Tour de Fleece 2017

And they’re off!

Well the spinners started yesterday but I was up in sunny Anglesey for a couple of days and so missed the first day of spinning as I was driving home again.

As usual we have a small but friendly team of cheerful spinners on Team BarberBlackSheep – the lovely members of the group have already kicked off in style and produced some beautiful singles yesterday from various BBS fibres as well as those from other dyers and fibre suppliers. It’s so nice to spin along in company and it’s always good to see pictures of what we’re all doing! If you think you’d like to join us this year, it’s not too late – hop over the Revelry group and pitch in! You can spin anything you want (but please note only BBS fibre is eligible for the randomly-drawn prize I award at the end of the tour).

For myself I’ve been caught up in lots of non-spinning stuff recently so I’ve only just got myself sorted out with my first TdF spinning fibre today. We discussed the popular “Combo-Spin” technique a few weeks back which involves spinning sections of fibre in a random order to make a variegated yarn which could have a certain amount of planning in its design or be completely down to chance and how your fibres turn out. It’s a good way of putting together those one-off skeins that somehow wheedle their way into our lives but stubbornly resist getting involved in a project because of being just 100g or 4 oz or so.

I decided to put a BBS “spin” (see what I did there?!) on it by spinning random chunks of my Haunui/Merino batt sets together to combine.

When I designed the forerunner of these multi-colour-packs aeons ago it seems – the SweaterBox batts and then the Three Of A Kind batts – I put in the listing that they could be spun in several ways including being spun in random sections. I’d always intended it as an option for you … but haven’t got around to doing it as a project myself.

I don’t actually need a sweater quantity just now (a quick look in both fibre and yarn stash reveals enough sweater-possibilities to last me till Doomsday!) but I do want to try it so I’ve scaled it down for an amount that would work for a shawl or perhaps a hat/mitten set or something.

I found an image I liked that served as a starting point (I can’t copy it here without infringing copyright unfortunately but the general principle of using images to inspire colour combinations is very useful for a starting point that you can bend to your own tastes.

I’ve made up half-size batts picking out colours from both the Josie set and the Passiflora set pictures above. Which gives me a colour combination like this.

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My intention is to spin randomly for one ply and then to use another ply of undyed Black Haunui to create a random barber-pole yarn. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of barber-pole yarns as they are but they do usually knit up beautifully in plain knitting. I have the idea of how this works in my head – the proof will be in the making though! I’m literally nailing my colours to the mast by telling you before I start!

The possibilities for scaling this up into sweater quantities are pretty much limitless, either by combing more batt sets or by using multiples of the same colour way. I’d love to see if other people use this idea for Haunui / Merino batts too – if you do, please post pictures in my Revelry group so we can all see!

Welsh Patagonia

It’s been quite a long blog break! This spring has been very busy, probably even more so than usual. If I can snatch the time I’ll come and tell you about some of the things I’ve been working at but for now I just wanted to show a new spinning fibre blend I’ve created and which will be available from this weekend.

When something interests me I like to look around and read around the subject rather than just focusing on one aspect. The collateral research enriches both my appreciation of something, further embeds the knowledge I’ve gained and frequently sparks new areas of interest or creativity.

I’m always on the lookout for new seeds of inspiration and in the past six months or so I’ve deliberately turned away from seeking that inspiration from within the same areas I work in and towards other sources. As a visual person I find it easier to look at something creative and then translate it into dyeing or textiles or colour schemes. But sometimes I think I’m at risk of repeating the same things because they appeal to me and so getting into something of a rut. So this has been a personal challenge to whet the blunt edges in my mind and hopefully spark new areas of interest or ideas.

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One such small “spin-off” has been designing a new fibre blend. Whilst studying the work of two Welsh creatives, one a late artist and one a contemporary weaver, I found they had common ground in that they both travelled and studied in Welsh Patagonia. These travels informed their body of work and although I’d come across this Welsh colony in South America, coming across it again twice in quick succession intrigued me and made me look into this a little deeper.

