Mike’s Fiber Journal: Kentucky Sheep & Fiber Festival and Blue Ridge Fiber Fest

There’s no better way to jump into things with both feet than going to a fiber festival! My first show as the official owner of Strauch was Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival (KSFF) in Lexington, KY the weekend of May 18th & 19th. Otto and Joanne were on hand to help as we joined our friends at The Woolery to give live demos at this show!

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It’s possible that a love for all things fiber is contagious, because I found myself learning how to spin on a wheel before the weekend was up (yes, I am a “shoes-on” spinner!).

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I found some time to explore the marketplace to see what kinds of yarns, fibers, and other fiber-related tools and accessories could be found.

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I met a lot of interesting people at the show, and it was particularly exciting to meet the next generation of fiber enthusiasts! Here’s a group of kids learning what a drum carder does; their teacher is Sister Margaret-Mary of St Joseph Academy in Walton, KY.  Although she’s 95% blind, she uses sophisticated computer programs to help her function within the fiber community. Amazing!

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Not too long after KSFF, we headed to Sparta, NC for the Blue Ridge Fiber Festival on June 7th and 8th (Subaru Outbacks are the “official” mode of transport for Strauch!).

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Joanne helped with setup while Otto was put in charge of photos to make sure my second-ever fiber festival was properly documented.

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Live demos are what it’s all about, and here, Joanne is ready to put the Finest through its paces while a customer looks on. Seeing is believing!

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For anyone who simply couldn’t wait to start using their yarn until they got home (no judgements!), we provided a courtesy yarn winding station.
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I’ve enjoyed getting to familiarize myself with all of the fiber-producing animals at each show, too. There is so much to learn!

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In my next blog post, I’ll be sharing the process of learning the ropes here at Strauch and relocating the business to Hickory, NC. You can also keep tabs on Facebook or Instagram, or click here to sign up for the Strauch monthly newsletter!

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6 Ways to Prep for the Tour de Fleece

Each July, spinners around the globe take part in the Tour de Fleece, a spin-along that challenges participants to spin every day that the athletes in the Tour de France ride. This is a fun way to practice your spinning skills and use up stash. Has your spinning wheel has been gathering dust? This is your chance to get in the habit of spinning a little bit every day to get back in the swing of things! For those who already spin everyday, why not challenge yourself to try new techniques, fibers, and stretch your limits? All spinners are welcome, and you can join a team or spin solo – anything goes as long as you’re having fun with fiber!

This year, the Tour de Fleece starts on Saturday, July 6 and runs until Sunday July 28th, 2019, with scheduled rest days on Tuesday, July 16th and Monday, July 22. Challenge days are on Thursday, July 18 (Stage 12) and Friday, July 26th (Stage 19).

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Here are some tips to help you prepare for this year’s event:

  1. Choose your team. There are 7 “official” teams to join here in the Tour de Fleece Ravelry group, and you don’t have to pick just one! There are even more “unofficial” that you can join that are hosted in other Ravelry groups – just search forum threads for “Tour de Fleece” to find them!
  2. Set goals. The purpose of this event is to challenge yourself and set goals. Spinning 10 minutes every day that the tour rides, setting a goal for yardage, or  trying a new technique or fiber could all be possibilities; whatever you choose, make sure that your goal is realistic enough that you don’t get discouraged, but still pushes you to step out of your comfort zone.
  3. Embrace the challenge within the challenge. On “challenge” days during the actual event (usually the toughest high mountain stage), spinners are encouraged to do something that is also difficult for them. Trying a new-to-you spinning technique or fiber are great choices for these days!
  4. Prep fiber ahead of time. With your goals in mind, decide what you want to spin ahead of time so that you can prep fibers beforehand and focus on the task of spinning once the Tour de Fleece begins. Particularly if your goal is to spin through your stash or reach a specific yardage goal, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve chosen fiber types and a preparation that is easy to spin – for example, batts! Now is the perfect time to break out your Strauch drum carder and get creative. If you need a little inspiration, check out our free Color Inspiration guide which features 10 colorful projects you can make on your Strauch drum carder. If you’re new to drum carding, don’t miss Drum Carding 101, our everything-you-need guide to carding beautiful batts like a pro!
  5. Check & tune up spinning equipment. Just as the riders will be tuning up their bikes for the big task ahead, you’ll want to ensure that your own spinning equipment is ready to go! If you’ll be using a wheel, make sure that your bobbins are clear and your wheel is cleaned and oiled (refer to your manufacturer’s instructions for other suggested maintenance tasks).
  6. Keep track of what you spin. During events like the Tour de Fleece, it’s easy to think you’ll remember the exact fiber content or other details of your project later on. But we’re willing to bet that the details will be fuzzy later on (pun intended), which is why we created two free printables to help you keep track of your projects from start to finish! Learn more about our Batt Planning Worksheet and Spinning Project tracker here.

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We’d love to see photos of your Tour de Fleece preparation and spinning, especially if you’re using Strauch products along the way! Share them with us on social media using the #strauchfiber and #tourdefleece2019 hashtags. Happy Spinning!

Keep this cheat sheet handy – pin it on Pinterest!

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Meet Strauch Fiber Equipment’s New Owner, Mike Gallagher!

Hi there, I’m Mike Gallagher, the new owner of Strauch Fiber Equipment Co. Right now, I’m learning the ropes and training with Otto and Joanne at their workshop in Virginia. Although they are retiring, they plan on remaining active within the fiber industry and available to me as needed for product improvement and new product development.

Meet Mike Gallagher, Strauch Fiber Equipment Co's New Owner

We just got back from the Blue Ridge Fiber Festival, where I was able to introduce myself personally to Strauch fans, and I’d like to do the same for everyone else who didn’t make it out to the show, so here goes:

I grew up in Nebraska, attended college in Maine, and have since landed in North Carolina, where I’ve been for about 10 years total (7 years in the Raleigh area and 3 years in Hickory,  where I currently live and have been running my business). I love living near the mountains, and I have a 4 year old daughter who keeps me busy outside of the workshop.

I used to focus mostly on custom furniture but have recently moved towards making custom wood components. I have a BFA in Woodworking and Furniture Design from the Maine College of Art and have taken workshops at both the Penland School of Crafts and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

Ever since I remember, my mom has done needlepoint, and she had a spinning wheel in the house when I was growing up, so I do have some fiber arts experience! During my first year of college, I took a Shibori class where I ended up sewing and dyeing a simple kimono and many other small test pieces using different resist techniques, and I also encountered lots of “fiber arts moments” while attending art school. More recently, I have been making components and doing some equipment assembly for another company in the fiber arts industry, and have been working with them for a little over 5 years now.

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to expand my business and skillset, but hadn’t quite found anything that fit just yet. So when I learned that Strauch was looking for a successor, it was kind of a light bulb moment since it’s in the realm of work that I’ve currently been doing.

The company size feels like a good next step for business growth, allowing me to keep my hands in the making process. The reputation of the product line and the philosophy that the Strauch’s have built the company around really speak to me, and Otto and Joanne are fantastic to work with. We have a lot in common in terms of how we look at business and life.

I’m looking forward to going to more fiber shows, getting to know retailers and customers, and learning how everything comes together. I’m fascinated with how other people make things and learning this process has been a blast! There is still so much to do, but I’m up for the challenge.

In the future, I have plans to expand the product line. Rest assured, we’ll still approach product improvement and development using the same standards Otto and Joanne have set! There might be small improvements or changes to the existing product line, but most of that I see happening on the manufacturing process side, without changing the key things that make these machines such great products.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

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The Next Chapter in the Strauch Story Begins

Last May, we publicly announced our successor search for a “fiber-loving unicorn” to carry on the Strauch tradition. In that time, we have searched high and low and met many wonderful people. We’re very grateful to everyone who helped spread the word or expressed interest in our business, and we are pleased to announce that as of Friday, May 24, the Strauch Fiber Equipment Company has a new owner!

Before we introduce you to our successor, we would like to share a few personal words to express how grateful we are for the wonderful fiber community we’ve been proud to serve these many years. It’s truly been a delight to share our passion at fiber festivals and shows over the years, and the creativity and skill shared by our fans on social media is humbling! Knowing that our products have provided years of joy and made the process of creating easier is the greatest compliment. Thank you for sharing this little corner of the fiber community with us!

