Let’s Talk About Sparkle Fluff

words by Jacqueline Harp | photos by Susan Schroeder

Have you ever heard of Sparkle Fluff? Oh, my! Envision a handful of fiber goodness that features a colorful mixture of mohair locks and glitz, and it is known to make handspinners smile when they get their hands on it. Sparkle Fluff is a fiber preparation composed of a color-coordinated mix of mohair locks, sheep wool locks, and loose Angelina fibers. It is ready-to-spin and full of texture and sparkle. You can spin it into a wide variety of chunky, fantastical art yarns or sprinkle it into carded preparations to add some extra pizzazz.

Let’s meet the innovative mind behind Sparkle Fluff, Susan Schroeder of Rusty Spur Ranch and Creations, located in Rathdrum, Idaho. Be prepared to be inspired to use mohair in ways that bring the most joy to your spin projects.

Meet the fiber creative

I came across Susan a few years ago, at a fiber arts festival in the Pacific Northwest, and was impressed with her creativity, hard work, and effervescent personality. Susan is an expert indie dyer, fiber artist, and Angora goat shepherdess to a well-cared for flock that provides high quality mohair for her fiber projects.

Susan’s fiber arts journey started with knitting as a way to pass the time during family road trips. She bought a handspun skein from Symeon North, author of the book, Get Spun (2010), and this beautiful yarn inspired Susan to learn handspinning. She started with a drop spindle and eventually learned to use a wheel. She then taught herself the art of dyeing fiber to bring unique colors to her own spinning fibers. A few years later, four Angora goats made their way into Susan’s life to provide mohair fleeces and natural weed control for her farm. Inspired by the growing flock of Angora goats on her farm, she started a fiber arts studio and named it the Rusty Spur Ranch and Creations.

Susan strives to use the whole mohair fleece in a productive manner. The prime locks are used for Sparkle Fluff, while clean belly fleece goes into cat toys. Remaining parts of the fleece go into the garden as mulch or into the bottom of plant pots to improve water retention.

Gathering the elements

Raw fleece selection is step one. Within a batch of Sparkle Fluff, there may be two or three different textures of mohair depending on what Susan has available. She knows the fleece of each goat in her flock, as it varies from goat to goat. Some fleeces are Navajo-style, with long, straight locks, while others have tiny curls.

Along with the mohair locks, each batch of Sparkle Fluff may have wool locks from up to five different breeds of sheep. While the mohair comes from her own flock, the sheep wool is sourced from different farms. For both fiber types, Susan looks for well-separated, open locks that are not felted and that contain the least amount of hay.

Secondly, she uses gentle washing methods so the locks don’t stick together. Once the locks from all fleeces are clean, she will dye bulk batches of locks in different colors.

Susan: I don’t have a Sparkle Fluff color idea in mind when I start dyeing fleeces. I will dye up to five fleeces at once. Each fleece is dyed a different color. After the fleeces are dyed, I start playing with the colors I created. The key is to take a few handfuls of various proportions and start mixing them together. If I like what I have, I will pull large amounts of dyed fleece and weigh it into about 10 ounce batches before I start mixing.

Mixing it up!

Once she has selected the color and fiber mix, she makes a pile and starts handpicking the locks and placing them into a large bin. She uses her hands to carefully pick and separate the locks because a fiber picker would rip the locks apart. After filling the bin, she gently tosses the fibers like a salad to ensure the Angelina is well distributed and the locks are evenly mixed to her satisfaction. She wants the locks and Angelina mix to be loose and flowing, not clumpy.

When mohair is mixed with wool and Angelina, the mohair pops! All fibers in Sparkle Fluff support the pop and shine of mohair.

If Susan had to select three words to describe her Sparkle Fluff, she would choose:

Sparkle – because the Angelina throughout the fluff looks dazzling in the sunlight.

Shine – since mohair has a mirror-like shine.

Texture – the feel of so many different locks, wools, and fibers to be enjoyed however one wishes.

Spinning Sparkle Fluff

Chunky. Fine. Direct to wheel. Carding and blending.

Sparkle Fluff has no limits to its creative use. Susan’s favorite way to spin Sparkle Fluff is to take handfuls and let it flow through her wheel for a highly textured, bulky art yarn. She notes that Sparkle Fluff can also be lightly blended on a blending board for those who want more control over the texture and weight of their handspun.

