Sunday, July 26, 2009

How not to get fleeced

Yesterday I was too tired to do more than a quick upload and comment around the photos I took at the Monterey County Fair wool judging. Now that I've gotten a nice long 10 hour nap and finished my morning chores, the information that is starting to settle in to my brain is ready for sharing.


Watching and listening to the judges yesterday has permanently changed my fleece buying habits. Before yesterday, it was something of a luck-of-the-draw kind of thing when it came to picking out a fleece. Buying ones online was sort of a "well, that sounds good" kind of effort. Never again! Here's why: the following statement is accurate and truthful "This fleece, a lovely moorit Rombouillet, was judged at the Monterey Fair and can be yours for $xxx.xx." Did you know that a fleece can be rejected for sale at the fair because of poor quality, particularly fragile fleeces? But there is nothing to stop someone from selling it online to a poor ignorant soul, and nothing they could say in that made-up market pitch was untrue. Or, how about this statement: "This fleece won a ribbon at the Monterey Fair." Well, guess what. If there are only two or three entries in a class, they ALL get ribbons unless outright rejected!

So, if I got nothing else out of the judging, I learned a few critical questions to ask when it comes to buying a fleece, especially if a selling point is around it being judged.


Here's another thing to think about. The judging covers two broad categories, Breed and Market. The purpose of the Breed category is to judge a fleece against a breed standard. That breed standard says nothing whatsoever about whether or not the fleece is suitable for handspinners! A fleece being judged in the Breed category may be full of second cuts, less than ideally skirted, may have quite a bit of hay and grass and seriously dirty or matted tips. A farmer can win a blue ribbon for a fleece and it wouldn't be all that great for a handspinner to work with.

The Market category has its own quirks. The purpose of the Market category is to judge a fleece on how well it would sell at market. Here you can expect to find fleeces that may not conform to a particular breed standard, but they'll still be great fleeces for handspinners. The farmers have to pay more attention to how well the fleeces are skirted, and preference is given to fleeces that have been properly coated through the year, protecting the tips and leaving the fleece clean and unmatted. Sounds lovely, and it is, but even here things can be a bit misleading. Given that the goal is to judge how well a fleece would do at market, if you get two perfectly lovely fleeces equal in all respects except weight, the heavier fleece wins. Most handspinners are actually interested in smaller fleeces. If you're looking for a darling fleece, some of the ones that didn't get a ribbon will be exactly what you want - they missed only because they were smaller.

Now, you can get a fantastic-for-handspinner fleece from the Breed category. You can get a stellar example of a breed from the Market category. The point is, you need to ask the right questions!


Let's talk about some of the things the judges, Wes and Jane Patton, were looking for in the Market category. Just like with people, the first impression of the fleece was critical. As Jane Patton said, "A champion fleece needs to look like a champion." The first impression, where they took in the color, the cleanlines, the "character", really had a big impact. But that first impression could be spoiled if, as they dove in to the bag to sample different sections of the fleece, they found undesireable things. Things like inconsistent staple length, crimp, or fineness from one part of the fleece to another marked a fleece down. If they found the fleece was poorly skirted, with belly wool or sheep pellets still to be found, that marked the fleece down as well. A definite preference was shown to fleeces that held together - if you picked up a section and it looked like a halloween spider web decoration, that marked the fleece down too.


If a fleece was "tender" - if the locks just broke apart width-wise when tugged - that fleece was either marked down in rank or, if the problem was common throughout all samples of a given fleece, the fleece was removed entirely from judging and was sent back to the farmer. It would not go to auction. If a fleece showed other issues resulting from how the sheep were managed, those also impacted the rank of a market fleece. In the photo above, you see how the second lock from the left has that little wave in it towards the bottom? That isn't the crimp of the fleece. That's where something happened to the sheep to stress it for a bit and change its wool production. That something could have been anything in their environment, from diet to heat. That doesn't impact it's usability for handspinners, but if you took two fleeces equal in every way except for that wave, the one with the wave would be marked down.

Other things were talked about but rarely seen in the Market category. There were no examples in the fleeces entered for judging for canary stain, serious felting or matting problems, and so on. Some of the Breed fleeces were ever so slightly less than white (when they should have been bright white) which Wes Patton said was possibly bacterial stain, or something else in the environment.


Of course there was more to learn, and I am anxious to attend the auction in a few weeks. I've already got my list of fleeces I want to bid on, and my budget at the ready. I've got a carpool buddy, sockpr0n, who has her own list based on the judging this weekend. It's going to be great, and I will never look at a fleece the same way again.

