Tag Archives: fiber

Sheep! And wool!

angora goats make mohair

Neil and I headed to the VT Sheep & Wool fest last weekend. The weather could not have been more gorgeous. Although, maybe it could have been a few degrees cooler. There weren’t a lot of sweaters…

tunbridge fairgrounds

Tunbridge is a gorgeous little fairgrounds. Little is the key word here. In spite of being almost exactly 40 weeks pregnant I was able to walk the whole fairgrounds. Granted we took plenty of sitting breaks. I joked that I was eating and peeing my way through the festival. I’m so classy, see what you’re missing by not being around me all the time? There were maple creemees (soft serve, to those of you not in Vermont) and maple shakes while watching the sheep dogs.

sheepdog demo

I met lots of friends (reinforcing Neil’s opinion that I must be knitting-famous) and chatted with many of my favorite vendors (the lines here are blurry) but I took NO pictures of people. Oops. I got some yarn (shocker!) and some new project bags, and no fiber. The fiber stash I have already makes me sad that I don’t spin more. But trust me, I oogled plenty of fiber anyway!

cashmere goats

Rhinebeck Recap

Rhinebeck tree.jpg

This was possibly the most beautiful Rhinebeck yet (it’s only my 3rd). Blue skies and white puffy clouds greeted us Saturday morning- which was a welcome change from the sheeting rain we drove down in on Friday*.

fairgrounds.jpg

The crowds on Saturday got intense at times but the fairgrounds are big enough that it’s always possible to find a quiet corner where we could sit, knit, and watch the sweaters go by (and the alpacas and llamas.)

Camelid parade.jpg

We got there first thing that morning and were at the front of the line. My friends Amy and Dana love Cephalopod yarns so we headed there first before the booth got too crazy.

Cephalopod booth.jpg

I love the Ravelry meet up. It’s a break from all the shopping to actually hang out and talk with other knitters. I met Ann who chose Boyden for he Rhinebeck sweater. She totally made the whole weekend for me! And I visited with some fellow designers (Triona from Triona Designs and Danielle from Makewise Designs pictured)

boyden.jpg designers.jpg
(That thing with the cable I’m wearing? It’s a sneak peak. But I can say I think you should go pre-order your very own copy of What Else Would Madame Defarge Knit. Do it now.)

I didn’t mean to buy a lot of yarn, I swear… But ended up coming home with 2 skeins of sock yarn for socks. Another 1400 yds in two colors for a sweater. Some lace weight and some fiber. I thought I was being good and not buying a spindle. But I think next time I’ll just get one. They take up less space!

just a little yarn.jpg
(why yes, these are ALL crappy cell phone pictures. Some more crappy than others)

Possibly my favorite purchase is the pottery though. I LOVE my new casserole dish with the goats on it!

* Sheeting rain, 5 accidents, and a 24 mile detour in Albany where they’d closed 87 entirely…

VT Sheep and Wool

Last weekend I went down to the VT sheep and wool festival with some friends.

mudboots

It was a muddy weekend, but we had a good time anyway! We went to introduce one friend to the festival atmosphere. She’s coming to Rhinebeck in (nine!!) days and had never been to a fiber festival before. We wanted to start small.

sheepdog

We saw the sheep dog herding trials, watched a sheep get sheared, met other bloggers and some twitter friends, and generally had a good time!

I loved watching the guy from Yellow Dog Farm who was making spindles on site.

spindle mosaic
1. spindle2, 2. spindle1, 3. spindle4, 4. spindle3

He went from an octagon of wood, to a beautiful, functional spindle right before our eyes.

festival yarn

And I got some yarn. Of course. The big brown skeins will become the Boyden sweater. The dark green (almost black in this light) is for a chirstmas gift. The light green is sock yarn*. The light brown may become another pair of mitts (because apparently, I can’t get enough mitts) And I knit on a christmas gift on the drive down and back too. Did you know we have 81 days left? I get mad when stores put out decorations this time of year, but for crafters, it’s about time to get started…

*sock yarn doesn’t count as stash

Drum carder!

