On Saturday I picked up some new wool combs! I meant to take a nice phoeo of them on Sunday put up but there was a storm on Sunday and I spent sunday night without power (camera battery dead) and Monday starting to clean up 5 and a half acres of fallen trees, tree limbs (many of which sailed over our house) and busted fences etc.
I will have to take a photo at another stage. In the meantime I stumbled across this fantastic video from Caroline from Hershey Fiber Arts showing spinning flax with a spindle. She also makes great spindle sticks (a review is on my to do list) and whorls.
I’ve done some more videos of me spinning. You’ll have to excuse that my movements are a tad slow and clumsy, I’m sick and it’s winter here which means my fingers were like icicles and blue with cold.
Here is the video of me spinning flax. Right at the beginning of video I don’t have my distaff in the right place (to busy being spinning in time for the 10 second timer on the camera) and in the kerfuffle that follows the thread snaps. Just after that when you see me fluffing my hand around I’m fixing the thread with water and twist. Works great for flax. I took other videos but this one was the best so I thought you might as well see me doing an oopsie. Shows how easy it is to fix partially spun flax to partially spin flax though!
When I first wind onto the spindle I’m trying to show you that some of the spun thread has collected on top of the spindle, so I’ve spun a bit more than it looks like I have.
The second time I rest my spindle for a few turns on the chair next to me. Sometimes you see in pictures ladies resting their spindles. You can see here I spend longer spinning the spindle and I’ve collected quite a bit bore thread on top of the spindle.
You can see I’m also being a good girl and wetting my fingers with my pot of water rather than my own spit. Often in the past women would lick their fingers or even run the flax thread through their mouth. You can see both the left hand and thread are so close to the mouth this is very tempting and it really helps you get a nice thread more quickly than using you finger with water. I find the spinning with water much more slow, but it is very unhealthy to run flax through your mouth and even just to lick your fingers so I’m sticking with the bowl of water. I saw a video recently of an old lady spitting on her flax which seems a great alternative, it’s not the spit on the flax that’s unhealthy (it’s going to be washed anyway, and you always wash your hands after spinning anyway) but the flax in mouth (and yes, finger from flax to mouth counts as this), but I’m not much of a spitter, especially in public.
Here is the video of me spinning wool. It’s my own combed wool which is combed with dog combs, so it could be a better preparation! However I’m endeavouring with it! I still prefer the Merino wool I learnt on, good thing I didn’t know when I was learning that Merino was meant to be ‘hard’!
I start off just as I do with flax, and I could spin like that, wind on, spin more, wind on, especially if I wanted a lower twist thread. When I’ve moved awa from the distaff a bit I then pop a few half hitches onto my spindle and suspend the spindle out. The second time I spin I also show dropping the spindle off at the side. I don’t always do this. When I reach an arm’s length if I have the perfect amount of twist in my thread I just wind it on. If I have a little extra twist then I will drop he spindle. I tend to drop my own combed wool more than I do the store-bought merino because I can draft the merino so much faster. This stuff takes more time to draft and I’m more likely to get to an arm’s length and realise I’ve got heaps of twist. I find one spin of the spindle is less than the amount of twist I want for the drop to the floor, and also if the spindle touches the ground or starts back spinning on its own (my whorls spin fast but short, often not long enough for the spindle to go from the height of the chair, to the ground and back up again) which is why I don’t tend to drop the spindle if my amount of twist is perfect.
As always, my methods are still a work in progress but are becoming a bit more standardised. My next task is to experiment with more types of wool and see what other differences I can find the fibre makes to my spinning technique!
So I finally took off my hairtie whorl and replaced it with one made of clay. Here’s a photo of it with my current spinning on it. To celebrate the new whorl I’ve been practicing suspending the spindle from a half hitch at the top. It works not to badly. I think there’s a trick to how you wind on your cop to help the knot not fall off the top. Sound gross but a bit of spit on the top helps as well, makes it stick a bit better. More practice at this is needed I think!
While I was making my whorl I made another spindle (with a clay whorl) and because my beautiful organic wool arrived I took my flax off my distaff and had a go dressing it with wool. Because I still don’t have a period correct distaff (remember the “I don’t do woodworking” thing?) I put a curtain rod end on my distaff to secure my ribbon and woo onto. It actually worked pretty well.
Then of course I had to have a go at spinning it…
What can I say? Spinning wool is very different from spinning flax. It’s easier to keep a consistent thread width and if I draft too thick I can easily stretch the thread out thinner before adding more twist. I also don’t need as much twist to hold the stuff together.
Here is my early progress with the wool.
I’ve heard people say you need a distaff for spinning line flax but don’t need one with wool. Well, I can see why a distaff for wool is so great! You just reach up and pull when you need to draft more fibre. Even though I didn’t do a great job at dressing it, it still worked out fine. I found if I let the twist travel a little into the wool in the distaff I could just pull the spindle away as I spun it and the wool more or less “drafted itself” at an even thickness with little impact from me. I believe this is called spinning the wool woollen so I’ll have to investigate that. The other option is to spin it worsted which is where you don’t allow the twist to go into the drafting area. I’m sure there are more differences than that, but it’s something to learn!
