Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


Too much of a good thing

I have the trial of pleasant excess, which is to say I have a plethora of fiber. I’ve been trying, but life is busy and it’s not just that I’m failing to gain on the gifts of the holidays (when I gained 8-plus lbs of fiber), but I’ve fallen behind the acquisitions since then. I was weak. I saw that Paradise Fibers had some of a rare breed (California Red), and it sounded interesting, so I bought a lb.

Therein lies some of my problem, I want to make a useful quantity of yarn. I look at Etsy and see skeins of 1-2 oz., and think it’s inane. How is someone going to make anything out of so small a quantity, so I tend to get between ½ and 1 lb. of fiber (that, or I take a pair of 4 oz rovings and combine them to make some sort of interesting yarn.

It doesn’t help that I like to spin fine. I’ve gotten decent at it too. I’m no longer, “chasing cobwebs”, but rather I’ve moved to spinning gossamer. The cashmere I bought at Christmas is ridiculously fine. I decided to ply some of it up with the tail end of the Targhee I had left over from plying. I expected to have a thinner strand around a thicker one. Nope.   They were the same diameter. As I recall it was 1/45 for weight (these are cones used to hold the yarn for the weft on commercial looms), which is about 11,000 yards per lb. My estimation (from the skein length on the 4 oz I’d spun up) was about 13,500 ypp).

Spinning that finely takes longer.

So I’ve spun some, but I doubt I’ve managed more than a pound since New Year’s. It’s been interesting. The Finnish is nice, Polwarth is a dream. The Kraemer Mauch was really nice. The yarn has a very pleasant heather/tweedy look, and the hand is soft. It also spins up easily, needs little in the way of prep to go from roving to wheel and is easier to spin in a heavier yarn, which I am trying to teach myself to do. Right now I have two project on the wheel, and both of them are a bit frustrating.

Part of the frustration is that I want to spin a bit thicker, and I have trained myself to spin fine. That’s not too much of a problem, save that I have managed to choose rovings that don’t want to be spun “thick” (which for me means an end weight which a knitter/crocheter would think of as, “worsted”). The one is an alpaca, which is just not a very well prepped fiber. It’s been over carded and is not only chock full of noils, but clumps in the hand, so I get “slubs’ of fat fluffy stuff. At first I thought it was me having trouble with the nature of the roving, because, it’s, “pencil” (which means it’s a long thin strip, instead of a fatter “tube” of fiber). Pencil is supposed to be easier to work, because it doesn’t have to be thinned out as much to feed into the “drafting zone”, but I’ve mostly spun from the thicker sort of rovings.

That isn’t it. Looking at the slubs, when I try to thin them out, what I see is a tight yarn, surrounded by a halo of fluff. I’m going to finish this skein, and think about not spinning the rest of it at all. I may need to find someone who is interesting in felting and sell them the remainder of the two colors I have.

So decided to spin something else, and take it in stages (so as not to have something which seems a bit of a chore when I think about sitting down to the wheel). Silly me, I chose some alpaca/silk. It’s got, for different reasons, some of the same habits. First, it wants to spin fine. Second it needs a to be held with a firm looseness; a bit further back in the fiber bundle, or it becomes a slippery mess in the hand.

The other quirk is that if the twist gets into the fiber, the silk locks it right up. That makes opening a section which is too thick a lot harder than it would be if this was wool, or even pure alpaca.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve spun alpaca/silk blends before, it was sort of cranky, but I’ve gotten better, and I figured it would be ok. Mostly it is, but it’s not the best of “relaxing interludes” from the other.

The other thing making it so that my fibercrafting friends just laugh at me when I state a desire to reduce my stash, is that I joined a fiber club when I bought the California Red. My first delivery came today. Three rovings, 7 oz. total. A plain merino, a merino/tussah, and a merino/yak/silk blend. They are all lovely. The yak blend, in particular, is amazingly chatoyant. It’s a white yak, and a grey merino, it’s got a charcoal-silver effect. I may set aside the other 2 oz. of the alpaca/silk I’m using now, and spin it up very fine (which will be easier than what I’m doing now) and perhaps one of the other silvery alpaca blends I’ve got and make a 3-ply yarn with a really nice drape.

