Vancouver 2023 – Fiber Play Saturday + Monday

To see the video montage I made of this trip, check out Rachel’s latest livestream! The montage starts at 6:59, linked in the show notes.

This was the first Fibers West in three years. After the three year delay from my last trip, I decided to really treat myself, and attend an all-day class at the festival on Saturday.

I’ve been following Diana Twiss‘s work for some time. Rachel talks about her a lot, and seeing her speak in person, I could really see how Diana is kind of Rachel’s spinning mom. I could hear where many of Rachel’s ideas came from! Diana and I have been Facebook friends for a while now, and she’s always been very kind online, so I was extra excited to meet her and take her “Colour and Fiber Playground” class at Fibers West.

Rachel and I got up early on Saturday and loaded up. I helped her get set up for the class she taught all day, one class space over, on her and Katrina’s book Unbraided. This was the class she was going to teach three years ago, and none of us are the same spinners – or people – that we were three years ago! But as far as I could tell, she knocked it out of the park. Congrats on the new class Rachel!

Since I was there anyway, I helped a little bit with setup for Diana’s class. The premise is simple: Diana provides us each with a wealth of colours and mix-ins and a variety of tools. She teaches us basic colour theory, and how to use each tool, and then – we play! Since all of us are at different levels in our spinning and colour experience, we could ask questions and focus in on different areas. I figured this would be a great way to level up my colour knowledge, fill in gaps, and better equip me to continue creating content for the Year of Colour on the Wool Circle. Boy, was I right!

We each got a package with half an ounce each of a whole whack of colours, and then Diana provided a wealth of mix-ins we could all dig into as we desired.

We started on hand-cards, and I started with inspiration from my own Dooner. We had facetimed that morning, and she was wearing one of my handspun hats – she usually wears one of her boughten hats. I asked why she was wearing my hat, and she said “Because I don’t have a purple hat.” WELL. That is a problem I can fix.

I blended up a bunch of combinations of solids to make different heathered purples. Diana taught us how to “swatch” our colours on a spindle, because you really can’t know what a colour will do until you see it as yarn. The yarn condenses, the dots of colour gets smaller, and this changes the optical mixing.

I came equipped with notecards, so I made these samples, took pictures, and sent them to Dooner to pick one. to my surprise, she picked #3. Of course, I liked all the red-violets, and she liked the blue-violets! At least we won’t fight over purple clothes, I guess.

I took everything I had left of the dark purple, light purple, and cyan, divided them into two piles, added a bunch of mix-ins (sari silk, nepps, and a healthy amount of contrasting orange angelina) and went to work. The first pile I worked on the blending board, and the second I put through the drum carder. I will spin the two preps onto two bobbins to compare the spinning experience, then ply them together for maximum yardage. I won’t get that reflection on how the colours act differently in the final yarn and fabric, but that’s the trade-off I wanted to make here.

I’ve spent a lot of time with analogous colours over the last year, so I wanted to stretch a little bit and start mixing in complements. I took all the rest of my cool colours, and mixed in a little bit of yellow. I did two boards full so I would have enough for another hat or something. I threw on some mohair locks as well for texture. If this were more blended, it probably would have desaturated more, because the base colours I chose definitely go beyond the analogous. But this will be dotty and art-yarn-y. I could have added a lot more complement.

When I took another turn at the drum carder, I decided to be brave and go full complement. I took my least favorite colour combination – blues and oranges – with about twice as much orange and blue, for Goethe-inspired proportionality. I was going for mud. But after two passes, the result was just so beautiful that I had to stop. I took it home like this, and I’m debating carding it one more time. When it turns into yarn, I might still get more dots of colour than I want.

We covered four main tools: the hand cards, the blending board, the drum carder, and the hackle. Even though I’ve spent plenty of time with hand cards, and a good amount with the drum carder, there wasn’t any area we covered where I didn’t learn something new, or have something I thought I knew challenged. This was my first time at any in-person fiber class since my very first drop-spindle class in 2009, and it was reinforced for me just how much you can get out of live, in-person learning. Not just from the teacher, but from hanging out with fellow students, who are all coming from different experiences. Especially when you follow it up with reflection and more experimentation.

Out of the tools offered, I was most excited to learn about the hackle. It’s basically a long, stationary comb. It can be an effective tool for combing a large amount of raw fleece at once, or for creating hand-pulled combed top with different colors aligned together, sometimes called humbug top.

Diana demonstrating the hackle

Hackles, like combs, have a much steeper learning curve than carded prep tools like the blending board, hand cards, and drum carder. It’s tricky to make sure you aren’t creating too much waste fiber, and it’s tricky to use the diz. It creates a truly delicious prep that is matchless in terms of ease of spinning and resulting yarn, which is why we do it. Diana taught us her tips and tricks, which helped a great deal, but this is one skill where you just have to practice a lot to get good at it.

