Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Beautiful Summer Day (and some musings on the rigid heddle....)!

The dooryard garden waits for a good watering. I decided not to water last night, since the weather forecast called for a steady rain overnight. Alas, no rain, so my first chore this morning was to water. I put annuals in this year to fill in the empty spots between the perennials and herbs. I am glad I did! They are doing well, especially after a heavy dose of well rotted goat manure this spring. That certainly did the trick. The garden has been looking anemic for several years, until now. I will definitely continue to add annuals in the future--they provide blooms throughout the season, long after the perennials have had their blooming periods. The goats provide us with not only fiber for handspinning. They give us countless hours of  entertainment, watching them frolic and play, they help the garden grow---in their own special way!

More flowers---cosmos, daisies and morning glories grow along the garden fence. Lots of color to inspire any artist--fiber or otherwise. I think I will use some of these colors to work out some color schemes for a shawl. A recent walk provided me with colors for another project I am planning. When I return from a walk, I sit down with my colored pencils and sketch patches of the colors I remember seeing. I then arrange the colors, tossing out some, changing the values on other, until I have a workable and harmonious color palette to use in a project. The art supplies are always nearby!
Mackenzie enjoying his breakfast! He and Jack have been a bit selfish lately. They have been pushing Violette and Luna out of the goatshed at mealtime. How selfish.........unfortunately, Luna and Violette taught the boys this rude habit! As you can see, Mack has not grown in much of his new coat yet, I am not sure he will be ready for shearing in November. We will wait and see. Jack (Mack's twin brother) has a lovely coat coming in. Mack and Jack are Pygora goats. They produce lovely cashmere-type fleeces, a joy for handspinning.
Ongoing restoration-in-progress..........
The butt'ry shelves get the southeastern morning sun.
The keeping room displays handwoven colonial-style samplers and table runners.
A simple rigid heddle loom in the keeping room is warped with an olive green 3/2 mercerised cotton yarn. This warp will become a sampler for different weaving techniques I would like to brush up on. Stripes, Danish medallion, leno lace and some pick-up pattern weaves are on my list of things to try. This is a Schacht "Flip" loom, in the 20" width.  It has a trestle-style stand, and a portable storage bag, so it is perfect for on-the-go-weaving. I set the 6" wide warp at 10 ends per inch. It is 3 yards long, plenty to practice many techniques. This was my favorite rigid heddle loom. It came fully assembled and finished. It folds up for portability. The stand had to be assembled, but the directions were very clear, and it was easy to do.
Here are some variations on stripes. I alternated stripe widths and colors. Tomorrow I will try out some finger manipulated weaves. I am very happy with the smooth operation of the heddle bar on this loom. It is a well-designed loom. The stand allows you to tilt the loom to any position, which is great if you are like me and weave in different locations, and use a different seat each time---you can adjust the loom's tilt quickly to fit your chair or stool.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Carding on the Carding Machine

It's time to card the scoured Karakul-Coopworth fleece! I have a Strauch carding machine. It is a high quality machine, and I decided that if I were going to purchase one, I would get the best, and I have not been sorry. This carder works like a dream, and is very well constructed.
I apply slight pressure to the wool as it is fed into the machine (you can see the hand crank in the bottom right corner, as well as in the photo above), just to guide it, and assist in separating the fibers a bit as they feed onto the drum. Be careful not to let too much on at once--it is a good idea to pick the clumps of wool apart a bit before placing them onto the metal tray at the front. The carder came with a fleece teasing tool, as well, to asist with this job.This model has a brush attachment at the top--be sure the brush is in contact with the large drum. This keeps the fibers against the drum while carding. See the photo below.

The wool is distributing onto the drum here. This fleece is not a particularly clean one, there are many bits of chaff  and grass in it. Although I tried to remove some of it during preparation for scouring, there is still some left. I will have to pick it out as I spin. When shopping for fleece, you have to weigh the price against the features of the fleece! I loved the color, and the price was right. The wool is so soft, I was willing to overlook the bits of chaff......!

Time to remove or "doff" the carded batt. Using a "batt picker", I lift and pull the batt up at the space on the drum where there are no carding teeth. Slide the hooked end of the picker under the fibers at the end, lift, and pull slowly. The fibers will release. Continue across the channel in this way, untill you have finished, and the fibers are free of the teeth in this area.

