SAFF 2018: The Class

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I am privileged to live close enough to Asheville, NC to attend SAFF (SouthEastern Animal and Fiber Fair) pretty much every year. This year the first day of SAFF was the day after my birthday, so I decided to make the whole latter part of the week my party. I started by taking a 2-day class with Abby Franquemont. I’ve been an admirer of Abby since I started spinning several years ago, and taking a class with her was definitely on my bucket list. This class was about colour and structure in spinning, and I had a blast!

The first day of the class we dealt with colour. We started with plain red and plain white wool and talked first about how colour is perceived differently by different people and in different contexts. We then took the red and white wool and started to combine them – first just holding them together or trying to combine them by hand. Then Abby used her drum carder to blend the colours – we spun after 1 pass, 2 passes, and 3 passes. It was really interesting to see the changes that additional blending made. Next we combined the same red and a dark brown in much the same manner, except after a few passes through the drum carder Abby added yellow and purple – colours I initially thought were incongruous, but ended up intensifying the beauty of the blend we were making. 

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After lunch we came back to talk more about how to handle colour within spinning. Abby had taken a bit of a look around the market and returned with oodles of such beautiful fibers to divide among us so we could try them all. We talked about the different ways fiber (and yarns) are dyed and how often hand-dyed fibers will have some kind of repeat if you look for it. Taking a few minutes to assess how a fiber is dyed can inform how you spin it. After the fiber was divided among us all we each started spinning what appealed to us and took the rest home to play with.

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I chose to start with this sea-green that gradually fades into a pinkish-brown and then into gold. I split the fiber down the middle, then spun it end to end for a long gradient singles, then plied it end to end for a 2-ply gradient. 

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The second day of class we started with show and tell – everyone shared with the class what they had finished since the previous afternoon. It was interesting how even though we all had the same building blocks, we ended up with very different yarns. We spent the day learning about topics as they came up – from tips on using a Lazy Kate to plying with an “Andean” plying bracelet to how to ply more smoothly (pro tip: winding off before plying makes your yarn ply better). We talked about”Navajo” or chain plied yarns, cable plied yarns, and crepe yarns. Most of us had never spun a crepe yarn and wanted to learn, so we focused on that in the afternoon, using 3 different colours of wool to create an unintentionally patriotic yarn.

A crepe yarn is a 3-ply construction where 2 singles are spun in the same direction, then plied in the opposite direction with extra twist added for an extra plying step. A 3rd singles is then spun in the same direction as the first 2 yarns were plied, and the singles and the 2-ply are plied in the opposite direction from the first ply to create a balanced yarn. It’s a really interesting construction and is supposed to be extra strong (so a good idea for high-wear items, like socks). It was really interesting to see how different everyone’s yarns were. Even more than before, we started with the same materials and the exact same directions, and yet no 2 yarns were alike.

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The last bit of class was question and answer with Abby and a quick walk through the market to look at all the pretties.

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I’m the kind of person who doesn’t usually spend money on a class. I’m all about learning from books,You-Tube, or the internet in general because there is just so much information out there these days. What I didn’t realize before this class is that you get so much more from an in-person experience than you can from reading a book or a blog or watching a video. I have been so inspired since taking this class with Abby, and I have been spinning almost non-stop. So next time you are thinking about taking a class – I highly recommend it!

Finished Object: Autumn Entrelac

Last time we talked I was beavering away on my entrelac scarf. I kept it in my bag to knit on while waiting and on trips and in meetings (the kind where I join online and no one can see me. Alas, I have too many in-person meetings). Once I understood the basics of how entrelac works it was easy to pick up for a few minutes here and there. It’s just stockinette with the occasional decrease. It turns out that if you work on something consistently (even if consistently just means a half hour a few times a week) it eventually gets done. I’m pleased to show you my finished scarf.

I handspun the yarn over a year ago. My goal was fat singles, but the end yarn was a little more thick and thin than I really like, but there’s a kind of perfection in the imperfection, right? I can’t wait to wear this with a jean jacket this fall.

Breed Study: Targhee

The materials in this post were put together by my friend Jenn for our spinning group’s fiber study.

Targhee is one of America’s youngest breeds, having been developed this century. The Western sheep industry around 1900 was based on Merino and Rambouillet sheep with the emphasis on raising wool. Shortly after the turn of the century a demand began for lamb and this led to a crossing of the fine-wooled sheep to develop a better lamb producing animal. The most popular method to achieve this goal was the crossing of an English longwool breed with the fine-wooled breeds that were the basis of the Western sheep industry.

To fill this need, the US government began a program of crossing Lincoln rams on Rambouillet ewes, which was the foundation that developed into the Columbia breed. While these crosses were quite popular, many sheepmen felt that the ideal sheep would be 3/4 fine wool and 1/4 long wool, or what was commonly known as a “comeback” sheep, a name that signifies coming back to the Rambouillet from the first coarse and fine cross. To meet this demand, the US Sheep Experiment Station was begun in the fall of 1926 to lay the foundation for such a breed.

The foundation was a group of cross-bred ewes, consisting of Rambouillet, Lincoln, and Corriedale blood that were bred to 9 of the station’s smoothest, thickest Rambouillet rams. After 3 years of the program, 201 first-generation ewes were carefully selected and bred intensely. After 3 generations (about 1938) it had become apparent that a desirable breed had been developed and a larger genetic base was needed. New breeding schemes were developed, using the same original breeds, and the number of Targhees was boosted to over 1,000 sheep. The breed was named Targhee after the national forest where the animals grazed during the summer.

Each ewe will average a 10-14 lb fleece that has a micron measurement of 21-25 and a staple length of 3-5″ with a yield of 50-55%.

Jenn provided us all with a handful of Targhee fiber, and it was luscious! I spun a fine single on my drop spindle, wound it into a butterfly, and plied it back on itself for 15 yards of a fingering weight 2-ply yarn. I will definitely try this one again!

handspun Targhee

 

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

This year I am challenging myself to try new spinning techniques. I learned to spin almost 2 years ago, and until this year almost all of my spinning has been using short forward draw and commercially prepared top to make a Worsted style yarn. When I bought 12 oz of Southdown wool a few weeks ago, I decided the time had come: I would perfect my long draw and learn to make my own rolags.

Rolags are the most “woolen” of any fiber preparation, woolen referring to preparation and drafting techniques that lead to an airy, fuzzy yarn (as opposed to a sleek and shiny yarn made from “worsted” preparation and drafting). Rolags are made by hand with hand cards. I don’t have cards of my own, so I borrowed some from a friend (Thanks, Jenn!), and now I want carders of my own. How many more weeks until SAFF?

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To make a rolag, you start by pulling off a handful or so of your fiber and placing an even layer over the tines of one of the cards so that 1/3 to 1/2 of the fiber length hangs off the end of the card. It doesn’t have to be pretty or aligned. We’ll work on that in the next step.

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Once you’ve got some wool on your card, grab it in your non-dominant hand with the tines facing up. Grab the other card in your dominant hand with the tines facing down and with a gentle sweeping motion just barely catch the ends of the fibers with the tines. Do this again 2-3 more times, working your way up to the edge of the card. The tines of the 2 cards should never scrape against each other.

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You can see in the picture how some of the wool has transferred to the second card (that was in your dominant hand). Now comes the tricky part. You need to transfer the wool from the first card (non-dominant hand) onto the 2nd card (dominant hand). Start by switching which card is in which hand. The 1st card will now be in your dominant hand and the 2nd card will be in your non-dominant hand. Hold the cards horizontally so that the tines are face up and the handles are facing out. Move the 1st card (dominant hand) so that it is about half a fiber-length from the edge of the 2nd card (non-dominant hand). Rotate the 1st card so that it is vertical, hold down the edge of the fiber, and rotate the card until it is horizontal again with the tines facing down. The fiber should all by lying on top of the 2nd card. Congratulations! That’s as hard as it gets!

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Your fiber won’t be perfectly aligned yet, but it will be more aligned than it was at first. Continue carding until your wool is as tidy as you want it to be. I used combed top for this project, and it took me about 3 passes to be satisfied.

Once you are happy with your fiber prep, it’s time to roll it all up into a rolag. You’ll start with all the wool on one card. Take a pair of straight knitting needles (any gauge or material will do) and slide one below the end of the fiber hanging off the edge of your card and the other over the wool to sandwich the fiber in between them. Roll the needles and wool toward you in a burrito until all the wool is off the card. Move the rolag back to the far edge of the card (with the needles still in the center) and roll toward you again to lock the fibers in place. Remove the knitting needles. Voila! You’ve made a rolag!

I have had so much fun making these rolags over the last few weeks. I hope you have a fantastic time, too! Warning: Making rolags may be addictive.

Southdown Rolags

P.S. If you ever need a judge wig, rolags make a pretty good facsimile!

rolag wig

Breed Study: Southdown

My spinning group is doing a breed study this year and June is my turn to present. I decided to highlight Southdown wool because I think it’s pretty fabulous. “Down” breeds come from the “downs” in England and consist of Southdown, Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire. There are a host of other breeds that are considered “down-like,” but these 6 are the true downs. Southdown is the original down breed. The Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire breeds were all created by breeding Southdown with other kinds of sheep to maximize different qualities.

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Photo from BillingsFarm.org

What’s so great about Down wool? It’s springy with a diorganized crimp, the wool doesn’t have a lot of kemp (chalky, brittle fibers) or hair, and is resistant to felting (this is my favorite part). It’s also important to know that most Down breeds are raised for meat, so often their wool is inexpensive (I get mine here). Southdown wool has a micron count of 23-31 and a staple length between 1 1/2 – 4 inches. Because of the springy nature of the wool and the shorter fiber length, Southdown is best when carded and spun woolen. As with any wool, though, you can use it however you like.

I first spun commercially combed Southdown top as a new spinner over a year ago. I had a spindle and some wool and I wanted to learn everything, so away I went, spinning the wool Worsted (short forward draw). I loved how this yarn came out. The wool was so easy to spin with – just enough drag to draft nicely, but not enough to make me really work for it.

Spinning Southdown wool on a drop spindle

Later, I spun more of this same top when as a learning exercise (I wanted to be able to spin thick singles). The yarn ended up delightfully thick and thin.

thick and thin singles yarn - Southdown wool

I was curious about how resistant this wool is to felting, so I knit up a few swatches to do some very scientific research.

Southdown swatches

The first swatch was my control: I washed it with wool wash in hot water, squeezed out as much water as I could, and laid it flat to dry.

Southdown swatch 1

For the second swatch I let it soak in hot water for a few minutes, then shocked it with cold water. I continued shocking the swatch back and forth between hot and cold water several times and rubbed the swatch to maximize any felting that would take place. Other than a little fuzziness, this swatch looks almost exactly like the first swatch.

Southdown swatch 2

With my third swatch I decided to go all out. I washed and dried it with the rest of my laundry. After going through the wash, the swatch looked exactly like my second swatch: a little fuzzy, but still in great shape. It shrunk lengthwise and widened width-wise a little in the dryer. This was the most dramatic change of the 3 swatches, but I still wouldn’t say the wool felted.

Southdown swatch 3

I’m wearing a swatch under my shirt as I type this, and it is a tiny bit itchy. If you have sensitive skin I wouldn’t recommend Southdown as a base layer, but it would make an excellent and hard-wearing sweater or jacket. Conversely, because of the springiness of the wool, Southdown would make great socks!

Now that I’ve done a little more study on the breed, I’m taking commercially prepared top and carding it into rolags to see the difference it makes in the yarn.

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Look at that loft! I can’t wait to knit this up!

Spinning Innocence

Earlier this year I made a goal to finish my WIPs, which I then proceeded to ignore. New projects are just so much more beguiling! I did manage to finish one thing though.

While digging through my spinning stash, I found a partially filled bobbin and a few ounces of superwash BFL. The bobbin went back on the wheel and I busied myself with spinning the singles. When it cane time to ply I wanted to do something a little different, so I pulled out my bead stash and decided to add peach glass seed beads and a few rose beads from my wedding.

Do you see the problem in the picture? I strung about 8 ounces of beads on a single. It was bound to be unmanageable and eventually break. Once it did break I changed my tactic: I only strung an ounce (ish) of beads at a time, breaking the single every time I needed to add beads, and rejoining as I plied. It wasn’t the most enjoyable of plying adventures, but look at the resulting yarn!

So lovely! I ended up with 280 yards of DK weight yarn, and it is oh so soft. I would definitely recommend spinning with superwash BFL. It is a dream to work with, although you do end up with quite a lot of fiber stuck to your clothes. I don’t have a plan for this yarn yet, but for now I am content to leave it as a skein of innocence.

Breed Study

I am part of a spinning group at my LYS. We meet twice a month, and this year we have decided to do a breed and fiber study. So once a month our meetings will focus on a specific wool breed or fiber, and we will all take turns teaching each other about them.

January’s focus was on Blue Faced Leicester. What a luscious fiber! I have only spun BFL once before (as part of my Skywool), and I had forgotten how easy it is to spin! The fiber we were provided with has a staple length of about 6 inches. The wool is wavy, rather than crimpy, and it is a commercial top preparation.

From about 1 1/4 oz I spun 92 yds of singles at my default spinning size of a light fingering/lace weight (Spun S). I like the yarn to be tight and plump when plied, so I spun with quite a bit of twist. In addition to trying a new type of wool. I decided to try a new plying method by cable plying my yarn. So after I spun my singles I plied both ends together, adding more twist than I would for a balanced yarn (Plied Z). I then plied both ends together again to create the cable ply (plied S). This resulted in 23 yards of a thick, almost ropy, Aran weight yarn, and I love it to bits!

 

Do you have a favourite kind of wool to work with? What about a new technique that you’ve recently learned?