Woohoo! I got my new Spin-Off magazine in the mail this weekend and I had
fun thumbing through it and reading some of the articles this weekend. Since carding is coming up in my fleece series, the advice on carding and blending will come in handy. One article about spinning wool embroidery thread caught my attention since I have enjoyed embroidery in the past. There are also projects for spinning to knit, and spinning to weave. There were, however, no projects for crochet.
This is the third Spin-Off magazine I’ve received and there have been no spin for crochet projects. In fact, I’ve noticed this lack throughout the spinning world. Googling did lead me to ONE (only one!) e-book from Interweave Press called “Spin-Off Presents: Spinning for Crochet,” so I bought it. (As a side note, I do not usually buy e-books because 1) I do have and do not want a device to read them anywhere I want, 2) they are usually the same price as regular publications, minus the shipping, and 3) I’m old fashioned in some respects and I enjoy holding a book.) After skimming the e-book, I found some interesting tips, which I intend to use in my fleece project; I also plan to make some of the patterns, as well.
So, do people spin to crochet?
We do know that people in the past have spun to crochet. They had to, especially when thread was not widely available in stores. How else did ladies of the past produce antimacassars, doilies and lace? I imagine, however, with the advent of the mass production of thread, spinning to crochet became increasingly unnecessary. Why not start again though? Crocheters don’t only produce items made with thread. We are interested in a variety of yarns and projects just as are knitters. Some of us, like myself, even choose not to knit. The last time I tried, I felt like I was trying to keep wet noodles on a ceramic chopstick. It took ten minutes for me to put those knitting needles back in my kitchen drawer for making ebelskiversandto take up my hook once again.
I do realize that I did not give knitting a fair chance and I admire the beautiful items that knitters create. However, there are now so many crochet techniques to learn and so many wonderful patterns that I can happily crochet for the rest of my life without bothering to knit. Spinning now adds to that pleasure and I would like to see more articles geared toward people like me.
What are your opinions on this?
P.S. I receive no compensation from for the links in this article, I’m just sharing. If you enjoy spinning and do not receive this Spin-Off magazine, it is a great resource.
The other day, I put up a video about washing our fleece. In it, I said that we were going to wash our fleece as white as snow, just like the Bible says. Well, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this phrase actually comes from a childhood nursery rhyme rather than the Bible.
Mary had a little lamb, His fleece was white as snow, And everywhere that Mary went, The lamb was sure to go.
I said it off the cuff and after thinking about it and Googling the verse, I realized that the Bible doesn’t actually use the phrase “his fleece was white as snow.” Here is the verse I was thinking of:
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18, NRSV
“White as snow” and “white as wool” are certainly inferred but the phrase “white as snow” is not there. That just shows how easy it is to mix culture and scripture.
Okay. So now while my cheeks cool down from embarrassment, I’d like to talk about why I am working from fleece to make yarn. It seems a little crazy to do this because I work full time and there is also an entire Etsy store full of yarn at my disposal. I also have my own stash of yarn and well, it’s a lot. And now that I have started spinning, I have roving to turn into yarn. Why start from a fleece? Have I lost my mind? Why put in all of this work when it is so easy to buy yarn?
There’s just something about working from scratch
I blame Laura Ingalls Wilder for this. As a child I read every one of her books several times. To me it only seemed natural that I should make my own rag doll after reading about Laura making one for herself. And then when the little pinked squares of sample fabric came in the mail, I reasoned that these could be a small quilt for my Barbies. Even though the doll was ugly and the little quilts were polyester, the fun was in putting those things together.
Reading about Laura’s family making maple candy and syrup, smoking their meat, making hats, baskets and dresses, apple pie from green pumpkin and all of the other things they made for themselves awakened a desire within me to make from scratch – never mind the fact that the lack of stores on the prairie meant that the Ingalls family had to do this stuff, I wanted to do it too.
