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Spring and cleaning and de-stashing and rediscovery

Spring and cleaning and de-stashing and rediscovery

Spring means many things, but it always reminds me of our Ottawa Valley Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild foray into growing our own flax, aka ‘The Flax Project’.  Its hard to believe it was over two years ago, nearly three, that a group of us tackled the happy adventure of trying to produce our own flax crop, not once, but twice.  It brought back memories of warm spring days planting and weeding, hot, hot summer days of staking and weeding (the one constant was weeding), days of harvesting, drying, retting, seeding, rippling, scutching and all those lovely bizarre words to describe specific processing of flax. Flax is grown and harvested in a community,  but it is customarily spun in the winter when there is no other more pressing work to do.  I find it very dusty and messy fiber to spin, or maybe I just don’t like doing that part without the shared company of fellow fiber lunatics.

So while I was clearing out bits and pieces of unfinished projects, I found my share of the flax and tow.

 

I also found loads of other flax that had been spun over the years.

Most have been left as singles and is ready for weaving.

Some I boiled as an experiment.  Flax will lighten in colour if you boil it.  It also softens significantly and your house will smell like hay soup.

Some came to me bleached, so I gave that a spin.  It was extremely soft.  My concern is for the durability of anything made with prebleached flax fiber.  Woven flax is renamed linen for those of you who didn’t know, and linen fabric is incredibly strong, and long wearing.

There are two down sides to linen; one is that it wrinkles.  I like the wrinkles of linen, especially jackets and trousers, but some people can’t stand that characteristic.  The other is its tendency to fade.  Linen will take colour but over time it will lose that colour and move towards white.  Again, I like this in linen, and it takes ages for this to happen.  A bright, bright blue will mute over years and acquire a vintage look that can only be seen in linen.

Covid enabled me to join a most remarkable group of flax enthusiast started by an extremely generous woman in Europe.  Her name is Christiane; she was gifted a large quantity of flax from a lady called Berta.  This was from Berta’s dowry.  Christiane decided to share it with other interested spinners and reached out on social media.  I asked for two stricks.  A strick is what the finished combed flax.  It is usually very fine, has little to no straw and is very tidy, ready for spinning.

Well!! You can imagine how this took off.  In the middle of a pandemic.  People desperate for knowledge, information, something challenging, interesting, contact with the rest of the world…this took on a life of its’ own.  Much of this flax was grown, processed and stored pre WW2.  It was of historical significance, to be part of that is pretty inspiring.  Christiane knows what she has and rose to the occasion.  She was gifted more dowry chests, documented more stories, and sent out more flax to more and more enthusiasts.  She also sent out hand woven linen, patterns, she wrote articles, held workshops, taught about the history of flax production in Europe, specifically Austria, helped flax lovers from all over the world to connect with each other. The project became massive.  She now has help to manage the administration of this mammoth undertaking.

Thanks to Christiane I now have suppliers of flax in Egypt and Canada and my treasures from Berta’s flax plus a community world wide I can go to if I run into problems and need answers.

Egyptian flax – over a meter long

But the question I’m sure many of you have is can flax be of any use to felters?  Yes, I think so.  For binding felt books, for embellishments, for stitching, linen backing on a felted image, dry felting onto a linen fabric (not sure, but the fabric is durable), there must be elements of cross compatibility.

The season for demonstrations is coming up and it looks like this year we can actually go out into the community again.  I am looking forward to taking along a fully dressed distaff with some gorgeous blond flax, blowing in the breeze, a little water bowl for dipping near at hand and inspire awe in the local population, that humans can make thread out of grass.  Okay, not awe, but maybe some curiosity, I’ll take curiosity.

Making a heather, tweed blend

Making a heather, tweed blend

The saga of our group silk purchase continues.  I was part of the purchase along with Ann and Jan.  I am a silk junkie so had to be very, very careful this time.  I only purchased some really new-to-me silk called peduncle.  As described by the vendors – “This is one of the most unusual spinning fibres we’ve ever encountered. It looks like pewter in fibre form. It has a stunning luster, and the brownish-grey colour is breathtaking. Peduncle tussah is fibre from the pedunculus (foot) of the cocoon, which is the little stalk the silkworm makes to attach itself to a tree branch.”  “Like all tussah spinning fibre, this one has “tooth” that makes it easy to spin. It’s a rare and spectacular spinning fibre.” I’ve been clearing out my stash and found a wonderful bag of grey with globs of coloured wool and thought it would be a perfect time to give tweed a chance.

I needed to do a test spin of the silk on its own to see how it feels, to be sure it would work with the wool.  I wanted the colour, but I wanted the lustre and strength too, so two small samples were done.  One is pure silk and one is a mix of silk and some wool.