Amy left me her drum carder on Friday. I’ve been having lots of fun with it. I carded some of my ridiculously soft romney (somewhere from 2-4 ounces of it) with some gorgeous cranberry kid mohair (2 ounces) I picked up on farm tour weekend. Then I added a similar amount of white montadale. I got 6 batts, I’m guessing they’re about 1 or 2 ounces each:

mohair batts
(sorry this photo came out blurry, but if I make it small and you squint, I’m sure you can see the awesomeness!)

I blended some of the romney and montadale with a little (1 ounce) leftover into the whirled fiber that was a green/blue/purple/brown colorway

itw and naturals

But the most fun came from my rainbow fiber blending experiment. I had 3-4 ounces of montadale which I dyed in vibrant shades (food coloring dyes are ALWAYS vibrant) of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. I added some purple in a different (but similar) roving (which I also got from Amy – clearly she’s enabling me)

fiber mosaic

These batts are what happens when I’m turned loose with a drum carder and a full spectrum of colors (plus white and brown) I’m pretty pleased with this assortment, although each batt is only 1-2 ounces so who knows what’ll happen with them once their spun up.

Speaking of spinning I’m doing the Tour de Fleece next month. This is where spinners set goals and spin every day – theoretically while watching bikers spin in the Tour de France. Since I’ve NEVER watch the real tour I’m clearly just in this for the camaraderie and the reason to try and spin every day. If you’re on Ravelry the group is here.

Farm to Yarn

Sunday afternoon my friends Amy, Dana, and I did a little farm sight-seeing. The Northeast Kingdom put on it’s annual Farm-to-Yarn tour and so we visited a few nearby farms.

First we went to Dilner Hillside Farm – where they raise Angora goats (and bunnies, as well as chickens, sheep, and a dairy goat)

more angora goats

Don’t forget angora goats make mohair fiber, which means this little kid:

kid mohair

Is essentially kid silk haze on four legs!

Next stop was Buzz & Honey’s Fleecy Flock where we met this year’s friendly bottle-fed lambs:

bottle lamb

Ate delicious pumpkin bread, and admired how very VERY green their pastures are:

baa baa gray sheep

Finally we stopped at North of the Andes Alpacas for some fuzzy-headed goodness

fuzzy heads

They’d just been sheared one or two weeks ago, so they looked very skinny with their funny, unsheared bobble heads on top. But the best part of this stop was the cria – a baby alpaca born less than 24 hours before

cria

I think mom’s ears are worth noting as well. So fluffy! The baby is doing very well:

cria nursing

And they didn’t have any more black fleeces for sale – which is just as well because I’m not sure I actually need another fleece right now…

Meanwhile back on the home range:

chickens

My brahmas seem to have an odd fascination for the bale of straw destined to be garlic mulch…

things that begin with F

Yesterday I made a quick stop into JoAnn’s (the best source for buttons in my area) I got the buttons I needed, and a little something else:

linen blend fabrics

Fabric! I talk more about knitting because knitting is more portable, I can knit on the bus or in front of the TV. But I have a fabric stash almost comparable to my yarn stash. These two are for specific projects. The white with red flowers is a linen cotton blend for the summer dress pictured. I’m not sure what I’ll use for the contrast. I’m going to be lining it with a light brown/almost skin toned organic Egyptian cotton (ok, ok, it was a bed sheet once. But now it’s torn (from dogs nesting on the bed) and I refuse to waste good fabric*) Anyway I could use that for the contrast, but I’m not sure about even a light brown with the red/white/black pattern.

The blue and brown is a linen rayon blend which I plan on making a swishy 8-gore skirt with a wide bottom edge and more contrasting fabric. I’ll be using a pattern I already own.

