Category Archives: Yarn

What’s So Special About This 2.5 dpi Rigid Heddle Reed?

And what can you do with all those wide open spaces?

photo of Ashford's 16-inch, 2.5 dpi rigid heddle reed

If you’ve ever tried to use novelty yarns for warp, (or decided you weren’t willing to take the risk)  you’ll immediately recognize the potential here.

Smooth, even, and relatively small yarns glide through the spaces of most  heddles and reeds – making them an ideal choice for warp.

But lumpy-bumpy, thick and thin yarns often refuse to cooperate.

Sometimes they can be persuaded to do what you want them to – moving up and down, backward and forward – without too much help, if they fit through the spaces of your heddles and reed.

But what about yarns that don’t fit?

Oversize yarns and novelty yarns can cause  problems when you try to use them for warp.

Yarns embellished with knots and beads, hairs and feathers – or other exotic bits and pieces – can get caught, hung up, tangled and stuck.

The 2.5 dpi rigid heddle was designed to solve some of those problems.

And yes, this would be a good place for a photo of some beautifully weird and wonderful designer yarns –  but I don’t have any of those in my stash.

What I have instead are big, thick, super-bulky handspun yarns like these:

And that heddle with those big spaces made me start thinking about big bulky yarns in a totally different way.

Instead of assuming that over-sized, thick materials could never be used as warp – I started to wonder what if?

So I did a couple of experiments.
First, using 3/4 inch cotton twill tape.

photo of a rigid heddle loom warped with black cotton twill tape and hand dyed fabric strips laid in as weft

And then using some of my super bulky handspun.

photo showing Ashford's 2.5 dent rigid heddle reed warped with super bulky handspun yarn

Now I’m looking at several other possibilities.  Things I’ve always thought could only be used one way – as weft.

Whether you have a stash of novelty yarns you’d like to use or just want to try something different, consider adding the 2.5 dpi rigid heddle reed to your  weaving “toolbox”.

You might find yourself headed in a whole new direction.

I gotta go look through my stash.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio







Weave With What You Have

Ribbon Yarns and Plastic Bags

Photo of a ribbon yarn on a plastic grocery bag .

Reduce, re-use and recycle.

At first glance, neither of these two things looks much like the other, and it’s hard to imagine any characteristics they might share. But thanks to some inspiration from a weaving friend along with information gleaned from this free down-loadable project –  it turns out these very different materials  do behave a lot alike.

The original project, designed by Anne McKenzie, is for a tote bag – using handwoven fabric made with weft strips cut from plastic grocery bags.  And it’s a brilliant way to reduce, reuse, and recycle those ubiquitous, fly-away pieces of trash most stores try to give us  with everything we buy.

My friend Barb showed me the two tote bags she’d made using the directions she’d downloaded from Weaving Today. One of her bags was woven with plastic grocery bag strips as weft/filler – the other was woven with strips cut from the bags she gets with pellets for her wood stove.

And as soon as I read through the “project-at-a-glance” and touched/handled the fabric Barb had woven, I knew it held an answer to two of my current weaving questions:  What do I need to do to make a tote bag? and How can I use up some of the ribbon yarn I have on hand?

This project didn’t just speak to me – it shouted DO IT!
So I did.

Photo of Tote Bag made by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, VT - using Deco Ribbon as weft.

Handwoven Tote Bag made by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

My version is not nearly as interesting as Ann McKenzie’s original.  I wanted to experiment with construction as well as fabrication so I left out the inserted handles – opting for sewn-on handles;  modified the size and shape; turned it around so the fold is at the bottom and both sides are sewn; and I used 100% cotton yarn for the warp with  Deco Ribbon from Crystal Palace Yarns as weft.

I’ve asked a few of my former weaving students to double-check my notes – if it works for them, I’ll post the details here.

In the meantime, – if you haven’t yet taken advantage of what Weaving Today has to offer, you might want to check it out.  Lots of information and inspiration worth sharing with your weaving friends.

I gotta go finish sewing my second bag.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Do You Have What It Takes To Make Superior Yarn?

Spoiler alert.
Handspinners please note.
If you’re not interested in making better yarn – leave now.
Click away.
Do not read the rest of this post.
Because what comes next will change the way you think about your handspun yarn.

