A Spinnerific Start

I decided to start this week off right by sprucing up the spinning info on this blog. Firstly, I updated the blog pages to include one specifically about my ongoing Spinner’s Study with links to related blog posts for each breed of sheep explored. I also updated my tabs for handspun WIPs and FYs and my 2013 fiber and knitterly goals. Next, I realized that I was so engrossed when I got my wheel that I haven’t even updated you on the fiber I received for the holidays yet! So I’m going to try to catch up on all of that now. (Buckle up, there’s quite a bit.)

My parents gifted me with enough fiber to basically double my stash, which is crazy but awesome! I’m particularly excited about the above braids of fiber because they are all from Scandinavian or British breeds of sheep with much different characteristics than your standard fine Merino wool. It will be an exciting challenge to spin these into different yarns, which I’m even more eager to start after reading Pure Wool, a book entirely about using UK single-breed yarns. The Two Sisters Stringworks etsy shop has an interesting variety of breeds that I encourage you to check out. Fibers #1 and #2 are Gotland, which I spun for my Spinner’s Study and really enjoyed. Fibers 3 & 4 are Icelandic, which I have also sampled before, and fiber #5 is something I haven’t tried yet, Welsh Mountain wool. I’d like to get my hands on a pair of combs first, though, so these might have to wait a little while.

I was particularly touched when the Fiasco’s uncle made a trip over to Alder Brook Farm in Connecticut to find yarn and fiber for me. When trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas he asked the Fiasco “she’s really into this spinning thing, huh?” and since the answer was yes, he went out and got me 14.5 oz of Romney wool and a skein of handspun yarn from the farm! (As well as an antique spinning wheel flyer, not pictured.) The fiber is really, really nice and I’m excited to see how much yardage I can get from it, I’m sure it’ll be enough for a large project… maybe even a sweater or vest?

Again from my parents, the above fiber is from a new-to-me etsy shop, The Wacky Windmill. Numbers 1 & 2 are blends of 70% superwash Merino wool and 30% SeaCell (a cellulose fiber derived from seaweed) in “The Shire” and “Bugsy”. She has some really fun colorways that I think will make interesting yarns. Number 3 is a braid of 100% Portuguese Merino wool dyed in a gradient from blue through purple to green. I’ve already started to experiment with this one, but you’ll have to wait to see the results because blogging about all that fiber has worn me out!

Have you discovered any new or exciting fiber sources lately?


Rhinebeck Rundown

My first Rhinebeck trip was quite an experience! It was a gorgeous weekend, the weather cooperated wonderfully, I saw more yarn and fiber in one place than I ever have in my whole life, and I got to spend some time with my real-life-knitter-friends-from-college Bridgit and Jeremie. Yay all around! Now, prepare for lots and lots of photos…

Parting words from the Fiasco. It was difficult to follow them, but I did.
We’re here! We’re here!
Our first stop was The Fold, to get some Blue Moon Fiber Arts goodies before it became too packed.
Next we stopped by the Burgis Brook Alpacas booth to see my new hat pattern in action, yay!
Then it was Cephalopod Yarns time! Meet Sarah, dyer extraordinaire
And say hi to Jeremie and Bridgit, looking cheerful during our very long wait in the CY line!
Also meet Marianne, a wonderful  friend from the SG/CY/VG boards whom I was very glad to finally see in person.
Enough people, now sheep! Hello, Romney.
Blue Faced Leicester, I love your wool!
Why so serious?
A friendly Finnsheep.
I must have Pygora goats someday!
I coveted this Sheep Incognito artwork, it was great.
There were 3 of these giant buildings and about 10 barns CHOCK FULL of yarn and fiber.
A pair of rather unhappy llamas…
And tents with even more goods strewn between buildings.
Pretty weaving.
A very nice pan flute band.
Some of the gorgeous creations entered for judging.
I adored this picture!
Too many cute things…

There were so many things to see, these photos only covered a small portion of it, but I hope I captured the feel of what it was like. In short, it was wonderful, and I hope I get to go back someday.

Time Travel

The Fiasco and I recently traveled back in time to 1830 to visit Old Sturbridge Village, which is a historical reproduction of a New England village. It was a lovely place and also delightfully full of fiber-y things!

