Feb 14, 2010

A Valentine For Clax

This rhymey poem, dear Claxton,
Holds a special thanks from me.
I'm grateful that you tolerate,
 My fiber odd-yssey.

You could have me commited.
It's not that hard to do.
It's not like there's no evidence,
to push the verdict through.

For, if you chose to testify,
(and thus incriminate)
A quick commitment hearing,
would securely seal my fate.

It was you who found our crock pot stuffed,
with wool and walnut hulls.
(They dye a lovely brown that's
colorfast and never dulls.)

And, you know the salad spinner's
only used to spin dry wool.
And, that your brand new shaving brush
is now a fiber tool.

And, how our pasta roller,
Is now my cotton gin.
And that all these crazy antics,
Make you weary, weak and thin.

Yes! You could prove insanity,
Quite easily enough.
And then you would be shed of me...

But, stuck with all my stuff!

Happy Valentine's Day!
So, here is a miniature heart just for Clax. That's right, made entirely of wool that was freshly scoured and then one half dyed a cheery red just this last Friday. The fleece has been spread out on towels drying in our hallway. (Clax has had to take quite a detour to get up and down the staircase but, he'll surely think it all worthwhile when he receives this, his 100th woolen giftie!)

Feb 5, 2010

Secret Stash

Last night I was oh-so despondent and this morning I'm oh-so very happy. Last night I thought I was almost out of wool. When I say, "almost out" I don't really mean all the wool on my multiple shelving units, or the wool in the big box that is for sharing when teaching classes, I mean I thought I was almost out of undyed wool. When I say "undyed wool" I don't mean the two raw fleeces I have yet to scour, or the two scoured fleeces I plan to drum card soon, or the undyed Corriedale rovings for felting or the Icelandic roving for the study group, I mean undyed, commercially prepared, combed top. Last night I thought I only had a half pound left. So you can understand why I was despondent!

This morning, however, as I was packing for a spinning class I noticed a lovely carry-all that had been tucked away. I figured it might be handy for lugging teaching supplies and samples. Lo and behold it was a secret stash of combed top - a stash so top secret it was unbeknownst even to myself!

Wahoo! This happened once before when I surprised myself with a 1/2 pound of lustrous alpaca roving but, that was a long, long time ago. I dashed to the scale to quantify my delight:

TwO-PoInT-SeVeN-FiVe-PoUnDs! That's over 44 oz. That's eleven 4 oz braids I can dye. (I'm really having fun dying 4 oz braids.)

Best of all, Claxton was still asleep when this discovery was made. I had just spoken with Mr. Clax last night about needing to make a very large purchase in the very near future - and, make no mistake I still do. But, Claxton needn't know about this discovery... for good reason:

Seven years ago I accidently left my purse on the roof of the van and Claxton noticed it. For seven years, whenever we go anywhere or return from anywhere or think about going or returning from anywhere Claxton says, "Do you have your purse?" Three years ago I stopped carrying a purse so he started saying, "Do you have everything you need?"

Exhibit B: Five years ago I caught a great sale on taco seasoning packets (10 for a dollar). Ever the thrifty shopper I purchased a few dollars worth. When I got home there was CLAXTON unpacking and putting away our groceries when he comes across the packets.
     "Why would you buy all of these?" He askes.
     "Because they were on sale, they're handy and they really jazz up our bean dishes." I say.
Claxton lifts the lid on my Grandmother's old ceramic cookie jar where apparently I had been storing several taco seasoning packets. Again, this was five years ago, we have long since used up all of the taco seasoning packets from that dark day of my "crazy shopping" episode and still, to this day whenever I bring home any type of seasoning packet, be it gravy, chili, fajita or the infamous taco Claxton always says, "Are you sure we don't have 500 of these tucked away somewhere?"

I rest my case and whisper to you now, the secret stash of wool has been carefully tucked in with the regular stash and we shall never speak of it again. 

Feb 2, 2010

Scouring a Raw Fleece ~ I Love You Mini Spin Dryer!

Well, last post I was dying wool and might have mentioned how I had a bit of a strange urge to bite into the colorful fibers. I figured, "O.K. That's odd but, not surprising. After all I am stricken with the chronic fiber fever that plagues so many, many knitters, hand spinners, weavers, etc., (we know who we are)... Perhaps if I dye wool for all the rest of the day I'll be satisfied and this urge to nibble wool will pass.

Four big, fluffy, (delicious looking) braids later I began to worry. Time to nip these unnatural feelings in the bud. But how?

Cleaning a freshly shorn fleece in preparation for making one's own hand spun yarn is a bit of a right of passage for the hard-core spinster. I've scoured many a fleece and can tell you in no uncertain terms that the process, while most satisfying, is anything but scrumptious.

There's plenty of barn yard aroma and sticky lanolin in the above locks to draw a person back into the here and now believe you me. Time for a hot soak in a sudsy mix of water and Orvus Paste or Dawn Dish liquid.

Either will work very well in getting the grease out of the fleece. I will say I'm rather partial to the Orvus paste. (You can find it wherever fine livestock products are sold.)

There's no real secret to this process beyond settling the fibers into hot water that has a big dollop of Orvus or Dawn. You want your cleaning agent to disolve into the hot water before dropping in the fleece but, only stir to disolve don't get a bunch of suds going.  The real trick is in remembering to not agitate the fibers while they soak. This is another odd temptation for the fiber addict to overcome. There's a powerful urge to get in there and swish and swish the wool clean. Great way to make felt. Poor way to scour a fleece in preparation for spinning. Just let those fibers sink down into the bath then gently lift them out of the very brown water.

Believe me the water will be brown. (A raw fleece is like a big ol' poo, poo tea bag steeping...and, yay, my appetite is curbing.)

It is also important to remember to remove the wool before the water cools down enough to allow the lanolin to become gummy again and adhere once more back onto the fibers. Next, drop the wool into a rinse of hot, clean water. Again, no swishing and no running water directly over the fibers. Also, no sudden temperature changes for these are all great ways to turn a downy fleece into a matt of felted fabric. The rinse bath might need to be repeated a few times. You want to dip your fleece into fresh, hot rinse water baths until you notice that the water remains clear. 

 Now, to dry the fleece you don't want to squeeze or bunch up or twist or roll into towels and jump up and down on... or treat your poor fibers to any other cruel water removal madness. Centrifugal force is your friend here. I used to love using a simple salad spinner. But, heavy wet wool can wear those little contraptions out rather quickly. Some folks use the spin cycle on their washing machine. That is fine as well. You can also place the fiber into a netting bag or pillow case, take it outside and swing it around and around wildly over your head sending sprays of water out in every direction.  All of these methods utilize centrifugal force to get the moisture out of the wool.

Here is my new, most absolute favorite way to spin dry a fleece:
It's a countertop spin dryer from The Laundry Alternative and I love, love, love it! (The coffee can is pictured just to give you a size perspective because this mini spin dryer is deceivingly large.) I was happily surprised with how much fiber fit comfortably inside!

The spin dryer is primarily marketed to folks who wish to cut down on utility expenses when doing laundry because it pulls out far more water than the typical spin cycle would on a large washing machine thereby cutting drying time down tremendously. Also, I used it between wash and rinse baths and the spinner really drew the soapy suds out of the wool. The very first rinse bath was crystal clear! And, I have to say I loved how fluffy soft the wool came out of this little contraption.

Look how sparkling clean! Couldn't you just eat that up?
(And I've come full circle.)