Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning

Rysa and the 6 Skeins: The Side

The wool along Rysa’s sides was some of the most interesting to process.   It is nice and soft and has a surprising amount of luster considering the disorganized crimp and the weathering.  Here’s the wool after washing.  There is still enough lanolin in the wool to make spinning quick and easy.  I’ll wash the skein in hot water with a bit of dish soap after spinning.


Weak tips needed flicking.  You can see the light, wispy tips in the photo above.  I considered trimming them with scissors, but they flicked off without any fuss.

The cut end needed some extra attention.  In some Shetlands, a natural weak spot occurs each year when the old fleece separates from the newer fleece (the rise).  There were just a few areas showing the rise, and the fiber flicked apart easily.  Some locks showed some fiber crushing where the manual shears made a burr on the cut end.   These also flicked out easily.

The photo below shows the downy undercoat on the left.  The primary staple length after flicking off the tip, and a piece of the weathered tip removed.  Over all, the locks lost around 1/2″, sometimes a bit more- esp if they also lost some length on the cut end.   The down is approximately 1.5″.  The primary lock is approximately 3-3.5″20180812_221250

At first, I thought to leave the two coats together combined and spin them as one.   Unfortunately, the undercoat separated as I flicked out the grass and hay bits.  I wanted to save the down for spinning, so I decided to pull it out and spin it separately.

There was a fair amount of loss.  Of the 75 grams of washed fiber,  I have a 34g roving.  The down was only present in part of the side wool, so it only came to 7 g.   The waste came to 34 g (~45%).  There were some cotted locks, but it was mostly flicked ends, weak fibers, and very short soft fibers that were under 1/2″.

I did a sample spin from the flicked locks and found it was very easy to spin this into wire.  However, when handled gently, it stayed a fluffy, lustrous grey-brown.

I ran the flicked locks onto my drum carder and pulled a roving.   I ran the locks sideways for the first pass and then split the batt into thin sheets for the second pass.  I used a 1/4″ hole in my diz and pulled the roving around the drum, clearing approximately 1 1/2″ of fiber from the teeth for each rotation until the drum was clean.

The fibers are fairly parallel, but the springy, disorganized crimp keeps it open and full of air. My first priority while spinning is to keep the softness with low twist and gentle handling.   I do want to keep the fiber ends smoothed down and show off the luster in the yarn, so I’m going to do a bit more sampling to find the happy medium.

Once again, I don’t have tons of fiber to work with, so I need to keep samples small if I want to have enough yarn to use in a project.

Here’s the yarn . 10 wraps per inch, 6 twists per inch. 2 ply, semi-worsted (roving prep, worsted spin- forward draw on the 12.6:1 ratio, Schacht Matchless)


Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa & the 6 Skeins: The Belly Wool


Who decided that Shetland was a good idea for this challenge?  Oh, right.  Here’s me paying the price.

I only had 50ish grams of washed belly wool to work with and a good part of that was grass and felted bits.  The fiber is tender in spots, so I tested frequently as I picked.   I started out just teasing the wool open with my fingers, but I switched to tapping it open on some fine carding cloth when the fiber was long enough..

20180806_102919The pile on the top is technically teased and picked.  As you can see, I wasn’t able to get everything out.  I decided to keep anything 1/2″ or longer.  The longest piece is just over an inch.  The white fiber is shorter than the brown, so I decided to roughly blend the two colors.

After all was said and done, I had 10 grams of picked fiber.  Not tons, but I only need 10 yards for a sample skein.

The challenge?  I wanted to test both spinning from the carder- using the carding cloth as a comb- and spinning from a puni.

I expected the semi-worsted spin make better yarn, esp. considering the fiber length and quality issues.

I used the teeth of the carding cloth to catch the uneven fibers and help the crushed vegetation drop out.  It did all of that, but it turned the yarn into something much more like thread-  densely spun and kind of boring.    Fergie was not a fan of this.





The yarn was nice and smooth, but too firm to the touch and oh-so-uninspired.




As it turned out,  the puni made a much nicer yarn.   I used about 3 grams of  my 10 gram fiber supply to charge the carders.

