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Saturday, July 2, 2011


Good news everyone!

The website is now live. You can find my new blog posts over at The Elusive Thread.

Please update your feed aggregators and come see the new site! I will warn you, I am still messing around with the aesthetics, but all the new content will be on

Thank you! And please be assured, this blog will continue to serve as an archive (at least until I figure out how to port everything over to my domain.)

Thank you for joining me on this big step!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Build A Website

Hi there. You may be reaching this page via The reason for this is because I am currently in the throes of building my main website on my own domain name. In the meantime, I didn't want anyone to get lost, and everything you will eventually find on my own domain, you can find here.

The main page is my blog. I talk about all the fun of owning a business, and of playing with sheep fleeces for a living.

On the right hand sidebar, you can find links to places I find interesting, including my own Etsy Shop.

I want you to feel at home, so please come in, stay a while, and check out all I've got to offer.

Once the main domain is set up, I will have the redirect taken down, and everything will migrate to  But until then, I hope blogspot can help us connect!

ETA: Migration appears to be complete. Just testing to see if it all works! As of 6/26, we are Live! Welcome to the Elusive Thread!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Down Time

I just finished knitting up my Trousseau Shawl by Carol Feller from Twist Collective Spring 2011. It is glorious.

This is the first project that I knit specifically for me to keep. I started it on April 4th (right after the Spring Twist Collective was published) and finished it on Wednesday (June 15).

So now what do I knit? I have a sweater for my father, knit out of alpaca yarn. But nothing else started. And I am finding trouble getting the mojo going again.

So do you ever have that issue? Where you finish one big project and it takes you a few days to get back in the groove? How do you get going again? I feel like I lose a lot of knitting time because of these little breaks between projects. And it doesn't matter if there is something already started, or if I have tons of things I want to knit. I just don't.

How can I get the mojo back? What do you do?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's Alive!!!!!

I have been very productive over the weekend, but since most of that simply involved washing wool to process for the shop, I thought I'd share another exciting thing with you. Now, I live in an apartment, so space is at an issue. I would like to say, my garden has successfully taken over the balcony. :D

Arugula and Pole Beans
Arugula on the left, and the right big leaves are those of some pole beans. I have beans people! I'm so happy things are growing happily out there!

Tomato plants, Romas
And this is my pride and joy. I bought three tomato plants and they all appear to be thriving. Do you see? There are blooms! That means that later in the summer, there will be TOMATOES!!!! I am ecstatic.

Later this season, I am going to have the BESTEST SALADS EVER!!!!!!

**I must rave about a special organic plant food I bought for my baby tomatoes. It's called Tomato-Tone and it's organic. Last year I tried to grow tomatoes, but they were Fred Meyer starts, so they really weren't the best to begin with.... And later in the season, I noticed they were dealing with a potassium deficiency. So this year I pre-emptively added some plant food. This stuff is amazing. My tomato plants are actually making it hard to walk on my balcony to water everything else. Tomatoes are THRIVING people, on a east facing balcony, in the middle of the city.  I really hope I get Roma-sized tomatoes this year. 

I'm going out to bask in the glory of my garden. Have a great day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sneak Peek!

Here's a sneak peek of what's going up tomorrow! Enjoy!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sheep Study: Targhee Spinning

It's been an interesting trip to spin the Targhee fleece. I know I washed this one first, but it took a little bit of finessing to get it right for spinning.

Combed Preparation:

With a staple length of just over 3 inches, I knew I was tempting fate by trying to comb the Targhee locks in order to spin a worsted prep. The good news: this batch of fiber combed surprisingly easily, with very few neps or bumps.

I went to my Ashford Kiwi wheel and chose to use the fast flyer to test it. I started with the 11:1 ratio. Here is where I ran into my first problem. I would get the fiber to take up on the leader and start spinning, but then the fiber itself would fall apart. It wasn't getting enough twist. So I took the brake band to its loosest tension, and tried it on the 14:1 ratio. Still a no go. It just wasn't working.

I tried to spin worsted, but my dears, this fiber simply calls for a woolen prep. It needs the fibers to be a little wonky in order to spin properly. I couldn't bear to show you the mess this created. No pictures of attempted worsted prep.

