Saturday, January 31, 2015

Making Tinsel Handspun Yarn: The Prep

I'm really excited to be making this tinsel yarn. It has been on the back of my mind for a few years, but now that I have bona fide tinsel (metallic and everything!), it's time to make this project into a reality. If you'd like to work this project with me, gather some goods:
  • Tinsel! Or if you don't have tinsel, Easter grass will work. And if you have none of those, you can get plastic thread tinsel-like stuff at party stores (you can find them in small bags, and are often used to add pizzazz to boxed gifts).
  • Plying yarn! Or not, it's not required. Or if you don't want to use something commercial, you can spin your own plying yarn. Mine have 125 yards each (3 oz)
  • Wool! Any kind will do, just make sure you have enough of it to blend with the tinsel.
Here's the plying yarn I plan to use:

Here is the sequin yarn I want to also maybe use for this project:

I haven't figured out which colors I want to combine together yet, but I'd like to hear your input. Do you think I should go traditional, and just do red and green? Should I use both plying yarns with my tinsel handspun? Should I bring in other colors, like gold and blue? Or should I do an entirely different theme? I have a lot of tinsel, so I could do lots of mini projects. Post in the comments below!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Icelandic Wool: Another Double Coated Fleece

Since we're on the subject of double coated fleeces, let's talk about Icelandic sheep. I began my wool education around the time I launched Expertly Dyed, and among those wools I was learning the characteristics of was Icelandic. I wanted to remove human error from the learning process, so I started using combed top rather than a raw fleece. Here it is in top form:

Here is a closeup of the hairy, outer coat fibers. They're the dark, black fibers (note: all white Icelandic fleeces exist, mine just happened to be gray, a mix of black outercoat fibers and white undercoat fibers)

The lighter fibers, which you can see in the picture below, are the softer, undercoat fibers.:

It made a lovely 2-ply fingering weight yarn, as you can see in the following pictures:

And here is a sneak peek at my sample book (I'll do a formal post on how to make such a book in the future):

Let's talk about some terminology. There are specific terms which refer to the two coats; the tog refers to the outercoat, and the þel (thel) refers to the undercoat. In most combed top, both coats are processed together. But there are many ways you can use this fiber, and a mixed coat top is just one of the ways you can prepare this fiber.

For a mixed coat preparation, you can use this fiber to make lacy shawls, sweaters, and outer wear, like coats and jackets. The tog will help keep moisture away from the softer, downy fibers, and the þel will trap warmth. In essence, a mixed coat yarn will provide many benefits to the wearer as they do for the sheep. It is important to note that, according to the current issue of Spin-Off (Winter 2015), you should spin this type of mixed coat yarn loosely. This will help keep the hairy fibers from poking out of the yarn and causing irritation, and it will allow for more space between the softer fibers for trapping more air. The result is a durable, lightweight, very warm yarn. Lopi yarns are made from this type of prepared Icelandic fleece, and either knitted without twist or a low amount of twist. the setting process for a lopi yarn will involve a hot bath and lots of enthusiastic thwacking to cause the yarn to fluff and full (fulling, in the felting sense). This information will give me the opportunity to learn something new from the leftover Icelandic top I have in my stash.

If you want to just use the þel, you'll need to separate it on your own. Some small mills might be able to separate the þel from the tog if you send them a whole fleece. If you do it by hand, you can identify the hairy fibers by their length, then pull the longer, tog, fibers from the shorter, þel, fibers. Keep both! The þel spins up beautifully, and can be used like most soft yarns. Unlike typical fine fleeces, Icelandic þel fibers won't be as dense nor as full of lanolin, to wit, the þel is more open and ready to spin.

Use the tog for outer wear, rugs, tapestries, grocery sacks, and the like. Combine this coat with the outercoat of other breeds so you can make a larger project more easily. Spin it worsted to make an ultra durable yarn.

Though my Gotland isn't full of the tog fibers, I'm still going to keep those fibers for a future project. It has an incredibly long shelf-life, like 50-100 years before it starts becoming brittle. I'm very excited to move forward with my Gotland project, even though I don't feel like separating and opening up the locks at the moment. I'm nearly done combing open my Polwarth locks, but I want to spin something before I continue with my Gotland. :)

Have you used Icelandic before? Do you have any tips/tricks to share? Post them here and/or on Facebook

Friday, January 23, 2015

Double Coated Fleeces: Gotland?

Back in the day, several millennia ago, sheep had a double coat. They had an outer, coarser, hairy fiber, and a softer, shorter, undercoat. The outer coat had micron counts in the 40+ range, and the inner coat had micron counts in the 15-25 micron range. And they shed naturally. Likely through selective breeding, sheep came to possess an all-over woolly coat which needed to be sheared. Archaeologists have discovered that this undercoat was significantly softer than the later woolly versions.

