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Monday, November 30, 2009

Spinning Cotton on a supported spindle

I am cotton-phobic - don't like the feel of it in my hands, can't imagine wanting to spin it. Still, when I watched this video I had a hankering. Who knows?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the first time we've had both kids home for Thanksgiving since 2001. I am SOOOOO happy to have them around, even if only for a couple of days.

I love getting older. I'm finally figuring out what really matters most :-)

God's blessings to all of you!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wild Flyer for Wild Spinners

I didn't think I'd ever need a Wild Flyer. Then I decided to make uber-chunky fat yarn with globs of fiber stuff. I couldn't use my Majacrafts because the yarn hooks weren't big enough so I used the Hippie Wheel, the giant Louet. That worked fine, but I missed the double treadle! So I ordered the Wild Flyer.

I had no idea it had a rainbow orifice!

This is a VERY cool tool. First of all, I can get just about any fiber thing I want through the giant and super-slick orifice/yarn hooks. I have heard that there are spinners who add strings of sequins and buttons and silk flowers to their yarn. Any of that would pass through these openings with ease.

The jumbo bobbin is a plus - I can really pack on the fiber. I think it will be great for plying as well - longer yarn = fewer joins while knitting. I like that.

I'm glad I picked this up. I'm definitely a fan!

Friday, November 20, 2009

If Life Gives you Lemons, Make Felt

I bought a fleece sight unseen...something I tell other people not to do. I paid for processing....the wool turned out less than so-so. I know the mill owner and she has done beautiful work for me, so the fault was the fleece, and me, for buying a pig in a poke.

So, what to do with neppy, merino fleece? MAKE FELT! I whipped up some super-fat 2-ply, dyed it Kermit Green, knitted two giant mittens and felted them. Then I showed the yarn and mittens to my spinning students and gave them a steal of a deal for Felting Merino. Actually, I sold it for less than it cost me. Several of them do a lot of felting. Everyone was happy.

There is ALWAYS a use for wool. Sometimes that use is compost or mulch. Other times it is felt. I've got bright green mittens to remind me not to buy a fleece w/o getting my hands on it first (unless I personally know the farmer). Happy Ending. Lesson Learned (again).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

News From Majacraft

I just got a notice from Majacraft that all orders shipping to the USA have to be in by November 30th. They will be out of the office after Christmas until mid-January, so if you need something - accessories, bobbins, or a wheel, PLEASE contact me ASAP!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Deb's Deluxe for Sale!

I've had surgery on both elbows, one wrist, and both hands. I think I need to start thinking like the middle-aged person that I am!

Sooo...I have decided to buy an electric drum carder. BIG SPLURGE! My elbow is worth it.

I'm selling my Deb's Delicate Deluxe and both drums (Fur Drum and Production Drum), plus all the tools that came with it, the original shipping boxes, the instruction booklet, and a partridge in a pear tree, for $650, plus actual shipping. Everything is less than 2 years old, and I take VERY good care of my fiber tools.

Know anyone who wants a Deb? Pass it along! E-mail if you want more photos.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pluck a Bunny, Spin the Fur!

Nice, short video on how an angora rabbit's fur is harvested during the molting period and then spun into delicious, soft yarn. No boring chit chat. Just what I needed on a busy Friday!

Happy Spinning!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Old Hippie Spins in the Grease

I bought a beautiful Romney fleece from Peeper Hollow Farm. I've bought a lot of fleeces from Peeper Hollow, all clean, all exactly as described, well-skirted, from coated sheep. This one is downright spectacular.

Not a speck of visible VM. No second cuts. Gorgeous crimp and luster. In fact, this was the Grand Champion at the Iowa State Fair! I decided that it was time for me to play Old Hippie and spin in the grease. It wasn't going to get any cleaner than this.

I watched an old episode of Miss Marple and flick-carded a big pile of locks. My hands got sticky. My carder got sticky. The locks were fluffy, and sticky.

The next day I sat down at the old Louet I just refinished. I wanted to use a period wheel for hippie spinning, and the Louet fit the bill. I also did NOT want to get my Majacrafts all...sticky.

I spun up 300 yds of bulky 2-ply. Wow. Sticky. What do people use this greasy yarn for? Waterproof mittens? You can see what this wool looks like scoured from the white (not sticky) sample in the photo. WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT STICKY YARN? PLEASE TELL ME.

It took a while to clean the orifice of the Louet, the hooks, the flyer, the bobbins, AND MY HANDS. No more hippie wool. No thanks.

I hope there is an old hippie out there who will buy this lovely, lanolin-rich, natural, yarn. I'm going to list it and cross my (sticky) fingers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Old Spinning Wheel Gets a Face Lift

I sold a spinning wheel last week and took in an old Louet S-10 as a trade. It worked well, and was made before Louet switched to cheaper parts. Heavy. Reliable. Slow. The customer warned me that the finish was bad, that she had bought it used in that condition, but since I'm now hooked on refinishing, I told her I didn't mind.

First photo you can see the disassembled wheel in its box. The stain had been slopped on in a very haphazard manner. There were drips and blobs, and some spots with no stain at all. Ewww.

