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Felt resistance is futile

I am still waiting for the Norfolk horn to come back from the mill all spun up into what I hope is some wonderful sproingy feisty sheepy yarn. I am so anxious, its taking a very long time.  But the delay has given me lot of time to keep on with research into the Breeds history.

A fact that I keep coming across in my Norfolk Horn research is that its fleece is difficult to felt. It was this characteristic that made it not particularly desirable for the making of woollen cloths and probably went some way to explaining why it was the cheapest wool on the markets during the Medieval Wool Boom.

After weaving, woollen cloths are fulled. Fulling is a controlled process where the cloth is purposefully felted to shrink it slightly pulling the weave together to make a warm soft and light cloth. Clearly to make this process as economic as possible you would want a wool that felted with some degree of ease.

In contrast Worsted cloths are not fulled. They are cleaned and pressed to give a smooth silky surface that keeps any textural details that were woven in.

It is this resistance to felting that gave it its low price and is what made the Norfolk Horn so desirable to Norfolks Worsted cloth industry. If you have access to a plentiful supply of a cheap raw material you would be a bit of a dufus if you couldn’t come up with the perfect use for it. Wouldn’t you? It made perfect sense to make the best of what you had.

But just how felt resistant is Norfolk Horn wool?  Obviously this is another one of those not quite scientific investigations – we have no idea of what the ancestors of the modern Norfolk were like but we can surmise that the  wool characteristics would not have been too dissimilar.

Now, I was quite fussy about what I sent off to be processed by the mill. I really want this yarn to be the best it can be. So as you can imagine I have had quite a bit of reject ‘waste’ fleece left over. The stuff sprayed in various dayglo shades of orange, lime green and blue, the coarse stuff and daggy bits. That has been sat around under the eaves of the shed since last summer.

The really poopy nasty stuff I used as a mulch on the veg patch. The remainder is still useful and I had this in mind for insulating my workshop. When we built the workshop it was on a limited budget (is no budget a limited budget?). Running out of money when it came to things such as a window and a door.  Luckily Sean acquired a large sliding patio door that would fill the gap until I had saved enough to finish the job. Which is now.  Yay!  Bit late as the cold is now past.

I didn’t want to spend ages cleaning the fleece and as I wasn’t going to spin it. I thought I would experiment a bit and test out that felt resistance characteristic.  Actually that is a bit of a white lie, as you will find out as I recount this story.

I wondered what would happen if I shoved it through the washing machine. Normally I would carefully soak and hand wash  to preserve the lock structure and blah de blah. But who has time for that if its not going to be spun.

After an overnight soak in rain water from the butt the fleece was drained on a rack for a bit before putting it through a 40oC wool wash cycle.

IMG_20180314_165539987And it was amazing!  Fluffly, clean, unfelted.  I could actually work with this and spin it!

The second batch was again put in the butt water overnight, drained and then…

Sean “ do you want me to put this through the wash?”

Me, from the garden “yes please that would be great. Put it on 40oC”

Sean “ok”

Should I have mentioned that would be a Wool wash cycle?  It was fairly self-evident it was wool, wasn’t it?

Well apparently not. This is what happened on the normal 40oC cycle:

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So what are the magic three things you need to felt wool? Heat, soap and agitation.

The results of this suggest that yes Norfolk Horn is indeed resistant to felting. But it is not entirely immune.

Not to worry, I have the felted fleece dried and bagged. I’m sure I can find a use for it somewhere. Ideas welcome.

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The Norfolk Horn: Part 2

As promised, a second post on the Norfolk Horn. In this post I want to tell you a bit about its wonderful woolly fleece.

Facts first. Todays Norfolk horn is a medium sized, hardy sheep. With its distinctive black face, alert bright eyes, with magnificent strong open spiral horns.  Both rams and ewes have horns. Long black legs and a belly that is free from fleece. It is intelligent, inquisitive and friendly, and, relative to its ancestors, fairly docile.  Its docility is thought to be owed to the Suffolk part of the modern Norfolks genetic heritage.

If you can get your hands on a Norfolk horn fleece you will find it is a creamy coloured, down land type, with flecks of dark fibres, the amount of dark fibre will vary between fleeces.

The British Wool Marketing Board classifies its fibre as fine, with a given micron range of 32 – 34.  So not so fine.  But bear with me. It does have a soft to medium handle. It has a staple length of 7 – 10 cm. The lock structure varies from a longish pointed staple in Shearling fleeces to a short thick more blocky staple in older sheep.

older locks
Shearling locks

The fleeces are quite small weighing in between 1.25 – 2.25 kg.  But the belly and legs are not fleeced. I have found that their fleeces tend to need little skirting so don’t generate too much waste. But they are greasy.  Very greasy.

Another factor in their favour, it is incredibly reluctant to felt.  So best avoided if you want a woollen yarn to full if you’re a weaver or felter. But great if you are a bit on the heavy/careless side with your finishing and washing. That’s not say they are impossible to felt…Here’s something from my research into the Norfolk breeds history: The poor felting of the Norfolk breed was one of the reasons why Norfolk developed a thriving Worsted yarn and cloth industry during the middle ages.

