I’ve been at this fibre arts gig long enough to tell you a few people I don’t argue with anymore. If Judith MacKenzie tells me something about how my wheel works , I don’t argue. If Lisa Kobeck tells me something about how to put a loom together, I’ve got nothing to say, and if Deb Menz says something to me about colour in spinning , I just do it. What ever she says. The woman’s brilliant. So it came to be a few years ago, that I was sitting in Deb’s class on using wool combs to blend coloured top, trying to do something to improve my skills so that I could both use wool combs and let my tetanus shot lapse, and the class was great, and when I was leaving, Deb said to take a bunch of the top. A little of each colour. A really little bit of each colour. I asked why – and she said "It will come in handy some day." So, because it was Deb Menz, I did as she said, and brought home this big zip lock full of tiny little virtually unusable bits of top. It’s sat there in the stash for a couple of years, bugging me. I could think of lots of reasons why Deb Menz would want that zip lock, but not very many reasons that I would, and I’ve only barely resisted the urge to give it to a spinner like Denny about a thousand times, but still, Deb said it was a good idea, so there it was.
Last week, I fished this batt from Hanks in the Hood out of the stash.
I spun it, and got pretty, pretty yarn that was just what I was hoping it would be..
I warped the little loom with it. (In response to many questions, my loom is a simple little rigid heddle loom. A Cricket. Quick, easy, fun. I have two reeds for it, an 8 dent and a 12 dent. For this project I used the 8.)
As soon as I got the loom warped, I knew I had a problem. I picked up what was left of the ball of yarn, and I got that feeling. You know the one. Where you’ve got a half a sleeve to go and you pick up the ball and get the heebies, because that ball of yarn isn’t the right weight to go the distance? I knew right away that it wasn’t enough, but I’m an inexperienced weaver, and so I hoped that I was wrong. Lisa (one of my many weaving mentors) told me that a good thing to remember is that the weft (the yarn that goes side to side) will probably take about 60% what the warp did. (The yarn that goes front to back.) I probably could have used that rule if I’d weighed the yarn before starting, or if I hadn’t starting weaving while I was thinking I didn’t have enough – but I didn’t, and I did, so I just was sitting there with this sinking feeling. Another few shots with the shuttle, and I realized I had to face it. Not enough yarn. The batt I spun it from was gone, and Oregon’s a bit of a ways to go to get another one, and even if they would mail it to me this project had a deadline, and so – I decided to stretch the yarn, sort of the way that you stretch a stew when two extra people arrive for dinner. I started to think about what I could use as potatoes.
I considered looking for a yarn that matched or contrasted prettily, one that would look good as stripes. If I put in a 2cm stripe every 10 centimetres, that would probably give me the length I needed. I looked through the stash with that in mind and discovered that I had no yarn that was appropriate. Now, I have enough yarn that there’s no way on earth that there isn’t something good for this in there, so that meant that I really didn’t want stripes. I accepted that, and wondered what my other choice was? I only wanted the scarf out of that multi-coloured batt, but I didn’t have more of the multi-coloured batt and didn’t have time to order it… I was thinking that I was doing that thing I do again. I bet you do it too. That thing where you don’t want to change anything that you’re doing – but you also want a different result? (My favourite is "I don’t want to stop buying yarn, but I wish the stash would stop growing.") I was just wondering if this was one of those times, when my eyes settled on that bag of bits of top from Deb Menz. I got an idea. I could make a little bit of the rainbow batt. I could fake it. If I could could create a yarn that looked a lot like what the one I was using looked like, then I might be able to phase it in and out of the weaving, like I would do if I had two yarns of different dye lots. They wouldn’t be exactly the same, but I started to wonder if I could magic a yarn that was close enough. I grabbed the little bag of bits and my hand cards and went downstairs to the loom.
I started looking really closely at the yarn I had made, and picking those colours out of the bits, and putting them on my cards in what I thought was the right proportions.
Then I carded them together until they seemed blended enough, ran to the wheel, spun, plied, wound it off the wheel onto a shuttle, and came back with my several metres of potato yarn.
Whoa. Way too purple. The batt clearly had that purple in it, but that was way, way too much. I tried again, and this time when I had the bits carded together, I felt like it was going to be spot on.
Back to the wheel – then back to the loom. (For all you spinner/knitters out there, you should know that unlike yarn for knitting, if you’re using your handspun for weaving, you don’t wash it/set the twist until after it’s woven, so it was okay to do this. Don’t freak out.)
That’s my new yarn on the shuttle, and the old yarn on the loom. Looks pretty good, right? I worked back and forth, a little of the potatoes, a little of the original, switching here and there to phase it in and out. Luckily for me, the original yarn is stripy and changes colours often, so I didn’t have to be too careful.
By the time I’d done it for a while, even I couldn’t tell where I’d used the potatoes yarn. The original batt had merino, bamboo and sparkle – and the potatoes yarn was just merino, so I never used it alone for too long, thinking that the texture would look too different, but of course, the warp was the original yarn, so there’s always some bamboo/sparkle around. I saved a chunk of the original yarn to do at the end, so that both the start and the finish of the scarf would match, and whammo.
Done like dinner. I gave it a wash, and now even I can’t tell where I put in the fake yarn.
I think it totally worked, and I can’t believe that Deb Menz gave me that top, and that I kept if for this long, just because she said it would come in handy. I mean, she was right, absolutely right, and maybe 2g of each of a million colours of top is just the sort of thing that all right minded spinners keep in their emergency drawer, but right now it feels like Deb Menz knew this day was coming, and she pressed that bag into my hands so that I would be prepared when it came. It could be that I read way, way too much fantasy and sci-fi, or maybe watching all those reruns of Sliders on Netflix was a bad idea, but right now I have to tell you the truth.
I think Deb Menz is not just a textile artist. I’m pretty sure she’s a time traveller, or at least folding time a little bit on weekends.