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Year of the Sheep – Reloaded!

Bond samples!

Now that you have enjoyed your Cheviot – and who wouldn’t? – it’s time to talk about the next installment in our celebration of sheep.  What, you ask, are we doing now?  Goodness naturally.  Delicious, yummy, wooly, goodness in the form of…..

Bond!

Finished objects made from handspun Bond fiberIt is soft, crimpy and wonderful.  It’s great for lace, great for next to skin, great for warmth, great for stitch definition.  And it has Merino in its bloodline, which you could probably tell from that description.  But Bond is a different fiber.  It has more bounce, more loft and that comes from the other half of its lineage. It is also featured in our Beth Smith Sampler and if you’ve had the fortune to try it, I’m sure you know how wonderful it is.  Now is a great time to get enough for a project.

Crackers in his Bond sweaterBond is, well, heavenly.  It is the result of a Peppin Merino and Lincoln cross by those spunky Aussies. It is one of the few breeds I look for coated, and all of the Bond I carry has been.  It’s all clean and lustrous and has amazing crimp and lock length.  The color variety is extensive and I’d love to be able to carry every single shade.  Personally, I think this breed lends itself to the creamy brown and moorit shades and the silvers very very well.  I love this breed so much I have at least 6 full fleeces – one of which is being prepared for weaving fabric for a tailored houndstooth coat!  It soft and wonderful and it was the only breed my, now gone from us, shih tzu Crackers would wear for his sweater.  And it kept lovely stitch definition for cables.

I also like to leave a little bit of lanolin in this fiber for spinning, especially if I’m doing anything woolen.  It does make lovely woolen yarns, even with that lengthy staple.

1, 2 and 3 ply examples of handspun BondSince I do have a penchant for the moorit shades of this fleece, our samples for you are from a lovely pale milk chocolate moorit fleece.  I have my customary lace sample, stockinette sample and samples of 3 ply and 2 ply yarns.  I would definitely weave this as a closer sett but it’s so nice anyway and the others well, so yummy.

So check out our current stock of Bond before they’re all snatched up!

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What’s good for the sheep…

Max has mixed feelings about this

Or how I came to use Power Scour to wash my dog, creating yet another reason why I love it so.

You guys have heard of Unicorn’s blog entry contest right? If not get thee over there and check it out.

Unicorn Beyond CleanI am a fan of Unicorn Products – I carry them and I recommend them. For scouring wool, I find they work fantastically under the conditions almost all spinners have in their homes and they do so at what I have found is a lower cost than many of the usual alternatives. They clean the grease out of raw wool efficiently, condition the wool nicely, and treat my finished objects gently. I don’t need to boil extra water, and I can dump the water/scour/grease sludge on my vegetable gardens – and let me tell you, I had roses blooming under the bathroom window well into February one year when I was cleaning a whole lotta fleece in there!

But the usage that sold me on them the most is bathing my dog.

Seriously you say? Yup. Seriously.

As anyone who follows the blog knows, we at The Spinning Loft are the servants of Shih Tzu Overlords. Well, Overlord now. But that’s hardly relevant: We. Live. To. Serve.

Roughly 18 months ago we had to let go of my first shih tzu baby – Crackers, he was the best snuggler ever – and while he liked to steal your pillows, he was more than happy to take their place, assuming you’d cuddle him.

But Crackers had some issues – among them a nasty case of acute seborrheic dermatitis. This condition is usually mild and causes flaky skin. But Crackers, being Crackers, had it far more than “mild”. Instead he would get red, itchy sores accompanied by globs and globs of grease, between his toes, at his shoulders, anywhere there was a joint or fold. Nothing we did could keep it at bay – the grease just came back too quickly. Finally I said, well, I want it give a shot. I figured if the product was nice enough to wool and easy enough on the environment, ‘chiengora’ on the paw as it were can’t be much different.

I plopped him in a tub of warm water and Power Scour (actually one of the tubs I use to scour wool – he fit perfectly, felt safe, couldn’t slide around, and I could immerse him to the shoulders) just as I would raw fleece. Same ratio of scour to water but at a much lower temperature suitable for the dog.

And it worked. His skin cleared, and the grease level came down. Slowly but surely we were able to stretch his baths from every week to every few weeks to every 6 or so and the prescription spray usage dropped to almost nothing. My vet was so impressed she asked what we were doing differently – new food? the meds finally taking? what? She was equally shocked. She now recommends Power Scour to other patients.

