Category Archives: Spinning

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?

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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…


La chanson du hérisson / The hedgehog song

La chanson du hérisson takes me right back to my childhood, it’s a sweet song from a French children musical: Emilie Jolie (1979)… It tells the story of a little hedgehog who’s really sad because no-one wants to stroke him because he is too prickly… until Emily comes around and saves him. I quite like this sweet cover version:

But beyond the fondness for the prickly beasty and the song, I have a good reason for mentioning hedgehogs here. A little while back, I took part in a contest on Ysolda Teague‘s blog and went on a hunt for hedgehogs in her photos. I counted all her little hedgehogs and for the first time ever, I won a prize: Yipppeee!

It was not only the Smith pattern, which produces the cutest little hedgehog, but also the wee mushrooms one, to create a small habitat for Smith… I was wondering what yarns I’d use, but then remembered that one of my aims for this year was to knit more with my own handspun. And the small amounts of yarn required for these two patterns are ideal for using some of those sample skeins I keep doing to try out different methods of drafting or plying…

White merino and Brown Blue-Faced Leicester, navajo plied on the fly.

I have been trying to practice spinning consistently thickish lately and I still have quite a bit of Bluefaced Leicester in a yummy humbuggy brown, which is slightly felted (shouldn’t have carried it around in a plastic bag for ages). I was finding it a bit easier to spin the BFL thick than the merino, I spun a few yards of each and turned them into a cute practice mushroom.

The pattern is really clever and uses a completely flat cast-on to provide a good base, and you then stack pennies at the bottom of the stalk before stuffing it so it can stand on its own: genius!

As soon as I was done I realised I couldn’t really just stop there… Navajo ply on the fly on the spindle is like magic: you have fibre in one hand and finished 3 ply yarn in the other. Before I knew it (and before the yarn had even been finished) I had started knitting a Smith in the same combination of yarns. Here he was in Paris discovering the world before I gave it to a friend for her baby son…

Since I’d forgotten my wee mushroom in my English home, Smith and the wee mushroom never actually met… I still have a very dark brown in unprepped Black Welsh Mountain which would make lovely hedgehog spikes… This mushroom definitely needs a hedgehog to go with it… can you see where this is going?

Oh and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but as soon as I wrote the title of this post it struck me how the two languages yield two very different sets of associations. The Hedgehog song might be familiar to Terry Pratchett fans: it is the mysterious rude song which Nanny Ogg seems to regularly break into singing when drunk. Its lyrics are never disclosed, to my knowledge at least, but it never fails to offend the people around her at the time.

I like the contrast between the sweet children song La chanson du hérisson, and a good bout of sweariness…

PS: I’m not done with the natural dyeing posts yet, just need to finish writing up the last two types of natural dyeing we did…


Magpies

Remember the whorls I showed you in the last post and which were about to be drilled… well, they have now been mounted on shafts and properly finished.

I thought I’d show off the resulting spindles:

The largest and also the heaviest of the series, at 49g for a diametre of 7cm

It is much heavier than the spindles I usually go for, but it is also wider and would make a good plying spindle I think. It certainly spins for a while…

A slightly smaller version of the same design, on a 6cm whorl for a weight of 38g

A two magpie design, 6cm whorl, 35g

I’m loving them, they’re all slightly heavier than my usual ones, because I was making those on request, but I actually like that they spin for that much longer…

I usually aim around the 25g mark, but I think I’ll make some heavier ones on a more regular basis… How about you? What kind of weight are your favourite spindles? Do you use some of your spindles specifically for plying? I’m just curious…


Behind the scenes

Lately, I’ve had many things on the go and they’ve all been taking longer than planned to complete. Rather than rushing them to finish them off to show them here, I’ve decided to show you some photos of the work in progress.

First, some resin casting, with some birdy whorls soon to be drilled on my brand new press drill to become top whorl spindles:

Magpie whorls in 6 and 7 cm diametres, weight ranging from 27g to 38g.

In terms of spinning, I’ve been spinning tussah silk on my Russian spindle Annia for the last couple of months, and loving it. I’m aiming for a 2-ply laceweigt, which I’ll probably leave undyed and plan to knit into a stole. I didn’t do a sample and I’ve just been spinning without much control, as I was still getting to know Annia, so I’ve no idea of the yardage I’m going to have when I’m done:

Tussah silk: Fibers, one cop spun, another in progress on my Russian spindle Annia.

Also on the spindles: I’ve got quite a bit of Blue Faced Leicester in yummy browns spun on my little Grace and on Jarod, destined to be a 4-ply. I’ve done one Turkishful and almost twice as much on Jarod, which I’m going to make into an Andean bracelet to ply once it’s exactly double the weight of the first cop. For the last of the singles for the 4-ply, I’m currently spinning a second Turkishful:

Blue Faced Leicester, including knit swatch.

On the knitting side of things, I was waiting on some T-pins I ordered to get the Echo Flower shawl a second blocking. They finally arrived this morning, so I gave my shawl a soak of Eucalyptus Eucalan bought at Unravel, and it is now blocking again.

I suddenly realised last night that I needed an instant gratification project. So I decided to take some merino I spun a little while back as an attempt to spin thickish, and I cast on an improvised cafetiere cosy. When Eddie comes round and the expresso machine is just not right for the amount of coffee we drink, but the cafetiere always goes cold before we’ve had the time to drink it all… This, I hope, will be of help. And in the meantime I’m having fun with braids and making things up… Here is last night’s progress, I think it’s already half way there:

There are always a few more projects on the needles and the spindles in the background, but those are my main points of focus at the moment.

How about you? Are you quite monogamous in your projects or a bit of a philanderer like me?