Fiber Salad: The Firehouse Spinners create lasting threads of connection

words and photos by Lisa Mitchell

In February 2020, we had no idea that The Fiber Salad Gathering would be one of our last meetings. As a newbie to spinning and the Whidbey Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild, I had been relishing the weekly gathering of spinners. That summer, when I first joined, I had never seen so many wonderful spinners in one place. Every Thursday this close-knit community of women gathered to spin together for 4 hours. With great food and extensive knowledge, they greeted me with open arms. When I won the Grand Champion ribbon for my handspun skein of guanaco laceweight yarn at Black Sheep Gathering, many of them were there with tears in their eyes. When I came back from my son’s wedding in California, they wanted a full report. I felt so fortunate to have found a circle of women who loved fiber and friends as much as I.

I’d been hearing about a tradition the group had done for years. They called it The Fiber Salad Gathering. I wanted to experience this event and asked if we could schedule it. On February 20, 2020, over 20 of us joined together to make Fiber Salad. At the time, we didn’t know this was going to be our second-to-last meeting before the pandemic shut everything down. At the time, I didn’t know how much I would treasure spinning and knitting the Fiber Salad I took home that day.

Making the fiber salad Each spinner brought leftover fiber or old braids to contribute to the Fiber Salad. The only criteria we set was that the fiber had to be clean and all natural. That made every color and every stray bit fair game. We weighed our contributions and then proceeded to separate the fibers into small, bite-size pieces. We made a circle and stood over a bedsheet that covered the floor. There, we shredded and separated all of our fiber and made a huge mountain of fiber.

Once in a while we would toss the mountain to mix in the newly shredded pieces.

It was beautiful and I couldn’t resist. I lay down in the mountain to feel the full experience of all that fiber at once. Peg poured more over me. The room was full of laughter and glee.

After we tossed the mountain of fiber thoroughly, we each gathered the weight of mixed salad that matched the weight of our initial contribution. Some of us ran our fiber salad through the picker.

Some of us ran it through the drum carder.

It was a fine day. It was an important day. It was a day that we all love remembering.

Spinning the fiber salad

At home, I couldn’t wait to start to spin my fiber salad. I had run my 2 ounces through the picker at the meeting, so I decided to spin handfuls straight from these random and chunky clouds.

It was not a smooth or easy spin as many of the fibers were different in length and texture. But it was exciting. As the pandemic locked the world down around me, I focused on enjoying the spin. I loved it when I came to some of the magenta roving that Ann had contributed. I thought of her and her sweet face. Then came some Gotland locks from Joanne which reminded me of her and her flock. And the beautiful blue/turquoise Merino that Cheryl had contributed popped against Janis’s white alpaca. I spun the salad into a random, artsy single. Then I plied the colorful with some beautiful rose grey alpaca.

A gauge-forgiving pair of ribbed fingerless gloves were the perfect accessory to make with my new yarn.

We haven’t met as a full group in over a year. I miss those women. I miss our gatherings. But I’m comforted by my Fiber Salad fingerless gloves and the memory of our Fiber Salad Gathering.

Lisa Mitchell raises guanacos and other luxury fiber animals on Whidbey Island in Washington. She spins, knits and writes essays about the connections between fiber, life and love on her blog at

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.

Lofty Yarn Spun from Finger-Opened Locks

words and photos by Donna Kay

I love preparing fiber – whether it is handcombing lustrous locks or carding puffy rolags. But sometimes we forget about the oldest tools of all: our hands. Consider getting “back to the sheep” and spinning hand-prepared (literally) locks into a rustic lofty yarn. It is a fitting and extremely satisfying method of preparing and spinning a primitive-type fleece. There’s something special about the way the individual character of the two coats can be highlighted in one yarn.

Choosing a fleece

Dual-coated sheep produce fleeces with amazing variation in character and color. Breeds I have had the pleasure to work with include Icelandic, Shetland, and Norwegian Spelsau, and each has something wonderful to offer. When choosing a fleece to spin from the lock, I consider the qualities I want for my project. Locks with more undercoat than outercoat spin up into a soft, lofty yarn. Locks with dominant or long outercoat produce a thinner and denser yarn.