Peduncle silk with a little skein of two ply silk
Close up of peduncle silk two ply
Close up of the silk/wool blend

 

Because I tend towards very, very bright colours working with heather tones is going to be a real challenge for me.  But I have been asked by a couple of people to at least give it a try to find some sort of earth tones that are complex to make into a yarn.  So this is my first shot. I dug through my stash and found a large bag of gorgeous wool, unknown breed and origin, but washed and ready to go.  It even had interesting colours added to the wool.

The best part for me was that the wool was washed.  This was a major time saver for me, especially at this time of year.  The colours in with the wool are some of my favourites, little bits of teal, brick red, olive green and the occasional dab of yellow or hot pink.  I was certain the silk would really work well with this mix.  The wool was teased apart into gorgeous clouds of wool. And then run through the drum carder for a preliminary mix.  This mix was weighed into 250 gm lots, that were split into 16 units, mixed and recombined into a final group of 16 batts.  This would give an even colour blend, but not a total mix.  The batts were only put through the carder four times.

I decided to keep things as simple as possible and weighed 250 gm of the wool blend to which I added 25gm of silk.  I’m saying this is 10% silk.  I suspect the percentages are not accurate, but so be it.

It’s really easy at this point when you need to add a weird weight to just divide the roving into equal lengths to suit your purposes.  In this case, I was going to do half of the 16 batts with the silk and the other half without, so I divided the silk into eight equal lengths.

I started the blending process on the drum carder and was surprised at what a difference adding the silk didn’t make.  I really thought there would be much more lustre, more glow.  I was certainly expecting more bang for the amount of work going into this.

These are examples of the two final products.  The top batt is 10% silk.  It is slightly more brown, and that’s about the best that can be said for it.  The batt at the bottom of the picture is the original before adding the silk and it has a slightly more blue tint, which I like.  I am not giving up on this silk.  While stash diving I found some other earth tone wool.  The strong pewter-tone of peduncle really is great and I want to find the right wool to pair it with.  I’m sure it’s out there. Experiments are always a way to learn something, so they are never a waste of time.  I never knew that making a really dynamic heather/tweed could be so challenging or so interesting.

Group Order of Sanjo Silk

Group Order of Sanjo Silk

The January Meeting of our local Weavers and Spinners guild had a Zoom presentation on silk from the owners of Sanjo Silk (B.C. Canada). They talked about the different types of silk, about some of their acquisition trips to buy silk and showed us some of what they had in their store.  It was all quite inspiring with the silk giving lots of ideas for future spinning or projects.

1 web page of Sanjo silk showing some of the silk they offer (Fiber, Yarn and cool odd stuff)

After the meeting, there was an inquiry if there would be interest in a group purchase to reduce the cost of shipping. Their website offered free shipping over $200.00 Canadian (before taxes). There was another discount if we had a higher number too, but we doubted we could spend that much.  We had a small number of enthusiastic shoppers express interest and our new Yarn Convener set out to organize our shopping.

We perused the website www.sanjosilk.com/  and selected our drool-able lists. We then added the costs up and each sent our list to Deborah. She collected our payments, tallied the master list and sent out the order. She organized it all through E-Transfers, (I had never sent money by an E-Transfer, it was all very exciting!) She even organized E-refunds when we had collective spend enough for a further price reduction!!

Deborah had some cool stats that may interest you.

After not very long a LARGE box arrived! Deborah did a sort of the loot into each of our lists then dispersed it among the group.

2 the box arrives!!

3 our combined loot out of the box

I had a specific interest in my acquisitions; I was interested mainly in some of the colours that silk comes in besides white. I chose 3 options for further investigation. (Tussah, Muga and Eri)

4-5 Mr. Mer helps me set up for the fibre photoshoot

The Peduncle tussah silk was a silvery brown. This is fibre from the pediculus (foot) of the cocoon.  On their website, it is described as Pewter in fibre form, with a stunning lustre of Brownish-grey. It was the least expensive of the three coloured silks I selected at $11.25 for 50g. I am sorry I did not get more it would be exquisitely blended with fine dark wool.

6-7 Peduncle tussah silk

The Golden Muga silk was a blond colour. This one was described as “liquid gold”. They did warn that there is a lot of natural variation between batches they receive. The differences are caused by variations in diet and environment for the silkworms. They suggest you get enough for an entire project at once so you don’t have variations within the colour range by getting different batches. This one was $16.90 for 50g. I think I would like to see what variation is available so may order again and hope to get it from another batch.

