Posts Tagged ‘fleece’

Thrumming in August

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I’ve been working on a gift for a now-retired colleague since February.  He had asked for a matching set of thrummed mitts for himself and his significant other.

I had started right away, happy for a way to thank him for his friendship and support over the past 10 years, and also eager to use up some of the sheep fleece that I’ve got!


As the weather got warmer my progress soon stalled.  3 mittens were done, and it just seemed too hot and sticky to be thrumming in May/June.

After experiencing the crazy heat in Japan, it felt cool enough this week to get working on these mitts again.


I am very happy to announce that the mitts are now all complete, and will be mailed soon to the maritimes where I hope they will keep hands warm for many years to come.

Mailbox Surprise

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

It seems like my fibre club packages arrive at the perfect time. The last one came on a snow day when I could spend a good length of time at my wheel enjoying the great colours and trying to figure out how to spin long draw. Today marks the start of the 4 day Easter weekend, and my mailbox was full again!


The fibre this time is Romney, and the colourway is called Lightning Strike. I am thinking that I need socks rather than mitts at this time of year, so my plan for spinning will take that into consideration.


I’m going to divide the roving in half lengthwise, one half for each sock. I’m going to try to make matching socks by using the fractal spinning method. The colours appear to be a pretty brownish purplish orange. I hope that the individual shades can stand out well.

Sheep Sheering Day at Foot Flats Farm

Friday, March 15th, 2013

This past week was March Break.  While most people take vacations and take time to relax, I was excited to go to work on a farm for a day!  I took part in a sheep sheering day on Amherst Island at Foot Flats Farm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis farm has around 1600 sheep, and the plan was to shear half of them and keep them inside the barn until it gets warmer.  It was a very cold day on Thursday, and the wind stripped the heat out of us and out of the barn we were working in.

This was the first time that I had really paid attention to the process of shearing, and what happens to the fleece afterwards.  I got to try most of the jobs (not the shearing itself though…that’s a job for true professionals!).

The sheep were led in from outside, and were kept in pens waiting for their turn. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were three shearers who kept up a quick pace, shearing 452 sheep over the course of the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am impressed with how well the shearers calmed the sheep down and kept them still while artfully removing the fleece and keeping it all in one piece.  Their shearing follows a rhythm…belly fleece goes first into a separate pile because it is really dirty.  Then the fleece comes off the back and finally the hind legs.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the fleece is removed from the sheep, one of the other workers picks it up and spreads it out like a blanket on the skirting table.  This is done by the very skilled, by holding on to the fleece that had come off the rear legs, one leg in each hand, and unfurling the fleece with a quick arm movement.

Here’s Noa, a teenager who has been helping out her family with shearing days since she was little.  She guided me through the day, teaching me a lot along the way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf done correctly, it will spread out completely.  Who knew that sheep were so big!?  I tossed one or two fleeces but never did it perfectly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next jobs that happen require less skill, and I got to be pretty good at them!  This is where dirty pieces get pulled off, and the fleece gets inspected to see if there are coloured fibers in the mix.  It takes fairly good eyesight to distinguish whether a discolouration is due to dirt or coloured fibers.  The fleece is then folded over and rolled just like a sleeping bag.  The far end gets twisted and then tucked in to keep the fleece in a tight compact roll.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe roll is then tossed up to a person waiting by the 7 foot tall burlap sack.  The fleeces are compacted in the bag by someone jumping up and down on them.  I don’t like heights, so I was not keen to take on this job.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the bag is full (40 fleeces or so I was told), it gets stitched up with twine, and then heaved onto a pile of other bags.  I am not sure how much they weighed, but it took 3 people to maneuver into place. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes there are runaway sheep that need to be wrangled back into a different pen.  This is also a job for those who know lots about sheep.  Noa’s a natural!

Not only did I learn a great deal, and make memories and new friends, but I also got fed delicious meals (including their very own lamb) and ended up being given a fleece of my very own!  I’m waiting until it is warmer out, and then I’ll wash it, and hang it out to dry.

Thanks very much to Cherry and Mark for the hospitality, and to Noa for teaching me so much!


Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Yesterday the weather was bad–it was a storm that lived up to the bus cancellations and media hype.  I watched the storm get worse all day while at work, and we were finally sent home at 2pm.  The drive was a short one, but rather scary, as the roads had not yet been plowed, and many others had been sent home early from work at the same time.  I had to shovel waist deep snow to get myself dug IN to my parking space once I got home.  (pic taken much later, about 9pm when cars and buses were stuck in the snowbanks)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To my surprise and delight the mail had been delivered–thanks postal workers for working through all kinds of miserable conditions–my Spunky Eclectic Fiber Club had arrived.  This is the first time that I’ve joined a club like this, and I think mail order fluff once every 2 months sounds like a great way to get experience spinning new kinds of fiber, and to experiment with colour choices that I wouldn’t be able to dream up.

This first shipment is Cotswold, and the colourway is Eye of the Peacock. eyeofpeacockI spun late into the night, watching and waiting for the snow to let up and for the plows to get to the smaller streets.  This morning I got up early and enjoyed the warmth of the February sun and the brightness of all the snow outside.  I plied my two bobbins of singles together.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen I took pics on my fresh balcony snow. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m thinking this might make some pretty interesting socks.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHope everyone else has been safe and warm for their snow day!

Thanks Santa!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Santa gave me wool combs this year to add to my collection of wool processing implements.  Combs are different from carders because they keep the fibers aligned and the roving is smoother and I find it much easier to spin it consistently.  Combs are also weapons!  Be careful not to hurt yourself on them.  When you use them, pay attention to where your hands are, where your lap is, and who is near you.

wool combsMy combs are from Paradise Fibers.  I had a lesson a while back from Teira, and more recently I had been checking out youtube videos about wool combing.  I have convinced myself that my spinning would be so much nicer if I combed my fleece rather than carding it with my rather rugged drum carder.  I’m sure my spinning would also be a lot more consistent (and my stash of fleece would be decreasing nicely) if I sat down at my wheel more often and worked on improving my skills.


This is fleece that I got from Topsy Farms on their shearing day a few years ago.  It has been washed (to get rid of sheep waste and foliage) and dried, and now the clean locks are ready to be separated.  The locks are like hair that is on its way to becoming dreads–its tangled and a bit knotted together, but with a little bit of work the tangles can be brushed out.

I loaded one comb with locks, and then used the other comb (perpendicularly to the first) to comb through the locks.  The combed locks will then be transferred to the second comb.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small amount of fleece remaining on the first comb gets discarded because it is mostly the short pieces and felted bits that will not spin smoothly anyway.  Sometimes it takes a few passed through the combs to get the fleece tangle free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next step is to turn the combed fleece into roving.  I don’t have a diz (a small object with a hole in it meant for turning fleece into roving), but I do have a button that works just as well.  I carefully pulled the combed fleece through a button hole to create soft fluffy roving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wound up the roving into balls, ready to spin.  I did all that combing over the span of 2 or 3 evenings!  I look forward to spinning it into yarn.  Right now it’s not about the finished project.  It’s all about the process, the learning, and the experimenting.

The Fastest Pair Of Socks…EVER!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Welcome to 2013!!


Owen, my brother and sister in law’s cat, ringing in the new year in style!

Some projects seem to just fly off the needles, as if the yarn has been sitting and waiting to be turned into something useful.  This pair of socks that I’ve just finished is one such project.  I started the first sock 2 days ago while waiting for my freshly dyed fleece to dry.  Craving the variagation and uniqueness of handspun yarn, I knitted up some of my stash handspun with Kroy yarn.  I was feeling rather smart when I divided up the handspun into two equal portions before I started.  It worked out really well!  I really like how the stripes break up the handspun’s long and unpredictable colour changes.  The blue also join the pair nicely together by virtue of the contrast socksFor me, socks, and particularly striped socks hold a particular memory for when and where they were knit.  I will be able to recall with each change of colour what was going on at the time, who I was with, and those memories stay lovingly locked away in those stitches.

