Spinning = Happiness

My, my, my … how the time does get away. Life intervenes with plans … and even hopes and dreams. The necessity of earning a paycheck often takes up the time we romantics would rather spend spinning, knitting, creating, or otherwise engaging in activities for which we do not get paid. Thankfully, we have friends who can drag us back into the worlds we love!

Arabella encouraged me to go with her to Mary Berry’s Fiber Retreat over Valentine’s weekend. I am so happy that I went! The entire experience was such a reminder how much I need creative input into my life — and I believe this is true for all of us, whether we realize it or not. It can become difficult to set aside the time, but the peace that a creative experience can bring into your life is so worth the effort.

various fibers for spinning
All happily spun during the fiber weekend


I LOVE spinning! But I haven’t done much of it in the last two years. The weekend was an immersion in luxurious and delicious fiber–so many types of wool, silk, camel, alpaca–it felt so good to get them running through my hands again. The retreat also included a multitude of workshops on knitting techniques, spinning, weaving and even dyeing. It was a lovely group (I think around 90 women) with knitting needles, spinning wheels and portable looms.

I was able to spin this gorgeous teal skein (top of pic) that I purchased from Christine, who owns Spinning Straw into Gold. It is a 50/50 blend of silk and a material called tencel, which is fascinating! Tencel is a fiber made from wood pulp, it absorbs dye beautifully, blends well with others, has natural breath-ability like cotton but can absorb a lot more moisture, AND it makes beautiful yarn!

I was also able to finish spinning the fabulous Jacob wool that I got from Cindy’s farm (Jacob’s Reward), and a wonderful art batt that Arabella had made.

The silk/tencel was wonderful to spin!

silk and tencil batt
Spinning silk tencel blend

This Crochet Pattern Looks a lot like Naalbinding

My mom sent me this picture of a very cute dishcloth she had crocheted. The pattern looks remarkably like ancient naalbinding, don’t you think?

Lacy Crochet Pattern for dishcloth

Here’s another picture up close:

Notice the loops

Now compare the above image to our samples of ancient naalbinding:

Notice the loops!

It makes sense, really. Naalbinding is perhaps the most ancient form of creating garments from yarn. The craft utilizes a large-eyed needle, which could easily have “morphed” into a crochet hook; both arts pull yarn through loops to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

Compare to Naalbinding Needles

What do you think?

Warm, Useful, and Beautiful…From Wool to Blanket

The mohair is the shiny, thicker single. The merino is the softer, fuzzier single.

Ta da!  The process still works! Take some beautiful, soft white wool from a merino sheep and some shiny, slick gorgeous white mohair from a goat, spin singles of each, and then ply them together for a lovely length of textured and interesting yarn.

Using US 10 (or larger) needles, knit with a pattern from f.pea for a baby heirloom blanket with a lovely scalloped edge. Add some color–in this case, a skein dyed aqua and salmon from Arabella, handspun thick and thin for extra texture and interest. Keep knitting–in airports, in the car, on lovely evenings at home, to avoid housework, when you should be working, etc.

Functional Art-a simply beautiful blanket

Bind off (loosely!) whenever you want to, or when you run out of handspun yarn. You have now participated in the thousands-year-old ancient collective of outfitting your family with necessary material items.

Archeologists seemed surprised to find intricate beauty when they uncover textiles (or art) from thousands upon thousands of years ago. Their surprise is odd to me–because as long as we have been human, we have infused our material objects with artistic beauty and creativity. This is what it means to BE human.

Useful...and beautiful!

The Spinning Universe Wants YOU!

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Naalebinding, or Knotless Netting

We are definitely making progress, backward though it is, to find out more about the first fabric techniques. We’ve already found woven flax to be exceedingly ancient, and new finds keep pushing the date back (I’ve seen the date now at 6500 BC, and 32,000 BC!).

So where does that leave knitting?  The oldest techniques using needle and yarn are not what we know as knitting today on two needles; however, the variety, beauty, and usefulness of the objects made with the ancient technique of Naalebinding, make it no less a stunning hand craft. Watch this:

The Naalebinding stitches are quite simple, as the knit and purl stitch are in the knitting you might have just put down. And with the same astounding flexibility, the Naalebinding stitches can be endlessly turned into hundreds and hundreds of different patterns, edgings, and embellishments, due to our bottomless capacity for creative expression.

This picture is of a commonly used stitch. The top photo shows the stitches in white cotton, so that the shape stands out:

A basic naalebinding stitch, shown in cotton above, and bulky wool below

The bottom photo shows the beginning of an actual garment in bulky weight wool. Garments made from Naalebinding can be extremely dense and warm. When made from wool, the garments can then be felted for additional warmth.  Compare the above stitch to this more “complicated” stitch:

More complicated naalebinding stitch

You can begin to see that the variety in looping, crossing, and otherwise stitching with the flat needle and yarn can produce beautiful work in the hands of a skilled naalebinder! (Look here on Flickr at the Naalebinder Group! I knew the first garments probably included a purse!)

Also, there is a naalebinder group on Ravelry.

Stitch photos © 2001 Carolyn Priest-Dorman, used with copyright permission. http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/nalebind.html

Warp, Weft…What?

Wall painting in a tomb at Beni Hasan

Discovery has progressed through the last few centuries here on planet earth at an astounding gallop. Discovery within all of the various sciences, how motion impacts mass (a little something called gravity), telescopes and microscopes, antibiotics and surgical improvements, train, planes and automobiles, all the way up to the ever-improving and amazing iPhone. Somehow, we automatically think of progression as improvement. And often, it is.  The iPhone is a definite improvement over the telegram. Antibiotics are a definite improvement over dying.

