Posted on Leave a comment

Be the Curator of Your Collection–a free ecourse

It’s summertime. It’s hot. It’s sticky. The last thing you want to do is knit. And when it is so hot outside, you may not be thinking about doing anything with your yarn.

I know that I don’t want to spend anytime outside in the humid hot air. My hair doesn’t act right, I am sweating. My clothes are sticking to me. Instead I want to be inside. I want to be in the air conditioned house.

So what could be better than using my knitting time to fall in love with my yarn collection all over again. How about you? If you’ve been following this blog or subscribing to this newsletter over a few months, you probably know that I’m banishing the word STASH from my vocabulary and I’m trying to persuade you to do the same. I want to think of my yarn as a collection that I’ve curated over some time.

I’ve developed a series of 7 lessons to help you banish the shame of stash and relish all the gems that you have collected over the years. This free e-course will lead you from exploring what you have, to clearing out what you have outgrown, and rehoming those items that no longer bring you joy.

Summer is a perfect time of year for you to go through this work. You will be ready for the fall fiber festivals. You will receive a lesson each week with instructions and ideas for organizing your collection of yarn, patterns, needles and notions.

I’ve included downloadable documents as well. You can join our Ravelry group, where we will be talking about our collections and sharing ideas and photos with the hashtag #collectioncurator. I hope you will join me on this journey by clicking here to start falling in love with your yarn all over again.

Posted on Leave a comment

Correcting Mistakes

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again,

this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

It was brought to my attention that one of our patterns had a couple of flaws in it. Thanks Anja! That pattern has been out in the world for a couple of years. I wonder why I’m only hearing about it now. I hope people have it in the knitting queue, rather than in their trash heap.  I’m so glad that I was able to find out about the error and fix it.

I left out a stitch in 2 rows. An incorrect number of stitches is a fatal error. The cowl would get smaller and smaller. Not a great design for a cowl, right? Now it has been fixed.   And it is ready to be released out into the world.  

Click here for revised pattern for Rivulet Cowl. Yes, even if you don’t already own that pattern, you can click too and get a fun cowl pattern to knit. Think of it as a great Valentine’s gift!

  Click here to buy Zephyrette, our exclusive luscious blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere, for this pattern. 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

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? 

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on 2 Comments

What It Takes to Make a Farm Yarn

I am asked all the time about making yarn from the fleeces of our animals.  It all begins with the animals. A fiber farmer chooses what animals they will raise. Some are looking purely at fleeces, others research the general health or thriftiness of the breed itself.  You can read about my choice of breeds: Blue Faced Leicester, Cormo and Angora Goats here.

DSCN0624

 

Growth and maintenance of fleeces is a year round task. Many fiber farmers cover their sheep year-round to minimize the dirt and hay that can end up in fleeces.  Some long wool breeds and angora goats don’t tolerate the covers as the fleeces felt under the covers. Covers themselves can be tricky when the animals are in between sizes, like my yearlings are right now. The covers are either too small and restrictive or too loose so they fall off.  So we need to also look at how we feed hay so that the sheep and goats don’t pull hay on top of themselves.

Shearing can be done once or twice a year.  It is important to shear carefully so that their aren’t second cuts. These are small usually less than 1/2 inch staple length pieces that result from the shearer making a second pass on the fleece. I am so lucky to have the services of an excellent professional shearer, Emily Chamelin. She shears quickly so the animals are not traumatized and with very few second cuts.

photo by Kelsey

photo by Kelsey

After shearing, we need to skirt the fleece.  This means that the nasty and really dirty bits are removed from the prime fleece.  At this point, I make the decision about the fate of each fleece.  Is it clean enough to be sold to a handspinner? Is the character of the fleece consistent throughout the fleece? If so that fleece can be set aside for our prime yarn. Or are there neck and leg parts that are not the same quality? If this is the case, I take off those pieces and collect them from all the fleeces to be made into a different kind of yarn or roving.

FGF mohair

When I have a sufficient quantity of prime Cormo or Blue Faced Leicester, I can then make my design decisions about the yarn. What weight? Blended with what? What kind of ply? Which mill to use for which processes? Collaborate with another fiber farmer to increase the quantity?

