School children and spinning flax

A few months ago I responded to an online post that was looking for someone who could spin flax into linen for a London school visit, I thought for a moment and decided I’d follow it up. I had done some flax work a few years ago,, mainly to make bookbinding thread, but rather left it behind when wool work took over much of my time. I’m generally happy demonstrating in front of people and  I figured that I wouldn’t get picked as there was bound to be many others  more experienced than I. Much to  my surprise and delight I received a very  positive email, as several exchanges we met up to discuss the details. It was to visit 8 different primary schools in East London , talking and demonstrating about flax and  showing how to spin, it might have been because I use drop spindles that I was picked! The project is one which has been running for a few years enabling school children to grow  vegetables in the school garden, which they tend  and ultimately enjoy a meal or two from their labours, a thoroughly worthwhile project which was developed into growing and processing flax as well : which is where I come in.

I’ve been working on getting a selection of teaching materials together to show the various stages of the process of spinning.

spinning in progress, with both bleached and unbleached flax, on top whorl spindles

I know that there is only enough time to introduce it to the children, and barely enough time to let them have a play as well, but if I have enough samples they will, hopefully,  have an idea of how fascinating the whole spinning process is.

Hand made wooden spindles, all traditional styles made from sticks and twigs, a few stones and even a potato…

I’ll take a few of these spindles as well, jut to show that no magical equipment is needed, in fact the simple things are often best.

from ultra fine singles to heavy 4 ply yarn

I’m not entirely sure what we will end up , but I thought it would be a good idea to have a few samples available so that they can see that a whole range of threads are possible, and suited for lots of different jobs.

Spinning jacob

Jacob fleece might be one of my favourite wools, it is very variable both in quality from fine to coarse fibres and also from pure white through cream to brown and almost black.

I was given a  large bag  of jacob which was remarkably  clean, it had been skirted already but there was hardly any straw or  vegetable matter, it felt and smelt  wonderfully woolly  with a  generous coating of lanolin.

I gave it a quick wash with a little detergent and lots of hot water, a few rinses later and after drying in the sun it was ready to go.

I decided that I would simply spin it as it came, not worrying about separating the colours,  in the hope for a rustic  grey.

The photos should all be fairly self-explanatory, the 3 ply was spun after making a plying cake  with 3 singles  and spun tightly to make a good hard wearing sock yarn

Freshly washed
picked through and locks fluffed up
starting to mix with the carders
a full spindle with a rolag
a cake of singles
3 ply skein waiting to be washed and set
finished skein , ready for knitting socks

travelling and spinning

Some months ago I was given a brown paper feed bag of sightly anonymous  white wool from France, apart from being quite yellow and quite full of vegetable matter I knew nothing about it. I decided that it would be my general purpose wool to  use for my dyeing samples and also my idea would be to spin enough to knit myself a jumper from it. I’ve been washing basins of it instead of cleaning the whole lot in one go, and when I’ve had a moment I card enough to keep me happily spinning.

I’m spinning finely  and then plying it which will give me a reasonable weight to knit up as Fair Isle, which is the plan once  I get around to do some more dyeing.

Finished 2 ply washed and skeined wool alongside freshly spun singles on a very full spindle with the unscoured raw yellow coloured fleece. The spindle holds about 200 metres of yarn.

It’s taking some time to prepare and spin, but I’m in no hurry, I spin when I am able, it’s not a full time occupation for me, which brings me to the title. I’m happy to spin anywhere I can and I usually have a bag of rolags and a spindle in my bag wherever I go. It’s fascinating, for me, to watch people watching me whenever I’m on the bus or the train. I don’t need a lot of space, admittedly a little slower when I am sitting down instead of standing up, but every draft is another few feet of yarn and it soon adds up. There are lots  of surreptitious glances and even the odd photograph taken  by a phone, if only they realised that I would be more than happy to talk to them about the process. Drop spinning to me, even after a few years, is almost magical and the idea that a handful of loose fibres transforms into a  coherent thread is a wonderful thing. When I give my talks on fleece to pleats, I always get a moment of silence when the audience realise what is happening, which is only  further emphasized when I  tell them that it was way all yarn was made until at least 1250, and on some countries the spinning wheel is still a fairly recent introduction. The idea that you can walk  and spin at the same is perhaps the point where most people see how  a stick and a whorl could actually   be capable of producing miles and miles of thread.

