A Tale of Two Yarns

This is a story about two different handspun yarns and how they came to be.

The first began as white Peruvian sheep fleece. Deciding to us a natural dye for color, I popped it into a pot of cool water mixed with alum (a mordant), slowly brought the water temperature to just below simmering, kept it simmering for an hour, and let it cool down slowly. The alum prepares the fiber to accept and retain the dye. Without mordanting, most natural dyes will wash away when the fiber is rinsed.

Next, back into a pot with cool water and annatto – the seeds from the fruit of the achiote tree, native to the tropical areas of North and South America. Traditionally, these seeds were used for lipstick and body paint; today we use annatto to color butter, cheese, and other foods. Once again the fiber was slowly heated up, left to slightly simmer, left to cool a bit, and then hung up to dry. (No squeezing or wringing! It would cause the fiber to felt.)  The annatto produced a mild peach color.  Once dry, it’s ready to spin.

On the spinning wheel bobbin, you can see that I’ve spun the fleece in a thick and thin style.  Then it gets unwound off the bobbin, plunged into a bowl of hot water and into a bowl of cold water; this “sets the twist,” meaning it causes the fibers to stick together so that the yarn will stay as yarn and not just unravel back into fleece.  It is a “single ply” yarn because it is composed of a single strand.  I named it Curly Peach.

The next is an example of a “two ply” yarn composed of two sets of multiple ingredients.  The main ingredient is denim fiber, which has an interesting history.  The leftover offcut denim from blue jeans manufacturing is collected from the cutting room floor and finely shredded.  I blended it with bamboo fiber (very soft, bright white) and some merino fleece (dyed light blue and navy) and spun it into a fairly consistent yarn.  Next, I spun unbleached flax.  And then I spun the two yarns together to create a two ply yarn:

You can see that two ply yarns are much stronger and denser.  If you made a scarf or hat from this, it would keep you very warm.


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