Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 1 September 2014

Twisting the Night Away: Myths and Secrets of Measuring Yarn Twist (Or How a Fibre Geek Enjoys Her Long Weekend)

I've been spinning and ciphering, measuring and mulling over metres of yarn the past few days.  It began with a question and then some comments on a fibre internet site and a discovery on my part that not all spinners measured their yarns in the same way.  I realized that for all the time I've been spinning, I'm still making assumptions about yarn and its properties which I have not tested for myself.  This will not do.

So, out came the reference materials, stacks of books and magazines back to the late l970's and '80's.  I read about twist and twist calculations, thought about theories and mathematical formulae by such spinning luminaries as Alden Amos, Rita Buchanan, Allen Fannin, Anne Field, Mabel Ross, and Peter Teal.  I looked up practices by contemporary spinners such as Jacey Boggs and Jillian Moreno. Since I'd always been told that the formulae for calculating twists per inch in hand spun yarn were based on industrial standards, I looked those up, too.  (Yikes, by the way!  If you're a math geek, which I'm not, you'll love clicking to this site.  Me, not so much.) I spun some yarn, measured it, finished it, then set up a laboratory of yarn measuring tools on the kitchen table and measured again. I checked and rechecked my calculations. I called in a consultant-Mr. DD, who knows very little about yarn twist, but who does know a lot about tools-and I asked him to do some yarn measurements based on the instructions given with a particular tool.

These are the yarns I spun, using generic wool roving in black and white.  From left to right, there is a skein of white singles, with a black tracer yarn, a black singles with a white tracer, a 2 ply spun with equal amounts of spinning and plying twist, a 2 ply with twice as much plying twist as spinning twist and a 2 ply with half as much plying twist as spinning twist.  All yarns were spun Z and the plied yarns were plied S.  While I didn't spin to a standard, I did measure my drafting length (12 inches), and my treadle count (4 per drafting length for a theoretical twists per inch of 3 (4 treadles x 9 turns per treadle) divided by 12 inches = 3 twists per inch of yarn).  I used a short backward draw (my default) on a Lendrum Single Treadle with a 9:1 whorl.  I spun a basic beginner/intermediate yarn, the kind of yarn a spinner might make during a session of casual spinning, after which she decides she likes what she's done and would like to make more for a project.

This is my sample sheet. If you click on the photo, you should be able to read my calculations, so I won't relist them. In general, I aimed for 3 Twists Per Inch (TPI) in my yarns; in most cases, I was out by .25 to less than .5 turns per inch in the finished yarns. I used Mabel Ross's formulae for calculating TPI in yarns, because hers is the most common way to measure TPI in spinning programmes and literature.  Mabel's theories make sense on paper, but what I discovered was a bit of a surprise-although I'm an experienced spinner and do a lot of calculations on hand spun yarn, no matter how carefully I worked, my results did not always line up with the given equations.  They were closer when I was spinning a more or less balanced yarn, but when I began playing with the amount of twist, all bets were off, even using Ms. Ross's calculations for fancy yarns.  Not only that, TPI, like so many other things in spinning, was affected by finishing (in this case, a hot soapy wash and hot rinses), shifting the TPI from .25 to .75 turns per inch. While a .25 variation in TPI might not be noticeable in a yarn with more twist, it's certainly noticeable in such low twist yarns; a .75 variation in TPI is a large difference in these types of yarns.

Hmm.  Using TPI as a measurement system was not working out well for me, which could be for several reasons: a) I wasn't careful enough when spinning and measuring (I did my best and measured each yarn 4 times in 4 different sections); b) I don't know how to measure yarns (I read the books and practiced, practiced, practiced.); c) TPI measurements work in theory, but may not work as well in real life.

