Spinning Dog Fur

Posted by Meagan on August 9, 2010 | Categories: Dog

Lees Undercoat

Anyone who owns a dog or cat can attest to the above picture – the results of a simple combing session add up quickly. This is Lee’s undercoat. It’s very much warm and soft, in fact it’s quite like Angora fiber. I’d say it’s certainly skin soft (as in you could wear this next to your skin without irritation). Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to use this?

Lees Yarn

Guess what! There is a way! The spinner in me noticed it very quickly. I could not resist pulling out my wheel and giving this a spin – no processing or cleaning or combing, just raw off the brush. The result – a medium strength woolen yarn, only about 5 meters or so but I estimate Lee has more undercoat left on him, possibly enough to get up to 10 meters. From an animal who is not a fiber animal primarily, what a nice surprise!

Lee with his Yarn

Here’s Lee posing with his wool-wound yarn. Yes that is the color of my living room. I love it!

I will be using this yarn to make Lee a little hat. I wanted it to have a certain amount of color in the yarn though to differentiate it from Lee himself, so I dyed it with some Queen Anne’s Lace dyestock. We have tons of wild dye plants growing on the farm so I applied my knowledge learned last year and dyed Lee’s yarn. Now it is a weird sickly browny gold thing (Queen Anne’s Lace makes a greeny yellow color) but I kinda like it. It will certainly look different from Lee!

Shearing an Angora Rabbit

Posted by Meagan on June 11, 2010 | Categories: Angora Rabbits, Riker

Relaxing and nibbling

It’s been about 3 months since Riker, my angora buck, came to live with me. This is what he looked like back then. And this is what he looked like a few days ago:

riker-before-shearing

It was time for a haircut!

The tools I used included snacks to distract the bunny, my sheep shears, a pair of smaller hand scissors, and paper towels for putting the clipped fiber onto. I find with shearing all animals it is easy to start around the back of the neck and work one’s way down a side, so that is what I did. Giving him a treat every few minutes made him stay in one spot. Once I was done shearing one side, Riker spent his time grooming and nibbling that side, which made shearing the other side super easy.

riker-post-shearing

Here is a great shot showing the exact length of Riker’s fiber. He looks huge, but it’s all show! You can also see my various tools used for the shearing. I found that the small scissors were too blunt to cut through large bundles of the fiber, but my shears were certainly up for the job. Next time I will try using an electric clipper, as Angora fiber doesn’t have any grease or dirt to gum up the blade. However I fear the fiber is too fine for the clippers to do a good job on…

clipped-fur

Here is just over half of the fiber we collected – at the end there was another layer and I have yet to shear his bum or undersides so there’s even more! I will weigh it and measure its length once I’m all done shearing. I believe I will combine this with Lady Baba fiber and spin it into a fine lace. I was very surprised by the amount of fiber he produced in 3 months time. One could easily raise a troupe of Angora rabbits and produce a substantial amount of fiber yearly. Purchase a few fine sheep fleeces to blend with the Angora and you have yourself a luxury wool that will make a most treasured heirloom.

A new Shetland fleece

Posted by Meagan on May 26, 2010 | Categories: Cleaning, Free Fleece Processing 1, Shetland

new-shetland

I have been working over the past few weeks in processing and spinning my Shetland fleeces from my own herd. However I recently came into possession of the Shetland fleece pictured above. The owner was about to get rid of the fleece via burning it, as she had no idea what to do with it. Yes that is a greater than 8 inch staple length! Unfortunately the tips are badly matted and felted and might need to be snipped, however this is where all of the veggie matter is located, so maybe snipping it out will be the better approach.

I am washing a load right now and that will be done drying in a few days, at which point I shall comb some up and see what it’s like. Even though it has matted tips, the root ends are so fine and clean and a wonderful light white shade. This fleece is a diamond in the rough, that’s for sure!

sample

While prepping the fleece for its washing, I quickly hand-spun up a small double ply sample of yarn. It is very strong and uniform in color/texture, so I have high hopes that some amount of success will be met with this adventure.

