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Yarn Structure Workshop at WGGB, Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore

I just finished a first-time workshop named Yarn Structure.  As you may guess this combined old and new concepts.  It also proved to be a multi-day workshop squeezed into two days.  I'm posting this as a reference for my students and as a reference for those inquiring about my workshop style. 

This class focused on using the understanding of grist-density and twist tightness to effect a change in the yarn during plying.  These three self-ply yarn samples below created very different types of yarns.  However, when all of the air is forced out of each, it is apparent that they have the same density, the same amount of fibers, but are held together with differing amounts of twist.

I have always understood yarn structures as recipes, that you can substitute ingredients once you understand why that ingredient is necessary to the finished product.

Here is our first worksheet recipe using different size/density and tightness in the two plys to create a spiral.  The greater the differences the more dramatic the spiral results.

Recipe number two jumps into the area I call Illegal Yarn, which also creates a spiral or textured yarn.  I use the term illegal when putting together one effect Z-ply with one soft S-ply.  When the S-plying is done, and the yarn wet set while restricted, not stretched, you get a structurally sound, textured yarn.  This is easier for a spinner who tends to spin very softly.

Recipe number three is the standard cable yarn.  A classic yarn that every spinner ought to be familiar with.  This yarn is two plied yarns plied/cabled together.  The cable yarn requires an overply operation before it will create the braided cable look.

Recipe number four is bouclé.  I love creating this mohair and hair type wools like LiecesterLongwool or Lincoln.  I prefer using duel duty sewing thread for the binders.  Of course, if you enjoy spinning very fine, you can easily spin your binders.

Finally, I added what I call an X-cross yarn.  This yarn has the hallmarks of a cable and a bouclé, however, it is a three-ply made with two Z-plies, plied S. Then the S-plied yarn and an S-ply single are put together with Z plying. 

I also included a reference sheet to keep track of the fibers we used in the workshop.  Clearly, it was a multi-day workshop.  Next time I will be more judicious with the time allotted.

Longer Warps on a Rigid Heddle Loom

Direct warping a  Rigid Heddle-RH can be tiring walking back and forth across a room for a long warp, not to mention keeping everyone out of the way.  Here's how to use a warping board to reduce the walking.

My warping board is large since I also have a large floor loom.  It is a yard across and has 8 pegs on each side for a very long 14-yard warp.  An RH loom won't hold a warp that long, so you could use a smaller 1/2 yard warping board, these usually have enough pegs to do 6 or 8 yards.

I keep the loom and the warping board to my working edge.  This reduces the amount of reaching I need to do.  I've already had two rotator cuff surgeries, no need to aggravate my shoulders.

For direct warping the RH loom. both need to be clamped to a large table, I used 2 clamps for my warping board since it was so big.

The pegs that I flattened to the table are for making the cross on warp chains.  The crossing of the warp yarns keeps them in order while moving the chain from the warping board to the loom.  The heddle on the RH keeps the yarns in order so no need for crossing the yarns.

Since I'm doing a direct warping I started as always at the back of the loom tying on to the back bar.  Then I pull the loop through the first designated slot on the heddle.  Next, I pull the loop all the way across the table to the warping peg that is centered to the loom, that gives me 64 inches.   Then I crossed the warping board 2 more times for an additional 72 inches, next I went down one peg to turn around adding 4 more inches.  So 64+72+4=140 inches, almost 4 yards.

RH looms are designed to simplify the process.  Often one beam at the front replaces both the cloth and front beams, and at the back one replaces the warp and back beams, like on my Ashford. 

Standard table or floor looms and a few RH have the extra beams that you wind the warp and woven cloth onto.  Here are the front and cloth beams on my large loom.  The front and back beams that the yarn and cloth go over while weaving keep the level of your yarn constant.

On RH with only one beam the yarn starts higher at the back when the warp beam is wrapped, then the front beam gets higher as the cloth gets woven and wound on the front beam.  Check your RH because if it's like mine, one beam at each end, then you have a limit on the recommended amount of warp.  If you wind on too much, the thickness of the warp or the finished cloth reduces the shed size when the heddle is in the up position.

KNEES What happened?

I realize I have been slow to post this summer.  I have been busy with writing for two publications, lots of PT and coming to terms with a new knee.  I'll first post a recent photo of some dyeing I did in August to show that I'm on my way back to full dyeing, spinning, and weaving.