8-9 Golden Muga silk

The Red Eri Silk was a Fox colour orange/gold.  Their website described it as a deep Orange-butterscotch, soft Luxuriously lustrous and long staple-length fibre, prepared in a thick roving. I am wondering if Mrs. Mer would like some of this blended with another fibre for her hair and possibly some fishy body highlight.  This was $18.80 for 50g.

10-11 Red Eri Silk

While browsing I spotted the oddest looking “cocoons” I have ever seen, full of little holes and in a golden colour. I had to add them to the list! They were listed as Gold Cricula Cocoons (wild) from Indonesia. They further explain that this is the outer part that attaches to the tree branch. The strong gold colour is from the Sericin, if it is removed the silk will be a pale yellow. It was suggested that you can “soak your cricula cocoons in water (with a dash of pH-neutral soap); reshape them, enhancing their dome shape with your fingers; let them dry. Or iron them flat for use in 2D projects”.  My brain immediately started thinking about a top for Mrs. Mer!! I am sure that you will think of much more exciting things to try with this cool cocoon attachment! A bag of 5g (a large handful) was $7.00.

12-13 Gold Cricula Cocoons (wild) from Indonesia

The next two selections were similar to each other.  The first was 100% Silk Carrier Rods (7 casings for $6.00.) the description was that “they’re actually part of the silk-reeling process. These carrier rods are stiff, strong, and smooth. Some are straight, some curved – they’re very sculptural. And they dye beautifully. (Also see our Silk Casings, which are thinner and finer.)”

14-15 Silk Carrier Rods 

Yes, I got the bag of the 100% Silk Casings too, they were priced at $6.00 for 14gr. Their description was; “Although these curious items look a bit “insectoid”, they aren’t. They are bi-products of the silk spinning industry. Each one is unique. They’re similar to the Carrier Rods we also carry, but they’re thinner, finer, and more pliable. Some are ridgey and corrugated, some are not. Each package is a variety of shapes and configurations. Use them for jewelry, to embellish art pieces, or just enjoy their stunning good looks.

16 Silk Casings

From the meeting, I remember they described both as waste products of the silk reeling industry. It is good to have what was considered waste be available to us, I am sure we will find a use for it! I had considered from the web picture possibilities for horns but I don’t think I have enough of the ribbed shape to do that. It is still weird and will likely percolate many odd ideas in the future. In the meantime, I will just enjoy their oddness and may add a few to my demo stuff. Oh, note that they have been cut off so the length of the fibre if separated would be short.

Lastly, I did get a white silk blend with Linin, I think this was a mill end, 97% Eri Silk and 3% Linen (trace amounts). The mill that made this has some debate as to exactly how much linen is included but it will be 3% or less. I seem to have a section where I can’t feel or see anything that looks like Linin. Oh well, it is still gorgeous! The Erin is a shot-stale fibre because the silkworm is not killed but allowed to break and leave its cocoon,( aka; Peace Silk). This fibre has been prepared using a woollen prep. It is described as having a soft and lofty character. It is also described as similar to cotton sliver fibre prep. 100g bag (about 3.5 oz.) was $15.60

17-18  97% Eri Silk and 3% Linen

If we order again, I may try a similar option of 65% Bombay Silk 35% Linen (flax) Spinning Fibre, it was slightly more expensive but had more Flax fibre content. That one is 100g for $19.00.

It is nice to have a selection of fibres to inspire you, or have just the right option available as you are in the middle of a project and just need a bit of something. Being part of a guild and thus easier to organize a group order (we saved a lot on shipping and got a bit of a discount too!) was a great help. Deborah did a fantastic job getting us all organized. I hope we did not overwhelm her and we can try this again!  I would like to be able to shop locally (we should be out of partial shutdown by the time I post this, I hope!) but in the meantime, let’s enjoy the bits of fibre shopping we are able to do and live vicariously through looking at each other’s acquisitions.

Did you have a flash of inspiration looking at casings, cocoons or rods? Are you thinking about foxes after looking at the photos of Red Eri Silk?

Now a word about felting

Remember if you are wanting to felt with silk it is not as narcissistic as wool, so it won’t want to stick to itself the way that wool does. Using a tiny wisp of wool over the silk to help lock it in place or blending it with wool as you are preparing your fibres will help it stick. Silk can be used to add a lustre or pop of colour amongst the wool.  Ann has applied it on the outer surface of vessels then used a razor to save back the wool and expose more of the silk to great effect. I have used silk fibres mixed with other fibres like alpaca or Icelandic tog as part of the outer coat of some of my animal sculptures to keep the hair/pelt from felting or matting to the body.

