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IU on the road: Spinning fiber into art

Spinning 1

I’m sure many of you spent your Memorial Day weekend away, or knitting (hopefully both). I spent this past Sunday afternoon doing a little — wait for it — spinning.

Well, let me backtrack a bit. My friend Anne, the owner of Middle Brook Fiber Works (formerly A Little Teapot Designs) invited me out to her sprawling property in rural New Jersey to observe a fiber retreat and gather material for a blog post and a possible longer story. I wasn’t able to attend her first event, on May 14 and 15, but I did end up coming out for the day last weekend to get a peek at the process of creating art yarn.

Before I met Anne, the term “art yarn” gave me visions of fun fur and feathers. Ideally, combining those two words, to me, meant a complex hand-dyed semisolid or variegated colorway, preferably on some combination of Merino, Cashmere or silk. As for spinning, I’ve always been keen to learn, but was cautious about taking up a hobby that would cut into my knitting time and add to the stash I try in vain to cut down (because that’s what we do).

But, leave it to Anne, and the two talented fiber business owners she invited over — Laura Spinner of Rainbow Twist Fibers and Ginny Tullock of Fat Cat Knits — to change my perspective.

Feeding the mixture into the drum carder.
Feeding the mixture into the drum carder.

The afternoon started off with a delicious lunch of kimbap, or Korean sushi that we hand rolled ourselves in the dining area of the gorgeous converted barn on Anne’s property. The meal was a bit of foreshadowing for what was to come. After we ate, the group moved over to the other side of the barn, where Anne had set out a few drum carders. The trio set to work, with Anne blending a colorful combination of hand-dyed, combed organic Polwarth and Falkland Merino top, kid mohair locks, silk sari fiber, silk roving and sparkle (pictured in the top photo).

Ginny of Fat Cat Knits removing her batt from the drum carder.
Ginny of Fat Cat Knits removing her batt from the drum carder.

After the mixture was fed through the drums, the combs pulled it all together into fluffy batts that were ready for spinning. I then watched as Laura and Ginny got to work at two of the several wheels that had been set up in the studio. Slowly but surely, Laura and Gunny transformed the batts into unique, vibrantly colored skeins. This was the kind of yarn you could easily wear around your neck, no knitting required.

It's a... batt!
It’s a… batt!

Spinning 5

From left to right, Laura Spinner and Ginny Tullock, at work on the wheels.
From left to right, Laura Spinner and Ginny Tullock, at work on the wheels.

While the spinning was going on, a couple of visitors popped by the studio and got quick beginner lessons from Anne at two of the other wheels. While she provided instruction, I set myself up at the Schacht Sidekick (a very compact, foldable wheel that Anne considers ideal for city folk like me) and practiced my treadling. After spinning some imaginary yarn for a while, Anne set me up with some Polwarth fiber. It took a little while to get the hang of drafting in just the right way without constantly tearing the fiber, and I took a stab at joining the yarn myself after spinning on my own for a bit.

Not the prettiest, most consistent handspun. But mine.
Not the prettiest, most consistent handspun. But mine.

I think working on my treadling helped me get used it before I had my feet and hands doing two things at once. By the time Anne took a photo to immortalize the moment on social media, I actually looked like I knew what I was doing! I think I might wait a little while before going all (sp)in (at the very least until my husband and I settle in to our new apartment), but I enjoyed the opportunity to try it out for a bit longer than the quick demo I’d had at fiber events.

Knitting, and especially designing, can certainly be considered a kind of art, but the process of creating the yarn itself, and learning how different fibers work together, feels a little more expressive. Anne is looking into organizing more similar open studio events and I look forward to continue my exploration of fiber.


One Response

  1. Hey, I finally saw this post! What a fun day that was. And I skeined and set your sweet baby handspun for you. Looking forward to getting you back on the wheel!

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