Category Archives: Fiber Artistry and Equipment

Olio 6/18/2019

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

Summer is nearly here, the hay stands tall, the ground wet, rain forecast nearly every day preventing the cutting, raking, and baling.  A few fields near us were done several weeks ago, others that will be done before they get to us are still standing too.  Since our brush hog mower fell apart last fall, areas that the riding mower can’t handle and that won’t be hayed due to trees they don’t want to work around, we can’t even mow those areas.  I can’t get to the berry patches as they are scattered along the edge of the woods by the hayfields.

Last week was spent helping daughter out with two of our grands.  With school out, babysitting help, camps, and trips keep the kids busy are needed for a working Mom.  Half of two of those days, there were activities that had been scheduled using my spinning and fiber history skills, and granddad had the kiddos.  The first morning was not in costume, about 25 camp kids rotated to try candle dipping, see spinning on a wheel and spindles and get a length of handspun yarn to take, watch the blacksmith, and see mini balls made on an open fire and then an old flintlock rifle fired without a ball.  Friday was Flag Day at Wilderness Road Regional Museum.  We had the same activities, minus the blacksmith, but with a Bobbin Lace maker in attendance and all in costumes.

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At events, I have been spinning some of the Jacob from one of the fleeces that I washed.  It has to be combed to spin which fascinates observers.
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With three fleeces, there will be plenty to knit a sweater when it is all done, but since it mostly gets done at events, that might be a while.

Because of the rain and not being at home, the garden hasn’t been getting the attention it needs.  About 10 days ago, I took the weed eater to the paths so I could get in to see what else was going on.  The asparagus are tall ferns now, and too many weeds in there, but too hard to get to.  Once the ferns are cut in the fall, it will be weeded and mulched with straw for the winter.  The tomatillos were planted through a thick straw mulch and are doing well.  The tomatoes and peppers were weeded and staked after the paths were done and need weeding again.  They need straw put down around them, but it doesn’t seem to be available in the area right now.  I can’t go rake leaves from the woods to use because I can’t get to the woods for the standing hay.  This afternoon, I went out to pick peas for dinner and realized that for the first time ever, the blueberries were heavy with fruit.  The bushes are still fairly small.  Though they are about 4 or 5 years old, they were not being kept weeded and last year, they were moved to a 4 x 8′ box on the edge of the garden, given a good layer of new soil, a sprinkle of bone meal, a layer of newspaper covered with several inches of wood chip mulch.  Though they have required some weeding, the weeds are mostly just in the mulch and the berries are thriving.

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After sorting the basket and shelling the peas, it looks like berries for cereal, muffins or quick bread, and a couple meals of peas.  There are many more peas to pick over the next few weeks.  The bush beans are blooming, and that bed got weeded as well this afternnon.  A second planting of them should be done soon.  I would have stayed out longer and worked, but the thunder storms started again.  The cucumbers are climbing the fence, the sunflowers are more than knee high, there are green Roma tomatoes, pumpkins vines developing.  The garden is small this year, some produce will come from the Farmers’ Market, but that has been the routine for several years now.  I hope the peppers begin to grow soon.  One that was planted is gone, none of them much larger than the transplants that I put in the ground.  I’ll have to check what is available for transplanting when I go to the Farmers’ Market next.

Slow down and enjoy time – 5/23/2019

With the two back to back events done, having completed spinning 15 breeds for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em for the Livestock Conservancy challenge, used 7 or maybe 8 of those breeds to knit the giant half Hap shawl.  With the B&B soap contract made and packaged, the 6 hanks of yarn spun, selected, banded, and packaged for the yarn shop. With the garden fully planted, staying more or less on top of the weeds and the mowing, it is time to slow down and enjoy some slower moving times.

Not idle, but not so frenetic.  Last fall, I purchased a felter’s pack of 5 pure  1 ounce each Alpaca bumps or roving in natural colors from white to black.  I think they were designated as felter’s  pack because there is a fair amount of vegetable matter in the roving, but easy enough to pick out.  I am spinning it very fine with the idea of making 5 lace weight mini skeins that can be knit into a gradient shawl.  I have lots of the fawn color and the black color separately, so it could be a very large gradient shawl with narrower bands of the white and two grays.  There is no rush on this, I can take as long as I want.   The mini skeins of Alpaca will probably be listed in my shop or sold at a retreat or festival.  The extra 4 ounces of light gray Shetland that I ordered, fearing I was playing chicken on the Hap arrived and though I really like spinning it fine, I think I am going to force myself to spin it a heavier weight and use some of the remaining Black Welsh Mountain yarn to make several pair of mittens for the winter markets.

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Some time ago, I designed a hat pattern with a lacy band while knitting a hat for the shop.

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Hats, fingerless mitts, mittens, and cowls are easy to carry in my bag to have handy when there is down time, being a passenger in a vehicle, or just want to do a few rows at a time.  They can be made with no more than a single skein of yarn, often with just left over scraps or mini skeins.  My pattern designs are printed out and available for sale at events or free with the purchase of a skein of yarn.  I even have a hat kit that comes with a skein of choice, a 16″ circular  knitting needle, a darning needle, and the pattern.  I really liked the lace look of the hat and decided to design a companion cowl to go with it.  It is one of my current go-along knits.  That pattern will be added to my collection at some future time.

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The other go-along knit is a pair of fingerless mitts made with the leftover skein from knitting one of our granddaughter’s a sweater for her first birthday.

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They are fairly thin and will only fit a smaller hand, I can barely put them on, but the colors are pretty and will make a nice fall or spring pair.

There are no large projects in the works, but yarn has been selected for another 5 foot tri loom shawl soon.  It is too hot to have large heavy knits in my lap.

And in the coop, there is still a 6 month old hen who thinks she is going to sit on eggs that are infertile with no rooster in their midst.  I run her off the nest several times a day, taking any eggs that have been laid in the interim and block off the nesting boxes at night.  With only 9 hens, having one not laying is putting a dent in my supply.

No Rest for the Retired – 5/20/2019

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind.  There have been two Saturdays occupied by events, the first an Artisan Fair to benefit the scholarship program at Creative Therapy Care.  It was a hot, rainy day, but well attended, good music, lots of beautiful art.  This  past Saturday, in Rev War costume, I was spinning, relating spinning and fiber art information, representing Wilderness Road Regional Museum and the local militia group that I sometimes set up with.  Again it was hot, but not rainy for this Riner Heritage Day event.  I did set up a small table vending soap and yarn for this as well.  This event was fun, as a History teacher offered extra credit to students who would approach one of the re-enactors, ask a pertinent question or listen to our spiel and then have their picture taken with us.  I had at least a dozen young adults approach me, listen to my talk, have their photo taken, and thank me.  One young man brought at least 4 of them over to me.

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Between those events, work has been directed toward the garden, especially in the early morning before it gets hot.  Everything planted is up except for the pumpkins.  I guess I will have to try again on them before it is too late.  There is a nice row of cucumbers sprouted, two rows of sunflowers and Hopi Dyeseed sunflowers, the tomatoes and peppers need mulch and it is a daily battle against the lambs quarters in the onions, asparagus, and peas.  The only harvest is still asparagus, but I am getting my fill and passing some on to others.

Also, two skeins of yarn have been finished that will go to The Yarn Asylum in Jonesborough, TN along with several others soon.  And the 97 little guest bars of soap were made, and wrapped for Franklin House Bed and Breakfast also in Jonesborough, TN.  These goodies will be delivered back by friends coming here for a day of spinning, camaraderie, and food at an annual event hosted by mutual friends.

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At night and during a couple of cooler days, I finished knitting the half Hap shawl that I was making with 7 of the breeds of wool I spun for the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em challenge.  It ended up almost 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep.  Every one of the 87 lace points had to be pulled and pinned during the blocking.  It is lovely, and heavy.  I will probably enter it in the Fair this year and then enjoy it’s warmth when the weather cools next fall and winter.

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My pullets are all laying consistently sized eggs finally after getting a double yolked “ostrich” egg from one of the other each day.  One Oliver egger has decided to be broody.  I have never had a first year hen go broody on me, but that means one less egg each day and I am having to remove her from the nest several times a day and every evening.

