Winding Up Wednesday: Why Prep Your Own Fiber

So, let’s start with WHY you might want to prep your own fiber for spinning.

Welcome to the first installment of our series on spinning a raw fleece into scrumptious, yummy yarn. This week focusses on your WHY in the why prep your own fiber question. Next week will be on Why Fiber Prep Matters. The next three weeks will be the exploration of how to wash fiber. Yep. Three weeks of just washing before we get into the knitty gritty of how to prep the washed fiber for actual spinning. So hit the follow button, because this is going to be a long series with allot of info!

 

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The Andromeda Ascendant – I’ll be taking her fleece from raw to finished yarn for this series

 

So, let’s start with WHY you might want to prep your own fiber for spinning. I began my own journey into fiber preparation for animal welfare issues. I also thought it was rather silly to buy roving imported from Australia and New Zealand when my own country is teaming with perfectly good wool sheep. I’m a huge believer in supporting my own economy as well as reducing pollution through my purchases. When I started learning about HOW animals are sometimes treated in the wool industry I decided the best thing to do was to find a shepherd or two, ask some questions, and make sure my dollars were adding to my personal integrity. Once I found a few local ladies who produce ethical wool, I purchased not one, but five small fleeces.

I’ve also found that the quality of my finished yarn is typically better than when I use commercial roving. I have a great deal of control with a fleece because I can sort out spine, dominant, and britch wool. Each category of wool has different qualities and uses. Even the skirting can produce a nice yarn with the correct prep. For me, this is a big WHY in my preference to prep my own fiber.

Many people think cost is a big why. This can, or cannot be true. Much of my highest quality wool sells for $30 a pound. The typical eight ounce bag of roving sells for $20. That’s only a ten dollar difference between the raw wool and the ready to spin commercial roving, and you still have to do work. However, you also might be able to pick up an entire fleece for $10 from a farmer who just wants to cover the cost of shearing. Heck, I’d pay in wool for someone to muck out my barn. There are options out there.

Finally, a big WHY for some people is that the actual process of prepping wool can be relaxing and enjoyable. I’m not saying washing wool is enjoyable for me. But the picking, carding, and combing is an enjoyable aspect of the process. Plus, taking a raw fleece that smells of sheep and barnyard and turning it into a gorgeous sweater yarn is a big reward.

What is your WHY? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

 

 

Friday’s Farm: Making Bamboo Trellises

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

It’s no secret that Southerners love their peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s also no secret to anyone who gardens or farms that keeping these veggies off the ground is important to a good harvest and your back. Another local gardener whose garden I’ve had the privilege of seeing uses hog panels set on long upright poles to hold up his plants. On a good year the plants reach ten feet into the air. His method is bountiful. However, when you’re strapped for cash and growing a year’s worth of food his mighty steel frame is just out of reach.

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

One afternoon earlier this month Momma and I walked down to the creek and cut fifty canes. We could have cut one hundred and only made a small dent in our patch. Some of the canes are nearly ten feet long, and all still had last year’s leaves on them. We then hauled it up to the garden, stripped off the leaves (which the sheep loved), and I began to weave.

Making trellises is not an easy task. It’s a life-sized puzzle that will fall over on you if you’re not careful. It took about two hours to make my pea trellis. First, I made a three poled teepee for the end, lashed those together so they would stand, and then made another and set it next to the first. Once I had enough three legged sets I joined them at the top with a “cap” piece. Then I began the actual weaving. Fortunately canes are pliable when green. If you soak them for a few days they are even easier to work with. I began at the bottom and did a simple over and under. If my weaving pole wasn’t long enough to span the entire length I’d add another pole.

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One important note is to have your thick ends at both ends of the structure. In other words, you don’t want all your skinny tops on one side. That makes a weak side.

My structure got a bit wonky and wobbly. Two old metal garden steaks pounded into the ground fixed this problem. After all, no one like their peas in the mud after a wind storm. Speaking of wind storms, my little creations are still standing after two big storms.

When harvesting cane it’s important to be a good steward and only harvest a quarter to third of a stand. If the stand is small or sparse it needs to be left alone. While cane does grow quickly it’s not as abundant as it use to be. Also, be mindful if you decide to forage the local country side. If someone knocks on my door and asks to collect a natural resource I’m apt to say yes. If I find someone just out taking without asking… I’m not so free with my yes. That’s a pretty typical country attitude.

I’ve made other trellises from willow, young tree limbs, and other found material, including old fencing propped up on broken tobacco sticks. Use what you have. The point is to grow good food. Your food doesn’t care if you have the prettiest trellis in the world. It only cares to reach forth to the sky and His blessings while reaching into the Earth for her blessings.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Winding up Wednesday: My Scrappy Blanket Vest (Stash Busting!)

