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Hackles – Another Funny Named Fiber Processing tool

What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out...
What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out…

In late January I ordered another cool fiber processing tool but it arrived around the time my baby cat passed away, so it took me awhile to get around to use it. I’ve always seen hackles as a tool for blending fleece & fiber, and since I own a drum carder, poo-poo’d investing in one.

Then it occured to me one day that hackles could make my life so much easier when it comes to combing fleece top. A drum carder is great for blending and making your fleece & fiber somewhat smooth, but it won’t remove all the noils or tiny gnarly bits nor is the fleece/fiber guaranteed to be lined completely straight like it would be if combed. This texture has merit for spinning, particularly chunky or woolen yarn. Of course I do like to spin a textured art yarn as well. For certain fleece that I hand process I prefer them to be smooth – like merino for instance. I love a nice, smooth, merino top. Plus I get the added bonus of felting with the leftovers. I love my St. Blaise combs, but there is only so much you can comb at once. With hackles, I can load a larger amount of fleece, then comb it out with my combs.

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I’m still working out my process with the hackles, but what I find is that I can load the uncombed merino onto the hackles, then comb with just one comb: added bonus is this is so much easier on my neck/shoulders/back. The hackles are clamped to the table, so instead of motion with two of my arms, I only need to used one arm.

This merino is pretty rough so I will comb as much will fit onto the comb, then finish it by hand combing with both combs, then pulling a small top. After the top is pulled the process repeats: back for more fleece from the hackles, combing out, and so on. This makes the process so much easier! I was amazed how fast I went through the fleece – it cuts the time in half, at least, not to mention it really saves my body from the wear and tear which is the biggest advantage. I love to work with my hands, whether it be jewelry making, paper crafting, fiber washing, dyeing, combing or spinning, but it does wreak havoc on my muscles and tendons so any tool which makes it go easier is worth it to invest in.

Hackles is mostly used for blending and I have yet to try that. You can pull a nice long roving off of it rather than the little top I pull from my combs and coil into a nest. I purchased my hackles from Gemini Fibers here in Canada, and I appreciate that they are handcrafted in Ontario.

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Washing Merino Fleece: Before & After

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washing merino fleece: before (right) and after (left)

 

I have talked at length about the fact that most of my yarn is made from the ground up. The only thing I do not own (yet anyway) is the sheep, rabbits, goats or alpaca the fiber comes from. That’s not to say that I can pass up a nice looking roving at the Fiber festival – but I do spend the majority of my time at the Fleece sale. My main motivation in the beginning was to save money. Now, it’s mainly because I enjoy it. I love taking dirty fleece, washing it (sometimes even skirting it before hand to get rid of the poo!), carding/combing it – then dyeing it into gorgeous colors to then be blended into batts to be spun into yarn. I also enjoy meeting small producers and getting to know them, their flock, and where my fiber is coming from: something you can’t do at the yarn or craft store.

This past month I have been washing some merino fleece – from Maine – from Rivercroft farm in Starks. If you are an Easterner & spin you may know Joe & Judy Miller: I love chatting with them at the New Hampshire show, which I sadly missed this year due to a relocation. This lot was from last year’s show. I am embarrassed to say it sat around that long and some of that time in storage in fact. But that is what happens when you embark on home renos and then a move. Last year was a dud for me, as far as fleece prep is concerned.

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Thankfully, these bags were already skirted – so no poo for me to remove. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am a fleece rescuer – I drift towards the more inexpensive bags of fleece that most hand processors pass up. I see the potential in every bag. Unless it is totally full of VM (vegetable matter) or has signs of lice or fleece rot, I’m in (and I have bought duds of fleece before – live and learn). It just takes a little more elbow grease, and a little more patience.

For fleece this dirty I just reach for my bottle of Dawn dish detergent. If we were talking good quality locks or award winning fleece, I would reach for the Unicorn Power Scour or Namaste Farms Wash & Dye Bastard. But for this quality, I find Dawn works just fine. I start to fill the sink up with hot water, and while it’s filling I will place pieces of fleece to float on top. Once the top is covered, I squeeze on a bit of Dawn in a zig-zag pattern, then add another layer of fleece. Squeeze on the Dawn, and so on – until I have enough in the sink that I feel is comfortable to clean – usually about half the size of the sink. It’s fleece & soap lasagna! At this point I gently start pressing the fleece down into the water, and let soak for approximately 3 hours. This soak happens 3 times, only on the third time, I do not add soap but about a quarter of a cup of vinegar to the hot water to remove the soap residue. I usually will flip the fleece between on the 2nd and 3rd soak. If it mildly felts I don’t worry about it too much as it will be carded and then combed.

washed merino vs. unwashed
washed merino vs. unwashed

The difference in color is quite dramatic. I didn’t even realize just how yellow the unwashed fleece was until I saw it washed. Gets pretty darn white, if I don’t say so myself!

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The washed fleece is run through a salad spinner to get out the excess water, then out to my deck to dry in the North Mountain air. It can get very windy here, and after chasing drying fleece all over the lawn, I have learned to put a cover on it. These racks are from a store that closed a few years ago (Zellers – for all the Canadians reading along). I would eventually like a set up so that the air can circulate both top and bottom, but for now I just flip the fleece after drying on one side for awhile – and this has worked well.

I’ve already started carding this into batts to then be dyed – and then combed into top. This is by no means a quick process but it certainly is satisfying, especially when a one of a kind skein of yarn is created.

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Spinning Accessories: Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo

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Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo vs. standard Lendrum Niddy Noddy

I love that spinning accessories are relatively inexpensive – and are often times handcrafted. You can easily purchase a drop spindle and get started spinning without the investment in a spinning wheel (I know this will mortify spinning purists, but I hate the drop spindle. I broke the cardinal rule of spinning & bought a spinning wheel before ever mastering the spindle).

