Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back to fiber

To those of you who have been having trouble accessing my Etsy shop, don't despair. Etsy switched to a beta version last weekend and there are still some periodic outages and bugs. I'm hoping it will be running more normally in the coming days. I'm going to try to get some more stuff ready to list in the meantime.

Mine, all mine!

Behold some yarn that I spun myself. I'm very proud.

The top two (dark blue and orange) are Corriedale that I also dyed myself. I had some, ahem, quality control issues with a few batches of Corriedale (my fault, not the fiber's) so I decided to take them for a test run. The blue in the middle left is from Tintagel Farms and the pink one is from Jim's friend Ken, at Dorchester Farms. I can't remember what the middle bottom blue one is, but I dyed the roving myself. So there. Now I just have to figure out what to do with these relatively small batches... I'll have to consult Spin to Knit for some ideas.

Cultural Learnings

After a doctor's appointment yesterday morning, I headed to the movies (a rare treat, since I’m usually working on Saturdays) to see the Borat movie. I enjoyed it and thought it was quite funny. I am a little baffled as to the media discussions about the movie: I can’t believe anyone could walk into this movie without understanding that it’s a fake journalist whose behavior is so outrageous it can only be satirical. And Sacha Baron Cohen does an excellent job of showing and skewering some of the most frightening things in our country: racism, anti-Semitism, jingoistic patriotism, mysogyny, scary fundamental Christians, drunken frat boys, and so on. I've heard people complain that he tricked or deceived people, or somehow egged them on to act in ways different from their usual conduct, but what I saw was way more devastating: Cohen was clever enough to simply turn on the camera and let people display their genuine, natural awfulness. I also thought Cohen did a good job showing some of the best qualities of Americans: their openness, their friendliness, a willingness to accept someone – no matter how improbable or weird they might be – at face value, a hospitality, an earnest desire to tell a stranger from another land something about their country and bridge the cultural gap. For example, it’s almost touching, in an odd way, when the beer-swilling frat boys (who just a few seconds ago were disgusting me) seem genuinely distressed when Borat gets weepy over his lady-love.

Wool Talk

Reader Pam asked:

Is there a place on the internet that compares wool yarns? Not brands, but Merino, Corriedale, etc. Next to skin wearability, subject to pilling etc. Are those things due to the type of wool or the spinning process?

Why, yes, Pam, there is a place. Here. (Next time, honey, just ask. You don't have to beat around the bush with me...) So now, instead of complaining about current events, I'm going to talk about wool.

Wool is sheep hair, right? And so, like human hair, wool is made mainly of keratin, a protein. Wool fibers have a layer of "scales" that overlap each other, kind of like you would imagine a dragon's coat to have. We love wool because it is warm; it remains warm even while wet; it's strong; it's elastic, especially relative to other fibers, like cotton; it lasts forever (if you keep away the moths); and in an ideal world, it's soft.

Sheep, like any farm animal, come in different breeds. Think about dogs: a chihuahua, a Golden Retriever, a poodle, a sheepdog. All are dogs and all have furry coats, but those coats differ dramatically in color, texture, softness and length. So it is with wool. Here's a quick overview of some of the qualities of wool:

Color: This is probably the least relevant for the knitter's purposes, since so many breeds come in multiple colors, and since it's fairly easy to dye or bleach wool (or bleach then dye it) to get whatever colors you want. If you like using undyed wools, there are a spectrum of shades from cream through black, with every shade of brown and gray in between.

Texture: Some wool fibers are curlier while others are straighter. Some are thin and fine while others are thick. There are some breeds with very crimpy, spiral-shaped fibers (often called "down wools"). The spiral structure gives these wools extra elasticity (think of a Slinky stretching out and bouncing back). Thicker and coarser wools will feel rougher on your skin (sometimes vendors talk about "not for next to skin wear" or some such phrase), but they will wear like iron. They are best for outerwear or blankets. Fine, thin wools will be softest to the touch but also wear (i.e. pill) faster.

