Nov 30

This is what is currently looks like here in central Indiana.  We have been getting rain and today the temps are dropping.  Tomorrow we are looking at a high of 32 degrees Farenheit.

I know some people in the country are enjoying (or not) snow already, but we’ve been lucky so far.  We have a chance of show showers on Saturday, which is fine by me because I intend to spend the entire day in the kitchen with wool and dyepots.

Weather roll call!  What is is doing where you are today?

Nov 29
Busy Times at the Ranch
icon1 basicallybenita | icon2 Work-in-progress | icon4 11 29th, 2010| icon34 Comments »

Or, to put it more realistically, Sandy and I (with Sandy’s mom’s welcomed assistance) worked our tails off on Sunday – or actually our fingers since they did all the work and our tails just sat in chairs.

What were we doing?  Measuring and weighing and picking and choosing and drum carding some very nice wool into some even lovelier batts.

We started off with some Romney in white, charcoal gray, reds and pinks.  Then we split them all up into pieces, weighed them, fluffed and thinned them enough to go through the drum carder.

And came up with Victoria Rose.  Even though there are no purples in this, it came out a lovely, soft rosy-mauve color with just enough gray to keep it respectable.  It reminded me of those big, pale rose cabbage roses you see in magazines like Victorian and made me think of teas with fine china, chintzes and summer breezes flowing through lace curtains on a fine summer afternoon.  Ahhh….

After that, we decided to liven things up a bit and dug into some brightly colored Romney, did our little bit of magic and came up with something we didn’t expect, but really liked.


For those of you who live in the Midwestern US, think of spring.  Think of redbuds in bloom, think of white crabapple flowers, think of dogwoods in all their rosey glory, and think of brand new, baby leaves just coming out of their winter homes.  This one is just like that.  Almost hazy with colors all blended together to delight your senses.  We really thought it would come out brighter, but we are so glad it didn’t. 

Then we decided to liven up things a bit more.  Remember when I showed you the red sample we did that I spun and knitted up and that you all liked so much?  Sandy and I decided to do more of it.


While we were carding this, Sandy dubbed it Red Hot Mama and we all laughed.  Perfect!  This is 100% Targhee and is very soft.  There are just enough oranges and purples in it to give it a glow like the depths of fire. 

Well, we thought that after we had seared our eyeballs with that one, we needed to end the day with something a bit more…virginal.  So we pulled some lovely organic merino in white, pink, blue and soft browns and blended them into this:


It was hard to come up with a name for this.  Sweet Sixteen?  Hmmm…  Both Sandy and I thought of Paris for some reason, so we decided to combine the lovely young girl with Paris and came up with the name of Mademoiselle for this.  And, boy, is it soft!! 

And that is what we did with our last day of the Thanksgiving weekend.  I think we ended our holiday off very well, don’t you?

Nov 27

As I am learning how to skirt, wash and process fleeces into something I would want to use, I am discovering that the most important step is the initial skirting process.  The more crap you remove at the beginning the better the end product and the less work later.  The less you take out (I mean, you spent money on this fleece, you want to be able to use as much of it as you can), the more work later.

 For example, you remember this past autumn when Sandy and I spent a day skirting I can’t remember how many fleeces, pulling out poopy areas, dirt, burrs, hay, second cuts, etc.  And we ended up with something looking like this:


Since then I have been washing and cleaning these fleeces.  Washing AND cleaning?  Yes, this is not necessarily the same process to me.  I’ll admit to being a little anal when it comes to a clean fleece, but here is where my leaning curve is coming into play.

I am discovering that we should have thrown away more of the fleece at the skirting part of the process. 

Okay, I also, have discovered that the less you wash at a time, the more clean it gets.  It make a huge difference if you wash just a couple of ounces at a time versus trying to wash half a pound. 


Here is part of a fleece that has been washed, and, mind you, I am washing each fleece twice just to make sure it is clean before I start sorting.  As I sort through it, I am still finding the occasional burr and bits of hay and grass, but I am also finding more second cuts and just plain bad wool in this washed fiber.  So, I am painstakingly picking through each bit, a handful at a time, and further getting rid of parts that really should not have made it to the washing process.


For example, this is what I have gleaned out in the last hour, and this is far more than I should have had to clean out of the fiber.  In our zeal of “getting our money’s worth,” we didn’t do ourselves much of a favor, because finding the time to sit and pick is costing more than it would have to just throw it away from the get go.


