Warm, Warmer, Warmest: 4 Non-Sheep Fibers to Try This Fall

Don’t get us wrong – we love wool and learning about the many breeds of sheep that grow beautiful fleece for us to enjoy. But when it comes to staying warm during the chilly months ahead, there are several non-sheep fibers that surpass the warmth and thermal regulating properties of even our most favorite wools.

Some of these fibers are rarer, more costly, or perhaps even challenging to work with than wool fibers you might be accustomed to, but don’t worry – you can always blend them with your favorite wool on a Strauch Drum Carder (we recommend the Finest) to create your own unique combination.

Here are our our top 4 non-sheep fibers to try this fall, in order of warm, warmer and warmest!

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Mohair

Forget about those hairy sweaters from the ’80’s – today’s mohair is incredibly soft with a lustrous sheen! There are 8 types of wild goat species, but just one domestic species that produces the fibers we love to work with – the term Mohair is an Arabic word meaning “choice” or “select” and refers to the downy underfiber that all goats produce, rather than a specific breed of goat.

These animals are dual coated, meaning that they produce two types of fibers: the long, coarse guard hairs that protect the downy undercoat that is prized for its softness and insulating qualities. While all mohair fiber is sleek and shiny with excellent drape, there is a wide range in fiber quality that is best grouped into three major categories:

  • Kid mohair: The finest, softest fibers grown by very young goats and typically only assigned to the first shearing. These fibers are comparable to Merino.
  • Yearling mohair: The midrange in terms of softness, these fibers are from a goat that is 1 year old, as the name would imply. While these fibers are still quite fine, they are more similar to a mid-range wool.
  • Adult mohair: These fibers are as the heaviest and most coarse, but are also the most durable of the three fiber types.

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Angora

Fibers from angora rabbits are not simply soft and fluffy, they are also lightweight, yet incredibly warm.  If you crave the softness of cashmere for a fraction of the price, give angora a try!

There are 3 general classes of rabbits: French, English and German. All rabbits grow three types of fibers: the strong, straight erector hair, the awn, which is a slightly finer protector hair, and the down, which is the soft crimped down found closest to the skin.

While we strongly recommend washing just about any other fiber type before carding or spinning, it is actually better NOT to wash angora fibers before working with them to avoid creating unmanageable clumps of fiber, as angora fibers felt quite easily. We also recommend dyeing angora fiber after you have finished spinning or felting with it, rather that prior to, for the same reasons.

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Yak

These hardy animals are native to the Himalayan region, where they withstand harsh weather conditions. As a result, their fiber is extremely warm and insulating – in fact, yak down is warmer than cashmere!

Yaks grow three types of fibers: a long outer coat of guard hair, a midrange coat, and a soft downy undercoat. All of these fibers are very strong – the outermost coat is known for making exceptionally sturdy rope, for example. While the midrange coat has many textile uses, it is the soft downy undercoat that fiber artists are most interested in. These fibers are typically quite short, with a staple length ranging between 1.25-2.25 inches, making it a challenge to work with: you’ll need enough twist to hold the yarn together, but not so much that the yarn becomes stiff or overspun.

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Qiviut

This ultra-luxurious fiber is the cadillac of the luxury fiber world. The term qiviut refers to the soft downy undercoat grown by Musk Oxen, animals which are native to arctic regions such as Alaska, Greenland and parts of Canada. These fibers are rare and costly, but the good news is that they blend extremely well with other fibers such as cashmere, merino wool, silk, or angora.

The very best qiviut fiber rivals that of the finest cashmere – it’s extremely soft, fine, and lightweight, with incredible insulating qualities. On top of that, it’s also quite sturdy, not to mention a great option for those with wool sensitivities.

We hope you found this post helpful – make sure to pin it for future reference!

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Mike’s Fiber Journal: Setting Up The New Home of Strauch Fiber

We’re getting settled in our new home in beautiful Hickory, NC!