Next came Wraps per Inch (WPI).  In the upper left hand corner of the above photograph, you can see my standard method for measuring WPI-I wind the yarn around the one inch segment of an embroidery thread holder.  (Actually, I wind the card to wrap the yarn in order to maintain twist consistency.)  I measured the yarns again, using a Spinner's Control Card and the iSpinToolkit on my iPad.  (That's a tricky one: much as I love this app, if you load it onto an iPad instead of an iPod or iPhone, the scale changes.  The TPI gauge becomes a 2 inch x 2 inch square, rather than a 1 X 1, so you have to divide everything by 2.  Not only that, the instructions for calculating TPI from your measurements are incorrect, or at least, open to interpretation.  Most spinners will catch the shift in scale, but may not catch it on the WPI gauge where the WPI count at least doubles, i.e., the 7 WPI I wound on a card became a 14 WPI using the app, which would be a major problem if you didn't know or didn't catch the change. Just to throw a bigger wrench into the system, the Angle of Twist calculator on the app is accurate.)  The WPI count between the cards and the Spinner's Control tool were very close for the balanced yarns, but way off for the overplied sample, with my wrapping giving me a count of 8 WPI and the tool a count of 12 WPI.  (Mr. DD points out that holding the yarns "taut" as instructed in the control kit is open to interpretation, because he tended to stretch the yarns out more firmly than I did, which would affect a lively, overtwisted yarn more than a balanced yarn.) So, I either improved my accuracy in measuring yarns with WPI or measuring WPI is a more consistent way to measure yarn size, although it doesn't help for measuring how much twist is in a given yarn, which calculating TPI is designed to do.

For my second attempt at measuring yarn twist, I turned to Angle of Twist (AofT). The theory here is simple: if you line those yarns up against a protractor or an angle guide so that the angle in the plies (or the tracers in the singles) align with the angle on your guide, you'll have the AofT which tells you how much twist you have in a given yarn.  You can't compare yarn size with this measurement, because yarns of varying sizes can have the same AofT, but you can judge relative firmness or softness in your yarns. I used a clear plastic protractor and the Angle of Twist guide on my iSpin app.

This calculation is where my measurement skills truly shone.  Either that, or measuring AofT is an accurate guide to yarn twist, because I was just about bang on every time I measured my samples.  My measurements using the protractor were off by between .1 and .4 of a degree compared to the measurements on the app.  (Mr. DD's yarn measurements using these tools were dead on.)  Yay, me. All this ciphering had done me some good.

Well, perhaps.  Perhaps several decades of calculating yarn measurements had been improved by a day's worth of careful calculations.  What I suspect is more likely-I'm open to debate on this one and will do further testing-is that TPI, which is used so much in the spinning world to compare yarns, in reality, may not be a very reliable method of measuring yarn twist.  It has its uses; like WPI, your practiced TPI counts are likely highly accurate when measuring your own yarns; however, if you or I are measuring and comparing one another's yarns, our calculations may vary widely and not necessarily because one of us doesn't know how to do math. The theory behind it is great and is useful when you are spinning your yarns, but as a system of measuring those yarns, a combination of WPI and AofT calculations might allow us to compare our yarns more accurately.

Spinners look for a common language to compare our yarns so that we can better understand how other spinners (and commercial mills) design and spin their yarns and how we can control and improve our our work. It may not be that one spinner is correct and the other is wrong in the way we measure yarns.  Like language, there are nuances, subtle differences in how an individual speaks about the yarns she makes. The language of yarn and the differences among us are affected by simple things such as the way we hold our wrists when spinning, how hard we push on the treadles, the tiny shifts in drafting length we make as we spin and spin and spin.  Our yarn measurements may change with the degree of pressure in our winding or the way we lay our yarns under a tool or even with what we expect to find as we do those measurements. This doesn't mean that we should abandon our calculations and our measuring tools.  It may just mean that we need to learn to sing and dance with our yarns differently.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Blue Goes For Down (With Some Thoughts on Yarn Twist)

Summer either came to an abrupt end on the weekend or it went into a bit of a lull.  We're hoping for the latter, but the weekend was wet, cold, windy and, oh yes, did I mention it was wet?  And cold? And windy? Apart from teaching a yoga class, I stayed inside, sorting out my fibre room and tagging my dyeing experiments of the past two months. It was also a good time to knit, so I worked away on a new version of my Prairie Sunset Shawl, using the handspun I made from my Wacky Windmill purchases. I spun the yarn very firmly, more than you would expect for a knitting yarn made of BFL, but I know that my knitting style removes a bit of twist as I work, so I wanted to compensate for that. I'm pretty tough on my knitting and am not fond of wools which pill. Extra twist in the spinning and plying helps mitigate that. Washing in Eucalan and blocking tends to soften up the fibres.  I considered all these factors when spinning up the preparation, but if you handled the wrap now, you'd think I've overdone it with the extra twist. I may have done just that, but I'm looking for the upper limits on twist as it relates to comfort in this wrap.

