Power scour v Dish washing detergent for washing fleece

I have LOTS of fleece to wash, and if I don’t get it all washed by Fibre East, I’m not allowed another one for a whole year. (My rules!) So I want to get it done quickly, effectively and create as little waste as possible.

I’ve come across people saying they use dish washing liquid for scouring wool because it’s cheaper. I got suspicious when I saw you have to use quantities such as 1/2 a cup of dishwashing liquid, whereas when I use Unicorn Power Scour, I use about a 5ml tsp per wash.

Washing fleece

Thankfully, someone else has done the math!

Both found the initial cost higher but overall the cost per pound was cheaper. They didn’t see a significant difference in the outcome. However Sockpr0n factored in being able to use less energy due to not needing to boil water.

Power Scour is effective at a lower temperature. The directions call for 140 degree water. Sockpr0n process involves more washing than mine. Three washes, three rinses. The Elusive thread uses 2 washes and 2 rinses. I do:

  • Two washes, rubbing tips of dirtiest locks.
    • An initial wash with about 5 ml to a small basin, and a second with slightly less. I don’t let these rest more than 12 mins, so the water doesn’t cool too much.
  • One rinse.

And for the particular fleece I’m focusing on now, a one year old greasy corriedale, it’s perfectly fine! I’ve tried more washes and it’s not needed.

It was interesting they both found they spend less and consume less product/bottles because of the tiny amount you need. And it doesn’t require you to heat water on the stove. So it’s more economical and energy saving.

I want to use as little water as possible, but I’m too much of a wimp to try the au naturale fermented suint scouring process. Apparently, nature provided for a self-detergent effect in wool, the main issue is space and well, neighbours. Suint fermenting will have an odour.

Anyway, I bought mine at WildCraft, and it came super fast and well-packed :)

Clean Fleece

After this batch I started being a little rougher with rubbing the tips, getting better at it.


Designer: Carol Feller

I had renewed  Contemporary Irish Knits by Carol Feller about 5 times from the library. Well now that is really taking advantage! I think the projects are out of my league for now, but I read it cover to cover because of the features of the dyers and info about the wool industry in Ireland. And of course, it has really pretty pictures to browse.

I decided I’d finally buy the book, and I was able to buy it directly from Carol at Unwind Brighton. Bonus: I got a signature too :)
Contemporary Irish Knits

In an interview at Sunset Cat Designs (2012) Carol speaks about the differences between designing for specific yarns whether that is a Donegal tweed or a silky Fyberspates. She also speaks of the differences between something you’d like to wear and something that is fun to knit. I still haven’t attempted anything in the book yet, but I love looking at the pictures. I think I might be able to tackle a cable project soon.

Carol makes things less confusing. One of the first things I knit last year required short rows. I didn’t know they were something to be feared, because I found Carol’s free course on Craftsy which explained multiple methods of creating short rows. She was very clear in explaining, and it was really not all that hard.

Here Carol gives an overview of using the contiguous method in one of her designs

Here Carol speaks about the Irish mills, and also the independent dyers in Ireland.


Five great knitting and spinning video podcasts

I wanted to point out some great video podcasts which focus on knitting and/or spinning. I notice some of the podcasts I’ve listened to in the past are switching over to video. I think it’s a bonafide TREND.

First let me say, I appreciate the time any podcaster takes to make great content I can listen to, but video likely has an even bigger overhead. Also, it’s harder to fudge with editing as you can with audio. And you need courage.

I’m attempting to make some video content myself. It’s not easy, lemme tell ya. I am so impressed with how brave these people are. I am mortified just recording upstairs in case my husband hears me talking to myself. Must get over that!

If you saw my other post on knitting podcasts, you know I’m not super fond of reading from scripts, over- processed, animated segues, and mucho music. So my taste might not be yours. Also, this is a crazy short list. There are some long-standing and more famous video podcasts, but if you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen those. There’s a great list of video podcasts here, not exhaustive, but you can mine that for more video content if ya like.

1) Bakery Bears Podcast

  • Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSCe5aRydK0. FYI: They don’t seem to have an independent site, their videos aren’t on iTunes, so if you want to find them, you will need to check out their YouTube page.
  • Back Catalog?  Listen to me: just start from Episode 1 for this one. There’s only 15 episodes at this point. Let the drama unfold!

This is a husband and wife team (sometimes kid too!)

Yes! Hubby knits (*looking at my husband: if only*) and he finds it rather relaxing. Dan learned when he was a kid, but he didn’t pick up knitting again til he was 36 or something. Kay taught him properly how to knit. He clearly adores her for it, and he’s constantly trying to get a laugh out of her. Which makes this such a fun show to watch!

This podcast just launched in May 2014 when they launched Bakery Bears first ever knitting pattern. So not only is this video podcast funny, friendly and amusing to watch- but it’s also great insight into their challenges and successes. You will be rooting for them too.

Confession: I used to make dolls and bears. And then one time someone made a remark: “Why would you ever crochet hand made knit toys when children have so many stuffed animals, and they never play with them?” It crushed me, and I started to see my little creations as kind of sad and weird. Even though I enjoyed it so so much. I felt like some creepy old lady with dolls. Many years later, a friend asked me to fix her precious crocheted bunny. So little of the original crochet-cotton bunny, carefully fixed over the years. Anyway – I…. what was my point?

