A couple of months ago, I discovered the Fibershed project (fibershed.wordpress.com). The challenge of the project is for the author, Rebecca Burgess, to live for a full year in “clothes made from fibers that are solely sourced within a geographical region no larger than 150 miles” from her home. This also includes any dyes used to color the fabrics. Check out her fashion show post to see some truly inspirational handcrafted clothing!
If you have seen the new natural dyeing book “Harvesting Color”, you may be familiar with Rebecca, who, along with being the author, is a fiber artist and educator. I now find myself longing to live in Northern California, or at least within driving distance of Sally Fox’s natural cotton fields.
All of this got me thinking about where my weaving yarns come from. For a while now, I have been interested in the whole sheep-to-shawl at-home concept: Start with a fleece fresh from a furry animal, prepare it for spinning, spin it up, and then turn the yarn into something useable. I like the idea that I have looked into the eyes of the animal who spent a year growing some fiber for me. Even if you aren’t a spinner, it is still possible to get yarns from local fiber producers and have it spun by a handspinner in your area or at a mill. A favorite of my weaving guild’s is Still River Fiber Mill in Eastford, Connecticut (stillriverfibermill.com).
I was so fortunate to receive some gorgeous alpaca fleece from Parker River Alpacas in Byfield, Massachusetts as a gift from my guild. A few weeks ago we had our guild meeting there, and I was able to meet three of the four alpacas I was spinning: Stella, Terricci and Kokomo. With the images of these gorgeous alpacas and the Fibershed project in mind, I sketched out my idea for this month’s project, a wide scarf made entirely of local alpaca I had spun. I met with a couple of bumps along the way. My lessons:
Lesson #1. Listen to your weaving instincts. I spun a lovely fine singles and instead of plying like I knew I should, I decided to try it as a singles. The warped proved very sticky and too weak, and after weaving about eight inches, I cut off what I’d woven and decided to start over.
Lesson #2. Washing your handspun yarn is a good idea. I didn’t wash my singles, so the twist was not yet set. When I cut into my warp to remove the woven section, the remaining unwoven, unwound warp threads twisted up on themselves, making a tangled mess.
I unwound the warp, making sure that the groups of threads twisting together were fairly small. If I couldn’t warp with them and I couldn’t weave with them as singles, I would use the twisted up groups of singles to create a bulky weft. I wasn’t about to let all of my hard work spinning go to waste.
I still wanted to weave a delicate scarf with my singles, but was also thinking that a bulkier scarf to keep me cozy this winter might be nice, too. So why not weave two scarves! Setting aside the Fibershed project for this month, I decided to head in a slightly different direction. I was curious to see how my handspun alpaca would pair with other yarns so I went to my stash to see if there were any good warp options to choose from.
I quickly selected some gorgeous Southdown to warp my bulkier scarf. (Having made the woven cube in Issue 16 using this same yarn, I knew it would wash up beautifully soft and be plenty sturdy as a warp yarn.) I spun a 3-py yarn of Kokomo, Terricci and Stella to create a brown and white heathered yarn that matched the Southdown in weight. Here are the project details:
Warp length: 108”
Width in reed: 12”
Ends per inch: 8
Picks per inch: 9
Warp: Worsted weight Southdown ~288 yards
Weft: 3-ply alpaca created a worsted weight yarn ~270 yards and about 10 – 20 yards of bulky or extra bulky weight yarn to create a change in your weft, if you are so inclined.
This was woven on my Flip loom in plain weave. I used my bulky strands of recycled alpaca warp to add some textural interest at both ends of the scarf.
After removing the scarf from the loom, I overhand knotted the cut ends and trimmed the fringe to 2”.
Pre-wash dimensions: 12 ½” x 90”
Post-wash dimensions: 12 ½” x 72 ¼”
I hand washed my scarf in lukewarm water with a bit of Unicorn Power Scour, rolled it up in a towel to remove the bulk of the water, and hung it to dry. Once dry, I pressed it with my iron on the wool setting. This step improved the drape.
So now I had my bulky scarf, but I still wanted a more delicate scarf. My stash held a nice cone of Valley Fibers 8/2 Tencel in color Pompeii. On a side note, I would suggest getting a color card if you order yarn online. Often the actual color of the yarn is not the same as the color you might see on your computer screen. This was the case with the Pompeii, though I ended up quite happy with this color. I am a big fan of Halcyon Yarn’s Yarn Store in a Box (halcyonyarn.com). The Tencel was a bit thinner than my alpaca singles, but I decided that the difference was small enough that I would go ahead and combine them. Consulting Marguerite Porter Davison’s “A Handweaver’s Pattern Book”, I selected a shadow weave on page 78 called Shadow Twill III. I thought this might bring out the best in the Tencel while still allowing the softness of the alpaca to show. My goal was for the alpaca to temper the sheen of the Tencel, but still end up with a scarf with beautiful drape.
Here are the project details:
Warp length: 108 yards
Warp width: 12”
Ends per inch: 30 (this is a bit denser than the recommended sett, but it worked well)
Picks per inch: 24
Warp: Valley Yarns 8/2 Tencel in color Pompeii ~1,080 yards
Weft: Single ply, fingering weight alpaca spun from Tuxedo ~650 yards
After cutting the scarf from the loom, I created a twisted fringe about 4” long using groups of eight threads. The scarf was then washed in lukewarm water using Unicorn Power Scour, the water pressed out in a rolled up towel and the scarf then hung to dry. I pressed the scarf extra firmly with my iron set on the cotton/linen setting, and the Tencel now shines beautifully, just the right amount, around the alpaca.
Pre-wash dimensions: 10 ¼” x 74”
Post-wash dimensions: 10 ¼” x 71 ¾” + 4” twisted fringe
I am really pleased with the weight and drape of both of these scarves, and I can think of Stella, Kokomo, Tuxedo and Terricci every time I wear them. I wonder if they would recognize themselves wrapped around my neck?