The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


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Racing Rest, Tour de Fleece 2015

Over the past month, I have been helping as captain & riding along with Team Spindlers 2015 in the Tour de Fleece.  It’s been amazing & a big honour – I started with this team as a rookie in 2010!

tdf-2015-logo_xlarge

We are 165 members strong.  The spinning projects are a fabulous mix from returning spindle spinners, and those who are new to the craft.

California Variegated Mutant wool fleece for Tour de Fleece 2015

My main focus is keeping the ‘fleece’ in Tour de Fleece!  This California Variegated Mutant wool (link takes you to my last update post) was being hand-carded & spun on 4 low-whorl drop spindles when it started to go on breaks for long stretches.

California Variegated Mutant wool spindle project starting Tour de Fleece 2015

This was the status at the start of the Tour: 4 plying balls of 4-singles each, and more on the spindles themselves.  The front spindles are Andean turned pushkas from the CTTC, and the others are Andinas by R. Leach.

Handcarded rolags of California Variegated Mutant wool for Spindlers Tour de Fleece 2015

Plan of Action

For most stages of this Tour, I have carded 2 (or 3) rolags per spindle, and then rotated through until each is all spun-up.

Melvin cat occupies California Variegated Mutant wool for Spindlers Tour de Fleece 2015

Never one to obey rules that he can’t completely understand, Melvin has found his way into some of my update posts.  This incursion happened for Stage 6 after I left the room to get a glass of water.  He’s quick.

Focus has paid-off, and I have broken into other spinning projects when much too tired to lift the hand-cards.

Low whorl drop spindles with California Variegated Mutant wool Team Spindlers Tour de Fleece 2015

Stage 4, Tour de Fleece 2015

Team Spindlers Tour de Fleece 2015 California Variegated Mutant wool spinning and plying ball

A 5th plying ball at Stage 6!

Handspinning Egyptian cotton top on takhli supported spindle with calabash bowl

Egyptian Cotton for Stage 9 in-couch spinning

Team Spindlers 2015 Tour de Fleece low whorl drop spindles with California Variegated Mutant wool

As at Stage 10

Spinning yak/merino/silk on Tabachek mini drop spindle by irieknit Tour de Fleece 2015

Stage 11 with yak/merino/silk blend on Tabachek mini spindle

California Variegated wool fleece and spinning Spindlers 2015 Tour de Fleece

Less fleece at Stage 13!

Spinning California Variegated Mutant wool Spindlers 2015 Tour de Fleece by irieknit

Stage 15 and forward

Sharing has also been with spinners in the Guild, and another unofficial wildcard, the Canadian Yarn & Fibre Market group on Ravelry.

It’s been a wild Tour, and I am looking forward to the last half of this week into Paris.  For all who love spinning while they spin as much as I do, a big, “Allez!” from me to you for after our gap day!


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Three months. It takes three months!

Handspun combed Romney Wool yarn skeins

Made in Ontario, Romney wool yarn!

All skeins are plied, and wound!  It took exactly 3 months for this my biggest spinning project ever.  First lashing of Romney wool locks to the combs happened on July 19th; last plying happened yesterday, October 19th.

Plying hand-combed Romney on my Watson Martha Spinning wheel with Melvin

Who’s the boss of my yarn?

My singles for the plying are coming up from the tin by my wheel.  The twist is well distributed when I wind the ball, and also settles over time.  There was absolutely no trouble from the singles being this close to my hands in plying.

The ubiquitous mat is there because we need an area carpet already!

The yarn needs a bath, and is quite possibly going into my dye pots.  It was at the 5th of those 6 skeins that I realized something:  we broke the 2,000 yard mark!  Holy major spinning project!  Final click reel measurement is 2,608 yards.  If you are joining us for the first time in these 3 months this was hand-combed top from approximately 1.9lbs of clean Romney.  Or in other words:  1.4818 miles of Ontario iriespun wool!

