Tuesday, 28 August 2012

My first, firstly, and foremost fiber...Coopworth

My next group spin I appear to have my hand caught in the “C” basket. Coopworth, CVM, Corriedale, Cotswold, Cheviot and Cormo! Again my unreliable memoirs bother me as my calendar tells me this was a Saturday. I am starting to suspect I may have been home sick from work and bored out of my gourd. My usual activity when I am at home sick is to paint. Not pretty pictures, but our condominium. I have even had to email pictures of the condo to my husband at work else he goes into the wrong home. One of his favourite stories was when I had bronchitis and he goes to work as usual, only to come home to find the bedroom no longer a mind numbing magnolia but a fun, vibrant bright orange! So fiber addled brain aside, my next spin is Coopworth.


Micron 30-39

Staple 2.5-20.5

About Coopworth: They were developed in New Zealand in the 1950’s using Romney and Border Leicester led by college professor, Ian Coop at Lincoln College in Canterbury NZ. The breed and name was adopted in 1963..a memorable year. JFK left the world and I entered!
Coopworth fleece differ depending on geographic location but they all have defined crimp, luster and long staple fleece.

My spinning experience: Coopworth is a very easy spin. It was actually the first fiber I ever spun. Heck, I made yarn on my first lesson so it must be an easy spin! It spins easily form lock and is not dense of grease. Books decry Coopworth's next to skin softness. I'm a bit of a Princess where fiber softness goes and my sample whereas not super soft would be just fine for a sweater, scarf, gloves etc.  My first skein of Coopworth however is just perfectly suited to be on display and nowhere near my porcelain Princess skin.
Coopworth: My first fiber. My first ever skein of yarn

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Spin, Wash, Rinse, Dry...Repeat

The spin cycle: I prefer to spin fine singles. It gives me the biggest entertainment value for my buck since it takes longer to spin. If I want a heavier yarn, I can always 3 ply. For this project, I have decided to aim for a sport/worsted weight 2 ply yarn. I figure it should be a happy medium where most of the fibers should show well. I would like them all similar weight for best tactile comparison, coz heck, after doing all this work, I will take it to Guild demonstrations and events we participate in the community and anywhere else  where I can create a Segway in the conversation. A lot of spinners (Well I hear them everywhere) lament their lack of ability to spin anything other than fine yarn the longer they spin. Not so. It means that you have found you comfort zone or default. Now you need to make your wheel work for you. Adjust those pulleys, whorls, brake bands and tensions and spin at that default comfort zone and you will be surprised how you can spin absolutely any weight you choose. Think smaller whorl for smaller yarn, thicker whorl or pulley for thicker yarn.

So…worsted it is. I have my 20g of fiber and I spin it up onto my bobbin…all of it save a wee tuft for my binder. 20g at this weight will give you an easily manageable amount to work with.

I now release my brake band and wind the single onto my ball winder. Without it coming off the leader, I carefully take the yarn off the ball winder, holding on to the inside end. I tie this end to the leader, ready to make a 2 ply working from both the inside and outside of the ball. 

 Tighten up your brake band and start your plying. The first few times may take a bit of juggling but go slow and observe just how the single comes off the ball. This will help you decide the most comfortable and effective way to hold the ball. I have heard some spinners put their thumb into the middle of the ball but I tend to have the inside leader coming on the right (away from my body) and the outside coming easily and untangled off the left (nearest my body). 

Once plied, loosen the brake band again and wind onto a niddy noddy. Secure the skein in several places and you are done!

Wash Cycle: I didn’t really want to wash every skein separately and I’m not quite ready for a blindfolded sheep breed test so I needed a solution to washing several skins at once.
The solution came in the form of wee plastic bread bag locks. I’m not sure if it is just an Aussie thing or the generation I was raised as in recycling before it was even called recycling. I didn’t know about landfills and such, only that a lot of items have awesome uses for other than what they were originally designed.  One of my first jobs where I actualy got paid, was teaching to make paper plate puppets. They were even in an exhibition. Forget thinking outside the box; why even think it a box in the first place I won’t hop onto my soap box but it gives me great satisfaction to repurpose items. Recently my friend Judith from Ontario took our guild by storm with her shopping bags woven from cut up bread bags. Having worked in a commercial kitchen the bread bags drove me to distraction…or concentration to seek a solution. I knit and crocheted them into bags and had a little production of the Care facility residents doing the same.  They took a long time. Jim Crocce, I have a few verses I’d like to add if I could Find time in a Bottle.  Anyway, the woven ones were speedy and it was great to supply the whole guild with bags. The craze even took over my husband, inspiring him to learn to weave. The bread bag conundrum has been solved with a new purpose for the bag locks.

