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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sheep Study: Cotswold Spinning

After washing the samples I had received of the adult Cotswold fleece, I let them dry, then split them into two groups. One group was for combing on my English combs/dog combs and the other for carding.  I have already done the reading to know that with a staple length in the 5-8 inch range, combing is going to be the best bet. But I wanted to be semi-scientific about this and see what differences could be achieved with carding.

Combed Fiber:

When I first started processing this fiber, I had a pair of cheap dog slicker combs that I was using. They had one pitch of smooth (not deathly sharp) tines and were about 4.5 inches wide.  These are perfectly serviceable for those of us who do not wish to spend more than $100 dollars on combs specifically for wool processing.  These are also good for learning the proper method of combing without worrying about damage to the combs.

I combed the first sample of fiber, which was the sample that had not had added conditioner to the second rinse. The combing itself was fine, but the fiber while spinning was a little crisp. (This is when I decided to add conditioner to the second rinse, and also only use Dawn on two washings for the rest of the fleece that would not be used in sampling.)

Sample 1:

Sample 1 was washed 3 times with Dawn dish detergent, and rinsed twice.

I started on my Ashford Kiwi fast flyer with the 14:1 ratio for the singles s-twist and navajo plied z-twist on the 11:1 ratio. I ended up with about 15 yds at 14 wpi, which is close to a sport weight.

This sample was more overspun than I would have liked, with the twists per inch averaging about 15 tpi in the plied skein. The fiber itself was a little hairy, as if the fibers did not get completely spun into the singles, and were working their way out. The crispness of the fiber felt like it was more similar to wool in carpets. Smooth when you're walking on them, but a little rougher when just laying on the carpet.  I thought it might be because the sample had been washed so many times, or that my combing method was lacking, so I decided to do a few more samples.

Sample 2:
Sample 2 had been washed the same way that Sample 1 had been. It was washed 3 times with Dawn, and rinsed twice with no additional conditioning.

I combed it instead on my English combs (new acquired) to rule out the combs being the problem. Spun on my Ashford Kiwi with the 14:1 ratio s-twist for the singles, and then navajo plied z-twist on the 11:1 ratio.  I ended up with about 4.375 yards of sport weight yarn.

The resulting yarn was slightly less crisp than the previous sample, but still seemed overspun. The twists per inch was 12 tpi, so less than the previous sample, which I think contributed to the slightly nicer handle of the yarn.  Using the English combes appeared to make a difference, but to ensure it wasn't the main cause of the change in handle, I did another sample.  I wanted to show that the TPI is what really matters when spinning long fibers.

Sample 3:

Sample 3 was washed the same way the previous samples were washed, and was combed on my English combs.  I decided to test the "TPI matters" hypothesis by spinning at lower ratios and seeing what it did.

Sample 3 was spun on the Ashford Kiwi as well z-twist on the singles at 11:1 and s-twist on the navajo plied yarn at 11:1 as well. (A Note: Normally you do go down a ratio when plying to make sure you aren't taking out twist from one direction at the same rate you are adding twist in the other direction. I was unable to get a third ratio close enough from my wheel (the next ratio down would have been 7.5:1, and I felt that was too low. To compensate, I treadled slower in order to introduce less twist.) TPI in the resulting mini skein was 8-9 tpi.

The third sample turned out much silkier than the others, which I attribute to the twists per inch being lower as I progressed through the samples. Thank you, Thank you. I have just done an experiment that supports what most spinning teachers tell you about long wools. "Long wools need less twist to be held together". Scientific method has successfully given me a better understanding as to why this matters.

However, we still have not dealt with the idea of carding the fiber.

Carded Fiber:

Sample 4

I will not lie. Sample 4 turned out the best in my opinion. However, let's take a look at why.  I used the "waste" that was leftover from combing the locks for the previous samples and drum carded it, then pulled it into roving.

The roving itself was not as shiny as the top I had created, a result of the fibers not being aligned parallel, for sure.  It did however have a bit more bounce to it than the combed top.

Sample 4 was spun on my fast flyer for the singles s-twist at the 11:1 ratio, and navajo plied on the regular flyer z-twist at the 7.5 : 1 ratio. The finished yarn was about 10.69 yards, and varied a little between lace and fingering weight.  This was interesting to me because I had always assumed that more work would be involved with spinning thinner when using a lower ratio. Not with Cotswold. :)

The twists per inch was the most important part. I ended up with an average of 9 tpi on this yarn, which was the sample as Sample 3, but the yarn itself was more fluffy, due to the woolen spinning method.

A final note before the recap: All of these yarns were given a hot bath and then twacked to finish. I hadn't really wanted to try fulling to finish with these, and didn't imagine it would work to well, since Cotswold isn't known for felting capabilities.

The resulting yarns would be good for outerwear or a nice wool skirt. I don't think I would use my samples for a scarf, with the way the crispness set, but I could see trying it with a yearling or lamb's fleece to see if age makes a difference (and we know it usually does...) This could also be wonderful for blending with another softer long staple fiber, perhaps alpaca or llama? I don't have any alpaca to use, but that little bit of softness could make the yarn usable in more next-to-skin applications.

What We Have Learned:
1) If you want a shiny longwool prep, use combs.
2) Remember that you don't need much twist for longwools, so use a lower ratio.
3) TPI is king for longwools. Pay attention to that in order to get the yarn you want.
4) If you spin woolen, using carded fiber, remember it won't be as shiny as its combed counterpart, but it will be fluffier due to the introduced air.
5) Spinning samples is important if you want to learn what your specific fiber has to offer. Your patience will be rewarded.

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