Friday, May 18, 2018

Sampling Tamarind

I decided it would be smart to process some of Tamarind’s fleece before washing any more of it, in case I need to adjust my technique. I am very glad I did, because the technique isn’t quite right yet!20180513_134800

When last we left, I had a screen full of damp fleece drying under a fan. Once it dried, I weighed it all again. This batch weighed 910 grams raw and 697 grams clean (23% loss).

Then I chose a handful and combed it on my English 5-pitch combs (which are so wicked looking): 20180516_080328

It felt just a little bit tacky while combing, but nothing these beastly tools can’t handle. The challenge began when it was time to diz off the fiber. I really had to pull hard to get it off. That was my first clue something wasn’t awesome. But the resulting nest is pretty:20180516_081756

Yesterday I spun that nest worsted style, and drafting was quite uneven because of the stickiness. It was not relaxing and pleasant – it was frustrating! Dave suggested taking a handful of the washed fleece and washing it again in the sink to see if that helped. I did that, but it isn’t dry yet so I can’t compare.

In the interest of experimentation, I decided to try a woolen prep, too. I flick carded locks using the Beth Smith method. This was kind of fun, and the locks really opened up. Here are “before” and “during” shots:20180518_101450


I kept my locks organized so they were all facing the same way, and I spun from the cut end. This shot shows how much waste is produced from one lock (the waste is still on the card):20180518_102154

Then I sat down at the wheel to spin up my collection of locks, and it was just as difficult (maybe a little more) than spinning the combed top was. Ack! I finished my sample skein and wet finished it anyway. Here are both of them – worsted on the left and woolen on the right (woolen is still damp, but you can’t see that):L Worsted R Woolen

So my next step is to wait for the bit I re-washed in the sink last night to dry, and then to repeat these preparations to see if the spinning is more pleasant.

I’m assuming that I didn’t clean the fleece enough, and that there is still too much lanolin in it. Can I wash it again to solve this problem? If you have an opinion, please let me know!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Spring cleaning

I set aside some time today to wash fleece. I do NOT want to put my fresh fleeces away on a shelf and get back to them who-knows-when… I want to process them and learn right away! So today, that particular learning process began. I started with Tamarind’s fleece, thinking it might be easier since it is more uniform in color.20180506_161942 crop

Spinners have opinions when it comes to how to clean fleece. I watched videos and listened to podcasts. I really liked this technique, but it relies on a utility sink, which I do not have. In the end, I followed the instructions that my fleece barn guru, Adrianne, described to me. Like me, she has a large, top-loading washing machine and municipal water. I decided to give it a go.20180513_095957

This technique involves lots of mesh laundry bags (which I ordered online last week). I weighed the fleece before loading the bags so I could keep track of how much weight I lost in cleaning (goodbye, heavy lanolin). Adrianne suggested washing about 2 pounds at once, which was another reason I needed to keep track. I weighed in grams because it’s more precise in small batches. In the end, I washed 910 grams of raw fleece, which is just a hair over 2 pounds.20180513_100023

I arranged the locks neatly in these zip bags (it turns out this was a waste of time – more on that later) and piled them up. This is what my bags looked like before I headed down to the basement with the machine. I’m not sure if I should have put more in them or not. 20180513_110326

Earlier this morning, I cranked up our hot water heater as high as it would go (and then warned everyone to be careful). I ran the machine full of hot water, added 2 Tablespoons of Unicorn Power Scour, and set it to soak. Then the bags went in (I poked them under with a spoon because the water was so hot). The water immediately looked pretty dirty.  I set a timer for 20 minutes and went back upstairs, but I left the basement door open.

At one point, I thought I heard agitation. I flew downstairs, but the machine was still. Maybe it was something else I heard… like the hot water heater firing up? Some minutes later I thought I heard it again. This time I got down there so fast that when I opened the washer lid, I could still see a little movement in the water. I realized that my “soak” setting has an intermittent, very slow agitation. I needed to push the control knob in to “stop” it from doing anything with the lid down (I wanted to close the lid to help regulate the temperature and keep it as hot as possible during the soak). Lesson learned! After 20 minutes, I advanced the machine to the spin setting and waited. When I opened the lid, it looked pretty yucky. The bags were covered with blobs of I-don’t-know-what, and there were clumps of the same in the washer:20180513_114140


Hmmm. What is this stuff? I honestly could not determine whether it was very small bits of fiber that had worked through the mesh holes, or vegetable matter, or sheep poo. If this fleece weren’t a deep brown color, I might have had a bit more information. I wiped out the machine and shook the clumps off the bags.

