Saturday, March 23, 2013


My previous post was about Alchemy - the art of changing something worthless into something valuable, such as gold. There is, of course, the old fairy tale about the spinner who needed to turn straw into gold. Magically an elf heard her cries and offered to give her that power, in exchange for her first born child.

She weighed the alternatives - the prospect of money and power now, over a large family in the future and, as is often the case, short term pleasure is exchanged for long term drudgery :) hence, she accepted his offer.

Because I work with yarn, I often think of this story. Hand spinners and there are many, take animal fleeces, plant materials, even silk worm casings and use them to create wonderful yarns, which they sell to support themselves.

I don't actually spin yarn, but I do get yarn in from mills often, that requires a little processing. Sometimes it is all one colour and needs to be dyed, or it needs to be taken from cones and put into balls or skeins. Fortunately, I have machines for this.

Once I brought in a yarn that was 100% raw silk. I had never worked with raw silk before, so I didn't know what to expect. I knew when you worked with hemp or linen, it needed to be soaked (retted) and it needed to be hackled - literally whipped into shape by threshing it over a hackle - a board with spikes in it.

When the skeins of silk arrived, they looked like this - quite stiff and a little like straw.

I drew on my experience with linen and decided to soak them. After hanging them to dry, I threshed them several times (without a hackle), before winding them into skeins.

The skeins were still a little stiff, but they were looking a lot more pliable. Then we dyed them, repeating the soaking and threshing.

Finally, when I put a skein on the swift to wind into a ball, I did it slowly and teased the strands, that wanted to cling together, apart. At last, I used this ball to knit a shawl.

I found that as my hands worked with the yarn, it softened even more. The whole process reminded me of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. The yarn came in like straw, but with a lot of work, it softened into a lustrous silk. I didn't have an elf to help me - OK maybe my youngest, and although I didn't actually have to give up my the first "born," my eldest was commissioned to dye the yarn - straw into gold - with a lot of work and a little imagination!!

Believe in make-believe!! It works magic!!

Have an awesome day


  1. I love your blog Carol, it's one day it's heartwarming another filled with humour but each day I learn something new. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Looks like that would be a very satisfying project. What a transformation!

  3. I agree with Anita-Clare, you never know what to expect - perfect!

  4. lovely! I agree with the ladies above me, this is such a wonderful blog!

  5. The shawl will be an heirloom treasure not only because of it's beauty but also the steps to transform the medium and the story behind it.

  6. What a cute story! I think it's great for kids to become involved in projects like this. Love the color and the shawl.