This translated later into my married life early on when we had small children and were broke. We had a garden so I canned as much as I could. Bread was also expensive and I had children who liked sandwiches, so I learned how to make it from scratch. I also cooked our meals from scratch because we couldn’t afford ready-made ingredients. The thing was that making things from scratch was – and still is – better than most things you will get ready made at the store or in a restaurant.
Building it from the “ground up” feels good
Just like making a dinner from from scratch, using fresh ingredients or food that I processed, feels good in that it makes me more conscious of quality ingredients, making my yarn is the same thing. The fleece I have is good and healthy. I can feel good about the yarn it will yield because I am working hard to process it in the best way I can. There is just a deep level of satisfaction here that buying ready-made yarn produced in mass does not provide.
All of this provides connection with the past
I’m not saying that making my own yarn connects me with my ancestors in a deep mystically weird sense, but it does connect me with the human condition. It makes me appreciate all of the time it takes to process clothing or household goods in a society where everything is virtually at our fingertips, and near instant gratification is the standard. It makes me appreciate all of the effort our ancestors put into survival. It gives me pause for thought regarding how all of this came to be and how God gave us the wisdom to develop our clothing and everything else we use. This leads to my last reason
It gives me a greater sense of awe
Imagine the days when people lived in caves and basically hunted for and gathered their food. They were nomadic people who – no matter what Paleo diet lovers will tell you – didn’t eat very well. One day, however, someone figured out that if you plant enough seed a field of food will result. Or, if you dry the leftovers from meat there could be enough for winter. What was it like to discover that you could take the wool off a sheep and spin it into strong continuous string with a rock and a stick? How many generations did it take to work this process out? This one string led to warm functional garments and then to beautiful garments. From it, people built tents and sails, which eventually led to the discovery of new lands. It’s all mind boggling and awesome at the same time. How did this all happen? The fact that we can get beautiful, functional clothing from a sheep or a plant is the mark of a wonderful Creator who thought of our welfare long before we discovered it. Buying clothing in mass takes away from this sense of awe. We need to rediscover it.
On Saturday, Mike and I got up a little earlier than usual to work on washing our fleece. It’s a good thing we did because the process took quite a while with having to heat up water multiple times. Cranking the gas up on the burner sped things up.
As the video shows, we split the fleece into small sections. Since we had never done this before, we decided to go with one small section of the fleece and start from there. Next time we will wash two bags at a time because there is room for it.
Our turkey fryer pot has a 30 quart capacity. We are looking for a used 45 – 60 quart stock pot. New ones are quite expensive.
Equipment we used:
Large size mesh laundry bags (pretty cheap at Lowe’s or Walmart)
Turkey fryer, gas ring and temperature gauge
Dawn dish detergent
I am not sure how much the fleece weighed. We washed about one-tenth of the entire fleece itself.
In the video and here on the list of equipment we used, I mentioned that we used soft water. In her book, The Practical Spinner’s Guide to Wool, Kate Larson gives a good explanation regarding how the hardness of water – meaning what types and the quantity of minerals present – really affects how well your detergent works. In our town, the town government provides soft water for indoor use and hard water for outdoor use (in other places I’ve lived we’ve had to use a water softener). The softened water allows detergents to work better because minerals like calcium and magnesium are removed, thus making detergent more effective. For our purposes we hooked up a hose and ran it to our garage so that we could wash the fleece in the garage.
For the most part, our weather is unusually mild this winter. Last winter we would not have been outdoors doing anything unless we were bundled up (and I probably would have used the washing machine). This year we wore light sweatshirts. Weird, huh?
The two books I have – Start Spinning, by Maggie Casey, and the one previously mentioned above – both give similar, yet different steps to washing wool. We used Maggie Casey’s method this time. Next time we are going to incorporate a step from Kate Larson’s book.
For the first washing, we heated our water between 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (this temperature was found in Kate Larson’s book) and then stirred in approximately a quarter cup of Dawn. We then dunked our fleece that was bagged in a laundry bag, into the water and left it alone for 15 minutes. When the 15 minutes was up, we removed the fleece. The water was very brown and gross. We let the fleece drain on the apron of our driveway and dumped the water. Then we filled the pot again and heated the water to the same temperature.
