Monday, January 7, 2019


My goals for 2018 were:
I hope to read new books, both fiction and non-fiction.
I hope to see new movies & TV shows and not just rely on re-watching things that I'm comfortable with (but don't think this means I won't binge The Office or Dawson's Creek again - because that is ALWAYS an option).
I hope to continue to grow my yoga practice.
I hope to find new ways to bond with Karma since it's just us two most afternoons now.
I hope to continue journaling and using my version of the bullet journal system.
I hope to continue to be a maker.

My making goals this year are simple:

  • 20K yards in FOs again
  • Knit/weave/spin from :
    • stash
    • library
    • queue
    • handspun
  • Spin for large projects (fleeces!)
  • Continue to sew
  • Finish a blanket (or 2)
my 'top 9' from Instagram sums it up pretty well

How did I do?  Not too shabby.

Reading: I read 14 new books, 6 fiction and 8 non-fiction.  My favorite fiction read was Krysten Ritter's Bonfire.  You may know her as Jessica Jones and I know her as a fellow knitter.  This fiction/suspense book was a REALLY enjoyable read. My favorite non-fiction read was Dodging Energy Vampires by Christiane Northrup.  It gives practical advice about how to identify the power drains (or spoon thieves) in your life and how to sidestep their efforts and stop fueling them.

Movies: I saw 34 new (or new-to-me) movies.  Love, Simon was a winner.  I really liked 'Live.  Die.  Repeat' or Edge of Tomorrow.  It was a unique concept, with lots of crazy action, so you have to think AND things go 'splody.  And as always, the new installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were included and appreciated (even if they did kill off half of the planet...).

TV: I finally watched FRIENDS.  All of it.  Whew.  While the world is definitely a different place 20 years later, it's got a lot of comedy value still!  We watched ALL of Orphan Black - SO GOOD.  If you have Amazon Prime, stream it.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment of WestWorld - I wanna see how they move this into our world!
If you have ANY interest in Scientology (from afar, not interest in the religion), you have to check out Scientology and the Aftermath.  So compelling and oh, those poor people.  It breaks your heart, but is inspiring to see people speaking out.

Yoga has continued, even though the Center for Wholeness closed in the late spring.  We've created our own pug yoga class with Dr. Holt & her co-teacher, Winston Churchill, Yoga Pug.  It's as amazing as it sounds.

Karma Bonding:  We did pretty well with this, but we have a new phase of bonding as blind dog/seeing eye person.  This will have to continue, sadly.

Journaling: ON IT.  Fully converted.  Undoubtedly.

Making:  I definitely have continued to make!  And I entered the Ohio State Fair for the first time,  even winning a few ribbons.

FOs: I didn't quite make my FO yardage goal, but I did make a dent!  I ended up with 17,671 yards in finished projects: 12,693 in knitting, 3,262 in spinning, and 1,716 in weaving. 
I finished 4 adult and 2 baby sweaters, 10 pairs of adult socks, 10 hats, 8 cowls, 5 towels and 1 shawl.  I spun 10 braids of fiber into yarn.  Most surprisingly, I did all of that from stash or prize yarn.  Other than some sock yarn specifically for the hubs, I didn't buy a single skein all year.  I really enjoy getting yarn out of my stash and into my wardrobe!  6 of my FOs were made from handspun yarn and 1 is yarn I dyed myself.  Several things were patterns that I had wanted to make for a long time, and now I have them; that's always more satisfying.  18 things were made as gifts for other people, which may be a new record for me!  Finding knitworthy people is fantastic! Rav members: check out my finished projects here and my handspun here.

Spinning: I didn't spin for any large projects this year; I just wasn't feeling it.  But the good news is, I have fleece anytime I decide I need to spin for a sweater!  I did pick up a tiny Turkish spindle and I'm truly enjoying learning to spin on it!  Maybe I can spin on a spindle yet!

Sewing: I sewed up a few more garments for myself this year and I enjoy wearing them very much.  I have more fabric in that stash & I will be shopping it, too!  I sewed some household things this year and I find that really enjoyable; I have a few more ideas, so I'll share those as I make them a reality.

Blankets: I did knit on a blanket, but I didn't finish it.  That goal will roll over to 2019 with a purpose!

