Breed Specific Spinning

For several years, I have been accumulating a stash of breed-specific spinning fibers.  In looking back at my blog, I believe the first time I mentioned breed-specific spinning was in January 2015.  I wanted to do some breed-specific spinning to build my working knowledge of wool.  I started spinning to understand yarn.  In order to understand spinning, I need to understand fiber.

When I started buying breed-specific fibers, I was buying prepared fibers.  However, I realized that some fibers are not available prepared, which led me to purchase multiple raw fleeces and scour them myself, as I’ve written about in January 2018 and February 2018.

While I have continued to accumulate breed-specific fibers, I have not spun them.  I have, however, taken several classes at PlyAway and SAFF to help me in this process.  This includes classes in long draw, how to process fleece after it is scoured, and one of Beth Smith’s breed study classes.

This year, I’m going to be start spinning some of my breed-specific stash.  My friend Stacy will be joining me in this endeavor.  We haven’t worked out all the details of this yet, but we will both be blogging about our experiences with the same breed.  Sometimes we will be working from the same fleece or sample and sometimes we will be working from what we happen to have in our stashes.  If I process the fleece from raw, notes on the processing will be included in the blog post, along with notes on the spinning and finished yarn.

This blog post will serve as an index to all the other posts in this series.  I will go back and look through my prior posts to see if any are still relevant and if they are, I will link them here.  When we write posts about a new spin that is part of this study, I will also link to it here.  I will link back to this post from all the future posts on this topics so you can get back here easily, but you might also want to bookmark this post for your reference if you want to follow along.

The SassyBee Fiber I’m spinning is 100% Polworth, so Polworth may be the first fiber on our docket.  Stacy is checking her stash to see if she has any.  Since we haven’t worked out parameters, I can’t give you a specific timeline for when we will be publishing our first breed-specific post, but I know it will be this year  🙂  Stay tuned!

Goals

Here are any posts about goals or timelines or parameters of this project.

2015 Goals and Plans

January 2015 Plans

 

Inventory

I’ve posted a few times about Inventory.  I’m working on a spreadsheet with a complete list and once I have that finished, I’ll link to that here.

January 2015

February 2015

 

Processing and Purchasing

Orlando Distaff Day 2015

Scouring Fleece, January 2018

On My Birthday, February 2018

Spinning in Progress

Central Florida Fair 2015

WIP Wednesday, April 1, 2015

WIP Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tour de Fleece 2015, Stage 10

Breed-Specific Blog Posts

 

On My Birthday

My birthday was several days ago.  We got home from New Jersey only a few days before that.  I was tired and needed to get back into a rhythm at home.  I decided the best gift I could give myself for my birthday was progress on personal projects.  I made progress on three projects: (1) Finishing a loom and spinning wheel; (2) Scouring fleece; and (3) Spinning a batt.

Finishing

In early January, I wrote about the problems I have with the finish on my rigid heddle loom and my spinning group’s wheel.  My mother-in-law passed away the day after I wrote that post.  When we left for New Jersey, I left all the pieces out on the workbench.  I was at a bit of a loss of how to proceed because after five passes with the mineral spirits, some of the pieces were still tacky.  On my birthday, I took the loom and the treadles to our local Woodcraft store and explained what I had done so far.  They said I probably put too much Danish Oil on, which is why it never dried.  They said that continuing with the mineral spirits was the correct approach but that if that doesn’t work then I will have to remove the entire finish and start over.  I was using paper towels to apply the mineral spirits.  They suggested that I use a shop towel because the paper towel might be too smooth.  Over the course of the last several days, I applied another 5 or 6 rounds of mineral spirits.  Some of the pieces are no longer tacky, some have parts that are tacky and some that are not, and some are still tacky all over but are not as tacky as they were before.  We continue to move in the right direction!

Scouring

In early January, I scoured some fleece and wrote a long post about it.  That day, I only scoured a fraction of the fleece I needed to scour.

The day my mother-in-law died, I was at a friend’s house, about to scour more fleece.  My spinning group was holding our third annual retreat (I posted about the first one).  This year, we decided to spend the day at the home of one of our members.  These retreats are usually low-key, bring a project and do your own thing affairs, but this year several of us had fleece to scour, others had never scoured and wanted to learn, and our hostess has excellent space for scouring, so we decided to do a scouring day.  I brought all the fleece I needed to scour and all my equipment.

Since several of us were processing fleece and since I had several 4 – 16 ounce samples, I put all my fleece into mesh laundry bags.  Inside each laundry bag, I wrote the name of the breed on a tyvek wrist band (Amazon affiliate link).  I used these wristbands when dyeing and scouring because they will not dissolve in water and you can write on them with a Sharpie.  I had just finished putting everything into bags and was about to start scouring when my husband called to tell me his mother had passed.  I immediately packed up all my fleece and drove home, leaving my equipment behind since everyone else was using it.  I picked up the equipment after we returned home.

I still wanted to get all that fleece, plus additional fleece I had at my house, scoured.  So I spent the afternoon of my birthday scouring fleece.  Here’s all the fleece I put into laundry bags while with my spinning group.

My friend Nancy told us that she and her sister now do cold soaks of fleece before scouring.  I decided that I would try that method.  We have a plethora of 5 gallon pails.  We use them for putting water into our hydroponics system, for toting around tools, and for storing things in the garage.  Last September, we bought several more to use for water storage as part of our Hurricane Irma preparations.

TANGENT/

We filled the bathtub after I took this picture. Total water storage: 35ish gallons in the tub, 50 gallons in buckets, 6 or 7 gallons in the frig, 50 gallons of non-potable water in the rain barrel.

Copious water storage was an excellent thing because we were without power for 6 days, without water for 24 hours due to a water main break on our street, and on severe water restrictions (no showers, no flushing the toilet if you only peed) for a week because 85% of the lift stations in our county were without power.  Lift stations move waste through the pipes to the treatment facility.  If they can’t do their job, somewhere that sewage will seep into someone’s home.

Six trees came down at this house, including two that came through the roof in the middle of the storm, nearly hitting one of the teenagers. The family fled to a friend’s house. The roots of two trees pulled up through the water main, breaking it in multiple places.

