Kim's Blog

Archive for Fibre Preparation

Lightweight Airy Yarn from a Forward Worsted Draft Twist

Enbarr Shawl
Féth Fíadha Shawl

In my October 5th post I promised to share:

  • 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:

  1. Pre-soaking the commercial sliver. Post October 29th.
  2. Attenuating/pre-drafting the dried sliver, from #1 above.
  3. Dressing a distaff with the attenuated fibre.
  4. 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.

Cheers all!

Tweed-like handspun

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”.

Tweed-like frosted skein and ball alongside the plain white handspun.

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!

Thin sliver of attenuated dark Finn frosting on top of attenuated white Gotland.
Frosted singles.
Frosted singles to the left. Plain white singles to the right.

Preparing Commercial Sliver and Roving for Spinning

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
Water from commercial Gotland fibre. It is sometimes surprising how much gunk is actually in commercially prepared sliver.
Water from commercial Shetland fibre.