With an indelible ink pen, I write the breed on the lock and clip it to the skein. If you have enough of these tags you can also lock it around your wee fleece sample until you are ready to put it in a binder. If you don’t have enough or any of these bread bag locks, drop me a message and I would be happy to send you an envelope full. Now you can soak all your skeins together. The tags won’t fall off nor does writing rub off.

The Rinse Cycle: After a 20 minute soak in Eucalan, or non-enzyme dish detergent for yarns that were [1]spun in the grease, I gently squeeze the water from the skeins.  Next destination is outside to the patio on my concrete step where I thwack the living daylights out of each skein, maybe 2 at a time, moving the skein 1/8 turn until I have worked my way around the whole skein. This sets the twist. With my hands on the inside of the skein, I snap my hands outwards. This pretty much is my washing process though I have heard of others partaking of the “helicoptering” step. I will admit that I have never even tried this as the visual of the skein flying off my finger as I twirl it, heading over the fence to lasso the aerial of a passing car, down the street and far away is a vision too vivid to ignore.
The drying cycle: is the final step, before the displaying the fruits of your labour. I bought this fantastic round, covered skein/fleece drying rack. I can only guess that spinning is a very popular art as these dryers are everywhere.  They come in all kinds of sizes, number of drying ribs, and coordinating fabric covers. They keep the yarns safe from the elements and marauding packs of chickadees looking for readymade nest walls. They are dual purpose and also serve to provide shade in my garden. My husband calls my drying rack a garden umbrella. Huh.


[1] Fleece that has not been scoured of all its lanolin or grease before spinning is called spinning in the grease. It is just lovely on your hands.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Gummy bears and fluffy sheep

Taste, test, try....
Whereas all brands of gummy bears are not created equal, the same can be said of fleece within a breed. Even with certain breeds like Cormo and BFL where fleece is very consistent within the breed, there are also other variables, in particular from shearing and processing. We all dream of a clean first cut from a coated sheep but may come across [1]vegetable matter, [2]second cuts, fibers that break easily and chemically over processing which results in dry, crisp and [3]neps.


As you delve into the different breeds, you will find a relatively small number available as commercially processed top and rovings. As you go even further into the more rare and endangered sheep, you will pretty much take what you can get. I should mention now if anyone feels so inclined to send me a Saxon Merino fleece, I’ll help you out and pick up the shipping. Hey, least I can do.


But what really is my point here or have I lost the plot of this post? What I want to say is, I have gotten some really shitty samples but don’t want to discount the whole breed because of 20g. Instead I’ll add it to my try-it-again list but from a different source if possible. Same goes for a fiber that I absolutely love and trust me, read on. There will be many. I want to try that breed again, perhaps in lock if I had spun roving,  before I go committing to a whole fleece…unless the aforementioned Saxon.


Border Leicester

Staple: 10-25.5(Half that if shorn 2x year)
Micron: depending on country but

              ranges 29.25(UK)-40(NZ)

About Border Leicester Sheep: Are in direct lineage to the 1767 Dishley Leicester (now extinct).By 1789 there were two distinct types of “Dishley Leicester” evolving in the English border counties. One flock was being crossed with Teeswater (nicknamed Bluecaps) and another on the other border, crossed with Cheviot (nicknamed Redlegs). The Border farmers preferred the hardier redlegs and by about 1850 this variation of the “Dishley Leicester” became known as Border Leicester

My spinning experience:  with slightly less slick fibers than the BFL, this is an easier manageable spin with slightly less luster. The yarn would provide lovely stitch definition. Locks (which I spun for my sample) were long and lustrous, perfect for dyeing or art yarn tail spinning. This was an easy, enjoyable spin.


