Thursday, 14 February 2008

Fine spinning again, with Shetland wool

I've been working at my lace yarn spinning. As the Wensleydale yarn turned out looking a bit hairy, I picked up some white Shetland wool that was near to hand. I bought this as "combed tops", however, to make sure I had the right quality of fibre and the longest staples I combed it with the same fine tooth comb I used on the Wensleydale. I was interested to discover that about 1/3 of the fibre was half the staple length of the longest fibres. These shorter lengths are still very good quality and I have put them to one side for spinning a woolen yarn.

I changed whorls to give an 8:1 ratio and then I worked carefully, aiming to spin for one treadle (8 twists) per 1/2 inch of fibre. I was very pleased with this:It's very fine, but still has some softness and bounce to the yarn. I spun a small amount on two bobbins, and then plied. I am not happy with my plying technique yet. I need to plan this carefully next time. I got too much twist in when I plied, so that when I took the skein off my niddy-noddy (skein winder) and held it by one end, the skein gently twisted over onto itself. I had tested a few times, by plying a length and then letting the tension between where I was holding the yarn and the flyer orifice go slack, so that the yarn was hanging down in a loop. This generally shows up over plying because the yarn twists around itself instead of hanging down in a simple loop. However, I am spinning on a double-drive wheel. As the yarn draws on to the bobbin with double-drive, it gains extra twist. This doesn't happen with a scotch tension wheel. The effect on the double drive wheel is extra ply in the yarn, so this needs compensating for by having the yarn slightly under-plied before letting it wind on the bobbin. I haven't cracked this yet, but I'm sure that once I get it right I shall get a feel for the technique and be able to spin good yarn.

To show how fine my spinning is now, here are the coloured Wensleydale and white Shetland yarns by a ruler:
The Wensleydale has plied to a yarn of 39 wraps per inch (wpi). The Shetland is less fine, at 30 wpi.

Janet has sent me an instruction sheet she's written, with the aim of getting to spin a yarn with as few as 5 fibres twisting together in each single thread. It says aim for 12 to begin with, then reduce to 5... [pause for thought......] this is quite a challenge I have taken on.

I just wanted to show you the very useful lap apron that I was given when I bought my second hand Timbertops Wheel. The lines on it indicate half inch and inch. This side is white, the other black, giving good contrasting backgrounds for handling light / dark fibres.

This apron is clearly marked copyright Mabel Ross. She's the author of four superb books on spinning, two are in print and readily available: The Essentials of Handspinning, and The Essentials of Yarn Design.

Two others, just as good and useful, and containing information not available elsewhere, are out of print. These are:
Encyclopedia of Handspinning
(the price of this 2nd hand is getting a bit silly) and
Handspinner's Workshop: Fancy Yarns (very difficult to find a copy, I searched for 2 years before I was lucky. If anyone has a copy for sale, please let me know as I know someone who wants it.)

Ruth Gough, if you read this, I agree with Janet, I'd like to see these books back in print! Maybe some of those handy lap aprons too? Diane Varney's Spinning Designer Yarns and Alison Daykin and Jane Deane's book Creative Spinning are both very nice books, and inspirational, but no-one else gives you the very simple descriptions and formulae that Mabel Ross has in her Fancy Yarns book. (Ruth Gough of Wingham Wool Work keeps two of Mabel's books in print, under licence from the copyright holder, Mabel Ross's son).

Some people don't like Mabel Ross's approach to spinning. She was a teacher of mathematics, and so when she wrote about spinning it was natural for her to reduce the technique for spinning all sorts of yarns to simple calculations. She drew up tables for how to adjust your spinning to get exactly the yarn you want. You either love or hate this method. I love it. I used to run away (terrified!) from tables and calculations at one time, but have learnt that there's lots of things you need to do in life that are so much easier if you just face up to the figures and take your time to do simple sums and measurements.


Leigh said...

Well, I Love Mabel Ross! Her books really transformed my approach to spinning. One thing I am curious about, the skein of yarn you weren't happy with still twist after you washed it and set the twist?

ra said...

Thanks for your comments, I'll bear them in mind the next time. The bobbins are from my Haldane Orkney; can't afford a Timbertops! I'm well impressed with your laceweight. I think maybe I could do with taking a more scientific aproach to my spinning; I tend to justy pile in and hope for the best. Ruth would be horrified (she tauught me to spin!)

Dorothy said...

Hi Leigh, no I wasn't quite happy with the skeins of yarn, I washed them and dried them with a weight on the skien to pull them straight. The Wensleydale skein still feels unbalanced. The twist set better in the Shetland, but it's really uneven - some bits plied tighter than other. I do feel like I am a beginner spinner again!

Hi Ra, I've seen pictures of the Haldene wheels and they look lovely and very traditional. Maybe you and I should sign up together for a refresher course with Ruth sometime, or maybe you're having fun being a rebel?

Moz said...

I think that you come to appreciate Mabel's techniques once you've spun a little bit. I remember being afraid of her calcs too in the beginning. Now I watch them with fascination. :)

Anonymous said...

Any idea where to acquire one of Mabel Ross' lap cloths? I saw her using it on her video, but yours is the only image I could find on the internet.

Dorothy said...

Hi Anonymous, I think you'll have to make your own, I've never seen them for sale and this one dates from about 1980s, it came to me with a secondhand wheel.