I’m not very fond of knitting socks. Yet socks are quite essential. I’m definitely not fond of plastic in sock yarn. Yet a strong fiber is quite practical to prevent holes in the socks. Fortunately, there are other strong fibers than plastic. This is the story of a simple blending process that hopefully will result in durable socks in natural materials.
A small scale sample yarn
On my 2019 wool journey I experimented with a sock yarn where I blended rya lamb’s wool and adult mohair. I ended up with a strong 3-ply sock yarn sample. I started out with 6 + 4 grams of fiber, which did help me find a process and a suitable yarn for socks, but in a very small scale.
On the fleece championships that year I bought a gold medal winning rya fleece and a bag of adult mohair to scale up my experiment to real socks. As usual the fleeces went in the back of the fleece queue, but now they’re next in line. This week I started my sock yarn project.
In my small scale experiment I had used 6 grams of rya and 4 grams of mohair. In my upscaled project I have 650 grams of rya and 400 grams of adult mohair which I somehow needed to blend.
Many people have seen a video where I willow my wool to open up the locks. This method is also perfect for blending two wool qualities or colours. However, I am not willowing my sock blend. I’m not very keen on sitting outdoors in the wind and temperature of November in Stockholm. Also, I’m afraid the willowing may ruin the lock structure in the staples. Since I will be combing the wool I need the staples to maintain their structure so that I can tell the cut end from the tip end. Therefore I needed to find another way of blending my wool.
The fleeces had been somewhat compressed in the sofa bed storage and the staples were clinging to one another. So the first step was simply to separate them. Willowing would have been perfect for this task too, but still, not in November. Instead I sat down and started to pick and separate the locks by hand in both fleeces. This gave me the opportunity to look and feel through the fleeces and get to know their characteristics better, literally staple by staple.
The rya fleece was open and airy with long, silky and fine staples. They were also easy to separate from each other. The mohair staples on the other hand were compact in themselves and somewhat reluctant to opening up. The fibers in each staple seemed to cling to each other. The staples were quite easy to separate from each other though, since I had managed to wash a lot of the wax away.
The difference in willingness to separate in the different fleeces is something I need to keep in mind for when I process and spin the wool since it can influence how evenly the wool drafts when I spin. But first things first.
Let’s make Lasagne!
When I had gone through both of the fleeces and separated the staples it was time to start blending them. I did it the simplest way I could think of – I divided the fleeces in 6 piles each. I figured the smaller units of wool I could blend the more even the blend would be.
When I had my 6 + 6 rya and mohair piles I started building a lasagne by layering the piles one by one in a basket – one layer of rya and one layer of mohair until I was out of piles. After that I turned the basket upside down on the floor, dug my hands into the blended pile and whisked the whole arrangement around.
The final part of the blending was the actual combing. From my thorough lasagne blending technique I knew the two kinds of fiber were reasonably evenly distributed. Therefore I simply grabbed a handful of the blend and started combing. Later I decided to weigh each handful to make sure the rovings would be the same weight. This also eliminated my usual habit of over loading the comb.
From the hand picking I had learned that the rya and mohair staples were very different. The dual coat rya locks were easy to separate and quite airy while the mohair locks were dense and quite reluctant to let go. With this in mind I made sure to make enough passes to thoroughly separate the fibers. The fleeces have in the blend formed a new togetherness with new characteristics that I need to consider when I work with the preparation and spinning.
I landed in five passes, planking, and then another three passes (you can read more about this combing technique in an earlier post about combing different fiber lengths). After the final three passes I dizzed the roving and got myself a lovely bird’s nest.
I am very happy with the result. The fibers are evenly distributed both in and between the rovings. Nothing clings anymore and I can draft easily. I have finished a first test skein and a second improved skein. The spinning process and resulting yarn however, is a matter for another blog post.
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