Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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The holidays are coming ’round

Which means some of you might be thinking of getting gifts for people. If the people you know happen to like knitting, crochet, or weaving, I can help you out.

Because I will make yarn to order. For a basic yarn (two-ply, semi-woolen), in weights from light to “super chunky), I figure twice the fiber weight is a reasonable exchange.  It’s not so little that I feel I am underselling the market (or my time), nor yet so dear it’s too expensive to consider (roving goes for between $2.50 and $50.00 US an oz, depending on type).

For more complex yarns (e.g. cables,) or more difficult materials (silk, camel hair, alpaca silk) I will probably ask for a bit more than double; because that takes more time/effort, attention.

I mention this now, because it takes a bit of time to get the yarn made (assuming I knuckle down and waste not a minute) a 4. oz skein is two-four hours of spinning singles, a day of rest on the bobbins; and then another hour or so of plying.  Then it’s overnight to set the twist.  Counting in the time for fiber to get to me, and then yarn to get to the recipient, this is the time to start thinking about it, esp. as it’s a first come, first served proposition.

I will also have some skeins available later (right now I have about half a dozen), which will be available for cash.


Too much of a good thing

I have the trial of pleasant excess, which is to say I have a plethora of fiber. I’ve been trying, but life is busy and it’s not just that I’m failing to gain on the gifts of the holidays (when I gained 8-plus lbs of fiber), but I’ve fallen behind the acquisitions since then. I was weak. I saw that Paradise Fibers had some of a rare breed (California Red), and it sounded interesting, so I bought a lb.

Therein lies some of my problem, I want to make a useful quantity of yarn. I look at Etsy and see skeins of 1-2 oz., and think it’s inane. How is someone going to make anything out of so small a quantity, so I tend to get between ½ and 1 lb. of fiber (that, or I take a pair of 4 oz rovings and combine them to make some sort of interesting yarn.

It doesn’t help that I like to spin fine. I’ve gotten decent at it too. I’m no longer, “chasing cobwebs”, but rather I’ve moved to spinning gossamer. The cashmere I bought at Christmas is ridiculously fine. I decided to ply some of it up with the tail end of the Targhee I had left over from plying. I expected to have a thinner strand around a thicker one. Nope.   They were the same diameter. As I recall it was 1/45 for weight (these are cones used to hold the yarn for the weft on commercial looms), which is about 11,000 yards per lb. My estimation (from the skein length on the 4 oz I’d spun up) was about 13,500 ypp).

Spinning that finely takes longer.

So I’ve spun some, but I doubt I’ve managed more than a pound since New Year’s. It’s been interesting. The Finnish is nice, Polwarth is a dream. The Kraemer Mauch was really nice. The yarn has a very pleasant heather/tweedy look, and the hand is soft. It also spins up easily, needs little in the way of prep to go from roving to wheel and is easier to spin in a heavier yarn, which I am trying to teach myself to do. Right now I have two project on the wheel, and both of them are a bit frustrating.

Part of the frustration is that I want to spin a bit thicker, and I have trained myself to spin fine. That’s not too much of a problem, save that I have managed to choose rovings that don’t want to be spun “thick” (which for me means an end weight which a knitter/crocheter would think of as, “worsted”). The one is an alpaca, which is just not a very well prepped fiber. It’s been over carded and is not only chock full of noils, but clumps in the hand, so I get “slubs’ of fat fluffy stuff. At first I thought it was me having trouble with the nature of the roving, because, it’s, “pencil” (which means it’s a long thin strip, instead of a fatter “tube” of fiber). Pencil is supposed to be easier to work, because it doesn’t have to be thinned out as much to feed into the “drafting zone”, but I’ve mostly spun from the thicker sort of rovings.

That isn’t it. Looking at the slubs, when I try to thin them out, what I see is a tight yarn, surrounded by a halo of fluff. I’m going to finish this skein, and think about not spinning the rest of it at all. I may need to find someone who is interesting in felting and sell them the remainder of the two colors I have.

So decided to spin something else, and take it in stages (so as not to have something which seems a bit of a chore when I think about sitting down to the wheel). Silly me, I chose some alpaca/silk. It’s got, for different reasons, some of the same habits. First, it wants to spin fine. Second it needs a to be held with a firm looseness; a bit further back in the fiber bundle, or it becomes a slippery mess in the hand.

The other quirk is that if the twist gets into the fiber, the silk locks it right up. That makes opening a section which is too thick a lot harder than it would be if this was wool, or even pure alpaca.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve spun alpaca/silk blends before, it was sort of cranky, but I’ve gotten better, and I figured it would be ok. Mostly it is, but it’s not the best of “relaxing interludes” from the other.

The other thing making it so that my fibercrafting friends just laugh at me when I state a desire to reduce my stash, is that I joined a fiber club when I bought the California Red. My first delivery came today. Three rovings, 7 oz. total. A plain merino, a merino/tussah, and a merino/yak/silk blend. They are all lovely. The yak blend, in particular, is amazingly chatoyant. It’s a white yak, and a grey merino, it’s got a charcoal-silver effect. I may set aside the other 2 oz. of the alpaca/silk I’m using now, and spin it up very fine (which will be easier than what I’m doing now) and perhaps one of the other silvery alpaca blends I’ve got and make a 3-ply yarn with a really nice drape.

I can, of course, get the yak blend at a 10 percent discount, if I decide I want more of it; though that means I need to spin a little up in a hurry.

