The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


7 Comments

Adventures with Babydoll Southdown wool in our fibreshed

Just a couple of days after my last blog post, I headed out to the Woodstock Fleece Festival.  It was a day of bustling spinners’ mayhem, and this post is brought to you by a happy co-incidence.

Antique flax saxony with flyer out for repair

We were bound to run into each other again at Wheelwright’s booth.  My reason:  an antique flyer in need of repair.  Hers:  wheels!

The spark for this adventure is a local credit to adolescents everywhere, E.  Her grade 8 school project led us to connect with shepherd Robert I’Anson & his wonderful pure-bred Olde English Babydoll Southdown flock.  Other handspinners have now found Bob’s fleeces thanks to E’s project.

We first met in September 2014 when E came to a guild meeting with her Mom.  She presented so impressively about her aims to prep, spin & dye local wool for her project with knits.  E was a novice spinner, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  I soon agreed to stand as mentor if they were comfortable to go ahead.  We did!

This experience was a real privilege, and ever since we met-up again at Wheelwright’s festival booth in October, I have wanted to really share it with you at long last.

Sourcing the Wool

With generous help from my friend, Sasha of Sheepspot, we quickly got in touch with Robert I’Anson who still had fleeces from his 2014 clip.

Since to quote Sasha the only thing that she loves more than wool is the ocean, I was certain that we were in good hands.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown ewes Louth Ontario Robert l'Anson

Bob’s Babydoll Southdown ewes, and Jacqueline the brown lamb

The ewes were in their front paddock.  We gushed at the cute.

Shepherd from Louth Ontario, Robert I'Anson and Belgian Shepherd Jack

Bob I’Anson and Jack

Bob not only welcomed our teaching visit to his farm in Louth, Ontario but also donated a ram’s white fleece for E’s project.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown skirted raw wool fleece Laurie's Little Lambs

Raw Babydoll Southdown ram’s fleece for E

We chose this fleece after looking at a few.  All were sound, and it was a fun decision.  We also got to learn more about the sheep, farm, and Bob’s approach to breeding.

Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep Louth Ontario Laurie's Little Lambs

Keeping their distance, adorably.

On that high note we turned to cleaning E’s wool

Guess who approved of our plan to clean the wool in his presence?

Melvin and drying Babydoll Southdown Ontario wool fleece

How to build a better pet crate: add wet wool roof

The scouring stage was intense on instruction as we worked on spinning through the soaking sessions.  It was a good, long day. E really picked-up on everything & then did her homework.

It was also my first high-lanolin fleece.  Even though the water ran clear after 2 baths with original Dawn detergent, the dry wool felt tacky.  That was solved by simply re-washing but I will now use power scour in the first place!

Cleaned bag of Ontario Babydoll Southdown wool

Have you any wool?

E continued to work on other fibres for her display, and then did an amazing job on fibre preparation & spinning of the Babydoll Southdown over her winter break.

Thanks also to Deb Robson who gave her quick permission to share her Fiber Exploration Record Card with E in the project. It sets out key characteristics, and after taking a breed study workshop with Deb 3 years ago, I use the card for my own learning/ fibre preparation.

Natural dyed Polwarth handspun wool with avocado by irieknit

Avocado dye experiment

As soon as E saw my 2012 avocado dye experiment on Polwarth she determined this was her favorite.  We worked from there, and she chose a water-only soak extraction method for her yarn.

Grade 8 presentation in Ontario on fleece preparation, spinning, dyeing and knitting

E’s spinning project display

There are no words.  I was just blown away by E’s display & presentation – she received full marks and deserved applause!

My personal favourite part was her answer to the FAQ an attendee had to ask.  In complete dignity & more tact than I will ever muster she asserted,

Well, I think that my spinning is a much better quality than what you can get at Walmart because they use factories, and I made mine by hand.

