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Where wool begins: a solar grazing story

Where wool begins: a solar grazing story

I’m pleased as can be to have been asked to contribute to this felting and fibre blog, though the most I’ve ever done with the art side is creating a happy face on a wool dryer ball (it was very satisfying!).

I was asked (I think?) to share on this blog as a raiser of wool — a much different, but key, part of the fibre world!

Our farm is Shady Creek Lamb Co., based near Kinburn, Ontario. Our sheep, however, end up living all over the place because a key part of our farm is solar grazing.

What is solar grazing? We have two main sheep flocks, and each one is tasked with doing the “mowing” at commercial solar sites. The companies that own and run the solar sites pay us to use sheep to mow instead of using tractors and mechanical mowing. Each of the two sites is 200 acres.

A ewe stands under a solar panel
A ewe stands under a solar panel. Note the burrs. (EDF Renewables, 2021)

We run all wool sheep, and some of our wool has even been used for “real” wool projects — but we also have a good portion of our wool that is nothing more than compost, for a few reasons. One, we do have a fair amount of Romanov genetics in our flock. Romanov lambs have beautiful soft coats, often with colour, but when the adult wool comes in it’s more like hair. The double coat and wire texture make it the least favourite of our shearer and anyone who wants our wool!

The balance of our flock has some lovely wool. We usually run purebred rams — Canadian Arcott, Suffolk, Shropshire, and Border Leicester, but we run some commercial rams too. Our most recent addition is the Clun Forest. Those first babies will be born in May.

Beyond the obvious Romanov wool, we also battle different issues with wool quality than some barn-based farms. In winter, our ewes eat hay that’s been unrolled on snow. This actually keeps the wool quite clean and tidy. It’s the grazing aspect that ruins our wool for much more than compost — because we deal with burdock in one of our solar sites. Burrs are hated by us, our shearer, and anyone who hopes to do anything with wool, but they are a struggle to get rid of on the one site.

Sheep graze a field of peas, barley, wheat and sunflowers

Our sheep also spend the autumn and early winter grazing cover crops, which is a new venture for us. Grazing cover crops — a mix of plants seeded after a winter wheat crop comes off to decrease erosion and feed soil microbes — has been a natural extension of the grazing season for our sheep.

We usually have our ewes sheared in April, but because we run multiple flocks, we have split shearing into two times of the year, with at least one of those shearing days happening at the solar. It’s a challenge to have the equipment and power and people power (and shade!) on-site, but we’ve made it work.

Shearing is an important part of the flock’s health management. Wool sheep do not shed their wool, so it must be removed every year. Good wool cover keeps sheep very warm in the winter, but it needs to be removed before the heat of summer sets in. What’s more, too much or dirty wool can cause skin infections, harbour parasites, or lead to unhealthy lambs. Shearing does not hurt the sheep, and it gives us a hands-on, close-up look at our ewe’s body condition before lambing. It costs about $5 per sheep to have them sheared, but that is just for the shearer: we pay two or three people full wages to help for the four or five days a year of shearing. Wool itself is always sold at a net loss, even if we get decent quality.

Fun fact: wool composts beautifully, so even though the infested wool can’t be “used,” it does have value as we compost it and apply the nutrients back to the pasture and hay fields.

Please ask questions! Next blog post I will write about our guardian dogs (pictured above is Nala, a Great Pyrenees/Karakachan cross. She loves her sheep but she loves belly rubs and snacks more).

Finishing the hand spun/hand woven scarf

Finishing the hand spun/hand woven scarf

In the fall I wove a scarf using my ‘precious’ handspun yarn.  It’s time to stop thinking of this commodity in such terms.  There is bound to be loom wastage when using any yarn and handspun can’t be saved, so best to get over that reality and start enjoying the enormous gratification to be had in weaving my own yarn.

The excitement didn’t wane even as the finishing process started.  Finishing can be an extremely tedious time, but I really enjoyed it this time.

