The importance of grip and slip

When I was first learning to spin I couldn’t understand where grooves and whorls on the wheel needed to be smooth and where they needed to have a good grip. I assumed (wrongly) that all places where there were drive bands and brake bands should be unpolished. Worse, when I was cleaning my wheels I didn’t take enough care about keeping polish from these places.

During the TdF I was using one of my Ashford traditional wheels with the sliding hook flyer. This was the second wheel I bought, and the flyer was the first wheel upgrade I purchased (at the height of my ignorance on whorls and grooves).

When plying the two skeins during the tour I struggled a little with the wheel during the last few yards, but not enough to worry about it. However, when I plied the most recent skein the wheel was almost impossible to use. I couldn’t get a good balance between twist (from the drive band) and pull-on (from the brake band). I changed the drive band about 4 times (trying different materials: cotton string, cotton weaving yarn and pony band lacing) and I also changed the brake band. I applied copious amounts of spinning oil. However, the wheel was still extremely difficult to use and was making the most appalling screeching noise – it sounded like a drill. In the end I carried on regardless (extremely glad there was no-one in the house except me that night to hear the noise).

Sadly the fight with the wheel shows in the resulting skein – which is unevenly and generally under plied (with some sections being particularly poor). I will have to run the yarn back through the wheel to correct this.

A couple of days ago I started correcting the problems with the wheel. The wheel uses scotch tension so the brake band runs over a groove in the bobbin. It’s fairly common to use a nylon line (like fishing line), though I’m not fond of this, and having got used to using a mercerised cotton thread (like thin crochet thread) I prefer this. Because this is the brake band the first thought is that the groove should have a good grip. In fact the groove should be fairly polished and run smoothly under the brake band. Any roughness may cause the band to catch and the bobbin to run jerkily, or make it difficult to apply a little more pressure to slow the bobbin down, without it gripping completely and stopping it in its tracks. So I’ve carefully sanded (with a fine sandpaper) the grooves at the end of the troublesome bobbin, and applied a wax polish (ideally I should use an oil finish, and may do so in the future) repeating until they were smooth. I shall do the same with the other bobbins in due course.

The groove in the drive wheel was feeling very smooth so I’ve gone around this with a coarse sandpaper to increase the grip. I’ve done the same with the whorls on the flyer. The smallest gives a ratio of close to 20:1 which means there is very little surface area available so a good grip is essential. I’ve seen rosin (as used on bows of violins and other string instruments) suggested to improve the grip of drive bands on wheels, so I shall investigate this if I have any further problems.

I’m happy that I’ve fixed the problem, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating (a picture of the skein will follow when I’ve properly tested the wheel and corrected the plying problems).

Should you be reading this as someone who is learning to spin and trying to get their wheel functioning properly – here’s the short version (for a scotch tension wheel): The groove(s) on the bobbin should be smooth (sanded and polished). The groove in the drive wheel and the grooves for the whorls on the flyer should be grippy (no polish).

Cycling and Spinning

This year’s Tour de France finished last Sunday – as did the Tour de Fleece.  However, I finished on Monday at the back of the peloton having missed a day’s spinning in the final week.

By the end of the tour I’d finished two 100g skeins and spun a further 75g of singles.  Most of the spinning was done on my oldest Ashford Traditional (which at some point I appear to have named Twiggy – as she is a 1960’s model) with the lace flyer.


So far my colour experiment hasn’t produced a range of browns, instead my skeins are blues and pinks, greens and purples.  I’m looking forward to seeing the result of plying the last pair of colours together.


I’ve still got 300g of fibre to spin for this project, and when the spinning is completed I hope to use all six skeins to Tunisian crochet a shawl.

I’d like to get the spinning finished over the summer, because at the start of September it’s the Tour of Britain and in another moment of madness I’ve agreed to spin during each day of that race too (it’s 8 stages from 6th to 13th September)!

In between the spinning I’ve managed a couple of walks, one to admire a setting sun and another to enjoy the sunshine after a few cool grey days.



Yarn on the Tour de Fleece

So far I’ve spun everyday of the tour, with the exception of Friday (when at 11pm I realised I was completely exhausted and went to bed). To make up for this, I spun the following Monday, instead of taking the official rest day. On Saturday I had a lovely long spin as I took my Traddy out for the day (it’s rare that it has a day out and I do think it enjoys the change of scene!)

I’ve spun up half of each of the first two braids of fibre and plied them together. And the resulting skein looks lovely.

