Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween Howl: Frankensocks

I spun this rather lovely sock yarn last year.  The wool was Merino, too soft for socks to suit my tastes, but I spun it tightly and chain plied it.  It's firm, knits up into socks that fit both Birks and boots and the colours are very pretty. 

The socks turned out well, too, mostly.  I knit them up on small needles, with 2/2 ribbing for the legs so that the socks will stay up.  The heels and their turnings are padded and the socks fit tightly on my feet; these socks won't slip and creep.  They're finished nicely-in theory, I could wear these babies inside out. 

There's one small problem:

Yup.  Completely. Totally. Mismatched.  Not even close.  In a world where it's perfectly acceptable to knit fraternal socks, these would be the orphans in the bunch.

Do I know what happened?  Not a clue.  You see, I didn't bother to label this wondrous sock yarn, so I don't know how I managed this impressive feet  feat. 

Sock #3 seems to be knitting up differently yet again.

I'll wear the um, pair?  They're still nice socks.  I can amuse people by my apparent incapability to dress myself.  Who knows, by the time I finish knitting up all the yarn, perhaps I'll have something resembling a matched set. 

Either that, or I'll have the nicest dusting mitts/socks around.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Little Help From My Friends: Support Yarns for Art Spinning

Top skein: Romney over cotton wrapped elastic
Bottom skein: Mohair over same core thread

When I stand in tadasana, sit in meditation or practise yoga poses, I bring attention to my spine and my core.  An elongated, balanced spine and strong centre allow me to focus on my meditation or bend and stretch safely in the pose.  I use a similar approach in preparing to spin art yarns.

Many designer yarns are spun using a base or core yarn to support a hand spun singles or plied yarn.  Think of that base yarn as the “spine” of your finished product.  Although the core may not be visible, it holds your yarn together.  If the core is weak, your yarn may break, drift apart or collapse, so it’s a good idea to spend time selecting suitable supports for your designer products.
A commercial lace weight yarn can provide strength to yarn without adding much weight or grist.  (Many art yarn spinners discourage using thread as a core, but while thread may not work well in coiled yarns, I have never had a problem using sewing thread as a ply or binder.)  If you work with heavier, denser supports for yarns intended as garments, you may find that your finished product is too heavy to be comfortable and may stretch from its own weight.  On the other hand, that heavy core may be just the thing for bags, rugs or anything subject to abrasion.

In most cases, you will want to work with coned yarns, or yarns on spools or bobbins.  These types of packaging provide drag on the yarns, allowing more control over tension and rate of feed than yarn coming from a ball.  If you use core yarns in balls, wind them tightly and be sure there are no loops or kinks.  Work from the outside of the ball and tuck the centre yarn into the ball, so the extra end doesn’t spiral up and snarl your work.

Left to Right: 2 ply wool, cotton/acrylic thick and thin, silk singles, 2 ply cotton weaving thread

Plying direction is critical in core yarns, especially if you are working with singles.  Determine the spinning and plying direction of your support yarns and mark them on the cones.  That way, you will know whether you are adding or subtracting twist from the core as you spin.  If your core is Z spun or plied and you are plying S, you will be subtracting twist.  Wrapping techniques and coiling require a lot of twist, so your core may drift apart, along with all those beautiful coils.  Conversely, if you use that Z spun core as a base for core spinning a Z yarn, you will be adding twist, which can cause your finished yarn to kink more than you expect, leaving it (and you, perhaps) somewhat unbalanced.

Texture and elasticity are also important.  If you want “grip” when making wrapped yarns, use a thick and thin or slightly rougher support yarn.  Do you want to slip, slop and slide your way to a boucle and coils?  Then use a slippery core.  If your yarn is too elastic, you may have loops where you don’t want them. (You can produce an interesting yarn by plying wool with cotton or silk covered elastic thread.)  If your support has no give, you could end up with limp yarn with no body. 

