I do love to spin Jacob wool.
For me, it is one of those comfort activities. Jacob just makes me feel good. A fire in the wood stove, a cup of Hot Chocolate and some Carded Jacob is my idea of a relaxing way to spend the day! The fiber is springy, not TOO kinky and drafts easily. It is the kind of fleece that will please the beginner all the way through to the seasoned veteran. The yarn you get will make super outerwear, socks, shawls and a spectacular blanket (that's my current plan!). The yarn also has SPROING -- so it kinda snaps back -- like boing!
What makes a Jacob?
Some of you are wondering, What is Jacob? Jacob is a polycerate (love that word) sheep. That means they have MANY horns. American Jacob differs greatly from British Jacob, where the breed originated. American Jacob are smaller. Breeders don't coat them -- because of the many, REALLY curvy horns (the POLY from polycerate). Jacob has the greatest range of acceptable fiber than any other breed. Since it is a conservative breed, there are many folks that have a small herd of Jacob. Because of this, you may find quite a few farms with Jacob that produce wonderful fleece!
Jacob sheep produce multicolored fleece. From white to nearly black. As you move through the spectrum of color the fleece also gets shorter and softer from light to dark. Working with a Jacob fleece is a delight for the senses!
Some Jacobs and some Jacob Fleece
The Many Colors of Jacob's Coat
American Jacobs are smaller than their British cousins so if you want MORE of all the colors you can get several Jacob Fleece and sort them together. I once sorted through 5 Jacob Fleeces,
I like to separate my Jacob into piles. I start by pulling out the pure white areas and the pure dark area -- these will be the two ends of my spectrum. Then I look at what is left and start separating based on lighter vs darker. I don't pull away any of the bits of white clinging to the grey or the brown, but I might grade the pile as lighter gray and darker gray, depending on how much white I see mixed in. Often I have been able to get 5 shades of carded roving. But 4 is good too.
Sort Raw or sort Clean? Well, it kinda depends! If the fleece is really dirty (dirt type of dirty), then you should wash it first, You'll have a hard time seeing the color valuations if it is all kinda coated with mud! The white on a Jacob is usually BRIGHT -- so clean helps.
I have sorted both ways, raw and clean. Clean smells better, but the fiber holds more tightly together and you have to do a little more pulling. The advantage is that you can do it in the house and you can see the colors. When washing first, Try to get 2 - 3 basic color areas and keep them together for later. Wash each as a single "batch" . You can see how I wash fleece by hand by reading Washing Day -- it is not the MOST efficient method, but I get really good results and minimal lock damage.
Sorting a Single Raw Jacob Fleece -- 4 Shades
Sorting Multiple Washed Jacob Fleeces - 5 Shades
And then ... there is the Gourmet Jacob -- Lilac
Jacob sheep that are 60% white and 40% another color -- light gray or light brown -- are called "lilac" . For these fleece you do not try to sort the colors, you just wash, card and spin. Your yarn will have a gentle, subtle Lilac hue.
So far I have found Lilac Fleece to be a little softer. I try to get Lilac fleece whenever I can! It is such an adventure in spinning, and a treat for the eyes.
Try Jacob -- You Won't be Sorry
Jacob is a medium length fiber and comes in multiple shades and multiple degrees of softness. It is fun and easy to spin. It cards up quite easily, wether you are using hand cards or a drum carder -- I like the way it turns out with my Louet Jr. Drum carder. You can comb Jacob -- but carding works just as well and it spins great from a carded bat.
When you work with Jacob, you are working with a little piece of history, a sheep breed that has not been "improved" -- it's just JACOB!
When looking at project drafts/projects we don’t always want to do it exactly as written. Maybe we want to substitute a different weight warp, or add a feature, or try out a new selvedge scheme. Weaving is not like coloring — it is permissible, and often desirable to “color” outside the lines!
I had two projects in mind, which needed some changes.
Project #1 Spinning Lap Towels
The first was a project from Handwoven Design Collection 18 – A Lap Towel for Spinning. Here is their description:
“This towel is really a sort of lap rug for spinners. It’s designed to keep fuzz off your good slacks — or jeans! Wear it light side up when spinning dark fiber and dark side up when spinning light fiber, and it will also help you see what you’re doing. The little pockets are handy for oil cans, threading hooks, extra drive bands — whatever you’d like to have with you while you spin. A 1/3 broken twill makes this towel very fast and easy to weave“
I wanted to make a few changes. I kept the color schemes of dark and light (white warp, darker weft) but mixed it up a little with weft other than white for the pockets. I did not change the weave structure at all or the weight of the yarns to use.
The 5/2 Mercerized cotton warp is wound, now it’s time to dress the loom.
