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The cover photo shows much merriment taking place on St Distaff's Day, Distaff Day or Roc Day as you prefer. It involves water dousing and possibly fire-setting. As is traditional in January, we take a look at the customs and myths associated with the feast day of this non-existent saint. JillianEve has covered the subject beautifully for us. She demonstrates the use of a distaff and shows us her own Distaff Day tradition along the way.

January is named after Janus, a Roman two-faced god who appropriately looks back and ahead at the same time. That's what we tend to do this month too, reflect on the previous year's projects and plan new ones. I don't know whether Janus is also responsible for January sales but look out for the odd January sale in the pattern suggestions this month.

Yvonne needs cheering up and I hope you'll find some reasons to be cheerful in this month's feast of fibrey fun, features and freebies for spinners, knitters, crocheters, dyers and weavers.

This free issue for January 2020 is brought to you in association with Audible. I'm a member and enjoy listening while I spin. Download a free audiobook with your 30-day free trial.

Find out how to receive a longer ad-free* version of Hand Spinning News a couple of weeks earlier.

Photo right: The Nettle Dress project. Cover photo: St Distaff's Day, an illustration from 'Book of Christmas' by Robert Seymour.



In the media

The Nettle Dress

The Nettle Dress

We often consider nettles a weed but they are nutritious and contain a usable fibre.

Allan Brown became curious about how this fibre would have been processed and used in the past with the tools that were available at the time.

Dylan Howitt's first film, Nettles for Textiles, followed Allan as he gathered nettles, retted, carded spun and dyed them. It's a worthwhile 15-minute watch.

Allan wants to make a dress by hand and film the whole process. The crowdfunding campaign met its goal in December. You can see the preview on the kickstarter page at the link below.

2020 temperature scarf

2020 temperature scarf

Many people used the extra time in 2020 to immerse themselves in big projects. This is Josie George wearing her temperature scarf. She recorded the temperature each day with two rows (you can see her colour chart on the tweet. It looks as if she held double with one of 4 colours of a finer yarn to record conditions.)

The finished scarf has 732 rows (2 rows per day) which makes 70,368 stitches and 1kg of yarn.

The story made newspapers. Here's Josie's tweet. There are a bunch of other temperature-blanket style projects here.


Handspun stories

From Deep, Deep Stash

From deep, deep stash

How long can fibre survive in your stash and still be usable?

That's such a good question, I'm going to post it in the HSN Ravelry group.

One of Knit/Wit's 2021 goals was to spin the oldest fibre in her stash. I use the past tense as she has now crossed that goal off her list. It caught my eye because of the beautiful colours, which are all tones of one colour (possibly technically 'tints' but a colour expert is welcome to clarify that for me). She bought this braid way back in 2008 (actually late 2008, so a mere 12 years ago rather than 13).

She says that the shades are well-distributed. I look forward to seeing how they play out when knitted.

Sock yarn

Sock yarn

Last month Josefin blended wool and mohair for a natural sock yarn. In this post she looks at the best techniques for spinning a strong sock yarn without making it so tight that it feels like string.

Cotton Harvest 2020

Cotton Harvest 2020

We have followed Goldilox's adventures in growing cotton. She has now picked all of this year's bolls and they're nearly all open.

Each boll contains a 3-5 segments, each of which contains a number of seeds, each surrounded by its own fluff.

There's a picture of a bobbin containing the spun singles from the previous year's harvest.

Singles warp? Yes, you can!

Singles warp? Yes, you can!

Linda Ligon says that you can use handspun singles for both warp and weft.

Singles may present more challenges than plied yarn but there are techniques for overcoming these.

Underplying is not a mistake

Underplying is not a mistake

When I first started to spin my yarn was always underplied because I tried to make it balance. The problem is that your singles may be relaxed.

I'm glad to read that this isn't uncommon. I now tend to judge whether it looks right, and try to keep a consistent number of treadles per yard. (see also twist-angle tool elsewhere in this issue).

Amelia Garripoli makes the case for underplied yarn being suitable for certain projects and suggests how you might achieve this on purpose.

