Time to spin

It is now officially school holidays, when I typically take a week off from teacherly stuff and just be… well, just be really. It is time to binge watch a series of some sort (with aliens of course) and spin a lot of wool.

After the chores of the day are done and I can settle for an extended period without interruptions (thanks, in part, to a global pandemic), I start to make magic.

This holidays, I cleaned out my fleece stash and discovered that I have a lot of spun singles that need to be plied into yarn. I also have some very nice fleeces to be washed and spun into singles. My first step is to clear out my singles container and wash the new yarns. This yarn is going to our local Co Op to be sold.

Sorting through my fleeces. There were a lot of old fleeces in my craft room.
My pile of plied yarns ready for the Co Op
I found this lovely fleece in my stash. I see a spinning jag coming on.

Then I can wash some fleece and start spinning more singles. I have an ambitious plan in mind; I want to spin enough to knit a cardigan for myself. I will spin heaps of skeins of the same fleece (a white one), then I will dye the skeins in different colours and finally knit myself a cardigan. This little project could take until next Winter.

The fleece cards up really well, I think this is an easy spin fleece

This entire fleece will be used as test yarn for my natural dye experiments (otherwise known as ’50 shades of beige’).

The first lot of yarn. Plied and dyed (and a little felted because of too hot water).

I also found a bag of silver/grey suri alpaca fleece. I think it will be my next fleece to spin.

I am so happy and relieved to be back at my spinning wheel. For a while now, I haven’t had the energy or inclination to do anything crafty at all. I have just been living in a holding pattern, waiting for the next crisis, but I feel I am coming out of that long, dark tunnel into the sunlight.

Washing an entire fleece (in urine)

All right, this is a really yucky post. I have heard and read about how traditional spinners used to wash fleeces in urine to get them really clean. The theory (or maybe science) behind it is that the alkalinity of the ammonia in the urine reacts with the lanolin in the wool to make a very basic kind of soap. This soapy mess then cleans the wool.

Wool scoured in this way is then rinsed (multiple times, I imagine) to get rid of the smell. The resulting wool is soft and unfelted apparently. It also removes a lot more vegetable matter than other kinds of washing (according to the hype). I want to give this method a try, but not anywhere near the house.

This experiment needs;

A big tub with a lid: Thanks to a quick thinking husband, I found one of our fire safety bins (not so useful in the rain) and gave it a good scrub.

It does seem strange to be cleaning a bin that will hold urine.

A raw fleece: One of the partial fleeces I have in my stash should be small enough to fit in the container.

This one is a Merino cross fleece with a lot of dirt and lanolin in it.

A water source for rinsing: The garden hose has a 30 metre stretch and gives nice hot water on a warm day.

A place away from the house to minimise the awful smell it will no doubt produce: The far end of the yard, behind the garden bed will have to be far enough.

A whole lot of pee: It is just as well the urine should be aged for this, as there is no way our family can produce enough to fill this tub in a day or so. We use a bucket for night time pee trips (so we don’t have to go outside and wake the dogs and sheep up), so I just began to collect that pee in my handy bin instead of tipping it out way up the paddock.

Collection started.

The fleece is soaked in the urine for about a day (two if it’s really dirty), then the whole lot is tipped out and the fleece rinsed multiple times to take out any remaining smell.

The fleece in the urine, before it sunk to the bottom. This fleece is larger than I thought.
After the fleece soaked into the liquid, I did have to add some more water to make sure there was enough liquid to wash the whole lot.
The first rinse has washed out a lot of dirt and lanolin, but the smell is still there.
I filled the bin up with clean water and some home made soap and set the fleece to soak overnight. One more clean rinse after this should make the fleece clean and get rid of the smell.
It took quite a few rinses to get the water to stay clean (ish). I just kept refilling the containers and transferring the wool between them.
Finally, after four rinses, the wool is not giving off too much dirt.

The fleece is spun out in the washing machine and spread out to dry on a sheet in the sun.

I squeezed out as much water as possible and took the whole lot in to spin in the washing machine.
I lined the spinner with a clean piece of cloth and wrapped the fleece up in it to avoid small pieces of wool clogging up my machine. There was still a fair amount of dirt in the fleece as you can see by the residue it left in the spinner (it needed a good clean afterwards).
I spread everything out on a clean (but old) sheet in the sun. It will take all day to dry I think, even in 36 C heat.
The wool in certainly clean and hasn’t felted at all. It does still smell a little, but the sun will bake that off.

The result?

After carding,I have a usable fleece to spin.

My final immpression is that this is an effective way to clean a fleece if you have no soap. It does seem to stop the fleece felting and the wool is cardable and as soft as can be expected from a course fleece. The smell really put me off though. I think I will try washing a whole fleece with soap nuts again, but do the two day soak.

Carding bulk wool for spinning

Eli and his glorious wool

I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).

