Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trouble With Take-Up

The past ten days have been filled with baking, cooking, roasting, and dog sitting. Cakes, pies, sauces, turkey, potatoes, salads, and the regular dog walks. A fabulous way to spend time.

I spent the earlier part of November spinning and knitting. I finished spinning 2 pounds of wool/mohair roving that I’d purchased in October. I spun 6 skeins of 3-ply yarn. That means I filled 18 bobbins with singles. A marathon, of sorts.

As I spun the last 3 bobbins of singles, I noticed that the drive band on my trusty little Reeves upright wheel was looking ragged; it was fraying and going to break any second. Before spinning the very last bobbin, I took the pre-emptive step of changing the drive band. I cut off the old cotton band, and replaced it with a linen string. Now, I’ve changed bands on this wheel many times without mishap. But I’d never used linen before. Just cotton.

I merrily started spinning the last of the fiber for this large project. The first few minutes went as smoothly as always, but then I started having trouble with the take-up tension: the singles were not going on to the bobbin. How annoying.

Take-up tension – how hard the wheel is pulling on the yarn you are spinning – is simply a matter of friction. If the take-up tension isn’t right, then one of two things is wrong: either you have too much friction where you shouldn’t have friction, or you don’t have enough friction where you should have friction. Solving the problem is just a matter of friction trouble-shooting.

Because I’d just – just – changed the drive band, I assumed that it was the likely culprit. My first step was simply to tighten the drive band (thereby increasing the friction of the drive band on the whorl and bobbin). That did not work. No amount of tightening had any effect on take-up tension. How could that be?

I then considered that the linen string was not a good choice for the drive band (insufficient coefficient of friction, perhaps?). So, I changed the drive band again, using a cotton string instead.

Still, the take-up tension was wimpy. Sheesh! I had only one more bobbin to fill. I was so very close to finishing this spinning project. How frustrating.

Since it appeared that my problem was not the drive band, I considered the possibility of there being friction where there shouldn’t be friction. I removed flyer, unwound the whorl, removed the bobbin, wiped off the shaft of the flyer, and re-oiled the flyer. I was about to put the bobbin back on the flyer but decided to examine the bushings on the bobbin. Nothing obvious. I then got out a q-tip cotton swab and poked it into the ends of the bobbin. Whoa! I cleared out a gob of grimy fiber out of each end of the bobbin!

After I re-oiled the bobbin and put the bobbin-flyer back in place, all was right with the world . . . and with my take-up tension.

In all my years of spinning, I’d never had this happen. This gob in the bobbin. In my assumption of the guilt of the drive band I overlooked a simpler problem. Here’s hoping I won’t do that again. Systematic trouble-shooting is better than assuming.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


It’s finally happened. I now own more looms than spinning wheels. On Wednesday, I picked up an old Nilus Leclerc inkle loom, the “Cendrel”. It’s a large, floor inkle loom. I’ve wanted one ever since I saw my friend, Marty F, weaving on hers years ago. I got mine from another friend, Gerrie M.

This is not my only inkle loom. I also own a Schacht inkle loom that I love and have used to make bookmarks, belts, purse straps, and dog leashes. It was the very first loom that I got.

The advantage of the Leclerc loom is that it is more physically comfortable to use. It also can be used to make bands up to 6 inches in width. And! It can be used as a warping board.

The other looms in my “family”?

I used to have an Ashford rigid heddle “Knitter’s Loom” with a 12” weaving width. I used it a lot to make scarves. But I wanted to make other, wider things like placemats and table runners. So, I sold my Knitter’s Loom. And I bought a used Schacht rigid heddle loom  with a  25” weaving width. This is an older version of their rigid heddle loom and is no longer made, but this one came with 3 reeds (8, 10, and 12 dent) and a trestle floor stand. I wrote about this acquisition earlier this year.

Many of my weaving friends absolutely hate weaving on a rigid heddle loom. They are certain I will lose my enthusiasm for this loom soon. I am equally certain they are wrong.

A few years ago, I was gifted a Schacht frame loom. This is a simple loom used for tapestry weaving, something I’ve long admired and only recently tried. I haven’t used this loom yet. This winter is the time. It’s got a respectable 15” weaving width. And I think it might even be possible to use it with the trestle stand that came with my rigid heddle loom. That would be very nice.

In late August this year, I drove down to Midland to have lunch with my oldest friend, Julie P, and another friend of hers. Julie’s friend, Janet Y, had a loom that she wanted to find a new home for. Well, it’s now in my home. It’s a Schacht table top, four-harness loom. Janet had used it for many years, but not recently. It’s got a 25” weaving width. Quite versatile. I’m planning to have a loom party sometime this winter to get my weaving friends to help me warp this loom.

One challenge with this loom is to find just the right table for it. The loom is 30” wide and 23” deep. I thought I’d found a good adjustable height table at Staples, but it turned out to be not quite deep enough. (However, this table will be just right for my drum carder). So, I’m in the market for a table. The height of the Schacht stand for this loom is 21”. As nice as it would be to get that stand, I’m hoping I can find something suitable for a bit lower price. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Are you counting? That's five looms.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Surprised by the Yarn-Over

There’s nothing like a deadline to provide inspiration. This weekend, I’ll be teaching at the 4th Annual Fall Fiber Retreat  in Boyne Falls, Michigan, a relaxing weekend get-away.

On Saturday, I’m teaching Mechanics of Your Wheel and Plying Balanced Yarns. On Sunday, I’m teaching The Surprising Yarn-Over. This’ll be the first time I’ve taught the yarn-over workshop. I’d had the idea in my head for quite awhile, but having a “due date” required that I go from theoretical to concrete.

I enjoy the process of preparing workshop handouts because it prompts me to arrange my thoughts on a topic. What should be said first? How are subtopics related? Which explanations need a swatch or a stitch pattern? How might the notions that I present be translated into knitted designs and projects?

I started preparing the handouts on Saturday, and I finished them yesterday. Over those few days, my brain was occupied with the fascinating little yarn-over. I daydreamed about them. I nightdreamed about them. I wrote about them. I read about them. I rummaged through my knitted pieces for examples. And, of course, I knitted swatches.

As it happens, my current knitting project – a shawl – incorporates yarn-overs in more than one interesting way. It’ll be a perfect example to show workshop participants. I’m close enough to the end of that project that I might well finish knitting it during the retreat.

Preparing the notes sparked ideas for future designs that take advantage of yarn-overs. I have an idea for a camisole. Wall hangings. More shawls. Collar. Cuff.

I love it when this happens!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

SOAR and More

SOAR  is over. I’ve been home for nearly a week. Most of my catch-up chores are now done. My head is still spinning with memories. (“spinning”? Really? Did I really write that?)

I roomed with the delightful Loyce Erickson. She lives in western Oregon where she creates wonderful felted art and felted clothing. We got along fabulously (I was happy to gush over loads of pictures of her new puppy). She works with wool, of course. But she also incorporates silk into her felting. She generously gifted me with some silk hankies that she’d dyed black (!) and a sweet pink and grey silk-wool felted scarf.

My workshop and retreat sessions were great fun. I saw many old faces (I mean: they were folks I’d met before), and many new faces (new to me!). There were folks who’d just begun spinning (less than a couple months), and folks who’d been spinning for innumerable years. It was delightful to meet some who’d attended more than 25 of the 31 years of SOAR. I do love the variety of people: different tastes, different enthusiasms, different experiences, different cultures, different ages. Yes!

SOAR is not only a wonderful place for teaching and learning, but for having surprise conversations. At each meal, I tried to sit at a table with at least a few folks that I’d not yet met. Fascinating conversations ensued. Same thing at some of the social gatherings (mentor meeting, vendor meet-and-greet, fashion show, evening spin-ins): conversations went in all directions. I wish I could remember every single word. At least I remember some.

In no particular order:

Teri Drouin-Guerette. She’d taken my workshop last year, and this year she was in my silk hankies retreat session. We got to chat about fiber events and teaching spinning. She gifted me some lovely stitch markers. Thanks Teri.

Deb Menz. She was in my silk hankies retreat session. Now, Deb is a renowned color expert. I was so excited to tell her that I am proud to be a “color dunce”. That sounds so confrontational, but she took it for what it was: a silly little moment.

