Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My Favourite Things

One of my yoga classes is fairly casual: people come and go, dropping by when they can, so there are new faces in every session.  Sarah, the instructor, always has us answer a question during our introductions.  Last session, we had to name our favourite singer.  I picked one among many, but the question made me think of what my favourite spinning tools might be.  The choice was clear-anything made by Ed Tabachek, spindle maker and master craftsman. 

Ed and his wife Jo-Anne are two of the nicest people you could meet and both are talented fibre people.  Jo-Anne is a master spinner who tests all of Ed's products.  If it has two ends, Jo-Anne can spin it.  Ed's spinning tools are things of beautiful simplicity, crafted with care and attention to function and detail.

I first saw a Tabachek spindle at a fibre conference in Alberta, over 20 years ago.  It was a simple toy wheel spindle, with engraved decoration and it cost me about $10 from a Manitoba vendor attending the conference.  Ed called these spindles "Chatterworks."  This pretty thing reawakened my love for spindles, a love which had been frustrated by boat anchors or spindles which were cute, but wildly unbalanced. 

At the next Alberta conference, another vendor had a new design by this spindle maker.  The whorl was made of ebonized oak.  It had a smooth finish and was small, with a short shaft.  I fell in love and bought one on the spot.  Once again, it spun beautifully and still does:

An early Tabachek spindle on the left, with the Chatterworks spindle at right

Shortly after that purchase, either I wrote to Ed to tell him how much I admired his work and he sent me one of his support spindle bowls to test or he contacted me through my work at a local arts centre, asking me to test a bowl.  One way or another, I became the proud owner of a lovely bowl which improved my supported spinning by leaps and bounds.  Over the years, I've collected a number of Ed's bowls, some of which you see here.  At top left is the original bowl with a bowl Ed designed to my specifications at its right.  Below those are two of Ed's classic bowl styles:

Somewhere along the way, I met Ed and Jo-Anne in person.  They would drop by the LYS where I work and teach to deliver a spindle order and to chat.  (Those spindles were prime stock and vanished as soon as the boxes containing them were opened.)  I'd be invited for a private viewing of new spindles and tools in their townhouse room at Olds Fibre Week.  Sometimes, there would be trips out to the back of their vehicle to make my selection for that year. 

Jo-Anne and Ed showed me a nifty trick for unwinding spindles using a clamp and a swivel hook.  Ed fixed my small weaving fork when it broke while I was working on a tapestry when we were hanging out in the Land Sciences cafeteria at Olds one year.  He took the time to explain exactly why the fork had snapped and then gently admonished me, "Next time, buy better tools."  Making and using the best tools for the job is a point of pride for Ed.

A selection of my Deluxe, Compact and Mini spindles

Two Tibetan spindles, a Russian and a bottom whorl spindle

From top left: a wraps per inch gauge, the winding tool, another wraps per inch gauge, orifice threader and a nostepinne

A Mini Tabachek in ebonized oak

I've parted with a few Tabachek spindles over the years, to people near and dear to me and once to a spinners' silent auction because I wanted new spinners to have the thrill of spinning on one of these wonderful tools.  I can let spindles go, most of the time, but not my Tabbies-they give new intensity to the meaning of "attachment."  I have a few out on loan, but only to trusted borrowers whose location I can track at any given moment.  The first ebonized oak spindle, along with my Tibetans, is a regular in my meditation practice sessions.

Sometimes, we never know the tool makers who add so much pleasure to our pursuits.  Often, even when we do know them, we forget to thank them for the joy they bring to our lives.  So, "thank you," Jo-Anne and "thanks," Ed, for the decades of beautiful simplicity your tools and advice have given me.


Monday, 26 September 2011


In honour of the anniversary of Gandhi's birth, October 2, I've been playing with the Bosworth book charkha I bought from sheepless at Olds Fibre Week this summer.  I've used an Indian book charkha for years and loved it, but it's a quirky little machine that is worn out from hard use and our dry climate. 

The story goes that Gandhi promoted the book charkha as a means to make spinning available to everyone in India, including urban apartment dwellers who didn't have the space for large charkhas.  Charkhas are fast and efficient; their rhythm makes them conducive to meditation, which Gandhi considered essential to well-being.

