Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sweaterhag or Lace Shawl Knitter?

In reading for our upcoming "sister's trip" to Gottland, Estonia & St. Petersburg I keep coming across little tidbits of historical information that are not really useful to anyone but they are kind of fun and interesting, so I thought I'd pass a few along....for whatever value or insight they might have for you!

In the 1950s the Haapsalu shawl knitters were required to deliver a MONTHLY quota of either 9 scarves or 12 shawls to fill the enormous Soviet demand for their product.... it rather shames me that I'm still working on the same 6 projects I started last month!

In the early 1800s, the women of Gottland, who used to go around the island collecting handknit sweaters and mittens to take to Sweden to sell, called themselves "sweaterhags". I guess it was common for them to knit as many as 100 sweaters a year themselves...again, I feel just a little embarrased at how little I accomplish by comparison!

This next bit of historical insight I read in Wild Fibers magazine (which if you haven't seen or read this magazine, you need to check it out)....

The Vikings used Gute wool (Gute is a type of sheep from the island of Gotland...but it is not the same as the Gotland sheep) to make their sails. Some Swedish historian, interested in recreating a true Viking ship, wove some sails in the traditional manner using first Gotland wool, and then when that failed, true Gute wool. The Gute wool, which would have been the sheep breed around at the time of the Vikings, failed as well. Both wools failed because as soon as the sails got wet, they were useless. But then (because the third time is always a charm!) he wove the sails using wool that had been rood, not sheared. "Rooing" is the process by which ancient sheep "shed" their fleece naturally in the is not cut from them. When "rood" wool was used, when the sail got wet, it did not absorb the water and maintained it's functionability. That's because when fleece is "rood" both ends of the lock are sealed whereas when fleece is shorn off the sheep, of course 1 end of the wool is cut and the water was able to get into the lock and the sail lost its' functionality.

The photo has nothing to do with these little curiousities.....I'm just so happy it's spring and the garden is actually full of blooms already I had to share.....crocus, scilla, bloodroot, daffodils, miniature iris, and these....not sure whether they are blue gowns or wind flowers.... does anyone know?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two colors spun; three to go. And only a couple of days left in the week to stay on schedule. Yikes!
I did pick out the patterns this week so at least once all the colors are spun I can cast on "right out of the gate".
Isn't the yarn lustrous? I really love it.
So far, I've only spun the American Gottland. And although I've read that Gottland are not supposed to have much lanolin (and I certainly noticed how little there was when washing the fleece) my fingertips had that lovely silken coating after spinning up the gold and green this Sunday. I've got to keep in mind that added little benefit of spinning in the dry winter months when my skin needs every bit of moisture it can get! Perhaps it has to do with the American Gottland fleece being from a fine wool foundation breed (Finn)?

This exercise is also a reminder of how much darker the spun yarn always is compared to the fiber preparation. I think the photos do a good job of conveying that principle.

Anyway, I'm hopeful I can get the purple spun tonight and the 2 greys this weekend. If I am successful, that will keep me on track for having these done by XMAS! Then once it is spun, I'll just have a week to knit each pair....maybe I won't line them with angora!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gottland Mittens-Week Two!

There's nothing like a deadline to help me keep on task!

Had I not mentally commited to posting a weekly progress report on this project, I might well have blown off carding the Gottland fleece today in favor of dyeing some yarn that I'm behind on for the Vermont Yarn Club.

I had actually intended to comb this fleece....since Gottland is a long wool breed and very lustrous and because I want these mittens to wear a long time. I had originally thought I'd spin a true worsted spun yarn to a sport/d.k. gauge. But after combing a couple of handfulls, I decided I needed to rev up my production in order to get all 4 pair of mittens spun and knit by XMAS, so I decided to card the fiber and settle for a semi-worsted yarn.
So today, in between advising some of the weavers that were here working on their chenille scarves, I carded the 3 dyed colors up as you see here. The photos show a first pass with a pile of the locks and then a second pass (I used my motorized Louet), some fiber being combed and the final three batts.
I mentioned last week that I'd get more into the difference in the 2 Gottland fleeces I'm playing with. So I pulled out all my literature....a great article from Spin Off spring 2002, a pamplet from the American Gotland Sheep Society, and this beautiful new book I purchased about European breeds (although it includes Estonian and Russian breeds too!) of sheep called Wools of Europe.

As for the American Gottland I'm working with.....the fleece I'm working with is the result of breeding a Finn ewe with semen imported from Gottland, and then subsequently breeding this offspring with Gottland semen until the offspring is 7/8th Gottland (this is what the person who raised this fleece informed me of at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival where I purchased the fleece).

I was surprised to learn when reading the pamplet of the American Gottland Sociaty (AGSS) that other "foundation" breeds are allowed (I apparently misunderstood that Finn was the only accepted foundation breed to cross with Gottland semen if one was breeding to be included in the AGSS). The other foundation breeds that are allowed are Shetland, Icelandic, Wensleydale, Cotswold, Lincoln, Border Leceister, Blue Faced Leceister & English Leceister. Anyway, as of 2008, there were less than 100 Gotland Xs in North America

The original Gottland sheep was established by the Vikings on the island off Sweden where my sisters & I are heading in May. The Vikings crossed the native Gute sheep with Karakul and Romanov sheep from Russia to create the Gottland breed. Today, both Gute and Gottland sheep inhabit the island. Both the Gute and the Gottland are hardy and well suited to the island's climate. They are both light grey to black.