Squeeing is falling on somewhat deaf ears here.  I know you dear audience will get it.  From fleece to a mile & a half!  It’s a real spinning milestone and I have loved every minute.

Canadian maple tree in fall display

Also made in Ontario, fall colours

Our maple tree has lost an alarming amount of leaves with rainy weather but is still giving the most magnificent gradient.

Canadian maple tree inside the fall canopy

Bigger on the inside, fall colour

Meeting this goal of prepping my fleece is downright special.  The blanket still needs to be built but we have a good foundation here.  Luckily, I also have a stunning raw Shetland fleece that my friend Beth selected for me.

Raw Shetland fleece from spinner's flock, McTavish Farm in Oregon

Shetland fleece from McTavish Farm, Oregon

Another friend kindly brought her back from a visit with Beth last winter when I took the picture.  I just took it back out of the chest freezer last week.  A business card is in the bag, and so I know the ewe who gave this double-coated coloured fleece is Katrina.  Her shepherds are Tom and Tracy Livernois in Eugene, Oregon.  I’d like to get more Unicorn Power Scour for such prime fleece.

Now we know that I can prepare for a whole project, and I’m all inspired to clean this next!


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Ten bobbins towards a blanket, and Toby thanks

Over 5 days of work this month the remaining prime Romney lamb’s locks met my Forsyth Fine wool combs.

Handcombing Romney ewe lamb's wool on Forsyth Fine combs and diz

Last of the longer Romney ewe lamb’s locks

Most of the more defined locks had already been combed.  I hunted for the still distinct tips, and pulled away.  When even those weathered tips were disorganized, I did Margaret Stove’s trick of moving the locks between fingers to find that tip grain.  It took more time to load for each new pass but they were still in the tips-out orientation.  As you can see from the stationary comb here only a few are showing the lock crimp.

Blanket project worsted spun singles in Romney ewe lamb's wool

Basket full of Romney worsted singles!

State of the blanket specifics as shown in my basket are:

  • Each single worsted spun on my Watson Martha in scotch tension using a short forward draw with 18 lengths of hand-combed top each.  Last singles shown on bobbins are 4 lengths of top each.
  • Four plying balls = 537 g or just over 1lb.
  • Singles all spun right with “Z” twist.  I will ply for a “S” twist yarn.
  • That right there is 18 days of varying amounts of work from Saturday, July 19th to Saturday, September 20th, 2014.

I could say this was therapeutic in the month that we lost Toby.  It was but what I want to tell you is that going back to the combs was difficult in such a quiet house.  He used to sit at my feet (and I will show you where, down-post) while I did this work.  A little piece of old knitting helped me overcome this feeling of sad silence.

Knitted mobile device cozy by Irieknit

Oldie but goodie knit – hands-free combing

It held my phone, which played Neal Gaiman reading his “Neverwhere” (sound effects and all).  It wasn’t long before I hit my stride, and got those last 6 bobbins all spun-up.  Audio books, the fibre-worker’s friend.

No headphone cords were harmed in the combing.

Wait, we are not plying yet

The wheel is still in singles-production mode.  Thoughts occur to you while a project comes together.  Some are crazy pants and best not discussed too soon.

Hand-combed seconds from Romney ewe lamb's fleece

Fodder for the hand cards – Romney lamb’s combing seconds

For each bout of hand-combing, I separated the actual trash from what looked like seconds.  Over the years, I have learned (yes, the hard way) not to be precious about this.  You keep what you can keep, and the rest is compost.

The cotton cards were not good for this job.  I have found my standard cards with 76 tpi are giving nice rolags.  It’s easy work with the hard prep work behind me.  I also have un-combed locks left in another pillow-case.

Best guess? The existing singles could knit up on their own into a lovely circular or Shetland-inspired blanket.  What going the extra mile does is to open the door for a possible woven item.  These rolags spun in the same way could make a lofty weft for example.  Alternatively, I could make more worsted yarn from another fleece.  At this point in my spinning career, I know that more options for sampling is optimal.  If ever there was yarn that should hit an optimal mark it is this local Romney lamb’s fleece!