Pastoral prettiness
I love the woods in autumn.
Little lamb
Friendly ram
Naturally dyed skeins of yarn pictured with the source of the dye (like walnut, onion skins, and sage).
Fiber type comparison display
The Fiasco trying out hand carders
My successfully carded rolag
To make a coat: 1 day scouring, 1 day dyeing, 9 days carding, 13 days spinning, 3 days weaving, and 3 days sewing. Crazy!
Pretty handknits on display
I appreciated the bit about “go-abroad knitting”…
Carding machine
I coveted that basket of rolags
This pottery guy was super cool
I took home a little handmade bowl and yarn dyed with osage orange.

All in all, it was a great little trip that made me more than a bit wistful for a style of life that isn’t really possible anymore. Do you ever get nostalgic for a past that wasn’t yours?

Happy Wool Week!

It’s Wool Week, guys! The Campaign for Wool was begun in 2010 by the Prince of Wales to enhance consumer awareness of wool products. As knitters, we all know that wool is wonderful, but the market had gotten to the point where it cost more to shear the sheep than the wool producer was earning for the fleece. This campaign is mostly about spreading the word about the benefits of wool for clothing, production, and for the environment since it is a truly renewable resource. People all over the world are doing crazy things like parking a flock of sheep in the middle of Manhatten for a week, and I kind of love it.

I’ve taken “the pledge” to do my part to spread the word about the wonders of wool and so here are a few of the reasons why I love wool:

  •  Wool is a natural insulator, wicks away moisture, can absorb 30% of its weight in water (while cotton can only absorb 15%), and maintains warmth even when wet (which cotton and synthetic fleeces can’t do).
  • Wool repels water, mold, mildew, dust mites, and body odor so woolen fabrics stay clean longer.
  • Wool fibers are durable and elastic. They can be bent back on themselves thousands of times more than any other fiber and they hold their shape well in garment form, bouncing back if they become stretched out.
  • Wool is fire retardant, unlike acrylic (derived from petroleum) which melts entirely. Wool self-extinguishes once the flame is removed.
  • Raising sheep requires fewer chemicals released into the environment, unlike growing cotton which “uses more than 25 percent of all the insecticides in the world, and 21 percent of all the herbicides, yet is farmed on only 3 percent of the world’s farmland.” Half of those pesticides are “considered “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens.”
  • Sheep grazing can be used to control invasive plant species in place of costly and environmentally damaging herbicides.
  • Cotton clothing is cheap so people tend to toss out old clothes and buy new ones regularly, which is extremely wasteful. Wool clothing lasts longer and wastes less resources.
  • Wool naturally decomposes, unlike synthetic materials which take hundreds to thousands of years to break down in the environment. 

Many of the factoids I listed came from the Campaign for Wool website as well as from “Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep, and Enough Wool to Save the Planet” by Catherine Friend. The book is an excellent read with lots of interesting insight into the author’s transition from city living to raising sheep. It will change the way you look at wool, which I think is a good thing.

Oh! I forgot one other very important reason why I love wool:

It’s absolutely beautiful.

SS: Brown Merino

Gosh, I’ve been finished with this fiber for a while, it just took me forever to get around to posting it!

The Grey Gotland fiber turned out wonderfully: it is dense and shiny with an interesting texture, almost silky. I like it very much. I could see spinning it more finely and knitting an elegant lace shawl out of it if I had more. Which I would definitely like, if anybody’s buying. Specifically, this fiber right here:

From 2SistersStringWorks Etsy shop

Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save pennies for Rhinebeck. Must save. Pennies. Rhinebeck.

Moving on! Currently on the spindle is the famous, esteemed, irreplaceable Merino wool. (Fun fact: the Fiasco’s last name is spelled differently but sounds just like Merino. Coincidence…?)

Photo from Wikipedia.

The Merino family can be traced back to ewes from Spain and rams from the area that is now Morocco being crossbred during the 12th century. During the Middle Ages, Spain cornered the market on wool and outlawed the export of Merino sheep. Eventually the sheep did get around and came to the US in 1809. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the Merino family is so prized because the fleece is very dense due to the larger numbers of wool follicles in the skin and the wool is very fine, ranging anywhere from 11 to 26 microns. What I found interesting is that there are many varieties within the Merino family and not all Merino wool has the same properties. Also, some varieties were bred to have extra-wrinkly skin since more wrinkles = more surface area = more wool. Crazy, huh?

