A little bit of this and, a little bit of that, makes a little bit of me.

If you’re a spinner, you know full well the lure of a gorgeous, hand-dyed, colorful roving. I have a few (dozen) in my stash at the moment…and forever growing. I’ve seen the market change to more and more of you making your own things for yourselves and for others rather than just buying. This includes spinning and weaving. It’s back to basics in this type of economy, folks want to be more at home, doing crafts with family and friends. So, what could be more fitting to cure the latest obsession but Spinning for Color, the theme of the four-day workshop with Judith MacKenzie-McCuin (this woman has groupies! A Spinning Teacher with groupies–yes! Spinning is edging into the Rock Star arena) at the Mount Hood Town Hall last week. Here’s the class description:

Spinners have a dazzling array of colored fiber available to them in the market place. Silks, cashmere, wools and mohair just to mention a few come in a glorious range of colors for us to mix and match to get just the right color for our spinning projects. In this workshop we’ll look at some of the ways to use these fibers to produce beautiful yarns. We’ll learn how to make marled yarns and heathers, donegal tweeds and ikat yarns. We’ll use dyed fibers to make stunning boucles and novelty yarns. We’ll look at all the different ways space dyed roving can be used.

I now have a rampaging case of Judith-itis and shall drive my friends mad for some time to come saying Judith says… and When Judith does it… It was an awesome class–so so so much fibery knowledge to absorb. Judith is really good about demonstrating everything and showing variations on a theme. I learned a ton of stuff about spinning, plying, color-blending, carding, prepping a fleece, hand-dyeing, and fixing a break.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I really want to buy a drum carder, french combs and raw fleece. That’s trouble. Big trouble.

One of the greatest things about the class was being able to spin SO many different kinds of fiber!! I’ll try to list them to the best of my memory, with some pictures. We were shown the differences in spinning worsted, semi-worsted, semi-woolen and woolen over-the-fold, which I haven’t tried before the class. I had ample amount of practices during the four days and nights to get these techniques down.

On the very first day, I discovered, joyfully, that plying by hand could be a terrific family event

Photo Above: (From Left) Tammy (Springfield), Mary Reynolds (Hood River),
and Judith MacKenzie-McCuin, teacher extraordinaire
Photo Below: (From Left) Patty (Eugene) and Tammy (Springfield)

look out, hubby and kids…You’ll be next!
We practiced making a 3-ply yarn on a wheel effectively and fixing unwanted bumps and slubs while plying. I also learned that a 2-ply shows off lace well and a 3-ply fills in holes smoothly and thus is great for socks.

a great technique to add to my spinning tools
We learned how to spin a worsted, marled yarn with 4 different colors of merino top. Judith gave us enough merino (4 oz.) to spin yarn for a pair of socks. Marled colors are solid and swirled, like marble. It’s easy to repeat as long as you use the same width of colored top and same color sequence to produce wonderful color, without hand-dyeing mess.

Here is my workout sample:

Marled yarns have a long history in the knitting and weaving traditions of many European cultures. They’ve historically blended two yarns of high contrast. You can find them in speckled black-and-white sweaters from Scandinavia, as surprising accent stripes in woven plaids, as flickery two-colored stripes in rugs. Knitted, the yarns make a fabric in which both colors play a role, but neither dominates. The effect is speckly in stockinette stitch. Garter stitch shows both colors more clearly and puts the focus on the yarns, revealing their sheen and beauty.

Fractal spinning by splitting the top lengthwise into 2 strips. The first strip I spin as is, giving me long stretches of color. The second strip, I split again, lengthwise, into thinner strips. Spin those strips as is. Then I plied both singles together.

The possibilities for thorough color blending with combs are the same as for blending on a drum carder. You can make it warmer or cooler, darker or lighter, brighter or duller. One important difference I see between blending on a drum carder and on combs–the former can thoroughly blend dyed fibers of varying lengths but latter can’t.

The batts below were not just carded spontaneously. I spun them spontaneously too. I like to let them spin themselves. That serendipitous element is just one portion of the inspiration batts can provide. Making batts is like developing pictures in a darkroom but better. As I carded different colors onto Judith’s drum, the batt appears slowly like a picture. But the real hook with batts is three-dimensional. I love texture and am fascinated with variety of textures found in different protein and plant fibers. Making batts is an endless experiment in combining color and texture.

Below is the silky, soft chicken soup mystery batt Judith carded in the class, all spun up and plied on Sunday

Spinning turkish knots similar to boulce or wolf yarn–fairly low useful value, incredibly light weight–is really fun to do! Knot yarn looks cool. It’s not too tricky.

If you can’t think of anything to make out of it, you can at least leave it outon a prominent window or door somewhere for visitors to admire.

