Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mini Fiber Review: Finn and Llama!

Testing out new wool by sampling is a wonderful way to build your expertise as a beginner. You may not fully understand how to use each fiber type until you've been spinning a little longer, but there is no rule saying you can't experiment starting on your second skein of yarn. So, have you been pining over that ounce of Cotswold? Or have you been intimidated by double coated fleeces like Soay? I say, you should just jump in and try it out. You don't have anything to lose, and you'll definitely learn something valuable in the end!

Also, the finn/shetland wool I mention at the bottom of this post is with me in Korea, so I'll try and do a review of it when I can. Once I finish one of these projects (the project for my loom or the lock-spun yarn project), I'll get that on the wheel! :D

Originally posted on June 13, 2012:

Today I’m going to chat about 2 new fibers to me: organic llama and finn wool. I bought these fibers precisely for doing fiber reviews, and I must say, they threw me for a loop. First, we’ll begin with the organic llama. I began my first spinning adventures with alpaca, then trudged around in wool and perfecting my dyeing technique for the next year and a half. Coming back to the camelid family was fun for me, and this fiber was a pleasure to spin. I bought this llama from a fellow Etsy seller, SheepandI. She has a fun shop that includes antiques and homegrown organic wool.

I’ve had a few fun conversations with Shirley, and after one in particular, we discussed removing the harsher hairs from her llama to produce ultra soft, premium llama wool. She subsequently dehaired and listed these premium products in her shop, specifically this listing. Even though mine still contained the guard hairs, they are few and easy to pick out, and the remaining llama is actually quite soft. I could wear it next to my skin, though people with allergies/sensitivities may want to try the dehaired version instead. Here’s the roving I bought from her:

Two things I’ve been failing to mention are 1) how I chose to make my samples; and 2) how I keep track of them. Whenever I prepare samples for myself or for reviews, I like to make a thin and a thick sample, a 2-ply and a -ply. To obtain this goal, 3 samples is usually sufficient. I will produce a thin 2-ply, a thick 2-ply, and a 3-ply of whatever size. The reason why I think 3 samples works for getting an idea of how a fiber will look spun up is very simple (and effective). First, you can see how poofy a yarn can get if you compare a thin 2-ply with a thick 2-ply. I’ve found some fibers to poof up more in a thicker yarn than it’s relative poofiness in a thinner yarn. For the 3-ply, it gives you an idea of how 3, 4, etc. plies will look with this fiber, and it’s a great way to decide how much twist you’ll need to make a multi-plied yarns. That’s the gist of why I do what I do for the sampling part, and I am by no means an expert spinner. I just do what I can via experimentation.

When you’re sampling, it can be difficult to keep track of which fiber this was prior to spinning since the process of spinning can change the surface texture (which is also why I keep a sample of the unspun fiber). When you compound multiple samples of the same fiber with multiple samples of other fibers, you can see the impending nightmare that can produce! Now, everyone who samples has their own system of organizing them, to a lesser or greater degree. I have a space problem as it is, and by keeping the samples on small notecards in small bags, I can group them all together in a big gallon-sized bag. I know that a lot of people that keep them in binders, but they’re too big and rigid for the places I need to stuff samples. :) If you manage to improve on this method, drop me a line!

This llama roving had a slightly longer staple, about 4-5 inches, so I was able to spin a relatively low-twist 2-ply yarn:

The 3-ply I made was spun with a bit more twist so I could get a tight, round yarn. Whenever I make a three ply yarn, I always use the Navajo method. I should do a post on making a 3-ply yarn this way, since it’s really easy and often mistaken as difficult to use. Anyway, I think llama is a new possibility for sock yarn because of the longer staple length (it’s easier to maintain a consistent diameter). I would even blend it with some romney for the crimp and strength characteristics of the wool.

The finn I got the chance to play with was wonderful! I will note briefly that the specimen I used (5 ounces bought from another handspinner, not the sheep owner) was heavily covered in scurf. Scurf is a term used to describe sheep dandruff. But that’s exactly what it is, dandruff [edit: this is probably a mixture of dandruff and lice]. Now, normally this wool would be swiftly converted into a plant insulator or bird bedding, but I couldn’t ignore how insanely soft the wool was. I’ve been brushing out the locks with a dog brush before sending it through the carder, and a majority of the dandruff falls out. I’m wondering how patient I can before I just give up on the whole 5 ounces! (The task seems daunting when you’re only carding 5-10 grams at a time, and it takes you 2 hours to get just that much done.) I’m going to find some other finn to test out, and if I find something new, I’ll revise my following review. For now, let’s just go with it:

Poofy, eh? :) Something I immediately noticed (besides the softness and the scurf) was the mixture of crimp and curly the locks had, and how long the staple was for its fineness. Typically, very soft and fine wools will have short staples, but this finn wool had a minimum length of 5 inches unstretched.The second thing I noticed was its sheen. When pulled taut to remove the crimp/curl, the wool was moderately shiny--another unusual feature of fine wools. In a nutshell, finn wool threw me for a loop! Here are the samples I made:

The first 2-ply I made didn’t have quite enough twist, as you can see in the following picture. Because of the really long staple length, the fiber was still securely locked in place. The loose twist coupled with the crimp of the fiber produced a very interesting 2-ply that has a lot of potential. In my second two ply sample I added more twist and produced a balanced yarn that looks more “normal.”

The 3-ply was made with a bit more twist than it wanted, and it turned out to be a beautiful, round, balanced yarn. Because of its poofiness, I think finn wool will bloom into airtight luxury mittens and hats, though I have much more carding in my future if I want to try that theory out!

The fibers I presented here gave me a pleasant surprise because of the unexpected outcome. Ultimately, these posts are meant to increase awareness of the fibers and provide a set of more detailed pictures than what I’ve been unable to find on the internet. Further, I am trying to present a practical and tactile review which sometimes gets lost in the jargon. Hopefully, you found this post useful, or at the very least amusing as you wile away your evening hours. Drinking may help with the latter camp. I requested a sample of finn/shetland from a finn wool producer, so if you want to know how that goes, be sure to stop by my Facebook page.