Flax for Sam

[The title brings to mind the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” which just made me sad, and I’m kind of wishing I chose a different title, but nothing else popped into mind so I’ll just have to deal with it.]

Finished sweater, pre-blocking

I have finished my first sweater! Huzzah!

[Pattern: Flax, from Tin Can Knits. Yarn: Ice Road Trucker from Fiber ‘n Ice]

I sort of feel like I did everything possible to keep from finishing this dang thing. I made a mistake on the shoulders, but soldiered forward. I realized I needed to make the body longer, after I had already finished that and moved on to the sleeves, so I had to frog the original bottom band and re-knit. Then, I took out the original collar, because the white yarn was acrylic and felt a lot scratchier than the superwash wool I used for the main sweater.

[That last was the most nerve-wracking, as the rest of the sweater was perfectly fine, but could have all been undone if I messed up when picking up the stitches from the body and then taking out the old collar — resulting in at least a month of work down the drain.]


It’s all finished! I’ve woven in the loose ends, closed up the small holes that form at the underarm of the raglan sleeves (that’s part of the actual pattern), and the sweater is currently blocking on one of my foam pads.

I’ll have a short reprieve before I start Joey’s sweater, simply because I have to wait until I find yarn at the end of April/beginning of May. Although my hands are happy to have a little break, my brain is super excited about getting to work on Joe’s sweater (and actually doing things right from start to finish).

[I also managed to set a whole bunch of skeins yesterday, as I was working from home. As you can see, I had a lot of things piling up on my to-be-set table. The small skeins are, largely, samples from the recent Fiber Farmer Market. So many pretties! I’m almost through spinning up all the samples — in between working on a big spin of alpaca and roving from Avalon Springs Farm.

Plus, here’s a picture of Alvin in his cat burrito. I had to take  him to the vet for a teeth cleaning, hence the teleworking. He did so well, the dental tech put stars and hearts on his file under the description for “how did the cat do?”]

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More Like Woolverine, Am I Right?

My workshop has become a little more dangerous, with the addition of my newest textile tool.viking-wool-combs-1

Wool combs.

Ah, yeah!

Up until this point, I have been working through my box of alpaca and Shetland fleeces with a pair of “wool combs” that I improvised out of a set of angel food cake breakers. cake-breaker

Don’t laugh. You might be surprised at how well they do actually work to help process the fiber. Unfortunately, their handles are designed for ease in working with angel food cake, not wool, so they aren’t entirely efficient, the tension of the wool pulling on the wool as you comb it can bend them ever so slightly, and the movement is not ideal for your wrists. So, I started looking around online for a pair of wool combs. I went back and forth about whether to just plunk down the money for a brand new pair, from a place like the Woolery. Eventually, I found a pair up for sale on Ebay. Though they weren’t brand new (the seller got them in the 80s), they hadn’t really been used much since then and looked like they were in excellent shape. I won the auction and waited excitedly for my combs to arrive.

And they are terrifying.

Looking at the pictures above, the cake breaker actually looks like it is sharper. However, you can safely handle the tips of the cake breaker tines without fear of serious injury. Not so, the wool combs. Those f*ckers are SHARP! I’ve already cut myself twice (impaled is probably more accurate), and I didn’t even notice when the worst of those two injuries happened! That’s right, folks, my combs are so sharp I didn’t even feel when one of them went a millimeter into my thumb. Thankfully, neither nick was serious – I’ve actually had worse, following an incident with a piece of plastic boning, a broken sewing machine needle, and my lip – but they were enough to make me slow down a little bit. These are some serious textile tools, and need to be handled with attention and care.

[It’s really important to remember that they are sharp tools of wool preparation, and not an excuse to pretend to be Wolverine. You’ll soon be sorry. And no, I didn’t get injured pretending to be Wolverine…I just know that I was tempted when I first picked them up.]

On the plus side, these work so much better for my Shetland wool than the cake breakers did! I feel like the alpaca does a little better with the cake breakers at the moment, but holy crap! Just a few passes on the combs, and the Shetland comes out so super fluffy!

