Hacking Yarn Tools: How to DIY an Electronic Yarn Meter

photos and words by Carrie Sundra

How much yarn is in this ball? How do I break up a skein into smaller consistent lengths? How can I wind a specific length of yarn off of this cone? Measuring yarn length is a seemingly simple task, until you try to do it, especially if you expect repeatable results. Usually, a ball or skein of yarn will be labeled with yarn length and yarn weight. It stands to reason that you could accurately estimate the length of yarn in a leftover ball by weighing it and calculating length from the original weight/length on the ball. What many people don’t realize is that label markings are very approximate. Weight depends on humidity, so the same skein can weigh different amounts in different locations. Length is also approximate and depends on the amount of tension the yarn is under. Both figures may also be minimum estimates, with the manufacturer/yarn dyer winding off a few extra yards or grams as standard practice.

Another method of measuring yarn length is winding a skein of a certain circumference and counting wraps. This is a pretty typical method used by handspinners – you create a skein with a niddy-noddy or winder, you know the circumference of the skein (typically 1.5–2 yds or meters), and you count the number of loops in the skein. This isn’t a bad method but also depends on tension of the yarn. Also, once the yarn starts wrapping over itself, or depending on the path it takes around a niddy noddy, the circumference will change. It’s still an estimate.

A third way of estimating yarn length is by using the measuring wheel method. In this method, you wrap a piece of yarn once around a wheel and run the entire skein of ball through the wheel, counting the wheel’s rotations. This is similar to the measuring wheels surveyors use, rolling them along the ground to measure distance. The benefit to this method is that the wheel is a fixed diameter, the yarn doesn’t build up on the wheel so the length that the yarn travels is also fixed, and if you wind from a ball to another ball, there’s generally not a lot of tension on your yarn that will stretch it and heavily skew the results (unlike using a skein winder and swift, where there tends to be more tension from the yarn wrapping around the winder and pulling at the swift). It does depend on the yarn dragging the wheel around as it travels, so it does require a certain amount of friction. Very slippery yarns like 100% silk or nylon may lessen the accuracy. Generally, a larger wheel reduces slippage and undergoes fewer rotations so that some errors don’t add up as much. However, for hacking purposes, I thought using a common household item was easier than constructing a custom device, so I tried out a tape dispenser and had surprisingly good results.

The key takeaway is that any talk of accuracy implies that there is some “truth” against which deviations are measured. With yarn length, there is no real “truth” because length changes with tension, so it’s all an estimate!

Building your own electronic yarn meter

Here’s how you can build your own measuring-wheel-style electronic yarn meter. You can also find these instructions on our Hackaday.io page.

Step 1: Gather your tools

You’ll need:

  • A weighted tape dispenser with 1-inch core, similar to this one.
  • A full roll of tape
  • A digital magnetic counter kit
  • Cardboard
  • A pen or pencil
  • Scissors or an exacto knife
  • Phillips/plus-tip screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Hot glue
  • A hand crank ball winder, like this one.
  • A ball of yarn
  • A smooth container or yarn bowl for containing yarn as it unwinds

Step 2: Cut your yarn guides

Take the roll of tape and trace the inside and outside of the roll. Make two donuts. Cut them out with scissors or an exacto knife.


Step 3: Attach the yarn guides & magnet

Take your yarn guides and push them onto either end of the core of your tape dispenser. They may stay put as-is, but ours loosened and flopped after winding a few balls, so we recommend hot-gluing them in place. Also hot-glue the magnet to the outside of one of the yarn guides. Note: We have an older-style tape dispenser with a round core. If yours has a triangular core, that’s okay too.


Step 4: Prepare the rotation counter

Unscrew one of the nuts on the rotation counter, push the rotation counter through the large oblong hole on the mounting bracket that comes with the kit. Adjust both nuts so there’s about 3/4 inch (19 mm) from the end of the tip of the counter to the mounting bracket. Using pliers, bend the other end of the bracket into an “L”, about midway through the bottom hole on the bracket. (Note: Read through the next step as well; the amount of L or where you bend the bracket may need to be different for your particular tape dispenser.) The tip of the L should be on the same side as the tip of the rotation counter.


Step 5: Assemble the rotation counter and magnet

Place the tape dispenser core with yarn guides back into the tape dispenser. Rotate the core so the magnet is at the top; you’ll need to hold it there with one hand. With your other hand, hold up the rotation counter bracket on the side of your tape dispenser. The magnet and the rotation counter tip should be directly opposite each other, with approximately a 1/8-inch (3-mm) gap between them. If the gap is different, adjust the nuts on the rotation counter. If the rotation counter is more than 1/8 inch above or below the magnet, adjust the place where you’ve bent the bracket.


Step 6: Tape the bracket to the dispenser

Use a few pieces of tape to attach the bracket to the dispenser. The bracket should be as close to vertical as possible. Our tape dispenser had slanted sides, so we folded up a piece of tape and stuck it between the bracket and tape dispenser to hold it in a vertical position. This helps with consistent spacing between the magnet and counter, which helps with consistent counting! At this time, also use a few pieces of tape to tape over the serrated edge of your tape dispenser. We don’t want it roughing up your yarn!


Step 7: Attach the rotation counter to the display

The rotation counter should already have stripped wires, meaning some copper strands are exposed from the insulation, but the strands might be a little frayed. Using your fingers, twist each of the wire ends together so they’re nice and tidy. The LCD should by default have a battery installed and be displaying all zeros in black. If the display is completely blank, unscrew the bracket and back compartment, insert a new battery, and screw it back together. With the Phillips screwdriver, unscrew each “COUNTER” terminal on the LCD display a few rotations so they’re loose but still screwed in a little. The word “COUNTER” is embossed in the white plastic and may be difficult to see; we’ve used a marker to make it black in the photo. Insert the wires between the two plates in each terminal. It doesn’t matter which wire is on the left or right. Screw the terminals back down tightly so the wires are firmly sandwiched between the plates. Set the LCD next to the tape dispenser.


Step 8: Test your counter

Manually rotate the tape dispenser core around a few times, passing the magnet by the tip of the rotation counter. With each pass, the display on the LCD should count up! Note that there’s no way for it to tell direction – it will count up by one no matter which way you turn the core. Press the Reset button to zero the count. We don’t use the pause button; note that if you press it, the counter will no longer count up.


