Archive for the ‘Breed Specific & Rare Breed Wools’ Category

A new design in progress – I guess that would be a DIP, right?

Handspun Breed Specific Romney Wool, Hand Dyed for new pattern design Grace

Along with the Custom Fit Sweater for Amy Herzog and her team (beta testing) I’ve been working on a few custom orders and a new designs that I will call Grace after my Mom who just passed away last year at this time. Mom was my mentor, my soul mate, my best friend and the one who taught and inspired me to knit and be creative in so many way. She was also my biggest fan and alway gave me so much encouragement. Well, anyway, the new design is Grace. It will be an elegant but casual cardigan/jacket and will be spectacular for showing off hand dyed and handspun yarns. Super stylish and super easy to knit and fit, you will knit it all from the top down in one piece with no seaming or finishing. I’m including a few “sneak peak” pictures that will give you a feel for the design without giving it away. This sweater allowed me some freedom to play with my dyes, my spinning techniques and let my imagination run free. It is also part of my study in Breed Specific and Rare Breed Wools.

The wool in this garment is Romney.  The Romney breed evolved from medieval longwool types. The fibers are long, silky and strong without being prickly. A very good wool to use for durability where you need something sturdy  and not overly soft and delicate. My Romney is one of the Canturbury Prize Wool Group imported from New Zealand by Louet Sales. These wools are breed-specific fibers that are handled in such a way as to retain their unique qualities. “Working with Wadsworth Heap Ltd, a fiber supplier in New Zealand, each fleece in this line is grown with passion and great care; each is chosen with a critical eye, scoured in a modern scouring plant, and carded with pride on gentle machinery to maintain the fibre’s integrity and give spinners maximum enjoyment.” So far I have totally enjoyed working with them. If you are interested in having any of these wools custom handspun for a project please just email me. I will get them on the web site eventually, but in the mean time…  😉

If you’ve been keep up with my adventures you will have read Spinning a Fine New Zealand Merino Fleece where I talk about spinning a beautiful fine Merino fleece into lace weight yarn after washing it lock by lock and hand combing it. There were some mistakes, and I leaned a lot from them, but I found myself spinning a lovely lace weight yarn that would be excellent in a handknit shawl by the third skein so I started to knit.

I choose a pattern from Nancy Bush’s book Knitted Lace of Estonia, the Queen Sylvia Shawl and cast on.  The knitting was fun and after a few days I got to the end of my first skein and joined the second. After a few rows I noticed, to my horror, that the colour was so different that I would have to overdye the whole shawl even if I choose to keep it for myself unless I can find a way to lighten the creamy parts. Upon closer inspection I did notice that there were bands of lighter and darker areas within the first skein that I just had not noticed until I gave it a better look in natural light.

You will have to click on this thumbnail to see the worst of the bands. It is at the very top. I stopped after just a few rows to take this picture. I posted my question on Ravelry Joy of Handspinning discussion board and I got some very helpful suggestions.

In retrospect I feel like it was really a “duh” move. I should have known this would happen and I will have to be more aware and careful whenever I spin from a raw fleece. I have been spinning from prepared fiber too much lately and have forgotten one of the basics of spinning from a fleece. Any fleece, and especially a coloured one will have this issue. It is something that a spinner *should* be thinking about right from the beginning of the project. Whether you are spinning a white fleece and you want to leave your yarn white or you are spinning a coloured fleece you usually don’t want the changes in color to come suddenly at the end of a skein creating a very obvious line.