It really has been the spinning project that I hoped-for this year, and is still going strong!

Deepest thanks 

Thank you for everyone who has kept us in their thoughts, and who reached-out to me after my last post.  Your support meant so much.  I was only able to thank one of you in person but each comment was so very touching.

Toby and Melvin in peaceful kitchen co-existence

Brothers at rest, Toby & Melvin

This was Toby’s spot by my kitchen combing station.  Since Melvin loved the fleece-drying rack so much last summer, we threw his bed in for the duration.  They both liked it this way.  N suggested another picture of Tobes for everyone here, and this is a favorite of ours.

All of your comments, and replies helped me when this was still tremendously raw.  Many thanks to you, friends.  We are all adjusting but miss him a lot.


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Spinning on a blanket

Am I ever happy that I took the plunge on a made (by me)-in-Ontario wool blanket!  How could you not love having this to work with?

Hand-combing station for Ontario Romney lamb's wool

Value add: combing local Romney lamb’s wool

Love, however, gets you only so far with a project like this.  Fine-tuning my process has helped tremendously, and I am sharing the tweaks with you, today.  Simply adding denim under the comb’s clamps has been great.  It not only gives huge grip & protection but also gives me visual contrast.  That indigo is a welcome relief from white wool seen against the white ceramic floor tiles!  Getting a clean combing is so much easier now.

Another tweak is with the flick card sitting there on top of the waste bucket.  With clean & largely sound tips, I am just flicking the cut-end of  most locks before loading the comb.  It speeds things up.  As does flicking while standing – I hold locks tightly twisted, and flick into thin air.  No lap-cloth; just bouncing and slightly combing against the grip.

By using the flicker again on the waste from combs, I keep the seconds for the hand-cards (later, much later!) and compost the rest.

Hand-combed Romney wool dizzed top by irieknit

Resulting wool top for spinning

My focus is to do same-day spinning.  Two passes in the combs is good for this wool.  I use my lignum vitae Tabachek diz (see: the 1st picture, lower left) to pull the top.  It is 3/32″, and is so cool for this job.  Smooth, strong, and a pleasure to hold.

As gleaned from Robin Russo’s video, I am now using a clean sheet on top of my anti-fatigue mat as I diz the wool from the combs.  Catching it cleanly has helped the spinning too.

Spinning hand-combed Romney lamb's wool top on my Watson Martha

This Tuesday’s fibre prep

The main challenge is to keep moving forward.  This is intensive work – both in terms of time and labour.  My 6th bobbin has 7 lengths of top so far.  It is logged on a project sheet that I keep on the dining table.

Keeping it real is key here.  My Watson Martha wheel is the spinning tool, and it will be on this exclusively for the duration.  Although the bobbins are larger, I am spinning 18 lengths of top for each single using Scotch tension, and a cotton knitting yarn for the drive band.  There is a small sample from my first spinning that keeps me mindful not to draft the top too thin as is my wont.

The Spinner's Book of Fleece by Beth Smith autographed for irieknit

Motivation in book form: Beth Smith is helping

Nothing that I have described here is beyond my ability.  Everything is unless I stay the course.  This is why I am thrilled to have my friend Beth Smith’s new book, “The Spinner’s Book of Fleece” land just at the right moment.  Beth gets fleece to yarn, and then to the projects that she maps out methodically.  As a former workshop student with Beth, I knew that the technical side would be well and gently covered.  On my chosen breed, I learned at p. 135:

Romney wool is considered to have demi-luster, which means it has some shine but not as much as some of the Leicesters or Teeswater…

What leaps off the pages are the projects and samples.  They are light at the end of a tunnel.  Here I am working 5 days to get one of these 2-ply balls of yarn for my project.  It weighs 105g.