I was already about halfway through processing the alpaca, with the combs. I’ve got a nice box of the fluffy alpaca sitting by my workbench and I started spinning a little of it the other day. I’ve decided that all of the fleece I buy at festival and process myself will be spun on the Ashford, and all of the commercially processed stuff will be spun on the Lendrum. I figure that I haven’t gotten my wool as clean as the professionals do, so this is a little bit like having a wheel for “in the grease”** spinning, and one for things like combed top and mill-processed roving.

**in-the-grease spinning refers to spinning wool that has not had the lanolin removed.

Irish Moss, starlings and dandy lions

[Note: I actually wrote this…oh, about two months ago, and promptly forgot about it. So here you go. A random yarn post, as I frantically try to finish up all the things I need to do before Christmas on Sunday!]

a pile of yarn, awaiting their bath

a pile of yarn, awaiting their bath

I have been working my way through my stash of roving at a fair pace, I suppose. Since the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, I have managed to finish several new skeins – a golden brown bamboo and thread mix (I had actually purchased the roving for that back at Maryland Sheep and Wool in May), and two different colorways from Hobbledehoy Yarn and Fiber. Plus, I had a couple of finished plys awaiting their final bath before being twisted into skeins.

We had one last blast of warmth after I returned from Portland two weeks ago, so I took some time to dunk the yarn in a bucket and set it out in the sun and breeze to dry.

I don’t have any fancy tools to help when setting the img_20161022_155007_496yarn…most of the time I just move an old pallet out into the sun and plop the wet yarn down on it. However, since the pallet hasn’t been sanded down and is left in the elements, it’s not the smoothest of surfaces, and it can snag the yarn when I move the skeins, so I don’t really like to use it that way.

This time around, I repurposed an old tomato cage as a makeshift drying rack. As I removed each skein from the bath and wrung it out lightly, I draped it over the top of the cage, careful to balance the weight distribution.

The cage worked pretty well, allowing air flow all around…though if the breeze is one-directional, I suppose the skeins hanging on the back side of the cage might take longer to dry.

I left everything out for several hours and took Mom out to try dinner at True Food (which may have just become my favorite restaurant). The temperatures dropped pretty quickly once the sun went down, and the air was feeling much less like fall and more like winter by the time we got home, but the extra wind seemed to work to my benefit, and most of the skeins were dry. (The one exception being the dang bamboo, which seemed to retain water more than the other fibers)img_20161023_022203_453

The list of newly finished skeins are:

  • Hobbledehoy Yarn and Fiber. Colorway: Dandy Lion. Merino/Silk mix. ___ yards, 2 ply. Spun from a 4 oz braid.
  • Hobbledehoy Yarn and Fiber. Colorway: Irish Moss. Merino/Silk mix. ___ yards, 2 ply. Spun from a 4 oz braid.
  • Colorway: no real name, but I’ve been referring to the finished product as Rumplestiltskin. 121 yards, 4 ply (chainplied bamboo with cotton/metallic thread). Spun from 1 lb bag of bamboo fiber, and two spools of crochet thread.
  • Kraemer Yarns. Colorway: Rose Gray. Alpaca/Merino mix (70/30). 152 yards, chainply. Spun from 4 oz.
  • Homestead Hobbyist. Colorway: natural. Finnsheep. ___ yards, chainply. Spun from a 4 oz. ball.
  • Knitted Wit. Colorway: unknown, but I have been calling it skittles. Polwarth/Silk mix (80/20). 146 yards, 2 ply. Fractal spin. Spun from a 2 oz braid.
Sadly, this picture doesn't capture the true color of this yarn.

Sadly, this picture doesn’t capture the true color of this yarn.

Next, I started work on some of the roving Mom purchased at Shenandoah: Starling, from HipStrings. It is extremely soft – merino and mulberry silk – and the color is beautiful. The base is black/extremely dark blue, with some lighter blue and purple streaks throughout the roving. When it is spun, the lighter colors become even more blended, but you get a beautiful shimmer in the light…just like the feathers of a starling. Mom bought two braids and I am finished spinning the singles in fairly short order. Before I started spinning the full braid, I made a small sample, showing her both a two-ply and a chainply, so she could decide how she wanted her yarn to look. She opted for a two-ply. The specs for her yarn are as follows:

  • Hipstrings. Colorway: Starling. Merino wool/Mulberry silk (75/25). 398 yards, 2ply. DK weight. Spun from two 4 oz braids.

