Thursday, May 28, 2015

Finding a gem of a fleece

Today I have been working with a beautiful Icelandic fleece I got at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I didn't get it at the fleece sale - if there had been any Icelandic there, they were gone by the time I was looking for them. I bought mine at the Icelandic Breeders booth. There were several fleeces there and I looked at possibly all of them until I found one that really caught my eye.

The one that caught my eye wasn't as large as most of the others, and it cost less per pound than the others. It was white with small brown patches throughout, but what really caught my eye was that the thel (the softer part of the dual coat) looked exceptionally soft and wonderful. The woman I talked to, to ask about it happened to own the farm from which this fleece came. She explained that it cost less per pound than the others because it wasn't skirted. She sounded apologetic about this, but it didn't bother me. I had pawed through the bag and was satisfied that it wasn't exceptionally dirty - in fact I found it  a little hard to believe that it hadn't been skirted. When I said I would like to buy it she asked if I had seen that it was spotted, and I said yes. She seemed apologetic about that, too. I don't know why, because I came out of that booth thinking that I had gotten by far the best fleece of the bunch. And I still think that.

I've been separating tog (the longer, courser part of the dual coat) from thel  today and am looking forward to the day when I can spin the different fibers up. I am really wanting a loom now because I would dearly love to weave this up into a shawl or a small blanket, using the tog as warp and the thel as weft.

I have the contact information for the farm and when I am finished processing this fleece I want to contact the woman and let her know how special this fleece has been. For some reason, I don't think she realized what a gem this fleece was and I want to make sure she knows how much pleasure it's giving me to work with it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 2015

 
I had a great time at the 2015 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival over the past weekend. I scored some really lovely fleeces, saw lots of sheep, bought lots of fiber and fiber-related things, took a class with the lovely Maggie Casey, got to be in the same room as said Maggie Casey and Judith MacKenzie at the same time, and watched part of the sheep-to-shawl competition.
 
 This is a gorgeous mutlti-colored Icelandic fleece that I got at the Icelandic Sheep Breeder's booth. It is just so lovely and I can't wait to start processing it:
 

 
This is a very lovely Romeldale x Rambouillet fleece I got. A note tucked in with the fleece said that the owner's sheep hadn't been coated this year because they were hired by Apple to graze under their solar panels to keep the grass shorn instead of using lawn mowers (the coats snag on the panels). It's so nice when a little information is included with the fleece:
 

I also got  a very lovely California Red fleece, and a very lovely Finn x BFL fleece. I'm excited about all of my fleeces this year and can't wait to see what types of yarns they will produce.

As I mentioned, I watched part of the sheep-to-shawl competition. It started at 8:00 AM with the shearing of the sheep and ended at about noon with the judging of the finished and washed shawls. The shawls were auctioned off after the completion. Here are some pictures of the teams, they all had themes, the most notable of which was the OZ team. In some of the pictures you can see the freshly-shorn fleeces that the teams are carding, spinning, and weaving into their shawls:





 
And last but not least, here is a picture of a little Barbados Blackbelly lamb. I love walking through the barns with the sheep pens, there are so many different breeds all in one place. The Barbados Blackbellies  were very distinctive and are prized for their lean and mild-tasting meat. They are a hair breed, meaning that they don't produce wool. Their hair is very stiff, almost like a bristle-brush - at least the mother of this little lamb felt like that when I petted her:
 

My California Red fleece actually has some Barbados Blackbelly in it! California Reds resulted in a cross of Tunis sheep and Barbados Blackbelly. I got a really nice fleece, I think it was the softest of the handful of California Reds there were to choose from. I'm looking forward to working with this wool - I love trying out new breeds and crosses that I haven't had a chance to work with before.

I am busy washing fleeces now, along with all of my other woolly and fiber pursuits.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Using Tow Flax

 
When processing flax, most of it becomes tow flax - the shorter fibers that stay behind in the hackles when hackling the flax. So you have a lot of this shorter stuff, much of which is quite nice.
 
Lately, I've been hankering to use my tow flax and have been experimenting with blends. I made a small sample blend of flax, cotton and silk. I carded the fibers and spun it up into a few yards and then knitted a small swatch. It was very nice, but a cat found it during the night and took it off somewhere, probably the basement to its hidey-hole, so I don't have any pictures of that swatch. 
 