Softness: Some breeds grow wool that is naturally softer than others. Lincolns are not known for the baby-softness of their wool; merinos are. The finer the average diameter of the fiber, the softer the wool. Be forewarned though: soft yarns pill more. There really isn't much you can do about it -- it's just the trade-off for softness. And soft yarns tend to felt more easily, which can be good or bad, depending on your project.

Length/Diameter: Some wools have individual fibers that are longer than others. The longer the fiber, the easier the wool is to spin. That's why beginner spinners are often advised to try longer-fibered wools until they get some experience: Wensleydale and Lincoln have pretty long fibers and are good for newbie spinners. Merinos have much shorter fibers and for this reason can seem slippery and more difficult to spin for newbies. Sometimes you'll see rovings labeled with the length of the staple, in inches (Woodland Woolworks' spinning catalog divides its roving and top into categories based on the length of the staple or fibers.) Long-fibered wools also tend to have luster, a sheen due to reflected light. (Think of the way mohair reflects light and seems to almost sparkle: that's luster.) This is from the scales on the wool. As you might imagine, longer-fibered wools are also stronger and more durable.

Some long-fibered wools: Wensleydale, Lincoln, Border Leicester, Cotswold
Some short-fibered wools: Merino, Shetland, Rambouillet

The diameter of the wool fibers is also important. You'll sometimes see rovings and fleeces tagged with a number and a Greek letter mu, for microns; this is a measure of the average diameter of a wool fiber. The lower the number (in other words, the thinner the individual hair), the softer and finer the wool. The higher the number, the coarser and rougher the wool. Some examples:

Columbia - 31-24 microns
Cormo - 23 to 21 microns
Corriedale - 33 to 26 microns
Merino - 24 to 18 microns
Targhee - 27 to 22 microns
Coopworth - 39 to 35 microns
Blue-faced Leicester - 28 to 24 microns
Wensleydale - 36 to 30 microns
Shetland - 30 to 23 microns

So Coopworth (at 35 microns) has a thicker fiber than, say, Merino (at 18 to 24 microns), and therefore will feel coarser.

Alternatively, you'll see some fleeces and rovings labeled with numbers that correlate to the maximum number of 560-yard skeins that one could (theoretically, in my case) spin from a pound of that wool. If a yarn is labeled 50, then in theory, one could spin 50 560-yard skeins from a pound. The more skeins you can spin from a pound, the thinner and finer the fibers, which means that yarns with higher numbers (more skeins per pound) are finer and softer wools. Yarns with lower numbers are coarser. Some examples:

Columbia - 50 to 60s
Cormo - 58 to 64
Corriedale - 50 to 58s
Merino - 60 to 70s
Targhee - 58 to 64s
Coopworth - 44 to 48s
Blue-faced Leicester - 56 to 60s
Wensleydale - 44 to 50s
Shetland - 50 to 60s

Again, you can see how Coopworth (44 to 48 theoretical skeins from a pound) is coarser than Merino (60 to 70 theoretical skeins from a pound). If you're looking for wool to spin finely, this number is a good one to watch.

Next up: More info about particular breeds, and the woolen vs. worsted distinction.

*The scales are significant when determining whether your wool fabric or yarn will felt. Superwash wools are treated via various chemical processes to prevent the scales from meshing together and shrinking up to form felt.


Anonymous said...

Great info, Carol, and clearly done. One question: you talk of "bleaching" coloured fleece. What do you use to do this?
Barb B.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! I just ordered my first wheel, and this is going to be very helpful.

I love bloggers - I have learned more about knitting and fiber from you guys than from any other source. :)

Carol said...

Barb, I was really talking about commercial processors who bleach yarn -- sorry for the confusion.

mindy said...

Wonderful wooly post!
Your spinning looks great- you should be proud. Love the dye-job on the middle blue, and I WANT the pink. (are you at the dye pot yet?)
Appreciate the movie review, too. Somehow, though, I don't think its going to make it to the little 4-plex in the next town over...(add to list of vids for when everyone is in school)

Anonymous said...

