Friday, October 14, 2016

Steampunking a Scottish Dealgan (the Text)

OR, how to create a Scottish-type whorl-less hand spindle from a used industrial weaving bobbin (pirn)

Suspended spindle???
(aka Steampunk Dealgan)
OR Horizontal Spinning Stick????

Using a Steampunk Dealgan is on my YouTube channel 'missingspindle' HERE

Background of this research
with a big thanks to Debbie Zawinski for walking thru Scotland with a spindle*

*Debbie has written a wonderful book here:
Zawinski, Debbie (2013) In the Footsteps of Sheep; tales of a journey through Scotland, walking, spinning, and knitting socks. Schoolhouse Press, USA

and two articles on her "footsteps" spindle:

Spinoff, Vol XXXVII, No 4, Winter 2014 titled "The Feral Spinner: evolving back to the basics of making yarn, pgs 64-66. 

And the very helpful article here:

YarnMaker, No 25, Winter 2015 titled "My Kind of Spinning" pgs 5-7.  This last article contains the most details on how she produces twist on an industrial bobbin.

I was pointed at Debbie's book in a class I was teaching on the history and use of the Scottish Dealgan by a student who knew the term "spinning stick" was used in Debbie's book.  I purchased Debbie's book and read it from cover to cover, but while the spinning stick was pictured, the book concentrated on gathering fleece to produce socks from 2 ply wool handspun. She sized the 2 ply to match commercial 4 ply sock yarn. But how was she using her spindle/bobbin?

Experiments with Turning an Industrial Bobbin/Pirn into a Spindle  

So, in the beginning research,  I mistakenly 'engineered' a dealgan based on my own studies of the dealgan design.  You can find more info in my blog on Scottish Dealgans here: and by searching Youtube for 'missingspindle'.

There are 'rules' to the design of the whorl-less spindle and I recognized that the industrial bobbins had several of the same design factors as my re-creation of the Glasgow 1700's dealgan.  Below is a comparison (note: dealgan is misspelled-the "L' is missing):
Comparison of a 1700's dealgan to an Industrial Weaving Bobbin, unaltered.

Both 1 and 2 have the following areas:
a. tapered shaft
b. heaviest area at the bottom-widened bottom on Dealgan, weighted steel rings on Bobbin.
c. Grooved cross on bottom for Dealgan; added grooves on Bobbin bottom.
d. long tapered area for yarn storage
e. Knob or Nock on top-existing on Dealgan; Added on Bobbin with separate dowl press fit into top hole.
NOTE: Debbie Z's bobbin had no dowel on top.

Bobbin measurement details
Four industrial bobbin types, converted to steampunk spindles.
Measurements of unaltered bobbins, from top to bottom:

Brown: 7 1/4" long, 32.3 grams/1.1 oz.

Yellow: 8 5/8" long, 42.8 grams/1.5 oz.

Red: 8 3/4" long, 39.5 grams/1.4 oz.

Long Tan: 15" long, 78.1 grams/2.8 oz.

Wait a Minute:  which way was Debbie Z spinning? 
Suspended or Horizontally as she walked?

ummmmm, make that Horizontally
It took a while to find the two magazine articles (above) that Debbie Z had written.  Turns out I was not right about the suspended spindle solution.  I and my testers produced very very slow twist when using a suspended bobbin without the dowel on top.  The top is too fat to flick and get a goodly amount of twist to draft out.  Hence the alteration by dowel to solve that slow twist delivery.  

Both mag articles confirm Debbie Z. is spinning horizontally with an unaltered 8" industrial bobbin/pirn.  I made a (fuzzy) shoot-it-yourself video of how this horizontal spinning works here.  The narrow end of the bobbin rests on the palm.  The top end with its steel rings and yarn storage area rotates loosely in the partially open top of the fingers and thumb.  It is rotated in the left hand quite loosely.  The twist forms from the bottom near the palm and runs horizontally into the fibers held in the right hand. The forming yarn is held with enough tension so it is pulled straight across the body. The twirling motion originates from the wrist.  Hard to describe, easy to do.  This method, with its slow twist delivery is good for softly twisted yarns, but also supports fine yarn creation, though the insertion of twist is slow.  But if you are walking thru the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, you have a lot of time...... And a horizontal spinning stick is a lot less easy to drop and roll off into the sea.

