An Adventure in Spinning, The Recap

breed specificIt was a little over a month ago that I said I have these seven breed specific fibers from Louet’s Canterbury Prize Wool Group, let me share thee adventure of spinning them with you. I can honestly say that I’ve learned a ton and I’ve had a total blast sharing each experience here. I now know the subtle differences between sliver & top, as well as the more dramatic differences between the different breeds with which I spun. Speaking of these different fibers, how about we take a tour of the yarns I made with them?

In order of how they appear in the above photo (not the order in which I spun them), they are…

Wens SliverWensleydale Sliver

Jacob SliverJacob Top

Jacob Sliver reallyJacob Sliver

Shetland Sliver FOShetland Sliver

Wens TopWensleydale Top

Finn Top FOFinn Top

Fine White Shetland FOand Fine White Shetland.

I am not only a more well-versed spinner for this little experiment, I am just overall a better spinner for it. If you have the chance, I highly recommend putting together your own similar adventure. Louet has 15 different breeds specific fibers to try out — what are you waiting for?

The Wensleydales.

The last legs of my little Louet breed-specific spinning adventure are the Wensleydales, both sliver and top.  I first spun with Wensleydale wool earlier this year with a roving a friend purchased at a local farm.  My first foray into longwool, it kind of blew my mind. I found myself taking a long time with it as it took me a fair bit of time just to wrap my head around how long that staple length was. It also just wows me that unlike many breeds which date back very far into history with many pieces of their genetic puzzle unknown, the Wensleydale breed can be traced directly to the Leicester ram and Teeswater ewe that started the line in 1838. I find the simplicity of the history to be as elegant as the yarn I spin from the wool.

Having had a bit of experience with this type of wool, I knew that I wanted to spin both the Louet Wensleydale Sliver and Wensleydale Top the same way — in a roughly sport-weight 3ply using the Navajo plying method. I knew from my Shetland Sliver & Top experiment what the differences would be like between the two different preps. In fact, I was completely ready to delight in the unique skeins that were coming my way.

It wouldn’t be a proper end to this breed specific spinning adventure, however, without including a little something new. An unknown. So, I pulled out the lace flyer for my wheel. I’ve had my wheel a few years now and I’ve been learning and expanding my skills slowly, but surely. Previous to this project, I had tried my lace flyer exactly once for about 3minutes before I tucked it back into storage. That flyer was too fast for me! I’m happy to report today that ‘was’ — past tense — is the accurate tense. I made it through both 7oz bags of Wensleydale sliver & top singles using the lace flyer. Not only did I make it through, I enjoyed it. I am more than a bit chuffed at this accomplishment. And the yarn even turned out great. Double chuffed.

First, the sliver.

Wens Sliver no tagThe snowy white sliver is just a light, gorgeous dream.

Wens Sliver CloseIt has a hint of drape, but its most prevalent quality is that it is airy. Delicate.  I can see it shining as a simple shawl.

The top is denser, of course…Wens Top skeinAnd has drape to spare.

Wens Top CloseIt has more of a creamy color and is much silkier to the touch. I see this skein making any intricate lace shawl look amazing.

Wens TogetherBoth of these lovely skeins were an absolute delight to spin, especially with the lace flyer. The fibers flew through my hands both into singles and while plying. I don’t think I can pick favourites, but of this entire breed specific journey, I have to say that this pair of Wensleydales rank very high on my list. The experience of spinning these Wensleydale is actually somewhat hard for me to put into words. I love that — as I said earlier — it is so simple. The long staple length, the fast flyer. It is just an elegant process producing a beautiful yarn. From start to finish, I give the Louet Wensleydale sliver and top both an A+.

Shetland Top & Sliver: Side by Side

In my big box of goodies from Louet, I had a bag of Fine White Shetland Top and a bag of Shetland Sliver. I am the first to admit that I knew relatively little about Shetland wool — I had never spun it and had only ever knit with it for the kit I ordered from Kate Davies, the First Footing Socks. Before sitting down to my wheel, I did a little research and what I discovered is that Shetland wool is very special.

