Spinning – Preparing the Fleece

I’m going to do a few tutorials on spinning and the associated tasks that are involved in creating your own yarn and split the whole process up into sections. I’m working on the theory that it will make the information more manageable to read and process and also to find if you want to review a particular technique you won’t have to scroll though a massive post. All of the posts will start with “Spinning” and then a description of the technique. eg “Spinning – Preparing the fleece”   I want to emphasise that I’m not an expert by any means – in fact I’m totally self taught and watched lots of You tube and read books to get this far. This is just how I go about the whole process and others will do it differently and it’s up to you to work out the best method for you. I’m hoping that if nothing else it will get some of you excited about trying spinning for yourselves and creating that beautiful one of a kind yarn or answer some of the questions you may have had.

I’m also endeavouring to use techniques where you don’t need a lot of equipment and therefore a lot of expense. Lets face it – spinning like anything else can be done on a budget or you can spend a fortune. It’s really up to you but personally I like using just what I have at home and quite frankly I would rather spend my money on gorgeous fleece than equipment.

Any fleece whether it be alpaca, wool, rabbit or anything else remotely spinnable will need some sort or preparation in order to be able to spin it into the kind of yarn you want. The amount of preparation is up to you. Some spinners will just get a hand full of fleece, tease it out with their fingers and start spinning. I have tried that but it doesn’t work for me…sigh…so a little more preparation is needed. I should add in here this is my way for preparing a fleece to “Spin it in the grease”. In other words you are preparing a fleece that will still have all it’s sheepy smell and lanolin in it. You can wash the fleece first and I may cover that later but I figure apart from the smell, the lanolin does wonders for my fingernails and I have to wash the fleece once I have spun it so I’m just missing out a step.

Unlike humans, sheep, (and I will use their fleece as the examples in these tutorials – but the techniques will work with just about any fibre) strangely enough don’t have access to showers and shampoo and they have a distressing habit of rolling in dirt and lying in prickles which means for the Spinner that the dirt, prickles and other vegetable matter has to be removed before spinning can take place. The only exception to this, I have found, is some beautiful Corridale sheep’s fleece I purchased, where the sheep had worn coats covering their fleece for the entire growing season which meant there was no prickles or dirt and very little prep time. I’m kicking myself I did not buy the entire fleece and instead, only bought half. 

Raw Fleece

When you pull out some of your fleece, and just work though a few handfuls at a time or you will quickly be overwhelmed, this is probably what it will look like. The Darker tips of the fleece are the “outside” furthest from the animals skin. This is the area that rubs in the dirt and the prickles. ) Like human hair this also can be very dry and I have been known to trim off the driest tips with scissors to give myself better wool to work with. It didn’t matter and you certainly couldn’t see where I had trimmed it once it had been spun. The lighter crinkly bit is the fleece that is closest to the skin and will give you more of an idea what colour the finished yarn will be. Well that’s the theory anyway. I have often been pleasantly surprised by the colour the fleece is when it’s finally spun, washed and ready to use.

Next is to start to separate the “locks” of fleece.

Seperating the Fleece

Grasp a small section of fleece firmly and gently ease it away from the rest of the fleece. You will find it will separate fairly easily. Put it to one side and continue until all the fleece you are working on is separated. If you have to, put one hand on the clump of fleece to hold it in place while you are separating the smaller section. How big a section of locks you pull away at a time is up to you. Just don’t get too greedy and grab huge handfuls. That’s generally when you end up in a big mess and get totally frustrated. Far better to work in smaller quantities and have more success. The added bonus is small clumps are easier to comb.

Sorted Fleece

You will end up with two piles like this. The bigger one is the fleece you will use. The smaller is the rubbish fleece. It’s made up of smaller cuts (second cuts where the shearer has had to have a second go at getting the fleece off), scrappy pieces and just plain rubbish. Throw this out. It’s no good to use – unless you are really desperate to make life hard on yourself and trust me you won’t get quality yarn out of this rubbish. I quite often put these bits in an onion bag and hang it out for the birds for their nests. They love it.

