IS #62: Drum Carder Explorations

Remember that Southdown fleece I washed a while back? I’m still trying to figure out the best way to prepare it to make a yarn I want to spin. Since I’ve rented my guild’s drum carder, I gave it a go on that.
IMG_5868This was my first time carding anything, really, so I probably overloaded the machine a little bit. See all those fibers sticking to the smaller licker-in drum on the left? They shouldn’t be there.
And even though there was still a lot of vegetable matter (VM) left in the batts themselves, the carding process also removed a ton of the stuff (as evidenced by my now icky tabletop).
IMG_5870But I have to admit, I was really not a fan of the amount of VM remaining in the batts. Because anything caught in a batt will likely make it into the finished yarn, especially if the wool you’re working with is a short, fuzzy, sticky, down breed.
IMG_5911So even though the finished skeinlet puffed up adorably with washing, I’m really not pleased with the VM in it. HOWEVER, after doing a little research on the ever-helpful Ravelry boards, it seems like people have had good luck with flicking open Southdown locks and spinning straight from the lock. Alternatively, people will flick open locks prior to carding in order to open up the fibers and remove the VM. This is what I will try next, I think.
But first, I wanted to cleanse my carding palette with a blend that is basically the opposite of Southdown wool: baby alpaca (natural) and silk (dyed)! I used about 5 oz of alpaca and 1.3 oz of silk, mixing them together on the carder in small bunches. I also added a teensy bit of white firestar, for occasional sparkle. The photo above shows one bunch after its first pass through the machine.
Once I had passed several bunches through, I began tearing them into chunks and combining random chunks from different bunches (very technical terms, here) together and running them through a second time to further blend the fibers.
IMG_5942I ended up with 10 delightful little batts (weighing between 0.5 oz and 0.7 oz each) that are basically airy, fluffy, silky bundles of joy. Seriously, they are instant happiness. I couldn’t resist spinning a bit of it up right away.
I am really going to love this yarn, guys. Truly. I’ve learned a couple of useful things from my messing about. 1- Don’t throw too much fiber on at once, and hold it back a little on the feeding tray so it doesn’t all rush in and jam up. 2- I should’ve run some kind of bristle brush over the top drum while it was spinning to pack the fiber in more, I ended up using my hand which was less than comfortable at times. 3- Baby alpaca fibers get absolutely everywhere. Everywhere. Don’t wear black while carding or spinning, for realz.
I also found a few helpful and fascinating drum carder tutorials. Here are some great tips on drum carding a fleece from Osborn Fiber Studio (such cute little batts!). There’s also a wonderful three-part tutorial on drum carder basics on the Vampy blog that ends with a demonstration of how to create blended and gradient batts. And there are a couple of truly inspiring examples on the SpinStar’s blog of the batts she created by following the Vampy tutorial and the pretty yarns she spun from them.
What’s been inspiring you lately? Leave a link in the comments to share with us!

Spinning My Wheels

So I went to the Rhode Island Spinner’s Guild meeting last weekend and this happened:


Borrowed drum carder!

I’ve been curious about trying out drum carders for a while and the Guild has one its members can rent so this not-so-little-guy is living with me for the month. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a pretty busy month but I think I can find a bit of time to card up some odds and ends and see how I like the process. I’ve already used the drum carder on some of my Southdown fleece and I can see how it would be a big time-saver when processing a lot of fiber at once.


Carding Southdown wool.

In other spinning-related news, I started on the 6 oz of alpaca from Long Island Livestock Company that I want to spin as a birthday gift for my mom (one of my February goals). I had never spun alpaca before and all I have to say is: wow, I love it. I had heard that alpaca was difficult to spin, that its longer, smoother fibers gave people trouble, but I’ve experienced none of that.


Beautiful, chocolate brown alpaca.

That bobbin represents about 2 hours of spinning, during which I spun 1/3 of the fiber I have. Honestly, it felt almost effortless. All I did was fluff up the roving width-wise to get more air into the rather densely-combed fibers and poof! Instant yarn. I can’t wait to spin the rest of it.