How to make a Viking Nok on the top of a drop spindle

Tools and materials to make a Steampunk Dealgan, suspended spindle

Materials and Tools needed:
The industrial bobbin or pirn, 8-10" long, with 3 steel rings on the bottom
A triangular file
A utility knife with snap-off blades, heavy duty (hardware stores, not sewing supplies)
3/16" wood dowel

Step by step: Carving the top and nocking the Nok:

a. cut the 3/16 wood dowel in half lengthwise.
b. with the utility knife's sharp blade, work on the end of the dowel to form a tapered end about 1/2 inch long
c. Press this tapered end into the narrow top of the industrial bobbin until it is 'seated' at least 3/4-1 inch down into the sloppy 1/8" hole on top.  Trim the tapered-end dowel to 2 1/2 inches long and press or pound it down in so that 1 1/2" sticks out the top. Sometimes the pounding is done with a hammer.
d. Form the top of the dowel sticking out of the bobbin with your utility knife so that it comes to a point.
e. About 3/8" from the top point, place the utility knife point horizontally across the dowel and press into the dowel (resting on a firm surface) to form a narrow groove across the grain.
f. below this groove, start whittling the knife edge carefully up to the groove to form a flat leading up to the groove.  Do this several times carefully.  As you get close to the groove, be very slow and carefully so the wood above the groove doesn't chip off.  Repeat pressing the knife edge into the groove horizontally and continue to whittle below the groove until it is about 1/2 as deep as the dowel.
g. Smooth your work with sandpaper.
h. Test the dowel nock and correct if the yarn doesn't 'seat' well in your nok.

 Grooving the Bottom of the Bobbin:
a. With the triangular file, lightly score two grooves directly opposite each other on the bottom of the bobbin.  They should line up.  Deepen the grooves until the yarn you are using seats into the grooves easily.
b. Form a second pair of grooves at right angles to the first set.
c. Carefully lay the triangular file in a straight line above the first groove and file back and forth on the 3 steel rings to form a v-groove.  This doesn't have to be very deep.  It should facilitate catching the yarn as it is lined up with the bottom grooves.
Sand the bottom and steel grooves until they are smooth.
d. You are done.  Your bobbin should now be a Steampunk Dealgan. (Not historical, but so sturdy, so cheap, so replaceable).

Steampunking a Dealgan

Friday, October 7, 2016

Soapy Centrifuge OR Washing a Cheap Fleece

I am writing this post to save myself time in explaining to new spinners the way I wash a whole fleece. Hope it is helpful. - missingspindle

Spinster with questions
"I just bought my first raw Corriedale fleece; it is clean and gorgeous but I have never spun anything with this much grease (NOTE-this fleece is a year old)....Could you tell me if you washed to remove any of the grease before you spun your Corriedale? I was thinking to wash in a little soap but not super hot water, so I don’t loose all the lanolin. I am just not sure about the best way to prep this fleece."

If I spin a fleece in the grease, it depends. And it is best to remember that Lanolin comes out bit by bit. Once you wash your skein. Once you wash the object you created with your skein. Little by little, the lanolin will leave. But let's start with removing no lanolin at all:

Usually the fleece is very freshly shorn and quite clean and free of much weed/muddy/poopy bits. So that means I sort out the best fiber and set it aside (see below). I also plan to spin this very clean fiber within six months before it stiffens up and gets sticky. If the grease is fresh and not sticky, I do spin it without washing and put up with the greasy feel of it on my fingers. It means washing my hands after each session, however. Experience plus: my hands become very soft! Experience plus plus: unspun fleeces kept in plastic bags in hot environments (your car; your attic; next to a hot heater or register, etc) sticky-up a lot faster. And another note on leaving lanolin behind on a sticky fleece: that would be a Nope, too late.