The brief outline of this colony is that in the 19th century, a North Walian patriot, Michael D. Jones, proposed establishing a new Welsh colony overseas away from the influences of the English, to preserve “Welshness” and the Welsh language which he felt often disappeared in close proximity to other cultures and languages. The leaders of this movement considered several options around the globe. At that time, Argentina was offering incentives for peoples to emigrate and settle tracts of land and so the Welsh nationalists took up the offer and a colony settled there.

There’s a great deal more to the story; the misleading information given to the pioneers who struck out for a new world, the hostile environment they landed in, the hardships endured and losses encountered and the living they scratched and hacked from the harsh Argentine landbase that so very nearly conquered them. The co-operation of the native Tehuelche people (or Patagones as the Spanish called them) in assisting them to settle and the slightly dubious pay-offs from the Argentine government that induced them to “welcome” these benign Celtic invaders to their land. It’s not the purpose of this blog post to detail the whole story but it makes an intriguing, if rather baffling, tale for those who are interested in finding out more.

What struck me though was how very, very Welsh this story was. So gloriously and stubbornly Welsh…

In seeking to preserve a language and a culture, to give up homes and extended families, communities and comforts and transport ideology across an ocean to make more of a home in exile than the home you already live in. To chose separation from the thing you love best and to sacrifice that for a belief in a better version… I cannot really understand it. I admire it whilst at the same time feeling slightly … I don’t know… shocked? Perhaps that is too strong a word. Perhaps I am just too much of a British mongrel to understand the depth of Welshness. Perhaps I am too much of a home-bird to make sense of voluntary exile…

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The second thing that struck me however was how wonderfully balanced the current Welsh Patagonian community are between their Argentine land and their Welsh roots. Speaking Spanish and Patagonian Welsh, with their unique blend of Welsh chapels and Chapel Teas and asados and gauchos, it would seem at first glance that the founding fathers had lost the end game of retaining the Welsh “purity” they seemed to value above all else.

And yet I can’t help feeling that this shows the power of humanity at its greatest, being able to retain its cultural identity whilst adapting to those around it. Blending those things so that they lie comfortably together and make something new and strong that they would not have had without each other.

It made enough of an impression on me that I wanted to further explore this in fibre!

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So I’ve created “Patagonia” which is a rustic yet soft wool blend with subtle depths and textures.

Patagonia is created from Black Welsh Mountain and South American wools – Patagonia being a vast sheep farming area producing wool from mostly Merino, Corridale and similar breeds. (The pure Merino I already use is from either South America or South Africa from non-mulesed flocks). These very different wools are also blended with soft alpaca to represent other important fibre-producing animals from South America.

It spins up to a yarn with plenty of body and character which is great for those who find it harder to spin thicker yarns. I feel it would lend itself to great sweater – or poncho! – yarn (I fancy this is a project in my future!) and make garments that would be as equally at home on a Welsh mountain as on the pampas.

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I’ve gradient dyed this batch and it will be available for sale at Wonderwool Wales this coming weekend 22nd-23rd April 2017 at Triskelion Yarns (stand G8 – Hall 1).

A further selection of dyed, carded and blended spinning fibres will also be available there too and I really recommend that even if you aren’t a spinner or felt-maker that if you’re a knitter going to Wonderwool this year that you put Triskelion Yarns high on your shopping list; gloriously saturated colours on interesting yarn bases hand dyed in West Wales.

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That top quarter of Hall 1 is a pretty exciting place for hand-dyed colour-lovers altogether really as there are a cluster of amazing hand dyed fibre stalls up there including HilltopCloud and Oliver Twists the silk specialists, MandaCrafts (with amazing Qaria cashmere) Freyalyn’s Fibres and The Threshing Barn amongst others. If you’re ever stuck for inspiration as to how to spin indie-dyed fibre, Katie Weston of HilltopCloud is also launching her new Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre guide at the show. Written by a sought-after UK spinning teacher, this is sure to be packed with useful tips and information for getting the best out of your show purchases so don’t forget to go and get a copy!

Happy spinning!

 

Plying from a Centre-pull Ball

A small tutorial-type post squeezed in among the Advent pictures!

Well I say tutorial; it’s more pictures showing how I ply small samples from a centre-pull ball. This is my preferred method for plying small samples and it’s quite straightforward. I do know that for some it’s a bit frustrating though and I’ve tried to look slowly at what I do and see if there are any tips I can pass on for how I do it. I’m not an expert or saying this is the “correct way” – it’s simply what works for me. Perhaps you can try it and see if it helps or refine it better for you.