I might not have picked this podcast to watch because of the apparent topic (and I don’t make bears!). However, they knit all kinds of things, go on adventures and just have the craic. Well it’s amazing. Here’s they started only in May 2014 to make and publish Bakery Bear bear patterns. And she’s it’s been successful despite personal challenges. Oh it’s good, just go subscribe!

I heard about this podcast through the next on my list: Little Yellow Yuke.

2) Little Yellow Yuke

Zena had a podcast previously, but after a break, she switched over to a video format in the autumn of 2014. She knits, crochets, sews, embroiders, does tatting and spins! If there’s a craft, Zena will give it a go and report back. I think I’m saving money by watching her podcast. I love that she’s curious and learning all the time.
One nice thing about video podcasts is the “show and tell” aspect. For example, Zena shares the books she’s reading, and of course a peek at her works in progress. I love the range of work she shows off. Like I said, no craft will escape her talents. She also has great style, but she also has eclectic taste, so you’re not bored with one range of projects. So it might be a wacky reindeer Christmas jumper or another time a pretty shawl.
This is a nice, relaxed podcast. Maybe I’m easily impressed, but Zena can knit while she’s talking through the podcast. That’s how chill this podcast is.  It reminds me of just relaxing under a tree and knitting… this is what I *would* have been doing when I met Zena at Unwind Brighton. But I got totally attacked with an urge to shop and descended into the maelstrom marketplace, and never returned.
Well at least now I can follow along with her projects.

3) Stitched together

Chrissy has been podcasting and blogging for a while, but switched over to a video podcast last autumn. Chrissy is very natural and just like she’s chatting to you directly. In fact if I do meet her in person I hope I could sit for a cup of tea and a chat. She is honest on the show about her opinions – she’s spicy! And she is totally charming and is having a good time on the show. It’s a fun, relaxing show to watch.

It takes bravery – real bravery to make a video podcast especially because you have to sit in front of a camera. And I think Chrissy is Super Brave for being open and honest about her chronic illness when it comes up. Her personal story is compelling- crafting isn’t just a diversion for her, and it can’t be an occupation due to her situation. I can relate to the fact that for Chrissy, her site and her podcast are an escape. (I rarely talk about my personal life, illness or work on my blog.) Her podcast is certainly about her knitting projects, not her pain, it’s just that when you hear about how awkward it is to just get some blocking done with chronic pain- it’s humbling. But again, it’s only as minor aspect of the show. I like this show in particular because it’s based around where I live and she talks about events and KALs in this neck of the woods.

4) Yarngasm (Voolenvine)

Kristin is in the US, I only mention that because she is topical and local to NY though. So I can only feel envy about an event she’s speaking at on blogging and knitting at the public library. However, it’s great to hear how it is for people in a larger fiber community.

Kristin knits, spins and dyes yarn- for her JOB. If you’re super curious, her blog is a record of her personal transformation from being freelance/unemployed to finding her place in the fiber world. However the old audio podcasts are no longer on Libsyn. Again, the content is very much current and topical now, so I don’t think I’ll dish out the major $$ for vintage Yarngasm bootlegs on ebay (j/k!).

Kristin is very good in remembering to talk about the tools she uses, and shows off what she’s using. That is one of the great advantages of the video podcast, being visual, it’s easier to understand what the host is drooling over. I guess that is stating the obvious, but you’ll see… she ensures the close-up images come into focus and she’s careful of the quality. She also “signs off” before continuing to talk about shop updates and general blether, which is just personal updates – so she gives the viewers some options.

Oh! and she also does demonstrations of any specific technique she’s talking about, for example a handspinning technique. I love that. When I imagine my own special video podcast I picture doing tutorials and chat like this.

5) Franklin Fiber

  • Website: https://franklinfiber.wordpress.com
  • Backcatalog? There’s some early episodes available on YouTube. Some cover when Julie lived in Guatemala working with artisan groups. Check out the titles to see what grabs you!

Here’s another podcast from the states! Julie is chatting away and showing off work she’s making progress on. Projects include knitting as well as spinning and weaving. This is the only podcast I’ve listed which includes lots of spinning. She’s very skilled and tries experiments with different techniques too. She cares about fibre and where it comes from, so you’ll learn about her materials as much as the projects and inspirations. And she’s both enthusiastic about her work and honest when it’s going kind of crap.

Julie is friendly and this isn’t a tightly structured show, so you just feel like you’re sitting there with her, sometimes in the living room and sometimes on the porch. It just sort of flows naturally.

I like that kind of format. This might sound prejumadicial, but I find most US-based video podcasts to have a little too much “segue animation” going on. Many folks are getting a little too hot-and heavy with the ol’ transition button over there. I know that is my bias, but hey. It’s my blog. Welcome!

These are all brave souls and I am incredibly impressed with anyone who attempts to do this.

Video podcasts? What say you?

These are just some I like, what do you think about video podcasts?

Any good ones you’d recommend? Tell me why. Also any in the UK/Ireland I should check out?

Footnote: Gretchen Rubin on happiness and habits

As a footnote, I also wanted to pop in this video channel: Gretchen Rubin. Somehow she can be inspiring without being cheezy. I listened to her book The Happiness Project, and I enjoyed it so much I listened again! That is super rare for me. She bases her advice in lots of research, which helps it be convincing. She talks about forming habits, so lots of the ideas she shares are simple, small and achievable. Her videos come in frequently, but they’re only 2-5 mins long.