I am a huge Sacha Baron Cohen fan. As Ali G, as Borat, as anything.
I think it's frickin hilarious that the premier of Kazahkstan came to Premier Bush to whine about how unflattering to Kazahks the Borat film is, as if Cohen were an American instead of a Brit.
I also think it's frickin hilarious that Borat refers to his Alabama Jewish B&B hosts as shapeshifters.
The green thong?
Not so hilarious.

Carol said...

When the guy at the dinner party told him he was retired, and Borat acted like he said "retarded" in a southern accent, I almost wet myself. If I'd been sitting at a keyboard, I woulda showered it with popcorn.

Anonymous said...

Liza advised moviegoers to pee twice before they begin watching Borat.
Good idea.

Anonymous said...

"In Sheep's Clothing" by Nola Fournier is a really great book on sheep's wool. It divides wool breeds by category of wool property, such as fine wool breed, long-wool breeds and down-type breeds. It also suggests what these wools are best used for, what their commercial purposes are, and for each breed (or at least most) there is a picture of a lock of wool, to illustrate the length and crimp.

If you want more ideas on what to do with your handspun, you should check out the book Linda Ligon edited "Homespun Handknit" (unless, of course, you already own it). I love this book, because not because of the patterns, which are rather limited in their variety, but in the myriad of techniques that are included. For example, Meg Swansen designed some twined-knit mittens. Really cool.

Mel said...

The rough (take that however you wish) rule of thumb is that fiber diameter over 30 microns will have the prickly feel while finer fibers will not. I'm sure that probably varies from one individual to the next and depends on other fiber factors, such as scale structure, but because fiber diameters are expressed as a statistical spread, the garment/yarn industry looks at both average fiber diameter & standard deviation in this value because the percentage of fibers above 30 microns can then be estimated.

Larjmarj said...

I love Borat, I have a pic of him in the "sling shot" swim suit in my cabinet at work. Incredibly clever.
I have an Etsy store too but it doesn't have anything to do with knitting.
Great looking yarns!

Diane said...

Ok so some strangers with camera come up to you, tell you their film is for distribution out of the country, and shove a release form in front of you to sign. You sign, act like a jerk, and then whine to the media and file a law suit because you look like a jerk.

The wool looks great.

Anonymous said...

A big THANK YOU! I am not a spinner, gave it a brief trial with a spindle but really just like to knit. As usual, your information is thorough and helpful...was hoping YOU were gonna tackle this. Looking forward to the following posts.

Kelly said...

My boyfriend and I saw the film together. We already knew about Sasha Cohen because he plays 2 other outrageous characters (a gay hair stylist/fashion consultant and a hip-hop infused caribbean influenced British youth named Ali G). He is absolutely hilarious in his other roles too. I love the film and totally agree with you. America is no different than it was in the 1960s. It's still racially segregated, hostile towards women, and fairly ignorant on what real people throughout the world go thru. The wool discussion was helpful too, BTW.

kelle said...

Hi Carol...

Well sad to say...I owe Lars a skein of your lovely yarn! When he picks out what he wants...let me know how to order please.

I think I'll buy myself a skein too will soothe my injured pride!

Dorothy Neville said...

Have you seen Black Cat White Cat? We thought it was funny (so we would probably like Borat). Didn't realise the significance of Ali G though until my friend (who recommended the movie) went to Paris and found all the little grocery stores 'Alimentare Generale' nicknamed Ali G and often run by Eastern Europeans.

More fiber info! Yay! thanks. I recently saw a detailed article on worsted vs woolen yarns but did not give enough info to me so I could tell which is which! and an article in an old IK that talks about twist, the importance of knowing which twist your yarn has, and that having one sort of twist means if you knit one way you end up untwisting it as you knit, but did not give me enough information to figure out what's what. Now I know I am more spacially challenged than most, but still, couldn't they have been more clear?

Charity said...

Carol, thanks for this great info! I've often wondered how to compare different wool - I mean, we all know Merino is lovely, but what about the others?

Big Alice said...

This is fantastic, thank you for all the information! I don't spin, but I like knowing the wool differences.