31 January, 2011

Counting "Yan Tan Tethera"

Someone was telling me that in the 1950s he was in the Lake District and met a shepherd.  Sounded as though the man was a striking figure, with sheepskin coat and crozier (shepherd's hooked staff), counting the sheep with words like a children's counting rhyme.

This Wikipedia article, "Yan Tan Tethera," lists counting systems shepherds use to count sheep in many parts of the U.K.  The sequences of words also apply to counting stitches in knitting.

It's interesting to know traditional systems that are useful for keeping information straight without writing anything down.  Remember I noted Shakespeare's clown in A Winter's Tale who wanted some counters to calculate the money for fleeces?  The article discusses how the counting systems allow you to count up to twenty and keep score (a score was twenty; still is) by dropping counters in a pocket or moving a finger along notches marked on the staff.

29 January, 2011

Wrapping the Final Bobbin for Five Strand Yarn


I have transferred my final ounce of singles from spindle to bobbin for my five strand yarn.

I mentioned this project to some handspinner friends and they asked me how I plan to ply with five strands.  Normally you only have to hold and tension two or three and five sounds unwieldy.

I have no plan, only determination.

28 January, 2011

Cost/Benefit of Custom Fibre Processing

To figure out whether the cost of custom fibre processing is worth the benefit, get the mill's rates and minimum weight requirements.  Multiply those.  (We'll assume your fleece weighs the same as the minimum.)  Add the cost of the fleece.  Add the estimated cost of shipping to the mill and back.  Now, take the weight of the fibre and subtract half its amount to get the approximate weight that will be left after washing out the grease.  Take the sum of the costs and divide by the final weight of the fibre.  That's your cost per unit (pound, ounce, or kilogram).  Then compare the cost per unit with the going price of commercial roving.

If you want top, not roving, you are looking at a higher rate per pound and a higher minimum amount of fibre.  The process is different and there is more waste.  You will get less fibre back with top than with roving.

After you have the cost per unit, factor in how much it's worth it to you to get the following qualities: the fleece that you want as opposed to a homogenized blend from who knows where, the thrill of the hunt for a good fleece without the responsibility for processing one, a local fleece, the considerable time and effort saved not processing by hand, lack of complaints from family members who dislike the smell of raw fleece, and the form of the fibre (roving, top) which cannot be precisely duplicated by hand.

I've haven't done the numbers or sent out a fleece myself.  I've talked to a number of people who have done it; they found the cost worth the benefit.  The only complaints came when a mill processed an order incorrectly or had a long turnaround time.

Custom processing requires large minimum amounts, so the total amount you pay is greater than what you spend buying commercial roving by the pound or ounce in normal project quantities.  For example, a hat takes about 3 ounces, a scarf 6 ounces, a sweater 1-2 pounds.  A six pound minimum order means you'll be doing a lot of projects with the three pounds or so you get back.  On the positive side, your items will match or coordinate well.  However, handspinners will tell you that part of the joy of spinning yarn is sampling different fibres.  Variety is preferable to tedious, unrelieved uniformity.  So it may not be desirable to acquire a lot of one fibre and tie your money up in it.

Dye may help.  That is, dye can make a large amount of the same fibre into a lot of different colours for individual small projects or one large patterned project, and thereby provide variety.  Some custom mills dye as well as process; a single colour will be most economical since mills have minimum weight requirements for dye batches.

You can reduce the risk of tying up your money in one large batch of fibre by going in on the purchase with a friend.

There is a halfway measure you can take to get artisanal fibre in small quantities: buy ready-made roving and top by the pound or ounce from local shepherds who send their own fleece out for processing.  This has the advantage of letting you see and evaluate the processed fibre in its finished state before you buy, something you don't have when you send fleece out to be processed.  You find these sorts of products the same way you find raw fleece.

One final note.  If you are thinking about sending out a fleece or fleeces for processing in order to get enough fibre to spin for a sweater and you are new to spinning, talk to experienced handspinners.  I am trying to work myself up to this point–the spinning, not the processing–and when talking to handspinners, I've heard that it's certainly a challenge to spin a large amount of consistent yarn.

27 January, 2011

Chair Pad


I took the knitted and felted tube of fuschia handspun out of the washer and discovered that the floppy fabric was much more suited to being a chair pad than a knitting bag.