I’ve also started processing the two fleeces I purchased at Shenandoah, albeit more slowly than I intended. I did a quick sample with those, as well, trying to decide how I want to spin them up. I’m still debating whether I want to spin the Shetland into a fine laceweight, or a fluffy worsted weight.

Decisions, decisions!

Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival

Angora goat

Angora goat

Mom, Robert and I drove out to the Winchester/Berryville area two weekends ago for the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. It was much smaller than Maryland Sheep and Wool, but I think it was the perfect size for the weekend – just enough vendors to give people options for yarn and roving and tools, but not so overwhelming that you couldn’t see them all in one day (though it was a near thing).

I went into this festival with a specific list of things to look for.

  1. A new spinning wheel – not because I need to replace my Ashford Traveler, but because I wanted something a little more portable to take to Stitch ‘n Time.
  2. A WPI (wraps per inch) tool for determining the size of my yarn.
  3. Spinner’s Control Card (preferably on the WPI tool)
  4. Roving to spin
  5. Metallic thread to ply with the bamboo singles currently on my Traveler.
  6. A raw fleece to process
Pygora goat kid

Angora goat kid

There weren’t as many booths with spinning wheels for sale as there had been at Maryland Sheep and Wool but, even with the smaller selection, there were a couple of really good options. There was one booth that had a Sidekick and a Ladybug from Schacht, another that had two Lendrums and a Spinolution Queen Bee, another that had a Louet that had only been used once, and another that had a much older Louet that had been well used.

Although each wheel does the same thing – spin roving into yarn – they each have a different feel to them when in use. My current wheel is a single treadle, which gets a little tiring when spinning for longer stretches of time, so I knew I was looking for a double treadle (you “peddle” with both feet). All of the wheels at the festival fit this basic guide, so then it came to the next qualifier: it needed to be portable. While the Louet I saw had a travel case, it bulkier in the case than I was really looking for, so I didn’t actually take it for a “spin.”


Katahdin sheep (a hair breed)

This left me with the Ladybug, the Sidekick, the Lendrum, and the Queen Bee. I tried out the Ladybug, which had the better price of the two Schacht options, but I wasn’t impressed with its treadling. It felt a little more unwieldy in the pedals, and had a bit of a dead zone. I really loved the Sidekick, though, which treadles much more like a bicycle than a regular wheel. It was on the list of possibilities, though I wasn’t crazy about the price.

I had been excited to try out the Queen Bee, as most of the Spinolution brands are treadled with the toes of your foot, rather than the whole foot – great for people who have ankle injuries. I also really liked the fact that it used a front hook, rather than an orifice, as most wheels have. I figured that would cut down on the amount of time I normally waste re-threading the orifice, after the fiber breaks or pulls through. In reality, though, I had the greatest amount of difficulty with this wheel. Treadling without spinning seemed to be fine, but once I attached a leader and tried to spin, it kept flipping back and forth between the different directions, or I would get it stuck in a dead zone, or the yarn would jump up over the edge of the flyer pegs and wrap around the outside of the flyer…nothing I did seemed to work. I was actually pretty sad, as I’d had great hopes for the Bee. I think, with a lot of patience and more work, I could probably  get it to work properly for me, but right then I was looking for something I could get started on a lot faster.

Angora goats

Angora goats

I hadn’t originally thought the Lendrum would be a serious contender in the auditioning of a new wheel, but the seller brought it down and my appreciation was almost immediate. The bobbins change out a lot easier than those on my Traveler, the double treadle is nice, and it folds up almost flat rather easily. The vendor mentioned that she spins primarily on a Lendrum, and she attached a guitar strap to it with two eyehooks, for easy transport. To sweeten the deal, the basic wheel (at that vendor) comes with a tensioned lazy kate and a niddy knoddy (adaptable for two different lengths), and a pound of fiber.

Needless to say, I left on the second day with the Lendrum.

