Use it before you lose it (spinning)

Of course, if you can’t use it quickly, at least write it down.

So… this weekend, I took a class on Shetland spinning and lace knitting, traditional techniques for how to produce those wonderful shawls that helped the Shetland islanders to earn a living. (of sorts, I think; the history that I know of indicates they were badly underpaid)

What do I want to remember from that?

For the spinning, I must remember that the right fleece is essential. And I don’t mean just a Shetland fleece, but one that is good quality, with fibers of the right thinness, etc. And that it is preferable to spin in the grease. Now I would never have thought that, but apparently the lanolin helps the fibers to hold together when you are spinning the extreme fineness necessary for laceweight and cobweb-weight yarn. And it’s not as much of a problem with Shetland breed fleeces as it is with other breeds, because they don’t produce the overwhelming amount of lanolin that makes spinning in the grease a questionable choice.

Watch out for the rise (the new growth after the winter’s dormancy), because if there’s too much of it, then you are paying for something that you are not going to use. And be strong — you are going to throw away a good bit of it. Some of it will be okay for spinning for purposes other than lace, but there is still a noticeable portion that is just rubbish, and throwing it away is okay. (For some, this is very difficult.) The areas most likely to be thrown away for the lower portions of the leg, the center down the back, and definitely the belly wool. The nicest is generally close to the head and neck area, but the sides may have decent stuff. The closer you get to the rear of the animal, the lower the quality goes.

You are also watching for dirt, etc. Get rid of the worst bits, but remember that a reasonable amount of vegetable matter will come out in the prep. NOTE: if the fleece is good except for the extreme dirtiness, then this is one time you might wash it beforehand. But do a very limited washing, since you don’t want to lose too much lanolin.

You can card it or comb it. Do it in small amounts, as you work. The more traditional method is combing it with something like a flick carder or a dog comb-type tool. Full-on combing is not really good, since you lose a lot more material that way. You are more interested in achieving a lock-by-lock spinnability. For lace spinning, one lock can last a long time. Carding is acceptable, but you will end up with the fibers more mixed, and are less likely to end up with the worsted-spin that is the traditional focus.
When spinning it, do an inchworm draft. Long draw just is not going to cut it for the degree of control you need to produce really fine fiber. For two-ply laceweight, you really are looking at around 5-7 fibers in a single. For cobweb-weight, you are looking at 3-4 fibers in a single. (I didn’t quite achieve that during the class; I think the best I got was in the 8-10 fibers in a single, but since that is better than I’ve ever done, I’m not complaining.) Be sure to put LOTS of twist in the single; lots more than you have ever done before. Then put a little more. But when you ply it, do so lightly. You want enough ply to make it difficult to split the yarn during knitting, but really no more than that. The light hand in plying helps to preserve the softness of the yarn, which is desirable for something that may end up next to your skin.

Okay, at the moment I’ve run dry for spinning remembrance, but I’m going to share this with my fellow students and see what they might have to add.

bag for my niece

I’m working on a bag for my niece with some fabric that she picked out. I want it to be a cross between a tote bag and a purse, so not too big. But with some nice quilting and pockets and lining, and some really interesting fabric that I would never have chosen.

bag body with quilting

bag body with quilting

This is filled with polka dots. I have an idea my niece would love it after I saw her bedroom redecoration last year. There was a definite tendency toward polka dots.

I am not a polka dot person.

I also chose some related fabric from the same collection by Amy Butler to try out. It’s the Lotus collection, I think, from a year or so ago.

I did some basic quilting of circles and spirals, to emphasize the circle of the fabric.

I bought some silk, I think, if I remember correctly, to line it with. I may not choose this kind of fabric again, at least not for bags. It was a real hassle to work with, but I’m not entirely sure why. Its extreme flexibility? lightweightness? wrinkliness? The color is excellent, but the fabric is not precisely doing what I want it to do.

Anyway, I’m also planning on putting in a zipper top that can completely separate. I’ve got the zipper sandwiched in between the lining and some contrast fabric, the same as the side pockets that you can see up there.

Here’s what the zipper looks like right now, before I start sewing everything together.

At this point, I’m not sure what order to do things in next. I need to put some binding around the zipper edges on the ends, sign the sides of the lining together, sew the sides of the bag together, insert the lining into the bag and fold down the top edges, then sew the handles on to the bag. Interface them? Oh, and add the top as I sew down the top edges and hem them so that they are firmly caught and no raw edges show.

I think the bottom edges of the zipper top will get covered with bias binding first. I’ll contemplate what comes next after that.