These particular socks have wrapped up the last moments of 2012, and the first of 2013.  They knit together moments spent with friends and family; moments spent listening, and helping, celebrating and being together.  These moments of connection will be cherished as I wear these cheery socks through the cold winter days.

new sock

Here’s my recipe (as much for my own reference as for anyone else)

These are toe up socks, Toe: I started with a figure of 8 cast on 20 stitches in blue, increase on alternating rows to 60 sts.

Foot: 7 rows handspun, 4 rows blue.  I did not do any heel gusset increases.

My feet are pretty big, so I worked 6 stripes of handspun before the heel.

Heel Placement: knit 2 rows of blue (of the 4 rows expected), knit 30 sts in waste yarn for an afterthought heel, knit remaining 2 rows of blue.

Leg: I continued the striped pattern until my handspun ran out, the socks are a bit shorter than I’d like, but that’s ok.  I worked 2.5 inches of K2P2 ribbing and cast off loosely.

Afterthought Heel: Carefully take out the waste yarn, keeping the 60 sts on 3 needles.  Knit a toe (decrease 4 sts every 2 rounds to a total of 20 sts, graft with kitchener st)


Midnight Adventures

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

So….I was looking at some interesting blogs to get inspiration for some spinning and knitting to do now that the Christmas gifts are all done.  Of course, inspiration hits close to midnight, and next thing I know I’m experimenting!  This is my first try dyeing with Wilton food dyes.  I got lots of helpful advice from this site.fleeceIt turns out that blue is a bit of a tricky colour, so I added some yellow to make green, which seems to be pretty potent!  The big trick is to add acid to the water (I used vinegar).  I don’t know how much I used, but I think it’s enough, since the colour stuck to the fleece! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also read that the temperature of the dye pot is important.  I used my candy thermometer to make sure that the temp got up to 180 F.  This yarn was once dyed (rather unsuccessfully) using black beans.  I’ve re-dyed it with a LOT of food colouring, making it a combination of reds and oranges. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI rinsed everything and now it is drying in my bathtub.  I’m looking forward to making some interesting things out of this!

A Mountain of Mittens

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

mittensIt’s been a busy fall!  I’ve been working on this pile of mittens for some time now–all Christmas gifts for various friends and family members.  The vast majority of the mittens I make are my slightly modified version of Robin Hansen’s Fox and Geese Mittens.  I started making this pattern when I was in grade 8 when my grandmother gave me Robin Hansen’s book “Fox and Geese and Fences, A Collection of Traditional Maine Mittens”.

My mods are: narrower longer cuff, and using a Latvian braid to stabilize the non-ribbed cuff from rolling.

thrummedAlso from the same book, I learned the technique of thrumming mittens.  This is where bits of fleece or roving is knit into the fabric of the mitten, leaving the ends loose on the inside as extra insulation.thrummedThese mittens are the warmest ones I’ve ever made.  The only issue with them is that there is limited mobility while wearing them.  They’re big, like boxing gloves, when they are first completed.  After years of wear the fleece tends to mat and felt a bit.  I’m using fleece that I washed myself.  It is clean, but has a bit of lanolin still on the fiber (it’s good for soothing chapped hands!).  It is not combed or carded fleece, I’m thrumming with the locks of fleece.

Island Alpaca

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

While on vacation this summer, Evan and I ended up taking the ferry from Falmouth Harbour to Martha’s Vineyard, where we spent the day walking around exploring, and navigating the bus routes to arrive at Island Alpaca.  If you are ever in the area, it’s worth a trip.

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I was really excited to see alpaca, and was eager to get my hands on some luscious spinning fiber.  Evan had never seen alpaca before, and couldn’t really understand why I was so excited, but he got pretty excited himself when he saw the cute animals frolicking in the fields.

They make whining and grunting noises, and one of them let our a real squack!  When they run, their thin long necks seem oddly misproportioned.  The first field we saw had a self guided tour of posters on the fence posts.  As we took our time reading all the information (good English practice for Evan), we noticed several of the young male alpacas with necks tangled, wrestling each other into the dirt, biting and spitting at each other.  Boys will be boys I guess!

