Distaffs

I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.

At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.

I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.

Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.

Plein-aire spinning

A bit like outdoor anything – providing its not raining or freezing – spinning is enhanced by the open-air. I took my little Louet wheel with me whilst on holiday on the Pembroke coast recently. We were being careful and avoiding towns etc in our caravan sitting on a farm, so there was plenty of opportunity to spin in the lovely sunshine. It seems ages ago now, but was so refreshing.

Victoria beside the caravan, enjoying the view.

I took a bag full of mixed colour Jacob’s fleece and sorted it into dark and light before hand carding it. Ifirst of all spun a skein of cream to test the tpi and grist I was aiming at and on a rainy day decided to dye it with the onion skins from our soup.

All very earthy!

I can’t resist a marl yarn, so plied the colours into variations on this.

From left: knot or knop marl, slubby marl, onion dyed 2 ply, chain plied random carded colours

With good weather, fleece washing starts…

Although I promised myself not to get any more fleece until I had emptied my cupboard, I’ve cheated . Well only a bit. Over the winter I have used a lot up, but not all of it!

Having been to Herefordshire and seen the Ryeland sheep sculpture in Leominster I read up about the Ryeland breed and wanted to try a fleece. From what I understand the Ryeland was one of the breeds that can from the Romans crossing their imported Merino sheep with local British breeds. This is probably why they look like Teddy Bears with dense fleece. This breed was instrumental in the success of the British wool trade in the Middle Ages and after, which laid the foundations for wealth in Britain, especially in Herefordshire. Fascinating stuff!

The Old Market hall. Tenbury Wells.
Sculpture of a Ryeland sheep in Leominster.

The long and the short of it is that I now have a Ryeland fleece to play with. I sorted out today and have started to wash it with promising results. Not to much VM, but a bit yellowed – the name for this escapes me right now, is it ‘yoked’? I’m guessing its last years crop.

You can see a staple in the photo, and i’ll post once I start spinning. I plan to spin Long Draw, ply and then to dye it.

Washed Ryeland staple. Its about 3.5 inches when straight, but is quite crimpy. Yummy.

Picking fleece for a marathon carding session

I have a large sack of Texel fleece that had been making me feel guilty for a while. It’s not the most soft of fleece so I decided to blend it with some Alpaca that has also been lurking in the cupboard. Unfortunately the Alpaca (from an animal called Kiki), has quite a bit of VM in it, but it is deliciously soft.

Picking and hand picking got a lot of the VM out, but sadly not everything. I carded both the Texel and Alpaca separately and then split the batts and layered them up in alternate layers; one wool, one Alpaca etc, and put them back in smaller batches through the drum carder.

As my carder is quite coarse I do a second run through for most fibres. So I did it for these batts. I think I probably should have done a third run, but I was afraid of over-carding the fibres and decided they had blended well enough. The result is a little uneven!

I’ve spun two small samples, one thick singles sort of semi-woollen and the other long draw woollen spun.

I’m now perfecting, (ha ha) my long draw technique with several hundred grams of comb waste that I have carded up. Hopefully by the time I get through that I will be proficient enough to tackle long draw spinning that large amount of Texel/Alpaca fibre!

I’ve hand knitted small samples of the both yarns The thicker spun on 6mm needles and the long-draw spun on 5mm needles

Left: Long draw spun yarn hand knitted on 5mm . Right: Thicker semi-woolen spun hand knittedon 6mm needles.

Spinning fine yarns for machine knitting

If you have seen some of my earlier posts about machine knitting and spinning you might realise that I am keen to put the two together. I was given a fleece that is long-staple, not-very crimped and quite lustrous, but I don’t know what breed it is from. Its also quite coarse with well defined locks. The first batch I stove-top rainbow dyed, and spun from flicked locks. It worked OK, and I got a reasonably fine yarn. I also have a lovely soft, long staple Alpaca fleece, so I worked with the two as separate singles to ply together. This yarn worked at tension 8 on a standard gauge knitting machine.

However, I was determined to get it thinner. I started with the Alpaca, and after hand carding the fibres, spun it worsted using a double drive wheel with the lace flyer and was so pleased with the results. I got a 28wpi singles from the Alpaca which was quite dense, not light an airy, but I wanted it to match the coarser fibre’s density. To prepare the long-staple wool I decided to comb the locks on wool combs. At first I was slow, because although I have done this before I’ve not practised a lot. It was exciting to find I got faster quite quickly and began to get some lovely long slivers coming off the comb. After spinning in the same set up as the Alpaca, I have also managed to get the rather coarser wool to produce a 28wpi singles, so I am pretty pleased as this will give around 14wpi 2ply.

