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Buying the perfect fleece for handspinning

All the fleeces cleaned, bagged and ready to do
All the fleeces cleaned, bagged and ready to do

All my fleece buying for this year is now done. I have 10 fleeces all clean, bagged and ready for processing into whatever they will become over the autumn and winter.

2 Jacob (from Jason the Shearer)

1 White faced woodland x Jacob (from Ickworth, Suffolk)

3 Norfolk horns (gifted from Oliver in the village, one of which I have gifted on),

1 Shetland (moorit – ginger – not my favourite but it does dye really nice muted autumny shades, from Paulines Norfolk friend at Guild)

1 black Romney (the lovely Arabella)

1 Wensleydale (bought from Marion in Acle)

1 Massam (gifted from the lovely Lorraine)

1 BFL mule (ditto)

1 unknown lawn mower meat fleece (bought on a whim as it’s very soft and very beautiful and more than a little Shetland like)

1 kid alpaca (bartered for a discount on a couple of leather armchairs I sold)

Do you think I have enough?

I think they are all very fine fleeces, each one beautiful in its own way.

But it causes me to reflect on what exactly is the perfect hand spinning fleece and the mistakes I have made. For a spinner the perfect fleece is clean, uncontaminated by pests and vfm, well skirted, few second cuts, is sound, and not discoloured. It has the right fineness and the perfect staple length for its purpose. It is open and just falls onto the card or combs, taking but a moment to prepare it to spin. Heck it is so open and clean that it can be spun straight from the fleece with nothing more than a quick flick. In short one that comes from a sheep that has been kept in good health, in a good environment and sheared well.

Sadly, these wondrous beauties seem to come along quite rarely. But since I bought my first raw fleece five years ago my lucky strike rate does seem to have improved.  I’ve become one of those very picky, awkward customers. I am no longer embarrassed or afraid to say no thank you to a generous offer if the fleece is less than desirable. I am quite prepared to get stuck in and open out a fleece pull it to bits and then reject it, bundling it back up as I found it. Non spinners have a belief that all sheep fleece is spinnable. In a way they are right but… most spinners do not have the time to rescue a bad fleece that will spin up into a bad, rough, just plain nasty yarn. Unless of course that is what they wanted.

I have made just about every mistake there is.

There are 5 questions I now know to ask of a fleece and to ignore at my peril. These are:

Is it matted?

Is it sound?

Is it clean?

Does is have any staining or strange colouring?

How good was the shearing?

The first thing I do is to open out the fleece as much as I can. Matting or cotting is fairly easy to spot. Does that fleece want to fall apart or does it already look like it’s halfway towards a good felted sheepskin rug? I have paid good money for fleeces that gave me blisters and made me weep tears of frustration trying to tear them apart to be able to card the fibre before giving up on them. They did however make very nice sheepskins by felting the backs, sewing up the weak spots and dyeing them. I now sit on one when I spin.

Massam felted on the back and stitched to make a rug
Massam felted on the back and stitched to make a rug

By soundness I am talking about structural weakness in the fibres. For soundness test by giving a random staple or two the tug test. Take a staple and hold it firmly at each end. Then give it a firm steady substantial pull, do this by your ear as well to hear any tell-tale snap, crackle and pop of breaking fibres. If the fibres break then walk away. If the fibres randomly break along the shaft then the fleece is ‘tender’. If it is tender you will hear the snap, crackle and pop. If the break happens across the staple at the same point then this is a ‘Break’. A break is caused by some type of trauma such as diet, weather, illness or shock of some kind.

