Saturday, 12 January 2008


Today was the first of our Exceedingly Crafty January Saturdays (TM). Gail, Ting, Caroline and I braved the mean streets of Walthamstow (I keep expecting East 17 to jump out and mug me) for a day-long course on handspinning at The Handweaver's Studio. I had no idea what to expect or whether I'd actually be able to do it, but figured it would be an interesting background to the properties of yarn, and that might help with my knitting if nothing else. Although having read this analogy of spinning the night before, I was, well, dubious and not a little inclined to clench.

So we pitched up just before 10am, wearing old clothes as instructed. The class was taken by Nancy, the shop owner, and what a riot she is, very funny and extremely patient. I had assumed that the course would mainly involve spinning from prepared roving, but no, this was in depth baby, the whole nine yards. Nancy started by explaining the anatomy of a sheep's fleece, and where the best yarn is found (withers and sides), the mediocre bits (the back, all dry), right down to the horrible bits (the skirt that trails along the ground getting felted, the winnet-encrusted britch). To our townie shock, she then unfurled a dirty (literally) great fleece on the table and encouraged us to get stuck in. Interestingly, this first one was shown as an example of what not to buy - felting, double cuts and too much vegetable matter. A horrifying discourse on moths followed (I still shudder to think of it), and then we met Skippy:

Or rather, Skippy's beautiful fleece (thank you Skippy, wherever you are). Still rather pungent from all the lanolin, and full of bits of hay, but glorious nevertheless. Here it is, our working material for the rest of the day:

We were started off on drop spindles. I'd been fairly apprehensive about the concept, not having a clue how they worked, but it was easy! Lots of fun, like playing with a top.

And, wonder of wonders, it made yarn! Here's my first handspun singles:

You'll see it's a dark grey-brown colour at this point, it reminded me of the grubby little mice that live on the Tube. More on that later.

A good portion of the morning was spent mastering the drop spindles in the woollen method, with us just grabbing bits of Skippy's fleece from off the table and spinning them in. A bit rough and ready. So just before lunch, Nancy taught us how to card the fleece into nice rolags (or "rollmops" as I kept thinking) with all the fibres nicely fluffed and lined up, ready to spin smoothly. Much easier. I was, for some reason, really good at this bit, and made loads of them in preparation for the next event: spinning wheels.

Reader, I was terrible. Seriously. This shouldn't have surprised me, as whilst I have an excellent grasp of the laws of physics, as soon as I'm required to do anything mechanical with moving parts, especially fast moving parts, I go to pieces. This is why I can't drive, or even ride a bike. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to intellectually understand exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing, but have no way to translate that to actual physical movements? I'm also terribly clumsy, though it was Gail who broke her spinning wheel, not me. I just swore at mine quite a lot.

Eventually I managed to produce a meagre amount of spun yarn, and here is my teeny weeny yarn cake, desperately irregular and still full of bits of stick (Noro-esque, I'd like to think):

Caroline and Ting were, of course, brilliant. Look at their serene expressions. I hate you both.

So I returned to the drop spindle towards the end of the afternoon, and learned how to ply my yarn, and how to do worsted method. From my morning's efforts, I made a little skein of plied yarn, yes, actual yarn! I washed it out with some detergent, and you wouldn't believe the colour change as all the lanolin, dirt and sheepshit (hence the old clothes requirement) came out. It's now a dark steely grey with lighter slate bits - no hint of brown. It's currently drying and I will show it off when it's properly skeined, but here's a picture of it wet:

It still reeks of the farmyard (as do I, but my hands are lovely and soft). I think it will need another wash in something scented. Not that I mind the countryside smell as such, but perhaps not in a small flat like ours.

We then raided the shop for things to use at home. I'd already decided that roving is not yarn and therefore buying it did not contravene my yarn diet. Some say this is a matter of semantics, but I am sticking to my story. Besides, how could I not buy materials to practise what I'd just learned? So I picked up a lovely walnut and sycamore drop spindle, black and white merino tops for my first practice run, a truly lovely bagful of brown and cream BFL roving for when I'm a little better, and, oh my, lots of stunning silk roving for when I'm a lot, lot better. I'll photograph the woolly goodies tomorrow when there's light, but I'm not even going to try with the silk. Go take a look at the manufacturer's website: Treetops Colour Harmonies. Glorious. I bought 100g of bombyx silk tops in Sea Lavender for actual spinning purposes. I then bought eight more 10g packets in various colourways of the bombyx tops and tussah tops, just to have around me, as beautiful objects of inspiration. I love them, truly madly deeply.

Of course there was cake afterwards back at mine:

That's a Sticky Peanut Butter Cake from the Divine book that Lotta gave me for Christmas. Yum! The cake itself is just chocolate sponge, but the icing (not yet set in the photo so shinier than it was by the time we ate it) is made of melted chocolate and peanut butter. It adds a lovely saltiness to the cake. I'll be doing this again.

In a fit of enthusiasm I've just bought some wonderful roving from here. I'm justifying this as they are completely different to the more natural toned stuff I bought at the shop. I don't feel that roving is going to become a stash issue as such - I have no desire to collect more than what I've now got, which is for fun experimentation but not as a main craft. I have been coveting batts from this seller for ages though (since I bought this beautiful handspun) so am mightily pleased to have a reason to do so.

Next Saturday: crochet!


Denise said...

Sounds like a fun day! I've always wanted to try spinning. Will vegetable dying come next?
I love your description of the yarn colour - grubby tube mice ;)

Ginger Lucy said...

Actually, yes it will! There are a couple of dying courses I'm looking at for much later in 2008, but will depend on who I can persuade to drive us there.

Grubby tube mice always cheer me up, they are so sweet!

Gail said...

Well thanks for that - are you saying I'm clumsy?!

Original Ting said...

I'd gladly give up my motor skills if I could bake and card like you,... how about we just all work together for the collective good? xx