Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Progress Report...

Busy week... had a birthday and celebrated by contributing to my stash.  I'll shoot photos of that for next time.  But for now, here's what is happening with the LNL and Dolly yarn for the Stashdown.

This shot shows how much (OMG!) LNL is still left on the bobbin and a few of the many batts I'm still spinning to finish up the plied yarn I'm making.  Did a couple small skeins of the "magpie" yarn to use as an accent and there is the swatch again so you can see the whole picture.  I've got about two half bobbins done of the Dolly singles, and I'll ply those tonight for another skein.

One thing about this stashdown - I sure picked a whopper of a target for this goal!  I'm looking at March with a more sensible eye now... I need to remember that I'm still working full time and that the weather is warming up.  Pen orders are starting to come in now too, and I'm thinking about some other turned things that I want to get rolling on - like spindles, small bowls and maybe some other surprises!

Off to spin again!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On to the drum carder...

Here's the Dorset cross, time to card it and spin some more of it!  This is one of the nicest uncovered fleeces I've worked with.  Not much veg and so bouncy... I've decided that I really like down wools!  I know that this is a crossbred sheep, so the wool may not behave exactly like purebred down sheep fleece.  The Down sheep that I'm aware of are Suffolk, Hampshire and Dorset. Typical fleeces are dirty, short stapled and low in weight, (usually two or three pounds at best) since these sheep are raised primarily for their meat, not their wool. Down sheep fleeces are supposed to resist felting, which is wonderful for things like socks, which get washed a lot. 

When I raised Suffolks and Corriedales on my own farm I had a customer who bought all the fleeces from one very odd Suffolk ewe that I had.  Her name was Babe, (from the blue ox, not the pig) because she was HUGE.  She also didn't read the same sheep behavior books that I did, since she kicked like a doggone mule when I sheared her!  She was also a lousy mother - had triplets once and lost all three!  But - and this was the only thing that kept her in the flock - she sheared a five inch staple, ten pound fleece!  I still remember packing those fleeces to ship to California - since they don't felt, I could stuff them tight into a box and send them.  The customer was delighted at the way the fleece would leap out of the box - almost like Babe when she was released after shearing.

Enough reminiscing for now, here is a shot of the drum carded batt of the Dorset.  Lovely stuff - I think the shades of gray are my favorite of the dark wools.  I did ten batts, and hoping that will be enough to finish up the Stashdown project for February.  I still have quite a bit of this washed fleece left, and I still have about half of the quantity I bought unwashed. Another project I have planned for this fleece is a mohair blend - beautiful silvery gray locks of the mohair will give this wool a shine that should be fun to work with.  I checked the box the fleece arrived in - there is a name on it, evidently this sheep is named Dolly.  Funny that I get so much more pleasure from the fleece when I know the sheep has a name and not just a number.  Maybe because I named all my sheep too... I miss them so much sometimes.  Ah well, this gives me the chance to have some vicarious enjoyment of sheep farming.  Better yet, now I have the time to spin the wonderful wool!  So much fleece... so little time!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Picking.... and grinning!

Waaaaaahoooooo!  Started picking more wool to spin, and it is going so well! 

I use a bench picker that I found on ebay a while back.  The bench type keeps all those sharp, pointy objects much farther away from my tender hide - and that is a very, very good thing!  Here's a shot of it open and empty so you can see what I'm talking about.

The washed wool goes in at the bottom of the picture, under the shroud and there is a small ramp up to the picking surface - where all the pointy things live.

The shuttle (which is upside down at the top of the picture) slides back and forth on the rails to open the clean locks of the fiber.  The process is called "picking" and I really don't know why it has that name, unless maybe it is a more mechanized version of picking most of the remaining icky stuff out of the fleece by hand.  I started with a batch of the Dorset for the Stashdown goal...