 

No running water, no showers, no electricity, high heat and high humidity. This is how we kept clean.

 

When our power went out, the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. After a couple of days without power, they really needed to be washed. I did it in the backyard, using water from our buckets. I did the three bucket method, with the last being a chlorine bleach rinse which meant I didn’t have to heat water on the propane camp stove.

/TANGENT

Sorry about the tangent.  As I was saying, we have a plethora of 5 gallon buckets.  I used those for the cold water soak.

No soap, no hot water, and maybe 15 minutes in the bucket at this point.

I liked the cold water presoak a lot.  It is amazing how much comes out of the fleece, simply soaking it in cold water.  I put the fleece into the pails to presoak, then finished setting up the rest of the equipment for scouring.  When I took the fleeces out of presoak and put them into scour, I dumped the water out, filled the pail with clean water, and put more fleece in to soak.  All the fleeces were in the cold water for a minimum of 20 minutes.  Some were in there for an hour or more while I scoured others.  With cold water, I don’t have to worry about the water cooling and lanolin redepositing onto the fleece.  Anything that came out with just cool water should stay out!

I did only one scour with detergent on most of the fleece, followed by two plain water rinses.  This was effective for almost all the fleeces.  One particularly dirty alpaca fleece got two rounds with detergent and three plain water rinses.  One or two of the greasier fleeces needed more scouring and I will be doing another scour on them.  Stay tuned for more detailed blog posts on which ones needed more scouring and how I handled that.

I made one other change to the process I described in my previous post on scouring.  I added two more bins for scouring, so I had 6 going at one time.  When I was at the spinning group retreat, I discovered that my dish pans hold the same volume of water as the other containers I was using for scouring, so I set up two dish pans plus the containers!

With six bins going and the presoak doing a lot of work before scouring, I was able to scour 19.5 pounds of fleece in 4 hours.  I have one fleece left to scour, an 8.5 pound black Corriedale fleece that I intend to scour a lock at a time using Fels-naptha soap.  Stay tuned for a blog post on that when I get it done.

Spinning

My birthday was the day that NBC broadcast the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, so my parents came over and we watched that while I spun.  I worked on the SassyBee polwarth batt I’ve been spinning for a bit.

It was an awesome birthday!

Post Script

My parents wanted to spend a day with me and told me to pick what I’d like to do and that would be their gift.  The Tuesday after my birthday, we played an awesome escape game at Escape Effect

We had fabulous Indian food at a restaurant in the same plaza, then we went next door to Escape Effect and took the museum tour at the Chocolate Museum and Cafe.

Yes, this Taj Mahal is made out of chocolate!

 

Problem Solving

In October 2016, I went to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival (SAFF) with several friends.  A subset of those who went are members of the monthly spinning group I attend.  We found a good deal on an unfinished Kromski Fantasia and split the cost so that we could have a spinning wheel to use for teaching people to spin when they stop by our group or for members of our group to borrow to learn to wheel spin.  I brought the wheel home to finish it.

I decided to finish the wheel with Danish Oil.  I also decided to apply Danish Oil to my 15″ Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom.  I started working on both in December 2016.  I applied clear Danish oil to the wheel and dark walnut to the loom.  I applied three coats, waiting at least 24 hours between coats and making sure that they were dry to the touch before applying the next coat.  I was trying to finish them before Orlando Distaff Day 2017, which was on the first Saturday of 2017.  I signed up to do a wheel assembly demo and planned to bring all the parts of the Fantasia with me and assemble it at the event.

Early on the Friday morning before Distaff Day, I applied the fourth and final coat of Danish Oil.  That Friday night and into Saturday morning it POURED.  We’d had no rain for weeks and it felt like the sky had saved all the rain we should have gotten and dumped it all at once.  The pieces of the loom and wheel were on the workbench out in the garage, which is where I’d been working on this project.  The garage is not climate control.  When I got up on Saturday morning, the loom and wheel were both tacky to the touch.  In fact, they were tackier than they had been when I applied the fourth coat on Friday morning.  Obviously, there was no way I could bring them to Distaff Day!

I left the loom and wheel on the workbench for 3 or 4 weeks.  They were still tacky.  I brought them into the house, and laid them out around the house on any spare flat surface.  I figured they would dry better in the climate-controlled house.  Every month or so, I checked the pieces and they were still tacky, though it did seem as though they were slowly improving.

In the spring and summer of 2017, I took some woodworking classes, including one on finishing wood projects.  I asked the teachers about my problem.  They shook their heads.  In all likelihood, the reason for this problem was that the earlier coats weren’t cured as well as I thought they were.  I could continue to let the pieces to sit.  I could try to wipe them down with mineral spirits, which is the solvent for Danish Oil.

 

Since the fall of 2017 was so crazy here — Hurricane Irma left us with no power and no water / water restrictions for a week, my mother-in-law’s health declining, my husband getting laid off — I did not think about the loom and wheel pieces at all.  When I checked them in late December, for the first time in months, I discovered that they were slightly sticky, but not so much so that you could see my fingerprint on the surface.  I decided to try wiping them down with mineral spirits to see what happened.  I did just the pieces of the stand for the rigid heddle loom.  I figured that was the easiest thing to replace if the mineral spirits ruined the pieces rather than improving them.  I wiped the pieces down three times, letting the pieces dry in between.  Then I had something else to do and forgot about them.

When we came home from our Christmas in New Jersey, my husband finished the project he’d left on the workbench when he unexpectedly left 3 weeks earlier.  Then he asked me what projects I have to do.  Due to the high humidity of our summers, woodworking is a winter task here and he knew that I’d been saving up some projects, waiting for the weather to co-operate.  I checked the three pieces of the loom stand and found that they were no longer sticky.  The mineral spirits worked!  For the past two days, I’ve been working on the remaining loom pieces and the wheel pieces.

This morning, I wiped down the pieces with mineral spirits for the fourth time.  The repeated coats of mineral spirits seem to be doing their work!  It’s been humid the last two days and I think that this has caused more of the oil to come to the surface.  Despite this, the pieces are clearly improving and becoming less sticky overall.  For some of the pieces, this fourth coat should be the last coat I need to apply.  I will need to flip a couple of the pieces over so I can do the back.  My previous despair and fear that I’d ruined two expensive pieces of equipment have given way to hope.  I think this is going to work!