If you are going to be working with silk it’s a good idea to start moisturizing your hands a few days before you start. I also use extra-fine files for my nails. Silk, even though it is reluctant to felt when you want it to, will cling to your fingers and anything else you didn’t want it to stick to.  Bernadette, who also posts blogs here, has done a lot of spinning with silk and silk blends she may have some good suggestions for you about keeping it under control!

Have fun and keep felting!

The Sheepish door

The Sheepish door

Preamble:

As you may have noticed Ann, Bernadette and I, all belong to the same local guild. The guild has both a studio and a classroom located in Heartwood house,  which is the umbrella organization that is Home to 22 Non-Profit & Charitable Organizations. The building we are now in was formally a Giant Tiger store with an attached strip mall and apartments above the mall.  Heartwood house purchased the building in 2012 and renovated space for each of the various groups. We all moved in at the end of the summer of 2013.  (It was a huge move for the library but that is another story.)

With covid, part of the time the building was closed and no groups could use their spaces. As lock-downs eased, a few people (masked) were allowed into the various spaces (the number depended on the size of the room).  We are one of the groups that have been hit hard by the restrictions. Ann and I with help from other members have been keeping the library books circulating (knock on the window and pick up your books by the side door) each month but the weavers have only started to work on the studio looms in the last couple of weeks. We have moved our Monday night socials to Zoom which is fabulous for the easy Commute but not quite as much fun as chatting in person.

Heartwood House has noticed that, with fewer people in the building, the groups are not interacting with each other as much as they would normally. They came up with a plan for festive door decorating and asked the groups to participate. They would bring Coffee and muffins or pizza for lunch to those that did add festiveness to their door.

At our December meeting, the Heartwood house liaison asked if anyone would be willing to decorate our door. I was going to be going in to work on the library anyways so figured it would be reasonable if I volunteered so no one needed to make a special trip in.

The instructions were to decorate the door, something festive. I wanted to represent the main interests within the guild so Weavers, Spinners and Felters (we have basket makers too but I did not have anything in the way of basket-making supplies to represent them. Sorry!!!)

I have never worked in a regular office environment or lived in a cubical world for work so I have never tried to decorate a door before (or a cubical). I had seen two other doors under construction, one was a fireplace with a Santa the other was an upside-down reindeer. Both used construction paper, card stock, stickers, and there was even a garland. The office for Heartwood house had a couple stocking up and looked like something else would be added later.

Scoping out the Neighbours, their doors in progress;

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I thought about it for a while and decided on sheep, with a star/comet. Maybe some snow? And some pine trees? As a composition, a door is a tall skinny vertical space. I like long horizontal compositions. Oh well, fewer trees and make it a taller tree. Let’s start on the star! Ann will recognize the cookie-cutter snowflake I used for the star shape.

a quick cookie-cutter shooting star!

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(Oh no! The book I was listening to ended so on to the next audiobook)

I used some of the World of Wool, core wool that I had hand-carded and really cheap felt from the dollar store. (This is not the even cheaper felt that may be made of coloured dryer-lint held together with cheap glue.) Other than being extremely thin, it wasn’t too bad to work with. I embedded it into the wool I was adding into the cookie-cutter from one side then the other. I used both the single 36T as well as the 3-needle handle that seems to hold T40’s in it. I focused on trying to get the edges firm but should have spent more time establishing the crispness of the edge shape. My poor little star is looking more like a flower.

OK, now let’s look at the sheep.  I kept to the same fibre, made a body, with handspun yarn legs, and felted feet. Hum….. needs a head.   I sculpted a head with ears and felting from the back and sides of the neck attached it to the body.  I like the head so much I made 2 more of them!

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Ok, we have the Felters represented!

At this point the plot of my book got distracting and there may have been a break for YouTube,  so I missed the photos of spinning woollen (I usually am a worsted or semi-worsted spinner) while hoping I could make Fluffy Yarn.

For the spinners, I made lengths of mostly lofty 2 ply which I sewed onto a cardboard shape for the sheep body. It was the inside of a Ritz cracker box and worked very well. Sewing the head on was a bit more challenging but I used a curved mattress needle into the center of the poor sheep’s neck and tied it on through the back of the cardboard. I think she turned out to be quite a nice sheep!

For the weavers, I considered a cast-off fragment of weaving I had salvaged from the studio fibre-garbage-bucket. However, it was blue linen and not white like the other sheep. I did not want the weaving sheep to feel ostracized from the flock. So back to the cardboard Ritz box and cut out another sheepish body shape. I had scored some loom waste (thrums) at some point over the last year or so. The warp is a similar colour to the wool I have been working with.  I wrapped and taped down on the back yarn over the sheepie shape on the diagonal. If I had done a square or rectangular sheep body it would have been much easier! But it would not look very sheepish.  I used a long blunt needle and wove through the warp I had just taped down. After the weaving was done I stabilized the edges and sewed on the head.