Combing equipment

Next is the combing of the fleece and it’s exactly that. You will comb each section of fleece to remove the dirt and vegetable matter. It will also remove any short fibres and broken ends – a bit like combing your own or your kids hair. The above photo shows some of the tools I use. They are labelled so should be self explanatory. Now I said you can use what is just lying around and apart from the two flickers that is what those tools are. Two dog combs and a human hair comb.

Combing the fleece

Grasp the end of your fleece – the one that was closest to the sheep’s skin and hold it firmly. With your comb of choice – pull it firmly through the fleece. You may need to do this a couple of times on both the top and bottom of that clump of fleece.

Waste fleece in comb

Now swap the fleece around and hold the combed end in your hand and comb out the other (skin side) end. This won’t take as much work and I find it is the most enjoyable. You can see in the dog comb’s teeth the bits of fibre. This is the stuff you don’t want to spin. It’s made up of rubbish. What you want to spin is that lovely clump (wish I could find a better word than that) that is tangle free and ready to go. See photo below. The fleece will fan out a bit when you have combed it. This is a good thing and makes spinning easier.

Finished and combed fleece

Notice also the dirt (that’s that brown stuff on the paper that looks like pepper). There was heaps come out of this lot of wool – all mallee sand.

So that’s it. How to prepare your fleece. Easy wasn’t it….lol. As I said before it’s very easy to look at a huge fleece and start to panic as to how you will ever get it all done. Like eating an elephant – you do it one bite at a time. I generally prepare fleece for 15 mins at a time then walk away. That way my hands don’t get to tired, I’m not stressed but I feel that I’m making progress. Store your prepared fleece in a cardboard box – not plastic. Another way of looking at it is there is no way you can spin an entire fleece in one day – unless you are Superwoman – so you don’t need to prepare the entire fleece in one day.

Now if I haven’t explained anything clearly enough – and I hope I have – please ask. I’m more than happy to try and explain things better.

The next tutorial will be on the Spinning Wheel. The parts of it. The Strange names each part has and even the different types of wheels you can use.

If you have managed to keep reading to this bit – thank you. Just the fact you are reading this sentence makes all the work worthwhile. Ohh and Nicola and James have proof read this post and they both now tell me they know more about preparing fleece than they ever wanted to – so I’m hoping it means all this information makes sense….lol

 

Pottering Around

You would think that with Nicola and James returning to school this week that life would settle down and I would be, at the very least, semi organised.  Well this is me and this is reality and organised is a word that isn’t even popping up on my radar at the moment.

I have been busy cleaning the house and have spent several days pottering around my sewing room – resorting “stuff” and rearranging other parts of it. Nothing noteworthy to show a photo of but at last I have a decent sized pin board up on one wall which will, hopefully, help me to keep track of the more important items I use every day such as the list of needles and crochet hooks and their sizes in both metric, US and UK sizing.  With all the pattern hunting I have been doing lately it seems to be a daily task to check what size needles I need not to mention the other list that shows the different sizes of wool and their symbols.

I have managed to get stuck into the pantry and reorganise some of the food I store there.  I have always kept a fairly good stock pile of the basics we use all the time – flour, sugar, toilet paper, pasta etc but I decided that I really needed to work out just how much of each item I needed to store.  With the new taxes that have been introduced, work – while it’s still there it is obvious that people are watching their dollars more so than in the past – and  trying to pay off our mortgage sooner rather than later, it was time for a rethink.  So I have bought some new containers and have been stocking up.

