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My mother “bought” a Romney fleece for the ridiculous price of $15 from a local farmer. I didn’t see it to begin with but I gather it was very dirty. She and my dad scrubbed and sorted and washed and dried. The thing is probably worth $1500 in blood, sweat and tears by now. But we’re having fun with it, at least my mother and I are! Here are some before and after picks of us carding the washed locks into “top” which I then spun on a quickly improvised drop spindle.

Here’s a bag of washed locks . . .
washed Romney wool locks

Note here that neither of us really have any idea how to card wool so constructive comments only please! Placing the locks on the cards . . .
romney locks on hand card before carding

Carding and the resultant fluff . . .
carding fleecehand carded Romney wool still on the carder

This picture to show that you can indeed spin wool with just about any old stick and round thingy (very fat crochet hook stuck through a spool of ribbon taped to a CD shown here) The top card was spun from a rolag-ish piece and the bottom card from a more top-ish piece. I can’t say I could tell much difference. I’m sure it will be more obvious as we get more practiced.
emergency DIY spindle with wool and spun singles samples

And one last picture to show the after – carded spinnable fluff on the left and the before – washed locks on a hand card on the right.
carded fluff and uncarded locks on the handcarder

And right now that fiber is in a dye bath in the oven. Better go check on it!

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Broccoli shine

I’m waiting for yarn to dry. This yarn, 6ozs. of hand spun superwash merino/tencel spun to about 13wpi a while ago, dyed yesterday and hung to dry. It’s still a bit damp but I twisted it up to take a picture anyway. It’s just the color of broccoli but shiny. Mostly dark green with some patches of lighter stem color. I can’t wait to knit up a swatch.

hand dyed and hand spun superwash merino/tencel blend yarn

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dye, dry,
spin, ply,
knit, block,
click, clock!

handspun and knit swatch dyed with kool-aid, blocking

Just a bit of superwash merino/tencel fiber that I dyed with black cherry Kool-Aid and then spun, knit up into a swatch and blocked last night. Pretty but not really what I want. That’s what swatches are for!

And a pumpkin-shaped grape for your amusement.
pumpkin shaped grape

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handspun BFL wool dyed with red Kool-Aid to a watermelon color

Isn’t this yummy? It’s handspun BFL (blue-faced Leicester) that I spun on the wheel and then plied and dyed. With Kool-Aid. Yup. I know, I should get some real acid dyes but for now, this is easier. I don’t have to have special dye pots set aside, etc. I just do this in a glass measuring bowl in the microwave and it works. You can dye any animal fiber such as wool or silk with food dyes and a bit of acid such as vinegar or citric acid. The bonus with Kool-Aid is that it already has the citric acid in it. (Here are some good instructions for dyeing with Kool-Aid.)

I think this yarn is destined to be a little girl bag similar to the one I made for my friend Jan. The girl likes watermelon very much. Would it be too silly if I shaped it like a watermelon? Not with a rind and seeds and all, just a half moon shape. Then I could practice increases.

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The boy asked me to make Hoho the monkey from the children’s show, Nihao, Kailan. He wanted me to make it out of Sculpey but I wasn’t too keen on that, images of broken tails and such coming to mind. So I decided to turn to felt instead. I drew my pattern, cut it out of felt, then needle felted the details on and blanket stitched the pieces together with a little cotton stuffing.

I thought that I ought to make the girl a little character too so I chose Hello Kitty, a famous icon from Japan that I remember as a little girl. Also done up in felt, I forgot one little detail, can you tell?

Hoho monkey from Nihao, Kailan and Hello Kitty handmade felt mascots toys

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hand spun, Navajo plied and hand dyed Corriedale yarn

This is 35 yards of hand spindled, Navajo plied (3 ply) Corriedale yarn dyed in the microwave with Kool-Aid. I used a packet of orange and a generous pinch of blue something. It came out a nice slightly variegated pumpkin color, just what I was aiming for. This was a test dye job for the big hank below.

