Fibery Challenges for 2020

Happy New Year! The fresh start of a new year is the perfect time to take stock, make plans and set goals for the year ahead. There are many ways to include crafting and fiber arts in your resolutions, and today we round up some fun ways to help you meet your goals for 2020!

winter carding challenge

1. Winter Carding Challenge

All are welcome to explore the wonderful world of fiber prep during the Winter Carding Challenge, which is taking place in our Ravelry group through the end of February. Created by one of our wonderful makers, Emonie of Hopkins Fiber Studios, this season-long challenge is full of fibery inspiration AND includes a prize drawing for participants! This is an excellent chance to explore your stash and perfect your drum carding skills (or hand carding, if you prefer!). For anyone who is new to drum carding, we have a free guide to help you build your skills, and don’t forget about our free printables to keep your carded batts and handspun yarns organized!

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2. 2020 Make Nine

This informal challenge has grown in popularity in each year on Instagram, where crafters have been sharing their lists of 9 projects they want to make in a given calendar year. Just search #makenine2020 (or last year’s #2019makenine) for loads of inspiration – this self-guided challenge can be customized for any craft or skill level! Following along with what other folks intend to make and how they progress throughout the year will be just as fun as sharing your own to-do list and progress throughout 2020.

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3. #Spin15ADay in 2020

This is another Instagram-based yearly event that challenges spinners to spin for just 15 minutes each day of the year. Of course, you can spin for more than 15 minutes if you like, but the point is to get in you in the habit of daily spinning, allowing you to enjoy your craft while explore new fiberst, techniques, and the like. There is also a Ravelry group dedicated to the #Spin15 challenge for those who aren’t on Instagram.

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4. Yarn Stash Destash

This 14-day challenge guides crafters through daily tasks, making it easy to sort through the various supplies, books and tools associated with knitting. Although this challenge focuses specifically on yarn for knitting and crochet, each prompt can easily be reframed to cover just about any craft supplies you need to sort through, from fiber to fabric and all points in between. Originally posted near the end of 2019, participants are encouraged to tackle the challenge in their own time whenever they  wish; the first prompt can be found here on Instagram, and from there you can scroll through the @ithoughtiknewhow Instagram feed to find the rest of the tasks.

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5. Ravelry Challenge

In its third year, this simple challenge takes place in your Ravelry notebook. Just click the “Challenge” tab on the far right to declare how many projects you want to complete in 2020 – you can change your goal at any time. Throughout the year as you mark projects complete in your Notebook, Ravelry will track your progress towards your goal. If you have a lot of WIPs (Works in Progress) left over from 2019 or sometimes struggle with finishing projects once you start them, this is a low-stress way to keep yourself motivated & accountable throughout the year.

We’d love to hear about your own crafty resolutions for 2020 in the comments below. Be sure to share photos of what you’re carding, spinning and felting over on Instagram using the #strauchfiber hashtag, too!
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3 (More) Ways to Give Back With Handmade Crafts

Although crafters can use their gifts to help those in need year-round, the holiday season is  an excellent time to search out more ways to make a positive difference in the world by donating handmade items where they are needed most. 

Last year, we blogged about an organization called Growing Peace in Afghanistan, where we sent one of our drum carders to be used by the women who process fiber for finished goods which support their families. In that post, we also shared some suggestions for charitable giving, and would like to share a few more with you in today’s post!

Close-up of hands knitting

  1. Your Community: While there are many national and international organizations doing good work, there’s plenty that can be done in your immediate community – you just need to know where to look. A good start is to call local hospitals, shelters, nursing homes and even hospices to ask them about their current needs. They may have restrictions on types of fibers or care requirements for donated goods, so you’ll want to make sure that whatever you are donating meets those conditions, otherwise your donation will be in vain!
  2. I’m Not Lost: If you have a lot of hats, scarves and mittens and happen to live in a cold climate, this might be a good option for you. As mentioned here on the Mason-Dixon blog, you simply leave your handmade item in a public place (i.e. parks, outdoor shopping centers, etc.) with a small note that says it’s not lost! Of course, there is no guarantee that a person in need will find it, but it’s better than having it sit in a drawer or storage bin in your house, unworn.
  3. Hat Not Hate: In 2019, the #HatNotHate campaign collected 23,117 blue hats to promote their anti-bullying message in schools throughout the US. While these donations do not necessarily target those in need of warmth, the positive message of spreading kindness is certainly worth supporting, don’t you think? In 2020, their goal is to collect 100,000 hats – click here to find out how you can contribute.

