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

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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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.

snapshots around the studio

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And by “studio” I mean my kitchen.

Over the past two years I’ve gotten myself into quite a rhythm. On average I get out my dyeing and carding equipment once a month. I spend one week dyeing and the next week carding. That usually leaves me one week to get everything labeled and packed to go to my next show. When it comes to dyeing, I still don’t have any recipes. I tried to do color cards, but when I went back to repeat those colors, they came out differently. Oh well. That means I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and not worry about it too much. One of a kind (sort of) it is! By the way, I just found out that this “OOAK” thing everyone uses to describe their work stands for “one of a kind”. Huh!

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Anyway, I can’t go beyond three days of dyeing otherwise I get so bored and mentally dried up that I just pour black on everything and walk away. Day three is usually my least productive day, however this week it was my most productive. On Wednesday I had a haircut at noon, so I couldn’t get started until after that. And the first day I usually get started late because I have to get out all the pots and dyes.

My goals were quite manageable:

  1. 4 lbs of Merino for Margaret
  2. 4 lbs of Shetland roving
  3. Winnie’s fleece (approx. 3-4 lbs)
  4. Odds and ends for carding if I feel like it

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With two crock pots, three stock pots, and two roasting pans, I was able to get all of that and a little more done in two afternoons and one day. Today I have the pleasure of cleaning up the kitchen. But the living room also needs to be vacuumed, so I think it will just end up being a full on cleaning day while I wait for the fiber to dry.

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success with the box picker

Last summer Rich and I used the plans from Minnetonka Works to make a box picker (original post & photos). In the end it was a beautiful piece, but didn’t do much to help speed up my fiber processing. It seemed that the teeth overlapped too much, or the locks I was attempting to pick were too long. They would just wrap around the teeth and then nothing would move.

poplar box picker for wool
Disappointed, but not ready to throw it on the fire, I found a home for the picker somewhere in the mess that is my wool room. I figured I would find a purpose for it eventually. And after more than a year, I finally did! In the midst of an extensive custom project, I discovered that it will work with mohair. Hooray! Believe me, hooray. I was facing hand-picking four bags of mohair locks, but decided on a whim to try out the picker. I was thrilled to find that it was functioning (seriously, who wants to spend that much time making something and then it doesn’t work??).

Possible reasons for success:

  • These are extremely clean locks, so there isn’t a drop of grease to make them sticky.
  • They are shorter than the wool locks I have tried.
  • They aren’t has dense, thick, wide (?). Not sure how to explain that.

Basically they were a bit matted and needed to be fluffed for spinning. Can you see the difference in the photo below? The locks in the basket have been picked, but those in the corner have not. They have retained the curl, but were just opened up a little.

basket of mohair locks picked with a box picker

introducing…

I would like to introduce you to the latest addition to the Gwen Erin Natural Fibers family:
Bristles, my new Strauch Mad Batt’r drumcarder.

mad batt'r

She is the child, or grand-child, or even great-grand-child of Whiskers, my Fricke drumcarder from the 80s. Not sure how generations work in the drumcarder family tree. But I do know that Strauch carders are descended from Frickes, or so I’ve read.

Anyway, after a great deal of consideration, reading, pondering, discussing, more pondering, and a bit of “let’s just do it!”, I finally made the leap. I’ve had Whiskers for many years, and he has done a good job getting me started. However,  I feel that to remain relevant and competitive, I needed a newer machine. Everything I heard about the Strauch machines was positive and I like the other tools I have from them. Since I knew there would be a vendor at Great Lakes who sold them, I went to talk to her. I probably had already made up my mind at that point, but I was glad to talk to a real person. Then I went back to the booth and talked to Rich.  And then we bought it.

I waited until I got home Sunday night to get it out of the box. Immediately I could see a difference in the quality of the batts it produced. Much smoother, more blended, and of course thicker. I’m looking forward to further experiments!

friday’s question

This was supposed to be posted last week, but I had no internet connection for a few days. 

When I skirted my three new fleeces last week, I was reminded of something: I do not have a skirting table. It was a painful reminder, as I spread the fleeces out on the driveway and continually bent over as I walked around picking up unwanted bits of debris. It was also hot out there. Another significant negative: the unwanted items don’t just fall away from the fleece as you work through it. Rather, they stay stuck in with the good fiber. And if I had a skirting table, I could use it for drying washed fleeces too. So why don’t I have one? They are usually big and bulky. Plus it’s just one more thing Rich and I have to build. As of now, I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

In contrast to having need of something but not having the capability to obtain it, I now have a new piece of equipment that I did not feel was a necessity. As I mentioned on Tuesday, I just got a serious ball winder. Up until this point I’ve been using a nostepinne to wind every ball. I’m quite good at it, but sometimes I wish I had something quicker. I do have a plastic ball winder, but it is garbage, so I never use it. But I didn’t want to spend the money on a good one, so I just kept using my nostepinne. However, Rich decided it would be a worthwhile investment and made the decision on my behalf. Now I want to find reasons to use it.

Question: How long do you “make do” before you break down and buy the tools and equipment that are made for the job? Do you wait until you have need of something before buying it or do you buy a tool assuming you will use it eventually?

 

handmade wool picker

A few weeks ago I received The Woolery’s newsletter and it told me I needed a wool picker. I agreed. Not because I had been wanting one for so long and now was my chance, but because The Woolery brought it to my attention that I did not have one. It’s one of those things where you may have been needing it all along and you didn’t even know it! Or I just like gadgets and it’s been a while since I got a new one.

Even though The Woolery brought this deficit to my attention, they did not get any money from me. Instead, I bought plans for a box picker from Minnetonka Works. It cost $5.95 and the materials ended up at $27.50, which is much less than buying one already made. And I have an awesomely handy husband, who is just sitting around waiting for me to give him things to do (not really).

poplar wool picker
Poplar wool picker

We got the whole thing done in two days. I won’t say it was easy and maybe not altogether fun, but it ended up beautiful! And I helped — drilled holes, sanded, hammered nails, applied linseed oil, measured pieces. As for the functionality of it, I think it works. Honestly, I am not terribly familiar with these things. When the paddle goes back and forth, the fiber gets pulled between the teeth and fluffs it up. So, I guess that’s a success. The plans were pretty easy to use, although the measurements for the sides didn’t fit within the actual piece of wood. And there aren’t really an instructions on how to use it.

wool picker

Did I mention Rich and I make a good team?