I choose to use a mill because I have limited time available to do the rest of the processing myself.  The mill will wash, pick, card, comb, spin, ply and skein the yarn for me.  Each process adds a cost to the end product.  Whether it is the machinery, the operator or both, I have found that each mill has adds character to the yarn as well. My understanding of what the mill adds is part of my yarn design process. One spins and plies more tightly, another has a looser ply resulting in a less structured yarn.

sweitzer's carder

My newest custom farm yarn is Cirrus. It is a 3 ply Fingering weight blend of wool and alpaca all locally grown and custom mill spun. Each skein is 600 yards. The wool and alpaca are fine with a lot of crimp. The alpaca does not take the dye to the same saturation as wool, so there is a heathery or tweedy appearance.  There is enough yarn in each skein to make a beautiful shawl that will be soft, warm and lightweight. To buy this yarn now, click on the photo and you will find it in our webstore.

shawl 3

So next time you look at a yarn from a fiber farm, you will understand all the individual tasks and decisions made by that shepherd: breed, feed, shearing, skirting, processing all goes into making that yarn that you will use to make a beautifully crafted item that will be cherished for years to come.

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Purebreds, Crosses and Breed Specific Wool Yarn

5530249662_238e476cb1_z
Our Cormo and Blue Faced Leicester ewes

 

What’s the fuss? Should you care about whether your roving or yarn comes from a specific breed or specific individual sheep? What about cross-bred sheep? Is knitting with a breed specific yarn any different than knitting with commercial yarn made from mixed wools?

I raise 2 breeds of sheep: Blue Faced Leicesters and Cormos. They and their fleeces are like night and day. BFL’s are a longwool breed. They grow fleeces that are fine, lustrous and long. The staple length of this wool is usually 5-6 inches. Their fleeces grows in lovely ringlet locks.  They are leggy and regal looking with a roman nose.  They are also the loudest sheep in the pasture. They are the ones who signal the others when they spot us coming to the barn.  Cormos, on the other hand, as shorter and more compact. They grow heavy, fine, crimpy wool that is kind of like a thick blanket all over their bodies.  Staple length of my sheep is 3 1/2 to 4 inches.

I chose these 2 breed because I wanted to make some yarn that was lustrous and other yarns that were more squishy and soft.  Both of these wools would also be great complements for my mohair for nice yarn blends.

purple rain group
BFL mohair yarn from our sheep and goats. This could be yours today!
sauternehills heritage3
100% BFL yarn from my Maryland flocks, including mine. This could be yours today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year was my first sheep breeding year.  I borrowed Finegal from Grindstone Ridge Farm. I made the decision to breed my BFL ewes and 2 of my cormo ewes to see what a cross would be like.  About half way through breeding, the open ewes decided that they wanted to be with Finegal too….including a small Icelandic ewe. In fact, she was the instigator.  We were able to separate them out after about 2 hours. But 2 hours was enough to get more sheep bred than I wanted.

Last year’s lambs were Purebred 4 BFL’s, 4 BFL X Cormo, and 1 BFL X Icelandic.  The cross bred fleeces are fantastic. The BFLXCormo fleeces are longer than their cormo mom’s fleece, but it is denser and crimpier than their BFL dad’s fleece.  They don’t have the lock structure of the BFL breed standard. The Ice-Leicester lamb fleece grew as quickly has her mother’s fleece. It was not double coated, but rather a consistent fine fleece. It also didn’t have the BFL lock structure.  Her current fleece has grown in differently than the first. It has lock structure. It is extremely dense and soft. It is still a single coat.  It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop.  I am excited for shearing day in March. I am looking forward to have those cross bred fleeces made into beautiful lustrous, next to the skin yarn.

fleece
Cross breed fleece

 

So back to the original questions. What’s the fuss? Should you care?  It depends on your goals.  Breed specific yarns and roving can be fun to work with and very educational. You can see and feel the differences between the breeds and pick projects that complement the characteristics of the breeds. Will your knitting be different with these yarns? You may find yourself beginning to be more mindful of your yarn and project combinations as you begin to learn about the different breeds.  You will also feel great about supporting individual fiber farms and maybe even your local fiber farm.

 

Do you have a favorite breed fleece or yarn to work with? Leave us a comment to share your opinion.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Stash Appreciation–Woolen or Worsted Yarn

Woolen spun bottom Worsted spun top
Top: Worsted spun shows more stitch definition Bottom: Woolen spun soft bouncy yarn without stitch definition

Like cousins, woolen and worsted yarns have the same genetic profile, but look and act completely different from one another. Woolen yarns are generally the least expensive industrial yarns to make. This is because there are fewer steps in the manufacturing process.  They can also use shorter fibers so many mills even use reclaimed or recycled fibers left over from other yarn making processes. The mills tend to spend a lot more time carding these fibers in order to get a more perfect blending and a better end product.  During carding, the fibers are aligned somewhat, but when they get the the spinning step, they are still disorganized. The resulting yarn that is lofty and springy and less dense and smooth than it’s worsted cousin.  The spinning is often quicker, producing a yarn with a thicker diameter that has less fibers and more air pockets inside.

