Time to Dance!

Introducing Dance…

Dance is one of my most favourite yarns that I dye, but I haven’t mentioned it much on the blog until now.  It has made a few quiet appearances in my Etsy shop, but the person who holds most of the stock is Affinity Yarns.  And, this month, Affinity Yarns are giving away a skein of Dance to one lucky winner!  Go see how you can win (I’ll wait…)

Dance is a sock weight/4-ply yarn in a decadent mix of 55% Bluefaced Leicester (superwash) and 45% Silk.  It has a wonderful, soft lustre without being completely in-your-face with the shiny, and it takes colour amazingly well.  Scarily well, you could say.

(By the way, if you haven’t met Bluefaced Leicester (or BFL) wool yet, you’re in for a treat.  It’s a wonderful, slightly shiny long-stapled wool that is so, so soft.  Some of my favourite spinning experiences have been BFL).

Because of the high percentage of silk in Dance, fabrics knit up from it have quite a heavy, drapey hand.  It does have some memory and ‘spring’, but not as much as you’d get from a pure wool.  Because of this, it blocks beautifully for fingering weight shawls, and I am absolutely itching to knit a cardigan in it: the swing would be divine!  Perhaps for springtime, eh?

And yes!  This is a sockweight yarn.  But you will get best results if you pick stitch patterns with built in elasticity if you want to knit socks in this yarn; that silk content makes for drape, shine, warmth and beauty- but not bounce.  Plain stockinette socks in Dance will probably slump – but there are plenty of more complex patterns out there to set your needles dancing!

Wonderful Woolfest

Wow.  It’s Monday evening; I can hardly believe that I’ve been away since Friday lunchtime.  In some ways, it seems like forever since I was sitting on my own sofa – in others, the time has flown.

I don’t think I’ve ever driven as much in one weekend: up to Cumbria on Friday afternoon (five and a half hours travelling); over to my parents on the East coast side on Saturday evening (another two hours).  All of Sunday there, then back down to Cambridgeshire today (three and a half hours).  It may be small potatoes to some folks in America, who occasionally seem to drive thousands of miles in a weekend, but it’s a lot for me!

Anyway, I’m delighted to say it was very much worth it.  I’m so pleased that I decided to stay overnight, and on my own to boot.  It’s lovely to wander around a fair in company, but in some ways it was even nicer to just meander at my own pace, following my own whims, not worried about what anyone else wants to see, or if they think raw fleece is boring, or dealing with a group which inevitably includes one hungry person, one tired person, and someone who needs the loo.  (Misanthropic?  Moi??  Well, only sometimes!)

First order of the day, as soon as I was through the door, was the raw fleece stall.  This was the point at which I realised that I’d sorely miscalculated my ready cash requirements: I’d had to pay cash for quite a few things before I even got into the show, and there is no way to get cash near the site.  In addition, only some of the stallholders can accept card payments, so, after allocating a certain amount of money for fleece purchases, a strategic tour of the hall was necessary so that I could allocate my remaining readies appropriately!

Anyway: Fleece.  I bought two.  One, a Lincoln Longwool, with the most lovely, lustrous, white, curly locks:

The other a complete contrast: a mioget Shetland:

I’ve not had time to get either out of the bags for a really good look yet, but I’ll let you know all about it when I do!

Shopping was interrupted at around half 12 so that I could meet up for a good chat (and a bit more fleece fondling) with Cecilia from The Wool Clip, who I met in real life (instead of online) for the first time the night before, and who might just be my new best friend.  I By this time, I’d already acquired my star purchase for the event: a beautiful Russian spindle from IST Crafts:

Go on- click for bigger.  You won’t regret it!

My beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous spindle is made of sycamore, and has a brass tip (which I am hoping will help it not get damaged).  It is a beautiful object, as well as a wonderful tool, and the craftsmanship is impeccable.  I also have an adorable little ceramic bowl that it is designed to spin in; there is very little friction between the brass and the ceramic glaze.  I spent so long at their stall, admiring and playing with the spindles, that I think I probably made quite an impression.  And, I have to say, the feeling is mutual.  Both Ian and Jake were delightful to talk to, and really passionate about their products.  The customer service I received from them (on a seriously busy day) was second to none, and I’d buy again from them in a flash.

Cash wise, that pretty much wiped me out!  I had to reserve a certain amount of money for caffeine and food (to help fuel the shopping and the driving), but really – this Woolfest was all about the people for me.  Despite the fact that I went alone, the best parts of the show were the connections, the conversations, the shared enthusiasm and the mutual joy.  On my own schedule, obviously.

Until next year, Woolfest!

81) And so to plying

The Titania batts:

Yesterday, I realised that I'd managed to fill my lovely Bosworth with Titania-singles to the point where it isn't really behaving itself any more.  (Of course, like a good blogger, I forgot to photograph it).  My original plan had been to spin all the singles, sliding the cops off onto storage devices, then to wind plying balls like I did for the last of the tussah silk and ply.  But this project has sort of migrated itself to work, where we have no spindle-kates, no handy pieces of cop-storage material, nothing.  And I wanted to spin.

