Breed Study: Southdown

My spinning group is doing a breed study this year and June is my turn to present. I decided to highlight Southdown wool because I think it’s pretty fabulous. “Down” breeds come from the “downs” in England and consist of Southdown, Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire. There are a host of other breeds that are considered “down-like,” but these 6 are the true downs. Southdown is the original down breed. The Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire breeds were all created by breeding Southdown with other kinds of sheep to maximize different qualities.

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Photo from BillingsFarm.org

What’s so great about Down wool? It’s springy with a diorganized crimp, the wool doesn’t have a lot of kemp (chalky, brittle fibers) or hair, and is resistant to felting (this is my favorite part). It’s also important to know that most Down breeds are raised for meat, so often their wool is inexpensive (I get mine here). Southdown wool has a micron count of 23-31 and a staple length between 1 1/2 – 4 inches. Because of the springy nature of the wool and the shorter fiber length, Southdown is best when carded and spun woolen. As with any wool, though, you can use it however you like.

I first spun commercially combed Southdown top as a new spinner over a year ago. I had a spindle and some wool and I wanted to learn everything, so away I went, spinning the wool Worsted (short forward draw). I loved how this yarn came out. The wool was so easy to spin with – just enough drag to draft nicely, but not enough to make me really work for it.

Spinning Southdown wool on a drop spindle

Later, I spun more of this same top when as a learning exercise (I wanted to be able to spin thick singles). The yarn ended up delightfully thick and thin.

thick and thin singles yarn - Southdown wool

I was curious about how resistant this wool is to felting, so I knit up a few swatches to do some very scientific research.

Southdown swatches

The first swatch was my control: I washed it with wool wash in hot water, squeezed out as much water as I could, and laid it flat to dry.

Southdown swatch 1

For the second swatch I let it soak in hot water for a few minutes, then shocked it with cold water. I continued shocking the swatch back and forth between hot and cold water several times and rubbed the swatch to maximize any felting that would take place. Other than a little fuzziness, this swatch looks almost exactly like the first swatch.

Southdown swatch 2

With my third swatch I decided to go all out. I washed and dried it with the rest of my laundry. After going through the wash, the swatch looked exactly like my second swatch: a little fuzzy, but still in great shape. It shrunk lengthwise and widened width-wise a little in the dryer. This was the most dramatic change of the 3 swatches, but I still wouldn’t say the wool felted.

Southdown swatch 3

I’m wearing a swatch under my shirt as I type this, and it is a tiny bit itchy. If you have sensitive skin I wouldn’t recommend Southdown as a base layer, but it would make an excellent and hard-wearing sweater or jacket. Conversely, because of the springiness of the wool, Southdown would make great socks!

Now that I’ve done a little more study on the breed, I’m taking commercially prepared top and carding it into rolags to see the difference it makes in the yarn.

Southdown RolagsSouthdown spun Woolen

Look at that loft! I can’t wait to knit this up!

Best Cheddar Biscuits

This blog post is brought to  you courtesy of my excellent husband who just made me the best cheddar biscuits I’ve ever had.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 c. Self-Rising flour
  • 1/3 c. + 2 Tbsp. cold butter
  • 5 oz. shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. whole milk buttermilk
  • dash salt

Directions:

Preheat oven 400 degrees or 375 degrees for a convection oven (convection is preferred).

In a mixing bowl, cut 1/3 c. butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in cheese, then stir in buttermilk just until combined (you may need a little extra buttermilk if the dough seems dry). Be careful not to overmix!

Scoop large spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. The biscuits will not be brown yet.

While the biscuits are baking, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and add a dash of salt.

After the initial 10 minutes of baking, take the biscuits out of the oven, and brush the melted butter over the tops. Return biscuits to the oven, and broil until the tops are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and immediately transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy your biscuits while they last. They’ll be gone soon!

homemade cheddar biscuits

 

Me Made May: Year 2

I participated in Me Made May again this year. My making has slowed down considerably in the last 6 months, so my goal was the same as last year: wear 1 handmade garment or accessory every day. It’s interesting to see how many garments were the same as last year, but also how many were different.

Garments:

Of course I wore my grey Alabama Chanin dress. This dress has become one of my go-tos: I feel good in it and I always get compliments. I also get a lot of wear out of my orange tunic-dress. It’s super comfortable and easy to wear for a lazy day at home.

I have 4 handmade sleeveless tops now: 2 self-drafted, and 2 Wiksten Tanks.

I don’t wear vests a lot, but when I do, they need huge awesome collars. Some handmade lace for a back cutout doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s debatable whether socks are garments or accessories, but I figure since they enclose a part of your body and have to fit, they should be included as garments. I wore my Slytherin socks and my Watermelon socks throughout the month.

Having handmade undergarments has been a real boon for those days when everything else was dirty or didn’t seem to go well together.

sew1

Accessories:

My office is really cold. As in, ‘wear socks and shoes (not sandals) and a shawl and a sweater and fingerless gloves’ cold. So I wore shawls a fair amount this month. My Granny shawl drapes perfectly and stays on effortlessly, and I also wore my wedding shawl and my most recent pattern release, the Balai Shawl (free pattern here).

Some days I didn’t feel like going all out, so I accessorized with my Kumihimo necklace or a ribbon rose hair clip. Simple, but effective.

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New:

I’ve been working on several projects this month, but most of them aren’t finished yet (oh the life of a crafter). I did manage to finally finish my wool crepe vest, and I love how it turned out! It’s big and comfortable and the fabric is oh so lovely.

Kumi-what-oh?

I somehow managed not to tell you about my exploration into Kumihimo braiding! In February I decided to try something new, and that something was Kumihimo. I looked it up and watched some videos and then I bought some beads and a Kumihimo disc and tried it out.

I wanted to start with black beads, fade into peach, and then fade back into black, so I did some math and wrote down the order I needed to string my beads on. The round Kumihimo I was making had 8 strands, so lines 5-8 were a copy of lines 1-4. In order to keep the very long strings under control you wind each strand around a bobbin. I didn’t want to make a huge investment in this craft since I didn’t even know if I would like it, so I cut out a few pieces of cardboard and used them as bobbins. They tangled a little, but worked very well for the most part.

In the end I had a very lovely necklace. I had bought some clasps, but didn’t want to bother gluing them on, so I tied the ends into a square knot and wrapped the knot with wire. Easy and effective.

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I would definitely recommend trying Kumihimo braiding. It takes a good bit of time to make something like this necklace, but it’s easy to learn, the materials can be as costly as you want them to be, and the finished products are striking!

Well That Took Long Enough: Finished Project

Early this year I made a goal to finish my small mountain of WIPs. I then promptly cast on a new project because Ooh Shiny! I’ve thought about this subject a lot over the last few months: my desire for a new exciting project every so often contrasted by my desire for finished things and the resulting space in my stash. I haven’t come to a conclusion or made any world-changing discoveries, but in between all the castings-on I have finished a few things.

I must have started my black wool vest in November. I originally bought a few yards of black wool crepe to a make a Henrietta Maria top, but when I got this vest pattern (Very Easy Vogue, V8926) it seemed like a better option for the thicker fabric.

v8926

I wanted a hybrid of options A and C – sleeveless, but tunic length and with bias-bound edges instead of a collar facing. I cut out my fabric and pretty quickly finished the basic construction. Progress ground to a halt when I realized I needed to finish all my edges. I started whip-stitching, and quickly felt like the vest was sucking the life force out of me, so I put it in a shoe box, put the box into a cupboard, and started something new.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Arizona to see my family and be in my best friend’s wedding. My mom has a sewing machine and a serger, so I packed the never-ending vest in hopes of finishing it before it finished me. I am happy to report that I emerged the victor (this time). I serged the remaining unfinished edges and used the sewing machine to stitch on the binding and do some other finishing work. I do wish I had been more careful top-stitching the bias binding down, but at that point I was so ready to be done with the project that I didn’t care much. I just keep reminding myself that sometimes done is better than perfect (and I can always go back and do it again if it bothers me that much). At some point I may add a pocket since I have some extra fabric left over.

The vest is an odd mixture of hand- and machine-stitching, but it’s done and it fits and I love it. And can we just take a moment to admire the new yellow pants I’m rocking in this picture?

Easy as Pi

I don’t know about you, but this has been the hardest April I can remember. In fact, I dont think I’ve ever experienced such a difficult start to the year. In December I got a promotion at work. I was in a job I didn’t like, and now I have a job that I enjoy a lot. But the job comes with more responsibility, and with responsibility comes stress. Cue knitting to save my sanity.

A few months ago I finally bought the Knitter’s Almanac. I walked through Elizabeth Zimmermann’s fabulous “unventions” and sage advice, and decided that now was the time to cast on a Pi Shawl. Sometimes you start something and you’re not sure why, but it just seems like the right thing for the time. This shawl is what my brain and my heart have needed over the last few months. I sit down to work on it and it helps me to slow down and stop worrying. The yarns are beautiful and make this knitting a very tactile experience.

Earlier this month I got a call that my grandma was very ill and might not make it for much longer. I bought a plane ticket, packed a bag, and went to be with her. This shawl was such a comfort as I travelled and sat in waiting rooms. I showed it to her and she thought it was so beautiful. And then as she started to recover I knit on it in joy, so pleased that I was not knitting in mourning.

So often in my knitting I try to be smart. The easy solution or the obvious solution are not good enough, I have to do it the hard way. But sometimes I need something easy so that my brain can stop working on overdrive. That is what this shawl is for me.

Spinning Innocence

Earlier this year I made a goal to finish my WIPs, which I then proceeded to ignore. New projects are just so much more beguiling! I did manage to finish one thing though.

While digging through my spinning stash, I found a partially filled bobbin and a few ounces of superwash BFL. The bobbin went back on the wheel and I busied myself with spinning the singles. When it cane time to ply I wanted to do something a little different, so I pulled out my bead stash and decided to add peach glass seed beads and a few rose beads from my wedding.

Do you see the problem in the picture? I strung about 8 ounces of beads on a single. It was bound to be unmanageable and eventually break. Once it did break I changed my tactic: I only strung an ounce (ish) of beads at a time, breaking the single every time I needed to add beads, and rejoining as I plied. It wasn’t the most enjoyable of plying adventures, but look at the resulting yarn!

So lovely! I ended up with 280 yards of DK weight yarn, and it is oh so soft. I would definitely recommend spinning with superwash BFL. It is a dream to work with, although you do end up with quite a lot of fiber stuck to your clothes. I don’t have a plan for this yarn yet, but for now I am content to leave it as a skein of innocence.