Susan: I have seen other handspinners run a batch through a drum carder and spin it fine, with amazing results. As a person with curly hair, I appreciate the different textures of wool and mohair, and I like that my Sparkle Fluff preserves and highlights the texture of the locks.

Other surprising ways to use Sparkle Fluff: Fill little glass bottles with it and place those bottles around your studio to liven things up. Felt it into a gnome’s beard for some spice and color. Weave it into a wall hanging with some driftwood you picked up from the beach. The possibilities are endless!

As a parting thought to handspinners looking to start their next mohair spinning projects:

Susan: Don’t be afraid to try something new. A lot of spinners stick with wool because it’s a fiber they know. It takes courage to branch out and try something new. Especially when spinning with locks – you have to let go and let the locks flow. It is not precise. You are not looking for a specific twist direction or the perfect spinning ratio. Sometimes it takes a new spinner a long time to feel comfortable enough to be able to flow. But give it a try. Maybe you will get it right away, maybe you won’t, but just keep playing with it and practicing. I promise the Angora goats will keep growing fiber, so we won’t run out!

Jacqueline Harp is a freelance writer and multimedia fiber artist who spins, felts, weaves, crochets, and knits in every spare moment possible. She is also a certified Master Sorter of Wool Fibers through the State Univ. of N.Y. (Cobleskill) Sorter-Grader-Classer (SGC) Program. Her Instagram handle is @foreverfiber

Wool at the Met Gala

The 2022 Met Gala was, as ever, a parade of fashion. And for the third year in a row, there was a hand knit gown in the mix!

The dress, worn by Sandra Weiss, was designed and knit from naturally dyed wool and lurex from A Wing and a Prayer Farm. You can see more images and a description on their Facebook page.

PLYAway 2022: Together Again!

After a couple of long years, PLYAway returned April 19-23, and it was wonderful to see faces both familiar and new.

Classes were taught by Maggie Casey, Clemes and Clemes, Meagan Condon, Peggy Doney, Jacey Boggs Faulker, Michael Kelson, Judith MacKenzie, Amy Manko, Jillian Moreno, James Perry, Joan Ruane, Amy Tyler, Emily Wohlscheid.

On Friday evening, James Perry gave a talk and presentation on his journey with wool. Jacey (wearing a snazzy red jumpsuit) gave out some fabulous door prizes.

Karen Robinson and Christie Brown were once again at the registration desk checking spinners in, answering questions, and selling t-shirts and back issues.

And the Pen Place was very happy to have us back! (We’re one of their top shopping weeks of the year.)

The marketplace (vendor hall) opened on Thursday at noon. Spinners lined up early to get into the hall. (The first person in line had been waiting for an hour and was able to get the Daedalus Sparrow she was hoping for.)

Shoppers in the marketplace had a card and got a stamp for each vendor they purchased from. Stamps from 10 different vendors allowed them to enter into the giveaway for $500 to spend in the marketplace. There were 72 entries in the drawing. On Saturday afternoon, by random drawing, a surprised and happy Courtney Rivers won the giveaway. Although she considered getting a drum carder from Clemes & Clemes, she ultimately decided to get a Lendrum wheel from Yarn Barn.

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Dehairing Cashmere by Hand

Words & Photos by Meagan Condon

If there is one thing I can say about librarians, it’s that they’re in the business of enabling people. Do you need the latest James Patterson novel? They’ve got you. How about an article from the July 24, 1972, issue of Time magazine? A librarian has your back. My colleagues at the library know of my passion for fiber arts and are often eager to provide me with any “reference material” they come across, as was the case when I found a ziplock bag full of hair stashed in my staff mailbox. The name “Blackie” was sharpied across the top. Blackie was a goat – and not a special type of goat – just your generic, crossbred farm goat used for clearing brush. My teammate, who lived on a farm outside of town, had brushed out his winter coat and figured I might want it. Well, why not?

