Washing Fleece

I’ve embarked on my journey into raw wool. I have purchased my first fleece. It cost me twenty bucks, and I trusted the grad student from whom I bought it that it was good. I had absolutely zero experience in looking at fleeces. Zilch.Fleece

This is a Romney fleece. It’s creamy white and full of chaff. I’ve watched Three Bags Full by Judith MacKenzie since I bought it. I highly recommend it (the video) if you’d like to learn more about fleece and how to prepare wool for spinning. I think she’d say this little Romney is a good one for a beginner.

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This Romney sheep wasn’t wearing a coat!

The abundant chaff isn’t a huge problem since this isn’t a fine wool. I plan to card it, so the chaff will come out at that point anyway. This one wasn’t skirted very well before I bought it. Since I paid a whole-fleece price rather than a by the pound price, that’s probably okay. It means extra work, but won’t harm the finished yarn.

After washing, I saw what I think is some yolk staining. The locks with the stain were still sturdy, so they’re still spinnable. Yolk stains are caused by a bacteria that’ll be killed by the washing. It’s important to get the washing done sooner rather than later. That bacteria can spread and ultimately weaken the fibers so far as I understand, but once washed it’ll just leave behind that bright yellow stain. Mine isn’t super bright. I think it’ll be okay.

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I plunged the second half in to ferment for a week or so.

Based on how Janice pulls the fibers apart in the video, I think she’d say my Romney’s fibers don’t come apart as well as they ought. They seem to be sticking together on the cut ends. I hope that won’t be a problem. Happily, I don’t see tons of second cuts and the locks I’ve tested from various parts of the fleece all sounded nice and strong. That’s a plus.

After Patrick and I skirted the fleece and cleaned a ton of burs and chaff out of it, I plunged half of it into a bucket of cold water and set it out on my back patio. This process is called fermenting the fleece. Turns out I love fleece fermentation, too!

I let the fleece stand fermenting for four days before lifting it out and washing it. It was pretty stinky.

Washing fleece isn’t as hard as it sounds. It doesn’t felt as easily as I’d feared. I used ECOS Free and Clear Laundry Detergent after doing a bit of research on Ravelry. I used a bucket since my washer is a front loader style. I split this half of the fleece into three parts. I can see how a top loading washer could be a boon because you could get the whole thing in there at once.

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The fermenting process took out a ton of dirt, but you can see there’s a ton of chaff still in there.

I took my time washing, letting it stand, sending it through the spin cycle in my washer, then rinsing with plenty of breaks. It was looking terrific…until the final rinse. After I ran it through a dilute vinegar rinse, I was going to drain and spin the fleece, rinse it in one last clear cold water bath in the bucket, then drain and spin once more to get most of the water out.

My guys had returned home by then, and my man suggested we go to the dog park before dark. I felt rushed and decided to try the rinse and spin cycle in my washing machine.

Here's the first bunch soaking.

Here’s the first bunch soaking.

That was a mistake. Most of the fleece felted. I was sorely disappointed. I knew it when I put it in there that I probably shouldn’t. The consolation is that I made that mistake on a pretty inexpensive fleece, so I only cried a wee bit. I would have balled good and loud had I felted a nice one like the Alpaca I bought from the same grad student.

I bought a cheap dog slicker brush and worked apart the looser of the semi-felted locks. I was able to salvage about 7 of the 28 ounces or about a quarter of the washed wool.

I don’t know how well it’ll spin, but it’ll probably be my first stuff to practice on, so it doesn’t have to be terrific. I’ll have the other half of the fleece to work with once I finish washing it this weekend, too. It could be a lot worse.

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Here’s a small portion of the felted fleece.

So, here’s what I learned:

1. Do not put fleece in the rinse cycle. The water pouring onto it will felt it for sure.
2. Take a good look at the whole fleece. The locks should sound strong when tugged and they should pull apart easily.
3. Use the least amount of detergent you can get away with.
4. Use the hottest tap water you’ve got. Don’t fret over whether the water is over 150 degrees farenheit. Hot tap water will work just fine, be consistent, and will be more manageable than boiling water and trying to reach the higher temperatures for every rinse.

Unfelted, washed Romney fleece.

Unfelted, washed Romney fleece.

5. Partially felted fleece can be pulled apart if the majority of the lock is still loose. It won’t be as nice as the long locks were originally, but it’ll fluff up well when carded.
6. Salvaging a partly felted fleece is a lot of work. If you’ve got the budget, chuck it and buy a new one to start over. If not, listen to a good series on the tele to make the work a little less tedious. I chose Bones on Netflix.

