Follow along as I take you through the process of how I created this dreamy little yarn from scratch, from all locally raised fibers. There are many ways to process fiber and spin yarn, this is just my preferred way of doing things. I'll be using a drum carder, but you can also use hand-cards as a cheaper alternative or even just spin from the picked locks for a more textural yarn. Or, if you don't spin but are a yarn enthusiast, I hope you find this little behind the scenes look at how yarn is made to be enjoyable.
Step 1) Washing the Fiber
I didn't take photos of the whole process of washing, as it will be different for different fibers and I'm not even sure my way is the correct way, but it gets the job done. Above is a photo of the two different fibers I used to create this handspun yarn. On the left is alpaca, from a small farm in Indiana that I picked up at a local fiber festival this Summer. On the right is some Border Bluefaced Leicester wool locks.
Note that alpaca doesn't actually have to be washed before spinning, since their fiber does not contain lanolin and is mostly just dusty rather than dirty. But since my drum carder is brand new, I decided to wash it first to maybe help knock out a bit of the dust, or at the very least it made the fiber smell a bit better. With washing alpaca you need to be very careful and do not agitate it at all when wet, as it felts very easily. I just washed it once and it got pretty white from the one washing.
The wool fiber was a bit messier, it required two washes (and still isn't bright white as you can tell from the photo) and contained some poopy bits and hay. This particular type of fiber isn't super oily, which is something I love about it. The two washes got most of the lanolin and dirty bits out without completely stripping it. I like to keep a little bit of lanolin in the fiber as it makes my hands soft while spinning, and I do believe it helps protect the yarn as well so it holds up better to wear and weather. I currently use Unicorn Wool Wash for washing my fiber, but there are plenty of other wool washes out there and you can actually use Dawn liquid soap if you don't have one of the fancier wool-specific washes.
I'm not going to go into the whole process of washing fiber, since honestly I do it a bit differently each time and I'm definitely no pro at it. But here is a wonderful tutorial I read when I first started washing fleeces, which may be helpful to you if you are washing fiber at home.
2) Picking the Fiber
Next, I like to pick open the locks and alpaca to get more of the hay and vegetable matter out, This also helps the fiber feed into my drum carder more easily. To do this, I just sit on the floor and pick the fibers open over a plastic bag or something that will catch the debris that fall out. I also pick through and look for second cuts (the little short bits from shearing that if you spin will make unpleasant bumps in your yarn) and toss those in the bag of yuckies. After the fiber is picked, you could start spinning now if you wish, but personally I usually prefer smoother spinning (depending on the yarn I am trying to make) so I like to card it together first and blend the fibers.
3) Carding the Fiber
After I get a good pile of picked fiber, roughly 50% alpaca and 50% wool, I process it through my drum carder. This will create a smooth, blended batt of fiber ready to spin. You could also use hand-cards and make rolags, which is another carded fiber preparation that is a bit smaller and more time intensive to make.
I process the fiber through the drum carder twice in order to get it more smooth and uniform so it spins easily. Also this will blend the fibers better throughout since I am using multiple fiber types.
4) Spinning Time!
Since I am making a 2-ply yarn, I made two batts of roughly 1.5 oz each, one for each ply of the yarn I will make. I then spin these onto two separate bobbins (or you could spin them all onto one and center pull ball ply) and then ply the two bobbins together.
One of the bobbins ended up having more yardage to it, so it didn't get spun and I ended up with 2.6 oz instead of 3 oz in my finished yarn. That is one of the reasons spinning from a center pull ball may be more appealing to many, because you can get the full yardage possible while plying without worrying about extra bits on your bobbin. I definitely could have fit more yarn on my wheel, so next time I will likely card up a third batt and divide it between the two bobbins for some extra yardage.
Here is the finished yarn, fresh off the wheel. After I skein it up off the wheel, I always give my yarn a good soak in hot water to set the twist. And since the yarn still had a bit of a yellowish tint to it, I actually gave it another good wash since once it is spun it is harder to felt. The yarn came out a bit whiter after the final wash and I am happy with the results!
Whether you are a spinner, or just a yarn enthusiast eager to see one of the many ways yarn is made, I hope you found this post helpful and informative and hope you at least got something from it you didn't already know. This was a lot of fun to make, and if there are more tutorials you guys would like to see feel free to leave a comment with your suggestion. Also let me know if you have any questions about any of the steps in my process and I'll be happy to help :)
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog, be sure to share this post if you found it enjoyable so others can find it!
Amanda J. French
Fiber artist from Louisville, KY. Professionally, I spend my days spinning one of a kind yarns from wool and recycled fibers, and weaving with them. Other hobbies include; yoga, fitness, painting, studying languages, reading, and knitting.