Carded Preparation:

I used my Ashford 72 TPI hand cards for the prep on this. I didn't want to risk tearing the fiber by using my drum carder (although for processing lots of fiber, drum carding is the way to go...)

Each little rolag carded beautifully. I will admit that there was a bit of VM in the fiber, so I would pick out the big pieces as I carded. It took about 3 passes to get a sufficiently smooth prep.

Look at the little clouds! You can still see the crimp all willy-nilly in there. I was hoping for a springy yarn because of this.

Sample 1:

I started again on my 14:1 fast flyer. The brake band was still almost off. And let me tell you, the fiber loved it. It spun so easily with a short backward draw.

It was easy to pick out the remaining bits of veggie matter as I went, and the fiber was a joy to spin. As I spun, I held a little more tightly on the fiber, to stretch out the crimps, in order to get a springier yarn. Once the crimp relaxed into the yarn, they would offer a bit more spring.

Sample 1 Specs:
-Spun on Ashford Kiwi
-Woolen Spun
-Short backward draw
-Singles spun 14:1
-Navajo Plied 11:1
-16-24 WPI
-lace-fingering weight
-approx. 15 yds

The yarn was finished with a warm bath in Soak wash, then thwacked to finish (a technical term).  Once dry, the yarn was springy, and would make a good sweater (lots of elasticity, so it would bounce back). There were spots where the yarn itself was overspun, but all in all, it was a good first sample.

Sample 2:
 This time I started the wheel on its 11:1 ratio, with every intention of seeing if ratios would affect the amount of air introduced into the yarn. The fiber still drafted easily, and was easy to manage. Almost to interference was required to spin a nice fluffy yarn.
Sample 2 Specs:
-Spun on Ashford Kiwi
-Woolen style, short backward draw
-Singles spun 11:1
-Navajo plied 7.5:1
-14-22 WPI
-Closer to fingering weight
-Approx. 24 yards

After its bath and requisite thwacking, this yarn dried into a beautiful skein. It seems a little whiter compared to the first sample, which I think has more to do with the space between the fibers than any actual color differences.

This skein is actually more bouncy than the other (another result of air introduction, I think...) and softer, I think it would make a great hat. Or a really cool shawl.

This fiber wanted to be spun woolen, to take advantage of its springy nature and short staple length. I think the best sample was the fingering weight sample. Laceweight seemed to squash most of the air out of it. It would most likely be good as a three ply worsted weight even.  When spinning, I need to remember that, due to the crimps per inch, I should stretch out the crimps in order to take advantage of the spring factor of the fiber.

This fiber wants to be springy, lofty, and bouncy. So prep and spinning should follow suit. The yarn itself will not shine the way that Cotswold does, with a distinct shine, but it will have a sheen, much like the white on an opal. 


Monday, May 30, 2011

A Reason for Everything

While I am washing the pounds of Black Welsh Mountain ewe lamb for my next Sheep Study segment, I started thinking about why I am so interested in these rare breeds, or even studying sheep at all. It's not that this is an extremely popular area of study, being that there are only 3 comprehensive books about sheep breeds and their fleeces for handspinning. It's also not because there is any money in it. I don't expect to be able to live on the proceeds from my Etsy shop to cover the cost of studying these breeds.

What it really boils down to is that I love sheep. I do. I love all the wonderful things they allow us to do. If the zombie apocalypse struck, I would have to make sure I had a protected flock of sheep in order to help me survive. Meat, milk, and wool, all in one package. And I love the diversity.

Perhaps I should explain. Many, many years ago, I fancied myself a biologist. I was prepared to get my undergraduate degree in Biology, with a concentration in genetics. I wanted to work on the Human Genome Project. I wanted to study how genes and biodiversity affect everything we do. Unfortunately, two years into my degree, the scientific community announced that they had "completed" the Human Genome Project. I had to look for another degree.