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An unsound fleece is not good for spinning. Carding or combing will break the fibres, the yarn will be lumpy, bumpy and will pill. However, all is not lost if you have one like this. It can make great felt or stuffing or insulation, rugs whatever. Just not great yarn.

felted collar (wool, silk and wensleydale locks)
felted collar (wool, silk and wensleydale locks)

All fleeces will have a certain amount of contamination of vegetable matter, bits of seeds, grass, insects, burdocks, and thistles whatever. This is the dreaded vfm. But some will have more than others. VFM means more work in preparing. Work is time. How much time do you have? How picky are you? Most of my yarns will have a bit of the field in them. It’s all character to me. But some are so contaminated that the more you do to get it out the worse it gets as the vfm breaks down into every smaller fragments. My advice. Walk away. I once watched in horror as someone shook out a lovely chocolate brown alpaca fleece onto an unclean stable floor. The stray, sawdust, hay, feed dust and just about every other particle of crap on the floor seemed to be attracted to the fleece like metal fillings to a magnet. I still took it, I was too embarrassed not to.  (Will add a picture when I can find one as I don’t have any in my stock)

Staining or discolouration, such as the yellow ‘yolk’ or ‘canary’ stains found towards the base of the staple, can be due to many different factors.  Staining or discolouration is not a problem if you plan to dye the fibre at some point. If you want a uniform colour then walk away as the discolouration will not wash out and is a characteristic of that fleece. For me I tend to ignore them. What I don’t ignore is the spray can of blue or fluorescent green or red that has been painted all over the fleece. This stuff will not wash out and will come through when dyeing. These I will walk away from if the shepherd has painted his sheep like it was a wall in a dulux ad. (again will add a picture when I can get one as I don’t have one in stock, unless you have one you would like to share)

Which brings me on to my final check. Badly shorn fleece. Second cuts. I once bought a fleece that looked ok. I did all the tests.  But when I got it home I shook it out and the thing peeled apart like 2 slices of bread where the fleece had been cut first halfway up the staple and then the shearer had gone back in to finish the job. Second cuts will make a bad yarn in the same way that breaks will. All fleeces will have some second cuts. But some will have more than others.  The one I bought was good for nothing but mulching the veg patch and lining my baskets…

My luck has improved with experience.  But I am not complacent or smug about it. Even now I make mistakes. That lawn mower fleece. Its feels like the one Jason and his Argonauts ought to be searching for. It’s so soft, open and glows with a lustrous golden light to it. I did do the tug test, honest, but I ignored my gut feeling. It really is very pretty fleece. But yes, it does have a break. So very sad. However it has meant that I am playing with wet felting and it is making the most wonderful felted things.

shredded cobweb felt scarf made with unsound fleece, silk and wensleydale locks
shredded cobweb felt scarf made with unsound fleece, silk and wensleydale locks

So what I have learnt over the years is that every fleece has its uses. Mistakes aren’t really that, just that you have the right fleece but for the wrong job.

Hope this helps you get lucky when it comes to finding that elusive perfect fleece.

I would love to do a follow up post with some of your horror stories so please get in contact and share…

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Crafting for Cash

Long time no posting.  That’s not to say nothing has been happening.  Just that I don’t want to bore you – or myself – with an incessant stream of dribble that seems to afflict some and that has nothing to do with the point of this blog.  A diary of my exploration of a life in fleece and fibre.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rhythm of the year for spinners and folk that work in fleece.  March, do you remember March?  So cold and dreary.  March was all about clearing out the remains of last years fleeces.  Spinning up all the projects that i had put aside ready to start knitting up.  And thinking about what to do with all the stuff I had dyed and spun.  There was quite a bit.  I’d filled up the workshop and had started to creep into TOH workshop.  More than I could use.  Not good.

It had to go to people who could love it and take it on to its next step in life  Craft Fairs obviously.  April was all about carding, combing, felting (more on that in a later post as part of my Wasted thread).  May was a frantic, panicking sweat of thinking, designing, dyeing, spinning and making.  The workshop is now clean, neat and ready to go for shearing season and the arrival of this years fleeces.

June.  June is.  June is craft fair and woolly festival month.  There is not a free weekend.  The season kicked off for me at Felbriggs Made in Norfolk event on the 1st June.  Typical for the 1st of June it was blowing a gale and was colder than Christmas.

