Today was the final day of retreat sessions at SOAR and I had the privilege of being in Abby Franquemont’s morning session to learn about blending with a drum carder. Abby is a powerhouse of knowledge about all things related to spindles, fibre prep and spinning in general. She just seems to know everything about everything. Luckily for us, she is a prolific writer and you can read her articles on a huge range of fibre-related matters on her website. She also makes fabulous blended batts… and so we came to her to learn the magic behind making such batts.

Blending merino with bamboo and firestar on my drum carder

We blended up colours that we disliked, colours that were garish, colours that definitely looked ugly together… and got some really very beautiful blends out of them. The beauty of the drum carded batts were that we broke up all those colours and desaturated them, making surprisingly harmonious combinations of colours and textures. We used a wide range of fibres including Corriedale, Merino, alpaca tussah silk, bamboo rayon, tencel/lyocell, camel, and firestar.

The magic or secret behind making these beautiful batts was really simply patience and building the layers of fibre slowly. Working too quickly or trying to put too much fibre on the drum carder simply resulted in clumpy, bumpy and streaky batts. We worked slowly (in fact, we were late for lunch), and put the blend through about three times. Another thing Abby confirmed was that (depending on the fibre), you can’t card something too much. She related it to brushing your hair… it’s not really possible to brush your hair too much and damage it. Same with fibre, generally.

Judith MacKenzie McCuin’s drum carders

Most of the drum carders in the session were Strauch Finests or Petites and a few Pat Green Deb’s Deluxes. I brought my own Pat Green Fancicard after a bit of encouragement and in the end, I was so glad I did. I got to learn all the blending on my own equipment without having to change from carder to carder. Some of the students got to use Judith’s personal monster motorized drum carders… crazy huge and super fast carders. It would have been so cool to have a go at one of those.

Janel, handing out merino/tencel…

My afternoon class was with Janel Laidman and was on “Spinning for Socks”. I had been so looking forward to this session because… well, I came to SOAR to spin, and soon realized that all my sessions were about colour or dyeing and didn’t require a spinning wheel. So I was looking forward to finally doing some spinning. And spin we did. For three hours. Straight. Power spinning. Spinning for sock yarn requires high twist in the singles as well as high twist in the plying to help prevent abrasion damage.

Spinners in the class
Three-ply sock yarn made with a ply of mixed BFL, dyed BFL and dyed superwash BFL

Our first sock yarn sample was a three-ply sock yarn made with a ply of mixed BFL, dyed BFL and dyed superwash BFL. Spinning tight singles and then three-plying quite tightly as well. The second sock yarn was a cabled yarn of a ply of superwash merino, merino/tencel, Ashland Bay merino/tussah 70/30 blend, and dyed BFL. These singles needed to be spun super fine in order to make up a fingering weight after basically four-plying it all together.

Although Janel suggested that we use a tight twist for the singles to make harder-wearing socks, she did mention that we could spin softer singles and then ply tighter as that is how most “pearl”-looking commercial sock yarns are constructed.

Both classes today were pretty exhausting (in fact, I face-planted into my hotel bed shortly after Janel’s class for a 20-minute power nap before dinner), but the wealth of knowledge in these women is such an amazing resource for us. I am quite grateful that they are so generous and willing to share their knowledge, some of which is used to do the things that pay for their mortgages. These are just hard-working, truly passionate people who seem to love what they do. I just want to be in the room to soak up even a drop of their wisdom. I think that makes coming to SOAR worth it.