crochetlab #3
crochet
lab





tamara of houndscroft farm talks to crochetlab!
crochetlab report

 

 

 

tamara lepianka at the ren faire

 

 

all material
© linda scharf
linda at
crochetlab dot com


all photos on this
page courtesy of
tamara lepianka

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

portrait of tamara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

houndscroft farm yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

all material
© linda scharf

linda at crochetlab
dot com

 

 

 

 

crochetlab.com::better living thru experimental crochet
art and research about what happens to string when
it is hooked up to a stick, turned loose and
encouraged to run wild

you may take a leisurely stroll/scroll and read the whole “conversation” with tamara, or you can click on a question and be directed to the answer in a trice. but slow is so revolutionary...

august 3, 2005

:: beginnings of the farm
:: houndscroft, the name

:: beginning spinning
:: tamara realizes she is a fiber nut
:: the fiber process and the animals
:: yarn and accompanying decisions
:: dyeing
:: post spinning processes
:: more post spinning: knots
:: thoughts about how the yarn will be used?
:: yardages spun
:: the anti moth
:: community/individual question
:: irish proverbs
:: mythical animals
:: wheels
:: ren faires & blogs


So you've been spinning for a year? You've said that you decided to start
spinning after buying a farm. So how did you decide to buy a farm in
Kentucky?

I’m originally from Kentucky but left the state for college, got married and lived all over the place for about 10 years…the best was 4 years in Europe, but that’s a different story. Eventually we decided to return to KY. I always knew I wanted a farm, and my husband (who’s from Chicago) was easily suckered into that fantasy (he didn’t know any better).

So we found this perfect rolling 23 acre farm and had to have it. Of course, once we got settled in the question came up “What are we actually going to farm?” In our other lives (the life that pays the mortgage) we’re both computer engineers…but without something to actually ‘farm’ we were just a city boy and an optimistic dreamer with a nice plot of land.

So we tossed around a few ideas and then tossed them out. My garden was a failure, so any notion of raising plants was pitched. I couldn’t raise any animals that might be mistaken for food…I’m a vegetarian. So our choices drastically reduced we were left with 1.) horses 2.) chickens – for the eggs or 3.) sheep. Well, horses are very expensive, chickens are pretty boring, and sheep…I didn’t know anything about sheep. So, up came Google, typed in ‘sheep’ and ‘Oh My God!’ I had absolutely no frick’n idea there were as many sheep breeds as dogs! I was hooked…but still didn’t know what I was going to do with them.

Then one night, while innocently sipping a Starbucks Café Mocha in our local Barnes & Noble, I spotted ‘Spin Off’ magazine. I thumbed through, had an epiphany, bought the mag and within a week had ordered an entire raw Romney fleece off the Internet (Skylines Farm) and ordered a drop spindle from The Woolery. The next few months were spent researching everything on the Internet I could find about sheep, wool, spinning, etc. Then came the 2004 Greencastle IN Fiber Fair and the rest is history…


Did you name the farm? If so, how did you choose the name?

I did name the farm. I spent over a year considering names. I knew I wanted something unique and something very English. The farm is not the typical white clapboard two story farmhouse…it’s actually a two story red brick house over grown with English Ivy and Wisteria (thank you Ms. Chitwood for planting those vines 30 years ago, they’re priceless!) So, I started looking for English house names. The English still have a tradition of naming their homes, so during my research I happened upon a map of the Cotswolds. There I found a little hamlet called Houndscroft (in Amberley). I immediately loved the name. If you go to here and click Local Photos you can see pictures of the real town. It’s gorgeous.


How did you begin to learn spinning?

I started with a drop spindle like most. I never had a teacher, but after reading Spin Off and a few tutorials on the web I figured out enough to get a few decent yarns off the spindle. I practiced a lot! I’ve always been a do-it-yourself, artsy type person so diving into a new medium wasn’t really that strange…Looking back it’s weird that that I completely avoided any type of fiber art during art classes at school! Go figure.