Angora goats

Angora goats

There were a number of lovely roving options throughout the whole festival, but I eventually left with beautifully dyed selections from Hobbledehoy (colorway: Dandy Lion and Irish Moss) and HipStrings (colorway: Moonstone). HipStrings also happened to have the type of WPI tool I was looking for. I also stopped by the Gurdy Run Fiber Mill booth, which I realized supplied some of my favorite fiber at Uniquities. I had purchased all of the remaining roving in the colorway Nebulous, and spun it up for Mom, but it didn’t make as much as I think she needs for the project she wants. I asked the owner of the mill if she had any more in that colorway. She didn’t, but she can make more easily. I plan to get in touch with her after next week’s festival in Montpelier, VA.


Alpaca kiss!

I had hoped to pick up a Lincoln Longwool fleece at the sale (I fell in love with the breed at Maryland Sheep and Wool this year), but there was only one available that had been crossbred with a Border Leicester. I wasn’t pleased with the feel of the wool, so I went on to look for something different. I very nearly picked up a large fleece from a Horned Dorset, and another giant bag from a Jacob sheep named Poseidon (I had spoken with his breeder the day before), but I ended up opting for much smaller fleeces this go around. I’ve processed raw wool before, through Stitch ‘n Time, but never by myself. I picked out a bag of true black alpaca – it’s so SOFT! – and a small bag of fleece from a Shetland ram lamb named Coco Puff. With any luck, the rain will stop this weekend and I can wash both bags and leave them out in the sun to dry a bit.

Angora goat

Angora goat

One of the things Mom and I had looked forward to seeing at this festival was Junior, the Bactrian camel. I’ve seen Dromedary camels before, but never this breed, and I was excited for the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was not to be. For whatever reason, Junior never made an appearance. There were a few handlers there with some Dromedary camels, though, so at least we got a camelid fix.

Katahdin sheep

Katahdin sheep

We also got to see both Angora and Pygora goats, which have some of the softest hair you can imagine. I only saw one Jacob and a small flock of Katahdin sheep at the festival though, which I found a little strange. I guess this festival was all about the goats (and the two little alpacas over at one of the vendor booths).

Alpaca face!

Alpaca face!

In the end, the only thing on my list that I didn’t manage to find was metallic thread to ply with the bamboo, and even this was more of an “I found it but didn’t find it” type of situation. There was one booth that had what I was looking for, but not enough in the color I wanted. I figure this is one of the things that will be easy enough to find online or in a brick and mortar store nearby, so I wasn’t too concerned with not picking some up at the festival.

Spinning From Stash (and some little handcrafts)

As the days and weeks tick by and I’m still not done with the updates to my bedroom (the floor is clean and prepped for the concrete paint, and the walls and ceiling are finally painted – with just the touch-ups on the ceiling left) I find myself looking for little things to brighten the day and keep my hands busy.

The relocation of all the bedroom furniture to my usual workspace meant my sewing machine was stuck in a corner. I was able to find a small space to set up my spinning wheel (one of the great advantages of the Ashford Traveler wheel is that it doesn’t need a lot of space), and I made sure my stash of roving was still accessible. I finally worked through the 8oz of roving I had from Fat Cat Knits (colorway: Gaia), and then I moved on to a bag of green and brown Romney (with a little Suri alpaca mixed in) that I bought from Solitude Wool last year. Next up were two braids from Greenwood Fiberworks – these were revisits to a colorway I had spun last Christmas for Heather. I had found the colorway “Durango,” and thought it was ideal for her (We used to visit Durango back when we lived in Cortez). She had made a shawl using the yarn, but Mom informed me that there hadn’t been enough yarn to make the shawl entirely usable. Luckily, they happened to have two braids left at Uniquities (which is, sadly, going to close by the end of August).

[A note on the Gaia colorway: I loved the colors in the braid when I first picked it up and I debated keeping the gradient more or less intact when I spun it. But I was also curious as to how it would look if I spun it from a batt, so I borrowed the drum carder from the farm and made up several batts. I am pleased with the way the yarn came out, but I might go back and purchase more of this colorway, to see how it spins up straight from the braid.]

