Makings, Musings and Mathematics

Makings, Musings and Mathematics


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 ( 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!


22 thoughts on “Makings, Musings and Mathematics

  1. Good for you for trying this new skill again.You have been quite methodical with your learning approach. I have a spindle and tried to learn with videos but didn’t last long. Very thick thin yarn as a result. I hope you find a local teacher so you can get more instruction.

    1. Thank you Ruth. I have a local person in mind (she just does not know it yet!) lol

  2. Your comments made me laugh and took me back to my first adventures with a drop spindle. On a cruise to Scandinavia I found a spindle in a craft shop and bought it thinking I could learn to spin on the days at sea. The instructions were in Danish – Sinai took to YouTube and tried to teach myself. Yes, my first yarns were lumpy, bumpy, thick and thin (great for felting, I discovered). My efforts were a great source of amusement for the other passengers but I did persist and now produce fine, even yarn. I now have two spindles and always carry one in my handbag. Great to while away time if you have to wait somewhere and it inevitably starts a conversation.

    1. Love it Kate! Forgive the pun but it certainly must have been an ‘ice-breaker’ on board the ship. Super that you have mastered it – you are giving me hope here …… 🙂

  3. I am glad I inspired you. Practice is what it takes. Just 10-15 min a day and you will be going great guns in no time. I t is a great thing to take with yo. Like Kate I take it when I might have to wait. You get to meet lots of interesting people. Knitting and crotchet are something I have never manage to really enjoy. I do love the hyperbolic plane. the last row must have been hard to do with all the curls. I can see why it would be fun to play with.

    1. Thanks Ann. I agree. Crochet is just such a laid back craft – as good as a book on holidays.
      The last row was interesting but I was glad I changed colours so that I could see progress. I remember sitting in the car outside an Art College working on it while the youngest was inside at interview. Sunny day! great memories. The piece ended up at a Maths conference – along with three owls; small, medium and large which were made following maths formula for Mass and Weight. Fun times!

  4. Very entertaining thoughts. I think part of your problems with spinning may be because it is more difficult to spin from tops than carded fibres, but do keep on trying.
    My late sister taught herself on her home-made drop spindle – a stick and a potato – using scraps of fleece that she gleaned from fences and hedges while she was an evacuee in Wales. I have tried but can’t master it – my spindle is definitely a “drop” spindle, it’s been dropped so many times that the point is blunt now.

    1. Thanks so much Ann. How interesting that your dear sister learnt using a stick and potato. It just shows the level of creativity people had making do at times of sheer need. Did she make use of her skill after the war.

      I feel your pain with the blunt spindle.

  5. Nothing wrong with your first attempt with the drop spindle – ‘art yarn’ is perfect for felting! The progress over 3 photos is amazing.
    Kudos to you for persevering.
    Crochet is relaxing – alas along with knitting it’s not often taught at home.
    There are many skills not handed down any longer – such a shame – but most people’s lifestyles are so different from a couple of generations ago that many things once viewed as essential have been dropped.

    1. Thanks Lynn for your kind comments. I will admit I have some way to go. I will persevere!

  6. Good for you for trying spinning again, Helen! I love your yarn and (dare I say it?) am sort of glad I work on a wheel instead of a spindle – those are a lot of work 😀

    Have you ever read a book called Intertwined by Lexi Boeger? She’s a wheel spinner but her finished items are crocheted and they’re freeform crochet, too! Something you definitely might enjoy.

    1. Thanks Leonor. The language at times was almost as colourful as the fibre. If I attempt to bring another tool (this time a spindle) into the house, I may be banished to the garage!

      I googled Lexi Boeger and, a big WOW – her work is deep and fabulous. She incorporates so many different ‘fabrics’ into her spinning. What an artist!

  7. Helene it looks (to a non-spinner) that you are well on your way as the difference between the samples is very noticeable. The learning might be exponential but so too the results. I’m looking at the end plied yarn not the mean!

    Your medium (not median) might very well make a difference – looking forward to you reporting back on that.

    As Leonor suggested have a look at freeform crochet….it’s great fun.

    As you know I love crochet, & have in the past made several hyperbolic balls using a fine crochet cotton with fine hook. It takes forever to get round on the later rows & thankfully I didn’t do the Maths to know just how many stitches.

    What I do know is that the ball becomes quite tight, and they have made great tactile balls for babies for their tiny fingers to delve into, and being cotton very easily washed. I still have one here and as you rightly say it is an adult comforter – impossible not to play with it 🤪

    Keep going with your spindle ideas – they are not TT (pi – I can’t find the symbol) in the sky 😂

    1. Excellent choice of terms Antje and they fully add up!
      The hyperbolic plane does require commitment and I love that tiny ones have benefitted from them. Fair dues to your eyesight working with a fine hook.

      “I’m bad at maths so the equation 2n+2n is 4n to me”
      (Source: bad jokes off the internet)

  8. Yes my sister did continue with her spinning, and weaving her yarns. Later she joined the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers and tried her hand at most of the techniques taught by various members (except felting for some reason).
    I had to look up hyperbolic balls on google, I’d never heard of it before. Must give it a try as using variegated yarn could well give me some sea creatures. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  9. Glad that is has whetted your appetite Ann. They are fun to make and enjoy. Just have plenty of yarn at the ready. Would love to see the outcomes. Helene

    1. Thanks Helene, when will depend upon whether my AmDram group decides to do “The Little Mermaid” for our next Panto. Crochetted sea creatures would be just the thing for the undersea scenes, along with fishy hangings which I can now produce after Ruth’s Paper fabric lamination classes.
      I will produce a post if it comes off.

    1. Thanks Marilyn. I enjoyed the challenge but I don’t think I will be giving up the day job just yet!

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