NOTE: if you can't spin up your in-the-grease fleece before it gets stiff and sticky, for goodness sake, don't prep the whole thing as tops or rolags in the grease in your optimism.  Almost impossible to wash it after that.  You'll just have a pile of sticky wool good mainly for felting, not yarn making. 

If the fleece must be washed:

If I have to wash a fleece because the grease is stiffening or feels the least bit sticky, I use a top loading washing machine but very very carefully. If you haven't done this before and your fleece was really really expensive (example: you bought it by the OUNCE or paid more than $15 for the whole thing....) then hesitate.  You want something like a dubious 'gift fleece' or a  "barn run" or "about to go off to the wool pool" type farmer's fleece for your first machine wash experience. WHY not wash it 'by hand' by 'separating the locks; by any other fiddly hand washing method: 1. this method generally keeps the locks intact enough to accurately ID sections of fleece for carding or combing. 2. It takes a lot less messing around so I can spin it. 3. I have a lot of fleeces to get washed and want them washed before winter, when I spin. 4. It doesn't take forever and does a good job. 5. It is less likely to felt a fleece at the cut ends since there is so little agitation when it is most vulnerable in hot water or going from hot to colder water.

Sort the fleece first
Before washing, I lay the fleece on an old sheet.  The selecting goes like this:
1. arrange the fleece lock side up (this can be puzzling, depending on how it was gathered up/wrapped.  Try to keep it together in sections, pull it apart by sections if you can.
2. Identify the head, back and back end of the fleece.  The back end is usually very very obvious. The back/top of the fleece along the spine often has the most weed seed in it.  
3. Obtain 4 bags.  Mark them in some way for four different categories: 
  • A. Best (longest length; cleanest; very little weed seed; good tips). Likely to be found next to the back section on the sides. 
  • B. Okay (More weed seed, but not down thru the whole lock; varied lengths; more dirty ends) 
  • C. Marginal (major weed seed throughout the lock (some of this goes to cat. D if really bad); lots of dung; good fiber lengths you hate to throw out) 
  • D. Throw it out (heavy dunging, heavy weed seed, second cuts, really short locks, matted locks) DO NOT GIVE THIS AWAY TO A BEGINNING SPINNER.  That might go for C. too. Compost or trash it. Be sensible. You aren't going to spin this stuff, not once you lavish love on A and B.

Warnings on the Washing Machine
1. It must be a top loading washing machine
2. It is NOT A WASHING MACHINE, really.  It is a tub that holds hot water to soak a fleece in. It is a centrifuge to spin that water out. NO AGITATION.  NONE.  That means you too.  No poking the fleece around in hot water. NONE.
3. Lots of anxiety that using this top loading washing machine for fleece will 'ruin' the washer. I personally have had no 'clogged filter' issues.  Of course, I don't pack the tub and the water only fills between 5/8-3/4's of the tub with fleece/water when centrifuging (spinning out the water). I've been using the same washer for 10 years or more. Maytag.

 OKAY Ladies, start your Washer
Select the two bags of sorted fleece, A and B.  Put B in a laundry bag, loosely, if you want it totally separate from the best fleece.  (Entering fleece note: I generally put the A. best fleece in first, no bag and the B. less best fleece in a laundry bag loosely.  They will go on opposite sides of the tub.) NOTE: if you have a huge fleece (think Corriedale; think 10-12 pounds. Wash A alone.  Then wash B alone).