I fell into Linguistics, almost by accident. I was "good" at learning languages. But I spent a good portion of my time studying how the language was put together, not how to actually speak it. I relied on my schooling to keep me entertained while I mused about why a certain section of a word would mean a certain thing. I ended up graduating with a BA in Linguistics, with a concentration in Morphology and Syntax.  Linguistics has a manner of trying to document a language as a way to preserve it. We catalog all those words and morphemes in order to remember them, even as language evolves and deletes words from the lexicon.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that preserving languages and genetics would feed into my love of preserving Sheep as well. I recognize that the human civilization has done a lot of damage to niche populations of all manner of creatures. And most of the time, I am at a loss as to what I, as an individual, can do.  But I look at sheep, and think "I can save them".  Being a knitter, I can buy yarns made from the wool of all manner of breeds. Being a spinner, I can buy fleeces, and study how these different breeds behave, and what uses their wools have in the real world. Being a business owner, I can bring these sheep breeds to my customers. I can raise awareness as to why these breeds are so important, and why we want to spin and weave and knit with them.

It's only taken me 6 years to find a calling as engaging as this. I am not that old. But I certainly recognize that time is of the essence. This is why I do the things that I do. Why I invest money and time into something that has no real monetary gain for me or my household. I do it because it's important. I do it because it feels right. I do it because there is a cute little sheep that stares at me in the back of my mind, reminding me that if we crafters don't take the steps necessary to preserve them, then who will?

Was this post helpful or inspiring? Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Or, visit my shop and browse to see what breeds I am currently offering. It all starts with us.

All Photos in this post were found as part of the Creative Commons via

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Soay Cute!

When I went to visit Amelia of the Bellwether, she shared some wonderful experiences with me, one of which was feeding her 3 Soay rams. These boys were sweet. And super cute. I just had to share the pictures I got of them.

The last one is Rigel, whose fleece I am sampling for my Sheep Study. Look at that face! Such a sweetheart. The lamb above didn't seem too interested in us. He was too busy bouncing all over the yard.

I tell you, I need to own sheep.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

4 Weeks Away

I haven't mentioned this on the blog, because I didn't want to arouse suspicion...But two weekends ago, I went to go test drive a new spinning wheel.

I had emailed The Bellwether (based here in Washington) to see if she had a wheel available for me to test. I had done lots of research and felt that the Bee was the best choice for me as far as ratios and versatility goes. This wheel is not to replace my Kiwi, but more to allow me to spin while on vacation and traveling. Sock Summit especially, since I have a few spinning classes that I signed up for.

The Spinolution Queen Bee

The Bee is manufactured here in the US by Spinolution, and I have been pleased to see that they are still making amazing things. (OMG, have you seen their Loom ideas?!?!)  The Queen Bee is a variation on the original Bee model, that had issues with the treadling mechanism being gouged by a screw (or so I've heard). The Queen Bee takes care of that issue while still preserving the 9 ratios, yes, NINE, from 1:5 to 1:36. For a girl coming from a Kiwi, with 2 ratios on the original orientation, this is a major evolution in spinning.  Alcariel, from Round the Twist has one and has been raving about it for about a year in her video blog, so clearly I am in good company. 

It's a folding wheel, with a clever little mechanism that allows you to lower the entire orifice and maiden mechanism into a rectangular shape that can fit inside a small suitcase. (12x19x9 inches in dimension, folded)

So I did first try spinning it on the lowest ratio, just because I had been in a car for 2.5 hours, and didn't wanna break it or myself. Amelia of the Bellwether was wonderful, and showed me all the ways it can change ratios and what I would be dealing with.  First off, the treadling is so smooth. It's an interesting orientation because there is a foot rest for your heels, and then the actual treadles are smaller bits that use a rocking motion (side to side, not front to back like the Kiwi)

The treadling is smooth, and the pegs (not hooks) are located on the same side of the flyer, which means I will have an easier time threading the singles in order to spin finer yarns (Cobweb Lace, here I come!!!!). On the Kiwi, the hooks are located on opposite sides of the flyer (and what I mean by this is that if you have the flyer flat, you will only see one set of hooks on top, and the other is on the bottom of the other arm of the flyer, whereas the Bee has pegs that face the same direction on both sides)

Yes, I did spin on the 36:1 ratio as well. And it didn't kill me, despite seeming like it was going 50 or 60 million miles per hour. :) I can see super fine yarns in my future with this wheel.

