knit | spin

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the Prep

February 23, 2018

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

In the last post we met the Ryeland sheep and explored its dramatic history. In this post, I will share with you how I have prepared the fleece for spinning.

I washed the Ryeland fleece to preserve the lock structure for a worsted sock preparation in tulle parcels secured with safety pins. It looks time consuming but the time and waste it saves later when you are trying to separate locks from a fluffy mass is significant.

I know folks often card Ryeland for woollen spinning but these locks were 9 cm which is longish for woollen carding.  For socks, I am still wanting the strength and smoothness of worsted preparation and spinning so I wanted to keep those fibres aligned. However, after Local and Bespoke’s fine example I decided to drum card to save time. A friend had lent me a drum carder for another project but the timing was serendipitous and enabled me to prepare lots of fibre quickly. I fed the locks in parallel with the guides and took the batt off as a blanket to strip down the direction of the locks rather than rolled into a rolag.

Then I set to sampling. My previous Tuff Socks have used the traditional 3ply, high twist sock spin but with this pair, I wanted to experiment with some different spinning approaches. Other spinners have been experimenting for years with socks spins so I thought it would be fun to take advantage of their discoveries and compare two tested spinning methods against each other. The two spins I am going to use are

  • Sarah Anderson’s Opposing Ply Yarn
  • Rachel Smith’s High Grist 2 Ply Yarn

Sarah Anderson documented her Great Sock Yarn Experiment in The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs (2012). She compared the standard 3 ply sock yarn, to a chain plied 3 ply yarn, an opposing ply 3 ply and a 4 ply cabled yarn. She tested this using Merino fibre and found that the chain plied yarn wore out more quickly that the traditional 3 ply but the opposing ply and cabled yarn outperformed the traditional 3 ply. A 4 ply cabled yarn is a bridge too far for me in terms of time spent spinning for a sock but the opposing ply intrigued me.

But how would it stand up against Rachel Smith’s daring sock yarn? You might know Rachel from her blog Welford Purls/Wool’n’Spinning. Her yarn is a 2 ply which she spun to a much higher density than a normal 2 ply. This yarn outperformed a traditional 3 ply sock yarn in ‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017. The exciting thing about this spin is that it would take a third of the time of the opposing ply yarn.

The 2 ply sampled quite quickly as Rachel Smith had included a lot of useful information in her article. The Opposing Ply in contrast, is taking a lot of sampling to make it balanced. The idea is that you spin two singles in Z direction and ply in an S direction. Then you ply again in a Z direction together with another single that was spun in an S direction. The two opposing plies create elasticity and strength drawing the yarn more densely together. However, Sarah Anderson’s book provides very little information other than twist direction and it has been challenging working out the twist rates for each plying round that leaves you with a balanced yarn. I think I have got it worked now but I think I may have melted my mind a little.

I will do one sock in each spin, so that as a pair they will receive exactly the same amount of wear. I won’t use mohair in these as I really do want see some kind of wear over time (and I already know that mohair reinforcing is amazingly effective).

So, that is the plan I lay before you.  The next Tuff Socks Naturally post will focus on the yarn spinning. If my words have excited you to a little Tuff Socks Naturally adventuring of your own, I have 150 grams of Ryeland locks to give away to someone bursting to spin them up into socks right away. You can spin them any way you like, just share your findings with us on this blog or using the #tuffsocksnaturally tag on Instagram. Let me know if you want to spin the Ryeland in the comments and I will do that random draw thing and let you know.