how I prepare commercial roving for spinning. Posted October 29th.
how to spin a tweed-like yarn. Posted January 8th.
how to spin a lightweight, airy yarn that lends the finished knitted fabric incredible drape. Today’s post, January 27th.
my Énbarr shawl pattern. Stay tuned….
Each shawl above was spun using a forward worsted draft twist. More often than not, this draft technique is thought best for producing strong, hardwearing, dense sock or warp yarns. It is, however, the drafting technique that will add the most drape to the finished yarn and, in turn, fabric. So how can you use this drafting technique to produce a yarn with incredible drape that is also lightweight and airy? The key is your fibre prep.
The Énbarr Shawl was spun from Blue-faced Leicester and the Féth Fíadha primarily from Gotland (the grey frosting is Finn). My prep for both commercially prepared slivers was the same and includes 4 easy steps:
Pre-soaking the commercial sliver. Post October 29th.
Attenuating/pre-drafting the dried sliver, from #1 above.
Dressing a distaff with the attenuated fibre.
Spinning from the distaff.
My next few posts will review different fibre prep methods, the merits of spinning from a distaff and the different ways I load my distaves and why.
This technique was developed when spinning my Féth Fíadha shawl. A féth fíadha is a magical veil that blurs the borders between our mortal world and that of the Sidhe. I envisioned a knitted handspun wrap reminiscent of a blanket of fog.
To this end, I chose to work with Gotland. My first handspun and knitted samples in white Gotland (seen in the photo) rendered a lightweight, crisp fabric with incredible hand and drape. Further, Gotland’s slight halo added to the misty feeling I was attempting to conjure. A good start, but the fabric needed something more. A bit more surface interest. Something that would add to the mood. Thus was born a simple technique I call “frosting”.
In a nutshell, to spin this 2-ply yarn, the fibre is divided into two equal lots, one for each single. One singles is spun as is, the other singles is “frosted” with a gossamer layer of attenuated coloured fibre. In the case of this shawl I used a lovely, soft dark Finn. The “frosted” singles is spun by alternating between spinning only the white, then frosting for a bit, and then going back to the plain white. Once the frosted singles is plied with the all-white singles you end up with a handspun yarn with a lovely tweed-like effect. The photos below help to demonstrate the process.
And yes, this is an amazing technique to use with dyed fibre! And a little bit of frosting goes a long way. For my whole shawl, about 10% of the fibre was dark Finn. Enjoy!
For the most part, except when seduced by an indie dyer’s beautiful braid of coloured spinning fibre, I prepare my spinning fibre from fleece. Every now and again, however, I have a bit of commercial sliver left over from teaching a spinning workshop that I hate to see go to waste, so I spin it up.
About six years ago I asked myself why I did not really enjoy working with commercial sliver. Was it because as a beginner spinner I had cut my teeth on local fleece? After some thought I decided that was not it. What it basically came down to was this, although commercial sliver has a soft and silky hand, it does not respond to my touch the same as fibre I prepare myself. On the other hand, indie dyed braids seem fine. Hmmm…..why would that be? A niggling little voice urged me to investigate further and try soaking commercial sliver before spinning it. Bingo! That was my answer!
After a few experiments, here is the method I use.
fill a basin with warm (130-140 degrees Fahrenheit)
place the sliver in the water, gently pressing it down into the liquid, without disturbing it too much
allow the fibre to soak
when the water reaches 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit, gently squeeze out most of the liquid and transfer the fibre to another bath of warm water; the same temperature as the water it has just been removed from
then when the second bath is completely cooled, remove the fibre and lay on top of a thick layer of thirsty cotton towels. Do not cover the fibre, simply place it on top
leave the fibre undisturbed for a few hours
then straighten out the sliver a wee bit and hang until dry
Once convinced of its merit, I began sharing this extra fibre prep step with students. So far everyone agrees, it makes for a more enjoyable spin. Here are some of the pluses of this extra step.
the fibre responds more readily to the spinner’s touch
you can spin a finer singles more easily
with the crimp reactivated from its warm water soak, it is easier to determine how best to spin the fibre
spinning oils and, sometimes, more sheepy remnants are removed from the fibre
In December of 2016 our family home of 26 years sold much quicker than anticipated. The condo we had purchased was not scheduled for completion until April of 2018. Deciding to make the most of it, we packed up our little teardrop-style trailer and headed off to explore Canada and the United States while we awaited the completion of the condo. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that almost 2 years later, we would still be travelling and waiting for our home to be finished.
On the one hand, this adventure afforded me the gift of time. Time to read, time to daydream, time to knit, time for spindle spins and time to explore designing my own patterns. On the other hand, however, the fibre related items I could take along had to fit into the small compartment under my side of the bed. There was no room for fleece or a spinning wheel. I started the journey with enough commercial yarn for two shawls I had been planning to knit for some time. Without life’s usual distractions however, they were knit in record time and, I was soon searching out local yarn shops along the way in hopes of filling the void I felt.
When I got right down to it, I realized I missed working with fleece; scouring, preparing, spinning, plying, and dyeing; the activities that bring a certain rhythm and grounding to my daily life. Friends had tried to convince me before we left, to take my wheel and some fibre along but I ignored their sage counsel. We did not have the room for a wheel let alone all the other equipment that goes along with spinning. I’d be fine. Or so I thought. By October I knew I had made a gross error in judgment. Thank goodness for Etsy and on-line stores. I placed orders for some commercially prepared fibre and a few spindles. The whole lot was shipped to my sister-in-law’s, so I could pick them up on our way to through to the Maritimes.
Most often my projects start with raw fleece, which I scour, comb or card and then spin. I have over the years spun some commercially prepared non-superwash wool, but to me they seem lackluster compared to the fibre I prepared from scratch. As I started working with the natural-coloured commercial roving I had ordered, I wondered why my own hand painted commercial sliver seemed to be a little nicer to spin than the undyed sliver. A niggling voice in the back of my mind urged me to give the commercial sliver a soak in warm water and see what difference, if any, that made to how it spun up once dry. To my delight I found the South American, Finn and Gotland commercial sliver I had ordered and then treated with a soak responded more like my own hand prepared fibre.
With the fibre responding nicely to my touch, I set to work to design a yarn that would provide surface interest simply from the manner in which it was spun. Over the next few posts, I will share:
how I prepare commercial roving for spinning
how to spin a tweed-like yarn
how to spin a lightweight, airy yarn that lends the finished knitted fabric incredible drape and
(if I can decipher my notes and put them into a legible format for a knitting pattern) share my Énbarr shawl pattern.
This is the fourth in a series of handspun hand knit shawls. Each shawl was spun using the forward worsted draft.
Énbarr is a white horse, owned by the Celtic sea god. Depending upon the source, her name is said to mean frothing, flowing mane or imagination. If you let imagination take you there, you can see the sea foam tripping over itself as it rolls onto the sand coloured shores.
Shorelines. Constantly shifting and changing. Re-shaped by time, the ebb and flow of the ocean and storms weathered.
The next three spinning workshops I teach in Kelowna, Victoria and Maple Ridge explore the Forward Worsted Draft Twist. This draft twist technique is often called the inchworm draft and thought of as a technique for beginners when learning to spin. Many use this technique to spin nice strong yarn for warp and socks. But this technique has much more to offer than strength alone. Subtle adjustments to your spinning technique and your wheel can result in a beautiful lightweight yarn with the most incredible drape.
The three photos below are shawls knit from a forward worsted draft twist yarn. The differences in the hand of each shawl is solely the result of breed choice.
Today I am juggling a few fibre balls in the air. There is: a shawl soaking so I can block it, I have started scouring skeins of bare yarn for the workshop I am teaching at Kalamalka Guild in September (I need 1080 grams, so I start well ahead of time) and I just finished plying some high twist yarn for a friend who is experimenting for a collapsed weave project.
I thought this tip might prove handy for those of you, who like me, do a lot of dyeing during the summer months. The painters tape at 12 o’clock, tells me at a glance that the yarn is pre-soaking before it is scoured. When I finish the pre-soak, I turn the lid so the tape sits at 3 o’clock to indicate I am bringing the yarn up to my target temperature. Then once my target temperature is reached, I turn the lid so the tape sits at 6 o’clock and I set the timer for the allotted scouring time. Why do I bother with this mind jogger? Because it allows me to process four pots at once and know at a glance where I am at with each one.
The yarn I am scouring is 100% non-superwash wool. I pre-soak 100g of wool yarn for a minimum of 45 minutes in about 6 litres of water to which I have added 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of a neutral detergent (the amount depends upon how much spinning oil there seems to be in the yarn). I bring the pot up to a target temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit over 40 minutes and then keep it at the target temperature for 1 hour. The yarn is allowed to cool down to 120 degrees, before it is transferred to a pot of clear rinse water which is also 120 degrees. Once the rinse water is completely cooled, I remove the yarn and lay it out to dry.
Happy dyeing all! Now I must get to my spinning wheel to test some fibre for a project I have in mind…..
Spinners are such a creative, innovative, curious and inspiring group. Two ladies who made me stop and take stock recently are Diana Twiss, of 100-mile wear and Rachel Smith of Welford Purls.
Diana recently got all fired up about Debbie Held’s article in PLY magazine on using crêpe yarns for socks. And Rachel has been passionately experimenting with the oppositional ply and Hawser yarn techniques presented in Sarah Anderson’s book, The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Design.
Mea culpa Diana and Rachel, but my initial thoughts were:
Hmmmm….nice novelty yarns.
I’ve seen them before.
A lot of fuss about something that is not really that functional.
Pretty, but what can you make with it?
Boy, was I wrong. When I held their skeins of yarn in my own two hands, I was gob smacked and thought “Oh my goodness, the possibilities…..”
Check out Diana Twiss at http://100milewear.com/ and Rachel Smith’s Wool ‘n Spinning blog and her youtube podcast episode #111.
Thank you to all fibre artists who allow us to light our flame in their candles. And a special thank you to Diana and Rachel for sharing their talents, insights and passion.