Ma’s Wooly weekend on Zen ;a look at projects, tools and fibers, and the folk on Ma’s Big three

If you are interested in spinning or knitting, or if you like the incredible work Ma does on shawls to socks this is a must read and see.

The long awaited fleeces from Whispering Pines Farm came in on Friday, along with Ma’s new combs and another set of needles. Ma finished her hand-gradient wool project and I was able to put together redesigned spools specifically for Ma to ply on.

We had gotten notice that Ma’s ( my better half ) combs were in at the Post Office along with another set of needles she has needed for her collection; which, all too often are missing that ONE set she needs for a project as the matching set has yarn on it for one of her many ongoing projects, or because, she simply has been putting it off.. until I get fussy with her while she tries to MacGyver her way around with something that just doesn’t have the length or size she needs. Then at the last moment, we got notice that her fleeces were in as well.. Time for me to make a road trip…Yup; Nope… It isn’t a just walk to the mailbox for us…We have to head to the village at the bottom of Zen.. Not Gotham… The other direction…One of those Actual small towns, though even it is growing as citiots want to make the woods just another suburban development…


Oh I want to live in the woods like I see on TV….” Then they do and it is then;” We need paved roads. We need stores that have every little thing I want.. We need all these pesky trees cut down, pavement and lights put up.. What is with all of these wild animals? We need to get rid of all of them, they eat my plants…and pets… Oh let’s have parties with all of our friends up here so they can see how quiet it is... We can play the music as loud as we want, they can bring up their guns and shoot all these darn animals for us. Oh yes, we have deer.. Sure all you guys can hunt our property. Oh I need room for my dogs to run free.. Why WOULDN”T the neighbors like my sweet dog chasing animals off their property too, and digging up their place, and barking day and night.. Oh! Why is everything so brown up here? We have a well.. We can just run water round the clock and we don’t have to worry about water bills.. Why don’t I have water? What do you mean my well dried up? What do you mean I dried up my well, your well, his well and his well? What do you mean the county doesn’t plow this road every day in winter? What do you mean I have to walk a mile to my car? Well WHO is going to plow my drive? Who is going to plow my road? Who is going to repair the road after I tore it up trying to get in during the ice storm? Oh Look at the cute cougar..He is so pretty..OH MY GOD! It is tearing apart my cute little Biffy !”

Trust me… I have seen and heard all of that and a lot more…and at this moment there are two families trying to out bid each other on the log home next to us.. In the last 12 months there have been a lot of changes.. This will be the biggest for us…Just in the last few months we are looking at five new families here on Zen.. Doubling the homes.. Water could be a thing of the past if they aren’t careful…and Telling them it is limited and we are all on the same aquifer means nothing to people that think they know everything and that we are hicks…as they move in to the homes next door…Seems they don’t get that if this makes us hicks.. what exactly does it make them? Most people don’t last through a second winter up here, and not a dang one of them believed me when I told them what winter was like…Citiots…


I ran to our little village of 432 people, where the Post Office is, grabbed up Ma’s goodies, headed back home and began to finally look at the three antique bobbins we had found ages ago now.

Ma’s oldest wheel; 1792 Irish Castle wheel needed parts to get her going, so we looked and looked for bits and pieces. They are out there, but having parts made is really the only option..but we bought quiet a few parts in hopes that we could get them up and going….Years later, I am finally looking at them against Ma’s ” Mama Wheel” ; 1970 Dutch Castle .

Which is always Ma’s go-to.

Mama Wheel and her much younger ” sister ” is an actual reproduction of Mama Wheel

which, you might think that as it is newer and never been used that it would be the better wheel.. HA!… Nope, Mama wheel is the best of the three, easily. This last year we have been working out the bugs on little sister.. Ma finds a bind and I take it out, something needs to be changed and we do.. one step at a time…What is nice, however, is that her and Mama wheel are close enough that setting up Mama Wheel ( as it always is ) as the main spinner… With the bobbins redesigned, we can put them on sister for plying… These are much larger much so that they were too long, too wide, the angles of the drop on the caps were way to shallow and over all they were very roughly made…as in very old and made by hand… I can just see an old homesteader listening to his wife and her wanting bobbins while he is staring at the acres he needs to be out working on…come winter he sits by the fire, making the bobbins while the snows piles up outside…wolves howling at the door…mostly because they just want to lay by the fire too.