Max has mixed feelings about this
Max has mixed feelings about this

Since Unicorn came out with the Baby line, I use that one for our remaining Overlord and Supervisor. It makes a huge difference in the allergy he has towards his medicine and reduces his itching as well. Max now likes to be bathed between grooming sessions, and he’s now a big fan of Power scour too.

Do you all have great Unicorn stories? Share them!

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It’s The Year of the Sheep!

THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP – Part 1

We spinners get all the luck in 2015!  Have you heard?

Year of the Sheep!

It is the Year of the Sheep according to the Chinese calendar so we here at The Spinning Loft have decided to do something exciting.  We are celebrating …. wait for it…..

SHEEP!  

I know right?  Aren’t you excited?  It’s a whole new thing for us! I thought we might branch out.

Ok ok ok, fine.  The Shih Tzu Overlord has decided my sense of humor is flatly NOT amusing and demands I get on with it.  (When is the year of the Shih Tzu, Mummy? Huh?  WHEN?)

Cheviot yarn on the bobbin
The Loft colorway – Sock yarn singles on the bobbin

Throughout this year we will be featuring certain sheep.  Challenging breeds, unsung heroes, personal favorites, super versatile fibers, and even, if we like you all very much (and we do), some spinner’s fleeces* – they are all fair game this year.

Why should you love this?  Aside from the fact that it’s all about Sheep and so are we?  Well, because you will get a 10% discount on any featured breed/fleece product!  There’s no need to enter any coupon code, the discount will appear on the featured products automatically.

So who or what is the lucky first victim candidate?  Well, it’s one of my favorites for lofty poofy well wearing yarn that is still comfortable for the hands: Cheviot!

I LOVE CHEVIOT.

Cheviot plys
Top to bottom: Cheviot Singles, 2-ply and 3-ply yarns

It makes great socks.  It’s lofty.  It takes dyes nicely.  It has a lovely creamy color when left white. Did I mention it makes great socks?!   It shows cables well.  It’s a great winter outerwear wool.   It’s sturdy.  Did I mention the socks?  Ok – so maybe it’s not so good for drapey lace shawls, but if you wanted to add a lacework element to some cables it’s a great option.  It weaves nicely.  It’s spongy and springy – a friend once described it as “bouncy as a bunch of kangaroos.”  That’s because of its characteristic helical crimp. Sometimes the texture of this crimp comes through as “crunchy” and can give the impression of coarseness.

Cheviot are sturdy sheep, bred to care for themselves in the harsh conditions of the Cheviot Hills and the HIghlands where they range free on the hillsides and rarely see the inside of a shed, let alone a barn, and their wool reflects that.  It’s lofty and thick and warm and sheds water.  This is why Cheviot is so good for socks and outerwear or anything that needs some ruggedness.  I confess that their history is as much why I like them as their wool – they were mentioned as long ago as the 1370s.

It’s just SO GOOD!

What should I tell you about Cheviot that is not in our Sheep-o-pedia? Well, I’ll tell you.

Cheviot is one of the parents of Perendale (the other is Romney).  I find it doesn’t object to be spun thin – and given how much it likes being a traditional 3-ply, I am fond of this trait.  It works well for worsted OR woolen spinning as well, which is why it does so well as socks or outerwear.  The wool has a spongy-ness to it that promises loft (and it delivers) and thus it also spins nicely into uber floofy thick and thin singles – or even just very lofty bulky yarns.  Where the strongly spun and plied singles for socks are sturdy, the fluffy singles are warm and lofty.  You can also coax it to felt with a little effort.   I would call Cheviot felt-resistant as opposed to some who say “it’s un-feltable” – Cheviot is not a true down breed so it’s less likely to be un-feltable.

And just to be even more fun I have photos of some of my samples for you too.  Singles yarn, 2-ply yarn, 3-ply yarn, stockinette samples, lace samples, woven samples – even, yes, sock yarn made from The Loft in Cheviot.  These are the best socks EVER.

