Fiber Arts

Spinning by Hand

Several years ago I learned how to make carded wool into yarn using a drop spindle.  For many thousands of years, this was the primary method for producing the yarn and thread from which all cloth and clothing was made.  Because it takes a long time to spin enough yarn for a garment, clothing was considered much more valuable in pre-industrial societies than it is today.  My first efforts at learning to spin were not very successful. I'd purchased a "learn-to-spin" kit, which included a spindle, a small quantity of roving, and a book.   Learning from a book is not the best method for this dynamic activity.  When I had the opportunity to watch someone spin, however, it all became much clearer.  I made further progress when I set aside the light-weight spindle that came with the kit and began to use a heavier spindle I made myself from two used CD-ROM discs and a dowel.
While I wouldn't want to rely on it for producing my daily clothing, hand spinning as a craft activity is fun and relaxing.  In addition, it allows for both control and creativity.  To produce interesting patterns for colors, for example, one can dye roving using a technique known as "hand painting" and then spin it to produce a unique yarn.

The roving shown above was created by carefully pouring red, orange and green dyes across a wet 4' wool bat laid flat on a sheet of plastic wrap.  The dyes used were a type known as acid dye, which sounds dangerous but is not.  An acid dye is simply a dye that requires in acidic environment, usually in combination with heat, for the dye to set and become colorfast.  In this case the acidic environment was created by soaking the bat in water with 1 cup of vinegar added.  It's important to soak the bat for at least an hour to make sure all the fibers are wet, and then to drain and gently press out excess water so the bat remains wet but not dripping.  Once the dye has been painted on, the bat will need to be heated to the point of steaming to complete the process of setting the dye.  I do this by first soaking up unabsorbed dye with sponge or paper towels, then wrapping the bat in the plastic wrap and heating it in a microwave.  Since microwaves vary, its best to heat in 1 minute bursts until you see indications of steaming.  It's important not to overheat, as this may burn the wool or melt the plastic wrap.  Once the bat has been steamed and allowed to cool, I unwrap it and rinse it in lukewarm water to remove excess dye.  I then press out as much water as I can (making sure not to wring, twist, or stretch) and leave the bat to air dry.  The yarn that resulted from spinning this bat and plying it back on itself is shown to the right.

Yarn from Sweden

When in Sweden, I had the opportunity to visit several yarn shops.  The Yllet store on Drottninggatan had attractive soft yarn made of Gotland wool.  I got a heavy worsted weight in varigated shades of blue, olive and brown.  Sticka, in Gamla Stan on Österlånggatan, is an attractive store with a large selection of yarns.  I came away with fingering weight rough spun yarn, again made of Gotland wool, and hand dyed in shades of deep red.  I also got two 50g balls of Drops Delight by Garnstudio in varigated shades of red, orange and brown, which I was told would be good for socks (it's 75% superwash wool, 25% polyamid).  Garnstudio is a Norwegian company; the yarn itself was made in Turkey.

Dan's Scarf


This was one of my projects for 2010.  The body of the scarf is knitted in a seed stitch pattern from Red Heart yarn.  It's not a fancy yarn, but the color is nice.  While acrylic yarn does not have the same hand as natural fibers, it washes easily and is less likely to cause skin irritation.  This particular yarn has a nice, soft feel after it is machine washed with a little fabric softener.

Noro Yarn

One of these days I want to try knitting something from Noro yarn.  Noro yarns are famous for their unique, vibrant colorways.  I've read that the fibers are dyed after cleaning while still in their raw state, then carded and spun in a way that produces gradual color transitions and subtle effects that cannot be achieved by dying yarn after it's been spun.

The Noro line includes Kureyon (100% wool), Hanna (100% silk), and Silk Garden (45% silk, 45% mohair and 45% lambs wool) in a variety of weights.  The one I've read the most about is the Noro Silk Garden, which is reported to have a wonderful hand and drape.  This yarn comes in chunky, worsted, and DK weights.  There's also a Noro Silk Garden sock (fingering weight) yarn that has nylon incorporated for added durability.  The swatch images below provide an idea of the color effects when Silk Garden is knitted up.



Danish Yarn

During a visit to Copenhagen, I enjoyed a visit to Uldstedet on Fiolstræde, where I got this beautiful yarn created by a Danish fiber artist Karen Noe.  The yarn is Rustik Naturgarn, Kobber.  It's composed of a gray and white noil silk single plied with mercerized cotton thread in copper brown and moss green.  I knit this up into a scarf that I gave to my sister-in-law.  I later used the swiss darning technique to decorate a black stocking cap with the same yarn so my sister-in-law would have a coordinated set.  The feel of this yarn made it a pleasure to work with, and the colors reminded me of Copenhagen.