Thursday, June 16, 2011

You know you're a fiber geek when... squeal with glee when this book finally comes to you via the Hennepin County Library hold system:

...and the geek status is confirmed as you happily read it from cover to cover.

One of the coolest things about this book is that I'm finally getting more scientific information about wool structure, which I have been hunting down for a few months.  Understanding the cellular structure and physiology of fibers is extremely satisfying for me.  I have a bachelor's degree in biology and therefore have always had a natural interest in this kind of information.  Fiber art offers a perfect marriage of my interests.  I love having a depth of knowledge about the history and science of fibers, and I love the art & craft of using them.  Essentially, spinning and fiber crafting make both the right and left sides of my brain hum along happily at the same time.  I wish everyone could find the activity in life that makes them feel this way.  Surely at the very least, it would cut down on therapy bills. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Meet the new addition to my family!

I have long despaired that since we live in Minneapolis, the zoning laws prevent us from having helpful animals in our backyard.  I would love to have a small flock of chickens, for example.  They can eat the bugs in the vegetable garden and provide fresh eggs.  But the zoning laws are very clear and they list cows, horses, hogs, sheep, goats, and chickens very specifically as no-no's for our area.  So no chickens for now, and no sheep for me until I can afford land outside of our current zoning. 

But I have found a loophole! 

Alpacas!  They are not specifically listed as a forbidden agricultural animal and I have found a breeder of pygmy alpacas!  I have reserved a new little girl to come live with us.  She was born a few weeks ago and will stay with her mother until she is weaned.  Then she will come to live in our backyard!

Any suggestions on names for this beautiful little girl?  Here she is with her mother:

yes, this IS April Fool's Day...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What to pack for a 2 week trip?

I will depart in a couple of days for a two week trip to Indiana to visit my family, followed by a weekend spent with college friends in Des Moines, Iowa before returning to Minnesota.  I face some challenges with packing for this trip:

1.  I will be bearing large gifts to my family & friends.  Among other things, I am bringing a tall bookcase to give to my brother, a stereo for my parents, and several bags of yarn for my Iowa friend.  These gifts are not surprises for anyone, which is why I can write about them.  I've been busy cleaning & organizing my studio space in our house, which has been a complete disaster.  I am evicting these items and my family & friends are happy to give them a new home. 

2.  I will bring both dogs with me for the trip.  I have two black lab mixes, both of them weighing more or less around 65 pounds, and will need to bring their creature comforts such as enough food and toys for a couple of weeks.

3.  I have a minivan, which one would think would be helpful, and it certainly will be for the bookcase and large dogs, but I already have a tendency to overpack and I am often lured into false complacency thinking "well, I have a minivan, so it'll all work out." 

4.  It's the crappy time of year where it's impossible to know what clothes to pack, since early spring can be cold in the early mornings and late evenings, but much, much warmer during the day.  So I know I will end up overpacking clothes while I try to make sure I have what I need for this temperature spectrum. 

and what is most challenging...

5.  If I don't bring a few fiber projects with me, I will go stark raving mad.  I want to bring the rest of Pixie Girl's fleece so that I can finish picking all of the wool, but this seems like a very bulky project to bring with me and I'm not sure how ridiculous I am being by even considering it.  A pragmatic choice would be a small bag with a small knitting project (like the socks I've been working on for a while now) and a spindle or two with some fiber. 

But all of these considerations are almost beside the point.  So what is the real question?

To bring my wheel, or not to bring my wheel. 

I cannot make up my mind.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wooly Word if the Week: Polwarth

Since I usually like to post by noon, I am squeaking this post in today.  But I have stuck with the Wednesday tradition of wooly words and am making sure I get this done before getting some sleep tonight! 

I mentioned yesterday how much I loved spinning with Polwarth wool, so I decided to make this sheep breed the wooly word of the week.  And yes, yes, I know that each new breed of sheep that I encounter becomes my new favorite.  But Polwarth seems to be truly special, so I want to highlight it.  One of these days I need to post a Top 10 list of my favorite breeds, and I know that Polwarth will be on it. 