That’s all for today, next I’ll investigate woollen vs worsted spinning and of course keep practicing!
Something you notice in medieval spinners is that whenever they spin they seem to be using distaffs to hold the fibre. The link with the distaff and spinning was so strong that the female side of the family got the name the “distaff side”. It’s not just medieval Europe, either. In my research of cultures around the world anywhere I find people still using a spindle to produce thread I tend to find them using a distaff. Compare this to cultures where our thread and fabrics are produced in factories and spinning is more of a hobby there is a tendency not to use distaffs. Or to use a small one around the wrist instead of a large stick.
I think the reason for this is in cultures where they must spin with a spindle or go naked, spinning is a constant task. I read stories of children spinning while playing, women spinning while walking to the market or watching sheep.
You can see here this lady has put up her spindle to feed the chickens, but she was probably spinning on her way to the chickens.
The key here is spinning for a length of time and spinning while being active. Yes, you can carry a basket full of wool and tuck it up into your sleeve as you go, but I guess putting it on a big stick keeps it all together. If you’re only spinning as a hobby you’re more likely to do it while sitting in front of the telly. Even if you spin during a long car journey you’re still in the one spot.
The spinning I’ve been doing involves me having my stash of fibre on the ground next to me and me picking up more as I need it. I guess this is the same thing as carrying it around in a basket or an apron. It’s not that inconvenient and I think a great big pole to lug around WOULD be, even if it keeps everything together. Why did the use a distaff? Well, for the use of one to be so wide spread throughout history there must be some good things about it. And there’s only one way to find out…
Enter the wooden dowel from the craft shop.
Because I don’t want to go to a heap of effort for my first distaff I bought a wooden dowel from a craft shop, popped a length of flax tow over it and criss-crossed a bit of ribbon over it to secure it.
The verdict? Well, It’s not too bad. Not bad at all. In the picture above I’ve had it stood in a corner and been spinning from it and it works pretty well. I thought it would be far too short to put through my belt, but when I spun down to the length that I had above I stuck it through my belt. The first time was a disaster but the second time it worked perfectly. The difference? The first time I tried it with a modern belt containing elastic at my natural waist and the second time I used my leather belt I wear with my 1480 dresses and I wore it on my ribs where the high waist of my Italian dresses sit. The high waist brought it that much higher and out of the way of most of my body’s curves. It worked really well. I think a longer stick would work better at my natural waist with a proper leather belt.
As you can see from the picture I made sure to draft evenly from both sides of the distaff, but that was pretty easy to do. Using a distaff is quite different because instead of holding the fibre in your left hand you have a spare hand to hold it so your left hand can pull the fibre away from the supply when you draft it. When I was drafting the flax from my shoulder I found that I had to keep picking up the fibre supply and moving it away. I have fewer tangles with the distaff and I never have to worry about getting a new lot of fibre. I only have to worry about joining the thread when I break it, not each time when I run out of fibre. What else can I say? I love my distaff. It helps when I’m sitting doing nothing but I can also see it helping if I was wondering around doing stuff.
Here’s how my spinning is going. You cans see how crappy my spindle is, but it works! That’s all for now. Next time I’ll be re-vamping my spindles with clay whorls.
There’s only so much looking at pictures and videos can do for you when trying to figure out how people spun. At some stage you’re going to have to just pick up a spindle, give it a go and see what works.
Of course, the first then I did was sit down and order a bunch of stuff from the internet, but with internet ordering comes the wait of up to a month for your goodies. So I got a dowel, whittled it down with a craft knife to a point on one end and a taper on the other and added a bunch of hairties to make a whorl.
Because I needed something to spin I dug around in my stash and pulled out some wool designed for needle felting and spun that. I spun from the fold, and I used my spindle supported in a little bowl to start off with. No, I don’t have any evidence for this but I’m learning. I figure that if I don’t have to worry about keeping the spindle in the air I can work on my drafting and twist and other things.
Here’s my first attempt. I plied it because it wasn’t the strongest piece of string in the world. It could be worse for a first go. To ply it I just made a ball and pulled from the centre and the outside at the same time and spun it to ply it.
Just as I was getting bored of the felting wool my flax tow arrived. Flax tow is the waste from making line flax which comes in stricks. This is the beautiful long stuff I want for my spinning, but the tow was easy to come by and I wanted something. I’m not sure about importing flax stricks into Australia and can’t find a local supplier. Apparently there is one somewhere…
I still used the supported spinning method to spin this but instead of spinning it from the fold I lay a bit of sliver over my left shoulder and pulled from there, almost using my shoulder as a king of a distaff.
Well, that’s all for today. Next time I’ll investigate distaffs and see if I can figure out why medieval women loved them so much and modern women seem to shun them!