First, I took all the hardware off and sanded. And sanded. And sanded. I couldn't get down past the bad spots of stain. I tried staining a sample area and the old stains showed through. Scratch that idea.

Majacraft paints its Suzie wheels with enamel paint and it's HARD. So I bought two colors of enamel and painted. First I primed each piece. Then I started layering on the paint. I sanded between coats, and even sanded after the final coat. Then I stenciled on the roses and put it all together.

The old girl spins like a dream! It will be a good wheel for spinning soft, low-twist singles. The wheel is so heavy that I'm not tempted to speed (treadling a Majacraft is like driving a race car - I MUST go FAST!). I'll keep it until someone falls in love with it, then I'll reluctantly let it go to a new home!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Addiction?

After years of perfecting my skills, I have discovered Instant Gratification Yarn Making. I also found a way to use up my scraps. YEEEEEE-HAW!

I ordered a Wild Flyer yesterday...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Variety in Spinning

My first session of spinning classes ended last Thursday and I realized something. During the entire four weeks, whenever everyone was busy spinning, I sat down to my Suzie and worked on...the same yarn.

Yes, I have spent over a month making 1600 yds of Dorset 3-ply. And it is white. (See photo.) It is WONDERFUL! It is springy, and VERY white (I'm going to dye it) and will make a beautiful sweater.

When I reeled off the last bobbin of white Dorset I decided I needed to do something different. So I threw together some "art yarn" i.e. scraps and dyed locks, leftovers, plied with green silk (also leftover). The art yarn took me two hours instead of a month. I am definitely going to make some more!

I am not sure what people do with art yarn. My daughter tells me some quilters use it for art quilts. People sell in on Etsy. Maybe I'll list it! Anyway, it is all part of the spinning adventure. One of the reasons I LOVE SPINNING is because there are always new things to try.

I'm off to spin some more!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Plying with Silk Thread

I have a cone of very fine two-ply silk thread and want to ply it with singles to make laceweight three-ply. The first thing I had to do was discover the direction of the thread's ply. It was plied S, counterclockwise. I used a 10x magnifying glass to get a good look at it - it was too fine to see otherwise.

Once I knew that the thread had been plied S, I wanted to see what would happen if I plied it with a single that had been spun Z (clockwise), plying them both together S (counterclockwise). Are you with me?

The rust-colored sample is the result. The fiber is an alpaca/Rambo blend. After finishing it bloomed all right, and is a very kinky, still-energized 3-ply.

The pale brown sample is CVM, spun S (counterclockwise) and plied with the silk thread Z (clockwise). The result is much smoother, even after finishing. There is no residual twist energy.

So - silk two-ply (plied S) plied S again with Z-spun single equals lumpy, bumpy, fluffy, twisty yarn.

Silk two-ply (plied S) plied again Z, with S-spun single, equals smoother, even three-ply with no residual twist energy.

If you understood this the first time through, give yourself an A+!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Majacraft Wheels Size Comparison #2

Spinning Friend Kerry M. brought her Majacraft Rose over for a spin the other day. We lined up the girls and took a photo - so you can see the difference in the sizes.

From left to right: Suzie Alpaca, Rose, Little Gem, Pioneer.

Now all I need is a Millie!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ashford Traveller, Single Drive, Single Treadle

We did it! Marty and I put the little Traveller together last night. I told him what screw went where and he did the manly labor. I've filled one bobbin and have to say that switching to a single treadle was much less of a big deal than I thought. Perhaps my brain just knows "TREADLE" and doesn't care if there are one or two. That was a pleasant surprise. I was ready for lots of back treadling and frustration.

I've ordered a polycord stretchy drive band for it. I don't much like the string. Once I install the new belt I will do a comparison with my Pioneer, which is also an entry-level spinning wheel.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spinning Wheel Anatomist

When I was shopping for my first spinning wheel I had absolutely no interest in a wheel that came as a "kit" or needed "assembling." I was horrified at the thought of having to "finish" the wheel, as well as put it all together. What kind of manufacturer would make customers do all that work? And what kind of crazy people would WANT to do all that work? Think of all those parts! Think of all the screws and bits.

Well, I have joined the crazies.

I found an Ashford Traveller on Ebay, single treadle, still in the box. Ashford doesn't make these anymore, and apparently it had sat in someone's craft room untouched. (See? if you buy a kit it MIGHT NOT turn into a wheel!) The wheel was part of an estate sale. The box was beat up but everything was intact except for a couple of washers and one screw. Not bad for a ten-year-old spinning wheel! And for some reason, now that I'm putting together Majacrafts all the time, the idea of finishing and assembling was kind of fun. I've been wanting some practice on a single treadle anyway, and then this came along.

I've spent all weekend finishing this wheel and I have to say it has really been FUN. The stain I chose is called "Red Chestnut". I had no idea staining a new piece of furniture was so easy! After two coats of stain I applied two coats of wipe-on polyurethane finish. I learned how to sand with steel wool! And I found a use for my collection of straight knitting needles, which I never use but couldn't throw out.