FILL THE TUB with water
The water temp of the washer should be about 130-140 degrees fahrenheit. I add boiling water to reach that temp, if needed. I fill the washer, empty, with that water (NO FLEECE). Then I put in one and a half cups (1 1/2 cups) of dishwashing liquid (Joy or Dawn) and about a cup of white vinegar, mix it around briefly. I add the fleece and push it gently below the water. The fleece that floats on top is pushed down with an old empty laundry detergent bottle until it is just below the water.  That's it, no more poking the fleece about. I make sure the washer does NOT turn on to agitate. I let this sit for up to one hour, no agitation at all with the lid closed.  Don't leave it until the wash water cools off. Don't leave the house for more than an hour until you have spun out the hot water.  Because the sticky lanolin/suint will settle out onto your fleece again as it cools in the water. 

I move the washer dial to SPIN, about half way to the end of the spin cycle (because some sly washers will squirt sneaky cold water down while spinning-fatal for felting fleece-so move dial to middle or almost the end of the spin cycle). Then I spin out the water. 
HERE's MY TRICK to prevent felting between soapy wash and rinsing wash
I TAKE the fleece out and DRY it. Completely.  Takes patience. Leave it on a rack until really dry. So my process is Soapy Water Wash. DRY IT. Hot Wash Rinse. DRY IT. Label it so you remember you need to rinse it! Then I do the same thing with the hot water and vinegar above WITHOUT the soap for the rinse-out the-soap-cycle. After the fleece is dry the second time, it should be ready to spin. If you decrease the amount of soap in the first cycle, it will leave a lot more lanolin behind. No matter what you do, the sheep grease will stiffen with time ( after a year or more). When it is stiff, repeat the above wash, but you must use 130-140 F hot water for sure. 

Experience Plus Plus Plus:  I store all my fleeces in plastic bags, both the washed and the unwashed.  I double bag the unwashed fleeces with a note on where they came from, what they are and the date.  And I store them at room temperature in the main part of my house, just like me. No attics, no basements. I have washed a ten year old unwashed fleece in the method above and it came out quite spinnable.  I've taken to saving money by purchasing last years fleeces from farmers because I know how to wash them.  Of course, I do test for weak tips and possible breaks in the locks by snapping them before I buy.  There are a lot of last years fleeces in sheep barns.  Just sayin' 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lois Swales versus missingspindle

The missingspindle experience has evolved rather rapidly since I began sharing my experimental research on spinning tools of the past in 2014.

Here's the update in three sections:

Lois Swales versus missingspindle
I began this blog/YouTube video set to explain how medieval spindles work so my students could remember what they learned in class and review it outside of class.  This evolved into more historic spinning topics and an Etsy account to put medieval spindles into more spinsters' hands. At first, this was easy.  I make my own re-creations of archaeological finds, using both a motored lathe and hand tools, along with 'found' recycled wood and / or green wood.  

BUT, I didn't anticipate the pressures of so many YouTube views on my 'channel' (recently over 100,000 and not slowing down).  I especially didn't anticipate the rich and fascinating history of Scottish spindles and the popularity of the demand for them specifically.  This means that my original research plan, nice and tidy, has been waylaid by a side path of great fascination and depth.  Which also means that I am putting a lot of energy into the research of the side path, along with following the original research path.

During these two research paths, my workshop has become untidy.  My book room, computer files, and my home are filled with random piles and in need of re-organization.  I also angered a body joint and pulled a leg muscle with too much museum visit enthusiasm. Everything else has ground to a halt while I achieve more orderly surroundings and a happier joint and significant muscle. I am making progress and will be back at the lathe in mid-October.

missingspindle on Etsy
I am running behind on serving the needs of those who want the spindles I research for their own research, demo, & curiosity.  I intended to refill my Etsy shop far sooner, but......  My apologies for the delay.

missingspindle research efforts
This blog is not really keeping up with where I am in my research.  I think you will love what is upcoming as I get time to post more about historical spindles and distaves here and on YouTube.  The interactions with all of the commenters online, the wonderful in-person meetings with students in classes and encounters after classes  is adding a rich layer of understanding of how to teach and, especially, what I taught that 'didn't work'.

Thanks for reading this long explanation of Me.  I look forward to releasing the next research topic (okay, I am a little scared, but I am going to do it) soon.  I hope. - Lois Swales