Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How much Handspun Yarn do I need?

 How much yarn do I need?

This is a very common question I get asked when a new customer wants to purchase my one of a kind handspun skeins of yarn. It is understandable because handspun yarn from my farm is not sold in large lots with standardized weights and guage.  Rather each individual ewe from every year's fleece is processed and spun as its own set of skeins.  I usually get 2-4 skeins depending on the age of the ewe per fleece.


Fleece from Sansa, one of our black ewes, from the 2020 shearing or "clip"

One of a Kind

The skeins are one of a kind because they are created from an individual ewe's fleece from a given year.  I don't combine fleeces to spin up generic lots of yarn for my handspun skeins.  Rather I will select a fleece from my stash, wash, flick card, spin, ply, wash again, wind and mark each sheep's wool from that year's fleece.  I also do not combine different fleeces from the same ewe that were collected over the years.  This is because every year the fleece can be slightly different due to environmental conditions and age of the ewe.  I like every fleece to be treated individually to get the full enjoyment from that particular ewe.  I provide the micron data, age, year the fleece was collected and a photo of the ewe on my labels. 

Handspun yarn from Sansa with label indicating weight, length, fleece year and age of ewe, as well as AFD information and price.

I knit items and weigh them

In an effort to help with that question, I have knit up a few basic items and taken their weights in order to provide a rough guideline for how much yarn a particular item uses.  I always provide the exact weight of my handspun skeins of yarn on the label and the listing, so you can compare the weight on the skein with the weights of the handknit items I've created to get a feel for how much yarn you need.

Once you receive your yarn you should always create a swatch and block it to ensure you get the desired outcome.  Although I always provide the exact length and weight of each individual handspun skein on the label, I don't spin with a particular weight in mind - rather I use the same technique through out the skein and the wool has a tendency to gravitate to a consistent weight.  This is another advantage by the way of breeding for sheep with consistent fleeces from front to back.

To follow are knit items I have listed in my shop with their weights so you can compare with skeins in the shop that may have caught your interest.  Many of them are just simple patterns I either made up or were taken from vintage pattern books from my mom.  I hope this helps you to select a yarn that will allow you to create a beautiful heirloom that you will treasure for a very long time!


 This simple brimless barn hat uses 6" needles and weighs 1.3 oz.

Mittens for an adult, also 6" needles, they weigh 2.6 oz

Adult hat with a brim, 6" needles, 2.1 oz


Friday, September 25, 2020

Everything I can think of to tell you about the Majacraft Little Gem Spinning Wheel

The Little Gem from Majacraft is positioned as the travel wheel in their Spinning Wheel product lineup.  It is lightweight and takes up very little space.

The Little Gem is excellent for spinning fine yarns, but is able to spin all types of yarn, just like its bigger sisters the Rose, Suzie and Aura.

The Little Gem was launched in 2000.  There is a video interviewing Owen Poad on YouTube where he says it took 3 years to design, and 3 hours to make.  My takeaway from that is a lot of thought went into the design to ensure they achieved the goal to make a small, transportable wheel that could do everything you would expect from their larger wheels with the same precision and quality that make spinning on a Majacraft wheel an absolute dream.

Majacraft completed a redesign in March of 2019.  Per the blog post that announced the change, the some of the upgrades include the following:

  • They moved the tension knob so you could use the standard Jumbo bobbin and associated flyers without changing the tension knob.
  • Moved the stem lock bolt to the front of the wheel
  • Changed the stem lock material from brass to stainless steel to add strength (I read some Ravelry posts where this part was breaking and people were needing to replace it.
  • Changed the pedal shape to standardize with the other wheels

The majority of the wheel is hand crafted from New Zealand Rimu wood.  Rimu wood grows in New Zealand and is sustainably harvested for use in Majacraft products.  The drive wheel is made of bamboo and hard board.  The bamboo is sourced from renewable forests.

The Little Gem uses Scotch Tension to take up the yarn on the bobbin.  This means that the drive band from the drive wheel is directly connected to the flyer via the whorl (aka pulley) - as the wheel spins the flyer spins.  The Flyer spins at a rate determined by the pulley groove you set your upper drive band in, each groove has a calculated ratio for the speed that your flyer will rotate in relation to one turn of the drive wheel.  The bobbin rotates free from the drive band, but is controlled by a brake band that applies tension to the bobbin to control the speed at which it rotates.  The Flyer will rotate faster than the bobbin to apply twist and wind onto the bobbin.  The adjustable brake tension is what controls the speed at which your yarn is drawn onto the bobbin.  Compared with other tension systems (Irish, Double), Scotch tension is known to be better for spinning finer yarns.  The three elements making up the Scotch tension system are the tension spring, tension knob and tension band.  All three of these items can be purchased as replacement parts.

Scotch tension system on the Little Gem

The Little Gem weighs 19 lbs in the package with the accessories and bag.  Once assembled it weighs ~9-10 lbs.  The weight will vary depending on the grain of the wood.  More grain means a heavier wheel.

The footprint dimensions are 15" x 13.4".  Maximum height is 29.1"  The wheel diameter is 11.8".  Orafice height is adjustable - from 27.5" to 30.7".  Its folded height is 5.9".

The ratios you can achieve with the Little Gem are as follows:

Whorl size - 5 is largest ->54321
Standard Pulley4.
Suzie Pulley3.
Rose Pulley (Slow Speed Kit)
Fast Pulley8.010.212.115


They say that people have taken the Little Gem onto planes as a carry on item.  People have actually spun on planes and in cars.

The Little Gem has different treadle mechanics from other Majacraft wheels.  The treadles aren't connected by way of rods to the drive wheel.  Rather they work more like pedals on a bicycle which move rollers under the treadles.  These rollers turn a shaft, which in turn rotates a gear which is connected to the drive wheel.  The treadles can lift up off the rollers - which is how you install the lower drive band.  This causes the treadling action to feel a little different from the other Majacraft wheels, but just takes getting used to.  They recommend you shift your feet up on the pedal a little to have the most effective foot motion.

Every Little Gem is tested before it leaves the factory.  A member of the Poad family signs their name on the bottom of the wheel with its serial number before it ships out.  You should register your wheel on the Majacraft Site when you receive it so they have record of where it is and who owns it.  It makes it easier down the road if you need technical support as they will be able to know what revision you have in order to help you optimize the wheel for your needs.  It is also helpful if you need to make a warranty claim.  Majacraft warranty on the Little Gem wheel is 2 years from when you purchased the wheel from me.  It is limited to repair or replacement of defective parts, determined by Majacraft.

The only accessories you cannot use on the Gem are the Overdrive head and bobbin.  You can use the High Speed head, but it won't add any speed to the Gem as the Little Gem already has the ability to move at very fast speeds.

When you order a Little Gem it comes standard with one delta flyer, 3 standard plastic bobbins, a travel case and a 2 bobbin capacity travel lazy kate. 

Travel Lazy Kate is included with the Little Gem

If you require a 3 bobbin capacity Lazy Kate, you can purchase a Universal Tensioned Lazy Kate as a separate accessory.

Majacraft Universal Tensioned Lazy Kate allows for 3 bobbins - can also accommodate Jumbo Bobbins

The Delta Flyer is easy to thread and constructed of stainless steel.  The flyer hook has an 8 mm orifice.  The flyer bar on the Delta Flyer is 4.7" long. For best results with the Delta Flyer, make sure your fiber is drafting at a 90 degree angle to the flyer bar.  If you are drafting from the side of the wheel, you can swivel the head to achieve the correct angle.

Majacraft Delta Flyer with 8 mm Flyer Hook

The standard plastic bobbins are reversible with brake grooves on both ends.  The core has holes so you can submerge the entire loaded bobbin into a dye bath and get full dispersion of dye into your yarn. The bobbin flange diameter is 3.5", 4.5" long, core diameter is .8 " and the bobbin weighs .22 lbs.

New Majacraft Black Plastic Bobbins will come standard with your Little Gem

You can order your Little Gem to be outfit however you like rather than going with the standard accessories.  If you prefer to order with a different flyer or bobbins, just let me know and I will provide you with a custom quote for your requested configuration.  Majacraft is very flexible and open to customizing to ensure you receive the wheel that allows you to "spin your dreams". 

You can purchase additional accessories for the Little Gem, specifically flyers and bobbins.  Not all flyers and bobbins can or should be used together.

The table below outlines the Flyer and Bobbin accessories you can use with your Little Gem with indication for bobbin compatibility in the body of the table.  The flyers are listed in the first column, bobbins along the top, with comments in the table regarding suitability for the bobbin's use with each type of flyer.  Majacraft has simplified the selection process by creating kits for the optimal combinations of flyer/bobbin.  I will write a blog post in the future with very detailed information about the kits available from Majacraft.

Standard Plastic Bobbin
Standard Wood Bobbin
Lace Bobbin
Baby Bobbin
Stylus Bobbin
Jumbo Bobbin
Lace Flyer
Not Compatible, bobbin too large
Not Compatible, bobbin too large
Best for lace singles
Best for plying lace
Doesn't have a flyer
Not Compatible, bobbin too large
Delta Flyer
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Doesn't have a flyer
Not Compatible, bobbin too large
Fine Flyer
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Doesn't have a flyer
Not Compatible, bobbin too large
Hybrid Aura Flyer
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Doesn't have a flyer
Wild Flyer
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Doesn't have a flyer
Plying Flyer
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Can be used but not optimal
Doesn't have a flyer


The Little Gem has two drive bands.  There is the drive band that connects the pedals to the drive wheel.  When reordering this band it is called the Little Gem Lower Drive band.  This band is thicker (4 mm diameter) and shorter.  There is also a band that connects the drive band to the flyer whorl (2 mm diameter, 43.3 inches long).  This is called the Little Gem Upper Drive Band.  When you ply with the Little Gem you cross the upper drive band rather than reverse your treadling.

You can adjust the height of the Little Gem by loosening the wooden lock knob on the stem and easing the entire spinning head upwards.  You can also adjust the direction the head face if you like to draft off to the side of your wheel.

The recommended retail price on the Little Gem is $1,190 USD.  If you decide to tailor the accessories, we can reprice it accordingly.


Purchase a Little Gem

Majacraft Little Gem Live Stream Video

Majacraft Little Gem Assembly Manual

How to change the lower drive band video

Little Gem Maintenance Video

Plying with the Little Gem Video

Monday, September 21, 2020

2020 Lamb Names

After an inspiring conversation with a spinner at Fingerlakes Fiber Festival a few years ago, I decided to name our 2020 flock after women who were active in the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was finally adopted in 1920.  I recently watched the PBS Documentary "The Vote" and could barely keep myself together as I heard what these women endured in their quest to get the most basic civil rights for women in the US.  It is with great pride, respect and honor that I introduce the names of our registered ewes from the 2020 lamb crop, along with a photo and short bio of their groundbreaking namesakes:


Monday, June 22, 2020

Nothing Goes To Waste

This photo provides you all the information you need to know about how my mother raised me:  

Must get every last drop of soap before recycling that container.  Actually I would soak the bottle in my hot soapy water, but this was the only thing I could find that was ready for a new bottle to illustrate my point.  Normally this would be ketchup.

I still hear my sister (10 years my senior, passed away many years ago).  She's in my head every time I scrape a pan after the meal and am tempted to just toss the remaining 1/3 cup of casserole into the garbage.  She says to me inside my head, "What are you doing?  There are three bites in there!".  Then I sigh, dig for a match set of the elusive small sized tupperware container and lid to put the 3 bites in the fridge for later.  And she is correct, there are moments during the day you want something good, but not a lot, and those 3 bite portions are perfect.

Anyways, I wanted to show you a few examples of how this early training has been put to use with farm waste.

First up is scrap wool.  There are a few categories of scrap wool.

Belly wool - when the shearer begins to clip the sheep, he shears the belly first and tosses it off to the side on the barn floor.  It is dirty, short and packed with VM* (*vegetative matter including but not limited to hay, poo, a bit of hoof clipping, random flotsam and jetsam).  Fortunately, it doesn't make up much as a proportion of the entire fleece, so there isn't very much of it per fleece.  Day of shearing it is all pooled in a separate bag, this immediately becomes mulch.

Belly wool makes a lovely calico mulch around my sage plant

Short poopy skirtings - so you've bagged up and labelled the fleece on shearing day.  Then later on make time to go through carefully to evaluate, weigh, take records and skirt.  The first skirt around the fleece I pull off the short poopy bits - these are also mulch.  The properties of wool make for very good mulch - it holds water, insulates, smothers weeds and whatever is left in autumn is easy to rake up during garden cleanup.  If it has poop pellets in it, there is your time release fertilizer.

Fleece on the skirting table

My next circle around is the side skirtings and britch that aren't under the coat, so I won't sell as part of the raw fleece.  This gets sent to the mill for processing into combed top, roving, yarn or quilt batting.  The criteria for this sort are as follows:

Short bits less than 1" - quilt batting (don't have any right now to show)
1- 2.5" - combed top (don't have any right now to show)
1- 2.5" - roving
3+ - millspun yarn

Roving from our fawn rams processed at a mill

Millspun 2 ply yarn using britch skirtings

I wash and hand flick the neck wool - its really dirty and really fine, I think the amount of mill processing it would take to get it clean would ruin the quality, so its all done by hand and carded into batts

Batt made from pooled neck wool

I have done a ton of experimenting with the waste from flick carding. 

This is a blob of wool that is waste from flick carding - ie short bits, tip, second cuts - undesirable for spinning

I have carded it into batts and spun it, so far hated this, but just saw a cool video on art yarn with thread wound around a textured single, so am going to try that with Sif's flicked waste that I carded into batts on my drum carder.

Not sure why but she had a lot of matted tip, but it is spread consistently throughout so going to play around with this.


I used it to stuff pillow forms made out of T-Shirts that my boys outgrew, so I cut off the sleeves, hand whip stitched the open parts and stuffed the wool in.

Never got around to knitting a pillow cover for this one.  One of these days I will...
The sleeves I use as bandannas.... 

One of my mannequins modeling my fancy bandannas made from sleeve of Andrew's discarded T-Shirt.  I have a pair of these!

Its a sickness I know.  But the pillow forms, they are kind of lumpy and stiff, so not sure if that is something I'm going to continue with, but they smell amazing!

Of course I make dryer balls with the flick carding waste. 


I have actually begun going back to some of my very early processed batting and turning that into balls, only because it is just too coarse to meet my standards of wool that I offer spinners today.  Its remarkable to look at some of our early wool compared with what we produce today.  It was pretty coarse and not very crimpy.  

Current offering of our wool on left.  What we offered in the beginning on the right.

That pretty much covers the wool.  But there are a couple other items that generate potential waste that I have been thinking about.

Here is my knitted binder twine market bag! 

I think it is hilarious and outrageous, but I'm gonna tell you, this bag is BUILT!  I can load this thing up to 50 lbs plus and it just mocks me, like, "Really?  You think that is a heavy load?  Give me a break!"

I am trying to force myself to sit down and write the pattern, but that is not one of my strengths.  Love to figure stuff out, hate to document it.  So I take the binder twine from our square hay bales, cut the bale open at the knotted spot, and then cut off the knots, which do go into waste.  

Binder twine used to be an organic material, called sisal, but now it is plastic unfortunately.  

Then I tie the ends together and wind into a ball.  Then I'll knit the bag, give it a nice soak in some soapy water, dry and use!  There are a lot of knots is the only thing, but the bag has a lot of utility, and in farm communities, it draws a lot of attention.  Many like minded repurposers appreciate the idea of finding a use for all that binder twine that would normally end up in landfill.

Grain bags are another raw material that have many uses.  I have seen billfolds, skirts and aprons made from the grain bags.
My neatly folded used grain and mineral bags.

I don't sew, but I have an industrious like minded friend who collects my used bags, as well as from other farms and her vet office, sews up these spiffy market bags and sells them at festivals.  They are fun because grain suppliers are starting to print very decorative graphics on the bags of the animals and their environs, so you have some very farmy country design potential.

For ordering info - send me an email and I can connect you with the maker.  She has different sizes, handle lengths and all sorts of animal feed bag graphics - birds, bunnies, kittens, etc.

I am mulling over a design in my head for a sit upon, to use when I go out on the pasture and don't want to drag a chair, but need something to sit on when the ground is wet.  Thinking maybe use washed scrap wool as padding, simple blanket stitch on two sides...need to think about this a little more.

Another item I repurpose is a little more obscure and isn't waste from the farm.  Although sometimes the stresses from the farm contribute to the need to purchase this item.  So in the initial stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, we ordered our wine from a delivery service, and it came packed in horrible large styrofoam blocks.  Now, I guess it didn't occur to me that the bottles would require careful packaging, and I regret we did this, but now I have a couple 6 or 8 of these foam insert things that I am determined to find a use for rather than place in landfill.  And happily I did.  I use them to separate out my wool when I am making self striping yarns and gradient yarns.  Haha!! 

5 color self striping yarn, wool neatly tucked in 5 compartments where there used to be wine.

You can see I made a note for weight for each color in total and for individual stripe.  I never have to do this calculation again!

Two containers with equal amounts of each shade in each section.  Each container makes a ply.  I take out all wool from container section, and lay it out darker to lighter within each section and spin locks in order.  Perfection!

So this will explain if you closely examine my self striping or gradient yarns why there might be little circles of styrafoam in the wool.  Just pick 'em out.

So those are some of my attempts to lessen my carbon footprint repurposing waste generated from the farm.  I will put a full disclosure statement here that I am by no means virtuously spending time repurposing all my waste, I make my fair contribution to landfill unfortunately.  But I do spend a good amount of time thinking about what I could do with stuff that gets thrown in the trash.  I can't help myself, its how I was raised.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Shades of Shetland (Knitting & Hand Spinning)

Whispering Pines, Psalm 23 Farm, FFSSA and Shetland Sheep are featured in this podcast episode by Lisa Baker of Soulful Spinning.  I am sharing with the hope you will enjoy, comment, like, share and subscribe to her show.  It is all about spinning, fiber, and is just really informative and enjoyable to watch.  I highly recommend you check out her other episodes on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Everything I can think of to tell you about Sheep Coats

So I woke up at around 3:30 am last night (to pee of course) and couldn't get back to sleep.  I knew by 4 that I wasn't going back to sleep, and that I was up for the day, so said screw it I am washing the sheep coats.  

We took the sheep coats off at shearing in mid April, and I've been hesitant to go to our 24 hour unmanned laundromat due to Covid-19.  I figured one of those mornings when I couldn't get back to sleep I could run up and get them washed and dried in the wee hours when no one is around.  Well yesterday was the day.

Loaded up the van and grabbed a bunch of singles from my fiber festival change till, and drove off in the dark to our quaint little village laundromat located about 250 yards from the Erie Canal. 

Middleport is on the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo

As expected, it was nice and squeaky clean and there was no one around.  A little creepy, but cool to be doing something so outside the routine.  Ended up using 3 machines to get them all done at once.

I got them home and decided to sort them and take an inventory, to see how we are set for this year's combination of ages and sizes.
Washed coats sorted into piles, Rich made a handy reference for sizing/colors

Every year the flock is a little different with sizing - lambs, yearlings, adults and the nursing home set have all got different builds, requiring a different size coat.  So not only do we need enough to transition through 1 year from (usually 2 coats per ewe as the fleece grows) we have to have enough to cover the combination of frame sizes also, and the mix is always different one year to the next.

They come in many different sizes, we order from Rocky Sheep, and they have tailored a line for shetland sheep to meet the smaller size requirement.  Rich made a chart to help us know what size to upgrade to as the fleece grows, they put colored tabs on the coat so you can match up the size.  

This is the orange size 25"

Their site has a ton of information on the benefit, ROI and quality of their coats - we agree 100% with all their claims.  Isn't it nice to find vendors you can trust to do and be exactly what they say they are?

