It was a pleasure to receive this month’s fibre club after my friend, Katrina, who knits up the sock club for you all, dropped it off at my house one evening. The colours are beautiful, the fibre silky and lustrous. These 50/50 blends are a dream to touch and feel — they have an amazing ‘star power’ when you see them. I always think that when it comes to fibre, these blends are the rock stars!
There are many 50/50 blends out there but this month happened to be a gorgeous Yak + Silk dyed by the studio’s own Charlotte. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Charlotte while teaching at the studio this past year and she’s been amazing to work with — she’s friendly, helpful and kind.
As I unbraided this month’s club, I began to experience some angst. These braids that are 50/50 can be challenging to spin — they really push the spinner out of one’s comfort zone. My first experience with a 50/50 blend was a few years ago with a wool + silk. It was slippery. I felt as if my fingers were sliding over the fibre in a way that was challenging to draft forward consistently. As well, these are time-consuming fibres because fast, default spinning is not an option! In this particular blend, the silk offers an incredibly slippery fibre with no staple length per se. Blended with the silk is a lovely soft, downy fibre called Yak. Yak are “cowlike creatures found throughout the Himalaya mountains” that are multi-purpose: They offer warm downy wool, coarse outer coats for rugs and rope, provide milk and meat,and work as plow animals, much like oxen (Robson & Ekarius, 2011, p. 414).
The down staple length is between 1.25 – 2.25 inches, which is particularly short. It is shiny and slippery, although it can be matte and crimpy. In this case, the Yak was slippery and shiny — it is a gorgeous fibre. If you take some time to pull the braid apart and pull the individual fibres apart, you will be able to pull out some Yak fibres and feel them, making note of how short they are in comparison to the silk! In the past, I have liked to spin Yak long draw, allowing the twist to take up into the fibres at a slow but steady rate, drawing back with my cloud of fibre as the twist enters the fibre. In this case, however, that wasn’t realistic due to the silk content – the silk would have eaten up that twist and made drafting impossible!
A really wonderful technique to have in your back pocket for spinning blends such as this one is spinning over the fold. This draft involved placing a length of fibre over your pointer finger on the hand that is normally your fibre supply hand and drafting from that fold with your drafting hand. In this case, it hold the fibres in place and allows one to draft out the fibres consistently (although this takes practice) and control the twist. When spinning from the fold, the twist is unable to enter your fibre supply until you draft forward. There are two ways to draft from the fold – either off the tip of your finger, as it is pointed at the orifice of your spinning wheel, or from the top of your finger (see photo at left). This latter technique is the one I used in this case because this draft literally folds the fibres in half, preserving the sheen and luster of the initial fibre. I can’t wait to see this knit up!
I don’t personally like leaving Yak as a singles because it gains strength from plying. I find my singles often drift apart in the plying process if there isn’t enough twist in the initial spinning. Prior to plying, I have sometimes put my singles back through the wheel with a very high uptake to add more twist prior to plying. The great thing about this is that when plying, I go for a twist angle I like, rather than matching that high twist and the result is a lovely lace yarn that creates a wonderful fabric.
Robson, D. & Ekarius, C. (2011). The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA.
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