Spinning from the lock also allows for random or controlled color placement. I can choose a solid color or a variation since the inner and outer coats are often different. For an article of clothing, I look for open, VM-free locks with dense, fluffy undercoat and relatively silky and flexible outercoat. Fleeces with a coarse outercoat are wonderful but better used for rugs and other hardwearing pieces. (Note: the longest and coarsest outercoat fibers can easily be removed when preparing the locks for spinning.)

Primitive sheep exhibit wide variations of length and diameter within the fleece, so I sort the fleece into sections of similar locks to achieve a consistent yarn. The sides and shoulder will often be the closest in length and diameter and often the softest outercoat. The neck, back, and britch areas tend to be shorter and/or coarser and are set aside for other uses. Locks with excess sun damage, scurf, kemp and imbedded VM are discarded.


A freshly shorn fleece can be prepared and spun in the grease. Locks from a fleece that has been stored unwashed will not open as easily and the drafting will be uneven. To prepare a low-grease fleece, I often use a cold water soak to remove the dirt and suint. Dual-coated fleeces wash easily and often require only one wash. I am careful not to use too much detergent or the fiber can feel harsh and dried out. Locks are placed in plastic mesh baskets, maintaining lock formation, and then washed and rinsed in hot water. Felting happens easily with primitive fleeces, so keep handling to a minimum.

I use my fingers to open up the cut ends of the locks and remove any loose or felted bits. These can resemble second cuts but usually are the immature beginning of the next year’s fleece if the shearing took place after the coats natural rise in the spring. For smoother, consistent yarns, I keep the lock formation intact, leaving the tip as is. Another option is to open the locks completely into a cloud of fibers.


My Majacraft Suzie is put to good use for spinning this yarn. It is equipped with a delta orifice, a large open ceramic hook, and scotch tension. There is nothing for errant tails to get snagged on, and the scotch tension allows me to quickly adjust the take up so the yarn winds on smoothly. For yarns with a soft twist, I want 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 twists per inch with a twist angle between 10 and 20 degrees. For the yarns shown in the photos, I used a of 4.5:1 ratio with a light take up. A rhythm of drafting 1x per treadle gave me the amount of twist I wanted. The low angle of twist ensures that the finished yarns will be light but strong thanks to the longer outercoat fibers acting like glue holding everything together. These worsted to bulky weight yarns contain a good mix of both outercoat and undercoat.

To spin from the lock I hold a small handful lightly in my fiber hand and draft from the cut end using a backwards woolen draft. I pinch the end of the twist with my forward hand as I draft back half the length of the undercoat with my fiber hand. My fingers open, releasing the twist to capture the newly drafted fibers. When a small amount of undercoat remains in my hand, I add a new supply of locks, joining undercoat to undercoat so as to maintain the mix of fibers and diameter. This method affords me some control and consistency, but these yarns certainly display individual character! For the smoothest yarn I draft both coats together as evenly as possible. If I want texture in the form of “tails” I concentrate on drafting the undercoat, allowing the outercoat to slip through my fingers and wrap around the outside of the drafted fibers. It is important to relax and let go, allowing the lumps and bumps to enter the yarn. If at any point drafting becomes difficult, I make sure I am not holding the fiber too firmly.

When spinning from the cloud, it is a little harder to maintain consistency. I use a short backward or a supported long draw. Holding a good-sized handful of fiber gives me the best results. The yarn has a lot of variation in size and texture and works well for a rustic knit item or as weft in a woven piece.

A worsted draft creates a denser yarn because the fibers are smoothed and compressed as they are drafted. It seems counterintuitive, but this draft actually accentuates the lumps, creating a noticeably thick and thin yarn that has a firmer hand. I usually do not use this draft unless it is to be used as warp yarn.

After spinning a few locks, I stop and create a plyback sample by pulling a length of yarn off the side of the bobbin and letting it ply back on itself. Am I happy with the diameter and amount of twist? If so, I spin enough to make a small sample of my intended yarn whether single or plied and finish it before evaluating. Do I want to change something? My options include tweaking my drafting method, the ratio of the wheel or the amount of fiber I have in my hand.


