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.

20180224_160658.jpg

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.

20180412_153931

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

Winding up Wednesday: The Babe Production Wheel – A Review

* I am in no way associated with Babe spinning wheels. I’m just reviewing what I like and don’t like about my wheel.

In 2012 I FINALLY got my first spinning wheel. She’s an antique wheel from The Netherlands. I call her Abigail. I love spinning on her, but for serious spinning she’s just not sturdy enough.

And that’s why in 2014 I bought Josephine – my Babe Production Wheel. I decided on a Babe because it was the cheapest option for a double treadle wheel I could fine at the time. I thought about building one, but then I realized by the time I bought the racing wheel chair wheel, the pipes, etc, I’d pay almost as much for some aggravation without a return policy. No thanks.

My Babe arrived one afternoon and within half an hour I was spinning happily. Not too bad for three hundred dollar plumbing pipes and spare parts. So, let me start by telling you what I DON’T like about my wheel. (And don’t tell Josephine, it would hurt her feelings!)

The built in lazy Kate is kind of a joke. I mean, it’s great in a snap, but there’s no way to REALLY flow with properly tensions singles while plying. Over time I’ve learned to adapt, but the dollar store basket with my bobbins on knitting needles still wins.

It’s plastic. Yes. I know, I bought a plastic wheel. It’s not a major issue, but it’s not PRETTY. It’s not sustainable.

It makes an awful racket when I’m winding off a bobbin straight onto my skein winder while said bobbin is on the wheel. No matter how much oil I feed her, she still complains.

Don’t try to do art yarns on this model. They make a bulky wheel for a reason!

Now, onto the likes!

Overall this wheel spins pretty smooth. I think it’s the ball barings. It’s easy to start and stop, speed up and slow down. I like that!

Another fave feature is the double treadle. My calves are even and if I sprain an ankle I can still spin. Considering it’s typically my right ankle I sprain, that’s a big bonus.

The bobbins are a perfect size. Four ounces is a comfortable size for an afternoon of spinning. Of course, if you’re up for a good game of bobbin chicken six ounces is doable.

The company makes spinning bobbins and plying bobbins. The plying bobbins are hard to miss since they’re bright red and bigger than the others. Since the whorl speed is determined by the bobbin size you can really control the ply twist angle easily. This creates a very consistent ply.

What I really enjoy is that in three and a half years of spinning on this wheel I’ve not had one break down, one problem, one broken drive band. I oil it regularly and spin three to eight hours daily. That’s allot of wear with no problems.

Overall, I’m pleased with my Babe. If you’re looking to get into spinning without shelling our almost a grand it’s definitely worth the investment.

That’s it for thisweek’s Winding up Wednesday.

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

Digital Camera

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.

Digital Camera

Place the carder on your lap.

Digital Camera

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

Digital Camera

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

Digital Camera

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.

20171213_123302~2-1260054861..jpg
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