Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Revisiting Gotland Wool: What is it Saying?

I talked about Gotland wool earlier this year, and I even talked about it on Fiber Talk:

Now that I've worked with more of it, I'd like to add a few things. First, I know that with many breeds, there will be a variety of qualities and characteristics the individual fleeces might exhibit, and that might be further compounded if the shepherd/ess is making crosses or upgrading bloodlines. If you're working with an older animal's fleece, it'll feel very different than a lamb's fleece. These points are all worth keeping in mind when working with any particular breed (with some exceptions, where fleece characteristics are tightly controlled).

Second, your experience with a wool will vary according to how you prep the wool and how you spin it. And last, what is your Gotland telling you? I actually debated about whether I should comb or card this fleece, since the locks were on the longer side. I decided to card it because I wanted the finished yarn to be fluffier, and the batt would help me spin a loftier yarn. After doing my cotton spinning challenge, I began making larger samples for testing techniques and the like. So, with this fiber feeling so soft, naturally, I wanted to highlight that aspect as much as possible in the twist. The batt fluffed up considerably after removing it from my drum begged to be spun with a delicate hand.

This fleece came from a soft, baby Gotland sheep from the UK. This coloring is impeccable for making a wonderful heathered gray yarn, as you can see in the photos. The fibers smoothed right through my fingers, so I kept the intake low and had on my largest whorls, but kept my fingers deft so I didn't impart too much twist.

I kept the single twist low and the ply twist low, which had an unexpected result. In most wools I've spun, when you spin/ply with low twist, you'll get a poofy yarn where the fibers poof in the same way. But I haven't really done this with a curly fleece before now. After I washed the plied skein, I noticed that little bits of curl would reactivate--but they wouldn't all reactivate as a cohesive curl. It was a bit like watching a kid walk a dog, where each had different ideas about which way to go. Maybe you can see what I'm talking about with this closeup:

Without any tension, this yarn seems to meander through the length, rather than just be poofy, as I would expect a fiber like merino to do if spun similarly. Does that make sense? The yarn bends one direction for half an inch, then it bends in a different direction, and so on. It takes on a wiggly appearance instead of a poofy or round one. I have some super curly Cotswold, so I kind of wonder if it'll do the same thing if I spin it similarly. :)

My yarn weighed 85g and had 452 yards. Since I don't have a spinner's control card right now, I figured out how many yards per 100g I had by setting up a proportion (hey, I'm using algebra!), which gave me 525 yds/100g (or, 5.25 yds/g; 2378 yds/pound). So, my yarn comes to about a heavy lace weight yarn, according to the Wikipedia yarn weights page. Once I knit up a swatch, I'll see what the stitch gauge can tell me about the gauge of the it really a heavy lace weight yarn?

Let's talk about the prickle factor for a second. Gotland is typically listed in the upper 20s-lower 30s on the micron scale, but this seems to be a wool similar to Icelandic: if you keep the twist lower (think soft-spun), you can minimize the prickle factor of your yarn. My fleece came from a super soft baby lamb, so mine is probably in the low-mid 20s, so keep in mind the age of your sheep when you decide to spin Gotland. I probably could have spun this Gotland with more twist, but I'm still quite pleased with the final yarn. I think a low twist yarn really brings out the particular curly characteristics of this wool. Part of my breed study lessons come from letting the wool speak to me; in this case, I'm glad I listened! So, what has been your experience with Gotland? Have you worked with it more since we last talked about it? Post in the comments below and share with your friends! 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Can Corriedale Do For Me?

Corriedale is a wonderful mid-grade wool that can do just about anything...that is, if you can find the right Corriedale. "Corriedale" is commonly found (cheaply) at yarn stores and is absolutely fantastic for sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens...just about everything. But Corriedale has a wonderful range of micron counts, if you have the chance to pick a raw fleece. It can range from the low 20s to the low/mid 30s, but generally falls in the 25-29 micron range.  It's a strong, sturdy wool that is extremely greasy--but that shouldn't make you run away, screaming. Where am I going with this? Corriedale has more versatility than one would realize at first.

