Lazy Kate

Hello!

Before I embark on the story of Lazy Kate, I’d like to share some news with you. As some of you have already guessed from a few subtle clues in my previous post, I’m going to be a grandmother! It takes some getting used to the idea (how did I suddenly get so old?), but I’m thrilled to bits! And very, very happy for the mum-and-dad-to-be.

I’ve hesitated about talking about it here, as I don’t believe in sharing everything online. But I’d have to lead a strange kind of double life to not talk about it here. (Don’t worry, I won’t talk about it all the time.) It just feels good to know that you know, and not to have to be secretive about it anymore.

I also don’t feel very comfortable sharing pictures of loved ones online, but I think it’s okay to show our daughter’s feet here, together with those of the other great love of her life beside her husband.

And I think the girl with the big, hairy white feet doesn’t mind if I share a picture here. She loves going for a walk in the woods, rustling through the autumn leaves just as much as we do.

Neither this sweet-tempered pony nor our daugher is called Kate, and neither of them is lazy. So, who is Lazy Kate?

Well, actually this isn’t about who but about what – it is about a lazy kate (with indefinite article and without capitals). For the non-spinners among you: A lazy kate is a thing that holds yarn bobbins and comes in useful when plying several threads together after having spun them. It comes in different shapes and can be a separate box or rack that is placed beside the spinning wheel or it can be integrated.

This is my spinning wheel – a 21-year-old Louët S10.

I looked up the receipt and saw that I bought it in March 2000 for 515,00 guilders. Guilders, not euros! Goodness, a different era. It is still functioning just as smoothly as when it was new.

It has an integrated lazy kate – the rack with the two filled bobbins beside the treadle in the picture above. This is what it looks like without the bobbins.

With two bobbins I can make a 2-ply yarn, but the problem is that I now want to make a 3-ply yarn. I could hold the third bobbin on my lap, or place it in a basket or box beside the spinning wheel, but it would be much better to have an additional lazy kate.

So I decided to order one, and as the Louët spinning wheel factory is just around the corner from the stables where our daughter’s pony lives, I thought I might as well collect it instead of having it delivered. Do come along!

At the entrance there is a spinning wheel very much like mine, only more colourful.

Louët doesn’t have a factory shop, and it isn’t possible to visit the factory itself right now, but we are allowed to take a look around in their upstairs showroom. My spinning wheel is their very first model.

Since then it has evolved and several other models have been added. From what I understand, it is now even possible to have a spinning wheel put together to your own specifications, with single or double treadle, Scotch or Irish tension, etcetera.

The factory also produces all kinds of tools for fibre preparation, like combs, small and large hand carders, and drum carders.

On a shelf there is a niddy noddy, used for making skeins, and some fun hand spun yarns.

What I didn’t know, is that they also make weaving looms. Here is the very smallest and simplest one.

And here is one of the larger and more elaborate looms.

I don’t know anything about weaving, but just looking at the fabrics in progress on the looms is enjoyable, too.

Well, it’s time to collect my lazy kate and the block needed to attach it to my spinning wheel. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little virtual outing. I’ll tell you more about the yarn I’m spinning when there is more to show.

If you’d like more in-depth information about these spinning wheels or looms, please visit the Louët website. And if you’d like some chat about I-don’t-know-what-exactly-yet, please visit me again next week 😉. Bye!

Woad Adventures

Hello!

Remember the woad seeds I sowed in June? I received them as part of a project aimed at using more local wool and dyeing it with local dye stuffs too. That seemed like an interesting idea and woad can give a beautiful blue colour, so I thought I’d give it a try on a small scale.

Now, 3 months after the start of my woad adventure, it’s high time for an update. It’s not all good news I’m afraid. At first everything went well. Most of the seeds germinated and I had a number of really healthy looking plants (photo above). I planted them out around mid-July. Half of them in a sunny spot next to our garden shed, and the other half behind a big rose bush.

Below you can see the plants several days after planting them out. Already, things were not looking good at all.

Some of the plants were still sort of okay, some had almost disappeared. Uh-oh! Rainy weather = slug weather!

Several years back, we emigrated large numbers of slugs from our garden. We (read: my husband) collected them with BBQ tongs, put them in a bucket with a layer of water and emptied the bucket on a piece of land where the slugs wouldn’t bother anyone and would be much happier (or so we told ourselves.)

We soon learnt that the bucket shouldn’t be left standing for too long or the slugs would crawl out. Ieuw!

Maybe we should have mounted another slug removal campaign this year, but we didn’t. And the result is that now, 2 months after I planted them out, one woad plant looks reasonably okay.

