Sunday, September 17, 2017

Home-Built Hackle and Comb Set for Processing Raw Fleece

Last spring, I purchased a beautiful clean and fluffy cream-colored alpaca fleece from Sabamba.  It's so nice and fluffy and relatively clean that I have been reluctant to actually wash it like regular sheep's wool.  The alpaca fleece does not have the grease that sheep wool has.  And I learned that alpaca fleece is even more prone to felting during the washing phase than regular fleece.  That said, many spinners prefer to wash alpaca fiber AFTER it's been spun into yarn.

I came across the following video that was very helpful, and gave me the idea to build my own :

This blog post from Moonsong Fiber Works was also very helpful in providing the basic plans for making my own comb and hackle set.

 No-- It's not a medieval torture device.  It's a DIY Hackle for processing wool.
Cherry wood and nails.

My husband accepted the challenge.  He studied the plans and made a supply list.   He was also convinced he could improve upon it ...

Here is the accompanying wool comb.  He realized after he was done that the short nails should be on the bottom.  I said I'll see how this works ...  If I have trouble with it, he can switch the handle around.

Truth be known : The Wisconsin Wool and Sheep Festival was coming up, and I did not want to be tempted to purchase more equipment (more than $250 for a purchased set) if I could make it myself.  That means more money to spend on fiber!


I've been carding an alpaca fleece I bought at Sabamba last spring.  Beautiful fiber!  I watched a video that explained how to pull it off the carder by rolling it between 2 wooden dowels into a fat rolag that can then be turned into hand-pulled roving--as opposed to dizzing it.  It's nice and compact and will store well, I think, but is still easy to pull apart for spinning.  I don't mind spinning off the batts, as they stay fluffy -- but they take up a lot of space, and can matt down over time.   See below ...  I worked through about 1/2 of that fleece this afternoon.

Here's the last of the alpaca roving I bought from Sabamba last fall.  This stuff has been a dream to spin -- so easy!  It's sad to be coming to the end of the batch.  It's remarkable that the roving doesn't get all tangled up.  It just unwinds nice and gentle ...

I found someone on eBay selling a mill end batch of 65% wool and 35% silk mix.  It's beautiful stuff!  The listing said it was clean, but needed to be carded--perhaps because it's been compacted.  I think I could get away with spinning it as is.  Something to look forward to when the alpaca roving runs out.  My friend Lynda liked it too, so we ordered a second round to take us through winter.

Remember those silk laps we learned about at The Sheep & Wool Festival?  I ordered some to experiment and play with.  I love the sheen on these!  the white one is mulberry silk lap; the other is honey tussah silk lap.  

Kirsty Mitchell's Wonderland at The Paine

 The Pure Blood of a Blossom

This weekend, I attended the Wonderland exhibit at The Paine Art Center here in Oshkosh.  It features the work of photographer Kirsty Mitchell.   They actually had a sign posted encouraging visitors take their own pictures and posting them to social media.  That's a new concept at an art gallery--to have them embrace that.  It's free advertising, in a way. 

The amazing fairy tale photographs came out of Mitchell's grief after her mother and best friend died in 2008 due to a brain tumor.  Her mother was an English teacher, storyteller, and avid reader.  So the stories and the world's Mitchell created for the photographs were a way for her to revisit time with her mother.

This show has so many things going for it -- Fairy Tales, story, amazing photographs, amazing sets, grief and healing, books, flowers, the Woods ...  With a background in fashion design, Mitchell also created all the costumes and sets.  Just as captivating as the final images are the videos explaining how she made everything ...

The Wonderland Book, 2nd Edition from Kirsty Mitchell Photography on Vimeo.

And then, to top it all off, she published a beautiful coffee table book to go along with the exhibit.  What is actually on display at the Paine is just the tip of the iceberg.   The book contains many more photographs from the series, along with commentary, and the Wonderland Diaries as she was going through this journey of grief and healing.

It's the most expensive book I've ever purchased for myself, and I'm glad I did -- I would have regretted passing this up.  She's doing what I wanted to do with the Vasalisa pictures a few years ago ...  But I never really took it further.  It's expensive to buy the costumes, find a model, schedule the time on locations.  And Kirsty clearly had a staff from makeup artists to staging help. 

Mitchell came to our fair city this week to speak about the project. Wow!  Again and again, she said the project was not about her, but her mother.   I wish I could tell her that her mother is right there with her, every step of the way ...  loving how she has blossomed, and come through the other side of her grief.  They don't stop loving us once they die.   It took me a long time to learn that after my friend Sandy died, after beloved dogs died.

