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!

Moths drive me mad!

Just before Christmas I opened my wardrobe and took out a long merino wool cardigan to wear when going out for the evening. It went well with the dress I was going to wear and I felt good in it! Sadly it wasn’t until the next morning that I realised there were several quite large moth holes in the front, back and sides. Rather embarrassing!

Good intentions to mend it were shelved over the holiday, but today I got down to the task. Fortunately I had a pack of darning yarn that is quite a good colour match, so I dug out my antique ‘Sellars Rapid Darner’ darning loom and a long darning needle and got cracking. It always takes me a while to get back into the swing of this task and remember the little tricks. I remembered that I find it makes a neater darn to thread the cross-thread yarn through the ‘warp’ threads from side to side

with the blunt, eyed end of the needle so that it doesn’t split the wool. Then I use the needle to pack the cross-threads down into the warp threads before lifting the opposite set of warp threads.

I was quite pleased with the results, but can obviously improve and finesse my technique!

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.

Satisfaction is a bobbin of plied yarn

I love the final plying process when spinning yarn. This is Texel and Clun Forest wool fibre, processed from raw fleece. One single of each as an experiment.

I find it very difficult to get a smooth yarn from my own prepared raw fleece. It’s pretty easy from commercially prepared tops, but getting all those little nepps and second cuts out is pretty impossible for me.

I’ll wash this and see how it comes out.

Wild Chalk: a celebration of the natural world of the South Downs

The South Downs are home to the Southdown breed of of sheep, the wool from which can be used for hand spinning. So to support the local Shout Downs national park and sheep farmers I joined several other members of my local spinning group, Woolly Umbrella, and took my skills (basic as they are) along to Wild Chalk. This free event, organised by the South Down National Park Rangers, was held in East Brighton park. Our part was to demonstrate spinning wool and encouraged people to have a go. I took along several drop spindles and a sack of washed fleece. Others brought along a spinning wheel, drop spindles and needle felting to share, plus an exhibition with some beautiful examples of naturally dyed, handspun wool. Most people were spinning the local Southdown fibre but mine, to my shame, was Texel cross Southdown.

As you can see children and adults alike really loved to watch, and most of them tried spinning from fleece to some extent or other.

I practised with a newly acquired Turkish spindle and using the Andean Plying technique even produced some reasonable 2ply.

This latch hook rug is progressing towards completion

After several years of picking it up and doing several rows and then forgetting it, I have finished going the rug. Yesterday I coated the back in dilute Copydex glue to lock the loops in place. It was a truly messy job. The Copydex was old and so had some lumps I had to try to avoid. It also send to set almost immediately unless I mixed it into the water very quickly. However this generic solution beat paying the high price of the recommended latex backing product.

The Copydex liquid dries clear.

Is saw this idea suggested on a blog and it seems to have worked fine. It took a while to dry though, so I think I diluted the glue to much. Finally, by this morning it’s safe to move, and hasn’t run into the front pile as I feared it might.

The back after it has dried

I have to see on the edging tape and then it’s done. I considered adding a Hessian backing but decided it might spoil the overall softness of the rug. I also wondered if friction with the rough Hessian might draw the wool fibres through to the back.

I’ll see how it wears. I can back it later if necessary.