There and Back Again: Mirkwood Gandalf Spindle Review

I’m a Tolkien lover.  I wrote my first Hobbit fanfiction at age 8, though it was less fanfic than a chance for my mother to explain about plagarism.

When I learned about Mirkwood Arts spindles, I had to try one.  But, I was scared of the crown.  There’s an option for a more traditional tapered tip, but the crown is a big part of the design- & more importantly IT HAS A CROWN!

or to quote Amy Farrah Fowler from the Big Band Theory  “I’m a princess, and this is my tiara!”

Here’s a little video of the spindle in action with a 50/50 merino silk blend.

The Ordering:
The etsy listing is clear and easy to understand.  Selecting the gem color did lead to some paralysis because Grey for Gandalf the Grey?  White for Gandalf the White?  Green for the Shire?  Fire Red for the Peter Jackson “Fly, you fools” Balrog scene in the movie which almost made up for the roller coaster through the mines scene?  I spent way too much time waffling.  In the end, I went for luminous green which had the white sparkle for Gandalf the White and the green tones for the shire.

To say that I had unreasonable expectations for this spindle is an understatement.

The Wait: 
This was a custom spindle, and the expected fulfillment time was 1 month.  At 4 weeks, I was getting excited, so I emailed to see where I stood in the queue. Instead of the email I deserved (hey, lady, at least wait for the month to be up to contact me)  I got a very friendly email letting me know it was just about ready to go.  A few days later, I had the spindle in hand.  There was a minor mix up in which I received the plying version of the spindle.  This gave me a chance to see excellent customer service in action.  The maker sent the replacement within a few days.  I sent the one I had back and received an immediate refund for the shipping.  Overall, the entire ordering and receiving experience was excellent.

The Specs:
Whorl: Black Walnut
Shaft: Maple
Crown: luminous green gem
Weight 39.2g
Height: 10 3/4″
Ball bearing tip

The Crown:
The crown is a lightly flared area at the top of the shaft that holds a crystal gem.  I was concerned that the crown would make the drafting a bit clunky.  It doesn’t.  The angle of the flare is the same as the angle I hold for drafting, so it all comes together nicely!  (yay for good design!)

The Flicking Area:
Where do you flick if it has a crown?  I was worried, but I didn’t need to be.  Below the crown, right where I would usually flick, is a lovely narrow space that is just the right size for flicking.  I expected there would be an adjustment period, but there wasn’t.  It flicks just like any other support spindle. I do wrap the secondary cop a bit lower than I usually do, but that was a non-event.  It also spins nicely without the secondary cop.

The Spin:
The ball bearing is very efficient.  So efficient that I needed to back off the flick a bit.  (watch me overflick in the video!) The spindle has beautiful balance as long as I don’t overpower it.  And it spins and spins and spins!

The Support Bowl:
I used it with a maple spinning bowl, and it matched up beautifully.  Most of my bowls & supports tend to be wood, so that’s a good thing for me. I also tested it on a table with no bowl.  A placemat on the the table with no bowl.  A china cereal bowl.  A glass spinning bowl.  A Corian bowl.  It was fine on all of them, but the wooden bowl- or the tabletop- seemed to match my spinning style best.  My super low friction bowls are cupped to send the spindle back to the center, and I needed to be careful not to overflick on those and get that loft/annoying click from overpowering/lifting the spindle.   I could see that the spindle could walk if overflicked or held offcenter on a flat, low-friction surface.

The Cop: 
The spindle has a ridge partway up the shaft which makes an excellent space to start a cop.  I tend to build football cops, so the placement of the ridge is exactly where I need it.  The shaft is smoothly finished but not slick. The cop stays in place even with the 50% silk blend.

The Aesthetics, Presence, and Hand feel:
Aesthetics is a huge part of spindle selection for me.  I’m going to spend hundreds of hours with a spindle, so I like to feel a connection to the design.

This is a gorgeous spindle- esp. when it is in motion.  The light reflects off of the gem.  While spinning, the shape and color of the whorl contrast nicely with the lighter shaft and make a nice dark background for the cop.  The wood is nicely finished so that it feels warm and smooth to the hand without being slippery.  It’s a friendly spindle that makes me feel like spinning by a campfire.  It’s beautiful without being fussy.  I suspect it’s a workhorse in disguise because yarn appears very quickly without hand fatigue or frustration.   It’s all there-  form, function, and a little bit of treasure!

fiber prep, Fleece to Fashion, Fleeces, Natural Dyeing, washing

Bailey’s Fleece: Romney


Romney fleece being skirted

In April 2018, I bought a beautiful Romney fleece from Lochan Mor Farms in Cato, NY.  It was a bit muddy, but we’d had a “build an ark” rain all spring, and it rained in the days before shearing.  The shearer did an amazing job, so there wasn’t much I needed to do before washing.