I went full rainbow for my first go, throwing a little black and white and sparkle in for good measure. This created a lovely rainbow top, which was very entertaining. The top was lovely, but there was a lot of waste left on the hackle. It came off in a big crimpy rainbow caterpillar. I had the bright idea to draft this caterpillar out a little and put it through a diz, and this made an interesting prep all on its own. I spun them both. This is what they look like now.

On the left is the proper combed top. You can see that the colours blended very well, that it made a smooth, worsted yarn that came out quite even and was easy to spin. Every centimeter of the yarn has at least three or four colours in it, even though it’s singles. On the right is the dizzed hackling waste. The shortest fibers were all left behind, and they were perpendicular to the direction of spin. Even though they were dizzed together, I only picked up one colour at a time, and they came in chunks and blobs that were difficult to keep even. I was usually only drafting one colour at a time, maybe two. Even though it’s a two ply yarn, it is much less blended than the singles made from combed top. Cool experiment, no? Moral of the story: top is worth it, and digging into practicing so I can get as much top as possible out of a loaded hackle.

Dionne of the Wool n’ Spinning community is the master of hackling without waste, and her pictures lit a fire under me to see what’s possible to get off. I tried as many of her tricks as I could remember, including pulling the fiber forward as I applied it layer by layer. You can see above how much less fiber is on the back of the hackle compared to my rainbow hackle-full. I got nearly all of this off, but I still had a little caterpillar of waste left, which I saved. Below is what the next hackle-full looked like from the front, smooshed and ready to be dizzed.

For both of these tops, I tried again to put analogous colours together and add a little bit of complement to muddy it up. In both cases, I didn’t add enough complement, and the result was still very bright and saturated. Part of that is because the top itself is not very blended yet. If I had spun these into yarns, they would have blended more. But they would have remained fairly saturated, and that bright yellow just wants to take over.

On Monday (I’ll talk about Sunday later), we had a down day planned. Rachel pulled out her drum carder for me and let me continue playing. I had brought a whole bag of “junk” from home to turn into pretty things while I felt inspired, and some leftover materials from Diana’s class. The last thing I did, which I was working myself up to, was to work with the two tops above and turn them into earthier, less saturated colours that I’d be happier working with.

To the reds I added a big chunk of blue, a big chunk of black, and more reds and oranges. It came out this rich brick red.

The green I actually made the other day, after I was home, making batts on my blending board. To the green, I added a really big chunk of a dark orange, lime green, some white silk, and every other greenish thing I had lying around, including some kid mohair locks. I made four layers of each item for as much blending as I could get on the blending board, but it’s not as blended as the reds above. The camera did not pick up the lime green very well; it’s brighter than it looks here, but still quite earthy. I’m very pleased with both of these colours being something I would actually use, or even use together.

Monday’s playtime actually started with a couple much simpler recipes. I had some destash fiber, all white, with some bits of junky felty fleece. I could have tossed it – I did toss most of it, but I rescued some for the black kempy bits. They’re perfect for a Hedwig yarn that I really want to spin, because Stringbean wants me to knit her a Hedwig. There’s a bunch of alpaca and mohair in here as well. It was a good excuse to play with Rachel’s Lock Pop, which is the cool new must-have spinning tool. This little batt is only about 30g though, probably not enough for the large stuffy pattern I have… will have to see.

I also came armed with some top that Dooner had dyed with leftover tie-dye stuff, back when we did tee-shirts in the fall. It was pretty old, felted stuff that came to me in a destash, and it had been kicking around with my kids’ possessions for a while. I was able to spread it out, though, well enough to put it on the carder.

I broke it into constituent parts: teal, purple, and in-between bits. Then I blended those three piles with some of the silk you see below. Again, this silk came from a destash.

I blended the purple pile with pink silk, the teal pile with teal silk, and the mixed pile with orange silk. I used lots of silk! That was one learning from the class: a little sparkle goes a long way, but you can really load in the silk.

I love these three wee bumps. I have more of all the ingredients, so I want to make more on my blending board, but Dooner is saying she wants me to make her a stuffed dinosaur out of them?! So I might wait until she forgets that idea.

The next step is to complete my learning by spinning and knitting these blends. Prep is beautiful, but the yarn and the fabric tell the true tale. But so far, I really appreciated the opportunity to level up my colour learning by being free to experiment and play intensely over a short period. Thanks again for the class, Diana; thanks Rachel for letting me use your stuff; and thank you, dear reader, for being here for me to reflect with you!

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