Scouring Fleece

Last week, I posted about inventorying my stash.  The post included two pictures showing all the raw fleece I have in my office.  In case you missed it, here’s those two pictures again.  The main pile, with all the full fleeces, has taken over one of my four-harness floor looms.

 

This bin consists of small portions of fleece, no more than a pound of any one breed.

Once upon a time, I said I would scour a fleece once, just to say I had done it, and then never do it again.  It seemed like too much work and there’s so many beautiful prepared fibers available, why would I bother scouring fleece myself?  But then I decided I wanted to do some breed-specific spinning, to understand the differences between breeds and why I’d chose one over another for a specific knitting, crocheting, or weaving project.  My stash of spinning fiber exploded and I learned that many breeds aren’t available in prepared forms.  I bought a couple fleeces and sent them to mills for processing.

The mills did a fine job, but then I took some classes and did some reading and learned how you can get very different yarns based on how you prep the fiber for spinning.  The options are limited when you send fleece to be processed at a mill.  I wanted to have more control over the finished yarn, or at least to understand how the different preps would change the finished yarn.  In other words, my spinning journey keeps moving me backwards in the process of producing yarn.  If I really want to understand yarn, I have to start at the beginning, with the raw wool.  This is how I roll; I like to take things back to basics.  So I started acquiring raw fleece and I made a spreadsheet to keep track of which fleeces and how much raw fleece and how much it cost and how much I lose in each step of processing.

Methodology

This post is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to scour fleece.  This is only the third time I’ve scoured fleece; everything I know I learned from Beth Shearer Smith.  Beth scours something like 300 pounds of fleece a year, partly for her own use and partly for use in the classes she teaches.  Fortunately, we all get to learn from her through her wonderful writing.  Visit her website for posts on the three ways of scouring: bulk scouring (most relevant to the rest of my blog post), tulle sausages, and by the lock.  If you’d like more information on which method to use for a particular fleece, Beth’s book, The Spinners Book of Fleece (Amazon affiliate link), walks you through the reasons you might pick one of these methods over another.  In the rest of my blog post, I’ll be describing the ways my set up differs from Beth’s and why I made those adjustments.  However, the overall method is the bulk scouring method I linked you to above.

My Set Up

I am not able to use exactly the same set up Beth uses.  My washer and dryer are not flat on top.  They are at a bit of an angle.  This means that anything I put on top of them is in danger of sliding off.  I do not have a utility sink in my tiny laundry room.  In order to get water from a tap, I could unhook the washer and attach a hose to that, but then I have to figure out how to dump out the water.  Finally, the first time I went to scour fleece, I measured the temperature of the hot water coming out of my tap.  It was only 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Unicorn Power Scour requires a minimum of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  I had a plumber check our hot water heater, and it is set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the hottest they are allowed to set it by law.  Our hot water is original to our house, which was built in 1977!  At some point, we will have to replace it and maybe when we do, I’ll be able to get water out of the tap at a temperature that will work for scouring fleece.  Until that day, I have to heat the water to get it hot enough for scouring fleece.  It’s a lot easier to do that if I work outside.

 

Apparently, I was too busy scouring to take a picture when I was fully set up, but you can see most of it here.  I ended up adding a card table, which I placed just behind the fire pit, over those two bags of fleece you see peeking up behind it.  In this picture, the white dish pan is sitting on top of my kitchen scale.  I moved the dish pan and the scale to the card table and then set up the wash bins on the wooden table.

Since part of my learning process is understanding how much weight is lost in processing, I weigh fleece just before I wash it.  I use an Edlund DS-10 food scale (Amazon Affiliate link), which I bought at a food supply place 15 or 20 years ago and which I also use for weighing ingredients when I bake.  The scale weighs in either grams or ounces and can handle up to 10 pounds.  I keep the fleece in the plastic bag and shove it into the dish pan.  The fleeces are almost always larger than the dish pan can hold, but the plastic bag helps keep them contained.  On my iPad, I have my fleece spreadsheet open so I can enter the weight of the fleece immediately after I weigh it.

 

Another option for weighing fleece is a fish scale (Amazon affiliate link).  One of my friends brought hers to the fleece barn at SAFF this year and I have to get one of these!  They are inexpensive, portable, less awkward to manage, and can handle more weight than my food scale.  Sounds like a win all the way around!

After weighing, I spread the fleece out on a sheet on the ground.  I don’t have a skirting table (it’s on my wish list!), so this is the best I can do.  When you buy a fleece at a show, you do your best to evaluate it, but you can’t always see everything.  Spreading the fleece out lets you make some decisions before you scour.  You get an idea of how dirty the fleece is.  Most fleeces only need two washes, but if this one’s particularly dirty maybe it will need three.  Sometimes the staple length or texture is different on different parts of the fleece.  Do you want to separate out the different staples or textures to use them in different projects or are you going to keep them all the same?  For example, look at the difference in the crimp on these two locks, both from the same Texel fleece.

The fleece on the sheet in the layout picture above is a piebald Finn fleece.  I thought I might want to separate it by color, but once I spread it out, I discovered that there was only one fist-sized clump of white, visible on the left end of the fleece.  The rest of the white is stranded throughout the darker parts of the fleece and it would be impossible to separate the colors.  I’ll break up the one clump of white and blend it in when I process this fleece.  I assume the finished yarn will have a heathered appearance.

In order to get hot water for scouring, I bought a propane-heated outdoor shower.  I wasn’t able to get it to work properly — water was spraying out everywhere, partly because the connection to the hose wasn’t solid, despite sealing it with Teflon tape and partly because the switch on the shower head was stuck in the on position.  I ended up soaking wet from the thighs down and if someone had been there to get it on video, I’m sure it would have been a great laugh.

After an hour of fiddling with it, I gave up and heated water on the camp stove you can see in the layout picture.  I have a couple of 20 quart pots that I used for heating water.  When I am putting a dry fleece in for its first wash, it requires nearly one entire pot of water.  For the subsequent washes and rinses, the fleece is already saturated so I only need about half of a pot of water.  Rather than lifting the hot pots and pouring it in, I use a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup (Amazon affiliate link) (I inherited mine from my friend Stacy’s grandmother) to transfer the water from the pots to the bins.  Easier on my back and I’m less likely to get burned!

