Posts tagged ‘fleece’

September 6, 2014

Elizabeth Zimmerman Lives On!!



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That’s some pink yarn!! You probably couldn’t recognize this wool as belonging to Logan, my greatly beloved fleece which I washed, carded, spun and now dyed by hand. There is here just over 1400 yards of lace weight yarn which was specifically spun and dyed to make one of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Pi Shawls. I have not yet attempted such an aggressive lace weight project and I have a warm up planned, but this is ready and waiting.

I actually dyed this yarn once and then re-dyed it. Yes, this is a crazy pink, but the first pink was over the top pink. It looked like a Mariachi band on LSD‘s idea of a pink. It had a purple cast to it which was so outrageous, emergency response vehicles flooded our cul de sac. It was simply too much even for me…

I re-dyed it with a simple pink dye which seems to have taken out the screaming meemie purples.

This is a demanding and difficult process for someone dedicated (although never achieving) perfection. My lace weight yarn is not perfect. The color is not perfect. The pattern may not prove to be perfect. Can I handle this amount of imperfection? Can I enjoy working with this yarn which I worked hard to spin and hard to dye and feel ownership of?

That remains to be seen. What I do know is that I have so many knitting projects lined up that it looks like the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour. A spaghetti-like mess of traffic with seemingly no rhyme or reason. But this has a rhyme and a reason. I want to follow in E. Zimmerman’s gifted footsteps and create an amazing lace shawl. It has taken weeks of spinning, some concerted dyeing and the knitting will be lengthy and demanding, but what else is there? We live to succeed in what matters to us. Maybe the concerted effort is as important as the ultimate product?

Nah. NFW. I want a perfect shawl. I will work to make that happen. this could take a couple years. Yee haw! Meaning in life!!

This pattern was designed by Mwaa Knit in honor of EZ’s 100th Anniversary. See more at

January 20, 2014

My First Fleece–Part One

One of the big events of my year every year is the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. Always the third weekend in October, I start getting excited for the next Sheep and Wool on the way home in the car from the one I just finished.

Ellie has bravely attended NYSW for two years running with me. Without complaint she accompanies me through the show from packed aisle to packed aisle looking as interested as possible at the thousands of permutations on fiber mania.

This year her loyalty extended to getting up at 5 am and driving two hours with me from Northampton to Rhinebeck. We arrived to heavy traffic at the 9 am opening. Aside from the normal rush of adrenaline, this year was particularly exciting as I had decided to make a big commitment. After much thought as a spinner of one year’s duration, I had decided to buy my first fleece.

This was not a decision lightly arrived at. Buying a fleece would be a major step. After all, as I had pointed out to Jim, after a fleece there is only one more step back to the source for a knitter and a spinner–buying a live sheep. To prepare for this undertaking I had spent hours watching high drama and compelling videos on evaluating fleeces, washing and processing fiber and preparing a fleece for spinning. I had studied breeds and thought carefully about the properties I most valued in the fiber I had spun and what I might want to knit with the output of my spinning. The more I learned and the more I thought, the greater my anxiety. This was a big leap into the unknown.

The area where all the fleeces are displayed would be uncharted territory. Previously I had eyed the building with the fleeces with wariness and concern. Long tables ran in parallel lines the length of the structure. Each table was loaded with plastic bags spilling over with various fleeces; Primitives, Longwools, Medium wools, Alpaca. The varieties were endless. Colored fleeces in greys, browns and, of course, white added to the mix of choices. The air was thick with the smell of lanolin and unprocessed fiber. Many of the fleeces were labeled with breed, type, weight and price. Some fleeces bore ribbons and prizes from judging as well as the judge’s report cards on the quality of the fleece.It would have been heaven except how in the world could one choose? No wonder reports are legion of spinners leaving with six or even eight fleeces!

Slowly we walked the length of each table. Touching first one fleece, checking the crimp on another. We attempted to eliminate potential acquisitions. Color was a factor. I knew I wanted a white fleece. Wool type was also a factor. I wanted a versatile fleece with a fairly high micron count–softer and better for yarn for clothing. At last we chose…The fleece we picked was a Romney/ Border Leicester cross. It seemed a good all-purpose fleece. Attached to the bag was a sheet of information. My fleece came from a sheep named “Logan.” It weighed 5 lbs 15ozs–some of which was dirt and lanolin. The fleece was coated and skirted. This meant that Logan had worn a coat to keep dirt and vegetative matter out of his fleece and the unusable parts of the fleece had been trimmed away. Logan was raised on a farm in Carlisle, PA. When I took the bag brimming with unprocessed fleece up to the register, it turned out Logan was raised by the daughter of the woman who was ringing up the sale. She said that her daughter raised only dark-colored sheep for fleece, but Logan’s fleece was so nice, she kept him for his white fleece anyway. Below is the sheet of information:Wooly Wonders Farm (color)My excitement over acquiring Logan’s fleece was now only matched by a sense of great responsibility. I must do my best to honor Logan’s fleece. He had spent long months growing his fleece, it must be cared for, prepared and put to good use. It was a solemn pact.