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The process for selling a business is long; for those of you who would like to hear more about this journey (and it IS a journey!), I talk about our own experience in this episode of the Business of Craft podcast. In our case, we have a very specific set of criteria in mind, and when we met Michael Gallagher, we knew he had the chops to maintain the quality and innovation you’ve come to expect from products bearing the Strauch name.

Michael has a BFA in Woodworking and Furniture Design from the Maine College of Art and has taken several woodworking workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts as well as Penland School of Crafts. He also has an associate’s degree in Architectural and Engineering Design from Southern Maine Community College!

Michael is young, energetic, and has many fresh ideas to bring to the table. As we’ve gotten to know him, we’ve learned that he has much more than just technical know-how: he has a true passion for making things by hand, and we are confident that he is the right person to pen the next chapter in the Strauch story.

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After a month training at our facilities, the business will relocate to North Carolina, where Michael lives with his 4-year-old daughter. In the days and weeks to come, we hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Michael. Make sure you’re on our newsletter list and follow us on Facebook or Instagram, where we’ll be sharing this transition process with all of our fans.

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How To Card A Butterfly Batt

April showers bring May flowers…and butterflies! With so many beautiful species found in the natural world, you’ll never run out of colorful inspiration! Here is the photo we chose to help us select this month’s color palette:

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There are many ways to interpret the unique colors and markings of each species; for instance, if you wanted to use these colors in the same ratios as pictured, you would use dark brown or black fiber as your base, with a few shades of blue, white and grey or silver fiber as your blending colors.

Or, if you would rather have a brighter batt that looks as airy and carefree as a butterfly floating in the breeze, you may wish to flip-flop those ratios so that the brightest and most eye-catching color is dominant, with the darker and more neutral colors used in smaller quantities, as we’ve done here.

Once you have chosen your colors, it’s time to start carding!

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Supplies:

  • A Strauch Drum Carder (we used a Strauch Petite)
  • 1 oz main fiber – here, we used two 1/2 oz colors of bright blue merino wool
  • Approx. 1/4 oz accent colors –  here, we used 1/4 oz dark brown merino wool and a small amount of dyed silvery-grey firestar fiber.

Start with your base fiber(s) to get a good base on your drum (approximately half should be sufficient), concentrating on filling the middle part of the drum.  When you have processed all of your base fiber(s), continue to the next step.

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Begin adding your darkest accent color, concentrating on filling the outer edges of the drum to echo the markings of the butterfly wings. Save a small amount of this fiber to use on the next step.

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Use the remaining dark brown fiber to create a base and top layer (known as a “fiber sandwich”) for your firestar fiber. Process through your carder while still concentrating on filling the outer edges of the drum.

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Next, remove your batt and get ready to spin!

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We can’t wait to see your own unique butterfly-inspired batts – be sure to share your projects with us on Instagram and don’t forget to tag your post with #strauchfiber!

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PLY Away 2019 Recap

The PLY Away retreat is one of our favorite fiber events to kick off the spring season! Held in Kansas City, MO at the 5-star rated Westin Conference center downtown, this delightful venue is a fabulous setting to learn about & share the joy of handspinning yarn. We documented everything from start to finish to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at this popular event!

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With such lush surroundings, you’d almost forget you were in the city!

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There are plenty of spots to sit down and relax.

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The illustrious editor of PLY Magazine, Jacey, is ready with a smile at the welcome table.

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Meanwhile, the vendors start moving into the marketplace.

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This year’s marketplace was in a bigger space, which means that there is even more gorgeous yarn, fiber and equipment to tempt shoppers!

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Here’s a shot of our own booth in the midst of setup:

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We can alway tell when class sessions are done – in comes a wave of excited shoppers!

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What we love about shows like these is the chance to learn from experts – here, Gordon Lendrum is chatting about spinning wheels with a shopper.

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Remember all those cozy spots we mentioned at the top of this post? Now they’re filled with knitters, spinners and all manner of fiber folk!

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As Jacey is so adept at doing, she’s organizing an after-dinner educational talk.

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The keynote speaker, author, and wool whisperer, Ms. Clara Parkes, offers her insight into trends within the fiber industry.

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After a fun-filled event, it’s time to pack everything back up and return home.

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Our job was much easier, as much of what we brought found new homes before the marketplace closed!

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Until next year…..watch for the date!

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Click here to see our full schedule of events for 2019; we look forward to seeing you soon!

