How I’m making handspun mittens

My students are sometimes sceptical that you can use a spindle to spin enough yarn to make anything bigger than a coaster! But remember, before industrialisation all yarn and thread was spun by hand, and before spinning wheels were introduced to Europe in the early middle ages, all that spinning was done on a spindle.  Linen, hemp, cotton, nettles, silk and wool were spun by hand then woven into fabric to make everything from swaddling for babies, all household linens, garments, uniforms and shrouds. The thread for every ship’s sail from the Greeks and Phoenicians through the Romans, Vikings and the Normans was spun by hand using a spindle. For centuries societies were dependent on the skill and labour of women for their survival and expansion. Spinning wasn’t a hobby or something picked up at odd moments; it was something that women had to do constantly, and arguably was as crucial to survival as hunting and farming. And in many countries spindles are still used as part of everyday life, usually by women and children as they go about their daily tasks.

From that perspective spinning yarn to make a pullover or a shawl doesn’t seem so impossible. But you might wonder when we have the choice of buying readymade garments or yarn, why bother making your own? For me, I like being able to make my own yarn in the fibres and colours of my choice – I choose to make my own bespoke yarn.  Spinning is also a very satisfying craft, you’re magically turning fibre into yarn with a minimum of equipment. Most museums have a collection of spindles that are thousands of years old and yet still perfectly useable, like these beautiful spindle whorls in the British Museum.

My fingers always itch when I see spindle whorls like these trapped behind glass! I want to take them out and use them. All you need is a smooth stick, a spindle whorl and some fibre and you can make yarn. Making is also incredibly soothing and good for the soul: spinning can be very relaxing, almost meditative. Spinning links me back to generations of women who spun yarn and thread as a matter of course, because their families depended on their skill to keep them clad, warm and alive.

Keeping warm was very much behind my decision to make myself a pair of mittens after spending a weekend in beautiful Umbria and finding that my hands needed more than fingerless gloves in the icy winds of Perugia. I found a lovely pattern by knitting guru Kate Atherley and went online to check out my yarn options (I say online because there are few yarn shops in Italy which stock 100% natural fibre yarns – a topic for another blog post!). Then I realised I had exactly those colours in my fibre stash and I could easily spin some yarn for my mittens. And because the recommended yarn was an Icelandic lopi I could spin singles and make my fibre go a whole lot further. A single is just what it says on the tin – a single spun yarn, not two or more yarns spun together to make a plied yarn. Singles are lofty and warm, and can be lightly felted so your mittens are extra cosy against the winter winds.

Anther question students ask is how much yardage a spindle holds. To which the answer is, it depends. If you’re spinning a laceweight yarn for a shawl or fingering for socks, you will spin a much finer yarn and get much more yardage than if you’re spinning a worsted or aran weight yarn. Plied yarn takes more fibre than spinning a single.  It’s always a good idea to spin a sample, just as you would knit a swatch before knitting a garment, or make a toile before sewing a dress.

Here are the two lots of fibres I’m using to make my yarn. Both are from Hilltop Cloud, an online business supplying gorgeous quality fibres and tools, run by spinner and dyer Katie Weston in Wales (I also buy my workshop spindles and fibre from Katie). The blue is 50% merino, 25% Shetland and 25% bamboo, in shade Airforce Blue, and the fiery orange is 62.5% merino, 25% mulberry silk and 12.5% baby alpaca in shade Hawaii. I’m using the blue as the main colour and the orange as the contrast – the sheen given by the silk in the orange fibre makes a perfect highlight against the soft fuzz of the wool.

This photo shows the difference that finishing makes to handspun yarn. The blue yarn has been gently handwashed in warm water with a little wool wash added and allowed to sit for about 15 minutes so the twist in the spun yarn relaxes and the yarn blooms. You can see the unfinished orange yarn is still full of unrelaxed energy and is coiled against itself. If I tried to knit the unfinished yarn the twist would make the knitted fabric warp and bias, which is not what you want in a mitten!

 

 

Echoes of Land and Sea

Our open studio and exhibition for Rome Art Week was a great success! Echoes of Land and Sea showcased the work of textile artists Felicity Griffin Clark and Olga Teksheva, and was curated by Velia Littera.

 

work by Olga Teksheva

We had many visitors for the opening night and during the week. They were fascinated by the use of textiles as a potent medium to create modern, expressive art and by the capacity of textiles to achieve such a range of effects.

work by Felicity Griffin Clark

As well as admiring the artworks, people were fascinated by the collaborative installation where the artists displayed their sketchbooks, experiments and inspirations from nature. As an added piece of excitement, both Felicity Griffin Clark and Olga Teksheva were admitted to the Society for Embroidered Work during the course of the exhibition. The Society is a professional organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting artists who use stitch as a component of their work. This is a cause dear to our hearts and we were thrilled to become members of S.E.W.