I was expecting the fleece to feel coarse since Gottland can range from 35-45 microns, but it really feels soft!

The second fleece I'm working with came to me by way of my sister, who in turn got it from a friend of hers who got it from New Zealand. According to the Spin Off article, the Stansborough Gotland sheep (raised on the east coast of New Zealand) has special characteristics. The family that has been selectively breeding them there has produced a herd of 800+ that are lustrous, strong, long, and have none of the guard hairs typical of the traditional Scandinavian Gotlands.

Having carded the colors and realized how incredibly lustrous and soft these two fleeces are, I can't wait to start spinning!

Next week....I'll have yarn to show and will go about picking patterns from the Swedish Mitten Book I discovered on my shelf!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A XMAS present: for myself and my sisters!

This blog is the first of a weekly progress report on a project I started this week and need to have complete for XMAS. I call it a "present" for myself too, because I usually have to subordinate the projects I'd really like to work on to those that I "need" to do for the store.

So giving myself the time to work on this...when it won't yield new store models and won't result in a new workshop for the class or even help sell fiber that I a holiday treat to myself!

So why this project? Well, as some of you may know, my 4 sisters and I (actually, I have 3 sisters and the fourth I'm referring to is a sister-in-law) are heading to Gottland, Estonia and St. Petersburg for 2.5 weeks next May. We did a similar trip years ago to England, Scotland and Ireland and had a blast.

Anyway, in anticipation for our trip we're all reading Swedish, Russian and Estonian authors to acquaint ourselves with their history and culture, renting films from Netflix that are by Swedish and Russian directors (if you aren't familiar with Swedish films, they are rather dark and need to be taken in small doses!) and boning up on their cuisine (this may be my chance to lose some of the pounds I've put on this past year!).

Since we're diving into their literature, film, history and cuisine, I thought it also only appropriate to acquaint myself with their wool a little more closely than I have to date. So I purchased a small American Gottland fleece (more about this next time) at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival this past May and I have part of an Australian Gottland fleece (again, more about the hole Gottland fleece issues next week) that my sister Roby gave me for another project I have going (I have a going-on-three-year-now project of felting either a hat or bag from every breed of sheep I can get my hands on).

So while I was ruminating on the idea of working with these two Gottland fleeces, it so happened that I discovered a little and old mitten book on my bookshelf that...lo' and traditional patterns from Gottland! So it seemed destined that these fleeces become mittens and so here began the journey of deciding to wash, dye, comb, spin, and knit mittens for each of my sisters for XMAS! Oh, and in case you think this blog may blow the surprise for chance of it....they are even less inclined to go surfing the web or looking at blogs than the man on the moon!

So...this week I washed the fleeces. I HATE washing fleece. And to boot, I was out of my Kookaburra Wool Scour, which I love. So I ran to Guys Farm and Yard to buy some Orvus. This is used by people to wash their sheep for 4H while the fleece is still on the animal. I've used it in the past for fleeces and it works well...I just switched to Kookaburra because I love the measuring system and it does an equally great job and has tea tree and eucalyptus oils to prevent moths and dust mites. But in a pinch, the Orvus would be great. BUT, I suffered from sticker shock when I discovered it now $40. So I decided to forgo the Orvus and make due with Dawn dish soap, which I know a lot of spinners use. I figured I could get by with that for this fleece and by the time I need to wash fleeces again, my Kookaburra would be back in stock.

So I got my water really really hot, put the fleece in garment bags (which I do to minimize handling of the loose fibers so I'm less likely to felt the wool), added the Dawn and washed away. Not once, not twice, but three washes and then a couple of rinses before I spun it in my washer to help it dry quickly.

I have to say that I didn't really like the Dawn....Kookaburra would have done a better job with just 1 wash ! But the Dawn got enough of the grease and dirt out for me to declare it "enough" washed and move on....since I'm going to comb, not card this fleece and will wash the yarn again before knitting, I thought it was sufficiently clean. OK, so I'm justifying not having to wash it YET AGAIN (did I mention I hate washing fleece?!)

Anyway, after drying I separated the light gray from the dark gray areas of the fleeces so I have 2 natural colors to work with (see left photo above) for patterning but decided I wanted more (I do have 4 pair of mittens to knit after all and I can't stand repeating myself!) colors for accents. So I pulled out the Greenershades organic them....and decided to blend up my favorite green, golden orange, and purple colors (see center photo above). I used some of the light gray portions of the fleece to dye, so the colors are much more muted than these colors would be on a white fleece, but show up more than they would have over the dark gray fleece sections.

I'm keeping the American and Australian fleeces separate since I want to see if I notice much difference in their qualities/characteristics when I comb and spin them up.

My plan for this weekend is to comb the washed fleeces...I'll let you know how that goes next week when I go into a little bit more about the difference in the Gottland fleeces.

If anyone wants to share their washing secrets, feel free!