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Fiber Prep....

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Previous Entry Fiber Prep.... May. 22nd, 2006 @ 12:44 pm Next Entry
I was mulling this subject over the weekend. The different types of prep, and why I like/hate each one, and what I expect from vendors when I purchase from them. Might get to be a bit rant-y, but let's just see where my ramblings take me.

There are 3 basic types of prep that are easily obtainable: Top/Roving/Sliver (although I don't think any vendors sell real sliver), batts, and rolags. There's also mill-ends, but those are basically top, so that's where I put it. Each type of prep is ready to spin, but some are easier than others (at least, for me.)



I decided I *won't* name names here - it's not worth it. Most vendors are great; some are just so-so, but those are few and far between. A vendor I love may be one you hate...so I just won't go there. Assume the vendor you're looking at is great until you've had a bad experience with them - and I include eBay vendors in this statement.

Top/Roving/Sliver is probably what most newbies start out with. It's easily obtainable, relatively easy to spin, and comes in all sorts of fibers and colors. The fibers are usually parallel, giving you a worsted-type yarn. You can choose your roving by the breed, or by color, or whatever - and did I mention that you can get roving *everywhere*?

New spinners are told to split the roving (I'll use this term for ease of typing) length-ways, pre-draft it, then start spinning. You can get a decent yarn that way. You can also split it into shorter sections (each about length of the fiber), roll it into a tube, and spin that (from the middle of the mass) for a woolen-type yarn. You can also cut to the chase, and start spinning directly from the box it came in. Not that I do that, of course. *ahem*

There are various reasons for each technique (I won't bore you with that right now. Unless someone asks. *g*) I try to choose the one best suited for the yarn I want to make. If it's a hand-dyed top (like the *beautiful* one I received Saturday), I think about *what* the yarn will become, then decide from there...this batch? I think will be socks; it's Romney wool, which is long-wearing, it's next-to-the-skin soft (OK, next-to-the-feet soft, which is slightly different) and the colors are fabulous.

I have 3 choices for it: a)split it lengthwise a few times, and try to spin 2 bobbins as close to matching as possible, so that a 2 ply will have lots of solid color blocks; b)split it as above, but random spin so the 2 ply will be "accidental" (which looks great knitted) or barberpole; or c)split it, again as above, spin it fine and tight, and navajo ply it so the colors stay very defined. I'm thinking I'll go with c) on this one, but we'll see.

Mill-ends are bascially the same, but are leftovers from commercial set ups. I find them a bit more compacted, and, because the commercial mills don't buy by the fiber but from the wool pool (which may have Suffolk, Romney, Dorset, and crossbreed wool all mixed together), the fiber lengths are all over the map and it's harder for *me* to get a nice consistent yarn. It's certainly *possible*, but I have to concentrate a bit more. The cheap price makes them *very* appealing ($6/pound is *great*, but there are drawbacks to the low price. Just be aware of what you're buying, is all I'm saying.) Beginners might find the mill ends to be a bit harder to work with.

Batts - usually come from a small producer, it's the prep that comes off of a drum carder. They're usually fatter than they are long; the fibers are pretty much parallel, and, depending on *who* prepped it, they can be very dense. I *love* spinning batts, if they're well prepared - you can spin straight off the carder and get a nice yarn, you can roll it into a large sausage and spin woolen, you can strip it....they are fun.

However, some vendors don't really know how to properly utilize a drum carder. I got burned a while back....the batts were advertised as a blend of 3 or 4 fibers (all of which I *love*), the colors seduced me...but the batts were disappointing. They were what I would call "rough carded" - they had been run thru the carder maybe 1 time, the fibers were sort of stuck together, but not blended, and ...well, it was a disappointment. I *didn't* express this to the vendor - it was a relative newbie, and I was trying to be nice, but I spent a good 3 days trying to decide if I wanted to take the time to card them properly or not. (I decided not to - my carder is currently covered in dog hair, and...well, it's going to take a lot of work to get all the canine fluff off of the teeth. Since I'm not done with the bags, yet....and, I paid a pretty penny for them - I didn't *want* to have to do any work on them to make them more spinnable!) I consider "properly carded" to mean at least 3 trips thru the carder, splitting the batt into smaller sections each time and shuffling the order I feed them in. That makes for a more cohesive batt. The yarn I spun from the above mentioned disappointing batt is usuable, but it's definately a "novelty" type, and it's not something I enjoyed spinning. I had decided to sell that yarn before I even got the batts, though, so it's OK....lesson learned! (And, to see this particular finished yarn, go here. Heck, go ahead and look at my yarns page while you're at it, and critique me. I need the feedback, so I can make changes in my spinning. I got too much yarn around here and need to move some of it out! *g*)

I like my fibers well-blended. I *don't* like spinning fiber that will give me clumps of this, then a big batch of that, then a blend, then back to this....it's frustrating, especially when you're talking silk/mohair/wool. The fiber lengths are all over the place...it's not fun. The next time this happens, I'll contact the vendor and either send it back or just go ahead and recard it myself.

