It is done.


On Thursday, I signed up to participate in the ‘Brave the Shave‘ fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support with a goal of raising a very modest £150. The point of the campaign is to stand with cancer patients who have to shave their heads because of treatment. When I saw the ad for ‘Brave The Shave’, it really struck a chord with me.


When I was 20, my mother was diagnosed with leukaemia and given 2 weeks to live. She beat the odds and is still with us 17 years later. I am so very grateful to the doctors, nurses, scientists; everyone who contributes to the treatment of those who have to go through cancer but I also know that the effects of cancer reach beyond medical treatment. Cancer patients – current and past – need emotional support, legal support, specialist nurses, work related advice, an advocate. Here in the UK, Macmillan specialises in this but they receive no government funding. With 2 in 3 people being effected by cancer either with a personal diagnosis or a family member being diagnosed, Macmillan are a vital part of treatment.

I set my goal low to avoid a renewed bout of depression if the goal wasn’t reached. I know that charity isn’t about the self but I also know my triggers and I can’t put my family through the bad feelings when I can avoid it.

The goal was reached on the day and continues to grow. Thank you to all the donators! And though I set my shave date for the 8th, reaching the goal made me impatient.

Guess what I did on Saturday.


And I love it! As much as I loved brushing my hair, colouring it etc etc, I think I love this fuzziness even more.

I still have the hair though. I divided it up and put it in elastic bands to make cutting it off easier but I haven’t decided if I will just throw it away or spin it into yarn. The Victorians made an industry out of turning hair into keepsakes – making doll hair, keeping it in lockets, making jewellry, embroidery – and human hair is actually quite similar to some types of sheeps wool (google ‘Wensleydale locks’).

If you are able to, donations would be greatly appreciated. Even if you choose another charity, if you are able to, please give something if you can.

The Great Cataloguing Adventure 2015 – spinning edition


Fibre-East happens once a year. It is my favouritest yarn related event EVER! It’s only been going 5 years but I have been every year and been delighted to see it’s growth. What started out as a couple of large marquee’s in a field is now being held in a community college and 3 larger marquee’s. It’s fantastic. I think that the best part is the community – knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, and dyers all love to chat and we love to share our experiences and our knowledge. It’s also nice to watch the colour trends and how each dyer interprets those onto yarn and roving.

Being a regular attenders means that some sellers are starting to recognise me. Of course, being that I am very chatty certainly doesn’t hurt.

I was on a budget this year but I still brought home an excellent haul.

FibreEast 2015

Starting in the top left and going clockwise, the fibres are from – Sara’s Texture Crafts, Willo Fibres, Taylor Made Yarns, Yarns From The Plains, and Little Owl Crafts. I have bought from Sara’s, Willo and Little Owl at Fibre-East previously.

These additions led to something of an organisational crisis because I obsess over this sort of thing.

Some of you will be familiar with the brilliance that is Ravelry. For those that aren’t, it is a site dedicated to fibre crafts, specifically knitting and crocheting. It has discussion forums, groups, pattern database of printed and online patterns and ways to organise your equipment. I catalogue my yarn, needles, books, patterns and even my unspun fibres and handspun yarns. I am not particularly fussy with most of these – I have a lot of stuff to catalogue – but I was nearly finished with my current spinning project and couldn’t decide what to spin next.

After looking at my handspun and fibre stash pages on Ravelry, I realised there were places where I had entries for handspun yarn but not for the fibre I made it from and there were fibres I knew I had bought that were in neither place. There was even one that I started spinning and have no entry for and can’t find anywhere and it’s driving me mad trying to remember when I last saw it and where I might have put it.

Anyway, I started with making sure that exisiting fibre and handspun yarns had corresponding and linked entries. From there I dug out the bag of my handspun yarns and made sure they were entered as completed handspun yarns and had fibre entries too. Then I started on the bag of unspun fibre.

It’s a big bag. And I was kinda drowned by its contents…

20150730_130009This was the best photo I could get – under all of that are my legs and most of my torso. My son laughed at how little of me was visible. I carefully made sure each braid of yarn-in-potentia was in a closed ziplock bag then dumped all of it on the floor!


The blue bag is mostly filled with handspun but you can see why I wanted to get the e-spinner working properly.

41 new entries came from this bag and while most of them are single 100g braids of spinnable fibre, some are more. In my defense, I started spinning in 2009 and sometimes knitting and crocheting distract me from spinning. Sometimes spinning distracts me from knitting or crocheting.

I can work through 100g within a week so this is about a years worth if I actually get through a 100g each week. Not sure if I want to make this a goal. I do a lot of crafts because I have to go where the muse takes me and making something into a goal is a good way for my contrariness to rear its head and decide that I don’t want to do that thing any more for a while. Any thoughts?

