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a view from the spinning wheel

It’s the Tour de Fleece! This is a spinning event where hand spinners spin everyday of the Tour de France. It is a fun event and I love the sense of community around it.

view from the wheel
view from my wheel

For the first 3 days, I spun 4 ounces of hand dyed Blue Faced Leicester top and plied some of it into 132 yards of worsted weight yarn.

BFL skein
my skein of BFL yarn

Want to join my team? Go to Ravelry and join in this forum. And if you love this roving, you can grab some in my online store.

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couch knitting on hot summer days

knitting in the wild

I love to do my knitting on the couch watching/listening to a guilty pleasure on the TV. Here’s a fun and easy 2 color brioche cowl knit in the round. Full disclosure…..I did have to redo this first attempt at least 4 times to fix mistakes as I learned this new technique. Yarn pictured is Rum Raisin LiViLy Cormo Worsted and Synergy mint green Worsted. You can grab some of this in my online store.

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Yarn Weights and Measures: What Do They All Mean?

grist1
I’ve been thinking a lot about what all those ways that yarn manufacturers, including myself, categorize the yarn.  There are so many ways of speaking about the size of the yarn. The standard yarn weight information is set up in a table with discreet squares. But I’ve been studying this lately and I’ve noticed that there is overlap,  a lot of overlap among the yarn weights. So it seems to me that this is really a continuum. Just look at the info about YPP, yards per pound, the overlap here is really large. Why is that? It has to do with the spinning process.

yarn weights

Was it spun in a woolen way with lots of air and softly spongy and so it has a bigger diameter? Or was it spun in a worsted way which compacts the fibers and aligns them all in one direction and so it appears thinnner. These two yarns could have the same YPP but a different grist or appearance and they will behave very differently. So use these as a guide, but the ultimate test is your own swatch. These two yarns were both supposed to be a DK weight. But the diameter is SOOOOO different. They knit up differently too. The green one knits like a lace weight yarn. It is our Heritage BFL yarn. And the turquoise yarn is Fingal’s and truly knits like a DK yarn. It is also made with BFL wool and both were made at the same mill.  Go figure!!

grist2

This really comes into play when you are wanting to make that special sweater. You are wanting to use yarn from your stash, not go out and buy the yarn that the designer used. Or maybe that yarn isn’t available anywhere near you. This is when those standard yarn weights become important. And even more important than that, is to knit up a swatch. Not only a stockinette swatch but also a swatch in pattern.

 

But is a swatch important when it is for a garment that doesn’t fit your body, like a shawl or a cowl? Well, I think getting the gauge close is important so that the stitches look the same. You may not need to get it “exactly” right if it isn’t going to “fit” your body. What is important to do is to check the size of the finished project, because many times the photographs used in the pattern, may be on a mannequin and not a person. It may be made for an extremely small or large person, someone whose body is vastly different than yours.  Sometimes making a swatch seems like wasting your time and a waste of yarn. You will probably only need 25-50 yards for a swatch. It will reduce the chance that you would need to frog your project.  I think it is important to make sure that the stitches look right. You may be a looser knitter than the designer or vice versa. So changing your needle size will be just what you need to get your swatch to look like the picture. Those are important questions to answer and it is worth the time to figure this out before you jump into your garment.

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Wool Love Wrap-up

Wool is so diverse and so can be used for so many different projects with different looks and different hand (they way it feels).  To recap, there is a wool out there for all of your projects from soft next to the skin cormo for shawls, scarves and hats to tough lustrous Leicester Longwool for warm rugs or blankets.  Wool has memory to spring back when stretch with wearing.  It also is very insulating yet it is breathable wicking moisture away from your skin.  Next week, The Year of Stash Appreciation will continue with an indepth look at mohair.

merinocloseup
Super fine merino showing the bounty of crimpy goodness.

