Kim's Blog

Stash Control for Living “Small”

Yarn Swatches

Last year we decided to sell our family home of 26 years and downsize to a condo. The one hitch to our master plan? The completion date for the condo’s construction was scheduled for the fall of 2018. Not relishing the idea of moving into a rental and moving a second time once the condo was ready, we decided instead to embrace the opportunity set before us and head off  in our wee T@g trailer.

Living “small” with my fibre arts passion is not anything I have ever had to face before. As each child moved out, I simply expanded into their vacated space. Why not? Right?

T@g trailer galley.

To date we have 18,000 km under our belts with our T@g trailer; which is not much more than a queen sized bed on wheels with a small galley in its trunk, but I love it.


Seeing as the only room I have for my fibre supplies are two small storage boxes and a small space under the mattress, I decided knitting would be my best companion for the next year and a bit. And now, for the first time ever, I have a knitting stash. To date, I just spun enough yarn at the tpi and wpi Required and then dyed the colours I needed.

It did not take long before I realized things could easily spiral out of  control. I needed a system to help me keep track of my growing yarn stash, especially those yarns stored under my mattress. My solution? I wrapped lengths of yarn around clothes pins (embroidery bobbins, tongue depressors or popsicle sticks would also work). Now I can see at a glance the yarns and colours I have on hand. No more rummaging through bins or under the mattress. They are also easy to take along to yarn shops and serve as colour swatches when I am working on colour schemes.

Each clothes pin is numbered and relates to an excel spread sheet that records information such as: yarn company, fibre content, gauge, the needle size I used, the amount of that yarn left in my stash, etc. To help me when designing, I use the same number to label the colouring pencil that best matches each yarn.

And last but not least, I keep one label from each yarn type, just in case I need any additional info down the road.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!


Dressing a Handheld Distaff

I use a handheld distaff when spinning from a supported spindle, drop spindle and spinning wheel. Using a distaff means I do not have to stop as often to prepare sliver to spin from. Having a distaff dressed with about 70 grams of fibre means I keep up the momentum of my spinning which translates to a more consistent yarn. Here are a few photos of the distaff being dressed. You can see a short video of my spinning from the distaff on Instagram @claddaghfibrearts


1.  I added a plastic ring to the end of my distaff. This eliminates the need for the ribbon traditionally used to keep the fibre in place.


2.  To keep the sliver in place the end of the fibre is thinned out and wrapped around the top of the distaff post.


3.  A slight amount of twist is added to sliver before it is wrapped along the length of the distaff.


4. The distaff is now dressed and ready for hours of spinning pleasure.

Hand Held Distaff

1/2″ birch dowel used as a distaff.

For the past 10 years I have been using a distaff to hold my fibre when I spin. I have three models. The first distaff is a cage distaff made by Will Taylor and purchased through Forsyth Woolcombs. It is a beautiful piece of equipment for working at the wheel. I dress this distaff for flax spinning or when spinning from a woollen fibre prep.

The second distaff I put into play is a hand held model. This is something I fashioned from a 1/2 inch diameter birch dowel measuring 20 inches in length (seen in photo to the left). I used this distaff when working with a woollen fibre prep. It was great because I would use it when either at the wheel or spindling.

The third, a vintage distaff, can be tucked into my belt and is great for drop spindling. I especially like the woodturning on this distaff. The carving allows you to secure the fibre in various positions along its length.

I have been looking for a distaff that is a combination of the second and third distaff .  A hand held unit that is turned. A model that allows me to spin from a wheel or a spindle, with various points along its length for securing the fibre.

Well I found what I have been looking for, a beautifully carved handheld distaff from Hershey Fibre Arts. After working with this distaff for a while a light came on. I absolutely love it when this happens. I now use the distaff to hold my worsted rovings fibre prep. I load the distaff with roving similar to the method Peter Teal* describes for making worsted roving and loading spindles to spin from. It works like a charm and I am now one happy camper.*Hand Woolcombing and Spinning, Peter Teal, page 75. I have since added a 0.75 inch Cabone Ring (an embroidery product made by Loops & Threads found at Michael’s) to the distaff and no longer need to use a ribbon to secure the fibre to the distaff.

I will post more on this over the coming weeks. For now here is a photo of the undressed distaff, with the ring I have added.



Hershey Hand Held Distaff
with 0.75 inch Cabone Ring


Harmony Cashmere


Harmony Cashmere

I showed great restraint this year at Fibres West and limited myself to two purchases. Here is the first – 56 grams of 100% Canadian Cashmere cloud from Heide at Harmony Cashmere. I have never been happy with my spinning of cashmere and decided this is the year to return to this gorgeous fibre to see what I can do. I spent yesterday and this morning exploring which fibre prep and spinning draft works best for me. In the end I decided to use my Schacht 208 cotton cards, a worsted backward draft and I am finally in my happy place with cashmere.