This was a sweet girl to spin on. I loved that Amelia broke out some really nice merino for me to spin, and she was a really wonderful person 

I am now halfway saved up to buy the wheel and a few extra bobbins.  Halfway. 2 more paychecks and I will be able to afford to buy my wheel in cash. How cool is that? And if I play my cards right (which I really do need to do) I will have this wheel before I leave for Sock Summit, and my 4 hour spinning class with Judith Mackenzie.  This is a big deal for me. 

Please, if you have the opportunity, you should buy from Amelia at the Bellwether. She is a wonderful resource and an amazingly knowledgable spinner, weaver, sheep farmer (I got to meet her 3 Soay Rams. :D ) and all around wonderful and sweet lady. She even gave me some Soay sheep fleece to play with for my Sheep Study. Isn't that wonderful? I highly recommend her for your fibery and Spinolution needs. 

And to be sure, I will be posting about this wheel once she is in my hot little hands.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sheep Study: Cotswold Spinning

After washing the samples I had received of the adult Cotswold fleece, I let them dry, then split them into two groups. One group was for combing on my English combs/dog combs and the other for carding.  I have already done the reading to know that with a staple length in the 5-8 inch range, combing is going to be the best bet. But I wanted to be semi-scientific about this and see what differences could be achieved with carding.

Combed Fiber:

When I first started processing this fiber, I had a pair of cheap dog slicker combs that I was using. They had one pitch of smooth (not deathly sharp) tines and were about 4.5 inches wide.  These are perfectly serviceable for those of us who do not wish to spend more than $100 dollars on combs specifically for wool processing.  These are also good for learning the proper method of combing without worrying about damage to the combs.

I combed the first sample of fiber, which was the sample that had not had added conditioner to the second rinse. The combing itself was fine, but the fiber while spinning was a little crisp. (This is when I decided to add conditioner to the second rinse, and also only use Dawn on two washings for the rest of the fleece that would not be used in sampling.)

Sample 1:

Sample 1 was washed 3 times with Dawn dish detergent, and rinsed twice.

I started on my Ashford Kiwi fast flyer with the 14:1 ratio for the singles s-twist and navajo plied z-twist on the 11:1 ratio. I ended up with about 15 yds at 14 wpi, which is close to a sport weight.

This sample was more overspun than I would have liked, with the twists per inch averaging about 15 tpi in the plied skein. The fiber itself was a little hairy, as if the fibers did not get completely spun into the singles, and were working their way out. The crispness of the fiber felt like it was more similar to wool in carpets. Smooth when you're walking on them, but a little rougher when just laying on the carpet.  I thought it might be because the sample had been washed so many times, or that my combing method was lacking, so I decided to do a few more samples.

Sample 2:
Sample 2 had been washed the same way that Sample 1 had been. It was washed 3 times with Dawn, and rinsed twice with no additional conditioning.

I combed it instead on my English combs (new acquired) to rule out the combs being the problem. Spun on my Ashford Kiwi with the 14:1 ratio s-twist for the singles, and then navajo plied z-twist on the 11:1 ratio.  I ended up with about 4.375 yards of sport weight yarn.

The resulting yarn was slightly less crisp than the previous sample, but still seemed overspun. The twists per inch was 12 tpi, so less than the previous sample, which I think contributed to the slightly nicer handle of the yarn.  Using the English combes appeared to make a difference, but to ensure it wasn't the main cause of the change in handle, I did another sample.  I wanted to show that the TPI is what really matters when spinning long fibers.

Sample 3:

Sample 3 was washed the same way the previous samples were washed, and was combed on my English combs.  I decided to test the "TPI matters" hypothesis by spinning at lower ratios and seeing what it did.