The expectation these days is that yarn should be soft; that's true for next to the skin items, but softness comes with a cost, which usually means sacrificing some durability. Historically, yarns intended for daily duty were firmly spun and plied.  This included sweaters, hats, socks and gloves. Tight twist is common in weaving yarns, but if you ever have the opportunity to handle historical every day textiles, especially from countries as Peru, you may be surprised at the amount of twist and the tight knitting in the garments, which could block cold and wind and shed water. If you were making yarns for bags, there might be so much twist in the spinning and plying that a wool yarn could feel like barbed wire. The amount of twist might also be a design element, causing tracking or puckering in the weaving and deliberate skewing in the knitting.

The above photo shows the shawl in progress.  (I apologize for the slight blurriness of the pictures and the shift in the colours, which are far deeper and richer than I was able to capture today.  My photo skills this afternoon consisted of yelling at Morris to get out of the shot.) The stripes created by fractal spinning are working quite well.  The wrap will have a sideways knitted on border, so the striping should continue along the bottom edge. I'm knitting in garter stitch, so I expect the shawl to block out to nearly twice the size on the needles.

The small bag holding my shawl yarn is an experiment in working with overtwisted yarns.  I spun and plied Romney singles several times over to produce a yarn which is unwearable, but which wears well, so it's perfect for bags or rugs.  It's knitted in a twisted stitch to accentuate the yarn twist and it will not felt, despite several trips through washer and dryer. Unlike many of my other experiments, I expect this bag to outlast me.  By the way, it's dyed with indigo, lichen (the pink) and marigold in an iron pot (I think).  

Above the bag is my basket of yarns I dyed using the indigo vat.  With the shift in the weather, the vat has remained blue, even with the addition of more chemicals.  That usually means that the vat is too cold and since I can't bring it into the house or keep it warm outside, it may mean that I'm done with indigo dyeing for the year.  This is likely a good thing, since in addition to the yarns shown, I've dyed about 2 kilos of raw fleece and several metres of cotton and silk fabric. 

The lighter blue yarns in the next photo are the skein of commercial silk noil singles, commercial wool yarn and a commercial 2 ply alpaca.  The rest are skeins of hand spun singles and plied yarns, including wools, llama and alpaca, most of which have more twist than other spinners add, for the reasons listed above and the fact that some of them will go into tapestries.  Tapestry weaving produces a lot of wear and tear on the yarns, both in warp and weft.  You do not want your warp to break and, while tapestry wefts don't require as much twist, they do need to be able to withstand passing through the sheds and being packed into place. 

There's been a lot of buzz in the spinning community these days about the proper amount of twist required in hand spun yarns and the ways to accurately measure that twist once it's in there. Some spinners don't worry about twist control at all; they prefer to judge a yarn by sight and feel and skip the math all together.  Others concern themselves with precise details as to how much twist is required for any given yarn and cite all kinds of mathematical formulae and theories to support their claims to precision.  In between are most spinners, who may want to know a bit of twist theory, but don't want to get too bogged down in details.  It's a good idea to know the basics of twist calculation and yarn measurement (TPI, WPI, Angle of Twist, etc.), but the best way to determine what twist is required for which yarn is to experiment in the fibre preparation, spinning, fabric construction and finishing.  

My closest spinning friend (my closest friend in all things, really) tells her students to, "Assume nothing; Believe no one and Check everything."  That's excellent advice-you can read all you want about spinning, but in order to be a spinner, you must spin.  In order to know how to produce the yarns you want, you must practice and test every theory and assertion, no matter what you may have heard from any other spinner, including the masters.  Don't get caught by your own assumptions, either.  What you think you know is not always so. 

In the end, spin for joy and practice for the pleasure of the practice, then apply what you've learned.  Once you're comfortable with what you know, challenge that knowledge.  It's easy to become comfortable with our own certainty, but as Pema Chodron tells us, the trick is to be comfortable in uncertainty. The truth is out there, maybe, but it may not be what you think it is.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Indra's Net, Reaching Higher: Practical Ethics in Textiles

My last post talked about one author's attempts to align her ethics with her passion for fashion. For many years, looking stylish has been very far down on my list of priorities; ethical sourcing, comfort and durability are the things I look for when buying clothing. (I hope those who know me were sitting down when they read that, because I realize a statement like that from me comes as a horrible shock.) I'm all about wearing natural fibres, as close to the source of the plant as I can get. I'm fortunate, in that I can spin those fibres and shape them into cloth, but for most people, this is not an option and, even for me, wearing only what I've made myself would leave me very scantily clothed indeed. No one wants that. Although I am not given to wearing runway fashion, I do like to to be presentable and wear attractive, casual clothing which meets the higher priorities on my purchasing list.

