Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How To Go Off On a Tangent

The other day, in search of Something Different, I plucked Galina Khmeleva's lovely book--Gossamer Webs--off my bookshelf and refreshed my memory of Orenburg shawls.


These extremely fine shawls have been traditionally knit by ladies in and around Orenburg, Russia. The designs are quite geometric and the construction unique and efficient. The traditional yarn--goat down plied with thin single-ply silk--is handspun on lightweight supported spindles.

Unlike Shetland shawl knitting, which is popular enough to support commercially available yarn and a wealth of patterns, genuine Orenburg yarn cannot be purchased and charted designs are basically limited to those in Galina's books. In fact, Ravelry's knitqueen05 has knitted most of Galina's patterns--over and over and over. Yike!

I am intrigued by the fineness of the spinning and the luxurious feel of these shawls (I got to fondle them at the Skaska booth at Stitches South). I am intrigued enough to actually think about spinning again. (Opal, I don't want to hear about it.)

The thought made my brain cramp--I was shearing sheep and spinning before most of you were even born. My flock of rare non-white sheep and the byproducts thereof put me through graduate school.

I can't say that I enjoyed spinning. I recall with a grimace the lady who brought me Samoyed dog combings every year so I could spin sweater yarn for her. No matter how carefully or with what I washed the yarn, it retained its appalling dog odor and had to be dried as far from my house as possible. Worse, my cats hated the stuff and I had to leave it hanging in the barn lest it get clawed back into fluff again.

However, I did win several blue ribbons at the state fair for my fine skeins of lace yarns (90 wpi!), so the thought of spinning yarn for an Orenburg doesn't make me faint.

Times have changed since the 60's, when only a few types of wheels were available for purchase. As I wandered around the Internet spinning sites, I chanced upon the perfect solution for whipping out fine yarns without straining the shoulder or knee.

Warning!! All you spinners out there are about to toss rotten tomatoes at your screen. Spinning snobs should exit now!!!

Look: an electric charkha!


Fetchingly made from PVC pipe, a wheelchair wheel, and a knitting needle, Babe's Electric Liten Spindle Charkha Wheel entranced me. It weighs only two pounds and disassembles into a small box of giblets for compact storage. It's made for spinning gossamer-weight yarns and the motor assures a nice even pace for drafting.

I haven't quite justified the cost to myself yet. I may decide that the entire concept is too much trouble and just use some gossamer-weight cashmere to knit an Orenburg. On the other hand, new horizons beckon. I wouldn't want to get bored, now would I?

Harry, of course, thinks the concept is wonderful. At last he will have someone who can repair his disgraceful web. "Male spiders may knit, but they don't waste their time producing spider silk," he sniffed. "And cashmere batt will make an excellent mattress."

20 comments:

KPiep said...

I actually love spinning laceweight. My first official batch came in at about 46 WPI, and I was thrilled with the results!...but now I apparently think it's too precious to knit with, and I tend to just stare at it lovingly. Sigh...

Harry and my Green Woman need to get together. She thinks I'm procrastinating too much on some Shetland laceweight right now, and is about to take my spinning wheel away from me.

Janice in GA said...

I currently own a hand-driven version of that wheel. It's not very fast (maybe 25:1). You're more than welcome to try it out.

An Indian charkha (or a Bosworth charkha) might suit your needs better, if you want to spin very fine.

KPiep said...

The Green Woman hasn't gone quite so far as to burn the wheel for fuel....but I did catch her lurking about with a screwdriver and fear that she will disassemble it and hide it around the house.

You're so lucky you have a spider.

Kelli said...

You and Harry crack me up.

Coggie said...

I have a babe and love it, go for it. This year at the Michigan Fiber Festival I will be looking at the rest of the Babe wheels closely for my second wheel.
Good luck.

Marika said...

There is gossamer mohair and silk to be found at
http://www.heirloom-knitting.co.uk/cart/ordergossamer_mohair.php

Dave said...

A spindle is cheaper ... just saying. :-)

Susan (and SmokeyBlue in spirit) said...

Spindles are excellent for spinning laceweight and much more portable.

Laritza said...

The Medallion Square shawl is in that book. It is my next to_do project.
I spin, if you really want to give it a try, try a support spindle first. If nothing else it is a lot prettier than the pvc. Nothing against them, its just that....
Treeway silks sells the very same yarns that Galina does. Beautiful silk blends.
I have their Silk/Cashmere 32/2 and Yak/Silk it is about 1500 yds per skein of 2 ounces. Skinny stuff!

Jasmin said...

We actually had the good luck of getting Galina in front of a mic.

http://knitmoregirls.blogspot.com/2009/04/galina-knits-behind-iron-curtain.html

Enjoy!

Shea said...

Wow. 90wpi. The brain is boggled.


I wish I had known you were going to be at Stitches South. I would have loved to meet up with you there.

Carol said...

I'm still tryin gto figure out how to spin properly, never mind laceweight! I am curious to see how it goes on the new wheel. No wheel snob here, use what you like!

Opal said...

fleegle! spinning! *thud*

Batty said...

Congratulations on winning those ribbons!

And... who cares how it gets made? At the rate you knit up lace yarn, it really takes a fast, automated process to keep up.

Chingachgook said...

Ahh, fleegle dear, we're of the same vintage, and share several persuasions.
My briefcase charka spins cashmere and yak wonderfully. I have not yet tried plying them with silk, as I have not hunted down anything finer than regular sewing thread.
If you succumb to the electric Liten, then when you master wind on without stopping the spindle, please let me know.
And from following you on Ravelry's Heirloom Knitting group, I have no doubt but that you will!

domesticshorthair said...

Step away from Orenburg! The yarn that I have is apparently Orenburg, but it's nasty stuff to knit with. I am a knit-wit for even trying to use such fuzzy yarn for a lace project. I think my Orenburg shawl is a 10-year project. Om the other hand, your experience with 90 wpi means that you can probably knit with the stuff. But I recommend using a nice, safe merino. Good luck!

BadCatDesigns said...

I look forward to seeing what you are going to make. I love my spindles. There are so many gorgeous and great-spinning spindles available now (unlike in those early days.) If you don't feel the same about spindles as I do, how about a Bosworth charkha? Heavy on the pocketbook but worth every penny. I have one of the smaller ones and it can crank out lace-weight cashmere very nicely, plus it is gorgeous, smooth spinning, and made really well. And I imagine you (or Harry) have a design planned already??

Cidrolin (on Ravelry) said...

I don't know whether this is fine enough :
http://www.solidpepper.net/tricotin/boutique_detail.asp?productref=ORENBOURG&articleref=&idcat1=1&idcat2=16&idcat3=70&action=&critere=&marque=&style=&matiere=&naiguille=&couleur=
But it seems close enough to the original thing. It is beautiful, though I can't tell how it knits as it is being admired in skein form right now.

Soo said...

Oh my god - I can't believe any human could spin something so fine. My mind is spinning. (Metaphorically.)(No yarn is being produced.)

Jane said...

I would never toss tomatoes at you! I have no prejudice against any electric spinner even though it's not usually my cup of tea.I'd love to see this thing in action. I agree about spinning dog hair. I did it for a friend of my sister after her dog passed away and no matter what I did, it smelled like wet dog. She loved it however.