Fibre prep: Wool Combs

Don’t be scared, despite looking quite lethal this is not a torture implement, it is just a nice piece of scary-looking equipment designed to comb and fluff up fibres in a neatly ordered fashion.

With raw fleece, I haven’t always been entirely happy with the prep I obtained on my carders (rolags) or on the drumcarder (sliver of semi parallel fibres) with the Gotland especially. It spun up slightly hairy and even with low twist felt more wiry than the raw fibres had led me to expect. So I thought I’d try out another type of prep in the form of combing.

According to Anne Field’s Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics (1) ‘using wool combs does produce the best parallel arrangement of fibre’  which is essential for worsted spinning. Yet she doesn’t go on to describe the method, arguing that they are a very costly piece of equipment and that the method is thoroughly detailed in Peter Teal’s book Hand Wool-Combing and Spinning.

There are quite a few different types of combs, and you can read more about them and how they are used here. The ones I borrowed from my guild are English style combs, which means they come with a station which can be clamped to a table. Actually the box says they are Peter Teal combs, designed by the expert himself, they have been out of production for years and are considered to be the classics of the genre. Wingham Wool seems to be carrying a range based on the design, although I haven’t tried them myself.

I was quickly shown how to use them at the guild but I like to search for videos whenever I try a new technique. I’ve looked at quite a few different videos, and I think my favourites are the ones from the blue mountain handcrafts channel. The combs they sell look absolutely beautiful and there is much positive talk about them although I haven’t had the pleasure to handle them. Their videos on how to use all of their tools are very clear and simple.

I enjoyed the combing process and turning the fibers into a long roving through a diz, a lot more than I’d enjoyed carding. Maybe it’s all just a question of practice…

I’ll report later on how the combed fibres spin… At the moment I’m ever so slightly swamped and only managing to steal away a few hours a week for knitting and spinning, hence the lack of regular posting.

How about? what’s your favourite fibre prep tool or method? If you’re using combs already, do you have a favourite style?


Like Christmas in July

I had to travel back to France in a hurry a couple of weeks back for less than happy reasons, but when I came back home, the postman had left me some amazing parcels, it was like Christmas in summer.

First of all, thanks to Shiela of HandSpinner.co.uk, which had put an offer in her June Newsletter, I received a lovely sampler box of fibres. Each of them feels softer than the next and I might  even have let out a few indecent noises when I took some out of the pack for a quick feel. There’s Cashmere, Camel, Mohair, Dehaired Yak, Baby Alpaca and Angora, and believe me, they all deserve their capital letters.

1: Mohair; 2: Camel; 3: Cashmere; 4: Baby Alpaca; 5: Dehaired Yak; 6: Angora rabbit

There is a good sample for each, which I think is incredibly generous and will allow me to fully experience each fibre. I have yet to work with these (except for alpaca, but I have never tried baby alpaca) so I’m really looking forward to trying them out. I will report on my impressions. But it will have to wait a few more weeks unfortunately.

The other happy thing waiting for me on the coffee table was the long-awaited but well worth it Little Red in the City by the talented Ysolda Teague.

I am so happy with this book you wouldn’t believe. I love the scrap book style of the whole layout. I have only had a cursory glance through it so far but I have to say I’m really impressed. It looks beautiful, fun and has what seems like a ton of information on fit, swatching and making your knitting work for you. Plus lovely patterns with a fairy-tale feel which still manage to look very wearable in real life.

At the moment both knitting and spinning time are extremely scarce in my schedule, so I truly cherish the prospect of having the time to properly experiment with the lovely fibres and explore the book fully in a week or so.


Gotland: Fleece washing

Gotland fibres from Wells Manor Farm

Gotland is a long wool breed, often said to have been established by the Vikings (there is quite a bit of its history on the British Gotland Sheep Society website if you’re interested in finding out more). The fleece  is  often praised for its lustre and softness, and I have to say that mine didn’t disappoint.

I bought the fibre at Unravel in Farnham, Well Manor Farm had a stall where they also sold their own natural dyed yarns (Eddie bought a skein and knit herself a beautiful shawl). I didn’t buy a whole fleece, just a small bagfull of fibres, because the moment I put my hand in the bag to get a feel I knew I was doomed and had to take some home, but I’m not all that experienced at prepping my own fibres (okay, you could say I’m pretty much a novice on the matter).

