Category Archives: Fiber prep

The spinning of Pepé Le Pew

Five years ago, I bought a 4-oz bump of 70/30 Shetland wool and tussah silk blend. I spun a tiny bit of it on a spindle and then life, etc, twins born, blah blah, until I pulled it out again a month ago, when I received the unexpected gift of daily spinning time.

My first grader moved into a new reading level at the end of February. Her previous daily reading assignment consisted of us reading a short book together every afternoon, but in this new level, now she reads part of a chapter book aloud to me for 30 minutes daily. I no longer need to hover over each page and correct myriad mistakes, I just listen and question obvious errors. I’ve been learning a lot about magic treehouses, sigh.

On the plus side, one can actually get quite a bit of spinning done in 30 minutes per day. 😉 This is more spinning than I’ve done in a year, probably.

I made medium-weight singles and 3-plied them to make a bouncy worsted weight yarn. It feels good to squeeze.

I didn’t have a project in mind and thus didn’t bother with measuring yardage. I have no project planned because the yarn itself is not great. The Shetland fiber was distressingly full of short, wiry kemp. Had it been a fleece, I would have rejected it. As expected, the kemp is shedding out like mad.

Sadly, the yarn is too coarse for next-to-skin items, which rules out small projects like scarf, mitts, hat, etc. I was idly considering a Zoom Loom, but what would I do with 4 oz of scratchy, hairy, shedding squares? So this skein will go to the stash bucket to marinate, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Random Tuesday

Random thing 1: Someone recently e-mailed me about a very cool variant on the DNA scarf. I think this is highly awesome.

Image by Jamie P

See more pics here (rav link) or here (non-rav link).

Random thing 2: I was browsing through the site of a former infertility blogger (now mommy of 2 boys, 1 about Meredith’s age). She recently moved to Turkey and posted pictures of a carpet shop that she visited with her family. She mentioned the dyes, the knotted pile, and included a picture of a woman spinning.

Image by Wendi K

I was really tickled by this photo. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “a Turkish spindle! In Turkey! How neat is that?!” (Ha ha ha I AM TIRED.) Looks like she’s using it as a support spindle to make worsted-weight singles. Nifty.

Random thing 3: Acting on the advice of Etherknitter and others, I recently sent off a superfine Merino (gracefully aged 7 yrs in my stash, purchased from here) to Morro Fleece Works. I figured it would be at least 6 mo before I saw it again. Wrong! Shari e-mailed and said it would be done this week!

Random thing 4: If you’re a breastfeeding (or otherwise busty) gal who has a hard time finding tailored blouses that close over “the girls” without pulling or gaping, Carissa Rose clothes are designed for you. They have a special sale going on as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Click here for details. NAYY, other than a previous customer.

Image by Carissa Rose

Random thing 5: My babies are now in full-time day care. They are doing mostly well, although Casey is (after 1 week) still very reluctant to accept bottles of breastmilk during the day. The day care ladies have tried everything – our latest trick is to have someone drape on a shirt that I’ve worn, in case the scent helps. (Interestingly, the only caregiver who has had any success feeding her also happens to be a nursing mom – coincidence?)

Jordan, Casey

We see the pediatrician in another week for their next wellness appointment, but can anyone please offer me a reassuring story in the meantime?

That silk/wool blend

The fiber that I sent to Wooly Knob is back! Actually, it was waiting for us when we returned from Rome (couple-week turnaround!), but I didn’t have a chance to talk about it until now.

To refresh your memory, I sent them this:


This is what I got back:

Well, knock me over with a feather – it’s PLUM colored! I opened it up, and it was so unlike the original fibers, I could not remember what I had sent to them for about 10 minutes. Did any of you think it would look like this?!

I also sent out some Blueface Leicester x Border Leicester wool that I had washed and dyed.

This was processed by Spinderellas; I asked that it be carded and pindrafted. Lynn sent it back within a week or so – love her service!

It’s in a big, tall bag, and it puffs up when opened. It’s taller than our large-scale furniture!

I haven’t had a chance to spin either of these. Where is my time?!?!

Dyes and blends

Last weekend, I was peeking into the fiber storage bins and came across a partial fleece that I had forgotten about. It’s a naturally colored Corriedale – chocolate brown with silver fibers, slightly bleached tips, almost VM free (from a covered animal). I bought it years ago, scoured it, and put it away.

Isn’t it just gorgeous? Here’s a closeup of a single lock:

I think the final weight was a little over a pound. I didn’t want to card it myself, but it seemed somewhat wasteful to send fiber out for processing when the total weight was that low. I dug up some bleached tussah silk for blending. (Remember I said I was soaking silk last weekend for a dye session?)