Surprisingly the lovely soft chocolatey brown fleece in this photo is Norfolk Horn.  The Lambs are born with dark fleece and this gradually grows through to white with time. If you are lucky enough to get lambswool like this, the fleeces are a beautiful, short stapled but very fine and wonderfully soft. You’ll find shades ranging from salt and pepper grey through to dark rich chocolatey brown/black.  The black fades out over time but some adults keep some dark fibres which gives an interesting colouring when it’s spun.

It is a great fibre to spin giving a bouncy lively yarn. The medium staple length and crimpiness make it a very tolerant fibre perfect for new spinners. It is not slick and slippery like over processed merino. It sort of sticks together and lets the spinner focus on keeping the wheel/spindle turning, whilst drafting the fibre and letting it feed in without having to concentrate too hard on keeping the drafted fibre.

I have found it spins up much softer than its fibres suggest it ought.  But it is definitely a tickly sheepy yarn with bounce and life.  The yarn seems to carry the character of the breed it comes from.

In general I card Norfolk horn on a drum carder. I used to painstakingly comb locks before feeding on.  Took for ever.  My hands raw, sore and blistering from combing.  I don’t do this now.  Now I pick up the locks, pull out any offending neps, noils, second cuts and other reject bits.  Lay the lock perpendicular to the licker in and then feed it onto the drum sideways.  Yes sideways.  No.  Not tip first.  Not butt first.  Sideways.  Brilliant.  I promise you try this once and you will be amazed at how speedier this whole boring slow boring and tedious process becomes.  I will then split these once carded batts and then card them another couple of times.  Picking out nasty bits as I go.

In general a woollen or semi-woollen spinning suits the fine character of the Norfolk the most.

 

This swatch was spun longdraw from the batt as strips that I’ve pulled into slivers.  Its about 15 wpi and knitted on 3mm needles.

I’m useless at hand carding rolags, always seems to be full of neps and lumps and bumps. The yarn is light,airy and bouncy.  It has a much softer hand than expected but is definitely tickly.  Don’t mock the quality of my spinning, I can never seem to get enough ply twist!

The longer staples make a great worsted yarn. Unlike the sample in this picture, which is not my best. It spun denser than the woollen sample, at about 13 – 14 wpi and is knitted on 3mm needles.

 

When combed and spun worsted the resulting yarn has a lovely lustre and an amazing memory. Although it has a crisper handle the stuff is like elastic! It just keeps springing back to shape. It makes a perfect sock yarn. I’ve wondered about adding blending in some mohair for a harder wearing sock yarn. Haven’t got around to it yet. Although you will also lose a lot of fibre through combing but this can be carded and spun into a lovely textured woollen yarn. This swatch is spun worsted short draw.  Sort of. I may have drifted of at points and forgot to keep with the inch worm…its firmer and a little harder hand that the woollen spun.

This cardigan is Norfolk horn.

I was in a silk phase so everything was being blended with silk.  Didn’t need it.  The brown pattern work is Alpaca.  Despite being light its incredibly warm.

Heres another example.  These are socks are Norfolk horn.  I knitted them from a two ply worsted yarn spun from combed top and then dyed. They never, ever sag or bag. And I really like the lustre and good stitch definition. They have also more than a few trips through the washing machine at regular 40oC cycle.  Did not felt. Amazing.  The pattern, if you are wondering is Sunshine by Cookie A.  Love love love her socks….

To sum up, its sheepy, bouncy, a full of life, versatile, dyes well and is virtually a natural superwash  fibre.

Hopefully that’s what you need to know. Go find some if you can and give it a go. I would love to know how you find it.

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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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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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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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Fermented Suint (FSM) update

Ok, blimey crickey it works.  It really works.

I left the fleece in for 8 days, until Wednesday, as it wasn’t smelling as much as I was expecting.  It looked vile, brown with a kind of white scum on top:

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DSC04054and yes it smells.  But then again they have just finished spraying manure on the field out the back and we have a turkey unit down the road that stinks to high heaven on days when the wind is in the right direction, so  if it comes to playing top trumps on stinkiness FSM tank is a good third place but not a hands down winner.  I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a lot of neighbours though or limited outdoor space …

I gave the feece a couple of rinses in rain water (which gave me water full of yummy goodness for my vegetable patch).  Then I put some of it into a hand hot detergent soak for about half an hour and some of it I didn’t.  Then I rinsed both until the water ran clean.  And this is what I got:

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Pretty clean eh.  The detergent soak was definitely cleaner and less greasy.  But I can say that I now fully understand what “in the grease” means.  Its clean but still has some lanolin, and has slightly sticky feel.  Nothing like as much as before.  I might try a slightly hotter detergent soak on smaller bits when I want to use it.  I’ve got one half of the second Massam in the tank.  Will see it it gets stronger as we go.  I also don’t think it really saves that much on rinsing water but definitely saves on washing and heating water.