Step 9: Set up your winding

Yay, you’re ready to test it out with some yarn! Clamp your ball winder to a surface, like you would for winding any ball of yarn. Set the tape dispenser in front of the yarn guide so the taped-over serrated edge is opposite your yarn guide. Place the LCD someplace you can see it while winding. Place the yarn container (or yarn bowl) in back of the tape dispenser so all 3 parts are in a line. Take the core out of your tape dispenser. Take an end of your yarn from the ball (if you have an inside vs outside choice, we tend to prefer inside. If the inside is trapped, outside is totally fine), and loop it around the core once, leaving about a one-foot (30-cm) tail. Direction of the loop doesn’t matter. Place the core back inside the tape dispenser, making sure the yarn is within the two yarn guides. Run the end of the yarn through your ball winder’s yarn guide, and attach it to your winder core.


Step 10: Wind and count!

Make sure your yarn is between the yarn guides in the tape dispenser. Zero the count on the LCD display. You will need to guide the yarn properly with your non-winding hand so the core doesn’t jump out of the tape dispenser. Take a loop of yarn from the ball side, and bring it toward you and above the ball winder. Between this and the pull from the ball winder, you should be able to keep a little bit of tension on the tape dispenser core, pulling it toward you, which keeps it seated. We found that pulling the yarn all the way to you and holding it directly above the ball winder was comfortable and worked well. Start winding away! You’ll get approximately 8 rotation counts per crank of the ball winder. Keep winding slow and steady so the core doesn’t jump and so you don’t get going so fast you miss counts. This didn’t happen to us but could theoretically happen. Keep cranking at about 1 to 1.5 cranks per second. When your run out of yarn, since the core is weighted, it will stop. It won’t freespin and add extraneous counts. Check out our video of this step:


Step 11: Do the math!

Now on your LCD, you have a display of number of tape core rotations undergone while winding this ball of yarn. Now let’s turn that into a measurement of length! Tape cores are generally a standard 1 inch (25.4 mm) in diameter in the U.S. We need the circumference to figure out how much yarn goes around with each rotation. Easy-peasy – circumference is just diameter x pi. So 1 inch x 3.14 = 3.14 inches (7.98 cm) of yarn per rotation. There are 36 inches per yard (or 100 cm per meter). So multiply your number of rotations by 3.14 and then divide by 36 to get yards. Or multiply rotations by 7.98 and then divide by 100 to get meters.

But what if you have a triangular-shaped core? You can take a piece of yarn, wrap it around the core, mark the beginning and end of the wrap, then unwrap it and measure the distance between beginning and end. This is your equivalent circumference. Multiply it by the number of rotations to get total length. If you measured in inches, divide by 36 to get yards, or if you measured in cm, divide by 100 to get meters. Our triangular core’s equivalent circumference was about 3 inches.

We’ve already talked about how it’s difficult to speak of “accuracy” and measuring yarn length because there are so many variables and conditions. There will be a little bit of yarn consumed in the measuring wheel setup that won’t be accounted for, and the last bit that comes off the counter at the end may not cause the core to rotate. This won’t add up to be more than 1 yd. We’ve talked about yarn tension, and consistent length measurement will depend on consistent yarn tension throughout the winding, regardless of how much the ball is flopping around. We also mentioned fiber content and slipperiness; stickier yarn like non-superwash wool won’t slip on the core while 100% silk or nylon might. Speaking of the core, if it’s a little bigger or smaller than the standard 1-inch diameter, that could account for some error, and you may want to plug in the actual diameter of the core into the calculations above. Your speed and whether you have to start and stop to fix snags may also introduce some error.

Even with all of these variables, we can get an idea of measurement repeatability by winding the same ball over and over again. We found that if you’re an experienced yarn handler who is able to quickly and automatically adjust your fingers to keep consistent tension while winding, you can achieve very repeatable results, within 3–5% over multiple windings of the same ball. If you’re not as experienced with yarn management, then it’s closer to 10%. So if you want to be conservative in your length estimation, estimate that the minimum length of yarn in your ball is 10% less than your calculation. Happy yarn length estimating!

Carrie Sundra is an engineer with a serious yarn addiction, who decided to leave a life of electronics and high-tech spy planes for hand-dyeing and knitting. Alpenglow Yarn started in 2009 with 3 words: Glowing Natural Color. Her most well-known products, the SkeinMinder and SkeinTwister, add automation to winding and twisting operations, make the process more efficient, and help scale up production. You can find out more at alpenglowyarn.com.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Sending double-coated fleece to a fiber mill

words and photos by Terri Louise

Although some spinners really enjoy processing an entire raw fleece from start to finish, not everyone has the desire, or the facilities, to handle the initial prep work. A fiber mill can turn a raw fleece into soft, spinnable roving – but double-coated fiber has some special challenges. Here’s what to ask before you send a double-coated fleece to a mill.

Some of the basic questions apply to any fiber sent for processing – what is the mill’s pricing structure, do they have a minimum weight requirement, and what services do they offer? Virtually any mill can wash, pick, and card wool into roving. If you have a preference (such as bumps), find out in what finished form their roving comes.

For a double-coated fleece, the most important question is if the mill can handle the fiber length. The outercoat on some breeds can be 15 inches or longer. Not all mill equipment can deal with that length. Others may have an extra charge for hand-feeding long fiber into the equipment (this does not necessarily make the total processing more expensive).

If you want roving that combines the two coats, many mills are capable of doing that. I have sent Icelandic lamb fleece to Ohio Valley Natural Fibers several times and have gotten back lovely roving. The combined coats of lamb or adult can be softly spun for a lopi-style singles yarn or spun and plied various ways. But some processors have the machinery for an additional service: dehairing.

The special carding cloth on the dehairing machine rollers removes coarse guard hair and vegetable matter

Dehairing machines were developed for removing the coarser guard hairs from fibers such as cashmere, alpaca, and bison. A series of rollers with different textures separate out the finer, more desirable undercoat. Double-coated sheep breeds can benefit from this option as well.

Carrie, owner of America’s Natural Fiberworks, said a dehairing machine has another advantage. Although the best results always come from sending good-quality, well-skirted fiber, the reality is that many fleeces have a fair bit of VM (vegetable matter) and second cuts. A dehairing machine will take out quite a bit of both of those undesirable items.


Should you have your double-coated fleece dehaired? For an adult fleece, this will give you two distinctly different rovings – wonderfully soft undercoat and the coarser outercoat. Carrie said clients often get the outercoat made into sturdy core-spun rug yarn, but it can also be returned loose or as roving. Be sure to specify your choice from among your mill’s available options.