One rarely sees the combination of brown and pink in roving (I hope it’s not because that’s a vomitous combination!), and Valentine colors were sort of strong in my mind. I didn’t exactly want the classic carnation pink and thought I’d tone the pink down with purples. This was dyed in the turkey roaster, mostly by sprinkling dye powders, although I did use some of the old dyestocks that I have gadding about in the laundry room. I used Washfast acid dyes and citric acid, the colors include Deep Red, Raspberry Sorbet, Mulberry, and some kind of purple (sorry, I forgot!).

Before the photo session, I drafted the top a little, otherwise it looked like a wet cat. I am really happy with how this turned out – even though I bumped my hand when I was pouring the dyestock and dumped a big bolus of purple in the middle of the roaster.

The wool and silk will be carded together into roving – the final ratio is about 80/20 (OK, for you bean counters out there, it’s 78/22). Altogether, it’s almost 2 lbs of fiber, so even with carding waste, I’ll get enough back for an adult-size project. I’m sending this to the guys at Wooly Knob – they did a really nice job with the last stuff I sent them, and for once, I think I need their long turnaround time.

Next up in the destashing, I have 2 pristine balls of Reynolds Odyssey, plus ~32 g of a leftover ball. The reason the leftover is in a plastic baggie is because when I was knitting from it, it was exposed to cats. The other 2 were taken out of the original bag only for photographing and thus are as cat-free as anything can be in my house.

ETA – Yarn has sold

The yarn forms subtle stripes as it is knit. I think this should be sufficient yardage for a pair of fingerless mitts, a hat, or even a pair of (smallish?) mittens. According to Webs, the yarn retails for $9.95/ball. How ’bout we say $12 for the whole thing, and I’ll pay first-class shipping in the US?

I also tried weaving on a very small scale last year. I don’t think I ever talked about it because I was not excited about the project. In any case, my uninterest is your gain!

ETA – Looms have sold

This is a Hazel Rose Loom Tiny Weaver set. They are very similar to Weavette looms. This handmade set retails for $39.95 plus shipping (my receipt from March 2006 shows $49.13). I made 3 squares using this tutorial and decided it was not for me. I have some good “practice yarn” – 100% wool, worsted weight singles, pretty colors, but scratchy as hell – I will throw in a bit of that so you don’t have to sacrifice any yarn while you figure out how to weave. I’ll let this go for $30 and split the USPS priority mail shipping cost with you.

Alpaca/CVM for sale

ETA – The fiber has sold. Thanks for your interest!

Sad as I am to let go of some of my custom-milled fibers, I’m going to do some destashing this year. Frankly, I need the storage space (tho the cash wouldn’t be bad, either), and I’m told that my priorities will change abruptly after the baby is born… 😉

So – first on the chopping block is ~2 lbs of an alpaca-CVM blend (50/50). This is made from naturally colored greyish black alpaca (I purchased this from Australia) and naturally colored pale grey CVM wool (from Myrtle Dow, Black Pines Sheep).

The fiber was washed by me, processed by the fine boys at Wooly Knob, and has been sitting in the stash for a long time. The fiber has no insects, no exposure to pets, and no smoke. Best of all, it has virtually no VM.

I’m asking $2/oz, minimum order of 2 oz ($4). Shipping will be via first class mail in the US (my zip code is 55057), and shipping charges (and insurance, if desired) will be extra. I prefer paypal but will take personal checks. Fiber ships when payment clears. Please send an email to joshiro-at-gmail-dot-com to confirm availability and total price. Thanks for looking!

Rhinebeck haul

OK, so I didn’t go to Rhinebeck myself. But a week before the event, Claudia pinged and volunteered to do some personal shopping for me! Woo! And hell yeah! I gave her some suggestions (dehaired pygora and/or unique spinning fiber that I can’t buy online) and a budget, and this is what she sent:

8 oz of carded clouds from Spinner’s Hill – a mix of wool, silk, and alpaca
4 oz of dehaired pygora top from Peppermint Pastures

Thank you, Claudia!!! It’s great to have someone who likes to shop on my behalf and knows my preferences so well.

A couple entries ago, when I talked about production spinning, Laritza asked if I knew how long it had taken me to spin and ply the 4 oz of yarn. I thought hard about it but concluded that I actually had NO idea. I decided to see exactly how much free time this darn hobby sucks up. Heh. I’m not rushing myself or trying to meet a deadline, I’m just doing what I do and noting the time when I start and stop.

