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Spinner Spotlight :: Diana Twiss

Happy Easter Monday!

The Handspinner Spotlight is an opportunity for me to share with all of you some of the amazing handspinners out there in our community. It is an opportunity to see some of their work, as well as start to get to know a little bit about who they are and what brought them to spinning. This month features Diana Twiss, who I connected with when I thought I would sell my spinning wheel which had been sitting for 3+ years. Diana’s enthusiasm for spinning, her gift of teaching and general enthusiasm for life was infectious. She is almost completely responsible for planting the seed of handspinning and helping my love for spinning grow to what it is today.  It is truly a treat to share this particular (mostly spindle) spinner with you – and to have an opportunity to gain some of her extensive knowledge!

Let’s hear from Diana ::

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At heart, I am a teacher. I work full-time as an adult literacy educator for a provincial literacy organization. I studied Fine Art and History at university and art education at teacher’s college. I have an absolute need to do creative things like draw, paint, knit, and spin. For the last decade I’ve been working to bring these two elements of my life together by teaching fibre arts, especially spindle spinning.

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When you decide to learn a “lost art” you have to carve out your own learning path, be attentive to your learning style and preferences, and find your own mentors and teachers. Yes, there are courses you can take to become a Master Spinner, but for those who just want to make yarn, we don’t want that route.

We simply want to make yarn so we can make things, so we can satisfy an important part of our being. We make a mistake and do damage to ourselves when we treat our creative pursuits and desires to make things a mere hobby and superficial entertainment. I learned that nurturing my creative soul was not just a “nice thing to do” but it was an essential thing for me to do. It helped to settle an anxious part of my being.

I came to spinning by way of being a knitter and a person heavily influenced the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The homesteading spirit and the concept of self-sufficiency were things that excited me and motivated me to try it myself. I started knitting and crocheting at a young age, knit through high school, university, and married life. Living out here in the countryside, I didn’t like the yarn I found at the shops – not a lot of natural fibres, and when I found 100% wool it was either expensive, sometimes scratchy, and oftentimes the wrong colour. One day while reading the Langley Advance, I saw a small notice about the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild. I called and had a great chat with Ann Embra – guild president at the time and learned about modern day guilds. I thought I needed to be a proficient spinner to be part of the guild. But this guild, and many of the modern ones, is a teaching guild.

Their mission is to pass the craft along and teach people the craft, and in this case, how to spin and weave.  I attended the next month (January 2000), joined the guild, bought a second-hand Ashford Traditional, a brand new set of hand carders, a raw fleece and the rest is history.

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At that time I was busy with three young children, a full-time job, a large newly renovated homestead site with gardens and chickens. I didn’t have time or extra money to take workshops or pay for lessons, so I am mostly self-taught. There wasn’t a lot happening online in fibre arts in 2000, so most of my reference came from books and magazines (Spin-Off) that I borrowed from the guild library.

Since then I have had the chance to take some wonderful classes with some really knowledgeable fibre arts instructors: Abby Franquemont, Lucy Neatby, Kim McKenna, Judy Glibbery and Heidi Braxx.

Plain and simple, I love the yarn I make on my drop spindles. It has a better angle of twist and a more consistent look and feel than the yarn I make on my wheel. I also have a wide assortment of spindles, so the variety of yarns that I make as a result of the differing weights and styles delights me.

When you spin on the drop spindle, you have to be right in the moment. You have the twist between your fingers and then before you wind on, you have the chance to run your hand along the yarn. When I do this I can tell if the yarn needs more or less twist.

I can’t do that with my wheel. When I spin on my wheel I can easily get into a zone from the gentle repetition and lose track of what I am doing – and thus make default yarn. I find it easier to be an intentional spinner on my spindles than on my wheel. And it shows in the yarn.

Here’s what I’m focused on learning these days: I finally figured out how to chain ply (Navajo ply) with my spindles and the next thing I want to learn and assess is how to “ply on the fly.” This is a technique where you spin several yarns of singles, store them somehow, and then chain ply them. So you are spinning clockwise making the singles, then spinning counter-clockwise and chain plying. I can’t see the advantage of making yarn that way, and part of me feels like it is just a party trick. But I can’t really judge it until I try it and see some samples for myself.

Of all my fibre preparation tools, I seem to use my hand carders the most, even though I love my wool combs (If you have time and space I will tell you about the summer love affair I had with my wool combs.)  I’ve been spinning a lot more woolen type yarns, so the hand carders are used to make nice bouncy rolags. You can do a lot more with hand carders than you think. I use them to tease the fibre for the drum carder. I use them for blending colours and other fibres together. As someone who does a lot of sampling, these are great. Handy, small, and take enough fibre for a true sample, they get the job done.

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Another important tool is my Steampunk spindle. It is a work horse for plying. It’s heavy can handle over four ounces (4 oz) of plied fibre. Now I can make large skeins from my spindle spun yarn. I used to fill up a spindle with about 2 oz of fibre and then ply that back on itself. Then I learned the Andean plying technique (not the mis-named Andean Bracelet technique, but the true Andean plying technique) I was suddenly able to make much longer skeins of yarn. In a nutshell, in Andean plying you take the singles from a full spindle and wind them into a tight ball. Fill another spindle full and then take that newly spun singles, along with the singles from the tightly wound ball and wind that into a two-stranded ball of singles. You then have a ball of two-stranded singles that fits nicely in your hand to ply with. It is so easy to ply this way, nothing tangles and the singles benefit from winding on process. When you remove the singles from the spindle by winding them into a ball, you give the twist in the singles yarn a chance to dissipate – this conditioning of the yarn makes for a much more even yarn.

