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From start to finished yarn – that icky fleece

From start to finished yarn – that icky fleece

Generally, when I wash a fleece I skirt it heavily. (The one exception is for suint cleaning, everything must go into that bath.) I am of the opinion in my senior years, that I have less time than money, and sheep will grow more wool next year; on the other hand, I may not be here. This year I was fortunate enough to buy from a friend who is brilliant at spotting excellent fleece and equally brilliant at cleaning them. I trust her implicitly and with reason.

Once the heavy lifting of selecting, skirting, and washing is done the wool is ready for processing. It can be spun from locks, dyed, carded either on the drum or hand carders, combed, or left to be stroked endlessly if it’s a particularly nice specimen.

This year I was going gang busters with dyeing. I had so much lovely wool to play with, so many different types, it was glorious, but every once in a while I’ll spend too much time with a fleece. I was processing lots of lovely locks and grabbed a bag just brimming full of the little lovelies. So much of the wool was amazing, just shimmering with light and reflecting the colours like petals on flowers.

In the bottom of the larger bag was a small sealed bag that I did not check for quality. This was dyed alone and produced a lovely orange/red. The locks are soft and lusterous, compact and have a great texture. The experiment for this dye bath was to treat the final rinse with a hair conditioner.  I could feel that the wool had been stripped and would produce static during processing.  I laid the wool in the sink, rubbed hair conditioner on my hands and patted it all over the wool, pushed this down in the water and watched in shock and awe as sand, debris, vegetable matter fell out of the fleece.  However, it’s full of second cuts, and cotted spots and these also started to separate from the longer locks. I suspect this was a gifted bag. My pride is saying I can salvage this…but what a sorry site, so many second cuts, so much wastage.

The locks looked fine, but these held some disappointing surprises

In a saner moment I would have set it aside, or thrown it out, but ego took over and I needed to prove to myself that I could make something out of this mess. So I started teasing out the waste material, carded the results and did a test spin.

The waste is significant, approximately 20% of the original product, including VM and sand. The fiber is half as long as the other locks from the original dye baths.

This is the wastage from the second cuts, severely cotted wool and VM

When carded, the staple length of the fiber was too short and too lofty to shape into rolags without fighting the fiber, so I left them as small batts and stacked them for woollen spinning. They are holding together extremely well and spin like a dream using long draw.

The test spin is a perfectly gorgeous, fluffy, strong woolen yarn. I couldn’t be more pleased with the final result, I would use this as a weft, or for knitting something that needs a lot of warmth. I’m not sure it could withstand abrasion. I have no idea what the breed is, so wouldn’t know if felting is an option. The staple on these batts is only 1.5 – 2 inches. The crimp is very large, hence the loft. It does shed so that might be a problem down the road.

Lofty woolen, warm results from experiment, small sample.

So, I learned a few things from this. Hair conditioner is great stuff for spinners. There is now a bottle in my tool kit, cheap stuff, but it works. And maybe I should slow down on judging a fleece as not worth the effort. This one really was worth the little bit of extra work. It’s a pleasure to card, so easy to spin and the final result is wonderful. I would have missed that. My friend knew what she was doing keeping this little bit of wool aside for special care.

Wine Anyone?

Wine Anyone?

I wanted to try making a gift bag for wine in felt.  I first made a resist using the wine bottle as a model.  But I wasn’t sure about shaping the bottom.

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The base layer was black corriedale.  Then I used a layer of merino.  And finally I made a batt using forest green, a heather purple, sage and black bamboo for the last layer.

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For embellishments and design I made leaves from a nuno prefelt and used 100% Peruvian wool thick and thin yarn, locks and needle felted grapes.

I finished fulling the bag on the bottle, but because of the narrowing of the design it’s not an easy in and out for the bottle.

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After it was semi dry, I cut holes at the top to thread some yarn through to tighten it around the neck.  Then I turned down the top and sewed extra leaves on and wound the excess yarn from the  closure around a small dowel to emulate the ringlet vines on a grape wine.

Also, the bottom ended up having “wings” so I tucked them under and sewed them to  the bottom. There was a hollow in the bottom of the bottle so it worked out well.

side finish front finish

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back finish

It was a little hairy so I shaved it.   Next time, I would only use two layers and redesign the shape.