For a lamb fleece, the difference between the under and outer coats is not as pronounced, and dehairing will remove little of the outercoat. However, if your lamb fleece has VM or second cuts, dehairing will improve the final result.

As a comparison, I sent 6 pounds of Icelandic lamb fleece to America’s Natural Fiberworks. I had half of it dehaired and half processed normally. The result – dehairing lamb fleece made only a minor difference (granted, it had nearly zero VM or second cuts). The non-dehaired fiber had a 68% yield versus a 65.5% yield for the dehaired fiber. This meant the dehairing machine removed less than 2 ounces of fiber out of 3 pounds. The spinners who sampled both the dehaired and non-dehaired lamb roving did not consistently find an obvious difference – they liked it all!

Dehaired (left) and non-dehaired (right) Icelandic lamb roving
Dehaired (left) and non-dehaired (right) Icelandic lamb roving and yarn

Fiber mills are a great resource for those who want, or need, their services. If you have a double-coated fleece that needs processed, ask a few extra questions to make sure the mill can handle your fiber. Dehairing is an additional option that may be suitable for the results you want. Let the mill do the prep work – then enjoy the spinning!

In 2013, Terri Louise got two pregnant Icelandic sheep off Craigslist, and discovered the fiber community. She loves caring for the sheep, working with their fiber, and the fact that there is always more to learn. Follow their adventures at Spotted Sheep Farm.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Playing with Icelandic

words and photos by Barbara Bundick

At the 2019 Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, I purchased an Icelandic lamb fleece with lovely golden locks curling over a snow white base.

Whatever I did with this fleece, I knew I wanted to keep the tog and thel together. The tog, by the way, are the long curly locks that shed water, keeping the sheep dry. The thel is the soft down that protects the sheep from the cold. After reviewing my options, I decided to try coreless core spinning the locks.

Once I skirted and then washed the fleece, I took a closer look at what I had. I admit I was disappointed. Not only did the fleece contain an overabundance of second cuts and vegetable matter (VM), much of the thel, the luscious soft white down, was shot through with black fibers, probably kemp. There was no indication of any of this in the judge’s review sheet.

Word to the wise: don’t take the judge’s review sheet at face value. Always check for yourself. Second word to the wise: don’t impulse buy a fleece on Sunday morning in the few minutes available before running off to class.

Ah well. Normally I would comb the worst of the VM out. However, since that would separate the thel from the tog, combing wasn’t an option. I was stuck, but since my goal was to practice coreless corespinning, I decided I could live with the flaws.

Coreless corespinning is the same as corespinning except you wrap the fiber around the core at the same time you’re spinning the core. For me, that means keeping my left thumb on the edge of the drafting zone and my right thumb in the middle of the drafting zone. I spin the fiber between my thumbs into the core. The fiber outside my right thumb rides up over the right thumb, wrapping itself around the core. By keeping the tog locks on the right, beyond the right thumb, they would be free to wrap loosely around the yarn and then shake free when it was time.

I tried corespinning two ways – fast and slow. The slow method consisted of separating out the locks and fanning out the cut end. I spun the cut end while the lock was allowed to curl around the core. It worked, but it was slow and picky.

So I tried the faster method, which consisted of fluffing out a bunch of the washed locks combined. It also worked, but I wasn’t quite able to keep the locks out of the core the way I wanted to. So I returned to the slow, picky method and declared success – or at least as much success as I was going to get given all the kemp.

Will I try core spinning locks again? Probably. I do love a nice Icelandic fleece. The rest of this fleece, however, will be a gift to the compost pile.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

The electric issue is coming!

Yes, that’s right, the summer issue is filled with tools that go vroom vroom, buzz buzz, or even purr quietly. So of course it covers the one so many of us have and enjoy – the electric spinning wheel, but it also talks about carders, winders, dyeing, and drones. It includes blending, spinning, plying, consistency, planning, traveling, and stories that will inspire and delight. There’s history, evolution, and a spinner who sells everything to set out as a spinning nomad. Then it more loosely interprets electric and talks about conductive fibers, sparkle, and bright colors. Of course, there are amazing projects too.

Don’t miss this issue; make sure your subscription is active by May 20th (if you subscribe and are out of issues you’ll get a separate email with a direct link to your account).

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Spinning a distraction

words by Alissa Barton, fiber and yarn photos by Alissa Barton, photo of Alissa by Brad Barton, photos of sheep by Sian Tarrant

Anyone who follows my social media (see bio at end) will have noticed I spent the very early part of 2020 spinning some gorgeous purple roving. As a handspinner, I appreciate the story behind the wool, and this particular wool and this particular sheep have a fascinating story.

North Ronaldsay is a tiny, remote island off the coast of Scotland – part of a group of islands called the Orkney Islands. North Ronaldsay is the northern-most of these islands, lying farther north than the tip of Norway. The island was inhabited as early as the Iron Age, and some stone buildings from this era still stand. Nobody knows for certain how or when the sheep came to the island, but the North Ronaldsay sheep are part of a group of sheep breeds called Northern European Short-tailed Sheep. These are tiny little sheep, very primitive in their genetics – meaning they have not been bred or “improved” by mixing with other breeds to change characteristics such as meat yield or fiber quality. They stand only about 16 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh about 55 pounds or so. Each sheep produces a fleece weighing only about 2 pounds. Compare that to your average Merino fleece which can weigh upwards of 25 pounds and you can begin to see why there isn’t much North Ronaldsay wool in the market.

There are two main flocks in the world: one on North Ronaldsay and another that was moved to Orkney in the 80s. The North Ronaldsay flock is community owned, with each crofter being allowed to own so many. The flock is governed by the world’s only remaining “Sheep Court,” which originally consisted of 11 men (10 locals and a vet), but these days anyone with a stake in the flock is welcome. Only 50 people remain to inhabit the island which used to support about 500. Most of the population is older; the last student graduated and the school was shuttered years ago.