Rewinding improves yarn dramatically. Judith felt a spinner should have no fewer than thirty bobbins for spinning, but with bobbin prices the way they are (Lendrum bobbins are currently about $17 while Schacht bobbins are about $36,) it makes sense to have a bobbin winder and inexpensive storage bobbin spools instead.

These Leclerc storage bobbins are the least expensive,
most readily available, and came in three sizes.
Judith only brought two sizes for the class.
The small bobbins hold perhaps half an ounce of singleswhile the longer bobbins may hold up to two ounces.These two bobbin sizes are used by weavers in boat shuttles to carry the weft.They cost about 50 cents if purchased in bulk.

According to Judith, when you wind onto a storage bobbin over a long distance (six feet or more,) you even out the twist in the yarn. Singles that have been re-wound onto storage bobbins before plying create a much more consistently plied yarn. I eliminated many problems of breakage and overtwist by using the bobbin winder. Even re-winding a plied yarn over a distance to a storage bobbin can re-distribute and even out more twist to improve the quality of the ply.

We created 4-ply cabled (or crepe) yarns, which while they seem like they would be too bumpy to make a good smooth sock yarn, are apparently ideal. Very sturdy, very elastic…and the bumps on a cabled yarn (Judith says) fit together in knitting fabric like interlocking driveway stones and make a very beautiful, very smooth surface that looks almost beaded…excellent for textured knitting (cables really pop out!) (I have not swatched to prove this, but Judith has never lied to me about anything else…yet.) We started with singles which are done rather loosely (just enough to hold together.)

You then overply two singles together, and last but not least, feed the two 2-ply yarns quickly through the orifice in the same direction as you spun the singles to finish the yarn. It really forces you to concentrate on proper plying technique. When Judith says add more twist in the first ply, she is not fooling around. I had to add twist until nausea overtook me, then go back and run it through the wheel to add more. There is still not quite enough. I got the hang though. Cabled yarn in which S-twisted singles are wrapped around each other and then plied using Z-Twist, display a particular evenness–another wonderful variety addition to my spinning tool. If the yarn I have is too thin for my project, I can simply double the thickness by using this cabling technique.

My love and appreciation of color have been strengthened. Those color-juices of mine have be revved big-time and I’ve been dreaming of how to get MORE color into my life. Here is what I started on color gradations and variegation

Next is to 3-ply them to make a gradation from one to the next. This has proven to be a challenge as I now realize I need a third single in each color spun so far to complete the exercise. Meanwhile, I’d like to spin the colors for my yarn color wheel–three each of primary, secondary, and tertiarty–made possible through hand carding. I’ll begin with just three primaries–magneta, yellow, and cyan. All the rest of the nine colors needed for the wheel are from blends. Three of the blends materalize when two primaries are mixed equally–red with yellow makes orange; cyan with red makes violet; cyan with yellow makes green–all these are secondaries. Final six blends are made when half a secondary is blended with half a primary–red with orange makes reddish orange; red with violet makes reddish violet; cyan with violet makes my favorite blueish violet; cyan with green makes blueish green; yellow with green makes yellowish green); and yellow with orange makes golden orange. Now, these six magical blends are tertiaries. On paper, it sounds so simple. Lets wait and see…

We were given some 50% merino/50% silk, which was really nice. I decided to wait on spinning mine.

We also had the amazing opportunity to spin over-the-fold some cashmere silk!

Moving on to dyeing galore…I was slacking on note/picture taking and for unknown reason did not do much experiment with lichen dyeing. You can see many beautiful results from my friend’s post.
Mosaic below shows dyeing trays of tightly-placed yarn cakes in water bath, with vinegar and the dye powder! More dye powder were added using tip of a wooden spoon wherever precise color was desired.

Above is my Soft Wool handspun single laid on top of a dye bath in a roaster oven

Dyeing BFL (or was it Romney?) roving in a pot

We experimented with Shibori–Japanese shaped resist–dye techniques. A highly developed form of tie-dye yielding intricate pattern and texture. Wrapping up and untying individual beans were a bit tedious.

Mine was soaked in cochineal dye pot for hours and forgotten…it turned out beautifully.

Silk gloves soaked in cochineal dye pot…I plan to overdye them for more color variation.

This 640-yard skein of silk/merino lace was handpainted, heat set in microwave, then overdyed in indigo bath (longer than I wanted) so I dipped it in cochineal dye pot for another hour or so. I am not particularly crazy with the colors but was glad to see how each stage changes and how the process works.

My handspun 2-ply merino were space-dyed with Mother Mackenzie’s Miracle Dyes, in the microwave, for a duration of 5 minutes with intermittent turning/checking. It’s easy and effective using multiple colors on a skein…I’m hooked!

