Monday, March 31, 2014

Spinning Hemp Again

I got a new computer and now everything is a do-over.  I hope this posts correctly.  Sigh.

I had previously spun some Rust hemp from Opulent Fibers (posted in this blog).  The yarn turned out nice but my drafting hand was sore for days. Lesson learned:  I need to spin hemp without hurting my hand.  Because I wanted to spin more beautiful hemp fiber from this source, I ordered 2 ounce bundles of a variety of colors.  In the meantime, I purchased Stephenie Gaustad's book on spinning cotton, hemp, and flax.  I read the section on hemp several times, took my Matchless wheel outside, and gave it a go with the color Soft Fruit.  Definitely an improvement but still needed work. 

Note: In her book, Stephenie issues a warning about spinning dyed hemp. But I am stubborn.

I searched the web for suggestions on spinning dyed hemp fiber.  Not much out there, but some information that proved useful.  I determined to use some of my Spring Break from teaching
to get my dyed hemp spinning under control.  Here is what I learned:

1.  Set the pulley on your wheel to an appropriate size for spinning yarn the size of a paper clip.
2.  Adjust tension for light take-up; I had my Matchless on Scotch tension and a tiny bit was enough. As the bobbin filled, I increased it very slightly.
3.  Divide the hank of hemp fiber carefully in half but do not mess with it, pre-draft it, or shuffle it around. I had to divide it because I found the whole hank was too unwieldy to spin from. Make sure you find the correct end to spin from - it really makes a difference.
4.  Treadle slowly and draft quickly. Let the wheel take the yarn as soon as it is sound enough.
5.  Too much twist will snap the yarn.
6.  These fibers are relatively short; some are very short.  I used a short forward draw but I let a tiny bit of twist enter the fiber mass to help pull out the wiry, short fibers.  Otherwise I found the yarn drifted apart. 
7.  I moved my fiber hand across the tip of the fiber mass somewhat like drafting cotton sliver.  I opened up the fiber slightly as I moved across the mass since the dyeing had compressed it. 
8.  As with cotton, hold the fiber mass gently - do not mash it.
9.  Don't let the yarn hump up on the bobbin - move it frequently.
10.  Let the singles sit on the bobbin for at least a day to get used to the twist.
11.  As with all my singles, I rewound onto a plying bobbin to distribute the twist, remove slubs, and let larger pieces of woody hemp fall out.  You see one ounce of rewound singles yarn on my plying bobbin above.

I actually started out moving the wheel by hand, a bit at a time.  Then one treadle, then both but slowly.  After I had one ounce spun, which took me an hour, I was able to speed things up a bit.  The other ounce went in less than half an hour.

I am going to ply today.  My plan is to combine this color with the Rust I spun previously for a woven scarf.  Yes I do think it will be soft enough to wear! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I want to knit a Shetland style shawl and have been collecting patterns and designs for a few months.  The color will be madder red.  It took me three tries but I finally dyed 2 pounds of Corriedale roving the right colors of red/brown that I wanted.  I have been spinning the red roving in Old Town, and it makes a striking presentation.  Piles and piles of bright red roving, turning into fine yarn.   Having filled up all my spare bobbins, it was time to ply this weekend. 

I keep my Ashford Traveller set up for plying.  You will note that I moved the spring to the right side of the wheel for plying.  This is easy to do and makes a big difference.  You might have to open up the screw eye a little to remove the spring from its normal position on the left side of the wheel, but then you can simply drape the brake band across to the other side.  In this position the spring is able to provide resistance behind the flyer, which is moving counterclockwise (to the left) for plying. 

I used several different colors of Cushing dyes to get the red and warm brown tones I wanted, but I have planted some madder for future projects.  I ordered seeds and had good luck getting two out of three to sprout.  The plants are vigorous and I anticipate harvesting the roots in 2-3 years.  Since they are invasive, I put a barrier in the garden to confine the growth of the plants.  I also added agricultural lime to the garden soil as well as some compost.  Thank you Rita Buchanan for the information on growing and using madder (A Weaver's Garden, Interweave Press).

The first Blue Moon Sock Club project for 2014 is a really great pattern called Lantern Luck.  The yarn is spectacular and the pattern is very interesting to knit, but also easy to memorize.  I quickly finished the pair of socks.

No my feet are not super tiny.  The sock fabric is very stretchy and they fit perfectly on my size 9 feet.  There was an error in the foot chart as originally sent out by Blue Moon - they sent out a revised pattern immediately although it was an easy error to spot and fix.
The previous photo is a little too blue; there is a lot of aqua green in the sock yarn.  The colors in the second photo are better, I think.  Frida decided she had to have her tail and rear end in the picture. 
I am still spinning a lot of cotton.  I bought pounds of dark brown and peachy white cotton from Sally Fox.  This fiber is easy to spin and rich in color and texture.  I had been using a very light weight top whorl spindle for my cotton.  I now have two ultra light Akha spindles which I find delightful to use.  I am using the top whorl to ply the cotton singles from a plying ball.