What did I learn from my changes?
The Plain Weave Selvedge — plain weave and 1/3 broken twill do not play happily together.
The weave is weft faced and does make a “lap rug”. It is thick and stays in place. All in all — a good project with good results.
A Gallery of Lap Towels
You can buy one at the Dakota Designs Shop.
Project #2 Swedish Towels
JoAnne Hall has a nice draft – available for Free for Swedish toweling, they are called Anna Towels. The project can be done in either plain weave, straight twill, broken twill, herringbone, goose eye, or 8 shaft block twill. I love the colors of white background with blue and yellow stripes.
HOWEVER, I really wanted to use 16/2 cotton instead of 8/2. This was an easy step outside the lines. There were a few adjustments to make.
Winding the Warp
I don’t know about you, but even holding two threads at a time, that’s 456 ends — lots of turns on the ole warping mill — with color changes! JoAnne has this neat trick. Wind both bouts at once, in one long warp. NOTE: this only works when you have a symmetrical warp order — or if the warp is all the same color/type.
The instructions have the warp color order — just double each color section and remember to ONLY go the the halfway point (remember you’re doing 2 bouts at the same time)
I did this with the 16/2 cotton and it worked so beautifully!
I did the block threading, so there is block 1 and block 2. Again you double her instructions. If she says to thread block #1 1 time — you do it 2 times.
Keep TRACK of EVERY CHANGE
I have a notebook where I paste parts of the original instructions and my notes on the changes. I might want to reproduce the project at some point in the future.
The Moral of the Story?
Don’t be afraid to take a project and make it your own. Think about the directions, do they make sense for you? Is it using the warp you want (or have on hand)? It does take some planning, and some note taking, and a little bit of double checking, but in the end it IS worth it and you’ve taken that first step on a more creative journey.
Many times I find a really cool art batt, fancy hand-dyed braids, or batt in a braid — the colors or the texture attract me and I have to have it. What will I do with the finished spun yarn? Who knows! Many spinners ply their art just for the pure pleasure of it. There is always a place for indulgence spinning — it’s like eating comfort food, it just makes you feel good.
Periodically I spin for a particular project, something I want to weave or knit. How does one go about spinning yarn for knitting a sweater or a jacket? Several years ago, I wanted to make each of my sons a Tomten Jacket. I was inspired by some of the changes mentioned in a blog by Jared Flood. This was going to be a special project, and I wanted to add my own personal twist to it — spin the yarn myself!
There were a few considerations I needed to address first:
Here are some views of the Tomten Jackets.
Below are some of the details that I published in my project section of Ravelry. Zimmerman has you cast on 112 stitches, I was going to need a few more, but everything is divisible by 4 and 8, which is what you need.
My Schematic for the body of the tomten jacket.
What is next on the Docket?
Have you SEEN Knits about Winter by Emily Fodon? I want to made EVERY project in this book!
Barn and Soiree
Several of the sweaters (Barn, Soiree) use DK weight — you can also use a Fingering weight with a strand of Mohair Lace. For me, Spinning DK means that I have to use a spin gauge. I looked up DK and went for 12 wpi – 2 ply. In retrospect, I should have CALCULATED the yards per pound of Emily’s DK, and spun it at 14 wpi. DUH, Slaps forehead. I now have almost enough of a middle-of-the-road DK — around 980 ypp to knit a sweater. Emily’s DK for Barn and for the DK version of Soiree is 1178 ypp — I’m off by about 15%. What to do?
Sierra’s “what to do” List
What can you do about those pesky specks of dirt and VM that are embedded in the fiber? Should you put it through the picker? Hand pick it? or give up in disgust!
…is always an option, and it will clean the fleece. You need a set of combs for that and a quick lesson on combing. I really like Susan McFarland’s combing video — it will work for all hand combs — If you have the large English combs, you need a different method. I keep my equipment simple these days — one set of combs that fits me well and doesn’t make my arms/wrists/elbows hurt — Can you tell that I’m getting OLD???
Not everyone has combs, or maybe you have a LOT of fleece and don’t want to prep it all by combing. I found a cool video one day called “No Fleece Left Behind” — it gives new life to fleece you had lost hope on! This video is SO well done and I have tried it and it really, really works — I wish I had known this a few years ago when I had a particularly tricky Tunis fleece to clean.
Recently I divested myself of all the extra fiber prep equipment. Sold the Picker, sold the Electric Drum Carder (the thing scared the beejeebers out of me!) and was left with 1 set of combs and 2 sets of carders. I decided that all I really needed to do was learn to use my carders more efficiently. I found a great video sponsored by Schacht and applied her suggestions right away. I carded up 8 ounces in record time! I couldn’t believe it.
