Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Felting Fleece

Episode 21 of the Yarnspinnerstales podcast is posted here and it's all about intentionally doing something that spinners fear will happen: felting fleece.

It all started this summer when I was asked to evaluate some Icelandic fleeces for a breeder unfamiliar with hand spinners needs in fleece. Although many of the fleeces were usuable, there were several that due to delay in shearing had let the undercoat mat. The fleece would not be spinnable, since the fibers were not going to be easily opened and removed.

However, in the true thrifty attitude that I have, I started looking at that matted undercoat, and started explaining how it was often easy to felt wool, and these fleeces had a good start of that already. What if....we just helped it along some, and made the fleeces into something that would at least be lovely to look at, if not usable.

And the rest is, as they actually don't say, a podcast. I thought that this podcast would benefit from lots of photos, so here they are, with some short explainations.

First I had to set up a work area, that would allow the soapy water to flow through the fleece, serving to keep the front from felting, and also to help actually clean the fleece. I came up with saw horses, a screen door frame, and a piece of wire fencing that had left over from making rabbit cages. Put all together it looked like this:

The source of water was my garden hose, so it was not hot. However Icelandic is not a high lanolin breed, and even with cool water, there was very little lanolin noticeable in the final clean fleece. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid for the soap, and a small circular piece of plastic needlepoint canvas, as my felting tool. I worked the soapy water into small areas of the back of the fleece, scrubbing in circular motions with the canvas. Here's how it looked, just getting started.

Now this was all an experiment, and so at this point, because I was getting very wet and soapy, I stopped taking photos. I really did not want to ruin my camera, it's the lifeblood of this blog. If you listen to the podcast I go into great detail about the whole process, from this point of felting all the way to getting the final fleece looking like this:

Here's a photo of the felted back:

It amazed me how well it worked. It doesn't amaze me that wool felts, just that I was able to put that felting to such an unusual use. The whole process let lots of soapy water run through the fleece as I was working, and I also let lots of water run through it, in the final rinsing. All of that made for a very clean fleece. After it was totally dry, I used a metal dog comb to fluff and raise the locks, not really combing, just gently using the comb to fluff and open the locks.

The deal was that I would take two of these fleeces, and try this experiment, and if it worked, to let the breeder pick one and I would keep the other. So when I was doing the second fleece I took more photos, knowing it would probably be the one the breeder kept. I was right. It's a smaller fleece, but an beautiful brown color. So here's a few more details on the process, with that brown fleece.

This is the fleece, lock side up, laid out on the screen, before any water has been applied.

This photo shows the back side of the fleece, before any water was applied. You can see the matted quality of the undercoat.

This is the actual felting process in progress. This is of course the underside, and the entire fleece has been saturated with water, and the soapy water is applied in smaller areas. I would work the felting process in sections, overlapping them, to make sure the entire area was connected by the felting.

This is the fleece after all the felting work is done, and before I did any rinsing.

And finally (drum roll please, this really is a lovely result)

OK I know it looks like a bear skin. It's not. It's wool and I could not be more proud of how lovely it looks.

For the second part of the podcast I put felting fleece to a more convention and practical use, a hat. Several years ago I attended a guild meeting and we spent the entire day making a felted hat from wool/llama batts. Again, all of the details are in the podcast. It's the same concept, soapy water and rubbing will felt and shape the wool. The guild was lucky in that the teacher had a wide variety of hat forms for use to use. These varied in style and size and shape and it's still amazing to me that she had that many to share. I later snagged one on Ebay, that is an antique and technically was probably used to steam shape wool hats after cleaning. But it could be used for the same process as we used that day, and I enjoy having the antique as part of my collection. Here's a photo.

And here's my hat from the class:

The wool/llama batts were dyed the green color before we started felting. The hat band is knitted in a lace pattern from hand spun silk. I used the same silk to do a blanket stitch around the edge of the hat for a more finished appearance. I have worn this hat now and then and it is very warm. It's especially wonderful on those days when it can not decide if it wants to rain or snow. The moisture just does not get on my head due to the wonderful thick wool.

So in spite of it being Halloween, and the time of spookiness, spinners can now see that felting fleece is not scary at all.