If you don't know much about Corriedale, you're welcome to watch the video I made recently to catch you up to speed:

Now that I've had the chance to spin Corriedale myself, I now look at commercially prepared Corriedale top and yarns differently. Whenever you use a commercially prepared top of a specific breed, it represents the average qualities of that breed. For breeds like merino, there are many categories of top which you can find available: 23 micron, 21 micron (fine), 18.5 micron (superfine). But there aren't such categories with Corriedale, which is a breed that could use fineness divisions. I'm not looking to change how mills divide up Corriedale--there just isn't the demand nor the significant amounts of Corriedale to justify such a change-- but as spinners, we ought to be aware of the incredible resource we have available to play with.

Remember when I mentioned that I kept more lanolin on my Corriedale than I typically do? It made for smooth spinning and it helped me keep the fly-aways in check as I was spinning a true worsted yarn. But I wasn't sure how I felt about keeping all of that lanolin in the final yarn--it was fine for spinning, but the yarn was stiff (which might be fantastic for weaving yarns!) and felt slightly tacky. Because lanolin has a yellow-ish tint, it will change the color of the yarn, and it'll prevent the effective take-up of dye by the yarn; both things are worth keeping in mind. After spinning up my Corriedale batt into a worsted-ish 2-ply, I decided to go ahead and test it by scouring it. Turns out, you can scour a yarn just like you would scour a raw fleece. The yarn bloomed as expected, but the fly-aways were still reduced than they might have been otherwise. I'm going to scour my true worsted yarn now that I've proven to myself that it can be done, and with great results.

Corriedale has a lot of potential and there is a lot of variety. Between the micron count, easy processing, and smooth spinning, it could be just about anything you want, if you find the right fleece. What's your experience with Corriedale? Post in the comments below!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Spin-Off Spring 2015

My blog always takes a dive during the summer months for some reason. Well, let's get back on track, shall we? :) This particular issue of Spin-Off celebrates the 'stache. Oops, not that one. Stash. Right, that overflowing bin of fibers and colors and so much potential. Sometimes I feel like I'm indulging myself when I look at the giant box which is my stash. Is it too much? Non-spinners would probably think I have a hoarding problem. When I list the breeds in my stash, I realize how little it is: Merino, Polwarth, Montdale, Gotland, Hampshire, Cormo, Bamboo, Silk, Churro, and various crosses. For so many breeds, I only have a teeny bit. As I've mentioned before, there are so many different breeds, sometimes with disparate uses, so keeping a variety of breeds on hand is useful when deciding which fiber to buy for a project.

But what to do with those little bits of this and that? What about all of those bits of dyed wools in your stash after a project? Well, you have lots of choices, and you don't need any blending tools either (but those will help you transform your stash too!). In the "Color Playground" article, the author, Jillian Moreno, talks about combining colors together either in the ply or the draft. This has been mentioned before in previous issues of Spin-Off and isn't a new idea, but it's worth considering when you're looking at your stash and you don't have enough of a colorway to turn into a substantial project, like a scarf or shawl. In the draft, you have even more options for crafting your yarns based on the colors you've chosen--split one colorway into many strips and keep the other colorway whole. Then spin them both together and get a fractal plied look to the single yarn. Ply with itself (2-ply, Navajo-ply), or spin a second/third yarn and ply those together. Keep this tip up your sleeve.

What if you have some bits of leftover handspun? I like to use these for tiny projects and weaving projects, but what if they're too garish to combine into one project? Roll up your sleeves and drag out an old pot--it's dyeing time! You can overdye yarns with any dye you're comfortable using, but the specific article in this issue ("Naturally Beautiful Together") uses natural dyes to unify the colors. When you overdye different yarns in the same dyebath, they all take on that shade of whatever color, giving that batch a common color. It's important to keep in mind how different colors are made so you can achieve the desired results (secondary and tertiary colors), though you can overdye multiple times to deepen the tone of your finished yarns. Each time will darken the colors, so keep that in mind too. There's plenty of quick information to get you started dyeing naturally (with tea!) in this article, so be sure to read it if you're interested!

