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don’t wait! Use it now!

wool roving to spin or felt
Polwarth Silk Top for spinning or felting

When I first started spinning, I found some cheap wool that I could practice on as I worked to perfect making a nice yarn. I was new. I was teaching myself. I struggled…oh boy, did I struggle. I couldn’t draft it. I made lumpy, bumpy yarn that fell apart or pulled apart at inopportune times. There were times that I just couldn’t get it started. But I continued nonetheless. I did learn how to spin. But the more important lesson was this. Use the good stuff! The good stuff will be easier to spin. It will be more fun to spin as you go from color to color that you actually picked out. You will want to spin more and then you will become a better spinner.

The same is true for knitting. As many of you know, I’m a relatively new knitter and when I, again, was teaching myself to knit. I went to a big box store and bought cheap yarn. I didn’t want to waste the good stuff. Instead the garment I made was all wrong. And so it was time and money wasted.

So just like your nice china and crystal, get out your nice stuff whether it is spinning fiber or knitting fiber. And work with it. You will be happy that you did.

If you need some “good stuff” to replace the “cheap stuff”, you can find beautiful yarn and roving in my web store here.

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Banish This Word in the New Year

At this time of year, I like many people are thinking about their word of the year. It is a North Star or value or resolution. It marks how you want to spend your year. That is all good and I do come up with my word of the year each January.

But I want to talk to you about banishing a word this year. Let’s banish the word….stash. I’ve spoken to many of you in person about ejecting this word and concept from your vocabulary. When I hear people talking about their stash it is not out of pride. I don’t hear “You should see my stash! It is lovely.” More often I hear, “I can’t buy anything until I use my stash.” It is said in a kind of Eeyore voice. It is said with shame. Let’s banish that word! Let’s trash the shame!

 

I propose that we use the word, “collection” instead. You are the curator. It is your collection. Each skein and ball that is in your collection was lovingly acquired. Some with a specific project in mind and others just thrilled you with color or texture or softness. I think that if we change our language, we can change our outlook or attitude about the yarn that we have collected. We will be able to see those threads in a different light. We may even go through them and realize, “Hey! I’ve grown out of using this yarn, or this color!” Those parts of your collection can be donated or gifted. You have the power to make the choices, after all it is YOUR collection.

This year, let’s make the commitment to value our collections, to explore them anew and discover what you love about them and which ones need to find a new home. Let’s find some new ways of using what we have and making room to buy new skeins to augment the collection. If you would like to explore your collection in an organized way, you can subscribe to our Color Explorer eCourse. It is a 4 lesson course that helps you look at your collection from the viewpoint of color and allows you to make choices about what stays and what need to be removed from your collection.

What do you think? 

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Stash Appreciation– Be a Color Explorer


collection2

Most makers I know have a stash of one kind or another. It may be beads, fabric, yarn, roving, threads, magazines, papers or all of the above.  Yes, I do have a stash. Even though I dye my own yarn all the time, I also buy yarn and roving that calls my name. Very rarely to I think to myself, “Oh I could dye that!” No, I would rather support my fellow maker and treat myself to another beautiful addition.  Stash has developed a negative connotation, almost something to be ashamed of.  I am changing my own thinking about this and looking at my stash as a collection. I’ve thoughtfully and artfully collected supplies over the years with which to express my colorful side and the creative force that lives within me.

One way to explore your sense of color is to explore your collection. This is how I find inspiration from my collection. This is like being an explorer or an archaeologist.

Want to explore more? Sign up here for my free 3 lesson Heart Your Yarn Collection ecourse. I will led you through this lesson and 2 others that will help you to sort out what you have collected and what additions will really make your collection sing. Four worksheets are included as well.  If you have questions, leave a comment here.

[Tweet “Free Ecourse Be a Color Explorer and fall in love with your yarn collection all over again!”]