Sorting the Pantry

I really had trouble finding big containers that were also food grade plastic and were a reasonable price. Well actually I had trouble finding big containers that were food grade let alone anything else so I ended up with these plastic tubs.  They are about 5 litres in size and will hold four kilograms of sugar or three kilograms of flour.  They aren’t marked as recyclable or even if they are food grade but they did say on the label that they are useful in the kitchen so they will have to do for the moment. If anyone knows where I can get 5 litre or bigger containers that don’t cost an arm and a leg and are food grade please let me know.  I also put a couple of bay leaves in each tub and several more leaves around the pantry shelves to keep the pantry moths away as I seem to have one or two who have decided that my home is also their  home    : – (

As the sun has been shining – this morning it was really warm – I have also spent time outside spinning.  One of the clean up areas was my fleece pile and believe me there is plenty of it. I kept telling myself it was keeping the cupboards warm but I don’t believe that for an instant and I really want to use up what I have before I purchase any more.

Spinning Alpaca

The Australian Sheep and Wool Show is on this weekend and I’m off to Bendigo to stay with Elise for a few days and to check out all the scrummy fibres and dyes and other goodies at the show.  I have told myself I can’t buy any fleece or roving no matter how tempting it is but I am allowed to buy some more Landscape dyes to dye the fibre I already have.  I figure it’s a nice compromise. I get to come home with some goodies and I get to play with colour and fibre.  Elise has one of her uni friends coming for tea on Friday night so it will be lovely to meet her too as well as spend time with Elise and Ralf.

There has been lots of knitting happening. A major sort through my wool has meant I have been busy hunting for patterns to use up all the wool I have.  It’s been quite a creative journey so far but I am enjoying it.

Ipod/Iphone cosy - sock wool

I whipped up this little Ipod cosy the other day in left over sock wool. It’s super easy.

Sock Wool Ipod/Iphone Cosy.

All you need is some left over sock wool (this cosy took approx 30 metres) a set each of  double pointed needles in 2 mm and 2.75 mm.

With 2 mm needles (yes they feel like toothpicks they are so fine) cast on 42 stitches and join in the round.

Knit 1, Purl 1 for six rounds then change to 2.75 mm needles

Keep knitting in the round until your cosy is the right length – I knitted for five inches measured from the cast on edge.

Turn the cosy inside out and using the Three Needle Bind Off Method (which is super easy) cast off. Darn in any ends and ta da it’s done.

Super cool and best of all cause it’s self patterned sock wool you don’t need to do any fancy patterns as  the wool does it for you. Of course if you fancy working your own pattern just check the number of stitches needed for each pattern repeat will divide evenly into the number you cast on (adding an extra stitch or two shouldn’t make too much of a difference to the overall size – but don’t add any more than just a couple of stitches) and go for it.  Lets face it – if it doesn’t work you haven’t invested hundreds of hours or for that matter hundreds of dollars on yarn – so just pull it out and start again.

 

Knitting Progress

At last I feel like I might be on the edge of the land of the living.

I must have been more run down and tired than I thought for this bug to hit me the way it did. A week swapping between the bed and the chair beside the fire, no housework or cooking (thank goodness Elise was home) and several nanny naps each day was all I could manage.  It’s taken another week to even get to the stage where I can do more than one job before I need a sit down to gather up some more energy.

The good part about all this sitting around was I did actually manage to get quite a bit of knitting done…..even if it was just one row at a time and resting in between. I have discovered that lacy patterns are all very well but ask me to concentrate on more than a single row and you are asking for trouble and lots of “unknitting”  ; – (((

Finally, what started as the Silver Bells Scarf is finished. It is now the Silver Bells Table Runner as the wool was much too scratchy to even contemplate putting next to someone’s skin plus there wasn’t enough wool to make a scarf.

Silver Bells Table Runner

It will fit very nicely on my big wooden side board and will look lovely on the honey coloured pine.

Silver Bells Table Runner

I am really pleased with it and honestly if you are tempted by it have a go. The pattern is very easy and you purl on every second row so your brain really only has to think for one row then gets a rest.

Silver Bells Table Runner Close Up of Pattern

I have also been experimenting with knitting bowls and then felting them.

I spun this wool from some rolls of Wool Joy had given me twelve months ago and then dyed them.

They have been sitting patiently waiting for the right project and finally it came along.

