Spinning Milkweed Fluff

Milkweed Pod Process

Milkweeds. Who would have thought that they would be any good to me as a fiber artist? I have this habit of finding plants and searching online to see what I can make of the plant. You’d be amazed how far you can get with a simple Google search. My search term of choice was “spinning milkweed” and I was met with some interesting results:

  1. Yes it can be spun.
  2. No it’s not strong enough to be spun on its own.
  3. More commonly it was used for stuffing pillows and blankets, as milkweed is more insulating than goose down.

What a pleasant surprise! Actually I learned much more about the plant and its uses, its edibility, etc. Milkweed is the #1 plant that Monarch butterflies eat. Sure enough I found a caterpillar underneath one of the leaves!

So I harvested a bunch, cracked open the green shell (there’s a seam on the back that peels right into the core), pulled out the fluffy bits, de-seeded them (saving the seeds to toss back out on my next walk), fluffed the fluff off of the inner core (it’s like a spongy wafer), and set it out to dry on an old window screen.

Milkweed Fluff

Here are the fluff bits all dried out. They are luxurious and silky both in look and touch. Sadly the root end of each fluff bit is a bit on the picky side, if you had the dedication you could snip them all out though. Considering the amount of work that goes into making actual silk though it’s probably easier to snip these ends! And boy is it ever light and warm. Lighter and warmer than angora I would say. But not as soft overall due to the picky bits.

Spinning Dog Hair and Milkweed

Here I am spinning up some milkweed and Lee fur. The milkweed is just too slippy and short to spin on its own. From what I’ve read online not even plying it gives it enough strength. So I mixed it with a pile of Lee fur and spun it up, and will add this to the pile of yarn which will become a hat for the pup.

Dog Milkweed Yarn

Here’s the final dog and milkweed yarn. Surprisingly I got a decent amount – something like 15 meters of a medium weight yarn. The milkweed stretched things out for sure.

Yarn Closeup

And a closeup to show you the variation of white milkweed and medium brown dog fiber. And little burr seeds of course. There’s no way I’m spending time picking stuff out of yarn that will become a dog hat, and combing Lee to get rid of the seeds was the reason I ended up with all the fluff in the first place. Such is the life of a natural fiber spinner I guess, with fiber comes cellulose.

I compared this to my other snippets of 100% dog fur. It’s a bit hard to describe their similarities and differences. Both were soft, the milkweed one was more luxurious like a rich sauce compared to mustard but then the picky bits were a bit tangy and sharp.

The next steps for experimentation include spinning it up with some white Shetland and dyeing it with my protein dyes. Since milkweed is a plant the fiber is a cellulose one, it will not be dyed with my protein dyes, unlike wool (and other animal fibers) which is a protein fiber. So the result will be a fantastically dyed yarn with white silky streaks peppered throughout it. I also want to try felting with the milkweed, whether it’s actively felting things together or sandwiching the milkweed between two layers of wool felt, or even using it as a component in a felted figurine.

Oh Milkweed. I have a feeling I will end up cultivating lots of you in my future. That will be cool though, it will treat the farm visitors to a Monarch show!

Spinning Dog Fur

Lees Undercoat

Anyone who owns a dog or cat can attest to the above picture – the results of a simple combing session add up quickly. This is Lee’s undercoat. It’s very much warm and soft, in fact it’s quite like Angora fiber. I’d say it’s certainly skin soft (as in you could wear this next to your skin without irritation). Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to use this?

Lees Yarn

Guess what! There is a way! The spinner in me noticed it very quickly. I could not resist pulling out my wheel and giving this a spin – no processing or cleaning or combing, just raw off the brush. The result – a medium strength woolen yarn, only about 5 meters or so but I estimate Lee has more undercoat left on him, possibly enough to get up to 10 meters. From an animal who is not a fiber animal primarily, what a nice surprise!

Lee with his Yarn

Here’s Lee posing with his wool-wound yarn. Yes that is the color of my living room. I love it!

I will be using this yarn to make Lee a little hat. I wanted it to have a certain amount of color in the yarn though to differentiate it from Lee himself, so I dyed it with some Queen Anne’s Lace dyestock. We have tons of wild dye plants growing on the farm so I applied my knowledge learned last year and dyed Lee’s yarn. Now it is a weird sickly browny gold thing (Queen Anne’s Lace makes a greeny yellow color) but I kinda like it. It will certainly look different from Lee!

To My Yarnie Friends

As many people know, I love fiber arts. For the past months my fiber time has been occupied with a large exchange project for a fellow shepherd, which I am going to deliver and receive this very weekend.

Meanwhile, I have been thinking about how I will approach selling my own hand dyed yarns. I am glad to announce that I have gone from the “wildly speculating” phase to the “tangible progress” phase!

The month of August will be dedicated to producing a limited stock of special yarns. These yarns will include a lot of lighter weight yarns, such as laceweight and fingering weight, as well as some bulkier weight yarns perfect for hats. Most of the yarn will be 100% wool. I am hoping to offer a range of yarns: reused yarns (taken from sweaters and re-dyed/re-plyed), professionally milled yarns, and of course my very own handprocessed handspun yarns, many of which come from the animals here on the farm. Most of them will be dyed with a variety of unique colorways. There will be lots of rainbows for sure!

I will be posting updates here on the blog about how the project goes. I am thinking of letting my blog readers have first dibs on the yarns, what do you think? Also, if any blog reader wants to reserve a skein or two, and wants them dyed a certain way or theme, let me know via a comment or an email! Otherwise, August will be a month of color explosion, as all months should really be.