18 December 2010

Ever Heard of a Urkrainian Loom?
(You want to.)

Customers really have their value some days! So we're talking about this unsightly pile in my classroom, when she randomly asks me, "Have you ever heard of the Ukrainian Loom?"


"Well you want to."

What a tease, eh?! So the second she's checked out, all Merry-Christmas'd, and sent on her happy way, guess who rushes back to the computer to bring up YouTube and search for these mysterious Ukrainian Loom videos. Yeah... you probably guessed it.

Well, I done found this!

Ok, those of you who know me, probably know there's little love lost between me and the humble knitting loom. They are great, but not great for me. I know how to use one. I've taught all my kids. I've even contemplated dating one. But when it came time to take him home and introduce him to mom... yeah, it didn't work out. We just weren't meant for each other.

But this one? Oh my, such beautiful hooks and pins! And look! The pattern is different on each side! Such loom knitting glory!

I think I'll just spend the afternoon sitting here eating Christmas Fudge and watching this guy knit instead of digging through that scary burlap sack in the false hope that there's an operator's manual for that knitting machine buried somewhere within...

03 December 2010

Libby Needs Her a Hat!!!

Well, like we couldn't all see it coming... The single digit highs hit and Libby's hat goes missing! Both of them, actually. So I'm wearing my ancient acrylic cabled huffler (hat/muffler) that I made in college and dreaming longingly of toasty warm wool-covered ears again.

I'm sure any normal, sane person would just get a new hat. Or at the very most, grab a skein of yarn from the shelf and quick knit one up tonight over a hot mug of gingerbread tea while watching a pleasant holiday movie. (Hee hee, okay, in my house that's probably Shaun of the Dead or American Werewolf in London...) So what does Libby do? Yeah, you got it, she starts to eye that fresh pile of Buffle Batts over in the bin waiting to be packaged and labeled. They do look delicious... Black BFL, Bamboo, Alpaca, Mohair, Camel Down, Wool Noil... slightly inclined toward striping... blue and grey... I did make an awful lot of them... Mmmmmmmmm.

Yup, I'm afraid I've repossessed two oz of them and diz'd them into roving for a lovely 2-ply. But them I'm thinking, I need ear flaps. Two ounces won't be enough... So off I go to the drum carder to whip up some more BFL/bamboo/alpaca loveliness!

I laid it out so when I diz it off it comes out ready for self-striping. I'm starting to like this plan! I've decided to do the brim and flaps in this non-noil yarn. (Especially with my mild mohair allergy. I love mohair to death, but putting that fiber anywhere near my face is a certain recipe for disaster. Grrrr. Luckily the amount of mohair is slight and pretty dander-free so I'll be okay spinning it at least!) Perhaps N-ply the stuff so I can be lazy and not divide such a small amount (it's only about 1.6 ounces.)

So now I just need to spin it up as quick as I can this afternoon so I can simmer me a cup of tea, fire up that zombie movie, and crank out a hat before amputation is necessary! I can do this... I can totally do this.

(I'm hoping to get the rest of the Buffle Batts listed over on etsy next week just in time for last-minute Christmas shopping :D )

08 September 2010

The Not-So-Spooky Deer Wheel

Remember the plate that wanted to be a wheel so bad it climbed through a brick wall to come live in our shop instead of the antique store next door?

This plate?

Spooky Deer PlateTowards the end of summer the wheel design finally fell into place and we've been working on it between other jobs. The Spooky Deer just seemed way too lonely, wandering through it's blue and black bushes, searching for it's companion. So we gave him a friend. I mean really, what's better than one spooky albino deer wandering through a creepy forest filled with blue trees? TWO spooky albino deer wandering through a creepy forest filled with blue trees! How could we go wrong? Really.

Spooky Deer PlateSo we were informed by a highly influential person that "The Spooky Deer Wheel" perhaps wasn't the best name for a spinning wheel. (Okay, it was my mom visiting us on vacation.) I needed something to put on the bin label so she'd stop pestering me and "Gemini" seemed to fit the description. It's got twins on it, and well, my mom is a Gemini so it flattered her enough so that she'd leave me alone about my mad naming skillz.

Today it got it's first touch of color! This is a blue & navy HitchHiker wheel.

Gemini - dyed base
Gemini - Wheel Color

We're hoping that the weather warms up just a tad and we'll have her finished next week. This wheel isn't spoken for yet and will be available for sale at that time. (She'll be priced around $600.) If you want to place dibs (half down) email us at info@Northerndyes.com

29 August 2009


And the moment I know a few have been waiting for, the "Gretchen" wheel is officially on the market. Designed specifically for this wheel, the gradual red and wine colorway is by far my favorite finish yet.

Gretchen is a new Merlin Tree RoadBug complete w/ 3 bobbins, orifice hook, on-board oil bottle, attached lazy kate, and 3 direct-drive whorls. She'll ship fully assembled, so you'll just have to take her out of the box, scerw in the flyer and spin, spin, spin!