What comes next is a not-so secret formula – written by Lee Raven and published in the Winter 1983 issue of Spin-Off Magazine.

Photo of Spinning Magazine from 1983
It’s both a how-to and a challenge.
It’s a simple equation – and it’s a doozy:

“Good Fibers + Skillful Control = Superior Yarn”

And by doozy I mean game changer.

Because if you read those words and think about how that statement applies to the yarn you make, you’ll start thinking about yarn differently (and not just your own yarn – you’ll probably think differently about commercial yarns, too).

So if you ignored the warning at the beginning of this post, be aware of the consequences.

Everything you know about fiber, yarn and spinning has undergone a subtle but undeniable alteration.

Your brain has begun to reorganize and re-frame all the information you’ve gathered about making yarn –  including what you do, how you do it and what you think about the end result.

You might not recognize the change right away.  But it will begin to show up in the questions you ask.  Questions you might not have asked yourself until now.

Questions like:

  • “What qualities define a good fiber?
  • Are the fibers I usually spin considered good fibers?
  • “What makes some spinning fibers good and others not so good?”
  • ” What do I need to know about fibers so I can tell if they’re good fibers or not?”
  • “What does skillful control mean?”
  • “What skills do I have and how can I modify what I already know?”
  • “What is it – exactly – that I’m supposed to control?”
  • “What skills and techniques can I practice to gain more control as I spin?

If you continue to seek answers to questions like these – and if you incorporate what you learn into the yarn you make, – you’ll know if you have what it takes to make superior yarn.

Let your questions – and your preferences – lead the way.

Maybe you’ve  been wondering how to change something about the yarn you spin – how to make it thicker, thinner, smoother, or more textured?.

Maybe you’d like to try spinning something different – something you’ve heard other spinners say is too hard, or too tricky or too expensive.

Maybe you want to weave with your handspun yarn.

Maybe you want to raise your own sheep but aren’t really sure what breed is best for your purposes.

Maybe you don’t give a rodent’s patootie what someone else thinks is “superior” – maybe you just want to be able to make whatever the heck kind of  yarn you want to make.

So what’s stopping you?
What do you need to know before you can move forward?
What part of that equation don’t you understand?
(I’ll tell you about some of the things I didn’t – and still don’t – understand in another post).
But right now – I gotta go look through a few more of my old Spin-Off magazines.


It’s Plying Time Again – I’m Gonna Weave You

Eventually, yes – weaving is the plan for these yarns.

Photo of yarns on spinning bobbins, 2-ply and single cotton and single silk/merino, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

Two done, four to go.

But that’s not the reason why I had to ply.

I needed some empty bobbins.   I got myself into a bit of a pickle spinning new-to-me fibers and  ‘forgot’ that in order to make a 3-ply yarn, I would need one bobbin for each ply.  1+1+1 = ?  (Arithmetic – sheesh!)

The thing is, until recently, my preference (my habit) has been to make 2-ply yarns.  With 2 empty standard size bobbins and a jumbo flyer

Photo of the older version of a Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel at Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.

(older) Ashford Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel

I always have a way to make two bobbins full of singles and ply them onto the jumbo bobbin (plus the added bonus of one big skein/no knots).

But there are differences between Cashmere and the so-called “rug wools”  – beyond the most obvious.  And I’m curious about what it takes to make warp for a rug.  So I decided to explore the potential of having an additional ply (and got pretty excited about the possibilities).

But lo and behold – all my so-called ‘extra’ bobbins were otherwise engaged.

It’s not unusual for me to have several bobbins of spun singles waiting to be plied.  It doesn’t bother me to let them sit there until I’m ready to take them to the next level.  And I like looking at them – all proud and pretty on their lazy kates.

But it’s not considered best practices.

Fibers twisted together (yarn) and wound under tension (into a ball or around the core of a bobbin)-  over a period of time – may appear to have lost their characteristic elasticity.  And appearance is key – because it becomes  difficult to accurately gauge the true nature of that fiber or yarn as it appears in it’s stretched-out state.

What that means is – I might not be able to tell how much plying twist I’ll need just by looking at the singles that I’ve oh so carelessly left sitting on their bobbins for who knows how long.