Babydoll Southdown lamb Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario farm

Webster, the youngest Babydoll Southdown lamb this year

The Babydoll Southdowns are still growing wool, and Bob’s flock is doing well.  I visited with N at the end of July, and have cleaned an ewe’s fleece.  It is astonishing, and you will hear about it!

Yes, I gained friendships beyond E’s school presentation this March, a new wool discovery, and confidence in teaching.  That’s all been fabulous but the best part is being there to see a young spinner’s imagination carry her into our local fibreshed, and onward.

edit to correct Webster’s name.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

The fun part

Our first-ever giveaway is ready for her drum roll!  Winners are:

Chronicbooker3, Shelley! You win the woven project bag!

Cristaldiva, Rayna!  Tosh Sock in Logwood is yours!

Many thanks to each & every one of you who posted, and tweeted.  Your comments & wishes were lovely.  The support is from long-time readers, and means a lot to me.

Rayna, please contact me at irieknit at gmail dot com, and I will send your skein to you!  I know where to find Shelley.

Big thanks to Beth too

Southern Cross!

Beth very kindly gave me my first Southern Cross Fibre experience.  Two braids of superwash merino wool top  ‘Sugar and Spice’ from their August 2011 Fibre Club that popped out of her super-duper stash cupboard into my lap.

How it got spun — with glee; on my Watson Martha in scotch tension; each braid is a straight single spun right; plied left.  Worsted all the way. A gift of 756 yds.  For weaving?  Perhaps a VIP baby?

Thank you, Beth!  The colours are so gorgeous, and I loved every last bit of this spin.  I showed it off at our Guild meeting this week to some fanfare!

Ever looked down to see this?

Not a cat bed

Pin-drafted roving in a nicely lined basket.  That would be Sir Melvin’s “What?!” look.  Guess who won that argument?

Hot off the bobbin – Columbia 4-ply handspun yarn

I spun the singles long-draw in 2 sittings on May 4th and June 16th on my Cadorette CPW.  It was the best pairing of wool-to-Quebec wheel to date.  Each ply is 2 oz.  I took the drive band off the bobbin, moved the wheel to the far side of the room, and wound onto a cardboard roll with dowel cores.

A wheel with 1 bobbin is no impediment to serious use.  It took me 2 sittings, and no extra kit to spin 4 bobbins full.  That’s 247 yards of 4-ply yarn.  Winding-off by hand goes quickly, and lets the twist move around before it sets in the single.  It was spun DD, and with my zoned-out abandon, so redistributing extra twist is for the good of the end product.

The cardboard rolls + dowel go onto my Will Taylor lazy kate, and feed smoothly for plying.

Sproing, defined

The CPW is a wheel that I am growing into, and just love for what it can do.

As the yarn sat around, I slowly got a pretty good idea going about its future.  On Thursday this led me to bring January’s Logwood bath out for inspection.

No secret – I love the Logwood

In freshening the exhaust with new Logwood chips, I got this stunning blue.  It really is blue!

Sproing improvement

Fleece happens

My over-arching plan on this has to do with the Birthday Fibre.  What Birthday Fibre, you ask?

Border Leicester raw wool

This fleece is from a 2 year old Border Leicester sheep at Lambs Quarters Farm in Holstein, Ontario.  Finding new spinners’ flocks is one of the main draws for me at the Ontario Handspinning Seminar.

Cleaned locks in the sun

My plan for this fleece is to build on what I learned at Sarah Swett’s workshop last month – blending wool for value.  This is my first real attempt at dyeing locks – when the Logwood is clear, I will bring out the Black Walnut liquor.

The back office

This is my first post using Flickr to host my blog photos.  I am changing over from Google, and ask you to please give feedback if there are any problems on your end.

The changes in Google photo hosting are deal-breakers.  It comes down to unilateral withdrawal of capability with no explanation, and no ability to be heard as a customer.  It is ludicrous, even more so because we pay an annual fee for extra storage.

The irony is that my irieknit handle was refused under the former Google+ rules.  Under the new dispensation, I have no choice in the matter.  I will keep the email account but shifting my Google+ footprint feels onerous – I may do it for uniformity but am undecided at this point.