When I got home I found this:

two bags full

It’s a giant box of fleece! Neil sent me a text when it arrived telling me the mill had screwed up my order and sent me a live sheep. I don’t think you could quite fit a live sheep in that box. Well, maybe a miniature one…

This is the montadale and romney I mailed off to Zeilingers. The montadale is pretty soft and really woolly- I think it’s a comparable mix of woolly/itchy as shelter yarn. Which is to say only some people would find it next to skin soft. Definitely softer then the corridale I’ve gotten from a nearby farm, but not merino/BFL soft.

washed montadale roving

The big surprise is my Romney, it’s even softer than the montadale! Seriously I didn’t think Romney was supposed to be soft.

washed romney roving

One of the three fleeces in the blend was from a lamb, but I’m not sure that explains everything… According to the knitters book of wool it’s a somewhat coarse fiber but with wonderful crimp. They says it’s excellent for adding loft to mixed breed blends of wool. This lot is so soft I’m tempted to just spin it straight up, pure romney! I would wonder if they sent me the wrong fiber but it’s clearly a mixture of the 3 colors I sent them.

DSCN7353DSCN7356DSCN7354

Up close you can see the dark brown, light brown, and white fibers. The colors are really well blended, which is exactly what I wanted. I plan on using this to add heathering to some dyed, blended, batts I’m already planning in my mind.

In fact, I have SO MUCH of this fiber, I’m starting to wonder if I can sell some of it. Do you think there’s a market for prettily dyed hand blended batts that are made of things besides merino and BFL? Maybe just as a novelty? It’s not like I have enough fiber to go into business, but I’d be happy to share my love of unusual breeds if anyone’s interested. I suppose I could just put them on etsy and see what happens. Who knows what people are searching for without a little experimenting, right?

*If I had curtains I’d be tempted to make things out of them too!

Yarn yarn yarn!

I thought, since I’ve spent the last few days talking about the joys of using a wide variety of yarn, I should make some recommendations. I don’t know if I can really say “I recommend” all of these since I haven’t even used some of them. But I can at least do a little leg work in case you’d like to try them. The tricky part here is that the breed distinctions are more often made in fiber then in wool, so many of these breeds I’ve used have been handspun. I’m trying to find actual yarns when possible, but I haven’t used them all. Also note I’m trying to link places that list skeins and prices online. But I’m not affiliated with any of these sites, and I have no information into availability, shipping, or anything else.

Yarn’s I’ve used:
Merino: Beaverslide Dry Goods
I was going to leave Merino off because there are so many merino yarns available. But I really love Beaverslide’s yarn because it’s not a highly processed merino. You may find a little veggie matter in this yarn, it has the same textured, farm-based look of many other favorites (like Bartlett) but it’s still buttery soft, because it is still merino. But this is a merino you can believe came off a sheep.

Targhee-Columbia: Shelter yarn
From what I understand the sheep are the cross, not the two fibers are blended to make the yarn. But I haven’t asked directly, so I could be wrong.
I’ve talked briefly about shelter before, but I’ll say it again. It’s very lofty and fluffy you can feel a crispness to this wool yarn. It’s good for trapping air and nice textured knits. I find it softer then basics like Cascade 220, but not nearly as soft as merino.

Shetland: Harrisville Designs
This one may not be unknown to knitters. Shetland is sold to knitters for fair isle projects because of it’s sticky properties. I’ve used Jamison’s from England as well as Harrisville’s yarns, I like this one because I’ve visited them mill. I describe shetland as sticky and woolly but not scratchy. It’ll probably depend on how sensitive you are.

Icelandic: Lopi Yarn or for a more local flavor Frelsi Farm
Another one that many knitters are probably familiar with. Icelandic sheep are a very old breed and even I’ll admit their fibers are a little scratchy. BUT it makes the best outer layers you can imagine. That Targhee fiber may be soft but there’s no way it’ll cut the wind. I can picture wearing a sweater of icelandic yarn INSTEAD of a coat. It’s warm and thick and protective. Sometimes you need that.

Coopworth: Ruit Farm North
I haven’t used yarn from THIS coopworth farm, but I’m linking them because they have skeins and prices online. My pink and brown hat and mitten set is done in 100% coopworth from a Vermont farm (that doesn’t have a website) and I absolutely LOVE them. The scratchy level is right around shetland yarn which doesn’t really bother me. The mittens are so dense they keep my hands toasty warm even when the temps drop below zero – and I’ve had several opportunities to test them this winter! Like the icelandic yarns they make nice, durable outer-wear but with less scratch.

