Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Spinning Swedish fleece--Varmland

Last month my friend in Sweden sent me a sampling of Swedish fleece to play with. What fun! Messing with fleece that I’d never touched before, processing them and spinning them, all the while thinking what I could do with the yarn. Not all of the samples are finished, but I had wool from three different Varmland sheep. Varmland is one of the old Swedish landrace breeds, a short-tailed, double-coated sheep. Both males and females are horned, either single or double horns. I would venture to say that the wool is medium-to-coarse  grade and would make great hard-wearing outerware, rugs and upholstery material. If the outer coat is removed, the yarn is much softer. I carded all three samples with my handcards because I wanted to spin woolen. I felt that I didn’t have enough wool to do both woolen and worsted techniqes, and combing the fleece would have removed a good deal of the wool leaving me with not enough fiber to spin with a worsted technique.
All three wools, unwashed

We’ll start with the chocolate brown. This was about a 6” staple, stretched, with a lot of undercoat in relation to the longer outer coat. It was a bit difficult to draft, in part because there’s a bit of scruf (dandruff-like particles) near the cut end that seems to cause the wool to hold on and not slip past the adjoining fibers. I also suspect that this is a ram fleece, because it still has ‘that smell’ after washing and drying outdoors. But it’s a soft yarn for it’s grade. I had about 1/10 ounce and managed 8 yards of 2-ply yarn at 8 wpi.
Chocolate, unwashed

Chocolate, washed
Closeup of chocolate skein

The grey fleece had a 7” staple length, stretched, and similar properties to the chocolate brown—lots of undercoat in relation to the outer coat. However, this outer coat was a bit harsher and therefore spun a harsher yarn. Although I have to confess I LOVE the color, as there are very few naturally grey fleeces that I can wear due to the yellowing of the color from the sun. This was an easier spin, had very little VM, and I got 11 yards at 9 wpi from 2/10 ounce. I can see this yarn as a nearly-impervious woven jacket or a rug that’s destined to be an heirloom.
Closeup of grey skein

Grey, unwashed

Grey, washed

The third sample had been carded for me, and I suspect that the longer outer coat had been removed prior to carding. The rolags were wonderfully soft, tight and long—just perfect for woolen spinning. I got a very nice fingering weight yarn out of these rolags and think the yarn would be great for mittens or a seriously warm shawl or light jacket/sweater. I got 20 yards out of 1/10 ounce at 14 wpi.
Fingering, unwashed

Fingering, washed

Closeup of fingering skein

All three of these wools love to stick to themselves with no encouragement whatsoever, and so would work wonderfully for a felting project. Felted rugs with big-needle embroidery? Felted bags with the lock tips left unfelted for fun texture? These would be fun for a felter to play with.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

European Vacation, Part 7--Haarlem and home again, home again

Friday, May 13–Up early, we drive to Haarlem from the south which we’d never done before. What a mess! Lost, and looping around the same streets 3 times! Never again! Once we found Marktplatz and our hotel, which is inaccessible by car because it’s in the market square, we drove into the underground parking facility–only to find it locked up tight due to construction. Apparently, the locals removed the barriers and sat outside the local cafes drinking beer and laughing at the cars trying to park in the lot. The registrar at the hotel helped me drag our suitcases to the Hotel Frans Hal while Skip parked the car 2 blocks away. We had a very nice dinner in the CafĂ© Frans Hals (see a pattern here? Frans Hals was a Master Painter from Haarlem), and went to bed. Unfortunately, Haarlem does NOT go to bed on Friday nights and they partied in the streets and alleyways until 4am. I’ll probably not be going back to Haarlem any time soon.....

Saturday, May 14–After 2 hours sleep, we awake to a broken hairdryer, a breakfast room that won’t open until after we leave (not even for coffee!), so we jump in the car and head for Schiphol Airport stopping for breakfast along the way, turn in the car, go through extensive security–twice, and board our plane. Change planes in Philadelphia, arrive at Greater Pittsburgh Airport, pick up car and drive home. The most marvelous thing about Pittsburgh is the approach from the airport–the road goes through the mountain via the Ft. Pitt Tunnel and when you explode back into daylight the city is Right. There. In. Front. Of. You.

Due to the extremely rainy spring we’ve had, the grass had grown in our absence. We decided to rename our house The Hayfield.

So good to have seen old friends, made new friends, walked in marvelous cities, tasted wondrous food, and found one of my ancestral homes. But Pittsburgh? I was born a Yinzer and this is where my heart will always be at home.

Next: Some Swedish wool breeds and how they spin up

Monday, July 11, 2011

European Vacation, Part 6--My homeland

Post-war housing, with flowers!
Roundabout at the entrance to town
Wednesday, May 11–We leave early in the morning to seek out the village in Alsace-Lorraine that Nicholas Farmerie left in 1824 to come to Pittsburgh–he’s my great-great-great grandfather. As borders changed, Behrens-les-Forbach and the surrounding was sometimes French (present day) and sometimes German (in 1824) and is now a suburb of Forbach. We did not stop at the Mayoral office to look for records because it became evident to us that the area had been heavily bombed (leveled to the ground) during WWII. Both France and Germany wanted this coal-rich area to support their industrial return. We found only a few graves in the cemetary that predated the war, and the vast majority of names were neither French nor German, but seemed to belong to the influx of Slavic and Italian workers who came to work the mines after the war. Nevertheless, it was interesting to me to see how the village was still surrounded by fields. I wonder where Nicholas lived, and what he’d say if he could see the town now?

St. Blaise church, 1945 awards ceremony
St. Blaise church, rebuilt in 1959

Thursday, May 12–We decided that our last day of vacation should be a relaxing one, so we drove into town and sat on a bench on the river. I knitted on a lace curtain I’d started during the trip–it was so comforting to see all the lace curtains in the Belgian windows, I felt a connection to the Old World. Skip read a book, we watched ducks (one young lady duck had at least 10 suitors swimming around behind her–I guess it was her smile that attracted them), we lunched at a tiny place owned by a friend of our hostess. I have to admit that my last lunch in Belgium was a huge bowl of local ice cream with Belgian chocolate sauce, and a cup of milk coffee.
Bouillon, as seen from the castle

Godfrey's castle, from the town bridge

The view upriver

The view downriver

The beginning of my lace curtain

Friday, July 8, 2011

Jacque, these are for you, my good friend

Dear Lady,
Those of us who knew you wish you Godspeed and hope there's sheep where you are.