Now, on to a week at the Golden Gate Fiber Institute summer intensive!!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monterey Fair Fleece-menship

I was going to do a very long blog post today about the time I spent with sockpr0n at the Monterey Fairgrounds for the judging of the fleeces to go to auction in a few weeks. But you know what? I think I shall just point you to all the photos I took and their captions, for it was one heck of a day. I learned so much, my brain is about to 'xplode!

Enjoy! http://picasaweb.google.com/hlflanagan/MontereyFairWoolShow

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kitty Thermometer says...

it's pretty darn warm!
That photo was taken with a 2.5 second exposure time. In camera terms, that's a fairly long exposure. And yet, no blurriness for the kitty was so very not interested in moving. Even our heat-loving Bengal was starting to wilt today.

But neither heat nor humidity nor barking dogs will keep me away from my consignment spinning, and voila, I am done! The first batch was about 2 oz. of Kerry Hill wool, and it was definitely a pleasure to card and spin. While there were a few second cuts in the bag, they were easy to pick out and the fiber was smooth and lovely. I ended up with a sample skein which I did not measure the length of, and the full skein of about 280 yards, 14 wpi. Yum yum.

The second item was a small bag of Portland wool. I carded that up and spun it woolen as well, but it wasn't quite as nice as the Kerry Hill. More second cuts, more bits of hay and grass, and a small bit of scurf. Second cuts - the little clippings that you can get when someone is sheering a sheep and isn't being careful - aren't a big deal when you're carding and going for a woolen yarn, but mostly I try to not include them. They make the yarn lumpy, and while some folks are in to that kind of thing, I'm not one of them. This 1 oz. bag of wool spun up at 125 yards, 9 wpi. More of a light worsted weight, I'd say.
And that's been most of the spinning I've been doing for the past two weeks or so. Consignment spinning has been fun - I got to work with two types of wool I hadn't experienced before, and frankly I was a bit jazzed that I'm at the point I can take on this kind of project with confidence. Still, I am looking forward to getting back to some of my own spinning. I've got this idea of spinning up a really awesome bit of silk that's dyed in dark jewel tones and plying it with gold thread, and I'm just waiting for the time to work on it.

I do however have one more assignment to finish, and that's a group knitting project I'll post more about later. I've finished half of it, but now I need to spin up the yarn and finish the other half, and I have to finish it before next Monday. I know what I'll be doing after work this week!

This coming week is going to be interesting. I plan to do a bit more in the way of after work exercise in the form of riding a bike for a minimum of 5 miles a day (big deal for me, not so big a deal for a friend of mine who completed the Death Ride last weekend) and then spinning after work to get that assignment done. And then, week after next is...


I can't wait! I'm going to be taking a class with Judith MacKenzie-McCuin on spinning and exploring how yarn works up in different arts - knitting, weaving, and so on. I'll also be taking a class with Darlene Hayes on natural dyeing. I hope to expand on what I learned in the natural dyeing class a few weeks ago with Kristine at A Verb For Keeping Warm.

I will of course take lots of pictures, but the location has no internet and barely any cell phone coverage. Posts and such will have to wait until I get back. I can't wait. :-)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Purple - its my new obsession

Well, maybe not an obsession, but it sure was a common theme in my playing with dyes this weekend! After finishing up my natural dyeing class, I felt like I had some logwood and knew how to use it, so it was time to play.

I basically mixed up four slightly different mixtures to dye 4 2oz. bundles of wool in quart canning jars. The mixtures were: logwood + cutch, logwood + cutch + a wee hint of logwood grey, logwood grey + logwood, and logwood + brazilwood. All were mordanted a week earlier with alum.

Here's what I ended up with. The one on the left is logwood + cutch, the one on the right is logwood + brazilwood. I would categorize these as dusty purple and berry purple.

The two here are logwood grey on the left, and logwood + cutch + logwood grey on the right.

So, what did I learn? For one thing, I suspect I can have much fun messing around with the logwood and brazilwood mix - with a little more depth of color, that could turn in to one awesome berry! For another, mixing logwood grey with logwood does not (at least in this percentage) does not end up with a more purple-y grey. Thirdly, cutch just made it all sort of dusty, not quite what I was expecting. And last but not least, dyeing pin-drafted roving this way leaves them a bit ratty looking. Certainly no detriment to spinning, but they aren't pretty. I may take two of them and blend them on the carder to see what a batt from these might look like.

Beyond dyeing, which I actually did Friday night with the washing up being on Sunday, I have spent most of my fiber this time doing a bit of consignment spinning. That's been much fun - I'm trading my spinning skills for some very nice roving (a merino-cashmere blend - yum). I've been enjoying doing a traditional woolen spun yarn from Kerry Hill sheep. I've done the processing with handcarders and done all the spinning long-draw from rolags - and I'm about 75% of the way done. I hope to finish that up tomorrow night and shall post photos when I'm done.

