Friday, 4 March 2016

Trying to Spin Art Yarn

Clearing the garden borders at the end of last November, the weather had been so mild, there was still a bit of life in the coreopsis stems and even a few flowers.  As the days darkened, I fancied a last go at contact dye printing on a strip of coarse wool fabric.  See the paint brush on that table?  You may have noticed I've been coming over all artistic since I retired.  It is such a luxury to have time to arse about with bits and pieces.
Neglecting the routine garden jobs in favour of yet more self indulgence, I laid out the coreopsis and some oak leaves, then dobbed on some fermented evernia prunastri, splotches of copper solution, a couple of rusty nails and some Hopi sunflower seeds, rolled the whole thing round a length of plastic drainpipe, tied it up with string and put it to simmer in a dye bath of all the last odds and sods still surviving in the
dye garden.  The pipe was a bit tall for the pot, but what the hell, I left the whole thing to cool, turned the bundle upside down and simmered it again.  By the time the rolled wool had had a week or so to dry out, Christmas was upon me and I had to stop being silly and spoiled and get back to family friendly function.  Got a head of steam up which carried me through a January spent reorganising cupboards and cataloging the incremental growth of my fibre stash, efforts frequently punctuated by escapes to the dunes to walk the dog.  The marram grass had been stretched flat by the onshore winter winds, even the stiffer stalks of dried out flowering plants were permanently stuck on a wonk.
Laying out the contact printed wool fabric, ready for wind inspired needlefelting, all that organising of stash meant I could readily pull out a palette of handspun yarn in natural sheep colours and plant dyes.  What is more, since form here trumped function, it turned out crappy, underplied, lumpy old handspinning would
needlefelt to better effect than my more recent, evenly twisted products. 
"You see, Elinor," I mused during one of our walks, "I was spinning art yarn all along, destiny never intended my wool to become socks."
"Bullshit, Beaut. Proper art yarn is a riot of colour and texture and art is intentional, not  
some random shoddy spinning and dingey plant dyed cock ups."
"Ah, but the old yarn was just for the top half of what I'm making. The whole thing is more about roots, Ygddrasill and Norns.  The important bit will be spinning the earth.  I am going to learn core spinning and make real art yarn."
"Beaut, my inner Norn foretells this yarn will end up a right bouquet of barbed wire."
People on youtube make their skills look everso simple. Much encouraged by this video, I selected locks for colour and texture. No problem for a woman with a card index of her fleece cupboards to find Black Welsh Mountain, unknown Down-type grey fleece, Manx Loaghtan and some Welsh crossbreed.  Using a cone of carpet wool for the core, I had a go at spinning 'funky and cool' yarn from the locks.
It wasn't quite as easy as it looked.   The locks were strangulated by the carpet wool rather than wrapped around it and once threaded through the holes I had drilled in the homemade picture frame, the yarn was much too skinny and far too white to represent earth.
Back to the computer for another youtube search.  More typically, core spinning technique starts with fibre in the form of a batt. The teeth of the Louet Junior Drum Carder disgorged for me a rough batt of the same fleeces with less white and a greater proportion of Black Welsh Mountain. Drafted out, I managed to wrap the carded wool round a thinner core yarn by spinning slowly on the 5:1 ratio on my  Ashford Traveller Wheel.  It was a considerable struggle to pedal BG's Indian Spinner to Navajo three ply the core spun single.  Despite its huge orifice, loose bits of wool kept getting stuck on the flyer hooks and this wheel is really heavy to restart.  My companion pottered into the sitting room, drawn by my grunts of dismay and shrieks of frustration.
"Sounds more like ladies' tennis than spinning in here, Beaut."
"I'm getting the knack, actually, Elinor, but I just realised all the Black Welsh Mountain has made this wool too dark for my picture, since I screwed on that light driftwood."

"Gotta suffer for your art yarn. Get that grey fleece back out and go and mix another batt."

I spun art yarn of a sort, glad I only needed a short length.  Now, the unveiling of my finished object.

"Not being funny, Beaut, but that Norn looks much like another one of your fairies to me. Knitting is she? Always thought Norns and Fates were more into weaving."
"This Norn is a small business Norn, not one of the brand leaders. Like Fafnir the dragon said, 
'Of many births the Norns must be, Nor one in race they were; Some to gods, others to elves are kin'."

"Well, your art yarn spun up sturdy, I'll give it that. What's all this gubbins doing on the Norn's knitting?"
"Don't climb on my art, you Philistine. That 'gubbins' represents small but vital things that get lost.  Coins and keys and rings."
"They're very grubby.  This thimble is all broken."
"Mmmm.  Good, isn't it?  I bought them off a metal detectorist."
"You want your head read, Beaut. So, were these lost things found or stolen by your elf-type Norn?  Will their owners ever get them back?"
"Hard to tell if she's benevolent or malevolent.    Go on, I dare you to ask her."
Turns out even a seasoned ewe of the demi-monde can still look shocked. Afterwards, Elinor tried to explain.
"Doesn't sound so awful when you hear it from me, just the way she said it, totally cool, not dropping a stitch.  'Frankly my dear, I couldn't give a damn.'"

Feeling bad about the dare, I poured a good slug of sloe gin into Elinor's teacup.  Really, I suppose I should have pointed out the sign showing the knitting Norn was another kind of Belle Dame sans Merci. 

I think I shall call this work 'Gone'.


  1. That looks to be a wonderful piece of work Fran. Amazing. Is that there ewe having tea with the Norn?


    1. I think that was plan A, which converted to Plan B, Elinor shinning down the knitting with a cup and saucer under her arm.

  2. I love the finished piece. Wild (and woolly) and a little mysterious. Nice use of 'found' pieces. Helen

    1. Thanks very much - 'wild and woolly' is just where this is at.

  3. Great collage of spinning, weaving and dyeing, I love it.
    Is that a little chicken bone tucked in, bleached by the sun?
    Susan (Pembs).

    1. I found it on the dunes, so I think the bone is probably a rabbit's femur. Once I found a whole cow skeleton, picked clean, massively impressive, but a bit big.

  4. despite Elinor's mumblings - and your spinning troubles, I think the project turned out great! I've been meaning to spin black welsh for ages, ever since I saw Shirley Elwell (wales) "colour of flight" blackbird rug! but I'd have to order it from uk, I haven't seen black welsh on offer over here yet:(

    1. Black Welsh Mountain tends to be kempy and tough, ideal for a rug. I went looking for an image of the blackbird rug, no luck, sounds good though.

    2. Shirley Ewells website address just incase youd like a look at her work , ....

  5. I have 2 Welsh fleeces in the garage from last summer. Need to wash them when the weather gets warm enough. Not sure what they are, a mixture I think.

    1. Spring is practically here. Hope the fleeces come up nice.