Monday, August 18, 2008

I've been plying...

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...and now I've got me a basket o' bobbins that I need to wind off, wash, whack and dry. Once that's all done, I will display the skeins in all their glory, and share the who/what/where etc.

I'm learning that if spinning singles is as enjoyable and zen-like as knitting a beloved project, then plying is like seaming the pieces together and weaving in the ends -- a bit of a chore.

Here's my dilemma. Many, many (most) of the indy-dyers on etsy and other places sell their lovely, hand-painted rovings in 4 oz. increments. And usually, you can only get that gorgeous colorway you love in just one 4 oz. sample. Either they don't reproduce their colorways, or else if there were multiples, someone else has bought the others and you are left with just one. (Sorta like that sale bin of sock yarn at your LYS -- what can you really do with just one skein of Koigu?)

Okay, 4 oz. of fiber is still a decent amount -- you can make a hat, or maybe some socks or mittens, with 4 oz. of yarn, although I think for the latter two items, I'd prefer to play it safe with 6 oz.

Of course, I'd get more yardage with singles than with plied yarn, but considering that I can't seem to spin anything fatter than laceweight, I think that for the time being, everything is going to be double-plied. And once I learn how, I will probably do some navajo three-plying as well, so as to preserve color sequences. But then that cuts down one's yardage to a third of what came out as singles. So, again, more fiber for more yardage seems to be necessary.

So, let's say you are able to get a nice 8 oz. sample of that gorgeous colorway you love. Or, perhaps you're using an undyed, natural-colored fiber, perhaps from a fleece you acquired and had processed (or processed yourself, you industrious fiber artist, you). Or you dyed up an 8 oz. quantity of fiber yourself. (My, aren't you a Jill of all trades!). So, bottom line is, you find yourself with 8 oz. of the same fiber - brilliant.

Here's the next problem. Let's say you've got yourself an electric spinner with a bobbin capacity of 4, maybe 5 oz. When you were buying those little 4 oz. increments of fiber... (okay, let's stop talking in the 2nd person, and move back to first -- this is me we're talking about, after all). So, when I was buying and spinning up 4 oz. of fiber, I could fit the singles all on one bobbin. However, if I wanted to make a two-ply, I had to make a choice -- do I split the fiber and spin it on two different bobbins and ply it together, or do I spin it all on one bobbin, wind it into a center-pull ball, and ply it to itself?

I've done it both ways, and both ways are mildly problematic for me. Not earth-shattering, mind you, but annoying enough to take some of the bliss out of what I was feeling when spinning the singles. If you spin the singles on two different bobbins, invariably you get more on one bobbin than another, and then after you've plied them both together, you've got extra singles on one bobbin. (Here I am, back in 2nd person. Switching to first again.) What I've been doing in those situations is taking the extra singles and Andean-plying them on one of my drop spindles, to make a little mini-skein. Sure, it's cute, but I'd really rather have that yarn back in my bigger skein.

If you spin the 4 oz. all on one bobbin and wind it into a center-pull ball, you've got some wrestling ahead of you. There doesn't seem to be any way around dealing with the challenge of the energized single and how much it wants to tangle. Of course, one could wind the single on a niddy noddy, skein it, wash it and set it before plying, but really -- do I want to add another labor-intensive step to this process? I have found that if I try to ply directly from the center-pull ball, there will be tangling, so I've ended up adding another step, which is to take both ends of the ball and wind them together into another center-pull ball, before plying to add more twist. This works okay, for the most part, although winding the two ends into that second center-pull ball always produces a bit of frustration as I fight to ward off the tangles and the occasional broken single. Don't believe what anyone tells you about how long a single sits on a bobbin and how it "sets" the twist and tames the energy. Not true! Plenty of energy left, after days (weeks!) of sitting on a bobbin!

