Tag Archives: Suffolk

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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Small projects, big plans

A while ago I went to The Drapery to buy zippers, and The Drapery is far more tempting to me than the chain alternatives, so I came away with a fat quarter (or something like that) of Liberty lawn.  My Mother-Out-Law loves Liberty prints, so I tried to inhabit her aesthetic and chose this one.  She is a rather petite woman, so I made four small handkerchieves and I am reliably informed that she loves them! Naturally (in her case–the other gift she enjoys is stationery) she sent me a lovely card, and observed that only another sewer would recognise the rolled hems as a special achievement.  I feel so lucky to have out-laws who are so kind and lovely.

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Then there was the very last of these bags.

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This time I chose madder and indigo dyed threads.

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The madder dyed silk in the centre of this circle was dyed at my house, (the madder and indigo purple by Beautiful Silks), and it is SO red!

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There have been other small projects piling up, but there has also been a development.  We went to the Royal Show again this year and Suffolks were the featured sheep breed.  This beauty evidently didn’t stand still (or perhaps it was me who did the wriggling).

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I tried to speak with breeders in hopes of acquiring a fleece and discovered again that I’m really quite shy.  My beloved was much better at it.  We spoke to breeders from WA and Tasmania who did not bring fleece, and then found one from Kangaroo Island who was happy enough to sell me a fleece if I was sure I wanted to spin from a meat sheep and did I realise this is sold as carpet wool? It’s so sad to think that the long history of this breed as a source of wool for specific uses such as socks, has been all but lost even among lovers of the breed.

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Malcolm called me on the weekend and we had a chat.  We agreed on one fleece and a price that I thought was too low, and what do you know?  I put one and a half times the price in an envelope and he delivered two fleeces, or is it three?  He threw in a “black” fleece because these sell for even less than the $3 or $4 per kilo that Malcolm gets for white Suffolk fleece.  Last night I skirted it at the Guild Hall and it is grey and dark brown, cream and white (I suspect, under the dirt).  I can only confirm that I won’t need another delivery in October: this is a LOT of wool.  I’ve never raised a sheep, and it’s entirely possible Malcolm doesn’t know how long it takes to spin sock yarn!  However, the fleece I skirted last night is lovely. I’ve had little access to Suffolk to date and spun what I had suspected was poor quality fleece with a very short staple.  This has a high crimp staple of at least 8-10 cm in places, and while the coloration lowers its value for industrial processing, for me it is a real asset.  I washed a small quantity before work this morning, I’m so keen to get spinning…

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More socks!

As usual, the latest pair of socks spent quite a lot of time on public transport. This is a local train service knitting opportunity.
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They came on some pretty tired and sad visits to hospital and nursing home as one of my dearests has been having a very tough time and I have been doing what I can to accompany her.  Knitting on public transport was a big help on a few visits when I took trips to visit her and she had already been taken by ambulance to some other place.

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Socks don’t care about your worries.  They just keep growing as you keep knitting, and that works for me.

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As you can see, it’s another pair of socks made with the same fibres.  And roughly the same size.  And there the resemblances end!  I managed to finish the skein with only this tiny ball of wool left!  But did get two pairs out of my naturally dyed Suffolk handspun.

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They have already gone to a dear friend who spends more time in gumboots than pleases her sometimes, and finds a hand knit sock an asset in her gumboot (wellington boot? galosh? wellie boot?  rubber boot? you get the picture, I hope).

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None of the pictures really came out right, with some too washed out and some a little overdone.  But I am sure you get the idea!  And in these times of considering mortality and suffering, I thought I would share this little gem taken as I ran through the cemetery one morning.  There were four magpies perched on this statue but two flew away as I approached. Camera shy.  I understand.

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Handspun, hand dyed, handknit socks

Some time back, I embarked upon creating sock yarn from scratch, beginning with scouring, dyeing and combing raw local Suffolk fleece. If you missed the early, exciting stages (yes, that is a joke!) here is a post about the woolHere is one of multiple dye adventures. And the spinning went on at intervals over some months.  It’s hard to make incremental progress in spinning fun with photos!

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Here is the first sock being knit at a coffee shop after exercise class, overseen by a dog.

