A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a pair of English wool combs. They were sold out at the time but the people in the shop were kind enough to allow me to backorder. Now all I had to do was wait a few days and let the spiky goodness arrive at my doorstep!
Finally, they were here.
It occurs to me that these would make great Wolverine claws for Halloween, were I in the mood to risk self-injury… Seriously, despite knowing these are pointy, sharp objects, it still surprised me to find out exactly how sharp they were in a slight moment of distraction. Note to self: don’t daydream when handling wool combs.
If you’re not sure what wool combs are for, these brilliant tools are used to process fleeces for spinning. They work by separating, aligning and combing the wool locks, whilst also getting rid of any vegetable matter (VM). The end result is a fluffy and lovely cloud that you’re supposed to carefully diz off the combs, ending up with a longish sort of roving.
Ideally, you’ll place the locks facing the same direction, which in my case was cut side nearest the tines, ends on the outside.
These are lovely locks from a Texel cross lamb’s first shear’s fleece. I washed it myself. They’re so soft and all I want to do is bury my face in them.. (which I definitely have. Don’t judge.)
Next, you carefully start teasing the tips of the locks apart with the other comb, which will transfer a bit of fibre to said comb at each pass. As you keep doing this, the longer staples of wool will move and the shortest bits will remain on the clamped comb. You’re meant to discard these short bits, but I keep them to make dryer balls.
You can see above that the fibre left behind retains some VM. I don’t mind it because it’s clean, and won’t be seen once the dryer balls are covered in commercially processed wool top. Waste not, want not.
You will do this transferring of fibre from one comb to the other until you’re happy with how the wool looks. The one below was on the third pass.
There was still a tiny bit of VM but I don’t mind.
Since I wasn’t planning on spinning this wool, I didn’t diz it off the comb, I simply pulled it all off together very gently, so it all came off at the same time.
After 30 minutes I had a few clouds.
I’ll be gathering a lot of this fluff into a bag and, once I have enough, I’ll card it on my drum carder and make batts to sell to spinners and felters. Lamb wool really is like a cloud and I’m loving playing with it.
To end this post in my usual tradition, here’s a completely unrelated photo I took a few days ago that I find amusing. This was on a building I happened to pass by here in Edinburgh.
In an earlier post we found out that 3 breeds of sheep were created by Agriculture Canada mixing existing breeds to create a sheep that would give; multiple births, fast-growing lambs and ewe’s with good mothering instincts. At first, their goal was to make a breed of sheep for research purposes but as the project continued they developed into 3 separate breeds; the Rideau Arcott, the Outaouais Arcott and the Canadian Arcott. Since they have been bred mostly for their meat, the fleeces around here are variable often strikingly different between individuals in the same flock. The Rideau Arcott’s fleeces I have worked with before, on my highly technical scale, have ranged from OOOOH! all the way to Ick!
This being the first Canadian Arcott fleeces I have worked with I am testing their qualities and seeing what they may be best for. If you find a Canadian Arcott, it will likely be more lustrous than the Rideau Arcotts, and less variability between individual fleeces. (This is a strong rumour and your Canadian may vary a bit from the breed standard. It’s always best to look at each fleece as an individual)
Last post I tested Ram #2 (it’s ram number two because he was the second one out of the bag.) His ewes are employed as lawn maintenance specialists at a local solar farm.
We found that the fleece worked well with both combing and carding preparations producing a niece yarn from each. I had kept the combing waste and had carded up extra fibre to try the next set of experiments with it. So let’s see what I found out next!!
Comb waist needle felting test
Let’s see what the comb waist is like for felting (I have had very good results from some of Bernadette’s Combing waste fibre for both core and outer layers) she has very good fibre so even the waste is good!!
Ram 2, even in this relatively clean section I have sampled, had some VM (Vegetable Matter) which the combs separated brilliantly. This meant my sample section had VM amongst the fibre short bits and naps. This will be a good test of some of the lesser quality fibre from this fleece.
33 test with comb wast
This is not as fast to needle felt as a Shetland but it has springiness and lustre. For an understructure that needs to be relatively firm but have some give that springs back, it might be perfect. (A belly perhaps?)
34 close up of needle felted ball-ish shape.
I was using a courser needle I think it was one of the T-36’s for this sample. It created a slightly dented surface but if I had switched to a T-40 or paid more attention to how I was poking, I think it would have been able to make it a bit smoother but it was quite acceptable for an underlayer. I did notice a bit of a very fine halo that is more visible in the shadowed areas.
Now the last consideration, can it be wet felted. I have a feeling it may not be good since it shows signs of stubbornness with the lovely fine crimp. But let’s see. There is always hope until it is crushed mercilessly.
So let’s try the carded fibre and layout a sample. To give it the best chance for felting I laid thin wispy layers in alternating directions North /south then east /west. I repeated until I had a puffy pile about an inch thick.
35 approximately 2.5 inches square
I had received a number of small bubble wrap bags with the larger needle felting tools (the 3 needle holders were all very poorly packed and had no bubble wrap)
36 bubble wrap bag that needle felting tool cam in.
I found one of the smaller pouches and placed the layered fleece inside with the bubble facing in. now to add soap and water. Hmm, maybe I better try and start it first in my hand then put it into the bubble wrap.
First, this wool is not a sponge. I used a lot of soap and warm water to wet the fibres, some of which collected in the bottom of the bubble wrap bag. I also discovered bubbles do not make good waterproof bags, they drip. So I put it into an extra-large sandwich bag to contain the wetness.