Yuri’s New Sweater

Posted by Meagan on May 2, 2010 | Categories: Blogs, Natural Dyes, Wheel Spinning

A reader of this blog, Sue, sent me a link to this adorable well-illustrated story of Yuri’s New Sweater, in which a mother creates a sweater for her son from the wool of his favorite animal on their farm. Do check out the rest of her blog! I’m greatly enjoying reading through her other adventures with both yarn and a self sufficient lifestyle.

Thanks for sharing the link, Sue! Readers, if you find such cool resources or stories that should be shared, I’d love it if you sent me the link via a comment!

Processing Frankie’s Fleece

Posted by Meagan on April 18, 2010 | Categories: Cleaning, Combing, Sheep to Yarn 1, Yarn

Happy Frankie & Ladies

The last we left him, Frankie was looking a little like this – shorn by Yours Truly, albeit a patchy job!

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on processing Frankie’s fleece. Today I started the last batch of it, and remembered to bring the camera along for the show.

raw

This is what the raw fleece looks like up close. Lots of grass bits and hay. In the middle of the shot you can see some of the lanolin clinging to the fibers. The first stage of fleece cleaning is to pick out the big bits, which is a really nice relaxing activity at the end of the day.

detwigge

Once the big bits are picked out, the fleece looks much better! You can see above there are still lots of little dirt bits and other vegetable matter. This will come out gradually over the next few steps. At this time I group the fleece into piles of different colors or lengths. Frankie is actually designated as being grey, most of his fleece is white as pictured above but he does have some grey areas as well as grey hairs scattered throughout his white parts.

bagged

The next step is to put it into bags for washing in the tub. I use these lingerie bags which I bought at my local grocery store.

washing

Then it’s into the bathtub filled with hot water and dish soap. I’m glossing over the details as I’ve covered them in a previous blog post. You let the fleece soak in hot soapy water for 30-40 minutes, then drain the water and do it all over again a few times.

I experimented with a new method of drying the cleaned fleece. It’s basically putting the fleece onto a window screen, which allows air to circulate both on top and below. Adding a fan to circulate the air faster got the job of drying the fleece done in far less time than my previous (space-limited) method of laying it out on a towel. I am now thinking of ways to create a multi-tiered drying rack to really speed up the process.

lashed

Once dried, the combing begins! This is the stage that takes the longest amount of time and dedication. I use the hand combs my Dad made for me to, well, comb the fibers. This lets all the little dirt bits and veggie matter fall out, aligns all the fibers in the same direction, and eliminates small fibers or second cuts. It takes anywhere from 5-10+ passes of combing it for the fibers to become really clean and perfect. Once you’re satisfied, you simply pull the fibers off to make one giant fiber snake known as a sliver. More specifically, this is a worsted sliver of fiber, which is different from a woolen rolag of fiber… but that is another blog post altogether!

frankie-ball

Here is a sliver formed into a ball for ease of handling. You can see a few bits here and there, these will come out when the fiber is drawn and spun up into yarn. And even if there are one or two bits that stay into the final yarn, it adds to the homemade feel!

yarn

And finally, here is a completed skein of Frankie yarn! This was made with 8 balls of combed fiber, each rotation of my yarn counter is about 2 meters, so this skein of yarn is around 81 meters long and weighs just over 50 grams. It is on the thicker side, as it will be for a hat.

I’ve got quite a way to go before Frankie’s fleece is completely done with, and of course I have the three girls’ fleeces ready to be washed and combed next. If I expand my flock enough in the next years I might consider sending some of my fleeces to a processing mill to be washed and turned into roving – while processing by hand is relaxing and enjoyable, it’s simply not possible to make a living off of 100% home processed yarn. However, this is certainly a path to making unique, love-filled gifts.

My First Sheep Shearing with Blades

Posted by Meagan on March 18, 2010 | Categories: Fleece, Sheep, Sheep to Yarn 1

I’ve only had my Happy Panda Rainbow Farm for a month and already I have a wonderful yarn adventure to share with you!

