Weaving With Alpaca Yarn – Material Spotlight

Weaving With Alpaca Yarn – Material Spotlight

When you think of animal fibers for yarn then you may first think of sheep’s wool since it is one of the most common options for protein yarns. Wool is a great yarn for many reasons, but if you are looking for something a bit softer then you might want to consider alpaca yarn instead! 

Like all fibers there are pros and cons to what you choose to weave with.

Make sure to check out my other material spotlights too!

All about cotton yarn

All about linen yarn

All about hemp yarn

All about wool yarn


This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!



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Take a minute to think about alpacas. You are probably picturing a really fluffy animal with a teddy bear face. They are just so dang cute! This type of alpaca is called a huacaya (wa-cai-ya) and makes up about 95% of the world’s alpaca population. The other 5% of alpacas come from the Suri breed.

Huacaya alpacas have a crimped fleece that grows perpendicular to their bodies, this is what makes them appear so fluffy! The yarn will sometimes maintain some of this crimp even after processing. This could be a pro or a con depending on what you are looking for.

Suri alpacas, on the other hand, have curly fleece that grows down from their bodies and appears like dreadlocks. Any yarn made with this fleece will be smoother and straighter, but it is less common to find yarn made from suri alpaca fleece.

You can probably assume that any alpaca yarn that you come across will have been made from huacaya alpaca fleece.




Aplacas belong to the camelid family that also includes llamas and their more wild cousins the vicunas and guanaco (and camels!) About 6000 years ago, alpacas were selectively bred from vicunas for longer fleece. While vicunas and the other members of the camelid family also produce fleece that can be made into fiber, it is the huacaya alpacas that produce the fiber that we most often buy and create with. 

Alpaca are originally from Peru, but are now raised all over the world. Importation of alpaca to the United States started in 1985, but has since mostly stopped. Female alpaca usually only have 1 baby a year, so the alpaca population is slow growing.

Luckily for fiber artists, though, they produce quality fleece for their entire lives – about 20 years.

Today, Alpacas are raised primarily for their fiber, but have also been historically raised for food and fuel. Their fiber was also once reserved only for Incan royalty.




As we talked about in the beginning of this post, the most common protein fiber that is made into yarn is sheep’s wool. So it makes sense to compare the two types of fibers.

Alpaca fleece is actually structurally considered hair. Though calling it wool is common and acceptable. For the purpose of the post I will be referring to alpaca wool as alpaca and sheep’s wool as just wool.

Due to the hair structure of alpaca (much like wool) it felts really well. A quick reminder that felting is the process of matting hair with agitation, moisture, and heat. Felting occurs when the scales of the hairs intertwine.

If you are looking for a fiber that is especially warm and soft then alpaca is a great option – it is 3 times warmer than wool and incredibly moisture wicking. This makes it great for socks or any type of textile that may come in contact with sweat. It is also a great alternative to wool because it does not have lanolin which means that it is hypoallergenic . If you have allergy to wool, you should still be able to wear and work with alpaca!


Want to learn how to weave tapestry? It is more than just imagery (although that can be a big part of it too!) Follow along with this self-paced online course that you can take from anywhere at any time.

There are now 2 ways to take it – either purchase the whole course at once for a discount or “create your own” course by purchasing just the parts you want! Either way, get 10% off for being a member of the Warped Community!


Fabrics created with alpaca fiber have a noticeable drape to them if constructed at the right warp sett, but can lean towards the heavier side compared to a similar wool yarn. If you are going for a great drape then lean towards the lower end of your EPI range when planning your projects.

A really great aspect of alpaca yarn is their natural color range from light and dark browns, reddish browns, black, to shades of grey. The animals themselves have such a rich set of natural colors that if you find yarn in any of these neutrals then you can probably guarantee that was the actual color of the animal and not dyed to be that way.

Alpaca yarn is also very strong, especially if it is a bit courser. When purchasing alpaca yarn it will usually either be listed as just alpaca or baby alpaca. This coarseness is found mostly in older animals. So if you are looking for a stronger yarn, then you will potentially want to steer away from the baby alpaca and towards yarn made from mature animals.


alpaca mixed fiber yarns

When you go to buy alpaca yarn you may find that a lot of times alpaca yarn is mixed with other fibers.

A common fiber mix is alpaca and wool, but you can also find it mixed with cotton, silk, or really any other fiber. These fiber mixes could make the yarn more or less expensive, but they can also add aspects to the yarn like better absorbency or a lighter overall fabric.



alpaca yarn skeins

While alpaca has many great qualities that make it a fantastic choice for a lot of different types of textiles, no fiber is perfect for everything.

As I talked about above, alpaca is moisture wicking. This makes a great sock or sweater, but not great for projects like towels. If you want a fiber that is really absorbent (perfect for towels) then you will want to choose cotton. Also, in my opinion you would be wasting your alpaca yarn on a towel.

Basically, consider what you are making and what types of qualities you need it to have.



raw alpaca fiber fleece top

Alpaca fleece is shorn once a year in the spring. Don’t worry, it is a relatively fast process that does not hurt the animals. In fact, it helps to keep them cool in the summer months with enough time for their fleece to grow back and keep them warm in the winter.

After shearing, each fleece will be about 3 to 10 pounds depending on the size of the animal and sorted by quality. The back of the alpaca is usually shorn first in one large blanket also called a top. This is will be the softest fiber.

Due to not having lanolin in their fiber, alpaca is much easier to clean than wool. If you obtain raw fleece then you may need to clean out any particulates like dirt and vegetable matter (you can see bits of hay in the raw fleece I have above), but it will not need to be scoured! You can even get away with spinning alpaca without washing it first – just know it will be a bit dusty. Due to this dust, make sure to wash it before weaving with it!


