Spinning Tips

Spinning Tips: 

Consistent Spinning* Improving a Ply * Blending through Plying * McMorran Balance 


Simple Gadget Helps Consistent Spinning
Using the yarn gauge.
My favorite spinning gadget is a small clear plastic item called The Spinners Control Card and Yarn Gauge.  The yarn gauge allows me to keep track of how thick the yarn is I'm spinning and gives me a rough estimate on the thickness of what the finished plied yarn will be.  I was spinning a yarn I wanted to be 14 wraps per inch as a two ply, so as you can see above I was checking the thickness of the yarn against the 28 wraps per inch gauge.  Two strands of that thickness will roughly ply to be 14 wraps per inch.  Because yarn is variable, and some fibers "poof" when plied it is a good idea to check the wraps-per-inch.  This you do by winding off a length of yarn from your bobbin and letting it ply onto itself as shown below:

Winding off a length of yarn to measure.

You can use a fancy wraps-per-inch device, but I went ahead and wrapped my yarn onto an embroidery floss holder.  These just happen to be one inch wide and are great for those who like to do sampling and keep track of what they do.  It's even better for absent minded people who tend to misplace their expensive fancy wood one.  The floss cards come in packs of 100 and are inexpensive, so when I lose one, I can just go get another.

Determining wraps per inch can be tricky and you may want to do it more than once for any given bit of yarn. It requires wrapping the yarn on evenly, so the strands are next to each other in a natural way.  A good thing about using the floss card is the little edges keep you from "cheating" and going over a marked line.  You can still cheat as I did below by cramming the threads in to make sure it is 14 wraps per inch for anyone who may be counting.  That's why it is good to do the check more than once and with different parts of your yarn.  Spinning is a manual, and therefore, uneven process.  In my mind, it is the random imperfections that make handspun so beautiful and fun to knit.
Count the number of wraps in an inch.

Knowing wraps per inch is a boon to the hand spinner, because you can find out how thick the yarn is for any given pattern by looking it up on Ravelry. This is also one of the reasons I love Ravelry. I used to have to divine yarn thickness based on knitting gauge, needle size and tiny pictures of the yarn in magazine. Now, I can just click onto Raverly and get the wpi for any yarn for most every pattern. With some swatching and experimentation, I can find the yarn I want. This is how I am able to spin this yarn for an Alice Starmore Kinsale.
You can find this gadget at many stores and online spinning gadget providers.   Here it is at The Woolery--you'll find it if you scroll down the page http://www.woolery.com/Pages/spinaccess.html.    You might also be able to find it at the next fiber festival you attend or at your local spinning store, if you have on


Two ways to save a badly plied Yarn

1. Un-ply/re-ply method.

This ply needs help.
Plied yarn should be a thing of beauty. The yarn should be like a string of pearls, lustrous, round and intriguing to knit. It doesn’t turn out like this all the time. Like styling hair, there are days the ply turns out limp, uneven and uninteresting: a bad ply day. Just such a yarn is shown below.

Can this yarn be saved? Yes. I unply and then reply the yarn. This is a simple procedure. I run the yarn through again in the opposite direction to un-ply it so I am pretty much winding two strands onto my bobbin. You can see the un-plied yarn to the right. Notice how the strands are now separated.
After this,  I take the bobbin off the wheel and reply it. You simply take the two separated strands and run them through the wheel again.
Naturally, I do the replying on a good ply day. Below is a picture of the un-plied yarn.

For me, the main ingredient to producing a good ply is to not feel rushed. To take my time to make sure I keep the twist full and even so I can get the kind of yarn I love to knit, or weave. It is as simple as that.
Unplied yarn.

So don’t be satisfied with a plied yarn that doesn’t inspire you. Take the time to do it right—to un-ply and reply so you have it what you want. Some people may counsel to skip the step of un-plying, and just run it through the wheel again. But if you really want a nice yarn, the un-ply step is worth the effort.  This is after all a hobby, and therefore fun, so it is worth the time to eschew shortcuts and craft something beautiful.  The yarn below is the result of completely redoing the ply on some purple yarn I plan to do in a sweater.  This 9 wpi yarn spun from the combined fleece of two Shetlands will one day be a cabled sweater, so I really wanted a nice ply.

Improved by a complete re-ply.

2. Send it through the wheel again:
A badly plied yarn can also be saved by simply sending it through the wheel again.  Case in point is the Rambouillet two ply shown below.  I have no idea where my brain was when I plied this but it is not what I wanted.
 So I sent it through my wheel again. I did this after washing and drying the skein, which is recommended because washing lets you see what is really going on with the twist.  I use the Lendrum for all plying and I love it.  Well, I love all my wheels.
So here it is with an extra chance at twist. I like it much better.