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Since our last update, the upper assembly area and lower shop have really started to come together:

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We’ve also hired our first employee! This is Taylor,who will manage our office and shipping operations.

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Of course, we couldn’t do it without the help of some friends. Otto and Joanne have spent several weekends here in Hickory helping us get up to speed. Joanne’s keen eye and attention to detail is much appreciated.

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We’re also grateful for Otto’s guidance and moral support during this process.

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Carol (in the purple top, who worked in the Virginia workshop, has been on-site to help with organizing the ground level shop, making sure that each machine is placed properly for efficiency.

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As we get closer and closer to being 100% operational, we’ve hit some milestones such as receiving our first supply delivery in Hickory: 1800 lbs of ash lumber for carders!

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And we’ve got plenty of boxes on hand to ship orders:

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It’s safe to say that we’re off to a great start in our new home – we’ve even been getting some interest from the community! A few weeks ago while I was in the lower shop, a North Carolinian who lives 30 minutes away (and is an alpaca breeder!) stopped by to take a look at our drum carders. Luckily, Joanne was handy and gave a live demo to our first-ever in-house customer who is now the proud new owner of a Finest!

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We’ll share more of our progress on Facebook or Instagram, or click here to sign up for the Strauch monthly newsletter!

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Guide to Fiber Producing Animals

As a fiber artist, there is no shortage of exciting fibers to explore! Especially if you are working with a raw fleece, these fibers benefit from proper preparation, and our drum carders can process virtually any fiber into beautiful batts. Even your most prized fibers can be processed without fear of damage: because the drums don’t touch, there is no risk of fibers getting stuck or jammed during the carding process.

We’ll be sharing more tips and resources covering all aspects of fleece and fiber on future blog posts; today, we kick things off with an exploration of the five broad categories of fiber-producing animals.

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SHEEP

Wool fibers are known for their resilience and naturally temperature-regulating properties, plus they are naturally flame retardant. There are thousands of sheep breeds for fiber artists to explore, each with their own unique characteristics. When describing a particular breed of sheep or even a single fleece, there is a special vocabulary to describe every aspect, from fineness to luster to crimp….and beyond!

In a future blog post, we’ll delve deeper into this vocabulary and also talk about some of the many interesting breeds available to today’s fiber artists. In the meantime, there are plenty of great resources where you can learn more! We recommend Deb Robson’s Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook and The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith to start your breed-specific wool journey, visiting a nearby fiber festival to meet the farmers who raise fiber producing animals, or searching out breeders’ associations for more information on specific types of animals and fiber.

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CAMELIDS

The camelid family includes alpaca, llama, guanaco, vicuna, Bactrian camel and dromedary camel. Guanaco, vicuna and Bactrian camels are found in the wild, where they live in groups. Alpacas and llamas have been domesticated and are perhaps the most well-known fiber-producing animals within this group.

The fibers these animals produce is technically classified as hair, but the softer fibers are often referred to as wool – and some of this fiber is quite fine! Some fleece have very coarse, stiff guard hairs that can be used to make rope or rugs, but need to be removed before making into yarn.

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GOAT

There are 8 types of wild goat species, but just one domestic species that produces the fibers we love to work with. Mohair and Cashmere refer to the downy underfiber that all goats produce, rather than a specific breed of goat. These animals are dual coated, meaning that they produce two types of fibers: the long, coarse guard hairs that protect the downy undercoat that is prized for its softness and insulating qualities. New cross-breeds of goats such as cashgora and pygora have been created to produce cashmere-like fibers with longer, more lustrous fibers, but it should be noted that the quality can vary widely.

