HJS Studio Washing Wool Step by Step


Here’s a helpful article on preparing raw wool for spinning, including a section at the end for superfine fibers.

Categories: Spinning

Drum Carder Trick


Categories: Spinning

Spinning Mohair from an Angora Goat

via Spinning Mohair from an Angora Goat

It was May, 2018 and I was looking for some fresh fiber to spin after delivering my first baby. It has always helped me to spin when I am waiting, anxious, or scatterbrained. Spinning has that calming, focusing help for my mind and body. Some of my better ideas have come when I had been spinning for a while.

So, where could I find something unusual, but nice, and preferably, free? Facebook fiber groups! One Sunday, I came across Valerie’s post in the Facebook “Fiber Artists and Yarn Spinners.” Her picture of a goat with serious hair problems woke me up. The poor thing hadn’t had a clip in three years, and was six shearings behind schedule. I was glad to hear she had recently shorn the animal. It must have felt relieved as all that weight fell away!

The next day, not really expecting, only hoping, I began to inquire into the possibility of processing her fiber. Apparently, the previous owner had been under the mistaken impression that this was a shedding fiber animal. The goat was now under new management, and enjoying his fresh, new look.

Valerie responded, and soon, we had a 50-50 split worked out. Various comments kept coming in, and while some folks saw potential in the super long locks, others saw compost, and, possibly, lice. Awk!

This is what our conversation sounded like…

May 7, 2018

(Julia) Hello Valerie, thank you for your interest in my offer. I would be interested in cleaning, picking, carding, and spinning your goat’s fiber into yarn and sending it back to you in exchange for half of the fiber. Would you have a deadline? Also, would you be interested in any particular thickness of yarn, singles, or ply? My address is…
If you could pay shipping to me, I could pay shipping to you. If you would like, I could feature your project on my blog. Feel free to message me with any details you would like to have included in my article.

(Valerie) I have no deadline…I’d just be happy to pass the job off to someone else. Afraid it would be on the perpetual back burner if I had to do it. Really wouldn’t care how you spun it either…I weave rugs if that helps and I like texture. But honestly anything is fine. Even just clean usable locks.
And feature away if ya want 🙂
I’ll get some shipping quotes this week.
Thank you!!

May 8, 2018

(Julia) There’s no rush then, so don’t feel you have to choose priority mail, or anything. Retail should be just fine! Whatever is less expensive. How heavy is the fleece? Do you have a favorite cleaning product for the fleece?

(Valerie) I haven’t ever cleaned mohair…so I don’t know what works best for it. I use Dawn dish soap on my Shetland fleeces though. The parts that didn’t just go straight in the mulch. We’re about 20lbs…I’m sure some of that is too matted as well but as long as it is there is still 4 inches or so that can be cut off and spun.
I’ll weigh it this evening after I get home from work. Will get it in the mail by the weekend hopefully 🙂

(Julia) I’m excited to work on this fiber for you!

I was just going to ask you not to clip anything off of the length of the fibers, if possible. Also, if you would be willing to ship some of the nasty stuff, I could see what I could do with that as well.

(Valerie) Can do.

May 16, 2018

(Julia) Would you happen to have a tracking number for your fiber?

(Valerie) I haven’t been able to make it to the post office yet. I can today or tomorrow if I can sneak out of work for a moment. Sorry for the delay!

(Julia) Not a problem! I’ve been studying up on processing it and can hardly wait to begin!

(Note: One source that was full of great information was…

I also researched various fiber blogs, and found an old encyclopedia of fiber processing online. It was a lot of fun to read about pre-1900 milling methods, including ph and washing temperature guidelines.

Some of my learning notes were…

Measuring details…

There are 120 yards in a skein or 360 feet.

Sort fiber to sizes: 1 to 3 in, 3 to 6 in, 6 to 12 in, 12 to 24 in, 24 + in.

Core spin extra short locks.
Card medium locks.
Set aside some locks for boucle, and core spun.

A nice boucle video by Kelley Adams:

Set aside long locks for selling as talespin.
Spin 3 to 6 in material on great wheel, finely, for core material.  My husband had just purchased a great wheel for me for a Mother’s Day gift.  A spindle was lacking, but would be custom made by Milissa Dewey, at Bobbin Boy.  She did a great job, and had it finished the same day I ordered.  What service!

Cleaning suggestions…

Namaste Farms has a wonderful mohair washing tutorial here:

And a dyeing series here:


Very inspirational!

Cleaning water for mohair should be 140 degrees or less

Use coconut and hot water to untangle for 5 hours.

Use hot water and Dawn with amonia for skirtings, and peroxide for stains. Some sources say this weakens fiber, but a commenter on Facebook says it does not harm it.
Use vinegar and conditioner in the last rinse to restore ph and help with detangling.

Dyeing thoughts…

Dried saffron

Dye immediately after washing.

Pokeberry dye for magenta

Turmeric die with salt for yellow

Black walnuts for brown

Yellow from onion skins

Kool-Aid in the microwave. See Lion Yarns.

Beet root

Grape will turn brown

Rhubarb leaves can mordant, but will contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous if ingested, and should not be inhaled. Copper pipe scraps, and an iron horseshoe will also mordant. Metal mordants can be poisonous.

Mulberries dye plum to blue.

Osage orange dyes sawdust to green to gold. No mordant is needed, but it will vary in results.

Yellows: Queen Anne’s Lace, Marigolds, Black Eyed Susans

Alum mordant with spinach and nettles for green is not lightfast.

Alum for black beans makes grey blue, add baking soda for a grass-sage green.

Aldi orange jello contains cochneal.

Apple leaves dye orange, with copper sulfate mordant.

This was a very helpful blog:


(Valerie) Well I’m glad it’s you and not me! Lol some locks are just beautiful and just need washed…others need hope and prayer. From what I read it shouldn’t be impossible though.

(Julia) Great! We got all of that here!😁

(Valerie) 😊

May 18, 2018

(Valerie) Finally made it to the post office. You should get it soon! Only box I had was a printer box …so expect a big black printer box!

(Julia) Alright! That is great news!

May 22, 2018

(Julia) I received the fleece last night. Thanks for the opportunity!

(Valerie) Have fun!

May 25, 2018

(Julia) Hello Valerie, I’m beginning to process your fleece today. So far, I’ve picked some of the loose cuts, washed them, and dyed them yellow with saffron and turmeric. Here are a few pictures…

Below are pictures I took throughout the job. I found the fiber was hard to pull apart, due to the natural wax, v.m., and matted length. Most locks were in the 9-12 inch length. The tips which were coarser, took dye better than the tops, which were buttery soft, and fine. Of course, cooking goat hair inside made the kitchen smell strongly.

(Valerie) Yay!

June 1, 2018

(Julia) I’ve been washing your angora goat fiber in small batches, and it’s been turning out really well so far.

(Valerie) Looks great!!

June 26, 2018

(Valerie) Just checking in to see how the fleece is coming along. I’m looking forward to seeing it

(Julia) I’ve been doing some experiments with my new Great Wheel as well as with my Louet S10, with a portion of the wool that I will consider mine, unless you really love it. I used some of the yellow locks, carefully brushed them out with a flicker brush, and spun the fiber on my great wheel. That produced a fine, strong thread that was good for core spun yarn. I had another trading partner with Suri alpaca that I was processing for her and I used some of that mohair as a core for her material. It turned out pretty well, and I am ready to mail out her job, as soon as the rest of it is dry. Yesterday, I took some of the nasty tail section, and spun it on my Louet S10 in a chunky, fuzzy style of yarn. I may ply it for a super thick yarn, but I don’t know yet. It is strong too, but very coarse in fiber feel, and would probably be best for rug making. It would be really slow going except that my mother-in-law let me use a wool picking machine that I used for the tail section. I don’t have all of it done because I wanted to see how my methods would work from cleaning to spinning in one batch. I would say up to at least one third of it is clean, and that third is dyed into yellow, green, and blue. Overall, it takes extra time, and the wool picking machine does not really care for the extreme lengths of the fiber, but if I take my time it goes well.

(Valerie) Sounds great. Still in no hurry…just curious!

Very cool!

August 7, 2018

(Julia) Would you happen to be able to send me a picture of the receipt? I am looking for the shipping weight. I forgot to weigh it before washing, and am curious to know how much weight washed out with the waxy coating. I still have the box to subtract weight from, to get the correct number.

I’ve been working on the scrappy tail section first, on the Louet S-10, and have made progress. So far, it has been washed, oiled, picked, dyed a variegated blue, and lockspun.

(Valerie) I can’t find the receipt at the moment…I remember it was 12 lb something with the box.

(Julia) Ok, thank you.

(Valerie) Love it!


Now that the fiber was clean, I felt better about handling it. It was time to split the fiber.
The original box and fiber weight was estimated at 13 lbs.
The box weight is 3 lbs.

Fiber weight is 9 lbs, 4 oz.
Even split weight is 4 lb 10 oz.

I used 7.3 ounces for Bent Pine alpacas as part of a core spinning test.
The inished blue spun mohair is 1 Lb., 0.9 ounces

4 lbs 2.7 ounces, my share
5 lbs, 2.3 ounces for Valerie

Actual split weight, after washing, and before picking and carding the rest of the fiber:
Valerie – 5lb. 3.0 oz

Mine – 4 lb. 2.3 oz)

The finished yarns, measured by my PVC niddy noddy are listed below, with the total weight. Some weight was lost in picking, wax, dirt, v.m., and felted spots. I added some artsy fringe yarn in the multi-colored lots, and liked the softness and interest it lent.

22 wraps of mohair, pure white chain 3-ply.

29 wraps fine-spun turmeric-saffron yellow, and pure white mohair 2-ply with multi-colored fringe for a 3 ply.

20 wraps of green, yellow, blue, and gray.

8 wraps of single mohair and multicolored fringe 2-plied.

45 wraps of denim blue chain 3-ply pure mohair.

33 wraps of core spun yellow over fine spun dark gray core, with a fine spun dark gray mohair binder.

39 wraps of soft white core spun over a fine spun yellow core with a fine spun yellow binder

101 wraps of the same.

Total weight
4 lb 11.3 0z

December 20, 2018

(Julia) Hello Valerie, I have just finished your yarn, and was wondering if the address the box came with is good for the return shipment?

(Valerie) Oh yay! That address is great

December 28, 2018

(Julia) Did your yarn arrive? If so, what is your impression?