A metal needle slides the knot into position

Once the warp is woven it’s time to cut it off the back beam.  I did this very carefully and knotted each group of four threads as I went along.  Using a large metal tapestry needle lets me slide the knot into position easily.  I didn’t hemstitch the scarf, nor did I use a fringe maker.  These are two perfectly satisfactory methods of finishing but I chose not to use them, maybe on a later project.  I also left a lot of fringe length to help in the finishing process for later evening up.

Starting the fringe finish on the loom - back edge of the scarf

Here the back beam fringe is all done, now I have to unwind the fabric and start on the front of the material, which is still attached to the front of the loom.

These knots are usually easy to undo, but if they get a bit cranky the metal needle comes in handy for prying them apart.  Again, I just knot them in groups of four as I move along the front of the loom.  Once that is all done, the fabric is inspected for unwoven threads that are hanging loose.  My apologies for not taking pictures of these, but I was running out of hands.  These usually are along the selvage edges and I trim them off or weave them in using my trusty metal needle.  It’s a bodkin so works perfectly for that task.

The plaid of the two different burgundy shows clearly

Once everything is where it should be, the fabric is given a wash in very hot water and mild soap, rinsed and hung to dry.  I was very pleased with how the colours played out to give a subtle change in the plaid.  I hope to be able to replicate this somehow in the future, just have to figure out how I did it in the first place.

Align the knots of the fringe and cut both sides of the fringe

The final step is to even out the fringes; they need to be the same length on both sides.  I find it easiest to pin the fabric together and just cut them at the same time.

Once the fringe is trimmed the two sides are pinned together and the fringe length is verified

Sometimes they need just a little more trimming, just noticed there is a stray bit in the picture, just like a bad haircut.

The final product is going to be used for display purposes at the next Sale and Exhibition.  I am very pleased with the final result.  It will not be for sale.  I did show it to a fellow weaver for a hard critique and I meant it.  I wanted to hear the “hard stuff”.  She was kind enough to tell me the truth.  There are a few techniques that I need to work on before selling my scarves.  I need to open up my work so it drapes better.  I need to get better at math!!!  This ended up very short.  It was a wonderful width, but it did shrink in length and would only work as a dress scarf.  And finally, I need to practice hemstitching.  That said, the colours are great, my use of yarn is superlative, the fringe is perfect and the simplicity of the design is perfect to set off the fibre.  Ta-da, I’ll take that.

 

November challenge: knitting for charity

November challenge: knitting for charity

As I was scrolling through Instagram one day, I saw this advert by Dementia UK asking people to join their November challenge: to knit every day for that month and raise money for their charity.

I’d never done this sort of thing before, and felt compelled to join and see how I’d do. It’s a worthwhile cause, and charities are always in need of money.
It has to be said that, in the past, I’d probably shy away from such a challenge because I’d fear “not reaching my goal,” which Present Me finds silly – I’m not doing this for brownie points, it’s not a measure of my self-worth and, more importantly, if I only raise £10, it’s ten pounds more that Dementia UK will have to help those in need.
Present Me is wiser than Past Me, don’t you think?

A dark grey hand knit jumper on a mannequin

Here is my first make, which I finished in, I think, 5 days. It’s knit with super bulky wool, so it goes along super quickly.
This is a free pattern by Drops Yarn – very fitting, because the yarn is also by Drops – and it has to be said, the instructions could be better. There were a couple of techniques I had to look up in video format because the written instructions just didn’t make any sense (to me, anyway). I also made a few changes here and there, one of them being some waist shaping. I also changed the sleeves a little to adapt them to my small frame.

A closeup of my hand knitted grey jumper, where I show the shoulder detail.

It’s a very warm jumper and I’ve worn it several times to help with having lowered my thermostat at home.
On a side note, I might add a few more rows to the sleeves just to make them extra, extra cosy.