Ideally, all my commercial support yarns would be spun from natural fibres, but for some techniques, I admit that synthetics do a fine job of adding structure to designer yarns.  (I dare not say, “better.”)  Often, you are holding your support yarn under tension while adding a lot of twist.  Yarns with a high acrylic and nylon content tend to be stronger than 100% cotton and wool of the same grist.  The exceptions are plied silk and plied linen, which are very strong; however, if I’m working with 100% silk anything, I want it to show in all its glory.  I do not want to bury it in my art yarn.  The same thing applies to linen, with the additional caveat that linen tends to make very stiff art yarns.

A yarn with too much strength can be a problem.  I have trouble with core yarns snapping when I’m making coils.  I thought I had solved that problem by coiling over a cone of nylon upholstery thread.  My supercoils didn’t break—instead the upholstery yarn sliced neatly through them. 

Although your core will be hidden most of the time, do give some consideration to colour.  No matter how carefully you spin, your core may show in some spots.  If you’ve used that screaming lime acrylic as a base for fuchsia supercoiled hand spun, you may have to wear sunglasses when using the yarn.  Wrapping a greyed purple yarn over a light yellow base can result in something rather unappealing—dryer lint, if you’re lucky, dog poop if you’re not. (Of course, if dog poop art yarn is what you want, by all means, go for it!)

Spend some time getting to know your base yarns.  Do some testing before you settle at your spinning wheel.  Think of this as warm up stretching, “yarn tadasana,” if you will, and make it part of each spinning session.  Then twist and turn to your heart’s content.

You thought I was kidding about the fuchsia yarn!


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Round, Round We Go: On Spinning Art Yarns

A Basket Full of Goodies (Mostly)
Spinners often refer to yarns that didn’t work out quite as expected as “art yarns.”  It’s a cute euphemism, but not accurate.  Definitions of what makes a “designer/art” yarn vary, so let me begin by stating my ideas of what moves a yarn into the “art/designer” category.

Any yarn outside the usual smooth singles or plied yarns can be an art yarn.  These yarns can be created by the nature of the fibres or elements in them, spinning techniques, plying methods or a combination of these.   I consider yarns to be the medium I use to produce my work; just as handmade paints are not the painting itself, yarn, no matter how pretty, exciting or interesting, is the means to an end.  It follows that I want my art yarns to be structurally stable and useful, at least in theory.  (If you want to spin doll heads and barbed wire into your yarns, please do, but if I can’t figure out a way to make an end product with a yarn, I won’t spin it.  Or at least, I won’t spin much of it.)  Not only should yarn be useful, it should be reproducible.  I have my share of tiny skeins of this and that, but these yarns eat up a lot of stash (a bonus in my case) and I do like to make something larger than a cowl, once in a while.

For Edward: 400 Metres of Thick and Thin Felted Yarn

Rather than allowing you to throw spinning rules out the window, I find that spinning art yarns requires more attention to twist per inch, grist, fibre properties, finishing techniques and wheel control. You also need some idea of an end use for your finished product.

So, let’s consider some things before we begin our art yarn adventures, starting with your wheel.  (Yes, you can spin art yarns on spindles.  Many people do this and I have, too, but this is one of the few times that I find spinning wheels more efficient.)  No one wheel can spin everything and this applies even more with designer yarns.  If your interest is in big, bold and beautiful, you’re going to need a bigger boat wheel.  (Okay, or use a spindle.  You got me.  Let’s pretend that spindles are out of the picture right now.  They’re buried under your yarn stash.)  You can spin those slubs, coils and loops on your wheel with the tiny guide and small orifice, but you’ll have to work on a smaller scale.

Now is the time to dust off your knowledge of wheel ratios.  Don’t just rely on the manufacturer’s guide; all wheels have variable tolerances, so determine your ratios for yourself.  Tie a string to the drive wheel hub, move your drive wheel band to your smallest whorl, (assuming you’re working with a flyer lead wheel), mark the flyer and count the number of times your flyer turns for a single turn of the drive wheel.  Mark that number on your whorl.  Do this for every whorl you have.  The basic rule is: the smaller the whorl, the more twists per inch added with the same treadling rate. 

