I spent the weekend at Fibre East, last year I was there as a stall holder. This year I got to go just as me. It's a lot of work for me to do Fibre East so soon after Woolfest, and I also had 2 club parcels to dye in July. Last year the online shop was neglected for most of the summer, and by the end of the summer I was worn out. So this year, I'm pacing myself, there are fewer shows in my calendar, and I feel much better for it.
It was particularly nice to be able to go to a show as Katie, rather than Hilltop Cloud, just like I used to do before I started the business. I caught up with friends, went shopping, and also had time to take some classes. The tutors that Jan from Fibre East had collected in one place was utterly amazing, Deb Roson, Abby Franquemont, Sara Lamb, and Sarah Anderson, to name a few.
I spent most of my weekend in classes, I'm sure my wallet was grateful for that decision as well. The 2 classes I ended up doing really were the 2 extremes of spinning.
Sarah Anderson, who wrote The Spinners Book of Yarn Design taught me to do this. (This skein is unwashed, after a bath the corkscrews will all settle down)
Beehives, and Cocoons. What I partcularly loved was that we actually spent half the class focusing on spinning consistent thick yarn. It's such an over looked skill. As spinners we focus on getting thinner, and thinner, but for me the ultimate test of the spinner, and the fibre, is to be able to spin a thick chunky single. While learning that I also picked up a new way of spinning thick and thin that seemed much more natural to me.
Then it was on to the cocoons...
Lovely great big fat slubs in a contrasting colour.
And some beehives, lovely little sea shells that wrap around your yarn.
Of course, I then got a little enthusastic, forgot I was on my Bliss, and not a wheel with a delta orifice, and then had to mangle this example to squeeze it through the orifice and on to the bobbin.
The next day was a whole day spinning silk with Sara Lamb. I knew this class was going to be a challenge for me. I normally spin my silk with relatively low twist, I like to keep it soft, and floaty, and maximise the shine, and I tend to spin for knitting. In contrast Sara mostly spins for weaving, she believes you can't spin silk with too much twist, and that way you make better weaving fabrics that are more durable.
This is a close up of my handspun silk shawl, it was a brick, spun with low twist as both singles and plying (in fact in a few places it's underplyed even for me)
This yarn has real shine, and the 50g shawl feels lighter than air. It is starting to fluff a little, but it's also handled alot as I display it on my stall at shows. Eventually it will be worn out, and that's ok. I spin and knit quickly, and things will wear out, and I get to replace them.
I wanted to see how Sara spins her yarns, and also to feel how they felt. Her weaving is utterly beautiful, the cloth feels very non-handmade, she knows so much about silk. I really did enjoy the class, and learned lots, but I'm not a convert to super high twist silk. And that's ok, you can disagree, and still understand another persons point of view and reasoning. I'd still happily recomend her classes, because everytime you try out a new technique, or get exposed to a different idea you become a better spinner.
This is Tussah silk top, it was the first yarn we spun, and the one where I really tried to spin it as closely to Sara's method as possible. There's no point in taking a class if you're going to ignore the teacher in front of you and just carry on doing something the way you've always done it.
Sara gets you to spin the silk longdraw from the fold, or just from a jumble of fibres, and you put in as much twist as you possibly can. When you ply, you put in even more twist. When this 1 yard skein came off the bobbin it twisted round on itself 6 or 7 times it was that twisty, and that was with fresh singles. In a plyed yarn with stale singles the skein would really be doing corkscrews. Some of the twist did dissipate when I washed the skein, but it would still create a knitted fabric that biased an awful lot. To me, this feels like thread, not yarn. The woven fabrics out of it were beautiful, but even the slightly less twsited knitting samples felt heavy, and dense. Silk doesn't have crimp, so it can never be bouncey, but lower levels of twist it seems to have more air trapped in the yarn so you get a much more cushioned feel from the yarn.
From top left in the collage we have mulberry tops, top right, mulberry brick, then Eri silk bottom left, then a Silk Cashmere blend bottom right. Spun in that order as well
As you can see as time went on I backed off the twist a little bit, to modify the technique to suit the sort of yarn I prefer. 6 hours is also a long time to be spinning, and over time you get tired and start to drop in to your default. These are all still more twisted than I would ever have considered spinning before the workshop, and I do actually like most of these yarns.
The brick was a challenging brick to spin. As I've written before there are real issues with the quality of bricks coming in to the UK. They're being sold as A1, but are not of the high quality you would expect from that grading. I've worked really hard to find a supplier who does seem to get in bricks that do match the A1 grading, and only contain silk of even, long lengths. In this yarn the short sections of silk caused real issues. It's where Sara's technique of spinning long draw comes in to it's own as you can't normally spin fibre with this sort of mixture in length using a short forward draw. When you hit a short section your hands are too far apart and the yarn just disappears up the orifice!
For both the mulberry yarns the shine was much lower than I would expect for this sort of fibre. In the raw form the fibre feels like you can see your face in it. Because of the high twist, and the jumbled nature of the individual strands from spinning long draw I feel like I lost the lustre that I love in mulberry silk. Even when I spin silk using a short forward draw I do let some twist in to the drafting zone, which I think makes it easier to spin, but does keep the fibres aligned, so you get maximum shine. The matt silk yarns definitely have their own appeal though, and a project in silk spun using my normal style, and the high twist style from the workshop could be an interesting experiment...
The Eri silk was a really lovely spin, it had the tooth of Tussah, but with more shine, and felt like a finer micron count. I'm looking at trying to get hold of some of it to dye as I think it might make a nice addition to my fibre range.
We finished off with some cashmere/silk. This was lovely to spin using Sara's technique, which sort of makes sense as I'd want to pure cashmere long draw as well. The finished yarn is always going to be less shiny due to the cashmere, so I can cope with loosing the shine from the silk. Cashmere can also pill if not spun tightly so again, the high twist for me really works in this yarn. Someone also spun a 3-ply of this blend, and the round bounciness of that yarn construction was wonderful.
At that point we ran out of time, though I also have some Muga silk, and some dyed tussah to experiment with. I shall try to be good and continue to spin them in the style of the workshop so I can make some comparisons!
Am I convert to high twist silk, not really, but doing the workshop made me evaluate how I do like to spin silk, and has given me more techniques to try. The long draw technique will be particulary useful for silk fibre that has a mixture of lengths. I'm sure there will be some more high twist silk yarns in my future.
Of further note. My only wheel for the whole weekend was my Bliss, yet again proving you don't need an expensive wheel to spin all sorts of yarns with very little difficulty. Myself and another lady both were using Bliss wheels in the silk workshop, and I think both our wheels together cost less than every other wheel in that workshop, and for a great many of them they wouldn't have coped with the low twist, chunky art yarns.