Fleeces and Lambs and Rare Breed Kits – Oh My!

So, I realized the other day that I haven’t written in a while.  Things have been so busy around The Loft in the past few months that we haven’t had time to stop whirling around like Dervishes in ages!

InterweavebreedskitAs you all know we spent some time developing a rare breeds sampler to accompany Interweave’s Rare Breeds Kit and it’s a big hit.  The Kit is made up of 6 very excellent rare breeds, Deb Robson’s Spinning Rare breeds DVD and her recently published Field Guide to Fleece – a must have book for any fleece shopper at a fiber festival’s fleece show and sale.  Who needs a field guild to wildflowers – we want WOOL!

We here at The Spinning Loft are very excited to have put together a sampler that covers 6 very varied breeds, one of which is the “sheep that makes Deb cry” in the video, with a great range of wool types and we think you’ll just love it.

It has arrived just in time you see.  Why you ask?

Hog Island Lamb
Isn’t she adorable?

Well, it’s spring of course!  Even though mother nature does seem to want to sleep in this year – and who could blame her- lambing time is upon us and with it comes shearing time.

I’m not entirely sure which one I like better, but I may have to lean slightly in favor of shearing for what I think are fairly obvious reasons:

Shearing time of course means spring fiber festivals!  It means fleece shopping! And boy do we love fleece shopping here at The Spinning Loft.  It’s better than coffee! Better than wine! Better than well… anything! (wow, can that be possible?)

And because it’s shearing time we have a few other things brewing around here, so keep an ear out for the sheep bells.

We’d also like to give a hearty shout out to A Certain Guild in Wisconsin for diving into a really fun breed study.  We had a great time assembling it for you and we hope you enjoy it!   If there are other Guilds interested in doing such a study, please feel free to contact us and we can develop a study package for you as well.

Happy Shearing!

Alison, James & Max
The Spinning Loft

Accokeek Hog Islands

Sheep in the Mist
Sheep in the Mist – like gorillas, only smaller.

This past Saturday my web man and I had the opportunity to squelch out to the Accokeek Foundation’s National Colonial Farm where we met with Polly, the livestock coordinator, and the Stitch n’ Time crew.

See those sheep over there? That's where our fleeces came from!
See those sheep over there? That’s where our fleeces came from!

While we were there we met a number of the farm’s Hog Island sheep which are part ofthe Foundation’s Livestock Conservancy Program.  The two fleeces we have in stock currently come from sheep in this very photo!

It was QUITE the soggy day –  foggy, wet and squelchy but it was really rewarding to see these critically endangered sheep out in the fields, being lowed at by some cows and chased around by the geese, wandering about happily like the feral sheep they are. 

We also learned about picking cotton which was rather fun and right up my honey’s alley with his anal retentive streak.  I confess that I got a little excited about the natural green cotton myself, but fear not!  My heart still belongs to wool.  (Not that I don’t have a desperate need to have James weave us some naturally colored cotton kitchen towels now….) 

We spent some quality time with the stitch group talking about different fiber qualities, and the work done by the farm to restore the breed.  We carded some of their previously scoured Hog Island wool and did some spinning.  And we talked about the future.

Carding and spinning the fleece
Carding and spinning the fleece

James, in his historical happy frenzy, has volunteered us to participate regularly in their Stitch n’ Time – and it’s only fair.  We do love the Foundation’s mission, it is a living history farm (it’s possible that at some point in the future we’ll be dressed accordingly) and they have a small flock of a critically endangered sheep breed after all.  This project screams out for our attention!

You’ll find two of Accokeek’s Hog Island fleeces in the shop right now!  They’re quite lovely, and display breed standard: they have that crispness that fleece with down breed in their backgrounds have, with a short dense staple (2-2 1/2″) and good bounce.  Hog Island doesn’t felt very easily – and when you can convince it to, it’s a loose felt – which bodes well for socks accidentally thrown into the washing machine! – and it spins up very nicely.  This fiber will never create a smooth orderly worsted yarn though, and it’s not meant to; it’s lofty and airy and is great for woolen spinning. Hog Island shows stitch definition nicely with good round yarns, and it will wear well.  It cards beautifully and if you wanted to try combing I’d suggest mini combs.  But truthfully, this fiber sings when carded and woolen spinning really shows it off to the utmost.

The sheep were shorn by Polly herself and there will be more to come.  James and I will be going to the shearing in March to choose fleeces from the 2014 clip.  Even more exciting, The Spinning Loft is partnering with the Accokeek Foundation’s Farm to source quality Hog Island fleeces and 10% of all proceeds from our sales of Accokeek’s Hog Island fleeces will be donated back to the Foundation’s livestock program.

Hooray for saving sheep!  This is a great example of our mission in action.

Alison

Meet the Shepherd

Now that the inventory is well in hand, shopping for new fleeces is underway, and some much needed scour, combs and cards are in stock, it’s time to meet The Spinning Loft’s new shepherd, her faithful companion and the supervisory “sheepdog”.

Alison spinning Victorian fashionI am Alison, your new shepherd. While I introduced myself briefly when Beth announced the shop transfer, I thought it was important that you get to know me a little better.