Other than their remarkable size, there is one more special thing I find fascinating about North Ronaldsay sheep. They eat only seaweed! Back in the early 1800s most of the people who lived on the island made their living harvesting seaweed and turning it into soda ash. The market for soda ash collapsed, so the decision was made to turn the islanders into farmers instead. The world’s longest dry stone wall (or sheep dyke) was built from native rock around the entire perimeter of the island – over 13 miles of wall. This wall keeps the sheep on the shore and allows the inhabitants to improve the interior of the island to better suit the raising of food crops and farm animals, including other breeds of sheep and cattle. The entire island isn’t very large, only about 2.7 square miles, so there isn’t much room for even that. The dyke keeps the sheep on the shore where their food supply is and also keeps them from getting inland and breeding with other sheep and diluting the breed. In fact, their very special diet keeps them from being able to graze on regular grass. They can get copper poisoning from the grass and die. There are very few of these sheep left in the world, with only about 600 ewes (females) still breeding. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists them as vulnerable.

All of this does nothing to explain my fascination with them, so here is how it began: I have a dear friend who was facing some pretty ugly medical stuff. The day before her first major surgery, I was reading through my morning news feeds while she and I were texting about the presurgical horrors she was enduring, and I stumbled upon an article advertising that the Sheep Court of North Ronaldsay Scotland was looking for a new Sheep Dyke Warden, someone who would come live on the island and repair the dry stone wall, who would be responsible for keeping the sheep on the shore and healthy. There were no real job specs given; you had to be willing to live and work in a harsh climate (wind swept, often stormy, rocky, full of birds and natural beauty) and walk miles and miles surveying, repairing, and exploring this beautiful old wall. You got to talk to the feral sheep – these sheep are actually handled very rarely, only during lambing season and when the herd is culled; otherwise, they roam the rocky, sandy shores of the island doing sheepy things. I found a picture online of the sheep (my friend is a spinner and knitter as well) and said, “You know, you could just skip all this surgery stuff and we could go do the sheep warden thing instead.” I knew full well she wouldn’t, but the fantasy was born and during her ongoing ordeal I would send her pictures of the sheep or the island, anything to divert her attention from the real situation, if only briefly.

One day, I found a shop update for one of my favorite dyers of fiber, Sheepspot from Ontario, Canada. I adore Sasha’s podcast where she talks about her quest to bring endangered sheep’s fleeces into the hands of everyday spinners and to expand everyone’s knowledge about these breeds to try to save them. Sasha had obtained a small amount of North Ronaldsay wool, which she had dyed and put in her shop after airing an episode about the breed. I ordered some! I got this lovely, violet wool that is very different from any other kind of wool I had ever spun, but with my friend facing yet another surgery, I was determined to spin it right away and see what would come to pass.

These sheep are double coated, meaning they have a soft, downy inner coat and a wiry outer coat. The inner coat keeps them warm. The outer coat wicks the water away from their skin. The outer coat is rough and not that great in handspun, and this wool still had a bit of that outer coat in the fiber. I decided I would spindle spin it on my Turkish spindles and carefully remove the outer hairs as I spun. Ha! That plan was quickly thrown out in the first 15 minutes of spinning. I decided instead I just needed to accept the fiber for what it was and enjoy the spin, not worrying about what I would do with the finished yarn just yet. It would become something.

I learned that the wool I was spinning was processed right there on North Ronaldsay in a wool mill made in Canada by Belfast Mini Mills. I had toured the little family-owned factory just months before while teaching on the Craft Cruises tour of Canada and New England. These mini mills allow for small batch processing of boutique fibers and yarns. The tour was fascinating. I highly recommend stopping by if you find yourself on Prince Edward Island, or you can virtually tour the mill factory yourself on their webpage. The Sheep Court purchased and installed a mill in the bottom floor of the old lighthouse on the island, and you can purchase finished yarns direct from that mill.

While I spun and my friend recovered, the Sheep Court was able to fill our dream position. I am beyond excited to tell you that the new Sheep Dyke Warden of North Ronaldsay Island is Sian Tarrant, a 28-year-old woman! Sian has started a fabulous blog about her adventures.

In the meantime, my 4-ounce bundle of roving became 380 yards of 2-ply fingering weight yarn. It is a wee bit rough for close to the skin wear, so socks were right out. Dreaming of teaching on a future cruise of the British Isles, I chose to knit my North Ronaldsay wool into a small poncho/shoulder cover. The virus has kept me home so far, but someday I will have a beautiful picture of me, standing on a ship, wearing this special piece. Better yet, my friend has made it through.

Alissa Barton (Knitting Fairy Original Designs) learned to knit and spin as a child and has never stopped. She discovered a love of teaching crafts in high school and has taught classes around the U.S. since 1990. She has published two books on knitting with bamboo and is currently working on her next book. You can find her on Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon as KnittingFairy and as TheKnittingFairy on Instagram.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Not All Shetlands Are Double Coated

words and photos by Lynne Peachey

Recently, there has been much discussion on social networks concerning the Shetland sheep being double coated. But not all Shetlands are double coated, so spinners should be aware of the product they can expect when ordering a Shetland fleece for spinning.

Generally, in the UK the Shetland sheep in not dual coated. The fleece is very fine, of medium length staple, and with a soft handle. This type of Shetland could be considered the “classic” type.

During the latter part of the past century, breeders on the UK mainland, adhering to the Shetland Flock Book Society Standard and tradition have bred to maintain a fine-wooled, single-coated phenotype reflecting the best that Shetland had to offer.

The 1927 Standard which breeders work and show to states, “Wool – Extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed.” Judges look for around 10 crimps per inch when selecting a show winner.

The Shetland sheep is a primitive sheep, which means it is very hardy, surviving outside during winter when some commercial breeds would need to be housed. They also browse on various vegetation rather than depending on only lush grass. Having said that, it is believed that sheep with this fine fleece would not survive into old age on Shetland. And it is on the island of Foula (one of the Shetland isles) where this “double coated” type would be particularly found experiencing even wilder weather!

Some Shetland breeders sell their older ewes to a more southerly environment where it is not such a challenge to survive the winter.

On my visits to Shetland, I did note that some flocks bred for meat production have been progressively selected to provide a larger animal. These are still Shetland sheep but provide more meat and a larger, good single-coated fleece. I processed a beautiful large white fleece which I spun as a double knit equivalent and knitted a hip-length aran jumper. This fleece weighed about 3k, whereas the general Shetland on the mainland may yield about 2k.

Pure-bred Shetland sheep tend to shed their fleece in spring (sometimes starting as early as February!). The growth of new fleece can cause a rise or break, and where this is present the fleece can be plucked or rooed by hand. This process does not hurt the sheep, and in fact some of the older ones enjoy the process as we would with a spa treatment! The timing of this can be different in each individual sheep. Rooed fleece can be amongst the softest because the fibres have no harsh cut ends as occurs with a sheared fleece, and since it is not shorn, there are no second cuts!

For more information and pictures about the different types of Shetland fleeces, see Shetland Fleece Types on the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association website.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

April Vlog with Jacey and Jillian

On April 24, Jacey Faulkner and Jillian Moreno hosted another quarterly PLY vlog, with a live virtual chat with spinners from all over. If you missed it (or want to watch it again), you can catch up with it on YouTube. In this video, Jacey and Jillian share their favorite parts of the Spring 2021 Double-Coated issue, including the indie businesses that provided fiber or tools for the issue. Check out the behind-the-scenes information that Jacey talks about with the progression of one of the illustrations in the issue; you’ll get a good laugh at the earlier versions! Also, Jacey explains why the issue’s cover looks different than expected and originally presented. Jacey and Jillian also each spin on a Daedalus Sparrow, which is a really fun e-spinner. And Jacey shares tips for teaching kids how to spin, using her son as an example. Finally, get a sneak peek of the upcoming Summer Electric issue, which comes out at the beginning of June.

Links mentioned in this quarter’s video

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Interested in contributing to PLY Magazine as an advertiser, writer, designer, etc.? Click here for details.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Replicating Lopi by Substitution

words and photos by Alexina Hicks

I like Istex lopi yarn. It’s got character, it’s pretty unique in its genre, and it garners the shelves of a huge section in Icelandic grocery stores for more affordable prices than junk food. It isn’t a surprise that many passionate handspinners have conducted extensive studies to determine how to recreate this type of yarn. What if I want to spin a DIY lopi yarn but I don’t have any Icelandic wool? Can I replicate the effect of lopi yarn by substitution? What do I need to get as close as possible to it? For my research to be as exact as possible, I needed to create a database of comparisons between handspun Icelandic lopi and multiple imitation samples. Through differentiation, I can grasp which components make lopi unique and which characteristics to strive for in order to imitate it.

Real deal lopi

For starters, I must define what lopi is. Thus I observed a strand of mill-spun Istex Léttlopi for a quick analysis. It is a singles yarn of about 9 WPI. The Z twist angle is somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees. To the touch, it feels as if it were finished by fulling. This makes sense since the process gives the singles yarn more strength. The composition is a blend of the undercoat and outercoat of Icelandic sheep. The preparation for spinning clearly seems carded as the alignment of the fibers and the halo effect stray away from worsted characteristics.

I then moved on to observing the locks from two fleeces I acquired during festival excursions: one golden brown and one stunningly grey and black. My goal was to distinguish the parts that make up lopi. I separated the two coats by hand, pinching the tip of the outercoat and wriggling it playfully right and left as I tugged it out of the undercoat. This undercoat, known as thel, is incredibly soft, airy, and fine. It also feels a little dry. It’s matte in appearance. The crimp is weak, uneven and somewhat flat. It’s a perfect example that low micron is not always synonymous with high crimp. The length is about 2.5 inches long. The outercoat, tog, is very inconsistent in length, ranging from 6 to 9 inches long. Luster is high, and the micron is also clearly high as it quite resembles hair. The crimp is almost non-existent at 3 waves per 5 inches.

I took multiple measures of the tog and thel ratio from the two fleeces. The results were constant, and the average is 45% tog and 55% thel.

From the Icelandic fiber I intended to spin two sample types. In one, the locks were carded as is, like Léttlopi. In the other, I separated the two coats first and then blended them with the measured ratio. I wished to determine if that extra step distorted the lopi. If so, I should expect my replicated samples to be different from the get-go.

I carded and dizzed the wool off into roving. I then settled at the wheel. My Majacraft Rose likes to dance this song to a ratio of 6:1 for a good groove. I drafted at every treadle to keep twist to a minimum. I started with the true lopi preparation. The two lengths and textures interplaying gave me a slight shock. I found that a backwards draft helped pull out both types of fibers. Used to spinning fine, I needed to adjust to fatten my strand to the right size, but the fibers were struggling against me and refusing to offer a constant flow. Once I did get the size I was looking for, suddenly thickness alone seemed to naturally draft out both types of fibers. As I spun the combined preparation, I noticed it was actually a little easier to spin, but wherever the fibers were not perfectly blended, each coat agglomerated when pulled out by the twist.

Once done, I gave the skeins a nice spa treatment with fulling. Then I showed them who’s boss and thwacked them silly. Finally I hung them up and kissed them goodnight. When I returned, they were all relaxed. The first thing I noticed occurred during a rub test on my neck. The yarns have different scratch levels. Between carding the locks and carding the two separated coats together, the first is definitely softer. After mulling it over, I realized that when I positioned the locks onto my hand cards, the thel was the first one to naturally nestle into the tines, while the tog remained in my hand and needed to be layered over. This was contrary to the order in which I had placed my 2 separated coats on the cards to blend them.

I prepped a new sample, separating the 2 coats and layering first tog, then thel. I blended more thoroughly. Once spun up, I’m astonished; the singles yarn is now softer, more similar to the original lopi sample. I knit swatches and can see the togthen-thel combination stands out: more toothy with wiry stitches and a soft halo missing. The brown wool has a more golden shade from the outercoat. In contrast, the thelthentog is almost identical to original lopi.

Replicating with other wools

Next was time to be creative and have fun. I did some stashdiving and pulled out participants.

As stand-in for tog, I selected Cotswold and Karakul. Cotswold is similar in luster but shorter, and the crimp is tighter. Karakul is similar in crimp and density but with a much higher micron count, and it is a double-coat blend in itself.


As stand-in for thel, I selected Cheviot, Jacob, and Finn. All three were chosen for their staple length akin to the Icelandic undercoat. Cheviot was chosen for its dryness, Jacob for its similar feel to thel. Finn was chosen for its softness similar to the undercoat and as an attempt to counteract the toothier longwools.

As I got ready to mix wools per ratio, I wavered, wondering if it wasn’t a little sacrilegious to take soft wools and mix them with a coarser fiber. Isn’t the trend to enhance softness? What could motivate this procedure?

The pragmatic answer that comes to mind is science; this experiment extrapolates on the two roles of the Icelandic double-coat: thel offers impermeability and tog helps to cut the wind. If I want to make outergarments, I need to understand how to imitate lopi to maximise these traits. I also find a reason coming from the heart. I enjoy spinning all wools, including that of coarser breeds. But I don’t always have a project to match the spin because the result is too rough for my skin. A lopi imitation would give extra meaning to those longwools we love to spin but aren’t sure we want to wear.