Thus far, to turn 8 oz of carded clouds into handpulled roving (about the same thickness as a commercial pindrafted top) – 5 hours.

ETA: I previously described how to draft clouds into roving. Check it out here! 🙂

Card and recard

I finished carding the green wool and silk blend that I introduced during my demo on how to create silk blends.

This is after 1 pass:

This is after 2 passes:

I was a little sorry to see the brown streaks disappear. I liked those and thought they brought a touch of contrast to the roving. The white parts of the top lightened the overall color, and everything began to lean toward the blue from the silk. The original colors – brown, green, white, blue – made me think of the earth, sky, and water. Now it sort of reminds me of blue-green algae!

Sadly, it is going back to the stash bucket – too many other spinning projects ahead of it in the queue.

Blending with a drum carder

I don’t do a lot of fiber prep work, generally, but I can be coaxed into it if the project is relatively small. (Larger projects – anything more than 1 pound, really – are sent to professionals.) However, I’ve been doing a little blending at home and wanted to show you how I make fibers for spinning sock yarn.

The hardware:

That’s a doublewide, motorized, Strauch’s Finest carder. Back in the day, I had wanted to get either a Strauch Finest or a Pat Green Supercard for the versatility (coarse to fine fibers), speed, and mechanical quality. I watched the used equipment sources and sprang for the one that came up first. I have no regrets about buying this, although I sometimes still wonder about the Supercard. (That and a right-flyer Wyatt Pegasus – why don’t they ever show up on the used equipment sites?!? LOL.)

The one limitation of this carder is very fine, hand-scoured fibers. (It particularly hated carding this type of wool.) I love the motor (2 hands free for feeding fiber), but because it is single speed, it tends to stretch and sproing or tear fine fibers. Someday, I will haul it to an electrician have a variable-speed motor installed. (Meanwhile, I comb everything that doesn’t card well.) Interestingly, the carder does very nice work with commercial fibers of infinite fineness, and I can card Merino and silk into batts and not have any trouble at all, as you will see shortly.

My carder is pretty old, made by Fricke in the 1980s (I think), and it was not quite functional when it got to me because the drums would slide around. I called Otto Strauch, who recommended that I send it to him for specific upgrades (new aluminum blocks to hold the drums, upgrade of the carding cloth on the licker-in and main drum). However, when I learned that he was in Virginia, my heart sank – I was a graduate student at the time, and I had already paid a ton of money to ship this gigantic, motorized monster. If I had to ship the carder 2 more times, it probably would have meant eating only ramen and cabbage for several months.

But Otto to the rescue! To save me the $X00 of shipping costs, he had me drop it off with his brother (who lived only 1 hr away from me in north Jersey!). Otto drove up from Virginia, drove the carder back to his workshop, and later that summer came back to New Jersey and let me know when I could pick it up. He didn’t know me from a stranger, and he did all of that in the name of customer service and because he is a hell of a nice guy. That’s one of the kindest things a stranger ever did for me – I’ll never forget it. He also gave me (gratis) all the little tools and niceties that come with a new carder (batt picker, cleaning brushes, etc).

So – back to blending! This is the starting fiber – superwash wool (left) and tussah silk (right), both from Spunky Eclectic.

I chose these fibers because I must have socks in superwash wool. Before I knew better, I once made a pair of socks out of handspun, nonsuperwash wool, and I got to wear them twice before they shrank into dwarf socks. I like to use silk instead of nylon for reinforcement. The colorways are similar, but not too similar – the wool has more brown, the silk has more blue.

I measured ~8 g of wool by pulling puffs off the end of the top. This opens up the fiber and prepares it for blending.

I topped off with silk to a final weight of 10 g. (I was aiming for a final proportion of wool/silk of somewhere between 75/25 and 80/20, which is similar to the ratio of wool/nylon in commercial sock yarns.)

For the first pass, I like to apply the fiber directly to the main drum by gently resting the fiber on the drum and letting it slide over the teeth as it turns. I’ve tried feeding it under the licker-in, but it seems more tangle prone during the first pass, probably because I let too much roll onto the main drum at once.

My carder doesn’t have the built-in brush, but a wallpaper brush from the hardware store has worked well for me. I pressed lightly but firmly on the drum as it turned.

I applied alternating layers of wool and silk until I ran out of fiber. Because I was processing only 10 g, I kept everything close to the edge of the drum and tried not to spread it out too far.

After that batt was removed, I easily could see that the fibers were not blended completely. Too much silk (shiny) on this side:

Too much wool (matte) on the other side:

I wasn’t aiming for a completely homogeneous blend, but I didn’t want globs of pure silk and separate pockets of wool. I split the batt into 3 parts, and this time, I fed each one under the licker-in. It will not tangle at this stage.