The Merino I’m spinning is a fantastic soft brown color, called moorit (which means ‘reddish-brown’). It is, as might be expected, immensely soft. I love the feel of it between my fingers. There is clearly a good reason why this stuff is so popular. You know that phrase ‘it’s like buttah’? Well, it is. (Sidenote: I actually hate the feel of butter on my fingers. Who made up that saying anyway?)

You can see how the fiber just flows all soft and pretty-like, can’t you? It’s spinning up very finely and evenly, too, which is nice.There are things to consider, though, when working with Merino. Firstly, it has a relatively short staple length for wool, between 2-5 inches. This means that you have to pay attention while drafting, it’s easy to separate the fibers completely if you pull too much out too quickly without letting the twist grab and secure it. Secondly, whatever yarn you make with it will be prone to pilling. Pilling happens when the ends of the short fibers escape the twist of the yarn during friction and form little balls of wool on the surface of the fabric. Since Merino is very fine with a short staple, it can pill fairly easily if not spun tightly enough. However, many knitters and spinners the world over obviously think the softness and comfort of Merino wool to be worth it, as it is ubiquitous in the fiber world. What’s your favorite Merino yarn or fiber source?

SS: Grey Gotland

Apparently when I don’t superduperlove working with a fiber, I spin it with abandon and it flies off the spindle quite quickly!

This Icelandic wool was actually quite easy to spin. It drafted very well so there was not much spindle dropping with this one. However the fibers were very long and fly-away, which you can see in the photo above, and I didn’t love handling them.

The finished yarn did soften up more than I expected in the wash. This is one I’d be especially curious to see knitted up, I can’t quite picture what the fabric will look like. Perhaps I will start swatching all of  my Spinner’s Study breeds soon. Onto the next!

Photo from gotlandsheep.com.

According to the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, Gotland is another breed that is part of the Northern European Short-Tailed Family (the third that I’ve spun so far, the other two being Finnsheep and the Icelandic). It is a Swedish breed that is also developed in Britain, New Zealand, and North America, with different strains having different characteristics.

The F&FSB describes this wool as “unusual, resembling a fine mohair or an English luster longwool” with which I agree. The top I have has a very dense quality to it and when I start fluffing it up it feels softer and very silky. I think my favorite thing about it is the natural grey color, which is just lovely.

I’m still getting the hang of spinning it, drafting is a bit difficult due to the top’s denseness and the fiber’s silkiness, but it seems to be spinning up much like the Finnsheep and Icelandic breeds: on the less-fluffy-side with some ends sticking out. The staple length is usually between 3-7 inches and the fiber diameters vary, with fleeces from New Zealand averaging 27-34 microns and those in Britain being coarser, around 35 microns. Gotland spans the medium-coarse range but it has this really great luster that I am excited to see in the finished yarn.

Image from Stansborough shop.

Super fun fact: Gotland wool was used to make the elven cloaks and other costumes in The Lord of the Rings movies! If you’ve got about $730 lying around, you can even buy one of your own. The Stansborough farm in New Zealand has a pretty neat story, I encourage you to go read it. They’ve developed their own flock of “Stansborough Greys” from the Gotland sheep and now sell the wool and weave fabrics used for costuming in many movies. Who knew Hollywood was so authentic and eco-friendly, right? I hope whomever has those cloaks now makes good use out of them. They must be absolutely lovely.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here yet, but I’ve begun spinning some new fiber on my other spindle as well:

This is Polwarth wool from Woolgatherings in a great purple color. I have two braids of it and am planning to chain-ply it when I’m finished. This will probably be on the spindle for a while but should result in some very soft 3-ply DK/worsted-weight-ish yarn. Anything special occupying your spindle or wheel lately?

SS: Icelandic

I finished spinning up the fifth breed of my Spinner’s Study, Cormo:

I really love the feel of this one. The shorter staple length and fineness of the fiber made it a bit difficult to spin (lots of dropping!) and I seem to tend to spin more thinly when the fiber is fine so this skein looks like it has more yardage than the others, but I still loved the feel of it running through my fingers. The Cormo breed is top of my list for keeping on the future farm I dream about.

Here’s a family photo of the breeds I’ve finished so far:

L to R: Polwarth, Finnish, Black Jacob, Bluefaced Leicester, Cormo

I’m about a quarter of the way through, as long as I don’t keep adding breeds. 🙂 I really enjoy this little exercise. On to the next!

