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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Yarn

When you purchase a fleece you can wash and card it yourself or send it off to a mill for processing.  Once it has been carded you are ready for spinning.  Most hand spinners use a wheel, yet some prefer a drop or supported spindle.  (More on this in a future post.)

If you are not a spinner, never fear, there are several small mills around that will spin your yarn for you.  When you get it from the mill it will most likely be on a cone.  
Cones Wool Yarn.

If you want to use it in it's natural state, you can use it straight from the cone or wind it off into smaller balls.  If you prefer to have it dyed, then you must wind it on a skein winder into a skein so you can add the dyes.  

Yarn On A Skein Winder

Yarn Skeined

Sunday, December 18, 2016

How Does Your Yarn Begin?

Love of fiber takes hold early: a fiber artist is never too young to begin
Isn’t it the Beach Boys who, back in the day, sang about “good fibrations?”  Well, those good "fibrations" actually begin with the breeder of the sheep whose fleece will become roving and yarn. Like any other breed characteristic a shepherd wishes to emphasize, breeding for quality fleece requires a well thought-out plan and dedication.
These are things to consider:
Managing waste hay will improve your fiber
 1) Think about why you want to improve your fiber – is it so your sheep look “better,” or is it to increase the utility and quality of the fleece itself? If improved looks are really your goal, perhaps some simple housekeeping changes such as veg management or proper shelter and feed can fill the bill instead of a full-on breeding-for-fiber program.

Quality yarn comes from quality fleeces
2) If you are new to fiber as an artistic medium, you should first decide what you want to actually do with the fiber. Are your plans for sales to others, or for your own personal use? If you plan to sell fleeces, you will need to choose as many pluses as possible, but if you want fleece for your own use, you may choose to focus on a single quality such as staple length, and not worry too much about the various tones of color, for instance. What the fiber will be used for – spinning, knitting and crochet, felting, or weaving, for example – will impact what qualities you want in your fleeces.

Bagged fleece ready to skirt at a community shearing event
3) While you are making these decisions is a great time to get your hands into as much fleece as possible, your own sheep fleeces as well visiting other farms. 
Visiting during a shearing (call and ask first!) is a great opportunity to see fleeces up close and personal and still still be able to match them with individual sheep. Most sheep-keepers who breed for fleece are delighted to have you visit during shearing, particularly if you are willing to help with some of the rough skirting, and that is a great opportunity for you to educate yourself about fleece in general, but also to get a real hands-on feel for what you would like in your own fleece-improvement program. You need as many points of fleece comparison as possible, and you should make honest-to-goodness pen and paper notes about the qualities you like, as well as which individual sheep and fleeces have the qualities you admire.
Sorting skirted fleece for staple length or other qualities.
  4)  Now decide what specific fleece improvements you want to make. For instance, do you want a longer staple length, smaller (or larger) fiber micron, more spring in your fleece, clearer color, darker or lighter color? Next, arrange your changes in order of importance to your goal, and pick one or perhaps two things to focus on for the first year.  From here, you should proceed as you would for any other changes you would make in your flock structure.  Decide which of your own sheep provide the fleece qualities you wish to accentuate and then as you add sheep, choose animals that will compliment what you have as well as add what is missing. 
5) Remember that a hogget (or first shearing) fleece will be different from any other fleece sheared from a sheep, and so a final evaluation about which lambs to keep and which to sell will be more accurate at the second shearing.
Cotswold waiting for shearing

Cotswold after shearing
"Have you any wool?" chants the nursery rhyme.
And that's a different spin on things!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Buying Sheep for the First time?

Looking to Buy Sheep for the First Time?
Some Thoughts to Consider

1) Does the breeder try to convince you to take what he/she wants to sell you instead of what you are searching for?

2) What over-all sense do you get when you go on their place?  Can you see all the sheep? Is the breeder willing to show you everything you want to see? Will he or she only show you a few sheep?  Even if only a few sheep are for sale, it is customary to be able to see all the sheep on the place if you wish, so that you can get a sense of how the flock functions together. Your new sheep will bring flock characteristics with it, and you want those characteristics to be positive ones.

3) Does the number of sheep seem appropriate for the size of the property? Think "puppy mill" – does the breeder appear concerned only with how many breeding sheep he or she can cram on the property to maximize the number of lambs for sale, or does he have appropriate sheep welfare in mind?

4) Are lambs for sale at an appropriate age?  Are they weaned? If you are buying a bottle-baby, do you have instructions and milk-replacer ready to go? Is the breeder willing and able to give you information and instruction that you need to make this successful?

5) Is the farm well-maintained and thrifty looking? Care of property is an indicator of care of sheep.

6) Is the breeder willing to have you visit a couple of times before committing? Does he or she seem impatient with questions, or make you feel that your questions are dumb, or make you feel that you are unknowledgable and "lesser?"

7) Is he or she prompt to refer you to the Registry where you can see if in fact they are registered breeders and that you can, therefore, maintain your own registered sheep if that is your desire?

8) Is the breeder able and willing to show you registration papers for the specific sheep you are interested in purchasing? Sometimes registration papers “to be mailed later” is a red flag that the breeder isn’t providing what he or she says he is.

9) Have you seen other sheep from this breeder on other farms?

10) Does the breeder talk down other breeders in order to promote his or her own sheep?

11) Is the breeder willing to talk about breed standards?

12) Is the breeder willing to show you barn records for sheep you are considering?

13) What about bio-security? Is there anything on the breeder's place you don't want to bring on to your own farm? Barn records, which show care and treatment patterns, can be a clue in this question.

14) While "buyer beware" is the foundation principle for every purchase, is the breeder willing to talk about any potential defects you might have noticed on a given sheep and address how they do or do not fit into the breed standard?

Language of Wool

The Language of Wool Fiber
Every subject has its own vocabulary, and wool is no different. If you know specific terms, you will be able to communicate more productively, either as a buyer or as a seller.

Apparel Wool - Wool suitable for manufacture into apparel fabrics.
Bellies - Short and often times defective wool from belly of sheep.
Blood - Denotes fineness: "more blood" means finer wool.
Break -The fibers are weak at a certain point, but strong above and below the weak spot; opposed to  “tender”, which signifies a generally weak fiber.
Breech (or Britch) Wool - Coarse hair fibers on lower hind legs; generally the lowest quality wool of the entire fleece.
Bright - Light colored wool relatively free of dirt and sand.
Brittle - Harsh, dry, "wire-like".
Bump – Approximately 16 ounces of roving wound into a large soft ball.
Canary Stained Wool - A yellowish coloration which cannot be removed by ordinary scouring methods. Certain types of bacteria growth are believed to be a contributing factor.
Carbonizing - Removal of burrs from wool by immersion in sulfuric acid.
Carpet - Wools too heavy and coarse to be made into apparel; suitable for carpets and rugs.
Character - A general term describing the total of all characteristics that make wool attractive to the eye such as color, crimp, brightness, and sound tip.
Color - The actual color of the wool; a bright white to cream is most desirable; canary stains, brown or black stains are undesirable.
Combing - Manufacturing process in which the short fibers (noils) are separated from the longer fibers which are combed into a continuous strand of parallel fibers called top.
Condition - Refers to the amount of grease and dirt in a fleece 'heavy condition" means heavy shrinkage.
Cotted - Fibers that are matted together.
Crimp - The natural waviness in fibers: distinct crimp - crimps are sharp and clear - fine wools have more crimps per inch; bold crimp - larger crimp spaces widely apart - coarser wools have fewer crimps per inch.
Dingy - Wool that is dark greyish and lacks luster.
Doggy - Short, harsh, coarser than type should be; lacks crimp and elasticity.
Felting - The process of locking wool fibers together to make felt.
Frowzy - Wool that is dry and lifeless without distinct crimp due to weather and or poor quality.
Grading - Separating fleeces into groups according to fineness and length.
Grease Wool - Wool as it is shorn from the sheep, before any processing.
Gummy - Grease wool that has excessive amounts of yolk which has set and is stiff and sticky.
Handle - Refers to the actual feel of the wool; a good "handle" has great resilience and softness, fineness, length, and is pleasing to the touch.
Hank - A 560-yard unit of wool yarn wound on a spool or reel.
Kemp - Chalky white, brittle, weak fiber which may be mixed with normal fibers in a fleece; kemp will not take dye and is objectionable.
Lanolin - Refined yolk or wool grease.
Lock - A tuft or group of wool fibers that cling naturally together in the fleece; also known as a "staple".
Lofty - "Full of life", springs back to normal position, very elastic, and bulky compared to its weight.
Luster - Natural gloss or sheen in a fleece; very desirable.
Open Fleece - Fewer fibers per square inch; opposite of dense.
Pelt - The skin of the sheep with wool still attached to the skin.
Pulled Wool - Wool removed from the skins of slaughtered sheep.
Purity - Refers to the absence of dark fibers, kemp or hair.
Quality - Refers to the degree of fineness.
Raw Wool - Grease wool in natural state before scouring.
Roving – A method of processing fiber into long ropes which eases spinning.
Scouring - The actual separation of dirt, grease, and vegetable matter from grease wool; usually this is done in a hot, mildly alkaline solution followed by a rinse.
Second Cuts - Short pieces of wool that result from the shearer clipping off the wool left from a previous stroke; these short fibers are what make a wool sweater or fabric “pill” – very undesirable.
Shrinkage - The weight raw wool loses when scoured, expressed as a percentage of the original weight.
Sorting - Most fleeces contain more than one grade of wool; as grading is the classification by fleece, sorting is the classification of wool within a fleece.
Soundness - Freedom of the fiber from breaks and tenderness; relates to strength.
Staple - (has two meanings) 1. The length of a lock of shorn wool. 2. The longest length wools within a grade.
Tender - Wool that is weak and breaks anywhere along the length of the fiber due to poor nutrition or sickness.
Top - A continuous strand of partially manufactured wool, which previously has been scoured, carded, and combed; an intermediate stage in the process of worsted yarn.
Virgin Wool - Wool that is used to make fabric for the first time; not reprocessed.
Woolen - Large amounts of shorter wools, such as noils, wool wastes and reworked wools are used in addition to virgin wool; woolen yarn is not combed, hence fibers lie in an uneven fashion.
Worsted - Longer length wool fibers that have not been processed before are made parallel during combing into a product called top, then spun into a worsted yarn.
Yield - Opposite of shrinkage; the percentage of clean wool fibers after scouring.
Yolk - The combined secretion of sebaceous (oil) and sudoriferous (sweat) glands in the skin.