Now, this is what it should look like straight from the drying rack – nice, clean and fluffy with no soiled areas, no burrs, no hay.  So, the next time we skirt and pre-clean a fleece, we will be doing ourselves a huge favor at the beginning – we will get rid of anything that looks like it won’t wash out (and now I have the experience to know what that is).  This is the fiber we are planning to dye, card, comb, spin and sell.  We want to make sure that our customers are getting the absolutely cleanest, nicest fiber we can provide, even if it means cleaning it again after it has been washed.

I wonder how many people stop after the washing part and how many go on to the next step of making sure the fleece is thoroughly clean.  I know I have bought blended and dyed fibers that are chock full of trash.  One particular name of carded batts I will never buy again, because my first attempt to spin from their product caused me to spend more time picking than spinning, and I ultimately threw it away. 

In a way, that lesson paid off and I know what I like and what I want to sell.  My customers will be the true winners of this lesson, though, because I will not sell what I won’t spin myself and I am a terribly picky spinner.

And then again, during the combing and carding process, these fibers will be further cleaned and sorted.  I understand what they mean by slow cloth, and I am beginning to understand how enjoyable each step of the process is, but I still think I can minimize the picking after washing process so that I can get on to the combing, carding, dyeing and spinning process.

For those of you who buy and process your own fleeces, I would love comments, suggestions and your own experiences.  Also, I currently am using Orvus paste to wash fleeces, and I like it, but what do you use and why?

Nov 26

You know you are going to have a good, productive day when, before 7:00 in the morning, you have a chicken carcass with wing meat and skin simmering with garlic, herbs and onion in a stock pot, the second half of a fleece soaking in the washing machine and two tubs within the bath tub, the fabric picked and sorted for two twin-sized quilts that are a year past due, breakfast eaten, tea water heating and yarn ready to be measured for a warp.  This is how my Friday after Thanksgiving began.

When I woke up at 4:30, I thought, with pity, of all those crazy people waiting to get into the stores as soon as they opened today – some as early as 4:30 in the morning – and how I am lucky enough to not have to deal with that madness.  Even if I did have a bushel of Christmas gifts to consider, I would not face that crowd today for anything.  Instead, I am savoring the smell of chicken stock simmering, the odor of wool soaking, the touch of new fabric, and the smoothness of my cotton yarns.  And soon, the taste of hot tea.  I love my life!

9:00 AM and I’ve strained the chicken from its broth, put the broth and good bits of chicken intot he crock pot with three bags of assorted frozen veggies, Northwoods seasoning from Penzey’s, a bay leaf and sea salt.  Later, I’ll make some brown rice to add in with it and, by golly, we’ll have a great supper tonight. 

Also, I have the fleece in its various rinse water containers for the first of three or four rinses.  Now, I am listening to some of the WeaveCast episodes that I haven’t had the chance to hear while I sort though washed fleece.  This is the life!!

Safety tip – if you are filling up a 1.5 bushel tub of hot water in your bath tub, and decide to listen to some WeaveCast episode while sorting washed fleece, don’t let time get away from you because you end up wasting a lot of hot water.  Not that this would happen to me, but I understand that the smaller tub will overflow and all that wonderful hot water, which you are heating with propane at $2.89 a gallon by the way, will end up down the drain not having done its job of rinsing some nice wool.

4:20 pm – The chicken soup is done (I added cooked whole wheat pasta instead of brown rice because it cooks faster) and it is very tasty.  It’s nice to have something hot, filling and costing less than $1 per serving.

The first round of fleece is nearly dry on my handy-dandy drying rack (this finishes up the Corriedale that we had skirted and cleaned) and I have now started in on the 3rd of 5 Rubbermaid totes (this one is Cormo).  I have another day at home tomorrow, so I very well may get the rest of that 3rd tote done this weekend.

I have been working hard on Sandy’s and my new store and have the 5 rotating banners all done.  This is something I hope to debut next week – in time to advertise the Fiber Binder Club on Ravelry – I hope.

Later this evening, I am going to try to talk Scott into a movie.  We just got Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia series and I’ve been wanting to see it for months now.

So how did you spend your day after Thanksgiving?

Nov 25

Because we will not be able to see my husband’s brother’s family for Christmas, we celebrated their Christmas yesterday as part of Thanksgiving.  After a very delicious meal, we brought out the presents for the children (we adults no longer trade gifts).  One of my presents to the oldest daughter (they have three – 9, 6 and 3) was a set of knitting needles, some superwash Cascade yarn and her first knitting lessons.  She has been begging her mom to teach her to knit, but the constraints of running a household of three active girls and all that entains meant this has not happened.  So, Aunt Benita to the rescue.

