Happy new year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that you're keeping those wheels and spindles busy!
Today I want to talk a bit about one of the fibers that I put in Tuesday's update: the 70% Shetland/30% tussah silk top in "Magpie".
Most wool-silk blends that you find are pretty homogeneous - they've been run through the carder/industrial machinery enough times that the wool and the silk fibers are mixed together thoroughly. This top is very different, in that the silk and Shetland are present in the top as distinct stripes of fiber. The black Shetland is dominant, with the bright streaks of colorful silk popping out as accents.
I was really interested in how this top was going to spin up, so I did a bit of sampling with my test run. Since silk and wool typically don't have the same staple length, I spun one sample from the fold, thinking that this particular technique would allow me to blend the wool and the silk together more effectively.
To be perfectly honest, I had a tough time spinning this from the fold smoothly - I ended up with a bunch of slubs in the single, and stretches of either pure wool or pure silk. Definitely not what I was aiming for!
I chain plied the sample back on itself, and knit up a little swatch with it - as you can see, the final yarn is a bit "rustic", and the stitch definition on the cabled bit isn't as good as I might like.
So I tried a worsted drafting style for another sample. This was a much better spin - the fiber flowed smoothly and evenly, there were no slubs, and the single was much more consistent. This sample was also chain plied, and knit into a similar swatch.
The yarn is much more to my taste, regardless of whether I'm looking at garter stitch, stockinette or the cable. The stitches are nice and defined, the cable pops well, and the garter stitch is nice and cushy.
Before I blocked the swatches, I was very torn. I loved the feel of the woolen spun fabric - it was soft and cozy and had nice drape - but wanted the stitch definitioin and pop on the cable that I got with the worsted spun yarn. Sadly, the worsted spun swatch felt a bit bulletproof...not idea for a sweater.
Into a bath of cool water and woolwash, a few hours on the towel rack, and I had one swatch that was largely unaffected and one that was totally different. The woolen spun swatch came through relatively unchanged, but the worsted swatch softened and bloomed and was vastly improved by blocking. Hooray!
This little sampling experiment was really enlightening for me. I tend to assume that once the yarn is finished (i.e. soaked or steamed or however you typically finish your yarn), not much more will change when the fabric is blocked. Clearly that is not the case! This is a very timely thing for me to have emphasized so clearly, as I am in the midst of plying up 24 oz (about 750 gr) of a combination yarn for a sweater, and I'm a bit unsure of how its going to turn out. Sadly, I didn't sample for that, so it's either going to be a smashing success or there will be three massive skeins of Portuguese Merino/Targhee mix going wanting...
My ultimate recommendation for this fiber would be to spin this top with a worsted drafting technique, which is not what I would have predicted before sampling. One caveat however: even with worsted spinning, the yarn is not a consistent blend of wool and silk. There are still stretches that are mostly black (Shetland) or mostly brightly colored (silk), so be aware that the final yarn will not be a smooth blend of both fibers. If you're worried about getting the most consistent blend, you'll want to do a multiple ply: 3-, 4-, even up to 5-ply (or however many plies you have the patience to do!) will mix the wool and silk up more effectively.
So get spinning! Please come over to our Ravelry group and share photos of your finished yarns - we love to see handspun!