Experiments in Raw Fleece – Sourcing The Goods

I’m nothing if not enthusiastic about something I really love, and I love spinning. Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer why I waited so long to get back into it, and I’m rather lamenting the lost time, but that’s OK. I’m back in it now, and I’ve been spinning fast and furiously, getting myself re-familiarized with the techniques.

But this is really what I want to talk about in this post. A whole lot of fleece.

A few weeks ago I was searching around, looking for some fleece from a local sheep farm. I’m not just interested in the whole spinning process – from prep to finished yarn – I’m also interested in finding local sources for my supplies. I’d to tell you that I’m incredibly high minded, and espouse a bunch of rhetoric about how that’s just better, but the fact of the matter is, I just like finding stuff as local to me as I can. I like being able to meet the folks that run it, I like ensuring the quality that I’m getting, and I like to save shipping costs as much as possible. There’s a whole big discussion to be had about local versus non-local, but maybe not on this blog (it’s a really big discussion, and as things so often are, there’s no simple answer for everything).

But I digress.

Raw Merino/Romney wool

So I started searching around, and my first find was a farm with a flock of Tunis sheep, but they had already sheared and sold all their wool, so that one was a bust (although they were very nice and told me to contact them in mid-February next year before shearing so I can get a fleece).

Then I happened upon an ad online, advertising wool from a Merino/Romney flock. I was a little worried that they had already sold off all their fleece, but I was in luck! Trickle Creek Farms, about six hours northwest of me, had a selection of Merino/Romney cross and Friesian fleeces still for sale.

And more in luck – they were heading my way soon and offered to meet up with me to grab some fleece from them.

Raw Friesian wool.

Fast forward to March 23rd, and I got to meet a lovely bunch of folks and acquired my full Merino/Romney fleece, and half a Friesian fleece. I knew I wanted the Merino/Romney for sure when I contacted them originally, but I was really pleased to see they had another breed I could try out as well. Everything I found online indicated that the wool is almost never used, since Friesians are primarily used for milk, but let me tell you, it feels quite soft (even still somewhat dirty and with all the lanolin still in). I’m really excited to see how it spins up.

The fleeces are really lovely – very clean (considering they haven’t been cleaned at all), and nice strong staples. The Merino/Romney is about 3″ and the Friesian is about 6″.

It’s still a bit too cold here to start processing outside, so I’m planning on doing a smaller batch of processing (think a few grams of each) just to get a feel for the wool and the process.

Did I mention I have no idea what I’m doing?

I hope to do the washing this week, so hopefully by next Sunday I’ll have a very small batch of washed fleece to show you, and if I’m feeling particularly industrious, maybe a small sample spun up.

Lessons Learned
    Start contacting farmers in later January or early February to get in on the fleece – shearing happens earlier than I thought
    Give every fleece a try – it might surprise you
Helpful This Week

As an aside, I plan on listing out these lessons & what has helped me this week at the end of these posts – just as a quick resource for anybody new to this whole process as well.

Let The Spin Party Begin

I’ve had a spinning wheel for some 10 years (or thereabouts) but I still consider myself a new spinner.

I originally received my Kromski Sonata as a birthday gift, and was ecstatic. I spun like crazy, and got reasonably good at it – I was able to spin relatively consistently, and I was getting the yarn I wanted.

Then, the unthinkable happened (queue dramatic music) – I suffered a truly ridiculous injury that caused some tendon and nerve damage to my wrist. Now, when I say ridiculous I don’t mean that it was trifling. I actually had to wear a brace for months, and had all sorts of doctors appointments and physio along with nerve testing (where they zap the nerves with electricity – that was fun). No, when I say ridiculous I mean I fell in a really dumb way, and if I hadn’t tried to grab something when I fell, it probably would have been, at most, a mild sprain.

So, that put the kibosh on spinning (and knitting for that matter) for a while. I took up the knitting again a lot faster than the spinning. The whole escapade was years ago at this point, but I didn’t start spinning again until just a few weeks ago.

