dryer balls: an exploration

Several years ago I heard whispers on the wind about felted wool dryer balls. And I thought, “eh, I’ve got loads of wool. I can felt. Let’s do this.” I didn’t read any tutorials or even research why people were using these things. I just made some. It was an excuse to stop buying dryer sheets, which I didn’t want to buy anyway. The first generation was not very dense, but I didn’t know that was a problem, so I just used them. Basically I just wadded a bunch of wool into a ball, put it in a stocking, and washed it. I guess they worked?

Then I found out they were supposed to be very hard and solid so they could bounce around in your dryer. Eventually I made another batch. This time I used yarn as the inside to give it more weight. It was a lot easier to pack the yarn tight rather than the roving. Plus it gave me a chance to do something with all of those odd little bits of yarn I have hanging around the house. I made a small ball of yarn, wrapped it in roving, wrapped more yarn around, more roving, etc. The second generation balls were larger and less squishy. However, the outside got smooshed up when I crammed them into the nylon stocking for felting.

1st & 2nd generation dryer balls

So, for the third batch I decided to do some pre-felting. I started with a tight ball of yarn and then covered it in roving. Using my 6-point needle felter, I tacked down the outside wool. This kept everything in place nicely and they came out so smooth and pretty. I’m sure they’ll end up covered in pills after one or two uses, but they will look deceptively pleasant in the bowl at the farmer’s market.

Balls pre-felted
Balls after an initial needle felting. The inside is a tightly wound ball of yarn with handdyed wool roving around the outside. In some cases I placed all of the roving around the outside, covering it entirely before needle felting. Those ones had a more interesting swirling color pattern. Others I tacked down each piece as I laid them down.

Balls ready for felting
Balls have been placed in a nylon stocking. I purchased knee-highs from the drug store for 50 cents a pair. I was able to get 4 to 5 balls in each stocking.

Dryer balls ready to go
The balls are finished! These went through two wash cycles. I reshaped them before throwing them into the dryer. They came out slightly damp, so now they are air drying. The best looking ones yet.

PS. I just listed them for sale. Click it.

 

new pattern is complete!

Say hello to Sideways Gull Stitch Mitts. Wow. I am not very creative with my naming. This pair has a cable along the bottom cuff and is knit sideways.  I love this cable in particular — it’s only a four-row repeat, so it’s easy to remember and it looks fancy without much effort. Also, adjusting the size for larger/smaller hands or a heavier yarn is simple.

I used a handspun singles yarn for the initial pair. It is 100% undyed alpaca. If you were to use a yarn that was more worsted (not woolen), the cables would be clearer. However, I do not plan for things such as that, so it is what it is.

gull stitch mitts

I want to thank Rebecca of Dusty Tree Soap and April of Studio Strategos who were both a big help testing and editing this pattern. I am still very new at the writing of patterns, so I tend to be insecure. April has a great technical eye, so she gave me lots of suggestions on the terminology and Rebecca worked through the pattern twice. The first time she didn’t have enough yarn, so she only got one mitt done. It’s still beautiful though!

rebeccamitts02
On the second pair she used a heavier yarn and size #9 needles. She noted that the lighter yarn required 12 pattern repeats and the heavier required nine. Also, she used a provisional cast-on and added a thumb. They look so cool!

rebeccamitts

follow up: molly’s fleece

molly's fleece

I went back to Target and got several more of those lingerie bags. Then I sat on the floor and carefully loaded them up with locks (lined up in rows, not just jammed in there). When I was done I had filled 18 bags, but it was such a small amount compared to the size of the fleece! Next I went downstairs to my washing machine and, using the hottest setting I could, filled the machine up along with three squirts of Unicorn Power Scour. Finally I stuffed all the bags into the washer. I let it soak for about 10-15 minutes, spun out the water, filled it again and added two squirts of Power Scour. I let it soak again for about 15 minutes, spun it out, and then filled the washer again without soap. After giving it a final spin, I emptied the bags and laid the locks out to dry.

Negatives

  • The bags took up a lot of space that could have been filled with more fleece.
  • Since the bags were vertical, some of the locks ended up smooshed into a corner instead of staying nicely arranged.
  • The bags looked nearly empty once the locks were wet and compressed; seemed like I could have gotten more in there
  • The tips were not as clean as I would have liked.
  • Packing the bags was very time consuming.

