Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Call of the Fleece

There's nothing quite like it; the call of the fleece, that is. You know it when you've been bitten by the fleecelove. It's so hard to resist. So maybe you've learned to spin and now you want to start from scratch. It's a great place to start! There's something so organic about starting with raw fleece. But, you might have some questions. I'm here for you.

Selecting a good fleece can be daunting if you don't know what to look for. Keeping a few key things in mind will make fleece selection easier. So let's say this is your first fleece. Awesome. For first-timers, fleece prep is much more rewarding if good quality medium wools are selected. I would recommend Corriedale, Romney, Finn- or something with a staple length of 3-4 inches for beginning spinners.
Fine wools like Merino, Cormo, or Rambouillet are much more time consuming to scour due to the the fine crimp and excess grease particular to finer wools. Obviously if you are looking for fleece with the utmost durability for weaving a rug, you'll want something coarse and with a long staple. But for our purposes here, let's assume you just want to jump into preparing a medium soft fleece for spinning a variety of yarns.

There are many reputable fleece sellers to be found on Etsy and Ravelry. Personally, I can't resist the pull of the fleece sales at festivals like Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and Rhinebeck. It is important to me to really inspect my purchase. That being said, there are definitely online fleece suppliers I trust, but the ideas herein are geared more toward selecting your fleece in person.

If price matters, you can begin to narrow your selection down by pulling a few medium wool fleeces that are in your price range. Don't be surprised if you fall in love with fleece that is above your price range. That's practically a guarantee! Don't lose heart, though. Friends are often willing to go in together to split the cost of a prize fleece.

Once you have narrowed your selection, ask to examine the whole fleece by unrolling it. It should smell nice and sheepy. You don't want a musty smelling fleece. Here's what you're on the look-out for:

A skirted fleece in which all of the vegetable matter, dung tags, etc. has already been removed is ideal. However, many great quality fleeces have not been skirted. The key is to avoid buying a fleece with excessive amounts of vegetable matter or debris like burrs, hay, thorns, whatever barnyard riff-raff that finds it's tangled way into the fleece. If you don't have access to a picker for the removal of VM, expect to spend a lot of time removing debris by hand. You cannot card it out...carding just breaks up the VM and spreads it throughout the fleece! If you don't mind combing and want to prepare your washed fleece in a worsted fashion, then go for it. Just make sure the price reflects the condition of the fleece. You have the option to choose a fleece that has worn a coat to protect it from VM, but expect to pay more for a coated fleece.

Second cuts. You don't want a fleece with very short fibers left behind when the shearer makes a second pass after not shearing close enough the first time around. When fleece is sold by the pound, no need to pay for a bunch of unusable second cuts wrapped in.

While the fleece is still spread out, inspect a staple from several areas of the fleece to check its integrity. Look for relatively even crimp and unmatted locks. Give the locks a gentle tug. If the tips are weathered and break, you may want to avoid this fleece because the final yarn may show strains in the form of pilling.

Look for stains like canary stains caused by bacterial growth and combined secretions from the animal's oil and sweat glands. Canary stain will affect the color of the fleece more than the integrity. Bacterial overgrowth can be a factor in fleece rot and can be identified by green, blue, brown, even orange or pink discoloration.

Scurf is the presence of skin flakes in the fleece. Scurf is much more visible in dark fleeces. It looks like dandruff and is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to remove. Steer clear of the scurf!

So there you go! Enough info to start diving in.
There's such beauty in natural fleece prepared by you!



Hopefully, these initial tips will have you well on your way to selecting your very own fleece! Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, held May 5-6, 2012, has a terrific array of fleece to choose from. If you are ready to take the plunge, I invite you to consider joining a group of like minded fiber enthusiasts on Monday May 7th at the DragonFly Fiber Studios in Kensington, Maryland for the Fleece U workshop. Bring your fleece and we will hold your hand through the whole process from skirting and scouring to carding, combing and dyeing fleece. It's always a party at the clubhouse. Hope you join us! Details here!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's A Wonderful Life

I can't promise that I've not used this title before. Or, that I never will again. It's true. I reflect on this wonderful life a zillion times a day. So full of fun, family, faith, fiber, friends. Sometimes so full I don't even get to blog about it. Like these past few weeks. Alas, it's all good. So. Full. Of. Love. So full.
Here's what I've been lovin' on lately.