A few weeks ago, I planted Calendula plants for the flowers for soaps and salves.  The plants are blooming and I am gathering the blooms and drying them for later use.  I need to find a patch of Broadleaf Plantain that isn’t in the animal’s footpath or our footpath as that is another herb that needs to be gathered and infused for a fresh batch of salves.  My lavender plant didn’t get pruned two years ago and last year’s pruning didn’t improve it.  I guess it will be dug up and a new one or two purchased so that it too can be dried and infused.

Each day we are taking a 2 plus mile walk together.  We have several places we visit and get our exercise.  Some days it is very pleasant, others it is hot and difficult.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler, maybe the yard will get mowed.  The hay stand is tall and awaiting the annual mowing and baling.

Olio – 5/10/2019

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

Spring is definitely here and with it a weekly yard mowing as we have had rain 9 of the past 11 weekends and due again this weekend.  The hay is getting high and thick as you can see behind this chicken run.  This is the pen we used when all the hens were Buff Orpingtons and we had a rooster.  The broody Mamas would be put in the raised A frame coop and the fencing around the pen is rabbit fence, so the little newly hatched chicks couldn’t get out.  The frame under this coop is rotting away, there is no rooster, so no chicks.  The grass in this run was high like the hay and this morning, it came down to the string line trimmer.  A temporary fence was secured between the existing fence and the coop, and the hens were given the opportunity to enjoy some fresh grass.

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They needed some grass besides the weeds that I have pulled from the garden each morning as I worked to get it in a condition that could be planted.  The hens have made a barren wasteland of their run.

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After several early morning sessions in the garden weeding aisles and beds that had been fallow for the winter, it is mostly planted now.  There is a bed of tomatillos, one of Jalapeño and Ancho peppers, one of Roma and Rutgers tomatoes, one of Sunflowers and Hopi Dye Flowers on one edge and cucumbers on the other.  A permanent box of asparagus that are producing nicely. A long bed that has 100 red and yellow onions and spring peas at the other end.  The blueberry bed was weeded, and today half of a long bed was seeded with green beans.  The other half will be seeded with more green beans in a few weeks to extend the harvest of them.  The raspberry barrels were weeded and two hills of Seminole Pumpkins planted.  One edge of the garden was covered all fall, winter, and early spring with tarps and cardboard to try to kill off the creeping charlie.  When two of the tarps were removed, I was amazed to see a thin stand of grass under them.  The garden is still too large for me to manage alone and there is still a 4 by 4 foot box that is overwhelmed with mint.  After the next rain, the box is going to be lifted away and the mint is going to be seriously thinned with a spade and garden fork.  Heavy cardboard put down to try to slow or stop it’s spread.  Some of each variety will be repotted in clay pots in an attempt to control it.

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With the months of post concussion symptoms, facing the garden was intimidating.  This week there has been very little dizziness and I have worked the garden with long handled hoes, or sitting on my backside and scooting along to weed.

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The mild winter and wet spring have allowed the comfrey in all three patches to send out many volunteers.  Quite of few of them are going to make their way to Wilderness Road Regional Museum to their new garden in the works.

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Spring has also brought bouquets of Bearded Iris and Lupine.  The grape iris have bloomed out, the yellow are still blooming, and the Dutch Iris are going to be opening in the next day or so.  This week more wild flower seeds were planted and 8 Calendula plants dug in for next fall and winter’s salves.

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The past couple of days have been busy making guest soaps for The Franklin House Bed and Breakfast in Jonesborough, TN.  A batch of 32 bars were made yesterday and unmolded to finish hardening today, a batch of 33 bards made today.  One more batch will be made in the next couple of days, but tomorrow I am off to vend at The Creative Therapy, Llama Jam Artisan Fair.  The car was packed this evening as tomorrow is to be wet and I will have to leave home around 7 to get there to set up.

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Next weekend, I will be spinning in costume at Auburn High School’s Heritage Day event.  If the weather is decent, I may take soap and yarn to that event also.

Ah retirement.  “Tired again,” it’s true meaning.