I can, of course, get the yak blend at a 10 percent discount, if I decide I want more of it; though that means I need to spin a little up in a hurry.

The last thing I’ve been doing is (finally) getting to work on spinning the Arapawa I got as a gift.  I bought some viking combs  and a set of Howard hand cards (I tested them out at WEBS, and was able to limit myself to just a bit more of the Kraemer Mauch. I didn’t buy a small loom, which was really tempting, nor any of the really pretty fibers.  We did get some dyes, so I we can play with making our own colorways from things like the California Red, or Polwarth, etc.).  I’ve got to work on the scouring, because the wool still feels a bit greasy.  It’s really fine, but crimpy, and I need to work on getting the carding done, since it’s full of vegetable matter, and the locks are kind of clumpy, which makes it hard to gauge the amount of distance to keep between my hands.

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On fibers

I’ve not been spinning as much as I ought.  Given the way this year is scheduled, I’m never going to catch up to the fiber in the stash.  It doesn’t mean I’m not spinning, I am.  Right now I have two active projects on the bobbins (a blue and white twining cable, spun Z/S/Z, to end up with a 2×2 cable, which I am sending to be used in crochet), and a striping Targhee on the wheel right now (2-ply Z/S: which means it will be better for Continental/German/Pick knitting: It turns out I’ve been making yarns for the less common style of knitting in the US, which is British/Throw knitting.  On the flip side, this seems to be the more common style of yarn, so no one has complained.  It seems the books I was using as reference assumed the default was Continental, that or I misunderstood them).

I’ve also got a batch of generic white, which I’ve dyed with saffron. It’s got a lovely yellow shade to it.  I’ve washed about 6 oz of dirty wool (from an Arapawa fleece I was sent), so I need to pick/card that and see how it does.

But I’ve spun about ten different fiber types in the past year. I have been “chasing cobwebs” (i.e. I spin pretty fine yarns).

Merino:  Smooth, but a bit grippy.  It want’s a lot of opening our before drafting.  It’s also pulls fairly slowly, even when being done as a woolen.  I’ve gotten better at avoiding “slubby” patches, but I’m still not spinning it as evenly as I’d like.

Herdwick: Not sure what I think.  Short, tough, rough.  Has some kemp.  Spins to a very durable; if prickly, thread when fine.  I’ve not managed to spin any up with any bulk.  Would be great for weaving carpet-backs.  Could be used as an outer sweater.  Face the cuffs and neck.

Lopi:  Easy spinner.  The yarns I’ve had the easiest time getting some intentional bulk into.  A bit less than soft, but not all that rough.  Blended with some silk it might make warm, long wearing, socks.   Good for sweaters.  Not best for large areas against the skin, but would be nice as a hat.

Polwarth: CREAMY!  This is (to date) the nicest spinning I know.  It’s a long-wool (like the Targhee, and Merino), but it slides easily, so pre-drafting is both easy and less critical.  It’s smooth through the fingers, responding well to being semi-worsted (by passing the yarn over, then under, the fingers in my orifice hand).  As with all long wools it benefits from a more open hand position.  It’s very nice to spin fine. The time it takes seems to be less, because the feel is so nice.  One gets a little lost in the sybaritic pleasure of it sliding through the fingers.

Suri (Alpaca): A different sort of longwool.  Not as grippy as those from sheep.  Has to be handled with some care, as it gets really wiry (and harsh) when overspun.  Underspinning is easy to do, and that can make plying a bit more tedious (to say nothing of the frustrations that can lead to when one loses the drafting end and has to fish it off the bobbin; at which time bit, after bit, after bit, just frays to nothing).

