Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yo-yo Around the World

I wonder who else saw this coming. I've decided to head back to Korea, at least until the summer. Sometimes when you need to make a spur of the moment decision, you don't have the luxury of having a contingency plan. Or two or three. As many of you know, I'm going back to grad school this fall, and in order to make sure my visa process goes through smoothly, I need to request for my student visa within my home country--to wit, I must be here and not Korea. But, being ever the pragmatist, I thought it made monetary sense (at the time, of course) for me to stay in America when we came home for the Christmas holiday. Each dollar matters when you're putting someone through school. We had less than six days to decide all of this, and make necessary living arrangements for that length of time.

Enter my reasoning: 1) I would need to stay here and do paperwork to make sure I secured government aid, private loans, and scholarships; and 2) so I could attend two fiber festivals. Once we landed, we visited with friends and family every single weekend for 2 months, and some of the visits were extended (and during the week, even). So, by the time Mr. IT Guy was ready to head back to Korea, I hadn't worked on any of my original reasons for staying here. I found out rather tragically that one of the fiber shows I planned to attend, the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival, isn't operating this year. The center it was held at annually was large, cool, and wired, and it brought artisans from all over the world. I'm not privy to all of the details, but I was told succinctly that due to management issues on the convention center's part, the event organizer, and president of the organization, had no time to prepare herself for the event for this year, let alone do the proper marketing for vendors. So, she canceled it this year. Further, she gave me advice about the other show I was planning to attend, and convinced me it wasn't worth my time and effort. So, two big reasons why I wanted to stay dwindled to zero reasons.

But, there was still the possibility that I needed to be here to make sure I had funding available for school, well in advance of my visa application. In order to request for my student visa, I can apply no earlier than 90 days from my start date for school. I also need to show that I can pay for my living expenses (<----read that as loans) before I can request for my visa. So, working backwards, I must have an approved loan application before I can request the visa. I had a bazillion problems with my loans during my first grad school experience (when the economy collapsed in 2008 and lenders all seemed to go bankrupt), so I learned that I must start early so they can be processed in time. But with that, I can only apply to loans no earlier than 180 days before my school start date. Confused yet? :)

  1. I was scheduled to head back to Korea with Mr. IT Guy on Feb 12
  2. The earliest I could begin a loan application was April 1-ish
  3. The earliest I could apply for the student visa was June 28
  4. School starts September 28
At the time, going back to Korea for 6 weeks seemed ridiculous, especially since it takes about 1 week to recover from jetlag. Every day leading up to when Mr. IT Guy needed to leave felt more and more precious. The result? I had no motivation to do much 'extra' stuff while he was here. But on the day he left, I absolutely fell into a million pieces. I didn't sleep, and obsessively watched him fly across the world with an airplane tracker app. Then I was completely motivated to get things together: did I really need to stay in America? And the phone calls began. After a feverish pace of calling and talking, asking and figuring, it turns out: I don't need to be here until the end of June. I can do everything online, with no extra paperwork which requires my physical presence.

Even after considering my new round trip flight, the money now works out to be better with me in Korea, rather than with me in America. Strange, but then there's the math. What does this mean for Expertly Dyed? Nothing at all. :) The best part is, there won't be any interrupted service. I'll still be doing everything I'm doing, but I'll be doing it in Korea (again) for a few months. I still left a bunch of fiber behind, and my Babe is still there, so I'll still be doing tutorial videos and the like. I also have my blending board and blending hackle there...which makes for a great opportunity to really acquainted  with using them! And on that note, I think I'm ready to start doing some tutorial videos with my blending board. 

