Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Cheviot Project

I try to make a habit of walking to errands that are within 1 to 1.5 miles of my house.  That way I get in my daily walk and get something done, too.  I also stop by stores I like to frequent, such as Paradise Fibers, a veritable candy store of all things fiber.  A good friend works there and I am acquainted with most of the staff.  We were discussing grist and other things when the young man who works in the fiber department said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a display of what you can spin with the Cheviot top we have.  It’s so nice and cheap, but people don’t seem to know anything about it.”  I volunteered to create some skeins and thus left the store with a pound of “bottom of the bump” stuff.  

Cheviot is a sheep breed that originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border between Scotland and England. With staples of 3 to 5 inches in length, it has helical crimp, which makes it resilient.  It can range from next to skin soft to quite crisp.  I think that the possibility of harshness might put people off.  The stuff I was given was beautiful and fairly soft.  I expect it will make great sock yarn and be excellent for mittens, hats and outerwear.

Since I had never spun Cheviot, I did my usual exploration before deciding how to spin this.  If I am starting from raw fleece, I wash about ½ lb of it and play with various ways to process it: flicking, carding, drum carding or combing.  If this looks to be a fairly generic fleece and I have at least 3 lbs, I’ll wash the whole thing and send it off for processing into pin roving at a mill in Post Falls.  Meanwhile I have the sample to further play with.

If I get already processed fiber, then that’s my starting point.  In all cases, once I have clean and processed fiber, I first pull out some fiber and see how long, how crimpy/springy and how soft/crisp it is.  Then I spin 2 meter lengths with my hand spindle to see how it well it drafts and how much twist it seems to want.  After that I am ready to spin.  I might make as many as 10 samples, especially if I am unsure what is best for the fiber.

This Cheviot came as top.  At around 5 inches, the fibers were at the long end of the range for Cheviot.  It felt soft as a whole but individual fibers felt slightly crisp.  I spun a series of lengths starting with a soft lopi style singles all the way through tightly spun 2 plies.  The singles did not want to hold, but after plying, it was nice regardless of the amount of twist.  I decided on a medium twist with an angle of 20 to 25 degrees.

Fiber length plus twist samples, least to most twist bottom to top..  The middle sample is what I liked best.

I decided to spin 50 grams of each of 2 ply fingering, sport and DK weight yarns and 50 grams of worsted weight in a 3 ply.  I knit a swatch of each using a lace stitch and a cable.  I also dyed 3 of the samples, two while still as top and one after the yarn was spun.  

I spun the first three yarns on my Lendrum using the 8:1 ratio on the fingering and sport weight singles and the 6:1 for the DK weight singles.  These were plyed on a Matchless at 8:1.   The worsted weight was spun and plyed on an Ashford Traditional I just bought.  The ratio used was 8.5:1.  I mostly used a short backward draw although occasionally drifted into a sliding backward longdraw.

1. Fingering weight – I wanted to get a grist of 4m/g in a 2ply, but didn’t quite get it.  After finishing it measured 3.6m/g.  WPI was 16, TPI was 5 and the twist angle measured 30°.  I knitted a swatch with it.  It was soft, but not baby wear soft.  I didn’t dye this one.  

2. Sport weight.  I aimed for 3 m/g and ended up with 3.3.  WPI was 14. TPI was 3.5 and the twist angle measured 25°.  I dyed this top first red and yellow and then blended it on a drum carder.  It went easily through the carder and created lovely smooth batts that drafted easily (maybe too easily!).  I am still learning how to use my grist cards to get the results I need, but at least I am staying within the size class I want.  I needed to use bigger needles and got a larger gauge on this swatch.  It was surprising how a little change in grist produced measureable changes in knitting gauge and further emphasizes to me how grist determines gauge more than anything else.

3) DK weight.  I painted the top with 3 different colors that blended into four during spinning. I predrafted the top a little bit before spinning to counteract the compression from dying.  My aim was 2.5 m/g and I got 2.4.  WPI was 12, TPI was 4 with a 20° twist angle. It was definitely harder for me to consistently spin the thicker singles and this yarn was a bit uneven in the end.  It knitted up nicely at a gauge consistent with its weight.  

4) Worsted weight.  Because I had a hard time spinning a thicker singles, I opted to make a 3 ply and then dye this.  I wanted 1.5m/g and got 1.4.  WPI was 10, TPI was 2.5 with a 25° twist angle. I attempted speckle dyeing and overdid it, but it still came out nice.  Because Cheviot will felt, the yarn was slightly fulled after dyeing and therefore smoother and softer but denser than the other yarns.  This smoothness and greater density showed in the knitted swatch.  

With the fingering weight I knitted 2 samples with the same number of stitches and rows.  One sample was thrown in with my white wash, which washed hot and rinsed cold.  It also went through the dryer.  While this sample definitely shrank, it fulled more than it felted.  It was still fairly elastic with good stitch definition.  It shrank 12% to 14% in length and width and 25% in area.

Overall, Cheviot is lovely wool for spinning and using in a variety of projects without breaking the budget.  I am now spinning some as a 3 ply crepe style, fingering weight sock yarn.  I am looking forward to testing how it wears as socks.

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