Friday, February 24, 2006

If at first you don't succeed, ply, ply again

In the comments to my last post, Evelyn kindly asked me to share any thoughts I had about newbie spinning. Asking me to opine about spinning is a bit like asking George W. Bush about planning foreign policy: I don't do it often and I don't do it well. But like Dubya, I never balk at shooting my mouth off about something I have only a superficial knowledge of, so here goes.

My tips for newbie spinning can be summarized in three paragraphs.

1. Pick the right kind of fiber to start with. It is possible to teach yourself to spin with any kind of fiber, including really slippery or short-fibered ones, but it will be more difficult and more frustrating. I threw myself on the mercy of some kind internet vendors and asked them for their advice about good fibers for newbies. The Colonial top I've been using is a good choice, as is anything with longer fibers. Non-wool fibers have their own idiosyncrasies and so I stuck to plain wool (as opposed to, say, a wool/mohair blend). The Woodland Woolworks spinning catalog very helpfully classifies fibers by the length of their staple, so you can stick to the long- and medium- ones and make it easier on yourself. Their catalog also contains helpful notations like "good for beginners" to make it even easier to select some wools that will be easier to learn on.

2. Prepare the fiber before you try to spin it. The best thing I learned in my drop spindle class was to predraft the fiber. Whether your fiber comes in little balls (roving) or sheets (top), pull off a smaller piece and very gently grasp it at both ends. Tug oh-so-slightly, increasing the tug only until you feel the fibers start to slip apart, lengthening the piece. (But don't pull too hard, or the piece will pull in half, which isn't helpful.) Then pull each piece into skinny strips, about the width of a Chibi case. Use these to spin with.

3. Ply. I love plying. You fill one bobbin with spun yarn, then you fill another one, and then you put the full bobbins on the bobbin holder (a.k.a. "lazy kate") and thread them together thru the hole (a.k.a. "orifice") with the wire thing-y and spin them together and watch as they miraculously twist around each other and make cool-looking yarn. Apart from how much fun it is, the plying helps even out the thick- and thinness of your yarn, giving you a more consistent yarn to knit with. Sure, it's twice as thick, but for me, it's well worth it to end up with yarn that won't vary excessively in thickness and won't snap off and break midstitch. If you want to get really fancy, you can try plying with two different colors, and see the funky barberpole striping you get. Or if you use multi-colored rovings, each ply will change colors and you will be able to see all the different combinations of colors as the two strands twist around each other.

That's all I know about spinning. Wanna invade Iraq now?


Stacey said...

Great tips!! I passsed them on to my sister who is a newbie spinner/plyer!

Franklin said...

My dear, if you had been in charge of the whole Iraq operation, at this point Baghdad would be the Paris of the Middle East and there would be a yarn shop on every corner instead of a sniper.

The pre-drafting tip set off a gigantic AHA! in my brain and now I am frustrated that it will be 8+ hours before I can go home and play with my spindle.

Anonymous said...

Yikes. Why am I the only clumsy dork who can't work a drop spindle?
I know I don't need another occupation to take up my time, but it makes me feel so dopey.
I think I'll blame it on my crippling left-handedness, as I do most things I can't accomplish, like kitchener stitch.

the hanged man said...

Carol -

I have to say I love way you are able to explain knitting in terms of geopolitics.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you could use a couple of foreign policy advisors.

Unknown said...

My beginner tips:
1) Don't use merino, silk, flax or cotton to start. Leave those fibers for later.

2) When in doubt, predraft.

3) Measure the fiber as you draft and treadle. This is Mabel Ross's advice and if you always allow the same amount of fiber into the twist, you will spin consistently.

4) Fight the urge to hold onto the fiber. Use your hand to support, not grip it. Let the fiber flow.

5) Get into the rhythm groove. Spinning is very rhythmic if you're doing it right.

6) Relax. Your first atttempts will be lumpy-bumpy. Big deal. You're spinning, you fool.

Anonymous said...

kathy, I was the queen of the drop spindle. I could drop that baby on the floor 14 times in one minute, I think I set a record for breaking the damn yarn. Then, someone who loves spindle spinning showed me. Now, I use it fairly respectably. I realized that everyone else who had showed me had spindle spun only as a preliminary to the wheel, and secretly hated it. I also found that a book only complicated it. find someone in love with it, get them to show you.
Pre-drafting....the best thing I ever learned. A lot of people think of it as a waste of time, they want to get to the spinning. Think of it as part of the operation. It can be very soothing and rythmic just like the spinning itself.
Barb B.