Cheviot locks, raw and cleaned
Raw and scoured Cheviot locks
Raw and cleaned cheviot locks
More raw and scoured Cheviot locks

 

We even have some Cheviot dyed in our “The Loft” colorway from Spunky Eclectic for anyone who doesn’t want to process it themselves!  I love this colorway so much I accidentally dyed my hair to match it over the holidays.  (Seriously – I really did do it by accident.  Well, the dyeing was on purpose, I just didn’t realize I had created the colorway on my head until a friend said they wanted to knit my hair.)

Skeins of The Loft colorway on cheviot
The Loft sock yarn on Cheviot. Such great colors!
Swatches of The Loft
Swatches of The Loft, that’s the sock swatch on top.

 

Also interesting is that North Country Cheviot is actually a different breed of sheep.  They may originate with “hill breed” from the highlands of Scotland, the Cheviot, but these sheep are from the lowlands on the English border with Scotland.  The difference in environment creates a difference in the fleece.  Cheviot is sturdier.

If you are accustomed to or prefer Merino, Bond and BFL, you will find Cheviot coarse feeling.  But it’s a really fun spin anyway so don’t give up.  Give Cheviot a chance – it’s a wonderful all around  fiber from a great sheep!

On more thing…. A brief announcement.  We have received updated pricing from our vendors for 2015.  Most have had some sort of price increase over our previous stock and we will be updating accordingly.  After February 28th, we will be listing the new stock at the new prices.  On the other hand, there was no postal increase in January so that’s refreshing.

* A spinner’s fleece won’t be breed specific – but it will be a fleece or fleeces from some of my favorite shepherds who are producing delicious fibers for spinning that I fell in love with and JUSTHADTOHAVEZOMG.  They might be strange and unusual crosses or they might be just plain delicious.  You’ll have to wait and see!

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Getting ready for the holidays

Well hello there!

Photo credit: Wedgemondo (via Flickr)So – somehow the first year of our shepherding has come and gone.  Wherever did the time go?  In this year we have seen some fun things around The Spinning Loft –  new fibers from Norway, the development of our new Beth Smith and Down Breed samplers, working with Accokeek to foster Hog Island sheep.  We worked with Spirit Trail to field a Tour de Fleece team and with Storey Publishing for Spinzilla.  We have learned much and our adventures have brought us idea after floofy idea.

The fall brings us many tasks here at The Spinning Loft.  We have leaves new fleeces to sort, orders to plan and dream tools to seek out to bring to you.

We still have just under 2 months to go in 2014 – and it’s the 2 BEST SHOPPING MONTHS!!!  We have some excellent goodies in stock and we have even more arriving just for the holidays! Here are just a few suggestions to help you settle in the cozy winter season:

  • Want to try a pin loom for sampling?  We have Schacht Zoom Looms in stock! These looms are fantastic for sampling or for making quick little projects – or even for making hand woven squares for larger projects like blankets, or sweaters, or totes!
  • Are you in need of fiber processing tools? We have combs and cards.
  • Haven’t picked up a copy of Beth Smith’s new book?  Get one for your favorite spinner!  Better still, pair the book with a sampler!
  • Now is an excellent time to pick up some more scouring liquid for your fall acquisitions.  We stock Kookaburra and Unicorn Power Scour.
  • If winter static concerns you when processing wool, a few drops of Unicorn Fiber Rinse (or Kookaburra!) mixed with water in  spray bottle helps tame those wooly tresses!
  • Did you know The Spinning Loft has knitting needles &  Stitch markers? and even knitting, crochet, weaving and yes, felting books?  We do!  We do! We do!
  • And of course we have spindles!  Including a small number of ne’er to be produced again Desko spindles.

 So in the spirit of the holiday festivities we are offering a 10% site wide discount (* some exclusions apply) now through December 15th – just enter the code HOLIDAY2014 at checkout.

In order to get all the shipping out and have our packages arrive on time to their destinations, we must send out our packages no later than Saturday, December 20th for domestic Priority Mail (First class).  International orders we suggest shipping no later than December 13th.

Max_frisian
Max has claimed his own fleece!

We will also be taking some time to visit family over the holidays and that means a short break in shipping.  The site will keep taking orders while we are away – the internet never closes! – but we will have a shipping hiatus from December 21st to January 6th.

After all this, what on earth will we do in this next year?  We have a few things in the works.  So keep an eye out, listen for our tell-tale bleats and baas, and keep your spinning fingers primed!

Happy Holidays!

