By Amelia © September 26, 2009
After you’ve done whatever you usually do to clean off the drums (in my case, a flicker-like tool that came with my carder), I have one word: shop-vac. Love my little shop-vac for this, sucks everything right out of the crevasses and depths of the carding cloth. All that leaves is my needle-nose pliers to clean out the axles.
We always cover this topic in my drum carding class -- and at least one participant is surprised at how much fiber (and what colors!) they dig out of the axles.
If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated spot for your drum carder, remember to lift it up and check underneath -- bits of dirt, VM (vegetable matter), and short pieces of fiber all end up under there, and can be swept up in the breeze of the turning drum into the next batt.
For a thorough discourse on cleaning drum carders with terrific pictures, check out this post on Abby's Yarns.
Oh, and ... I always end a carding session by cleaning my drum carder. That way the next time I'm going to use it, I can get right to carding.
I've covered a variety of drum carding topics in past posts; the most recent is
How do I card a self-striping batt?
© 26 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
Saturday, September 26, 2009
By Amelia © September 26, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
By Amelia © September 24, 2009
An interesting question recently came to Ask The Bellwether from Juli. She asked how to spin guanaco fiber with a short staple length of one inch or less. Her goal was to spin it laceweight, getting 650 yards from four ounces.
Now, luckily, Juli's had experience with other short fibers, notably cashmere, but nothing quite this short. To master the challenge of this very short guanaco (usually it's longer than an inch), she could do what I did before learning to spin cashmere -- learn to spin cotton. It typically has a very short staple, under an inch, and is one of the hardest fibers I've had to learn to spin, undoing everything I learned about wool to tackle cotton: no crimp, no staple -- definitely a challenge. But this post isn't about learning to spin cotton.
With fiber as short as Juli's guanaco, you're pretty much in the realm of long draw spinning -- because to do inchworm, your hands need to be about a staple-length-and-a-half apart, and the closer they are, the more often they move. At about an inch apart, they'd be needing to move faster than I'd expect anyone would enjoy.
With a short staple fiber (like cotton, or short guanaco or cashmere) one nice thing about long draw is that you can draw the fiber away as the twist enters, making yarn in one smooth motion. The best way to describe this is "point of twist drafting" -- you draft right where twist is entering the fiber, and you draft back as quickly as the twist makes the drafting-point yarn.
One way to prepare the fiber can help with long draw spinning -- make a puni with the fiber; handcard it on fine cards, then doff it off by rolling it around a knitting needle or dowel as wide as your card, and keep rolling the stick behind the knees of the teeth at the base of the card until it "tightens" -- it's a visible change -- and then take it off the stick, and spin it from the end, long draw.
Short staple extremely fine fibers like guanaco and cotton may not want to hang together -- plenty of twist will help, but you will be treading a fine line between plenty of twist and enough twist to snap it. Do a ply-back test (fold part of the fiber on itself before winding it onto the bobbin or spindle) and check that the bottom of the plied-back section is closed, not open -- it plies right to the bottom end. 650 yards from 4 ounces, 2-ply, is fine, but not insanely so. I would plan on a 2-ply, as you will get more yardage from a 2-ply than as a single at the same final thickness.
I had considered making a video of the puni-making process, but so far other things have kept me busy. Luckily, youtube has several puni-making videos, including a cotton puni-making video by Spin2Weave: her cotton puni-making is applicable to guanaco, yak, or another similarly short fiber. Spin2Weave twirls the cotton puni on the teeth of the card rather than behind them, with the same tightening effect.
This topic is one I cover in my classes "Exotic Fiber Spindling" and "Spin a Fine Yarn".
I've posted before about spinning fine, to continue on this topic see:
What tips do you have for spinning lace?
How can I spin a fine yarn?
How do you spin long draw on a spindle?
How do you spin on an Akha spindle?
What's sideways spinning?
What spindle do I spin cotton on?
© 24 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
Thursday, September 17, 2009
By Amelia © September 17, 2009
When I was a young girl in Massachusetts, my father would bring home bushel-boxes of Damson plums from trips to Maine in the fall. My mother would spend the next day over the sink and stove, sterilizing the jars and cooking the plums into lovely plum jam to refill them. We all pitched in writing the labels, so ours were adorned with a variety of handwriting from adult to pre-school. I remember that jam well -- we spread it on our toast all winter long and we made jam tarts next to the mincemeat pies in the mini-tart pans at Christmas time.
