In previous posts we covered sorting, scouring, dyeing, carding, and blending fibre. All these processes can make or break our next stage where we begin to spin our own yarn.
Spinning can be simple or extremely technical. Simply put, spinning is an art form where your hands, feet and brain work in unison.
I recommend you initially concentrate on drafting (the pulling of fibre to allow twist into the yarn) and slow your treadling to match the speed of which you are able to draft. From there you can build on your confidence and skill sets.
Entire books have been written on this subject (Beth Smith’s “The Spinners Book of Fleece” is a good choice) here I’m sharing a few tips that I hope will help you spin a consistent product and not get overly technical.
The fiber I have prepared is a rambouillet fleece. It has a staple length of 3 inches (76.2mm) , a micron count of 19 (fine) and crimps per inch around 15. I want yarn for a colour work sweater. As many fair isle knitting books recommend 2 ply yarns, that is what I will spin. I didn’t want a heavy sweater so a sport weight yarn (#2 on the new yarn scale) will be the goal.
I will be using an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel and the whorl that gives me a 10:1 ratio. This means for each time the drive wheel makes a full rotation the flyer will spin 10 times adding twist to the fibre.
As the length of the staple is 3 inches long, I will only draft back 1.5 inches. This will ensure I have enough overlap in the fibres to make a strong yarn. Pulling back more than that could end up with thick and thin portions that could come apart while plying or knitting.
I will use a piece of commercial yarn as my control piece. As I spin my yarn, I will pull yarn from the side of my bobbin, double it up and compare to this piece. This will help me to be fairly consistent as I spin.
At the wheel my left hand is the control hand held closest to the flyer. Here I control the twist allowed to enter the fibre and where I let go for the yarn to load the yarn onto the bobbin. My right hand is behind my left, gently holding the fibre. This hand drafts the fibre in a backward motion. This is called a short backward draw. For my singles I use a Z twist (rotating the drive wheel clockwise). As the fibre is fine and short, my hands are not very far apart.
As the staple length is 3 inches, I draw back 1.5 inches with my right hand. I typically do not count how many treadles I do, but for this article I did count and found for each backward draw I treadled twice.
With a 10:1 ratio, 2 rotations of the drive wheel would give me around 13 twists per inch ((10 X 2) /1.5). Some spinners recommend the twists per inch of your yarn should be the same as the crimps per inch of the fibre being spun. In our case that is 15 crimps per inch, so 13 twists per inch of the yarn should be fine.
When starting out, I don’t think you need to be too technical. Just remember too much twist can create a hard, wiry yarn. Too little twist and the yarn will pull apart. One should also be mindful when you ply the two singles together you will spin counter clock wise (the opposite direction of how the singles were spun), meaning you will lose about 25-30% of the twist from the singles.
The area between my two hands is called the drafting zone. At the base of this area, you will notice the fibre forms a triangle shape here. Here, I visualize the size of this to the width of a knitting needle size and try to keep that triangle base the same size as I pull back on the fibre. This way I get a more consistent single.
It is a good idea to make a small sample of plyed yarn. Heat set the yarn and knit up a sample. This gives you a chance to see if you are happy with the fabric the yarn creates. You can also weigh your sample yarn and count the yardage. This will help you to guesstimate how much fibre you will need to make enough yarn for your project. I also recommend spinning more than you need so you can knit swatches.
Once you are happy with your sample continue to spin up your singles. I find it helpful to fill as many bobbins as I have, numbering each bobbin as I fill them. Once I get to the plying stage, I will match them up. For example, bobbin 1 to bobbin 6, bobbin 2 to bobbin 5 and bobbin 3 to bobbin 4.
Sharing My Mistakes
I’m happy to share my mistakes to help new spinners.
1. Treadling too fast for the speed I was able to draft.
2. Not letting go of the yarn to go onto the bobbin. The longer you hold it the more twist you get which creates hard wiry yarn.
3. Oil your spinning wheel often according to the manufacturer, good for the wheel and you.
4. Setting the proper tension on the bobbin. Too loose, the bobbin may not wind up the yarn, or wind on so loosely the bobbin will not hold much length. Tension set too tight you end up with a death grip on your yarn and likely add too much twist. Tension I find matches my drafting speed.
5. Use a chair the correct height for your wheel. A comfortable ergonomic setup means you can spin comfortably without shoulder or back pain.
6. Be kind to yourself. We all learn at different speeds and comparing your yarn to others with more experience just isn’t fair. Spinning is a journey that should be enjoyable.
A video called Spinning a Fine Fleece is available at our YouTube channel Murlo Discovery Channel. Previous tutorial videos have been supplied at the end of this post. Be sure to subscribe to our website and YouTube Channel for notifications on our next post. Want to see a post on a process? Subscribers can email or send comments through our website.
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Until next time, happy spinning!
Previous Video Tutorials
Rambouillet Fleece Introduction