I’ve managed to whittle down my stash to just a few yarn I really love and have project appropriate amounts of in stock.

I love to snuggle up in a blanket on cool mornings while I sip my coffee and write or on summer evenings while sipping tea on the porch listening to the crickets. I have a small purple blanket I often use for this purpose. However, I’ve been wanting something heavier, sheepier, something I can wear while pouring that second cup of coffee or the walk back to my house from Mom’s.

I also have a tote of scrap yarns from spinning tests, left over projects, and that ever present “what was I thinking” yarn. Since I’m in need of a serious stash busting and I want a specific item I decided to put the two together with my own variation of the sweater vest I knitted up a few months ago.

I’ve managed to whittle down my stash to just a few yarn I really love and have project appropriate amounts of in stock.

To keep my yarn thickness consistent I held multiple strands together. At first every time I changed yarn I was dropping the yarn, picking up the next strand, and weaving in as I went. That got to be too much work. Enter the magic knot. It’s not something I would use on my shawls or socks, but for this project it’s perfect.

I still have a ways to go on my shawl blanket. But it should be done in the next week or two. I’m so looking forward to snuggling up in it.

Until next time,

Get creative, bust those stashes, and

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

PS. I’d love to see some other stash busting, so feel free to post in the comments!

Winding up Wednesday: Spinning a Tender Fleece

Shearing season is finally coming to a close and I’m back to the wheel and the loom. My dear Sade was one of the last sheep in the flock shorn.

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My shy little orphan had two surprises for me. First – she’s not such a little sheep! She’s a decent sized gal with a five pound fleece! Guess that Merino finally kicked in.

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The second surprise is that she’s a Lilac! Her tips are still black from lamb hood, but that under color is spectacular.

There’s just one minor issue: she’s a little tender fleeced. It’s not bad, and it’s not throughout the entire fleece. It’s mostly at the spine and the areas of less crimping. I believe part of the issue is a combination of a Merino micron count (I’m guessing she’s around 19 or 20 microns) with a very Jacob texture and lock structure. Extremely soft, but not as strong as a pure bred sheep of either breed. No matter how strongly I feel about Sade, the fact is when you give some of her locks a good yank they come apart. I’m not apt to sell such a fleece to the average spinner, so this is my blanket fleece for this year. There are tricks to turn an iffy fleece into beautiful and useable yarn.

Fleeces are stronger in the grease than scoured, especially those scoured in hot water. I’m processing this entire fleece in the grease. Merino level grease to be exact. I’m glad she’s a fairly clean girl. However, it’s still Merino level grease – yuck!

I have the choice to either flick card the fleece or to comb it. If I just had a half pound or even a pound I would flick this. However, I have five pounds to power through processing and spinning within two weeks. My handy dandy Viking Combs are the best tool. They will be getting a bath after this… okay after my Rom Doll and Mini are done, too. What can I say? Viking Combs are made for serious work, and eighteen pounds of wool in twelve weeks is serious work!

I’m spinning straight from the comb instead of pulling roving. When you draft directly from the combs you are pulling on just a few strands, sliding them forward into the spinning wheel or to the spindle. I’ve found fewer major breaks in staple this way. Also, if you come up on a nasty bit it’s easier to get it out. Working in the grease really helps the fibers to slide past each other. This also minimizes breakage.

The actual spinning is a judgment call. I find that shorter fibers hold together better in a thin single with slightly higher twist. However, that single can also break more easily. This works, but you have to watch the twist carefully. Too much and the yarn ends up hard, not enough, and the tender fibers don’t hold together through washing. I’m going a little thicker than usual since this is a weft yarn. I definitely will not use this for warp! I’ve tried tender fleece warp and it’s not worth the aggravation. If you can do it… go for it… you’re more patient and braver than I. The fulling at the end of the weaving process will felt this slightly and hold everything together.

This brings me to the last issue in working tender fleece – the finished product. If just the tips are tender I have no issue creating sweaters, socks, or even warp yarn from that fleece. However, if the break is in the middle it’s not going to be as durable as other yarns. That’s why I reserve these fleeces for weaving and other crafts, specifically, for projects with felted finishes.

I have hope for next year’s fleece and the ones after that as Sade ages and her fleece becomes courser. Her father and mother both had excellent fleeces, and so does her daughter. Her lamb’s fleece was good. It might just be an off year for her. In the short term, I’m doing what few folks even try – I’m spinning a tender fleece, weaving it up, and enjoy Shy Sade’s work of art.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah

 

Winding Up Wednesday: Back in the Saddle

It feels so good to be over my aching back and up to spinning and knitting. Shearing season has started and I’m very excited about this year’s fleeces. So, without further adu, let’s jump into what I’ve been up to this past week!

