Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Breed Study: Romney; First Impressions

While I was at Black Sheep Gathering earlier this summer I picked up three Romney fleeces. Each of the fleeces is different - they are different weights, different colors, different staple lengths, different crimp structures, and different luster. I love how individual sheep are! 

The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius (awesome book, btw, even if you only flip through it every once in a while) devote a bit of space in the book for this breed. They have stuff on breeding, characteristics and history, fiber and yarn. Romney is part of the English Longwool family, along with Cotswold, Leicester Longwool, and Lincoln Longwool, just to name a few. 

"Although the annual wool growth is specified as a minimum of 5 inches, some animals are shorn twice a year, so actual spinnable length in an individual fleece can range from 3 1/2 to 8 inches, though 4 to 6 inches is a good, workable average." - The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook
The three fleeces I have range in staple length from about 4 inches to 6 inches, so I have a good variety of staple lengths to play with.

"Romneys produce wool in a range from moderately coarse to fairly fine. The fiber belongs to the Longwool family, but it's enough finer than most of the other Longwools to feel like a cousin, rather than a sibling... The finest Romney fleeces might come from very fine adults or, more likely, lamb or hogget shearings. Romney can be soft enough to be worn next to the skin, although most Romney wool works better in garments that are one layer out from the skin." - The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook
All three of the fleeces that I have feel pretty soft... I haven't spun a sample of each of them yet, but I think I'll probably be able to wear the wool fairly easily. I haven't figured out exactly what my tolerance level is for the "prickle factor" in wool. I have knit a sweater out of Cascade 220 (the non superwash stuff) and, though I love the sweater, I think the inner elbow bits and yoke can be pretty itchy! I also have a cowl that I knit from handspun Alpaca and from time to time that feels too itchy. But I also have a beanie knit from Jameison Shetland wool and it feels just fine on my forehead. I think it's going to take some time and some experimentation to figure out how much prickle I can stand.

This morning I brought my Jenkins Turkish drop spindle with me to work. I had a little bit of time before work and during my breaks, so I spun a tiny bit of the Romney that I've been working on combing. I really enjoy the spinning so far, though I think I've only spun a couple grams! I'll keep working on it through the week and make some notes, get a sample card done, and write an update next Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Natural Dyeing: The Mordanting Process

I've not dabbled very much in playing with dye, let alone playing with natural dyes! The concept is interesting to me, and I know that there are plenty of things that I either grow already or can collect very easily. I've read a few things about dyeing online, Ty gave me a book about natural dye plants, & I've checked books out from the library a few times. Right now I have A Dyer's Garden by Rita Buchanan, A Weaver's Garden by Rita Buchanan, and Dyes from American Native Plants by Lynne Richards and Ronald J. Tyrl.

I am mordanting some of my handspun yarn (a skein of Merino and that skein of Coopworth that I just finished) to dye them with some of the things growing in my yard! Or in a park that isn't too far away. I'm using alum and cream of tartar as my mordants. They seem to be the easiest mordants to find - both you can find in the baking aisle of the grocery store with all the spices.

I'll be using some Black Eyed Susan flowers to dye the Coopworth, and sunflowers to dye the Merino. The Black Eyed Susans are from a local park. I filled a grocery bag with flower heads and I'm pretty sure that there's no way to tell I was even there... There are bushes of these flowers all over that park! The sunflowers are from my own yard. They are starting to die back a little bit now, like some of the heads are done for the year. They have been great for bee attraction, I want to see how I like them for dyeing too! I also have some marigolds in the garden that I'm itching to use as a natural dye. I actually saved some of the marigold heads from the garden last year to dye with, but I haven't had the courage!

Have any of you done any natural dyeing? Any tips for the whole process for me? Anything I should keep an eye on?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Breed Study: Coopworth

You can find out a lot by using Google. Unfortunately, you can also find the holes in information online by using Google. Coopworth is a breed that I started out not knowing anything about. What's the heritage of the sheep? What kind of wool is it? What are good traits in a Coopworth sheep? What colors do they come in? 

