I had the pleasure of working with ceramic artist Kirsten Stingle in a Meditating the Spindle Masterclass. Kirsten was here in Rome for a month-long residency at CRETA, an international centre that promotes ceramics and visual arts. Kirsten uses mixed media in her practice and was keen to explore using fibre.
As well as mastering the art of using a spindle with wool and silk, we experimented with incorporating feathers, silk loom waste, and cotton thread. For artists spinning your own materials can be freeing and lead to all kinds of happy discoveries. There are so many ways you can combine colours and textures to create something unique to use in your work.
In a Meditating the Spindle you get to work one-on-one with me for six hours over two days. You will start to get an idea of what is possible and how you can adapt different materials for use in your artistic practice.
You can also add extra short modules in experimental mixed media including
using found objects
The Masterclass can be adapted to your needs and current artistic curiosities – email me to start the conversation!
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!
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.
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!)
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
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
- eco and indigo dyeing
- a monthly Saturday afternoon BYO projects/help session
We would love to hear from you!
Australian art specialists in Rome, Counterweave Arts Gallery & Workshop is open throughout the summer.
August in Rome is traditionally when businesses close for the summer holiday. It’s true Rome is hot, people are saying ‘see you in September’ and there are signs going up on shop doors saying ‘chiuso per ferie’. But Counterweave Arts is open for business! If you want a cool place to revive, and see some beautiful artwork by Australian artists email us at [email protected] to arrange an appointment. Currently in the gallery we have works on canvas by Central Australian Aboriginal artists represented by Artists of Ampilatwatja and Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation, etchings by Melbourne artists, Lisa Sewards and Trudy Rice, and mixed media and textiles by Felicity Griffin Clark. Click here to see full catalogues of our current stock.
We also have some amazing wearable art in stock, with beautiful handwoven necklaces by Mary Burgess, silk scarves featuring the unique designs of Artists of Ampilatwatja and indigo silk scarves by Felicity Griffin Clark. These are also available in the online shop here.
We are currently working on our autumn/winter 2017 Counterweave Workshop program, with classes including:
Introduction to eco and indigo dyeing (one day workshop)
Introduction to shibori (one day workshop)
Meditating the Spindle – an introduction to mindful spinning (three half-day workshops)
Workshops will include materials, class notes and snacks, for a maximum of six participants, and led by Felicity Griffin Clark, an experienced mixed media and textile artist. Dyeing and shibori workshops will use a range of natural materials including silk, wool, cotton and paper. Meditating the Spindle will focus on using wool and silk fibres. One to one classes for individual students are also available.
For more information email [email protected] or subscribe to the Counterweave newsletter for updates on exhibitions, opening nights, workshops and early bird discounts. A full autumn program and online booking will be available soon.