Meet Eli- new family member

Eli and Freida at breakfast

In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.

The full story;

Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.

I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.

Look at that happy face.

Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.

He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.

Eli getting a good ear scratch

Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.

He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.

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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

 

Hawser ply yarn- An accidental discovery

Sometimes happy accidents happen, and this is one of them.
I am currently completing the last two units of a Bachelor of Education (primary), these last two units are hard and require a lot of brain space. I usually spin, weave or knit in the evenings (after a long day at the computer) to relax and do something productive. So last week I decided to try a new plying method for making fingering weight yarn (plying is when you twist two strands together to make a stronger and thicker yarn). The usual method is to spin singles in a clockwise direction and then ply two together in an anticlockwise direction. My new method involved winding the singles into a centre pull ball and plying in the usual anticlockwise direction from both ends of it to make a two ply yarn.
This time I was distracted by thinking about my current assignment (teaching fractions) and plied the whole 100 g of singles in a clockwise direction (without even noticing; yes I was that distracted). The result was a really twisty yarn that could not be used for anything and looked sort of wrong. So I went looking for advice on the internet (as I always do) and found that other people have made the same mistake (unsurprising really) and decided they liked it better that way. This plying method is called Hawser ply and it is used to make super stretchy yarn for knitting cuffs on sleeves, socks and hats. The catch was that I had to make another 100 g of clockwise plyed yarn then ply them both together in an anti-clockwise direction.

The first skein of twisty yarn.

I found some great tips and pointers in a The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs; keep the yarn tight while it is plied and give it a good hot wash when it’s done.

Two balls of mistake yarn ready to ply up. You can see how twisty it is.

After I made my mistake yarn again (on purpose this time) I plied them together in the recommended anti-clockwise direction and got a very stretchy DK weight yarn. I can’t wait to knit something up with it now to see if it does make better cuffs.

 

Hawser yarn on the swift

 

The finished Hawser plyed yarn

 

I ended up with 200 g of  Hawser ply yarn

It’s exciting to make mistakes and discover new things isn’t it. I think I will make more of this type of yarn in the future, just because I can. It has also got me interested in exploring different plying methods (there are so many) and getting a bit more variability into my yarns.

Oh and I did eventually get to making some fingering weight yarn.

My second attempt at fingering weight yarn; merino this time.

A new yarn swift – home made

What is a yarn swift?
Well…you know when you are watching a movie in the evening and decide to ball up some yarn for a new project you are just dying to knit? The inevitable problem is to get someone (partner, visitor, small child, family dog) to hold the skein while you ball up the yarn. Nobody wants to do it so you end up trying to ball from a skein hung over two chair legs or over your own feet (which is a bit like yoga) leading to knots and snarls (knots in the yarn, snarls on your face). A yarn swift is a mechanical helper who will hold the yarn steady for you whenever you like while you make cute little balls of knitting materials.

I guess my mostly absent partner got very tired of being met at the door by arm loads of skeins because he made me a swift.

First we did a bit of internet research to find the right design;

Then the building began…

He built pretty much to the instructions in the clip (the difference between us… I can’t follow instructions).

The base is a piece of spare ply

Finding the centre to drill the hole

Drilling the hole

The bolt thingy in the base for the arms to swing around.

A spacer so the arms aren’t too close to the base.

Sawing the arms to the right length

The arms are notched so they sit level with each other

See

Drilling the hole right through the middle

A bit of copper pipe in the middle holds it all together

Yes…it spins

The finished unit. Thanks Hon

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part five

This is the final step in the making of a tote bag from scratch; felting (or fulling). First let me explain the difference between felting and fulling; felting is the actual process of entangling fibres tightly together to make a solid material, raw wool is felted. Fulling is the process of partially felting knitted items to provide a stronger bond between stitches, knitted items like my bags are fulled. The process for felting or fulling is the same; everything your mum told you not to do with knitted clothing in the laundry.
If you are interested in wet felting wool, follow the link to a good tutorial.
If you are interested in fulling pure wool knitted (or crochet) items, follow this link to a good tutorial

My licorice allsorts bag, all ready to be fulled.


The bag is knitted up and looks just like licorice allsorts to me, so that’s what I called it. The exciting thing about fulling knitted items is that you can never be sure how much or how fast the felting process will go, so the results are infinitely variable.
So here’s how I go about it…
First I fill the washing machine with cold water and add some shampoo (which seems to make fulling go faster) I only just cover the items to be fulled so the water level is low. Then I switch the machine on (after fueling and starting the generator as we have no 240v electricity) and let it wash for a while. In the meantime I boil a big pot of water on the wood heater. Once the water is boiling I carefully carry the pot into the laundry and tip the hot water into the washing machine, this temperature change is generally enough to ‘shock’ the wool into felting. I then spin out the item and hang it to dry while stretching it into the shape I had intended as far as possible.

