Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fleece Wash - part II

So, I've been practicing my fleece washing...because I did a really crappy job the first time. Two things: 1) Soap is different than Detergent. 2) Our hot water heater isn't set hot enough to wash lanolin out of wool.

I fixed these two issues during my remedial fleece washing. I purchased detergent. And I heated up water on the stove to add to the stuff that comes out of the tap. Much better!

The next step in turning raw wool into something wearable is to card it. There are lots of videos if you are fascinated by this sort of thing (Google "hand carding"), but here I present photos of White Wool on Red Picnic Table. This is mostly because I just painted the picnic table and want it to get some blog time.

Part, the first: Load hand cards with some raw wool:

Brush the wool back and forth between the two cards until it's all smooth and fluffy. This is what it looks like after the first transfer:

See the hay? We call that VM (vegetable matter). When you're satisfied, roll the wool off the card. Here is the carded rolag next to some raw fleece.

(Can you believe that Firefox's spell check doesn't recognize the word "rolag?")

When you have a bunch of rolags, head to the wheel and start spinning! I sampled a bunch of different ways of spinning the fleece. To the left is fluffy long draw (woolen), and to the right is a smooth, squishy short draw which is chain plied. Chain plying is a crazy Escher-like technique that boggles Bill's brain, and results in a single strand of wool becoming three-ply.

Spinning has taught me that a fiber can change so much from it's initial form to yarn and then again to a knitted fabric. So, before I decided what I liked best, I knitted up my samples. Look at all the wooly goodness here...fiber, yarn and swatch:

All the samples. Labeled, natch: (really, Firefox? You recognize "natch" is a word, but not "rolag?!?")

I'm adding to yarn for my sweater vest too. Just one more yarn to go and then I'll start knitting.

Finally...I've been stockpiling fiber for the Tour de Fleece. More on that soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Workin at the fleece wash...yeah!

Ok...that makes very little sense. But, whatever.

I started washing my fleece!! I'm totally faking it, by the way. So, don't try this at home. I have no idea what I'm doing.

The first step, apparently, is to lay the fleece out and inspect it. I'm supposed to remove all the unsuitable parts. Thing is, I'm rather new at this and don't really know what is unsuitable. There was no poo, so that's good! I imagine with time, I'll start to recognize the second cuts (which aren't so great for spinning) and the parts that are too dirty to wash. Right now, I'm just washing it all and hope to learn some stuff as I'm spinning it.

This is two pounds of a fleece from a fine wool mutt sheep:

It smells fantastic! Like sticky, sweet, dusty sheep. It is perhaps odd that I love the scent of wool. I take this to mean I should own lots of sheep.

Step one...scour fleece to remove lanolin and dirt. After three to four soaks in really hot water + soap, I think my wool is clean. Washed stuff on the left, raw stuff on the right:

I don't know that it's clean. Totally faking it. It still smells a little, and still has a bit of slipperiness to it, so I suspect it's still got some lanolin in it.

I let it dry on a baking cooling rack overnight and then hung it on the line this morning. I love that it's still in the strips the shearer took it off in.

Tonight I'm going to card it. More on that later!

I've also been spinning the colored rovings I got at Hoosier Hills. I experimented with some color blending and decided to stick with solids:

More on that later too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blurry baby chickens, handspun yarn

That about sums it up...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Studying Wool

On Friday I took an all day class at the lovely Hoosier Hills Fiber Arts Festival. We spent the whole day talking about the different properties of different wools and the best uses for them. Being a new spinner, I also picked up lots of new skills. It was a super class with fantastic spinners and I'm gonna tell you all about it to make you jealous!

We talked about 11 types of sheep. We didn't get a chance to spin all the breeds in class (I think this could easily have been a six week course - or six months - instead of just six hours), but I will be playing with them all at home.

We started by spinning three breeds - a long wool, a fine wool and a down. The type of wool helps you determine how to spin it and what to use it for. A coarse wool makes a great, durable rug, but it terrible for baby blankets.

Here is a fine wool (Cormo) on the left and a long wool (Wensleydale) on the right. See how different? Isn't it awesome!?!?

I only spun 5 breeds, but I'm quite smitten with Cormo. I haven't tried the Wensleydale yet. It has the most adorable little locks and I haven't found the nerve to muck them up yet. See how cute:

How a wool is prepared and spun makes a big difference too. You can line all the individual fibers up in one direction and spin the wool tight, or you can make the fibers go all which-ways. This makes lots of room for air to get in the nooks and crannies of the fiber, which results in a fluffier yarn.

These are both cormo, but you can see that one is fluffy and one is tighter and smoother. The top yarn was spun woolen - the wool is carded so the fibers go nutty and produce a fluffy yarn. I'm not very good at this yet, so my newness accounts for some of the bumps, but that's ok in a woolen yarn. The next step is to wash the spun yarn in hot water and then beat the crud out of the skein. It makes the yarn "bloom" and fluff up even more. I haven't done it yet, but spinners say it is very gratifying.

The bottom yarn was combed. This lines up all the long fibers, and helps discard the short ones, and creates a lovely strip of smooth wool. I am now addicted to hand combing.

Here are some other samples I spun:

After class, I bought stuff! My first raw fleece!! These are both fine wool from mutt sheep. The dark is Maine Island/Cormo/Border Leicester. I forget what the white is.

I also bought 4 oz balls of roving. These are a mix of different sheep and alpacas. I got them to experiment with blending colors. I think there will be enough for a vest when I'm done.

The brown one is 50% camel! (Yes, Mom, I had to get brown.)

There are interesting economics in wool and you can really see how value is added as the wool becomes processed. For the same price as 1.25 pounds of colored roving, I got over 3.75 pounds of unprocessed fleece (the garbage bag might look small, but trust me, it's heavy!):

Had I bought yarn for the same price, I would have gotten about 0.4 pounds of sock-weight yarn from an independent dyer. I like that the economics of wool seem so honest. So many other consumer goods (doritos, ipads, oil) have wonky subsidies and outsourced externalities that make the actual cost of the good far higher than the price we pay. Buying fiber directly from farmers or mills or independent dyers feels a little cleaner for my soul.

So now, I'm off to play!