26 January, 2011

Hopefully This Time The Yarn Will Stick


This handspun yarn of mine was once a cowl.  Then it was part of a shrug.  Now it's a large tube that might become a felted bag if all goes well.

25 January, 2011

Spinning Yarn in the Fog, Figuratively Speaking

Feels strange to spin without a clear and complete project goal in mind.  That's how I started off when I learned to spin.  I spun and took what I could get.  Somewhere along the way I began to form ideas and objectives at the fibre stage instead of the yarn stage.

I expect there will be ten ounces when I'm done the project I showed you yesterday once I do an additional five bobbins after the first set.  Possibly the yarn will come out as thick as Aran weight, probably two and a half ounces per skein, and–from what I've been led to expect–yarn very suitable for knitting cables due to the very round shape of five strands plied together.  

Ten ounces is inadequate for a sweater.  I'm not much for vests.  I've considered that intriguing type of close-fitting hat with a cabled band crossways at the crown, but I know myself.  I am a woven-fabric hood and bucket hat sort of person.  Same with cushion covers.  Those wear better woven even though people do persist on knitting them with cables and call them pretty.  I think scarves ought to be the same front and back, which cables aren't.  A cowl wouldn't drape softly around the neck when knit at the correct firmness for cables.  I have the legs for kilt hose but no desire to build my wardrobe around chunky Mary Janes and plaid skirts.  Besides, kilt hose would be a seriously intrepid and formidable choice for first sock.  Armwarmers with cables would be nifty for about five minutes and then I'd feel conspicuous.  That pretty much leaves mittens.  Yes, let's do mittens.  Or buy more wool and spin for the Marseilles pullover pattern by Kathy Zimmerman.  Or–I don't know.

I do enjoy the planning stage yet I dislike being indecisive for too long.


ETA: as a friend reminded me, there is a reversible cabled scarf pattern: Palindrome by Kristin Bellehumeur.

24 January, 2011

Chugging Along with the Bobbins


Filled another bobbin with ecru BFL singles at 40 wpi.  One more to go before I ply them.

Feels strange to hold off like this.  If I had done a two ply in the usual way with each ounce straight from the drop spindle using Andean plying instead of wrapping the bobbins, I would have four skeins of lace weight yarn by now.

22 January, 2011

second pair of mittens


The second pair of mittens I've knit are finished and looking rather sweet in this photo.  The mitts are in an envelope now, winging their way to a dear relative in Canada.  Knit from the same pattern I made up for the first pair, but a little shorter at the top and bottom.

A number of people tried these on for me so I could see how they fit, and the mitts fit a surprising range of hand sizes.  I guess that's the flexibility of the open top.

The yarn is a little ecru BFL and almost all of the last ball from skeins sixty-three through sixty-six which I spun in July of last year out of "Long Time No Sea" BFL from [Gwen Erin natural fibers].  Those skeins went mostly into the Old Shale Smoke Ring but that one ball of yarn stuck around waiting for an opportunity to be made into a little something to coordinate with the cowl.

21 January, 2011

Spotted an Early 19th C Niddy Noddy

I spotted an early nineteenth century niddy noddy in an antique shop.  The tool had elegant lines and fit in the hand comfortably.

The mortised joints were slightly loose and I wouldn't pay over a hundred dollars for a niddy noddy anyway, especially when I have one that works.

I think, though, the price would be worth it to someone who wanted to reproduce the shape and sell new copies.

20 January, 2011

Knitting Some More Mittens


Had some leftover yarn in the same gauge as the stuff I made my first mittens out of, so am knitting another pair.  This mitt has a shorter cuff and is a little shorter at the top of the mitten as well.

19 January, 2011

A Project That's Not Turning Out As Envisioned


I am trying to knit an earwarmer band.  It's made of the same handspun as the green fingerless mitts I made recently.  I want a headband that will keep my ears warm in windy, cold weather and that can stay in my coat pocket until needed without taking up much room.

This tube of stockinette feels too thick.  I am stopping to reassess the plan.  I'm on my second size of needles here, having already knit up quite a lot on smaller needles.  That really made a thick, inflexible fabric.

Just to see what my alternatives are, I plan to swatch some 1x1 rib knitted flat so there is only one layer of fabric in order to cut down the bulk.  (If you don't knit, stockinette curls badly when knit flat so is not suitable, at least not without a different stitch on the edges which I don't want.)