 

When changing the water between washes, I pour it onto the ground.  I pour it through a mesh strainer (Amazon affiliate link) so when fleece inevitably sneaks out of the bin, I don’t have to fish it out of the grass or pick out leaves.  Like Beth, I don’t put fleece in mesh laundry bags during washing, mostly because I don’t want to create an obstacle for any VM that would like to come out of the fleece during washing.  There are a couple of good reasons to use a mesh bag, however.

One is if you have less than a couple of pounds of any one fleece.  You can put 4 ounces, 8 ounces, 1 pound, or whatever of different fleeces into different bags and wash them in the same bin at that same time.  Another reason for using mesh bags is the weight of the full bins.  Each of the bins above is holding about 2 pounds of fleece and 3 – 4 gallons of water.  Since water weighs 8 pounds / gallon, each bin full of fleece is in the neighborhood of 30 pounds.  Lifting the bins and pouring the water out is a workout — especially if you wash multiple fleeces like I did while taking these pictures.  I washed the two fleeces you see in these pictures (about 3 pounds each of Texel and Finn), plus a 2.5 pound Icelandic fleece, plus 6 pounds worth of an 8.5 pound Coopworth fleece.  I then ran out of both daylight and propane, so I had to stop.  It took me about 4 hours, during which I was lifting each of those bins every 15 – 20 minutes.  As I told my personal trainer when I saw him the next day, that’s why I train; it makes the rest of my life possible.  If lifting that much weight is not an option for you, put the fleece in mesh bags!  You can lift them all the way out of the water and use a measuring cup or some other scoop to remove the water a little at a time.

 

When working with hot water and wool, I use SteamGloves (Amazon affiliate link) to protect my hands and arms.  These gloves are made for food service workers to protect themselves when working around steam tables or with cleaning chemicals.  The gloves are rated to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  I use them when dyeing, to pick the finished yarn directly out of the hot water.  I use them with scouring, either to pick hot wool directly out of the hot water or to protect the hand that is holding the wool in the bin while I pour out the hot dirty water.  The pair I have are 20″ long, which means the cuffs come above my elbow, and they are a size large.  I bought these at a local restaurant supply place and it was the only size they had.  Amazon carries a variety of lengths and sizes.  The link I provided is the size and length I use, but click around a bit if you need a different size and you should find something suitable.

 

After scouring, I put the fleece into mesh laundry bags and run it through the spin cycle of my washing machine.  I bought mesh laundry bags in a couple of sizes for this purpose.  I’ve been using the jumbo size, which can hold an entire fleece, but I’m going to switch to a smaller size because there is too much space in the jumbo ones.  The fleece moves around itself and I ended up with a little felting.  It’s not terrible, and I’ll be able to deal with it when I comb or card or flick the wool, but why make extra work for myself?

After the spin cycle, it’s time to lay the fleece out to dry.  That big green thing is my drying rack.  It’s meant for drying herbs and it’s the best thing I’ve found for drying wool.  It’s huge — more than 3.5 feet in diameter — and has 8 shelves.  Each shelf holds at least 3 pounds of fleece.  The shelves are strong enough to hold more than 3 pounds, but I like to spread the fleece out in a thin layer so it will dry quicker.  When I’m done drying fleece, the rack collapses and folds up into a small carrying case that fits inside the bins I use for washing.  I store all of my fleece washing equipment together, stacked up in the white laundry basket in the first picture.  Two of these drying racks fit in that stack.  The rack is hanging from a plant hook installed by the prior owners of our house.  In this picture, it is holding (from top to bottom) the 6 pounds of Coopworth separated into two sections, the 2.5 pound Icelandic fleece, the 2.75 pound Texel fleece, and the 3.15 pound Finn fleece.

 

I’ve got a huge oak tree in the front yard and it is home to many squirrels.  Since I don’t want the squirrels stealing fleece to line their nests, I pin mesh laundry bags over the openings.

Here in Florida, since I wash and dry outside, scouring fleece is a winter task.  Between April and October, sometimes into November, it is so hot that you don’t want to be doing all this labor outside and the humidity is so high that the fleece just will not dry outside .  I do not have anywhere inside to hang the drying rack.  But last Sunday, it was in the mid-60s and the humidity was low.  It was spectacular weather for working outside and I had a pleasant afternoon scouring fleece.  I hope to scour the rest of my fleece by the end of January and then I’ll start processing it!

WIP Wednesday: January 3, 2018

This week, I’m sharing my two active projects.  I have a lot of WIPs / UFOs that are sitting around, waiting for me to get to them.  As part of the inventory that I blogged about on Monday, I will be making sure Ravelry is up-to-date with those projects.

SassyBee Orchid

My current spinning project is two batts of SassyBee Orchid on Polwarth.

SassyBee Fibers (this is a link to her FB page as her website isn’t active) is a vendor at The Fiber Event in Greencastle, Indiana, which I have attended for the last 3 or 4 years.  I love her batts and I have a pile of them.  In fact, all the batts in the suitcase full of batts, pictured in Monday’s post about inventory, are SassyBee batts.  In addition, one of the big bins in the big pile of bins is full of SassyBee batts.  They are so beautiful, but I had not spun any of them.  In fact, I had never spun from a batt at all.  On the first Friday in December, I spent the day spinning as a demo during the Weavers of Orlando Annual Holiday Sale.  My wheel was empty, so I grabbed a SassyBee batt and spun that the entire day.  I’ve spun a little more on it since, but not a lot due to the holidays.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through the first batt.

 

Mesa

Last year, my LYS had an Anzula trunk show.  This cape (available on Ravelry) was one of the sample items Anzula brought with them as part of the show.  I tried it on and loved it.  I also thought my mother would love it.  I bought the yarn and the pattern and intended to finish it for her birthday in March.  Then for Mother’s Day in May.  Then for Christmas.  I only have about 10 rows of knitting left, then I have to weave in the ends, sew on buttons, and block it.