I started with two mixes: Karakul/Jacob and Karakul/Finn. During spinning they both feel more puffy and are easier to draft out. The resulting yarns are similarly dry to the Icelandic ones, but are lacking sheen. In retrospect, I realize the Karakul’s undercoat must have affected the ratios of my sampling with more shorter fibres, which are matte and voluminous. Knit up, Karakul/Finn has a round stitch similar to Icelandic. Karakul/Jacob yields a flat fabric and is the most rustic of all the yarns. Still, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that although the Karakul mixes are rougher than Icelandic, they feel softer as a fabric than as a yarn, and I’m comfortable at the idea of wearing them.

I also spun Cotswold and Cheviot, which achieves a halo, but the longwool clearly has more fibres per weight than tog. Knit up, the yarn is more stringy and dense. Furthermore, the general appearance and texture is clearly down-like.


I moved on to Cotswold and Finn. This mix certainly feels amazing, but it’s definitely not as dry.  It’s slightly softer but not by much. The glow from the Cotswold shines through, imitating Icelandic.


Finally I tried combining some super long Cotswold (about 11 inches long) with my short Cheviot that barely reached 2 inches. I could only spin the longer fibers and the shorter ones surrounded the core unevenly, giving a wacky halo without actually gripping properly into the twist. The knit swatch shows a thin stitch and the Cheviot gives a chalky but diaphanous complexion and texture.


A difference shared by all mixes compared to Icelandic is elasticity. The Icelandic skeins have maintained the same circumference from when they came off the niddy-noddy. The others have shortened, pulled tight by the crimp of the short wools. We can also clearly see it in the width of the knit swatches.

Verdict: Can I make a true fake lopi?

All things considered, Icelandic wool is incomparable. But so is each type of wool. However, my answer is a little more nuanced regarding the necessity to make lopi exclusively with Icelandic wool. Let’s look at it this way: Can I make waffles without using wheat flour? If I use something else, are they no longer waffles? With the right adjustments, I can get close to the real thing. The taste is a little different, but the shape and presentation make the cut. So why not make a substitute yarn and call it a lopi?

If you wish to make a DIY lopi with your fiber stash, here are key elements that contribute to proper substitution:

  • Weigh for a ratio. Aim for a bit more of the shorter, finer stuff (around 55%) and a bit less than half of the coarser, longer stuff.
  • Layer the shorter fibers first when carding.
  • Blend your short and long fibers well.
  • Plan for a moderate difference in length between your two types of fibers, estimated at a third.
  • Check your crimp since it will drastically impact the thickness of your singles and the elasticity. For example, the Cheviot felt like an outsider with its helical crimp dominating the yarn.
  • Aim for luster in at least one of your ingredients.
  • Adjust softness levels by compensating one wool’s micron with the other.

Afterthoughts

Every step of the process was rewarding. The act of knitting the yarns triggered an irresistible desire to initiate woolly projects. I’m inspired to use coarser wools, and I’ve gained the confidence that I can make something wearable with them.
Even though rice flour waffles aren’t the same as whole wheat ones, the flavours brought on by substitution can still be rich and welcome. Luckily this principle applies likewise to my spinner’s diet!

Alexina Hicks with her husband and their children live in the charming countryside of Quebec, Canada, where she dedicates her days to her Master Spinner studies and teaches spinning, knitting, and all things in-between. Together with her darling man they form L’aime Laine (The Wool Lover), creating spindles and other spinning tools as well as handprocessed fibres from local farms. Learn more at www.alexinahicks.com.


Lopi par substitution

écrit par Alexina Hicks

Je suis de celles qui aiment la laine Istex lopi. Elle a du caractère, elle est unique en son genre et elle garnit les étagères d’une grande section des épiceries islandaises pour des prix plus abordables que les croustilles. Ce n’est donc pas surprenant que plusieurs fileuses passionnées aient déjà mené des études élaborées pour déterminer comment imiter ce type de fil. Et si par exemple je souhaitais filer une laine lopi DIY, mais que je n’avais pas de fibres islandaises? Est-ce que je pourrais imiter l’effet d’une laine lopi par substitution? Quelles seraient les conditions nécessaires pour arriver au meilleur résultat?

Ce questionnement offre l’opportunité d’une nouvelle étude. Afin que ma recherche soit la plus pertinente possible, je dois monter une base de données comparative entre la lopi islandaise filée à la main et de multiples échantillons d’imitation. C’est en les examinant que je cernerai quels éléments rendent la lopi unique et quelles caractérstiques viser.

La vraie affaire

Tout d’abord, il me faudrait définir ce qu’est la lopi. J’observe donc le fil provenant d’un écheveau Istex Léttlopi de filature pour une analyse rapide. C’est un brin d’environ 9 TPP (tours par pouce). L’angle de torsion se situe entre 10 et 15 degrés. Au toucher, on sent que le fil a été bloqué par chocs thermiques, sans agitation. C’est logique puisque le procédé offre plus de force au brin seul. Comme la plupart des lecteurs le savent, la composition est un mélange du sous-manteau et du manteau externe des moutons islandais. La préparation de filage semble clairement cardée puisque l’alignement des fibres et l’effet de halo s’éloignent des caractéristiques du style “worsted”.

(Photo 1) J’observe ensuite les mèches de deux sublimes toisons acquises lors de mes excursions dans des festivals, dont une brun doré et l’autre exquise par ses tons contrastants de gris et de noir. Mon but est de distinguer les parties formant la lopi.

Je sépare les deux manteaux à la main en pinçant la pointe des longues fibres pour les extraire  du sous-manteau, avec des secousses de gauche à droite, tout en tirant. Ce sous-manteau, connu sous le nom de thel, est très doux, léger et fin. Il semble un peu sec et il est d’apparence mate. L’ondulation est faible, inégale et en quelque sorte aplatie. C’est un bon exemple qui démontre qu’un micron bas n’est pas toujours synonyme d’une ondulation prononcée. La longueur est d’environ 2.5 pouces. Le manteau externe, le tog, est très inconstant en longueur, passant de 6 à 9 pouces de long. Le lustre est fort et le micron aussi, car la fibre s’apparente aux cheveux. L’ondulation est quasi inexistante avec 3 ondulations par 5 pouces.

Je prends plusieurs mesures du ratio tog versus thel sur les deux toisons. Les résultats sont constants et la moyenne est de 45% tog et 55% thel.