This carding cloth is 120 tpi.  I roughly blended the brown and white fibers, picking out most of the shorter pieces and vm.  Once I had a mostly smooth batt, I used the best fiber from the nep pile and sprinkled the shorter white fibers throughout the batt.  Then, I used my smallest dowels (3/16″) to roll the puni.  I used light tension as I wrapped because I was worried that the neps wouldn’t draft if I made the puni too tight.  In the end, I had a strange hybrid rolag-puni thing to spin.

I decided to use a spindle because it was just a tiny amount of yarn and the only wheel without a project on the bobbin was upstairs.   (yes, the spindle has a project on it as well.  So do the other 10 spindles on my downstairs rack.  I’m beyond help…).  You can see how rough and crunchy the puni is.  I didn’t have high hopes for this yarn. 20180806_104338
I spun the yarn supported, American long draw-  flicking the spindle, giving a bit of a pull to get the drop going because this spindle doesn’t weigh much, and then drafting against the support point to draw out an arms length horizontally.   In spite of the fineness of the yarn, there’s decent loft and a nice soft surface on the yarn.  The white neps locked in nicely and in most places made a good tweedy pop rather than a white spiral.   I did the Andean plying party trick and ta-da-  a soft, 2 ply textured, heathered yarn.   The photos on the bottom are plied & washed.  The fibers bloomed differently, so you can see the texture of the white fibers rising above the brown fibers.    Much more interesting than the grey-brown thread!

I am looking forward to using this yarn in my punch needle.  I am pleasantly surprised by the handle of the yarn.   This is definitely yarn- not thread.  It has some good squish factor and texture without looking messy.  I was worried it wouldn’t stand up to knitting, but it’s nice and strong.   I have 4 grams left to play with, so I’m going to make another mini and see what it looks like knitted up.


Here’s the second puni spun up.  This one isn’t quite as interesting because I used a lighter hand with the nepps.   Of the two, I prefer the one with more texture for use, but the smoother one makes a prettier skein.


Next Up:
Spinning the Britch

Breed Study, fiber prep, Fleeces, Rysa, Shetland, Spinning, washing

Rysa and the 6 skeins

Meet Rysa.  She’s a lovely bellwether Shetland ewe at Trinity Farms.
Today I am separating out her fleece to make six different skeins of yarn- one from each of the following body areas: neck, sides, britch, belly, shoulders, back.  My  goal is to spin for a purpose suitable to the fiber characteristics.   I’m going to spin to the crimp where possible and vary the yarn design for specific uses.

Rysa made it easy for me to sort out her fleece because she’s somewhat color coded.  Her rear legs, britch, and most of her belly are white.  Her front legs are less darker and less weathered.

Each region has distinct fiber lengths and feel, so it was a quick sort. In general, her back and shoulder fibers are quite soft and would make yarn quite suitable for next to the skin wear. I don’t see any evidence of a rise so far, but the shepherdess let me know she saw one area while shearing.

Shetlands have the ability to shed their fleece.  Periodically, the fleece develops a weak spot in the staple where the fleece will naturally separate.  Shepherds can roo the coat by gently pulling on the fiber and lifting the older fleece from the new fleece growing in.  If a sheep is sheared after the rise has started, the shears cut below the natural break in the staple.  If this happens, the fibers can be easily flicked from the cut end.  If the rise is well into the staple, you can grab the butt and pull it with a sharp tug.  The staple will separate at the rise, leaving the sound staple for spinning.

Shetlands are small.  The typical fleece weight is 2-4 pounds.  This whole fleece only weighs 1# 13 oz  prior to washing.  The photo has washed out the beautiful brown of this fleece.  I’m looking forward to seeing the color in the spun yarn!

Here’s a photo to compare the raw locks across the different areas.

At first I thought his ewe had a single coat, but after washing, I found areas where she has a very soft, downy undercoat that is about 1.5″ long.   Most of the fleece is soft with 2-3.5″ long staples with 7-8 deep,wavy crimps per inch.  The locks are downy at the cut end, have a more clearly defined crimp in the center of the lock, and then taper to a slightly wispy point.  The locks at the shoulder and the sides have a longer, more wispy tip.