UK Fibre events: Spoilt for choice?

There’s a thread on Ravelry which asks: have we reached a saturation point for fibre events in the UK?

Currently there are 6 events with dates confirmed in the UK and Fibre events group on Ravelry. I am having trouble finding a record, but it looks like there was double that in 2014. Correction! @TravelKnitter lists 22 events on her site! So more events are likely confirming plans and haven’t announced dates yet.

Shouldn’t this be a good thing?

On the one hand, the community has been craving access to more events, and local events. I’d love similar events in Ireland, and it seems there are plans-a-foot. I am jealous of people in England, Wales and Scotland who have such great options and not far away.

On the other hand, it puts a strain on the organizers and stall holders who need a certain SCALE to make it economical. Most of the events are labours of love, done with minimum budgets and lots of elbow grease and volunteer effort. The stall holders output an enormous expense. The booth rental being one part, but moving the inventory, set up, staffing, lost work time, etc. Holding an event is costly.

I think it was insightful on the thread that newer stall holders said it was great to see more events. It meant that they didn’t have to wait on loooong waiting lists to get into exclusive shows. It improved access to new vendors as well. It makes it more interesting then, for people to visit multiple events. Which hopefully people are doing!

I think the greater risks are for the brave souls who put on the events. So it’s bears some thought: could they be more mindful of when they schedule their events?

By Martin Thomas.  Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_thomas/4629008579

By Martin Thomas.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_thomas/4629008579

An equal share of the yarn cake

I went to my first two fibre events last year, in the UK. I was able to swing two events in a short space of time thanks to first of all planning to go to Fibre East, and then a work trip not long after which meant I could justify Unwind Brighton. So really I have nothing whatsoever to compare my experience too.

Both seemed to me, busy and chock full of great stalls. I found Fibre East a bit more absorbing since I’m interested in spinning and knitting. Also, I found the Unwind Brighton venue really too hot and stuffy. But what can you say? It was a hot summer. I saw very different stall holders at each. And there were many stall holders who didn’t even sell online so that was eye opening. There are many things you actually CAN’T get online. I would say it was very much worth going to the events. Given different circumstances though, would I have attended two in that short a time? No.

This blog post From the Millamia Blog sort of summed up some conversations I had heard people having:

“I wondered to myself on the way home if we are now experiencing too much of a good thing. It feels like the knitting/crafting community has been craving some really good quality shows for a good long time, and now we almost have a glut! Perhaps a shuffle of the calendar for 2015 will help to ensure that all the shows receive an equal share of the (yarn) cake.”

This would mean organizers could be more considerate of what is going on regionally, what has been established, and then try fit with that is happening in their community already. It could be their catchment areas overlap or are larger than they think.

Someone on the Ravelry thread mentions there were organizers struggling last year to get enough stall holders. This meant they couldn’t publish their market lists until later… which meant less time in promotion which put further challenges to a larger attendance.

It depends on the capacity within the population for fibre events. Everything will sort itself out in the market… but I hate to think of the individuals involved. I think the Fibre community has good will, enthusiasm and optimism. But this should be tempered somewhat before these creative souls get burnout and stop.

Otherwise, there’s a risk. It could be that a few large highly commercial events will dominate and we will miss out on the regionality of the current schedule of events.

However with people coming from all over Europe… are we thinking too small? The UK and Irish knitting and Fibre scene, and in turn the wool industry, is well organized.


I’m likely going to make it over to England for a show for sure this summer. And I hope to attend one in Ireland. Just waiting to see more schedules pop up!


A new year: Crafting resolutions

On New Year’s Eve, at our friends’ we discussed ‘What would you say to 2014 if you could meet it in person?’ Aoife said she’d pat it on the shoulder, and say, ‘OK. Well done,’ friendly, but not overly friendly. She wouldn’t hug it. Ronan would say “Not cool. Not cool.” Which for me, pretty much sums it up. Not cool. I might actually sucker punch 2014, or at least give it two fingers. Eat my shorts, 2014.

A fresh start!

So a fresh start with the notion of a new year. The calendar seems somewhat arbitrary, but then again, the days are getting longer and I am feeling more hopeful. And it is the right time to think about the future, and plan.

With that said, I’m making some crafting resolutions!

  • Take a photo everyday and tag it #project365
  • Spinning challenges which focus on building a habit and working from my stash.
  • Discover a knit along, and join it.
  • Wash 100g of fleece per week.
  • Write one blog post a week.
  • Make 4 videos. I don’t know if I can do a podcast, but I’d like more video content.

Spinning challenges

I’d like to join a few knitting or spinning a-longs (KALs / SALs?) I was attracted by three ideas:

So I started on Spin15in15, and I’ve also committed to a select bin of stuff to complete in 2015.

My spin the bin challenge

Spin the bin!

Project page (Listed in below order of age in my stash)

  • 1) Manos del Uruguay – Dragon 100 grams
  • 2-3) Unknown source English wool of mystery 200 grams
  • 4) Fondant Fibre Mystery Mega Batt – summer breeze 100 grams
  • 5-8) HilltopCloud – Ann of Cleves 300 grams
  • 9-11) Hedgehog Fibers Sparkly Hedgehog Fibres Silk/Merino top 360 grams
  • 12) Hedgehog Fibers Merino/Nylon top 120 grams
  • 13) Hedgehog Fibers Polwarth top 120 grams
  • Total: 1.3 kilos or 2.8 lbs

Review: Spinners Book of Fleece, the missing link!

