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Better living through fibre


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Woodstock Fleece Festival 2017

This past Saturday was the 9th annual Woodstock Fleece Festival, and I made it!  It is held an hour away by car, and is by faaar my favourite local event for fibre folks.

Last year was a definite miss.  It’s much improved but a school week is a school week – I can’t predict whether our nurturing reserves dip too low for a Saturday morning trip.  Plus, N had a 12:30 pm dental appointment in town.

handspun Diminishing Lines shawl by irieknit

Dashing through the festival – handspun Diminishing Lines shawl

It was a blur!  I see from the pamphlet that I totally missed some vendors (sorry, Peggy Sue Collection; The Gaynor Homestead!) but I feel completely rejuvenated by my trip out, and here is why.

Found! A Squirrel-cage Swift

You may know him as Wheelwright?  Reed Needles has repaired one of my antique wheels, and visiting his booth of many Canadian Production Wheels (CPWs) is always a must-do.  I was expecting to only say a few words when I had an, “Hey, is that functional, Reed?!?” moment.

irieknit's antique Squirrel-cage swift yarn unwinder

Demonstrably functional – a squirrel-cage swift

It has been totally mentioned by me to Reed a few times now:  he is an enabler par excellence.  With a twinkle in his eye he noted that yes it works, and that the circa 1860 fittings are hand-forged.

Hand forged spiral fixing screw on squirrel-cage swift hardware irieknit

A hand-wrought fixing screw – squirrel-cage swift hardware

The spirals are beautiful, and it fixes the upper roller cage easily/ properly.

A closer look at the flanged rollers shows yarn (I suspect linen of course) wear on the dowels.

Antique squirrel-cage swift upper roller cage detail by irieknit

Upper roller cage – wear marks

Reed was selling this swift on behalf of a local weaver’s estate.  It is sturdy enough for life with an active child + speedy unwinding of skeins.

Antique Squirrel-cage swift lower roller cage detail by irieknit

Lower roller cage – cantilevers out

The cut end of the base on the post-side has some deep cracks but this tool will let me unwind yarn gently, and round skeins if needed.

Antique squirrel-cage swift underside detail showing wood cracking

Other names for this tool are ‘roller-cage swift’ ‘barrel swift’ and ‘rice.’  According to The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning they are believed to have been developed in continental Europe (p. 270).

A similar swift with a wooden upper handle is shown in Keep me Warm One Night by the Burnhams (no. 38; see p. 42) as a gift to the Royal Ontario Museum and from Ontario.

Purchases from 2017 Woodstock Fleece Festival by irieknit

Woodstock 2017 haul (excuse messy trunk)

A swift – any swift – is used by the fibre artist to:

… unwind the skeins and is not suitable for making them.  When a skein is to be used, it is placed on a swift that is adjustible in size and wound off into a ball, or onto a spool or bobbin. (ibid, p. 22)

This swift adds choice because I do have a large umbrella one from Glimåkra that also works well.  They are both shorter than the skeins wound on my blue antique click reel (i.e. tool that winds skeins).  The squirrel-cage may be easier to handle the wider skeins, and I will go very slowly when checking that point out.

The squirrel-cages will hold more than one skein at a time without needing to collapse the tool as you do with the umbrella.  The cages also hold all courses in a skein with even tension across.  I am interested in how the squirrel-cages compare to the umbrella ‘v-shape’ on unwinding skeins to the warping board for weaving.

The Barn

Growth of this festival year-over-year shows most clearly in the barn marketplace.  Remembrances Pottery was a fun discovery – their stunning handmade mugs, buttons, etc warranted a quick stop.

Handmade clay buttons and ornaments by Remembrances Pottery

Clay items from Remembrances Pottery in Sarnia

This and other quick stops were accompanied by the bag of raw wool that you can see in my trunk up there.  It still needs cleaning!

Romney lamb's coloured raw wool

Lamb’s bounty! A Romney from Willow Farm’s flock

As you may guess from all the talk of rushing, and new time constraints, I probably shouldn’t have.  This is a 5 lb 4 oz lamb’s fleece from Willow Farm.

Locks of raw wool from Romney lamb fleece Willow Farm by irieknit

In my defense lots of Romney-strong lamb’s wool!

 

The shepherdess, Josslyn, explained that this may be the last year they attend but that farm direct sales are still possible.  I have missed cleaning fleece so much!

Llama at Woodstock Fleece Festival 2017 by irieknit

Baby llamas add to a festival

The llama pack and obstacle course was brought to us by the Norfolk 4H.  These babies were shy but the performing adults allowed for happy petting.

