Archive for the ‘spinning and fiber’ Category

mixed greens

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

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our area was literally engulfed in rain during the time i was in new york and for several days after my return. it was so dark and dreary in fact, that i caught myself dozing off at my desk at the most unlikely times (like 9:15 am after waking up at 7!).

it wasn’t all bad though—our garden certainly got off to a healthy start with all of that delicious rain to feed it. but the weeds also benefitted and by the weekend, things were looking more than a little bedraggled out there.

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so when the skies cleared on monday and actually stayed that way into the evening, david and i made it our business to get out to the garden for some much needed cleanup.

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when i first got home last thursday, the swiss chard were mere sprouts, an inch high with a couple of cotyledons. by sunday afternoon they were six inches tall with several sets of true leaves and in dire need of thinning. i knew if i didn’t get it done on monday, it would be several days before i would be able to get back to it and by then the roots would have set, making the job more difficult.

so first i got to work on that, gently removing seedlings that were growing one on top of the next. the largest and most intact ones i replanted all around the garden, wherever i could find space; i figure they should “take” somewhere or other. there almost can’t be too many greens  . . . says she.
(i love greens; they are my favorite garden thing and i could eat them every day. that said, i have almost no time to deal with a boatload of garden produce each day, so we shall see!)

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there were many, many seedlings that were much too small or broken to transplant; these i placed in a small basket and plunged into an ice bath inside the house to soak and wash. after our garden work was done for the night (essentially, when it got too dark to see), we made big salads for dinner and used these as an ingredient. tiny green sprouts like these are one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat—go us.

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the next thing on my agenda was pruning the tomato plants. tomatoes produce best when they have few leggy limbs to divert energy from the fruits. lateral growth should be nipped in the bud because it encourages overgrowth of leggy, nonproductive limbs. this takes some time but is SO worth the trouble, especially if you are gardening in a smaller space. i will refer you to the experts for actual advice, demonstration, and illustration of tomato pruning:
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT PRUNING TOMATOES and CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

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our basil is doing wonderfully this year as well—david interspersed it with the tomatoes and it seems very happy (unlike our previous couple of years, when most of our basil failed). you might have noticed that he also put down some black cloth to discourage weeds—something new for us. it will keep some moisture in the soil on hotter days as well and help the mounds keep their shape, too.

BTW, the mounds really showed their advantage during the rainy weeks—the soil drained very well and there was next to no puddles laying around the garden (and by extension, very few insects or nasty fungus).

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this morning i was up at the crack of dawn and went to visit the garden for some photos before the sunlight got too harsh. still damp out there, but with everything weeded, thinned, and trimmed up, the garden looked much, MUCH better.

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tomatoes looking strong and straight, with plenty of space around their stems for air circulation (the better to keep fungus away).

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potatoes growing taller by the hour—they are looking super this year as well. we plant everything in rotation except for the tomatoes (because of their growing frames, we will move them less often). this year the potatoes are in the area where i had greens last year.

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the greens kind of failed in that spot because the earth was so heavy that they couldn’t put down a good tap root. this year we planted potatoes there instead, so they could go to work breaking up some of that clay soil. david made mounds on top of them planted with onions, leeks, and some peppers; garlic is also nearby. with all the root vegetables in one place, we can rotate greens over there next year (leaf follows roots).

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on the other side of the tomatoes, closer to the back street, we have rows of squash, eggplant, beans, and greens. the squash is looking very well so far; fingers crossed that it stays that way.

we have a great variety of squashes in all shapes and colors. another vegetable i love to cook with when it’s fresh form the garden—hopefully, it won’t be long before these first ones are ready.

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look at my eggplant!! i am so pleased over this one—i would have picked it by now but i really want to take it just before i’m ready to cook it and that will be friday night, for either a thai or indian curry. my mouth is already watering. round and oblong eggplants are also on their way to go with the squash into large pots of ratatouille.

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and last but not least at the very back of the garden, my green beans have started climbing the fence—they are on their way and looking good. we just have to make sure now to keep those weekends free in late july and august for putting stuff by when it all comes to fruition.

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remember what i said the other day about those lilies? there you have it, they are blooming.

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around the corner, the dye bed is exploding with meadowsweet blooms—how beautiful are these?