With current economies structured the way they are, it's virtually impossible to "do no harm;" every choice we make as textile consumers has a cost.  Sometimes, the best we can do is aim for "least harm." As I continue to research textile fibres, I've come to believe, for the moment at least, that hemp fibres and textiles are among the best sources for ethically produced clothing. You can click on the italicized links for more information, but here's a good summary (with a bit of advertising adornment thrown in) of why people might want to consider wearing hemp:

Hemp, the first and strongest natural fibre to be cultivated, is considered to be nature's most valuable, versatile and reusable natural resource. Unlike cotton, hemp can be grown in most any conditions without chemicals and pesticides for uses such as clothing, paper, food, medicine and cosmetics. It has long been known that hemp fabrics provide many distinct advantages such as comfort and feel, easy care and excellent durability. Hemp's resistance to mildew and bacteria as well as its high protection performance against UV rays means wearing hemp benefits both skin and health. ("Why Hemp?" Clothing Label, Effort Industries Inc., Toronto, Canada)

Unfortunately for many of us, hemp products can be difficult and expensive to find, so it's wonderful to find local shops which specialize in ethically chosen and sourced goods with products you like. One of these is Hemp Haven. Not only does this small shop supply hemp clothing, fabric, yarn and other products, Travis, the owner, is also a fibre craftsperson who specializes in crocheting hemp hats for sale in the store. While the hats are made from 100% hemp yarn, pure hemp clothing is rare, so most consumer can only buy hemp/cotton blends. (Look for blends made from organic cotton.) The clothing sold in this store is made from heavy, closely woven or knitted fabric, at very reasonable prices.  (A bunny hug/hoody costs around $40; prices for T-shirts range from $25 for short sleeves to $30 for longer sleeves, comparable to what women pay in many retail chain stores for often shoddy goods.) The fabric is extremely durable-pants and T-shirts I bought 3 years ago, wear regularly and launder without particular care still look good.

Travis doesn't maintain a website and told me he has no plans to start one. He prefers to keep his shop small and local, so you'll have to do a bit of homework to buy from him. There are shops like Hemp Haven across the country and you'll find hemp products in unusual places-the first hemp clothing I bought was in a yarn shop in Revelstoke-so if you're looking for casual, durable and ethically sourced products, do some research and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the growing number of suppliers. If you're interested in high end style, hemp fabrics are increasingly used by fashion designers, although the farther away you move from the retailer and supplier, the more difficult it becomes to determine whether or not your products are ethically produced, so keep that in mind when you make your purchases.

The world has lost several respected and admired people in the last few days; yesterday, one more was added to the list: the great guru of yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar died at the age of 96. These spirits came from disparate paths in life and worked in vastly different fields, but I see some important connections among all of them. Each of them, Spirits Living in a Material World, lived Life to the fullest, explored their interests to their highest potential and took their practice out into the world for the benefit of others. I've paid personal tribute to one of them; none of the others need my words added to the outpouring of respect and love heard round the world, but it is from people such as these (and many more who are close to me) that I build my own practice and make an effort to apply it for a larger purpose, although I will never be more than a shadow following in the shadow of Great Spirits. All of us can walk in the footsteps of giants and we can begin by taking our best baby steps towards an ethical approach to our daily choices.

Washcloth knitted from hand spun 100% hemp fibres.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Indra's Net: The Ethics of Fashion and Textiles, A Book Review of Greta Eagan's "Wear No Evil" was passed on in wills,...or used in political power plays between rival rulers.
Living as we do in a post-industrialized world, fabric has become ubiquitous and inexpensive. Most of us are very distant from its production, and the magic of cloth-making has thus for the most part become invisible; few who have not witnessed the laborious processes and multiple steps that go into making even the simplest cloth realize what treasures they be wearing or hold in their hands. ("Why Textiles Matter," in Textiles: The Whole Story, by Beverly Gordon, preface, p. 6)

One of the joys in my yoga practice is discovering ways to take that practice out into the world.  (That's how this blog came into being-as an exploration in combining the things I love into a cohesive, if somewhat inconsistent, way of living.)  One of the joys in practising at my yoga studio is that there is a focus on teaching and practising yoga as more than asana/poses and exercise.  This philosophy and the connections it brings pop up in unexpected, often delightful ways. You might think that it would be quite a leap to connect my love of textiles and yoga, but yoga philosophy is full of textile imagery.  We speak of the sutras, literally, threads, most familiar to us in Patanjali's works of yoga philosophy. In Vedic traditions, there is the metaphor of Indra's Net which expresses the interconnection of the universe.

