Sheepspot

Katie's tips on getting the most from Breed School

testimonials, what we do, who we areSasha Torres1 Comment

Sasha here. It's a huge pleasure to bring you this guest post from Katie Mazaitis, one of the 2016-17 Breed School cohort. Here she shares a bit of her own spinning history, her experience with the Fiber Club, and the techniques she used to make Breed School an effective "learning space" for her. (Pro tip: you could use these tips to get the most out of any class you take, online or offline.)

Hello! My name is Katie, and I’m happy to have been invited to write a guest post for the Sheepspot Fiber Club & Breed School. This (2016-2017) was my first year in the club, and I’ve had a really excellent experience, not just with this year’s picks (Shetland, Whitefaced Woodland, Southdown, Rambouillet, Teeswater, and Polwarth/Silk) but with the whole concept of the club as a shared learning space. 
 
I’m an engineer by training, and currently work writing research software for a machine learning & search engines group at Carnegie Mellon University. My husband is a freelance technical writer who also teaches at CMU as an adjunct in the English department. We like to make stuff, and the hobbies rotate seasonally. In addition to spinning and knitting, I make soap, sew, and keep a vegetable and dyer’s garden.
 
I first picked up a spindle in February 2014, and hit the ground running. I bought a small antique wheel off a Ravelry destash that April, went to a fiber festival that May where I took my first class, bought my first fleece, and impulse-bought an antique CPW. I took a support spindling class in spring 2015, completed my first fleece-to-garment project in early 2016, and am about to finish my second if I can push through the rest of the body of this sweater before the summer heat sets in. I grew flax last year, aim to process and spin it this year, and am starting to get the hang of grasped spindling using a distaff. Fiber art has been my primary creative outlet and meditation for the past three years, and I get in at least an hour of practice daily from October through July. 
 
Before signing up for Breed School, I had already done a bit of breed study and fleece prep on my own. The current “Is The Club For You?” guide on the front page actually advises against the club for people with that level of experience. I might not have signed up had that recommendation been there a year ago, but I still got a lot out of it. So long as you come in to the club with your curiosity in gear, regardless of previous experience — well, we’ll get into that in a bit.
 
I care about Breed School as a learning space. I have a lot of experience thinking about learning: I’ve repeatedly wound up in schools that were brand new and/or trying out new strategies for education (junior high, community college, engineering school, masters program). New places expect to make mistakes, and the easiest way to rapidly improve in response to those mistakes is to ask for feedback from students. This extended familiarity with educational experimentation has grown into a general interest for me, and I’ve followed up on that interest with practice. I taught social dance for about ten years, designing curriculums for all levels of dancers; I wrote a paper during my master’s coursework on how teaching techniques for the creative disciplines differ from the traditional lecture-based approach; my job is in academia, and part of that is mentoring the undergrads and masters students studying with our lab, providing different kinds of support for them as they become more confident with the research process. I believe that teaching and learning are important parts of everyday life. Knowing more about what kinds of learning and teaching suit you best can help ensure you have a good experience no matter what kind of educational environment you find yourself in.
 
Breed study groups in general are a form of group independent study: a bunch of people, each working independently on a shared topic. There are many options available for this on Ravelry and Facebook. Breed School stands out in that not only are students working on a shared topic, they’re all using the same fiber as well. This noticeably enhances the social experience of the group, making it easier to share notes, and more exciting to see what other people are able to do with the same fiber. You don’t have to worry about anyone getting tripped up by a bad supplier. When everyone shares the same fiber, you have a reliable baseline for asking questions. Learning becomes something you can do as a group. 
 
A big advantage for me of thinking of Breed School as a learning space is that it becomes natural to bring along some of the tools I’m familiar with using in a more academic setting. I want to share three of them with you now, because once you know that Breed School is something you want to participate in, the techniques below will help you get even more out of the experience.
 
The first learning technique is something I picked up while writing dance curricula, designing computer science problem sets, researching design learning, and mentoring students through the early stages of deadline-withdrawal: assignments are almost never for the benefit of the instructor. Assignments are for students, because in order to learn, you have to practice, and until you know enough to practice on your own, you have to make do with assignments. Do the assignments. Breed School doesn’t have formal assignments with due dates or grades or anything, but it does work better if you put yourself in contact with the materials as early as possible. When you get your fiber shipment, (1) read the breed notes, (2) read the sampling notes, (3) pull out a staple of the fiber and spin it. Five, ten minutes, tops. If you wait until you have an hour to luxuriate in it and dream up a big sampling schedule, something will always get in the way and then *poof* the live chat will have come and gone and *poof* the fiber will be lodged in your stash and you won’t have learned anything. Bummer. 
 
(There’s an extra spoonful of sneaky here in that it’s way easier to start a 5-10 minute task and just keep going for an hour than it is to start an hour task, but even if you only get the 5 minutes, every bit of practice helps)
 
The second technique is something I’m ashamed to say I didn’t learn until after I dropped out of grad school the first time: Always go to office hours. Attend the video chats: live, if you can, taped, if you can’t. Even if you’re already familiar with the fiber, there’s always more to learn. Even if you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, you may get the inspiration you need to get started. Even if you don’t have any questions, somebody else might ask something you didn’t think of. Even if you hate this particular fiber, you might learn something that connects to a fiber you do enjoy. 
 
