Currently showing posts tagged process

  • Field Trip

    If you follow me on Instragram, you might know I spent last Sunday out at Independence Farmstead Fibers with shepherdess and yarn/fiber magician Dawn Brown. It was awesome. Dawn is doing a LOT to bolster the Texas wool and mohair industry and contribute to our local fibershed; she's also very welcoming, so --set to a day of interesting and inspiring conversation -- I got to help out a bit and learn first hand exactly what goes into making a skein of yarn.

    A while back, I purchased a couple of really lovely fleeces from Kami Noyes of Ranching Tradition Fiber, up in Whitehall, Montana. When I arrived at the mill, Dawn had already washed and conditioned them. The one we worked with on Sunday was a targhee fleece with a nice staple length and a high micron count... we worked about half of it during my day at the mill, and I've got a targhee/suffolk cross still left to go. (A really special shop update is in the works... I promise.)

    We began by weighing out small batches to feed through the carder:

    So floofy and clean! As we layed it out in tidy patches on the carder, we picked out any short cuts of wool ("seconds" -there weren't many), and VM (vegetable matter). There will still be some VM in the finished yarn, and I am totally ok with that. It's easily picked out as you work with the yarn, and IMO is a nice reminder of where it came from. 

    Into the carder it goes:

    and out comes ROVING:

    We filled several drums with serpentine roving, for about 2 hours. Going back and forth between weighing out the washed fiber, laying it out on the belt and picking out any bits, and occasionally squishing down the roving in those drums so they didn't overflow; changing the drums out as neccesary. There were also calculations (by Dawn) involved here that I totally understood at the time...

    After carding, there were more calculations and the roving was fed through the draw frame, where carded roving is combed, stretched, straightened, blended into a single "sliver." This may be done multiple times, as needed.

    After the draw frame, it was on to the spinner. Dawn's knowledge of how different fibers/breeds behave, and how one particular fiber might behave on any given day, really comes into play here. She knows how thin/how tight/how loose it can be spun without causing problems, and to achieve a beautiful and workable end result.

    After spinning, the bobbins full of single stranded yarn can move on to another machine to by plied (plyed? ply-ed?):

    And after THAT, the finished yarn rests, is steamed, then finally skeined... before it comes to me to be dyed.

    Whew. Are you tired yet? I'd toured the mill before and knew a lot of work and expertise went into artisan-milled yarn, but let me tell you, it is even more than I thought. I have a whole new respect for the process, and dyeing and working with this yarn will mean even more to me than before. I can't wait to share it with you! 

  • Slow yarn & process

    This art is a waiting game.

    Today, I'm scouring 2 dozen skeins of Texranch WORSTED. Two pots of 6 skeins each will fit on my stove at a time, each spending at least one hour there. (56 more are all queued up for their turn to shine.)

    As I tie the skeins and wet them out, letting them all sink to the bottom of the bucket at their own leisurely pace (this is how to know your yarn is thoroughly wetted, without squeezing and roughing up the fibers), I'm feeling sorta zen -- feeling like I don't mind that this is only the first of at least 8 steps before I can share a finished product. 

    Natural dyeing includes step after step that can't be rushed if you want to be happy with what comes out of the pot. Come to think of it, that's true of cooking, true of raising kids... probably true of most worthwhile endeavors.


    1.) Tie skeins and wet through.

    2.) Scour. Cool (read: wait).

    3.) Mordant. Cool.


    4.) Create dyebath(s) (boil then cool if using raw materials or mix extracts).

    5.) Dye. Cool.

    6.) Maybe overdye. Cool a bit.


    7.) Maybe overdye again. Cool.

    8.) Dry.


    9.) Reskein.

    10.) Label.

    Moving slowly and deliberately through each movement of each step, I am content. 

    It's a labor of love, a slow process that -for me- must be flexible and subject to pause. When I feel impatient at it's slowness, I remind myself that it's this very quality of natural dyeing that allows me to wear so many other hats at the same time. Plus, I know that if I rush it, I'll be really unhappy with the product, unwilling/unable to share it, and uninspired to move forward (at least for a while). 

    I'm always telling myself to slow down (pretty evident looking back at Blue Highway's accomplishments so far). An oft-repeated motto this year, in business and life in general, has been "Just say NO to stress." As in, REFUSE it. Refuse to rush the process, to overly care if we're running late, to feel guilty if my house/office/studio isn't an Instagram dream, or when I drop a ball or three.

    Obviously, achieving this mindset is a constant work in progress, and, once achieved, it's fleeting.

    With so many ideas and inspirations swimming around, new methods to explore, untangling what has worked from what hasn't, coupled with general excitement... sometimes the path forward is unclear. Sometimes it's easier to stand still or debate and make plans rather than actually push forward into new territory. 

    When I'm stuck, I must remember to ask myself, What would you tell [a good friend] in your situation?  

    I'd tell her to slow down and enjoy the getting there. I'd tell her to take a step forward today, no matter how small, and then another and another. And remind her to celebrate all victories. 


    "You're doing really fine... You should take yourself out to lunch as soon as that yarn comes off the stove."