She said that she learned to take whatever weather came on her shooting days.  She took that to mean her Mother was present and taking an active part in the making of these images.  And often, the weather added elements she could not have imagined.

When I saw the exhibit, I was a little surprised that it was just the images printed and blown up to 2 meters, but none of the accompanying costumes or props were part of the exhibit (except for the Faerie Key).  One the panel, someone asked about the costumes -- They are all in her house, she has most of them still, is living with most of them still.  She did say that some of them fell apart as soon as the picture was taken ...  So there's the idea of photography being a moment in time-- a momento -- the photograph being the artifact, not the costumes and props. 

She also talked about the preponderance of ships in many of the photos.  Mitchell said the ships signified a journey.  In this case, an inward journey.

She also said, she started out with a lot of these flowery girl pictures, but they didn't really go anywhere -- until she started taking these characters into the swamps and getting dirty with mud and blood, that SHE really started to heal and began to feel better about where she was going with her grief, that something good could come from it. 

I did persevere in the long line to have Kirsty Mitchell sign my book.  I got her autograph!  And no, I did not hold up the line for everyone behind me to get a selfie with her.  I didn't need that ... and the people behind me didn't need that either. 

I'm so glad I went to the show, and her lecture, and that I bought the book.  Janna--You have to see it sometime!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Successful Day at The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson, WI

The find-of-the-day was these beautiful 15-inch wooden weaving shuttles made by Jim Hokett. 

I was in the booth for The Weaver's Loft, sorting through a box of shuttles when some other weaving ladies were interested in the same.  One called the owner over, and we discovered that she had bought out Jim Hokett's remaining stock in weaving shuttles.  She was selling them as a great discount : $30 each for these beauties!  One still had a price tag on it for $85.  Wow!    This was certainly the find of the show -- if you're a weaver.

I purchased 2 of the Jim Hokett Shuttles (1 Bird's Eye Maple and 1 Bubinga).   My friend Lynda got 3 of them!  She just couldn't pass this up either.  She got Bubinga, Cocobolo (a little more expensive), and some kind of wood that was mostly black with a little white, and quite heavy.  She is looking forward to working with these on her largest loom.


I've seen Jim Hokett shuttles online (Pinterest and blogs), but they seem to be hard to come by if you're actually trying to purchase them.  Now I know why ...  If you want to get one for yourself at these prices, they may have some left at The Weaver's Loft.

The only other thing I purchased was this lovely little commercially-made acrylic diz.  Very elegant, don't you think?  I remembered these from last year at Mielke's Fibers.  They come with a handy threader--a loop--not the usual hook. 

I might still try to make some of my own dizzes.  It's an easy thing to do if you have a big button and a drill press.  Anything with a hole will work, really.  Still, it's nice to have an official one.

"What?" You say in disbelief.  "You went to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, and did NOT come away with any fiber?"  It's true!  There were plenty of fibers to touch and feel -- Plenty of beautiful dyed locks and color combinations (Oh My!   Patty Reedy from Rainbow Fleece Farm among others.) The funny thing is : I feel like I've been "spoiled" by spinning alpaca.  Even Merino (which I used to think of as the cotton candy of spinning fiber) feels a bit rough next to alpaca.  

And silk ---  We learned about silk lap at The Thorntree Pass booth where the lady had beautifully dyed Wensleydale locks and silk lap.  Silk Lap is a batt that builds up on a drum carder while processing for other silk products.  It peels off and can be dyed and spun.  I'm really interested in exploring this more ...  She had some beautiful color combinations on her dyed goods.  I hope to see her again someday. 

As for my lack of fiber purchases : Never Fear : I have plenty of fiber at home waiting to be processed, and a few more bags set to be delivered via mail order over the next week -- some with silk!  That will be a separate post. ;-)

Even the catalog is a useful reference to keep around the rest of the year, as it lists the vendors with contact info, and lots of other useful info. 

Spinning the day away in the last hours of the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival 2017 in Jefferson, WI.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Needle Felting with Lynda and Lindago

My friend Lynda invited me to participate in a new felting class she's developing. She discovered that Lindago Alpaca Farm near in Neenah owns a needle felting machine, and they rent time on it to other people.   This has totally revolutionized her felting production, as the needle felting machine can shorten the hands-on felting time dramatically.  

She set the class up so that we'd each make-and-take a felted scarf that could be finished in just a couple of hours.  The photo above is my scarf as I laid it out -- painting with dyed wool.  I used my usual color pallet - blues and purples with a touch of green.   She also had some dyed locks which I used as embellishments. 

