Tuesday, 30 June 2009


I went to Maryland Sheep and Wool this past spring with one thought in mind: Blueface.

MDSW 2009

Blue Face Leicester sheep are a British longwool breed. Like many sheep breeds, they are in danger of disappearing and they are considered a rare breed. They get their name from the fact that many of them have black skin and white hair on their face, giving it a bluish tinge.

MDSW 2009

I couldn't get over their curly, soft locks.

MDSW 2009

Almost compulsively, I found myself sinking my hands into the fleece every time I saw one. I loved their big roman faces. They are very "sheepy" looking to me.

I went early to the fleece sale and searched the tables for one. I found 2 rather sad, dirty BFL fleeces and a 3rd that cost about $200 for 3 lbs.

So I took off to sweet-talk a fleece off a sheep. Or a farmer, rather. I didn't find one until late in the afternoon, and it was still attached to the sheep. His name was Cadfael, and he was a year old ram from Wits End Farm. They had a few rather stunning sheep, but this guy stood out to be my BFL fleece. He was due to be sheared shortly after the festival, and I made arrangements with Mr. Cody to purchase his fleece.

A few weeks later, he arrived in the mail:

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Browns and grays and creams oh my!

I did card some samples to spin. This is going to be a big project. All those little tiny curls will have to be picked out before it is carded. Luckily, BFL don't really have huge fleeces, so I've only got 2 lbs to do!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Aeolian Shawl SAL/KAL

I started spinning for the Aeolian Shawl. Several of my friends are doing this as a Spin-Along Knit-Along. It's gorgeous, but I'm intimidated by lace patterns. I'm hoping this will help me conquer my fear. I'm only committing myself to the smallest shawl size at this point, and I'm pretty sure I've fallen far behind everyone else at this point.

Here is what I'm using:
etsy 306

It's some oatmeal colored BFL top from my stash, soft and silk and a feathered fawn color. I'm going to spin up about 3 oz laceweight and 2-ply it. I have a couple of packets of seed beads that might work with this- some dusty pink and some bronze.

So far I have a negligible amount spun up on my bobbin. I love spinning BFL- it's soft and silky and it has a nice long staple. It just flies out of your hands as you spin it and I can sit there for hours, mesmerized by it sliding through my fingers. I think that I'm so anxious about the lace pattern that I just can't seem to get myself sitting down to spin it! Oh, that and my work has been crazy as it is the end of the quarter, so I really haven't had the free time that I'd like. I'm hoping to have this all spun up and ready to start knitting by the end of the month.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


It's done nothing but rain and be unseasonably cool out for the past two weeks and the weather forecast shows no signs of letting this up. It pleased me somewhat (perversely?) that it was cold enough last night to thrown on a pair of knit socks- I thought my feet would not be graced by their presence again until Rhinebeck time. There is something very wrong about wearing winter woolies in mid-June. I'm trying to stay upbeat about this situation.

Usually I'm a wee bit tan by now and headed to laze on the beach on the weekends. I would sit out in the park at lunch, knit a bit of something cotton or silk and people-watch while sipping ice tea. I haven't had to put the AC window unit in yet (more money for yarn) or have ice cream for lunch (thighs are okay with this), or mortify myself donning swimwear. I haven't had to get sunburn or bug bites and I have yet to lose or break a pair of sunglasses. Umbrellas have not fared so well- I've lost pretty much my entire stash of those.

Oh, and I've been making spindles like mad.

etsy 490

etsy 466

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Granted that it's been awfully tough to find a dry spot with good light to photograph them, they've been great fun to create and test out. They can be found on my etsy store, Knot My Day Job.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Silk Cami

Once upon a time, I hit a rather epic LYS sale. It was one of those once in a lifetime situations where they were going out of business in a hurry and selling everything in the store for $1 a skein. Epic yarn sales are rather dangerous events and I remember very little of the actual sale. I do remember cutting out of work early for 2 days in a row and slogging home with 3 giant shopping bags each time. Looking back, I actually did this rather smartly- I bought a lot of basics in neutral colors and enough of each color for, eh, several sweaters. So far from this stash, I've made 5 adult sweaters, 6 baby sweaters and hats and several adult sized hats and fingerless gloves for gifts. Definitely high on the entertainment value.

One thing that has plagued me is some Debbie Bliss Pure Silk Yarn. It's a gorgeous single ply worsted weight silk yarn with a nice sheen and beautiful hand. I bought 4 skeins of plain white and a few other skeins in purple and green.

For the life of me, I can not make this yarn work for me.

Attempt #1. The Frenchy Cami. (ravelry link)This was an Interweave Pattern. I was going to Puerto Rico for a couple weeks on holiday and needed something mindless to knit on the beach and on the plane. Apparently, the tropical sun got to me and my knitterly denial was at the highest possible level, because only once I was ready to attach the straps did I realize that I had actually made this for Jabba the Hut. It's a gauge disaster at its best. The gauge swatch I made did not predict this outcome. Liar swatch.

