Sunday, December 29, 2013

Butterfly e-spinner modification

In 2007 I purchased a Butterfly electric spinner (e-spinner) from Jerry Womack. Shortly after I took a several year hiatus from most of my fiber arts, including spinning.  In 2012 I started knitting again and in 2013 resumed spinning.  I got back out my Butterfly e-spinner but was not happy with the WooLee Winder that I had gotten with my e-spinner. I tend to spin very fine yarns, and the WooLee Winder pull in was too hard and erratic for these very delicate yarns.  It works fantastically for plying, and I am sure it would be great for thicker yarns, say above lace or sock weight, but for extremely fine yarns from shorter fibers it would either not pull in or it would give sudden hard tugs at the ends of the bobbins where the direction turns.  Neither of these is conducive to happy spinning.

Since a WooLee Winder is only one of several flyer options originally available for the Womack Butterfly e-spinner I tried to contact Jerry Womack for options only to find that all contact info I had for him no longer worked.  I hope he and his wife are well, but my best guess is that they are no longer involved commercially in the fiber arts so I needed to figure out whether I could make changes to my e-spinner without assistance.

One of my regular spinning wheels is a Lendrum, for which I have all but the quill head, and several extra bobbins.  I checked the length and it looked like I could use a regular Lendrum flyer on my Butterfly, if only I had the right bearings.  So I took measurements and ordered a bearing for the front orifice.  This bearing didn't seem to want to come off of the WooLee winder flyer that came with the Butterfly, so I didn't try to remove it.  The rear bearing is smaller, but comes on and off easily.  It has to be removed every time the bobbin is changed.

The new bearing and my regular Lendrum flyer fit just fine on the Butterfly spinner.  There isn't any particular pulling like the WooLee Winder does when changing directions.  The most difficult thing will be remembering to move the flyer hook as I'm not in the habit of doing that with the WooLee Winder!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spinning Luxury Fibers

Yum, luxury fibers.  One of the wonderful things about spinning, knitting and fabric is all the textures and colors.  My local fiber arts studio, Stringtopia, has been having a series of classes that are basically advanced spinning studies.  It has mostly been the same group of people and we have a lot of fun while we are learning about and spinning different fibers and yarns.

The latest series of 4 classes was all about spinning luxury fibers.  The last class in the series was this week and was incredibly fun as well as being very educational.  We discussed several fiber bearing animals, some properties of the fibers and had an opportunity to spin several of them.  The sample fibers were short lengths of roving of natural dark brown bison fiber, 2 colors of natural colored yak, a dark brown and a sort of grey/taupe/medium brown, an incredible blend of cashmere, muga silk and possum, and finally a handful of unprocessed possum fiber.  The yak fibers and the blend had been obtained from another Ohio fiber company, Lucky Cat Craft.  There are not very many sources for these fibers.  All of them but the raw possum were a joy to spin.

I have spun both bison and yak before, and I like spinning them very much.  Bison is quite short, very soft and can be spun into a very fine yarn.  The yak is a bit longer and smoother, and is slipperier than the bison.  Both fibers are from the down, the shortest, softest, undercoat of the animal.  It is a lot of work to collect, dehair and process these fibers, and they are correspondingly expensive, especially the bison.

The possum by itself while incredibly soft and fine was a bit slippery to spin by itself.  Because the fibers are short it takes a lot of twist to make a yarn that will hold together, and more yet to keep the slippery fiber in a yarn.  We agreed that the possum did best in a blend.

I hadn't been sure about the final blend (photo 1, photo 2), as in the braid the roving didn't seem to be especially soft and luscious.  Visually it reminded me somewhat of tow, which is not soft.  Part of the issue for me personally was the natural creamy taupe color of the fibers.

While beautiful, my personal color preferences do not include cream or gold, but the point of this class was to learn about the fibers so I pushed on and further examined my section of roving.  The roving had a bit of sheen from the muga silk.  Not a lot, but especially in the yarn there is some.  The ends where the roving had been broken were quite open and fluffy.  Not in danger of shedding the fibers all over, or the roving slipping apart, but the simple act of pulling the roving into pieces had opened the fiber and it looked like it would be easy to spin.  And it was.  This blend was really luscious, spinning very easily.  I really liked this blend.

The silk helped to trap the shorter fibers in the twist and gave that typical silk sheen to the yarn.  The shorter possum and cashmere are very fine and soft.  The final yarn samples have sheen and drape, and I believe that the possum would provide a lovely halo as the yarn blooms.

This week at Stringtopia there will be a couple of interesting activities.  First there is a Silk Tasting Party on Wednesday, then Saturday is a class on Spinning Spectacular Silk Singles.  I took that class a few months ago and it's a really informative class.  Lots of great info on spinning silk in general, and specifics about spinning and using silk singles in projects, whether knitted, crocheted or woven.  A very fast way to create yarn for a special project!