Merino plied with Corriedale on a yarn swift

Above is Merino plied with Corriedale on the yarn swift. It’s about 250 yards if I did my math correctly, enough to make something . . . The resulting yarn is soft like Merino but has a pleasing firmness to it because of the Corrie. I don’t know much about yarn so I’ll have to figure out what to make with this and dye it accordingly.

The very lovely BFL is still on the bobbins waiting to be plied. I am making myself finish some projects with deadlines first before I do any more with that but I like to touch it every so often.

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Here she is, a Baynes double treadle spinning wheel, basking in the morning light.

Baynes double treadle spinning wheel

And from the side:
side view of Baynes spinning wheel

New to me from SpunkyEclectic. Yes, I am totally crazy, I just started spinning when? But sometimes you just know. Here’s the description that won me over. And I got a shockingly great deal from Amy on this wheel as it was a floor model (thank you Daddy). I picked it up from her booth at Fiber Frolic. I gave it a light cleaning that night and started treadling without fiber to get the feel of it. Then I did some plying with two different colored singles so that it was easy to see what was happening. Then I broke out the sample of BFL. That’s Blue-Faced Leicester, which is a kind of sheep, not to be confused with BFML which is Annie‘s Jim.

It took me about an ounce of wool to get things going fairly well. Oddly enough I felt like I was starting over from where I’d gotten to with hand spindling. Which I suppose just means that my hand spindling has improved since I started. By the second ounce I was getting a fairly consistent single pretty easily and enjoying it. I tried to figure out what my techique is by poking around on the internet. As with my hand spindling, apparently I’m not doing exactly one particular technique but I think it’s most like what is called “long draw”. Here are pictures of the first bobbin at the beginning and then the second bobbin, you can see the improvement from left to right.

first attempt on a spinning wheel spinning bfl (blue faced Leicester) on my Baynes spinning wheel

At the beginning it was a little like stopping at an intersection when you are learning to drive a stick shift. Slow down too much and you might stall out! I was a little hesitant to use the BFL to start out with but I didn’t really have anything else. I don’t think I ruined much of it. We’ll see how bad the beginning is when I ply it. Hopefully I’ll get fingering weight yarn in a quantity enough to make something . . . hmmm. I don’t know?

In any case, now that I’ve gotten to try it out all by my lonesome I may be comfortable enough to go take a class. This is the reason I’m terrible at group sports—I hate learning in front of other people. Okay, it’s probably not the only reason!

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wool roving hung on child's wooden rocking chair

This is the gunsmoke colorway in superwash merino/tencel blend I purchased from Spunky Eclectic. Manly don’t you think? (Sorry Rich, this is for my Daddy. I don’t think he reads my blog but I won’t say what I’ll knit out of this after I spin it.)

I’ve been working on improving my photography skills. Inside the house, morning light seems to work out the best. I draped the braid of wool roving over the kids’ rocking chair. This is a treasure given to us by a dear friend before she passed away, I suppose it’s an antique, she told us it was purchased from Sears Roebuck by her father-in-law for her children. I love it and so do the kids. I had no idea how pretty this photo would turn out. My best photos have always been taken outdoors.


. . . but since I neglected to take any pictures, you get a picture of homemade jambalaya in the pot instead. Hope you like that, it was delicious if I did make it myself.

jambalaya in a dutch oven

But about Fiber Frolic . . . it was held at the Windsor Fairgrounds, about an hour north of me. My good friend and fellow artist, Jan, went with me. We left all the kids at her house with their dads (thanks guys!) They had fun, we had fun. We figured out the most obvious difference between llamas and alpacas, alpacas are a lot smaller. We oohed and aahed over the baby goats and the bunnies, and the sheep too. For the kids, we brought home some brightly coloreed handpainted silk cocoons, complete with the dried rattling worm inside! And we sampled some of the local handmade goodies including kettle corn and slightly sweetened, dried salmon, yum.