I have plied all of the yarn, and am waiting for the second skein to dry. Meanwhile I have knitted a tension swatch on the Knitmaste SK840 and can get it to knit at either tension 5 or 6. Tension 5 is a nice looking stitch, but the handle is stiff, so I opted for tension 6 instead. I probably should have tried between the two, but when each metre of yarn takes so long to prepare and spin I was reluctant to use too much on sampling at this stage. I will add photos of the fabric once I have given it a wash and steam.

Avocado surprises

Having been eating loads of avocados last summer I dried the skins and stones for dye material later on in the year. I want sure if the colour outcome would be effected by drying so decided to try some out recently.

I took 60g dried avocado skins and two skeins of yarn; one 14g hand spun 50/50 cream wool and alpaca and 12g commercially spun 2/9nm will and nylon (sock yarn). I reckoned half yarn to dye material, but being dried may have made a difference.

I cold mordanted the yarns overnight and soaked and cooked up the skins. Stained the liquid and made up the due bath. Then gently simmered the yarn for about 60 minutes, with the skins in a muslin bag in the bath as well. After that I left the whole pot to cool overnight.

I was surprised that the hand spun did not take much colour whereas the wool and nylon took loads. Both had had same pretreatment.

Left is hand spun 50/50 wool alpaca yarn, right is wool and nylon

I will be using the will nylon in machine knit socks, so pleased with the colour. It’s not as warm as the undried skins I’ve used in the past, more like onion skin colour.

UPDATE On reflection I think the Alpaca may have influenced the way the dye was taken up by the hand spun yarn

Half way through knitting a hat with hand spun yarns

Having a few smallish quantities of hand spun yarn I decided to dye them.

The first was about 30g of blended tussah silk/wool singles that I’d then plied with itself. This is a slightly textured yarn with an interesting matte surface owing to the silk content. It took the deep purple dye beautifully, although the different fibres had varying take up of colour, so it isn’t quite even.

The second was a black and cream space spun yarn, plied with a solid cream. The solid is made from 50g of cream Suffolk fibre, woollen spun into singles. The second singles, with which this is plied, was prepared on a drum carder in alternating stripes of the same cream yarn and stripes of black Belwin fibre. This 25g batt was then woollen spun into singles, after which the two yarns were plied together into a 50g hank. This combination created a pretty spaced marl effect along a yarn which is reasonably even in thickness throughout.

The completed yarn was dip dyed in the same dye pot as the silk/wool yarn, plus another pink dye I had on the go. It was dipped a little into some yellow as well. Over-dyeing this black and cream marl yarn gives the impression of many more colours than there really are.

I’ve used the silk/wool as a band for a hat and the over dyed marl as the crown.

The band is knitted around the head, and has a cable along its length. The stitches for the crown are picked up along the edge and knitted in the round. The ball of yarn is on the right in the photo.

Colour-changing yarn spun from a distaff

I’ve had a number of different colour hand dyed carded batts sitting waiting for me to find inspiration. They are all from fleece I have scored and carder myself, so are a mix of Shetland, Suffolk and Texel, with maybe a little Alpaca blended into some of them. Some are in 200g amounts, some less. I’d got a bit stuck about how to use them until I saw a useful tip by Anna from my spinning group that she has put on YouTube.

Before you start, select a group of colours that work together. After a designing session during which I wrapped different colours together, I chose five: orange, pale green, mid blue, pale blue and lilac.

Anna used a combination of hand dyed and commercial roving, but the principle is the same with your own carded batts.

1. First of all split the roving/batt into the required lengths, (I just used the whole length of the batt of my drum carder).

2. Then split each length lengthwise into 4, (or more, depending on the thickness of the roving/batt).

3. Next, lay out the colours lengthwise, next to each other in the order you want to spin them into yarn. Test this beforehand to see how they mix throughout one repeat of a yarn, and if this works for your chosen outcome, such as knitting.

4. Repeat the colour sequence three more times so you have a table full of ‘stripes’ of fibre. If you have more than four lengths let colour, carry on until all are used up.

5. Now this is the clever part. I have hand spun colour changing yarns before and got the sequence wrong because I put it all away in a box between spinning sessions. To keep the sequence do the following.

6. Take a metre + long length off ribbon and tie a pencil or empty pen across one end. This is your fibre-stopper. Tie a hand-sized loop on the other end. This is your distaff.

7. Starting at one end of the ‘stripes’, wind each length off fibre into a loose roll and slip the looped end of the ribbon through the centre hole. Carry on doing this, working methodically through the fibre lengths, keeping the colour order as mapped out in your ‘stripes’.

8. You will end up with a ‘necklace’ of colour ordered fibre rolls on the ribbon. Tie the ends together to stop the fibre sliding off.

The dyed fibre arranged on the ribbon distaff before spinning

Now to can put them in a box and they won’t get muddled. To start spinning, simply lift the necklace out, untie the ends, and slip the loop over your hand. It acts as a distaff and will hold your fibre nicely as you spin each colour.

Spinning the lengths into singles

What a great tip!

I plied the colour changing yarn with a single spun made from navy blue Corriedale. This made a lovely marl yarn that to me resembles stained glass windows. I can’t wait to see what it looks like knitted.

The plied yarn

Here is the link to Anna’s video

Acid dyeing handspun remainders

A recent stock-take of the various bits of hand-spun yarn sitting on bobbins I now want to use for other projects inspired me to ply them all up and dye them into interesting yarns. Only small quantites of most, but great for small items.

One was a test of blending Tussah silk with Lleyn fleece, and I plied this with some nice soft spun Dorset singles. The silk added a pleasant dry handle to the plied yarn, and the noils added texture. There was more Dorset singles left, so I plied these together as a separate yarns. Next I plied two ends of Suffolk together, they were somewhat different thicknesses and twists, so made a slightly uneven, spiralled yarn. Finally I worked with a lovely colour changing singles, spun from a blend of Alpaca and Texel (cream) and Black Alpaca and Dark Grey (almost black) Suffolk fleece. The Alpaca blends had been carded in stripes on the drum carder so that when it was spun off the batt it alternated in dark and then light lengths. I plied this with a pale grey Suffolk single that I had acquired from a farm in Hereford last summer.

All these came out as interesting yarns in their own right, but I wanted to add some COLOUR. So I got out the dye kettle and the acid dyes. After some thought I decided to aim for a Deep Red and a Blue-Violet. I’ve been trying to be more technical about my dye mixing, and so with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet I have devised, I carefully mixed the solutions, but the Blue-Violet still emerged as Violet.

There was 66g of the Dorset and Suffolk/Dorset, and they went into the Red dyebath, whilst the 45g of Lleyn/Tussah/Dorset went into the Blue-Violet bath and they gently cooked away for an hour or so.

Part of my improved technique is to use a jam thermometer to keep the bath below 90C, preferably just above 89C to prevent felting. I also walk away so I am not tempted to STIR IT! The only stir I am allowed is after teh bath gets to temperature, when I gently remove the yarns, add the vinegar and stir it in. I read that doing this allows the different colours in the mix to be absorbed into the yarn (or fibre), before the acid does its work to set the dye to the fibres. Both these techniques seem to work well for me as I am getting less felting and more even, accurate colours (apart from the Blue Violet of course).

The dye baths were not exhausted – I had worked with a 2% colour to fibre weight ratio for medium depth of colour – so the lovely tweed ply was dip dyed into both pots, leaving mid-sections of the natural tweed plies undyed. I felt this needed a third colour to lift the others, so a very small section between each of the main colours was dipped into a weak yellow dye.

Dark red in front, dip dyed tweed in the middle, blue-violet at the back. You can just see the texural Tusssah silk blended purple yarn.

I’m really pleased with the products of the session – carried out whilst I watched the new TV programme ‘Roadkill’. Unfortunately I was a bit stupid, or maybe it was the effect of the programme I was watching, and whilst mixing a new batch of yellow stock solution I mindlessly poured boiling water onto the dye powder in a plastic jar. Of course the jar melted, buckled sideways and then toppled to the floor before I could catch it. Waves of strong yellow dye flooded the kitchen floor (I am exaggerating, it was only 150ml or so, it just felt like waves). It took five washes to clean the floor so that no-one would walk yellow onto the beige carpets, and my socks will never be the same again! Plus I had to start again with the stock solution. I did debate mopping the floor with some yarn, but decided that might be too hit-and-miss even for me…

In fact this morning, whilst hiding from the dog, (don’t ask why) I noticed a snail-trail of yellow dye snaking down the side of the kitchen cabinet – how did I miss that one?

What am I going to use the yarns for? I think a warm hat to cheer me up with its bright colours during this depressing winter-to-come is on the cards. I might knit it by hand or I maybe use my Brother KH260 chunky machine, and hope to report back on here when its finished.

Footnote:

Leaving the dye overnight in the pots – I was tired after all that floor-mpopping – the next morning I decided to finally extract the last from each one. So 50g of Dorset fleece went into each, and I got a rich coral pink, and surprisingly bright lilac for my troubles. It was so rewarding to empty clear water out of the dye baths afterwards.

Waste-not-want-not is a good motto.