 

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Meet Our Makers: Hopkins Fiber Studio

When we attend shows and fiber festivals, we almost always connect with a new maker who uses our products to create their wares. This month’s installment of Meet our Makers is a little different, however: we connected with Hopkins Fiber Studio over social media, where Emonie frequently shares photos of the gorgeous fibers she’s working with to create beautiful batts. We are so pleased to share Emonie’s fibery story with you today!

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Emonie’s drum carder of choice is the Mad Batt’r, which she first tried using in the demo room at the SSK Retreat in June of 2017, along with the Petite. She says: “There was something different about this carder as I had 2 carders at home already but they didn’t seem to card like this! I said..oh! I remember thinking what is going on with this licker in! It’s magic! No adjustments out of the box, no fibers all congregating on the licker in …NOTHING just a smooth batt right off the bat (or batt)!” She went home from the retreat and purchased a Petite, and soon after graduated to the Mad Batt’r to create her bounteous batts and fluffy rolags.

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Although she originally started her business sewing handmade project bags, she’s been selling hand-dyed yarns, fibers and more at shows and in her online store since 2018. Most recently, Hopkins Fiber Studio was spotted at YarnCon, Chicago’s Indie Fiber Festival, and she plans to attend the Northern Illinois Sheep and Fiber Festival and the Berwyn Spring Spin In in June.

Through events like these, Emonie gets to share her passion for fibers with other makers. She says, “What’s great about fiber events is getting the opportunity to introduce makers to new things, and that includes new fiber preparations. Some may not know what to do with batts or rolags, or what makes those preparations different. People often ask how that will affect the finished fabric.”

Exploring sheep breeds, texture and color are what drew her to carding, and when we asked her about her approach to combining fibers and colors, she had a lot to share with us:

“My approach is based on the type of batt I make and that’s where I think the Mad Batt’r shines: creating color! You can create any color you want and leave it as-is, or take color as a base and expand from there. My carder allows me to make smooth and textured batts equally and successfully, with no need for multiple carders or drums with multiple TPI’s.”

“When carding smooth batts, I like to make them into a gradient and watch the colors flow. I like to use the same fiber content or content with similar staple lengths so that drafting will be as smooth as the batt itself and the name implies.”

“For Textured/Art batts, the sky’s the limit! I approach color with a bit of abandon and try not to think too hard. I still consider staple length but this is where the fun begins with all the elements: sparkle, locks, ribbon, silk bits and bobs, threads, nepps, noils, oh my! And the Mad Batt’r can handle all of those ingredients. The longer tines on the cloth allow you to fill it to the brim…or not! It’s your choice, but you have plenty of space for bits and bobs and texture. Ohhh man this batt is full of all the things!”

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Emonie tells us that she has always been a creative person, and while she also knows how to knit, crochet, and sew, spinning is the one thing she would do if she absolutely had to pick just one thing. Through spinning, she began to venture more into fiber prep and breed studies in her quest to make great hand spun yarns which will create gorgeous handknit and crocheted fabrics. You can follow her fiber adventures on Instagram as @HopkinsFiberStudio, on Ravelry as HopkinsStudio, or visit www.hopkinsfiberstudio.com.

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How to Card a Jelly Bean Batt

Spring has sprung! Today we share a fun way to incorporate several bright, cheery colors into a beautiful batt inspired by a beloved seasonal sweet: jelly beans!

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The trick to working with so many colors is to start with a neutral background and build from there. For our sample project, we chose a natural white wool fiber to use as the base, and randomly added a selection of dyed fibers and other additives to create a colorful batt that won’t become muddy when  all of the fibers are spun into a yarn.

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If you wish to use more  dyed fibers and less of your neutral base, keep in mind that any primary color that is mixed with its complement will create brown – and the more colors you have in your batt, the greater the chance that they could blend together during the spinning process. If you want to use these colors in the same batt, just make sure that they are not close to each other: red (a primary color) and green (a complement to red) will create brown, as will yellow and green or blue and orange.

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Once you have chosen your colors, it’s time to start carding!

Supplies:

  • Strauch Drum Carder (we used a Strauch Petite)
  • 3/4 oz neutral wool fiber base
  • Approx. 1/4 oz  mixed dyed fibers and additives: silk noils, cotton nepps, sari silk, cut up ribbons, firestar, rayon, etc.

