Sunday, 24 February 2013

Now What?

This past week has seen a great breakthrough in my inability to ply my hand spun yarn.  With the help of a video I downloaded a few weeks ago (The Gentle Art of Plying by Judith MacKenzie), I have figured out what I was doing wrong.  It still isn't perfect, but it's a thousand times better than it was before.

This was an undyed organic merino combed top.  I don't think the organic part makes an ounce of difference in how it spins but it feeds into my desire to get the chemicals out of my life.  I think it makes for a healthier animal, is safer for all the handlers along the way and is better for the earth and water supply.  But I digress.

So after letting it sit on the bobbin overnight, this is what it looked like off the wheel.  It is very twisty and will wind back on itself at every chance it gets so it's a pretty messy skein right now.

For a long time, I thought plied yarn needed to be balanced coming off the wheel.  I'm not sure where I got that idea or if I misheard something somewhere but that is what I was always striving to achieve, but the yarn always looked limp and lifeless.  I've since learned that that isn't always the case and that often you do want what appears to be 'overtwisted' yarn.  This has plenty of life and bounce.  I have 80g (approx 150 yds) of it and see a hat in my future.

But how do I finish the yarn?

I spent the morning trolling the internet on what to do next.  I know it needs a bath, but is that all it needs or should it be slightly fulled to fluff up the fibres a bit?  What about 'whacking' the skein against the side of the tub to help redistribute the twist more evenly?  And how much abuse can the yarn take?

I'm a big believer in the "try it and see what happens" school of learning so I took one of the sections out of my niddy noddy and wound off four mini-skeins.  Each skein has about 16 feet of yarn and apart from giving them all a hot water bath to start, they've all been treated differently.

Skein 1:  A hot bath with wool wash, squeezed the water out and hung up to dry.  I did not stretch this or beat the skein in anyway. (Closest to the wall)
Skein 2: A hot bath with wool wash, squeezed out the water and whacked the skein against the tub.  I stretched it out around my wrists and snapped it a few times then hung it up to dry.
Skein 3:  A hot bath with wool wash, then straight into the tub which had cold water (I'm on a well - that was really cold water in the tub).  I swished it around a bit then back into the hot water for a few more minutes and back into the cold.  Squeezed out the excess water and snapped the skein a few times and hung it up to dry.
Skein 4: Just like Skein 3 but this took a lot of abuse.  It was heavily agitated in both the hot and cold water and beaten pretty hard before being hung up to dry.  (Closest to the camera)

I'll have pictures of how each of the mini-skeins look when they're dry and then I'll decide how to finish the big skein.   Stay tuned!


  1. I don't do any of those, although I love your methodical approach! I do set up comparisons like these all the time when dyeing.

    I finish plied wool yarn by steaming it over a kettle or big pot on the niddy noddy for 2 minutes or so, then leaving it alone to cool. That's all. It doesn't twist up on itself after steam finishing. You can set spun singles the same way.

    I learned that you can increase the shine of spun silk by whacking it, so I do that to silk I spin, but dry.

    I am interested to see the dry samples of the shocked yarn and to see how they knit up.

    What a fabulous experiment, thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. Hmmm....I think I'll have to try steaming the yarn and see how it compares with the others. Thanks!

  2. I think it's a common misconception that yarn has to be balanced coming right off the wheel--or balanced at all! I love making bouncy yarns with lower-twist singles that are more tightly plied.

    Your yarn looks fantastic, btw!

    1. Hi Leslie,
      Thanks very much for the kind words.
      What an interesting thought that the yarn doesn't have to be balanced at all. Isn't it funny how we try to impose as "rules" what were once surely only rough guidelines. Hmm - that might become another blog post!

  3. I think your yarn looks great! I have been such a slacker with my handspun. I love how yours looks completely natural and undyed!