(Valerie) We just got home and there was a box waiting for me! It’s beautiful! Thank you! I love it!!

December 31, 2018

I’m so glad you like it! That’s very rewarding. Hopefully, I’ll be uploading the project to my blog soon, and will let you know when it is done. Thank you for taking time to let me know what you thought in this busy season.

(Valerie) I really appreciate it! If you ever need more fiber to play with let me know. I have WAY too much Shetland wool.

(Julia) Thank you! I will let you know when I am ready to take on another project.

Categories: Spinning

Mordants and Natural Dyeing, The Great Debate

Shared from https://wp.me/pyk7n-7m.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a while. This topic, more than anything else in natural dyeing, brings up emotion and occasional controversy. My goal with this post is to present some facts, with references to reputable sources that you can check and read further. Natural dye books unfortunately tend to be bastions of misinformation, rife with generalities and opinions that are expressed as facts, and I do not consider the majority of them to be reputable sources of factual information about chemicals or chemistry.

I always kind of cringe when someone asks me about mordants and their toxicity. It’s not because I’m reluctant to talk about it, it’s just that it’s a complex subject and I usually don’t have time at a show or in an interview to address the topic well. It’s a difficult one to answer succinctly. That’s a big reason that I chose to write about it here on my blog, since I have the latitude to write a long post, and you readers are used to me going on for a while. 🙂 In fact, I’m going to apologize for the length of this post right now. It’s a beast, I know. But I intend it to be a relatively comprehensive reference for anyone wanting to learn more about the topic.

If there is a short answer to the toxicity question, it’s something like this: In order to dye a wide variety of colors, it takes chemicals. No matter if the dyes themselves are natural or synthetic, they both take chemicals in order to properly bond. They also both take varying amounts of water. They both use resources and leave a footprint. The choice to use natural or synthetic dyes, or the choice of what mordants to use, is primarily a personal decision. Each person makes a different choice based on their goals, experience, and environment. I do not look at this as there being a right or a wrong choice. My goal is to arm you with knowledge, so that you can choose which chemicals you want to use.

To be clear, the health risks of dyeing are to the dyer, not to the yarn consumer. The final yarn itself is not going to be hazardous. The safety risks are due to prolonged exposure to these chemicals, over time, in large concentrations. Dyers should always use gloves when handling mordants, other chemical assists, and wet yarn. Not only may some chemicals cause irritation, but skin is also porous and can absorb chemicals if not protected. Face masks are also recommended for synthetic dyes, or when handling any chemical that is in a fine powder form, and is easily airborne and inhaled. Also, many mordants form acids when dissolved in water, which can be released in gaseous form when the mordant bath heated. ALWAYS mordant in a well-ventilated area, and use lids on your pots to control fumes.

What Is a Mordant, Anyway?

A mordant is a chemical that becomes part of the molecular bond between the fiber and the dye. Primarily these are metal salts. (They are salts in the chemical sense of the word – the hydrogen atom of an acid is replaced with a metal ion. They are NOT edible salts.) You can think of a mordant as a molecular glue. In general, dyes and fibers have a weak affinity for each other. If you tried to dye yarn without a mordant, the color would be very dull, and it would wash out promptly and fade easily. A mordant sticks to fiber well, and it also sticks to dye well. So you essentially “dye” the yarn first with a mordant, then repeat the process with the dye itself. This results in a strong bond between dye and fiber, which is fast to both washing and light exposure (in varying degrees for various dyes and mordants and combinations thereof). The mordant also affects the final color of the dye. Alum and tin are considered neutral mordants, because the resulting color on yarn is pretty much that of the color of the dye bath. Iron and copper are considered “saddening” mordants, because they make the color both darker and either browner, bluer, or greener.

Mordant 1: Alum (aka Potash Alum)

Potassium Aluminum Sulfate or Potassium Aluminum Sulfate Dodecahydrate
K(Al)(SO4)2 or K(Al)(SO4)2 * 12(H2O)

Use in Natural Dyeing:

The most common mordant used. It’s considered a neutral mordant, in that it does not result in a color that is appreciably different than that of the dye bath. It is considered to have good color fast properties, though other mordants result in even more color fast shades. It is commonly used in conjunction with cream of tartar, which is thought to increase aluminum uptake and protect the hand of wool fibers, keeping them soft.

Other Common Uses:

  • additive used in water treatment to cause flocculation of impurities. Alum disrupts the electrostatic charge surrounding fine particles and causes them to clump together. Clumped, these particles are easier to filter out.
  • additive for pickling for improved crunchiness. From what I’ve read, this is largely obsolete with quick-process pickling that is commonly used these days. It is no longer recommended, and is no longer included in USDA pickling recipes.
  • the acid in some baking powder to cause CO2 to form. “Alum” is referred to frequently as an ingredient, though sources that use the full chemical name typically refer to sodium aluminum sulfate, not potassium aluminum sulfate.
  • sometimes added to flour, sugar, or salt as an anti-caking agent
  • the crystal in crystal deodorants. This is usually pure potassium aluminum sulfate.
  • astringent in styptic pencils to stem bleeding.

Hazards of Potassium Aluminum Sulfate:

Alum is generally considered the least toxic, or even a non-toxic mordant because it has long been used an additive to both foods and drinking water. Potassium aluminum sulfate does not even have a regularly published LD50, meaning an incredibly high dose would be needed to cause death. However, it does form weak sulfuric acid when dissolved in water. When the water is heated (during the mordant process), this can result in acidic fumes which are corrosive, and irritating when inhaled. Always keep a lid on a hot mordant bath. Moisture from bare skin can cause more concentrated sulfuric acid to form on contact and cause chemical burns, always wear gloves and handle crystals with utensils. Potassium aluminum sulfate is also corrosive to many metals. While it may slightly corrode aluminum pots as well, I always mordant in an aluminum pot to prevent any iron contamination that could occur when using a steel (yes, even stainless steel) pot.

Hazards of Aluminum:

In a World Health Organization report in 2003, they considered studies on the link between aluminum in drinking water and the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease to be conflicting and inconclusive, but recommend minimizing aluminum levels in finished water. A 2011 IJAD article (referenced below) states that aluminum is a widely recognized neurotoxin, and there is increasing evidence that it has a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s. The EPA only lists aluminum in a secondary guideline for recommended maximum contents in drinking water, as 0.05 to 0.2 mg/L (or ppm).

My Conclusion:

Though there is no clearly demonstrated causality between aluminum and Alzheimer’s, there is certainly evidence that aluminum crosses the blood-brain barrier and alters cognition in an undesirable manner. Because of this, I do not consider alum to be a benign chemical. I always handle it carefully (with gloves) both in its solid form and once it’s dissolved in water. I also always mordant outside, and use a lid.


Mordant 2: Iron (aka Copperas or Green Vitriol)

Ferrous Sulfate or Ferrous Sulfate Heptahydrate
FeSO4 or FeSO4 * 7(H2O)

Use in Natural Dyeing:

Iron can be used as a mordant on its own, but it’s generally used as an afterbath, to modify color dyed on fiber that was initially mordanted with alum. It “saddens” color, making it more greenish-brown. Yellows become olive, and pinks become plummy purples. Protein fibers like wool are very sensitive to iron, and too high of iron concentrations or exposure for too much time can damage the fiber and/or make it have a harsh feel. This is why iron is generally used as an after-bath step, to modify color that has already been dyed using alum as a mordant. Exposure can be easily controlled, and the color is already fixed to the fiber with the alum mordant.

Other common uses:

  • dietary iron supplement, used to treat anemia
  • used in combination with tannins to produce historical inks
  • flocculant for treating synthetic dye wastewater

Hazards of Iron and Ferrous Sulfate:

Iron is a main component of the hemoglobin in our blood and necessary for life. Because of this, the body has mechanisms to absorb iron from food, and thus it’s actually possible to overdose. Somewhat paradoxically, this makes it more toxic than many other metals found in mordants, like aluminum or tin. Children are especially susceptible to iron overdoses, and there have been documented cases of accidental death due to them eating adult iron supplements. The EPA only lists iron in its secondary guidelines for contaminants in drinking water (non-enforceable), recommending a maximum of 0.3 mg/L (or ppm). Ferrous sulfate forms weak sulfuric acid when dissolved in water. When the water is heated (during the mordant process), this can result in acidic fumes which are corrosive, and irritating when inhaled. Always keep a lid on a hot mordant bath. Moisture from bare skin can cause more concentrated sulfuric acid to form on contact and cause chemical burns, always wear gloves and handle crystals with utensils.

My Conclusion:

Iron should be used and stored with caution, especially if there are children in the household. I treat it cautiously like any chemical, I wear gloves when handling it and keep hot mordant baths lidded. I use iron very sparingly since I only dye protein fibers, which are easily made harsh with overexposure.


Mordant 3: Tin

Stannous Chloride

Use in Natural Dyeing:

Tin is considered to be a generally neutral mordant, yet it brightens colors and causes them to pop a bit. It is the only way to get a truly bright scarlet red using cochineal. Cochineal is also the only case in which a single bath method (dye and mordant in the same step) is highly effective and does not cause undue precipitation of the dye. Drawbacks of tin is that (with the exception of cochineal reds) it is not considered to be as lightfast as alum. Overexposure of protein fibers to high concentrations of tin or exposure over long time periods can cause them and become damaged. Tin can be used as a pre-mordant in a separate step, like alum, though care must be taken to preserve the hand of the fiber.

Other common uses:

  • tin-plating steel to make tin cans
  • used as an indicator to detect the presence of gold. A solution turns purple when gold is added.
  • approved US, EU, and WHO food additive, for color retention and anti-oxidation

Hazards of Stannous Chloride and Tin:

Inorganic tin salts are considered to have low toxicity since they’re almost entirely excreted after being ingested. The World Health Organization has determined that it is not necessary to determine a numerical value for allowable tin content in drinking water, which is mirrored by the EPA in that there’s not even a secondary guideline established. Stannous Chloride forms weak hydrochloric acid when dissolved in water. When the water is heated (during the mordant process), this can result in acidic fumes which are corrosive, and irritating when inhaled. Always keep a lid on a hot mordant bath. Moisture from bare skin can cause more concentrated hydrochloric acid to form on contact and cause chemical burns, always wear gloves and handle crystals with utensils.

