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.

What do you sit on when at your spinning wheel?

This is a question I often ask other spinners, as I can get quite uncomfortable if I don’t set myself up on the right chair for the wheel I am using. I must admit to being a bit of a voyeur at my local spinning group, because I like to watch how others set themselves up and see how they work their wheel, its fascinating to watch different techniques. I never stop learning!

I have several wheels that all have different height flyers and orifice, so have found that I need to change position depending on which I am using. The lowest is my vintage double drive lace wheel (single, tiny treadle, named Penny) which comes in at just above knee height, followed by a Louet Victoria (Vicky, single drive, double treadle) and then my single treadle, double drive Ashford Traditional (Hamish). I’m considering adding a double treadle kit to him, but he has been stained mahoghany by the former owner and I don’t think I could bring myself to do that to the new treadles.

The highest orifice is on my double treadle Ashford Traveller (Dora), which is the one I use most. The Traveller is easy to manoeuvre around the living room, has a small footprint, and I’ve added a jumbo flyer as well as a wide ratio standard, so its pretty versatile. I just wish it was a double drive as I prefer this set up, but you can’t have everything. One day I might come across a double drive Traveller and have the spare cash to make the upgrade.

I digress – apologies, but I do that a lot.

Back to chairs. After attempts at trying other set ups, I’ve found a dining room chair best for the Traveller – with a firm cushion at my back and one on my lap. The back cushion supports my lower back, encouraging me to stay upright, and also pushes my bum forward so that I don’t get compression from then front edge of the chair seat pushing into the back of my knees. The lap cushion helps to prevent neck and shoulder strain. An added perk is that I seem to spin a more consistent yarn when using the lap cushion.

Before I discovered that this type of chair worked for me I was sitting in a soft armchair, albeit an high and upright one. Trouble with this was I had to have lots of cushions to sit forward, and then, although my lower back was OK, my bum tended to slide forwards because the soft seat didn’t support the backs of my thighs enough to keep upright. Plus the seat is quite narrow and I got neck strain from avoiding the arms when I worked long-draw or was plying.

So I am now reasonably comfy on the dining room chair with the Traveller, but I think I’d be better with a slightly lower seat. Its just the palaver of carrying chair and wheel to a good position where: it doesn’t rock on the edge of the rug, there is a table near me to put mycup of tea on, the dog won’t walk through my fibre, and I can see the TV – not too much to ask I feel.

Working on the low lace wheel I use a nursing chair that is only 12″ (about 26cm) from the floor. This chair has a big seat and no arms, whilst the back is quite high so its a good shape for spinning. The back is a good height, but I’d like it a bit narrower to allow full movement in my shoulders.

The Traditional is in another room and I use a swivel office chair with adjustable everything. This is good, but is sadly an ugly (and patchily faded) royal blue and too heavy to carry from room to room. So its not an option for the living room where I like to spin in the evenings watching TV with my partner.

My Louet Victoria (Vicky) is a folding, portable, lightweight wheel for use outdoors or at workshops, so sometimes when using her there is no choice about where I can sit. If I can take a chair with me, I have a very lightweight aluminium folding directors chair that doesn’t have that awfully uncomfortable bar across the front under my knees. I like to take a cushion for the seat to make it super comfy and this helps me sit upright. It also keeps my bum warm if the day is cold. However this type of chair has arms – but they are pretty low and wide apart and I seem OK on this.

I’ve tried a backless stool and ended up with terrible back ache, so thats not an option for me. I am toying with the idea of a traditional ‘spinning chair’ with a low seat and narrow back, but the seats all seem really small, and I am worried my bum will overflow the sides!

So that is a summary of where my spinning chair experiments have led me.

Sometimes, depending on my overall muscular-skeletal day-to-day twinges I find working the treadle wearing a soft shoe rather than barefoot alleviates foot and knee pains. But I love spinning barefoot outdoors in warm weather.

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.

Ancient fleece – an experiment

Whilst digging in our loft today to make space for the plumber to run new pipes, I found a fleece!

