Last autumn, when I made a video at Överjärva gård, I happened to buy another fleece. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it in the wool shop and I immediately realized that it needed me. It was half a fleece from the Swedish finewool sheep Engla.
When I sorted the fleece, I decided to divide it into different piles according to the quality of the wool. I ended up with three piles – the very short and fine (neck) staples, the medium length staples and the longer staples.
The fleece was a joy to work with – it was clean, easy to sort, wonderful to comb and card and dreamy to spin. I do love Swedish finewool. I can honestly say it has been one of my very favourite fleeces.
I bought 800 g of fleece and ended up with a total of about 440 g of yarn.
So, I carded the fine neck staples and spun them with long draw on a supported spindle and made a 3-ply yarn out of the singles and I was very happy with the result. A light, airy and even yarn with lots of bounce. I also made a video about the plying.
I carded the medium staples as well and spun them with long draw on a Navajo spindle. One of the yarns I made was a prize winner – The sheep, the chicken, the pig and the lion. I also spun several skeins of singles on a Navajo spindle.
I combed the longest staples and spun them with short draw on a supported spindle. I experimented with chain-plying “on the fly” and made two videos about it, a detailed video about how to ply-on-the-fly on a supported spindle and another one where I show how I start from an empty spindle with the ply-on-the-fly method.
I feel very fortunate as a hand spinner to be able to sort my fleeces to make different kinds of yarns, whether it is according to colour, structure or length. It can result in really unique yarns. And I learn so much from it.
A couple of weeks ago I published a video on how to ply on the fly on a supported spindle. I am pleased about how it came out and it was very well received. But there was one thing missing with it, and two viewers were kind enough to point that out for me: I hadn’t shown how to start. And there is a reason fort that: I didn’t know how to, which was very unprofessional of me. I had searched youtube for a video on the technique and found Ioana’s video, but she doesn’t explain that either. So, when I recorded the video I just made an unorganized start and hoped it would be tight enough. I definitely did not put that part in the video.
The problem with two directions
After a few days of analyzing and experimenting I have now come to the conclusion that the easiest and most straightforward way to start to ply on the fly on a supported spindle is to use a leader. I usually don’t use a leader when spinning on a spindle because I want the spinning as “clean” as possible. However, in this case I find it justifiable. When plying on the fly you are working with both singles and plied yarn. This means that there are sections with fiber spun clockwise and counter-clockwise in the same stretch of yarn. Also, the sections are wound onto the shaft in different directions. So, at the loop, the yarn of different directions wound in different directions meet, which makes the point of the loop a critical one and the loop needs to be properly secured at the loop itself (onto he tip) and at the two yarn ends below (by winding the yarn tightly around the ends). And because of this point being so critical, I choose to use a leader that won’t break when changing directions of the spinning and winding on.
So, I make a quite long leader, make a slip knot at the middle of the leader and tie one end of leader onto the shaft just above the whorl. I wind the leader counter-clockwise around the shaft until I get to the loop. I secure the loop onto the bottom tip of the shaft. After that I secure both leader ends onto the shaft again, now winding the yarn clockwise, just as I have shown in the first video. After that, I spiral the leader up the shaft, clockwise and start spinning! The video is about 3,5 minutes, but only the first minute shows how I start.
Edit: I just discovered a mistake in the video. At 1:41 text should read: “Transfer slip knot to *index finger* of spinning hand”.
My friend Anna is a master drop spindle spinner and she often plies on the fly. Ply on the fly is a technique to spin a yarn on a spindle and ply alternately. You spin a bit, secure the end of the single, and chain-ply the part you just spun. I have never practised it, but it is a smart way to finish a yarn without having the trouble of unwinding the spindle in between. I have seen a few videos on this technique, but only on drop spindles. So today I made a search on plying on the fly on a supported spindle. And I found Ioana’s video. She has a good technique and explains it very well.
The basics are: you spin clockwise and wind onto the temporary cop and butterfly the single onto your fiber hand, just as you would normally do. For plying, you pick up a loop from the bottom of the shaft and chain-ply counter-clockwise. When almost all the butterflied single is plied, you secure the loop at the bottom again and go back to spinning.
I wanted to make my own video, soI went to the allotment with my garden chair/camera stand and started spinning! I put in explaining in text and slow motion sections to show the technique as clearly as possible. However, there are many steps in a short segment of time and you might want to watch it more than once to get the technique. Also, look at Ioana’s video for additional explanation of the method.