The other evening, as I was wrapping myself up in my stay-away-from-the-sun garb, Scott, a teacher at Bodhi Tree Yoga, and I discovered that we shared some common interests in textiles, namely, a love for the master of draped design in fashion, Mariano Fortuny, and the artist/fashion designer, Erte. We chatted a bit about Fortuny's passion for pleats and the Erte paper doll books we both had, but had never had the heart to cut out of the books.

Those who know me now may be surprised (and very amused) about my hidden passion for fashion.  My current style is, ahem, casual, bordering on sloppy a good part of the time. People sometimes comment on my clothing, but it's usually to point out that my skirt is tucked up in my underwear or that I seem a bit overdressed when the weather's hot.  (The sun and I have an agreement.  He can shine as intensely as he wishes; I will either stay inside or cover up in a tent when I go walk about during the days he feels like displaying his glory.)  Once upon a time, being fashionable mattered to me.  Now, not so much.

A few things happened to bring this about: I had children.  It was somehow sadder to scrape poop and baby puke off silk clothing than it is to launder cotton T-shirts. I switched jobs to work in an art centre, where dressing up was not only not necessary, it could be downright hazardous. One should not wear long, flowing outfits when working around hot stoves and with moving equipment. Keeping up to date costs money; as a stay-at-home mom working as an artist, I had lots of creative opportunities, but no money.  I was making cloth or string every day and the more I delved into the history of the textiles I was shaping and decorating, the more my conscience began to poke at me about the way we undervalue and waste the fabrics we wear and use.

Because of the intense labour required to produce them, textiles have always had an ugly underbelly lurking below their glorious surfaces.  Textile production has supplied employment for much of humanity. While in many cases, such as tapestry weaving, the technical and design skills required to make cloth were honoured and respected and a skilled weaver could command decent compensation, unfortunately, so many people were needed to spin and weave in order to keep the world supplied with the materials required for every facet of life from clothing to sails, that yarn and cloth production did and does rely heavily on slave and child labour, low wages and hazardous working conditions. The demand for cheap cloth has resulted in a loss of land for food production and the heavy use of pesticides and water.  (Cotton requires some of the most voluminous use of pesticides and water known to humankind.)  We have to wear clothing, especially in climates like mine, so what do we do when our consciences, our yoga practice, conflicts with our desire to look stylish, or if not stylish, at least presentable?

Greta Eagan thinks she has found part of the answer to that question.  Her 2014 book, Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe, provides a guide to ethical practice in buying clothing.  By using the ethical guidelines most important to the reader, Eagan helps you to set up what she calls the Diamond System of choosing fabrics and clothing to transform you from an unmindful clothing consumer to an "Eco-Citizen" to an "Eco-Warrior," into an "Eco-Guru." The book is basic, written in that familiar self-help style found in bookstores everywhere; if you're looking for a place to start practising ethical fashion, Eagan's system can help.

What I like about this guide:

  • The first chapters in which Eagan discusses the shift from cloth and fashion as luxury for the rich into mass production of cheap, disposable fabrics provide a lot of information on how the clothing and fashion industry exploits labour for profit. She also provides statistics on pesticide use and water waste in textile production.  
  • Eagan's Integrity Index compares fibres and processes in order to help the reader develop an understanding of the various factors competing for our attention in choosing ethical clothing.  She isn't afraid to challenge assumptions-her discussion of animal leather versus vegan leather/pleather is in itself worth a read.
  • Her applied system for buying clothing ethically can be personalized to the buyer's priorities.  The system is simple enough to apply as you buy.  There's no need to flip through pages of choices when something catches your eye in a shop or online. 
There are a few problems with the information presented in Wear No Evil, including the implication that textiles made from bamboo, soy, corn and milk are "natural" products. While these products may have originated from plants or animals, the chemicals and processes used to transform them into cloth leave them with no resemblance to their original sources. The textile industry played so fast and loose with labelling bamboo products as green and natural that many countries now require labels specifying that bamboo cloth is "rayon/viscose produced from bamboo."  There is much debate about the ethics of moving products which supply much of the world's population with food into clothing and fuel production.  Currently, soy, corn and milk "fibres" don't make particularly good fabrics; corn dissolves under fairly low heat and both soy and milk products break down quickly, which may help out in landfills, but which encourages more waste.

