Making A Tweed Blend

Well, let’s see if I can’t get this one online before dashing off to the dentist — yep, the dentist again! But it’s nothing new; just a checkup (hopefully the last one) on how my dental implant is doing, after which hopefully we schedule further work towards the elimination of the gap in my mouth that was a broken crown with broken root. It’s been since Thanksgiving with this round of battle with that tooth, which has a long and storied history… though it’s gone now, replaced by an implant, which sometime this summer will sport an attractive and functional crown. The gap has been there since January and I’m growing mighty tired of it.

Anyway, today we’re talking a little bit about how one makes a blend to spin up into a tweedy yarn. First, what’s a tweed?

A rough, irregular, soft and flexible, unfinished shaggy woollen named for the tweed river that separates England from Scotland. It is made of a two-and-two twill weave, right-hand or left-hand in structure. Outstanding tweeds include Bannockburn, English, Harris, Irish, Linton, Manx, Scotch and Donegal.

Fashion Dictionary

A tweed yarn, in brief, is a yarn one might use to create such a fabric. Like the fabric, it should be rough, irregular, soft and flexible. A tweed yarn can have tweed elements which add texture, tweed elements which add colour, or both.

It’s interesting to note that some textile experts say tweed fabrics are not named after the Tweed river, but are instead so called because the Scots spelling of “twill” was once “tweel” and a misspelling happened on an invoice. Actually, there’s all sorts of interesting debates one can have about the notion of “tweed yarn,” but we’ll leave those for another day (or in the comments). True tweed fabrics are one of those things like champagne — the grapes have to come from the right part of France, or it’s a sparkling wine. So there is a lot of discussion to be had about the subject, and I won’t claim to be a True Tweed Authority.

Moving along, I decided to produce a blend for a textural and colour-based tweed 2-ply yarn, using some smallish amounts of assorted fibers that I had lying around.

Some superwash wool top…

..to which I added some bombyx silk seconds…

…and then more superwash top in a bright red that doesn’t go with the greens or the purple at all…

…followed up with some yellow superwash (are we talking crazy and clashing here or what?)…

…and then, let’s ease back off the shocking contrasts here for a second, and tone things down with some gray alpaca, which will also feel very nice in the resulting yarn…

…and smooth out the colours with white tussah silk. I remember when I started learning to paint with acrylics, I learned you always need 17,000 more tubes of “Titanium White” than any other colour, because white evens things out.

So here are our tweed ingredients:

The greens are our base colour, which will dominate. The red and yellow are contrast elements, as is the bombyx silk, which will clump somewhat in this blend. The alpaca and silk are there for feel, and for smoothing things out colourwise as they’re gray and white.

We start by carefully feeding small bits of pale green onto the carder.

And then the darker green.

Then some pale green again.

Now let’s throw on the bombyx silk seconds!

Look how much those clump up initially!

Next, the alpaca. I know that the alpaca and silk will be happy next to each other and play nice with static in this particular blend as we go.

After the alpaca, the tussah silk, red and yellow superwash, and a bit more of the greens gets added to the mix. By the time all is said and done, we have a horrible looking main drum:

and totally unspinnable, ugly mess of a batt:

So clearly, this needs another pass in order to turn into a spinnable preparation and to mix colours and fibers more.

Breaking the first-pass batt up into smaller pieces, we carefully feed those pieces in until we have a somewhat neater-looking main drum…

See why this needs more carding? Look down into a piece of batt as it lines up for its second pass, and observe the clumping of fibers.

At the end of the second pass, you can see the main drum looks much better than after the first blending pass, but let’s be honest — this is still not a spinnable state.

I mean, you could spin it, but I don’t like it. You’d get novelty effects of course, see…

…but here’s the real problem, that shows up when we split the batt up to prepare for the third pass.

Yes, if you like clumps, you’re done now. But then I rate it a novelty batt and not a tweed batt. Speaking of novelty batts, you can save these bits of carding waste and use them there if you like:

Coming up on pass 3, you can still clearly see clumps everywhere.

If you look closely at the main drum, and see things going kinda diagonally, you’ll know there’s at least one more pass coming up after this, to make sure this spins nicely.

Since colours are also not exactly evenly dispersed, and the batt’s actually too full for one batt, I split it in half…

…and then split those halves in half again…

And I’ll take one from each pile and turn that into a batt, then do it again, for pass 4. Also on pass 4, I add in a little more of the yellow and red contrast elements.

I do this even though I know it consigns me to a fifth pass. This is the only way to get clear bits of contrast flecking in the final yarn. Here’s how things look after that fourth pass.

There are still clumps of the bombyx, too. Bombyx really likes to clump, which is why we set it up to earlier. We want it to clump a little.

What we have now we absolutely could spin, but it’s not up to my standards for a tweed blend yet.