As I've been working I've learned what every part of this spinning wheel is, and what it is for. I've gone over in my head how it all fits together and when I'm ready to assemble it I don't think I'll have any trouble. The other day I assembled a Majacraft wheel for a customer - now I wish she'd had the chance to assemble it herself. Yeah, it would have been a bit of a hassle, but she would have learned valuable anatomical lessons, and she would also know how the wheel comes apart, as well as knowing how it went together.

I am now wholly in favor of spinning wheel kits, and of customers putting together their own wheels. It is satisfying AND educational. And it adds to the bond of spinner and wheel. I was thinking I'd finish this Ashford and sell it. Now I am not sure I'll be able to part with it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Clun Forest Sheep - Wool AND Cuteness!

There is something charming about a white sheep with a black face. And what about those little stick-up ears? The Clun Forest Sheep is definitely a sheep worth knowing. The breed originates in the same area where fictional Brother Cadfael went about curing the sick and solving murders - the borderlands in the area of Shropshire, England and Powys, Wales.

Clun Forest Sheep are hardy and disease resistant. The ewes are good mothers and don't need assistance with lambing. They often produce twins or triplets. The rams are naturally hornless.

Clun Forest wool is lovely to work with. It is a down wool, which means it comes from one of the breeds of English sheep that originated in the downs region - the south of the country. Down wool is generally of a medium coarseness with good crimp and blocky, medium length staples. It has a lot of bounce and loft, and makes great socks, mittens, sweaters and hats. Industrially, it is often used to stuff futons.

Clun Forest Sheep don't produce big fleeces so it isn't economical to raise them for wool on a large scale. I have only been able to buy the wool directly from farmers. It's worth the hassle of finding someone who will sell you a Clun Forest Fleece or roving - working with down wool is a treat, and very different from working with a longwool (Romney, Blue-Faced Leicester) or a finewool like merino. I'm a big fan of good down wool - Dorset and Clun Forest are my favorites.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Pioneer Art

WendyE stenciled her Pioneer with climbing vines. Doesn't it look GREAT?

Whenever I sell a Pioneer I tell my customer that this is a wheel that cries out for decoration. Wendy took me seriously, and all I can say is WOW!!

If you have decorated your spinning wheel send me a couple of photos and I'll post them here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Woolen Laceweight. Does Anyone Do That?

A question arose in a Ravelry discussion about whether or not anyone makes lace weight yarn from rolags, using a long draw. I was right in the middle of this project, so I added my two cents' cents' worth.

This is a two-ply made from CVM. I carded the wool, made rolags, and spun it with a long draw. I spun the singles with a very high twist, then plied somewhat loosely. This is the result. I plan to make a Shetland-style shawl with it. It won't have the drape that a worsted-spun prep would have, but it will be warm. See all the fuzz? Fuzz equals warm. In northern Minnesota, in winter, Warm trumps Elegant.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pioneer, Suzie Pro, Little Gem - Compare Sizes

Today a fellow spinner contacted me and asked for information about a couple of Majacraft spinning wheels. She wanted to know how the Little Gem and the Suzie compare in size, thinking perhaps that they weren't that much different. After all, the Suzie is marketed as a "folding" wheel, and that makes it sound very portable.

I took this photo and sent it to her. Yes, the Suzies (and the Rose) SORT OF FOLD, but they are heavy and cumbersome to move around. The Gem (and the Pioneer, to a certain extent) are much more portable. Both come apart in two pieces, and the Gem folds in half.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Spinning Workshop - Almost Finished!

Here is what I've spent the last month working on - remodeling my enclosed front porch so it can be used as a spinning workshop/classroom. I'm still waiting on the new front door and the electrician. My husband says it looks like a dance floor. Ok, spinning and dancing. That works for me!

Classes start Sept. 24th.

I'm also working on spinning up some dark brown (black) CVM and it is looking like THREAD! My 2-ply samples turned out finer than anything I've ever spun. CVM has quite a lot of crimp so the yarn poofs up after finishing. I'll take photos when I finish plying the first two bobbins.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rams And You

Fall shearing time is almost here and that means another batch of fleeces on the market. A lot of farmers shear the sheep they're going to sell because there is no reason to send wool to the butcher. Others shear their rams in the late summer or early fall, just before breeding begins. If you're buying a fleece online, especially from someone new, be sure to ask if the fleece comes from a ewe, a lamb, or a ram, and ask when it was sheared.

Why does it matter? Here are some of the reasons.

You always want to know WHEN the fleece was sheared from the sheep because wool grease gets harder and yellower with age. An older fleece can definitely be cleaned but it might be more work. Also, fleeces that have been stored may have dried out a bit, or may have been infested with moth eggs/larvae.

A lamb's fleece (first shearing) will have sticky tips that are a bit of trouble to deal with. Again, it's not an impossible task, but it's something to be aware of. Lamb's fleece is typcially softer and finer than adult fleece, and often has finer, more frequent crimp. BUT, you'll have to scour and then comb or flick the tips. I send lamb fleeces to a mill.

