Monday, January 28, 2013

Big News! and a Giveaway!

Hello, my fiber friends!  One of my goals for 2013 was to create a website for Bellalulu Yarn and migrate my blog over to my new site.  Guess what? Today is the day!

You can now find me at:

The link will take you right to the site.  The Blog is on page 1.  And you can sign up to receive email notices about new posts over on the right.

Tell your friends because as soon as I have 50 readers, I plan to GIVE AWAY some hand spun yarn and some other goodies.

Thanks soooooo much for reading and following and all your lovely support!

CLICK IT!  CLICK IT NOW!  (There is a new post waiting for you).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Spindle for Your Thoughts

Last summer, my love and I (and the two big dogs) piled into the car and drove to California, all the way to Truckee for some parties and a beautiful wedding, and on to the coast, and up to Mt. Shasta and many points in between.  Five weeks on the road and here is what I made: 

Before we left, I decided to teach myself how to spin on a drop spindle so I could continue to obsess about spinning while on the road.  Spindles are old school (like probably millions of years old school), and there is a spindle to represent almost every culture--Andean drop spindles, Tahkli spindles from the Middle East and Asia,  Navajo spindles, Turkish spindles.  I didn't know any of this when I took a pre-trip to Alabama to visit my parents and petition my dad, a woodturner, to make me a spindle.  We spent a lovely afternoon in his shop and after 3 or 4 tries, I finally had a spindle for the road.  I learned to stand over soft grass while I got the hang of it.  They are, indeed, prone to dropping.  In retrospect, a long wool, maybe Polwarth, would have been a better choice than alpaca roving for learning.

The one on the left is the one my dad first spindle.

By the time we got to Eureka, I had a spindle full of yarn with no idea what to do with it.  I mean, how do you take it off the spindle without turning it into a bird's nest?  Can you ply it?  Do you use a spindle for plying or put it on the wheel?  By the time we got to Eureka, we had just spent 6 days camping on the Lost Coast, swimming in the Eel River to get "clean," hiking, getting sandblasted on the beach, drinking instant coffee.  I was ready for some civilization.  I was ready to find a yarn store.  I found The North Coast Knittery.  

While Ralph sat on a fire hydrant watching the parade of colorful people in Eureka (felt like home in Asheville for a while), I spent a hour in this wonderful shop chatting with a young woman who is also a fan of the drop spindle.  She recommended a book:  Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont, which truly is a wealth of information right down to the physics of spindling, for the real geeks among us.  

So many books on spinning go on and on about wheels then mention the spindle in passing.  This book is just the opposite.  It goes on and on about spindles, and oh, by the way, you can also make yarn on a wheel.  Abby Franquemont is a true cheerleader for the ancient art of spindling.  I left The North Coast Knittery with another spindle (they are addictive), the book and 8 ounces of the most amazing Australian Polwarth roving EVER in the history of Polwarth.  I can't bear to spin it till I have a project in mind.

Now that I'm home and trying to produce yarn in bigger quantities, I do tend more towards the wheel.  But my spindles are always close at hand, as are my hand carders.  I use them now for exploring ideas.  Sometimes I wake up in the night with an idea for a yarn, and the spindle helps me test out "recipes" without committing to a big batch of something that may not be quite what I intended.  For example, I wanted to make a yarn that was reminiscent of an opal.  I used the carders to blend different fibers, including flashes of fiery orange and teal like you see deep within an opal stone.  Then I spun it different ways on a spindle until I settled on a thick and thin approach.  Once satisfied, I blended the ingredients on my drum carder and spun up a few ounces on the wheel.  Fluffy opal.

And some gratuitous pics of California...

Harbor Seal on Lost Cost, Shelter Cove.

Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.

Paradise Lake, Marble Wilderness.

Paradise Lake, Marble Wilderness.

On the way down from Paradise Lake.

View from Donner Pass at Sunrise.

My Love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sheep of the Week: Polwarth

You won't find many Polwarth Sheep in North America and it's a pity because I am smitten with their wool.  In South America, they are called Ideals, which sums it up pretty succinctly.

To me, they are ideal because I relish anything soft and fluffy and petable, not to mention easy to spin, a sponge for dyes, and plays well with other fibers.