37 Ooops this bag leaks in the corners!!! need better waterproofing!!!
38 XL sandwich bag!! that will make felting safe!!
I started with gentle caresses across the bubble wrap then moved to gently rubbing it between my hands. I focused on working in both vertical and horizontal directions. The wool has spread out but doesn’t feel like it’s grabbing yet. Let me find a video to watch and I will keep going.
39-40 taking a quick peek
41 cant see what I’m doing too many bubbles!!!
As the soap built up I went and rinsed some of it out.
42 43 There does seem to be adhesion! But let’s see if I can get a bit more. I put it back into the bubble wrap bag and put that into the sandwich bag. Now, to add more enthusiasm to the rubbing!
44 Now off for a rinse and see what we have and is it felt?
45 Drying, look how thin it is. There was some shrinkage as well as some migration at the edges.
46 Yes, that is defiantly felt! with the lateral migration, it is very thin.
47 no longer the about 2.5inch square I started with.
47 it certainly isn’t an inch thick anymore!
Ann wanted to know “Did it shrink at all? When I have felted some of the “nonfelting” wool before it didn’t shrink. It did stick together but as you say, you could pull it apart. It would make good sheets of batting to go in a quilt”
I don’t think it would be a good one for quilting it flattened too much. I think it may have shrunk but it also spread so I think it spread about an inch but it is also a lot thinner than it started. It did shrink if you consider it vertically even with the displacement into extra width.
This might be effective when mixed with some more enthusiastically felting sheep and then used for a super thin light summer scarf or shawl. It may be a good base to build up from. I may have to do another sample to see how it reacts with different sheep and other fibre
it is softer in texture than the spun yarn. I could probably tear it apart if I really tugged a bit. It is holding to the pinch test but again if I was more aggressive I could likely pull off the uppermost layer. So a bit more aggressive felting might have helped its cohesiveness. Even with that stated it is at the stage that it is definitely felt and not fibre. It kind of reminds me of cookie dough that looked thick as it went in the oven but when cooked spread into a puddle
I think this would not be a top choice for most wet felting projects but some of its properties may be useful. I think this may be more of a fleece to look at for weaving. Its low elasticity would defiantly be a plus when making a warp!
PS just got my second covid shot yesterday and it may be bright and sunny out but I think it’s time for bed. this time I got the Phyzer version and it’s much nicer than the AZ (i feel like I was kicked in the arm by a small mule then climbed a large mountain.) if I can avoid getting covid it will all be worth it!! have fun felting and I will chat more when I wake up.
I told you last post that I had re-bagged the two Canadian Arcott Rams. They looked quite well skirted but one seemed more careful with his personal hygiene than the other. I started with Ram #2 who seemed to enjoy his dust baths.
3 Ram #2 4 Ram #15 #2 unwashed sample
Getting on to the Washing
Glenn got one of the washing buckets out and I pulled out the strainer buckets and divided the fleece into 7 portions, 4 quite clean and 3 less clean.
6-8 test washing of some of the cleanest looking parts of ram #2
This year I tried elevating the washing bucket so it was easier to lift and lower the strainer bucket within it. This was easier until it was time to dump the water out of the bucket. I lifted the strainer buck out and left it hanging to drip on one of the blacksmith hooks. That went well but as I started to tilt the bucket to pour out the dirty water it started to splash on the asphalt driveway. It was determined to get me wet with all the splashing! Luckily, I had thought ahead and worn my rain boots! So my feet remained dry but the lower part of my jeans may now need a wash (but with cleaner water this time)
Glenn brought the RV hand washer and spin-dryer up from the laundry room (it just sat there over the winter)
11-12 Glenn Helps with the spin cycle.
After a quick spin, it was onto the drying rack.
13 Now a pause, while the wool dry’s
14 Glenn takes time to smell the roses.
And now back to work. The test washing of ram 2 is ready to take a look at.
15 now it’s time to eat ice cream with strawberry and think of the different fibre preparations I would like to try with this fleece. let me go find my hand carders and my mini combs! (but after I finish the ice cream)
Now that we have the Canadian Arcott (Ram #2) cleaned let’s make a few tests to find out what this fleece wants to become! not all fleeces are good for all purposes, so we should get curious and try a few options. this will tell us more about this breed I have not tried before.
Hand Carding the wool Test
Let’s see what happens when we try hand carding. I have a few hand cards, I chose the ones I like the best with the curved backs and have a nice carding cloth. I got them second-hand and have not tried to figure out the teeth count I should probably figure that out eventually.
16-17 rolags from the Hand Cards
Yes, that feels quite soft and lofty but there is definitely some lustre too. This could be interesting as knit socks. If only I Knit!!
Carded spun sample
I used the carders, created rolags and used the Electric Eel Wheel 6.0 (EEW6) to spin the singles.
I plied on the spindle since I didn’t want to switch bobbins for a small sample
18-19 2 ply sample
20 I hung the wool to dry in the window. Even without sunshine, it dried quite quickly.
21 washed 2 ply woollen prep.
There is a bit of elasticity in the woollen preparation but not as much stretch as other fleeces I have spun. I think it would make a good blanket or throw if woven and used as warp or weft.
I then took some of the combed fibre and spun it on the Electric Eel Wheel 6.0 (EEW6) as I did with the carded sample.