The last article I want to touch on is "Two Threads Are Better Than One". In the past, I've used a silk single to ply with a wool single to create a fun yarn with the inherent beauty of each type of fiber. So, perhaps think about making a wool/silk (or wool/alpaca, silk/angora) yarn where they aren't blended at all except in the ply. You can still eliminate some of the negatives of different fibers by combining them together in this manner, but without needing to blend them thoroughly before spinning. This article is full of combo tips and project ideas for your finished yarns. I'll definitely keep some of these tips in the back of my mind when I'm considering what to spin next.

When your significant other/family/friend/stranger looks at your stash and remarks on its size, feel free to respond with the comment that the fibers in your stash are just waiting to be a thousand or more things--a veritable goldmine, if you will.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Look, Facebook, We Need to Talk

You know that I've been with you since 2005, when you were a way to connect with students at a variety American universities. I was there during all of the transitions, big and small. I watched you grow. I watched you expand and begin including non-university students: moms/dads, grandparents, and kid brothers/sisters. I was skeptical about that move, but I allowed it. When businesses started using you as a platform for reaching their audience on the cheap, I approved. In early 2011, I signed up Expertly Dyed for its own page. Until six months ago, at least, when I noticed that things were going less well. (TL;DR - Skip to the end for details about getting Expertly Dyed notifications)

What happened? Well, let's review the insights. As far back as I can go (July 27, 2013), my organic reach was:
  • 338 people served out of 442 Likes
That means, 76% of my audience was reached that day. Not bad, since some people don't go to Facebook everyday. Let's fast forward a bit and take a look at a year ago:
  • 269 people served out of 821 Likes
That means, 33% of my audience was reached that day. Okay, that's a big difference. Let's do this one more time and see what my insights were like as of a few days ago:
  • 95 people served out of 1236 Likes
You almost don't need to see the percentages to know what I'm driving at. Only 0.08% of my audience was reached on this particular day.

Since I began using Facebook, I have done my best to use the platform to my advantage so there is transparency between what I make and what you want. You want to see more red fibers in my shop? Okay, more red is coming. Want a tutorial about X? Well, that goes on the video queue. What do I think of Y book/magazine? It'll be reviewed on the blog. 

So, here are my gripes. Two days ago, I read a post from Hootsuite about how it's really not that hard to reach your Facebook audience. Well, my insights are telling me a different story. First, it says to 'know your audience'. As a spinner/dyer/knitter/so on, I am deeply entrenched within the community, and I'm also a fan of others who have similar businesses as mine. I'm fairly certain that I know my audience. (Don't believe me? Quiz me.) Then it goes on to say that I should capitalize on videos. As a video creator, I can tell you that I do all in my power to bring you all videos of things you really want to see. On my video post about Botched Dyeing, only 112 people were reached. Many of you specifically asked for that video. Let's review so far. It was a video post with relevant material and what you wanted to see. So why wasn't it served to more of my audience? Even if I posted it at a poor time of the day (which it wasn't), why didn't it reach a greater portion of my audience?

Let's keep looking. Okay, 'taking a stand, joining a conversation' is outside the scope of my business. I refuse to delve deeply into politics, religion, human rights, and so forth, especially on the formal face of my business on Facebook. There's a place for those conversations, but on my business page is not where they belong. Over the course of years, many of you have come to understand (or at least make an educated guess about) my position on things in the world. In the chat thread on Ravelry, its informal nature allows me bring my personal views to light. That is the right place for such discussions, in my opinion, where context is easier to establish than on my Facebook business page. Next, please.

"Listen to me," says Facebook. Oh? Every few months, I have to change how I use your platform because you have changed your algorithm. "I wanna see more pictures!" cries Facebook. The vast majority of my posts contain images or links or videos. Of course, by vast majority, I mean statistically overwhelming majority. "Don't be pushy!" whines Facebook. I completely understand that one. I hate it when people and companies shove their sales and wares in my face. I don't want to get my daily dose of 'buy my stuff!' from pages I have liked. So, Facebook cracked down on those posts so they weren't being served. Great. I run sales specifically for my Facebook and Twitter fans, but I don't overly promote those most, I will promote a week-long sale about 3 times in that given week. "You're being needy!" complains Facebook. Good news. My content takes a long time to produce, so I usually only post once a day. Occasionally, twice a day.