Tip for Managing Color when Handspinning a Raw Fleece

If the fleece has obvious colour differences you should spread out the whole fleece and sort it before you start. You may want to emphasise the differences by sorting for stripes or blend them all into a solid or create a heather effect and they would all take different sorting and preparation. Wash enough fleece for the whole project at the same time. (I was testing different washing methods and I’m sure some were cleaner than others and this was one of the main causes for the colour difference) If you want a white fleece to end up white in a yarn you must break or cut off the tips. This is especially true for the fleece I was spinning. A fine New Zealand white merino will always have dirty tips that need to come off. (I am quite sure that this was the other reason for my colour variations.) If you are spinning a woolen yarn and you would like your colour to be even throughout the project you can put it all through the drum carder, split all of your batts and blend them by putting them through again mixed. Do this as many times as you feel is needed to get consistent colour. You can make a tweed by sorting the colours first, card them separately, stack and roll and spin from the end of the roll. If you are combing your locks you can also comb the whole amount needed for the project, go back and split them and re-comb to combine just as we did above with the drum carder. Further ensure evenness of color by spinning all of the yarn for the entire project and winding it onto inexpensive weaver’s bobbins before plying. Randomly ply bobbins back together. A helpful Raveler suggests this one, and it really appeals to me; I always knit with three balls of wool, that way the colour differences are not so noticeable, being only one line and not blocks. I use the three balls so there will always be a ball to change to at the end of each row of knitting. I find that any differences in colour is less noticeable if only one row is knitted with each ball rather than two rows. Finally, always plan with this in mind from step one when spinning from a raw fleece, even and perhaps especially when spinning a white one.

They started life as a lesson in preparing and spinning a raw fleece for worsted spun yarn. You can find that post here “Hand Spinning a Worsted Sock Yarn – Slow Cloth” so I though you might like to see the finished product.

The socks are a slightly modified version of Gladysby General Hogbuffer. This pattern is available as a free Ravelry download.

I had a bit of difficulty keeping the yarn consistent. This was probably because I was spinning too many other projects at the same time. I do find I can be completely consistent to the point where I can match yards per ounce in skein after skein but this is almost impossible if I am working on more than one project at a time.  It seems to be my “crocodile” brain that takes over when I am spinning. I blame the crocodile but perhaps if I took better notes and more complete records I could do a little better?

Here are the pictures of my finished socks. So warm and I am sure they will last a very long time.

Stunning Polwarth raw New Zealand wool fleece

 

I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I am getting out of my new Merino fleece recently imported from Stuart Albrey at Fine Fiber Farms in New Zealand

According to Margaret Stove The Merino wool of New Zealand is among the finest and highest quality wool fiber to be found anywhere in the world and I second this opinion. The New Zealand climate is just perfect for this particular breed and quality of wool and the sheep can be raised out of door without any coats on and without getting chaff and other veggie matter in the wool. It is super clean, ultra fine and soft and surprisingly white.

Spinning a raw fleece this fine is not like anything I have ever hand spun before and I’ve been spinning for many years. I really had to throw all of my preconceived rules and ideas out the window and just experiment over and over until I got it right. This very fine Merino wool is stretchy and elastic with a great deal of crimp. It is fine to the point of being vulnerable and it needs to be handled very lightly and carefully if you don’t want to stretch or damage the fibers, especially when wet.

A lot of what I learned about spinning this wonder fiber was from the amazing Margaret Stove through a video purchased at Interweave press called “Spinning for Lace “. I also have everything that Deborah Robson (Handspinning Rare Wools ) and Judith MacKenzie ( “Three Bags Full ” or “A Spinners Toolbox“) have published. These ladies have done so much work to share their vast knowledge of wool and spinning with the rest of us and I just thank them so much for all that I have learned from each of them.