My Conclusions:

There seems to be a pervasive myth in the natural dye world that tin is “highly toxic.” It’s actually no more or less toxic than alum, and significantly less toxic than iron. I don’t know where the reputation originated, perhaps the misinformed confuse inorganic stannous chloride with organotin compounds, which are completely different and highly carcinogenic. All this said, I only use tin for a few colors, all based off of a cochineal scarlet. I limit my use of tin because it’s relatively expensive (around $45/lb) and it tends to harshen protein fibers. Also, it’s not quite as lightfast as alum, with the specific exception of cochineal scarlet. There’s simply no other way to create that color, and it is incredibly durable.


Mordant 4: Copper (aka Blue Vitriol or Bluestone)

Copper or Cupric Sulfate or Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate
CuSO4 or CuSO4 * 5(H2O)

Use in Natural Dyeing:

Copper is used to “sadden” colors, as it tends to turn them more blue-green. Yellows become greens, and pinks become purples. It can be used as both an after-bath to adjust an alum-mordanted color, or it can be used as a pre-mordant on its own. In the pre-mordant case, it’s typically used with citric or acetic acid to aid solubility, create a favorable environment for protein fibers, and increase copper uptake. Unlike iron, copper does not harshen protein fibers. The colors dyed with copper are generally more colorfast than those dyed with alum.

Other Common Uses:

  • herbicide and fungicide
  • “Bordeaux mixture”, an anti-fungal spray for grapes, rules about permissible weather and wind conditions vary according to state and locale
  • controlling root growth near water and sewer pipes, rules also vary about its use
  • controlling algae growth in ponds, rules also vary about its use
  • testing blood for anemia, it causes blood with proper amounts of hemoglobin to sink rapidly where anemic blood will float or sink slowly
  • etching zinc plates for printmaking

Hazards of Copper and Copper Sulfate:

Copper is found in several proteins and small amounts are necessary for proper biological function. Like iron, an excess can cause poisoning and death. Children are especially susceptible. The maximum allowable contaminant level in drinking water is 1.3 mg/L (or ppm). Mostly it is monitored because many plumbing fixtures are made with copper pipe, and the copper in them does leach into water. Excess copper is also detrimental to aquatic life (fish are particularly susceptible), though dilute solutions are used to control algae. Never pour a copper (or any other) mordant bath into a storm drain, or into any waterway or drainage. Copper sulfate forms weak sulfuric acid when dissolved in water. When the water is heated (during the mordant process), this can result in acidic fumes which are corrosive, and irritating when inhaled. Always keep a lid on a hot mordant bath. Always wear gloves and handle crystals with utensils.

My Conclusion:

Simply put, I like using copper. I prefer using it over iron as a saddening mordant, because it does not affect the quality of the wool. It also creates colors which are quite fast – they tend to bleed less when washing and rinsing, and they are more lightfast than colors created with alum. Copper-mordanted yarn is also very effective at exhausting dyebaths, the color uptake is greater than that of alum-mordanted yarn. Many times I’ll throw copper-mordanted yarn into an exhaust dyebath, and the resulting color will be a nicely saturated medium to dark tone. With both copper and alum, I re-use mordant baths and always do my best to exhaust them before disposing of them. I generally will use the exhausted baths to water plants that are acid-tolerant (and sometimes grass), or pour them down the drain (which leads to a sewer and wastewater treatment plant). I handle copper carefully, with gloves, like I do any mordant or chemical.


Mordant 5: Chrome

Potassium dichromate

Use in Natural Dyeing:

Chrome is a mordant that tends to add a golden hue to dyes, and is considered to be quite color fast. In the presences of protein fibers, it is reduced from its highly toxic hexavalent state (chrome-6) to a relatively safe trivalent state (chrome-3), where it then bonds with the fibers and becomes a mordant. It is typically applied as a pre-mordant with formic or tartaric acid. Prior to dyeing, the crystals themselves and mordanted yarn are light-sensitive, both should be stored in dark places out of direct sunlight. Chrome has played an important historical role in dyeing very dark and colorfast blacks in conjunction with logwood. It is not used often now, due to health hazards detailed below.

Other Common Uses:

  • a common ingredient in cement, it helps smooth texture and retard setting
  • photography and screen-printing for its photo-sensitivity

Hazards of Chrome:

Potassium dichromate is a hexavalent chromium compound. It is highly toxic and quite hazardous to health. Small amounts can cause contact dermatitus. It is a known carcinogen meaning it causes cancer. The maximum contamination level of chrome-6 in drinking water is 0.1 mg/L (or 0.1 ppm).

My Conclusions:

This one’s the doozy. It’s the only mordant I won’t use and would actively recommend NOT using. It is carcinogenic in its solid form – the form that’s used to mordant. Despite the fact that it’s transformed to the non-carcinogenic chrome-3 state on fiber, I would never be able to be absolutely sure that there wasn’t any residual un-oxidized excess non-bonded chrome-6. Some textiles dyed with chrome have been found to cause contact dermatitus, which points to the possibility of excess chrome-6. Perhaps it’s possible to use a water-soluble chrome-3 compound that’s not carcinogenic….but for me, it’s not even worth the hassle of researching that. I can create plenty of awesome colors without chrome.


Why Natural Dyes

So, if it still takes chemicals that need to be handled carefully to create naturally dyed yarn, and extra processing time, and extra care to prevent fiber damage, why do it? The answer varies for each of us. I like making things from scratch. The way I dye, I use primarily raw ingredients and extract the dye from them to create my colors. I also have a strong background in science, and I like to tinker and I like to learn. Natural dyeing speaks to me because it’s a bit challenging to understand the chemical interactions and different mechanisms for different dyes. Things don’t always turn out how I’d expect them to, and I’m continuously learning more about the dyes, assists, and mordants, and how they interact with fiber.

I also wanted to show people that you don’t need synthetic dyes to create brilliant saturated colors. I get a lot of surprised reactions when people look at my yarns and realize they’re dyed with natural dyes. They’re bright and vibrant, not the subdued color palette that most people associate with natural dyers. Another reason I chose natural dyes is that the dyes themselves are a renewable resource. Some I can even grow myself. It’s pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but in this one small way, I could choose a natural product over an oil by-product.

It’s also – excuse the pun – a dying art. Not many people use natural dyes, fewer do it in a business and small manufacturing setting. Many cultures with long-standing natural dye traditions are turning towards synthetic dyes because they’re cheap and easier to use. I want more people to learn how to dye with natural dyes, and I’d like to contribute to a resurgence of information about the techniques. I don’t want these skills and this knowledge to decline and be lost.

One last reason that I choose natural dyes is that I have absolute control over the chemicals I use, and I know exactly what goes into each color. This is typically not the case with synthetic dyes. Even ones that use a lot of “green” marketing, combined with scare-marketing hype that proclaims to be “non-chrome” – even these contain small amounts of chrome, lead, and manganese. These are metals which are toxic in smaller qtys and have higher health risks than alum, iron, copper, or tin. To be clear, I am not throwing Greener Shades under the bus here. While I disagree with their marketing strategy, I applaud them for publishing their test results, and I applaud them for trying to provide less hazardous synthetic dyes. Most dye companies do not publish the actual ingredients of their dyes, and even as a dyer, it is rarely possible to obtain this information.

Again, I don’t have a problem with the proper use of synthetic dyes. The final yarn is not going to be toxic or a health hazard. I own plenty (and you fellow yarn hoarders know exactly what I mean by plenty) of yarn dyed with them. I admire the work of all hand dyers and am jealous that synthetic dyers get to employ more varied dye techniques that result in a wider range of final color displays on yarn. I personally don’t want to work with them often, because they’re fine powders that are easily airborne, they do contain small amounts of moderately to highly toxic metals, there’s always a bit of uncertainty as to their exact ingredients, and I’d rather not have to wear a respirator.


The Final Send-Off

Oh man, I don’t want to end this post on a downer! Dyeing is supposed to be fun, have I completely killed it for you? I hope not. By all means, DO go to a dye day. DO take a class on dyeing, natural or synthetic. It’s super fun to play with and create colors! Just be properly informed and properly prepared. Not all dyers treat their chemicals equally cautiously – I’ve seen people stick their bare hands into copper mordant pots, and I’ve seen people use synthetic dyes like fingerpaints without wearing gloves. Be safe. Use gloves, and use a mask when you’re dealing with fine powders. Bring your own if you’re not sure that they’ll be provided. And most of all – have fun dyeing!


Categories: Spinning

Natural dyeing colour wheel explained

1.Red Onions 1st bath + Alum mordant

2.Ivy berries 1st bath + Alum mordant

3.Logwood 1st bath unmordanted

4.Logwood 1st bath + Alum mordant + Vinegar after dip

5.Black Turtle beans 1st bath (fresh) + Heuchera mordant

6.Black beans 1st bath (days old) + Alum mordant

7.Black beans 1st bath (fresh) + Alum mordant

8.Black beans 1st bath (days old) + Alum mordant + Vinegar after dip

9.Black Turtle beans 1st bath (fresh) + Alum mordant + Vinegar after dip

10.Black Turtle beans 1st bath (fresh) + Alum mordant

11.Logwood 2nd bath + Alum mordant / overdyed in Brazilwood & Heuchera 3rd bath

12.Black beans 1st bath (fresh) + Heuchera mordant

13.Brazilwood & Heuchera (3rd bath) Unmordanted

14.Brazilwood & Heuchera (3rd bath) + Alum mordant

15.Brazilwood 1st bath + Alum mordant

16.Brazilwood 2nd bath + Alum mordant

17.Brazilwood 2nd bath + Heuchera mordant

18.Madder 1st bath + Alum mordant

19.Yellow onion 1st bath + Alum mordant

20.Logwood 1st bath + Alum mordant / overdyed in Madder & Heuchera 2nd bath

21.Logwood 1st bath + Heuchera mordant

22.Red onion Unmordanted

23.Red Onion + Heuchera mordant

24.Yellow Onion 1st bath + Heuchera mordant (1/5)

25.Mix of Yellow onion bath and Yellow & Garlic 1st baths Unmordanted

26.Yellow Onions & Garlic 1st bath + Alum mordant

27.Chamomile 1st bath + Alum mordant

28.Goldenrod 1st bath + Alum mordant

29.Fustic 1st bath + Alum mordant

30.Young Birch Leaves 1st bath + Alum mordant

31.Ivy Berries (2nd bath) & Heuchera + Alum mordant

Taken on April 3, 2011

This photo is public

All rights reserved

This photo is safe

Natural dyeing colour wheel explained

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Selecting, Preparing and Spinning Mohair


