Team HSN goes to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd

image_mediumOn Friday I was extremely honoured and privileged to join the Team HSN UK Spinzilla team on our visit to Howarth Scouring Co Ltd in Bradford at the very kind invitation or Martin and Adam Curtis (of Curtis Wools Direct one of our proud Team HSN UK sponsors).

It wasn’t quite the relaxing trip we had planned (original intention was a nice couple of days in the Peaks – not that I had planned a few trips to places such as Wingham Wool Works for a spend up – however something came up with the OH that could not be cancelled so we decided to do Bradford and back in one day. Knackering. The A47 was quiet – no Lorries or caravans creeping along at 40 miles an hour causing everyone else behind to white knuckle grip the steering wheel in frustration and developing a rage related embolism.

It was great to see people and put faces to the Ravelry code names. Martin was the best host and was extremely candid about his business and the future.

The tour around the Scouring and combing plants was fascinating.  Kate Davies gave a splendid and informative post on her blog describing the process from a non-technical perspective here.

What struck me most was that it is exactly the same process we use at home in preparing our fleece. Just with machines, probably a whole lot more consistent and well regulated (in terms of pH, temperature, water and detergents) and on a massively different scale.  And without the odd felting related mishaps as well.  Hmm learning experiences.  Well I would hope so anyway.  Imagine felting up on that scale.

Raw fleece arrives at the factory baled.  Curtis Wools buy approximately 50% of the BWMB annual clip in addition to fibre for other clients from around the world.  We saw some amazing fleeces stained orange by desert sands and some beautiful fleeces in browns and tans from Egypt.  Very strong fibre but wonderful colours.

IMG_20160219_113402864

The bales are unpacked and fed onto the conveyor.  The smell was unmistakeable. Shit and sheep and lanolin. Glorious. It smelt like my cupboard in the workshop where I keep the raw stuff I can’t decide what to do with. And the dust. It was so dusty.

IMG_20160219_112703967

The conveyor moves the unpacked fleece into the first machine that opens out the fleeces. IMG_20160219_114007693The conveyor then moves the opened out fleece through a long scouring line of a series of washes. Each one steadily cleaner. The fleece still contained a lot of vfm and other unidentified foreign articles.

IMG_20160219_114023907At the end of the scouring line is a giant dryer.

IMG_20160219_114729650The fibre then moves up the conveyor and is picked over as it passes through into the baling plant.

IMG_20160219_114845154The dry scoured fibre is blown into large containers where it was stored until it was fed through into the balers.  IMG_20160219_121313332Martin opened up a full container, the fluffy clean fleece spilled out and caused minor chaos amongst the team as all were transfixed by sight and unable to stop themselves rushing forward.IMG_20160219_120510120

The scoured bales are then transported across the road to the combing plant. Here the fibres are first carded into sliver, still lumpy and neppy, with some vfm in it.IMG_20160219_123141093IMG_20160219_123502780

The carded sliver was then passed through the combing line. These machines were mesmerising as the sliver pulsed its way into the combers and out the other side forming rhythmic and amazing shapes like a curious white unending snake. And the noise was indescribable. The final combed top is quite beautiful. The shapes are amazing as it coils out into the bumps.  My photos do not do these justice. IMG_20160219_122516047 IMG_20160219_122538988 IMG_20160219_122548645_HDRIMG_20160219_122628129

Did consider if this would fit in the back of the Fiesta:

IMG_20160219_122456239The whole process is the most efficient in the UK if not the world. This makes it a very clean process. In attempting to minimise ‘waste’ (thinking no such thing as waste, just lack of imagination and will in what to do with it) the plant also producers an amazing array of co-products.  The combing waste (nepps) is sold on for uses including mattress stuffing. The lanolin is sold on into the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. The residual solid matter (other greases, particulates and dirty bits) is used as a soil improver. Also the treatment chemicals are specified and used efficiently to reduce the toxicity of the effluent stream. For example, the detergents used are specified specifically because they breakdown in the effluent treatment. We were also introduced to the EnCo testing team.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time to have a conversation about the environmental side of things that interest me.  However, I got the business card and will be contacting them with all my questions in due course.

We were also joined on the day by the fabulous Ellis Stokeld who owns the Doulton Flock of Border Leicesters. IMG_20160219_123203965

This is the largest flock in the UK. You can find Ellie and The Doulton Flock on Ravelry (The Doulton Border Leicester Fleece group).  She bought along some samples of her spun fleece. Including a skein of handspun.  This was hands down the best skein compared with the mill spun skeins.  It was glorious.  Hats of to her spinner, it was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in some time.  But then again I would say that wouldn’t I (no?). The 4-ply mill-spun had a wonderful lustre and drape to it.  Looked like it would knit up with a great stitch definition. You can find The Doulton Flock Border Leicester yarns in a 4-ply and DK at Blacker Yarns.

The trip closed with a treat – a fibre retail opportunity. I came away with some more Shetland top in natural and two colours, grey and oatmeal.  I’m planning on having an art attack with some of it dyeing it up and carding into some painterly batts. The remainder I think I may spin up for a colour worked piece. Traditional Shetland/Fairisle stranded work? Hmmm. So many ideas so little time.

