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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Yep... more Corriedale

As everybody in the country knows, it is just plain hot out there. And here in the east, it is also way past muggy. I can't sit still for long, so I have been alternating reading with... yep, you guessed it. Combing out the rest of  that massive Corriedale fleece. Something I can do without working up a lather.

I got out the bag, and started pulling out chunks of fleece. And discovered something.  When I'd started preparing the fleece to wash (on that first miserably hot day), I first skirted the fleece, and set the pieces aside in a corner. My intent was to use them as mulch in the garden.  

Then I divided the rest of the fleece into batches to wash in my 4 bucket wash and rinse setup.  By the time I got through everything, I was wet, hot, and tired.  And without realizing it, I'd washed the skirted pieces and hung them up with the rest to dry.

I found out when I pulled out a clump of fleece that was not combable and certainly not spinnable. 

Duh.  I knew there was more, so I sorted through and removed them. They are now mulch.

I've gotten to the good parts now, so it's easier to figure out where the locks are and pull them to load the combs. It's lovely stuff. I do have to trim many of the cut ends-- the part next to the sheep's skin.  

Corriedale felts easily, and with the moisture and movement next to the skin, it sometimes folds over on itself as it grows and mats a bit.  This has good length, so not a loss and takes only a few seconds as I load the combs. 

Corriedale also has a lot of loft, as the photos show.  The loft is good for making something meant to keep one warm, but can also make taming the wool to spin a bit challenging.  It poofs when it is washed, and so sometimes the locks are almost unrecognizable!

That comb looks way overloaded, but isn't.  A comb should be loaded so that only 1/3 of the length of the tines are covered, which is about what is on the comb.  It's just that it then puffs out into a huge ball, made worse by the fact that the fibres are going every which way.  Combing will align them, remove what I call "clots" and debris and tangles.  

Here it is after just two passes.  The fibres have been aligned, and the mass is much more cohesive (though still characteristically lofty).  

It will need at least four more combings, because I know that lurking in that mass are still a lot of small lumpy things and some tangled fibres and even a little vegetative matter (VM for short).  

Combing is done, and I have pulled the fleece off the comb.  Most of the time, fleece is pulled off as roving, sometimes using a diz, but I have found that with a bulky fleece like Corriedale, I can get a better preparation by pulling it off hand over hand, which results in a small batt about 6 inches by nine inches. 

Starting with the end that came off the comb last, I encircle the batt firmly with the fingers of one hand, and with the other gently attenuate the batt, carefully sliding the fibres past eash other.   This results in an even, open rope about four feet long. 

Then I return to the end I started with, and attenuate into roving.  This time I give it a little twist and wrap it around my hand as I go.  The end is tucked in the middle with a pouf sticking out to pull out when I use it to spin. The result is a neat little "nest", all ready for spinning. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Corriedale fleece adventure and my blanket stash

This summer has been sometimes stormy and cool. I started a fire in my wood stove the morning of July 4th to take the chill off! Other times it has been delightful, sunny and dry, and I've been able to get some yard work done. Then there are the hot and muggy days, when it is hard to do anything, inside or out. 

We get more of those now than we used to. And with Vermont weather, we don't always know when. We get weather from five different directions (seriously), and what we experience depends on what gets here first and how it is modified by what gets here second, third... etc.

So... a nice July day, cool but clear sunny morning. Perfect for washing one of the several fleeces waiting up in my storeroom (former bedroom).

I decide to do the Corriedale I was given a couple of years ago (it's the gooiest, might as well get it out of the way). Now I make a fatal (or nearly) decision. I decide to do the whole thing at one go.

Now there are two factors at work here. This was off a ram sheep, and in Corries the fleece varies in texture and length from one part to another, so normally I'd sort the sections and do them separately and spin them for different projects. But I am planning to use this and another Corriedale I'd processed last year to weave a blanket (someday), so I decide to let it mix together for texture.

The other thing is that Corridales have big fleeces anyway. And this one was huge. When I unrolled it, it was too big to lie flat in my bathroom. So I sort-of broke it up into similar sections, eight in all, and set to, filling my buckets with free hot water. 

My process involves four five gallon buckets set in my tub. The nice thing is that on a sunny summer day, my solar hot water panel provides lots of very hot water, so I can rotate the buckets out and always have fresh hot water for washing and rinsing. The only hitch in this is that when I go to dump the cooling water (it makes fantastic fertilizer), I have to haul the buckets down a flight of stairs from my deck. My house is on a hillside, so the back is an extra story off the ground. That's ok most of the time: it's good exercise and the buckets are empty on the return trip.

But the cool morning morphed into a warm one. Then a hot one, and the humidity rose with it. By noon the outside temp was close to 90F, and the humidity matched. And because of the steamy bathroom and having to go in and out, the house was just about as bad.

But in for a dime, in for a dollar. I was determined to get it done. With impressive efficiency if I do say so myself, I moved batch after batch from bucket to bucket, emptied, refilled, drained and pressed water from the batches of clean wool, and hung it from my clothesline and from my outside rack.

Done.  I could have taken photos of that, but frankly, I didn't feel like it. (The one here is from the last Corriedale, and the two storm photos below are from a storm last year.) My determination had turned into hot and sweaty and tired. 

Stripped, showered, dressed in dry, clean, loose, thin clothing. And looked out at my lovely white fleece drying... as two huge thunderheads moved in rapidly from the west and the south.


