Thursday, September 29, 2016

Socktacular Experiment

A while back (several months) I ordered a batch of "medium wool" single-breed rovings from a mill in Carstairs, Alberta. This isn't exactly a local mill - Carstairs is about 1000km away from me - but I thought I'd give Canadian sheep a try.

I was able to get a taster pack of 7 different breeds (all wool comes from SK, AB, and BC). The prep is carded ropes, not pindrafted. All the wool is white and I got 2oz (ie. 50g) of each - which is enough for a single sock. Heheheh...yep, I'm going to make 7 single socks, same spinning, plying, and knitting for each, embroidered with an ID marker, and then I'm gonna mix and match while wearing them. Ha. That should sort out the best breed, don't you think???

[taster pack of sock breeds]

[breed number 1 on the wheel]

The breeds I got are: texel, romney, dorset, cotswold, suffolk, clun forest, and southdown. As I said, all from Canadian sheep, and none of them bred for their fiber. Canadian sheep are mostly meat sheep, especially in commercial flocks (of which there are only few, Canada's not a big sheep country - too many predators). The mill I bought from is profit-driven and not a hobby or co-op operation, so they buy cheap fiber in bulk. They are not in the business of buying single fleeces from hobbyists.  The only trouble with buying roving from this mill is that the shipping is extremely expensive - thank you Canada Post. That means I won't be doing a lot of it. 

Anyways, I thought this might be a fun thing to try. Spinzilla is coming and this is going to be my project - see if I can get through a bunch of this roving. I've started on the Texel and it is a very different spinning experience from all the commercially combed prep I've been using - it's got a few blebs so takes some attention, but it's possible to spin fine, wooly singles. Man, are they wriggly! The Texel is extremely springy. I'm keen to compare the Canadian southdown with the stuff I've used from the UK. Also I 'm curious to see how the Romney fares, as that's my current favorite!

I'm aiming for 4-ply socks. We'll see if I'm able to do that - lately I've been slipping to 3-ply as I'm finding that the knitting makes a huge difference (as in: very tight gauge knitting can compensate for the lack of the 4th ply).

[ Texel single with commercial sock yarn as comparison]

I'll keep you all posted with how these spin. It'll be some time (as in, months!) before I can make any conclusions about how the socks wear...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sock Fiber Disaster

Yup, I do make mistakes. But that's how you learn, right?

I got some Finn fiber blended with 20% nylon (trilobal, I think, which is a bit sparkly) via a Ravelry group that is interested in trying different sock blends. I dyed it up myself using an iDye packet and spun it up and knit up some nice manly blue socks. They fit well and the initial products were pleasant and my husband wore them to work.

[Finn/nylon socks]

Then I washed them. 


After a mere 3 cycles through my usual laundry routine - which is, as loyal readers know, involves a Euro front-loader, delicate cycle, cold water, and air drying - they are completely and totally felted. A ruined mass of wool.

[felted socks]

[close-up of felted knitting]

Finn is a fairly fine wool, and in retrospect I should've known this would not be a happy choice. It is great for felting. Ergo, it is not great for socks, unless you're after slippers, I guess...

Lesson learned. No more Finn for me.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where've I Been?

So it has been a while since I've posted! I've been on vacation, doing an epic trip through the scandinavian countries: Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I tested out some handspun hiking socks, saw many woolly critters, visited museums loaded with folk knitting and assorted handicrafts, and purchased some materials for new projects! I'll be sharing bits and pieces here over the next few weeks.

But let's start with the results of some hiking sock tests. I have 2 pairs of handspun, handknit hiking socks:

[4-ply local Romney knit into hiking socks]

[...and these Southdown 4-ply ones, recently completed]

The orange Romney socks have been hiking before. The pink ones I finished right before this vacation. I knit them up to replace similar (blue) Southdown socks that got shredded on the Appalachian trail last fall. Those blue ones were my first-ever handspun socks, so I thought perhaps the problem was my spinning technique (the socks were not very uniform), and I so made a new pair. Anyways, these two pairs of socks went with me to scandinavia for some serious testing...

My family and I did a 6-day trek on the Laugavegur trail, which is among Iceland's most scenic. It was a "supported hike" and we hiked about 15km per day with day packs (so, lightly loaded) on pretty mountainous terrain (through some amazingly spectacular scenery: if you like to hike, I can recommend this trek), but with excellent trails. Then, while in Norway, we did an 8-day trek through the Hardangervidda. This tour was from hut to hut, and food was supplied, but we did have to carry all our clothing - so I was more heavily loaded than in Iceland. The terrain, while flat, was much more uneven and wetter than in Iceland, which made for very exhausting days and a lot more strain on the feet. I certainly felt them much more on this trip!

I wore each pair of hiking socks for 3-4 days, and then switched to the other pair. (They did get washed between the two hikes.) This sounds gross, but in fact pure wool socks are pretty good about repelling odours. My socks did not stink! My feet stayed warm and dry; not sweaty. I got zero blisters. Both handspun pairs provided excellent cushioning; I did a test day just in the city with a pair of Asivik trekking socks that I purchased in Denmark, and these were nowhere near as comfortable (far less cushioning).

[Asivik brand trekking socks]

OK, so the results:

Both pairs developed holes. The Romney ones after the last day in Norway - so after a ton of abuse - but the Southdown pair after a mere 3 days of hiking in Iceland. I had to darn them basically right away! In other words, the Romney socks outlasted the Southdowns by about a factor of 3, taking into account that the Romneys have seen trail action before. 

So, sadly, the next time I make Southdown socks, I will be adding nylon, at least in the heels and toes. The pure Southdown fiber I can get my hands on (which is from the UK and commercially processed) simply isn't long-lasting enough for my tastes. The Romney is of local provenance and so likely coarser than 30 microns, and this seems to make a big difference. I have not tried UK Romney (yet); that may be finer that what the local shepherds here in BC are providing. The socks are not as springy as those made with Southdown; they feel smoother - and they are sure a lot tougher!