The third technique is something I learned subconsciously as an inquisitive high school student, and have had to articulate as I’ve come to do more mentoring of adult students: Ask questions. There are two levels to this. The first level is, if you’re confused about something, or something doesn’t quite line up, ask about it. No question that comes out of confusion is stupid. Most of them aren’t even unique — your classmates are probably wondering the same thing. So: ask. The second level of “ask questions” comes when the opposite is happening, and everything your instructor says makes pretty good sense. I think most people just let that be the end of it. Instead, that should be your signal that you’re ready to go deeper and integrate what you’ve just learned with what you already know. Coming up with questions is a great way to start: 

  • Is there anything stopping you from applying this technique/topic, immediately, and with confidence? 
  • Does some of what you’re hearing sound familiar, maybe similar to another fiber? It might indicate a pattern.
  • If you were going to study this fiber closely enough to write a paper on it, what would you pick as uniquely meaningful or interesting about it? Or how would you decide?

Stretch your new knowledge until you discover something unfamiliar. The more connections you can make, the greater facility you’ll build with the new information.
 
These three techniques are great separately, but even better together. If you give yourself time to practice, you’ll be more likely to encounter places where questions might arise. If you go to the chats, you’ll get new ideas for things to practice, and hear questions from other people that might spark more of your own. If you engage deeply with the material in trying to brainstorm questions, you’ll come up with even more things to try in your own practice sessions, and be better able to engage with the group during the live chats and general facebook chatter. 
 
This is what makes Breed School such a phenomenal experience. The opportunity to learn independently, the shared experience and energizing support of a group of like-minded students, and access to an enthusiastic, knowledgeable instructor come together to make an impressive package. I came in to Breed School knowing some things, and I learned at least that much over again. I enjoyed having the opportunity to play around with new fibers and new skills, and have built some great new habits too. If you’re on the fence about joining the club, I hope I’ve tipped the scales for you!

2016-17 Fiber Club colorway round-up

dyer's notebook, what we doSasha Torres2 Comments

Every year I like to write a post chronicling what I sent out to the fiber club. If you're considering joining the Fiber Club this year, looking through these will give you some idea of the kinds of fiber I send out and the colorways I come up with.

When I'm thinking about new colorways for the club, I always start by making a moodboard. I just grab a lot of images from Pinterest that have similar colors and group them together. Below I've posted the moodboards and some pictures of the fiber (and in some cases yarn) that the moodboards became. 

Despite the fact that I took a huge number of photographs this year, I did not do a very consistent job of documenting the club fiber. There are lots of colorways I didn't photograph, for whatever reason. So lots of the pics below are club members' photos, from Instagram. I'm so grateful to them for giving me permission to use them here. And seriously, folks, go check out their wonderfully fiber-centric feeds.

Along with the multicolored colorways I design for the club, I also offer coordinating semisolids; some of those are pictured below, but I'm focusing on the multis here.

July 2016: Shetland

Austen

Austen

Bronte

Bronte

I was pleased with how both of these turned out. I love how the sweetness of the pastels in Austen is tempered by the cool gray; you'll definitely see this colorway on other fibers in the future. Below are two shots from Instagram to give you a sense of the fiber. 

Austen, by @knittyzen

Austen, by @knittyzen

Here's Bronte, with its coordinating semisolid, Aubergine, from @claudiachristinemeyer.

Here's Bronte, with its coordinating semisolid, Aubergine, from @claudiachristinemeyer.

September 2016: Whitefaced Woodland

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Russian Squirrel

Russian Squirrel

These I have pictures of! I absolutely loved both of these colorways, and they are both going into the regular rotation. Love, love, love. (And the Whitefaced Woodland was dreamy.)

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Russian Squirrel and its accompanying semi-solid, imaginatively called "Russian Squirrel Orange."

Russian Squirrel and its accompanying semi-solid, imaginatively called "Russian Squirrel Orange."

November 2016: Southdown

Cranberry Bog

I liked both of these quite a bit, though I'll probably tweak the lime green in
Mexico a bit going forward to make it a little greener.

Here's @owlcatdesigns' Cranberry Bog (plus an undyed braid).

Here's @owlcatdesigns' Cranberry Bog (plus an undyed braid).

Club member Laura Walters spun her Southdown into a three-ply yarn and knit it into these stunning socks.

Possibly the most beautiful socks ever. 

Possibly the most beautiful socks ever. 

January 2017: Rambouillet

Orion

Orion

Rosette

Rosette

OMG, guys, this was my favorite pair of the year! I loved them. And they both spun up beautifully. These will both go into my regular repertoire. 

Every time I look at this picture, my heart sings. These beautiful singles in Orion (and the gorgeous pic) are from @lschildress.

Every time I look at this picture, my heart sings. These beautiful singles in Orion (and the gorgeous pic) are from @lschildress.

March 2017: Teeswater

Lavenderia

Lavenderia

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Finally, some of my own pictures! Because the Teeswater takes color so intensely, Lavenderia wasn't nearly as pastel-y as I originally intended. I'm excited to try it on a different wool. I wasn't sure about Mardi Gras until I saw Janelle's yarn (pictured below). Spinning this colorway as a singles was a brilliant choice, because the reds and greens aren't competing with one another, as they likely would in a plied yarn. 

Lavenderia

Lavenderia

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Gorgeous Teeswater singles from @jlwinpa.

Gorgeous Teeswater singles from @jlwinpa.

May 2017: Polwarth/Silk

Nantucket

Nantucket

Cape May

Cape May

I always want to go with something summery for May. I loved the simplicity of the blues and yellow in Nantucket, and, as usual, threw in a bit of that de-saturated blue gray to complicate things a bit. And I love the combinations of the slightly desaturated not-quite-pastels in Cape May. 

@jlwinpa's Nantucket, which she captioned "Summer in Fiber Form."

@jlwinpa's Nantucket, which she captioned "Summer in Fiber Form."

Of course, if you're a white-wool purist like Beth Smith, you always have the options to get your club fiber undyed, like Penny, whose collection is below. ;-)

I love this picture from @pziarnik.

I love this picture from @pziarnik.