The next step would be to wash my fleece. This was going to be a job. A very big job. I waited until I had a full Saturday at my disposal. In all the videos I had seen, triumphant fleece purchasers spread their new fleeces out and easily recognizable was the outline of the former wearer of that fleece. It wasn’t like that with Logan.

photo (18)Logan’s fleece looked like a garbled mess. Logan, like my two younger children, clearly never folded or hung up his clothes. You can’t really get a sense of how much fiber there is here in this photo, but believe me, it is a lot.

The first step in processing fleece is a good washing. Out must come the dirt from the field and at least some of the lanolin. Spinners in New Zealand are famous for spinning in the grease which means spinning unprocessed fiber straight from the fleece. This will make a water-proof garment and insure the spinner’s hands are soft and supple, but it is not good for creating yarn which isn’t going to be used in stormy weather or which is expected to take a dye. The lanolin coats the fiber and will eventually dry out and will also refuse to let dye into the fiber.

photo (17)I loaded too big pots on the stove with hot water simmering away. One pot was for washing and had some dishwashing liquid added to the water. The next pot was for rinsing.

photo 1I took Logan’s fleece in sections and let each section simmer in the hot, soapy water for about 15 5

After squeezing excess water out wearing rubber gloves against the heat, I dunked the fiber into the rinse water. After rinsing, I squeezed the fleece gently and then used our trusty salad spinner to get as much water out as possible. The difference between pre-and post-washed fleece was remarkable.

photo 4Even wet the now washed fleece was white and fluffy. The kitchen was hot and steamy and smelled wonderfully of lanolin and wet sheep as I worked my way through each portion of Logan’s seemingly ever-larger fleece. It took well over four hours but by the time I finished I felt I knew my fleece intimately and I was in love with every lock of his wool. Just look at how lovely it is…

photo 3My hands were permanently pruned and ached from all the hot water. My back was killing me, but Logan was washed and laid out to dry. It would take a full week for all of that fleece to dry. And then the next step would be figuring out how to process the cleaned fiber and get ready to spin.

The next installment will cover my first spinning attempts with Logan and will feature some finished yarns. Stay tuned…

January 22, 2013

This New Obsession Makes Me Spin

I had a blogging hiatus this fall and I also had a little hiatus in spinning. I was so excited back at New York Sheep and Wool to have learned some basic spinning techniques and I was just so set to spin like crazy. Then I think Superstorm Sandy and some other tough year-end events just made December seem like the last mile of a marathon.

But all that is behind me now and I have been having a fantastic time this past weekend and this holiday weekend spinning away. It is completely mesmerizing to hold the fleece in my right hand and pinch the fiber as it is pulled by the action of the wheel onto the bobbin. My left hand is focused on drafting and the right hand is pinching and my feet are pumping back and forth. When everything is working just right it is simply magic.

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I love the qualities of the roving I have bought. I bought a variety of qualities so that I would have some to practice on and, with the better quality, a reward to look forward to. I tried to find the most unprocessed roving possible. I have both natural white and brown fleeces. They smell of lanolin and I love the feel of the lanolin on my hands as I spin it. The brown fleece has lots of particles of hay and straw in it and as I draft it with my left hand, the bits fall onto my sweats leaving little piles. It is all clean and not at all gross, it just reminds me of where this fleece came from. I have always loved finding little bits of straw in yarn as I knit.

As my left hand drafts the roving, the individual fibers sort themselves out and the roving which flows to my right hand is a collection of wispy fibers fanned out to twist into the proper weight ply. That is somewhat idealized. The reality isn’t quite that perfect yet, but there are moments when things seem to be working.

This is yet another skill which can only be perfected after much time. I see that very clearly. My yarn is not always even and the twist is not quite balanced, but I think I could spin a powerful lot of fleece into lumpy, semi-usable wool before I ever got to the point that something gorgeous came off my wheel. That said, I am having a complete blast and I do think the yarn I have made, while decidedly rustic, is gorgeous in its own way.

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Here are the four skeins I have made to date. The one on the left is the second Skein I made. The first skein is to the right. You can tell that the second is much larger and the balance of light an dark colors is better. The second skein from the right is probably the most troubled. It has some significant twist and balance issues. I am not sure how it will be to knit up. On the extreme right is the fourth skein. While the plies are thicker than I would have liked, the yarn is perfectly balanced with the twist of the plies balancing out the plied singles. It is relaxed and should be great to knit with.

My new goal now that I have learned the rudiments of spinning is to spin, ply, skein and knit a sweater from roving. A complete sweater which would be as self-produced as possible short of raising a sheep, shearing it, washing and carding the wool and then spinning it. Wonder how long it will take to get to that point?

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