From Ewe to Ewe by Katherine McRose

Today’s guest post has been written by Katherine McRose of Right Choice Shearing.

Projects made by fiber arts are one of the purest forms of crafting. Each movement of the needle, delicate weave, or race of the shuttle is done out of passion, but that’s far from where the love starts. It doesn’t begin at the feeding of the spinning wheel or the carder. The first admiring touch doesn’t occur right before the wash or around the skirting table. No, the first time loving hands touch your fiber is while it’s still on its original owner. After the care of the fiber animal, it starts with the shearing, in the moment between a shearer and their patron when a true connection is formed. In this moment of celebration between the animal and its handler, gratefulness is shared. The animal feels the relief from the fiber coming off and relaxes into the swaying motions of the shearer’s dance. At the same time, the shearer settles into their movements, proud of the mutualistic moment of peace. Without the sheep, the shearer wouldn’t survive, and without shearers, these sheep wouldn’t either.

Getting started and finding our niche

That connection is the reason I’ve continued to shear for the past 12 years. I have experienced no stronger feeling than connecting with an animal, earning their trust, and being a part of maintaining their quality of life. I have been shearing sheep since I was 14 years old. I began by answering a Craigslist ad for sheep shearing. I had never shorn an animal before, but I had watched someone else shear a meat goat. That wasn’t too bad, so this wouldn’t be either, right? Wrong. It took me and a friend 4 hours to shear just 7 sheep. In case you were wondering, they looked horrible, like chewed up foam pillows. However, this lady was so thrilled someone was willing to do it that she told all of her friends about us. That was the start to my business, Right Choice Shearing, which now serves 9 Midwest states, over 5,000 sheep, 1,500 alpacas and llamas, and right at 100 goats, with just myself and my wife, Darian.

We specialize in shearing small hobby farms. Since the decline of the wool industry due to the creation of synthetic fibers, shearers are becoming few and far between. The good ones are retiring with broken down bodies from years of abuse, and the young ones don’t have anyone to learn from. There are still large, thriving, wool operations in the U.S., and the shearers working those circuits are booked 10 months straight, shearing tens of thousands of sheep a year. That leaves no time for the little guys. How can a person say no to 200 sheep in a day for a group of 25 on the side? That’s where we come in. I have a few groups of 100–200 sheep and a farm of 150 llamas which take a whole day themselves, but our days are mostly composed of traveling to 5–8 farms, the most being 14 farms. We are the people who come out for those 2 guard llamas no one can get close to. We show up for the backyard alpacas and the flock of 18 fiber sheep.

Shearing as a hobby shearer

Although we hobby shearers share the same passion and pride for our craft that crew shearers do, we are left to blindly navigate the waters of the shearing industry. I didn’t know another shearer when I started out. I had no mentors to ask questions or YouTube videos to give instruction, so we just faked it until we made it. It didn’t take long to figure out the standard. Shepherds want clean animals with no nicks, so that’s where we started.

Being small women, we quickly realizing that wrestling these very strong animals wasn’t going to be an option. I have always been persistent and decided there would be no animal I couldn’t catch and shear, so I had to learn to work with these beautiful, intelligent creatures. I studied their body language and instinct to better read and control the vibe of the encounter. Llamas, for example, are traditionally cat like in their interactions with humans. Most are not a fan of physical affection and certainty do not want to be restrained. Setting the vibe starts when we step in the pen.

Shearing with confidence

Confidence is a must. The llama needs to know we feel comfortable with them and are certain in our movement. They can sense if we are unsure and feed off of that, making them nervous. We avert our gaze. The llama is staring us down, taking in our presence. Strong, predator eyes induce instant, natural fear. With eyes down, we move slowly towards the animal, one step at a time, guiding them to a safe corner. Now our hands reach out to first meet their body. The llama is typically nervous but, with proper timing, observes we are calm and our touch doesn’t hurt. At this point, the llama usually stands to be haltered. Slow, kind movements bring the halter over their ears and around their snout. These are incredibly sensitive areas for any animal, so completing this step is most of the battle.

