Have you ever had a problem with your spinning or knitting that no one else seemed to have? You searched and searched for an answer and couldn’t find it, only to discover it was so basic, no one talked about it.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?
It happened to me recently with a spinning project. When I started spinning, I had the privilege of working with excellently prepared fiber. Even the stuff “straight from the farm” was incredibly easy to work with. That was perfect, since as a new spinner I had plenty of other things to concentrate on.
For me, the quality of the fiber I used was pure luck. I didn’t know what I was looking for when I bought it – I just happened to purchase fiber that had been really well prepared.
But then, I got adventurous.
I bought two pounds of wool from a coworker’s neighbor, sight unseen. When it arrived, I was in love. So light! So springy! So clean! Surely spinning this wool would be a dream.
When I sat down at the wheel, though, I found that this was the hardest thing I’d ever spun. What were all these little bumps in the roving? No matter how much I fought with the wool, I just couldn’t get a smooth yarn out of it.
What was going on? This dream fiber was quickly turning into a nightmare.
Like I usually do when faced with a question, I turned to Google. It took some digging for me to finally discover that these bumps were called neps, and that they were best removed by additional carding or combing of the wool.
Without the equipment (or the patience) to do the extra work, I decided to let the yarn go ahead and be bumpy. It’s a coarser fiber to begin with, so it was going to be a bit “rustic” anyways.
So that you don’t have to do the same kind of digging that I did, here’s what I found:
Neps – these are small collections of entangled, short fibers. These can cause bumps in your handspinning.
Neps were definitely the problem that I had, but it turns out there are all kinds of things you can find in your wool. There's also...
Noils – these are short broken fibers, usually left over during the combing process.
Kemp – coarse, weak, short fibers. They’re often white, even if the wool is naturally a different color. Most are removed from the wool during processing, but are fairly easy to pick out as you’re spinning or knitting.
Second cuts – these occur during shearing. Ideally, the shearer will get all the wool off in one cut, but sometimes makes a second pass, or handles the shears improperly. This results in a “second cut” – fibers that are shorter than the rest of the fleece.
Vegetable Matter – Bits of hay, seeds, and dirt can get lodged in the fleece. Most of it gets washed and carded out, but these can also cause bumps in your spinning - and they're often scratchy in your final yarn.
Now, some bumpiness in your spinning can of course be caused by the way you’re drafting, how fast you’re spinning and many other things. But if those aren’t usually problems for you, and you’re fighting with your wool, check it out and see if you have any of these things going on. It might just save you a bit of frustration.
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