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Stash Appreciation–Spinning with Alpaca Fiber

Spinning Alpaca

How do I get alpaca fiber? Alpaca is available as a commercial top for spinning or you can go to your local alpaca farm and buy fleeces. Fleeces are sheared from the animals once a year. They are usually graded at the time of shearing into 3 to 7 grades. The prized fleece is called the “blanket”. This is the fleece that is on the body of the animal. In the best animals, this blanket fleece is even with very little medulated fiber. The seconds and even the thirds come from the neck, legs and bellies of the animal. This fleece has more medulated* fiber and it  is also of more variable lengths. This fiber can be harder to spin, but it can be blended with wool to make a lovely, more elastic yarn. Be sure to ask the fiber farmer about their grading practices and know what you are getting. If you are buying at a festival fleece sale, you cannot usually lay out the fleeces to look at it. In that case, put your hand in a different parts of the fleece and feel. You can take a small pinch of the fleece to see what the staple length is. Do this sparingly, no one wants a fleece that is all torn apart. There is an etiquette to this at a fiber show. You can ask the fleece show volunteers to help you determine a good fleece if you are new to alpaca fleece buying.

Handspun Alpaca--one ply is solid blue and the other is hand dyed blues and golds. This really makes the golds pop!
Handspun Alpaca–one ply is solid blue and the other is hand dyed blues and golds. This really makes the golds pop!

How do you clean and prepare an alpaca fleece? Alpaca does not have any lanolin or grease in their fleeces. But the animals do like to give themselves dust baths. So there is dirt and dust in the fleeces, generally. You can wash the fiber before or after you make it into yarn. I would test a small amount of the fleece to find out the level of dirt. If it is very dirty, then wash it before you spin it. If it isn’t very dirty, then you can spin it first and then wash the yarn. Care must be taken to wash the fleece carefully so that you don’t felt or just knot up the fleece. Fill a basin with moderately hot water (180 degrees) with some mild detergent like Orvis paste or Synthropol. Leave undisturbed for about 45 minutes to an hour in a place that will keep the fiber relatively warm. Gently lift the fleece out of the water and dispose of the dirty water. Refill the basin with warm water for a rinse. Leave again for 30-45 minutes. Lift out. Look at the water, is it dirty? Feel the fleece does it feel soapy? If yes to one or both of these questions, then repeat the rinsing step until the fleece is clean and does not feel soapy. Depending on the amount of the fleece you are washing, you can spin out the water in a washing machine or a salad spinner. Leave to dry. When it is dry you can prepare the fleece for spinning. For Huacaya you can card the fiber into rolags or batts and then spin. For suri, you may need to flick the locks to open the fibers. Then you can card the fiber or you can comb the fiber to prepare it.

Raw Cria Fleece--you can see the dusty line in the middle of the staple. This can be spun without washing first.
Raw Cria Fleece–you can see the dusty line in the middle of the staple. This can be spun without washing first.

How do you design a yarn to take advantage of the best characteristics of alpaca while minimizing it’s foibles? As I wrote in a previous post here, alpaca fiber is very warm and insulating. This is because of the way that it is formed in the folicles. The medulla or inner portion of the fiber has small air sacs. Judith Mackenzie in her book, The Intentional Spinner, says these are a little like bubble wrap. The sacs hold in the warmth of the wearer. This hollowness contributes to its tendency to static electricity and clinginess of the fiber. Alpaca itself is also more slippery than wool is, so you will need to adjust your tension on you wheel to achieve a good twist and take-up. When spinning the fiber, you need to add more twist than when using wool to make the same yarn. But you also need to take care that the yarn is not overspun and therefore stiff and dense. Yarn made from Huacaya will bloom when you wash it and it will give you a halo effect. Most of the alpaca top or roving that you will find commercially are made from Huacaya, since it is more prevalent than Suri. Suri fiber has no crimp and no elasticity. It does have great sheen though and you can find fleeces from local alpaca farms to use for yarn. Suri is much more difficult to spin according to Deb Robson in her book The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. Yarn spun from Suri may look even and balanced while you are spinning it. However when it hits water, any imperfections will become evident. This is because it tends to resist being adequately spun. When this yarn is knit or woven you will see the imperfections and you may see some curling. You will need to practice with this fiber to get the results that you want in your final fabric.

isla alpaca1

Flying Goat Farm Superfine Alpaca top is made in Peru from 100% Huacaya. It has a micron range of 24-26 microns . I hand dye the top to make colors that will inspire and thrill you. You can see some of them here.

