Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Solving Problems: Making Two Different Batts Behave Like One

I've been saying this for a few weeks now, but I finally got around to trying out a new kind of drive band for Beth, my Kromski Minstrel wheel. I made the mistake of not buying more drive bands while in the States over the summer, so when my last band broke, I needed to figure out how to replace it. My previous bands were made of flax (linen), and since I didn't have any flax fiber on hand at the time, I had to turn to my environment. I found some crafting twine (probably) made of flax, which might work as a drive band (in a pinch). I'll talk about the results of this fun little experiment later, but I wanted to talk about the fiber conundrum I experienced while testing out the craft twine.

I rifled through my stash to find a small bit of fiber that I could spin for my drive band experiment, but which would also result in usable quantities of yarn in the end (no more mini skeins in my stash, please!). I came across a blend of merino/alpaca that I made a few years ago, plus a bit of carded alpaca which didn't get blended, and a short sample of the plain alpaca spun up. I decided to use up all of the fiber, but the bit of unblended alpaca wasn't the same size as the blended batt. I rolled the larger batt around the smaller batt and began spinning my giant batt roll. That worked for the first 30-ish yards, but since I was spinning very different fibers--alpaca being very slippery in comparison to the merino--I had to keep readjusting the batts every couple of yards. How annoying. Plus, all of the flipping and re-rolling I did thoroughly coated my shirt (the lap was protected) in fiber.

And then I engaged in the act of learning. The re-rolling was a real pain because I hate stopping when I'm spinning. In fact, if I had a continuous supply, I would just never stop spinning. So, I rolled up the batt with the smaller, alpaca batt in the middle, and loosely wrapped and tied the batt roll together so I didn't have to stop as frequently. I think the wrapping path is key to preventing slippage of the inner batt while also allowing the fibers under the wrapping to draft easily.

Since I don't have pictures for this stage, start with placing your larger batt 'pretty' side down on a table, and place your smaller batt inside the larger batt. Now, you can roll this up any which way you'd prefer, but what I did for this particular yarn was to wrap the larger batt around the smaller batt once. I ended up with a cross section which had the dark, unblended alpaca in the center, with the blended alpaca/merino around the outside. You could also wrap it up like a jelly roll, in which case the cross section would look more like a cinnamon bun. Or you might even roll it along the diagonal for interesting color changes as well. There are lots of batt rolling possibilities to play up color and texture. Experiment.

Wrap some scrap yarn around the rolled up bundle starting from the top and spiraling down to the bottom, then spiraling back up. I tried to cross the yarn when I could so that the bundle was stable without being too tight. I tied the ends as a bow, then started spinning. This prevented the super slippery alpaca fibers from slipping around in the initial loose bundle I made, and it was very easy to decide if I wanted more of the unblended alpaca batt or the merino/alpaca batt. I did this by drafting more from the middle of the bundle rather than from the outside. The bundle also made it easy to transition from one batt to the other, and I could use this transition to either throttle the transitions to make them short, or apply a metaphorical brake to make the transition more subtle. The result was a yarn which was fairly easy to spin, but one where I could really be creative with how the colors played out on the yarn.

Over the 250 yards of the yarn, I needed to stop only a few times, and that was only because vegetable matter didn't fall out on its own. I also used these opportunities to make drastic transitions in the yarn, to balance out my smoother transitions while I was spinning. I'll probably add this to the video queue, but I wanted to explain why this was a brilliant way of keeping your batts under control. It's easy and effective, which allows my brain to mull over the Wicked Witch's motivations in Once Upon a Time. You know, the important questions in life. :)