Huacaya (Alpaca): Shorter, a bit less soft.  Easier to spin woolen, though it also needs to have a careful balance of twist.

Yak: Very short.  Warm, and soft in the hand. Not as elastic a yarn as wool, nor even as Alpaca, but the spring to the plied yarns is wonderful.  It’s plush.  Good for scarves and gloves.  If you can find some white/tan yak it would make a very nice shawl; from fairly open, to middling dense lacework.

Targhee: A lot like Merino.  Feltier, so it needs more opening before drafting, but it’s more forgiving in the working; both sliding a bit more before it locks up, and locking up pretty solidly when the twist sets in.  Spins very finely.  It would probably full very well,  so weaving it into peacloth, or a a beret/tam o’shanter would be a good use for it too.  Might not be as good for socks (felting), certainly that would want a fair bit of silk/tencel/bamboo added to the wool.

Suri Alpaca/Silk (80/20):  Nice to be done with.  The silk makes it very prone to the top/roving developing halo (this might be static, so a little water/spinning oil might help, if you don’t mind the way they make the fiber feel in your hands).  Once it’s spun it’s lovely stuff, but it does need more handling.  It’s also very slippy, so you have to be careful with your hands, not to tight (or the twist runs tighter than anything), nor too loose (or it flies out of your hand, onto the bobbin, and needs to be fished out).    [I’ll be playing with some plain silk, and that should help some.  I wonder what a 70/30 ratio would do, since the silk has a different luster (larger bundles stand out, as chatoyent gleam).  I suspect being better with silk (which has huge issues with trying to fly away), will help with this.

Finnish:  Very nice.  Easy spinner, moderate staple.  Can be spun fine, so 5-plies for guernsey/aran sweaters with lots of clean cabling would be doable.  Has a moderate halo (but not prickly), so blending it with some alpaca to make it a bit softer (with looser decorative elements) would still look/feel good.


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Fiber log

I’ve spun up samples of two of the new wools.

First was some Masham. It’s just a bit rough in the hand.  The roving splits easily, and opening it up to spin (pre-drafting) is easy.  Set the wheel to the most open of configurations; as it’s not supposed to like, “too much twist”.  Had some trouble with it, mostly because I was afraid of getting too fine, and overtwisting it.  Some of it was undertwisted, which made plying a bit of a hassle.  Seems to have a nice drape.  It’s a bit prickly for next to the skin, but would probably be good for warp in a tweed, or for sweaters, etc.

I got about 60 yards of singles, but with the plying problems I made for myself, only 57 yards of 2-ply from the oz. I had to spin.

Next was some Polwarth. Very soft in the hand.  Loftier, as roving, than the Masham.  A bit stickier.  It took more work to pre-draft.  Moderately grabby at first, but a very even spinner.  The only word (and I was using it a lot) I can think of to convey how nice it was to spin is, that it was, “creamy”.  It was very steady as it moved onto the bobbin (though I think I am being too attentive when working the samples.  I want to see how they behave, and how they will best spin; so I’m seeing what people say about it, and trying to match that. I’m not sure this is doing justice to the experience I’ve built up)  I do think I can do  pretty much what I want with it.  It’s very smooth when spun up, even with a woolen treatment.  I’ll bet I can spin 3-ply lace weight with it, on the wheel.

I am glad I didn’t start with it though, as it’s got more “tooth” than Merino (and a lot more than Alpaca).  In the very beginning it would have been hard to manage because it’s so responsive; any of the problems which come from lack of skill/co-ordination would be magnified.  Then, when I got the hang of it, that same responsiveness would have been too kind.  The Alpaca, and Romney, and even the sort of finicky Merino I spun, required me to be attentive, in ways the Polwarth doesn’t.  But now that I’ve got some skill, I’m going to be spinning a lot of this, because it’s really easy to keep fairly even.

I already have a cable-project in mind, and the first two oz. of that have already started going onto bobbins.


