Sunday, April 19, 2009

Music to Spin and Knit by

This talented lady lives near me. I met her and purchased a CD at the Heathsville Farmer's Market on Saturday. You can find more information here.

To learn more about the Heathsville Farmer's Market look here. Or directly from the Tavern.

The Tavern Spinner's & Weaver's Guild met on the front porch of the Carriage House Saturday and while we were away from the main traffic of the Farmer's Market in the morning, we had the benefit of the Annual Wine Tasting event which started at 11 a.m. We met lots of neat people and hope some of them will come to join us in the future.

I brought my Inkle loom for the first time and did get some solid inquiries from from gentlemen with that. We do need to make an effort to enlist more menfolk as men can spin and weave just as well as women.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Noodle & Harriet

Well, I wrote about just some of what I learned yesterday at Alice's farm. What I didn't talk about much were two of the sheep and several of the delightful people that I met.

I met Alice, the shepardess. I also met her boyfriend, who for a first-time shearer, did a super fine job. I also met Cat, who had come into to help with the shearing, and like me was looking to score some fleece. I also met Alice's mother and father.

Now, some of the sheep that I met... There were a bunch of sheep. I think Alice said she has 30 or so. She also has dogs, chickens, horses and cats. The neighbor had goats and pigs. Alice said she has 8 acres and is getting ready to lease 5 more from one of the other neighbors for additional pastureland.

But individually, I met one or four meat sheep. These gals have no names. Just gets too complicated. I met two or three Finns. I believe they have names, but don't remember them. The bottle lamb, named Flynn, is a Finn. I think that Alice uses the Finns as dual purpose sheep (I could be dead wrong here) but I know that Flynn is not going to the market.

Then there was Iona. She was mother to twins, I think. She is a Shetland and her fleece was reserved. There was Brownie, who had also given birth to twins, but one little one was stepped upon by a larger sheep and did not survive. Her fleece was also reserved. There was a lovely Shetland Ewe in with the Wild Ones whose job was to help them become calm. I cannot remember her name, unfortunately. Then there were the Wild Ones. One of them, as I will tell you later, did earn her name.

The Icelandics I met were Blackie, and she was the mother of the yearling who half fleece I brought home. The yearling was named as she was sheared. Her name is now Harriet. Harriet was a rescue, just as her mother was a year before. Harriet, once shorn, was seen to be in very thin condition with her bone structure very evident. She is very tiny which may be due to poor nutritional care as a lamb. But her fleece is lovely and I'm delighted to have half. The other half went with Cat who is doing a fleece study.

But the wild ones... they were saved from the slaughter and seemed very healthy. Their feet needs a little work but not as much as Harriet's (she of the toenail overgrowth from hell). We only captured and sheared one. Alice and her boyfriend entered the small enclosure where the Wild Ones were being held. If I had not gone to look I would sworn there was a bar fight going on. Thumping and bumping and banging about! It was frightening to hear. I finally went and poked my head around the barn door opening to see sheep literally flying, leaping and crashing against the walls in desperate attempts to escape the horrible humans! But Alice's boyfriend caught one in mid leap and hung on.

I'm guessing this ewe weighed about 45 or 50 pounds. Her fleece was beautiful. Golden on the outside, greys with browns on the inside. Her face was beautiful, almost deer like in it's aspect.

When we attempted to put her into the head holding frame on the shearing stand, she simply laid down and pulled her slender head and neck downward until she slipped out. When the neck chain was tightened to the point she could not pull her head out, she just decided death was the better option and chose to try and hang herself. We quickly realized this animal was not beneith self sacrifice, so we put a halter on her, took her out of the head holder contraption, and with three people holding her and one shearing, we got her out of her fleece.

She reminded me of the protesters during the Vietnam War. If the Man came to get you, they were told, go limp like a noodle and they will have to either leave you there, or carry you out. So, Noodle became her name.

Cat purchased Noodles fleece and I decided to "adopt" her and gave Alice enough money (so Alice says) to pay for her regular maintenance shots, wormings, food, etc. for a year. I will get her Fall fleece. I think Alice is under pricing Noodle's care, but we will see.

Shetland or Icelandic?

