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.


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  1. I am in awe of all that sampling and persistence! I would love to try to Ryeland but I think that might be cheating even entering… and I still have unspun Suffolk. I love the idea of a pair of socks each spun differently! Genius as ever…

  2. Such an interesting post! I wish I would find myself more time to spin but I haven‘t even been to my spinning evenings with my friends for the last two months and they probably start to wonder what I am doing. I am excited to see how the spins wear out. Will you be changing feet regularly or are you walking straight? My socks would wear differently on each feet. Funny walking obviously.

    1. Differential sock wear is an interesting concept Khendra. Fortunately for me I tend to wear things in the same place at the same time for both socks so won’t factor this variable in (this time…but you’ve got me thinking).

  3. Oh my! You have my heart a flutter with your photos, the ryeland looks soo squishy and bouncy! Yes, please include me in your draw. I do love Rachel at Welford Purls for the amount of technical information that she includes in her posts – those merino socks are something I would love to do since our local sheep are supposed to be merino but often the fleece is a bit doubtful, which leads me to think that one spinners merino is not the same as another’s, even before the spinning begins.

    1. Dear Jane, yes, you are right, there is such a huge difference between fleece characteristics in a single breed. Perhaps this might work in your favour though if your local Merino are a little more robust than soft?

  4. I would love the opportunity to spin some of this gorgeous yarn. I have been following your adventures with this project with much enthusiasm and appreciation of all your efforts. It’s awesome! @budjari on Instagram.

    1. Oh welcome Alison, thanks for putting your instagram name, it helps me to put a ‘face’ to the name.cheers, Rebecca

  5. Hi Rebecca, what a kind and generous offer you’re making! Thankyou for your detailed post. I haven’t tried Ryeland yet and would love to see how it works up. I always have some socks on the go… currently I’m knitting with Blacker’s mohair manx blend … it’s wonderful… would love to compare it to handspun Ryeland. I’m super keen to try it out in one of the patterns from the Making Stories Socks 2018 collection which is a collection of patterns knit in naturally tough sock yarns. I’d probably start with flicked locks on a Malcolm Fielding drop spindle 🙂 Cheers, Tina

    1. Dear Tina, those Making Stories Socks 2018 look wonderful and again support this idea that there’s a whole lot of us out there looking for a better way with sock yarns.

  6. Would love experimenting spinning this Ryeland fiber and knitting socks from handspun, that would be a first for me!

  7. I would love to spin along with you and your Ryeland journey! Always reading–ought to really comment more often! Coherent sentences sometimes elude me. I’m so glad with everything you take the time to share your meticulous observation and detail.

    1. Dear Alexis, thanks so much for joining in. I know all about the fickle nature of coherent sentences! You are always welcome here.

  8. I would love to give this fiber a try.
    Last year I spun and knit 2 different pairs of socks. One pair was a wool silk blend in a 4 ply. the other pair was a traditional 3 ply for one sock and a chain spun for the second sock. surprisingly I had to darn the 4 ply socks but not the 3 ply.
    I think my next experiment in hand spun socks will be a pair where one sock is traditional 3 ply and the other a tightly spun 2 ply.
    by the way I love reading about your sock journey.

    1. Dear Mary Jo, was there silk in the second pair of socks. Mary from Local and Bespoke has a theory that whilst silk is strong it abrades easily. So perhaps it was the fibre blend and not the spinning technique that wore out first? The tightly spun 2 ply sounds so compelling doesn’t it…if it works, the time saving will be significant. Thanks so much for playing along.

  9. Am following this with interest, not to enter the draw but to see how you get on as I have coloured ryelands whose fleece I am just starting to work with. An absolute, but enthusiastic, beginner!

    1. How exciting Nicola, your own coloured Ryelands! Hopefully the next installment can unlock some useful spins for your Ryelands.

  10. This whole experiement between the two of you shows what i dont know aboit spinning, i spin on instict as someone else told me one day but really havent had time to play or experiemt much with different breeds have been buyi ng a few lately getting ready later this year to start playing but really interested in your experiements hope it al helos in your recovery

    1. Dear Elizabeth, there is nothing wrong spinning on instinct, instinct is passion and pleasure. Good luck with your breed exploration. I hope you will share your observations here too.

  11. Great work. I don’t spin sock yarn, but several years ago decided down like breeds were the ticket. I have developed a Mill spun 3 ply sock blend with Cheviot blended with silk and/or mohair for extra strength. No nylon needed. It machine washes and wears much better than merino nylon. I think the only way we will get beyond the common standard is continued investigation and discussion.

  12. Quite interesting, love all the details. If you haven’t did the drawing yet you can put me down. I’m in the process, long term, to as many sample wool types as possible.

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