But on rare occasions, some things start out great and don’t need much improvement, even after 10,000 years. The weaving of threads into a continuous fabric from which clothing is cut is one process that has not changed since the first time someone needed a shirt (or maybe it was a purse).  This illustration was found on a wall in an Egyptian tomb, depicting two weavers and a hand spinner, among other workers. Though we now process flax, spin it into threads, and weave it into linen cloth on machines, the individual steps in the process are remarkably the same.

I think I can now finally understand the difference between warp and weft. The warp threads hang vertically from the top of the piece to the bottom of the piece, each as an individual strand.

The weft are made by the continuous “threading” of a long fiber under and over each of the hanging warp threads. In other words, the weft threads must be “set up” to hang vertically like a sort of stringed curtain. Then, a continuous thread is “woven” over and under, over and under, over and under each of the hanging weft threads, and a strong, continuous fabric is made.  Remember making construction paper place mats in grade school with this method?  Then you have practiced the ancient craft of weaving.

Turns out that weaving is waaaaaaayyyyy older a method of making clothing than knitting.  In fact, amazingly enough, knitting (as we know it today) is a fairly recent development.  (More on that another time, but you can get a jump from this great site learning about Naalebinding.)  The point here is that the first spun yarns and threads were not knitted, they were woven. And remember that every shred of thread woven into cloth up until the 12-14th centuries had been spun with a pair of human hands and a spindle.

The parts of the flax plant

I am getting closer to answering the question who made the first shirt? and it is beginning to look something like a linen garment, hand-woven from hand-spun flax using a hand spindle. Wool, it seems, joined in the fun much later, by several thousand years. Interestingly, linen has some of the same amazing properties as wool:  it absorbs water without feeling “wet” and can keep the wearer both warm and cool.

*Image used under GNU Free Documentation License from Wikipedia

Textile Timeline for Ancient History

Very interesting timeline found at The New World Encyclopedia site:

c. 8000 B.C.E. – Evidence of flax cultivation in the Near East.[3]

c. 6500 B.C.E. – Approximate date of Naalebinding examples found in Nehal Hemar cave, Israel. This technique, which uses short separate lengths of thread, predated the invention of spinning (with its continuous lengths of thread) and requires that all of the as-yet unused thread be pulled through the loop in the sewn material.[4] This requires much greater skill than knitting in order to create a fine product.[5]

c. 6000 B.C.E. – Evidence of woven textiles used to wrap the dead at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia.[3]

c. 5000 B.C.E. – Production of linen cloth in Ancient Egypt, along with other bast fibers including rush, reed, palm, and papyrus.[6]

4200 B.C.E. – Date of Mesolithic examples of Naalebinding found in Denmark, marking spread of technology to Northern Europe.[7]

c. 3000 B.C.E. – Breeding of domesticated sheep with a wooly fleece rather than hair in the Near East.[3]

200 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. – Approximate date of earliest evidence of “Needle Knitting” in Peru, a form of Naalebinding that preceded local contact with the Spanish.[8]

Search Engine Anxiety

WordPress.com provides great blog stats for every blog owner–we can see how many people come to the pages, and sometimes where they come from, like a search engine page.  Today, one of my visitors had come through a search page, so I clicked on it out of curiosity to see where my blog landed in the search–you know, how many pages deep did the person have to search before clicking on The Spinning Universe?

By the time I got to page 10, I thought, wow, this person was really persistent. I didn’t think most people looked past the first 2-3 pages. I usually don’t. By the time I got to page 20, I thought I had somehow dropped off the search and was never going to come to my blog. In the meantime, I had gotten interested in the many creative blog and website names that spinners and knitters had come up with, so I went to page 45, jotting down funny and interesting domain names, before I finally stopped. I was disappointed, thinking I’d show up at least before page 45.

I clicked back to page 1, wondering what great domain names I had missed before I started noticing them on page 20. What do you know, halfway down page 1 — The Spinning Universe Blog.  I had totally missed it, assuming first page status was completely out of the question.

We write and post, saying it doesn’t really matter if you read it because our joy is in the creative expression, not in whether anyone sees it. So now you know that’s a big fat lie! We LOVE it when you read our blogs!!!!!  (we being any blog writer)

Great names I came across as I searched for my own blog:













If MonChere were to start a blog, she’d call it I smell yarn….

How to Ply Singles

Two-ply yarn

When I had finally spun some yarn I was proud of and discovered I was only halfway through the process, I was a bit alarmed. Darn it! Watching the spinners in my Wednesday class left me feeling that plying might be harder than spinning. More twist to control, more yarn to feed, and all while treadling in the opposite direction (that is, if I could remember to!) But, like spinning itself, we seem to know what to do with this action called plying. In time, the brain and hands coordinate, and we are plying away.

A single is just what the name implies–a single strand of spun yarn. Yarn is spun either with a Z-twist (your wheel spins clockwise) or an S-twist (your wheel spins counterclockwise). Both “twists” perform the action of locking

Two bobbins of singles on a Lazy Kate

the wool fibers together into a stronger, now usable, strand. Singles are most often used in weaving, but rarely in knitting. Once you’ve spun two bobbins of singles, you can ply them from a lazy kate onto a third bobbin.

The important thing about all this is that you must ply in the opposite direction from which you have spun the singles. This is because the act of plying the singles in the opposite direction from which they’ve been spun “balances” the twist between the two singles. Plying in the same direction will just “undo” the twist and give you less stable yarn.

The singles twist together to make a 2-ply strand

Lastly, you must ply singles that have been spun in the same twist direction! Plying a Z-twist strand with an S-twist strand will just give you a big mess!

Arabella advised me to spin all my singles with my wheel spinning clockwise (Z-twist).  With this as the only standard for my singles, I can ply away without undoing the twist, or creating a mess!

Controlling the twist of the ply with your hand