It's a gloomy trying to rain day in Wyoming and I've been dyeing Lincoln wool and a superwash Columbia Rambouillet wool roving. I've been doing this for years and the process is pretty automatic to me. Clean wool, stuff in canning jars, make dye, add dye, heat set, let cool, dry, spin. Today I looked at the curly Lincoln wool and squished roviing in the jars and noticed something- the play of color and texture is actually very intriguing. So much, that I took the pictures you see below. Maybe I should pay attention more often.
I have 2 spinning wheels (right now). My first one was a Louet S17 single treadle which I wrote about previously. My new wheel, received last August, is an Ashford Kiwi 2. I got the unfinished one so I could paint it myself. Ashford changed some features from the original Kiwi, which I did consider 10 years ago. There is a sliding hook on the flyer which I thought I wouldn’t like but I was wrong. We’ll see if they last 10 years though because they are just wire. The new bobbins are bigger for the sliding hook flyer. I can get a good amount of yarn on them- I’ve got 298 yards of DK weight on one. I was having trouble with the fuzziness of the fluffed locks for my fleecespun art yarns getting caught on the cup hooks at the top of the flyer, so I bent one in to close it. It helps, but it still gets caught once in awhile. The fix is easy and I can fix while the wheel is in motion. Just pull the yarn back towards you and let go to wind onto the bobbin- it has worked every time. The wheel design is also new and I think much prettier than the original.
The Kiwi is a Scotch tension wheel, also known as flyer lead. The poly drive band goes around a whorl that attaches to the flyer, there is a clear wire and spring that goes around the bobbin that controls the uptake of yarn on the bobbin. It comes standard with 2 ratios: 5.5 and 7.25. I have used the 5.5 to test it but like the Louet, spin mostly on the 7.25. There is a high speed adapter kit and a jumbo flyer kit available to expand ratios available. I hope to get the jumbo flyer kit for the bigger 8 ounce bobbins, but would also like to get the high speed kit since I spin a lot of sock yarn on this wheel. The higher speed ratio means more turns of the flyer, which means I don't have to wildly treadle to get it fast- the whorl will do it for me.
Treadling is very, very smooth and pretty quiet. When it’s not quiet it needs a little oiling as per Ashford's instructions that came with the wheel. I use sewing machine oil I got from Joanns Fabrics. I love the double treadles. I like that I’m using both feet, not just one as on the Louet. Due to a previous accident about three years ago, using both also is just a better idea for me so not to stress out my right foot and leg.
As mentioned above, I got the unfinished version. Out of the box the wood is smooth to the touch, the edges are sanded of sharpness. I painted mine in the colors Jungle Green and Blackberry Harvest from Home Depot. The wheel also has a yellow stamped botanical butterfly design on it. It comes flat packed and requires assembly. It has a pegged, hex bolt, and screw construction and once assembled is very sturdy. The base has a square design which adds to its sturdy feel- I never feel this will tip over, even when spinning on carpet. If you get one, have a cordless drill handy because the holes can be tight to screw into. For the beginning of the build all we had was a screwdriver, until we got tired and went and found the cordless. Also have a rubber mallet handy to bang in the pegged joints.
I love this wheel. I love the double treadles and the way they just work so well, free, and easy. I love the feel of the wood to the point I want to buy another one just to stain it mahogany (I probably won't, and Ashford Travellers is next on the wish list). It is considered a “beginners” wheel but I would recommend to anyone looking for a double treadle on the lower end of the price scale. It has accessories which add to it's spinning ratios, and the adapters are not expensive so it is versatile. I’ve taken it on a few camping trips and it’s small enough to easily sit on the floor of my friend’s truck. I think because of the quality of build and finish from Ashford it will be durable for the long haul.
Okay, the above title is a half truth. It’s a sort of favorite spinning fiber and it’s supposed to be called bamboo….. rayon. Eek! Why? Because rayon is a regenerated cellulose process, and in the case of bamboo rayon, bamboo stalks are the cellulose fiber.
Bamboo comes in two spinning fiber forms, one is transformed chemically into a spinning fiber, the other mechanically. Bamboo rayon which I’ll talk about now is the chemically transformed one, and bast bamboo, which I will talk about in a later post, is the mechanically transformed one.
I have a love, maybe love, I really don’t love this fiber type of relationship.
Things I love: It’s incredibly soft and has a beautiful luster. Look at the pictures below, the shine is just gorgeous. It also dyes relatively easily (I use Dharma Trading dye for plant fibers) and, I’ll say it again, beautifully. Yes, bamboo is a renewable resource. I grew up where there were lots of bamboo groves, and it grows and grows and grows. It’s soft on the hands to spin. The resulting yarn has a wonderful drape and great stitch definition if knitted.
