Intensely unfocused: core spinning a gray treefrog

Core-spun yarn inspired by a gray treefrog

It was a big craft weekend. Dyeing fibre with mountain-ash leaves was not our only project. While Danny developed a new design for a knitted sock, I did some hand-spinning.

Over the past 18 months, the majority of yarns I’ve spun were inspired by images. This began with a lace shawl based on the plumage of a Nicobar pigeon. Then the 2013 Ontario Handspinning Seminar connected spinning with storytelling, a metaphor that nicely fits my own creative narrative.

Finally, last fall at the Five Counties Seminar, I learned core spinning, in which fibre is wrapped around a core thread. The technique lends itself well to incorporating a variety of fibres and colours to create funky art yarn.

“Art yarn” sometimes gets a bad wrap (spelling intended) among spinners. It can be beautiful, but it’s also the mildly, humourously derogatory term we apply to our first attempts at spinning, the yarn that runs thick and thin, frequently breaks, and easily twists back on itself.

With experience, we learn to spin strong, consistent yarn. With habit, some spinners lose the ability or confidence to spin anything unpredictable or inconsistent. I’ve heard of a spinning teacher who makes her beginning students give her all their crazy novice novelties, as only a beginner can make.

I’m not an anal-retentive spinner. I may have a detail-oriented streak where writing is concerned, but in most other aspects of life I’m all over the place. I was raised in a house where neatness reigned supreme, but orderliness is not in my nature. For many years I was ashamed of this, but gradually I have come to embrace the fertile mess that is an artist’s friend.

Taking a more weedy approach to writing has even broken years of writer’s block, enabling me to pursue a freelance career with more gusto. Whenever possible, in the writing process, I set aside separate blocks of time for the uninhibited, intuitive act of creation, and the necessary, careful, niggling act of revision. That is another story.

The essential fussiness of hand-spinning did not appeal to me, until my desire to create my own yarn compelled me to try. Even then, I recognized the pressure to master neat, consistent yarn, the kind needed to knit classy sweaters and weave fine linen. But I felt a different calling. I never wanted to lose my ability for funkiness.

Fortunately, there are enough other spinners with the same inclination just to dive in and do it. Some even manage to bridge the divide between spontaneity and careful analysis. They provide insight and inspiration. They let me feel free to be unfocused.

Learning the core spinning technique was an important breakthrough. Almost immediately, I started using images as inspiration when blending fibre. I made a hat based on one of Lorraine Roy‘s art works, and a hat-scarf based on fall colours. Our purchase of a drum carder and blending board made it easier to blend fibre for these purposes. Since last winter I’ve made too many other core-spun items to count, both skeins and knitted items to be given as gifts, bartered, sold or worn.

It’s a groove and a great pleasure I don’t want to end anytime soon. A good process is a good teacher. I’m learning how to get different effects from fibre blended on the drum carder versus the blending board, what different colours and fibres look like when layered over one another, how to burnish the yarn with one finger as I spin, and any number of other lessons. I’m learning how to achieve effects, yet the outcome always surprises me somehow, which is gratifying and never boring.

Last week, when a gray treefrog showed up in our deck garden – what a handsome creature! – I knew immediately what I wanted to do. (It stuck around, too. This photo was taken yesterday morning.) Spinning yarn inspired by the visitor’s exquisite colours became my other weekend project.

Gray Treefrog

I’ve been exploring all kinds of different palettes this year. My fibre stash doesn’t contain any of the pale green that characterizes this fellow, but I could match it by combining other greens, light greys and a hint of blue. Brown Shetland wool, a bit of sparkly green Firestar, silvery-soft yak-silk blend and a few other delicious items went into the bag destined for the cottage.

The blending board, more portable than the drum carder, also went along. I don’t know which I prefer: blending fibres or spinning the results to see what happens. The only thing that could make the process more enjoyable was spinning on the dock.

Morning at Lake Fletcher

The project compelled me to spend several peaceful hours on a deck chair, watching the play of light on water, feeling the breeze, smelling the forest and listening to the songs of thrushes and warblers, punctuated occasionally by our friend’s green frog cousins, muttering in the shallows.

If there’s a more useful way of spending my time, I don’t care.

I filled two large bobbins to make 87 metres (97 yards) of core-spun yarn. It’s more than enough to knit a mobius cowl (maybe a hat?) but I haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

Skein of core-spun yarn inspired by a treefrog

11 thoughts on “Intensely unfocused: core spinning a gray treefrog

  1. Van – I would HAPPILY take any funky art yarn that spinners are not happy with, for my weaving!!!

    1. Thank you, Gabriella, and that can probably be arranged. I usually have some nice remainders after I finish a knitted item. They might be useful for your purposes.

  2. Oh — and before I forget — you have captured the colours of your tree frog perfectly!

  3. “If there’s a more useful way of spending my time, I don’t care.” Well, this is something badly needed in Western society, this down time. And I agree with Gabriella about the colors being captured well.

    1. Sometimes even our work time goes awry because it has to be Important.

  4. Van – have you considered this new arm-knitting trend as a scarf technique which would show off this fantabulous yarn’s texture and colorway?

    And I agree with Gabriella, you really evoke that tree frog’s colors & patterning perfectly with this yarn!

    1. Thanks, Katy. I’ve seen the technique but hadn’t considered it. This core-spun yarn is overspun, and does not have as much structural integrity as a commercial yarn. I doubt that the loose structure of arm-knitting would be suitable. But it’s interesting and worth a try.

  5. Beautiful colours, and such a meditative practice. I think I need to find something similarly *still* to take up.

    1. Thanks, Toni. Spinning is relaxing in general, but has also been good for my mental health!

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