In the process of researching ground looms I came across a book entittled “Living Fabric: Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya” by Monisha Ahmed. The book chronicles the weaving styles of nomads and has great details on setting up ground looms for the weaving of rugs and utilitarian items while giving a great glimpse of a part of the world most of of will never see. Nestled in the pages of this book there is information on the spindles used for creating the yarn used on these looms. Further research into the subject revealed a recently published article by a woman named Tracy Hudson who published an article in Spin Off entittled “Spinning in the Himalayas”. Mrs. Hudson has also published photos from her travels in Ladakh and videos on http://www.youtube.com under both Baltsoks and Interweave Press and is an active contributor on Ravelry.com as well as maintaining a blog about her travels and experiences. Based on both the book and Mrs. Hudson’s detailed instructions my husband was able to carve out my first phang from a branch we found while on a walk. With a branch and a roofing knife he set out to work and made me a usable phang supported spindle. After that I began discussing it with Miguel from http://www.Spanishpeacock who is my mentor in our historical reenactment group. Miguel turned one out of maple based on his own correspondence with Mrs. Hudson which he then mailed to me. It’s a lovely spindle and spins very fast. It differs from the ones pictured in the book and articles in that it’s turned and not handcarved but the spin goes on and on and it’s heavier then the hand carved one which feels more like balsa wood. A heavier hand carved spindle would spin quite a bit longer.
1. You can hand roll a leader on your thigh as a way to start up. I’m rolling with my right hand and holding the fiber in my left. Go ahead and loosen up your wool or prepare it in your desired manner. Place it on your thigh and begin rolling towards yourself while pulling the fiber out to the left. Continue doing this till you have several inches of leader string. I moistened the tip of the string then wrapped it around my phang about a half inch down from the top. Make sure to wrap tightly or else it’ll come undone very quickly. It is very important that you wrap on the leader in the direction you intend to spin or else it will come undone from the shaft.
According to Mrs. Hudson the authentic way to start the leader is to impale a carded rolag on the tip and just start spinning. I really like the simplicity of this concept and plan on working on this skill so that I’ll be able to post pictures on how to do it. As per discussion on the Spindle Lore Ravelry group wet the tip of your phang then impale your rolag and start to spin. One poster, Popsicletote, reports that this will work with most supported spindles.
3. If you feel comfortable with your park and draft spinning then you may enjoy moving on to a long draw draft. There are many explanations and videos on the web explaining this draft wonderfully. It’s graceful and extremely efficent. You’re going to turn the spindle with your right hand while at the same time pulling your left hand away from the spindle while you lightly hold your fiber supply. The twist is going to be chasing up to your left hand. It’s really a lot of fun. If you are able to keep your spindle moving during this process you will have very tightly spun singles but it’s just fine to draft in one step then pinch off the top and spin the spindle again to add more twist. When you have an arm’s length go ahead and wind onto the shaft.
5. Let’s say you have filled up the spindle with as much handspun wool as possible. Now it’s time to pick up a second spindle and start all over. When you’ve spun an equal amount then you take your two ends and place them together then wrap them in a ball. Mrs. Hudson has a spectacular explanation of Ladakhi plying in her Spin Off article and has placed a video on http://www.youtube.com of the process. I would read the article then watch the video. Another way you could approach this would be to place a hook on a rope stretched between two points. Bring the two singles thru the hook and attach to a heavier drop spindle. You may wish to place the balls under something to keep them from pulling up or rolling away. Pull the singles down till they are almost to the ground and then with both hands spin it in the opposite direction from which you spun the singles. When the twist has traveled far enough wrap the plied yarn onto the spindle then start the process over again. Two resources for this technique are “High Whorling” by Priscilla Gibson Roberts and Connie Delaney’s Speed Plying technique at http://beebonnet.typepad.com/spindlicity/2009/10/speed-plying-with-the-connie-delaney-kick.html .
While getting to know my new phang spindles I made a few observations. The hand carved spindle that my husband made is just a bit too light to spin long enough. The same spindle in a heavier wood would be lovely and have a very authentic look when comparing it to the pictures from the resources. The spindle from Miguel from http://www.spanishpeacock.com is a lathe turned spindle made of maple and is perfectly balanced. It actually spins far longer so it’s easier to add quite a bit of twist into the yarn. Since I’m focusing on spinning for weaving on a ground loom I need yarn with a great deal of overtwist in it. Mrs. Hudson also writes about knitting yarn being spun on phangs and I can easily see how a soft woolen yarn could be made. Once you feel comfortable with the park and draft and long draw methods you make enjoy exploring spinning from rolags, from combed top, and from the fold to create different preperations.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxY8rPwMjbY Spin-Off – Spinning in the Himalayas 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65fEy90Vgso Lhamo spins more
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKxKZx85-ls How to form a leader (Virag)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3IBPgEhZYs Step Two and Beyond (Virag)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eKot0lcNBw Learning to enjoy my new spindle (Virag)
Bibliography and web resources
Himalaya (Tracy Hudson) and Spindle Lore Group on www.Ravelry.com
Spin-Off Fall, 2008 – Spinning in the Himalayas article by Tracey Hudson
“Living Fabric: Weaving Among The Nomads Of Ladakh Himalaya “ by Monisha Ahmed