 

 

What is your next wool project? Post your answers in the comments to share what’s on your needles.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 2–Cellulose and Synthetics

Effective yarn designers take many factors into consideration: fiber price, feel, structure, weight, and staple length to name a few.  Why make a blend with wool and a plant or man-made fiber? It depends. Each of these blends starts with the incredibly versatile wool fiber and adds properties of luster, strength or temperature control to the resulting yarn. Adding rayon/Tencel/Viscose/Lyocell gives yarn the look of silk without the price of silk.  All these processes were developed to mimic the silk fiber with it’s high glossy look. Adding nylon gives strength, while adding cotton reduces the warmth of the end garment. We’ll look at each of these.

Wool-Tencel: Tencel is a trade name for a particular rayon. It is made by breaking down woody plants and even wood into small molecules of cellulose. It is then extruded in the same way that spaghetti is extruded. The manufacturer can make any length staple length to match a wool staple that it will be blended with.  Since there are no scales on the skin of each fiber, it is highly lustrous. But the flip side to that is that it is inelastic.  It also lends incredible drape and softness to any fiber it is blended with.

Bamboo Textile Process

Wool-Bamboo: Bamboo is just another type of Tencel/Rayon/Viscose.  In these yarns, the plant is bamboo.  It is hyped as a eco-fiber based on the fantastic growth and proliferation of bamboo. In fact, large areas of food producing land in other countries is being planted with bamboo. It is important to know that the making of bamboo fiber (yarn and textiles) is not as environmentally friendly as the photo above would have you believe. The digestion process uses toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid and large amounts of water. Some bamboo textiles claim to be organic, they may have been grown organically, however the manufacturing process would not be able to meet organic standards. In fact, many of the characteristics of bamboo such as its anti-bacterial property are lost because of the process used to make the fiber.  There are some manufacturers who use mechanical breakdown which uses less chemicals and water to break down the plants. At this time there is no labeling requirement, so you can’t really tell which yarn would be produced in this more environmentally friendly way.

Wool-Lyocell: Lyocell again is just a type of tencel. But the manufacturing process used involves less chemicals and so is less ecologically toxic.  This system is also on a closed loop, meaning that the chemicals and water are reused rather than just dumped into the local environment.

Wool-Cotton: There are a few of these blends available in the commercial market. They are sturdy yarns that can be used for projects for warmer climates where 100% wool would be too warm. The wool and cotton are both “breathable” and the cotton tends to stay cooler against your skin.

Wool-Nylon: These blends are typically found in yarn intended for socks.  Nylon is a man-made fiber that is extremely strong and durable. Since socks get a lot of abrasion, nylon helps them last longer. Nylon also returns to it’s original shape after being stretched.

Wool-Acrylic: These blends tend to have wool as a lower percentage (20-30%)  of the yarn than the acrylic. Sometimes nylon is added to this mix as well.  These yarns all claim to be machine washable and can be put into a dryer as well.  They are great for easy care garments and especially for infant or child items. The yarns are also designed to be very soft which is a characteristic that most people want in their garments. These blends are the entry point for new knitters. Hopefully after knitting basics are mastered, knitters will moving into more adventurous yarns.

Do you have any of these blends in your stash? Do you have a favorite to use? What projects have you made with it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 1- Animal

After reading all the previous wool posts, I hope I’ve convinced you that wool is a great all purpose fiber that can be used for all kinds of finished products from hearty rugs to lacy, delicate shawls. Wool blends are designed to combine all the fantastic characteristics of wool with those of other fibers. Designers combine fibers together to make a yarn that solves a problem or serves a niche.

Wool-Mohair Blends: Mohair adds luster to the more matte finish wool.  Wool provides the mohair with memory so that your garment will bounce back to it’s original shape. My Fernham yarn is 75% wool and 25% kid mohair. The mohair adds just a touch of light and softness. Mohair dyes vibrantly and gives the blend rich tones.

provenceskein
FGF Fernham yarn made in collaboraton with Grindstone Ridge Farm. There are only a limited number of skeins left in this custom mill spun yarn. So if you love it, click on the picture to go to our store and buy as much as you need.

 

Mohair can also add strength. I designed our Perendale (wool) and adult Mohair sock yarn blend.  The mohair takes the place of nylon in other sock yarns. The Perendale wool gives the sock structure and spring and memory.

psock
FGF sock yarn made with 95% wool from perendale sheep and 5% adult mohair for strength and durability

 

Wool-Cashmere Blends: Cashmere gives that incredible softness to the wool blend. It also provides a lot of warmth without adding a lot of weight to the yarn.  Cashmere is almost always a shorter staple length than the wool. So it will add a halo to the yarn. It may also migrate out the the yarn and provide a pill factor.

Wool-Silk Blends: Silk lends incredible luster and strength to the wool fibers. Silk is stronger than steel. And there is an undeniable luxury factor when silk is added to wool. Silk also dyes vibrantly with rich tones.

Wool-Alpaca Blends: There are many alpaca wool yarn blends on the market. Many of them are also “baby alpaca” or cria. Just like any baby animal, cria fleeces are very fine and soft, so yarns made with it are also incredibly soft. Alpaca is also very warm and can be heavy. Wool in the blend provides the structure and memory to the yarn, so the yarns will bounce back into shape and not keep “growing”.  Alpaca dyes in softer saturation than either silk or mohair.

Wool-Angora Blends: I am just not all that familiar with Angora rabbits and I don’t want to mislead you.  I do know that it is incredibly soft and warm. Every angora yarn I’ve seen has almost a brushed appearance. So I wonder if angora is a bit like cashmere, in that, it will migrate out of the yarn and shed.  In these blends, wool is definitely adding the structure and stability to the yarn.  If you, dear reader, have more info about this add it to a comment and share your knowledge.

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What It Takes to Make a Farm Yarn

I am asked all the time about making yarn from the fleeces of our animals.  It all begins with the animals. A fiber farmer chooses what animals they will raise. Some are looking purely at fleeces, others research the general health or thriftiness of the breed itself.  You can read about my choice of breeds: Blue Faced Leicester, Cormo and Angora Goats here.

DSCN0624

 

Growth and maintenance of fleeces is a year round task. Many fiber farmers cover their sheep year-round to minimize the dirt and hay that can end up in fleeces.  Some long wool breeds and angora goats don’t tolerate the covers as the fleeces felt under the covers. Covers themselves can be tricky when the animals are in between sizes, like my yearlings are right now. The covers are either too small and restrictive or too loose so they fall off.  So we need to also look at how we feed hay so that the sheep and goats don’t pull hay on top of themselves.

Shearing can be done once or twice a year.  It is important to shear carefully so that their aren’t second cuts. These are small usually less than 1/2 inch staple length pieces that result from the shearer making a second pass on the fleece. I am so lucky to have the services of an excellent professional shearer, Emily Chamelin. She shears quickly so the animals are not traumatized and with very few second cuts.

photo by Kelsey

photo by Kelsey

After shearing, we need to skirt the fleece.  This means that the nasty and really dirty bits are removed from the prime fleece.  At this point, I make the decision about the fate of each fleece.  Is it clean enough to be sold to a handspinner? Is the character of the fleece consistent throughout the fleece? If so that fleece can be set aside for our prime yarn. Or are there neck and leg parts that are not the same quality? If this is the case, I take off those pieces and collect them from all the fleeces to be made into a different kind of yarn or roving.

FGF mohair

When I have a sufficient quantity of prime Cormo or Blue Faced Leicester, I can then make my design decisions about the yarn. What weight? Blended with what? What kind of ply? Which mill to use for which processes? Collaborate with another fiber farmer to increase the quantity?