Five reasons to start a breed study now

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

1. It will make you a better spinner.

We all get into ruts in our spinning, making the same yarns over and over again. Spinning teachers call these ruts "default yarns." Mine is two-ply, about a dk weight, spun short forward draw with twist between my hands. It's an easy, fast spin that I don't have to think about very much. 

But if my experience is any guide, spinning the same yarns doesn't make us better spinners. Every aspect of my yarns improve when I force myself out of my rut and try new things, whether they're new techniques or new fibers. 

There is an astounding range of breeds of sheep, and they grow an equally astounding range of wools. And each of them is best spun a little differently. That's how breed study makes you a better spinner: by giving your brain and your hands new materials to work with and new problems to solve.

2. As a spinner, it dramatically increases the range of yarns you can make.

Want elasticity? Choose a down breed, like Suffolk or Dorset Down. Want drape and sheen? Choose a longwool like BFL or Teeswater. Want something that won't make your neck itch? Choose a fine wool, like Cormo or Rambouillet. Want to spin a marled yarn in soft natural colors? Choose Jacob or CVM.

3. As a fiber artist, it lets you use precisely the right tool for the job. Every time.

If you walk into a yarn store, you're likely to find two kinds of wool yarns: the ones labeled "Merino" and the ones that give no indication at all as to the breeds that grew the wool (and usually no indication of where the yarn was made, or how, but that's a topic for another day). But as a spinner with knowledge of wool types and the breeds that grow them, you can match the yarn you make to the project you envision, with a precision non-spinners can only dream of. You can control both the hand of the yarn and how durable it is through your choices of fiber and technique. As spinning teacher Maggie Casey always says, with a twinkle in her eye, "Spinners can be the ultimate control freaks!"

4. It connects you to the real source of your materials. And it's not your LYS.

Spinning for a breed study links you to the shepherds who raise the sheep and the flocks that grow the wool. For those of us who want to live—and craft—in ways that acknowledge and celebrate our interdependence with the natural world, working with wool and other natural fibers can be a deeply satisfying part of making.

5. It ensures that those materials continue to exist

Breed study will require you to use kinds of wool that are likely not widely available commercially. So if you think that small, sustainable agriculture is important, or if you want to support North American mills and processors, breed study can be a great way to put your money where your mouth is

In addition, breed study will likely lead you to rare and endangered breeds, precious resources with wonderful characteristics that, for one reason or another, have been passed over by large-scale agribusiness. These rare breeds are the living repositories of genetic resources that may be crucial to us in the future. (To read more about threats to genetic diversity in livestock animals, see my posts herehere, and here.

As Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius note in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, "in order to continue to have these irreplaceable resources available for our pleasure and delight, we need to support the living infrastructure of animals and people that makes their existence possible." 

Word.

What's stopping you?

Breed study usually means buying raw fleece. And that can be a daunting prospect. Where do you find the fleece? How do you know that it's high quality? How do you wash it without felting it?

Then there's the preparation. Do you have hand cards? Combs? A flick carder? Are your tools appropriate for the kinds of fleece you have? Do you know how to use them?

And do you have time for all this?

Breed study in the past has been expensive and time-consuming. Because I feel so passionate about its importance, though, I've come up with another way: the Sheepspot Fiber Club

It's breed study without the prep, for committed, inquisitive spinners who just don't have the time to work from fleeces. Members get wool from a new breed every other month. I also spin every fiber myself in lots of different ways, and include detailed sampling notes (about wheel setup, drafting technique, and which yarns I liked best) with each shipment to help you get started with the fiber.  

Memberships go on sale June 21. You can find complete details about the club, including prices and options (and there are lots of 'em) here.

And be sure to sign up to get an email reminder so you don't miss out.

CVM in the house (and a special free download)!

behind the scenes, how to, mission, what we doSasha TorresComment

CVM Worsted in Limestone

Sheepspot’s CVM Worsted: the new worsted-weight yarn from Sheepspot, spun in the US from the wool of a US flock of rare sheep, is available now.

But what the heck is a CVM?

CVM stands for “California Variegated Mutant.” Yup, for realz. CVMs are a colored strain of Romeldale sheep.

Romeldales are an American breed of sheep developed in the early 1900s, from a cross of Romney rams and Rambouillet ewes. They have always been quite rare. In fact, for many years, almost the entire population of Romeldales lived on a single farm, Stone Valley Ranch, in California. And the entire clip of wool from that flock was sold each year to Pendleton Woolen Mills, in Oregon. Like most commercial wool operations, Pendleton was not interested in colored wool, so colored lambs were culled from the Stone Valley flock. But in the 1960s, Glen Eidman, a sheep breeder who was working with Stone Valley’s owners to promote the breed, decided not to cull a colored ewe and then, later, a colored ram. Eidman bred the two colored Romeldales, and dubbed the resulting sheep California Variegated Mutants.

From the beginning, Eidman bred CVMs with handspinners in mind. But even with a small group of spinners enthusiastic (very enthusiastic!) about their wool, the numbers of both Romeldales and CVMs dwindled without a breed association to promote them. The Livestock Conservancy, a group that champions rare and heritage livestock breeds in the US, formed a breed association and registry for Romeldales and CVMs. Even now, though, the Conservancy lists them as “critically” endangered, which means that there are fewer than 200 Romeldale/CVMs registered annually, and that the worldwide population of these sheep is likely less than 2,000 total. 

CVM Worsted in Sandstone

The yarn

Part of Sheepspot’s mission is to support genetic diversity in the general sheep population by supporting the shepherds who raise rare sheep. We do this by educating our customers about the virtues of these unusual wools, and thus expanding the market for them. Since there are more knitters than spinners in the world (so far), getting these wools into the hands of knitters in the form of millspun yarns is an important part of creating more demand. So you can imagine that we were over the moon when a CVM shepherd in California contacted to ask whether Sheepspot was interested in buying wool—and when it became clear that she had enough wool to allow us to produce a millspun CVM yarn in several colors!