What are your experiences with either using drum carders or spinning alpaca? Tips? Pros/cons?


IS #50: The Llama Life

This week’s inspiration comes from a visit to the Long Island Livestock Co. in Yaphank, New York. The owner, Tabbethia Haubold-Magee, is the only person breeding and raising llamas on Long Island and travels up and down the east coast shearing sheep, llamas, and alpacas on other small hobby farms. You may have seen her booth at Stitches East, which is where I first came across her yarns. Here’s a brief but informative article about her company. She hosted an open farm day last week and my parents and cousin and I enjoyed meeting all of her animals.


Clockwise from top left: sweetest sheep ever, regal llama, cute alpacas, my parents with the llama.

That sheep was the friendliest sheep, ever. She came right up to me and practically started to doze while I scratched her chin for a good 10 min. So sweet! My parents got a real kick out of seeing all of the animals, especially since they only barely understand my fiber obsession. It was fun to see my dad getting into the tours. Did you know that unlike sheep who poop anywhere, llamas only poop in specified places? Now you do! (That was my dad’s favorite tidbit.)


Clockwise from top left: Mama and baby llama, llama I will always call Elvis (no matter his real name), and another regal-looking llama.

I really loved that Elvis-looking llama.


Clockwise from left: pig and puppy, Megan and me petting a llama, baby llama playing peek-a-boo between the adults (see the tiny head?).

Tabbethia opened her home to us as well, providing hot cocoa and cider and other refreshments and allowing us to play with her adorable little puppy and pet pig. And finally, we did a little shopping in the store below her home.


On the left is 6 oz. of alpaca mixed with nylon sparkle that my mom wants me to spin into yarn for her. On the right is a gorgeous alpaca/merino blend mixed with some turquoise sparkly stuff that I’ve been eying at different festivals and finally purchased. Tabbethia also carries amazing, lanolin-based skincare products, which you can purchase from her website. My favorite is the honey almond body butter, which will hopefully be added to the site soon after the redesign is finished.

In short, I’m completely inspired by (and more than a little jealous of) Tabbethia’s work: raising animals, shearing them, working with local wool cooperatives, creating natural skin-care products, promoting animal and fiber education, traveling to all sorts of fiber festivals, and producing beautiful fibers and yarns.

Do you have a favorite small farm or local yarn producer? What’s been inspiring you lately? Feel free to link to your own post in the comments and share!


My First Time, Part 1

I realized when I talked about watching the video on fleece processing yesterday that I never shared my own fleece-washing experience with you! I started this post way back in mid-August but things got busy with my manuscript and here we are. Like many new things, my first fleece-washing experience was mildly terrifying, kind of confusing, and a little bit messy — but overall, it was just fine. There is a plethora of information available on how best to wash a fleece. I suspect that they all work equally well and whichever is best depends on what you are working with (equipment-, fleece-, and patience-wise). Now that I’ve seen Judith’s video, I’d recommend watching that first because I was a bit of a nervous wreck thinking I would ruin the thing at every step and she very calmly talks about the whole business in a way that make it seem much less daunting. For reference, here’s what I did for my first fleece.

Click for photo source.

Breed: American Southdown. Obtained: Fresh off the sheep at a farmer’s market in June 2013. The shearer picked it up, felt it, and said something like “this is probably about 3 or 4 pounds” then stuck it in a bag and I took it home.


Fresh off the sheep!

Pre-washing prep: I sorted through the fleece and took out the really nasty bits since it had not been skirted. The short fibers near the legs are usually covered with dung tags and other unpleasantness, so it’s best to get rid of them. I also laid mine out on a garbage bag in the sun for a day or so to let it dry off because it was humid from the animal and the heat. I’ve since read that fibers can be damaged in direct sunlight, so this might not have been the best idea and I believe it allowed a lot of vegetable matter to settle into the wool from nearby trees, so I likely will not be doing this next time. I sorted the fleece into paper grocery bags and stored it in a shed until I had the time and the right weather  to wash. I did the paper bag thing on the vague notion that wool likes to breathe but I think it probably runs the risk of attracting critters this way so I wouldn’t recommend it for long-term storage.