Oh how I wish I had this book about two weeks ago before I ventured into the woolly world of fleece selection and preparation. Still, I’m fortunate to have discovered it as early as I have.  The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith is like deep-diving into a breed study workshop. (If you’re lucky enough you could actually study with her in person.)

I think if you’re sort of learning on your own, and you don’t have access to a breed study workshop and you don’t know anyone else that spins: This book is your new friend. I also think experienced spinners will be delighted with having all this detail in one reference. The production quality is very high and the photography is lovely. I’m not exactly a fashion guru but I’m sure this is a very now blue.

The missing link in my library

Cover of spinners book of fleeceAfter lots of searching, these are the spinning books in my library:

  • Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook covers sheep breeds, but also fibres from other animals. It has tips on processing and spinning the fleece which is typical of given breed. Simply due to the breadth, it doesn’t cover selection or scouring.
  • Respect the Spindle includes great details on spindle selection use and the science behind it. In terms of fibre it does cover different types, but only commercially prepared wool. It doesn’t cover fibre prep and finishing yarn (much).
  • Spinners Book of Yarn Designs covers spinning and plying in great depth, but not much detail on specific fleece or fibres, and not colour. It’s all about plying and texture, but again, very little on finishing yarn. That is done on purpose, to eliminate some variables.

The Spinner’s Book of Fleece fits into this set very well! She breaks down sheep fleece (no other animals included) into four main types; and introduces distinct breeds which fit into those types. For each she offers tips on:

  • Choosing the source. Purchasing and breed selection.
  • Best scouring, preparation, spinning techniques, finishing for each type.
  • Tracking and measuring results of your experiments, twist, WPI (and recording what you did so you learn!)
  • Best applications for these choices of source + preparation + finishing.

There’s so much included here that I haven’t seen covered much in other books and not much online either (unless you mine the rich ore of Ravelry). Did you know you could reconstitute the crimp in a commercially prepared fibre which has been compressed for so long? Had you considered the degrees of fulling yarns when setting twist? Or why you would? I’ve seen instruction on how to “thwack” the yarn, but hadn’t considered the degrees to which you might do this and to what effect. For this reason, I think even experienced spinners will find something surprising in this book.

It’s really the perfect companion to put in practice the info in the Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook, and help you prepare for using your spindle (Respect the Spindle) and making gorgeous yarns (Spinners Book of Yarn Designs).

Beth Smith’s main message: PLAY!

My biggest take away is what Beth Smith refers to as “sampling”, which is what the book made of: lovely, inspiring, intriguing samples. The sample photos show lots of detail. For example a tag might say “Flicked/worsted spun from cut end/ 2 ply”.

close up from spinners book of fleece

Shows detailed notes of prep and plying.

I want to get experimenting for its own end and not to “make something”. She makes me want to try more prep techniques and get more textural results such as spinning from the cloud. I tried it in Deb Robson’s Introduction to Wool Types workshop at Fibre East, but felt my lumpy bumpy yarn wasn’t adequate. But that’s what it should be like if you spin from the cloud.

Beth Smith makes me want to get organised and undertake my personal breed study. She advises experimenting and keeping records, and provides practical advice on storage, and inspiration of experiments to try.

She includes spinning advice for knitting, types of stitches which work best with a given yarn. She also makes distinctions between finishing yarns for knitting or weaving. There’s nothing specific on twist and crochet, which I’ve seen covered in other sources, but the weaving detail is very interesting. (I know pretty much nothing about weaving heh.)

Keep on playing!

A deft enabler, Beth Smith advises: try a breed at least twice. Because the first time you don’t know what factors are affecting the fleece. She is constantly encouraging the reader to think beyond the reputation of certain wools like the Lincoln. There can be lots of variety in a breed from sheep to sheep. This makes lots of sense to me.

She recommends starting with at least an ounce of fleece (28 grams) to get three or more samples per fleece. I wish I had only washed that small amount from my fleece to start. I would like to undo some of the scouring decisions I made.

Beth made a brave choice to include some problematic fleeces. For example, a Southdown with lots of second cuts led to a nep-tastic yarn. This gave her the opportunity of advising on handling difficult fleeces, which is great! For example, with fine springy yarn, don’t over card.

showing the problematic results. which are actually pretty nice

showing the problematic results, which are actually pretty nice

Great advice on fleece selection

I wrote about my own experience in choosing fleece. Yep, this book could have helped me quite a bit. This book covers fleece selection in great detail. It’s more comprehensive than anything I’ve seen online. She helps you with identifying fleece faults, and even etiquette around inspecting fleece which is something I didn’t know about!

The book includes is good mix of UK breeds and many US Breeds I’ve never heard of, but that isn’t really the point. Beth has chosen representative types, with ideas in cleaning, prepping and spinning, plying for each. When you find your new mystery breed, you can use the examples and a guide.

When you need a biased point of view

Beth has clear opinions on what preparation or spinning technique works best with which types of fleece, which is helpful when you’re starting out. Biased opinions can be very useful way points especially for novices.

Beth will say “this is my favourite way to do this” but then she also shows the alternatives. For example, the difference between curved carders or flat ones. She also shows photos of the “right way” to comb, and what the “wrong way” looks like. Being able to detect when you’re doing something “wrong” is a crucial step in learning. I’m delighted to see instructions which include models of incorrect techniques!

