I’ve just finished my latest knitting project – a pair of socks knitted in local wool. The yarn is from Avillion Farm – I’ve previously knitted two sweaters from her lovely Jacob and Shetland flock, and almost two years ago I bought a skein of her (then) new Jacob/ mohair sock yarn. The yarn is roughly a sport weight, so I thought it would make lovely hiking socks. And since I don’t wear my hiking socks daily, I knew I wouldn’t mind handwashing these socks.
I used a pattern from the book In the Footsteps of Sheep by Debbie Zawinski (Schoolhouse Press, 2015). The book is an account of her walking journey around Scotland in search of each region’s iconic sheep breeds, and each pattern designed for one of the breeds has a story behind it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and wanted to make a sock from one of the patterns, so this seemed like a perfect match. The socks I chose, Andrew’s Scottish Blackface Shepherd’s Socks, have a double-thickness heel, perfect for wearing in hiking boots, and a staghorn cable running up the side. They are designed for worsted-weight yarn and a man’s foot, so using the thinner yarn and smaller 2.5mm (US 1.5) needles worked out perfectly. I did try a couple of different needle sizes before I found the one that worked.
I’m very pleased with the finished result and I can’t wait to wear them with my new hiking boots.
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I recently taught a class on working with breed specific wools for Piedmont Fibershed, and since I’ve been talking a lot about my spinning projects with different breeds, I thought I’d do a roundup of commercial breed-specific yarns so that the knitters can get in on the action too. There are a number of breed-specific commercial yarns available these days. Many of these are pretty widely available, but I’ve also included a few smaller brands, and listed the websites for those not generally available in retail yarn shops.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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