Spinning a Cashmere Cloud: June Cashmere for Spinners
In the Fall 2017 issue of Spin Off, we introduced you to June Cashmere, which offers cashmere from the southern region of Kyrgyzstan. Spin Off was captivated by the project. So we approached June Cashmere to hold back a limited amount of fiber from the spinning mill. What do we do when we get new fiber? Sample it, of course!
Sampling is not only important but even delightful when a new fiber crosses your path. Spinning teacher Pat Bullen, Spin Off assistant editor Elizabeth Prose, and Spin Off editor Anne Merrow each received a handful of cloud to experiment with. Here’s their experience spinning June Cashmere.
Spinning a Cashmere Cloud
Pat Bullen aimed for a two-ply laceweight worsted yarn that would provide structure in knitting. She opted for this approach rather than a woolen spinning technique as she felt it would provide the structure she was looking for in a laceweight yarn. She first spun using a double-drive production wheel with uncarded fiber, then used handcards to align the fiber and make rolags. She produced 26 yards of two-ply worsted yarn that weighed just shy of ½ ounce (plus a bit of waste), but she felt her sample was overtwisted and coarser than cashmere yarn should be.
For her second sample, Pat carded another ½ ounce of the cashmere and spun it on her electric wheel for finer adjustment between drag and take-up. This time, Pat reduced the twist to create a lighter, springier two-ply worsted yarn. Pat’s second sample resulted in 26 yards weighing closer to ¼ ounce with roughly half the fiber left over, reducing her waste to next to nothing. To ply the yarn, Pat relied on a trick she learned from Judith MacKenzie, pressing her thumbnail gently against the singles just ahead of the twist while plying to add just a bit more tension. This evened out any puffs in the singles and made the ply more consistent.
Pat’s technique for spinning cashmere mirrored what she would do to spin cotton. She suggests practicing on cotton, as it’s less expensive, and then moving to cashmere.
Elizabeth Prose spun the June Cashmere fiber with a warm, lacy cowl in mind. Making two samples, she wanted to spin woolen using a long-draw drafting method but wondered whether to use her spinning wheel or a drop spindle and how much preparation the fluffy cashmere would require.
For the first, Elizabeth used a featherweight spindle and spun a 2-ply laceweight. She noticed that the cashmere cloud spun smoothly without any prep and created a relatively even yarn. Elizabeth suspects that this yarn will knit up and have good stitch definition.
For the second, Elizabeth carded the fiber into a rolag to see if opening it changed the drafting and spun it on a double-drive wheel. Although overall the drafting the short fibers was easier, the resulting 2-ply laceweight yarn was loftier and had more of a halo. This yarn would produce a warmer cowl, but it may lack the crisp stitch definition needed to set off a lace pattern.
Anne Merrow spun two samples on a tahkli, preferring the support spindle for a pure woolen yarn with high twist. For the first sample, Anne spun directly from a small handful of cloud. It took a few yards to find the rhythm of the tool, but after a few minutes the yarn became more consistent. Finding it still a bit lumpy, Anne turned to cotton cards and gently straightened very small samples of the fiber. Although the carded fiber was too short for a successful rolag, spinning just a pinch of the carded fiber with a long draw created a smoother yarn that drafted more easily.
Following the advice of Sarah Anderson in her video Spinning Exotic Fiber Blends, Anne used the Andean plying technique to ply both ends of the short lengths of yarn together, adding high twist for strength
To bring out the soft surface of the woolen yarn and provide additional strength, Anne alternated between hot and cold water in the wash and tossed the samples on the table vigorously to full them (according to the method Kate Larson demonstrates in Finishing Up).
Although the two samples look remarkably similar, Anne found that the spinning was more enjoyable using the carded fiber and would take the time to prepare the remaining fiber that way.
Discover more about spinning cashmere!