Grabbed my clothes basket, dropped the wool from the line into it. Put it in the mudroom, and ran for the rack while a wall of rain moved closer. I didn't even bother to take the fleece off: just folded the rack and carried it upright into the house. I have an antique fan rack that does not go outside, but sets up just fine in the foyer, and the rest of the wool went onto that.

It rained hard for about 15 minutes, and then the sun came out. Oh, well. The air was still heavy with moisture, and more rain predicted for the night, so I figured the wool could just stay where it was.

It took two days to dry, the air was so damp. And then we had a nice day, and it dried all the way. I began to comb it, which is something I enjoy doing.  It took a couple of days to comb half the fleece and fill a large box with nests, which was enough at one go. 
I started spinning. Because I was spinning chunky, that only took part of one day. Let it set overnight, and then I plied it. I do love the big bulky flier on my Matchless- eight ounce skeins at a go, more if I'm spinning fine.

Washed, that big eight ounce skein is handsome. Not perfect, but it looks good. And I feel satisfied at a job done well enough.

I still have a box of nests to spin. And half the bag of clean fleece to comb. I think when I get done, between it and the other Corriedale, and some miscellaneous chunkies I've done over the years, I'll just about have enough for my blanket. 

(No, I don't have a time schedule for getting it woven....)

A beautiful post-storm July evening.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dye Day: Day Camp for Grown-ups

Well, this happened June 13th, and I had it written and the photos all done by the next day.  Then something came up and then I forgot I hadn't posted it. A little late, but here it is, the report on my wool guild's dye day.  The best one ever, according to some folks who've been there forever.  I wish I could post photos of all of it: it was wondrous. But I forgot to take my camera. So I'll have to stick with sharing some photos of some of my own projects I took the next day. 

Some things are just too fun. There we were, a bunch of ladies, many of a certain age, others of a younger but mature age, and some young ones. To round things out and keep them interesting, one teen and two under ten. One of those was a boy. Were they on the sidelines? Nope. Not at all. But it was mostly a day of grown-up ladies wearing old clothes and playing with messy stuff. And having the time of our lives. The kids helped. They were right in the thick of things.

We do this every year, my wool guild, but this is the first time I've been able to go. Usually late May/early June is when I take my annual trip west to visit family out west (there are a lot of them). This year circumstances intervened, and so I got to go to the dye day. I sorted through my handspun stash, and picked out some of my skeins,some I felt were good candidates for experimentation. I gave them a good wash, and left them in the rinse bucket with just enough water to keep them damp.

Imagine a house on a hillside in central Vermont on a sunny June day. Imagine a semi-covered courtyard overlooking a sheep pasture and tree-covered hills. Imagine people sitting round the terrace alongside all of this, spinning, knitting, chatting, getting up from time to time to check a dyepot. 

Imagine- the joy of it- three propane cookers, dozens of dye pots, Crock pots repurposed as dye pots. Jars of multi-colored wool waiting to be “cooked” in a canning pot of hot water. Tables with a multitude of dye projects going on, skeins of wool being “painted” with dye, then wrapped like a burrito in plastic and put in a microwave (never to be used for food again). Imagine unwrapping one of those packages, the anticipation of the mystery within, rinsing the skein-- and another miracle of color to hang from improvised racks and trays along with hundreds of other skeins, and roving, and fleece and locks. An entire hillside transformed by color.

Times this by several hundred and you get the idea. These are mine, hung on a wooden clothes dryer after I got home.
Midday break for a potluck lunch. These folks have amazing potlucks. It's like going to a fine restaurant with friends. I'm talking GOOD cooking- appetizers, salads, main dishes, bread, you name it. Five desserts (I took small portions of three of them: when it comes to dessert, I sometimes have a hard time making up my mind). 

Fortified, we went back to dye some more.

I'd done dyepot dying before, mostly natural dyes I'd collected myself. This was my first major experience with commercial dyes. But I'm also a painter, and one thing I'd learned in my research is that the pigments used in dyes are the same pigments that are used in many artist's paints (and some in foods-- that's why Kool-Aid works as a simple, safe dye). I could visualize in my head-- to a certain degree-- how many of those dyes would interact.

Hogg Island Moss
That works well with dyepots, where you can see the dye before you put the wool in. Not so much with some of the other techniques, where random variables are likely to introduce some mystery into the process. And surprises, sometimes good, sometimes ok, sometimes awful. I got one of those- some Hogg Island roving that ended up looking sort of like camo. After I split it up and drafted several lengths together to mix up the colors, it spun up into a beautiful woodland moss medley.  From disappointment to delight.

And there is the one I thought was going to be mud, and it turned into unexpected magic:
Yarn, light, pigment,and magic.

I learned how to do things I might not have even tried on my own. The skein painting. I really don't care for most painted yarns I've seen (often referred to fancifully as “colorways”, a term that tends me make me feel a combination of amusement and nausea). But I've seen some that were fascinatingly lovely, that made me visualize how the yarn would work up and the colors interact. I wanted to try something like that. I had no idea how to go about it. That teenager I mentioned above? She turned out to be the expert. I watched her, asked for advice, and then I went wild. 

Spring in Vermont.  This photo does not begin to capture all the different greens in this skein!
  I will never miss another dye day as long as I live. I'll travel west some other month.