18 January, 2011

17 January, 2011

Plain Vanilla Singles


My plain vanilla singles are coming along.  Two more to go before I ply them.

15 January, 2011

ninety-second skein


I have found a natural, untreated wash-and-wear wool: Shropshire.

Here is the ninety-second skein I've spun.  All 20 grams of it have already been spun into a three-stranded yarn in Aran-ish weight, knit into a garter stitch swatch, and thrown into the washer and dryer.  I showed you the wool before.  The advertising blurb states that Shropshire wool resists felting.  I agree, and I think the wool looks better now than it did unwashed.  Not that I think it looks particularly exciting overall.  My favourite, Blue Face, has nothing to worry about.

The wool is from a down breed, which lands it in the middle of the continuum from short, soft, and crimpy to long, shiny, and coarse.  The wool feels passable when drawn across the skin, not really scratchy but not really soft either.

Remember yesterday when I referred to cheaper wool that fights you every step of the way when spinning?  This is what I was thinking of.  I had some difficulty maintaining consistency while spinning.  The yarn would escape my control and get too thick in places.  These thick parts expand because the wool is springy in texture and creates lumps in the yarn.

This Shropshire wool made fabric that reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, maybe venerable sweaters brought over long ago by British immigrants to Canada.  I hear they like down breeds in the UK.

It's pretty funny that I wrote the other day urging you not to spin yarn out of wool from meat sheep, and here I am doing so myself.

The swatch was knit into a 9 x 4 inch rectangle, and came out of the dryer 9 inches at the widest point, and 3 1/4 inches high, so mostly it shrank row-wise.  It drew in at either the bind off or the cast on edge.  I can't tell.

I expected the swatch to come out stiff, like shrunken sweaters that have seen rough treatment in the washer, but no, the fabric is flexible and stretchy still.

I threw the sample in the wash to simulate what would happen if someone forgot to wash a wool item by hand separately and not with the rest of the laundry.  Many people are strictly wash-and-wear sort of people.  Sleep-deprived new parents, I'm sure, need to wash baby clothes quickly without fuss or pass off the chore to others who won't necessarily recognize wool and its special requirements.  So I thought that if I found easy-care wool with no chemical treatment such as superwash has, I would have fibre suitable for making gifts.

I might possibly consider Shropshire for making a cuddly, fuzzy baby sweater but the wool doesn't have the sort of polish or luxuriousness I want for gift-giving to adults and teens.  I would certainly do a bit of dyeing first to direct attention away from what I think is drab, dowdy wool.  I'd try samples of thinner gauge too, since I think a fine gauge looks more refined and creates better fitting shapes when knit.

14 January, 2011

When In Search of Local Fleece

Want a local fleece experience?  Determined to unplug from the industrial machine and know your clothes on a sheep's-first-name basis, from the pasture up?  Crave raw fleece in your hands right now with no waiting for a parcel to arrive?  Curious what fibre animals exist in your locale?

You can use any of my advice in my previous post about finding fleece to find local fibre, by focussing on listings that fall in your area.

Expect to expend time and effort establishing a good supply of fleeces close to home.  You don't uncover every possibility instantly.  I once travelled to a fibre festival in an adjacent state and wound up buying roving from a shepherd who belonged to the same local guild as me.  In other words, I could have bought the fibre at a guild meeting close to home if I'd known about her products, and saved the fibre the bother and the carbon expenditure.

In light of all the good benefits of local fibre, you'd think I would have done much more than I have to find local sources.  The trouble is, my stash is plump enough with the oddments I bought before I knew what I was doing.  The thought of going on a mad hunt rousting fleece sellers all around the countryside?  That makes me queasy.  Either I will end up acquiring more fibre or I will rudely raise the sellers' hopes for nothing.

When I hear from other guild members about the sources of their latest fleeces, they are more likely to be talking about a fleece from far away than they are about a local fleece, so I haven't been learning as much by chance about local fleece there as you might expect.  

Experienced handspinners don't limit themselves by geography.  They search for what they want.  Chaff in wool is so obnoxious to handspinners that they won't abide it.  Scratchy, coarse wool is in low demand.  A handspinner considers his or her time to be valuable and only worth spending on fibre that is a pleasure to handle.