First plying balls of Romney lamb's wool for a blanket

Preparing for a family blanket of Romney wool

Having Beth’s voice reinforce truths like, “Spinning is not an end in itself,” on my coffee table is that special help.  Her handwoven images and notes are invaluable as I inch towards my goal of weaving with my handspun yarns.  This élan of working in unique but logical ways with fibre is egging me on.  Beth is the friend who asked why I had more fleece stash than projects.  I am glad that I could listen to quiet urging, and for the kind words in her autograph!

 

Before I go back to the combs – big thanks for all the support about Toby that poured in after my last post.  He seems to be doing better this week but occasionally has seizures now.


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Celebrating Canada – a new spinning project

Bosworth Moosie spindle with tulipwood shaft and Shetland wool

Happy birthday, Canada!

While spinning on my uber-patriotic Bosworth Moosie this morning, I had a thought.  Why not share the spinning project that I am so close to starting?  It is as Canadian as those colours, and is special besides.  Who cares if we spoke only yesterday, right?

Ontario produces superb wool

Two months ago, I wrote something.  It is long-hand, on a sheet of yellow legal paper.  It came after an on-line discussion with Canadian knitters who asserted that Ontario does not produce high-grade fibre on a commercial scale.  As I sorted my thoughts on the topic, I wrote:

Recently, I turned to N, and asked what does he think my favourite fibre might be?  He answered, “Wool.  It is still wool.”  We smiled, and he is correct.

This fibreshed is precisely where my passion is rooted.  As TKK readers know, it all began in 2009 with a raw local Romney ram’s fleece.  I still work and find good value close to home.  Leading spinners whose work I respect, Deb Robson, Clara Parkes, and Sue Blacker all focus on the importance of using local fibre from specific breeds.

We now even have Canadian knitting yarn dyed in-house by my friend, Sasha.  These single breed yarns are available here.

Skein of handdyed merino fingering weight Sheepspot yarn

Sheepspot yarn of loveliness

It is fast becoming a Magical Side to Side scarf designed by Susan Santos.  Knitters, do help support a new breed-specific grassroots label!

Sheepspot merino yarn for Santos designed knitted shawl by irieknit

Such a rich Sheepspot colourway!

As an aside, Sasha’s newsletters are also very good.  What does a knitter need to know?  Well, this as Sue Blacker says in “Pure Wool” (2012, Oceana, p. 7):

Finding the right yarn for a project is vital.  The sheer versatility of wool and the possibilities of creating specific yarns for specific purposes are, perhaps, not fully appreciated.

Your success lies in thinking about the breed’s strengths/uses.

A made-in-Ontario blanket…

… or putting a project where my mouth is!

Ontario Romney cleaned ewe lamb fleece in Jamaican handwoven basket

Also known as a blanket?

My celebration is to use the remaining 1.876 lbs/ 851 g of local Romney ewe lamb’s wool, and make a family blanket.

It has Most Favoured Fleece status in the stash.  Buttercup’s farmer is Julie Hartford of  Engleheart, Ontario.  You can see its 3lbs 5oz beginnings here from July 2010 as raw fleece.

Romney lamb's wool and preparing with Forsyth fine hand combs by irieknit

Combing heaven – Ontario Romney lamb’s wool

In formulating these thoughts, I did use my gradient of hand-prepared local wools.  It’s now a useful fibre basket in my spinning room – for wool, of course!

Hand prepared handspun wool knitted bag by irieknit

An after-market wool basket

Everything about this was freeing.  How many stitches did I cast on?  Well, an even number.  The yarns range from well-spun to those that I was hiding under a rug but they all work together in this mesh stitch.

Lower section detail of hand prepared and handspun wool knitted mesh bag by irieknit

Neither a silk purse nor a sow’s ear

That middle grey?  Oh, it came from the Romney ram’s nether regions, I am sure!  The marled is from a mohair blending experiment (also local) with a free meat fleece.