My intention for 2018 was 'sustain'.  It feels like we did just that.  And even though I felt some frustration that we didn't get traction on anything this year, I guess it's better than losing footing.  Actually, that feeling of not getting traction is just a feeling.  Once I sat down to actually reflect, we did a lot to make things more sustainable and found healthy, productive routines for a lot of things in our life this year.  Those choices allowed more time and space for new people and things to spend time with and love;  I would call that a solid win.

A few of the new things that came into our life this year:

  • I developed a small succulent obsession, which I have mostly under control now. 
  • We dug out and redid the landscaping in our front and side beds, as well as rehomed some plants from the front to the back, where they will get more sun.
  • We adopted a cuddly guinea pig named Tia.
  • Sound healing/chakra work 
  • New traditions: Friendsmas meal, Game Day/Night & Yoga Dinner
We also finished up a bathroom remodel and I got back into writing some flow-of-consciousness writing, which I haven't done in years.

This year really emphasized to me that goals can be adjusted.  Just because you didn't check off the entire list doesn't mean you weren't productive.  When you step back and look at the big picture, you see things more clearly; that's the reason I love doing these posts.  Hopefully you enjoy them, too, and maybe they inspire you to look at your year in review, too. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Old Dog, New Tricks

By now, most of the people in our circles know our goofy pitsky mix, Karma.  She'll be 9 years old in about a week and while she has slowed down with age, the goofiness she has exhibited since we rescued her hasn't ever really left her.

Sometimes this goofiness has been sleeping in every weird position her body will allow.  We have long joked that Karma must be made of a plasma and not a solid, because solids don't bend like she can.


Other times, the goofiness meant begging for toys to destroy.

Trogdor didn't last very long against the valiant Karma.

Once she realized we were her pack, Karma has been so loyal and protective.  She regularly forces herself between me and strangers on walks, and even puts Hubs in his place if he tickles me too hard or we play wrestle more than her liking.  She has more than once read the riot act to service people who had to enter the house (except for the plumber who took 5 minutes to give her some love.  He's welcome back any time ;) ).

Chair-dog of the Neighborhood Watch
She was a great packmate and playmate for her sister, Ellie.  It was a difficult adjustment for all of us when we lost Ellie.  But lots of love, cuddles, and a few extra toys to destuff, and Karma adjusted to being a single dog and started loving getting all the pets and love from both of us.

Back to the goofiness - she's always been kinda goofy and derpy. She would regularly get so excited, she would trip over her own feet or bounce off of walls or furniture, usually bugling her excitement for the whole house to hear.  A few months ago, we noticed the derpy had stepped up its game a bit and she was bumping things a bit more.

Then we noticed she was having trouble with the steps at night, in the dark, when she had been taking them 2-3 leaps at a time for years.  But, she was almost 9, she was allowed a misstep or two.

We noticed she was demanding more cuddles.  Whining and crying for them, like she NEEDED to be physically touching or near us.  Other than her daily walk, she wasn't going out to bask in the sun like she usually did... but it was getting colder, so that made sense.

She has always been very food motivated, but had never been one to clean her bowl every meal or have a belly alarm when it was dinner time.  Yet, once we got the guinea pig, we noticed she had a lot more interest in meal time and started cleaning her bowl regularly.  We attributed this to a renewed joie de vivre over having a furry friend in the house again.

But over Thanksgiving, Dr. MIL noticed that Karma had been eyeing her cheese for quite some time (as she has been known to do), but her pupils were still as big as saucers, despite the lamp right behind Dr. MIL's shoulder.  Carefully, Dr. MIL said, "I don't know what it means in dogs, but you might want to take her into the vet... In people, pupils that don't react normally can be a sign of retinal problems."

A few Google searches and a vet visit later, and Dr. MIL was right on the money.  Our goofy pup most likely has SARDS or sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome.  She exhibited lots of the symptoms that go along with the vision loss, including shiny, orange pupils in certain light, increased appetite and thirst, weight gain (despite no change in diet), restlessness and lethargy.  Also, SARDS is most likely to occur in female dogs and the average age of onset is 8.5 years.  All signs point to yes.  From all the research we can find, there isn't a known cause for SARDS and there isn't an effective treatment.  But the good news is, most owners don't report a sharp decline in quality of life for dogs with SARDS and she's not showing any signs of discomfort or pain around her eyes.

Our goofy dog is still goofy, she's still protective, and she's still a cuddler, but her needs are different now.  She has to trust us more than ever before to help her learn to navigate the world by touch, smell and sound and we have to be her seeing eye people.  While she's not totally adjusted yet, Karma has amazed us at her resilience and willingness to try again and again after she stumbles, bumps things, misses steps or just gets so excited she forgets where she is and has to reorient.