Polwarth:  This breed was developed in the late 1800's in Australia from a cross of Lincoln (25%) with Merino (75%).  The goal was to create a breed that was hardier than Merino, and provided both excellent wool and meat.  The emphasis, however, was always on the excellence of the wool.  Polwarths produce big fleeces that have long, soft fibers.  This breed is actually known as "Ideals" in South America.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I've got the Polwarth blues

The other zebisis spindle that I bought for myself for this past Christmas was a beautiful amazonite whorl/black rosewood shaft spindle.  I love the marriage of form & function with the whorl's carved flower shape, which gives me plenty of options for notching the yarn to the spindle while I spin:

I've been happily using this spindle to spin Polwarth wool for the first time.  And I have fallen in love with Polwarth wool.  It is the most perfect blend of length and softness, which makes it dreamy to spin.  I had purchased 4.2 ounces of handpainted Polwarth top from (you guessed it) woolgatherings on and decided that I wanted to spin it with the plan to make sock yarn for myself.  The top was painted in a lovely mix of pale and bright blues, a bit of teal and a bit of grey:

Knowing that I wanted to create a sock yarn with this wool, my goal is to create a smooth, durable 3-ply yarn.  I want to emphasize consistency in the yarn to make soft, comfy socks for myself.  The best way to spin a very consistent final yarn is to (1) use the same spindle for all singles and (2) mix up the singles in your plying as much as possible so that any changes in the singles' thicknesses is balanced throughout the final yarn. 

The method I have developed to manage my singles for plying is to use my bobbin winder.  I spin the singles on the spindle until it looks like I have enough to fill one of my small bobbins.  I wind off enough of the yarn to fill a bobbin, then rejoin the fiber to the spindle & continuing spinning until it's time to wind off more singles again.  The process of winding the singles yarn on to a bobbin has the excellent side benefit of equalizing the twist energy in the single, which will further enhance the balance & consistency of the final yarn. 

I keep filling bobbins until all of the fiber has been spun, and I'm just about at that point with this blue Polwarth fiber.  The unspun fiber by the spindle is the last of it:

I should end up with 6, maybe 6 1/2, bobbins of singles to ply together to create the final yarn.  Given the thickness of my singles yarn, I estimate that each bobbin should hold between 200 and 250 yards of singles.  I need at least 350 yards, ideally 400 yards, of fingering weight yarn to knit a pair of socks for myself.  Score!  I will definitely have enough yarn for the final sock project I have in mind for this fiber. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

The magic of finishing yarn

Last week, I plied my dark mill ends singles.  These singles had been on bobbins for months, so the twist energy in them had gone dormant.  When I plied them, the plying twist energy was active, so the unfinished plied yarn looked a mess.  It curled up on itself and looked more like a bird's nest than yarn.

Behold the magic of finishing yarn, which reveals its true character!  When I plied the yarn and filled a bobbin with it on my wheel, I then wound off the freshly plied yarn into 2-yard skeins.  Before the finishing process, the freshly plied yarn is bunched up and literally cannot hang straightly, while the finished yarn hangs all lovely and balanced:

And here is a close-up of the change in freshly plied vs. finished yarn:

To finish this yarn, I soaked it in very hot water with a drop of liquid dish soap for about 20 minutes, by which time the water had cooled enough that it didn't burn my hands anymore. I gently agitated the yarn in the cooler water to full it slightly, then put it into cold water for about 10 minutes. Following a final 10 minute soak in hot water, I squeezed out the excess water, thwacked the yarn a few times, then hung it up to dry with no weights on it.

So I started with 12 ounces of singles on 4 bobbins and ended with 3 skeins of 3-ply yarn and 1 skein of 2-ply yarn.  The finished yarns are very soft and have a pleasing rustic quality.  I'm not quite sure how I will use them (as usual, I have lots of ideas!), and it was a lot of fun to have these thick, bouncy yarns as a comparison to the spindle-spun yarns I have made recently that are very thin and smooth.

