I found a wonderful source at Wool Obsession for anyone trying to understand the various types of fibers available to spin and what they look like. You can compare flax to hemp, cashmere to mohair, and much more. The blog also lists current ebay auctions for the type of fiber shown.
As a new spinner, I am not only trying to learn about fiber types, but also the many different sheep breeds and their various wool characteristics. I thought Rambouillet was a poet? What do Targhee wool and Merino wool have in common? Good site for quick info and good auctions! (Hey, they even list Yak fiber!)
So what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you–a spinner takes a handful of loose, random wool from a farm animal, and turns it into thin strands of usable yarn, and now we can all wear clothes.
Okay, so it really hasn’t been a big deal for several hundred years, but for several thousand yearsbefore that, it was a very big deal!! A spinner was a magician of sorts.
Taking loose, random wool and making usable threads and yarns….How?? Actually it’s a pretty simple bit of physics. Spinning adds twist to the fibers such that they are locked together, and can no longer be drawn apart. Until the twist is added to the wool, it’s not usable as thread or yarn.
The spinner controls the drafting and the twisting with her hands—drafting with the back hand and controlling twist with the front hand. Drafting while spinning is the art of pulling the fibers to slide away from each other just the perfect amount to then add the twist you want to achieve the thickness of yarn.
This is the magic that happens between the two hands of a spinner.
Yeah, yeah, a modern spinning machine in a mill can spin faster with more guaranteed uniformity. But there is no magic in that.
Though some spinners prefer to spin directly from the batt, there are additional steps that prepare wool to be spun by the rest of us mortals. Each step in the process of preparing raw wool is designed to “organize the fibers” to make spinning easier. The batts that come off the carder have their fibers more aligned, and there’s more air between the fibers than there was in the loose fleece; however, the batts can still be very compressed. This can make spinning more difficult, especially for us newbies!
If you’ve bought a batt or two, and are having difficulty spinning, you can easily turn your batts into roving. Here’s how:
Divide the batt in half by pulling the fibers apart down the middle to the near edge, where you will leave a bit attached (about 1½”).
Next, turn the batt around so that the connected area is at the top, and on one side of the attachment, divide the batt again down to the other end where you will also leave a bit attached. Continue to turn the batt and divide, always leaving a bit attached at the end.
When you are finished with one side, go back to the middle of the batt and start on the other side. After the batt is separated into segments, straighten it out, smoothing and “drawing” the fibers into one length.
Drawing means just gently pulling the fibers to align them.
Now you’ve got roving! But this roving is still very thick for a new spinner. So take sections of the roving and draw (pull)them further apart, without separating the strands completely.
There are so many activities to synchronize for the new spinner that starting with thin, airy roving helps the process keep going!
Try this– you can very easily draw the fibers apart if you pull too firmly, because they simply slide past each other and separate.
The first few times I spun with Arabella and the spinning class for 2-3 hours at a time, I was so utterly exhausted that I had to lie down when I got home. Spinning is a very sedentary activity, so how could I be this tired? It was my brain! My brain was exhausted!
Probably because while spinning, the brain is working at several different tasks at once, and you have your fingers, hands, feet, and eyes active in the
process. Your brain is processing, your eyes are carefully watching the fiber, your foot is treadling not too fast and not too slow, and you are drawing the fiber out between your hands and allowing or not allowing twist with your top hand, and then stopping the twist so you can feed the yarn onto the spool…..whew! It takes a while just to get the coordination down! But like riding a bike, spinning seems to be movement that our bodies intuitively know how to master.
So now, after a dozen or so collective hours of spinning, I am beginning to “get it.” Instead of just a jumble of actions and slippery wool moving or not moving through my fingers, my brain has started to isolate and understand each of the various tasks. I think this process is what will improve my spinning going forward. Isolating, and then focusing, on the different actions will produce different results in the yarn.
Here are some of the beginning actions to isolate:
speed of treadling
amount of twist allowed in the yarn
drafting the wool
I’m going over to Arabella’s to practice on her Louet spinning wheel. She says what I need now is “time at the wheel.”
The 41st Cottonwood Arts Festival was held this weekend in Richardson, TX–close enough to Dallas city line to be confused as Dallas–at the beautiful Cottonwood Park. Art folk from all over the country come to this event, and this year was another spectacular year with amazing art on display. There were something like 241 artists, and three caught my eye above all else. The first one was Gabe Leonard, www.GabeLeonard.com, with his Wild West paintings. His card says, “oil paintings of outlaws, musicians, & drunken poets.” Awesome. This guy is not painting your typical yellow rain slicker or your running horses. Go to his website–he paints what you’d recognize as “western,” but in a style that…hmmm…I just don’t know. Fabulous. You’ll have to go to his website. He also paints historical figures such as Lincoln, Hood, and Robert Johnson, but in a way you’ve never seen before!
The second artist, Hanan Ingel of Silver Mind had created the most stunning jewelry–rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces that each featured an ancient coin–Greek, Roman, Byzantine, even a “widow’s mite” coin all from very early AD. Amazing!! You could be walking around right now with a ring with an inset bronze coin imprinted with the image of Constantine. Maybe a spinner in 324 parted with this hard-earned coin to purchase more wool!
The third artist, Tres Taylor, was my favorite of all three. His website says, “His subjects are usually monks, couples, and houses, but always the subjects are symbols of love.” His art is the best of folk art–using materials at hand (tar paper and house paint)–and creating images that make you stop and stare, truly invoking a sense of wonder and feel-good-ness.
Hats off to artists who are pursuing their art and creating beauty for us!