Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Georgia on My Mind: Art Yarn Wrap Up and a Quick Knit Scarf

We held the final session of the Art Yarn Spinning class last night.  Everyone brought their yarn and projects, some of which you see here.  Others were too shy/modest to be included, but their work was lovely. (I mean you, Joan.) This is Hilary, who is working on the mittens found in Pluckyfluff's "Intertwined:"

Next up is Sheila, hanging out with us, all the way from Miramichi, New Brunswick.  Sheila recyles old fur coats into wonderful articulated Teddy Bears, one of whom is shown here wearing a hat and scarf from Sheila's yarn:

Jane and Susan are ignoring the camera.  Susan blogged about her yarn here:

Jane hides behind some gorgeous yarns:

Erin made a wonderful garland from her beaded yarn:

Then there is Wendy, who had just finished the beginning spinners' class, bought a wheel and jumped right into art yarn spinning.  Wendy announced that she had purchased a bit of alpaca.  When I say, "a bit of alpaca," I mean that in the way mountaineers speak of Mount Everest as "a bit of a climb."

I had a great time teaching this class, as I do with all my classes.  It's wonderful to hang out with like-minded people, people who understand the wonders of and a passion for string.

I made a few projects as samples for the class.  I knit this scarf from handspun Sweet Georgia fibres, in a merino/silk/bamboo rayon blend, spun and plied to a weight of approximately 5 wpi.  The scarf required 75 metres/100 grams of fibre, spun and plied in a hour.  I knit it in an hour or two.  (There is no pattern for the matching hat.  It's a hybrid, which involved chopping off the ribbing, reknitting and other fixes to make it presentable.)

I share the pattern for the scarf here, although it's so simple that I can hardly call it a pattern, let alone mine.  It's knitted in a Mistake Stitch Rib, balanced so that there is a one row repeat.  It can be knit in any yarn-Noro is a good choice for a commercial yarn-and can be adjusted in multiples of four for width.

Sweet Georgia Scarf

Multiple of 4 plus 2 plus 1 stitch.  (Knit in K2, P2 ribbing, with 2 stitches to balance the pattern and 1 stitch for the mistake.)

8 mm needles, circular or straight.

Gauge:  approximately 3.5 to 3 stitches per inch/ 2.5 cm.

Finished size: 10 cm x 120 cm or 4 inches x 48 inches.

Cast on 15 stitches.

All rows:  *K2, P2* repeat across row, ending in K3.

That's it.  Knit until you are sick of knitting or until you run out of yarn.  Bind off loosely in pattern.  Wash and block the scarf. 

If you have only a little yarn, you can turn this scarf into a cowl.  In all cases, use something soft and pretty.  When others express their amazement at your talent, say, "Thank you."  Do not say a word about how simple this project is to knit. 

Thanks to all class participants.


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Try a Little Tenderness: Compassionate Fibre

My understanding of mindful compassion is that compassion is a deep sympathy for the suffering of others, coupled with the desire to ease that suffering.  Compassion differs from sympathy in that it requires action along with feeling. 

If we see others suffering and do nothing to help them to the best of our ability, we may be sympathetic, but we are not necessarily practising compassion.  Of course, because mindfulness is simple, but difficult to practise, there is always the possibility that doing nothing is the required compassionate act.

Expressing sympathy while acting contrary to our words is hypocrisy.  If, for example, you claim to be sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, yet insist on taking actions which limit housing opportunities for the poor, you are being hypocritical.  (I'm looking at you, city councillors and the mayor of a certain city.)  At best, ignoring your beliefs will make you a shallow person with your hollow words.

So what does any of this have to do with fibre?  We may not be able to change the world, but we can act compassionately, one handmade item at a time.  I've talked about Random Acts of Knitting, still my favourite way to distribute fibre work to people who may need it.  If you've been using fibre arts as meditation practice, give away the things you've made.

The acts of spinning, knitting, etc. can express compassion.  Volunteer to demonstrate fibre practice at a home, a shelter or a school.  If you have more time, teach someone to knit or spin.  Give away some of that fibre stash to a person who may not have the means to build her/his own stash.