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they are complemented by tansy, also in bloom—no wonder i’m almost choking on pollen, haha.

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out near the front of our yard, the yucca is heavy with flowers as well—i remember when we moved here and this plant was a single short stem; these are well over six feet in height, maybe seven.

i know that these are the best days of gardening, when all the plants are still growing and the weather hasn’t gotten to them. june is so beautiful, but july can be very, very hard on them. let’s hope we don’t have too many big temperature swings or overly dry weeks; i would love to have a successful garden year for once, haha; the last few have been discouraging.

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it’s positively inspiring, to be able to look, touch, smell, and dream on all this luscious green. and you know where i’m funneling all of that inspiration, don’t you? if you guessed ENVY club, that would be correct. excitement is ginning up over in our ravelry clubhouse—if you need a little taste of what’s to come, i highly recommend a visit there, haha. kat is bubbling over to know what we’re going to knit first—let’s keep her company while she exhausts herself guessing, haha.

signups for ENVY club will close in one week; we have some single spots and some double dip upgrades available now, but when they’re gone, there won’t be more. our yarn orders for the entire club are now finalized—get these last ones before someone else does!

 

get my goat

Friday, June 5th, 2015

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when it comes to appearance and behavior, i think goats are my favorite fiber animal. i love their light, springy movements and delicate features; i’m amused by their funny faces, made all the more mischievous when topped by a glowing halo of curly fleece.

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last spring we were lucky to be able to explore mohair fiber in our bare naked knitspot club. and while mohair yarns are plentiful throughout the knitting universe, undyed mohair yarn is scarce—and nonexistent in the quantities we required for our club.

as you know, all we need to hear is that something doesn’t exist and we set off to make it happen. and so it was with our quest to provide a quality mohair yarn that any knitter could love.

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and so we began asking about mohair farms through friends and at shows; this research eventually led us to pinxterbloom farm in eastern pennsylvania, home to john and jeanne frett and their gorgeous flock of angora goats.

in addition to his angora goat enterprise, john  is a professor of landscape horticulture at the university of delaware and director of the university botanic garden.

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at the peak of the season, john’s herd numbers between seventy and  eighty goats, with as many colored goats as he can breed (breeding for color in goats is not very straightforward; for more in-depth information on this topic, please my BNK 2014 eBook).

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by diligent breeding, john has managed to develop a representation of about 25 to 30 percent colored fleeces; these range from reds (brown and fawn fleece) to black (gray and black fleece).

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interestingly, the reds are darkest close to birth and grow lighter as they mature, often ending up with pinkish, creamy white fleeces.

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during our visit to the farm in december 2013, we got to tour the barns and grounds to meet all the adorable residents. john talks about his goats as if they are people; it’s not always clear at first that the characters in his stories are animals.

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john names each new generation after a plant genus; the first born is given the name of the genus (this year it is redbuds, so the first is named redbud) and then each subsequent kid is named for a species in that genus. in march of this year, when i wrote to inquire about kidding season and the availability of fiber, john wrote:

Kidding is finished for the year. Five colored buck kids, 4 brown and one black, and five doe kids, one brown and 4 white. They are off to a great start. This year all of the kids are named after redbuds an early flowering small tree native in this area. Some of the names are, Cercis, Racemosa, Silaquestrum, etc. They are a great source of amusement and inspiration; watching them leap around and dart in and out of the barn is energizing and soul lifting.

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after a look around the place, we headed indoors to and down to john’s basement workshop, where fleeces are sorted and skirted to make them ready for sale. some will be sold to hand spinners at retail wool shows and the rest will be sold on the market for use in making textiles.

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john runs us through the process of sorting, skirting, and measuring the staple length while determining the grade and weight of each fleece. whatever isn’t discarded in placed in a bag and marked with this data, as well as the name of the animal that produced it.

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there was a good stock on hand the day we visited, with some fleeces left from the previous season and some still left to grade from the fall clip.

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as the work progressed downstairs anne marie and i wandered upstairs to talk to jeanne, who showed us the beautiful rolags of hand-carded mohair fiber (she gets pick of the fleeces each year!) as well as some of the beautiful items that she and john make from their handgun mohair yarns. jeanne teaches classes in natural dyeing and uses her soft hues in colorwork projects such as mittens and hats.

