Anatomy of a Handspun: Part II
Welcome back to the second half of our anatomy lesson. Today all the fun stuff happens - we'll be turning fiber into yarn through a few simple steps. To answer a couple of questions from last time, I spin with a Kromski Minstrel, (you'll see it in today's pictures) and yes, I love my wheel. It's an upright double treadle that is compact enough to fit into small apartments without being cumbersome and is an aesthetically pleasing piece aside from its upstanding functionality. Both big priorities in my book.
Now, lets do some spinning, shall we?
Spinning is essentially putting twist into loose fibers to hold them together into a strong, continuous string or thread. Twist is, in fact, the very essence of spinning and mastering control over the amount of twist you choose to use will dramatically change your resulting yarn. Hard, durable yarns have lots of twist and are favored by weavers and rug makers for their ability to take hard knocks and stay intact. For handknitters, lighter, lofty yarns are often preferable and are less tightly spun. Of course this is an over-simplification, but you get the idea.
I'll be spinning a 2-ply yarn today, and the first step in the process is to spin singles (single plies of fiber). These spun fibers will then be plied together for the finished product. An important rule when plying: the direction of your twist in the singles must always be reversed when plying - thus equalizing the tension put on the fibers and forming a balanced yarn.
I like to think of twist as dormant energy - if you put too much into your singles and don't compensate for it while plying, one throws the other off balance.
Above we have two bobbins of singles in more or less equal amounts. Before spinning I made sure to divide the fiber evenly into two parts in hopes of maximizing the yardage of the finished, plied yarn. You can see clearly on the bobbins how cleanly separated the color fields have spun out. If we were to knit this yarn up as-is, we would see clean, dramatic color stripes in our finished fabric. Plying them together, however, will essentially have the effect of mixing paint - the colors will come together somewhat randomly to diffuse or enhance one another, depending on their individual combinations. This is to me one of the best things about spinning plied yarns from hand-dyed fibers.
Before plying, I like to load my bobbins on a tensioned Lazy Kate, for ease and consistency of flow while plying. A Kate isn't absolutely necessary for plying yarns but I find it makes the job a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.
Plying is enjoyable and seems almost too easy in comparison to spinning singles - in a way the plies actually want to come together and relax as the tension of their twist is balanced. The amount of twist added while plying should more or less correspond to that in your singles, as I mentioned before, to achieve a no-fuss yarn.
With one hand pinching the yarn, I use another to separate and guide the plies as they flow off of the Kate. Plying can be rather hypnotic, not only as you watch colors combine and flow but also from the constant whirring of the wheel and mindless peddling of your feet. Very relaxing. Just don't do it while your cooking something on the stove. Seriously.
Before you know it, you'll have a nice, full bobbin of 2-ply yarn waiting patiently to come off the bobbin.
Now the spinning is done, but don't forget that "finishing" your yarn is an equally important (and enjoyable) part of the process that I shant forget to mention. Using a niddy-noddy, the back of a chair, or any other surface you can think to string yarn around, gently skein your yarn off of the bobbin in preparation for its inaugural bath.
Washing handspun yarn is essential because it sets the twist, allowing the fiber to relax and adapt to its new configuration. Washing is also wonderful because, much like blocking your knitting, it will often erase or at least de-emphasizes mistakes, snags or tension issues. When taking it out of the bath, it's also a good idea to give it a few good *whacks* against the tub to even things out. Especially for beginners, skeins straight off the wheel may be far from balanced, but giving the yarn a bath will work wonders as a self-esteem booster. I've had particularly ugly yarns come out of the sink looking well-behaved and beautiful. Another of wool's many wonders.
Wash your yarn like you wash your sweaters - gentle soap, luke warm water, no agitation - squeeze out excess water and hang up to air dry. Weighting the bottom of the skein as it dries also works great for helping to balance your yarn.
When everything is dry, you can go nuts. Petting, smelling and general merry-making are all now acceptable activities for which to engage with your yarn. Whether or not knitting happens, no worry, handspun is beautiful as a stand-alone, boasting enough aesthetic prowess to hold it's own just about anywhere in the house.
And that, my friends, about sums up this fast and loose version of handspinning a 2-ply yarn. This is just one of the many ways you can use a spinning wheel to make yarn, though. The possibilities are truly endless and if you really love having your hands on fiber, you probably won't ever tire of spinning.
I intend on covering a third portion of this series talking briefly about knitting with handspun and planning projects, but probably not immediately. My knitting time has been fruitful and inspiring lately (I have much to show you), and I don't have anything immediately in mind for my most recent batch of handspun. When I do, though, we'll talk more about knitting with handspun yarn.
I do hope everyone is enjoying the sun, it's been gorgeous around here - my spinning wheel loves all the open windows. Happy spinning!