Sorry, it’s been a while: But once again I’ve gone off on an adventure. I participated in the Olds College of Calgary Canada’s   Master Spinner level 2 class that was held off campus in Greensboro, NC, USA. It was a truly intense week of fibery goodness.

Gayle Vallance was the instructor. She has been a master spinner since 1990, though her primary focus now is on  her sheep  and judging fleeces and spinning.

Blandwood Mansion Carriage house

Held in the Carriage house of  Blandwood Mansion (
447 West Washington Street
Greensboro, NC 27401-2348, United States

and Hosted by Tina of Gate City yarns in Greensboro

Day one:  Gayle presented her plan for the week, passed out our notebooks and warned us that we needed to pick a topic for a 5 minute presentation.

Vocabulary presented

Gilling: straightening fiber in preparation for worsted spinning.

Sliver: washed and carded or combed wool that is drawn into a continuous strand where all the fibers are parallel.

Top: an aggregate of slivers.

Roving: Similar to top but there is slight twist added.

Woolen: yarn spun from carded fiber where  fibers go in different directions and are of various lengths, and with a lot of air left between the fibers. This creates a light soft yarn that is more fragile prone to pilling and felting. Twist is allowed to get between your hands as you spin and this holds the soft fiber together.

Worsted: yarn spun from combed fiber so that all fiber is very parallel and the same length, twist is never allowed between the hands. Creates a heavier, harder surfaced yarn that is less prone to pilling and felting and can take harder wear.

How to count Twist per inch (TPI).

  • on a freshly spun single at the wheel: self ply and count every bump
  • in a 2 ply only count every other bump.

OK, here’s the  fun part in order to use the formula below you need to know your wheel’s ratios and they won’t be exactly what the manufacturer said they were. So we had to measure the ratios. Mine were: 3.6/1, 4.3/1, 6/1, 7.5/1 and 9/1. Majacraft says they are 4.9/1, 5.9/1, 8.6/1, 10.8/1 and 13.1/1.  That’s really quite a bit different.

Formula  to spin a specific is  TPI  = (Ratio X # of Treadles)/ length of draft

According to Anne Field in “Beyond the Basics” the TPI in a single should be equal to the  crimps per inch in the fiber and the wraps per inch in the finished (2 ply??) yarn should be twice the  TPI; so that the character  of the yarn reflects the character of the fiber.

—– However slippery or very short fibers require more twist.

A balanced yarn or how much twist in your ply

(Ply # / (Ply # +1) ) X TPI of single

so a 2 ply that has 2/3 the twist of your single


a 3 ply that has 3/4 twist of your single    —- will be balance. ! **

But if you have a yarn that is unbalanced, your washed skein hangs with more than a full twist in either direction,

– you need to fix it: if it hangs in a Z (twists around clockwise) it needs more Z and less S and  if it twists anti-clockwise it it needs more S and less Z – this seems counter intuitive to me, but it does work.  The yarn will spin in the direction that it lacks twist.

Day 1 Home work

Well, I guess I’ve procrastinated long enough. Time to get down to it and actually write this up.

Sunday, 21 Feb, {yes I do realize that was more than a week ago now} I was fortunate enough to Visit Herba Lana where Monique Vierendeel was giving a spinning class. It was a beginning class, and Monique was kind enough to say that I probably needed to be in a more advanced class, and has since invited me to participate in a workshop in April where we will be trying out different fibers.

Herba Lana is only about 15 minutes outside the ring, NW of Brussels. It is in a thoroughly rural area, with farms all around. One of amazing things about Europe and Belgium in particular is how very quickly the landscape can change from urban to rural. There is far less urban sprawl, with endless suburbs and strip malls. Here we have cities, villages, and yes there are still a few suburbs, but then pouf, in 10 min. it’s the countryside, with barns, sheep, pear trees and fields of crops.

