Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘wool’

Small Scale Wool Processing

We’ve had our flock of Jacob sheep at Hooters Hall for a few years now and over that time I’ve learnt to spin, knit and weave with wool. Being able to make things using fibre from my own flock is wonderful but getting from raw fleece to a yarn you can use to knit a scarf with can be a bit of a challenge. Of course you can simply send your fleeces off to a mill and let them do all the hard work. You do have to pay for that hard work though and it obviously isn’t the same as making a yarn that you’ve completely processed by hand.
Hand processing your wool isn’t quick but I think I’ve developed a system that’s not too labour or resource intensive once you’ve got the initial set up costs out the way. So here is the Hooters Hall guide to hand processing your wool.

I hand shear my sheep doing a couple each weekend and I process my wool in a similar way doing batches regularly rather than trying to do it all at once. We are lucky to have several outbuildings so I store my raw fleeces in cardboard boxes until I’m ready to process them. Here’s a picture.
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To wash your raw fleece you will need cold and hot water, a suitable detergent, lingerie laundry bags, containers big enough to allow the water to move around the wool fibres.
The detergent I use is Unicorn Power scour, which I buy from www.fibrehut.co.uk . I’ve tried a few different detergents and in my opinion the Unicorn Power Scour is the most effective particularly at low temperatures. The lingerie laundry bags makes moving your wet wool around a lot easier and you can buy them on Ebay and Amazon.

I have two sinks in my wool processing room but I use lidded buckets to wash the wool in. Moving smaller quantities of wet wool around is a lot easier than a whole fleece or more than one fleece. The buckets I use are the ones my horse treats come in but you can use any container that suits you. The important thing about choice of container is that it needs to be big enough for the water to be able to move around the fibres.
Here’s a picture of the containers I use
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And here’s a picture of some fleeces in their net bags ready for washing
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Once you have all your equipment ready it’s time to get washing. If you can try and do your wool washing near a water source. I have mains water in my wool processing room and two sinks one of which is a belfast sink at floor level. Here’s a picture of the set up. As you can see I’ve also got a hose pipe on the tap so I can fill my buckets at floor level rather than having to raise them to the level of the tap.
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Before you start washing your wool make sure you have removed all the obviously mucky bits. (generally referred to as skirting the fleece)

Wool Washing Method

Fill all your containers with cold water, place your net bags filled with wool in and leave overnight. This is why it’s important that the containers are big enough to let the water move around the wool. The water will be doing the hard work of removing the dirt for you. The following morning remove the wool from the bucket. The water will look something like this.
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Refill your container with warm water. I don’t have a hot water supply in my wool processing room but I do have electricity so I bought a catering hot water heater, you can find them on amazon. Here’s a picture
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Follow the directions on your detergent for how much to add then put your wool, still in the net bag, in the container with the warm water and detergent. Don’t agitate the wool at all because this risks causing it to felt. With Unicorn power scour I leave my wool soaking in the detergent and warm water for about an hour.

Remove your wool from the water. You now need to drain the water from the wool. You could simply leave it to drain but this will take a long time and you really want to get as much water as possible out of the fibre because this will also remove dirt particles. To achieve this you need to spin your wool. The old fashioned way to do this is to put it in a bag, tie it to a stick and swing it round and round but I thought that was a bit labour intensive.

I used to use the spin function on my washing machine but the fleece always got lightly felted, a bit of research online suggested this due to the way the spin function operates in front loading washing machines even when you are selecting spin only.

So, I invested in a stand alone spin dryer, the White Knight, which you can buy at Amazon and many other online shops. Here’s a picture, it’s quite compact, you need to be able to plug it in and will need a container to collect the water that is spun off and comes out of the bottom, as you can see I use a rubber trug. It only takes a minute or two to spin the wool almost touch dry and get rid of all that dirt.
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After spinning your wool you need to rinse it. Fill the containers you used for washing with cold water again and put the wool (still in the net bags) back in. Leave them to soak for an hour, you could leave them for longer if you want.

It’s back to the spinner then to get all the remaining water and dirt out.

Finally leave your wool spread out to dry. I use a heated drying rack but you could just have a standard laundry rack or make a wire rack that lets the air circulate the wool. Here’s a picture of some wool drying on my rack
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So now you have some beautiful, clean wool. What you do next depends on what you want to do with your fibre. I like to use mine for spinning yarn and weaving either as yarn or using unspun fibre for rya weaving or peg loom rugs.

