booth was a stunning palace of color, and she couldn’t have been any nicer. I ended up purchasing several little pig tails, half ounce mini braids of a variety of fibers. I also purchased a brand new spindle, a little Greensleeves Bare Bonesie. The Corriedale I’d been practicing with was fine, but this fiber was divine. Oh, what a difference loving your fiber makes! I’d never spun Merino**, Polwarth, or BFL ( short for Bluefaced Leicester) before, and I enjoyed beginning to understand their differences.

20150308_090203I spun the BFL and Polwarth simultaneously, followed by the Merino. I’m extremely happy with how much my spinning improved while I was working with the Merino. I am hoping that I’ll see further improvement in my current spinning project, my most ambitious undertaking yet:

20150308_133116This is a full 4 ounce braid of Greenwood Fiberworks BFL in the Tiger Lily colorway, the big sister of the pig tail I’ve already spun. So far, I am really enjoying spinning it up. I divided the braid in half width-wise before beginning, which gives me a lot of options as to how to proceed. I got the idea to divide the fiber this way from the pseudo fractal spinning tutorial on the Samurai Knitter blog. I was planning to do a 2 ply and aim for maximum barber poling, but now I’m having second thoughts. Do I really want to disrupt these lovely color transitions? I’m now thinking that I may want to spin right on through the second half of the fiber and then chain ply my singles. That would leave the colors intact and also give me a nice, round yarn. However, chain plying will reduce my yardage, which I’m not sure I want to do. On the other hand, it would also give me a slightly heavier weight yarn, which has its advantages. A third option would be to do a true 3 ply rather than a chain ply. Hmm. I have a long, long time to think about how I want to ply as I spin my singles. No matter what I choose, I know it will be beautiful. If you have any suggestions for how I should ply this, please let me know in the comments.

*Fun fact: I just learned that the breeds of sheep are always capitalized.

**I cannot find a good website with information on Merino sheep and their wool. The ones that I’m finding are from companies selling Merino, and I believe that many of the magical properties of Merino that they discuss apply to many other types of wool, as well. If I’m able to find the type of webpage I’m seeking, I’ll add a link to it.

3/8/15: Edited to add a link to some Corriedale info.

Tiptoeing into the rabbit hole: Part 1

I hear many stories of fiber artists who learned to knit or crochet from a beloved family member. I was not one of those people.

I was a huge arts and crafts kid. Nothing was more fun than getting a new boxed kit. Bead pets, suncatchers, pom-pom animals-I dabbled in them all. (And I still have quite a few of them. Anyone want a beaded gecko keychain?) Long before it occurred to me that I could learn to create things with yarn, I LOVED squishing all the crazy novelty skeins at Michaels. I recognize now that this indicated that a giant healthy stash was only a matter of time. When I was in middle school, my aunt let me pick out the yarn that she’d use to make me a scarf. Score! I chose some Bernat Bling Bling*, and this is how it turned out:

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That scarf really jazzed up the green robes that I wore to my high school graduation.

In spite of my love of arts and crafts, and my affinity for yarn, I never considered learning to knit or crochet. Both crafts seemed way too difficult for me to figure out.

Fast forward to summer 2013, the sandwich between my first and second years of graduate school. I knew I needed something other than my research to keep me busy, and what could be better than making adorable little critters? I took the plunge and enrolled in an amigurumi class at the university craft center.

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Birds of a Feather by Hannah Kaminsky

This little sweetheart was our class project, and in creating her, I became a fiber artist. Soon, I was crocheting little octopuses and even a giant star ripple afghan…which I still have every intention of finishing.

Days after learning to crochet, I joined Ravelry. As I was browsing patterns, I quickly realized that many of them were written for knitters. Even though the knit items appealed to me, I didn’t consider teaching myself to knit. To my untrained eye, it looked as if knitters performed complex maneuvers simultaneously with both hands, yet never got confused. How could the needles grab the yarn without hooked ends? Could I manipulate two needles at the same time, accomplishing a different task with each hand? For the record, I can pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time, as well as rotate one hand clockwise and the other counterclockwise. But knitting? Ha! No way could I do that without accidentally strangling myself.

So how did I become a Knitter, with a capital k? You’ll have to keep reading.

*I posted a picture of this scarf in a forum on Ravelry. Someone was able to identify the yarn. Tell me that’s not awesome.