As I mentioned before, I don’t like to set my skeins until I have several I can do all at once. With the completion of the Gaia skeins, I felt like I had enough to do a batch. I filled a bucket with some warm water, a little bit of Euclan wool wash (I chose the grapefruit scent this time), and let them soak. After thwacking them, I hung them to dry on some spare trellises I had out front.

The fist set of skeins included:

  • Fat Cat Knits: Gaia: BFL
  • Frabjous Fibers: BFL and silk mix (unfortunately, I misplaced the original tag, and I don’t remember the colorway)
  • natural baby camel down
  • Wild Hare Fiber Studio: green/brown wild card art batte

Since I was focusing on spinning, I was able to add a bunch of skeins to the “to set” rack pretty quickly. The second set included:

  • Greenwood Fiberworks: Durango: Merino
  • Solitude Wool: Green/Brown: Romney with Suri Alpaca
  • Halifax, PA Farm: Nebulus: wool/alpaca/silk noile
  • Wild Hare: red/yellow wild card batte: wool/alpaca/linen/angelina mix
  • Gold: Targhee

From top to bottom: Nebulous colorway, green Romney/Suri, gold Targhee, red Wild Hare batte, Durango colorway

I’ve had the targhee for a while. I had spun it into a single, which I then plied with an unknown blue wool called “Kingfisher.” I ended up with a ball of single ply of the gold leftover. I recently purchased an andean plying tool, which allows you to make a two-ply yarn from a single source – which meant I was finally able to put that single-ply Targhee to use!

I’ve already used the first Wild Hare art batte (green) to make two pairs of fingerless gloves (with the baby camel down around the top and bottom, for added softness). The skeins of the Durango colorway went to Heather, to lengthen the shawl she had made using the first two skeins I gave her. The Nebulus wool from Halifax, PA went to Mom, to add to the skeins I had made for her for Mother’s Day this year.

This was taken back when I still had access to my sewing cabinet.

This was taken back when I still had access to my sewing cabinet.

Taking a short break from spinning, I started whittling away at some of the items on my hand-sewn projects list. I made a set of pattern weights for Maggie’s birthday back in June and was so pleased with how they came out (and of how they use up some of the smaller scraps in my stash) that I decided to make a few for myself. The first 13 use fabric that sort of reminds me of a 1930s calico chicken. Don’t ask me why. The second set uses a wacky print that found its way to me from a friend’s relative’s sewing-room-clean-out. I’ve used a small scrap of it before, to make a coaster for my mug at work (I was actually showing someone how to make a quilt, and it just so happened that the finished sample was big enough to make a coaster). It’s not a print I would have chosen by myself, but I’m actually very pleased with the way it looks in a finished product. Go figure.

If you’re interested in making some pattern weights yourself, I’m using this free pattern from Tea Rose Home. Each weight is made with a single triangle of fabric, but you can make each side a different color if you want. You would just need to cut off one of the little triangles and add a seam allowance on one side. I’ve been filling my weights with crushed walnut shells, which you can purchase at a pet store (they are used as litter for both birds and lizards). You can also purchase some through fabric and craft suppliers (sometimes scented with lavender) but you get better value with the pet store route.

#780-Farmer's Market. Sadly, this picture doesn't quite capture what the braid looked like before I spun it.

#780-Farmer’s Market. Sadly, this picture doesn’t quite capture what the braid looked like before I spun it.

Then, it was back to the spinning wheel. I spun up a small ball of Finnsheep roving I purchased from the Homestead Hobbyist at Maryland Sheep and Wool earlier this year (she had roving with the best colorway names, but I went with a natural color), and then moved on to a lovely braid of BFL/Tussah Silk from Frabjous Fibers (colorway: Farmer’s Market). I LOVED this colorway! Even though I purchased this fiber from Uniquities in Vienna, VA (before they went out of business this August – sniff!), it reminded me of all of the flowers and colors I saw when I visited Portland earlier this year for work: greens and blues and pinks and greens, with a little burgandy and white thrown in here and there. The BFL was wonderfully soft, and the silk added a delightful sheen to the fiber. I ended it up spinning it extremely fine (for me, anyway) onto two bobbins, and then making a tightly spun two-ply. It made a lovely fingering weight yarn that I now have to decide whether to give as a gift, or use for my own purposes.