I used some of the 2 ply I had spun to make the legs and attached them at the back of each sheep. Now I was all set to head in and decorate the door, well except for a quick stop at Dollerama on the way in for a few more decorating options. (Please don’t be out of Cardstock!!)

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Yeah!!! There was cardstock, wrapping paper, glue, foam double-sided tape, wooden snowflakes! I also brought more wool, a foam pad, yarn, as well as thread and needles in case I needed them.

Our door

Now the door. With the depression for the window, I wanted to have the cardstock as a base layer.  I held up the first blue piece and liked the effect the edge of the door gave. It looked a bit like a matt.

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I had to do a bit of trimming so the door handle would fit!

Lise, one of the guild weavers, was in weaving and held up one of the wrapping papers I had selected for the sky. We both liked the effect with the blue background.

14 transparent wrapping paper over cardstock

Ok, I know what we are doing for the sky, now let’s look at the snow for the bottom half of the door. This would have gone a bit more smoothly with just one more hand but Lise had already finished up her weaving by then and had headed out. Oh well, I managed to get 3 hills in my snow.

15 snowflakes in the sky and snow on the ground

I opened the solid green paper and found Christmas trees on the inside….. well I guess I could just use that side and make a forest but the trees are a bit small.

16 Surprise! it’s not solid green on both sides

You can imagine my surprise when not only did my solid green have trees but the solid brown has a grid on the inside!

17 Oh my the brown paper isn’t brown on both sides either!

My idea was to make a pine tree-ish shape on the side and have the sheep beneath that. The brown was to be the bark and trunk of the tree. So I squished and folded it length-wise to give it a bit of 3D.

18 a bit of 3D in the trunk
19 background and tree started

It’s still looking a bit pathetic, better add more green bits. I did debate with myself if I should put the trees on the outside rather than the solid green.

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23 I need a few more embellishments!!! It must be more festive!!

Perfect!! Can you guess what I am making this time? I have the wooden snowflake, some fine wool yarn, a bit of wool and a T36 needle!

24 Ah! much more festive!!

Can you see where I put those festive items? No? Maybe a bit more close-up will help!

25 sheep in their festive attire!

Yes!! I made Festive sheep Bonnets or maybe they are hats? I will have to ask Ann what kind of festive sheep attire she has for her sheep. If she doesn’t have festive hats maybe we can start a new sheep fashion trend!!!

26 Festive Felt Sheep
27 Festive Spinning Sheep
28 Festive Weaving Sheep

Now I need a bit more bling, let’s add more of the wooden snowflakes

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While I have been setting this up, one of the Guys that works in the Heartwood house Office stopped by to check out how it was coming. He really liked the sheep but said I should put pillows at the bottom of the door in case anyone fell asleep while they counted our sheep! (These must be super strong sheep if they can put you to sleep with only a count of 3!!)

32 all done ready for tomorrow!

All done now off to home and back tomorrow to work on the library.

When I got in the next morning the snow had melted!! The sheep were in a pile at the base of the door! Now I see why we needed a pillow!! (for the sheep!) It must be the unseasonably warm weather that has made the snow unstable and melt. Change of plan, fix the door then work on the library!

33 the snow melted and I had to put it back on!!!

I think I got the middle snow hill upside down but it still looks good (I was rushing!! )

Our Neighbour’s doors

Here are some of the other groups’ doors

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I did get a small pizza for lunch (which was delicious) and got some work on the library done. There were a lot of people from the other groups throughout the day checking out each other’s doors. It was a fun event and I think they may do it again next year.

I still have more library work to do before the end of the month and hopefully some felting too! I hope all of you are having fun felting and are enjoying the festive season.

A Little Spinning for My Felt

A Little Spinning for My Felt

I managed this week to get one set of rolags spun and plyed.  I decided to do wildflower sari silk first. It’s the mostly yellow one. Here’s the link to making the rolags if you missed it. https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/2021/10/26/sari-silk-and-spinning/

I spun a single first, naturally. It took a little bit to get used to the silk. The silk is much harder to draft but mixed with the wool it wasn’t too bad. You have to accept you are not going to get a really smooth yarn. You are going to get a great texture.

Next, I did what is the most meditative part of spinning for me. I made a center-pull ball by hand. If you are in a hurry or you have lots to do then a ball winder is the way to go. But I really do enjoy this part. I use a little piece of painter’s tape to make sure I don’t lose the center yarn, while I am winding. Do you enjoy doing something that other people seem to dread doing?

 

Then the fastest part, plying.

