Monday, March 31, 2014

For the curious

I'm crunched for time for the next few weeks, but I wanted to share some progress on my horse hair wallet. Cause I'm just so darn excited about it. (Yes, all my non-fiber, non-farm friends think this is the final bit of proof that I have truly lost my mind. :)  )

I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening proving that although I learned to sew at 6 years of age and learned to weave....well...last fall, I am a much better weaver than sewer. I put the pieces of my imagined wallet together, but the result is not right. Just not right. Firstly, it's way too small the way I did it. And secondly, well, the sewing is sloppy. I need glasses. Seriously. I might as well have done it with my eyes closed and it shows.

Nonetheless, just to prove that progress is being made, at least in the sense that my list of what not to do is still growing, I thought I'd post a couple of general shots. Nothing too close-up, mind you, cause that would be embarrassing. As soon as I have another free chunk of time, everything in these pictures will be undone, except for the horse hair fabric itself. Ripping stuff out and starting over is really not like me, but I'm going to do it in this case cause, well, I've lost my mind. I'm obsessed with making something useable out of this horse hair.

Lola wanted to know what the fuss was about. She's better looking than the wallet coin purse, so I let her stay in the shots. 

And when I'm finished with this piece... 

I'm gonna warp the loom for more. 

Yep, nuts. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

And now the hard part starts

So, I started washing the new fleeces.

Clementine's anyway. Hers is the dirtiest of the six. The size of these sheep fleeces really puts the Pygoras in perspective. Yowza.

I will eventually find a faster way to do this, maybe in the washing machine, but for now I'm doing it one small batch at a time in the sink with a salad spinner. I can keep a pipeline of three batches going at once. Soak, rinse, spin. Actually, it's more like soak, rinse, soak, rinse, soak, rinse, repeat repeat repeat. Anyway, I have found that this micro-approach the first couple times around really helps me understand the ends and outs of a process, so I slog on. I still have a couple of hours of work to finish washing Clem's curls.

Then I plan to comb it (instead of carding.) Spin it. And, finally, make myself a sturdy, fisherman type sweater. Woohoo. Hopefully it'll be ready to wear by next winter. Or, considering the way this winter is hanging on, maybe by the end of this one. :)

Given what a wet, dirty, smelly job it is, I get an amazing kick out of seeing the end product.

Here's what it looks like before and after it's washed.

Clem also has a whole rainbow of colors under all that dirt. (Um, yes, there are still some bits of hay and dirt in there, but I can get that out as I comb it.)

As always, I have onlookers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Horse hair

Just before my last computer fiasco took me down, I was starting a horse hair weaving challenge. This is the update. (Warning - it's gonna be long. You may need to go get a cup of tea and a couple of cookies first.)

My original thought was to weave a new cover for my messenger bag. The cover flap is about 10 x 15 inches. I almost immediately realized I didn't have enough warp fiber to do that, so I scaled back. Instead, I thought I'd try for a decorative strip across the front of my bag. Three by 10 inches seemed doable.

I selected the red/purple zephyr (wool/silk blend) left over from my first scarf project and warped a three inch section on my borrowed table loom at about 10-12 threads per inch. I read somewhere that the stiffness of horse hair requires a coarse epi (ends/threads per inch) to allow the hair room to weave under and over. I ended up with a three inch wide piece because that's how much fiber I had. (I think I put on 4 yards.)

That first sample went fast, but as you'll see, it was not the most elegant of pieces. Not at all what I could imagine in my mind's eye. In all, I worked through five pieces while I was figuring out what NOT to do. Here they are.

My first attempt was with Jesse's black mane hair. Jesse's one of the two little guys we took in when a barn across the street folded. He's half brother to Chief. Both have thick, abundant manes -- they must have a lot of Shetland pony in their backgrounds. This bodes well for the future.

Jesse's piece went fast because I was still thinking about wool and treating it like wool. I grabbed bundles of hairs and treated them as though they were spun. I didn't pay any regard to how the individual hairs were aligned within the bundles. I also didn't pay any attention to the lengths of the individual hairs within a bundle. Both mistakes.

In this close up you can clearly see the problem with this approach.

It's a sloppy swatch of prickly pins and needles. Individual hairs poke out everywhere and in all directions. It feels hairy. And unpleasant. This was not at all what I had in mind and I was temporarily stumped.

For my second attempt, I picked Bom Bom's white mane. I decided I needed to at least try to get the hairs in each bundle all going the same direction. This attempt was definitely better, at least from a distance, but the swatch I ended up with was still quite prickly to the touch. I was a little discouraged at this point. You can also see in this picture that I had trouble with the tension in this piece. That's just inexperience on my part and doesn't have anything to do with the horse hair itself.

I figured out two additional things from this attempt. All the hairs in a single bundle have to be the same length or the shorter ones will end in the middle of the row and poke out of the fabric. Also, because the hairs definitely taper from the root end to the tip, if the hairs are really long -- long enough to bend through more than a couple of picks -- you end up with some rows that are noticeably thinner than others. I've read that people working with horse tail hairs where they use one hair at a time, alternate the direction of the hairs to balance this asymmetry.

In my third attempt, I tried to correct for these things. At this point, I only had Tyche's mane hair left and I wasn't even sure if I had enough. With Tyche's mane I concentrated on consistency and smoothness. Yes, you can see where this is going. That's right, at this point I started sorting the hairs, one hair at a time.  This is where things slowed down. And got tedious. Still, I obsessed on. Each pick consisted of an 8-hair bundle of same-length hairs. Some of the bundles were long and covered 3, or even 4, picks, some were short and covered only 2. Oh yeah, things got very slow at this point. Counting the hairs out one by one. Sorting them into similar length bins. This. takes. time. Lots of time. (You may wonder why I didn't just take a bunch of hairs and cut them to length as a bundle. Well, maybe I should, but I'm still trying to figure out how far the hair will go and how much I have to work with, so I didn't want to waste any. We have a lot of ponies, but they don't have that much mane hair, relatively speaking.)

