Made from scrap

Made from scrap
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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Wild Fibres - From Nettles to Soy Silk

Teresinha with a Flax stook from flax grown on her allotment

Today we went to our monthly meeting at The Birmingham and District Guild of Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing. It was a members morning where we get a chance to work and chat together on our own projects and in the afternoon Teresinha Roberts gave a very interesting, fun and informative talk, Wild Fibres - From Nettles to Soy Silk.  Last year she gave a talk 'Wild Fibres - From Angora to Yak'.
           Teresinha is a very interesting, knowledgeable and enthusiastic speaker, she asks very thought provoking questions and welcomes questions and discussions from her audience.  She also brings masses of samples of plants, fibres, yarn, cordage, knitted and woven samples.  These are passed around the group so you get a tactile, hands on experience with fibres you may not ordinarily come across.  Teresinha's enthusiasm is quite infectious as she talks about her trials and tribulations with growing her own plants for fibre and dye and preparing them.  Today was the first time I have handled flax, cotton, bamboo, corn fibre, soy silk and others.  I felt like I learnt a lot in a really great multi-sensory way.  I am interested in the concept of preparing plant fibres and have read a little about nettles for fibre.  The closest I have got to spinning with nettles is Raime Beaded Yarn Here.  Raime is native to Asia and is a close relative of the 'common' Stinging Nettle'.  Raime has been grown for at least 6000 years as a fibre plant and it is one of the 'bast' fibres, in that the fibre is made from the inner bark of the plant.
This is my Raime Fibre which is lustrous and lovely.  The Fibre is naturally white and therefore does not need to be bleached.  I spun it into a sample of beaded yarn here:

I love the look of bamboo fibre and yarn, but not the texture.  A fibre I would be interested in experimenting with in the future is Soy Silk.  I did not take a notebook with me today and really should have done because I have a head like a sieve where facts and figures are concerned.  We discussed the different properties of fibres for example 'Coconut fibre is one of the few fibres that does not corrode in salt water, therefore it is excellent for rope on boats, Kapok, floats and is very useful in life jackets but can be dangerous to transport as it burns very easily.  40kg of Nettles would yield enough fibres to make one shirt!  That is a lot of nettles.  Teresinha grows her own flax on her allotment as well as many natural dye plants and has also managed to grow her own cotton plant in her conservatory.  I would love to grow a cotton plant just to see how he works.  I would be delighted when the seed pod popped open to show cotton wool.  I do not really have any suitable hot spots in my house though.
           It was a very enjoyable day.  I managed to get some more spinning done.  I spared everyone the 'Dirty Alpaca' that is on my Ashford Kiwi wheel.  I took my Ashford Joy, this wheel folds up and is designed to be portable.  I love my 'Kiwi' so much I tend to neglect the 'Joy'.  I look at her sitting all lonely in the corner and think I should really find her a more loving home.   Today we bonded a bit more though and I don't think I would like to part with her.  The Kiwi is a little 'work horse' that doesn't mind getting dirty with Alpaca, I don't think the Joy would appreciate me getting her all dirty.
I am sure it is just a case of getting used to using it.  It is quite different to spinning on the Kiwi.  The Kiwi is double treadle that I can control with just my feet and the joy is single treadle.  The Joy also has more ratios (but they are a bit like gears on a bicycle I don't quite understand them).  I am trying to finish odd projects and bits and bobs I have lying around, (hmmm, that may take me a while).  Today I did manage to finish spinning some fibre that the lady I bought the Joy from kindly gave me.  I also Navajo Plied on the Joy for the first time, it felt rather clumsy and I ended up with a skein of considerably over spun yarn.
I can only identify the fibre as wool and silk, I have no idea what sort of wool it is though, I do quite a lot of 'mystery' spinning.  Half of the skein is thick and over spun, the other half is not too bad at all.
My Mother has a gift for saying encouraging things to me, as only a Mother can when they can see disappointment or discouragement.  When I said 'Oh look at that, it's all lumpy and over spun!  What can I use that for now?  Nothing!'  She replied 'That is fine, it is very nice, it would make a nice stripe on a hat!'  So before anyone asks me what I will be making with it, it is going to be a nice stripe on a hat! 


  1. How neat. I am intrigued by the beaded yarn you made, I love it. Your posts are always interesting.

  2. Amazing, all the different fibres.
    You must read minds, I was going to ask "what are you going to make" and you told us!
    Carol xx

  3. A great post -- needless to say I find it fascinating as I'm also a spinner. I don't think your yarn looks overspun. Say.. when you ply back onto your wheel, do you turn the wheel backwards? That's what the spinning instructor told me the other day but I don't remember doing it that way when I was doing more spinning. Hmmm.. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  4. Kashi you are very kind, to make a beaded yarn I thread a Zillion beads on to sewing thread (cotton) and ply it with a singles thread very carefully, a tangle or breakage is by my definition a disaster.

  5. Carol, yep I will make a fine stripe! I just have to work out what the rest of the hat will be made with, or perhaps I should make the stripe and the lucky recipient can make the rest of their hat themselves! x

  6. Teresa,
    I always spin clockwise and ply anti clockwise. I guess people do things in different ways, but my understanding is I need to ply in the opposite direction to which I have spun. (I am loving your Crochet Bears by the way!) x

  7. Thanks for such an interesting post! I am keen to explore growing some of my own fibres and perhaps even start spinning....and your post has only made me more determined to do so :)

  8. It is awesome as to what can be spun. I have heard of hemp fibers for TONS of uses. there is always something that could be made from unruly yarn:)

  9. Amy, there was a problem that prevented Teresinha from growing hemp on her allotment. You can apparently grow six plants but it is illegal to harvest them. They can be legally harvested by a licensed person, but this is costly. Teresinha did have a bag made out of fine hemp thread. I also have a hemp Sun Hat. I think it is an amazing fibre with great properties, it is strong and hard wearing. We did have an interesting discussion about hemp as a plant, its many uses and it's prohibition.

  10. Interesting what you say about the hemp, DH and I were discussing this the other day, and how silly the restrictions are. Wonder how much it is to become a licensed person?

    Sounds a really interesting guilld meeting.

  11. yay for wild women!!! and eccentric spinners ;o)


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