27 EEW6 with 2 ply sample
It was easy to spin. I plied on one of my drop spindles since I still didn’t want to change bobbins for the short sample I had created.
28 Washed locks, combed fibre and 2 ply yarn.
29 the unwashed 2 ply samples.
You can see the halo already. I will wash and dry the rest of the sample. I made a mini skein, washed it, swung it around the bathtub, whapped it on the side of the sink then hung it up in the window with a small weight.
30 Hanging in the window to dry. Unfortunately, this seems to have inspired darker skies and rain!
33 washed 2py combed top
When dry; the yarn feels coarser than I had anticipated. It is not as soft as a Merino, more like a Corriedale but with less elasticity. There is very little stretch in the yarn so I am now curious as to how it would work as a warp for weaving. This breed may be ideal for warps.
Comparing the Woolen (carded) vs the semi-worsted (Combed) yarns. The Woolen does have more loft, bloom and halo and slightly greater elasticity. Both would work as weft but I suspect the Combed will be a bit better weft since it has less bloom or halo to interfere in the heddles.
Next, we will check out the felting properties of this sample of Canadian Arcott. We will use the comb waste to check its ability to be needle felted and some of the Carding to check if it will wet felt. Ann is thinking it will not. Let’s see what happens next week!
My first fleeces of the year were purchased today. Even better, I was picking them up at the same Farmers Market where Ann sells delicious tarts, cookie, Bread and pies! The Market is set up so you go in a big circle with all the booths have space and a wide gravel path. This year there are more booths.
1-2 Barhaven Farmers Market
3 Ross and Ann!
I bought Mom a couple of Chocolate chip cookies (they are her favorites) as well as Cookies and tarts for Glenn. More customers were arriving so I couldn’t stay and chat so it’s time to move on to the Fleece.
4 Note the bag of fleece in the back left corner of the booth!
The fleeces I purchased were Rams who belong to a flock of about 300 sheep. The Ewes are gainfully employed as professional Lawn maintenance specialists, keeping the weeds trimmed under solar panels! I hear the burrs that were in last year’s fleece have been almost eradicated. (I did not see any in the fleeces I got this year as I re-bagged them).
5 This is a bit better view of the 2 skirted Rams.
6-7 Distracted by small cool wild flowers beside the parking spot.
Now to get back to the important parts, these rams are Canadian Arcotts. This is a breed that you may have had the opportunity to have fun with before. Its one of 3 breeds (Canadian, Outaouais and Rideau Arcott) developed by the Canadian government here in Ottawa. The last part of their name, Arcott, stands for Animal Research Centre Ottawa. The Arcott breeding program began in 1966 with the goal to create a breed which reproduced rapidly for genetic and other sheep research. The original mix of breads are listed as Finnish Landrace, Southdown, East Friesian, Suffolk, Leicester, North Country Cheviot, Ramnelet, Dorset Horn, Shropshire and Ile-de-France for the Arcotts.
1982 all three Arcotts were recognized as distinct breeds. Rideau Arcott mature quickly grows rapidly and often have triplets. Although they are primarily a meat breed, their wool is described as a medium quality and variable. The Outaouais Arcott are also know for fast growing and often having triplets. There fleece is considered variable and there was a mention of good for milking. The Canadian Arcott is considered as a good meat breed with fast growth. The fleece was listed as Soft, lustrous 3-4 inches long and a 25 – 33 micron count.
I unfortunately do not have a photo of the rams who produced these fleeces. If this was in smell-i-vision you could experience the lovely sheepy aroma. Some rams are a bit aggressive aromaticly, but both of these fleeces have a more normal sheepy smell.
8-11 Fleece #1- Ram professionally sheered and well skirted. The crimp is tighter than fleece #2. The locks I used as an unwashed sample are about 3.5 inches long.
12-15 Fleece #2 – Ram professionally sheered and well skirted. Not as crimpy as Ram #1. The stale length is about 3 inches on the unwashed sample I pulled.
Both these look like they would make fun spinning fleeces and I look forward to sampling them for felting. I have not worked with a Canadian Arcott before so this will be both fun and educational. There will be samples to share but first I have to finish cleaning up the side yard so I have space to wash and dry the fleeces!
Coming up on Monday will be our guild A.G.M. We will also be having a fiber poker challenge. This year as well as Spinning and Weaving there will be a deck for Felting! I will tell you about that in a future post.
Have fun and keep felting, spinning, weaving, fleece washing! So much to do we need to make the days longer! Oh yes its summer, that will help!!
I just love this fibre because it makes both amazing wet and needle felted items. It comes in batt format in 49 dyed and 9 natural colours. At 27 micron it is a rougher fibre and has a moderate staple length of 3-5cm.
I fell for this fibre not just because of its felting qualities, but also because the product is made by happy sheep that spend their summers up in the high Swiss alps — travelling on ancient roman roads to get there. After they are shorn in a traditional manner, the wool is transported to a small Swiss family business where it is washed only with washing soda (aka sodium carbonate or soda ash is a natural cleaner and a powerful water softener. It’s very basic with a pH of 11). The washing process is environmentally friendly and the wastewater is safely returned to the local mountain stream. The wool is dyed carefully and without any harsh chemicals — using just natural vinegar and acid dyes. The wool is dried outside on warm metal roofing (weather permitting). In winter the warmth created by the dyeing process is used to heat the building.
