Almost Gone

I’m so close I can taste it.

SOAR starts on Sunday and I’m in the throes of packing the junk of doom to take with me. I’m driving because I can and I can’t wait to have a car available to me. I missed that last year.

I have a lot to do and I gotta go do all those things…like find a flier for one of my spinning wheels…


Just Another Winter In The Midwest

Last weekend it was raining and melting everything, this weekend it is much more like a normal winter weekend….cold cold cold.

But in the past month we have found 28 geocaches, which is a personal record for January.  I’m still shaking my head as most of them were found on a local cache run and we broke our finds in a single day at 21.  Okay we are not into number runs, we like taking our time and enjoy the journey.   We still haven’t decided what our goals are for the upcoming year.

Currently I’m gearing up for the Ravelympics 2010.  I currently have 2 projects set up, spinning merino for the Elizabeth Zimmermann Nether Garments.  I’ve made a pair before so I’m looking forward to making a handspun pair for myself.  And my on the road knitting project will be Madrid Fingerless Mitts with some absolutely beautiful yarn spun by my swap partner from Enchanted Knoll Treasure Chest Batts.

That’s the bottom skein.  I have some lovely ruby colored beads to go with them.  I still need to swatch before the event start to make sure that the colors don’t clash.

Since I’m going to be spinning plain, white yarn I’m desperately spinning very colorful yarn until the Ravelympics starts

The top yarn is Patches Memory blend that I run out of  edging my shawl last fall and the bottom bit of lusciousness is also from Enchanted Knoll.  It is Pumpkin Juice Wildcards.  Oh my much prettiness coming to a sock near me!

I have also have used more than just the 30″ Reeves recently.

The Majacraft Alpaca wheel has been dusted off and I’m spinning some serious worsted with it.  I’m finding while my lovely Reeves handles very fine yarns well and long draw well, I have an easier time with worsted on a scotch tension wheel.  Notice I’m using the wild flyer and the regular bobbins.  I also spun some super bulky finn singles on my Louet S10 and plied them using the wild flyer and the large bobbins simply because the S10’s orifice barely handled the singles.

The fiber on the Alpaca you ask.

You mean this fiber?

Pygora/Fine wool punis from Rainbow Yarns Northwest that I bought at SOAR.  I fell down hard at Terry’s booth there and brought home lots of drool-worthy pygora fiber.

I’m also hoping to spin up this lovely batt from Dyakcraft before the opening ceremonies.  I traded some fiber with a friend for this batt.  Wow is all I can say right now.

So I’ll be spinning colorful items or weaving on this.

Yeah, not done yet…still working…

Bond-A Recent Import

Thomas the Bond

Originally uploaded by Lowder Colours

My first encounter with Bond, also called the Commercial Corriedale, was a sheet of samples mailed to me from Australia by Cyril Lieschke. The fine, moorit and silver wool samples immediately caught my eye and I ended up selecting a silver one to be shipped to me from his station in New South Wales.

The Bond breed was developed in Australia by Thomas Bond around 1909. He bred his Saxon/Peppin Merino ewes to imported Lincoln studs to produce a line that suited his environment in eastern Australia. The breed is known today for it’s large frame, it’s high fertility and on average produces more wool in a finer micron than Corriedales. Lambs reach market weight quickly and have a desirable carcass.

The wool is long stapled and ranges from 22-29 microns and in appearance looks like corriedale, except finer. Moorit Bond has become available here in the US thanks to the work of Gleason’s Fine Woolies who imported some of Cyril’s stock in 2000. As a result, other farms have been able to add Bond and Bond cross’ to their flocks.

Bond; moorit, white, silver, no matter the color, this wool is bound to please.

Romney-The Staple Of New Zealand

Romney sheep

Originally uploaded by Peter Nijenhuis

The other day I bought some lamb chops. Since it was just listed as New Zealand lamb I cannot say for sure, but likely the breed was Romney. The estimates I was able to locate are over 10 years old, but I would venture that it is safe to say that over 50% of the sheep in New Zealand today are Romney.

The Romney breed originates in the Romney Marshes of Kent, England. The breed is noted in its resistance to hoof rot, liver flukes, and having a fleece that is not damaged by wet weather. Traditionally it is a dual purpose breed producing one of the finer and shorter longwools as well as having a good carcass. The wool is a major player in the New Zealand carpet industry as well as many household fabrics. New Zealand lamb has been exported since the late nineteenth century and has a long history of shipping both fresh chilled and frozen meat worldwide.