Handle for hand prepared handspun wool knitted bag by irieknit

Reining lateral spread in, 101

My longwools came into their own for the i-cord effort at taming the too-large opening.  The top white wool, and mauve (logwood dyed!) are both Border Leicester from Lambsquarters farm in Holstein, Ontario.

Mid-section detail of hand prepared handspun wool knitted bag by irieknit

All local wools great & small

My parting thought was that if I could use such disparate yarns then I am actually ready for this effort.  We could use a blanket.  A little knowledge has led me to suspect that our childhood blankets are both of acrylic extraction!

Melvin the cat in old vertical blinds

Mels appreciates change

The home improvements are enriching Melvin’s life considerably in the meantime.

 

 


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10 years building a life

Today, I am celebrating 10 years in Canada.  Double-digits!

We will batch-style various & sundry experiences as pitfalls, and just skip them.  They all helped me get to the tag-line of this TKK blog anyway:  Better living through fibre.

Pot with red tulips and Melvin the cat

I know what spring is

Melvin must love you now.  He only shows his tuxedo bib to special folks.

Toby Papillon-mix dog

Mr. Toby Hopeful

Our Canadian doggie is older.  Here he is still keeping me company as I write this post.  He does have a few less teeth than he did when we adopted him from the Toronto Animal Services north shelter, years ago.

Jamaica’s rabies laws have no wiggle-room.  None whatsoever.  The up-shot is that a pet would be more difficult to move back home than anyone else family-wise.  This makes Melvin & Toby my deepest roots here, period.

 

Moosie drop spindle with tulipwood shaft and Shetland wool top

Spinning dyed Shetland wool top

The Moosie is a spindle that helped me start today as I listened to 2 podcasts over coffee.  Ten years ago, I had never even heard the term “drop spindle” and had trouble finding 100% wool garments in the stores.  Today, I made yarn from hand-dyed (the Painted Tiger) breed-specific yarn using this beautifully crafted spindle!

Looking back to look ahead

By taking a flier on a Romney ram’s fleece in August, 2009, I found a true passion for Ontario-grown wool.  All of this spinning education started with learning from some of you on the internet, the Romney, and a Kundert red cedar over cherry drop spindle.

Kundert drop spindle with Romney wool handspun yarn

My first spindle with my first ever yarn: Ontario Romney ram’s wool

Each year since then, I have bought & cleaned at least 1 local fleece.  This gradient is a series of sample skeins.  Some were more successful than others but I am knitting them in this left → right order.  The catalyst is Sarah Swett who taught me about changes in value last spring.

Ontario wool handspun yarns

All yarn made from Ontario-produced fleeces

The simple act of knitting this yarn is sparking ideas for returning to my favourite Ontario-produced fleece with prep tools & purpose.  It’s so exciting that I may let the spindle-spun-sweater project percolate while I start this.

Handspun dyed Polwarth wool yarn

This one’s for you, N

For N, as we say in Jamaica, “Let us build a life together.”  He sponsored, and saw me through the pitfalls.  He likes this yarn a lot.  We think that it should be a handwoven scarf with another handspun yarn.

You last saw me spinning this Polwarth on my Wee Peggy spinning wheel at the Fibre Garden and/or here this January.  The 8oz of top yielded 689 yards of 2-ply yarn.

Romney lamb's wool hand-combed top fibre

Romney lamb, hand-combed top

This hand-combed top from a Romney lamb at Sunday Creek Farm in Engleheart, Ontario is beautiful fibre.  At this ten-year mark of life in Canada, I am fortunate to have this to even think about working with.


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The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair – a tale of two fleece auctions

The Royal held its annual fleece auction at the tail of the Fair in Toronto, Sunday before last.  My quiet initiation to this event came two years ago when it was held on the second level above offices & stable.

It was a cheap & cheerful sort of afternoon.  Not only did I make out with 11+ lbs of freshly shorn local wool that I love but I learned a lot.  We sat near the front of the room and got to hear some of the off-mike conversation of the experienced auctioneers.  An under-the-breath, “the judge says that lamb’s fleece is tender,” is something that I need to hear.