This selectiveness may strike non-spinners as elitist, overly-choosy, and unthrifty, a gross waste of material and a lost opportunity.  Resist thinking this.  Modern handspinners do go a bit far in search of the softest fibre and they neglect some breeds simply because they are knitters uninterested in weaving rugs.  However, they know what they're doing.  You can go a little scratchier and a little more peppered with chaff for the sake of getting a local fleece but I don't think you need to settle.  Keep looking and you should find a good fleece.  Local is a good quality to insist on.  Dismiss a handspinner's priorities altogether, though, and you will get frustrated trying to spin fibre that feels like steel wool.  The only handspinners that have to do that are living history museum interpreters.  They demonstrate wool spun from museum flocks kept to conserve breeds that once were economically significant and whose wool went into rugs, tapestries, and outerwear.

Resist the impulse to skimp.  Go halves on a quality fleece with someone if you have to economize, rather than picking a cheaper breed's fleece.  When a reputable shepherd is selling two breeds of fleece and one costs one and a half times as much as the other, you can be confident that the more expensive fleece is that much more desirable to spin.  Desirable for spinning should translate as easy to spin, and that should make for a more worthwhile purchase than fibre that's cheap and fights you all the way.  However, you don't need to splash out on cashmere, bison, or qiviut when making a first purchase.  Those are really costly, and they are short staple fibres which are difficult for beginners to control and spin fine. Besides, from what I read there is no bison and qiviut fleece as such: the fibre is sloughed off the animals in sheets.

Overall market price varies by area, just like anything.

While travelling, you can get local fleece as a souvenir purchase.  Perhaps you want a gnarly trophy to remind you of your trip to Soay, North Ronaldsay, Shetland, Isle of Man, Gotland, or Iceland where they have primitive breed sheep of the same names.  Buy it and wash it if you like–and start rehearsing the explanation you're going to give the customs inspector when you present yourself at the border with fleece in your knapsack.  However, same as for heritage breed or meat breed, I recommend you delay experiments with primitive breed fleece until you acquire good handspinning skills and develop your understanding of wool types.  A primitive breed sheep's wool is going to handle differently and wear differently than a modern, improved breed's.  You can get an Icelandic fleece and take out the tog (long hairy outer coat), leaving the thel which is as soft as any modern stuff but I can tell you, this took me considerable effort when I did it.  Icelandic thel and Shetland are short-staple fibres, which require enough skill to spin fine yarn and do them justice.  I've seen prepared Gotland from Louet; the fibre was rather coarse.  I could have gotten some out of a gourmand sort of desire to sample an unusual fibre but decided to pass because I doubted there was anything I would want to make out of Gotland yarn.  I do want some North Ronaldsay wool someday.  How can you resist a sheep that eats seaweed?

Local fibre should ideally relate to the local climate.  This is why it's easy to get wool from Romney sheep on Vancouver Island: the breed does well in the rain, it was bred to live in the Romney marshes in Kent, England.  If you vow only to spin yarn with local wool and you live on Vancouver Island, you will probably have trouble getting wool from sheep that thrive in dry climates, like fat-tail sheep types.  But, never say never.  Shepherds, like gardeners, can push the limits of what gets raised under local climate conditions.

13 January, 2011

How to Find a Fleece

At fibre festivals you will find an area where shepherds leave fleeces on consignment for sale directly to handspinners.  You'll also find a booth or two for custom mills that will take in your new fleece for processing and mail it to you.

Raw fleece is more or less a seasonal product.  Shepherds time their shearing around the weather and lambing.  Once a shepherd has sold the flock's fleeces that's it until the next shearing, usually the following year.

Raw fleece is more or less a regional product, as well, an aspect I will discuss in my next post.

Perhaps there are no upcoming festivals, it's nowhere near springtime, and you have this desperate need to locate a fleece.  There are a few different tacks you can take.

You can look up breeders' associations and use their member directories to find sellers' contact information.  For example, you want alpaca fleece so you find the alpaca breeders association that operates in your region.  Same for mohair-producing goat, or angora-shedding bunny, or sheep.  If you are very fortunate, you will find links to individual member websites which have current listings of available fleeces.  Farm pages are often a couple of years out of date.  These will still give you an idea of their type of animal stock and husbandry practices.  Phone a farm to ask about fleeces, as emails can go unanswered.

Look too for associations specific to one breed of sheep or goat.  A region may have few sheep overall, too few to warrant an association, but a national association dedicated to Blue Face Leicesters, for example, could list a few flocks there.

