Category Archives: CPW

Getting my groove back

The beginning of 2012 hasn’t been good for me and fiber. I felt my interest waning a little bit in the weeks leading up to our vacation to California. Other things were SO much more fascinating than boring ol’ yarn and fiber: namely, a burgeoning interest in accounting, of all things. Given the chance to spin, knit, or read about non-profit bookkeeping — I’d choose the latter, every time. I know. Taking fickle mindedness too far!

Unfortunately, by the time I got home from California to the dreary gray February Pacific Northwest, ennui and disinterest had bloomed into an outright revulsion for all things yarn, fiber, spinning, and knitting. I looked at my stash and wheels and I shuddered at the waste of space…and then I recoiled at the complete break in my own personality I was experiencing! This wasn’t me! I now think there was something like Seasonal Affective Disorder bringing me down.

The annual Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In was approaching at the end of March and my attitude toward fiber still had not lightened. My parents urged me to attend (egging me on with offers of free babysitting), and I resisted at first, but at last I relented, hoping to see some friends there. And as I prepared to go, something started to re-kindle within me. I looked at my wheels and instead of complete disgust, I saw a window of opportunity…I was struck by a vision of using a petite and portable and extraordinarily quiet little wheel in the living room of my house while my children sleep. Not making unusually fine yarn or complicated or difficult yarn, but just yarn. Usable yarn. Plenty of it. So I looked at the balance in my checking account and decided I hadn’t used my “mad money” allotment in a few months — I took a check with me to the Spin-In, to put a deposit down on a Pocket Wheel. Step one of re-entry into the world of fiber bliss was complete.

As I sat and listened to the lecture (on wild silks of India) I basked in the presence of super neat fiber folks. The next day I headed back to the event bright and early, and got some shopping done. While idly browsing (thoughts at the back of my head involved a sweater quantity of dark rich brownish something or other) I stumbled across the Island Fibers booth, where I noticed the bags of fleece. The first one I beelined my way to was the most incredible deep black shot through with silver and tipped with ruddy red-blond.

sally bill lockAs a clear vision of a gorgeous heathered yarn popped into my head, I saw the tag on the fleece…in lieu of a breed it was marked simply, “Sally Bill Special”. I think my jaw dropped at this point. Just last summer, in a class on choosing and spinning fleece for socks, Judith Mackenzie had shared with us a Sally Bill fleece. Sally was a shepherdess on the San Juan Islands — on Lopez no less, an island with which I have a deep affinity and a decently long history. She imported a Romney/Lincoln flock to the island, but closed gene pool being what it is, she used any local ram to procure lambs. As it turned out, she was something of a genius when it came to selecting for the traits she preferred in a handspinner’s fleece, so even seeming-random breedings were chosen to improve her flock and she culled the remaining ewes carefully to progress her wool toward an ideal. Judith raved about this flock and held it up as an example of how a flock can excel in producing handspinner’s fleece despite its lack of pedigree. Judith! And here was one of the golden fleeces, within striking distance!

I didn’t hesitate. I nearly elbowed the customer out of the way who had been checking out when I discovered my prize. I had never purchased a whole fleece before, and I knew that the $16/pound price was a bit of a premium, but I didn’t care. I had to have it. And this was step two of rediscovering the joy in fiber. I beamed so wide I feared my face would split. I ran around finding everyone I was on speaking terms with, shoving handsful of raw smelly sheepswool locks at them. “DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST GOT???” I shared my bliss with everyone.

The majority of the fleece went to the fiber processor on site, who happened to be Taylored Fibers. I hadn’t worked with any of their roving before, but I really liked what I’d seen and fondled at their booth in previous fiber shows. I put my faith and my fleece in the capable hands of Mr. Taylor, keeping just about 8 ounces to play with.

And once I got home, play I did. I washed the fleece and then started preparing it. I started by combing a few locks and it seemed I was exactly right, that the silvery bits and sun bleached tips would lighten and warm the black fibers into an interestingly flecked shade of deepest espresso or dark chocolate.

brown-black combed top

I spun some worsted samples from combed top, and at the other end of the spectrum I spun some woolen and semi-woolen samples from hand carded slivers.

woolen and worsted spun yarns

I loved these yarns. I remained so pleased with my purchase.

