behind the scenes

Another podcast!

behind the scenes, what we doSasha TorresComment
SpinDoctor Image.jpg

Hello, dear spinners! As many of you know, I hosted the SpinDoctor audio podcast from 2010–2014, just prior to launching Sheepspot. 

I'm so excited to announce that I'm starting a new podcast. That's right: The SpinDoctor is almost back in!

So what brings me back to this place? Well, many things. Of course, my love of all things spinning and sharing this knowledge with others. And many of you have told me that you miss my voice! And truth be told, even with the many crafting-related podcasts online today, all this time later, we are still lacking in spinning-centricpodcasts—particularly of the audio variety.

So I'm plunging back in with The Sheepspot Podcast.

Now, three years after SpinDoctor, lots of things in my life (and I'll bet yours too) have changed, so if you've been re-acquainting yourself with the older episodes of SpinDoctor (and please do!), be warned that The Sheepspot Podcast will be quite different from SpinDoctor.

The new format will be shorter (episodes will be 15–30 minutes long), with minimal editing. Each episode will offer one focused spinning lesson or one "behind the scenes" peek at what's going on at Sheepspot.

Most importantly, though, I hope to make The Sheepspot Podcast a valuable and enjoyable learning experience for every spinner who's listening. I know we're all way too busy, and I promise not to waste your time.

Is there a spinning topic that you'd like me to cover, or a spinning question you'd like me to answer? If so, please let me know. Contact me here and send it along. I'll do my best to get to it in an early episode!

Setting realistic spinning goals

what we do, behind the scenesSasha TorresComment
Spinning Goals Blog Post Photo.jpg

Since writing about Spinzilla in the last blog post, I've been thinking about spinning goals and self-acceptance. Basically, I'm talking about setting realistic spinning goals for oneself and feeling good about them. Or, sometimes, not setting any goals at all.

Here's a true fact: I've never participated in Spinzilla. And it's been years since I spun the Tour de Fleece. In September and October, I'm busy teaching a great big lecture course to 270 stdents at my day job (with, thank goodness, lots of help with grading from teaching assistants) and getting ready for—or recovering from— the fall festival season. And in July, getting the first shipment dyed and out to my new fiber club subscribers usually requires my full attention. 

All of this is completely OK with me. I love what I do—all of it—and I count my blessings every day that I get to do it. Running Sheepspot means that these days I spend most of my making time dyeing, though I do have a wheel in my studio and spin while waiting for dye to set or fiber to cool. I know that you, too, are juggling your making time with work, families, spouses, or other time-consuming life circumstances.

The more stressful our daily lives, the more I believe in the need to carve out a bit of quiet time for spinning. For lots of folks, group competitions such as Spinzilla can serve as reminders to ourselves that we need to create this time, whatever that may be, and bring it forward into our routines. For others, though, such events can feel like added pressure, like just another "should."

So practice self-compassion and let your spinning goals emerge from what makes sense for you right now. 
The time I spend spinning is meditative and replenishing, and for those reasons it's something that I do my best to make time for. It really doesn't matter how many miles you spin, only that you participate in the act of spinning itself.

Goodbye to yarn

behind the scenes, what we doSasha TorresComment
goodbye to yarn picture.jpg

Have you ever noticed that the really important conversations are the ones we most often put off having?

This is one of those conversations, but here goes: as of the end of this month (September 30, to be exact) Sheepspot will no longer be dyeing and selling yarn online. Instead, we’ll be focusing 100% of our energies on providing our spinning customers with beautiful fibers and the information and support they need to make beautiful yarns with them.

I know this decision may be disappointing to those of you who don’t spin, and who have enjoyed knitting with Sheepspot yarns, so I want to be transparent with you about how I got here

When I first started Sheepspot in 2014, I really thought I was creating a yarn company. I wanted to give knitters who didn’t spin access to some of the wonderful wools I had discovered as a handspinner. And I was genuinely excited about sourcing wool and working with mills to realize my yarn-making ambitions at a bigger scale. 

