Spinning in the Shady Grove

by longtallyarn

Last weekend, I attended a spinning workshop with my good friend, Polly.  She came from Virginia and stayed the weekend with me, and we drove over for an all day workshop on Friday and Saturday in the neighboring town of Apex, NC.  The workshop was held at Shady Grove Farm, in the home of Mrs. Judy Tysmans.  

Ms. Tysmans owns three Romney sheep, which we observed in the yard and were allowed to feed ginger snaps.  One thing I expecially enjoyed was learning about the sheep.  Ms. Tysmans said she chose the Romneys because they are a breed not prone to foot problems.  Her land is swampy, and some breeds of sheep will have problems with their hooves when they stand on damp ground.  The sheep have done well on her farm but she said that she had a goat that developed problems with its feet due to moisture.  The sheep were wearing cloth coats to protect their wool from becoming contaminated by barnyard substances.  They looked pretty cute out there in their red jackets.  Her sheep had dark wool.  The male, named Black, was a black sheep and the appealing natural color of his wool required no dye.

Ms. Tysmans showed us one method of cleaning and dying wool.  She told us how she would trim off the parts of the coat after shearing that normally were contaminated by the barnyard substances.  Some areas of the sheeps coat are often stained or contain hay particles and these are discarded.  After the wool is skirted, it is washed.  Her method was to fill up the washing machine with water and then put the wool in with some detergent.  She was careful not to allow water to fall onto the wool as the machine was filling and not to allow the machine to agitate because it would felt the wool.  It is alright to spin the wool in the machine to remove most of the water; this does not have a felting effect.  I think Ms. Tysmans may have done several wash and rinse cycles, but I’m not sure because after the first cycle she let us start our first spinning project.  Ms. Tysmans was constantly struggling with her new washer, a unit too smart for it’s own good, which she had to load with three bricks to trick it into believing it was full before it would fill with water.  She also struggled to keep it from agitating once it was full, and to make it transition to the spin cycle without agitating first.  I felt a new sense of satisfaction for my simple washer that willingly performs any process to which the dial is set.    

The next day, when the wool was clean and dry Ms. Tysmans showed us how she dyes fibers.  She filled a dying pot with water and some blue dye, and added some vinegar, since she was using acid dye.  Then she heated the fibers on the stove top in the dye solution for half an hour.  One point of the dying demonstration was that different fibers take up dye differently.  She added the silk fibers to the dye pot first, left them in the longest, and showed us that they came out the lightest at the end of the dying time.  The mohair came out the darkest, as Ms. Tysmans had predicted.  It was brilliant blue.  Other fibers that fell between mohair and silk on the dye absorption spectrum were angora, alpaca, wool, and dog hair. 

Polly and I enjoyed learning to spin with a drop spindle as an introduction to using the spinning wheels.  It was a bit frustrating at first, but we found it rewarding as we became better at the task.  (I found a demonstration of the use of the drop spindle to share with you.)  We spent most of our time the first day learning to use the drop spindle with wool and then angora fibers.  We used a simple plying technique to turn the single strand into more balanced yarn which was a fat two-ply.  Plying stabilizes the twist in the yarn as the strands press against each other.  Another skill we learned to make a skein using a small knitty-knotty.  When I finish drop spinning the sample of yarn she gave me I will see if my husband or my dad would be willing to make me a knitty-knotty because skeins are faster to make than balls of yarn.

On the afternoon of the second day we began to use the spinning wheels.  This was the highlight of the weekend for me.  At first Polly and I both struggled because it seemed that the wheels wanted to pull in the yarn strand before we got it properly twisted.  But we gradually improved.  I had the benefit of being the first to use the slower wheel, and Polly struggled with the faster wheel at first. 

By the morning of the second day Polly was doing a great job spinning cotton.  Her cotton single strand was of consistent thickness and our instructor said she had never seen a student progress that quickly to cottton.  Cotton is tricky because the fiber length is short.  You have to put a lot of twist on it to hold it together.  I spent a long delightful time spinning the long fibered silk and bamboo silk and therefore didn’t have time to try cotton. But I found the same short fiber difficulties when I attempted to spin some cashmere fibers that I had brought to the workshop with me. 

My cashmere single strand was quite varied in thickness, laden with guard hairs, and spotted with long-dead goat lice, but I was still proud of it.  And making yarn by that ancient process was gratifying.  We each left the workshop with three miniature skeins of fibers we had made and a small step in the direction of a new skill.  I hope that I get to spin again someday and I’m thinking about trying to hook up with the local fiber guild.  I’m definitely saving a little money for a trip to the fiber fair in Raleigh this spring.      

What I liked about the spinning class:
Hands on experience.  It was a lot of fun to try out four spinning wheels.  After all, they’re fairly rare and kinda expensive, so it was a good opportunity to see some of them in action.

The meals were tasty and the dinner conversation was interesting.  Mr. Tysmans made Brazilian tapioca cheese bread for me since I’m gluten free.  He made scones for everyone else. 

The class was small, so we got to go at our own pace and got a lot of individual attention.

I liked seeing the sheep. 

What I didn’t like so much:
It felt rushed.  At first there were all these things we were going to do, but then we ate long meals and took a lot of time over some aspects of the process.  By the second day I felt as if we were not going to be able to learn everything I wanted to learn at that workshop and I didn’t get to finish spinning my cashmere. 

The dog kept going in and out.  It was an old dog with a very thick coat.  As a matter of fact I think we spun some yarn from her coat.  She was very exciteable, and she was probably hot, and whenever she was awake she was panting loudly. 

There was no table to work on and the living room felt a little cramped with all those spinning wheels…  However we were working in someone’s home and not in a classroom.

Overall, thumbs up.  I think Polly and I are both glad we got to have the spinning experience.  Polly has posted some pics, if you’re interested.  (In the picture of the skeins I made the three on the left and she made the three on the right.)