Shetlands can have a variety of coat types that range from a soft, downy single coat through a medium-long wavy coat to a primitive, double coat.  Personally, I have a soft spot for double coated shetlands.   That said, working with Rysa’s fleece is so easy.  I may need to shake things up more often!

I’d put Rysa’s coat between a kindly and a medium, and closer to the kindly side of things.  In spots, she has a second coat but it is not dense and seems to be about 10% of the fiber weight.   If you’d like to read more about the different types of coats, this is a nice page with pictures and descriptions:


Fleece Description by Area:

The shoulder:

The raw fiber is 3.5″ long, with 8 well-defined, wavy crimps per inch.  The fiber is soft and could be worn next to the skin.   Lanolin level is low- moderate.  I’ve opened the lock for the picture above, but the cut end is dense and webby with more definition along the center and finally tapering to a lightly wispy tip.  Overall, the fiber is in good condition with light weathering at the tips.  I expect this fiber to process easily because the tips are firm and the cut end is clean and defined.  I’m hoping to spin this finely enough to make a ring shawl.

The brown has a grey undertone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the color after it is spun.  Unfortunately, I think I will lose some of the color variation by spinning superfine yarn.

The side:

The locks vary throughout the side.  The further the lock is from the back, the less crimp. The pulled lock was from the edge where the side met the belly.  It has roughly 3 crimps per inch.  The fibers have deep, loose waves that are disorganized and almost fuzzy.   The lock is 3.5″ long with the last 1/2 inch being a wispy, weathered tip.  Though the tips are strong,  I plan to trim them during processing to remove the coarser fiber.  The color is a beautiful rich brown.  I’m planning to spin a three ply dk weight, but I will do some sampling first.  I’d love to make a cabled hat, but I’m waiting to see how much loft I want in the finished yarn before making that call.

The back:

The lock is 2 3/4″ long with 7 crimps per inch.  The fibers are next to the skin soft, lightly webby, and very fine.  There’s more lanolin here and more weathering on the tips.  Some tips may need flicking.   A quick test spin by twisting in the grease showed that this spins easily into a soft, 2 ply laceweight yarn.  I have enough fleece to do a lace scarf or shawl.  If I wasn’t keeping the fleece separated for the 6 skein project, I would probably blend it with the shoulder fleece and do a full-size shetland shawl.  I’m going to sample to see which yarn weight shows off the fleece best.  The back has a fair amount of weathering so there is less luster.  I’m already spinning a superfine yarn with the shoulder, so I’d like to do a fingering or sport for the back.

 The Belly:

The belly fiber is a mix of short, soft fiber and wiry fiber.  Most is short and fine- approx 1-2″ staple.  There’s a good amount of vegetable matter and felting, so most of the belly isn’t usable. The non-felted fiber is very tender.  Much of it breaks easily if tugged.  I’m going to wash it enough to remove the dirt and some of the lanolin, but I want to leave more lanolin that I would usually to help the fibers slide during picking.

Considering the small amount of fiber and its condition,  the belly is going to be spun into a fine yarn.  After washing and picking, I had a nice little collection of 1/2″ bright white fibers.  I’d like to put those into the yarn for a rustic , lightly textured fine yarn.  The yarn would add some nice variation and interest to a needlepunch project.

The Legs:  Shetlands don’t have much fleece on their lower legs, so I don’t have much of the short, super crimpy leg fleece that can be found in some other breeds.  Nor was the fleece particularly dirty or cotted.  Some of the fiber is tender; some has weak tips.  I’m going to flick this before carding in to rolags.

Rysa’s rear legs are white.  The fleece there has 2-3″ staple lengths with dense fiber that has disorganized crimp.  This fiber is coarser and suitable for outerwear.  Some areas have wispy, coarser tips that I will trim. It would make lovely mittens, a pair of socks, or a lightweight sweater.   After washing, the color is a bright, clear white and has some shine.  I’d love to dye this for colorwork.