I choose to use a mill because I have limited time available to do the rest of the processing myself.  The mill will wash, pick, card, comb, spin, ply and skein the yarn for me.  Each process adds a cost to the end product.  Whether it is the machinery, the operator or both, I have found that each mill has adds character to the yarn as well. My understanding of what the mill adds is part of my yarn design process. One spins and plies more tightly, another has a looser ply resulting in a less structured yarn.

sweitzer's carder

My newest custom farm yarn is Cirrus. It is a 3 ply Fingering weight blend of wool and alpaca all locally grown and custom mill spun. Each skein is 600 yards. The wool and alpaca are fine with a lot of crimp. The alpaca does not take the dye to the same saturation as wool, so there is a heathery or tweedy appearance.  There is enough yarn in each skein to make a beautiful shawl that will be soft, warm and lightweight. To buy this yarn now, click on the photo and you will find it in our webstore.

shawl 3

So next time you look at a yarn from a fiber farm, you will understand all the individual tasks and decisions made by that shepherd: breed, feed, shearing, skirting, processing all goes into making that yarn that you will use to make a beautifully crafted item that will be cherished for years to come.

 

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Purebreds, Crosses and Breed Specific Wool Yarn

5530249662_238e476cb1_z
Our Cormo and Blue Faced Leicester ewes

 

What’s the fuss? Should you care about whether your roving or yarn comes from a specific breed or specific individual sheep? What about cross-bred sheep? Is knitting with a breed specific yarn any different than knitting with commercial yarn made from mixed wools?

I raise 2 breeds of sheep: Blue Faced Leicesters and Cormos. They and their fleeces are like night and day. BFL’s are a longwool breed. They grow fleeces that are fine, lustrous and long. The staple length of this wool is usually 5-6 inches. Their fleeces grows in lovely ringlet locks.  They are leggy and regal looking with a roman nose.  They are also the loudest sheep in the pasture. They are the ones who signal the others when they spot us coming to the barn.  Cormos, on the other hand, as shorter and more compact. They grow heavy, fine, crimpy wool that is kind of like a thick blanket all over their bodies.  Staple length of my sheep is 3 1/2 to 4 inches.

I chose these 2 breed because I wanted to make some yarn that was lustrous and other yarns that were more squishy and soft.  Both of these wools would also be great complements for my mohair for nice yarn blends.

purple rain group
BFL mohair yarn from our sheep and goats. This could be yours today!

sauternehills heritage3
100% BFL yarn from my Maryland flocks, including mine. This could be yours today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year was my first sheep breeding year.  I borrowed Finegal from Grindstone Ridge Farm. I made the decision to breed my BFL ewes and 2 of my cormo ewes to see what a cross would be like.  About half way through breeding, the open ewes decided that they wanted to be with Finegal too….including a small Icelandic ewe. In fact, she was the instigator.  We were able to separate them out after about 2 hours. But 2 hours was enough to get more sheep bred than I wanted.

Last year’s lambs were Purebred 4 BFL’s, 4 BFL X Cormo, and 1 BFL X Icelandic.  The cross bred fleeces are fantastic. The BFLXCormo fleeces are longer than their cormo mom’s fleece, but it is denser and crimpier than their BFL dad’s fleece.  They don’t have the lock structure of the BFL breed standard. The Ice-Leicester lamb fleece grew as quickly has her mother’s fleece. It was not double coated, but rather a consistent fine fleece. It also didn’t have the BFL lock structure.  Her current fleece has grown in differently than the first. It has lock structure. It is extremely dense and soft. It is still a single coat.  It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop.  I am excited for shearing day in March. I am looking forward to have those cross bred fleeces made into beautiful lustrous, next to the skin yarn.

fleece
Cross breed fleece

 

So back to the original questions. What’s the fuss? Should you care?  It depends on your goals.  Breed specific yarns and roving can be fun to work with and very educational. You can see and feel the differences between the breeds and pick projects that complement the characteristics of the breeds. Will your knitting be different with these yarns? You may find yourself beginning to be more mindful of your yarn and project combinations as you begin to learn about the different breeds.  You will also feel great about supporting individual fiber farms and maybe even your local fiber farm.

 

Do you have a favorite breed fleece or yarn to work with? Leave us a comment to share your opinion.