An Inventory

This year, we spent Christmas with my in-laws.  My mother-in-law is in poor health.  She has cancer and then got pneumonia.  She was in the hospital for 2.5 weeks, moving to rehab on the Tuesday after Christmas.  For a while, we thought she wasn’t going to make it to Christmas, but she did.  For the moment she’s stable, but the cancer is advanced and at this point we count each day as a gift.  During the time I visited with her, we talked a lot about her life and what has been important to her and what is important to her now.  “None of that stuff matters to me anymore,” she said, referring to her physical possessions.  What matters to her is speaking with and spending time with her people — her children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends.

In November, my husband was laid off from his job.  This was something we’ve expected for some time, so we’ve saved money and he got a severance payment, so we are not in an immediate financial crisis.  He spent most of the last six weeks with his mother and is now starting to look for a job.  We don’t know how long it will take for him to find a job, so we need to manage carefully so that the money we have lasts for as long as possible.  As a result, buying yarn and fiber are definitely off the list!  I must craft from stash.

These two factors have me thinking a lot about what really matters and about how I want to spend my time.  I am feeling the need to let go of some things and consolidate others.  I want to spend more time on my fiber pursuits.  Over the last few years, I’ve acquired an astonishing variety of fiber books, tools, and supplies.  I’ve acquired things at a much quicker clip than I’ve crafted them.  Once upon a time, I kept Ravelry up-to-date, but I fell out of the habit.  I feel as though I don’t really know what I have anymore and to make plans, I need to know what I have.  It’s time for an inventory.

Fortunately, inventorying is in my blood.  For most of my growing up years, my father worked in stock rooms.  When I was very small, he worked in the warehouse of a local clothing store.  When I was 11, we moved to a different state where he had a new job as the manager of a hospital stock room.  My sister and I went to a private school in the same town as the hospital, which was a 30-minute drive from where we lived.  We commuted with my father.  Since we got out of school a couple of hours before he got out of work, we spent those hours at the hospital.  We usually stayed in the cafeteria, working on our homework.  Sometimes, especially on days when they were short-staffed, we hung out in the stock room, working on homework and occasionally answering the phone to take orders from the floors while the employees pulled and delivered the needed items. Twice a year, on a Sunday, the stock room closed for inventory.  All the stock room employees came in, along with people in other administrative departments, and my sister and I.  We counted every single item on every single shelf, balancing the inventory against the computer.

I started my personal inventory process before Christmas.  I started by consolidating — putting away all the random yarn and projects scattered around the house.  It’s a lot easier to do inventory when everything is where it belongs.  It’s a little scary to flash my stash, but here’s the pix so you can see where I am now.

These bins are the main stash collection.  Each of these is a 40 quart bin.  One of the bins holds finished projects waiting to be gifted, but the rest are full of yarn and fiber.  I sorted the fiber by type (wool, plant fiber, blends, batts, etc).  There’s so much wool that it takes up 8 bins and I’ve alphabetized the wool by breed.  I separated the yarn by weaving yarn and knitting / crocheting yarn.  Then I sorted each of those categories  size of the yarn.

 

These shelves hold the yarns made from plant fibers.  It’s mostly cotton, but there’s some linen and bamboo in there also.

 

These batts have been living in this suitcase since I bought them last April because I can’t fit them anywhere else.

 

This pile consists mostly of raw fleece, waiting for me to wash and process it.  There’s also a couple of bags of yarn that I haven’t put away.  That’s my four-harness, 28″ weaving width LeClerc Fanny counterbalance loom under all that fleece.

 

This bin holds raw fleece in smaller quantities.  There’s a variety of breeds in this bin, but no more than a pound from any one fleece.

 

These boxes hold fleeces that I bought and had processed by mills.  I believe there’s three fleeces total in here.  They are sitting on top of my four harness, 22″ weaving width Dorset direct tie-up loom.

These bins and the hamper on top of them hold WIPs.  A couple of years ago, I conquered all my WIPs, but now I have a new pile.

 

These are smaller bins, about twice the size of a shoebox.  They hold a couple of WIPs, including two or three that only need blocking, but mostly they are projects waiting for me to cast on.  I matched yarn to patterns and sometimes the needles are with them also.

 

Finally, this is my fabric collection.  Last spring and summer, I took sewing lessons.  I’ve mostly sewed pillowcases, which we send to the pediatric oncology ward where my cousin works, for nurses to distribute to the kids.  I actually have a lot more fabric than this, but everything I bought for pillowcases is stored at my mother’s house.  This is everything I have at my house.

 

I have complicated feelings about all this stash.  I’ll be writing more about it as I continue the inventory process.  My goal for the next week is to get Ravelry back up-to-date.  I’ve downloaded the spreadsheet of my Ravelry stash as a starting point.  I’ll write an update next week, to share my progress and next goal.

Close Up

It’s Yarn Love Challenge Day 2!  If you missed day 1, explaining what exactly Yarn Love Challenge is, please see yesterday’s post.  Today’s prompt is “close up.”  Over the last few years, I’ve tried to improve my ability to take close up pictures.  Close ups help us focus on details, providing a better understanding of and appreciation for finished projects.  Rather than just sharing fiber arts pictures in this post, I’ve chosen close-up pictures that represent different aspects of my life.  Collectively, these small details provide a better understanding of the ongoing project that is my life.

Fiber

Since this is primarily a fiber blog, I am starting with the fiber pictures!

First, one of my favorite projects and pictures: a close up of the lace border on the Raindrops on Roses Shawl.

Next, one of the first close-up pictures I ever took of a fiber project.  It’s a humble garter-stitch dishcloth and I hoped to take a picture that made it look like more fun than that!  I tried to make it look like ocean waves and added the octopi charms both because of the ocean theme and because I love octopi so much.

This is the lace edging on the first project I ever knit from my own homespun yarn.  I was (and am) so proud to be able to knit from yarn spun by my own hands!

I have been obsessed with cables ever since I knit a cabled baby blanket as my second-ever knitting project.  (The baby I knit that blanket for just got married this week and is expecting his first child).  When I knit the Sand Tracks scarf, I became obsessed with the combination of cables and seed stitch.