Even with some problems, I think it will make a nice display on a bar.

Have you made anything similar?  Do you think it needs anything else?

Shearing Sheep in Sweden

Shearing Sheep in Sweden

Our guest author/artist today is Zara Tuulikki Rooke.  She shared with me the fact that April was time for shearing her sheep.  So, I invited her to write about it so that we can all experience it since most of us don’t have the opportunity to see it first hand.

Winter is finally giving way to spring, also in the north of Sweden. Or at least, we hope so. Yesterday all the snow almost melted away, and today it has snowed heavily all day… It´s what we call typical April-weather. In any case, the lambs are expected in about four weeks, which means it´s time for shearing. Apart from getting rid of the thick winter fleece before summer, it´s good to shear the sheep before the lambing starts. It makes it a lot easier to see what condition the sheep are in and to follow the lambing in case there are any complications. It is also more hygienic and easier for the lambs to suckle. We only have one ram and four ewes, of which three are expecting lambs and one was born here last spring (you can see the family resemblance between mother and daughter below). But we synchronize our shearing with a neighbour and bring in a professional shearer (Carina Jälkentalo). And that is what this post is about.

Photo 1

In Sweden it´s common to use what is called a “shearing stool.” It´s a platform that can be easily raised with a contraption where the sheep´s head is secured. First you shear the head and neck, then the front and shoulders, and then along the back of the sheep. After that, the platform is raised (to a better working-level), and you continue shearing each side, and finally the belly and legs. The model below is Citronella, the most social of my ewes, and she just calmly stood there during the whole process.

Photo 2

Citronella even got a kiss on her muzzle for being such a good sheep. That´s what I really like about Carina – she always takes the time to talk to and interact with the animals, which is reassuring for both sheep and sheep-owners. And after the shearing they also get a manicure (hoof-clipping), which is often needed after spending much of the winter on a soft straw bed. Citronella´s daughter Stjärna (which means Star) does not like being separated from her mother, but was given some extra attention by one of my daughters.

And who wouldn’t give a little bleat if you got your private parts sheared…?!

Photo 3

Next up was Brittis, my shy sheep with shiny, white locks. All my ewes are cross-breeds, and the three older ones are half-sisters by the same Gotland ram. Citronella looks like a typical Gotland, white Brittis got her looks from her cross-breed mother. This year she managed to stay quite clean until shearing – I guess there are some benefits to having more snow than bare ground and mud in their outdoor enclosure.

Photo 4

The last of my ewes is Lisen, once black but now turning grey. In the photos below you can see the difference in the fleece from the different parts of the animal. The neck and front often has nice locks, but is also where they collect a lot of scraps of hay during winter. The top of their backs can be matted from snow and rain, while the sides are usually nicer on a winter fleece. Lower down on the sides and on the belly, the fleece is often too dirty and matted or even felted to use for anything sensible.

Photo 5

Finally, we sheared our ram Teddy. He seemed really pleased with all the attention, and considering what a mess his fleece was (it felts really easily) I am sure he was glad to get rid of it. But I did save it, with plans to lay it out in my vegetable garden. That should provide some nutrients, keep the soil moist and weeds at bay, and I have heard that slugs don´t like crawling over wool. On the other hand, I have also heard that slugs thrive under wool. Hmmm. I´ll just have to try and see. In any case, I now have a ram that looks like a small mountain goat.

Photo 6

All the sheep got a little extra attention (and pellets) after the shearing. Their appetite increases when you shear their wool, which is beneficial also for the lambs they are carrying. Now we are ready for warmer weather and lambing next month.

Photo 7

Next in turn was our neighbour, or rather, our neighbour´s sheep. Their ewes are mostly white cross-breeds, also including meat-breeds, and most of them are much larger than ours. Their grey ram Edwin is of an old breed called Åsen, the same as our ram. One of the younger ewes was black with a small white patch on one side, but you can clearly see how the fleece has turned grey half way. So from underneath all that black wool, a little grey sheep came out.