As you can tell, I have some rather historical interests. I work at the Maryland Renaissance Faire for a fantastic seamstress and I have a love of history, which is shared by my partner in crime. It is not, however shared by the ‘sheepdog’ who views the garb merely as a hint that he won’t be seeing us for several hours, again. I also like wine and pairing it with the dishes I enjoy cooking for my friends and family (often with a historical theme). When I get to combine these passions it’s even better.

I love all the wools. All of them. My favorite is whatever I happen to be working with at the present moment – and given what some might call a rather disturbing habit of acquiring wheels and spindles, that can encompass rather a lot of options. But it’s wool and the sheep grow more, and it’s soft and floofy – or long and wirey, or curly , or straight, or… .

I confess that I came to this love via the aforementioned Beth Smith who conveniently offered a breed study class not far from me at a rather ‘coincidental’ time. I am still not convinced that it was coincidental, but that’s a conspiracy for another day. Anyone who has met Beth knows that her love of wool is infectious. Over that weekend I learned that all the wools are the best wools and that I simply must spin all of them, even if it would take a while to get all of them. Coarse wools, soft wools, long wools, down wools, primitive wools, new fangled cross bred wools, crimpy wools and smooth wools – they are all wonderful and they all have something to offer. She also told me about Deb Robson’s book that was coming out, The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook.

A wall of fleece!That weekend began my slippery slope down the mountain of breed study. Then a couple years later Deb met me as the crazy fan girl (can you be a wool fan girl?) at Maryland Sheep and Wool, bouncing up and down and squeaking with excitement when I got the Sourcebook signed . I’m pretty sure that’s how she’ll always remember meeting me. I can assure you that Deb did not help with my obsession – unless by help she meant “oh look at this one! I wonder how this spins?!!!” as she greased that slippery slope some more. Deb’s rare breeds classes and video are the best (and yes, I always cry at that part…).

Since that weekend I have sampled 96 different breeds (with a few new ones from Norway waiting by the wheel as I write this) and each and every time I sample a breed I am reminded how rewarding wool is. Its variables, its textures, its wealth of natural colors, its ability to be dyed and transformed into so many different things and it’s profound sustainability should we as shepherds take care of the sheep. I have so many more to go!

He's a history guy

I am joined in this project by my faithful companion: my husband, and internet and social media guy, James. He has generously leaped down the slope after me, spinning and weaving his way through Merino and Tunis (unlike me, James does have some distinct favorite fibers). He is also usually one of the more guilty parties when it comes to fleece acquisition, so if there’s something you are craving, you should not hesitate to Tweet or post a note to James on the website or our email asking him to slide that item in my shopping list.

There is one other in our menagerie: Our supervisor – who admittedly supervises far far away from the store, from the comfort of his bed upstairs. Our fearless “sheepdog” Maximus makes sure we stick to the straight and narrow. He has been known to choose a little something from our personal stashes, but otherwise he finds our obsession rather smelly (“How can you stand that?”) and avoids it entirely by standing at the top of the stairs, snorting in derision and turning his butt at us as he trots back to his puppy bed and a stuffed crab toy.

Max & the Gotland.

We are your shepherds. In our natural environment we shall continue to source magnificent fleeces in as large an array of breeds as we can source. It is our mission to help the shepherds who raise the sheep treat and view their wool, not as an unnecessary byproduct, but as a welcome additional source of joy and income.

We look forward to your participation in this journey!

All the fleeces!

Friends and fans of the Spinning Loft!

With some minor exceptions (Mohair, our recent Suri acquisitions, and some mystery fleeces we are tracking down) ALL THE FLEECES ARE ONLINE!  We also now have Unicorn and Kookaburra fiber washes and scours in stock – and our fleece washing service has made a triumphant return.  The combs and cards currently in stock are also up.

We continue to work feverishly to be ready for Small Business Saturday.  Books, DVD’s, a few knitting kits and the fabulous textiles from the Centro de Textiles in Cuzco are coming.

New orders to replace stock are in process.  Thank you all for your patience and patronage!

Alison Pacuska
Your Shepherd

Shipping Update

Good evening Fiberistas and Friends of the Fleece!

Things are finally calming down some here in the Loft. We’ve spent the last week moving, sorting, photographing, stowing and otherwise stashing the inventory, and we’ve been working on getting it all online. We’ve made a lot of progress and there’s more to come, which we’ll be updating over the next week. Look for more fleece, books, tools, and some great Peruvian textiles.

We’ve also set our shipping times. We’ll be processing and shipping on Wednesday evening and Saturday each week. Please let us know if you need your items sooner than our regular shipping schedule.

We’re open!

The new Spinning Loft store is now open! Browse the fleece, or search for a specific breed you’re looking for. We have over a hundred fleeces available in the store, with many more to come.

Sorting bags of fleece

New Shepherds, Same Great Sheep

Welcome to the new Spinning Loft website. We are currently undergoing a major renovation, but will soon be live with a full product listing of fleeces, fiber prep equipment, books, and textiles. We promise this will be worth the wait!

In the meantime, here’s a small teaser of what’s to come…

Sorting bags of fleece
Setting up shop, with many piles of fleeces to sort…