She started the morning by showing us what was possible -- with some of her own beautiful woven and felted works.  Some with inclusions like beads or silk and ribbons ...  Neat and inspiring stuff!

We painted with wool on a cheesecloth base (also dyed) which gave the pieces structure and stability.

 My scarf in it's entirity, laid out next to Karla's.

 This is how it looked after having run through the needle felter.  You can kind of see the lines of the needles ans they punched through methodically.

 The feeder tray for the needle felter also has a light box to help you judge the density of the fiber you're feeding through.

 Here it is on the other side, where the different layers have been felted into a single layer of fabric.
We ran each scarf through the machine 3 times in total.  2 times with the top up, then 1 time with the back side up. 

 After the needle-felting come the finishing with wet-felting.  Lynda brought out an old bamboo curtain.  We laid out our scarves (now wet with water and Dawn dish soap) on the bamboo. Then we rolled up and began agitating it.  This was so much nicer and shorter than I remember wet-felting before --which took hours!  This was 10 minutes tops.  Made all the easier and more fun with work songs -- kind of like that scene from Outlander where they were waulking the tweed ...

 More wet-felting with the Ladies.

 Lynda leads us through the process / technique

 This finished scarves.  It never ceases to amaze me that a class-full of students given the same assignment will all come up with very different final products.

I still want to add some beads for bling and glitz.  Lynda showed us how to add beads as a felter would, by string the beads on a woolen yarn, then laying it on the felted fabric, then using a needle felting tool to push it into the fabric.  This needs to be wet-felted to secure it. But so much easier than stitching them in one at a time!

Karla with a dyed Merino Wool roving, worn as a feather boa -- to go with the python boa she wore a few months ago at the ren fair when she was checking out the snakes on display!  She looks much more relaxed here!

Goat Milk and Honey Soap

Goat Milk and Honey with Clover Flower Scent.  Hmmmhh!
A new batch of soap.

This is the same recipe as the old goat milk and honey soap with oatmeal.  I left out the oatmeal this time, since it's been settling out in the last few batches.

I was surprised to see that I had not previously listed the recipe for this goat milk soap on Sweet Leaf Notebook, so here it is :

Goat Milk Soap - The KEEPER Recipe

21 oz olive oil
14 oz coconut oil
9 oz palm oil

6 oz Red Devil Lye

16.5 oz Goat Milk (or buttermilk), frozen *
1/2 cup ground oatmeal (optional)

2 T. raw honey

Carefully mix the milk and lye in a glass or plastic container. Allow to cool to 92 degrees (It may smell like ammonia if the milk was not frozen.)
Stir in the refined oatmeal and honey.
Mix well.

Warm fats to 92 degrees and slowly add to milk mixture.
Mix for 15 minutes, or until thick like honey; Pour into prepared molds.

Let set for 24-48 hours.

Cut into bars and air cure for 4 - 6 weeks.

Note : The finished soap has a sweet caramelly sweet smell.  Wonderful and worth braving the ammonia smell in the making. 

*  Freeze the goat milk in a zip-lock bag--flat.  When frozen, break it into chunks and put in a lye-proof container.  Immediately add lye.  It will totally melt in about 10 minutes -- WITHOUT smelling like ammonia and burning the milk.

Woollee Winder : My New Toy

I've been thinking about this purchase for more than a year ...  been trying to convince myself that I didn't really need The Woolee Winder, that the hooks on my old flyer work just fine ...  And then I went and put in the order.  So much for disposable income!

It has these gears that run the loop up and down the flier arm, allowing the yarn to fill the bobbin evenly.  It does take a little getting used to. I had to loosen the brake considerably to avoid taking up too much wool too fast.
I think it will be great for plying.

Here's a shot of the old bobbins, wound with the old system of hooks.  It fills the bobbin very unevenly.  It hasn't really been a problem, but it does show a dramatic difference between the old system and the new Woollee Winder.

Here's a close-up of the newly plied yarn. Alpaca is a dream to spin!

I decided I needed to finish spinning this batch of alpaca roving on the old system for the sake of consistency.  Then I can use the Woolee Winder with abandon!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Ailin Learns to Sew

My little niece Ailin is 10 years old.  This summer I am teaching her how to sew.  It's a great reason to pull out my Singer Featherweight to give it a workout.  A great and simple machine to learn on as it only does straight stitch -- and it does it very well.  It's not a fussy machine.

