When You Spot a Unicorn: Betty Roberts Spinning Wheel

I first saw one of Betty Roberts’ wheels in 2007 in a Google Search. She uses exotic woods to make her double accelerator-wheel style spinning machines. What makes these wheels truly unique is that Betty painstakingly inlays each wheel with beautiful natural flora, insects, and even rattlesnake tails and porcupine quills she finds near her home in Oroville, Washington. Still today there are very few pictures that can be found on the internet of these wheels. There are only 2 short (less than 1min)  video clips that show one of the wheels in action.

Betty Roberts spinning wheels are true unicorns!

I was an instant admirer but I knew there was no way I would get one. There was, and still is no straightforward way to even inquire about getting one. Most people seem to get in touch with Betty, who is reported to be in her late 70’s by email through a friend or an ad posting on Craiglist or Ravelry. According to the Puget Sound Knappers website where Betty is a member she produced at least 5 wheels as recently as 2016. Last month by chance I saw a posting on Facebook for one of Betty’s castle wheels (looked like the Aspen wheel posted on the PSK website) but when I contacted the seller she decided that she did not want to sell anymore. I was bummed but completely understood .

Last month I was checking out the Ravelry Rhinbeck forum sale items (I do this for the fun of it) even though I wasn’t planning on going. Someone made a short post about selling a Betty Roberts Pinwheel wondering if there was interest. This could have easily been overlooked because there were no pictures. I emailed the seller and SCORE!!! I’ve got a Betty.

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Betty Roberts “Pinwheel” 2015

 

It’s a small castle “Pinwheel” signed 2015.

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Betty Roberts “Pinwheel” 2015

I am posting this mostly because there are so few pictures on the web of these unicorns. They are true works of art.

Betty Roberts "Pinwheel" 2015 Floral and insect inlay detail

Betty Roberts "Pinwheel" 2015Floral and insect inlay detail

Natural flora and insect inlay detail

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There are even Butterflies!!

 

I did make a few tweaks. I found the double drive take-up to be too finicky for the lacy weight yarn I like to spin so I converted it to scotch tension using some eye hooks and a wooden peg (a golf tee works too stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye).

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Converting a double drive wheel to scotch tension is as easy as drilling a few holes and inserting some eyehooks. (use a golf tee as a tension knob if you don’t have a wooden peg)

This set-up works out better because I find that the flyer assembly is more quiet (due to the 2-wheel pully action it is not whisper quiet) and stable with the tension screwed all the way down instead of raised.

I also found that the back of the treadle rubbed a little where it connects to the footman so I sanded it a little to give it a rounder edge.

Perhaps I will post a video of this wheel and action some day.

Oh, and one more thing I admire about Betty Roberts is the t-shirt she wore while showcasing her wheels. On her shirt she sports one of my favorite bible verses Proverbs 31:13 ESV “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands”.

Glory to God! I must say there is something truly special about taking raw material directly from God, the provider’s hand and putting it to use.

 

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Oh, This Old Thing?: Flax Wheel

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It’s been 11 years now since I bought my first spinning wheel. I can remember scouring the internet during this “Renaissance Spinning Era”  digging up all the information I could find about wheels. I had just moved to northern Indiana from college and had finally landed a full-time job. My first wheel was an old Baynes single treadle wheel that I bought off Ebay for about $100. It arrived with a broken leg which my dad fix for me with a broom handle. I eventually sold it when I bout my Kromski Sonata a year later (still the best wheel I own).

I actually bought another wheel off Ebay during that time period that I was much less proud of. It is an affordable old Dutch Wheel Saxony wheel kit by Brabants (perhaps from the 1950’s). I put it together with what little tools I had. There were no instructions. I remember the neighbors in the apartment below beating on the ceiling. They were tired of hearing me hitting the treadles..and the floor with the hammer. I didn’t know enough to drill pilot holes. The treadle is cracked a little as a result.

Once I got the wheel crudely put together I tried to spin on it. Ugh. The wheel was wobbly and the drive band wouldn’t stay on. I declared it a DUD but couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

I moved it to my basement when I bought my house and forgot about it until now. 10 years later. After bringing it out I realized this little old wheel was meant to spin flax. It actually has some nice wood turning and is quite stylish with its dark walnut flyer and leather bearings. I never noticed this before. It’s actually a nicely made wheel.  Although the ratio of 5.5:1 is super low compare to my preferred 19:1 and the bobbins only hold about 2ozs of yarn it is quite serviceable. I rubbed it down with butcher block oil and tuned it up. It was now fit to sit in my living room and look cute.

