Addendum to Tour of My Tour de Fleece

It’s already been too long since TdF ended and I got my projects mixed up in my last post. I did just finish spinning a batt of merino naturally dyed with indigo and butterfly bush, but I started that after TdF. I forget about two other yarns that I spun between the last part of my TdF and the blue-green batt: two batts that I got last spring as part of a fiber exchange.

The first batt had my favorite colors: blue and green. The maker also included brown, and lots of different fibers and textures that were quite an adventure to spin. I started spinning the batt on my wheel from the brown side in May and then paused, taking it back up at the end of the tour. During Tdf, I split the batt into roving (not dizzed, just torn/split) roughly along color lines, brown to green to blue, to make it easier to spin and to preserve the striping in the final yarn, which I chain plied. Regrets: not taking a picture before spinning (I promise, it was a beautiful batt), not weighing it. The finishing yarn is 46g and 90yds.

The second batt was brown and very obviously hand processed by the maker from a specific sheep breed. What was the breed? Did she really prepare it, taking it from fleece to batt? I don’t know – she hasn’t been on Facebook since I posted in the group about my finished yarns. I was hoping she would remember the breed and maybe have pictures of the batts, but alas, it’s ultimately my bad for waiting so long to spin them and not keeping her letter with them. You may think my memory is really bad (it probably is) but she also sent chocolates and I still remember how delicious those were.

So the second batt I also split lengthwise into a continuous strip of roving-like wool. I also chain plied it to use up all the singles at once, and ended up with 30g, 66 yards yards of fingering weight yarn. It seems I can only spin fingering; I need to try spinning larger, which is at odds with my deep-seated desire to get the most out of the fiber by spinning it thick enough for the singles not to break easily but thin enough for me to feel like I’m stretching it.

last of the TdF yarn
The Real TdF yarn (left) and it’s buddy

Well. I can’t let that inaccurate information in my last post stand, so feel free to check out the new updated version (probably with lots of strike through) if you haven’t already.

Weaving? Weaving.

I’ve been intrigued but daunted by weaving since a few of my knitting & spinning friends started and I swore I wasn’t going to add it to my repertoire. The cost of additional equipment also put me off, even starter rigid heddle looms range from around $100-$300. And floor looms, perhaps the ultimate in looms, take up a lot of space.

After some reading, mainly Hand/Eye, an excellent art & craft blog, I realized that not everyone who weaves uses a floor loom, that really weaving requires that your warp threads be under tension Weaving (anything from cloth to rugs) is still a source of income for many people in non-western countries, something that’s easy to forget in the land of cushy convenience. So I made my own backstrap loom following instructions from Weavezine using oak dowels I had around from making my own niddy noddy, clothesline rope, and scrap fabric for the backstrap.

After getting everything together, I decided to skip the first recommended project and just began making a back strap, the second project. I clamped some scrap wood to a table, as shown on Weavezine, for an improvised warping board and wound white Bernat Handicrafter Cotton for the warp. I made lease sticks from 12″ crafter’s dowels that I got at JoAnn’s for something else and followed the pictures on Weavezine to get set up and started.

I had problems, of course – like making continuous string heddles instead of making heddles on a stick. The back loom bar, the one that attaches to a stationary object, kept slipping to one side and pulling everything with it, including any tension I had on the warp; I eventually hooked the back loom bar around my feet to get enough even tension with the backstrap. I also didn’t realize the difference between a balanced weave (what I thought I was making, where the warp & weft are equally visible), warp-faced weave (what I was really making, in which the weft is hidden by the warp), and weft-faced weave (the opposite of warp-faced), so I used a different yarn for the first inch or so before I realized that it wasn’t going to be visible at all.

I learned a lot from all the problems I had and the backstrap came out pretty well:

I decided I wanted to more than warp-faced weaving on a backstrap. I considered making or getting a rigid heddle, which would allow me to make a more balanced weave. I looked at other loom options, like tapestry weaving and using yarn on a potholder loom or making my own frame loom. I even considered a floor loom (and still daydream about using or having one) but started looking instead at table looms. During one of my ebay forays, I discovered vintage Structo Artcraft Looms and decided to keep an eye out for a reasonably priced one (i.e., something under $150). In early June, I ended up with this little Structo Artcraft 440/4, with a 9″ weaving width and 4 harnesses. It came complete with a project from the 50s still on it, as evidenced by the July 1955 calendar page used in winding on the warp threads.

