Unusual Fiber Combinations

Do you like eccentric yarn? I’m in the current edition of Ply Magazine (the Prep issue) on this topic; my article is about how to spin yarns using combinations of shredded denim, flax, sari strips, bamboo, recycled plastic bottles fiber, and more. Beginner spinners can do this as well as experienced, possibly with greater ease, as beginner minds have no preconceptions about what should happen. And spinning from a thick mass of fibers can be easier for beginners because there’s more to hold onto, making it easier to feed into the wheel’s orifice.

The photo above is a skein of my “Prayer Flags” yarn featured in the Ply article. It’s made from, among other things, fabric strips from reclaimed from sari manufacturing in India. Ribbon scraps will create a similar effect. With this much color and texture, there’s no need to knit with a yarn like this – just loop it around your neck or wrist as a boho accessory, wind it around a plant pot, string it in lengths as a curtain, or use it as ribbon on a gift.

Clockwise from top left: soy fiber, shredded denim, merino fleece, flax, Finnsheep fleece, and in the center is jute, traditionally used to make rope.

And if you’re not a spinner, you can still weave with these combinations, and you don’t even need a loom. Take a square of heavy cardboard and cut evenly spaced slits in the top and bottom, then wind string or thread up and down from one end to the other. Or use an empty picture frame or window frame, winding the string up and down and across, then tape the string evenly into place. Blend fleeces and fibers together (use 2 hairbrushes or a comb and a hairbrush), pull and twist the blend into a length of fiber, and then weave it in and out of the string.

What are some unusual fiber options for creating unusual fiber combinations? Hemp, jute, flax, nettles, bamboo, and other “bast fiber” plants grow quickly without the need for pesticides and fertilizers and add texture and strength to a yarn. Soy fiber comes from tofu manufacturing; soybean casings can be made into a soft, golden fiber that rivals silk. (An aside about silk: tussah silk is collected from forest floors where silkworms live natural life cycles in the wild. The silk generally on offer is cultivated; the worms spin their cocoons which are then tossed into hot water to make use of the silk, killing the worms in the process.) Fabric strips add texture and color. (A note about shredding: use a textile shredder for cloth – not a paper shredder).

Left: sari strips reclaimed from sari manufacturing. Right: abaca fiber. Top: I can’t remember! But it’s one of the unusual fibers I used to find at Handweavers Studio in London years ago.

Where do I find all of these various materials for spinning? Well, when I first began to spin 15 years ago, I was living in London, UK and I bought my supplies at Handweavers Studio. The owner at that time used to fill the front of the shop with random sacks of fleeces and fibers and you could take a basket and fill it with handfuls of whatever, and she would weigh them all up with an old fashioned scale using little brass weights. She stocked the most amazing selection, including horse hair, abaca fiber from Africa, and the spruce shavings you see in the photo below. George Weil, another UK company, used to sell shredded denim, and World of Wool is another UK company that has the out of the ordinary on offer. When I moved back to NYC, I bought sari strips from Darn Good Yarn here in New York State, but they haven’t stocked them in awhile. The Woolery stocks actual cotton balls from the plant, and also Himalayan stinging nettle. Basically, I find things here and there at different times, and then I stock up like crazy.

My “Deep in the Forest” yarn made from black Welsh, merino, and blue-faced Leicester fleeces, soy, nettles, jute, and spruce wood shavings.

Of course, you can source supplies on your own. Here in Brooklyn I live near a zillion community gardens – it’s winter now and there’s a lot of dried plant material lying around for the taking. I have worn out clothing and bed linens that can be ripped into shreds. I save every snippet of thread and yarn in a jar. There’s a discount store nearby that sells rolls of ribbons discarded from manufacturers. Just look at things with a gimlet eye and think, “Hmmm, could you be something else?”

When working with unusual fiber combinations, pay attention to blending things in a way that makes them stick together. For example, the shredded denim in my article comes from blue jeans manufacturing; denim offcuts that would have otherwise gone into the trash were shredded, resulting in a blue cotton fluff. Because the fibers are really short, they cannot be spun on their own, (cotton fibers in general are very short compared to other natural fibers, making them challenging for even experienced spinners), but when blended into fleece, the denim fibers are spinnable.

My “Blue Jeans at the Beach” yarn made from shredded denim reclaimed from blue jeans manufacturing, flax, bamboo, and merino fleece.

And if you want to know more about making these types of yarns, I truly recommend buying the Prep issue. Ply Magazine is something special because it’s made by a spinner with articles written by spinners, so the information is always very practical and unique. Each issue is themed, resulting in what’s really a course in a given subject. I’ve been getting Ply for years now and I still learn so many things with every issue. Now go play with some fibers and have fun!

The Prep issue, Winter 2019

4 thoughts on “Unusual Fiber Combinations

  1. Oh my gosh, This post has me so excited to go play with random fibers. I didn’t think about all the weird things I could spin with. Thank you for making it seem approachable, even for a beginner. (Didn’t one of these yarns you spun win a ribbon at the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Festival last summer?)


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