The bedtime shawl

An arm holding up a sheer woven shawl in natural colours.
The bedtime shawl

When I started practising supported spinning, I was using what was left of three fleeces of beautiful alpaca I had bought from  Österlen alpacka a few years ago. I was spinning in bed just before I went to sleep. It was calming, like meditation and I cherished those bedtime spinning moments. I was spinning to learn, so I didn’t have a project planned for the yarn, but after a while I envisioned a sheer woven shawl. A bit like those fancy wide cashmere shawls. My mother-in-law was going through chemo at the time and she is always cold so I wanted to make it for her.

A support spindle full of yarn.
Singles from the baby alpaca Miracle

After about six months of bedtime spinning I started weaving on my rigid heddle loom. And it was hell. I am a new weaver and I am advising all weavers, regardless of experience, never to weave in alpaca. It’s a very slippery fiber. And especially prone to breaking with a super thin singles weft. Or perhaps the advise is not to weave with a super thin singles weft.

A rigid heddle loom warped with thin yarn
At the beginning of the alpaca hell

But I did learn a lot along the way. And that’s the beauty of creating, isn’t it? For every mistake you make you learn something new to add to your experience bank and bring into future projects. And at the end of the warp it turned out beautifully, smooth as silk.

A sheer woven shawl folded over a park bench
The finished alpaca shawl

Plying on a Navajo spindle

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I generally don’t ply on a spindle. It takes too much time and effort. I usually ply on my wheel. But I need to try it. Today, I had three singles spun on supported spindles and I wanted to try to ply them on my Navajo spindle. And I wanted to film something while the cherry trees were still in blossom.

When spinning on a Navajo spindle I roll the shaft towards me on my right leg. So, naturally, when plying I roll the shaft away from me on my right leg. It would work just as well rolling towards me on my left leg.

In the video I keep my spindles in a shoe box. Usually I wind the singles together on a bobble before plying. Or toilet rolls or tennis balls, do it in any fashion you prefer. When plying directly from the spindles I keep my fingers between the singles to keep them in order. When drawing out the singles I smooth them out with my thumb, feeling after bumps and places where a single has plied back on itself. I roll the shaft until I see that the yarn is balanced, and roll it on to the temporary cop. Every now and then I transfer the yarn from the temporary cop down to the permanent cop. It was very convenient to use the oak stump for that.

Well, plying yarn this thin on a Navajo spindle was tedious, I have to say, and there was no time difference from plying on a supported spindle. The positive thing was, as it usually is when it comes to spindles, that I can get a close look on my work and avoid the singles plying back on themselves. There is rarely time for that when plying on the wheel. I may ply on a Navajo spindle again, but with less yarn.

A skein of handspun white yarn in backlight
Result: 203 m, 58 g of fingering weight 3-ply yarn, 3581 m/kg.

Fiber is hand-carded rollags from the finewool sheep Engla from Överjärva gård. Supported spindles from Malcolm Fielding (outer) and Neal Brand (middle) and Navajo spindle from Roosterick. Shawl pattern is Beth Kling‘s Henslowe, Tussah tweed yarn from BC garn.

Happy spinning!

Spinning on a supported spindle – step by step

I thought I’d write something about how I spin on a supported spindle. I learned a lot from Fleegle’s book about supported spinning, I highly recommend it.

Starting on an empty spindle

An empty spindle shaft is quite slippery and it’s not always easy to start spinning. I take my fiber, unspun, and wrap it a few times round the shaft quite high, perhaps 3–5 cm from the upper tip. Then I flick the spindle in motion, stop, draft and roll on to the shaft. I repeat these steps a few times, until I have a bit of a length. I transfer the spun yarn onto my fiber hand and then, without removing the fiber from the shaft completely, push the starting fiber down to the placement of the permanent cop. I wind on most of the spun thread on the permanent cop, saving a length to spiral up the shaft. And I’m ready to spin!

Spinning continuously with a short draw

When I spin on a supported spindle I spin continuously. This took me a lot of time to learn and I took it step by step.

There are two major parts of this process (well, three actually, but I will get to the third part later on):

  1. Spinning
  2. Rolling the spun yarn onto the temporary cop

For these two steps I need to keep the yarn in different angles in relation to the shaft. When spinning, the yarn is kept in a low angle, 5–45°. This way, the yarn is sliding off the tip every turn and the yarn gets spun. When rolling the yarn onto the shaft, the yarn is kept at a 90° angle from the shaft. So in the spinning process I alternate these two tasks and angles.

Apart from the flicking, I don’t touch the spindle. All the support it needs comes from the spinning surface. The spinning hand is controlling the yarn and the fiber hand is controlling the fiber. I make sure I get a good flick to keep the spinning going long and strong.

Let’s get back to the spinning. For a continuous spin I flick the tip with my spinning hand, preferably with three fingers and my thumb.

I do this in a series of movements, not stopping in between: 5–45° Flick, draft, 90° flick, roll on. If I want to do this with park and draft I stop between: 5–45° Flick. Stop. I draft until I reach my desired amount of twist. Stop. 90° flick, roll on.

