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Thursday, May 22

A Lesson in Washing Handspun (or garments)

Many people have asked how I wash my fiber and yarn. I basically use the same process for washing either small amounts of fleece, or washing my skeins. Let's use the alpaca yarn I just spun from the beautiful roving I bought at Alpacas of Easton (AOE) on the alpaca farm field trip mentioned below (during the Men's Spring Knitting Retreat).

As always, click on the pics for a larger view!

Here's a shot of the roving before spinning. It feels like a silky, soft, light cloud! Kate (of AOE) had white and grey alpaca blended to yield this very beautiful white with silver/grey. The second shot is two of the skeins right after winding on my skein winder. I usually wind the plied yarn from the bobbin onto a niddy-noddy, but this time I wound it right on the skein winder. I set the winder at about 58" circumference, wound it, then multiplied the number of strands times 60 (inches), then divided by 36 for yards. The two skeins came out to be roughly 800 yards. I was going to do a 3-ply, as I was spinning it almost laceweight, but I was spinning pretty fast, using a long-draw which morphed into a quick back draw. When I started plying the 3-ply I realized it was going to be heavier than I wanted (I picture socks and a scarf out of this), so I switched to a 2-ply.

I fill up a sink with warm to hot water. I use natural, environmentally-friendly dishwashing soap. There are a variety of efficient and effective soaps out there, including Dawn, and other things that cut some of the grease. I tend to buy more natural dishsoaps, but buy whatever meets your financial
and personal needs. With wool, I use a hotter water temp to cut some of the grease, but with alpaca and llama I use moderately warm to hot, right out of the tap. Alpaca has no lanolin, and is relatively cleaner than wool, and the roving I purchased had very little vegetable matter in it (grass/hay).

Add the soap to the water, I only use about 1/8th of a cup. I don't even measure it. The dirtier the fiber, more I'd use. I just squirt some in, let it foam a bit, then shut off the water. I then add the skeins to the sink, submerging it a couple times to ensure that it gets fully wet. Alpaca (and angora bunny) don't absorb it as quickly as wool, so I just gently push it down a couple of times.

Then, just let it soak for about 20 minutes.

To drain and rinse:
I push the fiber to the side of the sink, and pull the plug in the drain slowly. I usually don't lift the skeins out of the water, as the heavy weight can drag/pull on the fiber. I use this same method f
or washing fiber, skeins, and garments.

After the water drains out, still holding the fiber to the side, I gently squeeze the fiber trying to get as much water out as possible. You can either lift it out of the sink, supported by both hands, and put it into a bowl/container, or keep it to the side of the sink, refill the sink with warm water. Try to keep the water temp roughly the same
as the last soak water. The only caveat of this is you hope the water coming right out of the tap is about the same as the soak water--not really cold or really hot. So, for a newbie, I'd recommend taking the fiber out of the sink to refill.

Refill the sink, add the skeins again, and gently submerge. Let it soak for about 10 minutes or so. This alpaca was really clean. If your fiber is dirtier or dyed, lengthen the soak and rinse cycles.

Remove, using same method above in the soak phase (gently squeeze out as much water as you can). For garments, I roll in a towel, absorbing more moisture. For skeins, I put in the washing machine (yes!) but ONLY ON SPIN!! Tres importante! If your machine has only spin-with-spray feature, do not use this. No spray/spritzing. I let it spin for only about 10-15 seconds.

Remove the skeins from the washing machine, then gently "snap" the skein between my hands (no pic, as I couldn't do this and take the pic). Rotate the skein 1/4 around
in your hand, therefore snapping (gently) at another section of the skein.

Drying: Weighting the skein. One note, a lot of people were taught to do this in the '70s and '80s by "hanging a can of soup"
(or another weight) on the skein. I do not recommend this! There are specific uses for this, mainly for setting the twist for singles, and for weaving.

The purpose for weighting the skein was to set the twist and to achieve a more balanced ply. Many of us, in early spinning, were not the best plyers. The main problem with this is that the weight can stretch and break the fibers. Another problem is that I think it leads us to not learn how to achieve a balanced ply. If you are must do this, I would recommend that you take the weight off from the skein after a couple of hours, and check the skein's twist. Okay, enough of this soapbox!

I believe that roughly 10% of the twist comes out in the wash, so to speak. The twist relaxes and is distributed over a longer length of the plied yarn. When I teach someone how to spin, I try to emphasize that a skein (before washing) can have about a 1 1/2 extra twist (in the skein), and that will most likely end up pretty balanced. You can use this as a guide to figure out if you are overplying or not. Of course, different fiber reacts differently.

After gently snapping the skein, I hang over a clothes rack, or doorknob. Because of the trip to
the washing machine, there is very little moisture in the skein. I will readjust the skein a couple times over the next 8 hours, so that the weight is redistributed during the drying process. Most of my skeins dry overnight.

Tip: I do not ball up the yarn until I am ready to use it. I find that the twist stays in better. One off-topic note, but kind of related, I do not use a steam iron over a towel to block my garments. This works well for showing/displaying, however I find that a thorough wash of the garment, then flat blocking works better.

These are just my thoughts, no right or wrong (except for stretching the fiber with the soup can!).

I hope this helps some of you out there!


Tallguy said...

Thanks for this thorough description of how you wash your fibres. I'm glad to see that you do it the same as I, and that you also DO NOT weight your skeins to dry! I have done that in the past, but find I don't need to do that now. I've learned how to ply properly! haha

I was really planning on making it to Vt this year, and it just didn't work out for me. I would have really enjoyed meeting all you guys, and the break would have been welcome. Next time.

Alpaca Granny said...

I do the same as you, Chris. I also spin out dyed wet roving in the washing machine - in mesh bags.