Another funny thing is I didn’t know anything about roving or commercially prepared fibers so I started with a whole raw fleece! So, my first real experience was picking hay out of wool and trying not to felt it when I washed it. By the time I actually got to a point where I had fiber I could spin I was pretty excited.


You've said you're a fiber nut. When and how did you come to realize this?

It crept up on me under the guise of researching sheep breeds. For the first few months when I was using hand carders and my drop spindle, I was always more into the fiber than the yarn. I bought different fleeces from everywhere, because I was still trying to figure out what breed of sheep I was going to get for the farm…I wasn’t really that concerned about the yarn. Then one day I realized I had about 30lbs of wool from 10 different breeds of sheep and still hadn’t picked a breed to buy…it was time to ‘do something’. So, I bought a Lendrum wheel and a Louet drum carder so I could spin my way through the fiber stash quicker, so I could buy more…


How early in the fiber process do you get involved? Now that you're starting
to acquire animals, do you anticipate changes in your spinning? Are you
choosing animals based on any particular requirements/characteristics?

I like wool right off the animal. A raw fleece tells you so much about the animal. You can tell how healthy it is and how well it’s been cared for. Of course, I do buy some processed fiber, but mainly for high quality white wool that I want to dye.

I did finally settle on getting Shetland sheep. They just seemed to be the most versatile breed. Their wool is long, typically soft and fast growing, they’re small and easy to handle, they don’t need their tails docked and they come in 11 different colors. Amazingly I found a registered breeding flock only about 5 miles from my farm. So last fall the shepherd agreed to breed her ewes especially for me. The lambs, two boys and a girl, were born the first week of May and they just arrived on our farm a few weeks ago. Since three doesn't exactly make a flock, and I had trouble finding more Shetlands I bought 7 little Icelandic lambs. They have absolutely wonderful fleeces! At two months old they already had 5"-6" of fleece! I also bought three Jacob lambs, but ended up bringing home four because the breeder had an old Jacob/Rambouillet ewe they didn't want and asked if I'd give her a home. How could I say no? There are pictures on my website of all the animals. They are so sweet.

I don’t know that my spinning will change now that I have animals. Although
I'll have a lot of my own wool, I think I'll still purchase fibers from other
farmers to keep the variety in the yarns.


How do you decide what to try next in a yarn?

I like texture, so usually I’m trying to find a new way to make a yarn interesting without just mixing colors. I like the fiber to inspire me too. I’m not real good at looking at a 3lb bag of white merino and being able see the possibilities…I would really suck as a painter, because the blank white canvas would be my undoing! So far, I have more yarn ideas than I have time to spin, so I write a lot of ideas down and keep them for reference. Sometimes I think of a yarn name first and then try to imagine what a yarn would look like with that name. I write those down too. When I’m ready to spin, I just go over both lists, pick something I want to make and go for it. Other times I just see a pile of fiber, inspiration hits and I spin it…


What are the particulars on dyeing? Do you dye your own, and if so, what
kinds of things do you use for dyes? How much is surprise in the results
and how much pretty much what you expected?

I hate having to wait for wool to dry before I can spin it, so I don’t particularly like dyeing…but I do it. I primarily use Jacquard dyes, but I’ve used Kool Aid and food coloring. Sometimes I’ve been surprised with results, but that was mostly in the beginning when every color was a new experiment, now things a little more predictable. I don’t make dyeing a science, so there are no measurements and nothing is written down. I just wing it and shoot for a color close to what I’m looking for. If it doesn’t happen, then I try again and save the ‘surprise’ for something else.


Your post-spinning yarn treatment sounds unique. How did you come up with
these methods? What were you aiming for with these treatments?

When I was first learning to spin I read a lot of different ideas about how to set the twist in a single ply yarn, but the most common was to tie the skein in 4 or 5 places and wash it. I did this, making sure not to stretch the yarn so it wouldn’t lose its bounce just like everyone suggested. Well, after spinning about a dozen normal yarns and following everyone’s instructions I was ready to start experimenting with something else. I was also sick of trying to untangle the skeins after they had been washed. So I decided I wanted to wash and dry the skein on a wooden frame to see what would happen. The result was a rope-like single that would hang straight like a well balanced two ply and I liked it. At first I wrapped the yarn around a wooden cutting board, but that left with little corner bends because the board had straight edges. So I decided I needed a frame with rounded sides. After a few trips to Home Depot, I drew up a design made out of two pieces of 1” dowel and two bull nose trim pieces for stair treads (looks like a 12” long piece of 1”x2” with one side rounded off). The result is a wooden frame just large enough to fit in my kitchen sink. When I want to create a rope-like yarn I just wrap the single around the frame, give it a good wash and let the yarn dry on the frame.

tamara's frame


The knots you tie to hold your yarn together are the best! How did you
decide on this way of tying knots?

I never really thought about it being that unusual! I used to wrap the skeins around a 1 yard frame in order to make is easy to count the yardage. Then I decided to tie each end with a string so it didn’t tangle before I twisted it into a skein. The ties also keep the skein neat while I played around with the yarn trying to get a good photo (which is a pain). Then one day I found an awesome printer online that does full color printing and so I had two sided labels printed where I could write down the yarn details on the back. That makes it easy to just thread string through the label and use it to secure the two ends of the skein. Recently I’ve replaced the 1 yard frame with a 2 yard version. This makes the skeins longer so bulky yarns are easier to tie.


How do you (or DO you?) take into account the fact that your yarns will be
knitted/crocheted/woven into projects? What effects, if any, do you build
into the yarn?

I always try to think about how a yarn will be used. Not being a weaver, I usually think about how a yarn will look either crocheted or knitted. I want my yarns to be user friendly and inspire someone else’s creativity. I really love the fact that I can create something wholly unique, that is able to stand on it’s own as a creative work, but that ultimately it will go on to be incorporated into someone else’s vision. That is always so exciting! My yarns are really just a raw material for another artist, so I get to be a silent partner in every project where my yarns are used! I don’t know of any other medium outside of fiber art where an artist gets to create something to pass to another artist to create something else. Spinners, fiber painters and papermakers get to be so creatively involved in another artists’ work and that’s just so cool.


What determines the yardages you spin?

Usually the amount of fiber I have for a particular yarn. I normally start with just a general idea for a yarn first, and then I gather the fibers I want to use. I only dye or blend the amount I think I’ll need. I never do bulk dye lots, and I custom blend or card the roving for each yarn in small batches. Sometimes this process happens in reverse though, and I just start experimenting with dye or blends and that inspires the yarn. Either way, I usually have a finite amount of fiber for a particular yarn. For yarns that should be a relatively consistent mix of fibers from start to finish I take the entire pile of fiber, beads, ribbons, whatever and divide that down into even smaller piles so that I know I won’t run out of any one item before I finish the skein.


Any anti-moth secrets?

Lots of light. I read somewhere that moth damage is actually caused by the larvae and not the moth, and that they always prefer to lay their eggs in dark locations. So as long as the wool is out in the open and well lit moth damage can be avoided. So far I’ve found this to be true (and not, as my husband claims, just a ploy to leave my fiber laying all over the house!) If this theory really is true then actually I have a much higher chance of having moth damage to my own sweaters tuck away in my closet than to my fiber or yarns. So far I have neither, and I hope it stays that way! Recently I installed racks on the wall of my craft room where I can hang my yarn inventory, and that helps keep everything out in the open and within easy reach.


Do you feel that you belong to any particular community or feel more like
an individual practitioner of a craft?

Both. I like to think that I’m a very eclectic person who is just out here “doing my own thing”, but at the same time I think the Internet has proved to us all that we’re not alone in anything. I’m not a ‘joiner’ so I don’t belong to any spinning groups and there are no local yarn or spinning shops to hang out in, so in a sense I am just out here all alone, but at the same time all I have to do is turn on my computer and suddenly I’m surrounded by people who think having rooms full of wool and two sets of cookware (one for cooking, one for dying ) is completely normal.