I laid the fleece out on the barn floor and pulled anything I wouldn’t want to process.  It wasn’t much- maybe 8-10 oz from the britch and rear legs.  My plan was to take this fleece home, sort it, & sample the different areas of the fleece.  Life got in the way, and the poor fleece sat, unwashed and ignored for 3 seasons.

Romney Fleece
A chunk of Romney fleece being prepped to wash

I made several false starts.  The weather wasn’t cooperating, and I didn’t have a good space to fit the fleece under cover.    Washing a large fleece can feel like a monumental task, and I spent a fair amount of time mentally willing the fleece to wash itself while I wasn’t looking.  Amazingly, this didn’t work.

Finally, I scolded myself for being wimpy and grabbed fleece from the top of the bag.   I didn’t do much sorting.  I just broke the fleece into 6-8 oz sections and put the wool into mesh bags with the tips facing the same direction.    I have a LOT of mesh bags, and I think I used them all!

20190113_173849Overnight soak in room temperature water and a bit of soap

First wash:  20 minute soak in 140F water with Power Scour (Full strength)
Second wash: 15 minute soak in Power Scour (1/2 strength)
I followed the washes with two hot water rinses.
I spun out the bags of wool in spin dryer and then laid the fleece out on towels and mesh racks to airdry.

The fleece wasn’t perfectly dirt free after washing, but I chose to flick the tips as needed rather than wash more.  I prefer a bit of lanolin when I spin.  I also didn’t want to risk overscouring and losing the shine from the locks.

Overall, I lost about 30% during washing which is pretty fabulous considering that I could have planted in the sink after the first soak!

The wool is on the soft side of romney- I’d guess in the 25-28 micron range. Within the areas of the body, the fleece is very uniform in length and is well within 10% across the whole fleece with the exception of some of the shorter, extra crimpy leg and some coarser, less crimpy britch wool.

Fiber Details:
5.5 staple, 6.5 crimps per inch
Bright white, strong locks with well defined crimp
Small areas with weathered tips

I combed the fiber with extrafine Valkyrie combs using some combing oil on my hands and the fiber to keep the static down.    This green herbstripper/diz is one of my favorite tools. 

THE SPIN:Spun forward draw from the cut end on a Hansen minispinner and on a Schacht matchless. Plied on the Hansen minispinner.Soaked in warm soapy water to remove any spinning oils before dyeing. Rinsed in warm water. Hung to air dry.     3 ply; 14 wpi; 6.5 tpi

I made a test sample of Kate Davies Sheep Heid hat in some Shetland 2000 from my stash.  The hat was too small and a bit too thin for our weather and for the way I treat my hats.  Upping the needle size to adjusting gauge as suggested made a slack fabric that let too much wind through.   I spun some samples of the white Romney until I found a sport weight that increased the gauge swatch enough to increase the hat size to match my head.
I wanted the colors to have more pop and definition similar to a Scandinavian colorwork rather than Fair Isle’s softer colorwork.  I also wanted a more durable hat that would stand up to getting snagged by trees and being left in the backseat of the car.   I decide to spin a worsted, 3 ply.  The firmer fiber led to some puckering in the long float areas, but some of that was the way I wrapped the long floats.  I like the shine and the way the colors stay distinct in the final project.   I spun 500 yards of a lightly compressed worsted 3 ply &  separated the yarn into seven hanks for dyeing.

I also spun 25 grams of a naturally black Romney cross to use for the sheep legs.  The black Romney cross was spun in the same manner as the white, but it bloomed less during washing.  I decided stay with the slightly thinner yarn rather than spin a thicker yarn because I was worried about how floats from a rougher, firmer body yarn would sit.


I needed 6 dyed colors for the hat plus the two naturals

20180829_120229Oak Acorns collected at Great Bear Park in Fulton, NY in November.  Put in jars to ferment.
1 liter of fermented acorns simmered in tap water for 4 hours then left to steep overnight.
Presoaked the 25-gram skein for 1 hour in room temperature water.
Simmered the skein in the acorn bath at 85C for 30 minutes, then added 100 mls of iron oxide water to shift the color to grey and simmered for 10 more minutes.
After cooling, washed the yarn in tap water and dish soap, then rinsed.

