Just before Christmas I started stocking a really huge range of dyed Tussah Silk. I love dyeing silk, but in all honesty dyeing it in plain colours is really hard work for something that seems like it should be so simple. By getting the solid colours commercially dyed I can concentrate on hand dyeing the fun colourways, but still stock a beautiful range of colours.
Solid colours are really helpful in things like silk for a whole variety of reasons. Often you want to spin for lace, and a variegated colour way can work against the pattern. If you're going to use the silk for blending then solid colours are all you need. When I was doing a lot of carding I was often frustrated by the really limited palette of colours I could buy .
This silk is dyed in Italy to Okeo-Tex Standard 100 so you can be confident it's been dyed with environmental responsibility. The colours themselves are stunning, and so varied. I've got 39 that I will be stocking regularly (picking 40 would have been over-kill!)
So I wanted a sample to show them all off...
I took 10g of each colour, and then spun them in to a light fingering 2-ply yarn (approx 18wpi). From each colour I ended up with approximately 45m of yarn.
I direct warped my rigid heddle loom using 6 ends per colour with a 12dpi heddle. So during warping I filled 3 slots with a double end of each shade. I have a 25 inch Schact Flip, and this warp didn't fill the whole loom, but there's not quite enough space for 8 ends per colour. If you have a narrower loom you'll need to do the maths and check this warp will fit. You can always reduce the number of ends per colour and make it narrower, or if you have a larger loom you could do more ends per colour, you should have enough yarn spare if you spin it finely enough.
I used a soft-of spectrum to decide on the colour order... though with this many colours deciding on a "perfect order" is probably impossible! It's the same order as shown on the Tussah Silk page.
Warp length was approximately 2.8m to give a generous sized wrap once finished.
I wove in blocks of 8 picks per colour to give me rectangles rather than squares of colour. The edges were hem stitched on the loom, and then I twisted each colour separately to form the fringe.
Off the loom it had that stiff, new cloth feeling, but after a wash ( I didn't wash the yarn before weaving) it's softened up and the drape is lovely.
You have to feel to really appreciate it... but maybe this will help!
If you want to, you can make one of your very own!
The sample set contains all the fibre you'll need (and some to spare that you can use in other projects).
I am not immune to a craze... even though I am the most untrendy person you are likely to meet.
So I caught the Fade bug!
Back in July I wrote a blogpost about spinning for sweaters, and we've had a rolling thread over in the Ravelry group filled with lots of advice and encouragement. And after encouraging others, I acquired some fibre in a destash that was perfect for my own So Faded jumper.
Three braids are Rambouillet, dyed by me, and 3 are from other dyers, I like spinning stuff that other people have dyed on occasion... it feels like fun and not like work!
From left to right there was- HTC Rambouillet, Three Waters Farm 85-15 Polwarth & Silk, HTC Rambouillet, In To The Whirled 85-15 Polwarth & Silk, In To The Whirled Targhee and finally HTC Rambouillet.
This was my original colour order, but I actually did a bit of a shuffle when I looked at the finished skeins, and the middle HTC Rambouillet ended up moving to between the Targhee and the other Rambouillet braid.
First up came the sampling... because occasionally I do follow my own advice!
I found an oddment of commercial yarn in the right thickness, and spun to match that gauge. I kept back some of the singles to use as a reference, and a ply-back sample to check my plying twist. I spun enough for a swatch, washed the skein, and cast on.... and hated the fabric. I actually got a slight tighter gauge than the one in the pattern (7 stitches per inch instead of 6) but the swatch was far too open, and if I'm going to the effort of spinning for a jumper I want a fabric that will wash and wear well.
Now the joy of spinning for a project... I can ignore the recommended yarn, and just spin to produce a yarn that gives me a fabric I like, but one that still matches the gauge so that I don't have to do any maths.
On to version 2. A thicker yarn, so a denser fabric.
Onwards to the spinning.... 600g later, and there were 6 full bobbins. The braids from other dyers were dyed in what I call a repeating style, and I didn't want broad stripes, so I took the colour sequence to pieces. First I unbraided everything, then broke it in to chunks of varying length (but always containing multiple colours), then stripped it in to thinner pieces. I then shoved them in a bag and spun them in a random order. These bobbins were still in my original order, but when I plied and looked at the skeins, that's when I decided to swap things around slightly.
