one year in…

It’s been about a year since the Majacraft Aura entered my life. I picked up the box from the post office on a Thursday and rushed home to put it together. That weekend I was heading to Pittsburgh, so I didn’t have a chance to spend a lot of time with it. My first experiences weren’t great – I thought I’d put it together wrong. But, after a significant amount of panicking and reading posts on the Majacraft Ravelry forum, eventually things started to make sense. Since then I’ve focused primarily on two-ply, singles, and corespinning since that is my comfort zone. I feel like there are still so many more things to do with it, but I’m not sure how to get more information. However, it’s better knowing there is more to learn rather than feeling like I’ve already done everything there is to do.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to The Woolery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Even though I have been buying from them for years, I never stepped into their store. It was beautiful! Not as big as I would have thought, but the staff was very helpful and pulled out all sorts of things for me to see. I had wanted to get some gadgets for my Aura such as a smaller whorl or possibly the overdrive head. I ended up with the lace flyer kit, which contains the whorl, flyer, and two fat core bobbins. Also, I picked up some cotton and cashmere for blending, linen yarn, hemp fiber, a fox/wool bend, and a Nancy’s Knit Knacks Lazy Kate. Oh yes, and two yards of gorgeous wool fabric.



The night we got home, after unpacking, I tried out the new lace flyer. Taking off the standard whorl/flyer and switching to the lace whorl/flyer was very easy. Once everything was attached and adjusted, I spun a little bit of wool. And whoa! I couldn’t believe how fast it went! The yarn was the thinnest I’ve ever spun on a wheel. You really have to back off on the tension and the treadling isn’t quite as effortless as when you use the standard Aura flyer/whorl, but it was still pleasant and successful. After that initial test run I spun a few other experimental things before settling on some black alpaca. I put the drive band on the highest whorl and went from there. Of course it’s not perfect, but I still feel pretty happy with it. Right now I am waiting for an Akerworks Majacraft Baby Bobbin to arrive before plying these together. I discovered that plying onto my jumbo bobbins with the low whorl presents challenges, so I took the opportunity to finally get an Akerworks bobbin. More to come!

bobbins
Bobbins

switching it up

One of the best parts of spinning wool is getting to experiment with all the different breeds. There are so many! These days it’s easy to get your hands on a wide variety of breeds, plus there are many great resources of information about them. I thought this fall would be a great time to introduce some new breeds into my line of hand-dyed combed top.

If you’ve been to my booth in the last year, you have seen the basket of little wool balls next to the counter. These 1 ounce balls are great for all sorts of projects, beginner spinners, and felters alike. Initially this was a Corriedale-cross, but I didn’t have much information to give when customers asked about it. This led me to switching to Cheviot, a wool with similar texture and quality.

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Another breed that has been replaced (at least for now) is the Falkland wool. While it is a very popular fiber for spinners, but I thought it was time to try something new. I had the opportunity to purchase a bump of organic Polwarth, a breed similar to Falkland and one of its contributing founders. It is incredibly soft — a characteristic that is high on the priority list for many of you. Also, I added Targhee, the first domestically grown combed top I have had the chance to purchase. I find this wool to be incredibly spongy, so it will have great elasticity and bounce. Both will be available in September at A Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs, OH.

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Interested in learning more about these new breeds? Read a bit about their history and distinguishing characteristics. The following  information has been taken from the supplier’s website.

Cheviot Wool top is a beautiful natural white color. The micron count is between 27-33 and average staple length is approximately 4 to 5 inches. The wool top is open without being slippery making it an excellent wool for beginner spinners. Cheviot is a main British wool breed. They originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border of England and Scotland. They were referred to as the Border Cheviot and are the foundation stock for the Brecknock and the North Country Cheviots. This hardy breed can withstand harsh environments and are known for being great mothers.

cheviot
Photo from North Country Cheviot Sheep Society

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Targhee is a domestically grown wool that is processed in the United States. The Targhee breed was developed at the Experimental Sheep Station in Dubois, Idaho in the mid 1900’s.  The foundation stock were ewes of Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln bloodlines bred back to Rambouillet rams.  Approximately 23/23.5 microns.