Photo 8

The winter fleece is generally of lower quality than the summer fleece. But even with bits of hay in it I couldn’t resist the temptation of accepting my neighbours offer to take care of some of it. The thick winter fleece holds together and does not fall apart into separate locks like the summer fleece. This makes it suitable for felting entire fleeces. As my neighbour doesn’t use the wool herself, I ended up packing the best parts of 9 fleeces in my car. Needless to say, my stash of raw wool is getting quite large, and I am hoping for a warm summer with plenty of time for large, outdoor felting projects.

Photo 9

 

Thanks Zara for letting us come along on the shearing process.  Stay tuned for lambing! And let us know how the fleece works to keep the slugs away!

Washing some Fleece

Washing some Fleece

While looking for something else I found some unknown dirty wool. There was lots of nice curls so that’s probably why I kept them. There wasn’t a whole fleece but just a piece of one, enough to fit in a dish washing bowl. Here it is sitting on top of the water before I pushed it under. There is some dish soap in the water.

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Here  it is soaking. This is a pretty clean piece of fleece the water isn’t very dirty.

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Here it is drying, and after it is dry, it is much lighter gray.

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The are lots of small bits in the individual locks  so I tried just combing the ends and rewetting them to bring it back together.

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Unfortunately it did not word as well as I hoped. They are better and perhaps if I used them on some felt or off the edge of some felt they may come back together by the end of the felting.

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Have you had any success in getting locks back together?

 

 

From Raw Fleece to Carded Batts of Wool

From Raw Fleece to Carded Batts of Wool

Our guest author/artist today is Zara Tuulikki Rooke.  She generously offered to take us through the process of preparing fibers from her own sheep to use for felting.

As I enjoy felting, I feel very fortunate to also be able to keep a couple of sheep. My four ewes are crossbreeds, from traditional Swedish breeds including the more well-known Gotland, and the perhaps internationally less well-known Rya and Finull. In any case, they do have really nice locks.

Photo 1

In Sweden, the common recommendation (with exceptions for certain breeds) is to shear the sheep both in the spring (to remove the thick winter fleece before they have their lambs and before the summer) and in the autumn (when they return to the barn and start spending more time indoors). The summer fleece (sheared in the autumn) is considered to be of higher quality. It has been grown while the sheep have been out grazing nutritious green grass, and not full of hay and straw like the winter fleece. Below is a photo of their summer fleece, sheared last autumn. The lighter, brown tips are from bleaching by the sun (and probably some dirt as they are unwashed).

Photo 2

My ram is from an old breed called Åsen. His fleece is straighter, without real locks. This breed can have a variety of fleece characteristics and different colours in patches on the same individual animal. My neighbour also has a ram of the same breed, and the darker fleece (black-brown-grey) on the photo below is from one of her lambs.

Photo 3

In addition, I also buy raw fleeces from pure Gotland sheep from a farm in a neighbouring village. The photo below shows some of the variation you can get between individuals, both in colour and in the size and shape of the locks. The lambs are born black, but later the wool turns grey and the once black tips are bleached by the sun. Or rather, they grown an increasing proportion of white hairs – there are no grey hairs, just different proportions of white or black hairs making the fleece look grey.

Photo 4

To a felter, this abundance of raw fleeces must seem like an ideal situation. And I certainly think it is. But, the process of turning raw fleece into carded wool is quite time-consuming. And that is what this post is really about.

After shearing, the fleece needs to be skirted and sorted, to take away wool that is too short, dirty or tangled. The short wool can either be from the head or legs of the sheep, or the result of what we call double-shearing (i.e. shearing a patch a second time to even it out). You usually also need to remove a fair amount of grass seeds and other vegetable matter that gets stuck in the fleece. That can take a lot of time, but it helps to do the sorting on some kind of wire mesh that allows small bits to fall through.

Then comes the washing. I try to get as much washing as I can done outdoors in the autumn, after shearing, up until the temperatures drop below freezing (in the North of Sweden that can be quite early in the season). I leave the wool to soak overnight in net-baskets in an old bathtub filled with cold water. The next day, the water will be really brown, but that just shows how much dirt you can actually clean out from a raw fleece with just cold water. I change the water at least twice after that, allowing the wool to soak for at least a few hours between changes, until the water no longer looks dirty. In my opinion, washing the wool in just cold water is sufficient if I am going to use the wool for wet-felting. During felting it will anyhow get washed again with hot water and soap.