For me the next step is to pick the wool. I have a wool picker, a fearsome looking bit of kit that uses a swinging motion and long nails to separate the fibres of your wool. Separating the fibres fluffs it all up and means any vegetation falls out. I bought my wool picker from www.fibrehut.co.uk but there are lots of plans available online if you’ve got the wood working skills to make your own. You can also pick through your wool by hand which obviously takes longer but is not an unpleasant task. Here’s a picture of my wool picker.
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Once you’ve picked your wool, if you want to spin it you can spin the picked wool without further processing. This is called spinning from the cloud and I’ll do a blog post about it in the future. Alternatively you can card your wool using either hand or a drum carder. You could also use a blending board and make rolags.

Extreme Knitting

A sprained ankle has slowed down my spinning in recent weeks so I’ve been knitting instead. Not just any knitting though I’ve been experimenting with extreme knitting. So what makes knitting extreme ? Generally it refers to using over sized knitting needles with either a super chunky yarn or multiple yarns (anything up to 1000 yarns in one go) rather than knitting in extreme conditions.

To start extreme knitting you need appropriate needles. I searched the internet and found an online shop Abergwenllan selling 1200mm long needles here’s the link  http://www.abergwenllan.co.uk/shop/products-page/needles/giant-knitting-needles/  Alternatives to buying needles include using broom handles, cricket stumps or plastic drain pipes with a point fashioned from gaffa tape.

Once you’ve got your needles you need to decide whether to knit with a super chunky yarn or multiple thinner yarns. If you choose the multiple yarn option put each ball of yarn in a container a box or bowl so that the balls of yarn don’t roll around and get tangled while you knit.

I decided to try using a super chunky yarn rather than multiples so I had to create my yarn. I started off with 2 Kg of unspun Jacob wool roving.It is possible to knit with the roving as it comes because it’s already in a long strip but without spinning or felting the roving will shed fibre quite a lot and won’t be as strong. One option to prepare your roving is to twist it slightly as you knit but I didn’t think this would be very effective. You can also wrap another yarn e.g. a metallic thread around the roving before knitting. With 2Kg of roving this would take ages to prepare and again I wasn’t confident that it would be very effective in strengthening the yarn or preventing fibre shedding.

Spinning the roving would be an option if you had a spinning wheel with a large enough orifice and bobbin  but even the biggest wheel would I think struggle with the thickness of yarn I wanted. So that left felting as a way to prepare the roving. There are several blogs online describing how people have wet felted their roving to create a super chunky yarn. Wet felting would mean a lot of wet wool that needed drying and is quite labour intensive so I did a bit of research for alternatives and discovered that you can buy needle felting machines. Needle felting 2Kg of roving by hand would be ridiculous but was quite quick and easy with the needle felting machine I got on ebay. The needle felter looks a bit like a sewing machine but has 12 needles that simply go up and down felting the wool as you pass it through.

I decided not to split my roving in yarn and just felted it as it came.

Here’s a picture of my finished ball of super chunky yarn and extreme knitting needles

 Next step was to get knitting. I decided to try knitting a bolster cushion. I wanted to make a cushion that didn’t need a cushion pad and was just made from 2Kg super soft Jacob wool. It took a bit of getting used to using the needles. You need enough space to move them but also be able to rest the ends on a support. Fortunately we have a very long sofa, which provided space and support, and once I’d stopped the cat trying to hang off the end of the needles I managed to get a bit of a rhytym going. It is quite physical knitting with such large needles and such a weight of wool, definitely gives your upper arms a good work out.

Here’s a picture of the knitting with tape measure so you can see the size of the stitches.

 And the finished bolster cushion

It works really well as a cushion. The wool is soft and squishy but firm enough not to lose its shape. I love the texture of the oversized knitting stitch as well. The bolster cushion is available as a made to order item in our farm shop  http://www.hootershall.co.uk/#!/~/product/category=5826082&id=27389497 and I’m going to be designing some slightly smaller square cushions as well, all made from natural Jacob wool.

Using Hand spun Yarn

Being a spinner I’m quite happy knitting with hand spun yarn but the world of hand spun can seem a bit daunting especially to those new to knitting.

I think for most knitters part of the reason for knitting is to make something special and different to mass produced, shop bought things and what could be more special and less mass produced than hand spun yarn.