EXOTICS

Any animal that grows hair or fur can have these fibers harvested for use. Today, we’ll cover some of the most popular exotic fibers among fiber artists:

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  • Bison: Once on the brink of extinction, nearly all bison are raised on ranches, although you can’t exactly call them domesticated (read: they are not fans of being shorn). These animals grow at least five types of fiber which is shed every spring. The two outermost coats consist of coarse hair; the next two coats contain shorter guard hairs, and the final coat consists of a fine, soft down, which of course is of the most interest to fiber artists!
    The Muskox (Dovrefjell Norway)
  • Musk Ox: These animals grow several types of fiber, with the most prized being the soft downy undercoat referred to as qiviut. This fiber is rare (and usually costly), and it is extremely soft, fine, and lightweight, with incredible insulating qualities. On top of that, it’s also quite sturdy, not to mention a great option for those with wool sensitivities. These fibers blend well with other fibers (we recommend very fine fibers such as cashmere, merino wool, silk, or angora).angora rabbit
  • Angora rabbit:  This luxury fiber is cashmere soft, but much more affordable. There are 3 general classes of rabbits: French, English and German. All rabbits grow three types of fibers: the strong, straight erector hair, the awn, which is a slightly finer protector hair, and the down, which is the soft crimped down found closest to the skin.
    Tibetan Yak
  • Yak: These hardy animals are native to the Himalayan region, where they withstand harsh weather conditions. As a result, their fiber is extremely warm and insulating, consisting of a long outer coat, a midrange coat, and a soft downy undercoat. All of these fibers are very strong – the outermost coat is known for making exceptionally sturdy rope, for example. While the midrange coat has many textile uses, it is the soft downy undercoat that fiber artists are most interested in: these fibers are extremely fine and cashmere-soft (some are even as soft as qiviut!).
  • Other exotics: Any animal that grows hair or fur can be used by fiber artists, including wolf, dog, cat, horse, and other fur/pelt animals such as mink, fox, etc. Obviously, there will be a huge range in quality among these fibers, and most of these fibers have not found their way into commercial yarn production just yet. If this is your first time working with any of these fibers, we recommend blending them into a familiar fiber (such as a sturdy wool) to make the spinning process a bit easier for you.

We hope you found this post helpful – make sure to pin it for future reference!

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Mike’s Fiber Journal: From New Castle, VA to Hickory, NC

Since becoming the new owner here at Strauch, I’ve been training with Otto and Joanne at their workshop in Virginia and going to fiber festivals in my quest to learn everything I can about the fiber arts world. After a month in training, I began the process of moving everything lock, stock and barrel to Strauch’s new home in Hickory, NC.  We’re almost fully operational in our new facility, and today I want to share the process of this journey with you!

Having a background in woodworking has been extremely helpful in this process because I don’t have to start at ground zero. Instead, I’ve been learning the specifics of what makes each Strauch product unique and how to maintain the level of quality the Strauch name stands for. It starts with carefully preparing the raw materials…

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And processing the wood…

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We covered every aspect of the business, right down to stapling the packing inserts!

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Of course, my biggest priority is learning the intricacies of building the key product line – drum carders!

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mastering the art and science of building drum carders

I’m proud to say that I’ve mastered the art and science of building Strauch drum carders, and Otto has given me his seal of approval to prove it! Here we are after making the very last drum carder at the Virginia facility:

Otto and Mike after making the last Strauch drum carder in Virginia

We even took a photo of the last piece of wood to be cut in the processing barn at the Virginia workshop:

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After that, we began to pack everything up for the move to Hickory, North Carolina. Hundreds of components needed to be boxed up:

packing everything up for the big move

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Our hard-working crew took a well-deserved ice cream float break….

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…and then it was time to load everything on the truck. Next stop: Hickory, NC!

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Our new facility has two levels; here is a shot of the ground floor being prepared – it’s where we’ll process the raw wood.

wood processing area at the new location for Strauch

Here, the machines arrived are being loaded into the processing facility:

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Next, it’s time to prep the assembly shop, which is located upstairs.

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Things are coming together at our new location, and I can’t wait to share more about it with you! In the meantime, you can keep tabs on Facebook or Instagram, or click here to sign up for the Strauch monthly newsletter!

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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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