Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meet Curly... watch her bath...

Greetings All,

I have had many a sundry adventure with the Black Welsh Mountain, but I did do the carded sample of Black Welsh Mountain so I started to spin the Teeswater, but before I get there... because I will do a skein evaluation up to this point.... May I please introduce.... Curly, the Pygora Goat... One of the Resident kids of my friend, Leslie.

Curly is the curious guy with her head coming through the fence (pix by Leslie)

Leslie sent me part of Curly's spring clip to cheer me up, because I was feeling down over the Black Welsh Mountain results (not bad, just not what I needed). So Curly's Clip caught the first plane south and arrived on Friday. It was not until today that I had time to bathe the little girl.

Here is a little information on the origins of the Pygora goat from the Pygora Breeder's Association

"The idea of cross-breeding the Pygmy and Angora began on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. There, Katharine Jorgensen, an Oregon school teacher and experienced fiber craftsperson, saw colored Angora goats. She reports in a 1986 magazine article, “I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a goat that produced mohair the color of the blue-grey grizzle Pygmy goats?’ I wanted to try and create a mohair-type goat and the traits that were best from both breeds” (Precious Fibers Magazine, Jan., 1986, p. 14-15). By the early 1980s, five years of line breeding an Angora doe to an unrelated Pygora buck finally resulted in the beautiful grey-grizzled goat Katharine dreamed of. The potential for champagne and honey browns was also present because of the Pygmy’s color genetics. By 1986, fleeces were often 5 inches long, had nice crimp and appeared in pure white, silver and grey. Today, Pygora colors reflect the full range of the Pygmy Color Registry and diverse fiber types contain many varied characteristics." -- end quote

Here is Curly about to have her little locks shorn. I personally think Leslie is a very brave person. She bought mega-expensive shears and with very little training sheared all her little crew by herself. She waited for another mutual friend,Charlene, to come visit and hold their heads so she could finish the necks.

Here we have Curly in the background and her sibling Larry in the foreground (what do you suppose the third one is named?).

Onwards to bath time. :)

First of all I spread little Curly's fleece out on the table to look at it.

Here is a close up of the fleece laid out.

This is a lovely lock I found prior to starting to scour Curly's fleece. It is really lovely and there are more of them. I am not a pygora fleece grader, but there is the silky guardhair, the long lock, the mohair like look... I think we have a grade A fleece type. But I have no experience here and I am only going by what I have read on the internet. Most of the locks are shorter, but I don't have the entire clip so I can't say definitively one way or the other, but Curly is a great little Goat so I'm giving her an 'A'.

This link goes to an interesting page that helps provide understanding of the various grades of Pygora fleece, Pygora Fiber Types, Pygora Breeder's Assoc. .

Now a good pair of shears will cost you... a bundle of money... and I know a beginning shearer interested in fleece quality might pay a $350 plus for a decent pair of shears.

Shearing is not for the faint of heart and definitely for the steady of hand. It is important to shear animals so they don't overheat, get sick, become trapped in a felted fleece. For the most part fleece animals have had the natural ability to roo (shed) bred out of them. A responsible shepherd will shear or have her flocks shorn. Each fleecy critter is different. Pygoras need to be shorn twice a year. This is Curly's spring clip. Almost every fleece will have a second cut in it. Some will have more and they should be discarded as they are not useful (however, I'm saving mine to try and do something creative... lol, tbd). With all due deference to my fabulous friend Leslie, I searched for a second cut so I could show people what it looks like. Here it is (and no criticizing the shearer, who is doing it herself, by herself with minimal training... a certain amount of on the job training is required of the shearer. I Hope I get to try shearing one day. :)

This is the second cut. The shears cut a into the fleece a bit and not close enough to the skin of the animal. The shearer went back and cut the fleece closer to the skin. This produced a 'second cut', the part between the skin and the fleece proper. Throw them away when you see them. Some will come out with picking, some with washing, and processing. Don't spin them. Throw them away.

Time to get the bath water ready. The key to good washing technique is basically two things. 1. consistent HOT water 2. NO Agitation

Some people like to use washing machines, I don't. I am not good enough, I don't have the right washer, and I'm a hands-on kind of person. I also just can't stand the risk of ruining a fleece on which I am either emotionally attached (like Curly) or that I have invested money in the purchase. I'd love to use my bathtub... think of the time saving! However, I have a very fastidious daughter and she objects to 'fleece' touching the bathtub so I use my sink. There are lots of people that do this especially fiber folk living in apartments, small houses, or those of us with no studios. Sinks are a wonderful invention.

First I clean it so there is no kitchen grease or food particles that can contaminate my fleece. Next I get my tools and utensils ready for use. Rubber gloves to keep my skin from being scalded, an apron to keep me from smelling too much like fleece, a colandar, tongs, my tea kettle, my soap, old towels, my drying area ready.

In this picture I have partially filled the sink with very very hot water from the tap and I am adding boiling water to bring up the temperature. I must have rubber gloves or I will scald my hand. REALLY HOT water is key to cleaning your fleece. Actually boiling fleece will yield felt so don't do that. Adding boiling water to a slightly cooler bath is a good idea. It should be so hot you can't put your naked hand in it. Use rubber gloves.

I add the soap to the wash after I add all the water, because I don't want suds. I swirl the water to mix the soap. I use 'Joy'. 'Dawn' is great too or 'Orvis'. Be careful not to use soap that is blue or green as this can actually dye your fiber in an odd cast.

At long last I put in some of Curly's locks to scour. I will gently press them under the water and leave them alone. Trust to the process! Do not move them in any way. The Soapy Water will do its work. I promise!

One bath will not be enough for any fleece. This is bath water number one. Absolutely and completely blech! Hot water, soap, and NO agitation.

If you are using your sink and draining water down the drain... make sure and put a strainer in. You will save yourself a HUGE plumbing bill later. And do you really want to explain why there is sheep wool in your drain to the plumber?

As you move on and are washing an entire fleece you will develop a rhythmn to your washing and you will develop a way to economize on your water usage.
It depends on the fleece and the state of the water in the bath after usage, but I generally follow a rhythm like this:

wash 1 discard
wash 2 discard
wash 3 (can be used for the batch 2 for wash 1) then discard
rinse 1 (can be used for batch 2 wash 2) then discard
rinse 2 (can be used for batch 2 wash 3) then discard

Rinses are always fresh water, but are re-used for washing.

This is a system that works for me. I can even work in a third batch by rotating out batches to a waiting bowl to wait for an appropriate turn in the bath.

By Rotating baths and batches of fleece you can economize on water usage and move the fleece through scouring in a more time efficient manner.

Here is Curly's fleece after one bath. Time for Bath 2.

This is the water after Bath 2. A huge difference from bath 1.

Here is Curly's fleece after 3 baths and 2 rinses.

Note that I am using a colander for my fleece. This is another very controlled method of putting fleece in and out of the bath water. Using a colander is very useful to help preserve lock structure.

Using a colander you can place specific locks in order and use the colander in and out of baths. It minimizes rubber glove contact with hot water. The best thing in place of the colander is to use the sifting cat boxes to wash fleece. Everything is flat and you move tray by tray into and out of the baths. I don't have those and I'm a little short of cash right now. However, here is a link if you'd like to purchase a set: Sifting Litter Pan .

Well, time to put Curly's first batch of locks out to dry. For comparison I put a few unwashed locks next to the drying ones. BIG difference! Someone recently said they liked to spin in the grease... I just think that spinning clean Curly beats the heck out of spinning the dirty version.

Curly first batch of fleece is dry and ready to take over and prepare for spinning. That will be another post. ;)

Have a good day all. This one was a marathon post!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Medieval Image of the Day

(Note: click image to enlarge)

One doesn't always need a reason for an image and so I thought I post another image from the Luttrell Psalter. I am looking at the woman feeding chickens and holding her distaff and spindle (lower image), Here is a typical woman of any age... multi-tasking...

Need I say more?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Have You Hugged a Sheep Today? ...Processing the Black Welsh Mountain Fleece

((Just for a cuteness Break -- go see Fiber Farm Lamb Cam Watch them all day long. Some have even given birth on camera))

Black Ram: From Sheep 101 and to them from EAAP-Animal Genetic Bank (Wow, He is amazing looking)

note: this is a long post as I have tried to put everything I can into it.

Photo From Sheep 101 and to them from American Black Welsh Mountain Sheep Association and Joannie Livermore

(PHOTO NOTE: I am liberally referring to and borrowing these pictures in an effort to provide some background and education for individuals reading this. I hope that people go to Sheep 101 and use it to do their own research. Another GREAT resource on sheep breeds is Breeds of Livestock, Oklahoma State University

I'm trying to catch up with where I am and keeping my blog journal for whatever benefit it may have. Here is the processing of my Black Welsh Mountain sheep fleece. It is important when working with the fleece of an animal to understand said animal. So in a quick reference kind of methodology here is some information on the Stately Black Welsh Mountain Sheep.

A Bit on the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep from Sheep 101:

"In the Middle Ages, the mutton of black-fleeced Welsh Mountain Sheep was prized for its richness and excellence and much sought-after by merchants. During the mid-19th century, some breeders began to select specifically for the black fleece color and the result is the Black Welsh Mountain sheep. The Black Welsh Mountain is a small, black sheep with no wool on the face or on the legs below the knee and hock. It is the only completely black breed of sheep found in the United Kingdom. Introduced into the U.S. in 1972, the fleece from the Black Welsh Mountain has generated special interest among hand spinners and weavers.

Category: primitive, medium wool
Distribution: United Kingdom, North America"
-- End Quote --

This Quote is from Breeds of Livestock, Oklahoma State University

"In the Middle Ages, the mutton of black-fleeced Welsh Mountain Sheep was prized for its richness and excellence. The black wool, known as Cochddu (reddish brown) was much sought-after by merchants. During the mid-19th century some breeders began to select specifically for the black fleece color and the result is the Black Welsh Mountain sheep. Flocks of the pure breed are now widely distributed throughout the United Kingdom, with flocks also in Ireland and the USA.


The Black Welsh Mountain is a small, black sheep with no wool on the face or on the legs below the knee and hock. The rams are typically horned and the females are polled (hornless).

Although it is bred today perhaps as much for decorative value as for its commercial importance, it nevertheless grows wool which is sufficiently fine, soft and densely stapled to be regarded as a specialty type and the fleece is used to good effect in combination with other wools. Always black, it can be used undyed for many cloths. The average fleece weight is 2.5 - 4 pounds. The staple length is 8-10 cm and the spinning count is 48's-56's. Sources indicate there is also a market for the pelts. In the USA, Canada and Japan the fleece has generated special interest for home spinning and weaving. The wool now commands its own grade by the Wool Marketing"
--end quote--

Some other interesting links:
Desert Weyr Former home of my fleece and operated by Oogie McGuire and her husband. They do a lot more than sheep (although I don't see how they have the time!) lol... Go visit - it's a fun place.

American Black Welsh Mountain Sheep Association If you go visit this site you will have a great treat. There is lots to see and read. If you go to the newsletters you will see that Oogie has been over to Britian/Wales to learn about their judging process and to better understand the Welsh Conformation from whence comes the American Black Welsh Mtn Sheep. As I understand it they bring over semen to inseminate into the ewes in the the U.S. This brings the breed together despite the puddle in between (being the Atlantic Ocean) and prevents the breed from diverging into two seperate breeds of the same breed in each country. If you want more genetics you will have to talk to them. Because we must move on to the fleece.

... And now onto the processing portion of our program... lol...

This photo is of the top of the fleece (the side that faces out to the world from the sheep). Please note that the sun is very strong and so the fleece does not really show how very black it is until subsequent (less sunny) photos. It is indeed a deep deep black.

An Important thing to do when processing a fleece is to open it up onto a big table (those rolled fleeces are bigger than they look). If you are doing it inside, beware the sheepy smell, put a big sheet on the floor and have some really good lighting. It is in full spring here so I did it out in my backyard.

What you are going to do is look at the fleece and make sure you are happy with it. This is an opportunity to check the skirting, which if you are buying from a farmer who sells to handspinners should already be beautifully skirted especially if you are paying a premium.

Check for bugs, check for scurf (look it up online with images -- essentially it is MORE than dandruff and has bits of dead skin -- better to see the image). Here is an excellent link to a very knowledgeable Fiber Artist, who has many excellent posts with excellent advice and also this posting regarding Scurf. Go read it. The Independent Stitch Scurf and dandruff can be impossible to process out when preparing your fleece for spinning. But worse still it is a sign that your fleece may be more brittle, the fibers damaged. Check this carefully. Sometimes you will find a fleece where you can skirt the problem areas out and other times you may have to either return or pitch the fleece.

Look for the quality of shearing. Second cuts throughout a fleece means you have less than a premium fleece on your hands. Remember that sheep live outside. They roll around, they don't bathe. Sometimes they are coated (real coats) by the farmer and this saves immensely on the skirting and the cleaning during processing, but sometimes not. Some fleeces clean more easily than others regardless. Each fleece will be a new experience. And don't take a good fleece for granted. Sometimes the chance to work with a rare breed's fleece is an opportunity and a little extra vm or some other problems are worth dealing with for the experience. I support the efforts of many to help maintain the survival of rare and endangered breeds.

If you are unhappy then contact the farmer who sold it to you and talk it over with them. Many good farmers have a guarantee on their fleeces that if there is a problem they will take the fleece back.

However, I have had the good luck to buy from some very fine Shepherds and the fleeces I have processed thus far have all been vastly different (being from different sheep)and are admirable fleeces of their breed. Remember however that even the best ranches or farms might have a fleece come by with some spinner's issues. Be open to working things out with the fleece or the farmer/rancher/Shepherd. :)

I turned the fleece over to see the back (the cut side -- the side closest to where the sheep used to be).

If there were second cuts this is where you would look for them. A second cut is where the shearer starts cutting to high into the fleece and goes back to cut closer to the sheep. This leaves a cut btw the sheep and the rest of the fleece. When the
fleece comes off this 'second cut' stays and lowers the value and the usability of the fleece. It renders the staple shorter and sometimes completely unusable depending on how bad the second cut is. I don't recommend buying fleeces like this, but if you do get one call the farmer and discuss it. There often will be a few second cuts, but having them consistently throughout a fleece is a problem.

However, this fleece is totally clear of those problems. And I love looking across the sea of fleece.

These two photos are of the individual locks prior to washing. I just plucked them out of the fleece to photograph them. Note that they are not washed and so they do have some dirt in them. Not a problem, that's why God invented soap.

Now the next thing I do is I wash the fleece. I do not have big giant tubs and in deference to my daughter, who won't bathe in a bathtub, however clean, where a fleece might have been.... I use my sink. I do not use my washer. I don't want any surprises after I have paid good money for my fleece. I have double sinks in my kitchen and I use those. I will devote another post to the fine art of washing fleece.

Every fleece as in every animal is different. For this Fleece I found that three washes and two rinses did the trick. Then I laid it out for drying. :)

I have very unusual drying racks and we have an exceptional solar powered dryer... the sun. It works well and fairly quickly, although I do turn the fleece so both sides dry faster.

When it is all dry I bring it inside and organize it as well as I can into locks for easier processing. If I see any obvious vm (vegetable matter) I will pluck out larger chunks. More will come out in processing. I work with a cloth over my lap (you can stand at a table and do this, I just like to sit). I put all this into a basket if I am going to get to it in the evening or into a box I can cover up if it will be a bit before I get to it.

I have elected to comb the fleece as I want a finer yarn for weaving. This fleece is perfect for carding and I may well explore that later, but first I will comb it and see if it works for spinning.

Here is a little bit of combed top. There is much crimp to this fleece. I find that there is a soft bit to the fleece that when combed comes out in a lovely way for a medium type fleece. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate visually. You have to feel it. Tactile amusement.

At long last we come to the spinning... and this is just the beginning. I find it to have good luster and a fair hand. It is a shorter staple (about 2 inches), but still combs out. However combing does separate the small soft underfleece (this is not a doublecoated breed). When I combed it out the initial top spun up well, but the back end was much coarser having been separated in combing and was more problematic to spin up. In the end I discarded more than I wanted too. However, that means that perhaps combing is not the best for this fleece. As I said in the beginning I wanted a worsted spun yarn and combing it seemed the right process for that purpose.
I will card some and spin a sample up. I am about ready to ply the first bobbins of combed yarn and skein it up. I'll have a skein post with the plyed karakul as well.

Every fleece has its purpose. This one is a medium grade fiber and is definitely for an outer garment. I have heard that fabric made (knit or woven) with this fleece type does not pill (a happy thought indeed). The trueness of the black is possibly unparalleled. I love the color. I'd recommend this for tapestry as well. I will post later with the first skein.

A long post, but lots of information.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Could I possibly learn to count?....

So Sunday is a day of rest ... right... absolutely, no laundry, no vacumning... no 'Work'. Right, I played all day. I scoured/washed fleece all afternoon. (and Yesterday afternoon (although, yesterday it was intermixed with cleaning the patio)).

So I posted earlier today.. 2 down and 2 to go... Hard that since I have '5' fleeces.. Yes folks, the hot water has scalded my little brain. I cannot count. However, I am pleased to report that I have scoured 3 fleeces and have 2 left! Light at the end of the tunnel (the tunnel of washing that is).

The thing is that I am tightly focused on a goal and the deadline is May 20th... well the entry in the hands ON May 20th so If I look at my calendar that means I have to mail it Sat May 16 or express mail it on Monday, May 18th. So that means I'll be express mailing it... I will not even toy with you to think that I would even think myself capable of not sending it in at the last possible minute!

So another discovery is that if one works with fleece all day, one can come out smelling like a sheep. It was very warm today. Really, I'm out in Southern CA and it was in the low 80's today. (please don't throw tomatoes, I'm sorry it isn't that warm where you are right now). So working hard carrying around various stages of clean and dirty fleece ... the fleece and I started to smell the same, except that sadly I smelled more like it than it smelled like me. Nope I could not start dinner without showering first. My son even told me I smelled like a sheep (in the nicest possible way). Poor guy. He really didn't mean anything by it, but by the end of the fleece scouring I had to agree. I also thought that tonight I didn't need to get into my bed smelling like this. So no harm done, I was forced to take a nice hot shower. Yea!

My fleecy accomplishments are 1 karakul -- 1 black welsh mountain sheep -- 1 teeswater. All three washed. I think one develops a rhythm to all of it and so the more you do, the faster it goes. Even with all this washed I have this inner fear peeking out every now and again saying... do you really have enough time for this? I mean a scarf?, but said scarf must be fleece to scarf. I suppose I could design it using natural color, but no.... noooooooo... I must make it as complicated as possible. That's right, I will be naturally dyeing certain portions of the yarn (when it becomes MORE yarn). All natural this scarf -- it's in da rules -- It is after all the International Year of the Natural Fiber.

Yup, and then I get to warp and weave...and I didn't say one other little thing... I am actually planning a 2nd scarf, because one should really have TWO entries or even THREE... I'm a little nuts on this, Well, we'll see. I have actually gotten the design work done on 3 separate scarves. They lend themselves to so much, because they are limited canvases. I will post the designs with the scarves,,, I don't want to jinx myself. Meanwhile, you can see ALLLLLLLL the processing. I will post fleece pictures and their washing on another post. I hope to be spinning tonight. Wash during the day and use the sun as a dryer, spin at night - watch a move... oh, I forgot I have a significant amount of combing to do too!

Medieval Image of the Day

So What have I been doing... scalding my hands in hot water and WASHING fleece... 2 down and 2 to go. (both dry)

In honor of this accomplishment and in honor of those fabulous shearers who separate the fleece from the sheep (an art form I assure you!) I post this image from the 'Brevarium Grimani'.

This Brevary was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, who ruled btw 1471-1484. Sadly for him he died before it was finished. It is to our benefit that it has survived. Eventually around the tiem of its completion it came into the hands of Domenico Grimani. His family presented it to the library (in Venice)Biblioteca Marciana, Venice (St. Mark’s Library - where it is still housed), Venice in 1546. Artists who are cited as its creators are Memime Antonio da Messina, Horebout, Levien van Antwerp. The entire Brevary is 1580 pages long. Note that these are flemish artists and critiques written cite this as a flemish work. (I'm not judging... just reporting).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Becoming Yarn

Here it is ... first two bobbins combed and spun (but not plied)(yet). Sooooo what does anyone think? Let me preface this by saying that I knew that the Karakul was a hairy fleece. I knew that it has been used for carpets. And yet,,, I kept petting those locks and said, but but but... It was also the only fleece I had at the time. Now these ancient breeds were often double coated and karakuls certainly are one of this category. So I elected to spin the soft undercoat and the hairy over coat together to try and get a softer yarn.

While it is softer... I am not sure it is soft enough for a scarf. So I have about 2/3's of the fleece left pick, comb, and spin. I am thinking of separating the two coats and spinning the soft undercoat for the rest of the yarn. I'll decide this tomorrow after I ply the bobbins and wash & set a sample of the yarn.

And this leads to an important point. It is all to the good to make what one has work. And it is even better to have 3 or 4 fleeces show up to have a backup plan. It is incredibly important to take the time to make samples. I sincerely hope that I have enough time to wash and spin enough of the other fleeces to sample and then I hope I have time to actually you know, weave.... (for which I will sample as well)(already started on that by using a commercial yarn to test a pattern) (Yeah well, it is on the warping board, but what with school, homework, children, meal time and laundry... (and did I mention dogs?) We shall see what will come.

And even if I don't make my deadline for the Spin-Off Scarf competition in honor of the International Year of the Natural Fiber (not making it up... go google it- United Nations)... it will be the process of doing, the experience, the learning, and I will know I did my part to support the natural fiber farmers and their fabulous sheep. (did I ever mention I am partial to sheep?). And of course any finished object is a good object. ;)

Luttrell Psalter Site

I should have looked this up a bit more before posting just now. (sorry) You can go to the following site ... hopefully the html link will work or you will have to cut and paste. I have not been successful getting the links to work. We'll see this time.

You can also order a DVD of the project -- just be sure and order the correct version (pal or ntsc) for you part of the world! (been there done that)...


There is also a re-created picture of the spinning woman on the site.

Medieval Image of the Day

We interrupt for a little visual distraction. ;)

One of my all time favorite images from the Luttrell Psalter,an illuminated manuscript written and illustrated circa 1325 – 1335 c.e. When you look at a facsimile of this image, one can see a spinning stick in her hand. She uses the spinning stick to turn the wheel. This would keep the wheel clean and free of grease for the hand.

Above is a close up of the spinner in the picture. If you look closely at the hand spinning the wheel, you will see the stick she uses to turn it.

This is a project to re-create the Luttrell Psalter in a living history fashion. There are some other videos. I had heard they would market the entire project, but have not seen or researched the outcome. This seen is two women going to the sheep byre. A few sheperds, milking of the sheep (Lincoln Longwool)and of course SHEEP! Watch until the end when the sheep get to leave the byre and frolic about. (LOVE the fleece!).

Look what Leslie found when she got home...

My fabulous friend Leslie has a little farm. She has really beautiful chickens and 3 pygora goats and then she brought home Rorie, who was expecting. She came home yesterday to Rorie in labor. First she brought forth this little guy.

And then Mom had another (cause two are better than one... right). At any rate I haven't heard what their names might be, but Mom and babies are doing well. Leslie seems to be doing great too. ;)

I love spring and the time when lambs are born and baby kids. I love the plants bending a stem to push through the earth and the amazing colors of green that exist even in the desert.

AND my other friend Pat, has a mare that had this little guy, Bentley.

Bentley is trying to convince his Mom that his hooves do NOT have to touch the ground and he can too fly!

The hard thing about all of this is that almost all of my friends live you know... hours or days or even a week's drive away. Can I go have coffee with Leslie and pet the babies? Sigh... I must work at this.

However, that said... Happy Spring!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Totally Jazzed - Completely excited!!!

Well, I've been ploughing through the karakul and I love its locks, but I've been impatient because the bag just seemed somewhat endless.

I am now DONE with washing the Karakul. The last bit is drying and I've started spinning up the combed top I've been working on from previously washed (last week)locks.

And when it has dried, I've been combing it out. I will post the spinning pix tomorrow, because I want to take them in good light.

This is the combed tops all in a row. Very sweet.

And It's a good thing that I finished washing today since.... drum roll.... the 3 fleeces I purchased from the fabulous Myrtle Dow of Black Pines Farm blackpinessheep.com/ arrived yesterday! I opened them.. yes inside... I don't mind the smell of fleece (or sheep), but that is not how my husband and kids feel. Suffice it to say that they did not share the same joy as me when I opened my bag'O fleece. Yes, inside the bag were 2 wensleydale fleeces and one teeswater fleece. I have one more fleece coming from Desert Weyr desertweyr.com/ of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep.

After all this I better have all that I need for the Spin-Off scarf contest. Lots of fleece to wash, but it is loverly, lucious, incredible fleece. Myrtle was kind enough to send me one of her show fleeces, a black lamb Wensleydale.

Both Oogie from Desert Weyr desertweyr.com/ and Myrtle from Black Pines Sheep blackpinessheep.com/ have diligently worked to propagate special rare and/or endangered sheep Breeds.
Oogie has been instrumental in bringing in the Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and has the largest flock in the United states I believe. Myrtle has worked for years on the Karakul breed and the Wensleydale breed. She also breeds Teeswater and CVM. I think it is important for hand spinners and hand weavers to work to help support these breeds as well. This is one reason for my personal choices of which fleeces to use.

Believe me if I had the space, I would have more fleeces of all sorts, more looms, more wheels, more stash. But the truth is I don't own a barn or a studio ... lol... If I had a barn I might get sheep!

More tomorrow... it is time for this little fiber fiend to go to bed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Medieval Image of the Day: An Image In Honor of Sheep, Baaaaa

This is 'Aries' from Les Belle Heures -- Yes, it is the representation of a ram in an astrological symbol, so I know what that means... you want another depiction of a medieval sheep!!! I knew it... ok, whatever you want ;)

(NOTE: You do know that you can click the image to enlarge it) ;)

This image of a sheep is from the Luttrell Psalter (and the image is from the British Library). (sorry about the image size, I will try to find an enlargement). This sheep (at bottom of the image) is not a Karakul (note the wave of the fleece - not the lock structure of the Karakul. And they did differentiate in depiction of lock structure. It is one way that we can trace the geneology of sheep.. well, well that too is for another post. ;) At any rate I hope you enjoy the images today. And have a great Holiday weekend. Whatever you might be celebrating I hope it includes good friends and good food.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Where have I been, what have I been doing???

Aside from dealing with a school district, that has lost its ability to communicate with anyone including its own schools.... and then there was the stomach flu making life difficult for my youngest...

I've been working on scouring a fabulous Karakul fleece. I love supporting the rare breeds and I love the locks of the Karakul. When I look at fleece I really do try to think... application... etc... but you know... it is so beautiful, those colors, the locks, the luster... I can't help myself. So well, I saw it and I bought it. Even a few years in the bag and it is coming out loverly. If we don't love and use these ancient and rare fleeces will the breeds survive. Spin-Off did a wonderful project a few years ago on rare sheep breeds that included people making projects using the fleeces of these wonderful critters. Eventually, it went into a book from Interweave. It brought about an important and meaningful awareness of these breeds. We really are so incredibly fortunate to have had sheep in our human history (but that's another soapbox for another day). Sheep are as important as dogs. Yes, they are. ;)

I went and found a lovely little explanation and history of the Karakul from the Sheep 101 site and it says (directly quoted)(including photo):

Karakul Ram from Black Pines Sheep

(Astrakhan, Bukhara, Persian Lamb)

The Karakul may be the oldest breed of domesticated sheep. Archeological evidence indicates the existence of the Persian lambskin as early as 1400 B.C. and carvings of a distinct Karakul type have been found on ancient Babylonian temples. Native to the plains of Central Asia, Karakuls differ radically in conformation from most other American breeds. They are of the fat broad tailed type of sheep. In their large tail is stored fat, a source of nourishment, similar in function to the camel's hump. In Central Asia and South Africa , large flocks of Karakuls are still raised for pelt production from very young lambs. The skins of baby lambs with their tightly curled wool are used in the "Persian lamb" fur trade. Karakuls were introduced to the United States between 1908 and 1929. They are a specialty breed in the U.S. Their fleeces, long and colorful, are prized by hand spinners. Karakul wool is the wool upon which the art of felting evolved. The Karakul classified as a "rare" breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Breed categories: double-coated, fat-tailed, rare
Distribution: USA, Africa, Middle East, Europe, Asia


So I have been scouring, sorting, combing in preparation for spinning. Maybe tomorrow I will get some pictures taken before it all becomes yarn,,, but I have to say for a little fleece there is a whole lot of wool... scouring as I can with no big blocks of consecutive time is problematic at best and it tries my patience, cause I wants it done now! lol... oh well

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Medieval Image of the Day

So since it has been a spinning kind of day the image of the day will reflect it.

This image is from 1237 ce from Baghdad. It is titled 'Al Makamat'. It pictures a mother and her son talking to a merchant or visitor.

This type of wheel still exists in other places such as India. Do not automatically suppose that the western great wheel evolved from this wheel. While we can postulate that this might have been part of evolutionary process of the western European wheel, it is equally as likely that this image and the wheels in use that it represented had nothing to do with our Western European wheels. These could equally have developed from the Silk reel as it entered into Spain and Italy. Of course we don't know, we can only guess. We can trace a path of where things occurred and the evidence of when the great wheel appeared in Europe, but the reality is that we do not know. It is all an educated guess. Just some food for thought. Enjoy the image.

Spinning my wheels...

Trying hard to be productive this week, by scouring a karakul fleece to spin and dye for a scarf for the Spin-Off International Year of the Natural Fiber Contest. (Photos due May 20). Here is just a little bit of fun with some Louet roving -- this series of rovings is so much fun to spin. I got a couple of different colorways. Underneath is an old distaff from Lithuania.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Medieval Image of the Day

This image is from the 15th c. ce

I love looking at the blooming cactus in the desert, but in honor of my encounter with the rattlesnake I submit three images that in their theme appears often during the middle ages, that of Adam and Eve toiling after their banishment from Eden after 'Their' encounter with a snake (and an apple tree). It is the depiction of Adam working the soil and Eve spinning. Note the use of a distaff with each Eve. I don't know if this is expressly the tradition or if it simply the constant use of distaves by women throughout the ages across many countries and traditions. It is in any case worthy of thought.

This image from Broughton Cambridgeshire Church.

And one more:

This image from the Fecamp Psalter

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Hiking Adventures

I did say that I had adventures last week in Palm Springs. I was remiss in not posting yet, but it has been a very involved week. Happily I am re-organizing a temporary loom space, which includes a handy 'by the loom' mini-bookcase... ok, I digress...

So my knight in shining armor and I went hiking leaving the un-cooperative, unenthused teenagers at home. We were on the Cahuilla,Agua Caliente Lands just on the very edge of Palm Springs. It was truly lovely there. Spring in the desert is beautiful. Coming from the mid-west & east coast I have gained an appreciation for the very different kind of landscape, the intensity of a different kind of green, the sculptural hand of rock, and for a subtlety that is not definable.

There is some incredible and varied hiking in this area. I did my reading and we went on a trail where Big Horn sheep are known to sometimes make an appearance.
What can I say ...I'm a fiber geek. I like sheep. Actually, I adore them. I love their history, their fabulous faces, oh yes, and their FLEECE... Of course I know as well as you that the Big Horn Sheep are not known for their fleece, but they are sheep, they are fabulous children of the rock and If I'm somewhere where a fiber critter might be, I'd like to see them. Ok, we didn't find a sheep. I'm just telling you now, so you don't get too excited and anxious waiting for me to show you the picture of the sheep we didn't see. We did find this:

But sadly, when we later identified it... It was a mule deer track -- NOT -- a big Horn sheep.

So we took this trail into Murray Canyon:

This is one of my favorite flowering bushes right now, The desert mallow.

Creosote and Desert Lavendar were two others that we loved (and of which they were plentiful. Creosote being the desert medicine cabinet for those that know how). We did see the bush that ephedrine comes from(remember phen phen), but we more or less left it alone. And lichen is here too! Living, but it is unclear whether the people who lived here once used this as a dye. The tribal ranger I talked too did not know.

This one however, is an Indigo Plant (although I don't know which sub-species). The Tribal ranger told us (on the Tahquwitz Canyon hike) that they put the leaves in hot simmering water to produce brown dye! I have to follow this one up. I have many questions.

There were lots of folks out hiking that morning (go figure... hiking in the desert ... morning might be the best time). There were the local residents of Palm Springs and enviorns. There were folks on horseback (lots of the trails are horse friendly) and families ... more or less prepared... The less prepared were out for fun in the desert with little water and flip flops... Darwin at work. Seriously, no water in the desert makes little Jack or Jill dehydrate and flip flops???? Let me tell you why flip flops are NOT a good idea for hiking (ok, I'm not talking about twisting an ankle and breaking a leg on rocky uneven ground) Nooooo, there are other hikers on the trail, who are not happy for our company.

This little guy (above) pretended he was a nubby rock. I loved his colors. Doesn't he say 'Tapestry' to you?!

This Brown gentleman, really didn't care who was on the trail as long as we didn't interrupt his sunbath.

So when we are hiking, generally my Knight in Shining Armor is in the rear, because I am the slowest. Most of the time hikers move to one side or the other to let someone pass, but of course one has to see them... or hear them. so there I was walking down the trail and I was taking in everything, looking for what might not be seen and listening to what is true quiet, when I heard a small sound. I stopped and looked down. There was my new friend... Not at all happy to be sharing the rocky trail with me.

All I could think of was, be still and move back. So I did one and then the other. I have never seen a rattlesnake that was alive. I have seen many dead ones, taxidermified rattle snakes, but never a live one. I kept thinking, 'Do we have a snakebite kit with us?'. Well, good sense not to poke the snake and a listening ear and neither of us got to know the feeling of a snake pumping venom. My husband did tell me to remember to take some pictures.

These gave me new appreciation for the size of snake and I think I counted 8 plus a small rattle ... is that 8 1/2 or 9?

It is very very well posted that this is wilderness and to beware of rattlesnakes and mountain lions (the latter of which I didn't see). One other hiker, who lived in town came up as my friend was slithering away and told us, he lived here and had never seen one before. I have to tell you all the other hikers were jealous that we got to see the snake and they didn't. One teenage boy was up on the rocks poking around looking for one. Actually, I feel honored by the snake. It was cranky, but very kind to meet me on the trail (and of course not bite me). It was a superbly lovely and well fed snake. The designs on its back reminded me of cardweaving I had done. The scales were pretty incredible. It is quite the mosaic. Inspiration is everywhere if we are open to it. So I didn't get to see a Big Horned Sheep, but I did get to meet a rattlesnake.

All of the canyons in that area have a great water source (that's why The Cahuilla settled there) and it really like the stereotypical oasis. Palm Trees and the spring. There are also Sycamores growing and lots of other life abounds in the area because of the water and the springs. The Palms are fan tailed palms and are native to the region, although later in the 1800's or 1900's (you know give or take a hundred years)lol, date palms were imported and planted as an additional food source.

This is Tahquwitz Falls in Tahquwitz canyon. It is a great hike and right in town. Just drive south and take a right. Kind of blows the mind how 'right there' the wilderness is.

I think it is a good way to live (except of course for when the fires burn). (You know, California, land of natural disasters, earthquakes, mudslides, and forest fires). This is what a Palm that survives a fire looks like years later; scarred, but live.

And yet there is a reason we don't move. It is an inspired place to live both in the wide and varying landscapes (desert, mountain, and coast) as well as the feeling of relaxed openess around me.