The finished rug

The story of a rug

This rug began as wool straight off the sheep – white Scottish Blackface from Alberta, white North Country Cheviot from Ontario, black Canadian wool from the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers depot and heathered off white wool from my cousin’s neighbour’s sheep in Greece.

Fresh North Country Cheviot wool fleece

Fresh North Country Cheviot wool fleece

I carefully washed each fleece and carded it ready for spinning.

Flick carded Scottish Blackface wool

Flick carded Scottish Blackface wool

Add to this natural coloured grey and beige wool roving from New Zealand, brown Icelandic wool, and Whitefaced Woodland wool from the UK dyed with indigo by my friend Ann. All these wools were chosen for their durability and natural colours.

Now the spinning began.

Spinning

Spinning

I handspun about a kilogram of yarn on my spinning wheel, about 2400 yards, then plied it into a worsted weight 2 ply yarn, washed it and hung it to dry.

Skeins of handspun wool yarn

Skeins of handspun wool yarn

Next was winding the linen warp on a warping board and then the laborious task of winding the warp onto the loom and individually threading each of the 140 heddles. Then came tying the warp on, checking the threading and fixing any errors and adjusting the tension.

Warping the loom with linen thread

Warping the loom with linen thread – rough sleying in the raddle.

After many hours of preparation weaving could finally start. The coloured weft threads were wound onto bobbins and inserted into shuttles. Using my feet on the loom’s treadles to lift the correct heddles, the shuttle was thrown across the loom between the warp threads and beaten firmly into place to create a dense, hardwearing fabric that will stand up to many years of use. The pattern was made by changing weft colours on alternate rows.

Weaving

Weaving

Once the weaving was done the rug was carefully cut off the loom. The linen warp threads were knotted by hand into an edging and threaded back into the fabric. The rug was complete.

 

My woad plants growing in a recycling bin

Dyeing with woad

Today I dyed with the woad I grew this summer. It had grown happily in a recycling bin, munched on by some cabbage butterfly caterpillars.

Freshly picked woad leaves

Freshly picked woad leaves

To start I put a big pot of water on the stove and heated I up to almost boiling. While it was heating I picked all my woad leaves and weighed them. I only had 170g. I tore up the leaves and put them in the pot of hot water.

The liquid after the woad has been steeped for 10 minutes

The liquid after the woad has been steeped for 10 minutes

The leaves must be steeped for 10 minutes at a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius. After the 10 minutes were up I removed the pot from the stove and put it into a sink of cold water to cool it down quickly.

I was able to cool it to 55 degrees in about 5 minutes by stirring it and adding more cold water and ice cubes to the sink.

I took the pot outside and strained out the leaves. You can use them to dye to get yellows so I put them aside for now.

My pH test strip

My pH test strip

The next step was to turn the dye liquid alkaline. I used 1 teaspoon of lye. I tested the pH with my pH test strips and it was a bit too alkaline. It was supposed to be a pH of 10 but it turned out to be about 12.

Beating the woad liquid to introduce oxygen

Beating the woad liquid to introduce oxygen

Then I had to aerate the dye liquid to introduce oxygen into it. This is rather counterintuitive if you have dyed with indigo where you have to be careful to keep oxygen out. I had bought a cheap hand mixer at a second hand store and used it to beat the dye liquid for 10 minutes. This created foam on top which was green and then blue.

The final step to prepare the dye bath is to remove the oxygen with thiourea dioxide. I added about 2 tablespoons full and stirred gently to dissolve it. Then I left the vat for 30 minutes.

Wool in the woad vat

Wool in the woad vat

Now the vat was ready to dye with. I weighed some washed fleece and soaked it in water. I put about 80 g of fleece in a mesh laundry bag and submerged it gently into the vat. At this point you must be careful not to get oxygen into the vat so you don’t stir it. I left it in the dye for 15 minutes. When I took it out I tried to squish out as much liquid as I could while still under the surface of he dye. Once out of the pot I let the excess dye drip into a bowl, rather than back into the dye pot, which would introduce oxygen.

Woad is like indigo in that the best dye results come from several short dips in the dye with time in the air in between. The dye itself looks green but after you take the wool out of the vat it turns blue as it reacts with the oxygen in the air. I dyed two lots of fleece, each about 80 g, and did four sessions of 15 minutes in the dye followed by 15 minutes in the air. The total amount of wool I was able to dye was about equal to the weight of the woad leaves. The colour I got was a wonderful light turquoise. I have to wait 24 hours before rinsing it to get the best colour.

Wool after the first dip in the woad vat

Wool after the first dip in the woad vat

Tiny woad seedlings

A dye garden

Last year I planted seeds of woad, weld and dyer’s coreopsis but none of them germinated. I have no idea why. This year I decided to try again with last year’s seeds. To my surprise and joy, everything has started growing.

Woad, Isatis tinctoria, has a history at least as old as that of ancient Egypt as a source of blue dye. Blue is a very rare colour among plants. Woad contains the same chemical as the indigo plant but it is not as strong.

