30 May 2013

One Batt, Two Art Yarns -- And Washing a Fleece

There was still lots of blue fleece left from my recent art yarn post and I remained possessed by a yearning to do more blue-themed yarn before moving on to another colour.

I was about to embark on a batt-a-thon when I was interrupted by a gloriously sunny day, one that demanded to be taken advantage of through the drying of a newly-washed fleece.  Being only an in-between-time fibre artist -- having work, children, husband, household affairs, friends, family, and a recent fabric sale that led to extravagant purchases on my part accompanied by lavish promises of summer fashions for my daughter -- I have to grab my fleece-drying days as I can.  If it means putting off other fibre-related fun, alas, so it must be.   And don't get me wrong; I love washing fleece.  I love transforming the richly-scented bags of wonderful that the perplexed postal carrier lugs up to my door into ready-to-use ooh-la-la. As it is shearing time, and as I have a few newly purchased raw fleeces I can't wait to dig into, it was easy to comply. 

The chosen one was a beautiful 6.5-lb Corriedale from Rupperts.  

No VM in this lovely covered fleece with amazing staple length.  Some of the raw wool almost
looked clean already, like maybe this was an indoor sheep or something.  
There are so many excellent online instructions on how to wash raw fleece, I won't go into my whole process as it is like many others (super-hot water, blue Dawn, vinegar, no don't agitate whatever you do...). I will show you my nifty set-up, though.  I was lucky to be able to get giant, used food-grade plastic containers online.  I use them both for washing and storing fleece.  After the initial soapy soak, I find the fleece (which is divided amongst several laundry bags) wants to float and fight its way out of the water, and I have to keep struggling to keep it submerged until pretty much the final rinse.  To solve this problem, I set a colander into the top of the big container, gently forcing the fleece down, and weight it with a bucket of water (which goes to clean-up or garden-watering afterwards).

colander pushes the fleece below water-level
bucket of water holds it there

That's 6.5 lb of raw fleece soaking away

I know, what's with the waist-high bathtub? The people who owned our house before us ran a dog-grooming business.  This tub is perfect for washing fleece and yarn and making felt -- any kind of big wet job your sink can be too small for -- although first-time visitors tend to be taken aback on seeing the heavy chainlinks embedded in the walls at either end . . . really, it's not that hard to get my kids to have a bath!  And don't worry; we do have a normal bathroom upstairs!

Raw, unwashed lock
pure white, washed lock of Corriedale

As you can see, the fleece cleaned beautifully and combed into the most marvellous top -- how could I resist using it immediately?!

Having washed another fleece and put the sunny, hot day to good use, it was time to get back to my blue batts.  To that end, I combed and carded some of each of my blues above, plus some more blue fleece I had, and added a few colours I couldn't resist.  

My crafting table, ready to start carding the batts - see my little white nest of Corriedale? 

This assortment includes Romney x Merino, Corriedale, Cotswold, Romney lamb, Cormo, Merino, Lincoln Longwool, Bluefaced Leicester x Corriedale, Bluefaced Leicester x Romney/Cotswold, Border Leicester x Bluefaced Leicester, Bluefaced Leicester cross (can't remember what it was crossed with...), representing sheep from Little Smoky BluesWooly Wool of the West,  Aye Sea EweMMF Wool, Aspen Grove Farm and Rupperts, mentioned above.

I carded them using the "sandwich" method as described here by Ashley Martineau of Neauveau Fiber Arts.  I like the way this method randomly blends parts of the colours and leaves other parts standing alone.

I had enough wool for four batts, which would make two skeins of wool on my wheel.  Two I wanted to use for a two-ply, teardrop-plied yarn, using the batts for one heavier ply, and some gorgeously lustrous BL/BFL for the other, which I would spin much thinner to create that nice teardrop ply.  Here they are, tempting me to spin them:

Resistance, as they say, is futile

Here's the single from the batt:

And the finished yarn:

A good 55 yards (51 m) long, and very bulky at 4 wpi. You can find it in my shop HERE
I decided to spin a supercoil yarn with the other two batts, because I was in the mood, and I wanted to see how the colours compared after plying.

First the long single from the batts:

You can see this is a lot thinner than the other one

Supercoiled yarn is spun by coiling a single like the one above around a core yarn.  Sometimes I use 8/4 cotton warp, but this time I used a wool-nylon mill-spun purple yarn.  Wool hangs and handles differently than cotton, of course, so using a different core will allow you to manipulate the finished yarn a bit differently.  I used wool for this skein because I felt like it (so often my reason for doing so many things...).

Here I am spinning it:

There's lots of extra twist in the singles so it holds together okay as a coil

I like to measure off the yarn I need for the core ahead of time, wind it into a butterfly, and let it hang down as I spin. I know a spindle full of yarn is going to spin me about 25-30 metres of supercoiled yarn, so I measure it off approximately and if I run out I can always tie on more.  With the butterfly dangling below, I can allow the extra twist that builds up in the core to unwind as I spin.  Every so often I stop and let the unspinning dangling core catch up with me.  

My dangling butterfly of inner core yarn, which I help untwist
with my left hand as I'm spinning, and
the kinky outer yarn angling in from the lazy Kate

I do this because I really don't like the way supercoil yarn cores overtwist when I spin them.  And even if I run the core yarn through the wheel in the opposite direction ahead of time to make up for the fact that I'm going to be adding twist to an already twisted yarn, it still overtwists, plus I'm now trying to manage two overtwisted yarns and the whole drama starts to drive me crazy.

Here's the finished yarn:

The colours came out more purplish than the other skein - it's about 36 yards/33 m long

And here it is in my SHOP
Well that was fun.  Now on to other colourways...


  1. That is so gorgeous! I am trying my very first super coil yarn and though I am using a spindle (as per Sarah Anderson) to let twist out of the core, it is still super kinky! I've tried two different types of core yarn, first a mohair for the grip, then a thin, plain wool cone yarn.
    I'll keep trying and hope I end up with something as nice as you've created here!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I thought about using a spindle to let out the twist -- and didn't get further than that. I could only imagine my spindle flip-flopping all over the place. I find using a butterfly easy to manage -- there's a ton of twist that you have to let out, and sometimes I feel like I'm sitting there waiting for it to untwist as much as I'm actually spinning (which, come to think of it, I probably am). It's easy to let more yarn out of the butterfly as you go and it can crazily unspin and bang into things and you don't have to worry about the well-being of your spindle. Try spinning 2-3 of coil and then waiting for it to untwist. Spin, wait, spin, wait. I also don't twist the core in the opposite direction first. I find that makes it much more difficult to spin, and I still have to let twist out anyway because I'm not re-twisting it perfectly in spinning the coil yarn so what's the point of all that trouble. Spin, wait, spin, wait, just a couple inches at a time. (It helps to be listening to something terrific.) Good luck - and thanks again!

  2. Nice to hear from you! Yes, this is a slow going spinning project but I am very nearly done. I think my finished yarn with still be overspun a bit but I'm okay with that for a first project.
    I am finding that not having as much core yarn unwound helps the butterfly/spindle discharge extra twist more quickly as there is less length to manage. Okay, now I have to look at some of your more recent posts! Have a great day!