I cast on 30 stitches, sat her in front of me, showed her how to make the knit stitch a couple of times, put the needles in her hands and guided her through her first, awkward stitches, then just helped here and there when she got stuck.  That first row was very slow and I’ll bet anything her tongue was sticking out at the side, but I encouraged her stitch by stitch and praised her when she started knitting on her own.  The second row went much more smoothly, until her younger sisters tried to get involved.  Then I sent her off to play and said we would work on it again later.

Later, while I was spinning on my navy Polworth at the spinning wheel, the 6 year old came and sat on the couch next to me.  She watched me spin, then began to ask questions like “Why does the big wheel spin slower that that (the flyer)?”  So I explained the science of ratios to her by using the drive band to illustrate the circumference of the pulley I was using (very small) versus the circumference of the wheel (very big) and how the little wheel must go around many times before the big wheel goes around once.  She thought about it for a second, her eyes got big and she said, “Oh!  I see!”

Then she asked how I keep the big wheel turning, and I showed her how the treadles are like bike pedals and the driveband is like the chain on a bike.  She nodded.  Then she asked how the wheel did what it did and why?  I held out a piece of the roving I was spinning and had her pull on it to show how easily it pulled apart.  Then I twisted the roving and had her pull on it again, explaining that the added twist makes the yarn stronger and why she could no longer pull it apart.  Then I showed her how the wheel adds twist into the fiber, making it strong.

I had some test samples of singles from the Celia Quinn class in my case, so I pulled out a bobbin of it, and showed her what plying was with each ply being a different color – in the first case pink for one ply and the navy for the second one.  She asked for a second one for her older sister, so I did the second one with green.  Then she asked what I was going to use the yarn for, and I told her I would probably knit it up into a scarf or a hat like I had been showing her sister how to knit.

Then I explained that her shirt was knitted even though the yarn was very tiny and the knitting was a lot finer than we can do by hand.  She asked if her shirt was wool, and I told her it was cotton, which came from a plant.  We talked a bit more about where wool came from and how my vest and socks were knitted from wool and how her jeans were woven from cotton.  Then, the child looked at me very seriously and asked, “Does everything come from something else?”  And I answered that yes, everything comes from something else.  She puzzled on that for a second or two, asked a couple more questions on that subject, then her sisters came and off she went to play.

Really, in time and effort, I didn’t accomplish much with these two little girls yesterday, but there has been a definite effect in their lives.  The older one may need reminded how to knit once she gets home, but she has started her first scarf, and her first wobbly steps into the area of fiber has begun.  The middle one doesn’t know it, but she got a lesson not just on spinning and yarn, but on physics and how the whole universe works.  In some small way, I have influenced their lives – helped shape them a little – and I sincerely am humbled by it.  Teaching is a gift, but teaching a child is something to be treasured.  Teaching a child to grow in wisdom and making a positive impact on that child’s life is not something to be taken lightly.  I gave them such a little thing, but they gave me a lot for which I will be forever grateful.

But my favorite question of all was “Does everything come from something else?”  Profound thinking for a six-year-old, don’t you think?

Nov 24
Final Blended Batt Samples
icon1 basicallybenita | icon2 Work-in-progress | icon4 11 24th, 2010| icon34 Comments »

Sandy brought in her half-batts today so we could get good pictures of the batts with their spun and knitted samples.  I’m going to put these in the order they were in Sunday’s post.

This was the blend of orange-brown, purple and a bit of sparkley suff that was mixed it with mixed grays and greens.  You can barely see the sparkley stuff in this, and if I were to do it again, I would either leave it out altogether or add quite a bit more.  As it is, it’s hardly noticeable.  I like the color blend, though, and we will be doing more of this once we get to dyeing large lots of colors.

I think Sandy got the greater half of this batt because hers is a lot denser than mine it (I can’t complain as I am the one who split them).  This is navy blended with the same sparkley green and gray roving as the sample above.  I really like this one and want a sweater out of it.  I have about a pound and a half of white BFL that needs to be dyed deep indigo and blended with the rest of that sparkley roving.  That would be enough for a nice sweater.

This one turned into quite a shocker.  We decided this was the “ugly” batt, but spun up and knitted into a swatch released it’s inner beauty.  I really like this one, now, and can see a matching hat, mitten and scarf set out of it.  I think we will be trying more experiments of this type again, but we will need to spin up and knit swatches to show people what it will look like in its final form.