I cleaned the loom, oiled the spots that needed oiling, made a raddle with some wood we had around + finishing nails + the cutest clamps ever, and improvised a warping board.

The Yarn Office, The Post Office, and Fleece Washing

Over the last week or so, I’ve been super-busy. My knitting friends have been encouraging me for a long time (trust me: for at least a year) to start a shop, if not a brick-and-mortar yarn shop, then a shop on etsy, or really, someplace online. A brick-and-mortar yarn shop seems like a pretty high risk endeavor right now; several local-ish yarn shops have disappeared over the last few years: Capital Yarns and With Yarn in Front both in Chantilly I think, Eleganza in Frederick, MD, and at least 2 others (I’m too lazy to go dig up the thread on Ravelry). I can’t tell you how many people, not just in Loudoun Needleworkers, have longed for a local-er yarn shop. If FibreSpace in old town Alexandria ever decides to open a satellite store, my knitting group dearly hopes it will be all the way out here in Loudoun.

Not being such an entrepreneur type and being rather skittish about things like accounting, I have been procrastinating since June, when I vowed to make this yarn/fiber/artsy thing work. At Shenandoah Fiber Festival, Lisa, one of my LNW friends who’s been encouraging me for a while now, was as excited as I was about the fleeces I bought and told me she couldn’t wait to see what I did with them. Of course, a month passed before I even blogged about SVFF or did more with the fleece than move them out of my way. Last Wednesday, at our regular mid-week meet-up, Lisa told me about the project she had in mind for a batt from me. She had a project. She needed wool. She wanted to buy wool from me! What more could she do except come to my house, force money on me, and make off with wool? So, I started an etsy shop called The Yarn Office, what Ethan, my middle son, called the living room after I took it over with my spinning wheel, knitting books, etc.

So far, I don’t have much in the shop, just some batts that I made last spring, when another knitting friend, Jenni, let me borrow her drum carder to make a few batts. A week or two later, I made a few batts using my own carder, which Mr. Q surprised me with on Mother’s Day or my birthday (both in early May). I did finish the batts for Lisa, she’s purchased them, and I have those two initial sales to someone that I know & like and who will be able to give me feedback (or leeway) if something is wrong with the batts! And if something *is* wrong, I’ll be able to fix it super-quick without having to deal with the dreaded Post Office (of doom). I hate the PO, though of course I’ll be doing some desensitizing therapy in the form of shipping any orders I get by going to the actual building. (Yes, it’s silly that I have a Post Office thing, but there it is.)

I am cleaning fleece like a crazy lady. Well, really, just a lady with a purpose. I’ve used two methods so far on the cormo fleece, which is pretty greasy (but cormo! so worth it!). The first, the lock-by-lock method that Beth Smith of the Spinning Loft showed Jenni and I at the 2010 Spinning Loft Spring Retreat. It involves washing each lock individually using a bar of Fels Naptha (no, it doesn’t contain naptha – they should possibly consider renaming the product). This method was excellent for getting some of the super dirty locks clean, except the water I was using wasn’t hot enough to remove the lanolin and the batt I made from that wool was a little greasier than what I’d like.

The second method is the tulle roll technique also mentioned/shown/described during the Spinning Loft Retreat and detailed by Beth in Knitty’s Winter 2008 issue. Yesterday afternoon (Halloween!) I made rolls just like Beth’s but instead of using tulle, I used some more flexible white netting from some curtains I got a while ago (the curtain story is a post all by itself). Today, I washed the rolls. I filled up two buckets with really hot water, one with some non-enzyme-containing detergent (Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent, which I bought at Costco while feeling guilty about my carbon footprint but not guilty enough to apply the elbow grease required to get it to work as well as Tide), the other with clean water. And away I washed. It went reasonably well, except that a few of the rectangles used to make the rolls were more like uneven parallelograms and some of the locks escaped. It could have been worse – most of them were still attached by a few fibers to their neighbors and I was able to keep everything together until it was time to dry them. I think for my next washing session, I’m going to use hot water, rubber gloves (with lotion on, killing 2 birds with one stone), and the Fels Naptha.

More soon (Thursday, if I’m with-it) on dying with mushrooms, pokeberries, bittersweet, and indigo. (I used indigo on the freshly-washed locks today, but indigo requires a post of its’ own.)

