I won’t go into the whole activity of spinning yarn because that is a whole subject unto itself. But recently I had spun a bunch of yarn and had to make sure it was a good final product for people who trusted me to spin for them. So, here was my journey.
One of my passions is fiber arts. Especially I love hand and machine sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving and spinning yarn either with a drop spindle or on a spinning wheel. I also weave baskets, which is considered a fiber art too.
I make my own hand sewn 1700’s attire for my living history society with natural fiber cloth like cotton, linen, wool etc. and spin wool, alpaca, and dog and cat fur. And for several years I have demonstrated drop spindle and spinning wheel for people visiting Fort Yargo in Winder, Ga. at the 225 year old block building, originally built when George Washington was president.
Recently I was asked by a lady and her mother to take a large bag of their beloved afghan dog’s fur and spin it into yarn. This was quite a challenge because the fur was stored in plastic, had partially felted, and was hard to clean and comb. I pulled it apart by hand, discarded the bits that had been included which were short and un-spinnable, picked out the debris, and systematically carded (combed on special carding combs) into rolags (sausage shaped rolls of combed fiber ready for spinning) as much of the fur as I could dislodge from the clumps. It was time consuming but I did it over the winter.
Then once most of it was carded and made into rolags, I spun the fur carefully and slowly using my spinning wheel, into a single stand called a ply. It was slow going because the length of the fur was so uneven and often broke apart. But eventually I spun enough of the fur to make 6 balls. These were carefully wound on a special stick called a nostapin which rolls the yarn into a ball with a hole in the middle.
Then taking the strand from the inside of the ball and the outside, I carefully spun the two strands (called plies) together to make a finished two ply yarn. I used the method of doing it with one ball. This allows a more careful control of the spinning together of the two strands without the individual two strands, usually from separate balls, rolling around and into each other, because it keeps the balls from rubbing together and agitating the fibers, possibly loosening them. Then once the 6 balls were thus plied, I wound the plied yarn around the back of a chair into 18” long skeins, tied each end, and set them aside.
This yarn can be directly knitted or woven, but the twist is uneven and it isn’t strong. So, in order to even the twist and make it processed enough to make for easy knitting or crocheting by their users, I researched how to best finally process the fiber and even out the twist.
There are a number of traditional ways to do this which include washing in hot then cold water, without agitating (to prevent felting), using special soaking liquid, and either just hanging to dry, or using weights to straighten out the fibers.
For a stronger product the skeins can be stretched and snapped between the hands, which evens out the twist (after hot and cold water soaking several times, and squeezing them in towels) to then hang and allow to dry. Further stronger and partially or fully felting the yarn can be processed by wacking the skeins on a counter or floor after soaking and squeezed, or full-on agitating with a plunger while soaking between very hot and very cold water. This makes for very strong yarn but it shrinks it. Wacking it after squeezing it makes the fiber fluff out called ‘blooming’. Strongly agitating it makes it very firm not fluffy, and smoother. I had to make a decision on which to do.
I opted not to stress the fiber too much by wacking or using a plunger on it but I did want to even out the twist for an even looking yarn. I knew the things made with this fur yarn would be precious heirlooms in the family because this dog was beloved so I wanted to give the yarn the most longevity.
I looked at making my own SOAK liquid to clean the fiber. And I found a good recipe for it on a website – several sites giving almost identical recipes. SOAK can be purchased on Amazon or various websites, but I like to do things myself.
Here is the recipe: (see site below)
2 cups grated soap (not detergent) – either as flakes or grated from bars
½ cup methylated spirits (I thought rubbing alcohol would work just as well since it is ethanol and easily available and is likewise denatured)
1 Tbs Eucalyptus essential oil
1 cup hot water
Mix in a jar, shake well to incorporate and melt the soap. It was suggested to add lavender oil for fragrance or other favorite fresh scented essential oils. Add a couple of Tbs. of this mixture to a sink of water for soaking and cleaning yarn or wool garments. Or use in a washing machine on gentle cycle, where it was suggested to add vinegar to the rinse cycle. But if it’s washed or soaked by hand, it doesn’t need to be rinsed with fresh water. (Machine washing is only recommended for finished garments as this can easily felt loose yarn.)
Once the yarn is soaked and squeezed, then rolled in a towel to get the majority of the water out, it can be snapped, or wacked, then hung. It doesn’t have to be rinsed again.
However, I also found out that the yarn can be soaked in the hot then water using shampoo or even dish detergent, but it needs to be rinsed after soaking unlike using ‘SOAK’ liquid in the soaking water.
Once the final product has been ‘fulled’ – i.e. final processed – it is hung to dry out of direct sunlight, where there is good ventilation. If it is yarn pulled off a garment such as an old sweater, or from woven cloth, it tends to be crinkly, and needs to be straightened out. Using a clip on the downside of the skein, you can hang some kind of weight to pull the yarn straight, or even use a bottle of water, lay it in the bottom loop of the skein till it is dry.
Once the yarn has dried, it can either be wound into balls or left in skeins for later winding.
This whole process works for any animal based yarn. Single ply (usually used for weaving) benefits from ‘fulling’ – the plunger method which mildly felts the individual strands. This list of processes are particularly used for animal fibers such as sheep and lambs wool, alpaca, llama, angora rabbit, or mohair angora goat, dog or cat fur, camel hair, and silk. These listed are particularly for hand crafted and spun yarns, not commercial work.
Silk is usually more delicate and handled differently but it is a protein fiber. Raw silk has similar properties to the above listed than processed fine silk.
The cellulose – i.e. plant sourced – of fibers have different properties and use different processes and are the subject of a different study on another day. These would include cotton, linen (flax), bamboo, hemp, okra stalk, stinging nettle and a number of other wild and domesticated plant fiber sources. But they too can be spun with drop spindle or spinning wheel by hand once the fibers are coaxed out of the plants.
I hope this has inspired you to take some fibers you find and learn how to make yarn. Once I found how comforting it is to sit and spin yarn, then take that and make great and beautiful things like shawls, hats, mittens, and a host of creative things, I was hooked.
Actually my mother took me to her weaving classes at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan at the Henry Fort Museum and village site, in the 1950s, where I was shown how to use the little loom, while she worked in her classes weaving broad loom fabrics, which she later tailored into clothing for our family.
Many years later I returned for a visit to the old weaving building there and saw that little loom sitting on a table just as I remembered it up on the second floor where all the large looms were still being used to teach.
She worked for happy hours at her own loom at home and made my brother and I, as well as herself, warm coats and clothing for many years. She also was an accomplished knitter, crotchetier, embroideress, seamstress and costume maker (all my ballet class costumes) – including my dresses. She taught me all of that when I was younger and I made many of my own clothing, which I still do.
Read these for further information on yarn finishing and related sites:
Diann Dirks 3-18-19