I soak the skeins with a small amount of detergent in warm water, gently squeeze out the water, “whuz” it, and lay it flat to dry. I prefer not to agitate, use hot/cold rinses, or “thwack” since these methods diminish the loft of the undercoat. As the final step, I use steam to set the twist and stabilize the yarn. These yarns transform when washed! Held in place by the outercoat with a low amount of twist, the disorganized crimp of the undercoat has room to bloom, creating a contrast to the smoother outercoat. The finished diameter of the yarn will vary from fleece to fleece depending on the percentage of undercoat vs. outercoat in the locks. Yarns with a higher percentage of undercoat will be thicker with more loft.

The white yarn contains a larger percent of undercoat that bloomed and shortened as the yarn dried.

The long outercoat of the natural-colored locks was spun into a low-twist singles yarn that showcased the color variations. As the amount of outercoat increases, the denser the yarn will be. Yarns spun from the lock are individual and are a true reflection of these unique fleeces!

Donna Kay is a knitter, spinner, designer, instructor, and shepherd, often all in the same day. Her home is a farm in New Hampshire that she shares with her husband and an assortment of livestock. She spins as much as she can, teaches here and there, and designs for her company, Tree of Life Designs. You can find her on Ravelry as treeoflife.

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: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook

reviewed by Sukrita Mahon

If you have been spinning for any length of time, you have probably heard of The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson or maybe own it yourself. If not, you probably should – it’s a collection of over 200 varieties of fibre from around the world, methodically catalogued. Each fibre is spun, usually using different preparations, and its characteristics explained: how it spins up, how it takes dye, what it’s best used for. There is so much diversity in types, textures, and how they all behave that each could be an in-depth study on its own.

As a spinner, breed studies truly excite me because it’s such a tactile experience and so different every time. It’s hard to articulate certain aspects because fibres can have seemingly conflicting characteristics, like shiny and silk-like yet coarse; poufy and springy but also rope-like if spun a certain way. Because of this, I am always looking to explore breeds that are new to me and even spin the same one a lot to become more familiar with it.

When other people find out that you spin, it’s quite common to be offered bags of raw fleece; I tend to decline most alpaca but love to receive wool. Although alpaca is much more common in my area, it tends to be dustier and more difficult to work with when it’s full of second cuts, for example. For some reason I find that I don’t mind doing some extra work to salvage wool because it usually comes out well after a good scour. So when I was given a mystery bag of wool from a local farm, I sought the help of this book to identify the sheep breed. I won’t lie, there are probably easier ways of identifying wool – like going to the source and finding out or asking someone who is more experienced – but this was a nice challenge that gave me an excuse to flip through a beautiful book. How could I resist? The book could also be helpful if you have a bad memory for breed names or just forget to label your wool.

Right out of the bag, my mystery wool was yellowed, fluffy, and full of second cuts that were quite careless, so it was likely the sheep weren’t reared for their wool. To go about identifying it, I tried to answer specific questions: Does it feel more hairy or woolly? Is it soft, coarse, or somewhere in-between? Is it greasy/does it seem to have a lot of lanolin content? Is there a noticeable or visible crimp in the fibre? What do the tips look like? This isn’t a complete list but should give you enough to start searching.

In my case, the wool felt springy, not at all like hair, and perhaps downy, although I was a little vague on what that term meant. It wasn’t especially coarse, but not soft. I didn’t think it had the kind of greasiness of Merino or even some Corriedale. It had no visible crimp, and the ends were, for lack of a better word, sort of tippy. This is in contrast to, say, Corriedale which often has blunt tips, or Border Leicester, which has more pronounced tips.

Starting in the Down section of the book, I could immediately see a resemblance. Even the more crimpy down breeds had a similar kind of ‘feel’ to this wool. It helped a lot that the photos are so clear and detailed, with multiple samples. Here it’s evident that Cheviot has more crimp and tippiness compared to my wool.

The Suffolk seemed to be a good match because it had the same kind of reddish brown tint in the raw sample, which I initially thought was feces. One of the samples pictured in the book shows much more crimp, and the other has barely any. After scouring they come out bright white, with a bit of tippiness remaining, which is what I found for my wool as well.