I decided that I was going to spin the remaining fiber in my box in a pattern, of sorts, alternating between dyed fiber and natural fiber. Next up was a poofy pack of roving, also purchased from Uniquities before they closed, that is 70% alpaca and 30% merino. I had heard that alpaca is a little trickier to spin, due to its tendency not to hold onto itself. The merino adds just enough grip to make spinning a little easier…as long as I remember to add enough twist into it, and don’t make it too fine. I decided to spin these as lace-weight singles, and I’m pretty sure I know who they are going to for Christmas – but I won’t say here, as I don’t want to spoil that surprise.

I was a little surprised by the color I’m getting in the spun alpaca. The roving looks sort of grayish brown, but the spun singles look more gray on the bobbin than brown. Just another way fiber changes when it is spun.

The spinning is going a little slower at the moment, due to the continuing back problem I’m dealing with (and trying to be patient with!), but I am trying to work on a little bit each night. I need to chip away at the small stash of spinning fiber I have. Partly because it needs to be ready for Christmas, but also…Mom and I plan to go to the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival at the end of September, and I can’t fill the bin full of fiber if it is still so full of fiber!

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 2016

[While I continue to work on my room, here’s a little bit of festival fun from a few weeks ago.]

alpaca faceFor several years now I have heard the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival discussed, in tones both hushed and exuberant. I was regaled by tales of spinning wheels obtained for cheap through the auction, or bags of freshly shorn fleece ripe (in more ways than one) for the picking, and all the lamb and mutton-related foods one could hope to consume in a 48 hour period.

I was intrigued by the festival – both because I’m getting more and more into textiles, and also because I’m a folklorist and, well, festivals are part of my milieu, as it were – but I had not been able to attend Maryland Sheep and Wool before. The date always bumped up against my annual trek to Pennsylvania for Fairie Fest.



This year, for the first time since I’ve known about it, Maryland Sheep and Wool fell on a different weekend than Fairie Fest (which wouldn’t have mattered this year, anyway, as we didn’t end up going). I was ecstatic. At long last, I would experience this fiber festival first hand.

Mom and I headed out Saturday morning, a little later than I had hoped, me keeping a suspicious eye on the weather. The forecast had said it was going to be sunny (Mom kept insisting hers said “partly cloudy”), but it threatened rain for most of the drive up and even sprinkled a little while we were on the final road in to the festival.

Getting to the festival, once we were on the back roads, was a little time-consuming. The festival is held at the Howard County Fairgrounds and the roads leading up to it don’t seem to be quite up to the challenge of dealing with hordes of fiber loving festival goers. When we finally got through the gates and met up with my friend Casey…I was immediately distracted.

Constantly distracted.



So many fuzzy things! So many cute things! Such bright colors! All the beautiful knit and woven and crocheted and sewn and felted things!

We tried to enforce some semblance of order to our wanderings, but it was near impossible. Every where I looked, I was excited. Not to mentions, I had to touch all the things!

I was particularly taken with some absolutely beautiful (and GIANT) skeins of handspun alpaca yarn at one of the booths.

We went through a number of barns, weaving through and around rather sizable

spinning angora fiber

spinning angora fiber

crowds, fondling bits of yarn, and cooing over impossibly fluffy angora rabbits. We watched as a woman spun angora fur from a rabbit sitting on her lap. She would spin, reach down and comb the rabbit with her hands, and spin more fluff, and all the while the rabbit happily sat on her lap, enjoying the petting.

I probably could have seen more of the vendors at the festival if I hadn’t gotten so distracted by looking through all the pens at all the different kinds of sheeps, but…I’m not sorry I looked at the sheep. I’m used to seeing the Hog Islands, and even a few other breeds like Jacob sheep at area fairs, but this was an opportunity to see a multitude of breeds I had only read the names of on my spinning fiber labels.

That's my hand petting the giant sheep, by the way. I'm 5'4", for reference.

That’s my hand petting the giant sheep, by the way. I’m 5’4″, for reference.