Start with your neutral-colored fiber to get a good base on your drum (approximately half should be sufficient).

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Begin to add your dyed fibers and additives at random. Use your base color to create a “fiber sandwich” when processing slippery fibers or anything likely to get caught in the infeed drum. Continue until all of your fibers have been processed.

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Next, remove your batt and get ready to spin!

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We hope you are inspired to start a sweet spinning project to celebrate spring! Be sure to share your projects with  us on Instagram and don’t forget to tag your post with #strauchfiber!

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Cleaning & Storing Fleece and Fiber

The spring fiber festival season is just around the corner! For fiber artists who delight in sourcing fleece and fibers straight from the source, these events are the perfect opportunity to replenish your stash with unique fibers you may not find anywhere else. Plus, there are always plenty of tempting prepared fibers from hand-dyers and indie makers, too!

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As a result, you’re likely to purchase more fiber than you can spin or felt right away, which means that you will need to choose some fibers to store away for a rainy day.

Today, we’ll share some of our best tips for properly cleaning and storing fleece and fibers so that they are ready to spin whenever inspiration strikes!

Cleaning

If you purchased any raw fleece or fibers, assessing their level of cleanliness is your first step. Even if fibers “look” clean, they may have some residual grease (this is particularly common in wools). This grease can attract moths and other pests, and it will also damage your fiber processing equipment if it is not removed from your fiber before use.

As a general rule, we recommend washing all fleece and fibers right away.

Cleaning & Storing Spinning Fiber on the Strauch Fiber Equipment Blog

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get your fleece and fiber squeaky clean – in fact, you don’t even need a special wool wash, you can just use Dawn dish soap to remove the grease! However, we’ve found that a specialized product can make the process easier and faster – Unicorn Power Scour is a popular choice amongst fiber artists and is worth trying out, especially if you have a LOT of fiber to wash.

A large mesh bag such as one you would use for washing lingerie or a sweater is also  very useful to have, particularly if you’ll be using your washing machine’s spin cycle to remove excess water from the fibers.

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Fiber Drying Hack: If you don’t have easy access to a washing machine, try using a salad spinner instead! It will take a little longer, but it is another easy option for removing excess water without damaging fibers, thus shortening your dry time.

Joanne has shared her fiber-washing tips and tricks here on our site to make this step easy for you!

Storing

Once your fibers are clean and dry, it’s time to store them away if you don’t plan to use them right away! While it may be tempting to display them out in the open in attractive shelves or baskets, this will make fibers vulnerable to moths or other pests. Always remember: an ounce of prevention can save your fiber stash!

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We recommend storing your fibers in air-tight containers; if you have enough storage space, you can even sort your fibers so that all of the prepared rovings, tops and batts are in one container, and clean fleece & fiber are in another. Within those containers, you can use Ziploc or Space Storage bags to keep like fibers together, and add an additional line of defense.

Finally, for added insurance, you can include a cedar or lavender sachet to naturally ward off pests.

Worried About Wool-Loving Pests?

It’s highly unlikely that any fibers you purchase at a fiber festival or show will have moths, but fibers from other sources can sometimes be risky. If you have ANY concerns that fleece or fiber you have purchased might have moths or other pests hitching a ride, the best thing you can do is place those fibers in the freezer for a few days to kill eggs and prevent them from hatching. You can find more info about moth infestations (and how to prevent them!) here on the Knit Darling blog.

 

We hope these tips help you organize your fiber stash and keep it safe & spin-ready. If you liked this post, pin it!

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Resource Round-Up for Fiber Artists

Do you have the urge to clean out your craft room, and need a place to sell some of the tools you no longer use? Have you recently bought a piece of used fiber equipment and need some advice on how to fix up your newfound treasure? Could you use some guidance with a new-to-you technique, or a little inspiration on what to do with all of that yarn you spin?

The internet is full of resources and information, provided you know where to look. Here are some of our favorite resources for fiber artists – we’d love to hear about any websites you’ve come across that aren’t listed here!

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Buying & Selling Equipment

Fixing & Troubleshooting Equipment

Techniques & Tutorials

We’d love to hear about your own favorite resources, especially if it’s something that isn’t listed above – please share them in the the comments!

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Resource Round-Up for Fiber Artists on the Strauch Fiber Equipment Blog

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