This particular fiber from Blackie was cashmere. While there are specific breeds of goats generally associated with cashmere production, almost all goats produce a soft, downy undercoat. For most breeds, there is less usable fiber and more guard hair, which can make it a nightmare to prepare by hand. Many would choose not to use the term cashmere here, as there are strict industry guidelines for classifying commercial cashmere. Ultimately, we’re talking about the same fiber, though. Let’s talk about preparing this “inferior” cashmere for spinning.

The first task at hand is to dehair the cashmere. This means to remove all guard hairs in the fiber. Guard hair is usually longer, is coarser, lacks crimp, and will be black or white in color. It is nothing like the soft fluff we’re looking for, and it is pretty easy to spot. If I were to spin it into my yarn, it would make the yarn prickly, cause all kinds of neps, and be generally unpleasant. Some mills offer a dehairing service, but it can cost an additional $10–20 per pound, and there is usually a minimum quantity of fiber they will accept, often in the 2–10 pound range. If you’re like me and only have a few ounces, this isn’t an option.

Instead, we have the herculean task of removing the guard hair by hand. How does one go about removing all those tiny hairs? While there are several tricks you can try to make the process easier, I’ve found that the quickest way to process cashmere is to skip the tricks, grab a pair of tweezers, and get to work. Fingers work just as well, in a pinch.

Pinch off a small amount of fiber. You’ll be able to see the guard hairs poking out in all directions. Start removing them. Then, when you don’t see any more guard hairs, turn your fiber over, fold the fiber in half, and look again. As you fold the fiber, the less-flexible guard hairs aren’t as willing to fold and will poke out. When you don’t see any more guard hairs, stretch the fiber open into a thin web and look at it with a light behind it. This should reveal any remaining unsavory bits.

After a session of dehairing, my fingers are almost completely black with dirt. Remember, these animals roll around in the dirt and who-knows-what to cool down and keep bugs away. Even so, I find it easiest to dehair the fiber before washing and spinning it. Every time I’ve tried to wash the fiber first, it has been impossible to dehair and work with later. The fiber is prone to pilling or felting in the wash.

Once the hair has been removed, what is left is a beautiful cloud of spinnable joy. Sometimes I spin straight from the cloud. Sometimes I card the fiber into rolags using a fine carding cloth or cotton carders. For Blackie’s special fiber, I blended it 50/50 with muga silk. The delicate, gold silk matched the warm undertones in Blackie’s fiber perfectly. What’s not to love about a cashmere/silk blend, anyway? While carding, I was careful not to overwork the fiber by passing it over my carders too many times. As I mentioned before, cashmere is prone to pilling and I didn’t want to lose the luxury of the fiber through my own careless preparation. One or two passes with the carders is enough.

I then spun the rolags using an American longdraw technique on my Ashford Joy II at a ratio of 11:1 with low brake band tension. I think cashmere craves being spun with a woolen preparation and technique. The short, fine fibers are ideal for the technique. This is the point in the process I wash the yarn, soaking it in warm water multiple times, until the water runs clear. I also treat it to some rough handling and snapping to cause the halo to bloom.

The resulting yarn has a fine halo and matte appearance. When paired with the shine of the muga silk, which lies just beneath the halo, the yarn ends up having a depth of texture and color which the cashmere just doesn’t have on its own.

Dehairing fiber by hand will never be my favorite task, but the value in this fiber has less to do with the fact that it boasts the title cashmere and everything to do with where it came from. Sometimes we spin for the joy of working with a particular type of fiber or a specific style or technique. Sometimes the history \ matters to us. No matter why we choose to spin, it always has to do with connection: connection with nature, with our past, with ourselves. In this case, the connection was Blackie, a sometimes-ornery goat who was a vital part of my colleague’s family . . . a goat who had been raised in the kitchen and who had grown up alongside my colleague’s daughter. That emotional connection made it some of the most valuable fiber I have ever spun.

Video with tips on dehairing cashmere: https://youtu.be/GTgOOoqjfhk

Meagan Condon is a librarian and fiber artist with more than a decade of spinning experience. She focuses on digital connection and teaches fiber arts across the midwest and online. You can follow her at luthvarian.com.

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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The World’s Oldest Pants

(Bet you didn’t see that headline coming …)

A pair of 3000-year-old pants was found in western China’s Tarim Basin. The wool trousers were most likely worn by horse riders. Along with studying how they were made, a modern reproduction of these pants has also been created. Find out more about this archaeological find at https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pants-oldest-ancient-horseman-asia-culture-origin and https://www.sciencenews.org/article/first-pants-worn-horse-riders-3000-years-ago

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!

