Monday, 19 November 2007

In which I cook my handspun

I had a very fibre-y weekend, actually.

On Saturday I went to a meeting of the Wiltshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers . I've been meaning to get around to this ever since we moved down here to Wiltshire some months ago, and finally I managed to get myself there. First there was the AGM, and then an informal spinning afternoon, which I really enjoyed.

My spinning output so far is really quite pitiful - one small skein of natural Blue Faced Leicester from the spindle -

This was the usual moderately lumpy 'first yarn', plied using handy plying.

And then from the wheel, first, one very small skein of natural BFL plied with dark green merino - (the blue is a little bit of merino/silk that someone gave me to play around with, I found it really difficult to draft) -

and then another small skein of two ply BFL from Fleece Artist, colourway Pinata, 35 grams, 275 metres.

That would work out something approaching laceweight, I suppose, as 100 grams would correspond to about 785 metres.

This is literally all the spinning that I have ever done.

I don't actually like the two ply Fleece Artist at all. I know that it looks moderately pretty here, but in real life the colours don't merge pleasantly, and although the plying hides a multitude of sins with regard to unevenness in the single, I still don't find the finished result appealing.

Anyway, I had one and a bit bobbins of that same single from the Fleece Artist Pinata which have been sitting on the Kate for a while now, and I haven't felt much enthusiasm for working on it any more. So, I thought I would play around with Navajo plying for a bit, and see how it worked for me, the idea being that at least it would free up a bobbin fairly quickly.

I haven't tried this before - well obviously not, you've seen the sum total of my spinning. Anyway, Navajo plying is a method of producing a three ply yarn from a single strand. Basically, you chain it, just like a crochet chain, with links as long as you like - and put twist in as you go.

I found this went very smoothly, which was a pleasant surprise. It is easy to get into a good rhythm, counting the treadles and drawing out the links in the chain one after another. I worked with links about 15" or 18" long (40 - 45 cm I suppose) and it went really fast, so that on Saturday afternoon I managed to get the whole bobbin plied up, and then I skeined it up on the niddy noddy.

I didn't mention the niddy noddy, did I? I bought that on Saturday too, at the guild meeting, a complete bargain at £2.50. And it is adjustable, too!

Anyway, much to my surprise, I rather like this as a three ply. The colours are kept clearer and more distinct working like this, and the whole thing looks much better. It doesn't look nearly so blue as in this picture though. I wish that it did, I still don't really love the green, it is a bit overwhelming.

By the way, this weighs 40 grams, and it is a bit more than 180 metres long. So, something close to sock weight, I think. It would have 450 metres to 100 grams.

Next step, setting the twist. This stuff had been sitting on the bobbin for so long that it had effectively lost all its twist energy, so I wanted to do something to set it once it was plied.

Pan of warm water, drop of Fairy liquid, lay the skein on the top of the water and let it gradually absorb the water and sink - and then put it on a low heat. It was at this point that my husband looked into the kitchen and asked if I was going to fry it, boil it, or poach it. Heh. Well, none of those, actually.

I did this before with the Fleece Artist 2 ply, and it is what Patricia Gibson Roberts recommends in 'Spinning in the Old Way'. What you do is bring it very very slowly up to the gentlest simmer imaginable. And very important - no stirring, no prodding. Just leave it completely alone. This is the difficult bit, actually.

For a woollen spun yarn, you turn the heat off immediately it reaches a simmer and then you let the whole lot cool to a manageable temperature - for a worsted spun yarn you keep it at the gentle simmer for ten minutes, then let it cool. For this yarn, which is semi worsted I suppose - it certainly isn't woollen spun - I kept it at the simmer for just 5 minutes, and then let it cool.

After that, into the sink for a careful but thorough rinse in warm water - no letting the water run onto the yarn, and no temperature shocks, of course! - and then another rinse with just a little bit of fabric conditioner in the water.

Then into a mesh bag and spin in the washing machine. This feels just so wrong, and I didn't do this step last time with the 2 ply. But I decided to have courage and trust Ms Gibson Roberts, who does know what she's talking about, after all. So, spin cycle in the machine, in a mesh bag to keep it all together. Then take it out of the bag, crack the skein like a whip several times, put it around both hands and snap it several times, move the skein round a bit and snap it some more - and hang it to dry.

That's where it is at the moment. More when it's dry!

And I've been swatching with the Pakucho Cotton, as well. I actually knit a swatch, you know. I feel quite proud of myself, really I do. Then I put it in the washing machine with a pair of jeans, and then into the tumble dryer, still with the jeans. And that's where it is at the moment, as well. So, once again, more when it's dry!

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