Alpaca is such a beautiful and soft fiber to work with when you are weaving or creating. If you have not already woven with it then make sure to give it a try! You will not regret having an ultra soft scarf, blanket, or anything else to cuddle up with!

And to end he post something non-yarn but still alpaca related:

Random fun fact about Alpacas (and all members of the Camelidae species) they have oval red blood cells instead of round!

Let me know what you are weaving with your alpaca yarn!


-Nicole

References


https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/alpaca-wool-fabric

https://www.wildhairalpacas.com/pages/1414/-whats-so-special-about-alpaca-fiber%3F

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/alpaca

https://rockvillealpacafarm.com/?page_id=15

https://peacefulheartalpacas.com/2012/02/shearing-alpacas/


A Guide To Novelty Yarns For Weaving

A Guide To Novelty Yarns For Weaving

Weaving yarn is usually smooth, strong, and easily threaded through the heddles of your floor loom or rigid heddle loom. These types of yarns can make a great choice for your warp (depending on what you are creating).

Weft yarns, on the other hand, can be pretty much anything – even a material that is not considered yarn!

So what if you have an untraditional yarn that you want to use (especially for warp)?

You know, the fluffy, funky, and/or mixed yarns that you find that have so much personality?

Those are novelty yarns.


This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!



What are novelty yarns?


Novelty yarns are really any yarn that uses inconsistent textures, and thickness, or those that use “unconventional” materials. 

While slub yarn can be a conventional yarn (think of the gist Mallo yarn – one of my favorites!) it can also be considered a novelty yarn – especially when its slubs are very exaggerated. Think very thick and very thin sections.

They are often considered knitting or crochet yarn since their irregularities would generally make them unsuitable for warp. (Not all the time though! We will talk about that soon)

Learn more about choosing warp yarns here.

These yarns are often found either on skeins or in balls/ cakes and work very well for weft since your weft yarn does not have to be under any tension or go through your reeds and heddles. 

A lot of novelty yarns will contain multiple types of yarns spun together to make a chunky multi-textured finished yarn. Due to this, a lot of times these novelty yarns are made with synthetic materials like acrylic and natural synthetics like rayon.

You can learn more about natural synthetic yarns here.

This is not necessarily an issue, but it should be a consideration!


Where to buy them



Novelty yarns can be bought pretty much anywhere – including your local craft store. Since they are most often knitting or crochet yarns these are usually the majority of what is sold at stores like Michaels and Joann.

One of my favorite places, though, to purchase novelty yarns is on Etsy! 

Since Etsy is basically an international marketplace you have so many different options when you look through what they are offering. 

When looking for a novelty yarn on Etsy you might want to consider searching for:


Novelty yarns


This one is probably obvious but click on the link here to go right to the search page!


Handspun yarns


While not necessarily novelty yarns, handspun yarns tend to have more texture and personality than other yarns since they are not commercially made. This can be a great option if you want a novelty yarn made from more natural materials.

You can find handspun yarns on Etsy here.


Chunky yarns


Again, all of these may not be a “novelty” yarn, but you will find some yarns here that have intentional inconsistencies that you may find work really well for the project that you are planning.

You can find chunky yarns on Etsy here.



Art Yarns


This is a great option because the idea here is that this yarn is “artsy” or out of the ordinary. This search option usually brings up some really fun options.

You can find art yarns on Etsy here.


If you are looking on another site you might need to look under the knitting or crochet yarn categories in order to find what you are looking for. More than likely these sites will not have a category for novelty yarns on their own. In this case, you will just need to search through the knitting and crochet yarns for fun finds.

You can find crochet and knitting yarns on the Woolery here!


Want to learn how to weave tapestry? It is more than just imagery (although that can be a big part of it too!) Follow along with this self-paced online course that you can take from anywhere at any time.

There are now 2 ways to take it – either purchase the whole course at once for a discount or “create your own” course by purchasing just the parts you want! Either way, get 10% off for being a member of the Warped Community!


An important thing to keep in mind when you are purchasing these novelty art yarns (or really any yarn) is to pay attention to the amount of yarn you are purchasing.

This may seem obvious, but skein sizes are not regulated. You may think you are getting a really good deal with that $12 dollar skein, but it turns out it is only 1 yard of yarn! Maybe that is ok, but if you need more than that, you may be sorely disappointed.

Especially with any handspun yarn, there is a chance that the amount you receive will be different than you may expect. So always make sure to look at the description when you are purchasing.


What you can do with novelty yarns



The simplest way to use novelty yarns is as your weft. They are great as accents in your weavings with more conventional yarns being the main foundation. This allows you to have an easily weavable piece with extra interest in certain areas (or as the entire weft if you want!) 

These yarns are great for use in wearable weavings like scarves and shawls because they are decorative in nature. They are not recommended for more functional weavings like towels because they may not function the same way as the other materials. If you are interested in doing a project like that then ALWAYS SAMPLE FIRST.

Whenever you are trying out a new yarn that you are not sure of, it is always best to do a sample! This will allow you to experience how it weaves, how it washes, and how it behaves once finished. 

Especially with something like a novelty yarn that you will (most likely) be combining with a more conventional yarn it will allow you to observe how they interact with each other once woven. This can either confirm you are on the right track or help you find a new direction to go.

Read more about sampling for projects here.

Some other options are to use your novelty yarns as your fringe on a scarf or other weaving or for texture and emphasis in a tapestry! For fringe, you can always add it outside of your normal warp fringe by using rya knots at the start of your weaving. 

Learn how to create rya knots here.