Be mindful in your actions; if someone isn't interested in accepting your beautiful scarf or having you demonstrate your craft, don't push the issue.  Don't attach conditions to what you do.  Give freely and quietly, without the expectation of a positive outcome, for you or the recipients.

Never think that your small actions will not make a difference.  You may never know whether that gift of a warm winter hat kept someone safe from the cold, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.  Your few hours spent knitting can save lives, so do the best you can and give from the heart.

We never know what footprints we leave behind.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

My Brain is Hanging Upside Down: Inversions and the Power of Changing It Up

My yoga teacher has spent the past few months turning me upside down.  I mean this literally--I've been hung from ropes, suspended with my head between two chairs and my legs up, and laid out flat on the floor with legs up the wall.  Yesterday, I did a forward bend with my back and head pressed along the wall.  It felt good, looking at the world that way.

Inversions lower your blood pressure, drain stale blood and lymph from your limbs and allow your lower body to take a break from daily wear and tear.  Inversions are helpful in calming anxiety.  They give you a new perspective and can help you break away from habitual ideas.

We all have our habits, fixed ideas of how the world does and should work, how people should behave, how life must go for us.  Habitual ways of living are necessary sometimes, but they often keep us from seeing someone else's perspective, lock us into ruts and are sources of suffering.

We can lock into habits in our fibre work.  This might not be as serious a problem as other fixed views, but insisting on always knitting this way or spinning one default yarn can deprive us of fresh ideas and new perspectives. 

At its worst, habitual practice in fibre work can draw us into The Fibre Wars.  We've all seen those; most of us have participated in at least a skirmish or two:  The best way to knit socks is toe up, short row heel.  Nonsense-socks must be knitted top down, on four needles, with a turned heel.  Two circulars, magic loop, etc., etc. 

Then there's spinning and the battles between those who spin on spindles and those who insist only a wheel will do.  (And that wheel must be Brand X.)  The best yarn is woollen spun 2 ply.  No, it's a 3 ply (not chain plied) worsted.  Art yarn!  Smooth yarn!  U R DOING IT RONG!

All this sounds beyond foolish when you think about it, but when you're caught up in the moment, battles over fibre or anything near and dear to your heart seem like the most important things in the world.

The next time you get caught up in drama and habit, try changing your perspective, if only for a project.  If you're a pieced sweater knitter, knit something in the round.  If you always knit mittens from the cuff, start a pair from the finger tips.  If you're a free form spinner, get out that control card and spin to a standard. 

If you never get caught up in drama (lucky you!), step away from your habits just to experience the changes. 

Give that brain a gentle shake and hang upside down once in a while.  Who knows? You may discover a new favourite way of working, along with a fresh outlook on the world.


(Note: Inversions have great benefits and almost any one can do them, but check with a medical practitioner before attempting inversions or other unfamiliar poses, especially if you have uncontrolled hypertension.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Respect Yourself: Thoughts on Ahimsa and Fibre

Ahimsa, a Sanskrit word, is translated as "non-violence."  It is also translated as "no harm," a definition which I prefer because it encompasses more action.  (If you witness a violent act, you may not be acting violently, but if you do nothing to intervene, you can be causing harm.)  Whichever definition you choose, ahimsa encourages us to act mindfully in ways that are compassionate, without violence or harm to others.  Those "others" can and do include beings outside the human species and therein lies a problem, especially if you believe that there is some kind of life force in all things.  (I just can't imagine, for example, that a thousand year old tree doesn't hold some kind of awareness beyond its cells and I'm sure those mountains do have tales to tell.)

In order for humans to exist, other things must die.  We require food to nourish us and whether we eat meat or maintain a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, we need other life forces to keep us going. The issues increase in complexity when we consider the materials that go into our clothing and household goods and, in the case of fibre enthusiasts, the products we use for our work and hobbies.

Take silk, for example.  Currently, some people and companies are promoting silk fibres, yarns and products as "Ahimsa Silk," implying that these things can be produced without harm to the silk pupae and the silk moth.  Michael Cook, "Wormspit," explains some of the issues surrounding this fibre and why you may or may not decide to use it.  His site and this article in particular is well worth reading; Cook has devoted much of his life to studying silk through every level of production.  Whether you agree with him or not, Cook makes it clear that our choices in these matters are not simple.

