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  • Writer's pictureSarah Matthess

Monster Handspun Yarn for Heirloom Rug Making

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

When I was a teenager, I decided to hook a rug. Never having ever made a rug, I went to the local craft supply shop, bought some (fairly nasty) pre-cut acrylic rug yarn, a few yards of rug canvas, and a latch hook. My Dad saw me doing something new and looked over my shoulder and said 'what are you doing'? I said 'hooking a rug'. He said 'whats that yarn?' I said 'Its rug yarn!' He stared at it and said 'No it's not, that's not rug yarn at all. When I was a boy....' and then he proceeded to tell me about the rugs he helped his Mother hook during World War 2, and he held up a finger and said 'rug yarn is supposed to be as thick as your finger'.

Here's a picture of what I finally created. You may want to read on to find out how I got to this.

Memories of that conversation with my Dad have lingered, so, 40 years later, I'm trying to replicate really thick strong durable rug yarn, as per WW2. This blog tells my handspun rug-yarn journey (to date). My first foray into rug yarn was hand spinning the skirtings from Swaledale.

The fibres are long, and very very strong. ' Waste not want not', was a War Time slogan that was made into a poster to remind the population to use every last scrap. So this is where I began my development of serious rug yarn. This fibre usually went onto my compost heap. I didn't have much use for it because of its coarseness.

So I chose to spin up a whole lot of this as a worsted yarn, and dyed it in different colours for a hand-woven rug project. (For those who don't know what 'worsted' means, it's a way of spinning fibres 'end on', rather than rolling the fibre up into a rolag. So the resulting yarn is smooth, even, very strong and harder to break.)

I also made it into 'twine' for tying up the roses, and presented it in clip top Ikea jars as gifts.

This was 3-ply yarn because my wheel at the time, wouldn't take anything thicker. And I have to say it was very strong.

The hand spinning was very rough indeed as the picture below shows. It was really tough working with this on my Kromski flyer because it was far too thick and hairy to feed onto the bobbin smoothly, and when it came to plying it up, it was very slow work as it snagged on the hooks. Also the bobbin wouldn't hold many yards before it was full. Shown below at 5 wraps per inch.

I then wove a rug from this. I used 2 strands of this yarn together for each shot of weaving. Done in plain weave, with a 5 dpi reed, on my Glimakra Ideal Floor loom. Linen rug warp. It made good rugs. Not terribly thick, but I still have these rugs and they are very useful, but Swaledale has a lot of what some people refer to as 'kemp' or 'noils', which are the shorter fibres that are at the base of the longer fibres. You will be able to see this in the picture of Swaledale fibre above and you can see it in this turquoise yarn, short hairs sticking out in every direction. If we are trying to be terribly thrifty, it won't matter. It makes a good rug and the roses don't mind being tied up with it. But the annoying thing is that these shorter fibres work their way out of the yarn, and out of the rug, and accumulate on the surface in lumps of fluff, that have to be vacuumed up. It doesn't seriously affect the rug long-term, and eventually that shedding stops. Anyone who has installed a brand new woolen carpet in their house will know what I'm talking about.

My next experiment was with Zwartbles. I had a coarser ram fleece that was not destined for any type of knitwear project, so I spun it up as rug yarn once again, and in the same 'worsted' way as the Swaledale. It certainly made a much smoother and softer yarn than the Swaledale. Shown here as a 2 ply yarn, and I was getting approx. 3 wraps per inch. So thats quite chunky. I ended up crocheting this into some super mats for putting hot pots on. Wool is a very heat resistant material that will insulate a table from being scorched. I put these mats through the washing machine on a hot wash, to felt them up before using. But in terms of a 'rug yarn', I felt that I was after something more robust for the rough and tumble of years of feet going over it.

My next rug yarn was spun from Lincoln Longwool. The lovely thing about this fibre is it is what it says 'long wool'. The length of the individual fibres (staple length) is longer than most other wools and it has almost no 'noils' or 'kemp' in the wool, making it ideal for rugs. Staple length is an average of 30cm, and 37 microns means it's fairly coarse and hard wearing. It's an unusually 'heavy' fibre to hold. What I mean by that is, a bundle of Lincoln Longwool is heavier to pick up than you would expect it to be if it had been, say, Shetland or Merino. More like human hair in fact. It seems more of a hair than a wool.

I spun this up on my Kromski Jumbo Flyer, and then took four large bobbins full, and plied them together as a 4 ply yarn on my Ashford Country Spinner, into skeins or hanks, that weighed in over 1.1 kilo. When spinning worsted Lincoln Longwool, it's important to draft out the fibres to start with into long lengths, because the fibre is so long, it has to be worked a good distance from the orifice of the wheel.

At time of writing this blog, I have 2 colour-ways dyed with natural dyes, in this same yarn. The one shown above is dyed with Buckthorn (ochre), Lac (pinks) and Logwood (purples). I have other hanks just dyed with Buckthorn and different shades of deeper purple Logwood. And these will both be in my Etsy shop very soon. I have plans for other colours in future.

I've trialed this yarn in a number of different ways. I'm getting approx. 2 to 2.5 wraps per inch, and around 7 to 8 yards per 100g skein (just under 4oz).

In order to make a braided rug with this yarn, I took 3 wound-off balls of it, and secured the ends on a table. However, Its easier to do by securing the ends on a wall hook, and letting the wool - balls, or skeins, hang down below.

100gram balls/skeins would be as heavy as you would want to work with. I would recommend staggering the adding in of new balls of yarn, so the joins are not all in the same place. When you get to the end of your ball of yarn, unwind the 4 plies of each strand and darn them back into your braid so they cannot be seen. The braid I made was about 1" thick.

This yarn is slightly thicker than a bic biro, (picture to right) just for reference.

Another way of using this yarn could be to crochet a rug. I experimented with a couple different sizes of crochet hook. 12mm, and 15mm shown here. I found

they both worked, but I preferred the 12mm for size as it made a really tight rug.

Just a quick word about crochet hooks. I love bamboo hooks, and as my Etsy business is plastic-free, it sort of grates on me to have to admit that the plastic hook is easier to use in this project. It slides in and out of the yarn much easier than the bamboo one does. But, it's possible to use the bamboo hook, so I wouldn't discredit it, and there may be other eco-friendly crochet hooks out there that I don't know about.

Hopefully the pictures below show the thickness of this work. It makes a very thick rigid rug. The rainbow dyeing on this yarn means you don't have to keep adding in new balls of yarn to get different colours in your work. The picture above shows the beginning of my crochet rug, I'm working double crochets around a central chain loop . I haven't tried crocheting over a core, but I think that could also be very interesting, and make an even thicker rug.

And then last but not least, I did a test swatch of weaving on my Ashford Sampleit Rigid Heddle loom. I love this little loom. I had it warped and woven in 20 mins flat. Great..

Unlike my original Swaledale rug yarn, I did not have to double this yarn up to achieve a really decent thickness in the rug. This is done as before, on a 5 dent reed, with a linen rug warp. I packed each shot down very well with the beveled edge of a rag rug weaving shuttle. Very satisfying to do.. can't wait to make a full sized one.

I hope this has been a useful blog! I have been making an 'Amish Toothbrush Rug' in my 'spare time' (what is spare time?) out of old duvet covers ripped up into strips. Although I would love to see this yarn made up by that method, I'm not sure it would lend itself to that because ideally you have to work with shorter lengths, and there would be too much joining if using this yarn.

By the way, the braided rug under the loom in the picture below, is commercially produced, but it is braided from variegated thick woolen rug yarn, and I've had it for years, and it is not even slightly worn out. So that is a real testimony to the durability of wool for rug making.

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