A ram's fleece may be wonderful, or it could turn out to be the foulest, stinkiest thing you ever brought into your home. A lot depends on 1) how the ram has been cared for, 2)breed, 3) WHEN he was sheared. Some breeds are smellier than others. If you get a fragrant ram's fleece you may or MAY NOT be able to get the smell out. Vinegar helps but isn't a cure-all. I have only bought ram's fleeces from farmers I know who will give me a refund if I find it too stinky.

One of the reasons that farmers shear their rams in late summer/early fall is that during the breeding season rams are especially smelly! In their urinary tract they have a special structure that forces small amounts of urine to spray, rather than to pour straght out onto the ground. It isn't clearly visible - not like a dog lifting his leg - but the ram gets a lot of urine on his woolly belly, and ooooooh, the ewes love it! But we do not. Shearing the ram BEFORE breeding season allows him to spray his (basically) bare belly before the coat has grown back. And then, over the course of the year, the rain and sun take care of the rest of the smell. Hopefully. Maybe.

Be a savvy spinner, ask a lot of questions before you buy a fleece.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Photo Break

I've been knitting like a maniac. The weather is gorgeous, the sky is blue, my husband is home from work, and what do I do? Knit.

And not mindless knitting, either. Not the kind I can do and also carry on a pleasant conversation. I'm going the "SHHH! I'm counting!" kind of knitting. I'm knitting lace, and lace is CRAZY-MAKING.

So I needed a break. Took the camera outside on the front porch to see what I could snap. I got this photo, and also an awesome close-up of my dog's nose, but I'll spare you that one.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thanks for Asking! Baby Camel/Silk/Alpaca

Okay, here it is :-) There were three categories for handspun at the county fair - dyed yarn, natural-colored yarn, and a knitted or crocheted garment. This little skein took first place in the natural-colored yarn division. I plan to make a BIG lace shawl with this yarn and enter it in next year's fair!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Baby Camel Down - A Little Goes a Long Way

I entered some skeins of handspun and a couple of handspun knitted garments in the county fair this summer. I got blue ribbons for everything, and a big rosette for the shawl, but the yarn I was most proud of was a tiny skein of baby camel down blend.

I bought four ounces of baby camel down (brown) and blended it with white bombyx silk and a bit of fawn-colored alpaca. I spun it very fine and then plied it somewhat loosely. Right now I've got almost 1700 yds of it, so I think I can quit now...I've still got roving left!

The fibers in the roving I bought were about 2-3 inches long, very fine, like baby alpaca, with no crimp at all. Baby camel has a micron count of 15-20, and has no luster. I started the project by making three skeins on the drop spindle - this gave me a 'slow motion' idea of how the drafting would go. When I was happy with the results I switched to the wheel for high yardage, fast spinning. I think if I'd been spinning JUST camel down I would have had less frustration but with the long chunks of silk in there, it was quite a task to keep the drafting even. Still, I am thrilled with the results. I plan to make a shawl.

Marty has gone back to school, my studio space is ALMOST finished, life is getting a bit back to normal. It's mushroom season! We'll be doing some camping and foraging, but I'll stick to edibles this time. And NO staining fungus!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Natural Dyeing? Not for me.

I received the book The Rainbow Beneath My Feet last week. I live where there are a lot of mushrooms in the summer and fall, and I love to collect them. I also love to dye wool so I thought it would be a natural marriage of interests.

Wrong. Here's why.

Dyeing wool with mushrooms requires a step called mordanting. During this process the wool is conditioned (simmered for an hour) in a chemical bath that does two things. First, it makes the wool ready to permnently bond with the dye molecules. Second, it creates the conditions that will cause a certain color to come out. After the mordant, the wool still has to be dyed. So, natural dyeing adds another cooking step. That takes water, chemicals, and heat energy. Natural dyeing COSTS MORE.

It was very interesting to find out that one kind of mushroom might give five different colors, depending on the mordant used. Who wouldn't want purple, green, or blue wool? I love colors! And the samples in the book were mouth-watering. But, of the five mordants listed for each mushroom (five colors or shades of colors) THREE OF THEM ARE HIGHLY TOXIC! Natural dyeing, with certain chemicals, is BAD for the environment.

In fact, the book said to do the cooking outside if possible, and NOT to dispose of the mordant chemicals down the drain or in the yard - they have to be disposed of at a toxic waste collection center! These three include tin salts, chrome salts, and copper salts. And of course, the BEST colors come from those three evil chemicals. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to wear a MASK while I work! Natural dyeing can be UNSAFE for humans!

It gets better. After the toxic mordant step, I then have to make the dyebath. This might include other smelly stuff, like cups of ammonia. Oh yeah, and BEFORE I get to this step, I have to get the mushrooms ready with yet another boiling and simmering step. And I need (according to the book) the same weight of dried mushrooms as wool.

You read right. One pound of wool? One pound of dried mushrooms. Since three ounces of dried mushrooms is equal to a whole pound of fresh mushrooms, we are talking about over five pounds of fresh mushrooms per pound of wool! Talk about raping the environment! The woods need mushrooms too.