Consider wool and other animal fibres.  The only way to ensure that wool comes from well-treated animals is to know the producers or raise the animals yourself.  You can't expect your local yarn shop to guarantee quality of life for whatever animal that yarn you love came from; a good shop will know its products, but can't be expected to oversee the conduct of each and every supplier.  Many companies are jumping on the organic bandwagon, but since standards for organic production vary from region to region, country to country, you will need to do your own research to ensure that products are made to your satisfaction.  "Organic" doesn't necessarily mean "humanely treated;" you can have one without the other.

A sweater knitted from a Jacob fleece I processed

What about cellulose and bast fibres?  There are naturally coloured, organically grown cottons, but cotton requires huge quantities of water to grow it and working conditions for harvesting and processing may not be the best.  Bast fibres such as bamboo, which is usually processed into viscose rayon, are often promoted as being less harmful to the environment but this claim may not be accurate. Flax and the retting it required for processing into linen was a notorious pollutant for European rivers; dealing with the straw has been a problem for flax producers.  Hemp production is politically charged, making the fibres and hemp textiles expensive and difficult to find.

We can turn to synthetic fibres, but many of those are petroleum based.  Fibres made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles require a lot of energy to transform them into yarns and fabrics. 

The problem grows when we look at dyes.  Natural dyes can require the use of toxic fixatives (mordants) such as copper sulphate, chrome, and tin.  Unless you know your dyer or do the dyeing yourself, you probably won't know what mordants were used in the dyeing process.  In these cases, acid dyes may be the safest, least harmful way to colour your fibres, especially for the home dyer.

"Night Hunter," hand spun and woven from naturally coloured Romney fleeces

So what is a conscientious fibre enthusiast to do?  We can approach our choices with open minds and hearts as we research the fibres and fabrics which appeal to us.  Don't rely on advice from people with a vested interest in promoting a cause, one way or the other.  Talk to producers whenever you can.  Study fibres as best you can-process a raw fleece, spin up some cotton bolls, visit a farm or mill if the opportunity presents itself. 

Buy local.  In my area, there are producers who raise sheep, angora rabbits, alpaca, llama and goats for cashmere.  All the producers I know welcome the opportunity to talk to their customers; many of them are happy to have you visit their farms.

Mickey will give up his fur for my causes, but only when he's in the mood.

Once you've made your choices, know that you have done the best you can with the knowledge available to you, allowing you to act with the least harm you can reasonably manage.  Do not judge others who choose differently than you do.  Behaving with self satisfaction or smugness about your "superior" choices goes against the principles of "ahimsa."

Most of all, take comfort and value the fibres, yarns and textiles you do use and remind yourself of the wonderful choices we have available to us.

Morris approves of spinning.


(Note: Wikipedia is not necessarily the best source for reliable information, but the sources cited here will give you a starting point for your own studies.  There are many good reference books on textile production; detailed internet searches will give you a variety of opinions.  No matter where you do your research, consider the source.)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Makin' It Work: Using Your Art Yarns

At the beginning of this series of articles, I explained that I don't consider my art yarns to be art in themselves. They require craft and care in the making, but my intent is to use them in projects.  If you are happy arranging your yarns artfully in a bowl or basket and leaving it at that, that's fine.  I often do this, but in that case, I'm spinning meditation yarns.  The purpose of spinning meditation yarns is to stay in the moment, without looking to the past or the future.  Depending upon the meditation exercise, I'm not necessarily concerned with form or function when spinning those yarns.

 For everything else I spin, theoretically, the yarns I make will be transformed, for better or worse, into something else.  I'll give you a few tips and ideas for projects in which to incorporate your art yarns.

Silk boucle yarn as trim on a scarf

Consider the weight and texture of your designer yarns.  Many of them will be heavy and many will be very textured.  A little goes a long way here, especially if, like me, you are short and have a small frame.  Tall people look dramatic draped in art yarn projects; I resemble a short, colourful Sasquatch.   You may want to use these yarns in small projects or as trim on a plainer piece.  Do remember that art yarns don't have to be "big."  Many of the yarns discussed in the previous articles can be scaled back to suit specific projects.