One has disappeared completely. And the rest looks… well, see for yourself:

I recently learnt that only fresh woad leaves from the first year’s growth can be used. Dried and older leaves do not give off any colour. I also found out that at least 250 g/½ lb of fresh leaves are needed for a 9 litre/2 gallon dye vat. Even if my plants had thrived, I wouldn’t have come close to that, but that was never the plan.

The plan was that small woad growers like me would bring their 10 or 20 grams of fresh leaves to a stall at a wool event, where together they would make a great dye vat. Unfortunately the wool event was cancelled because of Covid-restrictions. Oh well, that’s life at the moment. At least it’s been an interesting experiment. The dyers have found enough leaves for their vat elsewhere and I now know a lot more about woad.

Meanwhile I have started spinning the lovely blue-and-green merinowool-and-silk gifted to me by a friend. She gave me two batches of spinning fibre of 100 grams each.

When I took them out of their bags, I noticed that although they were the same colourway, they were very different, like two balls of yarn from different dye lots. Can you see it?

To solve the problem, I spin small portions from the two batches alternately. The result is a beautiful blend of blue, green, white and turquoise with the various colours still distinguishable.

Spinning it is like having a piece of mermaid’s tail in my hands. Not just because of the shimmery blues and greens, but also because it’s slippery. That is why I am spinning the fibre ‘from the fold’ as it is called. Some people hold a ‘fold’ of slippery fibres like these folded between their fingers, but I prefer wrapping it around my thumb.

Spinning it like this, gives me more control over the fibre.

Spun up and plied, the 200 grams would be enough for a good size shawl, but I’ve decided to spin it out to enough for a sweater by combining it with something else – 600 grams of wool in a colourway called… (drum roll)… WOAD!

This, too, consists of various shades: black, cobalt and turquoise. A sea of blues to go with the mermaid’s tail.

But unlike the mermaid’s tail fibres, the different shades can no longer be distinguished when this wool is spun. Everything blends together into a beautiful deep but not very dark blue. I’ve tried a little bit out.

This wool (a blend of Zwartbles and organically farmed Merino) is not dyed with woad, but the colour is similar to what can be achieved with woad (if the slugs leave some).

This woad adventure (the whole process of spinning, plying and knitting up this mountain of fibre) is going to take a long time, I expect. Especially because I also have many other projects on the go. I’ll show you my progress when there is something worth showing. But first more about some of my other projects over the coming weeks. Bye for now! xxx

PS More info about the local wool & woad project can be found in this blog post.

An Inspiring Friend

Hello!

It’s been an unsettling and busy week. Certain things have taken up so much of my attention that other things have piled up. Now what am I going to do? Rush around the house cleaning and tidying? Tackle a pile of ironing? Do some admin? Or write a blog post? Reading this, you know the answer.

Ah, it’s good to sit here, look through my photos and chat with you. Today I’m going to chat about a belated birthday visit to one of my dearest friends, who is a wonderful knitter, spinner and yarn dyer.

Shortly before leaving home, I hopped onto my bicycle for a quick visit to the flower garden just outside our village. (In case you have found my blog recently, you can read more about it here.)

Armed with a bunch of flowers and a bag filled with small birthday gifts, I set off for my friend’s place. I won’t give you a full account of my visit – you can imagine that: sitting in her garden with mugs of tea, cake, and endless talk and laughter. What I’d like to show you, is how my friend inspires me.

Last year she gave me some spinning fibres in a gradient of blues.

I spun the yarn a long time ago – looking back through my blog posts I saw that I mentioned it in August 2020. And then it stayed on the bobbin for almost a year!

I wasn’t sure what to do with it. In order to keep the gradient intact, I could do various things:

  • I could have split the fibres up in two portions and made it into a 2-ply yarn, but I didn’t. I spun it into a fairly thin single ply.
  • I could ply this single thread in on itself (aka chain plying or Navajo plying).
  • I could ply it with another thread.

Chain plying would have given me a fairly short yardage, and the possibilities for things to knit with it would be limited. So, after thinking it over for a loooooong time, I decided on the last option. I could have spun a thread to ply the gradient with myself, but I chose a commercial thread instead.

This is a lace-weight silk yarn sold as ‘Shantung Yaspee’ by two weird and wonderful Belgian guys who stock some very special yarns and fibres. (Ever heard of the fibre categories Bizaroides, Experimental Recycle Upcycling, or Brazilian Chicken?!)

My inspiring friend had used this technique before, and I was curious to see how it would work out. It was very handy that the silk yarn fitted onto the bobbin holder of my spinning wheel.