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jeanne does natural dyeing, handspring, and knitting; john is a weaver and has a big look on which he can produce blankets and other fabrics.

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we left that day with about 225 pounds of fiber ranging in grade from kid to young adult and in all shades—white, red, steel gray, and black. we drove it straight to sweitzer’s mill for drop off, planning that the largest portion—150 pounds of white and tan fiber—would go into our club yarn, a 60/40 merino/mohair blend in a heavy lace weight.

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the darker fiber—including 25 pounds of kid mohair—would be spun afterward into the first generation of our cabécou brillant sport yarn—in poivre (more about this lustrous blend later).

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the club yarn—chebris lace—turned out lovely and as soon as i had sample skeins in the house i began work on the design we’d be shipping with it.

the 2-ply heavy lace yarn had a bouncy hand and while a bit bumpy in texture, offered great stitch definition. with such a generous yardage (750 yards per skein), i had plenty to knit a shawl project that could be a triangle or square, sturdy enough to be worn every day, but with a wonderful bold edging to show off some knitterly skills.  i kept the main portion of the project in simple garter stitch, which showcases so well the rustic qualities of the yarn but also lends balance and drape to the final fabric.

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the mohair content helped the yarn block out to a beautifully consistent surface, with crisp points accented by a soft sheen. the result pieces were the deliciously soft and cuddly capricorn triangle and amalthea square.

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the triangle is simple, soft, and warm, but also dramatic when you want it to be. it makes a special gift for a new mom—something to toss for those walks between bed and nursery, or when sitting nighttime vigil with a fussy infant.

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and it works equally well for running errands out and about. the pattern includes several sizes so it can be tailored to any function or frame you like.

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on the other hand, the square shape of amalthea is generous enough to perform all sorts of roles—baby square, sofa throw, nap blanket.

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the garter fabric is sturdy and highly functional for these tasks while the grand edging gives it some fancy flare.

the patterns for capricorn and amalthea are now available for purchase in the knitspot pattern shop or in our ravelry pattern shop.

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last summer we started working with a small mill in ohio and eventually they took over the production of our mohair yarns. with the new mill came the opportunity to spin a finer laceweight yarn, so we ran some tests with our luxurious cabécou blend.

this yarn turned out SO beautifully—i just love the fabric it makes.

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hattie knit this stunning pine and ivy sample from just half a skein—isn’t it incredible?

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the way it catches the light; it takes my breath away. the yarn is fine, but has plenty of grip so it’s a pleasure to knit. it will work with such favorite designs as the alhambra scarf, campanula, and nightingale wing stole.

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and we also have it spun in the popular sport weight for more substantial wraps and sweaters

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like this morning glory wrap, the gnarled oakwood wrap, obstacles, or stonewall.

more experimentation resulted in the expansion of our chebris line as well, with variations in sport and worsted weight.

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the worsted weight is so light and poofy; perfect for featherweight blankets, oversized jackets, and soft, delicious caps.

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it’s a knockout in cables—wow.

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the sport weight makes excellent blankets, too. its lofty, bouncy hand—a direct result of using high quality fiber and handling it carefully—allows all of these yarns to be knit on larger needles than you’d expect. it almost seems as if the more room you give to each stitch, the more the yarn will bloom to fill that space. i love that!

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well, i could run on and on, but i’m sure you’re tired of hearing me talk, haha. how about a few more photos to dream on over the weekend?

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knit happens

Monday, May 18th, 2015

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almost there with the big spring woolen wash—it got cold again for a few days, but thankfully i hadn’t washed all of my own sweaters yet (hehe, i know better; i often wear the lighter weight ones into the month of june).

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i’m not going to run on and on about this, but i am SO GLAD i finally made my own wool soap—it is blowing my mind how fresh it smells and how nice it leaves the fabric. i’m serious; i’ve had my favorites, but nothing has ever made my knits this soft and fluffy and glossy looking to boot.

This pea trellis shawl came out so heavenly soft that it feels like cloud matter. i’m not kidding.

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i want to make some for everybody i know—as soon as i find a nicer solvent, which, thanks to the comment from grey dove, i am on it.