I couldn’t believe what I saw, because I was sure I remembered throwing it away years ago, and I mean years…probably the best part of twenty years! I can say that with quite a lot of certainty because it was given to my Mother when she wanted to learn to spin on her Westbury wheel. She had bought it in the 1970s I think, in Glastonbury, as a kit. My Father made it up for her and she stained it a dark walnut colour. But she didn’t have any fleece – or to be honest the faintest idea how to spin. A friend of a friend found her two Jacob fleeces from a local shepherd in Somerset, but I don’t believe she ever got any yarn off the wheel.

Not bad for a 20 year old fleece

I ‘inherited’ the wheel (and the fleece) when I bought a flat and had space to house it. Once again it sat unused, and the fleece sat lonely and unloved as well. When I had children, the wheel became the object of their attention. They delighted in treadling it and bits fell off.

After my Mother died I took the drastic decision to sell it to save it, if you see what I mean. I so regret that now, I wish I’d put it in the loft, which is somehow where this fleece ended up – I must have chucked the other one, or maybe gave it with the wheel.

Since then, I have acquired an Ashford Traveller and a Traditional, but I would love to have another Westbury for sentimental reasons. So if anyone is looking to sell a Westbury wheel do get in touch with me first.

So today the fleece saw the light of day after many years. I thought it would be absolutely ruined, if not full of moth, but no, it is fine. I don’t think it was very greasy to start with, and there isn’t much VM. I’m in the middle of a test wash of a part of it to see what happens. I can’t believe it has survived, but I’ve given parts a good tug and there isn’t any breakage, and very little discolouration. It is a beautiful chocolate brown and cream, so I plan to separate the colours and spin it as a tweed-effect, providing all goes well.

It will lovely if I can spin it; a sort of homage to my Mum who never quite got it together to spin it herself, much as she would have loved to. If I could spin it on a Westbury, my homage would be complete!

Spinning outdoors

Is it risque? It’s certainly liberating. Given the restrictions on meeting up indoors, going to the park seemed the the perfect way to meet up when we can’t go to our normal groups.

This is the second one I’ve organised and it was lovely way to spend a Friday afternoon. I took my portable Louet wheel and others brought wheels, drop spindles, knitting and crochet. And a picnic lunch!

Shade was mandatory as it was so hot, and we found a generous tree that have us a shady space big enough for plenty of social distancing.

I’m taking the photo…
So someone kindly took one of me

I took along a sack of stove-top rainbow dyed fleece as described on my Dyeing Wool page. It’s a little coarse, but in nicely formed locks, so I am flick carding it and spinning it quite thick for use in a rug, (maybe)?

Rub-a-dub-a-fleece

Washing (or scouring) raw fleece is not a quick job, I think that’s something all can agree on. It’s also surprisingly contentious. Everyone wants to tell to their method, and you gradually learn that different fleece require different scouring methods, so everyone is probably right!

So I’m going to write about my experience today.

I have been given a rather nice Shetland fleece. Rather nice that is, but filthy. The fleece is very greasy and every single lock is gummed together and dirty at the tip. Underneath however, you can see the gorgeous fibre hidden under the grease-trapped dust and poo.

It doesn’t look too bad here, but thankfully this is not smelly-vision
See what I mean about those yucky tips?

I gave some of it a good hot soak  yesterday with plenty of washing up liquid. The water was like oxtail soup (sorry if you like oxtail soup), but after a few rinses it seemed OK.

However, this morning’s inspection showed it to be still greasy and those dratted dirty and sticky tips were still gummed up.

Rather than transfer that gunk to my carder I reluctantly decided to re-wash the fleece. So more really hot water baths followed. The first was so hot I couldn’t put my hand in it, with loads of washing up liquid and a dose of washing soda to break the grease. I  always wash the fleece separated into small mesh lingerie washing bags. With this second wash, I opened each bag, one at a time under the water and teased the locks apart, concentrating on those dirty tips to loosen the greasy dirt.

Yes it was time consuming, bit surprisingly gratifying as the dirty came out quite easily with this method. I think because the fleece has just been sheared the dirt hasn’t had to much time to harden-off.

Now it’s drying out looks amazing and is so soft.

I’m itching to get spinning

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.

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.