Old Gold
IMG_20190212_160921_329Marigolds collected from my dyeing garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018.  Frozen until needed.
100 grams of marigold flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water.
Premordanted the Romney skein using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG

25 gram premordanted skein simmered for 40 minutes at 85C.

This made a bright gold which I toned down by overdyeing it with the acorn exhaust.  The yarn simmered at 85C for ten minutes.  Cooled then washed and rinsed.

Check out this nifty paint strainer that fits in a 5 gallon bucket.  It makes a perfect strainer to pull out most of the dirt and debris as well as the plant material.
20190125_161601Black Walnuts collected from Greenwich, NY in October.  Put in plastic bags to ferment and decompose.
2 liters of black walnut sludge to 2 gallons of water. Simmered for 4 hours at 95F, heat reduced to 80C and simmered for 6 more hours.  Left to steep for 24 hours.  Dye solution poured off from the dye stuff and filtered to remove particles.

Yarn premordanted with alum using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG
Yarn presoaked for 1 hour, then simmered in dye bath for 1 hour at 85C.
After cooling, washed and rinsed.

I’ve read that the dye is darker with more browns if the walnuts are green/brown when processed.  Other people suggest letting the walnuts breakdown before extracting the dye.  My guess is that if you pick up brown/black nuts, they have lost some of their color to weathering.  Some folks who use black walnut for dyeing leather go to walnut processing locations and harvest directly from the spoil mound. 

Celery Green
20190214_131813Queen Anne’s Lace- Green Mist

200 g of flowers and leaves simmered in 2L of tap water for 1 hour at 75C, steeped for 3 hours.

Filtered the dye stuff from the bath.

Presoaked a 25 grams skein which was premordanted with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG

Simmered skein in bath for 45 minutes.  Let cool in bath, then washed and rinsed.


Ground 3.75 g of cochineal and mixed into 2L of distilled water.  Simmered at 90F for 1 hour.  Filtered bath to get dye stock.

Presoaked 25 skein of  premordanted wool with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG.  Used first liter of the dye bath to simmer premordanted yarn for 30 minutes at 90F.  Heated and then added second liter of dye bath and shifted the pH to 4.  Simmered for 20 minutes.  Added iron oxide water to the bath until the bath shifted to the wine color needed.  (125ml)    Simmered an additional 10 minutes.
Skein cooled, washed and rinsed.

Bright Gold

20180917_133444Dyer’s Coreopsis collected from house garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018.  Frozen until needed.

100 grams of flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water.  Filtered plant material from dye stock.
Soaked the 25 g premordanted skein for 1 hour.
Premordanted skein with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG

Simmered yarn in dye stock for 40 minutes at 85C.  Allowed to cool in pot.
Washed and rinsed.


I needed a larger hat but I also wanted to have the hat more fitted than the slouchy tam shape.  I went up a weight in yarn and kept the needle size as called for.  Additionally, I added two extra rows to the body of the sheep and an extra row in the brim.  This made a nice, beanie shaped hat with a soft rather than fitted top.

Notes for next time:  keep the floats even more irregular behind the ewes.  


Edging:  Silver – acorns

Band:  Old Gold –   Marigold overdyed with acorns
Sheep legs: Black-   Natural black Romney cross
Sheep bodies: Black walnut brown
Sheep faces:  Natural whiteGrass:  Queen Anne’s Lace
Chain outline, Rams, & Diamonds:  Wine- Cochineal
Star on crown:  Bright Gold- Dyer’s Coreopsis



Used 2 strands of each color then tied the braid into a barrel knot.

Natural Dyeing, Tannin Dyeing

Natural Dyeing with Acorns

Acorns are extremely versatile.  They are full of tannins which will dye plant fibers a pinkish-brown.  With an iron dip, the pinkish-brown turns a pretty grey-black.  The color you get will depend upon the fiber you are dyeing.  In this project, I’m dyeing a 60% linen/ 40% cotton blend.  Linen takes a bit longer to dye and seems to need more dye stock than cotton.  I used a cotton twine to tie up for my resist, and the twine became jet black.

How to dye with acorns:

20180829_120229Step One:  Gather ye acorns while ye may

I use 3 pounds of acorns to 1 pound of fabric or fiber.   There are roughly 50 acorns in a pound, though of course the size of your acorns are going to play a part there.

Step Two: Soak the acorns

You’re going to need to mash up the acorns so you can extract the maximum amount of dye.  You can try to bash them up while they are hard, but it is so much easier to soak them first.

I took off the caps and soaked the acorns for 2 days in the solar oven.  We only had good sun for one of those days, but it was enough to lightly soften the shells.

Step Three:  Mash the acorns.