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Blending for Texture & Spinning Textured Batts

Words & Photos by Emily Wohlscheid

I have been relegated to offering workshops primarily through virtual means over the past two years and have missed having a classroom full of equipment and students. I’m really looking forward to this year’s PLYAway Retreat where I will get to share my love of the drum carder and spinning with students in Blending for Texture and Spinning Textured Batts, respectively.

What has always drawn me to textiles is all of the different colors and textures. The introduction of batt making in my work has always been an extension of that. I love creating batts and sharing what types of cloth on the drum carder are best suited to individual results. Blending for Texture focuses on using your drum carder in a way that achieves the textural results you are seeking while also keeping your equipment in tip top shape. Students will leave with at least three completed batts from finely textured tweeds to loosely carded and lock-filled variegated batts.

Many people love the look of textured batts but are uncertain how they should approach spinning them. Batts tend to be smaller quantities, and because they are made more slowly and by hand, they tend to feel more precious. My default with them was often to create a chunky single, typically corespun, that showed off the textures and stretched my material for more yardage. As I began to sell my batts, spinners would often share their yarns and finished objects. Surprisingly, I found many of them were spinning very fine, sometimes plying, but always embracing the texture so that all the curls, crimps, and flecking created subtle effects. It made me realize my favorite prep for spinning was far more versatile than I had originally thought.

You can learn a lot about the variations in drafting that a textured batt requires by familiarizing yourself through sampling. Spinning various gauges with a plyback test is a great exercise to help you decide your preference visually and where the most ease in spinning lies for you. The simple challenge to spin a batt in at least three distinctly different gauges is one I present to my students but is also an accessible experiment to try next time you are having difficulty determining how you might like to spin a batt.

This workshop may sound familiar to previous attendees at the retreat as I offered it back in 2019 as a half day. Overwhelming feedback and more opportunities to teach these techniques have expanded it to a full day workshop with more techniques offered including plying, corespinning, autowrapping, and suggestions for using the yarns. You can choose either Wednesday or Saturday to take this relaxed workshop and sample away. I can’t wait to see all the attendees in just a few short weeks!

Emily has loved fiber, jewelry, and sparkly things as long as she can remember. After receiving her BFA from Adrian College where she studied metalsmithing and textile techniques, she learned to spin as a way to get back in the classroom. Now she creates handcrafted jewelry and hand dyed fiber goods for her business, Bricolage Studios, and teaches classes and workshops throughout the United States on spinning, fiber preparation, and jewelry/metalsmithing. Emily works from a cooperative fiber studio in Kalamazoo, MI.

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!

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Jacey’s Online Teaching Collection

Jacey’s new online classes are a success! So much that she’s created a Patreon to continue the fun!

From Jacey:

This Patreon is my project, my creative outlet, a way to continue to sustain my learning and sharing, and a way to connect with you more directly. The dream is that this patreon allows me to take a bit of a paycut at PLY, or rather it allows me to take some of my current pay and use it to hire a few new people. I’ll hand off a few of my more administrative jobs at PLY (like accounting and webwork, both of which aren’t my forte) but still be able to support the family and (big benefit here) get to spend a bit more time doing the things I miss – spinning, teaching, and connecting.

Don’t worry, I’ll still post PLY tutorials and videos, that’s a separate thing and is free to all, but if you choose to join me here on Patreon, you’ll get more of me and my time, and I’ll get more of you and your time!

The classes are available to the Patreon memberships of Corespinning ($12/month) and Boucle ($16/month). There are also other membership levels available that come with other goodies, but not classes.

The spinning classes (Corespinning and Boucle levels) will premier on alternating dates: the last Saturday of every month (2pm Pacific, 3pm Mountain, 4pm Central, 5pm Eastern, 9pm in London, 10am on Sunday for New Zealand), and the last Sunday of every month (11 am Pacific, 12pm Mountain, 1pm Central, 2pm Eastern, 6pm in London, 7am on Monday for New Zealand). 

Click here for the Patreon page!

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!

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We Want Your Tips!

