Posted on

What’s On My Wheel Today? and a Question. Well, two.

Our drought has finally ended, giving way to record rainfall. However, they say it’s probably too late to save the trees that have been so confused this year, starting with an ice storm, then an early thaw, then a late freeze, then a dry spring, then an outright drought.

But this was a beautiful fall day.

Just look: the grass is green, it’s raining and wet everywhere, and those trees are all turning colours normally. I could have just stood on the porch staring for ages.

SOAR, it turns out, left its mark on all of us.

Cosmetic really, I swear. We’ll get the old girl fixed up in short order. The poor thing. I believe she was garrotted by the seat belt when I braked hard on the drive home, because she had the wound upon arrival, but not when loading up the truck.

And she’s spinning fine.

I’m having a finer spinning binge right now, which I think may well be Margaret Stove’s fault. I took her 3-hour retreat session at SOAR, and it was truly spectacular. Loyal readers of this blog will know I’ve always had a tendency to spin fine yarn. However, I’ve never been able to get quite as consistently fine with a wheel as I can with a spindle, and I produce fine yarns much faster with a spindle than a wheel (which is partly, I suspect, because I really like fine, high-twist yarn). Margaret Stove, on the other hand, produces insanely fine yarn using a wheel, and it’s less extreme in twist. One might think that the last thing I needed was a class on spinning fine yarn. That’s exactly why I signed up for it. Well, that and the fact that Margaret doesn’t teach in the US very often — I think the last time she was here was ten years ago. Always take a rare opportunity to learn from a master. Always.

Anyway, her methods are different enough from my old routines that they’re work, but they are also comfortable production methods, easy to settle into and work for a while to learn new habits. And satisfying. And right now my problem is not having enough truly fabulous fiber. I obviously need some of the 16 micron raw merino Margaret brought to her classes, raw, to teach us to wash and spin carefully from the lock.

Speaking of washing, Margaret’s washing method is actually very fast. Okay, I mean, it’s not going to get you a spotlessly washed merino fleece in minutes. But it is completely unintrusive and sustainable as a washing method for superfine fleece that you’re going to spin into froghair — 20 minutes of lock washing would definitely produce a day’s worth of spinning.

Anyway, the mill fibers I’m spinning are very nice; they just aren’t that nice. So that should tell you how nice the stuff Margaret brought was.

So what is that on my wheel? Oh right. It’s a Chasing Rainbows merino/cashmere.


…it’s coming out pretty fine. But the itty bitty neps and the commercial prep are not All That They Could Be. Also, look! Evidence that I need to just go buy a macro lens.

I’m also — because I have to take breaks — spinning this not-so-fine yarn:

“Not so fine” is of course a matter of contrast with the merino/cashmere. This is 50/50 merino/angora, which was someone’s door prize at SOAR. All I remember about it, really, is Jeannine saying “Is this something you can use?” and me saying that I do sometimes spin angora, and then it was in my bag. It’s very nice merino/angora. I split it in half and it’ll be something lace. I think. I finished this bobbin from half of it, and I’m deciding if I’ll do the other half on another bobbin and ply, or else spin something else and ply it with it. Right now I’m leaning towards just spinning the other half on another bobbin — I never do anything with That Much Angora, and since this is fine and firm, it won’t shed much.

In both cases, I’m working on learning Margaret Stove’s worsted join, and eventually I’ll have some good one-handed photos of that for you. You know, as soon as I come up with a good way to take one-handed worsted photos. There are several tricky elements to that. I now realize exactly why it is that my father taught me to take pictures at an early age, and why he pressed me into service as a hand model for many techniques as well.

I got a great question from Carrie, who asks two questions, and gets good answers in the comments as well, go check out what Maggie says. Carrie asks:

So I have two questions: can you park and draft on a wheel? I have always been told that’s the easiest step to start with on a spindle but it seems like it would be handy, but a PITA, on a wheel.