Give me non-toxic, quality-controlled, dependable, safe, color-fast acid (vinegar) dye. I will continue to collect a few, edible mushrooms for my own enjoyment, but I will leave the natural 'shroom dyeing to hippies with gas masks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dressed to Kill

My husband snapped a shot of me and our friend Richard working on sanding the room. Eeeeew. What the photo doesn't show is that it was 90 degrees and about the same humidity. This is Northern Minnesota. We do NOT have air-conditioning!

Over the weekend I dyed 24 skeins of Hippie Feet Sock Yarn...and took orders for THREE spining wheels and a lace kit. Busy busy!

I'll post photos when the room is finished. Back to that can of paint!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back in a Few....

We are remodeling my spinning studio! YAY! So far we've knocked out a closet, ripped up the carpeting, decided the floor wasn't worth refinishing, bought a new front door, ordered flooring...yeah, and all this during the only heat wave of the summer.

I'm painting, picking out lights, and sweating! My spinning wheels are packed away, which feels very weird.

AND on top of all of that, I've sold a record number of Majacraft wheels this week. When it rains, it pours, but I am having a ball. I'll be back with photos, reports, spinning stuff, sheep stuff, and yarn stuff. Now please excuse me while I pick the paint spots off my glasses.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fungus Adventures

I found some bright yellow mushrooms on our last camping trip and identified them as Suillus americanus, commonly known as the Chicken Fat Suillus. It's an interesting fungus - it ONLY grows under Eastern White pines, so while we were hiking we looked for pines, then looked underneath them. I collected about two pounds.

One of the identifying features of this mushroom is that it is slimy, and the slime stains fingers. What the books don't tell you is that the STAIN TURNS DARK BROWN AND LASTS FOR DAYS AND DAYS. My fingertips are STILL brown. Ewww. Worse than getting mahogany wood stain on my hands.

Yeah, they're edible. Not great, and they didn't agree with Marty. But that red stain got me thinking. Could I dye wool with these mushrooms? I cut one up and put it in boiling water with some white wool yarn. (Of COURSE I had yarn on a camping trip!) It turned the yarn pale yellow. That was enough to convince me to clean and dry the mushrooms when we got home. Now I'm waiting for my "How to Dye With Mushrooms" book to arrive.

In the meantime I've tried a few other mushrooms and wool, plus vinegar and boiling. Got pale tan from Gyrondon merulioides, and bright golden yellow from Innonotus obliquus! We've had a cool, damp summer up here - perfect for mushrooms.

Are we having fun yet? (YESSSSSS!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rolag Rainbow

My friend Dee of Peeper Hollow Farm sent me samples from several of her CVM Romeldale sheep. I've been turning the samples into rolags for a couple of days and here are the results.

The dark gray and the black came from the same sheep, a ram named Hosea, and I had another sample I mixed in from a black ewe named Gem. The brown came from a ram named Hodgkins. The white is from Callie, and the light gray is from Heidi. Heidi's fleece will be competing at the Iowa State Fair.

So far I LOVE THIS WOOL. It is downy soft. In fact, the brown rolags feel weightless in my hand. It is also very, very fine, but doesn't have the extreme crimp of Cormo, so it was easier to card into nice, smooth rolags, free from noils.

I'll be spindling up some yarn samples over the next couple of days.

Any time I get a chance to play with a new kind of wool I feel like a kid in the candy store. When the wool comes in rainbow colors...better yet!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Suzie Gets a New Look!

NEWS FROM MAJACRAFT: New Suzie Drive Wheel - Kowhai Flowers

At last, what you've all been waiting for - Andy's latest creation using our new laser engraver - The new Suzie wheel, adorned with stylized Kowhai flowers (pronounced 'Kor-fai'), which is one of New Zealand's most beautiful native flowering trees. Click here to learn more about the Kowhai tree!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not Dead! It's just Summer!

I am not dead, just doing summer things with my husband. Whew.

News: I've posted August prices of all Majacraft spinning wheels at my blog site, in the left margin.

I got blue ribbons for all of my hand-spun at the county fair! I entered a natural colored skein, a dyed skein, a handspun knitted shawl, and a hand-spun knitted sweater. The shawl even got a pink rosette ribbon for "Grand Reserve Champion", which means it was second place over ALL the handcrafts except quilts. I got beat out by a hand-knitted lace tablecloth. The knitter used (are you ready?) thread. No joke. She deserved to win.

I did a spinning demo at the fair and had LOTS of company, including a little girl who insisted on learning to use the wheel! Good thing I had my trusty Pioneer along. Several said they would definitely sign up for a fall class. And, I found out that I can look at someone, spin, and talk at the same time. Woo hoo!

I've got a couple of new videos planned - how to wind yarn from a spindle onto a nostepinne and then ply right off the stick, and how to make an El Cheapo but good Lazy Kate for your spindles.

And, today I ordered my first Bosworth spindle. I can't leave spindling alone, no matter how much I love to spin on my wheels!

