Dictionary of Interesting Facts about Fiber and Fiber Craft

General Summary of What We Have for Sale

We dye, we spin and we weave!  Sky Loom Weavers offers hand-dyed commercial yarn using both natural and commercial dyes; hand-dyed spinning fiber and hand-spun yarn with all sorts of fabulous fibers including wool, silk, and mohair with sequins, charms, and other fun additions.  Our hand-crafted items include wonderful, warm hand-woven shawls, useful and beautiful kitchen towels, and hand-knitted or crocheted scarves.  We have Schacht spinning wheels and Cricket looms for sale along with accessories for spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet.  Dry hands?  We have Merino Lanolin Skin Cream.  Out of ideas?  We have books on weaving and dyeing.

How to Use Felted Wool Dryer Balls

Our dryer balls are hand-felted from 100% Romney Wool.  There are no other ingredients--no fabric softener, no insecticides, no nothing.  Toss four or more balls into the dryer with any load of wet washing.  The dryer balls bounce around with the wet clothes, separating them and helping the clothes to dry faster while making them incredibly soft--easily as soft as any fabric softener would make them.  In fact, you won’t need to use fabric softener at all.  My dryer balls live in my dryer and work on every load of washing.  You will love these!

How to Spin from a Silk Hankie

A silk hankie is made of many layers of silk.  Each layer is one cocoon which has been boiled to remove most of the sticky sericin that holds the cocoon together and then stretched into the shape of a hankie.  To spin, peel off as thin a layer of silk as you can from the hankie.  Push your finger through the center of this fine layer to make a hole.  Widen the hole until you have a band of silk that’s close to the diameter you want to spin.  Pull the band apart so you have an end to work with and spin with lots of twist.  Silk is very strong so be prepared to work hard at pulling your layer into a band.

Natural Dyes

The term “natural dye” refers to any naturally occurring substance which gives color to fiber, including flowers, leaves, bark, roots, wood, insects, clay, rust, and metals.  Some of these substances are considered substantive dyes because they contain tannin or some other substance that helps bind the dye to the fiber.  Walnut or pecan hulls, oak galls, and onion skins are all substantive dyes.  Adjective dyes are flowers and leaves that require a mordant to adhere to the fiber.  Vat dyes, for example, indigo, require a delicate chemical balance within the dye vat to color fiber.

Mordants are mineral salts which bind to the fiber and hold onto the dye molecules.  They encourage the fiber to retain the dye and help make it light-fast and wash-fast.  They are usually used before the dye bath.  Alum is the least toxic and most easily available.  Copper darkens the color and adds a coppery cast to some dyes.  Iron darkens or “saddens” the color.  Tin brightens the color.  Chromium is the most toxic and tends to darken most colors.  It brings out the yellows and oranges in some colors, the purples in others.  Tannic Acid is found naturally in many nuts and woods.

The natural dye process varies from one dye to another based on the molecule that gives color.  Some dye baths may be boiled while others require a lower temperature.  Many dyes may be used without heat but this requires a much longer time--days, weeks, or months in some cases.  In general the yarn is wetted and mordanted first.  Then the yarn is added to the dye bath, heated for 30 minutes to an hour and then hung out to dry.  Finally the yarn is washed and allowed to dry again.

Indigo is an interesting dye which is like none other.  The substance that gives the indigo color is found in various plants that are common in different areas of the globe.  In order to make the dye bath, the indigo must be separated and removed from the plant that created it, dissolved in a vat of water and lye, and finally allowed to redeposit onto the fiber of your choice.  No mordant is required and it can be used on cotton and other cellulose fibers as well as the protein fibers of wool, silk, and mohair. Indigo is light and wash fast although it will wear off like it does on your blue jeans with continued use.

Fiber Types

Alpaca -- Alpaca, like their llama cousins, are sheared once per year and produce fleeces of 5 to 11 pounds of soft fiber with no lanolin or grease.  Huacaya alpaca are soft and fluffy-looking and their fiber has varying degrees of crimp.  Suri alpaca fleeces hang in dreadlocks and are lustrous with no crimp.  Alpaca generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds and live to be about 12 years old.  The staple length, or the length of each individual fiber, can range from two to six inches and, on some Suri, be as long as eleven inches.

Angora -- Angora fiber comes from Angora rabbits and is amazingly warm.  The fibers are very thin (10 to 14 microns in diameter), very soft and silky and hollow.  The fleece is harvested three or four times each year by shearing or plucking depending on the breed of rabbit.  Angora is commonly blended with wool to make a yarn that is elastic as well as pleasantly warm.  The fiber felts very easily, sometimes felting on the rabbit if it isn’t groomed regularly.  The rabbits are dual-coated so guard hair must be removed from the fleeces before processing for a soft yarn.  (Staple length 3 to 5 inches.)

Bamboo -- Most of the bamboo fiber available to spinners is more accurately called Rayon of Bamboo.  The bamboo is harvested; the leaves and tender centers of the stalk are steamed, extracted and pulverized.  The resulting compounds are forced through a spinneret creating very long semi-synthetic fibers.  In this form the bamboo is easily blended with other synthetic and natural fibers.  A different process creates bast bamboo.  Bast is the term used for plants with long fibers at a specific location within the stem of a plant that can be used for spinning and weaving such as flax, ramie, hemp, and bamboo.  Bast bamboo is processed much like flax or hemp, by removing all the inner and outer plant material to leave the inner long and very strong fibers.  (Staple length for Bast Bamboo 12 to 14 inches.)

BFL -- Blue-Faced Leicester, or BFL, is a long-wool breed of sheep found in the British Isles after 1900.  The skin of the face is dark blue/black and shows through the facial hair making the face look blue.  The wool is very soft for a long-wool breed and has some luster.  The fleece forms fine, curly locks that are soft and silky.  (Staple length 3 to 6 inches.)

Cashmere -- Cashmere comes from goats which were originally found in the area around Kashmir, India.  The breed has a long history of popularity in Europe and other parts of the world.  Cashmere goats are dual-coated and the fiber is harvested by combing.  As with other dual-coated animals that are combed, the fiber recovered must be de-haired to separate out the soft down from the longer, stiffer guard hair.  The down fiber is very soft, very fine and an excellent insulator.  (Staple length 2 to 3 inches.)

Coopworth -- The Coopworth sheep is medium-sized with a heavy, medium-grade fleece that shows good luster and crimp.  The breed is the result of a crossing of Romney ewes with Border Leicester long-wool rams carried out in the 1950s in New Zealand in an attempt to create a breed with higher lambing percentages.  The Coopworth sheep of today are used both for meat and wool.  The ewes give birth easily and are excellent mothers.  Only the white animals can be registered in New Zealand and Australia but colored animals are registered in the United States.  (Staple length of 6 to 8 inches.)

Cotton -- Cotton is grown in areas that can provide a long frost-free growing season, plenty of sunshine and 24 to 48 inches of rain or can be irrigated.  The plant is a tender perennial and can over-winter if temperatures do not drop below freezing.  Historically cotton was very expensive and not commonly available.  Flax was much easier to grow and more available to poorer people.  The fibers, which form the seed hairs, are short in length and come in white, green, brown, and pink.  Because of the short staple length, cotton is generally spun very fine with a lot of twist.  (Staple length 1/2 to 2 inches.)

CVM -- California Variegated Mutant, CVM for short, is the colored variant of a Romeldale sheep.  These sheep come in various colors including white, grey, brown, and black, often with spots and usually with lots of color variation across a single fleece.  The badger face (black vertical lines down both sides of the face) and black belly and legs were the original requirements for CVM registration.  The CVM was developed when large rugged Rambouillet sheep were crossed with foot-rot- and parasite-resistant Romney sheep to get the Romeldale sheep.  The CVM is the naturally occurring, mutation-created color variation of the Romeldale.  (Staple length 3 to 4-1/2 inches.)

Falkland -- The Falkland Islands are off the coast of Argentina.  The islands have a human population of less than 3000 but a sheep population of nearly half a million.  Falkland wool includes only the wool that is grown on the Falkland Islands, regardless of the breed of sheep.  Most of the sheep are Polwarth, Corriedale, or Merino, although over the years other breeds have been introduced to help improve the fineness of the fleece produced.  Being isolated from the mainland, the Falklands have almost no sheep parasites so most are never dipped or drenched and the fleeces are beautifully white and soft.  The Falkland wool we buy has been sheared and sent to the Swiss Alps where it is washed in snow-melt water to retain its bright white color and softness.  (Staple length 4 to 6 inches.)