The other breed that came close in similarity was Texel. The colour of the raw wool is slightly different, but the textures and finished wool are so similar that it could easily have been this breed.

I suspected it wasn’t Texel because Suffolk is much more common in this area, in addition to the odd red tinge that none of the other raw samples seemed to have. Both Suffolk and Texel are primarily bred for their meat, so the wool is often discarded. According to the book, though, where handspinners are concerned, there are no disadvantages and both make excellent, warm yarn and garments.

Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with the person who gave me the wool to ask if they knew what breed it came from. They confirmed it was Suffolk, and you can imagine how excited I was to hear that. I also learned that the sheep were named Lamb and Chop, which is apparently a common set of names for sheep in Australia.

Needless to say, I think all spinners should have access to this book; it’s such a treasure. The only negative I have to say about it is that it’s not a complete catalogue of all the sheep breeds on the planet; it’s mainly focused on the ones known in the Americas, Europe, and Australia, so if you live in Asia or Africa, it may not be as helpful. I do hold out hope that we will get more editions in the future as interest in handspinning and sustainable farming grows.


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.

Mood: Summer 2022 – The Mix Issue

Mix Moodboard (Summer 2022)
Much of the time we’re happy spinning along doing our regular thing, but sometimes we just want to mix it up! What about you? What do you like to mix up in your spinning?
Do you mix fiber, preparation, draft, color, types of yarn, or types of crafts? If you do, we want to hear about it. Do you mix woolen and worsted in your spinning? Between preparation and draft? What about mixing woolen and worsted plies? Why would you do it? How does it look and feel? What do you make with it?
What are your favorite fiber blends and do you have special ways of spinning them? Do you make your own blends? What process do you use to create a new or unique blend? Do some breeds mix better than others? How do you sample your blends? How do you keep track? Are there fiber-mixing tools you use that you can’t do without?
Have you experimented with mixing twist direction in singles or ply? What did you find out? What effect does reversing direction have on yarn and cloth? What about mixing dye to create unique colors in dyes? How do you plan? How do you keep track?
Do you have tips on dyeing blends that are mixtures of animal, plant, or synthetic? Have you mixed natural and chemical dyes in a single yarn? What was the result? Do you mix fibers or colors at the wheel? How does it look? Why do you choose this method over carding or combing? Are you a shepherd? How do you choose which breeds to mix for your flock? What has been your greatest success? Do you know the history of a now-favorite breed that started as a mix of 2 classic breeds?
We’re looking for patterns that mix it up, too: weaving with some knitting, or knitting with some crochet, or adding layers of handspun as embellishments. Anything that mixes this and that, we want to hear about it!
If you can help answer any of these questions or have a good idea for an article, please let us know! If you’ve got an idea for a fantastic project, let us know that too! Whether it’s your first time proposing an article or your 100th, we want to hear from you!
Submit your ideas here
Proposals of articles and projects are due by June 1, 2021. We’ll get back to you in July, and final pieces are due December 1, 2021.

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.

Ask Jacey #2: Margo is too twisted

This month, Margo asks, “How do you control overtwisting and setting the take up on a scotch tension?”

Well, Margo, this is a super common question. Overtwisting is something that happens to everyone, both in the beginning, the middle, and well into our spinning careers. Honestly, every time I switch to an unfamiliar spinning implement or fiber, I overtwist (if I don’t undertwist; point is, I rarely hit the right level of twist immediately). So let’s talk about it.

One of the most popular ways to decrease twist is to adjust your scotch tension to pull in the yarn quicker and with more force; in other words, want less twist, turn up that tension!

And that will work, but – I don’t suggest it be the first thing you do. You see, it’s my experience that many spinners use too much tension already. Once you turn up your tension enough that you have to grip your yarn to keep it from flying onto your wheel, you’ve lost control. You can no longer spin the yarn you want to spin and you’re going to have crampy fingers to boot. There is a huge spectrum of uptakes that are possible, from zilch all the way to oh my, are my knuckles usually that pale? However, the workable range of uptakes is so much smaller than the possible range.