Just last November, Rich and I were hiking in NZ for a lovely three weeks and danced at a cousin's wedding at the end of December.  Earlier in December, I slipped multiple times halfway up the muddy hill in my backyard. By January I .  realized I couldn't do a long draw or move the weaving shuttle to the right, at a visit to my Doctor I learned that I had torn my right rotator cuff and bicep.  I opted for a February surgery so I would be healed enough to teach three days in May at Maryland Sheep and Wool.  In March, my right knee developed a deep ache that wasn't helped by PT.  I wore a heavy brace for preparation and teaching alternating with elevation and an elastic brace.  MDSW was very tiring so I made good use of my screened porch when it was over. 


An MRI late May showed Osteonecrosis of the knee.  This wasn't arthritis, my right femur was dying.  There was no clear answer to why, but this put me in the fast lane for a partial knee replacement at the end of June.  Two surgeries in less than six months were very discouraging and left me wondering what had happened.  Here, I'm using an ice machine to keep my knee cool after surgery.

If I had a typical desk job I might have returned to work.  But, the doctor encouraged me to cancel my fall workshops to give me ample time for full recuperation.  Knowing how often I end up going upstairs and downstairs plus the standing required for preparing, packing, teaching, and unpacking my classes, I reluctantly agreed.  Add to that the travel and the walking once I'm on location and I couldn't see any other choice.  I also wanted to be fair to my events and guilds so they could have ample time to make the changes. 

I remember in 2003, I managed to travel and teach while in a wheelchair with my broken ankle, but I was 15 years younger, and now know how physically exhausting those workshops were, before, during, and after.

You've read this far and I still haven't said how I'm doing.  In many ways I'm making progress, I can drive now.  I'm still doing PT but now we're getting to the hard parts. 
My swollen knee is still painful. Sleeping is more challenging. 

I have been trying to walk in our local park, 3 non-PT days a week.  Rich has been ready to walk with me anytime I'm ready. The last time I walked the whole mile by myself, without holding on.  My area of Maryland is a very hilly place and I happen to live halfway down a very steep road, which I still can't walk up or down so we drive to the park, which is gorgeous with a gentle hill down and up for practice.  Here I am smiling after my first mile.

Also, I can't do stairs like before, my fastest way to go up is like a cat on hands and feet, while backward is the fastest way to go down.  Neither way is good for carrying anything.

I know I have a couple of e-spinning wheels, but I still wanted to work on my original traditional Ashford, my first love.  It has double treadle now, and I can spin for about an hour straight.  My new knee is achy when I sit properly with my legs down.  Standing still quickly gets tiring, Lutheran communion liturgy is about my limit right now.  

My son and his wife hired a nanny for the twins so I could focus on my PT, healing, and writing.  I think the article in NZ Ashford's Wheel about spinning and rigid heddle weaving with crepe and cable handspun will be published first.  Then you'll have to wait a bit for my next PLY article.  I can't say any more at this time but I'm pleased with both.

I have begun to accept teaching contracts for 2019, so I hope to see many of you at an event next year.  Thank you for all your well wishes, thoughts, and prayers.  They were and are always appreciated.  I know many of my students have traveled this journey with new knees and I have a new appreciation for what they have been through.

Just the Flax, please!

I love PLY Magazine for their new perspectives and added dimensions.  PLY showcases multiple points of view and many issues are dedicated to single topics. Beautiful to read and to hold, all most all of the photos are staged and taken by PLY's own photographer, Bernadette Emerson.

In the Spring Flax 2018 issue, I was fortunate to author two articles and an opinion on the Hot Button question. Twist on Flax and Finishing Flax hold several of my tips for working with flax fibers.

Other writers filled in the starting and drafting articles.  Here is what I would add. I'm a firm believer in spinning from long line strick for the finest flax/linen yarns. I help the student recognize how helpful the distaff is.  It becomes your helping hand, your backhand to hold the fibers. This frees your usual backhand to for new tasks. The first task for the back-hand is holding the twist out of the fibers out of while the forward hand dips into the water pot for wet-spinning.  The second task is traffic controller, managing unruly fibers only when needed.

In this video, you will see how my backhand replaces my front hand allowing me to wet my fingers then continue wet spinning my flax. The backhand just holds the twist so it doesn't move further into the fibers until the front hand has time to re-wet.

I always keep my fibers under control and draft the fibers as they move straight down from the distaff.  My favorite style of dressing the distaff is the ponytail.

A distaff can be created many ways, it is a truly utilitarian tool.  Sometimes it was only a peg on the wall near where the spinner sat.  Sometimes there was a hole in the chair seat that held the distaff beside the spinner.  Sometimes it is a stand-alone tall rack like a coat rack.  Many times it is attached to the wheel with a 3 piece arrangement that gives some adjustment to the placement.

