Fibre is such a tactile material to work with. With wools running the gamut from coarse and crunchy to superfine and soft, plus the option to add in any number of other fibres, the possibilities for combinations are endless!
And there’s nothing more pleasant than spinning luxuriously soft fibre. But not all soft, low micron count fibres are created equal! Many of us love to spin and work with these luscious fibres, but there are differences in the fibres that will affect the creative process moving from unspun material to yarn to finished object, and these will affect the success of our projects.
By inclination, training and experience I am a scientist, and I’ve approached the texture question in much the same way as I’ve done research all my life: keep everything constant except for one variable and compare the results. For this particular experiment, the variable was the type of fibre – everything else stayed the same, from the wheel ratio to drafting style to yarn weight (more-or-less) and colour.
I took four of SweetGeorgia’s fibre bases – Superwash BFL, BFL + Silk (75% BFL/25% silk), Polwarth + Silk (85% Polwarth/15% silk) and Panda (60% superwash merino/30% bamboo/10% nylon) – and spun up approximately 25 grams of each into a 2-ply sportweight yarn. Each piece of top was split once lengthwise, and the two pieces were spun end to end.
I spun the singles on a folding Lendrum wheel at 12:1 ratio, using a short forward worsted draft. Singles were then plied at 12:1 from both ends of a centre pull ball. Plied yarns were finished in warm water with a bit of Soak and hung to dry without weighting.
Spinning the singles
Even though all the fibres used were from the soft end of the spectrum, they were very different in terms of how they spun. The most slippery to spin were the superwash BFL and Panda, while the BFL/silk and Polwarth/silk had a bit more tooth (depending on the silk content). The Panda was very smooth to spin, as was the BFL/silk blend, but both required a bit more attention to make sure the singles stayed even and to prevent larger bits of the non-wool material from forming slubs. I found the Polwarth/silk the easiest spin, as the higher wool content and crimpy nature of the Polwarth meant that drafting was very easy to manage! The superwash BFL was the trickiest to spin – because the superwash process strips the scales from the fibres, they were very slippery and prone to getting away from me.
Plying and finishing the yarns
Plying was fairly straightforward for all of the samples, and a quick bath helped even out the twist. The superwash BFL, BFL/silk and Panda didn’t change dramatically pre- and post-bath, but the Polwarth/silk definitely puffed up into a thicker yarn after washing. This is due to the same two factors that made this my favourite fibre to spin: more wool (less silk) and wool that is very crimpy and bouncy. All yarns ended up at approximately 10-18 wpi, with the Polwarth/silk the thickest, coming in at 10-14 wpi, and the BFL/silk measuring a slim 11-18 wpi.
All yarns were swatched in stockinette with garter stitch borders on a US 3/3.25 mm needle, and were blocked by soaking in lukewarm water with a bit of Soak and laid flat to dry. All of the swatches were lovely final fabrics, but their textures were very different!
The BFL/silk swatch ended up having lovely sparkle and shine from the silk content, with medium drape and a silky hand. The Panda swatch had the best drape (likely due to all the non-wool fibres in the top) and could have been worked on a larger needle for even more drape. While being very drapey, the Panda swatch also had good elasticity from the merino content. Both of these bases would be fantastic for garments that need lots of drape and movement. Think open cardigans with waterfall fronts or lovely cowl necks, lace patterns and slouchy pullovers.
The Polwarth/silk swatch was the bounciest and most elastic of the bunch. The swatch had nice drape, but was definitely a fabric that would hold its shape well. The 15% silk also gave a slight sparkle to the finished fabric, like the BFL/silk base. This yarn would be amazing for garments that need good stitch definition or a bit more elasticity – anything with negative ease, cables or a highly textured stitch pattern.
My favourite fabric came from the superwash BFL, which was definitely not my favourite of the four bases to spin! The swatch had nice drape but also made a gorgeously squishy fabric that would make a fantastic cosy sweater to cuddle into. Because of the superwash treatment and resulting lack of elasticity in the fibres, this yarn probably wouldn’t give the greatest stitch definition when knitted (unless there was lots of twist in the singles and plied yarn), but it would definitely make a great sweater!
So there you have it: a (semi)-scientific comparison of four luscious fibre bases and their resulting yarns. Hopefully this has provided you some tools to go out and find the right base for your next handspun garment (or the right garment type for your handspun sweater lot!) And I’m off to toss the stash for something soft and textural to put on the wheel next. Happy spinning!
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