Off The Wheel

I’m working on Charlemagne’s fleece. I’ve gotten his kempy britches all spun up into a three ply. For britch it’s not THAT bad. I’ve spun it in the grease, and just as it came off him – freckles, stains, and all. I ended up with right at a thousand yards.

I’ve also spun up a few fleece samples from this year’s shearing so far. Lilly has given us a beautiful fleece. It’s pretty dirty, and the spine fleece is worthless due to her being so short, but the dominant fleece from the sides is lovely.

Minerva is my surprise fleece star this year. She’s a whopping thirty five pounds after shearing and gave us a pound of Smokey black and silver wool. I was not expecting this at all. Her texture is similar to her grandfather’s Charlemagne’s, but she inherited the Merino softness from her grandmother Buttercup. I’ll be spinning this myself and then putting it in the shop. It is pretty high in vm, and it’s going to nep in a drum carder. I’m looking forward to her fleeces in years to come as she lightens up. She’s SO PRETTY!

On the Wheel

Charlemange’s 2016 dominant fleece in on the wheel currently. I’m working on a two ply light fingering weight yarn. It’s mostly white, but I’m allowing the dark bits just to sit in wherever they pop up. With all the bamboo sprouting I’m going to test some and maybe dye it a turkey red. That should knit up nicely. I’ve just washed it in hot water at 165 degrees and nothing else. I seem to be anti washing lately… except for Lilly’s fleece.

On the Needles

I ended up with five skeins of Charlemagne’s britch yarn. Each skein is about two hundred fifty yards. So, I’m making a wrap sweater for this spring and next fall. Not only did I spin it in the grease, I decided to be crazy and knit it in the grease. I washed up a swatch sample, counted, and now I’m knitting. It’s really kind of gross, but at the same time enjoyable. My hands are getting very soft, too. It squeaks on the metal needles. I think next time I decide to do something like this I’ll soak the fleece in cold water first. Grease minus dirt and a little less smell sounds good.

I also made a new shawl this past week. It’s Wendy’s Fern Shawl off of Ravelry. Great pattern, totally free. I used this green Romney yarn I made years ago when I was first learning to spin and dye. The spinning, or I should say plying isn’t my best. I dyed it with copper pennies and carrot tops with a splash of spinach. It’s bright. I think I may over dye with walnuts in a gradient. Or just leave it until this fall and see if someone picks it up at a festival. Either way, it was a pleasure to make at each step.

On the Sheep

I managed to shear Lilly, Minerva, and Night this past week. I’m hoping to shear Daisy this coming week. Lilly was pretty chill by the end of the process. She stomped her foot more than once, but as soon as the grain came out all was forgiven. Minerva left me with a swollen eye. Yep. That’s right. A thirty five pound ewe lamb decked me. Her Aunt Dagney would have been proud. I was dreading shearing Night. She’s a bit off, and frankly a little crazy. But she was actually very well behaved. She actually is friendlier with me now. I guess it was bonding time? Who knows. Sheep are funny that way.

Until next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

 

 

 

 

Sunday’s Sassy Stitch and Spin: Tramp Cat and Mittens 

*This post was started weeks ago, but due to technical difficulties it’s just now getting finished and posted. Now to figure out how to replace a charging port…

I am blessed with three good barn cats. They do their job and are sociable with people as well as the sheep. I fact, they often nap with the ewes and out tom Clive loves to go out to the big field with the flock on a sunny day. So, with the cold weather we’ve kept them in carriers in the house at night. The strange thing: we’ve heard a lot of bumps under the house.

Sophie Ann LaClaire is a hybrid someone put out. As far as she’s concerned we’re BFFs.

Now, bumps under the house are normal when Otis, the resident possum, is doing his cat impression at night. He and Sophie the cat are besties. But this is something larger, and well, doesn’t smell like Otis. All the critters have been on edge and I’ve been bracing myself, concerned the foxes had made a new den. But no. It’s a big orange cat tramping around, looking for food. Now that the mystery is solved I can rest a little netter and concentrate on my night knitting.

Cloe. When it’s super cold I let her sleep on the foot of the bed… where she actually stays.

On the Wheel

My piles of Romney fleeces are spinning up nicely. Spinning in the grease means no prep time. Usually I spin up a pound of prepared with plying included in fourteen to fifteen hours (and I’ve done it in a single insane day). When I spin in the grease my average is half a pound in eighteen hours. However, it usually takes me about twice that long to really prep the fibers. So, with the massive cold front still clinging to the country, it’s enjoyable to not scour.