How to use novelty yarns for warp on a rigid heddle



Outside of using a simple frame loom, it can be difficult to use novelty yarns for your warp. This is because they are usually chunky and therefore do not fit into your reed or heddle.

On a simple frame loom, as long as the yarn is strong enough – you can use it as warp! You get to space your warps manually since they do not have to fit into any notches or slots.

Read more about simple frame looms here.

Simple frame looms are great, but what if you want to weave with a novelty yarn on a rigid heddle loom?

The best way to do this would be to either have a heddle that will fit your chunky yarn (this may be difficult – but not impossible) or to use a variable dent heddle.

The variable dent heddle is a really great option because you can use both chunky yarns and thinner yarns mixed together. If you want to use your novelty yarn as an accent yarn then this type of heddle is a great option for this.

Many of the big manufacturers make a variable dent heddle (called the weaver’s choice heddle by Kromski) so regardless of the loom you have, this could be an option for you!

I am using a Schacht Flip Rigid Heddle Loom and the Schacht variable dent heddle with the 3 – 8 dent sections.



In case you do not know what a variable dent heddle is:

A variable dent heddle is a rigid heddle that allows you to open it up and insert sections of differently spaced dents. Since you are using sections of heddle instead of one long heddle, you can add an extra space between these sections for your novelty yarn!

This novelty yarn will work in this way because you will basically be using that space as a slot in the heddle and it will behave this way!

Keep in mind that you probably will not be able to use the novelty yarn in the eye of the heddle as well. This means you will have 1 warp of novelty yarn at a time and not a pair.

In order to keep the space between the sections open for the yarn, I wrapped some rubber bands around the top bar of the heddle. This will be easy to remove when I am finished, but also keep everything in place while weaving! You can also purchase extra retainer rings that will do the same thing and look a little nicer.


Most importantly, if you decide to play with novelty yarns then have fun! They are such a great way to add something extra to your weavings and to play around with color and texture.

You can find the novelty yarns featured in this post here!


How To Make Paper Yarn

How To Make Paper Yarn

Creating yarn out of alternative materials has become sort of a tradition here at Warped Fibers because I am always looking at ways to upcycle materials and create something unique!

I have also previously discussed weaving with paper as it pertains to paper strips (taking it beyond a “kids” craft.) 

If you are interested in weaving with paper but you are looking to incorporate it into your weaving practice in a more traditional way then creating paper yarn is a great idea. This allows you to create a long thin yarn that you can use as a continuous weft. This yarn can be used just like any other weft yarn and is not limited to any type of loom!

Here are the other alternative yarn tutorials that you can follow:

How to create t-shirt yarn

How to create plastic bag yarn


This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!



What you need


Paper 

Scissors (not fabric scissors!) or a paper cutter

Ruler (if using scissors)

Pencil

A piece of strong scrap yarn (approximately 8 inches) I am using 8/4 cotton rug warp

Water

Drop spindle (I am using a top whorl spindle)

Niddy noddy (optional)


Choosing your paper


yarn for paper yarn

You can use almost any type of paper to create yarn, but the thinner the paper the better. This is because thinner paper will be more pliant and easier to spin.

Some examples of good paper to spin are:

Newspaper

Tissue paper (what I am using in this post)

Paper towels

You could also spin pages from your journals, notebook paper, or really any paper that is not too thick.

Something to keep in mind when choosing your paper for spinning is to pay attention to what is on the back of the paper. This is because when spinning your paper it exposes both the front and the back. 

If you use paper this is heavily pigmented on one side and white on the other it will create a sort of swirled pattern on your yarn. This could be a really great effect that may want to exploit. If you want a paper yarn that is the same throughout, though, then you will want to make sure it is the same color on the front and the back. 

You may also consider changing your colors as you go to create a self-striping yarn or one that creates a gradient as it continues. Both of these options will require different colored paper used in a specific order as you spin.


How to make paper yarn


cutting paper into strips for yarn

It is important to cut your paper into strips first before attempting to spin your yarn. This will make your paper easier to work with as well as keep the finished yarn the same size throughout. 

You can either cut your paper by hand with scissors or use a paper cutter to do this. The paper cutter may be a bit faster and cleaner, but if your strips are not perfectly straight it is not that big of a deal. Just try to keep them relatively consistent and you will be fine!

If you have used a drop spindle before then this process is not all that different from spinning roving into yarn. The general idea is the same.

If you have not used a drop spindle before – no worries! Here is a quick explanation (and a video following that) of how they work so that you can experiment with your paper.

A few spinning words you should know:

Spindle (drop spindle) – a rod with a weight on one end that is used to spin yarn by hand.

Whorl – the disc at the end of your spindle. Usually acts as the weight.

Leader yarn – scrap yarn that you add to your spindle to get your yarn started.


To start spinning:

Attach your leader yarn to your drop spindle by tying a double knot around the shaft. Then fold one end of your first paper strip into thirds and tie the other end of your leader yarn to your paper at this spot with a single knot.


spinning paper yarn on drop spindle start

Weaving with paper isn’t just for kids! Learn all about how you can take this simple material and bring it to the next level in this 35-page ebook with full-color images, infographics, and instruction! Plus, use the provided pattern at the end of the ebook for exploring beyond plain weave!


Bring your leader yarn up to the hook by placing it in the notch on the whorl. Your leader yarn and paper should then be hooked into your hook to keep it in place while spinning.

Wet your first paper strip just enough to make it a tiny bit damp. Do not soak your paper or it will just fall apart. If it is not wet enough it will not spin easily or smoothly.

Play around with the amount of water you need to see what will work best. Keep in mind that different papers will also require different amounts of water.

