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