At the end of a successful dye run, you'll be left with a pile of lovely fluff waiting to be transformed into yarn and fabric. When I'm working with a familiar wool breed-Romney is one of my favourite wools-I take a good look at the raw fleece and imagine my options, before I start to play. This fleece has medium crimp, a nice lustre and a medium hand, which, by my standards, means it's suitable for rugs, bags, outerwear, socks and perhaps mittens or a hat, if you're not particularly sensitive to wool. I'm not, but I wouldn't knit scarves from this fleece because it's probably too coarse to wear around my neck.
Then again, a lot depends on what happens next. There are many options when working with fleece, so I decided to test a few of them. All yarns were made using my Lendrum Single Treadle wheel. All were Z spun/S plied. I swapped out flyers between yarns, using the medium speed flyer for the first sample and the slowest flyer for the other samples. The twists per inch, angle of twist, etc. were calculated using the iSpinToolkit, iPod app which my friend and Master Spinner, Coleen N. recommended. (The app is available on iTunes for $4.99. Go buy it.)
As the app instructions note, the calculators have their limitations. They're based on using balanced yarns, which isn't always the spinner's choice-my second sample was very softly spun, more tightly plied. They might leave the impression that yarns with a similar angle of twist are similar; however, although the samples here use the same fleece and have similar angles of twist, they are very different yarns in terms of hand and end purpose. This is the case with any method for measuring yarn; nothing substitutes for sampling and experimentation.
My first yarn was spun directly from the teased fibre (the first yarn at the top), using what I describe as a "fluffy cloud" draw, in which I use both hands, pulling back with the hand holding the fibres and pulling forward to coax out stubborn bits of locks. Because I hold the fibres for a relatively long time, compared to my other drafting techniques, this method tends to give me a highly twisted singles. Working with teased fleece guarantees a textured yarn. Using the Andean Plying technique, I plied this yarn back on itself. The 2 ply yarn was over plied, but balanced after a hot bath wash and rinse and a good whacking. It has an approximate angle of twist of 30 degrees, 10 wpi, 6 to 8 tpi in the plied yarn and would be considered "Fancy Twist" on the Mabel Ross "TPI for Desired Firmness in Final Yarn" on this app. (Really, go buy it. Now.) As always, you can click on the photos for a closer view:
The sample is tough, suitable for bags or mittens with a lining. I wouldn't use this yarn for hats or socks:
Next up is the green fabric. The yarn was spun from hand carded rolags, using an unsupported long draw and then plied back on itself. It was fulled severely, in hot and cold wash water and rinses with agitation, then whacked on my outside metal railing and hung to dry. Although the yardage is similar to the first yarn (14 yards for the green, 15 for the orange), this is a much loftier, softer yarn, good for woven blankets, warm mittens, hats and outerwear. It had 5 tpi in the ply, from a very lightly spun singles (perhaps 2 tpi), a 27 degree angle of twist and 9 wpi for a Soft Knitting Yarn.
Hand carding is very slow. If I decide to use this wool in this way, I will card batches on my drum carder and spin from those. I would probably knit this yarn a little more tightly than I knit my sample:
The third sample was from the second dyed batch of fleece, combed on my single pitch Louet mini-combs. The resulting tops were lovely, but could have been more refined, had I used my 2 pitch Forsythe mini-combs. I spun this yarn using a short, forward draw, then plied it back on itself. This yarn was the most pleasant to spin; the remaining lanolin acted as a lubricant and the fibres flowed through my fingers. This preparation and spinning style emphasized the lustre of the wool. I washed this yarn in hot water using dish washing liquid, rinsed it well and gave it a light snap between my hands before I hung it to dry. By the way, those spots aren't holes in the knitting (although I would knit this yarn more tightly in a project); they're reflections bouncing off from the camera flash:
Of the three samples, I enjoyed spinning the long draw (woollen) and the forward draw (worsted) style yarns the most. The yarn from the combed top was the prettiest and it would work well in socks or for lace knitting. If I used this fleece for sock yarn, I'd add more twist in both the spinning and plying for durability. The sample is 10 tpi in the ply, 15 tpi in the singles, 23 wpi, with a 30 degree angle of twist (Fancy Twist).
Working with raw fleece gives the spinner many choices, only a few of which I've discussed here. I could choose to sort out intact locks, spin directly from them or flick card them and then spin. I could chain ply singles. I could spin lofty or medium twist singles, which would be the best way to highlight all the colours in this rainbow, which is what I've used in this detail from one of my tapestries:
I could spin highly energized singles for deeply textured effects in knitted fabric, as in the bag I made for my iPod:
Then, there is colour to consider-if that rich red I love lined up with the fluorescent green Romney, the effect would be startling, a psychedelic holiday nightmare, although, as you can see from the bag, there are ways to use a range of saturated colours effectively.
The possibilities are open for each spinner to discover. I hope this series on rainbow dyeing and its end uses help send you on your own adventures.
Now, if I can just decide what to do with that washed out natural dye pot fleece. . . .