Positives

  • The fleece was very clean. I have been having issues with tackiness even after washing. I think it worked better this time because I didn’t over-stuff the washing machine.
  • The locks were not jumbled up or messy. They are individual and have maintained their crimp and curl.
  • The bags were easy to maneuver.
  • I will have less picking and sorting to do after dyeing.

I went back to Target and found these stackable, foldable sweater drying racks. They were $5.99 each and quite helpful, especially since I had thought about making something similar myself.

molly's fleece

felt balls

Have you ever wondered what I sound like? Well, now is your chance to find out. I’ve put together a video with tips for making felted balls. They may be simple to make, but sometimes you just need that little push to give it a try! Let this video give you the confidence to turn your bits of wool into cute little felt balls and beads (hint: just stick the finished ball with a needle).

 

three bags full

“Where do you get your fleeces?” It’s a question I am often asked after, “Do you have your own sheep?” And since the answer to that question is no, the next one is logical.

So where do they come from? Most often I pick them up when I’m at a fiber show. I always check out the fleece sale and/or competition if they have one. You just walk up and down between tables covered in fleeces. What more could you ask for? I got two gorgeous fleeces at the Rhinebeck sale last year. And since we aren’t going this year, I emailed both farms about having them shipped to me. Both said they would send samples of their current year’s fleeces. So, now I have found something I love and established a connection with a farm (in New York). One great thing about buying fleeces from a competition is that they are usually skirted and tend to be cleaner, since they are competing. A negative: sometimes the price per pound seems higher. My thought on that: I am getting something that is totally usable instead of paying for poop.

If nothing at the fleece sale speaks to me, I check out what the vendors have. Most fiber shows are attended by farmers/shepherds in addition to yarn shops, so it’s a good time to meet the people who work with the sheep. Last year at the Great Lakes Fiber Show I met Fred. He has a flock of Shetland sheep here in Ohio. I purchased Lily’s beautiful grey fleece and had it processed into roving. This year I returned to his booth, found out he remembered me, and bought two more fleeces. I got Lily’s again and Violet’s. Learning more about where the sheep come from makes it that much more special.

Under normal circumstances I always try to buy fleeces and fiber in person. However, there are times when I am running low and I need something now. That is when I turn to the internet. This winter/spring I bought a fleece through a Ravelry group called Fleece Market. It came from a farm in Iowa and had the most incredible crimp I’ve ever seen. And just a few weeks ago I bought three fleeces from a farm in Virginia, Digging Dog Farm. I had heard about them from Ashley Martineau, inquired, and ended up finding a source for really great fiber.

Sometimes you get crap. It happens. Maybe you didn’t dig deep enough into the bag before you bought it. You find it so full of vegetable matter that it would be impossible to clean, or it’s full of second cuts, or the quality of the fiber is just poor. Next look a little closer before you buy and you’ll start to figure out what you want in a fleece.

——————————————————————————————————————–

At Woolfest last weekend I picked up a total of three fleeces. Two were from the Farmpark fleece sale, one from a sheep that lives at the park and one from an employee of the park who keeps sheep. The other came from another vendor selling fleeces.

The Farmpark has an incredibly varied selection of breeds. I bought a 5 pound Finnsheep fleece for $5/lb. I was surprised how clean it was, but it had a lot of second cuts. While I had it laid out, I picked up the sides and shook it to help loosen the unwanted little pieces. I also picked many of them out by hand. Still not sure if I’m going to have this one processed or work on it myself.

Finn
Breed: Finnsheep. 5 lbs. Kirtland, OH.

The other fleece that came from the Farmpark sale actually isn’t a park animal. The sheep, Stewart, belongs to one of the park employees. She has a flock of Jacobs and brought her fleeces to sell. I’ve worked with Jacob a little, but never a whole fleece’s worth. Also, I don’t think I’ve encountered any quite as soft as this one. It was 3.5 lbs at $16. Not sure again whether I’ll get this processed. It’s rather small to start with, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t get much back.

Stewart
Stewart. Breed: Jacob. 3.5 lbs. Ohio.