It’s also important to remember the direction of twist you use in a given yarn because so many of these techniques rely on plying your base yarns, either with other hand spun or with commercial yarns.  You may always spin clockwise (Z) and ply counterclockwise (S), but don’t assume that’s the case with someone else's yarns, especially commercially manufactured laceweights on cones. Check the twist of an unknown yarn, along with its fibre content, before you use it in your finished product.

Blended Batts, Autowrapped and Chain Plied

It follows that, if you know your ratio and your treadling rate, you can determine twists per inch by treadling at a constant rate over a given length of yarn.  If, for example, your ratio is 2:1 and you treadle twice over 10 cm/4 inches of spun yarn, you would produce a yarn with 2 twists x 2 treadles or 4 twists per 10cm/4 inches. 4 twists over 4 inches means your yarn has a single twist per 2.5 cm/1 inch, which will make a very soft yarn.  (Someone is bound to catch me on my math skills here.  I just know it.)

You don’t need an exact tpi count, but you do need to understand how twists per inch affect yarn hand and behaviour.  If you are planning to leave that very soft yarn as a singles, you may be okay using only one tpi. (You’ll likely need more to produce a stable yarn, but for math’s sake, work with me here.) If you are going to ply that yarn back on itself and you want to maintain the single twist per inch, you will have to add approximately one more twist per inch to the singles.   Practice treadling at a constant rate.  Many of us speed up as we get comfortable with our spinning, so be mindful of falling back into your default spinning zone.  Using a metronome can help keep you on track.

You’ll make better yarns if you understand fibre properties, staple length, etc.  If you are planning to felt that soft yarn to stabilize it, then you need to know that superwash wool fibre will not felt, no matter how you process the yarn.  If you use superwash in a soft, slubby yarn, you may want to add more twists and make smaller slubs.  You want larger slubs, you say?  Then use Blue-faced Leicester, Merino or another soft fibre that hasn’t been treated to resist felting.

Many of the spinning and plying techniques we use in producing art yarns rely on overtwist or irregular spinning, plying, and additional elements, which can make even soft fibres feel harsher or harder than they would if you were using them in a basic plied yarn.  Supercoils use the technique of pushing a base yarn along a core while you treadle your wheel.  By its nature, supercoiled yarn is firm stuff.  If you want to use it in a garment, then you will want a softer fibre for the coiled yarn.  If the yarn is for a wall piece or a bag, then a tougher fibre may be appropriate.

Committing a few basic spinning rules to memory will keep you in the moment, mindful of your spinning, so that you don’t drift off and discover that where you began is not where you are now.  Right now, you want to stay focused and pay attention. Knowing some rules will help you to break them, thoughtfully, a skill you’ll need when you explore this exciting world of art and designer yarns.

My First Attempt at Supercoils

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Locomotive Breath

Take a breath.

Catch your breath.
Shallow breath, heavy breathing, holding our breath, laboured breathing...breath is a constant in our vocabulary.  And no wonder: without breath, we are . . . ?

Breathing is automatic.  It happens whether we will it or not, from the time we are born until the time we leave the planet.  Unless we are having problems with the breath, we seldom notice the constant flux of fresh air in, used air out, of the lungs, out of the body.  Breath moves us, more or less smoothly, along the track of life.

Some yogic traditions hold that each person is allotted a certain number of breaths over a lifetime.  Once that number is used, off you go.  So it might be wise to pay more attention to this vital process and help maximize its benefits.

Yoga and meditation classes focus awareness on the breath, teaching participants how to control the breath, how to move it through different parts of the body, how to use breath to bring energy to the body and how to breathe for relaxation.  With practise, breath awareness becomes a natural part of the day, useful in many situations.

Do you tend to hold your breath when working with a difficult fibre, or when you've discovered an error in your knitting or in your pattern?  Do you remember that massive sigh that escaped your body when it became clear that something just wasn't working as it should?   How about that big, refreshing breath you took when the last skein of yarn was spun, the sweater completed, the knitting finished for the day?