Bosworth charkhas are rare things-there's a long waiting list-and expensive, so I leaped at the chance to get this one.  I wasn't disappointed.  These machines are masterfully engineered and beautifully finished.  Set up is easy and this charkha spins really well.  There is a learning curve with any new tool, so I started by spinning some cashmere and silk "waste," bits of top, tangled fibres, etc. cut from factory machines.  The fibres are soft and spin well with a bit of coaxing.  They're short, so they're excellent to use for the unsupported long draw required for the charkha, where one hand turns the drive wheel while the other drafts the fibres and feeds the yarn onto the spindle:

The open charkha, ready to go, showing the built-in lazy kate

My right hand turns the drive wheel

Note the light touch on the fibre supply

My left hand drafts the fibres back

Spinning occurs as I draft off the spindle tip

Winding on occurs when you hold the yarn perpendicular to the spindle shaft

With practice, it doesn't take long to establish a rhythm of cranking, drafting, adding twist and then winding on to the spindle.  Meant for fine yarns, the spindles hold plenty of highly twisted singles.  The charkha uses an accelerator wheel, so the ratio of spindle to drive wheel rotations is 70:1.  I measured my drafting length and counted my turns when adding extra twist; I'm adding about 12 to 13 twists per inch here.

Although the wheel can be used for plying, charkha plying is not the most relaxing activity on the planet.  (This part was not meditative.  There were many words chanted, none of them calming.  On the other hand, I was totally focused!)  Many authorities recommend winding off the spindles and using a traditional wheel or handspindle for plying, but I was determined to use the charkha to produce a plied skein.  For the first sample, I used the built-in lazy kate, with the rubber band tensioning recommended in my instructions:

It worked, but I discovered that if I stopped plying, everything tangled.  The spindles didn't wind off evenly, causing snarls and snaps (many of them coming from me).  I persisted and managed to ply a 20 metre sample skein, in all its uneven glory.

With my remaining singles, I wound a plying ball.  Plying from that ball was more successful and I think that's the way to go, if I don't want to move to using storage bobbins, etc.  I intend to take this wheel on the road with me and I want to keep extra equipment to a minimum.

The charkha folds up into a book size box when it's not in use:

The closed charkha, with the finished sample skein and a Tabachek mini niddy noddy

Here are the finished skeins, both washed in hot water and dish soap, lightly fulled, rinsed and dried flat:

If you get an opportunity to work with a charkha, give it a whirl, if only to appreciate the mastery of its design and efficiency.  Charkha spinning is lots of fun, too, and I'm sure the plying will be more enjoyable, once I get a feel for it.

Namaste and Happy Birthday to my sister, Liz!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Random Acts of Knitting: A Meditation on Kindness (Kinda)

Because I use knitting as meditation practice, my collection of small, simple items-scarves, cowls, hats and socks-tends to build quickly.  I don't sell these items, and have more than I can use, so the question is: what do I do with them?

People have many ways of dealing with their fibre surplus.  Our extra knitting is given to friends, as gifts, to charity.  There are shelters and organizations which collect for the homeless and thrift shops which sell practical items.  Some people belong to prayer ministries; others knit chemo caps or layettes for premature babies.  Some folk help as many organizations as they can.  It's all wonderful work, but the one that attracts me the most is Random Acts of Knitting.

As far as I know, RAK was the brain child of a friend of mine who came up with the idea several years ago when she was looking for partners in yarn bombing.  She-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous wanted to do something other than the usual "attach pieces of fabric to random objects," which is a common theme in yarn bombing.  I call her idea "knitting with intent."  The concept is simple: distribute handmade articles around your city as gifts to anyone who may want them.  The items may be practical or whimsical; all that is asked is that they be worked with best intentions and be given freely.

What does this mean?  First of all, the work should be the best you can do, using the most suitable materials you have available.  If you wouldn't wear it because it's too scratchy or poorly made, why would anyone else?  An article doesn't have to be flawless, but it should suit its intent-a hat should fit someone, and be at least potentially attractive.  It should be warm or keep the sun off or do whatever you would expect a hat to do. "With best intentions." Simple.

"Given freely" means you have no agenda.  That hat is left where anyone can find it, regardless of income, or life history.  There is no judgment attached.  If the hat ends up in the trash, then so be it.  You offer something and then let it go.  The odds are that you will never know what happened to your work or whether it was appreciated or even used.  Certainly, no one will know that the work was yours.

Random Acts of Knitting outings can be a lot of fun.  You can use stealth and subterfuge to get your stuff out there.  You can add explanatory labels so that people don't think your knitting is a lost item.  You may want to work around a theme or a season or target an area of your community.  You can stretch your imagination. 