The fibre is exceptionally clean as the carding machines have special vacuums installed to remove VM (Vegetable Matter naturally occurring in sheep fleeces) and ensure it doesn’t get back into the wool.
Due to the ease of felting with Swiss Mountain Sheep wool, kids love working with it. The fibre can also be laid out very thin to create transparent felts.
Combine Swiss Mountain sheep with Maori or other Bergschaf yarns. You can also combine it with 18/19 micron to create an inner layer that is next to skin soft when making garments. I love making slippers with an inner layer of 18/19 micron merino batt or Kap Merino and the outer layer being Swiss Mountain, combining softness with hard wearing wool.
Yak and Mulberry Luxury Roving
A custom blend made for The Olive Sparrow — this is a commercially triple-blended roving/top which mixes the silk with the yak to create a lovely variegated roving. Although it requires some gentle coaxing to wet felt due to the high content of mulberry silk, the resulting felt is an absolute dream to wear right next to the skin.
The yak fibre is naturally fawn coloured, the mulberry silk is undyed.
To produce yak fibre for felting, the soft fine under hair is the desirable element of this animal’s coat and is removed commercially by dehairing, which separates the soft under hair from the coarse outer hair, known as guard-hair.
This also makes a lovely spun yarn.
Using acid dyes on this fibre is very interesting — the yak and its brown/yellow undertones combined with the undyed silk to absorbs colours differently and will make mottled/variegated tones. As the fibre is very fine, it lends itself to be dyed after felting or spinning.
The fibre length is 75-80mm.
I love using mint fibre in the same way as mulberry silk — the softly off-white colour and the slight mat sheen give a look between the extra shiny mulberry silk and the much softer gloss of tussah silk.
Mint is a new biodegradable cellulose fibre that is infused with mint powder that is extracted from peppermint leaves. It does not smell of mint and has a lovely soft and cottony texture. This soft golden fibre has antibacterial properties and natural cooling properties. Mint infused roving can be dyed using natural plant dyes and mordants or other dyes suitable for cellulose fibres. Perfect for spinning and blending with fibres such as cotton, silk, wool and Linen. Great surface inclusion for wet felting. A wonderful vegan needle felting alternative.
Q-2 Two tools you use all the time?
I use my ball brauser — I generally have two on the go at the same time. I also love the hand-pumped vegetable sprayers from the garden centre to wet-out large areas. When doing a sculptural piece, handheld massage tools make shrinking of specific areas very fast. Thin painter’s plastic as one layer on bubble wrap — and I always use the bubble side down when initially starting to felt.
Q-1 One fibre art technique you love the most?
Having been blessed with learning handwork techniques from grade 2 onwards, my arsenal of techniques means that I often will blend them all together in a project. Because of the shop keeping me quite busy and still being needed as a mother, most of my creative time I spend making dolls or knitting simple items. Yet especially in doll making, I frequently wet felt garments for the dolls. Doll making lets me use all my skills. In wet felting, I love making long voluminous shawls — generally using at least a 4m length and 30” width. I also love working with Teeswater locks — washing, sorting, dying them. I sew them into wefts for my dolls and use them as fringes in shawls.
What is your business?
The Olive Sparrow.
Good Hand-Made Goods made by You and Me
Here is a bit of background information about how this all came to be:
The Olive Sparrow is me, Monika Aebischer, I am a felter and a natural fibre doll artist. I quite proudly call myself a crazy when it comes to collecting books about wet and needle felting. In a previous life, I was a mixed media artist with work in galleries across Canada. Sadly during the 2008 financial crash, the art market collapsed and I was forced to re-invent myself. As I had fallen in love with felt making during my student years at the Ontario College of Art and Design and had taken some wet felting workshops in Switzerland, it seemed to be the right direction to go. It also worked very well with my doll making — I needle felt the heads of my dolls and also make felted clothing for some of them. While growing up in Switzerland as part of my apprenticeship in selling women’s clothing, I studied fibres and textile manufacturing.
The Olive Sparrow shop started as a way to bring supplies to my felting students — I taught a 5-day felting intensive workshop at Loyalist College for 4 years every summer from 2011 – 2015. Every year I would import specialty felting fibres from Europe for my students. These students then wanted to purchase fibre after the workshop. Learning that there are several Fibre Festivals around Ontario made me realize that there was an opportunity to share these fibres with other felters. My painting studio slowly turned into a shop — alongside my selling on Etsy. I decided that the shop was going to focus on Felting supplies and not be another general fibre shop. I also decided that the focus will be on European felting fibres, rather than local fibres.
After 20 years in that space, I was forced to move in 2018, as the old building was being turned into condos. Now located in the East end of Toronto, the shop is in an industrial building — and open by appointment. There are about 600 square feet full of fibre, commercial 100% wool felt, Waldorf doll supplies, Sajou notions from France and select other items. The shop is also somewhat flexible, in that it can be transformed into a workshop space for 1-3 students.
Before we were in this Pandemic, the Olive Sparrow could be found at various fibre festivals — Twist, Picton, Woodstock, Peterborough, Knitter’s Frolic, Kitchener/Waterloo knitters festival, and other smaller events. 2020 has meant a focus on building out the online presence and extending inventory.
What kind of items do you sell?