I’m still collecting donations for Macmillan Cancer Support as part of their Brave The Shave event. I am planning to shave my head on the 8th. You can still donate after that but donations before it will be extra fabulous. Please give if you can.

It’s Alive!!!


Well not really, but my e-spinner has been revamped and it’s AWESOME!


This is the spinner as it was. In the housing there is a micro motor running the pulley on the front. On the top of the housing is the on-switch, a direction toggle and a speed dial. I made the uprights from doweling, the drive band from some thin elastic superglued into a loop. The flyer unit and bobbins are from my Ashford Traditional wheel. They were replaced with the jumbo version later. There was nothing wrong with this design except that this type of motor can only be used for 15 out of every 60 minutes or it burns out… Yeah, I went through 4 motors pretty quickly.

My interest in yarn spinning was recently rekindled as the Fibre East event neared. It was held last Saturday and Sunday. By Monday, after a successful Sunday at the event, I was desperate to get back to spinning.

Ashford Traditional WheelI have an Ashford Traditional (above) but find it a little awkward to use. I can’t find a sitting position that doesn’t either twist my body or leaves me with very tense muscles between waist and knee.

I also have a rare Louet hatbox wheel (above). It’s a travellers wheel and as much as I love it, it has very small bobbins and I like to spin all of a fibre onto one bobbin rather than having it split between several. Though it’s been out of production for about 20 years, they are planning to release an updated version for the company’s anniversary.

These are both excellent wheels and it is only my personal preferences that keep me from using them more.

So, yeah. I came home from Fibre East with a renewed fervour for handspinning and handspun yarn, and several additions to my fibre stash. So many beautiful yarns, fibres and spinning wheels! I was very restrained.

Commercially made e-spinners are expensive (£350+) and if you want something other than the Ashford e-spinner, your out of luck in the UK unless you fancy paying for shipping and customs on something coming from the States. I’m sure the Ashford is lovely but I don’t like how clunky it looks and I just can’t afford it. I’d buy a regular spinning wheel if I had that sort of money available. After some research into home made e-spinners (again), I came across several blog posts that showed others who had successfully made their own and directed my technical advisor (my husband) to have a look. We’d already discussed the possibility of using a sewing machine motor and had sort of discarded it but some of these blogs better described what they had done.

Garrulous story telling made shorter – we did it!

e-spinner v2

(Yes, that is the stripped sewing machine on the right).

This is not a complicated solution. You need to be careful with the electrics of course, but it is just a motor with a drive band attached to a store-bought flyer unit. There is no direction control on this version but putting a twist in the driveband switches the direction of the flyer. We replaced the foot pedal with a light dimmer switch partly because I wanted a hand control but mostly because the foot pedal is not a good way to get consistent speed. You can keep the foot pedal if you like but I found it infuriatingly difficult to use. Also, keeping the pedal braced for any length of time caused cramping in my calf.


And this is the first yarn completed with it!

It’s a 2-ply yarn about the same thickness as a commercial 4-ply/sock yarn. It needs to be washed to set the twist but at the moment it is about 410m long. I can make a small shawl with that!

Our next project will be making a device like this to measure yarn length.


This is the yardage counter by Schact. Need to investigate a few parts before we make anything though. Once we work out the counter, it should be fairly straight forward.

*** I totally forgot to tell you all that I have decided to Brave The Shave and shave my head in August to raise money for Macmillan cancer support. They are an excellent organisation and in greater demand than ever. If you can donate, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Day 132


handspun-gardenFINISHED!!!!! 550m/600yds of 4ply yarn (the actual yarn is 3ply but the thickness is the same as a commercial 4ply yarn). Think I killed the gears in my e-spinner (nicknamed ‘Avril’ because it got complicated) finishing this yarn. Good thing I have spares.

Anyway, some spinning terms before I go on.

Single/s – a single strand of spun fibre.
Ply – 2 or more strands of spun fibre.
Chain-plying – a way to turn single into a 3-strand thick thread.

So, I finished spinning the single-that-wouldn’t-end last night and almost immediately began plying the yarn. To keep the pinks with the pinks, and the greens with the greens I chose to chain-ply the single. Chain-plying is a process where you draw a long loop of yarn through another long loop of the same yarn to create a continuous length of yarn that is 3 strands thick. As you are doing this, you are twisting the yarn in the opposite direction to the one that the singles were spun in. In this case, I spun the yarn in a clock-wise direction so I twisted the plies in an anti-clockwise direction. The tricky part is not to put too much or too little twist against the earlier spinning of the singles. This is called balancing the yarn.