Saturday was a very educational day for me even though I spent about 8 hours in the car.

I dropped Matthew off in Charlottesville, Virginia and then continued westward on Route 64 to Route 81, turned north and hopped off at Verona. From there it was a short distance up to Fort Defiance (there is a military museum there that I may have to drag Ken to visit) and on to visit with Alice, who raises sheep.

Most specifically, she is raising a variety of sheep. Among them was Shetland, Icelandic, Finn, and Suffolk.

And, of course, I forgot to take pictures.

I learned a lot.

  1. Shetland Sheep can be very skittish if not handled and talked to a lot. Alice had in her flock three shetlands that she called "wild" sheep. This is because they apparently were never socialized in any way and the very thought of being near a human (much less handled by one) sent them into flying about the barn and paddock, literally bouncing off the walls.
  2. When sheep catch a cold they get runny noses and like small children, the snot goes everywhere. And thus, they share their germs. Fortunately, once caught, it is relatively easy give them medicine via an injection.
  3. Sheep feet are really interesting. There is a soft pad (like the pad on a dog's foot), around this, on the sides, grows a nail. It's just like a fingernail and if left untrimmed can grow to the point that the animal becomes lame. One of Alice's newest ewes had clearly never had it's toenails clipped and it was literally walking on top the nail that had grown down and around. But clipping, like medicating, is not too big a deal so long as the animal is well restrained.
  4. Every breed of sheep and even sheep within each breed has a unique fleece. This is such a tactile matter, it's hard to describe. But when you get a bunch of them together it's really easy to see and feel the differences.
  5. Bottle babies are very cute but can have a hard time learning to be sheep. They think humans are sheep and tend to want to flock with humans rather than with other sheep. But they are really, really cute.
  6. Shetlands and Icelandics are just the right size for me to handle.
  7. Until I lose a lot more weight, climbing fences is out of the question.
  8. If you keep the blades on the electric shears short, you cut the sheep less. The blades cost about $50 each and will rust if you try to take a short cut and remove the lanolin build-up by dipping it into hot water. Use a wire brush to remove this. Change blades about once every three or four sheep.
  9. Icelandic fleece is really, really nice stuff and I have one half of a hoggett fleece drying in my living room right now. I washed it up this morning. A small sheep will provide about 2 pounds of fiber on a good day. Some years you only get one.
  10. Shetland sheep are very, very smart and learn quickly.
  11. Since the small sheep produced only about 2 pounds of fleece, and you might be able to sell that for $20 a pound, it is very difficult (if not currently impossible) to reach a break-even point financially with them alone. However, by adding meat sheep to the picture, there is hope for the small shepherd.
  12. Cherry tree leaves are poisonous to sheep and must be removed from any pasture where they live. On the same token, they love honeysuckle and brambles and will clear a hedgerow with ease.
  13. Fencing required for sheep must be at least 4 feet tall. Barbed wire should only be at the very bottom and/or the very top as the sheep can hurt themselves on it. Wooden posts every 10 feet with a metal pole in between works well for sheep. Gates CAN be tied on with twine so hinges may not be necessary in all cases.
  14. Sheep will grow well on Johnson grass but they love alfalfa hay. The round bales of basic hay cost about $30 each at least out in Fort Defiance.
  15. There are other people in Virginia raising Shetland Sheep but they keep it very quiet.
  16. Shearing is MUCH easier with a shearing stand. Even if the animal won't stand, just having them off the ground is easier on the back.
  17. Sheep love graham crackers. Some sheep think their cookies are only good if eaten directly from the hand and won't touch a graham cracker that has touched the ground. Silly sheep.
  18. The rise, in Shetland Sheep, is the point where the old fleece has stopped growing and the new one has started. Trying to cut through the rise is nigh on impossible. Cut above or below.
  19. Registering your sheep with NSSA costs money but if you want to sell the offspring to serious sheep people, they really should be registered.
  20. It may be possible to rent pasture from someone who is trying to get the tax break for farming. YOU have to pay for the fensing, the animals and their winter feed, but if you can find someone who will let you use their land, they get the tax break and you don't have to actually pay for it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spinning progressions

Spinning seems like such a simple process. You twist hairs together to make a string and maybe put several of those together to make a cord. In the beginning you're just happy the string holds together and it doesn't really matter if it's lumpy, bumpy, uneven or bizarre looking. If it's knittable, it's good stuff.