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I have since learned quite a bit about spinning on a Saxony wheel from spinning on my Kromski Symphony. I found that I needed to adjust the maiden posts and glue them in place on the flax wheel which fixed the issue of the drive flying off.

I also found that the take-up was too fast for me to build up enough twist for wool using double drive so I rigged the wheel up for scotch tension using a few eye hooks and a golf tee.

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The first project for the little old flax wheel was to comb and spin some of the mystery wool I was gifted by a member of my fiberarts guild earlier this year. The result is a nice lofty yarn . Once I got the rhythm of the single treadle going I enjoyed the spin.

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The spinning adventures continued with a Spinner’s Challenge from my guild. Participants were given 4 cards with attributes that they would need to incorporate into a finished yarn. The attributes were chain-plied, space-dyed, wool, and sparkle. Hmm. I actually had a 4oz braid already that was purchased on my Oregon trip. The braid was brightly dyed BFL from Renegade Fibers.

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I separated the braid by color then carded each color pile together with some sparkly Angelina fiber I had purchase a few years ago. The fiber was then spun up fine using the original color sequence then chain-plied. Voila.

My plan is to turn it into a shawl for the big reveal this spring. I can hardly wait.

In other spinning news. The 8oz flax/silk braids are spun up. The colorway is called madras. I kept the original color sequence and plied each section together for a lace-weight 2ply yarn. The resulting 4oz skeins look like two completely different colorways. The plain is to weave them, dark color as the warp and light color as a weft, to see if I get a “madras” looking fabric.

I also spun up a black cormo/alpaca blend that I purchased at Sauder village. It’ll probably be a bit scratchy.

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I have a nice soft alpaca/cormo blend in a oatmeal color on a drop spindle. It still needs to be plied. There a few other spindle projects in process too. They’ll get done eventually. No hurry.

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Smiles and Sparkles with Knits and Spins

September was a month with lots of knitting and spinning on-the-go. I literally took a project with me to school, BSF, restaurants, and everywhere else. I am so done with hiding away one of my dearest past times passions for the sake of appearing conventional. I have truly enjoyed the liberation and made some new connections as a result.

Art blitz spinning

Spinning at Art Blitz in Valparaiso, Indiana with friends from Duneland Weaver’s and Spinner’s Guild

One of my favorite events was spinning at Art Blitz in Valparaiso, Indiana at an art school with my guild, Duneland Weaver’s and Spinner’s. There were lots of laughs and sharing of ideas.

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I met Cathy at the spin-in at the Sauder Village Fiber Fest in Archbold, Ohio

I also went to the Sauder Village Fiber Fest in Archbold, Ohio and participated in the Spin-in with Kate Larson and other spinners on retreat from all over Ohio. We had a good time. I can truly say I always find a friend with crafty people. There is a certain bond that is shared with people who like to create from raw material.

Along with the crafting in public I am proud to say I finally knit up something out of one of the crazy sparkly art batts that I’ve been hoarding lately. My Undercurrent cardigan is complete.

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I only had 12 ozs of the DKish weight yarn so I paired it with some white commercial silk that I had plied with dyed silk hankies long ago and forgot about. I think it works well. I used all of the art yarn and barely got away with a bind-off only having a silver dollar sized yarn ball left over, phew. I really love the fit of this pattern and how easy it is to knit. I could definitely use another, perhaps in a more conventional yarn. I must say though, I really don’t mind all the sparkles. I’m giving this project 5 stars.

BTW, spinning wise, I was able to get a 4 oz. skein spun up of oatmeal colored Sally Fox cotton on my new Lendrum Very Fast flyer. That thing is crazy fast and definitely beats out my Ashford Traveller lace flyer (which I have since sold). I finally purchased the fast whorl for my Kromski Symphony and plied the cotton singles quite efficiently at the 25:1 ratio it offers.

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New Fast Whorl on my Kromski Symphony does an excellent job plying high twist cotton

My mint chocolate chip spin is off the wheel. I added in some grey Shetland breed wool in order to stretch the 8oz into a nice sweater quantity. I now have a gradient-like set of skeins to work with.

