Meet Our Makers: Classy Squid Fiber Co.

12339649_10100437138852533_9001039510766193817_o_largeSince most fiber festivals and events are on hold for the time being, we’re delighted when folks tag us on social media to let us know how they’re enjoying their Strauch products.

When we saw that Amanda from the Classy Squid Fiber Co recently purchased a motorized Mad Batt’r for her small business, we reached out to see if she’d like to be featured here on our blog. We love Amanda’s focus on natural fibers from a breadth of sheep breeds, camelids, and other fiber-producing animals – in fact, each batt never contains less than 50% animal fibers. The Classy Squid online shop is filled with all kinds of tantalizing batts, rolags and fibers, and you can follow her on Instagram @ClassySquidFiberCo for even more fibery inspiration.

We hope you enjoy getting to know Amanda in today’s interview!

Q: How did you get started? What drew you to the fiber arts business? 

A: I’m enamoured of the idea of being able to do something completely from end to end. I tried to do this with my schooling, attempting a double-major in college with Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, but these are both enormous disciplines and I couldn’t connect the dots from electrons all the way to computers and programs the way I wanted to. I’d been knitting and crocheting for a long time by that point, so learning how to make yarn, and finally how to process fiber straight from the animal seemed like a perfect way to get that end-to-end understanding I craved so badly. As soon as I held my first drop spindle and bundle of wool, everything clicked into place and I was hooked for life. 

As I started getting into spinning, I felt like spinners (vs those who work with already-spun yarn) were really underserved. Fiber artists I loved were constantly moving out of fiber to either close completely or go to only dyeing yarn, and if you wanted to plan a project like a sweater it was really hard to find a brand with interesting dyed fiber and blends in sufficient quantity. So I set out to build a business that was designed from the beginning to be long-lasting. Classy Squid Fiber Co turned 5 this year, with a crew that consists of 2 part-time employees, myself, and my husband (who designed and builds parts for our aluminum spindles). My dream is to expand even further, and someday make batts and rolags, not just combed top, something you can reliably find in local yarn shops across the country. 

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Q: What are your favorite fiber(s) to work with, and why? 

A: Wooly, non-superwash sheep’s wool is my absolute favorite. It has spring, life, and character to it that superwash merino can’t hold a candle to. 

The first batt I purchased and spun was beautiful, but hung limp and lifeless as a yarn. I didn’t love it, and I was fascinated to find out *why*. That journey led me to many experiments and formulas, and the realization that I don’t love superwash (especially merino), and including silk or synthetics above a certain percentage change the overall hand of the material in a way that doesn’t appeal to me. The hallmark of Classy Squid batts is that, while including texture and sparkle and color, they should spin like wool, knit like wool, and wear like wool. We call it “true to the sheep”. Most of our art batts are of the “gentle” variety, which means the texture is small and distributed, and spun yarns will be complex and interesting but also wearable in garments or other large products. We want to encourage spinners to use their gorgeous handspun and wear it with pride. 

Meet Our Makers: Amanda from Classy Squid Fiber Co. using a Strauch Mad Batt'r

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about fiber preparation in general (or, if you want to be specific, making batts!)

A: Experiment, and track what you are doing! There is so much variation possible, and with a few exceptions the “right way” to do something will depend on your end goal. I love really wooly preparations, complex tweeds, and subtle texture, and I’ve figured out percentages and recipes that work for me and my customers. Others may want to perfect pure 100% wool preparations starting from fleece with no nepps or noils, or they may want crazy texture, or out of this world sparkle and shine. 

Q: Tell us about your Mad Batt’r! Do you use any other Strauch products?

A: The motorized Mad Batt’r Doublewide is my first, but I don’t think it will be the last! This is the third carder I’ve purchased for my business, and it is absolutely in a league of its own!