Plying these two different fibres together went very well. It gave a lovely barber pole effect at the dark end of the gradient.

At the light end, the effect was more subtle. All in all the shantung silk, with its nubs of white and royal blue, and my hand-spun merino-and-Tencel, made a lovely tweedy kind of yarn, from deep navy to start with…

… to a pale baby blue.

Here it is – 138 grams/572 m/625 yds of a merino/Tencel/silk blend…

… ready to be knit up into… something. I have a vague idea, but it’ll take a while to take shape.

I arrived at my friend’s place bearing gifts, and also left with gifts. Tidying her crafts room she came across some fibres she wasn’t going to use and thought I might be happy with. And I am!

This is what she gave me – some turquoise-and-lime wool blended with undyed silk:

And a box filled with small quantities of wool from various sheep breeds.

I think I’ll start spinning the turquoise-and-lime blend straightaway – such cheerful colours!

What with the current explosion of Covid-numbers in this country, the extreme downpours and flooding in the south and our surrounding countries, and news of unprecedented heatwaves and conflicts in other parts of the world I sometimes have the feeling that the end of the world is near.

Will spinning yarn save the world? No, of course not. What spinning (and an inspiring friend) can do, is lift my mood of gloom and doom, so that I can keep functioning and making a positive contribution, albeit in a very small way. Spinning is such a gentle, soothing thing to do. Do consider giving it a try, if you are not a spinner already.

Again, I hope you’re all safe and well. Take care!

Spinning Friesian Dairy Sheep

Hello!

Today’s post is all about Friesian dairy sheep. The silly creature above sticking its tongue out at you belongs to this breed. I’ve spun some of their wool that I’d like to tell you about. But there is more to these sheep than wool. In fact, their wool is only a by-product. Their main job is producing milk – they aren’t called dairy sheep for nothing.

According to the breeders’ association the Friesian dairy sheep is the sheep breed with the highest milk yield in the world (!). It produces about 600 litres of milk during the 6 month lactation period every year. It is a rare breed that was almost extinct 40 years ago, but thanks to several enthusiastic breeders their numbers have grown to around 9000 registered pedigree sheep now.

What do they look like? You’ve already seen a cheeky one in the photo at the top. Here is more serious picture.

Friesian dairy sheep are large sheep without horns, with a long neck, a hairless face and tail, and a slightly bent nose.

I was kindly given permission to use these photos by sheep farm Bongastate. I’m a big fan of their smooth and creamy sheep’s yoghurt. There are lots of delicious recipes using sheep’s milk and yoghurt on their website.

The recipes are in Dutch, but Google Translate does a remarkably good job in this case. The picture shows their lemon yoghurt sponge cake.

Sheep’s yoghurt is fairly new to me, but I grew up with sheep’s cheese. Fresh sheep’s cheese is a speciality from Friesland that is only available from about March to October. It is a small, soft, white cheese sold in plastic tubs.

This ‘wet’ cheese comes in a bath of whey and has a very mild taste. I like eating it on a slice of wholewheat bread, sprinkled with freshly milled black pepper and sea salt.

The last time I bought some, was at the farmers’ market I love visiting (and have written about here and here). It was there that I also found some Friesian sheep’s wool. It was tucked away behind a cushion with a cover knit in bulky white wool.

I don’t know if you can see it? Here it is from closer up, in deep brown, white and a mixture of brown and white.

According to the sheep breeder’s association, Friesian dairy sheep are always white. How come there is also brown here? I need to ask the sellers about it if/when the market starts up again in May. I hope they’ll be there again.

Anyway, I chose white. It was sold in small quantities as rolled-up batts (carded ‘sheets’ of wool). The label said it was 30 grams.

I bought both the wool and the cheese from Puur Schaap, a small and sustainable sheep farm. I’ve only met them once and don’t know much about them. For more information, please check out their website.

The wool had been cleaned and carded, but was still slightly greasy. Perfect for spinning. I rolled out the batt and divided the wool up into a sort of unofficial rolags. I tore off strips lengthwise and tore them in half widthwise.

 A ‘real’ rolag is made using hand carders. All I did was roll up the pieces I’d torn off by hand.

Then I spun the wool using a short backward draft. When it was not holding the camera, my right hand guided the thread, but it was my left hand that was doing the actual drafting.

I spun all of it onto one bobbin. At this stage the wool was still yellowish and it felt like binder twine.

My plan was to wind it into a ball, and ply it into a 2-ply yarn from a centre-pull ball. But I changed my mind and decided to make it into a slightly thicker 3-ply yarn instead.