And my god, spinning, how I have missed you!

Handspun natural brown alpaca – 226 yds of sport weight delight.

I felt like I had gotten to a pretty good point in my spinning before my sabbatical, but those skills have waned a bit, so I’m trying to re-learn techniques over again. But, I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I’m hell bent on getting back to where I was (and surpassing it, for that matter).

I have a bit of a longer game planned though.

I’ve also purchased two pounds (1 lb Corriedale and 1 lb Cheviot), not only to further practice on, but with the hopes of trying my hand at natural dyeing this summer.

I don’t recall exactly what sparked the interest, but a few weeks ago I decided that this would be my new project (and skill) to learn this summer. Actually, I’d get started now, but I find it easier to air dry hanks of yarn outside, rather than inside the house, and right now it’s -15C and snowing, so that’s not going to happen.

Some sport weight corriedale slated to be dyed.

I do have plans for starting some experiments soon though with colouring – I’ve enlisted family members to start collecting their onion skins, and I’ve started lists of plants I can start sourcing nearby.

My goal is to use plants I can get either locally, either from my garden or in the wild, or things I can get at the grocery store. I don’t plan to actually buy any specific natural dyes. This is partly because I’m cheap, but also the sourcing and experimenting with what I can find myself is something that gives me a bit of a thrill.

The end goal of all of this, the spinning and the dyeing, is to design some knits with these handspun yarns. I love the idea of completely creating something from scratch, and if I lived in the country you’d bet I’d already be looking at animal husbandry. Me living in the country will probably never happen (I’m just not a country person), but sourcing some fibre, spinning it, dyeing it, then designing something special that the yarn speaks to is a process that is really alluring to me.

Stay tuned – this will be a learning and experimental process for me as I go. I’ll be endeavouring to be quite thorough and take lots of notes, which I’ll be sharing here on the blog for those that might want to follow along and experiment themselves.

Pattern Release: Clovis Point Shawl

I’m very pleased to announce my newest release, the Clovis Point!

This is a top-down shawl, with instructions for two sizes (and easily adjusted to fit your desired measurement). Using a selection of cables, lace, and textured stitches, it provides interest while knitting, and creates a harmonious piece that can become an every day staple in your wardrobe. Pick one all over colour, or pick two, using the textured border as a highlight to the main body (the above images show it in Cascade 220 Sport in the Straw and Ginseng colourways).

I took my inspiration for this design from the forms of Clovis projectile points – slender fluted points that were used as spear and dart heads, dating to as early as approximately 13,200 years ago. Named after the city where they were first discovered – Clovis, New Mexico – these have actually been found as far south as Venezuela and all the way north into Alberta.

One of the things I love about archaeology is that you can see, in tangible form, the history of ideas taking shape and spreading. Often when I tell people that while I was in university that I had a particular interest in trade routes of North America, you can actually see eyes begin to glaze over.

But it’s not just stuff that gets moved around, it’s the ideas that come with it. Clovis projectile points are an excellent example – you can actually see a new method and technology begin, and through tracing where that technology ends up, you can see what culture connect with other cultures, and the ideas spread.

A Clovis projectile point isn’t just a spear head, it’s our shared history of learning and of our movement (physically and metaphorically) as a species, and that I find infinitely inspirational.

Click here to go to the pattern page or here to go to the Ravelry page, where you’ll find more info on sizes, yardage, and materials needed.

To celebrate it’s release, if you purchase the pattern anytime from now until February 12th (midnight MST) you automatically get 15% at check out (no coupon code required).

On Breaks & Fresh Perspectives

What a crazy past few weeks!

Although much late, I do wish to say I hope everybody had a lovely holiday season. Mine was busy (but good), and the past few weeks I’ve been down for the count with various minor ailments that have been taking up far too much of my time an energy – capped off by a wicked head cold that completely thwarted all my attempts to knit (damnit).