Meditation wrap knitted with hand spun Polwarth wrapped and looped with commercial cotton

Detail of meditation wrap

If you decide to make an entire piece from art yarns, keep it simple.  Cables and complex patterns will be lost using these yarns.  Now is the time for garter, seed, and stockinette stitches.  You can balance the weight of a heavy yarn by using large needles or simple yarn over lace patterns.  Remember that crocheted pieces tend to be heavier than comparable knitted pieces, so go up a hook size or two.

Magical things happen when you use art yarn in freeform projects.  Wraps, hangings, blankets, bags-all these and more can become one of a kind designer projects, with a special touch only you can give them.

Freeform scarf with looped respun sari silk yarn

Scarf detail

Designer yarns are perfect for weaving.  They are usually best suited for use as weft yarns because the texture can catch in the heddles, causing abrasion and breakage or poor shedding.  The warp supports the weight of a heavy art yarn, in contrast to knitting or crocheting, where the yarns must support their own weight.

Spend some time working to balance your art yarns when you spin them.  If your yarns are not balanced, as is often the case with coiled yarns, do some testing before you use them in a project.  You may want to sew that coiled yarn onto your scarf, rather than knitting or crocheting it in, which can cause the entire piece to skew and bias.  Heavy yarns such as coils can make fantastic art pieces or funky baskets when you coil the coils.  For more examples, most of them bolder than what I've suggested here, check the Novelty and Art Yarn Spinners group on Ravelry.

Just as you did when spinning these wonderful yarns, allow yourself time to play and find the best use for your designer yarns.  While you're doing that, arrange those yarns artistically in that bowl or basket and put them out to be admired!

Neck piece knitted with sari silk and wool hand spun yarns


Monday, 14 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Art Yarns Gone Loopy

I love creating loops, bumps and coils with my yarns.  Textured yarns teach you control over plying techniques; the yarns add punch to a plain fabric and they're just fun to spin.  There are dozens of ways to create loopy yarns, from the controlled techniques promoted by Mabel Ross and Diane Varney to the "go for it" specialties of Jacey Boggs.  I'll cover just a few of them here.

Once again, it's important to understand twist direction in both your hand spun yarns and the commercial yarns you use.  Spend some time sampling and examining twist.  Set your wheel up so that you are using your slowest speed and treadle slowly.  These are not fast yarns to make.

Loopy yarns usually depend on moving away from regular, even plying techniques and into wrapping one or more yarns around a core, holding one yarn under greater tension than another or pushing one yarn along another.  You can begin your experiments with this by spinning a simple, "false boucle." Ply a thicker wool or mohair yarn with a fine thread such as cotton sewing thread or silk singles or similar contrasting yarn.  Hold the finer thread at a slightly tighter tension and you will see bumps form as your wool yarn wraps around the thread.  Fulling this yarn will draw the wool yarn up and make the bumps more prominent.

Singles spun Z from kid mohair locks and S plied with fine superwash wool singles

Now suppose you spin and ply that same false boucle, but this time, work with an over spun wool or mohair singles and, as you ply, pull up some of the hand spun singles so that it plies back on itself.  (Remember when your beginning spinning did that all on its own?  That's what you're going for here, but intentionally.)  Then release that small snarl (in the yarn, not you), allowing the base thread to secure it in place.  You can do this as often or as little as you wish.  I like to secure the loops and snarls even more, either by allowing the base yarn to wrap above and below the snarl or knot or by plying this yarn in the opposite direction with another fine yarn.  The effect will be something like this:

Loops and snarls yarn, mohair and silk 

You can push this irregular plying further.  Use a thick yarn and a finer one.  Begin by plying as usual, holding both yarns under consistent tension.  Now, form knots in your yarn by holding one of those yarns at an angle towards the wheel orifice.  The yarn you choose to angle is the yarn that will form a knot.  Build the knot to the size you want, then carry on plying as usual.  This knot should hold securely and give you a stable yarn.  You can wrap that knot yarn with another yarn for special effects if you choose.