Counterweave is planning a bigger exhibition in autumn 2019 to showcase the versatility of textile as an art form.

Rome Art Week open studio

Come and celebrate Rome Art Week at our open studio on Tuesday 23 October 5:00-9:00pm. Counterweave will be showing the work of textile artists Felicity Griffin Clark and Olga Teksheva in “Echoes of Land and Sea”.

Textile art and fiber art are two fields of contemporary art that are still little known in Italy, where embroidery, weaving, quilting and crocheting are still considered “making” and “craft”, but are rarely seen as “proper art”. This vision is quite different from what’s going on in other countries, mainly UK, US, Australia, France, Russia and Scandinavian countries.

That’s why the Open House at Counterweave Arts is a rare event of contemporary Roman art scene and is really worth visiting. This event is organized by Felicity Griffin Clark (Australian artist and writer, now living in Rome) and Olga Teksheva (textile and fiber artist born in Moscow and based in Rome), and curated by Velia Littera.

Felicity Griffin Clark has been working with textiles since 2005 and has exhibited in Australia, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, South Africa and the US. She uses a range of media and techniques to combine colours, textures and meanings in unconventional ways. She has a deep knowledge of traditional craft skills and uses them unexpectedly. Felicity likes people to be intrigued by her work: able to recognize elements (such as embroidery stitches) but surprised by the context, or by the meaning of the work.

Olga Teksheva started her artistic career in 2011 as an embroidery artist, working mainly in haute couture and contemporary embroidery, and also creating artistic textiles as wearable art. After a few fashion seasons she began to perceive wearable art projects as “restricting”, both in measurements and practical sense, and gradually passed to visual art, transforming and “deforming” traditional techniques of textile manipulation. In 2017 she created her first large fiber installation, and since then developed more projects in this direction.

Both artists share passion for innovation in traditional craft skills, experimentation, surprise, elaborating precious, intrinsic textures. Both of them are interested in conveying deep emotions such as grief, memory, trauma and stigma; but also courage, resistance, hope and joy. The colours, rhythms and textures of landscapes and seascapes evoke and reflect these emotional states and can provide a key to working through them.

For those visitors who would like to see the exhibiton from the 24th to the 27th of October, you can book an appointment by clicking on this link to Calendly.

Autumn workshops

Come and join us for our autumn workshops! Counterweave craft classes are fun and relaxing. My approach combines technical know-how with calm encouragement and stress-reducing meditation.

To book your place, just click on the the name of the workshop. If you can’t make these dates, please email me at [email protected] and we can organise a private lesson.

September

October

November

December

 

Etsy restock and other Counterweave news!

We’re back from holidays and are working on all sorts of exciting Counterweave ideas. Autumn and winter workshops will be uploaded to the website soon, and there will be all sorts of lovely handmade items going into the Counterweave Etsy shop over the next couple of weeks.

Keep an eye out for new artworks and a new line of art and craft supplies, including vintage Japanese kimono fabric packs, vintage laces and trims and handspun yarns. And don’t forget there’s free shipping on all items in the Counterweave Etsy shop.

This week’s update features:

  • three types of kami ito paper yarn or thread, handspun by Felicity Griffin Clark, using Japanese washi paper. Kami ito is very strong and is traditionally used in Japanese shifu weaving. It can also be knitted and crocheted and used in mixed media work. (Click on the photos for more details and pics!)

  • Handwoven wall hangings by Felicity Griffin Clark using handpsun Shetland wool, commercial yarn silk ribbon and found objects.

Counterweave crafternoon

Spring is definitely here in Rome – perfect for crafternoon on the terrace. A cup of tea, gentle conversation, some hemming and church bells make for a very relaxing Saturday afternoon.

If you fancy spending a couple of hours chatting and making with like-minded souls, join us for our regular crafternoon sessions held on the last Saturday of the month.  Find out more on Counterweave’s Facebook page here, join out Saturday crafternoon Facebook group here or email me at [email protected]

free shipping!

 

Counterweave has free shipping on all items in the Etsy shop until the end of April! Now is the time to treat yourself or someone special to a unique piece of Australian art.  Click on the photos to go to Etsy.

Currently in stock we have wearable art by weaver Mary Burgess, hand-dyed silk and wool scarves, book art and small weaving by textile and mixed media artist Felicity Griffin Clark. You can also buy gift certificates for art pieces and Counterweave workshops ranging from €25 up to €150.

No coupon or code required, we did all the work for you and free shipping is already added! Just click on the item you want, pay with your credit card or Paypal and it’s yours!

new workshop dates!

Check out the new knitting, spining and dyeing workshops at Counterweave Arts! Check the workshop calendar and book your place – click here!

Knitting for Beginners

Thursday 26 April 14:00-17:00

Saturday 19 May 14:00-17:00

If you’re new to knitting or are just starting to find your way, come and join me for a Saturday afternoon of gentle introduction to knitting.