The shepherd in question, Rhoby of Rhoby’s Ranch, not only had wool for us. She was also willing to sort the wool for us by color.  So, after securing a sample, we agreed to buy the wool and Rhoby got started sorting.

After the wool was sorted by color, Rhoby shipped it to Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. There Anne, the owner, washed the wool and, based on the washed weights of the various colors, made a final determination that she could make three roughly equally-sized batches of yarn in three distinct colors. These became (from left to right, below) “Limestone,” “Sandstone,” and “Shale.”

From left to right: CVM Worsted in Limestone, Sandstone, and Shale

The lowdown

CVM Worsted is a two-ply, woolen-spun yarn that’s soft and resilient, with a slightly crisp hand. Its two-ply structure makes it ideal for patterns that incorporate lace and eyelets into their designs. The fact that it’s been spun using the woolen method means that it’s light, warm, and very elastic. Woolen yarns tend to be happy knit with a wider variety of needle sizes and in a wider variety of gauges than their worsted spun counterparts, both because their fuzzier texture will fill in the gaps between stitches and because they contain a lot of air, and can thus be compressed a bit at tighter gauges without distorting the stitches. We’ve found this yarn to be happiest at around sixteen stitches over four inches, knit on US 7 needles (4.5mm), but as always, it’s crucial to get to know this yarn by knitting a swatch to get your preferred gauge. You’ll find a lot more information about swatching with CVM Worsted over on the Sheepspot blog.

CVM Worsted comes in generously-sized skeins of approximately 280 yards, and is priced at $26 per skein.

CVM Worsted in Shale

OK, I gotta have some of this yarn. What should I knit?

We’re so glad you asked

We think CVM Worsted is a great sweater yarn, so we’ve made you a downloadable PDF with a list of eleven sweater patterns—five cardigans, and six pullovers—that we think would complement it perfectly, and that are knit in appropriate gauges. We’ve gravitated toward casual, classic designs that will suit CVM Worsted’s structure and characteristics. We hope you find something that you love. 

There’s a live link on every page that will take you directly to the pattern’s page on Ravelry, where you can learn more and buy the pattern. All the photos are copyrighted by the designers, and are used with their permission. Many thanks to Amy Herzog, ANKESTRiCK,  Yellowcosmo, Melissa Schaschwary, Hanna Maciejewska, Isabell Kraemer, Caitlin Hunter, Stone Wool, Hilary Smith Callis, and Bristol Ivy for agreeing to have their patterns included here.

We can't wait to see what you knit with this wonderful new yarn. 

Swatch-o-rama!

how toSasha TorresComment

I'm so excited to bring you Kat Christensen's first contribution to the blog. Kat (you can find her own amazing blog at askatknits.com) is my assistant, Sheepspot's community manager, and a much braver sweater knitter than I am. Here she describes the swatching process she uses to find the ideal gauge for a new yarn. Take it away, Kat! —Sasha

I was so fortunate to get an early treat from Sasha – she sent me several skeins of Sheepspot's newest yarn, the woolen-spun, DK-weight CVM that will hit the Sheepspot shop in February. I was excited to try it and was really hoping that it would be as nice the limited-edition Clun Forest I had gotten from Sheepspot a couple of years ago. That yarn became a sweater that I love, Vodka Limeade.

I was not disappointed – at all! The skeins are lovely. There is the faint smell of sheep and there is a hint of lanolin remaining on the yarn as well. To me, neither of these things is a drawback; rather they're pluses, as they tell me that the wool wasn't over-processed at the mill. 

I sat down with an array of needles and, starting with a US 6, I cast on 46 stitches. And then I just began to knit, adding 6 yarnovers to remind myself that I had knitted that section of the swatch with a size 6. I wanted a row that was long enough that I wasn't constantly having to turn my work, but not so long that it felt like I would never reach the end of the row! I knit big swatches, because the key to swatching successfully is to get into your usual knitting rhythm, which doesn't happen if you are only knitting a small swatch. Things looked nice with the 6, but I wondered what else the yarn could do.

After knitting a bit, I marked my change row and began knitting with a US 5. The 5 produced a much stiffer-feeling fabric, but knitting was not at all difficult. After knitting several more inches, I again marked my change row and picked up a US 7.

This is when the yarn really began to sing to me. The stitches had more room between them and, knowing that the CVM would bloom in washing, I was excited to see what fabric this would produce. I knit on for several more inches and then cast off. I then began to wonder, if the yarn was happy with a US 7, what would it do with a US 8? So, I got out an 8 and cast on the same number of stitches and happily knit more.
 
Now, swatches should always be measured after you have washed and dried them, but I also take measurements before washing so I know if I am knitting to my gauge as I knit the project. And I measure over 4 and 8 inches. I lay the swatch on a table and get out a straight ruler and some pins. And, really – a straight ruler is crucially important! I pin out the measurements and count the stitches. 

Here are my pre-wash measurements:

  • US 6 – 18 stitches = 4 inches, 36 stiches = 8 inches
  • US 5 – 18 stitches = 4 inches, 35 stitches = 8 inches 
  • US 7 – 17 ½ stitches = 4 inches, 35 stitches = 8 inches
  • US 8 – 17 stitches = 4 inches, 34 stitches = 8 inches

The stitch counts did not vary drastically between the needle sizes—that is, until I washed the swatch! I soaked the swatches in hot water with a bit of Soak, and I left them in the water for about 45 minutes. I agitated them manually and then rolled them in a towel to remove the excess moisture and laid them flat to dry. I did not pin them out, I simply laid them flat and gently smoothed out the edges. I did not stretch them at all.