Alison, James, and Maximus

Your Spinning Loft Shepherds (and Wooly Overlord)

P.S. If you don’t see something – send us an email with your request. We can usually order it – and if we can’t, we will add it to our wish list and keep you posted.

* Discount coupon does not apply to looms or spinning wheels.

 

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Getting Down & Spinny – Summer of Fun at The Spinning Loft

Max guards the wool at The Spinning Loft

Summer marches on and we are getting into Fall. Where does the time go?

Around The Spinning Loft it has been a busy spring and summer. We worked with the lovely Jennifer Heverly at Spirit Trail Fiber Works for a great Tour de Fleece competitors and their prizes have been issued. We have met (and “met”) some lovely new shepherd friends and their sheep. We’ve been working with Beth Smith, Deb Robson and a few others for some upcoming class supplies. We’ve even been working with a few Spinning Guilds for breed studies.

But, you ask, what else have you been doing? It’s true – somehow you all know I’m up to my ears in fleecey fun!

You got me. I admit it. We have designed 2 new samplers!

Many people have asked us about down breeds and we created a sampler of down/meat sheep to help explore them. Down breeds can be whacky – they’re floofy, they often resist felting, they take up a lot of space, it can be hard to find their locks and know what to do with them. But more importantly they’re so often called “meat breeds” and their fleece gets so short! Fear not the fluff, fiberistas! My favorite processing and spinning method for a down breed is to toss my fiber in a bucket of super duper hot water with scour in it, let it soak (do this a couple times) and let it dry. Then I grab a handful, shake out any VM, tap flick it up a bit and just spin away short forward draw. Lofty deliciousness will ensue. It’s often crispy (good crispy, not oh no breakage crispy), but it’s always lofty and warm. And that felt resistant quality makes it great for socks, especially hiking socks, and mittens and warm lofty outerwear.

The second sampler is really fun. Perhaps even more fun, if there is such a thing. You see, Beth Smith’s new book, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, is out and we created a sampler to accompany it! You can buy the book separately from the sampler, the sampler separately from the book, or buy both together and explore some of the breeds Beth loves alongside her while you read. Every spinner who loves breed specific fibers needs this book!

We are also partnering with Storey Publishing for the 2014 rendition of Spinzilla. Spinzilla runs from October 6th through October 12th Team Spinner Registration is available from August 4th through September 22nd. Spinners of all levels are welcome to join. Our team, like the others, is limited to 25 spinners. Spin miles, spin a rainbow! SPIN SPIN SPIN like the wind! Registration started Monday, August 4th at 10am ET. To register, go to  http://www.tnna.org/event/SpinzillaTeamSpinnerRegistration and select “Storey” on the team selection page.

More next time… after I can find my way to the top of my pile of fibery goodness again.

Alison, James and Max
Keep Calm and Spin On

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The Latest and Greatest – or What Happens When The Spinning Loft Goes to MDSW

You all have been patiently waiting…and waiting…. and waiting to learn what happened to us this year at Maryland Sheep and Wool.  Well, wait no longer!  (Hey – everything had to clear quarantine!)

This year’s MDSW was, how can I put this, epic.  We tromped through the grass, dove into the fleece, and schlepped our treasures back.  And boy howdy did we schlep!  130 pounds (yes pounds) and 25 fleeces later, we have some excellent new finds for you all – and better still, some excellent new shepherd friends!

Max, our Product Manager, surveys the new fleece

I was very pleased by the festival’s dedication of an entire barn to the fleece sale this year.  We got to see and fondle far more fleece, in a much more comfortable spot.  The volunteers were great as always, and I hope that the sale stays in its new digs for many years to come – at least until it outgrows it and needs something even bigger!

I think one of our very favorite finds was a shepherd with Debouillet on offer.  Debouillet is a range sheep, normally found in the southwest, and it’s soft, and luscious, and lofty, and downy all at the same time – but not so greasy as a Rambouillet.  It’s such fun and I am so excited to have gotten some of these fleeces.

We met many sheep and talked with them about their wool and their experiences at the festival and enjoyed the Parade of Breeds. Maryland Sheep and Wool is always a highlight of my fleece year and I enjoy it each and every time I go.

