Friday, 21 October 2016

Spinning and Knitting a Braid of Dyed Zwartbles Wool and Silk

Past experience of spinning two raw Zwartbles sheep fleeces would never have inclined me to blend them with silk and certainly not to dye the dark brown locks. I thought its warm, natural colour was the best thing about Zwartbles, the tough, springy texture set me to making rugs, crocheting bags and, got to admit it, lining plant hanging baskets.  
Admiring a photo of a handspun hat, knitted in deep blues with a fabulous shift and gleam, I went looking for the source of the original braid of fibre at Hilltop Cloud online shop.  Not seeing anything like the photo, I assumed the colourway was all sold out. Even when specifically directed to the hand dyed 75% Zwartbles and 25% Tussah silk, I found it hard to imagine how a braid like this could spin up into navy shades.
Of course, I had to buy some, just to find out.  The first surprise was how soft it felt. Buying Zwartbles from a discerning supplier makes a world of difference. Taking into account the quarter of it that is silk, nonetheless, though the cleaning and combing process had not eliminated a recognisably Zwartbles type of body and bounce, I'd guess the sheep or lambs this fibre came from must have had finer fleece than I've handled before. Splitting the braid into two 50g pieces, I did my best to tear the first section lengthways into equal halves, hoping to keep the colours together when plying. Spinning fairly finely at a 15/1 ratio on my Ashford Traveller seemed effortless, most confidence inspiring.  Though the blend is not homogenous, a single could be drafted out smoothly, working back and forth across the top edge using short forward draw, whether I hit a silky part or a woolly part. Enjoying myself and keen to see the plied effect, I had the first 50g skein of heavy fingering weight yarn finished in just a couple of evenings.

All that shiny purple and green was still there in the yarn, just muted by drafting the bright silk together with the dark Zwartbles, and somehow, the dominant colour was blue, though not navy.  The Zwartbles itself had taken up the dyes, though I've not seen this done, I believe acid dyes are applied directly to segments of the blended braid. When you look closely, the dark wool is also varied in hue.

Lots of electric blue dye coloured the water when I had given my finished yarn a bath and a couple of rinses.  Better give it one more long soak.  My companion, Elinor Gotland, found me using the time to trawl through all the hat patterns on Ravelry.
"Late supper tonight, is it, Beaut?  My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."
"Give me another minute. I know I've spotted some really interesting shaped hats in the patterns library before. Very distinctive.  I'll know soon as I see one."
"Woolly Wormhead."
"You can cook your own dinner if you're going to be rude."
"Search 'Woolly Wormhead'. Bet that's the designer you're after."
"Ooo, it is, too.  Six whole pages of her hats."  Elinor sighed.
"Filter the search for fingering weight yarn and you'll be done in no time."
Ten minutes later she was back.
"I'm not being funny, but himself has come over all faint with hunger.  He'll come down on the floor like a ton of bricks, if you don't get a move on."
I decided not to tell her the hat I really wanted was supposed to be made in double knitting wool.  Just pressed that button to buy 'Tucked' and tried not to think about the current sterling exchange rate.

This hat ought to be knitted in what must be a tight fabric, using 3.25mm needles and dk yarn.  I could get the correct stitch count on a tension gauge swatch using 3.5mm needles with my rather thinner handspun, though no doubt the effect is not what was intended. Thinking I could run up a hat in a couple of evenings and frog it if it didn't work out, I set off in cheerfully cavalier fashion.  A week later I was still at it.  Those funky ridge tubes are not intrinsically difficult to knit, but they do take a while.  Sustained by the excitement of seeing the next band of colour appear in another ridge, I pressed on with knitting my Tucked, despite unkind remarks from my companion about tea cosies and a secret anxiety that the finished dimensions would make an odd shape of any human head.

I'm delighted with the yarn.  In the finished object, the knitted colours have turned out very much like the subtle navy of that hat I admired on Ravelry and the Zwartbles/silk blend is smooth, soft and comfortable to wear against the skin.  I shall have to rethink my attitude towards Zwartbles and try some blending of fibres and dyeing on coloured fleece myself. The construction of the pattern worked out brilliantly, good fit, great shape. I shall definitely be knitting more of Woolly Wormhead's hats this winter. 

I'm calling this one 'Petrol Head'.


  1. What pretty colours Fran. Is the hat basically a tube?

    1. Not a tube, the top end is closed and the short row construction makes it hold a backward curve - really clever.