Fast, but not faster

The Tour de Fleece continues, with me falling further behind at every turn. Yesterday I finished spinning the merino/tencel roving.


It’s lovely stuff. The Tencel (“Tencel” is a brand name for lyocell, an engineered fibre made from wood pulp) makes the fiber want to be thin. Like with silk, the long length of the tencel fibres make it easy to spin it thin and fast.. and by fast, I don’t mean quickly, I mean with the wheel going fast.


Now, I’m a really, non-technical spinner. I spin yarn I like – or I try to, spinning is like knitting, lots of times your results can be a surprise. I spin yarn that I think looks right, and I apply techniques to that that make it work for me. Still there’s some stuff that’s usually mostly true in spinning. For example, generally speaking, a fine yarn needs more twist to hold it together than a bulky one does. The finer the yarn gets, the more twist it needs and since what makes twist is the wheel (and therefore flyer) going around, you either need a “fast” wheel or to treadle more to put that twist in. It’s sort of a question of scale. I have drawn this very poor illustration to show you what I mean.


If you have a thick yarn, lets say a it’s a bulky – there on the left, and set out to spin it so it looks right, then making it look right isn’t going to take very many twists per inch. See how there’s only two twists in that measure? Now compare it to the skinnier yarn on the right. The two yarns both look the same, that one is just smaller, but that lesser diameter means that now it’s taking 10 twists per inch. (Those are, by the way, totally made up numbers, not the actual suggested twists per inch for bulky or laceweight.) Since this particular fibre wants to be skinny, and therefore have lots of twist, I used my Ashford Joy, because it’s got higher ratios than my Traditional. (Higher ratios means that for each treadle, the flyer spins more times.) The Traditional (I have an old one that only has one choice) has a ratio of 7:1 (I think) so for every treadle, the flyer turns (or twists) seven times. At that rate, spinning a laceweight is going to be pretty hampsteresque in the treadling department. The Joy has a higher ratio available so that makes it a “faster” wheel. It made it easier to get enough twist in the single (what’s on the bobbin in the picture above). I’m a chronic “underspinner”. According to a lot of people who know this sort of thing (which I don’t) an ideal knitting yarn is “underspun” in the single, and then “overplied” to give it the right amount of twist. (For you non-spinners, plying is when you take two (or three, or ten singles, and twist them together in the direction opposite to the direction you just spun them in.)

I am, in addition to being a chronic underspinner, also a chronic underplyer. I simply don’t add enough twist to things. I’ve forgiven myself for it in the spinning (since apparently a slightly underspun single can be desirable) and had hoped this time to try and add the right amount of twist in the plying. I thought I had it too.


I treadled during plying until I thought I had enough. Then I added more. Then I added more until I had added so much that I felt like for sure I had added too much.


Then I set the twist with steam (I use the highly advanced “hold it over your kettle” approach, and the fibre relaxed and, a thousand curses….


Still not enough. Can I just say that I know that there’s a learning curve, and I understand that I have to be on it like everyone else, but that I still think it sucks? There’s a solution here. I could put it back through the wheel and add more ply twist… but I just don’t want to. I just want it to be right next time and I want to know how you tell that there’s enough twist in the first place? Is there a formula? Can you count it? Experienced spinners… how do you tell when you’ve got it right?

In knitting news,


All the pieces of the “Baby Yours” sweater are done. At least I know when I’m doing that right.