Thursday, August 21, 2008

Spinning - the process.

Bells got a spinning wheel (on loan) and is kind of freaking out over it in a 'this is cool, what do I do?' sort of way, and I've had some questions from other folks, so I thought I'd show my version of spinning. Remember, just like knitting, there is no single right way to spin. If you wind up with a product you like and there are no injuries, property damages, or lawsuits filed, then you're doing it right.

Yarns come in two broad categories. Woolen and worsted. Woolen yarns are spun with the fibers all jumbled around in the plies. Worsted yarns (has nothing to do with 'worsted weight'), are made from combed yarns, with all the fibers running in one direction (lengthwise) along the yarn. I spin worsted yarns. They're stronger, warmer, and in my opinion easier to spin - for one thing, they don't need as much twist to hold them together, and for another, the pre-drafting is much less elaborate. (Well. You can make the pre-drafting as elaborate as you like. You can get away with less pre-drafting with worsted yarns.)

Okay. I start with roving, which is the long snakey wad of fiber - usually wool - that's already been cleaned, carded, and otherwise processed. Here's some (I forgot to take a 'before' picture of the wool used for all the other example photos, so this looks different, but same general idea):

Generally I buy my roving in half pound/quarter kilo wads, so I don't shorten it any, lengthwise. What I do, is split it in half lengthwise:

I put the ball of roving between my feet, and pull it apart, dropping the halves to either side of my body. Then I roll up one half, put it away in a bag to keep the cat hair off it (hopefully), then divide the half in half again, and so forth, until it's as thin as I want it.

For a two-ply DK weight, I am for something like this:

Note the bowl of the roving. Again, keeps the cat hair out. Mostly. By now, just the act of pulling it apart over and over will have fluffed up the fibers, making them easy to draft during the spinning process.

While spinning, I sit the bowl at my right side, use the right hand to manage the bowl and feeding 'raw' wool up, and for traction. I use the left to pull the wool out smooth and control the twist. I had to use my right hand to take this photo, but imagine it over where my thigh is, holding on to the roving.

You can see how it's getting thinner twoard my left hand. Remember, it's supposed to be DK two-ply, so each ply needs to be half the thickness of the finished yarn. Overtwist just a tad (once you get the hang of it) because plying removes a bit of the twist. Or rather unwinds it again. You know what I mean.

So, spin yourself up two bobbins of singles. (Or three, or four, or whatever you feel the need to do. It's your yarn.) Next is plying them together. For plying, YOU SPIN THE WHEEL IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION YOU SPUN THE SINGLES. I, like most other spinners, spin the wheel to the right/clockwise for the singles, and then to the left/widdershins for the plying. DO NOT SCREW THIS UP. You will wind up with wool spaghetti. You will be sitting there asking yourself why the fuck it won't hold together. You will drive yourself insane. And for the love of all that's chocolate, don't spin one single one way, and one single the other, and expect anything good to happen. (Incidentally, chain plying also follows these rules. Spin the single one way, ply it the other.)

Okay. Set your wheel to spin faster than it had been (there are zillions of wheel types so I'm not going to attempt to tell everyone how to do that; for me it means moving the belt from one groove of the whorl to the other; the smaller the whorl, the faster the spin, on single-drive wheels). Haul out the Lazy Kate, the cardboard box with knitting needles stuck in it, or whatever you're using to hold the bobbins, and put them on it.

I prefer to turn one bobbin upside down so both 'feed' to the outsides of the bobbins, but that is purely a quirky prefrence. Doesn't matter how you put the bobbins on there so long as they feed easily. Pull off a foot or so from each bobbin and wrap the plies together, as you intend to do with the rest of it. If you've got 'em twisted right, they should twist themselves up and do most of the work for you. Hook the start of your plied yarn to your leader and let it rip.

How you hold the plies as you feed them is another totally subjective thing. Some people don't really tension them at all. I do, between my fingers. you can see by now why it's helping my grip strength.

At this point, treadle as quickly as you can stand it (I find it works best for me going faster than when I spin singles, but not as ripping damn fast as I possibly can). When your bobbin is full (or the singles are gone), it's time to wind the yarn off. Many people take the bobbin off the wheel, put it on the Lazy kate and wind from there. I'm lazy. I take all the tension off the bobbin (unhook the Scotch Brake) and wind it off straight from the wheel.

From there it's a matter of putting some figure-eight ties in the skein, a swish in the sink, let dry, and voila.

Yarn. I pull the skein after washing, from the ends, to remove as many kinks as possible. I do not weight it. Weighting yarn makes no sense to me.

Handspun wool relaxes and fluffs up significantly upon washing, so I strongly suggest either washing it before use, or else expecting it to do majorly strange things whenever you do wash it. And once you get the hang of it, and aren't producing tangled snarls, knit with your yarn. You'll learn what you need to fix and how consistent you are.

And lastly, a photo of some of my best work, when I was learning:

In cases like these, I suggest chocolate. With hazelnuts.


MandyM said...

That's a really beautiful snarl! I've had a few of those! I find it easier to spin woolen, and let a little twist into the drafting area. As you said - there is no one right way. Right now, I am spinning some beautiful dark brown alpaca, and I'm going to knit my mom your feather and fan scarf with it. If I can get if fine enough.

Alacaeriel said...

I'm guessing the nuts are to give you something to crunch on...? But then, I can't spin.

Donna Lee said...

I think it boils down to practice. It always looks easy when someone shows how they do it. Those videos on Youtube are good but they all look so easy. Like everything else in life there is a learning curve.....

Louiz said...

Your bluey thing is beautiful. And that snarl is horrible...

And the article is useful and informative as ever!

Roxie said...

As you say, there is no right way. I spin direct from the batt with no pre-drafting, wind the singles onto my ball winder and stick them into vases for plying. And since I like lots of texture in my handspun, I have carefully refused to learn to spin with machine-like precision.

Caroline / purplish said...

Informative and inspirational. I'm practising spindle spinning, and am trying to get my drafting sorted out, so all ideas on how to draft are helpful at the moment.

And now I know what I've been doing wrong! I've been forgetting the chocolate. :)

RobynR said...

Excellent Julie, thanks for the tutorial . . . I have to go now, I hear my wheel calling.

Bells said...

thanks for this Julie.I really appreciate it. I'm hoping to get some time this afternoon to play.

The stuff my FIL gave me isn't in snakes, I think. I'll have to figure that out. Hell it all seems so complex standing here on the side of inexperience.

Liz said...

I tried this at the weekend - worked great. I need to practice making finer snakelets next time (the yarn's worsted-to-bulky) but it looks a lot more like yarn than anything I've spun on this new-to-me wheel...