Pant, pant, pant. What else? Finishing a sweater, finishing up 1800 yds of 2-ply laceweight, hand-carding some CVM samples, collecting info for an article proposal, and getting ready to go camping. Laundry, grocery shopping, coffee with my daughter. Life is good, summer is too short!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Accelerator Head - Rip Through That Roving

When I got my first Majacraft spinning wheel I was a bit confused about the lace kit/accelerator head distinction. I wanted to spin fast and fine. Did I need both? Was one better than the other? If I only had one accessory, which one should I choose?

Now I can answer the question and I want to walk you through it.

The accelerator head raises the ratio of flyer rotations to drive wheel rotations by adding another gear. You can see it in the photo. The flyer head uses a whorl (interchangeable with any whorl - but it comes with this one) which is the whorl on the left, and then a second, smaller whorl, which stays on the head. The drive wheel turns the whorl, which turns the second whorl. Result, fast. How fast? I counted 1:28 using the whorl that came with it. I haven't tried it with my fast whorl. 1:28 is fast enough. The improvement in my long draw is stunning. I needed that extra boost of speed to get a good rhythm going.

The accelerator head can be used with any flyer - delta, fine fiber, etc. But it works best with the lace flyer. The reason is this. The wheel is already doing a lot of work by turning two whorls and a flyer at a very high speed. The lace flyer makes that job easier because it is smaller and a single rotation requires less energy than turning a bigger flyer.

So, which is best, lace kit or accelerator head? I would say accelerator head plus lace flyer and fat core bobbins for the very EASIEST fine spinning, but if you could only have one thing, I'd say go for the lace kit first and when your treadling can't keep up with the speed of your drafting, THEN get the accelerator. Today I've been plying some very fine laceweight at the highest speed I can maintain without sweating, and that wheel is HUMMING. I'd be working a lot harder if I were trying to use a big flyer, or the Woolee Winder. I'm plying from a lace bobbin (fat core) to a baby bobbin (small bobbin with a skinny core.) Perfect!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Woolen, Worsted, What's Up With Those?

When I hear the word "woolen" I think of something made out of wool - anything. Could be mittens, could be longjohns (itchy ones). When I hear the word "worsted" I think of that medium weight yarn I learned on, the stuff that isn't bulky, isn't sport, and definitely isn't baby.

For spinners, woolen and worsted have specific meanings. Each word describes the manner in which a strand of wool is prepped and spun. I'll try to make it simple.

Woolen - the individual fibers are every which way in the strand. Fibers enter the twist without being smoothed out. A lot of air is spun into the strand, and the resulting yarn is poofy, fuzzy, sproingy, you get the idea. The yarn at the top of the photo is woolen-spun.

Worsted - the individual fibers are parallel to one another. They enter the twist with as little "fuzz" as possible. The resulting yarn is smooth, sleek, not as puffy.

To get truly WOOLEN YARN, we must spin from a carded rolag. (Above photo) and use a long draw spinning technique. The fibers are all over the place, none of the fuzzies are smoothed out. Since most of us don't have time to sit and make rolags all day, we can get a semi-woolen type yarn by using batts carded on a drum carder, either at home, or commercially. Carded fibers are semi-straightened - there is still some air left, and messy fibers. And, carded fibers can be spun the short way - i.e. rolled into fake rolags. It works!

Typically, or traditionally, wools used for woolen spinning are shorter staple wools - down wools, like Dorset or Clun Forest, for instance. The woolen sample I made is from Dorset. Woolen spun yarn makes GREAT mittens, hats, vests, and children's wear. If you'd like to try Dorset, I've got some dyed rovings at my etsy store.

WORSTED YARN is typically prepared by combing. The fibers lie parallel to one another and the spinning technique keeps them that way, tucking in the stray fibers JUST before the fiber enters the twist - short, two-handed draw, for example. Worsted yarn is less fuzzy, has less loft, more compact, and usually has more drape in a finished garment. Traditionally, longwools are prepared and spun in this way - Romney, Lincoln, Blue-Faced Leicester. The example worsted yarn above is from combed Falkland Wool top.

If you think about wool fabric, picture flannel (woolen spun) versus gabardine (worsted spun); woolen hunting jacket vs. Pendleton worsted blazer.

Having said all that, please spin your wool any way you want.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What is Roving, Exactly?

The word "roving" is used in a generic way to designate any rope of spinning fiber. For instance, I've got dyed, combed tops for sale on my etsy site, and I call them "rovings" which is inaccurate, but everyone knows what it means.

So what is ROVING actually? (top of the photo) Roving is a strip of a carded batt with a little bit of twist added to it. Commercial mills can make miles and miles of roving from gigantic batts. Home carders can make little rovings, but the main thing to remember is, the true roving comes from a carded batt - that means there is a mix of fiber lengths in it. Carding only mostly straightens out the fibers, like running a brush through very curly hair. And it doesn't remove the short bits. It's all there, short, long, and maybe some neps and little bumps.