Things I don’t: It’s very fine and gets on clothes, furniture, the carpet, while spinning. I find it staticy so when I’m pulling the roving into thinner slivers to spin I have the static halo, which has fibers sticking to everything close to it, like my hands. It’s made by a chemical process where the bamboo is dissolved into a slurry with chemicals and fed through a machine that makes the fibers. The grass is natural, the fiber is manmade, which is why the correct classification is bamboo rayon. It’s obviously not the only fiber like this- tencel can also be called wood rayon, because it’s made from trees in a similar process. ( I will talk about tencel in a later post. ) Drafting take some getting used to because the fiber can be at the same time slippery and clingy- all that shine equals slip, but the very fine fibers don’t want to draft (i.e. pull apart) sometimes. I find it easier to either spin in small slivers of roving about ¼ inch wide, or predraft the roving if I’ve only slivered into widths of ½ inch. Now, once I’ve spun about 100 yards, I still hate the staticy fiber that gets everywhere but I stand up and look at my bobbin and admire the lovely yarn and keep spinning. When I’m done I get out the sticky roller and clean up all the errant fibers.
Things in the middle: It’s a silk alternative, meant to be readily available and cheaper than silk. I’ve seen it been called bamboo silk, which, okay, it’similar to the luster and feel of silk (spun that too, will write about at some point), but it’s not silk. Silk is a natural fiber from moths, this is a chemically processed grass, a beautiful one, but not completely natural as it’s been endlessly touted.
Don’t get me wrong, I still like bamboo rayon but I have issue with the chemicals used in the process. Most, if not all of it, is made in China, and I have read their process is getting more environmentally friendly. I don’t want to say I won’t spin it every again because I still love the results.
Bast bamboo fiber review coming at a later time.
Below is, as usual, some of my handdyed and handspun bamboo rayon yarns.
We need to start here, specifically how a Spaniard sheep got to New Mexico:
Navajo churro sheep are descendants of the Iberian Churra sheep, brought to the Rio Grande Valley (i.e. New Mexico) in 1598 as Spain was establishing villages in this new area (at least to them). The initial number brought with Don Juan Onate and his settlers was 2900 sheep. The Spanish enslaved the Pueblo people and had them work as shepherds and weavers, the Navajo acquired sheep through trade and raiding. In 1680, the Pueblo people revolted and threw out the Spanish, but they didn’t take their sheep. The Navajo acquired more sheep and expanded the flocks for food, but more importantly for this story, for their wool. These sheep remained in isolated flocks throughout the area that would become New Mexico and Arizona with the Navajo and Pueblo peoples.
In an attempt to get Navajo lands for Western settlers, the US government ordered the destruction of Navajo orchards, but also their sheep. This military action culminated with the Navajo Long Walk, where they were forced to march 300 miles to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. As with the Cherokee Trail of Tears, many didn’t make it. After 3 years, the Navajo were allowed to return to their ancestral land and families were issued “native sheep” from flocks that were from New Mexican villages. The last hurdle the sheep and the Navajo had to endure was a 1930s program to eradicate some of the livestock on the Navajo reservation due to a severe drought. By this time the flock which had grown to over ½ million was reduced by about 30%. The Navajo said they knew how to manage their stock of sheep, goats, and horses on their land as they had for hundreds of years and this was unnecessary.
By the 1970s, the Navajo Churro was critically endangered at around 500 head. Several conservancies stepped in and slowly the sheep breed has been revitalized, although still in low numbers compared to many other sheep breeds, but it is no longer facing extinction.
Churro sheep are double coated, with a long straight coarse top coat and a softer, shorter inner coat. The staple length is 6-12 inches for the outer coat, and 3-5 for the inner coat. Many have horns, some with four or more. They are well suited to the harsh environment of the desert Southwest of cold night, hot days, and little water. They come is all colors of brown, black, white, and pretty much any color in between. It’s supposed to be a no- luster wool but I have seen a few fleeces with a pearlescent sheen to them.
I’ve got my hands on several fleeces and mini mill produced roving over the past years. All but one have been from New Mexico, the stray one was from a farm in Montana. Most have been dark brown, grays, and black. I’ve also spun some oatmeal color roving before. I also have one gorgeous white fleece I’m hanging onto for a spinning/natural dyeing project. I’ve got fleeces with really coarse outercoats and some where the outercoat was almost as fine as the innercoat. I don’t separate the coats, I just fluff and spin, however I’ve found that is the outercoat is really coarse it is actually easier to separate the two. You hold each end of the fleece and pull apart.
In general, Navajo churro is not next to skin soft. Lamb fleeces are the exception. However, you need to remember the breed’s wool was used for weaving hardwearing objects such as saddle blankets and rugs, which the wool’s coarseness is perfectly suited for.
Below is some of my Navajo churro handspun yarns. All but one are natural colored.
I did a bit of spinning last weekend, about 800 yards total, mostly on my Louet S17. I guess there’s something about Spring in the air because my yarn had flowers growing from it! Okay, not really growing from it, but they are spun into it. I call this Flowered Fleecespun, because it has flowers and is spun from hand dyed wool locks. I seem to spin this series in cycles because I was looking back at my yarn archive and I seem to, fittingly, spin this during the warmer months. I don't have much of a yard for a garden, or much gardening skills for that matter, but my yarn can bloom.
New flowered fleecespuns (the ones pictured at right) will be available in my Etsy shop soon.
Below are some of my flowered handspun yarns from the past two years.