Here are the post-wash measurements: 

  • US 6 – 16 stitches = 4 inches, 32 stitches = 8 inches (4 stitches per inch)
  • US 5 – 17 stitches = 4 inches, 34 stitches = 8 inches (4.25 stiches per inch)
  • US 7 – 16 ½ stitches = 4 inches, 33 stitches = 8 inches (4.125 stitches per inch)
  • US 8 – 14 stitches = 4 inches, 28 stitches = 8 inches (3.5 stitches per inch)

As you can see, there was significant blooming when the stitches had enough room to do so. 

The next thing I looked at was the fabric I created with each needle size: how did they feel, how did they look, and how did they wear? Sometimes, finding the best gauge for a yarn is just a process of elimination. In this case, the swatch knit on the US 8 is soft and has good drape, but there is too much room between the stitches for them to help each other stay in shape for the wear that a sweater would get. I might use this gauge if I wanted to knit a cowl with some drape, but this is not sweater fabric. 

The next swatch that was easy to eliminate was the fabric knit on the US 5 – it's just too stiff. The stitches seem crowded and don’t have the room they need relax and bloom. 

It was a little more challenging to choose between the remaining two swatches. They both look and feel very nice. Ultimately, I preferred the swatch I knit with the US 7. This gauge allowed the yarn to bloom fully, filling in the gaps between the stitches and creating a fabric with a nice hand and drape—but not so much drape that the finished sweater will lose its shape. In contrast, the stitches in the US 6 fabric were a little crowded, but if I needed to use the 6s to match a pattern gauge I would do so. 

Now that I know what gauge will give me a soft, cohesive, and sturdy fabric with this yarn, the pattern hunt is on!

To be continued. . . 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

OMG: Lambing Live

product reviewsSasha TorresComment

I need to tell you, as a fellow sheep nut, about a BBC program called Lambing Live that I found on YouTube.

Lambing Live is just what the title would suggest. BBC Two airs it live, on five consecutive nights in the spring. Hosts Kate Humble (above) and Adam Henson cover a different shepherding family in each season. They film as many ewes lambing as they can, filling in the slow periods between births with background footage that they've shot during other crucial periods in the shepherding year (choosing rams, breeding—or "tupping", scanning the ewes with ultrasound to determine how many lambs they are carrying).

In short, Lambing Live is television for sheep nuts. I am completely hooked, and am working my way through the three available seasons. The seasons stop in 2014, but the three seasons on YouTube are just amazing and the lambs!

Now, before you get all excited, one caveat: the videos on YouTube are not high definition, which is a shame. But they are good enough to provide us sheep nuts with plenty of adorable lambs to squee over. 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Fibery plans for 2017

who we are, behind the scenes, how toSasha TorresComment
Kat's going to sample more.

Kat's going to sample more.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? Do you make them about knitting and spinning? Here at Sheepspot, some of us do and some of us don't. My fabulous virtual assistant and community manager, Kat (above), does. This year, she wants to knit more with her handspun yarns. In order to do this, she's going to do more planning and sampling before she spins, so she knows she'll get the yarn she wants for her project and that's she's using the fiber to best advantage. 

Danielle wants to work from her stash and finish UFOs.

Danielle wants to work from her stash and finish UFOs.

My wonderful studio assistant, Danielle, has also made a few fiber-related resolutions this year. She wants to "1) work from my huge stash of fibre and yarn instead of buying new all the time; 2) if/when I need something new for a project, buy indie & local; and 3) finish all the projects I've started and haven't cast off."

Me with Mr. Sheepspot. I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered.

Me with Mr. Sheepspot. I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered.

I don't really make resolutions. But l love the process Danielle LaPorte describes in The Desire Map, of choosing some ways I want to feel in the coming year. In my fiber life, I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered. In other words, I want to remember how important working with fiber is for my mental health and do lots of it. I want to work with materials whose colors and textures delight me. And I want to let go of everything in my stash that I don't absolutely love. 

Are you thinking about your fibery 2017? I'd love to know what's on your mind. Hit reply and tell me!

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Product Review: Ply Magazine

product reviewsSasha Torres1 Comment


Oh boy. I may not have much time to spin, but I've been grabbing time to read about spinning every time I get a new issue of Ply. Have you subscribed yet? If not, run, do not walk, over to their website and do so. Really.

Full disclosure: two of my favorite people in the world, Beth Smith and Jillian Moreno, constitute the editorial board of Ply. And you know that I'm a huge fan of Jacey Boggs, the magazine's editor, as well as of her teaching, her writing and her fantastic if short-lived podcast, Insubordiknit. But really, the folks at Ply are bringing it. Ply is wonderful. Here are three reasons why: 

