Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's not all about wheels

Sometimes it's about ... spindles! For various and sundry reasons, I've been enjoying a renewed interest in drop spindles. I blame it on Abby Franquemont. She is a Spindle Enabler. Spindles are great tools, both beautiful and (if done right) functional. Many spinners get started on a spindle before moving on to wheel spinning, and some of them never go back to spindles. That's kind of a shame, because spindles really have some advantages over wheels.
  1. The are more portable.
  2. They are in more people's price range.
  3. They make great taunts for cats.
I would also add to that list that spindle spinning improves my ability to draft evenly, but I don't know that everyone experiences that particular benefit of spindle spinning.

Earlier this week I was in a bit of a funk and decided I needed some shopping therapy, and so I treated myself to a couple of cadillac-quality spindles from Goldings. They arrived today, and now I have a pretty brass chain in my fiber room with a Kundert, two True Creations, and two Goldings.

It's a nice way to display them and will be just a bit more difficult for my big cat to chew on them. Here are the Goldings in more detail:

That's a medium weight (about 1.6 oz) top whorl spindle. All but one of my spindles are top whorl spindles, tho' on my list of Things To Do is to learn how to use bottom whorls and supported spindles.

Here's the lighter weight Golding Lignum Vitae:

I like the wood on this one - it's a rare, dense wood and a most interesting olive brown.

And last but not least, my two True Creation spindles - a 1 oz. and a .6 oz.

When I'm spinning the more exotic fibers like cashmere or guanaco, I prefer to do it on a drop spindle. I appreciate having a greater focus on spinning when I'm working with something rare, and drop spindles, for me, require more focus. It works out well.

Tomorrow I'm going to take a few spindles with me to a holiday dinner party. Maybe there will be someone there I can help aspinnerate! :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mistakes are for Learning

I think I mentioned in the last blog post that I was having some Technical Difficulties with the scarf I'm attempting. I'm not too fretful about that, since I am learning so much about What Not To Do in weaving, and know that all future items will be that much better. Right? Work with me on this one.

So, I shall share what I've learned so far so that any of you proto-weavers out there can learn from my mistakes.
  1. Have Good Lighting
  2. Check the warp for mistakes by treadling against a lightly tied warp BEFORE you tie that last knot
  3. Don't use a squishy thing as your warp separator on the back beam
A bit more on the first, Have Good Lighting. Now, I'm sure that getting a warp tied on will get easier in time, but for those first dozen or so, you're going to stretch and strain and wonder "wait, which reed slot was I just in?" So, make sure you have good lighting. As was pointed out to me, good lighting does NOT mean a spotlight on your work space. A spotlight succeeds in creating great contrast of light and shadow, and if you're working with a black warp (for instance) then that is hugely problematic. What you're looking for is good ambient light, preferably "up lighting" as a friend of mine, mrspie, described, as well as some task lighting. The good ambient light helps knock back those shadows that just a straight task light will make difficult. And about that light bulb... While incandescents are going out of popularity due to energy concerns, florescents are only just starting to catch up on the light quality that incandescents have for a room. I hate the flicker of florescent lights, but it's not as bad as it used to be. So, all I can say here is do your best to get a more full-spectrum florescent, and good luck!

OK, now on to the second item, testing for errors. I tied on the warp, front to back, and made all the knots nice and tight, and then started weaving in the front band. I quickly found out this shiny pretty warp was not quite right. Dang it! I ended up having to undo both the first quarter and the last quarter to fix threading errors. Undoing those knots was a pain, and of course then I had to undo the rest of the knots once things were fixed because the tension had become very uneven. So, NEXT time I'm going to be doing a test before all those little knots are tightened down. You have been warned.

And third, about that squooshy thing. Here's what I'm talking about:

That squooshy thing is the thin foam padding one uses under futon cushions to theoretically keep the cushion from sliding. I can safely say that it is as effective as a warp separator as it is an anti-cushion slider, which is, not at all. If you're not a weaver, you may be asking "well, um, why would you want to separate your warp anyway?" Some weavers don't, and it works fine for them. In my self-taughtness, the books I've read suggest that having something between the layers of warp that get wrapped on that back been is a Good Thing (tm) because otherwise the tension gets a bit wonky as some threads sort of sink in to the previous layers. Why did I use a squooshy thing if the purpose was to have an even tension? I was having a stupid moment. I am paying for it now. Let my purpose in life be as a warning to others.

