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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!