Eagan's statement about Ahimsa/ethical silk is downright silly: " Regular silk production kills the silkworms in the process. Look for Peace Silk to ensure that the garment you are purchasing is made without harming the silkworms so they can go on producing more gorgeous fabric for you (p. 52)."  While it's true that the chrysalis inside a silk cocoon is stifled to prevent the moth from breaking the silk filaments, only some of the hatching moths go on to mate before they starve to death because they have reduced or no mouth parts and do not feed. It's also debatable whether or not the ethical silk you're buying is actually that; as is sometimes the case with "Green" labelled products, some manufacturers have been known to call their silk "ethically produced" when what they're selling is regular silk with value added by the addition of that ethical description. 

As a natural dyer, one of my pet peeves is the use of some food products for dyeing. Eagan does a good job of explaining the processes involved in using natural products as colouring agents; however, she promotes designers who use such things as berries for colour on their textiles.  Berries produce stains, not dyes which bond to the fabrics; as such, they are better used as food.

Aside from these issues, Eagan's book gives great advice, listing forward thinking designers and fashion brands working towards ethical practices and style advice for both men and women.  Eagan also has a website: Wear No Evil, with updated newsletters.

Yoga teaches us that everything is linked, that the choices we make affect all that is in this world and beyond.  It can be a daunting, if not impossible task, to take the steps which allow us to move our yoga into the world, to mindfully choose the threads which bind us to each other and the universe. We don't have to do it all at once; our thoughtful choices, woven together one by one, can work to weave a beautiful cloth of harmony and ethical practice. Through our practice,  Indra's Net links us all; Wear No Evil can help us get there.   

Eagan's book is available in bookstores or at your local public library.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

When Great Spirits Soar: In Memory of Edward Tabachek

I met Edward Tabachek decades ago when a package with an unfamiliar name and return address arrived at my house.  Inside, was a small wooden bowl and a brief, very polite note from the sender who was beginning to make spinning equipment.  Would I please test this bowl for him and let him know if it worked for supported spinning?  It was a lovely bowl. I wrote the maker a return post thanking him for the gift and asking him to let me know if he had more fibre equipment to test and/or sell.

Some time after that, I was at a spinning conference in Alberta when a container of toy wheel spindles at one of the vendor booths caught my eye.  "Chatterworks" spindles were pretty and selling at the remarkable price of $10 each.  I bought one.  (One! Only one!)  I asked the vendor to tell me more about the spindle maker, but she was reluctant to do so.
She preferred to keep her supply source to herself-fair enough. For a long time, this spindle was my "go-to" portable spinning tool.  I sometimes wondered about the maker, but added him or her to the list of mystery spindle makers who did fine work, but remained anonymous.

A few years after that, at another Alberta conference, a different vendor had some lovely spindles for sale. The whorls were ebonized oak; the shafts were short, so that each spindle could fit into a pencil case, perfect for travelling. Once I tested that spindle, it stuck to my hand, so I bought one.  (One! Only one!)  This time, the spindle had a tag listing the name of the maker, Edward Tabachek, the same person who had sent me the spindle bowl several years back.

So began what turned out to be, for me, a significant, if mostly long distance, friendship. For many years, Edward and I communicated via snail mail, sending letters and packages back and forth, with brief notes about tools and function and spinning.  He would sometimes send me bowls at no charge and would never accept payment. Instead, he said that I could pay him in cookies, but since I didn't bake, I never did fill that request and opted to send him fibre for his own spinning.  I began collecting Edward's spindles at conferences or from Edward himself.  Although all of them were similar in style, every one of them was a thing of beauty. His wife, Jo-Anne, a Master Spinner, tested all his spindles for him, so that every spindle sold was a work of functional perfection.

We met in person at Olds Fibre Week when Jo-Anne was studying for her Master Spinners' Certificate. Edward would accompany her and they would pack spinning equipment in the back of their vehicle.  If you were lucky, Edward would invite you out to his vehicle or back to his townhouse for an opportunity to buy some spindles. Some years, I would forgo classes at Olds in favour of bringing my tapestry loom and hanging out in the Land Sciences Cafeteria, with Edward and several others who spun and chatted while their family members slaved over their levels.  Edward would spin and fix tools and assess the tools I used for my weaving.  He repaired one of my tiny finishing combs and commented that, "Next time, buy a better comb." He was passionate about making and using fine tools and never understood why women expressed guilt about the money they spent on fibres and equipment.  "You women are always worrying about what you spend on tools," he said to me one day. "I don't get that. You are professionals, doing what you love. You deserve the best fibres and the best equipment you can afford. Stop feeling guilty."  I took his words to heart and realized that money spent on good equipment, Edward's spinning equipment, was always money well spent. Edward was quietly confident in his work; when people compared his spindles to those made by others, his response was simply, "I'm not worried." Over the years, I've collected quite a few spindles, plain and fancy, by various excellent makers, but Edward's pieces are the ones I treasure and use the most.