I also bought a copy of the DVD “How to Card Wool, Four Spinners, Four Techniques”. I really enjoyed watching it . I am really encouraged about using my hand carders to prep my wool. Norm Kennedy advocates really SCOURING your fleece an then uses a few drops of Baby Oil before carding. I tried that too, and it really makes a difference — the fibers card up much more easily.
Now I am ready to try out 2 of the methods mentioned above. My Texel from Washing Day is ready for processing. I need to decide which I will use — Combing or “No Fleece Left Behind”. There are three factors to consider: Time, Waste, Spinability.
I picked out a MESSY sample to spin, figuring that it won’t get any worse than this. First I combed a sample. The fibers were longer and it combed up nicely. Just a few bits left behind in the dizzed nest of now very attractive fiber. Then I picked out some fiber that had a LOT of embedded VM in it and used the method from “No Fleece Left Behind” Amazing — ALL of the VM came out and was either in my lap or on the carders. I laid all the fibers out so that all the cut ends matched.
I spun the sample worsted. The nest spun out extremely well — more spinability on this method. The card prepped locks were cleaner and very spinable (I spin from the cut side to the tip). If I were pressed for time I would use the carders — I prepped the fiber more quickly with this method. If I didn’t want to have to think much while spinning, I would choose the combing method!
Please enjoy the photo essay below — complete with comments.
I am crazy for wool. Love it to death. I have been known to nearly bury my face in raw fleece because the smell of fresh lanolin is total heaven! I don’t actually bury my face — there’s a lot of stuff in fleece which I’d rather not get that close to. But the smell of fresh, greasy fleece — ahhhhhhhh. You can’t get all that joy by getting prepped fiber.
I buy it raw, wash it, keep what I want/need (How much does one truly need? That’s a question for the ages). AND then put the balance in my SHOP — all clean and sparkly for spinners to buy and spin.
My first experience with washing fleece was a total disaster. It was free, unskirted (yep there were actually dingle-berries hanging off of it) and really, really, really greasy. Not a good choice for a beginner — I didn’t even have the sense to skirt it before trying to wash it. Long story short, it made great fertilizer tea.
Over the years, I have tried various methods to wash raw fleece, and even gave up for a while. Then I watch Judith Mckenzie’s Three Bags Full — I liked her method and made a few changes to suit my needs. The key?
Wash in small batches — even if you have 9 pounds of it to do! I also employ a sort of conveyer line of pots for tricky, sticky, “oh my gosh there is a lot of grease” fleece. This might consist of as many as 3 successive wash pots and 3 successive rinse pots (that’s my secret to washing Merino and Cormo)
I use a timer and don’t let the fleece go long — because the water will cool too much and I won’t get to do a second set of bags. The last thing you want to have happen is for the lanolin to re-deposit back onto the fiber. I have had that happen — then I have to start all over! Bummermissimo. I will sometimes “refresh” the pot with fresh hot water.
I do a successive sequence for really greasy fleece.
You know how it is, right? You have a grand plan, for a weaving project, you spend time doing calculations, making adjustments, choosing the materials and the colors. In your vision it is all perfect and everything works out like magic.
AND sometimes it really does! The first time I made these log cabin towels (using the colors in the book of Black, unbleached, turquoise and burgundy) I had a warping disaster, chucked the entire mess and started over — Now THAT was a really bad day. This month when I tried it again, using my new Glimakra Standard loom, and all my own color choices, it worked like a dream, there wasn’t a single glitch — not one.
I learned many things at Vavstuga for the 3 times I have been there. One of the most important things I learned is that mistakes happen, find them, fix them and move on to happy weaving. In each of these classes there were
Like my husband (the cook) I always follow the “recipe” the first time through. The most I do is add yardage so that I’ll have a few items left to put into the shop. My warping mill (thank you, thank you Paul) made by a good friend does 3.5 yards and this project called for 5.5 to make 6 towels. I decided to go for 2 complete turns of the mill and 2 extra towels. Just so you know THAT part worked out perfectly — I had 8 towels and some left over for my sample bin.
There were a few winding issues. I like to hold 2 threads, but the warp stripes were 2, or 3 — hmmm. Those threads were held as singles, with lots of ties on the weaver’s cross side. I double knotted them in paranoid frenzy. In my zeal to make sure I had the right number of threads for each stripe, that I had KNOTTED them well when changing, I MISSED that there was ALWAYS a section of 3 unbleached threads when changing colors. I was following the warp order chart carefully, which I had recopied to be larger so I could see it, had a missing section of white around the central stripe of brown.