If too much fiber seemed to be going on the drum at once, I stopped the carder and fluffed the fiber that still was on the loading tray. I also tap-tap-tapped the licker-in with the brush (straight down to the licker-in but moved toward the drum as I lifted) to coax any stray fibers back to the main drum. Generally, when carding commercial top, I try as much as possible to keep the fibers straight and maintain the original worsted prep (but now with more air!).

For this ratio of fibers, I usually get a pretty even blend in 2 passes. Note also that I have no snarled areas and almost no wasted fiber (some sticks to the drum when I doff the batt, a little bit sticks to the wallpaper brush). The front and back of the batt looked pretty similar, so I declared this batt finished!

The color gradations are subtle but still evident. It’ll blend even more with spinning and plying. Each batt is slightly different and thus retains some of the character of the original fibers.

If it’s blended too many times, it appears as a single color (optical mixing). I try to stop before that happens.

Resist-dyeing, revisited

I seemed to have confused people with my description of how I dyed these yarns, so I dyed up more wool and took photos as I went along. (Who says I don’t bend over backward for all y’all?)

This process can be applied to yarn or unspun fiber – in this example, I used ~3 oz of combed Merino top (64 count). I soaked it for 60 min in warm water. While it soaked, I prepared the resist strips.

I used a clear plastic bag to better illustrate the resist, but you can use whatever they hand out at the grocery store.

Cut the bag into strips about 2 inches wide.

Wind the plastic tightly around the fiber, wrapping it several times. Secure the ends with a firm knot.

Tie as many or as few resist strips as you like, in whatever order. You can bind the entire skein together or leave parts untied – the sky is the limit. I tied until I ran out of plastic.

I picked 2 coordinating colors – Country Classic “Spring Green” and Washfast “Grape Juice.” I started with spring green. I set the turkey roaster to 200F, sprinkled in a few teaspoons of citric acid, and sprinkled in some dye. I stirred until everything dissolved and checked to ensure that I had a pastel dye bath.

I dropped the wool into the bath, put the lid on the roaster, and let the dye do its work.

I came back occasionally to rotate the fiber gently, and after 30 minutes, I added a little more citric acid to coax more of the dye onto the fiber.

I waited until the dyebath was mostly exhausted (the pic may or may not show a faint green tinge in the liquor).

I removed the yarn from the bath, squeezed out excess water.

Even with the ties on, you can see that parts of the top are white – they resisted the dye because liquid couldn’t flow through the area. Remove the ties, and this is what you get!

I poured a little more water into the dyebath (no need to change the water, the first color was used up, and the bath might still have some usable citric acid remaining), added more acid, and shook in a small amount of the purple dye. I stirred to dissolve and checked for a pale color again.

I tied fresh ties onto the top and tossed the fiber back in the roaster. Usually, I check the progress about every 10-15 minutes while dyeing to rotate the fiber and ensure even take up. (That’s why the color bands looked fairly consistent after the first dyebath.) Uneven color can be due to a few things – local high concentrations of citric acid from incomplete dissolving (eg, there’s a large, solid, chunk that is diffusing slowly), local high concentration of dye (again, due to incomplete dissolving), and local higher temperature (eg, immediately above or next to the heating element).

Well, I was away for a couple hours because I made dinner, ate dinner, and cleaned up dinner. (We had pizza with homemade crust, Italian chicken sausage, and veggies from my CSA. It was very good.) Without hovering or intervention, the purple struck very darkly in some places and very lightly in others. The blend of colors that come out of the second bath are very interesting to me. Some is white – twice resisted. Some is “pure” green because it was under the resist for the second bath. Some is green overdyed with lavendar or dark purple. Some is pure purple because it dyed white fiber that was under the resist during the first bath.

Don’t the colors get all lovely and complex? It looks like handpainted top, yet I put in only about 5 minutes of work. I didn’t have to make multiple dye stocks, measure weights of fiber or acid, clear out a large table space, or babysit a simmering pot. What’s not to love?

So that’s how I do resist dyeing with plastic grocery bags. I hope it’s clearer now?

For the yarns pictured previously, I did not use any ties for the second dyebath (thus, no white areas). I used previously dissolved, concentrated, liquid dye stocks (eliminating the possibility of chunks of dye powder) and checked those baths frequently to ensure even take up. Unspun fiber is far more forgiving of extreme color values, and I wasn’t as concerned about leaving it undisturbed in the dye pot for a long time.

