Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Many Hours Does it Take...

...to spin enough weft yarn for a wide table runner (or shawl)? I bought the beautiful Orry merino fleece two years ago, and I've been trying to think of larger projects to use it for. Spinning it for a long table runner seemed like a fantastic idea, and would incorporate the random colored bits of handspun I have been accumulating since the Winter Olympics. So, I launched a challenge on Facebook to keep track of the number of hours it took for me to spin and ply this fiber.

The goal of the challenge was two-fold. First, I wanted to encourage everyone else to pick up the challenge to see how long it took them to spin a specific gauged yarn. Sometimes the time it takes surprises you, and sometimes you can pat yourself on the back for how far you've come, which leads to the second point.

Let's say that you're planning 15 projects this year for Christmas, and you're going to make all of the yarn for the quick holiday knits. How long will it take you, on average, to spin 200 yards of worsted weight yarn for 15 pairs of mittens? Knowing what your spinning pace is will help you determine how long a project will take from start to finish. This step becomes more salient if you're making yarn for a customer as a special order, or so you can get 15 skeins of spooky Halloween yarn in the shop before November starts.

Here are the details regarding my challenge. I carded up 12 batts of merino mixed with small amounts of angelina, tussah silk, and firestar. Each batt weighed about 30g, since this stuff is extremely fluffy (my normal batt size on the Kitten Carder is usually about 50-55g). I went for a well blended look, so the batts went through the carder twice each to incorporate the add-ins more fully.

Most of the yarns I had for the warp were in the fingering to sport weight 3-ply range, but a few were slightly thinner. Since the warp yarns were extremely colorful and the weft yarn was going to be plain white, I wanted to make sure that some of the color of the warp came through on the finished fabric. Since the other yarns were 3-ply, the weft yarn would be too. Coupled with Orry's incredible loft, that meant spinning all of my singles at around 44 WPI. That is the thinnest yarn I've ever spun.

It took 67 hours to spin 6-ish ounces of merino (6 of the 12 batts) and ply them into 3-ply yarns. I chose the Navajo method of making a 3-ply (chaining one length of yarn into a 3-ply by way of making crochet loops and spinning them closed) since the crimp of the merino would help hide the cross-over intersections. I did a quick calculation with a weaving calculator to determine how much yarn I would need for the weft given the parameters of my set-up and desired length and width. I would need about 900 yards. It sounds like a lot, and I suppose it is, but you can pack on lots of yards per bobbin before you start plying it. :)

I had about 970 yards of this yarn all plied, washed, and ready to go. (If I had done the weft calculation before I started carding up my batts, I probably wouldn't have needed to process 12 batts.) At my pace, it takes me one hour to spin and ply about 14 yards of 3-ply yarn. I feel like I should spin faster than that, but I can't argue with the results. I thought about making another Gray Lady Cloak with Orry, and with the pattern needing 700 yards of the same size yarn, it'll take me about 50 hours to make enough yarn. Yowzers.

One other thing I worked on during this challenge was learning how to tie off a skein without using separate figure eight ties. This is the type of tie-off that professional spinners do who enter into skein competitions and win first place. The figure eight ties can be distracting for a judge, but you need some way to keep the skein from becoming a tangled mess once it's off the niddy noddy. Before tying the ends together and getting up to grab some yarn scraps for ties, unwind about 2-3 yards and use that for making the ties. By the time you've made figure eights in four places, you're right back to the starting piece of yarn and you can easily tie the two ends together. The result looks very neat and tidy.

I'll probably do a tutorial video on how to do this type of tie because it's ridiculously easy to do, looks great, and you're not always hoarding small bits of yarn for future skein ties. Well, I'll still hoard bits of yarn, but I won't need them for tying skeins anymore. :) So, how did you do with your challenge?