Because I have FAAC (fibre arts attention challenge) I approach spinning in a variety of ways. It all depends on my entry point. If the entry point is the final product – like a pair of socks – I’ll start by thinking about the kind of fibre I prefer for sock yarn. Then I start to think about the yarn structure and my spinning. This is impacted by the function – for socks I need a strong durable yarn that can withstand abrasion and pressure – so a three-ply worsted wool/silk blend with a high twist in the plying with is my go-to sock yarn.

If the entry point is the fibre itself, I may simply spin for pleasure to see what I can get out of it. That’s why I love being part of the Sweet Georgia Yarns’ Fibre Club. Every month I am challenged to think about the fibre, to manage the colours, and to explore what the finished yarn could possibly be. The fibre club pushes me into contact with colours and fibres I may normally avoid.

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I’m a discovery learner, so I seem to have ‘light bulb moments’ fairly regularly.  But the first one came after I bought and started using mini wool combs. I was amazed at how easy and pleasant it was spinning fibre that was beautifully prepared. All the struggles I had with spinning up to that point were mostly due to poorly prepared fibre. The tug-of-war was over.

Another wonderful “a-ha” moment came when I learned long draw in a Russian Spindling class. It was magic to see the twist grab the fibres and to just stretch it out until it was the yarn I wanted. Letting the twist into the fibre source was daunting at first, but learning the rhythm of pulling back as the twist is entering the fibre, is a bit of a dance. You feel really clumsy at the beginning and then relax into it.

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The process of preparing flax for spinning – head over to Diana’s blog for more [link below].

A magic moment happened a few summers ago. I had grown a mini field of flax, rippled it and set it off in a kiddie swimming pool to ret. I really didn’t know what I was doing, I was learning by observation and what I gleaned from articles from books and the internet. I simply couldn’t understand where the flax/linen fibres came from. I was looking at straw, where was this soft, silky stuff?  After a few days of removing about half the swampy water and adding new stuff, I finally saw what looked like angel hair drifting out from the flax. There it was. I needed that outside core to rot away so the flax fibres could be released. Here are two blog posts about it, here and here.

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Another “aha” moment came watching Jacey Boggs Faulkner’s Worsted to Woolen Craftsy class – where she talked about finishing the woolen yarn. That worsted yarn is made in the singles stage and woolen yarn is made in the plying and finishing stage. Woolen yarn, at the singles stage can look pretty uneven and mangy. But when you ply them, you can press the bumpy bits together and smooth them out. And at the finishing stage, you wash in hot soapy water and then shock them in cold rinse water. Do this back and forth a few times, then thwack them on the side of the tub. The woolen yarn fulls beautifully and ends up lofty and even. Who would have ever thought that was possible from uneven, mangy singles?

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Another lightbulb moment: For a long while I was down on myself thinking that I should be spinning more, that if I was a genuine fibre artist I would be able to spin skeins and skeins every week. Well this was put to the test. In October 2013, I joined the very first Spinzilla contest. Spinzilla is a monster of a spinning contest where you are challenged to spin as much as you possible can in one full week. The first year I spun 4,496 yards. The next year they introduced plying as part of the spinning and I spun 6,574 yards. And last year, with a full-on strategy I spun 8,627 yards. Taking it to this extreme level is good for helping to keep it in balance. There is no way I would ever spin that much, that often, day-after-day for anything other than a fun contest. So my inner critic about the amount of yarn I produce has been fully and permanently quieted.

And the big “lightbulb” moment was a quote from Judith MacKenzie McCuin about spinning rules. It goes something like this:

There are no rules in spinning, there is cause and effect.

As a beginning spinner, I heard a lot of “rules.” Like, you can only spin woolen from fibre that has a staple length less than 4 inches. You have to spin silk fine and with a lot of twist. You have to let your bobbins rest overnight before you ply. There is a reason for all these rules, but they aren’t hard and fast. If you think of it as cause and effect, instead of a rule to follow, you have much more creativity. What happens when you make soft singles from silk? What happens when you ply as soon as you finish spinning your singles? What result do you get when you spin a long stapled fibre using a woolen draft?

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In my beginning spinning class I tell students that the ability to spin is not a measure of their contribution to humanity. That usually gets a laugh, but the point I make is that spinning is a skill. And as a skill, it is something that you can learn and can practice. It’s not a magic mysterious thing that only some special people can do. We can all do it. And we can all learn how to do it well.

And if you want to get good at it, do it a lot. Spin often. Look carefully at your yarn.  Reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Take notes because while you think you think you will remember, you won’t. And the most important thing I learned is to do samples. Before you embark upon a large spinning project, spin a sample and look at the yarn. It’s easy to make adjustments when you have only spun 2 – 3grams.

To connect with Diana, find her blog here or connect through Ravelry, Instagram or on Facebook (Diana Flurey Twiss and 100-Mile Wear {page}). To have a look at Diana’s teaching schedule for Olds College in Alberta coming up in June, have a look here.

Thank you so much to Diana for sharing so much about her fibre journey, teaching and reflections.

Until next time,

-r.

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