There are still fibers clumping and running crazy through the batt.

This won’t spin up nicely. You’d be chugging along and then BAM…

See? See what I mean? Here it is going in for pass 5, and just look at that ugly snarly bit.

That must be destroyed. Okay, now we’re talking.

Observe how there are still clumps of bombyx silk, though the tussah and alpaca have spread out evenly. Observe how there are still streaks of contrasting colour here and there. These will produce our tweed elements when we spin it up.

First, let me take a moment to say that this is five passes with a carder that really, really does a lot of work with a single pass, and which features fine cloth and brush attachment. Absent these features, the blend would either not be possible, or would take more like 8-10 passes. Tweed blends are nothing if not labour intensive.

Well, so we (and by we I mean “I”) spun it and plied it and here it is, hanging in 2-ply form before washing. I want to take a second here and point out that yes indeed, before washing, this skein kinks up on itself a bit and looks to be twisting. Some people say this is unbalanced. Those people, while entitled to their opinions, are also entitled to yarn which wears like Kleenex. Trust me, this is a soft, drapy, low-twist tweed.

After washing and hanging to dry unweighted, we get this…

Which is also this…

And here’s how it looks up close in direct sun…

So what are the stats? Well, I haven’t measured the wraps per inch but I’ll ballpark ’em at around 15. See? I’m lazy sometimes. This is 590 yards, from 154 grams or 5.25 ounces. Machine washable, too.

From garish contrast and dissonance, we have achieved a yarn which is irregular, yet soft and supple, comfortable but with adequate wear properties for use in lasting garments — a tweed.

Making A Tweed Flickr Photoset

44 thoughts on “Making A Tweed Blend

  1. Abby, that was a MOST fascinating tutorial on carding a tweed roving and what the resulting yarn looked like. Its amazing how the colors before carding look awful, yet the yarn is stupendous, very, very cool. I am a secluded spinner and believe it or not, in 7 years of spinning, have never seen a carder in action, so this was very interesting for me. Thanks so much for all the time you spend taking pictures and writing here on your blog, as I so enjoy it and I learn alot too! Good luck at the dentist office today!

  2. My daughter had to rush off to the bus this morning because she lost a few minutes transfixed by your post. Lots of ooohs and aaaahs. You’re inspiring the next generation!

  3. This is a really interesting article – I really like seeing how the carder does actually blend vivid colours together into a more muted shade (I’ve never seen a carder-at-work either!)

    Last night I spindle-spun a tiny test skein of some new fibre I have. I tend to ‘overtwist’ a little anyway, but as I’m not used to spindles the resulting 2-ply skein twisted round and round on itself like crazy. I gave it an overnight bath, dried it flat (so entirely unweighted) and now it hangs completely straight! Never judge a yarn until it’s had a good soak, that’s what I say.

  4. Abby, that was just the information I was looking for. Thank! Can you tell us a little more about the brush attachment, what it does, why it’s important to your process, etc. I’m new to the world of drum carders, have a Pat Green carder with no brush attachment, and wonder if I should rush out and find one.

  5. That’s so fascinating to see – I always wondered how tweed yarns were made. It looks really great – thanks for posting this!

  6. Wonderful tutorial! I once took a color blending class from Jill Lasky of Ashland Bay, but I haven’t done anything with it since. This tutorial has me wanting to break out my drum carder and start playing! Thank you for the pictorial.

  7. That is just so very cool. I haven’t tried anything remotely like this before, but I am inspired by what you can do. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and explanations!

  8. Wow, I think I need a drum carder… Thank you for the tutorial – like Laticia, I’ve never seen a carder in action before. Fascinating stuff! The yarn is bee-yoo-tiful (but I’m sure you noticed!)

  9. You won’t believe me when I say that this post is right on time! I’m in line to rent my guild’s carder and was hoping to create a tweed blend using brown farm wool, the Electric Sky mohair I got from you, some yellow cormo and maybe some silk. Now I’ll know what to do with it, and won’t be afraid to try more color combos! Thanks!

  10. That was really cool. Thank you.

    It looks like a Strauch carder? Is that hand cranked or motor driven?

    It has been stressed to me by several people that 3 or more passes through a carder mean neps pretty much without exception. Obviously, I see no neps.
    Is this because you are incredible talented, because of the speed per pass, because of some other factor I can’t see from this angle?

  11. Quick question roundup: first, the brush attachment! Its major purpose is to keep flyaway, wispy fibers from flying away. It rests gently against the main drum, and softly brushes fibers down into the teeth on the main drum. For one thing, this lines them up more and is a factor in needing fewer passes; for another, it really helps with staticky fibers. For another, it packs more fiber onto the drum in a neat, orderly batt — so you get fuller batts. When I first went from an Ashford fine cloth carder to the first Strauch I had (a 405 “Finest”) I was amazed at how much fuller a batt I could get from a carder that had similar specifications.

