a new, old wheel

On our way home yesterday, Andy and I decided to finally pop into an antique store that we'd driven by a hundred times. Being a collector and a lifelong fan of antiques, I was (naturally) distracted by all of the amazing bits and bobs. Old keyhole covers, door knobs, cornices, and stained glass windows were everywhere - and up high on top of a display case was a super cool, giant, taxidermied hyena.

"Andy look at that hyena!" I said and immediately focused in on something else, "Uh. Jamie did you see the spinning wheel?"

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Sure enough, right next to the hyena was a beautiful old spinning wheel. Geez, Jamie, how could you miss that!! From our vantage point on the ground everything seemed to be intact, and the price seemed fair. We found a kind member of the staff to bring him (the wheel) down. Said staff member was maybe a little smaller than us and getting this heavy fella down off of the display case required some assistance from her teammate. Once it was within prodding distance, I was smitten. 

He was in great shape and with what seemed to be all of his original parts. He even had a makers mark - "W.M.DLD." Not wanting to be impulsive, we put the wheel on hold so that I could do a bit of research. After some due diligence, I learned that this wheel was made in Nova Scotia sometime around 1820/1830 by William McDonald. How it came to be in Portland, we'll never know but I'll keep researching and will surely share whatever I discover.

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After skeining up the old wool that was still on the bobbin, it took all of 15 or so minutes to sort out proper tension and be off spinning! Boy oh boy, does he spin like a dream. And as I treadle, I can feel the foot impression of the person (likely a woman) who spent hours and hours sitting at this wheel long before me. 

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I could wax more poetic about what's fueled my months long search for an antique wheel, but maybe that's a conversation best had another time. There's just too much for me to say on the topic, and right now I would rather go spin on my beautiful new, old wheel!


I went to Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene for the first time with a few work friends last summer. While there I got some braids of Jacob wool from the lovely folks at Woolgatherings - I had never spun with Jacob before, but was keen to since they're such neat looking critters.

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Jacob sheep are a piebald, polycerate (multi-horned) breed whose interesting looks come with an equally interesting tradition of lore. According to some origin stories Jacob sheep are directly descended from a spotted flock belonging to Jacob of the Old Testament, and some say this is further corroborated by the centuries long presence of piebald sheep in the Middle East. However, recent genetic testing has revealed this to be untrue and Jacobs, while distantly related to sheep from the fertile crescent, are mostly considered to be a British breed.

In 1700s England it wasn't uncommon to find a flock of Jacobs on an estate lawn or in a park as the breed is very hardy and doesn't require much human intervention to thrive. To this day they are considered a primitive sheep breed as not much work has been done to "improve" upon or alter their inherent characteristics. Unlike other primitive breeds though, Jacobs have surprisingly soft fleece. 

By the mid-1900s Jacobs had found their way to the U.S. and from what I've learned, American Jacobs are prized for their fleeces specifically, and not their meat, making them different in appearance from their English cousins. Apparently American Jacobs more closely resemble the English Jacobs of the 18th century.

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The specs: 11 wraps per inch | 4 stitches per inch on a US 7 | 109 grams total

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I wasn't able to tap into this fiber immediately, you know with July being 100 degrees and all, but once I did it was smooth sailing. Unlike the BFL from a few posts ago, the roving was combed very smoothly making drafting easy. In total, I think I spent a few weeks of sporadic spinning to get a decent amount of yarn. As with most of my handspun, this is a two ply yarn (spun S, plied Z) - one of these days I'll venture out of my comfort zone!

Though I got enough fiber to make a sweater, because of how dense the yarn knits up my plans have changed. For this yarn I'm planning on making Ryandotta by Victoria Burgess. My hope is that this will be a bullet proof little hat that I can wear next winter through the rain and snow.

wool and tea

I've only ever spun natural colored fiber and frankly, I've been feelin' the itch to get a little colorful with it. Maybe it's the change of season maybe my secret love affair with variegated and speckled yarns is coming to a head, I don't know but all of a sudden all of the bright roving braids I see at my LYS are so very appealing. As much of a "slow fashion" proponent as I am, let's face the facts that I've grown up in an instant kind of world so I can sometimes be a bit of a "need it right now" person - so the other night I decided that if I wanted to play with a dyed fiber I might as well make do with what I have on hand and dunk some of the remaining BFL in tea and see what happens.