The result with Tyche's hair was excellent. No prickly ends poking out of the cloth. (Ignore the sides for now. Some sort of binding or hemming will be needed.) Yep, just smoooooooth and silky. I wish you could all touch it. No prickly ends poking out of the cloth itself.

One thing I hadn't anticipated was the color variations. Tyche's mane is multi-colored. I hadn't really put two and two together until it was woven. Her mane contains four or five distinctly different colored hairs which, since I made no effort to separate them, produced a variegated fabric.  It's interesting and may be something to exploit in the future. I'm not crazy about it with the red/purple warp, but whatever. It's SMOOTH.

Of course, I couldn't stop until I got something I could use. Having long since given up on a cover for my bag, I've settle on making a small pouch wallet to replace my current one that is falling apart. Simple zipper closure. Easy. Knowing everything I had learned from the first three attempts, I set out to do two matched samples of black hair on the red/purple warp.

Of course, there's always more to learn, right? In this case, I 'harvested' more fiber from Bom Bom - the black parts of his mane this time -- and without thinking it through, I cut off a couple of braids that were left over from some long ago grooming by the 12-year-old. Mistake, braids leave waves. Duh. Bent fibers are impossible to sort and count. I had to stop and straighten the hairs after an inch or two. This entailed washing the hair again and then drying it under a slight weight. It was like blocking raw fiber, if that makes sense. I also used bundles of 30 hairs, instead of eight.  When all was said and done, I did manage two identical swatches, each about 3 by 4 1/2 inches. And, did I mention, they are SMOOOOTH AND SILKY. They also look a bit iridescent in the light.  I am pleased. Very, very pleased.

I intend to make them into a wallet. I bought the zipper and thread and other bits and bobs today to do just that. I will post it when it's done.

And that, my friends, is everything I now know about weaving with horse hair.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Just in time for more cold

Clementine in the hands of the shearer on Saturday.

Johnny Blue and Clementine in mid-February. Except for the impending cold this week (yep, back into the teens), the shearing could not have come a moment too soon. 

The new guys waiting for their turns. 
The Icelandics -- Devon (the badger face) and Emily.
The Dr. Seuss creatures -- Abel (the dark one) and Cain. 

What about us? Not this time little goats, not this time.

Clementine and Johnny Blue afterwards. He seems to have noticed she's a girl for the first time. 

The rest of Johnny Blue.  So much hay and grunge, but very big.

And clean and beautiful on the underside. 
I'm thinking you're gonna need coats -- sorry guys. 

The alpacas in a daze afterwards (thank you Emily for the photobomb.)

Abel's fleece.

A little reward for their ordeal.

The Icelandics afterwards.  
Emily seemed so much bigger than Devon before. Not so much now.

 Emily's abundant fleece.

All in all, not a bad afternoon. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Does this screen make my butt look fat?

I got a shiny new computer. After several weeks of trying to make do by cobbling together two semi-broken computers, I threw in the towel and got a new computer. That took another couple of weeks. Finally it has arrived and I am back online. One intact computer, one intact screen.

In the meantime, a lot has happened.

Most importantly and not a moment too soon -- Father Winter has taken a hike. The polar vortex has returned to the pole. We are, relatively speaking, warm. We survived the winter in the new house with only three furnace breakdowns and one propane outage. Yay? Eh, we survived.

When the snow finally melted and the ice thawed enough to open the doors to the barn, the ponies and other critters were knee deep in nasty winter bedding. I'm gradually cranking through the clean out, one stall at a time, but it's a monumental task and I swear I will never get caught unprepared for winter again. Did I learn nothing from nursery rhymes and fairy tales? Apparently not. Anyway, I hereby swear I will keep the barn doors free of all muck at all times and never again risk having them freeze shut for an entire season.

The big ponies have moved back into the back pasture barn. That barn is still a disaster, but I got the crucial door to open, so back they went. They are happier back there with the big pasture, even though the grass is thin and they come in hungry in the evening.

We've had two new sets of arrivals since I wrote last -- two icelandic sheep and two alpacas. The icelandics act more like the alpacas -- skittish -- than they do like their cousins the lincoln longwools. Interesting really. In other ways, the alpacas are a riot. I am convinced that Dr. Seuss must have known alpacas at some point. I will have to update my character list.

The goats weathered the winter nicely in their little insulated coats, but Rosetyler had enough last week once it warmed up and finally got hers off. She being the flightiest and wildest of all the goats, I let it go. I'll have to take them all off soon anyway or risk overheating them. They are so spectacularly clean underneath the coats that I am seriously considering keeping them coated all the time. They'd hate it though, so I'm torn.

Last I wrote I was gearing up for a weaving challenge. I will post more on that later, but can I just say WOW. I had set myself the task of making one piece of horsehair fabric to replace the tattered cover on my old messenger bag. I finished the first piece pretty quickly, but it was pretty sad really. It looked great from a distance, but up close was a hairy mess. I am, nonetheless, hooked. Completely besotted with horsehair fabric. I assume this crush will pass, but in the meantime I am on a quest to figure out how to do it well.

Oh, and I officially filed my taxes as a farm for the first time ever. Woohoo. That was pretty exciting. Now I have to actually sell some fiber. Working on that!