You had a quote on your site, "to learn the craft..." (Can you quote the
exact line again? I've forgotten, but I liked it.) What's your connection
to that quote?

“It destroys the craft not to learn it.” This is an Irish proverb. I don’t have any particular connection to it, but I thought it was relevant to the old crafts like spinning. Spinners practice a craft that has been traced back to prehistoric times. The quote reminded me that we can’t take these old skills for granted, and that it’s our responsibility to pass them on to others. A craft is in much greater danger of extinction when it changes from being a necessary skill to a pastime, so we need to make a conscious effort to learn and to teach. I think this is particularly important in our current ‘Walmart’ society where people are more concerned about quantity than quality. Like Lexi of Pluckyfluff, I think manufactured products are soulless clones. They deprive our society of an identifiable culture. We need to support craft in all forms, either by learning it or by supporting the artists and artisans who practice it. (I could go on and on about this, but I’ll stop now before the ranting starts…)


Any elusive or mythical animals/creatures fibers you'd like to spin?

I’d love it if we could find a way to spin spiders’ silk. I know the military is working on a technique to create cloth armor from it, and it would just be too awesome if we could find a way to work with it like we do bombyx silk.


What kind of wheel/wheels do you use? Do you also do some drop-spindling?

I have a Lendrum wheel. I shopped around a lot before buying, and just really liked the clean look and basic features of the Lendrum. There was a six week wait to get it, but it was definitely worth it. I can’t compare it to other wheels, since this is the only one I’ve ever used, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. (There’s a real nice write up on Gordon Lendrum, who designs and builds the Lendrum Wheels, in the spring 2005 issue of Spin Off.)

I still use a drop spindle. I enjoy the more ‘hands on’ feel I get when using a spindle, but the wheel is just so much faster that I don’t spend as much time spindling as I would like. I do use a spindle exclusively for all my plying though. It gives me a lot more control over the yarn and makes it easier to create some of the plying effects like coils.


Everything about your site seems so thorough and meticulous! You really
get into the nitty-gritty details of the processes that you describe. Are
you just naturally so detail oriented or is this characteristic one you
have to work at?

I’ve always been a very detail oriented person. I’m not Jack Nicholson, “As Good As It Gets” obsessive, but I am very unforgiving when it comes to the details. I like to tell myself that spending hours picking hay bits out of wool is teaching me patience, but really it’s just to distract me from driving the rest of my family crazy. Luckily, in my other life as a computer engineer it’s a big asset to be aware of all the little bits and bytes. I also spend a lot of time writing technical documentation, so describing processes in minute detail does come pretty easy for me. My readers probably don’t enjoy it much…but I can’t help it. It’s a sickness.


On your website, you note that you and your husband attend Renaissance
Faires. What level of participation do you engage in? How's your husband's
jacket tunic coming along?

We first discovered Renaissance Festivals when we were living in Germany, but never really got involved stateside until about 5 years ago. Then we found a copy of Renaissance magazine and were amazed to discover how many there are every year! Unfortunately for us Kentucky has more Civil War Reenactments than Renaissance events, so we usually make plans to go to the Ohio Renaissance Festival at least once or twice each year. If there are any smaller festivals in the area we’ll go. For now we just make it a family outing, but I keep wondering why there aren’t any hand spinners with booths. Maybe I’ll retire from my tech job, become a Ren Rat and just sell yarns from a booth! Huuummmm…..

Anyway, we do dress for the occasion and buy all the weird gear. We own swords, armor, helmets, musical instruments…the works. I’m still spinning the yarn for my husband’s leather and wool tunic, and I think I’ll have it finished in time for him to wear it this year. I’m keeping updates on my site, and hopefully when it’s done he’ll model it for a pic that I can post on the site.

houndscroft farm yarn

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