Scouring Eli wool
Some of the fleece spun out and hung to dry

First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.

The inner workings of the wool picker
Even after scouring, Eli’s wool has a lot of dirt, vegetation and general rubbish
It looks a little better after going through the picker, there are still a lot of second cuts though.

Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).

Feeding small bits of wool through the carder
Using a brush to push the wool down on the drum
The batt is full. I can tell because the wool almost reaches the tips of the bristles on the drum carder
Breaking the batt and removing it from the drum

Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.

The finished batt. Not very smooth, but better than it was

The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.

I hand carded some for comparison. This wool is going to need washing twice next time I think; it’s very dirty
The batt texture for comparison.


Processing wool from Eli

Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.

Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.

The pink spots are antiseptic spray on the areas where he was grazed by the shears.
Eli is all angles and loose skin under the fleece.
Frieda came out of it looking like a black and white ball.

Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.

This is the fleece before scouring.
I used soap nuts to wash the fleece, the wool comes out so much softer and very clean.
Eli has been collecting dust and dirt this year.
Didn’t the fleece come out white and fluffy?
Carding it was a breeze; two passes over the carders and it was ready to spin.
The singles spun up smoothly and seem to want to be fairly thin. I think it will make about a sport weight yarn, once plied.

Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.

Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.

Washing fleece with soap nuts

I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.

I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.

First, the washing;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.

making little fulled knitting bags

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I have been spinning a lot lately (whenever there is time), mostly from a coloured merino fleece I picked up  somewhere. The yarn is lovely and fine, but what to do with it all? So I decided to make some little knitting bags; the kind you can hang over your wrist and knit from, or stick your needles into and shove in your handbag when you realise the bus is pulling over at your stop (or is that just me?). I will spin the yarn, knit and full the bags then pop a ball of my yarn and some knitting needles into it and sell my ‘knitting starter kits’ at the markets (offering a free knitting lesson at point of purchase). I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it given the heat at the moment, but we will see.

My little bags don’t really have a pattern, it’s more of a knit-by-feel affair, but I will try to explain the process (with photos of course). First I find some spare homespun wool that I have been wanting to use for something and turn it into a neat little ball by putting it on my yarn swift and winding it off with the ball maker thing.

 

 

I then cast on some stitches, enough to make a decent square. For this bag I used 20 stitches and knitted a square base using garter stitch (knit every row). The square has to be big enough to fit a ball of wool on plus about 40% (to allow for shrinkage when fulling).

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A knitted square. I just love this yarn; caramel alpaca plied with gold thread

I pick up stitches around the sides of the square, trying to pick up the same number as my cast on side. The number of stitches on each side is not really crucial to success, but it does make things neater and easier to finish.

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I knit in rounds to make the sides until the bag is deep enough to hold a ball of wool, bearing in mind that fulling (or felting) makes the piece shrink, so adding about 40% to all measurements.

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My bag is coming together

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Now comes the tricky bit; handles. I have just discovered the Japanese knot bag design, and it suits the knitting bag design I have in mind. All I need to do is knit handles with one being shorter than the other…right?

This photo from the internet shows the design I mean

My little bag is a mini version of the one in the photo (knitted rather than cloth too), so the longer handle only needs to be long enough to loop around the wrist. I knit the handles by casting off until I reach a corner, knit some handle stitches (in this one I made them six stitches wide) then slip those stitches onto a stitch holder. Now I continue casting off until I reach the next corner. I do this all the way around until there are four sets of handle stitches (on stitch holders). Then I knit back and forward on one set of stitches using garter stitch until it is long enough to loop over to the handle stitch set beside it (that is the next set along tracing around the perimeter). I graft the handle onto the handle stitches using the three needle cast off. The other two handle stitch sets are done the same way but this handle is long enough to go over a wrist (plus 40%).

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Now the knitted part of the bag is finished, it is time to full or felt it.

 

 

Fulling is easy; just throw the bag in the washing machine with some detergent (I use shampoo actually) and let it wash for a few minutes. Fibre felts at different rates, so the fulling process may be really fast (if I used Icelandic wool yarn), or it may be very slow (if I used Suffolk wool yarn), but it will felt (as long as the fibre is wool and is not super wash treated). Alpaca is a medium speed felter, so it took about 15 minutes.

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The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt

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The finished bbag with a ball of wool and needles inside, ready to go. As you can see the bag shrunk quite a bit.

So now it’s back to spinning more wool from that merino fleece.

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Spinning Icelandic wool

For my next adventure into rare and/or old breed wool I decided to give Icelandic a spin (pun intended). I bought about 200g from a lovely lady on Facebook, it arrived as a neat little plait of combed roving with a picture and some breed information on the label. The skein smelled delightfully of sheep; warm, earthy and somehow mouth watering (the artist in this article had the same reaction to the smell of Icelandic wool).

