Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Easiest Part is Sometimes the Longest

One day I'm going to write an article about the slowest part of spinning. HINT: it's the plying. 

When you're spinning fiber into yarn, there's a lot going on. Just ask a brand new spinner. Sure you've only got 2 hands (for holding and drafting the fiber) and 2 feet (for treadling the wheel) but it feels like you need 40 of each - not to mention a few extra eyes and a couple of brains to keep track of everything. It can definitely be overwhelming. 

That's why, when in working with a new spinner, I have then break down all the things that need to happen into stand alone tasks. 

1.  Pre draft the fiber. It helps them get a feel for how the fiber acts as well as taking away one of the spinning tasks. 
2.  Hold the fiber and treadle until you feel the twist in the forward hand. 
3.  Stop treadling and draw the hands back to let the twist run in. 

That's a lot to take in and do all at the same time. But it can be learned. 

By contrast, to ply 2 of those singles together only requires the spinner to treadle and let the the twist run in. Of course, you do have to remember to move the yarn forward on the bobbin but it should be easy and fast - much faster than drafting fiber. 

And it is easier but it's by no means faster. For the first years of my spinning life, I produced under plied yarns. I still have yarns that are woefully under plied. (I keep meaning to run them back through the wheel). 

The reason is simple psychology. You think that because it's easier, it should be faster. That ain't always the case, mon amis. 

Ah, you say, but I can always use a faster whorl. Get the twist in faster, move things along. Yes, I say, you can do that but then you change the character of the yarn you're spinning. There may be times you want to use a whorl that's a different size but it should be done on purpose and with a reason. 

If you don't believe me, go experiment. Using a generic light colored wool, spin 2 singles with your chosen whorl and make it long enough for several samples. Keep a sample of the singles yarn long enough to have a "before washing" and "after washing."

Now, regardless of the size whorl you spun the singles on, use your largest whorl and spin a sample long enough for a before/after.  Now do a sample with your next size down and so on until you've used all your whorls and have your 2 sets of samples. 

Keep track of which is which - loop the unwashed samples on a piece of cardboard and note which is which. 

Wash the other set and let them air dry then loop them next to their unwashed counterpart. Look closely at the subtle differences. You could even do this twice, one with a worsted style drafting and also with a woolen style. You could expand it further to repeat the experiment by spinning singles with each of the whorls and seeing what difference the various singles make. 

Yes, the differences in the small samples may appear subtle but it's the same principle as the gauge swatch in knitting. It may call for 5 stitches to the inch but if you are 1/2 stitch over in your gauge, once you multiply it out, it adds up to a big difference. The same for your spinning swatch. Over a project, it can make a big difference. 

When you're spinning, always keep in mind that singles need more twist than you might think because you will lose some of it when you ply. When you're plying, you need more twist than you might think because you'll lose some when you wash your project. 

The point of all this, really, is be patient in your plying. Be present and you'll get the most out of the experience and you'll get the yarn you really want. 

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