A few years back, I heard that Edward had been diagnosed with cancer.  I sent him an email expressing my concern and we began a new chapter of our friendship, chatting back and forth about cancer, treatments and moving through the process of healing. We wrote about using yoga, meditation and spinning in healing and music, too.  Edward loved the cello, loved to play it and returned to it as he recovered his strength from surgery, chemo and radiation. He began making spindles again.

I phoned him a few weeks ago and Jo-Anne answered; Edward was out cruising Lee Valley Tools.  When he called me back, we talked about his plans for the summer and about one of his new Tibetan spindles which I had purchased at a retreat-would he make a matching bowl?  Of course, he would and, along with that, he would make some Tibetan spindles with shorter shafts for travelling. Soon after that, he sent an email telling me that his chemo was over. The doctors were optimistic and he was looking forward to getting back to his workshop, so I was happy to see his name pop up in my email this morning.  The message wasn't from Edward. It was from Jo-Anne, telling me that "her best friend and soulmate" had taken a turn for the worse.

Edward Tabachek died early yesterday morning. There will be no more bowls, no more spindles, no more cello playing, except in memory.  For Edward, there will be no more pain. I will miss him something fierce. My thoughts and best wishes go out to Jo-Anne in her sorrow.

I hope your Spirit soars high, Edward, where spindles are forever balanced and cellos sing in harmony. Thank you for your generosity, your encouragement and your talent.  Safe journey, my friend.  I hold you and Jo-Anne close to my heart.  I'll eat a cookie in your honour. Safe journey.

The first bowl and the last spindle

Edward modelling his and Jo-Anne's fibre work at Fibre Week 2013. Edward spun the wool; Jo-Anne knit the hat and Edward knit the scarf.

If you'd like to read more about Edward's spindles, click the link here for a previous post.


Monday, 11 August 2014

Indigo Blues: The Finale

Dyeing won out over the Folk Festival yesterday, although not completely, because I could hear the music from my house and was able to have a bit of the best of both worlds. This afternoon's dippings were an eclectic mix of cotton and silk fabrics, pre-dyed Corriedale fleece, naturally coloured Gotland lamb fleece and some Finn wool top:

I played with the immersions, dipping parts of the fabric and the top while leaving other parts either undyed or with fewer dips.  The cotton had a total of 5 dips, including some partial immersions; the silk had a total of 4 dips:

I immersed the previously dyed Corriedale twice.  The Gotland fleece at the top left of the above photo shows its natural colours.  After 3 dips, the blues were like midnight:

Left to Right: Corriedale, darker Gotland in the middle, Corriedale, Finn wool top and the two pieces of cloth.

After the final dip and oxidation, I neutralized the protein fibres in vinegar and water and washed the fabrics in hot water and Sacred Earth bar soap.  (This locally made soap is fantastic; click on the link to learn more about it.)  The rinse water for the cloth ran clear in a couple of rinses, but the wool required washing in Synthrapol and hot water to stop the dye from running. The amount of colour in the water was amazing, but the rinse water ran clear. Because of that, I decided to re-wash the fleece which I'd dyed several days ago because I could not get the darker colours to stop crocking.  This time, I used Synthrapol (used for removing excess dye) in the wash water and it made all the difference.  The rinse waters cleared quickly and the crocking, if not completely gone, is at least minimized enough that I should be able to spin the fibres without turning into a Smurf. 

The overall effect on the cloth is a bit "old hippie," but parts of the fabrics are spectacular.  (I have nothing against hippies, old or new. It's just not a look I should revisit any time soon.)  