Now - rolags. Ah, the joys of spinning from a batch of handcarded rolags simply cannot be expressed. You get a true woolen yarn from them - lofty, bouncy, squishy....and long-draw is *the* way to speed spin. However, I've never seen any vendors selling handcarded rolags (hmmm....might be a good marketing idea!) (Punis don't count - that's cotton, and I'm only talking about wool here!), which is a shame.

Handcarding is not a hard skill to learn, but it takes lots of practise to get it right. When it's right, though....wow. It makes for easy, fast spinning - and your consistancy will go thru the roof (once you master long draw, which isn't hard, but takes practise. The secret is to pull the fiber back in a long, sweeping motion, staying .just.ahead. of the twist. Hard to explain, easy to show.)

The drawback? The time spent carding the rolags. It takes me a few hours to get a basket full of rolags that will take me a 1/2 hour to zip thru. It does make for a good rest break, though - I have to stop and card some more fiber up...it's also good at demos, because you have to explain what you're doing.

Now, you can get bad prep from any vendor - I've had some rovings that were so compacted (one was even *felted*!) from the dyeing process or the shipping process - but, generally speaking, rovings are the most consistant way to buy fiber. They're usually well prepared and spinnable as-is. Batts - be sure you either know and trust the vendor, or spend a lot of time *looking* at the batts you're thinking about buying. Most vendors are pretty nice - they don't want to sell bad prep, because word *will* get out and their business will suffer for it.



Anyway...to sum up: Roving is good, especially for beginners, batts can be *wonderful* if they're prepared properly, buy my hands-down favorite is spinning handcarded rolags. And it wasn't even *that* rant-y!
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From:redmelde
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
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Not ranty at all!! I like that yarn you spun from the less-than-great batts, but I can see how it might be trouble to have a lot of fiber types that were not well mixed. I like streaky/stripey singles yarn, but that seems a bit much when it gets difficult to spin.

When I'm doing yarn that I want to stripe, I make sure to split the roving in half lengthwise a couple times, then each half widthwise and roll the pieces randomly from there and mix them up in the basket so that I'm sure they're randomized. I don't see why you couldn't split the whole roving right down the middle (maybe 4 times?) and then roll each segment with the same end out. You'll keep all your stripes in the same sequence that way and when they get Navajo plied, each sock should (sort of) match.

I got a handpainted roving once from a (supposedly) reputable person, and even as a rookie spinner, I thought they were exceedingly hard to spin. Now that I've dyed my own stuff, I realize the wool she sent me was felted. And that it was dyed with Kool-Aid and not rinsed well! It stained my spindle, my fingers, and the needles and hands of the girl I gave it to while she was knitting it! I had to tell her how to reset the dye so that her neck didn't turn pink from the scarf!

Now, questions! Can you recommend
#1: A source for mill ends.
#2: A source for natural silvery grey roving? Or maybe even locks or a fleece? I need some heathery grey wool for some experiments I've been mulling over.
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From:hugh_mannity
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
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Mary Pratt of Elihu Farms in upstate NY has some fabulous silver/grey fleeces. Romney and RomneyX. I just bought a fleece from her at the NH show which went straight (well it would have been straight if I hadn't been dodging puddles) to the Zeilinger's van for processing.

I've got another grey fleece of hers in my stash, all processed and that. How much were you looking for? (and are you in easy shipping distance?)
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From:redmelde
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:22 pm (UTC)
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I'm in Fort Worth, Texas. How's that for shipping distance? I only need about a pound right now, until I see how my color experiments work out.

Email me: redmelde @ gmail* com... We can do money or trade or whatever.

Do you know of any super soft grey wool? I'm still learning about wool types. Romney is a little scratchy for me to wear, so I like to work with Falkland and Corriedale and Merino mostly. Romney is awesome and spins FAST, but I know I couldn't wear it for a hat or scarf or anything like that... Mittens, maybe! I do love mittens!
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Mill ends: The sheep shed studio has Brown Sheep Mill Ends at $6/pound. Carol Lee is fast, and nice, and the rovings are good, but....like I said, not the most consistent fiber. Still - *$6* per pound can't be beat!

Mary Pratt has really nice stuff, so does Rose at Red Barn Farm (BL - I *love* her BL!) I think her website is www.redbarnfarm.net, but I could be wrong. She's on eBay as Red Barn Farm, if that helps. The Woolery sometimes has raw fleeces; Woodland Woolworks has some grey rovings listed in their latest catalog.