The first Romney was first brought into the US in 1904 and the American Romney Breeders Association was established in 1912. It never gained the popularity other breeds did as much of the best range-land is in the dry western US, but it had one thing that made it very popular and continues to be important for handspinners, naturally colored individuals. Romney has proved to be popular to cross breed to introduce both the good meat traits and the natural colored wool. Genopalette is one farm that has done just this crossing Merinos and Romney’s to produce a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors. In addition, this wool is very kind to beginning spinners. Not too slick and not too fine it is grabby enough to hold together but not so grabby that it is difficult to draft. It is also easy to process. The fleece does not have a high amount of lanolin. Add to this all the gorgeous colors it comes in and it becomes attractive to the handspinner to not only start out their spinning career, but to continue spinning it time and time again.

Washing Merino (or Other Fine Wools)

Well, its about time I introduce you to how I wash greasy wool. Originally I planned to do this all with pictures. But since my kitchen is in a perpetual state of clutter I thought it best not to take pictures.

First of all examine your fleece you want to wash. Take it out of its bag, roll out on a sheet and examine it. This is the opportune time to remove large pieces of vegetable matter (vm), second cuts and any stuff that really not worth washing.

I then take 6-8 oz worth of fiber and place it in small drawstring top lingerie bag and close tightly. I then take a large stockpot that is dedicated to washing wool and fill it up about 2/3’s full with the hottest water I can get from our tap. It comes out about 120-140 degrees. I then place it on my stove with the burner on low. Just low enough to keep the water at 140-150 degrees. If the water at your house doesn’t come out of the tap that hot, allow the water to heat up to at least 140 degrees.

I use Dawn dishwashing liquid to wash my wool. With hard water I find that it does the best job. I have tried Orvus paste in the past, but it is better as a wetting agent and not for actually removing grease at least with my water situation. You will need to experiment how much Dawn to use, once again the hardness and pH of your water is going to affect how well how well it works. About 4 seconds worth of squirting is what I use. I then mix it up and check my water temperature.

Once it is hot enough and the detergent is well mixed in the water I drop my bag of wool in. I try and let the wool sink into the water on its own, but will push the last little bit and start my timer for 10 minutes.

After the time has elapsed, I then dump the entire pot into my top loading washer, set it to spin. While the wool spins out I start filling the pot for the second wash. Most every wool I wash needs two washes, some will take more though. Repeat this process for the second wash and then check the wool. Is it still greasy or dirty? Then a third wash will be needed.

Once the wool is clean then you will want to rinse the batch. I simply fill the stockpot with hot water from the tap, push the wool down into it and then spin in the washer. Once again, rinse twice and check. If there is still some soap residue then rinse again. On the final rinse you will want to set your washer for a full spin only cycle. You are only using the washer to remove water from the wool.

After washing all the wool, I then take it to my basement where I have a screen set up for the wool to dry on. Spread it out and allow it to dry. After it is dry you will want to shake it out over the screen to allow more of the vm to fall out.

That’s it! It takes time and those pots get heavy so if you have a bad back it might not be such a good idea to use a large stockpot, but you will need to cut down on the amount of wool you wash at one time if you use a smaller one. Maybe a better idea is to send it out to someone else to process. Personally, I prefer to wash most of my fleeces myself, even if I later send them out to be made into roving. By doing that I run the risk that the processor will re-wash the fleece if I don’t wash it well enough, but that hasn’t happened very often.

I spared myself holiday knitting and weaving. My niece was the only one to get anything handknitted and that’s been done for over 6 months. It was a baby surprise jacket that I had bought and promptly lost 2 sets of buttons for. I decided that the jacket was not meant to have buttons on it and gave it to her before she outgrew it.

I finally ran out of yarn for the main body of the Falling Leaves scarf. I now have started the edging and have finished the first short side and the corner heading up the long side.

The PI shawl with the Shetland/Shetland blend also got some progress done on. I’m up the 96 row stage! That means I will work about 50 rows and then start the edging. I did move it over to a 47″ circular needle out of self preservation. Elizabeth Zimmerman may have been happy to work it on a 29″ needle, but I certainly am not! At least not yarn as thick as I’m working with.

Happy New Year everyone and may it bring you joy and promise. The dogs and I have a lot of work ahead of us this coming year. Agility, obedience, rally and flyball. We have goals, but nothing is set in stone, we will have to see how training progresses.

As you can see, I have my work cut out for myself.

Merino-What is all the fuss?

Of all sheep breeds, Merino produces the finest fleece. Actually today, Merino is a group of closely related breeds, but we will speak of them as a unified group.