RATS! I discovered this error after beaming, and before threading, so I had to use the hanging film cans stuffed with quarters solution. I used more quarters than I thought I should to give the right amount of tension — which, I have to say worked out very well. I wound all three missing threads onto the cans, and aside from untangling them periodically, it was pretty hassle-free
Threading seemed to be going well and was easier than expected. I found a “pattern” that I could follow. HOWEVER, I misread the threading instructions and started in on the textured part too soon — 18 threads too soon. The lace section of the towel is surrounded by a plain weave border. I discovered this AFTER I had completed the entire center section — so — ripped it all out and started again. This gave me time to REMEMBER how I should hold the threads while threading. I had forgotten my training! Becky has us hold a larger group of threads wrapped through the fingers of the left hand (with tension) so that it is easier to pick out the thread you want. You also use your left thumb and forefinger to help stuff the thread in the heddle. I was dickering around with putting 2 threads between each finger and working that way — very slow and inefficient. Rethreading was a good opportunity to recall my Vavstuga training.
Sleying was quick — I forgot to double check that I had not missed any dents, because I was kinda on a tight schedule to get the loom dressed and towels woven — never a good excuse. Checking saves time, because fixing TAKES time! Yep, you guessed it, there were a few sleying errors. There was a missed dent on the right side of the work, which I caught while tying on. BUT there was a more subtle error on the left side — 3 in one dent, 2 in one dent and 1 in one dent. It’s supposed to be 2 in every dent. I did not catch this until I was weaving and noticed an area that looked like there was a missing thread.
Once I figured out what was going on:
At this point most of my troubles were over. I was happily weaving away, trying to get my beat just right to make square towels when near the end of the 6th towel, I noticed a little snake in the warp above the fell line. Hmm … that looks like a broken warp thread — RIGHT in the middle of the weaving. It took a quick internet search to refresh my memory, but I put in the temporary warp thread, tied it at the back beam with the rest of the broken thread and moved on — this was the EASIEST and FASTEST fix so far!
I realize now that most of my troubles were preventable (of course!) but there were even clues that I ignored once the error had been made.
The winding error was the easiest to detect while winding — the stripe sequence seemed different before the center section than after — STOP AND LOOK for the reason — because there is one!
The threading error was simple too — I was bundling in groups of 20 — count and see how it matches up with the threading diagram.
Of course the Sleying error was also simple — check check check.
BUT errors are not necessarily bad — I once heard a saying “we fail forward to success” You can learn from errors and they make you better when you do.
I use support spindles. Yes it does take a much greater amount of time to finish a 4 oz skein of yarn using support spindles, but spinning isn’t exactly a race for the finish is it?
I experimented in the early days. I tried Some Neal Brand Tibetan and Russian spindles, Bristlecone Goddess Spindles, and Glasspin Spindles. I finally settled on Woodland Working spindles.
I had to find a spindle that worked with my right arm — many years ago I developed a problem called lateral epicondylitis in my right elbow and I have to be careful not to over work it. I needed a light spindle with a decent sustain, but more importantly lots of twirl.
I had heard about Bristlecone Glindles (a spindle with a hand blown glass whorl) from my friend Talia and wanted to try one out, but they are HARD to come by. So I tried another spindle maker which made Glass whorl spindles as well. I found that they were just too heavy for me. BUT I have to say, those glass whorls are pretty awesome. Since they are glass, there is virtually NO friction, so spin, spin, spin is what they do!
What was I Learning?
Weight IS a factor, but SHAPE also has something to do with the overall spinning experience. I gravitated to lighter spindles, so that when they filled up, they would not become unwieldy.
Then one day, while toodling around on Ravelry, I came across Woodland Woodworking. I asked my friend Talia about them and wondered where I could buy one — Woodland Woodworking is SO popular that Carl (the spindle maker) has a weekly update and turns ON the shop at a specific time — within about 5 minutes — WHOOSH they are all taken! Talia took pity on me and sold me one of her wand style spindles — I was immediately in love.
I started looking for used Woodland Woodworking spindles on Ravelry and bought quite a few (4 bead spindles, 3 or so teacup spindles and a wand spindle) I took careful measurements of these spindles and started working with them.
I try to keep the weight around 20 grams. One or two of my spindles are over 20, but they are what I call a pendulum style wand — the extra weight makes them spin better for a longer period – so as the spindle fills up with yarn, there is very little affect to the quality of spinning. I only have a few spindles that are not wand spindles — They are lighter in weight (under 20 g) and have a low whorl to shaft ratio (1 or less) so they spin pretty much like the wand spindles.