Here are a few caveats. When I have posted content which tags other businesses, it has paid off with a far grander reach. But it needs to be relevant, and keeping well-connected in that way on a daily basis is extremely challenging for a one-woman show. The one post which has managed to reach nearly my entire audience was the one where I was trying to figure out why my posts weren't getting to you all. That post reached 1364 people, and only 1253 people like my page. Bonus. But I don't want my rant to get the promotion; I want my relevant content to be seen. Facebook, please don't force me to have to go to these extremes every day so I can get even just 10% of my audience reached daily.

I'm not a professional marketer, but I'm smart. I can read, observe, analyze, implement, and discuss the results. I can see what is working, and what isn't. I'm a scientist at heart, so I research and hypothesize about what I think will work to build a following, reach my fans, and develop and maintain a community. I'm not perfect, and I'm willing to accept the fact that I will misunderstand and be imperfect about how to market a business. Five years on, though, I ought to be getting better at marketing and delivering content my audience wants to see. Instead, Facebook would have me believe that I'm clueless in that regard.

Hootsuite, I know you're trying to be helpful, but for many businesses in my spot, posts like this are condescending and rude. I know for a fact that I'm not the only small business experiencing such troubles from Facebook. Though we try to share with each other how we have managed to overcome the algorithm changes Facebook has brought forth, there is clearly something else that we're doing wrong. So, Facebook, if you're listening, what are you going to do for me? Relationships are meant to be balanced, but I fear that the table is tipping far more in your favor. I don't want to end our long-lasting relationship, but I feel like we may be nearing the point of parting as friends.

Oh, and if you're curious about how you can ensure you'll get updates about Expertly Dyed posts on Facebook, go to your profile and scroll down until you see the "Likes" category on the left-hand side of your Timeline. There, you will see a list of your liked pages. Find "Expertly Dyed" and click on "Follow". In the drop down menu for "Liked", select "Get Notifications". 

Now you will get a notification whenever a page you like posts something. I've been going through my liked pages and doing likewise. There is so much content I have missed myself!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook

There are a few things that every spinner should have on his or her book shelf. A book of spun samples. How to spin various kinds of yarns. And a book like this which introduces you to the wide world of fibers. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook primarily deals with an introductory, though mostly comprehensive, look at sheep wools. The sections at the end of the book discuss non-sheep fibers in a similar vein, those from goats, camelids, rabbits, and such. I am fairly well-versed in a few types of wool that I have used extensively over the years, but even I learned a few new things about those fibers from reading this book.

Most reference books aren't exciting to read (well, in a way they are), but I really found this book to be a page-turner. The first chapter introduces various useful terms, disambiguated the commercial world of wool from the that of the handspinner, and gave a quick zoological lesson about wool and the animals who make it. It is fully colorized, so each page has a picture of something, whether it's the raw/washed locks, sample swatches, and/or a picture of the cutie pie sheepies themselves. This is incredibly useful as we can associate the wool to the image of the breed of sheep (when applicable--not all breeds listed will have images of both animal and lock). It is nice to see how the samples turn out when you start with the raw lock.

The general format for each sheep breed is a blurb about the history of that breed, along with some interesting tidbits specific to that breed. There is information about fleece weight, fiber micron, dyeability, suggested spinning techniques, and advice about knitting/crocheting/weaving/felting. On occasion, there is an interesting story about a sheep or wool. For example, in the entry about Merino sheep, there is a cute story about the famous Shrek the Sheep.

The book starts off with the sheep breeds, which is primarily organized by sheep families. There are many sheep which don't fall into these categories, but may still have similar fleece qualities. Knowing the families of sheep will be useful in a plethora of ways as you educate yourself about how the different wools relate to one another. 

When the book turns to other wool-producing animals, more than 2/3 of the way through the book, there is a mini introduction for that specific type of animal, whether its goats, camelids, or rabbits. Though these sections aren't as vast as the sheep section, there is a great deal of information here too (there just typically aren't as many breeds of angora as there are sheep, I suppose). 

The Sourcebook is meant to be a quick reference since it doesn't delve into each breed for several pages--most will only have a dedicated 2-3 pages, some more, some far less. It makes up for depth with its breadth. It's a great starting point for your fiber study, and if you have only worked with a few handfuls of fibers, this reference book will be a boon companion.

