Monday, July 20, 2009

border leceisters

I recently finished dyeing about 30 pounds of yarn I had spun from a local flock of Border Leceisters in Hinesburg and was reminded how incredibly lustrous this fiber lustrous as mohair! Since it's a common breed around here, but not one most knitters hear about since it's not typically used for knitting yarn, I thought I'd share some specs on it with you this week, since if you stop by the store you'll see it available on the shelf.

The breed is know for its long wool which can be 6-10" after about a year's growth. It is not particularly soft, having a micron count generally in the 30 - 38 micron range, but what it lacks in next-to-the-skin softness it makes up for in sheen.

Because the fleece is wavy, rather than crimpy, it reflects light and so exhibits lots of luster (on a crimpy wool, the light gets caught in the little nooks and crannies and doesn't reflect back). Border Leicester has a lovely hand and, particularly when combed and spun worsted, is very durable. I have a hat knit out of it in the store and am working on some mittens right now. I did actually put enough of one color away for a sweater for myself...maybe I'll get to it in retirement?!

The Leiceister sheep, from which the Border Leicesters evolved, were first established in England (Leceistershire, of course) in the early 1700's and they played an important role in the improvement of the other long wool breeds in England. When Leicesiter rams were bred to Teeswater ewes, the Border Leceister breed was founded, its thought around 1767.

English Leceisters (also lovely, tho' more crimpy and not as long a wool as Border Leicesters) were first bought to the US by George Washington who kept a flock at Mt. Vernon, but it is unclear when the first Border Leceisters arrived here, although by 1920, there were 767 purebred Border Leicesters in the census.

In addition to the recently dyed yarn, I also have the fiber (blended with mohair) available in a natural grey for spinners. Hope you get a chance to either try spinning or knitting with this breed sometime. Jen

safer dyes

If you ever dye protein fibers you should read this...

So I'm a little late posting my blog this week because I wanted to have a chance to work with the new Greenershades dyes I'm stocking at the shop. And with the weather what it's been here this past month...a bit of rain every's been hard to plan time to dye when there was enough of a window to get it dry!

Anyway, I've finally had a chance to play with these new dyes. And I love them! They do not have the heavy metals that the other brands of chemical dyes have and they adhere to the standards for Organic Wool Processing. The colors dye really well - good uptake and clear exhaust.

What most excited me was that after a very full day of heavy dyeing with the other brands, even tho' I wear a mask and am careful handling the powders, I ALWAYS end the day with a metallic taste in my mouth and irritated eyes and nose.This has always freaked me out and so I have tried to avoid heavy dyeing (I'm talking quantity here...I've never experienced the taste or irritation dyeing 1 batch of yarn or a bit of fiber) because I just didn't feel good about the effects.

I have done a fair amount of natural dyeing in the past and know that if you stick to alum as a mordant one can avoid the chemcial dyeing hazards, but for the quantity dyeing I do for the store, natural dyeing has just never seemed practical for my needs.

So the Greenershades was a welcome discovery that my sister Joanie brought to my attention! After dyeing about 25 pounds of fiber and 5 pounds of yarn yesterday, I had no metallic taste in the mouth or irritation of the eyes. The colors were great...saturated as I had desired and clear exhausts that I demand.

For the saturation I desired, I found that a bottle of dye (1/2 ounce) dyed 2.5 pounds of raw wool and 1 pound of yarn perfectly. The only difference I found in using these dyes was that they didn't go into solution quite as quickly as the traditional heavy metal dyes I've used in the past. But a drop of Synthrapol to reduce the surface tension resolved that problem and then they were a cinch to use.

Anyway, if you are planning on doing a lot of dyeing or even if you're not doing much but you want to use a product that doesn't have the heavy metal, these dyes are great and I've posted them on the website at

Happy dyeing...Jen

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cooper Hewitt Felt Show

Between going to the Black Sheep Gathering wool show in Oregon last week and the felt exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in NYC this past Monday, I am feeling particularly inspired!
Although both I and the friend I attended the felt exhibit with had separately heard mixed reviews about it, we were both feeling happy and inspired when we left the museum. In particular, the "palace yurt" room was a highlight. And since there are no photos of it in the program book, I was particularly glad that the guards allowed me to photograph in that room. Despite my limited photographic skills, hopefully you can get a sense of the room and how lovely the felt was with the light pouring thru it.

To give some perspective, the ceiling height of this room was about 25' and the room measured about 20' x 40' oval. The ceiling and half the walls of the room were windows (I think it must have been the solarium of the old mansion that the museum is now in) and it was draped ceiling to floor in nuno felt!

The artist used primarily white on white, but with a touch of a bluish-grey and a fabulous coffee bean colored fabric here and there highlighting the otherwise natural ecru of the merino, brilliant white of the tencel and tan of the tussah silk.

Anyway, as a person whose default mode is color, color, color, the show has made me consider adding "white' to my palette! Plus, it has really made me rethink the types of fabric I look for as a base for felting....the central panel shown above was felted into a really coarse burlap-like fabric that produced a fabulous texture.

If you get a chance to go, I recommend it. I do understand where the "mixed" reviews come from...there are definitely some pieces in the show that you'll scratch your head and wonder how they got into a museum show! And of course, there were many great felters that were not represented at all, but there were some interesting home furnishings made with commercial felt and some lovely garments, along with the palace yurt that make it worthwhile.

Oh, and as an added plus, the Nature Conservancy has a show at the museum right now as well that is terrific...all about finding ways to use natural resources artistically. Very fun and even a few "fiber" related using Panama sheeps wool and another "jipijapa" (which is a fiber I'd never heard of before but learned that it's from the palm leaf and is most known for hats that bear it's name - have you ever heard of a jipijapa hat before?). Anyway, it's upstairs and well worth stopping into view while you're there!
Have fun!