Friday, March 14, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

We have a new family member, and her name is Sophie-Marie.

I'm not always given to flights of fancy, or to naming my possessions, but she insisted that was her name and that was all there was to that.

The backstory: a good friend recently purchased a spinning wheel off of eBay. It was really pretty, and a bit unusual, and I got curious so I started reading about them. It is of a type known as a Canadian Production Wheel - they were made largely in Quebec, from about 1875 to perhaps as late as the 1950's, by companies that also made farm equipment (wheeled and wheel-powered things: threshers, sawmills, water wheels, spinning wheels - there's a certain logic to it). They were made to produce yarn in quantity at home, which means they are speed demons and workhorses - though they are also pretty. Based on its design and fittings it seems likely this one was made by Compagnie DesJardins - which is still in existence, though out of the spinning wheel business.

They have a distinct look to them, the most obvious of which is they usually have cast iron fittings. And the tension system is pretty unusual, too. I don't know where tilt tension originated but it was used a lot on wheels out of Quebec, and Canada in general - including the Watson wheel I have on order.

I've never used tilt tension before, and I know the Watsons are also built for speed, so I thought it would be a good idea to see what I could find in a CPW for myself as well, so I could get into the swing of things before the Watson arrives. 'Cuz, you know, I need to justify buying the new toy.

Of course, Quebec is a long way from here, and so they're hard to find nearby - the farther away you are from Quebec, the more rare and more expensive they get. They're also old and sometimes a bit fragile, thus expensive and nerve-wracking to ship even if a seller was so inclined.

I've been looking around pretty aggressively for a month or so. And I happened to find one in Bellingham last Sunday night, offered for rather less than it's really worth. I called immediately, hopping up and down in my chair and trying not to sound too excited, and made an appointment to see it Monday morning. Drove like a madwoman to Bellingham, where the seller told me the wheel really didn't work and she wasn't sure what was wrong with it.

Looking over the wheel, I could see that all the major parts were there, intact and mostly in great shape, and apparently original. That in itself is a bit unusual. The issue she described didn't really make much sense, but I could see the footman was all bent out of shape - it's made of a soft metal rod, and apparently she'd let her son use it as a play sword. (Ed. note: Not a good idea. On so many levels.)

After a nice visit, I handed her the relatively small sum of money she was asking for the wheel, and we broke it down and put it in the back of my car.

The wheel was filthy, having sat around in her garage for years, but obviously had been someone's valued tool at some point as it had been well cared for in the past. A good scrub with a strong solution of Murphy's Oil Soap when we got home, and a lot of furniture oil the next day, and she was looking much, much better. It was clear she wanted to spin, she was built to do it, and just needed a boost to wake up and get going again.

I actually got her to spin Monday night after just washing off the dirt and grime, with no further work and not even oiling the moving parts. The bobbin will need some cleaning out so it turns freely, but that's minor.

There are a couple of things I'll need a blacksmith's assistance to repair - they are simple fixes, such as straightening that play sword back into shape, but I can't accomplish them myself. She will work just fine without these fixes, with a bit of improvisation.

The only thing missing is the axle peg, and my husband is working on a replacement, though she'll spin without one - and I've improvised with a pair of Chinese-takeout chopsticks for now. (She is pretty embarrassed by this though, so no photos. We are not the Kardashians here.)

You may note, as I'm writing about her, I am using "her" and not "it." She insisted on a female pronoun from the first time I laid eyes on the Craigslist ad.

And Tuesday morning, Joe was leaving the house early; I woke up just as he was leaving, rolled over in bed and said, "Remember Sophie-Marie is in the laundry room drying off after her bath; don't trip over her as you head to the garage." I have no idea where the name came from, it just came out of my mouth.

And out of Joe's mouth came - "Who on Earth is Sophie-Marie, and why is she in our laundry room?"

Flickr set of photos here - I am documenting the cleanup/restoration as I go.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Ballad of the Woolee Winder

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed 
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, 
Then one day he was shootin at some food, 
And up through the ground came a bubblin crude. 
Oil that is. Black gold. Texas tea. 