A lot of more experienced folk have told me that they don’t wash raw wool because it’s so much work. It is, but it’s kind of soothing work, too. I’m keeping my eyes open for a nice set of cotton/fine wool hand carders now. That’ll be my next step with this Romney before spinning it. With luck, I’ll find a good set soon, ’cause I’m excited to see how this stuff spins up.

Black Sheep Wool Gathering

Black Sheep Wool Gathering in Eugene, Oregon, is big. Really Big. It’s the one and only major fiber show in our ‘burb. One half of our little fairgrounds is devoted to sheep and goats, all with lovely, lovely locks.The other side is replete with vendors and the competition exhibition area.

Photo by Elizabeth Haynesworth, 2014.

Photo by Elizabeth Haynesworth, 2014.

The challenge for me is in getting my satisfaction in just one day. The gathering is held on the same weekend as my honey’s big birthday bash. This year, I spent Friday at the gathering and manged to get my man to the gathering for an hour on Sunday, too. It was soooo fun!

I perused the whole show, goats and sheep and vendors alike, in a couple of hours before buying anything, except the one item I’d been thinking about for the past year. I picked up a Jensen’s Turkish Drop Spindle, the Delight, straight away. It’s a sweet little spindle. I found a soft tencil-merino wool blended fiber in pink and white for my new spindle’s first yarn. It’s the lightest weight yarn I’ve spun so far. I love it.

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My new Jenkins Turkish spindle with the first yarn and fiber I’ve spun on it.

Every year, Black Sheep Wool Gathering holds my favorite competition, the Sheep-to-Shawl competition. Teams of five or six begin the day with bags of wool and tools and end the day with a finished, beautifully woven shawl. They card the wool, spin it, then weave it in the span of six hours, using no electricity whatsoever. It’s amazing. Many even take time to talk to onlookers about what they’re doing while they’re doing it. I learned a bit about carding using a drum carder this year. Last year, I just stood there watching the teams spinning in an overwhelmed stupor. It was my first year at the gathering and I’d only been spinning (drop spindle) for a couple of weeks at that point. What those spinners did with their spinning wheels looked incalculably challenging.

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My Jenkins Delight disassembled for travel.

The spinners in the competition last year had spoken of draft and tension and a whole lot of other details that sailed right over my head. This year, I wasn’t quite so intimidated by those spinning wheels. I even tried my hand at an espinner for the first time. I’ve longed for a spinning wheel, but no one makes one for those of us who stand more than we sit. The Hansen Crafts Minispinner is a sweet little electric wheel that doesn’t need pedaling, so it can be used by someone who likes to sit, stand, or even recline. I have the utmost respect for those folks who can spin at a traditional wheel, but I’ve come to accept I’m not one of them. Sitting that long in such a stationary position aggravates my back. Plus, I like to move. I sat far too long when I was young. So, an electric like the Minispinner is perfect for me. It was fun, too.

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Photo by Elizabeth Haynsworth, 2014.

Disaster in Silk

It’s been easily a month coming, this disaster. I was inspired by a recent issue of Designing Vashti’s newsletter to dig into my first ruana wrap. (Here’s a link that shows what a Ruana wrap ought to look like.) It’s an easy form, really, like a giant rectangle with a slit cutting into one of the shorter edges and running parallel to the long edge half-way through the piece. Honestly, for crochet it almost couldn’t be easier.

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I labored through three trials before I got the pattern down. My poor blue silk (Araucania Chaitén solid, 100% silk) was none too pleased with being re-crocheted thusly. Eventually, I got the hang of the simple star pattern and managed to add the sage green stripe in the right place. Three times! That alone should have tipped me off that this wasn’t going to be an easy project.

But no, I bravely crocheted on. I finished the back, which is the half of the rectangle that’s not split…then realized it was too narrow. I ripped it all out and started over, again.

A week later, I had a properly sized back all the way up to the shoulders. I was ready to move on to the front. I dug into one side, crocheting shorter rows on one side until I’d added my green stripe, loosely chained along the neck edge, and started in on the other half of the front. Two rows in, I realized I’d managed to make the last few rows of the first half of the front wider than the rest.

I took a deep breath, ripped out the lot and re-worked it. By this time, I was doubting just about all my crochet skills. I counted and recounted every row like an obsessive-compulsive basket case. Upon reaching the second half of the front again, I discovered yet another error. I measured about fifteen times, then shrugged and continued on in the hope that no one would notice.