As inspiration, I offer you some photographs from past RAK excursions.  The photos are mine; in keeping with the RAK spirit, the donors are not named:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

You Spin Me Right Round

I attended "It's Our Nature," an exhibit by The Saskatchewan Weavers and Spinners Guild, held at the Neil Balkwill Civic Arts Centre on the weekend.  It was a lovely display of spinning, weaving, knitting and stitchery.  There were tapestries, rugs, jackets, accessories and much more, made by women from across the province.  It was impossible to choose a favourite, although a fine, painted scarf woven from bamboo by Heather M. was right up there, along with several handspun pieces.  With permission, I took photographs of a few items in the show.  You can click for details:

Susie's Handspun Socks Dyed with KoolAid

Susie's Handspun and Dyed Doily

Dora's Amazing Handspun Gloves

I thought my angora yarn was finely spun, until I saw Dora's gloves, knit from her 3 ply angora.  She let me try them on and they are oh, so soft:

Dora's Gloves
There was much, much more-Sara's handspun cotton neckpiece, a wrap in handspun qiviuq, a handspun silk cowl.  It was wonderful to see how much yarn people had spun themselves and, if you wanted to give it a whorl yourself, Hilary and Susie were there to demonstrate the art and help you get started.

The Regina Weavers and Spinners Guild had a display in the hallway outside the show.  They are having a sale on October 15 and 16, at the Balkwill, so if you're in town, check it out.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Sanctuary: Leaves Are Fallin' All Around

It was 32 degrees Celcius on the day I took these photographs, but there were signs of things to come as the full moon brings a change of weather:

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bubble, Bubble, Toil, No Trouble

When I was out visiting the children this spring, I picked up a bag of walnut husks that had been sitting under the trees in their yard all winter.  The husks were black and brittle, but I thought that they might give some kind of a dye.  Years ago, I was able to mail order black walnut husks and loved the rich browns and blacks I coaxed from the husks into my wools.

I've spent the last few days dyeing with the husks, using up old skeins of white fibres I spun way, way back when the earth was cooling.  I stuffed the husks into pieces of nylon pantyhose, ground the dyestuff using a mortar and pestle and let the package soak in hot water overnight.  I then boiled out the dyestuff in a stainless steel pot.  I added my wet skeins, brought the dyebath to a simmer and then turned off the heat, allowing the skeins to cool in the pot before I washed, rinsed and dried them.

The colours are not as strong as I used to get, but considering that the husks were old and I didn't have more than about 60grams/ 2 ounces of them per pot, I'm pleased with the results:

From left to right, we have 2 skeins of chain plied merino yarn, 2 ply wool with an iron mordant and a skein of chain plied angora/silk, also mordanted with iron in the dyepot.  I particularly like the angora skein; this is not a colour I use or wear, but it's a pretty taupey-grey that I think will work well in a cowl or a wimple.  It's a very "bunny" colour.

All the  colours are subtle, much like the markings on this guy:

Friday, 9 September 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call? Stashbusters

I have quite a stash collection.  You tend to accumulate a few fibres over several decades of spinning, knitting, and teaching.  It has occurred to me that this "stuff" is only important to me and that I will be leaving a room full of unwanted fluff when I leave the planet, no matter how long I stick around.  The fibre piles don't decrease by much when you spin lace weight or worsted weight yarns and then replace those fibres with new, gorgeous roving.

Despite the unseasonably hot weather, I know that fall, frost and snowy winters are on their way.  What better way to stay warm and decrease the stash than by spinning lots of bulky, lofty yarns which, conveniently, are currently in fashion.  (And I am nothing if not known for my fashion forward sense!  Yeah, right.)

The thing is, lofty bulky yarns are not that easy to spin well.  They are not the dense, compressed thick singles we get when we first learn to spin.  Ideally, it's nice to wear garments that aren't so heavy that you feel and look as if you're wearing a yurt.  Yurt wearing is hard to carry off, especially if you're five feet nothing.  Off I went in search of the perfect thick, soft, but light yarns.

When Joanne T. was here for her Master Level 6 course, she showed me her gorgeous 2 ply bulky yarn, spun woollen from BFL tops.  The singles were spun with minimum twist and drafting, then plied and intensely fulled.  Joanne told me her secrets, so I started there:

The sample at the top is a merino/baby camel down/silk top, spun z, plied s on a Louet Victoria.  This is a small, fast wheel and not suited to bulky spinning, but I had spun the yarn at a workshop using this wheel.  I cabled the 2 ply z, then soaked the skein in hot water and wool wash.  The result is a soft, pretty piece of rope at 5 wraps per inch (wpi).  I needed a bigger wheel.

