I wanted to spin a yarn that was evenly spun and learn more about consistency. I wanted to let the yarn shine both up close and as a whole in a garment. To be able to do that I needed to be really thorough and take notes of every step I took on the way from fleece to the finished yarn.
This is the second post in a blog series. The first post was about how to find the superpowers of a fleece. In the remaining posts I take you through designing and knitting a garment and some calculations. Through the blog series I will use the wool from one sheep as a case study.
Consistency from fleece to yarn
To spin a consistent yarn you need to be consistent in every step of the process. With an unevenly spun yarn it will be a challenge to get consistency in the plying. If the wool isn’t evenly carded or combed, it is difficult to spin an even yarn. Wool that isn’t properly blended or sorted, will result in uneven wool preparation. There are many opportunities through the process to control your consistency and even more opportunities to learn.
It may seem daunting to go through a gazillion of steps to get a consistent yarn. But fear not. To start with, a consistent yarn isn’t at all necessary. I love the feeling of a handspun yarn that is not consistent. It can make it more alive. But sometimes consistency can give a yarn that extra shine that it deserves.
In this post I will tell you about different steps you can take towards consistency and about what I did in my case study. Pick the steps you like, play, experiment and evaluate. Do what works for you. You don’t even need to count or measure that much. Here are three simple steps that can help you a long way:
- Look at the fiber or yarn and find ways to remember and replicate how you want it
- Feel the material and let your touch guide you to consistency
- Take notes and make samples
For this particular project, though, I wanted to go all in and learn about consistency and what I can do to come closer to it.
Sorting, blending and teasing
Before I prepare the wool I arrange it in some fashion. I can
- sort the fleece according to quality, staple length, fiber type or colour
- blend different qualities to make sure the qualities are evenly spread
- tease the wool as a preparation for carding.
In my case study I had two fleeces from the same sheep – the spring shearing and the autumn shearing. The staples from the spring shearing were a bit shorter than the staples from the autumn shearing. I wanted to spin the fleeces together to get both these qualities in my yarn, so I blended them. Had it been summer I would definitely have willowed the fleeces, but instead I just tried to blend them as well as I could in a big basket.
After I had blended the wool I teased it. My favourite teasing method is with combs. I used my table mounted combing station and loaded the stationary comb with the blended fiber. I loaded each batch with wool to about a third of the height of the tines and I combed three passes for each batch. That gave me an even teasing throughout the wool.
While doing this, I also added the sari silk I wanted in the yarn as a tweedy effect. For consistency I decided to have a set amount of sari silk tufts with each combed batch. So for every batch of wool I combed I added eight staple length tufts of sari silk. That would give me consistency in the visual appearance of the colored specks. It would also be of importance to the consistency of the yarn quality since the proportions of silk to wool would be consistent.
For consistency in my carding there are a few tricks to consistency:
- Make sure you load the card with an equal amount of fiber in each carding batch
- Keep an eye of how much of the carding pad area that is covered with the fiber
- Count the strokes and passes to get an even density in each rolag.
In the case study I grabbed a tuft of my teased blend and stroked the width of the card with the tuft until the teeth of the card didn’t catch any more fiber. I kept a one inch passepartout on the sides and upper edge of the carding pad empty to control the width and height of each rolag.
I carded six strokes before transferring the wool to the other card and three passes. This together with the technique to load the cards gave me rolags of the same density and weight.
I spun 12 skeins of 3-ply yarn. I made sure that I had 20 g of rolags for each single. Because I had been so consistent in my carding I ended up with 16 rolags for every single. 16 rolags per single in 12 3-ply skeins of yarn makes 576 rolags of around 1,25 gram each, all in the same shape, size and density. That gave me lots of practice in carding and consistency.
There are several ways to control consistency when spinning. Apart from adjusting tension and ratio you can
- keep an even treadling
- count the treadles for each draft
- keep an even amount of fiber to each draft
- stop your drafting hand at the same distance from the orifice for each draft
- keep an even distance between your front (yarn) and back (fiber) hands.