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My cheapo gazebo was on the edge of its capabilities.  And having the lightest fluffiest of things was just not sensible.  I lost count of the number of times I had to go running across the field to retrieve my stock.  It sucked!  The rain was frequent and horizontal.  But it was the wind that is my nemesis.  However, I sold enough to cover my costs and my profit went on a bottle of chilli sauce from the chilli man you can see in the photo.  I am glad I took some fingerless gloves – sold out!  I also got to wear them and a woolly scarf.  What did I learn? I can get my entire ‘shop’ of gazebo, two display rails, a table, one mannequin, plus all my stock and display frou frou and a wheel into my crappy Peugeot 106.  All those years playing Tetrus have paid off. Oh, and I need a better gazebo.

This was followed with Ickworth Wool Festival on Saturday and Sunday the 3rd and 4th June.  The sun was actually shining.   The summer was on.  I had perfected my packing technique.  It was splendid!  So many enthusiastic wool folk.  The pitch was a double act this time with Lizbeth sharing the pitch.  As you can see the sun was so shiny!  We had a blast.  Not sure we were the worlds best salesmen.  A bit shambolic.  Probably very inappropriate at times.  Often times telling people they didn’t want to buy our spindles etc but rather to go on YouTube and DIY before you buy.  I think we enthused enough people to have a go at spinning. We enjoyed ourselves.  And that’s a result.

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The hardest thing was what price to put on my work.  The dyed fibres were relatively easy as there is a well established market for hand dyed rovings, tops and carded batts  the rate is pretty much set by a quick scan through Etsy, Folksy and other online shops.  but it was my yarns and pretties made from my handspun.  I know how much of my love and labour went into these.  I am a realist and know I can never charge a decent hourly rate for the production of these things.  A quick bit of research shows a massive range in pricing.  but through into that mix the audience at the event…if I am next to a sweet lady who bangs out skeins and knitted things for £5 and the audience consists of families  on holiday on a grand day out then I am stuffed.  Its raised eyebrow time and ‘how much!’ followed by “its very pretty but what can you make with it?  Whats it for?”.  On the other end of the scale are events, like Ickworth Wool Festival, where the audience is appreciative of the craft and workmanship.  Recognising that we are not talking about a hank of factory produced ‘wool’ but a lovingly crafted thing and are prepared to pay an appropriate price.  When I work out a formula that works for me I will let you know.  But until then I will continue to price what I think is appropriate and see how it goes. If anyone has any thoughts on this I would love to hear them.

As a bonus I bought a fleece, a Jacobs/White Faced Woodland cross.  Lovely colour mix from the Jacob and a long lustrous staple from the Whitefaced. Which is pretty much bringing me back full circle.  Its time to get in the fleece.  July and August will be about cleaning and carding and storing.

Woolly Worstead on 16th and 17th July is the next in the Diary.  This will be a Guild gig.  Looking forward to it.  Except now I need to make more stock to replace the stock I sold…and so it goes.

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All the pretty pretty fibres

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I’ve been playing in the workshop and having a massive art attack with the Shetland top from our trip to Howarths.  What do you think?  Oh so very very pretty.

I really love playing with colours.  The whole process from mixing up dyes, experimenting with different techniques in dyeing the fibre to exploring how the dyes mix and blend in rovings. Then using the drum carder to ‘paint’ with the different colours and textures.

Its not until the whole lot was thrown together that there is definitely a Fibre Workshop house style.  Aside form the oft’ mentioned acid and chartreuse greens that seem to find their way into most of my work, I also can’t seem to avoid strokes of shine and a wee bit of bling.  Silks (both natural and increasingly synthetic) and sparkley accents with trilobal and Angelina seem to find their way in to the mix more often than not.

When spun into yarn and knitted or woven into fabric or used in felting the silks and sparkles give the piece a beautiful accent that is very pleasing on both the eye and the hand.  But don’t just take this from me.  I’ve been taking these fibrous sweeties out into the world at both Guild and during makers month at the Forum as a bit of a consumer product testing exercise.  Blimey its scary showing the world your wares and asking for criticism.  The reception was overwhelmingly positive and included some very kind complements and extremely helpful advice from spinners, felters and fibre artists that bought them and have used them.  They are quite small and manageable at 25 grammes per batt.

Do you think you might like some?  Watch this space.