The third fleece I bought is a Corriedale/Border Leicester cross from a farm in Ohio. I bought it Friday night from a vendor before the show started. It is a hefty 8.5 lbs and I didn’t quite realize how long the staple length was until I got it out to skirt. Wowzer! This is the longest staple I’ve ever worked with. Now I know why the fleece was so heavy… I kind of couldn’t help myself from washing some these locks. You know, just to see. I’ll be laying the out to dry when I’ve finished here. It’s just so substantial I can’t quite wrap my head around it!

Orange
Breed: Corriedale/Border Leicester cross. 8.5 lbs. Medina, OH.

squares reincarnated

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote up that desperate plea for test knitters? Well, the ship has sailed on that — the pattern has been rewritten. This morning I finally sat down and took another look at it, making a few adjustments of my own and incorporating the testers’ notes. I’m hoping that in the future I will be better equipped for this endeavor. But feel free to let me know if you find any mistakes.

Special thanks to April and Haizle who were so helpful!

squares cuff

Check out version 2 of the pattern:
Squares Sophisti-cuff

I am laughing to myself because now I am on Ravelry as a “designer” with one pattern. Woo! Link up, friends.

skein washing: part 3

I suppose this makes Part 3 of my unintentional series on Finishing Fibers. Earlier I wrote about reskeining your yarn after you have washed it and then I gave a lengthy description of how I wash my skeins. Today I’m going to show you the difference washing a skein can make. I purposely took photos of a skein before and after washing it.

This 2-ply yarn is 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool, spun on my Kromski Sonata. I washed it using my standard methods as noted in the above post. Can you see the differences? I think the plies lay together more evenly after washing. They have more fluff and bounce. The skein appears more balanced, even though it may not have been initially.

lake house
Skein before washing.
lake house
Skein before washing.
lake house
Skein after washing.
lake house
Skein after washing.

So, have I finally proven to you that finishing your yarn can make a difference? Next time you are washing skeins, take note of the before and after. It may be subtle, but it is a transformation!

And you can check out the latest issue of my newsletter. If you aren’t receiving it in your mailbox, sign up here to get it.

friday’s question

I just washed a small pile of handspun yarn this morning and I always find it to be a satisfying activity. Usually I’ll save up a few and do them in batches so it’s even more impressive. Most of what I washed was undyed Romney. When I tossed it in, the water went dirty brown almost immediately. That is one reason I always wash my yarn. Another main reason is to set the twist and also to fluffy up the fiber. And, like reskeining, they just look (and handle) better.

My method of washing a handspun skein of yarn:

  • Tie in at least two places. I’m kind of lazy on this and don’t have tons of problems with tangling. Usually I just make sure to keep things aligned as much as possible during the process.
  • Fill a bowl or bucket with hot water. I have one of those plastic wash tubs – it fits in my single basin sink perfectly.
  • Squirt in some soap and swish gently. Currently I am using castille soap. It smells pleasantly mild and doesn’t suds up too much.
  • Add the yarn. You are supposed to let them sink in on their own, but I am far too impatient for that, so I tend push them down.
  • Leave the yarn to soak for a bit.  The time depends on how occupied I am. If there is nothing else happening, I’ll stand there and stare at them. But sometimes I wander off and forget about them.
  • Before I drain the water, I squish and squeeze the yarn. I’ll admit, I’m rough with my yarn!
  • Take the yarn out and squeeze out excess water.
  • Dump the soapy water and refill with clean rinse water.
  • My specially developed technique for rinsing fiber is this: using the rectangular wash tub, I swish the yarn from one end to the other, essentially pushing the water through the fiber without actually running any water on it. I do one or two skeins at a time. I’ve used this technique on all the fiber I dye too and it hasn’t failed me yet.
  • Squeeze out the excess water.
  • Take the yarn to the washing machine (mine is the good old-fashioned top loading type).
  • Dump in the yarn and set to spin cycle. It goes for a minute or two, again depending on how impatient I am. Sometimes I do jumping jacks while I am waiting.
  • Take out the yarn and snap it between your hands. If the yarn was particularly twisted in spots, I might smack it on the ground. I can’t remember where I first heard about this technique, but I love it. It seems to shock the yarn into place, fluffing the fibers and smoothing out kinks. It’s also incredibly enjoyable. Rich always says I looked pleased when I come upstairs after smacking my yarn.
  • Hang to dry. And since you ran it through the washer, no drips! Now wait until tomorrow to see if it’s ready. Or in a few hours if you are me.

