Thursday, December 27, 2007

The final result of the Polypay fleece odyssey....


I hope everyone had a lovely holiday so far and that you're still enjoying some R&R before you have to go back to work. Me? I'm at work, knitting socks :) Not knitting socks on dp's or circs, but on big ass commercial knitting machines. More on that part of my life later, I promise!

Above, behold the final product of the 10# of polypay fleece I blogged about last time. Voila~from raw fleece to yarn! I'm pretty pleased with the colorway ~ I used 1 pound each of turquoise, charteuse and violet with 1.5# of natural white. I was surprised that more violet didn't show in the mix ~ very weird. The turquoise and charteuse blended together more than I expected as well. Had I done a swirl instead of a variegated roving, they would have each remained more distinct. The next variegated I do will be higher contrast in dark purple, pale charteuse, medium turquoise. Like picking colors for a quilt :)


This is a photo of the roving itself.

Several surprises with this fleece. I pretty much expected it to noil in the carding, and it did. It's fine wool and didn't have awesome staple length. I would say it was less than 3" for the most part. The other surprise is quite pleasant...almost no VM remained after all that hand picking and I fully expected there to be more since there were small pieces I just couldn't get at. Looks like the carder at Zeilinger Wool Co did a great job of getting rid of the rest for me:) Had I blended this with a bit of mohair, the noiling wouldn't have been so bad but polypay is really quite soft...lots of the same properties as merino but not quite as fine...and since I'd never worked with it before, I wanted to see what it would be like all on its own. It has a lot of elasticity and is nearly as soft as merino. My other option to eliminate the noils would have been to have it processed into combed top, but I only had ten pounds of raw fleece, which became like 6 after washing soooo...

If someone wants to spin a fine, even, smooth yarn, this wouldn't be the roving for them. If you want a bouncy, playful, kinda slubby thick and thin then get some! (It's going up for sale on my website this weekend) I first tried to spin the sample on my beloved Valkyrie Turkish spindle but it was way too slow for a fine, short stapled fiber like this. I mean, it would spin but the yarn was just ~ eh. As I gain more spindling experience, it's easy for me to know right away that the spindle is just wrong for the fiber and that the fiber would love to be spun on something else. Had I kept trying to spin this particular roving on that particular spindle, I would have found it ugly and frustrating. Back in the beginning of my spindling career, I probably would have just struggled along on the same spindle and I know that many of you probably only have one spindle to start with, and that's OK. In that case, you can try spinning thicker or thinner to see if it helps (and I've found that to be really important too!). But, sometimes, having at least one more spindle option can make a world of difference.

So, I switched to a much lighter, faster top whorl spindle and off we went! The roving requires quite a bit of twist and I found the new spindle made it possible to spin in more of a long draw fashion, which suited the fiber just fine. The little colored noils made fun slubs in the singles and the resulting 2-ply is soft enough for a child's garment with lots of bounce and fluffiness. This would be an excellent fiber to use as a fat single to ply with a thin commercial yarn or thread for some of that fun, artsy yarn without a whole lot of jumping through hoops to get there. It would be a really fast, easy spin on a wheel :)


This is some of my very first handspun ~ actually, it *is* the first handspun I ever did that was more than one small ball of slubby, nasty stuff.

I actually knit it into something kind of weird, kind of cool ~ not quite sure which! It's a scarf vest out of the TV issue of Knit 1 magazine and it was really easy to knit. Of course, it was nearly impossible with the uneveness of the yarn to get consistent gauge and the garment ended up a tad large but that's OK.


I ran out of handspun so did the collar and half of the fringe in some of my wool/silk laps, which worked out better, I think, than a collar in the handspun would have. Plus, the yarn has a lot of mohair and not-so-great wool and is a bit picky so the wool/silk against my neck is a better deal anyway.

I spent the week before Christmas spindling some lovely stuff for my Mom ~ I'll blog about it next. I also just recently (pre-Christmas) started spinning some of my very first Rambouillet, which is interesting. I have enough of "black" (really dark brown) and white to knit a funky little hat for going outside and doing chores. I'm not sure if the roving is just not-so-fab or if what I'm experiencing is typical of's kind of annoying to spin. ha! I'm spindling it ~ my wheel is going to be really occupied for the next couple of weeks as I have 4# of bearnese mountain dog swirled with some merino to spin for a lovely gentleman out east. Should be quite an experience ~ he wants it bulky, bless his heart, so I'll be sure to post about it as well.

Here's hoping Christmas was lovely for you! I got a Black and Decker "Mouse" sander from the DH...our home is still a construction zone and I've got a lot of furniture sanding in my future so believe it or not, that gift made me really happy :) I'll be back to blog some more soon ~ and I do want to say thanks to everyone that left comments and are glad I'm back ~ thanks so much!


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Preparing and dyeing a Polypay fleece for processing...

First, I have to say *something* about my gross negligence to my blog. It's been nearly a year since I posted and man, that feels awful! All I can say is that the past year of my life has been kind of horrendous ~ I'm sure I'll catch everyone up on that as I go along with my regular posting again. But, that's not how I want to start right now :) I'd like to start again posting something useful and helpful (I hope!) by sharing my process for a current project and that is getting six pounds of clean polypay fleece ready to be sent in for processing.