Do you have a charity where you donate your finished handmade projects? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Easy DIY Felted Ornaments from Felted Batts

Last month, we showed you how to wet felt a batt to make felted coasters. This month, we’ll show you an easy DIY project for making festive holiday ornaments!

project-supplies

Supplies: 

1 felted batt (click here for a step-by-step photo tutorial)

Cookie cutters

Heavy card stock 

Fine-tip pen

Scissors (we recommend two pairs, 1 for cutting paper and 1 for cutting fiber)

Ribbon, string, twine or yarn in approx 10-12” lengths (for hanging ornaments)

Straight pins

Darning needle

optional-supplies

Optional embellishments: embroidery thread, small beads or sequins (will require needle & thread to attach); additional wool (will require a needle felting tool)

To Make Ornaments:

First, take the cookie cutters and trace the outline of each shape on the cardstock. Cut out to create a template that you’ll use on your batts. 

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Pin the template to your batt and cut around shape as shown below to remove from batt (this will make it easier to cut more precise lines in a moment!).

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Cut remaining fiber into the shape of your template like so:

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Use the darning needle to attach your ribbon, string twine or yarn at the top of each ornament for hanging anywhere you like.

cut-out-shapes

Your ornaments can be used as-is, or you can embellish them with embroidery thread, small beads, sequins, or needle felted details! 

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Not only do they look great on a tree…..

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….You can also attach them to gifts for added decoration.

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For more fun DIY ideas for celebrating the season, check out our Pinterest board here.

Happy holidays from all of us at Strauch!

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How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Wet felting is a technique that uses friction to blend together wool fibers into a solid sheet. Today, we’ll show you how to felt batts straight from your drum carder into a thick sheet of felt that you can cut into smaller squares to be used as mug rugs or coasters. This is a fun, fast DIY idea for holiday gifts, or any time of year, and it’s oh-so-easy to do.

Wet felting supplies - How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Supplies:

2-3 finished batts (we used a striped batt and a heathered batt from this previous blog tutorial, the number of batts you use will determine the resulting thickness)

Mesh screen, cut into two equal pieces, approx. 20”x30”

Bubble wrap – two equal pieces to match mesh screens

2-3 plastic shopping bags

Old towel

Container filled with hot soapy water (you can use dish soap or a wool wash like Eucalan)

Large, waterproof work area (kitchen table or counter, or card table works well)

Rubber bands

Rotary cutter

Cutting mat with grid

Acrylic ruler

Instructions:

Start out by preparing the batt for the wet felting process. You’ll do this by creating a series of layers, starting with the first mesh screen. Place 1 layer of bubble wrap on top, then lay the first batt in the middle of the screen & bubble wrap.Rip second batt in half and lay both pieces on top of first batt to cover from top to bottom like so:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Place second mesh screen on top of batts. Your layers should look like this:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - how to layer batts

Begin dousing everything with hot soapy water and work through with your hands by rubbing in small, circular motions. Once fibers are soaked through, rub more vigorously and add more hot, soapy water if needed.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - add warm, soapy water

Tightly roll up your shopping bags and secure with rubber bands like so:

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - rolled up shopping bag

Starting at one end, begin rolling the screens and fiber around the shopping bags and secure with rubber bands.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Place a fresh towel on your work area, and then begin rolling everything back and forth approximately 50 times, working your rolled up fiber across the length of your forearms, from elbow to wrist and applying pressure as you work. Friction aids the felting process, so make sure you are very thorough!

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts

Remove rubber bands and unroll everything. Remove top screen layer and flip everything over and roll up again as before, then roll 50 more times to ensure even felting on both sides. Repeat this process until the batts are felted.

Unroll, remove felted batt from screens and bubble wrap, and rinse under cold water in the sink until the soap is removed (if you used a no-rinse detergent like Eucalan, you can skip this step!). Reshape if necessary and lay flat to dry.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - lay felted batt flat to dry

Once your batts are dry, use your rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat to cut into 4-inch square coasters. If you don’t have these supplies handy (or prefer a different shape), you can take a piece of heavy cardstock and draw your desired shape on it, then cut it out with scissors to use as a template when cutting your felted batt into pieces.

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting felted batt into pieces

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting felted batt into pieces

Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can embellish your coasters with embroidery or needle felted accents, and you can even stitch two together to create a thicker quilt-style coaster. The possibilities are endless!