You can use a rock, a mortar and pestle, or a hammer.  Whatever you have on hand will work.  Mine were a bit too hard for the mortar and pestle, so I took the very satisfying hammer short cut.

Mash the acorns and put them back into the jar.  You’ll see the brown liquid already forming as you work.



Step Four:  Let it steep.
You can’t rush a good cup of tea or a strong natural dye bath.  All for the same reason!  It takes time to pull what you want from the plant matter into solution.  For acorn dye, you want a dark brown liquid which will be full of tannins for dyeing.  We had a mix of cool, rainy weather and hot, sunny days, so I just left the acorns in a black mason jar in the solar oven for about 10 days.  I know at least two days the bath reached 165F.  Some other days, it probably never got above 60F.  The cooler the temps, the longer the soak.   After ten days, I had a dark brown dye bath that smelled like a forest pond.

Step Five:  Prep the Iron Dip
20180912_085841Do this alongside soaking your mashed acorns.

I put a rusty piece of metal in a mason jar with 50% water & 50% white vinegar.  The metal soaked for a week on my countertop.  I meant to put it in the oven, but well, life…  No matter.  At the end of the week, I had a nice dark gold solution.

I poured off the solution and left the metal and any flaked bits in the bottom of the jar.  I’ll keep reusing this metal until it stops making the bath.  Then I’ll just put the piece of iron somewhere to get rusty again and start over.

Time to Dye!
Step Six:  Prep your dyeing pot.

I like to use stainless steel hotel pans for dyeing, but you can use almost any big stainless or enameled pot that will fit your dye stuffs with room to spare.  Stainless steel or fully enameled pots will let you control the color most.  Iron saddens dye colors, so iron pots or inexpensive pots that rust easily will change the color of your yarn.  Similarly, aluminum pots can change your colors.  Good if you want to do that.  Less good, if you don’t.

Below are pictures of the two baths.  On the right, I diluted the dark brown acorn dye solution with enough water so that my fabric would be fully immersed.  On the left, I did the same with the iron solution.


Step Seven:  Scouring the fabric and prepping the towels to dye
I washed a set of 4 white linen & cotton hand towels in synthropol, washing soda, and hot water.  They soaked for 40 minutes in the synthropol and washing soda hot bath and then were rinsed thoroughly in hot water.

20180912_093139I wanted to make some resist patterns on the fabric, so I wrapped them on pipes and wrapped some random patterns of cotton twine.

Step Eight:  Initial dye

I simmered the fabric in the acorn dye bath for 40 minutes until the fabric turned a mid tannish-brown.   This is always the hardest part because it looks like I’m not getting enough color.  But it’s just the first dip.

(Sorry- I missed this photo.  I’ll take it with the next batch)
Step Nine:  The iron dip

I moved the brown fabric into the iron bath (195F) and let it rest for 20 minutes.  The color darkened but not as much as I wanted it to.  Take a look at the dye bath.  A dark brownish black precipitate has formed in the pan.  With stirring, it will go back into solution.

To darken the color, I moved it back into the acorn dye so that iron that had penetrated the fiber could more easily interact with the tannins.   I let it sit until the color deepened more closely to what I wanted


I wanted even more color, so I let the fabric continue to simmer in the acorn bath for another 30 minutes, repeated the 10 minute iron dip, and then put it back in the acorn bath for the final soak.  After 20 minutes, I had the color I wanted.  It’s a dark purple-brown that is almost black.  On 100% cotton, this would be pure black.  On linen, I’m hoping the purple and grey undertones show through.   Because of the resist I should have a wide range of colors from the plain linen/cotton white through the brown, lighter grey-brown, and darker purple-grey.    I love this moment in natural dyeing.  Because I don’t know how much iron and how much tannin I had in each bath,  I have a good but not exact  idea of the colors I’ll have on the fabric.    Add to that the ever changing nature of my tap water, and things can surprise me.

20180912_132349 (1).jpg

Step Eight:  Cooling in the bath
It’s really tempting to pull it out and immediately rinse to see how things turned out.  For full color, I leave it in the bath, turn off the heat, and walk away until the pot is completely cool.  This can take several hours, so it really helps to have another project in the works.  When in doubt, go out and gather more dye stuff.


Step Nine:  Rinse and wash

Once everything has cooled, a thorough wash with some gentle dishsoap will take out any unfixed dye and acorn bits and make sure there isn’t a residue left behind.

As you are dyeing,  don’t forget that things look paler when they are dry.  Here are the towels.  The one on the left is wet.  The ones on the right are the same towels after they have dried.