I keep my water for spinning in a small dish or bowl next to me and I usually do this on top of a towel to keep my workspace from getting too wet.


spinning paper yarn on drop spindle

Start to twist your damp paper around your leader yarn to get it started.

Normally (for fibers) you would hold your spinning material and let the drop spindle hang as it spins. Depending on your paper it may not be strong enough to withstand this. If it is then great! If not then you can instead either roll the shaft on your thigh or just keep it low while twisting the spindle manually (this is what I did and you will see it in the video below.)

This twist that is created will follow up your yarn and the paper and apply the twist to your paper. 

Continue to spin your drop spindle as needed until your paper is spun to your liking. Keep the very end of your paper unspun and attach a second strip by placing them together – one on top of the other. Then fold them over each other before continuing to spin so that they “grab” onto each other. Continue spinning and the twist will transfer to the second paper and join them together.

If your paper ever breaks then you can reattach it this same way!

…and yes, your paper will probably break multiple times, but practice helps to keep this to a minimum.


spinning paper yarn -adding a new strip

Setting your paper yarn


niddy noddy with paper yarn and drop spindle

Once your yarn is finished you have a few different options to set it and make sure it stays together. Essentially you will be applying a bit of tension to your new yarn while it dries to make sure it does not unply itself. 

The easiest way to do this is by hanging it from something and applying a light weight to it. You want to make sure not to use anything too heavy so that it does not rip your new yarn before it is set.

The potential issue with this method is that it can create creases in your yarn, but it is not the end of the world and works if it is your only option.

You could also snugly wrap your yarn around the back of a chair or anything that can keep it tight while it dries. This is also a really inexpensive option but does depend on having a good place to keep the yarn in the meantime.

The traditional option is to use a niddy noddy.

This funnily named tool is the option most used by spinners who are creating a lot of yarn on a regular basis. This tool is specifically made to create a skein of yarn once it is finished setting.



Want to learn how to weave tapestry? It is more than just imagery (although that can be a big part of it too!) Follow along with this self-paced online course that you can take from anywhere at any time.

There are now 2 ways to take it – either purchase the whole course at once for a discount or “create your own” course by purchasing just the parts you want! Either way, get 10% off for being a member of the Warped Community!


Weaving with paper yarn


newspaper yarn and weaving

Using paper yarn for weaving is not that different from weaving with any other yarns. Since it is spun to be one continuous piece of yarn you do not have to start and stop it as you would if using paper strips. 

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that more than likely your paper yarn will only be suitable for weft. 

If you remember from our post on choosing your warp yarn, the warp has to be strong. It is the yarn that is under tension as it sits on your loom. If you use yarn that is not strong enough to hold up to the tension of your loom then it will break and it will probably break often. 

If you do have broken warps then you can fix them! Learn how to fix a broken warp on different looms here. 

Unless your paper yarn is very strong, you will want to designate it as weft only. This will ensure you get the most out of your paper yarn and you are not constantly having to fix broken warps. 


niddy noddy with paper yarn and spinning yarn book

If you are interested in learning more about spinning then I really like The Complete Guide To Spinning Yarn by Brenda Gibson.

This book goes over spinning all types of materials with different spindles and spinning wheels!

Let me know what you are using your spun paper yarn for in the comments.


Weaving With Wool – Material Spotlight

Weaving With Wool – Material Spotlight

Weaving and wool go hand-in-hand.

In fact, tapestry would not be as we know it today without the use of wool as a common material used in weaving. So what is it about wool that has made such a huge part of the history of weaving itself? How can we use it today to its full potential?


In case you have missed my other yarn spotlights you can check those out here:

Weaving with cotton

Weaving with linen

Weaving with hemp


This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!



Wool as a fiber


wool yarn on cones

So what exactly is wool?

Wool can actually be used to describe many different types of protein fibers from different animals. For example, the fleece from sheep, alpaca, goats, rabbits, and other animals are all called wool.

That being said, when you see “wool” listed as the contents of your yarn or fabric then it is going to be a type of sheep’s wool. Otherwise, it will usually have the animal title preceding it. So unless I say otherwise, wool = sheep’s wool.

Wool fibers are made primarily of a protein called keratin. This is very similar to our own hair. Just like our hair, wool has cuticles that go along the length of the fiber that you can actually feel. These cuticles are responsible for one of the main attributes of wool – the ability to felt.

While felting in and of itself is an artform, it also applies to your weavings and how they behave. We will go more into that a bit later when we talk about pros and cons.


History of weaving with wool


Sheep were first domesticated in about 5000 BCE, but it was not until around 4000 BCE that they began to be utilized for not just their meat, but also their wool and milk. It took 1000 years for the fleece of these domesticated sheep to shift from mostly hair that was unsuitable for creating yarn to mostly wool. Prior to this, most weaving materials were made of cellulose fibers such as linen and hemp

Since wool naturally comes in different colors (whites, greys, browns, and blacks) and because it easily takes dye, it became a prominent material for creating patterned textiles. These textiles were often weft-faced and became tunics and tapestries.

This dye affinity meant that the domestication of sheep changed the future of textiles. Suddenly there were more color options to work with and more imagery could be created.

A quick refresher on tapestry:

Tapestry is a weft-faced weaving that features discontinuous weft. Most often (although not always) these weavings heavily feature imagery. 

Learn more about tapestry here.


How it is harvested and prepared


wool fleece and hand carders

An important thing to understand about wool is that it is a renewable material. This makes it a sustainable option for weaving that you do not have to feel guilty about using. While those that are vegan may abstain from wool since it comes from an animal, wool is collected without causing harm to the sheep. In fact, domesticated sheep have evolved to need shearing in order to live a more comfortable life. 