All in all a very happy day. Ended up home by 9pm with a beer, a curry, feet up on the sofa and ‘Shetland’ on the TV. Perfect end to a perfect day.  My thanks to Jan, Martin and Adam for making it all possible.

Advertisements

Wasted? Part two

So, I’ve been working on the Wasted? thing.   In the first post I had drum carded the fibre into something that looked like it could be useable.  It was lumpy and bumpy and less than perfect.  Adopting the philosophy of true beauty and harmony comes from working with what you have and not how everyone thinks it ought to be I decided to roll with those neps and bumps.

I space dyed the batts with brown, orange and grey leaving quite abit undyded.  After dyeing, I ransacked my ‘bling’ box pulling out some dyed silk neps in turquoise, shocking pink and orange.

Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from
Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from

The batts had already been through the carder three times prior to dyeing but dyeing had compacted the fibre a bit plus I wanted to blend the blend the colours and add in the silk neps.  Plus the really chunky woolly bits were standing out so I could pick them out as I carded (or not depending on how lazy or bored I got).  Carding again also meant I could pull off the batt as rolags (or should I call ’em fauxlags to suit the pedants?).

carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps
carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps

The woolly chunks show up well don’t they.

fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin
fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin

I decided to pull of the batt as rolags because the fibre was so choppy and was quite short staples.  Drum carder rolags are quite tight compared with those from hand carders.  I like this as it puts a bit of tension on the draught.  I like to spin with a relatively high tension.  No particular reason other than its what I prefer.  I like to see the crimp and the fibres pulled nice and straight.  Heres a couple of pictures of the singles, the first as it was spun the second on the bobbin:

IMG_20160202_153451454_HDR

singles
singles

The lumpy thick and thin nature is quite obvious. It was spun long draw – sort of some bits I went short worsted. It was a real joy to spin.  I just let it do its thing.  Some bits draughted smooth and relatively thin.  Other bits clogged in the rolag and draughted chunky and bumpy and thick.  I only pulled off neps if they offended me but mostly I ignored them.  I really didn’t do much quality control at all.  It was fast and fun.

And here it is plied:

plyed
plyed

 

Isn’t it lovely. Not my hands though, definitely not lovely.  I had been in the veg patch planting broad beans (too soon?) and went straight in to the workshop to get the plying done so excited was I to see how it was going to turn out.

The final stage was finishing the yarn.  As this yarn was intentionally neppy and would have loose bits that will pill or fall off I decided that it would need to be fulled to some degree.  Yes.  It needed a bit of felting.  On purpose.  And how do we felt wool.  1 heat.  2 soap.  3.  Agitation.  4 Temperature shock. So two bowls.  One seriously hot with some non foamy detergent (I use wool wash, but baby shampoo has been recommended) and the other nice and cold.  Plunged the skein in the hot soapy water and gave it a jolly good thrashing.  Pulled it out gently squeezing it and then throwing it into the cold bowl for a swish and rinse.  Repeat. You need to watch your yarn like a hawk.  Blink and you will miss the point where fulling becomes felting and you end up with a very lovely very thick dreadlock rather than the fully integrated lovely soft usable yarn you were aiming for.  I only did this twice before I felt the fibres begin to lock together.  a quick spin dry and hang and hey presto Isn’t she lovely:

finished skein
finished skein

I’ve just finished knitting up a sample:

IMG_20160217_100815849

Its super soft and very textured.  Ought to have used bigger needles to really let it fluff up and show off its best bits.  I think it looks its best in simple stocking stitch.  So please with the outcome.  I have had a rummage in the workshop .  This one is Hebridean carded with silk neps ( I very nearly ruined it by over fulling it so it is not as soft as it was and i regret that a bit):

IMG_20160217_102610566

And this one is some castle milk Moorit and Shetland with some soy silk fibres:

IMG_20160217_102444535

the lumpy bits tended to spin out of the yarn in this one. Not my favourite.

I hope this has inspired you to dig out your ‘waste’ and have a go.  If you do I would love to know how you did it and to see the results.

Makers Month Part two

Ericka Elckles spindling
Ericka Eckles spindling

Last day at Makers Month at the Forum today.  Its been a blast.  Have met so many wonderful enthusiastic people, too many to count.   Standouts have been ErickaEckles  who we spent many a happy hour chatting about crafting, knitting and life in general whilst she learnt how to spin with a spindle, road-testing different types and fibres.  It really clicked with the Bulgarian.  Something about all that twiddling.  Incidentally, one lady told me what craft stood for.  Can’t Remember A F***king Thing (I don’t know what the etiquette with regards to profanity is so excuse the infantile *’s).  That made me spray my tea…

IMG_20160205_143159728

I am so very happy to report that there is so much interest in crafts like spinning, knitting, crochet and weaving.  Myself and my other Guild members (big hats off to Lizbeth, Susan, Carolinerine, Valerie, Jenny) have been talking non-stop for what seems like days from opening to closing teaching the whole world to spin.  Fingers crossed we have drummed up some new members for the Guild.

