Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Round, Round We Go: Art Yarns, Part Three, Additives

One of the easiest ways to give a special look to yarns is to add "stuff" to them.  Adding extras to your art yarns can occur during processing, spinning, plying and after the yarn is finished.  Let's take a look at a few of the ways we can jazz up a plainer yarn.

My preferred technique for yarn additives is to incorporate them into my carded fibres. Bits of yarn, scraps of fabric, fibres left over from another project, feathers, fur, raffia, paper--all of these things can be carded into an art batt, provided they will pass through the drums.  (Don't add the doll heads just yet!) I use a coarse carder--a Mark IV drum carder with a chain link drive band.  This carder handles just about anything I run through it; unless you're adding finer, softer fibres or small bits of yarns, a carder intended for finer fibres and softer blends will not be sturdy enough. 

Garnetted yarns are made by cutting yarns and blending them into a base fibre.  I like to sandwich bits of chopped up yarns, usually hand spun wools, alpaca, and silks, between two layers of a compatible wool or other fibre such as alpaca or llama.  Remember that your yarn will only be as soft as its toughest element, so if your base fibres are soft, choose additives that will enhance those fibres.  If you've wondered what to do with those leftover bits of hand spun yarns, now is the perfect time to card them into your batts.  Shorter pieces will blend into your batts more thoroughly than long bits of yarn, so experiment with the effects you want.  Be sure that whatever you're using will not wrap around the drums.  If you're using silk hankies, cut them into shorter lengths.  The same caution applies to sari silk or fabric pieces.

Base batt of wool and alpaca with commercial and hand spun wool, silk and cotton yarns
Used for "Memories" art yarn

Add plenty of whatever you want in your finished yarn.  No matter how well you blend or spin, some of these bits are going to fall out of your batt, either in processing, spinning, plying or finishing.

Base batt of BFL with silk hankies, silk and wool yarn

The smallest batch I blend usually weighs about 100 grams/4 ounces.  I like to blend enough for a small project, if only in theory.  This requires some planning: I blend my base batts, add my elements and then recard until those elements are held fairly securely in the batt.  Don't over card.  If your fibres are balling up instead of smoothing out, you are breaking down the base fibres.
Once I have carded my batts to my satisfaction, I usually separate them into lengthwise strips for spinning.

Most wheels can handle most blended art batts, although you may have to spin your yarns more finely if you are using, for example, a Louet Victoria rather than a Pioneer with a Wild Flyer. Use the slowest whorl ratio/speed on your wheel and treadle slowly, so that you can attend to any elements that want to go astray.

I draft back, smoothing in any bits of yarn, etc. along the length of my spun yarn.  If I'm plying the singles, I add quite a bit of twist.  Plying allows your additives to work loose from the base yarn.  Extra twist helps prevent their escape.  In most cases, I don't use these yarns as singles because they tend to shed and pill.  If I really want to use them as singles, I will full them severely when I wash them.  You can maintain some of the look of a singles by plying these yarns with a fine commercial or hand spun yarn in a similar colour.

I make sure that everything stays in place by washing these yarns in alternate hot and cold baths and some agitation.  This is the minimum finishing treatment I give garnetted yarns.  In most cases, I wash them in hot and cold water, agitating them in the baths, whacking them against a metal pole and then hanging them to dry.

Next, we'll discuss how to add those doll heads into your art yarn.

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