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

 

 

Winding up Wednesday: Why I Shear My Sheep

I do love natural fibers. Nothing beats wool for warm winter clothing, garden mulch, or to sleep on. I enjoy spinning my flock’s fleeces in the grease, cleaned, carded, combed, or cloud. But that’s not why I shear our sheep.

Shearing season is finally behind us here in Serenity. I personally hand sheared all my sheep. It’s grungy, back breaking work. Some people think I shear just to have the wool, to make money, or because I’m greedy. I can tell you – sheep ranchers that don’t breed and sell lambs aren’t doing it for the big money.

I do love natural fibers. Nothing beats wool for warm winter clothing, garden mulch, or to sleep on. I enjoy spinning my flock’s fleeces in the grease, cleaned, carded, combed, or cloud. But that’s not why I shear our sheep.

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These amazing animal’s unaltered cousins grow far less wool than modern domesticated wool sheep. My hair sheep naturally shed their wool when the weather warms up (and yes I collect and spin that, too). But most domesticated sheep have lost that trait. There are still a few breeds that roo (shed) their fleeces yearly. However, most breeds simply need a helping hand.

I shear my sheep for their health. Sure, they wouldn’t need shearing if man never got involved. But then again, we’d have an entirely different civilization, culture, and history as a species if it wasn’t for sheep and their wool. Somehow, along the way we became interdependent on each other. We needed the sheep for wool, milk, and meat, they needed us for protection from wild predators and eventually to clip the wool. I think overall humans ended up with the better hand.

People have asked why I don’t just leave my rescued sheep unshorn. Imagine walking around with an eighty pound, matted, felted, foot thick wool coat pulling at your skin in the dead heat of summer. Imagine lice and bugs nesting in your coat near your skin. Imagine seeds sprouting. Imagine itching and having no way to scratch. Not fun. Now imagine being relieved of a yearly coat as soon as it begins to warm. You just might leap for joy like a lamb.

Why do I shear my sheep? Because I am their caretaker and I love them. The wool is just a by product of that love.

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: Viking Combs

Wow! What a busy week. I started training for my new job this week, Bossy took me for a few runs, and I’m almost finished with Charlemagne’s 2015 fleece. Plus, I’m busy shearing and getting fleeces ready to put up in the Etsy shop. But this week I wanted to feature one of my favorite tools for processing wool, and my newest way of using up left over scrap yarns from my stash.

VIKING COMBS

Ah the Vikings. Those seafaring, raiding, colony planting baddies we all know and love from History Channel. Archeological research shows that Vikings kept sheep and used hand combs, just like mine, to process wool into worsted yarn and thread.

Viking combs are easy to use, but not. They are basically big spikes set into wooded handles. We joke that they are a home defense device, and I’m sure some ancient Viking woman used them that way. They are sharp. I’ve accidentally dropped one and scratched myself. But they do their intended job well.

To use Viking combs, you simply put your locks butt end on one comb and then rake the other through the tips. This transfers the wool from one comb to another. When what’s left on the first comb is too short or nasty, you simply slide the refuse off and go at it again a time or two more. I personally find combing longer wool best. Three inches is the minimum I usually go. Yes, I can go shorter, but to me short wool makes better woolen. Traditionally, you should fill the combs three quarters full. But, when starting out use less. Your forearms definitely get a work out.

When you’re done you can either diz into roving, or be a crazy spinster like me and spin directly from the combs. Both have their own challenges. Being difficult for me to hold a comb and diz at the same time, I just go from comb to wheel.

Tips

I’ve read allot of articles stating that you should load your combs three quarters full. Don’t. Just save your arms, your wrists, your sanity, and don’t. I find a clean fleece does well about half full. A high VM fleece, and about a quarter full will do fine. If your fleece is hitting high on the ridiculous VM scale go ahead and flick comb each lock and then load those bad boys up to the three quarter full level.

Diz or spin off the but end of the locks. It does spin smoother when you spin butt to tip.

Don’t comb towards yourself. That includes your body and your legs. I promise it’s a BAD idea, especially if the cat jumps in your lap and you have on a thin garment. You will end up injured.

When not in use slide the combs into each other to keep the points “capped”. There’s nothing worse than forgetting your combs are in your project back and cramming your hand down on them or having them rip up your bag.

Don’t take them on airplanes. They will be confiscated.

Don’t let children play with them.

Keep them away from animals when not in use. For what ever reason, Pate found these extremely interesting as a puppy.

You can blend different fibers into roving with them! That’s one of my favorite things to do with them.

If you decide to spin directly off the combs, remember to keep the points facing away from your arms.

Have fun, be creative, and enjoy yourself!

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

 

 

 

 

Winding Up Wednesday

Last week I made a hay run. Big deal, right? I make hay runs all the time. However, this time I parked up the hill from the barn. That’s not so bad. However, I was a little addled due to dropping the trailer in the creek. Like IN THE CREEK, and then sliding back down the bank… I just wasn’t thinking my best when I let the trailer off the truck hitch without having first put concrete blocks and chucks down to lock to the trailer’s wheel. The trailer started rolling down the hill. I screamed, and it dragged me a good six feet before I dug my heels in and stopped it. That’s right. I stopped two thousand pounds of hay headed for my momma and my barn. I’m sore. I’m strained and sprained and all kinds of stiff and aching. So, I haven’t done much spinning. I’m slowly working on the Romney and Jacob. I’ve only gotten three hanks done instead of my usual five to seven a week. I’m still making the finishing touches to my pink and white wrap, and that’s the entirety of my fiber crafts this week.

So, you’re going to hear my philosophy about why everyone in the world should try spinning at least once.

Universal

Pretty much anywhere people grow fiber or can harvest wild fibers, spinning occurs. I was reading an article in Spin magazine recently that highlighted the textile culture of First Peoples in America. My Welsh and Scottish ancestors kept sheep and spun fiber. The Chinese perfected silk cultivation before my Jewish ancestors even existed as a religion, and we know they kept sheep and wove tapestries complete with metal threads.

According to Wikipedia the archeology records show that hand spinning and weaving date back at least twenty thousand years. That’s the Paleolithic era. That’s pretty the dawn of modern humanity. If you sat down a woman from the stone age, Ancient Greece or Africa, an Inca woman from Pre-Columbus America, a Samaritan, or a Scottish granny from two hundred years ago and gave them fiber, they could give you yarn.

What I’m driving at here is that fiber arts, spinning, felting, weaving in its many forms are all part of our universal heritage. It’s in our very DNA as human beings. It has no boundaries of nationality, skin color, ethnic orientation, not political borders. I think that’s one reason I love it so much beyond just the obvious.

Every time I pick up a fleece, sit down and start spinning, I’m connecting to my history as a human being. I think that’s pretty special. So, get out there and embrace your history, people. Because spinning is your heritage.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah