Tops and Batts... & now Yarns

Our photo gallery gives you an idea of what we typically offer. We start with the finest of protein fibers--wool, silk, alpaca, mohair, yak, camel, cashmere--that comes to us either as fleece or lock from local breeders or as commercially prepared combed top. From there we go crazy with color.

The combed tops that we've hand painted in multiple colors we leave as tops. Otherwise we typically card our single-color tops into soft and lofty 2-ounce batts. Similarly, we dye the loose fleece or lock as is, then card it and blend it into batts. As finished tops and batts, the beautifully dyed fiber is now ready to spin or felt.

So what is the difference between tops and batts? And what's roving? Well, definitions will vary (boy, do they!), but it's my understanding that tops are combed fibers while batts are carded fibers. Combed fibers are all aligned, so you can spin a sleek, smooth yarn. Carded fibers, because they're brushed, are airier, so you can spin a softer, fluffier yarn. (We use the Patrick Green electric SuperCard to make our batts.) Either way, a top or a batt has to be stripped down to a manageable width in order to spin. Elongating, or pre-drafting, the fibers creates what I call a roving--a long, narrow, continuous "tube" of fiber just screaming to be spun.

That's my understanding, anyway. And then there's sliver and pin drafted.....and...and....

Several silk/wool blends about to be blended into a specialty batt.

We can make batts up to 2 ounces in weight. Our drum carder is the Patrick Green electric SuperCard. It's like a small car that remains parked in our studio.

Because of its length, bombyx silk often cannot be fed into the carder without snarling. Here Roger is placing silk on top of the large drum, letting it slowly blend into the batt from there.

Roger's getting a little bit of help from two neighborly dogs.

On rare occasion we will card one of our painted tops into a subtly variegated batt. Doing so can sometimes muddle the colors, but this bombyx/merino blend turned out beautifully.

This is a Blue Faced Leicester/Tussah blend dyed in cochineal insects. Because the top starts out an oatmeal color, the red is darker and deeper than if an ecru (natural white) fiber had been used.

These are the 2-ounce batts we were very proud to have dyed and carded for CNCH's 2012 Return to Sender spinning challenge. We chose a very soft and facile 85/15 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and Tussah Silk. For our four conference-inspired colors we used fustic, cochineal, madder, weld and indigo.

This was my first experience with Targhee. It's a dense, springy wool breed that sucks up the dye. I believe it absorbed close to half a small vat of surprise, given the intensity of the blue.

Tussah silk is luscious to spin, but it can be very flyaway. All that you need to do is lightly mist it with 2 parts water to 1 part olive oil. No need to soak it. Let it dry, and the silk will spin beautifully.

Probably the most fun to card is a medley of fibers. We typically start with a fine wool, then add alpaca or mohair or silk, or all three. This batt is a combination of wool, mohair and bombyx silk. Spun up, it will be very soft and textured.

Batts all rolled up and ready for sale.

You've just seen a few of our batts. Now come some of our tops. (We spotted the legs in Plaza San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador.)

The Merced River in early spring in Yosemite National Park. I knew I wanted to capture this green.

Merino/Tussah 80/20 dyed a luscious green, reminiscent of the Merced River. This particular top was first immersed in a weld flower dyebath, then was dipped in indigo repeatedly over three days. (To be honest, I'm not good enough to recreate a color from Nature. This was pure luck!)

BFL (or Blue Faced Leicester) is an easy wool to spin, and it felts beautifully. The orange is madder root. Underneath is a wool/silk blend dyed in cochineal.

Yes, I went a bit crazy with the colors, but the bombyx clearly doesn't mind.

Bombyx/merino is just plain gratifying to paint. I believe I used seven different dye extracts to paint the top and then dipped it in a weak indigo vat.

These two different tops love color. Two are immersed in a single color; two are painted with multiple colors. The two on the left are Merino/Tencel 50/50. Tencel is the brand name for lyocell, a cellulose fiber much like cotton but silky. The two on the right are a kid mohair/nylon/merino blend--perfect for socks.

Boy, do we have a lot of help in this dyeing business. This little assistant is Gator, seen here showing us a bombyx/merino blend painted seven different yellows, then dipped in indigo.

Think of so-called drab colors as neutrals. Like blacks, whites and greys, they can be elegant standing alone or disappear into the background when matched with brighter colors.

An easy dyeing option is to partially dip the fiber into a dyepot or, in this case, an indigo vat. Now I have two colors with little extra work.

And here is the finished yarn.

I call this tussah my "abalone shell" because of its opalescence. I'd love to duplicate it but, even with my detailed records, I can't seem to do so. That goes for just about any color way: they're one of a kind.

So now you've seen a sampling of our batts and tops. What comes next is yarn, both mill- and hand-spun. (But, first, a photo of Roger competing in a World Bodysurfing Championship in Oceanside, California. This is what he really loves to do.)

Lately I've been expanding into painted commercial yarns. These are my two first tries at painting a DK weight of bombyx/merino 55/45.

This is the same DK silk/wool 55/45 yarn. I painted it at the request of a fellow guild member who was hoping for a yarn of many greens. So was I. I do like it, but it demonstrates the "orneriness" of natural dyes. They don't always cooperate.

This yarn is commercially spun 100% mohair, or almost anyway. It was a dream to paint.

I'll occasionally knit up a sample of something I've dyed, like the eight colors here for the cowl kit I've adapted from KiraKDesigns. (Fore more information, see "Shop." And thank you, Kira!)

I've also been knitting socks lately because these I can actually finish. This is a commercial sock blank that I painted as an experiment.

But the most fun, and the point of it all really, is to dye my own unspun fiber first, then spin it up into a yarn that is uniquely mine.

So far I either sell my handspun yarns or give them to friends. I have yet to knit them up into something for myself. But that will change!

Regardless of where it ends, it always starts here....