I bravely frogged this once I got home, spraying sand all over the house in the process.

Attempt #2. The Silk Camisole. (ravelry link)

White yarn does not stay white for long in my life- I get bored with it. I had dyed a bunch of white alpaca yarn (from the same sale!) in Madder Root. Once I was done with the alpaca, the dye bath was not exhausted so I threw in this silk yarn to soak it up. It's now a pretty peachy rose color. It's like new! I felt that I could face it again.


I picked a new, but similar pattern got gauge and cast on. As I was finishing up the lower body of the cami, I ended up with an end of yarn in my hand. Where did the rest of my silk yarn go? This can't be right. I looked all over the house for it. Then it hit me: I am out of yarn. I went back and compared the two patterns. The gauge on the Silk Cami is 24 st per 4 inches. The gauge on the Frenchie cami was was 20 st per 4 inches. Those extra stitches and tight gauge had made me run out of yarn despite the fact that it would have fit me. YARGH!

etsy 501

I had more silk yarn, but nothing that wouldn't make it look like I had run out of yarn- unflattering stripes in odd places and random blocks of color aren't going to work with me. It's really hard to replicate a dye bath using natural dyes, and I didn't want to even try. Madder root will yield different results depending on the climate, age of the plant, drought, how long the dried roots are sitting around before you use them and the water you use to prepare the dye bath.

So I frogged. Again.

And cast on. Again.

Attempt #3. The Silk and Pearls Cami. (ravelry link)

I really want a silk camisole! Either I'm too stubborn/stupid to give up this idea or I'm going to get it right one of these times. At 16 st per 4 inches, this is making a much more open fabric then the previous two tries, but I won't run out of yarn anytime soon. The pattern is and sexy and if I could be bothered to throw my hair in curlers and put on makeup and get freakishly thin arms that stick out at a weird angle, I might resemble the model.

etsy 503

Suggestions for another use for this yarn are welcome just in case.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Mutant Yarns

One of my favorite breeds of sheep to get fleece to work with is the California Variegated Mutant (CVM). These are a rare breed of American sheep that are crosses between Romeldale and Romney sheep.

Most sheep bred for their wool are white. The textile industries wants white wool so that there will be consistent dye lots- it's hard to get bright colors overdyed on brown and gray fleece. Over the years, sheep with colored fleeces have been considered unwanted and culled out. Instead of thinking about the odd family outsider as a "black sheep" at your next family reunion, think of them as being colorful. Then sit down and enjoy the lamb kebabs on the grill that were probably from a lamb with a recessive gene.

The CVMs are special because they have been almost exclusively developed for fleece for handspinners. Their fleece is wonderful to spin and knit. It's got great crimp and sproing, it's soft, dense, a fairly long staple length and it has a ton of character. Each fleece might have multiple colors and shades in it since these sheep can have spots or peidbald patches.

Above is a gray fleece from a CVM sheep named Rose from the White Barn Farm in Michigan. She is a varigated gray ewe with some brown and black and tan thrown in there, just for interest. I can't wait to start spinning this! All 5lbs of it is washed and packed into a space bag, waiting for some space on my project queue to free up. I should be able to get at least 2 sweaters out of her.

Rose as a lamb- from the WBF website

If you love working with fleece, you will love this breed and learn to seek them out! There are only 2,000 CVMs registered worldwide. When you buy their fleece, you are helping to support the flock. This is what I tell myself when I squeeze another bag of fleece under my bed.

Here is a dark brown varigated fleece that I purchased from Joy at Arbor Meadows Farm in California.

I couldn't help myself and bought enough of the variegated brown to spin for a sweater, which is one of my current WIPs. It started out about 2.5 lbs raw. I washed it and carded it on a drum carder.

I am spinning lace weight singles and then 3-plying them into a DK weight yarn on my Kromski Minstrel. I think it will make a fabulous cabled sweater. I usually try to spin with at least a foggy idea of a specific project, but sometimes when it's time to swatch, the yarn just wants to be something else.

finished CVM yarn

I've spun up and plied about 700 yards so far, with another 3 bobbins of singles needing to be plied. I've knitted some swatches, and the varigations of colors make it seem heathery. I can't wait to really start knitting this. I'm thinking one of the sweaters from a Fine Fleece; perhaps Espresso (ravelry link)?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Washing Fleece

I have a small addiction to raw fleece. I love having a final knitted product that came from my own hands every step of the way. It takes a little work to wash your own, but it's nothing that can't be done on a rainy afternoon. I know there are people out there who have more fleece than I do, but most of them have a house or a barn to keep all the fleece in. My apartment, while large for NYC, is still an apartment. I can't keep a stank-ass fleece sitting around for too long before people start to notice.

My latest fleece acquisition is a gorgeous Cormo/Romney cross from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I got there early with my friend Dawn and we headed right for the fleece sale for some mad pawing and sorting through bags of fleeces (I'll get into choosing a fleece in another blog post). This one spoke to me- it has great crimp, it was super soft, had a long staple length (six inches relaxed!), and it was very clean.