They cost around $25 each, plus shipping and here is our inventory:

 Color Size Qty
 Blk/Blu19 5
 Silver23 15 
 Orange25 15 
White 27 34 
 Red29 23 
Green 31 
Navy 33 

117 coats at ~25 each, we've invested ~$3000 in coats to keep our fleeces nice and clean.  Every ewe on the farm gets a coat.  Right now we have 52 ewes, 16 of them lambs, so probably going to have to invest in a couple more as every year the mix is just that different.

I don't know how long coats last, Rich has been managing that, I don't think we have tossed any out.  Some have gotten ripped, I don't sew, so we use those usually on the nursing home set.  We have been coating for a few years so I would say they last a good 5 years if not more?

The size refers to the length of the coat/body.

Many people think they are to keep the sheep warm, but they aren't.  They are designed to keep the wool clean and free of VM that can either destroy a fleece, or greatly reduce its value to a spinner, or add additional processing cost if you take your fleece(s) to a mill.

Very proud to be able to offer such clean raw fleeces to spinners

When I corral the ewes into a small area of the barn and they have their coats on, it makes a very soothing swishing sound like in this video:

We put them on before we start hay in the fall, so they don't have them on over the summer when they are on pasture.  We have tried all sorts of feeders and methods, but in the end we feed hay off the ground.  Its going to get in the wool either way, especially the lambs and yearlings as they are underfoot, and of course they have the nicest wool.  Sometimes we'll catch taller ewes eating hay off the yearling and lamb backs, but that isn't and effective method to keep vm out of a fleece.

The coats come off on shearing day, and then we bag them up.  When things settle down after lambing, they get washed, sorted, inventoried and then packed into clearly marked bins in the garage.

After shearing they go in bags to store until washing

Ahhhh.  Nice and organized in bins by size.

Once in a while when we sell a sheep, we will sell the coats along with, usually if the customer is a spinner, they appreciate not having to deal with sizing and ordering.

We didn't use coats for a long time, but decided after an embarrassing fleece show at Rhinebeck where practically all my fleeces got set under the table for excessive VM, that it was time to get serious and coat the girls.  I am so glad we made the decision, it has greatly improved my enjoyment of processing the fleeces, and I am very comfortable and yes, proud to be able to offer such a high quality product to my spinning friends.

The neck and britch aren't covered, so I set those aside during skirting.  When I sell a raw fleece, I only sell the portions that are under the coat, so the fleece is nice and clean.  Cleanish britch with tags removed goes to the mill sorted by color for my millspun yarn.  

A skein of millspun yarn from fawn skirtings

Neck wool I pool and hand flick and process into batts on my drum carder for spinners to enjoy.

Hand washed, flicked and drum carded batt from luxuriously soft neck wool

Someone asked me if we have problems with lambs getting caught up in the coats when the moms have coats on, never had that issue thank goodness.  We do make certain the coats are fit nice and snug, but not too snug as we don't want to smash the fleece.

Susan with her lambs, looking elegant in her coat

I did something a little different this year as I had the time to roo a good number of ewes.  I started rooing before shearing and was nervous about putting a rooed ewe back in with the flock.  The reason for this is that the sheep don't recognize the shorn ewe as one of the flock.  They identify her as new, and she will get bullied a little bit, and I hate that.  Nature can be cruel sometimes.  Anyways, the way I got around this issue was I only rooed what was under the coat, and then put the coat back on over the rooed part!  This way she appeared from the outside to look and smell exactly the same, and it worked beautifully!  The coats came off the rooed ewes on shearing day, and the neck and britch I did after shearing at my leisure, and by then, they were outside much of the day, distracted by the sun and grass.  So that is another great benefit of the coats!

We never had an issue with felting or mold, I will say when we used to submit our fleeces in shows, ocasionally the judge (LK) would fault us for clumpy tips, as the normal tips on the shetland fleeces get kind of blunt under the coat.  

 I don't mind this, as I really think the best processing for a fine shetland fleece is combs or flicking, and it comes off the same either way.

I flick washed locks with my Majacraft Flick Carder to open up the tips - click this link for the Youtube Video of me flicking

That's pretty much the lowdown on our coats.  We put a lot of effort into a great product.  If you have sheep, and spin or sell wool, I strongly recommend you take the leap to coating your sheep.