Sources. Most spinning and weaving shops and mail-order sources carry some kind of commercially prepared mohair. The terms sliver, top, and roving are often used rather loosely, so you need to examine the preparation to determine whether it meets your needs. True rovings generally have a small diameter because they have been drawn out to a diameter related to the thickness of the yarn to be mill spun. Commercially prepared kid mohair sliver or top is rarely available to handspinners because of commercial demand for it. The top available in the United States is generally adult mohair, suitable for rugs, but not for soft garments and accessories. The mohair top I sell is a young adult Top, softest I have found. Combed Top in kid mohair blended with merino in both undyed white and multi colors that is nice. Commercially processed fibers are a good way to blend with fibers you already have or get ideas to blend your own. White sliver or top is probably purebred mohair; you may also find gray, amber, or reddish mohair with varying amounts of kemp in it, this is probably cross-bred mohair. Natural colored mohair is getting easier to find, as the breeding program in recent years has improved dramatically. Raw mohair fleece is also sometimes available in spinning shops. A number of people advertise mohair in spinning and weaving magazines. Send for samples, let the farmer know what you are looking for and send them a few bucks for their trouble. Compare the fibers, and decide which are best for your purpose. Consulting with the supplier by phone or mail may help you make your decision. Fleeces that have been raised from other handspinners are generally the best sources. Try to obtain fleeces that have been shown and were judged. These will? have very little vegetation, and be of the best quality. Expect to pay more for these fleeces, time and effort should be compensated to the breeder. Covered fleeces are also worth the extra money. Picking vegetation out of mohair can be very time consuming.

CONDITION How do you decide whether a fleece is worth your time and money. Any mohair fleece in good condition that is not too short or too tangled can be put to some use by handspinners. The question is, will it be right for your projects? First, pass up very matted and tangled fleeces. A fleece that is in good condition, with sufficient body oils, should not be excessively matted unless it has been allowed to grow longer than six months. A fleece that has sufficient oils will have definite locks with some character and will be much easier to process than a dry fleece. Dry fleeces usually have no definite locks; the mohair tends to be tangled and matted and feels harsh, and fibers are likely to break during either commercial or home processing. A dry fleece lacks bright luster of a desirable fleece. A lot of burrs or other extraneous material mean more work for you; if the fleece is otherwise wonderful, it might be worth the effort. Don’t reject an otherwise great fleece just because it is a buck fleece. Raw buck fleeces may be smelly and stink when wet, but after thorough washing they smell the same as any other clean mohair. In my experience I have only had a problem with goats that were not purebred Angora. Dairy, Pygmy, Natural colored bucks and their crosses can be pretty smelly. The white Angora breed has been improved over centuries and I suspect one of the things that was breed out of them was the smell.

GRADES. Baby “super kid” mohair is the finest, softest, and most luxurious kind. And also the hardest to find. Only a few baby goats will exhibit this “super kid” quality. If you find it, get it,? the extra cost is well worth it. It is perfect for articles which come in contact with the skin, silky pullovers, scarves, baby clothes but will be wasted in a rug unless you just want the luxury, don’t require durability and expense is no object. Kid is wonderful blended with fine wool like merino, silk, angora rabbit….fibers to extend the fine qualities of the kid mohair. Adult mohair is coarse, hard-wearing, and less expensive, so would be most appropriate for a rug, or super duty socks. If you use adult mohair to make a garment to be worn next to the skin, you will discover the meaning of the term “hair shirt.”
Kid mohair can be used wherever you would use “super kid”; it is often feels just as soft but not quite as fine. Yearling and young adult goat mohair fall in between kid and adult, they still may be soft, but is a bit coarser and somewhat pricklier than kid.??? The handle of the fiber’s softness or harshness is an important characteristic, which can only in part be judged by its grade. You may see different grades on a single fleece. Generally, the first and second shear on kids would be graded as kid mohair. Though in breeding practices animals will be selected that can keep the finer fleeces the longest. I sometime got a third shearing that I would still consider “kid” grade.

LENGTH. The length of the fiber is another important factor. The longer the fiber is, the less twist must be inserted into it to make a stable yarn. It’s desirable to be able to make a good yarn with a minimum of twist, because excess twist reduces the luster of the finished yarn. The best average length for most spinning projects is 5 or 6 inches. If mohair is shorter than 4 inches, (except kid mohair, which can be a little shorter because it is finer), the yarn spun from it will probably shed excessively unless spun with a lot of twist. For kid mohair, 3 inches is an acceptable length, 4 to 5 inches is excellent. Yearling and young adult goat grades should be at least 4 inches long, but 5 or 6 inches is preferable. Adult mohair should be at least 5 or 6 inches long. This length is measured with the lock stretched out.

COMMERCIAL MOHAIR TOP. Most top is easier to spin if you gently separate it into lengths and shake each one to loosen and fluff it. You may want to draw out by hand before spinning, or re-card it to produce a loftier yarn. If you are planning to spin a fine yarn, split the top or draw it out to an appropriate size before spinning. Try spinning in on the fold for a fuzzier yarn.? The fibers are parallel, which can be spun into a worsted yarn. I find this process results in a hard and harsh yarn, but very good if you are looking to a tough as nails yarn..rugs or sock yarn. Ideas? I like to use rainbow dyed top in fiber blends. It is amazing how a mediocre wool fiber can really be enhanced with some mohair carded in.

MOHAIR ROVING Mohair I have processed is into “Roving”. It is very easy to spin into a lofty yarn or semi-worsted yarn. Roving is not the same as Combed Top. The fibers are somewhat parallel, but not as much as a combed top.

FIBER PREPARATION. The following methods of preparing and spinning mohair have worked well for me.

WASHING MOHAIR FLEECE. When you get some grease mohair, don’t just dump it into a tub of soapy water. If you are planning to have the mohair mechanically picked or carded this next step is not necessary. If you are trying some fancier type of spinning, like yarn with the curls or other hand processed methods, try the following: a little preparation will save a lot of work and time later. Separate the fleece into individual locks or small groups of locks; open up any thick locks to allow water to penetrate. Separating is usually best done by pulling the tip of a lock away from its neighbors with one hand while holding the adjoining locks with the other. Try to keep locks intact. Most loose dirt, vegetable matter, and second cuts will fall out during this step. Work over a box or paper to catch the litter, a metal grate is nice. It is usually easier to separate the locks before washing than afterward. However, teasing mohair fibers apart before washing not only is a waste of effort but eliminates some of the choices in later stages of preparation. After separating the locks, put them into mesh bags for washing, to keep them as intact as possible. Fill the bags loosely, don’t pack them. If you are doing small amounts in a sink you can omit the mesh bags. I use this process when I am washing locks for the doll wig & beard market or using the locks for adding to felting projects, etc.? Just try to carefully handle the locks.

WASHING, SCOURING OR DYEING. These three variables must be considered when washing any fiber: time, temperature, and pH (additives, such as washing soda and baking soda, alter the pH). Mohair can be more readily damaged in wet processing than wool, so a set of routine cautions is in order.

SCOURING MOHAIR. Hot water is necessary to remove the grease in most mohair. However, prolonged periods above 140° F will damage the fibers. Begin with water about 145° , it will cool. Always use enough water to float the mohair, between 1.5 and 2 gallons per pound of mohair, but put the water (and any additives) in the sink or basin before adding the mohair.
An additive may be necessary to remove the grease thoroughly unless your water supply is very alkaline. Some add Washing Soda, I prefer adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) because it is a weaker alkali, not as reactive or caustic as washing soda (sodium carbonate). However, it’s necessary to use about four times as much baking soda to bring the pH up to the desired level, and it may take longer to work. Alternatively, you may prefer to use less washing soda and more detergent than I suggest.
The amount of soda needed depends upon the amount of grease in the fleece and the pH of your water. Check with your water utility or test the water yourself to find out what the unaltered pH of your water is. For mohair with an average amount of grease, my goal is a pH between 8 and 9 before the detergent is added. For very greasy adult mohair, I use enough soda to produce a pH of 9 to 10. Kid mohair and dry fleeces need no soda and should not be subjected to it.
Protein fibers are damaged by long soaking in highly alkaline solutions. It’s important to use only enough additive to do the job, and to limit the amount of time the fiber spends in the solution. I mix the soda into the hot water, then add detergent. Soda does not replace detergent as a washing agent; rather, it combines with the grease to form a soap, so that the grease can be removed.
As a detergent, try the washing agent that works best for you in your laundry when you have to wash really dirty clothes. Hardness can be counteracted by the use of Calgon or an other water softener, according to the instructions on the box. If you have a soft water supply, you may want to decrease or not need the addition of soda.
Use a liquid laundry detergent. If you use a powdered detergent, dissolve it completely before adding the mohair. You’ll find that any washing agent that works on fine, greasy wools will probably work on mohair, though you may need more of it for mohair. Using a large amount of detergent in the first wash is much more effective than a smaller amount and is not harmful.