Sample 3 was spun on the Ashford Kiwi as well z-twist on the singles at 11:1 and s-twist on the navajo plied yarn at 11:1 as well. (A Note: Normally you do go down a ratio when plying to make sure you aren't taking out twist from one direction at the same rate you are adding twist in the other direction. I was unable to get a third ratio close enough from my wheel (the next ratio down would have been 7.5:1, and I felt that was too low. To compensate, I treadled slower in order to introduce less twist.) TPI in the resulting mini skein was 8-9 tpi.

The third sample turned out much silkier than the others, which I attribute to the twists per inch being lower as I progressed through the samples. Thank you, Thank you. I have just done an experiment that supports what most spinning teachers tell you about long wools. "Long wools need less twist to be held together". Scientific method has successfully given me a better understanding as to why this matters.

However, we still have not dealt with the idea of carding the fiber.

Carded Fiber:

Sample 4

I will not lie. Sample 4 turned out the best in my opinion. However, let's take a look at why.  I used the "waste" that was leftover from combing the locks for the previous samples and drum carded it, then pulled it into roving.

The roving itself was not as shiny as the top I had created, a result of the fibers not being aligned parallel, for sure.  It did however have a bit more bounce to it than the combed top.

Sample 4 was spun on my fast flyer for the singles s-twist at the 11:1 ratio, and navajo plied on the regular flyer z-twist at the 7.5 : 1 ratio. The finished yarn was about 10.69 yards, and varied a little between lace and fingering weight.  This was interesting to me because I had always assumed that more work would be involved with spinning thinner when using a lower ratio. Not with Cotswold. :)

The twists per inch was the most important part. I ended up with an average of 9 tpi on this yarn, which was the sample as Sample 3, but the yarn itself was more fluffy, due to the woolen spinning method.

A final note before the recap: All of these yarns were given a hot bath and then twacked to finish. I hadn't really wanted to try fulling to finish with these, and didn't imagine it would work to well, since Cotswold isn't known for felting capabilities.

The resulting yarns would be good for outerwear or a nice wool skirt. I don't think I would use my samples for a scarf, with the way the crispness set, but I could see trying it with a yearling or lamb's fleece to see if age makes a difference (and we know it usually does...) This could also be wonderful for blending with another softer long staple fiber, perhaps alpaca or llama? I don't have any alpaca to use, but that little bit of softness could make the yarn usable in more next-to-skin applications.

What We Have Learned:
1) If you want a shiny longwool prep, use combs.
2) Remember that you don't need much twist for longwools, so use a lower ratio.
3) TPI is king for longwools. Pay attention to that in order to get the yarn you want.
4) If you spin woolen, using carded fiber, remember it won't be as shiny as its combed counterpart, but it will be fluffier due to the introduced air.
5) Spinning samples is important if you want to learn what your specific fiber has to offer. Your patience will be rewarded.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sheep Study: Cotswold The Washing

Next in our study is the Cotswold sheep.

The Cotswold sheep is a longwool that is thought to be one of the oldest known sheep breeds.  It has historical roots around the areas of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire in England. Some authorities claim that the sheep were present even before the Romans in 54 BCE, being brought in by the Phoenicians in the earlier 100 BCE years. The locks themselves are often sold as "Santa's Beard" hair, for use in dolls.  Cotswold sheep are normally polled and have white faces and black hooves. The wool can be tan, grey, or white, with white being (sadly, in my opinion) the most sought after for those "Santa Beards".

From the Books:
Staple Length: 7-12 inches
Micron Count: 34-40 microns
Luster: high luster, silky
Felting: modest felting qualities (although my shepherd said that if you even *look* at some of the locks funny, they will felt...)

My Experience:
I received two types of samples, both white and the natural grey/tan.  Both were lustrous and long fibers, which displayed themselves in perfectly curled ringlets when first pulled out of the box.

The White:

In its raw state, my white sample weight 3 1/4 ounces.  Some of the tips were felted, but otherwise, the fiber was free flowing.  The white samples came from sheep named Dinah, Glinda, and Nibbles, and there was a little bit of hay and vegetable matter in the locks.

Staple length: short-6.5 inches, long-7.5 inches
Crimp: 4-5 crimps per inch
Fineness: soft, almost like a silky hair, not as soft as optim Merino, but as soft as regular Merino, and less coarse than the cheviot I had been working with.