The front legs are brown with a 2.5-3″ staple that has a shallower, tighter crimp.  Some of the fiber shows an outer coat which can be easily pulled out.  The fiber is a bit softer than the back leg fiber and would make a nice scarf or pair of gloves.  If I had more of it, I’d use it for a sweater.

The britch
The britch fiber is coarser with some light cotting.  Some areas show a hair-like, second coat which can be pulled to separate it.  Some areas show a small amount of weak fiber at the cut end from the rise.  It is only 1/4-3/8″ and can be easily removed.  Apart from these sections, the locks are 3.5″ long and have a disorganized fiber structure with poorly defined crimp.   The fiber is suitable for some wear, but it is still on the softer side- similar to a corriedale.  Compared to other shetlands I have spun, the britch of this fleece is softer with a smoother hand.


I sorted the fleece by area and broke the fleece into 4-6 oz portions per mesh bag.  I placed tyvek labels in the bags so that I could easily identify the different fleece.

Next step: washing

This fleece doesn’t have a lot of lanolin, but it did have a lot of dirt after our long, wet winter & spring.    I did a 20 minute wash at 50C with Power Scour,  intending that to be the only wash.  I followed that up with a hot water rinse.  The rinse water was still quite dirty, and the wool held more lanolin than I prefer.

I did a second wash with less solution.  I also split the bags into two sinks.  Each sink holds 15 gallons of water.  I put roughly 1 pound of fiber in each.

After this wash, I did another two rinses until the water was clear.  Then I spun out the bags in my spin dryer and laid everything out on the skirting table to dry for the night.  The weather has been hot and humid here, so I turned on a dehumidifier and a fan to speed things up.



Fleece turned out to dry:


Next post:  Spinning the belly wool

Spin-a-long, Spinning, Support Spindles

Spinning in the Not-So-Wild

It’s been alternating between rain, sleet, snow, and just depressing cold, grey blah.  Not much spinning out in the wild these days, but I have hope! At some point, things will dry out enough to take my spindles outside.


In the meantime, here’s a little support spinning in front of the fire.  Oh, and the dog isn’t dead.   Proof of life comes around 19 minutes in when he stretches out a bit without waking up.


Fiber:  the world’s most poorly treated sliver of bamboo, merino, bison, and cashmere. A Louet blend purchased from Paradise Fibers ages years ago.   I have no excuse for its condition.  I am a bad fiber mom.


Tibetan spindle from Texas Jeans.

Shaft: unknown wood, 10 3/4″ long

Whorl:  dyed spalted tamarind

Many thanks to Joshua Lynch for repairing the spindle shaft after Fergie ate it. 

Spindle Bowl:


Made by Niddy  Noddy UK
Hand turned in Hawthorn and Cherry

Length:  5″
Width (at widest point): 2″

Dimple for spindle is 3/4″ across

About the video:
As promised, I haven’t edited out the gloops.  Because I’m using a GoPro to film this, the spindle is farther from my body than it should be.   To keep your body happy when you spin with a support spindle,

  1. keep all of the motion within a forearms length out from your body,
  2. keep your arm range of motion below shoulder height with elbow lower than your wrist.

The temptation is to do a super long draw out and up, so you can make a long, beautiful stretch of yarn.   You can do it, and you will feel like a superhero for the first ten minutes or so.   It puts too much stress on your shoulder. Even if you aren’t feeling the fatigue as you spin, protect your joints so you can spin for many years to come!

About jumping spindles:

I’m using a new spindle bowl and my repaired spindle together for the first time.   I love metal tipped spindles.  They spin fast and last forever.

However, I frequently spin in a bean bag or with my legs up on an ottoman.  Spindles with super low friction tips take advantage of the incline my body position gives to the bowl.  Add in my usual little tilt on the spindle and an over-enthusiastic twirl, and physics launches my spindles into space.  I tried a metal tipped spindle on a corian-lined spindle bowl and managed to get a good 3-4 feet before the cop caught hold so I could reel it back in.  Of course, I was demo’ing in my booth at the time.  Harpooning passers-by is not a wise marketing technique!