Shetland sheep have been evolving for over a thousand years on the Shetland Islands, the northernmost islands of Great Britain. Much effort has gone into and continues to go into tracing the genetic line of this sheep breed. It is a tangled web, however, with this age-old breed that has not only grown to adapt to the harsh climate where it exists (the island lie at a latitude roughly similar to that of Fairbanks, Alaska), but been bred at times for meat and at times for wool. All the genetic push & pull has created a breed that includes a lot of variation. The wool ranges from incredibly coarse to insanely fine. It even  has its own 11 color rainbow — an element that is actively being preserved today.

Being far from an expert on exactly what type of Shetland wool I had, I decided that I would do a direct comparison between the top & sliver that I had.  For both, I decided to spin a standard 3-ply, ultimately getting a chunky or bulky weight yarn.

First, the top. The fiber itself — much like the Jacob top I spun recently — was super soft.

20140529-183307-66787894.jpgIt is a bit uneven just because the finer top was slightly harder for me to regulate the weight on the singles and heavier weight yarns tend to come less naturally to me (hence the practice, practice, practice!).

20140529-183306-66786625.jpgAll in all though, it was a luscious in my hands at the wheel as it was as fiber. In its finished state, it is a soft, almost silky barely cream colored 3-play that will undoubtedly make  a beautiful little winter hat for me or my daughter. It is a relatively dense yarn, so I can tell it will be nice & warm and it’s even soft enough to be against my little girl’s skin.

The sliver… well, take a look at the difference…

shetland sliver2Can you tell that it’s just a bit more full?  Take a closer look.

shetland sliver1Can you see it? It is that sliver gift of a little extra air in those fibers. Less processing = more air = more fullness. It is deliciously squishy! Exactly like the Jacob, I also found the Shetland sliver to have those built in brakes, that naturally slower spinning speed. T sliver yarn a bit rougher to the touch that the top. While I probably wouldn’t use it as a cowl, I still find it to be quite comfortable against my skin. I  definitely look forward to knitting this up into a smart winter hat for myself.

Side by side….

20140529-190013-68413717.jpgYou can see the sliver on the right is a slightly heavier, fuller yarn. Believe it or not, I started with the same amount of fiber and finished with two 60yard skeins. It’s a spot-on comparison as to the difference between top & sliver for which I’ve learned a lot not just about handling these fibers, but also what type of yarn they are best suited for. I think I would happily stick to this bulky weight with the sliver, but might try a finer weight yarn with the top. Regardless, this adventure with Shetland has been my favourite yet. Not only is this a beautiful, fun to spin fiber — it is a fiber with endless possibilities & variations. The only question left on my mind is which color of the rainbow will be next?

Sometimes You Have To Be Brave

I’ll be honest. I have an irrational fear of paddling (read: I am occasionally paralyzed with fear when in a canoe). When we first met, my husband and I had both done a fair bit of paddling in canoes & kayaks and I was cautious, but loved it. Over the years there have been a number of unfortunate events that have eroded my confidence. There was that time we decided it would be all right to kayak up a relatively big river with a strong current. And then there was an incident when my husband tried to prove we could canoe into a riffle after I specifically & emphatically asked him not to and we totally overturned (perhaps caused by me panicking). And then last spring, I had a full-on one-for-the-record-books panic attack on a local river in spring. I’m not proud to admit there was a lot of loud sobbing involved and we ended up getting out barely downstream and walking back to the car. I kind of thought Mr Knitting Sarah might divorce me for that one — he is a patient man, but it was pretty bad.  Thankfully he didn’t, he just wasn’t very interested in ever being in a boat with me again. You get the picture though. It has been a steady downward spiral.

Since the last incident, I have been trying to over-regulate the environment in which I paddle. Little to no current. Little to no wind. Me in a kayak instead of canoe where I have more control over my own destiny. Basically speaking, I made a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t be in a boat. Earlier this week Mr Knitting Sarah suggested we go for a paddle and I set out on listing off my rigid set of guidelines. He cut me short and explained — as only he can — that this was irrational and I needed to face it & get over it because he had no interest in coddling my irrational fear. I cried. I was angry that he was so not understanding of what I thought I needed to get my confidence back. He was telling me I simply had to be brave — to face the ‘danger’ even though I was scared. I was not ready to accept that. I made arrangements to start paddling with a friend who was excited to do some low-key paddling to make an effort to get back on the water (and have a good excuse for some time with my friend) and figured I’d eventually get to where we could boat together again.