There you have it, a yo-yo journey across the globe. All in the name of love. What about you, have you ever lived abroad from your sweetie? What did you do to cope?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Let's Wash a Merino Fleece: Step 1, Lay it Out

Let's do a step by step process of washing a merino fleece, from start to finish. If you haven't bought your fleece yet, and you want to, please watch this video for tips on how to choose a fleece. Also, you don't need to use a merino fleece. If you want to use another fine wool breed, or fine wool cross, this process will work just the same for you:

Let's gather some materials. First, we have to alter the method I propose in my fleece washing videos, since it doesn't apply to merino (and it won't for other fine fleeces either). Normally, I do a cold soak to loosen and release dirt and large pieces of vegetable matter. But this time, I'm not doing the cold soak for two reasons: 1) I have a prime fleece which was coated between shearings, so it's extremely clean to begin with; 2) the large amount of lanolin means that the fleece floats. However, if you have a fine fleece which has dirty tips, place the fleece tip side down into the cold water and let it soak over night. It will still make it easier to wash than if you skipped this step.

I use a large, open-mesh laundry bag to wash my fleece in batches. Then you'll need to get a scouring agent. I've used professional scouring agents, no-suds scouring agents, and good old fashioned liquid detergent (fragrance-free and dye-free). I've had equal results with all three, so for me, I just use whatever I had on hand. This time, I used a fragrance-free/dye-free liquid detergent. I encourage you to test out the various products on the market to see if there's a product you like more than others.

The last thing you need is a wash basin of some kind. You can use a big bowl, a laundry wash tub, or a bathtub. I've used all three, and they work out just fine. Just make sure it's deep enough so that the dirt can accumulate on the bottom, away from the fleece. So, let's get to work.

Lay out your fleece on the floor, preferably on something to keep the fleece clean, tip side up. Like this:

Here's the part of the fleece which I think is the neck wool. The reason why I think this is the case, it has slightly more vegetable matter than the other end. I know that the shepherd skirts her fleeces well, so the rear end of the fleece has no unmentionable pieces.

Here is what I think is the rear end of the fleece:

Also, each breed of sheep will have a specific lock shape, which is best seen while it's still raw. Even within the same fleece, the locks will look slightly different. Do you see how these locks clump together? Also, the brown tips and slight cotting (the tips have experienced friction) are a result of the coat the sheep wore all year:

You can really see what I'm talking about in this picture. Luckily, these tips are only ever so slightly damaged, not actually felted together.

These locks aren't so dirty, which means they were part of the back and sides of the animal, neither too close to the mouth nor too close to the rear:

These locks are from the prime part of the fleece, which is the wool which comprises the sides of the sheep, but not the belly, rear, our mouth. It is extremely clean:

This part of the fleece is likely from the shoulders of the animal. The clumps of locks are less blocky, but not dirty and there isn't any cotting:

The tips on this part of the fleece are slightly more dirty, since this is part of the fleece which starts to head down under the body of the sheep. It's still good wool to use, but you'll need a bit more finesse when it comes to the carding process to keep these locks as clean as possible:

You should also get into the habit of measuring the locks of your fleece while they're raw. Sometimes, the locks get discombobulated during the washing and handling phase, and it's more difficult to tell how long the locks are unstretched. Also, this information becomes useful if you are spinning this wool for a specific purpose. Without the lanolin, and when the locks get separated into individual strands, the locks will poof up more. Think of what happens when you brush out a lock of wool (or hair...); it spreads out and takes up more volume. As you can see, these locks exceed 10cm (just shy of 4 inches) unstretched:

In the next post, we'll move onto separating out the prime parts of the fleece from the seconds. This step is only important if you want to use them for different projects, and if there is a huge disparity in how the different parts of the coat feel. When I have a whole fleece to use, I always do this step, even if I ultimately put both parts of the coat together. If you know that you won't need this step, just skip it and move onto the next step. Since there will be lots of photos for this project, I will be breaking this up into several posts so I don't inundate you with too much information at once. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below. So, what is your favorite fleece to process? Or, is this your first time? Let me know!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

From Handspun To Necklace: New Tutorial Coming!

When you're new to handspinning, it's often difficult to decide what to do with your first skeins. You spent a long time making it, so you want to pick a special project...and one which doesn't require much yardage. A few years ago, people started making t-shirt yarn cowl/necklaces, and probably around that time, handspinners began using textured art yarn to make them as well. And there are many tutorials out there regarding this project. So, what can I possibly bring you? I'm going to do a step by step, with videos, so you can make one of these cowl/necklaces with just one fiber batt. 

