Friday, August 1, 2014

Pilana Yarn

As you may have noticed from my blog (and it was one of the attractions from my point of view when my husband first said "let's move to New Zealand") that I have a passion for wool and NZ wool in particular. Coloured wool is well represented by the bags and fadges of the raw stuff in both my little wool store (ex-sleepout) and the garage. So I'm always keen to see what other people and especially local farmers are doing with their wool. kiwiyarns (who has written an interesting post about the wool) alerted me to this company just 4 hours drive from me here in the South Island developing a knitting yarn from their flock of Pitt Island Merino.
You can read the story here of how this very large flock came to live on the Banks peninsula and Roger Beattie's story of how he brought them to his property. 
Firstly I have to say, from working with some of the raw wool of these undeveloped (previously feral) sheep such as Arapawa and Pitt Island that the fibre is challenging. There is variety of staple length, fineness, crimp structure and colour in even a single fleece. It makes for exciting prep and spinning.
So sending these fleeces for commercial spinning is a challenge too. The handspinner compensates effortlessly to different staple lengths by adjusting how far their hands are apart and slowly or stopping their wheel to smooth out a lump or thin out the fibre prep a little more. This is not possible with automated machinery so Roger Beattie asked the mill to slow the whole spinning process down.
The yarn has low level twist applied at both the single and plied stages.
The yarn I have chosen to try is a blend of 50% Pitt Island fleece from the 'Pihepe'sheep combined with some modern merino fibre and 25% possum. I would love to try the other two yarns one blended with alpaca and the other with cashmere. I knit a sample and also used it as weft in a handwoven sample.
The yarn itself consists of 4 plies which appear to have been lightly spun anti-clockwise (S twist), then twisted into a two ply clockwise (Z) and finally a 4 ply Z twist. The yarn is very softly spun and is like a  shetland woollen spun yarn so not suitable for a warp yarn.
The knitted swatch used 3.25mm needles which made a lovely fabric and really bloomed when I washed it. I would try bigger needles next time as the stitches really puffed up after washing.The 20% possum creates a halo in the fabric once washed. The knitted swatch is fluffier than the woven sample which could be brushed to raise the nap.. I think some pilling might occur in the knitted fabric with use as the fibres are quite short and very lightly twisted together. There was very little shedding fibres as I used the yarn.
I only put the Pilana yarn in the weft of my woven sample and it is probably too fragile for the warp although possibly woven gently on a rigid heddle loom it might not pull apart as warp providing it isn't abraded in the heddle. I used my handspun Arapawa yarn for warp. This has similar properties to the Pilana wool although not as soft.I gently washed and fulled the finished fabric slightly. It would make lovely scarves.
This yarn is expensive $18.95 for 180m and is only available from the website at present in a 4ply (fingering) weight and in one natural brown colour.

So of course I had to see how well it dyed with the last bit of yarn from the ball. I used acid wool dye for speed but I would like to try dyeing the yarn with natural plant dyes. I think indigo and cochineal would work well.
If you like working with New Zealand wool and want to support the farmers who help sustain these breeds then try this yarn, it comes with a fascinating history.