A hand knit grey beanie hat on top of a mannequin.

I had a lot of wool left after finishing the jumper, so I decided to knit a beanie hat. This was knit in an evening and I can attest it’s kept my noggin’ warm when venturing outdoors.

Finally, a bit of a cheat…

Remember my Dead of Night jumper, that I showed you in my previous post? (Apologies for the lack of link to said post, I can’t find it at the moment of writing!)

Dead of Night jumper, pattern by Dear Ingenue, on a mannequin

I had “finished” it a few weeks ago, but hadn’t woven in the ends. I took the opportunity to do so and therefore count it as another November make – hey, it’s not done until all the tiny details are finished, correct?
It did turn out to be too large for me as had previously mentioned, but in a lovely twist of fate, my mother loved the pattern and wants it. That’s one Christmas present sorted!
It’s not blocked yet, as I want Mum to try it on and see if I need to coax its shape in any particular way. This is why you can still see yarn sticking out on the sleeve, I only cut the woven-in ends after I’ve blocked the garment.

So, that’s my November knits. The more observant of you will notice I probably didn’t knit every day for 30 days. Sadly, you’re right! Life got in the way and I was unable to keep up, but I did share what I was doing on my social media and managed to raise around £70 total for Dementia UK!

Not bad for a first, and not very persistent, try.

Have you ever knit for charity? Share your experience with me. If you have any fundraising advise, I’d love to read about it.

Finally, happy holidays, everyone! I hope you have a nice season whether you celebrate or not. See you next year.

Weaving with hand spun, again!

Weaving with hand spun, again!

Jan Scott documented the Sale and Exhibition put on by our Guild in early November, kudos Jan.  It was a great success and inspired me to try to answer a recurring question asked by so many of my clients.  I was embarrassed that I didn’t have the information for them.  Will this skein make a hat, scarf, mittens, socks, etc?  The response was always – ‘that depends’ and it does.  It depends on technique, the width of the weaving, stitch size, needle size, size of hands for mittens, and all sorts of variables.  It’s so frustrating to not have an empirical answer, so I decided to use my handspun and make a scarf, standard 14 inches wide by 40 inches long.

I calculated I had 234 yards/215m of brown and 495yds/457m of burgundy and silk.  I would need 106yds/98m brown for the warp and 214yds/196m burgundy and silk for the other part of the warp.  Based on that I had lots for the weft.  We’ll see. Math and I are not on speaking terms.

Just to keep the learning curve vertical, I also decided to use a warping mill along with my sectional beam.  If you have ever watched videos of industrial weaving facilities you will see huge walls of bobbins feeding into the back of looms.  A sectional beam is one step down from that.  All the threads you want are wound onto a single inch of the back beam of the loom.  So if you want to weave something with 20 threads per inch you need 20 bobbins full of thread to wind onto that little 1 inch spot.  You wind on for as many yards/meters as you want, then move to the next slot in the beam, wind on another twenty threads/inch and continue on.

The warping reel lets the weaver measure a single thread for the whole length of the project, change the colour as needed and then keep measuring for the whole length of the project.  It’s perfect for smaller projects. The craftsperson will have to decide when it’s time to move onto a different warping technique to suit their purposes.  This time I wanted to try a hybrid method of warping.

When using a warping reel you must keep the warp from tangling.  It can become the weavers’ worst nightmare.  I know in my early days I did lose the cross on one of my warps and nearly lost my mind.  It did get untangled but I swore it was never going to happen again, so I do double crosses on all my reeled warps.  Tie the cross at both ends of the warp.  Better to be safe than very, very sorry.

I also didn’t want to waste any of the handspun if possible since it was in very, very short supply, so I used a salvage technique of tieing onto an old warp.  This can save up to 24 inches or nearly 3/4 meter of handspun wool per thread.  That’s a huge amount of handspun. It’s also a ridiculous amount of work, so I’ll have to rethink this, but once done I was pleased with the result.

