The #tuffsocksnaturally project has begun at my place!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Over the holiday, more local fleeces arrived. This is the view down into a chicken feed sack full of greasy fleece. I washed, I dried wet fleece in summer heat, I even managed to do some carding. I now have various wools dyed with woad or indigo exhausts as well as good old naturally brown or grey wool. I have taught a few beginners to dye at our evening spinning group at the Guild in the last while (or at least, I’ve been one of the people helping them to learn) and sometimes people are just so overcome at being given wool. In the future they will know that the real gift is time and effort. But I do try to let them know that I have a lot of wool and that I am happy to share.
People were generous to me as a beginner spinner, and I love to share spinning (as well as wool). I finally spun some llama fleece a friend at the Guild gave me in the spirit of adventure. It came out OK but it did have a lot of guard hair in it, so I’ll have to give thought to what it might become.
Here’s a another skein–woad on grey, I believe.
And here are indigo and indigo dyed over yellows. I realise it is better practise to dye blue first and yellow after, but, well, I didn’t like the yellows too much and just decided to dye and see! I love these colours. But my thoughts are beginning to turn toward eucalypts and their oranges and reds again…
I have been happily but slowly dyeing an entire white alpaca fleece with eucalypts. I’ve been dyeing it without washing it, what’s more! The washing stage comes after dyeing instead, treating the dye bath as stage 1 of the cleaning process. I love the way muddy tips create a resist which will produce a sunny yellow which shows wonderfully among all that flame orange.
I have a lot of black alpaca too… this I have already washed.
On weekends sometimes there is fibre processing and vegetable harvesting–this is one of the last of the capsicums.
Then, of course, carding.
Out in the back yard when the weather is sunny.
I’ve been spinning up more colour changing yarns and including some of the black alpaca… and that is the entirety of the lemon crop beside the skein. Can’t wait until the fruit trees grow up a bit…
Some time ago I received a lot of fibres that even the felt group at my Guild didn’t want anymore. I think this was because I taught a class on ‘novelty yarns’, known to online spinners as ‘art yarns’ or ‘textured spinning’. It is true, people like Pluckyfluff have been known to spin semi-felted wool and all manner of inexplicable (yet ultimately gorgeous) things–and I’ve done some fairly inexplicable, or at least hard-to-explain, spinning, myself. But there are limits! It seems some people equate artyarn with awful yarns made from awful fibres. I wasn’t about to inflict most of this fibre on beginners. What I felt was readily useable, I carded into batts for people to experiment on some time ago,. Some I turned into trash batts. Some I re-washed and turned into yarn. But just recently I found there was still some in my stash. Some was simply suffering from poor washing. Sticky and unpleasant to touch. I washed it.
The amount of mohair the felting group handed over makes me think mohair isn’t favoured as a felting fibre. So some was just mohair. I carded it up and found it was neppy mohair, but still.
Some was extremely short and rather matted. I would rate this trash batt standard, so carded it up with some longer wool to hold it together.
Some was low quality alpaca in small quantities. I carded that with some longer fine wool too.
I would rate almost all the resulting yarns basically suitable for yarnbombing… or perhaps I should offer them back to the felters!
Only the mohair really became a yarn of any quality… not too surprising given what went in to the others!
I also had some small amounts of fibre from an exchange. One was some kind of ruggy (coarse) wool with lots of contrasting nepps in it, and the other a quantity of a lustre longwool, something like English Leicester. I checked my perceptions with two spinners of much experience at the Guild and we all agreed on these conclusions, which was a happy thing, suggesting I am learning about identifying wools. I decided on eucalypt dyes. In each case I divided the fibre in half, and dyed one half in the first dyebath and the other half in an exhaust dyebath of the same leaves, to get two different tones. Then I spun the fibres up to retain the colours as distinct stripes.
And now, back to spinning a large quantity of alpaca…
Some time ago I blogged about dyeing with windfall eucalyptus leaves. I had been dyeing over white corriedale and had quite a range of colours in the range of ochre and caramel through flame orange and… opinions differ about whether that really is red. Here it is, wet from dyeing and ready to be rinsed:
I divided my fleece up into colour groupings, carded it and pulled a roving straight from the carder drum with a diz. What a great technique. You can find it on YouTube, but it was watching a friend from the Guild demonstrate it that really convinced me to try it out. This Youtube video has an explanation of the same simple homemade diz my friend has made, so maybe she was inspired by that video. Here are my rovings. Creating these made me feel like I have learned a few things about fleece preparation.
Then I created bumps of roving with segments of each colour, lined up to create a gradient from ochre through to reddish. Then, there was spinning and plying and skeining and washing–spinning being a craft of many stages–and now…
I am so happy with this yarn! I can’t wait to share it with the friends whose sheep this wool came from. Coincidentally, the week I finished this yarn, they invited me to their place for shearing time.
Finally, I returned to the harvested and then twice retted nettle stems. I began by rolling a pipe over them to make the stems easier to split.
I have been putting this task off because these stems looked so little promising.
The stems mostly shattered without fibre becoming evident in any significant way.
I gathered just a little fibre for a lot of effort.
After carding, I was left with this. So I cleaned my handcards on the garden, added the stems to the mulch in the garden, and now… I wait for next year!