The four main things I have done differently this time around:

  1. Taking Heide’s suggestion to heart, I have not treated the cashmere with kid gloves. Her advice “Pretend you are spinning dryer lint.” Mighty fine dryer lint I must say; but shifting my attitude helped reduce the fear factor of ruining something precious, to go with my gut and try a different fibre preparation technique.  Although I am using the cotton cards for the fibre preparation, I am not making puni-type rolags. Instead, I am pulling the fibre off the cards in a worsted fashion.
  2. I am spinning the wee sliver using a backward worsted draft instead of the woollen draft I used the last time around.
  3. Again led by Heide….I am adding way more twist that I ever thought the cashmere could handle.
  4. And last but not least, I keep reminding myself to think tiny movements with a delicate touch. This helps me to bring my spinning skills down to a miniature level if you will and to use a lighter touch than normal.

I will let you know how I fair after the cashmere singles are spun, plied and finished. It may take me a while mind you…a little cashmere goes a very long way!

Cheers all, Kim

PS A few more photos for you to enjoy!

Cashmere cloud before a bit of dehairing.

Small sliver prep’d on handcards ready for spinning.

The beginnings of some finely spun cashmere singles.

Neatsfoot oil

A former student contacted me to refresh her memory as to what Neatsfoot oil is and when to use it.  How I use Neatsfoot oil can be found in an older post (November  2013).  This post provides a little extra information on how I use Neatsfoot oil on wool than previously posted.

What is Neatsfoot Oil?

First off, if you are Vegan you will want to consider using Combing Milk (Nov 2013) instead of Neatsfoot Oil to condition your fleece.  The word “neat” is an Old English word, of Germanic origin, for “cattle”.  Neatsfoot oil, rendered from the feet and leg bones of cows, is normally used to soften and condition leather goods.   It can be found saddlery shops in two forms, pure Neatsfoot oil or a compound.  Spinners should use pure Neatsfoot oil.  The compound is cheaper but often contains mineral oil which leaves your fleece, and in turn your yarn, with a harsher hand.  I purchase my Neatsfoot oil at the local farmers’ co-operative.

When I use Neatsfoot Oil:

  • When I have a “tacky” fleece.  Sometimes a fleece I scoured long ago feels tacky and is difficult to card or comb.  I pour a little bit of Neatsfoot into the palm of one hand, rub it onto my other hand and then gently massage it into the fleece I plan to process.  I then roll the fleece into a dishtowel and set it aside in a warm place for a few hours.  The fleece is then ready to process and the fibre can be teased, carded or combed more easily.
  • To make carding easier.  When using my hand carders or drum carder I add Neatsfoot oil to the teased fibre.  I set it aside as described above before processing into rolags or batts.
  • To aid dizzing off.  When using my combs I add Neatsfoot oil to the sliver before it is planked.  The sliver will diz off like butter.
  • To condition my hand carders.  When I want to condition my hand carders I massage some Neatsfoot oil in to some roving and then card a few passes through the carders to condition the teeth and the carding cloth.
  • When I want to spin a fine yarn.  You will find it easier to spin a finer yarn without any extra effort just by adding Neatsfoot oil to your fibre preparation.  A word of caution….when spinning your singles check your folded sample every now and then.  I find the fibres slide by one another so easily, I need to check every so often to ensure I have added enough twist.

Other things to consider….

  • Remember to scour your yarn after it is plied.  Neatsfoot oil will leave a yellow cast to the yarn if left on too long.
  • When scouring be sure to tie off the skein with loose figure of 8’s.  If tied too tight you will find a faint darker stripe where you tied off.

Hope that helps!

Mushroom Dyeing

Mushroom dyed yarn samples and Ann Paulsen Harmer's newly released book on dyeing with mushrooms.

Mushroom dyed yarn samples and Ann Paulsen Harmer’s newly released book on dyeing with mushrooms.

It has been just over a month since I attended a Fungi and Fibre Symposium on the Sunshine Coast just a short ferry ride north of Vancouver, British Columbia and my head is still reeling.  I was away visiting family for 3 weeks immediately following the Symposium but once I returned home I got right to work mordanting yarn, collecting and then drying mushrooms to prepare for some dyeing experiments after Christmas and then some more serious dyeing in the Spring (once I have enough wool spun for a project).

