Washing Combed or Prepared Fibre

I was trying to spin some pre-prepared sheep’s wool recently, but it had been left full of its natural grease and was proving a nightmare to draft. A quick Google showed me how to wash raw fleece, but nothing mentioned fibre that had already been processed.

So an experiment was required. My research suggested that the best way to prevent felting was to put my fibre in a mesh laundry bag, to be doubly sure I tied a hair elastic around the top of the bag a few inches from the point where my fibre filled it. By doing this, I reckoned the fibre had less space to move and thus less likelihood of felting.

Now, the first wash required 3tbsp of shampoo – I used a citrus based one meant for greasy hair, because this sheep certainly had greasy hair. I also added a little conditioner; wool (like hair) can dry out and I didn’t know how hard wearing it would be.

I then filled the sink with water that was a little above lukewarm, it was the temperature I’d usually bath the dogs in, I imagine baby bath water is a similar temperature. I gently pushed the bag of fibre into the sink, and left it to soak. 20 minutes later, I gently pulsed the bag at the bottom of the sink and removed it by putting my hands under the fibre containing section of the bag, and set it aside. The water was an alarming yellow colour.

I drained the sink, and refilled with a little hair conditioner and slightly warmer water – I read somewhere about “temperature shock” being avoided by ensuring wool goes into warmer water than it left. When you remember that some methods of fulling yarn require a hot bath then a cold one, so the fibres cling to each other better, this makes a lot of sense.

It took four sinkfuls for my 100g of fibre to leave the water as clean as when it went in. I then hung the bag over the bath to drip-dry. Then, when it was no longer dripping, I gently pulled the fibre into hanks, lay them out on trays on the kitchen bench, and let them dry.

Well, let them mostly dry…I was impatient and took both the dry and the damp hanks and set to spinning. It was much easier, the fibres had been aligned by the pulling apart when wet, and the damp fibres clung to each other just enough to make drafting a dream. The resulting yarn was lofty and soft, and none of it had felted!

So, if you don’t like spinning greasy wool, or just want to dilute that farmyard smell some sheep fibre comes with, this should work!

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How to prepare an Alpaca Fleece for Spinning

I was recently lucky enough to get a hold of a baby alpaca fleece. I was thrilled to open the bag and see this:

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“So clean”, I thought, “almost no preparation required!”

Then I pulled it out, un-rolled the fleece and found this:

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Vegetable matter, mud and some stuff I just didn’t want to think about…but then all babies make a mess, baby alpacas are no different! This is easily resolved, however, when you notice that the engrained muck is all at the ends of the locks.

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Simply take a pair of scissors and cut the dirty tips off the locks. You should only lose a centimetre or so, and this doesn’t affect its ability to be spun.

The big twigs, leaf litter and such that are caught in the fleece just pull out by hand. Be pretty thorough with this. Small bits of leaf and dust will just fall out when you are drafting, but bigger ones can ruin the look of your yarn if they end up in your final product and ruin your finger if you accidentally spin a splinter into yourself, learn from my mistake there!

Now you’re ready to go! No washing required, alpaca doesn’t have the grease that sheep’s wool does. Also, the softness makes it felt too easily, so just wash the finished yarn.

This process takes a while, it took me 45 minutes to process about 150g of raw fleece. However, the fibre is soft and wonderful, but grippy enough when spun from the fleece that even a beginner like me can manage it.

Needle Felting with Leftover Yarn

This started as an attempt to turn leftover yarn scraps into something I could spin with, but I actually ended up with something lovely-looking, but much more felt-able than spin-able. As such, I took to my newest investment, the felting needle, and I created this:

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It started with white and yellow scrap yarn (100% wool) that I cut into 3in strips, and carded on 2 dog brushes. Obviously, handcarders would be better, but due to an upcoming move they have traveled ahead of me, dog brushes had to do.

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I mixed the two colours together and was happy with the outcome even at this stage:

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Next, I felted the mixture into a circle and added a scrap of turquoise yarn, which I felted into a heart shape on the front of the circle. Finally I made a strip of felt with some leftover white wool and felted that over a hairclip I had left over from a previous project.

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I thought that the circle was a little big, so I cut it into a heart shape, and voila!

Here’s a video showing how I needle felt. I got a needle from Amazon and just use a sponge as my felting mat. There are undoubtedly more in-depth needle felting tutorials out there, but this is mine:

Heat Setting Twist in Handspun Yarn

I have previously experimented in setting methods and found that heat can be handy. This makes sense, as commercial wool is fixed into its final twist using “heat setting”. The process is basically steaming at high temperatures in order to stop torquing, i.e. that annoying wrapping around itself yarn does when freshly spun or plyed.

This process is relatively easily replicated in the kitchen, with a wooden spoon and a pan with a lid.

Wind the freshly spun single or freshly plyed yarn around the middle of the spoon handle, then secure the loose end, I used a hair bobble. Now bring some water to the boil in the pan (add a pinch of salt to increase the maximum temperature), balance the spoon over the top, and balance the lid so it half covers the pan.

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Fixing a single takes a lot less time than fixing plyed yarn, with the small amount on here the single took 25 minutes and the plyed 2 hours. I think the wool was previously heat treated, though, and experiments with pure wool, previously untreated, were quicker and resulted in a nice, lofty yarn.

Below are (in order of appearance) previously heat treated and home dyed wool, merino-nylon blend and two commercial yarns I plyed together and heat set.

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The synthetic blend and previously treated fibres react very well to heat setting in terms of not torquing, but they lose their stretch and softness. The pure wool did not, it stopped torquing and remains as soft and squidgable as the two yarns that make it up. It is not at all scratchy, or felted.

The safest way to set the twist, of course, is to leave it on the bobbin to rest, but if the process needs rushing, heat setting seems like a way forward!

Spinning with acrylic?

A few weeks ago I went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, and the lovely people of Natural Born Dyers taught me stick spinning. Cheap, portable,  easy – I was hooked! Whilst I’d never handspin anything other than luxurious natural fiber (it’s easy but slow, spending a week spinning acrylic yarn I could buy for £1 seems like a false economy to me!) I did soon start to think about my stash of scraps and odd balls of acrylic.

I hit upon the idea of plying together disparate balls of acrylic into something new and it was surprisingly effective! The only difficulty is in “setting the twist” – that is to say, making sure the disparate yarns didn’t separate once taken off the spurtzleur (that’s the name of the tool used in the video below, go to http://www.naturalborndyers.com if you want to find out how to buy one).

The easiest way to set the twist is to wind the newly plied yarn onto a holder (toilet or kitchen roll tubes work well for this) and leave it to sit, twisted onto the roll, for as long as possible. I’ve left the sample below for a week, now, and the twist is set, but quite loose. Another week would probably be best.

This heat-free method keeps the two yarns’ textures as they were beforehand, and produces an airier fabric, that I imagine would be warmer and squishier than the next method.

The quicker, but more dangerous, way to set the twist is to full it with heat and soap – as you would natural fiber, but at a higher heat. This is done by carefully skeining up the newly plied yarn and submerging it in hot, soapy water, then scrubbing it and swilling it about quite vigorously in the water. Then, plunge it into cold water. Finally, wrap it in a towel, beat the wrapped skein against a wall or other sturdy object for a minute or two, then hang it up to drip dry.

This results in slightly squeaky but perfectly useable yarn – those who dislike the feel of acrylic mightn’t appreciate a jumper made of this, but for me it just feels like budget yarn.

Video tutorial for plying:

And photos of heat fulled yarn plied with this method:

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