I wasn’t prepared, though, for how travel-intensive and physically exhausting sourcing wool would be. Or how long it would take to see that wool turned into yarn. Or how unpredictable the results could be. (Remember the Ile de France Aran? Argh. It was so lumpy and unevenly twisted I couldn't sell it.) Or what all of the above would mean for Sheepspot’s cash flow. 

And along the way, something else happened. I started dyeing fiber. And I discovered how much I loved it. Because I am, at my core, a spinner. And, in my heart of hearts, I want to serve other spinners

Maybe that’s why I’ve always sold much more fiber than yarn. At any rate, I’m following my biz coach Tara Swiger’s advice: do more of what works

And crucially, not just what works in a what’s-best-financially way, but what works in a follow-my-heart way

Enough about me. Here’s what this means for you:

  • If you’re a knitter, September 30 will be the last day you can buy Sheepspot yarns online. Until then, and while supplies last, all yarns will be deeply discounted. Any unsold yarns will be available for purchase (again, at discounted prices) in person at festivals only. 
  • If you’re a spinner, stick with me, kid! Going forward, I’ve got even more delicious wools for us to sample and enjoy together. More preparations (including batts and more dyed locks). More videos. More learning. More spinning. 

I’m so excited about Sheepspot’s future. Here’s to growing forward. 


PS: Starting this fall, I’ll be opening the Sheepspot Studio for live, in-person spinning events and classes. If you live anywhere near London, Ontario, head over to to learn more about what I have planned!

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. 

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!

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!

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 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.

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!

My top 3 favorite beginner-friendly spinning wheels.

behind the scenesAlicia de los Reyes1 Comment
This is Esmé, a Schacht Ladybug, the day I bought her at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival in 2009. Note that I haven't even removed all the packaging or attached the treadles yet!

This is Esmé, a Schacht Ladybug, the day I bought her at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival in 2009. Note that I haven't even removed all the packaging or attached the treadles yet!

In this series, I'm sharing the basics of learning to spin: what you'll need, how to get started, and resources (all of which I've used myself). In case you missed it, part 1 (all about spindle spinning) is right here, part 2 (on the one step you need to do before you buy a wheel) is here, and part 3 (what type of wheel to buy) is here. Part 4, a dive into drive systems, is here on the blog, along with part 5, all about drive ratios.

OK. You’ve taken some lessons and you’re ready to make the plunge and buy a wheel. You know a bit about drive systems and drive ratios. Now it’s time for me to make some actual recommendations.

I'm going to suggest three wheels for you to consider in your quest for your wheel. All three are Scotch tension, or have Scotch tension as an option. All three come with a good range of drive ratios as part of the basic package, and in all three cases it’s possible to extend that range with additional purchases. So they are all wheels that can grow with you as you gain more experience and learn more about the kinds of yarns you most want to make. And they are all wheels I've spun on, and that come from companies with reputations for standing behind their products.

In no particular order:

The Schacht Ladybug. This was my own first wheel, and I still spin on her all the time (her name is Esmé). The Ladybug retails for $715 USD. It is a solidly-built double treadle wheel with a 16” drive wheel. At 12.5 lbs, it’s easy to move and transport. It can be set up in both double drive and Scotch tension, though in my experience it’s much happier in Scotch tension. It comes with 7:1, 9:1, 10.5:1, and 12.5:1 drive ratios out of the box; you can add additional ratios from 5:1 to 16:1 by buying additional whorls ($29 USD each). Included are drive bands, an orifice hook, and three bobbins. An attached lazy kate (to hold your bobbins when plying) is optional, as is an available bulky flyer, which can be useful for spinning textured yarns or for plying.

The Lendrum Original. I've always loved the look of this sleek, modern wheel that’s made right here in Ontario, but I'd never actually used one until I borrowed a single treadle model from a friend earlier this year. I think this is a great wheel—straightforward and responsive. It’s available with a single treadle for $560 USD, with a double treadle for $630, or you can get “the complete package,” which includes the double treadle model and lots of accessories that greatly enhance the wheel’s flexibility, for $790. It has a 19” drive wheel, and the basic model comes with a drive band, four bobbins, an orifice hook, and a lazy kate for plying. Standard drive ratios are 6:1, 8:1, and 10:1; with the “complete package” you’ll have a range from 5:1 to 17:1. It even folds up!

The Majacraft Pioneer. Majacraft wheels are built in New Zealand and the company has a solid record of innovation. The Pioneer is their entry-level wheel, but like the Ladybug and the Lendrum, it offers enough options to grow with a new spinner. It weighs 11 lbs, with a 12.6 inch drive wheel and double treadles. It comes with a drive band and three bobbins, and a range of drive ratios from 4.5:1 to 14.5:1. Majacraft offers optional whorls that will extend that range from 3.25:1 all the way up to 20:1. It lists at $750.

This list is by no means exhaustive; it reflects my experience and my taste. I haven’t spun on any of the Kromski wheels, for example, because I prefer a more modern look, but lots of people love them, and the company has a solid reputation. I have never personally spun on Louet’s Julia wheel, so don’t recommend it here, but it’s worth a look as well (it’s a Scotch tension wheel, unlike most of Louet’s lineup).

Choosing a wheel is a very personal process. In addition to thinking about price, aesthetics, what comes with the wheel, and what options are available as add-ons, don’t forget the most important thing: you need to be physically comfortable when spinning! Some wheels will just fit your body better than others. So consider this list a starting place, but spin on as many wheels as you can, and keep an open mind as you try them out.

Happy hunting! I'd love to know how your search turns out. And if you already have a wheel, tell me in the comments how you like it!

If you'd like 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!

Get started spinning: drive ratios

behind the scenesAlicia de los Reyes2 Comments

In this series, I'm sharing the basics of learning to spin: what you'll need, how to get started, and resources (all of which I've used myself). In case you missed it, part 1 (all about spindle spinning) is right here, part 2 (on the one step you need to do before you buy a wheel) is here, and part 3 (what type of wheel to buy) is here. Part 4, a dive into drive systems, is here on the blog.

Last week, we talked about drive systems. Though each of the three drive systems (double drive, Scotch tension, and Irish tension) work a little differently, the principles of drive ratios apply to all three.

What’s a drive ratio? Technically, it’s the ratio of size of the flyer whorl (in double drive or Scotch tension) or bobbin whorl (in Irish tension) to the drive wheel. But what does that mean to you?

Whorls for my Schacht Reeves wheel. I write the ratio for each groove of the whorl on the back for easy reference. Because the drive wheel on the Schacht Reeves is very big—30 inches—the ratios are high.

Whorls for my Schacht Reeves wheel. I write the ratio for each groove of the whorl on the back for easy reference. Because the drive wheel on the Schacht Reeves is very big—30 inches—the ratios are high.

Drive ratios are just like gears on a bicycle; you can shift between them to go faster with fewer revolutions. This allows you to put more or less twist into your singles without altering your treadling rate, which, once you've been spinning for a while, can be hard to change.

On a spinning wheel, you “switch gears” or change your drive ratio by putting your drive band or brake band around whorls of different sizes (or, on some wheels, around different grooves of the same whorl). A bigger whorl/groove will put less twist into your singles, while a smaller one will put in more, assuming that you're treadling at the same rate.

When you’re just learning to spin on a wheel, you're likely to want to use a medium to slow ratio. But once you’ve settled into the rhythm of spinning on a wheel, you might want a faster speed for finer, shorter fibers (like Targhee or Cormo) and a slower speed for longer wools (like Coopworth or Perendale). You might also want to spin faster when you ply (twist two or more singles together).

So why is this information important for you as a beginning spinner? Because when you're shopping for wheels, I want you to be sure to ask about what drive ratios the wheel can support, because as you advance in your spinning, you'll likely want to have as big a range as possible available to you, so you can spin the greatest possible range of yarns easily. The number of available drive ratios is one of the things that separates most inexpensive "starter" wheels that you might outgrow quickly from more versatile wheels that can accommodate you as you grow as a spinner. 

If you'd like 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!

