Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Designing a yarn

As a hand spinner, I design yarns every time I sit down at my spinning wheel. First decision is what fiber will I spin – wool, mohair, alpaca, angora, linen, cotton, dog or synthetic? Next I determine how many plies my yarn will have – how many individual strands of yarn will be twisted together to make the final yarn. Then I need to decide how thick each ply will be. Finally, I ask myself how much twist my yarn will have, meaning how many times will I push the treadle on my wheel per foot of yarn spun. Will it be only slightly twisted or very, very twisted?
When I spun my first skein of yarn, I didn’t think beyond the question of color. The yarn I spun showed my lack of planning, but also my lack of experience. It was a lumpy, uneven skein of variegated gray yarn that was so over twisted that it looped over and over itself. The mittens I knit from that yarn were more chain mail than mitten.
My spinning has improved with practice. I now spin fat yarns and thin yarns, highly twisted and under twisted yarns, single ply and two ply yarns. I love to vary the fiber used in a yarn. One ply of wool and one of mohair dyes beautifully because the two fibers absorb the dyes differently. One ply of wool and one of angora or one of alpaca makes a wonderfully soft yarn that still has the strength and elasticity of wool.
I love to spin, but I am not a fast spinner; I probably only produce an ounce an hour. That means that a handspun, hand knit sweater takes me a long time. Spinning all fifty of our fleeces every year would be impossible. I don’t expect to spin 50 fleeces. During shearing, I pick out my favorite fleece and spin that one. The rest of those beautiful fleeces are washed and carded into roving or washed, carded and spun into yarn at commercial woolen mills. I have to design that yarn before I send the wool to the mill. Will it be all wool or a blend of different fibers? The mills require 100 pounds of unwashed fiber to spin a batch of yarn. So I have to combine between 20 and 30 fleeces. I don’t have that many sheep with the same color fleece. The heathered color of my yarns depends on how many light gray fleeces, or dark gray fleeces or brown or white fleeces I include in a batch. I have stockpiled all the brown fleeces from 2009 and 2010. After we shear in February, I’ll have enough brown wool set aside to create a soft brown yarn with one light brown ply and one dark brown ply. I can see the yarn in my head and I know when three big boxes appear on my doorstep that the subtle light to dark twists of the yarn inside those boxes will be even more beautiful than I can imagine.

1 comment:

  1. I am currently spinning my first yarn with the practice wool I got from you and it is very OVER twisted! We'll see what happens when I ply it. Thank you for being part of my inspiration to start spinning!