When I first learned to spin nearly 20 years ago, “painted roving” was the New and Exciting thing. The barrier to entry for indie dyers is pretty low – combed top and acid dyes are easy to get, it can be done in a small space, and there are numerous books, magazine articles, and tutorials about the various ways it can be done. These days braids of painted top are one the most prevalent forms of ready-to-spin fiber preps.

Enter the blending board! Here was a tool that was much less expensive than a drum carder, and didn’t have the learning curve of hand cards. People realized that they could use this tool to plan placement of color and texture in a carded prep. Batts and rolags were no longer expected to be a mostly-homogeneous blend, nor were they limited to stripes. The intersection of these ideas with the rising popularity of Art Yarn has made artfully blended batts A Thing with spinners buying RTS preps.

In an effort to be at least somewhat on-trend, as well as to take advantage of recent fleece acquisitions, I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone and figure out the New Batt.  Homogeneous blends I can do -have been doing for years. Ombrés? Not so much. I have little interest in themed Art Batts – they’re fascinating and beautiful, but I admit the idea of trying to spin them makes my skin crawl. For all that I admire a well-executed Art Yarn, I’m a smooth-or-minimally-textured-yarn gal. Different ways of blending colors and fibers, however, I can do. I am on a quest for different structures and fiber blends, spinning them up, and seeing what happens.

I’ve discovered that it’s harder than you’d think to find 201 or 301-level information on this subject. Everything I’ve found has been for beginners. I’m looking for recipes, not “how to cook.” In desperation I bought Esther Rodgers’ Craftsy class on Fiber Processing, hoping she would go into the details I was looking for, and I found some of what I wanted – I just wish I hadn’t had to pay for a class that was 95% stuff I already knew so that I could get to the 5% I didn’t. There were also subjects I wish she’d discussed that she didn’t, but I’ll get into that another time.

I’m currently exploring striped and layered batts, dizzing the batts back and forth off the drum into a roving, and seeing what the resulting yarn looks like. One of the ways to get a striped batt is to make a layered bat, split it, then run the sections back through the drum carder sideways. I first tried this with the Cheviot X fleeces I’ve been washing, but I didn’t think to take photos, and the colors were too dark to really show the results well online. I decided to repeat the experiment with more contrast.

batts-0920165407Here is my layered batt, using equal amounts of magenta and blue Merino top, and white bamboo rayon. This fiber combination turned out to be a bad choice for this experiment, as you will see later. Among other things, I determined that yes, bamboo is one of those types of fiber that is best applied directly to the drum rather than via the licker-in and the feeder tray. It’s so slick that the main drum doesn’t want to pick it up, it all gets stuck around the licker-in, and you have to then persuade it to go where you want.

batts-0920165408Here you can see the batt section turned on its side, the three colors forming stripes. You can also see how the slipperiness of the bamboo is causing a great deal of separation in that middle layer, and will end up being a bit of a PITA as I try to keep the stripes discernable.

batts-0920165409The resulting striped batt on the carder, with significant blending between the colors, mostly due to the slipperiness of the bamboo.

stripesWhen a striped batt is dizzed off the drum carder, you’re supposed to end up with a roving that transitions through the colors in the stripes one at a time, with some blending between. That’s mostly what I got – you can see large areas of mostly-magenta, mostly-blue, and mostly-white. Again, the slipperiness and density of the bamboo caused it to blend more with the other colors, so that there are nice puffy Merino stripes, but the bamboo sections still have a significant amount of the other two colors visible.

stripes-bobbin-0929165475This is what the singles look like on the bobbin. The sections of blue and magenta are very distinct, but the white of the bamboo has almost thoroughly blended into them, leaving nothing that is mostly white.

Next time I’ll post my experiment with this same fiber combination making a layered batt, and show how that turned out.




The Light at the End of the Tunnel!

I’m down to the last two raw fleeces!  I may actually be done with this huge undertaking by the end of October!

Last year my lovely Sister in Law, who is a rural route letter carrier, started bringing me raw fleece from several of the small farms along her route.  These are not fiber flocks, and are mostly used for pasture management and organic lamb.  They are all crosses, with the largest number being Cheviot crosses.  I can’t say for sure what they are crossed with, and the fleece characteristics vary widely, from next-to-skin soft to Pillow Stuffing.  I ended up with maybe 20 fleeces that I have had to wash in very small batches because we only have one bathroom, and my husband strongly objects to the smell.


I’ve been making giant bags from unused flat sheets to store the washed fleece in, and I periodically stuff a giant vacuum bag full so I can store it away. I eagerly anticipate being able to navigate my studio without needing a string to find my way out!


My “Slow Fashion” Project – Part 2

I had the weft yarn for my Slow Cloth yardage project all sorted out, now I needed warp. I was not in the mood to dye and blend another pound of fleece, so I left it natural. My strategy was simple: I’d card and spin about 12 oz of singles, measure the yardage, and see how long a warp I could make with it. I was hoping for at least 6-7 yards, at about 20″ wide.  I just wanted plain yardage, so no fancy patterns. I went with a basic broken twill and used this draft from, only without the warp stripes.

