Fiber Frolic Finds

So I went to the Fiber Frolic in Windsor this weekend and had a delightful time. My mother and aunt came along to keep me company, and all I can say is, “Bless them.” It takes a lot of love for someone who’s not especially interested in fiber to follow a n00b fiber enthusiast around a scorching fairground in 90-degree weather.

If you’re a new spinner or fiber farmer (as I am, on both counts), get thee to a festival! I found vendors whose booths weren’t swamped at the moment to be wonderful sources on information.  To share just a smidge of what I picked up…

Fun Facts!

Pygora goats can injure each other (and their super-soft fiber!) with their horns. If you have them removed, they’re less dangerous and less aggressive. They’re also possibly the easiest fiber animal to get into after rabbits, particularly if you stick with neutered males who are neither smelly like bucks nor inclined to screaming like females in heat. It might be a while before I’m ready for goats, but many thanks to Jenny at Underhill Fibers for taking the time to chat with me.

Turkish spindles are hard to find at fairs because they’re time-consuming to make. Jim at Hatchtown Farm said the Turkish spindle process takes about three days, as opposed to the regular spindles which he can turn out a batch of in a day. Jim also said people have a tendency to buy his spindles of eBay for absurd amounts of money because they think he’s dead. He’s not dead, and he’s still making his lovely spindles, and if you keep an eye out, you might occasionally see some Turkish spindles in his online shop.

The Haul

Of course, a huge part of any fiber festival is shopping, and a review of the take must be had. One thing I did NOT (but almost did) acquire was 20 pounds of merino for $24. Fiber farmers, this is a lesson for you: between volunteers who might not know a ton about fiber farming and buyers who are willing to believe in deals that are too good to be true, your fleece might not sell for quite what you’re intending if you don’t take charge of being excruciatingly careful with your tag writing and fleece registration. Fortunately for the farmer, one of the volunteers remembered what the farmer had meant.

In spite of the fact that I didn’t quite find a steal of a deal, I did find some lovelies. This is my Jacob alpaca fleece–I’m planning on blending the colors together and carding in about 50% merino for a more durable blend that will, hopefully, give me a beautiful gray.

Jacob Alpaca fleece, divided by color before washing--to facilitate more even blending later.
Jacob Alpaca fleece, divided by color before washing–to facilitate more even blending later.

The used equipment sale was awesome, but I kept my purchases to just this copy of First Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel.  I’m particularly excited to play with a technique for binding off lace she calls “crocheting off.” I’ve seen the effect before but had not understood what was going on with the fabric.

I was led to my final and most excellent purchase of the day by EyeAmElise, the GM of Nerd Wars. We connected at the Ravelry meetup and started chatting on the strength of having moved in overlapping social circles in college and she, also being a spinner, led me to Highland Handmades. They make absolutely gorgeous spindles that come with an absurdly excellent guaranty.

Highland Handmades Spindle & Roving

This spindle is solid cherry, weight 1.1 ounces, and comes with a stainless steel hook–I can only imagine how much less prone to bending this hook will be than the flimsy ones on my other spindles, but it feels solid. They also offer a great kit deal where they throw in some beautifully dyed Corredale roving for $5 when you buy a spindle. The true test will come once I start spinning, of course, but I suspect they have another customer for life.

Salvage Spindling

One of my favorite features of the area John and I moved to is the fabulous flea market. Yes, it is basically a big pile of other people’s rubbish piled haphazardly into a giant warehouse that is open only twice a week, and then only as the various proprietors of booths choose to attend. Total chaos. Utter madness.

I love it.

Apart from the endless parade of elephant tchotchkes and antique tea cups which I merely eye longingly for the sake of my husband’s sanity (we all have our oddities, what can I say?), the flea market is a delightful place to comb for odds and ends that might serve well for spindle whorls or shafts.

These are my most recent treasures…

Slate Disc

I have no idea how these discs ended up in the flea market or what their story is, because the owner of the booth wasn’t there. I dealt with a lovely older lady from a neighboring booth who was standing in for the owner. I also have no idea how to plane the disc to level it or how to drill a hole in it without cracking it, but for $0.50, the cost of failure is manageable.

Swizel stick spindle

This is just a simple glass drink stirring stick, I know, but I haven’t come across any with such a nice weight or point to the end. I made a bowl from polymer clay over the weekend to act as a base (glass as a drop spindle just strikes me as an ill-conceived idea), and I have hopes that this will make an adorable supported spindle. More on how it spins next week.