We are also developing a Down breed sampler.   I often have people ask what things down breeds, such as Southdown, are good for and the answer is oh so many, but for one thing: socks!  Down breeds are frequently felt resistant. I often hear that the shorter staple makes them hard to process, but don’t be intimidated my fiber travelers: down breeds flick or card up nicely and are just made for woolen and spinning right from the cloud.  I often hear people worry that because down breeds are meat breeds, their wool is really gross and dirty, but do not be alarmed.  Down breeds shake out and scour clean with minimal fuss – and since they aren’t as greasy as finewools, there’s less loss to processing!  Though you might need to run your vacuum more often while you work with them.  So we decided to help you all out by assembling a sampler of some of the down breeds we have in stock to allow you all to try them out for yourselves.  Overcome a fear, learn something new, and discover the glorious springy goodness that is a down breed.  Meat breeds a fleece friends too!

In other news, our intrepid Web Wombat is pondering some experiments in color and will be playing with some natural dyes over the summer.  Let him know if you wish to see his efforts made available to you.

Finally, I can tell you that, in answer to some of your requests, he will be helping me make scoured fleece (albeit not processed fleece) available to you – and indeed, we currently have some available in the store.

Well, that’s all for now – but keep a wooly eye out because there’s a few more things in the works that we here at The Spinning Loft think you’ll be excited about.

Alison, James and the Ever-Exasperated-Shih Tzu Maximus

The Parade of Breeds
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How to Choose A Fleece

Fleece_wall2
First you buy a few fleeces, next you buy a fleece store…

It’s that time of year again and the fiber festivals are coming fast and furious.   While most of you prefer to handle only a few ounces of raw wool at a time, or prefer not to be led astray by the heady fumes, a few brave souls after my own heart might attempt to choose a whole one.  Or two.  Or three.  Or…….

Let me first say that you can, in fact, buy whole fleeces from The Spinning Loft at a discount off our retail offerings.  Please contact us if this is something of interest to you – as we want to make sure you get a fleece undivided by previous orders! If we do not currently have such a fleece in stock, we can often place a special order, usually around shearing season.  Outside of shearing season, that becomes more challenging.

For those willing to brave the fleece sale at a local festival, particularly for the first time, there are questions, conundrums and qualms.  What fleece?  How much?  How big?  How do I choose?  What makes it worth it?

shearing_AccokeekThis my fiendish fibery friends is what I hope to assist you with today.  As you may be aware, it is shearing time and that means we have been busily sourcing fleeces.  We have spent the better part of the last 2 months visiting shepherds, choosing sheep and fleeces, assisting in the skirting – even, in some cases, the actual shearing.  Through all this we have been carefully evaluating each fleece.

The major questions I ask when I buy a fleece are the following:

Do I really need it?

I know, what an absurd question! The answer is always “yes, of course!” But occasionally the saner wombat among us says “Alison, do we really need a billionth Shetland fleece?”  (This of course is a ridiculous question because as all the people know every Shetland is different!  unique!  scrumptious!)  The real question here is not “do we need” but….

Do I like the color?

Is it a naturally colored fleece?  Is it a creamy white?  Do I have 23 moorit (brown) fleeces of identical color?  Would I prefer that glorious silver one over there? OOH SHINY!

What is the purpose of the fleece?

Do I want to make a million pairs of socks?  Mittens?  a Cable sweater? A lacy shell?  A lap blanket?  These factors influence what fleece I would buy for my project.  Some wools like Romney can be found and used for pretty much anything, but some wools, like Cheviot, may not be suitable for that wool bikini you’ve been dreaming of.

What is the condition of the wool?

Really, this is the question everyone wants to know about.  I could ignore all the others and just cover this one and you’d all be happy right?

To decide if a fleece is sound, I take a lock of wool and examine it.   I look at the crimp – is it right for that breed?  I look at the color.  I’m not looking for the actual color of the wool mind you – since that can’t really be known until it’s scoured (grease hides all manner of lovely color) – but for possible staining.  Some stains, like yolk, which often results in a buttery tint to the finished yarn, or mating tag, which actually does wash out, do no harm to the wool but may affect how you handle either the washing process or the finished yarn.  Canary stain on the other hand, will likely weaken the fiber. I look for breaks.  I sound the lock – gripping each end between the thumb and index finger of each hand, I tug on the lock near my ear and listen to the sound it makes.  Does it sound like fabric tearing?  Does it ring like a struck piano wire?

The results of these examinations are seen in all the photos I post on the site – the measurements, the description, the lock photos

How does the fleece look in the bag?