This one washed out a bit in the photo (check out the picture of the drying swatches below for a closer sample).  I think the reflection of the lights off of the purple is what did it, but this one is still my favorite.  It is a blend of teal green, orange-brown and purple.

This, too, is darker in real life.  I tried tweaking it in Photoshop, but couldn’t get it to represent the garnet red it truly is.  I could tell this one is Sandy’s and Colette’s favorite because they both kept going back to it.  The fact that it is merino didn’t hurt, I’m sure.  To me, it’s okay, but I’m not a red person, and I like complex colors better.

The colors above are a somewhat better representation of the samples (except for the upper left one, which is better on the second one from the top).  With my new drying rack, these were dry in about half an hour.

Over all, Sandy and I are very pleased with our experiment.  Our plan is to get together again Sunday afternoon for more of the same.  We are going to bring fiber together that we don’t necessary like, color-wise, and see what they look like (re)blended.  Also, I want to do a couple of dyepots Friday and Saturday and see what we can do with the roving dyed from them. 

For those of you in the US, Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.  I’m going to spend the day with family and my spinning wheel – all at the same time!

Nov 21

November is here in central Indiana, and it looks and feels like it.

It seems so odd that a mere 7 weeks ago, this scene was lush and green and it was a very warm day when I took that picture.  Now, it is damp, cold and it’s hurry to take the picture and hurry back to the warmth of the car.  Roxie, Sharon and Cindy are all taking pictures, too, so make sure you go and check out what the season changes are like in their area. 

Is anyone taking pictures outside of the US?  If so, please let me know so I can see.  I’d really like for someone in New Zealand or Australia join us in this because as we head through autumn into winter, that part of the world is heading through spring and into summer.

Nov 20
I Couldn’t Wait
icon1 basicallybenita | icon2 Work-in-progress | icon4 11 20th, 2010| icon36 Comments »

I was going to warp my loom today, but those batts that Sandy and I blended on the drum carder last night were staring me down, so I gave in and spun them up.

You remember this picture from last night.  I labeled them in the order of how I spun the samples so you can see their humble beginnings.

Sample number one was a blend of purple, orange-brown and an odd roving I had that had sparkly stuff in it as well as some muted greens.  This really wanted to be spun as a worsted weight, so I went with it and said okay.  My half of the batt weight .2 ounce.

The finished skein came out a nice warm and snuggly color with some pizzazz thrown in for good measure.  I like the orange-brown and purple colors blended together very much.

Sample 2 was that hot pink and green short stripe blend sanwiched between thin layers of a navy blue.  Also, the hot pink is merino and the rest is coopworth, which made for some very interesting spinning.  The merino wanted to glop together more and the coopworth wanted to spin nice, smooth and thin.

And a very interesting yarn it turned out to be.  The spinning calmed down at bright pink and turned it into highlighted areas in the finished yarn.  I think this will knit up into a fun swatch.

This is that really thin batt and it only weighed .1 ounce.  It is really more navy than the picture would lead you to believe, but the hints of green are in there and the sparkles add life to it.  Really, I’d like enough of this for a sweater for the holidays.

Sample four, which is a blend of equal parts of orange-brown, green and purple ended up being one of the prettiest yarns I have spun to date.  There is a lot of depth in the color and it leans toward purple in one light and more toward brown in another.  Nice, complex and subtle.  This one is top down, my favorite so far.  I may have to try to recreate enough of this one to make something.

Do you remember the handspun yarn I made called Brambleberry?  This is the left over red dyed top from it reblended and drum carded into a nice, thick batt.  I carefully drafted it out into this lovely roving before starting to spin it up.  This part of the original roving was rejected for the spinning project in mind because it had too much orange in it, and I wanted more of the cool reds and purples for the Brambleberry yarn.   Recarding it into a batt saved this fiber for me because what it was before was rather ugly.

But it’s not ugly now by a long shot.  Nice, deep, warm red with enough orange to make it visually interesting.  I can see mittens knitted out of this yarn for a child.

Next, I want to knit swatches and see what they look like knitted up.  I think it is so interesting that what you see as roving or batts looks so different from the finished article. 

Which do you like best?

Nov 19

Tonight, after work, Sandy and I ended up at her place for an evening of playing with the new Patrick Green carder.

