Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tutorial: First try at wool combing

The fleece I washed the other day was dry tonight, so I started experimenting with how to process it for spinning.

The Icelandic sheep's fleece has a longer overcoat, called the tog, and shorter, finer undercoat, called the thel. I'm thinking that I want to take advantage of these two different kinds of fiber. I'd like to use the longer tog for my warp thread, and the shorter thel for the weft. But how to separate it out? Here's the experiment.

First, I pulled at the butt end of the lock, where it was cut off of the sheep. There were some very short fibers there. I pulled those out, and put them in a 'felting' pile.

Then I loaded the butt ends of the locks onto the wool combs, filling about half way up the tines.

Holding the Viking comb in one hand, I brushed the other comb sideways through the locks of wool, first away from me then (carefully!!) towards me. This opened up the locks, and transferred them onto the moving comb.

There was some short nubby wool left on the comb. I pulled that off, and put it in the felt pile. Then I switched the full comb to my left hand, and started the process over again.

After a couple of repeats, the wool looked like this. That is quite a difference from where I started!

I pulled the tips of the wool into a point, and started pulling. I'd pull my fiber out a half inch or so, then move my hand forward and grab from the main bunch again.

This had the effect of pulling out a long, continuous roving. This is ready to spin from now. The current plan is to spin this on a reproduction Medieval drop spindle, worsted style. This should give me a fine, strong warp thread.

I stopped pulling the fibers when the bunch left on the combs were only an inch or so long. I figured that would be the thel that was left there. I pulled that off the combs, and ran it through my carders

Here's the rolag off of the carders. The current plan is to spin this wool on my antique Great or Walking wheel, using the long draw. This should give me a fluffier yarn for my weft.

And that 'felting' pile? When it got big enough, I went to the bathroom sink and made a felt ball for my cats to play with. They love these!

The next step will be to spin up the couple of combs full of wool that I processed this evening, and see what the resulting yarn looks like.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Icelandic fleece and Distaff experiments

I had the day off from modeling, so I decided to start processing the Icelandic fleeces that I got in the mail this past week. (This is the start of a long term historical fiber arts experiment, due next February.) First thing I did was to take one of the fleeces into the back yard, and lay it out to see what condition it was in. To my pleasure, it already been skirted of the worst of the dung. You can see Kaylee here checking it out. She was most confused as to where the rest of the sheep had gotten to.
After checking it out, I grabbed large handfuls of fleece and shook them out. Some vegetable matter and a lot of second cuts fell out. Second cuts are small bits of fiber left from where the shearer had to make a second pass when she was giving the sheep its hair cut. My other dog, Malcolm, was happy to supervise this process. I left the bits of fleece to blow around the back yard and turn to compost, and loosely stuffed the rest into lingerie bags.

I brought the bags of fleece inside, and set them to soak for 10 minutes in my washing machine on hot, with a squirt of Dawn. Soak only--no agitation! I only wanted to remove dirt and grease, not make felt. I used the spin cycle on the machine to remove the water, took out the bags, and refilled the machine with plain hot water. The bags went back in to soak for another 10 minutes. I repeated that two more times before the water finally ran clear, and there was no residue left on the inside of the machine. Then the fleece went on a rack to dry for a couple of days.

In the mean time, I've been experimenting with the Medieval spindle that I put together last night. It is kind of wobbly, and doesn't spin for as long as my modern spindles do. I poked around the web for a bit, and found that this is the nature of the beast--because it was made to be used with a distaff. If you look here: you'll find loads of period illuminations of the spindle in use, and almost every one of them uses a distaff. One hand stays up near the fiber source to draft out the fibers, and the other hand usually hovers an inch or so above the spindle. I went back out into the yard and cut a stick for a makeshift distaff, and tried it out.

This actually worked pretty well. Within minutes, my hands were in the same position as the spinners in the manuscripts. I could park the stick with the fiber under my arms, or use my legs to brace it, and pull right from the source. The distaff keeps it under control (this will be great when spinning outside on a windy day!), and the fiber stays neat instead of getting wadded up in my hand. And with my right hand so near the spindle, I can flick it every 5 or so seconds and keep it moving. This gives me good control over the speed of the twist. Keeping control of the spindle will take some learning, though. I lost track of the number of times I accidentally undid the half hitch around the top of the stick and dropped the whole thing.

I'm thinking I don't have the notch in the top of the twig carved correctly, which is why the yarn is coming undone. And I'm also a little worried about the fact that this spindle whorl is made of lead. Lead poisoning is bad. To fix both of these issues, I've ordered a pewter reproduction Medieval spindle from the Woolery, here: . It looks very similar to my actual artifact. We'll see how it works when it gets here.

Anyway, I found that the stick I was using for a distaff was also kind of poky, a little rough, and slightly curved in a way that made it harder to feed fiber from one side. So I hunted around for a 'real' distaff. I only found them for sale at Dragonfly Farms, and they were a little out of my price range right now. I thought for a bit...then went out to JoAnne's and bought a two piece wooden flag pole and a small step stool. My husband drilled a hole in the stool. I wound the wool roving around the top of the flag pole, and tied it down with a lucet cord I had lying around.

So far, this is working. When all three pieces are together, I have a self supporting distaff for when I'm sitting in a chair. And I can unscrew just the top half to tuck under my arm when I want to spin while walking around. I think I'm going to cut about 6 inches off the bottom pole though, as I'm feeling some arm strain reaching up so high to draft out the fibers.

I'm having great fun trying to puzzle this out. Here's to experimental archeology!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Putting old equipment back to work

I had to trim the Chinese Elm tree the other day, because branches were bending down too far over the sidewalk. I love this tree--it is very fast growing, evergreen, and I don't have to water it here in the AZ desert. I could do without the seedlings it sends out everywhere, but I can deal with that for something that actually looks like a tree.