My only criticism about this book is the lack of quick reference. There is a typical index in the back of the book, but it's time consuming to thumb through at a glance because it lists more than just the breed names. The table of contents is also difficult to search through if you don't immediately know how a fiber is categorized. I'll probably make a hand-written quick reference version so I can find a breed alphabetically instead.

For the price ($35 USD), it is a steal. You'll still need to experiment with fleeces on your own and build up your personal reference, but it's good to have on your shelf. Whether you're just getting started with spinning, need a refresher about a specific breed, or you need to identify some mystery wool, this book will be comprehensive enough for your needs. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What do I know about Suffolk?

Well, not as much as I'd like. One way to get to know a wool is to work with it from raw lock to finished swatch. My only experience with Suffolk before now was in a combed top preparation, but as I have learned, that will only tell you so much about a wool. To really understand what a particular breed of wool can be, you need to start with an individual's raw fleece (or part of a fleece). I bought 100g of various wools from my friend in Japan, with the sole intent to undertake a fiber study and share my experiences on the blog and in future Fiber Talk videos. It is recommended that when you plan to do a fiber study, you should keep part of the fiber/yarn from each step so you can keep a record of every kind of processing it has gone through. Here is a lock of the raw Suffolk:

You can see how incredibly greasy this fleece is, as witnessed by the orange-ish/yellow of the lock. There are also bits of vegetable matter throughout the whole lock. Now, these two facts will deter people from working with the raw fleece because it seems like a lot of work. Well, after working with the raw locks twice now (I worked with a 50g sample a few months ago), I have had excellent success with processing it in a timely manner. Suffolk is a Down breed, so the fibers easily separate from their neighbors, making processing a breeze.

For this particular batch, I did a cold soak to loosen the dirt and vegetable matter, then I scoured them one time in hot soapy water, rinsed twice, and allowed them to dry. The locks were clean, but they still had a yellow-ish cast and would produce a yarn which wasn't very white. This should be kept in mind if you plan to dye the locks. Suffolk dyes very well, though not as brightly as a true white wool might, but it does produce a deep, saturated color. This was one of the samples I dyed during my dye testing last year.

To process, I combed one end of the lock over a bowl (to catch the loose vm), then flipped the lock around and combed the other end. The resulting lock was free of vm and ready for further preparation, if I so desired.

Since I don't have a comb suited for making a proper combed top, I hand blended the locks so that the shorn end and tip end were all mixed up. I placed the flicked locks on my hackle, thereby making a combed top. I made a short video of the process on my Instagram.

This is what I got after dizzing the wool off:

It was very smooth dizzing it from my hackle, though I should probably hand blend it a bit more before I put it on the hackle in the future (I got some clumpy bits, but you know, I learned something).

I kept a light hand while drafting and made sure to keep the twist on the light-to-medium side. After spinning my cormo, I really loved putting extra twist in the ply, rather than the singles, to make a durable yarn. Since there is a lot of spring in Suffolk, I decided to spin the worsted preparation into a med-low twist single and ply the singles on themselves to produce a 2-ply true worsted yarn with the light airiness of a yarn made from carded batts. Here is the resulting yarn:

It's roughly a sport to DK weight yarn (due to bloom after washing), 168 yards and 52g. It's incredibly soft and squishy, and I would liken it to the cormo I spun earlier. Suffolk can range in fineness from 25-33 microns (according to the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook), so if you're looking for a soft Suffolk for close-to-skin items, it would probably be best to buy a fleece in person or buy from someone who sells handspinning fleeces (some shops will even estimate the micron or Bradford counts).

Based on everything I've read, Suffolk is a medium-to-hard wearing wool (depending on micron and spinning technique) and wonderful for heirloom sweaters and the only hat you'll ever need to make. Or so I hear. :) I still have a ways to go before I can be competent with the ways I can use Suffolk, but I wanted to bring light to this understated wool--meat sheep tend to get overlooked by the handspinning community because the emphasis isn't on fleece quality or consistency. I will be weaving this, along with some other undyed wools, into a lap blanket, as soon as I get my hands on a new rigid heddle (<--- guess where I left mine). Have you worked with Suffolk before? Share your experiences in the comments below!  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Silk Spinning Challenge! Halfway Point

Okay, so I realize that we're about halfway through the spinning challenge now, but then I moved halfway around the world again. If you're interested in spinning silk, and want some buddies to spin with, join us over on Ravelry. There will be mystery prizes when I get them made (I had to unpack all of my tools and get it all set up). Things are rolling almost at a normal speed!