There are lots of ways to prepare merino to spin it. Let’s start with a basic lock of washed merino.

One of my favorites is simply washing and flicking the locks open. The tips on this particular merino fleece were rather weak.

This takes time, a lot of time. Margaret Stove’s book on Merino concentrates on spinning superfine yarns from prepared locks. Her book is out of print in the US, but still available through her website.

Not quite as time consuming is combing. Here is some top I prepared using my Louet mini combs.

In some ways, this produces a better product, removing shorter fibers and leaving uniform length fibers behind.

Carding produces a different product. The shorter fibers are all blended together, so if the tips break off you end up with neps. It doesn’t matter if you are handcarding or drumcarding. Take a look at the close up and you should see the neps.

But for the time constrained, the lure of buying commercial prepared rovings is seemingly a bargain. And in a lot of ways it truly is.

Merino top is readily available, click on pretty much any supplier and they should not only have merino top in stock, but in several bright colors and maybe even some handpaints to choose from.

If I told you where I got this I would have to kill you. Just kidding, this is roving from Thomson Merino in Wisconsin.

And this is hand painted merino roving from Franquemont Fiber.

Superwash merino is merino fiber that has been treated in some way to prevent it from felting. So don’t make a bag from this stuff and expect it to full nicely in your washer, it won’t. But in my experience, superwash will still felt, but nothing like untreated merino. It also takes dye slightly differently than its untreated brethren. Visually, it is hard if not impossible to tell the difference between superwash and non-superwash merino.

Then in the strictly decadent section is hyperfine merino. 15 micron that there is no doubt that you can knit yourself a bikini from and have nary an itch. (Not that I would ever consider wearing a bikini, never the less a handknitted bikini.) Save this for fine lace, baby wear and at over $6 an ounce a little goes a long long way. Okay, so your friends may call your yarn froghair, but there are many worse things they could say.

There are a few small mills that offer great service and do a good job with merino. Morro Fleece Works, Stonehedge Fiber Mill, and Zeilinger Wool Company are just three that come to mind.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the many other fibers merino is blended with such as silk.

This roving is from Chasing Rainbows. (Hint, hint, Nancy you need a website!)

And this 50% Merino 50% Silk batt is from Franquemont Fibers.

Oh and how about cashmere.

Yes Merino/Cashmere from Chasing Rainbows.

This is just a taste of what is out there. Don’t fear Merino, embrace it. Once you have a feel for the wheel or spindle try it and don’t be afraid to fall in love with it.

Merino: The Golden Fleece

Merino, the word has almost became a trademark. I dare you to walk into any yarn shop and find a yarn that specifies the breed of sheep other than “Shetland” or “merino”. Okay, shops like The Fold don’t count, Toni was a spinner before she was a knitter.

Many new spinners are warned away from trying the fiber by horror stories of fleeces that won’t get clean no matter how you wash it, that it felts if you look cross-eyed at it, it is hard to draft, yadda yadda. It is more difficult to work with other breeds, but not the horrors that people say it is. Margaret Stove’s book Handspinning, Dyeing and Working With Merino and Superfine Wools has been really helpful, but some of her ways of explaining may take more than one read through.

Merino wool has the finest diameter of any of the groups of sheep breeds. It appears the breed originated in arid regions, possibly in North Africa. While the obscurity of its beginnings clouds its history, its recent history is much better documented. Merinos were valued to the point of having a death sentence for smuggling them out of Spain. But eventually they made their way out of the Iberian Peninsula and spread through Europe where they were then transported to other continents.

Merino has provided a large chunk of genetics for breeds such as Rambouillet, Targee, and Corriedale among others. It still finds its best home in arid regions. In saying that, there are many people who raise merinos in more humid regions. In the US some coat the fleeces, some do not. Australia contains the largest flocks of merinos in the world where it is a important to their economy.

Handspinners who choose to start from scratch with merino need to realize that there is a lot of grease in a merino fleece, about 50% of the total weight of the fleece washes out. Merino can be spun with just a cold soak and then spun, but it is more difficult. Margaret Stove in her book gives examples of what could be the result of spinning in the grease then washing afterward. In a future installment we will cover washing fine breed fleeces.

Merino is mainly found in white, but don’t fret if you are looking for naturally colored animals, they are out there, just harder to find. These fine fleeces are best for next to the skin garments and baby wear. Merino, especially superwash treated merino, has become very popular for sock yarn, but don’t forget to reinforce the heels and toe as it does not resist abrasion as well as other wools.

Merino, indeed the Golden Fleece. With care merino can become incredible yarn and garments.