Posts filed under ‘Sheep to Yarn Process’

Know Your Wool

Meet Abigail. She’s the warm one on the right. That’s me—the cold one—on the left.

Abby has the most beautiful fleece and I want it. Though, I’ll let her keep it until Spring, of course.

I met Abby and her BFFs on a visit to the beautiful Observatory Hill Farm just after Christmas. She is part of a flock of saucy Corriedales of all hues and colors, but there was something about her carmel-y locks and shy ways that caught my attention. Well, shy until the bucket o’ corn and oats came out. After that she was eating out of my hand. Literally.

Here are some of Abby’s flock-mates running down the snowy hill for supper.

You’ll notice they are all in coats to protect the fleece from hay, burrs, poo and all that icky farm stuff. No, they don’t get too hot. Yes, there is an opening under the tail. :-)  I got the inside scoop on sheep coats from the shepherdess, who also happens to be my sister. And, yes, the coats come in different sizes. See Big Bella coming down just to the right of the lineup modeling her plus-size coat for the full-figured ewe?

So, I’m trying to figure out what to do with my many bags of unspun Shetland so that I can justify getting my hands on Abby’s lovely fleece in the Spring. Some women have closets full of shoes. Some have bins full of yarn. And me? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full…with seven or eight more in the basement.

• tess •

February 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm 3 comments

Fiber Arts Friday Found

A little birdie told me (on Twitter, of course) about Fiber Arts Friday. Down the www rabbit hole I found Andrea’s blog, Wisdom Begins in Wonder. She’s connecting fiber folks by encouraging us to link in and share our blog posts on Friday. (Can I play, too, Andrea? Pleeeeeeeease? :-)

I am happy, happy, happy to report that all Shetland half-fleeces have been washed, with the exception of a very gamey and musky fellow named Badger. As much as I love that sheepy smell, I may have to put on a mask to tackle Badger.

The most recent beauty to come out of the bath was Coco. Isn’t she lovely drying in the sunshine? I also washed Freya while you weren’t looking.

And washed in the nick of time since in the last 24 hours we went from “it’s too hot to cook,” to “I can’t wait to bake!”  I have a serious obsession with baking in the cool seasons. Quick breads are my drug of choice…scones, soda bread, nut breads, etc. In fact, I’m fantasizing about blueberry muffins as I write.


• tess •

September 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm 3 comments

Washing Clair’s Fleece to an Early 70’s Tune

It hit me last week that I’ve still got four Shetland half-fleeces to wash this summer while I can dry them in the hot sun. No problem, right? After all, it’s only August. Plenty of summer left.


This is the maple tree in my backyard…two weeks ago. As of today the leaves are falling. Yikes.

So, I’m on the wool washing. Yesterday a manky fleece from Clair went in to soak. This time I got smart and turned up the water heater. The whole time I kept singing, “Clair / If ever a moment so rare / was captured for all to compare / that moment is you / and all that you do…” Don’t worry. I had to look it up too. Gilbert O’Sullivan, 1972. Here’s the YouTube video.

Clair came out looking like a million bucks. Well, maybe a million bucks that had taken a roll, roll, roll in ze hay. There’s still a lot of vegetable matter to be dealt with. But take a look at the lovely locks. Who’d have known there was white wool under all that grease and dirt?

Besides the VM, Clair came out with another problem, for which I could use the help of an experienced wool washer. Some of the tips were SO caked with filth, that they came through the entire scour with only moderate improvement. Voila:

For now, I have separated this junk with plans to wash it again. But, short of manually scrubbing it out, I’m not sure another soak will get it clean. Ideas?

And if there are any shepherds reading, why does the softest fleece always seem to have the most VM to pick out? Or is that one of those perception things, like how the sweetest apples are at the top of the tree, or the biggest berries grow on the thorniest branches?

• tess •

August 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm 5 comments

While You Were Out…

…I sneaked in some dying. :-)

The remainder of No Name, the mystery Shetland went gold and raspberry, got carded together and spun up into this yummy, summery color I call “bowl of fresh peaches”:

And then it went on Etsy and sold. Just like that. How cool!

Here are some pics from the dying process.

The dyes used were Waratah and Broome from the Australia Landscapes brand, ordered in small sample bags from Wind Rose on Etsy. I really loved working with the Landscapes dyes. They are simple to use and Wind Rose’s sampler bags makes it easy to try out different colors.