St. Valentine was good to me this year, and brought me a Woolee Winder and three bobbins for my Majacraft Suzie. Since St. Valentine is so very nice, I even got my gift early, so I've had a few days to play with it.

Or maybe that should be, I've had a few days to wrestle with it.

What, you say, is a Woolee Winder? It is an invention by a man in Oregon designed to improve the efficiency of spinning by eliminating the need to stop and move where the yarn is winding onto the bobbin. The device replaces the regular flyer assembly on your wheel with one that contains a travel screw inside one arm, which drives an eye back and forth using the movement of the flyer and bobbin, to distribute the yarn evenly.

The engineering-minded can see a schematic on the inventor's website, here, under "how it works."

And the visual learners can see the results below. 

Manual flyer on the left, WW on the right. Yes, two different wheels. You can see the difference in how the bobbin is loading!
Things go in trends in all aspects of life, and Woolee Winders seem to be trendy in the spinning world right now. The maker provides them to fit a variety of current popular wheels, and it seems more are in the works as well.

What do I think?

When it works, it rocks. The closest example I can think of for non-spinners is, it's the difference between having to stop your 4WD and get out and manually switch the hubs on each wheel (inevitably in the snow, ice, or mud, which is mostly when you'd want 4WD of course!), and turning a knob on the dashboard for 4WD on the fly. Okay, that's a bit dramatic - but I tend to zone out when things are going well in spinning, and I'm forever forgetting that I need to stop and shift things - it's interruptive, frankly. Plus the uneven winding-on means you can't get as much on any given bobbin.

The key term is, when it works. For the cost of this thing, it really ought to work out of the box. But no. It's finicky, grumpy, grabby, stiff, tense...sounds like me after a bad day at work in my old life, and working with it is about as much of a struggle as that job could be. 

And this is where our friend Jed comes in. Oil is your friend. 

The online troubleshooting I found, mostly on Ravelry, sometimes mentioned using a drop of oil in the traveling screw. 

I think they mean "drop" as an alcoholic would use the term in the phrase "a drop of whiskey." 

I've been oiling this thing like there's no tomorrow - and in waaay more places than people have mentioned. All the gears, particularly the gear shafts. The worm gear at the end. The traveling screw. And the bobbin shaft when putting on the bobbin. Not a drop at each end, a line of the stuff all along the bobbin shaft. 

I also switched out the brake band to a length of cotton crochet thread, and ran a 5.5mm sketch pencil (graphite! A lubricant!) along the brake band groove on the bobbin. Oh, and I ended up modifying the position of the eye that feeds yarn onto the bobbin by (this is very scientific) sticking a screwdriver through it and gently tweaking it counterclockwise, so it would align better.

And FINALLY it is not routinely a struggle to use this thing. I just caught myself doing the "in the groove" mind drift which means everything is working perfectly, I don't have to fight the equipment, and I'm just cranking along, daydreaming as I go. 

So, if you happen to have just acquired one of these, and Dr. Google has brought you here in a search to help you with your troubles, get out Jed's Texas tea and don't be shy about using it. And remember the challenge starts anew with each new bobbin for a while too. 

As of this writing, Robert Lee & Son offers a two-year money back guarantee if you just can't make friends with your Woolee Winder. (See their website for details, of course.)

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unless, of course, one is speaking of spinning singles, in which case it's probably a good thing. I can't seem to spin a consistent single from beginning to end to save my life. This, therefore, has become my latest quest. I tried it on a braid of fiber that I bought recently; I took a 3x5 index card, wound some of the single around it, leaving a space where I could lay my actively-being-spun single in between the sample to see how close I was. And then I never used it! Old habits die hard!

That braid, a lovely thing, is the twin of one a friend bought - we decided we are going to try to chain ply it to maintain the color changes. It is rather, um, bright, which I am finding fun and my friend apparently finds ocularly damaging - though I admit I'm not sure what I'll do with it when it's complete. 