Karma still loves to meet people and have visitors.  But for everyone's safety, we've added disclaimers to her collar and leash so people understand she can't see them.  If you come to visit us, please be sure to speak to her, hold down your hand for her to sniff and give her a minute to remember who you are.  We are working to make sure the fear of living in darkness doesn't change our cuddly girl, but know her protective instincts may kick in if we don't take the right steps to introduce visitors.  We haven't had ANY indication of aggression towards anyone yet, and we want to keep it that way!  

It seems this old dog can learn some new tricks yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Handspun Cowl Recipe

For me, spinning is meditation that also makes yarn.  Everything about spinning is restorative!  There's nothing better than sitting down at my wheel with a braid of beautiful hand-painted fiber in my hand and letting yarn happen. My favorite way of spinning hand-painted fiber is to spin the braid end-to-end and then chain-plying it to keep the colors together.  Unless the wool wants to be something different, my default single is a heavy lace/light fingering weight, which results in a chain-plyed finished yarn of a DK/light worsted/worsted weight 3-ply yarn.  Nice and round and perfect for knitting.

As you can imagine, I've begun to accumulate quite a few skeins of this default chain-plyed, 3-ply, color-pooling or nearly self-striping handspun.  Resolved to stop saving handspun for when the Queen comes to call, I have started grabbing these skeins, hand-winding them, and using this cowl as my run-out-the-door, don't-need-to-think-about-it, but-need-knitting-in-my-hands go-to project.  Perfect for meetings or the movies or a waiting room, this is easily knit in the dark.

P.S. You can totally learn to knit in the dark!  Start with a few stitches for practice at home, with your eyes closed, and using a larger yarn - like DK or worsted.  In a few minutes, you'll realize your muscle memory knows what to do! 

Now that I've knit 3 of them, I decided I should keep track of them and the 'improvised pattern' option in Ravelry won't help me do that.  So, without further comment, I present my Handspun Cowl Recipe.

Perfect for those tempting self-striping bumps from Loop!

Handspun Cowl Recipe


  •  ~100 grams of worsted weight handspun yarn
  • US 7 4.5 mm 16" circular needle
  • US 9 5.5 mm needle (for bind off only - a DPN or needle tip will suffice)
  • stitch marker
  • digital scale
  • yarn needle
  • 5 sts per 1"
  1. Weigh your ball of yarn.  Make a note of this amount on your project page!  Sticky notes like to go walkabout, IYKWIM.
  2. Using a long tail cast on and your smaller needle, cast on 124 sts for a closer to the neck, but long enough to pull up over your ears snood OR 132 sts for a looser, warm cowl to pile about your neck.
  3. Place stitch marker and join for working in the round.  Be sure not to twist your cast on edge!
  4. Knit 2x2 ribbing (k2, p2) for 8 rounds ( ~1").
  5. Weigh your ball of yarn again.  Subtract this from your original weight; the difference is how much you need to reserve for the other end's ribbing and bind off.  This is your magic number.
    For example, if you started with 100 grams and after your ribbing was knit you had 88 grams, this means you need to reserve at least 12 grams for your ribbing and bind off at the end of your cowl. 12 would be your magic number.
  6. Knit in stockinette stitch until your yarn weighs nearly your magic number, but not less than!
  7. At the beginning of the next round, knit 2x2 ribbing for 7 rounds.
  8. Cast off loosely in pattern using the larger needle.
  9. Weave in ends using the yarn needle.
  10. Wash gently, squeeze out excess water (Do Not Twist!), and lay gently into shape to block.
This should be easily adaptable to other weights of yarn.

Choose a needle size that will give you a substantial, but not firm or stiff fabric.  To choose a needle size for handspun, I usually draw up a loop through my needle sizing tool.  If the yarn hangs limp or loosely in the needle sizing hole, go down a needle size.  If the loop doesn't easily slide through, go up.  The ideal needle size will allow you to slide the loop up through the hole and comfortably stay there, without flopping or forcing it.

Cast on a number of stitches divisible by 4 that overfills your 16" needle or do a little guesstimated gauge math to get the perfect stitch count for your handspun.

