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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.