We started the day with a cup of tea and introductions, including why we wanted to spin.
Monique SpinningMonique herself got into spinning by way of plants. She did her studies as an herbalist, and started out creating natural dyes, from there she got to fibers and finally to spinning. She is self-taught with the help of an extensive library in several languages, including English and German. She sells Majacraft and Louet spinning wheels, and rents wheels and drum carders as well as selling yarns and fiber out of her home. She has the best collection of Noro for that I’ve seen in Europe. She has both roving and top both dyed and undyed. The hand dyed fibers and yarn that she has created with her natural dyes are in muted, subtle shades, and really quite lovely. Monique is very committed to sustainable agriculture and has a strong preference to using the wool of local sheep and especially to the local breeds that are starting to disappear because of the proliferation of merino and cashmere, and the obsession we seem to have developed for “soft” fibers.
The other students: A couple of really interesting stories
• There was a couple from Antwerp who found a spinning wheel left out for trash pickup, as the husband’s preferred leisure activity is wood-working, and this poor un appreciated spinning wheel, was quite elaborate and complicated; it just looked too interesting to abandoned. This has developed into a specialization such that they now have six or seven really beautiful restored spinning wheels that they have found at various “brocants”. So they decided it was time to go the extra mile and learn to spin. The wife spent most of the day carding and blending wool, which the husband spun.
• There was a lady who had come here from London. She has a lovely dog of a somewhat rare breed. She’s kept the dog hair when she’s bathed and brushed him and with eight trash bags of dog hair she decided it was time to do something with it, knit a vest. To knit the vest she would need yarn; to get the yarn the dog hair would need to be spun; so she contacted Monique and to learn to spin. She had already spent several days with Monique learning to clean, and card the dog hair, with a resulting reduction from about 8kg to 3 ½.

Monique presented the plan for the day: we’d start directly with spinning (with fleece Monique had already cleaned – “blue de maine”).

DSC02436Pre-draft the fiber, we’re using Bleu de Maine that Monique has cleaned. Spinning is a physical activity and it takes time for the hands and brain to get the connections going.

Then we would take a break later and be introduced to a fleece: skirting, cleaning and preparing it for spinning. Then back to the wheel to ply what had been spun.

It was quite interesting to see beginning spinners. It did make me realize that while I still feel I’ve a long way to go I have come quite a long way as well. It also reassured me that this isn’t something that comes completely naturally to most people. Read the rest of this entry »

Well, about three weeks ago, I fell while riding my bike and did something {not good} to my hand. Knitting hurts, this is not a good time for this to happen with Christmas just around the corner. Spinning doesn’t hurt as much but still not great.

The good news/silver lining is that it gotten me back to working on the written part of the TKGA Masters program. Sadly I’ve also gotten hooked of Farmville and Mafia Wars on face book.

Ok, more like unsuccessfully trying to clean fiber to spin.

Blue de Maine
Ok, It’s time to try to tackle the raw wool. I’m starting with the Blue de Maine, a local Belgian wool Blue de Maine
Ok the firs thing I did was spread a sheet out and pick through the raw fiber trying to get out the really gross bits. The wool was soft but left my hands feeling a bit slimy.
I shook the fiber to get out the bits I could and then placed it in net lingerie bags. BDM in laundry bags
Then it went into the tub with hot water and dawn dishwashing liquid. IMG_0679
After 20 Min. I came back, and the tub was full of really dirty water, which I drained after carefully transferring my lingerie bags into a bucket. Then I refilled the tub and repeated the process. I’ve read elsewhere online that the wool won’t felt as long as each bath is at least as hot as the preceding, and the agitation is kept to a minimum. IMG_0680
I rinsed the fiber in hot water with a little white vinegar then spread a thin cloth on my drying rack and let the fiber dry. This is the result, as you see I’ve still got a fair amount of VM (vegetable matter), which I went a bought a dog comb to try and remove, it’s better but I still wouldn’t want to spin it for fear of damaging my wheel. So WHAT DO I DO NOW? This isn’t rocket science. Our grandmothers would have known what to do. AARGH!


Dorset Down
The Dorset Down was more fleece like, with visible locks. It’s super soft, not very long staple length and the grease feels really sticky. Realizing that my first effort wasn’t a total success I tried to tease the fibers apart more than I did with the first one. IMG_0683
When I put it in the hot soapy water it started to discolor the water immediately. IMG_0689
When dry, it did come out a bit whiter than the first one. But I still have tons of VM. So I don’t know what to do next. It does smell much better. IMG_0691

AgnesTreadle to Metal and I decided to visit Vera Soie in Namur. Agnes was so welcoming it was wonderful. This was the first time I’d been to Namur, so we did get a little lost on the way there. There were road works so even the GPS didn’t get us there directly. It kept trying to reroute us back to the same tiny torn up road.

Agnes is a fiber artist in addition to having a web site that sells fiber, spinning tools an Majacraft spinning wheels.