Ma helped me look at how things did(n’t) fit , ideas on what she needed and what I might be able to do without a lathe ..still need to grab one.. and then she had to go to work….

Well.. I figured it wouldn’t take me too long to work on three little bobbins… HA!…I took them and one of Mama Wheel’s bobbins and headed to the shop….Fifteen minutes in, I saw it would take more work than I had anticipated .. There was only one this I could do!…..I turned on the power to the radio..70s rock blasting in the shop made things go much faster…I finally can get radio to work in there! and that would be a WHOOP Alice…

I couldn’t find the singular tool I needed….go figure…I’ll have to spend some quality time in Outie looking through all my tool boxes… So Plan B it is….I turned up the volume…Ahh That’s better… I set up the drill press, got out files, blocks , sand paper, moto tools.. goggles…yeah, we know that is a lesson well ingrained by now… and put myself into the project… I measured the original, then took a deep breath, I am basically destroying antiques .. I recut the top of the first, measured back and forth until I had the right depth.. I had to guess at the angle , but I had that fixed in my brain, so we were good there until fitting. Once I brought in the cap size I went to the ” base” well, here is where we run into problems.. One of the problems was that the ratios were off…. Ma runs a 6/1 One of these is closer to 8.5/1 another at 9.5/1 …Which, of course, changes the rate of spin …..For plying, the 8 is actually about what we wanted….the tool I COULD find wont get in to check that…dang lost tools… , so I could only look at the smaller diameter and use a file to bring in the ratio by eye… I didn’t do too much there in the end as that really needs to be checked as I work.. but I did bring it in a bit.

Now.. Cap is the right depth and the base is the right depth, so I went on to the second.. basically doing the same thing. With press, files and sand paper I did the bulk of the work so it was slow but very smooth. I got the two where I thought they were done then I started finish sanding…all the way down to 600 grit and on to 0000 steel wool. The wood had a very nice glow it it at this point… Now on to number three… The first two were fairly close to each other by design, though obviously not done by the same person.. The third was completely different… I sanded the rough and checked the depths…Well heck, they were smaller than the original… All should be good to go…..Well.. as all this redesigning started with all the bobbins being too long, I had to sigh…It’s the shafts…I had brought down a lot on both top and bottoms of the first two but didn’t think to check the shaft as they all looked pretty close….Not close enough… I had to go back in and cut on both ends…and then start sanding from the top to the gloss… I was able to cut the first two fairly quickly as they were close…The third, again, not even close. with over all of 100.3 on the original and 109.8 on the third.. How the hell was I going to get that down as I couldn’t just cut of the shaft and tap the top to drop it back in…would have been too short and is I was off just a bit things would really get screwy..

I cut the bottom until I was getting much closer than I would like to the V …and I cut the top down until I was getting concerned about how I would get rid of binding… Got her reshaped and sanded/buffed and took the three inside for Ma to check after work…..It had taken over four hours for those three little bobbins…..Which all leads to why I tell Ma to pick up the tools she needs.. Don’t make do if we have a choice. With the correct tools, I could have made new bobbins in the same amount of time. Probably less.

Ma checked the bobbins on Sister Wheel, which she had set up for the plying wheel…The first two worked once Ma sprayed the shaft..The third, as was my concern, rubbed…It would have to go back in the shop.

Saturday, I ran the three bobbins back into the shop, found a matching stain to go with Mama wheel..close as I can get for now…got them done and worked on the angles of the third…Going straight to the files and press.. I already knew what I had to change so it went fairly quick. We had already spent the day working outside and I was feelin all noodly so quick good…

At the same time we had grabbed up half of Freyja’s fleece, put it in a bag Ma made specifically for washing fleece and began to clean her up.

We have a nice deep utility sink in the Utility room so fleece in bag sat on the washer while we filled the sink with hot water and a bit of soap… once it was set, we submerged the fleece, let it soak for around fifteen minutes then did it again. A final rinse and then into the washer on spin and then out on the rack we made for drying socks and sweaters on the porch, not the deck, so that it wouldn’t be in the sun.

