It happened again. A baby idea came and made up its mind not to leave me alone until I had listened to it. The baby idea told me to combine rustic gute fleece with recycled sari silk with the motivation that opposites attract. I listened and I’m glad I did.
A while ago I bought a gute fleece. Gute sheep have a very rustic wool that often has a coarse appearance. You can read more about gute wool here. This one was quite unusual, though, with its very soft undercoat and the outercoat playing only a minor part. Still, as with gute in general, the fleece has kemp.
Kemp is fibers that have a dominant core with air-filled cells that make the fibers brittle. They are coarse and don’t conform themself with the rest of the fibers, instead they point quirkily in all directions. The upside with kemp, though, is that they fall out of the wool eventually and leave air pockets. And in yarn, air means warmth.
A fulling project
Kemp also gives a rustic look to a fabric. I like a fulled fabric with quirky kemp in it. My original plan for this fleece was to spin a 2-ply yarn to weave and full in a fulling mill. The combination of lots of undercoat with quite small amount of outercoat and kemp makes this a perfect candidate. The undercoat has excellent felting properties, the outercoat binds the fibers together and makes the fabric stronger and the kemp adds an interesting design element while at the same time bringing warmth to the fabric as it falls out and leaves air pockets.
Enter Sari silk
And so the baby idea came to me. What would happen if I blended the rustic gute wool with recycled sari silk? Would the very different fibers complement each other or would they just look odd? If so, would that be a bad thing?
I have blended recycled sari silk with wool before, in my sweater designs Margau beta and Selma Margau (available as a pattern in Spin-Off magazine). The fleeces have been finer and the results scrumptious. I decided to give my baby idea the benefit of the doubt and make a test skein and fulled swatches.
So, first of all I teased the wool. I chose to tease with my combing station, where I could at the same time blend the sari silk with the wool. I charge the stationary comb with the (picked) gute staples. For the purpose of teasing I don’t care about the direction of the staples. I also add tufts of sari silk. To keep a reasonably even wool to silk ratio I charge every combload with 8 staple length tufts of sari silk.
I do about four passes in the combing station to get an even roving. There is one tricky thing here, though. As I doff the wool off the combs I get the longer lengths first, then shorter and shorter. Since both the sari silk and the kemp is very short, around one inch, a lot of it stays in the stationary comb. I try to fiddle the sari silk out to the best of my ability. I will try flicking the cut ends of the gute staples before teasing next time to get more kemp out.
You can see how I tease wool, blend it with sari silk and card rolags in this video.
As I card luscious rolags, the sari silk blends beautifully into the gute wool, like sparkling stars on a foggy night. Unexpected but mesmerizing.
This wool is just dreamy to work with. Very light and airy with a lovely meringue-y resistance to it. The rolags shape themselves like they were born to do just that. If I lean in I hear them singing sweet songs of yummy longdraws. My heart joins in in the chorus.
The longdraws from heaven
Yes, these newborn rolag babies need and deserve a wicked longdraw. As it turns out, the rolags work that out too, I just treadle along and listen to the wool. I allow it to decide how thick it wants to be. It settles for a quite fine thickness that after plying and washing blooms out into a sport weight yarn.
As I look at the newborn yarn I see something unique, a blend that I had never thought of before, but that flirts with me in a new way. I see the differences between the fibers and I tingle at their odd union.
The kemp and the silk in this blend represent the ends of a number of spectra. While the gute wool is raw (in the sense that it hasn’t been processed) the sari silk has been spun, dyed, woven, ripped and processed again. The colours of the sari silk are vibrant and almost luminescent while the gute wool is softly grey. The kemp doesn’t even take dye. While the sari silk easily blends into the draft the kemp in the gute wool is quirky and goes its own way, often out of the yarn entirely. The kemp leaving air pockets in the yarn, the silk filling them. The silk sari, sheer and draped, the gute wool heavily fulled, dense.
However, as there are numerous ways in which these fibers are different, I can find sweet similarities too. Both sari silk and gute wool have depth in their colours, just on different scales. One on the vibrant side and the other on a subtle grey scale. The fine gute undercoat goes hand in hand with the silk. All the fibers – outercoat, undercoat and silk follow the dance of the twist. Well, not so much the kemp.
Another parameter the sari silk and the kemp have in common is their length. They are both quite short, around an inch long. Due to this similarity in length they stay in the combs when I have pulled the teased fibers out. If I pull out more silk, I get the kemp too. And there they are, side by side, like fiber sisters.
As I investigate the yarn I wonder if I added too much sari silk. There are quite a lot of colour splashes. Is it too much? I remember a Swedish spinning forum discussion where the word clown barf was mentioned in reference to a very pastelly combed top. Was this approaching a brighter clown barf cousin?
I wrote down the wool to silk ratio and made a mental note about perhaps reducing the amount of sari silk. First I would see what happened in the weaving and fulling.
Sampling and fulling
So, I brought out my pin loom and started making samples to play with. Usually when I experiment with fulling I make two swatches – one that I leave as it is for reference and one that I full. This time I decided to make two fulling samples with different degrees of fulling. This turned out to be an excellent idea.
My theory was that since I believed that silk doesn’t felt the splashes of colour would bulk up and make blobs. This is why I was considering using less sari silk. The clown barfiness calmed down in the woven samples and even more in the fulled swatches. In the heavier fulled swatch the sari silk hardly shows at all. Little enough to leave the sari silk out altogether for that degree of fulling. It turns out that silk does felt.
I do love the lightly fulled swatch, the one I decided to make on a whim. It has a lovely movement that its stiffer cousin doesn’t have. The sari silk glows softly in the comfort of the squishy grey. Side by side with the sari silk is the quirky kemp, eager to see the world.
Under the loupe
Astonished by the fulling results I texted the pictures of the fulled samples to my brilliant friend Cecilia. “What do they look like under the loupe?” she asked in reply. That was the best idea I had heard all week. Of course I need to observe some felting action under a loupe!
So, after some fiddling I managed to get the three swatches under the loupe and some decent photos. As I look at them I see so many interesting things:
- Silk fibers are really fine! But the gute undercoat is also very fine in this fleece.
- I can see the light gute fibers, mostly the finer ones but also some with a wider diameter. This seems to confirm my observation of the staples being build up of mostly undercoat fibers and just a few strands of outercoat fibers and that the latter aren’t that coarse.
- The quirkiness of the kemp (the dark fibers) really shows in the images.
- There is a thrilling migration going on in the swatches which becomes very clear under the loupe. While the sari silk is superficial and the kemp in the center of the fabric in the original swatch (left), they seem to have traded places in the heavily fulled swatch (right). In both fulled swatches, but especially the heavily fulled, the kemp is on the surface and the sari silk cosily snug in the center. This is visible in the unmagnified photos too – you can see how the sari silk is more diffuse in the fulled samples and the kemp superficial, ready for take-off.
The migration was very fascinating to me and quite the opposite of what I had anticipated before I made the fulled samples. The clown barfiness faded and the marriage between the rough and fine was a success, especially in the lightly fulled sample. The kemp will probably keep migrating out into the world, way outside of the textile.
At the beginning of this week I didn’t know what to write in today’s blog post. I decided to try my gute silk idea to have something to write about. Hadn’t I done that I would never have analyzed it this thoroughly. J’accuse! I totally blame you, my dear readers, for this blog post and its revelations. Thank you! And thank you Cecilia for reminding me to exercise my loupe.
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