knit | spin

New Tools

April 16, 2016

In E.M. Forster’s, A Room With A View (1908), old Mr Emerson, a radical thinker, has a wardrobe on which is painted ‘Mistrust all enterprises which require new clothes‘. It is a quote(ish) from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) and I have always rather liked it and have expanded it as a mistrust of all enterprises requiring new things in general, tools, equipment and other stuff. Curiously I don’t include books in this category, as I do have the habit of thinking a book of information is always necessary for any new endeavour!

I tend to be rather conservative about buying new tools or better tools, preferring to make do and try the new enterprise first before investing in stuff. This both a desire to acquire only the most useful and applicable thing but also because I find I become easily overwhelmed by excellent materials/equipment. I feel rigid and unable to make things freely as I get all worried about doing something worthy of the fine tools/materials. Instead, I prefer to sidle up slowly against a potentially new piece of equipment and sniff it out for a while, acquiring bits and pieces slowly and cautiously. It is usually a pretty useful strategy as it prevents me from accumulating lots of artifacts from old enthusiasms which our small house is grateful for and my equipment can grow as my capacity and confidence grows but sometimes my wariness gets in the way of actually doing the job I want to do. There is a fine balance I think between paucity, over abundance and the necessary amount of tools.

IMG_2619_renamed_9367Recently, I bought a sampling niddy noddy and a replacement flick carder. The delightfully named niddy noddy is a tool used to wind yarn into a measurable, consistent skein for washing and dyeing, whilst a flick carder looks like a dog grooming tool and is used to open out locks of wool to spin them more easily.

The niddy noddy was an easy decision, as we were told we needed one for the Spinning Certificate Course, but I have vacillated for a couple of years about replacing the flick carder. The flick carder was my first spinning tool. Before I owned a wheel or spindle, I owned a flick carder. For many years it was my only fibre preparation tool and so of course I used it for every situation, for every fibre. My action was more akin to whacking than flicking and the poor thing aged rapidly in the hands of a beginner. The tines were very wobbly and bent in unusual ways.  It snarled the wool rather than setting the fibres straight. Rather than replace it, I stopped using it. I used the old hand carders I had been given and I used some English combs I worked up to buying. That is all very well at home but English combs and hand carders are large, cumbersome and spikey. They just do not travel as well as the humble flicker.

IMG_2620So I have bought a new one. I shall take care of its timber and take care of its tines. I shall be flicking not whacking!

IMG_2612Just after I bought this brand new one, I was given this lovely old one. It belonged to my friend’s mother who would have used it in the seventies and eighties I think. Its tines are still firm and stiff so perhaps I was particularly hard on my poor old flicker.

IMG_2682_renamed_17038What is your relationship with your tools? Do you enjoy collecting tools and experimenting with the new opportunities they represent or are you cautious and minimal, working slowly up to careful purchases?

In the Winter 2015 issue of Yarn Maker, Debbie Zawinski, a minimalist handspindler wrote about the very basic stick spindle she uses on her treks, reflecting ‘…it will spin yarn as beautiful as the finest wheel can – the skill is in the fingers, not the machine’. This may indeed be true but perhaps there are also tools that help bring out the skill in our fingers? Is there an indispensable tool in your craft that you are prepared to invest heavily in…scissors, rotary cutter, needles?


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  1. How could I resist an entry that begins with a quote from one of my favourite books (and favourite characters therein). And well-used, too. You write so beautifully that I ought to take lessons from you. The photos are appealing, too, though I understand your hesitaton about new items. I also grow a deep affection for the old ones. PS I am going to register for a one day intro to spinning offered by the spinners and weavers guild here if I can fit it into my upcoming schedule, so I may have been sucked in by your posts. 🙂

  2. I am wary of getting many new things partly due to the fact that I moved to the UK a decade ago with only a couple of suitcases and discovered I like travelling light. I have held on to lots of old books though. They are really important to me. I also live in a pretty small urban flat and there just isn’t room for many things. As soon as stuff starts to accumulate this place starts feeling claustrophobic. So I have a six or seven spindles, a niddy-noddy and a swift and that is all. I am currently using carders I borrowed from the guild. I don’t process enough fleece to make purchases worthwhile. Someday I may get a wheel but I don’t feel a driving need to do so now.

