Monday, November 06, 2006

Today I have a knitting update and a spinning question to answer.

First, the shawl. I have completed Round 261, which means I only have 30 more rounds to go!!! Oh, and the edging. Right. But it's getting there!

A question on spinning itty bitty yarn, from bibliotecaria in the comments from the last post: "Can you share some more details of how you drafted it? Set up the spinning wheel? Was it a special flyer or bobbin?" Gladly!!

This was spun on my Schacht Matchless wheel, with the standard bobbin and flyer that came with the wheel. I have the wheel set up for Scotch tension, and am using a thin cotton brake band (#50 crochet thread) and a soft spring. I used the smallest flyer whorl I have, which has a ratio of 13:1. This whorl is listed as giving a 15.5:1 ratio, but I use a stretchy polycord drive band, which has a slightly larger diameter than the Schacht cotton drive band, hence the lower ratio. They do make smaller whorls, up to 27.5:1, but I don't have that one.....yet.

To start, I pull off a piece of roving about five inches long. The silk roving I have is fairly thick, so I predraft extensively before I spin.

On the top is the roving as it comes out of the bag. In the middle, it's spread out so I can see the natural thin spots where it will be easy to split lengthwise. In this case, I would probably divide it into three strips. The piece on the bottom is what I spin from, after splitting the roving and attenuating each strip to about half the thickness of my little finger. I cannot emphasize enough the value of predrafting. It makes spinning fine MUCH easier. But don't do too much at once, because it wants to fly everywhere after it's predrafted.

After the fiber is ready, I just spin. I use a modified worsted technique, always keeping the twist under control- at no time is the twist allowed between my hands, into the drafting triangle. I say "modified" worsted because I have a relatively low ratio whorl for spinning laceweight yarn, so I do two treadles for each inch I draft out, giving about 26 twists per inch in the finished singles. If I had a higher ratio, I would just treadle once. Either way, it takes a lot of twist.

This is what the drafting triangle looks like. Obviously, I would normally be using two hands, but have you ever tried to take a picture of yourself while spinning? Not easy. My left hand would be the back hand, controlling the fiber mass, while my right hand is in front controlling the twist. My sequence of steps is this:

1) Draft one inch by pulling forward with the right hand, pinching off the twist, while treadling once.

2) Smooth in the twist with the right hand by sliding the fingers back toward the left hand. This requires a slight (and I do mean slight) lessening of pinching pressure, but not so much that the twist escapes into the area between my hands. While this slide occurs, treadle again.

It's pull/treadle, slide/treadle. Repeat ad infinitum.

For plying, the sequence is the same, but instead of drafting forward one inch of fiber at a time, I pull forward two inches of singles per two treadles, then smooth them together with the third treadle while sliding my right hand back. This gives slightly less plying twist than singles twist, which produces a balanced yarn. In plying, as in drafting, I don't let the twist between my hands. The reason is the same- to catch in any stray ends and make the yarn as smooth as possible.

Three more tips-

First, when spinning silk or other fine fibers, I don't use my regular lapcloth. I made mine out of duck cloth, and the surface is just too "grabby." I use a silky scarf (I think it's probably polyester, but as long as it's slippery, it'll work) on my lap, otherwise the silk fibers stick to me, the cloth, and everything in the vicinity. The smooth fabric keeps everything under control nicely. A solid color would be better, but Emma happened to have the one in the above pictures in her dressup box, so I borrowed it.

Second, I think plying from rewound bobbins is especially helpful in this situation, when a super-smooth yarn is the goal. That way, when you do the smoothing step during plying, you're going in the same direction that you smoothed the singles, and the fibers lay even flatter. If I didn't rewind the bobbins, I'd be raising the nap on the singles when I plyed, and it could be fuzzy.

Third, it can be helpful to slightly raise your forward hand during the sliding/smoothing steps of both spinning and plying. This helps keep the twist from running up in between your hands when you release the pinch slightly.

So there you go, probably more than you ever wanted to know about how I spin. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Truly, it becomes automatic and relaxing.


bibliotecaria said...

Thank you very much. This kind of detail is what I wanted, so that when I pick up the small batch of silk roving I have to try, I'll be better able to handle it. I'm trying to do some very fine wool spinning right now -- not really for lace knitting, but for plying into sock yarn -- and I'm having a hard time finding the right balance between my wheel tension and where I need to place my hands and how frequently I need to treadle. It feels like wire almost, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will continue to feel that way once it's washed.

With that in mind -- do you find that the yarn balances out when you ply it? I still trying to figure out how to know what level of twist is appropriate, except of course for testing testing testing.

Sue said...

Generally, the yarn does even out after plying. It all depends on the fiber and the product you're aiming for. Silk needs more twist than wool, for example, and finer yarn needs more twist than thicker yarn.

To gauge how much twist to put in when plying, double a piece of the singles if you're doing 2-ply (if you're doing three-ply or whatever, just put the appropriate number of plies together), knot the ends, and let it twist back on itself. If you're using fresh singles, this will tell you what level of twist those singles need to be balanced plied yarn. If the singles have been on the bobbin for longer than about 15 minutes, you need to wet the sample to reactivate the stored singles twist, otherwise it looks underplied. When you have a sample that you like, you can use that sample to compare to when you're plying, if it's a two ply, anyway. If your sample is 3-ply, make a 2-ply sample of the same singles to use as your reference when spinning.

If you're having a hard time getting your wheel to have a gentle enough take-up, definitely try different cords and strings for brake bands. I tried several before I found one that was just right. For spinning fine, you want almost no tension on the brake, so a thin, light brake is the way to go. You shouldn't have to have a deathgrip on the fiber.

Hand placement depends on the staple length of the fibers you're using- you want your hands about a staple's length apart so that when you draft, the fibers slip easily past each other. With silk, this can be tricky because often the fibers are different lengths or very very long. If you're having trouble drafting, move your hands farther apart.

As far as knowing how frequently to treadle, I actually don't change that at all, regardless of what size yarn I'm spinning. My feet always go at the same easy, steady, comfortable pace. I change the amount of twist I put into the yarn by changing the whorl size and/or draft length and/or hand rhythm. Generally, I do one draft per treadle and let the whorl control the level of twist, fine tuning it by how far I pull out the fiber for each draft. Sometimes, though, like I described for this silk, I don't have a whorl small enough and have to modify the draft to treadle ratio.

In the end, though, it really is just testing, testing, testing, and what YOU want the yarn to look like!