Making jam is becoming one of those lost arts ... all the ladies that bring jam in to the county fair have white hair, and the spidery handwriting on their labels shows they did all the work themselves, no helpers in the kitchen.
My love of plum jam has not left me, so I have always scoured the market shelves looking for plum jam. In the last few years, it has gotten harder to find. So, this year, when I noticed the lovely plums on the tree in the empty lot next to me had no-one to collect them except deer and birds, I resolved to do something about it.
A bucket-full of plums later, there was plenty for my jam cooker -- a heavy duty stainless steel pot with a clear glass lid, picked up at Goodwill for a song -- one of those lucky finds you don't pass up. I'm certainly glad I decided to get it, as it's been a very helpful pan, and when I saw the price of new ... I was really thrilled someone had donated it to Goodwill.
So I filled up my sink with hot water for the jars, fired up the stove, and put together my jam in my cooker:
- 5.5 pounds plums
- 5 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
I cooked my jam the way my mother did -- mashing the fruit as I went, stirring it occasionally, not wandering away. The pips eventually separated and rose, so as I stirred, I fished them out.
A couple of saucers tucked in the freezer sufficed for jam testing. As last year's blackberry jam was a bit overcooked, I decided to stop early this year, when the jam started acting jammy on the frozen plates.
It was a good sign that my jam, right down to the last spatula-scraping, exactly filled a dozen 1/2-pint jars to 1/4 inch from the top ... and that all 12 lids "popped" during cooling, so they've all sealed themselves until their turn comes.
Looks like it will be a plummy winter!
© 17 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
By Amelia © September 15, 2009
Dave Daniels just finished his Summer Of Spinning ... I admit that sometimes my own stash overwhelms me, so I watched his SOS and wondered how productive it would be. I thought perhaps a year of spinning might not even be enough to blow through my own stash. But Dave, did it! spun his whole stash and more -- 16.5 pounds of fiber!
I am relieved to see what Dave did; it means there's hope for me. Sure, it might take a full year, Julie/Julia style (Amelia/Mabel kind of has a ring to it, don't you think?), of attacking the stash to really put a big dent in it. I've been doing that somewhat in a variety of ways already; teaching has been a real stash-reliever, as I've been able to repurpose all of the space-dyed medium wools for my drum carding classes -- keeping the material fee low and my students thrilled with their materials. The spindling classes have benefited from the breadth of my stash -- fine wools, medium wools, long wools, and more recently I've been diving into the finer bits of stash for cashmere and camel on the Akha.
I have found that I have so much fun spinning that my handspun yarn has outstripped my knitting needles -- so, suitably labeled and priced, it is on my table at Black Sheep and other shows. It makes me less stressed out about how to spin the yarn, to spin it simply for the joy of the spinning. I can choose to spin a soft, puffy yarn or a strong, durable yarn as the fiber or mood strikes me. Thick or fine, the entire cubby of Lincoln/Cormo or just the next 4 oz. packet.
When I want to start a new project, it's fun to go through my own private handspun yarn store to pick something fun to use next. And my mother knits too -- so she gets to shop the store when she visits, or get gifted from the handspun when I come to visit her.
Yes, having stash -- be it fiber or yarn -- aids the creativity process. The point is to find the line between creativity and overwhelm. Having been in 'overwhelm land' for some time, I am always grateful when I see a success like Dave's, or find a corner of my stash that has a focus and purpose like teaching. I look forward to my stash returning to a healthy creativity size. And then, like a nice sourdough starter, I can take from it and feed it without feeling overwhelmed.
Dave's triumph reminded me of my own goals, and of the ways I've explored in my work on them. There are great writings out there on the simple life and the frugal life, good ways to see what minimalism is in practice and then apply it to my fiber-filled life. My husband is a past secular Franciscan, and his own life is a good example of functioning minimalism; he has a bookcase full of books to feed his inner life, lovely art on the walls to inspire him, and a graceful, non-intrusive lifestyle.
Leo Babutta of Zen Habits, one of my favorite simple life blogs, has put together an e-book that I find really fascinating: The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life. He's right -- it could be three simple words: Eliminate the unnecessary. But we are complex creatures, and want more than that -- how do we identify the unnecessary? Do you keep the "spare" old-style light bulb because your 10 year bulbs might blow out early? (No.) Do you keep the extra t-shirt because t-shirts wear out (Yes, but it could also, if still brand new, end up being a gift for someone else in the meantime -- don't be attached to it).
So, crafters -- look at your stash. Look over your tools. Decide what you need, what your stash can be, and enjoy it.
