Monday, December 30, 2019

3 Fiber Arts Tools That Changed My Art in 2019

I've been a fiber artist for more than 50 years. Yep, that long. My grandma Augustine taught me to crochet when I was eight, and I've been obsessed since then. In that time I've developed a style that is me, designs I like, and a few that I've published. I've taught classes in places ranging from The Wool Festival at Taos to the Ozark Folk Center State Park. And I have learned so much and moved so far ahead in my craft in 2019. Always keep learning!

Part of it was driven by changes in my body. Treadling a spinning wheel or standing at a loom can wear out your joints. I have a master weaver friend who quit weaving because, as she said, her body could no longer take being part of the machine. But, fiber arts is me, so I started looking at different tools, and that learning has opened up so many doors.

My Spinolution Firefly with the 32 oz
bobbin. Lockspun hand dyed alpaca fleece.


Spinolution Firefly - The Spinolution Firefly is an electric spinning wheel. I raise our sheep and goats for their wonderful fiber, that I spin into yarn and weave beautiful things. That's my passion. I've been spinning and treadling a spinning wheel daily for more than 20 years. My ankles and hips have joint issues, in part because of spinning. I tried electric spinning wheels off and on since 2006, and didn't like them. I love to spin from the locks, spin raw fleece, spin dyed blends, and spin lots of yarn. The Ashford Country Spinner was one of my very favorite wheels. and I couldn't comfortably treadle it any longer.

At the 2018 Arkansas Craft Guild Christmas Showcase, my dear friend and fiber cohort loaned me her Spinolution Firefly. I spun on it the whole show, and broke it! After desperate panicked calls to their tech support, we learned it was a blown fuse, and learned how to replace it. After that experience, I was sold on their tech support. And Leigh is such a dear friend, that even after that experience, she let me take her Firefly home with me to spin more.

There is a huge learning curve to an electric wheel, it's not something you can just pick up and do, even after 20 years of spinning. But I spun 3 of our homegrown fleeces, one alpaca (first, because that's easiest), one Jacob sheep (also easy), and one kid mohair (still a challenge today, but my favorite fiber) before I returned her wheel to her. Then, with my parents' help, I ordered my own. They are pricey, but for me, it has been worth it. I can spin so much more yarn, so much faster. And I have learned so much already, in just one year with this wheel. My Firefly is a good teacher.

I love spinning yarn. I love dyeing our fleeces into bright colors and blending those to make soft, luscious yarns. I've developed a unique style of yarn that I love making from our fleeces with the Spinolution Firefly. I've sold some of that yarn, but I wanted to make it accessible to people who don't do fiber arts. Of course, people can wear skeins, but that's not a real option for most people. I'm still in the process of designing yarn jewelry, look for that, maybe, in 2020. I tried crocheting scarves, and that seemed to hide the beauty of this yarn, as well as take forever. I tried big needle knitting, and just didn't like doing it. (I don't knit) I tried weaving a scarf on my 24-inch rigid heddle loom, and did a nice one, but the sizing was awkward. But that look I got from the weaving led me to looking at the "silly little starter looms." I love the Ashford products for their durability and versatility. As a weaving teacher, I try to get my students to think about where they want to go with their weaving, and then steer them to the right loom.
Kanger wishes I would spend more
time dog petting than weaving. Low
water immersion dyed/chain plied alpaca
warp, lock spun Nigel's mohair weft.

So, in taking my own advice, I knew I wanted to weave scarves. My tools need to stand up to farm life, demonstrating, teaching, traveling, and lots of use. One consideration is that I travel a good bit, and I take my fiber arts with me. A friend offered to loan me an older style small loom that she had so I could try the size, but that loom was no longer made. So, I jumped right in and bought a ten-inch Ashford SampleIt Loom. 

Sampleit Loom - My yarns are my palette and my passion. I want to share their beauty and comfort with everyone. I want to wrap people in a hug and make them smile every time they look down and see the flash of color draped down their chest. I want people to share my happiness in my fibers. The Sampleit loom lets me do that quickly. In two hours I can go from a naked loom to a scarf ready to hem and fringe. I can go from dyed and dried fiber to a finished scarf in less than 6 hours. That's lightning speed in fiber arts! I wove a scarf a day for a month and I am in love with that little loom!

I hate a naked loom, so, like most weavers, I have the next 2 or 3 projects planned while I'm finishing the one I'm working on. This solid little loom is a work horse, and I continued to weave four scarves a week on it from my handspun and dyed yarns from our critters here on Havencroft Farm.

Speaking of Dyed & Dried...

Spin Dryer - Fiber arts is a craft of lots of tools and tweaks. Many of them you create yourself, many of them exist and you just have to find them. Again, enter my dear friend and amazing fiber artist, Leigh. She is a creative explorer, maker and user of fiber arts tools. Check out her Twining Vine Designs web site here. She's a great teacher and an incredibly talented felter and jeweler. She is also very generous sharing her exploration of fiber arts equipment. When she upgrades equipment, she sometimes offers the prior one to the local fiber artists. So when she had a little spin dryer that need a new home, I thought I'd give it a try.
Scarves and dyed fiber drying in my dye room, aka the back porch.

I wash all my fiber for dyeing and blending. I dye most of my fiber and wash and rinse out all my dyed yarns and fiber. I wet finish all my spun yarns and woven goods. I spend a lot of time hand washing wool, mohair, and alpaca. And it takes forever to dry in the humidity of the Ozarks.

The spin dryer has been amazing. It pulls more water out than you could get out any other way, and in 12 hours I have dry yarn, fibers or scarves. I now can't imagine finishing my fiber arts without one. Thanks again Leigh!

2019 has been an amazing year of learning and growing. Following Focus & Finish has pushed me to find tools and systems to allow me to expand and improve my fiber arts. Now I'm looking forward to building on this base by #PushingBoundaries2020.

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