Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tail Spun Beauty: Reflections of the Process

A few months ago, April actually, I spent some time talking about my second successful attempt at making a tail spun yarn. My first bona fide tail spun yarn turned out okay, but I wasn't happy with what I needed to do to make it work--having longer locks helps. My second attempt used an already spun commercial core yarn (50/50 mohair/nylon), and I can hope that my future third attempt will be able to go without a spun core. Anyway, here is a picture of the finished skein of yarn:

I skeined the yarn and held the loops together in the middle and tied it with a scrap of yarn. This lets the locks fluff up during the washing and setting phase, and it really reminds me of how curly my hair sometimes gets when it has been cut short. Don't beat the yarn too vigorously, and don't weight the end. It might twist a little after a wash, but it will eventually relax. If it's overspun slightly, you can always let out a little twist in a localized spot. When I make a yarn like this, I really like to let it breathe. Because I'm so proud of this attempt, here are a few other shots:

And a nice close up of the individual locks:

In all, I got around 5.5 yards. So, not a lot. I only had 2 ounces of these locks, but I think over 5 yards of extreme tailspun yarn is a pretty good length. In the future, I will buy something like 8 ounces if I can. These long locks aren't cheap though! If you like dyeing, you can get locks for a little less if you buy them in white..or, if you can find them, colored. My wensleydale locks were a lovely steel gray color.

Now, onto the science-y part. Remember when I was talking about the function of the core yarn in the last post? Well, I think it does more than add stability to this kind of yarn. If you're a beginner, like I am, this is a rather difficult yarn to spin. There are many rules you need to keep in your head (spinning rules + art yarn rules = complex yarn) and you need to be able to maneuver your fingers into just the right place to keep the process going smoothly. The hairy mohair yarn helped me in this way. When I felt like I needed a third hand, the mohair was there as my rescuer.

Here's what I mean. I would hold the lock in my right hand perpendicular to the yarn, and use my index finger to hold the bottom part of the lock to the core. My left hand held the core yarn and managed the tension, and the index finger of that hand helped guide the bottom of the lock over the core yarn. But sometimes I didn't have the best grip on the lock with either hand, and that's when the hairiness of the mohair locked onto the teeswater and grabbed it along with the twist. It allowed me to keep the tempo of the yarn going smoothly, while also teaching me what is probably the main purpose of a core yarn--at least for beginners.

I also wanted to share with ya'll some of the reflections I had when I finished this project and re-read my previous post about this yarn. Some art yarn beginners think that to spin a tailspun yarn like this without a core is a sign of mastery over this technique. Given that this yarn is difficult to spin, and just thinking of managing the locks plus unspun fiber gives my hands cramps, I believe that it truly is some great goal to achieve. However, it doesn't stop there. Each step I have taken has taught me something new, something I didn't anticipate learning until I tried it out. I'll liken it to math: first you learn long division before you learn short division. Soon, you only do division on a calculator. Along the way, you learn how to division several ways and can fall back on those basic rules in a pinch (in truth, I do way more addition in my head than I do division, but you get my point). That's what these skills have taught me. I think I'll be in the place to make extreme tail spun yarns on an unspun core (or maybe, coreless!) one day, but I'm glad I didn't just beat myself up to try and get to point C before trying out A and B first.

My personal edification is one factor in my reasoning for trying these types of art yarns, but another is in discovering how to make it easier for all of you who need help deconstructing these complicated yarns. Now that I have tried a couple of other ways to make tailspun yarns, I think I can troubleshoot some beginner problems. After I've made a few more skeins like these, I think I'll know more about how to make these yarns even better--either by technique or method. Which brings me to my next point.

I want to inspire all of you to create the things you think you can't because you can. We all gain some measure of inspiration from ourselves, but we gain most of our inspiration from the world around us..and people who make yarn are the best translators of nature into culture. We can keep the fibers as natural and organic as possible, or we can transform them with the addition of technology to be far removed from its original state. And we can combine both fibers into a single yarn. How amazing is that? So, I hope you see my trek through this tailspinning process as a way to expound on my basic ideas: make tailspun yarns with shorter locks and ply it with an interesting yarn; use various types of cores to serve as your foundation, and even use your own lumpy-bumpy handspun to create more texture in your tailspun yarn; jazz it up with some bling additions, or use a string of sequins to make it a statement. Now, go out and make something beautiful to add to our (sub)urban world, and don't forget to share your lovely creations with us.