Top is a long rope of combed fiber. (Bottom of the photo) Commercial top is thick - home-combed top is usually thinner and more airy. When fiber is combed, either at home or in a mill, the short fibers are removed and everything that is left is perfectly parallel and aligned. If you have some undyed top at home, see if you can peel it open and see the comb marks. Often they are still visible in the fiber.

If you send a fleece to a mill for carding, you'll get back everything you sent in either a batt, or a roving. If you send a fleece to the mill for combing, you'll get back combed top, and also a bag of noil - the short leftover stuff. The short fibers have been removed, the long fibers have been combed until they are parallel.

Next time I'll talk about the different uses for the two preparations.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Spinning: A Batt? What's That?

Among the thousands of do-it-yourself spinning videos on YouTube, I believe mine is the only one to use NEON GREEN wool. That should count for something.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Sheep That Wouldn't Be Sheared

This is Shrek, a merino sheep that hated shearing so much that he ran away from home...for several years. (I have not let my poodle see this article.)

What I want to know is, how much of that fleece is PURE GREASE?

Read the whole story here: NZ's famous sheep gets TV haircut

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CVM - The Sheep With a Sci-Fi Name

California Variegated Mutant. It sounds like a good topic for an episode of X-Files. In reality it is a rare breed of sheep that originated right here in America. Here's the story.

Around the turn of the 20th century a California rancher named A.T. Spencer started cross-breeding Romneys and Rambouillets. He wanted to develop a breed of sheep that had long, fine wool for the wool market, and a hefty, fast-growing, hardy body for the meat market. He wanted ewes that only gave birth to twins and didn't have difficulty giving birth, and rams that were vigorous, enthusiastic breeders. From this crossing, and subsequent selective breeding, the Romeldale Sheep was developed.

Fast forward fifty years. In the 1960's, rancher Glen Eldman found a single multi-colored ewe lamb in his purebred Romeldale flock. Instead of culling her, he kept her. Two years later a multi-colored ram was born. Eldman got ideas.

Over the next fifteen years Eldman bred the mutant sheep and found that the color patterns stayed consistent. He selected for the spinnability of the fleece, twinning, and lambing ease. He eventually registered the breed under its new name: The California Variegated Mutant Romeldale.

In 1982 the flock was dispersed. Some ranchers bought CVMs and kept the bloodlines pure, others used the CVMs to breed with other sheep to improve the stock. In 1990 the breed was put on the "critical" list, with fewer than 200 purebreed registrations per year and a total of only 2000 purebred animals in existence.

CVM fleeces are highly sought-after by spinners. The wool is soft (64 ct is not unusual) and comes in a rainbow of sheep colors - red, brown, black, spotted. CVM Sheep typically have a "badger face" as shown in the photo above.

Last year I had a farmer send me samples of CVM fleeces she had just skirted. By the time I got the samples, washed them, and decided that I definitely wanted the black one, the brown one...they were sold. If you can get a CVM fleece, don't hesitate!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Recycle Your Woolly Scraps

Cut the leg off of a pair of old pantyhose. Stuff all your leftover woolly things (you've been saving them, right?) such as bits of batts, roving you decided to hate, yarn mistakes, into the toe of the pantyhose. Stuff it REALLY tight, then tie a knot above the ball of wool.

Toss the whole thing into the washing machine with a load of jeans or dark bath towels. Dry it in the dryer for at least one cycle, maybe two. Let it sit in the sun until it is thoroughly dry. Cut off the nylon pantyhose.

Voila. Felt ball. This one is the size of a small melon and just a little firmer than a Nerf ball. If you have a dog that likes to fetch (as opposed to destroy objects) this would be a nice dog toy. Kids like these too.

And I like them because they are made from garbage.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spin in the Woods

When I bought my Little Gem it was the middle of winter. I was teaching English Composition to bored college freshmen. There was a lot of snow on the ground. Buying the LG gave me something to look forward to - spinning in the woods. The fantasy kept me grading papers and giving quizzes until May.

This past week we took a few days off and camped at a state park on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Our campsite was on a cliff next to the lake. I looked up from my spinning a couple of times so I know we had a good view! Now I have 1200 yds of alpaca/angora lacweight 2-ply, spun in the woods. My fantasy has become reality!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Request From My Dog

Dear Kris.

You have been spending too much time staring at the glowing box and I miss you. How 'bout taking a little break? We can sniff trees and stuff. Maybe try to catch squirrels or go for a swim. I'm sick of being indoors. There are so many smells this time of year, and I'm missing out. Please?
Read my body language. Let's go fetch. Love, Carl

(Be back Monday!)

D.I.Y. Spindles for you or your class

I made a dozen spindles for a class and thought I'd share a little info about them. I used 12 inch oak dowels and 2-3/4 inch wooden toy wheels. I didn't bother to finish them, but used rubber stamps to decorate the tops. I used the smallest cup hooks I could find.

After I put them together (they didn't need glue because the fit was already VERY tight) I tied on some leaders and spun on each one, tweaking the hooks until the spinning was straight and fairly true. These aren't Goldings, but they are VERY good for teaching!

I like the extra long shaft because it facilitates spinning in the lap (park and draft).