This was the 17th International Symposium (the first held in Canada) with 122 delegates from around the world in attendance.  It was a week filled with learning, foraging and the forging of new friendships.  In addition to daily dyepots and forays into the forests in search of mushrooms we were able sign up for workshops.  The three I attended were: an informative, well-presented “Basic Mushroom ID” workshop with Dr. John Field; “Exploring Lichen Dyes” with Alissa Allen and “The Chemistry of Mushroom Pigments” co-presented by Preben Sørensen and Jytte and Jørgen Albertsen, members of the Danish Mycological Society.  I feel most fortunate to have been able to attend and am thankful to the Organizing Committee, the host of Volunteers who worked so hard before and during the Symposium to ensure things ran smoothly and the Workshop Presenters for their generous and sharing  spirits.  It was an extremely well-run and thought out event and one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had.  A huge thanks to all involved.

Lace Blocking Wires blocking wires blocking wires

My thanks to Janice and Shelley for putting me on to these lace blocking wires.  A little dear, price-wise, but worth every penny.  They are well used for blocking my lace and today I decided to use them to re-block a shawl I knit a while back.

Caroline’s French Cancan design has a beautiful cable that winds its way through a lace panel at the bottom of the crescent shaped shawl.  When I blocked the piece the first time, blocking flattened out the nicely sculpted cable.  The shawl was still beautiful…but the cable needed more umpf.

It was a nice warm day today with a gentle breeze and the shawl due for a wash.  I soaked the shawl for 4 hours in water with a bit of “Soak”, lifted it from the soaking solution, gave it a gentle squeeze to remove the excess liquid, placed the shawl between two thirsty towels for 3 hours and then blocked it using the “deluxe ultra fine lace blocking wires”.

One wire was positioned along the top and the other along the bottom edge of the garter stitch ground (which makes up the main body of the shawl).  I blocked the garter stitch area out nice and tight, left the cable that winds its way through the lace panel alone, and used a t-pin to pull out the points along the curved edge.  The result….a nice plump cable that gently carves its way through the woollen landscape.  Much better!

Extremely thin, flexible, rust proof blocking wires threaded through knitting and held in place with pins.

Extremely thin, flexible, rust proof blocking wires threaded through knitting and held in place with pins.

Joining Instructions….

Many spinners find it hard to join new fibre onto their handspun singles in a tidy and secure fashion.  Here are a few thoughts that might help….

  1.  I have noticed that the length of my “joining area” changes depending upon how fine a yarn I am spinning.  Shorter lengths with finer yarns…
  2. I don’t join onto spun singles.  Joining unspun fibre onto a spun singles does not result in a solid join.
  3. Remove the twist from the last few inches of the singles.  Place some unspun fibre beside this and splice the two together.
  4. If I am spinning my singles with a Z twist (throwing the wheel to the right), I place the unspun fibre to the left of the singles.  If spinning singles with an S twist (throwing the wheel to the left), the unspun fibre is place on the right hand side of the singles.  Then when I start treadling again the unspun fibre wraps itself ever so nicely around the end of the singles fibre.
  5. Make sure you join over a long enough length.  If the join is over too short a length its strength is diminished.

There are many ways to join.  Use what works best for you.  This is just one way to create a join that is hardly noticeable and that most spinners seem to be able to master easily.   Enjoy!

Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild

Spinning for Aran knitted fabrics.

Sept 9 – 11 the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild are hosting their annual retreat/fibre camp.  As well as the retreat there are three workshops offered this year.  The line up of instructors and workshops include:

  • Jessica Silvey’s basketry workshop where students weave a Wool Trimmed Cedar Bark Basket.
  • Sylvia Olsen’s knitting workshop on Coast Salish Colourwork Techniques.
  • Kim McKenna’s spinning workshop on Spinning for 4-ply yarns used in Aran/Cable Knit Fabrics.


To register go to

For further information regarding events, workshops and venue check out the SCSWG website below

Ashford Root Colours

No colour left in the dye bath after processing.  A sign of good technique!

Nice clear dye baths with all the colour pulled into the yarn after processing. The sign of a good dye run!

The jars in the first photo is of the root or base colours in the Ashford Dye Collection.  This collection of dyes are bright, fully saturated, in your face colours. Not really colours that many of us can wear.  That is because these dyes are not meant to be used right out of the jar, they are meant to be mixed. Below are some photos I recently received from a student who shared the results of her colour mixing experiments (using the Colour Compass module in the Downloads section).

Modulations of colour on silk.

Modulations of colour on silk



Quite a variety of colour compared to the root colours isn’t it.  Enjoy!


Modulations on wool using black, brown and the colour's complement.

Modulations on wool using black, brown and the colour’s complement.