I have made several of these and they make a great gifts!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guinea Pig Sleeping Bags

I love my wee piggie.  She's funny and adorable when she eats and makes me laugh when she squeaks for food.  But she has this one little habit that I'm not so fond of:  She pees on me.

Sadly, for all their wonderful qualities, guinea pigs aren't really potty-trainable.  (Some claim that their pigs are potty trained, but those pigs seem to be much the exception, not the rule. The people who surrendered Tia even said that she would be easily potty-trainable, because she 'always went in the same spot'.  Yeah, nope.)  As such, cuddling with them, carrying them around, etc... requires you either be okay with being peed on (pass) OR having a towel draped over you or swaddling the piggie.

When I went looking for direction on how to prepare fleece for cage bedding on the interwebz, I ended up on Pinterest, as one does.  There I saw several pins for guinea pig cozies or cuddlers.  I also came across one gal who called them sleeping bags. So! Cute!

After my guinea pig cage lining extravaganza, I had quite a bit of fleece yardage left over.  One shouldn't leave fabric like that just sitting about, you know?  I had pinned some of the best looking cuddler tutorials and revisited them when I realized I had ALL this fleece, pre-washed and ready to cut!  I looked at a few of the designs and found that most were fussier than I wanted to bother with.  I also had leftover furniture pads (AKA recycled denim fabric) that are absorbent from cutting cage liners, too.  With a few minutes to think about it, I had devised my own sleeping bag design and I'm super happy with how it turned out.

The challenge with most guinea pig products designed to be absorbent and cuddly is that the blend of polyester (fleece), cotton (denim pads) and lining fabrics (some sort of synthetic, PUL being popular - the stuff they put in cloth diaper covers that breathes but doesn't let liquid pass through) have different washing and drying requirements.   The fleece will tolerate a bit of heat, but will shrink, and at a different rate than the cotton naturally.  The synthetic liner will break down when subjected to too much heat (and by break down, I mean LEAK).  The cotton is where the wet ends up (it flows through the prepared fleece and is absorbed by the cotton, held there by the liner).  So the cotton gets the most gross.  Also, I'm old school and the only way to sanitize things (especially with bodily fluids) is detergent and HOT water. The cotton denim pads have already been washed HOT, dried HOTTER several times and have most of their shrink out of them.  But there's still that pesky issue of STINKY GERMS.  EW.

All the patterns I found were unlined (why?  they are just gonna pee on the fleece AND THEN it's gonna leech onto you...) or they had everything all sewn up together.  It looked very tidy, but after the laundry lesson above, we know that it won't stay tidy (because shrinkage) OR stay very effective for very long.  Miss Tia has anywhere up to another 6-7 years of life in her and I'm not wanting to do this every 6 months, so I needed something more sustainable.

Fleece tends to grab onto itself.  Some of the sleeping bags I saw online were designed to fold over. So why not have a bag designed to fold over and use fleece's tendency to grip to itself to hold this together?  (Also, adding snaps would work, too, and I may do that yet!)

So, here's what Hubs & I did:
(I had desire but not enough spoons to cut AND sew, so Hubs helped me out by cutting.  Thanks, Hubs!)

I chose pairs of fleece fabric (the leftover no-sew fleece blanket kit pieces were just yelling "COORDINATE ME!!").

For each LEAKPROOF sleeping bag, Hubs cut the following:
  • 12" x 24" fleece fabric for the outside
  • 12" x 30" fleece fabric for the inside
  • 12" x 24" denim pad for the absorbent layer
  • 12" x 24" PUL liner 
After cutting, fold each piece in half so that the short sides meet.  The short side will stay open.  Sew the long sides together, resulting in a pouch shape. Here are photos of my inner fabric (solid pink), outer fabric (blue with pink hedgehogs), my absorbent denim layer and my PUL liner. Outer fleece and PUL liner are turned seams in.

Trim threads carefully, so they don't become chewing temptations for guinea pigs later!

After sewing and trimming, leave the inner fabric seams out and slide the denim pouch over top, also seams out.  Turn the outer fabric and PUL pouches seams IN (using a fingertip or chopstick to push into the corners and turn them all the way out!).  Slide the PUL layer into the outer fabric and then work the pieces together. The cut edges don't need any treatment at all since fleece and PUL won't fray and the cotton is pre-shrunk enough that the edges are stable as well.

Once together, fold your longer inner fabric over the top edges and VOILA!  Piggie sleeping bag that will keep your piggie cozy and warm and YOU BOTH dry!