I did my second wash the exact same way, but with only 1 Tablespoon Power Scour. There was still this brown clumpy stuff, but not quite as much: 20180513_121615

I had planned only to do two rounds of cleaning, but I did another because I just wasn’t sure about this stuff. I worried about drying out the fleece, though. Here’s how the machine looked after round 3:20180513_124618

Round 4 was a rinse soak, with just hot water and 2 cups of white vinegar in it. Round 5 was another rinse, with hot water and 1 Tablespoon Unicorn Fibre Rinse (which is pure fabric softener).

Here is what the bags looked like after all that. Notice that the spin cycle spun all the fiber into a blob and it is not at all organized in rows of locks anymore. I should have seen that coming, I guess… lesson learned! 20180513_134538

I emptied all the bags and spread them out on this window screen we found in the garage. It’s over our clothes drying rack, under a ceiling fan in our studio. I know a lot of folks dry fleece outdoors, but the pollen here is wicked right now, so I wouldn’t dream of it. Plus, it’s raining today.20180513_134751

Tomorrow it should be dry, and I can weigh it and start playing. I plan to start with my flick carder.

I decided not to wash the other half of my bag of this fleece today (which was a half fleece to start – Dave has the other half), because I want to see if I can improve on the process. Plus, it took a lot of time. I cleaned the washing machine afterwards and then the next laundry load was my son’s sheets (nothing delicate or, in fact, nothing that is mine!). And I turned the water heater back down to its normal level. Stay tuned for more fleece fun!

In other news, I finished a sock and continue to seam the sock yarn blanket. I am going to love it so much when it’s done.20180504_194351


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Achievement Unlocked! MDSW 2018

I believe my first Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival was in 2001, before I knew anything about yarn or knitting or fiber. I went with some friends who used to live in Maryland - they promised a fun day out and stopping in Frederick for Indian food on the way home. I haven’t missed a festival since. One of the things I love about this particular festival is that there always seems to be something new to grow into. In my early years, I just bought yarn and knitting supplies. Then I started to look at spinning fiber, and I took some classes. I attended the lectures and became more interested in the sheep themselves. And this year, my friends, I finally bought a fleece!20180505_100115

This is Adrianne, one of the many helpful volunteers staffing the Fleece Barn. You can see what it’s like in there – just long tables full of giant plastic bags full of fleeces. They are mostly sorted by category (fine wools together, long wools together, etc.). I wasn’t really sure what I wanted, so I just started opening bags. I was drawn to the gray colored fleeces and spent a long time staring at a Romney and something else I’ve already forgotten. That’s when Adrianne took me under her wing. She conducted what this librarian recognizes as a “reference interview,” which wasn’t easy because I didn’t have an idea about price point (fleeces are priced by the pound) or what I wanted to make with them. Finally, I settled on wanting a fleece that would give me a very positive first experience. Adrianne asked if I would be willing to spent a bit more per pound than the Romney I was holding (which was a bargain). When I said that I wasn’t going to let $2 or $5 per pound stand between a challenging first experience and a really good one, she said “wait here” and ran off to another table. At this point, she transformed into a personal shopper!

She brought back two fleeces from Shepherd’s Hey Farm and said that this farm routinely produces excellent fleeces. I was a little surprised that they were both crosses rather than pure breeds… but she said the shepherd is known for her breeding program. When we examined the fleece, even I could see how it differed from the other ones I had considered. But they were also bigger (and so more expensive). Here are the two we were looking at:20180506_161942 crop


It seemed like the coffee brown one (from a sheep named Tamarind) might be “better” for a beginner, but I was really drawn to the color variation in the lighter one (from a sheep named Muesli). I dragged my bags up to the front of the barn to wait for Dave to show up and weigh in. In the meantime, I saw a woman I took a class with a couple years ago. As soon as she saw the Shepherd’s Hey label, she started gushing. Apparently this shepherd wins a lot of awards. So I figured I had a winner. 20180505_101155

Dave showed up. I was thinking we would split one of these, but he immediately said he’d be happy to split them both. So off we went to the checkout, high on the lanolin fumes.

And wouldn’t you know… the shepherd (Lee Langstaff) was working in the checkout area! This is her in the yellow:20180505_102920

Our next challenge was to divide our spoils. We procured two extra bags at the fleece sale and proceeded to The Grassy Knoll (if you’ve ever been to MDSW, you know where this is). Dave confidently spread out the fleece. We divided it stem to stern, so that we each had the same color variation. 20180505_103619


We did the same thing with Tamarind, though this one didn’t unroll quite as neatly:20180505_104425


I plan to wash these myself in my top-loading washing machine, and then experiment with various carding and combing techniques to make all sorts of yarn. Another chapter begins!