Things that really set it apart from other carders include:

  • The licker-in is MAGIC. I cannot calculate how much time I used to have to spend wrangling the fibers that were all trapped on other licker-ins, even when I would paint most of the texture add-ins over the top of the main drum. This doesn’t clog up, and you can even feed texture elements like yarn scraps or silk noil or nepps through it: besides not tangling on them, it distributes those texture elements across the surface of the batt in the most amazing way. This is not only great for making the batt look good on its own, it also means the texture is trapped together with the longer fibers more securely, so it’s less likely to fall out onto your lap as you spin.
  • The chain drive is a major improvement over belt-driven systems, especially for textured batts or when working with farm wools. My other carders would slip and lose traction all the time. There are a lot of things to pay attention to when you’re carding with fine fibers, and the fact that this machine will just keep going no matter what means I can spend less time focused on whether the machine is behaving, and more on how the fiber is processing.
  • The Mad Batt’r makes a much more lofty batt than I was used to, which is fantastic for producing airy woolen yarns, which are what batts and rolags are all about!

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Get to know more of our makers – click here to read more profiles from our blog archive!

Do you use Strauch tools in your craft business? We’d love to hear from you! Email info@strauchfiber.com to hare your story with us, or share on social media using the #strauchfiber hashtag.

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Meet Our Makers: Classy Squid Fiber Co.

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Which Strauch Drum Carder is Right For You?

Choosing a drum carder is a big decision, but not all carders can handle everything you need it to do (and more!). We believe that preparing fibers for spinning and felting projects should be an enjoyable task – not just something you have to do to get to the “fun” part. In our free guide, Drum Carding 101, we walk you Drum Carding 101: A Free Guide to Choosing & Using a Strauch Drum Carderthrough this process with questions such as:

● What kinds of fibers do I want to card?

● What kinds of batts do I want to make?

● How much space do I have for both usage and storage?

● Will I need to take my carder to classes or events?

● What is my budget?

Answers may differ from person to person, and if you’re totally new to carding, the answer to these questions may be, “I have no idea!” The good news is that there are no wrong answers here, and the even better news is there are some tried-and-true recommendations we can easily make: For instance, if you are all about making art batts, the Mad Batt’r is undeniably the way to go. Need to process a lot of fleece or fiber? Get yourself a Double Wide Finest or Mad Batt’r to make thick & luscious batts. Have arthritis or repetitive use injuries, or just want to process more fleece, faster? A motorized option reduces processing time by up to 25% while also freeing up both hands, making it easier for you to control the type of art batt you are making (on the Mad Batt’r) and also helps control shorter, finer fibers as you card (on the Finest).

We’ve also created a few helpful charts to supplement our free guide so that you can visualize what each of our flagship models are capable of.

First, we are often asked how much fiber any given machine can handle. While the answer is ultimately subjective (based on fiber type, thickness, density, how the brush attachment is used, etc.), we have made conservative guesstimates based on our own experience:

How much fiber can a strauch drum carder hold?

If you have a preference on batt size, here’s a handy visual on the three sizes that can be made with our  drum carders:

what size batt can i make on a strauch drum carder?

Last but not least, for those of you who want to save a little time, here’s how each model stacks up when playing “beat the clock”:

How long does it take to fill the drum?

Don’t forget to click here for your free download of Drum Carding 101 for more tips on choosing & using the right carder for you!

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Which Strauch Drum Carder is Right For You?

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Dyed in the Wool: Tips & Tutorials for Adding Color to Your Fiber Projects

There are plenty of tantalizing dyed fibers and batts available for today’s fiber artist, but the further you explore the world of breed-specific fibers, the more likely you are to find them in their natural, undyed state. While these natural colors are beautiful on their own, sometimes you want to add a little color to your life! Today, we’ll introduce you to the wonderful world of fiber dyeing, and share our favorite tips and tutorials to get you started!

A selection of undyed fibers.

A selection of undyed fibers.

What Fibers Can You Dye?