A niddy noddy is one of those inexpensive but must-have tools. It has a very amusing name. I picture someone a few hundred years ago, designed a skein wrapping tool and when asked what it was called, “niddy noddy” was what they came up with while put on the spot. Perhaps this nonsensical name has a clear meaning and if so, do tell! ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are still wondering what a niddy noddy is, it is a wrapping tool used to make skeins of yarn after spinning. They are traditionally made of wood, but I have seen homemade varieties made out of PVC pipe, and even metal/wood hybrids. There is one central bar where you hold it, and crossbars at each end that are offset from each other by 90 degrees. Here in North America, niddy noddies are most known to come in 1 yard and 2 yard lengths. I prefer to use the 2 yard length on my Lendrum niddy noddy. Before removing the skein I count the wraps & multiply by 2 to give me the length in yards.

Making more and more funky art yarn on my Spinolution wheel these days, I was finding the Lendrum niddy noddy to be too small to fit some of my skeins. I would make them fit, but it was not easy. I was excited to find that Ashford had a jumbo Niddy Noddy. I purchased mine from Gemini Fibres for $39.

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a side by side comparison of a standard size niddy noddy (Lendrum) vs. Ashford niddy noddy jumbo

I’ve put in a lot of hours with my Lendrum and can pretty much wrap without thinking (it takes a bit to get the right rhythm the first few times). Due to the larger size of the niddy noddy jumbo it took a bit of getting used to all over again. The pro is that I don’t have to worry about running out of space when skeining my bulky art yarns. It holds over 1 kg (2.2lbs) of yarn. The cons are that it is heavier and more cumbersome to use compared to my standard Lendrum. I also like that my Lendrum has notches on the cross bars so that if I need to squeeze the wraps together more tightly they are not overlapping the wraps on the other side which can get confusing when you pull off the yarn or tie it off.

Another quirk is that, coming from New Zealand I have to remember that this niddy noddy measures in metres and not yards. So when counting wraps if I forget and calculate yardage rather than converting the meter length to yards (1 metre = approx. 1.09 yards) I will end up with more yarn per skein. This is not a bad problem to have of course, but I like to try to be exact so that I can keep track of my materials & how long it takes me to spin it.

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jumbo coil plied yarn vs. bouclรฉ

Despite its nuances I am really happy to add this tool to my studio and suspect I will use it very often in the coming months.

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Free Alpaca Fleece – Pt. 1

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a trunk full of alpaca fleece – all for free

Last month (and on my birthday no less) I picked up over a dozen bags of alpaca fleece – and I didn’t pay a cent for them. Above you see my trunk – filled to the brim.

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the contents of just one bag

Mother’s Day is a holiday I don’t care much for, but for the majority of the afternoon the weather was nice to sit out on the deck off my studio and do some picking. I have been (im)patiently waiting for a day to go through some of this, not really knowing what condition the fleece would be in. It had been stored for sometime, in a shed – so somewhat exposed to the elements and critters.

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Wonderfully shorn with not many second cuts

I only got through one bag before the fog rolled in, but boy, did I ever pick a great bag to start with! The fleece came out in all one piece – and you could picture how this laid on the animal. It is a beautiful butterscotch/cream color -probably my fave alpaca color. It’s shorn nicely with very few second cuts – and a low to moderate amount of VM (vegetable matter). Pretty much not at all dusty. It is also quite long stapled as shown in the picture below.

staple of the alpaca fleece
staple of the alpaca fleece

I separated this into two bags: one with the fleece with very little VM, and then a bag of seconds that has a ton of VM and is stained/discolored. The seconds batch I will do first: comb and card out the Vm and then most likely dye sinceย  the color is uneven. I will store the bag of “firsts” for now. i like to experiment with the lower quality first before diving into the good stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

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I’m ready to start my second bag and it’s not so great as it has a ton of VM – but, it will still be nice fleece to work with, it just needs more elbow grease to remove the unwanted bits. I will chronicle the processing of this fleece as I go. BTW – this is the view from my studio – isn’t it breath taking? When the fog doesn’t roll in, that is…

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Tabletop Fleece Picker

picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)
picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)

I have been combing and carding a lot of fleece this month. I’m actually squirreling away my pulled top. It’s the “premium” stuff so I am not sure whether I will make yarn with it, or sell them in batches eventually so others can spin/felt with it. I’ve actually been been enjoying spinning the “waste” product from pulling top – the lumpy bumpy stuff. Such interesting yarns! That’s a textured yarn addict for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that is a post for another day…

I realized I never blogged about my tabletop fleece picker I acquired last fall. I have written before how I like to hand pick fleece, but I finally conceded that I needed something that would get the job done quicker. I did not have the funds for what I’d really like (a triple picker!) nor the time/inclination to build my own so I found this inexpensive one. Above you can see the difference in fleece before and after it is picked with said picker. Note: the wool on the right is not the same color as the wool on the left. It is from the same batch, however.

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note all the dirt/dust that comes off when the fleece is picked

The picker has heavy sharp teeth on the bottom as well as the top piece, that slides back and forth, teasing the fleece apart; opening up those fibers so that they are easier to comb or card. I really like that this one locks in place when not in use particularly since there are many curious little hands in my house. You could even add a pad locks to it, if you wanted to.

close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.
close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.

How well does it work? You ask. It is adequate. For the price I had really low expectations so I was pleasantly surprised at how well it works. It still requires a bit of elbow grease and it’s no triple picker, but it certainly aids me into getting fleece picked faster than I could do it by hand. But someday, triple picker – you will be mine! ๐Ÿ™‚

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