Gretchen - TreadleThe idea for the Gretchen wheel actually has origins in a contest held by a Canadian TieDye Wheel owner who held a wheel naming contest on her blog (it's still Hreinn in our catalogs, haha!) Someone suggested "Gretchen" after the song Gretchen am Spinnerade from the lied by Schubert. Being a fan of Goethe's Faust I thought, "Yes, Gretchen totally needs a wheel designed by me just for her." So of course, it's a simple wheel made special through it's beauty. The color is a rich & vibrant red with rising shades of burgundy and wine that draw up from the bottom, symbolizing the darker forces behind the love affair between Gretchen and Faust. The wheel, treadle, flyer, and bobbins are stained a rich reddish-brown.

Gretchen - Front ViewGretchen - Rear View

Here are the RoadBug specs:
ORIFICE: 3/8", 17-1/8" from the floor at 45 degree angle upward
FLYER: Merlin Tree #2 w/ Hooks (screws off for travel)
RATIOS: 7:1, 9:1 & 13:1
WEIGHT: 8.9 lbs
DIMENSIONS: 7"w x 14"l x 16" h (airline carry-on compatible)
WOODS: Baltic Birch ply, ash and cherry
FINAL FINISH: Semi-gloss Polyurethane


We can stain and finish additional bobbins to match if desired for $12 each. We can also stain/dye to match Jumbo flyer units, niddy-noddies, and stand-alone lazy kates (in both the red oak and the tie-dye finishes.)

Other wheels are available for sale on Etsy. Payment by credit card accepted over the phone or via PayPal.

22 August 2009

The Phoenix

It's kind of exciting putting two new custom wheels together in one night! We assembled both "Gretchen" and "The Phoenix" Monday evening amid warm, ridiculously humid temps.
The Phoenix is a new Ashford Traveler complete w/ 4 bobbins, orifice hook, hemp drive band, cotton drive band. She'll ship partially disassembled, but I'm pretty sure it'll be 4 cam bolts and 2 screws and you'll be ready to go.

Her inspiration is a rising phoenix. The main wood components are stained a very dark black/brown to symbolize the ashes, and the treadles and wheels are stained a burgundy, red, orange, and yellow to symbolize the phoenix reborn. There is a braid decoration burnt onto the wheel (front and back) along with the fallen and rising phoenixes on the treadles.

Although the treadles should be able to handle considerable wear before the image is affected, we do recommend stocking feet for this wheel.

Here are the Traveler specs:
WHEEL DIAMETER: 46cm (18")
ORIFICE: 1cm (3/8")
FLYER: Standard w/ Hooks
BOBBIN CAPACITY: 100gm (3-4oz)
RATIOS: 5.5, 10 & 14:1
WEIGHT: 7kg (15lb)
FINAL FINISH: Semi-gloss Polyurethane

PRICE: Private Collection

We can stain and finish additional bobbins to match if. We can also stain/dye to match Jumbo flyer units, niddy-noddies, and stand-alone lazy kates (in both the dark and the tie dye finishes.)

05 July 2009

The Idea Fairy

Where do our designs come from? All over. Sometimes we work from patterns purchased with commercial reproduction permissions and a lot of our less expensive designs come from modified existing patterns. When a client contracts a custom wheel we like to talk to them and find their likes, dislikes, favorite colors & animals, what artists do they admire, and so on. Then the brain is allowed to wander.

By far, however, our favorites are the ones that assault us in the night, sneak attack from the horizon, and pester us when we're trying to not be creative. Annoying creatures like this:

This deer-thing has been haunting me through the wall. It's been living on a plate in the antique shop next door since they opened for the summer last month. Today it had to come over to stay in the workshop for a bit. I don't know what it is, but something on this plate has me thinking of wheel designs. Not exactly the same, but definitely inspired by it. I think it's the background design. I dunno. But a wheel is definitely coming out of this thing.

If you're in Ashland, WI, during the summer Antiques on Main is a great place to check for cool stuff. They have walls full of beautiful china.

02 July 2009

Expression is Not an Exact Science

If you've ever contracted out expensive custom work to our shop, you've seen the "art can be unpredictable" clause on our contracts. I've never had to actually use that clause, but it's better to have it there. When it comes to dyeing our shop is a formula shop. That means we make very repeatable colorways and colors are somewhat predictable. But sometimes the city changes it's water, a company ships a new batch of dyes, there's a little more of a breeze, etc and things are off just a little. But being formula guys it isn't generally a problem.

Today has nothing to do with dyeing or formulas or perfection. It has to do with what happens when Libby can't follow her own pattern....

After the initial design is done and before we even get out the wheel, we always do a test burn. We take selections of the final pattern (especially any motifs we aren't sure about) and do full size burns on scrap wood. Sometimes a scaled down version of the front design is done with a variety of textures and shading to determine the final look of the piece. At left is a sample from two wheels currently in progress, Gretchen and The Frog Prince. Doing test burns is an important step from what we see in our head to what actually works on the wood. Often there are marks, big X's, arrows, sometimes sharpie highlights, etc to help me prepare the final piece.

So what happens when you get it perfect and then you go and goof it all up...?

Art happens.