Too many to list, however, here is a sampling —
18/19 micron roving in over 100 colours
24 Micron roving
Swiss Mountain Sheep batt
19 micron merino Batt
Pre-felt (both in 40 x 40 cm sheets) and by the meter
Maori and Maori/Bergschaft batt
100% wool felt by the sheet and many colours by the meter
Unicorn Power Scour
Premium locks – Teeswater extra length
Wool felt balls/hearts/stars from Nepal
Silk – Mulberry, Tussah
The Olive Sparrow locks in Vogue
Hand Dyed locks
The Olive Sparrow is an official DHG Dyehouse reseller — carrying all of the pre-felt colours, as well as an extensive selection of 19 micron roving, 19 micron batt, sari silk waste, mulberry silk and a variety of other fibres.
What do you think makes your business different from similar ones?
Unique premium products from Europe — all our goods are imported from Europe. Volume discounts to help small-scale makers. Teaching workshops – private and customized — creativity counselling. Very hands-on knowledgeable. A brick and mortar shop that is open by appointment and sells online.
Where are you located?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – at 19 Waterman Avenue — which is an industrial area just south of Eglinton and just off the Don Valley Parkway.
Silk, silk and silk! It goes with everything and always improves any project I create. I consider it a ‘workhorse fibre’ due to how adaptable it is. Even the smallest amount does wonders and I consider it essential for any of my personal projects, or where I want to really wow someone.
Q-2 Two tools you use all the time?
A felting rolling pin. I start all of my felting projects with this. It takes the hard work out of felting and I don’t have to roll the felt up, I can work on it flat. Within minutes I can have a large piece of felt that is ready to be developed further.
My trilobite finishing tool. I use the tool at the end of the felting process to give a sheen and smooth finish to my felt. It works especially well when I’m using silk.
Q-1 One fibre art technique you love the most?
I looooove *gestures at the void* how can you ask me to narrow it down?! I suppose if I had to choose, I love making nuno felted garments using fibres I’ve dyed myself.
What is your business?
Marie Redding Arts
What kind of items do you sell?
Felting, weaving, crafting, knitting materials, tools and supplies. I also create and sell my own yarn and locally sourced sheep fleece and locks.
I supply a wide range of wooden tools which my master carpenter makes just for me, to my designs.
I ship worldwide and have customers in every country which has enriched my experience and consider myself very lucky.
I’ve recently started creating spirit dolls on a custom basis as well. They’ve proven to be very popular with my customers.
What do you think makes your business different from similar ones?
I have a unique eye for colour and use books for inspiration, such as Alice In Wonderland
I make sure every order that goes out is special and contains little gifts. I also pride myself on being a one stop shop and cater for all my customers’ needs if I can, with a very diverse range of goods. Being plastic free as much as possible is important to me.
Marie has done an amazing giveaway of a felting basket of goodies. To get in on the draw leave a comment below. Make sure there is an email attached to your profile so we can contact you. (don’t post your email ) If we can’t contact you we will pick another number. Marie will use a random number generator on May 4th to pick the lucky winner and I will announce it in my blog post on May 5th.
A luxury mixed media treasure chest in a gorgeous wicker hamper, ideal for a gift or a treat just for you. A bumper haul of mixed media fibre in your chosen complementary colours, merino wool, hand dyed silks, beads, hand dyed nylon sparkle, hand dyed locks and Teeswater fleece, and a gorgeous piece of luxury fabric to top it off! Presented in a beautiful wicker hamper which can be supplied gift wrapped at no extra cost, with a gift message or blank gift tag. This kit has no plastic packaging as I care about the environment.
This year the flax study group planted the seed we had harvested from last year. We had enough to double our planting and had 2 rows planted this year. We had 2 covid-modified weeding parties at 4 to 6 inches of growth but without the wonderful cake to celebrate successful weeding!
The first part of the summer was very dry and hot so the flax was ready earlier than anticipated. We left the harvested bundles of Flax resting against the garden fence to dry.
Then the weather turned and it rained and rained and rained. (I should not have been trying to wash those fleeces in the side yard! See the blog post about sentient weather.) The flax started its retting while it tried to dry. Once it had finally dried enough, we were back out (August 29th) to extract seed from stock. The seeds this year are MUCH smaller than last years, and lighter in weight. The seed pods were definitely ready to pick but the dry weather was hard on the plants (shorter in stature and smaller seeds). We used a number of seed extraction methods. The double rakes were great and the pillowcases and rolling pins were effective too. Unfortunately, winnowing (using the wind to seperate chaff from seed) was not working, not much wind and the seed was as light as the chaff) we had the best success with Henrys Sieves from the grain silos. (Brilliant idea Henry!!)
Next the Flax, now de-seeded, went to the spa. (large trough of water with therapeutic cinderblocks to hold it under!) With the retting complete, we were ready to move on to the violent part of the process; Brakes, Skutching and the lovely Hackles! We set a date in November that we hoped most of us would be available to meet again at Cathy Louises’ coverall barn (the part the cows don’t live in! They are very cute cows but I don’t want to have to share the flax with them)
Now that we are all caught up again, let’s get to the best part of Flax processing; the vicious violent bits!
11/07/2020 Covid canceled our Guild sale but that leaves the Saturday free to start in on the flax. We met at the coverall barn on a fabulously wonderful un-fall-like day. It was so nice we worked in front of the barn, enjoying mild weather, the sun and no rain!
Step 1 Braking;
The first step was braking the flax stocks to loosen and start the removal of the outer stock covering (the boon) from the long inner fibres which will become the linen. Bernadette, Ann and Cathy Louise experimented with hand braking before sending it to the brake but that was not as helpful as we had hoped. If you did not have access to a flax brake this may be an option for you but it would take a lot of working the stocks to loosen the boon.
