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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Baa Baa Black Sheep

This is a Black Welsh Mountain Sheep from Desert Weyr Farm. Pretty soon she is going to have a couple (or three) little Black Sheep following her around and nagging to be fed. I have never seen a black sheep in the flesh (or I should say In The Fleece) but I have spun with BWMS wool and it was a real treat.

In Merrie Olde England any sheep that wasn't white was called "black" and its wool was less desirable. White wool can be dyed any color. Not so for naturally colored wool. However, as handspinning has grown in popularity, so has the market for naturally-colored fleece.

The Black Welsh Mountain Sheep have been specifically bred for their rich, dark wool. It is of medium crimp and coarseness, some being softer than others, but none of it is next-to-skin soft. The staple is medium length - 3-4 inches maximum. It spins into a nice, hard-wearing yarn, suitable for outer garments. It doesn't felt much and is easy to draft. The BWMS is a little sheep and the fleeces aren't large. It is a rare breed in the USA and there are only a handful of growers.

If you can find a nice BWMS fleece, consider yourself lucky!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dorset At My Doorstep

Well, not a whole Dorset. A Dorset fleece. And now I'll talk about Why I Love Dorset Wool.

First of all, it is hard to felt. For people who love to felt this can be a problem but for those of us who SPIN, felting is evil! When I wash this lovely Dorset fleece I will not have to be nearly as careful as I would if I were washing Merino. And sweaters, etc, made from Dorset wool can be gently washed IN THE MACHINE! I'm not making it up. No hot water, no dryer, but other than that, Dorset can handle the handling.

Second, Dorset is boingy. Or should I say sproingy. It has a lot of bounce. If it is spun woolen-style with a long draw from fluffy rolags it make a very squishable, wonderful yarn with lots of loft.

Third, it is very white once it is washed. Some wools are creamy-colored. That's fine, except if you want to dye it true pink, because the creamy-colored wool plus true pink dye equals a peachy pink. Sometimes I just want pink, not peachy.

Fourth, it is fun to card. (Only a fiber addict would understand this.) Dorset makes wonderful rolags.

Fifth, Dorset is usually not pricey.

Try some Dorset! Look for a fleece with a staple length of at least 3 inches. Much shorter than that and it's a pain to draft. Happy Spinning!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Should I Buy My Wheel in New Zealand?

The exchange rate between New Zealand and the US is low right now. That means our dollars buy a lot of NZ dollars. Things are cheaper. A lot of people are buying their spinning wheels from New Zealand dealers, and why not? Who doesn't want to save money?

Here are a few things to consider before you send your VISA number to the Land of the Kiwi.

1. You are buying from a dealer who cannot service your wheel. If there is a problem during shipping or customs it is YOUR problem, not the NZ dealer's problem.
2. You are buying from a dealer who doesn't have a toll-free number and doesn't keep USA hours.
3. Your NZ-purchased spinning wheel is not as cheap as it seems. You will pay hefty shipping charges, custom fees, insurance, and a 3% foreign currency exchange surcharge from your credit card.
4. You are sending your money overseas at at time when we desperately need to keep it here in America. One of the reasons for rising unemployment is that it is cheaper to do business overseas.You can choose to be part of the solution by purchasing your spinning wheel at home.
5. Your spinning wheel dealer can also take advantage of a favorable exchange rate giving you a fair price without sacrificing the service and ongoing relationship you deserve. She may have exactly what you want on hand. Why wait? And if she does have to place an order, she will be responsible for your spinning wheel's safe arrival.

Before you buy from New Zealand, ask your USA Majacraft dealer for a quote.

Inch by Inch

For Christmas my son gave me the diary of Howard Carter. Howard Carter is the guy who discovered King Tut's tomb. I loved the book. I loved seeing each step of the discovery through the eyes of the first man to peer into that dark hole and say, "I see wonderful things."

There was a lot of linen fabric in King Tut's tomb. There were drapes and buntings and swathings and swaddlings and items of fine clothing. But the biggest use of fabric was the mummy wrappings.

There were hundreds of yards of linen strips wrapped around the mummies. Not just the human mummy, but the dog mummies, the duck mummies, the cat mummies. Linen fabric EVERYWHERE.

And to this spinner, the big (and wonderful) realization was that every inch of every thread of those mummy wrappings was made by hand on a hand spindle.

I ought to try my hand at spinning linen. Guess what I'll be thinking about?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Maja Mojo

YAY! I got the confirmation e-mail today from Glynis Poad at Majacraft. I'm official. I'm a dealer. Not cards, not drugs. Wheels.

There is nothing like a new adventure.

The Silk Hankie Saga

Last year I toured a silk factory in China. I tried to buy cocoons, but got a very weird look from the Boss Man. I was supposed to be buying other stuff, like silk-filled, silk-covered quilts and thousand-dollar silk rugs. All I wanted was cocoons.

One of the cool things they showed us in the silk factory was how the silk cocoons were opened and stretched over a frame to make layers and layers of batting (for the expensive silk quilts we were supposed to buy). Little did I know that a year later I'd be wrestling with my own little pile of stretched silk cocoons!

That is what a silk hankie is - a silkworm cocoon that has been stretched. I bought a few ounces of silk hankies, threw on some dye, cooked it in the microwave, and voila. Spinnable Natural Fiber Thingie.

Anyway, I had NO IDEA that this hankie would be such a hassle to spin! The silk fibers are so so so fine that they catch on everything, mainly, my dry hands. So, handling it is tricky, and if you have dry hands it will make you feel old. Second, the hankie has to be completely pulled into a roving, and I mean COMPLETELY, because it is nearly impossible to draft while spinning. I pulled my hankies into wispy, sticky, gorgeous, teeny roving.

BUT IT IS WORTH IT. Wow. I love the results so far. I'm using a Greensleeves Barebones spindle. I'm going to spin up these two hankies and ply it with some lamb/alpaca.