Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adventures in Spinning: A Tale of Steampunk Yarn

Custom spinning... talk about pressure!  Someone has made a special request and is anxiously awaiting a beautiful, perfect skein of soft yarn spun precisely to their specifications.  Your creative freedom depends upon the extent to which they've decided to relinquish control over the design.  And then there's the giving away part... assuming you do attain perfection, you immediately have to package up your work of soft, fluffy art and ship it off into the great beyond.

I recently had the privilege of spinning for Boston-based jewelry designer and animal activist Claudia Bruno, who has become a great friend and mentor to me when it comes to jewelry design and metal collage.  Claudia and I hit on the idea of a steampunk art yarn while chatting on Etsy, and we both got really excited about the idea.  For me, the idea of spinning a steampunk yarn was fascinating, because it would involve spinning in hardware - Claudia and I discussed gears, watch parts, brass jewelry findings, and even pieces of barbed wire.  While I'd worked with a variety of different spin-ins in the past and thought I could use the same techniques, I knew that it would be a challenge to find exactly the right pieces of hardware that wouldn't be too heavy and that would fit through all of the orifices and hooks on my spinning wheel, but that would still give the yarn the beautiful steampunk look that we were trying to achieve.

I was lucky in that Claudia gave me almost one hundred percent creative freedom over the project.  The only things that we really decided on up front were that the yarn would be some shade of brown, with gold or bronze angelina sparkle, and that she would pick out the spin-ins from her own stash and mail them to me.  The first thing I did was search Etsy for the perfect spinning fiber, and I found it pretty quickly in a batt called "Sepia," from Unwind Yarn Company.  A little while after I received the fiber, a big bag of gears, beads, watch hands, and brass roses arrived in the mail.  Joy!  Only another spinner can imagine the excitement I felt when I looked at that stuff and pictured it in a skein of yarn.  A couple of weeks later, those gears and roses and watch hands and fiber had been transformed into a huge skein of remarkably plush and squishy steampunk yarn!

As for the process...

The first thing I did (after weeding out any pieces that wouldn't fit through the plying head of my spinning wheel) was to pull off small strips of fiber (about 1/2 thick and 3 inches long) and thread them through the metal pieces that had larger holes, such as the gears (you can see one of those in the picture above) and the watch hands (pictured below.)

I then spun a super bulky weight, thick and thin single, feathering in the strips of fiber with the metal pieces attached.  I spun this directly onto the plying head of my Lendrum DT, because the orifice and hooks are considerably bigger than on the regular one.

Once I had my single, I wound it off so that I could use the bobbin a second time, and then I used gold metallic sewing thread and threaded all of the smaller pieces (that is, the brass roses and very small brass beads) onto that.  I thread plied this with the single, allowing the occasional beehive to form, and not worrying too much about uniformity (this is art yarn, after all.)

The result was, in my opinion, spectacular.  Not to praise myself too much, but the results far exceeded my expectations when it came to this yarn.  I have to admit that there was a part of me that was afraid that this project would turn out to be a massacre... that the metal parts would be too heavy, or the thread plying would go haywire, and I would have to Claudia that I had ruined her yarn.  In the end, however, it was a wonderful challenge and a joy to spin.

I am so glad that I took on this project, and that Claudia allowed me the privilege of spinning for her.  I will definitely be working with watch hands again - in fact, I already have some on special order - and I'm still very much intrigued by the idea of that barbed wire...

So, our tale of steampunk yarn ends with success and the yarn's safe arrival in Boston.  Until next time...


  1. I love the concept of handspinning yarn. Have a collection of drop spindles and am teaching myself (slooowly) how to spin. One thing my early efforts has done is given me a real appreciation for what you created. The photos of the yarn tell it all... it's stunning!!! The way the bits and bobs poke out, the way the second ply wraps around some of the thicker places in that fabulous spiral pattern... WOW!!! A fascinating post and a gorgeous yarn. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Wow - you made it look so easy! Erika here dropping in from Handmade Wednesday :)

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys! As a new blogger, I love getting feedback from readers! Not only was this yarn a fun project, but posting about the process was fun as well. I hope it wasn't too boring for the non-spinners in the house... I find spinning art yarns to be challenging and interesting, and will probably feature some more art yarn here once in awhile!

  4. Once again, love your blog girl. And THAT YARN! Wow, that was a very creative undertaking. It came out so cool! Lila, Lizone's Jewelry with an Attitude