Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Spinning the Rain Away

I have been spinning yarn for 37 years. Or at least, I learned to spin and to weave 37 years ago. There have been gaps in the activity over the years, but my pores are steeped in fibre and all things fabric.

June as usual is a stormy, unsettled month. Sweltering hot days are chased by cold, wet windy days. Lawn and garden maintenance become a sprint event, trying to find opportunities between the squalls to get mowing and weeding done.

The Husband has been off on a motorcycle ride with Friend Marc, sending texts from Idaho and California. (I'm temporary grounded with federal census work.) Seems like they're having fun. And so as is my wont when he's away, my stuff tends to spread out over the house.

This is all a preface to this:

After a brief hiatus, and with newly-found free time, my Ashford spinning wheel is back taking up room in the kitchen/sitting room.

While wind lashes the trees and rain pours from the sky, I've been set up in front of the computer, watching British detective shows on Knowledge Network, BC's public television station which is also online. I'm particularly taken by a series called Shetland but will also happily settle for Midsomer Murders.

I have a significant stash of raw fleeces that have been waiting for me to have the time and motivation to attend to them. The blue tote box in the above photo had an entire fleece tightly packing into it. The woven basket to the left is lightly filled with locks that have been 'flicked' with a short-tine Viking heckle comb.

I work 'in the grease', which means I don't wash the wool before spinning it. I choose fleeces that are relatively clean of plant matter and dirt. The 'grease' is the lanolin that naturally occurs in wool and what makes it waterproof. It also makes it very nice to spin during hot weather, outside under a shade tree.

 I find cleaning/combing wool to be a mindless or contemplative activity, depending on my mood. It's definitely something that can be done while watching a movie. It's also very satisfying work. The three containers above are all ready for spinning.

Spun wool starts as a single ply strand. Two bobbins plied back against each other make a stable 2-ply yarn. Three bobbins make ... think about it ... 3 ply yarn. There is also a technique I use quite often, especially to deal with orphan single ply on a bobbin, called Navajo plying, whereby the single strand is chained (like crochet work) into long loops and spun back against itself to make a 3-ply.

Which is probably all more than you wanted to know.

Anyway, the finished yarn is taken off the bobbin by winding it around a noddy-noddy to make a skein.

THEN I wash the skein in cold water with a wool detergent, to remove dirty, debris and yes, urine (sheep urine, not mine).

Then the skeins are hung outside, preferably on a warm breezy day, to dry.

Then the skeins are run through steam to even the tension, work out any over-tight spots, after which they are twisting into loose rolls for storage until use. This wool will be woven on my floor loom. I have some ideas in mind for this winter.

But what of the leftover wool?, you ask. The stuff that isn't good for spinning - the short cuts, dirty wool and matts.

I use it for garden mulch.


This is the flower/herb/vegetable patch in the back yard (over the grey water field) that some of you may be familiar with.

And this is wool dross, helping to suppress weeds and retain moisture in this quickly-draining soil. It also finds its way into various nests around the neighbourhood. 

For no other reason other than I was outside taking photos, let me brag about my John Cabot climbing rose. I left the lounge chair in front to give you some size perspective. This rose is from the Agriculture Canada 'Explorer' series. I had many different Explorer rose varieties at our place up north. This is the best bloom yet for this particular plant.

And I'll end with a photo of my season nemesis - the fresh cherry. The first crop of the season is ready, and this is cherry country, so they are fresh, fresh, fresh.

I cannot leave them alone, and they do tragic things to my lower GI tract. It's like a conspiracy. "Let me tempt you with my firm, crisp texture and juicy sweetness which will send your bowels into an uproar!"

Somebody save me from myself. Please.


  1. I could have written your para 2 myself; especially about the mowing. Our Cherries have been ruined by all the rain, they swell and split and lose their flavour.

  2. Whistful for the wheel today. Thanks for raising up the memories.