What is my worth? 5/3/2019

Last summer or fall, my eldest did two pages of calculations to determine about what it was costing me per bar to make my soaps.  This came right after I did a craft event where I was one of about 5 or 6 people that had hand crafted soap, some selling for as little as $3 per bar.  At that rate of sale, they are barely making back the materials cost.  I do try to use as many organic ingredients as I can obtain and that increases my cost some, but I can’t sell my soap for $3 per bar and get paid anything for my time to make, package, pay booth fee, Virginia sales tax, and time spent at the event selling.  A couple of weekends ago, I was at a re-enactment event and was told I could vend.  There was another spinner/soap maker there that was local and not in Rev War costume and her soaps were $3.50 per bar.  I didn’t check her knit hat prices.  Neither of us sold anything that day.

Very low price handcrafted items devalues other craftsmen.

I know my hand spun, hand knit prices have been too low, so I did a bit of research to see what similar items are listed for on Etsy.  I don’t know if they actually sell, but the prices for hats with bulky yarn are listed for nearly double my prices for items hand spun, hand knit with fingering to dk weight yarn.  I decided to time myself spinning and then knitting a pair of fingerless mitts.  It takes me almost 5 hours to spin, ply, and wash 4 ounces of wool roving, longer if I have to wash the fleece, dry it, comb or card it to use.  It take me another 5 hours to knit a pair of fingerless mitts, probably a bit less to do a hat, again from fingering to dk weight yarn.  I use about half a skein for the mitts, so 2.5 hours, plus 5 hours is 7 to 8 hours of my time.  If I price them at a wage of $5 per hour, not counting the cost of the roving or fleece, no one will buy them.

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A real craftsman can not compete with foreign sweatshop made prices.

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Most of my hand knit items are from patterns that I developed, not patterns I have found online.  That adds more hours to the project.  It is difficult to compare apples to oranges, when another vendor is knitting or crocheting bulky acrylic yarn into hats and cowls while I am spinning wool to a fine yarn and knitting.  I know I am worth the price that a hand crafted item should sell for, but my stock accumulates.  Next weekend, I will participate in a first year Artisan event.  The artists that have been featured are true artists, I hope it is a success for us all.

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I’m Fickle – 5/1/2019

In a post a while back, I posted that I had all the fiber equipment that I wanted, then another wheel came into my life, and then a 5 foot triloom.  Then on top of all of that, a friend passed away, a friend with whom I had spent many days sitting and spinning.  He was an indy dyer and made the most beautifully colored yarn and fiber.  It was a huge loss to our community and to anyone who was fortunate enough to get some of his work.  He lived alone, and his family was tasked with having to sell his wheels, looms, carders, dye equipment, yarn, and fiber.  I wanted one of his wheels.  I badly wanted one of his wheels and approached the family about purchasing one prior to the sale event they are going to hold.  I will be at a fund raising artisan show that day as a vendor.  My request was granted, and my offer accepted, and this week, one of his wheels that will be perfect for re-enacting as well as use at home, came home with me.   His name was David, meaning friend, so I think she will be Davina in his honor.

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I already didn’t have enough room to set up my loom and weave and adding a 5th wheel to the house wasn’t going to help that situation.  I decided that several of the wheels needed new homes, one to a new spinner, one to a friend, one may be going to another friend at the museum where I help out as the spinner.  That gave me more room.  If the one doesn’t go to the museum, it will be relocated in the house and there will be room for the loom and some weaving time.

The new little wheel and I had an introductory spinning session and we created a 275.5 yard skein of fingering weight Coopworth yarn that is currently in the bath.

Last weekend, I traveled a couple hours from home to spend the weekend visiting friends and taking a white on black Zentangle class.

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Visiting the historic town of Jonesborough was delightful, wonderful local food spots, a Maker’s Market with little booths and shops of handmade goods and a tiny yarn shop.  Soon some of my handspun yarn may be in that shop.  I stayed in the Franklin House Bed and Breakfast, arranged by my friends, and as a gift to the hostess, I took a little basket with guest soaps and balms, and landed a new outlet for my soaps.  I will be making the B & B’s guest soaps.  The label was approved today and the supplies to make the soaps were ordered Monday and should be here soon.