Spinning Merino for Lace with Margaret Stove involves working with individual locks of fiber. It is tactile pleasure paradise from moment one and the slow cloth mindset is very necessary. So with a “mind like water” and immersed in the moment I began by separating out these lovely locks, one from another, and laying them out side by side on a piece of cloth in preparation for washing. I actually started my washing with a bit of advise from Margaret Stove. Here is how I washed my first batch.  I picked up a single lock and dipped 2/3 of it into very (almost boiling) hot water and then rubbed it vigorously on a bar of soap. Horrors, you say? as I did when I first saw this, but guess what… it works! yes, the lubrication of so much soap seems to keep it from felting together. I then dipped the lock into equally hot rinse water and squeezed, turned it end for end and repeated the process. When I had all of the locks washed and rinsed I rolled them in a towel and squeezes out the excess water. After a surprisingly small amount of time they puffed right up and were dry and ready to comb. The second and all subsequent batches of washing I did a little differently. My method is from Judith MacKenzie and is very close to that taught by Margaret Stove with the addition of heat under the wash pot and a slightly different way of keeping the locks in line so they can’t move around in the wash water.  I go into greater detail here and here but I will just say the locks are sorted and  laid out side by side on a light cloth (I used a piece of old window curtain this time). the cloth is folded over to keep the locks securely in place. Lots of detergent (I used Tide liquid) and very hot water was added. I then put the pot on the stove top on low for 30 min. The high and constant heat is needed to melt the dense wax and grease found on Merino wool.  I let it cool to warm, rolled up the bundles to keep the individual locks from moving and rinsed under the tap with same temperature water. Roll in a towel and squeeze out excess moisture and lay flat to dry.

Combing is “the only way” to prepare this fiber for lace yarn. You really don’t want to go through all of this and end up with something that felts and pills and wears out before your eyes. You want a yarn that will be strong and smooth and careful preparation at every step of the process is a must. Remember your mind like water, be here now, right in this moment doing this work. It is really very pleasant if you don’t try to rush it.  So the drum carder will be used for another project at another time. I will confess here and now that since I have started combing I may never need the drum carder again. I love the combs!  Some I did on my Louet mini combs and some on my handmade viking combs that I bough on Etsy from BenjaminGreenStudio and I LOVE THEM!  To use the big combs I had to break off the tips or brush them out with a dog brush. They are probably a little open for this fine fleece but I got it combed after a few passes and enjoyed every second of it.

At the spinning wheel I tried to follow Margaret’s advise. There was so much to remember and the technique was not exactly what I was used to but I tried to keep the tension of the fiber as I drafted so that the twist would go in with the fiber crimp stretched out. If the crimp is flattened when the twist goes in the yarn will always be trying to regain the crimp and your yarn is springy and elastic. I guess she must have mentioned not to stretch it, just a gently tension, but of course I did stretch it and the first skein I made was just coiling and unruly like a curly boucle.

One of my problems was the stretching but another one was twist. You cannot just ply this lovely fine fiber back to balanced by checking it in the usual way. The twist has “set” in the singles even if it has only been sitting on the bobbin for a few hours. If you put some ply twist in and check this yarn by letting a bit hang between your hand and the orifice you will find it will look balanced but will actually not have nearly enough ply twist in the yarn. You will have to put in enough twist to make a 45 degree angle and you will find it balances only after washing. Handle the singles very very carefully as you ply and do not stretch or your yarn will be unbalanced and unruly. Ask me how I know?

I’m knitting the Queen Sylvia Shawl by Nancy Bush from Knitted Lace of Estonia.

Next in this project: Managing Color in a Raw Fleece

     I spun this yarn for a customer in DK (3 Light) weight from some lovely moorit or brown shetland wool. It was spun from a combed preparation and I pulled off several staple lengths and held them folded over my finger. Spinning from the fold with a long draw and a very light touch, gave me a wonderfully airy and bouncy yarn that is not too fuzzy. I think it’s the best way to spin this wool for knitting. It will last a very long time, it is more consistant and will show the stitch definition much better than a true woolen yarn but has all of the bounce and airy lightness of a woolen yarn. This method will also keep the wool from pilling as much … if at all. While the wool of the Shetland Sheep is not as “next to the skin” soft as the Merino and others like Polwarth and Corriedale, many wool lovers not only like to wear Shetland wool but prefer it to it’s softer and less robust peers. Many use the finer Shetland for next to the skin wear and even for baby things.