Rainbows make me happy, and this Redfish Dyeworks 20/2 Spun Silk gradient is no exception.  I love this picture because it captures all the skeins in the gradient and because there’s something perfect about the way the circle draws my eye around and around and around the rainbow.

The Gotland / Teeswater fleece pictured here is one of the first fleeces I purchased (at SAFF 2016) to process by hand.  This picture is of the raw fleece and I love all the different colors in the fleece.  I took this picture just before I washed it.  I have yet to comb or spin it.

 

Tiger

I take a ridiculous number of pictures of our cat, Tiger.  He’s so photogenic.  He’s also ridiculously cuddly.  Sometimes he’s so cute and happy with cuddles that I don’t want to disturb him, but I’m also bored.  I almost always have my phone with me, so I whip it out and take pictures of him.  Of course, I take many close ups of his face.

But I am also rather obsessed with taking pictures of his paws.

 

And the way his tail wraps around his body and curls up beside his hip is one of the most precious things in the world.

Life

My husband grew up in Toms River, NJ.  Toms River is right about in the middle of the New Jersey coastline, separated by the intracoastal from Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, NJ.  He grew up going to the Seaside beach constantly.  His grandmother and an aunt each lived a couple blocks from the beach where the boardwalk was.  Superstorm Sandy destroyed much of the boardwalk.  If you watched any of the coverage of that storm, you might remember a picture of a roller coaster in the ocean.  That was the Seaside boardwalk where my husband grew up.  After Sandy, the boardwalk was rebuilt in record time, and the businesses lining it reopened for the following summer season.  That fall, one year after Sandy, an electrical short started a fire that burned six blocks of the newly-rebuilt boardwalk (this article says 3 blocks, but it was really 3 blocks in Seaside Heights plus 3 blocks in Seaside Park for a total of six blocks).  Fire trucks came from all over the state to fight that fire.  In the end, they were only able to put it out by bulldozing out part of the new boardwalk to create a fire break.

Three months after the fire, we were in New Jersey for Christmas, so we went down to the boardwalk to view the devastation.  The picture before is a charred piece of wood, about 4 inches long, embedded in the sand near where the fire started.

Birds

My father is a birdwatcher; I’ve been birdwatching with him since I was 6 months old, in a backpack on his back.  Last year, we attended the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.  One of the tours we took was a bird banding tour.  The guide was a licensed bird bander.  We accompanied him to the location where he bands and helped him to capture three birds for banding.  He applied a band to each bird, weighed them, measured their wings, beaks, and leg bones, then released them.  This is a Bachman’s Sparrow, an uncommon species which is in decline due to habitat loss.

 

In the vendor area of the festival, was a booth operated by a bird rescue.  They brought several of their education birds — birds that will never be able to released back to the wild due the extent of injury — and you could have a picture taken with the bird of your choice.  I picked the Golden Eagle because I am a Ravenclaw and the Eagle is the emblem of our House.  Note that I am not holding this bird.  Only licensed handlers are able to do that.  The eagle is sitting on the gloved hand of the handler and I am standing beside her.  The picture is taken from a clever angle, making it seem that I’m closer than I actually am!

In the Yard

Several years ago, I got lenses for my iPhone camera.  I didn’t know such a thing was possible until I was traveling on business and a colleague had them for her phone.  I was so excited, I bought myself a set.  I especially loved the macro lens.

Leaf and tendril from the grape vines.  We’ve since pulled them out because they were growing up against the house, destroying the paint and the window screens.  Plus the neighborhood birds ate all the baby grapes while they were still green so we never got any ourselves.

A cherry tomato, still on the vine.

Lichen on the trunk of a crepe myrtle.

A crab spider on its web.

 

Click here to read Yarn Love Challenge, Day 3: Currently Making.

 

 

Crafting CPH

“Why would you spend $25 on yarn to knit a pair of socks when you can buy a dozen pairs at Walmart for maybe $10?”  Every crafter I know has been asked some variant of this question.  Usually the crafter stumbles through a response, defending the reasons she or he chooses to work with fiber.  Afterwards, the crafter might rant on Facebook or Ravelry about the latest inquiry they’ve gotten along this line and  how non-crafters just don’t get it.

There are many wonderful reasons to craft with fiber; Franklin Habit’s recent blog post on Lion Brand Yarns site provides a far more eloquent explanation than I’m able to write and the comments on that post share many personal perspectives on the question.  I believe it is valuable to share our reasons for crafting with fiber.  Maybe you’ll inspire someone to pick up needles or hooks and yarn!

But perhaps you don’t want to share your personal perspective with the latest random stranger to comment on your work.  Or perhaps you have a relative or co-worker who has commented multiple times and discounts the reasons you have given.  For these circumstances, I propose the kind of practical, emotion-free response the Inquisitor seems to require: the Crafting Cost Per Hour (CCPH).

The Inspiration

I read Your Money or Your Life (Amazon affiliate link, Summary on author’s website) a couple of decades ago, when I was in my early 20s.  The book offers a 9-step method for transforming our relationship to money.  The book starts with the idea that we exchange our time for money.  One step is to calculate exactly how much you are paid per hour.  This amount isn’t the hourly figure your employer uses to calculate your pay.  You add into your weekly hours the time you spent on work-related tasks like commuting and you deduct from your weekly gross salary the costs related to your job, then calculate your actual hourly rate based on these new figures.

For example, let’s say you work 40 hours per week and are paid $10 per hour for a weekly gross salary of $400.  Perhaps your commute is 1/2 hour each way on public transit and you pay $80 per month = $20 per week for a monthly transit pass, which you use only to get to and from work.  These commuting expenses and time mean that your weekly gross salary is reduced to $380 and your work hours increased to 45 hours per week.  Your actual hourly wage is $380 / 45 hours = $8.44.  The summary link above has a list of other work-related time and expenses that you can contemplate if you wish to calculate your own hourly wage.

In the Your Money or Your Life method, once you calculate your hourly wage, you then divide every expense you have by that hourly wage to determine how many hours of your life you traded for that item.  Then you evaluate that item by asking yourself if the number of hours you traded for that item are as valuable as the item itself.