Natural cinnamon brown alpaca fleece plied with a hand dyed brown and purple roving.
Natural cinnamon brown alpaca fleece plied with a hand dyed brown and purple roving.

*Medulated fibers are ones that are a little more coarse. They tend to not take dye well and can feel prickly.



photo of handspun

 

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Stash Appreciation–Alpaca Part 2

What about alpaca yarn?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Doc from Grindstone Ridge Farm

Remember I said it was really warm. When you consider making a garment with alpaca, consider the warmth requirements of the wearer. Don’t make a sweater for someone with hot flashes, just sayin’. But that same lovely person, may have cold feet, perhaps a nice pair of alpaca socks would be a better choice.

Alpaca yarn, when knitted, produces a drapey, dense, relaxed fabric. This is amazing with the right garment, but this characteristic can be challenging as well. Drapey and relaxed fabric can also stretch out of shape and a dense fabric can be too warm or too heavy.

nimbus group

What kind of stitches work with 100% alpaca yarn? In stockinette, it will show off any variability in your knitting. So if you are not a consistent knitter (I can be very inconsistent), you should consider paring this yarn up with textured stitches like moss or seed stitch. Because the fiber tends to be very heavy and dense, a pattern with cables is going to be too heavy and the garment may pull out of shape from the shear weight of itself. A lace pattern might be a better choice. Still because alpaca is not elastic and is not resilient, a garment made with 100% alpaca should have enough stitch structure to hold the fiber in shape. You are probably saying to yourself, I’ve seen lovely alpaca sweaters. Yes it can be done. You just might want to consider a yarn that is a blend of alpaca and loftier, more elastic wool. A blend like that will allow you to make your cables and reduce the density of the sweater in the end. And an alpaca wool blend yarn can help your lace stay in it’s original size and shape.

Finally washing, when you wash an alpaca garment, take care not to pull it out of shape. Support the weight of the wet garment, so that it doesn’t stretch. And block carefully. The fiber itself won’t spring back like wool will.

Nimbus in Deep Ocean Colorway
Nimbus in Deep Ocean Colorway

Flying Goat Farm has a 100% alpaca yarn called Nimbus. It is  2-ply, sport weight yarn. We sell skeins of 200 yards. It is made with superfine alpaca fiber grown and milled in Peru. This yarn is next to the skin soft. It has a slight halo to the yarn. It is perfect for a cowl, shawl or scarf yet strong enough for hand warmers, socks or a hat. It would look great as a luxurious shawl to wear to the symphony. It is light weight enough to provide just enough warmth on a chilly spring or summer evening outing. It is perfect for a complicated lace pattern, yet will look fabulous in a seed stitch cowl that you can wear on the ski slope. It is soft enough for a newborn baby sweater too.

nimbus baby sweater

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Stash Appreciation–Alpaca Part 1

Just one look in those eyes with their long, long lashes and everyone falls in love with an alpaca. Of course that is right before they spit on you. I have been smitten as well. I do not personally own any alpacas. They have been offered to me, and I have just always said no. Why? I love the fiber. I love the animals. Because it is just the two of us, I didn’t want to add another species that would require a different knowledge base and time schedule to care for.

cute alpacas sternfels-family-photography_alpacas

Alpaca descended from Vicunas that were domesticated by the Inca in ancient Peru. The largest flocks and alpaca fiber mills continue to be in Peru. In the early 80’s, some Americans started to bring alpaca into the states. They became a rage and the value of the animals went sky high, some even attaining the price in the tens of thousands for a single animal. Not all alpaca owners had the knowledge base to work with the fiber in the states. So much of it is being sent back to Peru for processing. In the last few years, some alpaca owners have started their own fiber mills to make yarn from alpaca here in the states.