Sample 2, on the left, is the same fibre, this time spun on my massive Lendrum Jumbo Head.  It's the original large head Lendrum made for the single treadle wheel and it's huge.  Lendrum doesn't make their large head this big any more and that's a shame.  The flyer has ratios of about 3:1 and 4:1.  I spun this drafting back slightly at a 4:1 ratio and then plied it at 3 twists per inch.  I agitated the skein in a hot water bath and then gave it a good whacking.  The yarn is soft, but at 24 metres per 93 grams, and 3 wpi, it's far too dense and overprocessed.

Ever so slightly better, at 30 metres per 96 grams, 4 wpi, the third sample, far right, is merino/silk 80/20 from Celeigh Wool.  I spun this like Sample 2 but fulled it with less agitation.  Again, it makes pretty rope.

I switched to an alpaca/flax roving from Golden Willow, spun and plied it like the first samples, but I made an effort not to compress the fibres.  I soaked the skein in hot water, no agitation and gave it a light thwacking to finish.  This skein is 60 metres per 98 grams and 4 wpi. It's much softer and lighter and will actually work in a cowl without making me feel as if I'm wearing an iron chain link necklace.

On to sweetgeorgia tops I bought at Art of Yarn in Kelowna, BC.


This time, I spun the merino/bamboo/silk blend at a 3:1 ratio, but drafted back as quickly as I could and took care not to compress the fibres. I plied quickly, then washed the skeins in hot water, no agitation and just a light thwacking to straighten the skeins.  The 100 gram skein on the left measures 75 metres and 5 wpi; the one on the right measures 90 metres, 6 wpi, so I am drifting off into slightly finer yarns.  Both are wonderfully soft, light and stable.  I think I might be getting somewhere.

Last up and just for fun, because I was getting tired with plain plying, is "Puff," a sample for an upcoming art yarn class I'm teaching later in the fall.  I spun a thick and thin yarn from a Golden Willow blended batt.  The slubs are very lightly twisted, just enough to hold the yarn together.  I plied this yarn s with a commercial silk singles weaving yarn, pushing the slubs up into loose puffs, locking the puffs above and below with the silk yarn.  The locking action is important; if you don't do this, the slubs slide up and down the silk binder.  This yarn was severely fulled, with hot and cold baths, agitation and thwacking to felt the puffs and make them stable enough to produce functional yarn.  50 grams of batt gave me 60 metres of a soft accent yarn which doesn't shed its fibres.

There you have it-over 500 grams/1 pound of fibre spun here and there over a course of a couple of days.  I'm overjoyed-if Sharon doesn't blend any more batts or dye pretty colours before I go into to work on Saturday, I'll have only about 100 kilos or so left to spin. 

I'm kidding.  I hope I'm kidding.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Reel Thing: A Study in Silk

My friend Coleen invited me over to observe the silk reeling lesson she was giving for her Master Spinners' Certificate students yesterday.  Silk reeling is part of Level 6 of the programme and Coleen is becoming a master at the art.  She is a Master Spinner instructor and has travelled to the United States to study with Wormspit (aka Michael Cook) and to Asia in pursuit of perfect reeling techniques.

You can click to enlarge each photograph:

The rice ball is full of cocoons ready to be placed in hot water.

The cocoons catch onto the brush.  The first fibres are waste and are pulled off the cocoons.

The prepared cocoons are transferred to the warm water bath.

The metal device is a "croissure," used to thread the silk through to the reel.

Coleen threads the croissure.

You can see the filaments coming from the cocoons.  The cocoons sizzle and bob in the warm water as they're reeled.

Joanne reels from the cocoons.

A close up of the filaments on the reel: aren't they beautiful?

These are nearly spent cocoons.  The pupae are an excellent source of protein.

The reel is set on its side, then the filaments are threaded up into a jade ring.

The filaments must dry in the air or they will glue themselves together.

Joanne transfers the filaments to a smaller reel.

The silk is then wound onto a bobbin.

Leslie adds twist to a singles composed of filaments from 4 bobbins, approximately 120 filaments in all.  She is producing "tram silk," with about 10 twists per inch.

These are a few of Coleen's bobbins of reeled silk.