Schacht Factory Tour 2020

Schacht factory tour 2020

A real factory tour is an experience that hasn't been possible for a long time and may still be a while yet.

A virtual tour allows us to see behind the scenes and also lets us 'visit' places that may be out of reach even in non-covid times.

Here, Schacht take us on a tour of their factory. The video shows timber being sawn to size, machined, sanded, finished, assembled and packed.

Do as I say (not as I do)

Kaffe Fassett's Painterly has been getting a lot of attention.

Kay of Modern Daily Knitting has been "cranking out" these little houses from that book but she has a warning, which I think applies to spinning as well as knitting.

Klövsjö wool

Klövsjö wool

This breed, which I'm glad that I don't have to pronounce, is a conservation breed with a dual coat. In the larger version of this picture you can clearly see the long silky fibres and the fluffy undercoat. You can separate these for two different types of yarn, or spin them together either woollen or worsted.

In this post, Josefin shows the two yarns that she has made. The outercoat combed and worsted-spun and the undercoat carded and spun longdraw.

The yarns are very different but both very beautiful.

Fauxlags or sliver

Fauxlags or sliver

Here's a fascinating experiment. You can make fibre from a blending board (or drum / hand carders I suppose) into fauxlags or sliver. The results are very different, as demonstrated here by beechwoodcraft.



Perendale is a cross breed which has fleece that is hard to classify. Janelle received this as part of the Breed School programme and spun this beautiful skein after sampling different spinning methods.

Here are her notes about the breed and her experiments.

Why, oh ply?

Why, oh ply?

At first this looked like a simple Z vs S article but oh no.

We're back to twist angle to explain the strange look of this knitted fabric. It's well-illustrated and explained in Patty's 'agony aunt' column.

Starting out the new year with wool combing

Starting out the new year with wool combing

If you've never combed wool, then you could try with a dog comb - a different technique to using large English combs but the result is the same. Onion holders can be used the same way as mini-combs.

The 1764 Shepherdess has put together some videos showing these various techniques.

Fiber basics: bactrian camel

Fiber basics: bactrian camel

The fibre you want from a camel is the fine downy undercoat. It's short, can be fine and each camel doesn't produce a great deal of it. It's generally camel-coloured, unsurprisingly.

Carol Huebscher Rhoades covers the basics.


Colour inspiration

When little needs saying except 'beautiful colour'

Sky-blue pink

Sky-blue pink

If you're the same age as me you'll know why these colours remind me of Altered Images.

There are golden threads in here too, a closer look is worthwhile.

From braid to skein

From braid to skein

I love seeing the journey from braid to finished yarn, especially when the colours are as beautiful as these.

Love from a distance

Love from a distance

There are many colours here in this corespun yarn but they all play well together as they all have a dusky / pastel feel.

They accompany chezpetitelaine's new year message.



St. Distaff Day  and how to spin with a distaff

St. Distaff Day and how to spin with a distaff

Here's the traditional look at St Distaff's Day.

I recommend JillianEve's video. In it she looks at the traditions / myths around St Distaff's day - the reason for this day, the shenanigans which may or may not be factual, a look at distaffs themselves and her own St Distaff's day tradition along with a demonstration of how to use a ring-distaff.

For an explanation of 'Roc Day', see also Anne Merrow's article.

Tips and tutorials

Why you need a twist-angle tool

Why you need a twist-angle tool

There isn't very much to say about a twist-angle tool. Using it isn't very complicated and checking your twist angle regularly will improve your yarn's consistency.

But the amount of twist in your singles and plying changes its properties. Being intentional about twist angle is as important as being intentional about the thickness of the yarn.

If you're not aware of twist angle or the twist angle tool then this article is for you.

On a Roll with Pseudorolags

On a roll with pseudorolags

These are pseudorolags, you might also call them fauxlags.

Blending boards have been very popular. They allow creativity with colour and produce punis that are a great form to spin.

The psuedorolags in this article are made from flicked locks and dyed top but they also allow you to play with colour and spin from the rolag form.

Spinning Basics: How To Spin Top

Spinning Basics: How To Spin Top

combing separates out the longer fibres and aligns them. The natural way to spin these is worsted draw to make an elegant smooth yarn.