Wensleydale: Highfield Textiles
Again, not the wensleydale I’ve used. But looks like a good one to link. Wensleydale has long staple length and is very high gloss. So while it’s not the softest fiber it works wonderfully anywhere you want drape and shine – I think it’d be perfect for a shawl.

Blue faced Leicester: Fleece Artist
Knitters may know this one too, it’s usually shortened to just BFL. Fleece Artist has a number of BFL yarns in different weights. Almost as soft as merino but with a much longer staple length and higher luster BFL knits up into a fabric with much more drape. It should also pill less due to the longer fibers.

Yarns I haven’t tried (but probably should)
Cormo: Little Brook Fiber Farm
Cormo is a finewool: crimpy and soft like merino or Targhee.

Navajo-Churro: Terrapin Gardens
Navajo-Churro sheep, like icelandics, are a primitive breed. They have a dual coat and there’s a big difference in softness between the under and outer coat fibers.

Romney: Romney Ridge Farm
Romney wool is a longwool breed. It’s fibers are incredibly crimpy, hold lots and lots of air, and add loft to any yarn they’re blended into.

If you want to try more unusual breeds of yarn I really recommend Local Harvest. This site allows farms to market straight to consumers, think of it like etsy but for farmers (and you can find lots of goods besides wool there). Ever heard of Clun Forest sheep? How about Perendale? Wondered what the straight mohair would be like in yarn? What do you suppose the fiber would be like if you crossed a shetland and lincoln sheep?

If you want really in depth reviews, Knitter’s Review has a great selection of yarns they’ve reviewed.
If you have used any of these. Or if you go out and find some, let me know what you think of them!

As for my Montadale fiber. I’ve spun up that little bit of washed fiber. It’s waiting to be plied with some purple fiber from a nearby sheep. Once finished it’ll be a single, marled, skein of truly vermont grown yarn.

The Fleece

From The Knitter’s Book of Wool, by Clara Parkes:

Imagine if all the wine in the world – red and white alike – were mixed together and sold as generic “wine.” Think of how many centuries of craftsmanship and flavor would be lost, and how mediocre it would taste compared with how it would taste if the grapes had been kept separate or selectively blended. Such an act would be almost unthinkable in the food world. But in the knitting world, just as much nuance is lost every day when flat, bouncy, long, short, matte, and lustrous fibers from ancient and modern sheep breeds alike are bundled together and sold as generic “wool” yarn.

I’m not a big collector of knitting books, but a friend loaned me this one. Now I’m going to have to go buy my own copy before I can give it back. I think it’s meant as a reference book mostly for looking up breeds of sheep, but I’m reading it cover-to-cover it’s so wonderful.

I’m really excited about my Montadale fleece, not the least of which reasons is because I can look it up and tell you that Montadales are a medium wool breed with fiber ranging from 24-31 microns (merino coming in at 17-22) a high crimp, medium luster, and suitable for next to skin and midrange garments.

haveyouanywool

My big bag of wool is really REALLY full. It was even several pounds heavier then Amy’s fleece. After we left the farm we headed back to her house, spread an old sheet on the floor (to protect the floor, not the fleeces) and sorted through our purchases. Since they’d only been minimally skirted we pulled out all the really dirty bits, the poopy bits, the hay, and the burdocks. I’m sending it off to be cleaned and carded this weekend and when it comes back we have plans for all sorts of dying and blending projects.

fiber bath

Not wanting to wait in suspense I took a few of the cleanest locks and washed them up myself. Holding the cut ends I swished and washed them in several changes of hot, soapy, water* until it stopped turning brown. Then I set them in a pot of water on my stove keeping it at a low simmer to remove the rest of the grease and lanolin.

washedlocks

The washed locks dried quickly by the stove revealing pure white fibers with just a touch of creaminess at the tips. I don’t have any carding equipment of my own. But it didn’t take any more effort then pre-drafting ever does to pull the locks out into long, thin strips and begin spinning.

spinning

The feeling of going from sheep to spindle in less then 24 hours is hard to describe.

