New Fibers, New Territory

My Oyster spin is pushing me in to a new fiber prep, as well as new fiber types, and it’s helping me develop my spinning. If you’re a newer spinner (like I am at the moment), consider spinning different fiber types and/or preps in quick succession. It’s proven to be a great exercise in the “compare and contrast” style, like those high school writing assignments our teachers gave us.

About a year ago I went to Lambtown and purchased a drop spindle and some fiber. At that point I saw myself strictly as a knitter, but I figured I was at a fiber festival so I should do something fibery and give drop-spindle a try. I looked up a quick video on YouTube to show me how to get started. I wasn’t looking for anything complex, I just wanted to give it a whorl. šŸ˜‰ YouTube is very accessible, but it’s also very bite-sized. An absolute beginner would have to cobble together an understanding from several videos, but an intermediate viewer might get just the detail they were looking for from one. In this case I was a beginner, and I don’t remember any mention of staple length in that first video. I proceeded with my spindle spinning fully expecting to be able to make it happen. I did make it happen, forcefully, and I thought, this so hard! Despite literally ripping the fibers apart, I was still entertained with the fact that I was spinning a lumpy bumpy mess. I must have been half way into my one ounce starter braid when I accidentally moved my hands farther apart and suddenly drafting was magic. It was like having the Advil kick in after a bad headache and suddenly you LOVE life. Maybe that’s what got me hooked, or maybe I would have liked it no matter what, but I’m realizing spinning is maintaining my interest more than knitting at the moment. I did realize that it would be worth my time and money to take a introduction drop spindle class, and I suggest that for anyone getting started.

(About the staple length – This is the term for the length of the fiber you are spinning. In order to pull fibers from your supply and into the yarn as it’s being spun, you have to have your hands farther apart than the staple length. Otherwise, you will be pulling on either ends of the same fiber, and nothing will go anywhere until you snap it in half.)

2016-11-06-17.30.33.jpg.jpgAll of my spinning over the past year has been done on that one spindle from Lambtown made by Trif’s Turnings. The one other spinning tool I’ve picked up is a niddy noddy for winding my half-sized skeins. I tried plying from balls, then I figured out the Andean bracelet arrangement, and finally I tried chain plying. The chain plying allows for “ply-on-the-fly” which I love given that I’ve only got my one tool to work with. I also think it breaks up the work of spinning and plying into nice bite sized pieces. So, most of my technique development has been in ways to ply. My fiber has remained the worsted-prep combed top you find in braids, paired with my default drafting.

I’ve finally worked up the courage to spin the “Oyster” rolags I got from Classy Squid a while back. These are quite different from the combed top. First of all, they are a wollen-prep rolag which wants to be spun wollen. Not that you can’t spin it worsted, but it won’t draft and spin like combed top does. I think I spin a “sloppy worsted” style. I hit my default spinning before I took any time to learn about what techniques existed. I draft in short controlled motions, but I don’t bother to smooth the twist into the drafting triangle and push all the air out. I just let the twist get in there and it generally stops once it encounters the full density of fiber, letting me draft again. I feel like it’s very controlled, so I think it tends more toward a worsted style. (Oh, a spinner at a spinning circle once said “wollen like a wolley sheep” and that’s been a godsend for remembering which style is which.)

2016-11-06-17.05.13-1.jpg.jpgMy drafting on rolags is not very controlled at all. The fiber is horizontal instead of vertical, and it sticks to it’s neighbor however it wants. If I try to draft thin (like my default), I run the risk of accidentally drafting to a thread. The more I try to control it, the more difficult it seems, so I just have to relax and trust that it will most likely draft out. It’s really brought a lot of consciousness to my drafting style, and that’s a great tool for learning!

There’s another surprise to these rolags, mixed fiber type. Up to now I’ve spun mixed colors, but not mixed fiber type. Well, I take that back. The first fibers I spun had a wool silk blend, but they were really well blended, so it seemed homogeneous. These rolags intentionally move from one fiber type to the next to create an artistic effect. The black end is matte carbonized bamboo, which blends into black polwarth wool. The colors transition to white with firestar and more polwarth, ending in brilliantly glossy silk. The drafting friction for each is very different, the triangle looks different, and the density of the spun yarn keeps changing. That carbonized bamboo has a lot of friction, but once you get it drafting, it slips more than you’d expect. The silk slides like butter, but it’s long and compact, and I had no recourse for tangles. The polwarth was a dream, maybe because it was closer to what I knew, and the easiest to be consistent with. I think it was amazingly helpful to move from one to the next in the same project like that in order to really see the differences between the fibers and what I had to do to spin them. I definitely had to use a couple rolags for practice, and I’m still far from mastering working with these materials. You can see some of my struggles in the photo. I’m ready to scour the internet for advice and get more rolags to work with. šŸ™‚

Though all of this, I was confronted with the fact that I haven’t payed much attention to what I’m doing. By now I am aware that there are specific techniques for drafting on spindles and it’s high time I started learning some of them. So I bought Abby Franquemont’s book, Respect the Spindle. It arrived in the mail last Saturday, which may have been a blessing or a curse, because I was afforded the opportunity to sit down and read from page 1 – page 90 like a ravenous beast. I don’t think I could have done that without having spun on a spindle for a while to give me some context for what I was reading. She’s included exercises to build up technique before actually putting all the pieces together to spin yarn. Breaking stuff apart like that can be very helpful, and I look forward to trying them out. I also picked up Yarnitecture by Jillian Moreno last month and read through that in a week or two. Both helped give me a better knowledge base for my spinning. The entire experience of spinning the rolags and reading the books is inspiring me to branch out from my default technique. I’d love to get a support spindle too. Onward to new territory!