All the fiber

For Christmas this year I got LOTS of fiber*. If I did the math correctly I added 8 1/2 lbs of raw fiber to the stash, as well as an unknown amount of unset cashmere mill ends.

Among the things I got was a sample pack of 24 different wools, from different breeds of sheep, 1 oz of each:

California Variegated Mutant (CVM)
Dorset Horn
Manx Loaghtan

Some of them are visually interesting (the Welsh has some very short, very thick, fibers in the mix, they seem brittle.  I can’t tell if they will disappear, or make a stiff sort of halo).  So I’ll be do doing some research on how to best spin them (perhaps I will finally get The Field Guide to Fleece and Fiber).  I’m looking forward to spinning them up, because they will be quick spins (yay for instant gratification) as well as being a chance to play with different fibers.  (I also got some quivut, I’m not going to be spinning that anytime soon, as I want to get some more, and be able to spin up enough to make into something.  I suspect I am going to have that something be a scarf, and I’m going to keep it for myself)

What they won’t be is all that useful as yarn.  They are great as a study aid/familiarisation project for me, but I don’t know they will be all that great as a knitting crochet project.  But, if any one wants to have an .oz of something new to play with, on the relatively cheap; perhaps to decide on getting some yarn made to order, I’m figuring to offer it for $15 a skein, postage included, for a 2-ply woolen, spun for knitting (some, like the Wensleydale, will be fairly fine; I can see the staple will like that; others (e.g. the Welsh, will be spun as best I can manage to the general recommendations of my research).

If you have a hankering to try one, and want it spun in some more specific way (really fine, 3-ply, spun for chrochet, etc), let me know, and I’ll spin it that way for you.

I’ll try to remember to write up the interesting ones, and may even do some youtubing.  With all of that, (and the extant stash, and the share of lopi being delivered in April) I need to spin about 1 lb. a month to reduce my stash to the level I was at on 23. Dec, by the end of 2014.  That doesn’t include the mill ends (though I already have one project in mind for them).

Among the other things I got was some really nice black alpaca (suri), mixed 80/20 with purple silk (I can’t tell if the alpaca has been dyed at all, it might have been).  The color is superb, and it’s a joy to spin, so right now I have done about 1.5 oz. of my needed 192.

I’ve got a video of it being spun out:

*the small bit of fluff I’m cuddling to my cheek, is Quivut)

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A color runs through it

A livejournal post, on progress in spinning was the spark to do more than just the recap of a really nice skein of yarn (which I will also do).  I’ve been spinning on the wheel for about a year (not quite, I got the wheel in mid-November).  According to my spinnenboek I’ve started 16 projects on the wheel in the past nine months, and 15 of them have come off of it.  That’s not too bad.  It’s not great, but it’s more than one a month, and as I’m spinning in the odd moments, or when we are sitting watching television, etc. it’s not too bad.  As a crafty-purchase it’s not sitting idle in the corner, so it’s a win.

I’ve still got my first skein of yarn, and as I was promised, I can’t do it again.  The slubby-mess it is (which is both a term of art, and a misnomer.  I don’t care for it much; though it’s got some charms; I know people who will pay good money for skeins of thick and thin.  I saw a shawl made from some just yesterday.  It was attractive, so what do I know, me with my aesthetic for more even yarns?), it no longer something I know how to make.  I have become a fine spinner.  I may not be a “good” spinner (by my lights), but the yarns I make are not thick, though I can still see the ghost of that first skein.

How has my spinning changed in the past nine months?  I’ve gotten more confident.  I don’t look at a hank of roving and say, “OMG… I’m going to screw it up!”.  I have taken to planning my yarns.  I’m also managing to get what I want (mostly) out of them.  I need more practice to have a solid sense of how the colors work out, but I’m getting there too.  I’m willing to take commissions.  I’m not looking to make a living at it.  I’m not even looking to make pin-money.  I’d like to make it pay for itself, so that I’m not pouring money into fiber, and in need of giving the yarn away to have room to make more.