This coming weekend I have tentative plans for some sea kayaking - my previous hobby before fiber took over my world - and then a fiber day at a friend's house on Sunday. Can't wait!

Monday, July 6, 2009

It happens in three's

This was a lovely 3-day weekend, which showed the conclusion of a 3-session class, and the success in dyeing 3 acid-dyed batches of fiber (4th one might not have gone so well - should have stopped at three!).

First, let's look at the photos from the third and final session of the Intro to Natural Dyeing with Kristine of A Verb For Keeping Warm. This class was on how to wash out your dyed fibers properly - a subject that is often glossed over in books. Kristine focused us on how to do this with a minimal of water usage (yay!) and with a minimal of back-ache (double-yay!).
Over the course of the class, we dyed with pomegranate, quebracho red, madder, madder with Cream of Tartar, madder with Soda Ash, cutch, logwood, and logwood grey. We washed, and we hung stuff out to dry. You know you're in a bad way when you start seriously coveting a person's drying racks.

Here is our stuff, waiting to be washed. Some of it looked rather, well, vile in the jars. I thought the pomegranate looked kind of like slime mold, all muddy yellow and slimy looking. Iew. Thank goodness it washed out better than it looked in the jar!

Some of my stuff is on the table as well. I brought in the stuff I dyed with madder and quebracho green as a show-n-tell. It was just fascinating to see how my madder-dyed wool turned out so very, very different from the ones we dyed in class. See what different water will do for (or more to the point, to) you?

That's Nannysknits of Snicklefritz hanging up some of our stuff.
And sixineverycolor (ravelry ID) examining what we did
Isn't that purple just amazing? The purple is logwood. Also on the rack is quebracho red (that pinkish color on the very top row), pomegranate (the palest color you see in the upper left-hand corner), cutch (next to the pomegranate and just slightly darker), and madder with cream of tartar and soda ash (much to our surprise, we couldn't tell the difference betwen the ones that included cream of tarter and the ones that included the soda ash - those are the darkish brown ones to the right of the photos)
And throughout it all, we had excellent supervision.
Sorry for the bluriness of that last photo. Getting Cleo to stay still is tricky! All in all, much fun was had by all, and I am anxious to get more fibers mordanted so I can play with some of the dyes I brought home.

Natural dyeing is fun, but I want to explore the world of acid dyes as well. While there may be fewer steps to acid dyeing, I am actually finding it more difficult to get the colors I intend at the end of the day. For example, this ball of roving, while quite pretty, was supposed to be one color. Just one. Not two. One.
I talked it over with some folks who were chemistry majors in college and we're thinking that the different dyes are attaching to the wool at different temperatures. The pot is heating and cooling too quickly for all the colors to attach at their preferred temperatures. I've got some plans on how to fiddle with that, and we'll see how it goes. I tried reheating that 4th batch and it got to a rolling boil, so I'm afraid it may be a total loss. I've got it drying on the rack now, and the roving strips all came apart just fine so perhaps it is ok. I'll know when it dries, and I do hope it worked out ok 'cause it came out the most amazing kelly green! Granted, it was supposed to be more of a rich blue-purple...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Color me tickled

With an extended holiday weekend (being on-call for work stuff notwithstanding), I decided this was the weekend to Get Serious about dyeing. I mixed up the dye solutions for all the Mother MacKenzie Miracle Dyes (9 colors in all), plus getting some wool mordanted for some natural dyeing also planned for the weekend.

I won't say the dyeing has gone perfectly - it hasn't - but what it has done is been fun! What didn't go well:
  • first mordant batch boiled a bit, so I fear I've partially felted the wool
  • dyeing in jars worked for some dyes (quebracho green) and not for others (madder)
  • the acid dyes for my first attempt did not mix at all, leaving me with roving showing discreet colors instead of a single rich color like I intended
From all that I learned to be even more careful with which burner I put the pots on to prevent unintended boiling, to try and make sure the acid dyes are mixed more thoroughly and to try a few more assistants (the next batch I'm using salt as well as vinegar), and that you can always throw stuff back in a pot if it didn't turn out quite as you planned (which is what I did with the madder - took it out of jars and just dumped it all in a single pot for more freedom of dye distribution).

Here's what my first batch of colors look like:
The blue-purple one is an acid dye, the red-orange is madder, and the green-tan at the end is quebracho green.

I have some more items going in the pot today, and while they're thinking about life, I'll be taking that quebracho-dyed yarn and blending it with some honey-colored tussah silk. And when I'm not blending, I'll be carding and spinning some more of that icelandic I've been working with. And when I'm not carding and spinning, I'll be making some progress on some old knitting I have.

But first, I'll drink my coffee.