Saturday, April 30, 2011

This is How We Wash the Wool

Earlier this week I went out to the desert to visit my buddie Jeane of Elemental Affects.  Jeane makes gorgeous hand-dyed Shetland yarn.  The wool is from sheep raised in Montana, the mill that spins the wool into yarn is here in the U.S., and Jeane dyes the yarn in California, so the product is North American, start to finish.  If you like supporting local farmers and artisans, check out her yarn.  Check it out anyway, it's really wonderful.

My mission was to help Jeane wash a whole lotta Romney wool, which is going to become a big fluffy new yarn she will be introducing soon.  Mmmm, wait until you see it. 

It's hot in the desert.  Just saying.

I've done plenty of wool scouring, but nothing on the scale that Jeane does to produce her yarns and fibers.  This is what serious wool washing looks like:

1.  Transport

The first step was to get the raw wool from the storage shed to Jeane's studio.

We loaded two bales of fleeces onto a little trailer attached to a Honda ATV thingy and drove them to the studio.  Each bale weighs approximately 120 pounds.  They're heavy.  And I want one of those ATV thingies.  The bales were then manhandled off of the trailer and rolled into position in the studio.

2.  Skirt and Sort

Each fleece is removed from the bale and placed on a big screen, where it is skirted.  This is the process where large chunks of dirt, vegetable matter, and dung are removed from the raw wool.  Loose stuff simply falls through the large holes of the screen onto the floor. 

The fleece is examined, and any rough or otherwise undesirable sections are picked out.  Even wool that doesn't make the cut isn't wasted; Jeane sends most of the discards to someone who uses it to stuff dog beds.  Lucky dogs. 

3.  Weigh and Wash

The sorted wool is weighed out (about 4 lbs per basket) and brought over to the laundry area. 

Each basket of wool first goes into a tub of lukewarm water for a quick soak to remove excess dirt and dust.  Then it goes into to a second tub filled with 140F water and detergent to remove the grease. 

Desert + 140F water = Hot.  Just saying. 

The wool soaks in the soapy water and gets swished around a bit in a process Jeane calls "clapping":  the wool is pressed together from side to side to allow the detergent to penetrate to all areas of the wool (Romney is a slow felter so it can withstand some swishing and squeezing).  From the washing tub, the wool goes into the washing machine (filled with more 140F water) to be rinsed.  Note the heavy insulated rubber gloves:  140F water is hot.  Burning hot. 

4.  Dry

The rinse water is spun out, and then the wool is taken from the washing machine over to the drying racks and spread out in thin layers.  It's hot in the desert, so it doesn't take long to dry. 

5.  Play

Did I mention that it was HOT?  We called it a day by late afternoon, and Jeane showed me how to do this:

I acquired a beautiful old Gilmore loom several months back, and it's been waiting patiently for some attention since then.  Under Jeane's tutelage I finally learned how to use a warping board, and she gave me a lesson on getting the warp onto a loom.   

It was a fun trip, and I now have an increased appreciation for those in the fiber business, and the labor and love (and sweat) they put into making the beautiful yarns and spinning fibers we get to play with.   

Friday, April 15, 2011

Passing It On

I've been spring cleaning.  Not with any particular gusto (I hate housework), but certainly with more thoroughness than usual.  This year, I'm doing some serious purging of excess clutter, stuff, clothes, etc -- trying to lighten the load, literally and figuratively.  Everything's fair game for the trash bin or Goodwill bag.  There's only one item I'm a bit sad to divest myself of, and that is this:
My briefcase.  It's a really nice case, but I no longer have any current need for it, and if all goes according to plan, I never will.  It doesn't suit my style, and those aren't even my initials any more.  But this briefcase has a long history.  It was a farewell gift from my coworkers, given to me long ago (in fact, 25 years this month) when I quit my job, sold most of my belongs, packed the rest into a hatchback Mustang and left New England to drive clear across the country to Southern California.  I had no job waiting for me, knew no one, and had no place to live.  For a quiet, shy, unassuming young woman, man I had some balls, eh?

This briefcase moved across country with me, accompanied me to many interviews, functioned as a file draw when I lived in a tiny studio, followed me from apartment to apartment and house to house, and served me well for many years throughout my career at a certain academic institution.  This briefcase stayed the course with me as I followed a sometimes uncertain path, gradually feeling my way until I found myself and came to be where I am now.

It's time to pass it on.  I rather hope it finds it way to some young woman out there starting out on her own path.  But whoever it finds its way to, I'm sure it will serve them well.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Camp Jabberwonky 2011

What goes on in Sock Camp, stays in Sock Camp.  So I don't have much to tell you.  I don't have much to show you, either, in large part owing to me neglecting to take many pictures.  But here's a few snippets.

Sock Camp is, of course, all about socks.  And there were many.  Among my favorite (and not just because I made them) are the most awesome Northampton Beat Socks, designed by the most awesomer Marcy Vandale.  She does a mean dragon dance, and that's all I'll say about that.

Northampton Beat Socks, in STR Lightweight, colorway Pepe La Plume.  See the row of Lucy Neatby holes?  I just love these. 

Sock Camp is all about learning and sharing, and there was much of that.  Anna Zilboorg showed us how to spin.

Being in the presence of Anna was worth the price of admission alone.  What a remarkable woman.

Camp Counselor extraordinaire Debbi Stone demonstrated spindling. 

A whole lotta concentration goin' on at this table.

JC Briar and Anne Hanson led some very excellent classes, and did a bit of spinning of their own.  And that's all I have to say about that. 

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee did some interesting things with silk hankies.

I do believe there was a run on silk hankies at the camp store that afternoon.

Sock Camp.  I learned a lot.  I laughed a lot.  I ate a lot.  It was awesome.

Oh, and this year's pony tail dip was magenta.