Last post I talked about true woolen spun yarns: one end point of the prep/spinning spectrum of yarns. It would be easiest to jump to the opposite end and talk about true worsted spun and prepared yarns, and then do what I usually do...conceptually sweep my hand and say there are lots of different "semi" woolen and worsted spun yarns in between.
Well...seasonally, that doesn't really make sense. ITS COLD OUTSIDE! We need woolen spun yarns. So I will cautiously wade into it and talk about two yarns that were spun at two different small US mills and how woolen they each are.
As discussed in the last post, there are four factors that affect woolen/worsted structures: fiber length, fiber prep, drafting and twist. The one that makes our Corriedale/Corriedale cross and Targhee 2 ply yarns "semi-woolen" is the drafting: short draft on a ring spinner instead of the long draft of a mule spinner. Below I've attempted to describe how a ring spinner works. This is the type of spinning machinery used in most commercial mills.
But these two yarns are not equal in their "woolyness" so there is more going on here.
The Corriedale/Corrie cross is a wonderful yarn, and I am oh so sorry to say, almost gone. Last weekend we sold out of all the undyed yarn (a beautiful oatmeal color created by blending natural colored Corriedale cross Lincoln fleeces with white pure bred Corriedale fleece), but there are great handpainted colors and a little solid dyed left. Get some now...our neighbor who raised Corriedale sheep no longer has them, so we don't have more in the works.
I know part of the reason for the different wooly character of Corriedale vs. the Targhee is in the fiber itself: Corriedale fleece is a Medium wool. It is probably 4-5" long, has "medium" crimp (around 5 crimps per inch) "medium" diameter and has lots of body and character. Targhee is a Fine wool, a little shorter, probably 3-4", maybe double the crimps per inch and much finer diameter. In my experience, Targhee has a lot less body and feels a lot like cotton. But aside from the breed differences, the semi-woolen spun Targhee 2 ply looks and feels so much smoother than the Corrie cross. Why?
The Targhee 2 ply was spun at Zeillingers in Michigan. Zeillingers is larger than Green Mountain, but both mills have been around a long time and are "establishment" in the custom spinning world. Both are "woolen" mills and extremely knowledgeable and dependable (I'd recommend both, especially if you are new to wool and custom processing). I haven't yet visited Zeillingers, but I have been to another mill that I thought had similar equipment, and I couldn't figure out what might be different. So...thanks to you (an audience) I had to see if I could find out why. I called them both.
I believe I know the answer: it is in the second variable: preparation. Both mills card the wool and create pencil roving to spin from...but! Green Mountain's carding machine has two "breakers" and Zeillingers has three.
Can you see on the right side of the photo above that there is a large cylinder or drum in the center and several smaller cylinders arrayed around the top part of the big cylinder? This segment is called a "breaker." Each drum is covered with a grid of protruding wire teeth called carding cloth. When the picked (initially pulled apart fleece) wool is run through this machine it is opened up, blended and becomes more parallel. After it goes through this breaker at Green Mountain, they comb it off in one direction, gather it and then put it down before the second breaker in the OPPOSITE (rotated 90 degrees) direction and run through the second carding breaker. This switch in direction makes the wool less parallel, more jumbled, and eventually when it's spun, more woolen.
At Zeillingers, their carding machine has three breakers. After the wool goes through the first one it travels up the overhead, (a ladder) goes across and down changing direction side to side before it travels through the second breaker (like Green Mountain)...but, then it goes through one more breaker, so the wool is further blended, evened and aligned more parallel. This so describes our Targhee 2 ply yarn.
This is the yarn I used in my 1898 hat (free pattern): really a helmut liner. This hat is superb for people like me with short hair and bare ears. I also got a new coat last year with a close fitting hood that wouldn't go over any of my other hats. This hat got me through the weekend standing at farmers markets...and today when the temps are in the low 20's and the wind is gusting to 45 mph. So...even though the Targhee doesn't look AS wooly, it does have lots of trapped air and is very warm. The fine, soft Targhee wool is also very comfortable and can be worn next to bare ears and neck for 8 hours and not feel a bit scratchy. And the pattern is fun to knit. First knit one for Joan, then myself and now have started another to see if I can guess how to decrease the size for little kids. Ray and Lee are coming for Christmas, better get a move on!
This was already long winded...but if you want to get my version of how a spinning frame works, which may or may not be 100% accurate, it's just below.
Thanks, and here's to the calendar catching up with our weather...the Solstice approaches. Let's all wear woolens.
Long explanation on how most mills spin yarn: I think (here I'm on shaky ground, my knowledge of mills is pretty elementary) there are three main types of commercial spinning frames (what they call the big machines that spin many strands of yarn all down a line): mule spinners (only one left in the US, in Maine and one in Canada on the west coast), ring spinners and cap spinners. Most of the mills we have worked with use ring spinners. These machines work by feeding a strand of pencil roving (many, all wound side by side to match the number of spindles on the big spinning frame) from a large cylinder above down between a small roller called the boss down to another small roller and then through a traveler (hidden in this photo behind those gray dividers between the spindles) that follows the ring rotating around the spindle and moves up and down winding the yarn onto a bobbin that is sitting vertically on a spindle that is rotating...fast (like 300 revolutions per minute). Specifically what is putting the twist in, where and how...I will learn on my next trip to a mill. I never realized how little I actually understood this until I tried to write about it.
This whole action takes place in a relatively short distance. The top roller (the boss) is where the fibers are drafted. Adjusting the speed of this roller controls how much fiber is drafted out determining the diameter of the yarn... anyway...this is vaguely like short draw in handspinning.
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This is the season for woolen: warm, insulating yarns that are light in weight and cozy. But...you ask, what makes a yarn woolen? The short answer is woolen yarns are spun with fibers opened up, but going all which ways to trap air inside the yarn. They are lighter in weight, but warmer than worsted spun yarns. They tend to hold a shape, are not "hard wearing" and they can pill... but they are great for hats, blankets...sweaters, warm woolen mittens and other of my favorite things.
If you want a bit of a longer explanation...read on.