While Ma finished the rinsing, I finished the third bobbin, we were both done about the same time. We put the fleece out and then checked the new angles on the bobbin and poof! She worked…Back out ot the shop for stain.. Shop was so warm, I got on her first coat and the second on the other two annnnnddd the second on the third as well. They just needed to dry completely so that I could buff them down one last time.

Whew.. Still there?

Now comes the fun parts….ok..more fun….

On to the Fleeces


Now Freyja’s was the first fleece we are working on. By far the largest, the fleece is wonderful. So friggin soft and full. You can look through the stats if you truly want to be impressed… Course, without me hooking you up to all the fact finding videos that Jen and Rich have put together I imagine you could just nod your head and say ” Ssssuuuureee ok.”

The staple length, which you can see above, is amazing… I swear, Ma started drooling a bit there for a moment.

When we opened the bags in the house, we were taken to Jen’s farm instantly… Yes there can be bad barn yard odor, which with my background, I have smelled some pretty stiff scents working in barns.. Not here though. Again, it would take watching the videos to see the passion these folks have for not just the best product but the best care and high standards for the sheep.. This is no lamb mill .. though this year they had a tremendous amount of births…mostly rams..

They treat the sheep better than a lot of people treat their pets and you can see it, over and over again….and Noooo I don’t get paid to say that.. We just get to stay in touch and pick up the best Shetland wool/fleece on the market.

Washing Freyja’s fleece
Post wash and drying for Freyja’s first half
Freyja’s Lock .. an incredible length


We have the second half of Freyja to wash then on to Pearl…Needless to say, the fleece is fantastic…No joking, Ma was snuggling with these out on the porch…. friggin Cat Nip to her…..

The hummies even came in , sitting around the fleece on their little make shift perches watching and chatting about it.. Lass actually pulled out a wee leetle measuring tape to try to sneak off with a lock for her nest.. Thought her and Ma were going to have it out right then and there….

Again, as one would expect, barn yard scent filled the porch.. The truly amazing thing is; I could smell it… My sense of smell is all but gone from working with industrial chemicals since 1965 until October 2020..

In a moment I was walking through the barn in Kansas, then washed away to Washington and suddenly back on Zen….I am sure that not everyone gets that freeride and more likely than not, there are citiots that would gasp and kick the box out of the house, throwing a fit….. Don’t FRIGGIN open a box of fleece from a farm in your Stainless steel and white carpet house then….

Pearl is 11 years old, absolutely consistent high quality fleece. You would never guess her age with how soft her wool is.

Many of the sheep we have dealt with from other farms have had the same girl just get courser over the years…Not here.. Not with Whispering Pines.


Now Elizabeth is still young. She, of course, has the smallest of the three fleeces but small does not have anything to do with the quality. Take a gander at the Fact Sheet for the micron count on her….

We have been watching these girls and, of course, the new lambs to start keeping an eye on over the next year while Ma works on her ” Christmas List” of fleece…

The Fleece sale was Incredible …For just a matter of minutes… Ma knew fully who she was trying to get…One actually got pulled out of her cart, sending her into Plan B which is pretty much BUY BUY BUY! So we missed out on two fleeces we had been hoping for but incredibly happy that we scored these three….

It takes around an hour to clean each fleece ( twice for Freyja ) Then on to working with the Locks for Ma…Flick and spin…After that we will see what all we have left to go on to any next steps to finish up the fleeces…

All of these girls were rooed.

Rooing is the process of removing the fleece from the sheep by hand plucking the wool.  Many Shetland sheep retain a complete or partial tendency to shed the current year’s fleece growth in late spring or early summer. At the point where the fibre diameter becomes thinner and weaker, the fleece breaks quite easily.  It does not hurt the sheep when the weakened fibres are plucked or rooed by hand.

Jen rooing pearl on Youtube

Jen rooing Elizabeth on Youtube

Now, you’ll notice.. No vid of Freyja being rooed… I asked Jen about that…over beers…Oh Crap! I forgot the beers..

Thing was, Freyja was being a pill.. She did not want to be rooed…She wanted to watch America Doesn’t have Talent so, needless to say, when she got pulled from her show, she was a wee bit miffed over the whole thing…

Freyja was the first girl to lamb this year.. which made her a little easier to deal with…seems passing a pork butt will mellow you out a bit. She was a little better when it came to the neck and britch rooing …..