So, for a basic commission (i.e. some sees a roving they like, and want’s to have some yarn from it), I’m happy to do that.  If they send me twice as much fiber as they want yarn.  It’s a pretty good deal actually, given what it takes me in terms of time, and what yarns cost on Etsy, etc.

So what does my present level of skill look like?

I started with a varigated roving, and split it down the middle, end to end.

Top in the Bowl

Then I spun it up.
Single on the wheel

You can see the banding.  It’s a bit more evident when the full bobbins are next to each other.

Ready to Reel

Once it’s been spun back, to make it more even on the bobbins, for more even plying, the striping isn’t really apparent.

Ready to ply

This is how they look, coming together off the lazy-kate, and into the wheel.


As you see, the two singles are from the same part of the roving, so they blend into a single color.  There are some differences in the way the two sides spun, so the transitions have some interference, which has its own charm. When done the bobbin was pretty full.


But it was balanced.  The yarn hung straight, and draped easily, before I set it. Afterwards it looked like this:


If you look you can see some of the interference zones.  This is all I had left


So, all in all, I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but with an average of about 3oz per project, I’ve only spun 45oz, or a bit less than 3lbs. It’s not that much, so I’ve really got no reason to think poorly of my work, in fact, when I look at it objectively, I’ve every reason to think I’m coming along fairly well.

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This and that

I realise I’ve let twitter become my everyday comments, and am therefore ending up making this, “serious”.  A retweet from @evilrooster reminded me this is not always the best of ways to look at things.

1:  It means the people who don’t follow my twitter don’t see what I say.

2: It means what I might want to say gets less said.

3: It means it’s harder for people to find the things I want to talk about.

4: I get lost.  I start to write large posts, and then don’t get them sorted until they seem pointless.

Work has been busy.  We have three people on vacation, and five quit; one of them the Store Manager (he got a better offer, and took it).  A beloved horse died; which was sad.  Everyone else was away from home for four days (not that I could really tell.  I worked eight days straight; through yesterday, and 18 of the past 21.  I’m getting pretty much full-time hours, but on a part-time schedule.  That’s what, “underemployment” looks like).

But all is not work.  I’ve gotten some spinning done (much while we watch Veronica Mars, which makes me think of Twin Peaks, without the supernatural aspects and a but more linearity of plot: The A-Plot is better framed, and the B-Plot carries the episode in a way that doesn’t leave one going, “Whuh?” about everything).  It’s not my best spinning: I grabbed the wrong fiber, and so it didn’t need to be as loose as I did it.  I plied it up yesterday (first use of my bulky flyer, it’s 6 oz of 2-ply) meant for crochet [spun s, plied z], and the tests I did while plying laid really softly on my hand.

I also got sent a package of fleece.  A rare breed, from New Zealand, Arapawa. That is because the internet is real life.  Some one saw me writing on about spinning and sent me a line asking if they could send me a fleece.  A rare fleece (… a rattlin’ fleece, from the flock down in the valley-oh! o/” ).  Now i want to get a drum carder, so I can see how it behaves.  First I need to scour the wool.  That sounded a lot more daunting six months ago, but I’ve been spinning more, and it seems more like breadmaking than floor-scrubbing (i.e. a little work, over a longer time, rather than a lot of work over a longer time).  The only thing I need is the detergent (as it seems the preferred home method has been made more difficult because dish-soap makers have added enzymes, which happen to attack the fibers, so I need to be sure my scouring soap is free of them).

But I am so chuffed.  It’s got such a nice smell, spicey, and earthy and cleanly acid; with a bit of heaviness.  Musky, I suppose, but not in the civet sort of way. It smells like happy sheep.

I’m also teaching people some basic swordplay.  Bought several new shinai, and am working with them on basic movement drills, and forms.  No one is in any sort of training to spar yet, but that will come soon enough.  They improve with speed.

