Tag Archives: guest blogs

Guest Post: Things I learned from Rosie with Jacey Boggs Faulkner

jaceyThis week’s guest post is by none other than Jacey Boggs Faulker, editor of PLY Magazine. She has spent the last decade falling in love with fiber, writing a book (Spin Art, Interweave, 2012), writing for various fiber and spinning magazines, producing a spinning DVD (Sit & Spin, 2009, self), and teaching all over the world. We are very much looking forward to the PLY Away Retreat happening in Kansas City, MO next Spring, which the Woolery will be sponsoring! 

We recently sent Jacey our new Rosie Blending Board to try out, and she was good enough to put together her thoughts to share with our blog readers. Enjoy! 

All the best,

Wave, Perri & the entire Woolery team

I learned three things this past week. The first thing I learned is that I hold (or rather, held) the belief that because I’m good at many fibery things, I will have an immediate affinity for all fibery things. This assumption of skill was previously an unexamined and not-too-attractive part of my psyche. It’s been corrected now.

The second thing I learned is that I’m not always as good as I think I’m going to be at everything.

The third thing I learned is that blending boards are fun, but like all things, they do take time and practice.

Let me go back to the beginning. I got a big box-of-beautiful in the mail from one of my favorite places that sends big-boxes-of-beautiful – the Woolery. You know the feeling, right? The anticipation, the excitement, the quick rip of tape, the reverent unwrapping of plastic, and then you see it, your most recent fibery purchase. In my case, it was a Rosie Blending Board, some yellow merino wool, a few packets of sari silk waste, a yellow silk cap, and a bit of sparkle. My plan was easy – I would master the blending board and make perfectly blended rolags right off the line.

I have seen other fiber lovers use blending boards with laughing faces, unfurrowed brows, and beautiful results. I assumed I’d be just like them. I assumed I’d somehow morph into somebody having Gwen Powell–like blending board talent in no time, blending the perfect ratio of this to that, making stripes, and rolling my perfect rolags off at an angle.

I was not, and it was nobody’s fault but my own.

I invited my best fiber friend, Christie, over so I could show her the glory and magic of blending on a board (instead of the handcards she and I have toted to fiber classes or the drum carders that get shuffled back and forth between her house and mine).

blending2

I set up the station before she arrived. I didn’t even practice because I wanted her to see it all unsullied, fresh, and pristine. I didn’t do any research, read any manuals, or watch any videos. Like I said, I assumed success.

I immediately grabbed some fiber, loaded the board to the tips of its tiney teeth, and rolled it off. There, I thought, no problem, that was easy. And after pushing and pulling with all my might, I finally got if off the wooden dowel and held out my first board-blended rolag for Christie to ooh and ahh over. She did not ooh and ahh; she grimaced and then guffawed. Christie thought it looked like a giant mustache rather than the delicate fiber it was, destined to be spun. I didn’t disagree as we both bent over in peals of laughter.

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog!

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog!

After a few more attempts (I’m embarrassed to say exactly how many), she suggested that maybe I was putting too much fiber on the board. If you’ve ever used a blending board, you probably spotted that problem right away. She also said that I might be wrapping it too tightly around the dowel. Then she whispered that maybe there was a YouTube video that I could watch before I tried again. 

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog!

Less fiber and not rolling it as tightly as was humanly possible went well. Perhaps it was because my first few (many) were such a mess, but I was as proud of this rolag as any I’d ever made. 

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog!

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog! I went on to make several that were more and more on the good side of the rolag–giant mustache continuum, and after I did a little research, read a few blogs, and watched a few YouTube videos, I managed a few that I even want to spin.

So if you’re considering a blending board, for portability, cost, and ease of rolag construction, I can say this:

The Rosie can deliver all of these things – it’s super light and portable but also sturdy and comfortable to use. It’s very affordable and, once you understand a few simple things, very easy to use.  And finally, the super fine blending brush it comes with is super nice!  I couldn’t stop touching it!

Don’t use as much fiber as I did. Seriously, my first few rolags weigh in at over an ounce while the latter ones are an eighth of that weight. What was I thinking?

Don’t roll the rolags as tightly as possible. When I did this, even the rolags that would have been decent took so much abuse as I pushed, pulled, and screwed them off the dowel that they were a disheveled and misshapen mess.

Don’t assume just because you’re a great handcarder or drumcarder, or have skill with any other fiber work, that you’ll immediately make perfect rolags on a blending board. This isn’t the fault of the tool or you; it’s just that it takes a bit to grow and fine-tune a new skill. 

Read instructions and watch videos. Other people have tons to teach, and we should never forget that we each have tons to learn.

Fun with Fiber - check out Jacey Boggs' guest post on the Woolery Blog!

As for Christie and me, we’ve got another date with the blending board, and this time, we’re going to be ready!

Guest Post: Breed Specific Yarns with Beth Brown-Reinsel

There are so many sheep, and so many types of sheep, in this world. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (the FAO) estimated in 2006 that there are over 1300 breeds of sheep in the world, and this number does not reflect the extinct breeds.”1 It is ecologically important to have diversity in all things, including sheep breeds. These genetic adaptations have come about through changes in the environment as well as a fair amount of human fiddling around to achieve better meat production or to enhance various properties of the wool.

Merino Rams

Merino Rams

I remember that yarn shopping in the 1970s was a straight-forward affair. My favorite yarn store had a dazzling wall of colorful skeins stacked almost to the ceiling. Good old Germantown. It was 100% wool. Period. There was no clue as to what breeds were included in that skein of yarn. Actually I think it is a marvel that yarns made of blended wools can be produced with consistent results, time and time again. It takes great skill to create a blended yarn from all the various fleeces that come into a spinning mill. Most yarns are made this way–an amalgam of fleeces, mysterious to us consumers, but carefully calculated by the manufacturer to create a specific type of yarn.