So I wound a plying bracelet, reasoning, in the finest traditions of self-justification, that the whole point of this exercise is to find out how the batts work when spinning lace.  Therefore, I should get this lot plied as soon as possible, so I can knit a wee sample, yes?

And I realised that its a very long time since I spun much wool on a drop-spindle.

For the last few years, it's all been silk – except when it's been cotton.  Silk and cotton are both really, really twist-hungry, so I've learned to use a thigh roll to start the spindle.  Rolling the spindle shaft down your thigh gives a much faster spin than flicking it with your fingers.  This is definitely an advantage when trying to fill up silk or cotton singles with twist, but the downside is that wool doesn't need anything like as much twist.  Too much, and it's going to get wiry and scratchy on you – and, ultimately, break.

I can now get a spindle spinning faster than my fingers can draft wool to keep up, and as a result, I've had a *heck* of a time trying not to overspin this wool.

(Close up of the singles – see the sparkly bits??)

You can see how active the twist is, even after sitting on the spindle for a week or so, in these photos.  Every time the tension comes off the singles, they try to kink up and loop back on themselves.  Those bits in the second photo where loose singles have plied back on themselves are really quite tightly twisted, which indicates how much energy is squirreling around in there.

Looks like I'm headed for quite a high-twist laceweight here, then.

Fiber Friday!

Announcing a brand-new Yarnscape tradition, and the launch of another product line: hand-carded batts, perfect for spinners and felters!

This is just a mini shop update, with four batts in each of two ‘flavours’.  First up is Rose Rage (a gradient batt, moving  from pale to dark pink).  This one’s pure merino, no sparkle:

Then we have Titania, a blend of purples with holographic silver Angelina (moderate sparkle):

I’m selling these as one-ounce batts.  This is a bit of an experiment, because Etsy charges per item listed.  I could quarter my listing costs by advertising a single four-ounce lot, but this is more flexible, and should appeal much more to felters and other low-volume batt buyers.  I hope!

Besides, you can get a four-foot long, eight inch wide lace scarf out of less than an ounce of fibre.  I’ve done it.

49) Parade of the Fleeces

Did I mention, it's fleece season?

A month or so ago, I took advantage of one of the first really warm weekends and hauled my fleece stash out of the shed and spread it out on the lawn.  The idea was to get the lanolin all warmed up in the sun; lanolin sets harder and harder over the years, and some of these have been off the sheep for three or four years already.  Of course, I couldn't resist washing some.

So, here's a quick overview (click for bigger):


From left to right, we have:

  • Freddy, a largish down-type fleece of unknown breed.
  • Jane, a smaller, softer fleece of similar provenance (at the back)
  • In front of Jane, a Jacob fleece I'd forgotten I owned.  I think I got it free at a spinning meet, and it was labelled 'cold water washed'.  Sadly, it was felted into a tight bundle, and I threw it out.
  • Two Manx Loaghtan fleeces, which I am calling Honey and Caramel.
  • Note also Kita's head at the bottom of the photo.  Raw fleece is Very Interesting to dogs.

This is Freddy, all spread out:



These sheep are pets of a friend of J's parents, who live in France.  They are not kept for fleece, and are shorn because it's necessary.  I haven't packaged them very carefully, and the structure of the fleece has been lost.  I'm not too worried in this case, because it's uniformly clean (or not) and actually seems to have a pretty consistent staple throughout.  (In the background, you can see my secret weapon in the fleece washing battle – our old bath).

I have two Manx fleeces, pictured in the next two photos (which are nowhere near as good as I thought – sorry!)  I'd only examined one of them before this day, and was delighted to find that the second one was even nicer than the first, with a longer staple and a softer handle.  Sadly, you can't really tell the difference in the photos…



My original intent was just to give the fleece a good airing, but of course, I ended up washing some.  Washing fleece always makes me feel vaguely guilty – it uses so much water! – so I re-use the water as much as I can, and it ends up going onto the garden.  Here's a chunk of 'Freddy', before washing:


You can see there are layers of muck and grease in the fleece.  I use very hot water and a generous squeeze of washing up liquid to wash fleeces.  Washing up is generally greasier than laundry, so washing up liquid is better suited to attacking the grease found in a raw sheep's fleece!  And you need the water to be hot, because it melts the grease and gets it off the fibre so much faster.

Because Freddy is a down type, I'm not particularly (at all!) concerned about keeping the lock structure intact.  That can be a good idea for long wools, or if you want to spin the finest, smoothest worsted yarn possible from a fleece, but this stuff is woollen all the way, baby!  That means I can wash big chunks of it all at once.  So, an armful or so goes into the tub, and is gently encouraged to sink:


I then use my hands (in gloves! This water is HOT and unsanitary!) to 'herd' the fleece slowly from one end of the bath to the other.  I can't remember where I picked up this technique, but it works pretty well.  The idea is that the water will slowly move through the fleece, without rubbing or any real agitation.  It takes a minute or so to go from one end to the other, then another minute back again.  You can see muck coming out of the fibre in clouds.