I would narrow the search by the breed of sheep in order to match a suitable type of wool to your project and the finished object you want to make.  Like Tigger in Milne's The House At Pooh Corner, it took me many tries to find what I like best.  Additionally, what I like best isn't always the most suitable: I chose a different breed to get a very squishy hat, for example, and if I make a rug I will choose a breed whose wool is coarse and strong.

First you can eliminate breeds raised for products other than fibre.  No dairy goats, no pet rabbits, that sort of thing.  If the shepherd's website prominently features deals on locker lamb, look to see if they keep other animals specifically bred for handspinning fibre, or if they at least exhibit some understanding of handspinners' requirements.  Pass on breeds like Suffolk, Dorset, and Columbia unless you know that wool is what you want.

A handspinner requires sound, clean, and (usually) soft wool.  A shepherd should keep the pasture clear of burrs and keep hay off the animals' coats.  The animals should be nourished and unstressed, to give strong wool with no breakage.  Pull on a lock to make sure there is no weak spot that gives way.  Feel the tips for sun damage.  Some shepherds put coats on sheep to protect wool, changing the size of the coat as the wool grows.  Softness comes from the particular breed.  Lambs give softer fleeces, so if you want a fleece from a coarser breed and want it softer than usual, try to get wool from a lamb.

Books that discuss selecting fibre for handspinning give the characteristics of fleece from purebred sheep.  Shepherds may raise crossbreeds.  A good shepherd will be able to tell you what the crossbreeding will mean for handspinning, what sort of yarn you'll be able to spin.

You can find umbrella organizations for rare breeds, which provide member directories.  Examples include Rare Breeds Canada, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  These associations cover more than just fibre animals, so when searching for a fleece you will have to bypass the fancy chickens and old-fashioned geese–unless you want to incorporate feathers into your handspun.  I've seen it done for accent.  Can't say I liked the effect.

Agriculture directories available from tourism offices list shepherds for a province, state, or region.  These are the same sort of publications you use to find u-pick orchards.  For example, there are wool producers listed in the Island Farm Fresh listings for Vancouver Island.  At least one wool producer in Duncan displays the Island Farmers Alliance logo, the distinctive Fresh From the Island red rooster sign you may have seen at farm gates.  The Fraser Valley Direct Farm Marketing Association's Farm Fresh reference guide currently lists alpaca products but other categories come up dry with only dairy goats, meat goats, lamb and mutton, and sheep on show once a year in a Bethlehem pageant.  The Virginia Grown guide lists wool producers.  (If you think the combination of British Columbian and Virginian resources is strangely random, the explanation is that I am from Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada, but I live right now in Virginia.)

Agricultural fairs might get you some leads on fleeces.  I found meat sheep clipped close, to better display conformation, and sporting stretchy little coats to keep off the dust.  Amusing, but not what I was looking for.

Suffolk ready for judging
Instead of looking for a fleece from anyone and everyone who raises fibre animals, you can start with just those who sell fleeces to handspinners.  Get ahold of the list of vendors at your regional fibre festival, either from the festival website or from an old programme.  Ask for leads from handspinners' guilds and workshop leaders.  See if a spinning supply shop can bring in fleece for you on approval or connect you with a shepherd.  A custom mill might be willing to act as a middleman and find a fleece on your behalf during shearing season, but is unlikely to have fleeces in stock year round.

Try, as much as you can, to examine a fleece in person before you buy.  There can be considerable variation in quality, even in the same flock.  For wool with natural colour, you want to be able to inspect that in good light.  One of the members of the guild I belong to recommends that you have the fleece weighed in front of you before you buy, to make sure the advertised weight is correct so that you get full value.

Fleece is sold in large plastic bags.  I've seen condensation form on the inside of bags sitting outside in a festival fleece tent.  Make sure your fleece is dry before you put it away at home.

Methodical handspinners keep a record of the shepherd they bought from and the name of the animal that gave the fleece, in case they want to buy the same again next year.

I think that's as far as my advice goes, as I am not much for raw fleece myself.  The best thing you can do is to find someone who relishes a chance to select fleeces.  Arrange to be around them when they are looking at fleeces.  Ask what they pick and why.  They will be looking at cool stuff like Bond, California Variegated Mutant, and naturally-coloured Shetland.  Ask them to show you common beginner fleeces like Romney.  Tell your fleece mentor what sort of equipment you will use to process and spin, what your experience level is, and what sort of item you want to make so they can match you up with suitable fibre.  You wouldn't buy a Border Leicester fleece to card and spin on a charkha.

