Hullo again!

It’s been a while, I know. I began a draft post last summer to tell you about Paradise Mill and the Silk Heritage Museums, in Macclesfield, but was distracted. But of late I’ve been thinking I should be doing more to document my fibre work, particularly my weaving, and this would be a good place to do that. I’d like to – I need to – acquire the habit of keeping records, and this is a good way to start. Also, I enjoy sharing my successes and, even more important, my failures.

In earnest of my good intentions, here’s some spinning I just finished. The story begins sometime in 2010, when I told a friend about de-hairing and de-wooling North Ronaldsay fleece to get 2gms of the fine, soft down that lurks at the base of the fleece. She mentioned that while grooming her goat (known as Goat) she’d found a much higher percentage of goat down than usual in the comb-fuls of hair, and asked if I’d be interested. Of course I said yes.

Why did I say “YES!”? Because I learned from Robin Russo that, while cashmere comes from goats, there is no such thing as a Cashmere Goat. Any goat down of sufficient fineness can legitimately be classed as cashmere. And of course, I was curious.

So in due course a bag of Goat down plus hair arrived in the post. It smelled a bit of Goat (who is, after all, a goat), so I washed it. Exceedingly carefully. The end result looked a bit like this, but browner, cleaner and with a little less hair:

Raw (unwashed) cashmere, exactly as it comes from the goat (not Goat, in this case).

I put it in a plastic bag and put that in the kitchen with a pair of tweezers and another empty bag beside it. And for two years, every now and then, I spent 5–20 minutes standing over the kitchen sink (where the light is good), pulling hair out of down with the tweezers. It was really, really boring work, which is why it happened only now and then. Nonetheless I finished in November, 2012 or thereabouts.

I have no picture of the tiny finished pile of down, but I did think to take a picture of the punis it became. The darker ones are from a smaller sample of de-haired goat down sent to me by Baydancer of Ravelry fame.

The singles were spun on my Majacraft Suzie Pro, using the lace flyer and fat bobbin.

My goal was a relatively hard-wearing yarn that would nonetheless bloom. I’m reasonably happy with this; I suspect the singles are slightly over-twisted but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. (Or rather, the proof of the spinning will be in the wearing.) There isn’t an awful lot of it despite my spinning quite thin, so I decided to ply it against silk, Orenburg-style. I am extremely lucky; at SOAR 2009, Michael Cook gave me 2 bobbins of hand-reeled silk (I’d helped him clear his teaching room).

This silk still contains sericin, the glue that bonds the strands of silk together to form a cocoon. To de-gum it requires washing soda and heat, which would be arrant cruelty to my Goat cashmere-equivalent. So I wound off 15′ as a sample skein to test my degumming; it worked, but without any twist at all, I had great difficulty unwinding it to ply. So I spent a happy hour spinning several hundred meters of the reeled silk onto a bobbin at high speed, adding just enough twist to hold what would be a singles together, before bringing about 1tsp washing soda in 1litre water to the boil to dissolve, then reducing to a slow simmer before adding a few drops of Fairy and my extremely well-tied skein of silk and simmering for about 25 minutes. Rinse several times, acidulating the last rinse with vinegar to neutralise any traces of washing soda. The end result is VERY pretty.

The silk went on the skein winder, the bobbin of Goat cashmere on the kate and I was away, debating precisely how much plying twist I wanted. My dim memory of real Orenburg yarn was of relatively loose plying; this is my yarn and I prefer something that holds together while I knit it. I hate picking up only one ply.

On the bobbin, to the left is Goat+silk, to the right is Baydancer’s goat+silk. Despite trying to spin all punis to the same grist, Goat’s down is finer and silkier, so thinner and more even.

The end result is, I have to say, gorgeous.

I love it dearly. I’ve got just under 300m. It is of course coarser than true Orenburg yarn, but I’ll make a sample Four Seasons Orenburg scarf to test my theory of yarn design. I’ll modify the twist if necessary (the plied skein was very lightly weighted as it dried, to straighten some pigtails. After all, lace will be blocked.) and then I have an entire bag of Lesley Prior’s English Cashmere that needs no de-hairing!

And in weaving news:
I want to weave my handspun, but I can weave faster than I can spin, especially as I can’t stop knitting lace as well. So I’m alternating handspun and millspun projects, which means the next one is handspun, or largely so.

With the exception of the grey skein at right, and the large ball of multi-coloured wool below it (two prospective wefts), the rest of this is warp. Only the skein and ball at top left are millspun; the rest are laceweight shawl leftovers, all a bit darker than they appear here. All are no less than 50% silk, which I hope will reduce the intensity of seer suckering (the puckering that can occur if the warp (or the weft, for that matter) contains yarns that shrink differently on finishing. I’m winding the warp slowly, often combining two very thin yarns, or one very thin and a thicker, just to see what happens. Here are the first 120 ends:

I think I might have something over 360, to be set (sucks teeth and thinks) about 25epi for plain weave, maybe 28 for a twill. I will thread for the twill but might weave it plain if the pattern doesn’t work. Weft is difficult. After winding the first 120 ends, I decided the two candidates in the photo are out. Current leader is a mess (literally) of 20/2 silk I massacred in the dregs of an indigo vat a couple of years ago. I might want it greyer; if so, I have the technology (black and brown dye, vinegar and heat).

There, not only a post, but a longish one with pictures. I wish I’d taken my camera to London on Saturday so I could tell the tale of the Neckinger, but maybe I can persuade my husband to walk it again on a warmer day.

p.s. I’ll try to remember to disinter my photos from Macclesfield for another post. In the interim, if you’re near enough, go and visit yourself! After all, Macclesfield is the western end of the Silk Road. Is that not amazing?


5 thoughts on “Hullo again!

  1. Lynn

    I am lusting after all of those yarns! (well, I'll let you keep the last pile) Those blue/green/purple handspun yarns are just making me want to spin and spin until I have a pile of yarns that go together and then just weave them all together (oh, wait, I have three pounds of purples I spun and am supposed to weave … someday.) Lovely to see posting again, too; please write to us more often.


  2. Michael

    Yaay! The Orenberg yarn looks gorgeous – let me know if you ever find yourself needing more silk! :)

    I look forward to reading about the Macclesfeld museum; I've read their materials, but haven't seen lots of imagery.



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