It’s spring (maybe)!

Considering that we had snow again today (April 3rd), it’s hard to get in the ‘spring’ mood.  The daffodils are convinced, though, so I’ll go along with them.

And here’s another sign of spring – Easter egg dye packages, on sale for a few days after the holiday.

Yes, I bought ten of them… and if the price goes down further, I’ll buy some more!

They are plain old food coloring, but food coloring can still make some very pretty colors on wool.  These simple, bright (often too-bright) colors can be mixed and overdyed to produce complex and subdued results.

This wool, with the exception of the dark brown Shetland at the bottom of the picture – is all Kool-Aid dyed.  It’s my latest foray into dyeing, and is the beginning of a special project for the Midwest Weavers’ Association Conference this summer.

Each guild associated with Midwest Weavers is encouraged to participate in a special exhibit, based on the guidelines decided upon by the conference committee.  This year, the challenge is to express the Kansas state motto, “Ad astra per aspera” (To the stars through difficulties), as inspired by the wide Kansas skies.

I won’t give any details on the actual project idea to be completed by members of the Wichita Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Guild, but I will share my own personal inspiration picture:


This is the view from our back door… not a house in sight!  It makes me happy.

As much as I hated to, I knew that I’d need to start the dyed wool through the next step on the road to yarn, so I combed some of each color.  The different shades of the dyed Merino fleece blended into colors that I think are a fairly close approximation of some of the colors in my picture.


This snapshot doesn’t do justice to the actual, in-person colors, especially the lavender, but you get the idea.  I decided the day after taking the picture of the uncombed wool that the orange was a little too pale, so I did one final overdye in black cherry Kool-aid.  The picture above has both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ orange shades, since I kept back just a bit of the lighter orange for combing.  Now I just need to say goodbye to the rest of the dyed fleece and comb it so I can get on with the spinning.

It’s always interesting to see what everyone else does, and to see all of our projects arranged on the guild table, AND to see how ours stacks up against the other guild exhibits!  And if our table should just happen to win the prize money, we won’t spend it all in one place.


Well, we didn’t win, but here is a picture of my finished fingerless gloves on our guild’s display table.


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Geek Fleece

To be strictly accurate, it’s not fleece any more, but roving.  Still, “geek roving” isn’t very catchy, is it?  I did a little internet research to figure out whether this is geeky or nerdy – which I guess is pretty geeky in itself.


Light as air, with a bit of shimmer, the wool is much prettier than this picture conveys!

I have been a J.R.R. Tolkien fan ever since I first read his books in 1977… yes, I’m definitely dating myself there.  I’m a quiet fan, never having had the urge to learn to speak Quenya, although it’s important to know the correct pronunciation of all the names and place-names when reading.  I re-read the trilogy every year for a long time, and I was pretty apprehensive about Peter Jackson’s work on translating that treasured story into film.

Leaving aside my annoyance at the completely non-Tolkien invented scenes, the movie trilogy was an incredible masterwork. The attention to detail is just fascinating, with the costuming one really obvious result of that attention.  Jackson decided to use local New Zealand sources as much as possible for all facets of the production, and everyone involved rose to the occasion.

The multiple award-winning costume designer, Ngila Dickson, was not content to just go fabric shopping.  No, she started with fiber on the hoof for at least some of the garments.  Arguably the most iconic were the elven cloaks worn by eight of the nine Fellowship members, excepting only Gandalf, who was otherwise occupied while everyone else was resting and recuperating in Lothlorien.


Tolkien (through Galadriel) described these cloaks as “…of the light but warm silken stuff that Galadhrim wove. It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk silver as water under the stars….Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make…they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need.”