Glenn and Gord were our main brakers this year. Glenn’s knee has been bothering him (postal work has not been diminished by Covid) so he quickly gave up on standing and has perfected the seated braking position.
We had a couple of flax videos posted on our OVWSG flax study group Facebook page they were unfortunately in German (about Hackling) and in Russian about braking. From the video, Glenn modified his technique on the second Saturday to add scraping movements to the end of the braking. This seemed to make the next step a little easier.
The technique seems to be to hold the root end, start at the tip (where the seeds were) and brake towards the roots flipping which side of the bundle is facing up. This first pass was done vigorously. Then work from the tip towards roots a little at a time still flipping the bundle but scraping gently each section as it is finished. Then flip and work the roots, which often broke off.
23 the fibre is handed off to the next step
Step 2 Skutching;
As we got going, we had two primary brakers and 2-3 skutchers and the rest of us were on Hackle duty or taking photos. Skutching is a percussive movement hitting or flicking the stocks to loosen and remove as much of the outer layer as possible. The Skutching team were finding that splitting the bundle (by gently tugging on the ends) then reorienting the stocks parallel and continuing to skutch was effective.
30 fibre is sent to the next step
There was an intermittent breeze that kept depositing fibre into the shrubberies. (Sort of like pre-Christmas tinsel) I am sure the birds were sorry we didn’t do this part in the spring.
31-33 Early Christmas tincil
Step 3 Hackles!!
The next step is my favourite part, the Hackles. They’re like a very sharp multi-pitch Viking comb that is clamped to the table. The flax is dragged through the top of the sharp pointy bloodletting teeth, removing even more of the boon. I watched the German video about Hackles, it was highly informative even with my only random words of German. He definitely was adamant about the angle, I think? I tried to mimic his diagonal pull through with change of direction on exiting the hackles. I also tried the flipping one side up then the other for each pass. This left the flax quite clean.
The hackling starts through the coarsest teeth then moves to finer and finer. Each step removes more boon. I was able to take out a few stubborn bits by flicking at them with a fingernail. We also were drafting off the hackles as the tow built up in it. The remnants still trapped in the comb, we bagged to process with the drum carder next week.
44 some of the line
Just so you don’t think we were horribly overworked, we did break for Pizza
We did quite well today but only got about half way through the harvest, well we did double the planting we did this year! So far, the flax is short but very fine. We bagged the tow for next week and made little stricks of the line. We did do a lot of work but it doesn’t show from the pile remaining!
Some of the flax has a distinct hue of green. The rest looks very familiar.
11/14/2020 Day 2, similar in process to day 1 but with less sun or good temperatures.
It was much colder today, still no fluffy solid rain or serious cloud dandruff, yet (Yeah!!) so we moved into the coverall to work. The hacklers were by the barn door, while it provided great light there was a cool breeze. We continued to work on the braking and finished it off, leaving one bundle to compare with last years. We continued working on the skutching and hackling and added making batts with the tow.
Our tow team today was Deborah and Cathy Louise.
Deborah and Cathy Louise worked together to make batts of the tow. We tried one pass but decided to try a second pass which was markedly improved. They tried a third pass, but it was deemed very similar to the second pass. We found the waste from the drum carder to be very soft and have kept it. We tried hand combing it with small 2 pitch hand combs with a good test result. We will collect the carding waste and comb it later. Using the drum carder caused a lot of the chaff/boon to drop out underneath it.
67-68 first and second pass
69-70 Second and third pass
71-72 Drum carder waste combed
We compared last year’s plant after retting to this year and saw a difference in height and this year’s plants are much finer in the stock. They were planted about 2 weeks earlier, but also harvested earlier than last year. We did not harvest too soon since the plants had flowered and were producing seeds so it was the correct time to harvest. It was extremely dry this summer until we harvested then it rained, a lot!
We got most of the skutching finished today too.
We bagged up the batts of tow we created today. We will be weighing the amounts of line and tow we have created likely next week.
We will be back to work for our last day of processing this year next Saturday. There is a bit more to hackle then all the tow to process. When we are done, we will weigh out the tow and line and see what our yield was this year. Although the flax was definitely reduced in height the fineness of the fiber is spectacular, even the tow is soft and quite nice. I am looking forward to getting one of the flax wheels upstairs and put to work spinning part of this year’s harvest.
The spot we had the flax growing this summer is turned for winter and garlic has been planted there. It has been an amazing experience working with the flax team. Next year is a bit up in the air, we will hope to be changing planting locations or we may wind up taking a summer off.
The last time I wrote, I talked about dyeing yarn. As an indie dyer, my job is to create colourful yarn that someone else will turn into something beautiful. That’s pretty much the norm.
Now, what if I turned that regular idea around and dyed the finished item instead? What would happen? Let’s find out!
I had some very lovely 4-ply yarn at hand, plus some mohair lace that was just coarse enough to be uncomfortable if used alone. Paired together they would make the perfect DK weight yarn for a cardigan I wanted to knit.
Fast forward 2 or 3 days, and here’s the finished cardigan, minus the buttons.
Let the experiment begin! I wanted a red base. I had to add that to the dye bath first. It looks very much like a murder scene, so let me tone it down by inserting a cute photo of my cat Marshmallow next to it.
