Peace, Spinning

Time at the Wheel

“Good,” Arabella told me, “you understand the basics.  Now what you need is time at the wheel. Nothing else can teach you what you need.”

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As I come to the end of the marvelous green bump that MonChere brought me on Mother’s Day, I have tangible evidence of the truth of Arabella’s statement.  The green bump (that’s what a large roll of roving is called) spun into about 9 skeins. Oh, the difference between the first skein and the last!

As beginning spinners, we are inconsistent in the size of yarn we are spinning, and also in the amount of twist we are adding to the yarn in the spinning process. The result is a finished yarn that is really too curly and twirly to be usefully knitted. (Which is one reason why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on the wool you are learning upon!)

Notice the "skinny" strands and the "fat" strands

In this first skein, notice the uneven strands–some are “skinny” and some are “fat.”  This occurs when the spinning of the singles is uneven–of course, the hallmark of a beginner!  This is one of the skills that can only be gained by “time at the wheel.” Spinning such a large bump of wool gave me enough time at the wheel to really improve on my consistency.

Another issue for beginners is “overspinning,” which is also a consistency issue. It happens when too much twist is added to the single during spinning. When plying two singles, spinning in the opposite direction from which the singles were originally spun “balances” the finished yarn as they are twined together–except when both singles are inconsistently overspun. Then you just get what’s pictured here–evidence that this spinner needs more time at the wheel!

It does happen, though.  The improvement does happen. Compare this last skein (hooray!) with the first above. Notice the evenness of the strands compared to each other, and the evenness of the whole skein compared to the first. This last skein even felt completely different in my hands as I wound it–lighter, fluffier, balanced.

The yarn is more consistent

As for the improvement, I can’t tell you what to do specifically, except keep spinning. It’s very strange, really. A spinner begins as an uncoordinated, goofy, stumbling upon oneself, uncertain being, but sticking with it, somehow she manages to bring it all together by not thinking about it, but simply doing it. Time at the wheel, says wise Arabella.

Peace, Spinning

Spinning for Hours

Oh, beautiful wool!

Arabella has also invited me to her spinning group, The Texas Twisters, which is a fabulous group of fiber-spinning, artistic, and lovely women who get together once a week and spin for hours and hours. It’s heavenly. Today we were a fairly small group (about 9), and we spent several hours together laughing, sharing, and sometimes just quietly spinning.

It occurred to me again today that although I am glad spinning is my hobby and not a requirement of my daily life, we have definitely traded something valuable for our freedom. Community, intimacy, slow hours together instead of a full-bore constant pace….these are the gems we have traded for our modernity. On any given day, we might shrug and move on, happy in our freedoms. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get a glimpse of the beauty of a slower-paced, less materialistic, more careful life, and I think I miss it.

From beautiful wool to beautiful yarn
Creativity, Spinning

Who is Kate and Why is She Lazy?

The “lazy kate” on my Louet S10 looks like this:

S10 Louet and the lazy kate with bobbins

Lazy kates come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the brand. Many spinners make their own lazy kates from dowels and plywood.  The lazy kate is simply a way to store bobbins holding spun yarn, or to help in plying the yarn.

Singles on bobbins held by lazy kate, ready for plying

So I am wondering what did Kate do to earn such a bad reputation?  But I can’t find much information in the Google searches I have done.  I did find a poem by a young British poet named Kirke White, writing in the early 1800’s, and who died tragically young. His poem,  “Description of A Summer’s Eve” depicts what various individuals might be doing on a summer night, and in the poem’s second section, he writes:

“…And little Tom and roughish Kate are swinging on the meadow gate…Now they chat of various things…”

“…The mistress sees that lazy Kate, the happing coal on kitchen grate has laid–”

These lines are the oldest references (1809) I can find to Lazy Kate–though it might be just that the rhyming of the vowel sounds in “lazy” and “kate” are all that was needed to create this persona–poor Kate!

If any of you spinners out there know any other history of how Kate came to be so lazy, let us know!

From "Description of A Summer's Eve" Kirke White, 1809
Spinning

How to Ply Singles


Two-ply yarn

When I had finally spun some yarn I was proud of and discovered I was only halfway through the process, I was a bit alarmed. Darn it! Watching the spinners in my Wednesday class left me feeling that plying might be harder than spinning. More twist to control, more yarn to feed, and all while treadling in the opposite direction (that is, if I could remember to!) But, like spinning itself, we seem to know what to do with this action called plying. In time, the brain and hands coordinate, and we are plying away.