12 January, 2011

Why Get a Raw Fleece

I know more than a few handspinners who consider themselves fleece aficionados.  They have told me that they prefer to buy fleeces because it gives them a better chance to judge and experience the quality and qualities of the wool.  They shop for fleeces because the selection of sheep breeds is wider than that of prepared fibre.  They are looking for these breeds to experience the wool's particular properties or to achieve a particular end product in their yarn.

Also, they say buying a fleece is cheaper per pound.  You pay a fair bit because you're buying a large amount of wool, you lose some weight when you wash the wool and the greasy lanolin goes away, and you spend time on the wool that you wouldn't with prepared roving or top, but overall a raw fleece is considered economical.

With a fleece, you can prepare and spin individual locks.  Some handspinners like to spin a lock at a time, washed and brushed, always tip first to take advantage of the direction the wool scales lie.  Wool top (a commercial preparation) is directional like this.  If you ever see me spinning a strip of wool top, you'll notice I run my hand along the fibre before I spin.  I do this to check which direction feels rougher so I know which end to start spinning.

If you are curious about the properties of different sheep breeds and their fleeces, or want a reference on what wools there are, there are books devoted to the subject.  General handspinning books often contain tables with basic information.

11 January, 2011

How and When to Wash a Raw Fleece

raw fleece washed with ammonia

Someone who doesn't spin but takes an interest in my activities recently asked me whether I'd noticed fleeces for sale on the Local Harvest website.  He wondered how long a fleece would take to deal with, and at what point in handspinning these fleeces get washed.

The time needed to process a fleece depends on how much fibre and grease there is and what method you use.  Fleece is measured by weight.  Average weight of a fleece is four to six pounds; some breeds give less and some more.  The amount of grease depends on the sheep breed.  Generally a breed that gives crimpy, fine, short, matte, and soft locks also gives a greasier fleece.  Coarse, long, shiny ringlets come with less grease.

The length of locks varies by the breed and that affects the size of the fleece.  Cotswold sheep get sheared twice a year, since their wool grows 10-12 inches a year but on the the other end of the spectrum a merino sheep's wool growth is more like 3-4 inches a year.  The size of the sheep (a factor of breed, gender, and selection for size) partially determines fleece size, and the age too: a lamb gives less when it has been shorn before it has lived the whole year.  Lambswool is more fine than wool from an adult sheep but I'm not sure if this would affect fleece size much.

You can send the fleece out for washing to a milling company.  You can wash at home with the washing machine if you are very careful not to allow the agitator to move and you contain the wool with net bags.  You can wash the locks by hand in a basin with dish detergent or a cleanser meant for washing fleeces.  You can boil the wool over a wooden fire in a kettle of hot ammonia and water, keeping the wool safe in a basket inside the kettle.  You can use a fermentation method that is supposed to be incredibly smelly but effective and low in effort.  You can also pre-rinse your fleece by running the unshorn sheep through a stream.

I washed a fleece in a basin once.

Only get a fleece if you have time to wash the fleece before the grease hardens, which is within a year of shearing.  If you are ever in the company of handspinners and want to spark a conversation, ask them how many fleeces they have in storage that they need to wash.

To wash a fleece you need to be able to tolerate the smell and presence of dirt and dung.  The worst will be discarded by the shearer but a lot remains.  When I got my fleece I thought that part of the fleece was grey and part was brown, and then I washed it and realized it was all grey wool with brown dirt on the parts that had been lower down on the sheep.

There is a small risk when handling raw fleece of encountering a deadly substance that naturally occurs in soil.  I'm not going to name it because it's not a word I want this blog picked up for in the search engines, and I don't have any recommendations for avoiding the stuff because I don't know of any.

Wool is washed before spinning.  In the seventies, people spun wool "in the grease" but that has gone out of fashion.  Yarn spun out of wool in the grease is supposed make water-resistant fabric.  To get a yarn with grease but no dirt, according to Peter Teal's book on wool combs, you can wash the wool and add oil such as olive oil afterward while combing.  I haven't done this.  I have handled commercially-produced sweaters from Finland.  They looked beautiful and clean, and I could feel a light residue of oil on the fabric that I assume was added after the wool was washed.