It all started off well enough. I sized and blocked my singles, and wound them onto cardboard storage spools when they were dry in preparation for warping. I used the Ashenhurst Rule for determining sett, as I did not feel like measuring WPI on 4800 YPP singles. I had a starting sett of 27 EPI, and I would warp Back to Front for a change. For some reason I ended up with a five yard warp, where I had hoped for at least seven. I chalked it up to lack of experience, and start winding my warp. After I finished winding the whole warp I discovered 4 more skeins of spun warp yarn that had fallen behind the loom before I did my warp calculations. Now I understood why my warp ended up so short – I was missing about 1400 yards 😦

I had two choices. I could carefully unwind everything back onto spools, recalculate the length with the additional skeins, and start all over again, or I could keep the warp at its current length, and just make it a little wider than I’d planned. It had taken me four days to wind this warp. I went with option B.

I figured there was no need to actually count anything while I was winding the extra warp.  After all, I was threading in a straight draw and didn’t have any complicated threading sequences to keep track of.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading.

I took the warp chains to the loom and started spreading them in the raddle. It did not take long to see that I had 38″ of warp on a 26″ loom. This was not going to work. I tried changing my sett to 32, but even that wasn’t enough. In the end I left it at 32 EPI and pulled out the extra ends, setting the unused warp chains aside. Oh, and somewhere in all the rearranging of warp in the raddle I lost my cross.

I finally got it all beamed and threaded, but it was not a nice, neat, orderly warp.  It wasn’t really tangled, but there were a lot of places where sectionsof warp were crossing over each other. This, combined with the new closer sett, made the warp Very Sticky.  A warp of close-sett, semi-woolen-spun wool singles is sticky. Who’d’a thunk it (please apply sarcasm font.) Every time I changed sheds I had to manually clear the warp and make sure none of the threads were sticking together.  Every. Single. Shed. It’s impossible to develop any speed or rhythm when working like this

I did eventually finish.  It took me three months.  I’m reasonably happy with the fabric, even though it’s more warp faced than I’d pictured.  The warp stripe draft gives it a very subtly ribbed texture at this sett, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.

So what happened to the rest of that warp yarn, you ask?  When I was done with this piece of yardage I cut it off, and tied the remaining warp onto the center section.  I re-sleyed at my originally intended 27 EPI, giving me the more balanced twill I’d been hoping for.  I got another four yards of fabric, at just under 8″ wide.  This one was much faster to weave off, as the warp was beamed more evenly, and the wider sett meant no more manual clearing of sheds.

It will make nice facings, and maybe a small bag or two.

My “Slow Fashion” Project – Part 1

A couple of years ago I set a personal challenge to make at least one complete outfit entirely from fabric that I had spun, woven, and sewn myself.  This is where that project starts.

When I was a relatively new spinner I made a common newbie mistake, and treated a raw fleece I was washing a little too impatiently.  It wasn’t a total disaster, but there was a little  felting on the cut ends.

I did what I usually do when I want a “solid”color, which is to dye the fleece in a selection of my base colors, then blend them on the drum carder.  Unfortunately I also chose this fiber-blending project to try using a swing picker for the first time.  It was not, on the whole, what I had expected.  The picker only exacerbated the problem, tearing the fiber where the ends had felted together.  I had also not done a good enough job removing the second cuts from the fleece.  The result was a fairly neppy batt. I was not about to let that stop me.  I found I liked the tweedy pops of color that the neps made, so I decided to think of it as a “design element” and called it good.

I let those batts sit for a number of years as Life happened.  When I decided to start this project I realized these neppy, tweedy batts would be perfect for plain twill yardage. I spun a bit over 11 oz of wool into a bit over 3000 yards of singles at roughly 4500 yards per pound – about the size of heavy-duty sewing thread.

This was the easy part.  Next I had to spin enough similar yarn for warp!

Easy Peasy

When I first saw the Peasy cardigan, for the first time in my knitting/spinning life I knew *exactly* what I wanted to do.  I wanted to find a nice charcoal colored fleece, overdye it a cranberry red, and spin it into yarn for this sweater.

When I went to the Connecticut Sheep & Wool show that April, I found a perfect Romney hogget fleece in the exact color I was looking for.  Because it was a Romney, which is a longwool, it would be less inclined to pill.  As a hogget fleece, it was fine enough to spin into a DK weight yarn that would not be terribly prickly.charcoal-romney-hogget-fleece-0428131077

After many years of spinning, I find yarn that has been dyed a solid color to be very flat and boring.  When I want a solid color I like to dye fiber in multiple colors and blend them.  This gives the appearance of a solid color, but with greater depth and nuance than I could achieve by mixing the dyes first.

After sampling some of the undyed fleece to get a feel for how much I needed to dye to get the yardage I needed, this is what I started with:  overdyed-grey-romney-fleece-0513131111

When I’m going for a uniform blend like this I start by figuring out how many batts the amount of fiber I have is going to make. My drum carder won’t hold much more than an ounce at a time, so for convenience’s sake, I split this lot up into 12 batts, roughly 25g each.

I divided each individual color by 12 by weight and blended them into an initial series of batts, 2 passes each on the first round. I then divided each batt in this first round by 4 (by weight) and blended again, so I had 3 stacks of 4 ~25g batts. I divided these batts by 3 and blended, ending up with 3 stacks of 4 batts.  The final round I divided each batt in half, ending up with two stacks of 6 batts, which I then pulled into roving for spinning.overdyed-charcoal-romney-batts-0821131420

The finished yarn came out exactly as I had envisioned it.  cranberry-overdyed-romney-0824131529

The knitting took me about a week, with another week to get around to weaving in ends and blocking. The final touch on this sweater was the buttons, which I made from sterling silver.peasy-0913131616

Done!  Easy Peasy!