Ailin wanted to make a dress as her first project, but I convinced her that this little origami bag to hold her new sewing kit would be a better beginner project.  It's all straight lines, and gives her a chance to get used to the machine, the foot pedal, gives her a chance to develop hand-eye coordination, sewing speed, keeping the sewing line where you want it ...  remembering to back-stitch at the start and end of a line. 

Skills Ailin worked on with this project :
   *  Pinning edges together
   *  Not running over pins while sewing
   * Sewing in a straight line
   * Top stitching
   * Starting and stopping - securing the start and end of a line of sewing
   * Hand-eye coordination
   * Controlling the foot pedal and sewing speed
   * Ironing Fabric
   * Pressing Seams / Setting Seams
   * Sewing on a Button
   * Feeding ribbon through for a draw string

Since this won't be her regular machine, I did not make her learn to thread the machine, or fill a bobbin.  We've got to save something for next time!

She's a quick learner!  She picked out the coordinating fat quarters, learned about pressing / ironing fabric.

 Auntis Michele (me) with AIlin and her finished Origami Bag

I remember my first sewing project was a little orange sundress with a yellow jacket.  I spent most of my time picking out bad stitches because I was probably too young to really control and coordinate the foot pedal (under the table and out-of-site) with guiding the fabric along the sewing line with my hands.   That was in a 4-H class to begin with.

Later on Gramma Pickles and my mom helped me learn to sew ...  This is the only picture I have of sewing with my Gramma.  Wish I had more ...

Now it's my turn to teach the young ones.

It was a productive afternoon!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Skye in Black and White

Skye (as in Scotland) in black and white.
This photo is from our most recent trip to The Misty Isle in July 2017. 
This treatment with SilverEffects emphasizes the ever-changing and dramatic skies of the land so aptly named for all that drama!  I was going for an Ansel Adams look ...  Not quite there ... but I'll keep it!

Unfortunately, I didn't save a copy and lost the original in the processing of this, or I'd show you the before shot.  Suffice it to say, there was a lot of beautiful green in the foreground.   The only thing missing is the "Hilan Coo!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Design Possibilities for a new iPhone Case

It seems my old iPhone case has done an admirable job of protecting my device.  By now, I can feel scratches in the case, and I think it's time for a new one ...

I'm entertaining the idea of having another one printed with one of my very own designs on it at  They have an option where you can upload one of your own images to have printed to the smartphone case. 

What do you think of these as possibilities?
The image at the top is a Kaliedecam (app) kaleidoscope.   I LOVE how it turned out, but not sure I want to carry around so much yellow with  me on my iPhone.  As a personal statement, that's not quite me.  Too fiery, I guess.  I'm much cooler ...

Like this one:
 This one is another Kaliedecam kaliedescope of some of my watercolor textures.  Nice and simple.   I like this one, too, but not sure I want such a blue case.  I'm afraid it might get lost to easily amid all the clutter at my house and office.

One more Kaliedecam mandala, taken from one of my quilts.

I really love this one ...  but I'm not sure if it's appropriate for an iPhone case?  This was actually the first one I pulled into the template, but my husband said  no ... so I deleted it.  And then I worked it up again with a few changes (flipping the image to balance with the iPhone camera eye).  This one is still my favorite and could be a real possibility!

 Here's the larger shot of this image.  The camera placement is a little better here ...
This was a photo of a performer at the Bristol Ren Faire a few years ago.  I worked the image in PhotoShop and Topaz Impression to get the painterly look and feel.  I love how her hair came out!

This one is from one of my textures of a rusty lime kiln.  Looks understated, and simple, even dreary, but I love the texture on this one,  but it seems a little too camaflage-y.  I'm afraid it might get lost, too.

 This one is a distress stain texture.  Looks cook, but too dark for me to actually have it made up for my own use. 
 This texture was made with alcohol inks.  Looks pretty neat with the depth it brings, but brown is not really my color ...

This one is a closeup detail shot of the granite counter top in my kitchen.   I loved it when we got it, and I still love it, but again it might be too dark to serve as an iPhone case.  This looks really cool -- but not sure the image will scale up without getting pixel-ly upon printing. 

My current case has a white marble image with pink streaks running through it.  I was looking for something light and airy --- and that fit the bill.   It also doesn't hurt that the pink streaks act kind of like kryptonite to certain male members of my household.  

Decisions - Decisions.  What would you choose?  
Or would you tell me to scrap all of these and start over?

I'm going to sit with these before I make a final decision ...