  1. Focus on intermediate and advanced spinners. Each issue looks at a single topic, like woolen spinning, or spinning for color, or silk, or plying in real depth, and each starts by assuming a reader who has some spinning experience. So the woolen issue assumes that its readers know what "woolen" means, what "worsted" means, and what the difference is. From that starting point, it looks at "woolen" a zillion different ways: Jacey, in an article called "Lying About Longdraw" shares how she "tricks" students in her classes into spinning long draw. Beth explores the elements of "true" woolen spinning—short fiber carded into rolags, spun long draw—but also talks a bit about her own journey from diehard worsted spinner to woolen aficionado. Amy Tyler writes about spinning lopi-style woolen yarns, Amelia Garripoli explains woolen spindle spinning, and Stephanie Gaustad describes double drafting. Also in this issue: James Perry on unsupported longdraw and Abby Franquemont on spinning from the fold. There are also articles by Esther Rodgers and Lacy Ziemkiewicz on preparing fiber for woolen spinning, and one by Jillian on nine ways to spin a batt. See what I mean? Real depth.
  2. New and diverse voices. Ply is doing a fantastic job bringing new voices into the conversation. I'm particularly delighted to see a regular column by ergonomist and spinner Carson Demers on the ergonomics of spinning; the "Tip Jar" feature, with quick tips from spinners on some aspect of the topic at hand; and archaelogist Christina Pappas' articles on spinning history. Two of the highlights of the color issue for me were articles by David Schultz of Southern Cross Fibre on choosing a color palette and Felicia Lo on combining colorways. As I recall none of these authors has yet been tapped by Spin-Off, and it's wonderful to hear from them.
  3. Debate, not orthodoxy. Because every issue of Ply is organized around a topic, with articles that approach that topic from many different angles, it masterfully avoids erecting or reinforcing spinning orthodoxies. As the list of articles in the woolen issue suggests, Ply is built on the notion that there are many different routes to making beautiful yarn. One of my favorite elements of Ply is "Hot Button," in which spinners debate something like predrafting. With opinions ranging from Michelle Boyd's "Predrafting is the devil," to Deb Menz's "I do what I need to do," the magazine manages to undo even the most doctrinaire positions by putting them into the context of a debate. Similarly, the magazine's "Stealth Reviews" section features three anonymous reviews of a single product. I suspect that anonymity makes it easier for them to say what they really think (ask me how I know), and, again, no one voice gets the last word.

I could list more reasons I love Ply: the lovely glossy paper, the highly illustrative photography, the diverse models that grace every issue, the truly lovely and inspiring projects. But the point is you just need to subscribe and join the conversation. As I said: run, do not walk.

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Product Review: The Lap Thing

product reviewsSasha TorresComment

This month I'm reviewing the Lap Thing, a fantastic lap cloth for spinners made by Natasha Puffer and sold in her Etsy shop, FiberCatcher. The Lap Thing comes in lots of different lovely fabrics, but each one is completely reversible and has one dark side and one white side. The thoughtful design really lets you see the drafting zone as you spin no matter what color the fiber is. Even better, each side has a flap into which you can tuck all those little neps and bits of VM that you don't want to get into your yarn; when you're finished spinning for the day, just shake it out over a your trash bin and you're done. Very helpful if you have a cat who likes to patrol the floors for bits of fluff. Not that I know anything about that.

Each Lap Thing has two zippered pockets for tools, one on the dark side and one on the white one. Natasha does a beautiful job on them. They're really well made. If you're tired of having a lap covered with fiber and VM while you spin, I highly recommend that you check them out. While you're at FiberCatcher, have a look at her Carder Keepers as well. They're pieces of fabric that hold your carders teeth-side together.  I think they would be really useful for traveling or classes.

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Hate weaving in ends?

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One of my least favorite knitting tasks is weaving in ends -- but I almost never have more than two ends to weave in. How? Wet splicing.

spit splicing.jpg


Wet splicing is a way to join yarns while knitting. It is essentially felting two pieces of yarn together. It only works with yarns that haven't been treated not to felt (like superwash wools). Since Sheepspot is a superwash-free zone, you can use wet splicing with all of Sheepspot's yarns.

Wet splicing is very simple. If the yarn has multiple plies, you untwist the ends of your yarns carefully and break off about an inch or so of one of the plies. Then, you get them wet (I use a little bit of water, but some like to call this "spit splicing"). You overlap the two pieces of wet yarn together and rub them quickly between your palms until the overlapping pieces are the thickness of the rest of the yarn.

That's it! Now, you'll have two fewer ends to weave in, and a perfectly smooth transition between yarns.

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

What I did on my summer vacation

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Remember Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist's Way? It came out in 1992, when the current flood of books on creativity was just a trickle, and it made a big impact on me at the time. At Cameron's suggestion, I started journaling in the mornings, and it's a habit I still maintain.

Cameron also writes about what she calls "artist dates": weekly, playful, solo excursions that serve to refill one's creative well. In her words


Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. 
If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.
As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. 

For me, travel is a huge part of refilling my creative well. I live where it's flat and 99% of the buildings are brown. It's a pretty deadening environment, visually speaking. So I love getting into other landscapes. I live in a small city that feels very suburban (my husband and I call it a suburb without an urb), so big cities are always a wonderful jolt to my senses. And since I love the sea and live in the middle of the continent, I make a concerted effort to get to an ocean as often as I possibly can. 

Last month Mr. Sheepspot and I spent two weeks in the US visiting family and friends. We spent three fabulous days in Manhattan, then drove to Rhode Island for some beach time, and then spent time with friends in Vermont and western Massachusetts (hills!). It was a perfect, well-filling trip.

Then I did something I never do: I went to a concert. I went to see Counting Crows, whom I've loved for years. By myself. I sang along loudly and badly and loved every minute of it.

I returned refreshed and energized and resolved to make my artist dates more frequent occurrences, so I've been collecting ideas. Here are some of the things I'm going to try. 

  • hearing more live music
  • more walks in nature
  • spending more in-person time with other fiberistas
  • taking classes, like this Photography for Makers class that I'm taking next month
  • giving myself permission to make things that don't involve yarn, like quilts and embroidery projects
  • going somewhere new in town
  • swimming in Lake Huron a few last times this season

What do you do to refill your creative well?

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Sheepspot is moving

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I know this looks like an empty room, but it is, in fact, full of adventure!

I know this looks like an empty room, but it is, in fact, full of adventure!

Since Sheepspot started, in 2014, it has lived with me and my husband. Kind of like a roommate. I've been dyeing the basement (where we also do our laundry; what could possibly go wrong?) and keeping inventory in my office. The shelving I use at fiber festivals and the other things I need for selling in person are in the garage. And, at the moment, there are many, many skeins of CVM DK in the back of Matthew's closet. 

