Open Studios and Tour de Fleece

I’m taking part, once again, in Cambridge Open Studios. I’m exhibiting with three other textile artists at Harlton Village Hall. I wrote a piece about us a couple of weeks ago on the Creating Space blog. Today was our first day and we will be exhibiting tomorrow and next weekend as well.

It was also the start of the Tour de France, and therefore also the start of the Tour de Fleece. I missed it last year – but this year I’m back in the saddle and managed to do some spinning during our Open Studio:

One Day, Two Sleeps

This is what my study looks like at the moment:


On Monday I’m moving to our new house.  I’m very excited – but right now I’m also very, very tired (so I’m sitting down and writing a short blog post, before I pack the computer away).

During half-term week the children were away with their dad.  While they were gone (and as moving seemed a long time away!) I managed to go out every evening, catch up with friends and have a lovely week (albeit without children).  Spinning with friends, spiritual circles, and dinner and a film with a friend were all on the itinerary for the week.  At the end of it on my one free evening I caught a lovely sunset over fields near my house:


During my day and evening of spinning I plied two skeins of yarn.  The singles were spun some time ago, and this finished the colour project from 2015 TdF (I will put a link in here, but tonight I shall just refer to it without the link *yawns*):



I’m going to be offline for a while.  My new house doesn’t have a phone line, and it looks like it’ll be the end of November before one gets installed.  And, each time I’ve been in the house, my mobile has no signal! So, I shall be out of touch and in another decade (the 90’s?) for a few weeks.

Right, I’m off to start packing the bedroom…  I’m hoping I can do most of it sitting down on the bed!  Actually, I think I’m hoping I can do it in my sleep!  I shall see you in December from my new house!  Good night!

Progress on Two Tours

While I was sorting out my stuff for the exhibition last month I realised I’d made progress on projects but not updated them here.  So last week I took some pictures while the sun was shining.

Since then I’ve spun some more, and even done some plying.

So today I took more pictures (the sun was shining again).

First up, the colour experiment from the Tour de France.  I’ve finished and plied three skeins with the different coloured singles, and I’ve spun (but not plied) the fourth skein (with matching singles).


Secondly, the Tour of British Fleece rainbow is getting close to completion.  All the singles are finally spun and I’m half way through the plying.

Prepared locks, ready to be tail-spun.


Here’s the basket with lots of full bobbins.


Unbelievably, in my imagination, I had this full project fitting onto the single large bobbin of my Pipy Poly wheel.  In reality I just managed to squeeze from violet up to the green tail-spun locks onto the bobbin last night.  I think that the remaining singles will just fit onto one bobbin, making a rainbow split into two skeins (which I’m happy about).

Here’s the first full bobbin on my skein winder.  Half a rainbow!


I’m looking forward to getting this finished.  I think I may spin a small amount of a soft fibre (probably BFL) in a pale blue, and use this above and below the rainbow when knitting it up.  I’m still thinking a capelet would be the best use for this.

And once this is finished?  My fingers are itching to do some art yarn…

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).


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.


An Introduction and 3 Finished Objects!

Firstly, I’d like to introduce Harriette.  She’s my new assistant and will be modelling finished articles on my blog.  Within hours of starting her new job she was demanding a new hand-sewn skirt – so I suspect she may be trouble!!!  Anyway, here she is modelling the first of my finished objects (and also the new skirt):


This is the Purple Paradise shawl I started weaving in March with hand-spun yarns for both the warp and the weft.  It came off the loom in May.  I’ve finished it off by making a twisted fringe from the warp-ends.  Here I am starting to use the twisted fringe maker on the shawl:


The second finished object is also being modelled by Harriette:


This is a Mobius cowl knitted from my first core-spun yarn.

Finally, I have finished spinning the “Bowties are Cool” Doctor Who inspired yarn.  This isn’t being modelled by Harriette as she objected to juggling the three large skeins.  So instead I’ve draped them on the back of a chair.  However, I hope this gives an idea of the scale of this yarn, which is fairly light (being core-spun) but very bulky:


It’s been a nice few days finishing off knitting, weaving and spinning.  But as you’ve probably noticed I still have lots of active projects I really must get on with (though I’m very tempted to immediately cast on a shawl with the bowties yarn)!

Saddle Sore

I’m not really saddle sore – I don’t think I actually did any cycling while participating in the Tour de Fleece at all.  But the tour has ended and now it’s time to look back and review the experience.  Before the tour started I set out some aims:

Spin everyday!

I did this!  I managed to do some spinning (or spinning preparation) everyday that there was a cycling stage in the Tour de France, and I even spun a little on one of the rest days!  Sometimes it was just a few minutes before bed, but sometimes I did a few hours.

Do some spinning on all of my wheels!

I also managed this.  I started the tour with six wheels and acquired a new one somewhere in the middle – which did complicate things a little.  I’ve spun a lot on some wheels (my oldest Ashford with both jumbo and standard sliding hook flyer has seen a lot of use) and just a little on others (both Haldanes have only been used a little, which is a shame as I like both wheels).  Here’s what’s on, or been on, my wheels during the tour.

Completing the singles of the Soybean and Sheltand on my Traditional with lace flyer:


And starting to ply on my oldest Traditional:


Juno dyed Falkland fibre on my Dryad:


BFL dyed with food colour on my Queen Bee:


Continuing to spin some unspun yarn on my Hebridean:


Making singles for the middle of the bowties on my Lewis:


Learning to core-spin on my oldest Traditional with jumbo flyer and on my Pipy Poly:


Spin a fun Doctor Who inspired art yarn.

When I put this as an aim I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do.  Part way through the tour I started playing with core-spun yarns.  Then I started to think that the structure of the core-spun (with the fibres wrapping around rather than running along the length of the yarn) was a bit like the Time Vortex, add in some bowties…

I decided to make bowties with felt, and wrap singles around the middle to turn the rectangles of felt into bows.  I wanted two colours of bowtie, blue and aubergine.  Sadly, the first blue felt piece I made didn’t work for two reasons.  The Angelina didn’t bond into the wool properly and then when I rolled it, the colour of the Angelina wore off and I was left with bronze and silver sparkle instead of just the bronze.  I successfully redid the blue with smaller amounts of pink sparkle (which is the same colour I used in the aubergine felt and looks much better anyway).

I had a very late night on Saturday cutting up felt and then making up bowties.



On Sunday morning I prepared some core yarn by spinning it anti-clockwise to reduce the amount of unbalancing twist there would be in the finished yarn. I then packed everything up and took it to an open farm day, where I spun on the Poly wheel, which I’ve only used once before, using a technique I am still learning and adding the bows to the yarn in a way I’ve never attempted before. I even had to make up more bows using fairly active singles as I’d only had time to make aubergine bows the night before.


I spun some more when I got home and ended up with 80 yarns on the biggest bobbin of yarn I’ve ever spun:


Wound into a skein, washed and tied with yellow ribbons:


I still have about two-thirds of the batts left over so I hope to make another skein with the same number of bowties and a final skein with just a few bowties.

Finish off any languishing projects.

I have not finished any projects that I did not start during the tour, though I have made progress on some.  I’m particularly pleased to be finally plying the Soybean and Shetland!

Overall I’ve really enjoyed the experience of participating in the Tour de Fleece.  I’ve loved the focus on the spinning, the chance it’s given me to explore new techniques and the opportunity to share with other spinners in the UK and abroad.  I will definitely do this again!