Most breed specific yarns have been available commercially for just a few decades, other than Merino and Shetland, which are arguably the most recognizable breed specific yarns.

I liken varietal wines to breed specific yarns. Rather than blending different varieties of grapes (or the gene pools of different breeds of sheep), adhering to one variety, or breed, allows the characteristics of that type of grape, or sheep, to stand out. The strengths of that breed can be applied to its best use. Being a handspinner, I found myself naturally drawn to yarns from a single source.

So knowing the breed characteristics can guide you as to the best use for that yarn. Choosing a Merino or Rambouillet yarn, which is of a very fine fiber, to make a textured garment such as a gansey would typically yield patterning so soft it would not show as well as a crisper medium staple yarn, such as Colombia or Corriedale. Because the crimp is so high in finer wools, the light is absorbed more readily yielding a soft, matte look. Other wool fibers with less crimp tend to reflect the light, showing off textures to great advantage. But a fine, crimpy wool is very soft and perfect for baby clothes, or garments worn next to one’s skin.

In the mid-1990s yarns began to appear on the market that were made from one breed alone. I had started my online yarn shop and began importing breed specific yarns from the UK. Some of these breeds were quite special. The Wensleydale sheep, categorized as “at risk” by The Rare Breeds Survival Trust of the U.K., has a sheen like mohair, but can feel soft and buttery. I found it made spectacular Arans, creating deep textures that showed well with the shiny quality of the yarns.

Learn more about Breed Specific Yarns on the Woolery Blog's guest post with Beth Brown Reinsel!

The Suffolk I imported was the most bouncy, jubilant yarn I had seen and made the best cables and bobbles! (As a spinner I scoffed at the idea of Suffolk yarn at first, but learned that the Brits’ idea of Suffolk is completely different than the scratchy US version, which is bred primarily for meat.)

Suffolk Yarn - learn more about breed specific yarns on the Woolery Blog with Beth Brown Reinsel!

Suffolk Yarn

Herdwick wool is coarse and has these lovely bits of kinky white hair (kemp) in among the grey wool. I wouldn’t want to wear it next to my skin, but for outerwear that yarn would last forever.

Herdwick Yarn - learn more about breed specific yarns with Beth Brown Reinsel on the Woolery Blog!

Herdwick Yarn

Icelandic wool is often sold in cakes as a single ply yarn with little twist, called plötulopi. The fleece is double-coated, made up of a soft, shorter undercoat and a more sturdy, longer fiber. The garments made from this yarn are light, yet very warm. From the photo below, the coarser hairs can be seen, creating a fuzzy halo.

Icelandic Yarn - learn more about breed specific yarns with Beth Brown Reinsel on the Woolery blog!

Icelandic Yarn

Shetland is historically used in color knitting for which it is well suited, in part because the genetics have been quite varied in the past, yielding a wealth of natural shades. It is a crimpier, finer yarn. While textures may not show as well with this yarn, it is perfect for stranded color work, such as Fair Isle garments.

Shetland yarn in a Fair Isle sweater - learn more about breed specific yarns with Beth Brown Reinsel on the Woolery Blog!

Shetland yarn in a Fair Isle sweater

The Norwegian Spælsau has been a domesticated sheep since the Iron Age, though to prevent extinction, the gene pool was enhanced in the 1960s and 19702 with Icelandic, Finn, and Faroe Island sheep. This lovely yarn holds up well over time, having a hair mixed in with the wool (an attribute of “primitive” breeds, where the hair has not been bred out of the breed). This yarn was used in the beloved Norwegian Setesdal Lusekofte, a garment that developed in the early 1800s. If you look closely at the photo below you can see the white hairs that give a fuzzy look to the garment.

A Lusekofte made of Spælsau wool - learn more about breed specific yarns with Beth Brown Reinsel on the Woolery blog!

A Lusekofte made of Spælsau wool

The challenge for knitters then is to understand that even within a certain breed there will be wide variety. If you are buying a commercially prepared yarn, you can be assured that it has been made more homogeneous and will be relatively consistent. But there is something so special about working with a breed specific yarn for a project the yarn is so perfectly suited to. Educating yourself as to the strengths of different breeds is fun and enlightening. Knitting with breed specific yarns can become a lifelong passion.

I have listed on my website as many sources as I know of businesses that sell breed specific yarns. There are several books available now (listed below) that explore the wonderful variety of breeds and give suggestions for their respective uses.

Parkes, Clara. The Knitter’s Book of Wool. New York: Pottercraft, 2009.
Robson, Deborah and Ekarius, Carol. The Field Guide to Fleece. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.
Robson, Deborah and Ekarius, Carol. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2011.

1FAO. 2007. State of the world’s animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. 512 pp.

bethBeth Brown-Reinsel has been passionately teaching historic knitting workshops nationally, as well as internationally, for over 25 years. Her book Knitting Ganseys has been deemed a classic. She has made three DVDs: Knitting Ganseys with Beth Brown-Reinsel, Color Stranded Knitting Techniques, and Sanquhar Gloves with Beth Brown-Reinsel. Her articles and designs have appeared in Threads, Cast On, Interweave Knits, Knitting Traditions, Piecework, Shuttle, Spindle, and Dye Pot, Vogue Knitting, Knitters magazines, as well as The Knitter, a magazine of the UK. She continues to design for her own pattern line Knitting Traditions. Beth’s website, blog, knitting patterns, and email newsletter can be found at http://www.knittingtraditions.com. Her Etsy store carries her knitting kits, DVDs and other goodies. She lives in Vermont and loves winter!