When the water reached the temperature we added about half as much Dawn, and dunked the fleece, leaving it again for 15 minutes. When this second washing was completed the water was remarkably cleaner, almost clear. It just looked like dishwater. We were then ready to rinse.
In the first rinse, we heated our water again to the same temperature. Once it reached that temperature we added a “glug” (Casey’s word) of regular white vinegar. I figure that this was around a cup. Maybe. We dunked the fleece and this time we had to hold it down into the water because it wanted to rise and it was bubbling a lot. We just used a board and were careful not to agitate the fleece. If you agitate the fleece any where in the process you will felt the fleece. If you are planning to spin you do not want that. We let the fleece soak in the hot water vinegar bath for 10 minutes. Why vinegar, you ask? It neutralizes the detergent.
After this, we drained the water and then heated up more water to the same temperature. We did not add anything to this load but just dunked the fleece, held it down and let it soak for 10 minutes. This plain water rinse removes the vinegar smell.
After the final rinse, I hung the bag on the clothesline to let it drip and cleaned up the mess. I then took the bag down and rolled the fleece, which was still in the bag, up in a towel to dry it further. I then removed it from the bag, spread it out on a towel on my craft table and set up a fan to circulate the air, as Kate Larson suggested.
One of the really cool things about wool is that it holds up to three times its weight in water before the person wearing it feels wet. What this also means is that this fleece is going to take a few days to dry thoroughly. I want to make sure that it is dry before moving to the next step so that I don’t damage the wool.
You can see that the fleece is now really soft and fluffy. You can also see that there are spots of VM (Vegetable Matter) in it. While the fleece is still wet, you will want to resist the urge to start pulling the VM out of the fiber. Wool is weak when it is wet so pulling on this VM will break some of your fiber. We will begin removing it in the next step.
This process took us about two hours. We do anticipate a quicker wash time next time because we’ll know more of what we’re doing. During the waiting time we did some yard clean up and enjoyed the fresh air. I even found a live lady bug in one of our planters (in February?!?!).
I’m still chewing on Changing the World, a post I wrote a little while back. In it I claimed that God uses normal, everyday people using their ordinary, everyday talents to change their world. I talked about how often church teaching is easily misconstrued so that people think that they have to be famous or doing something big in order to change the world. The post did get some attention and I hope that it encouraged the people who read it to use their talents, no matter what they are, for good.
Since writing the post, I still think about this from time to time. I have had discussions with several people about this very thing. One of my sons is still in high school. He mentioned that he had not done anything of consequence because he did not have enough opportunities. His thinking was that once he left high school he would have more chances.
“Hey,” I said. “I just wrote a blog post on that.” I told him what the blog post was about, and how I thought that he was making a difference right now. He asked how. I mentioned several things, one of them was how he led Bible studies for his Fellowship of Christian Athletes group.
“Yeah,” he said, nonplussed. “But that’s what I should be doing.”
The other day I was listening to Christian radio as I drove home from Pueblo – it’s about an hour’s drive and the music keeps me from zoning out. One thing I like about this station is that it plays a lot more music than commercials and the disc jockeys don’t talk very much. However, this day was different. The two announcers were talking a lot about a sermon that one of their pastors had preached on being extraordinary for Christ. As I listened, I realized that they were chewing on the very same issue from my former post, but from what the two described, simple obedience meant that you were extraordinary. One of the disc jockeys mentioned that he has trouble talking to people when he feels the Lord nudge him. He said that he needed to talk to those people so that he could be extraordinary for Christ.
That really troubled me because not only is it a selfish look at obedience, but it also says that obedience (which is what it was called when I was younger) means that you are out of the ordinary. To me, however, “extraordinary” living for Christ means that you died as a martyr, or dedicated your life to serving the poor, like Mother Teresa, or some other behavior that clearly falls outside what most of us consider the norm. But I suspect that if you could ask a martyr, or Mother Theresa if they thought they were “extraordinary,” they would tell you … “Well, no … I am just being obedient to God’s call for me.”