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We followed the signs to the barn and saw more alpacas inside.  They were way too busy eating, or moved too quickly to photograph well in the dim light.

Next up was the lovely farm store with yarn and roving and knitted things of all shapes and sizes.  I think Evan got a kick out of seeing me totally hypnotized by the soft fiber.  I met Philippe who showed me where the roving was hiding.  He’s a spinner too, so we had a good time chatting about spinning things as I tried not to drool over the superfine jet black alpaca roving.  It was so gorgeous that I had to buy 8 oz worth, and probably should have gotten more when I had the chance.  I’ve started spinning it, and it spins like a dream!

Philippe and the girls

Through another doorway, and we were out with the female alpacas and the HUGE guard llama.  We could get close enough to pat them as they were eating.  They are the softest fluffiest creatures I’ve ever met.  Evan kept repeating a phrase from Despicable Me:  “It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!”.  I think that in this case, it is a valid statement.

Philippe and a cria

Philippe picked up one of the babies (young alpaca are called cria), and this one was even softer than the other older alpaca.

On our way out, we purchased alpaca fiber, and some white wool fiber to dye and spin back at our campsite (more on that later!).

Everywhere on the island is so pretty.  Here are some of the more beautiful views we saw that day.

Sheep Dog Trials

Friday, August 6th, 2010

This weekend there’s a pretty neat event happening in Kingston.  I urge you to go check it out if you are in the area.  It’s the 23rd annual Sheep Dog Trials held this Friday to Sunday at Grass Creek Park (2991 Hwy 2) about 16km outside of Kingston.  If transportation is a challenge, there are free shuttle busses from downtown Kingston (check the city website).  Admission is $10 a day, kids 10 and under are free.

I had never been to the sheep dog trials before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I guessed I’d see lots of sheep, and dogs, and herding.  Of course, that is the main event, but there is so much more!  If you go on Saturday you can watch the Sheep-To-Shawl competition, which I’m sad that I missed.  I’ll have to go back again next year and catch it.  The competition is done in teams, starting with fleece, and ending up with woven shawls by the end of the day.  Be sure to check it out if you are there tomorrow.

herding in action

There are so many things for kids to do!  Face painting, pony rides, a petting zoo, educational programs about birds of prey….

barn owl (no longer found in this area)


Doreen, the woman who taught me to spin

….and even sheep sheering–I had a great time watching this demonstration, and the kids really loved it too!


Bill McMaster demonstrates how sheep sheering can be done without electricity.  A volunteer turns the crank, which powers the clippers.

three cheers for kid power!

The clippers move really fast, and take all the fleece off the sheep.

The kids were eager to feel the sheep after it had a haircut.


The fleece was gathered up, and Bill and Hamish demonstrate how to use a drop spindle.

They spun and plied wool, from the grease, and made wool bracelets for all the kids–I got one too!  If you have a chance to stop by and talk to these guys, it is worth it!  Check their clock for shearing time, and you’ll be in for a real show.

If you are in the market to purchase anything wooly, from dyed roving to finished garments, there’s lots for you to see.  My favourite alpaca vendor, Silver Cloud Alpaca, is there selling lots of squishably soft yarn, roving and blended batts.

I couldn’t resist, and didn’t really want to resist purchasing some fiber to spin.  It is the very best alpaca fleece I have ever encountered.

They had two alpaca there too!  Aren’t they gorgeous?

There were so many sheep dogs, but there were also non-sheep dogs competing in several activities.  There was an agility trial obstacle course, and also a dock jumping area run by dockdogs.

taking the leap

Dogs jump off the dock into a big pool to get a toy.  Some dogs have great long jumping ability, and others are not quite ready to make the leap.  I was experimenting with a new camera mode (new camera is Olympus Stylus Tough 3000)–this one takes high speed rapid succession shots.  Pretty cool I think!

the leap

long distance!

the splash!

All in all, I was surprised at how many people were there today.  I imagine that Saturday and Sunday it is even busier.  Get there early.  The events start at 9AM. Bring a lawn chair, lunch, cash for your emergency yarn purchasing, and be sure to have a hat, sunscreen and lots of water.