But here’s the thing.
In my experience, based on what I know about the yarns I spin –

Leaving singles on a bobbin is not the problem.

The question of whether or not it’s “good” for my yarn gets filed into a category I call:  “not important, doesn’t matter, and I don’t care.”

If you’re having a whole lot of fun spinning and spinning – and spinning – you may wind up with a bunch of spun singles and nowhere to move them.

The problem is not having any empty bobbins.

When you’re enthusiastically engaged and eager to continue along a particular creative path (like spinning), it seems to me that “best practices” include being able to keep doing what you’re doing when you’re on a “roll” rather than lose your momentum, or worse – feel frustrated at having to stop.

You don’t have to be afraid that your singles will languish if you leave them on a  lazy kate for a while.  It’s OK to let them wait their turn if you have something better (more important, different or exciting) to do.
Develop your own best practice.
Get into the habit of writing down where the drive band is when you spin. (Which whorl are you using?).
Be aware of your natural treadling pace and drafting style.  (How many times do you push down on the treadle before your newly formed yarn moves through the orifice and onto the bobbin?)

Write it down. Those little bits of information will help you pick up where you left off.

Sometimes what feels like an interruption turns into a good thing.

Photo of 3 skeins of 2-py yarns, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

2-ply yarns handspun by Joanne Littler

Now I have 6 empty bobbins.   Maybe it’s time to try a 4 or 5-ply?

Now I gotta go weave.


Some Spinners Just Want to Have Fun

Photo of 3 skeins of yarn and their starting fibers, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT

Spun for Fun
3-ply wool yarns handspun by Joanne Littler

When you sit down at your wheel to spin –
You don’t have to know what you’re going to do with your yarn.
You don’t have to have a project in mind.

You don’t have to understand the meaning of twist and grist.
You don’t need to know your flyer to wheel ratio.

You don’t need to know what breed or type your wool is.
Or where the cotton came from.

Some spinners do.

Some spinners start out with a need to know all of those things
(and much, much more).
Some spinners develop an interest in the “technical” side of spinning after they’ve been spinning for a while.
Some spinners learn to use particular bits of information to suit their needs.
Some spinners focus their attention one type of fiber and become experts in that area.

And some spinners don’t.

Sometimes spinners just spin for fun.

All the details, facts and figures don’t matter one bit.  And they might never do. Because they don’t have to.

Because spinning – all by itself – for no particular reason – is fun.
Relaxing.  Satisfying.  Pleasurable.  Off in your own world – creative, happy, mind-blowing honest-to-goodness fun.

However you come to it, whatever you do with it, wherever it takes you – whatever it looks like to anyone else – Somehow, some way, at some level –

We’re all doing it because it’s fun.

We don’t have to pay our taxes in yarn.
(FYI the American Revolution wasn’t only about tea).
We don’t have to make yarn to clothe our families and ourselves.

We spin because we enjoy it.
It floats our boat.
Knocks our socks off.
Takes us away.

Maybe not at first.  Those first few minutes (and hours, and days) of struggling to coordinate hands and feet, fingers and fibers – those moments feel frustrating and tense.
So you walk away.
You take a nap.
And you come back and try again.

Your desire to spin — if anyone asks – may be hard to explain.
Because maybe you don’t know what you’re going to do with your yarn.
Maybe you don’t know for sure which part is called the flyer.
And maybe ratio sounds too much like math.
Maybe you don’t know the difference between protein fibers and cellulose.
And maybe (at least for now) you don’t care.
You just want to spin. Just for fun.

If you choose hand spinning as a way to spend your time, you’re choosing an activity that many people think of as old-fashioned, unusual, unnecessary, and  – different. Maybe even weird.  And yet, you’re choosing it anyway.

Maybe you feel that “it” has chosen you.   Drawing you in, opening up a whole new world of “wonderfulness”.

No matter where you are – new to the craft or an old hand at it – sometimes it seems like there’s so much more to learn, so many interesting avenues of discovery, so many talented and creative people offering encouragement and advice – it almost seems like too much.

Maybe it is.  And maybe that’s the good news.
Maybe that’s when you know it’s time to sit down at your wheel.  Pick up whatever fiber is handy and just spin.  See where it takes you.
Relax.  Enjoy.  And have some fun.