The workable range ranges from zilch to oh, I think I can feel it…oh wait no…oh yeah there it is. If your wheel is pulling on your yarn, you’re using too much uptake. If your forward hand is cramping, you’re using too much uptake. If your scotch tension spring is sprung, you’re using too much uptake. If you think you might be using too much uptake, you’re using too much uptake. If you’re reading this, you’re using too much uptake. Okay, not really, but if you can use less and still have the yarn you’re spinning slide gracefully into the orifice, give it a try. If you are using too much, decreasing it will give you a more comfortable spin (once you get used to it) and you will gain more control over your fiber and drafting.

How do you figure out the right tension? My advice is to set yourself up to spin your yarn with your scotch tension totally loose and light, so light that it doesn’t pull in your yarn AT ALL. Now slowly increase the tension until it barely starts to move toward the orifice. Now just a bit more so your wheel takes exactly the yarn you spin but doesn’t try to make you give more than you’ve already spun. Yes, your wheel should accept but not take. That’s the best tension for that yarn. When you change the grist of the yarn you’re spinning, your tension will need adjustment too. For instance, if you decide to spin a thicker yarn, you’ll need more uptake. That’s because a thicker yarn is heftier and the wheel needs to pull harder to accept it. However, it shouldn’t feel harder to you and your drafting hands; it should feel the same to you. The opposite is true if you go to spin a thinner yarn, it’s lighter and the wheel needs to work less hard to pull that thin little strand in, so decreasing the uptake should feel the same to your hands (notice if you left it the same, the wheel is now pulling the yarn from you instead of just accepting it).

Now that you’ve got your tension adjusted and I’ve probably scared you away from cranking your uptake way up, this is how increasing uptake can work to decrease twist in your yarn (which is what you asked about, Margo). It works like this – the longer your yarn hangs about in front of your orifice, the more chances it has to pick up twist, much like the longer a teenager hangs about in front of a convenient store, the more chances said teenager has of picking up something even less desirable than too-much-twist. Same same. The quicker your yarn zips through and onto your bobbin, the less twisted it will be.

But before you do that, try these things first! Choose a big pulley (this is often called a whorl). The bigger you choose, the less twist each treadle will put in your yarn. The next thing I’ll suggest is likely the easiest to describe and hardest to do. As spinners, heck, as humans, we have this thing called muscle memory. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It makes better spinners out of us, allowing us to just sit and spin without having to remember how to draft or think about our treadling. The drawback is when we want to change what our muscles have memorized, they sometimes sneak back into doing what they remember. Judith MacKenzie calls it our lizard brain. Our lizard brain dupes and double crosses us. However, if you can manage it, and I know you can, adjusting your body is a powerful tool on the journey to creating the yarn you want. If you want less twist in your yarn there are two things your body can do: slow down your feet or speed up your hands. You can do either or both in varying degrees. Of course, in adjusting your body, you will only gather less twist if you keep the diameter of your yarn the same. If you let your lizard brain lead you, your yarn will likely get a bit thicker because a spinner’s lizard brain knows that a thicker yarn requires less twist and so that’s what a lizard brain wants to make. But if you keep your yarn the same diameter as before you slowed your feet/sped your hands, you won’t be able to help but to get less twist.

Of course, you don’t have to choose just one or the other. Choose them all! Yep, you can cast off your lizard brain, replace it with a gear-head and pick a pulley the size of Australia, grow sloth feet and demon hands, and spin a yarn that would make a pencil roving blush.

And if that doesn’t work, you can increase your tension/uptake – but just a bit.

Here’s a video of Jacey demonstrating and rambling.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Jacey? Fill out the form and maybe your question will be the one Jacey answers next!

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.

Separating a Dual-Coated Fleece Using Only Your Hands

words by Jacqueline Harp and photos by Joseph Harp
Close up of a dual-coated fleece from an Icelandic sheep

When a fiber artist chooses to separate and process a dual-coated fleece by hand, it is like unlocking two fleeces from one. A dual-coated fleece is an intertwined combination of a short-stapled, soft, downy undercoat and a protective, longer-stapled, coarser, hair-like outercoat.  Once these integrated coats are separated, you will have two very different fibers requiring different preparation and spinning techniques, which will result in two very different yarns. One yarn is going to be airy, woolen, and softer and can be worn next to the skin. The other yarn is heavier, worsted, and tougher and can be made into outerwear.