I went back to the festival on Sunday because I wanted to hear the two lectures on tap. Elizabeth Johnston presented “Textiles and the Warp Weighted Loom – from the Bronze-Age to the Present,” and Judith MacKenzie presented “Preserve and Protect: The Legacy of Primitive Sheep Breeds.” Both were excellent. Here is one gorgeous photo of stones holding a warp taut: 20180506_112918

And here is the entire loom:20180506_120934

Very interesting. Judith showed us some very old whorls and reminded us that spinning is part of our history whether you spin or not. She likes to say “it’s how we got out of the cave.” Today we are indifferent to the fibers around us and so the quality is nosediving. People used to take really good care of textiles because they were laborious to produce and not easy to replace.

I also stopped by the Sheep to Shawl competition this morning. My favorite team (of course) was called Yarn Scouts. They had a delicious display that included cookies and badges. Each team member wore a handwoven sash. Their warp was a very Girl Scout-y green. All in all, perhaps my favorite team theme ever! Here are a few photos:20180506_085135




I have always enjoyed seeing the Skein & Garment Competition winners… but in recent years I make sure to look at the posters, which I believe are submitted by 4H students. Where else can you learn about the undersheep that wins big?!?20180505_132955

I came home with some non-fleece stash, as well. I got 8 oz of prepared fiber to spin – these merino-silk gradient bumps will become a 2-ply yarn someday:20180506_161051 crop

I also got a kit to make a poncho/shawl thing called Blackbird. The construction is ingenious – it is mostly a big rectangle worked flat with one strand of sock yarn and one of kid mohair. For the 2” border, you join to work in the round, and work colorwork with a steek (which is an achievement I have NOT yet unlocked). You can wear it a couple of ways. I intend to use another color in place of the red that came with the kit – that is a tiny amount of sock yarn that I can easily pull from stash. 20180506_161222

I also picked up this interesting cone of slub yarn that will be good for towels on my Cricket loom:20180506_161705

And the real surprise is that I bought a handwoven garment. This is kind of a shawl, but it looks like a jacket. I’ll have to model it at some future point to really show it to you. I just love this thing, and the weaver’s studio is in nearby Chambersburg, PA!20180506_162303

Another year, another festival. Whew! I am taking a vacation day tomorrow to recover. (Really.)

Monday, April 30, 2018

This now seams possible


Once I decided on my I Love Leftovers blanket layout, I needed to get it off my living room floor (where my family kindly walked around it for 5 days). I took a photo and printed it for reference, and then started picking up my squares. I made 16 stacks of 12 squares each, and I tied them up so even if they get knocked off the piano, they will stay in order. My weaving needle (which is about 5” long) came in handy, as I used it to pierce each stack and tie on a label with – yes – more leftover sock yarn:20180418_073647

And on the piano is right where those tidy stacks stayed for a week or so.

Finally, I pulled out stack #1 and started mattress stitching them together. Here is the very first join – you can see the seaming yarn pulled tight at the bottom and still loose (like shoelaces) at the top:20180422_095449

For reference, I consulted Sally Melville’s The Knit Stitch. Her “stitches to ridges in garter stitch” instructions are impeccable.

I sewed 12 squares together, and that completed row 1. I started to leave longer tails, wondering if I could use them to join this strip to the next one. I decided to test this early. So I sewed 12 more squares together (row 2) and then seamed rows 1 and 2 together. Here’s a progress shot:20180427_081700

My first attempts did not result in particularly perfect corners. Quilters will cringe when they see how badly this matches up:


But I got better. Here’s how the corners were looking by the twelfth join:20180430_080241

As with everything, practice makes perfect.

Here are the first two strips sewn together. This means I am now one-eighth done seaming these 192 squares!20180430_080159

This is not a portable project right now, and I need a table and good light to do it. But it’s happening!

Sunday, April 22, 2018



I picked up this beautiful Falkland batt from Into the Whirled at MDSW 2016, and decided to spin it up before this year’s festival. I’ve spun one of these batts before and really loved it, so I didn’t really resist the temptation too much. This is a big batt (about 4 oz) and this is what it looked like when I opened it up:20180404_075123

I didn’t think much and just started spinning from one end. If I had it to do over again, I might have put all the gray at one end rather than have the skein both start and end with the same color. On the other hand, this might be used to advantage in just the right cowl pattern, knit so that your circle starts and ends with gray.

I failed to photograph the bobbin in progress, except for this one shot which was really about me pondering the placement of my sock yarn squares on the living room floor:20180411_203542

I chain plied the singles, remembering this time to use a much slower whorl so I wouldn’t have to move my hands so quickly to create the chained loops (singles spun 14:1, plied at 10.5:1). I ended up with 332 yards of 3-ply yarn, and the skein weighs 127 grams. I took a quick photo before I wet finished it – I think you’ll be able to see how much this fiber poofs up after finishing. Here’s the “before”:20180418_180653

And here is the “after”:20180422_135908

It’s not the most even yarn I’ve ever spun (sometimes I had to fight with the fiber where the colors overlapped)… but it’s squishy and springy and it’ll be great as something someday!20180422_135738