The Tip Jar has been emptied, and it’s time to fill it with your best advice & insights about spinning!

This time we’re collecting information for our Autumn 2023 issue, the Loft issue.

Here’s the question: What is your best recipe for a lofty yarn? It can include fiber, prep, draft, finishing etc. What’s the loftiest yarn you’ve spun?

Click here to leave us a tip! Your response may be featured in the Loft issue, AND our favorite tip always gets a pretty awesome prize from PLY HQ.

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!

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Spotlight on Amy Tyler

Thirty years ago, Amy Tyler went to an annual handspun yarn sale from a local spinning group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A member of the spinning group invited Amy to sit down at a wheel, and the spinning community has a lot to be grateful for as a result! Since then, Amy has published over 25 knitting patterns, has taught workshops on spinning and knitting for over 20 years, and has written for 9 different publications.

Amy’s story begins with backgrounds in modern dance, kinesiology, and physiology. She was a professor of physical therapy for 9 years but eventually decided to leave the academic life to pursue a life of fiber arts. “I still have more ideas in my head about spinning and knitting than I can carry out in my lifetime, but that’s very exciting to me. It means my brain is always curious about things and asking questions,” Amy says.

These questions have led Amy to develop workshops on several topics, including the ones she’ll be offering spinners at PLYAway this spring (Blending Board: Basics and Beyond; Prep It: Combs, Cards, and Flicks; and Wheel Mechanics). “I was a bit cut off during the beginning of COVID because I had a couple of surgeries that kind of slowed me down for a while, but now both hand and foot are functioning properly and I’m excited to get back into it,” Amy explains. Her classes focus on tools because she has always been interested in what’s possible if you play around enough with the proper equipment.

Image credit: Amy Tyler

“All of the tools have their fabulous advantages and some things that they’re not so good at, so being able to use all of them is really worth it. I think of mechanics a lot from the physics point of view, but I try not to harp on numbers or on those mechanical laws or anything. Understanding  a few things about friction or how to take care of your wheel so it works properly and is mechanically happy and how to make yourself mechanically happy, all of those things come into play with [the wheel mechanics] class,” Amy explains.

Amy’s approach to fiber arts is that there is no “right way” to do just about anything, as long as you aren’t being hurt or hurting others. “I don’t think there are very many illegitimate ways of thinking about spinning and how you approach spinning,” she says. For Amy, playing with fiber is an ever-evolving experiment. She describes a time when she first tried hand combs and didn’t enjoy the experience at all; fast forward to today, when she’s preparing to teach a class on how to use them.

Image credit: Amy Tyler

“I had to sit down and figure out how to make it comfortable to do, so it’s about the mechanics of how to use them without hurting yourself that’s really important to me, and then realizing how wonderful the result is. When you first spin from hand-combed fiber it’s a mind-blowing experience. As are so many things in the fiber world. One of the things I like about it is that my mind is blown a lot, and frequently,” she remarks.

Amy adds, “I get very excited about the topics I teach, and I keep wanting to add to them and explore them even further, and the teaching opportunities I get really help my brain think about new ways of thinking about these topics. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to blow my own mind.”

Being around other spinners is an absolute bonus for the experience, as well. Amy loves to attend events like PLYAway not just to teach but to learn. As she explains it, “people come from many different perspectives and something I heard years ago is that everyone you meet will know something you don’t. When I’m teaching classes I know that every person in that workshop knows something I don’t know. It’s amazing to hear how different perspectives and life experiences influence how people think about the fiber arts. There’s an amazing diversity of ways of thinking about the delightful craft that is spinning,” she adds.

Image credit: Amy Tyler

In one final note about fiber arts, Amy explains, “I have a science background and an arts background and they both influence me when I think about making yarn. It’s like a dance and an amazing mechanical feat at the same time and I get excited to think about it in both ways.”

If you’d like to join Amy in that dance, there are still spots available in her classes at PLYAway this year. Click here to register!

Amy Tyler’s formal training was in modern dance, kinesiology, and physiology. She then spent years teaching physical therapy students about critical inquiry, evidence-based practice, and research design. In 2004, Amy left the academic life to pursue fibers arts. Now she resides in beautiful Benzie county, in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan.

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!

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