Targhees
Photo from Raisingsheep.net

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100% Certified Organic Polwarth Wool comes from the Falkland Islands. The wool was selected from two family farms on the islands and measures an incredible 22 microns. The fleeces were processed in the UK. Sheep that are raised organically are not subject to mulesing, and they are not dipped for pesticides. In addition, the number of sheep allowed to graze in any give pasture area is limited to the natural carrying capacity of the land. And as with most wool that comes from the Falklands, it is very white. Noted for its elasticity, durability it is still considered a delicate fiber with bounce and drape.

The Polwarth sheep was developed in Australia by breeding Merino rams to Lincoln/Merino ewes so the foundation stock is 75% Merino/25% Lincoln. The Polwarth sheep were developed to make a dual purpose sheep with a finer wool that would contribute a more significant portion of the ranchers income. They are a hearty breed of sheep that can be found in climates that are considered too wet or cold for Merino sheep. The Polwarth breed has both polled and horned sheep. The most common is the polled. They are a large sheep with a high yielding fleece (between 8 – 13 lb fleeces).

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Photo from New Zealand Sheepbreeders’ Association

class time!

For several years my business card has said “lessons”, which of course prompts people to ask, “You teach knitting? I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit!” And I mumble something vague in return and then nothing ever happens after that. I have never really pursued the lessons/classes aspect of knitting and spinning for a few reasons. The main reason was money and then after that things just escalate. How much to charge? Do I force them to come to my chaos house or do I waste my gas driving to them? Do we meet in some neutral middle place like a Panera? What about follow up classes? What if I can’t teach them? What if I’m actually just a bad teacher? From there I spiral into self-doubt. And inactivity.

BUT.

With the new Shop in operation, I have decided to give classes a genuine effort. It provides a central space to hold them, so location is no longer a sticking point. And for some reason having that issue resolved makes me more confident to move forward with the rest of it!

We’re starting this month with Beginner Spindle Spinning Thursdays at 2 pm. Dates are July 9, 16, and 23. They will resume again in August. These afternoon classes will be $15. We will be using a Turkish spindle which you will have the option to purchase at the end of class.

Starting on August 12 I will teach Knitting Basics on Wednesdays at 10 am. We will cover casting on, binding off, knitting, and purling (time permitting). This first intro class is $15 and includes needles and yarn. Follow up instruction will be $10 per lesson. You can drop in or email me to reserve a spot (getwool@gwenerin.com).

a new family portrait

wheels

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that the new wheel has arrived and it is a Majacraft Aura. It came on Thursday, March 27. That morning I finally received a tracking number from the Woolery. It was being sent directly from the Majacraft workshop in New Zealand, and I hadn’t heard anything for almost four weeks. When I looked up the tracking, I discovered that it had already traveled from California to Ohio, and I spent all day Thursday watching its slow progress from Cleveland to my local office. It was agonizing! Around the end of the day, I got a notice that it wouldn’t be delivered until Friday. Unacceptable! I would be leaving early that morning to go to Pittsburgh for the festival and didn’t want to wait until Sunday night to open the box. So I called the post office to ask if I would be able to pick it up. They said yes. But they’ve done this to me before — saying on the phone that I could pick up a package, but refusing to give it to me when I get there. I got myself so worked up on the car ride over, preparing myself for a fight. But thankfully the box was waiting for me and I took it home!

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Even though I had plenty to do that afternoon (we were leaving at 8 am the following day, but luckily the car was already packed), I wasn’t going to leave that box unopened. I was able to get it put together without too much anguish. There were a few parts of the instructions that were oddly vague, but in the end I was able to get some yarn on it before having to resume my packing. From the beginning Olive had decided it was her wheel.

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When I got home from the show I continued to fiddle around with the settings. It didn’t feel great at first and I was disappointed. The treadling wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined it would be (did I mention I did not have the chance to try this wheel before I bought it?). I think I was feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all. I chose this wheel because I wanted something that was different from the wheels I’d had in the past. Everything else had been scotch tension and this was a double drive! Why buy a new piece of equipment that is the same as what you’ve already got? So basically I got what I asked for and now I had to figure out how to use it. I read about other people’s experiences on a Ravelry forum and was able to make adjustments that helped. Feeling more confident, I decided it was time to spin in earnest.