There was an overwhelming amount of fiber and yarn in a riot of colors from natural, right-off-the-sheep-dried-grass-and-all fleeces, to gorgeously dyed braids of shiny, soft roving, and beautifully colored skeins of handspun yarn hanging in the sun. It was a great opportunity to feel all kinds of different wool and other animal fibers and put a feel and look to some of the sheep names I’ve only read about. I only wish there was a book available that held actual samples. Maybe there is and I just don’t know about it yet. Since I’ve been working through spinning the five variety sampler bag I bought from Spunky Eclectic, I am appreciating how the differences that are only somewhat perceptive to the touch and eye can cause significant differences when spinning, and I’m sure to the knitted or crocheted project.

One of the most interesting things we saw was primitive rugs being made with narrow strips of wool hooked through an even weave canvas. Lots of felting, some really beautifully done felt paintings, lots of knitted and crocheted items of course, beautiful handmade spindles and lampwork glass stitch markers and other tools of the needle arts. Amy of Spunky Eclectic was in the last building we came too. Shame on her she had no sign, but I recognized her space immediately from the racks of distinctively dyed wools. I’ll save what I bought from her for my next post since I can at least take pictures of that!

Next year I promise to take cute pictures of the animals, especially the shaved angora bunnies, surely the funniest thing I’ve seen all week.

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hand spun merino yarn

This is 2oz. of merino wool hand spun on my new spindle. It’s much more consistent than my first attempts with wool. To wind it into the center pull ball, my dad held the spindle in a coffee cup while I turned the handle on my mother’s ball winder. Much faster than the thumb method! Although that can be quite useful and curiously enjoyable with a small amount of yarn such as the silk below which came from SpinKnit.

hand spun silk yarn dyed by SpinKnit

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We went to see my parents last weekend and my mother gifted me with several odd contraptions and a book I can’t read. Ha ha!

This one is a yarn swift which is used for winding yarn into hanks or skeins. It folds up like an umbrella into that cute pink box.

yarn swift

This one is a ball winder which will wind yarn from skeins into center pull balls. I remember helping my mother wind yarn with this when I was a kid. You’ll see I immediately put it to good use.

yarn ball winder

And this book about how to make seams in knit and crochet pieces. Really amazing, all in Japanese but with great pictures and illustrations of each technique. There are some incredible pictures of invisible seams in what seems like pretty complicated knitted pieces.

vintage Japanese knitting and crochet finishing/seam technique book page detail from Japanese book on knitting and crochet seams pages from Japanese book on knitting and crochet

These will come in handy for my spinning and knitting projects.

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First off I have been wanting a copy of any Mary Brooks Pickens sewing book and I scored this 1953 edition off eBay for less than $10. The outside looks its age but the inside is totally clean! It’s full of all sorts of great knitpicky sewing details that you can’t find in modern books. Now if I can just find a 40’s/50’s vintage pattern drafting book I’ll be all set!

inside of Singer Sewing Book 1953 by Mary Brooks Pickens

I think there was also some household shopping in there which involved a new watchband for me—exactly like my old watchband—just not falling off the pins, a very stylish linen shirt for DH, a bargain pair of pink-trimmed sneakers for the girl and a few pairs of much needed jeans for the boy. Yes, I broke down and bought them. I promise to still finish the scary pair.