We’ve been having unusually warm weather here in Ontario, so I decided to take advantage of it and shear my Shetland ram, Franklin:

Franklin looking pensive

I think he’s such a sweetheart… but only when I’m not in the pen with him. If I’m in there, he tends to want to show me who he thinks is boss. Luckily there’s been no people ramming yet. Once I learn more about his behaviour I’ll be posting an entry about rams in detail.

But for now, the shearing!

I used a set of metal blades, also known as the old fashioned method. With only four sheep I figured it wouldn’t be so bad, plus they’re at least one tenth the price of electric shears. Tom was there to help distract Franklin with grain and hay, and then hold onto him when Franklin showed no more interest in food.

I don’t know how long we took to do it, but it was probably closer to an hour and a half. Considering it was my first time shearing, plus we had to stop every fifteen minutes to stretch, I wouldn’t say it went so bad. Since his fleece is easily the worst quality of them all, it was good to practice on him before I do the ladies. Also, we sheared him while he was standing up, I was not going to manipulate a ram like you see the New Zealand shearers do ewes, not with those bad horns of his!

Enough words, here’s a picture of my marvelous first time shearing result.

Frankie post-shearing

Oh poor Franklin, yeah you don’t look so suave, but it’ll grow out in a few weeks! Everyone gets a bad haircut sometimes… On the plus side there were no injuries had by sheep or human. I’m sure he appreciates that over looking fancy and pretty. But it sure is different from this before shot:

Frankie pre-shearing

Now when I enter the barn and Franklin comes running up, I can’t help but laugh. He looks so silly and naked! Frankie, we see your shame!

Barn Buddies

Here he is with his girls. You can see I stopped at his butt, he was getting really tired of the shearing so we decided to finish up a later day. Same with his lower trimming.

Frankie's fleece

As for the result, here are the very dirty raw fleece bits. I was aiming for the full one piece fleece, but since he dragged it around when we took breaks I chose to break it off. I’ll try to weigh it after I’ve sheared his butt and removed the tags. I’m very glad to be making progress on my goal of raising sheep and using their fiber, even if technically this fiber was “created” by the previous shepherd. Once I get it washed, combing it down by the wood fire will make for a great end of day activity.

Riker, my first Angora rabbit

Posted by Meagan on March 4, 2010 | Categories: Angora Rabbits, Riker

Riker hanging out

Everyone, meet Riker! Riker is my first official fiber animal joining the farm (hence his name, as he’s Number One, and so is William T. Riker). He’s an English angora buck who’s been described as a lilac cream tort. His fibers will pair wonderfully with my Shetland sheep fleece to produce a wonderful Angora-Shetland blend of yarn… but not for at least 3 months as he was just sheared.

He is currently living in a “Rabbit starter cage” bought from Petsmart, he seems to be happy and relaxed and has a healthy appetite and poop production. I’m looking into the best diet for him and our future farm lifestyle. I’ve seen two different approaches so far, one which advocates mostly pellets with a bit of hay and veggies, the other which advocates mostly hay with a quarter the amount of pellets and much more fresh food. Right now I’m feeding him the same diet he had in his older home, pellets with a bit of hay and veggies. Once we get into growing season I might play around with the veggie/hay/pellet ratios, gradually of course!

I bought a wire comb meant for little dogs to comb his fiber with, and it worked wonderfully. He just sat right down with us on the couch while we combed him and pet him. No poop or pee mishaps with us so far. He’s such a champion! We are very happy to have him on the farm, and I’m now thinking much more seriously about raising Angoras sooner rather than later.

Youtube: theartofmegan

Posted by Meagan on February 11, 2010 | Categories: Hand Spinning, Youtube

I have to admit, I’m always happy to find other people named Megan/Meagan/Meghan/etc in the crafting world. Having the same name always puts a smile on my face, especially when we are both crafty creative people.

I’m glad to report that this is the case with Megan LaCore from theartofmegan.com, YouTube channel of the same name. She focuses on creating yarn with a drop spindle, but many of the concepts are handy to know even if you’re just a knitter.