Measuring Yarn with McMorran Balance
There is no need to go to great lengths to measure the yards per pound in any given bit of spinning. Spinners don’t need to count as they wind onto the skein—or run their yarn through a counter. There is a simple gizmo that will do this for you with only a snippet from you skein. This is the McMorran Balance, an item readily available from any number of suppliers. (I happened to get mine from the Yarn Barn of Kansas.)
Set up yarn.

Snip to balance.
Upon joining the 5K Stash Down on Ravelry, I discovered some newer spinners weren’t yet familiar with the gadget. I thought it would be helpful to some to know about this device. It also comes in handy for knitters who have been given mystery yarn, such as the bright blue shown tipping the scales of the McMorran balance shown above. You merely hang a long enough thread to tip the scales as shown.
Next, you start snipping away. I try to go even on each side—but I do it kind of by eye. The important thing is to take a little bit at a time because slowly, the scale will begin to balance.
Achieve balance and do math.

The goal is to reach that moment when the scale is balanced, as shown above.
Then you take that bit of yarn and measure it. In this case it was 5.75 inches long. This is multiplied by 100, and so I have 575 yards per pound. The one shown above is the “standard model” there is also a metric model available for the rest of the world. Of course, instructions will come with the balance.

Blending with a twist:
Blending fibers through plying
Preparing for a guild presentation themed on spinning pet fiber, I had a lot of time to play around with different ways to spin the soft, downy fibers from bunnies and my own Samoyed friend Baxter. One of the challenges of dog down and angora is they usually need to be blended with some nice soft wool, like Rambouillet or Corriedale, if you want to knit a garment that has any spring. The pure yarn knits up to be pretty limp and the white hat pictured here, made of pure Samoyed fluff,
Pure Samoyed hat.
doesn’t stay put on my head. To meet this challenge, I started looking for ways to get the luxury and beauty of angora or quality dog down while still having a springy yarn—all of this without having to blend a thing!

    One solution is Bunny in a Twist—a blend which is created through plying. I had bobbins of gray merino singles from one of Floya’s fleeces. I lightly carded some lovely angora which I bought from Hopp Along Hoppitry while at the fair in Greencastle. As shown in the photo to the right, as I plied the merino, I allowed the angora to be spun between the plies. You can see the angora being spun into a single while it is being plied(above). This created a gray rustic lumpy and bumby yarn, shown below. It does have one of the most luxurious, silky, soft textures I've ever run across. With this in mind, I think it is possible this technique could be perfected to make an elegant and even yarn, however I only spun the one skein and haven't had a chance to try it again. One of the
drawbacks with this techniques is I suspect the angora might shed a bit. I wouldn’t recommend it for something that needs to be sturdy or be subject to lots of wear. Though I do wonder what it would be like to knit it for felted slippers. Perhaps I’ll try that someday.
    My other idea for blending the beauty of down with the springiness of wool was inspired by fluff from my Samoyed buddy Baxter—a creation I call Crepe de Chien.  A crepe yarn is essentially a two plied yarn spun with a single.  In my case, I had a two ply of white Targhee plied counterclockwise. I spun a single yarn of Baxter’s downy undercoat in the same counter clockwise direction as the Targhee ply.  Then I plied these together clockwise to make a yarn that was both bouncy and fluffy. 
Samoyed Fluff throw
The essential thing is for the dog down or angora single to be spun in the same direction as the ply of the two ply so they can be plied again in the opposite direction. With all this plying going on, you will need to remember to add extra twist on everything that will be plied again. (So slightly overply your two ply!). Above, you can see a hat I knit from the Crepe de Chien. I had dyed it blue to demonstrate the subtle difference in dye take up between the dog down and the wool. It doesn’t show up very well here. This hat is extremely warm and I wear it when the temperatures dip below zero. You can do the exact same technique with angora bunny fluff, but in this case it would be Crepe aux Lapin or something as “chien” is French for dog, hence the pun on crepe de chine.
I know a lot of people spin and knit with singles, but I heartily recommend plying your knitting yarns. There is something very pleasant about knitting with plies and recently I’ve begun to spin three ply yarns for knitting. I especially love a three ply for socks and have done a lot of experimenting on creating the perfect soft yet sturdy yarn. But this I will share with you another day, after I have finished some more experimenting with these techniques.
If you are interested in spinning novelty yarns, I highly recommend Spinning Designer Yarns by Diane Varney, Interweave Press, 1987. This book is a classic and is a must have for every serious spinner’s bookshelf. I learned to spin a crepe yarn through her excellent directions. Bunny In A Twist, though, grew out of my inability to figure out one of the techniques.

Photos from top: In the first, I'm demonstrating the "Bunny In A Twist" technique. Next, is a picture of the pure Samoyed down hat that won't stay on my head. Next, is a picture of the grey and white Bunny in a Twist yarn, the blue Crepe De Chien artic survival hat and a pile of white Samoyed fluff. To the left is a toasty throw knit of pure Samoyed fluff. This throw is done in traditional knit purl textured patterns that don't show up well because of the hallow and the brightness of the fiber.

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