Monday, 1 June 2020

Fine spinning and communicating the details

Last summer I started a natural dyeing project, which I am going to write up when it is finished. My current  Fine Spinning project is an unexpected offshoot of this. During the dyeing, for one aspect I needed to dye some silk and wool in the same dye bath and found a blend of the two fibres advertised. The dyeing is being completed under strictly controlled conditions and each different dye bath takes several hours to complete. The silk and merino I had dyed looked marled and when I viewed it under the microscope I was stunned, the ‘silk’ had not taken up the dye at all. In fact the threads looked too smooth to me to be silk. I contacted the supplier who was reluctant to accept my explanation, until the microscopic results were seen. Costs of the fibre were reimbursed but of course not my time. 

So, after this I repeated the dye bath I had been investigating with some hastily spun silk and some separate merino.  As expected both dyed but given the silk was not spun very evenly (1) the colour varied depending on the diameter of the yarn spun. Hence I decided to take upon myself spinning my own fine yarn, both wool and silk as I could be sure of the provenance of both. 

I love fine spinning, in fact that is why I learnt to spin, and I have been a member of the cobweb and gossamer spinning fb group since it started. It was from this group that I came across the  man who runs ‘Fleece Loved Products’ (2) who was developing a custom bobbin for a spinning wheel particularly for cobweb and gossamer spinning. It was great when I realised that he and his wife (a very fine spinner herself ) were to be at Shetland Wool Week. We had some correspondence before we left and decided to meet up at Ollaberry during the week where I could try one of these custom bobbins on my Joy wheel. 

What a real treat that was, sitting amongst the glitterati of the Shetland Fine Spinning ladies and trying out first of all the special bobbin and its support system on my Ashford Joy wheel and then an Ashford e spinner, with custom modifications too. I made some purchases to aid my fine spinning. 

Custom Ollaberry Lace Weight Bobbin, the sheep addition is mine. 

Ollaberry Lace Weight Gauge for Lace and Cobweb Yarns, both sides


So since Shetland Wool  Week I have spun small skeins of fine yarn ready to continue my natural dyeing project. 

So far I have spun: 


Lincoln Longwool 

Norfolk Horn (3)

I was going to stop there, but sorting out my spinning store I found some cashmere and Cormo so think these will now be added....

During this time I have followed postings in the above mentioned fb page and keep in touch with ‘Fleece Loved Products’ and would dearly love it if we (spinners of fine yarns) could report our spinning results in a standardised format that we all understand. Seeing a fine yarn draped across a coin of another country is not useful to me or I guess most people across the world either. 

Fleece Loved Products have more than risen to this challenge (2) and are developing aids that would really help fine spinners to measure their yarn accurately and also report it in a standard way. 

Hence the yarns I have completed follow and I hope provide the information that other fine spinners would want to know. I also have used a microscope and micrometer scale (on a glass slide) to measure the diameter of my yarns and can confirm that the wpi gauge, which is so useful when I spin a fine yarn as I use it, is accurate for diameter when compared with my micrometer measuring. 

You will see I am using a record card called a spinner’s  Yarn Palette. I find it very useful to have all the information attached to the yarn. To me the most useful measure of the gauge of a yarn are m/g and hence the NM number (5). If anyone is interested in trying a sample of this record card in return for some useful feedback I can make a limited number of sets available, just let me know. 

All 3 yarns and their details 

Lincoln Longwool macro

Norfolk Horn macro

Silk macro 

I am not interested  in entering the Bothwell  Spinin ‘The Longest  Thread Competition’   but others might be and I give a link below (5)

I have just got joyfully sidetracked trying to obtain some fine silk and wool yarns that I can use in my natural dyeing project! However, spinning these  different yarns and comparing them has given more questions for me to investigate later!


  1. The thicker yarn gave a lighter colour. 
  2. Fleece Loved Products can be contacted at and their spinning products are stocked and normally available from Jellybeans Yarns on Etsy or via the Beaker Button website
  3. Norfolk Horn yarn is local to me and an historically interesting rare breed fleece. Another post, at least, is needed to discuss the historical importance of the East Anglian Textile industry. This resulted in Norwich being the second city of the land and to the wealth of the region. The breed virtually became extinct and rose from the ashes so to speak by a breeding programme that led to the set up of the  Rare Breed Survival Trust. There are theories and myths about when the breed arrived in this country and much work has been done by specialists in archeological textiles detailing what is actually known.  One excellent more general book about East Anglian Sheep Breeds is Black Faces by Peter Wade-Martins. 
  4. The NM number might look something like this NM 1/49 meaning there are 49 metres per g in the singles, if it is 2/49 it means the yarn has been plyed. Jamieson’s and Smith use this method with their cobweb yarn. I feel it is a good system, one instantly knows the fineness of the singles and hence if it is singles in the photo or plyed. There is an additional Card in with the spinner’s  Yarn Palette which explains and takes you through this calculation. 
  5. The Bothwell  Spinin ‘The Longest Thread Competition