Next, the llama is tethered to a post, and one shearer stands on either side to start the trim. This presence keeps the animal from turning its body side to side, again, keeping the energy low. We remove the barrel, or the main body, of the llama first. The barrel is a great place to earn the trust of the animal before moving the buzzing shears up their neck or down their legs. It is also where the animal loses most of its body heat. This is important to note because the main goal of this shearing is animal maintenance, not beauty. If the animal becomes stressed around their more sensitive areas, we know that they will survive the summer heat with just a barrel cut. Additional stress is not worth a perfect haircut. This also happens to be the highest quality fiber, so if there is a plan for it to be used, it’ll be collected separately.

We work our way up the neck next, cleaning behind the halter and up their cheek. Then each shearer works on the legs on their side. Llamas fight using fang-like teeth to rip and tear at each other’s testicles and legs, so this is the hardest part. Llamas can also kick you if you stand anywhere other than directly in front of their chest. If they don’t like it, they will let you know. This is my favorite part, though. If a llama stands while you shear their legs, you’ve done it. You’ve earned their trust. That’s what my passion is. I want to earn that every day. I look forward to returning and seeing the progress. I’ve seen “feral” llamas that “should be sedated” give me that trust without a shot. In just 3 shearings, working with them no more than 10 minutes a year, I’ve seen llamas go from buck wild to perfect clients. That’s the magic of working with animals, learning to communicate through unspoken language. We only get 3–5 minutes with most of these guys every year, but they remember us.

Maintaining the fabric of life

In 2010, I started shearing for people who were forgotten by the industry. I picked up the shears for the first time for endangered breeds and found my life through a dying art. Shearing for hobby farms is more than just grooming a pet. It’s helping to maintain the last few threads of an old fabric of living. There are breeds of sheep that continue to exist solely because of our hobby farms. Commercial operations don’t run large numbers of Jacob sheep or Shetlands. The worldwide fashion market doesn’t want a Finn fleece with varying tones of grey or the creamy moorit found in a CVM blanket. They only want white, no badger or true black. They want consistency, not uniqueness. You can only find that in a handspinners flock. So, thank you, to all of those who support our local farmers. The ones pouring their heart and soul into these animals, providing a product that didn’t get this good with machines and quality control. It got this good from love. The next time you touch a new fleece, or drool over that beautiful yarn, remember, someone else loved it first.


Katherine McRose is a small-town Texas shearer and owner of Right Choice Shearing. What started as a high school side job became her means to pay for her Animal Science degree from Texas A&M and then her career. Her passion is shearing for hobby farmers and spreading industry positivity on their far-reaching social media.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

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Sneak Peek: Winter 2021

Our “Head and Hands” issue comes out in December!

This issue is jam packed with so much cozy warmth – we’ve got hats and mittens, luxury yarns, and even tips for choosing fibers to knit for bald heads! 

If you want to subscribe OR resubscribe in order to get this issue when it comes out, the deadline is November 25. You can get all the information you need right here: https://simplecirc.com/subscribe/ply-magazine

In the meantime, how about a few photo sneak peeks?

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

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Ask Jacey: Yarn Competition

Jean wants to beat her best friend in the game of yarn
 
Jacey, my best fiber friend makes yarn that’s so much nicer than my yarn. We can use the same fiber, the same colorway, and each spin it into a worsted 2-ply yarn. Her yarn turns out soft and amazing and mine is hard, scratchy, and not amazing. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?! Jean
 
Let me tell you a story that happened to me not that many years ago (12 years exactly, in fact). I dyed 8 oz of commercially processed organic Merino combed top and spun it with a worsted, short-forward draft. The resulting yarn was worsted in both style and weight and also, I thought, the most beautiful in the world. This was before PLY, by the way. To my immense joy, it was spot-on balanced. I mean, it hung in the quintessential loop with not even the slightest inclination of turning left or right. I loved it. Even now, when I look at the pictures, my breath catches a bit in my throat. Yarn does that to us, right?
 
