Having a bash at core spinning

Last night I blended some rather lumpy Southdown fleece I was trying to use up with some dyed Shetland. It was just for fun – no plan involved, just testing out my DIY blending board. When I sat at my wheel – watching ‘Hidden’, I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I remembered seeing Lexi Boeger’s method of coreless- core-spinning in her book ‘Hand Spun’. I thought the strong colours would work well against the natural if spun in this way, so I had a go.

According to Lexi the principle is to only work with a small amount of fibre at a time, and to spread the fibres wide into a trianglular web. You spin the core with the fibres at one edge of the triangle, whilst simultaneously holding the other part of the web at right angles to this so that it can wrap around the core between your drafting hand and the orifice. Its bit like patting your head and rubbing you tummy at the same time – but once I got going I enjoyed it. There were a few messy bits, which I attribute to the lumpy Southdown myself!

I love the way the colours wrap around the natural core

I’m not sure its truly core spinning, but its on the way there and I do like the effect. The yarn was very over-twisted, but after a good soak in hot water and hanging with a light weight to dry naturally it is fine now.

Pencil spinning

Due to the virus situation the workshops have been closed at the University where I work, and we are ‘remote teaching’ from now on. That is quite a challenge for a practical subject like knitted textiles.

One thing I have enjoyed over the years of teaching first year knit design students is their excitement and enthusiasm when they realise that they can make their own yarns. Normally I would be running a hand spinning workshop for them next week, but obviously not anymore. We have two spinning wheels and I take in a box of drop spindles. Cartons of fibre are pulled out of cupboards and spill all over the floor, its a lovely day with some wild yarn developments taking place. I think its a great way to encourage them to explore the raw materials of textiles, and also to introduce them to yarn design.

But sadly this year its not to be! So I decided that before they left I would demonstrate ‘pencil spinning’ using two commercial yarns. Even this simple method was received with excitement, so I have made two short videos for the students, but have shared them on YouTube for everyone and put them on here as well. Bear in mind they were made for the students, following a demonstration so I refer to this, and the focus is on making small amounts of marl yarn for hand knit design sampling.

They have taken yarns away with them, so I hope to see that they have applied their wonderful creativity to making new and colourful yarns.

Long Buckby machine knitting club talk

Today I had a lovely day with Long Buckby Machine Knitting Club. They had asked me to come and talk about my book Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting and gave me a wonderfully friendly welcome. This meant talking about my experiences as a machine knitter was like sharing with friends.

I met so many interesting people who have interests in common and was pleased to see some younger faces on the audience.

Janet Collins, Chair of the Knitting and Crochet Guild was there and spoke to the meeting about the recent amalgamation of the Knitting and Crochet Guild and the Guild of Machine Knitters. She also gave an impassioned plea for members to encourage younger people to become members. She told me that if the Guild is not offering what young knitters want, the way forward is to find out what they do want and make this an aim, otherwise the Guild will dwindle. As there are 1,500 members this would be a real shame.

I’m now on my way home feeling a warm glow from the kind words and the opportunity to meet genie machine knitters with so many skills.

Felted singles

Having read about this spinning technique I though I’d have a go. It doesn’t save much time as you still have to run the yarn back through the wheel, which takes as long as simple plying. It was prompted by my practise at making a ”Z’ twist fat singles’ and so I decided to over-twist this singles yarn as I practised the night before a dyeing session. So I treated it cruelly when washed it, and also in the hot dye bath as well.

As there were several colour dye baths it was too tempting not to dip-dye the hank. Firstly it went into red-cabbage allover, and then the ends were dipped into madder and turmeric.

This is what it looked like before hot washing and dyeing.
And after re-spinning it’s open up nicely and is quite soft.

I’ll be trying this out soon to see what it looks and feels like as a knit.

Knit Step by Step – new edition

A new edition of Knit Step by Step has been published this month. With new content including step-by-step instructions (with lots of lovely photos) of how to work the exciting on-trend chunky ‘arm knitting’. All wrapped in a smart new cover it looks great!

step by step 2020
Cover of the 2020 editon of Knit Step by Step

Visit to Diamond Fibres – wool processors

Today I accompanied a group of students on a visit to Diamond Fibres in Horam, Sussex. The company processes wool for worsted spinning, rather than woollen spinning, so concentrates more on longer staple fleece.

