July 21, 2008

Time Flies, and Dragonflies

Oh dear! Its been over 2 weeks since my last post, so what have I been up to? Certainly some of the blame lies with my newest obsession, spinning. I wasn't content to merely spin prepared roving or top, no, I wanted to work with fleece. So off to the library I went, and then eBay. (I'm sure there must be something that can't be found on eBay, but I haven't run across it yet.) Oh, lets not forget time spent on Ravelry!

At the Carlsbad Library I found several books on spinning, I checked out The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning and the Encyclopedia of handspinning by Mabel Ross. I found both to be informative, but in different ways. While the Mabel Ross book is a bit dated, I like the fact the things were easy to look up in the encyclopedia format, and that there is so much information about sheep breeds and their wool. The Alden Amos book covers just about everything, and I enjoyed the style of writing. Interweave Press just had a 'hurt' book sale, so I was able to order the Alden Amos book, along with several others related to spinning and dyeing fiber, at a very good discount. Hopefully those show up this week.

On eBay there were so many things to look at under spinning; roving and top and fleeces of all types, as well as related tools. Spinning wheels and parts, hand cards and bobbins and winders, too. I jumped right in with both feet and bought 1 pound of alpaca fleece, listed as being prime blanket that might contain some minor debris. Oh. My. Gosh. The stuff that showed up was caked in dirt and plant bits and 'pacy poo. I had indeed check the seller's feedback before buying, everyone said the fleece was great. I knew to expect some dirt and vegetable material (hereafter referred to as vm), but this was excessive. I contacted the seller expressing my disappointment, he reassured me that I had been sent prime blanket and he offered a refund if I shipped the fiber back to him. Since shipping would cost over half of what I'd paid for the stuff I declined. And since he'd offered a refund, I didn't leave negative feedback. I should have.

(the fleece before washing, the clean stuff is the cut side)
Then I got to work trying to clean the fleece up. What to try first, removing the vm, or washing out the dirt? The tips of the locks were mostly tangled around vm, bits of conifer and lichen and stuff, below that was about 1.5" of caked in dirt, most very fine. Down near the cut ends the fleece was soft, crimpy and white. "Maybe this will be worth the work", I thought.

July 10: I decided to wash first, since dirt also caked the vm, and I really couldn't tell where to start. I used lukewarm water and Dawn dish detergent in a big plastic tub. Three times washed and rinsed, so much dirt the water was nearly black at the end of the first washes. A final rinse with some vinegar, a squeeze in a towel and spread onto an old sheet to dry.

July 11 - 18: I think I averaged at least 3 hours of day of untangling fleece, pulling locks free and using a cat slicker brush as a flicker to tease out vm and dirt. Wow, some of these locks were near six inches long, but the ends were brittle and about .5" break off whilst I'm flicking. Maybe this will be worth it. After a few days I got into locks that were short and the dirt was really ground in, it looked like the parts of the animal that would be in direct contact with the earth when the alpaca lies down. (snort! prime blanket indeed!) And then I find locks that are most definitely from the part of the fleece that gets hit by pee. Short, coarse texture and yellow stained. I know that this cannot be prime blanket and I am not happy. grrrrrrr. I sent the seller a note with samples of the fleece. I doubt I'll hear anything back. I'm doubly disappointed with this guy, his ranch is part of the Alpaca Stud Master/Ideal Alpaca organization. He's selling more fleece on eBay. Along about 7/15, I'm starting to think I may never want to see raw alpaca fleece again, but I keep going. I actually do find some locks that may be prime fleece, maybe 5% of everything.

July 19- today: Now I am sorting the locks. Some are long, and I'd like to try spinning from the fold. Some are short and should be well suited to carding into rolags. Most will need one more washing before spinning, there is still very fine dirt clinging to most of the locks, it doesn't drop out with flicking. I wish I had weighed the fleece before I started cleaning it, and then weighed it again after - just curious.

During all this time, I've still been shopping on eBay. I did buy some more raw alpaca fleece, 3 pounds in brown. It hasn't arrived yet, and if its as bad as the first one, I just might bury somewhere in yard rather than try to clean it. I bid and won a lovely pair of used Ashford handcards, so I can card my fleeces. I won an 11.9 pound washed Romney sheep fleece, I plead temporary insanity - I really don't know what I was thinking. It hasn't arrived yet either. A one pound Rambouillet fleece, still not here, and 1 pound of alpaca/silk roving that has arrived. I still might want some black fleece, I haven't decided yet. I'm kinda waiting on the brown first.

The alpaca/silk roving is beautiful. Silky soft and shiny. I think it will look lovely as a sweater or cardigan, I just hope I can spin it into a decent yarn. The silk is very slippy, and I end up covered in bits of fly away alpaca and tussah silk while spinning.

So, my goals for the near future are; finish preparing the white alpaca fiber for spinning, and then learning to spin with it, figuring out what to do with the other fleeces when they get here, improving my technique with the alpaca/silk so I end up with nice usable yarn (do I need to order more?) and finishing the sweater I have on the needles before my birthday next month. Oh, and sell some odds n ends on eBay, to help finance my new hobby.

Oh, I almost forgot about the dragonflies. We have a wall fountain off one patio, and I know that dragonfly larvae share space with my mosquito fish. Yesterday morning I found a dragonfly recently emerged from the nymph form. Usually they emerge at night, so it was a treat to see it up close and get some pictures.

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