Category Archives: wool

Don’t waste the waste

I love combing fibre as a way to prepare it for spinning.  Several of my blog posts can attest to that.  However, the one thing that really bothers me about combing is the waste.  Last weekend I prepared some fibre for an upcoming workshop I am teaching.  I made a series of lovely combed nests.  After 70 grams worth of combed fibres, I weighed the waste that was left on the combs.  31.5 grams!!!  So — of an approximate total of 100 grams of fibre, I can get 70 grams of finished ready-to-spin stuff and approximately 30 grams of stuff I have to find something to do with.

This is not good.

I usually stuff the waste into the bottom of a sock I find in the laundry.  It goes through a wash and dry cycle and out pops a lovely felted ball.  These balls make great kitchen hockey balls, kitty play-thing balls, and base balls on which to wind spun singles.  However, there are only so many one needs in one’s life.

I knew that some people card this stuff up and use it in their spinning.  It just seemed so uninspiring — all those short bits, random second cuts, fibres of multiple lengths.  But what’s the harm in an experiment?

I took the bags of waste I had collected from the combing — one series was dyed Dorset (green/blue) the other bag was undyed, beautiful white Montadale.  I put them through my drum carder three times, blending the colours and creating two decent sized batts.

I’ve been brushing up on my spinning techniques in preparation for some workshops I’ve proposed for Fibreswest. This batt of fibre was an excellent candidate for the woolen spinning technique. Woolen spinning — is where you allow the twist to enter into the fibres and while it is doing that, you slowly and intentionally pull away.  When you have as much twist as you want — and for a lofty yarn you just want the fibres locked — then you let the whole piece run onto the bobbin.  And then you start again letting the twist enter the fibre source and pulling back.

For those of us who are more familiar with the worsted technique, where you never allow the twist to enter the fibre source — you feed the fibre to the twist — the woolen technique takes some getting used to.  It also takes some getting used to because it doesn’t look all that great on the bobbin. There are bumps and funny bits that you are tempted to remove.  But don’t.  That’s all part of the package.  Apart from the spinning technique, the real magic with woolen spun yarn happens when you wash it.

Here’s a photo essay of my yarn, from bobbin to finished skein.

You can almost hear the yarn moan as it expands, relaxes, and blooms.  I let it soak for few minutes in very warm soapy water and beat it up a bit while it was in the water.  I squeezed it and roughed it up.  And then I did something that I have read about, but never had the nerve to do with yarn.  Right after this warm soapy bath, I squeezed the water out and then filled the sink with ice cold water and threw it in.  While in there I continued the beating.  The point of this is to try to slightly felt the yarn.  Not so much that it loses it’s elasticity, but enough that it will hold together and those shorter bits won’t quickly find their way out of your stitches.  ie. pill.

So here is the lovely skein — my experiment with wool-stuff that would either be a felted ball or just thrown into the garbage.  It is 46g and 82m.  I couldn’t believe how light it was, especially after it dried.  
I can’t knit anything up with it yet because I want to use this skein as a sample — if my class runs.
I’ll just have to make another one.

Why 100-Mile Wear?

This blog is about my efforts to create clothing items from fibres that come from within a 100-mile radius of my house.  It is inspired by the book A 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon.  I initially resisted reading that book, feeling that it would have a repremanding and superior tone that would result in guilt and total lack of enjoyment for anything that I ate following that.  But it wasn’t that way at all.  It’s a terrific and inspiring book written in an intelligent and engaging manner. 

And it got me thinking.  How much of our resources are spending moving stuff around the planet, all in the name of fashion?  How many of us have forgotten how to create clothing and fabric, leaving it all in the hands of technology and third world countries?

I joined the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild in January 2000 with a deep desire to learn how to spin, right then and there.  One of the seasoned  members of the guild advised me to get a wheel and buy a fleece.  In a very short time I purchased a second-hand spinning wheel [Ashford Traditional] and started processing a 7 lb fleece from a ewe named Minnie.  The first yarn I spun was over twisted, thick and lovely.  The sweater I made for my 6 year old weighed about 2 1/2 lbs.  I dyed the fibre using koolaid, because they were safe and easy to obtain.  I didn’t have the brain power or space needed to get into dyeing in a “real” way.  The sweater was gorgeous and she loved it, despite its weight.  She wore it with pride until it didn’t fit her anymore.

I loved that yarn and the whole process of making it.  I had to skirt the fleece — take out the inevitable animal bits, then scour the fibres — wash them in very hot water to rid it of lanolin, suint and dirt.  After the washed fleece dried, I hand carded it and spun it up two-ply.

Every spring after that I attended the local fleece sale.  It was a once a year chance to buy a fleece from a farmer in the region.  I purchased many pounds of fibre at this sale every year, looking forward to the heat and sun of summer to help dry the fleeces.  From this I learned that in our area we have the capacity to produce some exquisite fibres.  Over the years I have bought Ramboulette, Shetland, Clunn Forest,  and of course Romney from local sheep farmers. 

Over the next while I will show you [as soon as I can find my camera] yarns and items that I have made with locally sourced wool, alpaca and llama.  You will also hear the whining frustrations from my attempts to obtain more fibre now that the annual sale is no more.

Stay tuned.