Next up:  More tannin dyeing.  Tannins on 100% cotton

Joe Pye, Natural Dyeing

Dye Study on Joe Pye Weed

20180821_092301.jpg  Joe Pye Weed grows along the roadside and power line corridors in Central New York.  This patch is just across from my house on the edge of a marsh.

Many dyers have gorgeous photos of themselves walking through the woods in flowing dresses carrying willow baskets and artistic shears.

I would love to be that person, but I know me.  It’s only a matter of time until I walk into a ditch.

For most days, jeans and boots are my go-to.


Today was just the verge alongside my road, so long pants and rubber gardening boots got it done.   Gloves are key.  Flexible ones with thick palms will keep you from getting skewered, poked, & bitten.    Long sleeved shirts are nice for walking through tall brush.  If you love your short sleeved shirts in the summer, you can find gloves that cover your forearms.

You won’t need protective clothing for every ramble, but for walking through shoulder-high brush, you’ll appreciate it!

I use 5 gallon plastic buckets for my cuttings.  They are easy to put down, and I don’t have to worry if the ground is wet or level.  I can prop them in the brush and they’ll just hang out until I pick them up again.  I like the bright white buckets that are really easy to find again.  Stay away from the dark blue ones which blend in.  You don’t want to waste time walking around trying to find your bucket!  Plastic buckets aren’t pretty, but they are durable.  Rain, puddles, ponds, mud- nothing phases them.  I can hose them out after I’m done, and they are ready for more.  If you are trying to minimize your plastic use, then try bushel baskets.  They are lightweight and durable.  Dye them bright red you can find them again!


After gathering, it’s a good idea to shake off and hose down your cuttings.  This lets the slugs, snails, and spiders on the plants return to life out in the world rather than finding a place in your house.  I don’t have an outdoor sink yet, so I use a hose and my bucket for washing outside.   After rinsing, I bring the hopefully slug-free plants in to my big sink.

I’ve read everything I can find on dyeing with joe pye weed, and everyone seems to have a personal recipe.  Color reports range from pink to clear yellow to yellow-green.  I haven’t seen a photo of anything pink, just written reports which makes me wonder if pink is really one of the dyeing options. I’m going to do a range of water based extraction tests and then try a few different mordants to see what happens.

The Dye Extraction Plan:

Dye Bath One-A:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, soaked in water, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-B:
Flower and seed heads only
Minced, soaked in slightly alkaline bath, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-C:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, soaked in slightly acidic bath, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-D:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath One- E:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F slightly alkaline water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath One- F
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F slightly acidic water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath Two:
Leaves and stalks only
Repeat processes for A-F

Dye Bath Three:
Full plants
Repeat processes for A-F


Separating the heads & mincing the flowers:  
At first, I was not going to mince the heads, so I went ahead and lopped the flower heads off with shears.  Then I thought again and decided I wanted to mince them.  Minced flowers have more surface area for the transfer of dye from the plant to the water.  If there is lots of dye in the flower, you don’t need to mince them.  It’s been a tough year for growing plants with the heat and drought alternating with floods.  I don’t have high hopes for these flowers.  If you have a dye-dedicated blender or chopper, you can chop the heads from the stems and pulse-chop them in your blender.

I fried my blender on some woody stalks (oops), but I have a handy chopper around which is perfect for this sort of flower.

If you don’t have a blender or chopper, don’t worry.  Scissors are all you need.  Just chop the flowers and seeds into tiny bits right off of the stalk.  If the flowers are spread out, chop them into a bowl, grab a handful of flowers, and cut them into bits with your scissors.

20180821_131413I put 360g of plant material in the jar with 3600 ml of water.  The amount of dye in plants varies tremendously based on the time of year, the soil, the growing season, etc.   A recipe of X amount of plant to X amount of wool is a rough guideline unless you keep very detailed records about where you gather and the weather.

So, why am I weighing the plant material?  For this comparison, I want to use the same amount of plant material across the different batches to see which process is most effective in addition to what colors they each give.  Sometimes the boil and simmer gives more dye.  Sometimes a long, low heat soak gives more dye.  More importantly,  the different extraction temperatures can change the color/composition of the dye.  I will lose more water on the boil/simmer extraction than the solar heating, so it’s nice to have an idea of how much I started with.  A boiled bath can look darker just because there is less of water.

So- many more steps to go.  I have lots of chopping, soaking, and heating ahead of me.  I hope the sun comes out, so I can get these jars heating tomorrow!

Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning

Rysa and the 6 Skeins: The Side

The wool along Rysa’s sides was some of the most interesting to process.   It is nice and soft and has a surprising amount of luster considering the disorganized crimp and the weathering.  Here’s the wool after washing.  There is still enough lanolin in the wool to make spinning quick and easy.  I’ll wash the skein in hot water with a bit of dish soap after spinning.


Weak tips needed flicking.  You can see the light, wispy tips in the photo above.  I considered trimming them with scissors, but they flicked off without any fuss.

The cut end needed some extra attention.  In some Shetlands, a natural weak spot occurs each year when the old fleece separates from the newer fleece (the rise).  There were just a few areas showing the rise, and the fiber flicked apart easily.  Some locks showed some fiber crushing where the manual shears made a burr on the cut end.   These also flicked out easily.

The photo below shows the downy undercoat on the left.  The primary staple length after flicking off the tip, and a piece of the weathered tip removed.  Over all, the locks lost around 1/2″, sometimes a bit more- esp if they also lost some length on the cut end.   The down is approximately 1.5″.  The primary lock is approximately 3-3.5″20180812_221250

At first, I thought to leave the two coats together combined and spin them as one.   Unfortunately, the undercoat separated as I flicked out the grass and hay bits.  I wanted to save the down for spinning, so I decided to pull it out and spin it separately.

There was a fair amount of loss.  Of the 75 grams of washed fiber,  I have a 34g roving.  The down was only present in part of the side wool, so it only came to 7 g.   The waste came to 34 g (~45%).  There were some cotted locks, but it was mostly flicked ends, weak fibers, and very short soft fibers that were under 1/2″.

I did a sample spin from the flicked locks and found it was very easy to spin this into wire.  However, when handled gently, it stayed a fluffy, lustrous grey-brown.

I ran the flicked locks onto my drum carder and pulled a roving.   I ran the locks sideways for the first pass and then split the batt into thin sheets for the second pass.  I used a 1/4″ hole in my diz and pulled the roving around the drum, clearing approximately 1 1/2″ of fiber from the teeth for each rotation until the drum was clean.

The fibers are fairly parallel, but the springy, disorganized crimp keeps it open and full of air. My first priority while spinning is to keep the softness with low twist and gentle handling.   I do want to keep the fiber ends smoothed down and show off the luster in the yarn, so I’m going to do a bit more sampling to find the happy medium.

Once again, I don’t have tons of fiber to work with, so I need to keep samples small if I want to have enough yarn to use in a project.

Here’s the yarn . 10 wraps per inch, 6 twists per inch. 2 ply, semi-worsted (roving prep, worsted spin- forward draw on the 12.6:1 ratio, Schacht Matchless)


Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa & the 6 Skeins: The Belly Wool


Who decided that Shetland was a good idea for this challenge?  Oh, right.  Here’s me paying the price.

I only had 50ish grams of washed belly wool to work with and a good part of that was grass and felted bits.  The fiber is tender in spots, so I tested frequently as I picked.   I started out just teasing the wool open with my fingers, but I switched to tapping it open on some fine carding cloth when the fiber was long enough..

20180806_102919The pile on the top is technically teased and picked.  As you can see, I wasn’t able to get everything out.  I decided to keep anything 1/2″ or longer.  The longest piece is just over an inch.  The white fiber is shorter than the brown, so I decided to roughly blend the two colors.

After all was said and done, I had 10 grams of picked fiber.  Not tons, but I only need 10 yards for a sample skein.

The challenge?  I wanted to test both spinning from the carder- using the carding cloth as a comb- and spinning from a puni.

I expected the semi-worsted spin make better yarn, esp. considering the fiber length and quality issues.

I used the teeth of the carding cloth to catch the uneven fibers and help the crushed vegetation drop out.  It did all of that, but it turned the yarn into something much more like thread-  densely spun and kind of boring.    Fergie was not a fan of this.





The yarn was nice and smooth, but too firm to the touch and oh-so-uninspired.




As it turned out,  the puni made a much nicer yarn.   I used about 3 grams of  my 10 gram fiber supply to charge the carders.

This carding cloth is 120 tpi.  I roughly blended the brown and white fibers, picking out most of the shorter pieces and vm.  Once I had a mostly smooth batt, I used the best fiber from the nep pile and sprinkled the shorter white fibers throughout the batt.  Then, I used my smallest dowels (3/16″) to roll the puni.  I used light tension as I wrapped because I was worried that the neps wouldn’t draft if I made the puni too tight.  In the end, I had a strange hybrid rolag-puni thing to spin.

