Monday, July 20, 2009

From Fiber to Yarn

What you see here is my first week-and-a-half spinning for Ravelry's "Tour de Fleece". This fun group makes a spin-a-long of the Tour de France, with the only requirement (and a loose one at that) being that you at least TRY to spin every day.

This is made easy by the fact that if you post your progress for the day to the "daily progress" thread, then the next day people vote on their favorites and an award is given to the top two most-voted-yarns. Being somewhat competitive in my nature, this spurs me on each day to at least a little bit of spinning, and sometimes to a whole lot of spinning!

Superwash Merino
One of my goals for this (my first) Tour was to finish a project I've had in mind for a while now. I originally purchased 2 ounces of tussah silk from because it was on sale, and it was lovely. I later went back and bought the rest of the lot (almost another two ounces) as well as four ounces of a coordinating merino wool to ply with it. This, I reasoned, would easily give me 1000 yards of lace-weight yarn with which to make a shawl.

Tussah Top
Another shawl-in-progress at the moment was my first attempt at working with tussah silk. Rather than leave it all to chance for the "Big Shawl", I decided to spin a smaller project first. This was especially easy when I happened on another sale of a lot of four ounces of silk. (I'm a sucker for a sale, and know it. Thus, when I need to save money I'm very careful NOT TO SHOP in the first place.) That was done just before the Tour and I'm knitting it now. What it did for me is allowed me to test out how evenly I would spin over time, and how I liked for the silk to be spun.

With that knowledge, I embarked on this, my second (and largest) lace-weight project to date. I started with the silk and purposefully spun it "thicker" than my original yarn. I wanted a slightly softer yarn, and my first silk had gotten quite twisted, and thus a little rough, in many places. I also didn't want to stray towards cobweb weight, which is all too easy when spinning silk.
Tour de Fleece 2009 - July 4 Tour de Fleece - July 5th Tour de Fleece - July 6th Tour de Fleece - July 7th Tour de Fleece - July 8th

Over the course of the week I worked my way through the silk, documenting my process each day. It is especially fun to spin outside while my kids play in the yard. We get to enjoy the sun (and sun on silk is a beautiful thing to behold). They get plenty of playtime, and I get spinning time. They'll even chase the spindle, or I can chase them. It's wonderful to be mobile!

At the end, I could feel myself getting anxious. I wanted to get this project done. I was also nervous about my yardage, so for the first time I sat down with my singles and wound them onto my niddy-noddy for measurement. Relief! I was well into 600 yards of silk single on the first attempt.

I polished off the silk (and wound that.. it was over 500 yards) and then heartened by my success I pulled out the merino top. Here, I ran into an issue I'd never had before. This particular top was so densely compacted I almost couldn't get it to "break" apart into sections. I knew that would be an issue for drafting. In addition, parts of it were dyed brown, rather than rose. I'd expected a bit more of an even application of color. This wasn't bad, just not what I'd originally envisioned.

Tour de Fleece - July 9th
My first hour of each day spinning the wool was sitting down and breaking it into sections by brute effort. Then I split each of those sections along their length several times. And finally I mixed-and-matched the sections until each one had an equal number of rose strips, and one tan strip. These lengths I then carefully "pre-drafted" together. I tugged a little bit at the bottom just until the fibers started to slip past each other, and then moved up a little bit and repeated the process. This turns a compacted, dense top, into a light and airy length of fiber that is easy (or at least much easier) to spin. As an added bonus, it also blends the various strips together, so the tan became incorporated into the other colors rather than standing out bluntly against the various pinks.

Tour de Fleece - July 10th
Then I went to town. My silk spinning had put me in good practice, but the merino went like lightning. I spun through two ounces each day, finishing four ounces in two days! This didn't spin quite as thin as the silk. Despite having a bit more wool by weight, I spun about 100 less yards of it. Still, this was putting me right around my 1000-yard-total mark, and that made me happy enough.

Tour de Fleece - July 11th
Now I had four rolls of spun fiber. Each of these I wound together so that one strand of silk was with one strand of wool. This is known as a "plying ball" and is a great way to make your plying work much more portable. I hold the ball in my left hand and unwind enough yarn to ply, spin it up, wind it on the spindle, and continue. You can ply all over the neighborhood. At the gym. In the supermarket (if you wanted, but I wouldn't). Did I mention I like portable?

Tour de Fleece - July 14th
Plying spindles get full. You want to be careful how you wind them. I've had trouble with the bottom getting loose, despite careful winding and cross-winding to keep it stable. This time I cross-wound very rarely, and straight-wound quite a bit more. I came out with a really solid cop. There's just enough cross-winding on it to make sure the spiral-wound strands won't come loose, but not enough to make the cop slippery so that things start falling off.

The last step is to wind one more time onto the niddy-noddy. This confirmed I had 950 yards of finished 2-ply merino/silk lace yarn, with 100 yards of silk single left over. Whew!


Geek Knitter said...

Now THAT is just beautiful!

Araignee said...

Oh my goodness! How spectacular. Now that's real progress!!