The guild I belong to devoted a whole meeting to the issue of washing fleeces and brought in an expert to talk about it.  The guild has also devoted meetings to what happens next with a fleece.  Again, there you have the option to send the wool out to a mill for custom processing instead of carding or combing by hand.  Some mills will process a single fleece.  Others require a minimum number of fleeces and the fleeces in the batch get mixed together.  You can buy a drum carder, which does a similar job to what a custom mill does.  A drum carder is a hand-cranked or electric motor-driven machine small enough to sit on a table top.  Instead of a milled strip of roving, the wool comes off the carder in the form of a batt.  Handspinners don't just buy a drum carder to speed up their wool processing, they use them to blend multiple colours of dyed fibre into interesting preparations to spin.

10 January, 2011

first pair of mittens


Here is the first pair of mittens I've made.  Hurray, I have knit two matching objects.

The mitts are knit using 43 grams from my forty-third, forty-fourth, and forty-fifth skeins, with 34 grams left over for something else.

I read some mitten patterns, then improvised my own to suit the handspun yarn and the shape of my hand.  As promised, I knit fourchettes into these mitts where the thumb forks from the hand.

I have tried them out already, and the fingerless style is practical, mostly.  I can turn keys, write, and do up my coat while wearing the mitts.  They don't protect my fingertips from the cold steering wheel.  The long cuffs bunch up against the cuffs of my parka.

The style, the colour, and the fine gauge are my idea of pretty.  The mitts fit comfortably.  I like them very much.  These mitts are the first thing I've made from my handspun that I consider part of my wardrobe.  Watershed mittens.

08 January, 2011

Shrug (and I really mean that)


I should be happy.  I made a handspun sweater for me.  I have achieved my goal of something wearable for myself that's larger than an accessory.  I am happy that I planned the project, did the work, and finished.  I am not happy with the item.

The style is called a shrug because it fits around the shoulders.  The fabric is essentially a long rectangle, the side seams of which are connected for a few inches to form sleeves at either end.  The construction creates a pucker of excess fabric under the shoulder blades.  In a fine lacey fabric that drapes, distortion of the silhouette is minimal.  In this chunky yarn, the distortion is very obvious and unflattering.

07 January, 2011

Make a Distaff for Distaff Day

In case you still have a tree hanging around and want to know how to make a bird cage-style distaff to celebrate Distaff Day, I found directions:
Many distaffs throughout Canada were made by taking the upper tip of a spruce or fir tree, stripping it clean, and tying the tips of the branches together to form a cage over which the prepared flax could be loosely tied.  
-Burnham and Burnham, Keep Me Warm One Night: Early Handweaving in Eastern Canada
I've never used a distaff.  I rarely ever see them.  I've seen a few wrist distaffs and the kind of distaff that looks like a pole.

One of the maddening things about getting your information from books is that an author can leave so much out.  I have only the foggiest idea how much of the tree tip you use and what the final dimensions should be.

Going by one of the plates on the same page, and judging by the relative size of the given wheel diameter, I am going to guess that the bird cage distaff pictured is 20 cm from the base of the bent wood pieces to the tips where they cross.  This does not include the rest of the upright (below the "cage") which fits into the spinning wheel.

The proportion between that 20 cm of height and the widest point of the ballooning bent wood pieces looks to be about phi, or the golden ratio of 1:1.618, the height being the longer measurement.  I should say that the plate shows a rather refined looking wheel and distaff; the upright of the distaff is made of turned wood, not the tip of a tree trunk.  I should also say that Burnham and Burnham do not call it a bird cage distaff, that is a name I have seen used elsewhere.

06 January, 2011

Spinning Fibre a Second Time

I wondered if it was possible to take the leftover 16 wpi spun fuschia singles, take out some twist and spin the fibre again to a thinner gauge.

Yes, it worked.  Not especially practical, but possible.

05 January, 2011

Twelfth Night


Watched a film production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.  Had forgotten that they called Malvolio a sheep-biter.  I have no idea what that is but it sounds like a very pithy insult.

The director must have cut the bawdy joke about the distaff that I remember from watching my friends in high school rehearse the play.

I like what the Duke says better:
O, fellow, come, the song we had last night.
Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain;
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their threads with bones
Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.
-Twelfth Night 

ETA: I am told that a sheep-biter is a dog that harms sheep, or a mean person who nips at the heels of others.