I was searching Raverly for felted bags and found this pattern for some gorgeous Felted Spinning Wheel Bags.  What a useful and cute little bag. I always seem to have tools that I need for spinning lying around  but there has been no where to put them close to the wheel  where I can easily find them.

So I started experimenting……

Knitted Felted Bowls

Sorry it’s not the best photo but I wasn’t taking them outside to take a better picture – it was minus 2.6 degrees and there was frost everywhere this morning – so I’m afraid you will have to put up with this photo.

The sea green bag is the smallest and just the right size – I halved the number of stitches the pattern said and it worked out the size I wanted.  The Pink and green bag I made first following the instructions and it’s too big for the wheel but is the perfect size to hang on my chair in the lounge room with a centre pull ball of wool in it for when I am knitting or crocheting.  Both of these bags have a felted strap that does up with a button so I can hang them anywhere.  The orange and green bowl is larger and a good size for storing small projects.

I must admit it does feel good to have one project finished and to have had time to experiment with another.  I am also nearing the end on another felted bag I am knitting.  Just some more pattern repeats on the handles then it can be felted and revealed.

Maybe being so sick was a good thing?

 

I told myself……

….no more patterns.

…..no more wool.

….no more starting new projects until I have worked on some of the back log of unfinished projects.

I just wish that sometimes I would listen to myself.

There is shawl that people are raving about.

It’s the Colour Affection Shawl by Veera Välimäki  and I will admit to falling in love with it instantly.

Completely, head over heels in love with it.

I resisted.  Truly I did. I told myself I did not need another pattern.  I told myself I did not have the yarn.  I told myself I wasn’t spending money – it was the year to save.

I didn’t listen to myself.

I bought the pattern.

I have the yarn – although I may need to dye some of it and in my defence it will reduce some of the sock weight wool I have.

Now I have a problem. The idea of spinning my own wool (which would reduce the fleece stash by just a little bit) is very appealing……………….incredibly……………………….awesomely appealing.

My problem is do I have the time for all that spinning?  Will my spinning skills allow me to create a lovely soft, fine and even yarn?  And once the yarn is spun will I be able to decide on what colours to make it in?

As I said I have a problem.

Off to rummage in my stash of fleece and see what’s ready to spin.  Ohh the possibilites.

I might just have to pull out the sock yarn too and see what’s there.

I think I’m incredibly happy that I don’t listen to myself.

 

Spinning and Studying

Tomorrow is Elise’s last exam – Business Studies – so today has been delegated a study day.

Elise started studying  in her room then moved to the dining room.  There was one large sheet of cardboard with writing all over it taped to the glass doors when I went outside to spin.

Studying

There were three  large sheets of cardboard with writing all over it taped to the glass doors when I came inside for lunch.

I thought that by making myself scarce it would give her the chance to study in peace. I also had the thought I might actually mange to get some spinning done.

Spinning.....with help

I did…..with a little help.

Rag Bag

I did mange to get some more pretty but practical things made for Elise the other week – just forgot to blog them.  A rag bag. I figure if she ends up getting a cat like she would like there will always be little messes to clean up.

Hand Towel

I also bought a bath towel, cut it into four hand towels and put a towel topper on each. I have had the bit of vintage kitten fabric for ages – an op shop bargain. I ended up using all I had bought – which was a couple of meters – on the hand towels and the rag bag.  What what was left of the towel I have made four dish cloths which I am crocheting around to help the edges hold together.

A confession here. I use face washers to wash my dishes with. For ages I experimented with all sorts of dishcloths…..from bought cloths to hand knitted or crocheted. In desperation one day I grabbed a face washer and loved it. It just the right size, the terry towelling cleans well and semi dries the benches after I have wiped them down and they wash and dry really easily. I have face washers for the kitchen as well as the ones in the kids bathroom each marked with a piece of fabric so I know what gets used for what purpose.

 

PS  There are now four sheets of paper taped to the glass doors and Elise has retired to the table to write on more bits of paper. I’m so glad that tomorrow is the end of all this study…….for a while anyway.

