OBTAINING AND EVALUATING 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
ELIZABETH’S FIBER TO YARN
Buckley, WA 98321
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!
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.
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.
Washing Raw Wool
Items that you will need…
2. A plastic bucket, sink, or tub
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.
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
– 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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Hello Mary, My address is—Thank you so much! I can hardly wait until the fleece arrives! Julia
Alpacas Of the Alleghenies
Thanks Julia – I will get it in the mail this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Have a great day – Mary
Thank you, Mary! I’ll look forward to your package. Julia
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!
Alpacas Of the Alleghenies
Thank you for the kind words about the fleece. Have a safe and happy 4th of July. Mary
Your fleece is clean and has been drying on racks for a few days, so it’s almost ready for the carder! Yay!
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!
Alpacas Of the Alleghenies
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.
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.
Can’t wait to see it – thanks!
Hi Julia – I am anxious to see the yarn. My address:… Thank you!
Here is a sneak preview!
It is on the way!
Oh – so sweet…
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.
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!
“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
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!
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!
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.
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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This is such a helpful video! Thank you.
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.
Thank you Kristin! Your insight is so valuable.
Teaching 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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It is almost springtime, though today’s thermometer didn’t feel like it. The Forsythia in town is blooming. We will not see ours bloom for another few weeks at least. The fruit trees are budding out and pruning is in order tomorrow. The coming of spring will empty the garage of the deck furniture, the chicken tractor and some of the gardening stuff. When we moved our household goods to our retirement homestead we moved a portable workbench that has sat and collected clutter for the past 6 years. There are also some duplicate power tools and other items. The garage has two very sturdy built in workbenches, organizational shelving to store coolers, camping gear, paint cans and organizer boxes for nails, screws, nuts and bolts.
Inside the house is a stash of yarn and fiber I will not use, stuff that I won, was given to me, or is extra…
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Just a twirly sort of day yesterday. Winding bobbins, shuttles, warp chains and plying. Still have some tapestry bobbins and a stick shuttle to wind, then I’m ready to thread the loom and paint some more! Very colourful blanket coming up.
As I was finishing the muted yarn I finally, after two years of just looking at the fiber, figured out how I would have really liked to spin and ply it! Isn’t that just typical…. Where’s that Ctrl+Z when you need it?
Big brown pony is recovering from a monster abscess in his left hind hoof. Very ouchy, swelly and gooey. I’ll spare you the sight.
This is from a Malabrigo top that I got a couple of weeks ago in a new craft shop in Mill Valley called Once Around. While I was visiting the store it felt like being inside a candy store. I liked their array of merchandise and I couldn’t resist the impulse of purchasing some wool that was for sale. I think this color is called Mostaza (Mustard). I decided to spin a two ply yarn with it.
And here is some plain white merino wool combined with some randomly picked sari silk threads and a little Angelina spark. I love the white against the bright jewel tone colors of the sari silk threads.
I’m thinking of combining the sari silk thread with other colors and spin some more textural yarns.