How to Wet Felt Coasters from Carded Batts - cutting squares to make felted coasters

We’d love to see what you’re carding, spinning and felting over on Instagram – be sure to share your photos using the #strauchfiber hashtag!
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Staple Length: A Quick Guide for Fiber Artists

The term staple length is frequently used when talking about fleece and fiber, but have you ever wondered why staple length matters and how it affects your choice of tools and techniques in a given project? In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about staple length, but were afraid to ask!

What is Staple Length?

Staple length refers to the average length of the average length of a single length of fiber in its natural, unprocessed form (as it comes off the animal or plant). Natural fibers have a wide range of possible lengths depending on where they come from, whereas a continuous synthetic fiber or natural silk thread would be referred to as a filament. Fibers are generally classified as: 

Short – up to 4 inches* (ex: cashmere, yak down, merino wool and some cottons)

Medium – between 3-5 inches (ex: medium wools such as Dorset, Suffolk or Cheviot)

Long – 5 inches or longer (ex: Blue Faced Leicester, Lincoln, Romney, Teeswater)

You can test the staple length of any fiber by hand by simply removing a portion of it and measuring it with a ruler; this was how staple length was determined before machinery was invented for faster and more precise measurement!  

*yes, there is some overlap between short and medium staple length!

measuring fiber staples

Why Staple Length Matters

Knowing the average staple length of your fleece and fiber will help you choose the right tools and techniques to get it to do what you want.  Generally speaking, shorter fibers are finer and require more twist to hold together making them more challenging to work with. You can alleviate these challenges by adjusting your fiber preparation (discussed below) or blending your shorter-stapled fibers together with longer stapled components. Longer fibers can be drafted easily and generally hold together with slightly less twist,  so a beginner would probably want to get their feet wet with some longwools before diving into shorter-stapled fibers such as cashmere or merino wool. 

Staple Length & Processing Fibers

When it comes to processing fibers, your goal is to preserve the natural staple length as much as possible. Never cut into your fiber with scissors or a blade; if you need to separate fibers, pull from either end gently until a piece of the fiber comes away naturally. 

The good news is that our drum carders are designed to be universal machines that can process the shortest, finest fibers up to the longest of longwools without damaging fibers (you can learn more about choosing & using the right drum carder for you in our free PDF guide, Drum Carding 101). 

strauch drum carder with fibers

Staple Length & Handspinning

You will want to keep your hands positioned approximately a staple-length apart as you draft. For short-stapled fibers, this can be a real challenge, and that’s where fiber preparation can come into play: some folks like to turn their short-stapled fibers into punis or rolags, which allow for easier spinning using a long draw method. We have a quick tutorial on making rolags on a Strauch drum carder, found here

Another option is to spin from the fold, a technique in which you break off a section of your combed top, fold it over your finger, and then begin drafting out fiber from the center, as shown below.

handspinning from the fold

Handspinning Resources & Tutorials

Once you understand the concept of staple length, you can dig into more specific handspinning techniques. Here are some resources to bookmark:

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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Mike’s Fiber Journal: 2019 Fall Festival Recap

As the 2019 fiber festival season winds down, we’d like to check in and share a few snapshots from our most recent appearances at the Shenandoah Fiber FestivalFall Fiber Festival and Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF)!

Preparation is key for each show – here are some Jumbo Ball Winders that are almost ready for their new forever home:

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We had a great time at the Shenandoah Fiber Festival, which took place Sept. 28 & 29 in Berryville, Virginia. It’s always fun to chat with Strauch fans while showing them how our tools and equipment can make processing fiber and winding yarns easier!

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At the Fall Fiber Festival in Montpelier, Virginia the following weekend, we happened upon a booth with a familiar sight inviting us in:

IMG_5062That beautiful Strauch Double Wide Drum carder belongs to Liza from The Foldout Cat, a small business focusing on fiber and freestyle Saori weaving. Her booth was filled with beautiful colors and fibers which could be blended into beautiful batts on the spot!

IMG_0151IMG_0152Seeing the animals that produce the fibers we love is another reason we enjoy fiber festivals! We’ve seen sheep, alpacas, goats and more throughout 2019 alone. Here are a few shots from these most recent shows:

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For a truly “fleece to fiber” experience, you can shop for fleece by the bagful, sorted by breed, fiber grade, or use:

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If you’re lucky, you can watch a real pro evaluate and prepare a fleece for processing, which is always a great learning experience!

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Our final show for 2019 was the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Fletcher, NC this past weekend. We had a great time at this show, which is always a busy one to close out the season. This year’s show hall did not disappoint, it was filled with plenty of inspiration!

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We were hosted by our friends at The Earth Guild, and here is our corner of the booth, ready for shoppers:

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Mike’s daughter helped out, making sure that the ball winder was properly set up for winding demos.