Interestingly, in industrial textile milling, the process of mechanically separating dual-coated fleeces is known as “dehairing” or “fiber separation.” A mill utilizes a dehairing machine to divide a fleece’s outercoat from the undercoat. The mill will then use the newly separated undercoat to produce soft knitting yarns while using the outercoat for yarn durable enough for rug making. Typical mills, however, only take large batches of fleece – usually hundreds of pounds. Even an artisanal mill will have a minimum order requirement. A handspinner is generally working with a single fleece, which doesn’t meet the large thresholds for mill processing. Sending a small order of fleece to be “dehaired” at a mill could be cost prohibitive.

The good news

From the comfort of your own home or studio, you can easily separate a dual-coated fleece using the most basic fiber processing tool known to humanity – your hands. Fiber tools such as combs, carders, flickers, or hackles can be used to separate a dual-coated fleece, but not all fiber artists will have these items readily available. If you don’t work with raw fleeces often, you may not want to invest in hand tools you will only use occasionally. Here is how to separate your dual-coated fleece, in four easy steps, using only your hands:

1) Take an individual lock of wool and secure the cut end of the lock between your thumb and index finger.

2) With your other hand, pinch or wrap the tip of the lock between your fingers.

3) Once your lock is in this position, hold the cut end firmly while you pull the tip away from the base of the lock until you have pulled the lock completely apart. This may happen with a single pull or you may need to repeatedly and gently tug the tip several times to separate the outercoat from undercoat.

4) Repeat steps 1–3 until you have the desired amount of separated fibers.

It is a simple process, and your technique will improve with practice. Start slowly until you get the feel for it. The instructions work for both left and right handers.

Additional tips

Locks (l-r): a whole lock, separated outercoat, separated undercoat

Let’s start with an easy tip. Make sure to set up containers for the separated locks before you start. You want to avoid undoing your efforts.

Make sure your work area is well-ventilated and easy to clean. Even washed locks can still contain vegetable matter and dust that can be inhaled and tracked around. By anticipating the need to clean up after the process, you can aim to make less of a mess in the first place.

Depending on personal preference, you can hand-separate raw locks or washed locks with equal success. Raw locks will still contain lanolin, which can be a bit smelly and greasy, but the lanolin makes the fibers more slippery and therefore easier to pull apart by hand. The fibers from the separated raw locks can be washed later using your preferred fleece scouring method. Washed locks, on the other hand, will be clean and smell nicer but can be a bit harder to separate because the slipperiness caused by the lanolin is gone.

If your locks (washed or raw) have started to felt, don’t panic! There is still a chance for the locks to be hand-separated successfully if you carefully tease the lock apart. Gently tugging and pulling the ends of the felting lock should release the fibers from each other enough to be separated.

Final thoughts

Locks and samples

Dual-coated sheep breeds can be found all over the world. Shetland, Icelandic, Karakul, Navajo-Churro, and Soay are five breeds of dual-coated sheep whose fleeces are relativity easy to acquire from North American flocks. To demonstrate the hand-separation process, I used lovely milk-chocolate locks from a dual-coated Icelandic yearling-ewe fleece sourced from North America. The technique for separating dual-coated fibers explained here can be used for other non-sheep, fiber-producing, dual-coated animals, such as qiviut, bison, yak, and cashmere goat.

A dual-coated fleece has much to offer to those looking for a project that can inspire and surprise. It is rewarding to take a raw fleece to an unusual and unexplored place. So what are you waiting for? Start towards the next destination in your fiber arts journey.

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 @foreverfiberarts.

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.

References from Spring 2021 issue

Two of the articles in the Spring 2021 issue (Double-coated) contained a number of helpful references.

References from “What Is Primitive? What Is Double-Coated?” by Deborah Robson

Christiansen, Carol Anne. “Primitive Wool and Early Textile Production in Shetland,” diss.,

University of Manchester, 2003.