Friday, October 03, 2008

September podcasts information

I have been recording two podcasts a month for almost a year now, and generally have been creating a post on this blog for each one. I did not post though for the first podcast in September so I will combine the notes for both in this post.

The podcasts are on this website and you can download directly from there, or subscribe in ITunes under Yarnspinners Tales (do a search in the podcast area of ITunes).

Episode 19 was a technical show, all about how the different drives work on spinning wheels. I explain the three main types of bobbin and flyer drives used in spinning wheels. These are the flyer driven, bobbin driven or the double drive. I found it very interesting to learn how each of these types of wheels work, and think that if a spinner has this understanding, they will be able to make the wheel spin the yarn they want to create, and not have to just take the 'luck of the draw' (now there's a spinning term I had not thought of before, I wonder if it does relate back to spinning, just like 'asleep at the wheel').

I have a wheel that fits in each of these categories and I include in the explanations specific details about each of those wheels.

I really did not plan to post any photos relating to that podcast, but while I was uploading photos for the rest of this post, I found a good close up of my Haldane, showing the double drive. In the double drive, both the bobbin and the flyer are driven by the treadling. This photo shows how the one drive band goes over the groove in the bobbin and flyer.

This second photo shows how that one drive band is doubled on the drive wheel. Treadling the spinning wheel while turn the drive wheel and cause both the flyer and bobbin to turn. Listen to the podcast for a very detailed explanation of why this makes double drive wheels very specific for the type of yarn they will spin.

The late September podcast, just released, is the more informal spin-in podcast. I talk about two different rare, but often available sheep fleeces, and then later, while spinning, go into a yarnspinner tale about why there is so much stash at my house.

One of the breeds of sheep that I talk about is the Jacob. This is a very old breed, and is thought to be relatively true to the original genetics, considering all the years and flocks that have passed. The sheep is small, horned and known for their distinctive faces and multicolored fleeces. The best part of working with the Jacob fleece is the fun of deciding just how to spin the yarn, using those colors.

You can take the shades, and card them together to blend getting a yarn like the one on the left in this photo:

You can pull the colors apart and keep them completely separate, spinning each color into it's own lovely yarn, like this photo:

Or you can get creative, like I did once for my state fair, and spin an amount of one color, then another, then another. When you navajo ply, keeping the colors mostly together, and knit, you will get a yarn that is self striping, like in this photo:

The second sheep breed I discuss is mostly found in the southwest of the United States, the Navajo Churro. This breed was brought to the new world by the Spanish explorers, and was quickly adopted by the native americans, since the breed was hardy and survived well in the arid climate. The original genetics was mostly lost, but a breeding program in the 1970's brought the breed back close to the original.

This fleece is double coated and tends to have an extremely long and coarse outer coat, and a shorter, softer undercoat. Generally it is not considered soft enough for next to the skin wear, but is highly prized for Navajo weaving, because of it luster, and lovely dyeing results. It also comes in a wide range of natural colors, which are again prized for their beauty.

This is a sample of a roving I purchased. It felt soft and I am not sure if the outer coat had been removed or if the fleece was just a higher quality. It was lovely to spin.

This is some sample locks and yarn from a fleece I purchased and processed. The first photo shows the variety of color in the fleece.

And this photo shows some of the sample skeins I spun, after either carding or combing the washed fiber.

Although both of these breeds are considered rare, there are breeders in the US that have flocks of these sheep, or a few of the animals in their spinners flock. Both fleeces are lovely to work with, and truly fun to spin, and I would encourage you to try some, if you have the opportunity.

My 200th post

Wow, it's hard to believe. Now I am not one of those bloggers that can rack up hundreds of posts in one year. It's taken me exactly five years to reach this point. Other than a couple of practice posts earlier, this blog started in Sept 2003.

Everything's come a long way since it all started. Blogger has expanded and increased capabilities. Digital cameras became easy to use. The biggest hurdle of all was speed, when I finally was able to have DSL access from my home computer. It has made this blog easier to update, and fuller of photos.

I cherish this blog for being an archival tool, an outlet for my creativity, and most of all, for the fact that someone, somewhere is sharing all this with me.