Have you engaged in stash reduction or worked through your own stash? I'd love to hear of your accomplishments -- feel free to post a comment on the blog about your own story, or a link to your story on your own blog.
Need help destashing tools? See my posts on finding/selling used items:
Where can I find a used loom?
Where can I find a used wheel?
Where can I find a sock machine?
Need help destashing fiber? Ravelry has several destashing sale/trade groups (including a new fiber-focused one), and kbbspin.org offers free ads for fiber as well. Better yet, consider trading in your own guild, or having a "white elephant" sale/trade day. My guild does that annually, we have a lot of fun with it.
© 15 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
Monday, September 7, 2009
By Amelia © September 7, 2009
Now, I realize I was likely to be off, in my posts explaining weaving drafts and using them on the rigid heddle ... and, it turns out I was. I do appreciate that being pointed out by commenters, even anonymous comments I've chosen not to publish so as to spare my audience.
So, with apologies, here you go ... a straight(er) mapping of terminology, between table/floor looms with multiple harnesses/shafts (shaft being the current popularly preferred term) and rigid heddle looms.
Rigid heddle looms are called rigid heddle because the heddles are in a fixed location -- they are evenly spaced in a fixed, stiff bar. That piece, the "heddle" as it is often called by rigid heddlers, functions as the reed, the heddles, and one shaft (or harness) in the rigid heddle loom -- it's doing three different jobs! This makes these powerful little looms.
On a multi-shaft (sometimes called multi-harness) loom such as a table loom or floor loom, the heddles sit on several shafts, and they can move. So, you can put a few in a row on the same shaft, then a few on another, and so on, for more complex patterns. Each shaft defines a particular pattern of warp threads; shafts typically can be lifted alone or in combination with each other. These complex patterns are also made possible because you can alter which shaft (sometimes called a harness) you lift, and lift more than one at a time if desired as well -- on the rigid heddle loom, you can only, and always, lift [or lower] the half of your warp that is in the holes of your [rigid] heddles. The ones in the slots stay put.
The table loom's reed is like a long row of fixed slots -- all the warp threads go through it. It is used to beat the weft threads into place, since the shafts (or harnesses) are fixed in place, not moving forward.
On a rigid heddle loom, if you try to skip heddles, you end up with visible gaps in your weaving -- possibly intentionally like the spaced-warp/spaced-weft scarves that have been seen on Schacht's Newsletter, in Handwoven, and possibly other places as well (someday, I'll try one too!)
Let's check out the rigid heddle itself again ... actually, you see, it's a bunch of heddles fixed in place. And the Rigid Heddle Loom is also unique among looms in that it may be the only loom where warp threads are commonly not placed in heddles at all, but ride free in the slots between the heddles. The heddles are rigid in two ways. Typically they are, these days, hard plastic, unbending and not flexible; nothing like the texsolv or wire heddles on table and floor looms. And second, they cannot be slid left or right to put more than one thread next to another. Rigid Heddle weavers have to experiment with other solutions -- multiple warp threads through a single heddle-hole or heddle-slot; skipping a heddle-hole or heddle-slot; or combining those two methods.
Now, Rigid Heddle looms can be more complex -- two or even three heddles have been used on them; and pick-up sticks make possible patterns that would take 24 shafts, or even more, on a multi-shaft loom. I've kept it simple, at one heddle, for the sake of this mapping of RH loom to multi-shaft loom.
I have not yet uncovered any discussions comparing rigid heddle looms to multi-shaft looms beyond my own simple postings on this blog on the topic. Interweave's Handwoven magazine occasionally publishes side-by-side patterns for rigid heddle and multi-shaft looms, which may help one learn how to make that mapping for more complex patterns. If you have found a discussion mapping the two types of looms, please do post a link in the comments, so that Anonymous and I can both be enlightened, along with the other readers of this blog. My thanks!
If you would like to see my earlier Rigid Heddle posts, as well as the websites on Rigid Heddling I've collected around the internet, I keep a "running log" on tumblr, you can find all of the posts and links here:
And to all commenters: your comments are *always* welcome, even if they are chiding me. I welcome your adding a name or link to your blog in the fields comment entry supplies for those, rather than posting anonymously. Links are great, because then I can send you a personal thank you note as well as discovering the wider world of bloggers out there -- it's always fun to see others' creations.
That's our little cat Anna in the picture at the top, warming up my just-warped Glimakra Emilia loom before I dove into weaving a scarf for my MIL from handspun superwash merino. It turned out great!
