Spinning tapestry yarn

How many days can you go without a shower? The Colorado Trail in 9 days.

How many days can you go without a shower? The Colorado Trail in 9 days.

My hike was wonderful. I was unable to post to the blog from the trail, so what follows is a little photo record of my walk. I hiked for 9 days and I can tell you with firm certainty that this is my limit for not having a shower. There is only so much a little bottle of Dr. Bronners and freezing cold stream water can do. I came to the trailhead at the only major paved road ten minutes before a hail storm and nine days in and that was it. The second car by was a nice woman with two dogs who, though she did turn on her car vent a couple minutes after I got in, did not complain about my smell. Straight to a hotel through a hailstorm I went. Clean clothes, shower X2, pizza... all was well. Though I got off one day before I intended to, it was the unknown shower wall that demanded it. Nine days is the limit.

Packing it all up.

Packing it all up.

Once I decided to go hiking and gave up all pretense of finishing an online course and half of a tapestry before I leave, I was able to dig into the planning.

My little spinning/weaving kit is ready. I've made some rolags at home as I can't bring the big hand cards (obviously too heavy). I'll bring this little flick carder which I can use as a lock carder or as a comb and hopefully will even be able to diz off short lengths of fiber. The goal is to weave a few tiny tapestries on the Hokett loom so I don't need long lengths of yarn, just a variety of colors and enough fiber to make me happy with the spinning. I have already spun some base colors on the spindle (the Olympics helped with that) so have some larger bits of yarn that have been washed and balled.

Mix in some brown

I spun the roving I hand-painted and here is what happened.

I like it! I have picked up various tips about color in spinning from Deb Menz's book Color in Spinning and Ply and Spin Off magazines lately. I know a lot about dyeing with acid wool dyes, but mixing color for spinning brings it to a whole different level than dyeing solid colors.

I used a strips of brown and white roving painted with the same colors in generally the same proportions to make this. When mixed, the brown helped tone down the much brighter colors on the white. I am going to use the same formulas and paint some more so I have enough yarn for a small garment.

My next plan is to track down a fiber that I can use for tapestry singles. This BFL commercially prepared top is soft and lovely, but it is too squishy for a tapestry yarn I think, even if I spun it worsted.

If you know something about spinning, what are your best suggestions for a longer staple fiber (3 inches plus?) that is less fine than BFL which I could use for tapestry singles? And do you know of a source of commercially prepared top? I love prepping the fiber from the fleece, but for large quantities of tapestry singles, I'm interested in getting to the yarn faster. I will leave the hand preparation for my knitting yarns.

Here is what that roving looked like as I was painting it. Quite a transformation, right?

Spinning yarn for tapestry

My second spinning class with Maggie Casey** ended this past week. I have had more fun messing around with my spinning wheel than I thought possible. I love it enough I wouldn't miss a class for two blizzards, a long-scheduled workshop I was teaching, or for car troubles. I made it to all ten classes.

The thing is, it isn't just about the spinning. I have a long way to go to become a good spinner. I realized a few weeks in that I could MAKE YARN! The tools were right in front of me. I can combine fiber in so many ways to make exactly the yarn I want to use in my tapestry. This was a revelation.

For the last class we had to design a project. Mine will be a small piece on a Hokett loom... but with handspun. I figure I can manage to spin enough even yarn to weave a 2 inch square tapestry, right? Even if it takes half a pound of fiber. I'm on a pick and pick kick lately (some of you refer to that perhaps more correctly as half-pass) and have some new ideas related to color blending in spinning. Since I already know how to dye and a friend loaned me a drum carder, I think the options are pretty much endless. I'm just missing a set of those English combs.

Here is a little of what we did this week playing with various fibers. Maggie started us out with silk. It was good thinking on her part. Who doesn't love silk? We started with a cap. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Bombyx Mori and how silk is produced. There is a website called Worm Spit that details the way these silk moths are raised. What I didn't realize is that silk moths are domesticated. They have been so changed by cultivation that they couldn't live on their own.
Maggie separating the silk cap into layers. Each layer is one cocoon.

Silk cap. You can also buy it in "hankies"
Maggie and Kathy pull a layer of the cap off.

The silk in this preparation was not hard to spin. It wasn't even, but the staple is impossibly long, so even though I still have little control sometimes, it wasn't going to break on me.

Then we moved on to some Tussah silk. This had been cut and combed and it was fast! It seemed very hard for my beginning spinning skills. But it was lovely.
Tussah Silk
And here is what the cocoon looks like. The sticky sericin that holds it together is removed in hot water and then the cocoons are unwound onto a reel. There is a mile of silk on one cocoon.
Silk worm cocoon
Then we tried some camel mixed with silk. This went okay. The camel gave the silk a little more bite and I had an easier time spinning it.
50/50 Camel/Silk
All of that silk fiber was lovely. When we were sufficiently lulled by the mysteries of silk and how it is made and processed, Maggie pulled out the next fiber. It couldn't have been more different.

The story is still good. Flax preparation involves rotting (rhetting) the fibers and lots of abuse including the use of a medieval torture instrument, the hackle. There is an article about linen in the Twist issue of Ply magazine that talks about this abuse in great detail... in such detail that you really start to feel sorry for the plant. But then she comes back and becomes a better fiber the more abuse you give her.

This fiber did not run away from me. The staple is very long and the fibers very thick. I doubt I'll ever spin linen again, but once I got over the fact that it isn't silk, I enjoyed it.

spinning linen (flax)-- Look at me spinning with a long draw!
Then there was the cotton. What can I say about cotton except I hope never to spin it again. Maggie started out by telling us we needed to spin it long draw. Now I have had just a tiny bit of success even making the long draw method work for me, so this seemed like a tall order.

The staple is exceedingly short and I couldn't manage it. We started with some lovely processed cotton which I was mildly successful with. At least it held together long enough to wind onto the wheel.
Carded cotton
And then with a little chuckle, she handed us this.
cotton bolls
Spinning from the boll. I did it for about 2.7 seconds and then it all fell apart and I couldn't pull myself it back together. Eventually I started futzing with my wheel and hoping we'd move onto something else fast.

To make up for that misery, she ended on a Merino/Silk blend. It was absolutely lovely and I will be buying more of this fiber when my skills improve a little bit. I was able to manage the fiber nicely and my resulting bit of yarn looks pretty good!
Merino/silk blend
These spinning classes have really opened my eyes to the world of different fibers. I have to admit that I started weaving tapestry with the yarn my tapestry teacher used and haven't stopped yet. I have tried many different yarns and found others that I like quite a lot (as well as many I do not). But I didn't start to understand the subtlety of yarn until now. Not only do I now have many more options of how to blend color and make different color effects, but I have a much better understanding of important concepts like staple length, fiber content, and fiber care/cleaning.

When you look at yarn labels, generally you just see the stuff called WOOL. But there are so many different kinds of sheep and they have such different characteristics. It is a fascinating magical black hole that I have fallen down.

I'll be experimenting with the drum carder and some ways of making tapestry yarns next. I don't expect great things from my ability to make an even yarn, but hopefully I can make something consistent enough to test on the loom... at least on a little lap loom.

When does the next class start Maggie?
Production of silk kills the silkworm. In Korea, they make use of those worms too! Snack food.

**Maggie Casey is a celebrated spinning teacher and co-owner of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, CO. She teaches workshops all over the country though I recommend coming to Colorado. She is the author of Start Spinning: Everything you need to know to make great yarn.