I do like how the green yarn turned out, but I won't use it - too much "bad vibes" from my feelings as I was spinning it. *g* There's 97 yards there - it'd make a nice hat, I think, but neither of my kids do green.
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From:redmelde
Date:May 23rd, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I saw those Brown Sheep Mill ends! For some reason I balked at the shipping costs... I see now that I was being foolish. Out of superstition, I predraft like a crazy person, so I should be okay with less than perfect fiber. Once my "business" money recovers from being cleaned out by the drum carder, I think I'll be snapping up some black and some brown and some grey rovings.

Green is very hot right now. You might inform them of that.
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From:redmelde
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
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And I think you should post this to spinningfiber.
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)
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Really? Let me think on that - I'll probably do that tonight when I get home.
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
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*g* I decided to go ahead and post it....I'm bored at work, anyway.
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From:apis_mellifera
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for writing this up. It's always interesting to hear other people's take on fiber prep and why they like or don't like certain types. I'm just now learning to spin long draw, and it's a frustrating process--there seems to be way more combed fiber out there than carded fiber, and I don't have access to drumcarder of my own (and no hand cards, which I should probably rectify at some point).
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 22nd, 2006 08:02 pm (UTC)
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No hand cards - have you tried using dog slicker brushes? They work almost as well as "real" carders, and are much cheaper.

I couldn't "get" long draw until I got my first AA wheel. My Ashford and I just couldn't connect....I sat down at my scottish wheel and something just clicked.

You can long draw with roving - I pull off a bit, fold it over my pointer finger, then treadle while pulling the hand slowly back. When the twist starts up, I pull back faster, keeping just ahead of the twist. The wheel does all of the work. You can also take a piece of roving, and roll it up in a sausage starting at the "torn" end and rolling it up the length. It makes a faux rolag - to spin it, pull a little bit out of the center of the sausage and go.

:thinking: I have a double drive wheel, and it's set up to draw in the fiber pretty steady; not hard, but if I let up on the tension it goes right on. Not so much that it yanks it - and I can pull the yarn back off the bobbin while treadling. It's just high enough to tug on the fiber, if that makes sense.

On the Ashford, I didn't have the tension set right - it was either way too much or not quite enough. It took a bit of fiddling....I've tried it on a ST wheel (Ashford Joy) and it was a bit frustrating at first, because the stupid brake band was either too grabby or not enough.

Once you get it, though.....yarn flies onto the wheel without any effort. It's magical.
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From:apis_mellifera
Date:May 23rd, 2006 12:40 am (UTC)
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You and your AA wheels... ;)

Actually, I've got the rough mechanics of long draw down, I'm just working on more consistency--and I know I need a LOT more practice. I'm mostly just whining. I know I'll get it eventually, but until then, I'm not going to be very happy. Here's a yarn that I spun long draw: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eilatan/142301074/ It's okay, but it could be a lot better, too.

I love my Lendrum and you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
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From:ritaspins37
Date:May 22nd, 2006 07:37 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the info. Semi-rants like these are very educational. I consider myself to still be a relative beginner at spinning and relish every opinion from the more experienced folks out there. I second the reccomendation to post this to the fiber communities
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 22nd, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
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:snort: I've seen your yarn - I wouldn't call you a beginner. Plus, you can spin and talk at the same time. *g*

I posted it to spinning fiber, as per ya'll's request. *g*
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2006 03:33 am (UTC)
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Well, I still think I have much to learn but thanks. Are we going to spin and talk in public at the Games in a couple weeks?
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From:ritaspins37
Date:May 23rd, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
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That was me up there^

Oh, and I think I basicly flunked the only course I ever took on fiber prep. I have no idea what I am doing more than half the time. I buy fiber after going "OOh! pretty!" and then find out whether I like it or not later.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 23rd, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
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I've done a lot of carding recently and I've been wanting to hear your opinion on the repetitive carding of silk (i.e. more than once). Most sites, when speaking of carding silk, recommend only carding in the silk once. While I can understand that, and it makes a beautiful batt, what bothers me is the fact that it isn't really "blended", it's still separate even though it's together with the other fibers.

I've spun a lot of silk/wool blends (my own and others) with the silk only carded once, and end up spinning or plying the yarns tightly (not overplied, but almost to that point) in order to get a yarn that I thought would work for a project. The single carding seems (to me at least) to be a matter of a slightly more (or hugely more, depending on the vendor I bought from!) nubby yarn that I prefer spinning.

FaerieLady
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From:fiberaddict
Date:May 23rd, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
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I'll run it thru at least twice, to get it blended. My carder has a fur drum though, so YMMV. *g*

I prefer stuff to be well-blended, as opposed to just....mixed up. Some people don't like it that way...but I do. It makes for a smoother yarn - and I tend to spin extra-fine, so the "nubbies" really really show up.
(spin a yarn)
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