Felt resistance is futile

I am still waiting for the Norfolk horn to come back from the mill all spun up into what I hope is some wonderful sproingy feisty sheepy yarn. I am so anxious, its taking a very long time.  But the delay has given me lot of time to keep on with research into the Breeds history.

A fact that I keep coming across in my Norfolk Horn research is that its fleece is difficult to felt. It was this characteristic that made it not particularly desirable for the making of woollen cloths and probably went some way to explaining why it was the cheapest wool on the markets during the Medieval Wool Boom.

After weaving, woollen cloths are fulled. Fulling is a controlled process where the cloth is purposefully felted to shrink it slightly pulling the weave together to make a warm soft and light cloth. Clearly to make this process as economic as possible you would want a wool that felted with some degree of ease.

In contrast Worsted cloths are not fulled. They are cleaned and pressed to give a smooth silky surface that keeps any textural details that were woven in.

It is this resistance to felting that gave it its low price and is what made the Norfolk Horn so desirable to Norfolks Worsted cloth industry. If you have access to a plentiful supply of a cheap raw material you would be a bit of a dufus if you couldn’t come up with the perfect use for it. Wouldn’t you? It made perfect sense to make the best of what you had.

But just how felt resistant is Norfolk Horn wool?  Obviously this is another one of those not quite scientific investigations – we have no idea of what the ancestors of the modern Norfolk were like but we can surmise that the  wool characteristics would not have been too dissimilar.

Now, I was quite fussy about what I sent off to be processed by the mill. I really want this yarn to be the best it can be. So as you can imagine I have had quite a bit of reject ‘waste’ fleece left over. The stuff sprayed in various dayglo shades of orange, lime green and blue, the coarse stuff and daggy bits. That has been sat around under the eaves of the shed since last summer.

The really poopy nasty stuff I used as a mulch on the veg patch. The remainder is still useful and I had this in mind for insulating my workshop. When we built the workshop it was on a limited budget (is no budget a limited budget?). Running out of money when it came to things such as a window and a door.  Luckily Sean acquired a large sliding patio door that would fill the gap until I had saved enough to finish the job. Which is now.  Yay!  Bit late as the cold is now past.

I didn’t want to spend ages cleaning the fleece and as I wasn’t going to spin it. I thought I would experiment a bit and test out that felt resistance characteristic.  Actually that is a bit of a white lie, as you will find out as I recount this story.

I wondered what would happen if I shoved it through the washing machine. Normally I would carefully soak and hand wash  to preserve the lock structure and blah de blah. But who has time for that if its not going to be spun.

After an overnight soak in rain water from the butt the fleece was drained on a rack for a bit before putting it through a 40oC wool wash cycle.

IMG_20180314_165539987And it was amazing!  Fluffly, clean, unfelted.  I could actually work with this and spin it!

The second batch was again put in the butt water overnight, drained and then…

Sean “ do you want me to put this through the wash?”

Me, from the garden “yes please that would be great. Put it on 40oC”

Sean “ok”

Should I have mentioned that would be a Wool wash cycle?  It was fairly self-evident it was wool, wasn’t it?

Well apparently not. This is what happened on the normal 40oC cycle:

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So what are the magic three things you need to felt wool? Heat, soap and agitation.

The results of this suggest that yes Norfolk Horn is indeed resistant to felting. But it is not entirely immune.

Not to worry, I have the felted fleece dried and bagged. I’m sure I can find a use for it somewhere. Ideas welcome.

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Painfree stranded colourwork

IMG_20180319_131827807.jpgThis all began with Spinzilla 2017.  The fantastic Freyalyn dyed up some shetland fibre for the team.  The colours were so good, glorious golds/pumpkin/turmeric/greens/purples.  I really liked the colours and wanted to keep them intact in the yarn.  I had in mind another colourwork experiment.  This time with quite long colour sequences for a larger piece. I had a perfect neutral base to pair it with, a cone of unknown brown in the about the right weight (one of my charity shop finds). Another stranded colour work tank top with a sequence of large floral motifs in distinct bands.