This small section of the cotton is a work of art in itself.  I'd like to say I planned it.  I'd like to say that, but I can't.  Well, I could, but it would be a lie. The piece reminds me of Kate Bush's lines in An Architect's Dream, "That bit there-it was an accident, but he's so pleased.  It was the best mistake he could make. It's my favourite piece; it's just great.":

The indigo kit stated that it should be used for dyeing cotton, linen, rayon and silk and it certainly dyed these fibres easily.  It works on wool, but with any indigo dye recipe I've used, the wool has crocked and continued to do so until the fibre has been stored away for some time.  As I mentioned before, crocking is not considered a flaw in traditional indigo cultures; however, where indigo was indigenous, the primary fibres dyed were usually cotton, linen and silks, so it's not surprising to get more light and wash fast colours on these materials. I'm pleased with the richness of the colours I dyed over the past 5 days and I will certainly use this kit again because the ease of use and the safety of the bath more than compensates for the extra work required in finishing the fibres.  This is everything I dyed since I first tested the bath:

The vat is still active and I'll continue to use it for the rest of the summer, but it's time to write about something else.  If another happy accident arises, I'll be sure to let you know. Another weekend over, another week begins and it's back to yoga, teaching, spinning and knitting. There are dogs to walk, cats to feed. Life is good.

Late last night, I looked for the Perseid Meteor Shower and wondered at the marvel of the sky. Blue Goes for Down everywhere we look.  Blue Goes for Down.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Indigo Blues: The Dyeing Continues

We had wild thunderstorms on Friday evening and through the night.  Rain pounded the roof and the thunder rolled like tanks through my sleep. In the morning, there were bits of fir tree on the back deck, branches from the trees in the front yard.  All down the block, large limbs had snapped off trees and a couple of trees had toppled completely.  People posted amazing photos of the storm rolling in from the west; the skies were dark, dark, ominous indigo, set off by thick bolts of lightning.  Some areas of the city sustained heavy damage to their roofs, water in their basements and other misfortunes. Apart from some interrupted sleep, we were lucky.

It rained most of the morning yesterday, so I didn't wander down to the annual Folk Festival until noon.  The Festival is free all day, with paid admission to headliner events in the evening. The Farmers' Market and various food and merchandise vendors are there; I bought a gorgeous bag from Guatemala. (Have I ever met a bag I didn't like? Not many.)

I hoped to see the Indigo Girls in a workshop in the afternoon, but for reasons unannounced, they weren't there.  Instead, we heard Indigo Joseph (close enough) and a treat of Latin fusion groups, including Mexican Institute of Sound, Quique Escamilla, Andino Suns, along with Mo Kenney, Clinton St. John, and Leonard Sumner. Apart from Mo Kenney and Indigo Joseph, I hadn't heard of any of these people, let alone heard them play live, but I'm never disappointed with the music at Folk Festival and I wasn't yesterday.

I've attended Folk Festival for many of the years since it began; sometimes, I don't stay long because the crowds overwhelm me. People pack into the park, shoulder to shoulder, sometimes stacked one on top of the other (literally).  Often, I'm lucky to find standing room anywhere near the stages.  Here's what makes me check things out every year-in my experience, it's one of the few, if not only, times in this city when thousands of people come together and everyone is happy. People are kind.  Street people mix with suburbanites. Generations from a single family listen to music and dance together.  People see old friends and make new ones.  You can chat while the music is playing or you can listen attentively. Unlike sports events where opposition is required or other concerts where people can be utterly inconsiderate, Folk Festival is not like that. Much as I dislike the expression, "It's all good," it really is. I go to Folk Festival, despite the crowds and the rain or the beating sun and the mosquitoes-the swarms of dragonflies took care of that for us nicely-just to be among that community.  The Festival gives me hope for humanity, which is a rather sappy sentiment, but it's true.

What does any of this have to do with indigo dyeing? Well, after seeing all the brightly coloured tie-dyed pieces and fluid clothing yesterday, along with hearing a group called Indigo Joseph, I feel inspired to get back to my indigo pot.  I may head to the Festival later, but yesterday wore me out, so I've spent the morning binding cloth for dyeing.  I have an assortment of cotton and silk fabrics; some of it was naturally dyed several years ago and some of it is washed, but untouched.  The tied pink cloth in the photo is silk dyed with cochineal and the multicoloured fabrics are cotton. I've stitched some of it with nylon thread and tied off other sections with cotton string. To the left is the indigo dyed cotton from last week:

Everything is now soaking in hot water, along with a small batch of Corriedale fleece I dyed in the juice left over from a jar of sweet pickled beets.  The day will tell whether it is time for more folk music or time to shift from hearing music of the folk to working with cloth using a process with its roots grounded in folk history. Either way, I'll be among my people.