I hope all our American friends had a great Thanksgiving and have survived Black Friday. Up here in Canada it is a new idea that has really only caught on along the boarder, where they hope for cross boarder shopping. While some were out shopping I spent Saturday teaching a needle felted sheep class.
Here are a few of mine that created the demand for the class.
I had 3 student that had never needle felted before. We start by making all the parts. I forgot to take pictures early on but here are some legs being attached. I left the pen in to help you see the size.
I love the way people really get into the felting. Such concentration. You can see her right hand is blurry as she needles the head on.
After the parts of the sheep are all needle felted together and they have naked sheep, it’s time to start adding curls. We use Bluefaced Leicester curls. They are good for this application because they are small tight curls.
The last thing they add are the eyes. You don’t want to be stabbing something that is looking at you. LOL
Here they are posing on some weaving that was on one of the looms in the Guild studio. I brought lots of colours but 2 of the ladies decide to got with the natural curls.
We’ve been talking on the forum about how important it is to make samples, especially when using new fibers or unknown fabrics. It’s better to take a little time to make a sample, than to waste a lot of time and fiber.
I still had one fiber from WOW I hadn’t tried. It was actually a Jacob batt. The batt was very uneven so I used two layers and still ended it up with a couple of sparse spots. I only felted the samples to the prefelt stage so I could use them in another project. The end result of the Jacob was it was very loose and spongy. I’m tempted to full it to see what happens. It is very similar to the Black Welsh I featured in a previous post.
I recently did an experiment with one of Fiona Duthie’s 15 minute projects called Mountains. It’s lost it’s bowl shape a little, but I really liked the curliness of the base, but couldn’t remember what fiber I used.
I have been trying to use more of the coarse fibers I have. But I have been terrible about remembering to write down what I’ve used. I thought Icelandic was harder to felt. It has a very long staple, dyes well, and whenever I use it in has to be shaved when finished. So, I decided to make a prefelt of this as well.
What I discovered is it is soft at this stage, but felted easily.
So, have I been badmouthing the wrong fiber? I have a fair amount of Cheviot so I figured I would experiment with that as well. The Cheviot had a shorter staple but the resulting prefelt was soft and a little lighter in color than the Icelandic which I thought was a lighter color. Hmmm.
When I went with Cathy to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, I purchased some Navajo Churro which I have never used. It had a short staple and was coarse to the touch and filled with little knots. The resulting prefelt was very hairy and much flatter than the others. It reminded me of Gotland I had made a sample of a while back, but while they look similar, the Gotland was very smooth to the touch. It also had been fulled, so that may make a difference. The Churro was very hairy. I have some white Churro I will try dyeing later on.
Last but not least, I made a Romney prefelt and found my curly fiber. (its more noticable at the sparser edges. It is rougher to the touch but I like the cobweb wavy type look. It also has a long staple.
These samples were fully felted and it is hard to tell the difference except to rub my hands over them. The Icelandic and Domestic 56 are coarser to the touch than the Cheviot and the Romney. Different than at the prefelt stage. I think in the future I may take a smaller sample to full and compare obviously they are different.
Now as a preview to some more future sampling on a pile of fabric samples to test.
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.
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.
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…?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We, Marilyn (Pandagirl) and I (Luvswool), had never attended a “fiber fair,” so there were expectations and then the reality of the Fair. We had planned for many months to attend the annual Fair and met there early Friday morning with great anticipation. The advance program showed photos of sheep, fiber, workshops, art exhibits, bags of fleece, etc., and the Fair delivered all of that except for the sheep. One of the organizers explained to me that August is too hot for sheep, and I guess that makes sense. So, the only live animals were a lonely llama and a couple of angora rabbits. Still, it was an enjoyable experience.
The Fair has been held for 8 years in Grayslake, IL, a far northwestern town in the extended Chicago metro area, and it’s a Fair that celebrates the work of many hands. We saw spinners, felters, and knitters demonstrating their crafts, and there were many workshops offered during the 3-day fair. There were a couple of folk singers and a few food vendors outdoors, but everything else was contained in an air-conditioned building. The majority of the indoor vendors were geared towards knitters, with many beautiful displays of hand-dyed, hand-spun yarns and goods. Neither Marilyn nor I are knitters, so we headed first for a walk around to scope out the lot.