Tia enjoys napping on our laps or shoulders in her little sleeping bag!

Sometimes I just wanna hide my head under the blankets, too, Tia...

Because I had plenty of fleece, I also made a few unlined sleeping bags for her cage.  Guinea pigs have a lower tolerance for cold, so having some extra fleece to burrow into is nice for her.  This fleece has been pre-washed so that water runs through it - and these only work since there is absorbent denim layers in the bottom of her cage.  

Disclaimer: You never want to leave your pig in a situation where they have to sit, lay, or walk on consistently damp material of any kind.  This is dangerous for their health.

For her cage sleepers, I cut 2 12" x 24" pieces of coordinating fleece fabric and sewed side seams as above.  I turned one seams IN and slid them together, so none of the seams were exposed.  As a top closure I used a zigzag stitch to hold the layers together for warmth (and to make sure no threads were exposed to tempt those little teeth!).

When completed, the cage sleepers looked like this:

As you can see, her cage is amazingly stylish now. And the sleepers can be rolled back - they are plenty long for my piggie!

Tia Approved!
All told, I sewed 5 lined cuddly sleeping bags and 3 unlined sleeping bags, as pictured above.  And ALL from stash!  I'm happy with them and so is Tia!  

Friday, November 2, 2018

Guinea Piggies are the Best Piggies! and No-sew cage liner instructions

This fall, we added a guinea pig to our family.  If you follow me on Instagram, you may have already noticed...  Tia has been a wonderful addition and we love her!

It was love at first nuzzle.

Almost immediately, I began looking for a less dusty, more eco-friendly way to keep her cage clean.  While, yes, she does use the bathroom in the cage, I don't have to have an extra room that smells like a bathroom.  And paper bedding, while it did control the smell quite well, is hard to spot clean to pick up the 12 million ahem magic beans Tia produces on the DAILY.  Seriously, I'm amazed at how much poop an animal that fits in my hands makes!

"She's been really preoccupied with poop lately, hasn't she?"

We currently have a MidWest Homes for Pets Wabbitat Deluxe for Miss Tia.  It's big enough for a second piggie, if she can ever approve a roommate!  She's a little diva, that one.  I can't imagine how she picked us to come home with... ::shifty eyes::

Many people have written about the virtues of fleece bedding for guinea pigs and Tia seems to agree!  It's easier for her to run around on the fleece than the paper stuff, and she doesn't kick it out of the cage.  Win-win! When thinking about proper bedding for guinea pigs, you need something to absorb any wet messes and something with wicking properties that sits on top of the absorbent layers to keep their feet and bellies dry.  After a few weeks of trial and error, we've found a less dusty way to deal with Tia's living space.  Bonus - it involves cute fabric! (Grabs the coupons and heads to the fabric store... "No, honey, I know I don't need more fabric. It's for the piggie!!")

U-haul's Furniture Pads are a great absorbent layer.  They are made from recycled cotton (yay recycling textiles!), they are absorbent, they are inexpensive, and they can be laundered forever.  IN HOT WATER.  DRIED ON HIGH HEAT.  TO KILL ALL THE SMELLS.  I kept finding all these options that needed to be washed on cold and dried on low.  How do you kill the smells and germs this way?  I don't understand... And I don't have to now.

I pre-washed these several cycles on HOT/HOT with vinegar to get the manufacturing oils and smell out of them, BEFORE CUTTING.  They did shrink some (as was expected), so I didn't plan my cutting until AFTER I was confident they were fully preshrunk.  They shed lint like crazy, so be sure to thoroughly clean your dryer's lint trap before and after (and possibly during) every cycle.

Each furniture pad starts out 68" x 85" (per the package), before washing.  Ours stretched/shrunk to around 70" x 75" after. I don't understand it either, but there it is.  Cotton.  shrugs

The bottom tray for our cage is 45" x 21".  (Be sure to measure the dimensions INSIDE the cage, not just go with the dimensions on the box - those are exterior and you will end up with inaccurate cuts.)  I decided to cut with 1" extra fabric on both dimensions to account for future shrinkage.  With a little planning, I was able to get 4 tray liners out of one furniture pad, with some left over fabric for other projects.  Here is the cut chart we followed, cutting on the dotted lines.

The base layer of her bedding is now several layers of the Uhaul pads (about 1/8" thick each), topped with some adorable fleece fabric that had also been pre-washed.