This generously-proportioned article sees author and teacher Maggie Casey demonstrating and explaining the best ways to achieve this.


Chemists weave molecular fabric

Chemists weave molecular fabric

"Knotting and weaving have always had great technological impact for humans", says David A. Leigh, "who's to say it won't be the same for molecular structures?"

This video shows how molecules have been manipulated to form a woven 2-dimensional fabric that is just 4 nm thick but hundreds of um across.

With thanks to Fibre Sprite for highlighting the story in her newsletter.



Yvonne the sheep with crow.

If you like Yvonne, click the image to find her page, you can use next and previous to explore more cartoons.

Keeping this wheel spinning

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Sometimes just a picture is enough

2021 goal

2021 goal

valkyriefrida talks about her goal for 2021 which is to knit more from her own handspun yarn.

These mittens use handspun yarn for the contrast colour.

Handspun Finishes

Handspun Finishes

This is Janelle's Pool Drops shawl made from a handspun gradient. It's one of two projects that she finished on the same day!

There's a warning in this blog post about running short of yarn. I'm sure we've all been there and one tactic is to weigh your remaining yarn after each row and thus calculate whether you have enough for the remaining rows.

By doing this, Janelle found out that handspun yarn can be less consistent than commercial yarn, with usage per row ranging from 1.9 grams to 2.7grams.

Finishing the year

Finishing the year

"All the colours from a year of natural dyeing."

Jean did start with some commercial wool but switched to handspun, the commercial yarn being too fine for weaving the squares. She used it held double for the crocheted border.

Second Spindle

Second spindle

This month's sexy spindle shot shows a spindle from Silly Salmon Designs with an unknown fibre from Inglenook.

origin of The Golden Rose

origin of The Golden Rose

Art yarn is more often seen as yarn than finished projects. Some feel that the yarn itself is the finished product.

I do enjoy seeing art yarn used in projects, especially when the result doesn't look too grungey and this doesn't at all.

From the tags it's clear that this is woven, which you can barely tell.

A beautiful seasonal picture.

Mushroom dyed hat

Mushroom dyed hat

The colourwork in this hat is beautiful and it's surprising to read that the fibre was dyed using mushrooms.

farmhandfibres collected the mushrooms, which are all named in the post, dyed the fibre 'in the wool', spun it and knitted the hat.

Epitome of perfection

Epitome of perfection

As fairilyfiberfun says, these fasteners finish off this cardigan perfectly.

She made the cardigan to order, the customer added the fasteners. I wish I knew more about the puffs of colour running throughout the garment.

Short sleeve sweater

Short sleeve sweater

No more information about this project than "handspun, hand knit, short sleeve sweater" but I do like the pockets at the front.


Free patterns

A selection of free seasonal patterns which will work well with handspun yarn.

Star gift

Star gift

This isn't a full pattern, but Ann has posted the chart that she used here.

She found that Yorkshire folk knitted stranded colourwork stars well over two centuries ago. This one has a festive feel.

The other nice feature of this hat are the corkscrew tassels. Use your favourite search engine to search for "knit corkscrew" to find lots of videos and written instructions.

In short, you cast on the number of stitches for the length of your tassel. For the next row, Increase two in every stitch. Finally bind off. Ann notes in this later post that her tassels are better if she casts on and off in purl, with only the increase row in knit. Hers certainly look neat.

Inkle band chair seat

Inkle band chair seat

Here's a project idea that I don't think I've seen before. For an employee makers' challenge at Schacht Spindle Co. Judy Pagels restored this chair by making a new seat from inkle bands.

She gives the patten for the weaving, which she designed using an online tool. There are also notes and pictures showing how she constructed the new seat.

Crocheted trailing plant pot hanger / holder by Sue Doran

Crocheted trailing plant pot hanger / holder by Sue Doran

Reminisent of macrame, this trailing plant hanger/holder pattern from Sue Doran is a is crocheted. You can use cotton or other fibre that will bear weight and won't stretch.

The page contains charts, written instructions and photographs. If you wish to print the pattern, there's a pdf version available to buy.