Get started spinning: what's a drive system and why you care

behind the scenesAlicia de los ReyesComment

In the Sheepspot newsletter, I'm working on a series that introduces you to spinning. Part 1 was all about spindle spinning, Part 2 covered what you need to do before you buy a spinning wheel, and Part 3 discussed what type of wheel to buy. Want to join in? Subscribe here.

Spinning wheels are fascinating machines, and if you're just getting started with using one, you might find them intimidating. Sheepspot is here to help. Read on to learn about a key aspect of what makes a spinning wheel spin yarn: its drive system.

When you spin on a spinning wheel you exert energy by pushing down on the treadles with your feet. That energy turns the drive wheel. What happens next depends on the wheel’s drive system—how the drive wheel interacts with the flyer and the bobbin. The drive system transfers the energy from the drive wheel to the bobbin and flyer via the drive band, a piece of string or elastic tubing. How exactly it does this varies from wheel to wheel: some wheels can use only one drive system, while others can be set up in different ways with different drive systems.

A Scotch tension system.

A Scotch tension system.

The drive system is one of the factors that affects how strongly the yarn is “taken up” or wound onto the bobbin, and each drive system has advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you spin and the kind of yarn you want to make.

The first drive system I’m going to discuss is called “Scotch tension.” On a Scotch tension wheel, the drive band goes around the drive wheel and around a whorl (some folks call whorls “pulleys”) that’s attached to the flyer. Another string goes around the bobbin; this is called the brake band, and it ensures that the flyer and bobbin rotate at different speeds. Those different speeds are what makes the yarn wind on to the bobbin. When spinning on a scotch tension wheel, you tighten or loosen the brake band to adjust the amount of tension, or take-up, on the yarn as you spin.

A double drive system.

A double drive system.

Another common drive system is called “double drive.” In double drive, a single long string is looped twice around the drive wheel; one of the loops goes around a whorl on the flyer, and one of them goes around a smaller whorl on the bobbin. The difference in the size of the two whorls makes the flyer and the bobbin turn at different rates, causing the yarn to pull onto the bobbin. On a double-drive wheel, two factors affect the take-up: the difference in size between the two whorls, and the amount of tension on the drive band.

The final drive system is called “Irish tension.” In this case, a single drive band goes around the drive wheel and the bobbin. The brake band on an Irish tension wheel is positioned to adjust the speed of the flyer.

Many spinners form a deep attachment to the drive system that drove the wheel on which they learned to spin, and experienced spinners love to debate the pros and cons of the various systems. Drive systems aren’t destiny: if you’re a good enough spinner, you’ll eventually be able to spin any yarn on any wheel. That said, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think Scotch tension wheels are the best for beginners because they are simplest to adjust and very versatile. So my advice is to look for either for a Scotch tension wheel or, for the best of all possible worlds, for a wheel that can be set up in Scotch tension and other drive systems as well.

Feeling in a little lost? Click the button below to get a handy printable cheat sheet about the different drive systems emailed right to your inbox!

Behind the scenes: Finding a flock and a mill to match

behind the scenes, mission, what we doAlicia de los ReyesComment

I'm taking you on a tour of how I source breed-specific, sustainable wools. Last week, I shared how I discover new-to-you fibers. This week, I'll tell you how I find the sources of the wools I use: happy, healthy flocks of sheep.

Once I find a nearby shepherd with a breed I'm looking for (usually via the the Canadian Wool Growers' Cooperative Board listings), I arrange to pay a visit to the flock. I want to get a sense of how the sheep are treated and find out what characteristics the shepherd is breeding for. I also do my best to check out the quality of the fleeces, but this can be is tough when they're still on squirming sheep suspicious of a never-before-seen human.

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

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

If the sheep are well-cared for and the fleece looks promising, I go back after the flock has been shorn to select fleeces. Then, when I get home, I choose a fleece, wash part of it, and prepare it for spinning in several ways: handcarding, drumcarding, and combing. Then I spin a number of different sample yarns using different techniques. This gives me a sense of how the yarn might best be spun by machine.

Gulf Coast Locks  from a sheep named George.

