23 October 2009

The First Skein

The first skein on the spinning wheel is completed. I followed Jenna's recommendation and started off with a 4-ounce roving of Blueface Leister from Gale's Art. Gale is a local dyer and member of Atlanta Knitting Guild. Plus, her work is just dang gone fine. You don't have to twist my arm to get me to buy her rovings. The colorway is deep blue sea, which is a nice analogous colorway of blue-greens, blues, cool purple, and a little warm green the color of kelp. The roving is also a chocolate swirl roving, which means that it incorporates both white and black wool. Although the black wool does dull the colors a little, it also adds a richness of tone that makes the final yarn more interesting and worth the effort.

I followed advice from both Jenna the Yarn Pimp and Lydia the Spinning Goddess. Lydia reminded me that I should breath every half hour or so, as I was tense at learning the new skill. I also followed this advice by spinning only a little at a time, for just an hour or until that particular segment of the roving was completed. I figured that spinning a little at a time over several days would be as good and maybe better than trying to spin a whole lot all at once.

Jenna helped me pick out the roving. Then she showed me how to split it up. In this case, I divided it longways (vertically, as opposed to crosswise) into eight parts. If I planned to spin a three-ply yarn, then I would have divided it into three, six, or nine parts. So beginners, before you start dividing roving, decide how many plys you want in the final yarn.

Picture at left is six of the eight small rovings. After dividing the main roving into eight parts, each piece was gently wound up into a ball.

Jenna also told me to predraft. Predrafting is gently tugging on the roving or batt to thin it out. This makes it easier to spin, as you draft less at the wheel. Don't predraft too much, as you do need to draft a little as you spin. For a new spinner, predrafting keeps your hands from being overwhelmed by having too much to do with too much fiber. Predrafting and dividing also have an effect on color. If I had divided the roving only into two instead of into eighths and predrafted it to the same thickness, each stripe of color would have appeared in the final yarn for a much greater distance. Or I could have predrafted half the yarn to have long color changes, but divided the other half and predrafted to have shorter changes. This would produce a lot of mixing between colors in the final yarn. There are choices about how the colors in the final yarn will behave, and you make those decisions as you divide and predraft.

Picture at left: a predrafted roving. Notice how thin and ephemeral it appears when compared to the previous picture. Since I did not spin all four ounces on one day, I stored the small rovings in the previous stage -- divided and rolled into balls but not predrafted. I didn't predraft a small roving until I was ready to spin it. Because I was learning, it took me about 60-90 minutes to predraft and spin one small roving. So my overall process was divide roving, roll small rovings into balls, predraft one small roving, spin it, come back another day, predraft another small roving, spin it, repeat as needed.

The direction in which you feed each small roving also affects the color. This particular roving had blue at the "top" end and purple at the "bottom" end, so each of the eight small rovings had a blue end and a purple end. Since I was producing a two-ply yarn, I decided to spin four small rovings onto one bobbin and the other four onto another bobbin. Again, I made a decision about color. I could have started all four small rovings at the blue "top" end, spinning all of them beginning with blue, proceeding through the color changes, and ending with purple. Instead, I started roving #1 at the blue end. This meant that roving #1 ended at purple. Now I turned roving #2 around and began with the purple "bottom" end. Roving #3 began again at blue. Roving #4 began at purple. In this way, I alternated the color progression. I spun rovings #5 through #8 the same way. I could have mixed things up further by spinning purple, blue, purple, blue, but I was concerned that in the plying stage I would get too much color mixing and dull the colors to an uninteresting point.

I now had two bobbins, both with colors spun in the same direction. (In the picture, the first bobbin is on the left, the second on the right.) Next I put them on the lazy kate and plied them together onto one bobbin. Because they were both spun in the same color progression, I expected to get a lot of plain area in which the same color plied with itself but also some more interesting areas where two different colors plied together. As a new spinner, my two bobbins didn't come out even. That was hardly surprising. But the colors in the skein did come out as planned. I got a nice mix of plain areas and multi-colored areas.

The major downside of this first skein is that the plying is very uneven. Some areas plied together nicely, and others are very, very loose. Jenna had suggested getting a rhythm -- a certain number of treadles per arm length. I thought I had a consistent rhythm, but I think I didn't put in enough twist. So I have more to learn with the "easy" plying part of the process. After it was all plied, I adjusted my standing swift to the "two-yard" position and wound the new yarn off the bobbin into a skein. I threw a couple of ties around the skein. Then I put the yarn in my nice large aluminum steaming pot and let the yarn steam for 5-10 minutes to set the twist. Although I'm not happy with my plying skills, Jenna did point out that my finished yarn is balanced. And from the number of rounds on the swift, I think I got a little over 100 yards. It does have a nice fluffy, scrunchable texture.

And a side note about something else I learned: Do not wear velvet skirts while you spin. The delicate predrafted roving tends to get caught on the surface of the skirt. The smooth silk skirts work much better at the wheel because the roving will not catch.

And Jenna, being the yarn and spinning pimp that she is, then loaned me a copy of Deb Menz's book Color in Spinning. If you are wondering why oh why would anybody want to spend this kind of time and effort when there are so many great yarns you can just buy, read Deb's book. She shows how you can spend even more time on the preparation of the fiber, but how that can pay off in fabulous color harmonies and complex relationships that you won't find on the store shelves.

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