Don't let the small sample fool you, the entire fleece was almost 8lbs! I was able to sell off a pretty good chunk via my Etsy store, but I left myself with at least 2 sweaters' worth, which is about 5 lbs raw.

Back to the washing.

What you'll need: A bathtub filled with hot hot hot water, a fleece scour or blue Dawn dish detergent, some lingere washing bags and rubber kitchen gloves.

The first thing you want to do is shake out and pick out any nasty bits and larger pieces of VM (vegetable matter) in the fleece. I do this outside on my front stoop since it can be quite messy. Most fleeces you buy at a sheep festival or from a reputable shepherd will be well skirted- meaning all the poopy bits and the fleece around their face have been thrown away. Still, some gets by on occsaion and I like to shake out any second cuts that might be in there. Then I'll grab a few handfuls and stuff it in the lingere mesh bags. You don't want to fill these too full or you won't get the fleece clean. Anything that doesn't make the cut, throw it in the compost pile- it makes for wonderful compost.

Sheep produce lanolin. This is a greasy, yellow-brown substance from their sebaucous glands which helps waterproof them. It's used commerically in hand creams and waterproofing. Depending on the breed of sheep, anywhere from 5-25% of the weight of the raw fleece is made up of lanolin. Working with raw fleece has the added bonus of making your hands soft, but it does have the drawbacks: it attracts moths, it will gunk up your spinning and carding equipment and it has quite the farmy odor to it. Not being a country bumpkin, I would like to get rid of this lanolin and run down the street to get a manicure to get my hands soft instead.

If you are able to turn your water heater up, now is the time to do so- you want the water to be around 140 degrees. I do not have this option, so I get a kettle on the stove and boil some water to add to the tub. The purpose of this is to melt the lanolin away. Once the tub 3/4 is full I cut the water, add my boiling kettle water and don my heavy-duty dish gloves (burns are bad).

About the Dawn soap: remember in the dishwashing ads how effective Dawn is at cutting grease? That's why it rocks at getting the lanolin out of you fleece. Also, it is PH neutral, so it won't strip too much of the good oils from your fleece. When birds and wildlife are caught up in an oil spill, rescue workers actually use Dawn to clean the oil off them, so I feel pretty good about using it on my fleece. Soaps that are too alkaline will open up the scales on the wool and increase your chances of felting. While they do sell specific wool-scouring soaps, they tend to be expensive and do the same job the Dawn does. Be sure that you get the plain old blue dawn with nothing fancy or new or improved on the lable. They do make several types of Dawn at this point- with bleach, antibacterial, nice smelling, etc., so be careful that you are picking up the right kind.

may2009 004

Once you have the tub full and the water off, gently squirt about a half a cup of the Dawn into the tub. The important thing here is you don't want bubbles-- they are a huge pain in the ass to try to rinse out. Use your begloved hand to gently stir the dawn in so the water is a lovely tropical blue that makes you want to jump in.

Take your bags of fleece. You don't want to overcrowd- i will usually only do 2-3 lbs at a time in the bathtub to make sure it gets clean. Gently sink them to the bottom of the tub. By the way, I'm sending you good vibes to make sure you don't felt this because, no matter how tempting it might be, you aren't going to touch these bags of fleece once they are wet. LEAVE THEM BE! After the original sinking to get them wet, you aren't allowed to touch them again. You will see lots of yellow-brown water seep out and your tub will start to get fine dirt and grit on the bottom.
Set your timer for 20 minutes. Spin, go for a walk, knit a few rows. After 20 minutes, carefully move the bags of fleece to the shallow end of the tub so the running water won't agitate them at all. Drain the tub, and press out the water from the bags a little to get the dirty out. Fill the tub again with hot water and repeat with the soap. The reason why you only do this for 20 minutes is that you don't want the water to cool so much that the lanolin will re-adhere itself to the fleece.

Once you've got a pretty clear tub, it's time to rise. Fill the tub up with clean, hot water, sink the bags down and leave them for 20 minutes.

Most fleeces I wash are good with 2 washes and 2 rinses. If you have a really crimpy dense fleece like merino, I would go ahead and do a 3rd wash.

I usually dump another boiling kettle down the drain after I'm done, just to make sure I won't have any congealed lanolin clogging the drain. It hasn't happened so far, but I'm pretty sure it's a possibility.

Tired yet? Scrubbed the bathtub clean of sheep dirt and grease? Good! You are almost done.

I don't have an outdoor space to dry, but if you do, take advantage. I set up an old window screen on top of 4 take-out soup containters and put a towel underneath so I don't ruin the floor. I press out as much water as i can from the bags of clean fleece and then empty the bags onto the screen. Don't be tempted to pull apart or try to fluff up the fleece too much or you will end up with nice clean felt. I turn the fleece over once or twice a day to make sure that it's all getting dry. Sometimes I set up a fan nearby to speed the process along.

Congratulations, now you have a clean fleece ready to be carded or combed and spun!