Fleece fabric isn't prohibitively expensive, and the best way to buy fleece yardage is in the form of no-sew fleece kits.  They are especially affordable right now, because they are popular Christmas gifts and regularly go on sale 50% (or more!) off in the fall.  Big box stores ALWAYS have coupons, so double up when you can!  Each kit has 2 pieces of fabric and is plenty enough to get 2 cage liners, plus excess fabric - that's already color coordinated!! - for piggie cozies or pouches.

The fleece I purchased is around 48" x 60".  I wanted a final cut around 27" x 60", so the fleece will wrap around and under the Uhaul pads.  To cut, find the long side and bring the long sides together.  Then measure 27" from the edge and cut from the fold across.  This yields a piece of fleece long enough to fold under all edges and pin the overlapping flaps together, wrapping the Uhaul pads away from burrowing, inquisitive piggies.  I used stainless steel diaper pins to secure the fleece (hopefully they won't rust as quickly) and if needed, the fleece can be pinned to the underside of the cotton pads as well.

Cage assembly is a breeze now!  I pin the fleece around the cotton pads, lay the corners in place, reassemble the kitchen area shelf, and voila!  Done!

I know she's not a hedgehog, but thought she might like some rodent company in her big cage all by herself.
Also, who can resist happy pink hedgehogs and flowers?

Every few days, I use a little whisk broom and dustpan like this one to clean up the solid waste.  I also clean out the litter box that holds hay, etc. and wipe down with a 50/50 vinegar/water solution.

On total cage cleaning days, I remove the pigloo and toys, sweep up solid waste, pull out the lining and take it outside to brush the hay bits and guinea pig hair off.  Next, it goes in the washer on hot!  While it's washing, I spray down all the hard surfaces with the vinegar solution and wipe out.  Then reassemble the cage as above.  

Tia always likes to explore her freshly cleaned cage.
Less dust, less mess, less trash, quick & easy to change, more popcorns - everyone is happier!

P.S. - Great info on fleece bedding and how to prepare it is available from the Cali Cavy Collective.

P.P.S - There are pros and cons to this type of bedding - a little Googling will turn up lots of discussion on this topic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How I get the gross out of raw fleece

After I've selected & skirted a fleece, I usually wrap it up in the plastic drop cloth and store until I'm ready to wash.  If there was a lot of VM that shook out, I will gather up the fleece into smaller bags and shake the VM off outside.  Another thought about the VM - if it shook out easily when you opened up the fleece, it will likely shake out easily later, too.  I usually gather up the plastic and put the fleece into a plastic tub that is stacking friendly, and where small animals can't get into it.  (I get it: it's warm, it smells like a barn, not the worst place to make your welcome, but we have no vacancies here.) Right now, I store raw fleece in our basement that is climate controlled for ease of access and rodent avoidance.

If the fleece stash outgrows the basement at some point, I'll likely take Judith MacKenzie's tip about 5 gallon buckets with lids.  Shove the raw fleece into the bucket, pushing the air out, and put the lid on, sealing it with a rubber mallet.  The lack of air flow should prevent the grease from souring too quickly and rodents won't be able to get into the bucket, even if they could smell it.

I wash fleece when it's warm out for a few reasons: cold is really hard on me and wet cold is even worse, I believe it takes more water when heat doesn't help things along, and the dirty nasty water is GREAT for watering our flowers.

To prepare the fleece for washing, I put up to 8 oz of fleece into  delicate bag like these.  This makes it easy to fish wool out of the water without agitating it too much and also makes it easy to avoid lots of wool going down the drain later.  I tend to wash in small batches because that's easier for me to lift and handle, but if you have a big enough space to soak and wash, and enough delicate bags, wash the whole fleece if you want!

Delicious... for the flowers.
The first step when I wash is a cold water soak.  I have a plastic tub that is placed on our back deck and filled with cold water.  I put a few delicate bags of wool (my tub holds up to 2 lbs at a time) on top of the water and let them sink in as they absorb the water.  I then cover the tub with a black plastic bag (solar energy, y'all!) and ignore it for 5-7 days.  Covering the bin keeps birds (and inquisitive huskys...) out of the smelly soaking wool and using black helps to keep the water warm overnight when the temp drops.  Soaking will help loosen up dirt, soften up VM and will help dissolve suint (the dirty, sticky sweat part of wool grease).  Depending on the gross level of this fleece, I will sometimes dump the water, pull the bags out onto the deck, let as much gross water drain off as possible while refilling the tub with fresh cold water.  I lay the bags back into the cold water and recover for a few more days of soaking.