Kookaburra Wool Scour is a excellent product to wash wool and mohair fleeces. It is designed to clean protein fibers without fiber damage, you can generally get your fleece clean with only 1 or 2 washes. And you don’t need to completely rinse it out. The product also has moth prevention properties.
Gently giving the mohair an occasional stir during each soak is helpful, but too much agitation can break up the locks, making later preparation more time consuming. Spin the water out in a washing machine (spin-only cycle) or centrifugal spinner after each of the following steps.
1. Optional step: soak in soft water at 135-145° F for 15 minutes to an hour to soften the grease and remove much of the dust.
2. FIRST WASH & RINSE. In hot water about 145° F (set your water heater to the highest possible), THIS IS REALLY HOT, SO USE THICK RUBBER GLOVES AND REMEMBER TO REDUCE TEMP. FOR HOUSEHOLD USE! Adjust the PH of your water if necessary, dissolve enough soda to attain the desired pH: about 1 teaspoon washing soda or 2 to 3 teaspoons of baking soda to every two gallons of pH-neutral (pH 7.0) water. For each pound of mohair, add about half the amount of laundry detergent you would normally use in a full washer load of really dirty clothes. Add the mohair and soak for 15 minutes to an hour, checking progress now and then. The water will appear milky. To check, remove a lock and rinse it in hot water. If the lock feels gummy, the grease is not out. After you have washed a batch or so you will be able to tell when it is ready without having to rinse a lock. Large quantities of mohair usually require more time than small quantities. Keep the temperature of the water above 125° F to avoid formation of a scum that may be redeposited on the mohair. Lift out the bags or spin out the water. Remove the mohair and fill the tub with hot water. Add the mohair, let it sit about 15-30 minutes, stir around. Spin out the water. Remove the mohair before refilling the tub.
3. SECOND WASH. Add a quarter to half the amount of detergent used in the previous step; use soda only if the mohair feels gummy after the first washing. Soak for 15 to 30 minutes. The second wash further loosens the dirt and other residue. Locks should not feel gummy after this step. If you are in doubt, you can check by rinsing a lock in plain warm water. If the lock still feels gummy, repeat step 3, being sure the water temperature is above 125° F.
4. RINSE at least two times, using plenty of progressively cooler water each time, soaking 15 to 30 minutes in each change of water. The temperature for the final rinse can be about 115° F. Check the pH of the last rinse to see whether vinegar is needed. A pH of 6 is perfect. Since some tests do not measure pH with absolute precision, you can add a very small amount of vinegar (about 1 cup when washing between 6 and 8 pounds of mohair) just to be on the safe side. I believe it is better to err very slightly on the acid side of neutral than on the alkaline side, since alkalis damage protein fiber.
5. Remove the mohair from the tub or mesh bags and spread out to dry, as with wool.

DYEING MOHAIR. Because high temperatures damage mohair, techniques have been devised to dye it at lower temperatures. Fortunately, mohair takes up dye faster and at lower temperatures than does wool. Minimize damage and get good results by using the same dyes and procedures as for wool but keeping the temperatures at or below 145° to 180° F.
Acid dyes, such as Washfast, One Shot, Gaywool or Lanaset / Sabreset dyes are especially good for mohair because optimum results can be obtained by holding the fiber at 150° F for between 30 and 40 minutes. Procion Dyes, which are generally for plant fibers, such as cotton, work with mohair, but the intensity won’t be has bright as with the Lanaset (protein fiber dyes). Any type of dye that works on wool will work on Mohair. I do find that mohair dyed with the wool will take on a deeper, brighter color than the wool, which I find adds interest to fiber blends. Mohair must be clean in order to take the dye evenly. Dyeing lightly stained or natural color mohair locks can produce interesting color variations.

CARDING AND COMBING MOHAIR. As is true with any fiber, the way you prepare mohair for spinning will determine to a large degree the yarn you obtain. Unevenly combed or carded fiber will produce bumpy yarn. When preparing a lot of mohair, do not pile the finished batts too high, because they will pack down more readily than wool. And be careful where you put them; pets love to curl up in a basket of mohair.
The relative humidity where you live will be a major factor in determining how much static electricity you have to cope with. Though less of a problem for handspinners than for mills, static electricity occurs when the relative humidity is low and the moisture content of the mohair is less than 10 to 15 percent. If you have difficulty with static electricity, apply some type of oil before carding, many basic spinning books tell how. Some people recommend olive oil or other vegetable oils. Mineral oil will not become rancid if left in the fibers for extended periods, but may become gummy. Static electricity is not a big problem for me, but I have had good results, with this mixture. Use a couple of T of liquid fabric softener to a spray bottle of water. You can mist your fibers and when it has dried, it will be ready to spin or store.
If spinning oil does not control the problem, you may also have to rest the mohair between stages of preparation in order to spin a smooth, controlled yarn. Blending mohair with small amount of wool can also help subdue static electricity. If you want a fuzzy, slubby yarn, a little static electricity can be an aid.
Carding mohair is a good way to prepare fibers which are not more than 5 or 6 inches long and makes a fluffier yarn than combing does. Tease mohair just as you do wool. Many people like to use a picker. Teasing is not always necessary before hand carding, if the locks can be opened up and spread out on the cards. Thorough teasing or picking is necessary for good results with a drum carder.

CARDING MOHAIR WITH HAND CARDS. The trick in hand carding is not to let the ends that hang off the front of the cards become tangled. A little extra wrist action and a wider horizontal separation of the cards between strokes help. Avoid putting too much fiber on hand cards–it fluffs up and makes carding ineffective and time consuming. Doff the batt carefully. If you are carding fine, short mohair, you can make a rolag. Otherwise, doff the batt flat and spin from a corner or an end. Alternatively, you can roll the batt up parallel to the direction of the fibers, then draw it out evenly by hand and twist it slightly to form a roving.

CARDING MOHAIR ON A DRUM CARDER. If the mohair has been well picked and is not fed onto the drum too quickly, you may find that one pass is enough. However, more than one pass is generally necessary for a really good preparation. If you are doing color blends (Carded Top works great), I like to do just one pass, to keep the colors from not mixing too much and looking muted. The medium carding cloth, is excellent for the first carding of most mohair. It can also be used for blending mohair with other fibers, but is not suitable for 100% baby kid and other very fine, delicate specialty fibers, which are best carded entirely on the fur or Fine drum or spun from picked locks.
Fibers which are to be blended together should be carded separately first. The fine drum, with the finer carding cloth, is best for blending mohair of all grades with other fibers. I have excellent results using the Strauch Finest Drum Carder.
After producing batts on the drum carder, you have several options. You may split each batt into strips and spin from the strips directly. To make an excellent semi-worsted yarn, lay several of these strips side by side and draw them into a uniform, slightly twisted roving. Loosely wind the roving sections up like snails and place them in boxes or baskets until you are ready to spin. For a fuzzier yarn, you may tear the batts crosswise into smaller batts about the size of those made on hand cards, then spin from one corner to the end. If the fibers are relatively short, you may first make these small batts into rolags.

COMBING MOHAIR. This is the best way to prepare long to medium-length fibers, which are difficult to card, and is the method to use to produce a smooth worsted yarn. You can always use the classic wool combs or paddle combs to comb mohair; paddle combs work well with mohair locks that have a lot of shorter hair at their cut ends. However, there are ways of obtaining a satisfactory semi-worsted preparation without specialized equipment. See drum carding above. You may also comb locks individually with a metal comb, a dog rake, or a fiicker. Whichever of these alternative tools you choose, start by placing a protective piece of heavy leather or other tough material over your knee. Lay a lock on your knee, grasping it firmly by one end. With the comb, rake, or flicker, begin combing the tip of the lock, working back toward your holding hand, as you would do when untangling long hair. Then reverse the lock and comb out the other end. Don’t skip the middle section! I find that tangled locks are easier to comb if I hold each lock under tension and rap on it sharply several times with the teeth of the tool before beginning to brush. Combing also minimizes breakage and noils (but save the noils you do get and card them with short wool to make into rolags). Spin the prepared locks directly from their tips, or lay several locks side by side and draw them out by hand into a fine strip.

SPINNING. Spinning mohair is similar to spinning wool and other hairlike fibers, but the mohair fibers draw much more freely than wool. The yarn may slip away from you until you are accustomed to handling it. To me, the luster and fuzziness (hairiness) of mohair are its most distinctive and lovely characteristics, and I like to highlight these qualities. Luster is enhanced by low twist in both worsted and woolen yarns. Low twist allows light to bounce off more fiber surfaces, producing a rich halo glowing effect. In a high-twist, compact yarn, light can reflect off the surface of the yarn only, producing a duller effect. To enhance the luster, I insert only the amount of twist necessary to make a stable yarn suitable for my purpose.
If a yarn will be subjected to very hard wear, then durability must be put ahead of enhanced luster and more twist must be inserted. Worsted yarn is strong and hard wearing; lofty semi-worsted and woolen-spun yarns are light in weight and ideal for articles that will not be subject to hard wear. Many fancy (novelty) yarns can be spun of mohair. There several excellent books and videos with different approaches to designing fancy yarns.
Mohair yarn is a hair fiber, so memory is not one of its strong points. Even commercially blended mohair tends to grow in a knitted garment. Its weight and lack of fiber memory is the problem here. Adding fine wools to your mohair blend will help without sacrificing the benefits of mohair. Do not hang knitted garments. Store clean folded on a shelve. Remember those pesky moths, they love dirty protein fibers.? It is OK to lightly brush your garment. Use a natural bristle brush, the kind you would use on your own head. Mohair doesn’t wrinkle easily so is great for traveling.
Researched and written by Elizabeth Barkas

Buckley, WA 98321


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New Beginnings with Old Fiber

I’ve had a pillowcase of handpicked alpaca and wool fiber under my bed for a while now, just begging to be spun. It is scrumptiously clean, and smells of fabric softeners and laundry soap. Today, I took out the bag and went through the gems. The colors reminded me of days devoted to dyeing, and the textures reminded me of the different projects I had done to earn them.

Remembering the animals names as I finger through their unique textures, crimps, and colors, I recall Crimp Suzette, Enrique, Raindrop, and Angel, from Mrs. A., of Alpacas of Alagaesia, and white wool from my wool treasure experience with Mrs. W. There were gifts from a piano student Mrs. E., and Cyra, from Alpacas of the Alleghenies, whose deliciously soft white fleece took a variety of dies and shimmered in onion skin yellow and indigo blue. In these fiber experiments, I will be combining alpaca with wool, and a few specialty fibers like milk, bamboo, silk noils, and Firestar in various colors.

These are some of the keepers I brought with me on our 700+ mile move, last spring, and now I have a chance to combine colors, card beautiful cloud-like batts, and watch the yarns come together! Yippee!

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Knitting Machine Gift

In the early 1990s, my family and I were enjoying a short vacation, and were staying in a hotel.  As we ate pizza together and watched TV, we saw a knitting machine demonstration that seemed fantastic. When pitted against highly-skilled knitters, this machine knitted fast and evenly.  My dad bought one for my mom, and she spent countless hours of enjoyment while making us blankets with her own hands, that we still have over 20 years later.

In late 2016, I asked to use her knitting machine on some lambswool I had died with Indigo dye from Mrs. W., my spinning teacher.  The lambswool came from her as well, and I wanted to make her a Christmas gift she would appreciate.  It all began when I started to hand knit a warm head wrap with the lambswool.  There was still plenty of wool left, so I decided to make a shawl, of the shorter variety. There were hiccups along the way, especially when almost the entire project fell off of the needles,  but all in all, it was a good project.   Like most stockinette it tended to curl at the edges, so I decided to open up the pattern by making runs in patterns, on purpose, as a kind of lacework or open work. It opened up the fabric remarkably well, and gave the shawl a nice, artistic look.  Mrs W. loved the gift set, especially since it was made from her lambs of long ago.