In the meantime these squooshy beautiful lovelies are now being stocked by Norfolk Yarn in Norwich.  So if you are in Norwich pop in to the best yarn and fibre art shop in the region and go give the Fibre Workshop batts a squeeze and I bet you you wont be able to resist…

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Team HSN goes to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd

image_mediumOn Friday I was extremely honoured and privileged to join the Team HSN UK Spinzilla team on our visit to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd in Bradford at the very kind invitation or Martin and Adam Curtis (of Curtis Wools Direct one of our proud Team HSN UK sponsors).

It wasn’t quite the relaxing trip we had planned (original intention was a nice couple of days in the Peaks – not that I had planned a few trips to places such as Wingham Wool Works for a spend up – however something came up with the OH that could not be cancelled so we decided to do Bradford and back in one day. Knackering. The A47 was quiet – no Lorries or caravans creeping along at 40 miles an hour causing everyone else behind to white knuckle grip the steering wheel in frustration and developing a rage related embolism.

It was great to see people and put faces to the Ravelry code names. Martin was the best host and was extremely candid about his business and the future.

The tour around the Scouring and combing plants was fascinating.  Kate Davies gave a splendid and informative post on her blog describing the process from a non-technical perspective here.

What struck me most was that it is exactly the same process we use at home in preparing our fleece. Just with machines, probably a whole lot more consistent and well regulated (in terms of pH, temperature, water and detergents) and on a massively different scale.  And without the odd felting related mishaps as well.  Hmm learning experiences.  Well I would hope so anyway.  Imagine felting up on that scale.

Raw fleece arrives at the factory baled.  Curtis Wools buy approximately 50% of the BWMB annual clip in addition to fibre for other clients from around the world.  We saw some amazing fleeces stained orange by desert sands and some beautiful fleeces in browns and tans from Egypt.  Very strong fibre but wonderful colours.

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The bales are unpacked and fed onto the conveyor.  The smell was unmistakeable. Shit and sheep and lanolin. Glorious. It smelt like my cupboard in the workshop where I keep the raw stuff I can’t decide what to do with. And the dust. It was so dusty.

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The conveyor moves the unpacked fleece into the first machine that opens out the fleeces. IMG_20160219_114007693The conveyor then moves the opened out fleece through a long scouring line of a series of washes. Each one steadily cleaner. The fleece still contained a lot of vfm and other unidentified foreign articles.

IMG_20160219_114023907At the end of the scouring line is a giant dryer.

IMG_20160219_114729650The fibre then moves up the conveyor and is picked over as it passes through into the baling plant.

IMG_20160219_114845154The dry scoured fibre is blown into large containers where it was stored until it was fed through into the balers.  IMG_20160219_121313332Martin opened up a full container, the fluffy clean fleece spilled out and caused minor chaos amongst the team as all were transfixed by sight and unable to stop themselves rushing forward.IMG_20160219_120510120

The scoured bales are then transported across the road to the combing plant. Here the fibres are first carded into sliver, still lumpy and neppy, with some vfm in it.IMG_20160219_123141093IMG_20160219_123502780

The carded sliver was then passed through the combing line. These machines were mesmerising as the sliver pulsed its way into the combers and out the other side forming rhythmic and amazing shapes like a curious white unending snake. And the noise was indescribable. The final combed top is quite beautiful. The shapes are amazing as it coils out into the bumps.  My photos do not do these justice. IMG_20160219_122516047 IMG_20160219_122538988 IMG_20160219_122548645_HDRIMG_20160219_122628129

Did consider if this would fit in the back of the Fiesta:

IMG_20160219_122456239The whole process is the most efficient in the UK if not the world. This makes it a very clean process. In attempting to minimise ‘waste’ (thinking no such thing as waste, just lack of imagination and will in what to do with it) the plant also producers an amazing array of co-products.  The combing waste (nepps) is sold on for uses including mattress stuffing. The lanolin is sold on into the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. The residual solid matter (other greases, particulates and dirty bits) is used as a soil improver. Also the treatment chemicals are specified and used efficiently to reduce the toxicity of the effluent stream. For example, the detergents used are specified specifically because they breakdown in the effluent treatment. We were also introduced to the EnCo testing team.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time to have a conversation about the environmental side of things that interest me.  However, I got the business card and will be contacting them with all my questions in due course.