To be honest, as long as the yarn doesn’t fall apart, you can use it and count it as a success and with pattern databases like Ravelry, you are sure to find a pattern that will accommodate whatever sort and length of yarn you have created.

The process of plying this yarn took about 5 hours in total. 550 metres of stranded yarn means that the single was about 1650 metres. That’s more than 1.5 kilometres…. and just over a mile long. It’s the longest I’ve ever manage to draw out 100g of fibre.

A blue rectangle for yesterday and a dark pink square for today join the previous 130 blanket pieces today.

I fancied some awesome guitar today so here’s some Santana (with Rob Thomas) from the turn of the century.

Santana feat. Rob Thomas – Smooth

Day 117


Didn’t feel like knitting today. Has been a weird day that ended with a 3 hour panic attack for no apparent reason.

I did spend time doing the creative thing though. I’m going to try my hand at teaching my friend G to spin yarn so today I made a couple of handspindles which included doodling some designs to go on spindle whorls.


Which then led to more doodling including this lopsided portrait…


I was working absently, with the paper at an odd angle so  I’m blaming that but she’s cross-eyed on purpose.

There were other scribbles but these are the most complete.

Along these lines (pun intended) – the fantastic video for A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’

Day 116


Lots of small things dragging at my attention this evening but the day started with a singular focus – osteopath appointment! I woke today without any discomfort, just as I did yesterday but within a few minutes I could feel things started to tighten in my back so I was glad that my appointment was early.

You know you’ve waited too long when even the osteopath comments on how tight the muscles are. It’s not all ‘fixed’ yet – I’ve gone 10 months between appointments (financial restraints, not the assertion that I didn’t need it), so it’s going to take more than that but the restrictions are largely gone. I can still feel a spot just below my neck that’s likely going to cause a headache before my appointment next Tuesday no matter how much stretching I do nor how careful I am about my posture. I really must get back into doing my yoga. It will help to stretch out my back muscles as well as those in my torso that were causing my tummy troubles (sun salutation rocks for that!).

I’m really enjoying my son being home. While looking for something else this morning, I found some Minecraft Lego I bought him 2 years ago that was supposed to be presents for his birthday and Christmas but had hidden them from him so well, that I couldn’t find them either. So he spent much of the day building those, then we watched ‘Despicable Me 2’ because Minions, followed by ‘Spirited Away’ which he’s seen before but it was a while ago. The biggest surprise was that he sat through the whole movie and didn’t talk throughout it. It’s not uncommon but even I have difficulty doing that some times.

I chose this song by the Foo Fighters because he was singing it while building Lego vehicles of his own invention earlier today. Also, it’s an awesome song.

Looking at the collection of bags beside my seat here on the sofa, it occurs to me that it’s time to pare down the number of projects I’m working on… I’m not going to list them here. It would overwhelm me. Suffice to say that I really need to finish a few things.

Which reminds me, I need to sort out my spinning wheel and finalise some diagrams for the revamping of my electric spinner. I’d have fewer projects on the go if I had a wheel I could use. Handspindle spinning takes aaaaaaaaaaaaaages. I can spin a 100g skein of roving into plied yarn in 2 days on a wheel. I takes months on the handspindle.

Today’s blanket addition is a grey trapezoid.

day 115

Day 96


I finished spinning the main section of pink today. There is a section of mostly undyed fibre before I begin the green and I hope to get that section done tomorrow.

Joining tomorrow’s trapezoid will be interesting and will involve picking up stitches which I hadn’t considered when I was drawing up the plan. Shouldn’t be a problem though. I’ve done similar already with this blanket.

day 96

Nanki-Poo is the son of The Mikado but has been masquerading as a simple travelling musician in an effort to avoid marrying a slightly terrifying and much older woman from his fathers court. Through a comedy of errors, he must pretend to be executed so that he can marry Yum-Yum, the woman he loves, and not Katisha as he was promised. After revealing the execution to The Mikado, Nanki-Poo’s royalty is revealed. With the ‘death’ discovered, they will all die as punishment. But if they can divert Katisha’s attention to someone else, they might yet survive. They just have to convince Koko.

The Mikado – Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

No Simon Gallagher or Helen Donaldson in this recording of the operetta but the talent (Derek Metzger and Terri Crouch) remains outstanding, and the humour excellent.


Day 95


An example of the energy and affection for the production by both the cast and the audience is today’s Gilbert & Sullivan/EssGee Productions clip. In ‘Pirates of Penzance’, Frederick was apprenticed, by accident, to Pirates until his 21st birthday. Being that he was born in a leap year, it gets complicated when he tries to leave the Pirate company. He finds a girl, her father tells a lie, the Pirates find out so they determine to take revenge. In this song, ‘With Cat-like Tread’, they sing about exchanging Piracy for burglary… then the conductor and the audience make them do  it again, and again.