Norfolk 4H llama demonstration Woodstock Fleece Festival 2017

Your mood can’t go wrong with a llama or two

As always festival organisers also had some sheep in the barn for attendees.

Sheep at the 2017 Woodstock Fleece Festival

Hello, sheep!

This family friendly atmosphere is why the event is growing, and I hope to bring N & T next year.  This year, I was thrilled to see some spinning friends at long last, and hit all the high notes.

Sugar Maple fall leaves on grass by irieknit

Maple leaves still not raking themselves

There being much to be done in fall is not new.  What is new sits in my immediate family, and would include the words cancer patient & break-up.  Necessary but not easy stuff is ahead but we are well in the midst of that.

My next warp will be for a head-scarf – pushing the baby blankets behind because first things first.

 


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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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When plying sings

Plying the 980 g of natural white Romney lamb’s wool is making my week.  You may have heard me use the word, ‘obsessed’ when I posted this picture on Twitter?  It has come as a surprise.

Plied hand-combed Romney lamb's wool on Watson Martha spinning wheel

Plying two good things together

For one thing the singles flow evenly from the plying ball.  Both strands feed together to my hands.  The holding pen for the ply ball is a tall Piroline cookie tin to my right.  Quiet, gentle, stream-of-spinning time.

This is the smaller whorl for my Watson Martha wheel.  The larger of the two ratios is working well with the Scotch tension braking the bobbin.  The rhythm slows a little as I get to the bobbin’s capacity of around 110 g of the yarn.  It’s just a matter of paying closer attention to the winding-on since the yarn can jump out of the hooks as the bobbin gets full.

Winding handspun wool yarn on an antique wooden click reel

Antique yarn reel in action!

My blue click reel from the Ramer Collection has made winding-off, and counting such a breeze.  The click still makes me jump (and Melvin glower) but she has a beautiful logic!  Each round is 90″, and the click is at 120 revolutions.  That measures 300 yards or a linen weaver’s lea!  One lea in the yarn count system is 300 yards per pound.

Cleaned wood antique click reel from the Ramer Collection

Brace that elbow!

A small hurdle after cleaning her up lightly with diluted Murphy’s Oil soap was the floppy jointed spoke.  My substitute collar is 3 strips of Velcro.  It’s yet another application of Janet Dawson’s floor loom weaving class on Craftsy!  So far with the braced reel’s help, I have around 1,500 yards of 2-ply with more to come.

Plying with Andean pushkas

The medium and large size Andean turned low-whorl spindles are my plying tools of choice for my spindle projects.  With practice, I am getting better at using them comfortably with larger cops.

Finished handspun yarn from blended Shetland, Merino, Tussah silk

Mulled cider set in skein form

This is the plying that I started in early September.  It was a 3.2 oz set of batts from Enting Fibercraft (shetland/merino/tussah silk blend), and I made 497 yards total here.  The larger skein at the top is 304 yards.  This yarn measures 24 wraps per inch or what I class as a light fingering weight.

Melvin the cat with tulipwood Moosie and handspun Shetland wool yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

Hello, Moosie spin

The leisurely spin of The Painted Tiger’s hand-dyed braid of Shetland wool with my new Moosie came out at over 2,900 yards per pound!  The first plying ball gave around 249 yards.

Handspun Shetland wool yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

A full-for-me plying Pushka

The second skein came in at 494 yards!  I was also giving a high plying twist because I would like to weave with the yarn.

I launch these spindles in the Andean style that Abby Franquemont taught me in her “All Spindles All Day” class.  Winding is more efficient as the cop grows, and the spindle goes amazingly fast as well.

Handspun Shetland wool 2-ply yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

Cherry Fudge in yarn form

Fast-forward these few years, and my set-up is still very simple.  I place the plying ball in a small clay flowerpot that is on the floor behind my left hand.  I ply standing-up on an anti-fatigue mat.  When I came to Abby’s class, I was (barely!) able to butterfly with my non-dominant left hand.  Switching the butterfly was key, and Abby taught me the next steps:  set & release the half-hitches with my right hand; and the launch for my typical Z-ply twist.

To compare a large shawl project that I spun with spindles, and is on our current TKK banner, above – the largest skein measured 366 yards.  It is the fluidity that has improved.  This is what I look at with expert spinners.  Even watching another spinner’s motions can give your practice a subtle shift.

Getting to the place where plying sings is helping me complete even less-focused projects.  At least these past few weeks it hasn’t been akin to watching paint dry!

Speaking of seeing spinners, are you going to the Woodstock Fleece Festival on Saturday?  It’s a great consolation for not going to Rhinebeck.  Hope to see some friends, and to succumb to fibrey temptation!


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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.