Categories: Fiber Dyes, Gifts, Knitting, Plant or Vegetable Dyes, Wool, Wool Dyes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thrift Store Loom Find

In February, 2016, I was perusing our local Goodwill store when I came across a fiber tool.  Could it be?  Was I really looking at a loom?  Here?  After a few adjustments, the tangled strings straightened, and the warp and weft became distinct.  Yes!  What a find!  But it was $60.  Sigh.  Oh wait, don’t I have a half off coupon?  Yes!  

And at that point, I knew it was going to come home with me.  It was a bit of a challenge to pick up where the last weaver left off, but it was more educational, and a lot less work, as I did not have to warp the loom for the first time myself.  With a lot of help from Smokey, our cat, I used a variety of leftover acrylic yarns, just as a learning experience. 

In the early part of 2017, as I begin to contemplate moving halfway across the country, I decided to offer it in a trade for a Louet S-10, in combination with three or four contractor bags full of fiber.  This loom was a good learning experience, and helped me to understand what I would appreciate in a loom that would be even more productive. There were some makeshift parts, and sticking parts, but the loom actually worked, with a bit of patience.

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Spinning Jelly Beans

Sometimes, it’s great to pull some fiber out of my stash, and watch it come together on the spinning wheel.  An adult music student of mine gifted me with some alpaca and llama slivers from an older lady friend and grower.  It was so soft, and very well milled. When I had one of my dyeing days, I used Easter egg color kits to transform these fluffs into colorful slivers.  They took dye very well, and I later spun them together in a “single” experiment.  The colors remind me of jelly beans.

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Washing Raw Wool


Washing Raw Wool


Washing Raw Wool

Items that you will need…

1.       Wool

2.       A plastic bucket, sink, or tub

3.       Soap 

5.       Enough very hot water to fill the bucket a few times

An airy place to work and dry your fiber without having it trampled, tracked or blown across the yard

A muslin bag (and mesh bag will work a garment bag, a used onion bag), a plastic basket or strainer.

Potential Problems during Washing

Felting occurs when the wool is exposed to some combination of the following factors: The wool is wet, is agitated, is exposed to temperature change in water, or is exposed to an alkali ph.

Wash Water Water should be at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for coarse wools, and at least 160 degrees for fine wools. Lower temperatures are very likely to result in some of the grease being left behind in the wool.

Hot water, very hot. You need the water to be hot enough to soften and dissolve the lanolin and other sticky oils. You won’t be scrubbing or agitating the fiber so you need the combination of very hot water and detergent to do the heavy lifting for you. It will take several “rinses” with the hot water and detergent to get your fleece clean. So if you don’t want to turn up your water heater a bit you may need to heat some water on the stove. Be prepared to heat water while your fiber is soaking in the previous bath. You don’t want it to cool off or get cold. That is very bad too.

Soaps –

I highly recommend Unicorn Fibre Scour Power.

But you can use any dish soap (Ivory, Dawn or any store brand)







Step 1.  Fill your container with HOT water, and add soap 


          How much soap do I add? This is a difficult question to answer with a hard and fast rule, so I won’t try.  In general,  I put enough detergent in the water so that it feels slick to my fingers and changes color somewhat–becomes slightly cloudy or the color of the detergent added. This can vary from a cap full to a couple of cups, depending on how much wool will be washed, how greasy it is, and how much water is being used and what type of soap you are using. 

Step 2.  Add you fiber (either in a mesh bag or without), just push it down into the water until it is totally submerged DO NOT agitate, squish or squeeze (this is the hardest part but trust me submerge and walk away) 

Let fiber soak until water starts to cool (15 to 20 mins)

Step 3. Drain dirty water through a strainer to catch the fiber you are cleaning (if using a mesh bag just set bag in sink to drain.) 




Hints and Trick I have learned over the years and find very useful

– spin extra water off in between washes and rinses, either use you washers spin cycle, some use a salad spinner, or I love my The Laundry Alternative Nina Soft Spin Dryer. 


– If you have a fleece that has alot of dirt, or has been in storage awhile, I have found that doing a pre soak with cold water helps open the fibers up and makes washing go a little quicker.

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Swap of the year!

Near the end of February, 2017,  I received a response to an online post offering alpaca and wool for a Louet spinning wheel.  A lady from the Maryland region had several spinning wheels, one of which belonged to her husband.  As he was not using it anymore, it was in storage, and available for trade. This lady offered it in exchange for my fiber. As I went through my fiber, I discovered there was much more fiber then I had even thought. Between my spin a pound, get a pound trades and gifts from others, I had over three contractor size garbage bags full of fluff.  

Some of the fiber brought back wonderful memories, and it was hard to separate the fluff I was going to offer from the fluff I was going to keep. However, I was newly engaged to be married, and was looking forward to moving from Pennsylvania to Northwest Illinois, within a couple of months.  There were simply some things I would have to let go, or at least downsize.  In the end, I ended up keeping a handful of each fleece, plus some special items. It amounted to a pillow case full of fluff that would easily serve as packing material.  This offer was exactly what I was looking for, and needed.  

We decided we would each drive halfway to complete the trade.  The chosen day dawned cloudy, and damp, but the roads were clear, and everything looked good for a road trip. My mother and sister accompanied me, and we had a nice time together, driving through the mountains toward a McDonald’s just north of Harrisburg.

My customer was thrilled when she saw the huge bags of fluff, and ran her fingers through some of it with a delighted look on her face.  I was equally happy with the Louet.  She even included an extra drive band!

The reason I was looking for a Louet was because of the large orifice and flyer hooks. This particular S-10 model came withe three large bobbins, which really made my day!  No longer will I be limited to spinning fine yarns, and singles; now I will be able to spin chunky, ply, and art yarns!

Categories: Alpaca, Family, Gifts, Spinning, Spinning Wheels, Wool | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dani Ives, animal portrait needle felting artist


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Self taught needle felting artist creates animal portraits with wool.


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Wool Treasure

My friend and mentor, Mrs. W., and I have been trying to set up a fiber day since early spring brought fresh breezes and hints of free time.  The summer sped by, and though every golden day was filled with good things, the visit remained a thing of the future until this week. Saturday, my sister and I finished our chores and drove over, feeling a bit tired from the week’s adventures. 

When we saw our friend, however, and felt the sun-warmed breeze that breathed across the valley, we felt refreshed and excited for the chance to visit. The first stop on the farm was the fiber room, a small finished building beautifully painted in pastels and home to an antique carpet loom, totes of clean fiber, and essential tools. The room is well-lit and has a fresh, cheerful atmosphere.  The sheepdog lays at the foot of the loom or in the doorway with a stick in her mouth and a happy question in her eyes. We looked at the project on the loom and were invited to try weaving a heavy carpet with a white cotton warp, and a weft of plastic baling twine, the stuff that held the sheeps’ dinner together.  It is not only a creative recycling project, but also a durable carpet project that goes along quickly.  You can really experience weaving progress with baling twine!  The various shades of light blue made a cloudy effect and the royal blue added contrast.  After I wove a few lines, my sister took over and became addicted to the process.  Like spinning, there is a comfortable rhythm to the whole series of actions that soothes the mind while it exercises the body.

My friend has asked us over to see if we want some of her stored wool.  If not, it will be turned out for compost, nourishing the soil and growing beautiful vegetables and flowers on her farm. Having an idea of the labor of love that has gone into the fiber to bring it to this stage, it makes me feel queasy to think of it even touching a compost pile, and I’m eager to see what is in the box.  When several boxes are opened, and I run my fingers through the wool of Leicester, churro, Wensleydale, and several others, I feel overwhelmed with amazement.  What treasures are mine today!  While my sister weaves, we begin to pack the fiber into bags for transport.  Mrs. W. is glad to have storage space, and I feel like a fiber pirate carrying off a cargo of loot.  She mentions she hopes it will be ok with our parents at home, and I assure her they know it is coming. 

We have spent some time de-cluttering the attic this week, partly to relieve the floors. Book lovers need strong floors, which we have, but it is still disconcerting to sleep beneath a small-scale library of congress.  I mentally calculate space, and realize I’ll need to work out some extra space, but it is so worthwhile! 

The fibers glisten in the late summer afternoon sunlight, and as the dark fibers warm, they become especially soft and cozy.  The white wool speaks to me of colorful dyeing sprees on winter afternoons when the bleakness of winter seems indomitable.  It gives me a kind of satisfaction to fight the bone-crunching cold, sloppy slush, and general grayness of winter with sunny yellow, spring green, magenta, indigo, red, purple, peach, coral, and any surprising combination that happens to pop up in the fiber.  In winter, the warm kitchen comes alive with light, music, good cooking, and a colorful project going on.  It is a good place to be.
To me, a recipe for a good project begins with a person who loves to serve, fresh materials, and most of all, SURROUND SOUND!  Actually, that’s not a bad recipe for most projects.

After we loaded the wool into the car, Mrs. W. asked if we could use any tomatoes.  Her garden is quietly producing a bumper crop of delicious red heirloom tomatoes.  While we picked some, I was reminded of the time another sister asked me to come over and lend a hand while she was delivering her twins.  She too had a garden of tomatoes to deal with, but a limited amount of time and energy.  We washed the tomatoes, cut out the top area, quartered them, and chopped them quickly, skins and all, in a blender.  Then, we put the sauce into a crock pot and slowly cooked it overnight with a toothpick under the lid to allow moisture to escape.  In the morning, I added green pepper, onion, herbs, salt, and oil.  It tasted acidic, and I remembered my sister did not deal with acids well.  What could I do to decrease the acid without losing that great thick and chunky texture?  I remembered that when we maintained a pool, the chlorine would raise the acidity and we would use baking soda to counter the effect.  “Well, it is a food ingredient,” I thought, “and I’m planning to freeze it instead of canning it, so decreasing the acid really will not be a food safety problem.”  I decided to add a pinch and saw the sizzling and sputtering with satisfaction.  After stirring and waiting for the foam to go down, I tasted a bit and found the acid much reduced.  A little brown sugar finished the sauce to perfection.  My sister enjoyed the sauce with no unpleasant effects, and it was declared a success, even by my picky eating brother-in-law.