04 January, 2011

A Winter's Tale


While re-working the green mitten's cuff, I listened to a film production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, keeping my ears perked as always for any mention of handspinning or Renaissance textile production.

Shakespeare plays again on the idea of a distaff as being the woman's counterpart of a man's weapon.  The queen jokes about how she and her women will say good-bye to her brother-in-law, whom the king is trying to compel to stay longer as a guest:
To tell, he longs to see his son, were strong;
But let him say so then, and let him go;
But let him swear so, and he shall not stay,
We'll thwack him thence with distaffs.
The king, in his bitter jealousy, has something nasty to say about the virtue of flax-wenches, whatever a flax-wench might be.

The shepherd who fosters the lost princess, Perdita, has a few lines during the storm about keeping sheep.  Apparently it's not good for sheep to wander off and browse on ivy by the ocean.  He guesses from the richness of her baby blanket, "a bearing cloth for a squire's/child," that Perdita comes from a wealthy family.  From what is said at the end of the play, I am guessing that this bearing cloth is the same as "the mantle / of Queen Hermione's" recognized by the court as proof of Perdita's identify.  A mantle or loose cloak could be mistaken for a blanket.

If I were really clever, I would say that the mother's mantle falls to the daughter literally and figuratively too, in the same sense that the prophetic office and mantle of Elijah fell to Elisha in the Bible.  At the beginning of the play, the queen is beautifully pregnant and charming, at the height of her influence.  By the time the king tries her for adultery and abandons the infant Perdita, the queen is post-partum and defenseless.  When she is [spoiler alert] revealed alive at the end of the play, her wrinkles get remarks.  Shakespeare contrasts the queen in her age with Perdita in her youth, desirability, and potential for fertility.

The shepherd's grand sheepshearing feast gives the occasion for many characters to meet.

The shepherd's son does some math to calculate how much the shorn wool will sell for:
Let me see: every 'leven wether tods; every tod
yields pound and odd shilling; fifteen hundred
shorn. what comes the wool to?
I have no idea either and am very glad I use a decimal system.  A wether is the sheep version of a steer or gelding or capon.  It is interesting that Shakespeare names wethers as the desirable type of sheep to produce wool for market.  I've probably mentioned before that wethers' wool is reputed to be strong and less prone to breakage from hormone fluctuation and stress because they don't reproduce.

The pedlar, Autolycus, gives Shakespeare the opportunity to say much about cloth, clothing, status inferred from or conferred by clothes, and what customers want.  The pedlar sets out to rob his customers with a pun: "if I / make not this cheat bring out another and the / shearers prove sheep, let me be unrolled."

Camillo puns as well when he compliments Perdita in her shepherdess role: "I should leave grazing, were I of your flock, / and only live by gazing."

Perdita, as she goes from withdrawn to life of the party, blames her change of personality on her special party clothes: "Methinks I play as I have seen them do / In Whitsun pastorals: sure this robe of mine / Does change my disposition."

03 January, 2011

King Lear

I listened to a filmed stage production of Shakespeare's King Lear.  James Earl Jones played the king; I can't think of anyone better to say, "I am your father!"

So, apparently in Elizabethan England when you wanted to insult someone you said they were a "filthy, worsted-stocking knave."

Shakespeare puts a great deal about textiles in this play in order to indicate the characters' status or their actions.  The obvious one is the princess Goneril, plotting to cuckold and betray her husband, who says, "I must change arms at home, and give the distaff / Into my husband's hands."

There are many more subtle passages, as well.  Particularly during the storm, an actor will talk about what he is wearing or another is wearing and let that stand, for example, for how Edgar is disowned or how fragile Lear's state of mind is.  The costume changes in the stage directions do the same, for example, Edgar is both stripped of his clothes and stripped of his legitimate sonship.

This commentary is meant to distract you from the wool I spun: an ounce of BFL spun to 40 wpi on a spindle and wrapped onto a bobbin.  This was fun to make but doesn't look like much.  One ounce spun and four like it still to go before I ply them together.

01 January, 2011

"No More Hobbies"

In the space of a week, I heard from four different people that they don't need another hobby, they have too many as it is.

Gives you an idea of where a number of creative people are at.

Gives you an idea how often I have conversations about the fibre arts, too.