Question: How do you wash your yarn? What soap do you use? Got any special techniques?

reskeining.

One of the Ravelry groups I am a member of is all about vending at fiber festivals. It’s been interesting discussing various issues with other dyers/spinners who 1) produce large quantities of product and 2)  drag it around to events trying to convince people to buy it. One of the best threads dealt with bad experiences. It’s nice to know I’m not the only person who has had rude people saying stupid things in my booth. There has also been discussions about displays (that’s how I heard about Woodland Marketing and those new shelves), payment methods, logos/branding, transportation/storage, and other things. One person asked about reskeining, and I found out I am in the minority when it comes to said task. I reskein all of my yarn after washing. Sometimes the strands stick together or they get tangled and disheveled. My mental state is just more calm if I reskein. However, I do not dye massive quantities of yarn for resale (or any at all), so I am working with just a few skeins at a time. I suppose if I was dealing with oodles of yarn, I might change my tune.

Just for kicks I took photos of my latest yarns to see if there was a noticeable difference before and after reskeining. I’m guessing that no one will be able to tell anything happened, and I suppose that’s ok with me. I know that the BFL singles yarn was massively stuck to itself before I sent it around the niddy noddy for a second time. Or that the Shropshire had shrunk a significant amount.

It’ll be my little secret. And my personal satisfaction.

just washed
before reskeining...
reskeined
after reskeining.

learning and growing

We had another successful weekend at the SAA Fine Art & Craft Sale this year. I can’t believe it’s the sixth time I’ve had a table there! It truly is the place where it all started; back when I was just 20 and had only been knitting about 2 years. I may have started small, but I have learned so much since that first event.

  • Don’t bring knick knacks for your display if you aren’t willing to sell them – or be prepared to tell everyone that your sheep aren’t for sale. And make sure they aren’t breakable.
  • Always have plenty of change. Especially $1 bills.
  • Bring everything you have, even if you don’t think anyone will buy it. Someone probably will.
  • Each year is different. What didn’t move last year is suddenly what everyone is looking for now.
  • Just smile and nod when someone says something insulting.
  • Some people will totally get what you are doing and love it. Some people will say something rude within earshot, but not actually to you. And some people will walk by without even looking.
  • When completing a transaction, take your time and do things right. If you get all flustered and weird, you’ll make a mistake or forget something.
  • People don’t like you to make their decision for them. If you have two pairs of mitts left on the table, no one will buy them. But if you had those two plus 10 more, those first two will sell because the customer has a choice. So don’t expect to sell much when you only have three pairs of mittens left the second day.
  • Be helpful, but not too helpful. Customers need to be left alone to think.
  •  If you ignore people, they will ignore you. If you say hello and smile, they feel obligated to come over and look.
  • People actually do buy handspun yarn. Just not at fiber festivals.
  • Don’t take things too personal.
  • Don’t change what you are doing to suit one person because the next person will come along and say the opposite.
  • Someone will always ask you for the one thing you don’t have.
  • Have your prices set beforehand, otherwise you’ll get flummoxed and say the wrong thing (and you can’t go back once you’ve told them a price – “I’m sorry. I told you it was $10, but it’s actually $35.” Goodbye, sale!
  • Regardless of the signs and tags, they will still ask you how much it costs.
  • Try to stay positive throughout the event. Grumpiness will radiate from you and if the customers sense it, they will avoid you.
  • Not every event you sell at will be the right place for you and your goods. It’s ok to say, “That didn’t work and I’m not going back. But now I know.”

And now, let’s revisit some of those years gone by.

December 2006. Called “The Squirrel’s Nest”. Nothing on that table was for sale. ???Craft Sale Table
December 2007. Called “The Zesty Lemon”. A more serious attempt.craft show display
December 2008. Productive year; set up alone.
craft sale table!
December 2009. L-shaped. Introduced teapots, but somewhat sparse.
table display