Warning - when you uncover this tub - IT WILL SMELL SOMETHING AWFUL.  You are liquefying the grossest gross here, so brace yourself.  (Most gross?  How come grosser sounds wrong but grossest sounds less so? ::shrugs::)  And be glad this isn't happening in your kitchen, right?!  I started soaking after reading about the fermented suint method which is great if you are on limited water consumption, but takes a stronger stomach and more dedication than I have (also see note about inquisitive husky above).  By doing a shorter cool soak, you are getting rid of the grossest of gross without your backyard smelling like a barn all summer, and without running the risk of any of the variables described failing on you and having to scour even after you ignored the barnyard smell on your patio all summer.  The fermented suint method isn't hard - and once you get things cooking, it sustains itself, but getting the conditions favorable can sometimes take a few tries.  More info about this method is here.

After the wool has soaked a few days (or you remember it's out there and gather the spoons to deal with it), I pour the water out and let the wool drain for a few minutes while I ready the sink for washing.  Another reason for washing during the summer - the ambient temperature is already 80F+ so there's not a risk of shock/felting when I take the wet wool from cold water to hot to scour.

Scouring wool from a dirty, greasy sheep
Sadly, I don't have a utility sink, which would be perfect for this type of thing.  (Thanks for putting the plumbing DIRECTLY next to the electrical box, architect guy.)  So I use the sink I have available.  I move everything adjacent to cooking out of the way, scrub down the sink and counter tops, and run a sink full of water as hot as my tap will go.  I add appropriate measures of Unicorn Power Scour for the water level and then add a bag of wool.  Wearing dish washing gloves, I gently press the wool down into the hot water (I keep a separate pair for scouring/felting/fulling).

Don't let the hot water run OVER the wool - it may felt the fleece.

Next, I set a timer - usually for 15-20 minutes - to come back and pull the wool out of the hot water.  If you let the water cool too much, the lanolin will redeposit on the wool, which defeats the purpose of the hot wash water.  When the timer rings, I gently move the bag out of the way to see the level of gross in the wash water and pull the sink stopper. Let gross water drain off, lift the bag of wool out, warm up the water flow until it's at its hottest, replug the sink and repeat.  I repeat this process until the water is mostly clear.

After the water is mostly clear, I rinse 1-2 times to get all of the soap out.  I run warm water, lay the bag of wool into it and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  Repeat until I don't get bubbles when draining or pressing the excess water out of the wool.

If I go more than 3 rounds in the scour, I finish with a warm rinse in Unicorn Fiber Rinse.  This makes sure the soap is all out of the wool and gives the clean wool a nice, soft hand.

After the last rinse, I take the wool down to my spin dryer.  I have this one, but when it dies, I will upgrade to this beauty! I place the bag of wool into the spin dryer and run it for 2-3 minutes, or until water stops streaming out of the drain tube.  Then I take the wool out of the bag and spread it on a drying frame like this one to dry next to our dehumidifier.  This way, the wool dries in less than a day!

My method is the combination of lots of reading, some trial and error and the limitations of my spoonie self and what we have on hand.  It is, by no means, the end all.  Definitely read far and wide and see what works best for you!  My favorite scouring tutorial is by Beth Smith.

A note about lanolin in my pipes: If Beth is scouring 300 pounds of wool a year and putting that water down her drains without problems, I'm not gonna worry about my scant 1-2 fleeces a year.

Happy scouring & spinning!

How I buy all the fleeces!

It's no secret: I love wool.  I love soft wool, I love toothy wool, I love the texture of wool, I love working with wool.  Sometimes, I even love the smell of it.  I love the feel of lanolin on my hands after rubbing on a sweet sheepy face.

But, as we all know, sheep are prone to rub themselves all over some less than savory things.  Since the best wool comes from their bodies, they tend to get a bit... well.... gross.  Some sheep are more gross (grosser? That can't be right...) than others.  Some just love burying their faces in the hay trough back to their shoulder blades.  Some sheep love to roll in weeds.  And since they live outside, sheep get dirty.  And hey, everybody poops.

