Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spinning progressions

Spinning seems like such a simple process. You twist hairs together to make a string and maybe put several of those together to make a cord. In the beginning you're just happy the string holds together and it doesn't really matter if it's lumpy, bumpy, uneven or bizarre looking. If it's knittable, it's good stuff.

You probably start out on a spindle. When you master that, you will soon be shopping for a wheel. In your mind, the spindle just seems too slow. It can take forever to make a decent amount of yarn.

Then you decide that while those early efforts are usable, they aren't quite what you want and are difficult to fit into a pattern because it's tough to get an accurate gauge. Or the thing you really want to knit requires a finer yarn (like socks). So consistency becomes the goal. Large projects, like enough yarn for a sweater, are still off in the distance.

You knit a lot of scarves, mittens and hats. You incorporate small bits with commercially spun yarns with your handspun as highlights and accents. If you weave, you will use the handspun in small projects like bags and placemats.

You might get stuck in a rut for a while always spinning the same weight of yarn and it's always a two ply. So you experiment with spinning a variety of things from lace weight to super bulky. You start playing around with Navajo plying and cording. Colors, lots of colors, obnoxious combinations of colors come in next and then you move onto the "difficult" fibers like flax and silk, super short stuff like cotton and cashmere and you make wild blends of all sorts of things.

Fiber prep will come into play at various stages. Flicking, combing, hand carding, drum carding, spinning from locks are all tried. You learn which prep works best with some fiber and you may push out that envelope and try stuff that just doesn't work. You can risk some of your stash now to failures because it's grown to the point it's bigger than your commercial yarn collection.

All this learning over the past two or three years has gifted you with four or five fleeces in various stages of disaster. People may even give you fleeces that end up as covers on your compost pile because that's where they should have been in the first place. You learn to wash fleece without felting it. You are beginning to learn how to get picky about what your bring home.

Some fiber, like merino, seems to do best flicked. It also requires very hot water and many washes to get it usable. Some, like Lincoln, is a harsher fiber but has a wonderful sheen and is easy to clean and makes great sock yarn. Shetland makes terrific lace yarn (crisp but soft). Other breeds grow soft but short fleeces that are wonderful for blending on handcards that then end up being awesome for projects like warm scarves but are too poofy for hardwearing items like mittens. Leicester wool seems to be pretty multi-purpose depending on how you prep and spin it. Spin it thick and it's similar to lincoln. Spin it fine and it similar to shetland.

Shetland spun and in progress for shawl

I'm sure there are folks with completely different experiences... but the fun part about spinning has been learning that there is no one way of doing things. It also comes full circle.

I'm currently spindling two different projects. One is using my Bosworth featherweight pecan spindle to spin a cormo/bamboo blend to laceweight... very fine laceweight. I'm plying it with silk spun on my Symphony. I'm using the Symphony to ply. The goal is to spin enough to make a lace tablecloth (we're talking something like 1200 yards). I have about 60 yards completed. It may end up being a doily.

The second project is moving me into my blue stage for 2009. I've had some blue roving of unknown origin and breed sitting in my stash for about two years. It is just so intense, I just wasn't prepared to fool with it before. Then I learned about blending colors on handcards (thanks Sally) and bought a little bag of raw downy Southdown from Judy. Anyway, the Southdown washed up into really nice, cushy locks of white which hand carded out just wonderfully... but boring in all white. Then I remembered the blue.

I put a little of the blue with the white and got blue jeans! Faded jeans at that. Cool stuff. My rolags are nearly perfect (believe me this is an accomplishment).

Blue jean scarf in progress

It takes five rolags to make one spindle full. That means I need ten rolags to make one stretch of yarn. One ball of yarn is knitting up to about 6 inches. To make a 60 inch scarf... I will need 100 rolags. The picture is a few weeks old. I have about two feet knitted and another ball waiting to go in. And the singles are being spun on my midi Bosworth and then, when I get a full spindle, I'm winding off onto a bobbin. I spin a second spindle full, wind that onto another bobbin and ply them together on the Sonata. The yarn is deliberately thick and thin, soft and wonderful.

I'm knitting the scarf as I go using my favorite pattern from Crazy Aunt Purl's book. This scarf is for me. No one is going to talk me out of it.

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