You probably start out on a spindle. When you master that, you will soon be shopping for a wheel. In your mind, the spindle just seems too slow. It can take forever to make a decent amount of yarn.

Then you decide that while those early efforts are usable, they aren't quite what you want and are difficult to fit into a pattern because it's tough to get an accurate gauge. Or the thing you really want to knit requires a finer yarn (like socks). So consistency becomes the goal. Large projects, like enough yarn for a sweater, are still off in the distance.

You knit a lot of scarves, mittens and hats. You incorporate small bits with commercially spun yarns with your handspun as highlights and accents. If you weave, you will use the handspun in small projects like bags and placemats.

You might get stuck in a rut for a while always spinning the same weight of yarn and it's always a two ply. So you experiment with spinning a variety of things from lace weight to super bulky. You start playing around with Navajo plying and cording. Colors, lots of colors, obnoxious combinations of colors come in next and then you move onto the "difficult" fibers like flax and silk, super short stuff like cotton and cashmere and you make wild blends of all sorts of things.

Fiber prep will come into play at various stages. Flicking, combing, hand carding, drum carding, spinning from locks are all tried. You learn which prep works best with some fiber and you may push out that envelope and try stuff that just doesn't work. You can risk some of your stash now to failures because it's grown to the point it's bigger than your commercial yarn collection.

All this learning over the past two or three years has gifted you with four or five fleeces in various stages of disaster. People may even give you fleeces that end up as covers on your compost pile because that's where they should have been in the first place. You learn to wash fleece without felting it. You are beginning to learn how to get picky about what your bring home.

Some fiber, like merino, seems to do best flicked. It also requires very hot water and many washes to get it usable. Some, like Lincoln, is a harsher fiber but has a wonderful sheen and is easy to clean and makes great sock yarn. Shetland makes terrific lace yarn (crisp but soft). Other breeds grow soft but short fleeces that are wonderful for blending on handcards that then end up being awesome for projects like warm scarves but are too poofy for hardwearing items like mittens. Leicester wool seems to be pretty multi-purpose depending on how you prep and spin it. Spin it thick and it's similar to lincoln. Spin it fine and it similar to shetland.

Shetland spun and in progress for shawl

I'm sure there are folks with completely different experiences... but the fun part about spinning has been learning that there is no one way of doing things. It also comes full circle.

I'm currently spindling two different projects. One is using my Bosworth featherweight pecan spindle to spin a cormo/bamboo blend to laceweight... very fine laceweight. I'm plying it with silk spun on my Symphony. I'm using the Symphony to ply. The goal is to spin enough to make a lace tablecloth (we're talking something like 1200 yards). I have about 60 yards completed. It may end up being a doily.

The second project is moving me into my blue stage for 2009. I've had some blue roving of unknown origin and breed sitting in my stash for about two years. It is just so intense, I just wasn't prepared to fool with it before. Then I learned about blending colors on handcards (thanks Sally) and bought a little bag of raw downy Southdown from Judy. Anyway, the Southdown washed up into really nice, cushy locks of white which hand carded out just wonderfully... but boring in all white. Then I remembered the blue.

I put a little of the blue with the white and got blue jeans! Faded jeans at that. Cool stuff. My rolags are nearly perfect (believe me this is an accomplishment).

Blue jean scarf in progress

It takes five rolags to make one spindle full. That means I need ten rolags to make one stretch of yarn. One ball of yarn is knitting up to about 6 inches. To make a 60 inch scarf... I will need 100 rolags. The picture is a few weeks old. I have about two feet knitted and another ball waiting to go in. And the singles are being spun on my midi Bosworth and then, when I get a full spindle, I'm winding off onto a bobbin. I spin a second spindle full, wind that onto another bobbin and ply them together on the Sonata. The yarn is deliberately thick and thin, soft and wonderful.

I'm knitting the scarf as I go using my favorite pattern from Crazy Aunt Purl's book. This scarf is for me. No one is going to talk me out of it.