While I have not consistently followed the steps of Your Money or Your Life, some of the ideas have stayed in the back of my mind and, when I saw yet another post about a Cost of Sock Inquisitor, I was inspired to calculate what each hour of craft costs.

Basic Crafting Cost Per Hour

If you’ve purchased finished yarn and then knit, crocheted, or woven it into finished object, calculating the cost per hour is straightforward.  Simply divide the cost of the yarn by the number of hours it took (or will take) you to finish the project(s) you will knit with that yarn.

$25 for sock yarn / 20 hours to knit socks = CCPH of $1.25 / hour

Some people try to convince you that spinning is even more expensive than knitting or crocheting.  However, when looked at from the perspective of CCPH, that isn’t necessarily the case.  If you purchased a 4 ounce braid of spinning fiber for $30, spun and plied it, then knit it into a pair of socks, your CCPH is lower than knitting socks with purchased yarn.

$30 for fiber / (8 hours to spin + 2 hours to ply + 20 hours to knit) = $30 / 30 hours = CCPH of $1.00 / hour

If you mostly just want to respond to Inquisitors, you can use the basic formula and create a rule of thumb for the projects you most commonly knit in public.  Maybe your carry around project is always socks and you know about how long it takes you to knit a pair.  Calculate your CCPH once for each type of project and you’re done.

Beyond the Basics

I know that many of you profess to not like math and for you, the basic crafting cost per hour will be sufficient to respond to the Inquisitor.  Feel free to skip this section.  But I happen to love math, and there are many knitters who love math also.  Perhaps you might decide to calculate the CCPH for every project you do, just for fun.

We all know that our fiber crafting projects cost more than just the yarn or fiber for that project.  We have costs for tools, classes, storage.  We also know that the benefits are more than just the finished project.  We spend time with friends while we craft.  We watch less TV, or TV time is productive because we are crafting, not just sitting.  These costs and benefits are variable, personal, and more difficult in the accounting.  However, these types of variable and personal costs are considered in the Your Money or Your Life method, and I believe we can consider them in our context also.  I’m only going to explore two factors — tools and time — in depth, but use this as inspiration to think carefully and creatively about the costs and benefits associated with your fiber crafting!

Tools

If we choose good quality tools, fit to the task, they will last for a long time.  So how do we account for them in calculating CCPH.  I have two thoughts on this, depending on if they are small tools (needles, hooks, etc) or large tools (looms, spinning wheels, etc).  For small tools, I’m inclined to include them in the cost of the first project I make with them.  If I buy a second US 1 needle so I can knit my socks on two circulars, the cost of that needle can be added to the cost of that sock project.  From then on, the use of that tool is free.

Large tools need to be depreciated in some way.  Pick the time period over which to depreciate the tool — a year, two, three, four, five — whatever you prefer.  Divide the cost of the tool by the number of years to determine your cost per year.  Whenever you use the tool, keep track of how long you use it.  Keep a running total of the number of hours you use it as well as the number of hours used on a specific project.  At the end of the year, divide the cost per year by the number of hours you used the tool that year to determine your hourly cost for use of the tool.  For each project using that tool, multiply the number hours of use by the calculated hourly cost of the tool.  Once you come to the end of your depreciation period, use of the tool is free.

I made a quick little Google spreadsheet to illustrate the depreciation of my spinning wheel, a Kromski Fantasia.  I bought the wheel in 2013 and I’m not going back to look at all the projects I’ve done on it.  I’m just using two projects as an illustration here.  My first thought was to depreciate the wheel over 5 years.  Here’s what that spreadsheet looks like:

 

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Even with the use of a relatively expensive tool, and a modest amount of use of the tool (less than 1.5 hours / week), each project’s cost per hour of crafting is modest.  What happens if we decide to depreciate the spinning wheel over just one year, still with the same modest use of the wheel?

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-11-05-39-am

While the cost per project and CCPH at least triple, the CCPH is still incredibly low.  On a per hour basis, depreciating the spinning wheel over one year with less than 1.5 hours use in a week, costs about the same as going to a movie in the theater. Once I’ve finished depreciating the wheel and the use of it no longer counts in my cost per project, the CCPH of my spinning projects will be pennies.

Obviously, this calculation will vary wildly depending on the price of the tool, the time period you choose for depreciation, and your actual use of the tool after you purchase it.  But that’s to be expected.  I’m just offering a way to capture this cost on a per project basis.  And perhaps a useful analysis to justify the purchase of your next loom or spinning wheel!

Time

I think the total time for a project can and should be increased to account for the other benefits we receive from pursuing our fiber crafts.  This might sound like cheating, because you will be double-counting time, but let me see if I can convince you otherwise.  I can knit or crochet or spin or weave in a variety of circumstances.  I might be at home alone, doing nothing but knitting.  I might be home with my husband, watching TV in the evening.  I might be in public, doing a demo where I am specifically looking to interact with people and explain what I’m doing.  I might be in public, waiting for an appointment to start or flying on a plane.  I might be hanging out with friends, at knit night, at a retreat, or in a cabana by the river (like I was yesterday).

Each of these scenarios offers me benefits that aren’t specifically related to my fiber crafting.  Time that might otherwise be wasted feels productive.  Friendships grow, providing a sense of emotional well-being.  I get some down time and to be outside.  I don’t have to be fiber crafting to get these benefits — I could hang out in a cabana by the river with friends and just chat all day without doing fiber crafts at the same time.  Fiber-crafting while also accruing these other benefits is multi-tasking.  Therefore, the time should count more than once — the first time it counts as time accrued for the finished product and the next time it counts as time accrued for process.

In addition, double (or perhaps triple or quadruple) counting time builds into our equation, and our response to the Inquisitor, all the very personal reasons why we knit.  We can give what sounds like a practical, emotion-free, by-the-numbers response while simultaneously honoring rather than denying the real soul of our work.  We don’t have to share all those details with the Inquisitor — that would defeat an important purpose of the CCPH calculation — but we know we’ve included, rather than denied, what is truly important to us.