It has about a three inch staple and feeds through the picker like a dream.  I usually put a catch basket at the outfeed end and gather up the picked wool when it gets full.  I think I did enough for about five drumcarder batts.  I'm busy spinning those up for more skeins to apply to my Stashdown goal for February.

You wouldn't believe the amount of veg and dirt that comes out of an apparently clean fleece!  All the sun bleached tips open up and start to fall off too, the rest of those will come off when I put the wool through the drum carder.  I usually run the wool through the picker twice to get all the locks opened up nicely.

The picked wool is so soft and fluffy - and much easier on the drum carder.

Next time, I'll show you the drum carding....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The last of the Nasty Romney... hooray!

Well, here it is, the last color and the last of that nasty fleece... saved the best for last too - purple!  #421 Plum Dandy to be specific. 
Lots of experiments went into this batch.  Did the overstuffed dye pot - see that pale bit in the middle?  Also tried re-using the hot dye bath rather than starting fresh each time (there are three batches shown here) I just added more dye and vinegar, stirred well and plopped in another batch of Nasty Romney and off I went.  Worked out well too, I think.  The dye exhausted each time (finally!) and I was left with clear vinegar water, or at least as close to clear as the nastiness of the fleece allowed.

In case anyone is wondering, this pile of wool is still damp.  I dry it on window screens over my bathtub.  Maybe this is a good time to tell you how I wash my wool.

I use 5 gallon buckets in my bathtub.  Fill the bucket about 3/4 full with the hottest water the tap will provide and put in a strong squeeze of Dawn dish detergent.  I use the blue stuff, and squeeze in enough to tint the water blue.  Then I pull off handfuls of dirty fleece and push it down into the hot water until there is only a little swishing room in the bucket.  Then I put the lid on the bucket and walk away for a half hour.  Don't fiddle with the wool too much - don't want it to felt!

After half an hour lift out the wool and plop it on the uphill side of the tub and empty the filthy (and I DO mean filthy!) water out of the bucket.  If it is warm outside, I use it to water my plants outside.  The soap is good for bug repellent and the "sheepiness" is good fertilizer for them.  Otherwise, it goes down the drain.  Then I repeat this process until the wool still carries some foam from the soap, usually it takes two or three times with detergent.  Then I rinse the wool until the water is pretty clear.  I don't go for perfectly clear because that could take days!

Since wool has to be fully wetted to take up the dye, I think the best time to do the dye is right after the last rinse.  After all, it is already wet and warm, so I fire up the dye pot and lift out a quantity of wool that will fit in my dye pot (just under 5 quarts, I use a small ice cream bucket for this) and leave the rest of the big bucket of wool soaking in case I need a clean up batch of wool.

Then I put the wool in the washing machine and spin out the majority of the water - just spin - no water spraying on the wool!

After that, I spread it out on screens and let it dry.  About once a day I put my fingers in the wool to check on it and pull open any wet/damp bits and turn the whole shebang over so it all gets dry.  Usually takes a couple days and then it is ready to pick.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Swatched... I like it!

Here's the swatch... and the vital statistics:

*100% Wool, 3 ply yarn
*Singles spun clockwise, plied counter-clockwise
*One ply is Louet Northern Lights, Wild Berry Jam colorway, combed wool top
*Two plies are Dorset crossbred carded batts, natural gray color
*Gauge 6.5 stitches and 9 rows per inch on size 2 (3.0 mm) needles.

This is sturdy yarn! At this gauge it would be suitable for socks. I'd go up at least two needle sizes for any other kind of knitting.  Interesting how the one combed ply interacts with the carded plies.  The color is fantastic, the variegation shows up well and the natural variations in the gray complement it well.  The swatch was wet blocked and pressed with a relatively hot iron to steam it into a square shape.  Before doing that it curled up tight.... stockinette does that.

Overall, I really like this yarn.  Looking forward to spinning this up for my February goal.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Found another neat blog.... it is called Spindlicity and it is at .  She's having an event called a Stashdown and it is one great idea!  I'm committing to finishing up something from my stash for each month.