While I was in Jonesborough, some of my Militia group friends were in Fort Frederick at the annual market.  In March, I ordered a table and chair to use at events from a maker in Indiana.  The freight to ship them to me would have been almost as much as the items, and with some coordinating, the items were transported to another event by the maker who handed them off to a friend who was going to be trading at the Fort Frederick market, and he in turn handed them off to my friends from this area and they were transported back to me.  I picked them up yesterday and tried a set up with the table, my ladder rack, and my soap stands for a fund raising Artisan event on Mother’s Day weekend.  I will not have a booth, but a 6 foot linear area to use and I think it will work nicely.

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From the end of the table to the edge of the ladder rack is exactly 6 feet.  Here it is set up in the kitchen open behind, but there will be a wall behind me, so I think it will be perfect.

We seem to have real spring here now, pollen, allergies and all.  This morning, the first Iris bloomed.

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Today we also bought some pepper plants and Calendula plants to go with the tomatoes.  Some garden time needs to be arranged to get them, the green beans, pumpkins, and cucumbers in the ground.  Several beds will have to be weeded to make that happen.  The peas and onions are up and looking good and we finally have asparagus.  The pullets are all laying and we are getting 6 to 9 eggs a day.  Fresh food at last.

Way Over Due – 4/18/2019

It is definitely spring cleaning time.  With two big dogs in the house, the house closed up for winter, living on a gravel driveway off a gravel road,  and recovering from the concussion I got in our accident in February, the house was in sad need of a major overhaul.  I can vacuum and dust daily and still it accumulates way faster than I can keep up.  The HVAC guy came last week for the spring service and put a new filter in, but still it accumulates.  Starting this morning in our bathroom, it got a deep clean.  The later morning and afternoon were dedicated to deep cleaning the loft and our bedroom.

The loft is our computer, TV, and my crafting area.  I recently decided that I had accumulated too many spinning wheels, and a few other crafty things that are just gathering dust.  Three wheels and some other items were listed for sale on various sites.  I want to keep my Great Wheel and one wheel that can be used at home and at historical demonstrations and have room to set my triloom up so I can use it.  The first order of business was to get 4 more cube bins for the cube storage unit.  Everything was removed from it and from the bookcase and also from a smaller folding bookcase in our bedroom.  They were wiped down with a damp rag and organization was accomplished.  The cube unit with it’s bins now holds all of my handspun yarn that isn’t for sale, the small amount of mill spun yarn that I am keeping, including a bit from a fiber and yarn dyer friend that recently passed away.  The remaining 4 bins have roving and clean fleece that are awaiting spinning.

The smaller shallow bookcase actually has the books for knitting, spinning, basket making, and Zentangle.  It is a very shallow bookcase, but it also holds a few small shipping boxes for my shop, the Shop files, and a couple of baskets that are currently not needed.

The larger bookcase has a bin of tools for making labels for the shop, one of knitting  tools and stitch marker making supplies, one of my wool samples for camps and classes to show the different breeds, and one for bags, paint for signs, and brushes.

The top of the two bigger units hold my lazy kate, skein winder, and ball winder.

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Everything has a place, it’s very own place, and I can find it.

I only have two baskets by my chair at this point, one for spinning tools and current spinning fiber and one for my Hap Shawl that I am knitting from the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em skeins that I spun.

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Everything got a good dusting including all the other furniture upstairs.  Vacuuming with the big Dyson and in tight spots with the hand held Shark.  One of the big dogs is an English Mastiff.   They are prone to drool and shake their head, so slime gets in places like walls.  The hall and stairwell walls got a thorough scrubbing as well.

My sewing area in the bedroom still needs a bit of work, but I am in the midst of a project there, so it will get done soon.

If the wheels sell, I will have room for my loom to be set up, a project using some of the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em yarns that were too bulky or too fuzzy for the shawl is developing.    Some of it will have to be dyed and some Merino top also needs to be dyed before my next vending event in May.

At last weekend’s event, a friend who with her husband are suttlers at Rev. War events suggested she could sell some of my soaps and salves.  A display box was set up that they can drop into one of their totes and will be delivered to her in a couple of weeks.  That got me organizing my products for upcoming shows and events and I took the time to update my Etsy Shop and do inventory.  Those records are now accurate.  It has been a busy couple of days.  The main floor of the house still needs a thorough cleaning and we have a couple of rainy, windy days coming up, so it will probably get done.