Vicuna in the Andes
Vicuna in the Andes

There are 2 different types of alpaca. The Huacaya (wa-ki-ah) which is the most numerous has a fine crimpy fiber that is 4-6 inches long. The fiber can be extremely fine or not. It can be highly crimped or not. The crimp is not the same as the crimp of wool. It doesn’t provide memory or the ability to “spring back” into shape. The crimp of alpaca probably does contribute to the overall feeling of softness. The other alpaca type is the Suri, which grows really long straight, silky fiber. It looks a little bit like Cousin It. But there isn’t yet a lot of yarn or spinning fiber yet available commercially made from the Suri, it is a boutique item. The fiber is reallly too long to be put through a mill. So it needs to be cut into shorter bits, like silk does.

alpaca fleece

Huacaya fiber is very strong. It can be very fine as well (18-26 microns). It is a hollow fiber. This hollowness gives it the property of being lightweight but very insulating. The fiber pulls heat from you giving the impression that it is cool when you touch it.  Although it is cool to the touch, alpaca is many times warmer than wool. Like wool, it is water loving and will absorb water and wick it away from your body. There are several grades of alpaca. The saddle area is the prime fleece of an animal. The leg and neck fleece is considered 2nd or 3rds, because it has more diverse staple length and crimp. The fleeces do not have luster, they have a more matte finish.  The fleece comes in 22 different colors from bright white to cinnamon brown and deep, dark black and many different patterns, such as belted and spotted. There is no lanolin on this animal. They do like to take dust baths, though. So you need to wash out the dirt from your fleeces. The fiber itself is very smooth with a low number of scales. It does not felt readily, but will felt with extra agitation.

With all these properties, spinners of alpaca can counteract the lack of elasticity by spinning it in a worsted way. That will give your resulting fabric more structure and less stretching out of shape.  You may want to spin it in a woolen manner. That yarn will be extra insulating and soft.  The resulting fabric will show less stitch definition. Pick a stitch that has more structure if you don’t want your knitting to stretch.

Flying Goat Farm carries superfine alpaca roving to spin or felt. The fiber is an average of 26 microns and will make next-to-the-skin soft yarn.  Each 4ounce portion is $15 plus applicable taxes and shipping.  Click here to see some of our colorways.

oldrosecorr

Tune in next week to learn about alpaca yarn and how to use it.  Do you have alpaca questions? Leave a comment or contact me goatherd@flyinggoatfarm.com and I’ll answer it next week.

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Stash Appreciation–Mohair Blends

white vs colored

Mohair is an incredible fiber: strong, brilliant, resilient, warm, breathable and renewable. It does do better when it is blended with another fiber. Mohair in yarn can add a nice halo or fuzziness to the yarn. It also gives off it’s brilliant shine and luster. But by itself it can be a bit heavy. In the wrong kind of garment or the wrong kind of stitch it can be too slinky to keep the structure you intended. Many other writers have said that mohair has elasticity. It may have some, but it does not have the memory that wool has. Once it has stretched out, it is nearly impossible to get it back. You see, mohair wants to stretch out to its original somewhat straight shape.
When I design a yarn for my mohair, I go two routes. I make a 100% mohair that is tightly spun and a little less tightly plied. That way the mohair is stabilized, the sheen is apparent and the hand (the way it feels) is soft. I only use kid or yearling fleeces for this kind of yarn. This yarn is great for garments or accessories that call for drape, like a shawl or a scarf.

mohair samples

For a great tapestry yarn, I have my adult mohair spun in a fingering weight that is pretty tightly spun. This fine yarn will do well for tapestry weavers who want to blend colors for shading. Because it is a singles yarn, there are no ply shadows and the luster shines through. It is a very strong and durable yarn as well.

naturally dyed mohair

My blended yarns are designed in two veins as well. One yarn I blend uses adult mohair as a substitute for nylon in sock yarn. Adult mohair is lends it’s strength and durability to the fingering weight yarn. This sock yarn is totally renewable and natural without using man-made materials.

psock

The second way I blend uses kid mohair with my crimpy, squishy Cormo or BFL fleeces to make lovely worsted weight yarn. The mohair gives a little halo and some shine to the wool. This yarn is fantastic to use for sweaters, hats, and mittens. It shows off beautiful lace patterns and your cables will pop out from the background stitches. We currently have many colorways of Fingal and Fernham in the shop.

purple rain swirl

If you are local, you can see our yarns in person at the Homespun Yarn Party Sunday 3/22 from 12-5pm in the Savage Mill Ballroom. Click here for more information.