I still had to check for threading errors and there were some.  Don’t thread the loom late at night, don’t thread the loom late at night….and don’t thread the loom late and night.

The next morning, a quick check of the basic threading by lifting the threads at an angle shows that everything is in order, literally, and the threads are ready to be tied up and woven with a test thread.

And finally woven with the real stuff. I wish you could see this in real light, daylight, oh my goodness, it shimmers.

What a load of work, and what a great result!!  I had no idea my hand spun could be so lovely, I’m so pleased, but there is the last bit of finishing that I need to do and hopefully that will be successful too.  This will make a great display piece for the next Sale and Exhibition!

Spinning Spirals and other topics.

Spinning Spirals and other topics.

A few years ago, while searching for an online textile workshop, I happened upon one that made me curious.  I was familiar with the tutor’s name, Ruth Lane, as her book “The Complete Photo Guide to Felting” was and continues to be one of my ‘go-to’ reference books.  Among its many attributes are two that I hold important, good writing and clarity.

At the time, Ruth was offering, among her courses, one titled   Nuno Felting with Paper Fabric Lamination.  This four week course is available under the heading Embellishing Felt With Surface Design Techniques – A Mixed Media Approach.

(https://feltingandfiberstudio.com/classes/embellishing-felt-with-surface-design-techniques-a-mixed-media-approach/nuno-felting-with-paper-fabric-lamination/)  Ruth lived up to expectations by providing concise instructions on her methods.  The smaller class size made the whole experience very personal and enjoyable.  It also provided a space where I, as a participant could interact easily with fellow students – it’s something personally I think important as sometimes on-line classes can leave me feeling quite remote.

I was absolutely delighted when Ruth asked me to write some posts for the Felting and Fiber Studio blog and when I finally decided to design and produce the online Spiral Workshop I was thrilled when it was accepted as one of the courses on the FFS workshop platform.  I feel so comfortable with the whole ethos of small class sizes and encouraging participants to engage with others if they so desire.

The Spiral workshop came about as a result of a challenge put to me by a fellow felter.  Once I had refined my technique I set about filming each step of the process.  I wanted clarity as, to a large extent, the videos needed to replace my physical presence in the learning space –  that said as with all courses offered by FFS, tutors are available to answer questions for the duration of the course.

Once the full course was recorded, I set about editing the material. This did not involve a lot of deletions.  Instead the videos were broken into smaller steps which would make particular elements of the process easier to locate for participants.  Each video has an accompanying PDF which again is broken into steps to match the videos.  These are available for participants to keep and the videos are available for the duration of the course (and a few extra weeks).

This will be the third run of the course which will start on 26th August.  Registration for it opens today (12th August) and numbers will be limited to make the experience more intimate.

Here are some photos of students’ work.  They are all so gorgeous and so different. I have included some of the reviews at the end of the video.

 

If you are interested in finding out a bit more, feel free to check out the following link:

HANGING FELTED SPIRAL WITH HELENE DOOLEY

 

Wash a fleece with me

Wash a fleece with me

***This post should have been published yesterday but somehow the scheduling didn’t go through, apologies for the delay!***

The days are so much longer here in Scotland. When blessed with sunshine (which happens more than you’d think), this is the perfect time of year to wash fleeces.

I recently bought a Leicester Longwool fleece from a small farm that specialises in conservation of this rare breed. I’d bought from them before, so I knew I’d be happy with my purchase.

Now, for those of you who live in a house with a garden, washing raw fleeces might not be a somewhat mammoth task, but I currently live in a flat. Some creativity was in order.

I’m lucky enough to have a very generously sized kitchen, which is where the beginning of the processing begun.

part of a shower curtain is laid on the floor

I laid down this piece of shower curtain on the floor (it’s a leftover from my dyeing setup, I used the rest to protect the wall when working). I can already tell you I was naive and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

a bag with a fleece in it, with Muriel written on the outside

Here is the fleece, ready to come out and play. Muriel is the lovely sheep who grew the wool, she was so named because she mewed more than baah-ed 🙂
This fleece is around 6.5kg. You can already see where I was getting at when I said I was naive, don’t you?