Instead of allowing the breath to happen, we can use these moments to bring awareness to our breathing.  The next time you face a fibre challenge, notice if you are holding your breath or if your breathing becomes shallow.  Consciously relax the body and deepen the breath, drawing it into the body, filling the lungs and moving it down into the abdomen.  Release that breath just as completely, giving a little "push" to empty the lungs. Taking a few of these full breaths will bring new energy (and a new perspective, perhaps), refreshing your brain to meet that challenge.

Fully releasing the breath will help us relax.  This is the nature of the "sigh."  (Women are more likely to sigh than men, for some reason.  Women sighing seems to make many men quite nervous.)  That sigh releases stale air and toxins from the body.  It is a natural mechanism for calm and relaxation.  Take advantage of that and allow yourself a great big sigh the next time you face a major frogging.  Then fill your lungs with a full intake of fresh air and get on with the task.

Yes, I sighed over this one!

Keep breathing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Angie: A Lesson in Applied Mindfulness

What do we have here?

Yes, it's a bag. The package contains "stuff."  Nothing special, just a few vacation treats.  The photograph shows something else that is not readily apparent: it's an example of mindfulness in action.

I go to Worldly Accents every time I visit Kelowna.  I like the merchandise, but the reason the store appeals to me is the care and attention the staff takes with small details.

Everything is wrapped in handmade paper, tied with hemp string, garnished with a dried leaf and placed carefully in a recycled bag.  Yes, it's good for business, but it's also an extra touch that shows someone has the time to pay attention to the task at hand.

We practise mindfulness for itself, not to achieve a goal or get somewhere, but what I notice with regular practice is that I'm becoming more mindful about my life in general and the work that I do.  I pay attention to the details of what passes through my hands.

"Angie" is an example: this cowl began with a hand spun 2 ply angora and silk yarn, dyed with walnut husks.  I had 140 metres of this soft, soft yarn and I wanted to knit a special project.

I knit several samples, but nothing quite worked until I modified a lacy rib pattern, staggering the "ribs" in alternate sets.  The pattern is reversible-I like to make things which are attractive no matter which side shows. 

I also like to make things which can be worn in a variety of ways, so Angie began with a basic knitted cast on.  I knit until I was almost out of yarn, then cast off in picot edging.  Worked on 88 stitches, this cowl is loose fitting, so I added a twisted cord which can be laced through either end, depending where I want the picots to sit:

Attention to details, mindfulness in action, paid off.  I'm pleased with the cowl.  I've included a simple version here, so you, too, can practise applied mindfulness.  This version is knit with Aslan Trends's Royal Alpaca.  One skein makes a cowl long enough to be doubled over or pulled over the head as a nachaq.  It's tight enough that it can be folded at one end and used as a hat.

You can increase the circumference of the cowl by adding stitches in multiples of 4.  (Be sure to buy more yarn if you do this.)

If you stay with the original 64 stitches, cast off in picot edging-casting off in pattern makes the cowl too tight to frame your face.  You can omit the picot cast on.  The stitches on this cast on are picked up as you go and match the cast off.

The stitch pattern is reversible.

Angie: Mindfulness Cowl

1-100 gram skein Aslan Royal Alpaca (220 metres) or similar yarn
4 mm circular needle/ 40 cm long or needles to give gauge of approximately
4 sts/inch: 16 sts/10 cm

