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.


Tutorial – Thread Holder

After repeated hints from various friends I have constructed a tutorial on how to make a Thread holder, suitable for Edmar threads or for that matter any thread I guess. I made one of these to hold my Edmar threads for the Easter Gather and it was wonderful. All the threads stayed right where they were meant to, there were no creases or wrinkles in them, they were easy to access and best of all I could find them – always a bonus.

You will need:
Materials Needed for Thread Holder
Main Fabric, Batting and Backing (or inside fabric) all cut 21 x 9 inches. Ribbon to tie the finished thread holder, a plastic pocket – the type you put in folders to hold papers and some fabric for the binding.

Marking where the plastic will go.
With the three layers pinned together all around the edges, mark down three inches from the top edge and one inch from the bottom edge. This is where the plastic will sit – allowing you access to the threads.

Cutting the Plastic Pocket
Cut the plastic pocket along the sides so it will open out. Do NOT cut along the bottom – you will need the length to hold your threads.

Sewing the Channels for the threads
Pinning just one seam line at a time – sew down to create a channel for each lot of threads. I made mine one inch apart which gave me plenty of room. Remember plastic rips so only use just enough pins to hold it to the fabric sandwhich. Also I found sewing one seam line at a time then marking the next meant the plastic didn’t bunch up or move on me.

Plastic all sewed on.
There are 8 “channels” all one inch apart.

Binding Sewn on.
When you have finished sewing down the plastic pocket then sew on the binding. I used the same method I would use for putting binding on a quilt, but you could use bias binding or even just satin stitch around the edge of the fabric sandwhich – it’s really up to you. Don’t forget to sew on the ribbon which will tie the thread holder together when it’s rolled up.

Finished Thread Holder
The Finished Thread Holder. Plastic sewn in, binding handsewn down.

Pulling the threads through the Channels
Pulling the threads through the Channels. If you have a “thread puller” from when you purchased your threads – then use that otherwise……….

Using A Straw to Feed in the Threads
Use a Straw….I used a fairly large straw (because it was all I had) to push the threads into the holder. Cut about a half inch slit in the top of the straw, feed that slit over the paper tag that comes with the threads and ……

Feeding In the Thread
….feed it up through the plastic channel.

Pull out the Straw and Pin the tag in place
Pull out the Straw and Pin the tag in place. I used a pencil to help push the straw along the channel – but use what works for you. Pin the tags in place with a safety in when the threads are in. I found this way I didn’t lose the tag so I knew what thread was what and they also help to keep the threads in place. When you need a thread, just pull out one at a time – they come out quite easily and the rest are left in place.

All finished and rolled up into a neat package which protects the threads and looks great too.

As always any questions – please ask and I will do my best to answer them. I work on the theory that these Edmar threads are quite silky to touch and even though I have used cotton for the inside lining they slip out quite easily when required. I would imagine that if you use some sort of silky fabric for the lining you could also store cotton threads such as “Needle Necessities” in the same sort of holder. If any ones tries this please let me know – I would love to know how you get on.

Postcard Tutorial

I have a confession to make – I never thought I would end up making a fabric postcard. I have now changed my mind and have discovered they can be deceptively easy if you follow a few simple steps.

My first faltering steps were guided by Maureen C. at Kenmaurs Corner (Maureen was so patient with my strange questions…lol) and now I feel confident enough to offer this tutorial on how I make them. Everyone is different and you may like to do a search of the internet as I’m sure there are plenty of others who also offer their version of constructing a postcard.

Crazy Quilted Fabric Postcard

You don’t need a great deal of equipment or materials to make a postcard. Certainly you aren’t going to have to remortage your house in order to make them – which is probably a blessing since the interest rates are rising – yet again. Simple things from around your home are enough, plus plenty of ideas.


* Cardboard – I cut out a reasonable size, then cut a “window” in this peice the size of my finished postcard. 4 x 6 inches is the general size I use. This is handy when “auditioning” fabrics and trims you may want to use plus marking the size of the postcard on your fabric.
* Base fabric – this is what you sew your fancy fabrics onto. It provides – a base for your work. This needs to be at least two inches larger than the finished size of the the postcard – I often make it larger again.* Fancy fabrics – for your naked cq block.
* Print of something. This is entirely up to you. I like to use a print of something significant for the person I am sending the card to, but you can just use fabrics and embroidery.
* Backing Fabric – this is where your message etc will be written It needs to be at least 1 inch larger than the finished postcard.
* Paper backed vilene. The stuff you use for applique (Visoflex I think it is called – but don’t quote me on that.)
* Stiff Vilene (or vilene with a stiffy if you want to be a bit rude…lol.) This can basically stand up by itself if propped against something, without sagging. It is still able to be sewn through however – defeats the purpose if you can’t.

Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Ingredients

Step 1 Draw the size of the postcard onto your base fabric. This is where the cardboard template with the window cut out of it comes in handy. Speeds things up and you already know it is square and the right size. You can see where I have already done that in the first photo. Now sew exactly on that line. It doesn’t have to be matching thread (contrasting is often easier to see) – you won’t see it in the final product. The reason will become clear soon. Audition your fabrics and print if you want to use one – in other words move them around until you like where they are all sitting or should that be lying…lol. The template comes in handy here too in that you can see exactly what the fabrics and their arrangement will look like in the final product. Just look inside the square. See easy so far.

Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Step 1

Step 2 The fabrics are all sewn down in to their final positions. Now turn your naked block over (base fabric uppermost) and making sure the fabrics are all flat and not puckered – sew exactly on the line on the base fabric you sewed just before. When you turn your postcard over (so now the right side or the pretty side is up) you can see exactly where the edges of your postcard are. It saves a lot of heartache in the end when you realise you may have done your best work on the part that is to be cut off.
Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Step 2

Step 3 This is the fun part. Use your cardboard template to create a window on your postcard – trial different laces, ribbons or whatever else you want to use. It helps to get your eye in and I find invaluable if I’m not sure if something will work. For example the ribbon in the left top hand corner. It wasn’t right, but without the template it looked fine.
Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Step 3

Step 4 Embellish the postcard as you want. Remember there are no rules and this is where you can really let your hair down and enjoy trialling new techniques or supplies – after all it is your postcard and you can do what you want.
Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Step 4

Step 5 Now for the slightly harder stuff – in other words read carefully.You will need the paper backed vilene – which should be cut slightly larger (I go for 1/2 inch larger all round) than the size of the post card. Use the spare peice of cardboard from the “window” you cut from the template as a guide. Iron this onto the back of the crazy quilted block. Do it lightly and carefully – a folded towel put down underneath it will act as a cushion so your lovely work isn’t flattened. Do not pull the paper off at this stage.Now you will need the stiff vilene (also cut at least 1/2 inch all round larger than the postcard). The stiff vilene that I use has the glue on it all ready – not sure if that is the case for all of this type of vilene but I will assume so. This is ironed onto the backing fabric.I can hear you asking – why is she making these larger than we need. Simple – if you make a mistake and iron something on slightly crooked – you still have enough fabric and vilene to cover the postcard. Much better than coming up short, having to pull everything off or having to start again from scratch.Now being careful, pull off the paper from the vilene that is ironed to the front of the post card. Being fairly careful, align the cqed front with the back, vilene together and iron carefully. Basically you are making a sandwich. If you aren’t sure – you should have CQed top, vilene, stiff vilene, backing fabric.

Crazy Quilting Postcard - Tutorial - Step 5

Step 6 When your post card is finally ironed together and you are happy with it, then, and only then, do you trim it to its final size.

Crazy Quilted Postcar - Tutorial - Step 6

Step 6A As you can see I trim it to just a thread or two outside the sewn line. I find this way any little peices of fabric that haven’t been embroidered or embellished are held down and don’t pucker up when sewing around the edges.

Crazy Quilted Postcar - Tutorial - Step 6A

Step 7 I use a larger needle when I sew around the edges of the post card. It has to go through not only several layers of fabric, but two lots of vilene as well – one of which is thick. A jeans needle is ideal. I use a satin stitch or other fancy stitch to “seal” the edges. I’m not sure if you can see it, but I always seem to get “whiskers” from the fabrics that stick out. I just trim these off carefully – trying very hard not to cut my stitching. I don’t know if it is my machine, the stitches I choose, the thread (in this case it was a varigated cotton machine embroidery thread) or just me but I always get these whiskers. Drives me nuts, but I’m learning to live with it – after all I’m not a machine and these aren’t a commercial item.

Crazy Quilted Postcard - Tutorial - Step 7

Step 8 Now, and only now, you can write the details on the back of the card. I don’t do any writing until the whole thing is finished because I am notorious for ironing things on slightly crooked. Again – another thing that drives me insane, but that’s me. I figure if I have gone to all this trouble then to stuff it up at the last stage is a major hair pulling event.

Crazy Quilted Postcar - Tutorial - Step 8

I hope all this is helpful and I haven’t bored you silly by now. Any questions please ask and I will do my best to answer them.

PS Sorry I never thought of saying how I post these until Jo asked. (Slapping hand here) While I know many of these postcards can just be sent through the mail (after being hand cancelled) I prefer to post my cqed postcards in a padded bag. I use a lot of beads in my work (got to have that sparkle….vbg) and a lot of silk ribbon (well if you’ve got it, you have to play with it) and I am always worried that something would happen to it while in the mail. I bought really small padded bags for less than $1.00 Aust and postage was only $1.00 so they are very cheap to send. I know it isn’t quite the same as receiving a stamped postcard, but I’m willing to compromise for the sake of my work arriving intact.