 

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Stash Appreciation–Woolen or Worsted Yarn

Woolen spun bottom Worsted spun top
Top: Worsted spun shows more stitch definition Bottom: Woolen spun soft bouncy yarn without stitch definition

Like cousins, woolen and worsted yarns have the same genetic profile, but look and act completely different from one another. Woolen yarns are generally the least expensive industrial yarns to make. This is because there are fewer steps in the manufacturing process.  They can also use shorter fibers so many mills even use reclaimed or recycled fibers left over from other yarn making processes. The mills tend to spend a lot more time carding these fibers in order to get a more perfect blending and a better end product.  During carding, the fibers are aligned somewhat, but when they get the the spinning step, they are still disorganized. The resulting yarn that is lofty and springy and less dense and smooth than it’s worsted cousin.  The spinning is often quicker, producing a yarn with a thicker diameter that has less fibers and more air pockets inside.

Top: fulled Fernham yarn Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn
Top: fulled Fernham yarn
Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn

Woolen yarns have a more matte finish. They are very absorbent, making them great for soakers (like these). But they also tend to collect more dirt on the outside, so frequent gentle washing may be needed more often. They tend to be the yarns that felt well, but they also can produce pills when abraded.  They are very warm and insulating primarily from those air pockets. Woolen yarns are good for warm, winter outerwear, like cowls, hats, scarves, handwarmers, mittens, gloves and sweaters.  These yarns are very elastic and tend to be easier to break. This quality makes them useful for knitting, crochet and weft, but not a good candidate for warp threads in weaving. Because they are so lofty, hair and squishy, they do not have good stitch definition, so don’t use these yarns for fancy lace or cabled knits.

top: woolen spun bottom: semi-worsted You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample
top: woolen spun
bottom: semi-worsted
You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample

Worsted yarns are more expensive to manufacture because there are more steps involved. Wools that are usually made in a worsted or semi-worsted style are long wools with staples from 4-8 inches in length. Fleeces from breeds such as Leicester Longwools, Wensleydales, Lincolns and Teaswaters, are typically spun in a worsted style. After carding, the worsted process proceeds to combing.  In this step, short or damaged fibers are removed from the web or batt. The fibers are also aligned longitudinally producing a highly organized and more uniform product called top or combed top.  During spinning, the yarn becomes highly twisted and extremely strong. The yarn is more dense and heavier than woolen spun yarns with the same diameter.

Worsted yarns have a lot of luster. The wool scales are all aligned and are able to reflect light from their uniform surface.  This quality makes them a great yarn to choose when knitting lace. The yarns are smooth and tightly twisted which means they can show off your fancier stitches such as cables.  They are strong and durable so projects like socks will last a long time without abrading or pilling from use.  Because they are so dense, they are not very absorbent, however once wet they take a long time to dry.

How do you find these yarns? If you are buying commercial yarns, the labels do not tell you how they were spun. So use your senses. Is the yarn smooth and tightly twisted? Then it is a worsted type yarn. Is the yarn more loft and bouncy? It is a woolen type yarn.  If you are buying yarn from fiber farmers, ask them! They should know how their yarns were processed and what specifications they mill used to make the yarn.  If you are buying handspun yarn, the spinner will surely be able to tell you if she spun it in a woolen, worsted or semi-worsted style.

What about the term worsted weight in yarn patterns and labels? That term is totally different than worsted spun. Worsted weight is a term coined by Craft Yarn Council o  It refers to the diameter of the yarn. You can find woolen and worsted spun yarns in worsted weight.  These yarns have a number 4 on the label and are considered the medium weight yarn. It is the most popular yarn weight because it can be successfully used by makers of all skill levels.  It is also a good all around weight to use in the most popular handmade items such as garments and blankets.

Now go and look at your stash with new eyes!  Do you have a preponderance of bouncy, squishy woolen type yarns to make into soft winter warm items? Or do you have a lot of highly twisted smooth yarn to make into durable socks? Or maybe you have a combination because you love to make all kinds of items. Leave us a note about what you find.

For more information:

ply worsted
http://plymagazine.com/product/worsted-issue-winter-2014/

ply woolen
http://plymagazine.com/product/woolen-issue-winter-2013/