Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spinning Navajo Style!

At WeFF, the plan was only to buy things pertinent to my business.  A button to be used as a pendant in a necklae here.

A couple of books.
A skein of silk Ribbon "yarn" to be used in a different style of necklace.

I didn't plan to buy anything related to spinning at all.  After all, at the moment, it isn't for me.  But I passed a booth by Rancho Borrego Negro, a beautiful booth that had the most wonderful Navajo Spindles ever, and I was mesmerized.  Navajo spinning is different than than other forms.  The spindle is very large, and I mean VERY large, and I had heard that all you could make was chunky yarn on it.  That is, until Eric took that Navajo Weaving class last April and I learned from the sisters - and saw them demonstrate - that you could make yarn at any WPI, and in fact, most of the yarn that they put out was drop dead gorgeous and fit for sweaters, not just for their very beautiful rugs.   I asked them to send me a spindle (which I would pay for, of course); they promised they would but they never did...  They are world famous for their work and I suppose they just got caught up in other things and forgot.

Well I forgot too.  That is, until I saw those amazing spindles at WeFF in the Rancho Borrego Negro booth..  They were made of exotic woods, and when I played with them, they were balanced beautifully.  I did not try to actually spin on them as I was not there to buy spinning equipment, but I was drawn back to them over and over again!
Kathy and, I think, her husband in their 2010 Weff Booth

And then I found that special spindle.  The one with a little extra weight... the one who's balance is so perfect that one turn will keep it spinning for a very long time... the one made of an exotic African Wood.  And I lusted after it and walked away and back and away again.  Bought the button that I pictured above, And lamented internally about that spindle.

"This is ridiculous!" I thought to myself.  "You're just succumbing to your old habit of buying hand spindles.  You have tons of different spindles at home and never use them. You don't need this spindle!"  And yet it called my name.

And wouldn't you know it.  The one that I loved the most was also the most expensive one on display, albeit only $10 more than it's siblings.  Eric must have seen the dilema in my eyes.  Also, since he is weaving Navajo Style, it would be fun for him if I spun him the yarn using a Navajo Spindle.  But mostly, I think that he just felt my pain and decided to be an Enabler.  "Buy it!" he said.   As I resisted, he insisted.  "Buy it!  You want it!  There's no reason you can't have it."  And in the end, I did.
Navajo Spindle and basket of Romney in the foreground; Sophie in the background.
Kathy suggested that I e-mail her and ask for links to YouTube to teach me how to spin Navajo style.  I laughed, saying that I had spun for many years and although this spindle looks a little different, I'm sure I would pick it up quickly.  Then Kathy and her husband both laughed and told me to e-mail them.  I have not, yet, to date, done it.

I did, however, look at one You Tube video on the subject all on my own, and I figured that I could do this, so as I always do, I just charged ahead and started to spin.  Guess What?  It wasn't as easy as it looks!

First, the video I saw suggested not using a leader line to spin with.  I listened to them, and just put gobs and gobs of roving on the spindle instead.  This method actually worked, but I'm sure I'm missing something because it took way longer than it did in the video.  Then for the spinning proper.
Yes, some of the roving is peach.  I experimented with a new dye on a small portion of the roving.  Is it Navajo Colored?  Not really, except that it was spun on a Navajo Spindle and I guess that makes it a Navajo color, whether traditional or not.

Navajo spinning really IS quite different than spinning with a drop spindle.  First, you don't have the weight and gravity working in your favor, the spindle freefalling so that you can use both hands to attenuate the fiber.  Instead, you are rolling your spindle along your thigh with one hand (for me, my left) while working with the fiber with your right.  I.e., the long draw is essential.

I have not done long draw spinning in many years, so it wasn't so easy to just pick up.  Especially when my feet wanted to paddle but the spindle demanded that I roll it down my thigh.  Spinning was like chewing gum and skipping and doing a hand-clap dance all at the same time!  
The basket was purchased in 2003 at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival and I can't tell you who made it.  I wish I could.  I'd like to buy more of  her baskets myself  if only I knew who she was.   

Then, of course, I did the dumb thing and used garbage roving to start off with.  I knew better, but I did it anyway.  Everyone knows that when you are teaching a new student to spin, start them off with the most wonderful prepared fiber you can find so that all they need to concentrate on is the actual method of spinning rather than fighting the fiber too.  But Noooooooo,   I had to use up the junk roving because I didn't want to throw it away and I knew that as my first practice skein,; it wouldn't matter how bad the yarn turned out.  But I couldn't get it to spin right and eventually gave up and went with the Romney Roving, beautiful looking stuff that Mom pushed on me a couple of years ago.  

Things went better then.  At least until my single started breaking regularly and I discovered that the roving that looked so very fine actually had a lot of second cuts in it!  You couldn't tell from the prepared fiber itself, but work with it and it's immediately apparent.  On a regular wheel when I have both hands available, I would just pick those cuts out and continue on without hesitating, but it's not so easy when you're doing the long draw and are also focusing on spinning the spindle.

I removed a whole section of roving from my basket, and at that point, things started going better again.  And I discovered a number of things. 

You can spin almost as fast on a Navajo Spindle as you can on a wheel!  That was an amazing discovery and very illuminating, as now I know why the Navajo still use their spindles when making their rugs.  I didn't understand it before buying this spindle.  Drop spindles are inherently very slow.  This is not a drop spindle, and WOW! is all I have to say.

You can spin thick or thin on a Navajo Spindle, just as on a wheel.  I have a feeling that with practice, I will also be able to control my singles just as well as on the wheel when doing the long draw, and be able to make designer yarns at will and with intention.

A Navajo Spindle will hold just as much single ply yarn as a moderate sized spool on a wheel, and maybe even more!  The first is absolutely evident, and the second, based on how the tool works, is implied.

I have a feeling that when I go to ply, it's going to be more difficult than on a wheel because I will be forced to roll the spindle in the opposite direction on my thigh.  I will post a report when I get that far.  For now, I am still working on my first ball of single.

Finally, I think it may be a good idea not to be so brave and e-mail Kathy to get those YouTube links after all.  While I have the basics down on my own, spinning - on a spindle or on a wheel - is all about the fine tuning, and I've got a long way to go to be attuned to my new toy.

But was I wrong to go off on my own before reviewing the video that they suggested?  Some people might say I was delusional for giving it a try by myself, but I've been called that before, even very recently, and things still worked out well for me.  They usually do. One person's delusion is another's dream that will develop into greatness!

For me, there is never a penalty for taking a bold stand and taking chances.  If I make a mistake, it's an opportunity for learning.  If I do it right the first time, then it's just plain sweet!  Either road is just fine in the end.  In this case, my experience was somewhere in the middle...  I learned a lot and I learned that I have a lot to learn.  But as my old friend Nancy G-  used to say, "No Guts, No Glory."  I'm glad that I'm brave enough to not stick my head in the sand, not hide from the world, and be willing to take chances.  For in those chances is the opportunity to do something new and great, and the road always makes one hell of a good story. 

PS - Delusion or a good idea?  Watch this video and let me know what you think.  Bottom line, though, is this spindle works and she's right.  When she's done spinning, she can cook with it too!

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