What mohair blends do you have in your stash?

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A Year of Stash Appreciation–Mohair

relaxed goat

Mohair is such a favorite of mine. Of course, I would love it since I have a fiber flock of angora goats with lots of mohair on the hoof, so to speak.  According to Clara Parkes’ book, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, “Goats with silken hair” were referenced in the 14th century BC, but the angora goats that we know of today were domesticated near Ankara, Turkey in the 13th century AD. She writes that the word “mohair” is a variation of the Arabic word mukhayar, which means “to choose”. Perhaps because the European buyers were always “choosing” it.

carmela

Mohair grows very quickly, approximately 1 inch per month. Therefore the goats need to be sheared every 6 months or so.  The staple length is long compared to many wool staples.  The fibers themselves are long and hairlike, with large flat scales. This means that the fibers become highly reflective and full of luster.

microscopic mohair

Because of these characteristics, mohair takes dye beautifully. As a dyer I can achieve clear, saturated color that is very shiny.  Like wool, mohair puts itself out if it is set on fire. It is very warm and insulating as well.  It is very strong so it is used for textiles that get a lot of wear, like upholstery.

Kid mohair is the softest mohair.  As the animal ages, the fibers grow thicker and stronger. Mohair can be classified as kid for 2-3 shearings usually.  In some very good breeding lines, kid mohair classification can go on many years.

 FGF mohair

I use my mohair in various ways.  I love to blend it with my wools. I have a sock yarn that uses adult mohair for strength and luster instead of nylon.psock

I have also used soft kid mohair with my squishy cormo or my lustrous BFL to make a worsted weight yarn to be used in warm sweaters, hats, mittens, etc.  fingal sweater front

I have also had 100% mohair made into yarns. A single ply that can be used for tapestry weaving although recently many knitters have been buying these mini skeins for doll clothes or to create gradient cowls or scarves.tapestry2blog

 A 2 ply that is sport weight that can be used for outerwear garments or nice strong warps for woolen blankets.  I also love using 100% mohair roving with my new spinning students, since it is very easy to draft and makes a nice yarn for a beginner spinner.

During this month, I’ll be sharing what I know about mohair, its blends, fancy yarns and patterns in which mohair can shine.  Have you used mohair in your knitting, crocheting, weaving or spinning? Please share in the comments.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 2–Cellulose and Synthetics

Effective yarn designers take many factors into consideration: fiber price, feel, structure, weight, and staple length to name a few.  Why make a blend with wool and a plant or man-made fiber? It depends. Each of these blends starts with the incredibly versatile wool fiber and adds properties of luster, strength or temperature control to the resulting yarn. Adding rayon/Tencel/Viscose/Lyocell gives yarn the look of silk without the price of silk.  All these processes were developed to mimic the silk fiber with it’s high glossy look. Adding nylon gives strength, while adding cotton reduces the warmth of the end garment. We’ll look at each of these.

Wool-Tencel: Tencel is a trade name for a particular rayon. It is made by breaking down woody plants and even wood into small molecules of cellulose. It is then extruded in the same way that spaghetti is extruded. The manufacturer can make any length staple length to match a wool staple that it will be blended with.  Since there are no scales on the skin of each fiber, it is highly lustrous. But the flip side to that is that it is inelastic.  It also lends incredible drape and softness to any fiber it is blended with.

Bamboo Textile Process

Wool-Bamboo: Bamboo is just another type of Tencel/Rayon/Viscose.  In these yarns, the plant is bamboo.  It is hyped as a eco-fiber based on the fantastic growth and proliferation of bamboo. In fact, large areas of food producing land in other countries is being planted with bamboo. It is important to know that the making of bamboo fiber (yarn and textiles) is not as environmentally friendly as the photo above would have you believe. The digestion process uses toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid and large amounts of water. Some bamboo textiles claim to be organic, they may have been grown organically, however the manufacturing process would not be able to meet organic standards. In fact, many of the characteristics of bamboo such as its anti-bacterial property are lost because of the process used to make the fiber.  There are some manufacturers who use mechanical breakdown which uses less chemicals and water to break down the plants. At this time there is no labeling requirement, so you can’t really tell which yarn would be produced in this more environmentally friendly way.