Some of my students like drafting from the middle of the fibers and I recommend tieing both ends of the stick to make a loop.  Here you can see how the fork is used to hold the top of the tied fibers.  The loop also works very well if you have a short setup.

Attached fork
Flax loop

A variety of distaffs

Here are a few different stand-alone setups.  That you can try.  The base can be a Christmas tree stand, a dress form stand, a coat rack, or a music stand.  The uprights can be a dowel or even a handle from a broom or "swifer" style cleaning tool. I class I often use a plastic fork taped or rubber banded to the top.

The far right is a lovely oak basket or birdcage distaff made ars ago by Rick Reeves.  If you have someone who can do some woodwork this is a lovely style to try and copy.  Start with a small stool, drill so you can attach a long pole.  The basket is bent reed.

Since I prefer to draft from the end of a ponytail, I use it without the basket.

If you have a Traditional Ashford wheel and your backhand is your right, here are photos of how my holder was shortened so that I could attach it to the wheel upright.

The full setup with a paddle distaff
Shortened clamp 
Clamped to the upright

The original clamp was longer and made to fit on the front leg and hold the distaff to the left of the spinner.

The Origami Mobius Vest - Part One

After several requests,  I've put together a little presentation to explain my Origami Mobius vest.   Here is the front, with slash pockets and a wide shawl collar.  The yarn is all handspun and woven on a rigid heddle loom.  Since it is warp-faced, that means it has twice as many warp ends as weft picks.  The warp is actually from sample yarns from multiple classes.  The weft is turquoise as well as the selvage threads. 
 The back doesn't have any collar at all, this is due to the Mobius fold that creates the illusion of a front collar.  The back is seamed down the middle to the waist and the back lower band is eased to give a better fit at the hips. 
Try it with graph paper.  You'll need to cut and tape so that you have a length 10 squares by 120 squares.  The thing that allows the origami folding to work is the fact that as a weaver we can make a fabric that is beautiful on both sides.

 1.  Four squares equal10 inches, the size of the vest fabric for my vest is 10"x 120" plus a bit for ease at the hips.
 2.   I've numbered the front side and colored the back side with red hatching marks so you can keep track of the folds. Start with the back side facing you. 

3. The first fold is four squares from the center back (between 6 and 7) on both sides and is a perfect 45-degree angle, so the back side is now showing.  Both sides become parallel to each other.
4. The next fold makes the pockets by folding the sides under and toward each other.  On the backside, you will see the side that is numbered.

5. Turn it over and you are looking at the front with the deep V pocket folds which need a little bit of stitching at the side bottom to keep a lipstick, credit card, and tissue.

 6.  Now we will make the collar fold, mine is a long shallow fold.  It starts one square above the last fold and ends ten and a half squares away.  The fold brings the back side to the top as the shawl collar is shaped. (The exact angle depends on your own shoulders.  Start with this amount and adjust to fit.) 

7. The shoulder fold is eleven and a half squares up from the bottom edge.  

8.   This should allow you to tape (whip stitch) the back center edges together.  Now you have the front view.

9.  And this is the back view.  The cut edges (1 and 12) are whip stitched to (6 and 7).  Try this with graph paper first until it is clear where you need to make folds.

In the next blog entry, I'll discuss the construction including hiding a cut edge and adding ease for hips at the back waist. 


Cellulose fibers - flax, in particular, have been in my hands a great deal this summer. I have finished two important articles for the PLY magazine's flax issue. I can't say exactly what the articles are, but I'm very pleased and I have a created a teaser video about the last finishing step that you might need after you scour your yarns.  The scouring usually activates the lignins that are part of the fiber creating a very stiff yarn.
Enjoy, better yet join me in one of my classes at SAFF in NC, in October

The Year of Spinning Cellulose Fibers, Join me

I declare this my year of CELLULOSE!  I've taught cellulose classes twice in MI and VA, plus GA, NY, and OH.  I'm still scheduled for more of the same classes at MFF, OR, and SAFF. Cellulose is any fiber that doesn't come from an animal.  Not WOOL.

These incredible fibers are obtained from plants, like the seed hair - cotton or the bast fibers; flax, hemp, and ramie. They're perfect for spinning fine and creating beautiful weaving yarns. The first photo has natural and yellow dyed flax plus white ramie yarns shown as skeins and woven into a table mat.

The earrings are 2-ply handspun flax, which is perfect for any Irish Crochet patterns you might have.  I will point out that once flax is spun, it magically becomes linen under your fingertips.

Cotton yarns are soft and supple.  The brown cotton yarns in the third photo are plied with soysilk and knit into a summer scarf.  This year we are featuring Sarepta brown cotton fibers from Louisiana.  In Cotton classes, I always start students spinning the cotton while still attached to seeds.  Then we move into the ginned lint and finally the rovings.

