Fleece to White Belt: Post the forth (and final)

AKA: Crap I forgot to finish documenting this.

After combing comes spinning. I used soap stone bottom whirl spindle I picked up at Pennsic this year. My goal was to aim for 1mm singles since the documentation I’ve read references thread counts of 10 threads per cm or 1mm wide.

Now I will admit to a period weaving sin here. Everything I’ve read indicates that weaving would have been done with singles. As this was my first attempt at weaving with just my handspun I didn’t quite trust my singles enough to stand up to the abuse weaving puts yarn through. So I plyed. Next time I’ll do just singles since my warp never broke or even threatened to while I was weaving with it

Plyed warp yarn (yes that’s 2 ply) and the finished ball of warp.

The weft I spun using the fluffy carded under coat of the icelandic fleece. This… did not go well. My weft kept snapping and falling apart even though I’d spun it just as tightly as my warp. I’m not sure I hold with the idea that fabric in 10th century Iceland was woven with an over coat warp and under coat weft. Not discounting it mind you, since I’m not willing to rule out lack of skill on my part, but still giving the notion a lot of side eye.

ANYWAY! Because I plyed the yarn I only did a 12 card wide piece of tablet weaving since I still wanted the over all piece to be roughly one inch wide.

 

 

And I was right on the money with my finished width. Proving once again, that my intuition for my own thread craft is better than that lying “math” thing. Note: I do know that one day refusing to swatch and/or do math is going to bite me. However until that day happens? Math and I are passing acquaintances.

I finished this off by ironing it with the highest heat setting as well as the highest steam to mimic finishing with a smoothing stone. I could have borrowed one, but I was so excited to get this off the loom and finished that I got a bit impatient. The ends were not fringed, but were hemmed with a bone needle and some of the loom waste left from the warp.

The finished dimensions of the belt were 1in wide by 5.5ft long and it is (as far as I know) well loved by the recipient. I have exactly one picture of the finished belt:

IMG_20161113_183327331.jpg

Fleece to White Belt: Post the third

Last time was washing, this time it’s combing. There are two basic kinds of preparing clean fleece to spin, combing and carding. Sure there are sub categories of those, like drum carding or flicking, but everything really boils down to those two methods. So what are the differences and which one should you use?

Carding: For making woolen yarns 

Carding is really good for making fluffy, airy, soft yarns. It basically brushes the fibers so they’re going every which way, trapping air, and giving the yarn it’s fluffy look. This is what you want to do for knitting/crochet yarns where you want that warm, soft, fluff. Like sweaters, hats, scarves, or blankets. Yarn made from fiber prepped this way tends to be more prone to pilling and not quite as strong. It also tends to have more of a halo (tiny fuzzy aura around the yarn) than yarn prepped by combing.  So skip it if crisp stitch definition is something you 100% need. This is also a lot better for short staple fibers.

Combing: For making worsted yarns

Let me get one thing clear: worsted yarns do not mean worsted weight yarns. Yeah, I know, I wish they’d picked a different term for the weight but there you have it. Combing aligns all the fibers in one direction, making them spin into a smoother, harder, yarn with less trapped air. This makes them less fluffy and warm, but stronger. Use combing if you need to make yarn for a warp, or anywhere that strength is a major concern. Also because it’s smoother yarns made from combing lend themselves really well to lace. This is your best bet for long staple fibers.

Let me let you in on a secret: the vast majority of hand spinners make some kind of half woolen half worsted hybrid yarn. It’s just the nature of the game. It’s easier to make a straight woolen than a straight worsted. So if you comb your fleece and in the process of spinning you make little bubbles of folded ends and fluffy bits? Don’t sweat it. That happened in period too far as anyone can tell.

That’s enough background. For this project I’m combing the warp and carding the weft.

Why both?

I’m doing both to take advantage of the pros of both types of fiber prep. The warp needs a very strong, very smooth, yarn in order to withstand the stress of weaving without snapping. However if I did the entire belt like this it’d be a very stiff, scratchy, and not very pleasant to touch finished product. So for the weft I’m going to use the softer, airier, yarn produced by woolen preparation in order to make the whole thing easier to use and much nicer to wear.