I washed the fibre in a series of 5 buckets with very hot water (decreasing in temperature) and washing up liquid in the first two. The fibers had hardly any vegetable matter at all and were really quite clean as much as wool straight off the sheep can be. I wasn’t exactly overly careful when handling the fleece in the water, I tried to minimise the amount of swishing around in hot water, but I still squeezed water out of fibers before moving it on to the next bucket. There doesn’t seem to have been any felting and I’m pretty happy with the results.

One mistake I made in the washing process of the Gotland, was to swish the water and detergent too much before putting the fibre in, I wanted to make sure it was all well distributed in the water before I set the wool in, but I ended up creating a lot of foam, which then proved quite difficult to rinse out of the fibres. Actually my wool dried with some soap suds in. I don’t think washing up liquid would damage the fibre like soap would, so I just decided to set it to dry that way rather than risk felting by too much handling in water. In the future, I’ll be more careful not to create so many suds…

The fibres were not very greasy and washed well, but I still took them through the 5 buckets a couple of times to make sure I got most of the lanolin and soap out. I spun them in my salad spinner in batches to get rid of excess water. I then opened up the wool gently so that there were no clumps to make sure it would dry more easily. The next morning I set them on an old towel in my garden, where they seemed to dry in no time… Well, four-five hours or thereabout. As far as I could see they didn’t suffer attack by either birds or cats, despite our garden being quite the social scene of the animal world.

I then tried using my handcards to make some rolags and spin my lovely Gotland but I have to admit I was quite disappointed with the samples I spun. It was a bit too frizzy for my taste so I decided I was going to try a few different techniques with this, and aim at spinning a truly worsted yarn, for a smooth and lustrous feel.

This required some equipment I didn’t have but my guild came to the rescue and I now have everything I need to proceed… So my next post on the subject should be on prepping the fibres with wool combs, since they apparently give the best alignment of fibres for worsted yarns.

How about you? Any experiences with Gotland? Any suggestions on the prepping, the spinning or even the knitting? I haven’t quite decided yet what I will make with it, I guess it depends on the qualities of the yarn I obtain…


Adventures in silk

I’ve now finished spinning my first full batch of tussah silk and I thought I’d share the ups and down of the whole adventure.

First of all, it really allowed me to get properly comfortable with supported spinning and with my Russian spindle in particular, and I loved every minute of spindling this. So back in December I started out on this:

Annia and honey-coloured tussah silk

I set out to spin a 2-ply laceweight, which could then be knitted into a stole. As I was spinning I became more specific: I wanted to try and possibly get one skein out of 100g of fibers (bought at Wingham Wool), and I wanted the whole thing to be spun on my Russian spindle Annia.

If you remember my warnings about silk hankies, you might understand that I was a bit wary of two plying my silk on itself using an Andean bracelet, which is what I have often done with wool. So here I was, too scared of doing an Andean bracelet to ply my silk single on itself, and wanting to free up my spindle for the second batch.

The single was pretty thin, and I imagined would have taken ages to wind off the cop without a ball winder. I therefore decided to slip the cop off my spindle and onto something else to store it. A gentle tug easily dislodged it, and it looked like it would slip off in a tidy fashion. I’ve seen it done with straws before… but didn’t have any in the house, so I tried rolling up a piece of cardboard but that looked too thick for the core of my cop. I eventually opted for a thin dowel.

Bad. Idea. Very. Bad. Idea.

The end of the dowel got caught on the silk, and in the 2 seconds it took me to  withdraw it, the tip of the cop came undone and tangled…

Silk single, all tangled up.

I decided to leave it as it was until I was done spindling the remainder of the fibres.

I spun a second cop, you might remember seeing it in progress before:

One cop of silk complete, the second one well on its way

I have since read of some people using knitting needles to slip the cop on… It could have been a much better choice with the pointed end of Annia. But I still think a drinking straw would have been better.  Once I was done with the second spindleful, I decided to just slip it off the shaft because it seems to be pretty stable if I didn’t up muck up the end by trying to insert something in it.

I usually ply straight from the spindles but this time I decided to make a plying ball so I could deal with any potential problems created by the tangle I had on the first cop. I took it with me to the Friday morning Crafty Coffee group and was delighted I’d done that because it didn’t take long to realise that sliding those two silk cops off the spindle without anything to stabilise their centres had been extremely stupid.

It might come from the way I’d wound the cop, but its extremeties were prone to tangle from the start, and as the cops grew smaller they became more and more difficult to handle, as the silk was grabbing onto itself. We had a six hand operation going for a while in the sofa corner, and I am ever so grateful for Caitriona and Eddie to have helped for a couple of hours. Eventually, we gave up on the centre of the smallest cop. But then Lisa, who loves untangling, had a go. In the end, only a tiny bit got thrown away and I think it is quite an achievement given how delicate it was, how grabby silk is, and how long the whole operation took.

I have to say I really liked using a plying ball. It was fast and easy, although my singles were broken in places, and the silk failed to grasp on itself in the plying, making it a bit more fiddly to make joints. In the end, I plied it into three skeins. Here is the plying in progress,  with two skeins plied and the third one on the go.


I just love the sheen of the finished yarn. It’s not as shiny as other silks I’ve seen but I love the more subtle look. I think it’s due to the drafting method I used on the Russian, long draw, which gave me an ever so slightly hairy yarn. It is also closer to a 3-ply/light fingering weight than to the laceweight I was aiming for originally.

Here is a sneak peak of what the yarn is now becoming… and I’m loving knitting it. The feel of the 100% silk, the drapiness and the satisfaction of having spun it… I sometimes can’t help but smile smugly while I knit it…


Hands down my favourite gloves

In my last trip to Paris I was very restrained in my yarn purchases but I really couldn’t resist some gorgeous indigo alpaca at La Droguerie. I only took a 1oog ball, I didn’t have any specific project in mind, I just loved the lo0k and feel of it.

I’d been admiring Ysolda Teague’s Veyla for a while, and wanted to make myself a pair of these cuties. My only reservation was that I already have a few pairs of fingerless mitts, but I haven’t got any handknitted gloves of my own, it seems I have gifted away the few pairs I have knit in the past few years… So I just decided to alter the pattern a bit by knitting myself some fingers.

Veyla (Ysolda Teague) with fingers

I found the buttons in a car boot sale and I love the mother of pearl look and the contrast with the dark yarn (the color is truest on the photos of the gloves themselves). I think the fingers partly take away the edgy/lacy contrast of the original design, which is a shame, but I love them nonetheless. They might just be the classiest pair of knitted gloves I own.

The yarn was absolutely gorgeous to knit with and is gloriously soft to the touch. The gloves only used up 50g, so I’ve still got another 50g to use. Any ideas of what I could do with my remaining 170 yards of gorgeousness? Oh and I’ve still got 2 of my cute little buttons left…


Natural Dyeing Take 5: Leaves and Berries

Although we’d covered most of the colour spectrum between the onions, the black beans, and the dye pack, there was one colour scheme in which we felt we were a bit behind in our natural dyeing adventure in France: green.

My parents’ house is surrounded by birch trees (cue gratuitous photo of the trees in a beautiful sunrise taken from the bedroom window).

When we arrived at my parents the birch trees had only just started sprouting new leaves, by the time I harvested the leaves, they were only a few days old at most, apparently older leaves give yellows while young birch leaves yield green. There were also a lot of ivy berries everywhere, which were supposed to give a nice green too.

Young Birch Leaves

Young birch leaves - copyright Eddieduckling

Placing the birch leaves in one bucket and the ivy berries in another, I poured boiling water over each of them and let the dyestuff soak and mature overnight. I then set each of these preparation to boil for a whole hour, stirring occasionally and for the berries crushing them in the process to get as much out of them as possible. I then drained the preparations through tights to strain any bits out of the dyeing solutions. Each of these dyeing solutions was then put back on the hob with the skeins of pre-mordanted yarn.

Although I had read somewhere in the Ravelry forums that Ivy berries did not require mordant, the sample of unmordanted fleece I tried in the ivy berries solution did not take up any colour, it all washed away.

Billede 351

copyright Eddieduckling

Here are the results we obtained with the birch leaves and Ivy berries on alum mordanted wools :

Top skein: Young birch leaves, 1st bath, alum mordanted wool

Middle skein: Ivy berries 2nd bath with heuchera mordant, alum mordanted wool

Bottom skein: Ivy berries, 1st bath, alum mordanted wool

I do like these soft greens.

Since it’s taken me quite a while to write these posts, I’ve had time to make a light fastness test, so I’ll be showing the results fairly soon, some dyes have held much better than others…

I love the idea of tyring more dyeing from the plants and berries available in different seasons. Eddie tried dyeing with blackberries and elderberries last year and got some lovely results, so I’m curious, have you tried dyeing with any berries or leaves?


Natural Dyeing Take 4: Dyeing with the pack

It took me a while to compile this post on some more of our natural dye experiments in France, but as you’ll see there were quite a few different colours to document here, and I’m grateful to Eddie for the pictures.

I had picked up a sample pack to experiment with natural dyes at Unravel, and it was the thing from which I was expecting the more varied results. The pack contained logwood, brazilwood, fustic, madder, goldenrod and chamomile. As it turns out, Eddie did most of the work on these, and we obtained quite a range of colours.

Dye stuff from the pack

The dye pack was a bit short, to say the least, on how to use the dye material. It just instructed to make a dye solution by simmering each of the dye stuff for an hour before introducing the yarn, and simmering the whole thing until the yarn was a satisfactory colour… this seemed a bit vague. There were a lot more instructions on how to use the different dye materials online but all in all we decide to make up our own version, and adopted the same protocol for all of them.

In order to make things easier for ourselves and not have to strain our dye solutions we decided to use the tights again, to create a kind of bag in which the dye stuff could move around freely like leaves in a teabag. We cut up the tights in manageable sections, placed some dye stuff in it and knotted off the ends to secure them.

France 2011

copyright Eddieduckling

The dye solution was then created by simmering our teabag in a potful of water until we reached a colour we liked, taking the tights out, replacing it with mordanted yarn. If the yarn was turning out too pale we would then return the tights to the dyepot with the yarn in, until we got a more saturated colour.  Since the quantities of wool we were dyeing were very small (either 10g or 20g) we adjusted that to 10g of dye stuff except for logwood, which we reduced to 5g since it’s much stronger.

If we liked the colour we popped a second round of mordanted skeins in the exhaust bath. Once that had been done we decided to use as much of the dye stuff in the pot as possible, by dyeing some fleece which had been given to us at Crafty Coffee.  It was unmordanted, so we decided to add a measure of Heuchera mordanting solution (20ml) straight into the dye pot before putting the fibre in and letting it simmer for a good half hour to an hour.

Logwood

It was the first teabag we used and was a bit of a disappointment: we were expecting purpley blues and ended instead with some greys. Despite only taking 25% of Logwood to fibre ratio, the dye solution was much too strong. Because it was the first one we tried and we had a specific amount of mordanted skeins we didn’t give it another try… In the end, I’ve come to really like these colours, but since they were the first to come out of the dye pack pots, I have to say I was disappointed when I first saw them.

Logwood

copyright Eddieduckling

From left to right:

Left: logwood 1st bath, unmordanted wool

Centre: Logwood 1st bath, heuchera mordanted wool

Right: Logwood 1st bath, alum mordanted wool

Brazilwood

copyright Eddieduckling

From left to right:

Left: Brazilwood first bath on alum mordanted wool.

Centre: Brazilwood 2nd bath on alum mordant wool.

Right: Brazilwood 2nd bath on heuchera mordanted wool

Billede 169

copyright Eddieduckling

Followed by some shocking pinks:

Left: Brazilwood and heuchera bath (3rd bath) on unmordanted yarn

Right: Brazilwood and heuchera bath (3rd bath) on alum mordanted yarn.

These last two were thrown in after we saw the colours which we’d obtained with the heuchera mordanted bath of brazilwood in which we’d thrown the unmordanted fleece:

Logwood overdyed with Brazilwood

copyright Eddieduckling

We also threw in one of the logwood alum mordanted skeins since we had 3 alum mordanted ones which were all a very dark grey

Left: Brazilwood and heuchera bath (3rd bath) on alum mordanted yarn.

Right: alum mordanted yarn, logwood first bath, overdyed in Brazilwood and heuchera bath (3rd bath)

Madder

copyright Eddieduckling

Right: Madder 1st bath, alum mordanted wool

Left: Logwood 1st bath, alum mordanted wool, overdyed in Madder and Heuchera (2nd) bath.

The fleece which we put into the Madder and Heuchera mixture also gave us a nice peachy colour


Fustic, Goldenrod and chamomile gave us very similar yellows:

Billede 178

copyright Eddieduckling

Left: Fustic 1st bath, Alum mordanted wool.

Centre: Goldenrod 1st bath, Alum mordanted wool.

Right: Chamomile 1st bath, Alum mordanted wool.

After doing all these, I think next time I’d like to try some more overdyeing and thought all these yellows could probably be used in combination with the blues of the black beans to give us some nice greens…

Most of the photos in this post, and most of the dyeing work from the pack were Eddie’s, who very kindly lent the rights to her images for this post. While she was hard at work I was busy prepping for the dyes I’ll talk about in my next post: Ivy Berries and Young birch leaves, which gave us some lovely soft greens…


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