Anyway, I was looking at the branches, and noticed how nice and straight they are. And I got to thinking about the long term historical weaving project I have planned.

So I went out with my clippers, and found a good sized stick. I whittled the bark off of all but the bottom couple of inches, tapered the top, and carved a notch about an inch below the top.

Then I pulled out a treasure from my stash. A few years ago I bought a Medieval decorated lead spindle whorl from Gaukler Medieval Wares, when they had a booth at Estrella War. The whorl was found in Suffolk. I bought it because I love holding history in my hand (and because it was only $30). Given my SCA involvement, and my love of the textile arts, it had to come home with me. At the time, I was only planning on tucking it away. But...I also love putting old fiber equipment back to work. And this whorl definitely qualifies!

I stuck it on my twig, grabbed some roving, and tried it out.

The resulting drop spindle is a little wobbly (the whorl is not well balanced), but it still spins beautifully!

Here's a closer look.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This and that

Well, I was going to be weaving on my antique rug loom to test it out over the past several weeks. But I've been up to my eyeballs in life drawing modeling! I love the paycheck, but modeling 4 or 5 days a week really takes it out of me. There has been some awesome artwork coming out of the sessions, though. I've put together a folder with a few snapshots of the student work at Flickr, here: . I did have a set at Photobucket, but they kept pulling the best drawings down for terms of service violations. They do not like art nudes.

Now, the loom will be leaving my house entirely. I heard back from the Pioneer Living History Museum that is located just north of Phoenix. They're willing to take the loom and add it to their collection. I am actually really tickled about this. I love having the loom, but it really belongs in a museum helping to teach other people. My contact will be there on Thursday, and will get back to me about when I can deliver the loom. In the meanwhile, I need to carefully disassemble it. It is too big to fit through the door as is!

And in other news, I just ordered three Icelandic fleeces off of Ebay, in preparation for an arts competition entry for Estrella next February. One of the three categories for the year is 'weaving', and I'm using it as an opportunity to really push myself. I'd like to make a rectangular Viking cloak from the ground up, as authentically as I can. Hence the Icelandic fleeces. That breed of sheep is supposedly genetically almost unchanged from the sheep the Vikings brought to Iceland 1100 years ago. So, step number one will be to clean and process the fleeces for spinning. I'll be posting more about this project as I go along.

I hope the fleeces get here soon, though. The longer I have to think and plan, the bigger this project gets to be. When I first thought of it, I was going to be content to spin the yarn for the project on my modern treadle spinning wheel with the Woolee Winder. But I have a great wheel that is almost identical to a Medieval wheel. And I have an actual spindle whorl from the Middle Ages...I wonder if I could find a shaft for it and get it working again? And hey, I could dye the yarn too, instead of just using the natural color. I've got a pot of madder that has been growing out front for a couple of years. Hey, if I'm going to all this trouble, maybe I should build a warp-weighted loom, instead of using my modern dobby loom. And....

Somebody stop me before project creep takes over entirely!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Striped towels: project planning

I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fiber arts equipment, I'm afraid. I have a hard time passing up a really good deal, and my studio is steadily creeping out of my corner of the house. There is a spinning wheel in the bedroom. One of the sheds outside is more than half full of raw materials. And the living room upstairs has a 100 year old rug loom in it.

The problem is, we'd kind of like to turn that living room into a work-out room, if I'm not going to be using the loom. I do have two more floor looms down in my workshop, you see. And I've never actually used this particular loom. I'm not even sure if it works correctly.

So, obviously I need to try out that loom! It is a very sturdy two harness beast, with an automatic shed changer as you beat the weft shot into place. I don't have any rug warp, but I should be able to make a nice set of plain weave hand towels on it. So this afternoon, I dug through my stash of weaving yarn, and came up with this:

This is 5 different colors of 8/2 cotton yarn. I'm thinking of making warp stripes. The two dark colors on the left will be threaded together for a dark stripe, and the two lighter colors will be threaded together for the light stripe. Blending the two colors together in each stripe should give some visual interest--a bit more depth to the color. The green there in the middle will be the weft thread, giving an over-all green color to the towels. And since there is only one color in the weft, the weaving should go pretty quickly.

So I did my figuring. 8/2 cotton plain weave should be about 20 threads per inch. I have a 10 epi reed, so I can sley two threads in each opening in the reed. I'd like the finished size of the towels to be abut 16"x28". Add some in there for take-up and shrinkage, and I think the towels should be about 19"x34" in the loom. Add some extra length for loom waste, and that makes my warp 380 threads wide, each thread 7 yards long.

Then I got out some graph paper, pen, and pencil, and played around until I found a stripe pattern I liked. Each square on the graph paper is equivalent to 10 threads, which is half an inch of warp.

Next step will be winding the warp, and seeing if I actually have enough of each color to make this work. I really should figure out the yardage I need for each color, then weigh my yarn to estimate whether or not I have enough. Hmmm...probably should do that before winding the warp, no? Well, that will be a job for another day. I've got to work tomorrow, so I'm calling it a night now.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, to all of those who celebrate the day! And I hope everyone has a lovely day filled with joy, family, and the celebration of life.

Oh, the eggs? My teens and I still color Easter eggs every year, using just food coloring. This batch shows what happens when you put a base coat of dye on the egg, then apply drops of food coloring directly to the egg when it is just submerged in the dye cups. The water takes the dye around in interesting ways. Then lift the egg out of the water, still applying drops of dye directly to the wet egg. The speckle effect happened as the egg air dried, and the dye pooled away from the raised areas on the shell