Monday, January 13, 2014

Fiber Curio + Sundries

Purchased at SOAR: CVM blend roving
I met Ellen and Wanda, the two women who run Fiber Curios and Sundries, at SOAR this past October. Their booth was filled with interesting natural fibers and hand-dyed yarns. After chatting with Ellen for a while, it became clear that they had an incredible passion for locally-grown, sustainable fibers.

The company is relatively new, having started last year (their website says that neither Ellen nor Wanda have given up their day jobs yet!). I was able to interview Ellen via email* to learn more about their dedication to sustainable yarns and fibers and find out what's in store for 2014!

Etsy shop purchase: 100% CVM roving
+ fiber samples
Your shop is dedicated to locally grown and sustainable fibers. Tell us why sustainability in fiber production is so important to you and why they should also be important to handspinners!

When the issue of sustainability is raised, the reason that is at the forefront in my mind is to decrease reliance on petroleum based products. Even what seems like a sustainable fiber may not really be so "green" if the manufacturing process is not as environmentally friendly as possible. Superwash wool, for instance, uses a sustainable fiber, but the manufacturing process adds to its carbon footprint and also weakens the fiber by removing that outer scale layer from the wool.

I'm not really qualified to comment further on the issue of sustainability; we have an incredible agricultural tradition and the richest set of natural resources of any country. It's just important for us to use what we have and delight in these resources.

Wool and most animal fibers are produced efficiently as long as the animal is healthy and properly cared for. Taking good care of the animals as well as producing lovely fiber is a common passion we share withour suppliers of fleeces. We don't confine ourselves to "local" in the strict sense of the word because we do buy fleeces from all across the United States, but we buy our fleece directly from those who have raised the animals. I think it's important to remember how much it costs to raise these animals because hay, vet bills, and shearing are all expensive - all of these factors must be taken into consideration when purchasing fleece. In the long run, preservation of family farms and relationships between people makes our world a better place. If you knit a scarf from handspun wool that was grown on a small farm, you have a treasure that resonates with hard work, good values, and wonderful tradition.

CVM sheep
What is the process for deciding which fiber blends to use in your rovings? 

We both have developed a fondness for specific types of fiber. Wanda has worked a lot with CVM (California Variegated Mutant), and she thinks of it as the American merino. I have an attachment to Shetlands, love their rainbow of colors, their primitive characteristics, and the ease with which Shetland wool spins. When we develop a roving, we may have a specific idea in mind, such as we want the luster of Blue Faced Leicester and to enhance it with silk and then plan to make hand dyed roving. Or we may just want to try a blend, such as chocolate CVM with a fine brown llama, two compatible fibers that happened to be the same color; it came out like chocolate overdose! We have developed "hair color" bi-alpaca blends, with suri and huacaya in a color range such as blonds, redhead, gray, and then usually add wool for memory to the spun yarn and possibly mohair. These yarns have good luster, lots of drape, as well as great depth of colors. We play a lot, but every fiber we offer is one we have used ourselves and want to spin.
Hand-dyed Cheviot sock

Besides an array of spinning fibers, you also have some interesting yarns - the Cheviot sock yarn you showed me at SOAR was memorable, for example. Tell us about what makes it so special!

Our own line of sock yarns started with a question,"why is commercial sock yarn almost always merino?" I was just learning about wool, and it did not make sense to me. The irony is I am not a sock knitter (learning), but I asked a number of people including some really interesting knitters on the Men Who Knit Forum, and I did a lot of reading. A number of other people had already voiced similar opinions. I also had some concerns about the issue of machine washability, because lots of us don't have time to fuss. At any rate, I spun a yarn from Cheviot, and Eric, my knitting "pen pal," knit me a lovely pair of socks. I had already tried felting the Cheviot, and when I found it to be felt resistant, I just had to try machine washing. No felt, no shrink, and what a great cushy pair of socks! From there we tested millspun Cheviot blended with silk and mohair, and the results were the same. Since then, we have also found Texel to be felt resistant. Hence, we have sock yarn that is more durable than merino, all natural, and machine washable. The results might be similar with some other down type breeds, but at present we are happy with a good combination of staple length, bounce, durability, and comfort. It's just a matter of converting one sock knitter at a time.

What are your plans for 2014? Are there any regional fiber shows you're planning to attend?

In 2014, we plan to be at a number of fiber festivals, including Sticks and Strings in Des Moines, Shepherd's Harvest in Vinton, IA, Fiber Palooza in Winterset, IA, and Iowa Sheep and Wool in Colfax. We also vend sometimes at art festivals. We have a number of fiber related projects going on that are not just about spinning and yarn, and we keep learning, which I think is the best part of all of this.

See it Spun

I purchased 2 oz. roving blend of Gray CVM, Black Alpaca, Silk and Bamboo from the Fiber Curio & Sundries Booth at SOAR; after the holidays, I purchased 4 oz. of Gray CVM from their Etsy Shop, and they also included a few fiber samples with my order. Such fibery goodness!

I decided to spin 3 singles to ply together (one comprised of the light gray CVM blend and two from the newly-purchased gray CVM). As with many natural fibers, there was a small amount of vegetable matter which I encountered while spinning, but not so much as to alter the rhythm of my spinning. The resulting skeins are beautifully heathered and ultra-soft; I can't wait to knit with them!

For those of you wondering, CVM stands for California Variegated Mutant; it is a multicolored variation of the Romeldale sheep which is classified as a finewool in Clara Parkes' Book of Wool. The CVMs were developed in the 1960s when a multicolored lamb was found in a flock of pure white Romeldales. The shepherd, Glen Eidman, decided to develop this variation separately, focusing on color and fleece quality. Since the majority of the (pure white) Romeldale clip was sold to the Pendleton Woolen Mills, Eidman marketed the CVMs to handspinners.
I spun singles from the three samples they included with my order (from L-R above): baby alpaca/CVM lamb blend, a BFL/Huacaya Alpaca/Suri Alpaca/silk blend, and a a CVM/llama blend. To be honest, I enjoyed spinning each one; all three were quite different from one another, and it was really interesting to spin them back-to-back. If I had to pick my favorite, I would say the baby alpaca/CVM blend was my favorite: it was buttery soft and all but spun itself. I definitely would like to get my hands on this fiber again.
The BFL/Alpaca/silk blend was also interesting to spin; it was very light and lofty, and it took me a little bit of fiddling to find the right amount of tension while spinning. Once I did, it created a really lovely single, which I then navajo plied (as I did the other two samples).

If you're a fan of natural fibers, Fiber Curio and Sundries are worth checking out - happy spinning!

*Wanda also reviewed Ellen's interview answers prior to sending my way, for those of you who might have been wondering!

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