30 January 2010

Experimental mohair

One of my aerospace friends has a farm. His wife is a nurse practitioner in north Georgia near the Georgia-Tennessee-North Carolina line. They have a lovely home up there and many acres of land. The Nurse is also a spinner and crafter, and owns goats. Many, many goats of different colors, sizes, and ages. On a visit and rafting trip up there in the summer of 2008, they gave me some shed goat hair.

It is pretty neat to have fiber from a live animal you've actually met. I'm still working my way through the white fiber, and may or may not be able to spin it. I have used a little of it to very good effect as clouds on some Dungeons and Dragons miniatures. It has a lot of dirt and field bits in it and some of it is matted to the point of being felted. I need to find a really super scour. I was able to work more readily with the fiber from a goat named Cleopatra. She's a very pretty goat and her fiber is mostly brown, although she has black guard hairs. In this case, I washed the fibers twice and carded them three times in order to clean them enough to spin. This was a very labor intensive process, which I eventually broke down into only a few minutes each day. Towards the end of it, I developed a technique that was a cross between carding and combing, but using the hand cards. One of the washings used baby shampoo, and that did seem to bring up a nice luster on the fibers. Although the black guard hairs are a little rough, I left them in because I like the subtle interest they add.

The spinning challenge was that these were short fibers, only 1-2 inches in length. Short fibers have to be spun with more twist to hold them together. When it comes to yarn, I usually prefer fluff over drape, which means I want less twist not more. My solution for this fiber came when I read about core spinning (pages 98-101) in Amy King Spin Control. What I did wasn't true core spinning, which involves catching loose fibers around a core fiber as that fiber is spun. Instead, I caught the fiber as I plied.

I bought two spools of Coats & Clark Dual Duty thread color 8530 at my local big box craft store. I ran each spool separately through the wheel to give it just a little more twist. Then I put the two spools on the lazy kate and plied the two threads together in the opposite direction -- in other words, taking out the extra twist I just added to make it ply. Once that was established, then I started holding fluffy bits of mohair in the drafting triangle as the two threads came together. At first I got novelty yarn, which is what you get when spinning experiments go awry. But as I got used to it, I got better at spinning a smooth yarn that still retains the fluff of mohair. I didn't exactly turn straw into gold, but let's say I turned it into stainless steel. This is definitely one of those spinning techniques that requires a wheel. You need one hand to ply and one hand to hold the fluff, so it wouldn't work with a drop spindle unless you've established a peculiar association with Doc Ock.

I don't yet have a project planned for this. I have about 120 yards, although the first few yards are a little rough. Let's say a solid 100 yards with extra to spare. It does still smell like goat, even after two baths and setting the twist with steam. And let me add here that setting the twist with steam is a great idea. I'm still not that great at plying, but steam setting is very good at taking the extra twist out so that I have a balanced yarn. I'm using an old aluminum noodle pot that I've had since graduate school. I don't even remember how I got it, I just know it was somebody's cast-off item and therefore free. Good deal!

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