So I wound the wool into 3 small balls (weighing them on precision scales), put them in a basket to keep them from rolling all through the living room…

… and plied the three plies together.

Then I wound the yarn into a skein and washed it, first in washing-up liquid and then in Eucalan. The grease came out and after drying I had a skein of creamy white, perfectly clean lavender-scented yarn.

It is the softest yarn I have ever spun from local sheep’s wool. Not as soft as merino, but it spun up into a really lovely, slightly airy thread.

The skein weighs about 40 grams (according to the label I bought 30 grams of unspun, but they have obviously been generous) and has a length of approximately 100 metres (110 yards). I think it counts as a DK-weight yarn.

Well, that’s all about my small wool-rescuing project for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this special sheep breed. And I hope to come back to the yarn later, when I’ve decided what it’s going to be.

Something small… Perhaps a knitting notions case? Or a pair of wrist warmers? Or it may even be enough for a hat. Shall I dye it, or leave it as it is? Decisions, decisions.

Wool Rescuing

Hello!

First of all, thank you for all of your comments about the yarn colours for my fingerless mitts. You were unanimous: blue and cream for the 2-colour mitts,

and red for the single colour version.

So that’s what it’s going to be. I’ve wound the yarn into balls and am looking forward to starting, but first more swatches and prototypes.

Now on to today’s subject – wool rescuing.

We have quite a few sheep in the Netherlands (at the moment about 1 million), and by far the most of them are of the Texel or Swifter breed. I photographed some of our farmer-neighbour’s Texels or Swifters (I can’t tell the two apart, to be honest) on a misty morning earlier this week.

These sheep are bred for their meat.

Some other breeds are kept for their milk. And still others are used for conservation grazing, like the Drenthe Heath sheep below. I’ve written about them here and here.

I enjoy the presence of sheep in the fields surrounding us. I love sheep’s cheese and yoghurt, and as a knitter and spinner, I am obviously also interested in their wool.

Until 1988, we had a Dutch Wool Federation – a cooperative that took care of the entire wool chain, from raw wool to end products like blankets, warm underwear and knitting yarns. They even had their own shops.

The name Nederlandse Wolfederatie still exists, but today it is an organisation that sells things like sheep shearing equipment, veterinary medicines and other things farmers may need. Seeing their buckets in our neighbour’s field evokes feelings of nostalgia for me. The logo reminds me of all the hanks of wool I transformed into pullovers, vests, cardigans and scarves as a teenager.

Sadly, almost all of the wool from our sheep is now considered ‘garbage’ and shipped to China, where it is used for low-grade purposes. The last spinning mill in our country closed its doors in the 1980s.

But there is good news! A group of people in Friesland have started an initiative to rescue our wool and find ways to use it locally. In 2019, they decided to adopt a flock of sheep, found people willing to spin the wool and others prepared to weave, knit and crochet blankets from them.

In spite of the Covid-restrictions, they were able to organize an exhibition of all these blankets in 2020. Hats off to them! I haven’t been able to visit the exhibition myself, but have admired the blankets on their website.

And now they have recorded their experiences in a Wool Rescue Handbook.

It’s a lovely 60-page booklet packed with tips and advice for anyone who would also like to rescue some (or a lot of) local wool. The text is in both Dutch and English, and is accompanied by many photographs.

With a subtle sense of humour, the booklet takes us through the entire wool-rescuing process step by step. Step one is ‘Find a sheep’. There are practical tips about washing, carding, spinning and felting. There is also a lot of information about the people side of things – finding volunteers, publicity, involving schools and so on. And they have thought about the financial side, too.

What I love about this booklet is that it is not just about how to organize things, but also about fun and enjoyment. Below you can see the pages dedicated to a very important step – ‘Enjoy’.

A quote from this page: ‘The joy of making something passes on to the person receiving it. A jumper made with love is so much nicer to wear.’ And another one: ‘What is made with love lasts longest.’

Apart from the actual text, everything else about the Wool Rescue Handbook also speaks of love of the entire process. The front and back flaps can be folded out and show diagrams of wool as waste versus wool as a resource. The paper for the booklet was chosen with care, the layout is done beautifully, and there are just so many interesting photos to look at.

Just look at the spread in the middle, about starting a spinning club:

Lovely, isn’t it? The booklet has a sewn binding, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has spent many hours lovingly sewing every single copy by hand.

And this is just the beginning. There is now a series of baby blankets underway, and there are plans for a new spinning mill in the North of Friesland, a rug weaving studio in the Frisian capital Leeuwarden, as well as noises about similar groups in other parts of the country.