I love park and draft. You can park and draft with anything! The basic premise remains the same no matter what equipment you’re using. What you’re doing is using your spun yarn as a twist battery (or that’s how I think of it). Just keep the twist from moving into the fiber supply, and build up a bunch of it. Like Maggie says, pinch off the twist, treadle for a while, and when you have enough twist built up, stop treadling, let the flyer come to rest, and there you go — you can draft at your leisure.

Park and draft is great, because you can really get a sense of the fact that twist moves independent of whatever you’re using to generate it. The fact that twist is its own entity is what makes a lot of drafting techniques work! If you were to break them down and not think about what’s going on generating twist, several popular drafting methods are variants on park and draft. The parking is just not obvious. Worsted techniques, where no twist is allowed in the drafting zone, do involve the buildup of twist in the already spun yarn, followed by you allowing it into the drafted fiber. All you’ve done is shift the timing a bit and speed the process up. Some woolen techniques, like double drafting, also use the same principle: you let twist pile up in the thin parts of an initial draw, then move that (plus some more twist that’s coming in) out into the slubby parts as you do your second drafting run. You can also use the park and draft principle when splicing a broken yarn, whether on a wheel or spindle, or long after the fact.

I’m sure someone has more park and draft thoughts — let’s hear ’em!

Second, (in several parts), how early do you start kids learning to spin? And can you (okay, can I) teach them without being an expert myself?

I say let ’em start as soon as they can sit up and grab stuff. Walking and talking are not required. But just like anything that kids learn, the way they learn as infants isn’t always obvious learning to grownups. They model observed behaviour, and they experiment, and they go from trying and not being able to do, to suddenly doing as if they had been born doing whatever it was. Give your baby a tuft of fiber. Expect it to get slobbered on, and trashed… but keep doing it. It’s just like teaching them to hold a cup or use a spoon. You don’t really teach it; you model it, and they do it.

This is why Chinchero elders were so worried about me at age 5, when I couldn’t spin at all. To them, I looked like a 5-year-old who had never touched a fork and was only capable of shoving food in my mouth with my hands.

Don’t expect a little kid to sit down, focus, and produce something. But if you would give a kid a spoon, a crayon, a book with Velcro flaps and buttons and zippers to play with, consider also giving them trash fiber to fiddle with, a stick to wrap it around, yarn to play with, and eventually a cheap spindle. Yes, these things will suffer the consequences of toddler use. But it’s real learning.

I tell folks I can’t remember a time before I could do at least some yarn stuff. That’s true. What I don’t often tell people is that I can remember being very, very little (like 15 months, based on when my parents say specific things I remember happened). Even before our family moved to Peru, my parents and my extended family gave me yarn and fiber to play with, and were doing stuff with it while I was around. Really little kids will learn more than you think, but mostly through play and copying adult (and big kid) behaviour. One of the things they can learn, if we aren’t careful, is that there are things they can’t do because they’re adult things. While there are some things we want to have be in that category, others we don’t.

That was probably earlier than you expected me to say, wasn’t it?

Let’s talk a bit about older kids, say, preschool age to early grade school. You can do all the stuff you’d do with a really little kid, but they’ll also be ready for more. For them, a great thing to do is teach them to ply first, using a spindle. This gets the mechanics of holding onto yarn while a dangling thing twirls, into their physical knowledge base. You can have them play with a spindle with some already spun yarn on it, learn to get yarn onto it, learn to secure it, learn to take it off, and learn to wind balls of yarn. With a wheel, you can teach them to treadle. Let them have at a wheel with nothing on it, and work on treadling and keeping things going one way, then going the other, and then stopping at will and changing direction (this isn’t a bad exercise for grownups to do either). With their fiber, show them how to draft it using only hands, and put twist in using only hands. Show them how it moves apart, and twist grabs it. Don’t worry about what the results are. Just let them play with the mechanics of it all. Here, incidentally, is a great use for that practice of predrafting to spinning thickness — teaching a toddler to spin! Give them fiber they can just add twist to, then teach them how you made it like that, then let them go.