A) She needed some girl time

B) Her show was on the day before

C) The other girls were making fun of her saying she looked like a lion..with a poofy butt.

Seem like a ton of wool? Nope, again, check out the sheet on weight… These are not enormous sheep… Ma will have them spun and knitted up in no time.. She is already setting up designs for Freyja as it finishes drying..

What’s next? Well we shall see what Ma can get her hands on from Jen. I know what Ma wants as well as plan B there as well…

Now, Ma has a couple other fleeces from other folks of different breeds, mostly for socks… So we have a lot of work to do before it is all said and done and laying in the dirty woolens basket….Fortunately for me.. I just help with prep and make toys.. The hard stuff is what Ma considers ” Play” so it is definitely all good…As I sit here writing in almost all woolen goodies from Ma..and ..No .. I do not look like some Stay Puff man or a walking TP cozy..

Wool ( as in NOT man made wanna be something with wool hinted at in the name ) keeps you warm when it is cold and cool when it is warm…Duh…. More work making and cleaning..But worth every bit of it….


Ma’s completed latest project

Spinning Neck wool from Whispering Pines.. Ma’s thinnest yet.. we haven’t checked just how thin yet..all going in the direction towards That Shetland Stars wedding ring shawl

I showed you folks Ma’s first couple tries at Gradient wool in Zen’s Short Stories ; Hey Ma! where I explain more on how she did it.. after watching Jen mess about with some…

Top view of the beret Ma just finished up using the 10 color gradient Ma put together by hand
side view of beret
looking up from the bottom on the beret
Ma wearing the beret.. you’ll notice; No face…just never gonna happen
risky view of Ma’s beret.. you can almost envision a person…Maybe Ma..maybe not..

And finally

The toys

Ma’s peasant combs. These are the beast of the combs. They are used for really heavy, coarse wools. Don’t get in the way when using these combs. They are heavy and lethal. At this time, we do not have any wool that we would use these on, however, we do have some coming our way.
carding combs from Clem and Clem.. I had to put new carding on it..and now we are going to put finer on we shall see how permanently I put those puppies on. Hand cards are mostly used for short fibers, making a fluffy cloud of wool, mostly used in long draw spinning. They can also be used to blend different fibers together, and some people even use them to make rolags.
Viking Extra Fine combs. The one the left is listed as Mini combs, and the one on right is full size combs. These are used with fine wool, great for combing locks, and blending different colors. In fact, Ma used the full size ones to blend all the fiber into the 10 different shades for the gradient yarn she spun for her beret. Starting with four original colors: white, light gray, dark gray and black. She started with the original white, then blended the first two original colors, creating two shades; then the next two original colors, again creating two shades; and finally, the last two original colors, creating the last two shades; ending with the original black.
Russian Comb. Ma learned about this unusual comb from Galina Khmeleva, who is the knitting expert in Orenberg knitting. These combs are very, very fine and used to prep cashmere for spinning.
Bag Ma made for washing the fleece 45″ by 36″, this bag is used to wash the fleece, being able to keep the lock structure intact, yet still being able to process a clean fleece.
needle case 1 – wanting to save space, and have all her needles in one place, Ma came up with a plan. She keeps most of her hand tools in a basket we put together, so the needles needed to fix the width of this basket. Off to the drawing board. These are grouped by size, starting at 000 up to size 3, with cable lengths from 16″ to 60″, these are all Addi fixed circular needles. We won’t go into the interchangeable ones, which, yes, she does have interchangeables from size 4 – 10.5. These are made of nickel, and produced in Germany, and though not cheap, they do have a lifetime warranty. A far cry from the Sixteen Penny nails she started with.
first layer on case 1
lower layer of needles all by size and length
needle cases 2 and 3, more toys. The case on the left, is for all the dp needles (double pointed), and the one on the right, is for needles she got from Heirloom Knitting, specifically for shetland shawl knitting.
case 2 all by sizes – yes if you can see the photo and read the little numbers, yes, these go all the way to 00000, which is really really tiny.
case 3 double pointed – available in two lengths – 5″ and 8″ – each has it’s purpose, depending on what you knitting.
Mama wheel’s original bobbin size on the left. The three plying bobbins I reshaped and shortened to fit. Ma wants to use these new plying bobbins to increase the size of the skeins she spins. The bobbin on the left, is Mama wheel’s original bobbin, and will hold approximately 1oz for fiber. The plan is to full up the original bobbin (see photo below) and then ply on the larger bobbin – hense a bigger skein of yarn.