Here are my two candidates. The purple batt is called Reaver (now sold out), and the blue batt is called A Cloudy Day, and can be found in my shop. For the week of February 14-21, 2015, this batt is on sale for 15% off (head to Facebook for the discount coupon!):

I love the shiny contrast of the Reaver batt, and I love the silk noils in the Cloudy Day batt. I think they'll turn out to be lovely neck accessories. Each batt is approximately 50g, so if you want to follow along with me, that's all the fiber you need. Because I have two batts, I will do two different kinds of yarn so you can get ideas for your own project. And if you're a beginner, you'll naturally make a lumpy, bumpy, slubby yarn...and it'll be perfect for this cowl/necklace/thingie. :)

In this video, I talk about the ideas I have for this project with some random fiber I found locked away in my storage unit. Any yarn will do, just be sure it'll be suitable for wearing around your neck. So, will you do this project with me? Post in the comments below so we can work on this together!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: Spin-Off Magazine Fall 2014 Issue

And, here we have another issue to talk about! I'm nearly caught up with the Spin-Off magazines, but then I'll need to double back and work on the PLY reviews. This issue had a few interesting articles about mechanics, but I didn't find it to be as strongly a connected theme as the last issue was. If you want to know more about the tools of the trade, and how to fix them when they don't work quite right, this issue is great for that.

The Winding Well article is superb for those who have difficulty understanding how to wind fresh yarn onto a drop spindle, building a firm and stable cop as you go. I learned the hard way; there is a clear best way to wind the yarn onto the shaft so it doesn't get loosey-goosey (or worse, the outside yarns get buried deep within the inside yarns). No matter which spindle type you use (top, bottom, support, etc.), the X wind on will make your spinning experience smooth and problem-free. Additionally, the author discusses the proper way to wind on freshly spun yarn so you neither add nor subtract twist from the yarn. It seems like a simple fact about spinning, but it often gets overlooked. Have you ever had the toilet paper on the roll suddenly start unrolling, only to stop short of completely emptying onto the ground by the glue on the cardboard roll? Right, me neither. Anyway, this picture shows what you're doing when you change the orientation of the spindle when you wind on yarn:

Several people have asked me about blending boards, and I have professed that they fill a specific niche, which lies somewhere between hand cards and drum carders. There are things you can do with a blending board which would be difficult to reproduce with the other tools. It's not just a cheaper version of a drum carder, nor is it an oversized hand card. Blending boards really shine when you want to make several rolags at once, with lots of color blocks and well-placed texture. If you want to know more about the testing process, this article offers an abridged view of all three tools in making these kind of rolags.

Ever since I began weaving, I became more interested in the weaving patterns in the Spin-Off magazines. This Autumn Leaves scarf/shawl is stunning in its simplicity, though I have to admit, I don't really understand how to make an inlay while weaving. Even after reading the instructions twice, I still don't think I comprehend. Oh well, that's why the Internet invented YouTube. Nevertheless, I think this weaving project is within my weaving skills--ie, beginner. I'm still not sure how I feel about the length (it seems a little short), but it does seem like a cuddle-worthy shawl.

In the end, I think this issue is most useful for those who are interested in tools, their use, and reuse (ie, antiques). If you're just getting started with spinning, this article may not be the best reference, though there is a great article about up-take speed and tension for those who are thinking about getting a spinning wheel. Care to share your responses to this issue? Share the discussion below or over on Facebook

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review: Spin-Off Summer 2014 Issue

So, I really liked this issue of Spin-Off. The theme for this issue revolves around the fibers of the world. I like learning about the history of fiber in various regions of the world, and their associated spinning/weaving/knitting traditions. We don't always have the luxury of visiting these remote locations to see the traditions spring alive, and this issue takes you on a whirlwind journey to several countries, though time as well.

Historically, my reviews contain my personal response to a subset of articles. But, since I'm writing this post after I already posted about Icelandic wool, I would like to do a little more than just a review. Now, I probably know only a little more than the average person about Vikings due to my background in the archaeology of Europe. But something I don't know about, is what remains of their legacy in Iceland. When Iceland was settled by early Vikings, they brought with them sheep and goats, among other household tools and goods. More importantly, they brought with them their fiber crafts, some of which have experienced a recent revival.