Romney, Corriedale, Blue-faced Leicester, Merino…and so many more! I was particularly taken with the stunning Lincoln Longwools that I discovered in the corner of one of the barns. They are enormous, and their wool is a lovely variegated black/gray/cream color, all capable in one fleece. If I were to keep sheep, I think it would have to be Lincoln Longwool. Which is funny, considering they are almost as tall as I am.

I was actually very tempted to purchase an entire Lincoln fleece, spotted in one of the barn stalls. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the ability to sell it by pound, and instead were asking for a solid price for the entire fleece.

There were a number of different demonstrations and bobbin lacecompetitions and the like going on throughout the course of the weekend. We only managed to catch a little bit of some of the fiber arts demonstrations. This woman was using bobbins to weave lace. She seemed surprised when Mom knew what the bobbins were called and what they were for, which really shouldn’t have been a shock, considering we were at a fiber festival.

Plus, I have a feeling that the lady was probably the same age as Mom, but thought Mom was younger. That doesn’t mean younger folks don’t know what lace bobbins are, of course. But ageism works in both directions.

I had gone into the festival with specific goals, which I think helped combat a little of the effects of over-stimulation. I knew I wanted to pick up the following things, if at all possible:

  • bison spinning fiber
  • shawl pin
  • yarn bowl (for Mom)
  • some other kind of “different” spinning fiber
  • un-dyed roving

I ended up leaving the festival with afore-mentioned bison fiber (only 1/2 oz, as it is rare and pricey), 1/2 lb of bamboo fiber in gold, 1 oz baby camel down, and 4 oz of natural Finnsheep roving.

finnsheepThe Finnsheep was the highlighted breed this year, and I was happy to pick up some processed roving. I think it feels softer than the BFL that seems to flood the market these days, and I’m hoping it’s a little easier on my hands than teasing apart the Merino roving I sometimes work with. Apparently, the wool likes to felt. I’ll have to make a note of that on the tag when I finish spinning it.

Sadly, we didn’t get to all of the booths at the festival, and we didn’t get to any of the demonstrations or workshops (besides what we say in the barn with the lace making and angora rabbits), despite us staying until they were literally closing down on Saturday. That’s the trouble with only having one day to see everything…there’s just so much to see!

As with any first visit to any festival, I came away with some suggestions for visits in future years:

  1. If possible, schedule for the two full days of Sheep and Wool.
  2. If you can’t go both days, make sure you get there EXTRA EARLY on the one day you go, so you can make use of the entire time.
  3. If you live further than 30 minutes away, you might look into renting a hotel room for the weekend, so you don’t feel as tired trekking back and forth at the beginning and end of the day.
  4. It helps to have a clear list of the things you want to look for when you are at the festival – I knew I didn’t need to buy yarn this go around, as I’ve been spinning it myself. So I was able to convince myself to bypass some of the booths.
  5. Study the schedule ahead of time – if you know you want to catch a specific workshop or demonstration, make note of it and build in plenty of time.
  6. If you plan to purchase a lot, look into bringing a wheeled bag for your purchases. There is no guarantee that you will be parked anywhere near the front gate.
  7. Look into using a GPS marker for where you parked your car on the giant hill.
  8. Remember to take time to hydrate and eat something!

I’ve since spun up the baby camel (it was so soft!) and have started working with the bison – though I had to move that to my drop spindle, to deal with the challenge…it’s extremely light and pulls apart too easily for me to spin it on the wheel. I’m sure that more experienced hand-spinners than me can spin it on the wheel, but it’s currently a challenge that is a little far beyond me. So, onto the drop spindle it goes!

Keep Your Wheels A’Spinning

A few weeks ago, I had a surprisingly lazy Sunday – nowhere to go, nothing pressing to do, so I proceeded to ply the last little bit of the wool/alpaca/silk singles I had on my bobbin, and the last of the blue wool/silk blend I still had on my drop spindles and then, for good measure, card the last of the Hog Island fleece I still had on hand from the National Colonial Farm, and spin that up into thin little singles.

