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Diary of a handspun cardigan

Have you noticed how awful mens knitwear is?  Tragic!  Absolutely gopping! I live in a houseful of menfolk. None of whom wear knitwear. Is this the reason why? Who on earth thinks that men should wear these awful shapeless ugly patterned hideous body boxes?   So in a weak attempt to be bang on trend I wanted the perfect man’s cardigan.

This was in June 2016 by the way. It’s now finished. It is mid February 2017.  It is worth it. It will be with him until he leaves the house feet first.  Slow fashion?  Indeed.  Which is why I am often asked ‘seems like a lot of work.  Why don’t you just buy one?’  Which misses the point entirely.  Through the ‘work’ comes the pleasure.  It is pleasing to sink hands into beautiful lanolin rich pungent fleece, to prepare it and to spin it into yarn.  It is pleasing to think about the wearing during the knitting and the wearing or the gifting once it is done. And to remember those moments when the garment is in your hands over the years that follow.  So, my response is ‘why would you buy one.  Where is the pleasure in that?’

So, I thought you might be interested to see the process by which a hand spun cardigan is born.

For me it starts with the idea.  I find it difficult to spin for the sheer joy of spinning. I typically have a very clear idea in my head for a design.  In this case it was for a simple, fuss free, fitted cardigan in response to the sheer ugliness of mens knitting patterns out there.

The muse looks good in blue but I hate solid slabs of bright colour (especially blue).  I am reminded of those makeover programmes where ‘She doesn’t like orange’ so everything gets done in orange…Anyhoo, the answer was a marled yarn, in blues with a neutral base.  Grey is currently my favourite.  Or deep rich chocolate brown.  I digress…

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The tropical blue Top came from John Arbon Textiles. As a nice digression that I think you will like, John Arbon Textiles blended up a new top called Spin Fresh in honour of Spinzilla Team HSN 2016 Pirate theme, they donated some fibre to the team and made the remainder available for purchase exclusively at Fibre East 2016. I bumped up my Team HSN batch.  It is a glorious blend of 55% dyed Merino/33%Perendale/12%Zwartbles in the colours of a really tropical Caribbean blue sea. I send a big huge hug of thanks to the guys as John Arbon Textiles. I can honestly say it was just beautiful to spin.

For the grey base I used a natural grey whitefaced woodland/Jacobs fleece that I purchased at Ickworth Wool Fair – the result of a happy accident – happy for the Jacobs Ram less so for the Shepherd…I scoured, sorted and carded this in September.  About 6 hours work altogether.

John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin
John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin

The yarn was spun during Spinzilla October 2016. All  the fibres were spun separately and then plied to give the marled yarn.

Full bobbins ready to ply
Full bobbins ready to ply
Plied hanks of finished yarn
Plied hanks of finished yarn

Just over 1000m of plied yarn. The spinning took just over 10 hours altogether.  Lovely speedy longdraw.

Next, tedious yet vitally important – swatching. What can I say – don’t be lazy SWATCH! This was a happy couple of hours in front of the TV.

One of many swatches
One of many swatches

The first draft of the pattern followed from the gauge in the swatch. This was tested in the the knitting… and the frogging…and the knitting again.  Roughly 3 weeks of evenings (christmas came and went) and a few lunch times.img_20170112_140808756The finishing took about 2 hours. And here is a sneeky peek of the finished article.

img_20170215_151457624The pattern will be coming soon. Watch this space.  But these things can’t be rushed…

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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.

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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.

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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.