À partir de la fibre islandaise j’ai l’intention de filer deux types d’échantillons. Dans le premier, les mèches seront cardées telles quelles, comme la Léttlopi. Dans le second, je séparerai d’abord les deux manteaux puis je les mélangerai selon le ratio calculé. Je souhaite déterminer si cette étape supplémentaire changera le comportement du fil lopi. Si oui, je dois m’attendre à ce que mes échantillons d’imitation soient différents de prime abord.

Je carde et passe dans un diz pour créer un ruban. Je m’installe au rouet. Mon Majacraft Rose chéri me raconte qu’il aime danser sur cette chanson à un ratio de 6:1 pour un bon rythme. J’étire la fibre à chaque coup de pédale pour garder ma torsion au minimum. Je commence avec la préparation originale de lopi. L’interaction des deux longueurs et textures me causent un léger choc. Un étirage arrière m’aide à extirper les deux types de manteaux. Habituée au filage fin, je dois m’adapter pour élargir mon fil à la bonne taille, mais les fibres me résistent et refusent de former un fil égal. Une fois la taille recherchée atteinte, la largeur semble soudainement se calibrer pour marier naturellement les deux types de fibres. Je passe ensuite à la préparation combinée et je remarque qu’elle semble plus facile à filer. Cependant, là où le mélange n’est pas parfaitement égal, les manteaux ont tendance à s’agglomérer séparément.

Une fois le filage terminé, je donne aux deux écheveaux un traitement spa nordique avec chocs thermiques. Ensuite je leur montre qui est le boss avec une bonne fessée. Finalement, je les suspends, les embrasse et leur souhaite une bonne nuit. À mon retour, ils sont sagement détendus.

Lors du fameux test de “frotter dans le cou”, je fais ma première observation. Les laines varient dans leurs degrés de “piquant”. Entre carder les mèches et carder ensemble les deux manteaux, la première préparation est définitivement plus douce. Après réflexion, je réalise que lorsque j’ai appliqué les mèches sur mes cardes à main, le thel se logeait naturellement entre les pics en premier, alors que le tog restait dans ma main et devait être appliqué par-dessus. C’est le contraire de l’ordre dans lequel j’ai placé les manteaux séparés.

(Photo 2) Je prépare un nouvel échantillon en séparant les deux manteaux et en appliquant en premier le tog, ensuite le thel. Je mélange plus méticuleusement. Une fois filé le brin m’épate: il est maintenant plus doux, plus semblable à l’échantillon de lopi original. Je tricote des carrés tests et je vois que la combinaison “tog-puis-thel” sort du lot. Elle est plus rêche avec des mailles maigres et un halo manquant. La couleur en est même affectée, s’approchant de la teinte plus dorée du manteau extérieur. (Photo 3) En contraste, le “thel-puis-tog” est presque identique à la lopi d’origine.

Reproduire avec d’autres fibres

Le but est d’être créative et de m’amuser. Je sélectionne mes participants. (Photo 4) Pour remplacer le tog, je choisis le Cotswold et le Karakul. Le Cotswold est semblable en lustre, mais plus court et avec une ondulation plus étroite. Le Karakul a une ondulation et une densité similaires, mais avec un micron plus élevé et des fibres constituées d’un double manteau. (Photo 5) En tant que remplaçant du thel, je choisis le Cheviot, le Jacob et le Finnois. Tous trois ont été choisis pour leur longueur proche de celle du sous-manteau islandais. De plus, le Cheviot est choisi pour sa sécheresse, le Jacob pour son toucher semblable et le Finnois pour sa douceur analogue au sous-manteau et pour contrer les fibres longues plus rugueuses.

Alors que je me prépare à mélanger les laines par ratio, j’hésite, me demandant si ce n’est pas sacrilège de prendre des laines fines pour les combiner avec des fibres plus rêches. Le réflexe habituel n’est-il pas d’augmenter la douceur? Qu’est-ce qui motiverait cette démarche?

La réponse pragmatique qui me vient à l’esprit est de le faire au nom de la science. Cette étude extrapole sur les deux rôles des manteaux islandais, le thel offrant de l’imperméabilité et le tog aidant à couper le vent. Si je souhaite créer des vêtements d’extérieur, je dois comprendre comment imiter la lopi pour maximiser ces caractéristiques. Mais je découvre aussi une raison venant du coeur. J’apprécie de filer toutes les laines, incluant celles des variétés plus rustiques. Mais je n’ai pas toujours un projet qui s’agence au filage, car le résultat est trop rude pour ma peau. Une imitation de lopi donnerait d’autant plus de valeur aux fibres longues que nous aimons filer, mais que nous ne sommes pas certain de vouloir porter.

Je commence avec deux mélanges; Karakul/Jacob et Karakul/Finn. Durant le filage, ils sont plus faciles à étirer. Les fils qui en découlent sont semblablement secs comme l’islandais, mais tous deux manquent d’éclat et sont plus gonflés. Avec le recul, je réalise que le sous-manteau du Karakul doit avoir affecté les ratios de mon échantillonage avec les fibres plus courtes qui sont mates et volumineuses. (Photo 6) Au tricot, le Karakul/Finn a une rondeur de mailles semblable à de l’islandais. (Photo 7) Le tissu Karakul/Jacob a un rendement aplati et est le plus rugueux de toutes les laines créées. Tout de même, je suis agréablement surprise de découvrir que malgré la rusticité plus grande des mélanges Karakul, ils sont plus doux au toucher une fois tricotés qu’en tant que simple fil. Je suis à l’aise avec l’idée de les porter. (Photo 8)

Je file aussi du Cotswold avec du Cheviot. J’atteins un effet d’halo, mais le Cotswold a clairement plus de fibres par poids que le tog. Tricoté, l’effet est plus dense et filiforme. De plus, l’apparence générale et la texture sont clairement spécifiques aux laines de “type down”. (Photo 9)

Je passe au Cotswold avec Finnois. Ce mélange est très plaisant, mais n’est définitivement pas aussi sec. C’est légèrement plus doux. L’éclat du Cotswold ressort et imite celui de la lopi.

(Photo 10) Finalement, je tente de combiner du Cotswold très long, d’environ 11 pouces, avec mon Cheviot  qui peine à atteindre 2 pouces. Il en résulte que je me retrouve à ne pouvoir filer que les fibres longues, les plus courtes s’enroulant autour sans intégrer la torsion, créant un halo. L’échantillon tricoté montre des mailles minces et le Cheviot impose une apparence crayeuse et diaphane.

