Experiments with Handspinning

I'd like to diverge slightly from the usual knitting menu and talk about my adventures with spinning of late. I bought myself an ever-popular Ashford Traditional spinning wheel at a bargain-basement price last year, while I was in the midst of my Honours year at university. I was surprised that I haven't become obsessed with handspinning, as I seem to with other hobbies, but in the past few days I've done quite a bit of spinning and I really enjoy it. I'd like to share with you the story of a skein that I just finished.

Towards the end of last year, I treated myself with some pre-dyed and pre-processed wool fibre in a variety of pink shades from Wingham Wool Work in the UK. Why buy British wool if I'm in Australia, with its huge sheep population, producing high-quality fibre? As I've said in a previous post (shows how much you've been reading, Geez), I object to the practice of mulesing, where the rear end of a lamb is skinned (usually without anaesthesia) to prevent infection. This is done commonly in Australia, especially with merino sheep, so it's hard to find certified non-mulesed sheep fibre from Australia. Wingham Wool Work claims to have no wool from mulesed sheep, so they're a winner in my eyes. Prior to my acquisition of this wool, I had been buying small amounts of raw alpaca fleece from The Alpaca Shop (the link is to a Yelp review) and washing then hand-carding it myself. But back to the pink sheep's wool.

I decided to use some of this pink wool to make a cabled yarn. I'm fascinated by cabled yarns. The fancy definition which I totally didn't understand until I got stuck into The Intentional Spinner DVD is a yarn with (at least?) three directions of twist. Basically what it is, is two or more yarns (at least one of which is plyed) which are then plyed together. I've knitted with some commercial cabled yarns before and they're delightful. So I decided to do a cabled yarn, plying two two-ply yarns together. I plyed together two light pink singles, then two dark pink singles, and the other night, plyed them together. Shock Horror! It wasn't working! The yarn I ended up with was all curly and the two plyed yarns weren't spiralling around each other like they should. It looked sort of like when you make two singles clockwise, then try to ply them together clockwise. So what was the problem? Well, I realised, while I was doing the final plying, that I had forgotten to over-spin the original plys. Judith MacKenzie McCuin had warned me to do this in her DVD. When you over-ply the original plyed yarn, they'll spiral around each other much the same as two singles. What I ended up with instead was a curly yarn which looked really nice, but not what I was expecting. In fact, it looked like this:

The problem with it, though, was that it wasn't balanced. A balanced yarn won't twist back on itself. An unbalanced yarn will, and knitted items made from unbalanced yarns end up lopsided. You know a yarn is balanced when, if you hold the skein out as a loop of fibre, the loop doesn't twist. So, I was slightly disappointed but I resolved to turn the skein into a mesh lace scarf, which would look good lopsided (also it might look like it was deliberatley bias knit).

One final step remains when spinning, and that's finishing your yarn. Finishing your yarn can often turn an unbalanced yarn into a balanced one, by removing some of and redistributing the twist. It was the first time I'd gone through this process with sheep's wool.

The Finishing Process
So, what you do is get a tub of hot water and a tub of cold water. You put the skein (tied at four points so it doesn't get tangled) in the hot water and (wearing gloves, like I didn't today) swoosh it around and rub it all together. Basically, what you don't do to a woolen garment. Then, you take it out of the hot water and plunge it into the cold water. I tend to swoosh it around in the cold water then repeat the process a few more times. Then you roll it in a towel to get out a lot of the moisture. So, I did this to my pink cabled yarn, then I hung it on the washing line to dry completely. I was surprised at how much more balanced the yarn was after that. I wasn't expecting it to be perfect, of course, but the skein seemed more or less balanced, except for a few curly, snarly bits. See:

The Aftermath
So, I left my yarn on the line to dry and happily went on with the rest of my day. It wasn't until hours later that I realised I'd forgotted the best part of the finishing process: beating the living daylights out of the yarn! So I ran outside and took the yarn off the line. It had already dried in the stinking 37 degree weather, so I did a quickie version of the process I had done this morning, then began with the beating. What you do is grab hold of the skein then whack it on a hard surface repeatedly. Every so often, move your hands to a different section of yarn and resume the whipping. This distributes the twist evenly. So, I did this with my skein, and lo and behold, the snarls were gone! The skein is still slightly unbalanced (it twists to the right, and because the final plying was done clockwise, this indicates that the skein was overspun), so the plan is still to make a mesh scarf. Here is the skein after its beating, hanging on the line (look at the difference):
And here is a fancy artistic photo of the skein:
After it dried out a second time, the yarn was even more balanced, but still not quite right. Despite its flaws, though, I'm really happy with this yarn and I can't wait to see what it becomes!

What's my next spinning adventure? Well, today I whipped up a couple of skeins of 2-ply, using up almost all of the Wingham Wool Work Wool. I'll use the last little bit for some thrummed knitting. I think I'll use today's fruits to make something special for the Strathalbyn show this year, where they last year had a division for a hand-knitted item made from handspun yarn.

Around the same time that I ordered my pack of pink wool from Wingham Wool Work, I bought a skirted raw alpaca fleece from Tinonee Alpacas. I bought this fleece for $20, which is insanely cheap, and as the website says, $20 is about how much it costs to shear an alpaca. If I were to buy a fleece from a farmer in my area, even including the shipping fee, Tinonee Alpacas is still way cheaper. Not only that, Susan from Tinonee Alpacas was a delight to correspond with, and she threw in some extra fleece, and some washing instructions, at no extra charge! What service! I'm going to use some of this fleece to finish spinning up some sock yarn. I've already spun quite a bit from Alpaca Shop fleece but not quite enough for a pair of socks. I'm hoping to naturally dye the yarn for these socks using calendula petals.

I've also been collecting the winter coat (which is presently being shed) of my rabbit, Coal, and I'm going to try to spin it. I love my bunny rabbit.

In my next post, I'm going to show you some blocking before-and-after shots, so stay tuned, I know you'd hate to miss that one!

Peace out

The Knitted Kitten