Since I wanted the red to be soaked up slowly and evenly, I started with cool water and no acid for binding. This will ensure the colour is seeped up gradually and has time to get to the whole garment. I then added the wet cardigan, turned on the heat to medium-low and kept an eye on it.
After 15 minutes, the water was warm and I could see that the red was all over the cardigan. Time to add citric acid gradually. Then turn up the heat, simmer for 10 more minutes, turn it off and wait for the water to clear up and cool completely.
A good sign that you’ve used the right amount of dye and acid is that the water clears up completely once cooled. This is also a great sign of minimal bleeding in future washes, the bane of any dyer.
(If your water isn’t clear, try adding more acid and simmering for another 15 minutes. Let the water cool completely and see if things aren’t better.)
I really liked this colour, but a rule of thumb is, if it looks perfect under water, it’s too light when dry. I also wanted a bit more dimension to the red, so some dark grey was needed.
I didn’t want this new colour to soak up evenly, so I didn’t remove the cardigan from the bath water as I added the new dye, and I kept the same acidic, fast-absorption water from before.
And here she is afterwards in all her glory!
I know the “scruffy look” might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it. It looks like a long-worn cardi, something my nan might have passed on to me. The vintage buttons complete the look.
Now, the important question: is the end result the same as dyeing the yarn in the skein? The answer is a resounding No. Depending on how tight you knit, you might end up with a lot of areas that the dye won’t get to because the stitches act as a resist. You can see lighter areas in the photo below, something I fully expected, even though I’m a fairly lose knitter. I actually like this feature because it’s very different from what you normally see.
I had never done anything like this before, and you might be horrified to know that after this, I’ve knit a shawl and now have a second cardigan on the needles, and both will receive the same after-completion dye treatment…
I wore it for the first time yesterday (at the time of writing) and it kept me warm all afternoon indoors.
I hope you enjoyed this experiment. Let me know if you’ve ever tried anything like this before, and what the outcome was! If not, what dyeing shenanigans have you been up to or would like to try?
In the summer of 2020, I went into full fleece washing mode. I set up a skirting table, got the RV hand washing machine ready to spin out most of the water and set up the fleece drying racks in front of the garage. You have already seen some of the results. Over the next couple of months, I began to notice an unsettling trend of wetness occurring speciously in conjunction with putting washed fleece on the drying racks. Very Suspicious!!! how can this be a coincidence having happened so many times this summer? I think the weather may be out to wet me! (or maybe it’s just after my fleece)
My hypothesis: 2020 weather is sentient. (And is offended by drying fleece)
Equipment necessary for this experiment:
One Icelandic fleece,
Many strainer buckets,
Three soaking big buckets,
A small amount of soap (sunlight dish soap – not detergent),
One RV hand spin washer (like a very big salad spinner)
Three umbrellas on standby
Test of the hypothesis: Take exquisite Icelandic fleeces that had been put aside to wash later and wash now. (Also this first fleece may be perfect for Mrs. Mer’s Hair.) Watch for a reaction from local weather.
1 Part of Icelandic fleece waiting in the strainer bucket
I divided the first fleece into six small amounts in the fleece washing strainer baskets. Washed out and filled the three fleece washing buckets. Started the soap soak on the first three fleece strainer baskets and got them to the rinse stage. No sign of rain.
Today, a bit overcast with tiny patches of sun, I went out to check on the rinsing. Looked clean, felt clean, OK on to draining, spin-drying then laying the wool out on the drying racks to finish drying.
2-3 Fleece placed on the dryer rack
And it started to drizzle, so I pulled out the umbrella and continued spin-drying as well starting the next three into their soap soak.
4 next half of fleece in soap and soak stages of washing
5 Filled one drying rack and pulled out the second.
And it started to drizzle again.
Pulled out the second umbrella, looked at the overhanging and which way the rain would fall. Drat. Need a bigger umbrella, well if I move the spinner over to the skirting table and put the bucket over it
6 two umbrellas up and… it has stopped raining again.
Got all of the first fleece washed and onto two of my three drying racks, and pulled out the third rack (all from Ikea). I did a quick division of the second darker fleece and got the first part of it soaking in soapy water. With a bit of wrangling, I got the three drying rack set up and under the umbrella. As I went to check the soaking fleece and give it a sloosh and it started to Rain! Heavily raining….. I quickly through the fleeces into the strainer buckets and got everything under the tarp end of the dog yard. well now the weather is just laughing at me and I am soaked too.
7-8 wet, very wet
I came in to complain about the unfair and possible vindictiveness of weather to Ann. (Ann is very patent with me.) I sat down at the computer, ready to type and the sun came out…..
9 Sun coming out on my Tie basil plants in a broken pot, I will be trying to overwinter.
I waited a bit then went and laid out the fleeces again to dry…..maybe dry.
10-13 all the wetness was worth it, look at that fleece!!
14 The first part of the second Icelandic fleece is trying to dry.
Any bets on where it will rain today? Don’t take that bet…..
15 it rains again
Conclusion; 2020 Weather is sentient and it is offended by fleece drying.
The Icelandic fleeces are now well washed, extra rinsed and finally dry. I have washed two more fine fleeces, which I got last year from the Wool Growers Co-op originally from Alberta, again with many extra rinses in the “Drying” stage. They were a lovely dark chocolate colour until I washed them and discovered they were a nice shade of grey (the wash water did remain a very dark brown).