Flock and Roll's Top Hits

                                                Flock and Roll’s Top Ten (Good Fibrations)
1)    Ewe’ll Never Walk Alone
2)    Ewe Are My Sunshine
3)    Shears on My Pillow
4)    My Heart Wool Go On
5)    I’ll Never Find Another Ewe
6)    Shears of a Clown
7)    Flock of the Bay
8)    Please Refleece Me, Let Me Go
9)    Fleece Me
10) Wooly Bully

And that's a different spin on things!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Best Way To Learn Knitting

The best way to learn knitting is to....
      learn English or Throw method first.
      learn Contintental method first.
      learn in a class.
      learn from a book.
      learn from a video.
      learn from YouTube.
      learn from a friend.
      learn on straight needles.
      learn on circular needles.
      learn on metal needles.
      learn on wood needles.
      learn on cheap yarn.
      learn using wool yarn.
      learn on a yarn you love.
      learn crochet first.
      learn by making a scarf.
      learn by making a blanket.
      learn by....... (you can fill in the blanks from here.)

So which is right?  It all is.  That is the great part of knitting.  There are many ways to approach it and very few wrong ways to knit.

Through the years I have heard all of the logic above and much more.  How does a beginner sort it all out.  Once upon a time I was a beginner.  Lucky for me there were not the choices there are today or I may never have knitted.  I learned at a time when you pretty much did it "this way" or it was wrong.

So what advice do I give to "new to knitting" customers?  It's pretty simple:

1: It's 99% opinion and 1% fact.

2: Find the way you learn best and look for opportunities to learn that way.

3: Choose one advisor until you get past the part of not knowing what you don't know you don't know.  In other words when you learn enough to be able to sort through the information you are getting.

4: Keep in mind that as long as you are getting the fabric/project you want, it's okay.  If your knitting looks like knitted fabric, then it's right no matter how you arrived at the stitches.

5: If you are happy with your process of holding yarn or needles then there is no reason to change.

6: There are always going to be better knitters than you and knitters who haven't reached your level of knitting experience.

7: Even experiened knitters learn new things or see something they haven't seen before in knitting.

8: There really isn't anything new under the moon of knitting.  The odds that knitters somewhere in the history of time have done what you just discovered or worked out are pretty good.

9: If something isn't working for you ask for help from your knitting advisor.


It will always take work to learn something new.  It doesn't matter what it is, but it's a fact, learning takes time.  Give your self time and have fun with your journey.  Knitting can be so rewarding if you just give yourself time to get to that stage where you are past focusing on every stitch.

The part about knitting I love the most, is that I can constantly learn something new.  I have yet to get bored with knitting because there are so many opportunities to challenge myself.  However, for the times I need more calm and less challenges in my life, I can choose a simple basic project that gives me opportunities to do "mindless knitting."  Thus my brain becomes involved in the repetitive motions, freeing it to be creative or sometimes just calm.

Happy Knitting!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Yarn On The Shelf & How It Speaks!

Every time I walk into a yarn store the first thing I notice is how the yarn is displayed.  You may not have thought much about displaying yarn, but as a yarn store owner, that is usually fore front in my mind.

Before Tempe Yarn, I didn't think much about how yarn looked on a shelf or how yarn was put-up.  Which was a better seller, small 50 gram skeins, larger 100 gram skeins or hanks of yarn.? Does the yarn stack nicely or look better hanging up?  Some yarn is happier in a cube than on a shelf.  Other yarn gets over looked because it is in a cube or on a shelf and would show better hung-up.

Right after an order comes in and we restock our shelves at Tempe Yarn I enjoy just sitting and looking at the shelves.

With in a few minutes of sitting there the yarn begins whispering.  It usually starts with "choose me, no me, wait I was here first, choose me...."   (Yes it goes downhill from there and can't be explained to a non-yarn person.)  As I look at how pretty the colors sit on the shelf and all my choices, I mentally begin re-arranging the colors, over and over.  Does the pink go better with the brown or the purple.  Should I choose rainbow colors or more muted, softer colors, natural palette or over the top vibrant?  

Some times guests at Tempe Yarn apologize for taking a while to choose the perfect color or yarn for their project.  I quickly confess that even after all the projects I have done, all the choices I have and all the potential choices from all my suppliers, I too spend a good amount of time choosing my next project.  Maybe if the yarns would be a little quieter, I could concentrate more and speed up the process.  However, they are pretty vocal when they see me coming.