They’ll likely surprise you. You really don’t need to be able to do any more than that to teach someone — anyone — the basics of spinning. Especially if they’re kids! Kids will tend to be just that awed by the magic of it.

Now, if they’re older — say getting on towards puberty — then they’ll need to want to learn it, or there will be nothing whatsoever that you can do to teach them. At that point, you have to teach them like you’d teach grownups, but expect less impulse control and possibly greater frustration.

Here’s the really hard part for a lot of people teaching kids to spin: they might be better at it than you are, really fast. Be prepared.

There’s definitely more to say about teaching kids to spin, but I’ll leave it for a separate post for now. I’ll also be having a further question roundup soon — so if you were thinking of asking something, ask!

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this little bit of fiber pr0n:

I had to pull that out of my secret stash today, and I’m just not sure I can put it back. It’s also making it hard for me to finish the rest of my workday, by gum. Some of you can tell at a glance what it is, I’m sure. As for the rest of you, I rather suspect we’ll be discussing it tomorrow. With more pictures.

18 thoughts on “What’s On My Wheel Today? and a Question. Well, two.

  1. Hee, the spinner fiber rockstar mentioned me on her blog…
    Thanks for all the info! As for my kid spinning better than I do, I’m kinda counting on that – someone has to help me with all this fiber I seem to be amassing. 🙂 I wonder if Lynn in Tucson will help me make a toddler-sized spindle or two?
    I think my biggest problem so far is that I have been reading a lot of things that I don’t fully understand, and I was taught by a woman who clearly knew her stuff but was of the opinion that all the stuff spinners do nowadays is WRONG. Including plying. We’ll just say I didn’t feel encouraged to ask questions, though for as new a spinner as I am, I am surprisingly adept at the long draw. Cuz my teacher said it was The Only Right Way.

  2. The mystery fiber is something processed by Sherri at Morro Fleece Works. That’s as far as I can get. And good luck putting it back. It looks luscious. Makes me want to just dive right in. Literally.

    I, too, was impressed with how lofty Margaret Stove’s lace yarn was. It’s going to take some practice to achieve that, since I put a lot of twist in my lace weight. And her method of washing locks makes me rethink my distaste for scouring fleece. Of course, when you can make a shawl with a handful of locks, it really doesn’t seem so intimidating, does it?

  3. That pin drafted beehive is definitely from Morro Fleeceworks!! It must be a fine wool (CVM or Cormo) and looks light as a cloud! I had a creamy white Cormo fleece blended with black alpaca in a 70%/ 30% ratio. The most beautiful bluish/charcoal gray pin drafted fiber resulted!

  4. What ever it is it looks wonderful. I got a bit of Alpaca to play with this weekend, and am hoping to get the wheel back in action soon and start using some of what I’ve been reading here.

  5. Hi Abby ….I was looking for your email address on the site but am in a rush and couldn’t find it.

    So, I’ll give my suggestion here:
    I love your thoughtful posts on spinning. However they are long and I would love to be able to listen to them while spinning rather than just sit and read . Have you ever considered doing a podcast series for spinners? Something like Syne Mitchell does for Weavecast? Think about it….there are a lot of possibilities in it.

  6. I got a huge kick out of your section on teaching kids to spin. My middle (5.5) kid got very, very interested in it, but then got side-tracked. He and the oldest (8.5) have gotten interested again, and your thoughts have definitely give me some new ideas about what they might like to try.

    What really cracked me up though, is the part about really young children. My 19 month old daughter has been “helping” me treadle for a couple of months now. She likes to “help” draf too, but that doesn’t work as well. She enjoys this enough that if you ask her “do you want to spin?” she very often says yes and shows up on “her” side of the treadle to help out. I suspect that the yarn she has helped with will be very special yarn to me sometime in the future when she’s moved on from this particular help.