And just as a teaser for my spinning/knitting hybrid companions…free pattern coming soon for this lace wristaff made from leftover sock yarn.

Lace Wristaff

DIY Washer Whorl

Fair season is drawing to a close in New England, and I have been defeated. I have scoured the booths and the vendors for a new spindle and walked away with only more unspun fiber. Whoops.

The trouble is that I don’t want to spend a lot of money for a spindle I might buy online because I want to be able to feel that sucker in my hand before I invest in it. Everything at the fairs was very pretty, very expensive wood that didn’t feel different enough in my hand from the ones I already own to merit the expense.

I was looking for a small, metal spindle similar to one I had seen who knows where. I just have this image of a delicate little spindle being spun in a bowl. don’t remember where I saw it or what it’s called, but I loved the looks of it and wanted the chance to play with something similar.

DIY-ers…get out your epoxy, washers, and polymer clay. Today, we’re making a spindle.

Washer Whorl, Take 1

Alright, so there’s not much to it.

Step 1:

Buy a bunch of washers from Home Depot or some such. They’re about $0.25 each, so be adventurous. Look for ones with the smallest possible hole relative to the outer diameter. I’d have written down the sizes I bought if I thought of it, but I didn’t, so you’ll have to be creative.

Step 2:

Stack up a few and feel the weight in your hand. Once you have it just a bit lighter than you want the final whorl to be, stack them largest to smallest and glue them together with an epoxy suitable for metal. If you’re a perfectionist and know how to center them exactly to make the spindle spin true, send me your secrets. I just eyeballed it. Let the glue set according to the package directions.

Step 3:

Once the glue is dry, work a piece of polymer clay in your hand until it’s malleable.  Push it into the underside of the whorl and up into the opening. Lay the whorl on a flat surface, smallest washer on bottom, and roll the clay evenly onto the largest washer. Flip it over and trim the clay to fit.

Step 4:

Decorate! Find something with an interesting texture–watch gears, buttons carved with interesting patterns, whatever you can find lying about. Press your items gently into the clay to get a pattern you like. Push the knitting needle you’d like to spin with through the center of the washers and pull it back out again, wiggling it just a bit to make the center hole ever so slightly large than the needle. Bake the whorl according  to the instructions on the clay.

Step 5:

When your whorl is partially cool, reinsert the knitting needle and allow the clay to set with the needle in the whorl. The needle should be able to slide in and out with minimal resistance–you may need to secure it with a very small rubber band, like the ones used to secure the ends of cornrows. Tie on your leader and use a half-hitch to secure the leader to the top of the spindle.

Step 6:


Washer Whorl with Polymer Clay, Steampunk Style

Alright, moment of truth. I haven’t actually spun with this sucker yet. I suspect I designed this particular whorl to be too heavy for the application I’m thinking of, but I’ll report back once I’ve put it to the test. I’ll also include picture of the finished whorl itself–hopefully a coat  of paint will help the gearwork designs pop a touch more.

Happing Spinning! Send me pictures if you make your own versions–I’d love to see them.

Insert Clever Metaphor about 2001: A Space Odyssey

Technology amazes me, from beginning to end. At the beginning, you have, to quote Robin Furr, “a rock on a stick.” From so humble a combination, one can spin anything. (Assuming, of course, that one has a bit of practice under one’s belt.) At the other end, we have a worldwide network of incredibly fast and thoroughly encrypted information that allows inventors and would-be manufacturers bid for microfinancing to fund their business endeavors. And instead of enormous factories with tons of underpaid workers producing cheap, generic products, 3D printing now allows us to make cheap, generic products at home…or at the home of the inventor-turned-manufacturer.

Robin Furr is creating a living history of these technologies from both ends by using modern technology to produce carefully engineered and inexpensive versions of that ancient technology, the spindle. Although it’s hard to tell from the photos whether the plastic spindles will be beautiful things worthy of a spinner’s selection and impossible to know if they will spin as nicely as promised, I think his idea has merit and I hope he gets the funding he needs to get started. If you’re a rabid spindle fan who likes to collect or a would-be new spinner who has children, you might consider pledging a donation to try his products out.

Plus Spindles Kickstarter Project – Goal: $1,425 more by March 10th, 2012