This four-day class went fast. I didn’t get to finish spinning all the exotic, fibery delights–yak, cashmere and wool, cashmere with silk top, combed cashmere, bison, 50/50 yak and merino, 15 micron royal cashmere, cashmere down, and camel Judith passed out on the last day (plus plenty more shown above and left out.)

A little optim to try…stretched merino, superwash

We did learn how to spin a woolen yarn and full it–the silk yarn is absolutely to die for. There’s a huge difference between fulling and felting, which I never knew. Short fibers full, and long fibers felt There’s a lot more to it than that, though. Judith had her bison yarn for sale at the end of the class. Sadly, I already bought two from her good friend Cecil Miskin at Sock Summit recently and dare not to acquire more. She sure had a lot of good Bison raising stories. Judith and her husband use to manage Ted Turner’s Bison Herd in Montana. She’d pass out fiber, give a short demo on spinning it on her Jensen Wheel, then entertain us with stories while we spun. Pauline in the group brought out a bucket stuffed with mountain goat hair to share. What an unexpected cashmere treat!

I also learned that Judith is a very good teacher. I knew all the terms by end of the workshop. I could spin all different methods each fiber required–in other words–I had been well prepared. (Truth: in back of my mind, I was a bit worried that the class might be a bit over my head.)

It feels just like my Merino Tussah blend…found in Judith’s JUNK bag!

The blue merino top was spun on Judith’s Jenkin wheel–perfectly spun & plied
So it was the wheel, and not the spinner, Mr. Fricke!

As you can see, I’ll be finishing up a bunch of spinning projects from the class over the next few weeks/months. I have some ideas what I’m going to ply together…and what to knit when I’m done! Stay tuned…

This was my first intense spinning experience–overwhelming and exciting. By the time it ended, I was exhausted and drained but excited about getting back on the wheel at home to play with everything I’d learned. As a beginner (and I might be the only in class,) it was almost too much. When I finally returned home, I actually felt like it was a relief from the intense retreat. In spite of the intensity of this spinning camp, if you’re a spinner, I would whole-heartedly recommend any class by Judith–she’s so knowledgeable and she weaves her teaching into stories from her childhood, her businesses, and her travels. My fellow spinners are a passionate group, warm and wonderful to share the experience with and I lucked out and had a great roommate, thanks Kristin! For many of our Spinning Class Participants, spinning was a walk in the Park. (Or so it looked like to me.) Thank goodness Judith was very patient and gentle in her approach. It may have been what kept me from losing all hope. The fact that I struggled with my wheel all these months and that it wasn’t me after all was comforting to know. Jo Fricke told me last night a new column is on its way to me via UPS. I should have it today. How exciting is that! I do hope it will fix the scott tension problem (or lack thereof.)

I can’t put into words how much I enjoyed this past week. I was very impressed with how much information Judith was able to convey to the class participants. Judith is an excellent teacher and was able to interact with a large class of students at all different levels. She covers more than just technical aspects of the craft, including social history, wool production, the textile industry, aesthetics, science and more. She rarely if ever repeats herself. I never once saw her refer to any notes. Judith not only inspired me as a spinner but as a teacher too. This class exceeded my expectations on all levels. In a world where little if anything is as advertised, I can easily say that a class with Judith is way, way more than advertised. If you want to have a week of unfettered creativity, fabulous food, and best of all, hanging out with a wonderful group of fibery people, this is worth checking out. Mary Reynolds was such a great hostess. What a wonderful event she put together. I can’t thank her enough for setting me up with complimentary accommodation at Mary Alice Wagner’s. This past week will stand out as a true highlight. I am already thinking about and looking forward to Summer 2010 at Mount Hood Town Hall. It can hardly get better so I won’t miss it.

Look at me! So full of joy at the idea of spinning my own yarn. So excited. I can’t wait to make all sorts of dreamy yarns. So many ideas and possibilities…Reality starts to set in. Wait a minute. This is hard. From what I have observed, there is an AHA! moment when it starts to click for you when learning to spin. I have SO not had that moment. Judith told me it’s like learning to ride a bike, difficult until you just get it. I am so in awe of handspinners now. What they do is incredible, amazing, and NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS! Happily pay more for handspun. It rocks.

Knitting progress…slowly but still in the work are the Donna Rocca lace and Bandelier Fair Isle socks on magic loop

Happy creating!


Comments on: "Spinning for Color with Judith MacKenzie-McCuin" (3)

  1. Wow, Sarah, sounds like a great few days. You already made such beautiful hand-spun, I'll bet your jazzed to have added to your experience. Great description of the workshop, glad you had such a good time.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Great blog, very detailed.

  3. I talked to Judith this weekend about coming back. It might be in the last week of August, or if that doesn't work, in November.

    Mary Reynolds

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