Anyway, I decided that the project wasn’t finished yet. This wasn’t a particularly nice fiber – despite the “64-count” label, the Merino felt a little harsh (even before dyeing). I thought it might be fun to improve it by blending with silk. I poked around the stash (mmm, advantages of having a big stash) and found some handpainted tussah silk top (from Carol).

A word about color selection – green is a combination of blue and yellow, purple is a combination of blue and red. Because blue was the common color element of the 2 dyes, I selected a blue silk to unite the two. The silk actually is half golden brown and half pale blue. It reminds me of the beach – sand, sun, and water. I chose this fiber for blending with my dyed top also because I hoped the gold would add a little contrast to the green/purple and bring more depth to the combination.

I blended it on the drum carder in a 60/40 ratio of wool/silk. (Hint: a subsequent post will detail how I blend fibers on the drum carder.) Can you believe the transformation?!?

Mmm, it’s like a misty, foggy morning on a lake. The fiber feels lighter and smoother already.

Birth of a skein

I have looked on and off for “true black” huacaya alpaca because I think it would be hilarious to wear something that is the same color as my hair. This fiber is a close match, but in strong sunlight, it shows red highlights on a dark brown base.

Yarn made from pure alpaca is shiny, drapey, and dense – great for wraps and stoles, not so good for sweaters. I knew right away that I wanted to make something suitable for lace knitting. To create the smoothest and sleekest yarn, I chose to comb the fibers. I used double-row Forsyth combs, as I typically do for small jobs. The fiber was combed 4 times, and I picked out knots and second cuts as I saw them.

I always think of Don King whenever I comb fiber. Do you?

I used a needle threader to pull the first tuft of wool through the diz.

I used a short draw (1.0-1.5 inch) to diz alpaca because the fibers don’t cling like wool and will drift apart if you let them. Here’s the trash after all the usable fiber was removed.

Even though the hole in the diz was ~2 mm wide, the fiber puffed up after it passed through the diz. This was how it looked right after it was drawn off the comb.

As such, this wasn’t a “stable” form of fiber and wouldn’t spin easily because the air:fiber ratio was too high. I compressed the top by winding it into a coil and inserting just a little bit of twist as I wrapped it around my fingers. Below is a nest ready to spin. Note that the tip of the top is on the outside – by spinning from this end, I maintained the directionality of the fiber as it came off the comb.

I repeated these steps a million times until I had prepared enough fiber (a little over 100 g) for a decent-size project. I decided to spin this in a worsted fashion to further enhance the shine, maintain density and drape, etc, and used what I think is called a “sliding, supported, point-of-contact, backward long draw.” If you don’t know what that means, you can read Jenny’s explanation here.

By the way, that’s one of my new Walunas fat-core bobbins in action.

Because I usually work with wool and silk, alpaca always makes me stop and think. It is a “hair” fiber, and it behaves quite differently from wool and silk during spinning. I spent some time trying to achieve the correct amount of twist that allowed the singles to hold together but not have the twist so tight that the yarn would be wiry and hard. It took me about 5 g of singles before I got to a happy place. 🙂 I split the spun fiber to 2 storage bobbins and plied.

Nice, hm? Wanna see the closeup?

I bought this fiber via ebay, of all places, but the seller’s Web site is here. (Pleasant person, easy to deal with, and the fiber was exactly as advertised.) She didn’t know the micron count of the fleece; by my crude estimate, it is probably in the mid-to-upper 20s. Just in case my fingers were deceived, I wore the hank around my neck for about 60 minutes, before and after washing to set the twist, and I didn’t get the awful pricklies that would make it unwearable next to the skin. (Remember how I felt when wearing my Peruvian superfine alpaca scarf? Bleargh.)

The twist was set by washing in hot water and laundry detergent. I agitated the skein slightly, gave it a cold rinse to shock the yarn, and spun the water out in the laundry machine. The skein was air dried overnight with the help of a big fan.

Final specs on the yarn: 98 grams, 370 yards (348 m), 2-ply, fingering weight, 100% alpaca, natural black color. That’s enough yarn to finish projects like this, this (scarf version), or this.

Because today is my birthday, I thought it would be fun to give away something. Assuming that it’s OK with Claudia, I am donating this big skein in support of her fundraising efforts. (If you read other knitting blogs, you probably already know that Claudia is but several hundred sawbucks away from becoming perhaps the number 1 fundraiser in her group of peeps who are biking and raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.) For every $10 donated, you get a chance to win something from a slew of fabulous knit-related prizes (explained here). I hope you can help out.