Moral of this story-  keep your spindle upright if you don’t want it to spin away!  OR- if you are beyond saving, like me, use a spindle bowl with a small lip or with a deeper bowl and steeper sides.

Plying, Spinning, Technical

Doing the math on plying from a center pull ball

I’ve seen some discussion about the changes in twist to a singles when plying from a center pull ball. I thought it’d be fun to crunch the numbers.

WARNING: Really long post ahead!!

TL:DR- Center pull ball plying makes one ply consistently different from the other ply. The effect is small, but it is more noticeable on low twist yarns. Center pull plying consistently makes one ply ever slightly looser and one ply slightly tighter.

Pictures coming soon.

Effects of plying from a center pull ball on finished 2 ply yarn:

My ball winder has a center core circumference of 6″. A 100g skein ends up with the outer strand (measured as wrapped for one rotation) that is 14″ long.

Assumption: The length of the strand created by each rotation smoothly increases from 6″ to 14″.

WORKING INFO: The inner end of the ball when pulled vertically will gain a twist for each rotation made by the ball winder.

When pulled vertically, the outer end will twist in the opposite direction of the inner yarn, so the outer ply will lose a twist for each rotation of the ball winder.


The most extreme effect will happen when the inner yarn was wound directly on the core and the outer ply is farthest from the core. As the two ends are plied and the plies approach a point in the center of the ball, the effect decreases.

If I have a hypothetical ball of yarn with a 6″ strand for one wrap at the center and 14″ per one wrap at the outside point, the 1/2 way point will be 1/2 way long the layer when the yarn takes 10″ to wrap around the ball forming on my winder.

So here’s my math:

The formula to get the variance:
Divide 1 tpi (the twist created by the rotation of the ball winder) by the length of yarn for the wrap.

Each time I turn the ball winder, I add 1 twist per 6 inches of yarn to the innermost yarn. So in plying that end, the difference in twist in the inner ply will be +0.167 tpi.

Simultaneously, at the outermost piece of yarn, I’ll be losing one twist for every 14″. Or -0.07 tpi for each rotation.
Assuming I don’t turn the ball when plying, I will have a net change of 0.24 tpi when I start of plying.

When I finish plying, which will be when the yarn is 10″ long per rotation, I’ll be gaining 0.1 on the inner ply and losing 0.1 tpi on the outer ply. The difference in twist will be 0.2 twists per inch.

This means that over the yarn plied, the twist variation will slowly drop from 0.24 tpi to 0.2 tpi as the yarn is plied.

(**Note: this is true for my ball winder and this hypothetical ball of yarn. Different core sizes or making larger balls will change these numbers. Using a nostepinne would *really* change these numbers. )

It’s up to the spinner if that change in important in your finished yarn. A quarter of a twist per inch or less isn’t a big deal in a high twist yarn, but it would have more of an impact on a low twist yarn.

If your singles are 6 tpi, then the variance when you start plying is 4%. If your singles are 20 tpi, then variance is just over 1%

To me, the important thing is that the change in twist is happening to the singles not the 2 ply yarn- so one strand will be consistently off from the other. Unlike a yarn with variation along it’s length, center pull plying creates consistent variation between the plies. If there is already a lot of twist variation along the plies, center pull plying would emphasize that

The variance is in the singles, so it would be interesting to see how that changes with the ply. A balanced yarn has 2/3 the twist of the singles. With two different twists, the yarn will be less balanced. It would also encourage blooming of the looser ply around the tighter ply. This could be advantageous when spinning halo lace yarns.

Plying off a center pull ball made on a 1″ nostepinne would make for greater variance because the initial variance would be almost doubled.

The variance in the twist won’t change with different yarn diameter. What does change is the quantity of yardage produced.

Thwacking won’t “balance out” the variance well because the change in twist is being made to the singles, but the snapping, thwacking, skeining from a distance acts primarily on plied yarn.

In general, plying from a center pull ball tends to emphasize uneven twist in singles because there isn’t the distance of the drop from the plying point to the bobbin. The 3′ or more stretch out of the singles allows uneven twist within the singles to balance out a bit. This is in addition to the change in twist from pulling the yarn from the ball.