The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


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Olivia’s Babydoll Southdown fleece, and her flock’s good news

Warm (i.e. wooly) congratulations to the flock that I wrote about in my last post!  Laurie’s Little Lambs farm won blue ribbons in 2 categories of the 2015 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair fleece wool competition.  Both are in the competition’s Down-type category (26-33 microns).  It was their first year exhibiting, and I am very happy they got such stellar results!

Partial as I am to coloured fleeces, I had a moment when Bob showed me Norris’ clip.  I’m so glad to see Norris’ name beside a first ranking in the Royal’s results list, and know how pleased Bob must be!  His entries are both sure to be in high demand at the fleece auction this Sunday, November 15, 2015.

Grazing olde-type Babydoll Southdown sheep Laurie's Little Lambs flock

Well-deserved recognition for these Babydoll Southdowns!

Bob & Laurie’s flock has around 50 sheep, and all are registered with the Olde English “Babydoll” Southdown Sheep Registry.

Southdown is the oldest of 6 true or core Down-type wools.  In “The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook” Deb Robson & Carol Ekarius note that Southdowns are in records dating back to the medieval period from the South Downs, England.  The area is along the English Channel in today’s Hampshire & Sussex counties.

The rare-breed status is ‘recovering’ by the Livestock Conservancy.  Rare Breeds Canada’s 2014 conservation list shows Southdown as ‘vulnerable’ (101 – 300).  Bob & Laurie do breed their registered Babydoll Southdown sheep for sales.  It would be great to see the breed’s status shift up to the next category in Canada, ‘at risk’.

Examining Olde English Babydoll Southdown raw wool from Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario

Happily examining a Babydoll Southdown fleece

While Bob showed me some of this year’s beautiful clip, Laurie graciously gave N. a tour of the farm.  It was wonderful of them to have given us so much of their time, and in turn I showed Bob some of the tools that we use as spinners to prepare wool from scratch.

Babydoll Southdown flock Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario Canada

All pictures from this July’s visit to Bob & Laurie’s farm were taken by a very impressed N!

Laurie's Little Lambs bird house

Laurie’s passion is with her birds

Olivia’s 2015 fleece

The lock strength, crimp, and colours in this fleece from Bob’s ewe Olivia were just so appealing to me.  Olivia’s fleece was carefully rolled, and it was easy for me to see which end was up as it were!

Olde English Babydoll Southdown coloured ewe fleece from Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario

Olivia, Babydoll Southdown 2015 raw wool

All colours are acceptable within the olde-type Babydoll Southdown’s breed standard.  This is an advantage since as Deb Robson tells us in her Winter 2015 article in Spin-Off Magazine, “The Down Wools:  quiet and unsung heroes of the fiber world,” the Down wools are mostly white.  On page 71 she says,

The most reliable source of natural, non-white color within these breeds is the Southdown, of which there are at least three strains of varying sizes.  The smallest, the Babydoll Southdowns… [is] the group from which you’ll most likely find colored fleeces.

Cleaning Babydoll Southdown ewe fleece from Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario

Cleaning my Babydoll Southdown wool

Using the Unicorn Power Scour for this fleece was a big improvement in terms of steps to lanolin cleaned locks.  We needed to repeat cleaning for E’s white ram fleece when we used original blue Dawn detergent last fall.

Cat with raw Babydoll Southdown wool fleece from Laurie's Little Lambs Louth Ontario

Melvin takes up his happy place

Try as I might there was no separating Melvin from Olivia’s wool as I worked on cleaning.  This was still the raw wool, and he does deign to move when told that it’s needed for washing.

Cleaned Babydoll Southdown wool locks

Locks from Olivia’s Babydoll Southdown fleece

The pigment shifts evenly across the fleece’s locks.  The butt end of the locks is consistently lighter with a darker tone above.  The locks are strong – it’s simply a colour shift with no break following the line.

A preliminary test with a new-to-me set of Meck paddle combs confirms my idea that the colour blends very nicely if I alternate the lock orientation when charging the combs.  One small 2-ply skein shows as a heathery blend of the colours that I love, and could possibly over-dye.

No matter what this will be an interesting fleece to process as a spinner!  My hunch is that the yarn could have a warm lilac undertone.  I can plan around any colour inconsistency, and am not even married to a single large project for this fleece.