(be assured, i will eventually calm down and find something else to be this excited about)

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just two more loads to go and all the samples will be clean. i didn’t count them, but i bet we have a couple hundred items . . .just in BNWs alone. tomorrow we will start retagging the ones that are done to get them ready for our show booth and a special in-store display.

in addition to our booth at the great lakes fiber show next weekend, we will be hosting classes in our shop for our wooster retreat. we still have room for you, should you decide to join us! just email laura (servicesATknitspotDOTcom) if you’d like to come.

so, last time i was here i ran off to meet barb for knit night at the shop and when i arrived, what did she pull out of her bag but another triticum project.

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she’s knitting this one in briar rose sea pearl, a great choice; it’s silky, yet has nice body and wonderful wearability. in fact i have a batch of this exact same colorway—we each bought one at rhineneck in october and i got one for kim3 as well.

barb was so cute with her second triticum project, but i had a surprise for her . . .

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i was starting another one too! i’m knitting one in our stone soup fingering yarn because we are entering a sample in the fashion show at TNNA and i want it to be in a yarn that shops can purchase wholesale from us.

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by the time we left that evening, hers was another half repeat along

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and i had finished the hem ribbing on my left front; i was now ready to work through the body shaping toward the armhole.

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by the time i went to bed, i had worked to the waist and completed all the body decreases. the next day i worked on it a little bit over morning coffee and started the increase pattern that leads to the armhole.

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that night i worked some more and got myself nearly to the armhole; this sweater really goes fast once you get past the hem ribbing (it’s totally worth doing that hem in one diligent sitting so you can get to the fun part).

you can read more about barb’s sweater shenanigans in our triticum knitalong over at ravelry. there are actually TWO triticum KALs—one for bare naked wools too, in case you are knitting with better breakfast fingering or stone soup fingering (or whatever your poison!).

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it’s been so cozy late at night to watch TV with david knitting feverishly next to me on his blanket statement blocks. he has been very dedicated to this project, now that the knitting goes smoothly. at this writing has completed almost half the blocks he needs.

with a special thread in our ravelry clubhouse dedicated to david’s knitting journey, he is taking his obligation to his fans seriously by posting progress, observations, and philosophical musings as frequently as he can manage.

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his yarn and needles are always out and ready to pick up—he never puts them away. david is knitting with all the brown shades of the old breakfast blend DK, a wonderfully round and soft yarn. i really get the feeling that he’s begun to enjoy knitting immensely and look forward to it as a nice ending to each day.

soon he’ll have to pick up a hook as well to do his crochet edges and then sew them up. i am confident he will be fine with the stitching up; david has been sewing since he was a boy.

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my reversible triangle shawl project is quickly moving toward completion; i have moved into the cable and lace hem section and though the rows are getting longer all the time, it feels like things are going much faster.

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i hope to have this project done by monday or sooner; i would like to offer this new pattern at the fiber show next weekend (and of course for everyone online too!).

and once i get this off the needles, i’ll get back to my textured vintage cardigan; i miss it. i also have a couple of secret projects that i’m anxious to start; haven’t had any of those in a while. but with the green club starting in two month’s time, i need to get my samples done.

i’m trying not to think about how i’m ever going to squeeze my gardening in, but somehow it happens every year so i guess i just have to have faith that all will be fine.

i hope you’re having a wonderful weekend; see you soon.

danger—spring cleaning site

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

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when i was growing up, the mention of spring and fall cleaning made me grain inwardly—it wasn’t so much the work (spring cleaning always coincided with easter break from school), but the complete upset to the house that got to me.

my mom left no stone unturned as she made her way through every room in the house, turning out drawers and closets, polishing glass and windows, scrubbing wood floors, doors, and furniture to prepare for rewaxing, washing walls and ceilings, stripping off seasonal bedding, drapery, and slipcovers to replace with its opposite, and finally, tossing out anything damaged, worn out, too small for anyone to wear, or otherwise unfit to keep (some day i’ll tell you about her weekly cleaning routine, haha).

i don’t remember why, but all that disturbance made me feel insecure and at odds with the world.

which is why i never EVER did any of that in an organized way. sure i did big cleanings every six months or so, especially when i moved house (which was frequently for many years). i just never called it spring cleaning and i never did it at the same time each year.