Most of us are familiar with hand-dyed yarns, but fibers can also be dyed prior to the spinning process (this is known as being dyed in the wool). Unprocessed fibers and non-commercially prepared fibers can be a little more challenging to dye, but dyeing these fibers allows for greater depth of color and more control over how the colors can be used during the handspinning process. Prepared fibers (such as top and roving), wool or mohair locks, silk cocoons and even carded batts can all be dyed prior to spinning or felting. Also keep in mind, that your fibers don’t have to be uniformly cream or white – natural shades of brown and grey can add depth and visual interest when overdyed or blended with white fibers for a tweedy or heathered look. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Types of dye

Types of dye

3 Common Types of Dye

  • Food coloring, Kool-Aid & Easter egg dye: These dyes are safe to use in the kitchen and are a great entry point to the world of hand dyed yarn!
  • Powder & Chemical dyes: These dyes can be used for both professional and at-home dyeing, and are relatively afforbale and easy to use with consistent results. While most of these dyes are labeled non-toxic, a well-ventilated space and careful attention to safety measures is still recommended.
  • Natural Dyes: plants, flowers, and even some common household items like onion skins and black beans can be used to add color to your fibers! Natural dyeing often requires the use of mordants, or an agent which helps the dye adhere to the fiber (note: some of these mordants are quite toxic and similar safety precautions to chemical dyes). While some natural dye processes are relatively easy, others are quite labor-intensive, with less consistent results.
Personal protective equipment for dyeing

Personal protective equipment for dyeing

Additional Dyeing Supplies

Personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves are recommended, even if you are using “safe” dyes such as Kool-aid or food coloring. Some dyers cover their workspace with plastic wrap or craft paper to make cleanup easier; setting up a dye station outdoors is another way to minimize messes in your regular living space.

You will need a container large enough to hold your fibers and the dye bath (water mixed with dye); in nearly all cases, this container will need to be heat-safe. A large metal or enamel pot is ideal for stovetop dyeing (as long as it doesn’t contain aluminum), or you can use a dedicated crock pot if you intend to make dyeing a regular part of your routine. If you decide to use the microwave to set your dye, make sure that the dish is microwave safe.

You will also need measuring equipment, mixing containers and tongs or spoons for stirring dyebaths and removing your fibers. While yarn and even some prepared fibers can be added directly to the dyebath with few issues, batts, locks and other fibers are more delicate and will need to either be steamed in a basket or immersed in the dye bath in a protective mesh bag. Needless to say, all of these items will need to be labeled only for use when dyeing, and should not be used to prepare food in the kitchen once they have been used for dyeing.

Finally, citric acid or vinegar is frequently used to help set the dye, but you will need to consult the instructions on your chosen dyes to see what additions need to be made to the dye bath, if any. Dish soap or wool wash is frequently used by dyers to help work the dye evently throughout fibers.

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Dyeing Tutorials & Resources

Now that you have an overview of what you need to explore dyeing at home, here are some links to beginner-friendly tutorials to try out!

We share loads more DIY dye tutorials here on Pinterest. Make sure to share your fiber dyeing adventures with us on social media using #strauchfiber in your posts!

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Dyed in the Wool: Tips & Tutorials for Adding Color to Your Fiber Projects

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Where to Source Fleece & Fiber Without Leaving Your Home

Many of our beloved fiber festivals and yarn shows have been canceled or rescheduled this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without beautiful fleece and fibers in your life! Although we are sad that we won’t be seeing our fiber friends in person for the time being, we’re thrilled to see so many “virtual” experiences popping up to fill the fibery void, from fiber festivals to spin-ins which can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of your own home. Today, we’ll share some of our favorite tips and resources for making sure you have plenty of fiber fun in your life!

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Favorite Fiber Fest Vendors

Perhaps you have a few favorite vendors you visit at the fiber festival each year – why not check their website to see if they have listed their products for online purchase? We’ve noticed that several makers who previously didn’t sell their wares online have shifted to accommodate the need for doorstep delivery. If you are already familiar with their products, this makes shopping online a little easier, even though you can’t touch it and see it in person.

Strauch Maker: Q from The Foldout Cat

Strauch Makers

Love batts, but don’t have a Strauch drum carder at home? Check out our “Meet our Makers” series of blog profiles for lots of great indie businesses to support! Recently, we’ve profiled The Foldout Cat (pictured above), Hopkins Fiber Studio, Hobbledehoy Yarn & Fiber and Rock Mills Farm.

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Indie Marketplace Sites

Smaller fiber producers who don’t already have a website (or aren’t ready to make the leap just yet!) often use selling sites such as Etsy for listing their small-batch fibers. You can find virtually everything you’d ever want to work with: natural fleece and locks, dyed fibers, silk cocoons, art batt additives, and even carded batts and prepared roving and spinning fiber, if you prefer to skip the fiber prep step and get right to the spnning! In addition to Etsy, sites like Fiber Artist Market, My Local Wool and Indie Untangled are great places to discover new-to-you fiber producers.

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Your Local Fiber Arts Retailer

Many Strauch retailers also keep fleece, fiber and additives in stock for fiber artists, and we’re sure that they would appreciate the support right now! If they don’t have an online store, your local shop may offer virtual or phone shopping with the option to ship or pickup up locally if visiting the shop isn’t currently possible to COVID-19 restrictions. We recommend calling ahead to ask about current hours and policies – and don’t forget, if you need any Strauch equipment, your local retailer can arrange to have what you need shipped to your doorstep directly from our workshop here in Hickory, North Carolina!

Macro close-up of raw alpaca fibers piled in a deposit

Breeder’s Associations

Get your fiber direct from the source! Virtually any fiber-producing animal (not to mention, specific breeds of sheep) should have an association which can be found with a quick web search. Breeder association websites will most likely have a member directory or even a classified section where you can begin your search for fleece and fibers. Keep in mind that many of these growers will be selling you raw fleece or fiber, so you will most likely need to scour and process them yourself before you’ll be able to spin or felt with them. If you’re new to working with raw fibers, check out this post on cleaning and storing fleece her in our blog archive!

We hope this post gives you some helpful resources for sourcing the fibers you love from the comfort of your home! We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag. 

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Where to Source Fleece & Fiber Without Leaving Your Home

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How to Make a Felted Pin Cushion from a Wool Batt

Right now, we’re seeing a huge number of folks sewing face masks, both for personal use and to donate to those in need. Since every sewist needs a few good pin cushions, this month’s tutorial is a quick & simple idea for making a felted pin cushion. Enjoy!

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

Supplies: 

  • Carded 100% Wool Batt (1 finished batt can make up to 3 pin cushions)
  • Felting needle (this is a special needle with barbs to create friction between wool fibers)
  • Needle felting surface
  • Mesh screen, any size (just needs to be big enough to wrap around your wool)
  • Rubber Band
  • Washing machine
  • Soap (we used Eucalytus Eucalan wool wash)

Instructions:

Pull off 1 section of batt lengthways like so:

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

Tie this length of fiber into a knot:

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

Wrap each end of fiber around the knot, tacking down ends with felting needle:

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

Place fiber in center of your mesh screen and secure with rubber band:

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

How to make a felted pin cushion from a carded batt

Send through washing machine using hot water setting and add a capful of Eucalan; add a towel or two for additional friction. Remove from mesh and allow to dry. Add your pins and get right back to sewing!

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How to Make a Felted Pin Cushion from a Wool Batt

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5 Ways to Have Fun With Fiber at Home

Are you staying home this spring? You might find yourself with more time on your hands than you’re used to – thankfully, as fiber lovers, we know what to do with it! Today, we round up 5 of our favorite ways to have fun with fiber during this unprecedented time.

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1. Spring Cleaning, Fiber-Style

After you’ve finished spring cleaning the rest of the house, don’t forget about your fiber stash! Now is a great time to rediscover what you have stashed away for a rainy day; click here for some tips on storing & organizing your fiber stash from our blog archive. Don’t forget to give your drum carder a little TLC with these tips from our recent blog post.

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2. Stay Home & Card

Rediscover your fiber stash with a deep dive to unearth some fibery treasures you may have forgotten about. Then break out the drum carder and start making some beautiful batt with these helpful tips from the Strauch blog archive. Q from the Foldout Cat has been taking her Strauch Drum carder outdoors to enjoy some fresh air while she processes fiber, which we love!

5 Ways to Have Fun With Fiber at Home

3. Fiber Prep With Friends

Free apps like Houseparty and Zoom make it easy to visit with your fiber friends from a safe distance – you just need a device with a camera to chat via video to share your fibery projects with each other. Plan a spin-in, swap fiber prep tips or challenge everyone to bring their most unique fiber for show & tell…there are plenty of ways to be apart together with your fiber friends!

