Category Archives: Spinning

Preparing Suffolk Fibre for Tuff Sock Spinning

Dear readers, here is a trick question.  What colour is this sheep fleece?  IMAG5891

The correct answer is ‘white’! And here is one big part of the explanation for its colour in the image above: the dirt that fell out of the fleece in the time it was on this sheet being skirted.

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The really long locks in this fleece are about 9 cm long.

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Or–not a lot more than 3 inches long.  The short locks are 3 cm long.

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You can see this sheep had been living in the bush and in the world, and not in a shed or on a grassy patch of green loveliness!

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I believe this picture shows some of the fleece after washing.  I know, right?

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Next step, flicking the locks.  There was no sign of felting, but there is nothing all that romantic about vegetable matter, seeds and remaining soil.

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Flicking open the locks does help immensely with all those things, though as you can see below, all that followed by drum carding does not actually remove all the vegetable matter. This is the first pass on the drum carder, with a bit more detritus falling out on the second pass.

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Needless to say–even more falls out onto my apron as I spin this springy, bouncy fleece.

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Dyeing and knitting Suffolk socks

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or the glorious Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

Once upon a time there was some raw Suffolk fleece.  And then, it was spun into a 3 ply yarn.  And then, it met several eucalyptus dye baths… and then a nice gentle soaking rinse or three…

A series of small skeins arose.

They were weighed and wound into balls by hand and prepared for hand knitting. This picture captures the colours best, I think.

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There was knitting on public transport.

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there was knitting on the road to Warrnambool.

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There was knitting on the way back.

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And finally… on a day so overcast as to leach colour from the knitting:

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There were socks long enough to go all the way to the top of a gumboot (wellington, galosh) on a chilly morning feeding donkeys.  These socks are bound for a lovely friend who keeps a small farm with a lot of chickens and some rescue donkeys.  She had some specific requirements!  She wasn’t the least bit concerned about socks that would not be silky soft.

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On top of the 3 ply, Suffolk yarn with high twist (and on the thick side for socks), I reinforced heels and toes with silk/cotton thread.  I dyed some in eucalyptus but underestimated how much I was going to need.  When I ran out while on the road (to dye camp!) I wasn’t prepared to stop.

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I think the reality about these socks is that they have been knit at a dense gauge that will hopefully result in long wear even in a gumboot, but it is not very stretchy!

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Possum wool beanies

Hello dear and patient readers! It’s been so long!  In short, I returned to work and ran out of scheduled posts.  I missed you, too.  So here is a little news about what I was doing in late December…

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We spent the holiday period with my beloved’s entire family, three generations of it.  I took plenty of knitting… and the beanie department of holiday knitting included a skein of handspun possum/wool blend and some eucalyptus dyed wool for contrast stripes.  The possum/wool appeared in my friend Joyce’s stash and came to my house when she was moved into a nursing home by her family.  Since last I wrote she has died, aged 92.  So there has been grieving to be done as well as the certain recognition she was living a mercifully short stage of her life that she never would have chosen for herself.

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In the top picture, casting on while enjoying sushi with one of my beloved’s nieces–that family have embraced me in a truly lovely way and it”s  privilege to be among them. Then in the second image, this is a family who love to play scrabble in a manner entirely different and far higher scoring than anything my family have ever done, and if you look closely I’ve improvised a stitch marker from the spring of a peg.  The other one might have been an elastic band.  Needs must!  The kind of distracted knitting done while playing scrabble goes well with a little nudge about when to decrease.

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In the end I had three beanies, one child size.  All based on Jared Flood’s Turn A Square, my go-to beanie pattern.  And while spinning the possum wool wasn’t all that lovely because the preparation was a bit strange and there were very many little bits of waxy cardboard carded into it… the yarn was wonderfully soft and will be very snug.  And one more part of Joyce’s fibre legacy is ready to go out into the world and keep heads warm, something she would have thoroughly approved of (though perhaps she would have asked me why no pom poms had been added to complete these hats!)

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More spinning

 

…some more fat yarns spun from the fleece of a sheep called Lentil, which have now gone to their new home with a friend who likes to knit fat yarns. Plus some yarn that had been dyed in a very weak vat of indigo or woad at some time in the past, now a soft green with some help from soursobs (oxalis), a common weed here.

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Spinning in the background

I keep forgetting, or simply not finding the time to post.  Apologies, gentle readers.  I’ve needed the making more than I’ve been inclined to post about it this last while.  But I’ve been spinning Malcolm’s Kangaroo Island “black” Merino cross (left), and leftover batts of local Finn cross (right) and clearly there was a day when they posed with leaves and flowers…

When we were at Marion Bay (cough) I carded a lot of wool, and did some blending.

But I’ve also spun up all manner of wool dyed previously, including the last of the earth palette dyed wool.  There was a request for bulky yarn from one friend in particular.  She’s managing the state of the world by knitting a lot of beanies and gauntlets.  So I sent more yarn. And there was some very pale woad dyed wool that went into a vat with soursobs I weeded at someone else’s house.