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My first yarn off the new wheel was a 2-ply of Blue-faced Leicester locks and a mohair single. I guess I just wanted to jump right in there and see what this thing could do, so why not curly locks AND a thin yarn AND plying? I hadn’t spun locks in so long, so for just that reason I love the way the yarn turned out. I also love that the curls didn’t have anywhere to get snagged on. The sliding loop thingy is great. No more peaks and valleys created by the hooks. The delta/pig tale orifice is nice too. It’s just cool and weird. It really holds the thinner yarns in place and you can wrap around it twice to lessen the tension. Another thing I noticed (not sure if this is specific to this wheel, double drives, or random chance) and love is that the yarn packs down so tightly. I used to hate how fluffy the bulky yarns were on the bobbin. So much wasted space! I’m still working on bulky yarns. I am finding it easier to spin thinner yarns than chunky, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

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The second finished yarn was a mohair/Merino blend that I couldn’t resist buying or spinning. Such a gorgeous luster. Ugh! It was wonderful to spin on the wheel. I have never been great at spinning anything below worsted weight, and this might be a light worsted if I’m lucky. But it was enjoyable and doable. At some point I may get another whorl with higher ratios for finer spinning, but even on the highest ratio I can spin finer than I expected. It’s exciting!

Did I mention Olive has claimed the wheel?

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a month in photos

Hard to believe, but this weekend is the Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival! I had a lot of work to do to get ready for this show. My last yarn & fiber event was in November and there was a lot of restocking to be done. In addition to all of my regular items, I also added some new things. Felting needles! Dyed mohair top! Fabric covered buttons! From the outside, it may not seem like much, but let me assure you, there is a great deal of work that goes into this. And I do it all alone. I dyed each fiber, spun each yarn, braided, picked, labeled, packaged, folded, measured, and washed each item on my own. All of these photos were taken since February 27.

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change is in the air!

new wheel

After a great deal of deliberation and anxiety, I decided it was time to order my new wheel. At first I thought I needed to sell off everything else I had in order to justify the purchase. However, after thinking about how many times I wished I had a second wheel to spin a different type of yarn while I was in the middle of a project, I realized that keeping the Kromski wasn’t foolish.

As far as which wheel I chose, that will remain a surprise. If you can tell from the image above, good for you! Keep it to yourself for now. When the box arrives in 2-4 weeks, all will be revealed!

The process of deciding to invest in a new wheel opened up my mind. I have been feeling disappointed in my spinning abilities lately. I look at yarn from a few years ago and it looks better than that which is being spun currently. Could it be that my skills have not only plateaued, but degraded? After 10 years I should feel like I am progressing, but that is not the case. It was easy to blame my struggles on the equipment. But if I get this new wheel and nothing changes, then what?! That is when I decided it was time for a refresher course. As I spend the next few weeks waiting for my new wheel to appear on the doorstep, I will read my spinning books as if I have never seen the words before. It is time to refocus. I have always neglected the mechanics, but this is a great time to hone in on ways to improve. I want to be prepared for the challenge of the new wheel, but I also want to improve my usage of the Kromski. I think The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin is a great place to start!

temptations + upgrade

Majacraft Suzie

When I first started exploring spinning wheels (back in 2005) I found myself at a wee little shop in Wadsworth, OH. She carried Majacraft wheels and I got to try one. Even though I had very very little experience, I could tell it was a kick ass piece of machinery. But Majacraft are some of the highest priced wheels out there – easily $1000 in today’s market. And as a college student, I did not have the job or sugar daddy to buy it for me. That’s how I ended up with my Ashford Traditional. It was a used wheel and only cost $250. Much more manageable. A few years later and with a bit more money saved, I upgraded to the Kromski Sonata. I was ready for a new wheel and that one was there. I liked that it folded up and had an old fashioned style. Plus it was around $500 (they’ve gone up in price too!). Since then I’ve gotten the jumbo and lace flyers. It’s the wheel I use every day, but I find myself struggling with it. I can’t quite pinpoint the problem, so it’s hard to know how to solve it. But lately I’ve been rethinking a Majacraft wheel. Partly because how can you not want a new wheel?! But also for an upgrade.

When I have issues with equipment, I often think that getting something better will solve all my problems. But it’s me. Someone who is really talented can make awesome stuff regardless of the tools. Buying a new drumcarder did make my batts larger and cleaner, but I’m still the one who selects the fibers. In the end they are still the same boring batts they always were, they’re just blended better. I feel the same with the wheel – even if I were to get a new wheel with more options, I’m still the one who is working the thing. If I don’t know what I’m doing, it won’t matter what sort of equipment I have.