Muriel's fleece is on the floor, ready to be unrolled

The owner of this flock was kind enough to send me some very good written instructions on how the fleece was rolled, and how best to unroll and wash it.

Leicester Longwool fleece on the floor, with human foot nearby for size comparison

If you’re laughing at my tiny plastic protection right now, I don’t blame you. I laughed too! I photographed my foot so you could have an idea of scale. Oh boy.

Time to sort the fleece according to body areas and discard the bits I didn’t want, which in the case of this particular fleece wasn’t much.
Sorting the fleece this way helps me know which parts will be more useful for different purposes. The wool on the back of the sheep (which you can see in the middle) will have better curl definition, and the bits near the rear end will be coarser and less curly. There’s a use for each part, but I want it separated so I can work quickly once it’s all washed.

I must give credit to the shearer, he did a stellar job. I had hardly any second cuts (tiny bits of wool you get from when the shearing machine goes through the sheep a second time, to even the “haircut” out). This person was definitely removing the fleece knowing it was to be used by a crafter, which I greatly appreciated.

closeup of the fleece with very dirty tips and extremely white cut ends

Have you ever wondered about how dramatic a Before and After can be in washing fleece? Here’s your answer. The end bits have been subjected to the elements, the part nearer the animal is pristine. Once I’m done, I hope it’ll look mostly like the white bits.

Next, I carefully roll up the fleece into sections to soak.

a rolled up section of fleece, ready to be soaked

What one does next with a fleece depends on personal preference. I like to soak it in cold water and change the water often, until most of the lanolin (the natural oils the sheep produces to protect its coat) is washed off. Once that’s done, I use very hot water a few times, and then add detergent to it. Once the water comes out mostly clear, I’m done. All that’s left is to rinse it, lay it flat to dry and then play with the lovely curls.

two fleeces soaking, one dirty and the other almost clean

Notice the huge difference! The one on the right already has some detergent in it, the left doesn’t as it still needs a few more cold water soaks.

I’m sure some readers will be worried about processing a fleece indoors. Allow me to share what I did to stay safe and clean:

  • Firstly, I purchased the fleece from a trusted high-welfare farm, which means the sheep are kept happy and are constantly monitored for health issues (thus ensuring the wool isn’t contaminated with pests or other nasties)
  • The fleece was always handled with gloved hands and I never touched other surfaces whilst doing so.
  • I never ate or drank whilst processing the fleece
  • Once I was done separating it into sections, they went into plastic bags and all surfaces were thoroughly washed, even the ones that the wool never touched, such as counters
  • The bathtub was thoroughly washed and sanitised before being used by humans
  • (Finally: if you have pets, make sure they stay away from raw wool! My cats are abnormalities and didn’t care one bit for it, so they stayed away on their own.)

On my next blog post, I’ll share how the fleece came out once dry and the locks separated.

Have you ever washed a fleece? How did your experience compare to mine? Let me know in the comments.

We Need a New Door Stop

We Need a New Door Stop

Recently we have acquired a new bookcase for our living room.  It was actually made to fit in the space between the front wall and the door of the room.  However it has a sort of lip around the top, the corner of which was banged by the glass of the open door if we were not careful.

2 Views of the book case against the glass (with some of my menagerie in view on the book case)

Obviously we needed something to stop the door before it fully opened. After some thought I decided that it needed to be tall (so that we didn’t have to bend down too far to move it – the floor gets further away the older you get), but it needed to be thin too otherwise the door wouldn’t open far enough to let one of us safely into the room, especially with drinks in hand.