****Drumroll please****

Dorset crossbred

My committment for February is to finish up the 8 ounces of Louet Northern Lights (Wild Berry Jam colorway) singles into a three ply yarn with the Dorset crossbred fleece I'm spinning up now.  It will be one ply of the LNL and two plies of the Dorset.

Here's a shot of the washed fleece, I'm carding it into batts and spinning it on my favorite Kundert spindle during my lunch breaks at work and whenever I can find the time at home.  The LNL singles were finished in January and are waiting patiently to be made into yarn.  Sampling went like this:
My original thought with the LNL was to Navajo ply it, but it is a bit too "magpie" for my taste, although it will be great as an accent yarn. 

Pretty, but too busy and bright.  I would love this as an accent yarn in mosaic knitting paired with black as long as it wasn't too much, and this much color will definitely take over!

So, I tried it this way... and I like it much better.  The variegation of the LNL shows up nicely and I'm in the process of knitting the swatch.  Hoping to get the swatch finished and blocked for a post tomorrow.

So, off to finish and block the knitted swatch...

Another color of Nasty Romney...

Here's another batch from the dyepot. This time it is #416 Peacock Blue. I really like this one, and I'm starting to plan what to do with this multicolored jackpot that came from the awful fleece that started this whole adventure!
One more color to do and then I'll start the next step.... picking the wool to prepare it for the carder.
For years I've "been going to" do some of this dyework and now that I'm in the process I'm really having fun! Nice when even the first attempt is successful. I feel that I'm capable of working with a nicer fleece the next time around. Thank goodness for that!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's not easy being green...

Well, here is the nasty Romney in #447 Emerald Green. The darker part is the first dyebath and the lighter one is the clean-up batch I did to get the dye exhausted. This is getting fun now that I have some idea how it all works!

I figured out that I probably didn't have the dyebath hot enough and maybe not enough vinegar the first time around with the pink, so I did some changing on this batch and it went better this time.

Thinking that I rather like the "clean up" color as a nice coordinating color when I make up the batts for spinning. A little planned over packing of the dyepot so the dye doesn't get all the way to the middle is my next experiment.

At this point, I'm kind of playing with brights so I have an idea what the saturation level will be on white wool. My eventual aim is to overdye colored wool - like gray - to get the jewel tones. Or even to blend at the carding level to get more interesting colors and heathered versions.

Off to the next dyebath....

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dyed in the wool...

Decided to start with pink... or rather, #411 Deep Magenta. When I got the wool as clean as I could, I started the dyepot. Got the water good and hot, added the dye and vinegar and went and got a small bucket full of wet wool and added it to the pot. At first, it wasn't hot enough, so I turned up the heat, after an hour the dye still hadn't exhausted, so I added some more vinegar. Goodness gracious what a difference it made!

This is what came out after about a half hour with the extra vinegar:
The dye hadn't completely exhausted, so I took another little batch of wool and plopped it in the pot, and after about 15 minutes the water was nearly clear. It still amazes me every time I do it.

Fiber isn't just for breakfast anymore....

Winter in Wisconsin... good time to work with wool!

Busy doing wool washing and teaching myself how to dye wool. Big fun! Decided to use the nasty white Romney fleece that I got on Ebay for cheap a couple years ago since it wouldn't break my heart if I completely screwed it up.

Started out washing the nasty stuff, full of burrs, dirt, twigs and even rocks! Ick.... After about three washings with Dawn detergent and about four rinses in hot water it still looked bad, but I let it soak. Then spun out the water and let it dry.
Turns out that it went pretty well. Here's a shot of the plain, undyed fleece that I washed a while ago:

It isn't picked or processed except for the washing, pretty underwhelming wool, isn't it? So, I decided to wash up another batch and dye it... the grand experiment, learning as I went. Armed with the instruction sheet from the Dharma Trading Company catalog I charged into the fray.