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

The Knitting Thingamabob – mending a Knitmaster 700 carriage and knitting socks

Replacing the tension dial on the carriage of a Knitmaster 700, some tricks and tips to make this easier. Knitting socks and hand spinning yarn for machine knitting socks.

Follow my podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts or iTunes.

Show Notes:

Although an older model, the Knitmaster 700 is a lovely machine. It is a punchcard machine and ball bearings so it slides very smoothly on the bed. One really nice feature is that it will knit intarsia without using a special carriage. Two white levers on the left and right of the carriage activate the intarsia setting.

Whilst knitting the sock, I found the tension dial was unreliable and replaced this with a secondhand assembly and this records doing this.

Follow this link to the accompanying video that shows how to remove the handle, cover, dial and cam lever, replace the dial and cam lever and re-assemble the carriage.

‘The Answerlady and Jack’ on YouTube are life-savers for machine repairs.

A trick for reassembling the carriage when it is difficult to get the tension assembly back into the carriage so that it will turn all the way round.

Never use metal things to poke inside your carriage unless you know what you are doing!

Mend the plastic carriage cover or any other plastic cracks, chips etc with epoxy resin glue. If you leave the cracks, particularly if they are around a metal screw head, they will quickly deteriorate and bits will break off.

Don’t use spirit on the plastic parts of the machine, use a slightly damp cloth to wipe these parts. Metal areas can be cleaned with surgical spirit (rubbing acohol) with a drop two of oil in it. This leaves a film of oil after cleaning. Make up a small jar and keep it with your maintenance tools so that it is always to hand. Use soft cloths and cotton buds to clean your machine.

Keep your machine oiled for the best performance, oil the bed every 100 or so rows. Invest in proper sewing machine oil or knitting machine oil.

Sock knitting on the knitting machine. Not being a keen hand knitter of socks, I revisit machine knitted socks made from wool yarn. Short row heels, short row or decreased toes?

Hand spun yarn for socks. Yarn spun from locally sourced fleece of indeterminant type, but definitely ideal for socks. To save time washing this filthy fleece I used stove-top dyeing to clean and rainbow dye the fleece. The resultant locks were nice to spin, but made a rather hard yarn.

Spinning yarn for 4.5mm standard gauge knitting machine on an Ashford Traveller, semi-worsted or maybe semi-woollen?

Use a waxing disk when working with hand spun on a knitting machine.

Combining commercial spun wool with hand spun wool when knitting a sock.

I got a Majacraft dizz for Christmas!

I’ve got various tools that I have been using as a dizz, but there have always been shortcomings. I’ve found it difficult to get the holes smooth enough in wooden ones I have, even after quite a lot of use. I also use a big coat wooden button, (same problem with the holes), and the plastic button I used snapped in half.

The wooden coat button is nicely concave, and I like that feature. When I saw the curved brass ones made by Majacraft I became covetous. So imagine my joy on receiving one from my son as a present at Christmas!

The little hook is great. I used an 18gge knitting machine needle before

Apparently the two smaller holes (1.5mm and 3mm) are for fine and coarser wools and the largest one is for colour blending fibres as you ‘dizz’.

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

Carding raw fleece – another post!

I have been doing quite a bit of drum carding of raw fleece I have gathered over the summer, and whilst doing this I recorded a couple of videos of the process.

This is the first one; picking and running the fibre through the carder the first time

I always put the batt back through the drum carder. I find this second carding makes a much nicer fibre for spinning. The second video covers doffing the fibre, splitting it and putting it back through. After this you can either take the batt off, as shown in the video below, or use a diz to take it off in a continuous roving. To do this, only separate one end of the batt (to the width of the diz), and pull the fibre off in a spiral as the drum reverses around.

The wool is from a Dorset sheep, and I have hand-dyed it in acid dye to this rather pretty duck-egg blue.

The second video shows doffing the fibre and putting it back through the carder after splitting and drafting to thin it out.

I haven’t spun this fibre into any meaningful amount of yarn as yet. That is a pleasure I am saving for later.

In the video below you can see the fibre being picked prior to the carding.

Aplologies for the portrait aspect filming of this video!
This was the fleece just after dyeing

Exhausted after another long fleece-washing session and mulling over the costs and benefits of Power Scour and Fibre Scour

We had a few rainy days recently so I put a lot of fleece to soak outside – hoping the rain water would help the process along. The catch of course was that I then didn’t want the waste the opportunity that the glorious weather we had today offered for washing the fleece in the garden and getting a head start on the drying.

When will I learn? Four hours later I do have a load of lovely white fleece hanging up to dry on meshes, but I am exhausted.

Because I had soaked the fleece in cold water for a few days, I had to wash it by slowly heating it in batches in a pot on a stove. I wish I had an old Burco boiler – my Mum used to use one for washing the bed linen. I will keep an eye out for one. Using pots meant that I had to do four batches. I have two big maslin pans I use for this and for dyeing, so after heating the first one, the second could be warming whilst the first was cooling sufficiently for me to handle it.

It was a pretty filthy fleece and the overnight cold water soak had really helped loosen the dirt, but I still had to give each batch two washes before rinsing twice.

I’ve invested in both Fibre Scour and Power Scour for washing fleece, as well as working with washing up liquid. I’ve not tried Kookaburra or any other as I haven’t found them for sale in the UK. The results of both of the ‘professional’ scourers I have tested are very good, there is no doubt about it. But, and its a big BUT, is it financially worth it?

This was the first lot I have washed using Power Scour, but because I did all the fleece with this, I don’t have any of the same fleece washed in any other way to compare. However, the Power Scour has done a good job. It doesn’t foam up so is easier to use than washing up liquid. Price-wise per wash some people claim its no more expensive than using washing up liquid, but in the UK the 473ml (16 oz) bottle of Power Scour cost me £21! OK, they claim you only need a tablespoon to wash a pound of fleece, using around 2 gallons of water (that is 15ml to wash approximately 450g of fleece in 9 litres of water), but I think this will still work out more expensive than using washing up liquid.

UPDATE 11th August 2020
The Unicorn website recommend using 1 tablespoon of Power Scour to 2 gallons of water (15ml to 9 litres of water) when washing in a washing machine. As those of us in the UK don’t generally have top-loader washing machines this is not usually an option for us, but it is useful to know the water to detergent ratio as opposed to the fibre weight to detergent ratio.

https://www.unicornclean.com/fibre

2 gallons being equivalent to 9 litres is neat as that is the capacity of my maslin pans. My fleece was in batches of around 250-300g, so I used 10ml per batch). My frugal soul overrode my experimental spirit and I have to admit that I did the second wash in washing up liquid.

I also added a few drops of Tea Tree oil to the second wash for its antibacterial properties, and lovely clean smell. Fibre Scour already has Tea Tree oil as an ingredient which is a plus for me, as well as the clever bottle that measures the dose each time.

Power Scour ingredients are listed as:

Nonionic and Anionic Surfactants, Propylene Glycol or Ethanol, Copolymer, Lavender Fragrance & Filtered Water.


POWER SCOUR COST

Lets do the maths: At 15ml per wash you can get between 31 and 32 washes out of the 473ml bottle of Power Scour. If 15mls wash 450g fleece this means you can wash up to 14 kilos of fleece with one bottle (assuming you only do one wash using Power Scour).

My bottle of Power Scour cost £21 (including post and packing). Divide £21 by the number of washes (31) makes it about 68 pence per 450g wash, or £1.50 per kilo of fleece.

So how does this compare to washing up liquid?


WASHING UP LIQUID COSTS

Washing up liquid ranges between £5.64 per litre for Method, £3.56 for Ecover, £2.88 per litre for Fairy, down to £1.78 for supermarket own brands (all prices for Tesco website 30th July 2020).

Lets work with Fairy as it is pretty like Dawn, the one recommended by many spinners in the US. I will work with the regular sized 625ml bottle, not the giant one (it will offer a bit of a saving if you opt for that size, in the same way that buying a gallon of Power Scour should save on cost per wash).

I reckon you need a pretty good squirt of Fairy to wash even 100g fleece. I count 1-2-3 whilst squirting and find this about right. I’ve just measured this and it comes out as 20ml of washing up liquid (give or take a bit for the size of the nozzle and the viscosity of the liquid).

Lets do the maths again: At 20ml per wash you can get between 31 and 32 washes out of the 625ml bottle – so far so similar! However, here is the difference, if 20ml is needed to wash 100g fleece you can only wash up to 3 and a bit kilos of fleece with one bottle of Fairy, (assuming you only wash the fleece once).

A 675ml bottle of Fairy costs £1.80 at Tesco. Divide £1.80 by the number of washes (31) makes it about 6 pence per 100g wash, or 60 pence per kilo of fleece. Hmm, that seems a big difference; less than half the cost per kilo of Power Scour.

So unless my amounts or maths are totally off the mark, washing up liquid is clearly cheaper to use that Power Scour, even when the amount of washing up liquid used to wash a kilo of fleece is significantly more than Power Scour.

FIBRE SCOUR COSTS

Fibre Scour recommends 20ml to 10 litres of water – but does not give a fibre weight which I find really annoying – you can wash 10g or 500g of fibre in 10 litres! So lets opt for the 500g.

Lets do the maths: At 20ml per wash you can get 25 washes out of the 500ml bottle of Fibre Scour. If 20mls wash 500g fleece this means you can wash up to 12.5 kilos of fleece with one bottle (assuming you only do one wash using Fibre Scour).

My bottle of Fibre Scour cost £14.99 (including post and packing). Divide £14.99 by the number of washes (25) makes it about 60 pence per 500g wash, or £1.20 per kilo of fleece. Marginally cheaper than Power Scour, but no real economic challenge to washing up liquid.

Lets return to the fact that the results of both Fibre Scour and Power Scour are very good, there is no doubt about it. They also seem to make the washing a lot easier, removing the dirt more thoroughly and getting the stains out. But is it worth it?

CONCLUSION

In believe the reviews that compare the cost as ‘not that different’ are based on purchasing Power Scour in the US, where it is considerably cheaper than in the UK. US websites advertise it at around $19 for the 473ml bottle, whereas the cheapest I could find it in the UK was £19.99. $19 is about £14.50 at current exchange rates. Still pricey to my mind, but more in line with the Australian Fibre Scour which costs £12 for a 500ml bottle in the UK.

I wish I could afford to use either Fibre Scour or Power Scour for all my fleece as I do like the result. I’ve opted to purchase another bottle of Fibre Scour as it is a better financial option in the UK.

I look forward to a time when increased sales volume might mean that the ‘professional’ products come down to a more reasonable price. However, until then I shall be saving these for either extremely dirty (but what I hope are good quality fleece), or my ‘best’ planned and purchased special fleece, whilst continuing to use washing up liquid for everything else. I will mostly likely always use washing up liquid if a second wash is needed.

If there is a UK based chemical/cleaning company out there who would like to venture into ecological raw-fleece-washing territory it would be wonderful to hear from you.

There is more about my experiences scouring raw fleece here

Swinging the picker!

To chew my way through all that dyed fleece and open up the fibres I am using my swing picker.

As with any machine, I fiddle endlessly with the settings, but for the moment it’s picking like a good’un.

https://youtu.be/uLxuiqUJuY4

They are advantages to machinery. My son came in and is fascinated with the picker, so I can carry on carding whilst he does the picking!

I can’t believe how cloud soft the Dorset fleece I’m carding is after just a brief finger pick. You’d never have thought it would be like this if you’d seen the fleece before it was scoured!