It’s a ply, ply world. 2020 will be my year to be all about Ply Magazine. I was fortunate to have 2 great ideas for the Summer and the Autumn editions of Ply Magazine, and had them accepted for publication. I also applied to be a vendor at Ply Away V, and was also accepted. All of this is such a blessing and so exciting.
I have been blogging off and on for several years, but I really wanted to write an article for a spinning magazine. I really like the way Ply does it, they have a “mood board”. Each issue is based on a theme – or mood, and they ask for input from you and me as to articles that we might want to write for that theme.
I have been involved with fiber since I was a little girl. My mother taught me to knit and to sew and I was hooked for life. I have sewn three wedding dresses, my own and both of my son’s brides. I made all the baby clothes for my two boys. I have knit for everyone in the family, including myself, from socks to sweaters. At the age of 20, I saw a woman spinning wool on her Ashford spinning wheel – when I found out how LITTLE a fleece cost compared to spun yarn – hooked again! I knew I could learn to spin and it would save me a fortune in wool yarn AND it did, but I spent another fortune in spinning wheels and spinning related equipment over the years. Ah well, what does it matter??? Life is about living, and living is about being creative and feeding your soul. I have a well fed soul.
When I saw the email from Ply about their Summer edition theme on support spindles, I could not resist. 18 months before, I had begun a grand passion for support spindles, and I had one or two things to say about what I could create with them. Once I was accepted as an author for this edition, I started thinking about the fiber I would use to illustrate the content of my article. I would need fiber that was NOT easy to use to achieve the goal, some that was Good, but not perfect, and then the PERFECT fiber. I set out to find the three contestants and settled on Into the Whirled Polworth/silk, Inglenook naturally dyed batts, and Miss Babs Merino/Silk. I spun and spun, all Summer long, then wrote my article and sent it off, along with a bevy of pictures.
Then Ply sent out another Mood Board email – this time for their Fall Back To Basics edition. They included Dyeing as one of the possible themes. Woo Hoo, I like to dye and I think about how dyeing affects yarn, roving and fleece. Another article idea was born. Once again, I had to think about setting up my article with samples to illustrate my take on dyeing from a spinner’s perspective. This time it was easier to prepare the samples for the article, and for 5 days my kitchen was a dye-o-rama, but I have an understanding partner, so all was well!
Writing for Ply has been a blast and I can’t wait to buy a box of copies to share with my friends and family. Getting accepted to be a vendor at Ply Away V was icing on a very yummy cake. I am bringing all of my normal stuff; Cozy Feet Treadle covers, Stansborough Grey fiber, MANY other nice fibers – washed and ready to prep and a few special items, some woven, some sewn, some imported. It should be a really fun time and I can’t WAIT.
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!
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.
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!