With No Name pretty much used up, I’ve moved on to my next dirty Shetland half-fleece, Angel. You’d think with a name like Angel, she’d be pure white, right? Wrong. Apparently this ovine is a fallen angel. Her fleece is white, all shades a gray, and a touch of rust. Here’s how she looks spun up in a two-ply.

I’m thinking of giving this a dip in some pink or maroon dye, what do you think?

The PVC niddy-noddy in the pic came from another Etsy seller, Whispering Acres. I love my fellow Etsians, and I LOVE my niddy-noddy. It came with 3 sizes of center bar so I can make 1, 1.5 or 2 yard skeins. Plus it comes apart for storage.

I swear, none of these Etsy sellers asked me to advertise for them!

• t •

June 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm 4 comments

Ply me to the moon…

Here are pics from my very first ply-job. Why did I wait so long to try this? I love to ply!

First attempt at plying yarn

Fresh on the Bobbin


This is the dandelion-dyed Shetland plied with a natural cocoa-brown Corriedale single I spun several months before. It turned out bulky and squishy and yummy!

Not sure I’m going to list this for sale in my Etsy shop, Cold Hands Warm Art, because I think I plied it a little too loosely, though the skeins hang nice and straight as if to say, “check out my balance!” I’ve been eyeballing the Kitty Pi cat bed pattern by Wendy Johnson of Wendy Knits, and I think this yarn would be a great match for it.

Plus, with black and white cats, I need a cat bed that hides both dark and light fur.

• t •

May 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm 5 comments

DIY Lazy Kates

At the risk of vexing the fiber gods with my hubris, I have to say it’s been a pretty spin-tastic week. :-)

Early in the week I went on a quest for an affordable lazy kate. Kates are pretty simple devices that hold multiple bobbins of spun yarn to allow for plying two or more strands together. A laundry basket with horizontal dowel rods can function as a kate. A quick (and I do mean quick) Google search provides no etymology for “lazy kate,” but does provide a number of very tempting links that have almost derailed this post as I venture down rabbit holes. (Google is my frenemy.)

But I digress…

Thanks to Ravelry and my frenemy, Google, I found some great links to DIY kates, as well as some lovely blogs. So, here are instructions for:

A 6-bobbin kate from the blog Unravelling.

A 4-bobbin kate from the blog Sharp Pointy Objects

Another 4-bobbin kate from Sewwhatsports (links to Ravelry)

With all this new-found knowledge, I was ready to hit the hardware stores with my list of to-buys, find a helpful hardware man (or woman) to hunt it all down, and get busy. DH was plenty willing to set aside another monstrous pile of grading and tackle it with me.

And then, it hit me…my Ashford Traveller has three spindles that are supposed to function as a lazy kate. Doh! Here’s a pic from the Ashford site.

So, I have done my first plying this week. According to DH, it actually looks like “real” yarn.  (Um…thanks?)   Pictures to come. I’ll let you judge for yourselves.  (But I still want to make that awesome 6-bobbin kate!)

May 23, 2010 at 8:07 am 2 comments

Wool Prep Step 3: The End of My Lanolin Denial

Time to ‘fess up. I’ve been in denial for two weeks.

The VM is out of No-name, but she is still just a mite too greasy for my liking. Yes, I know that some spinners don’t wash any lanolin out before spinning “in the grease.” And as lovely as that sounds for moisturizing my dry mitts, I just can’t do it.

If I knew that I could get the remaining lanolin out of the spun yarn, I’d just go for it. But I’m not that confident. And so, I’ve been waffling. But the sun is once again shining today and so I’ve made up my mind.

Once more into the breach…er, wash.

Corriedale blend yarn

Yes, it's for sale in my Etsy shop!

In the meantime, I’ve got more of this cocoa- and cream-colored Corriedale mix currently on my wheel, and it will go up in my Etsy shop, Cold Hands Warm Art, to join the other two skeins of the same mixture when finished.

• t •

May 15, 2010 at 10:12 am 2 comments

Dandelion Dye Day

I know I was going to try the dandelion dye on No-name’s fleece, but I couldn’t wait any longer. After all, the neighbors on both sides had mowed their yards days ago. We were looking pretty shaggy.

So, I found a skein of almost-white homespun wool yarn that had been ravaged by Newton and was considered, by me, to be unsellable. Friday became D-day.

First, I went out to pick the dandelions–no stems, please, only heads. I felt like a grazing beast, hunkered over my lawn, snapping off the sappy, saffron flowers. Purposely did I wait until the employed neighbors had left for the day. I can only imagine what the retirees thought when they gazed out of their windows.