The last thing I’ve been doing is (finally) getting to work on spinning the Arapawa I got as a gift.  I bought some viking combs  and a set of Howard hand cards (I tested them out at WEBS, and was able to limit myself to just a bit more of the Kraemer Mauch. I didn’t buy a small loom, which was really tempting, nor any of the really pretty fibers.  We did get some dyes, so I we can play with making our own colorways from things like the California Red, or Polwarth, etc.).  I’ve got to work on the scouring, because the wool still feels a bit greasy.  It’s really fine, but crimpy, and I need to work on getting the carding done, since it’s full of vegetable matter, and the locks are kind of clumpy, which makes it hard to gauge the amount of distance to keep between my hands.

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On fibers

I’ve not been spinning as much as I ought.  Given the way this year is scheduled, I’m never going to catch up to the fiber in the stash.  It doesn’t mean I’m not spinning, I am.  Right now I have two active projects on the bobbins (a blue and white twining cable, spun Z/S/Z, to end up with a 2×2 cable, which I am sending to be used in crochet), and a striping Targhee on the wheel right now (2-ply Z/S: which means it will be better for Continental/German/Pick knitting: It turns out I’ve been making yarns for the less common style of knitting in the US, which is British/Throw knitting.  On the flip side, this seems to be the more common style of yarn, so no one has complained.  It seems the books I was using as reference assumed the default was Continental, that or I misunderstood them).

I’ve also got a batch of generic white, which I’ve dyed with saffron. It’s got a lovely yellow shade to it.  I’ve washed about 6 oz of dirty wool (from an Arapawa fleece I was sent), so I need to pick/card that and see how it does.

But I’ve spun about ten different fiber types in the past year. I have been “chasing cobwebs” (i.e. I spin pretty fine yarns).

Merino:  Smooth, but a bit grippy.  It want’s a lot of opening our before drafting.  It’s also pulls fairly slowly, even when being done as a woolen.  I’ve gotten better at avoiding “slubby” patches, but I’m still not spinning it as evenly as I’d like.

Herdwick: Not sure what I think.  Short, tough, rough.  Has some kemp.  Spins to a very durable; if prickly, thread when fine.  I’ve not managed to spin any up with any bulk.  Would be great for weaving carpet-backs.  Could be used as an outer sweater.  Face the cuffs and neck.

Lopi:  Easy spinner.  The yarns I’ve had the easiest time getting some intentional bulk into.  A bit less than soft, but not all that rough.  Blended with some silk it might make warm, long wearing, socks.   Good for sweaters.  Not best for large areas against the skin, but would be nice as a hat.

Polwarth: CREAMY!  This is (to date) the nicest spinning I know.  It’s a long-wool (like the Targhee, and Merino), but it slides easily, so pre-drafting is both easy and less critical.  It’s smooth through the fingers, responding well to being semi-worsted (by passing the yarn over, then under, the fingers in my orifice hand).  As with all long wools it benefits from a more open hand position.  It’s very nice to spin fine. The time it takes seems to be less, because the feel is so nice.  One gets a little lost in the sybaritic pleasure of it sliding through the fingers.

Suri (Alpaca): A different sort of longwool.  Not as grippy as those from sheep.  Has to be handled with some care, as it gets really wiry (and harsh) when overspun.  Underspinning is easy to do, and that can make plying a bit more tedious (to say nothing of the frustrations that can lead to when one loses the drafting end and has to fish it off the bobbin; at which time bit, after bit, after bit, just frays to nothing).

Huacaya (Alpaca): Shorter, a bit less soft.  Easier to spin woolen, though it also needs to have a careful balance of twist.

Yak: Very short.  Warm, and soft in the hand. Not as elastic a yarn as wool, nor even as Alpaca, but the spring to the plied yarns is wonderful.  It’s plush.  Good for scarves and gloves.  If you can find some white/tan yak it would make a very nice shawl; from fairly open, to middling dense lacework.

Targhee: A lot like Merino.  Feltier, so it needs more opening before drafting, but it’s more forgiving in the working; both sliding a bit more before it locks up, and locking up pretty solidly when the twist sets in.  Spins very finely.  It would probably full very well,  so weaving it into peacloth, or a a beret/tam o’shanter would be a good use for it too.  Might not be as good for socks (felting), certainly that would want a fair bit of silk/tencel/bamboo added to the wool.

Suri Alpaca/Silk (80/20):  Nice to be done with.  The silk makes it very prone to the top/roving developing halo (this might be static, so a little water/spinning oil might help, if you don’t mind the way they make the fiber feel in your hands).  Once it’s spun it’s lovely stuff, but it does need more handling.  It’s also very slippy, so you have to be careful with your hands, not to tight (or the twist runs tighter than anything), nor too loose (or it flies out of your hand, onto the bobbin, and needs to be fished out).    [I’ll be playing with some plain silk, and that should help some.  I wonder what a 70/30 ratio would do, since the silk has a different luster (larger bundles stand out, as chatoyent gleam).  I suspect being better with silk (which has huge issues with trying to fly away), will help with this.

Finnish:  Very nice.  Easy spinner, moderate staple.  Can be spun fine, so 5-plies for guernsey/aran sweaters with lots of clean cabling would be doable.  Has a moderate halo (but not prickly), so blending it with some alpaca to make it a bit softer (with looser decorative elements) would still look/feel good.