IMG_20160212_122654267

Sadly I missed the talk on the Norwich Shawl but cannot complain.  A wonderful lady randomly dropped by with her family heirloom Norwich shawl.  She talked to us about some of its history including the time when her husband (or it might have been father?) was about to cut it up to reupholster an arm chair.  Yikes.  Anyway we managed to cop a feel of it – no gloves so flesh to flesh.  It was beautiful.

I also managed to wangle another go on the lovely Kims Saori loom – wants one wants one!  I now need, yes NEED a loom.  Practicalities like where would I put it or how would I pay for it clearly do not come into this.  The hanging donated by Saori Weavers from around the UK are beautiful so I recommend that you get to the Forum if you can to see them.  Really looking forward to seeing how the community ones woven during the past two weeks have turned out.

Today is the last day for us fiberistas.  So get along if you can and don’t forget to come and see us at the Mid-Norfolk Guild in the main atrium.

And thank you so very much to all the support given to my work, the response has been overwhelming and I am looking forward to seeing what people have done with the fibres and yarns that they bought. It has been such a boost to my confidence that I can do this.  So thank you so very much and do not forget to send me a picture of what you make.

PS was also fortunate to see Greg James of of the radio one finish his week of decathalons, the Gregathalon.  Way to go Greg!  Felt quite emotional….

Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head  just to the right of center
Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head just to the right of centre.

Wasted?

fluffy-black-sheep-wheelie-bin-stickers-panel-blue-500x500I’ve recently become obsessed with the ‘waste’ left over from processing fibre.  You know the stuff.  The neppy, knotty, second cutty, short stuff left behind after the picking, when all the best locks have been pulled or the waste from combing.  It always seemed a shame to treat it as not worthy of attention.  Sometimes there can be quite a bit.  And sometimes it still contains usable fibre.  There is only so much draughty gap stuffing or mulching in the garden to be done.  I find it difficult letting it go.  Is it because I’m cheap?  There must be something that can be done with it?

A quick trawl through the internet revealed not alot.  I did find this excellent post by Deb Robson on how she works with imperfect fleece.  I recommend it.

Now, I love a swap.  I recently swapped a bag of Alpaca seconds that were too short for spinning with a needle felting buddy.  In return she passed me a bag of fibre labelled ‘Wool, South African’ from Forest Fibres.  It was unfeltable apparently.   At first sight it was unspinnable too.   It was nasty.  Looked like the stuff left behind after all the locks had been picked.  Nepps,second cuts and knots:

IMG_20160128_101244353

But…but it was so fine and so very soft.  But all those nasty bits.  But.  It had travelled all the way from South Africa.  Igoing to go on the compost heap.  That would be outrageous!  all those miles.

I thought it would be an ideal candidate for exploring the question of what can you do with imperfect fibre. I thought you might like to know what I did and what the results were.  I hope you find this helpful.

First point.  You can not make a square peg fit a round hole. Yes, yes I know you can take a knife to its corners and hammer it in till it fits.  But it will always be a square. A square in a permanent state of existential pain.  Forced to go against its very nature and knowing it will never be perfect. This sort of material is never going to produce a lustrous, smooth, consistent yarn.  It will pill. It will be wilfully lumpy and bumpy. It will have texture and gnarliness and personality. So we are going to have to work with that.  I’m thinking tweedy.  I’m thinking it will need fulling.  It will need spinning in a way that will encase the short fibres and show of its wonderful textured nature.  But first how to prep.

Stage 1: Sorting.  I could have picked it.  I could have sorted it.  This would have taken for ever.  And what would have been the point?   plus I am lazy and who has the time for that.  So I only picked out the really obvious nasties.

Stage 2: Opening out before drum carding.  I picked up gobs of the fibre, scrapped it onto hand carders and gave it a couple of passes to open the fibre out into sort of cloudy sausages. No picking out bits yet.

loading handcarders with fibre
loading handcarders with fibre
IMG_20160128_102832857_HDR
fibre after a couple of passes on hand carders

Stage 3: the resulting hand carded ‘sausages’ were fed onto the drum carder sideways on .  yes, sideways.  Go see this post by Yarn Harlot drum carding fibres sideways. I recommend the comments.  Very very funny.

IMG_20160128_102326917
Feeding on hand carded ‘sausages’ onto drum carder sideways for first pass
IMG_20160128_101445958
On drum carder first pass showing neps.

Stage 3:  I gave the batts a further 2 runs through the drum carder.  During these passes I used the trusty tweezers to pick out the worst offenders.  I was not too picky.

I ended up with about 160g of very er herm ‘textured’ batts.  Something happened to the photos I took of these so I can’t show you how bad they are.  But the fibre was so soft!

Next task is to dye the batts.  I think that we also need to make a feature of those nepps and lumps and bumps and bling them up a bit.  I will let you know what happens in part two when I get round to it.

In the meantime I’m getting prepared for Makers Month at the Forum.  Hope to see you there.