Will definitely keep using it.

 

 

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It’s scouring time again

Its that time of year again when the shearing is nearly over and the raw fleece is ready.  As I’ve started to make more batts to sell this year I’ve gone and got considerably more fleece to clean up and process.  Five so far (1 Romney, 2 Norfolk Horn and 2 Massams).  There will be more.  Terrifying amounts of energy, hot water and time and soap.  It took 2 whole days, a vast amount of very hot water (I borrowed an urn with a temperature gauge) and lots of washing powder to clean the best bits of 1 romney and the 2 Norfolk Horns.  Too much me thinks.  I had thought about sending them away for processing elsewhere but the cost was enormous and I would have been better buying in top and roving, which really defeats the object of what I’m trying to do. I read along while ago, when I first started out on this adventure, about the fermented suint method of ye olden days.  Basically the method is bung raw fleeces in a vat of rain water and leave them to stew in their own juices for a bit of time.  I have never been brave enough to do this.  But this year it seems the most logical way.  Really low water consumption and nearly zero energy.  A warm wash will probably still be required- I don’t think greasy batts will go down well (do you?  opinions on this welcome).  A quick trawl through the internet and I found this great tutorial on the Fermented suint method (thank you kindly to Moz for this). Ravelry also has a fantastically huge resource on the FSM method in the Fiber Preperation forum.

As luck would have it we pulled out the water header tank from the loft when we moved in and I’ve kept it around because ” it looks so useful”.  And its perfect, with a lid and everything!  We have had a lot of rain in the past couple of days so filling it from the water butts was also easy.  Great upper body work out hauling the water too and fro.  I put it up by the chickens and the compost heap, just in case the smell is really that robust. DSC04049 DSC04051 I’ve started my vat with some really scuzzy ver ver greasy norfolk horn and Romney scrag ends (stuff that I was not going to waste my time washing hot) to get it going and popped the Massam on top.  Only the weather is great for April – shame its June.  And June is definitely not flaming this year.  Fingers crossed the sun will come out and heat it up for me.  I’m hoping for a seriously stinking culture by Sunday. Let you know how it goes.  At the very worst I will have some great fertiliser for the veggies.

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New pattern published in Knitty

Latest issue of Knitty has just gone live and, so very chuffed, I got me a pattern in Knitty Spin!  yay.  So very chuffed and honoured to be published.

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I called it  Ridge and Furrow.

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The project was an interesting one,  not least because of the classic stupid mistake I made when I got the fleece but also because of that moment of inspiration that you just have to see through to the end. The story behind it in brief…

My walk to my local farm (Green Farm) to check out their fleece took me through a freshly ploughed field. I really like a nicely ploughed field, something about the lines and the patterns of the ridges and furrows and the rich chocolate brown of the earth.

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Anyway, mind wandering as I walked, I started planning a shawl. I knew the design would need to be lacy and it would be natural dark brown. Then I got to the farm. There it was, a beautiful chocolate brown Hebridean fleece all bundled up and ready to go. Serendipity. It had my name on it. I could start right away. And this is where I made a classic mistake. I took it without  looking at it properly. When I got home I eagerly unwrapped it on the lawn. My heart sank. It was nasty. Clotted, filled with VFM. It was really really crappy.  But, I was driven so onwards I went.  I didn’t even abandon it when I accidentally felted it up some more when I scoured it…Oh how I laughed…

Anyway I managed to rescue nearly 60 grams (2oz or so) of usable fibre. This I hand carded into rolags and spun up into a superfine single spun worsted with the lowest twist the fibre could handle without drifting apart. I got about 780m (850 yards) in the end.

Using a triangular construction the shawl is knitted from the top centre down through the main body and the edge is knitted on to the live stitches along the bottom edge. The main body is a simple combination of stockinette stitch and a 4-row repeated lace pattern. The gorgeous edging is a simple 6 row repeat edging worked along the hem of the main body.
The lace pattern is number 25 from Pitsilised Koekirjad, an Estonian lace stitch dictionary by Leili Reimann. The lace edging is a pattern design I charted from memory of another piece of lace I had seen, but cannot remember its source. If anybody recognises it, please let me know and I can give full credit.

The Hebridean was an interesting fibre to work with.  It’s a double coat (has a long coarse top coat with a softer shorter staple undercoat) which I haven’t worked with before – another adventure in fibre.  In the fleece I was working with the top coat wasn’t too harsh or dominant in the fibre I salvaged (much tearing and yanking to retrieve best bits).  The resulting yarn was ok next to the skin (very scientific prickle tickle test on Sean), and the scarf is a little on the prickly side but ok for me.  I’m going to try again this year with another hebridean fleece from Green Farm.  Which I am off to on a fleece buying expedition this week.

I hope you like the pattern.  I’ve also posted it on Ravelry.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  And if you knit it up, I would really love to see it, send me a picture or link.