Fleeces are rolled with the cut (butt) ends out so you can see the goodness through the bag.  Some festivals have space to allow you to open up a fleece, some don’t.  If you can’t, don’t go tearing through the bag – you will disrupt the fleece (more on that later).  What you can do though, is turn the bag about, take a look at all the parts you can see – is there any evidence of VM or dirtier locks?  Fleeces at a show are skirted and VM is picked off, but sometimes things are missed, and some shepherds are more vigorous with their skirting than others.  The nature of the VM is more important than its presence.  Sometimes the roll opening is on the top of the bag and you can get a look at the tip end of the fleece in that area by ever so very gently opening it just an inch or so.

How expensive is the fleece?

Most fleeces are priced by the shepherds at a festival, not the festival itself.  Shepherds compare prices with each other for their breeds, speak with their breed associations, talk to the state or county agricultural boards, and factor in the cost of feed, hay, vets, coating and shearing to assist them in setting their prices.  Prices vary across breeds and I have rarely encountered a price on a fleece that I thought was outrageous.  That said, the price should fall into a range you want to pay.

How large is the fleece?

This is dictated by the type of sheep of course, as well as how often it is sheared.  It should fall within the guidelines of the breed standard.  But it also needs to be manageable by the person who will process it.  I may have a burning desire for a 40 pound Lincoln fleece, or a desperate urge for a merino fleece the size of Shrek’s at 60 pounds, but can I handle a single fleece at that size?  (And do I want to pay mill fees if I don’t?)

Is it a rare breed?

Some people don’t care about this, but I do and I will explain why.

Buy our fleece, they're very nice and rare, too.
Mick, the Hog Island, says. “Buy our fleece, they’re very nice and rare, too.”

A rare fleece, or a fleece that while not rare, is difficult to find, may be dirtier than a more common one.  For these fleeces I will make exceptions to some of my fleece condition rules.  Not soundness, or breaks, those have to stay, but in how filthy the fleece is – how greasy, or dirty it appears, how much VM is present.  For some breeds, mere survival is the key and while the battle for mere survival is being fought, other factors must be set aside.

In the case of a fleece that is rare ‘here’ but ‘not endangered’ I will also make certain allowances.  If I have trouble getting it, and the only flaws are dirt, there is no reason not to get it.

Dirt washes out, and VM can be addressed – even some of the more pulverized stuff.  I may not recommend such a fleece for a first time fleece processor, or someone who isn’t patient, but those things are not a deal breaker.  The condition of the fiber itself is the only deal breaker.

What if I just love it?

Assuming it met all the soundness and budget criteria, buy it silly!

Why the whole fleece?

Why indeed.  And this answer addresses why you don’t want to go pawing through a fleece sale bag as well.

You see, a fleece has different characteristics sometimes.  Some fleeces, like Merino (I do pick on merino don’t I?) have been bred to be perfectly uniform across a fleece.  Others, like Jacob or shetland, not only vary from sheep to sheep, but from area to area within a fleece.

When you get your fleece home, you can open it up.  With enough space, most of the time you can see the shape of the sheep in the fleece you have unrolled. The shoulders will have a different texture from the sheep’s back, the sides a different texture from the shoulders.  If the wool comes from a not so next to the skin type of sheep, it may well be that some of that shoulder wool is soft enough for that woolen bikini we talked about.  But on the same sheep, that back wool is perfect for some hard wearing mittens.  It’s all so exciting!

Max_frisian
East Frisian fleece, with slightly grumpy Shih Tzu for scale.

Now that you know what to look for – I look forward to seeing you at a fleece sale!  Don’t forget your copy of The Field Guide to Fleece.

And remember, if it’s still too many things to think about while your oohing and ahhing over those gorgeous colored braids, and spindles, and yarns, and curly fries, and dipped soft serve, and sheep, and llamas, and dog trials, and spinning bowls, and sheep and goats milk soap, and…. well, you just let us know here at The Spinning Loft, and we’ll see about shipping you that whole fleece we have just waiting to be loved in Cube 5C3.

See you at Maryland Sheep & Wool!

Alison, James and (not*) Max

*Max won’t be at MDSW, he prefers to let us explore while he enjoys the quietude of his comfy bed and a good gnaw on his lamb shank.

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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

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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

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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!