I wanted it to go with the colour of the carpet and I knew that I had somewhere in my stash a blue wool sweater that I had felted (on purpose) by putting it through the washing machine. I finally rooted it out and decided that I would use one of the sleeves, which had a pattern knitted into it.

The Other Sleeve – what’s left of it – the pattern looks a bit hazy but hang in there, you’ll see it later.

Initially I thought that I would make a tall thin pyramid shape to fit in the gap between the side of the book case and the door. I sewed up the cuff of the sleeve and, to make sure it didn’t keep falling over, I begged a piece of flat lead sheet from my husband which I fitted into the bottom of the stuffed sleeve, and then sewed up what had been the shoulder to make the base. 

Well it was ok, but I thought it needed a bit more interest and decided to turn the door stop into a cat.

Out came the felting needles and my scoured merino, which I use as core fibres. Then for the “top coat” I sorted through the blues in my stash – normally jealously guarded because I don’t have a lot now as I use them for sky in my pictures – and found some which almost matched the main blue of the sleeve. Obviously he wasn’t going to be a realistic cat so I tried to “cartoonise” his features, and rather than give him needle felted eyes as I might normally do I fished out some bright orange glass eyes from another stash which would go well with his dark blue face. I used some of the blue to make a wet felt sheet, out of which I cut his ears.

Having made his head, I attached it to the tall thin pyramid. It’s sewn as well as needled on, but even so I was concerned that if he was picked up by his head it might come off. I made a piece of blue cord and attached that as a loop behind his head so that he might be moved safely. And here we have him.

Smiley Door Cat

Not long after this, we acquired a new pinky-grey bathroom carpet and also new pink and grey towels to replace very tired old red ones. Until then we had been using the bathroom scales as a door stop – that door will slam very hard if the wind gets up when the window is open. So now I decided that we would need another door cat.

When we got the new carpet we did not change the basic colour scheme as we didn’t want the hassle of changing the suite (vintage Pampas) or the tiles. The colour scheme is essentially derived from the tiles, which are pink and grey with some crimson detailing. Originally we had a red-ish carpet and red and dark grey towels, but when I bought those towels I could not get a bath mat to match, so I made one by stitching two red hand towels back to back.

Bathroom Tile

As the new carpet shed fibres quite a lot to begin with I thought of making the new door cat out of that fibre, but after a little more thought I realised that that would not be a good idea. We would keep falling over a camouflaged cat in the gloom of a late night visit!

So I thought I might find another felted sleeve, but couldn’t come up with something the right colour. Then, because we still had touches of red in the room, I decided that I would deconstruct the old red bath mat and use one of the pieces for the cat’s body. I had already given away the rest of the old towels to my friend for her dogs.

I felt that a “loaf cat” pose would be best, less likely to tip over if the wind caught the door, but I’d need too much lead sheet to make it a suitable weight. So I visited the garden and found a triangular(ish) shaped piece of rock, washed it and wrapped it in a couple of layers of non-woven cotton towels, secured with masking (painter’s) tape. I made myself a paper pattern of the body and cut out two body sides and a gusset for the base and chest. I cut out the pattern pieces from the towel and stitched it all up (first inserting the wrapped rock and stuffing it with polyester stuffing.

I had seen a cartoon of a smiling cat, which had enormous ears, which looked really cheeky. I thought I’d have a go at making one like that. I started with the core fibre again and got the head substantially how I’d like it and then thought about fibres for the coating.

Head ready to be covered in “Top Coat” (for some reason enlarged umpteen sizes)

I did not have exactly the right red, so had to blend a couple of pieces of pre-dyed merino tops which seemed to work ok. I did the same to make a pinky-grey blend for the chest, face and inside of the ears. I had decided that I would make the cat’s chest a similar colour to the carpet which meant that I had to make a wet felted sheet of the pinky-grey batt to cover the original red towelling. I cut the felt into the shape of the chest gusset, leaving enough for a pair of large ears.