Let me put it in a cultural rather than spiritual context. In the series, “Band of Brothers,” the real Dick Winters talks about one day having his grandchildren ask him, “Were you a hero in the war, grandpa?” And he answers them, “No, I was not a hero … but I served in a company of heroes.” Most of us would see Winters as a hero because he was their leader. He did not see himself as one; but he did see his fellows in that light. He saw them all as “extraordinary.”
We live in a culture in which everyone is told that they are going to make their mark. Speeches at the high school graduations I’ve attended tell all of the students that they are going to do great things and be extraordinary. They are going to change the world. Yet, as I looked at each of those students sitting there, I realized that most of them would be regular people. Some of them would get a college degree. Most of them would work regular jobs to earn a living. Most of them would probably have children and spend a major portion of their lives shuttling the little people around. Maybe one of them would win a lottery and get rich. Yet, later in life, if they remembered those speeches and contrasted them with their current lives and accomplishments, they would probably all feel like they weren’t important, that they hadn’t truly done anything with their lives.
In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, there are three servants, each of whom the master gave a certain amount of money. They were to do something with this money while he took a trip, so that he would have more money when he returned. The first servant, who had the most money, took the money and doubled it. The second servant, who had a little less than the first servant, also doubled his portion. The master was very pleased with them. The third servant, however, greatly displeased the master. He only had one talent of money and instead of trying to figure out how to use that one talent he buried it so that he wouldn’t lose it.
“Why didn’t you put it in the bank?” the master said. “At least I would have gained interest!”
With that, he threw the servant out and gave the talent to the first servant.
The parable is more dramatic than I have made it here, but you can understand where Jesus was going with this. Use what you have or lose it. In fact, if we don’t use what we have it is disobedience and this greatly displeases God, so much so that the parable says that the servant was “worthless” and was thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
For those of us who struggle with the feeling that we’ll never do something truly important, the parable brings hope and rest. To me it says that I am to use what I have, as best I can, and God will be my reward and will also bring results. Don’t worry about being famous or doing what humanity considers great, just do good with what you have and let God handle whatever results, such as changing the world. Just rest in God’s pleasure and be glad. I am finding that life is more fulfilling that way.
Now, how does all this fit in with an observation often wrongly attributed to Henry David Thoreau?
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
P.S. This post contains pictures of our family just doing normal things and having a great time doing it. No one won any awards but all of us shared our talents in someway on these days and it was good for everyone.
An interesting aroma wafted from the box as I tore the tape from it. I knew it was sheep fleece, but I had never smelled anything like that previously. It didn’t have a musty smell, so that was good. It just smelled like barnyard.
Barnyard is not a bad smell, really. Most people think of manure when you mention a barnyard, but the fleece did not smell like that. It just had a woodsy, outdoorsy, windblown scent – the kind of scent that makes you want to be outdoors singing “Climb Every Mountain” or something.
Climbing mountains is not what this post is about, however.
This post is about skirting a fleece.
My sources for this new adventure in spinning are:
Start Spinning by Maggie Casey
The Practical Spinner’s Guide to Wool by Kate Larson
I bought both books from Interweave Store. I am also not receiving any compensation for this free advertising.
This video helped me understand skirting:
What is Skirting?
If you’re new to fiber processing like I am, you are probably wondering what skirting is. Well, basically, if you haven’t watched the above video, skirting is the process of removing vegetable matter (VM), thinner wool, dung tags (yes, yuck) and matted fiber from areas around the sheep’s legs, tail and neck. Remember, sheep are barnyard animals, so they can’t help the fact that they sometimes wear a little of what they eat or lie down in. They also can’t clean up after certain activities as well as we humans, so skirting is necessary to get that stuff off. Some spinners will say that buying an unskirted fleece is less desirable and I would agree with that if I were paying by the pound. In this case, however, I wasn’t so that didn’t matter. Besides, I really wanted to start from the beginning as much as I could. I obviously could not shear the sheep so skirting seemed like a logical start. This fleece was also pretty clean even though it wasn’t skirted.