Ideas for the future

Since this is not exclusively a blog about what I am doing, but also about what I’m thinking of doing, you now get to find out what I’d like to do next… eventually.

Sewing with a plan is the concept. Since currently i am working on a tote bag, a muslin for a dress, followed by the dress itself, this will have to wait a while, since I have a rule about starting a new project before finishing at least one on the floor. But I’d like to work out some ideas.

A popular idea in today’s sewing culture is sewing a group of garments that are all intended to work together in color and fit. Apparently Project Runway, which I’ve yet to actually watch once, has inspired a large increase in sewers who want to actually make their own clothes. And being inspired by individual patterns and fabrics doesn’t always lead to something to wear. So I would like to actually work out that idea for myself, since I find it a good one.

So what would I include in my plan? Well, let’s challenge ourselves with new things to learn: one dress, two skirts, one pair of pants, four or five tops, and a jacket, all intended for winter wear. One skirt and the pants will be in gray, probably tweedy, as will the dress. The other skirt would be a good brown. The tops would be jewel colors to match gray and brown, meaning green, red, purple, tan/gold, and blue. One or two of the tops might be a print, but I tend to go for subtler fabrics, so I would prefer brocade-type fabrics of at least medium-weight. The jacket would be the place to have a medium size print, which includes the grays and browns with jewel tone accents.

I would like worsted wool suiting for the skirts and pants fabrics; maybe for the dress as well, since I was thinking a lined jumper.

For the tops, maybe some jersey knits? I would like some long-sleeved knit tops that are not turtlenecks, though not low-necked. In the winter, my neck can get cold, although a decorative scarf might counter that problem.

The jacket would need to be a heavier-weight wool fabric, or perhaps a home dec fabric adapted to a person. Definitely lined, either way.

Man, I have so much I need to learn to achieve this.

I need to go browse fabric stores for fabric inspiration, too. The internet doesn’t quite cut it.


This weekend I suddenly gave in (?) to the sewing urge. I’ve been having competing craft urges this year that have been causing unsettled confusion about what to work on when. Partially, I think, it’s because so much of my mental energy has been taken up by home improvement projects that coming home isn’t really a refuge anymore, it’s a place of guilt for not working on the big projects. This is especially true for the bathroom work, since my friends are so generously donating their time, and if my lack of action delays the work, I feel guilty, and rightly so. (Reminder: Wood putty, drywall mud, and scraping the floor must occur soon.) It also means that my house is a mess — we won’t discuss the second bedroom, which is basically storage for the bathroom stuff right now. (Go buy ceiling fans and look at toilets.)

But sometimes you must pause and work on what you want to work on, regardless of timing and other pressures, because ultimately that is what feeds your soul. So Friday night I got the sudden urge to finally work on the bag I’ve been contemplating. It’s for my niece, and I actually had her pick the main fabric earlier this year. She didn’t ask for it, I just felt the urge to make a bag, and didn’t feel an especial need for one myself, so I remembered one of the Amy Butler pattern collections had a style that was very similar to what my niece had picked for her bedroom, sent her an email and said, basically, what would you like? I’m in the mood to make you a bag. Interestingly, this was way back in spring.

Well, I doodled some ideas, looked at some books, made a few more fabric purchases — a few other cuts from the same collection for things like binding and pockets, a soft wrinkly silk for lining, a separatable zipper for the top — and did nothing.

This weekend I felt that urge strengthen to the point of action. I had a good documentary on the tv, an extra bit of time for a holiday weekend, and an idea in my head of what to do first. It seems to be going quite well. I’ve got the bag quilted, all pieces cut out, the zipper sewn in to the top, and the different parts mostly ready to go together.

Then I got distracted by the cleaning and rearranging urge.

I’m just like that sometimes. Too many things to do, too many distractions… I contemplate for a long while, then I move on it. The rearranging was just waiting for me to act on it, and having moved on the sewing got me in the mood for moving on the rearranging. I think what I need to do next is stare at the different pieces and a sewing bags book, and figure out what order to do things in. I’m not precisely following a pattern, so it’s not perfectly clear. And unfortunately the time to do that in is fading away with the weekend. At least I hope to have this done by Christmas; I’m thinking it will make a decent Xmas present for my niece.

In the meantime, this holiday today will be a workday of sorts. Working on the bathroom, canning tomatoes, cooking meals for the rest of the week, then going out to eat for a friend’s birthday will fill the day nicely, though I’m not sure it will be quite as restful as I had wanted.

I’ll try to actually take some pictures of the purse, so I can describe what I did.