There are many different types of sheep that produce different types of wool. Some sheep even have a mixture of wool and hair. 

After shearing, the fleece needs to be cleaned before it can be turned into yarn. Cleaning the wool is important to rid it of multiple things you will not want in the final product you use for weaving. The wool is cleaned of large debris such as grass, dirt, dust, and feces.

Most often the fleece is also cleaned to remove the waxes and oils (such as lanolin) from the fibers. Sometimes these waxes are kept on for spinning, but they should always be cleaned off when it comes time to purchase yarn for weaving.

After it is cleaned the wool is carded to make sure all of the fibers are going in the same direction to prepare it for spinning or for weaving. If you are not doing your own spinning or cleaning up raw fiber, then you may not need hand carders. If you do need them, though, then these Ashford hand carders are the ones I am using.


Families of wool yarn


wool and fiber books

There are hundreds of different breeds of sheep from all over the world. We do not have time or really need to go over all of them here. There are some names, though, that you may come across in your yarn purchases that would be good to know.

If you want to learn more about different breeds of sheep then I highly recommend The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.


Merino


There are many different breeds of sheep but not all of them are great for producing fibers for weaving and other fiber arts. There are some breeds known as hair sheep that produce little to no actual wool. Wool yarns can be categorized by the weight and texture of the fibers. One of the most common types of wool that you will see is Merino.

This common family of sheep originated as a crossbreed of Spanish and Moroccan ewes (female sheep) to African rams. Despite its reputation for fine soft fibers, in the Merino family, there are actually many different breeds of sheep that range from having fine to courser wool textures. Since it has become a household name, you can assume that the Merino you can find in everything from socks to sweaters to base layers is of the finer variety. Prior to being dyed, most Merino wool is white or off-white, but can sometimes be found in grey, brown, or black.


Want to learn how to weave tapestry? It is more than just imagery (although that can be a big part of it too!) Follow along with this self-paced online course that you can take from anywhere at any time.

There are now 2 ways to take it – either purchase the whole course at once for a discount or “create your own” course by purchasing just the parts you want! Either way, get 10% off for being a member of the Warped Community!


Northern European Short-Tailed


One of the most well-known breeds of sheep from the Northern European short-tailed family is the Icelandic sheep. These sheep are not surprisingly originally from Iceland and were developed almost entirely in isolation – keeping them pure. In 1985 and 1990 they were brought over to North America.

Icelandic sheep are double-coated where the outercoat is called tog and the undercoat is called thel. These terms are sometimes applied to other types of non-sheep wool as well. These two types of wool are sometimes spun together and sometimes separate. If separate then thel is best to use for anything that needs to be really soft, while tog is best to use for applications that require a strong yarn.

Shetland yarn is another popular breed that is known for its wide range of natural colors. Much like the Icelandic sheep, Shetland sheep are double-coated. The two types of wool that you can expect are “kindly” and “beaver” with the former being very fine and soft and the latter often characterized as scratchy.

Shetland sheep will naturally shed both their over and undercoats, but this happens over a few weeks of time. Instead, like most sheep raised for their wool they are sheared to get all of their fleece at once.


group of sheep

English Longwool


Leicester (pronounced Lester) sheep are a member of the English Longwool family. As their name implies, this family of sheep is known for their long wool. These sheep mainly come from the UK but originated from Rome.

These sheep can be shorn twice a year for shorter gains, or once a year for longer wool. Within the Leicester family, there are 3 main breeds: Leicester Longwool, Border Leicester, and Bluefaced Leicester. I will not be going into all the differences here, but just know that not all Leicesters are the same.

Among these different breeds you can find all colors, but mostly white. The Longwools locks can be crimped or curled.


Cormo


The Cormo sheep do not fall into any particular family but are still notable. Cormos originated in Australia as a cross between Corriedale rams and Merino ewes. They continue to be bred very precisely to keep the wool consistent in look, feel, and yield. They were brought to the United States starting in 1976.

The wool from Cormo sheep has a well-defined crimp and stretches well and is good for both fluffy and lacy applications.



Wool – what it is good for?


Absolutely a lot of things … (get it?)

Anyway, wool is an amazing fiber.

Like most natural fibers wool is biodegradable. As long as it is 100% wool and it has not been treated than when your woven fabrics or scraps are no longer usable you can be happy knowing that they will not be adding to the landfill. If sustainability is important to you then this is just one of the attributes that you will want to be looking for when choosing your fibers.

Learn more about sustainable yarns here.


Wool is flame resistant


Did you know that wool is used by firefighters and other professions where fire could be a professional hazard? Wool is naturally high in both water and nitrogen which makes it much slower to burn than other fibers. When it does ignite (with very high heat) the structure makes it so the fire does not spread and only smolders. Wool is actually considered self-extinguishing as any burning stops when removed from active flames.

It also does not melt or drip which makes it a great option for home textiles or anything that will be against the skin.


woven wool scarves

Temperature regulating


If you have ever looked for performance wear then you may have heard that wool is great for keeping you cool and dry. In fact, wool can actually absorb up to 33% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp. This makes it a great option for anything that you might wear if you are planning to be sweaty.

Wool will absorb both perspiration and moisture from the air. These things will keep you cool in warmer weather and warm in cooler weather by balancing everything out.


Mold and mildew resistant


We previously talked about the anatomy of wool and the fact that it has cuticles all along each fiber. These cuticles are perfect for when you need a yarn with a little extra “tooth” to it. You will not have to worry about your warp or weft sliding around! Some weavers use wool as their warp for tapestry for this very reason. The wool warp grips to the weft and keeps it in place. That is not to say that using a cotton or linen warp will mean the weft will be moving around during weaving, but if you are noticing some slip then you can always try wool!


