Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spinning for Lace Part Two: Russian Spindles

As promised, here is a video starring an exquisite ebony Russian Spindle from the Spanish Peacock. The motions are almost identical to those used with Tibetan spindles, but Russian spindles tend to be a bit wobbly until you pack some fiber on them. If you are having trouble starting up with your Russian, wind on some waste yarn until the spindle feels stable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Spinning for Lace Part One: Tibetan Spindles

Back at the beginning of the year, I promised to make some videos of lace spinning. And today, Roy and I managed to produce the first in the series. My personal comfort zone is a grist that, when two-plied, makes a laceweight yarn and when three-plied, makes a fingering yarn. Needless to say, all the techniques shown can be used to spin other weights of yarn.

I particularly enjoy supported spindles because:

  • You don't have to stand up, lean over or perch on a chair. Spinning can proceed easily in the space allotted for an airplane seat.
  • Supported spindling puts no strain on your wrist, neck, or shoulder. 
  • Unlike the pendulum action of drop spindles, which is sensitive to car movement, supported spindles act like gyroscopes and can be easily used in a moving vehicle.
  • You don't have to worry about dropping your spindle and watching the beautiful wood chip, splinter, snap off, or roll underneath the refrigerator.
  • Yarns spun supported are pouffier. Gravity doesn't yank on the fibers, which can squeeze out the air, producing a less elastic yarn.
  • You can fit a whopping amount of fiber on a supported spindle. I've crammed four ounces on my Spanish Peacock Tibetan. Even better, the more fiber you have on the spindle, the longer it spins.
  • For me, supported spindling is about five times faster than drop spindling. I don't have to stop and wind on after a length, as you will see in the video. Every half-hour or so, I butterfly off the temporary cop at the tip and whirl it onto the lower part of the spindle--a big time-saver.
  • The whirring sound is hypnotizing.
  • Because I am spinning in my lap, I can read a book at the same time, doubling my happiness quotient.
There's no sound in this video, because the process is (I hope!) self-evident. The video is long because there are two slow-motion segments so you can actually see what's going on. And Roy carefully filmed from two different angles over my shoulder so you can spin along with me, if you wish.

I used two different Tibetans in the movie. The first one, with the red merino/firestar yarn, was crafted by The Spanish Peacock. The second, smaller Tibetan Lite was crafted by Grizzly Mountain Arts. Weight is not a big factor with Tibetans, so I never bothered to put them on a scale. The Spanish Peacock spindle is 13" from stem to stern. The Tibetan Lite is only 10". Both are perfectly balanced and a delight to both the eye and the hand.

So, make some popcorn and watch the video. I hope you find it worthwhile!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fleegle's Fluff Analysis

Before we embarked on our bunny adventure that culminated in the addition of Rambo to our family, we first had to decide what kind of bunny we wanted. Well, clearly we wanted one with a great personality, but aside from that, I wanted prime angora fiber to spin. So we did some research and you guys get to read all about it. Or not. Harry fell asleep on the "H" key in t*e middle of t*e second paragrap*. I couldn't type muc* until *e woke up.


There are four major rabbit wool breeds: Giant, French, English, and Satin. Germans are a subgroup of Giants, and always white. German rabbits don't shed, so they are shorn about four times a year. The other three types are usually plucked, but I gather that some people shave their bunnies in hot weather. Angora fiber is eight times warmer than wool and I suspect that most of them would faint (or worse) in the summer heat we've had this year.

Germans are always white with red eyes; the rest of the breeds come in a dazzling assortment of colors, many of which have lovely, evocative names--frosted pearl, lilac, silver fox, blue, and my favorite, copper agouti. In reality, there are only four colors--white, black, gray, and brown--with an infinite variety of shades, tones, and markings.

Because I wanted to dye the yarn, we started hunting for white rabbits. But before we actually bought one, I needed to do some fiber testing. I therefore ordered small samples of each breed from Etsy vendors--an inexpensive way to dabble in angora spinning.

Angora staple varies considerably, but should be about 1-3" long for pleasant spinning. The German fiber was neatly machine-carded into top. I don't own any carders, so for the other three samples I pulled handfuls of fiber apart several times until I had a semi-orderly mass.

The first bag I opened was the English fiber. And the first few handfuls were delightful to spin--something like yak, if you've ever handled that fiber. The handfuls were fluffy and soft, spinning into a fairly smooth, thin yarn on my electric spinner with occasional blips of short fiber.

To my dismay, however, the bottom half of the bag was full of matted globs and second cuts too short to spin comfortably. Clearly, the owner of this bunny was a meticulous caretaker, because she first clipped off all the long fiber and then went back over bun-bun a second time to make sure all the matted clumps and fuzzy bits were gone. Too bad she decided to pad her retail fiber with them. Half the bag went into the trash can.

I spun the nicely plucked French fiber on a spindle. French angora is noted for its guard hair, which is not the stiff, scratchy stuff found on some sheep, goats and camelids. It's poofier, soft and very fine. In fact, it's the guard hairs that bloom, making French angora yarn so cuddly (and shed-prone). Despite my best effort, I couldn't get a perfectly smooth yarn from it. It spun a bit thicker than the English, but produced a really lovely result, blips and all.

The incredible German roving spun like whipped cream--there's no other way to  describe it. I dashed back to the Etsy vendor, only to discover that there was no more. It spun into a perfectly smooth yarn; grist didn't seem to matter. This stuff was happy to be spun very thin, very thick, or medium with no complaints.

Alas, the Satin fiber was really too short to spin comfortably. I put the bag away after an hour of painful micro-short-draw. If I ever get a carding machine, I might experiment with it.

I took some photos, but I ended up with an assortment of white/gray fluff and yarn photos with no distinguishing features and I didn't want to bore you with those.

Suffice it to say that my angora research was thorough and I pass on the following bits of wisdom to you:

  • If you buy a bag of plucked or shorn fiber from an Etsy vendor you don't know, don't be surprised to find that some of the material is unspinnable.
  • Prime angora can be easily spun on just about anything--spindles, e-spinners, charkhas, or your favorite foot-powered wheel.
  • If you find any German angora roving, don't buy it. Send me the link immediately.
  • Cover your lap with a piece of velvet or other adherent material to catch all the flyaway bits. Do not sneeze around loose angora.
  • Undiluted angora yarn is not stretchy and is really, really warm. Such yarn would make an excellent scarf for anyone living in or near the Arctic/Antarctic Circles. Mixing angora with fine wool, such as merino, will produce a sproingier and more temperate result. Add more merino the further south you live. Those folks on the equator probably should skip angora altogether and stick with Vorpal Bunny leg fiber, which often resembles cotton, except for the black variety, whose fiber is indistinguishable from fwooper feathers.