Category Archives: wool

Making my favourite yarn

For the last while I’ve been obsessed knitting lace shawls, tidying up my studio and finishing up spinning projects with really slippery fibres. With more space opened up in the studio from tidying up, I was inspired to get out the tools/machines and get some wool carded to make my favourite yarn. Wool, plain and simple.

What I have below is my carding board. It’s a great thing that allows me to quickly tease up the washed fibre and open up the locks. I got out some of white and some grey Romney from Acacia Farms.

I teased up some of the white wool and an equal amount of grey. The grey is quite dark so I like the effect of blending the grey with white, spinning a singles from that, and plying it with a singles of the unblended grey.

Here’s what this yarn will look like: each skein below is a double ply yarn. One singles is the blended grey, and the second singles is either dark grey (the one on the left) or white (the one on the right).

Here are some drum carded nests of blended fibre. Many more followed, nearly a full pound! Will hopefully get around to spinning this up over the weekend, and then dyeing the yarn. Will keep you posted.

March Fibre club: Wellspring colourway in English Shetland

Here’s a photo of the March Fibre club yarn, nearly complete. It’s English Shetland wool that is a delight to spin, especially after spinning the slippery silky/merino/nylon Candygram last week. I am spinning this yarn to be a worsted weight and it spun up fast. All of it has been spun it all on my Houndesign Henry’s Dervish spindle.

I just have two more sets of singles to ply and then I’ll finish them off by boiling and bashing them around. That way they’ll get slightly felted and it also may even out the colours a bit.  The dark colours may lose a bit of dye and the lighter ones may pick it up. At least that’s what I hope will happen.

Two days later:

I finished up the yarn. And then I put all the skeins well tied up with figure eights, into a pasta pot with hot water and a bit of shampoo. I brought it to a boil and then held it at a simmer for 15 minutes. In that time the twist relaxed, the yarn evened out and the colours became a bit more even. The dark sections lost some of their dye and the lighter sections picked it up. I like this yarn a lot better now.

Not sure what it will be. There’s 100+grams of it. Enough to make a set of half-mitts and a hat. Or it could just go into my yarn collection.  I seem to be much more prolific making yarn than I am knitting these days.

Mitts #4 and #5 for Jacqueline

I am in the process of finishing up my knitting agreement with Jacqueline.  In exchange for 10 lbs of washed fibre (5lbs of dark grey, 5lbs of white) I agreed to make her six pairs of half-mitts.  Two for men, four for women.
I’ve got five pairs made, here’s #4 and #5 where I got out the dyes and had some fun with colour. The orange skein used to be all white.  The blue/green skein was 75% white and 25% grey.  I love the way the grey tones down the colour, while the white shows the true hue.  Combined in one yarn it adds depth.

Both skeins just off the drying rack. And below, wound into balls in preparation for knitting.  My commute to the city for work gives me a great chance to clock some good knitting hours.

Here’s pair #4 complete except for weaving in the ends, and the beginning of pair #5.  This is my second attempt at pair #5.  I had 3/4 of a mitt knit up in a lace pattern and finally admitted it was too large.  So it ripped it out and started all over again.  Put me a bit behind schedule, but the second attempt is much nicer.

I finished the orange pair last night.  And here they both are: #4 and #5 complete with the ends woven in.  I apologize about the quality of the photos, I can’t find my camera in my disaster of a studio, so I’ve been relying on the camera in my bberry.

I have one more pair to make.  The yarn that I made for it last week is not quite right, so it’s back to the spinning wheel.  That’s fine.  It’s a rainy day, my baking is done and all’s well with the world.  My world anyway.

Happy spinning.

Variations on a theme

I mentioned in an earlier post that I obtained some wool from Acacia Acres farms.  A dark grey romney named Ashley and a white romney named Ebony.

Over the weekend I did some blending.  I made a 50% – 50% blend of dark grey and white.  It makes a lovely light grey that I featured in that earlier post.  This time I spun a couple of full bobbins of the blended grey.  Next I spun a bobbin full of dark grey/Ashley and plied that with the lighter blended grey. Blended greys are on top and the dark grey/Ashley is in the lower bobbin.

The plied yarn from these singles, are the skein on the left.  The skein on the right is a two-ply of blended greys and white Ebony.

And the same photo with the flash on, you can see the barber polling a bit better in this photo.

I am really happy with this yarn — both skeins are going to be knit up into half-mitts.  Haven’t decided if I will do any dyeing with these yet.  But that’s a whole other variation on the theme.

