A recent post from on spinning by Shepherdess Ann reminded me of a wonderful trip to Finland back in 2013. This weeklong trip brought together representatives from many European Union countries. We spent the time together in an Artists’ commune in Järvenpää experimenting with various fibre media. It was an incredible experience; there was lots of learning and some great friendships were formed during our time together. Participants were each given a drop spindle and a lesson in how to use it. My spindle has taken pride of place (gathering dust) in among the Tunisian crochet hooks. That was until I saw Shepherdess Ann’s beautifully spun fibre. I had to try my hand at it again.
A dear friend had gifted me some tops which came in 25 gram packs so I decided I would use these for my experiments. As my previous lesson was long forgotten, I consulted YouTube tutorials and marvelled at the near balletic elegance of the teacher’s movement. I soon discovered that like ballet, ease does not mean easy.
During my first attempt I endeavoured to copy the tutor, pulling on the tops so that a uniform amount of fibre was spun. I will not even refer to what I produced as ply – it was thick in places and perhaps less thick in other spots. A friend introduced me to a new language when she asked me if I was using the ‘park and draft’ method. I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about (back to Google again!) Here is the result of my first attempt:
I thought I would play a bit and use it to crochet. Using my 15mm (US size P) hook I made a magic circle (ring) with the aim of starting some hyperbolic crochet after the first few rounds. There was so little yarn that the end result was flat (except for the risen centre) (4 rounds).
For my next attempt I decided to pay more attention to the division of the fibre so this time, using my eye as a guide, I separated strands of the tops and started spinning. The result was a bit better but there were still areas of thickness when the yarn was spinning. Two possible causes identified; the fibre was thicker where I joined ends and I got distracted and at times used too much fibre in the process. Still this was an improvement from the point of view of the length of yarn I had produced.
In order that I could compare my samples, I used the same methods making my hyperbolic piece. I was happier with the result as I started to see curling at the outermost edge. (7 rounds)
My third sample was made using the orange/purple fibre. On this occasion I decided to use my scales to weigh out the fibre, rather than relying on my eye. I know it’s not the correct way to do this but I just had to see if I could find a more even way to divide the fibre. So, I ended up with 25 lots at 1 gram each. It produced a more even width on the yarn. Now I was aware of another issue, tension. I had no control over it so it was back to YouTube. From this I surmised that I should be pushing the twist up through the fibre as I spun but I found this tricky. Despite the still imperfect result and the problems with tension I managed to get more yardage and it was a lot more even than the previous samples.
Notwithstanding the dreadful tension I was quite pleased with the shape of the hyperbolic crochet. In fact I felt that the tightness (tension issues) of the yarn gave quite an attractive finish to the stitches. Also, I was delighted that I managed 8 rounds before the yarn ran out.
I don’t know if I was feeling frustrated by my efforts while making this third sample but I started thinking of how spinning was second nature to females throughout the millennia. The Tarkhan dress, excavated in Egypt in the 1900’s was subsequently carbon dated and found to be at least 5,000 years old. In fact according to the Harvard Gazette (2009) a team of archaeologists and paleobiologists discovered flax fibres that are more than 34,000 years old, during excavations in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. They surmised that the flax collected from the wild could have been used to make linen and thread quite possibly to make clothing. In early Ireland (I’m Irish), spinning and weaving skills were so important that the Brehon Laws, written about 600-800 A.D. lay down as part of a wife’s entitlement in case of divorce, that she should keep her spindles, wool bags, weaver’s reeds and a share of the yarn she had spun and the cloth she had woven (https://weavespindye.ie/history/). Spinning was still carried out by females prior to the arrival of the Spinning Jenny just over 250 years ago. In essence, a skill which was once learnt by girls on their mother’s knee was lost to many with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. I could deduce from this that what once came naturally to the female line of my ancestors is now the cause of much personal frustration. I am resolved to find somebody once the world reopens who will be prepared to sit beside me and guide me through this process so that I can gain this lost skill.
Back to Finland: One of the other skills I learnt while with the group was how to crochet. I have since found it very meditative, especially when I just crochet for the fun of it (no pattern). So, some years ago, in this frame of mind and with a pile of pink spare yarn on my hands, I decided to crochet a hyperbolic plane. I had no pattern, I just wanted to see what would happen if I started with 6 stitches on a magic circle (round) and doubled my number of stitches in each row. By Row 10 my round had 6,144 stitches. I committed to one more round (12,288 stitches) and decided to change my colour to green so that I could monitor the row’s completion. Let’s just say it took a while to complete. Although it is a number of years since I completed it, I still love to pick it up and run my fingers through the ruffles. It’s actually quite soothing. My adult comfort blanket!