DO YOU LOVE YARN? Part 3
By Jill Holbrook
Preparing the fibers for spinning is the first step in creating the yarn you want. If you want a smooth yarn and easy spinning you will need good fiber preparation, i.e., clean, free of debris and combed or carded. Carding does not remove the shorter fiber lengths and these can cause little bumps in the spinning but they can also add to the character of handspun yarn. Combing provides the smoothest preparation and is a dream to spin. Machine combed roving, top, and sliver can be pre-drafted, spilt or divided further for ease of spinning. A rule of thumb is the fiber should not be more than 4 times the grist of the yarn you plan to spin. Fibers that are very clean can be spun from the locks with teasing or flick carding. This takes less time in preparation but the yarns produced this way, although lovely, are still not as easily spun or as smooth as what you can get with combing or carding
Plying is spinning 2 or more yarns together. Plying smoothes out the thick and thin areas that naturally occur in handspinning. Thus, you can get a surprisingly nice yarn from an uneven single. Some commercial yarns have 14 or more plies. Plying increases the strength of the yarn. It is easier although more time consuming to create a smooth yarn by plying than by trying to spin a fat yarn. Plying is also used to create novelty yarns, to combine different fibers and for color mixing. You can ply with a commercial yarn. Most knitting yarns are plied. Plying in the opposite direction of the singles takes the twist out, for a balanced yarn. Without this, the knitting will bias – go off at a slant. This is not as much of a problem in circular knitting but can be a huge problem in flat knitting. This bias cannot be blocked out once it is there.
To ply on a spindle, wind yarn into a tight ball and using the ends from 2 balls, spin them together counterclockwise.
Spindles, Spinning Wheels and Tools:
Spindles are among the most ancient tools. Spindles can be supported, that is, held in a bowl or on the ground while spinning, or suspended, also known as dropped. Suspended spindles can have the whorl at the top or the bottom. Top whorl spindles can be rolled on the thigh for faster spinning.
A good spindle does not wobble when it spins and it spins for a long time. Usually this means the spindle has a slender shaft and a wide whorl or a whorl with more weight on the rim.
The heavier spindles are used to make thicker yarns and vice versa. Most spindles weigh between 1/2 to 3 oz.
Spinning wheels are the next technological step up from spindles. The first spinning wheel was a spindle wheel. The wheel was turned by hand and the spinner had to stop the wheel and change the angle of the spun yarn to wind on. The treadle wheel was another advance. The treadle and flyer allowed the spinner to continue spinning while the yarn was twisted and wound onto a bobbin. A spinning wheel can be a big investment. It is best to try them out and know what you types of yarn you want to spin before buying a wheel.
A Niddy Noddy is used to wind spun yarn from a spindle or bobbin into a skein.
A Lazy Kate holds bobbins from the spinning wheel for plying.
An Inch Gauge is handy for measuring the wraps per inch. This is a way of determining the grist of your yarn and also helps you decide knitting gauge and needle size or the sett for weaving.
A Distaff is a tool for holding fiber. This can be literally a staff that is part of a spinning wheel or free standing usually to hold flax. A wrist distaff is easily made and is helpful to hold fiber for spindle spinning.
Finishing the Yarn
Finishing sets the twist and is an important part of spinning for knitting. Of course, you can knit off the bobbin and fight the tangles but you may have some unpredictability in your knitting. It could bias and change gauge after the completed garment is washed. You could end up with a fluffier, smaller garment.
A balanced plied yarn can be wound from the bobbin onto a niddy noddy or skein winder. Tie figure eight ties loosely in at least 4 places around the skein and wash in a mild detergent and hot water. Rinse thoroughly in the same temperature to prevent felting the yarn. Use a little vinegar in the second rinse to get all the soap out then rinse one more time. Squeeze the water out without wringing the skein and hang to dry. Move the skein around while drying to prevent creases in the yarn.
High twist yarns or singles usually need to be blocked or steamed. Steam the yarn on the skein winder by holding over a steam source such as a tea kettle or steamer. Blocking means to wind the wet yarn around a blocker or some object to hold the yarn in place while it dries. This works but is a bit difficult to do as you have to wind wet yarn from a skein or rewind onto a bobbin and then wind onto a blocker. These yarns can be weighted during drying as an alternative to blocking.
Fiber choice is so important that it will help determine how you will use your yarn. Some fibers are too coarse for garments but great for rugs or bags. Other fibers are too fine or too expensive for something that needs durability or a lot of yarn like a jacket. In general, plant fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, rayon) are cooler to wear while the animal fibers (wool, mohair, alpaca, silk, cashmere) are warmer. All animal fibers will felt in varying degrees. Plant fibers have minimal elasticity.