Summer is fading, but the plants are still doing well.  Asparagus (what hasn’t been ripped out by someone/something) is thriving.  I should get to eat some next year.  I am worried about one of the blueberries, so there may not be any fruit on my present plants.  I’ll put in more.  I seem to have an olive from a cutting (though the transplant may have killed it, in which case I will be sad).  The dill is going to seed, and I have Calif. Poppies in seed, so the summer was a pretty good on in that regard.

The trick to blogging, of course, is to blog.

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Recently it was my birthday.  So I’m a week older than I was a week ago.  🙂

But we like to mark things, and so there was some minor celebrating.  I burned 18 months of “loyalty” points at my local wine and spirits shop; which netted a tasty bottle of Scapa.  Right now the whisky which is available is a bit strange, in that the distillery was mothballed in 1994 (though a small bit of distilling took place every year).  Pernod/Chivas reopened in it 2004.  So my bottle of “16” year old whisky§ was distilled before the present owners bought the property (there are any number of “orphaned” stocks floating about.  They can be quite dear).  I have a wee dram in a snifter right now.  The snifter is a bit of celebratory stuff too.  I paid for it with a photo.
Regensburg Danau Contrasty

Ok, to be honest, I paid for about €80 worth of glass with a few Tiffs, but it was still the case that I paid for it with pictures.

I’m drinking with a “wee drap o’  burn water” This burn, to be specific.


It opens the flavors up some. It makes the whisky a bit less mellow, reduces the honey notes, and raises more of the heather, and gives it a more peppery aftertaste, but the middle is a bit “hotter” for it.

I was also given (as opposed to obtained for myself; using my birthday as an excuse to indulgence) a Schacht Bulky Plyer Flyer Head (say that five times fast).  It’s a bit more work than I was thinking because (perforce) it’s meant to do “bulky” yarns, so the orifice is large enough to allow fat bundles of singles/plies in that they may become fat plies/cables (that link is part of a pretty interesting blog entry on spinning flax; on two flyers at the same time).  The “hooks” are also different to the one’s I am used to, being loops of plastic, which slide between preset locales on the flyer.  The manual (yes, I read it) says one needs to keep them in the same relative postions, as a matter of balance.  Since they are closed loops the yarns can’t be moved from one side to the other.  It’s not as big a deal when plying it, but it’s not what I think ideal for spinning singles.  On  the upside, the plies can’t come off the hooks if the spin gets reversed (which I seem to be more prone to when plying then when spinning).

So it’s time to take advantage of it, which means picking up a latent project.  I have six oz. of lavender merino, of which I’ve spun one ounce, worsted.  Spun up it ought to make a heavy sock-weight yarn.  With the new flyer I can do two-ounces per bobbin, and get a skein with a really nice length, somewhere between 200-300 yards.


§ For those who don’t know the “age” of a Scotch is the age of the youngest whisky in the blend.  There are three types of scotch, Blended, Vatted, and Single Malt.  Blended has Grain Whisky added (basically locally made Everclear; it took a lawsuit to resolve the issue).  Vatted is a blending of the whiskies of several distilleries (e.g. The Lismore), and Single Malt is the result of blends of a single distillery.  Inside Single Malt one also finds Single Barrel; which is usually the product of a single year, and Cask Strength is which is bottled with the alcoholic content the Distiller (i.e. the person actually running the still) decided was the proof at which the whisky would age best in the cask.  It’s usually between 94°-110°.  A good Blended (they exist), or Vatted, whisky is harder to make then a decent Single Malt, since the idea is that from year to year there will be little variation in the profile.  This means having a large battery of secondary whiskies to balance the primary (e.g. Grant’s is built on The Glenfiddich,  and Pinch uses Cardhu).  Even in a Single Malt distillery there is some blending, as the variance from year to year (what with the vagaries of weather, how strongly the malt took the peat, what the barrels were like, etc., affects the resting spirits).  So there may be some portion of the bottle which is older than 16, but none of it can be younger).  That’s why, when a distillery goes under, all sort of interesting things show up.