This arrangement worked well at first. I love working at home, and I love being able to dye in my pj's if the mood strikes. But as Sheepspot has grown to offer fiber as well as yarn, and more different kinds of wool, our "roommate" has been claiming more and more space, and things have gotten more and more disorganized. I hate working in chaos, so this has bothered me. A lot. I know I could produce more and work more efficiently in a different space. So I set out to find one.

And I found it! It's about 10 minutes from my house, 600 glorious square feet, with two huge north-facing windows that flood it with light. There's a big open space in the shape of an L, and a small "kitchen" with a great big sink. I'm going to dye in one part of the L and keep inventory and shipping materials in the other. I'll set up for photography by the windows. Even with all this going on there will be room for classes and spin-ins as well!

I have been dreaming about a beautiful home for Sheepspot since I started the business, and I'm over the moon about this space. As soon as I get back from vacation, the painting and myriad trips to Ikea will start. I hope to be fully moved in by the end of August! 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

A new yarn

behind the scenesSasha TorresComment

Sheepspot has a new yarn in the works: CVM! CVM sheep are a colored strain of a rare American fine-wool breed, the Romeldale, which was developed early in the 20th century from Romney rams and Rambouillet ewes. Romeldales are white. CVMs came along in the 1960s, when shepherd Glen Eidman was surprised to find that one of his Romeldales had given birth to a multicolored ewe lamb. Two years later, a ram lamb with the same coloring was born. Eidman bred the two colored sheep and discovered that their offspring were also colored. He continued to select for fleece quality and color, calling the results by the romantic name "California Variegated Mutant." 

There are so few CVMs that the Livestock Conservancy considers them "critically" endangered, meaning that there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and that their estimated global population is fewer than two thousand animals. As a handspinner, I've long loved CVM wool, so imagine my delight when I was contacted by a CVM shepherd in (where else?) California who was willing to sell me her entire clip! And what was more, she was willing to sort said clip by color! 

The wool went from California to Wisconsin, where it was spun into a gorgeous, bouncy two-ply woolen yarn at Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill in the three natural colors above. The whole process, from buying the wool to receiving the yarn, took over a year. And, I'm happy to say this yarn was worth the wait. 

As soon as the yarn arrived I sent samples to some of my absolutely favorite knitwear designers in hopes that they might be inspired to design sweater patterns just for this beautiful yarn. They were, and they are. But I couldn't wait. I cast on Carrie Bostick Hoge's Lila sweater (the top-down version) right away. Lila is simple and elegant and suits the yarn perfectly. But I know Lila won't be the only sweater I knit in this yarn. 

Look for Sheepspot's CVM DK in the fall, as patterns designed just for it become available. 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

More ways to use your tablet as a knitting tool

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This is the last post in a series on the tools I use to make my knitting life easy as pie. In the earlier posts I talk about my needle stash and how I store it, my knitting tool kit, and how I use my iPad to store patterns.

Last week I wrote about how I use my tablet to store all of my knitting patterns, so that I always have them with me in case a bout of startitis sets in. In response, Tracy wrote "I skip the scanner and use the app DocScanHD on my iPad to copy any paper patterns I have. It allows you to size, correct and store pdfs, no more scanner needed, just the iPad!" Great idea! 

In addition, Kat wrote, "The best tool ever for knitting patterns, especially charted patterns, is knitCompanion (available in the Apple Store). . . You can sync it with Ravelry, so you have your entire Rav Library with you. It keeps track of where you are in the pattern (even when you close the app, or put the project in your project bag and forget it for several months). You can highlight increases, decreases, things you need to keep track of (in different colors). It makes charted lace (with patterning on the knit side and the purl side) simple. It is seriously a knitter's best friend."

I haven't tried knitCompanion (yet), but I have used another app for the iPad called JKnit. JKnit definitely has a learning curve, but once I figured it out I found it pretty easy to use. Once you've put in the pattern information, it both counts your rows and gives you row-by-row instructions. It doesn't support charts, though.

If you're interested in exploring knitCompanion and JKnit further, this handy blog post reviews them both—and it talks about GoodReader, which I mentioned last week, as well.

You may also be interested in this list on Ravelry of all the third-party apps that you can connect to your Ravelry account to provide mobile access to various kinds of information. 

Huge thanks to Tracy and Kat for getting in touch!

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Your tablet as a knitting tool

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My iPad with a current WIP in Rambouillet Sport

My iPad with a current WIP in Rambouillet Sport

In the last installment of this series on knitting tools (I talk about needles here, needle storage here, and my knitting tool kit here), I'm going to talk about how I use my iPad to store my knitting patterns

First, though, a couple of you contacted me about the fact that I omitted stitch markers from my tool kit. Since I don't use stitch markers for every project, and I'm a little maniacal about keeping my knitting bag as lightweight as possible, I keep my stitch markers in a separate pouch. I'm considering revising this policy, though, after getting this impassioned (and informative) communiqué from Carolyn:

In every one of my knitting bags: at least half a dozen locking stitch markers - an absolute necessity!  For so much more than just when the pattern calls for one.  For securing a dropped stitch while you go find your crochet hook to repair it, for marking increases or decreases or any thing else that you need to keep track of but might be hard to spot, for marking a starting point for when the pattern says "continue in pattern for X inches"; lots and lots of uses!

Yes! The dropped stitch thing! Brilliant! Locking stitch markers going into tool kit!

Now, about that iPad . . . 