Gulf Coast Locks from a sheep named George.

Next I consider the gaps in Sheepspot's product line to make the final determination about how to have the wool spun. My dream is to eventually offer a worsted-spun and woolen-spun yarn in each weight from laceweight to aran, each in a different breed. 

Then comes the hardest part of the process: finding the right mill to spin it. This has been the steepest learning curve for me. Mills are constrained by the strengths and weaknesses of their equipment, and can't always spin the wool in the way that I've envisioned. Often I'll send wool samples to several mills to determine the best fit. When I've gathered all the information I can, I ship the fleeces to the mill and wait (and wait, and wait) and hope. 

Clun Forest Sport  in Dusk in the Desert.

Clun Forest Sport in Dusk in the Desert.

It's a long process with plenty of bumps and pauses, and I don't know the outcome until I get the yarn and open the box. Sometimes, as in the case of last fall's Clun Forest Sport, I love the result. Other times not so much, and I have to make the difficult decision not to ship a yarn that's not up to Sheepspot standards (it's happened). But when it works, it is so satisfying to open a box of brand-new, undyed yarn made from the wool of a breed I love. And it's even more satisfying to be able offer you breed-specific skeins from sustainable flocks that you can't find anywhere else.

Preparing for fall fiber festivals

behind the scenes, what we doSasha Torres2 Comments
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How's that for alliteration? Sheepspot will be appearing at its first two fiber shows here in Ontario this fall: the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter's Fair on September 12, and the Woodstock Fleece Festival on October 17. I wanted to try out this whole vending thing close to home, and these two events are the perfect way to do that.

With the first show now less than five weeks away, I've been engaging in a flurry of research, list-making, and planning. I'll confess that, pre-flurry, I spent a fair amount of time in an utter panic about all the bits and pieces of this project. But while I was away last week I finally had the mental bandwidth to start chipping away at it.

The most fun piece of the project so far has been working out the booth design. I knew what I wanted the booth to look like: clean, simple, warm, and filled with natural materials. But how to translate that into the raw materials required for a 10' x 10' space while simultaneously ensuring that said raw materials—and all the stock I want to bring—can be transported in the back of Matthew's Honda Fit?

I started with some searches on Pinterest and Google Images for "fiber festival booth design," collecting images of anything I liked (or, initially, particularly didn't like and wanted to avoid) onto a secret Pinterest board. I kept it secret because I wanted to be able to be free with my comments on the images (and I'm still keeping it secret because I want the "reveal" to be a surprise). When I found these, along with a few pictures of them in use in actual booths, I knew I was on to something: 


These are made from pine shutters. They are lightweight and fold completely flat. They're 58" high, so they're give the booth "walls" and bring products closer to eye level. And they're simple. Kowabunga! I ordered four of them, along with extra shelves and a little matching desk where I can sit. That gave me the bare bones of the booth. 

Then I got to think about the fun stuff: how to decorate to make the space inviting, colorful, and fun. I'm not going to say too much about this at this point, but rest assured, wool and yarn will be involved! Also little fairy lights in vintage mason jars, because any important decorating in my life must involve vintage mason jars:

I got this pic from  Lee Caroline's blog .

I got this pic from Lee Caroline's blog.

Getting to design the booth has turned the whole get-ready-for-shows thing into something hugely interesting and fun for me, and it's energized me for the other, not-so-fun aspects, like worrying whether the printer will finish the ball bands in time and schlepping to Ikea and the Home Depot. I'm making a lot of the decorations myself, which nicely punctuates the other stuff. 

Are you in Southwestern Ontario? Will you stop by and see how it all comes together? Tell me in the comments.

Behind the scenes: what our yarn and fiber clubs mean for Sheepspot

what we do, behind the scenesSasha Torres3 Comments

Fiber businesses are seasonal. Most knitters and spinners, understandably, are more likely to buy wool yarn and fiber in the fall and winter than in the late spring and summer. But shearing happens in the spring, which means that my biggest wool costs come just as sales are slowing down, and processessing bills from the mills tend to come at the end of the summer, when sales are slowest.