Weld, Reseda luteola, along with woad and madder, was one of the most important plants for traditional dyeing in Europe . It gives a yellow dye and if overdyed with woad, weld dyed fibre will be gree.

Dyer’s coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, also gives yellow.

I also was given seeds for Japanese Indigo, Polygonum tinctorium, from a friend who has had great success growing and dyeing with it.

Woad, weld and Japanese indigo seedlings

Woad, weld and Japanese indigo seedlings

 

ElfyAndSheltieYarn

Dogs and Cats

Over the winter I did a couple of custom spinning orders. The first job was spinning the fur of a lovely Sheltie called Maggie. I had the honour of meeting Maggie and she is a sweet dog whose best friend is a cat. Maggie makes a lot of fur and her owner is planning a knitting project with her yarn. That’s my cat Elfy above with Maggie’s yarn.

Partially felted cat fur

Partially felted cat fur

cardingCatFur

Hand carded rolags ready to spin

The second job was to spin some Ragdoll cat fur from two cats who live in Florida. Some of their fur had been spun by another spinner who unfortunately had to give up spinning so I had to match the already spun yarn. The fur had been stored compacted in a plastic bag and was felted into large lumps when I got it. It was several years worth of combings from the two kitties.

It took a lot of pulling and teasing to gently pull the felted clumps apart but most of it was usable. The customer wanted 100% cat fur yarn rather than blended with wool. I don’t usually recommend this as cat fur felts so easily and anything made out of cat fur yarn also tends to felt.

I hand carded the fur to make rolags and spun it long draw on my little upright wheel. The final two ply yarn was very soft.

Ragdoll cat fur yarn

Ragdoll cat fur yarn

1605

Natural dyeing

1851

A pot full of grass clippings cooking.

Summer is the time for natural dyeing. This is dyeing, not with commercial dyes, but with materials I can find around where I live such as flowers or lichen. It’s always interesting to try new plants and see if I can get colour from them.

The most common colour from plants is yellow and I have been trying to find a nice source of green. I had heard somewhere that grass clippings give green so after the gardeners had mowed our condo lawns for the first time this year I collected a pot full of grass clippings with a bunch of dandelions. I soaked them in water overnight and the next day I heated the pot on a hot plate in the back yard and brought it to a boil. I simmered for an hour and the water was now a yellowish green. I carefully strained off the grass through cheesecloth and had just dye liquid left.

Wool fleece in the grass dyepot

Wool fleece in the grass dyepot

Most, but not all natural dyes need a mordant to allow the colour in the plant to properly fix itself to the wool. Mordants are usually metals and the one I use is alum. I use potassium aluminum sulfate but grocery store alum used for pickling also works. Different mordants such as tin or iron can produce different colours from the same dyestuff but some, like chrome, are extremely dangerous and I don’t use them. Some people soak their wool in a solution of water an the mordant before dyeing but I am lazy and just add the mordant to the dyepot.

I put about 6 ounces of washed Romney wool into the dyepot and let it simmer for an hour or so. It was a pale yellow and not very exciting so I let it simmer for another hour. Still pale yellow. So I turned off the heat and just left the wool in the dyepot overnight.

The next morning the wool was still pale yellow so I took it out and gave it a thorough rinsing and put it out to dry. It’s not a bad colour but there are much better yellow dyes available, although later in the summer. I love goldenrod, red clover and cedar clippings.

1883

Romney wool fleece dyed with grass clippings

My next experiment was with lilac flowers, which I had also heard might give green. I followed the same procedure as for the grass clippings and got – you guess it – pale yellow.

 

 

 

 

Robin's animals

Shearing day

Today was shearing day at my friend Robin’s farm, Elderberry Farm. She has an assortment of sheep: Polwarth, Shetland, Jacob, Shropshire (and crosses) and two guard llamas Hamish and Joy.

Shearing a sheep

Shearing a sheep

After the shearer is done with an animal we put the fresh, still warm fleece on the skirting table which is made of chicken wire. We spread out the fleece and remove any dirty or matted parts and sections with too much vegetation in them. Vegetation in fleece is called vm for vegetable matter and spinners talk a lot about vm because we hate having to remove it before we spin. There may also be short bits of fleece called second cuts. These happen when the shearer makes a second pass over the animal to touch up the haircutting job. Removing the undesirable and otherwise icky parts of fleeces is called skirting.

Vegetable matter in a fleece

Vm in an otherwise lovely fleece

This section of fleece has a lot of vm so we removed it from the fleece and throw it in a garbage bag. Some shepherds keep the skirtings and spend time washing and cleaning them. Others just throw them out or use them for compost.

A poopy bit

A poopy bit

Jean fell in love with a gorgeous Polwarth Shetland cross fleece with lovely long locks and Shetland like curly tips. She was not planning to buy any fleece today but a true spinner cannot resist a beautiful fleece.

I took home Hamish the llama’s fleece, a gorgeous brown and white soft fleece. Hamish has been guarding Robin’s sheep for 14 years. Llamas are excellent guard animals quite capable of killing a dog or coyote. Robin says the coyotes just run past her farm, knowing there are llamas there.