My friend was glad to hear of a quicker method for processing the crop, and we agreed that it ruined the traditional canning method forever. A professional teacher considering retirement in the next five years or so, she loves working with her farm and her students and is looking for a way to combine her skills without giving up what she loves or her income.  I suggested developing a retreat for groups of fiber enthusiasts to attend, spend time in the country, and learn the process of wool preparation from sheep to finished product.  I am sure our fiber friends from all over would enjoy the learning and fellowship, but especially those who live in big cities like Manhattan. Folks who wish for a garden and livestock, but make do with a windowbox and an angora.  I have read your posts, and know you long for a day like the one I just had.  A weekend, or half-week would be even better, right? 

She is attracted to the idea, and has been told by her Amish farm helper that if she started a fiber processing venture, several local people would be interested in working to make it come together. It is exciting to contemplate, don’t you think?  I am interested in hearing your thoughts, questions, and concerns, but especially your experiences. 

When I was a member of a New York quilt guild, several members would take a week or weekend to go to a campground and return, having made an entire quilt while away. They came back aglow with ideas, techniques, contacts, and information to share with the rest of the group.  I began to notice that often, those with specialized, highly developed skills do much of their work alone.  They learn to deal with the quiet, and maybe the skills are a way of helping with unavoidable loneness.

Finding fellow fiber enthusiasts next door is uncommon, and the internet, while very helpful for obtaining supplies, ideas, patterns, pictures, and just about everything else, comes up short in the area of actual friendships and the essential, elusive joy of being in the presence of someone who understands. Someone who wants to join minds and handiwork in the amazing process of becoming a team.  The best kind of team feels the anxiety of new beginnings and acceptance, the patient plodding for improvement, and the joy of success mixed with plans for further development.  Could that happen for us in central Pennsylvania?  What do you think?

Categories: Fiber Dyes, Gifts, Spinning, Spinning Wheels, Weaving, Wool, Wool Dyes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alpacas of the Alleghenies: Dreams of Spring

I first discovered Alpacas of the Alleghenies in June of 2014, after completing the Alpacas of Alagasia project.  I saw some really cool Icelandic sheep on the Spin a Pound, Get a Pound Facebook site, but it went really fast.  Well, I’m not really experienced in de-hairing and I hear it’s pretty labor intense, so maybe it worked out for the best.  Then, Chris Reachard directed me to Alpacas of the Alleghenies and some lovely alpaca fleeces.  Of course, it’s tough to get a word in when such beautiful fleeces are on the line, but Mary worked with me and showed me pictures of an irresistible white and gold fleece.

6/26, 12:23pm

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

Hi Julia –

Since you liked Zeus’ fleece I posted another white fleece today. It is gorgeous – Both Zeus and Cyra are Quecha Verticase offspring so their fleece is very similar – I regret I am not better at capturing the crimp in our fleeces. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks, Mary.

6/28, 8:47pm


Hello Mary,

6/28, 8:57pm


Your fleece looks so soft and clean! Do you have any specific needs or any particular time allowance? I like to spin for a hobby, and I can work quickly, but I prefer to take my time and enjoy the process, so I like to avoid pressing deadlines. I spin on a traditional wheel, with small flyer hooks, which produces a smaller yarn. Plying is not a very nice option for me, because I have to wind the bobbin by hand. I can do hand wrapped balls or skeins. Please let me know if you would like to have the fleece done 100% alpaca, or if I can blend in different things for an artsy effect. Also, please let me know if you would like me to separate the lighter from the golden bits. My spinning blog is: spinningjulie.wordpress.com, if you would like to see some of my past projects. My most recent spinning project is for Leann Alexander, which I posted to Facebook, but not yet to my blog. I like to take on one person’s fleece at a time, so it’s not overwhelming. Would you be ok with shipping the fiber to me? I would pay shipping of the finished half back to you. Would you be ok with a 50/50 split? Thanks, Julia Race

6/28, 8:58pm


I’m not always connected to the internet, so please do not feel insulted if I don’t reply right away. I’m not trying to avoid anyone, I just tend to check the email a few times a week! Thank you so much for getting back with me, and sharing pictures of your lovely fleece.

6/29, 8:19am

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

I enjoyed your pictures of what is hidden in a piano! We have ours tuned often so fortunately the most he finds are pens and pencils that have rolled in. If you would kindly send me your address, I will mail the fleece out in the morning. Thanks so much! Best, Mary

6/30, 9:21am


Hello Mary, My address is—Thank you so much! I can hardly wait until the fleece arrives! Julia

6/30, 9:45am

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

Thanks Julia – I will get it in the mail this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Have a great day – Mary

7/1, 6:32pm


Thank you, Mary! I’ll look forward to your package. Julia

  • July 2, 2014

7/2, 5:08pm


I received your package today and began to wash it. I love the beautiful shine, texture, and crimp. The gold and white colors look elegant together. It will make such a good product!

7/3, 9:36pm

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

Thank you for the kind words about the fleece. Have a safe and happy 4th of July. Mary

7/10, 8:56am


Your fleece is clean and has been drying on racks for a few days, so it’s almost ready for the carder! Yay!

7/10, 4:29pm

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

Thanks – I love the yarn you made with the pink and fawn. I’ll be anxious to see our fleece finished!

10/28, 10:59am

Alpacas Of the Alleghenies

Hi Julia,

Hi Julia, Hope you are doing well. I am just checking on the progress of the fleece/yarn. Best, Mary


In July 2014, a major event happened in my family and I was glad we had not established a deadline.  I began to study for my commercial driver’s license in preparation for school bus driving in August.  Between the classes, practice, paperwork, clearances, and tests, along with piano lessons and tunings, time went pretty fast.  When school began in August, free time was a thing of the past.  My fingers ached to spin the luscious fiber waiting for me, but it took a while to get used to the new 4:00 A.M. wake-up time.

In the fall, while using a wool picker on some fiber that had started to felt during the dyeing process, I had a little accident that damaged my left hand.  It took a while to heal, especially the fingernail.  It was kind of irritating to work with fiber at that time, because the chipped nail caught on everything.  Superglue was a big help until the nail grew out to the end of the finger.

Not desiring a repeat, I began to search for hand protection.  A local machine shop owner recommended Kevlar gloves.  When I wrote to the Memphis Safety Company for suggestions, they sent me two complimentary pair of safety gloves.  Unfortunately, they did not suit my particular puncture-proof needs, although they were very good gloves.  I decided to try Blue Hawk welding gloves, and found just what I needed.  It happened that I did not catch my hand in the wool picker again, but I felt safer with the heavy leather around my fingers, and the soft fleece lining felt great.  When I introduced them to my dad and saw his eyes light up when he put them on, I knew they were meant for him.  He loved them!  Well, it’s a good thing Lowe’s is close by.  My mechanic brothers really appreciated the Kevlar gloves from Memphis Safety Company.  They made great presents!

My big opportunity for spinning came around Christmas, when the clean, and partially carded fiber began to call to me with increased volume.  Finally, I began combining the shining alpaca with purple silk, pink milk fiber, teal Firestar, purple and silver metallic fiber, green bamboo fiber, and extra pieces of yellow, blue, and purple crochet fibers.  I also combined some alpaca, dyed yellow with onion skins and blue alpaca, dyed with indigo.  The batts took on a shimmering rainbow look as the cloudy white melted the colors into pastel tints.

The main problem was I was running out of both blue and yellow. This called for a dyeing day.  Finally, one Sunday after church, I got the opportunity to do some major dyeing.  It was a day to remember!  What fun I had combining colors, coming up with unexpected combinations, and experimenting with natural dyes!My sister and I worked together to produce shades of indigo, green, purple, yellow, and pink from indigo dye, Easter egg dye, and onion skins. I also tried madder, but I did not have a recipe and it did not take. I did not really care for the toasted wood smell of the madder, and rinsed it with vinegar water.
A very interesting happened when I was dyeing gray wool with a green vinegar based dye. It turned a lovely purple marble color, even as it was rinsing green dye out. I still do not understand that reaction and was not able to duplicate it with the other half of the wool and another vinegar dye.

After the fiber was clean and dry once more, we went back to the carder and spinning wheel.  The colors reminded me of spring, which is what I really wanted to see outside, but we had a long, cold winter going on, and the only hint of crocus I could see was in the colors of my batts.

By the end of our school holiday, over half of the fiber was in the single ply yarn stage, first on the niddy noddy and then on the skeinwinder.

In February, I upgraded to a phone that does internet and good pictures, so I’m now able to communicate better. Thanks Mary for your amazing patience!  After school stopped (in mid-June due to the amount of snow days our area had), I spun the remaining fiber and shipped it off to Mary.

  • 6/29, 9:00am

    Hi Julia, This is Mary, Alpacas of the Alleghenies. I am just checking in on Cyra’s fleece and how soon it will be completed? Kindly let me know when I can be expecting it. Thanks so much, Mary


    I have most of it done. I just finished a year of driving school bus and went right into a week of youth camp in T.N. Thank you for your amazing patience with me this year. Many unexpected family things came up that required much time and effort. Your yarn looks and feels really great! Could you please refresh me on your address? Thanks again, Julia

  • I think I can finish the rest within a week or two.

  • It’s not really the spinning that takes most of the time, it’s finding the carding time all together.

  • June 29
  • 6/29, 1:09pm

    Thanks Julia – I look forward to seeing your work!

  • 6/29, 1:40pm


    I think you will like it. The amazingly long fibers were challenging to card, but spun beautifully!

  • June 29
  • 6/29, 9:31pm
  • Mary

    Can’t wait to see it – thanks!

  • July 6
  • 7/6, 1:55pm


    Hi Mary, I just finished the last six batts Saturday, and am waiting for the fibers to dry. Would you please send me your address in confirmation? Thanks so much, Julia

     July 6
  • 7/6, 5:46pm


    Hi Julia – I am anxious to see the yarn. My address:… Thank you!

  • July 6
  • 7/6, 9:52pm

    Here is a sneak preview!

    July 8
  • 7/8, 8:37am


    Beautiful! Thanks.

  • July 8
  • 7/8, 2:25pm

  • Julia

    It is on the way!

     7/8, 2:53pm


    Thank you!

