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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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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 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 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

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!

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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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.

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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.

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New Shepherds, Same Great Sheep

Sorting bags of fleece

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…