I decided to use a spindle because it was just a tiny amount of yarn and the only wheel without a project on the bobbin was upstairs.   (yes, the spindle has a project on it as well.  So do the other 10 spindles on my downstairs rack.  I’m beyond help…).  You can see how rough and crunchy the puni is.  I didn’t have high hopes for this yarn. 20180806_104338
I spun the yarn supported, American long draw-  flicking the spindle, giving a bit of a pull to get the drop going because this spindle doesn’t weigh much, and then drafting against the support point to draw out an arms length horizontally.   In spite of the fineness of the yarn, there’s decent loft and a nice soft surface on the yarn.  The white neps locked in nicely and in most places made a good tweedy pop rather than a white spiral.   I did the Andean plying party trick and ta-da-  a soft, 2 ply textured, heathered yarn.   The photos on the bottom are plied & washed.  The fibers bloomed differently, so you can see the texture of the white fibers rising above the brown fibers.    Much more interesting than the grey-brown thread!

I am looking forward to using this yarn in my punch needle.  I am pleasantly surprised by the handle of the yarn.   This is definitely yarn- not thread.  It has some good squish factor and texture without looking messy.  I was worried it wouldn’t stand up to knitting, but it’s nice and strong.   I have 4 grams left to play with, so I’m going to make another mini and see what it looks like knitted up.


Here’s the second puni spun up.  This one isn’t quite as interesting because I used a lighter hand with the nepps.   Of the two, I prefer the one with more texture for use, but the smoother one makes a prettier skein.


Next Up:
Spinning the Britch

Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa and the 6 skeins

Meet Rysa.  She’s a lovely bellwether Shetland ewe at Trinity Farms.
Today I am separating out her fleece to make six different skeins of yarn- one from each of the following body areas: neck, sides, britch, belly, shoulders, back.  My  goal is to spin for a purpose suitable to the fiber characteristics.   I’m going to spin to the crimp where possible and vary the yarn design for specific uses.

Rysa made it easy for me to sort out her fleece because she’s somewhat color coded.  Her rear legs, britch, and most of her belly are white.  Her front legs are less darker and less weathered.

Each region has distinct fiber lengths and feel, so it was a quick sort. In general, her back and shoulder fibers are quite soft and would make yarn quite suitable for next to the skin wear. I don’t see any evidence of a rise so far, but the shepherdess let me know she saw one area while shearing.

Shetlands have the ability to shed their fleece.  Periodically, the fleece develops a weak spot in the staple where the fleece will naturally separate.  Shepherds can roo the coat by gently pulling on the fiber and lifting the older fleece from the new fleece growing in.  If a sheep is sheared after the rise has started, the shears cut below the natural break in the staple.  If this happens, the fibers can be easily flicked from the cut end.  If the rise is well into the staple, you can grab the butt and pull it with a sharp tug.  The staple will separate at the rise, leaving the sound staple for spinning.

Shetlands are small.  The typical fleece weight is 2-4 pounds.  This whole fleece only weighs 1# 13 oz  prior to washing.  The photo has washed out the beautiful brown of this fleece.  I’m looking forward to seeing the color in the spun yarn!

Here’s a photo to compare the raw locks across the different areas.

At first I thought his ewe had a single coat, but after washing, I found areas where she has a very soft, downy undercoat that is about 1.5″ long.   Most of the fleece is soft with 2-3.5″ long staples with 7-8 deep,wavy crimps per inch.  The locks are downy at the cut end, have a more clearly defined crimp in the center of the lock, and then taper to a slightly wispy point.  The locks at the shoulder and the sides have a longer, more wispy tip.

Shetlands can have a variety of coat types that range from a soft, downy single coat through a medium-long wavy coat to a primitive, double coat.  Personally, I have a soft spot for double coated shetlands.   That said, working with Rysa’s fleece is so easy.  I may need to shake things up more often!

I’d put Rysa’s coat between a kindly and a medium, and closer to the kindly side of things.  In spots, she has a second coat but it is not dense and seems to be about 10% of the fiber weight.   If you’d like to read more about the different types of coats, this is a nice page with pictures and descriptions:


Fleece Description by Area:

The shoulder:

The raw fiber is 3.5″ long, with 8 well-defined, wavy crimps per inch.  The fiber is soft and could be worn next to the skin.   Lanolin level is low- moderate.  I’ve opened the lock for the picture above, but the cut end is dense and webby with more definition along the center and finally tapering to a lightly wispy tip.  Overall, the fiber is in good condition with light weathering at the tips.  I expect this fiber to process easily because the tips are firm and the cut end is clean and defined.  I’m hoping to spin this finely enough to make a ring shawl.