The first singles ready to be plied
The first finished skein drying in the sun today.

However, having completed the first skein, I’m not sure I really want another 300g of the same colours.  So in a moment of madness I’ve added in some green/blue tops in colourway Calypso on Polworth fibre (also part of the three month fibre club I joined last year).  I’m now going to have a mix and match spinning project.

All three colours
All three colours

I’ve got two braids in each of three colourways.  One braid in each colourway is being split into two, spun then plied with each of the other two colourways. This will result in three 100g skeins of barber pole yarn.

The remaining 3 braids will be spun and plied with themselves, either using a fractal spinning technique, or, at the other extreme, spinning and plying to maintain the colour changes in the braids (I have yet to decide – but whatever I do will be done to all three colours).

The result will be six skeins of 2 ply yarn, each skein completely unique, but related to most of the other skeins. However, this is 600g of spinning, so I don’t expect to finish during the TdF.

More singles
I shall be plying these together shortly. Is it madness? Will I end up with shades of brown?

I’m not sure what project I will use these yarns for. I’m sure I’ll think of something!

Tour de Fleece – the first stage

Yesterday saw the start of the Tour de France. It also saw the start of the Tour de Fleece and I’m spinning for the Lovers of Ashford UK team on Ravelry. My challenge this year is straight forward, I have four braids in two colourways that I’m going to spin and (probably) ply together (that’s 400g of fibre). Knowing that it’s taken me months to spin just two braids in the past, I think spinning the 400g by the end of the tour will be quite a challenge.


The fibre is all dyed by Sara Texture Crafts and is in the colourways Rosemoor (on BFL) and Fruit Punch (on Falkland).  On Friday evening I gave the wheel I’m using (my oldest Ashford traditional with a lace flyer) a polish and oiled all the moving parts all ready to begin on Saturday.

Yesterday evening I sat out on the patio for a few minutes spinning. It was lovely, but the light was already failing so I retired indoors. I put on an audio book (my mum lent me a couple to try a few months ago, as she thinks I’ll enjoy audio books, but I had a poor one a few years ago and haven’t tried since) So I listened to David Tennant reading a Doctor Who story (I’m afraid I laughed at his rendition of Rose’s mum, but otherwise I’m enjoying the story), and spun up quite a lot of my first half braid.


I’m spinning S-wise (anti-clockwise) with crochet in mind. It’ll probably be Tunisian crochet (which I enjoy working but don’t do enough). But Tunisian crochet may be too busy a stitch for the finished yarn, so it may be normal crochet.


Last night I thought to make the perfect spinning date I just needed to add a lovely box of chocolates to nibble on, while listening to David Tennant reading and working through my spinning. (I may treat myself to some chocolates for tonight).


One, Two, Three, Four!

Harriette has been complaining that she’s not been doing any modelling work. In fact it’s so long since she last modelled anything that she’s forgotten when she last did some. She’s currently stood in my study with some hand-dyed skeins of yarn draped around her and she says that I should either do something with them or put them away as she’s not a hat stand (technically she’s a clothes stand – shush, best not tell her).

Sadly I didn’t think to cater to Harriette’s aspirations when taking pictures of my first object. I think I was too busy making patterns with it! It’s a scarf and I finished it in the run up to Christmas.





The yarn is handspun blue faced Leicester and bamboo that I carded into batts to make a gradient coreless core-spun yarn.

Over the Christmas/New Year period I finished plying some polworth yarn. I threaded both plies with beads and used the intermittent coils technique I learnt on Sarah Anderson’s course. My coils improved as I went along (my hands got better at controlling and moving the twist and coordinating with my feet!) but when I do another intermittent coiled yarn I’ll put more twist into the singles. I haven’t yet decided on a destination for this, or what technique I’ll use for it.


During the summer I spun up some alpaca and bfl. In October I started spinning up some merino and seacell and last week I finally finished the spinning and started plying them together. Even at the last moment I wasn’t sure that plying them together was the thing to do, but as the colours have gone onto the bobbin I’ve been pleased with the result. I’m surprised that two very strongly coloured singles are making a paler more subtle plied yarn. I’m interested to see what the finished skeins will be like.



Finally, I’m still working on the knitted shawl it’s been quite a few places with me, including a beach at the end of October while the children dug big holes in the sand.


While at the beach I took the opportunity of going for an early morning walk and taking some photos. Here’s sun, sea and sand just after dawn:

sun and sea


Harriette is really keen that I finish the shawl soon, so we can go outside for a bit and get some nice photos that include her. She’s hoping to see some daffodils.