The amount of time to count for these extra benefits is up to you.  If I’m waiting for an appointment or knitting while watching TV, I’m unlikely to double-count all that time.  In these instances, I’m turning otherwise unproductive time into productive time by knitting.  This time is tied very closely to the product rather than the process.  It’ll take 20 hours to knit these socks, regardless of circumstances, and I’ve just captured a particular piece of those 20 hours.  In the case of knitting while watching TV, did I turn the TV on as background for my knitting?  Or would I watch TV anyway?  Either way, I’m not getting a huge amount of value out of the TV watching.  Maybe I’ll double-count 25% or 50% of the time.

On the other hand, when I spend a day fiber-crafting in a cabana by the river, I am receiving multiple benefits above and beyond the fiber work.  I’m outside, which is a huge benefit in and of itself.  I’m with friends.  Maybe I should triple-count all the time I’m crafting at the river.  And even when I’m not actively fiber crafting, because I’m grilling burgers or eating, I still count that time towards my project because I wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the fiber.

The important thing here is to honestly account for the benefits you are receiving from the fiber crafting.  You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone else.  You just need to be honest with yourself.

A New Response

Now you’re ready for the next time someone asks, “Why would you spend $25 on yarn to knit a pair of socks when you can buy a dozen pairs at Walmart for maybe $10?”

Rather than rolling your eyes and explaining all your personal reasons for knitting, try this: “You’re looking at it through the wrong lens.  It’s true that I don’t have to knit.  I do it as a hobby that brings me great joy.  And when viewed that way, it is incredibly inexpensive, especially when compared to other entertainment.  This yarn might cost $25, but it’s going to take me 20 hours to knit these socks, which means I’m paying only $1.25 per hour of entertainment.  What other entertainment is so inexpensive?”

 

The Yarn Spinner

Last year, I wrote a post about how much I love A Craftsman’s Legacy.  Season 3 of the show started last week and I have loved the first two episodes.  Episode 2 of Season 3 features Maple Smith (Ravelry) of North Star Alpacas (Etsy) in Ithaca, Michigan.  Maple gave host Eric Gorges dyeing, spinning, and knitting lessons!

I very much enjoy every episode of this show but this episode is my favorite so far, not just because it features crafts I do, but also because Maple is so incredibly charming.  In addition, host Eric Gorges is always out of his element in the fibery episodes (The Weaver with Juanita Hofstrom in Episode 6 of Season 2 and The Quilter with Theadra Fleming in Episode 10 of Season 2).  In most episodes, he may not be familiar with the particular craft, but he is familiar with many of the tools.  This is not the case when he works with fiber, and we see him struggle to learn as a raw beginner.  Watching Eric learn is always one of my favorite parts of the show because it’s rare to watch someone take their first wobbling steps in a new skill.  His uncertainty, curiosity, and unwillingness to be deterred by his mistakes really make the show; it makes me feel like I might be able to do that craft too.  In this case, where I have some mastery of the skills, I was reminded of how far I’ve come in the last few years and my determination to continue learning new skills was renewed.

My only criticism of this particular episode is that it seemed like a little too much to cram into one episode.  These episodes are only about 22 minutes long.  While we see Maple instruct Eric on dyeing and spinning, the part where she instructs him on knitting was cut.  We see him for only a couple minutes at the end of the episode, on the second or third row of a swatch, looking at the stitches and not actually knitting.

The ending of the episode is part of what makes it my favorite so far.  In every episode, the featured craftsman gives Eric a gift.  Often, it’s the project that they’ve worked on in the episode.  Almost always, the gift includes the show’s logo.  However, that is not the case in this episode.  Maple knit Eric a hat.  A very particular hat, instantly recognizable by all fans of space westerns everywhere, because she heard he is a huge fan of that particular TV show.  He looks as excited as a kid on Christmas morning!

How Many Projects?

I’m taking a time out from packing to write a quick post.  Last November, I registered attend PlyAway, a spinning conference hosted by PLY Magazine.  My friend Lorelle was planning to go too, but by the time registration came around, she knew she wouldn’t be able to attend.  “I’d love to go to fiber events with you,” she lamented, “but work and other financial obligations keep me from going.  Why aren’t there any local retreats?”

“We can make our own retreat,” I responded.  And so we have.  This weekend, six of us our staying in a condo on the beach.  One or two others are driving in for the day on Saturday.  I’m the only one who knows everyone going.  Everyone else knows no more than two others and some (including Lorelle) don’t know anyone other than me. We have no firm schedule.  Everyone’s bringing their projects.  Via e-mail, everyone shared what they are bringing and what they’d like to learn.  Fredi’s bringing unwashed fleece and will show us how to wash it.  She’s bringing her drum carder and hand combs so we can make rolags if we wish.  I’m bringing all my acid dyes and equipment for dyeing, including bare yarn.  Dawn’s bringing bare fiber.  Dawn, Nancy, and I are all bringing our rigid heddle looms.  Shellee and Lorelle have never woven before and want to try it out.  Everyone except Shellee spins; she’s going to try the spindles Nancy and Dawn are bringing.  Everyone else is also bringing their spinning wheels.  Shellee will show us her unique method of knitting.  She speeds along so fast, her hands are a blur.

So now I’m packing, and I must consider the first question — the one a fiber crafter always asks before she packs anything else — which projects shall I bring?  How many is too many.

I’m definitely bringing the current project on my rigid heddle loom.

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I’ll bring yarn to warp the loom again, in case I finish this project.  I have at least 3 spinning projects in progress, but I’m only going to bring the Three Feet of Sheep with me.

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I really run into trouble with the knitting projects.  Shall I bring the Bubble Baby Blanket that I haven’t worked on in months, but is part of my Detention OWL for the Harry Potter Knitting / Crochet House Cup (HPKCHC)?

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Or the Begonia Swirl Shawl that I started months ago to replace the one that was accidentally felted?

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Of course I’m going to bring the Cloisters Shawl I only started working on a week and a half ago!

I need to bring some crochet.  Because I must have all the things, right?  I’ll probably just toss some cotton and a hook into my bag so I can whip up some quick dishcloths.  Maybe 2, no 3, who am I kidding 4, better make it 5, seriously 6 skeins is the limit.

Am I bringing enough? Better toss in just one more thing — I don’t want to run out of projects.

Oh!  Shellee is bringing blocking mats and wires.  I need to bring the 3 shawls I have laying about that just need blocking!