Prewash Weight: 3 1/4 ounces, out of bag
Washing: 3 washes, 2 rinses (with no additives)
Postwash Weight: 2 1/5 ounces, out of bag

When we do the math for the percentage change,
                                                  --------------  x 100  =  percentage change

               We get:
                                     --------------  x 100 = -.32   or 32% Loss
The Gray:

The gray locks were slightly more silvery in color than a true gray. This is one of the natural colors that Cotswold can be, (other colors are fawn, darker brown, dark grey to almost black, or a tan color) and I have to say, with the luster that is inherent in the breed, these locks were *shiny*

Staple Length:  4.5 inches on the short end, and 8.25 inches on the longest end.
Crimp: 6 crimps per inch
Feel: This was softer than the white, but also had more crimps per inch. I am thinking that the darker locks will require a little less spin than other samples, because of the higher crimp ratio.

Prewash Weight: 3 ounces
Washing: 2 wash, 2 rinse (last rinse with conditioner)
Postwash Weight: 2 ounces

Percentage Change: 33% loss

The reason why I had added conditioner to the last rinse of the gray Cotswold locks was because I had already completed spinning a sample of the white, and felt that it was a bit coarse. In order to rule out my washings as the culprit, I washed these samples with conditioner. When I do the spinning samples, we will uncover whether washing or spinning was the cause of the coarseness of a previous squishy fiber (another post, to be sure. Stay tuned for Sheep Study: Cotswold Spinning)

What we have learned:

When washing raw Cotswold locks, we can expect between a 32-35% loss in weight. There wasn't much lanolin in the raw locks that I washed, so I expect future numbers to be around the 35% end of the spectrum.  Of course, lanolin production varies with the season and the conditions that the sheep are in. No two fleeces are really the same, regardless if they are raised on the same farm. And also, these sheep were not raised without pasture or with coats. There was vegetable matter in all the locks. The good thing is that my shepherd knows the value of handspinning, and was sure to be careful to not throw hay on her sheeps' backs, but still. Vegetable matter is unavoidable in most cases. However, most of it will come out during further processing.

Up next in this Sheep Study: Combing versus Carding, Processing Locks for Spinning

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Product Review: Anderson Originals Kitten Drum Carder

As you may recall from my previous post, The Great Drumcarder Decision 2011, I bough a drum carder. Now that I've had the chance to play with it, I decided to do a product review. You all know by now, my reasons for choosing this drum carder over other brands and models. But here we will talk about the drum carder itself.

It all came in a HUGE box, with a friendly sticker that says "Made in the USA". Yes, I feel good about this purchase, because it was *relatively* inexpensive, and I am supporting a handmade production artist. Now the box is slightly deceiving. The drum carder is not that big (nope, no 3 ft by 3 ft carder...) but the reason for the box being that size was for the care that was put into packing it.

LOTS of bubble wrap!
Not only was the drum carder wrapped in 2 feet worth of bubble wrap, but it was also housed by foam corners to prevent it from moving during travel. Please keep in mind that the care put into packing the drum carder is part of the shipping cost (and seriously, if I made something this sexy by hand, you BET I would be packing it with care as well!)
 The box itself came with a *hand written* thank you card from the master himself. Now that is sweet.

The carder itself has a 90 tpi licker in and 120 tpi drum. What I love is that this is suitable for most wools that I would be playing with, but there is also the option to buy additional drums separately with the other carding cloths. Versatility is goooooood.

The packer brush has a hand burned Anderson Originals stamp on it. Remember: attention to detail. The brush itself has bristles that are about 3/4 inch long. Enough to brush along the tines, but not long enough to remove fiber from the drum as you turn.

My Fancy Kitty Kitten is about 1.5 feet long, and 3/4 ft wide. Small enough to fit easily on my kitchen table, but big enough to make batts that are 22" long and 8.5" wide.

The table clamp is relatively simple, it's just a screw and a nut that bolts the drum carder to the table. If I had my way, this is the only thing I would change, as my table is a little too thick to properly clamp the drum carder to, I would prefer that there be more than one clamp.  But honestly, the craftsmanship might not allow this. I can get by with one clamp. I just need to be creative with how the drum carder is attached.

