Today I want to talk a little about suitability of fibre to project, but this article is mainly about sampling…boring but essential! I hope you find some (or all) of it useful. Scroll to the bottom of the page for detailed sampling instructions, or take a look at my slideshow.
We all do it – buy beautiful fleece for a project because of its colour/tactile characteristics/look etc. We might even have a project in mind, and want to get right down to it. We get our fleece home, start spinning or felting it and find that it’s not really what we wanted for that project after all, or that it doesn’t work with the technique we want to use.
There is only one answer for this – you must match your fibre to its end use before you start your project! If your fibre doesn’t match your end use, you will never be satisfied with the finished work. After sampling, you will, of course, be able to either adjust your project or send the wool to your ‘later’ stash!
So how do we go about making sure the project matches your original vision? The answer lies in buying the correct fibre for the project, and then sampling to make sure that it will work the way you expect.
I know a lovely old lady who was repeatedly puzzled about the way her knitting never turned out the way she had intended. Indeed, her garments were always too big, too small or strangely distorted.
Part of the problem was that she was using yarns that were very different from those recommended in the pattern (she wasn’t a spinner), but I got to the bottom of the problem with one question:
“Do you sample?”
“Oh, goodness no, I haven’t got time for that nonsense!”
It’s all quite logical, really. For example, for a really fine knitted or felted scarf you will need a very fine Merino fleece (19 microns or less), whereas for a felt hat you would probably want something a bit ‘meatier’, say a strong Merino, Corriedale, or even Romney, depending on the look you want.
If you are felting, sage advice tells us to keep right away from any Down breeds such as Perendale, Suffolk, Southdown. These are wonderful spinning breeds but do not make lasting felt; in fact some of them don’t felt properly at all! Good reason to buy your fleeces for felting from reputable sources.
No type of wool that has been superwash treated will felt, as it has been altered to prevent felting during washing. And if your generous neighbour has given you a fleece and doesn’t really know what it is, sampling will help you decide whether it’s more useful for making craft items or compost (as is often the case).
Don’t be tempted to miss out the sampling step – it’s the only way to find out what you need to know about your fibre and technique. Keep a sample book to refer to – it will help you with project ideas and it’s a great resource to share with fellow crafters. I put samples mounted on card into a clear book and keep records of all the details of each sample.
Click here to see a slideshow of my sampling process
Sampling for spinning
Make sure you use all the techniques available to you and make several samples. Try to match the twist in your finished yarn to the crimps in the fibre. If you’re spinning sliver, pull several strands and look at them under magnification.
Once you have your finished, washed, pressed square you can check:
Pat Old once said to me that ‘feltmaking is a craft with more than the usual amount of disasters’. The only way to minimize the disasters and make the most of your fibre is to sample, sample, sample.
Every different fleece has its different characteristics; every batch of sliver will reflect the characteristics of the fleeces used to produce it. When the finished size of the piece is critical, it’s essential to thoroughly test for each and every project.
Basic Felting Tests
The rough ‘will it felt?’ test:
Take half a handful of fibre, then compact and form into a small ball by rolling in the palms of your hands.
Felt will shrink most along the length of the fibres; if you want to make felt that shrinks equally, you will need to lay even numbers of layers of fibres in opposite directions. If you use odd-numbered layers, make sure you mark your sample in some way so that you know which edge is which.
Sampling for shrinkage (Nuno-felt)
You can combine fabric/fibre compatibility with sampling for shrinkage in nuno-felt. If you have problems with nuno-felt, often it's not the wool's ability to felt that is the problem - it's the combination of wool, a particular fabric and technique. Not all wools are equal - some will require different treatment from others. Technique is very important here – persuading the little fibres to mesh with the fabric can be tricky and some wools will need more help than others.