Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy whichever Holiday(s) you celebrate

And if you don't celebrate any, Happy almost the end of December!

It's a quiet day here at Chez Corvid. The cat got his gift, and he isn't sure he likes it. Time will tell. It's hard to introduce new toys to old cats.

I got a surprise gift yesterday. I had my Shetland lamb fleece processed by a mill down in Oregon, and it arrived yesterday. I think I mentioned the fleece. It was my pure black, 2 pound, Shetland lamb fleece that I got at the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival back in September. The estimate then had been that it would be done by January, and it was done way early. It arrived yesterday and the apartment complex office called to let me know, and the maintenance guy, Neil, dropped it off in my apartment while I was at work. I had thought the package was one of the gifts I was waiting on from Amazon, but instead it was a box as high as my knee and thankfully not super heavy. The fleece was blended with 25% black dyed silk and it is really beautiful. The lamb fleece is so soft that it's tough to feel against your skin. I was asked if I would use this mill again, and I thought about that for a few minutes.

Yes, they are a tad bit more expensive than my regular mill, and I do have to pay shipping, however, the cost difference ends up being minimal. I probably paid maybe $25-$30 more with this mill than my regular mill, but most of that was shipping. And I COULD have had them hold onto it until next month when I plan to go visit my mother. I COULD have picked it up from them on my way down. It wouldn't have added that much extra time onto my trip.

The answer to the question, though, is yes. I would use them again. The fleece was lovely to start with, and their processing was beautifully done.

Another friend and I were talking last night about buying a fleece versus buying commercial fiber (indie dyed or not). I prefer to buy fleeces in a lot of cases, because I can send them to the mill and have them processed into roving for me. The mill washes the fleece, cards it, and gets it to the point where I can just open a bag and spin what comes out. If I want, most mills will do blending for me. I can either provide the fibers I want blended (other animal fibers, like alpaca, other wool, silk, sparkle fiber, whatever), or they may have some options in house. The three fleeces I got in September are all being blended. The Shetland lamb was blended with 25% by weight in black silk. The mill had the silk already, dyed it to order, and then blended it up. The black and white Jacob lamb fleece that I got is being handled by my regular mill and it is being blended with about 10-15% angora bunny fiber. That one will be soft, fuzzy, and wonderful for hats and mittens, scarves, and cowls. The last fleece I bought is an Icelandic cross and I have to work on it by hand for a while first. The fleece is full of straw, grass, sticks, and other yuck. It also is dual coated, so I am separating out the coarse outer coat and leaving the super soft under coat. Both coats are actually pretty soft, but the structure of the outer coat is very different and would not make the final product as nice as I want if I left it all in. Once it is finished being separated, then the undercoat will go to the mill. I'm not sure yet if I will have them do the outercoat as well. The undercoat is a beautiful gunmetal blueish grey. I will have at least part of it blended with teal bamboo. The teal will be extremely bright against the grey and while it makes me a bit nervous (I don't do brights very often), it also makes me excited.

These are not blends that you can find very often in commercial fiber or yarn. If you find angora blend yarns, often it is with a merino or some other breed that is super soft. Jacob is usually not this soft. However, I love Jacob fleece. It is crisp to the touch, and springy, and makes wonderful yarns for so many purposes. It's the breed I am most likely to buy another of, no matter how many (coughcoughFOURcough) I already have at home. They are not very large, and they come in wonderful colors, generally spotted. Shetland fleeces vary widely. They can be dual coated with an undercoat so soft that you could make baby underwear out of it (why, I don't know, but you COULD), and an outer coat that is perfect for rugs or outer wear coats. Icelandic have that wonderfully soft undercoat as well, but it isn't generally as soft as the softest Shetland.

Another difference is that commercially processed fiber is generally chemically treated. It is treated to burn out vegetable matter, to straighten the hairs so they are easier to comb together, and sometimes treated to keep the yarn from felting as easily. Mine are washed just like you would wash your own hair. Mine is combed, just like you would comb your hair. Well, technically brushed, rather than combed. but I COULD comb it. :)

And then I get to choose what goes in. I can have fiber like the alpaca that is sitting in a bucket not even 5 feet from me. It's pure white and just ribbons of luscious soft white fiber waiting to be spun. It spins up into a super soft, thin yarn that can be combined with other fibers that have been spun to a similar thickness, or just combined with itself. I can make lace yarn to go into a delicate shawl, or a thicker yarn to make mittens, hats, or scarves. I have some lovely soft sheeps wool in the bedroom in a basket. It was pure white too, and half of it was blended with white silk, and the other half was blended with sage green and antique gold bamboo. I have a cinnamon colored alpaca fleece that I had blended with crimson bamboo that creates a gorgeous deep red spiral effect as it is spun.

I have fiber that was blended with sparkle stuff so that when it is spun into yarn, it twinkles.

The sky and my imagination are the only limitations on fiber if I buy a fleece and have it processed at a mill.

I loathe and despise processing it myself and I won't do it. I hate doing it and I get a product that shows that disgust. But I will happily take fiber that the mill has processed for me, and I can blend small amounts into other blends. So I can take the white alpaca that I have and the red alpaca, and I can blend them together so that I have a gradient that goes from white to red. I can take the wool/silk, and I can blend in alpaca and sparkle, and steel fiber to make gloves that I can wear and still be able to use a touchscreen.

I can dye the fibers so that I can get any color under the rainbow, and I can dye the yarn if I don't want to dye the fiber.

Yes, paying the invoice for the mill processing is expensive. The shetland fleece cost me about $140 all told. But look at it this way... If I had bought the commercial version of the fiber... it would have been white, not a natural black. It would have been chemically treated to make it clean and whiter, and then to make it into roving. Minimum, I would have paid a minimum of $15 for whatever quality that lowest cost buys me (I have checked the prices, and that is an estimate based on unit cost plus shipping, and guesstimating taxes.) So the very cheapest Shetland Wool/Silk blend I can find would cost me $120 to get the same 2 pounds I have now. And then I would have to dye it all black, and it would not likely be as soft as what I have now. For that extra roughly $20, I get a super soft, baby soft fiber, that has not been treated with chemicals for anything, and I not only know who raised it, it's a fleece from a single animal, and I know who processed it. Local raised, single source, and I get to choose the what/how for the product? DEFINITELY worth the $20.

So happy gifting to me on that. I have to finish the purple that is currently on my wheel, and then I am going to spin up a sample of the black. I don't know into what yet, it may end up being 2 ounces into a laceweight and be made into a circular scarf. Something that can be tucked under my coat and will keep my neck warm.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday if you celebrate it, and at least a lovely end to December if you don't. I'm going to go move the laundry along, and snuggle on the couch with the cat (who isn't sure he likes his gift still) and watch a movie. Later, I will call family members and visit on the phone. It will be a good day.

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