Ballycastle Tam : spin the yarn

by Anne Podlesak

When I decided to design a traditional Fair Isle tam, I knew I wanted to use shetland wool.  The unique “sticky” nature of this fiber makes it perfect to use for colorwork.  I also knew that I wanted to match a yarn similar to Jamieson’s “jumper weight” Spindrift shetland yarn, as I’ve used that for colorwork before.  (For more specifics on spinning to a commercial yarn sample, please see this issue’s Spinster’s Corner.)

spin natural shetland fingering weight yarnI started out with a sampler of  roving in natural shetland fiber colors from a UK distributor.  I ordered a pack that contained off-white, dark gray, black and brown.  To supplement my color choices, I also ordered a pale gray roving from a US shetland sheep breeder.

I weighed out 2 ounces of the main color (the dark gray) I wanted to use, and then 1-ounce amounts of the other 4 contrast colors.  Shetland tends not to be as grabby as the finer wools, like merino, so I only fluffed the fibers a little bit to help compensate for the compaction from shipping (they came from the UK in a vacuum-packed bag to help keep shipping costs down).

spin natural shetland fingering weight yarnI used a supported long-draw for the singles, trying to keep plenty of air in them as I spun, to create a woolen-type yarn.  I spun each color onto a separate bobbin, and then wound off the singles onto my ball-winder, so I could ply back with zero loss of yardage, since I was working with such small amounts.  I added a bit of extra twist into the plying, but did not smooth the yarn down as I plied; this helped keep a more airy, woolen feel to the yarn, but the extra twist helped give the finished yarn a bit of structure.

To finish the yarns, I wound each plied skein onto my skein winder, added choke-ties, and then let it soak for an hour or so in a lukewarm bath with some wool wash soap added to it. I spun out the excess water, gave the skein a couple of snaps to align the fibers and then allowed it to air dry.

My final skeins all were fairly consistent in terms of yardage, running between 109 and 112 yards per 1 ounce.  The darkest black was the most compact roving and wound up yielding the least amount of yardage, so I could have perhaps done a bit more preparation in terms of predrafting the roving to add some extra air into it, but in the knitted piece, that minor discrepancy does not show.

spin natural shetland fingering weight yarn

Technical Details:

One 2-ounce skein of shetland wool, spun semi-woolen technique, with 116 yards per ounce (1856 ypp), fingering weight, 2 ply, and four 1-ounce skeins of shetland wool, spun semi-wooelen technique with approximately 109 to 112 yards per 1 ounce (1744 to 1792 ypp) fingering weight, 2-ply.

Photos © Anne Podlesak.

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