We were also joined on the day by the fabulous Ellis Stokeld who owns the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters. IMG_20160219_123203965

This is the largest flock in the UK. You can find Ellie and The Doulton Flock on Ravelry (The Doulton Border Leicester Fleece group).  She bought along some samples of her spun fleece. Including a skein of handspun.  This was hands down the best skein compared with the mill spun skeins.  It was glorious.  Hats of to her spinner, it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in some time.  But then again I would say that wouldn’t I (no?). The 4-ply mill-spun had a wonderful lustre and drape to it.  Looked like it would knit up with a great stitch definition. You can find The Doulton Flock Border Leicester yarns in a 4-ply and DK at Blacker Yarns.

The trip closed with a treat – a fibre retail opportunity. I came away with some more Shetland top in natural and two colours, grey and oatmeal.  I’m planning on having an art attack with some of it dyeing it up and carding into some painterly batts. The remainder I think I may spin up for a colour worked piece. Traditional Shetland/Fairisle stranded work? Hmmm. So many ideas so little time.

All in all a very happy day. Ended up home by 9pm with a beer, a curry, feet up on the sofa and ‘Shetland’ on the TV. Perfect end to a perfect day.  My thanks to Jan, Martin and Adam for making it all possible.

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Wasted? Part two

So, I’ve been working on the Wasted? thing.   In the first post I had drum carded the fibre into something that looked like it could be useable.  It was lumpy and bumpy and less than perfect.  Adopting the philosophy of true beauty and harmony comes from working with what you have and not how everyone thinks it ought to be I decided to roll with those neps and bumps.

I space dyed the batts with brown, orange and grey leaving quite abit undyded.  After dyeing, I ransacked my ‘bling’ box pulling out some dyed silk neps in turquoise, shocking pink and orange.

Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from
Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from

The batts had already been through the carder three times prior to dyeing but dyeing had compacted the fibre a bit plus I wanted to blend the blend the colours and add in the silk neps.  Plus the really chunky woolly bits were standing out so I could pick them out as I carded (or not depending on how lazy or bored I got).  Carding again also meant I could pull off the batt as rolags (or should I call ’em fauxlags to suit the pedants?).

carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps
carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps

The woolly chunks show up well don’t they.

fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin
fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin

I decided to pull of the batt as rolags because the fibre was so choppy and was quite short staples.  Drum carder rolags are quite tight compared with those from hand carders.  I like this as it puts a bit of tension on the draught.  I like to spin with a relatively high tension.  No particular reason other than its what I prefer.  I like to see the crimp and the fibres pulled nice and straight.  Heres a couple of pictures of the singles, the first as it was spun the second on the bobbin:

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singles
singles

The lumpy thick and thin nature is quite obvious. It was spun long draw – sort of some bits I went short worsted. It was a real joy to spin.  I just let it do its thing.  Some bits draughted smooth and relatively thin.  Other bits clogged in the rolag and draughted chunky and bumpy and thick.  I only pulled off neps if they offended me but mostly I ignored them.  I really didn’t do much quality control at all.  It was fast and fun.

And here it is plied:

plyed
plyed

 

Isn’t it lovely. Not my hands though, definitely not lovely.  I had been in the veg patch planting broad beans (too soon?) and went straight in to the workshop to get the plying done so excited was I to see how it was going to turn out.

