Because I’m a complete masochist, I actually have two very intense fiber projects going on. One I cannot currently speak about toooo much as it’s the Holiday Weaving – and although I’ve shown a few pictures of the setup on my Instagram, for the most part I’m keeping that low key. BUT, the project I can speak about is the Big Sweater Project.
What is the Big Sweater Project?
In short, I am spinning up fiber from my sheep and alpaca into a couple of sweaters. One sweater will be for me, and there will be two baby sweaters for a dear friend who is expecting twins in January! For the babies, I’m doing a simple pattern – the Top Down Basic Baby by Angela Juergens. I’ll need about 800 yards of fingering (about 14 WPI – wraps per inch) yarn and I’m still trying to decide the color. For me, I’m doing Yakushima by Justyna Lorkowska and I’ll need about 1600 yards of worsted weight (about 9 WPI) and it’ll be in purple.
Fiber was graciously donated by Aphrodite and Ambrosious from this year’s shearing. Staple lengths (the length of each piece of fiber from tip to cut end) were similar. Unfortunately, Aphrodite’s fleece did have quite a few second cuts. (This is where the shearer took two swipes to get all the fiber off and it leaves tiny little pieces of fiber that are a bear to get out. It causes little “neps” or bumps in the fiber. It’s often a “bad” thing, though it can be worked around.)
I did skip the initial prep of the fiber. Because I just don’t have the time right now to wash and card two full fleeces I wanted to find a good mill. However, most of them have six month PLUS turn times! So, I was thrilled when I found out that a fellow fiber enthusiast was starting up a mill. It’s Angel Locks Fiber Studio and Carding Mill in Westminster, MD. (She doesn’t yet have a web presence, but trust me, I’ll be pimping out that link like crazy once she does. Her website is live at www.angellocksfiber.com.)
She worked for many years at another large mill and discovered the biggest impediment to quick turn-arounds was the spinning part. Also, many handspinners just want roving to spin themselves. So she mills roving only, which I think is pretty darn cool. I was excited to be her very first mill customer and she totally blew me away. She sent pictures of the fiber in all the stages of processing and even some awesome videos!
I brought her just over six pounds of fiber. She gave me just over four and a half of processed fiber back. That’s a *really* good ratio! You can lose almost half your weight depending on how much VM (vegetable matter like hay or leaves), dirt, and grease is in the fleece.
When I started planning this project I did a lot of sampling. I have quite a chunk of Athena’s fleece left and she’s almost the same shade as Aphrodite. And I have a ton of alpaca. (I have four garden-waste-size bags of seconds!!) I tried a couple methods. 1 – blending the two fibers, spinning, then dyeing. 2 – dyeing, then blending the fibers, then spinning. 3 – dyeing the two fibers separately, then spinning each separately, and plying together.
Each of these methods had their own charm, but I immediately discarded 3. I do not care for the “barber pole” look of different colors plied together. 1 and 2 each had potential. I spun up and knitted a sample piece. Personally, I love the heathered but even look of #1 better. I think it gives a more cohesive look.
The color didn’t turn out as I planned. It’s not an unpleasant color, but it’s very… pink. I was going for purple. I used Wilton food coloring and it just doesn’t dye true in my testing. At the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival I picked up a Greener Shades sampler pack from Hipstrings. I’ll do some testing with my sample spins and see what their purple looks like.
I just spun up a four ounce braid, which gave me 157 yards of worsted weight. So to get my 1600 yards of worsted, it should take about 2 lbs 8 oz. For the 800 yards I need another 10 oz. That’s a total of 3 lbs 2 oz of fiber. I have 3 lb 6 oz of roving, so a little fudge factor room! However, this could vary quite a bit. This fiber is lighter and fluffier than the last fiber I spun. Therefore I could get miles more yardage. I could end up spinning too tightly and as a result need an extra ply to get the weight I need. Or, or, or… And the answer to that question is SAMPLING! I’m planning to use the end-of-run roving to do my sampling in both spinning and dyeing.
Ready, set, spin!
Now I have my fiber ready. I know what kind of yarn I want. I know how much I need. The wheel is oiled and my bobbins greased. Since I’m in the middle of holiday weaving, this won’t be done until early next year, and that’s just to finish the yarn! But I love having this project on the wheel. I can’t wait to see the finished sweater(s)!