Dýrmundsson, Ólafur R. “Four–Hornedness: A Rare Peculiarity Still Found in Icelandic Sheep.”

The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America Newsletter 9, no. 4 (2005): 6–8.

Dýrmundsson, Ólafur R., and R. Niznikowski. “North European Short-tailed Breeds of Sheep:

A Review.” Animal 4 (2010), 1275–82.

Elwes, Henry John. Guide to the Primitive Breeds of Sheep and Their Crosses on Exhibition at

the Royal Agricultural Society’s Show, Bristol, 1913, with Notes on the Management of Park Sheep in England and the Possible Advantages of Crossing Them with Improved Breeds. (No location cited): Rare Breeds Survival Trust, [1913] 1983.

___. “Notes on the Primitive Breeds of Sheep in Scotland.” The Scottish Naturalist 2 (1912): 25–


Falck, Diane. “Understanding Primitive Fleece.” In Timeless Coloured Sheep, edited by Dawie

du Toit, 92–96. Petersberg, Germany: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2014.

Gleba, Margarita. “From Textiles to Sheep: Investigating Wool Fibre Development in Pre-

Roman Italy Using Scanning Electron Microscopy (Sem).” Journal of Archaeological Science 39, no. 12 (2012): 3643–61.

Noddle, Barbara A., and Michael Lawson Ryder. “Primitive Sheep in the Aran Islands.” Journal

of Archaeological Science 1, no. 1 (1974): 109–12.

Ryder, Michael Lawson. “Fleece Evolution in Domestic Sheep.” Nature 204, no. 495 (1964):


___. “Follicle Arrangement in Skin from Wild Sheep, Primitive Domestic Sheep and in

Parchment.” Nature 182, no. 5638 (1958): 781–83.

___. “Seasonal Fleece Changes in Some Cheviot Sheep.” Journal of Agricultural Science,

Cambridge 83 (1974): 93–99.

___. “A Survey of European Primitive Breeds of Sheep.” Annales de génétique et de sélection

animale (Ann. Genet. Sel. anim) 13, no. 4 (1981): 381–418.

___. “Why Do Animals Moult?” New Scientist 13, no. 272 (1962): 266–69.

Wade-Martins, Peter. Black Faces: A History of East Anglian Sheep Breeds. Ashford, Kent,

England: Norfolk Museums Service in association with Geerings of Ashford, 1993.

References from “Wool, Hair, and Kemp” by Deborah Robson

Alderson, Lawrence. (accessed May 4, 2020).

American Sheep Industry Association. Sheep Production Handbook. Englewood, CO: American

Sheep Industry Association, 2015.

ASTM International. Standard Terminology Relating to Textiles, D 123-00b. West

Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2000.

Christiansen, Carol Anne. “Primitive Wool and Early Textile Production in Shetland,” diss.,

University of Manchester, 2003.

Porter, Valerie, Lawrence Alderson, and Stephen J. G. Hall. Mason’s World Encyclopedia of

Livestock Breeds and Breeding, Volumes 1 & 2. Wallingford and Boston: CABI, 2016.

Ryder, Michael L. “Wool of the 14th Century BC from Tell El-Amarna, Egypt.” Nature 240, no.

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Independently in the Wool of Romney Sheep.” New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 41, no. 1 (1998): 101–10.

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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: Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

reviewed by Sukrita Mahon

First published 27 years ago, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber is still considered essential reading for contemporary textile artists. Its importance cannot be understated, considering that thread- and cloth-making have been so vital to our civilisation from the very beginning. It’s disturbing to think that since they were the domain of women from the earliest times, they have been left out of much of our histories and archaeological studies. There are a few reasons for this: textiles are much more perishable than other crafts, and until recently we did not have technology to analyse the fibres that did survive. Moreover, they were often not considered worth studying in detail, since most archaeologists were male and not particularly interested in these crafts. Archaeologists who also weave and spin are surprisingly hard to come by even today. Add to this the fact that women usually did not tell their own stories by writing them down (but men did), a lot gets left out.