[1] Vegetation, amongst other things caught up in the fleece
[2] Where the shearer cuts an already cut fiber. If not removed, they can cause pilling in the resulting yarn/garment
[3] Little annoying balls that drive you bonkers picking them out of fiber that can be caused by incorrect  carding, second cuts

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Embrace the Face

Bluefaced Leicester

Leicester longwool Breed 


Micron 24-28

About Bluefaced Leicester sheep: The blue face comes from the very fine white hairs over the dark black skin creating the visual illusion of a blue hue. They also have erect ears and wool is tightly purled, fine and semi-lustrous. The Bluefaced Leicester (Pronounced Lester) sheep evolved in Northumberland in the early 1900’s as direct descendants of the now extinct, Dishley Leicester. They were first brought over to Canada in 1970. The BFL is also one of the largest British breed sheep.


My Spinning experience: There seems to be 2 kinds of spinners where BFL is concerned. One is those who love spinning BFL and one is those who love spinning BFL.  My previous experiences with BFL have been with top or dyed roving. Did you know that top is fiber all lined up perfectly in the one direction and just by dyeing top, it is no longer top? Through the dyeing process, no matter how careful, the fiber is no longer perfectly aligned, making it roving. I’d personally take this fact to the bank as it was told me at a workshop by Judith MacKenzie.

Anyway, back to the BFL. So, my experience till now was primarily of top or roving (and will be for quite some time with it constituting a good 25% of my stash). BFL is a lovely fiber that dyes beautifully and blends exceptionally well with fibers like silk. My lock spinning experience was also a pleasant one.  If spinning top, make sure to fluff it out a bit to allow easy drafting without it grabbing and running away from you in a clump. Spinning from the lock was a breeze. The finished yarn shows lovely stitch definition and is lovely as next to skin soft for knit/woven garments.



Badger Faced Welsh Mountain

Staple: 7.5-10cm

Micron: 26-37

About Badger Faced Welsh Mountain Sheep  Have roamed the Welsh hills for centuries but only reached , recognized breed status in 1976, the same year that Peter Casserly of New Zealand hand sheared a record 353 lambs in 9 hours (he also sheared Shrek) and The Donnie and Marie Show debuted on the tube. They, the Badger faced sheep and not Donnie and Marie, were also used as markers on hills for shepherds to locate their flocks. There are 2 distinctive type of badger Faced Welsh Mountain sheep. Torddu (pronounced Torthee) has a dark belly, face markings and a light coloured fleece. It is 3 times more numerous than Torwen and considered The Badger. The other, Torwen has a white belly, face markings and dark fleece.

The breed is primarily a meat sheep though the fleece was processed locally, dyed and woven into the famous Welsh red cloaks.

My Spinning Experience: My Torddu sample was sooo interesting looking in the wee baggie. I only wish I left it in there! The colours are stunning in their range, especially within the [i]kemp which gave me an incredible looking yarn but too prickly for next-to-skin wear. Anyway, my sample included everything from short fibers to even shorter second and likely 3rd cuts. Kemp of every colour and bits of absolutely everything the sheep came into contact with. It was obviously a happy sheep as it must have roamed near and far, being so filthy. The fiber was quite dry (little to no lanolin/grease) but no way it could have been cleaned. Surely. With such short fibers I had to spin this one a little longer draw.
After the Torddu….it was clearly evident that my breed stash needed restructuring and my floor, wheel and clothes, cleaning. I needed a wine.
My resolution:
Pile 1:Commercially prepared and ready to spin fiber and/or locks
Pile 2: Looks clean but needs carding
Pile 3: The raw and I-haven’t-a-clue-what-to-do-with-that pile

[i] Kemp: The heaviest, coarsest hair fibers. They do not accept dye and can be prickly in the resulting yarn. Kemp is not desirable in a fleece for hand spinning but does create a tweedy effect.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

It Takes a Village to Raise a Flock

I have bought, traded, bartered and been bestowed my breed fibers so one bit of housekeeping before I start my fleece odyssey is to thank everyone that has contributed to my fibery flock. I’d name you all but would hate to miss anyone and thus making anyone the black sheep, so to speak.

Black sheep you say?

As I plunge my hand into a basket crammed with fiber baggies, I emerge victorious with my first sheep breed fiber to spin….almost

I recorded commencing spinning on the 9th March (Why a Friday, I have no idea. I also have no idea why it bothers me so much that it should be a Friday and not a Sunday) but some 5 months ago I do recall it going something like the above scenario, except the basket was so jammed packed I was like a monkey with its fist in a jar and 3 baggies popped out. Immediately the intense black fiber caught my eye.