Vital statistics for the combined 3 skeins of 3-ply yarn:  dark mill ends wool, 202 yards, 9.5 ounces, 7 wpi, very bulky

Vital statistics for 2-ply yarn:  dark mill ends wool, 56 yards, 2.25 ounces, 9 wpi, bulky

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wooly "Words" of the Week: fiber acronyms

Perhaps due to texting in our pop culture, acronyms seem to be a more common part of everyday language.  Spinning, knitting, and fiber arts have their own particular acronyms that are universally understood by its native speakers.  Here is a list of my favorites & most commonly used:

WIP:  work-in-progress, which is a project that a spinner/knitter/etc considers current and is usually located where it can be picked up conveniently, such as on coffee tables, nightstands, & desks and in purses & bags for those on-the-go WIPs

FO:  finished object; spinners often consider yarn itself a finished object, while a knitter or weaver sees yarn as just the beginning of a project

UFO:  unfinished object, which is a WIP so old that you can't in good conscience call it a WIP any longer since there has been no progress to speak of and is usually located in an inconvenient location, such as in a dusty plastic box stuffed in a closet or under a bed

VM:  vegetable matter, which are the bits of seeds, grass, and chaff that can be found in raw wool

WTF:  yeah, this means exactly what you think it does and is most often uttered when fibers tangle, yarns break, stitches drop, or a pattern error is found

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finished spindle-spun yarn

I have a tradition of buying myself a Christmas gift each year.  I doubt it's shocking that I chose a fiber-related gift for myself for this past Christmas.  I shopped at the zebisisdesigns etsy shop online and purchased a couple of her beautiful spindles.

One of them was a drop-dead gorgeous spindle with a handmade polymer clay whorl and a black rosewood shaft, about 10 1/2 inches long that weighs 1 ounce:

I love the clay whorl, not just for its handmade beauty, but also because the material has some "tooth" to it.  Without having to have a notch in the whorl, the side surface of the clay whorl helps hold the yarn against it.  The spindle is well balanced and spins with no wobble or hiccups. 

Zebisis also sent a fiber sample gift with my spindles purchase - about an ounce of this wool/silk/alpaca blend that was handpainted in a very pretty mix of eggplant, apple green, with a touch of golden yellow:

I decided to use my new spindle to enjoy this gift, and this spinning project became one of those that helped me stay sane during the very stressful months of December & January.  I spun the fiber very thinly in order to maximize the length of yarn I could get from the sample quantity.  And since I've wanted to practice Navajo (or chain) plying, I wound my single into a plying ball and went to work creating a final 3-ply yarn from the original single: 

In addition to getting some more practice with this plying technique, I like how I was able to keep the colors of the final yarn very clear from each other:

I finished the yarn with a 20 minute soak in hot water with a bit of soap in it, then a 10 minute soak in cold water.  After one last 10 minute soak in hot water, I squeezed out the excess water, gave the yarn a couple of thwacks and hung it up to dry.  I do not block my yarns, so the yarn was not hung up with any weights on it.  The final yarn:

Vital statistics:  blend of Cormo wool, silk & alpaca, 3/4 ounce, 92 yards, 21 wpi, light fingering/heavy laceweight

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Yarn

In honor of St. Patrick's day, I am finally finishing the "mixed greens" yarn that has been a WIP (work-in-progress) for months.  You might recall that I spun the singles (all of them spun on spindles) and wound them on to storage bobbins back in October.  Now that I have rediscovered my wheel, it's time to ply these singles together so that I can gaze affectionately upon my finished green yarn.  And there is an added boost of satisfaction since I dyed this yarn myself. 

After staring at the bobbins for a few minutes and having a fierce internal debate about my plying choices (Navajo? 2-ply? 3-ply? did I even want to contemplate a 4-ply?), I decided to create a 3-ply yarn where I would randomly drop & add strands from the different bobbins to create subtle color transitions in the final yarn. 