Then yesterday afternoon my husband had off of work and he informed me that he wanted to go canoeing with the kids after school. He said I could come or not, it was wholly up to me. He was not judging, but I could see from his face that he was not going to accept any irrational panicking and if I was going I had to commit to being a good, calm example for our kids. At first I said no — he was planning to go on a river (with a current) and there was a little wind out, occasionally gusting to a shocking 10mph maybe. I was pretty scared that I wouldn’t be able to hold it together. It only took a few minutes to realize that I didn’t want to miss out, though. I could still take my kayak while the rest of the family canoed, so that was something anyway. I officially changed my mind and we loaded up my gear. And the craziest thing happened…

sarah kayakI loved it. We drifted down following a Bald Eagle all the way to its nest and got to see a number of beautiful Blue Herons and Wood Ducks and Orioles along the way. The kids had a blast, my husband was happy, the sun was out — I just loved it.

I won’t say it was totally uneventful. There was that point in the very beginning where the current was a little stronger and I found myself somehow going backwards directly toward a big rock. Then there was an incident where I was struggling to get enough speed to get up a swift spot because I was only in about 6″ of water so I couldn’t use my whole paddle. When I said I was stuck, my husband actually grabbed my boat from his boat and threw me forward to force me to make it happen (and so I wouldn’t cause them to overturn). Somehow though, I managed to not panic and I got back to the put-in spot. No, save for a blister on my thumb I felt great. Who knew that would happen?!

Another thing I’m pretty terrified of is spinning stand-alone singles. When making a plied yarn, I always feel like I get a second run at my yarn before it’s done — an extra shot at correcting any over-twisting. Singles are just spun & done. It scares the you-know-what out of me. It feels like walking a tight-rope with no safety net. When I touched the Finn Top from Louet’s Canterbury Prize Wool Group though,  all I could think about was a gorgeous squishy, slightly thick & thin single. Finn Top — also called Finnsheep or Finnish Landrance — is known for being very merino-esque, but with a slightly longer staple length which makes it a little easier to spin. As with the paddling, I hesitated ever so slightly and then just went for it.

20140523-080050-28850260.jpgI cannot express in words how soft this fiber was. Imagine the softest thing you can think of, but fluffed with air.

20140523-080051-28851451.jpgAt this point, I was so pleased with how the single spinning was going and so addicted to to the fiber itself that I was glad I started when I had a block of open time. I knew it would be tough to stop.

20140523-080052-28852711.jpgAnd thankfully I didn’t have to. This happened in the span of an afternoon with just a few spots of over-twisting — a real win for me.

I let it rest over night and then onto the niddy-noddy it went.

20140523-080054-28854174.jpgSee that little pink reflection? That was the light of sunrise. I could not wait to see if/how this yarn turned out!

I did the cold/hot/cold/hot/cold baths to shock and set the single. And then a good 5 or 6 thwacks (my very favourite technical term in spinning) on my back porch. And then I let it dry…

20140523-080055-28855801.jpgWith the help of some Hunt’s tomato sauce. I rotated it on the post every couple hours to help it dry faster and to be certain I was getting the twist thoroughly set throughout the skein.

The result?

20140523-083919-31159865.jpgYeah. I’m not even kidding. If ever there was a time I wish I could enable you to reach through the screen and touch some yarn, this would be the moment.

20140523-083918-31158768.jpgIn the end I have about 250yds of a slightly thick & thin worsted weight yarn. It is exactly what I envisioned — very reminiscent of a skein of Malabrigo Worsted. It simply could not have turned out better, could not be any softer, and could not make me any more proud & happy. This Finn Top from Louet — I am officially a HUGE fan.

All in all, I have to say that when you face your fears head-on the rewards can be pretty darn amazing. Sure, you could end up floating by your PFD with an overturned kayak while giant carp thwap you with their big gross fish bodies. You could end up destroying some beautiful fiber. Failure is always a possibility. You might, however, have a great time eagle & heron watching on the river with your family. You might wind up with an absolutely dreamy skein of yarn. Sometimes you have to face your fears. Sometimes you have to risk failure. Sometimes you have to be brave.