Finished size, unblocked, is approximately 38 cm/15 inches long x 38/15 inches around.  Finished size, blocked, is approximately 40 cm/16 inches long x 40 cm/16 cm around.  The pattern has a lot of lateral stretch.
Picot Cast On
Make a slip knot with your yarn.  Place this stitch on LH needle and use it to *cast on 2 sts onto LH needle.  Bind off 2 sts. (1 st remains on RH needle.)  Notice the loop hanging down from your knitting.  Pick up this loop and place it on your LH needle.  Move the st on the RH needle to the LH needle* and repeat from * to * until you have 63 loops and 1 st on your needle (or desired number of sts).  64 sts.
Place marker on RH needle, join round and work in pattern as follows:
Rnds 1-3:  *K3, P1* repeat from * to * to end of rnd.
Rnd 4:        *yo, K3tog, wrn, P1* to end of rnd.
Work until the cowl measures approximately 38 cm/15 inches long.
Bind off in picot edging:
Using cable or knitted cast on, cast on 2 stitches on to your left needle.  *Bind off 1 stitch.  There is one cast on stitch remaining on the right hand needle.  K2 tog, and bind off one of the cast on stitches on the right hand needle by pulling the single stitch over the k2tog stitch.  Place the remaining stitch on the left needle and use this stitch to cast on 2 stitches on to the left needle.* Repeat from * until you have one stitch remaining on your needle.  Fasten off this stitch.
Make a twisted or crocheted cord and pompoms from remaining yarn and thread through the bound off edge of cowl.
Wash in warm water and no rinse wool wash product.  Roll cowl in towel to remove excess water.  Shape to size and dry flat.

©Deborah Behm 2011

Monday, 17 October 2011

Road Apples: Things I've Learned About RV Camping

We arrived home safely after our first excursion in an RV.  I now know things I did not know before:
  • A 20 foot 5th wheeler is a big thing to haul behind a truck. 
  • A 20 foot 5th wheeler is a small thing to inhabit, especially if you share the space with a bull terrier.
  • Do yourself a favour--turn some of the living area over to the dog crate.  It will save you a lot of barking, of dog and shins.
  • Bullie snuggles on remaining couch with Mr. DD.  You nest in the sleeping compartment.  Tell yourself you always wanted a loft bedroom.
  • This late in the season, pack more wool socks, fewer pairs of blue jeans, more yoga pants.  You may not be practising yoga in a 20 foot RV, but you'll be comfortable.
  • This late in the season, a massive housecoat, pyjamas, sweater and wool socks are essential night attire.  You may even need those fingerless gloves.  Tell yourself you look cute.
  • Ignore the fact that Mr. DD carefully covers Morris's crate with a wool blanket each evening to protect Morrie from the chilly air and then proceeds to steal all the covers from you.
  • All RV camping sites are built near train tracks.  Trains in the Rockies pass over those tracks every half hour.  They echo off the mountains and are very noisy.
  • All RV sites on the prairies are built next to train tracks.  Trains on the prairies pass by every ten minutes.  They do not echo off anything.  They're just noisy.
  • Every train on the planet runs over the tracks at the RV site near Medicine Hat, Alberta.  Those trains run every five minutes, all night long.  Tell yourself that the noise of trains is soothing.  Practise your meditation on moving trains.  If you don't have one, you soon will.
  • Use this mantra: The railroad united Canada.  The railroad united Canada.
  • Take along many fibre projects.  Do not run out of knitting.  Bragg Creek merchants may or may not be whispering about the dishevelled camper running in and out of shops looking for yarn.  (I had the needles; I just needed the fixings.)
  • There are no yarn shops in Bragg Creek, Alberta.  The closest yarn store is in Cochrane, Alberta.  This is unacceptable.
  • There is such a thing as a knitting emergency.
  • If you don't have yarn, be sure to have a good supply of wine.  If you have neither, you're screwed.

  • RV camping is its own experience.  Take your time.  Have fun.  Enjoy the journey.  Morris did.


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Under the Spreading Walnut Tree

The walnuts are falling from the trees here.  I've been told that the fresh, green husks give a better dye than older husks, so I've been collecting them from the children's backyard:

Rambo, one of the many cats around the house, kept a close watch over the process:

It's a messy job: the inside of the husks are wet and full of grubs.  The husks stain my hands, a sign that they'll give good colour:

Rambo decided that the whole thing was quite boring, so he returned to his staring match with the Rottweiler next door:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Monday, 10 October 2011

Life is a Carnival: Thanksgiving Greetings

I've been practising my unsupported long draw, so that I can demonstrate it properly for my beginning spinners and improve my charkha spinning.