And then today, Mr. Taylor visited my island and brought my roving with him! The final tally was 4.75 pounds of roving from 7 pounds of fleece, and it is GORGEOUS.

bump of brown roving

It resembles nothing so much as my own hand combed top, it’s nicely blended and has minimal veggie matter and almost no neps. As soon as I could I grabbed a chunk and introduced it to my CPW, using my current favorite semi-woolen draw (attenuated short draw with twist in the fiber supply for a lofty and bouncy but fairly smooth and even result). Spinning it was HEAVEN. I have never, ever had such a nice spinning experience. It drafted almost on auto-pilot, it enthralled me with its dancing colors, it was so soft and touchable! The diameter and twist it wanted to spin at with my default spinning was a lovely versatile singles. I wound it off and did my oft-used sampling method of winding an Andean bracelet, then re-winding the resulting two strands into another bracelet, so that I could ply together four strands and get a round yarn from just one singles without the added complication of Navajo plying. I spindle plied about 9 yards, then finished it somewhat roughly.

yarn on leaf

I LOVE THIS YARN. I love the color. I love the handle. I love the bounce and the slight sheen, I love the evenly consistent grist. The whole experience of creating it has nearly left me breathless with the pure enjoyment of it. LOVE.

I even started a little swatch, knitting it up on US 6 needles in a k3p2 rib. Do you see the squooshy 3-dimensionality? This yarn wants to be cables! I think it might be a little too fat for the project I have in mind, but I predict a 3-ply might be just what the doctor ordered.

k3p2 ribbed swatch

So there you have it. I’m back. I am more in love with wool than ever, and I’m feeling a little more sedate about it. Instead of ambition and braggadocio, I’m feeling a quiet and steady, deep and abiding satisfaction. It’s wool…it’s all good, man. 🙂


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Sheep on your feet

One of the Sock Summit classes I’m most eagerly anticipating is called Sheep Feet, taught by — who else?! — Judith Mackenzie. I’ve just gotten into processing my own wool, and I’m enthralled by the prospect of mining the wealth of local fiber sources, choosing a fleece by hand and processing it deliberately from start to finish. But I just don’t feel like I fully understand the process by which one evaluates a fleece. I have poked at some fleeces for sale but felt foolish, like the sellers would realize how clueless I really was if I dug around to look for consistency throughout the fleece or grabbed a staple to tug and test for soundness. So I’m excited to hear Judith explain these nuances, and also to get an overview of which breeds to consider for socks (a very achievable small project that also very demanding in terms of fiber and yarn — must be both durable and comfortable, an interesting combination).

Now, over on Rav one of my favorite groups is going in on a cooperative purchase of hundreds of pounds of fleece from Dorset sheep, a meat breed. Many discerning fiber folks sing the praises of these “mountain”/”Downs” breeds for the sturdiness and springiness their coarse but spiraled crimpy nearly un-feltable wool brings to socks. So I’m sorely tempted to join in on the Dorset purchase. But…there are quite a few breeders of Dorset and other similar breeds right here in Washington. And so much of the allure of processing raw fleece, for me, is the opportunity to support local agriculture. Anyway, I don’t think I could ever in a million years store or use more than one complete fleece at a time! Thus, since I know I’ll want to buy one shortly after hearing Judith speak in July, I’m passing for now.

But I’m drooling over that breeders’ directory and also over the Local Harvest listings for my area. I’m thinking that my resolve will not last long once I’ve got Judith’s information ringing around in my head.

In other news, the Tour de Fleece is fast approaching, soon to be followed by Sock Summit! I have at least one fairly large project for TdF that I want to do on the CPW, and several smaller ones on the Fricke. For that CPW project, and also in anticipation of having three spinning classes! Each of which requests that I have 4 bobbins free before it starts! I think it’s time to invest in a bobbin winder. That way I can wind off to storage bobbins as I need between projects or classes, and leave my one antique bobbin or my limited Fricke bobbins ready for more action. I figure the only other option is to have 2-3 more bobbins made for the antique (at about $40 apiece) and to purchase about 8 more bobbins for the Fricke (at about $15 apiece). Yeah. Makes the $100 bobbin winder sound downright cheap, doesn’t it, LOL?!

In fact I think I’d better start making inquiries…now.

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Down the rabbit hole

So on April 9th I posted here that I really REALLY wanted a CPW. Well, on April 11th I threw the kids in the car at 2pm, and about 6 hours and a couple of international border crossings later, I returned home with the wheel that’s changed my life.