Then I knit it up. I knit it into my knitting hero Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Sweater. You’ve made at least one, right? If not, stop reading this for a couple hours and whip one out – you won’t be sorry. Actually, finish reading this first as it might save your sweater. The few hours I spent knitting it were joyous (except for a little nagging thought, but we spinners/knitters are sometimes good at ignoring those nagging little thought, aren’t we?). A smart and slightly mysterious pattern coupled with the most gorgeous yarn in existence – how could it not be euphoric? Well, good thing I enjoyed those few hours because once the sweater was done, my bliss faded to confusion and eventually woe.
 
The sweater was attractive enough but, truth be told, a more fitting name would be the Baby Surprise Suit of Armor. It was thick, it was hard, and it was stiff: words suited for so many things in this world besides knitting, to be sure. It was even a bit crunchy. When I went back to feel the original fiber, I was even more confused – the combed Merino top was about the softest fiber I’d ever felt and perfect for a small, picky kid. Next, I moved onto the yarn. That’s when I let the nagging thought take root and took a more honest look at this gorgeous yarn. I realized that while it was aesthetically pleasing – perhaps a 9 or a 10 – when it came to tactile appeal, it plummeted to a 3 or a 4. (I reserve 1s and 2s for yarns that might actually puncture or cut you.)
 
You might initially be attracted to this yarn, but once you spent a little time handling it, you’d have to have a couple of glasses of wine before you’d take it home with you.

Of course, my kiddo was thrilled with their sweater in theory, but when it came time to pick something out to wear, their tiny pudgy hand never reached for it. In the picture, you can see the stiffness and the lack of drape; what you can’t see is the scratchiness and the crunchiness. It’s quite unpleasant. In fact, I had to help them lower their arms for the shot; otherwise, the yarn caused them to stick straight out to the side like a tiny cheerleader.

So what did I do wrong? How did I take soft, scrunchable fiber and turn it into the equivalent of a Baby Surprise Hairshirt? It’s probably the same thing you’re doing – spinning the heck out of it.

That’s it! Too much twist. Too much twist in the singles, to be precise. All yarns spun from the same fiber using the same technique are not created equal, my spinning friend. I don’t care if your yarn turns out perfectly even, smooth, and balanced – it can still feel like it fell out of the scratchy tree and hit every crunchy branch on the way down.

Here’s the truth dropping: The feel and hand of your plied yarn lies mostly with the twist in your singles. Too much singles twist can make it absolute cord. Rope, even. Follow me for a second because this is the crux of the matter. If you spin a single with a low to moderate amount of twist, your yarn has a better chance of ending up soft no matter how much ply twist you subject it to. If you spin a yarn with scads and scads of singles twist, no matter how little or how much ply twist you add, that yarn will be hard, crunchy, and stiff. It’s true. Look at these yarns:

Both are Merino wool spun worsted and plied to balance. The only difference is the yarn on the right has less singles (and it follows, it’s true, less ply) twist, and the one on the left has lots more. Even without touching them, you can see the difference, right?

As always, though, I recommend you don’t take my word for it – try it out. Take an hour and spin a few samples. Spinning samples and experimenting expands our knowledge of the craft. Try the following:

  1. Spin 2 singles with low to medium twist.
  2. Ply half of each together until they reach balance or just barely beyond. Remove your yarn and mark it “low single, balanced.”
  3. Ply the other halves of the low-twist singles together employing the “treadle like the wind” technique. It will take them way past balance, but we’re experimenting, so just go with it. Mark it “low single, high ply.” 