These guys came into being in the 1880s in Australia, Polwarth County.  The breeder had Merinos that didn't fare well in the rainy climate of South Australia.  So he crossed his Merinos with Lincolns (3/4 Merino, 1/4 Lincoln) to give us the heartier dual-purpose Polwarth with long, soft fiber and lean meat.  They produce a 13-15 pounds of fiber (that's a ton of fiber gold!) with an average staple length of 6 inches and micron count of 23.  Polwarths don't have a lot of wrinkles under those wooly sweaters of theirs, so their fleece is very consistent.

The fiber is a dream to work with, easy to prepare and gentle to the hands. Spin it worsted to enhance its natural brightness and sheen and to lend a nice drape to the fabric.  Work it up into knitted, woven or felted items like hats, cowls, scarves, baby sweaters where itchiness can not be tolerated.   Blend it with other luxury fibers like bunny angora, silk, cashmere, kid mohair, baby alpaca for a truly numinous fiber experience.  

Word has it that Polwarth ewes are good mothers.  How hard could that be if your baby looked like this!

Puddles!  Photo courtesy of Shirley Browsky.

This little guy is from the flock of Shirley Browsky, a fiber artist in Ottowa, Canada.  Contact her if you are interested in fleeces.  Maybe Puddles is ready to be your next project.

Photo courtesy of Shirley Browsky.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First You Make a Sandwich...

It's the middle of the night and you're Dagwood.  There is only one thing to do.  Make a sandwich.  In this case, however, we're not eating our sandwich. We are running it through our new drum carder to make a glorious, fluffy batt full of texture and interesting bits of personality--sari silk, silk noil, firestar, mohair locks, all sandwiched into a batch of Jacob fiber I had on hand.  

It wasn't quite the middle of the night.  More like 5:30 in the morning. Before coffee, even.  I couldn't wait to crank the handle on Maude (as in Harold and...).  She is as lively and outrageous as I knew she would be, and I could give up regular sandwiches forever if I can just keep making fiber sandwiches.  They feed and nourish me more than food itself!  

Top layer pulled back so you can see my sandwich innards.

Ready to feed Maude.

Feed it in slowly.

My sandwich is getting digested.

I wish you could see how fluffy it is!  Almost 2 inches thick.

It's Yarn!

It's not exactly as I'd envisioned, but that's partly due to the materials and the way it was spun.  Three things.  

One--jacob is a lovely strong fiber, easy to spin, so good for beginners.  But it's not a good fiber for garments.  I think this yarn would make a really cool rug, spun super chunky and knit on gigantic needles.  Or woven.  Then felted a little.  But you can't make a scarf because the itching will drive you bonkers.

Two--that itchiness MAY be because I used a batt of jacob fiber rather than individual locks or roving.  And the yarn came out very uniform in base color because I started with such a uniform preparation for my "bread."  You may or may not want such uniformity in your yarn, but it's not something I realized till it was all spun up.


Okay, one more thing.  Would you look at this sunrise this morning!  Today is going to be a beautiful day full of amazing opportunity and joy.

"It is in proportion to our trust in the Divine that the Divine Grace can act for us and help."  --The Mother

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New addition to the family...

Look what I adopted!  A Louet Classic drum carder from the collection of the inimitable Alice Schlein, fiberista extraordinaire (the pictures are hers).

So happy to give it a forever home, and put it to work blending fabulous batts for spinning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Yarn Jargon: WIP

I wrote a post about "frogging" a while back and a non-yarn reader pointed out that this was not a term familiar to her vocabulary.  (Frogging=ripping out, unraveling, undoing all your knitted hard work.  WAH!)  