Agnes started by showing us how she felts on lace, which she has been using to make fingerless mittens which she sells at expositions.

felt w/ lace felt on silk scarf

IMG_0525Then we got to try spinning linen, which is unbleached–I don’t know if it is organic but it is minimally processed and yet soft, for linen. Nether of us had ever spun linen before so it was really interesting, she also let me try spinning nylon which was really odd because when you handle the raw fiber it feels almost as soft as cashmere, but when you spin it it feels like it wants to cut you fingertips, rather like sucking on a candy cane if you know what I mean, that not quite sharpness but still with an edge; Such that one knows that it’s ok for a little bit but if you keep it up too long it’s going to be a problem.

Stash enhancement may have gotten a little out of control. Between purchases and gifts: Alpaga et Soie, 200gm @ 8,30 €/100 gm; BFL et Soie Maulbere, 135gm @ 6,00 €/100 gm; and Falkland, 100gm @ 3,75 €/100 gm; as well as two gifts of unprepared fiber. I am excited, I’ve never tried to play with raw wool before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Well September has flown by, I’ve gotten very little knitting done.
We had a Ravelry day here in Brussels on the 5th. I believe at least 60 people must have shown up. The meeting was set to be the Parc de Bruxelles, just in front of the Royal Palace, with a rain location of a small coffee shop, Ekki near the Grand Place and Galleries Saint Hubert. Well, it started out a little damp so a group of us ended up at the Ekki. The main group from the park did send some one to collect us and we all ended up at the parc. It was a lovely day and was really great to meet other knitters and spinners here in Belgium. At least one person actually brought a spinning wheel and someone else was spinning really nice yarn on a spindle. I even met three or four people who live in Brussels.
I did want to get to the “Cafe Tricot” meeting this month but somehow the day slipped past without me realizing it. {sigh! another missed opportunity}

Little knitting but a bit more spinning
Polly Jean's Little Traveler I’ve finished the first Polly Jean sock with the second only about 1/3 done, knit in Little Traveller from Sanguin Griffin that I got for next to nothing from Sanguine Griffin because it was tangled. Started, and believed I was almost done with a little stripped cotton baby dress, but I’d misread the pattern and only cast on half the stitches needed. {In my defense it didn’t say knit two}, I noticed it was looking long for it’s width, but only realized my mistake when I was casting off for the armholes and they were in the back. Well I frogged it last night and redid the cast on with enough stitches for front and back, it’s better that way if you want to knit in the round.
However, I have been spinning:
IMG_0519 I spun up the whole 8oz package of Crown Mountain Farms Super-wash Merino Roving that I got at Sock Summit. It came out at between 10 and 13 WPI, so between sport and dk weight and I got about 394 yards out of it. So far that is the most I’ve managed to do of any yarn. Still getting more size variation than I would like and I’m totally terrified to spin up the New Heu fiber I got. I really don’t want to mess up the colors on it.
IMG_0520 I’ve also spun up some of my white merino and plyed it with some a ball of lurex I had. It’s a bit too loosely plyed, but should knit up ok, but I’ve only about 100 yds.

Basically, I’ve made NO progress on Christmas knitting. Panic starts to set in.
Field trip tomorrow. Off to Namur where Agnès Cornet of is located. I’ll be going with another expat spinner that I met at the Belgian Ravelry day so that should be fun. We’re going early so we have time to explore the city as well.

Well, I’m back from Sock Summit. What a great time, I met up with my daughter Melissa and a couple of her friends from Chicago, one of whom lives in Oregon now so was able to introduce us to the local hot spots.
I can only say the ST-1 and ST-2 made a stunning success of their first ever conference. The market was good. The sock museum was interesting. yarn & fiber-12 from Sock Summit
The “Guiness World Record Attempt” was really fun, they were even giving out little balls of yarn and needles to people who didn’t have their own, and then collecting needles afterwords for charity. The classes were varying degrees of success, but that’s always the case isn’t it. If you ever get a chance to take Carson Demers class on knitting ergonimics, it is well worth it.
Yarn from Yarnia We visited Yarnia and each of use had some yarn blended. That was fun, but I as usual had a really hard time making up my mind. In the end I bought 2 different preblended wool and nylon sock yarns, one in bordeaux and grey and the other in grey with a varigated brown to tan, before I got my courage up to blend a laceweight out of blue silk and a dark grey and sliver plyed yarn. I think I may love it.

Phil joined me in Portland at the end of the summit and we explored for a few days before driving out to Eastern Washington to spend the weekend with family. And then flying down to San Diego. I managed to finish my outside-in sock, knit on my Aeolian shawl {inspite of the beads, I was really worried about working on a beaded project in the car or on the plane}, and start my Leonore socks on the trip. No spinning though, since I didn’t get into any spinning classes I didn’t bring my wheel.