With Aubrey (my Schacht Matchless DT) all oiled up, glass of wine to the left (more of a completely reasonable assumption than actual recollection), my ball winder to the right, I deftly release the seal of the snack sized, no-name plastic baggie. Intensely black fiber bursting forth from its plastic restraints…

In the beginning there was the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep.

Black Welsh Mountain Sheep

Primitive, rare breed (approx 10,000 worldwide)                          

Staple 5-10cm

Micron 26-36

About the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep: Originally from the Southern mountains of Wales, these hardy, self-reliant, small black sheep have been around since medieval times. They are easily managed with a natural resistance to disease.  With a true black (Cuchddu) fleece, they are devoid of wool on the face and below the knee & hock. The meat is lean and the wool medium soft and dense.

My Spinning experience: My sample came from the UK so apparently not as fine as the US flock. This fleece is truly black. My sample was washed fleece locks. A little dry but easy to draft right from the lock. No need for carding. It spun up easily and evenly and bulked up after washing. Did I mention this fleece is black? If you were to work on a knit/woven project using natural colours, then this is the black you need. I did say it was black, right?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Correlation does not imply causation…or does it?

OK, so the binder comes first before the skeins but only at the introduction of the fiber, right?
This isn’t actually the first go at this binder if you haven’t already guessed.

Binder #1 had lovely thick watercolour paper meticulously cut to exacting business card size with the breed written on the right in my finest hand. A tuft of fiber glued to the middle. Sounds great but sadly, visually underwhelming.

My next idea was to flex my google-fu and find a picture of each sheep breed to accompany the fiber sample.  Seeing each sheep was a fabulous, eye-opening experience only enhanced by reading about them. I just assumed that all sheep were around the same size and fluffiness, just like my assumption that everyone  online is 5’10 with red hair! 

So on to Binder #2. I love projects, I always have. From sitting in my bedroom as a child until late at night burning the edges of tea stained, hand drawn map for a geography project to standing over Kinko’s colour copier to perfect the dimensions of a Memphis wall unit for a 3D Interior decorating assignment as an adult. Yes, I love projects. How better to utilize those invaluable skills learned in Kindy of cutting and pasting?

So I have settled on a Business Card style binder, 2 columns x 5 rows (after having returned the 3 column collector card one).  Having found my sheep pictures and saving them to their very own sheep breed picture file, I insert them in Microsoft Excel, along with the breed, micron count, staple and other pertinant datum.

This binder is destined to grace the shelves of the RWSG ‘coz heck, it’s entirely their fault I am doing this in the first place!

I should like to mention now, that for reference, I have used and cannot recommend highly enough as an essential book for any fiber artist’s library, The Fleece and Fiber Source Book by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius. From here I primarily reference staple and micron count, along with other interesting dags of information in conjunction with online sheep breed associations, friends of friend's contacts and my own google-fu powers.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

I'm Baaaack

As much as the Master List and it's accuracy and upkeep was the driving force behind A Flock of Fleece undertaking, my thought process had become horizontal. The abandonment of The List was cathartic. My own anagnorisis or more simply put, Eureka effect. Put a person in enough fleece, they will leap out screaming "Enough already!"
Epiphany #1: Take care of your flock and the list will take care of itself.

But in the meantime...Sort alphabetically. Categorize by type. Sub-categorize by micron count. Hmmm....group conservancy breeds as a sub group.
Pictures, fibers, yarn. Knit squares. 3 pocket pages. 2 pocket pages. Rings for skeins.....

POP as the baggies of fiber inhale air previously squeezed out and projectile across the room at random from their crammed stash spots.
Buy more glass cylinders to store them so they look asthetically pleasing. Hang on. Store them in a more asthetically pleasing way?

Epiphany #2: Return glass cyliners to store.
Epiphany #2.1:Spin the fiber!

Singles, 2 ply, 3 ply. Aran, worsted, fingering. Long draw, short draw...semi-either draw.Start at letter A, breed I got first, breed that inspired this madness. STOP.

Honestly woman, Flock or get off the pot!