A Rough Guide to Rough (and smooth) Fibres
Our next post in the Tour de Fleece series is from our guild secretary Cathy. Are you unsure what to look for in fibre before you choose to spin it? Are you looking at spinning for the first time during this tour or are you an experienced spinner looking for a challenge? Get in touch and let us know but for now, have a read of Cathy’s fibre guide below:
With the Tour de Fleece just around the corner, let’s take a look at what to consider when choosing fibre to spin.
The first thing to think of is the Staple Length – it really dictates how hard you’ll have to work, what spinning methods you can use and what yarn types come easiest. The staple length is simply how long the individual filaments of the fibre are. This can range from 2cm for a down fibre like camel or cashmere to 120cm for cellulose, like flax fibres. The staple length of silk can vary greatly depending on the preparation. The longer the staple, the larger your drafting zone needs to be so that you’re not pulling on two ends of the same filament.
The other measurement of importance is the diameter of the filaments, typically called the ‘micron’ as it’s measured in micrometres. The smaller the micron count the finer (and usually softer) the wool. This can be as little as 8 microns for Vicuna (an ultra-rare fibre), 15 for a luxuriously fine merino fleece or up to 28 microns for other wool.
Crimp & Colour
Other factors to bear in mind are the crimp and the colour. Crimp refers to how ‘wavy’ the individual filaments are. A finely crimped wool like merino has more (smaller) bends than a loosely crimped wool like Wensleydale which has a long wavy crimp. Crimp can help to stick the fibres together when you’re spinning. When it comes to colour it’s really a matter or personal preference. There are lots of beautiful shades of natural fibres out there from pure white Angora to soft grey wool, to the caramel of camel. Alpacas, in particular, have many different fleece colours. The natural colour of the fibre, of course, affects how it will look when dyed. The nature of the fibre affects how well it takes up dyes also, some fibres require much more dye to reach a good colour saturation. The type of dye and mordant used can drastically affect the fibre also, as well as the dyeing process. A fine merino fibre can be destroyed by a harsh dye and can become rough and felted before it’s even spun. However, the bright colours and amazing hand-dyed braids of fibre really makes for interesting and exciting spinning. The range of possibilities for the finished fibre, based on how you draft and spin a hand-dyed braid are wonderful. A beautiful braid can inspire you to try new drafting methods and motivate you to keep spinning.
Spinning for the First Time
If you’re just starting out spinning, maybe trying a spindle for the very first time, then you’ll probably get on best with a medium length fibre. A sheep provides the perfect match, like Blue Faced Leicester wool or Corriedale wool. It’s often easiest to start with a commercially prepared ‘top’ which has been washed and combed. That’s not to say that you can’t start with raw fleece (or only lightly cleaned) and spin ‘in the grease’. It can be nicer on your hands as the lanolin is still on the wool. Lanolin is a natural sheep oil commonly used in skin products as a moisturiser. For a similar reason, it can be easiest to start with plain undyed wool, as the dyeing process can sometimes make the fibres ‘stickier’ or felted which 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 like Alpaca. Then try some smoother fibres like bamboo, soy and silk. Pure silk can actually be quite hard on your hands to spin but the outcome is beautiful. It’s wonderful blended with other fibres like wool or alpaca though. As you progress you might like to try short downy fibres like camel and cashmere or experiment with Angora which is often easiest spun in a blend. If you’ve been spinning a good while and really want to test your skill or learn something new then a fibre like cotton or flax will certainly provide a new challenge. Or treat yourself to pure luxury with a rare fibre like bison, qiviut or yak.
I hope you find this rough guide useful. As always we would love to hear how you get on and see what you’ve been spinning. Show and tell at a group near you or post
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