(Photo 11) En comparaison à l’islandais, une différence partagée par tous les mélanges est l’élasticité. Les écheveaux de fibres islandaises ont maintenu la même circonférence que lorsqu’ils ont été enlevés du mandrin. Les autres écheveaux ont plutôt rétréci, ramenés par l’ondulation des fibres courtes. Cela est mis en évidence par la largeur des échantillons tricotés. (Photo 12)

Verdict: Puis-je faire une vraie fausse lopi?

Tout bien considéré, la fibre du mouton islandais est incomparable. Ce qui est aussi vrai pour toutes les fibres. Ma réponse est toutefois nuancée sur la nécessité d’utiliser la laine islandaise pour faire la lopi. En effet ne puis-je pas faire des gauffres sans utiliser de la farine de blé? Si j’utilise une autre farine, peut-on dire que ce ne sont plus des gauffres? Avec les ajustements adéquats je peux en préserver l’essence. Le goût peut être différent, mais la forme et la présentation sera celle d’une gauffre. Alors pourquoi ne pas faire une laine substitut et lui reconnaître le procédé d’une lopi?

Si vous souhaitez faire une lopi DIY avec vos réserves de fibres, voici les éléments clés qui contribueront au succès de vos substitutions. (Photo 13)

  • Peser vos fibres selon le ratio. Visez une plus grande quantité de fibres courtes et fines (environ 55%) et un peu moins que la moitié des fibres plus longues et rustiques.
  • Déposer les fibres courtes en premier sur la carde.
  • Mélanger bien vos fibres (les courtes et les longues).
  • Prévoir un écart de longueur modéré entre vos types de fibres, estimé à un tiers.
  • Vérifier les ondulations, car cela aura un impact significatif sur l’épaisseur de votre brin ainsi que sur son élasticité. Par exemple, le Cheviot détonnait avec son ondulation hélicoïdale qui dominait le fil.
  • Sélectionner au moins un ingrédient pour son lustre.
  • Ajuster les niveaux de douceur en compensant le micron d’une laine avec une autre. (Photo 14)

Pensées après coup

Toutes les étapes du processus étaient gratifiantes. En tricotant, au simple contact des laines filées, un désir irrésistible de concrétiser des projets laineux s’installe. Je me sens maintenant inspirée à l’idée d’utiliser des laines plus coriaces. Jai également gagné en confiance qu’elles puissent devenir un vêtement non seulement confortable, mais pratique à porter.

Même si la farine de riz n’a pas les mêmes caractéristiques que la farine de blé, les saveurs amenées par la substitution sont tout de même riches et bienvenues. Heureusement ce principe s’applique aussi à ma diète de fileuse!

Alexina Hicks habite la belle campagne québécoise avec son mari et leurs enfants où elle se dédie à ses études de Maître Fileuse et enseigne le filage, le tricot et tout ce qui entoure ces disciplines. Avec son amoureux ils forment L’aime Laine, créant des fuseaux et autres outils du filage, ainsi que des fibres préparées à la main provenant de fermes locales. Apprenez-en plus sur www.alexinahicks.com.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.






Fiber Salad: The Firehouse Spinners create lasting threads of connection

words and photos by Lisa Mitchell

In February 2020, we had no idea that The Fiber Salad Gathering would be one of our last meetings. As a newbie to spinning and the Whidbey Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild, I had been relishing the weekly gathering of spinners. That summer, when I first joined, I had never seen so many wonderful spinners in one place. Every Thursday this close-knit community of women gathered to spin together for 4 hours. With great food and extensive knowledge, they greeted me with open arms. When I won the Grand Champion ribbon for my handspun skein of guanaco laceweight yarn at Black Sheep Gathering, many of them were there with tears in their eyes. When I came back from my son’s wedding in California, they wanted a full report. I felt so fortunate to have found a circle of women who loved fiber and friends as much as I.

I’d been hearing about a tradition the group had done for years. They called it The Fiber Salad Gathering. I wanted to experience this event and asked if we could schedule it. On February 20, 2020, over 20 of us joined together to make Fiber Salad. At the time, we didn’t know this was going to be our second-to-last meeting before the pandemic shut everything down. At the time, I didn’t know how much I would treasure spinning and knitting the Fiber Salad I took home that day.

Making the fiber salad Each spinner brought leftover fiber or old braids to contribute to the Fiber Salad. The only criteria we set was that the fiber had to be clean and all natural. That made every color and every stray bit fair game. We weighed our contributions and then proceeded to separate the fibers into small, bite-size pieces. We made a circle and stood over a bedsheet that covered the floor. There, we shredded and separated all of our fiber and made a huge mountain of fiber.


Once in a while we would toss the mountain to mix in the newly shredded pieces.


It was beautiful and I couldn’t resist. I lay down in the mountain to feel the full experience of all that fiber at once. Peg poured more over me. The room was full of laughter and glee.


After we tossed the mountain of fiber thoroughly, we each gathered the weight of mixed salad that matched the weight of our initial contribution. Some of us ran our fiber salad through the picker.


Some of us ran it through the drum carder.

It was a fine day. It was an important day. It was a day that we all love remembering.


Spinning the fiber salad

At home, I couldn’t wait to start to spin my fiber salad. I had run my 2 ounces through the picker at the meeting, so I decided to spin handfuls straight from these random and chunky clouds.

It was not a smooth or easy spin as many of the fibers were different in length and texture. But it was exciting. As the pandemic locked the world down around me, I focused on enjoying the spin. I loved it when I came to some of the magenta roving that Ann had contributed. I thought of her and her sweet face. Then came some Gotland locks from Joanne which reminded me of her and her flock. And the beautiful blue/turquoise Merino that Cheryl had contributed popped against Janis’s white alpaca. I spun the salad into a random, artsy single. Then I plied the colorful with some beautiful rose grey alpaca.

A gauge-forgiving pair of ribbed fingerless gloves were the perfect accessory to make with my new yarn.


We haven’t met as a full group in over a year. I miss those women. I miss our gatherings. But I’m comforted by my Fiber Salad fingerless gloves and the memory of our Fiber Salad Gathering.


Lisa Mitchell raises guanacos and other luxury fiber animals on Whidbey Island in Washington. She spins, knits and writes essays about the connections between fiber, life and love on her blog at www.afiberlife.com.


PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.