Since we're on the topic of errors, let me show you what a gradual change in tension does to the fabric. You saw yesterday's picture of the first part of the scarf. Things seemed pretty even, no? Well, over time, it starts to look like this:

See that weird dip above the top block? And if you look closely, you see the whole thing is starting to get a bit wavey. Some of this will, literally, come out in the wash when the fabric is fulled. But some of it won't, and the scarf will be just that wee bit defective along those lines. C'est la vie! Like I said, I'm not too worried about it because I am certain the next scarf will be better based on what I've learned with this one.

Tune in in a day or two when I show pictures of my latest spinning!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When it all comes together

When things all come together, some folks think that means it all just works, just happens, just is lovely. I think when things all come together, it looks kinda like this:

Kind of a big untidy mess of all the things that came together to have stuff done unto them in the last month! It's been fabulous, though, don't get me wrong! What you see there is a pretty big dent in my Master Spinner's homework as well as some work on my most complicated weaving project to date. There is also a hint of the 415 2-ply merino I finished last weekend. Lots of good stuff is coming together on that table! I think, however, I need a bigger table for all the good stuff.

A bigger table, however, is not in the cards. Why? Because I have FINALLY gotten some of my bookcases out of storage! (Another "coming together" thing that's happened in the last month.) I had 4 bookcases custom made for my first home, and I brought the with me to California. Unfortunately, I haven't really been in a place until now where I could bring them - and some of my books - out of storage. Yesterday I got 3 of the 4 bookcases in to the house we're renting, and one of them is in the craft room.

Isn't it pretty? They are all oak with black cherry stain. They make me happy. I need to do some earthquake stabilizing on them before I really load the up with books - that's on the list for this weekend.

But wait, there's more! I mentioned having finished a big ol' batch of merino, which I should have taken a photo of before I sat down at the computer but I didn't - I'll get you all one later - but going through that much spinning in the very short period of time I did it meant I needed a spinning break. Well, my hands needed a spinning break. I was ready to keep on going, myself, but my hands had other ideas and I did have this thing I'd been wanting to try on the loom, so...

That's a block-twill pattern from the September/October 2009 Handwoven magazine. It requires all 8 harnesses on my loom and is definitely the most complicated weaving structure I've done so far! Granted, not that I've done lots and lots - ok, like 2 samplers, a shawl, and a few scarves - but still, it has been a big deal for me. I have learned a great deal about threading errors and how to check for them before you start weaving (missed one, tho', which bugs me), and I'll be learning a bit with regards to color and how to make a vibrant, multi-color scarf that does not clash with itself.

In case you're curious about how to check for threading errors, what I figured out was to get the loom tied up, threaded, and so on, and tie the first half of a surgeon's knot to get some tension in the warp. Then start treadling like you were about to weave and look for skipped heddles, odd tension points, and so on. I found at least 4 errors I was able to go back and correct before I actually started weaving. It meant a fair amount of re-threading through the heddles and reed, but better before weaving than after!

Last but not least in things coming together, my kid brother got married in Illinois earlier this month. He has been dating his now-bride for years and years, and I have every hope this is going to be a marriage that works out well for all concerned. I had mentioned to some folks on Ravelry that I was heading up to Illinois, and it turns out that The Fold, a fine spinning and yarn shop, was not but 30 minutes away from the hotel for the wedding! So of course I had to go see it, and I came away with a pile of goodies:

We've got some lovely pencil roving that I can't wait to treat myself to after I'm done the Level 1 homework for the Master Spinners program. There is a Kundert supported spindle which I'm bound and determined to learn how to use (that's going to be a requirement for Level 2 or 3, I forget which), a gorgeous little True Creations drop spindle (actually I got two), and 1 oz. of rare guanaco fiber. The proprietress, Toni, had some vicuna as well, which is even more rare, but it also costs $250/ounce! That's a very reasonable price for that fiber, in case you're wondering, but it still was a bit rich for my blood. But one day... I'll probably spin up the guanaco as a thin single and weave it in to a shawl as an accent to some baby llama I have ready to spin. That's going to be a very soft, awesome shawl!

Today starts the first day of Winter Closure at my place of employment, so I'm looking forward to 2 weeks of focus on fiber-y goodness. w00t!