I always find it easier if I have a finished design or end object in mind before I start any project. I am very in awe of creative folk who can just start on something with no particular end in mind.  I’m perhaps being deluded here as I don’t think this is entirely possible.  I find that if I am just noodling about with no particular aim it doesn’t go well. Its that blank page thing. I get crippling fright, feel a bit useless, it makes me unconfident in my abilities and anxious. Particularly when I start looking for inspiration on Pinterest or worse still Instagram…how on earth would anything I make ever be as good as that?

Once I knew what it was going to be I then knew what yarn I needed and how I needed to spin it.  A 4-ply (worsted) weight.  I had learnt from the Robin Pincushion project from the year before that trying to spin two plies to get a colour sequence was hard work! To keep my life simple it was going to be chain plied (3-ply).  I could spin away to my hearts content without the bother of trying to hard to keep consistency.  Plus this was going to be during spinzilla so I could spin using my default thin thin thin = fast fast fast!

And as it was spinzilla and speed was required it would be longdraw which meant rolags.

I split the tops into two.  Working my down the snakes I hand carded rolags placing each one in series next to its predecessor working my way:

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I span these rolags long draw onto two bobbins.  Making sure that I kept the sequence in order and numbered the bobbins 1 and 2.

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I chain plied 2 first and then 1.

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IMG_20180123_111428359.jpgI knitted a test peice as a swatch, a neckwarmer:IMG_20180302_140206709.jpg

Then spent some time working out the design.  Major headache with getting stitch counts and pattern to work.  I have learnt the value of the swatch.  More on this in a moment.

I also had a major conundrum with keeping the colour sequence right and how to split for the upper body.  Oh my god!  I was going make a tough choice.  Did I want to mess up the thickness of my colour transition by working upper front and back flat?  Or, if I wanted it to stay right  I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO STEEK.  CUT MY HANDSPUN YARN.  CUT IT???

My weirdness won out.  I couldn’t live with it if the colour sequence went off at the top.  No, really, I am that obsessive over the details. Drives me nuts if things are not right or balanced.

The knitting went smoothly, fairly straight forward:IMG_20180226_141011734.jpg

I’ve never worked a steek before.  I knew in theory what to do. So I had to do a bit of research.  Starting with the words of the wise, my fairisle bible (Alice Starmores Book of Fairisle knitting) and Elizabeth Zimmerman.  Meg Swainson wrote a really useful article for Vogue knitting here  I remembered  Kate Davies covered the topic with some good visuals over a series of blog posts resulting in what she called a steek sandwich. And the lovely and wonderous Hazel Tindall.

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This is the neck steek.  I used stitch markers and held the bottom stitch on asafety pin.  It was difficult to see the cutting stitch in the plain brown.

So armed to the teeth with the book learning I knew that I was not going to be happy with cut seams and loose ends.  I crochet a binding on the V-neck and armholes:

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It was difficult as I do this in the evening and the light is not so good particularly with the dark brown yarn being so dark.  I would definitely do this steeking in really good daylight tomake sure that one is working with the right stitches.

Cutting the knitting:

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Was not so bad once I’d got over it.

And then watched in horror as little wriggly worms of cut ends started to worm their way out of the beautifully worked crochet binding.  Horror horror.  I’ve already mentioned swatching.  Well wise words were given by Hazel Tindall “did you cut your swatch to see if it would steek ok?”… erm nope…. but I will next time….maybe…

However, always have a plan B to bodge things back into order!  Out with the sewing machine:

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I have a theory that it does take 10 years to master any skill.  Because this is how long it takes to make enough mistakes to learn enough bodges to make it look like you know what you are doing…

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I’m really pleased with it.  I like the flow of colour through the stranded colour work. Definitely will be repeating this at some point in the future.  As I hate the trauma of choosing colours in colourwork…analysis paralysis…