Spinning: Romney and The Uncarved Block

It has been a long time since I spun. I mean a LONG time.

I recently plied a rideau arcotte two-ply that had been sitting, completely spun, on my wheel for at least 5 years, and maybe more.

So, I decided it was time to get back into it. I love it, and it’s good to know the fiber I’m dyeing in a more intimate fashion than just how it behaves in the pot. So, a taste for the future, I plan to do more of these blog posts. We’ll see if I succeed.

I have this lovely soft lofty romney I got from a local breeder and got processed by my favorite processor into roving (the same romney that’s in the shop). Romney is a medium wool that’s used all over the country for a lot of different purposes, leading to a significantly variant fiber characteristic. It can be SUPER long, or only moderately. It can be pretty coarse (think 70’s wool sweater prickly) or downright silky. This particular batch of small farm Romney was on the average length, extra fine ends of the spectrum, and quite clean. Once back from the processor, it begged to be spun into a nice lofty, fuzzy yarn. This made it perfect for my purposes of getting back into spinning. And along with getting back into spinning, a dose of spinning philosophy.

Why, you ask?

Because I am not very good at longdraw, and that would be a great way to spin this.

Wait, you’re saying, it’s perfect because you need to spin it a way you’re bad at?

Exactly! Using a technique I know I’m not an expert in lets me more easily hang onto a concept known as “P’u” or “The Uncarved Block” from Taoism. There is what I think of as an outgrowth of this idea, though it’s technically a separate Buddhist one, referred to as “Shoshin” or “the Beginner’s Mind.” Which is all a very long lead-in to say that when I am learning something, or RElearning something, I work very hard to be Pooh, and not Rabbit.

You’re giving me that look again. Ah, yes, I learned about the idea of P’u from the fabulous book, “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, and the idea has stuck with me for my whole life as I’ve struggled, or not, to learn things. Basically, the idea is that you can’t overcomplicate things with expectations and assumptions and all the things something “should” be and how it “should” work. You have to approach each thing with a fresh mind, an uncarved block, and each task with a mind open to learning and working to learn new things, a beginner’s mind. In a word, be like Winnie the Pooh.

By default, I want to be perfect. I am very definitively… not. What this means, practically speaking, is that I don’t like it when things I make aren’t perfect or I am not skilled at things. I have figured out a way around this, purposefully make things hard for myself. By making things hard, I then can convince myself it SHOULD be hard, and therefor that it’s ok to struggle. Which brings us back to the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind. (All pictures can be clicked to embiggen)

This is the first yarn I spun. It is three-ply, corriedale, spun on my Ashford Traditional. It is thick as my thumb in some places, so large that when spinning it I often had to literally shove it through the orifice to wind it on the bobbin. There are a thousand things wrong with this yarn, and if I wanted to, I could go through them all. But I don’t. I’ve been spinning (with obvious breaks) for 10 years, and I have never sat down and critiqued this yarn.

Because this is the first yarn I spun. The first fiber I took from a fluffy cloud, spun, and plied into an actual yarn that could, theoretically, be crocheted or knit with (given large enough hooks/needles). It is just over 2 ounces, and I MADE it. When I had almost no idea what I was doing, I made this thing.

I LOVE this ridiculous skein of yarn.

It’s soft, it’s squishy, and I MADE IT.

When I spin, I try (and often fail) to catch that sense of wonder and acceptance that things won’t be perfect. A great spinner and talented woman, Abby Franquemont, put it this way, “Let yourself suck.” Which is, of course, a restatement of the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind mantras. When I spun that first skein, I was DELIGHTED. Whatever else was wrong with it, it looked recognizably like yarn, and it was magic. I wasn’t concerned with making it perfect, I was “letting myself suck” because I knew I was learning. There’s a bit of magic every time you make something, and by the time I broke off regular spinning, I could pretty easily spin super fine yarn on a wheel or on a spindle while walking.

But that first skein will always be special, which is why I keep it. As a reminder of where I came from, and the magic of that first moment of “OMG It’s working!” Which all finally brings us back to the Romney and my relearning to spin. I knew that my hands and muscles would be out of practice. So I purposefully picked a fiber that was well suited to a skill I had only been passable at when I went on break. The idea being that I could be patient with myself, get myself into the beginner’s mind and let myself suck a little. I also didn’t make plans on use or much in the way of an idea of fineness. Long draw would help keep the fluff in the Romney, and not compact it, since I really wanted to preserve its rare softness.

So I dyed up some muddy green/brown colors I loved and got down to business. I’ll do another post (or series of posts) later about how exactly I control colors, but that would be a bit much for this post.