By the way, his very important dialogue is ‘Away!’ 😉

day 95



Had to decide whether to continue using very bold colours in this section of the blanket. I chose the apple green instead of the dark teal I was contemplating, worried that it would be too bright compared with the rest of the blanket so far. That’s not to say that I won’t put the teal above the red and purple later on….



garden - spinning 1I’m having a lot of trouble concentrating again this week. I think I’ve managed to knit 2 rounds of mum’s tablecloth (which I had expected would be in the post by now), but I have managed to keep up with the blanket, and have done a little hand spinning each day. I’ve continued to work on the peach/green fibre I bought at Fibre-East on Saturday. I’m using the hand spindle I made with the chopstick and the plug because I am spinning yarn of a similar thickness to sewing thread and that is the lightest weight spindle I have. Being that I want it to stay lightweight, I periodically move the yarn onto a larger spindle to hold until I’m ready to ply it. When I am finished, I will chain-ply it which will triple it’s thickness and improve the evenness and strength of the finished yarn.

I will try to remember to explain chain-plying (also called ‘Navajo-plying’) when I get to it.

Day 78


Firstly, a purple-ish rectangle. This blanket is going to be enormous if I do all 365 pieces as a single blanket….

day 78

So, hand spindles. There are 2 main types of hand spindle – supported and unsupported – and most spindles will fit into one of these categories. Many of the differences are because of the unique qualities of different fibres but all handspindles are based on the same principle – using a weighted stick to twist strands of fibre into a thread. I almost exclusively spin wool so I can only speak about some of these spindles from what I’ve read.

Just to clarify, I am speaking exclusively of spindles that are not attached to a wheel-based machine.

We’ll talk about unsupported handspindles today (because they’re the type I use). These are often called ‘Drop Spindles’ and generally fall into 2 categories – top whorl or bottom whorl.

The handspindle is a very simple machine that can be made with as few as 2 parts – a shaft and a whorl.

If you take a straight piece of wood, like dowelling or a chopstick, attach a length of thread to it and try to make it spin, you will notice that it will twist in the direction you turned it maybe twice before turning back on itself without making any difference to the length of thread. To make this shaft continue to turn, it needs a weight on it. It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight but the weight, or whorl, will give the spinning shaft momentum and keep it going for long enough to make a change to the fibre or thread you are trying to spin.

Where you put the whorl can make a difference. If you put it in the middle, it won’t spin. This has to do with the shaft’s centre of gravity. If it is placed toward the top or bottom of the shaft, it will work as a spinning device.

I have never noticed any difference to how the two function and consider it a matter of personal preference but we know that the bottom whorl spindle has long been used in Europe (seriously, it’s depicted in use on Greek pottery) and is better suited to spin thicker yarns that need less twist.

The top whorl spindle is thought to come from the Middle East and produces thinner yarns more easily.

Whichever you choose, the weight of the whorl will make a big difference to what you produce. A heavy weight will snap thin yarns, a light weight won’t twist thick strands so keep that in mind when choosing the spindle for a project.

A variation on the bottom whorl spindle is the Turkish spindle.

spindle-turkish2This spindle is made of three interlocking pieces – a shaft and 2 arms, where one arm fits through the other spindle-turkish1then the shaft through both to hold them in place. The clever part is that you can wrap your spun yarn around the arms to make a ball of yarn. When you are finished, you remove the shaft, then the arms and there you are, a ball of yarn all ready for use. I confess that it always feels a bit magic when I finish spinning with mine, take it all apart and have a ball of yarn.

There are many styles of whorl and as long as it’s balanced with the shaft running through the centre, it doesn’t really matter what you use.

spindle - lilianpar

The most elaborate spindle I have has a whorl made of layers of plastic and beads. (made by Tilt A Whorl on Etsy. go and look!)




spindle - rainbow whorl


I have one with a whorl made by AYarnLovinMama from baked modelling clay.






I made this one with an old knitting needle, some beads and some wire (based on something I saw online).




handspindle - chopstick


I even made one with a chopstick and a small plug, which I made when I needed a light-weight spindle and didn’t want to wait for an order to be delivered.


As you can see, all of them except the Turkish spindle are top whorl. The technique I have unconsciously developed for making the spindle spin works best with top whorl spindles so that is what I use.

The Joy of Handspinning website has videos and more information.

And now for the history lesson…. sort of. I was going to share a boyband type ballad by Kings George 1- 4 but my friend J suggested this one…

Now compare that with Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’….

Yes, the dancing confuses me…