I’m sure my reason for learning how to spin and dye my own wool was a very common one. I really wanted to be in a position to be able to have any yarn in any colour, whenever I want it (I’m sure everyone reading this blog understands what a luxury this is!), without constantly having to buy new yarn just because I don’t have exactly the right combination of colours in the right yarn type and weight (despite having boxes and boxes of yarns already…)
And now, after about a year of learning experiments, I am finally getting to that stage. Having practised dyeing with both natural and acid dyes, I finally have a nice collection of wool in various colours, and with my drum carder I now know how to mix many more. So what to do with all this beautiful wool?
In recent weeks I have been thinking about what the next phase should be. I think it will involve some kind of picture and/or pattern making. I have been spending a lot of time taking photographs of plants and trees that I see in the garden and the woodland next to our house (you can see some of these pictures in my other blog). And although photography is a very satisfying activity in itself, I am beginning to think it would be nice to be able to interpret some of these images in a textile format, as I wrote a few weeks ago. This is a completely new area for me, so it feels pretty inspiring and exciting.
I am definitely thinking I will have a go at tapestry making, but I haven’t got round to making a tapestry frame yet, so as a first, easy and instantly accessible step I have decided to try a bit of embroidery next. I don’t need to buy anything for it, I can start straight away.
So this week I have been spinning some embroidery thread which has been great fun. You get to mix lots of lovely colours, and you don’t need to spin too much of any given colour, just a few grams is quite enough. I have been using Finnsheep top, as that’s pretty much my default wool for dyeing so I have it in lots of different colours. And it’s got a nice silky sheen to it, so although I originally intended to use it as knitting wool it will work perfectly well for embroidery too.
There are of course lots of other types of wool that would be great for making embroidery yarn (I am thinking all those long lustre wools) as well as silk. So as ever, the possibilities are endless, but for now I am planning to stick to materials I already have.
Although for knitting I always ply my yarn, when making my embroidery thread I decided not to. Strength and durability are not essential for my purposes so I don’t think plying is not necessary. And not plying means I don’t have to try to spin such incredibly fine thread, all I need to do is to spin my singles yarn the right thickness. And the lazy part of my is happy to save time by not having to ply (it’s never my favourite part of spinning).
I put quite a lot of twist into these yarns to make them stronger. I tame the twist by finishing the yarn fairly vigorously, agitating it in hot water and then putting it straight into cold water, felting the wool slightly. By the end of this rough treatment the yarn will have quite a furry halo, but that’s OK for my purposes. If I wanted really silky smooth yarn then no doubt I’d have to treat it more gently.
To save a bit of time, I spun all my colours into a single bobbin, joining them one after another, making just one skein with all the different colours in it. I only separated the colours once I wound the wool into little balls.
Today I have been trying my yarn and it works very well (it never ceases to amaze me that I can actually spin something that can be used!). Any extra twist just falls off the yarn when I cut it into the right length for sewing, so having twisty yarn is not a problem at all. It is a bit thick and thin in places, as my spinning is still not that good, and it does show in the sewing, but I’m not too worried about that, it just makes the line more interesting.
When I first started sewing with my own home made yarn, I got that “wow, did I really make this all by myself!” -moment. It might have taken me a year, with all that learning and practising, but it was definitely worth the effort!