Comfort and crimp

When life gets rocky, as it has been around here lately, balance and a sense of safe harbor for me can come from friends (two-footed, four-footed, and other), fibers (especially wool), and good books.

Tussah Redfurr has been doing her best to fill the hole in our lives that remains following the death of Ariel, our fifteen-year-old Border collie-ish.


It's amazing how many household habits revolved around our newly
missing member.

I've greatly appreciated the comments and notes that have come in from friends, especially while our family has also been caring for a few human members with acute ailments. Those folks are on the mend now, and we are all, I hope, taking care of ourselves in the ways that work best for us.

For me, that often means wrapping myself in wool, both physically and mentally. For the former, I have sweaters, shawls, hats, and more (a nice woolly afghan I knitted more than a year ago is still at the publisher's for photography: I look forward to having it back! and I will be showing it here on a blog tour early in 2010).

For mental comfort and joy, I'm working on The Project. I also have a couple of nearly complete book reviews and some knitting updates that I hope to get posted in the near future.

Which brings me to the woolly photo of the day, about the importance of crimp. Put simply, crimp is waviness in a fiber. If there's lots of it, the fiber coils a bit like a spring. Crimp forms as part of the growth process of the fiber. Fibers can have more, less, or no crimp.

Here are two small sample skeins for The Project. They were wound on the same sample niddy-noddy, so if crimp were not a factor they would have identical circumference measurements.


The longer skein on the left is OptimTM Fine, which is wool that has been processed in ways that reduce the individual fibers' micron counts (make them finer and softer), increase their length, and remove their crimp. OptimTM still has many of wool's qualities (breathability, moisture-handling, and so on) but in many other ways it has become more silk-like (elasticity disappears and draping qualities increase). While the process can be applied to other wools, it's pretty much focused on use with 19-micron Merinos, turning them into 15.5- to 16-micron Optim fibers. (The micron counts refer to average fiber diameters: under Optim processing, the fibers get skinnier and longer.)

The shorter skein on the right is Polwarth, which by breeding is about 75% Merino and 25% Lincoln (details in The Project's book). I'd compare the Optim to Merino, but Polwarth was what was on the drying rack when I realized the value of a photo comparison. Same basic idea. The Polwarth skein can be stretched to extend as far as the Optim skein does, but when the Polwarth is relaxed it bounces back, while the Optim skein stays put.

For some applications, Optim (less crimp) is a better choice. Crimp-free fibers are more elegant. For drape that doesn't cling (at least in a low-static environment), crimp-free fibers will work better.

For other purposes, Polwarth or another crimpy fiber will excel. Crimpy fibers are cosier than crimp-free ones. For a fabric where elasticity and body-hugging qualities are important, crimp wins. For example, it makes socks that will pull over the heel easily yet won't fall down (at least if they're sized correctly!). Crimp also increases warmth: all those trapped air spaces increase the fabric's insulating qualities.

The person selecting the yarn for an envisioned purpose is the one who decides what matters.

Does all this mean crimp = comfort? It might.

Over the past few days, I've been enjoying the power of crimp, spinning samples of Merino (including its Optim variant), Polwarth, Rambouillet, and Île de France. This afternoon, I plan to begin on Corriedale and Bond. Later this week, I've got Cormo, Romeldale, CVM, and Targhee. All fine wools, each with an individual array of qualities.

We have some brushings from Ariel, saved over the last year or so. A lot got tossed (Ariel grew, and shed, fiber generously), but we have a nice small box full. My daughter asked last week whether I thought we could make some wrist warmers from the collected fiber. This seems like a perfect way to remember a pup who collected the nickname Snow-nose because she adored playing in the snow.

Ariel's fur is a lot like angora. It's fine, exceptionally soft, and has almost no crimp. It's warm. A little Ari-fur will have a big effect on a yarn (as the dog herself had a big effect in our lives), but it could use an infusion of crimp to give it enough elasticity to make good wrist warmers or fingerless gloves.

While I'm working up my samples, I'll be looking for the right match. A good fiber match takes into account fineness, color, and fiber length, in addition to the behavioral qualities (like crimp) that are desired in the finished yarn. Any of the fibers I'm spinning now would be a good match in fineness. The overall effect of Ari's fur spun by itself is a light gray. The colored Merinos and Rambouillets I'm using have shorter staple lengths than Ari's fiber. I have some exquisite colored Bonds here, but they're longer. I'm guessing one of the CVMs or the colored Romeldales will pair with the fur best. As a plus, they're rare wools. That bit of wool will also give the yarn some of the bounce that Ariel herself contributed to our lives.

Comfort and crimp.



13 thoughts on “Comfort and crimp”

  1. Oh, I looove that last photo. They look so happy!!!

    (You are making me want to spin, even more. I can’t until this pattern finishes. Crossing fingers that is today…)


  2. This post made me get teary! This sort of project is also how I mourned my dog Lucy–through a spinning project. I spun some cashmere late one night during a thunderstorm (Lucy couldn’t stand thunderstorms and would have been up, had she lived) and it became the white Gator Gaiter that you helped tech edit. I wear it now with some frequency, and I think of Lucy. Her fur was a bit hard to spin, but her soul? A little of it is in that cashmere, for me.

