Tour de Fleece 2017 was a win!
Since yellow makes me look dead, I'll post about it here instead of getting a yellow ANYTHING, let alone a jersey right next to my face.
Tour de Fleece is a "competition" that runs concurrently with the Tour de France. The idea is that every day that the riders 'spin' along the Tour de France course, we will spin our wheels or spindles and since the Tour de France is a very challenging race, we spinners should choose a goal that challenges us as well. There are lots of 'teams' to cheer each other on, tons of eye candy on Ravelry, Facebook and Instagram ( #tourdefleece2017 ) and lots of beautiful yarn. Some teams give prizes; but all who participate get beautiful yarn when they cross the finish line.
My idea for this year's TdF project was inspired on Ravelry. I got the magazine where this idea was hatched, but didn't see it (and didn't find it when I went back to look anyway); my point being that if you watch the YouTube video in the linked post above, you'll learn everything you need to know to do one of these massive spins, too! I quickly went down the rabbit hole and found ALL KINDS of eye candy & inspiration. So I could find it again, I created a bundle on Rav - so handy and linked here for your own rabbit hole needs!
I like spinning because I like the idea of creating a one-of-a-kind yarn - and I like the idea of doing it on a big enough scale to make a garment. I LOVED the idea of being able to use up 8-10 of those single or double braids in my stash that I wasn't sure what to do with or hadn't gotten around to spinning yet. All but one of these braids came from deep stash and honestly, I could have done a 2-ply combo spin with the ones I had. Such a great way to bust stash and enjoy the process!
I started with these braids - 9 in total. After a bit of sound-boarding with some fellow spinners, I decided to do a 3-ply yarn instead of a 2-ply yarn (there are reasons - but it'll get too wordy here - leave questions in the comments or PM me on Rav!). The braid I purchased needed to be a close match to 2 of my existing braids of fiber, so the center bottom braid got nice and cozy with the top left royal blue braids. This extra braid gave me 3 braids of fiber per ply - and gave me a chance to get a good amount of a 3-ply yarn.
To help prevent smurf-barf yarn, but maintain the long color changes you get from the finished yarns you see in the bundle, I decided to have one strand of my handspun be solid blue; almost like a 'control'. One strand would be a constant deep blue, while the other two varied and interplayed with each other. This will tone down the overall stripeyness of the yarn, but it will create a nice, round yarn for knitting.
I prepped all the fiber the same way - as described in the video - basically splitting each 4 oz braid into 8 even-length sections of full-width braid, and then splitting each of those into 2 lengthwise strips.
Here is the prepared fiber for the 'control' strand.
The second pile looks much bigger - because it IS much bigger. Twice as big, in fact. The second & third strands will be spun from this pile.
Once everything was stripped out, I gently wound the strips of fiber into little nests. This served a few purposes: 1) they are adorable; 2) they are easier to grab one at a time this way; 3) this allowed me to store my fiber away from the wandering, curious husky when I wasn't spinning.
The very blue pile was split into two halves to become 2 bobbins of the 'control' strand. The blue-ish pile was split into 4 quarters to become 4 bobbins of the multi-color strands.
Here is the final 'before' shot - the tissue paper separates each amount of fiber to be spun on an individual bobbin.
So I began spinning the singles (the individual strands that make-up a plyed yarn). Each time I needed another section of fiber, I reached into the bin blindly and picked up the first nest I touched, occasionally stirring the nests around gently when I took breaks to grab a restroom break or glass of water. The first finished bobbin of singles from the multi-colored fiber looked like this:
When you turn the bobbin on the end, you can see the where the individual strips of different colors came into play!
The first bobbin of the more solid blue - the 'control' - singles spun better and had a more homogeneous appearance because I held 2 lengths of the solid blue with 1 length of the heathered blue. The lighter fibers in there are silk; the dying technique allowed the wool and the silk to take the color differently.
Over the course of the next 20 days, I spun all six bobbins of singles. Below they are shown, L to R, as a multi-color, blue, multi-color, on top and bottom, approximating how they will be combined into a 3-ply yarn.
The end-of-bobbin shot shows the stripey nature of the multi-color singles and the blue-on-blue nature of the merino-silk singles.
These fun colored bobbins are from Akerworks, and I love them! They don't just make bobbins - they make lots of cool stuff, including musical instruments. Their products are innovative and high quality and I can't say enough nice things about them.
Now that the singles were all spun up, it was time to ply. To ply strands of yarn together, you spin them together in the opposite direction the individual strands were spun. For this project I spun the singles clockwise, so I plyed them together with a counterclockwise twist. There are lots of physics reasons why you do this, and lots of crafty ones, too. Practically speaking, if you don't do it this way, you end up with a twisty, knotty mess of unusable stuff. (Wondering how I know?)
Once I had the direction changed on my miniSpinner, my electric spinning wheel, I was ready to start plying. I selected 2 bobbins of multi-colored singles & 1 bobbin of blue singles, put them on my lazy kate (a rack that holds bobbins for me and allows me to pull off the singles in a controlled way), found the end of each strand of singles and started to ply them together.
This picture is a snapshot of plying: my miniSpinner is at the top of the photo and the plyed yarn is winding on to the bright orange bobbin as the strands wind off of the beige storage bobbins. Each strand of yarn pulls off of the bobbin and I use my hands to control how quickly this happens and how much twist I allow into the strands to hold them together. When I'm actively plying yarn, the kate with the singles bobbins sit on the floor away from me, allowing me to straighten out the strands before they wind together. It's easy to demonstrate, but hard to verbalize. Come over sometime & I'll show you!
These two bobbins of plyed yarn show how the individual strands of color intermix and play together in a 3-ply yarn.
You can see here how the colors from the multi-color strands lined up in the plying to have darker or lighter sections of yarn and sometimes they all blend together. I finished the plying on July 23, the final day of the tour.
When all the plying is complete, the yarn gets to rest for a minute, then was wound into skeins (basically, a big loop, secured with ties) so it can be washed and dried.
The variation in the yarn is apparent if you look closely, but seems just very blue if you don't focus on it.
I was thrilled with the outcome!
If I'm honest, there was more than one moment during the process where I had this sinking feeling that I was spending a lot of time and fiber making yarn that might be hideous. But I stuck to the plan, knowing that I'd seen beautiful yarns from other spinners on Ravelry who were successful with this approach, and hoped I would be one of them.
Of course, the true test of this experiment will be when I knit the yarns into a project. I looked carefully at finished objects (again, on Rav, using the linked thread above and the tag #combospin) made from this yarn. I specifically looked for constructions that highlighted the unique qualities of these yarns and combinations of the yarn and construction that were flattering for the wearer. My plan for my combo spin yarn is to knit the 'Just the Right Angle' sweater, a free pattern on Ravelry. There were quite a few knit in this type of yarn, it is customize-able to any weight of yarn (always a plus for handspun!), and is knit from the top-down, so can be knit until you use up your yarn.
I'm excited for the temps to cool down a bit, so I can start knitting!