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Batch 9 Changes

Yogi Berra, the late, great baseball player, also is known for some tremendous quotes. One of my favorites:

In theory,there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

My Batch 9 ideas are sound in theory, but until we test them in practice, who knows. If they don't work, I have Batch 10 fiber lined up as Plan B.

We are always looking for ways to make our products better, and our Fabric itself is our most important product.

I have wanted to test some changes in the way we make our Fabric, but until now WeatherWool was not large enough to test my ideas. There are three things we will be testing with Batch 9

  1. We have always purchased our warp yarn (warp runs lengthwise through a bolt of fabric), rather than make it ourselves, because we were not large enough to make our own
  2. Our warp yarn has always been superwashed, and I want to avoid superwashing
  3. As part of the finishing process, our Fabric is carbonized, and I want to avoid carbonizing

Here are the details ...

Woven fabric such as ours is made from warp yarn (running lengthwise as mentioned) and weft yarn, running horizontally. For woolen fabrics, the warp is generally regarded as of minor importance. People view the warp as providing a framework for the weft, and that the weft is what gives woolen fabric its character. This is why woolen fabric is frequently woven with cotton warp. One of the significant expenses of our weaving is that we have always insisted on woolen warp.

Our warp yarn is worsted spun (sometimes pronounced woostered). Worsted yarns are prepared in a way that makes the yarn thin in diameter, strong, and dense. Our Fabric has about 60 warp yarns per inch (about 24 per centimeter) so obviously, the warp is thin!

Worsted yarns are spun from "top". Top can be made from the same type of fiber we have always purchased, but top requires treatment beyond the scouring to which our yarn has always been subjected. However, in order to make our own top, we need to bring to Chargeurs at least 40,000 pounds (18,141 kg) of greasy wool. Until Batch 9, our operations were not large enough to support such a large purchase.

Batch 9 is large enough that Chargeurs will scour the greasy in the usual way. But with Batch 9, Chargeurs will also:

Card the clean fiber. The carding process:

  • Removes tangles and short fibers (noils)
  • Aligns the fibers so they are parallel
  • Removes additional dirt and vegetation (grass, seeds ...)
  • Produces a continuous, uniform and homogeneous length of sliver

After carding, the sliver will be combed, which will:

  • Remove short fibers that were missing in carding
  • Remove more vegetable matter
  • Remove neps (very small tangles)

Chargeurs will send our top to be dyed, and then we can worsted-spin our warp from fiber that has been selected and acquired by us from the Ranches with which we have working relationships.

But also, our Batch 9 warp will not be superwashed. Superwashing is a process intended to reduce shrinkage, and superwashing is very widely practiced. There are a few things I do not like about superwashing:

Superwashing (Chlorine Hercosett treatment) involves exposing the fibers to hydrochloric acid (to eat away at the scales of the fiber) and then coating the fiber in resin.

BUT if you superwash, you denature the wool. Going back a little, most people view the warp as a vehicle that enables the weft to express itself. Nevertheless, in our Fabric, the warp is about 10% (by weight) of our FullWeight and about 30% of our MidWeight. So, the warp is a significant presence, and it, instead of merely providing a framework for our weft, we can have our warp working in concert with our weft, I want to give it a try.

Superwashing denatures the wool in two important (as far as I'm concerned, anyhow) ways.

By nibbling away at the scales of the fibers, it weakens the yarn. The scales of the fibers when still on the sheep are all pointed in the same direction. But in processing, the fibers are mixed, resulting in around half the fibers (and their scales) pointed in opposite directions. Scales pointed in opposite directions on intertwined or touching fibers will only allow the fibers to slide in one way. That is, the yarn made from such fibers can shrink, but not stretch. The superwashing aims to remove the shrinkage, but in so doing it also enables the fibers to slide against each other (stretch) in a way that weakens the yarn.

ALSO ... after the acid bath, the fibers are coated in polymer. I haven't researched the impact of coating the wool fiber in polymer, but ... if it's coated in something, it's not going to perform the way wool naturally performs.

Nixing the superwash is very appealing to me. We'll test to determine whether there are any drawbacks. And of course the other win from making our own warp will be knowing the exact source of the fiber.

The other significant change for Batch 9 involves making our weft from top. Weft is woolen spun -- a very different type of spinning than worsted. But making weft from top is expected to produce a superior yarn. It will be stronger, softer and cleaner ... in theory. There is no doubt it will be cleaner, because of the additional cleaning steps required for making top. There is two more advantages resulting from making our weft from top. Because the vegetable matter will be almost completely removed prior to spinning, the stronger yarn will weave better. And the resulting Fabric being made entirely from top, Batch 9 will not be carbonized. Carbonizing is one of the finished steps, and I have always wanted to eliminate it, but could not. During carbonizing, the Fabric is subjected to a sulfuric acid bath. This is heavy-duty sulfuric, really nasty, dangerous stuff. The sulfuric bath is necessary to remove remaining bits of organic matter from the Fabric. The acid turns the vegetable matter into a sort of carbon dust that can be washed, shaken, or brushed out of the Fabric. Without adequate carbonizing, significant vegetable matter can remain. A few years ago, we had a batch of Fabric that had significant VM (vegetable matter) remaining after we made garments. We (Debby, Alex, Denali) spent two to three hours with tweezers -- per garment -- removing vegetable matter prior to shipping. So that nightmare scenario will no longer be a concern, but also, the sulfuric bath, sometimes two sulfuric baths, is definitely not good for the Fabric.

That's the plan for Batch 9. At this writing, we're spinning the test warp. The weft is already spun. As soon as the warp is ready, we'll weave and finish some Fabric. We'll make only about 60 yards (54 meters) of FullWeight and 60 yards of MidWeight ... plenty for testing. And these test Fabrics will be undyed, to save time.

Once we have the Fabric, we'll go someplace cold and windy to test it ... fingers crossed ... hoping Yogi Berra and Mr Murphy are not collaborating ...

Thanks for plowing through this, and please LMK if any of it is not clear.


8 May 2023 --- Ralph