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Who knew that spinning is so addictive? Since I last wrote about spinning yarn, I have managed to do a great deal more:

HSFM_All

A selection of hand-spun yarns, all from rare British breeds

As you will find out, I have learnt a lot whilst spinning up these yarns, not least, that I really enjoy spinning and preparing my own fibres. So, let me take you through my latest skeins:

First up, a selection of Herwick yarns. Herwick is a very hardy sheep breed, and is native to the Lake District. They have a very distinctive face, and their woolly coat is perfect for the rainy and windy conditions of their natural home. It contains a lot of kemp (white brittle fibres) and hair (dark smooth fibres) as well as wool fibres. The large amount of kemp and hair means rain runs off their coats very easily. It also means, that resulting yarns can be very scratchy and are usually used for hardwearing carpets. This fibre was generously gifted to me by Vicky from Eden Cottage Yarns and she got the fleece from a Herdwick shepherd in the Lake District.

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Herdwick in all its glory! From left to right: woollen 2ply, felted woollen single, worsted 2ply

However, if you first comb the fibres, it is quite easy to separate most of the wool from the kemp and hair. The combing waste can then be carded. This means you can create some very different yarns, all from the same sheep. It’s amazing! You can see this in the picture above: on the right, a yarn made from the combed top, worsted spun, then plied. As I had a lot of combing waste, I could try out some different things. The skeins on the left and in the middle were both spun from carded fibre, and I made my first attempt at longdraw drafting, to create a woollen yarn. Admittedly, this is easier done on a spinning wheel, but it can be done with a spindle, and I kept the beginners technique of “park-and-draft” in mind for this, which is one way of achieving this. For the longdraw, I built up a lot of twist in the leader, then parked the spindle between my feet and slowly let the twist escape between my drafting fingers and run up into the rolag. Granted, this is not something to do for a long period of time, as it’s not a very ergonomical method. Then I finished the woollen singles in different ways. The skein on the left is a standard 2ply, the skein in the middle was felted by agitating the skein in hot soapy water and shocking it in a cold bath, followed by some wacking against the rim of our bath tub.

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Mixing breeds: top-to-bottom shows Herdwick 2ply, Herdwick plied with Lincoln, Lincoln 2ply

Another thing I tried was plying a fat woollen Herdwick single, with another classic British sheep breed: Lincoln. Lincoln is a typical longwool sheep, with lots of lustre. Longwools often don’t have any hair or kemp mixed in at all. Such a contrast to the Herdwick! I found the Lincoln quite a challenge to spin, as its staple length is quite fenomenal!

LashedOn

Lincoln fibres lashed onto my wool combs

Not only does it show some resistance to being twisted, the staple length was very long, and my spindle didn’t allow me a lot of time to draft, before I had to set it in motion again. Also, the plying was a challenge, and the end result in the skein above is an unintentional bouclé. A second skein turned out better, and it shows off the lustrous quality of the Lincoln fibres:

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Shiny Lincoln yarn

But this is not the only longwool I played with. I also still had rather a lot of Wensleydale!

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Wensleydale longwool in natural colours.

I tried out quite a few things here, and this time, I struggled with the commercial preparation, as it is very slippy, and again, my spindle worked against me. This didn’t stop me from trying an intentional bouclé, made by plying up a S-spun and a Z-spun single. You can see it in the white skein, and in the grey skein on the left. I’m not so keen on how it came out, but I think there is still lots to be learnt about the amount of twist I put in both singles and the plied yarn. To be revisited in the future. The grey skein on the right, however, I really love. It’s a cabled 4ply. My singles were Z-spun, then I created two 2ply yarns with an S-twist, and these got plied together with another Z-twist. Again, there is still lots of improvements to be made on the amount of twist at the various stages.

After struggling with all the longwool and its slippery nature, I had to put aside the dark-brown Wensleydale as I wasn’t quite sure on how to improve. And I’m glad I did, as a few weeks ago Cecilia Hewitt, her husband Graham, Felix, Prick Your Finger‘s Rachael and yours truly all met up and we had a great time spinning and chatting and drinking tea.

Cecilia explained a lot of things to me about spinning, and when working through my Wensleydale, I learnt about pre-drafting compacted fibres, checking the amount of twist you’re putting in, and last but not least, how a spindle that spins longer could help me deal with those long, slippery Wensleydale fibres! I’m very grateful for the bottom whorl spindle she gifted to me, as I really enjoyed spinning with it.

HSFMWensLace

Wensleydale lace-weight yarns. Left: plied from a centre-pull ball, right: plied from two separate balls

As you can see, I managed to get some really nice lace-weight yarns. I tried two different methods of managing the two singles for plying up. I tried using a centre-pull ball, neatly wound up on a nostepinne. I didn’t enjoy the process of plying from this and you can see that in the left skein: it’s a bit hard and wiry. In fact I got so frustrated I just had to stop and wind the two ends of the centre-pull ball into two separate balls. Lo’ and behold, the skein on the right looks much more relaxed and happy and you can feel that difference, too.

Meanwhile I have combed the left-overs from the Lincoln, and carded some Shetland fleece, so I will soon have more spinning to share.

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Well over a year ago I was in Prick Your Finger and somebody was in the shop, spinning at a spinning wheel. Seeing that I like all things woolly, I was most intrigued. As spinning wheels are a serious investment, I thought I could explore the art of spinning by starting off on a cheap spindle and some fleece. The fleece was rather special, yet of unknown provenance as far as breeds go. It was called “M25″ fleece, which was unwanted fleece they had gathered for within the M25 for their installation at the Stanley Picker Gallery. Unhindered by any knowledge of fibre preparation I made an attempt at spinning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t do a very good job of it and in fact, I didn’t even enjoy the process. But, as you can see in the following picture, things have changed since:

HSOverview

two spindles, Wensleydale combed tops, textured merino yarn, two ply M25 yarn, dyed Portland

Somehow I couldn’t let go of the dream of spinning my own yarn and late last year, in fact, just before the start of Wovember2012, I had a chat with Felix, as she had been spinning for a little while and I decided to plunge in again. This time I bought myself a nice spindle:

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22 gram Spindle from Ian Tait, shaft from Ash, whorl from Sycamore with a pippy Yew finish

I got my spindle from IST Crafts and it is a thing of beauty. The shaft is made from Ash, the whorl is made from Sycamore, and is finished with a layer of pippy Yew. It is extremely well-balanced, and the whorl is rim-weighted, so it keeps spinning. I also availed myself of two books:

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Your Handspinning, by Elsie G Davenport

Your Handspinning by Elsie G Davenport was originally published in the 1950s and is considered a classic by many. I was lucky to find it in a secondhand bookshop. It takes you through all the basics of spinning on a spindle and a wheel. But for me, one book on a subject is never enough*, so I also bought the following book:

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Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont

It’s Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, and she covers a lot of ground, going into great detail of the intricacies of spinning with a spindle. Well worth the investment if you when you’re starting out.

At the same time my spindle arrived in the post, Felix had very kindly put together a parcel full of fibre to play with. It was all ready to be spun, so I didn’t have to worry about combing or carding it.

Here’s one of my very-first-for-the-second-time handspun:

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handspun Merino

As you can see, it’s is rather textured. Anyone who spins will recognise the unintentional thick and thin nature of this first handspun yarn. But it didn’t take me that long to get more consistent; just spin for 15-30min each day and slowly but surely it starts to get easier and easier. I started of with the park-and-draft technique, explained in detail in Abby Franquemont’s video here. In fact, I find her video very instructional and although she made it well before her book was published, they go together well. I spun all the Merino, then some Masham, Jacob and also some Shetland: Felix’s parcel was stuffed full of goodies!

However, I still had that bag of washed, but otherwise unprepared M25 fleece. So Felix came to visit and she brought along some of her spinning tools. Of course a spindle, but also some hand carders and mini combs. I took to the combs with vigour and I really enjoyed prepping the fibre and I worked my way through the bag in no time. We noticed a few locks were coarses than others, so I processsed that separately. Once spun up and plied, you can see how the coarser fleece has turned into a yarn with a bit more halo:

HSM25Both

M25 fleece, combed and spun by myself. Coarse fibre yarn at the front, finer fibre yarn at the back.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so proud of this achievement and the difference between fibre quality within a fleece shows so well in these two yarns, that I just have to share some close-ups:

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M25 fleece, finer fibre yarn

HSM25Coarse

M25 fleece, coarse fibre yarn

Aren’t they beautiful? The waste fibre left over from the combing was used to practise carding and making rolags. Definitely more difficult than combing and we didn’t have a lot to play with, but here is the yarn we managed to spin from it, and it clearly has a more woollen spun nature to it:

HSM25WoollenSpun

Woollen spun M25 fleece

For my latest experiments I used some dyed fibres. Portland in fact, and all dyed by Felix herself. Here are the four colours, in the lock:

HSDyedPortlandLocks

 

Portland fleece, dyed by Dr Felicity Ford

The browns are dyed using black walnut (I’m assuming the lighter brown is from a second dye bath), the green was made with now forgotten plants and the “crazy pink” from dylon cold dye. Although I think my main interest will be breed specific wool and their natural colours, I did enjoy spinning this up and playing around a bit. I found Cecilia Hewett’s series of posts on spinning for Wovember very inspirational. I particularly like the yarn she showed in part II, a yarn that appears to be brown from afar, yet up close it reveals a myriad of colours. Amazing!

My attempts are not half as fancy, but it was fun to do nonetheless:

HSSpindlePYF

 

yarn from the dyed Portland

I mixed up the fibres by taking chunks of the combed tops and using them one after another for one single ply yarn, and then I made a much longer repeat on the second single ply. I have tried plying the yarns together from a centre pull ball but I don’t get on with that technique. Instead I followed Abby Franquemont’s advise of creating a plying ball. Simply wind the two single ply yarns together in a ball, making sure the tension is equal on both yarns; you can use a tennis ball or similar as a core for the plying ball, but I just started winding without it. You might already introduce a bit of twist when doing this, but once you’ve wound up your ball you are going to ply it proper on a spindle. As you can see, the Prick Your Finger spindle, which is larger and heavier than my IST spindle, is perfect for this.

I created two small quantities of this coloured Portland yarn, one with a balanced twist, and one very much overtwisted in order to see what would happen. It will also allow me to try something out I have wanted to swatch for a long time: the bias effect that an overtwisted yarn introduces to a fabric knitted in stocking stitch. But that, dear readers, is the subject for another blog post.

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*) whilst I’m writing this post, two more books on spinning and preparing fibre are on the way. Peter Teal’s Hand Wool Combing and Spinning; and Judith MacKenzie’s The Intentional Spinner.

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As you all know, I’m currently having a lot of fun over at WOVEMBER2012, celebrating wool for what it is. I’m curating the Wovember Words posts – woollen elevenses, if you like. Although WOVEMBER takes up a lot of time, I have found some time to make things with wool. I’m very pleased with all of them, and they will each get a separate in-depth post once WOVEMBER has finished. But as I’m too excited about each of them, I want to share some pictures with you:

First up, I made some Sanquhar gloves in the Prince of Wales pattern:

 

Of course, my name is knitted in the cuff:

Secondly, I finally managed to sew a pair of trousers! I bought the fabric two winters ago, made two (yes, TWO) toiles, and then wasn’t happy with the fit and didn’t know how to change it. But with a new pattern, and some encouragement from Zoe, I made this pair of trousers, which are perhaps more classic than fashionable in shape. Here some close-ups, as I will reveal the whole pair over at WOVEMBER later. A hand-picked fly with vintage button:

 

Welted back-pockets:

 

 

Last, but not least I’m finishing of this self-lined beany in the most amazing Wensleydale Longwool yarn:

 

The patterns are typically more often used on ganseys:

 

 

Come on over at WOVEMBER, there’s even a competition going on where you can win all sorts of prizes by sending in a woolly picture!

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