I think Deb Robson’s favourite phrase she says with her characteristic wry grin is: “it depends”. Deb encourages breaking the rules. For the Intro to Breeds workshop full of experienced spinners and even shepherds, a message like that is important. The experienced craftsperson can detect and respond to the nuances of a subject, and they should be testing the boundaries. Beth Smith takes a stand on measuring crimp and estimating how many twists per inch in a ply, but I could imagine enjoying listening to her debate this point with other spinners who might say “it depends” ;)

If you consider the novice’s experience, I believe it’s good to give guidance on “one way that works”, and teaching those rules so you know you’re breaking them and how. I think Beth Smith’s book is a great resource for establishing those rules, if (like me) you don’t already know them. But again, she does talk about alternative methods, and even in her samples she bends the rules and shares the results.

Get the guide for a fibre adventure

Go on and get that puppy sheep! The Spinner’s Book of Fleece  You can get a detailed preview here.

You can also see videos by Beth about spinning. In fact, I think the video showing her daughter doing ‘park and draft” was a video I saw really early on :) If a kid could do it, so could I.

Spinners Book of Fleece is chock full of inspiration. I’ve just booked my summer “staycation” at home and I’m not sorry I can’t travel because I’ll be elbow deep in fleece :) Thank you Beth for this guidebook, it’s so full of woolly love and care.

Fact: Washing fleece will keep you healthy and productive

I am now in the possession of 2 fleece, (fleeces?) As I write this post, I’m washing corriedale in 20 mins increments. Let me shared what I learned… so far…

Previously a skeptic, I am now an evangelical convert. If you’re fearing the fleece, let me tell you: it’s easier than you think and very enjoyable!

As I mentioned in my previous post on choosing fleece: if you asked me two weeks ago, I’d have thought buying raw fleece and prepping your own fibre sounded crazy difficult, messy and possibly a little bit nutty. My mind changed during Deb Robson’s wool types workshop as we explored the locks and could make our own decisions about how to prep the wool.

There are lots of reasons to clean and prep your own fleece.

  • Educational benefits: You learn more about the breeds and their qualities instead of just generic “plonk” of typical wool bases.
  • OCD Control and independence: You can choose how you want to process the wool, how much lanolin to leave in; if you want it carded, flicked or combed.
  • Feel good factor: Help save rare breeds by supporting farmers
  • You can avoid chemicals: Use less chemicals in processing. Industrial processing uses lots of chemicals and even acids to eat away vegetable matter.
  • Benefits of knitting/crochet with handspun. Why I Knit with Handspun
  • You have far too much time on your hands! You’re not knitting because it’s fast fashion, right? Actually washing fleece might be 2 hours total, but only requires active attention for 2-3 minutes in 20 mins increments.
  • Health benefits: See, the way I think of it is, if you’re working from home, (like me) and using the Pomodoro technique for productivity or following health and safety guidelines about not sitting for too long, then washing fleece can fit right into your routine :) Getting off your butt every 20 mins and moving around is good for your brain and body. And meanwhile you get clean fleece. How’s that for maximizing your time?

So for argument’s sake: Washing fleece will make you more productive and healthier! (I can rationalize ANYTHING.)

Helpful references

I’m not an expert, but a learner. I’m sharing my notes and the resources I found helpful.

In this introductory video from spinning daily, Eunny Jang interviews Deb Robson about washing fleece. I saw this a while ago, so it might have been my first exposure to the idea.

Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith. This book wasn’t available when I started last week, but I think this is going to be very helpful. A review coming soon!

I mainly followed Deb Robson’s 3 part series on washing wool. She used a bathtub, which is similar to my situation (no washing table out back, no utility sink, etc) Read the whole thing before starting.

The shopping list

Beware all enterprises requiring new equipment. – (modified) Henry David Thoreau

I started off with a plastic dish pan and a broken colander. Slowly, I’m acquiring other tools. You know, because heavy duty gloves are super helpful. I start with the absolute necessities at the top of the list:

  1. A dirty fleece! Read about choosing fleece.
  2. Water source. I used the bathtub.
  3. Plastic dishpan. I realized if I had a second one, I could do twice as much in the same time. Now I’m getting a third one! Productivity BOOM.
    • Deb Robson uses these cool kitty litter trays with inserts. I couldn’t find exactly the same thing, but at a reasonable £4.40 the Savic Cat Litter Tray with Insert, 42 cm means I can lift the wool without swishing or moving it. Yes I feel bad buying this in Amazon, but I couldn’t find anything like it in our nearest pet shops.

      The litter tray on left means I don't have to lift the wool out into a colander to drain.

      The litter tray on left means I don’t have to lift the wool out into a colander to drain.

  4. very thick heavy duty glovesHeavy duty gloves. Doing this without gloves is painful and probably dangerous.
    • My husband gave me very thick gloves, they are cloth lined. About 100x better than normal marigolds.
  5. Cleaning agent: In my case Unicorn Power Scour.
    • I got 3 samples of this at the workshop. You use a TINY amount (about a teaspoon) and it’s amazingly effective. Water itself works well in the first rinses, but this seems to pull out lots of grease. I think you can use fairy liquid, but I didn’t try it yet.
  6. Thermometer. On my wishlist. I don’t have one of these yet, but I really would like to know how hot the water is to start, and how much heat its losing.
  7. Stacking sweater drying rack. On my wishlist. Right now, I’m just rolling in towels and laying it on a clean sheet, but it seems to take a very long time to dry. I’d love to have some more air under it.