There are a few tricks to the spinning that you hardly see in regular motion, but in slow motion they are visible: When I draft I turn my fiber hand against the spinning direction, i.e. anti-clockwise for a clockwise spinning. Just briefly to make the drafting easier and to even out bumps. And just at the beginning of the flicking to roll the yarn onto the temporary cop I take charge by rolling less than a quarter of a round in the wrong direction (anti-clockwise).

Spinning continuously with a long draw

The method is basically the same as for a short draw, but with one difference. When I have flicked the spindle for spinning and put my fingers back on the yarn, I repeatedly open and close my spinning hand fingers on the yarn to let the twist go further into the fiber. This gets you a longer draft before the yarn breaks and a more fluffy yarn.

Moving yarn to permanent cop

So, on to step 3. Using the temporary cop is for convenience. I want to be as economical in my movements as possible and enjoy the continuous motion. But sooner or later I have to move the cop town to its permanent place. So I make a butterfly. With my fiber hand I lift the yarn interchangeably with my thumb and pinkie and thus transfer the yarn from the temporary cop to my fiber hand. When all the yarn from the temporary cop is wound on to my hand I transfer it down to the permanent cop. I help the rolling on with the spinning hand by flicking the shaft. I also make sure I make a neat cop. With a sloppy cop there is a risk the end will never be found again if I lose it.

Plying

Usually I don’t ply on my spindles. It takes too much time and is quite boring. But I do it occasionally when I have just a small amount of yarn to ply. So, I made a short video on plying. There’s nothing special about plying on a supported spindle really. I skip the temporary cop in this part of the process, instead I tilt the spindle a little away from the fiber hand and wind the yarn directly on to the permanent cop. In this video I ply from both ends of a center-pull ball. I keep a fiber hand finger between the singles to keep them in order. Then I just ply away.

Fiber is from Swedish finewool sheep. Spindles are from Maine fiber tools and Malcolm Fielding. Spinning bowl also from Malcolm Fielding. Hoody pattern is Kate Davies’ Northmavine Hoody, yarn from Jamieson & Smith.

Happy spinning!

How it continued

I have told you in previous post about how it all began. This is how it continued.

The last few summers, my family and I have spent a week in the countryside in Austria, hiking and visiting family. Up until then, we had been going by air, but for climate reasons we decided to take the train. My first thought – and I know those of you who are as profoundly nerdy as I am will recognise this – was what craft I would bring on the journey. When flying, I had only brought a nalbinding project. No security check can see any harm in a blunt wooden needle. But 24 hours on trains and stations! The crafting opportunities are almost endless! I had seen Fleegle’s beautiful video where she spins supported, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. This was in the fall, so there was plenty of time to learn. I bought a spindle from Maine fiber tools and started practising. I usually sat in bed at night just before going to sleep. I badly wanted to learn to master the continuous supported spinning I had seen on the video. And voilá, in February I got it. And I had entered the magical world of supported spinning.

A drop spindle filled with alpaca singles
My first supported spindle, wrapped in sweet alpaca.

But I wouldn’t settle for just knowing how to. I wanted to explore supported spindles, see what was out there and what I liked. So I posted a question on Ravelry. I wrote about my upcoming journey and that I was looking for spindles that would suit my needs. I got some answers, but none that I really could do anything with. Someone told me to go to a fiber festival and try some of the spindle makers there. Well, there may be fiber festivals and supported spindle makers in every bush in the U.S. but there aren’t in Sweden. Then I got a personal message. It was from S in the U.S. She said she was willing to send me a few spindles of different kinds. Truth be told, I was a little suspicious at first. I mean, who would just send expensive spindles across the pond to a stranger? But she did. She told me to look upon it as a random act of kindness, and pay it forward.

The package arrived, and when I opened the beautifully wrapped content, I found no less than eight (8) supported spindles, and over 100 g of BFL/silk fiber. That is a true act of kindness.

Three support spindles with descriptions attached to them
Some of the spindles in the RAK
Five support spindles with descriptions attached to them.
The rest of the support spindles in the RAK

I started thinking about how to pay it forward. I wanted other people to be able to try out different kinds of supported spindles and find one that suited them, just as I had wanted. So, I started the travelling spindle library. I kept some of the spindles for myself and added some of my own and some fiber and sent the package to a spinner I didn’t know but who was active on the Swedish spinning Facebook page. The instructions for the travelling spindle library were simple: Try the spindles for as long as you like. Keep the ones you like, add some if you want to and send the parcel to another spinner. And as far as I know, the travelling spindle library is still travelling around in Sweden, looking for new spindle librarians.

What about the train ride? Well, we did go to Austria by train. And I did spin. It was almost a spiritual feeling when I took out the spindle from my backpack and started spinning in my seat. This was the moment I had been preparing for since november! My son filmed the moment, somewhere between Copenhagen and Hamburg. A Neal Brand spindle from the package (see picture above), and a lap bowl from Kerryspindles. BFL/silk fiber from Vinterverkstan.

This was my first supported spinning video, and there have been many since. These, in turn, have led to inquiries about teaching support spinning classes, and so, I am apparently a support spinning teacher. And on the classes, I start by telling the students this story.