So, here's what I'd really like to do. I would like to spin up larger amounts of fiber (8 oz., with 4 oz. of singles on each bobbin), and be able to ply them (using a lazy kate) onto one bobbin. This of course, requires a bobbin with a capacity for 8 oz. of yarn. Wheels with jumbo flyers, (Lendrum, Ashford), come with bobbins that can hold that capacity. I don't own it (yet), but there is a jumbo flyer available for my Butterfly electric spinner; however, it does not come with a WooLee Winder, so I'd have to be changing hooks throughout the plying process -- another annoyance. I'm still not ready to buy a more traditional wheel, especially not just for plying, but even if I did, there is no jumbo WooLee Winder for the Lendrum or Ashford, that I know of.

There is, however, a jumbo WooLee Winder for the Roberta electric spinner. I didn't go with that spinner to begin with because I was dissuaded by what I'd read about the very strong draw-in of the bobbin-led Irish tension (like a Louet wheel). But that jumbo bobbin is enticing me to consider it as a second "wheel", just for plying. I do have room on the coffee table for another spinner after all. Dare I?

Another tool I'm considering, if I really want to get serious about cranking out the production spinning, is a dedicated skein-winder with a yardage counter, which would be so much faster than winding off every bobbin (especially 8 oz. bobbins!) onto a niddy noddy. So, I think if I up my plying capacity, I will definitely need one of these....

And then there's a postal scale. It would be nice to know exactly how much a particular sample of fiber or handspun yarn weighs. There have been many times I've wanted to know exact weights and didn't have an accurate or precise-enough scale to measure.

And let's not forget the drum carder I've been considering. Making my own custom batts would be a real kick!

See -- this is the problem with hobbies. Hobbies beget more hobbies. Tools beget more tools. It's never-ending. Cha-ching! Scary....

With all this yarn production I'm considering, the next obvious question is, what will I do with it? The funny thing is, I'm not knitting much (at all?) right now; I'm just enjoying spinning too much. I'm not sure I want to go so far as to start selling handspun yarn, (and I'm not sure I'm good enough for that, anyway). All I can think of is, maybe I could spin yarn for the peeps in my knitting group. I wouldn't want to do it for pay - that just takes the joy out a hobby. But if someone bought the fiber, (their choice of colors and fiber blends), I could spin it up for them. Of course, I'm not sure how well I'd be able to meet their needs, that is, if someone wanted a three-ply fingering weight, they may or may not get that. My inexperience, at this early stage of my spinning "career", means that a knitter would need to be satisfied with what I'm able to create, which may or may not be what they had originally intended. Which is why I couldn't take payment.

It's just something I'm considering; not even sure if I'd have time, but I like to think I would -- I do enjoy it. :-)

Anyway, back to that photo at the top, and managing reader expectations. I am leaving tomorrow for a short vacation down at the beach, and won't be back until late Saturday. I'm not taking anything more with me than a couple of drop spindles, a little fiber, and one or two knitting projects, (ever the optimist). Therefore, since I get most of my spinning production accomplished on the weekends, it could be at least another 10 days-2 weeks before I have any finished skeins of yarn to show you. Just sayin'.

And maybe by then I will have figured out a solution for my plying capacity problem. Maybe I'll even have a new tool or two. :-)
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3 comments:

Channon said...

I look forward to hearing how you work through your dilema. My wheel should be at home when I get there after the chiro. I already have a cute, felted projet bag pattern in mind for my first handspun efforts, and then maybe ... mind went blank, but a Knitty wrap written for handspun?

Alice said...

I usually ply from a center pull ball for uneven bobbin quantities. It saves time and I get it all plied.

You are right though, hobbies beget more hobbies!

jessie said...

I agree with you on the six-ounce thing, and recently I stumbled on a sheet of my labels that were marked "6 ounces," because apparently I sold a batch of fiber that way last year.

I think I'm going to do some like that again, because I want to make my husband some socks and I discovered that 4 ounces doesn't make him heavy boot socks.

Good point.

BTW, what a lovely job of spinning you've been dong!