For all the talk we do about being the bosses of our fibre, of taking charge, of bending its filaments to your will, there sometimes comes a moment when I remember that fibre has a voice, and that failure to listen can result in disaster – or crappy yarn, depending on your personal definition of disaster. (I only advocate telling other spinners that the fleece was talking to you. You would be surprised how many people are suddenly really busy if you bring up the voices in polite company.)
Such is the case with the fibre I started spinning last week. My intention was to divide the batt in half lengthwise, then spin one half of it up, progressing from one end of the batt to the other, then repeat with the other half onto another bobbin, then ply the two together and hope that the colour change present in the batt would be present in the yarn.
Too bad the batt didn’t give a crap about my plan. (Too bad the colour sucks on these pictures as well…the colour on the right is an intense coral/red/pink. Just plain refuses to photograph without being over-saturated and disco intense. Try to use your imagination. ) Actually, I’ve got no business accusing the batt of duplicity. I did not properly assess the batt, I disregarded the will of the batt, and the batt behaved as batts will when they have their dignity offended that way…which is to say that the whole thing sucked.
Since I started out deciding what I wanted, I had pretty much decided how I would spin it. Woolen style, forward draw.
“Worsted” and “woollen” when used in spinning, refer to fibre preparation (as in “woollen prep”) and the way things are spun. (While worsted is a weight or yarn in knitting, it’s not in spinning. A yarn spun “worsted” can be any weight.) To over simplify entirely it goes like this:
Worsted = straight. Fibres are combed in preparation making “top”, where the fibres are parallel and close together. Worsted spinning emphasizes using techniques that keeps the fibres straight and parallel and minimizes the amount of air in the resulting yarn. This yarn is very durable and strong.
Woollen = airy. Fibres are prepared on cards, making “roving” where fibres are more jumbled and have more air between fibres than in worsted. Woollen spinning emphasizes keeping this loftiness, using techniques that don’t compress the fibres. Yarn spun this way still has the air trapped between the fibres, and is warmer and softer, but not as durable or strong.
Now, you can totally mix and match here. Worsted prep top can be spun using woollen techniques, and the other way around. An example would be spinning a merino top using the long draw technique. I can’t do it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t (or shouldn’t) be done. A lot of spinners spin everything the same way, regardless of prep type. Generally speaking, I find it easiest to spin worsted yarns with worsted techniques (merino top, short forward draw) and woollen yarns with woollen techniques. (Grafton batt, long draw.)
See that second example? Yeah. The whole short forward draw on the batt thing that I was planning? Not so much. After spinning a quarter bobbin of yarn that had as much finesse as my birkenstocks at the ballet, I wised up and took a look, and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong.
(Photo courtesy Samantha, a bored 13 year old who will certainly find something else to do tomorrow so she isn’t co-opted into taking pictures of her dorky mother doing dorky things.)
As I was holding the fibre in my hand and pulling it out and forward towards the orifice, it was almost seizing. Any little criss-cross of fibres (of which there were many – it’s a woollen preparation) weren’t pulling out in between my hands but almost tightening and knotting as I tried to force it. It was a frustrating crap scene and I wasn’t getting what I wanted, a light-ish very smooth yarn.
I walked away. I knit. I thought about it. I stewed it over. I went back to the wheel from time to time and tried variations on my plan. I held the fibre more loosely, more tightly. I shortened the drafting zone. I lengthened it. I pre-drafted. I didn’t. I refuse to tell you how long I thought about it, because it’s a little embarrassing. Finally it hit me. If what I was doing wasn’t working….why didn’t I try something else!
(I am not as smart as you think.)
Instead of trying to figure out how to do the wrong thing better, why didn’t I see if there was a right thing!
(Just pass the Nobel prize right over here.)
This would be me, using a long draw to spin a fine single that is looking a whole lot better and is a lot less like trying to nail jello to a tree.
Better? I thought so. Held loosely in my back (for me that’s left) hand, with the twist allowed to flow freely up the single as I swing my arm wide, the fibres are untangling and almost flowing.
This single is coming up finer than I planned so I bailed on the other part of my idea too. I’m going to spin up the whole batt, one end to the other and chain-ply ( or navajo-ply, depending on who you ask). I should end up with…well. Something a lot like what I was planning on, albeit a 3-ply instead of a 2. It’ll still have that colour progression though…I’m just getting there the fibres way instead of mine, since I started listening to the batt and what it had to tell me.
Just don’t tell any ordinary people it talks….all right? I’m misunderstood enough.