Posts Tagged ‘Yarn’

 

I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I am getting out of my new Merino fleece recently imported from Stuart Albrey at Fine Fiber Farms in New Zealand

According to Margaret Stove The Merino wool of New Zealand is among the finest and highest quality wool fiber to be found anywhere in the world and I second this opinion. The New Zealand climate is just perfect for this particular breed and quality of wool and the sheep can be raised out of door without any coats on and without getting chaff and other veggie matter in the wool. It is super clean, ultra fine and soft and surprisingly white.

Spinning a raw fleece this fine is not like anything I have ever hand spun before and I’ve been spinning for many years. I really had to throw all of my preconceived rules and ideas out the window and just experiment over and over until I got it right. This very fine Merino wool is stretchy and elastic with a great deal of crimp. It is fine to the point of being vulnerable and it needs to be handled very lightly and carefully if you don’t want to stretch or damage the fibers, especially when wet.

A lot of what I learned about spinning this wonder fiber was from the amazing Margaret Stove through a video purchased at Interweave press called “Spinning for Lace “. I also have everything that Deborah Robson (Handspinning Rare Wools ) and Judith MacKenzie ( “Three Bags Full ” or “A Spinners Toolbox“) have published. These ladies have done so much work to share their vast knowledge of wool and spinning with the rest of us and I just thank them so much for all that I have learned from each of them.

Spinning Merino for Lace with Margaret Stove involves working with individual locks of fiber. It is tactile pleasure paradise from moment one and the slow cloth mindset is very necessary. So with a “mind like water” and immersed in the moment I began by separating out these lovely locks, one from another, and laying them out side by side on a piece of cloth in preparation for washing. I actually started my washing with a bit of advise from Margaret Stove. Here is how I washed my first batch.  I picked up a single lock and dipped 2/3 of it into very (almost boiling) hot water and then rubbed it vigorously on a bar of soap. Horrors, you say? as I did when I first saw this, but guess what… it works! yes, the lubrication of so much soap seems to keep it from felting together. I then dipped the lock into equally hot rinse water and squeezed, turned it end for end and repeated the process. When I had all of the locks washed and rinsed I rolled them in a towel and squeezes out the excess water. After a surprisingly small amount of time they puffed right up and were dry and ready to comb. The second and all subsequent batches of washing I did a little differently. My method is from Judith MacKenzie and is very close to that taught by Margaret Stove with the addition of heat under the wash pot and a slightly different way of keeping the locks in line so they can’t move around in the wash water.  I go into greater detail here and here but I will just say the locks are sorted and  laid out side by side on a light cloth (I used a piece of old window curtain this time). the cloth is folded over to keep the locks securely in place. Lots of detergent (I used Tide liquid) and very hot water was added. I then put the pot on the stove top on low for 30 min. The high and constant heat is needed to melt the dense wax and grease found on Merino wool.  I let it cool to warm, rolled up the bundles to keep the individual locks from moving and rinsed under the tap with same temperature water. Roll in a towel and squeeze out excess moisture and lay flat to dry.

Combing is “the only way” to prepare this fiber for lace yarn. You really don’t want to go through all of this and end up with something that felts and pills and wears out before your eyes. You want a yarn that will be strong and smooth and careful preparation at every step of the process is a must. Remember your mind like water, be here now, right in this moment doing this work. It is really very pleasant if you don’t try to rush it.  So the drum carder will be used for another project at another time. I will confess here and now that since I have started combing I may never need the drum carder again. I love the combs!  Some I did on my Louet mini combs and some on my handmade viking combs that I bough on Etsy from BenjaminGreenStudio and I LOVE THEM!  To use the big combs I had to break off the tips or brush them out with a dog brush. They are probably a little open for this fine fleece but I got it combed after a few passes and enjoyed every second of it.

At the spinning wheel I tried to follow Margaret’s advise. There was so much to remember and the technique was not exactly what I was used to but I tried to keep the tension of the fiber as I drafted so that the twist would go in with the fiber crimp stretched out. If the crimp is flattened when the twist goes in the yarn will always be trying to regain the crimp and your yarn is springy and elastic. I guess she must have mentioned not to stretch it, just a gently tension, but of course I did stretch it and the first skein I made was just coiling and unruly like a curly boucle.

One of my problems was the stretching but another one was twist. You cannot just ply this lovely fine fiber back to balanced by checking it in the usual way. The twist has “set” in the singles even if it has only been sitting on the bobbin for a few hours. If you put some ply twist in and check this yarn by letting a bit hang between your hand and the orifice you will find it will look balanced but will actually not have nearly enough ply twist in the yarn. You will have to put in enough twist to make a 45 degree angle and you will find it balances only after washing. Handle the singles very very carefully as you ply and do not stretch or your yarn will be unbalanced and unruly. Ask me how I know?

