Archive for the ‘spinning’ category

DIY Charkha

January 9, 2012

According to my reading, the oldest evidence of spinning with a wheel (as opposed to with a drop spindle or supported spindle) dates to about 1500 years ago in India. In its simplest form a spinning wheel is just a sharp spindle connected bicycle-style to a drive wheel. The drive wheel is large, the spindle is small. So when the drive wheel turns once, the spindle turns many times to generate lots of twist. Small Indian wheels of this driven spindle type are called charkhas. They are well suited to spinning short fibers that need lots of twist in order to hold together–namely cotton. I figured this would be the easiest sort of wheel to build, and it actually was pretty easy to build a usable one. Here’s Rhianna checking out the finished(ish) product:

The main drive wheel is a 12 inch circle cut from 3mm thick birch ply wood. I used a coping saw and did this at my desk. If one had a scroll saw and a work bench it would be much easier.

The spindle is a smallish knitting needle, probably  a US2 I think, but I don’t remember. The “whorl”, whose only purpose is to keep the cop away from the maidens is a 1″ disc cut from a lasagna noodle box. The maidens themselves are 6″ lengths of 3/8 inch dowels with small eye hooks screwed in about an inch from the top. The drive band would slip if it ran directly over the needle so I fed on to the needle a piece of 1/4″ dowel. I just drilled a centered hole the same diameter as the needle. To put a groove for the drive band into this drive pulley, I mounted the needle (with the dowel on it) into a drill. I ran the drill while holding the edge of a file against the center of the dowel. It’s a poor man’s lathe, probably not the safest thing to do, but I was careful. You can see the groove in the dowel more clearly here:

The drive band itself is a piece of gimp, a.k.a. craft lace, a.k.a. Rexlace–that stuff that you make boondoggle keychains out of at summer camp. I recommend using either “Nite Glow” or one of the glitter colors because they have a grippier texture. I went with the “Nite Glow” because how could I not? It glows in the dark! How many spinning wheels in the world have glow in the dark drive bands?

Now back to those 12″ plywood circles. I noticed in several photos and music videos(?) that many traditional charkhas have zig zag or criss cross lacing between two discs like this (15 seconds into the video):

Notice btw that she does not have a glow in the dark drive band, but that paint job and mirror bedazzling treatment is pretty sweet. I might have to pimp my ride that way, too… Anyway, to lace up the drive wheel I used a compass and some geometry-class-style fun to lay out 24 equally spaced holes 1/8″ in from the rim of the 12″ discs. I drilled the holes simultaneously through both discs, stacked with their centers aligned. Then I separated the discs using a 1″ wooden spool. The spool sits centered in the wheel. I drilled a 1/4″ hole through the two discs and spool then hammered some 1/4″ copper pipe into the hole. The axel itself is some 3/16″ cold rolled steel rod:

This metal-on-metal arrangement makes for fairly low friction and fairly low noise when spinning the wheel. The axel itself does not turn. I used a needle and some lace weight cotton to lace up the wheel:

It took some experimentation to figure out how to do the lacing. In this scheme, the lacing never goes over the edges of the wheels, but if I did it again, I’d probably just do it the simpler way that shoes are usually laced up. Here’s the spindle in action working on some cotton punis that I carded from cotton balls.

The drive ratio is about 48:1.

Kick Spindle

January 2, 2012

Later this month I’m teaching a two week introduction to spinning course. Here is one of the spinning tools I’ve built recently, a kick spindle.

As a starting point for my design I read this post by Layne Brosius, a.k.a. AFrayedKnotter. My kick spindle is pretty similar to hers. There are two major differences. The first is that I used a 1″ thick piece of poplar with feet, as you can see in the pictures. The weight of the flywheel (a furniture bun foot from Lowe’s) seems to give the device sufficient inertia both to spin for a while and to not slide across the floor during use.  I’ve only used the kick spindle on carpeting and outdoor cement, but I think if I put some rubber feet on the bottom it would stay in place on wood or tile, too.

The second significant change I made is in the bearing design. Most kick spindles I’ve seen use roller bearings, like you’d find in a roller skate. That would make the spindle turn longer between kicks, but nice bearings are expensive (especially if I’m looking to build ten of these in a class), and I don’t really mind kicking in a rhythm, since I’m used to treadling on a wheel anyway. Instead of a $4 skate bearing, I came up with something that costs a dime, namely an actual dime:

I drilled into the base at a 45° angle with a ¾” spade bit then super glued a dime onto the floor of the angled hole. I put a divot in the dime with a 1/16″ metal bit.