After two months in storage — that yellow is likely lanolin that has crystallized (which is hard to get out) but could also be something called canary stain, which is caused by a bacteria.

Cold soak #1: I live in an apartment building with a bit of grass outside. My Fiasco uses a neat connection hose to fill his fish tank from the kitchen sink so we used the same thing hooked to an outdoor hose to fill two 18 gallon tubs with cold water. I split the fleece roughly in half, pushed the wool under the water gently, and let it soak for a half hour.



Drain: Next, the Fiasco tipped the tubs while I rather inelegantly held the wool back with my arms to drain. This was trickier than it sounds. The water was tipped directly into surrounding flower beds, which is supposed to be great for them. We then used a handy window screen upon which we spread the wool to drain while we refilled the tubs.


Draining, and much cleaner already!

Cold soak #2: Repeated the first cold soak, this time breaking the wool up more and swishing it around a bit as I put it back in the tubs. Drained again.

Cold soak #3: Out of paranoia of clogging my washing machine with dirt, I decided to cold soak the fleece once more for another half hour and drained. I then prepared for the hot wash by sorting the fleece into about a dozen small-ish lingerie bags. (I did the bags initially, then realized they did not really help at all. Too much fiber in the bags, too many clumps not getting clean enough. I DON’T recommend using the bags.)


Hot soak, in bags.

Hot wash #1: According to Spinderella, water needs to be around 150 degrees F to remove lanolin from the wool, and should not drop below 100 deg F. I have no idea what temperature my water was but others have just used the hottest water that came out of their washing machines so that’s what I did, too. I filled the machine with hot water (on soak) and mixed in a bit more than 1/2 cup of Dawn liquid detergent. Then I placed half of the bags of wool in the water and let it soak for 20 minutes.  Avoid agitating the wool at this point because it can cause felting. (I suspect I could’ve done the same thing with hot water from the sink in the tubs outside but didn’t feel like sticking my arms in scalding hot water to drain.)


Spun out.

Drain: Your washing machine should have a rinse and spin cycle. Make sure you SKIP the rinse cycle and go straight to the spin. This will drain the water out. You don’t want to rinse as that will agitate the fibers, plus if your machine rinses with cold water it could felt the wool.

Hot wash #2: Removed the wool from the washer, wiped the wash basin clean, and refilled with hot water and this time a bit less than 1/2 cup of soap. Placed the wool back in and soaked for another 20 minutes. Drained as before.

Hot wash #3: At this point, my wool still looked pretty dirty and this is when I realized that the lingerie bag plan was crap. So I refilled with hot water, used about 1/4 c of soap, then removed the wool from the bags and put it in the machine, gently breaking up clumps as I went. I also swished the wool in the water a bit (with gloves on since it was hot!), felting be damned. Drained as before.


Cold-soaked wool on left, wool that’s been through the hot soak/wash process as well on right.

Vinegar rinse: Removed the wool from the washer, wiped the wash basin clean, and refilled with hot water and this time 1 cup of white distilled vinegar. Waited 15 more minutes, then drained as before.


That’s a lot of wool!

Drying: I bought three cheap sweater-drying racks and placed these outside, out of direct sunlight this time. (Also, by this point it was early evening. Ha! Note to self: begin wool washing before noon.) I spread the wool out and fluffed it up a bit to dry and left it outdoors overnight.

After all that work and worry, my fleece is clean and unfelted, so yay! It still has some yellowish coloring to it and there is a heck of a lot of vegetable matter in there but there is not much I can do about that. I’ve learned from the video I watched (see resources below) that I probably could’ve sorted my fleece better beforehand and saved myself some trouble only washing the best bits. But considering I completed the process without 1) felting the wool or 2) breaking my washing machine, I’m calling it a win.

Fleece-washing resources: