Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tutorial: Washing Fleece

A few weeks ago, if you recall, I was up camping in Utah. When I came back, there was a bag full of raw wool waiting for me in my studio. A dear friend had dropped by while I was gone, and played Fleece Fairy for me. Poof! Have a project. Since then, it has been sitting under my spare loom, just kind of looking at me reproachfully as I ignored it to play with the triloom. Today I was at a break point between shawls, so I decided to start processing it. The first step is to wash the fleece out. Here's how I did it:

Here is a shot of the raw fleece. Sheep are very dirty animals. Their fleece is full of a grease called lanolin (you can find it as an ingredient in hand lotion), and they roll around in the pasture. And, well, they poop. The first thing you do with a fleece is discard the pieces that are too filthy and matted to deal with. This fleece had been pretty well picked over before I got it, so there wasn't too much in the way of dung or twigs to pick out. But I took it outside, and as I grabbed handfuls to wash I shook them out to get rid of bits of bedding and dirt.

I took the shaken wool, and loosely stuffed three lingerie bags with it. I have more fleece than will fit in the bags--this is going to take several batches to clean it all. I took the bags inside, and then filled my top loading washing machine with hot water and four capfuls of Synthropol. After the washing machine was full, I turned it off and gently dunked the bags in to the water.

I set a timer for ten minutes, and left the bags to soak. Soak only, mind you. Wool will felt with heat, water, and agitation. I had the heat and the water, so I needed to avoid the agitation. After ten minutes was up, I came back. The water was absolutely filthy. Ewww!

I put the washing machine on spin cycle, and let it spin all the water out. The bags were pushed against the sides of the machine, but they weren't agitated so it was a safe move.

There was a residue of dirt and grease left inside the machine, so I wiped it off with a paper towel before the next step.

The paper towel came back caked with mud. Did I mention that sheep are dirty dirty animals?

I filled the machine with hot water again, but didn't add soap this time. The bags went back in the water to soak for another ten minutes.This is what the water looked like this time around, before I used the spin cycle again.

There wasn't as much dirt on the paper towel this time, but it was still pretty dirty. I decided to do another ten minute rinse soak.

After the second rinse, the water was clear, and the paper towel had almost no residue. I thought about doing a third rinse, but my plan for this fleece is to make felt out of it. That means I'll run the fleece through my drum carder, which will get out a lot of the remaining dirt and vegetable matter. Then, the felting process with its hot water and soap should take care of the rest of the cleaning.

So, I took the wool and laid it out on a rack. This is it still wet, but you can see what a difference there is from where it started! That sheep was white after all. The wool will take a couple of days to thoroughly air dry. I figure I'll clean a batch of wool every couple of days, and the fleece should be ready for carding next week.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Treasury

Two! I've been in two Etsy treasuries, in as many weeks. I'm doing the happy dance here. Luckily, everyone in the house is asleep, so I can be as goofy as I like while I celebrate.

This one is showcasing several of the folks on the SCA Etsy team. They chose my grey Gotland hand spun yarn to be included. I'm really pleased, especially given the quality of the other items they chose. There is some very tempting stuff in there!

Friday, August 28, 2009


In honor of the school year's modeling gig starting back up, I give you a poem I wrote last November...



I take off my clothes
and place them neatly,
folding them on the worn
wooden table. I stand,
staring at the reflection
in the merciless mirror.
Greying hair
pulled back in a tight braid.
Thighs a bit wider than I remembered.
Lines etching themselves
around my mouth and eyes.
A belly full of stretch marks,
souvenirs of my double forays
into the whole child birth thing.
Sighing, I wrap myself
in a fuzzy turquoise robe
and pad out into the cold studio...

...where I put some jazz
on the player,
and step up on the podium.
At the ready,
I toss aside the robe
and strike a confident pose:
toes pointed
arms gracefully outstretched
back arched and
head thrown back to greet
the warm spotlighting beams.
All around me, artists
take inspiration...
pencil points
scritch in fine precision,
tracing each glowing hair,
charcoal sticks smudge
great looping arcs
along my swooping curves,
watercolors dance the light
playing across my face,
and pastels blend and smear
leaving soft streaks of color
along my goddess belly.

And I...
I am transformed.
I am art.

-Melissa McCollum

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Suffering for your art

No, not my art. Your art. Or at least, two classrooms full of life drawing students' art. Ow, ow ow.

See, my day job is being a life drawing model at the local community college. Basically, I take off my clothes and sit very very still, while students make vaguely human shaped drawings of me. By the end of the semester mind you, they are making some very nice drawings of me--good enough that I have seen my image in art shows and museums. But it does mean that I tend to work over the school year, and take the summer off.

The semester has just started back up, and today was my first day back at work. Yeow! You would think that just sitting still would be an easy job, wouldn't you? Not so much. Try it sometime. Strike a pose that would be interesting to draw. Make sure your hips, torso, and head are pointed in three different directions--that gives some movement to the drawing. Now, hold it. Keep holding it, for a half hour at a stretch. Then, take a really dynamic pose, like standing on one foot with your hands thrown up in the air, back arched, and your head back. Hold that for just a minute's time. Now, do 24 more just as dynamic, for a minute each, and don't stop in between. Make them all different, too. You'll find it takes mental discipline, and a toned set of muscles.

Muscles that I haven't worked that way since school let out last spring. Oh man. I've taken up yoga recently to try to prep for this, but I guess I haven't been as dedicated as I should have been. Ah, well. One more class tomorrow (3 hours), and I'm off until next week. And within a couple of week's time, my body will have remembered how to do this.

In the meantime...I'm not going to stand at my triloom to finish up the Red Hat shawl I'm working on tonight. I think I'm going to curl up in bed with a trashy book, drink some tea, and call it a day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tutorial: Felt Camera Case

A couple of years ago, I got myself a digital camera. The idea was to carry it in my pocket, so I could snap shots whenever something caught my eye. However, finding a case for it that would protect it from pocket abuse, and still be small enough to actually fit in the pocket was a challenge. So I made my own. Two years later, the case is holding up perfectly. It wears like iron! I took pictures at the time, so here is a tutorial on how to make felt camera/cell phone cases. If you don't want to make your own, you can always commission me to make one for you. But I suggest giving this a try. Wet felting is so much fun!

First, gather your materials. You need wool roving, a bowl of warm water, dish soap, scissors, a plastic bag, the toe cut off an old pair of nylons, a rock about a third larger than you want the finished product to be, a button, some cording, an awl, a sewing needle, thread, and your camera or cell phone. You can also use very loosely spun wool yarn for decorating purposes. (This is a great way to use up some of that first lumpy bumpy handspun that you did.) Oh--don't use superwash wool. That has been treated so that it won't felt. Kind of defeats the purpose, you know?

Lay out a layer of wool, and put the rock on top of it. Wrap the wool all around the rock.

Lay out another layer of wool, at right angles to the last one. Wrap it around the rock.

Lay out one more layer of wool, at right angles to the last one. Wrap it around the rock. Feel with your hands to make sure there are no thin spots. Nudge the wool around to cover any that you find. You want a nice, even coating.

Add a layer of decoration. Use the loosely spun yarn, or wisps of wool roving in other colors. Be creative! Random patterns work better than obsessively precise ones, since things will shift around in the felting process.

Shove your hand into the toe of the nylons, then grab the wool encased rock. Carefully work the nylons over your project. It helps to have a second pair of hands here, so you don't disturb the wool too much. Poke and prod the wool back into place.

Put a squirt of soap into your warm water, then dunk the rock/wool/nylon sandwich into it. Get it thoroughly wet.

Gently rub the outside of the nylons. Add a wee bit soap to your hands to make them slide. Water, heat, and agitation makes the wool fibers start to latch on to each other, kind of like velcro. Keep rubbing your project, gradually getting more vigorous. Toss the rock back and forth between your hands. Eventually, the fibers will start to migrate through the nylons.

Check and see if the wool is holding together. When it does, you can peel the nylons off the project. Keep working the surface.

When the wool is felted together nicely, it is time to cut open your case. Decide where you want your opening to be. Using a sharp pair of scissors, snip halfway around the rock. Leave the back of the piece whole.

Remove the rock.

Turn your case inside out.

Now, with warm water and some soap on your hands, gently work the exposed insides until they are well felted together too.

Turn your piece back right side out. Now, you want to really shrink things down. Roll the case up, and roll it back and forth. Roll it the other way. (It will shrink more in the direction you are rolling.) Rub the cut surfaces to heal them.

Keep abusing the felt. Scrunch it up. Slam it on the table. Toss it around. It can really take a beating at this point.

By this point, your case will have shrunk down quite a bit, especially when compared to your rock.

Now, wrap your camera or phone in a water proof plastic bag. Put it in your case. Rub and work the felt until it shapes itself to your camera/phone.

To make the latch, sew a button on the bottom half of the case. Use an awl to poke a corresponding hole in the top half of the case.

Grab a length of cording. I spin matching yarn, and ply it back on itself several times. Poke it through the hole in a loop, and securely sew the tails down on the inside of the lid.

And there you go! Felted camera case. You can add a belt loop or a carrying strap if you want. I left it off of this one, since I intended it for pocket use, but I've made one of these with a purse type strap. It is big enough to hold my cell phone, a key, and a credit card. Very handy beast, especially when I'm dressed up and don't want to carry a big clunky purse.

If you make one, I'd love to see pictures of how it turned out. Enjoy!

Friday, August 21, 2009


How fun! A set of my juggling balls was just chosen to be included in a Treasury on Etsy. That is a first for me. I'm doing a little happy dance around my studio. (And the dogs are looking at me funny now.)

The next step on the triloom

I'm still doing variations on the triloom shawls. First, a couple shots of the yellow one. When my daughter was modeling it, she decided it looked like Winnie the Pooh colors. I couldn't call it that, since I have a sneaking suspicion that the name is copyrighted. So its name is "Gentle Sunlight". I don't usually care for yellows, but this one is actually quite nice. Maybe I'll play with the muted yellows more often.

I also finished up one in a purple and teal color combination. I can't quite think of a name for this shawl. Any suggestions?

Now, I have these pretty well down. I can go on playing with color combinations...but I never leave well enough alone. There are some other things I wanted to try. For one, using a single strand of yarn gives me a very open weave on these shawls. It means they drape really well...but it also means that finger tips poke through the fabric pretty easily. I don't mind that--I claimed the blue shawl for myself, and have been wearing it around recently. It is sooooo lovely to wrap up in.

However, I wanted to experiment with a tighter, firmer fabric. One way to do this would be to use a thicker yarn. I'm keeping my eyes open in the shops for options for that. I'm looking for a commercially available yarn, in a range of colors, that is as thick as it comes. Options for me to test are Light & Lofty, by Coats & Clark; Softee Chunky by Bernat; and Wool Ease Thick and Quick. Anyone have other suggestions to try out?

A second option would be to get or make another loom, with the pegs closer together. But I'd rather not spend the money or space on more equipment just now.

So, I'm experimenting with the third option, which is to use two strands of yarn instead of one. This really fills in the fabric! It slows down my weaving some, as I really need to look to make sure I'm going over and under the correct strands. The fabric is thicker, and I suspect it won't drape quite as well. We'll see about that. However, using two strands of yarn at once gives me a really great opportunity to play with color blending.

I am friends with a lovely couple, who believed in me enough to give me the start up capital to get my shop going. In return, I keep them in the loop as to how I am doing, and give them the occasional work of art. The lady in question has been eying my shawls, and mentioned that it would be cool to have one made of the yarn that was leftover from the ones that I've been making. She wanted something to throw over the back of her sofa. No fringe, since she has cats. Now, that I can do!

This two strand weaving should fit the bill nicely. She likes purples, and he likes blue. So, I grabbed all the blues and purples I have, and arranged them from dark to light. About every nine or ten pegs, I'm swapping out one of the strands of yarn for the next lighter. So the weaving will slowly shade from dark to light as it goes from top to bottom. I've got 5 colors in already, and am just now switching out to a lighter shade of purple. I'm really pleased with the effect! I can't wait to see how it will turn out. What a great way to see how colors interact with each other. I'm picturing a whole new batch of shawls now...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quote for the Day

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Yet another shawl: "Gentle Sunlight"

I think I'm getting the hang of these. If I have the time in my studio, I can get a shawl done in just over two days. That means I should be done boring you with triloom shawls by the end of the month...unless I get another order or two that is. But I'm still having fun with these. It is such a very tactile way of weaving. Each and every interlacement of the yarn is done by hand. I love watching the colors play, feeling the softness slip through my hands, getting into a meditative rhythm.

The shawl I pulled off of the loom this evening was suggested by one of the folks on my Facebook fan page. She wanted something in bright yellow. Well, I couldn't find Walmart Happy Face Yellow in this brand of yarn, but I did get a beautiful soft butter color for the main color of the piece. Then, I dusted off my color theory, and decided that I wanted a restful monochromatic theme. Yellow plus white gives cream, so I picked out a milky color for the big stripes. Those two colors were very close in value though, and the eye would mix them together unless I provided a bit of contrast. It is hard to get a dark yellow, though. Think about it. Dark yellow is still, well, yellow. And we already know they didn't have screaming happy face yellow. But, if you add black to yellow you get a warm greenish. If you reach across the color wheel and add purple, you get an absolutely beautiful warm golden brown--one of my favorite earth tones. Lo and behold, Lion Homespun had a color called "Bourbon" that was heathered between that warm green and golden brown tone. I snagged that for the small stripes between the butter and cream.

I just took "Gentle Sunlight" off the loom, and popped it into the wash. I wash these on warm/cold, with a bit of laundry detergent, on the "handwash" setting on my machine. The weave tightens up once the piece is off the tension of the loom. Washing the shawl nudges the threads into their final position. Since this is a soft acrylic, it doesn't felt down too much. The weave is still light and airy, and drapes beautifully.

Hopefully I can snag my daughter after school tomorrow, and get some shots of the finished shawl. It should be up in the shop tomorrow night.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Rose's Garden" shawl.

I'm still hip deep in yarn for the triloom shawls. I did get one more done this week though. A friend of mine had gone with me on the yarn buying spree and picked out colors that her mother would like, with an eye to commissioning a birthday gift. I delivered it today, and she was thrilled. I think she's mentally picking out colors for one for herself now. I'm tickled!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Midnight Solace" shawl

The memorial service for my friend was today. So, instead of actual content (I feel like I have a hangover, even though I wasn't drinking...), I give you pictures of how the black/red/purple shawl turned out. It is striking, no? And I caught my daughter with a case of the giggles while she was modeling.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shopping Therapy

When I'm depressed, I also take it out in shopping. Luckily, JoAnne's had a sale on the yarn I use for the triloom shawls, so I could indulge without breaking the bank entirely. So, instead of actual content, here is a shot of the shawl I'm working on, and the yarn for the next several shawls. I've got enough here to keep me busy for weeks!

(If anyone wants to call dibs on any of the color combinations, I'll let you have the shawl for a pre-order price of $130 instead of the $150 they usually go for. Just let me know.)


So, what do you do when you are grieving? Me, I turn inward, curling in around myself. And then, I put on quiet music, and lose myself in meditative, easy work to keep my hands busy. It helps to feel like I am creating something, and keeping my hands busy is better than sitting idle.

I had a dear friend die unexpectedly on Saturday. I'll come back to this blog when I can reach outward again. In the meantime...go hug your loved ones! And then make sure you take care of yourselves, ok? No more of this dying stuff. It sucks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pictures and Planning

So, you want to see how the 'Falling Leaves' triloom shawl turned out? I took my daughter into the back yard this afternoon, and had her model it for me. (What am I going to do for a model next year, when she's off to college?!) Here are the results:

Today I also took pictures of some of my felt juggling balls. These are kind of cool. I start with a golf ball as the core, then wet felt a seamless wool cover around the ball. The golf ball gives a great weight to the juggling ball, and the felt gives it a nice grippy texture that doesn't slip out of your hands easily. I don't juggle myself, but my friends who do all love these.

Most of today though, was spent moving looms around. I had to disassemble my 8 harness Harrisville loom to get it though my studio door again. We hauled it upstairs to stash it away for the time being. The AVL loom got moved into position in front of my studio window. It is amazing how much more roomy it feels in my studio! The AVL has an appreciably smaller footprint, even though it only has 4" less weaving width. I'm liking this already.

I was going to try out the AVL, and if I liked it the plan was to sell off the Harrisville. But I have two teenagers, and they have watched Mommy weaving for years now. appears that we're yanking out one of the living room sofas tomorrow, and the Harrisville is getting reassembled up in teenager territory. Then there will be some weaving lessons going on! My daughter wants to make her own scarves, among other things. We'll raid the yarn stash, and I'll set them up with a simple warp to start with. As long as we can keep the kitten off the back beam, everything should be fine.

Here comes the next generation of fiber geeks!