Big Ol' Brioche Cowl by Shannon Larson

Big Ol' Brioche Cowl by Shannon Larson

There's a lot of winter to go yet. If you want to wear a lot of wool around your neck then the fabulously-named Big Ol' Cowl might do the trick.

It's a "beginner friendly" brioche pattern, using big needles and yarn.

I've found one art-yarn rendition of this pattern. To achieve the required thickness you could hold multiple strands together. You'll need 150 - 180 yards of super-bulky.


Not-so-free patterns

Seed Cycle Cowl

Seed Cycle Cowl by fibreworkshop

This chunky cowl is designed for Jenn's Norfolk Horn breed-specific yarn. But you could use any yarn of the correct gauge ( 2 strands DK weight held together ).

It's aimed at the "novice knitter ready for a challenge"

Butte by Pam Allen

Butte by Pam Allen

I will definitely be knitting this pattern. It has a gansey look but a longer body and femenine shaping.

It should be nice and quick too, made from 784 - 1232 yards of quite bulky yarn on 9mm needles.

Neon Mosaic Scarf by Ann McDonald Kelly

Neon Mosaic Scarf by Ann McDonald Kelly

I'm suggesting this scarf for two reasons. If you're new to colourwork, then this 'mosaic' or slipped-stitch technique is so easy that it doesn't feel like colourwork.

It's also great for handspun yarn, because even if you don't want to spin the 400+ yards of plain yarn for the background, you could use commercial yarn and show off ~100 yards of beautiful handspun yarn in the coloured sections.

Gratitude Attitude Shawl by Noma Ndlovu

Gratitude Attitude Shawl by Noma Ndlovu

Sadly I have no more details about skullrose13's Scrappy Gratitude Attitude shawl other than it's 'scrappy' which I assume means that it's made from yarn scraps.

The pattern appears to combine colours in a similar way to the Shift / NightShift (which is more obvious if you click through to the pattern page) and so I hope to see many colourful examples of this shawl featuring handspun yarn oddments.

Gem Box Cowl by Shell Feda

Gem Box Cowl by Shell Feda

The cowl shown was made by tubturkey from her own handspun yarn. She says "I need to search for more patterns that work so well with handspun".

The pattern is designed to "make the most of small, luxury skeins of yarn - particularly those wildly variegated, hand painted beauties that are gorgeous in the skein but pool unappealingly when knit up.

It's also an excellent project for using up leftovers - simply change out yarns after the gem box sections to create a striping effect - there is no limit to how many colours you can use!"

it uses 225 yards of DK-weight yarn.

(Ravelry link)



2021  UK yarn and fibre festivals

2021 UK yarn and fibre festivals

It seems a long time ago, but I used to keep a list of the larger UK yarn and fibre festivals, particularly those that would be of interest to spinners.

Some organisers are holding online events. Some are still hoping to go ahead, and very soon.

For obvious reasons, this picture is ever-changing. Being Knitterly has put together such a good list of these events, for now I'm going to simply link to that list.

Enjoy and stay safe.

Wool working in ancient Greece and Rome

Wool working in ancient Greece and Rome

Adrienne Hagen will be giving a lecture on 25 Feb for University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It's called From Sheep to Shawl: Wool Working in Ancient Greece and Rome.

Dr. Hagen will use reproductions of ancient tools to demonstrate how Greeks and Romans processed wool from a raw fleece to a finished textile, including spinning thread with a drop spindle and weaving on a warp-weighted loom. Along the way, we will see how textile production featured in ancient mythology and philosophy and will explore the role of women's labor in society.

I have confirmation from the university that this will be available to the public. We don't yet have a link for the actual lecture. If I have it before February's full issue, I'll publish it then. Otherwise, email the department closer to the time.

But is it art...?

All that remains is for me to thank everyone who blogs, writes articles or posts pictures on the subject of spinning, knitting, crochet or weaving. This newsletter wouldn't exist without them.

If you enjoy Hand Spinning News, please do share a link to by email or on social media with anyone who may be interested.

It's always good to hear from readers for any reason (or no reason!)

Happy spinning!

- Editor / curator

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