I am very happy, however, that in December (and a bit into January) I decided to take a few weeks off from designing and instead, focused on knitting some other designer’s patterns.

The first, and my official entry into the 2016 Indie Designer Gift-A-Long was the Stranger Things Cowl by Mary Annarella. I love this thing! It’s so lovely and warm, and the design is incredibly fun. I knit it with Drops Alpaca, which is a little fuzzy for a stranded pattern, but the feel of it is heavenly. It’s so much fun to wear, and fans of the show immediately get it.

I ended up using 225 yds of the light grey and 206 yds of the dark grey. Why 20 yards less when both sides are exactly the same? Who knows, it’s one of those mysteries.

The second project I made up was Ella Austin’s Leighton House Handwarmers. Again, I used a slightly fuzzier alpaca – I really have to stop doing that for extremely fine stranded patterns. But the siren call of soft warm alpaca is something I can’t beat. However, when I knit this pattern again (which I will), I will go with a yarn that affords a bit more stitch definition, so I can really do this design its justice.

What I loved most about this pattern (besides just how plain beautiful it is), is although it’s extremely finely detailed, the repeats are very easy to remember. For the yarn I used Scheepjes Alpaca Rhythm in three colours: the light blue (cuff and Latvian braids) I used approximately 26 yards, for the dark blue on the hand I used about 61 yards, and for the whitish main colour I used 96 yards – leaving more than half the balls. I could easily knit up another pair without purchasing any more yarn!

So as you can see, I’ve been on a bit of a stranded kick lately.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on my own patterns. After a few weeks break I came back looking at a few projects fresh, which is exactly what they needed, and jotted down ideas for a few more. I even came up with a long-form multi-release project, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while but couldn’t quite nail down exactly what I wanted to do.

Sometimes mini-breaks are all you need to clear the cobwebs out. Gives you a fresh perspective on something that otherwise you’re starting to run circles around.

Indie Design GAL: Socks Part 2

This is part of my on-going Indie Designer Gift-A-Long 2016 series, where from November 23rd – December 31st I highlight some patterns from my fellow designers also participating in the event! Each post will highlight at minimum 5 different designers and their patterns.

Don’t forget to join in the fun, we’re all over here chatting up a storm (when our fingers aren’t flying that is).

Fright Night by Lara Smoot

From the pattern description
What do you do when your next door neighbor is a Vampire? Well in the case of a knitting pattern designer, you design socks with a Vampire theme and hope for the best! These socks were inspired by one of my all time favorite Halloween movies, Fright Night and my love for Vampire horror movies in general.

Available in M and L, uses approximately 530 – 570 yds fingering weight yarn.

Gertrude Bell by Virginia Sattler-Reimer

From the pattern description
Inspired by the fantastic book: Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations. I used the gorgeous color Glazed Pecan for these socks, thinking of desert sands and camels and the adventures of Gertrude Bell!

Available in one size, uses approximately 350 – 420 yds fingering weight yarn

No Parking by Alison Ziegler Designs

From the pattern description
No Parking! is an easy stranded sock pattern with an all over, mirror-image graphic design and a no-wrap short row heel. The all over diagonal patterning on these cuff down socks allows for lots of creativity on your part.

Available in S, M, L, uses approximately 250 – 400 yds of fingering weight yarn

Short Circuit by Jo Torr

From the pattern description
This is a fun, toe-up pattern in a stranded design, suitable for both men and women. The instructions for the construction of the socks are all written, the colourwork pattern is only charted.

Available in S, M, L, uses approximately 450 yds of fingering weight yarn

Paths Crossing Socks by Karen Buhr

From the pattern description
This is a fun top-down cabled sock pattern. It is good for adventurous beginners and advanced knitters who are familiar with sock construction and knitting in the round.

Available in S and L, uses approximately 380 – 500 yds of fingering weight yarn