The Shetland is a small sheep originating in the Shetland Isles. When the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was set up in the 1970′s The Shetland was considered a Rare Breed and was listed with them as Category 2 – Endangered. Since that time the Shetland has become more popular with many smaller farms and has graduated to Category 6 – Other Native Breeds. This is excellent news for us as spinners. The Shetland produces a variety of characteristics in it’s wool from the superfine wool from around the neck area that is chosen for Shetland lace shawls to the sturdier wool for use in garments that are made to last for many years. Shetland sheep are also very well know for the variety of shades and natural colours in which their fleece will grow. The Shetland sheep is hardy, adaptable and long-lived. Their wool has been used, traditionally, in fine shawls and Fair Isle knitting patterns.

Order Custom Handspun Shetland Wool in your choice of yarn weights. Design it yourself hand spun Shetland wool yarn

 

A few months ago I shared the pattern for the Hat my guys like and now here is the sweater that falls into that same category. With lots of input from DH, the eventual wearer of this pullover, I designed another sweater to match the one I knit him almost 30 years ago. Not only did the original sweater last for 30 years, but hardly a day went by that it was not called into service (except those hot summer days, of course) and it’s still all in one piece even if it is showing a little wear now.

As you can imagine, I’ve knit him a few sweaters over the years and some he wears a little and some he wears a lot. This is the one he hardly ever takes off! When the boys come in and see his newest sweater they want one too. I’m going to have lots of opportunity to knit this one in several sizes and variations and will keep you posted.

Here is the story of  spinning the yarn for Jacob from a Jacob fleece and another short post with a few more pictures. Pattern coming asap. I will have to knit it at least one more time as I want to show the body with a simple rib instead of the colour variegation.

Louet Spinning Wheels S90 and S45

I haven’t posted in March because I’ve just been too busy spinning my custom orders. This month required another wheel so we got out the S90 and dusted it off. It didn’t even need a tune up but it got a new drive band just because…

I’m reminded why I got this wheel in the first place and I really enjoyed spinning with it this month. I’ve been spinning everything on the smaller S45 recently. I switch over to the little S45 from the larger S90 because the S45 has Scotch tension and I can spin a yarn as fine and delicate as I wish with no drag or pull from the wheel. It’s perfect for spinning lace weight yarns in any fiber but it’s pretty much mandatory to have feather light tension when spinning the fine luxury fibers from Merino wool to Cashmere.

I got out the S90 this time because I wanted to spin 3 ply and I really like the lazy kate on this wheel. The S90 comes with 4 bobbins and a 3 bobbin lazy kate which is just what I needed. It’s built in and can be swung out to the side, with or without brake, right in line with where I want to pull from. I found the pull / tension of the traditional Louet drive set up somewhat difficult to deal with after having been used to the scotch tension. I tried everything I could think of to get it to lessen the pull onto the bobbin. As you can see from the picture I don’t even use the leather tension strap. I might if I was spinning a very bulky yarn or something thick and artsy but mostly I don’t even have it on at all. I don’t like to lubricate the brass cup that holds the orifice end of the flyer because it will produce a black gunk that is too close to my lovely yarn for my taste. I ended up padding the bobbin and threading the yarn through both of the flyer hooks. First over one side and then through the eye on the opposite arm of the flyer. It was probably a bit more abrasive to the yarn but the resistance caused by the yarn crossing over the bobbin of already spun yarn was just enough to lessen the pull and I was able to spin the yarn just exactly how I intended.

