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Lightweight Airy Yarn from a Forward Worsted Draft Twist

Enbarr Shawl
Féth Fíadha Shawl

In my October 5th post I promised to share:

  • how I prepare commercial roving for spinning. Posted October 29th.
  • how to spin a tweed-like yarn. Posted January 8th.
  • how to spin a lightweight, airy yarn that lends the finished knitted fabric incredible drape. Today’s post, January 27th.
  • my Énbarr shawl pattern. Stay tuned….

Each shawl above was spun using a forward worsted draft twist. More often than not, this draft technique is thought best for producing strong, hardwearing, dense sock or warp yarns. It is, however, the drafting technique that will add the most drape to the finished yarn and, in turn, fabric. So how can you use this drafting technique to produce a yarn with incredible drape that is also lightweight and airy? The key is your fibre prep.

The Énbarr Shawl was spun from Blue-faced Leicester and the Féth Fíadha primarily from Gotland (the grey frosting is Finn). My prep for both commercially prepared slivers was the same and includes 4 easy steps:

  1. Pre-soaking the commercial sliver. Post October 29th.
  2. Attenuating/pre-drafting the dried sliver, from #1 above.
  3. Dressing a distaff with the attenuated fibre.
  4. Spinning from the distaff.

My next few posts will review different fibre prep methods, the merits of spinning from a distaff and the different ways I load my distaves and why.

Cheers all!

ANWG 2019, Prince George

Confluences Conference : June 11-16, 2019

On-line Registration begins on January 27, 2019 at 9 am PST

The Prince George Fibre Arts Guild is hosting the 2019 ANWG Conference. I have posted the list of the seminars as well as a description of the Distaff workshop I will be leading under my “Upcoming Workshops” tab.

Further information regarding: the Conference Theme, the Event Schedule, Design Challenges, Conference Colours, Instructors’ Bios and last but not least and a full list of the workshops and seminars being offered can be found here.

The Conference is being held in Prince George’s downtown core. So as well as conference activities, shopping, the museum and some great dining can be found close by.

Look forward to seeing you there! Cheers, Kim

Spinning Record Cards

My system for record keeping has morphed over the years to the system described in my September 2 and December 1 posts. Having the luxury of time over the next while, I decided to replace the older Spinning Record Sheet under the Downloads tab with the Spinning Record Card (SRC) I currently use for my own FO’s.

I keep my records in a binder, but the sheet, which displays 2 records per page, could also be cut in half and filed in a box.

I like information that can be picked out at a glance. Here are a few notes to explain how I use these cards.

  • Ratio ____ LMS. My Majacraft wheel has three whorls. Instead of recording the ratio, I highlight which whorl is presently on the wheel. One of my last spins was Gotland for a shawl that will soon be on my needles. I highlighted M and on the adjacent line wrote 4/4. “M” indicates my medium-sized whorl and 4/4 tells me that my drive band was sitting on the fourth groves; both on the medium whorl above and on the drive wheel below.
  • Fibre Prep, Draft Twist, S/Z: A simple stroke of a a highlighter records my information.
  • Folded TPI and WPI: This is where I record the tpi and wpi of the folded sample taken from the bobbin side of the orifice (see December 1st post).
  • Finished TPI and WPI: This is where I record the tpi and wpi of my handspun after it has been finished.
  • Dashed Cyan Circle: Records my spinning project number. My last handspun FO for example is #18-3.
  • I attach plying and finished yarn samples to my SRC (see December 1st post)
  • and last, but not least, I staple my Sample Card (see September 2nd post) to the back of my SRC.

I hope these cards prove as useful to you as they are for me.

Cheers, Kim


Delving further into Record Keeping

The singles yarn sample and the folded sample mentioned a few posts back should be taken from the spinners’ side of the orifice. These samples serve as a quick reference which helps with consistency. Periodically throughout a spin I stop to take a quick look at my singles grist and tpi. If all is well, I continue. If, on the other hand, the thickness of my yarn or my tpi is slightly off, I make the adjustments needed and then carry on spinning my singles. Some spinners also check their angle of twist on their folded sample as a reference throughout their spin. This is not something I have added to my process….yet. I believe it is a valuable addition to the process….I am just not there yet.

Continuing on from the last post…..The second index card I prepare contains a plying sample and a finished sample.

  • The plying sample is a folded sample taken from the bobbin side of the orifice. For this sample I fold the singles to the number of plies I plan to spin…ie 2, 3, 4 or 5 ply…and then give it a quick roll on my thigh. If it is a z-plied yarn it is given a roll up my thigh and if it is an s-plied yarn I give it a quick roll down my thigh. This sample gives me a rough idea of what the plied yarn will look like and can be used to refer to when I start plying.
  • A finished sample is just that. A sample of the yarn that has been subjected to the finishing method I plan to use.
Important things to keep in mind:
  • Samples should be made from freshly spun yarn. But what if you have not kept records or samples to this point and you have a bobbin full of singles? Your folded sample from this bobbin barely twists back on itself. Here’s what you can do…remove the first yard of yarn from the bobbin and toss that away. Take the next yard, fold it back on itself and cut it from the bobbin. Place this folded sample in a cup of warm water. Leave it in the warm water for minute or two and watch closely as you take hold of one end of the yarn and lift the strand from the water. The strand will begin to spin. Once it has found its balance point and stops spinning, remove the excess water and use this sample to ply to.
  • A finished sample may seem like extra work. I think this photo is all that is needed to convince you it is worth the extra time. Both these yarns were spun from commercial sliver using a forward worsted draft twist. They were spun to a very similar tpi and both skeins were wound using the same niddy noddy. After finishing and drying however……see photo below. Breed alone gave very different results to the finished yarn.
  • I make the finished sample from a 10 inch strand of wool. I cut two 10 inch strands from the plied yarn. I keep one as is, and finish the other. Once the finished strand is dry, I measure it. If it is now 9 inches long….I know I have 10% less yardage after finishing.

I hope you find this helpful. Cheers!

South American on the left. Gotland on the right.


Upcoming Workshops 2019

Spinning and Dyeing workshops I am teaching in 2019 are now posted on my “Upcoming Workshops” page. Looking forward to another great year!

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


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!

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.