Temperature, Humidity and Fiber

What does temperature and humidity mean to the fiber artist; hot versus cold and humid versus dry?  As always, the answer is “it depends.”  It depends on what part of the process the spinner is working on.

For the Fleece Processor

Heat and humidity are both key to processing wool.  It can be more difficult to process a fleece in cold weather.  Colder temperatures can harden the lanolin in the wool and make it more difficult to remove.  More important, heat and humidity can have an effect on the dry time.  If you scour a fleece in an area with high humidity, it will take far longer to dry and may even mildew or mold.  If you are processing fleece in a humid area, check the fleece daily and expose wet portions to the air.

For the Spinner

Humidity is of particular interest to the spinner.  In dry environments, static becomes a concern.  Most home HVAC experts recommend that the home be kept somewhere between 40-60% humidity.  Lower humidity levels result in dry skin, static and irritated throats and sinuses.  When combing or carding, static is the enemy.  It disorganizes the alignment of the fibers and makes it difficult to work with.  A worsted fiber preparation or yarn will suffer the most.

Some spinners use a combing milk in a spritzer bottle to tame the friz.  A combing milk or combing oil is usually an emulsion of oil and water and can include alcohol, fabric softener or hair conditioner.  There are a ton of recipes out there. I like to use water with a few drops of essential oils like lavender or peppermint, which helps deter carpet beetles and moths, but doesn’t leave a residue on my wool.  Beth Smith recommends  1 part Unicorn Fiber Rinse to 4 parts water, which also works very well.  Spritz your fiber before you comb or card and remember, the goal is not to soak your fiber.

For the Knitter, Crocheter, Weaver, Etc…

Depending on the nature of the yarn, the knitter, crocheter or weaver will face some challenges.  If handspun yarn has not had the twist set using hot water, the fabric you create is at risk of changing qualities with heat and humidity.  Your sample may lay flat when you knit it, then skew as it is exposed to humidity.  Likewise, if you blocked your yarn with weight and knit with it, the same thing can happen.  Moisture in the air will cause the skein to regain the spring that is hidden by weighted blocking.

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