It’s interesting that when it was a single I thought it was a bit dull and muddy but after plying it seems to be brighter and shinier. I really like it. It has lots of colour and so much texture. it will be great as an embellishment on my felt.

 

I haven’t decided if I will make it into a center-pull ball or a skein for storage.

Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

I am lucky enough to live in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England (known affectionately by locals as Stur). One of our Town’s claims to fame is our Watermill. There has been a Watermill on the river Stour here for at least 1000 years. The original mill was a Grist Mill – that is for grinding corn, but in the early 1600s a Fulling (or Tucking) Mill was built adjacent to the Grist Mill.
This was largely to facilitate the greater production of a fabric which had been produced in and around Stur since the 1570s. This fabric was called Swanskin. It was a tough, course white woollen fabric, made from locally spun and woven wool, which was then scoured, fulled and the surface teazed and fulled again. Fishermen working out of Newfoundland, many of whom were recruited from Stur, greatly prized the Swanskin for its all-weather, waterproof qualities, as did the British Army and Navy.
Originally the fulling would have been done by fullers treading the fabric in troughs filled with all sorts of nasty stuff, including urine. Once the fulling mill was built this hard work was done mechanically. The woven fabric, in its troughs of nastiness, was hammered by large wooden stocks which were driven by gears from the waterwheel. Eventually the fulled cloth was hung out to dry along the river bank, stretched out on tenter frames by tenterhooks.
A report about Manufacturing in Dorset dated around 1812 reads:

“There is a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury of a kind of flannel called swanskin, which is a coarse white woollen cloth, used for soldiers’ clothing, and made from 18d. to 2s. a yard; but this is of little consequence to Shaftesbury, the chief trade in this article being carried on at Sturminster Newton, where about 1200 people are employed in it, and where between 4000 and 5000 pieces, containing 35 yards in length, in a piece, yard wide, are annually made.

At present the woollen manufactures are almost confined to Sturminster and Lyme Regis, at which latter place broad-cloth and flannels are made in considerable quantities.

At Sturminster there are four or five clothiers, and about 300 weavers; sometimes 700 or 800 people are employed in the manufactory of Swansdown, (sic.) but the trade is not so considerable as was formerly the case.”

In early 2016 I was asked by the curator of our town’s Museum and Mill Society (now known as the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust) if I could produce a sample of Swanskin for the Museum since it appears that there is no example of actual swanskin now in existence.  As Swanskin was such an important part of the town’s history, the Museum wanted to create an exhibit for future reference.  This I did, so far as I could, and I also wrote them a report on the process, which I repeat here – it was of course written for the edification of members of the general public, most of whom would not be conversant with spinning and weaving terms, so please don’t think I’m trying to “teach granny to suck eggs”.

“Swanskin – Experimental Archaeology

“In order to try to recreate the processes in the manufacture of Swanskin some research was carried out by Kathleen Sanderson (a member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers). It appeared that the likely breed of sheep from which the fleece was obtained was the Portland. This breed was found in fact over much of Dorset in the 17th Century.
“Kathleen found however that the fleece from today’s much improved breed of Portland sheep was finer and more delicate than would have been the case in 1600. She therefore blended Exmoor fleece with the Portland to obtain as near as possible the coarser, more hardwearing fibres originally used.
Originally the wool would have been spun “in the grease” – that is still containing (inter alia) the natural lanolin. The resultant yarn would have been woven in this state so that the resultant cloth would have had to be washed and treated with fuller’s earth (scoured) to remove the oils and other detritus like plant material and insect life.

Spun and Plied Yarn, with fibres

“The sample shown was spun after scouring because this had been necessary to facilitate the blending of the two fleeces.
The yarn was plied and then twill woven – that is instead of the basic over one, under one, over one – of plain weave, the weft was taken over two and under two on the first pass then over one under two over two on the next. This results in characteristic diagonal lines in the weave.
“When “fulled” twill woven fabric becomes denser than would a fabric with plain weave.

“I wove the sample in this fashion on a frame loom. After the weaving, the sample was wetted and fuller’s earth rubbed into it on both sides, just to make sure that all the grease and oils had been removed. This was rinsed out, the sample soaped and rubbed by hand to start the felting or fulling process.
“This process would have been carried out by “Fullers” or “Walkers” in the 11th and 12th centuries. Though they would have done it by treading or walking on the fabric in wooden troughs rather than using their hands. At Sturminster Fulling Mill swanskin was fulled at the Mill using water power to move fulling stocks. These hammered the fabric until it was fulled or felted sufficiently to make it water repellent.
“The sample was fulled in a washing machine, first at a temperature of 40° with a very hard rubber ball acting as a fulling stock. This was repeated once more and then at a temperature of 90° until the sample was fully felted. When the sample was almost dry it was ironed with a steam iron on both sides and then fully dried.
The original swanskin cloth would of course have been dried on tentering frames in the open air.