As a spinner who took it up mainly for fun and stress relief, I found it really interesting to contemplate just how old the craft is. The fact that many of the chapters contain glimpses of the spinners’ and weavers’ lives make it all the more entrancing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered what the lives of earlier fibre artists might have been like, and the book certainly delivers on building that understanding. I was also struck by how common and all-encompassing a task it was to create cloth: all women participated in it, without exception, nearly constantly! Those who made it their occupation ran workshops that went through huge quantities of wool. Even those who belonged to the ruling classes – princesses and queens – spun and wove, in fact to a high standard, since they were required to make important pieces. Such work couldn’t be delegated away.

Textiles were of pivotal importance to a region’s economy and growth, even before money was invented in its current form. When we think of “treasure” today, we picture gold or jewels, but cloth was among the most prized of possessions. In many places in Asia and elsewhere, this is still true today, as regional textiles still hold a place on the international market. Many regions are famous for their unique handlooms, often passed down within families. Unfortunately, we can no longer say that they are prized as highly as they once might have been, nor that most artisans are able to make a good living from making them. While the book is focused on a small region: Europe, Egypt, and the ancient Near East, we can still imagine how some of the lifestyle aspects may have carried on into present day in areas where these crafts are still practised.

One of the criticisms of the book from other reviewers is that it’s overly academic – I didn’t really find that to be the case. The writing is engaging and the material was very interesting to me. For instance, I had no idea that Venus de Milo is depicted in a spinning stance and that this would have been clear to us if only we hadn’t erased the image of a spinning figure from our collective consciousness. The book does not include very much detail about the spinning or weaving techniques, and the little description there is, I found somewhat confusing. Other craftspeople may not think so, especially those more knowledgeable about weaving than I am.

The detail and intricacy of some of the early textiles is astounding, apparently even to the archaeologists studying them. They wonder why people would go to all that effort to make such beautiful things when, from our point of view, they were merely existing at subsistence level. The author suggests we change our mindset a bit to understand why their textiles were so lavish. In a time with few entertainments outside of the work that needed to be done, any creative impulses would have been cherished and explored to the fullest. Even in this far-away glimpse of an ancient society, we can see similarities with textile villages tucked away in remote parts of the world. People find ways of creative expression through cloth, often regardless of financial circumstance.

I found myself wondering if we had come that far at all in valuing these crafts today. While women have become a lot more independent and are no longer tied to gendered vocations, textile artisans struggle to make a living in many parts of the world. A number of crafts are dying due to globalisation and a shrinking market for the textiles. Women may not have had the opportunity to record their histories in the past, but in the present day, we do have the opportunity to educate ourselves and the wider world about the impacts of colonisation and globalisation on textiles. As spinners or weavers ourselves, we are uniquely positioned, since we have the experience of loving the craft and knowing, sadly, how little it means to people outside of these spheres.

For history lovers and lovers of mythology, there is a lot of inspiration within these pages. Reading about how symbols, colours, and numbers were used to convey various messages struck a deep chord in me. We are still able to imbue our work with meaning and magic in very personal ways. Our ancestors might have woven protective spells into their clothes before embarking on dangerous journeys  – and we might do the same today, for very different reasons. The thread of conscious intention, a source of personal power, remains unbroken even today, despite so many attempts to break it. I came away from this book with a renewed sense of reverence for this “women’s work.”

Rating 4/5

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The double-coated issue is coming!

Spring 2021 Sneak Peek

The Double-coated issue is twice as full and gorgeous as whatever you’re reading now! In fact, it’s so full we had to add extra pages (it comes in at a whopping 136 pages). From the softest sheep to “carpet sheep,” from Norway to Arabia, from woolen to worsted, from North Ronaldsay to Kihnu and Hungary to Soay, this issue travels around the world and is filled with sheep you’re going to want to snuggle and spin. It includes everything you’ve ever wanted to know about primitive and double-coated sheep, including separating, not separating, prepping, dyeing, spinning, plying, knitting, history, folklore, and more gorgeous images than you can shake a stick at. You’ll want this issue. 

Get your subscription in (or renewed) by February 20th to get in on the first shipping (March 10th is our ship date).

P.S. It’s also got Nancy Bush. ’Nuff said.

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.