Flax or Linen -- Flax is a bast fiber which is called linen when it is woven into cloth.  It has a very long history, being found in Egyptian tombs and has been used throughout the Middle East and Europe ever since.  There are medieval drawings of processing flax fiber to spin as well as weaving it into cloth.  Europeans brought linen when they settled North America.  It was said that 1/4 acre of close-planted and well-tended flax could provide enough fiber for the fabric needs of a family for one year.  The fibers are up to 36 inches long and require many steps to release them from the stems of the flax plant so it is a very labor-intensive crop.  (Staple length 36 inches.)

Hemp -- Hemp is another bast fiber, like flax and bamboo, that can be spun into sturdy yarn, or line for rope or twine, but can also be spun finely for use in clothing.  It is a fast-growing annual plant that is processed in much the same way as flax.  (Staple length 8 inches.)

Jacob -- These very attractive sheep are excellent mothers and do well on limited feed.  They are white with varying amounts of black but tend to brown as they age.  They are an ancient breed, arriving in England as early as the 16th century by way of Spain and the Middle East.  Both the males and females have two to six horns.  The fleece is prized by spinners for its open, lofty and semi-lustrous silky hand.  (Staple length 3 to 6 inches.)

Llama -- Like their smaller cousins the alpaca, llamas are sheared once per year and produce fleeces up to 15 pounds of soft fiber with no lanolin or grease.  Llamas have much more diverse fiber characteristics than do alpaca, with a wider range of fiber thickness on a single animal.  Many llamas are dual-coated so their fleeces must be de-haired.  They are much larger and longer-lived animals than the alpaca, weighing up to 500 pounds and living up to 25 years.  (Staple length 3 to 8 inches.)

Merino -- The Merino sheep is an old breed of sheep so highly-prized in Spain during the late 17th century that exporting one could warrant the death penalty.  Once the Spanish Empire faltered and fell during the 18th century, Merino sheep spread across Europe and the world.  The Merino was the first breed introduced to New Zealand.  Since then, the Merino has been cross-bred with many other breeds because of the wonderful softness of the fleece.  Merino fleeces have a very high percentage of grease or lanolin so the yield of clean fleece is lower than other breeds.  The wool is fine to very fine and is next-to-the-skin soft.  (Staple length 2-1/2 to 4 inches.)

Mohair -- Mohair is produced by Angora goats which originated in Ankara, Turkey, a region historically known as Angora.  Unlike the annual shearing given to most sheep, alpaca and llama, Angora goats are sheared twice per year and can produce 8 to 10 pounds of hair per year.  The animals are 100 to 200 pounds in weight and require careful management as they are highly susceptible to parasites.  The top producers of mohair are Turkey, the United States, and South Africa.  The fiber is very strong and lustrous.  (Staple length 4 to 6 inches.)

Qiviut or Musk Ox -- The fine undercoat of the Musk Ox is called qiviut and is collected in the wild off rocks and trees on which the animals have rubbed.  It is the finest and softest fiber in the world and is very warm.  It can be spun into a very fine yarn and knit into caps or scarves that provide great warmth for very little weight.  (Staple length 1 inch.)

Navajo Churro -- The original Churro sheep were brought to the Americas in the 1500s from Spain, making this the oldest sheep breed in the Americas.  By the late 1500s the Navajos had accepted these sheep, which did so well in the arid climate of the southwest.  They nearly became extinct because of pressure put on the Navajos to switch to different breeds of sheep that could provide more meat and finer wool.  Fortunately those misguided efforts were stopped and today’s Churro sheep have come back from the brink of extinction.  Churros are small in stature with a rangy look and have a dual coat with very little grease.  (Staple length 4 to 14 inches for the outercoat, 2 to 4 inches for the undercoat.)

Nylon -- Nylon is a synthetic fiber often added to spinning fiber blends to strengthen the final yarn.  Panda blend (see below) has 10% nylon along with super wash Merino wool and rayon of bamboo and is a perfect fiber for those wanting to make sock yarn.  (Synthetic extruded fiber.)

Panda -- Panda is a blend of fibers consisting of 60% super wash Merino wool, 30% rayon of bamboo and 10% nylon.  It is the perfect blend for spinning into sock yarn as the nylon adds strength, the bamboo is allegedly anti-bacterial and helps wick away moisture, and the Merino is soft.