The final stage was finishing the yarn.  As this yarn was intentionally neppy and would have loose bits that will pill or fall off I decided that it would need to be fulled to some degree.  Yes.  It needed a bit of felting.  On purpose.  And how do we felt wool.  1 heat.  2 soap.  3.  Agitation.  4 Temperature shock. So two bowls.  One seriously hot with some non foamy detergent (I use wool wash, but baby shampoo has been recommended) and the other nice and cold.  Plunged the skein in the hot soapy water and gave it a jolly good thrashing.  Pulled it out gently squeezing it and then throwing it into the cold bowl for a swish and rinse.  Repeat. You need to watch your yarn like a hawk.  Blink and you will miss the point where fulling becomes felting and you end up with a very lovely very thick dreadlock rather than the fully integrated lovely soft usable yarn you were aiming for.  I only did this twice before I felt the fibres begin to lock together.  a quick spin dry and hang and hey presto Isn’t she lovely:

finished skein
finished skein

I’ve just finished knitting up a sample:

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Its super soft and very textured.  Ought to have used bigger needles to really let it fluff up and show off its best bits.  I think it looks its best in simple stocking stitch.  So please with the outcome.  I have had a rummage in the workshop .  This one is Hebridean carded with silk neps ( I very nearly ruined it by over fulling it so it is not as soft as it was and i regret that a bit):

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And this one is some castle milk Moorit and Shetland with some soy silk fibres:

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the lumpy bits tended to spin out of the yarn in this one. Not my favourite.

I hope this has inspired you to dig out your ‘waste’ and have a go.  If you do I would love to know how you did it and to see the results.

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Makers Month Part two

Ericka Elckles spindling
Ericka Eckles spindling

Last day at Makers Month at the Forum today.  Its been a blast.  Have met so many wonderful enthusiastic people, too many to count.   Standouts have been ErickaEckles  who we spent many a happy hour chatting about crafting, knitting and life in general whilst she learnt how to spin with a spindle, road-testing different types and fibres.  It really clicked with the Bulgarian.  Something about all that twiddling.  Incidentally, one lady told me what craft stood for.  Can’t Remember A F***king Thing (I don’t know what the etiquette with regards to profanity is so excuse the infantile *’s).  That made me spray my tea…

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I am so very happy to report that there is so much interest in crafts like spinning, knitting, crochet and weaving.  Myself and my other Guild members (big hats off to Lizbeth, Susan, Carolinerine, Valerie, Jenny) have been talking non-stop for what seems like days from opening to closing teaching the whole world to spin.  Fingers crossed we have drummed up some new members for the Guild.

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Sadly I missed the talk on the Norwich Shawl but cannot complain.  A wonderful lady randomly dropped by with her family heirloom Norwich shawl.  She talked to us about some of its history including the time when her husband (or it might have been father?) was about to cut it up to reupholster an arm chair.  Yikes.  Anyway we managed to cop a feel of it – no gloves so flesh to flesh.  It was beautiful.

I also managed to wangle another go on the lovely Kims Saori loom – wants one wants one!  I now need, yes NEED a loom.  Practicalities like where would I put it or how would I pay for it clearly do not come into this.  The hanging donated by Saori Weavers from around the UK are beautiful so I recommend that you get to the Forum if you can to see them.  Really looking forward to seeing how the community ones woven during the past two weeks have turned out.

Today is the last day for us fiberistas.  So get along if you can and don’t forget to come and see us at the Mid-Norfolk Guild in the main atrium.

And thank you so very much to all the support given to my work, the response has been overwhelming and I am looking forward to seeing what people have done with the fibres and yarns that they bought. It has been such a boost to my confidence that I can do this.  So thank you so very much and do not forget to send me a picture of what you make.

PS was also fortunate to see Greg James of of the radio one finish his week of decathalons, the Gregathalon.  Way to go Greg!  Felt quite emotional….

Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head  just to the right of center
Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head just to the right of centre.
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Wasted?

fluffy-black-sheep-wheelie-bin-stickers-panel-blue-500x500I’ve recently become obsessed with the ‘waste’ left over from processing fibre.  You know the stuff.  The neppy, knotty, second cutty, short stuff left behind after the picking, when all the best locks have been pulled or the waste from combing.  It always seemed a shame to treat it as not worthy of attention.  Sometimes there can be quite a bit.  And sometimes it still contains usable fibre.  There is only so much draughty gap stuffing or mulching in the garden to be done.  I find it difficult letting it go.  Is it because I’m cheap?  There must be something that can be done with it?