5 Ways to Have Fun With Fiber at Home

4. Finish Forgotten Projects

Do you have unfinished projects lurking in your craft room? Did you buy that fleece three years ago thinking that someday you would turn it into something beautiful? Now is the perfect time to finish old projects so that you can start new, exciting ones! If you need a little extra motivation, the I Thought I Knew How Podcast is hosting a finish-along during the month of April.

5 Ways to Have Fun With Fiber at Home

5. Try to Dye

As you work through your yarn and fiber stash, you might come across a few past purchases that felt so right at the time – but now you realize they’re just not the right color for you. There are so many easy ways to dye (and overdye!) yarn and fiber at home, from using Easter egg dye, food coloring or even Kool-aid, to everyday things you may already have in your kitchen such as onion skins, black beans, or coffee. We collect all of our favorite DIY dyeing tips & tutorials here on Pinterest!

We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag. 

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5 Ways to Have Fun With Fiber at Home

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The 8 Wonders of Wool: Amazing Facts You Might Not Know

As many of us are hunkering down for more time at home, we hope you have plenty of yarn and fiber to keep your hands busy. Today, we continue our exploration of the wonderful world of wool by sharing some amazing (and true!) facts about this versatile fiber. Sure, you know it’s warm, blends well with other fibers, and can be used for so many projects…but wool is full of surprises!

Young farmer shearing sheep for wool in barn

Wool Fact #1: It’s Re-nEWE-able

When it comes to sustainability and earth friendliness, it doesn’t get much better than wool. Since wool is grown and not made, it’s a renewable resource (sheep grow a new fleece each year!). Processing these fibers requires less energy and water than man-made fibers.  Wool products also use less energy than man-made fibres during manufacture. You can further minimize your carbon footprint by sourcing fibers directly from the source, many of which have been organically or sustainably raised!

Finally, after you have enjoyed a lifetime of joy with your wool item, don’t send it to a landfill! Wool fibers are 100% biodegradable and can be used as mulch or compost because they break down slowly, fertilizing plants by producing more nitrogen than commercial products on the market.

Wool Fact #2: It Bends, But Won’t Break

Wool fibers are extremely durable, retaining their shape and composition over time longer than synthetic fibers, and even cotton! A wool fiber can be bent 20,000 times before breaking, whereas cotton breaks after 3,000 bends.

sheep in the sunlight

Wool Fact #3: It Can Protect You From UV Rays

The same wool fibers that provide natural UV protection for sheep can give humans additional sun protection, too! After applying sunscreen, wear wool layers for another layer of defense against harmful rays.

Wool Fact #4: Wool Didn’t Start The Fire

Wool naturally self-extinguishes should it catch fire – can your acrylic do that? (short answer: no, it melts!) In fact, because of its naturally fire resistant properties, wool is used for fireman’s blankets!

cold sheep

Wool Fact #5: It Keeps You Comfortable, No Matter What

The same cooling and heating properties that keep sheep warm and dry will keep you comfortable, too! Wool has millions of air pockets that trap warmth when it’s cold. In humid or wet conditions, it can absorb moisture in the air, releasing it when conditions dry out again. In fact, wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight before you start to feel the moisture against your skin – what a neat trick!

Wool Fact #6: It’s Got A Great Memory

While some fibers stretch out of shape and remain that way forever, wool is able to stretch and return to its original size, whether it’s wet or dry! Dry fibers can be stretched up to 30% of their original length and still be able to return to their original size. Wet fibers can be stretched even further  – almost 60% of their original length – but can still return to their original shape and length.

sheep sleeping on the pastures of Norway

Wool Fact #7: Better Sleep Starts With Sheep

We’re not talking about counting sheep here (although that never hurts): a  2018 study found that wearing wool pajamas resulted in 15 more minutes of restful sleep due to the natural thermal-regulating properties of wool fiber.

Wool Fact #8: It’s A Home Run

Wool has many unusual uses, but did you know that there are many layers of tightly wound wool yarn inside every ball used in Major League Baseball? Each one contains approximately 324 yards of yarn (174 yards of which are spun from wool) which provides strength and resilience to withstand the impact of a batter’s hit off high-velocity pitches. Other interesting uses include woolen silt fences and erosion-control blankets, piano dampers and absorbent pads to clean up oil spills.

