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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:

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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!

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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.

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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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