My bag after fulling, hanging in the sun to dry.

An example of the unpredictability of fulling; the dark blue and black stripes didn’t felt as much as the other colours.

That is the end of the journey from fleece to tote bag. As you can see; it takes a while to get there, but the results are worth it.

Did you enjoy this series?
Should I do more of them?
What else would you like to read about?

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part four

Now I have some dyed skeins of homespun wool to knit with, its time to cast on and start.

When I have an order for bags I ask the client some questions;
What bag shape?
What colours?
What stitch pattern?

In this case, my client has chosen the petite bag, in black and rainbow colours with the Asthore stitch pattern. So I dug out my bag of reclaimed embroidery wool and saved scraps of pure wool and spliced them together using the Russian join to make two rainbow balls of wool.

My reclaimed scrap wool pile.

Joined together to make…
Huge balls of rainbow wool
Now I have everything I need; black homespun, reclaimed rainbow, circular needles and coffee. Away we go.

My favourite bag pattern of the moment is the petite felted bag.

I begin by casting on eight stitches (four on each needle) using a ‘figure 8 cast on’

I then knit the base of my bag by increasing stitches every second row., as indicated by the pattern.
Once the base is big enough I choose a slip stitch pattern and start knitting.
So far I have used these slip stitch patterns to make bags;
Asthore
Dog’s tooth cross
Yin Yang
Fretted mosaic

The base of my bag is started. Eight stitches on each side have been increased to twelve.

The entire base is done; a total of 154 stitches. I am using the Asthore pattern so I needed to add a few stitches to make the number a multiple of 16 (Asthore is a 16 stitch pattern).

And the colour knitting begins. 

The pattern is beginning to emerge.

This is the quickest part of making felted bags, I can take my knitting anywhere and fill in free moments and I can settle down to a quiet evening watching a movie while I knit too.

Next step; felting. Stay tuned.

Note; I do apologise for my photography, most of the photos are taken in the evening with my phone so they don’t show true colour and are not well focused.

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part three

Time to dye my skeins of wool….

I love using natural dyes, they give such varied results and each pot is unique.
However, for making my tote bags I need large amounts of the same colours so I use commercial acid dyes.

Using acid dyes is so easy and  the results are beautiful.
Here’s how I do it (I’m sure there are easier ways).

Here is my washed and set skein. No dye.

First the skein gets another wash (there is a lot of washing in spinning)

Then I gather the ingredients I need for dying; vinegar, the dye and a big fork for fishing the skeins out of boiling dye.

A damp but clean skein of wool

The dye is mixed with water in a stainless steel pot and bought to the boil. I added a good dash of vinegar to the mix too.

The wool is added to the pot, which is still on the stove being heated to a low simmer. Smelling strongly of  vinegar and wet wool now.

When I judge the wool is dark enough…I fill the sink with clean, hot water and rinse the skein. Then I rinse again, and again until the water is clear.

The finished skein, dyed black (even though it doesn’t look it)

A close up 

A finished skein.

Next I begin to knit a bag………..see you then.

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part two

I have carded up a 100g batch of washed wool into cute little rolag ‘nests.
Now for the spinning…..

Spinning can be seen as a science, an art or a craft. I like to think of it as a craft; I don’t get too scientific or precise about it, I just spin.
So..I sit in my crafting nest in the lounge room and spin while I watch a DVD or just sit and enjoy the quiet. It takes me about four hours of spinning (broken up into movie length lots) to fill a bobbin. Then it needs to be plyed into a strong yarn.

All ready to spin…coffee; check….rolags; check…..spinning wheel……

Spinning wheel; check
A half spun bobbin of singles.

A full bobbin

There are so many ways to ply yarn, it would take me all day to explain them. I usually use a Navajo ply method which uses a single bobbin rather than two or three bobbins.

Once the yarn is plyed, I wind it onto a niddy noddy to make a skein which is then tied together and washed again to set the twist. This part is fun as I take the yarn out of the bath (as described in part one), squeeze the water out of it somewhat and then whack it against a post with some vigour. This gets my dogs all excited (maybe they think I’ve gone mad) and they all start barking like loons and jumping around.

A bad photo of me plying

Half a bobbin of plyed yarn
My niddy noddy
The finished skein (badly over exposed, but you get that with the flash)

Once the excitement dies down, I hang the skein on a contrived rack (on my wool cupboard) to dry, or I may decide to dye it first.

Part three is the yarn dying process…. see you then.

Glossary
Ply- Twisting two or more strands of yarn together to produce a stronger, thicker yarn.
Single – A single length of yarn, spun onto a bobbin, prior to plying.
Niddy noddy – A tool used by spinners to wrap wool around when making a skein.
Skein – A neat parcel of yarn, made by looping yarn in equal rounds.