The Kitten comes *almost* fully assembled to your door. All you need to do is attach the handle that turns the machine. Sweet. Minimal assembly is a plus when you are squeeing your way through the house in anticipation of a new toy to play with.

The poly cord drive belt is serious business. It's thick and seems like it will never wear out. It is completely smooth, so there are no bumps when you are carding to your little heart's content. The fun part is, that if it does wear out, it is super simple to replace.

Just an aside: Do you see how shiny this baby is? Even without a finish, you can tell that love and knowledgable craftsmanship went into it. Everything moves super smooth, and there are no rough patches.

She's so pretty!

I am extremely happy with my purchase. I have already carded some targhee and cheviot batts on her, and am very please with the results (those are available in my etsy shop...)

Again, the only thing I have a vague problem with is that I am worried my little darling will migrate across the table with only one clamp. But, it hasn't happened yet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sheep Study: Targhee-Washing and Analysis

About a week ago, I decided that I needed to visit my LYS and play with fiber. I've been working with some farmers across the nation, trying to find a mutually beneficial way for us to work together to bring you all interesting and/or rare fibers.  It's looking like the best way to do this is for me to buy raw fleeces and then do most of the processing myself.

Before taking a huge plunge and buying several hundred pounds of fleeces, I decided it would behoove me to start small and figure out what I'm really getting into. My first study is of a Targhee ram fleece that I picked up from my LYS. What follows is my experience with the fiber.

(As an aside, if you are interested in doing something like this on a smaller scale, please check out the Fleece Study with Jacqueline Bland. She sends you samples of all kinds of sheep breeds (about 40 of them), and a handy book with information on each of the breeds, as well as space to take notes, and for $70, it is well worth the investment)

raw state Targhee locks
I started with 12 oz of fleece from a Targhee ram that I bought from my LYS. When I was picking through the bag of fleece, I was looking for fiber that was still in its original lock formation, and I looked at the cut end, trying to find pieces of fleece that had similar crimp structure. When choosing a part of a fleece, it is best to look for whole locks, because then you can ensure you do not choose portions with lots of second cuts (those little bits of fiber that are caused by cutting back across a portion of the sheep's body. Mostly unavoidable as a sheerer, but best to be avoided as a spinner. Although, they are handy for pillow stuffing or small felting projects...)

I have a notebook that is now dedicated only to this long term Sheep Study. In this notebook, I wrote down the raw weight of the fiber, which for the Targhee was 12 ounces (it weighed 12.5 ounces inside its original bag)

I then spread it out on the table and started looking through for any big pieces of vegetable matter (hay, grass, etc) and any second cuts.  You will want to pick these out if possible. No sense in washing bits of hay.

Look at the raw locks. Even though they are unwashed, the cut end is still a gloriously bright white. Also, you will want to make note of how much lanolin there is. In my case, this appeared to be a very happy sheep, with lots of lanolin. My hands were even soft after handling it.

Pick out a lock and grab a tape measure. You will want to measure the longest and shortest locks of your collection now. This will give you a better idea of how you may want to process the fiber after it's been washed (ie: combing, carding, or spinning from the lock)

staple length
In this case, the average staple length of this boy was around 3.5 inches. In my reading (research, research,research!) I found that this was about average and true to breed. (Following the post there will be a list of additional sources for breed-specific information for you.)

You will definitely want to do some reading before you wash the fleece, because researching the feltability of your fiber is a good thing to do BEFORE you think about putting your locks in water. In addition to that, you will want to know what to expect as you process your fleece.

 Now take a look at the crimp structure of your lock. With your handy dandy tape measure, you can determine the number of crimps per inch.  A note: when you are counting crimps, you are essentially counting the bends in the fiber. Embiggen the above photo, and you will see all the little bends. When counting crimp, you will only count top or bottom bends (much like a wave, with a crest OR a trough.) NOT BOTH. I decided it was easier to count the top bend or crest of the wave.