Only Icelandic sheep are allowed to live in Iceland, which means no other sheep are allowed to be imported--to wit, they're a national treasure. Iceland evokes images of a primitive, bucolic setting where sheep roam hills, living happy, healthy lives. And the result is in their fleeces! According to the authors, Marianne Guckelsberger and Robin Russo, Icelandic sheep produce the finest, heaviest fleeces if shorn in the fall. I shall add this to my list when I go hunting for a pound or two of Icelandic fleece! What's more, these sheep are the direct descendants of the original sheep brought to the island by the Vikings, more than a thousand years ago.

However, as much as the Icelandic sheep thrive, the Icelandic goats wither. Their numbers plummeted and were only recently revived, but due to their relative obscurity, their existence is in a fragile state. I like to be onboard with conserving rare breeds of sheep and goat where I can, so I was very pleased to discover that shortly after the release of this issue, an Indiegogo campaign was launched. It was well-received, and due to everyone's contributions, the herd will be safe for a while longer. That said, it is by continued exposure that breeds like these stay as close to the spotlight as possible. I gleaned more history from this article than I have from other sources. Additionally, I liked the extra story to boot.

The next article I want to share is the one regarding flax. I've been swayed by the romanticism of raising/growing my own fiber animals/plants, and flax is one I've had on my list for a few years. If you want a hobby patch of flax, this little article offers plenty to get you started. Better yet, if you want to teach your kids the great value of farming, you can grow your little patch for multi-faceted learning. Harvesting flax at the perfect moment produces a soft, pliant fiber, ready to be spun and woven into the finest of linens. Though, to get this fine cloth, you have to sacrifice the plants ability to reproduce--that is, you harvest before it can go to seed. Obviously, you can't just only grow flax for linen, since you'll quickly run out of seed. This is where the valuable learning lesson comes in: when do you decide how much to harvest to use and how much to save for future plantings. What about food? If flax is allowed to seed, it produces a coarse, rough fiber, more suitable for bags, ropes, and the like, not necessarily for clothing. Something I learned when I was young was to appreciate handmade items, having learned how to stitch and sew by the age of seven.

The purpose the authors intended was in a similar vein. They wanted to show the community all of the steps involved in making flax into linen, and the community reciprocated by helping out during certain phases. The best part of their project was the resulting public awareness.

The last thing I wanted to comment on is in regards to the forgotten spinning traditions of the Native Americans of the Southeast. We don't often hear of such traditions from this part of our nation, mainly due to poor preservation conditions (it's humid, but not the right kind of wet needed for wet preservation), the delicacies of the craft itself, and, perhaps, a milder interest than in other parts of America. Nevertheless, preservation of textiles does occur, though of impressions rather than in the actual artifact. I've mentioned this before in my discussion of warp weighted looms. It is quite fascinating to see the great variety of impressions, while also knowing that people were pressing fabric into clay in the New World and the Old World, though cultural contact between them was unlikely to have been the cause of the inspiration.

While it is interesting to me to read what other archaeologists say about textiles who are textile artists themselves, what I do not like to read is that "archaeologists ignored the textile traditions of the southeastern United States because they could not find many textiles" (Pappas, 2014: 43). It seems like such a small thing, to say that archaeologists ignore something, but I like to have the record straight: no doubt, this is one of many reasons why the textile traditions of the southeastern US are understudied. Unfortunately, these kinds of words can be poisonous to my profession, which is why I generally don't approve of tv shows which angle scientists negatively--usually, they get something wrong, and it perpetuates in the public's opinion. So, I hope that when/if you read this particular article, you keep my comments in mind. Archaeologists are just as passionate about their work as you and I are about wool and yarn. And for me, that's doubly so!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this slightly different review of a (semi) recent Spin-Off magazine. If there's anything more you would like to share, post in the comments below, or over on Facebook.

Pappas, C. (2014, Summer). Forgotten tradition: spinning prehistory in the american southwest. Spin-Off Magazine, 38(2), 42-45.