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I’ve also spun up Hipstrings’ HillStreet District colorway and 8 ozs of grey Romney that is awaiting plying.

My latest spinning obsession is a tussah silk/flax blend I ordered from Inglenook Fibers in the Madras colorway. The plan is to hopefully get some weaving done one of these days this fall. I’m also spinning up 8ozs of recycled green sari silk on the Kromski Sonata which I hope to weave.

Wait but There’s More

I did get a little housekeeping done. The Tour De Fleece skeins are finally washed. There was so much to wash that I just filled up my kiddie pool, added a little Dr. Bronners Castle Soap and gave them a swirl to set the twist.

 

I bought some stuff. I bought a lot of stuff (hangs head). A new to me wheel. It’s a Lendrum with a bunch of extras thrown in, including Spunky Eclectic Aspen BFL roving which I immediately spun up. I did try to vote my Ashford Traveller wheel off the island via Ravelry but no takers so I guess I’m a crazed lady with 5 spinning wheels. But, but I spin though.

 

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Oh yes, and then theirs a few spindles. I bought 2 bottom whirls one has a pewter whirl and the other is one of the illusive Ann Grout pottery spindles. It was a steal at $25 on a Ravelry destash. Then there’s the cute little Greensleeves teacup spindle and… let me just stop. But, but I spin though.

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My favorite is the cute little owl spindle I got from Woodland Woodworks. I saw them in the Inglenooks forum during Tour De Fleece then this happened…

 

I did start a new knitting project. This is the starts of a hoodie that I found on Knitty called Undercurrent.

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I did swatch…just in case this thing turns out to be a disaster. I tried to plan really. The yarn is crazy as all get out. The art batts were from Gargoylelover in the Starry Night colorway. I am adding in some white silk yarn that I’ve had in my stash forever in hopes of having enough yarn to finish.

 

Meanwhile I have some socks  lingering on the needles along my crochet Virus shawl which is slowly growing.

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Spinning Under the Influence: Artsy Yarn

Every since I joined a few Ravelry spinning groups last month I’ve been under a bit of a trance with my spinning. No, stranger to color it was only natural that I would see Inglenook fibers and need to spin some. They have the most imaginative colorways. I decided to follow the technique of the Ravelry folks for spinning my Hawaiian Shirt braid.

I would spin a two ply yarn that keeps the color blocks together by separating the fiber then spinning each color separately. This skein was completely spindle spun.

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I liked it so I did the same with a Fierce Fibers braid I purchased and the Oregon Sheep and Wool Fest

It did stop their there though. Texture! I have been spinning all the art batts I can get my hands on and pretty much any fiber prep with some irregular bumpiness to it.

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As a primarily fingering/lace weight spinner it’s really bizarre that I’m spinning inconsistent yarns now.

At Michigan fiber fest I got to card my own batt at the Uniquely Yours booth. I used blue BFL with green merino and added in shredded money. I couldn’t wait to see what it would do. I spun it like a wild woman and made a very thick and thin single then plied it with copper sewing thread, What?!  yes, I’m calling this skein dollars and Cents ya’ll.

I kept the craziness going with an art batt from Beyond the Fleece which I also spun willy nilly.

I spindle spun another batt I bought from her earlier this year at Ann Arbor Fiber fest in my usually lace weight. It’s a nice skein with some texture here and there but otherwise safe.

I should be done right? nope. I bought some roving from another vender (can’t think of the name at the moment) that is minty green with black silk noil. Texure! They called it Leopard Frog, I call it Mint Chocolate Chip.  Seeing as how mint chocolate chip is my favorite ice cream I had to go ahead and start spinning that too. I am swirling in some grey Shetland to make it a sweater quantity.

I’ve had a drum carder for at least 7 years and had only used it for processing until now. The fiber fest adventure has reprogrammed my mind so now I’ve taken it out to turn a bag of colorful odds and ends that I bought a long time ago into a spinnable batt. I will add the trinkets back in during the plying phase

This little treasure trove is now awaiting its turn on the wheel.  This has got to be a phase.

I Still Sew: Cappuccino Dress

I’ve been meaning to sew for a while now, really. I haven’t forgot. Lately my spinning mojo has been in control. There was this one pattern though that was able to snap me out of my spinning trance for a brief moment, the cappuccino dress by Oliver & Co.