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Don’t forget to support your favorite Strauch Retailer during this difficult time! You can order any of our drum carders, swifts/skein winders or ball winders by contacting your nearest shop, and they will work with us to have it shipped directly to your doorstep.

We’d also love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag. 

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Meet Our Makers: The Foldout Cat

We’re pleased to present our first Meet our Makers feature for 2020! When we attend shows and fiber festivals, we almost always connect with a new maker who uses our products to create their wares. Last fall, we met Q from The Foldout Cat while we were browsing the marketplace at the Fall Fiber Festival in Montpelier, Virginia. Not only does Q make beautiful batts using our double wide carder, she also weaves, spins, and teaches freestyle weaving on SAORI floor looms at her fiber-arts studio. We hope you enjoy getting to know Q in today’s interview.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself (I see you’re also an estate planning attorney, so I’m sure there’s a good back story there!)
I am indeed also an estate-planning attorney! I was a professional singer (and copyeditor, because music alone does not always pay the bills) for a number of years. When my voice broke down unexpectedly (it’s since come back), I had to decide on a new direction. I’d been raised by my lawyer-filled family (father, both grandfathers, a great-grandfather) to believe that lawyers were the good guys, and I knew that the law could be a powerful force for good (as well as for, well, NOT good), so I decided to go to law school and see what I could do to help the world for a while :-). I graduated in 2006 and then practiced law in Virginia for almost eight years as a legal-aid attorney, providing civil legal services for very low-income US residents – amazing work I wouldn’t trade for anything.

In 2011 I met my partners, and in 2014 I moved to Alabama to live with them. This gave me the chance to decide what I wanted to do next, including whether I wanted to keep practicing law. While I was thinking about this, I started selling my handmade items at an amazing place in Huntsville called Lowe Mill, a reclaimed textile factory that currently has more than 250 artists of all sorts creating in 150+ studio spaces. That experience got me interested in taking my own creative work more seriously, while still keeping my hand in as an attorney – combining left-brain and right-brain work in the same life, treating them as complements rather than adversaries.

In 2015 I became licensed to practice law in Alabama and chose to start an estate-planning practice, another way of working for good in the world: estate planning helps give the people doing the planning peace during their lifetimes and brings some peace to their loved ones after their death, and the world can always use more peace! In 2016 I applied for and got a studio at Lowe Mill as a fiber artist. In that space and elsewhere, I weave in the SAORI tradition, spin, and card; I teach freespirited weaving and spinning; I sell equipment, supplies, and finished items; and I practice law!
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What drew you to the fiber arts industry?
Fiber! Fiber in all of its forms and flexibility, from farmyard or factory to finished work. The idea of being able to start with wool (or cotton or silk or angelina or any one of so many other fibers) and use remarkably straightforward tools to create items that combine beauty and utility, in ways that resemble and echo those humans have been using for hundreds, if not thousands, of years … how could I resist? The only thing better: getting to teach other people to use those tools to make their own beautiful, useful works of art. What great ways to make one’s living!

Which Strauch product(s) do you use in your business?
At the moment, the Strauch products we use the most often are our family of Strauch drum carders. We have a Mad Batt’r Double Wide (well, I *say* “we”, but in actual fact that one belongs to my spouse :-)), a Finest Single Wide, and a Petite currently in the studio, and a Mad Batt’r Single Wide will be joining our carder family very soon.

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I have all of the carders clamped to rolling butcher-block carts; that lets us store each carder’s batt pick and doffer brush on board, as well as batt packaging, scales, and other needed tools. It also allows us to move the carders around easily, which makes it a breeze to pack them up and take them on the road to fiber festivals and gatherings as an integral part of our Custom Batt Buffet and our art-batt class, Gettin’ Batty With It.

I also use my Strauch Jumbo Ball Winder (my favorite 50th-birthday present!) all the time in my studio, winding our handspun for customers and creating yarn cakes I hang on my walls for my weaving students’ use, and we take it with us to festivals as well whenever we can.

