Thursday, November 29, 2018

OMG, it's yarn!

When I left off last on the chronicle of this journey from sheep-to-socks I had just gotten the hang of spinning after months of frustration. Turned out the the root of the problem lay not only in understanding the mechanics of the wheel, but of spinning in and of itself.

Cakes of double-ply hand-spun yarn.
After taking Abby Franquemont’s spinning bootcamp class at Maryland Sheep and Wool this past spring, I sprung for her book, Respect the Spindle, to get a better understanding. Having both top and bottom drive spindles, I experimented, but cats and spindles had become an insufferable game of Battleship. I lost. After each being caught up once one way or another with the wheel, the cats steer clear when I sit in the rocking chair and start to treadle. 

My summer and fall were spent spinning a variety of professionally prepared rovings as they were much easier to spin than my nep-infested roving from the ram. Spinning with a higher quality wool also gave me the win needed to keep me moving forward. 

With all available spindles full, it was time for a plying lesson. This stage presented itself perfectly as I was able to pair it with an alpaca neck roast dinner with my fellow fiber enthusiast and teacher. She keeps camelids; I do not but was at my butcher’s on a day when a four-year old female who failed to breed was being slaughtered for meat. “I want the neck roast,” I chirped. A few swift cuts and I was handed a four-pound slug of meat.
Alpaca: it's what's for dinner.

After our meal we began by transforming a bobbin’s worth of single-ply into a cake using a gadget she had brought along. A quick lesson on cake-winding completed, my hand-spun wool was starting to look better. Unfortunately, that feeling would be short-lived once I began plying from a cake and encountered “yarn barf”, the not-so-technical term for when a tangled rat nest emerges from the center-pull yarn of the cake requiring mind-numbing patience to unravel before continuing to ply.

Plying, for the uninitiated, is when multiple strands of single-ply yarn are twisted together using the wheel. Plying from the ends of a single cake is a bit of a work-around for not having multiple bobbins set up on a holder (a.k.a. lazy kate) to feed into the orifice of the wheel.

The second gotcha, much easier to overcome than most of my challenges thus far, was remember that the wheel spins counter to the direction in which the single-ply was originally spun. I spin clockwise so my plying would be counter-clockwise.

Lazy Kate
My cake had a bad case of food poisoning and puked the entire time during my first attempt at making a double-ply yarn. It was during this time I had the realization that if I had spent the time spinning a second bobbin of the same roving in order to ply using a lazy kate,  it would have been faster. Instead of falling victim to the frustration of untangling for hours I spun a second bobbin of a project using purple and green rovings I purchased last year on my trip to New Hampshire.
Another yarn barf while plying from a single cake.

During the spinning I had alternated between the two colors in an attempt to create a variegated yarn when plied but realized my error. I should have spun whole bobbins of the same color and then plied them. I’m cool with the learning process and my finished double-ply yarn turned out better than expected. 

After plying it was time to wind the yarn off the bobbin using a gadget made from some wooden dowels and plastic T's called a niddy noddy. Who comes up with these names?

Using a niddy noddy allows you to gain a better ideas of how much in length the finished yarn hank is. While on the niddy noddy I tied the hank in four places before removing the yarn and soaking it in warm water for a half hour. Similar to the felting projects, the yarn needed fulling which is basically thwacking the hell out of it while damp against a hard surface. When the yarn hank had dried I wound it back into a cake using the gadget my teacher has left with me since she got herself a newer, much fancier unit. 
Plied yarn on niddy noddy. 

With several empty bobbins I’ve returned to spinning the ram’s fleece from which my goal is to make a pair of socks. The roving isn’t as easy to spin as professionally prepared fleece, but I’m working through it.

In the mean time, I started a simple knitted scarf project with my purple and green double-ply yarn and am attempting a pair of socks from purchased yarn, however Judy’s Magic Cast-On is more like an evil spell cast upon me straight from the devil himself. Note to YouTube instructors: slow down so we can see what you are doing and don’t cast on five stitches and then move on. Do it over and over and over slowly so challenged folks like me can get the hang of it.

I’m still having fun felting here & there and would love to try weaving, but not until my socks are done. 

One step closer but back to the wheel for now…. 

A felted picture from a class I took over the summer.