Record keeping may seem daunting and unappealing. I have always registered my spinning in numbers and tables, but I didn’t see the point of keeping physical record until just a year or two ago. Since I started keeping physical record of my spinning I have learned many things I wouldn’t have learned without sampling and swatching.
Tables, forms and boxes
Actually, I do love record keeping. If there is a form or a table to fill in, I will fill it in, even if I don’t have much to say. On Ravelty I keep track of every fleece I buy and every yarn I spin. All my spindles (lots) and wheels (3) are listed. My organized mind sighs of satisfaction when all the boxes are ticked.
Ravelry is a powerful tool that allows me to register and keep track of pretty much everything about my projects – fiber supplier, fiber content, prep method, spinning method, colour, spinning technique, plies, finishing etc.
Length and weight
Knowing the length and weight of a yarn helps me plan my project. If I am knitting or weaving I can calculate how much yarn I need or how much yarn I have left. With the weight of the fleece and waste I can also make an estimation of how much fiber I will need for a given amount of yarn.
The data I use the most is the grist. Grist is a calculation of length per weight unit – for me that is meters per kilo. I usually spin a whole fleece. Keeping track of the grist of the different skeins helps me achieve an even yarn throughout the whole spinning process. The satisfaction of managing to get the grist even over 10 skeins is unbeatable.
Other tools for consistency
- The spinning angle is the angle of the spun yarn in relation to the direction of the yarn. Keeping track of the spinning angle helps me make a consistent yarn even if several days pass by between spinning sessions. Usually I also save a spun sample by the wheel to check my spinning against.
- The ratio of the spinning wheel is a good thing to note. Sometimes it takes a while between spinning sessions and I have forgot which whorl I was using.
- WPI, wraps per inch is a measurement used in commercial yarns. A given amount of wraps of yarn per inch will lead you to the yarn thickness needed for a specific project. Checking the wpi every now and then will help you keep track of the consistency of the yarn.
Sampling and swatching
I have kept record on Ravelry since I joined the community back in 2009. The information is useful, but I rarely do anything with the records. It is only recently that I have kept physical records – samples and swatches. This is where the real excitement begins.
I wasn’t aware of the superpowers of physical record keeping until just a couple of years ago. Actually, it was when I started writing articles for Spin-off magazine that I realized that I would have to make samples and swatches to be trustworthy as a writer. After my first serious attempt of sampling and swatching (and my first article), a new reality opened before my eyes.
Main characteristics: The superpowers
When I get my hands on a new fleece I feel like I have the world at my feet. I can explore this new acquaintance endlessly, investigating fiber length, strength, consistency, shine, fiber type, loftiness, spring etc. All these characteristics tell me something about the fleece that I can use when I make a yarn. I try to find the essence of the fleece – what are its main characteristics? When I have found these, I envision a yarn with these characteristics as superpowers. I make a plan for the yarn I envision and experiment with preparation and spinning methods.
Gotland wool: Strength, drape and shine
Using my recent Gotland fleece as an example, the main characters were strength, drape and shine. I played with preparation and spinning until I had found the right path to a yarn that signaled these main characteristics. Combing was the method I envisioned to keep the shine in the yarn. After having experimented with a few methods to achieve a smooth combing process that would also give me a sleek and drapey yarn I scaled up the method and prepared and spun the whole fleece that way.
I needed to try, compare and fail. I needed to see and feel what would work and what wouldn’t. Even if I liked the first or second try I continued to try different methods to be able to tell exactly why it was the winning concept. I carded, combed, flicked and teased. I spun singles, plies, bulky, thin, woolen and worsted. At the swatching stage I wove, knit and felted. By seeing the samples and swatches side by side I was able to distinguish which method that would give me the best of the main characteristics and why.
Gute wool: Strength, lightness and rusticity
With my Gute fleece I saw strength, lightness and rusticity as the main characteristics. I was dealing with a primitive breed and wanted to honour that in the way I presented the finished product. The fleece had three fiber types but I still wanted to keep them together to allow them to boost each other and show the rusticity I was after. I experimented until I had a yarn that gave me the same feeling the fleece had.
To come to the right path of carding and spinning with long draw I had to take a detour through combing and short forward draw. I needed to see and feel that it wouldn’t give me the yarn I was after and why. By felting a woven swatch – just for fun – I also realized that weaving and felting were the right options for this yarn instead of knitting, which was my original idea.
Trying ideas that I thought would be the right one might prove to be all wrong. Exploring options I wouldn’t think would lead anywhere could be spot on. I need to experiment physically with a fleece, not just theoretically, to find my right way to the superpowers I want to show as the stars of the finished product.
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