At any rate, we bought two braids of this same colorway at a show, and made the decision to do this homework. And then we never talked about how we were going to spin it, so I believe we ended up with two rather different sets of singles - she separated the braid by color and spun all of one, then all of the next, etc., spinning from the fold (or so I gather from the various texts we've exchanged mid-spin); I just opened up the braid and started spinning. My somewhat-consistent-but-not-really singles. Which means my plied yarn, if all goes well, will contain several rainbows, albeit possibly lumpy ones. I'll let you know next week how it turned out; the Great Ply occurs this coming weekend. 

In studio news, I have sold my two extra wheels (yay!), and cleaned out and removed an extra bookcase. I am hoping to have enough stuff actually packed away or disposed of by the end of February to justify the 40+ mile trip to Ikea to shop for studio furniture. (This means cleaning out and removing two old chests of drawers, plus an old gate-leg table that's open and completely surrounded by stuff on all sides.)

And in all this cleaning I've discovered no less than 13.5 pounds of scoured-but-not-otherwise-prepped fleece. That's just the stuff that's not ready to spin, there's a lot more in various stages of usefulness. I am thinking of sending it out to be prepped, rather than doing it all myself; I have all the equipment to do it but it's pretty time-consuming and I don't (yet) have the proper setup to use the equipment I have. I just recently took down the precarious setup I had for my cradle picker; imagine a device that swings back and forth with hundreds of large, needle sharp pointy things, balanced across two cheap bar stools that wobble every time the thing swings. Yes, this thing that's so potentially damaging that I wear a leather apron and large welder's gloves when using it, it has a padlock to keep it closed when not in use, and Joe will be putting a lock on the studio door to keep the grandkids away from it. I balanced this thing on two barstools to use. I know what assumption of risk means, and I've just illustrated it for you.

We won't even go into the drum carder that's sitting on top of a stereo speaker and at a height that requires the services of a chiropractor after an hour's use of it.

I'm figuring that 13.5 pounds of (mostly Romney) wool will give me a lot of stuff to practice with to achieve my consistency. Foolish as it may be.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fairly Fiberous post no. 1: Bakewell Tarts

I've spent the morning test-baking almond tarts (aka Bakewell tarts) for my granddaughter's 5th birthday party, which will be a Beauty-and-the-Beast tea party extravaganza. Nonna is in charge of tarts and other dessert-y stuff, as well as tea sandwiches.

These tarts were first served to me by Mrs. Watson, the wife of James Watson of Watson Wheels fame, in September when we visited. (And there is the fiber tie-in, ladies and gentlemen!) You may recall that I begged the recipe from her. Mine aren't quite as pretty as hers were - she uses premade frozen mini tart shells, an item that is apparently impossible to find in the US unless I care to order them 200 at a time from a restaurant supply house. (Oddly enough, Walmart apparently carries them in some states - but not in mine.) So I had to make do with pie crust pressed into a muffin tin - not as aesthetic but still good.

I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out - though for children I think I'll use a mini-muffin size; these are two or three bites for an adult.

I am taking the majority of these to a spinning function this afternoon, in hopes both of properly disposing of dangerous objects and also to ingratiate myself, to be honest. I was invited to join this group and this is my first time attending, and I'm not sure what it'll be like, thus I will defend myself and my presence with Mrs. Watson's almond tarts. Food can be a good ice-breaker.

In other good news, it appears I have a buyer for my Ashford spinning wheel - a woman is coming to see it tomorrow. I'm glad it will go to a good home, though in getting it ready to go I've had more than one pang of misgiving - but I need to cull the herd, as it were, and it's time. The potential buyer seems really excited to have it too, which is great. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Fibery Week

Suddenly I am up to my elbows in fiber. (Not that it's a bad thing!)