My Mentors



Let me introduce my #1 mentor. She has always
inspired me. I wish I could find a way to articulate all the reasons I love her so. She's had my heart since we met over 21 years ago, when babies were babies and life was much, much simpler. Kathleen is brilliant. Everything she touches is golden. She is loyal, funny (dang she's funny), creative, talented, an actress, mama, friend. Kathleen was my first teacher. She was the first to open doors for me when she taught me to knit. Once upon a time we were free to spend days on end together while drinking coffee and lunching on gourmet food she prepared. She can do it all, this one. And she can do it well. I wish we could hang like the old days, but I carry her in my heart everywhere I go. I wish you all a friend like Kathleen. She has been such a blessing in my life. Thank you for teaching me to knit, Kathleen! Thank you for your friendship.



What hasn't Kate taught me about friendship, life lessons, being free, fiber arts? Herein lies a golden friendship. I met Kate in a spinning circle. What I like best about Kate is her ability to be comfortable in her own skin. She is smart, genuine, talented and kind. So very kind and generous. She has taught me a lot this one. Her support and encouragement mean the world to me. Thank you for your love and friendship, Kate.



My weaving mentor. Linda took me in like a long lost relative. I recognized her on Ravelry, bumped into her last year at Maryland Sheep and Wool, and bonded over lunch at Rhinebeck. She invited me to a beach weekend with her sister and cousins, and taught me to weave. We have so much fun weaving and hanging out. We are all on the same page. I hope we have many more jammie/no makeup weekends in our future. Linda is a very talented fiber artist. Thank you for teaching me and taking me in, Linda! I treasure our friendship.



Oh, the faviest of new friends. Have you ever met someone who instantly felt like a sister? Katey is that person. I admire so much about Katey. She is incredibly talented, generous, funny, honest and wise. This girl has gifts. She's got ur back. I love her so. She was most recently in town for the Dragonfly Fibers Studio Open House and Homespun Yarn Party. She made me the happiest of socks.


She gifted me this adorable crochet book just 'cuz she embraced my love of crochet.


Thanks for the sisterhood, Katey. Wishing you all good things <3.



If you ever wanted to know everything about spinning, Lauren is your girl. She has mentored in many ways from teaching spinning how-to's at spinning meet-ups and Homespun Yarn Party to offering support in many venues. She is the most gifted teacher of the fiber arts that I know. Lauren is one to watch, I tell ya. She's a mover and a shaker and has some seriously cool plans in the works. Stay tuned. You won't want to miss what Lauren has to offer!

My life has been touched by so many mentors...too many to list, but they've been featured in this space before. I've just been counting my lucky stars for these five lately.

New Toys

There are some new toys in the studio these days.
Weaving has taken off with the addition of extra heddles for my Cricket loom-

This was the breakfast table on my last weaving overnight with Linda and her lovely cousin, Elaine. Elaine graciously hosted us for a slumber party/weave fest following the Homespun Yarn Party. It was like being on an indulgent retreat with healthy gourmet meals. Always so fun with Elaine and Linda and their family. Regarding the toys, I just have to order the 5 dent and my Cricket will be complete.


I wanted to promote this company because I'm loving this new vendor. I ordered my new peg loom from Lynette. She built this loom completely to my specifications and we've even teamed up on some product development because she cares so much about her customers and what will work best for them. Kudos to this new company!


Because no one ever has enough spindles and no spindle collection is complete without a trindle. Well, and also because one's friend's cannot be outdone in generosity. This was a gift from who else. Thank you again, generous friend.

New Yarns

My passion for spinning is in the art yarns. Here's the latest.


So this is what has been filling my days lately.

Oh, and hats off to my little undefeated division basketball champion and my sweet little girl belting out Adele at the 5th grade talent show. She sounded more like Adele than Adele, says her biggest fan. So happy for the sweet little accomplishments that have blessed their lives.

Sports 2012 009


These are the joys that have filled my days in March. I hope your life is filled with love and happiness and all things beautiful, too!