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Here is the second sock, almost done on the weekend when I cooked for many friends planting 500 trees on land two of our friends (and their two children, as they grow) are reclaiming, rehabilitating and revegetating with a degree of  care, thought, vision and commitment that is awesome to behold.  I was just too scared of back re-injury to plant.  So made myself a bit useful kitchen handing.  In between times, I knit and chatted with small folk.  I even did the hilarious feat of walking while knitting.

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It was hard to photograph the socks really well.  But there are some nice colours in there!

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And I am a sucker for the ingenuity of the heel arrangement.  The socks have whimsical cables, which puzzled some onlookers and delighted others.  And they are in no way twins, which likewise puzzled and affronted some while pleasing others very much. I’ll be honest, this is not exactly what I intended. But you know–they are fine! And headed to a happy new home as I type.  They will be snug, and hopefully, made as they are from a suffolk/silk/mohair blend and dyed with plants and cochineal–strong and colourful both.  And–there is enough for another pair, perhaps with a toe that, in this context, will not stand out if knit from a different yarn altogether–the finished socks weigh 101g and 89g remains…

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Hand spun, hand knit socks

Remember this hand spun sock yarn?

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It had a long journey toward becoming a pair of socks.  Here we are early on, on the train…

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On my way to a meeting at work.  Five minutes early, enjoying the sunshine and shrubs… knitting down the heel.

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Visiting a friend in hospital (and past the heel flap on sock 1)…

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Here we are on our way to Newcastle to blockade a coal port–second sock started.  I got a lot of knitting done during train travel and nonviolence training (for an entire day–some climate change activists don’t muck about!) and there was another knitter in the training, too!

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Then I noticed late in the life of sock 2 that sock 1 and sock 2 were a bit different.  I made some adjustments.  Finally, I went over to my friend’s house for a try on. Turns out that the stretchy factor in knitting sorts out a multitude of small spinning and knitting crimes. It’s common ground between us that if he doesn’t care, I don’t either.  Usually he goes further than not caring and is pretty pleased about the whole woollen sock thing. Fantastic attitude.

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Here he is showing customary forbearance as a sock model.  Note hand knit sock on other foot.  Come to think of it, note hand spun, hand knit jumper in use years after being dyed with eucalypt. This is the attitude to hand knits that gets you another pair of socks in my circle of beloveds!

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Walnut, weld and purple fountain grass

I went out to help with the local organic food co-op recently and came home with walnuts from the local food forest produce swap, with the nuts soon ready for eating and the hulls ready for dyeing:

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In the bucket, ready for their three week soak/fermentation:

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Post soaking and ready for the heat:

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With the application of heat, the dye bath grew darker still.  So in went my remaining suffolk fleece. It was with deep relief that I assessed the (acceptable though not delectable) smell of the dye bath.  It was a walnut dye bath that almost had me excommunicated from my Guild for cooking it up in the dye room when the Little Glory Gallery was open.  Ahem!

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Here is weld growing in the vegie patch:

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One of my plants wilted and fell over for no obvious reason, so I cut it out and set it to dry. I wondered if something has nibbled on its roots from below ground. Some days later I went out and found that the rest of the plant had died.  This time it is obvious that the main root has been chewed on or rotted away.  Curious.  I followed Jenny Dean’s instructions (more or less…) and due to lack of time, left the dye bath to sit for some days.

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Mum saved me her purple fountain grass–a whole wheelbarrow load.  I saw a post on Ravelry where a lovely green came from this plant just about when she was planning to cut hers back.  This was exciting!  For me, however–it gave only a fawn colour.  Sadly!

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Here is the walnut dye on the left and the fountain grass on the right.  It is a little more yellow-brown in life, but nothing exciting.  It went into the walnut exhaust.

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I now have two shades of brown Suffolk and some weld-yellow crossbred fleece ready to join a future colour knitting project.  May the rinsing begin!

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Let the sock yarn spinning begin!

Classically, a hand spun sock yarn is made with a combed, rather than carded, preparation of fibres. I started out with my kilogram of Suffolk fleece, and divided it up.  Some has been dyed with legacy unnatural dyes and some with plant dyes.  I started in on combing some wool dyed in shades of blue and green.  I dyed some tussah silk along with the wool (the silk did not take the dye well at all), and have local kid mohair that is plain natural white, and some that has been dyed with dyers’ chamomile, and some I bought dyed by the seller in shades of blue and purple.  I am blending in the silk and mohair for strength and durability.

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I have ‘English’ combs.  I am not sure what makes them English (they were made here in Australia)–I am sure there is a historical reason for the name.  But they are vicious looking things.  When I take them to Guild, there are always onlookers commenting on the fiendish tines.  Unfortunately, I am yet to find a Guildie who can offer me advice on better use.  This seems to be a minority preoccupation at my Guild, or perhaps I’ve just been unlucky.  So.  Step 1 is ‘lashing on’, loading the stationary comb with fibres.

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Step 2 involves combing the fibres off that comb and onto the other.  Done!

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Now, transferring the fibres back to the stationary comb.  It could go on… but this is the extent of my patience at this point.

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Then, pulling off ‘top’ through a diz.  I do love spinning terminology!  This produces a preparation in which the fibres are in alignment, ready to be spun into a dense, hard wearing yarn.

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Some of my top shows that I tried to blend fibres of different lengths.  This is a vice to be avoided in combing.  Combing does a great job of removing short fibres (and burrs and grass seeds…) but if the fibres are of differing lengths, the top will have (in my case) all mohair–the longest fibre–at one end and wool predominating in the middle, with the shortest silk fibres predominating at the other end.  I cut some of the kid mohair locks in half (another spinning crime!) to resolve this issue in some cases, and in others, spun top from both ends to blend the fibres as I spun them up.

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And here is the finished skein.  It is abut 5 ply (fingering), a little thicker than many sock yarns–but after my last effort, where I produced something thinner than sock yarn and have been too overcome to knit it up–I think that is OK.  I have chain plied it, which is not strictly speaking recommended for durability–but this seems to be a much debated point and I chose colour happiness over potentially reduced durability on this occasion. So–I am not quite ready for the knitting to begin, but I am getting closer.  One sock down to the toe on the current pair in progress…

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Quebracho and Dyer’s Chamomile

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I am on a project to create my own sock yarns this year using natural fibres.  As part of the dyeing–because I like wildly coloured socks!  I decide to dye some mohair and suffolk fleece.  I have some dyes that were gifted to–or abandoned in–the dye room at the Guild.  This time I chose Quebracho–which was not mentioned in any of my dye books but I assumed would require an alum mordant.  I organised that, and found to my surprise that the preparation of quebracho I had completely dissolved.  It’s a tree-based dye so I had rather imagined it was finely ground wood.  Wrong.  Interesting!  Then, a second surprise.  I thought it would be red, but actually, quebracho comes in a range of colours and I had quebracho yellow.

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Which was a shame, really, as my second dye pot was dyer’s chamomile.  Never mind.  Yellow fibres can be readily blended and overdyed and needless to say I have some fibre dyed with eucalyptus destined to join this blend which might blend beautifully…..

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The first dye bath from each came out rather splendidly and intensely yellow (quebracho on the right), and I was reminded that dyers’ chamomile always smells edible.  Also, that it might be the right time of year to harvest this plant again (I took secateurs to the dead flowers of a patch growing in a city park last year).  I love the smell of eucalyptus, but edible isn’t the thought that comes to mind!

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I ran exhaust baths with some of Viola’s (crossbred) fleece.  It had been in a cold alum mordant bucket for some months.  Perfect!  Ready to go at just the right moment! Another win for slow dyeing processes… and one step closer to an all natural sock yarn.

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Suffolk for socks

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Speaking of spinning my own sock yarn, let me introduce my wool.  While I was at the Show last year, I checked in with the Suffolks.  They were the featured breed for 2015.

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As it happens, I bought a kilo of suffolk at the Guild when there was an opportunity a while ago.  I came home keen to wash fleece somehow.  I try not to resist that inclination no matter how daft, because it doesn’t happen often.  This time it was pretty daft–I finished after dark and could only hope the fibre would be clean in the morning.

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I don’t think the fleece was skirted… so there was some serious loss, not to mention burrs, wattle seed (that is a new one!) and feathers (that was new too).

Meanwhile, I had a helper.  She has since left us for a new life in Tasmania, but she was so interested in knitting!  A shame really.  I cut out a pattern and she chewed on the paper.  Ooops.  And here she is sorting out an apron string!

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You just can’t be too careful with an apron string when it is hanging provocatively off the side of a chair.

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