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And of course, you’re bound to run into a fiber animal or two along the way. At this year’s show, we met a very large and fluffy angora rabbit!

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We’ll be adding shows for 2020 soon; 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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Drum Carding 101: How To Re-Card a Batt for Better Blending

Have you ever carded a batt and wished that the colors were blended just a little bit more to create a more subtle look? Although Strauch carders are designed to perfectly prepare your fibers for handspinning the first time through (no need to card multiple times!), there are times when you’ll want to re-process a batt for purely aesthetic reasons. In this post, we’ll show you how to re-card any batt with ease, and show you how the same batt looks the first, second and third time through a Strauch drum carder. 

New to drum carding? Click here to get our free e-book, Drum Carding 101!

How Do You Know When to Re-Card a Batt?

Some batts will blend better than others, and ultimately this comes down to a matter of preference. Make sure that you have chosen colors that will not become muddy the more they blend together – click here for more tips on successfully choosing colors for your batt project. 

The style of batt you are making will also affect whether or not it’s a good option for re-carding; a striped batt is more challenging to re-card, while layered and heathered batts are well suited for this technique. We’ll be using two of the batts created in our previous blog post to demonstrate this technique.

better color blending starts with carding batts multiple times on a strauch drum carder

How to Prepare Your Batt for Carding

You will need to do some prep work before sending your batt through the carder again. Start by dividing your batt into smaller strips like so:

Drafting a batt to re-process in the drum carder

Draft out each strip so that you won’t be sending too much fiber through the drum carder during your second pass; make sure to spread the width of the strip out to cover the full width of your drum as well.

If you are working with a striped batt, you will first need to carefully divide each color in your batt as shown above, but then you will need to work with shorter stripes of each color and only draft lengthwise (as shown below) so that you can send all of your colors through the carder at the same time.

drafting strips to re-card a striped batt

Time to Card!

Just as when you card your batt the first time, the name of the game is to turn the drum slowly as you feed each section of fiber back through your carder. If you are making a striped batt, make sure to feed your fiber through in the same order as before so that you can preserve the color placement. 

Here’s the layered batt prior to re-carding….

layered batt prior to re-carding

After processing through the drum carder a second time….

fiber batt carded twice on a strauch drum carder

And a third time!

fiber batt carded three times on a strauch drum carder

Wondering what happens when you card a striped batt a second time? This creates a subtle, slightly more blended or “faded” effect, rather than having well-defined stripes in your batt:

striped batt comparison

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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Drum Carding 101: How To Re-Card a Batt for Better Blending

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3 Ways to Card a PSB (Pumpkin Spice Batt)

What’s your favorite thing about fall? Whether it’s fiber festivals, trick or treating, or pumpkin spice everything, autumn is upon us! This month, we have the perfect batt project to help you celebrate: introducing the PSB, also known as the Pumpkin Spice Batt!

To card up a cornucopia of PSB’s, you’ll need a Strauch Drum Carder (we used a Strauch Petite), and 1/4 oz each of 4-5 fiber colors multiplied by the number of batts you want to make. In our sample palette shown below, we use natural/white, light tan, brick, burnt orange and cocoa brown fibers:

colorpalette

Begin by prepping your fiber into long strips, drafting it out a bit so that it is easier to pass through the carder. Then, decide what kind of batt you want to make!

From L-R: Striped, Layered and Heathered Pumpkin Spice Batts

From L-R: Striped, Layered and Heathered Pumpkin Spice Batts

Option 1: Layered

layeredbattfiberes

Feed your fibers into your carder, one color at a time, starting from light to dark (or vice versa). This creates a layered effect that allows you to spin a yarn that will have a bit of each color in it.

Click here for an in-depth tutorial on making layered batts!

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Option 2: Striped

stripedbattfiber

A maximum of 4 colors works best for this option if you are using a Petite; for drum carders that have a wider drum, you can use between 5-6 colors to create your stripes. Starting from left to right, place the fibers on the infeed tray in the order you wish your stripes to appear (as shown above).

Click here for an in-depth tutorial on making striped batts!

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Option 3: Blended

heatheredbattfiber

Also known as a heathered batt, this option will mix all of your colors together for a more muted effect. You will need to feed your selected colors through your drum carder in equal amounts to achieve a truly homogenous mix – but don’t worry, if your batt isn’t as blended as you like, you can always send it through your carder another time!

Click here and here for in-depth tutorials on making heathered batts!

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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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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.

muskox

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:

boxes

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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