Earlier this week a TKK reader, Rita P., asked:
Is there any more word on your Southdown adventures? I’m especially interested in whether the yarn turned into the lilac undertone that you had imagined. I’m anxious to try some of this yarn on my CSM (circular knitting machine).Olivia’s babydoll southdown fleece, and her flock’s good news, see post here
Thank you for your excellent question, Rita! Yes, I can share more about the yarn I made with Olivia’s fleece & about a Southdown/Silk handspun sock.
As I replied via comment, there is post-2015 sharing about the flow in fibre prep. The posts on this are tagged “Babydoll Southdown wool.” Use the sidebar search for the tag, and the progress will show chronologically.
Rita would like to know how the yarn turned out, so let’s go!
The goal has been for a classic cable yarn. The singles for plying are fine, spun from handcarded rolags. As a 2-ply this yarn is very springy. Off the niddy-noddy tension, a 2-ply sample skein shrank by 55%.
The 6 small skeins were plied with a Z-twist from a lazy kate with the hand-wound singles. The antique wheel gave a lot of twist happily. I then wound a centre-pull ball, and cable plied from the two ends with a S-twist. They are balanced cable yarn of around 263 yards.
A 7th skein stalled when I discovered teething-stage Spark chewing on the singles to the upper right here. I got my yarn back but am not what you would call over it even now a year later.
The singles for plying show flecks from the light lower band of the carded locks. This is not a usual colour pattern for locks (the 2015 diet perhaps) but it is interesting to work with.
As a finished cable yarn, I was surprised to see the influence not only of the light bands but also of the reddish lock tips. I flicked the locks before loading the handcards. The rolags have that lilac shade that I assumed would carry through. It does to a certain extent but the cable ply step underscores the deeper tones.
Colour management was a driver for this cable yarn structure but so was the nature of the fine, springy plied yarn. I thought about but did not try a conventional 4-ply yarn for this fleece. It was just too close to the epic CVM prep project that had been exactly that, a 4-ply from hand-carded rolags on spindles no less.
For what it is worth, my (untested) logic is that the disorganized crimp of the Olde English Babydoll Southdown would be nice as a multi-ply yarn but that the cable brings added structure to the party.
As you will see in the next heading this is a cable yarn with texture. That crimp is still busting through!
Swatching Babydoll Southdown handspun cable in the round
Rita’s question prompted me to show this yarn knit in the round. I used 2.75 double-point needles, and got 8 stitches per inch.
The colour story is here but so is texture. As you can see with it hanging off the bowl, the working yarn has a crimp to it – this yarn is not perfectly straight as other cables that I have spun typically are.
The fabric is very soft & springy. It was a joy to knit. For socks, I would try going down a needle size. At this gauge, I was able to see through the stitches at the top of the swatch.
Its feel as both the 2×2 rib and stockinette fabric is amazing. I love the depth of this natural colour, and how the eye shifts depending on the yarn’s background. Here in the bowl you see the red hue, and against the blue & white tea towel it was closer to the lilac-grey.
This has been a highly rewarding spin.
A Mill-Prep Southdown blend example
Very different but also enjoyable was this 80% Southdown/ 20% Bombyx Silk combed top dyed by Sheepspot. The fibre was sourced in the UK as a custom blend. 101 g of “Lagoon” spun on my Tabacheck Holly spindle gave around 302 yards of 3-ply yarn.
The “grand ancestor” of the other classic Downs breeds is Southdown in this blend. It was more of a medium-handling wool than Olivia’s finer Babydoll Southdown fleece. The lock characteristics of Southdown are:
blocky, rectangular staples that hold together“Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook” by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius, 2011, p. 70
I was spinning high-twist for socks but think that Olivia’s Babydoll Southdown fleece is next-to-skin soft no matter how I approach it. The knitting went quickly, and the conventional 3-ply yarn has a durable, crunchy feel.
I love the socks, and wore them this winter as soon as I cast-off.
They were in such good rotation that I wore them without taking any pictures on the foot!
Over to you for other thoughts
If anyone has more than my ‘watched a couple of CSM videos’ experience please lend Rita some of your thoughts in the comments. The fine lock character of this Babydoll Southdown fleece lends itself to yarns spun with high-twist.
The crunchier Southdown blend also handled my default high-twist sock spinning well and with silk is wearing well as socks. If this is of interest for a CSM knitter then I will add that my default on spindles spins for a Z-twist yarn. The singles for plying are spun counter-clockwise or widdershins. Both twist-directions work well for my own hand-knitting purposes.
After knitting this Olivia swatch, I am excited to think more about this yarn as a hat for later this year. Thank you for such a great question, and for helping me get back to a project that I enjoyed creating so much.