I generally run the batt through the carder 3 times. After the first carding, split the batt in two, as shown here, on the left. Then, card each strip again. You can decide how much of the batt to recharge onto the carder. If the batt seems too thick, don't add all of the wool back on. Once you get the feel for how the batts look as they come off the carder, you can adjust the amounts you are feeding in. If there is too much wool, it becomes lumpy, and the feeder drum (the smaller of the two drums) cannot do its job. The photo on the right above shows the removal of the finished batt. Grasp the ends of the fibers (two hands are better! I used one hand, so I could take a photo with the other....), and slowly pull the batt off the drum. The drum will rotate as you pull. Loosen any stray ends from the drum as you pull. You can also use a cloth or an old placemat or piece of heavy construction paper to roll the batt onto, as you remove it. This ensures that all of the stray fibers get caught into the matt as you roll off the batt. Then, simply unroll the matt to reveal the batt. You can then re-roll the batt as shown below.

These batts are ready for spinning! Can't wait to get started! I have to hide these from our kitty, Mason. He LOVES the natural, outdoorsy smell (you can imagine!), and quickly shreds them when he finds them. I keep everything fiber-y covered and out of his reach. He likes to get ahold of my yarn balls and literally entwines my entire house with a yarn trail, both upstairs and down. Serious business! And it takes the better part of the morning to untangle and remove his yarn artwork from my stairs, furniture and equipment!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to Wash a Shorn Fleece for Spinning

Today was a perfect day to wash fleece. Dry and sunny, but not too hot to be outside. I selected a lamb's wool Coopworth Karakul cross fleece I had purchased at the Connecticut Sheep Breeder's Association Fiber Festival last April. It is a rich, dark brown color, and not too big--about 3.5 lbs. The fleece was laid out in the grass in a sunny location. Most fleeces are rolled up so that when you unroll them, you can pretty much lay it out in "order", or relatively intact and see where the neck end and the rump end are. This fleece was pretty well skirted (dirty edges removed), so my next job was to sort the fleece. Since my goal is to card this fleece on the carding machine into batts for spinning, my dec ision for sorting was to simply sort into 2 categories, based on fineness. I put the rump end into one pile, since the fibers are coarser, and the rest of the fleece went into another pile. All of this fleece would be carded together in the batts, and spun woolen style. If I wanted to, I could have sorted the prime longest wool into a separate pile, to be combed out using my English wool combs, and spun Worsted style, but my end use will be all-purpose woolen spun yarn for hats, mittens and such, so minimal sorting is enough.

After sorting, I filled a large galvanized wash tub with warm water, and about a half-cup of "Orvus" WA Paste, available at farm supply retailers. This is used in the industry to wash sheep and other livestock to prep them for showing. It is pH balanced. Great for all your wool handwashables, too! Gentle and effective. Let the fleece soak for an hour or so, being careful not to agitate it, as it can felt. Drain off the water, and fill the tub again, being careful not to shock the wool with extreme temperature changes to the water. When the water runs clear, drain it off. You may put the wool into the washer on the spin cycle only to extract the rest of the water, or gently squeeze out as much as you can by hand.

Next, I put the fleece on a drying rack outdoors to drip dry. This may take the entire day or more, depending on how much water is left in the wool. I have also used large screens to dry wool on, which work well, too. After spinning the yarn, I will wash the wool again to remove any remaining grease and suint (sweat). The carding machine will remove any bits of chaff. I was careful to shake out as much of the chaff and second cuts as I could before putting the wool into the water. The second cuts are easy to see, they are the little shorter bits of wool left when the shearer clips over an area a second time. You do not want these bits in your spinning!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bow Loom Experiments

Her is my first attempt at a bow loom. I used the article in the May/June 2011 issue of Handwoven magazine. The directions are very clear, and it was easy to follow them. I think my third grade students could handle this type of weaving, perhaps with larger yarn and pony beads? I used 8/2 cotton for the warp and weft, only because that is all I had. The article in Handwoven specified 3/2 or 5/2 cotton. I added 2 extra warp threads to make up the difference in width.  What a fun project! Thanks to Marilyn Romatka, who wrote the article.

Luna would be so proud! She is one of our Nigerian Dwarf goats.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First Official Blog Posting!

Greetings! I am a new blogger, as of today. The goats are eating dinner, my table loom has been dragged out of the attic, and I am wondering where my son stored the old Crock-Pot cooker I gave him when he went away to college (somewhere in the attic, I suspect), so I can use it as my dedicated fiber-dyeing pot. I have been preoccupied with dyeing recently, and have ordered several DVD's on the topic, a "Professional Development" opportunity awaits for this summer! As an artist, I find the summers are my time to catch up on my field of interest, hopefully finding new ways to bring textiles into the classroom. My students LOVE weaving, and I am fortunate to have a floor loom available in my classroom for them to use. The most recent issue of Handwoven magazine had an article on bow looms which I would like to experiment with. I will post photos of our (very) mini-farm and animals soon. My herb garden needs watering, the goats are asking for more hay, and the dinner dishes need to be put away.......more tomorrow!