This is my blog to share my adventures, misadventures, exploration, and experimentation with fibre- and as it turns out, with life as well. There is some of both. One thing leads to another. Collecting, spinning, weaving, dying, learning, building a web of relationships. Here we are: welcome.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Eileen Mahoney

I took a trip west for a month in May and June to see family and friends.  There'll be a post about that (weavings I made for gifts and other fibre stories).  But right now I'd like to share this:

I got to know Eileen through an online group of wonderful women, from many different places, all of whom shared a passion about natural fibres.  We not only shared our projects, our ideas, and our passion, we shared our lives.  I have come to know many of these women as well as I know almost anyone in my life outside my family.  Ups and downs, fears and hopes, the whole of it. 

As I learned more about Eileen, my regard for her grew and grew. She was one of those women who are both ordinary and extraordinary in unexpected ways. She had cancer. and she wrote about it in the most open, gentle, honest way I have ever seen. 

Her goal was to live to see her first grandchild born, and to hold him. She made it, and then some. 

When I left on my trip on May 24th, she had just gone into hospice care.  The day after I returned, on June 21st, I learned from a friend that Eileen had died early the day before. 

She left a hole behind.  At the same time, she left a remarkable legacy:  she taught a lot of people how much we are capable of, by sharing herself the way she did.   In addition to her posts in our little group, she wrote a blog that is both a treasure and a challenge to read. I urge you to take a look at it:  

Looking at the World through Rose Colored Cancer

I'll miss you, Eileen. And at the same time, you've left something of yourself in me that I will be able to turn to when my time comes.  Thank you.  

The ladies at Hand-Prepared Fibers just put up a memorial page honoring her:

And that started the tears again.  Thus this post.  I want you to have a chance to see why Eileen meant so much to us, too.  Her blog is as remarkable as she was. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Save the Mohair project

I may have been foolish.

At our wool guild auction last spring, I bid on a bag of very smelly mohair goat fleece.  I was the only bidder.  For a reason.  When the bag was opened, the room filled with the distinct odor of eau de goat.  Nor did the contents have the appearance of the lovely soft white fluff we associate with mohair.  Nope. It was a bag of things that looked like they had been coughed up by a herd of cats.  That goat really had a good time from the looks of things.  

Well, what the heck, I thought.  I can give it a try, and if it doesn't work, I've got some cheap mulch and fertilizer.  Thus began my Save the Mohair project.

 And here is the pictorial story of my adventures with mohair, sorting, picking, washing really dirty fleece, picking, improvising drying racks, picking, testing, picking, and finally, using my English combs for the first time (and picking some more).

Testing-- will it work? or do I have compost?

My camera shutter release had started to have problems (without letting me know), so I don't have a photo of the bag of goat fleece pellets. But here is a photo of some that I picked out to wash in my bathroom sink to see if they could be reclaimed.  Situation looked good: a little vegetable matter, a little normal "goat matter" remained after washing and picking. 

I used my cat slicker brush to open up and comb the locks.  You can see in one of the locks here the results of a goat having a good time:  That's a burr at the end of it.  Harbinger of things to come. 

Despite my trepidation, the test locks combed out very nicely with the slicker brush.  I happily filled a small container with fluffy mohair, the remaining dirt coming out easily with brushing.

Washing the effing fleece

So I proceeded with step 2: the washing of each of the bags of goat fleece.  That's when I realized that the three bags had been sorted into more or less pellets of similar condition. (Duh.)  And  I had picked the first pellets from the "best" bag.  Random selection, not.

In for a dime, in for a dollar.  I decided to wash the "dirty" bag and see what I had.  I figured if I could get through that, the rest would be ok.  My daughter had a red mesh laundry bag she gave me, and I dutifully distributed the locks in the bag, and filled my tub with moderately hot water and a lot of detergent.  Carefully I laid the bag onto the water at one end of the tub, poked it into the water, and watched this happen:

My tub looked like this, after I emptied it by bucket onto my garden so all that good fertilizer would not go to waste:  

Three washes, three rinses, and many buckets of water later, just for that one batch, I decided that I needed to try a different approach.  So the rest of the fleece got divided up into smaller batches and soaked alternatively in a basin and a bucket. Easier to take out and dump on the garden.

In between they drained in a colander that now is part of my fibre processing equipment.  The whole process operated like an assembly line, and took me less than a day.

Drying the fleece

The first batch dried on my deck on a tray I'd cobbled together from an inexpensive PVC quilting frame I'd dug up from somewhere deep in my closet, to which I clipped afore-mentioned red mesh laundry bag.  Worked well set on my clothes rack in the sun.  

Ok, still lots of "vegetable matter" (VM) and what I call "persistant goat matter" and "acquired goat matter".  I'll deal with those later.  Maybe. Either that or I still have compost.

But I still had all that wet fleece to dry.  So I used clips to fasten some mesh fabric I'd bought to make washing bags (I'll get around to it, just not right now) to the shelves, thus:

Perfect!  The mesh is fastened to the bottom rung on one side with three clips (the springy kind you use to hold fat sheaths of paper together), wrapped around the rung opposite, then up and across the rungs above, and fastened again with clips.  The covered side protects the bottom shelf from the breeze.  I found an old lace curtain (shredded by a certain cat who lives with me) and fastened it across the top to provide additional breeze protection.

I feel so clever. It all dried beautifully in the sun (with frequent turnings and picking out of VM).  And when the sky began clouding over, I brought it in and was very proud of myself for not letting it get wet.  It wasn't until later, when the sun momentarily came back out, that I remembered this:

Oh, well.  Now the laundry is drying on the reclaimed clothes rack. Inside.