Catching Up: Shenandoah Valley Fiber Fest

For once I have too much to write about: SVFF, natural dye projects, the sweater I’m knitting out of my own handspun yarn, roller derby, and probably some other things I’m forgetting about. I’m planning on posting more about all of this stuff, particularly the natural dying (madder, mushrooms, pokeberry & bittersweet), but I’ve been remiss in blogging (or blah-ging, as the case may be) and feel like I have to catch up first.

Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival (SVFF) happens the last weekend in September just over The Mountains (the Blue Ridge Mountains, that is) at the Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville, VA. This was my second year helping out with the juried fleece sale and the Loudoun Needleworkers (LNW) booth, which were happily in the same building this year thanks to Alana, who did so much organizing I’m surprised she didn’t keel over in exhaustion before SVFF even started. I love driving out to Berryville for this festival; I would love to live farther out, in the country proper instead of suburban Leesburg. The 3 days I spent at SVFF were worth it for the drive alone, but it is a bonus that I carpooled with Steph and Alana.

Friday we got to the fairgrounds around 10 in the morning to set up the LNW booth, which we use to let the community know we exist and welcome new members, and to get ready to skirt and comment on sheep & alpaca fleece brought in for the juried fleece sale. We were a little bit too early; booth set-up went by in a flash so we sat knitting and chatting for most of the morning. From 1pm, when the fleece sale started, until about 4:30 we were in constant motion dealing with over 100 fleece. Although this year we were supposed to be on our own, we had help from some of the jurists from last year and without it, we would’ve been sunk. This is what the fleece sale table looked like when we left Friday evening:

Fleece Sale Table, SVFF, Friday PM

Saturday morning we got there by 9, if I remember correctly, and were off and running with fleece sales. We did the bulk of the selling on Saturday, with several on Sunday. Many people stopped to watch us spin, ask us about spindles and Alana’s Ladybug. An older gentleman from Texas stopped by looking for the woman who’d brought in cashmere from her goats; he had judged the goat competition earlier in the day and explained that there’s more cashmere out there than sheep fleece, but it’s expensive because it has to be de-haired by hand.

As she did last year, Alana got delicious wine from Fabbioli to share with all of the volunteers and we stayed after SVFF closed Saturday & took our time cleaning up on Sunday. Sunday we also made our annual group trip to Sonic in Winchester. Cherry Limeade! Cheese fries! Cherry Limeade! Thankfully, the weekend of SVFF Alise moved to Winchester and though we missed her at SVFF, we’re all very glad that she lives so close to Sonic; we’re half-joking that she needs to take our orders before coming to Sunday meet-ups. I’m sure we’d all chip in for some insulated bags to keep hot Sonic hot and Cherry Limeades cold.

I came away from SVFF with 4 fleeces and some other stuff:

SVFF stuff. Clockwise from top left: rambouillet x, alpaca, merino, cormo. Packets of alkanet, safflower, red sandalwood, sumac. 
Clockwise from top left: 
  • 4.5 lbs coated Romney X (3/8 Romney, 1/4 Tunis, 1/16 Leicester, 1/4 mixed, 1/16 Corriedale) from Hickory Hill Farm in Gore, VA 
  • 2.5lbs of multicolored alpaca (white with dark brown) from a farm that didn’t include a business card or info sheet with the fleece
  • 10.5lbs coated Merino from Black Sheep Farm in Leesburg, VA (you can see the crimp in that fiber even in this picture taken with my phone!)
  •  7.5lbs of coated Cormo from Lavender Hills Farm in Lineboro, MD 
  • Packets of alkanet, safflower, red sandalwood, sumac from … ah … uhm, a vendor who’s receipt I should’ve saved. 

I also got Rock Creek Yarn‘s knitting poetry magnets, which now live on a magnetic white board in The Yarn Office (formerly known as the formal living room).

The whole weekend made me miss Vermont and wonder why I left, why I never got interested in farming/horticulture (I’m guessing that like religion, it was forced on my parents & they wanted to give my brother and I the choice), and how old one has to be to do 4-H. Maybe I just need a farm and a mentor.

Bohus Stickning or What I Do In My Spare Time, ed. 1

I started knitting again when we lived in IL and found a knitting group here in VA two years ago. I came across Wendy’s Keele’s Poems Of Color on the Knitter’s Review forums when I was exploring color work and have loved those designs and the story behind them for quite some time.