I have two spinning wheels (and about 40 drop spindles, but that’s for another day). A few months ago I got an Ashford Kiwi2, but my first spinning wheel was a Louet S17. It is a simple single treadle model that came flat packed, assembly required, and unfinished. Over the last 10 years later I’ve spun somewhere around 225,000 yards on it.
When I received the box I didn’t assemble it right away. I painted the wheel with 2 stylized mandalas, a different one on each side. The rest of the wood I left natural although now I wish I had clear coated the wood. Assembly of the spinning wheel took only about an hour. The wood is a laminated hardwood and it has withstood several household moves and being taken to special events without so much as a scratch. I sanded around the corners because they were very sharp. The ball bearings in the wheel mechanism have always worked incredibly smooth. I only recently have replaced the flyer brake and drive band. Even if you don’t know what those terms mean, in short, I have spun a lot and done very little maintenance on it.
The Louet is a bobbin led wheel. What this means is that the drive band goes around the bobbin, which on one end has several grooves. Each of those grooves represents a ratio. Standard Louet S17 bobbins have 5:5, 7:5, 10:5 ratios. Those numbers mean for each turn of the wheel, the bobbin has turned 5 1/2, 7 1/2, or 10 ½ times. Bigger number equals faster speed. My wheel for most of it’s early yardage was on 5:5 ratio. For the last couple years it’s been almost exclusively at 7:5 ratio.
I love this wheel for spinning my fleecespun bulky art yarns which I spin from fluffed fleece. The flyer has a ½ inch orifice so anything, included felted flowers, can easily go through it. The bobbin led system pulls the yarn around the bobbin just better for spinning in the fleecespun style. I’ve tried the same yarn on my Ashford and because it’s a flyer led system it doesn’t have the same pull in as the Louet. This is not to say the Ashford is not a good wheel. It does have a place in my spinning world, which I’ll discuss in a later post. The Louet also has huge bobbins so I can easily fit 100 yards+ of bulky handspun on one.
The only thing I would change about the wheel is the treadle. I wish it was a double treadle. My Ashford is a double treadle and I just like it better. Double treadling feels effortless and has less stress on my feet and legs. They do make double treadle Louets with the bobbin led system, which I have looked into along with the Ashford Country Spinner, and the Spinolution Wind, also a bobbin led wheels.
Overall, if you are looking for an entry-level wheel that won’t break the bank I would highly recommend the Louet S17 because of ease of treadling and maintenance, as well as sheer sturdiness. It might not be the most traditional looking wheel, but it will spin many yards of yarn and just keep going.
So exactly how many pounds of Border Leicester have I spun? I lost count years ago, but a guesstimate it’s around 500 pounds. Yes, I love Border Leicester… now. But it wasn’t always this way.
In sheep longwool, I started out with Cotswold wool. Then the farm I purchased my wool from sold their flock. Cotswolds are rare in the US and the fleece is hard to find to start with, and demands a high price per pound.
So to Ebay I went. I buy fleeces from Ebay from time to time. I’ve found some wonderful farms with beautiful wool, and know which sellers to stay away from now because of less than spinning quality wool. As an aside, Etsy also has some great farm sellers, as does the website Local Harvest. But anyway, it was because of Ebay that I found the farm in Tennessee that is one of my staple farms I purchase raw wool from. Of that aforementioned 500 pounds, at least 300 is theirs.
Border Leicester is an English wool breed resulting from crossing English Leicester rams with Teeswater ewes. The breed was supposedly brought to America by George Washington who kept a few at Mount Vernon. Like most longwool sheep, the breed was on the decline during the 20th century until handspinners found the charm and uniqueness of the wool. It is also a good lamb sheep breed, which also saved it from further decline.
Enough of the history lesson. Border Leicester wool is medium to high luster, with wide crimp. I’ve found fleeces in white, as well as shades of brown. Staple length of fleeces that have grown for a year range from 5 to 10 inches. Many farms shear twice a year. It is low grease which makes washing easy. Most of the wool I have found is medium to very soft. Lamb fleeces are very soft, and have a tighter crimp. One lamb fleece had curly ends.
I love spinning the wool and do minimal preparation to keep the crimpy quality of it. All I do is sit in front of the TV and fluff wool locks and spin the slightly opened fleece. I have two wheels, and prefer my Louet S17 for my fleecespun yarns. The bobbin lead system of this wheel versus the flyer lead system on my Ashford Kiwi pulls the yarn onto the bobbin quicker and leads to less chance of overspinning.
I would love to say something poetic about the wool at this point but I will let the pictures of my handspun yarn do the talking.
Breed name get your attention? This name is not out of a comic book, there is a breed of sheep indeed named California Variegated Mutant. So let's go back to the 1960s when a sheep farmer found among his flock of solid color (probably white) Romeldale sheep a multicolored one. Over the years, at random times, the multicolored sheep would be born into the flock. He bred the colored sheep with each other(each of the sheep had different mothers, so they were not inbred with siblings) and bam!- the California Variegated Mutant (CVM for short) breed was born. The wool, like it's Romeldale parentage, is matte lustrous, fine, and soft.
It is a rare breed and wool is not readily available, the skein below if only the second time I have ever spun this breed's wool.