Up to this point, Ma has been spinning until the smaller ( original ) bobbins are half full then she plies them together whether two ply or up to fiver or six ply

 plying is a process used to create a strong, balanced yarn. It is done by taking two or more strands of yarn that each have a twist to them and putting them together. The strands are twisted together, in the direction opposite that in which they were spun.

Having the smaller skeins of yarn , though not a problem for Ma, adds even more work… How?

Well, you could tie them off together to make the large projects….ooorrrrrrr.. and I never cease to be entertained by this; Ma spit joins them.. Ok, I saw that, quit wrigglin… She takes the end of one skein, or single ply for that, moistens them and rolls them between her palms which makes a seamless invisible bond…Now two skeins ( as it were ) are now one.

You wont find many if any of Ma’s starts or stops in her knitting..She has found a ton of sneaky-hidy tricks..” My Precious

Ma’s Home inside our home. Where she sits and spins or knits and repairs.

Ordered Chaos? Not even close to chaotic … To the right side ( in the pic) at the edge of the table you may see her ” Basket” Yup another earlier project of ours.. It opens, it folds.. you can fold it up and hide it under your steak knives included, I am afraid… Under said table are two more baskets ; wicker, which have more of the project needs, whether fleece, yarn or fiber. Lazy Kates, scales and more are in constant use. Ma’s magnet boards with her charts at hand.. You can even see the cable for her I pad…whether watching Jen’s videos….* eye roll* or watching Jen’s videos.. Until the end of the month when it is running WAFA sales…in between Jen’s videos.. No actually, she uses it for a heck of a lot more… Like Jen’s sheeps pics…

So,….Now ya have it…. This is one of the better parts of Ma’s world.. oh, and where I was standing to take the pic.. yup.. wood stove..

I remember when we first ran into Jen’s wool at the WAFA sale just this last Fall.. It actually feels like we have know them for a whole lot longer than that..and if you have been reading the posts, you know that Ma has gone through a lot of different fibers, because. How do you know if you don’t like something until you’ve tried it?…Ok.. I still ain’t trying Rocky Mountain oysters ..but..fiber-wise , We have run into several breeds, and then narrowed down farms with those breeds until Ma have a very very tight hand full of folk that are producing the best of the best out there… Why go with the best?

That is simple, and yeah, my fault…. I drug Ma into a shop with a much higher grade of yarn than she had been using as I couldn’t see using Walmart yarn for what she was making…Made no sense….Once I got her hooked on the next level, it didn’t take much to talk her into better.. That, my friends, turned a corner and, I , of course, bought her Mama wheel…in a bidding war…she isn’t a replica .. she is the one that they were designed from…..and never coming close to.

Once I got Ma on the wheel, another click happened and we looked at less and less yarn and more towards fibers… She still buys blends now and again, but…. people are putting them out too fast or on new equipment and letting passion slide into production…colors drew back to natural colors as we ever went back in time .. Bunnies, Goats and Sheeps all had colors that we enjoy.. Violent greens oranges and reds.. no thanks.. Greys blacks browns and whites cover it all.. The variations of just those colors are really amazing when you take the time to look..

Then, as I say in comes Whispering Pines ,Southern Angora Rabbitry, and Creative Ripples by Lisa.

The big three… If Ma is making something, there is a large probability that one of these are on needles…ok..fine, there is always one if not all three on needles at any given time. You would do yourself an enormous favor to get to these folks, check out what they have and find out what the real deal is.

Now…. I think we have learned a bit, shown off some fun tools, a bit of Ma’s work, a bunch of Jen and Rich’s work.

I just touched on the other two folk, though I have talked about them before…

The thing is…Quality is one thing… Passion for what you do is an entire different level.. We have seen quality before, well and misguided passion.. but when you get the two wrapped together to put out fiber that you simply can’t find anywhere else ( at least so far ) and then you put that in Ma’s hands.. Now, you have articles of woolery..and don’t forget bunnies…that are treasured and will be for a very long time. I know there are a lot of folk that have asked about shawls or sweaters and more from Ma… You see amazing detail, heritage quality work.. but you need to touch them, wear them…That is where these other folk come in… They produce the fiber that makes the clothes that Ma creates what you will always grab first.. no matter where you are going or what you are going to do… Yup, whether I am on the farm grubbin about or if I am walking the runway showin off my goods…wait..what? Crap…No I meant ..hmm… Let’s see..