In the divot rests the sharpened metal point of the spindle. To point the spindle end, I nailed a small finishing nail into the center of the 1/2″ dowel that I used for the spindle (I used 1/2″ dowel because I have a 1/2″ in drill bit but not a 3/8″ one. If I had the 3/8″ bit, I’d probably go with the 3/8″ dowel).  Next I sharpened the end of the spindle by cutting away excess wood with a knife. This leaves the small nail head sticking out the end like a pencil lead. I sharpened the head with a file:

The photo doesn’t really do justice to the sharpness of the tip. (but yes, that is a dvd of Flash Dance behind my hand. I’m a spinning maniac, maniac, and I’m spinning like I’ve never done before…) The spindle will go through twelve to twenty rotations per kick:

I spun a few ounces of wool from rolags in a hotel room while watching Elf over thanksgiving weekend.  The kick spindle works pretty well.It fits in car much more easily than a spinning wheel–with a convertible car seat in the back of my Corolla, there’s no way my Saxony wheel would fit anywhere in the car anymore. It’s fairly lightweight, but heavy enough to stay in place. It isn’t as portable as a drop spindle, but the winding on procedure is a bit more efficient. Also I’m still not very good at long draws on a drop spindle, but it’s easy to spin short or long draw on the kick spindle. The kick spindle can  accommodate a very large cop of yarn, So I can spin more yarn before winding balls for plying. Winding directly off the kick spindle is also very easy.  Total cost for the whole thing was about $12. If you wanted something a bit more aesthetic, you could use a plaque with a routed edge for the base and stain the whole thing.

Handspun Horseshoe Cap

June 27, 2010

This quarter’s issue of Spin-off magazine featured many readers’ realizations of the Horseshoe Cap by Janet Wray, the pattern for which was featured in a 2009 issue, and is available for free on the Spin-off website. I thought I’d try making one with my latest hand spun. I started with this 80/20 Corriedale/Tencel pin drafted roving that I got from Fibers-4-Ewe at the SPA Knit-and-Spin:

Here is one skein of the yarn I ended up with:

I think the Tencel makes the yarn much shinier than 100% wool would be. It was pretty nice to work with. Pin drafted roving is very easy to spin compared to my hand-carded, gnarly Romney rolags. Here is the finished hat:

This was my first foray into anything approaching “lacey” knitting, meaning the first pattern I’ve worked that had any yarn-overs at all. It’s pretty fun. I’d say I’m still a cable man first and foremost, but lace is interesting, too. I can make up cables and know how they will look without writing anything down, but I think it would take a lot of practice to create any lace designs without making a chart. The holes in this pattern would show up more clearly in a smoother, less fuzzy yarn, but I think it looks alright.

The singles spinning took maybe two evenings. I did all the plying while watching an episode of Bones on Hulu, and the hat knitting took a couple hours at the Seacoast Irish Fest, a crafty-Thursday lunch hour at work, and the first hour of my flight to Colorado–pretty quick.  I asked Beth if I looked like The Edge when I wore it, but she said, “No.”

SPA Knit and Spin weekend

June 20, 2010

A couple of months ago Beth and I went to the New England Textile Association’s SPA Knit and Spin Weeekend in Freeport, Maine (home of L.L Bean). This was the first fiber arts festival we ever went to, and I realized I never blogged about it. I just finished spinning some of the fiber that I got there, and noticed some pictures I took back then, so I thought I’d do a post on it.

That weekend we had a terrible wind storm in New England, and hundreds of thousands of people in NH (including us) went for three or four days with no power. It got cold in the house, and dark. We solved the dark problem at least:

and you can see, that I didn’t even get cranky until the power had been gone for a few days:

Sorry, it’s pretty hard to focus by candle light while taking a picture of yourself. Fortunately, Freeport (about a two hour trip north) had power. So the festival was much more comfortable. Here are a few things we saw. First some cool old Canadian spinning wheels:

Those were at the Merlin Tree booth. Merlin Tree is a small, Vermont based spinning wheel manufacturer. The kilted wheel maker demonstrated one of the old wheels:

We tried out one of the very portable wheels that he’s invented, called The Hitchhiker.

