This week I am working on the final stages of a new yarn, which means I am spinning it! I first spun this yarn about a year ago. A small batch, in two different weights - a worsted and a fingering. My original intent was to make a sock yarn out of natural fibers. No acrylic or other man made fiber. But then I got distracted while spinning up that first batch and wanted to see how the yarn would look and behave in a heavier weight. I sold most of the batch off and just picked up the last skein of fingering weight a month ago and decided to knit a sock with it. One sock. I had knit with the worsted weight and really like it but never quite got around to the fingering weight. General rule moving forward, I should probably knit with all the yarn I make because I really like this yarn!
Ok ok so what is this yarn exactly? It is a wool/mohair blend. More specifically Border Leicester wool and mohair. So why this sheep breed? To be honest, I bought it never having worked with it and liked it. It has a nice luster, low lanolin, generally scours (washes) easily, is strong and is fairly readily available in Oregon. The mohair originally was added as a substitute for acrylic as I was trying to make a natural sock yarn. I hadn't worked with a lot of mohair and certainly not a lot of good mohair so I asked around for the best and went from there.
So here I am circling back on this yarn with plenty of wool and mohair. After obtaining the wool, picking the percentages is the next step - this is an 80/20 blend (wool/mohair). In general, 20% is my happy place when I am adding to wool. I like the additional fiber to enhance the wool and yarn without taking away from the character of the wool. For a sock yarn in particular, 20% mohair is enough to add the strength, softness and shine that I am looking for. The strength is imperative in a sock given how much wear and rubbing this eventual fabric will endure. Most commercial sock yarns are wool blended with some amount of acrylic for this reason. Acrylic is a tough man made textile with a petroleum base. While mohair is not going to quite be as strong as a plastic, it is a strong fiber, it is better for the environment and allows more breathability and odor control.
So now we have the fiber and the blend percentages, the next pieces of the puzzle involve spinning and go as follows....
What weight will the yarn be? Since most sock patterns are knit using fingering weight yarn that is the weight I will aim for. Reality, I can spin a perfect yarn but if there are no patterns that will work for it, it is less likely to sell so I'm always trying to keep an eye on what designers are doing and what makers are responding to.
How much twist will each single of yarn have? I generally spin my yarn as lightly as possible because in general the lighter spun, the loftier the yarn will be. However I am making a sock yarn, so to get the extra strength I want in this yarn I will put a little extra twist. This will also make it a bit less likely to pill easily.
How many plies will this yarn have? After spinning comes plying, the act of putting the already spun singles into one yarn. You can have a single ply yarn, 2 ply, 3 ply and up. Most yarns are 2 to 3 ply. Generally speaking the more plies a yarn has (or single strands of yarn spun together), the stronger the yarn will be. So for the purposes of a sock yarn where that magical word "strength" keeps coming up I'm going to make a 3-ply yarn.
Finally I can spin now that I have the fibers, know the blend, the weight, the twist and the plies! So I spin and ply a sample bit and then I usually bring a bobbin home because I can't bear to be away from it overnight (truth!). For this particular yarn the first small batch came out a little heavier than I wanted and the yarn is a bit darker natural gray than I had hoped for. It is lovely but if I want to overdye it, I would ideally like it a little lighter. So tomorrow I will go in, adjust my natural color blend to lean a bit more on the white side and make adjustments to my spinning machine to draft the fibers just a bit more for a lighter weight yarn.
So there you have it! The main steps that go into designing a new yarn. This yarn in particular was a bit more complex. Lots of times I can let the fiber guide me where it wants to go. But for a sock yarn there are general characteristics I want it to have.
Thank you all for reading, commenting and taking the time! Hopefully you'll see this new yarn hit my social media and online shop next week! Stay healthy all.
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.