In most workshops, we have time to do a comparison dyeing to show how the same dye, prep, and concentration change by the fiber involved. Don't forget to bring an apron and rubber gloves.

Banana fibers, historically called abaca, were stripped from the leaf sheath of a non-edible type of banana plant.  Sometimes this fiber was called Manilla Hemp.  The banana fiber we'll use is harvested from the entire Banana stalks and leaves left after the plant has finished fruiting.

Not only are they not wool, they don't act like wool, they don't feel like wool or spin like wool.  Sign up today, at Michigan Fiber Festival or Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair.

Patsy Zawistoski

August Michigan Fiber Festival Mystery

Spinning friends, especially Michigan Fiber Festival friends, I need a few more inquiring minds.

I am seeking more curious students to sign in for the Saturday workshop, 

CSI: Yarns and Fibers - Are You Up to the Challenge?  

This is a very informative fun workshop.   I hope you are ready for sleuthing and solving the mysteries of fibers and yarns.  You may even have some unlabeled and unknown fibers or yarns in your own stash.  Some of us call these “UBBFYs or “Unidentified Bags or Balls of Fluff or Yarn.”  

It's a new class with rave reviews in California where students left very excited about all they learned and how they can put it to good use.  I'll be bringing my digital microscope, to help you get a close look at the fiber.   Guess what fiber is shown on the top slide.  If you are still puzzling over the answer, the bottom slide is even closer. We will also learn the other methods for identifying fibers.

On Friday, which I know is the first shopping day, (but I do give you early shopping time), is the very popular, Handspinning Options for Painted Rovings.  This workshop teaches you how to quickly make various yarn styles with that specially painted roving.  This allows you to consider which 1, 2, or 3 yarns you want for the project, using very little fiber or time.  You'll also gain a better perspective for making or choosing painted roving combinations.  

If you want to get in either class call or log in quick because they are thinking of canceling the class.  By the way, the fiber is brown cotton.


May 2014, Shepherds Harvest, MN

Shepherds Harvest Festival 2014, is this weekend May 16-18, at Lake Elmo, MN.   I am packing the car so we will drive this year.  Although online registration is closed, you can register in person.  PM me first. I have room in my classes and I will bring enough supplies.

Spinning Bouclés class on Saturday, May 17th. These yarns are stable, great for weaving - warp or weft and for knitting.

Spinning Hemp, Ramie, Bamboo, and Tencel - Old and New Cellulose Fibers.  This workshop is on Sunday, May 18th you can spin great yarn for lace work, plaiting, or weaving. 

Can I Keep It? This Wheel Followed Me Home....

A large walking wheel now lives with me, another case of a wheel following me home from an event.  This time SOAR 2013, St. Charles, IL.  I live nearby and my husband drove it home.
Ever since I learned that my grandmother spun on a walking wheel, taught my aunts to spin, and my mother (the baby of the family) to hand card, I have always wanted a large spindle point wheel.  I have and enjoy my 2 charkas, and enjoyed teaching spinning on a walking wheel, but never thought there was quite enough room in our little house.  Perhaps there still isn't but the wheel followed me home just the same.

In my mother's mountain cabin, the spinning pretty much stopped before she was old enough for spinning lessons, the family had become well off enough to purchase "boughten yarn".  Then the spinning wheel basically set on the porch unused as the family grew up, out, and down the mountain.  It had already left, "had walked away" before someone thought it might be worth keeping.   Perhaps it looked like this one.

I have found myself studying back in my books about wheels.  Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels, Spinners & Spinning; David Pennington and Michael Taylor, Spinning Wheels and Accessories; Peter Fowler, How to be Owned by an Antique Spinning Wheel - A Practical Guide; and Katy Turner's succinct The Legacy of the Great Wheel.  Oh the joys of having a good library!

The Minor's head is the large accelerating whorl
I was told that the sellers had bought the wheel a few years back and understood it to be from the Evanston, IL area.  That it might date back to the 1870's.
I know that I have a Minor's head attachment, for increasing the speed.  This was granted an American patent in 1803 by Amos Minor, and in 1810 the company was creating six to nine thousand a week.

The Minor's head is now working, after loosening the wooden screws, stabilizing it in the head post, and replacing the band with very fine handspun flax.
The carved wheel post, now level after shimming one leg of the spinning wheel

The light weight, great wheel turns easier on the carved cone-shaped post after I tipped the wheel just a bit so the top of the carved cone was level to the world.  The wheel spindles are simple and the rim is made of two shaped very thin stripes of oak.

The adventure has begun.