As previously stated, I like to re-use the water as much as possible.  Most fleeces will need several trips through the bath to become acceptably clean, and once the water is too dirty for the second wash of one section, it can start the first wash of another.  When it gets to this sort of stage, though, it's probably best to run it out and start over:


I don't put this stuff on my veggies.  Oddly, I'm more worried about the detergent than I am about the poop and grease.  The rest of the garden loves it, though.

Here's the difference the first wash makes:


The unwashed is on the left, the washed on the right.  It's not orange any more!

Incidentally, the small bits of vegetation will almost never wash out, especially from a tangly, crimpy wool like this.  You can pick them out when the wool is dry, but it's only really worth it for the big bits.  Most of the rest will fall out during carding anyway, and you can pick more out when you spin…

47) Meet ‘Burwash’

It's fleece season.  I'm on a bit of a mission to get better at handling and evaluating fleeces.  So.

When I was demonstrating spinning at Burwash Manor last Sunday (blogged over at yarnscape, because it's a public event), I took the opportunity to buy a fleece from the chaps who were demonstrating sheep shearing.  I selected this sheep's fleece because the sheep looked, to me, like a Bluefaced
Leicester (BFL) cross.  BFL is lovely wool; long staple, soft and
delicious.  He had some like this one, and the rest of his sheep were rough fells, which do not have soft wool.

Here is the whole fleece, laid out flat, with the britch (bottom!) end towards us and the head end pointing away:


Note the poop-smear at the top left hand corner, and the red marking on the right flank.  You can also see how thick the fleece is on the sides of the sheep, and how thin along the spine.

This is some of the lovely thick stuff from the flanks of the sheep:


You can see that the staple length is nice and long, and it's very crimpy/curly at the ends.  (If you click for big, you'll see that the crimp extends the whole length of the staple).  This bit of fleece is quite nice and not matted; you can see it's quite easy for me to pull it apart, and you can see through to the grass underneath.

This bit is from one of the legs:


It's really quite badly felted.  After exerting a bit of pressure, I couldn't really separate out any locks.  You could cut this stuff to size and have instant chair cushions.

Here's a closeup of the fleece running along the spine:


It's much thinner and less lush than the flanks, and shorter, too.  It's also quite dry to the touch and may be brittle. So I split up the fleece into flanks, spine, back end and front legs, thus:


I'm going to try washing and combing the flanks; they may spin up to a very useful worsted yarn.  I've kept everything except the matted back end parts, and will see if anything is redeemable.  It may not be, but I have this gut feeling that the only way to find the boundary between 'useable' and 'useless' is to step over it a few times.

So near!

Tomorrow is setup day for Textiles In Focus, and I am so near to ready.  Not so near that I can take the night off, of course; all my roving braids still need to be labelled:

Gorgeous, aren’t they??  Unfortunately, I still haven’t decided on the best way to label these puppies, so it might not be a quick job.

I decided only to create small braids for this fair; 50 g each.  I wanted lots and lots of variety on the stall, and I believe that felters will outnumber spinners by a significant proportion, so: small pieces, many colours. I hope the decision doesn’t come back to bite me!

All About the Labels

I finally finished dyeing and re-winding all my yarns and fibres for Textiles In Focus over the weekend, so now it’s all about the labelling:


I’m really, really pleased with how my labels have turned out.  Somehow, packaging up and labelling everything makes it feel as if it’s all coming together, and transforms all these ‘bits and pieces’ that I’ve been staring at over the last two months into ‘real products’.  It’s completely magic!

I’m not normally a ‘sparkly’ person, but I’m *so* in love with my sparkly batts:

Producing these is just so much fun!  Oh – and can you stand the cute??

These are little 3 g bundles of silk hankies.  Three grams of silk can go a seriously long way, in case you were wondering…

Dye-a-day becomes blog-a-day; also, Textiles in Focus is only a week away!

This is ‘Toast’, a DK weight pure wool, in colour ‘Deep Forest’.  I think this is one of my favourite colourways yet; I love the tonal variations, and the interplay of greens and blues.

In retrospect, it was probably rather dumb of me to commit to taking lots of pretty photos of yarn right now.  This time next week is the first day of Textiles In Focus, and -squeee!!- I have a stall there!

Now, I’ve done craft fairs in the past, but never anything on this scale, and never for three solid days.  And I only found out I had a place there at the end of December, so things have been pretty crazy recently.  There just hasn’t been time for photography on top of everything else!  I’ve gotten lucky with the occasional snapshot (as above), but the Improving Photography Project really needs to happen later.

I’m going to keep trying to blog every day for the rest of the month – and include photographs, even – but for the next week or so, the focus will definitely be on Textiles In Focus, and my preparations for that…

Dye-a-day #7: Cozy, again (this time, the Moo version)

Oh, boy, am I a big cheat!

This whole dye-a-day thing was supposed to get me taking more, and better, photographs, but it hasn’t.

Instead, I keep on recycling the ones I’ve already taken, and those are mostly snapshots.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to attempt this before Textiles In Focus, because I am mostly dyeing yarn in every minute of my spare time until then.

But these crops are for use on my Moo cards, which I ordered yesterday.  I’m ridiculously excited about them!