It was pretty nice, and well designed for portability. I had a hard time getting used to double treadling on the double wheel, but they come in single treadle form, too. Another cool thing they had at that booth was a cup holder that can mount onto a wheel for easy access to a beverage while spinning. You can get them at this etsy site.

One stand was selling cashmere, but $35/ounce was too rich for my blood. I wonder if most people know that cashmere comes from goats:

There were also a few alpaca vendors, and one of the vendors at the Full Moon Alpaca’s booth actually gave us two big, 2-gallon sized bags of “alpaca necks” (hair from the neck), which I guess is the less desirable part of the fleece. She had a price marked on the bags, but as soon as we asked about the bags and what “necks” meant, she said we could just have them as she didn’t want to take them home! Lucky us. We got a bag of black and a bag of white. Beth has spun some pure alpaca yarn, and I did some 50/50 Romney/Alpaca spinning.

I also got some hand painted roving from Fibers 4 Ewe Custom Fiber Mill of Putnam, CT:

This roving is 80% Corriedale wool / 20% tencel, a shiny plant derived fiber. I’ve already spun it and am knitting it up now, but I’ll save that for another post.

New Spinning Tool: The Nøstepinne

February 22, 2010

We’ve been spinning for a couple of months now. Having produced a few hundred yards of plied yarn, we began to fall prey to a plague of twisted hanks hanging around our home. In case you’re reading this and you don’t know a hank from a ball from a skein (knitters, bear with me), a hank looks like this:

A “ball” can be shaped like, well a ball, or like a round flat-topped cake:

and skein refers to the sausage-like blob of yarn that you’ll get if you buy yarn in a department store or a big craft store like Jo-Ann’s. Ball-shaped balls tend to roll around, to the great amusement of cats and the great frustration of knitters. So I like the cake shape, which doesn’t roll, and also has the advantage of stackability.

Hanks serve well to “set the twist” in your newly plied yarn, and the hank making process also presents an opportunity to count yardage. However,  hanks are nearly impossible to knit from. I would never try. We realized that we needed of a tool for turning our hanks into nice, center-pull balls, like the green cake above. The (cheap) answer: a nøstepinne. This tool’s name comes from Norwegian, and literally means something like “nest stick.” Makes sense. (Spinning tools have the best names in general: distaff, scutching knife, heckles, niddy noddy, weasel. Sounds like midæval torture arsenal to me, and some of these things look like torture implements, too.)

One night Beth and I were talking about what to do about all our nice looking  but inconvenient hanks. Ball winders work great, but they also cost quite a bit, and we’d just dropped a fair bit of coin on our wheel and hand carders. So I said, “We need a nøstepinne!” I don’t know where I learned what a nostepinne is, but I’d heard of them, and I knew they could be used to wind a center pull ball.

I went to work the next day, and when I was eating lunch in the cafeteria, I heard harpsichord and recorder music. We are never treated to early music performances at lunch, so I followed the sound to investigate. Turned out the harpsichord was being played by the man who built it, and he was stationed at the entrance of a craft fair. I wandered through the craft fair, and discovered that one booth sold wood turnings: bowls, rolling pins, and…NØSTEPINNES! I couldn’t believe it. I went into the booth and said, “I’d like that black walnut nøstepinne.”

They seemed surprised that anyone knew was the nøstepinnes were for, let alone a little bearded dude. I asked the man and woman in the booth if they were spinners or knitters, but neither one was. Apparently, the turner had had some requests for the winding sticks at a fair in Maine. So he started turning and selling them.

Check out the excellent ball that Beth spun and wound:

I learned to wind flat stackable yarn balls via some youtube videos and showed Beth the technique, but she is definitely the master now.

Rumplestiltsken is my name!

December 7, 2009

Okay, so I’m not spinning straw into gold yet, but we got our very own wheel. So, I can practice every day, which means it’s probably only a matter of time…

Leslie told us that she was selling one of the 11 wheels in the Spinner’s Loft, for someone who’d brought it to her and wanted to get rid of it. Part of the reason we wanted to take the spinning workshop was that Beth and I were thinking of getting a wheel and we wanted to make sure we liked spinning on a wheel, knew how to use one, and had some idea how they worked mechanically before investing in one of our own.