I gotta go spin.


What’s In Your (Handspun) Stash?

If you’re considering weaving with your handspun yarn –
If  you think weaving might be a good way to use up some of the growing collection of yarns  in your stash –
You might also be wondering which (if any) of your handspun yarns are suitable for weaving.

So how do you find out?
You could grab a few skeins, start weaving and see what happens.
And choosing an impromptu, spontaneous approach might work for you – it might even lead to some unbelievably fabulous fabric.

But if you’re familiar with weaving, you’ll probably agree:  It takes a considerable amount of time to prepare.

And it’s not just about getting the loom ready.

Choosing the right yarn for the project and calculating how much yarn you need are significant steps in the process.

When you decide you want to try weaving with your handspun yarn – you need to know what you have.  Take a good look at what’s in your stash.  You may want to begin by sorting and analyzing – matching colors and characteristics but I think there’s something else to take care of first.

Pick up a skein of your handspun yarn.  Can you look at it and immediately say without question what type of fiber it is and how many yards of it you have?

If not, no matter how soft or strong, thin or thick,  no matter how beautiful (or ugly) you think your handspun is, – if you don’t know what it is and how much you have, the yarn isn’t ready.  Not ready to choose (or sort, or determine whether or not it’s suitable) – and not ready to use.

My advice – if you’re not doing this already – start labeling your skeins.

Photo of handspun yarn skeins using string tags as temporary labels

Some of my handspun yarn labeled and ready. Next stop: a storage bin labeled "Handspun Yarns for Weaving"

Whether you’re weaving with yarn strictly from your stash or you’re willing and able to augment your supply from another source, it’s in your best interest to have a way of recognizing what you have – before you try to figure out what to do with it.

Sometimes you can alter the project to ‘fit’ the yarn.  Sometimes you can make more yarn to fit the project.  But either way, you need to start where you are – and part of that is knowing (and understanding) what you have to work with.

If you don’t (yet) have a way to attach important information to your skeins of handspun yarn consider this: every time to handle those skeins, every time you consider whether or not it’s ‘suitable’ for a project, the same question comes up – what (exactly) is it, and how much of it do you have?

Why not eliminate that question and move past wondering?

It doesn’t have to be a big deal.  If you’re looking for a quick and easy, inexpensive way to label your skeins, try these:

Photo of string tags used to label handspun yarn skeins

String tags are an easy and inexpensive way to label your skeins of handspun yarn.

String tags are your friends.  Buy some or make your own.

I use string tags on all my handspun skeins.   And because I only attach one of these tags after the skein is finished – (wetted or washed, twist set, skein dried and yardage re-measured) the presence of a string tag on one of my skeins is like a big (or little) white flag that says “ready”.

Ready to use, ready to label for sale, or ready to save/store for later.

The information on these tags might only include yardage after finishing, dry weight and fiber type – but that’s enough for me to compare what I have, to what I need, for what I want to weave.  Any other information I choose to keep is recorded  in a separate spinning notebook.

Labeling deserves a place in your spinning routine, however you plan to use your yarn.

Think of it as a gift to yourself.  Having the information you need – right at your fingertips – can save you time in the long run.
Time you might rather spend spinning and weaving.

So – How do you know what’s in your handspun stash?

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

A Guess at Best

I made my decision yesterday afternoon.

No matter how many times I checked – three different sources –  the weather forecast for Saturday never got better than “cloudy with a 40% chance for showers”.

So I made my call.  Literally.  And will not be going to the Burlington Farmers’ Market tomorrow.

It would have been nice to be there to find out about (and perhaps meet) the person who bids on and wins the Spinning Lesson I’ve donated for the Silent Auction.

And it would have been nice to be able to buy the fruit and vegetables and cheese and jams we like so much (not to mention the whoopee pies!)

And of course it’s always nice to able to sell stuff.  Even though sometimes I seem better at having conversations with my customers than taking care of the business side of our transactions.   Sigh.

But not going is also nice.  I’ll be able to to finish spinning replacements for all the skeins of Super Bulky, Merino Multi-Colored handspun that were either sold or made into hats.