It’s true that hand spun yarns don’t usually come with all the details you get on the label of commercial yarns but it’s easy enough to work out what you need to know. It’s also true that there is usually some variability in hand spun yarn but that’s what makes it and your knitting unique.

To get the best out of your hand spun yarn you need to take the time to consider its individual characteristics. What does the yarn feel like ? will it suit being next to your skin? will it stand up to regular washing or does it need a gentle handwash? Yarns can be spun in different ways to create yarns that are smooth, lustrous, fuzzy, light and fluffy. A fuzzy yarn is likely to get even fuzzier over time which will lead to a less well defined stitch pattern. Woolen yarns have a softer look compared to a smoother worsted yarn. So consider these points when thinking about which projects to use your hand spun in. The number of plies in a yarn will also have a big impact on the look of your finished project. Three ply yarns will have much greater stitch definition but being quite round will tend to fill in the holes in a lacy knit. Strength of yarn is also affected by the number of plies, the more there are the stronger the yarn.

Lots of hand spun yarns are fat singles. A fat single is a single yarn that hasn’t been plied with another single to create e.g. a double ply. Of course because it is a single the yarn won’t be as strong as a plied yarn but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a lot with it.

Straight off the spinning wheel fat singles turn into a curly, twirly mess, they’re usually described as having a lot of energy. The reason for this is that there only twist in one direction. With a double ply yarn two fat singles are spun the opposite way when plied together, reducing the energy in the twist. It’s really easy to tone down the energy / twist in a fat single though, you just need to give it a nice hot soak after spinning. I wash all my hand spun yarns after spinning but if you have a yarn that you’re not certain has been washed just dunk it some hot water for a bit of a soak.

Commercial yarns will generally have a description of the yarn thickness  as well a weight in grams and perhaps a guide to length / yardage. Some hand spun yarns might come with some,all or none of this information but it’s easy to work out yourself.

Quite often you will see the wraps per inch (w.p.i) for a hand spun yarn. This is a very simple measure to indicate the thickness of the yarn. To calculate wraps per inch simply wind the yarn around a ruler over an inch and work out how many wraps there are per inch. Here’s a rough guide to w.p.i, type of yarn and stitches per inch.

  • 4-8 wpi = bulky yarn = 3.3.5 stitches per inch
  • 9-12 wpi = worsted yarn= 4-4.5 stitches per inch
  • 11-13 wpi = DK yarn = 5-5.5 stitches per inch
  • 14-18 wpi = sport yarn = 6-6.5 stitches per inch
  • 19-22 wpi = fingering yarn =7-8 stitches per inch

Often you will get an approximate weight for hand spun but you can weigh it yourself on the kitchen scales. To work out the length of your yarn you can weigh specific length e.g. 1metre and then calculate the length of the remaining yarn e.g. if 1m of yarn weighs 2grams then 100grams of yarn is about 50metres long. You can also buy yarn calculators (they have some on amazon) that will tell you the length of your yarn.

So, once you’ve found out about your yarn characteristics what can you use it for ? the simple answer is anything if you have enough of it. But if you’ve only got a small amount why not use your hand spun yarn together with a commercial yarn to add a bit of an extra special something to your project. Use your hand spun yarn as an accent, as an edging or for a specific part of a pattern.

If you want to use hand spun yarn for an entire project here’s a rough guide to how much you might need.

Project yarn 7-8 wpi yarn 6-6.5 wpi yarn 5-5.5 wpi yarn 4-4.5 wpi
Scarf 8inch x 60inch 675 yards 617 m 575 yards 525m 450 yards 450 yards 411m
Hat 20 inch 300 yards 274m 260 yards 237m 200 yards 183m 150 yards 137m
Adult size mittens 300 yards 274m 260 yards 237m 200 yards 183m 150 yards 137m
Socks adult size 8 400 yards 365m 350 yards 320m 250yards 229m 200 yards 183m
Socks size adult 11 500 yards 457m 450 yards 411m 350 yards 320m 250 yards 229m

Feeling more confident about using handspun now? Here’s some pictures of Hooters hall handspun yarn to whet your appetite

You can buy Hooters Hall handspun yarn from our website www.hootershall.co.uk

Folksy http://folksy.com/shops/HootersHall

or Etsy http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HootersHall