Skirting Upside Down
Here is a video that my husband Mike took of the skirting process. Just to let you know, I made an error. You should skirt with the cut side down. I said this in the video but then I proceeded to skirt with the cut side up. I didn’t fully realize this until I watched the video later and by then it was too late. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
It took about an hour start to finish. The fibers on the Navajo Churro fleece are very long too so I found it a little more difficult to take the unwanted fibers off. The lady in the demonstration above didn’t seem to have difficulty at all, but that is probably due to the length of fiber in her fleece and her experience. She looked like she knew how to skirt a sheep.
Filming that day was my husband Mike. Stephen, my youngest son, is also in the video and he was holding our Alien Bee Light. The dog Chuck also made an appearance because he was sticking his nose through the fence to smell what the heck was going on. He must have thought it smelled natural enough because he lost interest.
Here are some pictures. If we are going to get really serious about this, we’ll build a table that has chicken wire in the middle so that VM can drop off the fleece onto the ground, but plywood, a canvas and sawhorses are good enough for now.
I also found that wearing the gloves was a good idea, especially when I had to pick off a dung tag. That was gross, but it wasn’t huge or wet so we’re good. As in the case of handling all animals you want to make sure that you practice sanitary measures and handling a fleece is no different. After handling our fleece we all washed our jackets and jeans (and my gloves) and scrubbed up.
All in all, I am finding this a very satisfying experience. There is something about making things from scratch that just makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Last Thursday I had posted that a very large box had arrived in the mail. In fact, it looked like I had received a chair.
In fact, for all the dog knew it was a chair. He was not interested. But, it was not a chair. The contents were part of the year’s Master Plan. A plan that would catapult me into a new era of crafting and “makery”. It was a Navajo Churro fleece.
Now spinning is a new activity for me. I have crocheted for years and only recently have I taken an interest in making my own yarn. My interest grew from a skein of combed top that my son gave me for my birthday. To process it, I thought it might be interesting to spin so I bought a drop spindle. That drop spindle stayed in a drawer until I took a drop spindling class. From there my interest snowballed. In October, 2015, my husband surprised me with a Schacht Matchless Spinning Wheel* while we were at the Taos Wool Festival. Then, after watching videos and using two books for reference, I spun my first skein of yarn. What fun!
So now, with the arrival of that box, I will now begin a new endeavor – making yarn from a fleece just like people used to do for survival before machinery took over the major part of processing fiber.
First of all, I want to say that I did not expect to receive my fleece so soon. I expected to start my project in the summer or maybe in the fall, but for some reason I decided to look up Navajo Churro fleece on Etsy one night. From this search I came across Cheryl from Lots a Vintage. Cheryl and her family raise Navajo Churro sheep and she said that she had some fleece on hand. She gave me a great deal too. I could not pass this up, so not only did I receive my fleece earlier than expected, I also received it for a lot less than I expected.
Why Navajo Churro?
Why did I purchase Navajo Churro? For several reasons. I spun my first skein of yarn with some Navajo Churro fleece that I picked up at the Taos Wool Festival. These sheep also have long fibers, so spinning this fleece is a lot easier for a beginner like me. I also wanted Navajo Churro because there is so much history behind this fleece here in the West. The Navajo Indians have been using it to stay toasty for centuries. They have also used it to weave their beautiful rugs and blankets and continue to use it still. Here are some pictures that Cheryl sent me of her sheep:
The fleece I acquired is from one a white sheep named either Donnie or Phillip. Cheryl says that the sheep are her family’s pets so I felt assured that the fleece were well taken care of. This is important because care of the sheep affects the strength of its wool.
I hope you will find this journey interesting. My next post in this series will be on skirting wool.