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What is your favorite fiber (or fibers) to work with, and why?
Oh, man. That’s like asking me to pick between pizza, chocolate, and red wine: it’s very nearly impossible to do, because each one is so different – and they can all be enjoyed in the same meal :-). My favorite combination of fibers to card is a mix of Merino wool roving or top, bamboo, and angelina; all three go onto my carders smoothly (thanks in part to Strauch’s Slicker-Licker drum, which might be my favorite aspect of Strauch’s carders), and the combination creates a beautifully workable batt that can become anything from embroidery floss to delicious art yarn in the hands of a spinner.

For our readers who aren’t familiar with SAORI weaving, can you tell us more about this style and philosophy?
Certainly! SAORI is a philosophy of freestyle handweaving invented by a woman named Misao Jo nearly fifty years ago. In learning to weave herself, Misao Jo discovered that weaving could be a form of self-expression, a way to unleash one’s creativity and individuality – to be free from rules and from expectations.

She began teaching the basic mechanics of weaving on a floor loom to her students and then setting them free to weave as they wanted to, without correction or intervention. As a student of SAORI weaving (with Handmade SAORI in Belton, TX and Han-Den Studios in Peachtree City, GA), I think of this as “weaving one’s beauty”: creating a unique piece of cloth that reflects and expresses, not an external set of standards, but the spirit of the weaver themselves.

Although I am not myself a registered SAORI studio at this time, I weave in that tradition, and I teach what I call freespirited weaving on SAORI floor looms, encouraging my students to relax into the process of weaving and to explore color and texture without regard for outside expectations. My students often reach the end of a lesson or group class simultaneously relaxed and energized, having found the experience of weaving in this way to be both meditative and renewing – more qualities our world needs!

I encourage readers who are interested in more information about SAORI weaving or who’d like to learn to weave SAORI to read the information made available by SAORI parent studio SAORInoMori here and here and to look into what studios may be close to them; a list of registered studios can be found here.

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What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about fiber preparation in general (or, if you want to be specific, making batts)?
Both generally and with regard to batt-making: relax! Relax into the process; relax your expectations of yourself and what you’re making; relax as much of your Judgment Mind as you can. Have an idea of what you’re aiming for; choose fibers and colors and textures that fit that general idea; and then create with those components and see what happens. My philosophy as both artist and teacher is to practice imperfection – to embrace the idea that there are no rules and no mistakes, just free expression of what the person creating finds beautiful. In my experience, if I can relax into that spirit, what I make and what I do will reflect it.

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You can visit The Foldout Cat website to learn more, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, or be on the lookout for The Foldout Cat at these upcoming events:
13-14 March: Carolina Fiber Fest, Raleigh, NC
First year at this festival, and we’re quite excited :-). They already have a wonderful SAORI weaver teaching there, so we’ll be focused on carding and spinning: our class on creating art batts is already sold out, and per the organizers’ request we’re offering a second session!

22-23 May: Middle Tennessee Fiber Festival, Dickson, TN

25-27 September: Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, Berryville, VA 

7 November: Fiber in the ‘Boro, Murfreesboro, TN

Tentative dates: 

Late November: freespirited weaving classes at the Richmond Public Library, North Chesterfield Branch, in Richmond, VA

10-12 July: vending and teaching at the Alpaca Owners’ Association Natural Fiber Extravaganza


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Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Have you been bitten by the spring cleaning bug? As you tidy up, don’t forget about your drum carder! While our machines are designed to require little to no maintenance or adjustments over a lifetime of use, there are a few things we recommend doing regularly to ensure smooth operation. You’ll need just a few supplies (and some good lighting) to get the job done!

Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder
Supplies:

Doffer/Cleaner Brush
Microfiber Cloth
Wood soap or cleaning wax
Tweezers

Removing Fiber from Shafts
Fiber can accumulate on the shafts which turn both drums, and you will find that your carder becomes increasingly hard to crank if it is not removed on a regular basis. A long pair of tweezers helps with this (we used some that are also used to repair computers). Remember to direct your efforts in the opposite direction that the drum is turned to remove fibers that have wrapped around the shafts while in use. You may need to rotate the drums or make a few passes in order to remove all of the fibers in these areas.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Cleaning Carding Cloth
There is no need to clean out fiber from the drum after removing each batt you make, but we do recommend doing this between each project or session, especially if you’re changing the color of fiber you’re working with.