The number of crimps per inch for my lock was around 14.  In this case, my chosen lock was again, average for the breed.

Here is the run down of Targhee characteristics:
Staple Length: 3-5 inches
Fineness: 21-25 microns
Bradford Count: 58s-64s
Crimp: fine, between 6-15 crimps per inch
Fleece Weight: 11-16 lbs 
Labeled as suitable for next to skin wear

Now then, because the fiber is so fine, and there are lots of crimps per inch, this is also a highly feltable wool. Care must be taken while washing and processing it. For this reason, I decided to do all the processing by hand. No machine washing or agitation.

Arrange the locks
To wash the fleece, I arranged the locks with tips facing each other, and put it into a lingerie laundry bag. I ran the hottest water that my tap could do, and grabbed a wash tub. In said wash tub went several tablespoons of Green Works dish detergent (personal choice, I like to pretend that my fleece washing isn't poisoning the water table). You can use shampoo, Dawn dish liquid, anything that is labeled to cut grease. Remember, you are trying to remove the lanolin and dirt.

Bath Time!
Make sure the water feels "slippery" before the locks are introduced (taking a page from Margaret Stove's book here from her video "Spinning For Lace")

Once your wash tub or sink is filled with at least 5 inches of water (give or take) and is super sudsy, you can lay your laundry bag on top. Gently push it down into the water, being careful to not agitate the locks.
Rinse it good

You will do the sudsy water thing several times when washing fleece or locks. In my case, it took three sudsy baths to get the dirt and lanolin out.

Then you rinse with water of a similar temperature. It took my locks two rinses.

After washing, you will want to carefully lay the locks onto a drying rack, making sure to preserve the lock formation. At this time I want you to understand that as a dyer and processor of fleeces, the best addition to my equipment has been the Hamilton Beach Quick Dry drying rack. It dried the locks in one day instead of 4. At any rate, a drying rack with air circulation is fine. Use an air filter if you want to lay them out. Anything works.

Now weight the dry locks again. In my case, I got the washed fleece state as being 8.375 ounces

Once it's dry, you will probably want to know what the weight loss was from washing it (so that you know how much raw fleece you need to buy in order to end up with X amount for spinning). Break out your calculator. (I promise this won't hurt).  Do you remember from school, the formula to calculate the percentage change?

                         F- F1                                                F1= fleece weight, unwashed
                                ----------------                                               F2=fleece weight, washed

For this batch, we would plug in the numbers thusly:

                  ----------------  =      .33 or 33%

This means that the percentage loss from washing was 33%. Not bad, considering there are some breeds that can lose up to 50% of their weight from washing.

You will notice that I used 12.5 as my starting weight. I weighed the locks inside a plastic bag, and then used the same plastic bag to contain the washed locks for weighing. The bag alone weighs .5 ounces, so I took that into account for my final numbers, and since I had weighed both the washed and unwashed locks inside the bag, I decided to use those numbers. The math works out the same whether you take the measurements inside or without a bag, so I did the easier math


Here's we've learned from this particular batch of fiber:
Staple Length: 3.5 inches
Crimp: 14 crimps/inch
Highly Feltable
Raw Weight: 12 ounces
Washed Weight: 8.875 or 8 7/8 ounces
Loss from Washing: 33%
Washing: 3 washes
Rinsing: 2 rinses, no conditioner necessary

Further Reading:
   The Knitter's Book Of Wool by Clara Parkes

Fleece Study with Jacqueline Bland notebook

 In Sheep's Clothing: A Handspinners Guide to Wool by Nola and Jane Fournier

Also, a lot of really good information can be found both by taking a look around The Joy of Handspinning and also by contacting sheep farmers directly. Most of them are excited to talk about their flocks and give you good amounts of information. (in this case, the farmer told me that dyeing the Targhee locks directly instead dyeing it after it has been carded into roving will yield better color results. I will be trying that next)

I will be testing samples for spinning using both carded and combed preparations. Stay tuned for another Sheep Study update!

I hope this has been helpful. How do you analyze your fleeces? I'll talk to you in the comments.

Next up in the Sheep Study: Cotswold-Washing and Analysis!