Highlights: A few of the Orders

For Breed Specific and Rare wools I had a commission the spin some Shetland Wool for a customer who is knitting Ranger by Jared Flood. I was challenged to spin a yarn that would give my customer the correct gauge, body and drape for the design. The yarn used by the designer for this project is “Shelter”.  First, I spent a few days of experimenting with small differences in the spinning technique and swatching, until I was able to spin a yarn that would behave just how I wanted for this design. Of course the choice of fiber was of paramount importance to this end and the Shetland wool was perfect. I see this cardigan needing a yarn with some body, not too soft and limp. It also needs to be bouncy and robust without being too scratchy at the neck and wrists. I worked a few more swatches to be sure I could get the gauge right and I had a plan   They love it!  Some Ontario Alpaca

For Kerstin at Alpaca Avenue – ladyolivia  on Etsy. I had the opportunity to spin some of Viola (fawn) and Lily( White), 100% pure Fine Ontario Alpaca fiber. It was heavenly. I did a 3 ply this time to make it thick enough to knit as a worsted weight. The fiber is so lovely and fine it kept wanting to be fingering weight but with 3 plies it works beautifully. Kerstin has already knit these super mitts.

We are also working on a project in Eastport Alpaca. I’ve spun some fingering weight yarn for Kerstin to knit Winterberry Hood by Carina Spencer.  This yarn is a 2 ply and is also hand painted in shades of Garnet from the Gaywool dye collection of colours.

I have one little skein, only about 1/4 of what I’ll need for my socks but I am very proud  of it and it was hugely satisfying to create. These socks will certainly qualify as “Slow Cloth“.

I am only just learning that there is a movement toward and a name for my own philosophy and passion in the my Fiber Art. I love the notion of slowing down in order to have quality rather than quantity in life. The idea that Fashion should be less dependent on rapidly changing trends and colors (fast money for the rich) and more about quality, sustainability, and thoughtfulness in design and materials. The things we create we  should make with care and there should be an expectation that they will have meaning to us. Herein lies great Joy in the creative process.

Slow Cloth

From Elaine Marie Lipson Red Thread Studio

Joy Slow Cloth has the possibility of joy in the process. In other words, the journey matters as much as the destination. Contemplation Slow Cloth offers the quality of meditation or contemplation in the process. Skill Slow Cloth involves skill and has the possibility of mastery. Diversity Slow Cloth acknowledges the rich diversity and multicultural history of textile art. Teaching Slow Cloth honors its teachers and lineage even in its most contemporary expressions. Materials Slow Cloth is thoughtful in its use of materials and respects their source. Quality Slow Cloth artists, designers, crafters and artisans want to make things that last and are well-made. Beauty It’s in the eye of the beholder, yes, but it’s in our nature to reach for beauty and create it where we can. Community Slow Cloth supports community by sharing knowledge and respecting relationships. Expression Slow Cloth is expressive of individuals and/or cultures. The human creative force is reflected and evident in the work. My Sock Yarn

I prepared a wonderfully soft and bouncy Polwarth fleece from New Zealand by a method I learned from Judith MacKenzie. You can read more about how I washed the fleece to prepare it for worsted spinning here and here.

Each lovely clean lock was flicked open at both ends and hand spun with the tip end toward the wheel to a very fine strand of yarn wherein all of the fibers were not only presented tip end first but all lined up parallel with just a bit of tension on the fiber as it twisted so that it would always be trying to regain the crimp that is natural to it, thus producing a nice elastic thread. When I had 3 bobbin done I plyed them together which resulted in a yarn that is a 3 ply worsted. It is elastic, soft and very durable. It is a little finer than my commercially spun sock yarn @ an average of 16 – 18 WPI.I can’t wait to cast on for my socks!

Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way individual Polwarth locks showing the 4 + inches of staple length The raw Polwarth fleece before any washing. Isn’t it wonderful, so clean.

I thought it was time to post an update to “Spinning the Spotted Fleece”.

The sweater now has a name. It will be called Jacob. I will probably do a pattern for it after I’ve knit it in another colour pattern for variety.

I’ve had quite a few orders for handspun yarns so the knitting is coming along rather slowly. I’m at the neck shaping. We tried it on and it’s within an inch of exact measurements which makes me very happy. That can definitely be worked out with washing and blocking.

Yesterday I got out one of the wonderful Polwarth fleeces I imported from New Zealand where they are able to produce some of the finest and highest quality wool in the entire world.