Fall colour autumn flaming bush display

This fall’s colour

I never dreamed that agreeing to mentor E would help evolve my work in this way.  Now that we are in this eventful late fall, I am excited about working with an incredibly soft & unique wool.  That it’s also come from an award-winning year for Bob’s flock is just such an added reward.  Hopefully, I can show E how the multi-coloured fleece compares to hers soon!

Looking forward to being blown away by the fleece auction’s competition for the prize Babydoll Southdown wool!  Will you attend, local friends?

 

 


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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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String Thing 2013 – my hat trick, continued

hat trick n. 1 the scoring of three goals, points etc. by one person during a game. 2 three successes

◊ Paperback Oxford Canadian Dictionary, 2004

It hit me that in this 3rd of 3 years of attending this Stringtopia event, I was most at ease.

Plain weaving with the Tanka design

This simple band or jakima represents this for me.  The length of kata, plain weave is where I re-learned how to weave.

The first ray of light was learning the Quechua term for lease cord – sonq’opa.  It is derived from the word for heart, “son”.  This drove a truth home to me.  It is what Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez says in “Textile Traditions of Chinchero:  A Living Heritage” on p. 85:

In the process of making textiles, the weaver devotes part of her life to her weaving.  That is why a weaver can tell stories about happy or sad times, and different life events according to the time it took to weave a certain textile.

This was the best devotion of my time.  To answer the US border agent – no, you cannot just learn this on Youtube.  I am the case in point.

Mahogany, folks.

As I suspected my backstrap loom management was awkward, and therefore, flawed.  Working with my waist as the front warp beam & my shod foot as the back beam, Abby gently corrected my process.

“Use both swords,” she said.  “You will need them both for the next step.”  With Abby’s help, and intense focus, I turned the first ideas on their heads.  The solution was less taxing, and completely elegant.

Friends in class had different problems, and revelations.  We walked the cliff edge of adult learning.  No-one fell into the gully of frustration.  I was very grateful when a more experienced backstrap weaver, Janie Yates pointed out that I was sawing my shed open with the yllawa or string heddles.  Janie helpfully guided me back to tensioning the warp open.

Where our spirits soared was after lunch.  We had hit the objectives.  Abby spoke to her identity as a Chinchero weaver, teacher and studio owner.  It was pure heart, and so very moving.  My culture is also rooted in the oral transfer of knowledge.  It’s something I deeply respect.

Abby knows what this means for me because I had to tell her, thank her.  I will practice and build on this foundation.  It was my best takeaway of any Stringtopia.

With thanks, Abby.

Studio, what studio?

Walking through Stringtopia’s doors the next day made me want to click my heels, or tear-up.  Or something.

Bricks & mortar matters for carrying textile arts forward.  It’s a lifetime achievement to create such a space in this day.

A spindle was removed before taking this shot

Canadian Production Wheels get around.  This one is safely out of the direct sunlight!

Frederic Bourda CPW

Having taken Abby’s backstrap weaving class the day before, I walked right up to the hanging jakimas.

They are pretty.  Carol told me that the jakima de kata on the left was woven by Abby’s son.

Back to the fun & games

How much of a textured batt can you spin on a drop spindle in 2 minutes, you ask?

This is our friend, Janet in the foreground helping Mandie pace out her yarn.  Taking classes & hanging out with them both was super fun as usual!

Beth was happy

Respect due to each & every long-draw competition team on Saturday night!

Win! Jane, Erin & Michelle

They used an e-spinner!  Other brave teams were…

Kathy, Lisa & Martha

Amy, Kim & Caroline

Serious kudos to Enting, Laura & Tracy who competed with a drop spindle.  I bow to the prowess!

Proof of concept: sideways draft on a drop spindle

I am now home, and rested.  I miss being able to rush to classes, hang out in Morgaine’s space, turn around & speak with spinners.

If you live close to Stringtopia then I am a touch green with envy.  Support them!  Until next time I have skills to practice and yarn to make.

New wool combs doing what they do

For example, this 1.6 oz of luxurious Muga silk will also keep me happy and engaged.

Thing of beauty: Muga silk for spinning