Tour de Fleece 2014

Blarney Yarn roving

Tour de Fleece is the spinner’s version of Tour de France. It takes place during the Tour de France, and you try to spin as much yarn as possible during the Tour de France. But, you’re not allowed to spin on the “rest days”, i.e those days that the actual cyclists take off during the race.

Always a fan of kooky communal activities  – drunken caroling, memorial service karaoke, brewing beer, Spam-carving, etc. – I was pumped to finally get to join in on Tour de Fleece, and bought some special braids to spin. But now I’ve been coveting these braids of roving for weeks, and I don’t want to turn these sophisticated colors (sky blue, rust and rosey pink) into a muddy yarn.

In keeping with the timing of the actual tour, Tour de Fleece 2014 started yesterday and I  made no progress whatsoever.  I basically rolled up to the starting line, clipped in and already sweating in my spandex, and when the gun went off? I started looking at the road map and double checking the air pressure. Lame!

After watching a few episodes of Felicia Lo’s “Spinning Dyed Fibers”, I learned that spinning a thicker yarn makes each color more distinct  in the finished skein. So, even though the colors in the braid are somewhat contrary, I think by spinning it into sport weight singles, and then plying them together, I’ll be able to keep the colors from turning into mud.

What’s the fluff? I have two 2 oz. braids of Blue Faced Leicester wool and Tussah Silk from Blarney Yarns. The colorway is “Feldspar Canyon” and (now that I’m back in the “race”) it is spinning up so easily. Hooray!

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First Handspun Yarn!

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It is a delightfully dreary day! Days like these I keep the coffee brewing all day, have my knitting close at hand, and imagine I’m only a few miles from the other Gingerknitter. (Hi Ruthie! Happy late birthday!)

Since picking up the spindle a few weeks ago I’ve become obsessed. There’s almost no right or wrong way to spin yarn, as even mistakes can make an unique textural effect in the finished yarn. So even you first attempts are pretty neat.

Even more exciting – for the frugal among us –  you can make most of the tools you need from crap in your house! My “Lazy Kate” was made out of a used gift bag, an aluminum knitting needle that lost its mate, and weighed down with my dead laptop battery. I made the niddy noddy in 20 minutes out of PVC pipe and it works perfectly. And, I’m spinning my next project on a spindle made out of a dowel and two old CDs! This has to be one of the best hobbies on the planet.

Backing up a bit, here’s how I spun my first skein of yarn:

First, I spun what looked to be half of the roving clockwise on my top whorl drop spindle, slipped the cop (yarn stored on the spindle) onto my do-it-yourself Lazy Kate, and then wound it onto a tennis ball to rest.

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After spinning the second half of the roving, I repeated the process so I had two tennis balls wrapped with singles.

Then I plied the two singles together using the same spindle, spinning now counterclockwise. That’s pretty much it: spin your plies one way, ply them together by spinning in the opposite direction. At one point while plying, I thought I wouldn’t be able to fit all the yarn onto the spindle. I really wanted to spin a continuous strand without cutting or joining. So, instead of winding the yarn on the spindle in a cone shape, I wound it in a football shape.

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Once the yarn was spun, I wrapped it on my PVC niddy noddy to count the yardage, and tie up the skein before setting the twist. (As you can tell by the dwindling light, I was determined to have yarn THAT DAY.)

PVC niddy noddy

To set twist I swished  the skein in scalding hot water, drained the water,  soaked the skein in cold water, and then gently squeezed most of the water out. While the skein was still wet (this was about 11pm) I went outside to “thwack” the yarn. This is the part where you slam the new yarn against a flat surface to shock the fibers and set the twist. It’s kind of loud, and probably not something one should do after 10pm.  🙂

With the Santa Ana winds, the yarn dried almost immediately. I spun up the leftover ply (turns out I didn’t divide the roving in half) so in total, I made 95 yards of yarn out of four ounces of Blue Face Leicester wool!

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As soon as I set the skeins down, I was ready to spin more yarn! One of my friends from my knitting group was generous enough to give me some practice roving from her fiber stash, so I’ve been trying out new fiber and I’ll let you know how that turns out. The only problem now is a slight territory dispute . . .

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