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I caught on to the Portfolio Dress bandwagon late and Simplicity left us all hanging after the initial pattern run was sold out. When Oliver & Co finally released a follow-up pattern, the Cappaccino Dress, I wanted it although I liked the original better. At $14.99 it is on the pricey end for me but after stalking for a year I figured I wanted it bad enough for the splurge.

The dress sewed up pretty easily and is very comfy. I definitely want to do more. I am surprised at how well the kimono sleeves fit even without a gusset. Cheers to the Cappaccino dress!…now back to my spinning.

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I also want to throw in this picture of me feeling saucy for my cousin’s wedding wearing my MCCalls 6770skirt. I made it last year to wear to a murder mystery dinner. It was I think, the last garment I had sewn before this dress. Still loving it.

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McCall’s 6770 skirt

 

Meanwhile a whole basket of sewing projects I cut out years ago await their turns on the needle. 101_2301

 

 

Me Too: Joining the 2017 Tour De Fleece Spin-a-long

I had only heard of this event a few months ago perhaps in someone’s podcast. I have a vague idea of what the event inspiration Tour De France is. The thought of setting some personal spinning goals and spending most of July treadling my wheels intrigued me.

I decided to participate in two Ravelry forums: Sweets Off the Wheel and Sew Perfect Purls which was a lot of fun. I found it really inspiring looking at all of the fibers and finished skeins people were posting. It was also nice to chat with all people who are just as enthusiastic about fiberarts as me. I made some nice connections sharing and learning with the others in the group.

My goals were to spin 2 sweater quantities of wool (found malabrigo fiber for $12 per 4oz braid on fabulousyarn.com and lost my mind) and 4oz of flax strick. I pretty much did that and also experimented with dyeing raw cotton with fiber reactive dyes.

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The plan was to put all of my wheels to use.

Jensen TinaII- spin a strick of flax
Kromski Symphony- spin 12oz of Malabrigo Nube in a fingering/sport chain-plied yarn
Kromski Sonata-combo spin 2 4oz neon braids (1 merino, 1 ramboullet) with a high twist
Ashford Traveler w/ lace flyer- dye some cotton punis (never dyed before) and spin them up.

ready to skein TDF2017

I ended up spinning 4 oz white Targhee, 8 oz Fierce fibers 1ply bruised fairy in ramboulett and 1ply bright rainbow merino, 12 oz Malabrigo Nube merino in Arco Iris, mixed skeins of pink/purple cotton/bamboo, 4oz flax strick)

The cotton dyeing was quite the experiment. I learned why it’s essential to scour the cotton with soda ash on high heat. The natural oil cause the cotton to float on the water like marshmallow. The water did not penetrate the mass of fiber until the oil was boiled away.

The dyeing part was pretty simple. I mixed up some magenta, raspberry, purple in squeeze bottles and got the job done. I even dyed my handspun cotton shawl I crocheted last year.

After that I was worried that I had ruined my punis along with the bamboo fiber I through in. The punis shriveled into little dreadlocks.  It became so compacted and matted. With the help of some wooden sticks and a pillow I was able to fluff them up enough to spin.

I ran the bamboo through the carder to fluff it up then hand carded it into a cloud. The cotton and bamboo singles were plied together for a slubby but still had a nice drape and sheen.

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I stopped measuring yardage a few years ago after discovering I usually spin a fingering weight yarn by default and 4 oz of wool just about always ends up being about 450yards after washing. The Targhee may end up shrinking more because of the crimp.
Today I counted my flax thinking surely it would be different because well it’s different than wool. Nope. The 4oz skein ended up being 450.7 yards. The last time I measured cotton it had like 9% shrinkage after washing.
With all that said I spun
6-4oz wool skeins =2,700 yards
1- 4oz flax skein=450 yards
The cotton and cotton/bamboo skeins(completely different weight/yardage ration)- 2oz gives about 500 yards unwashed. I’m just gonna say 700yardsthinking_face
Total approximate yardage=3,850yards

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handspun cotton and bamboo skeins

 

TDF 2017 skeins

2017 Tour De Fleece Results

TDF2017 skeins in a basket

basket of skeins awaiting their final soak