For fun and wild plying, take a bobbin of hand spun singles and place it beside your wheel on the side away from your drafting hand (to my right, in this case).  Place two cones of fine commercial yarns at the opposite side (my left).  Attach all three yarns to the leader on your wheel bobbin and begin plying in the usual manner.  When you have plied a few metres of yarn, drop one of the commercial yarns and allow it to wrap any way it cares to go.  Jacey Boggs calls this "auto wrapping." I find that I have to use a flyer with a regular orifice because the yarn that is auto wrapping will wrap around my Delta flyer.  I also have to rescue the yarn that is auto wrapping once in a while, because it tends to just sit there.

Loops and puffs with auto wrapping

Techniques such as coiling add or subtract a lot of twist, depending upon how you spin them.  If you are coiling a Z yarn in the S direction, you will need to start with an over twisted Z yarn to compensate for the twist you remove when coiling.  If you coil that same yarn Z, start with an under twisted Z yarn.  You'll add twist as you go.  The base yarn for coils must be strong.  You hold it under far greater tension than the yarn you use to coil and if the base yarn breaks, there go your coils.

Begin by attaching the base yarn and the coiling yarn to the leader.  Ply a few metres, then allow the coiling yarn to spiral around the base yarn while you hold the base yarn under tension.  You are essentially core spinning, but this time, your wrapping is yarn, not fibre.  To get the coils, push the wrapping yarn up along the base yarn towards the orifice until there is no further movement along the base yarn.  If you use a thick and thin singles to coil, you will get wraps with coiled slubs.  Your coils will be more consistent if you use a consistent singles. 

Your coils will stay in place from the tension of pushing the wrapping yarn against the base to capacity, but you can further secure them by allowing the base yarn to wrap around the coils periodically.  This yarn uses a lot of yarn to make a few metres of coils. It is difficult, if not impossible, to balance coiled yarn.  You can balance it by plying it in the opposite direction with a fine yarn, but this changes the look of the yarn.

Top skein: Romney Z singles, Z plied around 2 ply S commercial nylon, then S plied with the nylon
Bottom skein:  Romney singles, plied S with knots around commercial nylon yarn, then secured by Z plying

These are just a few ways to create designer art yarns by playing with your plying.  Basically, anything that will give you a stable yarn with the look and hand you want is fair play. 

Finishing techniques depend on the fibre content of your yarns and the effects you want in the finished product.  I always allow the yarns to dry without weighting them, to avoid stretching the yarns and providing some bounce when I knit with them.  If you use these yarns for weaving--and art yarns are perfect for weft--block them with weights.

So, gather up your skeins of hand spun yarns, collect some cones of commercial singles and have at it.  Keep notes if you want to reproduce these yarns, label them for future reference, but remember to enjoy the moment!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Buttons and Bows

Now is the time to discuss adding those outrageous elements to your yarns. First, let me tell you why I don't spin button, beads, bows, etc directly into my yarns.  Since I see yarn as the medium for artistic expression, not the art itself, I want to be able to control the placement of my added elements in my finished objects. It is difficult to do this when your most eye-catching elements are part of the yarn.  If you space your beads/buttons/doll heads too systematically, they can stack up, one above the other, instead of spacing themselves where you want them.  Once they are in your yarns, you can't move these elements.

Next, there is the problem of abrasion.  Button shafts and edges on beads can cut through your yarns.  The bead or button will fall off and the yarn will be weakened.  Feathers, bits of fur and similar elements tend to work their way out of the yarn if they aren't well secured.

Large items may be next to impossible to coax through your wheel orifice, no matter how large that may be.  To date, I've had the best success with the Wild Flyer on my Pioneer wheel, but even that can't handle something larger than a couple of centimetres.  (Spindle spinners take note-you can put just about anything onto a yarn spun on a spindle.) 

Feathers, fur, paper and other items may not wash well.  Colours may bleed and the additives themselves can take on a "ratty" appearance, especially if you want to full your yarn. 

Despite these warnings, I have to admit that experimenting with what will and will not spin into an art yarn is rather fun and worth exploring in the interests of pushing your spinning limits. 

