Friday, 15 April 2016

Spinning and Felting Singles Yarn from Raw Zwartbles Fleece

While my friend Wrigglefingers was showing me how to spin coreless corespun yarn from a batt, she told me about Wolf Yarn. Much taken with the whole idea, I went googling about and read some contradictory stories. Though the details differ, it seems that Judith McKenzie invented it when she found herself in a tight spot and needed to spin fast, to keep the wolf from the door
She spun Wolf Yarn straight from washed locks of wool, churning out sufficient quantities of conspicuously handspun single yarn to make unique blankets and jumpers which brought in enough cash to keep her going.  Here is the woman herself, spinning and talking, you have to listen closely.  Though it's not a slick, promotional video, there's enough there to make me long to go to one of her classes.  She describes her yarn as a fluffy boucle, coreless corespun from a lustre longwool type fleece.


I think she says any locks over three and a half inches long with low crimp could be spun this way. Nothing lustrous in my fleece stash, but I have long owned a large Zwartbles off a farm in Swansea, proudly presented to me by my friend BG.  Having struggled with a Zwartbles early in my spinning career, gratitude hid a shameful thought - Come friendly moths, fall on this wool!  (It isn't nice and my cupboards are full.)
Though the staples are over 10cm long, the locks are rather more full bodied and bouncy than a longwool.  I suppose there is plenty of disorganised crimp in a Zwartbles and that is my excuse for totally failing to get a boucle effect.  I don't know how the twist in Wolf Yarn singles gets balanced.  Maybe it doesn't need to be.   I've heard you can weave with singles and I know that knitting garter stitch with a fresh single will share out the energy, so that the knitwear does not angle off sideways on the bias.  Despite using a 5 to 1 ratio on the wheel, pedalling slowly and keeping the tension high to draw the single onto the bobbin fast, once taken off the niddy noddy, my skeins of singles just twisted themselves into a twirl.  In the video, Judith specifically says her yarn is not felted, but mine got plenty of agitiation in two hot detergent washes and rinses, then several hot to cold plunges.  
Felted single yarn doesn't spiral, mine hung thick, straight and stiff as old rope, utterly inelastic.  What the hell, the plan for this deep brown stuff was to provide a dark foil for my colour fest singles, which I wanted to use in a rug.  I intended to knit a semi-circle, constructed along the lines of a pi shawl, then add short row waves of colour, inspired by this shawl pattern.  On the third attempt, after changing needle size and reducing to three increase stitches on alternate rows, I gave up trying to make the rug semi-circular and didn't bother to do any more stitch counting.  Four garter stitch rows in brown separate short row sections of entirely random construction, turning when the colours in the mad skein shifted, attempting to pool some 
shades and stretch out others while building shapes that seemed likely to interlock.  Once I had used up one of the mad skeins and maybe half the Zwartbles, I cast off, stuck the whole thing through a wool wash cycle in the washing machine and gave thanks for the amazing plasticity of knitted fabric as I blocked the rug flat.  I call this the Wriggle Rug.  Loved it, knits up fast, I'll definitely do another.


"Don't you think that was daring of me, freestyle knitting with no pattern?"


My companion, Elinor Gotland, has made friends with the puppy and now considers herself the Crocodile Dundee of Bridgend.
"Daring?  Hardly.  You are talking to an actress who has never relied on a stunt double."
Mental fuses blew, merely imagining a stunt ewe, never mind one with Elinor's unique physique. I started putting on my coat to go out for some fresh air.
"Wish I could get hold of Judith MacKenzie's book, The Intentional Spinner."
 "You should write a book yourself, Beaut. Call it The Unintentional Knitter."
The dog noticed me picking up her lead and dashed in.  Elinor fell off the doorstep, leaping for safety.

10 comments:

  1. That's beautiful, like stained glass.

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    1. Thanks. I am very pleased, though the colours don't suit the room, really. It could be a warm, washable bath mat and I'm wondering if it would look better at my sister's.

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    2. Oh I think it would look much better here!! ;-)

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  2. the rug turned out nice, despite the lack of pattern:)nice pup, too - though not very spinner friendly (ie lack of fur for spinning, to comb out:) you could have run the kinky yarn backwards, to get rid of some of the twist? alternatively you could make more in different kink directions and knit something "kathryn alexander like"? not sure that a rug with 3D effect would be very useful, though... I do like the colour of zwartbles - and in my experience praying for moth infection is quite dangerous, because they never go for the intended fibres, rather for the most expensive and/or rare stuff in your stash:)

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    1. Wow, just googled, she is so not afraid of colour. I feared if I untwisted the yarn, it might come apart. Very foolish to wish for moths, I know, now sending vibes of Zwartble affection to the universe. The pup is spinner friendly, in that she is superbly trained in not touching fibre, yarn or wheels. Not so reliable at recall or digging up the garden.

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  3. mine doesn't touch yarn or fibres, only when in form of shoelaces (or shoes..). she hasn't touched the wheel yet - but test chewed on sofa and tables.... if she started to chew my wheels - she would be in very serious trouble, but they are not conveniently close to nibble them, when lying on the sofa:)
    I wouldn't go for alexander's colour riots myself, but I do like her ideas of using s and z twist unbalanced (or overtwisted!) for different effects; works very well even with a muted colour palette, that doesn't leave people with sufferings of sun blindness!

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    1. Another subtlety for me to puzzle over - thanks :)

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    2. trying my best - why should I suffer alone?:)

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  4. Just discovered your lovely blog, so packed full with gems on natural dyeing.
    Thanks for all your efforts. I am a fan!

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    1. Thanks for writing, much appreciated.

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