It all began last Saturday at the chapter 2010 meeting of the NwRSA. When I had attended in September, I had not one dime on me, so I was unable to purchase a raffle ticket for that month's raffle basket, which is done to raise funds for the chapter and the guild. In a fit of guilt (yes, I am Catholic, can you tell?) I purchased ten tickets for October's basket - and promptly won it. Fortunately for me, someone warned me that She Who Wins the Basket Gets to Provide Next Month's Basket before I committed my $10. And I certainly got more than $10 worth of great items and anticipated fun!

(photos are clickable to embiggen)

Two purpley/pinky "mystery batts," some Opulent Fibers merino roving in what will be an ombré yarn of pinks and purple, cabled notecards, a lavender sachet, oatmeal soap, some cute stitch markers, and a lovely lavender ribbon yarn.

Then, I had made a date to get together with my friend and former boss, Joann, who now lives on Whidbey Island, to go to lunch and the Whidbey Weaver's Guild annual sale on Friday, November 1. I had never been to this sale before, though I understand it's been going on for some years - it was held at Greenbank Farm, a very fun place in and of itself. Most of the things for sale were finished items - lots of scarves, shawls, some hats...and over in one corner were the spinners, with that one corner dedicated to a couple of people demonstrating spinning (one on a Hansen miniSpinner [ed. note: have one, love it!], one on a Lendrum) and a couple of vendors selling - guess what? Fiber! Of course I had to buy some; one can never have too much, and I always like to support my local artisans - not to mention I have the challenge of making up November's raffle basket! Now I just have to decide what I'm actually willing to let go of!

Clockwise from upper right:Shetland top in lovely fall jewel colors; mystery fiber (looks like Merino and Cashmere) in lovely teals and blues; a cute felted soap in a little porcelain dish; 1 oz. of lambswool and Angora blend in grey; a braid of mixed wool roving in spring greens and yellow; lovely dark fiber from Iggy the Alpaca

On Saturday, my friend Marianne and I went down to KnitFit in the Ballard area of Seattle to go through their vendor's market. Even the trip there was exciting; I was driving in the midst of a rainy windstorm that shut down the SR520 Lake Washington bridge due to tremendous wave action and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people, including the neighborhood just adjacent to the KnitFit venue, which caused traffic snarls like you wouldn't believe. Fortunately for the gathering, the immediate area where it was held still had power. This is the second year for KnitFit, and I noticed that there weren't very many people shopping in the market - which makes browsing easy for those of us who are there, but isn't such good news for the vendors. I overheard a couple of them commiserating with one another about the lack of sales, and tying it back to it being a pretty new event - for their sake I hope that assessment is correct and things will be busier in future!

Marianne and I certainly did our part to support the local economy, though I'd sworn up and down and sideways I was done purchasing stuff until I'd managed to turn some of what I had into FOs...Ha. Like anyone ever sticks to that resolution. And here is what I came home with:

Fiber and beads for a shawl with a beaded edging. The fiber is subtle colors of steel grey, green, gold, yellow and cream - really hard to photograph. Half wool, half Tencel for a really soft feel. I only noticed this morning that the two tubes of beads aren't quite the same - but I'll just alternate!

Aaaand, the "Crayola box" fiber. Interestingly enough, my husband Joe is in love with this stuff. This is 25% Tussah silk, 75% BFL wool. I will ply it with black and it will look a bit like stained glass when knit up. I am thinking some sort of open-stitch sweater/wrap/vest.
Today will be spent in creating some sort of inventory system for stuff (all of these recent acquisitions join more existing supply than I want to admit exists), and then starting in on something. It'll either be the greeny stuff that goes with the beads, or the Crayola-colored stuff. 

Or maybe...hmm...

Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Spirit of International Relations

In my last post, I mentioned I'd put a down payment on a Watson wheel. I'm on the list, and expected delivery is about two years or so out. I'm not overly worried about that, actually; it gives me more time to save up to pay for the rest of it, and more time to get my spinning under control - I have other stuff I can play with in the meanwhile.