My source for materials was American Woodcrafters Supply.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Urban Myth Busters - Super High Speeds?

Cathy Z. and I set out to test an urban myth - we had both heard that it is possible to get lightning fast speeds on a Majacraft by putting the drive band around the flyer shaft, sans whorl. You can see my setup in the photo.

Here is what we found out. Cathy set up her little Gem this way and got a ratio of 17:1. Fast, for the LG. Except that the band kept falling off.

I set mine up on my Suzie. I got a ratio of (drum roll!) 34:1. And it worked! Ripped the fiber right out of my hand. The band stayed put. But here's the real truth - it wasn't easy to treadle, and the treadling was jerky. I couldn't get up a good, fast treadling rhythm. So yeah, you could do it in a pinch, but I wouldn't want to spin a pound of merino this way.

The lesson? It is fun to mess around with spinning wheels. Try it. Maybe you'll come up with a myth that turns out to be solid fact.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bye-Bye Salad Spinner

If you like to wash your own fleece, or spin the water out of finished yarn but don't have a big top-loading washing machine, this little eco-friendly gadget might be just the thing for you. It holds up to two pounds of clothing (fleece or yarn) and spins at a very high rate, extracting water much better than a salad spinner! And it is so STINKING cute! It would match my crock pot...

Mini Countertop Spin Dryer

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Reason To Love Your Spinning Wheel... bicycle maintenance required.

Have a great weekend!

How Many Microns?

The Bradford Count System is at best an approximate way to distinguish fine wool from finer wool. Modern technology has given us an accurate way to classify fibers by using photometry to measure the actual diameter of a fiber.

So, you may wander into another Etsy store and see this listing: "Baby Alpaca: 16 microns." What does that number mean and why should you care?

A micron is a metric unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter. In other words, small. Testing companies take photographs (sometimes x-rays) of sample fibers and come up with an average for a whole fleece. Fine wool has a smaller diameter than coarse wool. Smaller number=finer wool=more yds per pound.

Here are the same wools as in yesterday's Bradford post, but now described in microns. Lincoln/37-40; Romney/31-36; Blue-Faced Leicester/24-28; Corriedale/22-34, and Merino/18-22.

I hope this helps to improve your wool-shopping experience.

Info on photometry came from the Australian Wool Testing Authority, Ltd.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bradford Count: What Those Numbers Mean

When I started doing research for this blog entry I made a big discovery. Bradford isn't a guy. It's a place, and a woolly place indeed.

You're shopping for wool. You happen to wander into my Etsy store. You see a listing for "64 ct. merino". What does that number mean? How is it different from microns? Who made this stuff up, anyway?

The Bradford Count system was developed in England as a way to grade wool. Some wool is coarse. It is good for carpets. It is also worth less per pound. Some wool is very, very soft. It is good for baby clothes. It is worth more.

The Bradford Count is a skilled estimation of the number of 560 yd. hanks of single-ply yarn that can be spun from a pound of clean, combed top. One pound of 64 ct. merino could be spun into 64 hanks or 35,840 yds. of yarn by a very skilled spinner. Higher number=finer wool=more yards per pound. Lower number=coarser wool=fewer yards per pound.

Here are some traditional Bradford Counts for sheep wool. Lincoln/36-40; Romney/44-48; Blue-Faced Leicester/56-60; Corriedale/46-62; Merino/60-80. The Bradford Count system was developed at a time when wool mill owners stuck their hands in the greasy wool, pulled out some staples, and offered a farmer a price for the whole clip. The number is arrived at by looking at a number of factors - crimp, breed of sheep, and lots of experience judging fleeces.

And, as for Bradford, it is a town in northern England that was at the center of the woollen mill industry during the 19th century. In 1800 Bradford had one woolen mill. By 1850 it had 129 mills and the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Bradford was famous for its cheap, mass-produced worsted cloth, and was known appropriately as "worstedopolis."

Tomorrow, microns.

Information on the town of Bradford came from the book Employers and Labour in the English Textile Industries, 1850-1939, by J.A. Jowitt and A. McIvor.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Ken the Outdoorsy Type?

My friend Kerry spun the wool for this sweater on her Rose. She used Finn top, spun it fine, and Navajo-plied it to make a fine, fluffy 3-ply. Noting that her daughter's Ken doll (renamed Sven Doll) was looking mighty cold in February wearing only beach gear, she knitted him up a little sweater. She tried out some new cast-on and cast-off techniques, knitted it in the round to the armholes (with tiny gussets!) and put a draw string around the rolled neck so her 4-yr-old daughter can easily get it over Sven's head.

The sweater has the effect of making a hard plastic doll somewhat cuddly. That must be why Sven's dating life has improved so dramatically. Rumor has it that he has ditched Barbie and is now going out with Cinderella.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My First (And Hopefully Helpful) Spinning Video!

I am paranoid about dinging up my treadles. Call me fussy. Here is a way to take the flyer off and put it back on without risking that lovely Rimu wood or bruising up your feet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Idea of Sheer Bliss...

Note To Self: Take time to live in the moment.

Have a great weekend!