You’ll find that these 2 yarns with their low-twist singles will be fairly soft and pliable, like your fiber. Now try the following:

  1. Spin another 2 singles, but this time, give them heaps of singles twist.
  2. Ply half of each together until they reach balance or just barely beyond. Wind this plied yarn off and mark it “high single, balanced.”
  3. For the other halves of the singles, ply lightly, with just a bit of ply twist. This yarn won’t be balanced, but that’s okay. Wind it off and mark it “high single, low ply.”

Both of these yarns, with their high-twist singles, will be harder and scratchier than your fiber, regardless of the amount of ply twist present.

See!? The feel and drape of your plied yarn is highly reliant on the twist amount in your singles. No matter the ply twist, lower singles twist will result in a yarn that is softer than high singles twist.

So, Jean, that’s it. If you want your yarn to be more like your pal’s, try putting less singles twist in it (and for balance, less ply twist as well). To get less twist, set your wheel on a bigger pulley, move your hands faster, or treadle your feet slower.

Also, subscribe to PLY, it’s pretty good.

Much,
Jacey

PS. Watch a video to go with this Ask JaceyHERE!

PPS. Got a question for Jacey? Ask any time, HERE!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Spinner’s Phone Stand

Twin Mommy Creations has developed a spinner’s phone stand. This phone stand includes a spinner’s control card, a WPI tool, an S/Z angle tool, and multiple diz sizes, as well as a little fiber stop to keep your end when you take a break from spinning.


Do you know about something new or hot or rare — fiber, tools, events? We’d love to feature it on our blog or newsletter. If you’re making/planning something new you think people should know about, let us know!


PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Eszee Twist tool

Post written by Mary Egbert

When I first started spinning some 11 years ago, I gave no thought to measurements, twist, etc. I sort of just went for it. Little did I know I was missing key spinning fundamentals that would help my yarn not fall apart.

After taking a woolen to worsted class with the famous Jacey Boggs Faulkner, I realized I needed to step up my game if I was going to spin yarn worthy of a project. 

I studied twist, angles, and what measurements I needed to keep track of during the journey of spinning a bobbin of yarn that took my yarn from meh to looking like a professional, seasoned spinner.

I thought other spinners could use a tool with all the necessary measurements in one place, so the Eszee Twist Tool was born.

The Eszee Twist Tool measures yarn thickness and angle of ply twist and has guides for S and Z direction and wraps per inch. It even comes with a Yarn Planner booklet that shows you how to use the Eszee Twist Tool. The booklet also goes into depth about whorls and twist and takes you through the steps to spin yarn, such as chain ply, corespun, cables, and more. It also shows you how to calculate for a 2-ply and 3-ply yarn.

If you are struggling to spin a consistent yarn, the Eszee Twist Tool and Yarn Planner may be helpful to you and your spinning journey. You can find it at Camaj Fiber Arts.


Do you know about something new or hot or rare — fiber, tools, events? We’d love to feature it on our blog or newsletter. If you’re making/planning something new you think people should know about, let us know!


PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In

If you’re in the Washington area, be sure to check out the Whidbey Weavers Guild. In particular, the guild is hosting a spin-in in April with a special guest and a presentation, workshop, and marketplace.

When: April 2-3, 2022
Where: Oak Harbor High School, Oak Harbor, WA
Featured Spinner: Michael Kelson

For more information, visit the guild’s website.


Do you know about something new or hot or rare — fiber, tools, events? We’d love to feature it on our blog or newsletter. If you’re making/planning something new you think people should know about, let us know!


PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

October Vlog with Jacey and Jillian

Jillian starts by sharing the businesses who contributed tools and fiber to the Consistency issue (listed on Independent Spinner page and below) and then explores her favorite parts of this issue. Jacey shared several videos illustrating some of the techniques used in the issue. Jillian explains and shows her favorite spinning tools from HipStrings—WPI tools and twist angle gauges. Jacey asserts the importance of measuring yarn (such as twist angle) before it is finished so it is easier to re-create that yarn. Jacey gives a preview of the upcoming Winter issue—Head and Hands—and discusses plans for PLYAway 2022. Finally, Jillian and Jacey encourage everyone to submit ideas for writing for PLY, especially for experiment-type articles where you don’t have to know any answers beforehand and just take the readers through your experiment and conclusions. 

