Spinning Project Roundup

I confess I haven’t been knitting all that much lately. True, it’s summer in North Carolina, and some afternoons it’s just too hot to knit. But like many people in these COVID times, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the things that usually give me joy. I have, however, been doing a lot of spinning. There is something so fundamental about the rhythm of the spinning wheel (or spindle) that I have found comforting.

I’ve already written about my main Tour de Fleece project. I had a bit of time left after finishing my mini skeins, so I did some sampling on another Three Waters Farm colorway: Radicchio (also on the Polwarth/ silk base). I plan to use it for colorwork, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a 2- or 3-ply yarn. So I took a third of the braid, which is one complete color sequence, and tried both a straight 2-ply and a chain-ply. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to get the colors to line up so well in the 2-ply, and I like the way they reflect the light more than the chain-ply, so I think I will do the rest of the braid that way. First I want to swatch it to see if I’m happy with the length of the repeat.

Two small skeins of handspun yarn in shades of pink, turquoise and gold on a concrete and brick step.
Handspun Polwarth/ silk yarn from Three Waters Farm in colorway Radicchio. On the left is the straight 2-pym on the right the chain ply.

I’ve also completed my first Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project, which I shared on Instagram. I bought Clun Forest roving from Left Hand Wool Company – you may recall I got my hands on some Clun Forest x Corriedale awhile back (I wrote about it here), and I really wanted to see how it compared to 100% Clun Forest. This is also my first time spinning a Down-type breed (Clun Forest isn’t one of the true Down breeds, but it has similar characteristics). This roving had the same spongy, springy quality as the Corriedale cross I had spun, but it’s less soft. It’s not prickly, though, and I think it will do nicely as socks. I plied it with a high twist with that purpose in mind – so much so that the finished yarn is a bit wavy. I’m confident that it will knit up okay, though. I’m also thinking of dyeing it using walnuts or other natural dyes I have available.

A skein of undyed cream-colored Clun Forest yarn sits on a wood table.
The finished Clun Forest sock yarn.

Before starting the sock yarn, I also took a portion of the roving and spun it a bit thicker for my blanket project and knit it up into a hexagon. I’ve got 10 hexagons so far, representing 9 different sheep breeds (I’ve used Corriedale with two different natural dyes; the rest are undyed.) I figure I need at least 24 hexagon pieces to make a small blanket, so I need to spin a few more breeds!

A knitted hexagon in cream-colored yarn, still on the needles, sits on a wooden table.
My Clun Forest blanket ‘square’.

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Eight skeins of solid-colored Polwarth/ silk yarn in various colors

Tour de Fleece Spinning

This year I joined the Three Waters Farm Tour de Fleece team for the second time. I decided to spin the braid of the Mountain’s Edge colorway on Polwarth/ Silk from my stash. Until now I’ve been somewhat intimidated by hand dyed braids (if you’ve been following me you’ll notice I spin a lot of undyed roving and top), but I decided to get a bit adventurous this time.

A braid of handyed fiber in shades of teal, purple, yellow and brown.
Mountain’s Edge on 85% Polwarth/ 15% silk from Three Waters Farm

Much as I love to look at beautiful hand-dyed fiber, I don’t really knit with variegated yarns all that much. I’m not one for gradient or self-striping yarns, except for sock knitting. I guess I’m too much of a control freak – I like to have control over the color changes. So I decided to break down the braid and spin mini skeins to use in colorwork knitting. When I broke down the braid, I ended up with sections where two colors were mixed, and so I was inspired to try a bit of color mixing with my handcards. I was inspired by an article in Spin Off last summer (?) [Spin Off article] about creating tweed yarns.

I grouped my leftover sections into three piles: teal/ purple , teal/ yellow, and purple/ gray/ white. I used my handcards to blend those sections as evenly as I could, then removed them from the cards (without forming rolags, so the fibers were still somewhat directional) and did a bit more blending by hand as I formed the fibers into a loose roving. I didn’t get a great picture, but you can see my roving in the photo below.