First stop was the Art Exhibit, which displayed fine fiber art–among them, my own display of five fiber wall-hangings. There were other fiber wall hangings, sculptures and “vintage” handbags (crafted from vintage patterns but otherwise entirely new).
(Cathy had a very prominent display! It was the first thing to see on our way in. Very exciting! — Marilyn)
Next up were the vendors, which included some crazy rag rugs, lots of beautiful yarn and bags of alpaca fleece. There were also felted hats and you’ll notice I didn’t snap pics of the roving, since I was busy buying it. Marilyn and I purchased some fibers we have not previously felted with–including Navajo churro, 100% Organic Polwarth, white Falkland and I bought some black Blue Faced Leicester with silk. Since there was so much yarn, I did pick up some white wool boucle for embellishment, as well as silk hankies, which I have never used.
As we neared the end, we were able to view the judging of alpaca and llama fleece. Two judges followed a quality control checklist and had to concur on all points.
Then it was goodbye to Princess Athena, the lonely llama, and our day at the Fair came to an end. We would love to attend another fair, but next time would like to see sheep–sheep-shearing, sheep-judging, sheep fleeces, border collies herding sheep, etc. Maybe there’s a trip to New Zealand in our future!
This past weekend, my husband and I went to pick up 200# of wool and took it to the processing plant. This is the wool that I will be using to build a yurt this summer. It was really exciting to get started on this project.
We got up early on Saturday morning and drove to Florence, MT which is about 3 hours from our house. We arrived and the little white trailer is where the wool we were buying was stored. We loaded it on to our trailer and strapped it all down.
Here are a few of the sheep that were on Suzanne’s farm.
Most of the wool is this dark color. This is either a Targee or Black Welsh breed of sheep.
The dogs wanted to get in on the act, so here is Suzanne trying to calm them down a bit.
All of the bags of wool were labeled with the sheep name for the fleece. This is Sophie and there was also Elmo and Ernie and a few others I have forgotten.
Here’s some of the darker wool. I got a mix of Targee, Black Welsh, Romney and BFL.
Then we took off for Hall, MT. We had to make a stop for a cargo net to go over the tarp as we were afraid all the wool was going to blow away. Once it was strapped down more tightly, we were back on the road to Hall. After another one and half hours of driving we arrived at Sugar Loaf Wool Mill.
Here I am helping to unload the wool from the trailer. It was cold and windy.
Once we got inside, Ed weighed all the bags of wool. We had 206#.
Here’s Sue and her assistant adding up the wool amounts.
Here is the carder and it is really huge. Ed was really nice and turned on the carder to make a batt that will be similar to the ones I will be getting back. The videos below show the carder at work. I wasn’t able to edit the videos because I need a better editing program but I think they are worth watching if you haven’t seen a big carder running before. The videos are fairly short and the last one shows Ed cutting the batt off the carder.
This is a rolling felting machine that Ed built himself. I need one of these 🙂
Just a quit little post to show you the sheep I have been working on for my Christmas sales. They do stand up so you can use them as a decoration but they will all have a pin on one side so you can wear them.
They are made with a combination of wet felting and needle felting. The ears are cut from a wet felted piece of fabric and I wet felt the snakes I cut for the legs. The body and head are needle felted. The ears, eyes and all the curls are added with needle felting. I hand dyed the curls. They are Border Leicester or Blue Faced Leicester I can’t remember.
We promised some sheep farming posts so here is one of the first lambs of the season.
She came 2 nights ago when it was bitter cold. She was also stuck. We had to catch mom to check, as I was sure she was having trouble. I was right. The lamb was stuck. Lambs are born with the toes and nose coming out together, like they are diving into life. This little girl had decided to come with one leg back. She isn’t really very little either as she is about 9 or 10 pounds. She was too far out to push back and fix the leg positions. I wiggled and pulled and wiggled and pulled with mom pushing and we got her out. She is up and doing fine. We gave her a heat lamp the first night and then it warmed up. In the morning we had another little one born too. She had the lamp for a few hours and then was fine.
Just for fun here’s a picture of the snow we got today. This picture is across my lane. You can’t see it for snow.