My Second Jacob, My First Sliver

When shopping for fiber, you see a lot of words to describe what you’re getting. Top, roving, rolag, sliver, batt, etc — simply put, these words describe how the fiber is prepared. When I began spinning I was told to pick up top or roving. Generally speaking this is good advice as top & roving are for the most part the easiest fiber preparations to just pick up and spin. As someone who doesn’t prepare any of my own fiber by hand and never have, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in these methods of fiber prep were not always obvious. Heck, they still aren’t always obvious, but slowly but surely I am learning. With this in mind, you’ll understand why my latest spin was especially fun.

In my big glorious box of Canterbury Prize Wool Group fiber from Louet, I had both a Jacob top & a Jacob sliver (pronounced sly-ver). What exactly is a slyver? I had no idea, but I was excited to try it side by  side with the top. No better way to learn than by doing a side by side comparison, after all! With a little research, including this fab article by Abby Franquemont, I learned that sliver is kind of like if you were prepping a roving, but stop before extending the fibers and adding that subtle twist. How exactly do top and sliver compare? Well, I popped over to Nola Fournier & Jane Fournier’s In Sheep’s Clothing where they state: “Sliver is a more or less continuous strand of carded fiber; top is a continuous strand of combed, untwisted fiber, with all the short fibers removed…”

 Before they ever made it to the wheel, I could instantly feel a difference between the top & sliver — the top is clearly softer, more processed, and the fibers were more organized — it felt like a dreamy little cloud. Any spinner knows, though, that sometimes the softest fibers aren’t always the easiest spins. As I mentioned in my last post, the top is a bit slick so perhaps tough for a true newbie. The sliver, however, has less processing, less organized fibers, and more air in the fiber itself. Just by the nature of its prep it has more grip as it is being spun, — kind of like natural spinning brakes. Ironically, it made this fiber an easier fiber for me to spin quickly because it had that built-in control.

For this project I chose to do a standard 3ply, so I divided up my fiber into 3 equal portions.

20140521-061615-22575337.jpgYes,  this — or some variation of this ‘controlled’ chaos — is what my kitchen table typically looks like during the post-school to pre-dinner time frame.

20140521-061611-22571404.jpgAnd I spun away, really impressed with how easy this fiber was to handle.

20140521-061612-22572838.jpgThis guy was impressed, too. Or he just likes when I spin because I stay in one spot. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking sometimes, but he’s indisputably cute regardless.

20140521-061614-22574028.jpgAnd the whole ‘easy to handle’ thing meant I flew through the singles. Honestly, it was the first time I felt like using my lace flyer was actually an option.

20140521-061610-22570301.jpgThanks to my Monday knitting date being open to me spinning, I wrapped up my singles within a 24hour time period. 24hours which included a trip to the dentist. And sleep. And some snacks. And coffee. And getting lunches made and kids to school. I know lots of spinners are speedy like that, but historically I have never been that spinner. That middle bobbin is a little uneven as I rushed to get the last bit spun before having to pick up my kids from school. No harm in the plying though…20140521-061609-22569142.jpgWhich was as smooth as the singles and the result…20140521-061606-22566594.jpg This beautiful skein. It turned out to be about 200yards of probably a DK or light worsted weight yarn. I will check for sure once it is dry. Oh, and another special treat…

20140521-061605-22565450.jpgI got to try the jasmine scented Eucalan wool wash. I love jasmine — so much — and have been eyeing a big bottle of Wrapture by Kristin Omdahl since it hit the market. Unfortunately, since I had a big bottle of grapefruit & lavender at home, I couldn’t justify it. When I got this little sample in the mail I couldn’t wait to try it, but true to form I saved it for a little something special. Let me tell you, when it comes time to restock my supply, the jasmine will be coming home with me.

20140521-061607-22567765.jpgAll in all, I am considering my second Jacob & my first sliver a huge success. I love the yarn I made and really, really enjoyed the spinning. I can’t ask for anything more than that!