16 June 2015

Jorvík 1307: Fiber and Spinning

I recently had occasion to weave a reproduction textile.  Since I only needed about a yard of 8" wide cloth, I decided to challenge myself by spinning the warp and weft myself.  Even though I am a slow and not very accomplished spinner, with no experience of weaving from my handspun before this project, it seemed like the best decision.  I wanted to make this project very memorable, to try something new.  Spinning my own yarns would also place within my grasp a much greater range of textiles from my chosen time and location (Period 4B at Jorvík, i.e., the mid-tenth century Anglo-Scandinavian culture of York, England) than I would usually have to choose from based on the availability of commercial yarns in the right fiber content, fiber diameter, spin direction, and yarn diameter.

After looking through my stash of spun yarn and spinnable fiber, I chose Jorvík 1307 to reproduce.  It was from the right period in a classic weave structure for the period, the 20/18 (or 10/9, if you prefer thinking of it that way) broken lozenge twill.  Although I've woven other BLTs (that's my shorthand for broken lozenge twills), I'd never done a 20/18 one before.  It was also apparently an undyed textile, although brown in appearance.  I decided to do it in naturally pigmented wool because I thought the recipient would appreciate that more than plain off-white.

The first hurdle was warp yarn.  According to Penelope Walton's book Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate I needed tightly spun, smooth worsted singles yarn about 0.4mm in diameter of a hairy medium fleece type.  In mundane terms, that's a warp yarn about the size of a doubled piece of standard sewing machine thread, and I needed nearly 500 yards of it for my project.  (This project grew in the planning.)  The mode for fiber diameter in the Jorvík 1307 warp was 24 microns.   Luckily, I had plenty of Manx Laoghtan combed top which met that standard pretty well.  It's a heritage breed found only on the Isle of Man and believed to be period to the Viking Age.

Manx Laoghtan combed top

Although the Manx Laoghtan top was a little kempy, I succeeded in pulling out many of the kemps during the spinning.  Since I apparently like to spin small and tight, working to this fine a specification was significantly less of a problem than I expected.  I spun it to about 35 degrees of Z twist on a handspindle using a reproduction soapstone whorl; I set the twist with hot water and weighted drying.

warp yarn, twist set and ready to warp

So far, so good, and the project even managed to survive my energetic young cat's frequent "help" with the spinning.

I'm sure there's some cat hair in that yarn.
 Next I needed a really soft weft yarn.  The mode fiber diameter for wefts in the Jorvík 1307 textile was 20 microns, making them even finer and softer than the fibers in the warp yarns.  The original is very weft-faced, which would have accentuated the properties of the weft yarn.  Of the period-appropriate sheep breeds, only the þel (undercoat) from a purebred Icelandic lamb was likely to get me close to the micron count I needed.  After considering and discarding a number of possibilities, I bought an Icelandic moorit lamb fleece.

some of the washed locks
I washed some of it up, hand-separated the tog (guard hairs) from the þel, and spun only the þel into my yarn.
 separated tog (guard hairs) and þel (undercoat)

Manageable fiber prep was key to this part of the process.  The fluffy þel proved too unstructured for me to spin from the cloud.  I knew combing was the correct technology to use, but the þel was too short to mount properly onto my Indigo Hound Viking combs.  I gritted my teeth and tried using a flick carder on it.  That didn't work well.  Eventually I cursed and brought out my hand carders.  I used them to card the fibers parallel and doffed the carded fibers sideways.  I rolled the batts from the side edges too, making sure to keep the fibers parallel instead of coiling them into the more typical rolags.  This made reasonably manageable short lengths of not-quite-top for me to spin.  

The yarn needed to be 1.2mm in diameter, a "well-spun" S singles.  That's way outside the size range for the weaving yarns I am accustomed to use; it's more like a fingering weight knitting yarn (roughly a 4 ply size in the standard used at Ravelry).  I don't spin yarns as thick as 1.2mm by choice, and I rarely spin in the S direction either. I needed all the help I could get!  Fortunately I only needed about 150 yards of this weft.  I wound up doing a lot of park and draft spinning, and it took me about five times as long to spin as had the warp.  The result, while falling short of "well spun," was at least respectable enough to use for weaving.  I spun it to about 25 degrees of S spin, setting the twist with warm water followed by a light weighting.

I didn't take any photos of the completed weft yarn, and I used up every single scrap of it in the weaving, so I don't have any photos of just the weft to share here.

In the next installment:  warping and weaving.

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