natural fiber and natural variation

Jan 23, 2016 :: by Leila Raabe

We have fiber on our minds, and we thought it might be nice to share a little background into the challenges that come along with the rewards of working with natural fibers. Grab a warm cup of your favorite beverage, perhaps some knitting, too, and get comfy—let's talk fiber, shall we?

Egret – Cream to Pale white

If you’ve purchased any of our core wool yarns in the color Egret, which is scoured but undyed, you may have noticed something peculiar. While the Egret is always “white”, it’s not always the same white. Some lots will be a little creamier; some will be a little snowier. This is one of the joys—and one of the headaches—of working with natural fiber. Every sheep is different, and every year is different. The conditions the sheep experience during the time they grow their fleece will affect the fiber length, diameter, crimp, and color. In short, each clip is unique. The end result is that undyed yarn will look a little different from lot to lot.

We buy our wool fiber for our core wool line from an aggregator that takes wool in from ranches in the western states, and combines it into lots of similar fiber, arranged primarily by the diameter of the fibers (also referred to as micron count). This aggregation helps diminish variability, thus keeping our core wool yarns as consistent as possible. But! Still, there is some variability from lot to lot, as evidenced by the subtle changes in Egret.

Owl – alpaca shades

With Owl, we work with the same wool (Owl Tweet’s wool is different – it comes from Texas), but we also combine the wool 50/50 with various shades of alpaca, including black, brown, fawn, white, and variations between. This is how we achieve our range of neutral, undyed Owl and Owl Tweet colors: Snowy, Buru, Tyto, Tawny, Abyssinian, Elf, Sokoke, Albertine, Papuan, Barred, Sooty, Otus, and (coming in early February!) Togian and Bubo.

We love Owl, and we love the natural shades, but it is difficult to source. We’ve used both American and New Zealand alpaca, and are hoping to use more and more American as the industry matures here. Though both countries are capable of producing outstanding alpaca fiber, the industry is small and immature in both. New Zealand has a slight edge in color consistency and reproducibility at this point, which is why we have worked with it instead of American fiber over the last couple lots of Owl. But, it’s still not perfect.

Small lots lead to even more variability

In the fall we received a new batch of Owl, and to our dismay, much of the base-yarn shades that our dyed colors are dyed on were not the same as before. Our formulas were the same, but the alpaca shades weren’t. Further, when you spin in small lots, like we do, small changes in the blend can create large changes in the output.

Owl lot comparisons - left image: Canyon, previous lot at left, new lot at right; right image: Acacia, previous lot at left, new lot at right 

The results are pretty, just not exactly the same as previous lots. Canyon has a little more heather effect, and is less saturated but more variegated looking as a result. Cerulean and Acacia have a little more yellow in them than their previous lots.

You may notice subtle differences from previous lots in a couple other colors as well. We’ve re-shot the product page images of the shades that are different so that what you see is still what you get, and we are working hard to figure out how to improve the consistency of Owl’s color every year. In the meantime, enjoy these pretty, slightly different, colors that are back in stock.

Related posts in: Alpaca | Colors | Dye lots | Natural | New colors | Owl | Owl tweet | Palette | Wool
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