28 November 2011

Slow Spin

As you've probably guessed, I like to find projects that teach me something new. I had been reading and watching videos about spinning, and I decided to try making a cabled yarn. Cabled yarns are different from regular plied yarns in that they have an extra layer of twist.

Yarns start with singles. Some people will use a singles as it is, but for knitting, most people prefer to ply the singles. This is partly because a singles, by definition, can't be balanced. Unbalanced yarns can result in skewed knitting -- the stitches will push in one direction or the other, causing what should be a rectangular piece of knitting to instead appear as if it had been worked on a bias. A lot of times spinners who knit will create a two-ply yarn by plying a singles back upon itself. The singles are spun in one direction, but when plied together they are spun in the opposite direction. The two directions of twist balance to create a yarn that knits straight. Multiple singles can also be plied together to produce a three-ply, four-ply or more yarn.

In addition to balancing the yarn so that it doesn't skew the knitting, plied yarns behave in different ways. Most lace yarns are two-ply yarns because that structure will tend to push apart and open up. In lace knitting you want the holes to show. But if you are knitting plump, cushy cables in a warm sweater, a soft rounded multi-ply yarn is more likely to give you the fabric you desire.

A cabled yarn adds one more layer of twist.

For this particular yarn, I started with a three-color batt from Perfect Spot Farm. This batt was purchased a couple years ago at SAFF, but not by me. Betsy purchased it, but found that after a year, she hadn't spun it. So Betsy gave the batt to Jenna. I happened to be over at Jenna's house and admired the batt. Jenna took pity on my small spinning stash -- or maybe she just wanted to continue to corrupt me in the ways of spinning -- and kindly gave me the batt. I decided I wanted to try spinning a color-changing yarn that is also cabled.

I started by spinning four singles. I did this by ripping the batt across the color changes. I spun each singles from white to beige to brown to beige to white to beige to brown to beige and finally back to white. That gave me two complete cycles through the color sequence. It took me all summer to spin four bobbins of fine singles. Partly this is because when you spin fine you need more twist, and partly this is because I knew I would need extra twist for my planned yarn. And partly this is because I'm just not a good enough spinner yet to use the highest ratios on my wheel.

Next I made a pair of over spun two-ply yarns. I set up two bobbins and plied them together, being sure to add too much twist. I also watched carefully as the colors changed off the bobbins. I was not shy about breaking plies or rotating amongst the bobbins. If I spun all the white off one bobbin and was into the beige, I looked to see if the other bobbin was close or not. If not, I pulled off the spare white and set it aside. Sometimes I was able to incorporate those spare bits later.
For the final spin, I plied the two two-ply yarns together to create what is called a diamond cable. In this case, I had so much spin in the singles that you almost can't tell that this is a cabled yarn rather than a two-ply. One of my friends actually mistook it for a skein of Kauni. Although this was a major time commitment, the advantage is that I now have a very strong yarn. I'm not sure what I want to knit with it yet, but I have confidence that it will be long-wearing. And I am hopeful that the natural color gradient will be dramatic. And if I get really crazy, I might even be able to use it as a warp in my loom.


Nease's Needlework said...

THIS is beautiful, especially on a grey day like today. I think there is a shawl pattern in "Folk Shawls" that features an Icelandic (?) shawl in close to these colors.

-- Jolie said...

Wow! What a memory you have. Yes, there are two Icelandic feather and fan shawl in Folk Shawls. One is rectangular and one is triangular, and both use natural colors to good effect.