I needled some of the red onto the back of the ears, and this resulted in a darker pink on the inside where the needles had pushed fibres right through, which was actually a benefit I think. I needled the blended red on to the back of the cat’s head and neck, and the pinky-grey onto the face, attached the ears and gave him a darker pink nose. I “shadowed” the smile and blinking eyes and I also gave him some laughter lines.

Nearly finished head, along with my felting cushion and a trapped needle holder

Then I stitched the head onto the neck, and the chest piece over his front, catching in the head at the neck.  I covered the join with more needled fibres and, using another piece of towel, attached a handle to the back of his neck so that he could be moved without his head coming off.

Loving Blinks from the new Door Ward

My husband has already named him Yoda.  We each confessed the other day that we both chat to him (in fact I pick him up and cuddle him too – he just fits into one arm)

What about the poor tatty sheep at the beginning of this post? Well, many years ago now, when I was a fairly new needle felter, I decided that I’d like to make myself a door stop for my bedroom door. I had acquired from our Guild a Jacob fleece, which, as it turned out, was ideal for needle felting. It certainly wasn’t a lot of good for wet felting – it wouldn’t, whatever I did to it. I suppose I must have had an old ram’s coarse and kempy fleece palmed off on me, when I was too naïve to know what I was getting – no wonder it was cheap!

Anyway, I got a body shaped pebble out of the garden, and washed it, wrapped it in some of the un- wetfelted fleece and started in with a No.36 felting needle (I only had 36 triangle and 38 star needles in those days- oh and a No.19 which was so thick it wouldn’t really go through anything I had with any ease). I bust quite a few needles before the pebble was covered. I added a neck to one end and then decided that my sheep would need eyes and a pair of horns. At that time I did not know that Jacob sheep often have 4 horns and wear them as if they had put them on in a hurry in the morning whilst still half asleep!

I made the horns and eyeballs using pipe cleaners and white Fimo polymer clay, baked and painted with acrylic paints. At that stage in my career I had not thought of using PVA glue on needled fleece to make horns. I needled a head shape around the horns and eyes, and then attached it to the neck. It did not occur to me to strengthen the neck with the ends of the pipe cleaners, I had cut these short and just put the horns on either end, and did the same with the eyes.

Well it all worked and for years he sat by my door, getting moved when necessary with my foot.  Now he’s a sad old thing, but being sentimental I can’t bear to get rid of him, even though he’s lost a horn and is definitely the worse for wear.  Perhaps I’ll give him a “makeover” sometime.

Poor Old Jacob, grown old and infirm in service

 

 

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.

Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gifts

I keep telling myself that I won’t “make” any Christmas gifts this year. It always takes more time than I expect but somehow, here I am again, making gifts. This post has very little fiber in it but there is some, I promise. As a maker, I know that I often venture into trying new things including new media outside of fiber art. I find that trying out a new media gives a new perspective to what I usually create.

My friend Deb is moving to Wisconsin and has been clearing out “stuff” in preparation for a spring move. She had boxes and boxes of driftwood that she had collected over the years and was going to take to the dump. Of course, I couldn’t let that happen so all the boxes of driftwood came home with me. And there I was looking at a source of free material with which to create gifts!

The first thought was to make trees out of the driftwood. All I needed to do was layout the right size pieces, drill holes in the center and thread a piece of heavy duty string through the holes. This is the layout for the first tree I created. You can see a couple of the boxes of the driftwood but that hardly gives you an idea of how much wood I had.

Here’s  how the first tree turned out. I liked the look of it and so I decided to  make more.

Here’s a few more that I got photos of. I ended up making nine trees total, five of which were mini trees. I still had tons more wood left.

My sister had requested a yard art armadillo, so that was next on my list. I looked through all the pieces and found what looked like parts of an armadillo. It’s amazing what the wood pieces start to look like in your mind’s eye once you start thinking of a variety of animals. So the photos above show the base that I glued and screwed together. I could have left him like that but I decided he needed some birch bark skin. I took a quick walk and found pieces of birch bark in the woods.