First we watched most of the fiber blending DVD with Deb Menz.  This DVD covers color and fiber blending with a drum carder and with combs.  We decided to work with the drum carder first and after we feel comfortable with it, then move to comb later.

First we pulled out some various colors of fiber and practiced just using the drum carder to get the nicest, single-color batts we could.  By the time we got to the orange-brown and purple on the left, we had pretty much figured out how much fluffing to do to the fiber and how much you could put in at a time.

Then we began to play with some color blending.  The first attempt was with the green, the orange-brown and the purple.  We split each into half and then half again to build up layers of color.

First we laid down a layer of the orange-brown, followed by a layer of the green.

Then a layer of purple.

Repeated the orange-brown.

More green.

And a final layer of the purple.

Then we pulled it off of the carder and decided that it needed to be blended again to get it away from the stratus look and into something more harmonious.  So we halved it and fed each half in one after the other.

And, my-o-my, did we love the outcome.  We were afraid if we blended it more it would muddy the colors up and we wanted each color to be noticeable.

Isn’t this pretty?  We split the final batt into two, one for each of us to spin and see what we came up with as the final yarn.  I’ll save mine to spin on Thanksgiving while I’m visiting with Scott’s family.

Then we went on to try different blends coming up with a total of five different batts at the end.  Two of them we added in some of a roving that had some sparkly stuff in it just to see how it would look.

Here is what I had to bring home with me.

And here are all five spread out for you to see.  The one between the stripey one and the far left one is thin because we didn’t have much of those colors to play with.  The thin one is .1 ounce, the red-orange one on the right is .4 ounce and the other three are .2 ounce each.

We even had Sandy’s 86-year-old mom, Jane, helping us and she had a blast helping to pick out colors, feed them in and roll up the resulting batts at the end.  I cannot remember having this much fun learning a new skill.  This is such a beginning for us, because we are planning to start blending and selling our own colorways, all dyed with natural dyes.  2011 ought to see us at several of the local and regional fiber fairs, and we are setting up an new website just to sell our creations.  But more on that later when we have something to show you.

So, what do you think?  What do you like about some of what we blended?  What don’t you like?  We can use all the feedback we can get and we are open to suggestions to make what we are wanting to do more appealing to the spinning audience.  I know we need to dye up lots of colors in large quantities, which is why I have been washing fleeces like crazy, and that we need to come up with enough of each, predictible colorway for spinners to buy enough to make sweaters or larger products.  This is understood. 

What colors do you like?  Fiber blends?  Do you like textured batts with silk noil or smooth ones?  Do you like stripey ones or well-blended ones?  Do you like the sparkley touches?

As you can see, we are slowly working our way into a new business here and we want to produce products that appeal to someone other than ourselves.  Of course, this goes for the sock yarn we are dyeing, and all the other items we are producing for our store.

If all our work could be this enjoyable, we’d work from morning until night and never grumble at it.  All work should be so much fun.  Once I get these five samples spun up, I’ll show you the results.  The proof is in the spinning!!

Nov 16

It’s been a while since I bought some food out of my comfort zone, and this weekend I bought two new to me things.

This is a quince.  I’ve heard of quince jelly, and the sign said it was sweet, tart and reminencent of apples.  So I bought one.

When I cut it in half, it seemed to be very dry and with a spongey feel.  I sliced off a piece, ate it, and decided I didn’t like it.  I think it was the texture that turned me off and it just didn’t have much of a taste to me, although there was a hint of apple when I first bit into it.

I took it up to Scott and he really liked it, so he got to eat the rest of it.

Then I bought some Italian chestnuts, scored them like the container said to and stuck them in the oven (400 degrees for 15-20 minutes).

Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  We have a winner here folks!  I love roasted chestnuts!  In fact, after eating 4 of them (and Scott eating a couple), I bagged the rest of them up and brought them to work as afternoon snacks.  I will be roasting the rest of them later this week.  There are very few nuts I don’t like (Brazil nuts come to mind in the dislike category), and they are so good for you.  I am glad to add this to my choices of nuts to eat.

Have you tried anything lately that you either liked or didn’t like?  I’ve heard of chestnut stuffing for turkey, does anyone have a good recipe that they like?

I’ll leave you with something fun.  On the way to the farm where I bought that wonderful fleece on Sunday, I went slightly out of my way to drive past a house where the owners have several metal sculptures in a fenced in area.

This is just one of the pictures I took.  All of the metal art here is hand-made out of junk, and it is lots of fun to look at all the different things that have been created.  And I love the dinosaur!

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