Learn the fundamental knit and purl stitches, how to cast on and off, how to choose the right yarn and what to do with your first piece of knitting. My approach combines technical know-how with calm encouragement and stress-reducing meditation.

Knitting needles, merino wool yarn and class notes are provided.

Min 2, max 6 students.

Cost: €60 incl IVA and material

 

 

Meditating the Spindle

 

2 Sundays – Sunday 27 May and 3 June 14:00-17:00

Why make your own yarn? Spinning on a drop spindle is fun, creative and relaxing. Spend two Saturday afternoons learning to spin your own bespoke yarn – experiment with different types of fibres, choose how fine or chunky, smooth or nubbly you want your thread to be. Come to a Meditating the Spindle workshop and learn to spin organic, natural wool and beautiful lustrous silk. By spinning your own thread you know exactly what’s in it – no shedding microplastics into the environment!

Don’t worry if you’re new to spinning or fibre crafts. Meditating the Spindle workshops are relaxed, calm and encouraging, grounded in gentle meditation to keep you feeling calm, competent and in control. Workshops groups are limited to 6 people so you’re guaranteed personal attention and support. We also have a lot of fun, tea, coffee and a few treats!

Meditating the Spindle is for
– people with experience in fibre crafts – weavers, knitters, crocheters and textile artists.
– people with no experience in fibre crafts but who are interested in learning a new skill.
– crafters who are concerned about the environment and shedding microplastics from their craft materials. At Counterweave we only use 100% natural fibres.
– people who are keen to learn an ancient craft.
– people who are looking for a different way to relax and benefit from meditation and working with their hands.

Spindles, fibre and class notes are provided. Any previous experience with yarn or fibre will be helpful, but not necessary

Min 2, max 6 students.
Cost: €120 incl IVA and materials

Adventures with Indigo

Saturday 9 June  15:00-18:00

Monday 11 June 15:00-18:00

Dyeing with indigo is a special kind of magic. Come and experiment with Counterweave’s indigo vat and see what happens when you dip silk, cotton, wool or paper.

Dye your own bespoke silk scarf using a traditional Japanese shibori technique.

All materials and class notes are provided. Any previous dyeing or stitching experience will be helpful, but not necessary

Min 2, max 6 students.

Cost: €60 incl IVA and materials

Spring workshops!

We are now taking bookings for our first round of workshops for 2018!

Knitting for Beginners

If you’re new to knitting or are just starting to find your way, come and join me for a Saturday afternoon of gentle introduction to knitting.

Learn the fundamental knit and purl stitches, how to cast on and off, how to choose the right yarn and what to do with your first piece of knitting. My approach combines technical know-how with calm encouragement and stress-reducing meditation.

The next Knitting for Beginners class will be on Saturday 17 March 2-5pm.

All materials are provided: you will receive a class kit containing knitting needles, merino wool yarn and class notes.

Min 2, max 6 students.

Cost: €60 incl IVA and materials.

Click here to book your place!

 

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Meditating the Spindle

This class will teach the fundamental skills required to use a drop spindle. By the end of the class participants will know and understand the use of the drop spindle; the different fibres that can be used to make different types of thread or yarn; be able to use their spindle to make yarn. They will learn how using a drop spindle can be an aid to mindfulness, meditation and calm.

The next workshops are held on two Saturday afternoons on either side of Easter:

Saturday 7 April & 14 April 2-5pm

Spindles, fibre and class notes are provided. Any previous experience with yarn or fibre will be helpful, but not necessary

Min 2, max 6 students.

Cost: €120 incl IVA and materials

Click here to book your place!

 

Anima winter discount

We are running a winter promotion on all Counterweave Anima services: from now until 28 February 2018 use the code WINTER25 to get 25% off Reiki, tarot, mentoring and counselling. Click here to book now!

William and Felicity are experienced counselling and Reiki practitioners.  We can provide confidential advice, support or positive healing energy regardless of which time zone you’re in as we specialise in distance work through Skype and email. All distance clients receive a detailed session feedback report outlining the process and including practical suggestions for you to take forward. In-person sessions are available in Rome, Italy.  All services are completely confidential.

More information about our services can be found here.

To buy Counterweave Anima gift certificates click here.

2018 workshops poll!

We are running a quick poll over on the Counterweave Facebook page to see what people would like to learn in our workshops next year.We will be running regular workshops, including online classes, in 2018. As well as Meditating the Spindle, we are planning classes on:

  • spinning with exotic fibres (including paper!)
  • Stitch Doula, my 5 favourite stitches
  • silk papermaking
  • knitting
  • eco and indigo dyeing
  • a monthly Saturday afternoon BYO projects/help session

Click here to participate or email us at [email protected] and get a 10% discount on 2018 workshop bookings!

We would love to hear from you!

art | craft | anima - Counterweave - Melbourne + Rome. Australian, Aboriginal & Asia-Pacific contemporary arts, crafts & textiles. Reiki & Tarot.