So, here's another bit or yarn jargon for you:  WIP, as in Work in Progress, an unfinished project that is still on the needles, or off the needles and waiting to be seamed or blocked.  I usually have several WIPs at any given time.  Some may be several years old, even.  But here's a peek at a new project I'm working up in natural alpaca, two colors, that I've carded with a smidge of long wool from a sheep named Olivia.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Art Yarn 101: Core Spinning

They say core spinning is the "work horse" of the art yarn world, and indeed it does allow for lots of manipulation of your fibers.  One of the beauties of core spinning is that it allows you to stretch your fibers farther and farther to end up, ultimately, with more yardage.  A yarn needs structure so that it doesn't drift apart and leave you sweaterless, naked and cold.  When spinning the vintage way, part of your fiber gets twisted into the center of your yarn, giving it that necessary structure and strength.  But if you are spinning with expensive luxury fibers like angora, cashmere or buffalo down, you don't want it to disappear into the center of the yarn, never to be seen again.  In core-spinning, you wrap your fiber around a pre-spun core so you don't lose any of your precious gold.  And all fiber is precious gold in it's own way.  

My first experience with core spinning was a really, really fun disaster.  First I learned the basics of spinning in a 2-hour class at the Friends & Fiberworks Winter Retreat 2012.  Then an hour later, I took a class in core spinning with Melissa Yoder Ricks of Wild Hare Fiber Studio.  Was I ready to learn core spinning?  No, I think not.  I couldn't even spin the vintage way.  But I had fun cramming all those bits & bobs onto my core--ribbon, beads, fiber, sequins, mohair locks.  It still makes me smile to look at it today and to remember how I was so awed by Melissa's control and dexterity as she demonstrated at her wheel, wondering if my hands would spin magic like that.  I was intimidated, I'll admit it.  I mean, look at this hot mess.

If you've been following my blog, you know I've been working through Jacey Boggs Spin Art, one technique at a time.  I've been stuck on core-spinning for a few weeks.  And I don't mean stuck as in practicing until I got it right.  I mean stuck as in afraid to dive in.  Afraid to dive in, I realize, because I've been holding on to those "I'm not good enough...I'll never be able to spin like that" judgments left over from that first core-spinning class.  And it wasn't even a bad experience.  As I recall, I was exhilarated with the experience and thrilled with my yarn.  Does this ever happen to you?  That sometime in the interim between the first thrill of discovery and the moment of getting down to work to hone your skill, the little voice of unreasonable expectations in your head starts whispering its disheartening messages and, if you are not careful, it wins.  It wins and then, if you are not paying attention, you give up.  But if you are vigilant and looking out for that part of you that wants to lay down on the sofa with a bag of funyuns (good lord!) and the undertow of Facebook or Etsy or Seinfeld reruns ready to suck you down, you recognize that you have a choice.  And sometimes you choose wisely.  You choose to go to your studio, pick up your tools, make something even if it is bad, relish the making of the thing without regard for the end product.  And you win.  And tomorrow your choice is easier, and you win again.  And every time you choose to go to your studio, that little voice gets smaller and smaller and smaller until it just gives up.  And you keep winning like victory at at time.

Thus ends the philosophical part of my post.  Now for some pictures!

A page from the book....

Jacey Boggs:  Spin Art, Mastering the Art of Spinning Textured Yarn

Raw materials...hand painted polwarth, kettle dyed silk noil, sparkle (not shown but always present in my projects)

Raw materials hand carded into rolags.  I was going for yarn that, when knit, ir reminiscent of confetti.

The core is a commercially produced cotton boucle thing that came on a cone, and that I prepared by spinning counter clockwise ("S"), so that when I spun my yarn clockwise ("Z"), it would wind up balanced.  It ended up still a little twisted, so next time I'll put more Z twist in the core.  

Pinch a little fiber in your spinning hand and draft a bit, then let it wind on the core at about a 90 degree angle.

Notice how the fibers, instead of being parallel to the length of the yarn as in traditional spinning, are perpendicular to the core--a signature of core spun yarn.

It's pretty.

And a little like confetti.

 This is the same combination of fibers spun the traditional way, then plied.

 It's pretty, too.

Here they are side by side.  The 2-ply is fluffy and springy.  The thickness of the core spun yarn depends on the thickness of your core.  Mine was thin.  As I was core spinning, it felt out of control and I thought that my yarn would be inconsistent and bumpy.  But it evened out nicely after washing it and setting the twist.

I plan to knit some swatches today to see if it really looks like confetti.  Meanwhile...I can't decide.  I love them both!

"Your will is free, it is deliberately left free and you have to choose."   
                                                                            --The Mother