Plying the singles together on my wheel:

The bobbin full of the plied yarn and the bits of singles left over:

Ta-dah! The finished St. Patrick's Day yarn!  And what I have learned from this yarn?  I have learned that while I love to spin singles on spindles, I prefer my wheel over spindles for plying.  I also thought it was very cool to see how the greens blended optically in this yarn - from a distance, the yarn is a beautiful grass green color, while its components are a mossy green and emerald green.

Vital statistics: Coopworth & Blue-faced Leicester wools, 256 yards, 2.4 ounces, 20 wpi, laceweight

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wooly Word of the Week: Carding

The new tradition continues!  Last Wednesday I posted my first Wooly Word(s) of the Week, and they have now been moved to the new Glossary page located on the blog's sidebar. 

As I continue to prepare Pixie Girl's fleece for spinning, I know that I will be spending plenty of time carding wool.  It seemed appropriate to make this process the week's wooly words.

Carding: a method of preparing fibers using carding cloth that separates fibers from each other and aligns them randomly.  Carding does not eliminate fibers, but blends all fibers together that are introduced to the carding cloth.  The results of carding are rolags (using handcards), batts (drum carder), or roving (batts that have been made into strips).

Carding cloth:  Carding cloth is a grid of small wire teeth set into a background material such as leather or rubber.  The density of the wire teeth per square inch determines the kind of fibers that can be carded on it.  For example, cotton carders typically have 250 or more teeth per square inch, while general purpose handcards can range from 75 - 120 teeth per square inch.

Rolag: a cylinder of carded fiber produced by using handcards

Batt:  a rectangle of carded fiber produced by using a drum carder

Roving:  a strip of carded fiber

Pros of carding:  Carding is an excellent method of blending fibers together.  This can mean everything from homogenizing a single fleece to creating blends of different kinds of fibers (ie. wool and silk) to creating color blends of fibers.  Carding is also the method used to prepare fibers for woolen spinning.  Carding is especially well-suited for preparing short fibers, such as cotton, animal downs (ie. cashmere), and shorter wools with springy crimp.

Cons of carding:  Carding does not eliminate any kind of fiber, which means that anything included in the original fiber will show up in the end result.  You will not be getting rid of any weaker, tender fibers or any neps/noils when using carding as your preparation.  Carding is also not intended as a method of getting rid of grit or vegetable matter in the fiber.  Carding very long fibers can be tricky and is usually best done on a drum carder, rather than handcards.

Tools of carding: For the handspinner, the two primary methods of carding are using handcards or a drum carder.  Commercial mills more or less use giant, motorized drum carders to create extra-large batts, which can be left as is or divided into strips of roving.

In case you haven't seen them before, here are photos of handcards & a drum carder.  I have chosen to show photos of tools that I own, which I suppose is an endorsement of these particular products, but there are certainly several excellent tools made by other companies, too:

Schacht curved handcards (112 teeth/inch):

Strauch "Finest" drum carder:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rediscovering the wheel

Since last spring, all of my spinning has been done on spindles.  I love them - I can keep a spindle & some fiber in my bag and enjoy spinning whenever and wherever I want.  But I also have a gorgeous wheel that has been ridiculously neglected and it's time to rediscover it.  I know that I want to use my wheel to spin Pixie Girl's fleece, so I'm trying to think ahead and get the wheel ready for this project.

The last spinning I did on my wheel was with 12 ounces of dark mill ends (I don't know if the fiber color is natural or dyed).  I have four bobbins of these mill end singles and it's long overdue to ply them and finish the yarn.  And I need the bobbins for my next project!

The singles have been on bobbins long enough that the twist has gone dormant. I refreshed sample strands of the yarn in hot water to determine what a balanced 3-ply yarn would look like using these singles.  I learned this technique on Rita Buchanan's DVD "How I Spin." Rita is fabulous, using a common sense & analytical approach to spinning yarn without losing the art of it by over-focusing on calculations. The refreshed sample serves as your template that you can use throughout the plying process to make sure that you're staying on target to create a balanced yarn.