    When I first got Cardzilla (Strauch doublewide, motorized) it didn’t have the brush; after a few blends of very fine, static-prone fiber, I bought the brush.

    To see if you want one, you could also grab a snow scraper brush, and hold it lightly so it just rests atop the main drum, while you card — while trickier and not hands-free, this would give you an idea of what difference it might make. If you’re working with fine fibers or staticky ones, I’d get a brush attachment.

    Next, amount of twist: one of these days I’ll have to make a whole post about nothing else. TheKnittingBee is absolutely right: never judge a yarn till it’s had a good soak. It can be very surprising what happens! With respect to twist in particular, to be brief, I’ll say this: don’t spin trying to emulate millspun yarn. Millspun yarn is there to emulate what a skilled spinner can produce — and isn’t concerned about how it wears. After all, you’ll just buy more. In my experience, most millspun yarns have too little twist for the purposes for which they are intended. I believe you should spin with the goal in mind of having yarn be done when it’s worked up, because it’ll go through some changes in the workup process. If you spin hoping for it to come off the wheel or spindle looking and feeling like you want a finished object made from it to feel, you will most likely be disapointed in working with the yarn, and the finished object as well in short order.

    Finally, with respect to twist, even if you strongly feel you’re putting in way, way, way too much twist, bear this in mind: it’s much easier to solve the problems that come from “too much twist” than it is to solve the ones that come from too little. A yarn with too little twist will pill, break, and wear prematurely in all kinds of ways, sometimes even before you have finished your object.

    In my opinion, roughly 90% of millspun knitting yarns — yes, even the big name popular fabulous ones — do not have sufficient twist in them.

    Juno, with respect to the number of passes and neps: it’s absolutely true that the more passes you do, the more neps you are likely to have. There are, in fact, no neps in this blend after 5 passes (or at least, a trivial number if there are any). There are a couple of factors here, and this is another good blog entry in itself! First, the superwash fiber is not prone to neps. That helps. Another thing that helps is that, as you noticed, it’s a Strauch. The Strauch licker-in drum, which is like sharp little knives, does not hold on to fiber and cause it to stretch and break and cause neps. On the other hand, it does grab neps. It then either holds on to them, or deposits them neatly in a horrendous pile under the carder, which I must clean up routinely (I’ll take gory pictures for you next time). The third major factor is using small amounts of fiber fed in at a time, at a consistent pace, and NOT holding back, but controlling the feed. This takes skill and, IMHO, two hands (certainly it takes 2 hands on a 16″ carder). And this is where the motorized, foot-switch-operated carder comes in very, very handy. This also allows me to tease and pick fiber before the first pass, so it’s in good shape.

    Tweed blends are, because of multiple passes, more likely to have neps than blends that take fewer passes. However, a few neps in a tweed is also not usually much of an issue. That said, other blends I’ve done, such as Leslie’s sweater yarn, have taken more than 3 passes; 3 isn’t a magic number. Many carders, IMHO, do not get a good blend done in 3 passes, and don’t have smooth, nice-drafting prep done on non-blends either.

  12. Yummy!! One of my favorite “commercial” yarns is Beaverslide’s McTaggart tweeds. Simply scrummy (and they smell good, too!).

  13. That is a wonderful explanation and visual of the process. Thank you for showing us the blending to spun. I love it!

  14. The finished product is extremely lovely. After seeing all the work you go through to make your beautiful blends I’m not so sure I want to attempt it myself. Although the creative aspect is inviting. For now I’ll just enjoy the ones you produce!!!!

  15. Thank you so much for that.
    Strauch are definitely my favorite carders. I’ve tried several models and carry them in my shop and you can’t beat them for the money.

  16. Great. Now I want a carder. You are definately bad for my budget lady! First the fibres, then the Majacraft Gem, now a carder!

    Sheesh!

    (but I love it, really I do!)

  17. This is exactly the kind of post I love to see … I tend to stay with very safe blends of similar colors, shying away from the hi contrast possibilities in blends like tweeds. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m getting in my batts, but this really does open up my thoughts to trying something a little more ballsy.

  18. Ooooh. Blendy. Mmmmm.

    5 passes. Very patient.

    I try not to pass judgement on anything until it has had a good soak, including myself 😉

    Twist? Folks are always saying my yarn has too much energy. Is also strong, like bull. And a good soak makes it all unwind.

    I guess it takes after its maker.

  19. Wow. That was cool. I don’t even spin (I prefer to work with already-woven fibers) but that reminded me of the Sesame Street features when they’d visit the crayon factory or something.
    Fascinating.

    And I love the finished color. What wonderful shine.

  20. Thank you for such a thorough and clear lesson in making a tweed yarn. I had no idea it would take that many passes even with a skilled operator using a good drum carder.

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