I’m not going to go into huge amount of detail about winding the balls or how to do basic plying. I use a regular ball winder like this one. Other designs are available and you can also wind a centre-pull ball using a nostepinne. You can buy beautiful hand turned nostepinne from sellers of knitting and spinning tools or you can improvise and make one yourself. One spinner I knew wound beautiful balls of her handspun yarn using the handle of her dustpan and brush! The really important thing whichever method you use is ensure the beginning section of the single is well secured in the slots of the winder/visibly free if using a nostepinne before you wind the whole ball. You need both ends and if you lose the beginning section it will be very hard to find it inside the ball once wound and make a very stressful start to plying. You may even have to just pull a lump of tangled yarn out and discard it. MAKE SURE OF YOUR ENDS before winding.

For me, plying from a centre-pull ball is about control. In fact all plying is about control but in this case I’m focussing on keeping the ball itself and the singles coming off it tidy and measured. That’s pretty much all it’s about.

Freshly spun singles are full of twist energy and can get a bit unruly and “pigtail” by plying back on itself in small sections which is a right pain. The thinner the yarn and higher the spinning twist, the worse this is going to be. So for your first attempt it’s probably smarter to use a sample that is going to end up at around DK weight or thicker and not highly twisted. Use a nice bouncy wool not something tricky and slippy like silk. Leaving your singles on the bobbin for 24 hours will help calm it down too. I do ply straight after spinning, it really isn’t that terrifying once you’ve taught the ball to behave and play nicely. But it always helps to stack the odds in your favour the first time so be kind to yourself and start with plump stale singles!

You have the two loose ends on your ball – the one from the outside and the one from the centre. Join these to the leader on your wheel (or spindle) in the regular way and ply a small amount to wind it onto the bobbin.

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I use my left hand to hold the ball – this is because I also spin this way round. If you use your hands the other way around that’s fine, do what you would normally do and just reverse the hands for each task. I’ll refer to them as front and back hand to simplify it.

You need to keep the singles under the control of your fingers at all times. Normally the bobbins are keeping the singles under control and a small amount of tension. If you have a tensioned kate too this is even more applicable. The centre of the ball is going to collapse slightly when you slide it off the winder. This the bit that can get tangled into a lump so this is why  you need to MAKE SURE where the beginning section is before you slide the ball off (yes it is really important enough to repeat this!)

Keep your front hand holding the twist back and only allow it to run back when you are ready.

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If you hold the ball in your back hand like this picture below, it will start to go wrong after a while. The singles won’t be running off the ball under control and you won’t get even tension.

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The single from the middle is more direct, the outer single has to travel further around the ball so they aren’t equal like plied this. The middle one can also spit out a gobbit of kinky singles as the pressure loosens on the inner surface of the ball and that’s very much not fun to untangle.

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The outer one with it’s longer length can start to pigtail up on itself if left to its own devices – this is equally frustrating and makes for tangled plying and snarly yarns.

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So the way I hold the ball is to cradle it lightly in the palm of my hand and use my fingers as the means for tensioning the singles and keep them equal.

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To break this down into how the yarn feeds off like this, I’m using my thumb to lightly cover the outer single. My touch on the plying ball is very light at all times, I’m not really holding it back, just allowing the touch of my fingers to slow it down so it doesn’t kink up as it feeds. (my fingers are pinching off the twist here in this picture below purely because I’m using my right hand to take the photo! Normally that job would be done by my front hand – but it does at least show how you can still keep all the twist and singles under control at all times should you need your other hand to move flyer hooks, sort something out … or even pick up your mug of tea/ the phone/ pat the dog etc!)

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Treadle very slowly and allow the first wrap of singles to slide off the ball and hook your forefinger into the “X” that forms to hold it back. It’s something you’ll have to do to “get” what I mean so don’t worry if you’re thinking “eh?! What X?” at this moment.