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Normally, I have the good sense to set a project that’s going this badly aside for a few months, or years, and move on to something else until my head’s back in the game. Perhaps all those astrological alignments were just not favorable or my tenacity ran roughshod over my better judgement. Whatever it was, I continued on.

My efforts were in vain. This disaster in silk is destined to be undone and begun again some day in the future. Possibly a few years or decades in the future. Definitely not now.

A Dream Come True: Publishing

When I was ten or eleven years old, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I didn’t know, but the truth is I did. I wanted to be an author and a publisher. Well, editor was the biggest I let myself dream back then, but it grew into publisher and author by the time I was about twenty-five. I kept it to myself and made the choices that put food on my table and kept creditors off my back. They kept me in the writing profession, but didn’t fulfill my dream.

Strawberry-Folio-Cover-littlePart of the problem was, I didn’t believe I could do it. Little by little, I circled that dream, and little by little I gave it up. I even gave up on writing altogether just a few years ago. I had so many failures on the way I plumb ran out of drive. The dream exhausted me.

It wasn’t the first dream that didn’t come true. I’d burned with desire to travel the world when I was younger. That didn’t happen. It turned out that travel belonged to my sister, and when I saw that, the desire vanished completely, leaving me peaceful and content. Watching my dream of publishing die was hard, yet it was a huge relief. Unlike the travel dream, it didn’t leave me content, but it did give me peace.

Now, I’m watching my dream of being a publisher and author manifesting in a way I never would have imagined. It’s as if I’d sent my baby out into the world and she’s come home with a whole trunk of opportunity and growth. When I watched her go, it felt like death.

Today, I stand just inside a whole new world. I am co-author of The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio series, editor and publisher of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that changed the World by Sue Sierralupe, and am a published author of a series of fiction and non-fiction articles relating to herbs and herbalism.

The dream didn’t die. It took on a life of it’s own. Maybe that’s exactly how it was supposed to be all along.

Handspun Cowl

Last summer, I took a class on spindle spinning at Eugene Textile Center. Since, I’ve been practicing off and on. I have six ounces in lavender and another six in maroon to show for it. The lavender was my first, so it’s bulkier and less consistent than the maroon. Both were tucked away in a bag on the top shelf of my shawl shelf.

firstCowl1Relaxing on the couch next to my Jasper, listening to a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer this afternoon, I knit up my first ever cowl…in lavender. I chose garter stitch for a rough yet stylish look. It measures 20 inches when laid flat for a total of 40 inches around and six inches wide. The Merino wool gives it a low itch-factor. Merino is one of the least scratchy wools in my experience thus far.

One of the aspects I love about this yarn is the little bits of bright blue and red through out it. They help make the lavender more versatile  It looks good over bright red, which makes up more of my wardrobe than I’d like to admit, and with blue jeans.

I’m already looking forward to spinning my next yarn.

Long Brown Gloves

Two years ago, I bought this terrific brown wool sock yarn intending to turn it into a pair of fingerless gloves. One thing led to another, and I never quite got to knitting them…until now.

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Dana Victoria Mitts by Robbyn Kenyon is a Victorian-inspired lace pattern with bobbles and leaves running from fingers to elbows. I found it on Ravelry. The mottled brown yarn I used threatened to dash their sophistication. So, I set red and white beads between the leaves, giving them a casual, every day glamour.BrownGlovesPost1

These gloves took just under 1 skein of Cascade Yarns Heritage Hand Painted Sock Yarn in Indian Summer (color 9931) and approximately 150 beads. I don’t remember how long I spent knitting them, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of three weeks or maybe 10 hours of knitting time. I had to re-knit a few times at the beginning before I got the hang of the pattern. After that, it was smooth sailing.

 

Waves of Land and Sea Stole Pattern

Long and thin, this stole crosses the line between scarf and wrap. You could add more rows and maybe chain on fewer to begin with, but you’ll lose the luxurious, dramatic aspect of the design. I like the drama. I made the sample using Cash Vero DK by Cascade Yarns, a soft, thick blend of […]

Coastal Adventure

When I set off today for the fabled South Jetty with Jasper, I wasn’t expecting such a Big adventure as we had. Perhaps the giant pink potholes we brooked along the way should have allerted us to the magical nature of the day’s trip. I somehow missed that.

We parked way, way, wayout at the end of the road just shy of the jetty itself and took the path over the dunes and through the grass. Wild strawberry was blooming optimistically. We stopped to get a shot for The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio on Strawberry. That was the first of several fortuitious experiences.JasperontheDune1

As we crested the last dune, we saw sea monkeys on the distant waves. They were riding them like the surfers off Hawaii’s shores. Up and down they glided on the waves. One even caught the smallest of tunnels before he slipped from his board into the drink.

