Thursday, February 26, 2015

Color is the Antidote for Winter

Someone recently asked how I wash and dye fleece.  I've been doing as much of that as I can the last month and have been reasonably productive.  Creating big piles of rich color is especially satisfying when outdoors is as much fun as the Arctic tundra.

Step 1.  Skirt enough raw fleece to make a worthwhile load.  In this case I collected about five pounds of Cotswold that isn't going into the batch of yarn I'm having spun because the tips were a little yellow and it would give the yarn more of a butter color than I want.  I have a washing machine in the wool shop which is dedicated just for washing fiber.  Five pounds fits comfortably in the drum without packing it in too tightly when filled with water to the "Extra Large" load setting.

Step 2.  Fill the washer with the hottest water possible and give the wool a 20 minute soak in just clear water. (Soak only - never agitate!) I don't use soap for the first soak because the water alone will lift out a lot of lanolin and water soluble dirt.

This is how much dirt the water alone lifts from the wool.

The wool already shows improvement.

Step 3. Spin the dirty water out. Remove the wool from the washer drum and refill it with fresh hot water.  This time I add soap.  Everyone has their preferences and there are many brands that do a fine job, both those formulated for washing fleece and also just good old dish and laundry soap.  If you are washing and wool is still greasy the problem is probably not the soap, but the water.  Getting it hot enough is an issue for many people especially since today's water heaters have safety settings that will never do the job fiber prep requires.  If you can't change the settings on your water heater you can literally bring a canner kettle of water to a boil, turn it off, and sink your wool in that.

Step 4. Sink the fleece back into the washer and let it soak in the soap for 20 minutes.

Step 5 and 6 - Remove wool, fill washer with fresh hot water and return the wool to soak 20 minutes.  Spin and repeat another clear water soak.  Occasionally I'll need to do two soap washes especially if the fleece is from a ram (or I've gotten dumb and tried to wash too much wool at once) but whether one or two soap washes I do give the fleece 2 clear soaking rinses to remove all the soap.  Water is almost clear by the end of the second rinse.

And the wool looks a lot more respectable.

From here it goes into the dye pot.  I can fit about half the basket into the big stock pot in the sink.  I add vinegar as our water is hard and the dye likes a more neutral environment.  It's hard to show how dark the dye is but it's a very intense purple mixed from dark blue and dark red.

Once filled, I put the pot in the oven on 200 degrees until the water seems clear (a few hours) then the pot comes out and sits on the floor overnight to cool and finish setting.  This is how clear the dye bath exhausts.

No dye is going into the environment :-)

I then give the dyed wool another rinse in the washer with lukewarm water.  This removes any vinegar smell from the fiber and also rinses out a bit more dirt from the fleece.  I've found it impossible to get rinse water totally clear when washing.  There is always some small amount of dust and tiny particles of 'stuff' that hang onto the wool.  I can't imagine how much water I'd waste trying to pursue perfectly clear rinse water.  But it's OK because the 'stuff' turns to dust when dry and falls out during picking and carding so it comes back as lovely clean roving.

Look at this - the dye broke!  Even though the powders were totally dissolved in the water, the blue jumped onto some locks and the butt part of others and the red component went largely to the tips of the locks.

That ought to make some really pretty purple roving when it's carded together!

Holly says:

"I think I've had as much fun out here as I can stand.  Can we go to the house?"

Yep, time to let the wool dry and we'll go do something else.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Yes, We're Tired of Winter

Calling for -7 F tonight, high of -3 tomorrow and -12 tomorrow night.  Windchills expected to be around -30 F.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fog Magic

Fog plus below freezing temperatures yield some very pretty effects.  I wish it had been sunny!  It would have been dazzling.

"Boy, it was cold last night!  My ears and nose are froze!"

The farm bell was easy to read, like a rubbing off a head stone.

"Downs & Co.    Seneca Falls, NY"

Instead of plates or flakes the frost grew in crunchy, crispy little chunks.

The euonymus really got coated.

Every twig, wire, edge and surface had a delicate fringe of frost.  It was curious how the frost grew - each little stray fiber of baler twine was coated, but the twine itself wasn't encased.

Sharp edges or bumps grew frost but flat surfaces didn't so much.

"What do you think she's doing?"       "Really, I have no idea."

Nugget and Pickles  - "Take our picture!  Here, we'll stand reeeeaally close - that's bound to help."

Mickey, former bottle lamb 

A warmer and much more pet-able "frosted" sheep nose!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday Stills Photography Challenge - Sepia

For this week its an open challenge, anything will work just convert it to sepia....

So I know that sepia is a classy word for 'shades of brown' but I wasn't able to achieve that while fiddling with the Photo Editor on my desktop.  Android phone to the rescue!  They had an option called "latte" which looks awfully like sepia to me.  Maybe it's not quite kosher, but I think it's nice.

