Sunday, April 24, 2011

Navajo Plying and Hand Painted Yarn

Finished Skein of Navajo Plied Handpainted Dorset Roving

When I posted about my yarn dyeing day I didn't really elaborate on the handpainting that Lesley and I did. I guess I didn't because I really wasn't enjoying it that much. I was having so much fun with the dyeing in the pot that I just glossed over the handpainting we did as something rather ho hum. Boy was I wrong!!!! When I got home I thought that I might as well spin it up and get it out of the way before I go back to carding and spinning my Maine Island Fleece for my someday sweater. Am I glad I decided to tackle that little "chore." Here's a picture of me waving the roving right after I handpainted it. It was a very windy day and I was putting it outside to dry.
You can see that it is nothing to write home about. I thought it rather boring.

Here is a photo of the roving after I predrafted before spinning:

Here is a photo of the beginning of the yarn as I begun to spin this same roving:
Now understand my pleasant surprise!? I only wish I had handpainted a ton more.

I spent an hour or so navajo plying. It's been years since I've done any plying like this. Navajo plying is good if you have a thin single ply that you want to ply in such a way that the colors stay as vivid and separate as possible. Perfect for handpainting! It was clunky during most of my attempt at this but just as I was getting to the end of it I got the hang of it. Here are two youtube video clips that I used and found helpful.
This first one is with Sarah Anderson and is from Interweave Press. Can't go wrong with Interweave Press! I watched this all the way through several times before I began. Then I paused a lot as I tried to follow along. To be honest I just couldn't get the left hand to guide the yarn. I was using the left hand to pull it through. But figured I'd keep going and maybe I'd see the errors of my ways.
Then I found this clip and this helped me with what to do with my right hand and how to manage that opening loop that I seemed to keep losing: For some reason, not that this video is any better than Sarah's, but this one worked for me. Maybe it was because I had been so keen on watching my loop and trying to figure out how to turn my left hand into a guiding hand that I was ready to really see and feel this technique. Then I got it! Right before I ran out of yarn.
And here's my final Navajo Plied yarn!

So now I think I'm going to grab some cheap cotton yarn and try using that just to practice this technique.

Good luck with Navajo plying if you ever give it a go. I know I'm going do a heck of a lot more handpainting this summer! That's for sure.

May your spinning spin smoothly and your yarn be luscious,
PS - Speaking of smooth spinning and Navajo plying; take a look at these Navajo spindles! Wow! I just may have to try this type of spinning -

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Day of Dyeing Yarns

A Basket of Dyed Handspun Yarns

Today was a great day! My friend, Lesley, and I spent the afternoon dyeing some of our handspun yarns. Lesley is an AMAZING knitter and now spinner. She showed me a sweater she is knitting from handspun and dyed yarn and it is absolutely beautiful! As you can see by the basket of yarns, today was all about color.

I brought yarns I had spun up from my Maine Island Sheep fleece. These are yarns that I want to make a sweater out of. Initially I thought I would get the color for the base of my sweater from Indigo. I grow Indigo (Japanese Indigo) and have used it to dye yarns before and I love it. But today was about experimenting with colors, a variety of vivid colors.

Color is a funny thing. You can create colors that inspire and excite you or colors that just turn you off. To be honest I am intimidated by color. How much is too much? Which ones go together? What if they don't look good together? I spin and knit for feel, for texture. The first thing I do when I see a yarn or fiber is touch it. If it doesn't feel nice than I don't like it. I'll chose texture over color any day. So this foray into the world of color is not an easy one for me to make. But Lesley is so comfortable with color that she is graciously helping me make that journey into the world of color. But for the record, I'm still scared of it.

A package of the Cushings Dye that we used today. Cushings Dye is a local company out of Kennebunkport. I like the idea that it's a local company. And I must say that I like the colors that these Cushings dyes made. One concern that I've had with dyes is the chemicals that are in them. So I've been more intrigued by natural dyes. But you can't get quite the pallet of colors with natural dyes that you can from these. Natural dyes also use mordants and some of those can be as dangerous as these dyes. I guess you just have to be very careful and follow the directions carefully.

The first thing we did was figure out what color we wanted using Lesley's handy color chart. Then we discussed the value we wanted (how deep or light of a color shade we wanted). Lesley took a dyeing weekend at Wrinkle in Thyme Farm and so she was putting to practice all the wonderful things she learned during that workshop.

Then we weighed the dry yarn. This helped us figure out how much dye stock solution to use in the dyepot. This was a very helpful step.

Once we knew what colors we wanted and how much yarn we wanted that color we began mixing the colors using hot water and vinegar. A packet of dye, a pint of very hot water, and a teaspoon of white vinegar.

While we were measuring out all the dyes we let our yarn soak in lukewarm water (for 30 minutes)that had a glug of white vinegar added. It was very helpful that we tied our yarns a little bit differently which made them easier to spot when they came out of the dyepots. Lesley very loosely wove a figure 8 out of thin yarn through her yarns and I just very loosely wrapped mine.

We then added the desired amount of dye stock to the pot, added the yarns, and slowly, very slowly brought the dyepots to barely a simmer. Once to the point of almost seeing bubbles begin we turned the heat down and let them simmer (just barely) for 30 minutes.

Once the simmering was done we took the yarns out and let them drain and cool in the sink a bit. Once cooled a bit we rinsed them in water the same temp as the yarns. We did this until the water was mostly clear. Some yarns this only took one rinse, others took 2 or 3.

FELTING NOTE - Something important to keep in mind throughout this whole process is that extreme changes in temperature, agitation, and lack of acid causes felting of wool. Knowing that and being careful throughout this process and you can avoid accidentally felting your yarn. The vinegar provides the needed acid. Not putting hot yarn into cold water or cold yarn into hot water helps with the extreme change in temperature issue. Carefully adding and removing the yarn to the dye or rinse waters and not stirring while in the waters takes care of the agitation issue.

Finished yarns air drying outside on a windy day.

And a well deserved meal of whole wheat ziti and 2010 summer garden stewed tomatoes with a delicious local ale:

To be honest I haven't decided if I will use these yarns in my sweater or not. Some of them are too deep a color and others not deep enough. I'm learning about value and today was a good lesson in that. I may use some of the yarns in the color work patterns in my sweater but I'm not sure about the body. That's ok; I've got lots of time to decide. Next step...finish spinning the fleece! I've still got easily 3 pounds of fleece to card and spin. Then I'll decide. So until I do I'm still planning and planting a natural dyers garden. I do really like that idea.

Hope you enjoyed our foray into the world of dyeing handspun yarns. And thanks Lesley for a great day!
PS - This is a very neat art exhibit in NYC. It's title: Counting Sheep by Brooklyn Artist, Kyu Seok Oh. An instillation of 24 handmade paper sheep (I wonder if they're lifesize? They look it.) in Times Square. I think it could have used some of our painting! Very Cool.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Denmark Maine's 2011 Sheepfest

I LOVE fiddle music and was pleasantly surprised to hear it when I entered this quaint building.

Today I got to go to the Denmark Sheepfest. It had everything I enjoy about local fiber events. It was in a rural location, was small and intimate, and had a nice balance of fiber animals, and folks demonstrating different fiber activities such as spinning. And as you can see from the photo above there was even wonderful fiddle music!

According to the website this event began a few years ago as a way for local shepherds to gather with an experienced shearer and have their sheep sheared. It has grown from there to include demonstrations, fiber items for sale, food, and music. I really enjoyed it. Some folks may find it too small to travel any distance for. But I find it's exactly what I want to travel for. I wanted to watch skirting and I got a brief chance to see that in action.
Experienced shearer. This was amazing to watch. He sheared each sheep with such skill and precision. And quick as a wink!

Here's the fleece of that shorn sheep being skirted at the skirting table. Skirting is the process where all the yucky wool is picked off and discarded. This is the first step to preparing a fleece for spinning by a hand spinner. The next step is decided by the spinner. Some spin in the grease, meaning they spin right from this fleece. The smell and feel of lanolin is absolutely delightful! There is nothing like it. Well, maybe the smell of beeswax. But most spinners choose to take the raw fleece and wash it very carefully in hot soapy water to get dirt and most of the lanolin out. That's what I prefer to do. I like to wash my fleece before I spin it. I find it easier and more enjoyable to spin. But that's my opinion. Some spinners would disagree whole heartily with me on that.

This picture gives you a sense of the intimacy of the day. What I realize I didn't capture with this picture was the different folks spinning and felting. I didn't see a weaver but I'm sure there was someone weaving. There were a lot of beautiful finished knitted items available and quite a bit of needle felting materials. I would have liked to have been able to purchase a fleece from a sheep being sheared. If that was an available option I missed it. I was particularly interested in a Finn fleece. Oh well. Maybe next year.

And finally, a woman spinning angora right from her beautiful and healthy angora rabbit.

It was a nice day and I can't wait to go again next year.
May your fiber be clean, soft, and a joy to work with,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Maine Nash Island Sheep

Photo taken from:

I just had to share this link! The several pounds of Maine Island Sheep fleece that I'm carding, spinning, dying, and then knitting into a sweater is from this small island flock. I didn't know there was a website about this flock so was very excited to stumble upon it!

I did not realize that my fleece came from a flock of 120 or so Coopworth-Romney-Corriedale sheep.
Photo also taken from:
Coopworth sheep are from New Zealand and are a dual sheep meaning it's a meat and wool sheep. Its wool is considered to be of the coarser nature. Corriedale sheep are also from New Zealand as well as Australia and are also a dual sheep. Corriedale are a result of Merino Lincoln mix. That seems like an odd mix to me. Merino known for its softness and Lincoln which has a long coarse staple. Corriedale are a parent of today's Targhee. Romeny on the other hand is a common sheep here in Maine and unlike the Coopworth and Cooriedale comes from England. It is also considered a long wool. It's a wonderful wool for beginning spinners and is most often used for outer garment wearing. So based on the ancestry of these lovely Nash Island Sheep I think making an outer sweater is a perfect use for this wool.

On the Starcroft website it says you can purchase a fleece directly from them, a local spinning mill, or from the fleece tent at MOFGA's Common Ground Fair. That's what I did. I purchased it from the fleece tent. Here's the link to Common Ground Fair -

Happy spinning!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


photo taken from -

I wish you could feel the spongy coat on one of these sheep! Just lovely.

A few years ago a friend and I went up north a bit to meet with a very nice woman who raises Dorset sheep. I like to try the wool from different breeds and when I heard this breed was here in Maine I thought I'd go visit and buy some of her wool. Well, it's been a while and this roving has sat in my wool room all this time just patiently waiting for me to realize what a wonderful wool this is and spin it up.

Here's some info on Dorsets. It goes something like this; Centuries ago Spain brought Merino sheep into Southwest England and crossed them with the Horned Sheep of Wales, which produced a desirable all-purpose sheep which met the needs of that time. Thus began a breed of sheep which spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales and were called Horned Dorsets. In the USA they are called Dorset." Dorsets were brought to America in the 1850's so they've been here a while.
Taken from:

This is very fitting that I found the need to spin this sheep's wool now. As I type my son is on a train through Wales on his way to southern England! Dorset country!

Dorsets have what's considered a medium diameter fiber and a medium to long staple length making the yarn perfect for outer ware, socks, and blankets. One resource I'm reading, In Sheep's Clothing, says that this wool does not felt easily and that the grease content washes out easily with hot water and detergent. It also notes that since the wool is open and airy the fleece dries quickly. The staple often has more of a crimp after washing so it appears to have shrunk. For this reason it states to select preparation method after washing so you can see what the exact staple length will be.

Here's a wonderful write up of dorset wool:
It says that Dorset down wool is wonderful to hand spin. I agree! It is lofty and just a pleasure to work with. It is also suppose to take dye well. Good thing since I'm planning on dying it next week. More on that below. Dorset wool is the softest of the "down" fleeces. Down referring to short-wooled sheep with fleece that typically have a spongy handle and are considered lofty, air trapping, and warm. The fibers have a well developed spiral crimp and thus have excellent resilience, springiness, and elasticity. For these reasons the fiber has great shape retention and insulation.

This desire to spin some white wool came from my friend Lesley. Again she inspired me to try something a little different. She recently went to a weekend fiber dying workshop (lucky!) and now has a drum carder. During school break next week we will get together to dye some newly spun yarn. Well I can't play if I don't have some newly spun yarn to dye. So I pulled out one of the white rovings I had, that being this wonderful dorset and am I glad I did. The woman who raises these sheep said this will make lovely mittens and hats, outer garments. And I think she is absolutely right on! As I spin this all I can think about is what great mittens these will make. So now I have a project in mind. Mittens that will have a simple pattern of some kind.

I'll post a pic the yarn once it's all spun. And then next week invite you to see our dying day in progress!

On a slightly different note, I can't wait to try Lesley's new drum carder. I notice that when I card my Maine Island Sheep wool that there are lots of little nubs throughout it. I don't know if it's the wool or my carder, or my carding technique or all the above. But it'll be interesting to see what happens when I try it on a different carder. I'll let you know how that goes too.

So for now...spinning madly to get this all spun by next week. Ahhhh....such dilemmas I can live with :)

Happy Spring!