Know Your Fiber: Grow Your Own Yarn Edition

Remember when I was talking about Yarn Swapping previously?  Well my received yarn included some simply amazing 100% Bamboo yarn.

Its like they went out on an autumn drive, waves the yarn in the air and voila!

Its like they went out on an autumn drive, waved the yarn in the air and voila!

So this got me and a few of my friends curious as to how exactly one makes Bamboo yarn.   Consider if you will that Bamboo is indeed very woody in nature, even though it technically is a grass.  How exactly do you get silky softness from that?

Bamboo, staple of panda edibles and amazing wire work ninja fighting in the movies... and yarn.

Bamboo, staple of panda edibles and amazing wire work ninja fighting in the movies… and yarn.

Well after some digging around… there are two ways to make bamboo yarn.  One method is shared with making linen(flax), hemp and ramie plant based yarns.With that method, the fibrous material is soaked typically in water sometimes with added microbial help, to break down the outer hard layer and soften the under-layer of the stem, called the bast fibers.  This is called retting.   The long fibrous strands are then dried, and spun into yarn.

Another method is used to make what gets classified as more of a semi-synthetic fiber, such as rayon(wood), modal(wood), viscose rayon (wood), Lyocell/Tencel (also wood), etc – apparently we wear a lot of trees.

Wood you like to see my future yarn stash?

Wood you like to see my future yarn stash?

In this method, chips of wood/chunks of bamboo/bits o’ cotton (didn’t see that non-wood one coming did you?) are treated to a chemical bath to break apart the cellulose fibers that make up the plant and dissolve them into a pulp.  They can then be treated with other chemicals to add flame retardation or other desirable qualities if so desired.  And then finally… the pulp is then extruded through spinnerets into an acid base that hardens the fiber strands to prepare them for spinning.

Now… lest one of you points out that thus far I’ve only briefly mentioned the most famous of plant fibers… cotton yarn is not made using either of these methods.  Cotton has natural cellulose chains.  Whereas all the prior wood  was only about 40-50% cellulose, cotton is 90%.  Which means that you can comb/card and spin those fibers directly into yarn.

Oh plants... so helpful in giving us yarns for our friends allergic to the animal fibers.

Oh plants… so helpful in giving us yarns for our friends allergic to the animal fibers.

To be clear I do not know which method was used to make my yarn.. and honestly it doesn’t really matter… its a beautiful gift and I can’t wait to knit with it!  If I were to describe it… I’d say its like cotton and silk got together and had a love child.

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Know your fiber and the animal it came in on – Alpaca

Ben’s mother, Dale (the Sunflower quilt lady), always finds really creative and new things for us to do when we visit Kansas.  We’ve been to the Omaha Zoo,  the Cosmosphere Space Museum, and even to a tiger rescue ranch (since closed).

Tiger Tongues feel just like really big cat tongues when they lick your hands btw.

A most interesting experience!

And this holiday visit we went to an Alpaca Farm called Alpacas of Wildcat Hollow.  Dale also knits, so naturally we made some yarn purchases.  (Fellow knitters, and friends of knitters know this was inevitable! Non-knitter Ben got socks instead.) 

So this Christmas I received two beautiful hanks of 100% Alpaca in fingering weight with which I plan to make an amazing shawl.  I am presently debating if this will be a good excuse to build my own pattern or not.

A variegated Rose color

A variegated Rose color

AND… she picked up a sport weight skein for me to knit her a wonderful scarf.  Going for a more textured than lacy design as Kansas is cold, as in hide yo’ ears! hide yo’ toes! We gettin’ frostbite up in here!

Violet and Teal

Violet and Teal

So let’s talk Alpaca fiber.

Alpaca does not have lanolin like Sheep wool, which is apparently where most people with wool allergies run into issues!  It also is less prickly, naturally water repellant, and a better heat insulator.    Alpacas are closely related to llamas, but have finer fur for making yarn (It seems the llama, being larger with less fine fleece, is more of a pack animal, whereas the Alpaca is more of a fleece production animal).  The fur is shorn from the animal much like sheep wool, but has a greater yield per fleece than sheep.  There are 22 naturally occurring colors of Alpaca, and it maintains a nice luster even after dying!

So there’s a few bits about Alpaca, and something to look forward to working with in the coming new year!