“There’s that crazy woman out there thinking she can get rid of her dandelions by taking off the heads. And what’s that she’s putting them in? A stock pot?”


Dandelion Harvest

Yes, I took the pot outside with me. Here is the harvest. Note the effect on my gardening gloves. To the pot I added enough water so that they floated easily and could be submerged with a spoon. In hindsight, I think less water would have made for a better dye.

I then cooked said mixture for approximately 1 hour. The result looked brownish and smelled like weed stew. I strained the stew to remove the solids and kept the liquid.

Meanwhile, I had been simmering my skein of mixed Corriedale handspun wool yarn in another pot along with 2 quarts water and 2 cups white vinegar, which would function as my fixative, or mordant. I let it simmer for about an hour, while the dandelion stew cooked. After draining the yarn, I put it into the dyebath and continued to cook at just below a simmer for another hour.

I’m sorry I didn’t take a picture of this stage. I was convinced that I had just invented brown yarn, not the yellow I wanted. Since it seemed I had nothing more to lose, I left the yarn in the dye overnight.

Saturday I drained the yarn, rinsed it in cold water, squeezed out the excess and hung it to dry. It was not brown, but there was a definite light-brown-ness about it.

Dandelion Dyed Yarn

Dandelion Yarn in its Natural Habitat

Then it dried and a tiny miracle occurred.

Today I have a shade that is more yellow than tan. It’s rather nice if you like a subdued, natural shade of dark yellow. Take a look!

“Yes,” you say, “But all that green gives a misleading color in the photo.”

You’re right, you know. (How’d you get to be so smart?)  So here are two more shots.

Dandelion dyed yarn

Dandelion Yarn on a Sleepy White Cat

One on a very obliging (and white) Gizmo,

and another on a white-ish blanket.

Dandelion dyed yarn

Dandelion Yarn on Blanket

Lessons Learned:

I probably should have removed the green hulls from the flowers for a more yellowy yellow.

Dandelion dye leaves wool smelling like cooked weeds.

May 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm 10 comments

I’m Dying to Try Natural Dye

The yard is bursting with dandelions and guess what? I found a very nice list of natural dyes on the web. But wait. There’s more!

I also found a great dye pot at Goodwill just yesterday. Price: $2.99. Someone must have given up on canning tomatoes. :-) Of course, I put it down to take a pic and immediately the inspection team showed up. Well, at least the younger members of the inspection team.

Newton in dyepot

Newton in the Dye Pot

Basted in dyepot

Bastet in the Dye Pot

Now if I could just send them both outside to pick the dandelions.

Oh wait, that’s what kids are for, right? ;-)

In fact, I remember my 2nd grade teacher announcing one Spring day that we were all going lion hunting that afternoon. Imagine the excitement! Imagine the trepidation!

Imagine the disappointment when we were all given bags and taken out to the school yard to pull the heads off the dandelions. Well, it wasn’t total disappointment. After all, we all got outside on a sunny spring day instead of being cooped up in the stuffy classroom.

April 28, 2010 at 8:59 am 3 comments

Wool Prep Step 2: Getting the VM Out

Getting the vegetable matter—or “VM”—out of raw wool can be approached as an exercise in frustration and creative vocabulary, or as a meditative experience bringing us closer to nirvana.

I’ve done both.

Sheep cover

Voila! A sheep cover.

The best fleeces for home processing of wool come from shepherds who use sheep covers. Check out this beauty, ready for the red carpet.

Not only do the covers keep out VM, but advocates say the covers are better for the quality of the wool and health of the sheep overall.

However, my 7 Shetland fleeces were NOT covered. So I pick. And pick. And pick. Having already washed out most of the sticky-icky, some of the VM simply falls out. The rest is removed by teasing the fibers apart with a comb or fingers. This is a great job to do while indulging in your favorite T.V. guilty pleasure show. Mine are not that guilty. I’ve got a love of medical shows, so currently that means House and Bones. But I digress…

Picking VM Out of Wool

The Picked Wool - Before and After

Here is a before-and-after shot of Miss No-name. The washed, unpicked wool is on the left. (Like you couldn’t tell that!) At least No-name was not turned out into a pasture with rose bushes, like another fleece I could mention. Ouch.

I’m just about down to the bottom of the unpicked No-name. When I get done with her, I’m contemplating putting my dandelions to use and trying a natural dye. This will be new and uncharted territory. I’ll document the success or failure here. :-)

• t •

April 26, 2010 at 10:59 am 4 comments

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