Off the wheel

I completed my mitten spinning! I wasn’t sure about mixing the courser Targhee and Jacob wool with my gorgeous fawn alpaca. But I’m truly pleased. The alpaca really softened up what is traditionally sock yarn in my house.I had planned to felt, but it’s thick, warm, and comfortable just like it is.

Since the mitten yarn came out so nice I dug out the coveted Hopkins fluff left over from combing on my viking combs. Most people toss it, but, well, that’s not my style. I picked through it to get out the neps and noils, then got busy with the hand carders. I’m even more pleased with the softness of this yarn. I may snag Go Lightly’s fleece this year from my neighbor. He’s Hopkins’s son and the fleece is very similar. In short, I want to reproduce this blend for both color and texture.

On the Needles

I’m finishing up my mittens. Honestly, I’m not sure what to knit next. I know I’ll need a sweater next year, and maybe a hooded cowl, but otherwise the household is set on knit wear for a few years barring mice and moths. And, I’ve got to concentrate on spinning and weaving along with up coming farm work for spring.

Off the Needles

I made two new hats for chores. They’re leftovers from other past projects. I didn’t use a pattern. Both are knitted flat and then stitched up the side. My ears are much happier!

Out of the Pot

Last autumn when it was Kavass making season I tried dyeing with beets. I crave a red dye that’s deep and substantial. However, beets are not a color fast dye. So now I have a three pound Jacob fleece with a weird yellowish cast coupled with pink streaks. Not good.

Last week I pulled out my dye pot and cherry koolaid. Can I just say “Yummy”? I’m calling it Cherry Cola Float. The red with hints of the Jacob browns with just hints of pinks and whites is so lovely. With the puni style rolags I added a touch of firestar. When I’m done working up this batch they’ll being the Etsy shop. I’m thinking next is green, or yellow. I feel a soda themed color way collection coming on!

Weaving

My little wrap is off the loom.

Even though it’s off the loom, the work isn’t over.

I’m warping for a double width throw blanket. Frankly, I AM NERVOUS. This is my first time using only my best handspun to double width. But hey, slow and steady wins the race, and that’s my plan.

Hopefully my technical issues are resolved.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Winding up Wednesday: The “Trash” Fleece

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The problem with perfect fleeces or “Did you have to tell me that?”

If you’ve been following this blog then you know I have a policy of no fleece left behind. Simply stated there are no trash fleeces in my world. However, like so many sectors of Western culture, wool processing has become severely detached from reality.  There’s an unvoiced expectation that raw fleeces are fluffy, free from vegetable matter, long in staple legnth, and cheap. Any other fleece is simply unworkable and unworthy. This puts pressure on both the producer and the sheep. Remember the sheep?  You know, those cute prey animals we’ve bred to produce wool, some to the point of wool blindness? Those darling lambs who love nothing more than to play in brambles and don’t mind sleeping in their own berries? Those cuddle bugs that burp fermented grass and smell, well, like a barnyard? Yep, they’re pretty gross when it comes to personal hygiene.

The reality of keeping sheep coated, changing those coats four times a year, and acting in best interest of the sheep is more complex. Have you ever tried to dress a toddler that doesn’t want to be dressed? Now imagine that toddler is the same weight as you, or more. Ever dressed a two hundred pound toddler? I have. It’s not exactly easy. Then there’s the ethical considerations of adding weight and heat to an animal in the summer along with increased risk of injury if the coat fails (fancy a broken leg anyone?). Or, you can just leave the sheep on pasture away from the hay and hope they aren’t eaten or just horrifically mauled. So, that leaves the majority of fleeces with higher vm than most drum carders can handle with just a pass or two.

What to do!

Grab a lock of your fleece and a hand carder, or a dog slicker if you’re starting out.

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Place the carder on your lap.

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Now it’s just like brushing hair. Start at the tips, and work up.

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When you get past the middle, turn the lock around and do the same on that end.

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Repeat.

Or watch me do it on YouTube for a bit more details:

*Yes, there are cats in the house since it’s extremely cold. Lily’s fleece is being used for personal garments, so I’m not concerned about contamination. My studio is animal free!

That’s it?

That’s it. Once you’ve done every lock your fleece is ready to card or spin from the fold. You’ll loose some wool, but if you’re paying a fraction of the cost, or nothing, it’s worth it. I’ve done this on fleeces less than two inches in staple length. Yes, there were a few sailor impressions along the way, but it was worth the time and skint knuckle. Here’s a pro tip: don’t attempt this before coffee or four a.m.

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This is the final results from using this method then spinning in the cloud.

And that’s it for this Wednesday! Don’t be afraid of those lower end fleeces with real potential. A little work, a little patience, and you’ll be amazed what you end up with!

Until next time,

In all you do, craft no harm.

Moriah