The fleece I chose (icelandic) is a double coated breed, which means it lends itself very nicely to this kind of mixed preparation. It has a long overcoat with very little crimp (perfect for combed/worsted spinning) and a short, fluffy undercoat with lots of crimp (perfect for carded/woolen spinning).

Fleece to White Belt: Post the second

Today we talk about fiber prep. Specifically washing fleece. I use a 100% modern method of washing fiber. Why? Because dish soap works well and is cheap, I have no desire to ferment urine, and I feel like it. This tutorial is assuming that you’ve purchased a raw and skirted fleece, as opposed to shearing the sheep yourself or buying a fleece that has not yet been skirted.

Skirting: cutting off the worst bits of the fleece, generally the underbelly, legs, and around the tail. These parts are the bits that get packed with mud, poop, straw, ect. They are also generally matted and gross. Skirting doesn’t waste wool, it saves sanity.

For the purposes of this project I bought 2.5 pounds of raw icelandic wool. Why Icelandic? Because it has the qualities I was looking for in a fleece, namely the long protective top coat and the short soft undercoat, this makes it appropriate for the type of spinning I’m doing. It’s also easy to spin and an arguably documentable breed. I say arguably since we’ve been continuing to improve fleece so even breeds labeled “primitive” don’t have the same kind of fleece they did in period. Nature of the beast.

My wool came to me like this:

buddle-of-joy

That’s one big bag of happy there folks.

Unbagged and spread out it looked more like this (ignore my toes):

raw-fleece

This is where you start to understand that just because you bought 2.5 pounds of wool does not mean you’ll get 2.5 pounds of clean fiber. All that yellow/brown/black? That’s all dirt and oil and lanolin. This is a white fleece. A lot of that weight is going to end up going down the drain.

Cleaning your fleece: Step 1. 

Acquire your materials. For me that looks like this:

materials

That’s a tote for washing, your wool, dish soap, and a couple of towels. Your tote should be sturdy and big enough to wash a decent amount of fleece. This tote (roughly 10-ish gallons) washes about .75 pounds of raw fleece at a time. You want space for water to penetrate ALL the wool so you don’t end up with raw pockets.

Step 2: Soap.

Fill your tote 3/4 of the way with hot soapy water. Add your fleece, making sure to press it under the water but not agitate. If you agitate it’ll felt. We don’t want that. Just gently shove it under the water and keep it submerged with as little handling as possible. Let it soak and let the soap do its thing.

soapy-bath

 

Step 3: Rinse

Gently remove your wool from the water (again trying to not agitate it) and dump your… well… soapy mud. Rinse out your tote to get rid of as much grit and gunk as you can from it and refill it with clean water that’s as close as you can get to the water you just dumped out. You want to try to maintain temperature to avoid felting. Gently (sensing a theme yet?) put your soapy wool into the clean water.

rinse

See how much cleaner it looks already? Side note: see all those flecks and bits of grass? That’s referred to as VM or veggie matter. Which is a very polite way of saying grass and sheep poop. Some people pick that all out before washing/carding/combing. I just pick it out as I comb because it doesn’t bug me. Sheep are animals that live outside. Sometimes outside comes in with them. Such is life.

Anyway you’re going to rise twice. So repeat this step.

Step 4: Wring

Carefully lift your now clean wool out of its second rinse. Let it drain as best you can before moving on.

Lay your wool flat on a towel like so:

lay-on-towel

Roll the towel up like a burrito:

Step on your wool-rito to press excess water out. Don’t rub it, just step directly down.

Step 5: Dry

Lay your wool out to dry. Preferably on a screen or something that lets air flow get to the entire fleece. This’ll let it dry faster and keep it from getting all mildewy. I, lacking such a set up, lay my wool out on dry towels and just flip it every so often.

clean-drying-wool

Here’s a side by side of a dirty lock with a clean lock after going through this:

raw-vs-washed-lock

Fleece to White Belt: Post the First

So Magnus (yes the same Magnus I made the haversack and wrote the boast for) contacted me about a week ago and asked if I would be willing to weave him a belt to fight in. He was, I’m sure, expecting me to use commercial yarn and just knock out a tabby woven belt.