- take notes of the twist angle and twists per inch
- make samples and compare your current spin to the main sample
Another way to get a consistent yarn is to leave some lanolin in the fleece. The lanolin helps me get a smooth draft. Usually I don’t use any detergent at all when I wash my wool (most Swedish sheep breeds are quite low in lanolin), so there is alway enough lanolin left after washing to give me that smooth draft.
I used several of these points in my case study. I spun the yarn with English long draw, which is an excellent opportunity to practice spinning with consistency. For building up twist I kept a set treadle count (4) and for making the draw and adding twist another set treadle count (10).
By keeping an eye on my posture while spinning and keeping my arms close to my body I made sure my hands were at the same distance from each other and from the orifice. I tried to keep my fiber arm elbow close to my body and move my fiber arm outwards to a comfortable angle from my body to control the length of each draw. I also tried to feed an equal amount from the rolag in each draw. This was more of a feeling in my hand than any calculations.
The fact that my yarn was 3-plied also added to the consistency. With three separate singles the chances for a consistent yarn is better than for a 2-plied or chain-plied yarn.
When I started spinning this yarn I experimented my way to the yarn quality I wanted – thickness, twists per inch, drafting method etc. I saved the sample that I had decided would be my guide. All through the spinning I measured my spinning to this main sample to make sure I was on the right track.
At this late stage in the process from fleece to yarn, the measures I took in the beginning towards consistency are really paying off. I have three singles that are consistent in thickness, density and twist angle. But there are still some things I can do to add consistency to my yarn. I can
- keep an even tension between the singles when I ply
- keep a set treadle count for each feed into the orifice
- feed an equal length of yarn into the orifice every time
- Stop every now and then to check the twist angle and balance
This is what I did for this spinning project and it is what I generally do when I ply. I also make sure I move the yarn between the flyer hooks so that I feed an equal amount of plied yarn to every hook.
Some people don’t ply until all the singles are spun and make sure to ply the first singles together with the last singles. It is easy to gradually change the quality of the singles if you spin over a longer period of time. By mixing the singles from the earliest and the latest stages of the spinning, you avoid ending up with different gauged skeins. I have not tried this method yet, mainly because I’m too lazy to transfer all the singles to toilet rolls.
I did end up with a consistent yarn and all the methods I used in aiming for consistency really paid off. I did a lot of experimentation to see which steps I was comfortable doing and that I thought I could keep up with for the whole project.
Ravelry is a very powerful tool where you have the opportunity to keep track of your fiber stash and handspun yarn. I use the different features in my personal Ravelry fiber stash and handspun pages. As the proud geek I am, I record every fleece (and occasional industrially processed fiber) I have and every yarn I spin. I won’t go through every feature you can keep track of, but there are a lot. If you are on Ravelry you can check out my notes for this yarn here.
One of the features I use on Ravelry is the grist calculation – how much meterage or yardage you get per pound or kilo. I usually calculate the grist for every skein to keep record of the spectrum of grists for the skeins in one yarn. Out of the 12 skeins I spun in my case study, one had a grist of 1948 m/kg and two between 1650 m/kg and 1690 m/kg. The other nine skeins ended up with a grist between 1726 m/kg and 1900 m/kg. For me, that is quite consistent.
Even if Ravelry is a very powerful tool, you can only get so far with digital record keeping and pictures. For this project I combined these notes with samples of fiber, singles, plied yarn and knitted swatches. And it is so nice to arrange all the samples on a fancy paper. You have everything gathered in one place and you can make notes of calculations, methods, tools and a general feeling of the yarn – nice and orderly and good.
Spinning for consistency felt very rewarding and I did learn a lot. One of the most important things I learned was that consistency starts already at the fleece – spinning a consistent yarn requires focus on more parts of the process than just the spinning itself. Also, I learned that spinning a consistent yarn takes time and effort, but also that the energy is very well spent. I love how my yarn looks in the individual strands and as a whole.
Even if I won’t strive for consistency in every yarn I spin, there are many techniques from this project that I will incorporate in my coming spinning project. Just the awareness of what a technique or a measure taken will do for my spinning makes me better equipped for planning and implementing a project.
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