Nests of blended, dyed roving.
Blended Rovings

And here are the resulting yarns. At the top you can see the full set of mini skeins from this braid.

Three mini skeins of handspun yarn in blue, yellow and lavender.
The resulting blended yarns

I think the blends turned out beautifully, and I can envision combining the skeins in any number of ways for colorwork. I spun them into a fingering weight (the Polwarth did fluff up a bit after washing), and with the sheen from the silk these will combine wonderfully with one of my favorite colorwork yarns, Tukuwool fingering. In fact, I’m thinking my first project will be to use the blue blend, and maybe a bit of the yellow or green, in a cardigan I’ve been planning for my niece.

Photo of a childs cardigan pattern next to three skeins of yarn.

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Shetland Wool and a Breed Sampler project

It’s been a minute since I did a spinning post. I’ve been so busy spinning on my wheel that I’ve neglected to document my impressions of the various breeds I’ve spun. Did I mention I’ve also acquired a second Ashford Traddy that I just happened to have the parts to fix up? I’ve named it Thing 2.

I have, however, come up with a project for all those approximately 2 oz skeins of various wools. I’ve been knitting these hexagons from Taproot Magazine Issue 31: Revive. My plan is to include natural shades of all the breeds, plus a few naturally dyed pieces in various shades of yellow, and to eventually stitch them together into a blanket. I’m knitting them to a larger size than shown in the article – for most of them I’ve been increasing until there are 16 sts on each side of the hexagon, or 32 sts on each needle. It’s a perfect quarantine knitting project for this strange time we find ourselves in.

My Hexagon Patchwork so far; L-R: Finn, Corriedale dyed with Pomegranate, Romney lambswool, Shetland.

Anyway, back to the breed study. I purchased some Shetland roving last year at Carolina FiberFest, which sadly didn’t happen this year due to COVID-19. I spun up enough for a hexagon in the darker of the two gray shades I purchased. I found it much like the other Northern European breeds I’ve spun – relatively easy and pleasurable to spin. It bloomed nicely after soaking but didn’t fluff up as much as, say, my Targhee sample. (As a side note, this isn’t actually the first time I’ve spun Shetland wool – we used Shetland roving in my wheel spinning class, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the type of wool at the time.) I love the natural grays, of course, and can’t wait to spin up the other color. I’m finding that the Northern European breeds, along with Jacob, are my favorites to spin and to knit with. I haven’t had any experience with Down-type breeds, other than a Clun Forest/ Corriedale cross, so that’s next on my list to purchase.

Close up of Shetland wool block.

I’ve also been spinning up the Cormo I’ve had sitting around for at least 2 years now. I had made a small sample before (I talked about it in this post), but I had bought 4oz and it was sort of staring me down. Plus I was running out of skeins to knit more hexagons. So I spun up enough for a blanket ‘square’ in the same style as the other samples, and am working on spinning a fingering weight 2-ply from the rest.

Cormo on the wheel.

I’ve realized as I write this that I haven’t talked yet about my fleece processing adventures, so that will be my next post. In the meantime I hope you all are staying safe and well.


Spinning Gotland Wool and Some Natural Dyeing

I’ve been busy with some deadline knitting, so I haven’t posted in awhile. Which means I have a few new things to share.

Spinning-wise, I’ve been sampling some of the fibers that I bought at SAFF this year. The first one I decided to try was the Gotland wool fibers. I had purchased both roving and combed top, and I tried spinning the roving first – that’s the lighter gray one in the middle of the picture. I spun a 2-ply, as usual, using my best approximation of a woolen draw; this one was about 16 wpi.

Next came the darker gray combed top. I spun that to my usual fine(ish) 2-ply at ~15 wpi and also to a heavier ~10 wpi to see how that would feel. The swatch shown is knitted with the finer version. I didn’t love the heavier yarn – I think a garment with that yarn would feel too heavy.

A side note on my technique: I haven’t been trying to choose the amount of  twist I add ahead of time, but just going by what feels right when I’m spinning.

All in all I’m not sure I love the feel of spinning with a longwool, but I am quite fascinated with the Gotland. It has almost no give or springiness, unlike most wools I’ve encountered thus far. Even my Navajo-Churro fiber had some give. The finished yarn looks like it will be rough, but it has a silky feeling to it. I’m not a lover of yarns with a lot of halo, but if you like fibers like mohair this is definitely one to try. I also love the range of grays that I’ve found in Gotland – both of my samples are be cooler, silvery grays, whereas the Jacob and Finn I’ve found are warmer, beige-y grays (which I also love).

I’ve also been doing some natural dye experiments on my handspun Corriedale. My first attempt at dyeing with pokeberries, which I had found in the back of a parking lot, didn’t go well at all. I used the recipe from the book Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess, and I think I heated the dyepot too much. The yarn turned a pale pink color and then lost all its color. I then found another spot where I could harvest more pokeberries – the bushes were still producing into October this year – and I tried using a room-temperature vinegar dyebath. That produced the intense color I expected. As I understand it, this pokeberries aren’t very lightfast, so I don’t know how long this will last.

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Corriedale wool dyed with (L-R): pokeberries, lichen (acid and alkali baths), weld with alum mordant, and weld with alum mordant + iron afterbath

I’ve also tried dyeing with foraged lichen from my yard, and with dried weld, which I purchased from Echoview Fiber Mill. The lichen I tried with both acid and alkaline dyebaths, and didn’t see much difference. With the weld I tried with and without an iron aftermordant (I used an alum mordant on both). I also purchased some madder from Echoview, and I plan to use the rest of the Corriedale I have to see how many shades I can get from the madder using different mordants and modifiers.

Last but not least, I’ve spun up an ounce of the dyed BFL that I acquired at SAFF. And I even taught my brother to spin a bit with it!

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Spinning Adventures, SAFF 2018 edition

Fiber bought at SAFF

Clockwise from top left: Teeswater roving, Gotland roving Gotland top, Polwarth top, Romney lambswool roving, BFL top, and Targhee top.

This past weekend I attended the Southeast Animal Fiber Fair for the first time, and came back with a lot of new fiber to spin. I arrived with my family Friday afternoon and started with a bit of shopping – my main goal was to find fiber as many sheep breeds as I could that I hadn’t tried spinning yet. The photo at the top shows what I bought,  all in about 2 oz quantities. Clockwise from top left: Teeswater roving, Gotland roving, Gotland combed top, Polwarth combed top, Romney lambswool roving, Blue-faced Leicester combed top, and Targhee combed top. So far I’ve only spun a bit of the Gotland roving – I had a hard time deciding what to try first.

On Sunday morning I took a traditional wool prep class and got a few more goodies:

Fleece samples

These are all washed locks, about 1/2 oz each. The class covered the characteristics of different breeds, how to choose a fleece and wash it, and how to card using hand cards and a drum carder. I brought some hand cards I bought for around $5 at The Scrap Exchange, a local reuse shop, and it turns out they’re were a pretty good bargain. They’re in good shape and good medium all-purpose cards. I hope I can find as good a deal on some wool combs!

In a departure from my usual obsessions, I also bought some dyed fiber to play with. I have been given a 1970s-era Ashford spinning wheel I’m trying to fix up (more on that later) and I spied this while picking up a replacement bobbin for it. It’s hard to see all the colors since they’re so dark, but I’m looking forward to spinning them up.

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We also visited the animal barn on Saturday afternoon with my 8-year-old son, who after rolling his eyes at me talking about wool all the time, concluded that sheep are pretty cool after all. In fact, by the end we had decided that on our hypothetical fiber farm, we would have Jacob, Shetland and Icelandic sheep, Pygora goats (my husband’s favorite), and Angora rabbits (for my son).