Wool-Lyocell: Lyocell again is just a type of tencel. But the manufacturing process used involves less chemicals and so is less ecologically toxic.  This system is also on a closed loop, meaning that the chemicals and water are reused rather than just dumped into the local environment.

Wool-Cotton: There are a few of these blends available in the commercial market. They are sturdy yarns that can be used for projects for warmer climates where 100% wool would be too warm. The wool and cotton are both “breathable” and the cotton tends to stay cooler against your skin.

Wool-Nylon: These blends are typically found in yarn intended for socks.  Nylon is a man-made fiber that is extremely strong and durable. Since socks get a lot of abrasion, nylon helps them last longer. Nylon also returns to it’s original shape after being stretched.

Wool-Acrylic: These blends tend to have wool as a lower percentage (20-30%)  of the yarn than the acrylic. Sometimes nylon is added to this mix as well.  These yarns all claim to be machine washable and can be put into a dryer as well.  They are great for easy care garments and especially for infant or child items. The yarns are also designed to be very soft which is a characteristic that most people want in their garments. These blends are the entry point for new knitters. Hopefully after knitting basics are mastered, knitters will moving into more adventurous yarns.

Do you have any of these blends in your stash? Do you have a favorite to use? What projects have you made with it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 1- Animal

After reading all the previous wool posts, I hope I’ve convinced you that wool is a great all purpose fiber that can be used for all kinds of finished products from hearty rugs to lacy, delicate shawls. Wool blends are designed to combine all the fantastic characteristics of wool with those of other fibers. Designers combine fibers together to make a yarn that solves a problem or serves a niche.

Wool-Mohair Blends: Mohair adds luster to the more matte finish wool.  Wool provides the mohair with memory so that your garment will bounce back to it’s original shape. My Fernham yarn is 75% wool and 25% kid mohair. The mohair adds just a touch of light and softness. Mohair dyes vibrantly and gives the blend rich tones.

provenceskein
FGF Fernham yarn made in collaboraton with Grindstone Ridge Farm. There are only a limited number of skeins left in this custom mill spun yarn. So if you love it, click on the picture to go to our store and buy as much as you need.

 

Mohair can also add strength. I designed our Perendale (wool) and adult Mohair sock yarn blend.  The mohair takes the place of nylon in other sock yarns. The Perendale wool gives the sock structure and spring and memory.

psock
FGF sock yarn made with 95% wool from perendale sheep and 5% adult mohair for strength and durability

 

Wool-Cashmere Blends: Cashmere gives that incredible softness to the wool blend. It also provides a lot of warmth without adding a lot of weight to the yarn.  Cashmere is almost always a shorter staple length than the wool. So it will add a halo to the yarn. It may also migrate out the the yarn and provide a pill factor.

Wool-Silk Blends: Silk lends incredible luster and strength to the wool fibers. Silk is stronger than steel. And there is an undeniable luxury factor when silk is added to wool. Silk also dyes vibrantly with rich tones.

Wool-Alpaca Blends: There are many alpaca wool yarn blends on the market. Many of them are also “baby alpaca” or cria. Just like any baby animal, cria fleeces are very fine and soft, so yarns made with it are also incredibly soft. Alpaca is also very warm and can be heavy. Wool in the blend provides the structure and memory to the yarn, so the yarns will bounce back into shape and not keep “growing”.  Alpaca dyes in softer saturation than either silk or mohair.

Wool-Angora Blends: I am just not all that familiar with Angora rabbits and I don’t want to mislead you.  I do know that it is incredibly soft and warm. Every angora yarn I’ve seen has almost a brushed appearance. So I wonder if angora is a bit like cashmere, in that, it will migrate out of the yarn and shed.  In these blends, wool is definitely adding the structure and stability to the yarn.  If you, dear reader, have more info about this add it to a comment and share your knowledge.