Specific information about PLYAway!  

PLY Away 2022 
April 19th-23rd, 2022 
Plyaway.com 

It’s happening, it’s really happening! After much stressing and debating, PA22 is on! For everyone’s safety, health, and feeling of security, we will be requiring all teachers, attendees, and vendors to be fully vaccinated. If there are changes in the Covid-19 situation, we will adapt and change as well. 

Because of all of this, there has been some juggling and shuffling. On October 18th, the full list of teachers was posted on the website. All the fiber-rific classes were revealed on October 20th. Registration will open Oct. 30th at 11am Central for everyone who was registered for PA20 (you’ll get an email and registration code) and on Oct. 31st at 11am Central, registration will be open to all. 

If you were set to vend at PA20, we’ll be reaching out about PA22. 

Finally, we’re always looking for fibery goodies for the PA goodie bags (we are thrilled to exchange bazaar ads for goodie bag items). Silent auction items and door prizes are also welcome! Everyone gets mentioned in the PA program too! Get in touch with Jess.cook@plymagazine.com for more details. 

Links mentioned in this quarter’s video:

Camaj Fiber Arts 

Akerworks  

Nancy’s Knit Knacks  

Cynthia Wood Spinner 

HipStrings  

Mielke’s Fiber Arts 

Brookmoore Creations  

Middle Brook Fiberworks 

Essential Fiber 

Jenkins Yarn Tools 

Wheels 

Daedalus Sparrow and Magpie 

HansenCrafts miniSpinner 

Majacraft Rose 

Louet S10 and S10C 

Ashford Wee Peggy 

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PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Book Review: Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey

book by James Rebanks

reviewed by Jillian Moreno

I’ve read this book twice, first when it was released in England last year, and just recently I listened to the audiobook. My first read told me it was important information, but I let myself be carried along, entranced by the storytelling.

The deeper information about farming and how farming has changed hooked me, subtly but deeply. I started reading more about farming and sustainability as articles came across my various feeds.

When I listened to the book for my second read, the importance of sustainably growing food and raising animals is all I heard.

James Rebanks is an excellent writer; he can put you squarely in a moment or a place. He currently farms and raises sheep and cows with his family. This land in the Lake District in the north of England has been in his family for 600 years, and he gives it the respect it deserves.

The book is divided into three sections.

Nostalgia presents the type of farming he remembers from his youth, how his grandparents farmed. It is rotational farming, working with and preserving the land.

Progress is the farming he saw in his teens and twenties, his father’s farm. The farming focused on increased production at the cost of everything else; the health of the land, the animals, the farmers, and the consumers can be damned as long as inexpensive food is on the shelves. This is the era of giant tractors, pesticides, growth hormones, and single crop farms. Much of the world still farms this way.

Utopia closes the book. This is the farming Rebanks and his family currently practice. It’s mostly back to the ways of his grandfather, with modern “progress” only where it makes sense to the bigger environmental picture.

He doesn’t sugarcoat how hard this type of farming is. He works with environmental agencies and receives subsidies to farm in favor of the land and animals, to restore and maintain the biodiversity of his land, but he still has to do work away from the farm to make ends meet.

This is the type of farming we should be striving toward, and this book gives me hope it can happen if we respect and focus on the well-being of the land, animals, the farmers, and our own health.

James Rebanks gives me hope for the future of farming and our environment.

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PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Send Us Your Tips

We’d love to hear your tips for our Spring 2022 Goat issue.

How do you control flyaways when spinning goat?

Share your tip on the form here on the website.

The person who submits our favorite tip will get a prize from us! It’s our way of saying thanks for sharing your wisdom with the PLY readers. Trust me, it’s nice.

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PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.