Other methods from least intensive to most, in my opinion.

What you need to know about washing fleece

  • Basically if you want to felt you need two of the following: change in temperature, soap and movement. So avoid combining those.
  • Don’t worry about VM. Easier to get out after fleece is clean. Don’t try pulling out sticks or leaves, as you will risk agitating and felting the wool.
  • Wash in batches, 4 oz or 100 g.
  • Each step takes about 20 mins, and the entire process about 2 hours. In which you can’t just “leave” it.
  • Very important, Deb says this in about 10 different ways: “Do not let the temperature in the baths drop significantly throughout the entire wet-wool time.
  • Don’t agitate. Don’t even put wool in the basin and then add water. Water pouring on the wool will agitate it.
  • If it’s very dirty, try to arrange with the tips down in the pan.

Deb’s basic plan

Did I mention not letting the water completely cool between soaks? Keeping that in mind these are the three main steps:

  1. Soaking in clear water. (1 or 2 cycles.)
  2. Soaking in cleansing solution. (Between 1 and 3 cycles.)
  3. Soaking in rinse water. (1 or 2 cycles.)

Now with all that said about agitating, I was SUPER paranoid about even touching the wool as it soaked. But I found the tips still very dirty. In part 2 of her guide, Deb advised that with careful treatment you could encourage some more of the dirt out. In my third washing session, I gave this a go “Lightly pinching my fingers on the tip of the lock, I slide them past each other. I’m not rubbing. I’m lightly compressing—with the intention of loosening the dirt more than of manipulating the fiber.

OK I’m not 100% sure, but I did give this a go. Before rubbing the dirt is clumped to the tips.  before-rubbing

After “sliding the tips”, tips are loosened to the next soak can get into the tips.



For drying, roll in towels, and lay down to dry. I’m finding it’s taking a little too longer (longer than 1.5 days, so I want to get a drying rack or find a way to get some air under the fleece. I really like the new litter tray for soaking. When I lift it onto the towel I don’t need to even touch it to roll it. But I think stacking sweater racks would be ideal.


So now you know how to get healthier and more productive through fleece washing :)

Next I can talk more about the preparation techniques. And that is loads of mesmerizing fun.

Choosing fleece: Must be the cloud in my eyes

Daniel is a Llanwenog x Oxford Down Cross. Ever since I started working with Daniel’s fleece I’ve been singing Elton John: “Oh it looks like Daniel… must be the clouds in my eyes!” Just wanted to offer that little ear worm to anyone reading this blog post. I’m going to talk about where I went wrong choosing my first fleece, and what faults it had and how I could have detected it. There’s also links to resources so you can avoid my mistake or also work with problem fleece. All may not be lost. “Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much.”  This post became a bit long. You can skip down to the bit about how to actually choose fleece!


Broke in half with combing, lots some length.

Deb Robson’s 2 day “Introduction to Wool Types” last weekend in Fibre East started off in the Down breeds. In her book “Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook” she says Oxford is, “Like all Down wools being overlooked as a fiber resource for spinners.”

I had only worked with commercially prepared tops before (and some Gotland locks). When we got the various down breed samples I was amazed by how springy and elastic they were. I had never tried yarns like that.

Diving into the cloud

You can skip down to the bit about how to actually choose fleece. But I wanted to record, more for myself than anything, how I ended up in this mess! I’m gonna be honest with you, I thought people buying bags and bags full of fleece at the festival were a little bonkers. How were they going to get them home? How would they clean them? What a mess, how nutty! On day 2 of the workshop, I finally learned how to use combs. Deb did a very patient demonstration, and once I got the swing of it, I realized how lovely lovely it was. It was fun to do, and the “nests” were amazing.


I went over to the Griffith’s Mill van, and bought some of the nice wools I had tried in the workshop, and some Deb recommended to me. Kerry Hill, Lleyn, Border Leicester and Polwarth. But it was already carded, already pulled into nice combed top…. I wanted to prep it myself.  But how could I clean it myself in our tiny bathroom?

One of the nice Griffith’s Mills ladies said I could buy a fleece from Michael of Shear Sheep, and they would wash it. I totally misunderstood, because they meant wash and card it. I wanted to comb it myself.

I was overcome with this incredible desire for BIG DIRTY FLEECE OF MY OWN.

fleece-danielThrough the workshop I had started to develop a taste for certain wools, they puffed up with body. However, I also liked longer locks because I liked the smoothness of the combed preparation. So when it came time to look for a fleece I had a sort of idea of what I was looking for:

  • Disorganized crimp, lots of crimp
  • Long staple
  • Soft to touch
  • A little crispy (not floppy/drapey or smooth)

And Daniel seemed perfect. When I spoke with Michael from Sheer Sheep, he brought me over to one sheep, pulled out a lock off the her back, and it wasn’t right. It was crimpy, but short. Then we went over to try a lock from Daniel’s and it looked exactly right. He was also enormous! I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of him. Oxford Down is one of the largest breeds.

Thing is we were rushing about in the heat, and also.. I had done ZERO research about “how to choose fleece” beforehand. Sadly there seem to be some faults in the fleece which I only discovered as I started working with it.