He’s still learning about me dears, don’t laugh too hard.

Given that I’m, well, me I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to process from raw fleece using as close to period tools and techniques as I can manage. His persona is close enough to mine that I can make an argument that the tools that are right for my persona in terms of spindle weight and materials would also be right for his, and that the process would be similar enough that I’m not going to be offensively wrong.

This is my project outline post, next post will be a picture heavy post regarding how I’m processing the fleece to get it ready to spin.

Project outline: Warning, Math.

I’m aiming for a finished length of 6 feet, that’s roughly an inch wide. According to what I’ve read so far a decent gauge to aim for is roughly 10 threads per cm or 25 threads an inch. So 25 cards wide will give me just over an inch wide belt (there’s a lot of ish here guys), that also gives me the nice round number of 100 warp threads (25 cards x 4 holes per card).

To account for take up and loom waste I’m warping 8 feet. If I have extra warp I’ll do a knotted fringe at the end.

So math for the warp:. 8 feet x 25 cards x 4 holes each = 800 feet x 2 in order to make 2 ply yarn = 1600 feet of singles. Or 534 yards. Well 533.3333 but we like whole yards.

In order to meet my goal of 25 threads per inch I’m aiming for 13 threads per inch in the weft (to account for the warp passing between each beat of the weft. Yes I’m fudging what counts as threads per inch but I can only spin so fine right now people.) That means I need 13 inches of weft to go 1 inch of warp. Or expressed another way 13 feet of weft for every foot I want to weave.

Math for weft: 13 x 8 = 104 feet or 35 yards. Well for accuracy sake it’s actually 34.6666 yards. But round numbers here people. Multiply that by 2 in order to make two ply and that gets us to 70 yards of warp.

Total yardage needed for a 6 foot long belt: 70 + 534 = 604 yards of yarn spun finer than lace weight. Or (because I’ve been giving feet for everything else) 1812 feet of yarn. For a 6 foot belt.

Process:

1.Buy icelandic fleece. Why icelandic? Because it’s got both the longer hair (that I want for the smooth, strong, yarn for this project) and the fluffy and warm under coat (which I will card and use to make Other Things). Why buy? Because I live in an apartment my loves and if I tried to buy a sheep my beloved Scarp would kill me in my sleep. Then eat said sheep. It’d be a justified killing.

2. Wash fleece. This is the step that is not being done in a documentable manner.  I don’t own the sheep so can’t run it though a stream and I’m NOT using urine to get through the lanolin. I’m cheating and using my bathtub and dish soap. I have limits. Those limits are fermenting pee for the sake of fleece cleaning. There’s the line. Right there.

3. Comb fleece. Remember the first post about cord, where I talked about the difference between worsted and woolen spinning? For this we again want the smooth and compact worsted type of yarn. That means I get to keep using the Death Combs.

4. Spin wool. I have a bottom whorl, soapstone spindle that I picked up at Pennsic. I forgot the actual weight on it, but it is an appropriate weight, style, and materials spindle for my persona. Therefore arguable for Magnus’s.

5. Actually weave the yarn. I’m card weaving this. Because it’s going to be a white on white pattern I’m limited in what I can actually document. Most card weaving I’ve seen tends to be colored. But colored defeats the purpose of a white belt. I think I’m going to just do a simple diamonds/lozenge pattern. I have time before I get to this step.

6. Polish the belt. Yes polish. I’m not fulling this, I’m hoping to spin and weave tightly enough to not have to. I’ve found references to using a polished rock or chunk of glass, heated up in hot water, to essentially iron fabric. I’m thinking of picking up a large glass paperweight and experimenting with finishing fabric off with it. In theory it’ll iron it smooth and add some shine/luster to the finished project. I mean, I could just use my actual modern iron, but if I’m going through all this work to get here it’d be a shame to stumble at the finish line.