Every fiber has its drawbacks


While wool is a great fiber for a lot of different applications there are some that you may want to leave for other types of yarn.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind with wool is that it is a favorite of moths.

Moths are attracted to protein fibers and if you have ever had a favorite woolen sweater mysteriously have holes appear in it, you know exactly what I am talking about. This may not be enough reason to not use it at all (do not let the moths win!), but it is something to think about when storing your wool yarns and finished weavings.

Learn more about studio organization (and storing wool) here.

Another possible drawback of using wool is that it can be prone to felting. Depending on what you are going for you may or may not want your wool to felt.

Felting may be advantageous for certain applications or for filling out gaps from weaving. Felting, though, is not always the goal when making woven fabrics. If you are wanting to make sure your wool weavings do not felt then you will need to be very careful when washing. There is also a chemical finish you can get on your yarn to keep it from felting called superwash.

Learn more about yarn treatments and specialty yarns here.


Weaving with roving


weaving tapestry with wool roving

First, what is roving?

Roving is an unspun fiber that has been cleaned and carded so that it is all going in the same direction.

It is basically a long fluffy “snake” of wool that you would normally spin into yarn, but can also be woven as is!

Weaving with roving seems to have become more popular as of late and that is probably because the payoff is huge. Roving created large fluffy areas of texture on the surface of your weavings and can be really beautiful to weave on their own or mixed with more traditional yarns to really make them pop out!

You can weave plain weave, soumak, overshot, and more with roving. So if you are looking for a way to add some extra interest to your weaving then try this out!


Favorite Wool Yarns


The types of wool yarn that I personally use in my studio range from those that are great for tapestry to those that are great for wearable fabrics.

These are the wool yarns that I keep buying!

Harrisville Shetland Wool

Harrisville Highland Wool

Scout Dk Wool


Resources



Natural Synthetic Yarns – Tencel, Modal, Rayon, & Viscose

Natural Synthetic Yarns – Tencel, Modal, Rayon, & Viscose

No, that is not a typo!

Most of us have heard of the two main types of yarn: natural and synthetic. These two yarn types are characterized by not only what they are made of but also how they are made. These yarns also have subcategories that further characterize them (protein, cellulose, etc.) and help to start understanding what they are used for.

So what happens when you have a yarn that is made from a natural material but created with a synthetic process?

You probably guessed it: natural synthetics. 

In our ongoing journey to understand the yarns that we weave with it is time to go over yarns like Tencel, modal, and rayon.

These yarns are often touted as the yarns of the future because they have the best characteristics of both worlds. This is not always the case, though. 

Also, it is important to admit that this is not as clear-cut an article as you would imagine. It is not uncommon for these yarn names to sometimes be used interchangeably and for things to get a bit complicated.

Before we go on – here are my other yarn guides in case you missed them:

Weaving with cotton

Weaving with linen

Weaving with hemp


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By any other name (viscose)


When searching for yarns like these you may also come across different descriptors that all really mean the same thing. These names are: semi-synthetic, regenerated cellulose, and plant-based synthetic.

Speaking of alternate names: the term viscose can be used for any and all types of these natural synthetics, but it is mostly used as an alternative name to rayon. Since it is sometimes used for any natural synthetics, though, it means viscose could either be “good” or “bad”. Natural synthetics are often touted as being sustainable, but that is not quite the full story. So while the generic term viscose could be a good sign, it does not necessarily bode sustainable.

Viscose itself is considered the first generation of natural synthetic fibers so it is understandable that it has become a term associated with all of them. Think of it as the fiber version of Kleenex or Xerox. Those are brand names that are applied to other similar products.

The generations of natural synthetic fibers essentially shows where these fibers sit in the grand scheme of innovation. With each new generation of yarn the process has gotten cleaner and more sustainable.

Just like viscose, the term rayon can also be used as a catchall. The issue with this is that other types of natural synthetics have their own names and their own processes for creation. Some of them are cleaner than others. Using the term rayon to cover all of these fibers makes it hard to distinguish the good from the bad (so to speak.)

Remember that thing you learned in geometry where a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not always a square? It is kind of like that. 

So viscose could be the same thing as rayon and rayon and viscose could also be used to describe other types of natural synthetics…

Remember I said it gets confusing?


How natural synthetics are made


While all of the different types of natural synthetics are going to be a little different in the way they are made, they are all generally made with the same process.

The long story short version goes like this: first, raw materials (plants) are broken down into small pieces with different chemicals. This creates a viscous pulp of raw cellulose (where the original term viscose came from.) This pulp is then extruded through a machine with high pressure to create a fiber that will be spun into yarn.

The biggest difference is what happens to all those chemicals after the yarn is created.


Environmental impact of open and closed-loop systems



When it comes to the production of just about anything there are two types of systems that determine what happens to the byproducts from the creation process.

These are open-loop and closed-loop systems.

Open-loop production systems are those that create the product and anything that is leftover (chemicals) gets discarded. These chemicals then are possibly released into the environment.

Closed-loop systems on the other hand take those leftover chemicals and reintroduce them back into the manufacturing process. This means less waste and no negative consequences for the environment.


Rayon (from bamboo)



Despite one of the previous statements above that rayon is a generic term for natural synthetics, we are going to use the term to mean a synthetic yarn made from bamboo as this is the most common way that rayon is made. 

Rayon (just like viscose) is considered a first-generation regenerated cellulose fiber.

Rayon is probably one of the most commonly used natural synthetic yarns that you will come across. In fact, I guarantee if you take a look through your own closet you will probably have at least a few articles of clothing made with rayon.