Photo from the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America webpage.

According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the Icelandic breed descended from the sheep the Vikings brought with them when they settled in (you guessed it) Iceland around 900 A.D. The breed has developed in isolation since then because they made it illegal to import more sheep. Thus, that makes the Icelandic breed very genetically “pure” which is especially cool evolutionarily-speaking. The breed is a part of the Northern European Short-Tailed Family, like the Finnish wool I spun up earlier.

They are characterized by a naturally short tail, a dual-coated fleece, faces and legs that are free of wool, and apparently very tasty mild-flavored meat. The outercoat consists of long, strong fibers called tog and the undercoat consists of short, soft fibers called thel. Both types of fiber are used for spinning and they can be prepared to be spun together or separately.

The top I have appears to consist entirely of tog, the outer layer. The staple length is long, and can range from 4-18(!) inches. The micron count ranges from 27-31, landing this on the coarser side of the medium range. This is another fiber that feels more hair-like than wool-like, but it is still a true wool (meaning it contains crimp which makes it elastic), not a kemp or guard hair. This fiber drafts extremely easily and in that sense is a pleasure to spin. Despite that, I’m not a huge fan of how it spins up. Too many ends sticking out! Prickly-town, people!

Please excuse my messily-wound cop. I had just dropped it and things got all loose and crazy.

However, this could be a case where changing my spinning style would result in a more likeable yarn. I tend to grasp a handful of fiber, fluff it up with my fingers, fold it in half, and spin woolen-style “from the fold”. The F&F Sourcebook suggests spinning the tog fibers worsted-style for increased strength and probably to keep those pesky ends more in line.

As a quick refresher: woolen spinning means that the fibers are not perfectly aligned, they go in all sorts of directions trapping air between them and resulting in a fluffier yarn. Spinning from the fold creates this misalignment of fibers for me. Worsted spinning means that the fibers are lined up nice and straight before spinning and are spun end-to-end with little overlap, producing a denser and potentially smoother yarn.

How do you tend to spin?

SS: BFL Bonus!

When I placed my Phat-Fiber-didn’t-happen-consolation-prize order of 8 oz. of a merino/silk blend from Natchwoolie, I added a little 0.25 oz. sample of Bluefaced Leicester top because BFL was not one of the 16 breeds included in the Woolgatherings sampler pack that I’m basing my Spinner’s Study on and I’ve been itching to try it.

Yay, new fiber!

Since I had just finished the rainbow-tastic yarn that occupied my Golding spindle for months, I figured I’d spin up the bit of BFL fiber while it was free so we could have a little Spinner’s Study bonus! (The Cormo is still being spun on my other spindle.) Now, down to business.

What a nose on these guys! Photo from http://bflsheep.com/.

The Bluefaced Leicester breed (pronounced “Lester”, fyi, which sounds way better than the “Like-ester” way I was saying it in my head!) is part of the aptly named English Longwool family. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, they are a very old family that is likely descended from a breed brought to Britain from Ancient Rome and their wool is distinguished by its long staple length.

BFL wool has shorter staple lengths than the other breeds in this family (such as Border Leicesters and Leicester Longwools) but they still range from 3-6 inches in length. The micron count is between 24 and 28, on the finer side of the ‘medium’ range of softness. This fiber is devoid of any kemp or guard hairs (yay!) so it’s definitely soft, but its most striking feature is its shininess. It has almost a silky quality when spun with lots of luster. It drafts very easily and spins well, no complaints at all in that department.

Another neat thing about BFL wool is that it is relatively widely available in commercial yarn. It was the first non-Merino, non-“generic wool” yarn I’d ever used. Knitting with Merino and then knitting with BFL is a great lesson in how the properties of the breeds’ wool greatly affects the feel and behavior of the yarn. Where Merino is extremely elastic, bouncy, matte, and soft, BFL is more drapey, can be denser, and is usually shiny. It’s pretty neat to compare the two and I recommend you try it if you have the chance, keeping in mind that the way the yarn is spun affects its behavior as well.

I like my teensy skein of BFl! I’ll have to get more.

Well folks, that little bonus will have to hold you over for bit because as you’re reading this I’ve escaped to the woods for a much-needed weekend of unplugging from computers and reminding myself of my camp-lovin’ outdoorsy roots.