Sheep are pretty, no matter how they're photographed!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Taste the Rainbow

Hope Skittles doesn't sue me for copyright infringement.  ;-)   To be accurate it's more a case of 'spin the rainbow'.  A few years ago the spinning guild had a fun activity in which you could chip in fiber from your stash - any color and type of fiber but it had to be ready to spin - and Diane at Acorn Works recombined all the contributions into some very fun rainbow gradient batts.  The fiber I put in earned me four batts back.  One I gave away but the other three are finally being spun up.

This batt is the same shade of rainbow as the skein at right.  It's a somewhat subdued gradient with an almost gray overtone.  The singles on the bobbin at left is from a batt that was much brighter and not muted.  I only had one like that as the one that I gifted was a bright one.

The whole point of a rainbow is to preserve the color shift in the finished yarn.  I could have unrolled the batt and divided it into two shorter batts of equal size and weight, carefully pulled off strips from one edge across to the other, spun two bobbins of ROYGBIV yarn and prayed hoped that the lengths of each color were close enough that when plied together the color shift would remain pretty much intact.  I didn't feel that ambitious at the time so I just started at one edge and made strips, spinning each in order to get a big bobbin of rainbow yarn.  Now what?

I decided to experiment and ply it on a strong metallic thread.  I saw it done on a video and it looked easy enough although the glittery part is a bit out of my normal rut method of making yarn.  This skein is 570 yards, so enough to be worthwhile.  It's also now a yarn that's thinner than I'm used to working with since the thread didn't add any bulk.  I didn't think that part through too well :-/

It IS pretty to look at, though.

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with the second batt.  *Maybe* I'll do as I outlined above and try for a two-ply yarn with colors that match up well enough to preserve the rainbow. I'd have to spin a pretty consistent singles.  Hmmm.  The brighter yarn currently on the bobbin is also a question.  I could ply it with the same metallic thread or I could make a cabled three-ply yarn (aka Navajo ply) but when I tried that in a workshop last fall I wasn't jazzed with the way the yarn handled.  I found it kind of stiff and clunky.  I suppose I could ply it with plain white.....  Good thing I'm not this indecisive about everything!

In other fiber news I sent more wool off to become roving - a big ol' bag of white Cotswold....

And a smaller bag of dyed Cotswold in a fun pumpkin-pie color.

And some of the previous lots I sent have returned!  I've spun an ounce of each to make a sample and have yet to ply them.  (Just nice simple ply-back-on-yourself  two-ply.  Whew.)

It didn't even occur to me until I set them next to each other that the grouping was so patriotic!

The coming week is supposed to be snowy and cold.  Bleah.  But we stay up on the hill and do chores and wash wool and keep the fires burning and live in our own little world, like this guy.

Hopefully we won't have to literally tunnel!  :-0

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Random Wednesday

I tried to find a cohesive theme or story for today but nothing stood out.  A very nice day because of sun every moment but just a typical work-a-day, do-a-bunch-of-things day.

I'm working on accumulating enough Cotswold wool for a batch of yarn.  Last time I sent just shy of 100 pounds which was 8-10 raw fleeces.  I've gone through three so far, taking out the nicest and most uniform length locks and putting the remainder in bags designated for wash/dye/roving or quilt batting.  There will be less loss in processing if all the wool handles the same in the equipment.  Today I paused in that and skirted Cotswold lamb fleece for a lady who makes designer yarn.  The fiber is so darn pretty I have to keep reminding myself to stop fiddling with it and hurry up.

Some of the locks are wavy/less curly - this usually comes from the sides of the lamb where gravity pulls some of the curl out of the lock.

Then there are the locks that lay along the back and don't have any stress.  Those usually hold the curl better.  Still, the locks are soft and supple - after all, it's baby wool.

Holly really enjoyed the sun and spent as much time as she could on the side porch letting herself bake.  She'd get up panting, get a drink and beg snacks see what we were doing and then go back and lay down again.  I would have been right there too if I had time ;-)

Andy drew a load of hay down to the lower barn and we put it up in the mow.  This wagon holds about 90 bales comfortably and that lasts the flock about 4 days.  It sounds like a huge amount but we don't make the bales very heavy because neither of us want to handle them!  A thirty pound bale is enough, a fifty pounder just isn't necessary.  You can buy a lot of baler twine for what steady visits to the chiropractor would cost.

The first order of business was to clean off the elevator which had accumulated our share (about 6 inches) of the big blizzard that ended up not affecting NY much at all.  (Note the pale moon at the top of the picture).

This wouldn't normally be an exciting job but for the hard soled shoes plus dry snow on tilted metal!

Once we had the load of hay off he still had to bring some blocks of wood nearer the boiler to split for tonight.

The hydraulic splitter is acting up due to the cold - likely some water somewhere it shouldn't be has frozen - so he's doing a few blocks a day on an as-needed basis until we get a warmer day... whenever that will be.  Ash splits easily and on a cold sunny day like this it's not a bad task.

And finally, a bit of Kittin-sheepy love.

Next time, some fiber progress!