 


Leave a comment

Vive le Tour!

By a miracle and a half, I stayed with the Tour de Fleece this year.  I posted with my teams each day.  Generous feedback from Friends of Abby’s Yarns & all of their projects kept me in the loop even when serial nights of posting progress seemed impossible.

Not since Brownies have I been this happy about a badge…  The No. 1 Project for Teresa is now at 4 plying balls and then some:

It’s been a happy project, and there’s also a goodly amount on the Ethan Jakobs at the finish line as well.

It wasn’t solidly spinning for her yarn either.  Cotton is a good example.  My Huari spindle & cotton came in the midst of the tour.  It’s circa 850 A.D., with faint paint markings and a black clay whorl.

Naturally it spoke to me of cotton.  One tour night became about sucking less on my coin takhli.  The white shell was the break-through here – it’s DRS for the takhli!

There was also the odd evening of wheel spinning.  My left thumb thanked me for the new motions.  Neither the fibre nor the tool is new on this spin.  It’s Shetland top on my CPW.  What’s new is that the wheel moved rooms.  She’s now here in my study/ craft room.

That foray was inspired by Jacey’s Shetland breed study in her Insubordiknit group on Ravelry.

And speaking of breeds.  On the almost hottest day of the year, I showed my stubborn genes & cleaned a whole lamb’s fleece.  But a portion of the fleece:

It’s my first Black Welsh Mountain sheep fleece – ewe lamb from Desert Weyr.  There are condition issues that I was told about frankly & fully ahead of finalizing the order.  The depth of black has to be seen to be believed, trust me.  It’s beautiful.

 There’s a break near the butt-end of the fleece, and some scurf.  So, I worried.  After flicking, and carding a lock or two, I was happy to find it perfectly spinnable!


1 Comment

Life gets out of control!

I have been away from my WP dashboard for entirely too long!  Each year June is pretty auspicious – my anniversary & birthday are within a week of each other – but this year was off the hook.  It all began with a nasty cold.  Thank you Air Jamaica seat-mate.  My immune system enjoyed your coughing & sneezing into your rag-cum-hankie.

As soon as I got over said nasty cold, it was full-steam ahead for MIL’s visit.  In my world this typically inspires a greater degree of order, and cleanliness in my house.  It is a lesson I have learned well over the 6 years we have lived here in Canada.  There are certain steps one can take to reduce the chances of hearing the words, “Well, my mother always said that a little dirt never killed anyone.”  I now know that stash, etc. is best stuffed in far-off closets.  And that’s easier said than done in our small house…  Ace DIL that I am, I now have a mental list (no paper trail, see?) of food she will willingly eat, and food that gets the up-turned nose.   There’s much more to this than well-spread beds & clean towels, and you won’t find it in a book.

Had a wrinkle though… I was also going away that weekend for my first-ever Ontario Handspinning Seminar.  That jaunt did wonders for all concerned.  MIL had quality time with her only child & I came back high on life & spinning.  The OHS had good programming, and I loved the fiber-fest atmosphere in the vendor’s hall.  I left inspired, and with a few friends.  It’s run entirely by volunteers, and I really appreciated its independence from the guild system.  A few vendors congratulated me on being a young person, so you can see where it could use some improvement!  Speaking of vendors…  Defeating the purpose of hiding stash, I went & bought some more!  I bought this year’s raw fleece from Julie at Sunday Creek Farm.  It’s primo white Romney from an ewe called Buttercup (Aww!).  It’s ½ a fleece at 3 lbs 5 oz.  Let me not rhapsodize…

Julie has registered Romneys and even a novice like me can tell this is a spinner’s flock!  She was also good enough to put me onto Triscour soap from Wellington Fibres.  She’s right – it’s a great scouring agent!  Triscour at work this afternoon:

And here is some drying out in the hotter-than-Hades sun today:

I am ¾-way through this job, and am impressed with how little chaff & other stuff is sitting in the wool.  Julie also plans to coat some of the flock.

Great to have 20 serious spinner’s vendors all under 1 roof!  The 1st night I found a sister for my Kundert spindle.  It has a walnut whorl with cherry accent wood:

A much better tool for splitting the Rambouillet hand-dyed roving.  I had been lagging with my friend’s Turkish spindle by Ray.  Even with a growing cop of yarn, I found the spindle to light to have a good spin.  Then I had a sleepless night in a cooooold Queen’s University dorm room.  Actually huddled with 1 finished sock:

Good thing I brought it along for some knitting 🙂

I almost missed this Tabacheck Compact Deluxe spindle.  It was at the back of the Yarn Source‘s booth.  I have coveted one of these ever since reading the Bellwether’s Productive Spindling.  It’s a key member of her spindle Dream Team!  Mine is cedar with a cherry shaft.  It weighs 0.79 oz & has an amazing spin:

I don’t think that I have very good pics from the weekend.  It was a rainy, dreary affair.  My Saturday workshop was ‘Around the Whorl.’  The instructor was Catherine & her blog is here.  The class was full, and Catherine taught us a bunch of tips & styles.  I was pretty tired but woke up when I saw the swag on our chairs!  Catherine obviously worked really hard on the bags/ contents, and her lace spinning was awesome!

On Sunday, I skipped the spin-ins, and went to the Shepherding panel.  Good choice!  The Shepherds were Frank Misek of Greystones Farm in Wilton, Tracy Asseltine, and Donna Hancock of Wellington Fibres.  They stressed farm management, what we should look for in choosing a fleece for spinning, mill processing, and adding value to their fibre.  Both Tracy and Donna raise Angora goats, and are involved in mill processing.  It was very informative, and straightforward enough for a mere pup like me to understand!

I do have a whole bunch of birthday spindles to show-off, and some knitting that I am wearing all over creation but haven’t had time to write about!  Life’s going back to normal now (for a few days at the outside), so I’ll have to get my act together & blog again soon!


Leave a comment

Ring the Alarm…

… another summer is dying!  Wyoy, yea!  [With apologies to Tenor Saw & dancehall fans everywhere].

I made haste this weekend true to my word.  It was all about prepping the wool.  A good armful of the raw stuff hit the compost bin… yucky I can deal with but mildew?  The last of the summer wool (out on my 3rd world drying racks):

L-R: bamboo shoerack, baby crib springs on pails, & dog crate

Hey, it may be an eyesore but it’s a functional eyesore.

When not washing the wool, I sat in the sun like a real hippie and flick carded the wool into submission.  I should note that I didn’t leap into the handwashing/ drying rack operation out of sheer enthusiasm.  Many people just use top-load washing machines & driers.  I actually had no choice thanks to our front-load beauties.  Not entirely a bad thing.  I had the time, and:

  • Like working with my hands (obviously) & with step-by-step systems;
  • The weather co-operated for once;
  • The 1st – 2nd wash is/are pretty groady – the sheep eats, prays & yes, loves in his fleece for real; and
  • Better to pick out all the hay, seeds, and other stuff gradually as the wool dries.

The last point dawned on me as I sat & carded the wool that Joyja had washed in her machine.  It’s v. soft but there’s so much of the hay, etc. worked in deep.  In my set-up, I can tease the seed pods out without bursting them.  Well, the wash/ dry cycle sets the little pesky seeds free & all the brushing in the world won’t make them budge!  Easy does it with raw fleece, IMHO.

Naturally, I was preoccupied & wasn’t cooking.  DH isn’t one to miss meals… His famous Veggiegetti:

Saturday Lunch

Pretend that it also has mushrooms & onion… He was in a bit of a rush to get back to the gaming.  Food was delicious though!