[When I bought some wool from a vendor at a farmer’s market last year, they asked if I was a spinner, or if I was planning to felt with it. I told them I had just learned to spin earlier that year, and worked with the wool from the sheep on the farm where I worked. The lady asked what kind of sheep we raised, and I responded “Hog Islands.” Her eyes got big. “You learned to spin with Hog Islands? You’ll find this a breeze, then.” Which, yes, I kind of do. When you’ve spun up Hog Island wool, especially  the kind that is not commercially processed, there is a bit of a learning curve…but I feel like the same is true of a number of different kinds of breeds. For instance, I know a lot of people LOVE spinning Merino. I don’t. At least, not as much as some of the other breeds. A lot of the Merino roving I get is hard to tease apart, and my hands hurt if I work on it for very long.

I understand that the Hog Island can be difficult for people. It’s a much shorter staple length (though one of our sheep gave a lovely 2.5″ fleece this year) and the Hog Islands attract burrs and thorns and stray vegetable matter like nobody’s business – seriously, they’re like velcro! – but I’ve found that the wool also tends to stick to itself better when adding new pieces to the singles that you are spinning, which made it easier for me when I was first starting out. I did a lot of spinning on drop spindle when I was first learning, and the Hog Island was my best friend during that period. It was easy for my hands to tease apart, and it was easier to add little bits of fluff when a spun strand was too thin, which helped me learn how to spin more evenly. I may appreciate the softness of alpaca, or the fluffiness of Blue-faced Leicester, but Hog Island will always hold a special place in my heart.]

Five skeins of wool, awaiting their thwacking

Five skeins of wool, awaiting their thwacking

The Hog Island was a little more work than usual this time around, as this was the wool we had experimented with processing for lanolin. Needless to say, that day ended up very long, smelly, and not at all productive. Instead of processing all of the lanolin out of the wool, it just redistributed it into little clumps. Which meant that I had to do a good job of teasing some sections of the wool apart.

The last little bit of the wool is finally all combed out, though, and the singles are oh so tiny and fluffy. I decided, with this batch and the tiny bit of turmeric-dyed wool I spun about two weeks ago, to leave in the little fluffy puffs that normally get pulled out as waste. I kind of like the way the yarn looks when these are left in and plied together.

I have been debating whether to do a two-ply or a chain-ply with the Hog Island singles. While the two-ply would give us something more akin to lace weight, I think it might be better to give this the stability of a three-ply. Otherwise, I’d be worried about it breaking.

It’s been a while since I had some time to sit down and devote to spinning, and it feels good to have several skeins all done around the same time. I don’t like to “finish” single skeins – that is, set the twist. I figure, if I’m going to be wetting and whacking and drying a single skein, I might as well do the same to several of them all at once. Especially since I use a fancy wool wash when I get them wet.

Turmeric-dyed Hog Island Sheep wool, drying in the sun

Turmeric-dyed Hog Island Sheep wool, drying in the sun

What is “finishing” or “setting the twist” you ask? It’s exactly that…setting the twist in your yarn. When you spin a single, you’re twisting the fibers in one direction. When you ply several singles together, you then twist them together in the opposite direction. It’s very easy to overspin both the singles and the plied strands. When you do this, you can end up with yarn that twists back up on itself. Setting the twist, or finishing, is a step where you get your handspun damp, spin the unrolled skein around in the air, and then hit it against something. This process helps to redistribute some of the twist through the yarn, making the finished product look more even. When the yarn is dry, it’s ready to go!

Some people hang weights from the bottom of the damp skeins as they dry, but I don’t.

Of course, I also like to let my yarn dry out in the sun, and we’ve been seeing precious little of the sun these past couple of days. So it’s back to the old standby of setting the twist and then leaving the skeins to dry on a towel stretched across my washer and dryer. I think I’ll help them along a little with the hair dryer.

With these bits finished, I’ve only got two more bags and one braid of roving left to spin…just in time for Maryland Sheep and Wool next Saturday! 😉

The finished skeins of “Nebula” found their way to Mom this year, as a Mother’s Day gift. This is keeping with a theme from last year, when she received my first ever skein of (single-ply) yarn. Let’s just say that this year’s gift looked a lot better.