The Spinning Certificate I have been undertaking every month for the past 15 months is drawing to a close.
The course is run by the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria and coordinated by the exceptionally experienced Carmel Hanna. As part of our assessment, we are required to produce a final project that demonstrates our learning.
To that end, I decided I wanted to spin for something humble and practical, a locally sourced, DIY alternative to the highly processed and expensive merino thermal undergarment. Merino thermals use Australian ultrafine merino which has been processed off-shore in China using superwash treatments that are prohibited by Australian environmental laws. This not only creates a product with a vast carbon footprint but degrades the environment our neighbour and exposes workers to hazardous conditions. Merino thermals have wonderful insulating and breathability properties, they last a long time and are super useful but the environmental cost is high. I wondered if I could develop an alternative, albeit on a micro, individual scale.
I needed a lightweight, fine yarn that could be worn next to the skin without irritation, be very warm and maintain its shape underneath clothing. I selected a pattern from the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2016, a Pattern for a Sleeveless Spencer by Marian Leslie. This wonderful festival souvenir arrived in the post on my birthday in October, literally dropping the pattern I needed into my lap!
That was a pic I never got to share with you last year but now is a good time!
Instead of lace weight Shetland yarn suggested, I will be using a blend of alpaca and fine, local wool. Three sheep breeds were selected for fleece that had next-to-skin softness and elasticity. Alpaca was chosen for next-to-skin softness and thermal properties (being 8 times warmer than wool). As a blend, the resultant yarn would be both warm, fine, soft and elastic.
To choose the wool, I sampled 50/50 (by weight) blends of Finnsheep from Fairfield Finns near Gisborne, Ultrafine Merino from White Gum Wool in Tasmania and Polwarth from Tarndie near Geelong with a fine silver grey alpaca from Chiverton Alpacas in Phillip Island. Whilst Finnsheep is technically a long wool, Fairfield Finns have developed particularly fine, next-to-skin fleeces so I was keen to include it, in my sampling.
Fleece was blended with hand carders into rolags and spun in a Z direction with a woollen long draw using a whorl ratio of 11.5:1 on a Majacraft Rose. This spinning method was selected to maximise the thermal properties in resulting yarn: woollen preparation and spinning traps air between fibres resulting in a light, warm yarn. Two singles were plied in an S direction using a whorl ratio of 15:1 at a rate of 4 inches per treadle. The yarn was finished with warm soapy soak, a conditioning rinse and final rinse, thwack and hanging to dry. After finishing the yarn measured 18 Wraps Per Inch and 11 Twists Per Inch.
The Polwarth blend was chosen as it gave the most even, springy fabric that will both produce the thermal qualities desired and maintain the shape of the garment over time. It also provided a very even colour blend. Both fibres were sourced from with 150 km of my home, keeping the carbon footprint of the final garment small.
I have had the most wonderful nerdy time, thinking, planning and sampling for this project.
In Part Two, I will share the finished garment and reflect on my learning throughout the project. Do come back and have a look. If you are a spinner, what local fibres would you use on this project?