Last year, against all my previous intentions, I learned how to spin. That is, spin yarn from fleece/unspun fiber, not the exercise spinning, although I might be able to do that as well. For a while, knitting was touted as the new yoga – for me, the new yoga is spinning. Both are relaxing, both are hand-work that results in a physical transformation, but when it’s going well, spinning is very calming and centering.

In April, Loudoun Needleworkers went to Willow Hawk Farm‘s spring shearing and I ended up sharing 4 fleeces with another spinner, Jenni, so that we could try fibers from different sheep breeds. Jenni and a few other friends skirted the fleeces (picked all of the poopy, yucky part out) and Jenni & I split washing duties.

After washing, most fleece needs to be further prepared (combed, carded, or flicked) for spinning. In May, my husband gave me a Schacht Matchless wheel and a Strauch 10th anniversary drum carder for my birthday & Mother’s Day. The drum carder, by the way, is used for blending fibers into batts, which look a lot like batts of insulation, and is actually not as helpful as I had hoped at handling large amounts of washed fleece.

All of these things – Bohus Stickning, fleece, carding, and spinning – came together over the summer; I am currently knitting the Red Palm Cardigan. The pattern for is in Poems Of Color but I am making it in shades of blue instead of red. Another difference between this sweater the orginal bohus sweaters is that mine lacks angora, which gives the bohus sweaters a subtle halo of fuzz. In addition, all of the yarn that I am using is handspun.

Final Batts
These are some of the batts that I made using my drum carder that blend the brown wool from one of the Willow Hark farm fleece from a sheep named Abigail (1/2 Romney, 1/4 Finn, 1/8 Corriedale, 1/8 Merino), with a braid of blue-faced leicester from Miss Babs in the Regent colorway (blue), and white cormo that I got from a very generous spinner during the first-ever Spinning Loft Retreat, which happened last spring as well. By varying the percentage of fibers blended, I was able to achieve some very subtle color changes from cormo->BLF->Abigail, which was really just an experiment for me as a new spinner & carder.

Blending Experiment: Final Skeins
These are all of the skeins of spun yarn that I ended up with from the carding experiment, from light to dark, with 100% cormo at the 9:00 position, 100% Miss Babs BFL at 12:00, and 100% Abigail at 3:00. All of these are 2-ply yarns, which means there are 2 strands of singles (what gets spun initially) twisted together to make the yarn.

Most of the Bohus sweaters are yoke sweaters, which means all of the color work is done over the shoulders, rather than, say, near hem edges on the bottom or the sleeves or in an all-over color work pattern. They are worked from the top-down in the round, which means (basically) that you knit a starting at the neck and working your way down to the bottom hem, stopping at the armpit to make each of the sleeves. The pullovers and the cardigans are constructed the same way, but when you are done knitting the body of the cardigan, you cut (with scissors, no less) right up the front and knit a button band on. This is a steek and it strikes fear in the heart of many knitters, but I hear if it’s done properly, nothing will unravel.

My first yoke that goes from dark to light to dark shades, as does the original red palm cardigan. I miscalculated the color that I needed to start with and end up frogging it (a.k.a., ripping it out or unraveling it) because I ran out of colors before I should have.

bohus progress
My progress so far, arms and all. If you look closely at the yoke, you will see the colors go from light to dark to light as opposed to the sequencing in the original and in my first attempt. I have another 4″ or so and I’ll start the ribbing for the bottom hem.

I had to prepare and spin more of Abigail, which is what I’m using for the main body of the garment. I still have more fleece, but here is a closeup of the 3 additional skeins (about 1416 yards total).

Abigail Close
As you can see if you look closely, this is a 2-ply yarn as well.

I’m hoping to finish this by the end of next month so that I can wear it while it’s still cold. I am able to carefully try it on, so I know it will fit. At this point knitting, particularly with this project in the all-stockinette stitch stage, is so easy that I can do it without having to look at it most of the time, which means I can do other things (like watch TV/movies) while I knit.

So, uh, that’s what I do when I’m not digging up the past in writing, poking around on etsy, or keeping up with my suburban mom gig. Oh! Here’s the project on Ravelry (for you ravelers out there) and the complete photoset on Flickr.