Photo 5

During the winter, I do the washing in my bathtub indoors (which prevents anyone in the family taking a shower/bath for 24 hours), and then I usually use lukewarm water. If the wool is very dirty, I also add some washing powder (the type used for knitted wool items). The main rules when washing, to avoid felting the wool in the process, it to avoid too hot water, or quick changes in water temperature, and to disturb the wool as little as possible.

After washing comes drying. The net-baskets are easy to just lift out of the water and then I usually hang them up for a while to drip off a bit. If I am washing a smaller amount of wool, I often use one of those contraptions meant for spinning water from salad. Then I lay it out to dry, on a wire mesh or on towels on a clothes drying rack. Drying takes time, usually several days. It helps to turn the wool over each day and fluff it up a bit each time. It may seem dry on the surface, but wool has an incredible capacity for retaining moisture.
Finally, you have your washed and dried wool, ready for carding. However, some locks do need to be teased first. This means pulling apart the locks/fibres – and you will probably find even more grass seeds now. The photo shows washed locks, before and after teasing. It´s an extra step in the process, but if the locks are tangled in the tips, teasing really does facilitate the carding.

Photo 6

I own a drum-carder, which really does save time compared to using hand-carders. The wool is feed in under the small drum, which in turn feeds it onto the larger drum, as you turn the handle. After two or three runs through the drum-carder, you can finally lift off a batt of lovely, fluffy, carded wool. Then you can start felting!

Photo 7

It does take a lot of time and effort, and I do swear about grass seeds through the whole process, but each step also has its own charm. I often find it very relaxing to sort, tease and card wool. It provides an opportunity to really feel and look at the locks – and to plan what to do with them. And at the end of the day, when I look at my washed locks and carded batts of wool, I feel really wealthy. Perhaps, in part, because I know how much time and effort has been invested into those locks and batts of wool.

Thank you  Zara for such a wonderful tutorial with exceptional pictures to show us the whole  process from fleece to wool batts!

Round and Round I Go

Round and Round I Go

Happy New Year!

One of the things I wanted to do more of this past year was to stitch on felt.  I did one wool painting based on Moy Mackay’s “Anemones”  from her book Art Felt and Stitch that I used free motion embroidery for the first time.   http://feltingandfiberstudio.com/?s=moy+mackay

I was a bit intimidated, but Lyn from Rosiepink encouraged me to keep trying.  So, using Rosiepink’s ebook  I chose to try an embroidered bowl.  http://rosiepink.typepad.co.uk/rosiepink/handmade-felt-and-stitch-bowls.html

I gathered up a lot of my swatches and scraps and decided to use some batik fabric samples I cut up, silk scraps of habotai and chiffon, hand dyed locks, cotton scrim, throwsters waste, hand dyed kid mohair, mulberry silk — dyed and undyed .  One batik swatch that I liked had Oriental fish.  I used that idea for the center of the bowl with handmade prefelt and later in the process I embroidered the details.

Following the instructions, I layed put the circle base and carefully decorated it with my prefelts, scraps and other embellishments.  I used hand dyed mulberry silk on the back to give that some color and shine, but didn’t take a picture. Here is the inner side before felting.

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After felting I let it dry then put in the embroidery details before starting the free motion stitching.

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I purchased five different colors of rayon Gutterman thread — grape, cranberry, turquoise, light purple and silver.

After getting organized to sew, I held my breath, said a prayer and round and round I went stitching as instructed happily watching the bowl take shape right before my eyes!

However, my eyes were crossed by the time I finished trying to follow the rows of stitching needed.  But the result was worth it.  The stitching isn’t perfect especially in the center.  I found it challenging to do the tighter small circles.

2014-10-28 12.12 2014-10-28 12.16It was hard to get decent pictures of the sides between the angle and the lightning.  But you can see the colors underneath and the shiny rayon threads.

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Thanks again to Lyn and Annie for such great instructions and your encouragement.  I hope one of these days the free motion will be second hand, but I still need more practice.  Fortunately, there are many more projects in the book to try besides venturing out on my own.

So, one of my resolutions is to continue to challenge myself to try new free motion projects this year.  What fiber resolutions have you made for 2015?

 

 

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