Thursday, May 18, 2006

Spinning the wheels

Before I started knitting I never thought I'd become obsessed with fiber. When I made my New Year's resolution I thought knitting was a harmless -- barring the occasional poke from a misplaced knitting needle or safety pin-cum-stitch marker -- hobby that wasn't at all addictive. That was obviously before I wound up with a fifty gallon tub of acrylic yarn. And then I discovered the joys of wool yarn... and alpaca... and silk... and blends of the three. *gulp*
Acrylic yarn is fine. Really. Sure, it pills, but it's inexpensive and easy to find, and it's good for practicing before you get down to the nitty-gritty task of knitting a pair of socks or a hat. Wool, on the other hand, seems to be more difficult to find except for the folks who have websites selling it; there are only two shops within an hour's drive of where I live and one of them is no longer hospitable for reasons I won't go into. Suffice it to say that I choose not to do business there anymore. Anyway, I now also have a rather large amount of wool yarn that I'm working my way through in the form of numerous pairs of socks and a shawl, and a baby blanket for an acquaintance.
In my recent posting about the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, I mentioned that I'm now the proud parent of a drop spindle. While at the fair, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be fun to spin and dye my own yarn?"
After several fumbling attempts at spinning, and much laughter and humorous self-mockery, I found a lovely (small!) group of handspinners on Yahoo. Yahoo, it seems, has groups of people discussing literally every topic under the sun. This particular group is made up of spinners with varying degrees of expertise; some of them use both a wheel and drop spindle, some prefer the drop spindle, and so on. Upon joining the group, I peppered the members with questions like "How do I get the bloody thing started?" and once I got it started "How do I keep it from untwisting?"
It's much more complicated than it seems at first glance, but once you figure out the general idea, all it takes is patience and practice. A couple of listmembers e-mailed to point me toward a website that has video clips of people demonstrating the basics of spinning with a drop spindle (; they were kind enough to answer my questions anyway, and one even offered to meet and give me spinning lessons.
To date I have one small (very small) skein of cream-colored yarn that represents my first effort at spinning; I'm sort of keeping it as a trophy. This afternoon, though, I started spinning with some of Stacey's gunmetal blue roving; I've still got bugs to work out, like how to pull the fibers without breaking the line, and how to keep the spindle from unwinding while I'm getting the next bunch of fiber ready to start. Okay.. more bugs than I thought, but I'm slowly getting better at this. Someday, though, I also hope to get one of those beautiful Ashford spinning wheels, maybe one of the cute upright ones with a nice cherry finish. Ahh... pipe dreams. For now, anyway.
As far as the dyeing part of the project, three days ago I planted seeds in the newly constructed raised bed on the other side of the vegetable garden: coreopsis, bull's blood beet, purple basil, and amaranth. My indigo, woad, and safflower seeds have vanished, however, so no blue dye for me in the Fall! Some of the plants take about two weeks to germinate, and take a couple months to mature, so at the end of the season, I'll have yellow, purple, and reddish-rusty plants to work with. Which means I still have plenty of time to master the art of drop spindle spinning.

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