The wonder of tools

It always amazes me what you can do, or how much you can get done when you have the right tools. I have owned my wool combs for at least seven years now and I have finally purchased a wool comb clamp.

What on earth is a wool comb clamp? It is a simple tool that holds your wool comb in place so you can pull the fibre off the comb using two hands, and not one. It’s a luxury item if you comb fibre once a year.  It’s a necessity if combed fibre is an essential aspect of your workshop materials — and you are doing it weekly.

Duh.

This is a specially made clamp for my wonderful, hard wearing Forsyth mini wool combs.

In addition to the clamp, I have also added the diz to my repertoire of necessary tools.

In the past I have dissed the diz, thinking it a finicky and unnecessary tool for pulling wool off the end of a comb. But with my hands freed by the wool comb clamp, I suddenly saw the benefit of having a tool that helped to determine the amount of fibre that came off with each tug. And really, why not?

A diz is neither a high-tech or expensive tool. In fact, in my case it’s a large button.

I use that dental floss looped stuff to help feed the sliver of wool through one of the four holes. And man oh man, it makes life so much easier.

What was I thinking? Some kind of Puritan I-don’t-need-fancy-tools, I-can-do-it-the-primitive-way approach.

Well bollocks to that.  It’s nearly magic. I was able to comb up three times the amount I usually do in a sitting, and I wasn’t tired and sore.  When you have the right tools you can get the job done efficiently and effectively.  In so doing you can also minimize wear and tear on your body.  What’s not to like about that?

Spinning in Haida Gwaii

I’ve been pretty quiet this last while, using every spare moment I have to get materials organized and myself prepared.  For what you ask?  On Friday, I’m flying up to Haida Gwaii to teach a two-day spinning workshop in Tlell. 

I was there in April 2010 teaching a writing workshop, and because I had extra time, we decided to add a drop spinning workshop to my trip.  It was a hit and I’ve been striving to find a way back ever since. 

Saturday from 9am – 5pm, I’ll be teaching a Beginning Spinning workshop — using the drop or suspended spindle.  In the evening, we are hosting a Spin-In for all the workshop participants and other fibre enthusiasts who may want to join in.  On Sunday, I’ll be teaching an Advanced Spinning workshop — doing more advanced techniques and playing around with more fibres, making blends and such.

Yesterday I picked up the Houndesign spindles, specially made for these workshops.  I’m packing 35 Henry’s Dervish and 15 Lace weight spindles.  They are so beautiful I scarcely want to part with them.  I’m also in the final stages of organizing all the materials — four different kinds of wool; mohair; alpaca; llama; tussah silk; silk caps; merino/cashmere blends; soya silk and casein (a silky fibre made from the proteins in milk!)

The challenge is to try to pack it all into 2 checked bags and one carry on.  The spindles themselves take an entire box.  All this fibre has to go into my large suitcase and medium carry on.  Thankfully fibre packs down pretty well.

I need to start now just so I can be sure that I’m not forgetting something critical for the workshops. I’ll keep you posted on my packing progress — now back to more fibre preparation.

The magic of rain water

A couple of weeks ago I took some dirty fibre, put it into a lingerie bag and threw it into a bucket of ice cold rain water for over a week. The day I removed it I had to break the slim layer of ice that had formed around it. The water, while dirty at the beginning, was replenished daily from the deluges we’ve been having, so at the end, it was rather clean. I was going to leave it for several weeks, but it seemed so clean already, I got impatient with my own experiment.

So, I took the bag of fibre and tossed it onto the garden for the rest of the week. Over the week, as we had bouts of rain and sunshine, it got soaked and dried out repeatedly. A couple of days ago I retrieved it, towel dried it and put it by the stove to really dry.

I am absolutely amazed how clean this fibre is. There is no dirt in it at all, and only a trace amount of lanolin. Here is a photo of it. Bottom corner are the clean locks, at the top is a combed nest, and along the side is a hand carded rolag from the combed waste.

Here’s the whole lot of the experiment, combed up and waiting to be spun. It’s beautiful stuff — not damaged or affected at all by super hot water or harsh chemicals. 

While it was easy to spin, the trick was keeping it warm.  When the fibre was cold, the lanolin was a bit sticky.  It’s generally chilly in this semi-insulated farmhouse, so I kept the fibre waiting to be spun, on the warming stove in our front room.

Here’s a double-ply skein which weighs 14.5g and is 58 m long. Pretty good sized sample to play around with I’d say.  Because the wool fibres are stretched so much during spinning and plying, it’s good practice to wash or at least wet the fibre after it’s been skeined.  This way it returns to it’s regular size and shape, reducing the risk of surprises the first time you wash a garment made with hand spun yarn. 

I didn’t want to remove any of the lanolin from this yarn, so I’ve wet it again in rain water.  The stuff is ice cold, so I brought a bucket of it into the house, where it may at least get to room temperature in several hours. 

Here’s my lovely skein soaking. I’ll let it do this for a few hours, to make sure the fibres get good and wet and then I’ll hang it to dry.

I can’t wait to knit this up and see what it’s like.  Imagine, this beautiful yarn from fibre made clean with rain water and time, plenty of time. 

Overplied, yet lovely

I finally made a decision about this yarn.  It’s been sitting on the bobbin fully plied for well over a week.  In fact I wanted it to be thought it was over plied, waiting to be plied again into a cabled yarn. 
However, I forgot that I over plied the first singles (because I had a particular plan in mind) so when I plied them together, what I thought was over plying was just making a good balanced yarn.  And that’s what you see here.
The problem was I jumped plans.  For a cabled yarn, I should have a put a gentle amount of twist into the fist singles; then take the singles and overply them — which means putting much more twist into your plying than you normally would; and then cable them (ply them again moving in the opposite direction) with a regular amount of twist.  This under twist; over twist; under twist, will result in a soft cabled yarn.
But I didn’t do that. 
I started with the experiement of putting a lot of twist into the singles, then let the project sit for a long time.  I decided when I looked at the colours, that I wanted to try a cabled yarn with it — forgetting the severe amount of twist I put into the singles.  There was so much twist needed in the first ply, that when I tried to make a cabled yarn, it was as hard as a cable.  Not the effect I wanted at all.
I hope this all isn’t terribly confusing. So let me synthesize it — I started with a plan, and I needed to stick with that plan.  I jumped into another plan halfway, and what I did in step 1, really did matter. 
It’s a nice yarn with good colourways.  With a lot of twist in it and, balanced like it is, it will make a very good sock yarn.  It’s not a disaster, at all.
But I still don’t have a cabled yarn.

Blending Fibre — Photo essay

I started with a pile of wool of various colours.  Pinks, burgundys and some natural brown.  Blended that together and made two good sized batts. It’s the dark coloured batt at the top of the picture below.

I had two good sized batts of cream coloured alpaca in my stash along with a batt of pink and purple mohair. Divided the wool, alpaca and mohair into six equal parts that I would blend.  All this fibre is locally sourced.

I put the fibres through the drum carder in layers.  On the second pass through the carder, I pulled fibre off the end of the batt so I would have a chunk the length of the staple.  I put these clumps through the drum carder sideways.  This makes the fibres blend quickly and evenly.

The final pass through the drum carder is done to straighten out the fibres and blend them one final time.

This is batt #6 coming off the drum carder.

I have six of these batts for a total of 1/2 pound of blended fibre.  That was time well spent.

Splicing yarn

As much as I love knitting, there are certainly some elements of it I don’t like.  I don’t like joining seams and I do everything I can to avoid that activity.  I don’t like “weaving in loose ends” especially when you are adding new yarn, and like the seams, do as much as I can to avoid that activity.

Lace knitters offer a wonderful option for weaving in the loose ends created from joining new yarn.  Lace knitting is so light and open, if you were to weave in another strand of yarn, it would show and alter the thickness of the fabric.  So they suggest splicing the yarn.  This technique only works on fibres that will felt, so be warned.  You CAN do it with superwash and nylon infused fibres, but they don’t hold as well.

If you are going to splice yarn, the first thing you do is unwind the plies.  The photo is not very good, but it is a two ply 100% wool yarn.  I cut one ply in each strand about 2 inches frm the end.
Then I soak both pieces of yarn in water for about 5 minutes.  This allows the wool to absorb some water and open the scales on the individual fibres, which will make it felt.
When the fibres are good and soaked, lay them across your palm as shown above, laying the single plies from each strand alongside the other.  Then, using your other hand, rub back and forth creating heat and friction.  Don’t be afraid to use a bit of pressure.  After a very short while, the single plies will fuse and you will have one complete strand of yarn. While it doesn’t look exactly like the original yarn, it is the same thickness and holds together.  Once you knit it into your piece, you won’t notice it at all.
Tada!
Now, whenever I need to join another ball of yarn, even if it happens at the end of the row, I fuse the ends together.  It is easy and most effective.  I’ve even done it on the bus, soaking the ends in my mouth.  And it worked.
[I apologize for the quality of these photos. The camera couldn’t be found (again) and once it was located (finally) the battery was done (again). So I had to rely on my blackberry camera phone.]