I'm planning a variegated roving and will certainly share photos of it when I get it back this next week (it'll be for sale on my website) I've not worked with polypay before and got a decent bargain on ten pounds recently via the internet so thought I'd give it a try.

First, I had it washed at the mill where I work (Zeilinger Wool Co) and what was once 10 pounds is now six. It's fairly fine and was pretty greasy. And while the seller told me there was some VM, there was more than I like or expected. This photo is of the washed fleece. The tips didn't come completely clean, but I didn't expect them to. The staple length is OK...2.5-3" but, again, I prefer a bit more. This should work really well for the long draw woolen spinning method in the roving though :)

I talked to Jim (who runs the carding machines and does all the swirls and fancy rovings) at the mill about colors ~ how many, etc. It's best to have high contrast in a variegated roving (as opposed to a swirled roving, which you can see HERE) since there's a lot of blending going on :) So, I decided on charteuse, turquoise, deep violet and white). Then I weighed out one pound of clean fleece for each color, with 1.5 # for the white. You can't really see it but there's lots of VM in there folks!

I use a huge enameled pot for my dyeing and while it's quite large, it can still only handle about 12 oz of fleece comfortably. It's about 15" across and 8" tall. A taller pot might work better for vat dyeing solid colors, but I like this one for hot-pour too.

I start out by running hot tap water into the pot and I apply the powdered dye directly to that water and use a whisk to mix it. It's probably a better idea to paste the mix first with boiling water, but I wasn't worried about perfection with this stuff.
Then I submerge the dry fleece in there. I wouldn't do it this way if I were trying for a really solid color in roving or yarn (I would wet the fiber first and then heat the water a bit on the stove before adding the wet fiber and dye) but this is going to be picked and carded and blended together so some variation in color is fine by me. I let it soak in there while it's heating up and when I feel like the color has moved through the fiber, I'll add the acid (vinegar is what I normally use).

The polypay seemed to be a little more difficult to dye than some of the other fibers I've worked with. Part of it could be that there's still a bit of dirt in the fleece even after having it scoured and that makes it a bit harder to exhaust the dye....the polypay took about twice as long to exhaust as the merino laps I was dyeing at the same time. I let the fiber cool as well since the last remnants of dye will exhaust in the cooling process if the dyebath seems stubborn, as these did and I knew this wasn't because I was using too much dye....I used about 2 teaspoons of washfast acid to 12 oz of fiber, which is a little lighthanded according to most directions. I'm still a bit new at the dyeing for processing thing and I may need to use more dye to maintain the deeper colors in the carding ~ I'm not sure how much the white in the mix will affect the other colors yet.

This is the charteuse after dyeing and then spinning out in the washing machine. It's hard to see all the VM in it, but there was still quite a bit. While the fleece was damp, I started teasing it by hand, and in the process, a lot of VM was shaken out. I also picked out the larger pieces as I went along. I'll grab a big handful and just start pulling at it, from one hand to the next, opening up the locks. This reveals the larger pieces for picking out and also causes a lot of the smaller stuff to fall out. I know that the picker at the mill will be doing the same thing but the less VM I send in, the better the end result will be.

This is what came out from just teasing and shaking the dyed fleece...the stuff I picked out by hand is in the green pile of fleece. It's really quite a bit!

And below is the fleece after all that teasing and picking ~ there's still some VM in there but I'm hoping that the picker and carder at the mill will remove most, if not all, of the rest.
I wish the photos showed how much VM was actually still in the fleece...much more than I expected there to be and while it's a bit of a pain in the butt, it can still be dealt with if you want to take the time. Most people would just send it off like that, I guess, but I really don't want to offer customers a product I know I can improve by just spending a little extra time. I don't think it's FUN to hand tease and pick 3+ pounds of dyed fleece and I still have to do the same to the 1.5# of white that's going in with it but not tonight :) I started running out of steam working with the violet and it's not as well picked as the charteuse or turquoise but it looks pretty good.
I hope that what I get back is worth the effort and if it isn't, well, I learned a lesson!

I'm a little nervous about how the polypay will card up since I've not worked with it before or had roving made from it. My concerns are the staple length and if it's fine enough to noil on's really softer than I expected it to be and I think the roving will be nice even if there are a few noils in it.

I still have 28 ounces of clean polypay fleece to play with...I'll probably dye it and do my hand picking/teasing thing and sell it on the website for someone who wants a clean, dyed fleece to hand process :)

I played with some other new dyes today and had some disappointments with splitting in my new green dyes...sigh...I'm going to have to find out what I can do about it since I tried several different things and one in particular...Washfast Herb Green...split no matter what. Bummer, because what I can see of the color would be fantastic. I'm avoiding mixing my own colors at this point but I may not be able to avoid it much longer. I'll try and blog them this week if I'm not too frustrated with the whole thing! I did have good luck with the Moss Green and Pine Needle Green though, and the yellows worked out fairly well too ~ Lemon Drop, Mustard, and Gold Ochre ~ although the gold didn't dye very evenly, it didn't split on me but I think that's more of a problem with darker colors like the greens and the chocolate brown that I can't get to behave either!