  • Bright yellow in parts which didn’t wash out.
  • The long locks broke in half when I combed it.
  • The breakage turned into little neps as I spun and swatched. Probably not a bad thing, but “dizzing” was more like “tearing”. after-spin

In fact, when I called Michael, who sold me the fleece,  he said it sounded like something was wrong too. :/ He said even he had missed it.

Must be the clouds in my eyes! So sad.

So what could I have done to check for soundness before buying?


A tiny swatch

Choosing fleece: what to look for

When I say choosing fleece, I’m not referring to the qualities of the breed, or attributes of the crimp, fibre thickness… but just “is this fleece OK to buy?”

So Ravelry to the rescue! I didn’t know how to identify what was wrong, or was I just imagining all this. The Fibre Prep group has been very helpful in identifying the faults. They looked at my pics, and also added advice about clues I could have detected before buying.

  • Health of the animal: The health of the sheep affect the fleece quality.
    • Sadly, Daniel had fly. Even Michael was disappointed when he discovered it. Later, he would sheer Daniel’s dad because he found fly there as well. The heat was taking its toll.
  • Listen to the locks: I didn’t know about the “Ping test”. Hold two ends of the lock. Do you hear a “ping” sound? Well I would say *doing* sound.
    • And sure enough, another fleece I bought from Michael, a lovely Corriendale passed the ping test. And Daniels’ fleece sort of made a crunchy sound.
  • Colour: Cream isn’t the same as yellow. Yellow could be a sign of a fault. I was advised if a fleece is particularly yellow, it’s best to wash a lock in just water in the tap. If it’s scourable, the yellow will come out in the same.
    • From Merinonoir on Ravelry: “Unfortunately some very bulky fleeces (often poor staple structure) don’t drain particularly well and if they stay wet in humid, warm conditions they can go very yellow, this usually has an unpleasant , musty smell which often attracts flies – hence the fly strike that the shearer remarked on.”
    • Daniel might not have the “Canary stain” fault, but this yellow wasn’t washing out.
  • Lock structure: If the fleece is “webby” this could indicate damage. Webby apparently means that the lock pulls apart easily.
    • Daniel’s seemed to hold together ok.
  • Lock strength or level of “unsoundness”; Does a lock break with little pressure? Does it break under little strain?
    • This is called a tender fleece. It could be used for felting or something else, but you will have wastage with combing or carding.
    • Daniel’s was not strong and broke in half with combing.
  • Vegetable matter: How much stuff is mixed in with the wool? Can you clean it out with prep? Combing gets out VM.
    • Daniel’s fleece was pretty clear of VM. I was bedazzled by how clean it looked.

If you’re reading this, and you think “WAT?!” because I got something wrong, your feedback is appreciated!

Anyway, I should have done some BASIC research before choosing fleece, or maybe asked someone with more experience to help. I get struck by shyness sometimes and forget to ask for help.

The jury seems out on Daniels fleece: Some folks said they’d work with the fleece; others said they’d not put the energy into processing if the resulting yarn was going to be weak. In fact Deb has some tips on “Working with imperfect fleece”! For Deb, there was no question that a certain rare breed fleece could be rejected because of imperfection. It was worth working with it.

I’m also waiting to hear back from Michael who might have a replacement fleece, or he’s going to see if the sample I pulled was maybe from near the fly-affected section. Anyway, I’ll have to wait.

Book recommendation: Spinner’s book of fleece by Beth Smith

Spinners Book of Fleece

This book only came out on August 1st, so I can’t be blamed for not having read it. But if you’re thinking of buying fleece this looks like the ideal resource, and you’re in luck!

I literally ordered it when I saw the table of contents. It seems to be the missing connection between “Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook” (covers breed type and prep/spinning recommendations), “Spinners book of yarn designs” (covers prep/spinning but not breeds) and “Respect the Spindle” (covers spindle spinning). The book covers fleece selection, quality, as well as preparation recommendations and spinning tips. Absolutely the missing link for me.

So! I will be sure to give a proper review :)

Fibrary from Fibre East

Deb Robson’s 2-day Introduction to Wool Types at Fibre East was fantastic. It wasn’t exactly a beginner class, but I was helped and encouraged to keep pace and gained some great skills. After all, I only learned spinning so I could take this class!

Everyone else there was an experienced spinner and most brought their own wheels. They knew much about breeds already, and Jane of Woolsack.org is even a shepherdess with her own flock of Boreray up in Orkney. I was well in the deep end, and they were swimming, while I was wearing inflatable arm bands. I did get lots of help with my spindling, from other workshop attendees, and Deb showed me how to use the tools. It was amazing and worth every minute.

So much more to say about the workshop and Fibre East, but I wanted to start *somewhere*.

Meet My Fibrary

We came home with many samples. I said to my husband that I now owned a fibre library, to which he said, “You mean A FIBRARY?” Indeed!

Deb had organized them to contrast differences in the down breeds with longer locks; and samples with kemp and hairs so we could recognize them and understand how to work with them. We each got a small sample bag and a ‘tasting notes’ card. Deb encouraged us to open the locks, inspect the crimp and try different preparations.

In that way it reminded me of wine tasting. The contrast helps you compare and discern differences you might otherwise miss if you lumped “down breeds” together, for example. I loved the crescendo on Day 2, looking at the crosses, and learning about breed development.