© 7 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
By Amelia © September 1, 2009
[ See the end of this article for an update on Productive Spindling: The Treasure Hunt! ]
It's the season of fall wool shows, with plenty of fleeces available for purchase. But, how do you decide?
Sockpr0n had a gorgeous post recently about this very thing, and her thoughts echo my own. The snaps she took of the posters the judges had are excellent, do check them out as well (on the post and on her flickr ... start here).
If at all possible, sit in on the judging -- an open judging is very educational. You'll learn what the judge is looking for, to guide your purchases of non-judged fleeces, and you'll know which are the ones the judge really liked and why -- so you'll know if you'd like them, too.
What's the judge looking for? First off, I'm not a qualified judge, all of my knowledge is school-of-experience and listening to judges myself. But, to start, they are looking for faults in the fleece:
- weak tips -- a bleached tip might be weak, easy to break off. Pinch the very end and tug on the tip of a small lock. Try it in several places on the fleece before you conclude its tips are fine -- the top of the back gets the most sun
- breaks -- the entire length of the lock should be strong. Take a lock, pinch each end in your fingers, and holding it near your ear, snap it out; bring your two hands together and snap it out -- you should hear a twang, not a rip. It's a bit like a tuning fork, each fleece has its own tone. If you hear a rip -- it's weak. Again, spot checks over a fleece are a good idea.
- scurf -- dandruff like flakes in the fleece. They don't wash out, they stick around; I've heard of some folks getting them out in the dye bath, but there's no guarantee.
- VM -- hay, seeds, and other Vegetable Matter. The more there is, the harder it is to process the fleece. Burrs and thorns are an extreme (and a painful) thing to have in a fleece. Large seeds can wreck carding cloth (not to mention what they do to the fleece when they break into a million tiny pieces - bleh)
- Canary stain or yolk -- yellowing of the fleece caused by bacteria. It doesn't wash out. You can dye over it, but the bacteria's discoloration is not a surface effect, so the wool likely isn't as strong as it could be, either.
- Inconsistent staple length -- fleeces should generally have a consistent staple, or length of fibers in the fleece. Yeah, hair on the sheep's legs may dwindle down to nothing; but those shorter pieces should be removed before it hits the sale table. Some breeds, like multi-color Jacob, may exhibit "quilting", where one color is longer than another -- that can be hard to process and spin.
- Tags or incomplete skirting -- skirting is the removal of all the less lovely bits of a fleece. Tags are, well, the "tags" that hang off the butt of the sheep because he or she doesn't have toilet paper out there in the field (or hands to use it ... right Benny?)
- Odor -- ram fleeces can be rather "rich". Improperly stored fleeces could develop mold or mildew -- the nose knows.
- Second cuts -- these are short cut pieces found at the base of the cut wool -- from the shearer making a second pass with the cutters on the same location, closer to the skin. If you don't get them out of the fleece with careful skirting, youl'l end up with short bits in your fiber that are likely to make noils in your yarn. (Thanks to Marcia, comment #1, for reminding me of this!)
Once they've cleared their checklist of faults, the judge is looking at the fleece in terms of its breed. If it's a meat breed like Southdown, then really all you want to see is health in the fleece. But if it's Wensleydale, you're looking for lovely crisp locks. Merino should be fine and soft with small crimp, Romney should have a more medium hand with a more open crimp. Some breeds (Merino, Cotswold) run to lots of lanolin, while others have less.
The best way to look over a fleece is to have a large table or clean, clear surface (last thing you want to do is introduce foreign matter in the fleece yourself) and take the fleece out of the back. Most fleece are folded in thirds like a handtowel and then rolled up like a sleeping bag --- if you can find the end of the roll, unroll it and open it up. Usually that puts it cut side up (if memory serves me ...). A good quality fleece usually hangs together in its sheepy shape pretty nicely.
If it was shorn and rolled without respect to saleability (those free fleeces you keep getting offered...) then it's likely the belly wool is stuffed in the middle of it -- that's trash, and also that the fleece is completely unskirted, so the outer edges may be really short, coarse fibers and/or full of mud and muck. See if you can tell the neck from the tail by the amount of tags on the fiber ... if so, then it's not skirted enough.
Once you have the fleece unrolled, you can check it for faults, for consistency, for breed qualities.