Carl uses Walnut, Maple (mostly) Purpleheart, Cocobolo, Flame Birch, Padauk, Holly, Ebony, Rosewood … and many other woods. He carves, does pyrography, dyes shafts, and even paints small figures/shapes on his spindles. As you can see below, they are something to behold. Most IMPORTANTLY — they all spin well!
What kind of yarn do I make — well — very thin, but not just thin, The yarn has an airy quality, like feathers. There is enough twist to hold everything together, but the fibers are a little more loose, the result is a yarn that is ethereal, light, feathery — just a pleasure to touch and to look at.
It takes around 8 spindles to produce a skein of yarn. I put around 0.5 oz of fiber on each spindle. I could put more, but the extra weight on the spindle affects the twist, so I leave well enough alone and grab another spindle.
Why did I settle on Woodland Woodworking?
There were several reasons. The tools are exceptionally well made and perfectly balanced. I spend a lot of time spinning and balance is the key to a comfortable, issue-free spinning session. These spindles are ALL wood, just wood, no polymer infusion to prevent warping — just the pure wood. The maker chooses good stock and is a true artist. If you EVER have any issue with his spindles, just email him and send them back (if necessary) — Carl will make it right. How cool is that? I love buying from one man shops – in this high tech, commercially controlled world — a single person, making a great product is well worth supporting.
It takes me a couple of weeks — spinning in 1 – 2 hour sessions to complete a skein of yarn. It is a labor of love and it makes a fabulous skein of Lace to Cobweb weight yarn. Sunflower (above) has 1536 yards — my highest to date. I usually have a spindle spinning project running concurrently with other wheel based spinning projects. It’s important to change up what you do with your body, to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
Explore spindle spinning — especially Support Spindles — the lack of gravity on the spinning single will give you a product that will astonish you!
Becky came in the night before and did a little sample on all but the Rep Rug. I walked around and took pics of all the samples.
She gave a quick lesson on bobbin winding — watch those angles on the linen pirns — too steep an angle from the end to the middle and the thread just starts to fall over — not good. She demonstrated using the shuttle, Throw, Tug, Droop, Squish, Smack — to tell you the truth (honest confession here), I’m only going to double beat on projects that REALLY need it — like the placemats, rug and Rosepath — all the rest – one beat’ll just have to do!
I started on the Goose eye placemats — on the prototype loom. A temple is a MUST and had to be moved after about 8 picks — which is better than having broken edge threads. The warp is tow linen and it really made my sinuses miserable. I won’t be using Tow anymore.
We were all weaving like weaver’s possessed. I was hoping to be done by 4:00 pm but went to 5:30. Looks like this’ll be a pattern (haha). They are full sized projects — so we have to work hard!
If the body holds up and I finish each day — I’ll be pretty pleased. At that point I’ll know that I’m one of the Masters of the UNIVERSE!
We were a tad behind by the end of day 3. Becky had hoped that some of the sleying would be done, but the threading is a big job and several of the projects were either wide, or had a lot of threads.
No worries — it all works out in the end. How will it? I dunno, it’s magic.
It was a total work day, only one class, no breaks. go Go GO!!
We are back on “schedule” and ready to weave tomorrow. 1 Project per day per person. Cool. I’m starting on Becky’s Prototype loom — a Goose Eye Twill Placemats (4) — or one could do 4 towels.
Here is the blow-by-blow for today
It was VERY quiet in the barn, lots of concentrating and working going on. Once we got onto the floor though we sorta let our hair down and chattered away like a bunch of magpies!
We really earned our dinner tonight. Becky fixed her traditional Swedish dinner and
we all had a lovely time. Thanks Becky!
We had a very lovely day threading our project looms and working on Pattern drafting (Goose Eye) and Material design — Coloring blocks! I love to color.
So an easy day for me — which is good cause I seem to have a little chest congestion going on and I’m kinda tired today.
I love threading, for me it is satisfying and relaxing. I just have to be sure of the pattern and then I just do it by groups and check as I go. On a few of the looms we worked in pairs, one person handing the warp thread to the other person who was threading. Now THAT is nice and it really goes much faster, and — huge BONUS you have someone to chat with!
“Many hands make light work”
Lunch was a yummy carrot, raisin, walnut salad, bread, crackers, condiments, pickled herring, olives, cheese, ham, and a veggie plate. It was really good!
I’m staying at the Water Street dorm tonight and someone is bringing me back my dinner. I just need to rest and decompress a bit, so I can get my immune system to cooperate. I don’t want to be under the weather while at my dream camp! No SIR!
Many know me as Dakota Skipper -- that's my Cowboy alias. I LIKE to write and I like to share. Please enjoy reading about my frolicking fiber adventures!