This year we arrived earlier, and saw the judged fleece on open display.  As you will hear why later in this post – they were in frightening proximity to one another.

Auction fleece at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Many animals were already being loaded by farmers but some were still in their stalls, and cages.

Ontario llama Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Zabian the Llama

There was a sign in his pen.  It said, “Hi! My name is ZABIAN.”  He was my favorite.

Lincoln Longwool sheep at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Lincoln Longwool!

One of the few as yet unshorn sheep in the barn.  This one was very happy with head petting, and I obliged while N chuckled.

Sheep Dorsets Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

D’aww

Since a certain rabbit loving friend couldn’t be with us, I had to include some of the adorable bunnies.

Young rabbits at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Babies – mother Bun was glowering in the foreground

They were winning hearts, and influencing people based on the rush that we saw at the rabbit sales table!

Lop-eared Rabbit at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Lop-eared rabbit

The alpacas were also a big hit with the crowd.  A young man was spinning their fibre using a Canadian Production Wheel (CPW) right next to them.  He was doing a great job of answering questions.

Alpaca Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Toronto

Alpaca at the Royal

In the midst of walking around N was dealing with a work crisis by phone, so we went into the auction area while it was still fairly empty.

Annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Fleece Auction Toronto

You are HERE

As people & fleece arrived, I knew that the Grand Champion fleece would quickly go out of my reach.  I wasn’t wrong!

Grand Champion Fleece Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Toronto

First Prize in the Championship class

This way I can remember what earns a perfect score for lustre in the judges’ books.  The note was “beautiful brightness.”  They sold this lot first.  There was competition, and it went for $9/lb or $72.  This was under the 2011 Grand Champion winning price of $21.50/lb or $96.75.

Fleece Downs Breed Ontario Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

She shoots; she scores!

The second prize in the Down-type category was this 5.8lb white fleece from Shadow Rock Farm in Schomberg.  A pre-wash cold soak took care of a LOT of dirt (etc.).

I see socks.

My next fleece came with a fight, and at a huge premium because of that fight.

The fleece is dead.  Long live the fleece.

An Icelandic moorit fleece off a ram lamb.  It was judged second behind a Shetland ram lamb fleece that I let go when it hit $18.75/lb.

Moorit Icelandic ram lamb fleece

Moorit means reddish brown. Love.

In competition the 2.3lb fleece went for more than the first prize Shetland in this ‘Specialty’ class.  These pictures were taken the next day.

Icelandic moorit ram lamb fleece Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Here is where it starts to hurt

What I saw made my heart sink.  The words “fine sand-like particles” came to me.  For that is the description commonly given for the eggs of the clothes moth.

You can see them in the lower, right of this picture above.  I saw them in the bag and all on the outer areas of the fleece.

Clothes moth larvae, wool

Clothes moth larvae – fresh off the fleece, and totally alive

A few hours into my cleaning, I got new knowledge first-hand.  What at first looked like strange, smooth grain turned out to be the wool-eating stage of the clothes moths’ development.  In quantity.

On Monday, the Royal let me know that I will be refunded in full.  It was curt is what I will say about that.

The bigger picture

The real anxiety is not about cost vs. benefit.  It is about whether this infested fleece is a house-wide moth problem for us.  In the hours it took for me to get verification of my worst fears, the pets were moving freely around the area.  I have taken all steps to rid the house of any stray eggs but they evolved to survive.  It is their special skill.

I am really grateful for friends who gently guided me to realize this fleece I fought for really isn’t worth the risk.  Further steps can be taken.  I considered using our chest freezer for cold treatment & thaw cycles.  Even if it worked to kill all eggs – and it might not –  I would still have damaged fleece at the end of the day.

The moral is:  always work with raw fibre quickly even if it is from a trusted source.  In the future, I will leave it on the other side of the threshold first.

The warning is: if you bought at the Royal Fleece Auction this year, be extra careful.  This may have been next to yours in that pretty display.