Polwarth -- The Polwarth sheep were developed in Australia in the late 19th century by adding some Lincoln long wool to the Merino gene pool.  This produced a clean-faced sheep with a pink nose, a wooly topknot, and a slightly less-heavy fleece.  The wool is slightly coarser than the Merino but of longer staple length.  This wool is still next-to-the-skin soft and will blend beautifully with other fine fibers.  Spun worsted it will give a strong durable yarn and when spun woolen makes a lofty knitting yarn.  (Staple length 4 to 5-1/2 inches.)

Possum -- The Australian Bushy-tailed Possum, no relation to the Opossum (commonly called the possum here in the United States), was introduced into New Zealand in the early 1800s in an attempt to create a hunting culture.  With no natural enemies, the possum population has exploded into a huge problem of control for the New Zealand government.  The fur of the possum is a hollow fiber with a very fine tip.  It is 55% warmer than wool, 35% warmer than cashmere, and not at all itchy when worn next to the skin.  It is commonly blended with New Zealand Merino wool.  (Staple length 1 inch.)

Romney -- The Romney sheep evolved on the marsh plain of Kent in the United Kingdom, where its resistance to foot rot and parasites made it very valuable.  Romney sheep were exported to many countries, becoming very important in New Zealand.  The New Zealand Romney is larger-bodied and has heavier fleeces than its British ancestors.  The fleece is medium-fine fiber with some luster and well-defined crimp.  It is used for rugs, blankets, and upholstery.  The finer fleeces are used for outer garments.  This is the wool we use to teach spinning.  (Staple length 4 to 8 inches.)

Shetland -- This is a small, hardy breed from the Shetland Islands located between Scotland and Norway.  This breed produces the finest fleeces in the UK.  The animals are small with the rams commonly weighing only 140 pounds.  The wool is very open without a defined lock structure but has strong crimp.  Traditionally the softest part of the fleece is hand spun into very fine yarn for Shetland lace.  (Staple length 2 to 5 inches.)

Silk -- Silk is created by a silk worm when it builds its cocoon.  Each cocoon is made up of one single strand of silk and is over 5000 feet long.  If the silk is to be reeled, the cocoons are boiled to release the sericin or glue that holds the cocoon together.  The ends of several silk filaments are then reeled together onto a frame.  This process kills the worm inside the cocoon.  If the worm is allowed to mature inside the cocoon and emerge (Peace Silk), it creates a hole in the cocoon thereby breaking the single filament into fragments.  This makes reeling difficult but still allows for all other ways of processing the silk.  Silk is the strongest of the natural fibers, is absorbent, and has a natural shine that makes it popular for use in clothing.  (Staple length 5000 feet.)

Tencel -- Tencel is a rayon-like product created by processing wood chips into a material that can be extruded into long filaments.  It is considered semi-synthetic.  It is used in spinning fiber blends as a less-expensive alternative to silk.  (Semi-synthetic extruded fiber)

Wensleydale - This is a large heavy bodied breed of sheep with lustrous long wool fleeces originating in North Yorkshire, England in the 1800's.  They are an excellent dual use breed weighing up to 330 pounds.  They were used to breed to smaller ewes to add size and strength to smaller less hardy breeds.  The animals have heavy fleeces (up to 15 pounds) and are distinctive with their long loose ringlets that can hang to the ground.  They are currently being used here in the United States to breed with CVM or other breeds to produce longer staple length, larger size animals with heavier fleeces.  (Staple length 8 to 12 inches)

Yak - The yak is a shaggy member of the bovine (or cow) family that lives in mountainous regions of central Asia.  It's most closely related to the Asian water buffalo and the American bison. Yak are mostly domesticated and used for carrying or pulling heavy loads in their native Himalayas and Tibet.  They are friendly and easy to train and are used for games along with their other jobs.  The yak don't do well in the lowlands and suffer with heat related problems when the temperature gets up to about 59 degrees Fahrenheit.  Yak down is the soft bottom layer of fiber next to the animal's skin which is protected by an outer layer of guard hairs.  The down layer keeps the animal warm and toasty during the cold winter.  It is routinely combed from the animal just before it would be naturally shed. (Staple length 1.5 inches)