Kim's Blog

Archive for Fibre

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.

Spinning for Gotland, Finn and South American Shawls….

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.

Énbarr

Bluefaced Leicester (white) and Shetland (nature dyed, natural fawn and natural brown)
Énbarr

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.

Forward Worsted Draft Twist

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.

The Sidhe Shawl – Dark Finn
Dearg Corra – South American
Féth Fíadha – Gotland “frosted” with Dark Finn

….this is why I scour!

Water after scouring “clean” yarn.

If I did not scour the yarn, the spinning oils might interfere with how the dye adheres to the yarn. Cheers all!

Who woulda thunk it?

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.

 

Cheers, Kim

Question #1 – Why does my fleece still feel tacky after scouring?

Beautifully scoured Bluefaced Leicester Fleece.

One cause of tacky fleece can be poor scouring technique.

What to do if your fleece feels tacky and does not draft well after scouring:

Before a full on re-scouring of the whole fleece, see if it can be salvaged with a bit of oil. Rub a small amount of olive or 100% Neatsfoot oil on your hands and work it into about 10 grams of fleece. Give your hands a wash and then wrap the fibre in a tea towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before spinning. If drafting has improved, great! Treat enough fibre for one spinning session with the oil until you have all your fleece spun. Be sure you to wash the oiled handspun in a timely manner (one to two months after spinning.).

If drafting has not improved, then I am afraid a second scouring is required.

 

AVOIDING TACKY FLEECE

Water Temperature: If dealing with a fleece you have not worked with before, conduct a few 10 gram sample scourings. Try 120°F, 140°F, 160°F and 180°F. Choose the water temperature that results in the nicest hand without feeling tacky.

Neutral pH Soap: The soaps I have had the best success with are Blue Dawn Liquid Soap, Castille Soap and Orvus Paste. A fleece that has next to no grease at all gets a Castille Soap scour, fleece with more grease gets Blue Dawn and I use Orvus for very greasy fleeces. Avoid suds by filling your scouring container with water, adding the soap and giving it a gentle stir. Other cleaning agents I have used with good success include Eucolan and Unicorn Power Scour.

How much Soap: I go by feel I am afraid. When the water feels slick when rubbed between my fingers, I know I have added enough soap.

Fleece Transfer: Grease is attracted back to the fibre as the water cools. Once the scouring soap bath reaches 120°F, I transfer the fibre to a 120°F clear rinse. To transfer the fibre I gently squeeze the fleece while it is still under water. Lift it from the bath, while continuing to keep the fibre under light pressure, and place it into the clear rinse bath. If there are still suds in the water, one or two more clear rinses may be required. I leave the fibre in the last bath until the water is completely cool. Once the clear rinse bath has cooled, I gently squeeze the fleece (while it is still under water), remove it from the rinse water and place it upon a few layers of nice, thick cotton towels. I cover the fleece with tea towels and leave it be for 3 hours. After the time is up the cotton towels will have wicked up the excess moisture from the fleece which can then be transferred to a sweater rack to finish drying.

Hope this proves helpful. Cheers, Kim

Question #1

Why does my freshly washed fleece still feel tacky?

More often than not a freshly scoured fleece that feels tacky is the result of:

Polworth Fleece. Scoured and ready to comb.

  • Water being too cool to remove all the grease.
  • Not using enough of a neutral pH soap.
  • The soap you are using is not very effective on grease removal.
  • The fleece has been allowed to cool down in water that still contains some grease.

When scouring remember different fleeces contain different amounts of “grease” and they cannot all be scoured the same way. What works with one breed may not work with another. It is best to sample before embarking on scouring a whole fleece.

I will post some thoughts/answers to the above bulleted points in my next post.

Until then, take good care and happy spinning.

Cheers, Kim

Questions I am Often Asked

As I prepare for workshops over the coming year, I have been thinking about those questions most often asked by students. Hopefully some of their questions and my thoughts/answers will be of interest to you too over the next few posts.

Cheers, Kim