The birch bark was quite scrunched up and dirty. So I soaked it in water and then tied it around buckets to get it to be more circular. Sorry for the poor photo but hopefully, you get the idea.

I added the birch bark with a combination of glue and staples. It was pretty tricky and some cursing might have occurred.

Edgar was not sure about the new creature in my studio. Who is this? The only issue with this gift is that my sister lives thousands of miles from me and I didn’t want to try and ship this guy. I was sure that he would be “killed” by the shipping companies. Luckily, my sister is patient and we will take the armadillo to her on our next cross country trip.

And finally some fiber. I found this piece of driftwood that looked like a hat shape. I added a nose with glue and painted the wood. Then I glued down locks for the beard and pieces of felt for the brim and pompom on the hat. And there you have it, a Christmas gnome.

I made a total of three Christmas gnomes. I love how they each have their own personality. Do you make Christmas gifts? If so, we’d love to see what you have created. You can share with us over on the free forum.

I want to thank you all for being loyal readers and wish each of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy, creative new year in 2022.

 

A bit of this and that

A bit of this and that

‘Tis the season to show off trees! I’m no exception, so here is my contribution.

A few years ago I had the idea of creating a portable Christmas decoration to sell in my shop. I wanted something small, cute and as eco-friendly as possible. The solution? Needle felted mini trees.

The trees

Needle felted miniature Christmas trees by Eleanor Shadow

I think they’re rather fun, even if I do say so myself. The colours are bright and who doesn’t like miniatures?

Each tree has a wire frame to ensure stability. I needle felt the the larger components (tree trunk, copse and base) around the wire and the rest is made separately and stitched onto the main part.

It’s quite fun to felt the baubles, I used to take small amounts of differently coloured wool with me to doctor appointments and such and, whilst waiting, I could get 4-5 balls created. It was also a great conversation starter.

To finish things off nicely, I glue the whole ensemble onto a sturdy piece of locally sourced wool disc and, as they say, Bob’s you uncle.

They’ve been quite the success this year, I’m down to the last one at the time of writing!

Wreathes

Another holiday idea was to create a wreath that could be used over and over again. Have I mentioned I like reusable, eco-friendly things? 🙂

I had some needle felting foam that I regretted buying. It wasn’t the best quality foam and I found out I hated using them, so they’d been languishing in my stash for a couple of years. I didn’t want to throw it away. One day it dawned on me: I could cut and use them for something else.

Needle felted Christmas wreath by Eleanor Shadow. It has a donut shape with felted balls and a red ribbon wrapped around it. It has a green ribbon bow at the top.

I love these wreathes and each year I look forward to hanging mine in my front door. They’re not huge because I had to take the foam’s original size into consideration but isn’t it cute?

Sewing

It wouldn’t be a post written by me without some sewing fun. I felt brave and bought some jersey knit fabric to make a Stasia dress by Sew Liberated. You might know a lot of sewers avoid jersey due to its stretchy nature. My previous experience hadn’t been the best but this time I was determined to succeed.

Fun fact: despite my determination, for some reason I didn’t make a mock version of the dress beforehand. I just moved on ahead directly to cutting the good fabric!

The consequence of this is that my sleeves ended up a bit shorter than I’d wanted, so I think I’m going to cut them and create a ¾ sleeve instead.

Eleanor Shadow shows off her Stasia dress in yellow jersey fabric.

Can you tell I’m so happy with the result? The black dots and stripes on the fabric are just so cute to me. My poor mother still wonders how I ended up going from wearing just black to being obsessed with mustard yellow, but here we are.

Yellow Stasia dress. Pattern by Sew Liberated, made by Eleanor Shadow.

That’s it for today. Can you believe it’s already December? This is my last post for the year, so I wish you a great New Year, filled with fibre and other fun stuff. See you in 2022.

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