Skirting a fleece

Jean and me skirting a fleece

Spinning while walking Basil

Spinning with Basil

Basil

Basil

Basil the handsome tabby cat came to me with an attitude. He had definite opinions about other cats, especially intact males, although he himself was neutered. After a few months at my house a stray cat showed up in the neighbourhood and Basil did NOT APPROVE. Bloody and bitter fights ensued.

Spinning with Basil

Spinning with Basil

A neighbor and I conspired to neuter the stray cat, who I now called Puffy because he looked a bit like my cat Scruffy. Puffy was friendly and easily caught. At the vet he was neutered and vaccinated. Unfortunately he also tested positive for FIV, a kitty virus that is normally only spread through cats fighting.

We now needed to find Puffy a home where he could be an indoor cat and not infect any other cats. In the meantime Basil took it as his personal mission to kill Puffy. I could not let him out on his own so I started to walk him on a leash. Basil took to the harness and leash splendidly, so long as he did not spot Puffy. Walking a cat is not an aerobic exercise so to amuse myself while Basil sniffed bushes and rolled on the sidewalk I took along my favourite spindle.

Basil is no longer with us but Puffy found a great home with another FIV+ cat and got a new, more dignified name – Angus.

Puffy

Puffy

Skiathos sheep

Fleece from Greece

Skiathos sheep

Skiathos sheep come in wonderful colours and patterns

I have a long lost cousin who lives in Greece. Maggi is my third cousin and she is a gardener by trade, creating gorgeous living works of art in the mountain gardens of the island of Skiathos. We have become friends via Facebook over the few years since that side of the family discovered my side of the family. Maggi is interested in my spinning and asked if I would like some wool from her neighbor’s sheep. Of course I jumped at the offer.

Lamb is popular in Greek cooking but the fleeces seem to mostly go to waste. After Maggi asked her neighbor for a fleece she found six of them outside her gate one morning.

I suggested that wool from Greece might pass through Canadian customs easier if it was washed so Maggi and her husband set about washing it. They washed one fleece in a wheel barrow.

Some time later a parcel with Greek stamps arrived in the mail.

Flece from Greece

Fleece from Greece

It was fairly coarse, off white with little black hairs, and the staple was quite long. Quite a nice fleece over all and they did a good job of washing and it was not felted. I offered to make a pair of socks for Maggi as it can get quite cold in Skiathos in the winter and houses are not insulated and heated like here in Canada.

A lock of the fleece

A lock of the fleece

Maggi wanted colourful socks so I dyed the fleece in red, yellow and blue and carded it on my drum carder. The wool took the dyes nicely and had a heathered look because of the black hairs.

Dyed wool

Carded and dyed wool

The finished socks were certainly colourful and Maggi reported that her feet were nice and warm.

The finished socks

Colourful socks for Maggi

 

 

Lots and lots of wool

A vist to the Canadian Co-operative Woolgrowers

I am fortunate to live close to the Canadian Co-operative Woolgrowers in Carleton Place, Ontario. A few times a year I make the short drive to the co-op to pick out some fleeces. They are housed in an old stone building which is bitingly cold in the winter. When you enter you can see bags and bags of wool, more wool than you can imagine being in one place.

Lots and lots of wool

Lots and lots of wool

Sorting a shipment of wool from Alberta

Sorting a shipment of wool from Alberta

The co-operative grades and markets close to 3 million pounds of raw wool each year. That’s a lot of wool. Each of the three general classes of wool (fine, medium and coarse) are sold wherever the best prices are available. Much of it goes to China. Most of the wool at the co-op is dirty, full of hay, seeds and other stuff that comes from living in a field and never brushing your hair all year. But the wool sorters keep promising fleeces aside for hand spinners and this is what I have come to see.

The wool is divided into bins for coarse, medium and fine. Fleeces are just tossed into the bins and require persistence to extract. I have been known to climb into a bin to root around and find the best wool. Sometimes you can find a treasure there; sometimes there is nothing really good.

Prices are bargain basement ranging from three to five dollars a pound if you are buying less than 50 pounds of wool at a time. If you really like wool and buy a minimum of 500 pounds the price decreases to two to three dollars fifty  per pound. I don’t expect to ever need that much wool.

The last time I visited the woolgrowers in March I came home with 21 pounds of wool including a 10 pound very black fleece that I am guessing is some kind of down breed cross, a seven pound grey fleece of similar heritage and a few pounds of a lovely fine white fleece.

Bin of fine wool

The fine wool bin

Longwool fleeces

Lovely longwool fleeces

BFL fleece

Bluefaced Leicester

Bluefaced Leicester is one of the breeds of wool that many beginner spinners start with. Colourful hand dyed braids of combed BFL top beckon us at fibre festivals, inviting us to spin them with their silk smooth yumminess. It’s such a popular fibre it has its own acronym – BFL.

Bluefaced Leicester fleece

Bluefaced Leicester fleece

Bluefaced Leicester sheep are in the longwool category and have crimpy fine locks. Fleeces are fairly small and a bit hard to find, since everyone wants one. BFL combed top is much easier to buy due to its popularity among indie dyers and spinners.

This BFL fleece came to me from the ranges of Montana.