I really liked the linen/cotton/silk blend, but decided I wanted to stick to all-plant-based fibers for a project I have in mind. So I tracked down some ramie, which is a bast fiber gotten from a type of nettle. I used my hand cards to make a small sample of a roughly 33/33/33 blend of flax, cotton and ramie. I spun the blend up into a few yards of a 3-ply yarn.
 
Below you can see the materials and the resultant swatch (click on the pictures to see them larger): 
 
Tow flax, cotton, ramie, and the blend in a knitted swatch.

And here is a closer look at the swatch:


Linen, cotton, ramie blend, approx. 33/33/33.

The linen/cotton/ramie is also a very nice blend. The project I have in mind for it is the Leksak Lady, found on Ravelry. The pattern calls for worsted weight, which I think would be a bit heavy in this blend, so I'm hoping I can successfully alter the pattern for a thinner gauge of yarn. If not, then I'll search for another suitable pattern for this yarn.

I'm planning on dyeing the yarn with natural dyes, possibly goldenrod or tesu or onion skins for a nice golden yellow color.

Anyway, that's how I'm hoping to use the tow flax I have on hand right now. The resulting yarn should be comfy and breathable. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Where I bought my flax seeds for 2015

When I first started growing flax, I bought my flax-for-linen seeds from The Hermitage. They sell Marylin variety of seeds from the Netherlands, which is one of the main varieties for linen flax. The only problem I had was that the seed came coated in nasty chemicals meant to prohibit diseases that flax is prone to.

I didn't really like that idea, so I saved my seeds from one year's crop to plant the next year. This worked well, but I didn't produce quite enough seed last year to plant my regular amount. I searched for a source of fiber flax seed that was uncoated. It was hard to find, but I did find a source of uncoated Marylin flax seed. The original source of the seed is again the Netherlands, but the shop from which I bought the seed is in the U.K. The shop is Wild Fibres. Click HERE for the link to their flax seed page.



I have about 5 ounces of my own seed saved, plus 8 ounces from Wild Fibers. I'm very happy and can't wait for planting time. I usually plant 8 ounces, so I should have plenty for this year.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Last year's flax crop is finally ready to spin!

 
I finally got all of my 2014 flax crop broken, scutched and hackled. I was late in planting last year, and therefore late in harvesting and late in getting the crop retted. By the time the flax was dry from retting, I only had a small amount of time to start the rest of the processing before winter weather set in. Now that spring has sprung and the snow has finally melted, I've been outside finishing what should have been done last fall. Now I''m hoping to get it spun up before gardening starts in earnest. 
 

My 2013 crop yielded 7.2 ounces and about 800 yards of fine, two-ply linen yarn. I'm hoping to get around 500 yards from the 2014 crop. Cross your fingers!

Friday, March 6, 2015

The lucet, old tech meets new tech

 
Our library has acquired a 3-D printer. They held a class the other day on how to design things and submit them to the printer. Printed items cost 10 cents per gram, which is very reasonable because the filament used in the printing is very light. There were items on display, one of which was a recorder (the musical instrument). It weighed 18 grams and I estimated that this would be similar to a  printed drop spindle, so the cost would be about $1.80 for something like a printed drop spindle. The item that we ended up printing from the class that day was free, however.
 
I didn't end up printing a drop spindle because I thought it would have to be printed out in two pieces, so I decided on a lucet, which is a tool from medieval time used for making decorative cordage to put on clothing, etc.
 
I tried designing one, but didn't really have the time (the class was only an hour long, most of which was taken up with learning how to use Tinkercad, the design program). So instead I went to a recommended site (thingiverse.com) and found an already-made design for a lucet. I scaled it to what I thought was about 6 inches by 3 inches, but when it printed out it was half those dimensions. Don't know why exactly, but it actually works really well with some of my handspun silk, which is really fine.
 
So here is my lucet with the silk cord I'm making with some of my naturally-dyed, handspun silk:
 
 
 
 
Using a lucet is easy and brainlessly addictive. I'm really happy with my tiny tool. Next I'm thinking I might want to print out some needlebinding needles with the 3-D printer. You can only print two things out per month right now, which may be revised once they get a feel for what the demand will be like for the printer. I've also found already-made designs for spinning wheel bobbins. It's fun to think about applying this new tech to print out old tech tools!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A small rant about pricing artisan goods

I don't like it when people tell me I under-value my own work because I price it too low. They tell me, "A handspun, hand-dyed skein of yarn for under $20? Are you crazy? You should price it much higher!"

Oh, really? Should I price it in the high 20's? In the 30's? I've seen handspun priced in the $40 and even the $60 range. I even saw handspun priced in the $200 range,for one skein, and it wasn't any type of luxury fiber.

What would you pay?

Well here's the thing. Recently on a Facebook fiber arts group I belong to, a person asked the group at what price should she list her hand-crocheted cowl in her online shop. It was a beautiful creation with stunning colors. She said that the yarn had cost her $19. People threw out suggestions like price it three times the cost of materials, or they suggested she also calculate and be paid for her time as well, others threw out numbers: $50, $60, $75. When suggestions hit $100 I stopped reading. It was indeed a very lovely and colorful cowl, but $100? Would you pay $100 for a very lovely, colorful, hand-crocheted cowl?

She ended up listing it for $103.56 CAD (Canadian dollars), and thanked everyone for their help.

Okay. Let's go back to the yarn. Let's say that I had made that yarn (which I didn't, but this is to make a point). Let's say that I had made it from 'scratch', meaning I bought a raw fleece, washed it, combed it, spun it, and dyed it all by hand. And we're talking commercial acid wool dyes here, not the natural dyes that I grow in my garden or find in the wild and make. It takes several hours to wash a fleece. It takes a few hours to comb enough fiber for just one skein of yarn. It takes several hours to spin the yarn. It takes time to pick your colors and figure out how they will be placed on the yarn. (And by the way, all of the prep - everything that occurs after the fleece has dried from being washed - is yarn design. A lot of factors are taken into consideration when designing a yarn, and all of this knowledge comes from hours and hours of work).

So I have put all of this work into what has turned out to be a beautiful, colorful yarn. Now, at what price should it be listed? Do I calculate all of my time and make sure I'm compensated for it? Would this apply to naturally-dyed skeins, too, where I have cultivated plants from seeds sprouted indoors under grow lights, then planted them outside and cared for them throughout the growing season, putting in hours of weeding, watering, harvesting, etc., and then made the dyes myself? That's a lot of hours.

Let's say I  do calculate my time, and give myself a fair wage. I'll even be conservative in my calculations. 2 hours to wash + 3 hours to comb + 4.5 hours to spin + 1.5 hours to dye = 11 hours. We can all argue over what a fair wage would be, but let's put it at minimum wage,$8.25 per hour. So my time was worth 11 hours x $8.25 per hour = $90.75.

Let's say materials (four ounces of my clean wool) cost $4. This is my cost for the fiber, plus wear and tear on equipment.

So my time plus materials = $94.75.

But I also have to figure in about 8% for all of the transaction fees I'll be paying; 8% of $94.75 is $7.26, which I will now add on to make the total = $102.01. I'll be generous and round it down to $102.

So I should list my unique, handspun, hand-dyed yarn at $102.00. Would you pay $102 for four ounces of handspun, hand-dyed yarn?

More importantly, would the maker of the lovely, colorful, hand-crocheted cowl pay $102 for my yarn so she could make more lovely, colorful, hand-crocheted  cowls?

 Let's imagine that she would. Now how much would her beautiful creation have to be priced at? Well her materials now cost $102 instead of $19, which is $83 more. Just add that to her current price and we come up with $186.56. Would you pay that much for a lovely, colorful, hand-crocheted cowl?

I'm not devaluing myself or my creations by pricing most of my handspun, hand-dyed yarns under $20. I'm living in the real world. I set my prices so that I make pretty much a set amount on each skein. It is an amount that I am happy with. I could probably set my prices a tad higher and I may in the future, but right now I like the idea of pricing my things affordably, as long as I get something out of it, too.

The reality is, I can't price yarn the way some artisans price their creations. If I did, no one would buy it. It may take just as much time, effort, knowledge and skill to make handspun, hand-dyed yarn as it does to make lots of other wonderful and beautiful things, but the bottom line is, ain't nobody gonna pay a lot for yarn.