Final Project: Part One

March 30, 2017

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?



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  1. That is such an exciting project. And such beautiful spinning!

    I was very excited to get an email from Wendy Dennis the other day to say that my Tarndie Polwarth fleece order is in the post.

    I think I might have to invest in a flick carder – the dog comb worked well enough on the Gotland, but I saw someone demonstrate a flick carder on some Finn fleece the other day and I was smitten.

    How did your Finn sample spin up? I’m looking forward to visiting the Fairfield Finns tent at Bendigo this year; I suspect that will be my next fleece.

    1. Oh yes, a flick carder is an inexpensive but very very useful tool. Definitely get one!

      The Finnsheep blend had a lovely handle but the blending was not uniform resulting in a patchy sample. If I blended more carefully or made 2 balls and knitted as for a variegated yarn this would have been resolved. I certainly could have chosen Finn but the Polwarth was a more straightforward option.

      1. I really look forward to seeing your finished garment. I’m so impressed (and pretty daunted!) by your remarkable spinning.

        My Polwarth fleece came and it is lovely, but much more pungent than the Gotland!

        Do you think you’ll be well enough to come to the Bendigo wool show this year? I’d love to buy you a cup of tea if you can make it. x

        1. I do hope I get there this year Penelope but I’d love to have a cuppa. So much to catch up on. Please do contact me prior to the wool show, perhaps we could meet up at the Bendigo bowls club bit of the show?

  2. What a great project and what delectable yarn! I have spun local polwarth and love the idea of a blend. It really is next to skin soft, and super bouncy. I just finished a polwarth beanie, but I’m in awe of you knitting a garment from such fine yarn… eeee!

    1. Thank you! I feel bound to point out that I haven’t actually knitted the garment yet! So we shall have to wait till the end to see if I managed it!

  3. Such an interesting post Rebecca. A great deal of thought and preparation, together with your (what appears to me, a non-spinner), expertise would seem to have produced a beautiful yarn. How wonderful to be able to customise your finished yarn to incorporate the qualities needed for your final piece. I look forward to part 2 of your journey where you reveal the finished undergarment. I feel sure you will gain the qualification with flying colours!

    1. Thanks Deborah, yes, you are right, it is a real treat as a knitter to make (or at least engage with making!) the yarn you really want for a particular project. Fingers crossed, it all works out!

  4. Congratulations on finishing this certificate,Carmel Hanna is a bale full of knowledge,excuse the pun, she is one of the best in this country and under utilized.
    I enjoy your journey in this project,yes every breed has a purpose.Most spinners miss the journey and under utilize local bred products. Will look forwards to the rest of the journey.

  5. What an amazing idea for a final project. And I simply adore the photos of your notes and samples. I love seeing the thought process and development in a physical way. The bits of yarn and the handwritten notes are so deeply moving to me, speaking of thought and engagement with materials.

    I think that the Polwarth blend is an excellent choice. I am a huge fan of Finn but the extra elasticity of Polwarth to worth with the drape of alpaca seems to be getting the best of both fibres. Have you done any wear tests of your swatches? How do they stand up to abrasion?

    Good luck with your finished knitted garment. I had a similar experience recently. I had just finished some Cheviot/Hebridean 2ply and had no idea what I was going to make with it. I wasn’t in any rush to decide but then the lastest issue of PLY landed in my postbox and the shawl/cowl pattern Ensphere was simply perfect. I just need to spin a bit more to make it work.

  6. A wonderful read today Rebecca and now I await your thoughtful knitted undergarment which I know without a doubt will be very special indeed. Well done for finishing your certificate I think it is just brilliant! Very best from The West. Lydia

  7. Congratulations on such a beautiful spinning project, Rebecca!! I’m not nearly as disciplined as you when it come to size of yarn. Although most of the yarn I spin is next-to-skin soft there are times when I need to wear a light shirt under the sweater. We have so many opportunities to go to fiber shows here in the summer and I can truthfully say all my fleeces and bits and bobs are reasonably local although I do think about petting Zwartbles and Herdys!!

    Romney blends, Wensleydale blends, Merino blends, California Reds and Romeldale all spin up beautifully………………… so many choices!

  8. I love this. I love your notes – in my best, most methodical moments I have done similar. I kept a thorough journal of the stitches and yarns I used in my enormous afghans. I’m amazed though, that you can muster this kind of focus and hope it’s a sign that your health continues to get better. The yarn you produced looks beautiful – so even and soft looking.

  9. Well, I sincerely hope you PASS this Certificate with Flying colours! That is a very well thought out project and a lot of sampling. Most excellent. That Spencer looks perfect. Now all you need to do is knit a skirt on it like the cockle shell pattern in the Betty Mowat style…….haha I have some lovely Polworth from NZ and should take another look at it. Cheers!!

  10. That certificate in spinning is a terrific accomplishment, Rebecca. Locally sourced fibre spun into a yarn for specific garment … Iovely!

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