I decided on a three-ply because… because. No particular reason besides I felt like it and three-ply with multicolor tends to maximize tweediness if I wanted to use it for something later. And then I finally started spinning!

It came back fairly quickly. Main challenges were getting enough tension on my Schact-Reeves 30 inch. If I was doing this more often, I would likely switch to a heavier drive band. But it mostly worked, and I did some experiments on compensating with additives that I’ll post about later as well. I still tended to default to a supported long draw, which gave me a little more control. I also quickly relearned that longdraw is WAY easier if you open up the fibers first, and that it was way easier to spin from one end of the roving (though by no means impossible).

Then it was time for plying, which is always fun! I tension with my plying hand, because I’ve never gotten a braking lazy-kate. It works for me, and resulted in… yarn!

4oz fits just about exactly plied on these Schact bobbins, which is always a bonus. And it measured up to… 134yds.

With some left over. I knew there would be left overs because I was carefully not worrying about that, choosing to focus on the technique to the exclusion of other things. This meant more leftover than usual.

Leftovers were plied into a two ply. STILL remaining leftovers (you’ll notice the leftover bobbins aren’t the same either) were plied back with themselves. All the yarns were measured, given a warm bath, snap, and light thwack to even out the plying. Much to my surprise, they’re pretty balanced (another thing I didn’t plan, I just plyed until I liked the look).

134 yds of three-ply
38 yds of two-ply
12 yds of two-plied back on itself

And the final yarn?

A surprisingly even dk/worstedish yarn, with plenty of flaws, but no monumental ones that would prevent its use. Which is pretty neat, since I was not worrying at all about those things. But when I let myself have an empty mind about it, I didn’t worry and overanalyze. So I guess I naturally evened it out instead of ending up trying too hard to control it and ending up with a thick-thin monstrosity. Yay!

And my goals? Definitely got better at supported long draw. Definitely remembered how much I love spinning. Definitely saved the softness and loft of the original fiber. It’s very squishy and enjoyable.

I call that a win.

Next up on the wheel is some Manx Loaghtan

And, as a bonus for reading this far… a sneak peek of a current Gnomespun project:

That’s all for now!
~The Gnome


Shop Update! Lots of New Things

It’s a small one, but it’s got lots of neat things in it!

Shop is here

Fibers: Manx Loaghtan, Scottish Blackface, Whitefaced Woodland, Targhee, Herdwick, Southdown, Texel, Dorset, Dorset Horn, and Phouka

Colorways: Black Magic, Bluebells, Boston Bay, Charcoal, Coffee Beans, Deep Blue, Fireflower, In the Glade, Marmalade, Raspberry Peach Sorbet, Red Trillium, Spring Showers, Braaains

And two spindles with fiber!


So, that’s all for now!

And now a doggie photo! We discovered Gobo LOVES listening to birdy sounds on the iPad.


~The Gnome

Aaaand one more post…

Yes, I’m spammy today, but I’m way behind, and I didn’t want to combine them all.

The shop has been reopened and updated. It still needs restocking, but there’s quite a few new stitch markers, including binary and sock/lace markers.

There is also, Ramboulliet, Jacob, Wensleydale, Romney, SW Merino, Dorset, and Cotswold.

I’ll be putting up some new yarns shortly.

In other news:

I turned in my thesis to my boss for final edits on Monday. I’m applying to jobs this week. I’ve applied two one, am working on the cover letter for a second and third, and formatting my resume for a fourth. I’m also trying to get a handle on my apartment which has been escaping while my dissertation ate my brain. I’ve reclaimed ah… one room.

After much fighting with stupid fashion industry standards, I found two business/government interview appropriate dress shirts that aren’t ridiculously too long. Apparently the “fitted” shifts the shoulders enough to shorten the 32″ sleeves to 31″ effectively, making them only 1″ too long. Tomorrow I take in my pants to be taken in. Next up, another shirt or two, and comfortable dress shoes.

One week from Monday I hand in my thesis. Two weeks from that, I defend it all to the community and my committee. Wheeeeee. Scary.

OH! I totally forgot. I actually finished a hat. I started it on the plane down to MD, so I misremembered how many stitches to cast on. Ended up 10 short. Which is ok, it will go to a deserving young man I know of. It was mostly a conceptual exercise for me anyway. I have a concept in my head I wanna test out. I’ll get photos soon.

~The Gnome

Fiber Pr0n

So! Friday I dyed a whole bunch, and Saturday I got to play with spinning friends.