All those locks? With a cat slicker brush? No way. That's what the combs are for.

My combs are a wonderfully (and frighteningly) impressive pair of huge English combs with five rows of very long and very sharp tines.  They come with safety warnings, including keeping one's tetanus shots up to date.  When I was told that they would do mohair, I was frankly skeptical.  But I figured I'd give it a shot. Beat the heck out of doing all that gnarled up stuff with a cat slicker, or even a regular flicker brush if I had one.

Keep in mind I have never actually USED my combs before.  This was to be my maiden experience with them.  But heck, can't be any worse than wielding a machete, right?  I've done plenty of that. 

And I'm here to tell you that using combs is FUN!  And, it worked.

Here I've just loaded the comb for the first time.  Still skeptical.  I was also being very cautious and carefully placing each lock on, pushing it into place. Here's what it looked like:

Later, I got more confident, and began lashing on with just a flick of my wrist. Like a pro.  :-]  Makes it go faster, AND it is more efficient because when you pull back after flicking, it helps align the fibres.  Then I turned the comb sideways and began gently swinging the hand comb first through the ends to open them up, then deeper to pick up fibres. 

Here I've taken the fibres off with the other comb, and I'm in the process of lashing it back on from the comb before pulling out the roving. I was so impressed that I stopped to take a photo.  The combs really DO work for mohair!   The short fibres, noils, and almost all the debris stayed behind. I pulled them off (carefully) and put them in a bag. Some might be usable for blending, some is likely to end up in the compost.

After I pull the roving, I break it and lay it together, then lash on again and repeat the process for as many times as it takes to get the result I am looking for.  Because this mohair had so much non-fibre material in it, I took three passes.  Here is the final roving, laying across the base comb:

And here is the final product, two fine mohair nests, ready for spinning:

Aren't they beautiful?  Now I've got the technique down, the rest of the mohair should go quickly. Keep in mind that this was some of the worst of the "pellets" too.  Now I can hardly wait to set up my combs again.  And to spin this gorgeous stuff.  I just wish I could figure out where I put my scale so I could weigh them. 

PS: I have to get carders now, too.  There is all this beautiful mohair waste just begging to be blended into wool....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ornery camera, travels, and some weavings

The camera is fixed.  Turned out to be a faulty image sensor, replaced for free by the manufacturer.  Yay.  So I took it on a month long train trip cross country to visit bazillion relatives and old friends on the west coast.  Well, not a bazillion: there wasn't time to visit everyone I'd have liked to, but quite a few, some of whom I hadn't seen for years.  Said camera came back with the memory chip crammed with over 500 photos!

I spent the month before my trip madly making arrangements and weaving into the nights to make gifts for some of my relatives.  Here are some of the results.

Two lace-weave scarves, 8/2 bamboo rayon, warp in pale grey, weft in a pale shell pink.   One is Bronson lace, and the other is Swedish lace, each measures 7 inches by 48 inches, and have 6 inch long twisted fringe.  I love the elegant colors and drape, and fortunately, so did the recipients!  (You can see the patterns more clearly by clicking on the photos to enlarge.)

Bronson Lace scarf
Swedish Lace scarf

Here is a closeup of both scarves, showing the light shining through the lacy structure:

Bronson on left, Swedish on right.

Then I warped up enough navy blue Tencel to weave two long scarves for my daughter and granddaughter in Portland.  I only managed to get one done, with a turquoise Tencel for an iridescent effect, in Huck spot, 6 inches by five feet, with 8 inch free-flowing fringe.  This one was for my granddaughter, an 11 year old fashionista.  She draped it around her neck, and put her Girl Scout Sash on over it!  Such elan. She always looks like a miniature fashion model, creating magnificent outfits out of disparate items, like a piece of walking art.  The scarf looked great on her.  Sadly, my camera batteries went out and I didn't get pics of it. Foo.  But here's the scarf before I left: 
On the line

Close-up of Huck spot weave

Now I will weave a similar scarf for her mother, using emerald green Tencel against the navy blue.  I found that one of the challenges in weaving Tencel is that it is slippery, and it tends to shift a bit if the sett is not close enough or the beat isn't quite even.  When I began weaving it, my first few inches pulled out of alignment when I wound on, and even after reweaving it, I had to pay particular attention to the beat and selvedges.  (Once washed, the distortions evened out and were not apparent, though).  To make things easier for the next one, I intend to resett the warp slightly closer.  It should not affect the finished width much, and will make it easier to beat evenly and keep the fibres from shifting while passing over the breast beam.

Upcoming blog entry about why I came back with one more suitcase than I left with.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sigh.... the camera....

Camera's last moments...
I have several projects I want to post.  But my camera died... right after I bought the English combs I'd been saving for.  I was distraught, because no way could I fit in a decent new camera, and my camera is well out of warranty. 

I have to have a camera.  For a visual person, living without a camera is like living without a dog.  You get through it ok, but it's not as fun or lively.

After a few weeks,  I went on line to see if there was any possibility it was something I could fix .  Well, no, it wasn't... but I discovered it didn't matter.  The problem was a defective image sensor.  Defective in the sense that it had been defective when it was installed (which explains some odd things that came and went over the years that had baffled me.

Not something I can fix.  Better.  Something the factory would fix for me, for free, with postage paid!  (Internet and guys who post fix-it things, thank you.)  Camera is at factory, and should be home in a week or so. 

And my blog posts will resume.  I'll just add a nice colorful photo for the heck of it, so this isn't just words. Ah, just the thing: one of my lovely grandchildren, full of color inside and out: 

O. in one of her many moments of delight.  Photo thanks to her loving daddy.