A quick trawl through the internet revealed not alot.  I did find this excellent post by Deb Robson on how she works with imperfect fleece.  I recommend it.

Now, I love a swap.  I recently swapped a bag of Alpaca seconds that were too short for spinning with a needle felting buddy.  In return she passed me a bag of fibre labelled ‘Wool, South African’ from Forest Fibres.  It was unfeltable apparently.   At first sight it was unspinnable too.   It was nasty.  Looked like the stuff left behind after all the locks had been picked.  Nepps,second cuts and knots:

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But…but it was so fine and so very soft.  But all those nasty bits.  But.  It had travelled all the way from South Africa.  Igoing to go on the compost heap.  That would be outrageous!  all those miles.

I thought it would be an ideal candidate for exploring the question of what can you do with imperfect fibre. I thought you might like to know what I did and what the results were.  I hope you find this helpful.

First point.  You can not make a square peg fit a round hole. Yes, yes I know you can take a knife to its corners and hammer it in till it fits.  But it will always be a square. A square in a permanent state of existential pain.  Forced to go against its very nature and knowing it will never be perfect. This sort of material is never going to produce a lustrous, smooth, consistent yarn.  It will pill. It will be wilfully lumpy and bumpy. It will have texture and gnarliness and personality. So we are going to have to work with that.  I’m thinking tweedy.  I’m thinking it will need fulling.  It will need spinning in a way that will encase the short fibres and show of its wonderful textured nature.  But first how to prep.

Stage 1: Sorting.  I could have picked it.  I could have sorted it.  This would have taken for ever.  And what would have been the point?   plus I am lazy and who has the time for that.  So I only picked out the really obvious nasties.

Stage 2: Opening out before drum carding.  I picked up gobs of the fibre, scrapped it onto hand carders and gave it a couple of passes to open the fibre out into sort of cloudy sausages. No picking out bits yet.

loading handcarders with fibre
loading handcarders with fibre
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fibre after a couple of passes on hand carders

Stage 3: the resulting hand carded ‘sausages’ were fed onto the drum carder sideways on .  yes, sideways.  Go see this post by Yarn Harlot drum carding fibres sideways. I recommend the comments.  Very very funny.

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Feeding on hand carded ‘sausages’ onto drum carder sideways for first pass
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On drum carder first pass showing neps.

Stage 3:  I gave the batts a further 2 runs through the drum carder.  During these passes I used the trusty tweezers to pick out the worst offenders.  I was not too picky.

I ended up with about 160g of very er herm ‘textured’ batts.  Something happened to the photos I took of these so I can’t show you how bad they are.  But the fibre was so soft!

Next task is to dye the batts.  I think that we also need to make a feature of those nepps and lumps and bumps and bling them up a bit.  I will let you know what happens in part two when I get round to it.

In the meantime I’m getting prepared for Makers Month at the Forum.  Hope to see you there.

 

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Makers Month at the Forum

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The The Forum Norwich is holding its first Makers Month from Monday 1st February to Saturday 27th February.  Golly that’s next week!  I am going to be there with the guys from the Mid-Norfolk Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers on Friday 5th, Saturday 6th, Thursday 11th, Friday 12th and Saturday 13th.  The first two weeks are fibre focussed: week 1 Yarn; week 2 Fabric.  There will be spinning with all the Norfolk Guilds represented, weaving with Kim from The Saori Shed and a plethora of other activities and crafts people.  The following two weeks are paint and paper focussed if thats your thing.

Makers Month is for curious beginners and more experienced crafts people and master craftsmen to meet and share skills, ideas and enthusiasm for our craft.  For absolute beginners to have a go.  It should be really fun and exciting.  I’m  really looking forward to talking with other fibre obsessives to my hearts content!

I’m also looking forward to a fine talk and exhibition on the Norwich Shawl with Joy Evitt from the Costume & Textile Association on Friday 12th February.

So if you are in Norwich on those dates, come and find me and say hello.