Because I had a reference card I could stay consistent, and because I had a ply back sample, when I committed the heinous crime (!) of plying from both ends of a centre pull ball I could put enough plying twist in. I finished spinning the singles at the end of September, and had just finished the plying before I went to America in middle of October.
Then came Christmas knitting... and the skeins sat looking at me. This is often the fate of my handspun skeins, but not this time, I ended up finishing it just before Christmas. Then life got in the way, the rain fell, and the snow. and I didn't get any photos taken. Finally however, the sun shone, and I had a spare 10 minutes.
It feels like the greyest time of year, but in a perverse sort of way I always look forward to January. While the weather is usually pretty dreadful, it''s the time when I get back to work after a break.
It's the time of year when I finish off the plans for the year, all my show applications for 2018 are now submitted, the last workshop slots are filled. It's also when I start making fibre plans. I come back to work with new ideas for different bases, and other new ideas to put in place.
It's also when I re-boot my knitting and spinning. I've usually spent the back end of the year making gifts for others, so often get the luxury of starting new projects.
During the holidays I balled up all the small skeins of Superfine Shetland I've spun over the past few years. These were leftover bits and pieces from Bach Packs, which have been discontinued, so it was time to turn them in to something!
Over the holidays I messed around with some stitch dictionaries, and did some swatching...
and am now turning those balls in to a slightly bonkers colourwork jumper.
It's not been done with any great amount of planning. I worked out the gauge from my swatch, measured from a jumper, and did the maths to get a stitch count. Some of the colour combinations are more successful than others, but I want this to be a fun, no worrying project, so I've decided to just embrace them.
I did a provisional cat on, because I can't even decide how I want to do the edgings. They might be ribbing, or I might do some sort of turned hem...
I normally work top down, but I'm going bottom up with this, delaying the decision about how to work the sleeves for as long as possible! I could go very traditional and work steeks, or I could stop at the armholes, work the sleeves, then put them all on one needle and work raglan decreases. At the moment I'm leaning towards the steek option, because I've never used that construction method before....
I may even go completely freestyle and not make the sleeves matching!
It's also the time of year when I look at the business samples. I like to work with my fibres, it means I can tell you about them with an informed viewpoint. I also like to have samples on display at shows (Did you know that there's a whole page devoted to the samples I make?)
The next big sampling task is the Tussah Silk... I'm lacking in woven samples at the moment, and weaving is a great project to show off the whole palette of colours. So I spent last night playing around with the sample cards, and constructed a huge gradient from the 38 colours that will be the permanent palette..
Not a very good photo, given it was taken at 9.30pm, but I hope it's going to look stunning. It's going to be a huge colour and weave project requiring some maths! There will be 6 ends of each colour running the length of the warp, and then I'm going to be weaving the weft in the same colour pattern.... Not sure how wide the weft stripes will be yet, maybe wider than the weft stripes. I probably won't know until I start weaving.
Best get spinning!
We're now at nearly 500 posts in the Big-Stuff SAL in the Ravelry group, and have had quite a few finished objects, and people starting on their second project. I've finished my jumper... but haven't managed to take a photo. Must do better! I think I need one made completely from my own fibre, so the next batch of Cambrian Wool Sweater Packs I dye... one is going to be mine!
I think that little lot should keep me busy for a while, particularly as there are some behind the scenes projects that I need to think about more before I can share them with you!
The Tour is over for another year, and Team Hilltop Cloud had an even busier tour than ever before. We racked up nearly 1200 posts in our team thread, 760 of them contained posts of spinning in progress and spun yarn. It's amazing how much your can achieve even when you only do 10 minutes an evening. Some people experimented with new spinning techniques and fibres, others stuck to old favourites. Some wheels went on holiday, and we saw some beautiful spinning spots.
We also raised £118 for Qubeka, who put people in African communities on bikes to help them access education and employment, with sales of this years special Tour de Fleece fibre. I know many team members also made personal donations.
Here are a few of my personal favourite photos....
Over on the Tour de Fleece Ravelry team thread we've been having a bit of a chat about spinning for larger items. Sometimes it's very easy to end up only buying 100g braids, either because that's all there is in the budget, or because it's the only one left in a colour you just need to own...
I try to dye in 400g branches, and whilst that's not quite enough for a jumper all by itself (though in some cases it can be...) one of the things I wrote about in Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre were ways to combine fibre to get bigger quantities of yarn.
A relatively recent "thing", I hesitate to call it an invention because I've seen variations of this method discussed for years now, is a Combo Spin. There was an article in the Winter 2017 edition of Spin Off. Some versions just involve plying different braids together, but others get you to chunk up the fibre and spin it in a random order. Both are great ways to combine braids, and get bigger quantities of yarn.
My one note of caution.... if you're chunking your fibre then you do need to have a similar fibre type in all your braids.
So for example, putting together my Romney Silk & Linen blend with the BFL & Camel is going to produce a yarn that has patches that are very different in texture. You could ply them together, but small sections of one type of fibre, and then a section of another is going to produce an unusual fabric. The example I spun above used Superfine Merino, and Bond & Silk. Thos 2 fibre types are similar enough that I could have spun chunks at random, but in this case I just plyed them together.
If you want to spin for bigger projects then there are a few things you can do to make not much fibre go further...
- Spin finer, sweaters at a finer gauge use less yarn by weight.
- Pick a pattern that uses lace in some way, and is worked at a looser gauge.
Then of course there are option to combine handspun and commercially spun, or plainer handspun from a fleece or solid colour fibre. Yokes are a lovely place to use up a smaller amount of interesting yarn. They don't get as much wear as elbows so you can also get away with using a more delicate fibre than you might on the main body.
Garter Yoke Cardigan is great for this. My version using last years Tour de Fleece yarn still needs the buttons... just make sure you check the helpful notes in the other projects if you like a slightly narrower neckline. The same idea, but in reverse is this pattern, Anora uses bands of colour at the bottom, and a different yarn for the band and collar. Imagine each section worked in a slightly different handspun, but ones that co-ordinate together. A pattern like Breathing Space would also suit a combination of colourful handspun and plainer yarn. You could use alternate skeins for the stripes if you didn't have enough yardage in the contrast colour.
Finally there's this option. Taking 5 different colourways, and spinning them as separate skeins, but then knitting them in to one pattern using alternate skeins to gradually move from one colour way to another. So Faded is in essence a top down raglan jumper. It uses fingering weight yarn, so even for the largest size (54" bust) it only takes just over 500g, and just over 1800m of yarn. You could substitute for a basic raglan pattern of your choosing, but there are some helpful hints in changing the yarn colours in the original pattern. You could even work in a heavier weight yarn, but of course you'll the need more fibre.
The one really important thing. Be honest about the thickness of your spun yarn, otherwise the quantities required won't match... A WPI gauge and a control card helps, but make sure you check a sample of washed yarn. I also like to keep a sample of commercial yarn around, the yarn used for a jumper like So Faded is much thinner in reality than many spinners like to call Fingering (4-ply). The tips for sampling I wrote a while ago might be helpful. If you're in a hurry scroll down to the "Pattern then Yarn" section.
I think, in order for this concept to work well in handspun, it needs to be yarn that doesn't have broad stripes, so I'd look for variegated braids with unpredictable bands of colour, and subtle blending. Just as with the Combo Spin principal you realistically want to use similar fibre types. You'd get away with combing Rambouillet and Superfine Shetland, putting Superwash BFL & Ramie with BFL & Baby Camel will work less well!
So, shop your stash... look for 5 braids that will link together. Lay them out and look for a common colour between braids. You don't have to stick to one fibre dyer, though that might help. I have certain shades that I know I use in lots of braids!
Need some ideas? Here's a few combinations I put together out of the show stock (nb. these don't stick to my rules about combing fibre types, I was more interested in the colour combos)
If your stash isn't very well endowed, or you're a bit nervous then I will be dyeing some fibre packs. Who's up for a post Tour de Fleece Spin-Along?
Cambrian, not to be confused with Cumbria (home to Woolfest, Herdwick sheep, and English), is an area in the central of Wales. Put bluntly, it's that bit in the middle. The bit that when you look at a map seems rather unpopulated, and doesn't have much by way of roads...
It's been described as the Green Desert of Wales (because of the lack of people and roads, not due to the rainfall!), and if you want to see the stars there's practically no light pollution. What we do have a lot of is sheep... one visitor from the US commented to me that she had no idea just how many sheep she'd see on an almost continual basis.
I've always found it a real shame that I couldn't get more local wool... We don't have a farm ourselves, and whilst I know of ways I could source fleece, and have it processed I could never manage to do it on a scale where it made economic sense.
However, there is now a CIC (Community Interest Company) who are doing just that. They're buying up the fine wool clip from farms in the Cambrian Mountains, and getting it processed in to yarn and combed top. The sheep they're using are known as Mules, a mule in this context is a crossbreed sheep. The upland sheep around here are Welsh Mountains, they're small, hardy, excellent mothers, and do well on the upland areas. However their fleece isn't very fine, and the lambs aren't quick growing, or large enough for the modern meat market. So many farmers use a BFL Ram, and create a cross-breed. This gives the best of both worlds. For our purposes as spinners that means the fleece is much finer, longer, and far more useful for clothing. If you're careful about the fleeces you select, you can easily find fibre that looks like this. I've been in the Newtown Wool Marketing Board sorting depot a couple of times, and this sort of fleece is not unusual.
And the really good part... I now stock the wool top. And it's beautiful.
I will of course be dyeing it in all my usual dyeing styles, but I also wanted to do something that linked the wool back to the landscape. So I've developed 5 colourway packs, called Colours of Cambria. For me, these are the accent colours of home, there's a Pinterest Board with some inspiration images, and the packs.
I need to get some more dyed up for the online shop, but hope to do that this week, when they're available you'll be able to find them here.
We've had a bit of a chat in the Ravelry group recently about using up 100g chunks of fibre, but the nice thing about this wool is that you can also buy it as commercially spun yarn, in lots of colours and in DK and Fingering weight. If you fancy getting some hand dyed yarn then my neighbours Wrigglefingers and Barber Black Sheep stock the base.
I did some speed spinning and knitting to get a sample ready for Woolfest using one of the Colours of Cambria packs, together with 100g of the undyed fibre.
and then turned it in to a Punctuated cowl. It's soft, but has good structure, it won't end up looking pilled and fluffy where it rubs against your coat. It certainly passed the Mum prickle test.
I hope you're going to enjoy working with something that comes from the place I call home...
Lots of people enter the world of spinning with the aim of spinning for socks...
Then they fall down the rabbit hole and discover just how many things go in to making a good sock yarn. Before you even get in to fibre choice, there's the issue of number of plies (more is better), wether to go classic 3-ply, or modern chain ply (tests seem to show there's very little difference), or even to use opposing plies.
A good sock yarn needs to have bounce and memory. Otherwise the ribbing at the top bags out, and your socks fall down. It needs to withstand lots of friction, and needs to be able to put up with getting warm and damp. Those are of course conditions for felting. Some people are ok with their socks felting, which is fine providing that doesn't make them shrink. It also removes some of that elasticity. So I prefer a fibre that resists felting.
If you want to go pure wool, then Southdown is a really good bet. It resists felting, and has great elasticity. However, it's not great at resisting abrasion. If you have rough feet, or rough patches in your footwear you will get holes.
As well as Southdown I always used to offer a Superwash BFL & Nylon blend. This was great, because the superwash treatment resists felting, and it was hardwearing from the nylon. However, it was actually very similar to the Superwash BFL & Ramie base that I adore. So last summer I started experimenting. I still wanted a really machine-washable option (you can put Southdown in the machine, but I wanted a superwash treated fibre, that people could also use for garments). It also needed to be resist to abrasion, and have more bounce than the Superwash BFL.
And the final result... Two swatches. One went through a machine wash pinned to my jeans pocket. The other was unwashed. The stitches still move, and the size remained un-changed. It's a delight to dye as well.
I'm still using British wool, which was important to me. But it's slightly more coarse than BFL (but for your feet that's really not an issue), and is lovely and bouncy. You could still use this fibre for jumpers, cardigans, gloves and hats, it's definitely not Herdwick!
The Cheviot Hills are in the border area between Scotland and England, and remind me so much of my own bit of Wales.
By Cheviot_ewe_with_lamb.jpg: Donald Macleod from Stornoway, Scotlandderivative work: Coycan (Cheviot_ewe_with_lamb.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The sheep that live in the area are hardy, living on the hills all year round. They have a lovely bulky fleece, with a 3D crimp that makes the fibre bouncey, and hard wearing. The staple length is 4-5 inches, which makes it excellent for worsted spinning, just what you want from a sock yarn.
To add to the strength I've kept the nylon component. It really does help stop holes developing. To help with the dyeing, because Cheviot is a chalky fibre that can be a bit of a pain to hand dye, and to allow me to dye the eye-socking colours some love in their socks I've added some tussah silk.
I did a small batch for the online shop a few weeks ago, and also had some for sale at Wonderwool. Thos braids flew off the shelves, so I've dyed another batch that will be in the shop at the start of next week.
Despite being self employed there is still a rhythm to my days. A weekly rhythm of sending out parcels, a monthly rhythm of sending out fibre clubs, a yearly rhythm of yarn festivals.
It would appear I've added a biennial rhythm to that pattern... entering The Longest Thread competition.
Two years ago I sent in my first entry, and came 5th. The yarns have just come back from this year.
And yes, I upped my game! Two entries, one on my wheel, one on my Hansen. In terms of how I did... close but no cigar! My wheel entry was much better than last time, but only good enough for 4th. My e-spinner entry was second.
I swapped my fibre for some Falkland Merino this time, which was finer than the Bowmont I used before, but mostly I suspect I need to work on my patience... Looking at my thread it's easy to see where my mind wandered and the thickness increased.
So am I going to do it again... very likely. The lure of the thread is strong, and it's nice to spend part of my Christmas holidays focused on a technical challenge that increases my skill level. Still a very long way to go though, maybe next time I can break that 400m barrier!
January is a month that requires a real rolling up of the sleeves, and a head down, ploughing onwards approach. It always feels like there's so much to do, and in order to get it done I have to get a bit selective. Blogging, however much I love it, is one of those things that tends to slip down the priority list.
One thing that never slips off the list however is spinning. It's an unusual evening when I don't spin for at least half an hour. When you add up all those little chunks of spinning time you end up with a pile of skeins quite quickly.
Recently I've been enjoying playing around with other dyers fibres... I know, shocking. But I think of it as a bit like being a professional chef, and still going out for a meal. It's not that you can't cook it for yourself, just that sometimes it's nice for someone else to do the heavy lifting, and the washing up!
I also view it as a bit like professional development. I'll try fibres that I don't stock, and also get to play around with colour combinations that I wouldn't normally dye.
I purchased a few braids in a de-stash recently. All from American dyers, and all had been stored for probably longer than was advisable. The fibre wasn't unspinnable, but just starting to get "tight" around the edges. Fibre, particularly Merino, starts to compact once it's been processed. It's not the same as felting, because with a little helping hand you can start to fluff things back up and get everything sliding again, but it does make the spinning experience less pleasurable than spinning fresh fibre.
Going back to the food analogy, you can eat mussels the day before their Use By date, but they will have tasted better when they came fresh out of the sea.
When I get a braid of new fibre out, particularly one from a dyer I've not spun before, I nearly always completely un-braid it. I want to see how much of the colours are present, and in what order. I try and work out how it's been dyed, because that helps me decide on what sort of yarn to spin.
This braid had been dyed with blocks of colour, in a repeating style. That means if I just spun from one end to the other, and chain plyed it I'd end up with a yarn that striped. If you completely un-braid the fibre and lay it out in a zig-zag you can usually find the repeat points. This is a rough sketch, but gives you an idea about how dyers usually lay out fibre before applying dye.
This Three Waters Farm braid had been dyed with really long colour repeats, the pattern only repeated itself 3 times along the 4oz length of combed top.
The colours were pretty pale, so I decided I don't want to mix them up, and the nature of the long, triple repeat meant it was begging to become a proper 3 ply yarn. I split the fibre in to 3 pieces, and spun 3 bobbins where the colours repeated in the same order on each one. So that should mean that as I ply, the colours from all 3 bobbins should line up...
One 3 ply yarn, with bands of colour.
Something that beginner spinners seem to get in a pickle with is this lining up business. Look closely... there are sections where there are strands of different colours that meet. That's ok, it will soften the transitions, and I was fine with that. This is not perfect yarn, because I am not a perfect spinner. I spin for pleasure, and that means I spin while relaxing, and occasionally that means I'm not really concentrating. I'm ok with that, and the consequences that leads to in my yarns. I knit a lot with my handspun, and those fractional variations have very little impact on the finished fabric.
It's also worth noting that commercial processing is not perfect. I know from handling a lot of combed top that sometimes the thickness varies along the length, it might have been a minor issue with the machine as the combing was done. Or the dyer might not have been exactly even as the fibre was laid out, and the dye applied. So uneven sections of colour is not something to feel embarrassed about, you've not necessarily done anything "wrong".
So, when plying, what to do when the colours stop lining up...
Break the single that's lagging behind, pull it off from the bobbin until it catches up, and rejoin. It might seem wasteful, but those little balls weigh only 4g (from a 113g braid), and mean I got the yarn I wanted. If I'm feeling frugal I sometimes keep them to one side until I've knitted the yarn, just in case I run short on a bind off.
To re-join you over lap your 2 ends by a three or four inches, trapping them with the other singles. You end up with a small section of yarn that is 1 ply thicker, but it's not noticeable, and produces a nice string join.
There is a thread in the Ravelry UK Spinners group dedicated to the slightly bizarre wheels that appear on Ebay. Many of them are affectionately known as SWSOs (Spinning Wheel Shaped Objects). They often made by an enthusiastic wood turner who likes the challenge of making a wheel, but doesn't appreciate the need for things like an orifice.
Some poor wheels have been converted in to lamps. Others are reduced to a pile of bits, that may, or may not all be there...
To the unwary these wheels can be a bit of a nightmare. Generally they're priced much lower than a modern spinning wheel, but too often they're a complete waste of money. If they do spin at all they spin poorly. Never trust a description that says "working" by the wheel. Too often that means the seller has rotated the wheel and it goes round. If you're a new spinner the general advice is to buy a known brand. It might be twice the price, but you'll have a wheel that works. Rather than a pretty ornament.
Once you get to know what to look for though...
I wasn't technically in the market for another spinning wheel... but someone had linked to a quirky wheel, and this popped up in the suggested items below it. This is very much not a SWSO. Due to the fact that I am a bit geeky about wheels I knew that this was a Scandinavian wheel. There's a basic format that many of these wheels tend to have, and this one had all the right things!
There were lots of photos so I could see that there was a flyer with an orifice, a bobbin that fitted, no loose joints in the drive wheel. A quick consultation with a friend to confirm that I wasn't being daft... and I placed a bid.
One week later, I was apparently the only person to want this beauty. A quick begging email to my younger brother to collect it for me, and here she is.
A 26 inch drive wheel means she adds twist very quickly. That big drive wheel rotates really effortlessly. In terms of outright ratios (12:1) I own "faster" wheels, but none that are so light and pleasant to treadle.
It's the little things about this wheel... it's pretty much all pine (or other similar softwood), and in places is incredibly plain and simple. But there are some lovely touches. These notches tell you which way round to put in piece that secures the drive wheel. The pieces on either side of the axle are different shapes, because the axle gets thinner towards the front of the wheel, and also shaped to fit exactly when they are the right way round. So the notches make it easier to get everything put together correctly.
For such a big wheel she's incredibly portable because she breaks down so easily. The flyer mechanism unscrews, the wheel lifts out, and you're left with several pieces that go back together again just as easily. An old version of a folding wheel!
I'm very happy she's found a new home with me, where she will be used to spin yarn. Just like she was designed to do so well. I don't normally name my wheels, but I feel like this grand old lady deserves it, so she's called Brunhilde.