Did you know that there are different Coopworth registry systems and standards? There's the Coopworth Society of New Zealand, the Coopworth Sheep Society of North America, and the American Coopworth Registry, and the Australian Coopworth standards... lots! And each one has their own ideas of what the breed traits are. Overall, the breed is known for high productivity. Coopworths can have different types of fiber depending on where they're from. Micron count ranges from 30 - 39. Some fleeces might be soft enough to be worn next to the skin for some people, while on the whole it isn't going to be as soft as Merino, BFL, or Cormo. Think harder wearing outerwear type garments for this sheep breed. 

Coopworth sample cards - carded waste on front card, combed top on back card

I began my Coopworth exploration by sampling. Standard staple length is 5 - 8 inches, which is a bit long for carding. I used a set of borrowed combs and combed all the fiber that I had. I started with about 200 grams of washed fleece. I combed and ended up with about 170 grams of combed top. That means that there was about 30 grams of combing waste. I feel like that's a pretty acceptable amount of waste! But, my exploration wasn't over! I decided to card the waste and see how much it changed the feel of the finished yarn from combed top to carded waste. 

carded waste on top, combed top on bottom

The yarn from the combed top is nice and smooth, while the yarn from the carded rolag is all hairy and has a few slubs. It isn't as slubby as I was expecting, but it definitely doesn't feel as nice. For a fiber that has a micron count between 30 and 39, I definitely prefer the yarn from the combed top. The prickle factor is much lower on the yarn from the combed top. 

In my sampling of the combed top, I wrapped a length of singles, a length of 2 ply, and a length of 3 ply around my little sample card. Based on my sampling I decided that I liked the 2 ply the best.

The fiber was a nicely bouncy fiber to comb. I loved the crimp in this bit of fleece, and thought that the fiber was both floofy and spongy at the same time. Spinning the fiber was a pleasure. I think that it would be a good beginner's fiber - there is definitely some toothiness to the fiber, but not enough that it is uncomfortable. I spun the singles with a moderate amount of twist, made a center pull ball, and plied it back on itself with a barely higher than necessary twist than the singles called for. I wanted to make sure that the yarn didn't get rough and ropy. 

I ended up with about 320 yards of heavy fingering/light sport weight yarn out of the 109 grams that I spun. I'll be sending 60 grams of combed top and 25 grams of carded waste rolags to one of my friends so she can experiment with Coopworth too! I can't wait to hear what she thinks of it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Desert Knits Episode 15: Lots of WIPs, no FOs

It was a longer episode than I expected today! I had a lot more WIPs than I thought I did...


Inglenook Fibers Princess Bride Sicklebatt set is almost done! I only have part of a batt of one color left.

Roork's black Shetland fiber (I think that's who it came off of...) spun in laceweight.

Romney combing is coming along! The bag is far less stuffed than it started out being.

That sock project from last time? Yeah, still working on it. I've made it through the heel & then a couple rounds. Really not very far at all.

Breed Study:

I carded some of the Coopworth waste into a rolag & spun a little sample on my Enid Ashcroft Midge. I have 25 grams of waste rolags to send to a friend to see what she thinks of it too. More info to come in another blog post...

I carded some of the Cormo fleece and spun a little sample of that on my Enid Ashcroft Midge as well - I love it! It worked out very nicely with a very even yarn and very few neps.

Natural Dyeing:

I collected and dried Black Eyed Susan flowers for dyeing with next weekend. More info on that to come in another blog post...

Running Review:

I've been sick all week so I haven't been running at all! I'm feeling a whole heck of a lot better now, though not 100%. I'll be back to running by next weekend, though it'll be interesting to see how training goes from here. I may not run the marathon that I was planning to run. Might do one later in the year, or even wait until next year. We'll see.