I have missed you all and I am thrilled to finally have time to sit back down and write! So sorry for the delay. Fostering, the Mill and harvest got real over the last month. But alas the kittens have moved on to their forever homes, the Mill is humming along and harvest is at its tail end which means we can breathe a little around here again.
In this post I've decided to approach the age old question... does yarn have to be perfect? I have been mulling about this in my head for awhile now. As a wool mill owner the question is always hanging about and I strive to create the most consistent yarn. As a handspinner, I actually threw the question out the window years ago as ludicrous. Hahaha! Not to say there aren't perfect handspun yarns, it is just not a priority to me. I've listened to knitters talk amongst themselves about paying a premium for yarn only to find inconsistencies or a knot and some that have even made it very clear that imperfect yarn is unacceptable. I've also read conversations in our Mill owners group with differing opinions on how important it is for us to make a "perfect" yarn. And then there are those who think imperfections make yarn more interesting, fun and lively to work with.
Let me start with explaining to you one of the big processing differences between smaller fiber mills and the larger commercial mills that produce most of the yarn we purchase in stores. Besides the sheer volume processed, one of the biggest differences is a process called carbonization. For me, the small mill owner, I buy the wool, skirt it, scour it (washing it) and then pick and card the wool prior to spinning. For most commercial yarns, processing starts the same (be it on a much larger scale) but after scouring the wool gets carbonized. I didn't know a whole lot about carbonizing but was a bit shocked when I dove in on research. Carbonizing wool is done to remove excess vegetation and any remaining dirt left in the wool after washing but prior to carding and spinning into yarn.
Carbonizing involves introducing the wool to diluted sulphuric acid. The wool is then dryed and baked so that the excess matter becomes a dust of sorts. The dust is then mechanically removed from the wool. After removing the dust the wool must be balanced back to neutral as it is now more acidic from treatment. So the wool is then introduced to sodium carbonate and often times after that the wool is bleached to create a more consistent color and product. After all of these steps the wool is then moved along thru the carding and spinning process. So that's a lot of processing resulting in what you can imagine is a wool free of matter and more consistent in nature. I completely understand why this is done when processing enormous amounts of wool. They are receiving wool from all over the country or world from different times and often times different sheep breeds. For this reason they need the wool to be as consistent as possible to create a good end product. Heavier processing is going to create a wool that is easier for them to work with.
When you buy fibers and yarns from a smaller mill or farm they are much less processed. Of course this does lend itself to a few more inconsistencies. As a mill owner I am working my hardest to run a yarn that is consistent. But the reality is sometimes there are imperfections. Animals are animals and vegetable matter comes with them being happy and healthy. Other things that can lead to inconsistencies are fibers of different lengths, breaks in the fibers, uneven weights while carding and of course general mill equipment or operator issues.
So does yarn need to be perfect? The answer is really up to you!
I personally love that small mill run yarns aren't always perfect. I love the character that they have. I don't mind picking out a piece of hay here and there. To me it is in fact one of the qualities that makes it more appealing than your average predictable commercially spun yarns. And I can tell you that as a handspinner who does not always spin the most consistent yarn, it all tends to flush out once you start to knit, crochet or weave with it. I have knit sweaters with yarn that has varied in weight throughout and really you would never know when looking at the finished product. I like to think of it all as character. Yes there may be a piece of vegetable matter here and there, or a little wonky bit in the yarn, but in addition there is also life and the character of the wool is still in tact. In my crazy yarn world this all takes us closer to the wool, closer to the way our ancestors used wool and in reality closer to nature.
If you are interested in finding out how much processing your yarn is undergoing, a quick email to the company you purchased it from should give you an answer. And if you are looking for smaller less processed yarns with a whole lot of character, there are a handful of smaller mills in each state. A quick internet search should allow you to track some down in addition to seeking out small farms selling their own yarns. As you probably know by now, I will always encourage you to #knowyourwool
I love to hear from you all as it helps me know you've been here and I would love to hear your experiences about "perfect" and "imperfect" yarns. Thank you as always for reading and commenting.
Stay healthy, VOTE, and craft on!!!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill. I create hand spinning fibers from locally sourced wool and teach others online how to hand spin their own yarn.