  7. Glad the drought is over. Ours continues, green is so much nicer! thanks for the tips on kids spinning,my girl has her own fibre and yarn collection, She has had it forever and makes things out of it and shows her friends. She has tried to knit and has only just asked about spinning. Fingers crossed she is better than me once she starts! Thanks for the tips. I spin better fine yarn on a spindle too, any tips as you perfect your already great technique will be appreciated.

  8. Hi. I absoutly love your blog and all the tips, tericks and info you give. And of course all the spinning (addicted).

    Anyway. I was wondering if you ever have the time, inclinatio and knoweldge if you couldn’t do an article of spinning locks. I have alot of dyed and plain locks. So I’ve fluffed up and spun. So I’ve carded into rolog’s and spun and some I’ve used my hackle on.

    But I coudl really use some tips or tricks. Or general rule. Or maybe you could point me in a good direction.

    Thanks so much, and wonderful blog. I just love all the spinning and fiber!

  9. oh . my. god. Did I do that to your wheel. At SOAR. when I banged the door on it and I laughed so hard that pop came out my nose, and you were yelling at me to shut up because you were going to pee your pants?????Is that (cracked wheel) what happen. I’m so sorry.
    Will you still be my friend?
    If not,well I understand. Really though I am sorry. Did I do that???

  10. Definitely from Shari at Morro. How well I know… just got another big box, and she emails that a third box is on the way, and then there will be the 4th, and I will have NO money left, from buying and sending beautiful fleece to Shari, to make fabulous pin drafted boxes of gorgeousness! So, all I want to know is, what is THAT one? And can I trade you some of mine for some of yours???

    I’m so jealous you went to SOAR. But glad you got to meet and take a class with JMM… she’s amazing, and fun. Later.

  11. Heee, Denny, there’s no way that was you. You bonked the drive wheel, and it’s totally fine; plus the crack wasn’t there when I packed up and hit the road. Plus, even if it was? My equipment has to live in my house, complete with preteen boy and multiple cats. Like you could possibly have exposed it to more risk!

  12. I agree with guinevereanne. I need some tips on spinning with locks. I purchased a rams’ fleece last fall because I loved the variations in color in the locks. I was uber carefull in my washing – the locks were hand separated and washed in a manner so the locks were all aligned and stayed that way during the wash. I’d love to preserve the color variations in a finished yarn to get a naturally varrigated yarn and I think carding/rolags would destroy the color distinctions. so spinning from the locks might be my only solution. but, I’ve never seen this done.

    and I agree on the fine spinning. I had someone look at a couple of spun bobbins and an almost full drop spindle – the singles are finer on the drop. so if I want to use it all for one project – should I ply the drop spindle singles with the bobbin singles?

    and… I think my yarn finally showed up. hubby is late on a post office run and a box is waiting to be picked up. here’s fingers crossed.. I cant wait to see that luscious yarn and start knitting with it.

  13. Did Margaret Stove bring up Stuart Albrey’s name? I understand she is a big fan of his fleece.

    Kids never cease to amaze me if given enough latitude so they can discover things on their own.

    The little tan tag on that beautiful bundle of fiber looks awfully familiar 😉 Shari’s stuff? I just love the look of those coils. Just dreamy. Abby, you are the best.

    I wouldn’t sweat the wheel, that looks like an easy enough fix.

  14. Just remember, it was on its way before I saw this post!!!!

  15. Could you explain how the locks of merino were washed? I know that sounds really stupid, but I have some cormo that is pretty greasy and would like a quick way to wash it to get the lanolin out?

    Thanks much, enjoy learning from you.


  16. Both of those bobbins look gorgeous! The super-fine looks like it would blend beautifully with my fine stuff too 🙂

  17. that roving is awesome looking. i need to fix my wheel, too. my footman keeps sliding down near the wheel axle instead of where it belongs on its little perch. i think i just need a rubber grommet to keep it in place.

  18. That pindrafted stuff is addicting. As is Toni’s hyperfine merino.

Comments are closed.