I  got to work plying the singles, and because the plying twist is the active energy in the skein, the yarn was very curly and kinked up on itself when it came off the wheel.  At the beginning of my spinning days, I would've been dismayed and convinced that I had messed up.  Now I understand a bit more about the twist energy in yarn and I was actually happy to see the curly plied yarn.

I had enough singles on my bobbins to get three skeins of 3-ply yarn, and still had enough singles left on two of the bobbins that I thought, eh, what the heck, let's finish those with a 2-ply yarn.  Now it's off to finish the yarn in hot water, give it a few good thwacks & hang it up to dry.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Continuing with Pixie Girl's fleece

Before carding wool, the fiber is "picked," meaning the individual locks of wool are picked apart so that they can be easily spread across the teeth of carding cloth.  The process is also supposed to help get rid of any grit or vegetable matter (seeds, bits of grass, etc.) in the wool.  Picking wool can be done by hand or by picking tools.  There are a few basic designs of pickers, but since I do not have one, this is a job I do by hand. 

In the case of Pixie Girl's fleece, picking by hand was also necessary even if I had a picker tool.  Even though the washing & rinsing process got rid of a lot of grit that was in the fleece, there was still plenty left that needed to be removed before spinning and I don't think a picker would be nearly as thorough as my hands for this particular fleece.  There were also some short cuts in the wool (short cuts are an undesirable error in shearing) that I needed to remove before spinning.  I initially tried just picking open the locks by hand, but quickly found out that I needed a bit of help with a flicker or small comb. 

After experimenting with different tools, I came up with a process that works extremely well for this fleece:  (1) use a metal dog grooming comb to open both ends of the locks, which removes any short cuts or neps, plus helps get rid of any big pieces of vegetable matter, then (2) finish picking the lock by hand, which removes almost all remaining grit plus opens the lock completely to prepare for carding the wool.  I am pretty vigorous with how I use the dog comb on the fleece - if there are any tender (thin or breakable) fibers in the lock, I want the comb to pull them out, so that I'm left with the best possible parts of the fleece for carding.  This combing step produces more waste than simply picking by hand did, but I noticed a serious improvement in my picked wool, so I think the extra time and increased waste is well worth it. 

Granted, this handpicking process could be a very tedious & boring chore, but I actually find it relaxing and meditative.  I tend to pick a handful of the clean wool each morning while I listen to Minnesota Public Radio and sip my morning coffee.  I keep this task easily available in my living room, where I usually spend my mornings.  I have a basket of the clean wool, a piece of leather I put over my lap where any of grit and stuff can land as I pick the wool, another basket for the picked wool, and a small basket for the waste wool from the combing.  I can keep the whole works stored neatly under the coffee table - the baskets look pretty and it keeps the materials easily available to me whenever I want to spend a few minutes on it.  This photo shows the baskets of clean wool & picked wool and line-up of unpicked wool lock, combed lock, and picked lock on top of the leather:

The picked wool is wonderful to touch - it is a soft cloud of fiber that will card beautifully.  Here is a picture of me holding about 4 grams of picked wool - just 4 grams and look how puffy and soft it is!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Like manna from heaven

I joyfully received shipments from woolgatherings this week.  They are my favorite shop for handpainted fibers, and I indulged myself with my latest order and also purchased their luxury fiber sampler. 

Here is my loot:

love, love, LOVE this handpainted 50% Merino, 50% silk fiber, which was the March 2011 Fiber Club's special edition:

And when I saw this fiber, it reminded me of Rainier cherries and I had to have it.  It is 100% Blue-faced Leicester fiber:

The luxury fiber sampler contains ten gorgeous types of fibers & blends.  I know that I won't do much more than admire and pet these fibers for a while, giving myself plenty of time to dream about what I can make with them.