    However, I will say that I love tools. They are one of my favourite things about being human 🙂 My father is a woodworker and I have lost count of the number of times he has said “Use the right tool.” A well-made tool is a thing of beauty. A good, sharp knife that keeps it edge, a well-balanced hammer that makes you effective, a sewing machine that has all its parts and treats the materials well. A spindle is a tool and so is a very complex spinning wheel. Things that are made well and thoughtfully add to the enjoyment of making something. I think beginners especially benefit from good tools (this doesn’t mean new tools of course). I have known so many who have tried out something like spinning and thought they were hopeless and then they tried a well-made and well-maintained tool and they discovered that half their problem was that they were fighting the tool itself rather than actually learning what the fibre was doing. A good tool is unobtrusive and magnifies the skill of the craftsperson, a shoddy tool creates more problems than it solves and evokes no pleasure in using it.

    I am a great fan of borrowing rather than buying at first. I don’t like to purchase something without getting to know it. But once I know that it will be a workhorse for me I am happy to make a tool a part of my life. It just has to work for its keep otherwise it is just junk taking up space. My favourite quote about that is “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I think the few fibre tools I have are both useful and beautiful. And if something is no longer of use it my life I am happy to pass it on to someone who will make good use of it. I feel sometimes that I am simply honouring things by passing them to someone who will help them fulfill their purpose in a way that I cannot.

  3. Good comments from Stephanie (now you are definitely on the way down the slippery slope haha) and Becca. However, I bought what I thought I would need when i had the money because I KNEW that when I retired I would be skint! And it has proven to be so and I do enjoy all my toys, er tools and each one has a purpose. From the Peter Teal Combs to the Great wheel and I like to have the options to do whatever I fancy…yes, retired and some days just tired!
    Zawinski is right of course, it is the skill in our fingers!! That P word: Practice, Practice, Practice! ugh

  4. What Ms Zawinski says is true, but I have never been able to spin decent yarn with a spindle.

    I love my combs, even though they make me look like Wolverine. Yes, combs waste more wool than cards – but oh, the lovely little nests of top!

  5. I am very modest with my tools. I still use pins as stitch markers, because in my opinion they are very convenient. There is one tool that I am so looking forward to get, but will have to wait a bit – a new knitting machine, not to replace the old one, but as an addition. But I realize that first I have to master the first one before investing money in the new one. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend, Rebecca!

  6. I, for good or ill, fall into the rabbit hole when I undertake a new “hobby”. I fell in love with glass cutting and had to have the cutters, grinders, etc. Knitting, the needles and the yarn. Oh, the yarn!

    Spinning finds me in a different place. I am at a place in life where I question the acquisition of the tools I may need and then I check with other spinners to see if I really need an item. Spindles for me are a thing of beauty, but also a slippery slope. I want tools that I will USE, not just admire. I still purchase tools necessary for my Master Spinner program, but I am more mindful of what I’m buying.

    I expect I will still buy more tools during the next four years of my program, but only what I need.

  7. i am a maker of many different crafts: knitting, sewing, embroidery, woodworking, music, painting, and many more that i have given up for one reason or another. i can’t imagine playing an instrument that is out of tune, or trying to cut with a rusty tool, so yes, tools are very important, but so is the skilled use of them.

  8. I’m just a soppy old sentimentalist, and can’t bear to part with the old that was gifted to me by a special person, or is associated with dear places or times. My niddy noddy is just such a case – it was made for me by the husband of the lady who taught me to spin, and it is basically a bit of a bodge – bamboo spokes loosely fitted into the holes drilled into the stick. One of the bamboo spokes has partially snapped off – and I often think of replacing my niddy noddy. But it still works, and gives me an accurate measurement of my hanks. Every time I use it, I remember with love John and Eileen Seddon and their gift to me of spinning.

  9. I’m with kaydeerouge in the “soppy old sentimentalist” category. Add to that the fact that I like a tool to be simple and not do all the work for me, unless it is a rivet setter and hole punch all-in-one.

    Some rules were made to be broken, eh Rebecca?

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