A Tale of Two Courses

Earlier this year I attended two spinning workshops.  Though both workshops concentrated on spinning more unusual yarns, they had very different approaches.

The first workshop was on Creative Spinning run by Jane Deane, and organised through a local Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.  As well as a wheel and materials we were asked to take “a picture, found object, poem or something that really appeals” as a source of inspiration for the yarn.

I wanted to work outside my comfort zone, so I took a poem.  I’d recently come across Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” so selected a couple I loved, eventually settling on the 10th:

Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation.  Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire.  And when I say at need
I love thee . . . mark! . . . I love thee—in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine.  There’s nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature’s.

I read through the poem, thinking about how this may be represented in the colours, materials and structure of the yarn.


Then I worked through my materials to find things that matched the theme.  Dyed locks in yellows and reds (like flames).  Dyed BFL tops in yellows, oranges and blues (blue like the very hottest parts of a flame).  I didn’t have flax, but I did have ramie, which is also a bast fibre.  I used some gold nylon for the “flash”.  I spun two singles: one with the locks, tailspinning them into place; a second of BFL, ramie and gold nylon blended together and spun moderately finely.  I plied these, adding pigtails of the fine single occasionally (the blend made loops at the end of each twist – so I think this would be an interesting blend for bouclé yarn).

When I was finished I had an extremely exuberant yarn.


I spun a second sample, this time keeping the locks completely within the single and not having the tips hanging out of the yarn.


I thoroughly enjoyed this course, and could have carried on creating many variations on this theme (in the same way that composers produce many variations on a theme of an earlier composition).


The second course was on “Coils””, Pigtails and Beads” and was run by Sarah Anderson and organised via Fibre East.  For this course we only needed to take a wheel as materials were supplied.

The course concentrated on plying, so we started by adding twist, lots of twist, into some commercial low-twist singles.  We then threaded beads onto both singles, ready for the fun to begin.

I found Sarah to be a brilliant and generous teacher.  She showed us the techniques, let us try them, showed us them again (and again as necessary) and helped us work through them until we were doing each to our satisfaction.  She gave lots of little tips and tricks along the way, and added some extra techniques towards the end of the workshop.  I came away with my head buzzing with ideas and a skein containing a wonderful array of techniques.






Both courses were brilliant and inspiring in their own different ways.  I learnt so much in such a short space of time (much more quickly than I would have managed had I been at home working with a video or a book).  I would thoroughly recommend taking a course to help develop your skills.

I can’t remember what I had for breakfast

Yesterday I spent some time doing administration on a Ravelry group, work that I’d intended doing straight after the Tour de Fleece (TdF). As a consequence I think it’s about time I wrote up my TdF summary, although it’s a little bit of a challenge, as we’re now part way through October and that was in the early part of the summer.

My goal for this year’s TdF was simple, spin everyday and do some spindling while the Tour de France went past.  I did spin for 21 days, though took a rest day when I should have been spinning, and did a small amount of spinning on a rest day.

I spun on a spindle while waiting for the cyclists to whizz through our village.  The two lead riders shot past so quickly and were surrounded by so many support vehicles and motorbikes that I nearly missed them!  The rest of the cyclists were a couple of minutes behind and they passed through as a scarily compact fast moving pack.  It was all over in minutes and the rest of the day was delightfully quiet with the normally busy road being closed to traffic.  I’m embarrassed to say that anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will recognise the fibre on that spindle – I was trying to finish it for 2013’s TdF!


I spun a beautiful batt of carded merino in peacock colours, this was part of a secret santa gift organised via ravelry.  I spun it finely, but it wanted to be a little lumpy, so it is, and I love it. It was spun on the lace flyer of my oldest Ashford wheel, and plied from both ends of a centre pull ball (the first time I’ve tried this technique and it worked really well).


I finished spinning 200g of merino.  I spun the singles anticlockwise (S-wise) and Navaho plied them clockwise (Z-wise), with the intention that the yarn would be more suitable for crocheting.


I plied some bouclé (the second half of this plying was was finished in August).  I’ve just realised that it hasn’t all been washed, I really should do that!


I carded up some lovely batts, which I will spin and felt into an art yarn.


Finally, on the last weekend of the tour I took a lovely course at Fibre-East learning some great plying techniques, but more on that another day.

