Monday, November 14, 2011

Hearthwise Spindle Review

The Hearthwise Spindle: Incredibly beautiful, pleasingly functional
I had occasion at the Fiber Festival of New England to come into possession of one of the breathtakingly beautiful spindles made by Charles Arnold, owner of Hearthwise in Morrisville, PA. The Hearthwise slogan is “Tools for a simpler life” and that fits their product line perfectly. An amiable and apparently very practical man, Charlie makes hand turned drop and supported spindles that are decidedly eye catching and quite affordable. Made of laminated wood, turned on the lathe to smooth and sensuous curves, and finished to perfection, each spindle is an individual work of art. These babies look and feel fabulous.
Still, I confess it took me some time to warm up to spinning on mine. My first impression was that it was a bit too light and I had some difficulty getting the fiber back into the hook between drops. However, you have to consider that I’d spent most of the day standing up and demonstrating DK spinning on heavier, large whorled and notched spindles for beginners at the festival. I simply wasn’t prepared for this little beauty. It really is something radically different. Now that I’ve used it a bit, and gotten to know it better, I’ve come to see it in a much more favorable light. This is a relatively small, close whorl, high speed spindle. It’s definitely made for spinning fine yarns rather than the heavy stuff. It’s also perfectly tuned for spinning in a sitting position. Heavier spindles, like my large Golding, are designed to keep on spinning for five or six feet of draft and to handle yarns up to worsted and bulky weights. They’re a bit heavy for lace weight or “frogs hair” yarns and you really have to be standing to take full advantage of their weight and symmetry.
This particular Hearthwise, in contrast, is very lightweight. It doesn’t have the power to spin heavy or bulky yarns. That’s what put me off at first, but it’s also what makes it ideal for fine and very fine spinning. Because it’s so light, it won’t break fine singles. It also uses up its momentum in three or four feet of draft. That’s too short if you’re standing up, but it’s just about right for spinning in a chair, a car seat, on a bus, or even on an airplane. That’s where this spindle can really shine. In addition, the smooth shiny finish on the bulb, while spectacular, made it difficult to get the yarn into the hook between drafts at first. I finally solved that problem by starting a draft on the hook without a leader and then pulling the first bit of single down from the hook to wrap it around the shaft. Keeping a standing loop on the side of the bulb provides a stopping point for spun single and makes it much easier to hook up between drafts.
After working with it for awhile, I’ve become quite fond of this spindle and come to regard it as an important adjunct to my collection. I’m not sure I’d recommend this particular model to beginners, but then it doesn’t seem to have been designed for them. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted tool designed to optimize performance for the experienced spinner who wants to make fine yarn from a comfortably seated position. Viewed from that perspective, it’s actually quite a masterful design. That also could be why Charlie decided this particular model would be right for me. I’m sure other Hearthwise models are designed for different purposes and, now that I understand a little more about them, I look forward to the opportunity to try some of them as well.
You can check Hearthwise drop spindles out on Facebook at: Charlie will also be at Coggeshall Farm this spring for the Rhode Island Wool and Fiber festival with a full collection of these drop spindles, supported spindles, and his nostepinnes, along with a line of Brittany American made birch knitting needles, magazines and other publications. Look for him there, introduce yourself, and try out a few spindles to see if there isn’t one that might be just right for your collection!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


On Sunday, April 10th, a group of 17 RISG members and guests took a field trip to Block Island to visit North Light Fibers, the region’s newest fiber mill and Block Island’s only yarn and fiber shop. Everyone was quite impressed with the very high quality of processing being done at the mill. We were also delighted by the softness of the rare blends that the owners, Sven and Laura Risom are producing from the finest alpaca, merino, soy, camel and other special fibers at their mill. Their fiber bumps are a delight to spin and most of us were very excited to return home with North Light Fiber tucked into our bags and backpacks. We look forward to many happy hours of spinning, knitting and weaving with these special blends.
Sven, Laura, and their assistant Page are running the mill themselves and are also putting together the new yarn and fiber arts shop on the first floor. Since it’s the only yarn shop on the island, it’s bound to be a local success. However, based on our initial inspection of the as-yet-incomplete shop, we think it also has the potential for a much wider appeal, with not only a variety of lovely fiber bumps, but also a range of colored yarns, and many knit, crocheted, woven and felted items for those who don’t care to spin their own.
Between tours, we were made welcome across the street at the 1661 Inn by Rita Draper; the owner and operator of the Inn and the nearby Manisses Hotel. The 1661 made the perfect headquarters for our island touring. Rita turned her dining room over to us so we could have a place to eat lunch and sit and spin for a while. We found it a very comfortable space, enjoyed the refreshments Rita provided and soaked up the splendid view of the marsh, the shore, and Block Island Sound out the large front windows.
After lunch, Rita’s dad, Justin Abrams gave us a personal tour of his exotic animal farm. The Abrams farm is landlord to North Light Fibers, but is also famous on-island and off for the large collection of rare animals that the Abrams have acquired. We got to meet all the animals, were entertained by the kangaroos and tortoise, and thrilled to see the farm’s brand new baby lemur. For many of us, this was a first chance to see fiber animals such as yak and llama up close. It was great to actually touch them and scratch behind their ears. The bravest of us even had a chance to get a big wet kiss on the cheek from Nyla, one of two resident camels!
In the afternoon we returned to the 1661 Inn where we snacked on crackers and cheese and demonstrated spindle and wheel spinning for interested residents who were invited to drop by for that purpose. We shared our craft with several local fiber enthusiasts, entertained the reporter for the Block Island Times and helped local school teachers learn how to teach spinning to elementary and middle school students. All in all it was a very eventful day and more than one of us took the occasion for a late afternoon nap as we sailed home on the 5:30 Ferry. Thanks to Sven Risom and Iris Westcott for arranging this wonderful field trip and making sure that everyone had such a great time.