The initiative is called Pleed. (That is how the word ‘plaid’ in the meaning of throw or blanket is pronounced in Dutch.) If you’d like to know more, please visit the website (in Dutch, but with interesting photos and videos). More information about the Wool Rescue Handbook can be found here. Send them an e-mail if you’d like to order a copy.

I’m in awe of the energy and productivity of these people. I’ve never spun a blanket quantity of yarn. What I spin is a sweater quantity at most, and often even less to make a shawl or wrap.

And when it comes to wool rescuing, I’m doing that on a very modest scale, too. I’m currently spinning a tiny quantity of Friesian Dairy Sheep’s wool. More about that when it’s all spun and plied.

Spinning Drenthe Heath Sheep

Last year, I bought a bag of Drenthe Heath sheep wool. During our walks, we often see flocks of these sheep at work in one of our national parks. They are kept for conservation grazing, and their work is eating young trees and shrubs. Without them, our open heathlands would turn into woodland in no time.

Drenthe Heath sheep are not primarily kept for their meat or fleeces, but their meat seems to be good (I’ve never tasted it) and they produce fleeces of 1 to 2 kg per sheep. I know that their wool is generally considered to be of poor quality, but still I wanted to experience for myself what it feels like, how it spins up, and what I could knit with it.

An entire fleece would be way too much for me, so I bought a bag with small quantity of prepared wool.

Taking the wool out of the bag, I saw that it contained five rolled-up batts, or large rolags.

The label on the bag said, ‘150 grams. Washed and carded Drenthe Heath Sheep Wool, €10,00.’ There was also a business name on the label, but no website or contact information.

Asking around, I found out who had done all the washing and carding for me, and also that this person was going to be present at a crafts fair. Bringing a tuft of wool, I visited her stall at the fair to learn a bit more. Although she was busy selling her wares, she took the time for a chat. One of the things she said about the wool was, ‘there is quite a bit of kemp in it.’

Kemp???

‘Yes. If you look at the wool closely, you can see some dark fibres mixed in with the lighter wool. That is kemp.’

Back home I looked for more information about kemp. On p. 22 of The Spinner’s Companion Bobbie Irwin defines it as ‘Undesirable fiber found in some fleeces, especially those of more primitive breeds.’ I also found out that kemp isn’t actually wool but hair. I went on to read much, much more, including that sheep have primary and secondary follicles. It was all very interesting, but would go much too far to repeat it all here.

Summing up, all sources agree on one thing – kemp is bad news!

Only Robson and Ekarius are slightly milder in their great tome The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook. On p. 9 they state, ‘Kemp isn’t all bad, though. Its very nature of odd dye absorption is sometimes useful, as in the production of true tweeds.’

In spite of all the bad news, I started spinning.

When I spin, I always have a tea towel on my lap, to protect my clothes and catch any dirt and fibres coming from the wool. For light fibres I use a dark tea towel, and for dark fibres a light one. This helps me to see what I’m doing.

I divided the wool into two equal portions and spun it into a fairly thin thread. During the spinning, the wool shed a lot of kemp. I put some on a sheet of white paper to take a closer look.

So this is kemp – short, rough, slightly curly hairs that make yarn prickly and don’t take dye well.

After spinning two bobbins full, I plied everything into a simple 2-ply yarn. While I was plying even more kemp fell out, but quite a bit stayed in too.

Drenthe Heath sheep can vary in colour, but their fleeces are mostly off-white. They are fairly small, hardy animals and have apparently lived in this region from about 4000 BC. My wool came from an animal like this one:

Although this isn’t the nicest wool I’ve ever spun, spinning 150 grams of Drenthe Heath Sheep wool has brought me a number of things:

  • In-depth knowledge of kemp
  • Several enjoyable hours of meditative treadling and drafting
  • A closer connection with these animals that have lived here for thousands of years
  • 135 gr/422 m/460 yds of yarn

The yarn is a sort of heathered oatmeal shade and feels, let’s say, rustic. I like it more than I expected, I have to say, but I don’t think I’d use it for something to wear.

I am also left with several question marks:

  • Would it have been possible to remove the kemp entirely? How?
  • If so, would the yarn still be scratchy?
  • Would it have been better if I’d spun it into a thicker, loftier yarn?
  • And last but not least – what could I knit with it? Hmmmmm…

If you’d like to read more about Drenthe Heath sheep, I’ve written about them here and here. And there is more information on the website of the Drenthe Heath sheep breeders’ association (mainly in Dutch, but with an English summary).