So, here’s the finished pile of TdF carding, spinning and plying.


To Autumn

We’ve had a run of lovely summery weather, warm with soft mellow sunlight.  There’s been the odd day of rain, but otherwise the weather’s been the best that autumn can bring.  Keats’s poem of mists and mellow fruitfulness, late flowers for the bees and a maturing of the season expresses perfectly this year’s autumn.

Heptacodium miconioides in my front garden.  This has become quite a large shrub and is loved by the bees for its late flowers.

Autumn has brought the start of a new school year, and my youngest is now at school too!  I’ve been working on getting my study/workroom organised, as it has become the room things get dumped in.  Earlier this week, after doing some work on it, I explained to one of my children that getting something from the room could take a while, as it was now “upside down, inside out and backwards”!  It’s a work-in-progress, but at least it now has lovely curtains (with thanks to my mum for giving them to me) and the orchids look pretty on the windowsill.


I’ve been on tenterhooks all through this week, hoping the good weather would hold – because I was due to spin in a field today!

Huge dahlias in a local garden

Fortunately the day was the best it could be.  Pleasantly warm with just a hint of a breeze, though I think it’s best that the hog roast isn’t mentioned.

Medlars in the same local garden

I took a hand-dyed top of blended alpaca and blue face Leicester to spin.  I get very cold hands in the winter, so I hope the alpaca will make for very warm gloves.

Two bobbins in the sun

I haven’t decided how to ply these yet.  Whether to ply with a plain single, to Navaho ply, or to ply together.  I shall let the bobbins rest awhile until I make a decision (but not too long, gloves for winter would be very nice!)

I’d overestimated how long it would take me to do the spinning.  After just an hour I found I’d already spun the first 50g! However, with breaks for tea and sandwiches, plus a few rows of knitting on my shawl, I was able to eke out the second half of the spinning for the whole afternoon.

My spinning basket in the garden with the results of today’s spinning and knitting

It was a lovely way to spend a day.  Spinning outside on a warm, sunny day, in the company of friends, with interested visitors, of all ages, asking us questions and sometimes having a go themselves.

Having a Play

The sun has been shining, nearly all week! It’s warm and the garden is growing away! I recently bought some pots for the patio, planted up with lovely spring flowers:


Today I spent a whole £1 on my new fibre tool.  A door stop (actually there were two in the pack).

I’ve been seeing rolags everywhere, and I’ve decided it’s about time I had a play!  I don’t have a blending board, but in theory I should be able to do something similar on my drum carder. So I’m going to get my coloured wool out, some sparkle, find some wooden knitting needles and have a little play with my drum carder to see what I can do.

What do I need the door stops for?  Theoretically they are pushed down the side of the main drum to hold it still while I’m making the rolags, but if they don’t work then I’ve got a couple of useful door stops!

Goldilocks and the Three WIPs

A long time ago I spun two different dyed tops of Shetland and plied them together.  But then I didn’t really like it enough to knit with.  At the last Creating Space I took it out and discussed the options: knit it, weave it, over-dye it (I really didn’t like the colour) or spin something else to weave with it.  I decided on the last option and grabbed some blended bamboo and merino tops to see if I could spin this using the coreless core spinning technique:


However, once home I decided I quite liked the variation of colour in the Shetland yarn and didn’t want to lose that by weaving with something else, but I still didn’t fancy knitting it.


So I worked out how much yarn I had and calculated that this was enough for a woven shawl.  I warped the loom with the larger skein and I’m weaving with the shorter skein.


I have a third small skein, which is the result of plying one of the leftover singles with itself.  This is proving to be ideal to add a small amount of detail to the weaving in the form of Danish medallions (these look fiendishly complicated but turn out to be delightfully easy and I can see lots of ways to use them in my weaving…)




The third WIP is a Bouclé yarn.  I’m using BFL for the core and binder with Mohair to form the loops, all dyed with the same colours.  I’ve spun the core and I’m working on the mohair single.  So far I’m not enjoying spinning the mohair, so I’m having to do this in small doses.


So where’s Goldilocks?  Well, sometime ago I mentioned that I was running out of space on my blog, but that a larger package was too expensive.  When my account came up for renewal I emailed the company at about 9:30 one evening and asked them if there was anything they could suggest.  About fifteen minutes later I got a reply with an alternative package.  When I accepted this offer they sent me an invoice describing it as the “Goldilocks Special” account.  A few minutes later I received another invoice with a more sensible name – but I much prefer the original!