Use the center portion of the Doffer brush to contact the curve of the large drum. Starting at the seam, swipe the Doffer brush down the drum in the same direction as the teeth on the drum. Continue across the width of the drum. Slowly rotate the drum backwards (counterclockwise) as you use the brush to clean the entire drum of fiber. Do not brush across the drum since the card cloth may become frayed.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

More Places that Fiber Accumulates

While the unique “Slicker-Licker” carding cloth on the small drum is designed not to hold onto the fiber, it will tend to grab shorts, second cuts and neps that you really don’t want in your batt.

If there are any fibers stuck in the brush attachment, simply remove them by hand.
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder
At this point, you may be impressed with all of the fluff and fiber you’ve removed from your carder – but don’t throw it away! This fiber can be used to stuff pillows or toys, OR you can put them outside for birds who are building nests this spring!
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

Finishing Touches
Last but not least, take the soft cloth and dampen it with a mild wood soap to dust off and clean all of the wood parts of your carder. Make sure that whatever you use is specifically designed to clean and nourish wood, and take care that your cloth is not sopping wet as you work (you don’t want water to trickle into any areas where it could cause rust).
Spring Cleaning Your Strauch Drum Carder

With just these few simple steps, your drum carder will look good as new this spring! For more tips on choosing, maintaining and using your Strauch Drum Carder, click here to download our free guide.

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Evaluating Fleece & Fiber: A Beginner’s Guide

Do you speak fiber? There are many words specific to evaluating, preparing and processing fiber – and if you are newer to the fiber arts scene, it might seem like a foreign language! Today, we’ll talk about what to look for when shopping for fleece and fiber, and share some of the most commonly-used terms that you may encounter in the process.
Bale of shorn wool with vegetative matter (VM)
If you are sourcing fleece or fiber directly from the source, is possible that you will see it prior to being skirted and/or scouredSkirting the fleece refers to the process of removing stained or damaged fibers, vegetative matter (VM for short), and second cuts (very short pieces of fleece remaining in the fiber, caused by shearing the same area twice). Scouring a fleece describes the process of cleaning these fibers to remove grease, dirt and debris. Even if you are purchasing a “clean” fleece, we strongly recommend washing these fibers prior to both storage and use, as any lingering grease can attract pests and damage fiber processing equipment (more on that here).

Aside from the cleanliness of the fiber, here are a few more things to look for before making your purchase:

Superfine merino wool fleece from a shorn sheep - crimpy fiber

  • Crimp: This is the natural wave that runs along the fiber shaft; extremely fine fibers have 12 crimps or more per inch, while rougher fibers have 3 crimps or fewer per inch.
  • Fiber Diameter: Directly affects the softeness of the fiber. This is measured in microns, a unit of measurement that is equal to .00004 inch; the lower the micron count, the softer the fiber.
  • Loft: This refers to the airiness of the fiber, and while there is not an established system to measure this quality, the loft of a fleece or fiber relates to the softness and warmth. High loft is thick and fluffy, low loft is thin and dense. The higher the loft, the better the insulation characteristic.
  • Luster: Describing the shininess of the fiber, luster refers to the amount of light that is reflected, from very shiny (reflecting a lot of light) to matte (reflecting little to no light), with semi-lustrous fibers in the middle.  The luster of a fleece is easy to assess at a glance.
  • Staple Length refers to the average length of a single length of fiber in its natural, unprocessed form, and it influences the loft and handle of the yarn you produce based on twist per inch needed. We cover staple length in greater detail on this blog post.
  • Tensile strength: If the fiber breaks easily when you are handling it (and don’t be afraid to give it a tug to test its strength!), that indicates a weakness in the fiber.testing tensile strength of wool fleece fiber

When taken together, the above qualities contribute to the overall uniformity of the fleece, which is desirable for producing a consistent yarn once the fiber is processed. From there, personal preference will play a part in the fibers you select, and we encourage you to explore the many types of fleece and fiber available on today’s market. The possibilities are endless!

We’d love to see what you’re carding and spinning over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag.

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