1 oz - 50% Baby Camel / 50% Tussah Silk
1 oz - Milk Fiber
1 oz - 50% Alpaca / 30% Merino / 20% Tussah Silk
1 oz - 75% BFL / 25% Tussah Silk
1 oz - 50% Merino / 30% Cultivated Silk / 20% Angora
1 oz - 80% Merino / 20% Cashmere
1 oz - 80% Merino / 20% Angora
1 oz - 50% Merino / 50% Cultivated Silk
1 oz - 50% Merino / 50% Yak
1 oz - Fine Alpaca

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wooly Words of the Week: Corriedale, Shetland & Rambouillet

For some time now, I have wanted to create a glossary page in my blog.  It occured to me that the best way to chip away at a big glossary project is to have weekly additions to it.  Therefore, I am unveiling a new zeithound blog tradition.  Each Wednesday, I will post a wooly word (or words) of the week which will likely be related to whatever spinning or knitting work that I've been doing recently.  The following Wednesday, when new wooly words of the week are posted, the previous week's words will move to the official glossary page that will be located on the sidebar of my blog.

For this week, in honor of yesterday's post about Pixie Girl's fleece and her genetic heritage, the wooly words of the week will be her mix of sheep breeds:

Corriedale:  This sheep breed was developed in New Zealand in the 1860's from crossing British longwool rams with Merino ewes, with the goal to have a dual purpose sheep that adapted well to different environments and produced high quality meat and wool.  The Corrie has been a very successful breed and is now the second most populous sheep in the world after the Merino.  Corriedale wool is considered a fine wool, but has some luster from its longwool heritage.  It is generally soft with a very well-defined crimp.  Much like the adaptable nature of the sheep, its wool can be prepared and spun in a variety of methods and is a favorite of many handspinners. 

Shetland: Shetland sheep are part of the Northern European Short-Tailed group of sheep, making them cousins of Icelandic and Finn sheep.  They come from the Shetland Islands located northeast of Scotland, where their geographic isolation helped keep them very closely related to their original stock that was likely left on the islands by Vikings about 1,000 years ago.  Their primitive ancestory gives their fleece characteristics such as a dual coat with a tendency to molt, and a large variety of natural colors.  Shetland fleeces can contain several different fiber types in a single fleece, with the finest wool located around the neck.  The wool has a well-defined crimp that almost spirals, and can be extremely soft and bouncy.  Shetland wool is excellent to spin woolen and has a tendency to bloom (or spread out) in yarn, creating a very airy, lofty, and soft yarn. 

Rambouillet: The Rambouillet breed began with a gift of highly coveted Spanish Merino sheep to King Louis XVI in 1786.  While the French Revolution wasn't kind to Louis, the royal sheep thrived and eventually became the base stock for most sheep breeding in the western United States.  They are the largest sheep of all fine wool breeds, and are primarily bred for their wool, not for their meat.  Their fleece is very soft with a defined crimp that can be a bit disorganized, and this kind of springy crimp lends itself very nicely to yarns that are soft, elastic and lofty.  Rambouillet wool has a very high quantity of lanolin and felts together extremely well. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Meet Pixie Girl and her 2010 fleece

Meet Pixie Girl, a crossbreed ewe who lives on Newland Ranch in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Her mother is a Corriedale and her father is a Shetland x Rambouillet cross.  I purchased two pounds of Pixie Girl's 2010 fleece and I have learned a lot about wool washing and prep working with her fleece. 

The wool had been cold soaked by the shepherd, so it arrived to me free of mud and other cakey barnyard materials (you know what I'm talking about, right?), but it had plenty of grit and vegetal matter in it, and still had all of its original lanolin.  I tried a new method to wash her fleece, using a bathtub in order to wash all of it at once without having to sort out individual staples of wool.  I bought a few yards of tulle from Joann Fabric and used that to line the bathtub.  I filled the tub with extremely hot water and added simple detergent to the water (Fleet Farm show paste, which is the same thing as Orvus paste), not agitating it very much because I didn't want lots of soap suds in the water.  I dumped the fleece into the water and let it soak for 20 minutes, then used the tulle to pull it out of the water, hooking the ends of the tulle over a towel rod in the tub to let the water drain from the wool.  The wool still felt a little too sticky, so I knew there was still more lanolin in it than I wanted.  I emptied the tub and refilled with with fresh hot water & soap to soak the wool one more time.  Two washes seemed to take most of stickiness out of the wool.  I decided it was ready to rinse, and I used the same process with fresh hot water (and no soap, obviously) until any residual soap seemed to be gone.  Each wash & rinse cycle got rid of an amazing amount of grit in the fleece.  I spread the wet wool on a couple of sweater racks and let them dry.  The cleaned wool:

Pixie Girl's heritage of Corriedale-Shetland-Rambouillet gives her fleece some interesting characteristics.  There was definitely a lot of lanolin in the raw fleece, more than I would expect in a primarily Corriedale fleece, so I assume that the Rambouillet (which is basically French merino sheep) contributed to the quantity of lanolin in the fleece.  I got most of it out in the washing process, but I wasn't fanatical about it.  The clean fleece has a trace of lanolin, which I like in this instance.  The wool is actually very soft, which I tested by touching a bundle of the clean wool against my neck to see how scratchy it felt.  There was no irritation against my skin, and I'm pretty sensitive to any kind of scratchiness against my skin. 

Pixie Girl's mixed heritage has also given her fleece some very different staples (or locks) of wool.  The staples range from about 2 to 3 inches, some of which have a more pronounced crimp that definitely seems more Corriedale to me (see the middle staple in the picture below), while some staples have a much finer, almost spiraling, crimp that would seem to come from the Shetland-Rambouillet portion of her genetics.  The wool has a lot of bounce to it - a lot of natural springiness.  Here are some very typical examples of the kinds of staples that I have gotten out of this fleece:

Because this wool has lots of different staple sizes and characteristics, plus it is very soft and bouncy, I have decided to continue processing this wool in a carded preparation for woolen spinning.  This process will blend the fleece together, and the spinning style will create a very lightweight, lofty, bouncy yarn that will be perfect for hats or sweaters, or any other garment that would benefit from a very warm, insulating yarn that is lightweight.  It wouldn't be as successful for something like socks, because woolen yarn isn't as durable against abrasion as a yarn that is spun in more of a worsted style. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

You know you got it bad when... notice that the swiffer duster refill has an interesting crimp structure.  The outside white part is reminiscent of English long wools with a more open crimp, while the blue inner fibers are very Merino-like with a fine, tighter crimp.

I've been spending a lot of time lately learning about wool structure and working with raw fleece, and I think it's showing when I dissect a cleaning tool because it reminds me of wool and I consider what it might be like to spin the blue swiffer fibers just to see what happens. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Building a new "normal"

For the past few months leading up to January 2011, life kept getting crazier and more stressful.  I was notified that my position was being eliminated at the corporation where I worked, my husband suffered from terrible pain in his neck, my mother-in-law was extremely ill with a chronic and terminal disease, and the holiday season was just around the corner.  December was particularly stressful, with my husband having major surgery on his cervical spine, his mother starting home hospice care, and me trying to get all of my necessary tasks done for Christmas. And then January rolled around and made December seem not quite so difficult.  In January, my job officially ended, my husband still had more post-surgical pain that we had expected, and my mother-in-law passed away last week.  I'm left feeling like I was (poorly) juggling too many balls in the air, frequently dropping several at a time, then trying to pick them back up and find a good rhythm to keep everything moving simultaneously, when all of a sudden some maniac comes along and completely knocks all the balls away from me at once. 

So here I am, looking at all these balls scattered around me.  I know that nothing is ever going to be the same as it was.  The coming year is going to be bittersweet as my husband, his sisters, his grandfather, me and other family & friends have their first year of birthdays, holidays, events & just plain every day life without his mother.  I don't have the familiar stability of a job I know how to do inside-out, even though it could be a very frustrating work environment and I wasn't always happy there.  What was once "normal" is now gone forever and I am facing the task of creating a new "normal" for myself.   I do have a strong optimist streak in me, so I'm trying to see these so-called balls laying around me as an opportunity to be very choosy about which ones I will pick up again for this new "normal" that I must create.  I'm trying to focus on self-care items, so that I can be at my best in order to take care of those I love and find new work that will satisfy me and use my skills & talents. 