Pottering, Spinning and Gardening

I’ve been slightly off blogging of late.  Life has been a bit stressful  and I was really sick over the holidays with the horrible flue bug that is doing the rounds which has meant that little things that don’t normally worry me are seriously giving me the pips and I don’t seem to have bounced back as quickly as I would have liked after being sick.  As a result I have hunkered down in the warmth of my house and just pottered until I was in a better frame of mind.  I  just needed to ground myself again in the everyday things that are my life and de-stress while doing them.  I have lived in the moment. In stead of stressing over hanging out washing – I have revelled in the sunshine and enjoyed the sounds of the birds.  Instead of grumping about making beds – I have enjoyed the fact that each night it is as if I have climbed in between freshly laid sheets.  Instead of getting sick and tired of making tea – I have been thankful that I have the skills and knowledge to put a nourishing meal on the table for my family to enjoy.  Instead of getting really sick and tired of kids fighting over the littlest of things – I have been greatful that my kids are well and are independent enough to stand up for what they believe in.  In short  – my life is full of good things and I just needed to remind myself of them.

The good news is that all this time at home means I am actually achieving.  There has been wool dyed and spun and plied to make one skein of wool for James’s beanie.  I have spun another two bobbins worth and will get them plied today then I’m going to over dye them in the same blue but make it darker. Well that’s the theory anyway.

Corridale wool dyed with Landscape Dye - "Sun Orchid"

I have also spun up a single bobbin of the dark Corriedale I bought at the Bendigo Wool Show. It’s a dream to spin and is super soft. The plan is to dye this with the Landscape Dye “Bloodwood” which is quite a dark red – another colour that James requested. He isn’t putting any pressure on me – much!!! I just get asked every day how the spinning is going and did I do any more for his beanie?……vbg.  I washed up more fleece last night and am carding it today – yes another job – so I can continue spinning tonight. I’m hoping as the wool is already dark it will make the dye come out even darker.

Corridale Wool Spun and Carded

At last I can see spring on the horizon and I’m itching to get into the vegie garden.  Another of today’s jobs is to scrape up some of the chook manure in the chook pen and dig it into my vegie garden.  It will have time to rot down before I am ready to plant and should hopefully improve the soil which I feel is lacking in nutrients.

Seed Organisation

I did manage to get my seeds sorted out the other day and have them arranged in two small filing cabinets.  They sit up on the shelf in the laundry and now I can see easily just what seeds I have, what I need to save  and what needs using up. Much better than the box I used to throw all the packets into – there were so many that were out of date, had lost their labels or were just plain revolting it wasn’t funny. Now the seeds are organised I feel the need to plant.

Of course it wouldn’t be a week of pottering if I didn’t try something new. I found this recipe for Citrus Cleaner while cruising blogs today and decided to try it.  There were lemons lying under the tree that had fallen off from lack of water – I planted the tree in a really bad spot and should have thought about it more – so I harvested them and made up the cleaner.

Citrus Cleaner

Here is what I did if you are interested.

Slice of the rind of as many lemons as you want.  Put them in a jar and top up with vinegar. The big jar (even with the lemon rind in it) held nearly 2 litres of vinegar.  Give it a stir – just cause it’s nice to watch the lemon rind swirl around – pop on the lid and leave for two or three weeks.  Apparently when the vinegar colours with the colour of the rind its ready to use.  I must remember to get James to save the mandarin skins and try them.

I have quite a bit of knitting on the go as well as some crochet. Nothing blog worthy – well not at this stage anyway – but hopefully soon.

Right off to make a cuppa then sit down with a good movie and my spinning wheel. Plyed wool here I come.

 

Spinning

In case you were wondering this is why I learnt to spin.

Pure Wool Hand spun and plied

Pure wool laps (from the Bendigo Woolen Mills) spun to about an 8 ply gauge all ready to knit an ear flap hat for Ashley for Christmas.

The wool was all from the same bag – I just separated the colours and started spinning.

There is approximately 240 metres of the softest wool.  More than enough for a hat to keep Ashley warm.