Sometimes I buy fiber just because it is unusual. That’s what happened in September at the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. (Expect to see more fiber events at Interlochen in 2015.) There was a handful of vendors at this inaugural event. I did my best to buy from many of them. The vendor that was closest to the entrance is a friend of mine, Tracie Herkner. Her business is It’s Sew Ewe . She had some lovely carded rovings that were blends of Huacaya alpaca and wool. I got 4 ounces of a medium brown, luxurious blend of 85% alpaca and 15% Finn (a.k.a. Finnish Landrace) wool. Sounds like a match made in heaven. This roving may well become a cowl or scarf or hat and mitts that I will keep for my very own self. I expect to spin it up sometime in the next couple months.
I also got 4 ounces of a dark brown blend of alpaca and Babydoll Southdown wool. Now, this blend seemed unusual to me. Huacaya alpaca is characterized by a silky feel, with some crimp, a reasonable staple length, and not much in the way of elasticity. Babydoll is pretty much the opposite: not overly soft, seriously crimpy, short staple length, and loads of elasticity. Spring, sproing, sprang, sprung! My immediate urge was to make socks from this fiber blend: taking advantage of the elasticity and strength of the Babydoll and the softness and warmth of the alpaca.
A couple weeks ago, I pulled this roving out of my to-do-in-the-near-future bin. I’ve been spinning it. And, well, it is unusual. I’ve spun a lot of different fibers and fiber preparations, but this one required something new from me.
I tried to use my default short draw (worsted) technique, where I draft untwisted fibers then allow twist to enter. I was having a heck of a time getting a consistently thick singles. The roving behaved like alpaca: silky and somewhat slippery. And the roving behaved like Babydoll: super elastic. My drafting strategy just wasn’t getting the most out of this weird combination.
And, I was having trouble seeing what I was doing. I was spinning a thin singles (expecting to make a fingering weight 2-ply yarn suitable for socks). And my eyes aren’t what they once were. I’m experiencing very typical age-appropriate changes in my eyesight. But I don’t have to like it. I really don’t like it. I really don’t. I need “cheaters”, and good light. Dark fibers are just plain harder to see and spin than they used to be. D**n it.
I got out my Ott floor lamp. I turned on all ceiling lights in the room. I even started using a white lap cloth (a sweet kitchen towel that my sister had given me for Christmas one year).
But I struggled. So, I changed my drafting. I let some twist enter the fibers I was drafting, rather like a version of point-of-contact long draw. Something was still not right. I then started drafting the fibers forward instead of my typical backward. That helped a bit. Then I allowed more space between my front hand and my back hand. Way better.
Near the end of the filling the first bobbin, I finally found my groove. I don’t think the change in drafting technique was the key. I think it’s more likely that all the things I did to be able to see better helped more, especially increasing the distance between my front hand and my back hand. I realized that my front hand was casting a shadow on the lap cloth and that shadow was right under the drafting triangle. Once I put more distance between my front and back hands, the shadow was no longer an issue. I could see a bit better, and that made my drafting much easier to control.
Into – then out of – darkness. The second bobbin is half full. I expect to have some lovely sock yarn – for my very own self – next week sometime.
I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.