This photo shows the samples we received, and in the order we reviewed them. I’m heartbroken my Lonk sample was lost :(

Fleece for Deb Robson's workshop

  1. Rouge
  2. Hampshire Down
  3. Ryeland
  4. Hebredian
  5. Romney
  6. Lincoln (no pack sample, but a lock was handed out)
  7. Oussant, two colours.
  8. Texel
  9. North Country Cheviot
  10. Badgerface (Day 2)
  11. Lleyn
  12. Lonk (lost this sample, so sad!!)
  13. Soft Fell
  14. Saxon Merino
  15. Corriedale
  16. Polwarth (samples handed out, but not in a sample pack)

Here you can see a sample card showing Soft Fell, and as you can see I didn’t even get to finish my tasting notes. We had to move pretty fast. This is the sheep of the week in the Ravelry Blacker and Beyond group, where you can find notes and pictures about this special sheep. Not yet a recognized breed I think?

Soft Fell - Deb Robson's workshop at Fibre East

Pretty much everyone oo’d and aah’d!

Until now, I only used commercially prepared combed top. My attempts to MacGuyver tools out of household combs and cat brushes were not successful before, (try making a tiny rolag on a cat brush with combed top, when you have no idea what you’re doing).

Fleece prep tools

When I checked my bag, the attendant asked if I had anything sharp in it. Uh.. yep.

Adding to my fibrary

I also added to this by getting a range of fibres from Griffiths Mill, adding to my fibrary even more. They process small batches of fleece, sell their own yarns and fibres from many British breeds, and raise awareness of rare breeds for conservancy. It’s an amazing service they provide for small holders and spinners alike. Looking forward to playing with these :)

  • Border Leicester
  • Kerry Hill
  • Lleyn
  • Polwarth


And I bought a fleece from Michael at http://sheersheep.co.uk/ 

OK, OK… I bought TWO. But the second one isn’t here yet, (so it doesn’t count?) One is a Corriedale, the other is from Daniel, a cross: Llenwenog (mom) x Oxford Down (dad). I will write more about Daniel and seeing him shorn, and all about picking the fleece…  but already this post is too long, I have fleece to wash!

Look at this lovely bag :)


This is the corriedale from http://sheersheep.co.uk/

I’m following Deb Robson’s instructions for washing fleece.

The big points: (1) Don’t worry. (2) Don’t agitate. (3) Don’t let the water cool off too much between baths.

I nicked a couple samples of the Power Scour she had on hand :) So that is getting me started. It smells lovely! Right now I’m on the 2nd wash, and I’ve got a rinse or two to go.


Getting ready to wash fleece for the first time!

Time to go rinse!

Lightfrost shawl in all Fyberspates yarn

This pattern, Lightfrost by Louise Zass-Bangham, alternates silky stripes with translucent stripes. My recent attempts at other knitting projects reminded me I’m still very much a beginner. So I decided to try this super simple triangle shawl. The graphic effect of the stripes is a good pay off for something rather simple. I’ve also learned I really like sh*tloads of stockinette, and I’m OK with that.

lightfrost shawl finished

Some modifications

The original pattern calls for Debbie Bliss Party Angel, (4% Metalized Polyester, 72% Mohair, 24% Silk) for the contrasting (transparent) colour. But around the time I started thinking about this pattern, Fyberspates came out with Cumulus, (74% Alpaca, 36% Silk). It’s a heavier weight and less yardage than Party Angel.

It’s also *exactly* the same colour as the main yarn. This means the design has a more subtle effect. Because of the yardage, I needed two balls of Cumulus. I wasn’t able to finish 8 rows of the final repeat. So it was pretty close. You could possibly just skip the last repeat if you wanted. But I really wanted to stick to the pattern.

I cast off with an “Icelandic bind off” which I found in the “Cast on, Bind off: 211 Ways to Begin and End Your Knitting” book. It comes out sort of “round” on the end, and it blends nice with garter. It was listed as a stretchy bind off.


I hadn’t worked with something so light and fluffy before, but I loved Cumulus. Though it was hard to read. I did realize much later that I had dropped stitches, which meant ripping out 10 rows of knitting


dropped two stitches. trying to show where this was.

I was at a knitting meet-up at the time, and generally we all thought it would be impossible to rip out. But it came out smoothly, which was shocking. Maybe it’s because of the loose gauge? Frogging was bit of a set back, but I learned to be more careful in checking my stitches more frequently.

I liked the idea of buying the yarn from the same company, and supporting them. Here’s a nice interview that the designer Louise did with Jeni from Fyberspates. Jeni’s very driven and works pretty hard. Her mother also works with her dyeing yarns. Though I think Jeni is stepped back from hand dying so she can grow and scale her business. Pretty exciting!

About the designer: Louise Zass-Bangham

Under the label “Inspiration Knits” and for her clients, Louise has 50 tempting patterns. Many accessories, which is nice! I also bought the Song of the Sea cowl pattern. I had seen the stitch pattern elsewhere, but I liked how she had graduated the sizes of waves.

Louise is hosting a mystery cowl KAL, which released clue-by-clue on her blog. The Fyberspates team recommens some yarns for the mystery cowl KAL. We’ll see how I get on with other projects, but it would be nice to pick up some Fyberspates in person at Unwind :) Which is tomorrow!

I wanted to post this FO so I can say I have at least something done. I suspect it’s so I can justify a yarn purchase. Eeek!