While no wool can claim to shift to green or brown in changing light, the wool used for the cloaks in the movies can certainly be described as grey as twilight and dusk silver.  The New Zealand producer of this wool is Stansborough farm, which is where Stansborough Grey sheep breed was developed from the very old Gotland breed.  Their fleece is fairly long, fine, curly and shiny – looking almost like kid mohair.  The fabric woven from this wool is not quite soft enough for next-to-the-skin wear, but when finely spun and plied, the yarn drapes and flows, and carries a bit of sheen with a slight halo of fiber.


A three-ply finger-spun sample, made as soon as I opened the box!

Since the Stansborough Grey sheep are raised only on the farm where the breed was developed, their wool is understandably scarce, and because it is frequently in demand for film costuming, it doesn’t come on the market very often.  I just happened to have some Christmas money (in our family, the recipient is generally expected to purchase something special that they wouldn’t otherwise spring for), and saw a forum post on Ravelry advertising the roving for sale.  The original purchaser had sent her three fleeces to a small mill for processing, and had since decided to sell part of the wool.  The timing was perfect for me, so I bought a bit over a pound – plenty for a sweater!  The seller, bless her heart, thoughtfully included a copy of the original packing slip as verification of its provenance; knowing how much fun I was going to have with this, she also included a sticky note.


In case you want some Stansborough Grey of your own, there are a few options – for one, you can buy a Fellowship Cloak.  If that’s a little pricey for you, how about a reproduction leaf brooch in a bag made from the cloak fabric from the now-legendary Weta Workshop?  As for me, I’ll just enjoy every minute of the planning and spinning and eventual knitting of my own unique Stansborough sweater.


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Salt City Fiber Works, Part 1

Whenever I have an opportunity to travel, I look for fiber destinations as well; this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  So when we were making plans for a business conference in Syracuse, New York, we decided to tack on a couple of days’ vacation, and the hunt was on for interesting destinations!

Since this was my second time to visit Syracuse, I already knew that I wanted to share Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub with my hubby!  (I HAD to have another go at Beef O’Flaherty… and I couldn’t eat quite all of it this time, either.)  I had also dropped in on a local yarn shop on that first trip, and was looking for something a little different.  And boy, did I find it!  Salt City Fiber Works had sprung up in the meantime, so I sent off an email to ask about a visit.

Therese Bishop turned out to be a charming and easygoing person who was happy to answer my questions.  We sorted through our respective schedules, and settled on a just-after-closing-time visit.

Salt City Fiber Works storefront, at twilight.

I was a little surprised at the small size of their building, considering all the activity that I knew must go on within its walls!  We stepped inside, and found that Therese is just as pleasant in person as she is in correspondence.  We knew she had things to do, so jumped right in to the tour.

She explained that they had done a lot of research and selected their Stonehedge Fiber Mill equipment to fit their needs.  They proceeded with their business plan, trusting their intuition even though (I’m sure) there were plenty of people who didn’t think this was a particularly good time to take the plunge into a new small business.  Doubters have evidently been proven wrong, as Salt City Fiber Works is a flourishing concern with a growing customer base!

They specialize in custom fiber processing, as well as producing their own locally-sourced roving and yarn.  Paperwork for each order follows the fiber through the entire process, ensuring that customers always get their own fiber back.

The fiber washing area. Note the bar with pulley system above the sinks.

The first step is hand washing small batches in a row of commercial sinks.  Ingenuity and attention to detail are obvious everywhere you look – from the nets that hold the fiber and easily move it from one sink to the next to the low-tech but efficient old washing machine (minus agitator) that spins out the water.  Therese does some dyeing, but I gather that most of their custom work does not include that service.

The fiber is then teased apart by hand and dried on net shelving in the drying room.  Temperature and air circulation are carefully watched.

Sliding shelves make it easy to monitor the condition of the clean fleeces.

Once dry, the fiber is taken to the back of the building for machine processing, working its way toward the office and retail sections in the front.

Lovely fleece and fiber is everywhere! The workflow is organized so that each batch follows a specific path from start to finish.

Meet the picker, a truly evil-looking piece of equipment! It really can be dangerous, but is invaluable in opening up the fiber and removing much of the vegetable matter.

What you can’t see here are the sharp teeth inside! Even with the enclosure and safety switches, their electrician made them promise to unplug it before they did any kind of cleaning or maintenance.

The picked fiber is now ready for carding.  Some fibers are blended here, by percentage based on weight, others are simply weighed for the optimal 4 ounces per batch.

The carding machine can produce batts, cloud or roving.

Fiber is run through the card, and usually coils neatly into cardboard barrels, but it was much easier to photograph without the barrel!

Beautiful! I thought it would be ready to spin… but I was wrong.

Now comes pin drafting.  We didn’t get to see this one in action, since it processes several ‘leads’ of fiber together.  These leads may all be from the same source, or fibers may be blended here.

Barrels of carded fiber are set here to feed the pin drafter…

…and the resulting sliver is more aligned and refined, ready to be spun.

All of this processing takes considerable time and personal attention; each fleece or type of fiber needs something just a little different to bring out its best qualities.  In my opinion, this kind of customer service is one of the reasons that Salt City Fiber Works is thriving.  I know that I would be delighted to pack up and send any of my fiber halfway across the country, knowing that it – and I! – would be treated with care and respect.

Next up – actual spinning!

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Fair time!

It has rolled around again, and I wasn’t as ready as I wanted to be for the 2012 Kansas State Fair.  I know, big surprise, right?  Well, I lost some knitting time after DH’s old laptop went wacko, and it turned out to be the most problematic rescue-and-rebuild I have ever done.  I still don’t know why, but that’s water under the bridge now.

Anyway, I did finish my Watercolor Lace cardigan, for which I used Araucania’s Lontue.  It’s a hand-dyed 50/50 cotton/linen blend yarn, and the colorway I chose is muted lavenders, blues, purples, fuschias and greens, called Jeweled Rainbow.

Not the best picture, but it’s what I could get in the morning before heading off to the fairgrounds!

The pattern is Suzanne Lace Cardigan.  I ended up starting over several times, mostly because it took a few tries for the lace pattern to sink in, and partly because I decided to modify the neck shaping.  The glimmery shell buttons pick up the colors in the yarn in a very subtle and pleasing way.  I’ve worn this a couple of times, and have been surprised at the variety of colors in my wardrobe that complement it!

Things I did NOT get done in time:

Beverly Royce’s Stuffed Pony, an ingenious seamless project knit back and forth on two needles, using a double knitting technique.  I spun up some approximately fingering-weight yarn from the dark brown Shetland fleece I purchased in July, and will use a few locks of colored kid mohair for the mane and tail.  The body, neck and head are finished, and I’m ready to start on the legs.  I can’t wait to get my Shetland Pony done!  It’s a fascinating and challenging knit, and I have learned a lot.  And then, of course, I won’t have to push to be ready for next year’s “Hand knit item of handspun yarn” fair class.

Yarn spun from last year’s Grand Champion fleece.  My master plan was to enter the yarn this year, then a knitted item next year, to complete the circle of competition.  The plan still lives, but is sitting out a year.  After I finished combing all the wool I had washed, it weighed just under the minimum for a skein.  Then, too, I wonder how a ‘plain white wool yarn’ would compete in that class against whatever lovely colors, unusual fibers, and art yarns might be entered.  So maybe I’ll play with dyeing it for next time… indigo would be nice!

And finally, my non-textile entry, a Viking knit bracelet:

Yes, that is actually a rose in the background!

I had been thinking about this for a while, and finding out last year – to my amazement – that there were NO jewelry entries was the perfect motivation to get it done.  The rondelle beads are ‘Persian turquoise’ with pyrite inclusions, and the round ones are some kind of dyed stone that I picked up a while back.  This, too, is something I will probably wear quite a bit!

I may not find out for a while how they did, but whatever happens in the judging, I’m happy with the way these projects turned out.

Posted in jewelry, My Projects | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments