Sunday, July 10, 2016


Nobody likes Veggy Matter in finished textiles.

Yarn and fiber mills put a lot of effort into getting VM out of their fiber.  I feel that often these processes reduce the resilience, durability, and  "life" of  the fiber.  I do not have any way of measuring this but it is my experience that fiber I prep, looks better, longer than mill prepped fiber.

I find that fiber I prep is also easier to spin.  Sometimes mill prepped fiber that is hard to spin, can be improved by washing it, and carding it.  It takes nerves of steel and fierce determination to plop beautiful top from the mill into a wash basin of soapy water, but sometimes that is the only path to spinning it with reasonable effort.

OK, so how does one get VM out of a fleece?  Combing will get most of it, but not all of it! Fleece can be combed, and then carded for woolen spinning.

And, repeated, careful drum carding (of scoured fiber), with picking out VM as you see it will get most, but not all of the VM out of fleece.  I did a  lot of this, in the days when I did not spin so fine. Today, I know that VM will fall out as I spin. It is easy to spin and vacuum up all the VM on the floor every couple of hours.  It is even easier to spin on the patio, and use a leaf blower at the end of the day.

My preferred program is to scour the fleece and get the oils out of it; comb it for worsted or drum card it for woolen, and spin it finely.  Most VM will drop from yarns spun to grist of  about 5,600 ypp (~12 m/gram). And, essentially all of the VM drops out when singles are spun at grists close to their spin count.

Yes, I comb my fiber for worsted singles, and that takes most of the VM out.  However, I do not bother with the flea combs that Northernlace advocated in her book on spinning fine. I use inexpensive 5-pitch English combs that I got through the Woolery.   They work just fine.  They will produce fiber suited for spinning worsted at it's spin count. The resulting fine singles are VM free. Singles spun at more than 11,000 ypp are almost VM free.  By the time one is spinning at 20,000 ypp, one has to look through bobbins and bobbins of  singles to find one bit of VM - and that can be flicked out during plying.  And sure enough, the traditional hoisery singles grist is just about where VM becomes very rare.  And this is also about the point where the (long wool) singles have enough twist to become very smooth and glossy.  And it is about the point where the singles have enough twist to become very durable.  Suffolk singles spun at ~11,000 ypp , and made up into a 6-ply sock yarn is smooth, durable, and almost VM free.  As my wheel is set up today, 6-ply yarn for pair of socks is a long day's spinning.  A bright-eyed, nimble fingered young one should be able to do it much faster.  Strange, the only folks I know of with such wheels are trained chemists.

For woolen singles,  I wash the wool, and card it on a Clemes and Clemes drum carder.  Most of the VM drops out. Then, I roll rolags off the carder and spin finely. Most of the remaining VM will drop out when spun to 12 m/gram. At a grist of 25 m/gram, the singles will be almost VM free.  Spun at its spin count, the singles and plied yarn will be essentially VM free. Spin count for  Romney is about 45 m/gram, spin count for Suffolk or Shetland or Meridian Jacob is ~ 60 m/ gram, and spin count for ordinary Merino or Rambouillet is ~ 80 meters/gram.

I like semi-worsted singles.  They have many of the advantages of both woolen and worsted yarns.  I card the fiber on my Clemes and Clemes drum carder, and diz off pencil roving, which gets wound onto my distaff, and spun finely. The prep is very fast and. And, I like spinning from a roving better than spinning from rolags.  At a grist of 25 m/gram, the singles will be almost VM free.  Spun at its spin count, the singles and plied yarn will be essentially VM free. Yes, with a DRS flyer/bobbin assembly, you can spin semi-worsted singles from drum carded fiber with a grist of  80 or 90 meters/gram. On a yardage basis, it is reasonable - 200 to 300 yards per hour.  On a mass basis, it is slow, 2 to  3.5 grams per hour.  On the other other hand, in a day, one can prepare 10 grams of  2-ply finished yarn that is longer than the best US entry into the last Longest Thread Contest.  Oh, you want to win the Longest Thread Contest?  Why? Wool yarns with less than about 20 staples in their cross section are not as good.  You want to be known for making yarn that is too thin?  If you want yarns that are thinner than ~ 100 m/g, spin Cashmere, Guanaco, cotton, linen, and other thinner fibers.)

VM removal via spinning fine is free.  The effort of spinning fine is paid for by the extra durability of the finely spun yarns. And, for cold weather gear, the effort of spinning fine is paid for by the extra warmth and light weight of spinning fine.  I find that spinning fine is a Win! Win! Win! proposition made possible by a DRS wheel that inserts twist, fast.

In retrospect, I wasted a lot of time trying to prepare VM free fiber to spin into fat singles. It would have been a much  better use of my time just learning to spin fine, sooner.

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