Needless to say, taking care of myself includes spending time with my fiber art.  I can confidently state that knitting and spinning time during these past few months has been key in maintaining my sanity. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Knitting Lessons, part 1

This past Sunday, I had a delightful afternoon of teaching knitting to my oldest friend, my best friend from high school in fact.  She had a bit of experience already, but had not knit for several years.  And folks, she's a natural - beautifully even stitches and a relaxed attitude.  It made teaching fun and gave me some food for thought.  I really enjoy teaching knitting and other fiber arts and I need to think about finding more official ways of sharing my love of this craft with others. 

After a lovely chat over tea & cookies, we started the knitting lesson and covered cast-on's, the knit stitch, and adding new yarn.  I wanted to make the lesson as entertaining as possible, so for yarn, I dug into my yarn samples stash.  I highly recommend this idea!  It is really fun to play with different colors and textures of yarn, using just a few yards at a time.  It instantly makes the lesson very low-stress and personal, because a student can play with the yarn from the start. 

A "new" knitter:

Fun with colors & textures:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sorry, Columbus, the world is actually flat

How do I know the world is flat?  Because I fell off the edge of it for a little while.  Between changes at work, family illnesses and surgeries, and the holidays, life has been a whirlwind and my blog was one of the casualties. But I'm back now!  It's a new year, anything is possible, and maybe the world will prove itself to be spherical after all.

I haven't finished any spinning projects since I last blogged, although I have a few more singles spun during that time... but I'll catch up with spinning news in a later post, and I'll catch up now with other fiber news in my life for the last few months. 

One great highlight is from November, 2010, when I visited Misty Meadow Icelandics sheep farm in Minnetrista, MN.  The owners, Tom & Judy McDowell, are awesome people.  Tom gave me a tour of their place, where I got to meet Judy in her felting studio, and then Tom took me to the sheep barn to meet the flock.  We both have biology backgrounds and discussed sheep breeding and husbandry very happily for quite a while.  Here's a photo I snapped of one of the back pens behind the barn.  The smallest sheep in the photo, second from the left, is a young ram who will get to service the other three sheep, all of whom are mature ewes.  The ewes weren't quite in their cycle yet, so it was pretty funny to see how strongly they rebuffed him at that time.  He ended up looking quite disgusted with these three chicks who were big enough to boss him around and had no problem reminding him of that. 

After visiting this farm, Icelandic sheep have moved to the top of my favorite breeds list, and I bought two fleeces from the McDowell's while I was there.  This is a primitive or "unimproved" breed of sheep that are genetically almost identical to sheep from Iceland & the Viking era about 1,000 years ago.  It makes them very interesting - both sexes have horns, they have lovely dual-coated fleeces in lots of natural colors, and the smarts haven't been bred out of them, so to speak.

In December, I did manage to complete one handmade gift for Christmas 2010.  Our friend Ryan gets to enjoy a double knit, reversible hat, and I have to say, I absolutely love self-striping sock yarn!

In other Christmas news, I'm extremely lucky to have family who knows and loves me, because I received some great fiber related loot this year.  My parents found a very neat knitting page-a-day calendar that offers patterns throughout the year:

My brother scored big sister points with a tahkli spindle (a steel & brass support spindle from India traditionally used to spin cotton), a ceramic spindle bowl, and 100 grams of cotton punis (pronounced Poo-nees), which are tightly wrapped rolls of unspun cotton fiber:

My sister- and brother-in-law found a gorgeous Lantern Moon basket, knitting needles, and beautiful silk & mohair yarn for me:

And my husband shocked me with a Strauch drum carder:

I anticipate many, many happy hours with my fiber art in 2011 and I can't wait to share my discoveries, frustrations, and successes with everyone.  Happy New Year!