Did you know that you can set up a simple bike odometer for use as a skein winder counter? For several years, I have struggled with keeping track of counting how many times to turn the skein winder in order to wind on a given length of yarn. Often I would lose track and have to start again, or recount the number of strands that have been wound on.
A few days ago, my new Little Brother Electric Drum Carder arrived. It is wonderful and it is a beautiful thing to look at as well as to use. The craftsmanship is superb. The woodwork has all been well made and polished. The motor is surprisingly quiet to operate. I have used electric carders in the past, and after a few minutes of use, the drone of the motor would get very irritating. And it is very easy to use. The carder has a variable speed motor that operates smoothly and easily with a gentle turn of the button. The drum carder also has a reverse function, that makes it simple to remove the completed batt from the back of the drum.
The drum carders come in a range of widths and sizes. I purchased the smaller one – the Little Brother. I has an 8 inch drum width and will make an 8 inch x 22 inch batt. The amount of fibre that it will hold can vary depending on what type of fibre you are using and how well you pack it in while carding. So far, I have managed to card about 50 grams onto the drum, but I think I could add more (perhaps 100 gr) if I card and pack carefully.
When I was asked by the AGWSD to teach a workshop on spinning flax this coming summer at their Summer School, I started to do some research on spinning with plant fibres. Never did I expect to fall down such a large rabbit hole! I started by ordering a few small sample packs of different flora fibres, flax, hemp, ramie and a few of the new plant-based fibres such as banana and seacell that have recently come onto the market. I fell in love with the variety and the textures that these plants have to offer. Spinning flora took over in my studio. As I used up my plastic crates filled with wool, they quickly filled up again with a delightful assortment of flora fibres.
Bamboo staple fibre is produced mechanically via a retting process, similar to flax production. The woody bamboo stems are crushed and natural enzymes break down the stems so the fibres can be combed out and spun. This is a very labour intensive process.
I have spun bamboo staple fibre before and the fibers were quite long and easy to spin in a worsted spinning style. For this particular batch of bamboo fibre, the fibers are quite short and feel much like cotton. So I decided to use a cotton spinning method. I carded some of the fibre on my drum carder and rolled it into small rolags.
Bamboo fibre for handspinning is now available in 2 forms - one is a smoothly combed viscose top and the other is a rougher staple fibre. These require different methods of spinning.
For my next Spin Flora not Fauna project, I thought I would spin a bit of rose top. Rose fibre is another one of the ‘new’ vegan handspinning fibres, made from roses. The rose fibre has been extracted from the natural waste of rose bushes and stems. The fibre has been stripped and processed to create a luxurious and soft handspinning spinning fibre, similar to silk.
The banana plant has been cultivated in Japan since the 13th Century for use in making fabrics and textiles. The tender shoots of the banana plant were harvested and boiled in lye to soften them. The banana fibre was spun into yarn and woven for making kimono and kamishimo.
In Nepal, the trunk of the banana plant was used instead of the shoots. The aged bark or outer layers were soaked in water and allowed to decay to dissolve the chlorofyl leaving the cellulose fibres that are softened into a pulp. The pulp is dried and spun into yarn.
Banana is a strong fibre with a shiny appearance. Banana is a light weight fibre with high moisture absorption as well as quick moisture release, so banana fibre dries quickly. Banana fiber is bio-degradable and has no negative impact on the environment.
With the recent invention of banana fiber extraction machines, banana fibre waste can now be processed into high quality silk grade fibres that are now readily available to handspinners, weavers and crafters.
I am very pleased and delighted to hear that my workshop is full for the upcoming AGWSD Summer School 2017. This summer school will be held at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, August 13 – 20, 2017.
The Summer School is hosted by the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, UK and is a bi-annual week long event where participants spend their days working in intensive workshops on their passion. Here is a diary of the AGWSD Summer School 2015.