Conserving rare breeds – 4/12/2019

Over the past several months, I have done several blog posts on a Challenge sponsored by The Livestock Conservancy, an organization that promotes heritage and rare (endangered) breeds of livestock.  The challenge is regarding sheep and is called Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em. A local shepherd friend that raises two of the rare breeds asked me if I was interested in such a challenge last summer to which I responded I was.  She kept me informed of the progress of the initiation of the challenge and as soon as it looked like it was going to begin and shepherds had the verification stickers for the passport for which we registered, I started buying wool and began spinning.

My nature, is perhaps unfortunate in that I can be very competitive.  As a result, I sped through 15 breeds in just a few months, completing in 3 months what they were seeking in 3 years.  It hasn’t stopped me, as I have purchased half a raw fleece for number 16, was gifted 3 raw fleeces of rare breeds by a friend which I am washing, combing, and spinning even though they are ones I had already submitted.

During the past several weeks, the Conservancy posted a series of questions to fiber providers and another series of questions to fiber artists and I responded to the questions thinking they were for statistical purposes.  This morning, I was asked for some photos of myself and my projects and what my blog URL was as I had done a couple of blog posts about the program.  With my return email of the requested information, I said I was now getting curious and the responding email was a link to the Livestock Conservancy blog, featuring me with permission to share.  Wow, what a surprise and a treat for a rainy day.

If you are a knitter, weaver, crocheter, felter, spinner and you haven’t heard about this challenge, I encourage you to join the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em facebook page, join the challenge and have fun with the various breeds.

Old Dog, New Tricks – 3/4/2019

The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  I am trying to prove that adage incorrect.

One of the breeds that I ordered for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em was raw Florida Cracker.  Not having much success in the past with raw fiber, I was determined and watched several YouTube videos, talked with some more experienced folks and tackled the job.  Four washings, several rinses, a good drying, and I had a box full of locks with lots of tips that were tightly and stiffly bound together.

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I don’t own combs or a drum carder, just hand cards and a blending board with an extra flicker brush.

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Last night, I tackled the box and started producing rolags.  Now mind you, I am no expert with the hand carders, I “use” them when doing demonstrations for living history as a spinner, usually only having roving on hand and pretending to prepare the wool into rolags from which I then spin.

My first card full left me with hard tips still in the rolag, FAIL.  Then I started opening the tips with the flicker, turning the lock around to loosen the cut end and filling the carder.  I was producing rolags, not very pretty, but usable.

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The fiber releasing quite a bit of grit as I card it, but is spinning into a nice even relatively fine singles.  The finished yarn is going to need not just a soak after finishing, but a good wash.

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I think my next fiber preparation equipment is going to be combs.

Lesson learned is that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but more practice is needed.  I have a raw Jacob fleece awaiting my new skills.

Fiber and Fun – 3/3/2019

This was the weekend of the February fiber retreat at Hawk’s Nest.  I went as a participant and as a vendor with soaps, salves, lotion bars, yarn, antler buttons, hand dyed Merino top, knitted, and woven wearables.  This retreat is held at the lodge of a state park in West Virginia, about 2 hours from home if I don’t stop on the way.  It is a meeting of friends, lots of spinning and knitting time, socialization as we craft together, dine together, and have social hour before dinner.

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I took several of the fibers for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em and worked on producing yarn from part of the 10 ounces of Tunis and spun some Rambouillet Dorset wool just for a change and I think it will be plyed with the orange when it is all spun.

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I haven’t spun enough of the Tunis to report it yet, nor have I finished all of the Rambouliett Dorset and need to spin the orange.  I don’t know what that 8 ounces of yarn will become when done, perhaps a woven shawl.

My only purchase was a Jacob pelt to pad my chair or warm my feet.  Such a soft lovely little pelt from Hearts of the Meadow Farm.

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It was a rainy drive home, but the car is unloaded, though not all put away.  Most of the accounting has been performed.  Once I am ready to spin some tonight, I will work on flicking, carding, and spinning this box of washed Florida Cracker locks.  When it and the Tunis are done, breeds 11 and 12 will be reported to SE2SE.

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I had a delightful weekend in a nice room with a bed just for me, all the amenities I could desire, but it will be nice to be home in my own bed tonight.