I’m knitting the Queen Sylvia Shawl by Nancy Bush from Knitted Lace of Estonia.

Next in this project: Managing Color in a Raw Fleece

     I spun this yarn for a customer in DK (3 Light) weight from some lovely moorit or brown shetland wool. It was spun from a combed preparation and I pulled off several staple lengths and held them folded over my finger. Spinning from the fold with a long draw and a very light touch, gave me a wonderfully airy and bouncy yarn that is not too fuzzy. I think it’s the best way to spin this wool for knitting. It will last a very long time, it is more consistant and will show the stitch definition much better than a true woolen yarn but has all of the bounce and airy lightness of a woolen yarn. This method will also keep the wool from pilling as much … if at all. While the wool of the Shetland Sheep is not as “next to the skin” soft as the Merino and others like Polwarth and Corriedale, many wool lovers not only like to wear Shetland wool but prefer it to it’s softer and less robust peers. Many use the finer Shetland for next to the skin wear and even for baby things.

The Shetland is a small sheep originating in the Shetland Isles. When the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was set up in the 1970′s The Shetland was considered a Rare Breed and was listed with them as Category 2 – Endangered. Since that time the Shetland has become more popular with many smaller farms and has graduated to Category 6 – Other Native Breeds. This is excellent news for us as spinners. The Shetland produces a variety of characteristics in it’s wool from the superfine wool from around the neck area that is chosen for Shetland lace shawls to the sturdier wool for use in garments that are made to last for many years. Shetland sheep are also very well know for the variety of shades and natural colours in which their fleece will grow. The Shetland sheep is hardy, adaptable and long-lived. Their wool has been used, traditionally, in fine shawls and Fair Isle knitting patterns.

Order Custom Handspun Shetland Wool in your choice of yarn weights. Design it yourself hand spun Shetland wool yarn

 

Meredith has just sent me a few pictures of the sweater vest she created with the last of the Mango Merino Wool and Silk that I spun up into a yarn for her.

She’s amazing. When I spin for Meredith she doesn’t ask for yardage or WPI and I don’t have to match a gauge. She lets the yarn do the talking and doesn’t even decide what it will be until she’s had it in her hands for a while. This is creative freedom at it’s best.

Meredith has also generously sent me a testimony for our testimonials section.

Here’s what she says about the yarn and a few pictures. Thanks Meredith

” I ordered the merino wool and silk in “mango” and the baby camel and silk custom made yarns from Nancy Elizabeth Designs. Never having used hand-spun yarn, when it arrived the color and texture took my breath away. As an intuitive knitter, I let the yarn carry my thoughts and garment design and was excited by the results. For an unschooled knitter, this extraordinarily high quality yarn allowed me to a one-of-a-kind artsy original to suit my taste.”

Gaywool Colourful Merino and Silk Yarn

 

I have one little skein, only about 1/4 of what I’ll need for my socks but I am very proud  of it and it was hugely satisfying to create. These socks will certainly qualify as “Slow Cloth“.

I am only just learning that there is a movement toward and a name for my own philosophy and passion in the my Fiber Art. I love the notion of slowing down in order to have quality rather than quantity in life. The idea that Fashion should be less dependent on rapidly changing trends and colors (fast money for the rich) and more about quality, sustainability, and thoughtfulness in design and materials. The things we create we  should make with care and there should be an expectation that they will have meaning to us. Herein lies great Joy in the creative process.

Slow Cloth

From Elaine Marie Lipson Red Thread Studio

Joy Slow Cloth has the possibility of joy in the process. In other words, the journey matters as much as the destination. Contemplation Slow Cloth offers the quality of meditation or contemplation in the process. Skill Slow Cloth involves skill and has the possibility of mastery. Diversity Slow Cloth acknowledges the rich diversity and multicultural history of textile art. Teaching Slow Cloth honors its teachers and lineage even in its most contemporary expressions. Materials Slow Cloth is thoughtful in its use of materials and respects their source. Quality Slow Cloth artists, designers, crafters and artisans want to make things that last and are well-made. Beauty It’s in the eye of the beholder, yes, but it’s in our nature to reach for beauty and create it where we can. Community Slow Cloth supports community by sharing knowledge and respecting relationships. Expression Slow Cloth is expressive of individuals and/or cultures. The human creative force is reflected and evident in the work. My Sock Yarn

I prepared a wonderfully soft and bouncy Polwarth fleece from New Zealand by a method I learned from Judith MacKenzie. You can read more about how I washed the fleece to prepare it for worsted spinning here and here.

Each lovely clean lock was flicked open at both ends and hand spun with the tip end toward the wheel to a very fine strand of yarn wherein all of the fibers were not only presented tip end first but all lined up parallel with just a bit of tension on the fiber as it twisted so that it would always be trying to regain the crimp that is natural to it, thus producing a nice elastic thread. When I had 3 bobbin done I plyed them together which resulted in a yarn that is a 3 ply worsted. It is elastic, soft and very durable. It is a little finer than my commercially spun sock yarn @ an average of 16 – 18 WPI.I can’t wait to cast on for my socks!

Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way individual Polwarth locks showing the 4 + inches of staple length The raw Polwarth fleece before any washing. Isn’t it wonderful, so clean.

I thought it was time to post an update to “Spinning the Spotted Fleece”.

The sweater now has a name. It will be called Jacob. I will probably do a pattern for it after I’ve knit it in another colour pattern for variety.

I’ve had quite a few orders for handspun yarns so the knitting is coming along rather slowly. I’m at the neck shaping. We tried it on and it’s within an inch of exact measurements which makes me very happy. That can definitely be worked out with washing and blocking.

Yesterday I got out one of the wonderful Polwarth fleeces I imported from New Zealand where they are able to produce some of the finest and highest quality wool in the entire world.

Polwarth

The Polwarth is not a rare breed but its fleece certainly has enough wonderful characteristic to make it a favorite among hand spinners, knitters and those who wear their creations. It is a dual-purpose sheep, developed in Victoria, Australia in 1880; they were first introduced into New Zealand in 1932. It has been crossbred to 75 percent Merino and 25 percent Lincoln. Polwarth wool is similar to Merino in softness but has a longer staple length and more sheen or luster. It is fine and soft, suitable for knitted or woven garments, knitting yarns and apparel, baby clothing and fine fibre blends that can easily be worn next to the skin. Polwarth wool is also excellent for felting. The fibers average about 23 microns and the staple length approx. 7.5-11cm (3-4.5in).

For the handspinner Polwarth fleece is a dream to spin. The softness combined with the longer fiber length and luster allow us the maximum pleasure and possibilities for preparation method, spinning technique and finished product for yarn or final garment.

Preparing the Polwarth Fleece

Because it is a medium length staple I was able to choose between woolen or worsted method for my preparation before spinning. This decision had to be made even before I washed it as there are different washing methods depending on whether one will be carding, combing or flicking the locks to open them for hand spinning. I decided that since I could do either, I would do some of each.

Woolen

A woolen yarn is airy and light, usually fuzzier with fibers going every which way and trapping lots of air. Woolen yarn is very warm but, in general, not as durable as a worsted yarn. The fibers are of various lengths and are carded to intentionally mix them up. It is spun by a method which should wrap this net of fibers around large pockets of air. The resulting yarn is light and springy.

Worsted

For worsted yarn the fibers are combed. This process will not only line up all of the fibers so they all go into the yarn in a parallel fashion but it

also rids the prepared wool of any shorter or broken pieces as well as all chaff and vegetable matter. The yarn is spun with the intention of keeping the individual fibers parallel, straight and smooth without any fuzzy texture. The resulting yarn is higher in luster and usually feels softer to the touch because there are less ends sticking out. It will be stronger, more durable, smoother and elastic if spun with the correct technique.

Washing for Woolen Preparation

I washed the fleece sections that I intended to spin into a woolen yarn in a large pot full of very very hot water and detergent (I used liquid Tide). I let it sit in the water for about an hour, squeezed out as much soapy water as I could gently, then carefully put it into another pot of clear *same temperature* water to rinse. I like to rinse until the water comes clean but it won’t hurt to leave a bit of detergent in the fiber as you will be washing your yarn when it is finished. This is similar to the way I wash in the machine. See this post.  I rolled the wool in a thick towel and applied pressure to draw out some of the water and spread the fleece on an old sheet to dry.

Washing for Worsted Preparation

I think this is important enough to have its own page (here) but I’ll give a summary on this one. There are several popular methods for washing individual locks of wool for worsted spinning but the one I find most efficient and appealing to me I learned from Judith MacKenzie. You can find her books & DVD’s at Interweave Press. Three Bags Full would be the one with this information in it. What a wonderful woman and oh, so knowledgable! I really enjoyed these videos. Individual locks are pulled from the fleece intact, sorted & laid out on an old piece of cloth side by side and tip to tip. They are then folded and immersed in soapy water, simmered on the stove, cooled and rinsed under the tap. Simply amazing results, see my pictures below. THANK YOU JUDITH!

Now, to do some spinning and I’ll get back to you with the results.

The raw Polwarth fleece before any washing. Isn’t it wonderful, so clean. Polwarth wool laid out in preparation for washing the worsted way Folding locks of Polwarth fleece in cotton cloth for washing. Prepaing the Polwarth fleece locks for washing in worsted preparation Polwarth fleece locks laid out on cloth and folded ready for washing individual Polwarth locks showing the 4 + inches of staple length Polwarth wool locks washed and flicked with dog brush to open the fibers for spinning Polwarth fleece washed for woolen method in pot of hot water and detergent.

Choosing a fleece with contrasting colours. This one has just black and white in what seems to be equal parts – that’s very dark brown and cream, of course

The testing and planning for this project may just be the most fun part. I have now washed, carded or combed, spun and knit swatches (or small projects) from 4 of my stashed fleeces. I’ve been working with the multi coloured fleeces this time because I wanted some colour texture in my sweater. This one is a Jacob from Great Britain. It’s for Earl. I considered my choices for working with the stark contrast of the colours in this fleece. I could do a relatively homogeneous blending for a smooth mottled look, I could keep the colour separate and ply a white with a black for a ragg look, or I could try to keep the colours separate and use them to form some kind of colour pattern. I decided on the later and choose a random colour pattern as I felt it would be closest to the true nature of the fleece as it appeared on the sheep’s back. There are lots of grey fleeces out there, why make this one look like them?  In order to keep the colours separate they had to be plyed by the Navajo method. This produces a 3 ply yarn. I made mine a worsted weight (4 Medium) about 35 yards/ ounce and about 9-10 WPI. Although I love to card or comb by hand, I do use my roving carder for larger project where I really want to get on with the task of knitting it so that is how I’ve been preparing this one for spinning. I knew I had to be careful with any stark white areas as they would pop out visually so most of the white has some degree of black mixed in. Each time I load the carder it has some of each colour. It is in the carding, to a degree, but more so in the separating and arranging of the bats for spinning that the “painting” of the colour pattern takes place. I’ve been knitting each ball as it comes from the spinning wheel so that I have a feel for how I want the next colour pattern to work out. Updates Here

Woot! My Alpaca arrived today and I’m in heaven.

I ordered a few bags to start with just to see how I liked it and I will definitely be going back again. This is beautiful fiber from ladyolivia Alpaca Avenue  by Kerstin Kerr on Etsy. So soft and clean and very fine. It was easy to spin into a fingering weight yarn as 2 ply so I’m sure I could do lace or DK with ease even if I had to go to a 3 ply for Worsted weight.

Now, I just have to decide what to knit with it. Mittens or fingerless gloves maybe? ideas?

Still working on the patterns. I`ve got a bit knit on the Adult Hoodie and it`s going to be amazing.

The Patterns are posted to the Nancy Elizabeth Designs web site and Etsy and Craftsy. I am just getting my Ravelry `Yarnies“ account set up. When that is ready I`ll put the handspun on Ravelry.

This is the chart that I reference for spinning custom orders for handspun yarns

The thing I`ve been really working hard at this week is getting a chart made for the handspun yarns. I`m going to try something different. I want to spin the yarn to order Custom Made Handspun Yarn. I need to know, first, what all of the specs are for each yarn weight like yards per oz or pound as well as WPI or wraps per inch and suggested gauge and needle size according the the Craft Yarn Council and Ravelry which I consider the 2 greatest authorities on Yarn and knitting worldwide. I have come up with this chart as the standard for my yarns.

I have also developed formulas for the handspinning so that I can come up with the correct weights and measures for the requested yarn. However, I do plan to be in close contact with my customers so that I can truely make this a custom experience and spin the yarn for each individuals needs.  This is very exciting.  Here is my philosophy for why I am offering the yarns that I choose to spin.

Back to Basics – Simple and Elegant

I love clean and simple lines in a design and a classic traditional look. I believe it adds an elegance that cannot be acheived otherwise. Although I adore colour and use it often I can also see great value in using the colours of our natural fibers as they appear in nature. I find this to be expecially true with handspun yarn. If the design is right the handspun yarn will really “sing” in your project as it will be the focus itself with it’s lovely subtle variations and textures.The eye will not be distracted and confused by the multitude of colours often found in handspun yarns.

I’ve been trying to decide what to offer in handspun yarn. I notice an abundance of stunning multicolored handspun yarns that honestly look good enough to eat and I want them all. However, there are time when I also want something other than colour from a yarn. I decided to offer some natual colour, and hand dyed solid coloured yarns. Even though a photo of an individual skein may not be as eye catching as one of a delighful multicolored yarn, there are certainly times when they are preferable in my knitting projects. I use my natural or hand dyed solids when I want my design to show. When I want to showcase the style, the line, the drape of the design as well as the lovely organic texture of the handspun yarn. If the stitch pattern or shaping of your beautiful knitting is the focus of the piece then you may not want all of the confusion of colour to interfere.