Cleaning Wool

When I knit in public, I never know what will come from it.

Last summer while on a short hiking trip in the Methow with folks from PBI, I whipped out a mitten project during our lunch break. As I worked a few rows, my fellow hikers mentioned that knitting and spinning was a popular activity when they moved there among a wave of hippies. One hiker mentioned that she happened to have a fleece given to her by a friend who had raised sheep and spun wool. It had been used as part of a Halloween costume but was no longer needed. Since I was so enthusiastic about knitting, she graciously offered me the fleece. I gladly accepted not fully understanding the ramifications.

After the fleece sat in the box for a couple of weeks while I research what to do with it, I finally got enough courage to dive in and clean it. I’ve read that a fleece can be soaked in a top loading washing machine as long as there is no agitation. After the fleece is clean through soaking, the water can be spun out of the wool by putting the washer in spin mode. Although this sounded like a fast way to get the job done, this method wasn’t an option for me since I converted to a front loader a couple of years ago.

wool_cleaning Here are the steps that I took to manually clean the fleece. It’s a long process but keeps the lock intact which is important when spinning worsted yarn.

1. Separate a bunch of the wool locks from the fleece and put them in a mesh laundry bag, keeping the cut ends together so as not to mix up the ends of the wool.

2. Fill the buckets with very hot tap water and then add lots of Dawn dishwashing soap.

3. Place the mesh bag of wool into one bucket and let it soak for 10 minutes. Be sure not to agitate the wool or it might felt.

4. Repeat soaking with another bucket of new water until the water starts to look clean. Each bucket of water must be at the same temperature as the last, otherwise the wool might start to felt.

5. When the wool is fairly clean, rinse it in fresh hot water.

6. Gently take the wool out of mesh bags and put on a drying rack. It takes about one to two days to dry.

The mesh laundry bags help keep the locks together and allow the wool to be delicately removed from the water. Keep in mind that wool will felt if there is too much agitation or a drastic change in the water temperature.

Don’t be surprised if the wool changes color when cleaned. This one turned from brown to gray with white highlights.


Twists Per Inch (TPI)

Friday, I plyed some singles on my wheel for the first time and ended up with a twisted mess that couldn’t be straightened through washing. It was all very sad. Plying on a spindle never produced such horrible results, so I was a little depressed about the whole ordeal.


While at the sale on Saturday, I finally caved in and bought Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics by Anne Field. Although I’ve only flipped through the book, I’ve learned how to regulate twists per inch (tpi) by counting treadle cycles. Only an inch of fiber is feed into the orifice for every revolution of the wheel. Monitoring twist in this way should result in a single with consistent twist through out the thread.

The book mentions keeping track of the wheel revolution by counting on the down pedal but I’ve come up with my own technique. I put a bright sticky note on the top edge of the wheel and watch for it as I spin. Every time I see the sticky note at the top, I feed in an inch of fiber.

The singles are look pretty good but the real test will happen when I attempt to ply. Before my next attempt, I’ll follow the handy 2-ply twist comparison chart in Beyond the Basics to determine the correct plied twist per inch. This chart lists desired tpi for singles along with corresponding tpi for plied yarn. Singles are generally plied with 2/3 of the amount of twist used to spin the singles.

This weekend I also received my Paradise Fiber order which contained a copy of Handspinning Advanced Techniques. It promises to teach me how to “make a plied yarn of any exact thickness with just the amount of twist …” Sounds promising. I started watching it but dozed off after the hand carding segment.


While working on my current knitting project I’ve been squeezing in time to practice spinning merino. Eventually I’ll get good enough at it and find enough courage to start spinning the fiber from the Spin-Off sweater kit.


This week I’ve been concentrating on “wraps per inch” (wpi). In order to get consistent yarn in the spinning world, spinners measure the average width of their yarn by wrapping it around a ruler many times and then counting how many wraps there are per inch. This merino practice yarn is yielding between 13 and 14 wpi. Now I just need to figure out if this will translate into the correct knitted gauge for the project.

Yesterday I received the new summer issue of Interweave Knits and finally took a closer look at the “sources for supplies” section in the back. Not only do they show each yarn used in the projects but they also list the ply and wip of each one. It occurred to me that perhaps I could use this information to compare my handspun yarn to a store bought yarn that is close to the weight I need. Last night I pulled out my old issues and came up with a list of comparison yarns. A couple of the yarns are already in my “stash” so I should be able to find one that will work as a good comparison yarn.

If you’re not a spinner, you might still find wpi interesting since it seems like a good way to compare yarns when trying to find a substitute.


Spinning_wheel Here’s the new wheel

Oh, I love my local libraries. Even though I haven’t had time to spin I’ve been reading “Handspinning, Dyeing and Working With Merino and Superfine Wools” to get some tips on how to spin up all the merino that I got for Christmas. So this weekend I’ll be spend time getting more acquainted with my new toy and practice spinning merino.

I’ve been trying to decide whether I should get the super high-speed whorl to spin merino. From what I’ve been reading, it looks like I  have two options. Two get the right amount of twist I can either use the fast speed whorl that comes with the wheel and do more treadling or I can buy a smaller whorl and treadle less. I need exercise so I’ll pass on the smaller whorl for now.

I couldn’t resist showing the last bit of wheel spun yarn I did on Monday night. I got tired of white and purchased some blue New Zealand roving.


The Ashford wheel went back yesterday for the second and final class. We started off by trying a bit of lovely creamy white Corriedale and then focused on learning how to pick out a good fleece. It will be a while before I bring another fleece home since the last one took weeks to clean by hand. Washing it in a machine wasn’t an option since I have a front loader.

At the end of the class I tried the Lendrum folding wheel and noticed quite a difference right away. It was so much smoother then the old worn Ashford that I used this past week.

Ok, so I’m giving in. I put my name on the list for the next shipment of double treadle wheels. The teacher says that it’s been taking a while to get the wheels so it will probably be a 6-7 week wait. In the mean time I’ll finish the whisper rib socks.

half whisper lace Here’s what they looked like when I set them aside. Since I only have three size 0 circulars, one is on two circulars and the other is on one circular. I figured it would be better to work on both at the same time in case my tension changes overtime. Last year I knitted some gloves one at a time and noticed a difference in the tension between the two. If I knit a pair at the same time at least they’ll turn out looking the same.


After spinning 8 ounces of “Gertrude”, a mixed roving of romeny / north country cheviot / cotswold from The Bellwether, I built up enough confidence to try merino . Unlike the coopworth shown in my last post, merino is smother and harder to control. The picture on the right shows some merino that I spun on a wheel. For a comparison, I picked up my hand spindle and produced the yarn shown on the left.

merino_spindle.jpg merino_wheel.jpg

I’m coming to the conclusion that although a drop spindle might appear to be more difficult than a wheel, I can actually produce more consistent results on a drop spindle. I’m finding it hard to control the flow of fiber into the wheel while drafting out the fiber at the same time. When I spin with a drop spindle every thing goes much slower. If I find a slub (fat spots) then I can stop and fix it. If the spun fiber seems to have too much twist then I can stop and transfer some twist into the unspun fiber. It’s much harder to troubleshoot these kind of problems when using a wheel.

Spinning Neophyte

wool_compare Can you tell which skein is from a wheel and which is from a drop spindle? The one on the right was spun with my drop spindle this summer and the one on the left is what I produced after my third attempt with a wheel. Now the teacher said not judge whether we like wheel spinning based on our first attempts because more then likely it will be frustrating and tiring. Hey, that’s what I always tell folks about snowboarding.

Tuesday I was able to bring home a double treadle Ashford Traditional Saxony for practice. Yesterday was my first solo attempt, which wasn’t too pretty in the beginning. Although I haven’t tried other wheels, I already don’t like this one. I’m having trouble moderating my speed. If I go slowly the treadles tend to get stuck but when I try speeding up I have trouble controlling the fiber. Next Tuesday I’m going to see if I can try a Lendrum folding wheel. This one seems much more practical for my lifestyle. The teacher was using a Schacht which might be another option but it is much more expensive then the others.

Unless my spinning gets much better this weekend I won’t be spinning my merino. It was totally unrealistic to think that I could produce acceptable sport weight merino yarn after only a few attempts.

Got Wool?


Ever since the Twisted Sisters book came out earlier this year, I’ve been resisting the spinning bug. The book features the most exquisite yarns. All were hand dyed and most were hand spun.  Knitting projects already seem to take longer then anticipated. How could I also start spinning?

It must have been my destiny to spin. This summer a friend offered me a fleece! How could I pass up free wool? The spinning bug bit. So, now I’m learning how to spin.  I already have three spindles, a niddy noddy and a nostepinne.

I find spinning much more challenging then knitting. I’m trying to get a consistent yarn but that seems nearly impossible. I’ve been practicing with a roving that I purchased from the local yarn store. When my skills improve, I’ll start spinning the fleece.