If you are not new to the sustainable journey, then you probably already know that bamboo in and of itself is a very eco-friendly material due to the fact that it is fast-growing and requires little to no pesticides.

Bamboo is used to make a lot of different products from toothbrushes to toilet paper to flooring. When it is used to make yarn, though, it has to go through an extensive process to create the shiny and durable yarn that we are all used to.

As stated earlier, the process of creating rayon takes raw bamboo that is turned into a pulp through the use of chemicals. Unfortunately, the chemical (carbon disulphide) used in the rayon process is considered a neurotoxin and is dangerous not only to the people that are making the fabrics, but also to the environment. Rayon is created in an open-loop system which, if you remember, means those toxic chemicals are leaching back into the earth.

The creation of rayon is so toxic that the production of certain types of rayon has actually been banned in the United States.

The rayon that I am using is 8/2 Maurice Brassard Bamboo in cactus.


Vegan (artificial) silk


One of the biggest draws to rayon is that it is often deemed a vegan silk alternative. This is because of its high luster and great drape. If you are someone that does not like to use any animal products then this could be a great option. That being said, harmful for the environment generally also means harmful to the animals that live there.

Tencel and modal are also considered silk alternatives and they are potentially better for the environment. The result of these yarns are very similar to that of rayon as they create a high luster yarn with a great drape.

So why would you choose one over the other? One of the biggest reasons may be price, followed by not enough knowledge of what either or both are made of. Due to the different chemicals needed and their somewhat different productions, Tencel (for example) tends to be a little more expensive than rayon.

If you are just after the sheen, you can also consider mercerized cotton. You can learn more about mercerization in this post on yarn treatments and specialty yarns.




Once again, Modal is not so straightforward. Modal, in general, is a second-generation cellulose fiber that is created with beech trees.

Generic modal can be considered sort of a middle ground between rayon and Tencel. (Tencel is next!) While it uses the same neurotoxin: carbon disulphide that is used in the creation of rayon, it uses less of it. The process of modal creation also employs a catch system that is intended to lessen the leaching of this chemical into the environment.

Hope for modal, though, is not lost. There is a version of modal by the Austrian company Lenzing that is called TENCEL ™ Modal. This type of modal is created with patented technology that traps even more chemicals – keeping them from the environment. They also only use beech trees that are sustainably grown.

The issue with other types of modal is that this same sort of transparency is not there. Other companies do not disclose where they are getting their resources and you could be inadvertently purchasing yarn made from non-renewable sources.

As far as the benefits of modal, they are similar to that of other regenerated cellulose yarns. In fact, modal tends to be even softer and more breathable than Tencel.

A downside, though, is that it is hard to find yarn that is purely modal as it is often mixed with other yarns like cotton. So if you are looking for a yarn that is purely made from modal then, at least at this time, you will have a hard time finding it.


Tencel (Lyocell)



Tencel and lyocell can be one and the same. Where lyocell is the generic fiber – Tencel is actually the brand name that is made by Lenzing (just like modal.)

Tencel is made solely with eucalyptus. This eucalyptus is grown and sustainably harvested. Plus eucalyptus requires little water and no toxic pesticides to grow! That makes it a great choice for a sustainable fiber base.

Lyocell on the other hand can be made with eucalyptus, oak, or birch trees.

Unlike rayon, Tencel and lyocell are created in a more sustainable and conscientious closed-loop system. The chemicals used are also less toxic and continue to be recycled and reused over and over.


Pros and cons of Tencel (lyocell)


As far as sustainability goes, beyond the points we already mentioned, Tencel is also completely biodegradable. That means that when your fabric is no longer of use, or if you have yarn scraps that you do not know what to do with, then you can rest assured that they will not be stuck hanging around a landfill.

Do you know what to do with your yarn scraps? Ideas here!

When it comes to weaving, Tencel is soft, strong, and is prized for the way it holds dye. This high absorbency translates well to practical uses as it is 50% more absorbent than cotton!

The biggest disadvantage is that it tends to be more expensive than some of the other options. Unfortunately, you often have to pay for sustainability.

The tencel that I am using in this post is 8/2 Maurice Brassard Tencel in colors vieux blue, charcoal, and navy.


natural synthetic yarns infographic generations

Different weavers will always have different concerns about their yarns and other materials. Vegan and plant-based may be important to some people and not even a consideration for others. Those looking for vegan options may choose synthetic yarns more often, and those who are sustainably minded may opt for only natural (protein or cellulose) yarns.

Of course, when you are trying to keep in mind both, or you are just looking for some more options, the natural synthetics like rayon, modal, and Tencel can all seem like a great option.

It is important to know where your materials come from and understand the impact they have and not only your weavings, but also the people who make them, and the world we live in.

Despite the confusing interchangeably used terms it can be possible to make a choice that you are happy with. If you are wanting a fiber that is more sustainable stick with those that are labeled Tencel, lyocell, or modal. That way you always know what you are getting instead of being left to wonder.


References


https://www.britannica.com/science/cellulose

https://www.fabricromance.ie/blogs/journal/everything-you-need-to-know-about-tencel-and-modal

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/nov/18/pulp-fabric-everything-you-need-to-know-about-lyocell

https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-ethical-modal/

https://www.the-eco-market.com/tencel-fabric/

https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/rayon-viscose


Yarn Ball Winding Options – Preparing Your Weaving Yarn

Yarn Ball Winding Options – Preparing Your Weaving Yarn

Depending on your yarn buying options you may never need any of these tools to wind yarn. This is because weaving yarn most often comes already wound onto a cone or tube ready to go.

