For the duration of the Tour de Fleece, we will be having guest posts from members on everything from spinning wheels and drop spindles to different fibres. Today we are hearing from guild member Helen aka Pretty Funk on Ravelry, who is going to take us through some fibre preparation. A huge thank you to Helen for taking us through this post and just in time for the countdown to this years Tour.
We are nearly at the starting post. With a week to go, everybody taking part in the Tour de Fleece is getting excited. I wonder what the cyclists would say if they knew what we were at. Though we are not pushing our bodies to the limits as they are, we will have something in common. That is the coming together of an international community to achieve an objective and a feeling of pride in what we do (and in the times we live in that can only be a good thing.) My objective with this piece is to help those who are new to the spinning world and would like to know a little more about what spinners mean by fibre prep and how you can do some prep of your own without a lot of expensive equipment. I’m not saying all the fancy equipment wouldn’t be nice, but if you are like me and want to get a feel for the process without investing a lot of money upfront, (I wanted to know that spinning would bring me the same joy that knitting does first), I have a few tricks you can try.
Unravelling the Jargon
First, though I think it would be helpful to explain some of the jargon. The first terms you will probably come across are ‘combed’ and ‘carded’. Of course, you will be wondering what it means and how it will affect what you spin. I’ll start with combed as it is probably the most widely available fibre preparation and the one you will more than likely use first.
Here are some examples. The plait is a combed braid I bought from Ellie and Ada. The other is fibre that I bought by weight in The Constant Knitter, and some combed silk to add to the mix.
Combed basically means that the fibre has been put through either hand combs or on an industrial combing machine to align all the fibres in the same direction and get rid of any shorter fibres. If you pull out a few fibres from the end of a combed top you will find that most are the same length. This type of fibre preparation in its simplest form is going to give you a smooth yarn, what is known as a ‘worsted’ spun yarn. You will find a lot of yarn produced in this way as the twist can be more defined, which is great for knitting socks, shawls and really any garment where you would like stitch definition.
Where ‘carded’ fibre differs is that the fibre length can vary although the fibre is mostly aligned, this may not always be the case. This fibre preparation is done using either a set of hand carders or on a larger scale, a drum carder. This process will remove any vegetation or yucky bits left in the fibre but leaves almost all of the fleece in. The yarn produced from this process will be
The yarn produced from this process will be more lofty, will have more air trapped in it and will tend to have better halo. This is called a ‘woolen spun’ yarn and though it is generally spun with less twist, the trapped air makes for a warmer garment. It is great for long haired breeds and makes for a very cosy sweater. It may not be as hardwearing but as long as you don’t make socks out of it I think you will be a happy camper.
Some Wensleydale locks I got from a local farm, washed, hand carded, rolled into puni-rolags ready to spin.
I’ll move on now to all that pretty rolled-up fibre loveliness I’m sure you’ve come across. There are a few main ones: puni, rolag, puni-rolag and batt. punis, puni-rolags and rolags are pretty much the same thing just in different sizes. All can be achieved with a hand carder using either combed or carded fibre. Rolags can also be made using a blending board or a drum carder. Fibre is loaded onto the carder and removed using dowels to tease it off by rolling it into a tube. I use rolags for both spindle and wheel spinning but would only use punis on my spindle. That is a personal preference as I feel I would have to add fibre to often given the size of the punis. I will tell you in a bit how I achieve some of these without a blending board or drum carder.
Before that though, let me tell you about batts. I think batts are a joy to behold! They usually consist of multicoloured fibre rolls with lots of different things thrown in like multiple breeds of wool, silks, locks, plant fibres, sparkly bits and even glitter. It is really up to the fibre prep artist what they pop in! They are amazing if you want to have a go at creating art yarns. As with all of these things, it is great to try them all out and have fun seeing what happens along the way. Some of your favourite yarns will come out of experimentation.
Some beautiful batts I bought at Edinyarnfest from Spin City. Also in pic, some lovely dyed Gotland locks by The Little Grey Sheep.
A quick nosey around Etsy or Instagram will give you a world of pre-prepped fibres, but if you would like to experiment a bit I’ll show you how I made some rolags of my own using only a set of chopsticks. This really works best with combed fibre but why not forge your own path and see what happens.
Making the Rolag
First off, I fibre-dive, picking a few fibres I like. Here I am using some merino, some merino/silk blends and some alpaca (the yellow was only labelled wool so I’m unsure of the breed, we’ll just say sheep 😉).
From the ends, I gently pull out lengths of the fibre and layer them up on a clean, dry surface. (remember don’t get restricted by my photos, adding sparkle always a good thing).
Here come the chopsticks! When you have the amount of fibre you wish to use, starting with a small amount at first to get used to it, gently place one chopstick under the ends of the fibre and clasp it with the other. Don’t worry if the higher-up fibres are not clasped as the other fibres will cling to them and bring them into the roll. All you do now is roll it up while keeping it clasped.
When you get to the end, roll it a few more times on the surface and then smooth it out with your hands, always moving in the same direction. Now you can remove the chopsticks one by one. Voila! You have a cheap and easy rolag.
Make as many as you need, pop them in a basket and you’re ready for some spinning fun.
I will give you a few parting tips. If you progress and want to try different things put a shout out on Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Ravelry page in the ISO forum and you never know what others might have to sell. Alternatively, why not pop into one of the Guild’s meetings to learn more from your fellow spinners in a relaxed, friendly and supportive environment (details of meet-ups are on weavespindye.ie).
Youtube is also your friend, there is so much useful information out there spinners are willing to share. One of my favourites is Namaste Farms as she shows every aspect from shearing to how to make lots of different yarns.
Laura of Ellie and Ada has dyed a special fibre for Tour de Fleece in the Guild colours, available on Etsy.
I would love to see how you get on, if you would like to use the #IGWSD2017PREP on social media. I will also post a photo of the yarn I produced using the technique above on my Instagram feed @prettyfunkyknitter.
Tour de Fleece is about having fun spinning, achieving a goal, being part of a community and getting to know fellow spinners. Here’s to the Irish spinners. Remember to tag your pics social media with #teamIGWSD2017 so we can all nosey at each other’s progress. Happy Spinning!!
[…] makes drafting harder. This can be counteracted by preparing your fibre well (as Helen describes here). With a little practice, you can move on pretty quickly to other sheep breeds and animal fibres […]