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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.