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

behind the scenesSasha TorresComment
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!

How you'll choose your colorway for Fiber Club shipments (plus a sneak peek at the July colorways!)

what we doSasha TorresComment
March club colorways "Beautiful Decay" and "Bird's Nest"

March club colorways "Beautiful Decay" and "Bird's Nest"

You may be wondering exactly how the color selection process for the Fiber Club works. It's pretty simple, just three easy steps:

  • I send you an email with the moodboards and semisolid selections for the next shipment, and a link to a site called Typeform, which I use to tabulate everyone's picks.
  • You go to Typeform, fill in a bit of information, and make your choices. You may choose any of the four colorways offered. If you have signed up for the extra fiber option, you will choose the colorway you want separately for each of the two bumps of fiber.
  • I lovingly and carefully dye up your fiber and send it to you!

Here are a few more of last year's colorways. Club colorways are exclusive to the club for six months. (After that, some of my favorites make their way into the shop.)

"Autumn Wedding"

"Autumn Wedding"

"Fall Birch"

"Fall Birch"

"May Flowers"

"May Flowers"

"Broadway and Grand"

"Broadway and Grand"


Last year's members were able to choose between two colorways for each shipment. This year, I've expanded the choices. If you select dyed fiber for your membership, you'll be able to choose among two multicolored colorways and two semisolids that each coordinate with one of the multis. Here are the choices for July:

Clockwise from top left: "Bronte," "Austen," "Austen Gray," "Bronte Purple"

Clockwise from top left: "Bronte," "Austen," "Austen Gray," "Bronte Purple"

Signups for this year's club end in just two days! Don't miss out on your chance to become a better, more confident, and knowledgeable spinner. Remember, you can customize your membership to fit your needs and budget perfectly.

A quick post about Fiber Club shipping costs

what we doSasha TorresComment

If you have looked closely at the prices for the Fiber Club (and I hope you have!) you may have wondered about the differences in prices for shipments to the US and within Canada. 

These differences reflect the fact that, on average, it costs Sheepspot about $2 more to ship 100 grams of something within Canada than to the US. Strange, but true. (If it seems to you that this fact is in conflict with Canada Post's obligation to serve Canadians, I entirely agree with you.) So that's why the basic club membership costs Canadians more.

On the other hand, when shipping 200 grams to the US, the price goes up. Again, the difference is about two dollars. But the price within Canada generally doesn't increase. This is why the prices for extra fiber are lower for Canadians.

Hope this helps.

Janelle's Fiber Club Story

Sasha TorresComment

I'm so grateful that another of the members of Sheepspot's Fiber Club, Janelle, was willing to share her experiences as a club member (and pictures of her gorgeous yarn!) in this guest post. You can find her on Ravelry and social media as @jlwinpa.

Montadale in Fall Birch

Montadale in Fall Birch

When I heard Sasha Torres was starting a Fiber Club, I was immediately interested. Sasha hosted a podcast called SpinDoctor from 2010-­14, and those years coincided with my development as a spinner. My years of listening assured me she knew her stuff. I shared her interest in supporting farmers working to preserve smaller breeds. I was confident Sasha would do the club well because she carefully queried her customers to learn about their prior experiences with clubs. I know, because I was one of many fiber fans who completed her survey. I hadn't been in a fiber or yarn club in at least a decade, and I told her why!

The club options Sasha unveiled addressed every single one of my concerns:

  • You could choose to join for 6 or 12 months
  • You could choose yarn or fiber
  • You could choose dyed or undyed
  • If you chose dyed yarn/fiber, you would choose a colorway from two different options, assuring you would get something that you liked
  • You could choose the standard 4 oz amount, or double it
  • You could join the Breed School, which supported learning about sheep breeds with extra information in each shipment, as well as the opportunity to join an online chat about each breed

All of these options were mix­-and­-match, so you could customize the club (and its price) to fit you perfectly. This approach convinced me that Sasha truly heard what her survey respondents said and designed a club experience that would work for us. I was very tempted when I first saw the club announcement. But what prompted me to commit to the club was the Breed School experience, emphasis on the word "experience." I have a lot of yarn and fiber in stash already... you probably do, too! And if I want more materials, I can obtain them easily. But Breed School sounded like an opportunity to forge new connections with other fiber fans, which is something you just can't order online. I also wanted to strengthen connections with one of my local spinning friends, Caitlin, so we joined the club together and scheduled a special spinning date every time we received a new shipment. For me, this club was about creating an experience that would nourish me rather than just purchasing fiber.

The Sheepspot club worked perfectly for me. Five of the six breeds were new to me as a spinner ­ Dorset Down, Montadale, Cormo, Perendale, and Targhee/CVM* (the only one I had worked with previously was Coopworth). We received both combed top and carded roving, so I practiced different drafting styles. I kept up with the club and managed to spin each shipment before the next one arrived. I have even knit projects from two of the yarns I made with Sheepspot club fiber this year. One of my fiber goals for 2016 is to knit more of my handspun, and Sasha is constantly asking "what are you going to make with this?"