Today, I will update the fiber part. Tomorrow I’ll update the spinning part. And I’m currently dyeing more fiber as we speak… type… read… you know what I mean.

First a bit of housekeeping. I updated the home page a little, cleaned up formatting, made it more clear what I carry. Did the same for the shop. Nothing big.

The largest of the batch was more Wensleydale, so we’ll start with that. Most of these are on the shop. Some, however, are getting mailed off to a real brick and mortar store.

Friday was… a bad day. So I was exceptionally cranky, and barely let Self have any time at the dye pot (don’t worry he’ll get some today). Apparently when cranky, not only do I go for warm, I apparently go for BRIGHT.

I was on an orange kick. Because the Daylillies colorway wasn’t bright enough, I made it brighter. Pretty, if intense.

Bright Daylillies: 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top

Bright Daylillies
Bright Daylillies

Then, I decided, that was nice, but not bright ENOUGH (I swear that wasn’t what I was thinking, but sometimes my dye hands do what they want). And out came the summer flower Trumpet Vine.

Trumpet Vine: 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top
This one will likely get mailed

Trumpet Vine
Trumpet Vine

Finally I got myself to switch out of intense orange phase, and try some browns. Mmm brown!

One thing that always comes with summer, for my family, is rhubarb. And with rhubarb comes… strawberry rhubarb cobbler. Mmmmm… shiny like the steamy fruit…

Rhubarb Cobbler – 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top

Rhubarb Cobbler
Rhubarb Cobbler

And another spring/summer visitor, the purple finch! Softly colored, but with a bright warble. They make me smile. A good thought for a bad day. I love the subtle gloss of this one.

Purple Finch – 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top
This one will also likely be mailed

Purple Finch
Purple Finch

Then I figured, why just do inland birds? Another summer bird (ok, any time, but I don’t end up at the beach much in the winter), the sandpiper!

Sandpiper – 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top


Now on a real brown kick, I went back to an old method I haven’t used since another fiber an age ago…

Brass Dreams – 4oz Combed Wensleydale Top

Brass Dreams
Brass Dreams

And finally a repeat of a colorway that never got to the shop, but was mailed to another event.

Summer Calls – 6oz Combed Wensleydale Top

Summer Calls II
Summer Calls II

Now we get into the non-Wensleydale fibers.

My last bit of the Alpaca/Merino/Silk, a small bit for a bit of lace perhaps? Back to those oranges again!

Daylillies – 2oz Combed 50% Alpaca / 30% Merino / 20% Silk Top

Daylillies II
Daylillies II

An ever popular colorway, a little different each time, and always different on different fibers, War for the Oaks. This fiber ate the brown and was not playing with the green.

War for the Oaks – 4oz Combed Merino Top

War for the Oaks IV
War for the Oaks IV

And a softer version of another colorway I’ve done before, one I like personally because of the images it evokes.

Forest Shadows – 8oz Combed BFL Top
This one’s probably getting mailed

Forest Shadows
Forest Shadows

Aaaand, finally, the first part of the next Spin-A-Sweater.

Moss – 1lb Carded Romney Roving
The next piece(s) will be in Earth and Stone

Moss Ball
Moss Closeup

And that’s all for now. Off to update the shop!

Oh right, and this creepy little guy crawled out of the pages of my sketchbook! Watch out, he’s got long fingers for fiber!


Hee hee, MINE! I’ve got cool friends…

This arrived in the mail for me yesterday. Which was an excellent way to end a really long 13.5 hour workday.

Wheee European Tops!

I’ll take better photos later with a full list of what’s in there, but you can see, even at almost 10:00 last night I couldn’t resist pulling out a tiny bit of almost all of them and finger or thigh spinning it (that’s what those threads hanging out are). Oooooh. I’m really liking some of these.

And what’s even better? They’re picked to be ones that are harder to find on this side of the pond, so there’s only one of them I’ve even ever had a sample of (a sample that’s still waiting to be spun)! COoooool. ::drool::

Also, I made two sets of these stitch markers. I rather like them. The first set was donated to the Northeast Men’s Knitting Retreat. The second set will be up on the shop shortly.

A special note about these. The jasper and onyx for these were donated by the fabulous Habetrot. Many thanks.

A set of six, with a contrasting master marker.
Onyx – Serpentine – Lava
Master: Brecciated Picture Jasper – Serpentine – Lava

Onyx Stitch Markers
Onyx Stitch Markers 2
Onyx Stitch Markers 3
Onyx Stitch Markers Size

More soon. New fiber coming. New stitch markers planned. New fae in the notebook. Lab eating brain.

~The Gnome