“Once the Sample was dry it was brushed with a flick carder (the modern equivalent of using a frame covered in teasels) on one side only in order to raise a nap on the fabric.”

The mill was open to the public again this year, after having had to be closed during lockdowns.  It is possible that, during the first lockdown, some of you may have seen reports about the fact that the mill reverted to milling flour which was provided to local bakers.  Many people over here took to making their own bread so that there was a general shortage of bread flour, and, since approaches were received from people from all over the globe trying to buy bread flour from our miller, I assume that this was the same almost everywhere. 

I have added below some internet links about the Mill and our Society (Sorry – Trust!), and some of the news stories from last year –  Google has lots more.

Oh and a couple of my felt paintings of the mill – adding a bit of artist’s licence!

https://sturminsternewton-museum.co.uk/mill/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-52369075

https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-flour-shortage-ancient-mill-turned-museum-grinds-back-to-life/e1c0fe1b-9ff5-42ec-bbcf-d311325a5f0a

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/29/uk/english-mill-flour-resumes-production-scli-gbr-intl/index.html

Sari Silk and Spinning.

Sari Silk and Spinning.

I ordered some sari silk a while back as part of a larger order from World Of Wool. I am ordering wholesale so I ordered 1 kg of each of the colours I wanted. the first 2 look very similar here but the first has a lot of green and red and the second has quite a lot of black. I had expected the pink one to be much more purple. It is called Royal Robe. Every batch is different, so you are always taking a chance. It would be great if they took new pictures for each batch but I suppose that would be a big hasssle for them. And they do warn you so no complaining.

That is a lot of sari silk.

I did make up some small bags of it and sold them on the guild’s Facebook page. I will offer it again soon. I still have lots. I haven’t played with it much at all. So last weekend knowing it would be rainy at the market, so slow and I would be bored, I grabbed some of the silk and a spindle to try spinning it. I brought an older cheaper spindle because I knew I would probably be doing as much dropping as spinning. I was right. It is very short and very frustrating to try to spin, especially since I usually do more of a long draw. I tried for a while then gave up and plied the tiny amount I had spun.

Ta-Da…

 

I told you it was small. Here is a close up.

It is very pretty and shiny but I will not be spinning more this way.

Next was to try blending some with some wool.

I picked these two shades of merino. I think they are mallard and duck egg. They seem to be the same colour but have different saturations of the dye.

And these 3 sari silks to blend in. Looking now I see I picked the 3 primaries.

First I did the turquoise lagoon. I did a layer of the dark, then the light and then the sari silk. I carded it several times to blend it and then rolled it into a rollag

It is very subtle but I think it will add some shin and interest when I spin it.

Next, I did the Salsa, I did the same thing a layer of each of the wools and then some sari silk

And lastly the wildflower

Now I have to spin them up. They are not the neatest rollags but I think they will work. I will do some recarding if I have to but I hope I don’t have to.

Fiber Poker Challenge from the Third Participant

Fiber Poker Challenge from the Third Participant

So far you have seen the Poker Challenge offerings from Ann and Jan. We are all members of the same Guild. I accepted to do the spinning challenge only.

My cards were
Colour – pastels only
Fibre – must include mohair
Technique – lock spinning
Structure – lace weight

I had some really lovely, top quality, pink, super-fine merino, and some pale blue mohair locks. The merino spins into lace weight very easily, almost wanted to spin that way on its own. The thing I found most difficult was lock spinning. 

Research online showed a whole range of techniques, so it dawned on me that lock spinning is what you make of it. The mohair was really slippery and a bit of a challenge to maintain control, but the results were a happy surprise. I decided to ply the mohair with the lace merino to give integrity to the yarn. Once plied the locks on the mohair opened, but were held in place with the merino and the end result was a luxurious, soft, lustrous yarn.  Unfortunately, I am not the photographic genius that Jan is and even though I chastised my camera for not using a flash to show the gorgeous soft pink and sky blue of the final product, it ignored me.

So, I took it to the next step and did a purpose made yarn of my own design.

I ordered some wonderful dyed Teeswater first clip from my favourite wool dyer. It arrived all clean, soft, shiny and tangle free; this is a special treat that I allow myself every once in a while. I used this for the lace weight ply and used some of my own dyed mohair locks for the lock spun component. I have to say the Teeswater wool is exquisite. I flick card it open on both ends and remove any tangles by cutting the knots out. This gives me a staple of approximately 15 inches.