In the past ten years I've done my best to eliminate as much paper from my life as possible. This includes paper knitting patterns. At this point I pretty much only buy patterns as PDFs. I keep these in a folder on Dropbox (my cloud storage, so I know it's safe and I can access it from anywhere), organized into subfolders by type of projects (hats, cowls, pullovers, cardigans, etc.) Then I use a fabulous program for the iPad called GoodReader that easily syncs with the Dropbox folder and allows me to annotate PDFs to my heart's content—in order to, for example, highlight the size I'm knitting, or to underline all those tricky spots that say "and at the same time . . . "

If I want to keep a pattern that I've found in a book or a magazine that I own, I make a copy, scan it to PDF with my small desktop scanner (most copy shops will scan things for you if you don't have a scanner), and then recycle the copy and, with rare exceptions, pass the book or magazine on to a friend. Then I put the digital copy into the appropriate folder in Dropbox, sync the folder with GoodReader, and voilà! All my knitting patterns on my iPad, conveniently accessible wherever I go. And no paper clutter!

I love knowing that no matter where I am, I can access any pattern I have, which means that if I have a bout of startitis while traveling (which, weirdly, happens more often than you might think), I'm ready. 

How do you wrangle your knitting patterns?

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

My must-have knitting tools

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In this series of posts about knitting tools, I've talked about my needle stash and how I organize and store it. This week: my knitting tool kit.

I keep a small kit of essential tools in my knitting bag. It has what I need to deal with pretty much any knitting problem I'm likely to encounter on the go, but it's deliberately minimal and lightweight. It contains:

  • a small pair of sharp scissors
  • a retractable measuring tape
  • cable needles
  • stitch holders
  • several big, blunt embroidery needles for weaving in ends, housed in a Clover Chibi
  • a needle sizer in the shape of a sheep (of course)
  • a set of cheap, lightweight aluminum crochet hooks, for picking up dropped stitches
  • a 24" circular needle, US size 0/2 mm, for picking up or holding stitches, or as an afterthought lifeline when ripping back

I actually have two of these kits all made up and ready to go; I've kept an extra one as a backup ever since leaving one in my rental car at SFO after visiting the Knitmores! This little pouch from Namaste (below) is perfect. I also like these bags from Tom Bihn.

I have a larger bag with post-its and highlighter tape (for back in the day when I used paper patterns; more on that next week), a small notebook, and other odds and ends, but I don't ever use it. My tiny little tool kit does the job!

Do you have other must-have knitting tools? Let me know and I'll do a follow-up to this story. Just hit reply!

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

How to deal with needle overload

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Needle storage should be pretty!

Needle storage should be pretty!

Last week I shared all the details about my needle stash. This week I want to share the tools I use to create order from what could be a chaos of circulars, interchangeable tips, and cords. First up: the interchangeables:

I use these lovely interchangeable cases from pokdej on etsy. I have two of the extra large ones, one for my Knit Picks sets and one for my DyakCraft ones. Because I have a lot of the Knit Picks cables, I also had pokdej make a custom case for those as well. Her work is absolutely lovely; these are well-made, sturdy bags, and she uses lovely modern fabrics. You can choose already-made cases or choose your fabrics and zipper colors and she'll make a custom one just for you. And she's fast. I highly recommend her shop.

For the fixed-length circulars, I use a somewhat less elegant but sturdy solution, the Namaste Double-Wide Circular Case:

Yes, it lists to the side a bit, and yes, I did have to create all those labels myself, but I can find what I need quickly, and that's the point, right?

Next week, I'll show you what's in the tool kit that I keep in my knitting bag at all times.

How do you store your needles?

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Do You Have a Needle Stash?

how to, behind the scenesSasha TorresComment
My straight needles. I don't knit with them, but I love to include them in product photos.

My straight needles. I don't knit with them, but I love to include them in product photos.

This is the first post in a series on knitting tools. Today: needles!

I knit everything on circular needles (I even use the magic loop method for socks); I find it's more comfortable for my wrists. When I started knitting seriously in 2009, I had some needles, mostly bamboo, that I had collected over the years. Even that small collection of needles presented a storage problem, though, and I could never remember which needles I had when I was shopping for a project. I quickly decided to get an interchangeable needle set, because I wanted to know that I had at least one of every possible size of circular needle. That way I was prepared for any project.

I had also learned that I like a long, pointy tip to my needles (oh, how my knitting life improved when I learned this crucial fact about myself!), so I decided on a set from Knit Picks. I know that folks have very strong feelings, pro and con, about these needles, but they've worked well for me. I haven't had a lot of quality issues with them (I broke one once, and Knit Picks cheerfully replaced it), and, though there are things I don't like about them (like the fact that you need a paper clip to secure the joins between the needles and the cords, and the fact that you can't tell what size they are without a needle sizer), I've used them for lots of projects and I'm pretty satisfied. I have both the wooden and metal sets, though I rarely used the metal ones; they're too slippery for me.

Later, when DyakCraft was making interchangeable needle sets in wood (which, alas, they no longer do) I got one of those as well. I always have at least five things on the needles (really, that's a very conservative estimate), so I was constantly running out of the sizes I use the most. Therefore I "needed" the DyakCrafts. Obviously! They are wonderful, wonderful needles. They have beautifully tapered tips, joins that secure without any tools, and very nice, flexible cords. I wish I had bought another set while I could. If you like metal, their needles are absolutely worth checking out.

Truth be told, though, I sometimes am too lazy to deal with the putting together the tips and the joins, finding a paper clip, etc. When I have start-itis I want to get going, like, yesterday. So over the years I've collected a good range of fixed circulars, usually with 24" or 32" cords. Some of these are Signatures, which are super-spendy, but which have the best cords and the smoothest joins in the biz, IMHO. The rest are from DyakCraft. 

Those are the needles I knit with, which may leave you wondering about the ones in the photo above. Those are the various vintage needles I've collected to use in Sheepspot product photos. I love them, and I'm always on the lookout for more. 

Next week I'll tell you about the organizing solutions I've come up with keeping my needles safe and accessible.

What needles do you use?

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!