We decided to walk away from the jetty, where various people played in the sand, to the open areas. Jasper frolicked with the waves once or twice, as young dogs will do, but mainly he was on a mission. We were searching for treasure.

We walked for a long while before coming to a huge twisted tree laying on its side on the shore. Jasper was wary. He takes his job as protector seriously. I approached with confidence. When he saw it was good, his mind turned again to digging up crab shells, clams, and sticks.

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After some time in contemplation, we noticed two sea monkeys approaching. Jasper barked and made a bunch of show in warning them off. They were bigger than he expected and black from chin to toe. They would have been menacing if they hadn’t been arguing over where they’d left their treasure. We watched them pass and eventually re-enter the water without incident.

As soon as they’d been consumed by the waves, we set off again. Strolling along, the ocean rolling in and the breeze blowing, Jasper at my side, it was peaceful and glorious there today. In the moments before I found it, I knew a treasure was at hand. The sand dollar was perfect, unbroken, hiding half under a blanket of sand. Jasper was all for eating it, but I said,

“No, this is a gift from the ocean, a story-keeper.”

With that, we continued on awhile longer. Jasper choose two rune sticks for me, suggesting I add a new rune. The next set I make will see an addition to the Elder Fulthark, Jae-Jae, the rune of the Whole Story that asks you to consider things from from a Bigger Perspective.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the city. Sticks and sand dollar in hand, we climbed the formidable dunes and wove our way through the maze of sea grass back to our ride. The ‘Rover was right where we left her. Happily and quite tired, we climbed in and turned back homeward bound. It was a very good adventure.

A Day with My Ancestors

Every year since I’ve forgotten when, I’ve celebrated All Hallows’ Eve and The Day of the Dead with my Ancestors. E00EE673-2A62-47E3-8F8F-E41B7CB30176.pngThis year is going to be no exception. Already, I can feel the early arrivals gathering, though, and that’s new. Usually, I don’t feel their arrival until the day of the festivities. Perhaps, I’m getting more perceptive…or perhaps the party’s more anticipated this year than usual. Whatever it is, I feel the excitement building.

At dusk on Halloween, we’ll light a fire and invite the Ancestors to join us until dusk the next day. We usually enjoy dinner shortly thereafter followed by Halloween movies and sweets. The next day, we’ll go about the business of living…with an entourage of ancestors along for the ride. I’m hoping to get out to an end-of-year farm sale and maybe do a bit of canning or, better yet, go mushrooming. Last year, we spent the day in the woods finding the most abundant, delectable mushrooms. My Babcia had a ball out there with me. I took a walk with my Buttercup and my Grandfather, too, later in the day.

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Occasionally, I get requests for dinner. One year, someone really wanted a mustard sandwich. Another it was chilie. This year I feel some kind of festival food is in order, but what I don’t know. I’ll just have to see what shows up in the next few days.
A few of my moOne of the especially neat parts about my Ancestors is there are so many of them from so many places and times. This past year, a shaman told me that our Ancestoral family can include folk who don’t appear to be I the family tree as we amongst the living see it. Those are the folk with whom we share a Spiritual heritage. So, I could be sharing food from any cuisine in the world. Part of the fun is seeing who shows up.

re recently dead Ancestors make only the briefest of appearances before sailing off to visit other relatives amongst the living. Those folk may not even stay for dinner, but I’m never hurt by it. I’m honored they stop by

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to say hi and send them off with Blessings for their intended companions. Sometimes, entirely new folk show up; hearing their stories and how they’re related to me is always a bit of a challenge. It’s not like I can just step into their space and listen–half the time my family amongst the living finds one way or another to interrupt me. Plus, listening like that is really tiring. Still, I try to catch all I can of their conversations and stories. They’re an amazing lot. Sharing a day and a night with my family, both those in the land of the Dead and those amongst the living, is one of the highlights of my year.

The Master Tree is Finally in My Portfolio

I don’t know why it takes me so long sometimes to get new pieces into my photo gallery. It does. Eventually, though, they get there.

Today, I posted pictures of The Master Tree. It’s a piece Patrick and I created for Master Duer to recognize the importance of his mastership to us and to our fellow students. We presented it to him last August at the annual school picnic. Keeping the project under wraps until the moment we presented it was surprisingly challenging. The shock on Mrs. J’s face when she first saw it, moments before we presented it to them, was wonderful. I think when we’d mentioned it to her before the picnic, we called it a quilt, so I think she was expecting something quite different.MasterTree6_ph

Just as Master Duer went through a whole lot of transformation over the past year as a martial artist, I’ve been going through my own transformations as an artist. Until that day, I hadn’t thought of my work as art so much as quilting…or knitting or sewing or any other crafty word for the techniques I was using. Sure, I’ve called it art, but the truth of that hadn’t really sunk in until the picnic and that presentation.