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New Year New Horizons

frosty morningHi there dear reader welcome back. After the social hurly burly of the turn of the year life I’ve been having a few weeks of deep hibernation and contemplation as the dog days of January drag on.

On a positive note, living somewhere where there is no street lighting you notice the day light changing more acutely than in urban places.  The days are already noticeably longer and the darkness is creeping back a few minutes every day. Can’t you feel the energy rising?  Storing itself up like a tightly coiled spring just waiting to let rip like a seasonal Jack in the Box (no?).  In the past week we have seen a couple of spectacularly glorious sunrises as we tear along the back road to get the boy on the  7.30am bus. Particularly on a hard frosty morning like today where I spotted this deer (rubbish photo).It is good to be alive!

So, in the week that is supposedly the most depressing of the year, I wish you all a happy new year and to reflect on the past year and plans for the year to come.

2015 was an odd one for me. I guess the most momentous thing was that it was a year of not having a ‘proper job’.  How very feckless of me – I seemed to have lost my job and failed to find it. Despite not having a ‘proper’ job, the year was an incredibly busy one. It was one of construction, community and learning.

I don’t know about a bucket list but a dedicated work space for all my stuff was something I had desired and coveted since I was a crafty child. And the year started with the construction of my workshop. Spinzilla day one

It needs a bit of fine tuning to finish.  The roof needs insulating (brrr its mighty cold at the moment). We also have a problem common to many frugal folk scavenging cast-offs for our own purposes – things can sometimes be a bit crap.  The sliding patio doors were donated, as with a lot of free stuff, the sliding action is more of a throw your weight against and shove with all your might. Plus they leak. So they have to have a rethink. But it is and remains my very most treasured luxury and sanctuary from the madness outside.

Community is a difficult one for me. I am a bit of alone wolf. I ‘m happiest in my own company. But this year saw me moving out of my comfort zone and starting to participate in the most wonderful and generous community of fibre folk, all those spinners, dyers and knitters. Never having the time to look before, I had no idea that the community was so vibrant, so talented, so inspiring and so large and so open and friendly! The highlight was participating in the UKs Team HSN Spinzilla Team. The team continues with christmas swop, the contribution of a knitted square for a blanket to be auctioned off for charity and a group visit to Curtis Directs mill. In February and a meet at Fibre East. Honoured and amazed in equal measure.

With regards to learning. Having the luxury of time meant I had a lot of time for thinking, spinning and knitting. I learnt so much. Not just the time for reflection and thinking about what I want to be when I grow up (need to crack on with that one don’t you think?).  It is curious how having time on your hand begets creativity, experimentation and, ultimately, personal fulfillment. Although I have been knitting all my life and spinning for about 7 years it was always crammed into those precious minutes between the other stuff of life. Progress was slow mostly because I stuck with what I knew worked and could be accomplished in the small time available. My first fleece took nearly a year to turn from greasy fleece in to a finished article and was, more or less, the only project that year. This year I’ve played with through Romney, Norfolk Horn, Sheltland, Castlemilk Moorit, Zwartble, Southdown, Masham, Alpaca, mohair, and the ubiquitous BFL. I’ve learnt how to take my time, work slower and the results have been much improved. I’ve learnt new techniques for scouring, carding and combing. I finally got to be a competent wollen spinner with help from my friends at Guild and online.  Finally getting over my fear of long draw. Its all about the bubble gum moment…I also, thanks to reading all those magnificent blogstars, discovered the sheer joy of reading Elizabeth Zimmerman for pleasure.  I know.  where have I been?  Hiding under a rock?  T’would seem so.

So what are my plans for 2016?  I want to get a deeper knowledge of my craft. In particular this year I want to explore knitting with hand-dyed and handspun yarns.  I guess the most profound thing is to continue along this new path.  Lets see where it goes. Get a job? Yah boo, sucks to that!   Joking aside, this year will see me working very hard at reducing the bills to as close to zero as is feasible.  To be more self-sufficient and to afford the luxury of exploring a slower, different way of living. One in which I have the freedom to be more creative , more fulfilled and more content (if financially poorer) than I have ever been.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you over the coming year. Happy New Year!