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With the twisty singles safely held back lightly like this you can then allow your front hand to permit the twist to travel back into the length by sliding the forefinger and thumb of the front hand towards the plying ball. As you reach the end of the singles between your hands, straighten the hooked forefinger of your back hand slightly and slide/lift the “X” off it with your front hand. Your front hand can now allow the plied yarn to run onto the bobbin as you would normally do with plying and as it does so the next section slips from the plying ball and the back hand forefinger once again hooks into the next “X” formed and holds it back. You simply repeat this over and over smoothly.

Like all spinning skills, it’s one of those things that takes a little bit of doing to realise what goes where and at what time. Take it slowly. If necessary, treadle a little to build twist and then stop treadling whilst you concentrate on the hand motions whilst the wheel is stationary. Once you’ve done  a little bit you’ll soon settle into a steady routine that feels quite natural.

It’s best to use this for small amounts of yarn so the plying ball will be quite small. You can do it with larger amounts – and I do – but the benefits are fewer for the effort. With larger amounts of fibre you may as well split it in two and spin two singles on separate bobbins. However you may suddenly change your mind part way through spinning some fibre and have spun the whole amount on one bobbin or have some other reason that makes plying larger amounts like this logical or desirable.

In that case, you’ll find it hard to keep the ball in your hand until you’ve plied enough and when it’s smaller it will be looser and lacy and more inclined to tangle. I have mine in my lap or even on the floor beside me to start with. But be aware that there is greater scope for stretches of single to pigtail and tangle simply because it’s under less control than in your hand. You might also find with a larger ball that you want to use two fingers and spread them to change the angle at which the twist runs in.

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This works OK. I still prefer to hook my forefinger though for really even plying. You’ll soon get to feel the amount of tension required to make a nice snug plying twist!

It’s really not that different to regular plying; all you’re doing differently is using your back hand as an active kate to manipulate the singles, your front hand is doing all the usual things.

Try it and see!

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Spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving

I’ve posted very little spinning content on my blog in the past few months (bad BlackSheep!) but I’ve been doing odds and ends of spinning, test samples for various projects and people. I started spinning this BFL pencil roving I dyed back in the summer and it’s been sitting on my wheel taking up bobbin space whilst I do the oddments and the longer I leave things, the less I feel like finishing them. Which is a shame really because BFL is one of my favourite wools to work with and these are some of my favourite colours.

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I’ve got more sample spinning to do soon though and potentially quite a big spinning project to fit in with someone else’s schedule which needs me to clear all my bobbins. So although I have a brand new wool I dyed yesterday that’s begging me to start on it, I’m being good and finishing the BFL crepe first!

One of the reasons I had been delayed is that I’d started spinning this with the general idea of blogging about it because this is outside my “default spinning” on two counts and I thought it might be interesting to look at it and why I chose to do this.  I’ve had hand dyed BFL pencil roving in the shop this summer and it’s fun to knit with as chunky yarn, I’ve woven it for a friend as a show sample for her lovely hand dyed pencil rovings but I’d not actually got around to spinning it myself. Having spun up the first two bobbins a while ago, I needed the time to photograph the final bobbin and samples for the blog and just couldn’t find the time. So I apologise for the poor lighting of the following photos, but it’s a very murky overcast October day here and I also really needed both hands to spin with which makes it tricky to take photos – you really need a helpful assistant. Or three hands!! 

Pencil roving is one of the stages of creating commercially spun yarn so, unlike the usual much fatter tops and rovings we spin from, it has a slight twist in it. This twist is in the clockwise direction, also known as “Z” twist. For anyone unfamiliar with the term Z (and S) twist in relation to spinning, it’s called this because if you look at it the angle of the twist is like the middle section of the letter Z – slanting to the right. Imagine a Z overlaid on the roving below.

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Twist in the opposite or anticlockwise direction is known as “S” twist because the angle is like the middle section of the letter S.

Spinners commonly default to spinning their singles in the Z / clockwise direction before plying two or more singles together in the anti-clockwise direction to balance and stabilise the yarn. An S-plied yarn works well for English style knitting where the yarn is carried in the right hand and “thrown” (as opposed to Continental style knitting where the yarn is held in the left hand and “picked”) because as you carry your yarn, a tiny amount of twist is added. For English knitting the twist can slightly unravel Z-plied yarns – some people feel this isn’t a problem but my first attempt at spinning a cable yarn was Z-plied and it was very irritating to knit with as the chunky handspun wasn’t that tightly plied and did indeed unravel as I knit – lesson learned!

To make pencil roving with its inbuilt Z twist easier to spin, it helps to unravel that twist slightly as you draft and makes it easier to handle. Spinning the singles in the Z direction as normal adds twist and means you can end up fighting what’s already in the roving and locking the fibres together – a frustrating spinning experience. So spinning it in the S direction helps to unlock the latent twist and is generally much smoother to draft.

However that does mean you end up with a finished yarn that will be Z-plied … my English-style knitting nemesis from before! So I thought it would be fun to use this for a crepe yarn which is a 3-ply yarn that has 3 stages to it and would allow me to spin 2 of the singles in the S direction and still end up with S-plied yarn at the end for me to knit with. Cunning?!

For detailed information on spinning crepe yarns – or any yarns in fact – I strongly recommend you borrow or preferably buy a copy of the Spinner’s Book of Yarn Design by Sarah Anderson. Sarah is a wonderful teacher both in person and in writing and this is my go-to book when working with yarns other than my standard repertoire. This blog post is more about spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving than a basic crepe yarn tutorial. Really well worth having “…Yarn Design” in your spinning library.

You can spin crepe yarns in either direction but for the sake of the pencil roving subject matter I’m using the following formula:     2 singles spun in S (anticlockwise) direction plied together with twice the amount of plying twist in the Z (clockwise). A third single is spun in the Z (clockwise direction) and then you ply the Z single and the Z 2-ply yarn together in the S (anticlockwise direction) to make a balanced crepe yarn. Got that? Yup, go buy the book – it’s worth it!

So you need your fibre divided up roughly into three sections. I did this by weighing the skein as I wound it into three balls to spin from. As you spin, the twist you release is going to back up in the roving closer to the ball of wool. You can see it twist the roving behind where I’m pinching it off.

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You need to release that twist somehow so I find it helps to break off a section of roving (around 60cm is workable for me but you can go longer or shorter) . You won’t be able to pull tightly twisted roving apart so where you want to break it off, hold the fibre between your hands and untwist it so that the fibres lie parallel instead.

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And then pull them apart, they should drift quite easily…

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The twist will be sitting there but you can then shake it out and let it unravel ready for drafting.

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Another tip for drafting pencil roving is to roll it between your fibre (back) hand as you draft to release the twist as well – this definitely applies to spinning in the Z direction but it helps in the S direction too. (I hold fibre in my left hand but more spinners use their right hand for the fibre supply, so don’t swap over if you do the opposite to me – just carry on as you are!)

As you spin you can control the fibre supply between the heel of your palm and pinkie/ring fingers …

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…which leaves your thumb and forefinger free to control the  draft action as usual – at this point you can add a sneaky little roll of your thumb to the right to untwist it and then draft.

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When you have your S-spun singles ready to ply, remember that you will need twice the amount of plying twist to a normal plied yarn. Italics because this is important!! You don’t want a balanced yarn at this stage because you need latent twist in it to cancel out the twist when you ply it with your final (third) single. This is trickier than you’d think to maintain over the length of the spinning so it might help you to allow a fresh single to twist back on itself for a few inches to create a wee sample to have by you.

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You will need twice the amount of twist to this in your plying – and yes it will feel very odd over-twisting your yarn!! This sample will be handy to check whether you have sufficient twist or if you’ve slipped back into making a lovely balanced yarn out of habit!

The twisty pigtail yarn pinched between my finger and thumb is about right. The balanced (but wrong!) sample is next to it on my hand for comparison.

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So you will fight your instincts and ply a bobbin-full of overtwisted yarn in the Z direction.

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Aargh. Keep going. You can check twist by allowing a little of the yarn to ply back on itself to see how it balances out. If it’s under plied, add more twist. If you end up spinning a whole bobbin without enough twist then you can run it back through your wheel in the same direction to add a bit more – but it’s better to get it in there the first time if you can.

Now you’ll need to spin your third single in the Z direction. This will be harder from pencil roving because of the twist in it but using the tips above – short lengths and rolling it – you’ll be fine. And it’s only one single…

Finally you get to see the results of your labour. Time to play … I mean ply!