We liked this one well enough after practicing on it for a while, and it was definitely a better value than many of the new wheels that we would otherwise be considering. So we got it. Ta da!

Beth takes the wheel for a spin in its new home:

The wheel is a Nilus LeClerc, and is at least 30 years old because LeClerc, which is based in Quebec has not made wheels in about that long. Now they only make looms. We really need a spinning stool rather than a rocking chair to sit on while spinning, but the rocker will work for now.

2nd Anniversary Spinning Adventure!

December 7, 2009

(Click to view larger) Our route from Dover, NH, USA to West Jeddore, NS, Canada (and back). For scenic reasons, we took the southern route on the way there, and the northern route on the way back.

Last week, for our second anniversary, Beth and I took a trip to Nova Scotia to take a textile spinning workshop. During the trip we stayed in two very nice Canadian B&B’s. We packed up after thanksgiving dinner and hit the road for St. Stephen, New Brunswick just over the US/Canada border to stay at the Blair House Heritage Inn.

Beth researches activities for Saturday in New Brunswick

The breakfast of pancakes and fruit was delicious. David, our host, made excellent tea. David hails originally from England, and worked as a hunting and fishing guide before taking over the bed and breakfast a few years ago. I really liked our room’s hand-shaped light fixtures:

From St. Stephen, we traveled to St. John, the capital of New Brunswick, which is on the coast. Apparently they really like their Saint names in the Canadian maritime provinces. The downtown area of St. John is populated by these stocky wooden sculptures of pedestrians:

can you spot Beth?

The wooden people even walk around in the mall!

After escaping the wooden Canadians we checked out the New Brunswick Museum for a few hours. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but my favorite parts were the exhibits on ship building (New Brunswick was a major ship building center during the age of sail), and the Hall of Great Whales, where there were complete skeletons of several kinds of whale, and a 90% scale model of a North Atlantic Right Whale (like those we saw live in August).

From St. John we continued on to Musquodoboit Harbor  on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, where we were taking the weekend-long spinning workshop. There was going to be one other student, but she canceled due to swine flu. So, Beth and I had the entire workshop to ourselves!

I should explain how we ended up going to Nova Scotia for a spinning workshop. Having practiced drop spindle spinning for a few weeks, we decided we’d like to learn to spin with a wheel. We found the Spinner’s Loft online, and thought a weekend spinning workshop vacation in Nova Scotia would be a fun way to celebrate our anniversary. So we called up Leslie, the proprietor of the Spinner’s Loft, and found as luck would have it that she was available for the weekend of American Thanksgiving.

There were many wheels in the spinner's loft.

Leslie has been spinning for about 30 years, and has spun an amazing variety of fibers: wool, silk, flax (linen), horse hair, musk ox, dog hair, cat hair, organic cotton from tampons, and lion’s mane to name a few! Don’t worry, the lion was not sheared. The lion’s mane hairs were gathered from tree branches where they’d become stuck when the lion rubbed against the tree.

We began on the first day by learning about washing, picking and carding of fleece. I passed some Cotswold fleece through the triple picker, which was definitely the device most closely resembling a medieval torture implement. A triple picker consists of a cradle shaped bed of nails, and a nail studded pendulum that swings just above the bed. You feed the locks of wool in one end while swinging the pendulum-of-death, and an airy cloud of wool magically comes out the other end.

Cotswold fleece and the triple picker (right). Cotswold are cool looking dredlock rasta sheep (see photo).

We took the cloud over to the drum carder and learned to use it. This is basically a pair of giant round hairbrushes with a crank to drive them around. The drum carder produces a moderately tenuous bat of fiber, which can either be torn into strips along the “grain” to make roving or it can be rolled perpendicular to the grain to make little logs called rolags.

Next we did some drop spindle spinning “in the grease.” This means spinning wool that still has a fair amount of  lanolin in it. In our case, there was also some vegetable matter and maybe an occasional trace of sheep poo in it, too. The spindling was much easier with Leslie’s spindles than our tiny-whorled homemade ones. (The whorl is the disc shaped part of the spindle). After the drop spindling warm-up, we moved on to learning to use the wheel. I think this post is long enough, so I’ll save the wheel stuff for another post.


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