Coopworth in Amethyst

Coopworth in Amethyst

The club has been a huge win for me. My spinning has improved a lot this past year. Caitlin and I spun together six times that we wouldn't have without the club structure. I have really enjoyed getting to know Sasha and Kat better through our online chats. We even met up at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival this month, and they taught me how to evaluate fleeces. (I didn't quite buy one...but maybe next year!)

Are we doing Breed School again? Where do I sign up?

*As I write this, I don't know which one we're getting yet... but these are the two breeds she mentioned at the last chat, and I haven't spun either one of them! 

Perendale in Bird's Nest

Perendale in Bird's Nest

Many thanks, Janelle! If you're thinking about joining the Fiber Club, you may want to check out club member Kat's post as well.  You can get all the details about the Fiber Club, and sign up to get an email reminder when memberships are open here. If you have any questions, just shoot me an email. Memberships go on sale June 22. 

How I select fiber for the Sheepspot Fiber Club

what we do, behind the scenes, missionSasha TorresComment

Hi there! Here's another video for you—and you can actually see me in this one! I thought it might be useful for those of you considering joining the fiber club to learn a bit more about how I choose the wool I send to club members, so here goes:

Remember, if you have any questions about the club I would love to hear from you. You can just head over to the contact page and send me a message, or comment on this post. You can find all the information about the club here.

@askatknits tells all (about the Sheepspot Fiber Club)!

what we doSasha TorresComment

Sasha here. I'm thrilled to have Kat, the blogger over at AsKatKnits and a Fiber Club member, as a guest here on the blog to talk about her experience with the club. Take it away, Kat!

Hello Sheepspot Readers! I am Kat of AsKatKnits and I was a member of the Sheepspot Fiber Club this year. I want to take a moment to share with you a little bit about my experiences in the club. 

While I have been spinning for about 10 years, I would not classify myself as an experienced spinner. I think I still have a great deal to learn and, until recently, have mostly spun the “over the counter” wools that are available at the various fiber festivals or through Etsy. I began to spin some different breeds when I joined some other fiber clubs, but I really wanted to spin “all the wools.” My dilemma was how to accomplish that without buying a multitude of fleeces and processing them myself. 

But, then I heard about Sheepspot from a couple of very dear friends and Sasha had some very different breeds available in her online shop, but what really intrigued me was the Fiber Club she was offering. It sounded like it was going to be a very different sort of club!

First Installment: Dorset Down Roving, carded and woolen spun

First Installment: Dorset Down Roving, carded and woolen spun

While I enjoyed participating in other fiber clubs, frequently the color was not something I would have selected. This is one area where the Sheepspot club differs entirely – you are able to pick a colorway from two choices (or you can select undyed fiber!) I initially worried about how the color images Sasha sent to us would translate to fiber, but it was something I did not need to worry about at all! Her sense of color and her talent for dyeing are excellent! I have not been disappointed in a single color selection. The ability to select the colorway was one factor that helped me in my decision to participate in the inaugural club.

I also liked the fact that you could sign up for additional fiber. I selected to get dyed fiber bi-monthly for a year (or six installments) and Sasha accommodated me by letting me get extra fiber bi-monthly for half a year (or 3 installments). She made the process easy to fit my budget. 

Second Installment: Montadale top, worsted spun

Second Installment: Montadale top, worsted spun

However, the key factor in my decision to sign up was the Breed School option (which is now part of every 12-month club membership!). What I knew about spinning different breeds prior to the club was sadly, very limited. Yes, I had read things about different breeds and had books explaining the differences between breeds, but that is not the same as receiving fiber that is processed for the best use of a particular breed. The already processed part was especially nice – I work and don’t have unlimited time, so this was a huge benefit for me. 

Third Installment: Coopworth Roving, woolen spun

Third Installment: Coopworth Roving, woolen spun

Each Breed School shipment included detailed breed information, spinning notes compiled by Sasha about her sampling of the fiber, a sample of raw and washed locks, and a worksheet to help guide me through the spinning process. It also included an online Breed School chat with other club members and Sasha! I learned so much about fiber over the past year – especially during the chat times, hearing what other spinners were struggling with or what worked well for them, sharing my questions and getting real time answers was invaluable. Making new spinning friends was also a huge benefit! 

Fourth Installment: Cormo Top, spindle spun singles

Fourth Installment: Cormo Top, spindle spun singles

More importantly, what I learned over the past year has dramatically improved my spinning – both in technique and outcome. Spinning with the best fiber allows you to focus on your technique and when you can focus on that – your outcome is much improved! At least it was for me – this year I spun some of the best yarn I had ever spun. 

Fifth Installment: Perendale Roving

Fifth Installment: Perendale Roving

This past year’s offerings were all new to me except one; however, that familiar fiber was in a preparation that was different than I had spun before. The breeds included this year were Dorset Down, Montadale, Coopworth, Cormo, and Perendale. As I write this, I am eagerly awaiting the final installment. 