SS: Cormo

Yay for finished yarns!

Black Jacob

If you remember from my previous Spinner’s Study posts I wasn’t totally loving working with the Black Jacob wool. It wasn’t particularly soft and the long kemp hairs gave it a prickly hairy feel (rather than soft and woolly). However, you’ll notice that it did spin up rather evenly, which makes me happy. Onto the next breed, whose fleece is basically the polar opposite!

Photo from here.

Those fluffballs are Cormo sheep. The breed was developed in Tasmania, Australia by a shepherd who combined Corriedale rams and Merino ewes — hence, the name Cormo. They were brought to the U.S. in the mid-70’s. They are supposedly a very easy-to-care-for breed according to Apple Rose Farm in New Jersey:
       “Cormo sheep are an easy going, quiet group with strong flocking instincts. They have a high fertility and deliver twins without assistance. Cormos are hearty and do well on just grass. They are equally suited for the open rangelands and the suburban small farm. Cormo sheep were developed in Tasmania through careful genetic work to cull defects and produce a strong, hearty animal that can take hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters equally well.”
So obviously, I plan to have some in the future. 🙂

According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, their fleece is remarkably consistent because they are bred based on scientific analysis of the fleece. The fleece ranges between 17 and 23 microns, with 90% of it within 2 microns of the average (which is practically unheard of). If you’ll remember, a micron count that small lands Cormo squarely within the “fine” range. This is definitely soft stuff!

The staple length is shorter than the others I’ve worked with recently, between 3 and 5 inches, but on the long side for fleeces so fine. It is indeed incredibly soft, almost cashmere-like soft. Have you ever handled cashmere roving or yarn and felt like it sort of clung to your fingertips, almost sticky (but in a good way)? That’s how Cormo feels, which I’m attributing to its fineness. It also is not shiny at all, doesn’t have any luster, it’s a very dense, matte fiber.

The denseness and stickiness make it a tiny bit difficult to spin evenly, but it isn’t that bad. It’s not a very easy drafter, you have to tease apart the fiber quite a bit to get some air in there and then watch it carefully as you spin so that you don’t draft out too much at once. That said, I still really love it. It feels amazing and is spinning up fine. The FFSB recommends spinning it finely with plenty of twist and notes that after washing the yarn will bloom and plump up splendidly.

If you’re interested, you can buy already spun, undyed Cormo yarn in lovely natural shades at the Elsa Wool Company. I want some. Really badly. Hint, hint. 😉

Has anybody knit with Cormo yarn before?

SS: Black Jacob

I’ve finished another ounce of fiber for my Spinner’s Study!

I really like how the Finnish fiber spun up. It drafted smoothly and you can see the resulting yarn has a nice sheen to it, almost silky-looking. Here it is side-by-side with the first yarn I finished, Polwarth:

The Finnish has a smoother feel than the Polwarth, which has a snugglier, fuzzier feel.

 Now, on to the next breed: Jacob.

Image from the Jacob Sheep Breeders’ Association

What I think is probably the coolest thing about this breed is that the sheep are polycerate, or able to possess multiple sets of horns! They are also piebald, or spotted. Their fleeces contain white, brown, grey, and black natural colors. The Yarn Harlot made a beautiful gradient shawl from a Jacob fleece that she spun herself which you should check out. According to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook (see end of post), they are a conservation breed present in both Great Britain, where they are larger because they are bread for meat as well, and North America, where they are smaller and more traditional in appearance.

The sample I have is just the black portion of the fleece. It smells sheepier and feels greasier than the other breeds I’ve spun so far. The fiber has very little crimp and feels more hairy than wooly, in fact you can see long white kemp hairs in the fiber, which gives the spun yarn a rougher feel when those prickly ends stick out.

One important fact about Jacob wool is that it can vary wildly in quality both within and between fleeces. According to the FFSB, staple length ranges from 3-7 inches and the micron count can be anywhere between 25 and 35 microns, so the wool definitely reaches the coarser end of the spectrum. While spinning it drafts fairly easily, though sometimes the longer staple length of the fiber makes it difficult for me to pull it apart smoothly. This one doesn’t rank near the top of my favorite breeds to spin but it has still been fun to spin something that isn’t white for a change. 🙂