Grubbin in the dirt..Check

Ummm.. I know this one….

Oh Oh.. Picking up mail…check

*tap tap tap* OH RIGHT!

Buying groceries !

If I ever get back up on a stage again, it’ll be with a band, not some glamour runway.. and yeah.. the chances that I’ll be wearin Woolies, pretty friggin high.. hot or cold,, they keep you balanced as well as you can be…

Well, we have gone through a lot of info and pics today..

HEY! Wake up..or you’ll miss the best part!

Zen let me have some

Ma and I stood in the porch, looking at each of the fleeces….Hummies flying overhead..until.. The girls figured out what we were looking at….Then it was a scene from ” The Birds”

In the next few moments, dozens of hummingbirds were perched around the porch on any available perchy type pokey thang.

I slowly looked around… Ma was already snuggling wools, and I could see a glisten of drool as she came up for air..

Next, I noticed all the girlie hums were licking their lips.. That’s when I got nervous.

Soooooooo..whatcha gonna do with all of that?” Lass asked as she stared at Freyja’s fleece.

Wash it and spin it, make it into a very nice shawl.” Ma answered through the wool mashed to her face.

Umm not ALL of it..Right? I mean… The wool out for us to pick through is …gawwhhh.. Red! and smells funny.”

Oh it is just fine. You like red.” Ma muttered

I do NOT need power colors in my nest!” Hollywood groused.

We ALL turned to look at him.

Ex-squeeze me?” I asked.

Hollywood snorted…” Err ummm, I meant to say.. Lass’s nest..yeah..”

” Taking up knitting are we Hollywood?”

Hey!..Oh wait! Interloper! Gotta run.” And..he was off.

I look down to see Lass with a measuring tape stretching a lock out between her wings, shaking her head and calling down one of her sisters to help. It took the both of them to stretch the lock out to its full length… Before Ma came up for air again..

Gawhh! Shoo! No fleece for ju !” Ma cried out, waving her fist full of fleece at them…

I could tell that not a one of them were listening.. All the girls could do was watch the floating, waving magic fleece.

Ok.Ok you guys! You’re kinda creeping me out” I snorted.

As one, the glazed hummie eyes..along with Ma’s , all turned to me….at which point, I backed through the glass storm door, pressing my hands to either side..watching… The Horror! The Horror…ok fine.. just bunch of crazy girls fawning over the fleeces.,, but still…

Hollywood was hovering outside the Morning room window…” Dude! What the hell? “

They like the wool…So long as it doesn’t come to blows, I think we’re all good.”

Lass had her measuring tape behind her back as she gave Ma a cheesy smile and flew up to a perch..

I’m up here.” Ma said as the hummies stared at her package.

The hummers blinked and finally looked up to Ma’s face…then slowly gravitated back to the fleeces…

Seriously?” Ma asked.. hands on hips…wool still clutched.

But… But.. I can’t stop looking.. It’s like a friggin sea of wool… I could like line a bajillion nests with that…No more freezing in the winter er nuttin.” Lass pouted.

Finally I gave in, walked back out, shooing female hummers from about my head while I grabbed up fleece and carefully packed it away…To choruses of shock and awe as the girls watched the fiber go slowly away…

The magic broken, they all started going about their little hummie business.. muttering indignantly about how I was a fun sucker…and such… at least.. I THINK that is what they were muttering…

Fleeces, bagged and boxed, I lured Ma back into the house, waving the box in front of her…

Ok.. Let’s get this cleaned up so you can play with it.” I said grinning.

Ma had held back a single lock that she just kept playing with..

Heeeelllllooooooooowwww …Can you hear me now?” I laughed..

Ma looked up smiling.. ” Ok.. work to do…Come on… Let’s get this cleaned up. I don’t know WHAT you have been up to….Ya know.. it IS..just another day on Zen Mountain.”

Ummm.. but.. That’s MY line.” I pouted.

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