A single is just what the name implies–a single strand of spun yarn. Yarn is spun either with a Z-twist (your wheel spins clockwise) or an S-twist (your wheel spins counterclockwise). Both “twists” perform the action of locking

Two bobbins of singles on a Lazy Kate

the wool fibers together into a stronger, now usable, strand. Singles are most often used in weaving, but rarely in knitting. Once you’ve spun two bobbins of singles, you can ply them from a lazy kate onto a third bobbin.

The important thing about all this is that you must ply in the opposite direction from which you have spun the singles. This is because the act of plying the singles in the opposite direction from which they’ve been spun “balances” the twist between the two singles. Plying in the same direction will just “undo” the twist and give you less stable yarn.

The singles twist together to make a 2-ply strand

Lastly, you must ply singles that have been spun in the same twist direction! Plying a Z-twist strand with an S-twist strand will just give you a big mess!

Arabella advised me to spin all my singles with my wheel spinning clockwise (Z-twist).  With this as the only standard for my singles, I can ply away without undoing the twist, or creating a mess!

Controlling the twist of the ply with your hand
Spinning

There’s Magic in the Spinning

Loose Alpaca wool

So what’s the big deal?  I’ll tell you–a spinner takes a handful of loose, random wool from  a farm animal, and turns it into thin strands of usable yarn, and now we can all wear clothes.

Usable yarn! We can make clothes!

Okay, so it really hasn’t been a big deal for several hundred years, but for several thousand years before that, it was a very big deal!! A spinner was a magician of sorts.

Taking loose, random wool and making usable threads and yarns….How?? Actually it’s a pretty simple bit of physics. Spinning adds twist to the fibers such that they are locked together, and can no longer be drawn apart. Until the twist is added to the wool, it’s not usable as thread or yarn.

Wool converted to usable thread! Amazing!

The spinner controls the drafting and the twisting with her hands—drafting with the back hand and controlling twist with the front hand. Drafting while spinning is the art of pulling the fibers to slide away from each other just the perfect amount to then add the twist you want to achieve the thickness of yarn.

From keeping sheep warm to keeping us warm

A magic spinner

This is the magic that happens between the two hands of a spinner.

Yeah, yeah, a modern spinning machine in a mill can spin faster with more guaranteed uniformity.  But there is no magic in that.

Spinning

From Batts to Roving

Though some spinners prefer to spin directly from the batt, there are additional steps that prepare wool to be spun by the rest of us mortals.  Each step in the process of preparing raw wool is designed to “organize the fibers” to make spinning easier.  The batts that come off the carder have their fibers more aligned, and there’s more air between the fibers than there was in the loose fleece; however, the batts can still be very compressed. This can make spinning more difficult, especially for us newbies!

If you’ve bought a batt or two, and are having difficulty spinning, you can easily turn your batts into roving. Here’s how:

1: Divide the batt leaving a bit attached

Divide the batt in half by pulling the fibers apart down the middle to the near edge, where you will leave a bit attached (about 1½”).

Next, turn the batt around so that the connected area is at the top, and on one side of the attachment, divide the batt again down to the other end where you will also leave a bit attached.  Continue to turn the batt and divide, always leaving a bit attached at the end.

2: Continue dividing, leaving a bit attached

When you are finished with one side, go back to the middle of the batt and start on the other side. After the batt is separated into segments, straighten it out, smoothing and “drawing” the fibers into one length.

3: Draw and smooth roving into long strand

Drawing means just gently pulling the fibers to align them.

4: Continue to draw and separate fibers

Now you’ve got roving!  But this roving is still very thick for a new spinner.  So take sections of the roving and draw (pull) them further apart, without separating the strands completely.

There are so many activities to synchronize for the new spinner that starting with thin, airy roving helps the process keep going!

Try this– you can very easily draw the fibers apart if you pull too firmly, because they simply slide past each other and separate.

Wanna know how spinning the fibers prevents the slide?

Creativity, Spinning

On Why Spinning is Art

Comment by Angus on History Has Been Woven by a Stick – The Astonishing Drop Spindle, on April 27, 2010.  This is too good to miss!

Angus says,

Beautiful and functionalSpinning is Art.

Art is, at its most beautiful, best, intrinsic essence, three things:

1. useful


2. metaphorical


3. a reflection of God

When useful, art stops being a thing to view, and begins to be a part of us.


When metaphorical, art is both the thing at hand, and a representation of greater things.


When a reflection of God, it is a humble desire to be more like Him. He is, after all, the Creator; the Artist.

I too, am flabbergasted.