The traditional way of adding larger, non fibre elements to hand spun yarns is to string those elements onto a carrier yarn, often a cotton crochet yarn, plied silk or other sturdy yarn.  You can thread a needle fine enough to fit through your bead or button and tie it to your string, then thread as many beads (let's say) as you need, plus a few extras, in case of miscount or flaws.  Use this carrier yarn to ply with your hand spun yarn, placing the beads where you want them.  In some yarns, you may need to ply this plied yarn back with a third yarn to secure the beads in place.

Loose beads, prestrung beads, buttons--all these can be spun into your art yarn!

I prefer to spin buttons or large beads or anything with a hole or an element which can be pierced with a needle directly into the hand spun yarn.  I do this by using a dental floss threader to thread a section of my spinning fibres through the element hole and then overlapping these fibres and the bead, etc. with my main fibres and drafting them into the main yarn. (If you are adding something like fur or silk cocoons, use a needle to pierce the fur or cocoon and thread the fibre through.)

String your elements on to a bit of roving and spin this into your base yarn as you go.

Using this technique to spin the element directly into the yarn has the advantage of allowing you to add a single large element exactly where you want to place it in the yarn.  It also makes that additive an integral part of the yarn, so the extra element is less likely to fall out of your hand spun. This technique is a good choice when you're spinning a singles, because you don't need to ply the yarn to secure the added pieces.  You can still ply the yarn for extra security if you like, wrapping the plying yarn around the bead or button so that it holds everything in place without appearing intrusive.

"Memories" yarn: wool, alpaca with silk, wool, cotton threads, plastic buttons

If you want to add elements which will resemble bows of fibres in your yarn (fur scraps, bits of roving, pieces of fabric and so on), you can spin your usual yarn, split the fibre supply lengthwise at the point where you want to add the strip, slide the piece of fur or fibre into the opening, then add twist to close the opening and secure the element.  (Please, please, wear a mask when working with fur.  The fibre flies everywhere and can cause breathing problems.)

If you are adding feathers to your yarn, look for feathers with a soft shaft or clip the shafts off.  If you don't, the shaft will pop up from the yarn and be scratchy.  You can add the feathers as you spin or as you ply.  In either case, align the feather parallel to the yarn, then use an extra piece of fibre or yarn to wrap the tip of the feather against the yarn.  Be sure the feather is well secured before you feed it onto your bobbin.

So, gather up those bits and bobs which might, just might spin into or onto a yarn, try a few of these techniques and GO WILD!  (I can see it now: "Spinners Gone Wild: The Video!")

Then get ready to go loopy as we look at boucles, spirals and coils.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Art Yarns, Part Three, Additives

One of the easiest ways to give a special look to yarns is to add "stuff" to them.  Adding extras to your art yarns can occur during processing, spinning, plying and after the yarn is finished.  Let's take a look at a few of the ways we can jazz up a plainer yarn.

My preferred technique for yarn additives is to incorporate them into my carded fibres. Bits of yarn, scraps of fabric, fibres left over from another project, feathers, fur, raffia, paper--all of these things can be carded into an art batt, provided they will pass through the drums.  (Don't add the doll heads just yet!) I use a coarse carder--a Mark IV drum carder with a chain link drive band.  This carder handles just about anything I run through it; unless you're adding finer, softer fibres or small bits of yarns, a carder intended for finer fibres and softer blends will not be sturdy enough. 

Garnetted yarns are made by cutting yarns and blending them into a base fibre.  I like to sandwich bits of chopped up yarns, usually hand spun wools, alpaca, and silks, between two layers of a compatible wool or other fibre such as alpaca or llama.  Remember that your yarn will only be as soft as its toughest element, so if your base fibres are soft, choose additives that will enhance those fibres.  If you've wondered what to do with those leftover bits of hand spun yarns, now is the perfect time to card them into your batts.  Shorter pieces will blend into your batts more thoroughly than long bits of yarn, so experiment with the effects you want.  Be sure that whatever you're using will not wrap around the drums.  If you're using silk hankies, cut them into shorter lengths.  The same caution applies to sari silk or fabric pieces.

Base batt of wool and alpaca with commercial and hand spun wool, silk and cotton yarns
Used for "Memories" art yarn

Add plenty of whatever you want in your finished yarn.  No matter how well you blend or spin, some of these bits are going to fall out of your batt, either in processing, spinning, plying or finishing.