Here’s one of her most recent videos, where she teaches us how to create center-pull yarn balls with only our hands:

YouTube Preview Image

And here are some of her other videos which I’ve found very helpful in my yarn adventures:

Thanks, Megan, for sharing such great content with the world!

Shetland Sheep

Posted by Meagan on February 10, 2010 | Categories: Sheep

In anticipation of moving into my farm & house at the end of this month, I made contact with a local farmer who was selling her Shetland sheep bunch, two pregnant ewes, a 2 year old ewe, and their ram Franklin. Here’s a picture of the ladies:

I’ve done a good amount of reading and learning about sheep in general, but I was interested in learning more about Shetlands in specific. Interestingly, the fleece which I’ve spun with this past year has been Shetland fleece, so I’m very excited that I’ll be able to keep using it in the future. Apparently their fiber can come so fine that Shetland shawls can pass through the opening of a ring, anywhere from 20-30 microns. Their fleece can be either one of 11 colors or combinations of colors in 30 distinct marking patterns (such as the third one pictured above).

As for the sheep themselves, they are considered an unimproved or heritage breed. They were brought over some time ago from the Shetland Isles – the same place where Shetland sheepdogs and Shetland ponies developed over time. They are natural mothers, they become fertile as the day shorten in October, and give birth to one or two to three lambs in the Spring or Summer. They are on the small side, adults weigh between 75 lbs (little ewes) to 125 lbs (big rams). In addition to producing a gorgeous fleece, their meat is yummy and lean, and since they’re smaller their carcasses are a bit easier to manipulate and store.

From what I’ve been reading, Shetlands are ideal sheep for farm newbies like myself for a few reasons. One, lambing is relatively effortless and requires little if any human intervention. Two, they have naturally short tails so docking (removing part of the tail to help fight against flystrike, which is a quick and deadly infection) is not necessary. Three, being a heritage breed, they are very hardy and can stand up to some seriously rough weather on their own.

I’m very confident that I’ve made the right selection for my first farm animals, and I’m looking forward to being their caretaker in March!

John Bryce wheel

Posted by Meagan on January 31, 2010 | Categories: Wheel Spinning

J Bryce Wheel

What in the world is this device? That was the thought that went through my head when I saw its picture on a used item website. The seller claimed it was rare and the only other one he knew of was owned by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In meeting with the gentleman, he showed me a copy of a salvaged publication with more information about the wheel:

Bryce Wheel information

Further research was done by means of asking the wise people of the Antique Spinning Wheel group on Ravelry. Prior to meeting with the wheel seller, I received an identification of this device from janclark. She said it was a John Bryce/Bruce tabletop spinning wheel, patented in the late 1800s in Canada and the USA. She gave me this link showing the device… in the American Textile Museum.

During this time I also made contact with the Museum of Civilization. They graciously sent me a massive PDF file of their entire spinning wheel collection, and sure enough two John Bryce wheels were buried inside it, although only one was complete and the other was certainly not painted green.

With such a rich back story, and with this wheel in such a great condition, I couldn’t pass it up!

J Bryce Wheel mechanism

Here is a picture of how it works. It clamps onto a table edge – a narrow one, as I learned while trying to attach it to this black countertop. The spinner turns the metal wheel with the knob, which makes contact with a leather pad on the other side of the big wooden wheel pictured above. The big wheel is locked into the small wooden receptacle on the spindle, and voila, one turn of the large metal wheel produces many revolutions of the small spindle. There’s your twist/stored up energy, now you can make yarn!

How many rotations exactly, and what kind of yarn it produces, are things I will have to determine later on in life. While the wheel is in excellent condition overall, the metal wheel does not make firm enough contact with the big wooden wheel to reliably spin. I have a few solution plans in mind, but they will have to wait until I’ve moved into my farm&house. Until then, it will just have to sit around and look gorgeous… not too hard of a task at all! Just look at those flawless wooden parts, made back before today’s world of plastics and disposables. I am honored to be the current guardian of this wonderful piece of equipment.