Saturday, April 25, 2009

Vintage Update

I was over at the Lincoln Presidential Library today to thank the ladies who set up the knitting display and let them know that PieceWork was thrilled to be a part of it. Gwyn told me that there had been a lady in from Memphis who fell in love with the pieces and the idea of working up these old patterns. I think she said the lady was a teacher and wanted her students to know about how these types of items were constructed, etc. They have had quite a few people through, evidently, that have enjoyed it.

Another of the librarians, Jane (a different Jane), was giving me all the low-down on a wide variety of projects that are in the works that we might be able to be involved with in some way. How very exciting! She was one of the folks responsible for the period clothing that was used in the re-staging of the play Lincoln was watching the night he was shot, Our American Cousin. What a thrill that must have been to be involved with that project.

These ladies (and gentleman) that work in the Presidential Library are so nice and so friendly and so committed to fiber arts. They're definitely making sure that knitting and other fiber arts are represented in the collection there and I would really recommend a trip in to have a look at some of their 19th century needlework/craft treasures. I can't wait to take some more time now that other commitments are slowing down to spend a lot more time researching. When I'm not spinning cotton or knitting baby things, that is!

I'm knitting for 2 babies at the moment - 1 here and 1 in Glasgow. I love how quick these things can be finished - quick payoff, I'm for that! I'll get some pictures tomorrow in the daylight but I've completed a little coat, an EZ surprise jacket and the back of a little argyle sweather that I'm totally in love with (this being my first ever argyle knitting adventure). The coat was from (mostly) a 1937 baby knitting book and is adorable, although it's really small. The yarn I used was originally purchased for an afghan, so there's plenty of it, so I will probably do it again in a larger format. it didn't take any time at all to finish.

Anyway, more of that another time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Last night at the spin-in I got 2 more of the samples spun up - the acala, which is one of the shorter cotton fibers, and the Egyptian, which I think is sort of in the middle of the staple length spectrum. Here's what I learned.

  1. When they say cotton wants a lot of twist, they're not just whistlin' dixie. I've had the problem of thinking I had enough twist in my single, only to have the plies break while in the process of plying because the twist relaxes while plying. On the acala last night I spun until my long draw had what I thought was enough twist and then I put more twist in before I let it feed onto the bobbin. I only had 1 breakage on that sample whilst plying so I think I'm getting more of a hang on that now.
  2. Patience is a virture. When I was drawing out the long draw, the intial draw was done quickly but the thinning out process needs to be done a little more slowly. Where you have thicker spots along the yarn, it does better and doesn't break as much if you get a little twist in those areas. So I was drawing out, letting the twist come up the strand, then drawing out a little more, a little more, letting more twist come in, etc., treadling all the while. Depending on the setting of the wheel, you may not have to treadle like speed racer, either. It's more about paying attention to the yarn.

2.b. It's amazing how little you need for the initial draw. Less is better because as you draw out to thin the yarn, you'll find you're reaching behind yourself if you're not careful!

  1. I began to be able to feel when the yarn was pulling too fast or too hard and I began to use my forward hand to pull it back towards me if needed to make sure nothing it made it past my front hand without the twist needed.
  2. There's so much to pay attention to - all of your limbs are doing something different so it becomes like patting your head and rubbing your tummy - that it's much better to practice in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible until you gain some proficiency. So far I've been doing it in groups but I haven't been able to pay too much attention to what's going on in the groups or participate in conversations. As soon as I did, whang, it would break.
  3. Speaking of breaking, when you have a break, you lose the twist much more quickly than you do with wool or other fibers so you have to go back pretty far and make sure you've got hold of a bit that still has enough twist to hold together. Then you want to add more twist to that bit before you attach back the pieces that broke off. It's easy to add back those bits by just laying the ends down on the part that's twisting just in front of your fingers. They'll be grabbed up in the twist and you're off again. That's how you add on a new strand of sliver or top or whatever you're using, too.

I think that's all I know - keep in mind it's from a newbie but I think they are all valid points. Several people recommended a book by Paula Simmons called "Spinning for Softness and Speed" for a great explanation of the long draw. I haven't seen it but they thought it was a great book. Don't know about the availability, though, as it seems to be an older book.

I have the Pima sample still to do before I work on the Sea Island, which is supposed to be the ultimate in cotton fiber. She gave us a fairly large sample of the Sea Island so I think I'm going to try to get a good thread out of that and use it for my knitted doily.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cotton Galore

What a weekend! We did just about everything you can do with cotton in every possible way with every possible variety of cotton fiber. Pat Maley from Cincinnati did the workshop and you really couldn't have had a more patient teacher or a more wide-ranging workshop. Starting out with raw cotton straight from the plant, we learned how to 'gin' the cotton with a stone and iron rod. With the cotton laying on the stone, you simply use the rod like a rolling pin and gently roll it over the cotton until the seed pops out the other side. Easy, peasy. Then to opening up the fibers, we used a bow where you simply ping the string over the top of the handful of cotton until it opens right up or you can use willow branches to open it or you can steam it and watch the fibers relax and open up.

We spun our freshly 'ginned' cotton then we spun the fiber straight off the seed. I think that was my favorite way of spinning and I plan on trying more of it.

We spun Acala, Sea Island, Upland, Egyptian, Pima, Fox Fibre (naturally colored cotton) and even cotton from pill tubes. Name it...done.

We spun on our wheels, tahkli spindles (a small support spindle), charkas (just about every kind) and electric wheels.

It's undeniably a challenge to spin but I was very pleased to have something to show at the end of it. It's not pretty but this is the skein...

It was fascinating to spin the naturally colored cotton and then watch it change colors as soon as it hit the steaming water. (To finish cotton yarn, you have to boil all the stuff off it after it's been spun.) I knitted it up just to have something from cotton I spun with my own little fingers.