As the inaugural year draws to a close, I am eagerly anticipating signups for year two of the Sheepspot Fiber Club – I will be participating again, and I really hope you will be joining me! 

Sasha again. Thanks so much for the post, Kat! Club memberships go on sale June 22. You can find complete details about the club, including prices and options (and there are lots of 'em) hereBe sure to sign up to get an email reminder so you don't miss out

5 reasons to start a breed study now

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

A Jacob lamb from Cindy Ghent's flock here in Ontario.

It makes 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.

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.

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!"

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.

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 here, here, 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." 


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 spinners who just don't have the time to work from fleeces. Members get wool from a new breed every other month, complete with information about the breed's history, characteristics, and wool. 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 22. You can find complete details about the club, including prices and options (and there are lots of 'em) here. Be sure to sign up to get an email reminder so you don't miss out

Using up spinning scraps

how toSasha TorresComment

Just in case you're in a spinning rut, or in case you are feeling overwhelmed with all the little scraps of fiber hanging out in your stash, I want to share a spinning technique I learned in a class with Judith MacKenzie. Like most of Judith's classes, it was brilliant in its simplicity. She gave us each a bag of little bits of fluff of all kinds: wool, camelid fiber, silk, down fibers, and various blends. She had dyed all of it herself and her wonderful color sense was much in evidence in how she had assembled the bags. She told us to pull each bit into smaller bits, and then spin them at random, working with each fiber in the way it seemed to want to be worked with. So I spun some of it long draw, some of it from the fold, some of it short forward draw. When we were finished with our singles, we plied them, and the results were just lovely. Here's mine:

handspun from scraps

I liked the yarn I made so much that when I got home I started on another one using the same technique. I assembled little bits of naturally-colored fine wools, cashmere, bison, silk, and angora that I've been hoarding. Each wanted to be spun a little bit differently, which for me is the joy of this kind of spinning. It is impossible to get bored, even when you have the attention span of a small furry animal, as I do. Here's the result:

This yarn became a wonderfully warm hat: I used the Barley pattern from Tin Can Knits. I love that pattern; it's fantastic for handspun, but really it makes just about any yarn look good.

I highly recommend giving this improvisational method of yarn-making a try. It will make you a more agile spinner, and you're make some great yarn in the process.

Why I love my niddy noddy

behind the scenesAlicia de los ReyesComment

In the last Sheepspot newsletter, I mentioned that my absolute favorite niddy noddy is this one made by Schacht. I'd like to share the many delightful ways this particular niddy noddy is a leap forward in niddy noddy technology, but first, let me say: no one is paying me to say this. I just really, really love this niddy noddy, and I really, really want all spinners to know about it.

(If you're wondering what a niddy noddy is, it's a tool for winding yarn into skeins. It's made from a center bar and two bars at either end placed perpendicular to one another. Here's a handy video of one in action.) 

Most niddy noddys have two small but annoying problems: they can be tiring to use (the rotating back and forth is hard on your wrist) and the yarn sometimes wants to fall off one end (the end that is flat, and intended to allow you to take the skein off at the end). Schacht has solved both of these problems.

First, the Schacht niddy noddy is made from aluminum, so it is super lightweight. This makes it easy on the wrists—plus, it has a handy cushioned grip in the center, so it's very comfortable to use.

Second, the length of the center bar is adjustable. This not only means that you can wind different-sized skeins with one tool, it also means that when you are finished winding your skein, you just collapse the bar and can easily remove the skein—no need for a flat-ended arm (yay!).

As a bonus, you can unscrew the bars and make the whole thing flat for packing, which is perfect for those out-of-town spinning workshops.

It's certainly spendy, but for me it has been worth every penny. This niddy noddy makes me happy every time I use it.

Do you have a fiber tool you absolutely love? Share it in the comments!

Spinning from the fold: a roundup

behind the scenesAlicia de los ReyesComment

Sometimes, you want to spin a woolen—read: airy, warm, and fuzzy—yarn, but you're not starting with a nice fluffy roving. Maybe you have combed top, or maybe you're working with a blend of fibers (say, cashmere plus silk) of very different lengths. Spinning from the fold is a technique that will allow you to spin a woolen yarn from a combed prep, or give you more control over tricky fiber blends.

I've gathered a few videos and tutorials here that will teach you how to spin from the fold.

First, Beth Smith shows us how it's done: 

Laura Chau shares a tutorial on Craftsy on how to spin from the fold with a wheel.

Lee Juvan shares a tutorial with excellent photos on Knittyspin.

Abby Franquemont goes in-depth in this handy FAQ on spinning from the fold that details how to prep for spinning from the fold and how to spin from the fold with a spindle.

Do you have any tips of your own for spinning from the fold? When do you use this technique? Do share in the comments!