She smelled of perfume and possibly cigarette smoke, her wheel was a bit wobbly and her treadle didn’t quite fit. She didn’t have a drive band or footman (connection from the treadle to the wheel’s crank). But she had the sure signs of many many long hours of steadfast work in the hands of a spinner from long ago: grooves in her flyer from thousands of yards of yarn passing over it, wear in her bearings, that carefully repaired treadle. That 30″ drive wheel was made for production efficiency, never for decoration. She was an elite spinning speed demon, but 20 years of sitting in someone’s living room to be admired as an “antique” had caused her to forget who she really was.

I grabbed the first not-too-stretchy material I could find, a ball of green dishcloth cotton, and fashioned my very first drive band as well as improvising a footman. I could get the treadle to move the wheel and the wheel to move the flyer almost immediately, but I wasn’t getting the differential rotation from the bobbin, so I didn’t get any real takeup on the leader of already-spun yarn I was playing with.

It took a few days of tinkering but I got her flyer whorls removed, and then the bobbin. Gunky grease was clogging up the flyer shaft as well as the ends of the bobbins, so I got that cleaned up as best I could. Replaced the gunk with proper spinning lubricant, and away she whirred!

It was beautiful, it was fast. I was in love. In the meantime, I started messing around with the shellac finish she came with. It was rough like “alligator skin” — a sign that the finish has experienced temperature extremes and mediocre upkeep. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do about the finish (replace or repair) but the first few swipes scrubbed her down to bare wood. Oops! So I started in on the top of the table. These Canadian wheels usually have an inked or stamped imprint on them somewhere to identify the wheelwright who designed and built them, and I was eager to find out as much as I could about my wheel’s maker. I was disappointed at first, as the center of the table didn’t reveal anything under the finish that resembled the big blocky prints I’d seen online. But then…

Lurking along the edge of the table, an almost imperceptible smudge. But folks online had advised me that the wheel’s decorative turnings had the hallmarks of a Vezina design, so as I revealed that name through careful swiping, I was astonished and excited! Careful inspection and analysis (aka. messing around in iPhoto) has thus far turned up the name “CHAS. VEZINA” and the word “manufacturier”. Previous “VEZINA” marks had involved a “F.N.” and a “P.L.Y”; this Chas. was someone new. A genealogy enthusiast has identified historical records pointing to Charles Vezina, born in 1853, younger half-brother to wheelmakers Pierre and Ferdinand Vezina. Charles apprenticed under Ferdinand in 1871, and I think we can presume my wheel was made at some point after that, possibly around the 1880s. So far, with dozens of wheels and their makers cataloged among the CPW Lovers’ group on Ravelry, mine is the only Charles Vezina.

So I’m calling her Charlie. Like the assassin in The Long Kiss Goodnight, she had a bit of amnesia, and she fell into a more sedentary role than she’d been accustomed to. But her true nature wasn’t destroyed, only hidden. And now she’s starting to remember. First I spun a couple hundred yards of 3-ply sock yarn (in just a few days of dabbling around when the kids were occupied). Now I’ve got a couple hundred yards of fine semi-woolen singles on the go, easy as pie. She’s ready to go faster and really resume her old lifestyle with all her old skills intact, but first we’re going to have to get her fitted out a little better. Replace the dishcloth cotton with a proper fine cotton drive band and leather or metal footman. Even out the bearings that the wheel axle is riding on, perhaps with a bit of leather. Replace the leather bearings that the flyer rests in. Stabilize her wobbly poorly-glued front leg.

But with those little tweaks, and a new finish? She’s going to be a sleek and single-minded expert at production spinning. And I’ll never look at a spinning wheel the same way again. I see a pristine, unmarked modern flyer and think, “How boring, without the signs of hard use. Even if this wheel were used for decades and stored for decades more, would it hold up like Charlie has? Would it lend itself gracefully to the test of time or would it falter and fail before it could really be worn in?” I might still have another modern wheel some day, to replace my Fricke. But I might not be able to compromise on an efficiently manufactured design. If I am truly to fall in love with another wheel, a freshly made hot off the workbench wheel, it’s probably going to have to be hand made and crafted with care. It’s going to have to have all the potential to wear in and have a long, LONG useful life, just as Charlie has had.

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