  • 7/8, 2:55pm


    You are very welcome! I apologize for the length of time it took to get back to you. Most of the spinning was done on school break, in December, so I named it “Dreams of Spring”.

     7/8, 2:57pm
  • Mary

    Oh – so sweet…

  • July 23
  • 7/23, 5:50am


    Did the yarn make it to your place? What do you think?

  • July 26
  • 7/26, 1:43pm


    I just returned from vacation last night – YES – the yarn is here and it is beautiful. Thanks!

Some important things I learned from this batch of fiber are:  Dye more than you think is necessary for the job.  More is better than running out and having to try to match colors.  Use the wool picker correctly, and use hand protection!  To enjoy the process the most, plan for life to happen between fiber days.  Sometimes life takes a lot of time, but it’s so worth it!  Long staple alpaca is fun to spin, and tough to get off the drum carder.  Dyeing and washing can play havoc with alpaca, which clumps into felt easily.  I loved spinning fiber from this alpaca!!!  It was so soft, silky, fine, and lofty.  It was a dream fiber that spun into even, fine yarn that will be a thrill to knit and comfortable to wear.

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Attending Shearing at Broken Arrow Ventures

On February 2, 2014, I emailed Christa Trude, of Broken Arrow Ventures about the possibility of spinning some of her alpaca.  At the time, she had no raw alpaca fiber and was looking forward to her spring shearing.  She invited me to her farm and mentioned the possibility of letting me spin some of her fiber later in the year, when she had more fiber to work with.  We talked about the possibility of spinning and carding together at some point in the future, and sharing our methods.

When we came to the shearing, on May 16th, Christa introduced us to her alpacas and gave us guidelines for helping and safety.  She and her husband were setting up for a big day.  Their shearer, from Pearth, Australia, was coming presently, and friends were arriving to help out with the shearing, handling, and lunch.

First, a foam mat was laid down to cushion the floor, then the men ran electric cords through the rafters for the shearer’s cutters.  We made various attempts at friendliness with the alpacas, who were a bit nervous.  It was a cool day with threatening rain clouds, and they looked a bit reluctant at the prospect of losing their sweaters!

Christa showed us the basics of alpaca wrangling and let each of us hold the alpacas while they were in line to be sheared.  The shearing included tooth and hoof filing, main blanket shearing, neck and leg shearing, and separating the larger blanket from the smaller fiber pieces.  The shearer’s wife knew the quality of each fleece by touch and sorted quickly.  When I mentioned I had family in Australia, we were all surprised to find that they came from the same area and might have sheared for them in the past.

After a delicious picnic lunch, Christa showed us some samples of exotic fiber and whetted our appetites for the second annual Central PA Fiber Festival, which would be held at the Clinton County Fairgrounds over the weekend.

The next day, when we attended the fiber festival, we met many fiber artists, millers, growers, importers, and recyclers of different kinds of fiber, especially of wool and alpaca.  I bought some pink milk fiber, green bamboo fiber, purple silk noils, and teal Firestar for combining with my projects.  They were my first “bought” specialty fibers, and I felt like I held precious packets of gems!

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Exerpts: Spinning for Alpacas of Alagaesia

Click here to see the original Spinning for Alpacas of Alagaesia post.

Categories: Alpaca, Carding, Fiber Dyes, Knitting, niddy noddy, Spinning, Spinning Wheels, Wool Dyes | 1 Comment

Spinning for the Tabernacle

“And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen.”   Exodus 35:25

Model of the tabernacle in Timna Park, Israel. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabernacle

Earlier this year, as I was reading through the Pentateuch, the Exodus account of the building of the tabernacle seemed to come alive, especially the part about the spinners.  As a beginner spinner, I’ve mostly been spinning worsted wool and alpaca, with a little angora and flax, for fun.  The sheer volume of flax that was needed for the tabernacle, besides the weaving was astounding, especially for a couple million of people in transition.  I wondered if the women of Israel had a certain technique for spinning.  Did they use a drop spindle, or a long lap-style spindle?  Did they use techniques they learned when in Egypt?  Egyptian spinning techniques were extremely advanced.  One book I read compared ancient Egyptian linen fabric to silk.  Did the women borrow the flax and spinning tools as well as the knowledge to use them when they left Egypt?

“And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.”   Exodus 12:35-36

There are so many questions, so many skills to be learned and preserved!


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Local Wool Spinning

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A few weeks ago, I went to visit my friend, Mrs. W., who raises several sheep.  She gave my family and a friend the grand tour of her barns, folds, and home.  We got to spin together, see her loom, and make plans for helping with the spring shearing and dying.  Before we left, Mrs W. let us borrow her Louet spinning wheel and two large boxes of milled wool fiber to spin.

 There are three parts to this project, a silver Romney roving, a dark gray blend of Black Welsh Mountain, Border Leicester, Polypay (http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/sheep/polypay)/Romney, Suffolk, Rambouillet and two or three more breeds, and another lighter Border Leicester wool.

 There is so much wool, that I decided I would weigh the box and fiber together.  After spinning, I’ll weigh the finished hand-wrapped balls and box again, and track the discard amount.

 Speaking of processing, the wool was milled by http://www.stonehedgefibermill.com, who did a fantastic job!  There is so little to discard, and that makes spinning so enjoyable.  Formerly, I have avoided wool because it has given me an unbearable scratchy, irritated feeling.  My forearms feel prickly and turn red when they touch a 3% lambswool sweater.  Mrs. W’s wool is different.  I can rub a ball of 100% wool on my forearms and neck without the least irritation.  We talked it over and speculated that it may be the commercial wool processing chemicals that give me the irritation.  Her mill does not use harsh chemicals to process the wool.


 The lesser box with the silver Romney wool in it weighed 4 pounds, 8.2 ounces.


 Box weight: 1 pound, 8 ounces

 Yarn weight: 3 pounds, 0.6 ounces

 Total: 4 pounds, 8.6 ounces.

 I appeared to have gained four-tenths of an ounce in this process, but after thinking about it, I remembered a tiny ball that I spun on the traditional wheel as a test and included in the general weight.  When measured, this ball weighed 0.06 ounces.  That brings the waste to a skimpy two-tenths of an ounce!

 The fuller box with the dark blend of wool on top and the light Border Leicester wool on the bottom weighed 6 pounds, 0.6 ounces.  That will be in the spinning soon.

I began with the silver Romney roving.  There were no odors or skin irritants.  The fiber was carded very well and arranged into delightfully long slivers that go on and on… We’ve come a long way from dog brush handcards!  Smile.

 The fiber was firmly packed into the box in circles that came up easily.  The top was looser than the bottom, but halfway through the box, I began to plump up the remaining half box and it fluffed into another full box of fiber.  This wool has loads of crimp.  It was a bit of a challenge to spin wool on the Louet after spinning alpaca with the traditional, because the wheel ratio and treadles are very different.  Just when the Louet was feeling comfortable, I began some fine llama on the traditional and rediscovered some of my original quirks with the treadle.  Overall, the Louet spinning wheel is wonderfully comfortable to treadle, with a “positive” and “negative” ability to treadle.  I can treadle with my heel or toe, and it works just as well.  My traditional wheel needs a heavy down motion with the toe to bring the wheel around again to a convenient starting point.  The Louet’s close wheel ratio means that the twist goes a lot slower.  This was really something to get used to, and at one point, I reversed the bobbin to the smaller whorl.  After getting used to that, I reversed the bobbin again to the larger whorl and it was not such a culture shock.  It seems harder to spin a thicker yarn after spinning thin alpaca.  I really had to focus on the yarn size.  The Romney was strong, soft, and ever-so-slightly softened with lanolin, but not sticky or greasy.  It has a lovely glow and silver color.  It is relatively easy to spin, especially once I dealt with the slipping tension.  The tension knob irritating habit of slipping out to the right, reducing the tension gradually.  As I needed more tension as the bobbin loaded, that was really inconvenient.  A rubber band came to the rescue!

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The fiber’s ability to shrink when spun has been a constant amazement to me.  A box of fluffy roving decrease in size, but increase in density, retaining the weight, but only a fraction of the original bulk.  In the entire box of Romney, I found only 3 or 4 tiny cucumber seed-like cocoons.  They were easy to pick out.  There were the bare minimum of seconds, tiny amounts of waste/grass, and no sticks or dung.  The Romney finished out into 8 hand-wrapped balls.  Mrs. W plans to use them to weave and asked me to hand wrap them from the wheel.  She plans to set the twist and measure the yardage.

Categories: Alpaca, Carding, Knitting, Spinning | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thursdays are for Quilting

One Stitch, One Step

I knew today was going to jam-packed (unlike my usual Thursdays), so I spent some time last night at the embroidery frame to my “Thursday quilting” done early!


My progress is slow, although my technique with turning under the curves has evolved to a point where I am much happier with the result.  I roll the end under with my fingers and then pin it down rather than trying to hold it while sewing, it gives a much nicer curve and it is easier to do than trying to turn so much fabric under with my needle.  It isn’t strictly the “correct” technique but it has been working for me so far.

All the flowers have three of five petals sewn down now.  Once those are done I just have to do the five centers and this block will be done!  I already have the pieces cut out for another…

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Dressing a distaff with wool

This is such a helpful video! Thank you.

Barbro's Threads

I love this video that I came across when reading old posts in the Spindle Lore forum on Ravelry. No, I don’t know what the lady says, but I can hear a word I know very well: “rock”. That’s the word for (spinning) “wheel” in Swedish. It originates in a German word meaning “distaff”. The spinner also shows a quite efficient way of preparing wool for spinning without other tools than her hands.

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Weekend News

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Why We Teach – and how NOT to burn out :)

Thank you Kristin! Your insight is so valuable.

Small Town Music Lessons

I have been asked to write an article for a publisher working on a book.  Here is my section as a work in progress, from the heart.  🙂  And since I am sick at home, I thought I’d get to work on it.  🙂

Wallpaper9Teaching has to be organic.  If teaching isn’t already a part of your drive, something you desire to spend your days doing, you will burn out.  We all have had times we didn’t want to go to work.  Often, the reasons vary as much as the personalities between the teachers.  Maybe it has been a long week, maybe the parents have requested one too many times to reschedule, or maybe the kids simply won’t practice the assignments you’ve carefully jotted for them to follow… but in the end, do we really enjoy teaching?  What drives us?

I have been teaching since I could talk.  I used…

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Another Cowl In Progress

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