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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Souped-Up Suzie for Speed Demons

The other day I had a very pleasant Skype chat with fellow spinner James Perry. He showed me his version of the Souped Up Suzie - he'd replaced the large whorl on his high-speed head with the regular Suzie whorl and upped his ratios significantly.

I thought I could do one better, and so this morning I replaced the large whorl on my high speed head with...the SLOW WHORL. Putting it to its opposite use seemed ironically funny to me, as well as sensible.

The small secondary drive belt that comes with the high speed head was not big enough to fit my new setup, so I made a new small belt, 45.5 cms long. It fitted perfectly. In the photo you can see the difference between the regular high speed whorl and the slow whorl.

Next I figured the ratios. I put a small piece of tape at the top of the drive wheel, and, turning the drive wheel slowly with my right hand, I counted how many times the shaft rotated by counting how many times the grub screw on the brass sleeve came around. One rotation of the drive wheel gave me (are you ready?) 39:1 with the secondary drive band on the larger of the two small shaft whorls, and (drum roll) 47:1 with the secondary drive band on the smaller of the shaft whorls. (The drive band was in the largest groove on the main drive wheel.)

Now the REAL test. Could I spin at those rates?

I put on the lace flyer and an empty lace bobbin and threaded it up, adjusted the tension, and grabbed a bit of Dorset roving.

YESSSSSSS! Spinning was WONDERFUL, treadling at about half my regular frenetic pace using a fast long draw. It spun into a very fine, even strand. Since I am lately obsessed with lace, I couldn't be happier.

So, here is what you need, fellow tinkerers. The high speed head. A slow whorl. A homemade secondary drive band that is 45.5 cms in circumference. I think the lace kit would be best - it is much easier treadling with a smaller flyer - but might not be absolutely necessary.

I have renamed my slow whorl. It is now the Speed Demon Whorl.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tender Fleece - What Are My Options?

I recently purchased several raw fleeces at top dollar from a reliable wool grower I know. Before purchasing I tested each fleece for soundness - I took small staple samples from at least three places on the fleece and snapped them hard. All seemed strong and sound.

After washing one of the gray fleeces I was surprised to find pale creamy-colored neps (wool balls) throughout the fleece. I tested several more locks and discovered that the fleece was tender. Those neps were the tips of the wool, broken off during a very gentle washing. BAD NEWS!

The photos above are the Before and After shots of a staple of wool with tips, and with tips pulled off.

I called the farmer and she instantly refunded the cost of the fleece.

First of all, how did I miss it when I first tested the wool? Here are a few possibilities. The wool was very greasy. That high amount of lanolin could have given a bit of strength to the staples. I may have tested too large a hunk of fiber at a time. And finally, I REALLY wanted that fleece. So, I probably didn't snap as hard as I should have.

Second, what makes a fleece tender? My farmer friend said MANY things! That particular fleece came from a sheep that had had an infection in her udder while she was trying to nurse twin lambs. Then there was a weird April blizzard - sheep were eating snow while nursing lambs, yet another stress to the system.

Anything that stresses a sheep can cause a weak spot in her fleece during the time of trouble. A sheep can get a tender spot in her fleece if she gets sick, nurses triplets or quads, has a very difficult birth, etc. For a few days, the fleece doesn't grow well and it consequently weak at that place in the staple. This is a good reason NOT to reserve fleeces from farmers ahead of time - a fleece that was perfect one year may have faults the next, even with the very best care and feed available. It is also a very good reason to buy ONLY from a farmer who will give you a money-back guarantee of quality.

So, what are the options? If this fleece is carded as-is, the tips will break off and form balls all through the wool. The resulting batt or roving will be very, very lumpy. Nasty. The two options are, tear off all the tips by hand. This can be done. If the rest of the fleece is sound it might be worth the time. The tips can also be snipped off with scissors, but one would have to be very careful to cut below the tenderness. Combing might get out most of the tender bits but most is not good enough for most of us spinners!

I don't have time to snip or pull off bad tips or comb an entire fleece. I took my refund gratefully, and sadly said goodbye to that fleece.

Maybe next year!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

ULTRASOX: Sock wool for Everyone

Most, if not all of the commercially available sock fiber blends use merino as the main wool. This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First, merino is harder to draft than other wools. The tight crimp makes the fibers cling to one another - that's why the fiber can feel "sticky" and hard to control. Second, beginning spinners are often sock-knitters, and socks are a GREAT little spinning project! So, here are all these beginning spinners, drooling over merino sock blends (and paying high prices for them) only to feel frustrated because their skills are not up to merino yet.

I've come up with a solution. ULTRASOX is my own carded blend of superwash Corriedale and nylon. ULTRASOX GEM has the fun addition of Angelina fiber. I dye the tops and the nylon to match, then blend them in combos that spin up into a very nice heather yarn.

ULTRASOX can be spun very, very fine. In fact, you could use it for laceweight. It is soft but much sturdier than merino, and is EASY to draft! That's the best news of all.

I took a 4.5 ounces of ULTRASOX and spun it into 695 yds of 3-ply fingering weight yarn-plenty for a pair of knee-high socks. It could be spun in any weight, even worsted, for chunky socks. I include a 3-sizes of yarn sock pattern with each sale.

Tell your spinning friends! Spinning for socks just got easier.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Extreme Sheep LED Art

I just got back from shearing in Iowa - more later. In the meantime, here is a sheepy fun video. Night herding competitions! I laughed out loud. Sheepdogs rock!