And I’ll probably be able to warp a loom – or two.

And maybe – when I start checking the weather forecasts – just maybe, I’ll be able to find one that says next Saturday will be a perfect (dry) fall day.

That would be nice.
See you then.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Handspun Yarn for Weaving: Silver-Gray Alpaca & Silk

These are the first two bobbins spun from a new-to me Silver-Gray Alpaca and Silk blend from Ashland Bay.

Photo of Lazy Kate with 2 full bobbins, starting fiber and sample card

Silver-Gray Alpaca/Silk Blend fiber, spun singles and sample card

Made into a 2-ply yarn.

photo of 2-ply yarn, gray alpaca/silk blend, on "jumbo" bobbin

2-ply Silver-Gray Alpaca/Silk yarn on "Jumbo" bobbin.

And wound-off into a 6.45 oz. skein measuring 694 yards (after washing and setting the twist).

photo of a skein of weaving yarn, handspun from gray alpaca and silk blend fibers

Handspun Yarn for Weaving, Silver-Gray Alpaca/Silk Blend, by Joanne Littler

My plan is to weave a shawl.  I want at least 1200 yards of yarn.  Based on an earlier piece, I weighed out 10 ounces of fiber.

But the yardage in this first skein came up short – even though the diameter is fairly consistent.  (The folded index card in the first photo holds the sample I use for comparison as I spin.)

So now, – with an actual number of yards per ounce in this first skein, –  I know I need to weigh out more than that original 10 ounces of fiber.

This is not a surprise – it’s one of those ‘truths’ my left-brained spouse challenges when I say these things out loud:  silk weighs more than alpaca. 

And yes, I know that a pound of feathers weighs the same as a pound of lead.

But – the addition of silk to a fiber blend adds more weight to the finished yarn, making it heavier than a similar yarn spun from 100% alpaca or 100% wool or 100% cashmere.

Which means – when comparing yarns of the same diameter, twist, etc. – the silk blend will have fewer yards per ounce.

And my estimate of how much fiber to spin came from a similar project, but different fiber.

I include these numbers on my Weaving Record Sheet in big, bold, colorful ink – (along with a note next to the sample card in my Spinning Notebook).

So the next time I decide to spin this or a similar Alpaca/Silk blend for weaving,  I’ll have a more accurate estimate of how much fiber I’ll need – (provided I intend to make a similar yarn – and – bother to look over previous record sheets).

Does this sounds like too much information?
Maybe it is.
But it satisfies my need to know.

Do you have a notebook of your past spinning, weaving and dyeing projects – or pages full of ideas for future projects?  How much and what do you keep track of?   Is it a help or a hindrance?

I welcome your input.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Enjoy the Festival of Fools!

Without me.

I’ve decided not to attend market tomorrow.

I’ll spend my time working on a few new things, instead.
Like these new-to-me fibers from Ashland Bay:

Photo of Yak fiber and yarn sample handspun by Joanne Littler

Yak fiber and yarn sample, handspun by Joanne Littler

Photo of Suri Alpaca fiber and yarn sample handspun by Joanne Littler

Suri Alpaca fiber and yarn sample handspun by Joanne Littler

The small amounts of fiber I sampled (about 1/2 an ounce each) gave me enough information to:

  • determine the amount of fiber I need to spin
  • at the appropriate diameter and twist
  • for the type of yarn I want to make
  • and the number of yards it will take
  • for my favorite woven samples
  • otherwise known as – scarves.

So I’ve written up my project plans; measured out 3 ounces of the Yak and 4.5 ounces of the Suri Alpaca; and added them to the line-up in my next-on-the-list spinning basket.

I also have some Cashmere ready for a shawl.  So moving that yarn from skeins to center-pull balls; measuring warp; and dressing a loom is another instead-of-market possibility.

Doesn’t sound as exciting as the Festival of Fools?
Maybe not.
But it’s definitely more my speed.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio

Whether Report

Once again I’m allowing the weather report to influence my decision about Market.

And I’ve chosen to avoid the possibility of thunderstorms and rain – so no, I will not be there tomorrow (June 18).

I’ll be warping looms – probably with one of these handspun cottons and the cashmere:

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And working on more photos.

Joanne's blog signature, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio