Monday, January 21, 2008

More on Spinning Luxury Fibers, but tomorrow, Mitts!

More spinning today! Sorry Knitters. Come back tomorrow to find out how many tries it took to get going on these swap mitts I’m designing.

Swap Mitts - corrugated ribbing

But, knowing that there ARE spinners among my readers, it occurred to me that in my post on the experience of the Folk School, I didn’t say much that was specific about the fibers, preps, and spinning we did. Rather than try to be exhaustive (and perhaps exhaust your patience), let me share a few things now. Other details of what we learned will probably surface as I spin various projects in the future. It’s photo and link heavy today, I apologize sincerely if you are on dial-up. Remember to click any of the photos for larger images and a few notes. Also, since I didn't put any dimes in the photos, I'll tell you all the samples are lace to fingering weight, except the slubby blue mohair and faux boucle.

Suri alpacas get much dirtier than Huacayas. Both have fine, soft, smooth fiber – the Huacaya with a little more crimp, while the Suri has longer very slightly curled locks with a more slippery feel. The Suri locks seem to lock in whatever they rolled in, and a wash is really desirable before spinning. In contrast, we happily span Huacaya unwashed with just a quick hand-card to open the fibers. Because both are so smooth compared to many sheep wools, more twist is needed to form a cohesive single, but much of the extra twist can be balanced in the plying. Blended with a crimpy wool, as in the purple sample, the Huacaya can be spun with much less twist.

jcc2008 fibers-01
Loved spinning the Huacaya, lightly carded

The Huacaya span easily to a smooth, high twist-per-inch yet still supple, laceweight, as did the Suri, though it wanted a little more twist. The higher twist needed by the Suri made it an ideal partner to ply with tightly spun tussah silk singles.

jcc2008 fibers-02
The silk has a great sheen with the matte hand-dyed suri alpaca

Later, we started with silk hankies, spun somewhat loosely “S” (spin it in the typical plying direction), Suri combed top spun moderately tightly “Z” (the usual spinning direction), and plied them “S” with more tension on the silk than the Suri. The silk twist tightens up nicely while the Suri loops and bumps out a bit, forming a mini-boucle.

jcc2008 fibers-03

Now’s probably the time for me to backtrack and say that my default spinning is a short draw, sort of a hybrid forward/backward, and I tend to spin thin. So, that’s my starting point. For the first day or so, Patsy pretty much just sat us down and told us to spin, suggesting more or less twist. But she didn’t mandate forward, backward, short or long draw, leaving each of us in our comfort zone. At the beginning! I did ask Patsy to give me some pointers, and worked on my long draw during evening free spinning time. What I’ve realized is that, though I still want to practice my long-draw, the yarns I prefer to use, and the desired yarn for most of the things I prefer and am likely to knit with my handspun (lace, socks, someday a sweater), are smooth, worsted or semi-worsted, plied yarns. That’s just me. In the course of the workshop, I’ve learned techniques that I hope to use to make smaller quantities of textured, different, and out-of-the-comfort-zone yarns for accents, or small projects.

French angora bunnies are very fuzzy. And soft. And the only thing that sticks to your clothing more is cut silk when you are hand carding it together with your bunny. After sanding dowels to be used as puni sticks, we hand carded the plucked angora, then rolled it into punis. The fine fibers were spun quite easily to a thin laceweight. The bottom sample is plied on itself, the top sample is plied with ordinary sewing thread then cable-plied.

jcc2008 fibers-05
Yes, the taupe ply is sewing thread, and that IS 4-ply

Remember that Llama-Llama-Duck song? No, for the sake of our sanity I won't link to it. Well, imagine the logistics of a mating between a Llama and an Angora bunny. Llamora. Me neither. Hand-carding can accomplish what Nature cannot. A higher percentage of llama made a smoother yarn, but more angora gave a nice tweedy effect.

jcc2008 fibers-04
Llama, Llama, Bunny

Take some kid mohair locks and card them. Spin ‘em up slubby (spread out the drafting zone and pull some extra fiber forward into the twist). Ply on itself, or with some smooth thin wool singles, or get some thread. I don’t even like thick/thin yarns, but this was just so much fun to make!

jcc2008 fibers-06
Goats just want to have fuh-un

Next, spin some mohair top, not too thin, and with a moderate twist, so it won’t drift apart in the plying. Get a spool of Woolly Nylon serger thread (it’s fuzzy stretchy nylon sewing thread, knitters can use it to reinforce sock heels). Ply keeping the thread very taut and the mohair very lightly tensioned. Give it a soak, and after it dries, when the stretchy thread draws in it pulls loops in the mohair, for a more textured faux boucle.

jcc2008 fibers-07
Good golly, where's my Dippity-Do

Next we experimented with commercially prepared camel down combed top to see if we each liked it better spinning the fiber as is, or after a light hand carding. Since, as you know, I like my worsted-spun yarn, I preferred the combed top, but others found the fiber much easier to spin after loosening it up by carding. The top sample is a hand-carded blend of camel top with cut silk, less silk than camel. I don’t know if you can see the sheen in the photo, but it gave the camel a lighter look and smooth hand.

jcc2008 fibers-08
Bactrian Camel, the one with two humps

What could be better than Cashmere? Maybe cashmere blended with silk? We sampled two types of commercially prepared cashmere. First the light gray is cashmere cloud, a loose, soft, downy fluff of fiber. Given the short staple length, the cloud can be spun with a high twist, just as it is, or lightly carded and rolled into punis for a little more control. The center sample is cashmere top, hand carded with some more of the cut silk. The silk smooths and gives an almost dry crisp hand to the very soft cashmere. Again, both the cut silk and cashmere are very short and need a good bit of twist, which balances out in the plying.

jcc2008 fibers-09
Soft, Softer, Softest

An exotic fiber that we’re starting to hear more about is NZ possum, a fur-bearing distant cousin to our scraggly Virginia oppossums. The fiber is quite short in some cases, though I have some commercially prepared possum that is half-again as long as the fiber Patsy obtained from her hosts on a visit to NZ. In any event, after hand carding the shorn fur, it took a high twist on it’s own, but was easier to spin and ply when blended with either cashmere or silk. The sample has one ply of each blend. Commercially available possum may also be blended with fine wool, which would certainly be easier to manage. Our samples were lightly hand-felted to stabilize the finished yarn and bring out the distinctive halo.

Lastly, alphabetically and otherwise, Yak. The yak down we tried was very very short. It spun easily enough, both on its own and blended with silk. But I failed to put in enough twist, which I only found out when I tried to ply and it kept drifting apart with the slightest tension from the lazy kate. The blend with silk was better than the straight down. So, give yak down a LOT of twist.

jcc2008 fibers-10
Needs twist

And there you have it. We didn’t get to sample qiviut in class, though I’m “this” close to ordering some roving from the University of Alaska’s musk ox farm. Want to see a baby musk ox? Patsy also hadn’t gotten her samples of bison for class. But I’ve just received the latest Wooly Wonka exotic fiber installment, with a lovely 2oz of bison, and I’ll let you know how that spins up.

After all that exotic, luxurious-ness, what’s on my wheel? Wool. Madeline Tosh hand-dyed merino in the Ring of Fire colorway, and I’m spinning for a funky chunky weight 2-ply.

Ring of Fire-1
And the flames went higher