Base batt of BFL with silk hankies, silk and wool yarn

The smallest batch I blend usually weighs about 100 grams/4 ounces.  I like to blend enough for a small project, if only in theory.  This requires some planning: I blend my base batts, add my elements and then recard until those elements are held fairly securely in the batt.  Don't over card.  If your fibres are balling up instead of smoothing out, you are breaking down the base fibres.
Once I have carded my batts to my satisfaction, I usually separate them into lengthwise strips for spinning.

Most wheels can handle most blended art batts, although you may have to spin your yarns more finely if you are using, for example, a Louet Victoria rather than a Pioneer with a Wild Flyer. Use the slowest whorl ratio/speed on your wheel and treadle slowly, so that you can attend to any elements that want to go astray.

I draft back, smoothing in any bits of yarn, etc. along the length of my spun yarn.  If I'm plying the singles, I add quite a bit of twist.  Plying allows your additives to work loose from the base yarn.  Extra twist helps prevent their escape.  In most cases, I don't use these yarns as singles because they tend to shed and pill.  If I really want to use them as singles, I will full them severely when I wash them.  You can maintain some of the look of a singles by plying these yarns with a fine commercial or hand spun yarn in a similar colour.

I make sure that everything stays in place by washing these yarns in alternate hot and cold baths and some agitation.  This is the minimum finishing treatment I give garnetted yarns.  In most cases, I wash them in hot and cold water, agitating them in the baths, whacking them against a metal pole and then hanging them to dry.

Next, we'll discuss how to add those doll heads into your art yarn.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Core Spinning Art Yarns, Part Two

In my last post, I discussed choosing yarns for the core of your core spun art yarns.  Now it’s time to consider the fibres you will use to cover your core.

You can choose almost any fibre as your wrapping or cover.  Until you have some experience with core spinning, work with shorter fibres, preferably with some wool content (so that the fibres stick to the core).  You can use longer fibres, but these tend to draft on themselves, making it more difficult to control your spinning.  A mix of long and short fibres is perfect when you want textured yarns.

Fibre preparation is important.  Top can be slippery and hard to wrap, because the fibres are aligned and tend to be longer.  If you use top, tear it into smaller strips or pieces before you begin spinning.  The fibres in roving are jumbled which allows them to grab on to the core more easily.  Again, work with smaller pieces of roving, rather than working from a large strip.

My favourite preparation for core spinning is a blended batt, preferably with a mix of fibres and fibre lengths.  I love the textured effects I get with batts and find I have more drafting possibilities when working with them.  Smooth batts will give you a smoother yarn; textured batts make textured yarns, a basic premise we tend to forget.

Golden Willow's Blended Batt on the left; Doglover's Batt on the right

Whatever you choose, make sure your fibres draft freely.  Now is not the time to work with compacted fibres.  Spend some time opening up your fibre preparation and toss those tangled, felted bits or save them for additives in another yarn.

I set up for core spinning by placing my commercial coned yarn at my feet to the left of my wheel with my spinning fibres at my right, within easy reach.  I do this because I use my left hand to control my core while I wrap with my right. Remember to experiment in order to determine what works best for you. 

Use the slowest whorl on your wheel. Begin core spinning by turning the wheel in your preferred spinning direction (see the post on core twist), hold the core yarn under tension and lightly touch your spinning fibres to your core yarn as you treadle the wheel.  Don't pull against the core too tightly; it does need to be held more firmly than your spinning fibres.  I wrap my fibres from under the core yarn when spinning Z, over the core when spinning S; the fibres seem to catch more easily when I do this.  Draft ahead of the average staple length of your fibres to avoid spinning the fibres instead of wrapping them around the core.  To prevent spiralling, twisted fibres and common mayhem, use a gentle touch with your fibres--no clutching.

Treadle slowly, allowing the fibres to wrap around the core.  Holding the fibres at a 90 degree angle to the core will usually allow full coverage.  Using more acute drafting angles (holding the fibres towards you) helps me to draft fewer fibres so that the core shows through.  Tilting the fibres towards the orifice on an obtuse angle causes lumps and bumps to form around the core yarn instead of providing the look of a wrapped singles.  Your angle of twist on the spinning fibres will be affected by your spinning style; it will also be affected, sometimes to a great degree, by the spinning wheel itself.