Top: fulled Fernham yarn Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn
Top: fulled Fernham yarn
Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn

Woolen yarns have a more matte finish. They are very absorbent, making them great for soakers (like these). But they also tend to collect more dirt on the outside, so frequent gentle washing may be needed more often. They tend to be the yarns that felt well, but they also can produce pills when abraded.  They are very warm and insulating primarily from those air pockets. Woolen yarns are good for warm, winter outerwear, like cowls, hats, scarves, handwarmers, mittens, gloves and sweaters.  These yarns are very elastic and tend to be easier to break. This quality makes them useful for knitting, crochet and weft, but not a good candidate for warp threads in weaving. Because they are so lofty, hair and squishy, they do not have good stitch definition, so don’t use these yarns for fancy lace or cabled knits.

top: woolen spun bottom: semi-worsted You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample
top: woolen spun
bottom: semi-worsted
You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample

Worsted yarns are more expensive to manufacture because there are more steps involved. Wools that are usually made in a worsted or semi-worsted style are long wools with staples from 4-8 inches in length. Fleeces from breeds such as Leicester Longwools, Wensleydales, Lincolns and Teaswaters, are typically spun in a worsted style. After carding, the worsted process proceeds to combing.  In this step, short or damaged fibers are removed from the web or batt. The fibers are also aligned longitudinally producing a highly organized and more uniform product called top or combed top.  During spinning, the yarn becomes highly twisted and extremely strong. The yarn is more dense and heavier than woolen spun yarns with the same diameter.

Worsted yarns have a lot of luster. The wool scales are all aligned and are able to reflect light from their uniform surface.  This quality makes them a great yarn to choose when knitting lace. The yarns are smooth and tightly twisted which means they can show off your fancier stitches such as cables.  They are strong and durable so projects like socks will last a long time without abrading or pilling from use.  Because they are so dense, they are not very absorbent, however once wet they take a long time to dry.

How do you find these yarns? If you are buying commercial yarns, the labels do not tell you how they were spun. So use your senses. Is the yarn smooth and tightly twisted? Then it is a worsted type yarn. Is the yarn more loft and bouncy? It is a woolen type yarn.  If you are buying yarn from fiber farmers, ask them! They should know how their yarns were processed and what specifications they mill used to make the yarn.  If you are buying handspun yarn, the spinner will surely be able to tell you if she spun it in a woolen, worsted or semi-worsted style.

What about the term worsted weight in yarn patterns and labels? That term is totally different than worsted spun. Worsted weight is a term coined by Craft Yarn Council o  It refers to the diameter of the yarn. You can find woolen and worsted spun yarns in worsted weight.  These yarns have a number 4 on the label and are considered the medium weight yarn. It is the most popular yarn weight because it can be successfully used by makers of all skill levels.  It is also a good all around weight to use in the most popular handmade items such as garments and blankets.

Now go and look at your stash with new eyes!  Do you have a preponderance of bouncy, squishy woolen type yarns to make into soft winter warm items? Or do you have a lot of highly twisted smooth yarn to make into durable socks? Or maybe you have a combination because you love to make all kinds of items. Leave us a note about what you find.

For more information:

ply worsted
http://plymagazine.com/product/worsted-issue-winter-2014/
ply woolen
http://plymagazine.com/product/woolen-issue-winter-2013/

 

Posted on 6 Comments

Stash Appreciation–What Kind Of Stasher Are You?

Here is a repost of a summer time post that I think is a good place to start your Year of Stash Appreciation.

What Kind of Stasher Are You?

 

What kind of stasher are you? Whether you use yarn, fabric, beads or paper, your art requires supplies. How do you handle your stash?

  • Type 1—Do you only buy materials for your current project so you don’t have a stash or any UFO’s (unfinished objects)?

  • Type 2—Do you try to only buy for a current project but look forward to your next project while you’re working on your current one? So you have no stash to speak of and only 1 or 2 UFO’s.