Polwarth

The Polwarth is not a rare breed but its fleece certainly has enough wonderful characteristic to make it a favorite among hand spinners, knitters and those who wear their creations. It is a dual-purpose sheep, developed in Victoria, Australia in 1880; they were first introduced into New Zealand in 1932. It has been crossbred to 75 percent Merino and 25 percent Lincoln. Polwarth wool is similar to Merino in softness but has a longer staple length and more sheen or luster. It is fine and soft, suitable for knitted or woven garments, knitting yarns and apparel, baby clothing and fine fibre blends that can easily be worn next to the skin. Polwarth wool is also excellent for felting. The fibers average about 23 microns and the staple length approx. 7.5-11cm (3-4.5in).

For the handspinner Polwarth fleece is a dream to spin. The softness combined with the longer fiber length and luster allow us the maximum pleasure and possibilities for preparation method, spinning technique and finished product for yarn or final garment.

Preparing the Polwarth Fleece

Because it is a medium length staple I was able to choose between woolen or worsted method for my preparation before spinning. This decision had to be made even before I washed it as there are different washing methods depending on whether one will be carding, combing or flicking the locks to open them for hand spinning. I decided that since I could do either, I would do some of each.

Woolen

A woolen yarn is airy and light, usually fuzzier with fibers going every which way and trapping lots of air. Woolen yarn is very warm but, in general, not as durable as a worsted yarn. The fibers are of various lengths and are carded to intentionally mix them up. It is spun by a method which should wrap this net of fibers around large pockets of air. The resulting yarn is light and springy.

Worsted

For worsted yarn the fibers are combed. This process will not only line up all of the fibers so they all go into the yarn in a parallel fashion but it

also rids the prepared wool of any shorter or broken pieces as well as all chaff and vegetable matter. The yarn is spun with the intention of keeping the individual fibers parallel, straight and smooth without any fuzzy texture. The resulting yarn is higher in luster and usually feels softer to the touch because there are less ends sticking out. It will be stronger, more durable, smoother and elastic if spun with the correct technique.

Washing for Woolen Preparation

I washed the fleece sections that I intended to spin into a woolen yarn in a large pot full of very very hot water and detergent (I used liquid Tide). I let it sit in the water for about an hour, squeezed out as much soapy water as I could gently, then carefully put it into another pot of clear *same temperature* water to rinse. I like to rinse until the water comes clean but it won’t hurt to leave a bit of detergent in the fiber as you will be washing your yarn when it is finished. This is similar to the way I wash in the machine. See this post.  I rolled the wool in a thick towel and applied pressure to draw out some of the water and spread the fleece on an old sheet to dry.

Washing for Worsted Preparation

I think this is important enough to have its own page (here) but I’ll give a summary on this one. There are several popular methods for washing individual locks of wool for worsted spinning but the one I find most efficient and appealing to me I learned from Judith MacKenzie. You can find her books & DVD’s at Interweave Press. Three Bags Full would be the one with this information in it. What a wonderful woman and oh, so knowledgable! I really enjoyed these videos. Individual locks are pulled from the fleece intact, sorted & laid out on an old piece of cloth side by side and tip to tip. They are then folded and immersed in soapy water, simmered on the stove, cooled and rinsed under the tap. Simply amazing results, see my pictures below. THANK YOU JUDITH!

Now, to do some spinning and I’ll get back to you with the results.

The raw Polwarth fleece before any washing. Isn’t it wonderful, so clean. Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way Folding locks of Polwarth fleece in cotton cloth for washing. Prepaing the Polwarth fleece locks for washing in worsted preparation Polwarth fleece locks laid out on cloth and folded ready for washing individual Polwarth locks showing the 4 + inches of staple length Polwarth wool locks washed and flicked with dog brush to open the fibers for spinning Polwarth fleece washed for woolen method in pot of hot water and detergent.