So back to my bus journey of a few days ago, I got off  a mile or so away from  home and walked back spinning as I went, in fact walked back happily spinning, a few people looked and some cars slowed down but perhaps I’m already enough of an oddity ,  no comments at all. It did make me realise, that drop spinning on the  go is a perfectly good way of spinning, yes the thread broke once or twice, but thee spindle was easily caught without damage and the thread re-joined. It was a dry day, and a little windy and the spindle did catch the breeze, but it worked so well that I think that perhaps  whenever I go walking in the future I won’t want to miss out on creating  yards of yarn.

 

 

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms

Queen Anne’s Lace is everywhere around my neighbourhood at the moment I’ve often seen it mentioned in dye books, but until yesterday hadn’t done anything with the rather delicate flowers.
I’d been told they can give a good yellow, and  as it is easy to find, and free , it was worth a test or two

I picked about 20 or so  heads,  soaked them in boiling water overnight, and I also soaked some handspun 2 ply in a 15% Alum solution as well.

Each skein was simmered for  about 30 mins,  and then some were treated with modifiers, I was happily surprised to see how bright the yellow  was, and after a washing soda rinse  lost a little of the greenishness and became slightly more eggy. All told a successful morning, and I’ll be very happy to try it again.

There are a few names for Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota ,  part of the wild carrot family

Natural dyeing

My talk on natural dyeing  covers almost everything in colour

  • Wool and Mud

 

illustrated talks

I was asked yesterday after I gave a talk at Kingston University, if I had a website listing of the different talks I do, the answer was no, so this will hopefully  rectify the omission .

I am happy to give talks to  groups in an informal setting, ranging from school rooms to church halls, from 20 to 50 adults.

Each event takes the form of an talk with lots of examples and samples, and I encourage the audience to ask questions and examine the items throughout the 45 mins – 60 mins. Each talk can be tailored to different groups, perhaps by focusing on a particular interest.

I only need a well light space and a couple of tables, I don’t normally have any need of computers or electrical equipment.

I have currently 4 talks available

1 From fleece to pleats

Fleece to pleats

An introduction to the word of wool, spinning, weaving,dyeing, tartan, and  kilt making.
I discuss the history of wool, demonstrate spinning, talk about the development of weaving and the history of tartan, finishing with a “show and tell” of how a kilt is made.

This talk  is an excellent overview of wool and tartan, covering a lot of ground very quickly, but it has proved to be one of my most popular bookings

2 Natural Dyeing

An introduction to the world of natural dyeing,  from early mud dyeing of 5000 BC right through to the discovery of the first synthetic dye in 1856.

With lots of samples of dyed wools, grouped by the history and development of colourants , and samples of many of the various dyestuffs and chemicals used,I discuss the history and manufacture of coloured textiles.

3 Bookbinding

An introduction to the history of books, from the beginnings on papyrus, through mediaeval bindings to mass produced paperbacks, I show examples of all the major styles. Discussion and handling of samples is important to the talk and everyone has the chance to handle wood, leather, paper and linen thread.
I also show a range of contemporary art bindings using glass,knitted cloth, ceramics, carved wood, and silk as cover materials.
I also offer a selection of bookbinding workshops, from simple pamphlets to multi section collections. These workshops can be tailored for all ages, young and old!  Contact me to discuss further details.  see below for a video produced for an earlier class, but it gives an idea of how a class can work.

 

4 Ceramics

A quick tour through the basics of pottery tracing the development of ceramics  from hand pinched pots to industrial mass-produced dinner services.

Using historic and contemporary examples there is ample opportunity for discussion of different styles and types from around the world, with an emphasis on decorative techniques.