Regardless of all the gross factors above, fleeces sing a siren song most spinners are powerless to resist.  The tables of raw fleeces at wool shows draw you in, singing soft melodies of all the potential of these pounds of wool.  Some melodies are dancing, bouncy melodies, their fine crimp giggling at you, enticing you to come closer; other melodies are slower, shining melancholy melodies with beautiful locks of waves from a long wool breed waiting for your admiration.  Some even sing their own counterpoint, as natural colored locks hint at the depth of color in your finished yarn.  In a word, irresistible.

Speaking of singing, it's important to test any raw fleece you are considering for purchase for breaks or brittle fibers.  This guide to wool assessment from Shaltz Farm is a good one and describes how I ping locks to check for sound lock structure.  A fleece with a break in it isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it will change the way you can handle and spin with that wool.  I hear the ping like a plucked string on a string instrument (violin, viola, guitar).  It will have a tone to it and a little ring.  If upon repeated snaps, the ring changes tone or gets less audible or goes away completely, there is a break in the fiber.  In a long staple fleece, you may be able to work around that break.  In a short staple fiber, handspinning may not be the best path for a fleece with a break in it.  Judith MacKenzie addresses this far better than I ever could in her DVD Three Bags Full - definitely check it out.

It is also important to know what type of fleece you are buying and the characteristics of that fleece before you buy.  Definitely grab a copy of The Field Guide to Fleece to throw into your festival bag.  It's small and worth the extra few ounces!

A raw fleece I purchased online from a shepherd.
Buying fleece online is a bit of a gamble, but this one was a winner! 
Raw fleeces are fleeces that have been shorn from the sheep, collected and, usually dumped rather unceremoniously into a trash bag for storage & transport.  Raw fleece will still have all the grease the sheep produced while growing it, as well as VM and anything that stuck to the grease or wool.  Raw fleeces usually contain vegetable matter, also known as VM: bits of straw, grass, seeds, burrs, etc.   They can also contain leg and belly wool (less desirable for handspinners, as it is lower quality), which are also usually high in VM.  They can also contain 'tags', from the phrase 'tag end'; tags are found on the back end of a sheep and all the business that goes on there.  ew

When looking at a raw fleece, it is important to determine if it has been skirted.  Skirting is a process where the least desirable wool has been removed and discarded.  A skirted raw fleece should not contain ANY tags whatsoever; a 'lightly skirted' fleece can mean that only tags have been removed.  Some shepherds also remove leg and belly wool as well; they may refer to this as a skirted fleece or a well-skirted fleece.  Interpretation is open to the shepherd, so be sure talk to the shepherd, ask questions about how aggressively they skirt and maybe ask to open up a raw fleece and look at it yourself.  This can help you assess the whole fleece and decide on the value of the asking price per pound. Everybody poops, but you don't want to pay for that by the pound...

When I get a raw fleece home, I like to lay out a plastic drop cloth like these and spread the fleece out on top.  You never know what will shake out and it's nice to have something to protect your floor!  I spread out the fleece and if it has stayed together well, try to orient the blanket into a quasi-sheep shape.  While the fleece is spread out on the floor, look for areas of wool you might not want to spin.  There's nothing wrong with separating your fleece into 'firsts' and 'seconds'.  Just because it isn't something that would be nice next to your skin in a sweater or hat doesn't mean it's not worth using.   Rugs need to be tough, not soft, so don't forget about the possibility of corespinning that rough fleece into some sturdy rug yarn!

This monster fleece required a second skirting,
but you can see how the 'blanket' held together as we unrolled it. 
This helped us skirt more efficiently.
At this point, I do any additional skirting that may be needed and also grab up any second cuts (short bits cut by a second pass with the shearing blades that aren't near the length of the rest of the fleece).  Second cuts can be thrown into a separate bin for stuffing, quilt batting or to create nubs or tweedy bits on a drum carder, if you like.  (If you plan to incorporate them into your spinning, be sure to wash them, too!)

I don't know about you, but I don't really want all that dirt and ahem other stuff on me, my lap, my bobbins or my wheel while I'm spinning.  Some handspinners do choose to spin certain fleeces 'in the grease' and more power to them!  There are a few sheep breeds that lend themselves to this, as they have low grease content in their fleece and the fleece is usually fairly clean, as the grease is what grabs onto the dirt.  Most medium and fine fleeces tend to be greasy, and need some TLC before they are ready to be spun.

My next post will be about getting the gross out!

P.S. - another great post about the fermented suint method from Ask the Bellwether here.