When wool became an important commodity for the family, we see a dramatic change in their attitude towards sheep...and one result is a sheep coat with a more consistent micron count. An unfortunate side effect of a woolly sheep is a coarser lowest micron count for the whole fleece. For example, if a sheep has an 18 micron undercoat and a 30 micron outer coat and is bred for a uniform fleece, the overall micron count might only get as fine as 23 microns. This is an oversimplification of a complex breeding process, but the result allows for a family to quickly shear and process wool for their needs, as well as allowing for intensification for surplus. Which brings me to the idea of 'primitive sheep.' These sheep still exhibit the double coat which sheds naturally, and breeds include Icelandic, Soay, and Shetland.

A fan of Expertly Dyed, Annbritt, came to visit her son in Korea. With her, she brought a full two pounds of Swedish Gotland wool for me to have! I began removing the coarser outer coat hairs from the softer undercoat. Here is the softer lock:

And the hairy outer coat (you can really see how wiry it is!):

Today, I flipped open my Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook to read about Gotland, and was a little surprised. Gotland sheep is a twentieth century breed, though it has roots in primitive sheep breeds like the Goth and Gute. But it isn't marked here as a double coated sheep. My Gotland has a very distinct hairy coat. More investigation was needed!

I had trouble finding information about the Goth, but the Gute is listed in the F&F book as a double coated sheep, as well as two other sheep used to create the Gotland sheep: Karakul and Romanov. So, it would appear that though the Gotland breed is meant to have a uniform coat, occasionally their primitive ancestry is expressed. I believe that my Gotland was from a sheep (perhaps an older sheep?) which possessed a dual coat. It doesn't bother me since I've processed Soay and Icelandic from the raw lock, but in general, you shouldn't need to process Gotland as a dual fleece.

I've been trying to get my hands on the Stansborough Gotlands, raised in New Zealand, but their wool is particularly sought after. One day I'll finally get some. Their wool is extremely fine, lustrous, and lightweight while still having drape, which is why it was chosen for the elven cloaks in Lord of the Rings. The Swedish Gotland I have will be exceptionally close in fineness and drape, so I'm looking forward to making a woven scarf with it once it's spun. I'm very grateful to Annbritt for bringing me this lovely wool, and I hope that other spinners give these interesting breeds a chance. Our purchases encourage small farms to continue raising rare sheep.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Point of Inspiration

Have I ever mentioned where I derive my inspiration, specifically? Sure, you all know by now that I like fantasy novels and video games. But which novels and games? As artists, we derive inspiration from our surroundings, either directly, as in painting a landscape, or indirectly, as in painting an emotion. I'm very directly influenced by my environment--I use it as a spring board for a sometimes spiraling out of control string of ideas.

I began reading fantasy novels when I was 11, and was completely in love with magic and dragons long before I picked up my first book. Somewhere along the line, no one ever told me about the fantastic works by J.R.R. Tolkien. I've read classic fantasy novel writers like Irene Radford, Robert Jordan, and Anne McCaffrey, I must say, once I began reading Tolkien, I've been rather obsessed. with collecting and reading all Tolkien books (and also binge reading the Wikipedia pages too).

I often work and watch old movies to keep my mind working while I create; art doesn't flow from a stale brain, right? Here are some of my LOTR-inspired batts. Fangorn Forest:


The Lonely Mountain:


The Road to Bree:

And I can tell you that these were originally created while re-watching the LOTR movies for the umpteenth time. :) I haven't made any Hobbit or Simarillion based batts yet, but you can bet that I will. If you are interested in any of these batts, let me know and I can work some magic to pull one off the carder when I can. Or, I'm also happy to create a new batt based on a Tolkien character.

I haven't done specific batts for my other books, but I might soon. I just finished reading book 5 in the Wheel of Time series (by Robert Jordan). I don't want to give anything away, but I have been inspired by Rand's recent dragon addition. *Wink*

I don't have much in the way of current video game inspirations, but I do have a batt set called Forest of Amalur, from the video game, Kingdoms of Amalur:

And a dyed braid called Land of Zeal, from Chrono Trigger:

And this one from the 1980s movie Labyrinth:

What are your inspirations as you create? Do you delve deep into your emotion bank, pull out your heart, and express it in fiber and yarn? Do you make whatever has been rolling around in your head for several weeks? Do you craft what your dreams make? Do you articulate the world into a single, simplified colorway? Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Compacted Locks? Might Be Lanolin!

Yesterday, I decided I wanted to play with some polwarth I bought from a shop in Japan a few months ago. When I first got it, I could tell that more lanolin was left on the locks than I wanted (they felt a little gummy), but I was prepared to wash it again. I really don't mind washing raw fleeces, but since Korea won't let me import raw fleeces, I paid to have it washed--and now that's a moot point because I won't be heading back to Korea!

