Like The Queen
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Friday, April 04, 2003  

Spinning breakthrough

On Saturday we drove through Fredericksburg and saw some spinners in colonial costume, so of course we had to stop. I’d been meaning to look up the spinning guild there anyway, since that’s the closest city to my house. The spinners were very chatty and friendly and one of them was also spinning on some blue wool that looked familiar to me. But what caught my eye was how she was working the fibers. I’m self taught, though via the very best of teaching videos. I’ve gained some skill but there are many yards, if not miles, of learning for me to travel. The spinner (I didn’t get her name, and think of her as the BlueWoolSpinner) was holding a small piece of wool in her right hand and with thumb and forefinger of her right hand she was pulling a small number of fibers from the wool at a regular pace, drawing the wool out only perhaps 2 or 3 inches. The left hand drew the fibers out while the right hand appeared perfectly still. This lovely fine thread - even, smooth, perfect looking - seemed to fly from her hands. As I watched something clicked in my brain. I knew I had to learn to draft this way.

So just how have I been drafting? Not terribly differently - but in subtle ways very differently. I, too, hold the wool in the right hand and feed the orifice with the left thumb and forefinger’s pinch, but there has been at least as much pulling back with the right hand as there has been drawing forward with the left. This sort of drafting has never seemed to create a definite drafting triangle, although the physics of spinning will always create something of a triangle. The fibers that get caught in the yarn, while flowing from a mass of fibers, are always drawn towards the point of the pinch, which creates the triangluar effect. It has made some very lovely yarn too - but I haven’t been satisfied with the evenness of the yarn and I haven’t been able to spin much finer than 27 or 28 wpi. This plies up for me into a yarn that knits up at 4 stitches per inch. Again, a satisfactory yarn, one I’ll knit with frequently. But.

and isn’t there always a “but”?

Ever since I read Handspinning, Dyeing and Working With Merino and Superfine Wools by Margaret Stove, I’ve wanted to spin a really fine merino single. I’ve spun and spun, trying over the fold, from short lengths of merino top - but have never been able to spin even, thin, fine singles. Then, while watching the BWS as she gently plucked those fibers from her supply, I could suddenly feel how to draw the fibers out to keep that thin, fine, even yarn winding onto the bobbins.

I didn’t get a chance to try it till yesterday morning after I’d wound off the Wensleydale, but when I sat down with the merino it was as if I had always know what to do. First, I use a much smaller piece of the top. I split it lengthwise 4 times, and some of those lengths I split again as I am spinning. My right hand holds the fibers gently though with a slight pinch at about 3 inches back - the length of the individual fibers. The left thumb and forefinger pinch out a small ammount of fibers - what the right amount of fibers feels like - so I don’t pinch too many or too few. The right hand draws the fibers towards the orifice. I let the thin width of fibers slide across the pads of my other fingers, watching and noting how wide and thick (or I should say, narrow and thin) it is. I experimented with how much twist to put into the yarn and decided that I would pump the treadle twice while the thin bundle of fibers is drawn out about 4 inches, but I still have my drive band on the large whorl of HeyBaby . Then I release my left hand pinch and, using a fingered, worsted draw, I slide that thumb&finger up along the fibers, just ever so slightly ahead of the twist as it travels up to my right-hand. It takes considerably less time to do this than it takes to type it out.

It’s such a subtle difference, but I can best describe it as using my left hand more actively and keeping my right hand more passive. And it is making the prettiest fine yarn. What a breakthrough for a new spinner.

Now, for the $64,000 question. Why is it advised to wind the fine yarns on a half full bobbin? I know I read in Stove’s book (which I don’t own, only borrowed via InterLibrary Loan) that I should - but I can’t remember why she urged it.

There. A good reference question for the librarian.

The other good question will be ... how much spinning will I have to do to make 4 ounces of something?

posted by Bess | 6:39 AM