As you practice your fiber art skills, have you ever wondered about the craftspeople who came before you? The ones who figured out how to spin, the ones who figured out how to weave, the ones who figured out how to make fabric stretchy by interlocking loops of yarn with one another?
Unfortunately, their stories are lost to history, in part because textile production is so embedded in our culture that it began before humans had a written language. To add to the obscurity, many of the early tools used to produce and work with fabric didn't survive in the archaeological record. But the clues we do have are fascinating, and they indicate that spinning and weaving are very old indeed.
This Saturday, November 10, I'll be giving a presentation at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio. There's lots of interesting historical information about wool, fiber, sheep, and how it relates to us as fiber artists. Whatever fiber art you practice, there's something here for you!
In addition to the discussion, there will be demonstrations, explanations, and hands-on experiences that walk you through how wool is processed before it can become yarn, and how yarn is worked into cloth. The possibilities for customized cloth are endless!
You can purchase tickets at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio, or at 970tix. I hope to see you there!
I've already made a swatch with my handspun Corriedale, but I also had some millspun yarn from the very same farm. As you can see, the two yarns are quite different - the one on the left in the photographs is my handspun, and it is fuzzier and full of air. On the left is the millspun - more dense but smoother. Below are my notes on the millspun yarn and the swatch I made from it.
Wool Category: Medium-fine
Source: Notlwonk Springs
Form: 3-ply yarn
Preparation: Worsted spun, 3-ply
Weight: Fingering/Sport weight
Color: Light oatmeal
Initial thoughts on use: Socks, weaving. This yarn isn’t very stretchy, and it is very strong, so it would make great warp yarn. I would also love to have a knit sweater out of this yarn. It’s the perfect weight for a lightweight cardigan.
Swatch details: 32 stitches, worked in stockinette stitch with a garter stitch border. Worked on size 4US/3.5 mm needles.
Notes on Knitting: Enjoyable to knit. I made a pair of socks with these at a tighter gauge (size 1 needles), which was a bit on the tight side, though it resulted in a pair of socks that will wear very well. Working at a looser gauge was definitely welcome.
Notes on washing, blocking, and wearing: Washed by soaking in cool water with Eucalan, then rinsed. Blocked by squeezing out water gently, laid flat on towel to dry. Once dry, rubbed swatch vigorously against itself 50 times - very little evidence of pilling or wear.
Dimensions of washed, blocked swatch: 5.5 inches wide by 5.5 inches high. These were also the dimensions unwashed and unblocked, though washing did help smooth everything out.
Notes on feel of washed, blocked, worn swatch: Fabric is very soft to the touch and has very little "prickle" when held next to the neck. It is very lightweight and has a slight drape to it.
Notes on perceived longevity of this wool: This wool seems like it will hold up very well to moderate to heavy wear.
Thoughts on use and applications: I already love the socks I made from this yarn – they are wonderfully warm but not too thick to wear with some of my shoes, which is a problem I sometimes have. I’d love to have a cardigan out of this yarn – something simple, soft, and warm.
Overall impression: Though this yarn is made from the same wool as my handspun Corriedale, it could not be more different. It has much better stitch definition, a bit more drape, and is less springy than my handspun. Both are wonderful yarns that I enjoy but have very different applications. It was so interesting to do this swatch to compare just how different the result can be when wool is prepared in different ways!
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Slow Fashion October was so much fun that I don't want it to end. Luckily, Kate Davies and Felicity Ford thought up Wovember a few years ago. Wovember is a whole month dedicated to raising awareness of wool's heritage and value, as well as activism around wool trading and labeling standards.
In a lot of ways, Wovember is very similar to Slow Fashion October, just more specific to issues around sheep and wool. It's about consciousness of the importance of wool - how it's farmed, how it impacts our lives, and its place in our future. Wovember also encourages us to look at our wardrobes with an eye towards sustainability and responsible manufacturing. This year, Wovember is all about small producers.
As a knitter who works mostly with wool, Wovember is a natural extension of my Slow Fashion October. I've still got that vest to knit, and lots of thoughts that didn't make it onto the page last month.
But most importantly, I love sheep. In a world where we value only the soft and easy, we forget that there's value in the strong and difficult. Many sheep breeds are now considered rare because they don't offer the softest fleece imaginable. While Wovember was founded to focus on British sheep farming and the challenges faced by sheep farmers, we are facing many of the same challenges on this side of the pond. We're finally starting to take notice, and not a moment too soon.
So to keep the party going, here's whats in store these next four weeks:
Week One: Why Wool
Week Two: Wool at Work
Week Three: Wool in the World
Week Four: Well-Made Wool
Of course, this is my angle on Wovember - there are tons more ideas over on the Wovember website, as well as a constant stream of updates there.
I hope you'll join in for more fun and amazing conversations!
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