but now that we live in a house—and one that we’ve inhabited for almost thirteen years (gosh, where did that time go??)—i see the point and i wish we could work out some sort of time warp once a year that allowed us a two-week bubble to tackle this place with the fervor it—and we—deserve.

the best i can do is to make sure that certain things are attended to seasonally—the care of our precious woolens, sorting out closets and drawers, a whole-house changeover of textiles (which has the added bonus of providing a change of scenery), cleaning and storing away out-of-season items, and a little extra tidying up.

this week, since i was washing all of my personal wool sweaters to put away for summer,  i took on the added task of washing and refreshing every single one of our (numerous) shop samples. it hasn’t ever been done and they really needed it.

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(washing a ton of wool garments may seem daunting but the resulting fluffy freshness of the clean fabric is totally worth it) 

 

since i work at the house and not in the office, i figured i could put in loads to wash while i worked at my desk. i created three different staging areas (one on each floor of the house) for drying them.

what i hadn’t counted on was running low on wool soap—by yesterday i was dipping into the last bottle of my personal stash of meadows patchouli wool wash. hmmm . . . i though about ordering a large quantity of the unicorn soap we sell in the shop, but realized that i didn’t want to wait til it arrived (ok, i was afraid if the washing came to a halt, i might lose steam or get distracted and not finish it).

i had been exploring the idea of making some solid lotions recently and in the process was introduced to the soap making culture (pretty big). i wondered if i could find a family simple recipe for making wool soap and sure enough, there are several options. and we already had everything i needed in the house. so last night when david went out for a few hours, i decided to try my hand at it.

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these are the ingredients i used. the only one i wasn’t sure about was the denatured alcohol (harmful if swallowed). but almost every recipe i found listed it as an ingredient; from what i can tell, it keeps the soap and any essential oil solvent (in a liquid or semi-liquid state). so i figured that as long as no one drank my wool soap, it would be ok for one batch and that i can search for a better alternative if i plan to make more.

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making wool soap is incredibly easy. first, you grate some soap; i used an old bar of homemade olive oil soap that was gifted to me by a very old woman we met years ago in spain, who makes all her own soap from her family’s olives (i saved it too long and it got hard). this was plenty for my first batch, but in the future i will probably use a commercial olive oil (castile) soap. if you shave the soap very finely, it will dissolve instantly and completely. you can also used commercial soap flakes.

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put it in a bowl and add the same quantity of boiling water; i also added a dab (maybe a couple teaspoons?) of lanolin here, to help protect my woolens. whisk the soap and water together—it will get thick and stretchy, kind of like a caramel mixture. when all the soap is dissolved add the denatured alcohol (1/4 of the water quantity) and optional essential oil (.5  ounce).

i like scent in my wool soap, especially natural ones like cedar, patchouli, eucalyptus, or lavender—they also do double duty to add a layer of moth repellent (not enough to kill moths on its own, but every little bit helps).

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the alcohol thinned and cleared the mixture, making it pourable. the one i used did not have the nicest smell, but the odor dissipated as the mixture stood and cooled. by morning, the soap had a clean fresh scent plus the smell added by the essential oil.

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but i was anxious to test drive it immediately so i rinsed out the mixing bowl and utensils into a washtub and got my most-worn scarf out of the closet to clean. this soap made suds, though less than i am used to, which is fine; it dissolved well in cold water. i used about a teaspoon of soap for this three gallon tub.

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my scarf came out of the wash sparkling clean and fresh smelling—the recipe recommended a vinegar rinse afterward, which i would do in the washer, but did not do in this hand wash test. this soap can be left in without rinsing if desired, but i always rinse my washed fabrics to remove any residues (why not?).

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my gray garden shawlette was looking very pretty by morning, the wool was glossy and full of life. i really love the way the dry fabric feels. while i may make a few tweaks (i would love to find an alternative to the denatured alcohol), i think my soap is a keeper. yay.

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today i did two large loads of woolens with it and i’m even happier now that i tried this approach—when i see the fabrics glowing like this, with that soft halo of fluffy fiber reaching out to me, i’m hooked.

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oops, time for knit night to begin—i have to run. barb will be here in a few minutes!

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