A belated postscript: there is a wonderful community flax growing project reaching the spinning stage on the other side of the planet. So for stories of bast fibre success, please go to visit Sharon Kallis here.
I went on a weekend away with members of my Guild recently and had a fabulous time chatting, spinning and eating way more than made any sense. I took some little packs I made up beforehand, each designed to create a skein of yarn. This first one began as Finn cross locks I bought pre-dyed and perhaps a little felted, with curly tips. Perfect for this technique, I thought.
Here they are as a lockspun yarn, with the teased-out, butt ends of the locks corespun around a crossbred grey wool core that can no longer be seen, and the curly tips on display.
This batt of unloved green fleece that I was given includes some orange silk noil and some pre-dyed mohair locks.
Here it is corespun over that same grey crossbred core. I learned these two techniques from the fine writing and DVDs of Jacey Boggs.
The trash batt experiments continue! This is eucalyptus dyed carder waste (and nepps pulled out as I was spinning) carded with white and tan Polwarth locks.
I used it for my first attempt at a new textured spinning technique–a friend gave me a copy of The Wheel that contained this technique and you can also see it here. It originates with Steph Gorin, who demonstrates here. (The video also includes advertising for Ashford.)
Here is the outcome of a batt made with the flick carding waste from the blue lockspun yarn above, and a eucalyptus dyed carder waste and polwarth batt.
Finally, a gratuitous picture of what appears to me to be valerian in flower in my garden. Which is gorgeous apart from the fact that I bought it because it was soapwort. It doesn’t look like any soapwort I have ever seen now it is in flower, which makes me glad it wasn’t big enough to harvest until now!
I have a bit of a tendency to go a long way toward the completion of a big project and then pause near the end. Sometimes for a little while, sometimes for a long while. So here, finally, is the very last of the grey corriedale I dyed months ago and planned to spin during the Tour de Fleece. I loved the two ply yarn I created during the Tour a good bit less than my initial chain plied skein, even though it is what I need if I ever knit that cardigan I dream of.
I found the label for this fleece on the weekend and I started out with 3.5 kg of fleece. I made a true three ply yarn (three singles plied together) from most of the last part…
And chain plied the rest (one single plied on itself in a chain). I think the long pause on this was caused by the way my heart sank when I stopped chain plying it in the first place. I love the distinct colours in the last little leftover skein!
I also spun up a little batt of alpaca dyed in eucalyptus.
Three ply wins again!
I have been wondering about trying some more spinning experiments with waste from the overlocker and the carding process. There is nothing like yarn bombing to make me consider any kind of yarn useable! Yarn bombing is even more forgiving than teapots when it comes to the texture and qualities of the fibre concerned… and there is an argument for only using fibres that can’t be made into clothing or blankets for yarn bombing, I think. So in a burst of carding enthusiasm, I’ve been preparing batts.
First up, carding waste (corriedale dyed with eucalypt), overlocker waste (from bag making, mostly–silk, cotton, linen and some polyester blend) and some polwarth locks to hold it all together. Here it is going into the drum carder:
Carded and ready to spin.
More fabric scraps and overlocker thread in some parts than others…
While I was on the job, I carded some rough lavender wool of unknown origin. It was discarded by the felting group at the Guild: say no more! I re-washed it, which improved its texture and cleanliness somewhat…
The felters also passed on this green fibre of unknown origin, which was improved very much by re-washing and carded out beautifully. I have added dyed mohair locks and silk noil, and we’ll see if it can become a repectable art yarn.
Carding waste from those two batts and some more overlocker waste…
I’ll report back when I’ve tried turning these away from the waste stream and into something of use!
Recently I made good on my intention to properly clean and oil the drum carder. It meant I had to find the instruction sheets. And that was when I had the revelation that my drum carder has two speeds.
Conceivably, this was a selling point when I decided to buy it–that does sound curiously familiar–and I had managed to completely forget. I have had it on the setting which would be ideal for blending roving for some years. That’s been good sometimes, because it really does make a great batt for artyarn spinning, and there has been quite a bit of that at my place. However, I have struggled to make great batts from fleece, sometimes with a lack of patience, I admit. But there has been plenty of trying and some of it has been patient. So, I have been applying my newly oiled and cleaned carder to some Polwarth fleece on the correct setting, and wonder of wonders, it actually is better!
I have also been carding some of the lower quality end of my enormous stash of Polwarth and spinning it fat, soft and three ply with YET MORE Fibertrends Clogs in mind. The short cuts and brittle ends will never be seen again once they’ve been felted. And I have to say the spinning is a lot of fun.
Every time I use the drum carder and pick up the doffer–a long pointed metal tool for removing the batt from the carder–I find myself earwormed with a folk song called The Doffing Mistress. The link is to the singing of Maddy Prior and June Tabor, two of the shining stars of English folk music over some decades. The quality of sound is no doubt better on iTunes, but this version comes with a description of the job of a doffer in the period after the industrial revolution. I am very glad not to be a small child pulling bobbins on and off an industrial spinning machine to earn sufficient to eat… Instead, I have been hand winding big fat balls of this yarn, since it is a bit thick for my ball winder. Let the knitting begin!