This was spun as close to lace weight as possible. And I know my wheel needs to be fixed, I’m trying to find a craftsman/woman who can do that, any ideas??  If you look closely at the first hook you will see the groove that is nearly cutting through the metal.

The mohair is not carded at all and only pulled apart a little bit to keep the lock integrity intact. Unfortunately, I have only a picture of similar locks. I used up all the others before remembering to take out my camera. The lustre of mohair is amazing and the softness of kid mohair is delicious. Adult mohair is not my favourite fibre because as the animal matures the fibre gets so coarse it can’t be used for next to skin projects and it loses its crimp and becomes a misery to spin.

The mohair was then plied with the lace weight Teeswater to give this yarn.

My plan, among several others I’ve discussed with you over the past few months, is to weave this into a winter stole or shawl. The Teeswater is long enough to take the abrasion of being in a warp, so to that end, I made the leftover laceweight into a fine three ply cable yarn. This keeps the colour grouping together. If I were to do this as a true three ply the colours would tend to get muddy and I wanted to avoid that. I think I have enough for the project.

There are eight skeins that weigh 645 gms. If not I can always spin more of the Teeswater and fiddle the design a bit. Motivation is now the issue. You all amaze me with the energy you have, the creativity you show and your unflagging drive, thank you for showing me a whole ‘other world of fibre art.

Playing with my new toy: English wool combs

Playing with my new toy: English wool combs

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.

 

Leonor of Eleanor Shadow holds a pair of English combs and looks chuffed

 

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.

 

Texel cross wool locks on English combs, ready for processing

 

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.)

 

Eleanor Shadow uses English wool combs to process some wool locks

 

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.

 

English wool combs processing wool on a table

A hand showing wool waste after using English wool combs

 

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.

 

Side view of wool on English wool combs, after processing

 

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.

 

A few soft clouds of processed wool on a table

 

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.

Plaque on a wall saying On This Site in 1897 Nothing Happened

So, what’s your current favourite fibre utensil?

Spinning Poker Challenge

Spinning Poker Challenge

Every summer my weavers and spinners guild does a fibre poker challenge. You can choose weaving, spinning or felting. I am doing spinning and felting. This post is about the spinning challenge. I haven’t started my felting one yet.

In these challenges, they make up 4 decks of cards. The cards for spinning are Fiber, Colour, Type of Yarn and General Design. You pick one from each to get your poker hand. You are allowed to return one and draw another.

Mine are

Fibre: surprise us.

Colour: dark rich colours

Type of Yarn: thick and thin

General Design: include locks

I decided I wanted to try spinning some of the silk hankies I have. these looked like dark rich colours. Well, not that dark but not pastel.

I looked up what was the recommended way of prepping them for spinning. It was to poke a hole in the middle and stretch them out. Most of the drafting is done in the stretching out. I did 2 of each colour. They stretch quite far. I am sure I could have stretched them at least twice as long but I didn’t want my yarn that thin.

I

I also have to do thick and thin. I decided the easiest way to do that was to use the required locks to create the thick parts. I think these are Bluefaced Leicester.

I don’t have a spinning wheel. I like to spin small amounts, so I use a drop spindle I have quite a few.

 

After I finished the 4 silk hankies I made it into a center-pull ball. My original intention was to ply one end against the other.

But then I changed my mind. I spun some purple silk top to use as the other ply.

I made it into a center-pull ball as well. I put one small ball on my thumb and one on a finger. I used a little painter’s tape to keep the outside thread from unravelling as I will be pulling from the center, then I can control how fast it pulls out. I like painter’s tape as it’s just sticky enough to hold but comes off easily without grabbing and pulling the fibres and doesn’t leave any sticky behind. If I was going to store the ball I would tie the two ends together instead.

           

Somehow I guessed right and had just a little more of the second simple single than the first fancy single.

That’s my laptop lid so as you can see there wasn’t much extra.

I wound it off into a skein. It looks a little wobbly at first but it needs to have a bath to let the spin show what it’s really like.  I used the small extra piece to tie the skein in 4 places. I wanted the 4 ties because I am very good at tangling skeins.

 

Here it is after its bath and hang to dry. I didn’t use any weight to try to set the yarn, I wanted it to be its natural self. I am quite happy I managed to get a nice balanced spin. I took to pictures flipping it over so you can see both sides.

I spread it out more and took a close-up. I am really please with how this came out. It was difficult to get the locks in because naturally, the twist wanted to go to the thinnest part.

 

I hope you like it too. It was a bit of a challenge but that’s the point, get you doing something you wouldn’t normally do.  I could have wished for some action shots but it’s hard to spin and hold the fibre and hold the camera. It puts me back to wondering why on earth my prehistoric ancestors got rid of the prehensile tail, it would be so handy.

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