Long draw can be extremely fast and is a wonderful technique for production spinners.  I rarely measure my speed when spinning; it's the journey, not the destination that's important for me.  For teaching purposes, I kept track of my mileage with this spinning session and was amazed: I could produce 75 metres per 10 minutes, using alpaca/flax roving and my 30 year old Ashford Traveller.  Plying a bobbin full of 2 ply yarn took 10 minutes total for a 225 metre skein.  I have no idea if this is fast for anyone else, but it's very quick work for me.  Here are the results, 450 metres of 2 ply yarn, weighing 225 grams:

At 900 metres per 450 grams (1 pound), the yarn is in the heavy worsted weight range, but it's soft and lofty and will knit up into something warm and cozy.  What that is has yet to be determined, but we'll be heading into cold and snow soon, so whatever it is will come in handy.

Like so many things, the secret to successful long draw, apart from working with suitable, well-prepared fibres, is to let go. If you trust that the process will work for you and you are willing to accept some failures along the way, the technique will come.

Fibre work reminds me of how fortunate I am to be able to practise the things I love and enjoy them with my friends.  I'm grateful for all this, grateful to be with family and friends when opportunity arises, grateful to be here.

Life is wonderful; I wish you all the best moments in the time we have.

Happy Birthday to my sister, Nancy!


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fields of Gold

Richard brought me a large paper sack of dried marigold heads last week to use as dye.  I spent the weekend dyeing yarn samples and 500 grams of a merino/tencel top from Golden Willow. 

I stuffed the panty part of a pair of nylon hose with the flowers, then put the bundle in a pot to cook out for the day.  (Mr. DD says the smell reminds him of corn on the cob cooking; I find it a little more pungent.)  I then added 15 ml. of aluminium potassium sulphate from the grocery store, along with sample skeins of merino yarns I use as cautionary tales--"what to avoid when spinning."  I brought the concoction to just below boiling point, simmered the dye bath for about 30 minutes, then turned the heat off and let the bath cool over night.  After thorough washing and rinsing, this is the colour in the yarns:

Next up was the merino/tencel.  I added 50 copper pennies to the pot, along with 100 grams of the top and followed the same dyeing procedure as I did with the yarns.  The colour is deep and rich; the tencel makes the top glow.  That sample is on the left in the photo below:

Last up was 400 grams of dry merino/tencel, which I chained loosely before I added to the dye pot.  It's difficult to see in the photograph above, but there are subtle colour shifts where the fibre was chained, although the top is dyed throughout.  This is my favourite of the batch; it looks like fine gold thread and I look forward to spinning it.

Most dyestuffs are not substantive; that is, their colours are not permanent without a fixative.  Dyes require mordants to fix their colours to the fibres, but many mordants are toxic and I do my best to avoid them.  Kitchen alum, bits of copper, cast iron pots, brass fittings, along with vinegar give me a good range of colours which have lasted for years of use, washing and some exposure to light.  Besides, it's fun experimenting with what's available around the house.

No matter what dye is used, it's important to follow safe dyeing procedures.  I use separate dye pots and utensils, and keep the fan hood over the stove going while the dyes cook out.  I wear rubber gloves and a mask while I'm working directly with dye powders or mordants.  When the weather is nice, I use the barbecue as my heat source or solar dye when the summer temperatures are in the high 20's and 30's Celsius range.

Now it's fall and the colours I've obtained from the marigolds remind me of the autumn foliage around the neighbourhood and the local parks:

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Today is the anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi's birth, a day of reflection upon and gratitude for the work of this remarkable man:

Gandhi used the charkha not only as a tool and symbol for revolution, but also as an essential part of his meditation practice:

I will be marking the day by spinning on my charkha and celebrating birthdays in my own family, that of my sister, Annamarie and her daughter, Kaitlin.  I'm not sure if they remember that they share a birthdate with The Man Himself, but since the charkha is going with me to the party, I'll be sure to remind them!

Happy Birthday, AM and Kaitlin!