I realize the wool prep really looks like a ridiculous mess.  It kind-of is.  The end product is worth it.  Maggie Casey’s book really helped me here:  wind the single yarn over balls (tennis & spare sock yarn, respectively):

Singles - getting thinner as I learn

Singles - getting thinner as I learn

It’s all there – from the wonky first efforts to my current thin & (almost) consistent singles.  I wound them together & got this rustic badge of pride!

The new thought is that maybe some of this wool wants to tame the silk sari yarn:  it needs some balancing & softness.  Just an idea…  It’s great to have the spinning facet to my knitting now!

The next project is going back to Sierra’s gifts.  I am working out a design idea.  I have yarn & am at the proverbial drawing board.  The up-take on the Per Contra Handtowel has been very encouraging.  Over 11 Ravelers have favourited the design & some have queued it!  I can’t wait to see some FOs!

This is a special baby.  Just in case an original design doesn’t work out so well, I need the time to knit up a book pattern for her.  Wish me luck!


Leave a comment

Livity, a year in

This week had its bright spots but was essentially tough.  Yea – TGIF.  Tuesday was the 1st anniversary of my bestest friend’s passing, and the memories of that time came flooding back.  Lerone’s death was sudden – she died in her sleep – and unexpected.  At the time I was working like a maniac but dropped everything, and flew home.

Lerone used to sit behind me in law lectures.  I was the new kid joining their year because I was back to finish my training after spending a year working at the downtown Kingston Legal Aid Clinic.  Shy but full of that experience you know.  Our friendship took off like wildfire just because we traded witticisms during lectures.  She wasn’t just my best friend though – I’d say at least 4 others have felt her loss just as much as I have.  She loved orchids & Pippi is obliging with this full bloom:

A very bright spot was how well Sammy’s Vest was received!  His Mom, my cousin, didn’t even know that I knit & was astonished!  She says that it fits him & pictures are to come.  Gift giving to the knitworthy is the best thing about knitting.

Last week I broke the yarn diet thanks to sales real & imagined around town.  I need to be cryptic about this one:

This SR Kertzer cotton yarn is a soft worsted-weight that I am loving to knit:

This pattern has Danish roots.  Robin Orm Hansen has reverse engineered the pattern.  It’s in the Fall 2009 Interweave Knits mag. but more than that I dare not say!  I casted on for this on the Go-train.  When the circle was just a few rows long, an older man paused in front of me.  He proudly proclaimed, “You’re making a sock!”  Good guess but that ain’t it!  He made me laugh – Canadians are the best:)

Next, I got Colinette Iona Jitterbug sock yarn @ 2 for 1.  And later this book, which gets rave reviews everywhere:

Cookie As Sock Innovation, Interweave Press

Cookie A's Sock Innovation, Interweave Press

I did know that Sock Innovation has a ton of great sock patterns.  What I didn’t know is that it also teaches you how to innovate aka design!  I was a bundle of quiet glee in the bookstore this Tuesday 🙂  My knitting group sees no reason that a body would not wear hot pink socks in winter.  I have lingering doubts but am willing to give it a go!

As for Peter Tosh The Fleece…  I’ve dried 5 batches in the backyard sunny spots & they are in old pillowcases.  My (tennis partner) neighbour asked what on earth I was up to.  She could only guess that I was working with pillow stuffing & was blown away when I gave her the story!  She’s all excited for me to make a sweater.  Uh huh – she who has yet to learn how to spin the yarn!!

It’s all been sweetness & light so far… until I realized that my blue Dawn has enzymes.  Thanks P&G for putting that factoid on the back label under “First Aid Treatment.”  What’s wrong with the enzymes you ask?  They work to dissolve proteins like blood/stains & just as easily – wool.  Oh yes they do.  Before spiraling out of control, I tried very hard to remember high school biology.  I had this vague idea that heat could ‘kill’ the enzymes & set out on a Google quest.

To cut a long story short, I am reasonably certain that if the 3 boiling water washes didn’t denature the enzymes, then the 2 rinses got them outta there.  My wool is the guinea pig for this.   Now on the brighter side – Stephen Kundert wrote to say that my spindle is on its way to me!