So, here's how it all went down:

Watson Wheels was founded by James Watson some years ago. Andrew, his son, worked along with him for several years, and then took over the business completely about four years ago.

I've been emailing back and forth with Andrew Watson for months - probably, frankly, driving him insane, but he's too nice to say so. I was pretty sure what I wanted to do - but it's just so difficult to spend that kind of money sight unseen - or more accurately, without having used one. I'd only seen pictures - gorgeous, but there's no substitute for test driving.

Andrew lives about 2600 miles away from me in eastern Ontario. But his parents don't.

The Watsons Senior live in British Columbia, our neighbor about two hours north. So I somehow finagled my way into an invitation to drop by their home and see a wheel while Joe and I were up in BC for a long weekend in September. I conned Joe into coming along with me on the visit by promising him tea at a nearby tea house.

Keeping in mind that I was the stranger barging my way in, I expected to spend half an hour at most - visit for a few minutes, try the wheel, say the right things, leave so that I don't impose. Well, that went by the wayside quickly - James and Patricia Watson are delightful people, and we spent over 2 1/2 hours with them. Mrs. Watson gave us tea with two kinds of tea cakes - and I later begged her recipe for Bakewell tarts, which as a heathen American I had never had before. They regaled us with stories of their engagement in London during the Great Smog, and showed us some of James' other woodworking - he is marvelously talented! It felt like meeting old friends we hadn't seen for a while. We never did make it out for tea; instead, we had it at the Watsons' home!

The wheel is a masterpiece - even if it was set up backward for my left-handed draw, I could tell I wanted one within moments of trying it.

And so now the waiting game begins.

I am now trying to sell my Ashford Traditional, and will likely sell two other wheels as well. Stay tuned as we see how that whole process goes!

Friday, September 27, 2013


For the last several months, I have been eyeing Watson Wheels.

Here is the backstory.

I have three - well, really, four- spinning wheels. I have a walnut upright that was my first wheel, a project wheel if ever there was one. I bought it for somewhere around $75 many, many years ago at an "antique" shop, and my husband Joe helped me retrofit it with an Ashford flyer and new leather bearings. I joke that it only spins reliably in one direction - but it's true; you can make all the singles you want, but the drive band jumps off if you try to ply in the other direction.

I have an Ashford Traditional double-drive with the flyer on the left - the standard issue Ashford that everyone seems to learn on.

I have Mutti's wheel, which I've never taken the time to conquer - and it's pretty clear it was someone else's project wheel. A quick conversation with my friend whose mother-in-law owned it reveals that Mutti never spun on it; instead she used - guess what? - an Ashford Traditional.

And I have a HansenCrafts MiniSpinner which I bought earlier this year for travel. Though not strictly a spinning wheel, this is what I am currently using to spin on pretty much exclusively.

I bought the Ashford probably 20 years ago, new in box, in pieces;  Joe finished and assembled it for me. And I've never really enjoyed spinning on it; I get back and arm pain if I spin on it for more than about half an hour at a time.

Well, guess what? I finally figured out why. (Duh.) I need a wheel with the flyer on the right side.

I hold the fiber supply in my left hand, and control the drafting with my right hand - seemingly backward for someone that's left-handed, but I've spent so many years doing fine motor control things with my right hand in order to get along in the right-handed world that it's more comfortable for me that way. That means the left-hand flyer on the Ashford makes me twist my body in weird ways in order to try to accommodate it - thus the back and arm pain.

I spent a little while trying to teach myself to go the opposite way - but it's too odd and I can't get the hang of it.

This means the Ashford will go away, and I want a different wheel.

I stumbled across Watson Wheels on Ravelry early this year, and quickly became enchanted with them. I have one on order now, and as with everything else I seem to do, there's a story behind that order.

I'll share that story with you soon. And I'm gathering up all the bits and bobs that go with my Ashford Traddy, and will be offering it for sale as soon as I figure out what a fair asking price is. I may also let the others go, if I can figure out prices for them too. Stay tuned.