This makes setting up your loom or winding your shuttles simple!

That being said, you may purchase yarn on a skein. This yarn needs to be wound in order to use it, otherwise, it will become a tangled mess. 

Most often yarn on skeins is knitting or crochet yarn. Make sure you know the difference between these types of yarn! You can read about it here.

Depending on the option you choose, the yarn – once wound – will be turned into either a ball or a cake.

A ball of yarn is pretty self-explanatory, but what is a cake?

Essentially, it is the same thing except that the top and bottom are flat.

Neither one is better than the other, the different forms just come from the way that the tool winds them.

So if you find yourself with yarn that needs to be wound then what are your options?


This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!



Ball winder


yarn on yarn ball winder

Probably the most well-known and common way of turning a skein of yarn into a cake: the ball winder is also one of the fastest ways to do it. Despite the name ball winder – it actually makes yarn cakes, but really it does not matter since they do the same thing!

You can either get a manual one or an electric one depending on how much you want to spend and how much work you want to do. These are both great options if you will be winding a lot of cakes and want something that goes relatively fast. 


2 yarn cakes on table with plant

Nostepinne


The nostepinne is the original ball winder! It is also the one you probably have never heard of – until now.

Nostepinne means “nest-stick” in Scandinavian and that is a pretty good name for this tool. It is a polished stick that you nest your yarn on to create a center-pull ball. These polished sticks are a simple tool that you can carry with you anywhere. They are actually pretty simple to use too, but they do take a bit longer to wind your ball than a ball winder. 

They also require a bit of patience to get the rhythm of the ball going. It will actually feel a bit odd at first, but sticking with it will get you a satisfying center-pull yarn ball!

How to use a nostepinne:


nostepinne to wind yarn directions

Open up your skein and either place it on an umbrella swift or stretch it across a stable surface.

Find one end of your skein and either wrap it around the far end of your nostepinne a few times or attach it with a slip knot. This will be the center-pull part of the ball.

Start wrapping your yarn around so that the wraps are sitting next to each other. After you have done this a few times, you can start to cross them diagonally as you twist the nostepinne towards you. You will want to try to catch it on the shoulder of the ball you are making as you go. This will help to make sure that it does not get loose.

Twisting the nostepinne while wrapping will ensure that the ball grows evenly and securely. You will want to make sure that your wraps are not just building upon themselves. Also, make sure that you are not wrapping too tight so you do not stretch out your yarn.


nostepinne to wind yarn directions

When you are done you can simply slide off your ball and tuck in the yarn end that was originally wrapped around the nostepinne!

This is the nostepinne I am using! The Kromski nostepinne in mahogony.

There is more than one way to wrap a nostepinne, but this is the way I was taught. You can always play around with it to find a way that feels natural to you. Another common method is to wrap your yarn in a figure 8 pattern. Try it out and see which one you like!


Knitting needle


Knitting needles are used in much the same way as a nostepinne since they are basically the same shape.

When it comes down to it all you really need is a stick to wrap some yarn around! 

The directions are also the same as for the nostepinne. The only difference is that there is no dedicated notch to attach the center of the yarn to, so just make sure to keep it separate. 

The advantage of the nostepinne over the knitting needle is that the nostepinne will be more comfortable to hold. Since it is a dedicated tool for that purpose it is made to be held for longer periods of time while you are working with it.


knitting needle to wind yarn directions

knitting needle to wind yarn directions

The advantage of the knitting needle is you may already have one in your studio!

If you only need to wind a ball of yarn occasionally then this may be a great option for you. If you will be winding yarn balls often then you may want to invest in a nostepinne or a ball-winder.

I am using the Clover bamboo knitting needles in size 17.



Winding yarn by hand


If you have none of the above and you still need to create a ball to work from then you still have an option! This option does not create a center-pull yarn ball, but it still creates a yarn ball that is in a format you can easily use for warping or shuttle winding.

I have actually gone over instructions on creating a yarn ball by hand in my t-shirt yarn tutorial. If you are looking for a yarn winding option that does not require any extra tools then make sure to check out my t-shirt yarn post.


Do you need an umbrella swift?


umbrella swift with yarn skein

No and maybe.

Let’s first start off with what is an umbrella swift

An umbrella swift is a tool that is used to hold a skein of yarn and turn freely as the yarn is taken from it in order to turn it into a ball or cake. They are often made of wood, but also sometimes made of metal and plastic and they open up much like an umbrella does (hence the name.) This means that despite their open size, they do get smaller and easier to store when not in use. 

Umbrella swifts are a great tool to have if you are winding yarn because it holds the skein for you and does the work of keeping it tangle-free during the winding process.

If you are using either the nostepinne, knitting needle, or winding a ball by hand then you do not need the umbrella swift. You can put the skein around a chair back or even around your knees while you are sitting in order to keep it taught and tangle-free. 



If you are using a ball winder though (and especially the electric ball winder) you will want an umbrella swift to accompany it. So while the ball winder itself is sometimes not that much more expensive than your other yarn winding options, the fact that you need the umbrella swift definitely adds to the expense. 



It does make things go smoother though! The video above was just for fun, but you can see how smooth the process is as the yarn goes from the swift to the ball winder.

I am using yarn by Sheep and Shawl on Etsy!



Regardless of how you decide to wind your yarn, it is always good to have some options in your weaving toolbox (literal and figurative!) If winding balls of yarn is not going to be a regular occurrence then stick with a simple method with inexpensive tools or ones you already have.

If you need to wind your own yarn often then I recommend investing a bit more to get a swift and a ball winder so you can spend more time weaving and less time preparing to weave.


Shipping is now available to Canada through my Etsy shop!

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