How We Did It: Building a Custom Spinning Wool Blend
In spinning groups online and in person, I’m seeing a delightful trend: spinners are venturing past “improved” breeds and are spinning wool that is rare, primitive, or just plain interesting. The adventurous spinner has started to sample unusual wools she can’t even pronounce.
In search of fiber out of the ordinary, I stepped into the booth of The Homestead Hobbyist at a spinning conference. The proprietor, Kenneth Moore, creates fascinating blends with wools such as Black Welsh, Eider, and Charollais. He works with a mill to create custom fiber blends for his yarn and fiber, and it got me thinking: Could Spin Off have its own exciting fiber blend? Kenneth and I put our heads together on an exclusive custom project: the Azure Manx Fiber Blend.
One particular ingredient in Kenneth’s selection caught my eye: Manx Loaghtan. As Deborah Robson says in her article “Manx Loaghtan Sheep and Their Wool” in Spin Off Spring 2018, the Manx Loaghtan breed is unique to Britain—not something I could pick up at my local American sheep and wool show. The mill Kenneth works with sources its Manx Loaghtan directly from the Isle of Man, so I’d be spinning a little piece of Man.
We discussed mixing three wools: Corriedale, Shetland, and Manx. Kenneth said, “This would be a fairly lofty blend, but on the medium end of soft. It would beg to be mitts or a sweater or something like that, rather than a cowl for most people. (I’m a lot more tolerant of robust wool, and though the Corriedale and Shetland are fairly soft, they are not cashmere.)” Thinking of spinners who have more interest in character and less in ultrasoftness, it sounded like a perfect balance.
We couldn’t resist adding some shine. Kenneth suggested a ribbon of dyed mulberry silk. “I want mulberry silk in everything. I love mulberry silk,” he confessed. “But let’s keep it to just a little shot.” We settled on this formula: 37.5% Corriedale/25% Shetland/25% Manx/12.5% mulberry silk.
Then it was time to choose the colorway. We tried out several color schemes related to the breed’s Isle of Man origins and selected the waters of the Irish Sea as inspiration. Shades of dark and light blue in the wool, a bright aqua streak, and the warm brown Manx come together in a dusky color between cerulean and cobalt.
The last decision to make was whether to make a smooth blend or leave it streaky. I tend to avoid very chunky effects in top because some fibers may draft more quickly than others, making the yarn patchy. I couldn’t resist the richness of the swirl effect, though, so we agreed to create a sample and then decide.
Spin Off Assistant Editor Elizabeth Prose and I each spun part of the fiber sample. After our test, we settled on a more loosely mixed blend that leaves the components distinct but still easy to spin.
Elizabeth first used a short forward draw for a semiworsted two-ply yarn. She says, “I wound up with a DK-weight with lots of drape and a subtle sheen. The natural and dyed colors became a classic heathered yarn, which would knit up nicely into a timeless raglan pullover.” For a wild card, she used a larger pulley to spin a thick-and-thin slubby two-ply. “I wanted to retain the character of the blended fiber and allow the striation of the natural Manx and dyed colors to interplay in a thick-thin yarn. This type of yarn required me to concentrate while drafting, but I adored the result,” she said. “I could see this yarn becoming a trendy infinity scarf.”
I used a semiwoolen draw and spun two DK-weight yarns with one difference: I spun one sample (left) over the fold and the other from the end. I wondered whether spinning wool in this blend over the fold would separate the elements more distinctly or blend them together. In the end, it was nearly impossible to tell the two apart. The over-the-fold sample is a bit more mottled, with longer runs of Manx or silk, but both are complex and bouncy.
How will you spin it?
Featured Image: Smooth or slubby, the yarns that Elizabeth Prose spun from the Azure Manx Fiber Blend are lively and delightful.