So, here's the polwarth after I finished my washing procedure:

It even looks soft and fluffy, though it went through a major transformation to get to this stage of poofiness. When a fleece is freshly shorn, especially from a fine breed sheep (like merino, polwarth, cormo, etc.), the locks are very crimpy and very 'oily.' Lanolin is an oily substance, not quite a wax, but it often feels waxy. When the lanolin is warm, it will slide more easily along the lock, and from the lock to your hand. When it's cold, it feels like sticky glue holding a lock together. Suffice it to say, my polwarth felt like dried glue.

The amount I bought was just shy of 8 ounces (200g), then it was washed and some of that weight was lost prior to being sent to me. I used a medium sized mesh sweater bag to easily lift out the locks from the wash water, and I always place a control lock outside of the bag so I can check whether the wool is clean enough for me. When I tested the control lock, it was perfectly clean so I rinsed the wool twice and took it out to dry.

A few hours later, I noticed that it still felt gummy. Argh! Well, there's only one thing left to do. I washed the locks again, this time out of the bag so more water would circulate deep into the lanolin-compacted locks. I normally don't like to wash locks more than once if I can avoid it, but this was a case of unavoidable overwashing. At this point, I was concerned that I would remove too much lanolin and the resulting locks would become brittle--and they started off so crimpy and beautiful!

To prevent the locks from becoming too brittle, I washed the locks in shorter soapy baths than normal. For example, I typically let locks I'm scouring sit in hot soapy water for around 15 minutes, which is usually enough to remove the lanolin and the rest of the dirt which didn't come off during the cold soak phase (see the video below for more info about my cold soak method). Since this batch was so stubborn, I washed the locks twice, outside of the sweater bag, only leaving the locks in the water for 5 minutes at a time. I rinsed the soap off between washes. After the second wash, the locks were clean and separated, so I did my usual two rinses.

Now that the wool is completely dry, I can say that I managed to salvage what I thought turned into a disaster and lost money. The locks don't have as much lanolin as I prefer them to have, but they're at least usable now. So, if you notice that your raw or semi-clean fleece is hard and gummy, know that it might be saved. It required extra effort, water, and soap, but since this happens so rarely, it was worth that expense. Has this ever happened to you? Post in the comments below, or share your story on Facebook.

Friday, January 2, 2015

It's 2015...Time for Resolutions!

Okay, so I'm a day late. I've taken a look at my previous reviews, and I'm happy that I was able to fulfill each of my three goals which I set out for 2014. First, I was struggling with the long draw method. I made a couple more samples, then I spun a whole skein of yarn to get enough yardage for Mr. IT Guy's hat. I learned many things about how to spin it, and I learned many things as I progressed through the whole length. Here's the yarn and the blog post where I talk about it further:

Then I endeavored to gain a better mastery over my fiber tools. I spent more time with my blending board, but I do plan to get better acquainted with my hackle this year. Here are some more rolags I made with the blending board:


I started working with my pound of cashmere, making some luxury lace yarn with my Golding Ring Spindle. I'm way more comfortable using it now, but I'm still a little timid about combining it with other fibers. I'll work on that this year too.

I've started on my second mini skein already. And I have no idea what I'll use it for, but at least I've learned how to properly full cashmere yarn to get it light and fluffy.

So, onto this year's resolutions. A door of possibilities has opened for me suddenly. I had no idea that I would be staying in America beyond my holiday vacation trip. But now that I am, I can do much more with Expertly Dyed which I was unable to do before.This year will result in some big events.

First, I plan to go to the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival this summer in Grayslake, IL. It's fun being a vendor, and I like being able to chat with everyone in person.

The second big thing I want to work on is making a published book. This is still a work in progress (I have more ideas to hash out), but I would like to have a companion book for spinning and knitting (and perhaps dyeing) which puts all in one place many of the things beginners ask me. And it will have lots of pictures. :) I will be self publishing this book, and I plan to have it available in e-format and physical format.

Then, there are some shorter-term projects I'd like to work on this year: 1) completing my list of YouTube videos; 2) free patterns (shrug, scarf, and one other); 3) ravelry group for Expertly Dyed. I will be able to keep up with making new batts, new colorways, handspun, and perhaps even inexpensive drop spindles for the Etsy shop. I'll definitely keep posting blogs and vlogs regularly...perhaps my vlogs will actually be daily! Who knows. :)

So, I think this will be an ambitious year for me. I'm looking forward to it since this is the first time ever I've been able to work on ED full-time, and in the right environment. It will be a nice semi-retirement (yes, I know, I'm going into semi-retirement again for school!) hurrah, and I'll be able to save more money for grad school. I've gotten too used to tasty food to go back to living on $25 of groceries per week! Thank you all for giving me a fantastic 2014, and I look forward to having a similarly wonderful 2015.