But the big excitement is the Suffolk/Silk/Kid Mohair blend for #tuffsocksnaturally. The last of which is in the dyepot with some leaves on the day I am drafting this post.  To be continued…

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BFL/Texel/Silk socks

 

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Some considerable time ago, I bought a blue faced leicester/texel/silk blend roving designed for socks, and spun it into three-ply yarn.  A very fine yarn!  I seriously overachieved on spinning sock weight.  I finally decided to buy finer needles in order to knit it, and now it has become my first pair of no-nylon, no-superwash socks for the #tuffsocksnaturally project.

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Here it is at a coffee shop where I believe I was knitting while reading (some of the) hundreds of pages of papers for a meeting.

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Here it is at the Park-n-Ride (that’s a car park servicing a train station, basically) where I get off the train and wait for the bus. There is just no way to know what the other passengers think of all the sock shenanigans.  A few offer me shy grins and one bus passenger recently told me she used to knit a lot but no one wants her knitting anymore.  I feel blessed for my friends, all over again!

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Here it is on the wide open road headed for a long weekend at Marion Bay. The photographer may have leaned over a bit.

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Marion Bay was glorious.  Here, I’ll show you a little bit. But also there were dolphins, lots of dolphins, emus, lots of emus, kangaroos, and ladybirds, lots of ladybirds, and very many, very shy birds indeed.

And here the socks are, finished, in all their whimsically cabled glory.

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Handspun socks in use 1 & 2 PLUS Knitting in a patch

I thought one thing I could do to complete the feedback loop on the toughness or otherwise of my sock spinning would be to ask people I’ve given handspun socks to whether they could return them for inspection.  One of the hard things about the fact that I–gasp–can no longer wear handknit socks, is that I don’t have the capacity to see and feel for myself how my handspinning fares in daily wear inside a shoe or boot.  In return for people showing me how their socks have worn, I’m offering to mend socks that come back to me to close the feedback loop.  So if you happen to be reading this and you think you have a pair of handspun, handknit socks I gave you, bring them in and if they need darning, I’ll do the honours!

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I think it is worth considering the question of wear.   It is a striking feature of most conversations I have with people about how hand knit items are wearing, that they feel they need to apologise if something I knit has worn out or worn through.  I don’t think so.  Sometimes it is obvious enough that the fault was with the spinning or knitting or fibre choice (so if anyone should apologise it should be me; or perhaps there could be shared acknowledgement of how wonderful the alpaca socks felt, but that they were never destined to last decades).  On the whole, though, I tend to think that it is rather flattering that people like things I made enough to wear them until they fall apart.  And unless I know what happened to them, sometimes I am not in a position to learn what might make me a better sock spinner (for example).  Nylon is permanent, it will never biodegrade, and therefore we should think seriously before we use it.  But the flip side of this recognition is awareness that socks without nylon will not wear as well as those with nylon.  There is a reason it came into use in the context of socks.  And–now that I have lived long enough to understand how a plastic bag will “degrade” into squillions of little bits of plastic, I think it may be time for a thoroughgoing recognition that when your #tuffsocksnaturally wear out they will biodegrade, so the compost or the worms can take them, especially if you dyed thoughtfully too.

But I digress.  This sock came home recently with only one hole!  I made these socks a little over a year ago (follow the link for details),  so they have not had a huge amount of wear.  But the hole was quite big, and clearly resulted from the fabric wearing right through in a large area. Given the fact that the other sock had not worn through in the same place, I’d say there was a weak patch in the fabric, likely caused in this case by the blending of the fibres (Suffolk, mohair and silk) being uneven, or by the spinning being on the thin side, or underplied.  I decided on a knit-in patch rather than a darn.  So I picked up stitches at the base of the heel flap (above) and began to knit, joining on by picking up a stitch on each side of the patch each row, and knitting it together with the edge stitch of the patched section.  The under-heel section will be thicker than the surrounding fabric, and the patch is generous, but I think under the heel is about the least sensitive place to put a patch and clearly reinforcement is needed!

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To finish the patch, I picked up the same number of stitches , knit right up to them, and grafted them together (kitchener stitch, if you prefer).  If you’d like to see that mending strategy again, I’ve blogged it before here and here (on cardigans) and here (another pair of socks!)

Another pair of handspun and handknit socks came home the same day.  These had two tiny, neat darns in red thread, a lovely application of visible mending (and I think I found the remainder of the skein in my stash subsequently, which may explain the yarn choice another way).  One darn was up by the cuff, where it may have been a breach in the spinning or perhaps a munch from a m*th.  The other is here on the toe, where wear is to be expected, in my view.  All our feet (and shoes) are different, of course!

 

I found the post about knitting these socks here.  They were knit in 2014 and have gone from son to mother in their lifetimes thus far.  And yest so little obvious wear??

I spun them from… Superwash Merino/Bamboo/Nylon blend.  I bought it at a spinning workshop as the recommended blend for sock spinning, and did a class on spinning for socks.  the other thing I note with interest is that I knit them on 2.75 mm needles.  I think that was partly because the yarn was finer than I anticipated, but it dies also suggest a  finer gauge than my usual, and that is another long-wearing-sock-strategy handed down through the ages. So–the combination of nylon content, tight gauge, machine prepared fibre and handspinning produced a higher wear sock–but not a nylon-free sock, and let’s not pretend that industrially produced bamboo fibre is kind to the environment–though I do assume it would biodegrade at least.  So there you have it!  My first two worked examples of handspun handknit socks in wear for review.  What are you learning from reviewing your spinning and knitting?

 

 

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Spinning tuff socks

The #tuffsocksnaturally project has begun at my place!

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This HUGE bag of Suffolk fleece arrived some weeks ago, and I have begun to wash it.  Like other local Suffolk I’ve spun in years past, the staple is short.

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This fleece is filthy. Fair enough. It has been worn in actual life by an actual sheep roaming around freely like a sheep should.  It is also full of seeds and other vegetable matter.  Again, that’s what happens when sheep freely graze.  But it does make the task of creating a yarn that is finely spun and free of little scritchy pieces of chaff or prickles that much more difficult.

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Step one is washing.  I’ll spare you.  It’s really hard to make muddy water interesting. Then drying.  I think drying fleece is more exciting than paint drying, but even so.  Then preparation for spinning. There are choices to be made here.  Combing is the classic preparation for a worsted sock yarn, but I decided against it.  I have decided to try a blend of Suffolk, silk and kid mohair.

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I have found that blending these fibres really well is difficult if I comb them, because they are different lengths (especially because the Suffolk is so short stapled).  And, the last time I made sock yarn by hand I combed all the fibres and was not convinced it made such a difference compared to carding that it was worth the extra effort, which is considerable. So this time, I drum carded to blend more evenly.

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I did a lot of passes with the wool alone, picking out more vegetable matter each time, before adding the silk and kid mohair. And then… to the wheel!

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Now I’ll spare you progress images of three singles being spun.  Only people who are involved in the Tour de Fleece get excited by the sight of a bobbin filling up ever so slowly!  Have you decided to be part of the project? How have you started?

 

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Tuff socks, naturally: The project

My friend-in-blogging-and-making, Rebecca from Needle and Spindle, has had the exciting idea of a shared project on handspun socks without superwash treatment or nylon.  They would make use of the properties of breeds of sheep that were preferred for socks [by those who wearing wearing socks at all] in the swathe of human history in which nylon did not exist, superwash had not been invented, and the merino had not yet become the overwhelming giant of industrial wool production.  I give you the Suffolk!

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Adele Moon will be joining us for some sock spinning and knitting and posting. As you know, I love to knit socks, and I love to spin, and I’ve often thought I should be doing more spinning for sock knitting.  And of course, like a lot of people who read this blog, I think a lot about the industrial production of textiles and the pollution it causes, the permanence and harmfulness of plastics of all kinds (I’m considering nylon just this moment), and about the burdens of my own decisions on the earth and all who share her. There can’t be any pretence, in my case, to having all the answers; or to proving up to the challenge of making right decisions on all occasions.  I should think my readers all know that I can’t do that yet.  But I don’t think that can be a reason not to look for solutions or to make the changes we can figure out how to make.

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Full solutions to the issues of pollution and plastics require change on way more than personal level.  There’s no real point, to my way of thinking, in getting overinvolved in our own feelings of self-blame or failure, on these questions. Better to keep focused on how to move forward, and how to spread awareness and action more widely.

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At my place, the recently acquired Suffolk fleece will be part of the experiment.  I’ll be sharing what I know about knitting socks that last, and maybe we can spend some time on what to do when they disintegrate too!  I have begun to call in surviving socks that I hand spun and hand knit for friends and relatives so that an inventory (and some mending) can be undertaken. I’ll be spinning, and of course, dyeing with plants and knitting socks on public transport and in meetings.

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The tech minded spinners will have company in Rebecca, and there will be somewhat less well planned spinning at this blog, as you may have come to expect.  It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Feel free to offer your tips and inspirations!

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This is an open project, anyone can join in. If you are interested in being part of the Tuff Socks Naturally Project, please share your experiments or link to your project pages on this blog in post comments, or on Rebecca’s blog, Needle and Spindle, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon and use the #tuffsocksnaturally tag.

 

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Spinning up a storm

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The springtime brings on fleece washing, carding and seed planting, apparently!

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I’ve spun up all kinds of tragic fleece dyed last year, lawnmowing crossbred sheep’s wool, alpaca, blends, cochineal dyed fleece, natural fleece… there has even been some eucalypt dyeing (the orange skein in the foreground).

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I’ve spun batts created from logwood exhaust and woad exhaust and where did that even come from? batts.

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Anonymous roving from my friend’s stash.  Alpaca gifted from another friend.  Local fleece blended with dark grey alpaca with far too many burrs in it.  Possum and wool blended together.

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My winter of knitting was lovely indeed but I am loving being back to spinning as well, so it seems…

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