  3. I can't start really working on this Ariel project until I've got The Project out of the office for a bit, but the big plus is that I can be cruising among the fibers here for the perfect blending match.

  4. What a lovely, warm post. These four-leggeds really do weave themselves in, don’t they? Many sympathies.
    I come to you via Susan Twiet and her blog. I’m sitting in my Michigan livingroom with a box of Marr Haven’s Merino-Rambouillet (from downstate), in love with real yarn, and realizing I have so much to learn. This lesson on crimp is just wonderful.
    I’m finding comfort just in the scent of this one box. (And my local yarn shop said there were no Michigan producers–yikes!)



  5. Thanks and welcome, Linda. I love Susan Tweit. And her blog ( ). And her books (here's one: ).

    Your local shop thought there were NO Michigan producers???? Egad! Almost everywhere has local producers. Michigan

    Marr Haven is truly lovely, wonderful, nearly magical yarn. The fibers are *not* carbonized (a chemical treatment that removes vegetable matter but also takes some of the life out of the fiber) and they *are* mule-spun, which also helps the resulting yarns stay lively–preserving the qualities of the original wools as much as anything this side of complete hand processing. Marr Haven yarns are a treasure–real stuff, reasonably priced, and (some of us love this) available on cones (worsteds are also in skeins, and sportweights can be special-ordered off the cone). No, I don't know the Marr Haven people, nor are they paying me a single penny for this untempered enthusiasm for their yarns.

    Stop by again and let us know what you do with your Merino-Rambouillet yarn!

    Meanwhile, here's another Michigan option:

    There are more. Happy hunting. . . .

  6. Deb, Oh God! Another site of lovely stuff. Thanks–I think. You’ve got the Marr Haven down to a “T.” I could add that because it is so carefully processed (that word sounds too harsh), it is lanolin rich. I haven’t been able to work with it yet, but I do stop by to pet it and make sure it’s happy (It does seem alive, I have to say). My hands and nails come away healed.

    I found Marr Haven via Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Wool, which your reviewed highly here. (You were right about it too.) She has a sweater named the Allegan (little town near the Marr Hhaven farm)designed just for the yarn.

    I have dealt with Barbara, one of the founders of the farm. She is a delightful email correspondent, even at this busy time. And I had my yarn in 3 days–of course, I’m in the state, but still! I will be making a pilgrimage in May.

    I will stop by again; thanks for the encouragement. Keep the information coming when you can. I look forward to The Project.


    (And, yes, everyone of Susan’s books, and her blog, are insightful, well written and generally wonderful.)

  7. "Alive" is why I love working with handspun yarn. Or any fibers that feel like they have been handspun.

    On The Project, I am spinning some machine-processed fibers, but almost everything is coming to me–by my request–straight from the sheep. It's the only way to "get" the wool's personality. While I've spun a lot of wools in the past, I'm needing to do some comparisons. While I can only compare one sample from each breed (except when I've got several . . . takes longer, but worthwhile), it's still incredibly revealing.

    The write-ups I do without wool in hand are, to me, boring. The ones where I've taken the grease wool (some jacketed; some so NOT jacketed) and processed it all the way through are the fun ones. That's almost all of them.

    I have a long review of Clara's book coming. I've been working on it for weeks, but I keep getting interrupted by various emergencies. It'll get here.

  8. Thank you for your lovely comments about our yarn, Linda sent me the link to your blog. I still get excited when someone talks about our yarn.

    I relate to losing a 15 yr old Border Collie. Unfortunately with the number of years we have had sheep, we have had to experience this more than once. Still have all the great memories of those loyal, hard working 4 legged members of our family.
    Barbara Marr

  9. Welcome to the blog, Barbara. Thanks so much for doing what you do. It's a pleasure to be able to acknowledge the quality and care with which you treat your sheep and their fibers.

    Ah, yes, you would have lost a number of Border collies. I grew up with other wonderful breeds, then by chance ended up with an Aussie and a Border collie. I knew when I took them on that they would require more of me than the other dogs had: it was true, in ways I couldn't even begin to imagine. But they also rewarded the partnership beyond my wildest dreams.

    We'll rescue another when the time comes.

  10. Some years ago I spun my daughter in law’s beloved elk hound’s fluff. It was awfully short but very soft. I blended it with CVM and made her a nice lace scarf. I don’t think she wears it much, living as she does in LA, but there he is, on tap as it were and it does sometimes get cold there.

  11. The evenings in LA can get cool, and a lace scarf sounds perfect. I thought I was going to get to spin the CVMs this past week and check them out, but then I got a box with 23 new samples that needed to be washed. I think CVM is probably what I'll use with Ari's fur. Or one of the colored Romeldales. I'm so glad you could do this for your daughter-in-law. Even if she mostly looks at the scarf and strokes it whenever she wants to.

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