But the highlight of my weekend was a visit to Spunky Eclectic. I’ve been searching for a local yarn shop that also carried fiber and spinning wheels/spindles. I had found a few but was kind of intimidated out of actually going for one reason or another. Then I found Spunky Eclectic’s site which just seemed so much more inviting, and not any farther away so I decided I had to go! The shop was full of all sorts of beautiful hand dyed fibers and yarns and so many textures to feel that I’d only had names and word descriptions of previously. And the proprietress, Amy, was so nice, showing me around and answering all my questions, I’m afraid I talked her ear off! I went to buy sock yarn and look at wheels and spindles and fiber. There was just too much to take in, I’ll have to go again of course. But I came home with a Cascade spindle and a sampler of different wools to try spinning. It was really interesting to feel the subtle differences. I didn’t know which to start with. I thought about dyeing them but I don’t have any acid dyes besides Kool-aid and I’m not really thrilled with the idea of citrus colored socks that need to be handwashed . . . so . . . I started spinning anyway. And I forgot to buy sock yarn. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to knit what I spin!

wool fiber sampler from Spunky Eclectic and a Cascade spindle

And yikes. Amy gave me a little demo. I have been spinning all wrong. Of course what I was doing worked on the silk but it did not work on the wool. Well, sort of. I’ve been working hard to do the park-and-draft that she showed me but it’s very difficult. My left hand does not like it at all. I’m not left-handed but I’m pretty ambidextrous. And apparently my left hand likes to be in control! I’ll keep working at it.

Gettng back to books! Annie mentioned that Amy had a new book coming out so I asked about it and I got to thumb through her advance copy of Spin Control which is due out in June I think she said. It looks wonderful! I’m not very good at following directions especially of other people’s ideas, I generally like to just figure things out on my own, so I can be very particular about what few books I will buy. This looks like a book that would be really useful to me. There are a lot of very specific pictures that are just the sort of details that I find helpful to really understanding and mastering a new skill, as well as the pretty pictures that can be inspirational.

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sock knitting on dpns

This is what has been keeping me away from the sewing machine. And probably some other things I ought to be doing. I’m knitting wool socks, in May, I know, but maybe they’ll be done by fall. Of course this is Maine, I wish they were wearable right this minute.

I’m sure I mentioned in an earlier post about having a sudden desire to knit but having no yarn in the house, which lead to some knitting with crochet thread and spinning silk and making some homemade knitting needles. So last week I had taken the girl out to the playground and she wanted to go for a drive before heading home (it’s just a bit too far for her to walk.) So I headed out of town on Main Street and was just about to turn around when I saw a little sign that said yarn shop. Out here? So I followed the sign and ended up at a nice little house with a garage that had been converted into a tidy array of yarn. The proprietress was patient and helpful and the girl was fairly patient once I handed her a $2 ball of pink yarn out of the clearance bin. It took me a while to decide but I picked out a superwash merino wool with nylon blend called Happy Feet in an autumnal colorway that will go with just about anything I own. I also picked up some size 2 double pointed needles aka dpns. I already had a pattern picked out, some ultra simple socks with no heel shaping from Vintage Purlz. Yes, I’m afraid of heels. But really I just wanted to start my first knitting in more than 15 years with something simple. I guess I could have gone with a scarf but I’m always reading about and her socks . . .

I admit to already having modified the pattern. I know, I know, what am I thinking? I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m modifying the pattern? Well, as someone I know recently said, if you mess up with knitting you can always take it apart and still have what you started with, yarn. That’s pretty comforting when compared to cutting fabric. So I’m enjoying the fact that I can do it anywhere in the house and that it’s fairly mindless since this is a simple and easily memorized pattern. Which makes for a soothing craft, almost no mental energy needed. Which is probably why I keep picking the knitting up instead of sewing already cut out garments and several pairs of the boy’s pants in need of knee surgery. Tomorrow. ;)

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handspun silkWe’ll just call this art yarn, haha. I just wanted to see if I could make it look pretty like the pictures I see online of hanks of handspun yarn. What you can’t see is multiple knots and the fact that it’s only 40 yards long. I wonder what I can make with 40 yards??


yellow orange handspun silk

I’m guessing I spun it too much so when I tried to unwind it to ply it plied itself into a big mess. But now it’s all calmed down.

It’s April vacation week so we are off to the Children’s Museum with some friends.


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