I fan out my fibres as I spin, controlling the size and shape of the fan by holding it lightly with the last three fingers of my right hand.  If your fibres start to spin on themselves, forming a separate yarn to the core, stop, fan out your fibres again and resume spinning.  If you accidentally miss covering the core, simply place your fibres above the spot (close to the orifice) and allow your fibres to wrap over the bare core.

Wool and silk art yarn

If your core yarns break occasionally, overlap them a few inches or centimetres and cover the joins with fibre.  These fibres will hold the joins securely.  If the core breaks repeatedly, go back and reread the post on choosing core yarns.

Sample, sample, sample—with your yarns, your fibres, angles of twist and other techniques to get the yarns you want.  Depending upon how you spin them, core yarns can be used as low twist, stable singles, or as yarns plied back on themselves.  Make batches of core spun “singles” to use in wrapped and coiled art yarns.

Experiment with washing and finishing techniques. Alternating hot and cold washes, agitating and whacking core spun yarns with a wool core and wool fibres in the wrapping will full your yarn, giving it a very different look than a similar yarn more lightly finished.  Suitable finishes will depend on the fibre content of both your core and your wrapping fibres, so take some time to sample from fibre to finish before you begin core spinning for a larger project.

Pay attention, keep some notes, label those yarns and, most of all, HAVE FUN! 
Those of us not heading south can stay and play with art yarn spinning!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Core Spinning Art Yarns, Part One, Choosing Base Yarns

Core spinning provides shorter, weaker fibres with a stronger skeleton.  By wrapping a lovely fibre around a less attractive yarn, we can stretch a bit of lovely fibre a long way.  We create special effects with core spinning techniques or we can use core spun yarns as bases for more complex designer effects.  Besides, core spinning is just plain fun!

You can use just about any yarn as your core for this type of spinning, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t choose your base yarn carefully. (Let’s assume you’re using commercial yarns for cores. You can certainly core spin around hand spun yarn, but in most cases, I core spin around commercial yarns.  I don’t hide my hand spun yarns unless I have a reason to do so.) That yarn is the spine of your core spun art yarn, so pay attention to how it will behave in your new yarn.

Now is the time to study yarn twist and plying direction, especially if your base yarn is a singles.  Again, don’t assume that your yarn is Z spun/S plied (clockwise/counterclockwise).  Determine the twist direction before you begin: if you core spin around an S spun singles in a Z or clockwise direction, you’ll be subtracting twist, which can cause the core to drift apart.  Core spinning S will add twist to the core yarn.  Spend some time sampling to get the effect you want.  Once you determine twist/plying direction, label that cone of yarn!

Two cones of S spun wool singles
Fibre content will affect yarn behaviour.  I prefer fine wool cores when I can get them, because they add structure and elasticity without excess weight and I know I can full the finished yarn to the point where the core integrates with my fibres.  Cellulose, bast or synthetic fibres will not felt or full.  Cotton and linen cores can be heavy and inelastic; they are strong and add punch to core spun fibres if the core shows in the finished yarn.  I sometimes use synthetic yarns as cores.  Nylon will add strength and sheen. Glossy acrylic or polyester cores will provide glamour—and anyone who knows me, knows I’m all about the glamour--without the expense of using that gorgeous silk you have at hand.  (Save the silk for wrapping, where it will show.)  Look for yarns which have some "grip," especially when you begin core spinning.  You want those spinning fibres to hold to the core.

Consider core colour.  Although most core spinning hides the base yarn, the core can show in spots, either accidentally or as a design element.  Choose a colour that will blend with your fibres or add punch to them.

Leave the core yarns on the cone.  You can core spin around yarn winding from a ball, but the cone package adds tension and drag which will help you control your base yarns.

In Part Two, I’ll discuss choosing fibres for core spinning, set up and technique.  For now, I’ll leave you with this, a photo of a basic core spun pseudo-singles:

Wool, bamboo, mohair batt around 2 ply z spun/s plied wool core