*neat fact: wool doesn’t felt as long as all the fibers are aligned just as they were on the sheep. So you can wash them more vigorously in lock form without worrying.

The Shearing

Last weekend Amy and I went to see a sheep shearing at a local farm. The farm we visited has been raising Montadale and Montadale/Coopworth cross sheep for meat and useful fleece for 30 years.

fuzzy sheepies

I find fuzzy sheep so appealing. Maybe someday I’ll get a few of my own. In the mean time visiting local farms is a lot of fun too.
The shearer was amazing. She worked quickly and efficiently, which was clearly best to keep the animals from getting too stressed. She’d sit them down on their rumps and start the shearing with their bellies. We didn’t see her nick any of the animals – although she did nick herself at one point.

the shearing

Once separated from their fleeces the sheep would hang out with their friends at the back of the holding pen.

funny lookin flock

I’ve heard one problem with raising sheep is that the price farmers can get for the fleece doesn’t necessarily cover the cost to have them sheared. This farmer was inviting people in to see the process, and also selling fleeces – Entire Sheep Fleeces – for just $5 each. If no one claimed a fleece, it just went in the bin.

a lot of fleece

Of course these are dual purpose sheep breeds. Neither is an extremely soft finewool like merino, however both Montadales and Coopworths have fleeces that are known to hand spinners. We’d agreed to go just for the fun of seeing a shearing on the farm. And you know, maybe, just maybe, check out the fleeces. After all, the fleece of a meat sheep could be almost anything. These sheep weren’t coated – meaning the fleeces are exposed to everything the sheep bumps into or lays down in… And just because a breed can have decent fleece fore spinning doesn’t mean the particular sheep in question will have a fleece anyone would want to spin. The diet and living conditions of a sheep can affect an individual fleece almost as much as the breed.

You know where this is going, right? Of course I bought one.

Finally a quick note. I have a guest blog post over at the Knit Purl Gurl talking about the design process for Root Cellar. You can also enter to win a free copy of the pattern, so pop on over and check it out!

shetland

At the 2008 NH sheep and wool festival I picked up some gorgeous shetland fiber. Two ounces of each of 4 natural colors:

shetland

I loved them, still do really. I have great plans for this fiber. Divide each into one ounce chunks, and over-dye the natural colors with a single color, red, or maybe blue. I figured this would give me 8 colors which would coordinate perfectly, and I could knit a beautiful monotone fair isle vest (or hat, or something) out of them. Like I said, I have big plans.

But instead they’ve sat, in my fiber stash, for a year and a half. Finally on my birthday weekend I decided it was time to give the plan a try. I had some henna in my freezer, leftover from a hair-dying experiment. It turned my dirty-blonde hair a fun shade of reddish orange coppery sort of color, so I figured it should do the same thing to wool. Right?

Well I thawed the henna out, and diluted it down; it was the consistency of mud, that’s what you need to keep it in your hair on your head for 4 hours. I primed the wool by soaking it in white vinegar, and then threw everything in a stainless steel pot on the stove. I let it simmer for 4 hours. You should pretty much always dye in a well ventilated space away from food preparation areas. But I make a few exceptions, kool-aid dying and onion skin dying among them. In this case I figured if it’s safe enough to soak into my scalp for 4 hours I could use my kitchen cook stove. After hanging it in the sun to dry, I ended up with this:

notredshetland

The fiber in the center is clearly dyed, but not the coppery red I was hoping for. Instead it’s a mustardy yellow. And the yellow must be a gray-ish yellow because the dyed off white fiber and dyed gray fiber are almost impossible to tell apart.

So I’m going to call this a Failure. It happens, especially with dying experiments. But I’m not giving up on this fiber. I’m planning to over dye with something else. I may use a basic kool-aid red since the mustard yellow should tone it down out of the fluorescent range. I could try an acid dye, but I worry about reactions between it an the henna. There’s rumors in the hair-dying world that some metallic salts in commercial dyes can react with henna to fry hair, or turn it bright, frog, green. I don’t really want to risk either of those things on my soft, scrunchy shetland.