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The good old Vikings seem to have really loved their sheep and took them everywhere they went. It seems that once they landed in Iceland they had very little contact with the wider world (the sheep not the Vikings, they went on to conquer other countries and found more sheep breeds) and the breed has remained ‘unimproved’. The Icelandic is known as the oldest and ‘purest’ breed of sheep because cross breeding has been banned in Iceland for many generations, keeping the genetics the same as they have been for the past 1100 years (except for naturally occurring mutations of course).

The tops in my little plait is a mix of both inner and outer coat (or tog and thel if you prefer) making my yarn a lopi type yarn. Lopi yarn is made by blending both layers of Icelandic fleece together and lightly spinning them to produce a soft, airy but long wearing yarn. The yarn I produced is not particularly loose-spun, I tend to make firmly twisted yarns, but it did blend into a lovely uniform grey and is fairly soft.

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I decided to card the tops again to blend the colours together a little more

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The rolags are very springy and soft

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Icelandic spins up into a hairy yarn. I did try to  spin with less twist, but my instinct is to add more

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I plyed my yarn loosely and ended up with a lovely soft grey yarn

I did discover that Icelandic wool felts very easily; I carried my plait of tops around with me to various locations while I was spinning and it seems that rubbing up against the plastic bag felted some bits of the outside. The felting carded out…thankfully, but it did remind me to be extra careful when washing my finished yarn.

 

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I don’t know whether to sell my yarn on my stall or…

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knit it into something to sell on my stall

 

Spinning Gotland wool

I have developed a bit of an interest in spinning different breeds of wool (especially rare or old breeds). So in keeping with my habit of using my blog as a brain dump; I have decided to post about my adventures with different types of wool here. Unfortunately we don’t have many rare breeds of sheep in my local area (that I know about) so I have had to buy some fleece or tops to experiment with.

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My first excursion into the wilds of sheep breeds/wool types is with Gotland locks. When I received my little package of 400g Gotland locks in the mail (Found online at Australian Spinners and Weavers on Facebook) and opened it to discover some very well scoured locks with a beautiful crimp (thanks Gary Sheen). My initial impression was it is a lovely, soft and stretchy wool that reminded me a little of mohair.

The Gotland sheep is a rare breed which originated on the Swedish island of Gotland when the Vikings bought Karakul and Romanov sheep back from expeditions into Russia and bred them over Gute sheep which were native to the area. The resulting sheep were used for just about everything a sheep can be used for; wool, pelt and meat. The wool is supposed to be curly and soft with a long staple (the length of single locks of wool is the staple length) of up to 30 cm. The locks I got in my package are more crimped than curled, but they are wonderfully soft and about 20cm long. There are many different colours in the package, from silver white through several greys to a dark chocolate brown.

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This is a picture of Australian Gotland wool from http://www.granitehavenllamas.com.au/gotland-fleece

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Some of the locks I got in my pack

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Some more colours from my little pack

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I wish photos could convey just how soft this fleece is.

I decided to hand card the locks in their individual colours so I can later knit something in a fair isle style (in keeping with the general Norse theme) using the different colours. The locks fluff up a lot when carded, in fact I have learned to put just one lock on the carders at a time so the fluffy mass stays manageable.

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The soft, fluffy rolags spin up into a lovely fluffy single which I will ply loosely into a woolly two ply yarn.

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I think I will make something for next to the skin wear with this yarn.  I almost want to go and buy myself some Gotland sheep after this experience.

 

Update; This is the resulting three colours from my Gotland wool. All ready to be washed and knitted into mittens.

Making peace silk- Turning cocoons into silk

Most of the moths have emerged now and are busy mating and laying eggs for next spring. I have processed a few more of the cocoons and remembered to take photos this time. So here is the process with photos.

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These are the cocoons before cleaning. The rough silk around the cocoons can be harvested (by picking the bits of leaf and poop out) and used as silk noil.

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The cleaned cocoons, these have all emerged and are ready to be processed.

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This is what silk noil looks like before processing. There is a surprisingly large amount around each cocoon.

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I used about half a teaspoon of my washing gel in a saucepan.

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Which I heated in water until it had disolved.

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Then I added the cocoons and let them soak for a while.

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I tried to unravel some of the cocoons a bit, but soon gave up because it was a lumpy mess.

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When the water had cooled a bit I squished the cocoons and worked the seracin (the yellow stuff) out of the fibre. Then I rinsed the mass under the cold tap, gave it a squeeze and lay it out to dry.

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Once it was dry I carded my silk into a beautiful rolag.

I am looking forward to washing out all the cocoons and having a day  of carding and spinning my home produced silk. I wonder what I will make from it? Any suggestions? I don’t think there will be much of it.

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn’t resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn’t take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven’t organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre

Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it’s not considered to be viable.