Starting in the sorting shed, we were shown round by Roger, the owner, and given a really thorough introduction to the processes involved in changing raw fleece into yarn.

There was a Wensleydale fleece on the picker, which Roger explained had already been washed once at 60 degrees to remove the first lot of dirt and oil and then dried. After picking, which would open up the compressed curls that the first wash had not reached, it would be re-washed and dried before further processing. He reckoned that it may in fact require a third pick and wash.

The students were looking tired just at the thought of this!

Following picking, the next process is carding the fibres to start aligning them in parallel into a continuous ”sliver’ of fibre. Unlike my meek little hand carder, they have a carding machine with 16 drums of metal, not wire, teeth. At this stage, any short fibres will still be in the sliver, it isn’t until combing that these will be removed.

The sliver begins to look more like something that is spinnable, but there are still thin and thick sections along its length. To eliminate these and even out the sliver it goes through ‘gilling’. Diamond have two of these machines. The first one has wider spaced teeth, and is used at this point, whilst the second is much finer and bulks up and evens out the sliver later on after combing.

When the sliver goes into the gilling machine, two are fed in at once, producing one thicker sliver of uniform thickness.

The fibre will in all likelihood go through a second gilling, during which the output sliver gradually bulks up, according to the machine settings, to achieve the required grams per metre.

If the requirement is for carded roving for hand spinning, this will be the last process. It may even be stopped earlier on, depending on what condition fibre is required.

If however, the desired outcome is combed sliver, then it has to go through the combing machine. This takes up to sixteen slivers side-by-side through the combs, crimping the final sliver to compress the fibres together and prevent breakage. It looks like doll’s hair emerging from the machine. Any remaining short fibres, nepps, noils or debris fall out into a waste bin beneath the combs.

This combed sliver has become slightly uneven during the combing process, and this is when it goes through the finer gilling machine to produce a consolidated, even sliver ready to have a small amount of twist introduced, (about four turns per inch) to make a softly twisted roving.

This roving is then drafted out into a thinner roving, and finally drafted and spun into singles weighing approximately 0.2g per metre. Amount of twist can be controlled to produce softer or firmer yarns at both singles and plying stages.

The singles can be plied into 2, 3, 4 etc ply yarns according to need. 2 ply tends to be flat, 3 ply rounded, and 4 ply has a square profile. To make a cable yarn, 2 x 2ply can be twisted together.

2ply yarn made from two of the 0.2g/metre singles would weigh approximately 0.4g per metre. This would yield something like 250 metres per 100g, which is within the DK category of yarn, and will be between 12-14 WPI.

Of course, as Roger pointed out, natural fibres do not conform as precisely as synthetics do, so there are highly likely to be variations in weight to length of a hank of yarn depending on humidity and other physical conditions when it is weighed. Oh the joy of natural fibres, thats why we love them!

I think the students now really appreciate how much work goes into making the yarns they pick off the yarn-store shelf. One even went so far as to say that they would never again complain about yarn being so expensive!

Test run of my new Louet Victoria

Today I’m taking my new Louet S95 Victoria folding spinning wheel out on a test run. We are taking the bus – with a change in town – to my spinning group.

I’m using its own rucksack to carry her, and so far it’s OK. I’ll probably add chest and waist straps in the future to make it more comfy. I’ve popped my my lunch, a spare bobbin and some fibre in the front pocket. As I don’t know if the rucksack is waterproof I’m hoping it doesn’t rain.

I’ve got a little trolley I planned to use for taking my Ashford Traveller to group, but still haven’t got round to buying some stretchy ropes to secure the wheel to the trolley. Which is partly why I’m using the rucksack as a rucksack today.

I’m on the way home now, and that went well. I took the time with the group to play with the ratios of the Victoria , which are 1:6, 1:8.5, 1:13. I found that I could match the same fibre spun into yarn spun on the largest whorl of my Traveller, (which I think is 1:6.5), best on the 1:8.5 whorl, but that might be the way I was handling the fibre today. I spun the sample I was working from a few weeks ago, and do find temperature and humidity effect the fibre and my hands.

I will have to name my Louet, my Traveller is Dora, my Traditional is Hector. My little old Scottish double drive wheel is SweetPea because she is tiny, delicate and beautiful and treadles so sweetly.

Onion skins and Eco-Dyeing

Jacob’s fleece spun into a marl yarn and mordanted ready for dyeing

I’ve got a pot of onion skin dye ready to tie-dye a silk scarf and a skein of hand spun Jacobs marl yarn.

The yarn changed colour during the mordanting, and the cream ply has taken on a pale golden yellow tone. I think I will dip dye it to preserve this rather pleasant effect. Let’s hope the pale yellow doesn’t wash out at the end!

The scarf is already dyed in an ombre effect from grey to white, but cool greys don’t suit me; I want a warmer golden colour. The underlying ombre effect will be interesting, and I’ve tried marbles in in a pattern. I may add some eco prints on too, I’ll see what happens with the tie dye.

Rinsing the silk and wool after mordanting the fibres

I’ve rigged up a spoon and bowl into a frame to hold the hank of yarn whilst being dip-dyed.

I use a neat little induction hob from Ikea for dyeing to save energy as we have solar panels.

A steamy view of the dyeing process

The yarn was a little disappointing. I think I didn’t have enough dye material in the bath, and the silk took it up faster than the wool. However I dunked it into an iron mordant and it’s slightly saddened it into a softer yellow that blends better with the darker ply.

The scarf was ok, tie-dyed but wishy-washy and unexciting. So plan B, to eco print on it, came into action. During my dog-walk I collected a variety of leaves, luckily there is a small cluster of sumac and lots of Oak varieties in our local park.

My trawl of leaves, including Sumac, Oak, Maples and others

I also collected a few bunches of Rowan berries, beech and other leaves.

In my excitement I forgot to take a picture of the tie-dyed silk, or of laying out the leaves. I did that lengthwise along half of the width of the scarf, then folded it in half to sandwich the leaves between two layers. I’m not sure if this would have worked better if I had waited until the scarf had dried; I added the leaves directly after rinsing it after tie-dying.

Not having a spray bottle handy that I wanted to use for iron mordant solution, I’d already decided to soak the whole thing in the iron solution. Before doing that I folded the scarf widthwise once again and then tightly wound the folded scarf around a short length of plastic pipe, securing the ends with elastic bands. After giving the rolled packages a good soak in iron I used load of string to bind the fabric really tightly to the pipe all along its length.

Then it went into an improvised steamer for an hour. Unfortunately, because the steamer set-up only allowed a shallow water bath, I managed to boil it dry! This has mildly effected the outer layer on the underside of the pipe. It’s a bit darker.

For good measure I dribbled a bit of copper mordant on it as well. The effect was so strong that the white plastic pipe has now got leaf prints on it as well!

After unwrapping the scarf from the pipe, and following thorough wash it has come out rather well I think. Miles away from the boring grey one anyway!

George the cat approves of it as well!

George gives the finished scarf the seal of approval.


Don’t waste the demo yarn!

Whilst demonstrating as a member of a local textile group, Woolly Umbrella, at the Wild Chalk festival, I kept a drop-spindle of my own going with singles that I Andean plied at the end as part of the demo.

I don’t think repeatedly putting it down and restarting helped me get an even twist, or it may have been the plying, or a mixture of both, but the yarn isn’t balanced. I knitted a lace pattern with it, and the bias isn’t so pronounced as in stocking stitch, but I can see it.
For fun I added the knitted sample to a purple dye bath I had prepared to dye some other yarn, and here is the result.

Hand spun yarn dyed with purple acid dye.


Dyeing to be purple

For no better reason than wanted to play with acid dyes I dyed a 58g hank of handspun Texel and Clun Forest 2 ply today. Inspired by WASPI I chose to mix a purple. If we haven’t won our pension compensation by the winter I shall knit mittens for wearing on demos.

I’m going to pop 100g of Shetland fleece that has some pink staining on the tips into the exhausted bath to hopefully give it a tint.

Half-way through the tint was looking too blue, so I added 1/8th TSP magenta to bring it back towards purple.

Below is the yarn, it’s still wet so it’s going to be a lot lighter when dry.