16 the drying racks
Unfortunately, I have two more large fleeces to wash before the snow arrives!!!! One is the large ram I got at the same time I got the Shropshire and the second is a fleece I just bought from Beth. It is a long black Shetland who was ether hiding from the shearer in the straw or was rolling in it. I have never seen so much vegi-matter embedded in a fleece! As bad as it looks there was only one sheep self-felted section. the rest, if I can get the straw out, will be fabulous. After pulling burrs, straw does not look as daunting!
17-20 Beth’s Black fleece of straw, the top section of the strainer bucket is self felted.
I still need a solution to the continual extra rinse step I don’t think the fleeces really require. I have bought strapping and ½ inch welded wire fencing to make drying racks I can hang under the tarped area of the side yard. I will get over to Dollerama (what a great source of fibre and felting related equipment) and buy a couple of clear table cloth covers and some extra strong laundry clips to block the wind and rain along the dog fence. Maybe I had better not tempt the weather too much or it may escalate its intensity, we did have a tornado go through Ottawa two years ago! But that may have been to thwart someone else’s fleece drying endeavours.
Hello all. My name is Arlene Toth and I am a Fiber Artist. It sounds like I am owning up to an addiction, and I am. I am addicted to working with wool. If you don’t know me already, I have a blog called Adventures in Felt. I took up needle felting in March 2019 where they were giving a demonstration at my local haberdashers. The first thing I ever made was a bumble bee from a kit. From then on I was hooked and it just snowballed from there. As with any addiction, I eventually got hooked on the hard stuff, wet felting. The first thing I ever wet felted was a very tiny vessel. I used to paint for 10 years, but painting hasn’t had a look in for over a year. I wonder at times how I have lived so long and didn’t know about felting until now. I feel I have a lot of lost time to make up for. Starting any new hobby is an adventure and I am always up for one of those. I love this so much that I have immersed myself in it completely. I have amassed a library of felting books, watched tons of videos (good and bad), and taken online classes. I am so grateful to those out there that share their knowledge. So I blog about what I learned. As far as I’m concerned, it is all an experiment, and like painting, not everything is going to be a masterpiece.
One of the things I have learned is that making samples is important. Most of the time I just jump right in, but there is value when making small samples especially if you are unfamiliar with the product you are using or the method you will be felting. For instance, I bought some Botany Lap Waste from World of Wool. I ended up with a lot of fiber that I thought was merino as it was so soft and felt like superfine merino, but turned out to be alpaca. How do I know that? Well, I initially felted with some of it, but it didn’t felt like the merino. Fortunately, the item I was making was mostly merino, so this mystery fiber did ultimately felt. I then decided to make some samples as I had a lot of mystery fiber.
Firstly, you need to identify your fiber if it isn’t labelled. The first way to check if it is animal hair is to burn it. Yes, burn it. I used a fire lighter and took a piece of the fiber and it singed and smelled like burnt hair. If it does that, it comes from an animal. It doesn’t matter at this point which animal, but an educated guess reckoned that it was alpaca. Alpaca is a lovely fiber, but some types will felt and some won’t. I have a lovely knitted alpaca hat I bought in Peru which is so soft and warm. So either way I am going to be a winner here.
Now that you have determined that your fiber comes from an animal and it isn’t synthetic, you will then need to felt a sample, step two.
I had three mystery fibers in grey and the black is merino that I used for my control. I laid them out with two layers. I wet them out with tepid soapy water and started the felting process by sanding on boths sides, rubbing and rolling. This is what they looked like.
B was looking as it should for merino, but neither A, C or D passed the pinch test. I kept working at the samples and I finally got them to do a little something.
I can honestly say that if you want to become a good felter, you need tenacity as this is not a quick craft! Not only was this fiber slippery and hairy, it was also squeaky! You can see my lovely control Fiber B doing what merino is supposed to do. Neither A, C or D is suitable to felt on its own. D looked like a complete disaster! Now, some people might think D was superwash, but superwash will not felt, at all, with anything.
So, I completely wasted my money right? No! You can stop right here, but if you know how to spin, you can spin with alpaca to make a lovely yarn. I don’t know how to do that yet! I was going to give some to a friend, but then we had lockdown, so I just labelled the bags as alpaca and put them away. However, if you are like me, you will take it further, step 3.
How do you take it further? You add wool to it. Something you actually know is wool that will felt. People in the feltosphere suggested that. So I did. I got out the blending board and blended the alpaca with merino. I used the black merino for the dark alpaca and natural grey merino for the other two. Here they are all laid out as before.
I then wet everything out and felted as before. As you can see below, adding the wool made a huge difference and made for a better felting experience.
Here we are above drying out in the sun. They felted better than expected, especially D. Here is the final outcome below.
Sample A) From 9 squares to 6 squares square, took the longest to felt, hairy, and has some fine holes in it.
Sample B) From 9 squares to 6 squares square, was the quickest to felt. Sturdiest and best felted of the three.
Sample D) From 9 squares to 7 x 6.5 squares. I couldn’t get it down any more than that, but considering it was falling apart on its own, this is a good result. Has some holes, but more like superfine cobweb.
This is the condensed version of 3 blog posts regarding this mystery fiber. My conclusion is that I shall only keep sample C as it felted the best with the merino. The other two will be used for spinning, once I learn how to do it! So, if you get given some fiber that you are unfamiliar with, make a sample and see what happens!