Monday, 28 May 2012

100 Hours to Make a Tea Towel

I found this YouTube video by accident. I think the video has been made by a visitor to the Colonial Williamsburg Museum rather than by the museum itself. It is fairly long but there are some fascinating gems if you listen carefully. 

I am always interested in how long it took people in the past to spin yarn and produce cloth. I often wonder if they were much faster than me because they spent more time at the crafts or if my working estimate of 7 hours to card and spin 100g of wool is about what it would have taken years ago. 

The lady in this video estimates it took 40 hours to pick the cotton seeds from enough cotton for a tea towel. The total time she gives for sorting the cotton, spinning and weaving the tea towel is 100 hours. Just think how long it would take to make one complete set of clothing! Next time a project seems to be taking a long time I'll remember this.

You can read more at the Colonial Williamsburg website.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Finally Finished the Mohair!

Remember that mohair I've been spinning? I've finally finished it! I started from raw fleece. You can read about how I processed the mohair in Processing Raw Mohair by Hand and Mohair Update. In the end I spun 0.8 of a mile of pure mohair yarn. It was hard work. Here are the eight completed skeins:

 That's me and goats done for a bit!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Goats Move in Mysterious Ways

I've been trying my hand at something different. Goat shearing. Goat shearing? Angora goats, the ones that produce mohair, require shearing. I can shear a sheep, sort of, and goats are much smaller and lighter, how hard can it be?

Sheep are stoical, they take shearing quietly. Goats wail in a high pitched sack-cloth-and-ashes manner. If they had hands, they'd wring them. Goats also smell terrible. Then they have horns. Long curly horns which fit perfectly around your leg, immobilising you. Or straighter horns, just right for stabbing you in the throat. I have a lovely big scrape across my throat and a bruise under my chin - that was a nasty moment. I also have horn-shaped bruises all over my legs.

The fibre on a goat can be as much as a foot long. The fleece gets tangled and matted. On some goats the fibre growing on the legs is entwined with the fibre from the belly so the animal is effectively hobbled. Goats grow fibre in every nook and cranny of their bodies. When I turned my first goat over I didn't know where to start. I couldn't see where the goat was under all that hair and I was terrified of running into a skin fold.

Goats are notoriously difficult to shear. They are constructed differently from sheep. Imagine you have made a soft toy but you run out of stuffing - the toy is floppy and has lots of saggy bits. Goats are under stuffed. Their skins are too big for the contents, meaning they are a mass of wrinkles. Wrinkles are bad news in shearing, every wrinkle is a potential cut. To shear a goat without cutting it you have to hang on to all that loose skin, you can't afford to lose concentration. Goats are also much floppier than sheep, it's as though there are no bones in their bodies, they just sag through your legs like a smelly jelly.

Goats have much less grease in their fleece than sheep. The grease in a sheep's fleece helps to lubricate the shearing handpiece. When you're shearing goats, the handpiece tends to over heat, you have to keep stopping and putting on more oil. So, I've just got my goat under control, I'm holding the skin flat and I can see where to go, I'm about to push in the handpiece when I realise it is smoking and the goat has kicked the oil can out of reach. Now I have to hop backwards across my board with a goat jammed between my knees. By the time I have doused the handpiece in oil, the goat has got its breath back and is ready to horn me in the throat again. That's goats for you.

Friday, 11 May 2012


Here in the UK we are officially in a drought. There is a hose pipe ban. It hasn't stopped raining for at least a month. How does that work? 

The result of all this wet weather is sadly Plumpton College Open Day has been cancelled. It's a shame. I won't get to wear the red vest this time. But the ground is sodden and having hundreds of cars and pairs of feet chewing up the grazing and turning the sheep's dinner into a swamp is not a good idea. Sometimes in life you can't achieve your goals because of things beyond your control. 

Now, maybe I'll go to the allotment and see how my crop of carp are doing!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Unicorn Power Scour in the Shop

I'm very pleased to announce I now have Unicorn Power Scour available in the shop. With shearing season just starting here in the UK there will soon be plenty of raw fleece. Power Scour is perfect for washing fleece, mohair and even dog fur, without damaging the fibre.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Maybe I Should Eat More Spinach

You want our wool?
Meet the lovely ladies I've been shearing today. They are Suffolk Mules, which means Dad was a Suffolk and Mum was a North of England Mule. They are about a year old so this is their first time being shorn. A very confusing  experience I should imagine.

Yesterday was the first day of the shearing season for me. I have set myself the goal of shearing at Plumpton College Open Day on 12 May. In order to shear as part of the public demonstration I need to prove I'm good enough. The last couple of days have been training in preparation for Open Day. 

Due to other commitments I could only do part of each day. But I sheared three sheep yesterday and three today. Six in two days isn't much, a professional shearer would expect to do between 200 and 400 a day. Only another 197 to go! Still, I'm just glad to ease myself back into to what is an extremely demanding activity. 

Where did my fleece go?
Today I was told I have made the grade and will be permitted to shear on Open Day. This means I will get to wear the special red shearing vest printed up with 'Plumpton College Shearing Team'. It feels like I've reached a milestone. But there's still a long way to go.
I am stronger now than when I first started trying to learn to shear but I still need to acquire a lot more strength and stamina. I guess I'm going to be on a diet of spinach for the next three months!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Scotch Eggs, Strawberry Tarts and Frostbite

A Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep
Well I'm back from Wonderwool Wales. It was my first time at the show so I wasn't too sure what to expect. When I walked into the building I felt overwhelmed by the shear scale of the show. Wonderwool Wales takes place at the Royal Welsh Showground in a huge building which is usually used for cattle. The stalls are based on a shell system, I had a 3x3 metre space with high partitions on three sides. There are wide walkways in between the stalls so it never gets too crowded. I haven't done a show before using the shell systems, another time I will need to work out how to make the most of the space and decorate the walls somehow. But hey, it's all a learning curve. 

I was warned in advance standing on concrete for two days is tough on your feet, I'm glad I wore my walking boots, they kept my feet warm and comfortable. We were also warned by the organisers to bring warm clothes, it hasn't been too cold here so as I packed wooly jumpers I did wonder if I'd be too hot. Too hot? No chance. Saturday was so cold my breath steamed as I spoke to people. Sunday was even worse, with the addition of horizontal rain, falling trees and floods. Fortunately we stayed dry inside the cattle barn. I did ask the first aid crew if they had any experience of treating hyperthermia and frostbite. Trying to do basic maths and work out change with cold hands and a brain which feels like it has been cryogenically frozen is no easy matter. Still the customers were very patient and forgiving. In the end I unrolled a batt and used it as a knee rug, my legs felt instantly warmer.

I had heard through Ravelry Wonderwool is known not only for the fibre but also the food. Scotch eggs and pastries specifically. I had to sample both. The scotch eggs come from The Handmade Scotch Egg Co, they are a lunch in themselves. The pastries are made by Love Patisserie. I bought the most extravagant one I could see, white chocolate and strawberry - mmmm. 

After all, when you're burning a thousand calories an hour keeping warm you have to replace a few.

It was lovely to meet people face to face I had met online, either through Ravelry or blogs and to catch up with fellow stallholders from other events. I met Elizabeth from Secret Sheep and Sara from Sara's Texture Crafts. For the first time I met Dot, the editor of YarnMaker, who I have spoken to many times on the phone. I had a great show, I would definitely go again.  

Tomorrow I start shearing so I will let you know how I get on.