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Lucky for me, we've got a big stock pot in our pantry that I filled a little less that 3/4 of the way full and dropped a bunch of black tea bags in it and a tiny bit of salt (cause that's a thing?) and went on my merry way. 

Now, in no way do I consider myself someone who knows how to dye things so this was a true experiment. That said, I do remember using tea to stain?dye? paper in elementary school to give it an "antique" look so in a rudimentary kind of way I knew that tea could be used to change the colors of things in spite of my lack of knowledge on the topic.

Anyways, I brought the tea and water to a boil, pulled it off the burner, and then dunked the fiber in it. The fiber looked real dark in the pot, and I figured that a lot of that color would wash out considering that tea isn't really a super high quality dyestuff. 

After letting it soak overnight I pulled it out, rinsed it with some vinegar, and hung it to dry out on our back porch. 

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In all honesty, it sort of looks like the hair on a bog body - kind of a weird brassy orange. Good news is that I think it looks cool, but if I were a person who wasn't super into earth tones I would throw it out and call this experiment a failure, lol. 

While watching the fiber change color was really fun, what was most remarkable was how much the hand of the fiber changed after soaking in tea. Granted, this combed top was a bit sticky to spin with from the beginning, but after soaking overnight in black tea it became real sticky. So much so that it was kind of challenging to pre-draft before spinning and a bit difficult to wrangle it onto the bobbin. 

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I didn't dye enough fiber to make anything substantial, but that's okay because really I was just wanting to satisfy my "gotta have it now" urge and do a little exploration of a craft well outside of my current wheelhouse. All in all I'd say this was a success. 

Any suggestions for what dyestuffs I should try next? 

bffs with bfl

Bluefaced Leicester (which I only recently learned is pronounced "less-ter") is an English long-wool breed first brought into existence through the work of Robert Bakewell and the Culley brothers in the early 1900's. The combination of Leicester Longwool, Teeswater, probably some Old Ryeland, and maybe some Cheviot resulted in what we now know as the Bluefaced Leicester sheep. At first, BFL was considered to be a mostly meat breed since the ewes could produce many lambs that fattened up quick for the market but their long-wool lineage also meant that their fleeces could be used to create textiles. 

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In the 1970's BFL sheeps eventually made their way to North America and found favor among stateside handspinners and knitters thanks to the soft and lustrous yarns that could be coaxed from their fleeces. If there ever were a "Where's Waldo" situation where you were needing to spot a BFL sheep, just look for alert ears, and a prominent blueish "Roman" nose. (If you'd like to learn more about BFL, have a look at the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America's website.)

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I really enjoy spinning BFL fiber. In fact, it might be my favorite. With a longer staple length, it doesn't try to get away from me too much and can be spun at a range of weights quite easily. In spite of that longer staple, the finished yarn isn't super toothy and I have found it soft enough to wear next to skin - plus it's pretty and shiny. My first big spinning project was with a pound of BFL, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

The fiber I used to make this yarn is natural white BFL combed top, grown and milled in Vermont. It was a gift from my beloved and so far I've only tapped into about 3/4 of the two pounds she gave me. If memory serves, it took about two weeks of consistently being at the wheel to give me a sweaters worth of yarn.

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The specs: 17 wraps per inch | 6 stitches per inch on a US 3 | 293 grams total

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I hemmed and hawed about what I would make and have decided on Annie Rowden's Menhir sweater. It's been in my queue for a while now, and I think that this yarn will be a perfect pairing. Heres why: the drape and weight of this yarn creates a fabric that will nicely suit the relaxed fit of this sweater, the color is a creamy white and I have a hand-me-down sweater in a similar color (and with a similar fit) that I love so I know I'll get a lot of use out of it, and last but not least the thick and thin diameter of the yarn will look real cute knit up in a broken-rib stitch. Also, Annie is a super cute person and I always love knitting from her patterns.



(p.s. I'm real close to finishing the sweater currently on my needles, so hopefully I'll be casting on for Menhir within a week or two so stay tuned!)