Now, at fleece sales, often it's a bunch of fleeces in large black plastic sacks. No opportunity to unroll them. Yeah, it's a crap shoot. What do I do then? Well, I look at the information provided. How much time did the shepherd invest in selling their fleece? a farm writeup, the sheep's name/breed/caring (was it coated? that helps reduce VM), details on how they recommend washing it, a washed lock from this fleece or even a yarn sample -- all show the shepherd understands their market. You might be able to check a lock for soundness or tippiness, and color along the lock for yolk, that's about it. If you can track the seller down (at some fleece sales, they're right there; at others, they're busy with their animals, too, and can't be available at the fleece sales), you can ask about unrolling the fleece for a more thorough look.
Now, as to price ... what's fair? The market decides, right, classic economics. Here are some things to consider. Most fleeces are sold at a "per pound" price. That's why it's handy to make sure it's well skirted, no belly wool wrapped in the middle either. The weight of the fleece depends on the breed (Romney fleeces are easily 10 pounds, while Shetland fleeces might be 7) and how thoroughly skirted it was. Muck is heavier than fiber. Okay, so assuming it's a nicely skirted fleece, consider this too: processing. You're likely to lose at least 25% of the weight in washing the fleece -- the dirt and lanolin; I've lost 30% in some, 20% in others. And then processing loses more. If you send a fleece to a mill for carding, you can expect the finished weight to be about 40% of the weight you sent in. So the price per pound you paid gets pretty magnified -- rather than $8/pound, you've paid $8/9.6 ounces of fiber, not considering processing costs. If you process the fleece yourself, you are still likely to lose a little more in processing -- combing loses more than carding.
All of the above was about wool fleeces, shorn from sheep. Cashmere, Mohair (goat), angora (bunny), llama, and alpaca are a different kettle of fish. There's no lanolin (or, not much -- some Huacaya alpaca can have some oils in them) to hold the fleece together, so typically they are more disorganized and not unrollable into animal shape. The same checks might apply for faults. Llama fleeces in particular have a tendency to hide tree branches and small rocks (okay, maybe that's just mine...); mohair fleeces from the rams can be quite odiferous. For cashmere, it's helpful to know if it is shorn or combed from the animal -- a shorn fleece has more hair in it by weight than down, while a combed one is likely to be less than half (by weight) hair.
Oh, and -- llama seconds, alpaca seconds (or thirds) are the shorter staple or coarser fibers from the animals. Sure, you could spin them, but check them over and see if you feel you can manage the staple length. The longer staple of the prime blanket of the animal (basically, where a saddle would be if they were horses) gives a stronger yarn; that's why they separate out the shorter fibers.
In closing ... if you are buying a fleece without getting your hands on it first (eBay, FleeceForSale list, or website), all you can do is ask questions; check the shepherd's reputation; and, check on their return policy, but consider: if the fleece does not measure up, will you be able to afford mailing it back? Now, I don't mean to scare you off of this. Some fleeces I might never have had the opportunity to try without buying them sight unseen, untested reputation and all. Some fleeces from reputable shepherds have clearly been from off years. It is hit-and-miss. But I am glad about what each fleece I've had, has taught me.
So, you dived in and purchased a fleece (carefully, using all my advice, right?) What next? Luckily, I've already worked on that, so here are some follow-up posts for you to wander through with your fleece next to you, planning out its path:
What is a skirted fleece?
How do you skirt a fleece?
What is kemp?
How do you get hay and twigs out of raw fleece?
How do I wash raw fleece?
How do you get muddy tips in raw fleece to come clean?
How much weight will a Shetland fleece lose in washing?
What tips do you have for keeping fleece washing water hot?
How old is too old for a fleece?
There was a list of the fiber processors I've used recently in a past issue of Bellefeathers -- they all do nice work. Or, you might look at whether you want to Card or Comb your washed fleece.
If you have some fleece shopping advice to share, please post it in the comments on this article -- I'm always picking up new tips from my fellow shoppers, and may indulge myself with a nice Cormo fleece at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival this fall ... I wonder if Morro Fleece Works is doing whites or colors right now ...
Productive Spindling: The Treasure Hunt has reached its date for the treasure! Final cut-off for receiving the discounts for submitted answers will be September 30th.
What are the discounts? 5% of purchases at The Bellwether through 31 Dec 09 for a reasonable attempt, 10% for getting at least 12 correct ... and 3 are always right, if you've given an answer, so that's only 9 to "hunt" for ...)
Curious to known the answers? The answers will be posted here on Ask The Bellwether, October 1.
I appreciate the response, it's been great! And it turns out the quiz was really hard ... so all the entries I received will be entered in a drawing for the prizes ... I'll contact you in email later this week if you've won, so keep an eye on your inbox :)
© 1 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/