One of the goals I set myself for the year was to work on learning to spin properly. My grandmother is a prolific, life long spinner and knitter. It was she who first taught me to knit and her almost unceasing work has resulted in everyone in the family recieving a multitude of hand knitted gifts, almost all from homespun yarn. Along with your typical items, such as beanies, jumpers, and the like she also created soft toys (two of my particular favourites were an elephant and a possum), and even knitted nativity scenes. I have always admired her skill in spinning and wanted to work on developing it myself.
I have been working on my spinning on and off since I started maternity leave, although there has been about a 7 week break in progress for reasons you may be able to guess. However now that Baby B is a little bigger and will happily sit in the bouncer or lay on the mat for 20 minutes or so at a time and we have figured out how to use the woven wrap, where she will sleep or at least be happy for around an hour or so, I figured it was time to get back into things before she becomes mobile and a whole new crop of challenges arise.
When I saw that Tracy from Knit Spin Weave here in Clare was offering a fibre preparation workshop I decided it was a step in the right direction and decided to go and graded off last Sunday to the Knit Spin Weave studio. So far I had only spun using either ready to use sliver from Ashford (which you can see here if you have no idea what sliver is) or Kath Lomann’s beautiful coated spinning fleeces, which can be spun from the lock with little preparation other than combing the tips. In case you are wondering a coated sheep is exactly what it sounds like, the sheep wear ‘coats’ to help keep the fleece clean and reduce the amount of vegetable matter in the fleece. However, I recently received a large bag of raw fleece from my uncle which, while beautiful fleece, definitely requires some preparation to make it easier and more enjoyable to spin. Also even if a fleece can be easily be spun from the lock, proper preparation, as I learned, allows for different types of yarn to be produced.
We started the day with a quick look at how to scour a fleece. Scouring goes beyond washing as it removes not just dirt, but lanolin from the wool as well. Some spinners love spinning raw fleece or ‘spinning in the grease’ so it is called and won’t do anything else, which produces a fine result. However a particularly dirty or older fleece (lanolin in the wool becomes unpleasantly stick of over time) benefits for a good scour and using clean fleece helps keep your wheel and other tools, particularly difficult to clean equipment such as drum carders, in good condition.
The rest of the morning was spent looking at a variety of preparation techniques and the different spinning techniques to create woolen and worsted yarns. Tracy covered hand techniques, including finger picking, spinning from the lock and leaking fauxlags (fake rolags). Tools covered included dog combs, hand carders and wool combs (which look like done sort of medieval torture device, I didn’t take a picture, but google image search if you are unfamiliar).
Another area she touched on was optical blending, which I found fascinating. All of the different colours below were created using just red, blue and yellow fibre, just like mixing paint.
Included in the workshop fee was a pack of fibre with the primary colours, black and white to try this out. Unfortunately I did not get a chance during the day as a certain little miss was awake during the experimentation time during the afternoon which limited the time I had and tools I could use (hand carding while holding a baby not reccomended even if the baby is asleep in the wrap), bug look forward to trying this out in the future.
In the afternoon we looked at ways to blend fibres to create more interesting yarns. We covered making batts on a drum career and rolags on a blending board. Everyone was impressed by the spectacular results that can be produced. In the photo below you can see a batt on the left and rolag on the right.
The last 2 hours or so of the workshop was free experimentation time to try out all the tools and equipment and ask Tracy questions. Using the drum carder was something I was able to do while holding baby B (although Tracy turned the handle), and I created the batt above, which I look forward to spinning.
Overall the workshop was a great way to become familiar with fibre preparation techniques. A lot was covered in the day, and it was almost a little overwhelming for my level of experience, but Tracy provided a good set of notes which will serve as a reminder and allow me to follow up the techniques I was most interested in.
My main takeaway was it is all a little harder than it looks and practice is needed to become proficient (a one day workshop ain’t gonna do it). You see someone flicking away with hand carders and think ‘I could do that’, but there is a knack to it. However I really enjoyed the day and it was great to work on improving my skills!
If you are in the area and interested in attending this workshop keep an eye on the Knit Spin Weave Facebook page as I believe Tracy is planning on offering it again (and definitely would if there were interest). She also offers private lessons if that is more your thug and I hear rumours of another workshop coming up next month, hopefully dyeing…