You’ll need your Z singles on one bobbin and your Z plied yarn on another. If you’re spinning all this in one session then the yarns might be a bit springy so tensioning your bobbins may help. On the other hand, if your singes/yarn are stale, they may be easier to ply but you won’t see the crepe snapping into place which can help with judging the amount of plying twist. It’s up to you and how much time you have to spin in one session; both ways have bonuses and drawbacks.

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This is quite a poor photo of the sample yarn I’m afraid but it does show the characteristic bobbly effect of the finished crepe technique. Crepe yarns are great fun to spin and you can do different texture and colour variations with them to add to the fun!

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The finished yarn:

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You can use the above tips for spinning ordinary 2-ply yarns too or maybe you can think up some other ways of using pencil roving? Plying it with a glittery commercial thread or using it as a base for other art yarn techniques would be really good fun too!

I’ve just a few skeins of pencil roving left in the shop at BarberBlackSheep – which is why I spun this sample in the first place! – but it’s also occasionally available from other UK dyers too should I have sold out when you want to try some crepe yarn fun yourself!

Raggedy Yarn

It’s a while since I blogged here … I have been busy I promise!

Over in my Ravelry group we’ve kicked off on the Tour de Fleece – the annual friendly challenge in the spinning calendar where we spin along during the Tour de France, usually setting ourselves some personal spinning challenge be it spinning every day, spinning a set amount or learning a new technique.

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On Team BarberBlackSheep we’re generally very laid back and relaxed. This is our fifth year of toddling along gently behind the more determined teams and we’re loosely involved in spinning down stash this year. So often I hear people say they’ve reached SABLE (stash acquired beyond life expectancy) or that they’re on a fibre diet. So I thought it might be a good idea to dig around and bring out some of those long-lost beauties we’ve acquired and spin them up. To that end I dubbed us Indie Dyer Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Stash. There are already some lovely yarns being produced – if you’re taking part and on social media do let me know so I can share or regram your pictures.

My personal challenge is to spin up some of my Tea Garden braids to weave into a blanket. So far I’ve spun almost half of them – let’s hope I finish it by the end of the Tour!

I’ve also been playing with some new fibres and blends though and this is one of them. I have an abiding love of texture in things and although we often aim for smooth fine yarns as spinners, I have a secret love for arty lumpy bumpy yarns too. I also have a love of silk; it was my first dyeing business when I was still in my teens and I made hand painted silk scarves and I’ve always loved how silk enhances colour in the way it’s fibres reflect light and the intensity of the resulting colours.

It’s also rather fun to spin and I had an idea for upping the fun quotient! I’ve dyed some silk lap – this is the waste silk left on the drum after carding and is cut off in a large glorious sheet of textured silk fibres like a silk duvet.

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My first skein is spun silk plied on itself. The idea is to spin this retaining the raggedy textured appeal so I spin it long draw, supported so as to attenuate the fibres and distribute the twist evenly. Just because it’s deliberately fluffy doesn’t mean the yarn is unstable – you want to trap the fibre securely within the yarn and being silk it needs a reasonable amount of twist. It has a soft hand, feels slightly like a chenille and is drapey. This isn’t a yarn that will stand up to a huge amount of abrasion but for small luxury items is soft and almost woolly feeling with all the beauty of silk.

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To mix things up a bit I decided to play around a bit more with the texture idea for my second skein. I carded up a batt from hand dyed wool and silk fibres – I used shetland and merino, tussah silk and a dollop of silk noil with a touch of sparkle and just gave it two passes aiming to keep variation in colour and texture.

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I spun the silk lap supported long draw as before to make the textured fuzzy single and then plied with a slightly slubby single spun from the batt. The resulting yarn still has subtle texture but has slightly more body and bounce and less drape than the pure silk yarn and so has a wider range of applications.

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So if you’ve fancied spinning some textured yarns but are slightly worried about new techniques for art yarns this might be a nice way to ease yourself into them with a simple 2-ply yarn where the fibres themselves do the texture.

The silk lap are dyed in small amounts and should be available in the hand dyed fibre section of the shop this coming weekend.