  • Type 3—Do you only buy materials for current and future projects? You like to get the supplies and pattern together then you know you have everything for the pattern. You have a small to medium stash, some UFO’s.  All your materials are matched with a pattern for easy access to the next project

  • Type 4—Do you buy the materials you like and don’t worry about which pattern it will go with? You know that eventually a project will emerge for the supplies.  You have a medium to large stash and some UFO’s that you work on industriously to complete.

  • Type 5— Do you buy anything and everything that calls to you? The yarn or cloth speaks to you and you listen.  You have a large stash that you sometimes feel guilty about. But you also get a lot of creative satisfaction when you visit and pet your yarns, beads, and textiles.

  • studio shot

 

I am a Type 4. I do have a medium stash of beads, quilting fabric AND yarn.  I try to just buy for projects but I also buy materials that call my name.  Since I’ve founded Flying Goat Farm, I have not bought ANY quilting fabric.  I haven’t sewn either.  I do hope to get back into my sewing room soon and finish one or two of the 8 unfinished quilting projects.  OK….maybe now that I think about it I’m a Type 5!

Leave a comment here or on Facebook to tell me what stash you collect and what type of stasher you are!!

Posted on 2 Comments

The Year of Stash Appreciation–WOOL

fleece

The theme of FGF blog this year is a celebration of your stash. I want you to get to know what is in your stash. I want you to be able to make good decisions about which yarn should be used for which project. So I will be writing about the types of fibers and what kinds of patterns and projects will match the yarn you have. You will find information about animal fibers, plant fibers, and fiber blends of all kinds. I also want you to know how to most effectively use your hand dyes and semi-solids.

So this month WOOL is the topic. It is a fascinating, diverse fiber that can be used for so many different kinds of projects.

So let’s start at the beginning. Even if you know a lot about wool, I hope you will learn something new! I learn new things about wool all the time.

Wool is the fiber from a sheep. Duh, right? Well, there are people who call any animal fiber wool. But that isn’t accurate.  There are over a thousand breeds of sheep and each breed has wool that is characteristic for that breed.  Then there are crosses of those purebreds and their wool is a combination of the breeds that they come from.

Wool characteristics are classified by the variables of crimp, staple length, fiber diameter and the mix of fibers within the wool.  Crimp is the zig-zaggy nature of the wool. Fleeces with a lot of crimp tend to be softer next to the skin. This is because when the fiber touches a barrier, like your skin, the fiber will bend and not feel prickly on your skin. Crimpy yarns are also more elastic yarns, so they are great to use for items where elasticity is important like hats or socks. Crimpy yarns also tend to be from fine wool sheep.

Staple length is the typical length of each fiber. It usually represents one year’s growth for sheep.  Shorter staple lengths can give a yarn that will pill, since it may not be twisted well enough in the yarn.  However, longer staple lengths can at times yield a coarser  yarn.  Fleeces that are in the range of 4-6 inches are usually the easiest to make into a nice soft yarn.

Fiber diameter is measured in microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter. Some producers measure micron counts for their fleeces. Micron counts are done on a 2 inch sample of the best fiber (shoulder area) of the animal. The report shows a graph of all the different fibers in that sample and what most people talk about it the AVERAGE micron count.  What you need to know is that 2 fleeces could have the same average micron count and yet FEEL different.  One could still feel softer than the other even though the average fiber diameter is the same. This is because the blend of fibers within those samples is different.

The last variable for wool is the mix of fibers within that fleece. Every fleece is made up of diverse fibers. However there are many breeds that are called double coated, where there are 2 very distinct fibers within that fleece. One maybe more hair like and the other a soft downy undercoat. Some breeds also have kemp fibers in their wool. These are hollow fibers that are shorter, coarser and more brittle. They take dye differently so can give the wool a heathery, tweedy look.

When buying a fleece, roving or yarn, you can use these variables to make your purchasing decisions. You can pull out a small sample or just look at the ends of the roving or yarn. You can “eyeball” the fiber. Does it look fine? Can you see any crimp in the individual fibers? Can you see some fibers that are significantly different? And finally, how does it feel? Put it next to your neck. Is it soft enough to wear next to your skin? If not, is it the kind of yarn that you would want to make a sweater or other outerwear item?  Or is it something that you would want to spin and weave into a rug, pillow or other home decor item.

What do you have in your stash? Is there yarn there that you bought because you loved the color but now you think is just too coarse? I have a few skeins in this category that I purchased over the years. If so pull these out, look at them and put them into a separate boxes marked wool–outerwear or wool-home decor.

Tell me what you found in your stash. What have you been collecting?