The brown has a grey undertone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the color after it is spun.  Unfortunately, I think I will lose some of the color variation by spinning superfine yarn.

The side:

The locks vary throughout the side.  The further the lock is from the back, the less crimp. The pulled lock was from the edge where the side met the belly.  It has roughly 3 crimps per inch.  The fibers have deep, loose waves that are disorganized and almost fuzzy.   The lock is 3.5″ long with the last 1/2 inch being a wispy, weathered tip.  Though the tips are strong,  I plan to trim them during processing to remove the coarser fiber.  The color is a beautiful rich brown.  I’m planning to spin a three ply dk weight, but I will do some sampling first.  I’d love to make a cabled hat, but I’m waiting to see how much loft I want in the finished yarn before making that call.

The back:

The lock is 2 3/4″ long with 7 crimps per inch.  The fibers are next to the skin soft, lightly webby, and very fine.  There’s more lanolin here and more weathering on the tips.  Some tips may need flicking.   A quick test spin by twisting in the grease showed that this spins easily into a soft, 2 ply laceweight yarn.  I have enough fleece to do a lace scarf or shawl.  If I wasn’t keeping the fleece separated for the 6 skein project, I would probably blend it with the shoulder fleece and do a full-size shetland shawl.  I’m going to sample to see which yarn weight shows off the fleece best.  The back has a fair amount of weathering so there is less luster.  I’m already spinning a superfine yarn with the shoulder, so I’d like to do a fingering or sport for the back.

 The Belly:

The belly fiber is a mix of short, soft fiber and wiry fiber.  Most is short and fine- approx 1-2″ staple.  There’s a good amount of vegetable matter and felting, so most of the belly isn’t usable. The non-felted fiber is very tender.  Much of it breaks easily if tugged.  I’m going to wash it enough to remove the dirt and some of the lanolin, but I want to leave more lanolin that I would usually to help the fibers slide during picking.

Considering the small amount of fiber and its condition,  the belly is going to be spun into a fine yarn.  After washing and picking, I had a nice little collection of 1/2″ bright white fibers.  I’d like to put those into the yarn for a rustic , lightly textured fine yarn.  The yarn would add some nice variation and interest to a needlepunch project.

The Legs:  Shetlands don’t have much fleece on their lower legs, so I don’t have much of the short, super crimpy leg fleece that can be found in some other breeds.  Nor was the fleece particularly dirty or cotted.  Some of the fiber is tender; some has weak tips.  I’m going to flick this before carding in to rolags.

Rysa’s rear legs are white.  The fleece there has 2-3″ staple lengths with dense fiber that has disorganized crimp.  This fiber is coarser and suitable for outerwear.  Some areas have wispy, coarser tips that I will trim. It would make lovely mittens, a pair of socks, or a lightweight sweater.   After washing, the color is a bright, clear white and has some shine.  I’d love to dye this for colorwork.

The front legs are brown with a 2.5-3″ staple that has a shallower, tighter crimp.  Some of the fiber shows an outer coat which can be easily pulled out.  The fiber is a bit softer than the back leg fiber and would make a nice scarf or pair of gloves.  If I had more of it, I’d use it for a sweater.

The britch
The britch fiber is coarser with some light cotting.  Some areas show a hair-like, second coat which can be pulled to separate it.  Some areas show a small amount of weak fiber at the cut end from the rise.  It is only 1/4-3/8″ and can be easily removed.  Apart from these sections, the locks are 3.5″ long and have a disorganized fiber structure with poorly defined crimp.   The fiber is suitable for some wear, but it is still on the softer side- similar to a corriedale.  Compared to other shetlands I have spun, the britch of this fleece is softer with a smoother hand.


I sorted the fleece by area and broke the fleece into 4-6 oz portions per mesh bag.  I placed tyvek labels in the bags so that I could easily identify the different fleece.

Next step: washing

This fleece doesn’t have a lot of lanolin, but it did have a lot of dirt after our long, wet winter & spring.    I did a 20 minute wash at 50C with Power Scour,  intending that to be the only wash.  I followed that up with a hot water rinse.  The rinse water was still quite dirty, and the wool held more lanolin than I prefer.

I did a second wash with less solution.  I also split the bags into two sinks.  Each sink holds 15 gallons of water.  I put roughly 1 pound of fiber in each.

After this wash, I did another two rinses until the water was clear.  Then I spun out the bags in my spin dryer and laid everything out on the skirting table to dry for the night.  The weather has been hot and humid here, so I turned on a dehumidifier and a fan to speed things up.



Fleece turned out to dry:


Next post:  Spinning the belly wool