So, we hadn’t intended to set Mrs. J’s expectations on something else, but I think we did. She most kindly kept the presentation a secret for us until the moment came, and holding that secret was worth it. Master Duer was clearly touched when I held up The Master Tree for the school to see and Patrick explained the piece to everyone. It was a terrific moment.

Like much of my work, The Master Tree is filed with symbolism. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out my portfolio, of course. Making it was a journey that took me into new territory as a fabric artist. It’s one of the bigger projects I’ve done recently and has opened the door to a new series of pieces. I hope to be posting pics of a few of those in the upcoming weeks, but at the rate I’m moving, it’ll probably be months. Until then, you can check out The Master Tree in-person at Duer’s ATA Martial Arts where it now hangs.

Long-standing Project Completed

I started a cute little crocheted blue and white beaded bag. It was a simple design just big enough to fit my keys and a driver’s license so I wouldn’t have to carry a big honkin’ purse when I went for a night on the town. Since I really don’t go out on the town all that often, I just sort of set it aside half completed. That was two years ago.

Last week, I finally finished it.Bluebeadedbag1

This isn’t the first time I’ve started a project and set it aside for seemingly ages. I have a partially completed appliqué quilt top that’s been ever so slowly growing since before my boy was born. I had a stash of cotton yarns bought to become dishcloths four years ago I just finally crocheted this fall. Two of my king-sized quilts sat layered and ready to go for several years and through a couple of moves before I finished them off. I never intend to set stuff aside this long. Really, I don’t.

But, when I finish a long-standing project it feels sooooo good. It’s like tension I hadn’t realized was there suddenly releases and I can relax more deeply than ever before. Dare I say it’s like a crafter’s orgasm? Maybe with less of the sexual connotations but all of the ecstasy?

However you describe it, finishing long-standing projects is deeply satisfying with the added bonus of making space for new projects…like the socks I intend to knit with the terrific sock yarn I found on clearance at The Knit Shop this morning.

Soap Disaster…

And when I say disaster, I’m hardly exaggerating. It was a veritable explosion of lye and oils that roiled like a monster from the deep as it transformed into soap all over my table.

The facts were these:

One week ago, in the quiet, cool early morning, I set out to make a batch of soap. Intending to use up the last of my lye, and thus make space on my overcrowded shelf, I’d carefully calculated and reviewed instructions the night before. soapdisaster1I’d sniffed through my stock of essential oils and dry herbs and settled on a lovely combination of petitgrain, rose and benzoin. I’d measured all the ingredients into clearly marked containers to ensure that in my early morning foray I wouldn’t make a mistake. When I set to work the next morning, I had no clue as to the devilish disaster that would unfold.

That morning, with the oils heated, I mixed my lye. As expected, the lye solution heated fast…too fast. The oils were still a hundred degrees hotter than needed when the lye solution began to cool off. I scrambled for a way to heat the lye safely while controlling the temperature of the oil. Possibly, the stage for fiasco was set then, as I realized I’d have to mix my components at a temperature fifty degrees lower than I’d intended to achieve. Does lye soapanify oil faster at low temperatures than at high?

I don’t know if temperature was the factor that caused what happened next. What I do know is that when I carefully combined my lye solution with my heated oils, the reation kicked off post haste. In seconds, my mixture was at trace and looking like it might set equally fast. Quickly, I added my essential oils and herbs. This is the second point at which, possibly, I might have avoided calamity had I chose to forego those heavenly scents in my finished soap. Instead, with the speed of a gazelle, I stirred in the final ingredients and poured.

My first clear sign of trouble was when the first mold started to morph in shape. By then, I’d already poured the small molds and was nearly done with the big one. I watched as the mixture in that first mold boiled over with the others quickly following suit. Somehow, the temperature had spiked.soapdisaster2

As you can well imagine, chaos ensued as I scrambled to make something useable of the situation. I managed to save about two thirds of the batch. It has set-up into about the ugliest soap I’ve ever seen. Lumpy in varying shades of brown, these will be no gift bars. I’ve encountered no pockets of lye when I extracted the soap from my large mold, so it looks like we’ll be able to use it…perhaps as a shower soap so’s no one but family will have to experience its hideous cleaning power.