And there is also the cost. The Suzie Pro (pictured above) is around $995 at the Woolery right now. They also have the Overdrive head available for a mere $383. So many options. Perhaps too many. I would feel obligated to sell my Kromski. Do I really need four wheels clogging my house? Selling it would only cover half the cost of the new wheel! Do I even care enough about this to invest so much? I need to find a place where I can try one again. I see a road trip in my future. It would be kind of cool to finally be able to get that wheel I wanted when I first started but couldn’t afford. To be continued.

turning straw into gold

Or at the very least, turning white fiber into colorful fiber. It feels like I’ve been spinning more in the past three weeks than I have all year. Totaled up, I got 10 new skeins done. Some have already found new homes, but I’m going to keep at it this week because I’m not quite done yet.

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This past weekend I went to Pittsburgh for Indie Knit & Spin and it was a fantastic day. When the right people are there, ready to shop, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, it just doesn’t get any better. I sold the Country Craftsman spinning wheel, so now my living room is a bit more spacious (just in time for Christmas!). The totes and bags I just filled with fiber are already empty again, so I see plenty of dyeing in my future, although that can wait until January!

Indie Knit & Spin
Even though I am done for the year with fiber festivals, I have one more event to attend. I am participating in a local art/craft show this weekend. Many of the other vendors are friends from my days in college, so it will be nice to be “back home” this holiday season. For this event I will need primarily finished goods, but I’m going to bring yarn and a bit of fiber to help fill in the space. I’ve been trying to get as much knitting done as possible, but I always wait until the last minute. And where I should have 50 pairs of fingerless mitts done, I only have 12. My goal is 15, so this week I will be doing a lot of frantic knitting, some felting, a bit of carding, and some spinning.

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After all the hubbub dies down, I swear I’m going to start crocheting more. I bought those two books from Knit Picks and I just haven’t had the time to really sit down and work with them. My December and January are clear right now, so I’m looking forward to taking a breather, washing my fleeces, conducting some experiments, and learning a few new things. Sadly, when you are in production mode, you don’t always have the time to explore. But if you don’t, then your work can get dull. It’s a delicate balance.

spinning wheel for sale

Currently I have this beautiful Country Craftsman Spinning Wheel sitting in my  living room. It was hand-crafted by Joseph Franzek, Jr. from Littleton, Massachusetts. Despite its alluring charm, I do not have a use for it. I am hoping to help it find a new forever home this weekend at the Autumn Fiber Festival in Ashland, OH. I am asking $325 and it comes with a matching stool and distaff. Stop in my booth to give it a whirl.

Country Craftsman

Detta’s Spindle has a few accessories available.

boredom + books

There is a good possibility that I am bored.

I’m tired of shuffling through the same piles of fluff, browsing through the same uninspiring books, spinning the same basic yarns. This feeling of apathy is making it much easier to sell unwanted materials and supplies. FYI, there are still a few grab bags in the shop in case you need some felting or carding fiber.

The next purge has taken place in my library. I’m sure many of us buy knitting/spinning/fiber books because they are on sale or seem interesting at the time. A few years later you realize you’ve never made any patterns from that book or it just doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle. I have a book on shawls — huge shawls. What do I make? Mittens, hats, a very occasional sweater. Never a king bed sized shawl. Out with you!


Getting rid of things is exciting.

But getting new things is also exciting.

So, since I was in need for some inspiration, I took advantage of KnitPicks’ book sale and picked up four new titles for my collection:

I thought it was time to revisit crochet. It’s been 15 years since I learned how to do it, but I haven’t moved much beyond a single chain. I’m 27 now, not 12. I can do a granny square, gosh darnit (I hope). The first book has several lovely, modern patterns that make crochet look nice, not farty. And the second is, as mentioned in the title, an encyclopedia, so it should help expand my general knowledge of stitch possibilities. We shall see.

The Zimmermann book was purchased because I did not have any of her books already, and I felt that I was supposed to have at least one. The last book is full of different types of yarn. I have a few other art yarn books, but this one is far more extensive. From what I’ve seen flipping through it, it looks fairly promising. Now the key is to utilize these books and try something new, not leave them on the shelf for destashing in another five years.