Silk is one of those categories of fiber that a lot of people shy away from for a long time because they hear that it is a slippery and often difficult to spin fiber. And it's not cheap, so if you mess it up, it's tough to just jump in if you're not confident with your spinning skills. I've been in that spot. No matter what you spin, there's a chance it won't turn out like you want it--even now, I spin yarns that don't turn out like I imagined, but that's a rare occurrence. So, when you realize that there's a chance you might mess it up, you're more free to just jump in. But we can minimize this chance of messing it up by working on it together. Here's my first finished silk yarn:

It looks a bit different than silk you may have used, and that's because I used silk hankies instead of combed silk top. For beginners, silk hankies can help you bridge the gap into spinning silk top. It's more forgiving in some ways, but you do have to learn a new skill set. Drafting hankies is way different than drafting other fibers, but when it comes to the spinning and plying, you don't have to worry about the twist amounts as much so you're free to focus on the differences between silk and wool.

I will do a video and show you how I like to draft out hankies so I don't get blisters or make my hands sore, which are common problems when you first start spinning silk hankies. I try to use more natural pulling motions to prevent strain on the shoulders, and I use the pad of my hand instead of my fingers to reduce the chance of blisters, cuts (silk is a very strong fiber!), and sore fingers. I will schedule it for tomorrow, and we'll see how that goes. I'm working without my main laptop, so I'll have to double check the quality.

Here is my challenge yarn, still on the spindle.

It's very easy to spin silk hankies with a drop spindle, and due to silk's strength, you can make a thinner weight yarn with a heavier spindle and it'll be fine. Silk will still snap if there is too much twist in a thin spot (or if you pull too much on the silk), but you don't necessarily need a lace weight spindle to spin a lace weight silk hankie yarn.

Pros and cons of spinning silk hankies. The pros:

  • Generally less expensive than silk top
  • Has the characteristics of silk (shine/drape/thermal properties/so on)
  • Easy to spin (and ply)
  • You can add more or less twists per inch, to make a softer or firmer yarn.
  • Easy to dye and takes colors well
  • Singles can be spun very thin or very thick and it won't draft apart
  • The noils prevent a smooth, uninterrupted surface, so it has that 'rustic' look
  • Drafting is more difficult and requires a skill you won't use for most other fibers
  • You can't draft if there is any twist in the hankie, and difficult to do at the wheel
  • It sticks to everything, so you should always spin with lotion nearby

However, silk hankies aren't best for everyone. Some won't like the noil texture which interrupts it's smoothness and shine. Spinning silk top will be worth the extra effort for some, and that's totally okay! Spinning silk top is a smooth experience, and the silk yarn practically makes itself when you learn to deal with its slipperiness. If you have spun fibers like alpaca and angora, you will be able to use those skills when spinning silk combed top. For your first time spinning silk, I recommend using tussah silk because it tends to grab neighbor fibers a little better than finer silks (like mulberry silk).

So, is silk top going to work for you as your first silk yarn? The pros:

  • It's very shiny and spins up into a smooth yarn
  • No noils
  • Drafting at the wheel is very easy and similar to drafting other fibers
  • Takes dyes well
  • Has all of the properties of silk
  • You can easily find silk top online
  • It's more expensive than hankies
  • You can't find other silks like muga or eri silk as easily
  • It's very slippery and spindles are prone to dropping if you don't watch the twist carefully
  • You can't spin any gauge of silk as a single--thick singles will pill and begin to fall apart

The point is, silk hankies and silk top are both great for those interested in learning how to spin silk. You don't have to start out with one or the other, but if you know some of the pros/cons of each, you can choose the silk you want to start with based on your skills/interests/budget. And if you do run into a problem, stop by and we'll help you sort it out!