John Mullarkey. A pleasant young man who does remarkable tablet weaving. He also has done some intriguing work with pin looms. In fact, he help Schacht Spindle Co update the pin loom for their new Zoom Loom. John also had a retreat session dedicated to silk hankies. Where I was teaching how to spin them, he was teaching how to weave on a pin loom with them. His students made adorable silk flowers.

Gayle Vallance. Another SOAR mentor, Gayle is from British Columbia, and she knows her bast fibers! We had chats about flax, hemp and cotton. She inspired me to spend more time with these fibers. I look forward to those adventures!

Andrea Mielke Shroer. Andrea’s workshop room was right next to mine. So, I got to peek in on her regularly. She focused on using Corriedale wool. We had chats about variations within the breed, where to get good Corri wool. In one of her classes she had the most beautiful raw fleece spread out in the middle of the room. A delight to see and smell. I also got bits of advice from her about using a tahkli spindle.

Patsy Zawistoski. We sat next to each other during the final night’s “farewell” gathering. And we shared some wine. We talked about travels, great wheels, flax, tahklis, wine, knitting, and undoing knitting.

Carol Desrochers. Carol roomed with my sister, Meg, when they were in school at the University of Michigan. It was great to catch up with her at SOAR. The last time I’d seen her was at the Michigan Fiber Festival in 2004. I’m hoping that I see her more often!

Robin Russo. Robin is a wiz. I took her 3-day silk workshop several years ago at Convergence. It was a marvelous and memorable experience. Our paths cross every now and then, and we usually get in a word or two about silk. This time, we happened to be in a vendor booth together. I was fondling a silk form that I’d not seen before: a silk “lap”. I grilled Robin on it’s properties. As always, she was kind, generous, and informative.

Marilyn Wright. Marilyn is from the UK. I met her last year at SOAR. It was a pleasure to see her again. This year she taught short workshops in blackfoot spindles and spinning. In one of our chats, she gave me the background of this intriguing spindle. She wrote an article for Spin-Off, Summer 2013. I am smitten with this spindle. I must get one! (The Woolery sells them.)

D.Y. Begay D.Y. taught classes on Navajo spinning. I enjoyed meeting her and chatting about the southwest. It’s been a very long time since I lived in Arizona.

Chris Pappas. Oh, wow. Did you read her article in the Fall issue of PLY magazine? It was great! We sat next to each other at lunch one day. I had no idea who she was. After a few exchanges we started talking about academia, and her work as an archeologist, specializing in textiles. Then someone mentioned PLY. I got very excited. I told her I thought her article was the best piece in the magazine. A few days later, she said I had the best haircut of anyone at SOAR. Funny.

Kate Larson.  We didn’t get much of a chance to chat. Too bad; Kate is a delight. But I did get to see some of the work that her students had done in her workshop on spinning for Norwegian mittens. Fabulous detail. I want to make some! Really. I do. And I will. And I’m now more interested in spinning 3- and 4-ply yarns.

Lynda Walker. I met Lynda last year at SOAR. We just hit it off. This year she bought me drinks on Friday night. We chatted and chatted and chatted about dance, peanut butter, and other important topics. And we laughed a lot!

Anita Osterhaug. Anita is the editor of Handwoven magazine and Weaving Today . She has been given the task of guiding a conversation and gathering thoughts about the future of an Interweave spinning event. We sat next to each other one night and I commended her for taking on such a daunting task. Many folks do not like change, so Anita has a lot of persuading to do. I will be hoping for the very best for her and for whatever spinning event evolves from SOAR.

I regret that I had other conversations that were equally touching, inspiring, and surprising, but I don’t remember everyone’s names. I’m bad that way.

I drove home last Sunday. As much as I love teaching, I also love going home. As my car gets closer to Lake Ann, I grow calmer. I was pleasantly surprised at how much autumn color still lingered. The blazing colors of maple are past, but the oaks are now coming into their own. I will now get some time to relish northern Michigan late fall, do some cool weather cooking, and work on fiber projects. Maybe work on my tahkli and Navajo spinning. And play with my looms. And rug hook. And spin. And knit.

Life is good.