Anything but fuzzy about wool

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WALLA WALLA — When it comes to yarn, Susan Swayne has her spin on it.

“Wool is wonderful. Comfortable to knit with. It has a warm feeling.”

And if that yarn was made by hand … well let’s just say there is nothing sheepish about Swayne’s enthusiasm for hand-spun.

“To me the lure of spinning is that if you work at it, you can make any kind of yarn you want, any style of yarn you want. If you can imagine it, you can probably spin it,” Swayne said.

This Saturday, Swayne and other volunteers with the Kirkman House Textile Center will hold their annual Sheep to Shawl event on the lawn of the Kirkman House Museum, 214 N. Colville St.

Their goal is to weave into the minds of knitters, crocheters and other textile crafters the idea that wool is wonderful.

“I especially try and get them to try hand-spun,” Swayne said.

So how many potential wool knitters could Textile Center volunteers reach on Saturday?

According to the International Craft and Hobbies Association, 11.6 percent of all households in the U.S. have at least one person who knitted last year. And in those well-knit homes, an average of $76 was spent last year to create 4.5 knitting crafts.

Alas, most of them are made with acrylic.

But sometimes the synthetic stuff is the right choice for a project, as long as it has 20 percent of the sheep-made material, Swayne said.

“For children’s things that are going to need to be washed every minute I recommend a wool blend,” Swayne said, and added that these days department stores offer some very affordable and desirable wool skeins.

Still, there are some aspects about hand-spun wool that you just don’t get at Walmart. And sometimes those aspects throw the knitter for a loop.

For one thing, Swayne said hand-spun yarn might be thicker or thinner in some parts.

“It is not absolutely standard all the way along. But it is one of the charms of working with one of the hand-spuns,” she said.

Occasionally, locally grown and hand-spun wool comes with a bit of chaff in the yarn that needs to be picked out.

Swayne recommends knitters new to hand-spun start out with a skein before attempting to spin their own.

Knitters will also need to drop the weights, as hand-spun skeins are generally sold in yard lengths.

Swayne said it will take about 200-250 yards to knit a good-size beanie or moderate narrow scarf.

For those interested in spinning, Swayne said a decent drop-spindle can be purchased for about $50, though they can run lower and a lot higher, depending on the design.

A roving, basically a soft billowy trashbag of wool ready to spin, is about $16.

Then there is the dying, though projects can be left in natural colors.

Swayne said Rit and similar brand dyes are not recommended, but Kool-Aid can be used to color the skeins, and it is safe for kids to handle.

Weather permitting, Textile House volunteers will set up some yarn-dying activities for youths using Kool-Aid.

To learn more about hand-spun yarn, Sheep to Shawl is from 10-3 p.m. on Saturday.

A schedule of events can be found on page 4 of today’s Marquee.

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