Thursday, September 18, 2014

Woolen Spinning: A Beginner's Tale

At this point, most styles and methods of spinning come easily to me (well, maybe it wouldn't be so easy if I switched drafting hands). About the only thing which still confounds me is the longdraw method, which produces a soft, airy woolen yarn. I gave this method of spinning a shot several years ago when I first learned about it, but I failed miserably. Since then, I have made several more attempts to learn how to spin this way, but I can't ever hit the ground running with this technique. Some days I feel determined to learn it and finally understand how to do it, other days I just want to forget that this technique even exists. But all crafters have a weak spot in their expertise, at least at one point or another, and I'm not so easily defeated. :)

Why do I want to learn woolen spinning? Well, it's the worsted spinning polar opposite. In the villain world, it would be the Lex Luther to my Superman, Doctor Octopus to my Spiderman, or the Silver Samurai to my Wolverine (I really need to read up on my female superheroes). Worsted spinning is only half of the puzzle that is yarn making--woolen spinning makes up the other half. There are certain inherent characteristics about woolen yarns that you just can't get with a worsted spun yarn. For example, woolen yarns are spun in such a way so that yarn forms around a hollow core which is full of air. This allows the yarn to trap heat and thus be warmer than a dense, worsted yarn. Woolen yarn can also have a thicker gauge without adding weight due to its hollow nature. I'll talk more about the pros/cons of woolen v. worsted spinning in my review of the Woolen issue from PLY. For now, I will just share my first successful attempt at making an entire skein of woolen yarn.


To make a woolen yarn smoothly, you need a specific preparation of wool to make the core hollow and full of air. I grabbed my blending board back in February 2014 to make these practice rolags and get acquainted with my new fiber toy. I stashed these away, waiting for a future when I felt like tackling the woolen spinning learning curve again. After stuffing them in one place or another for months, I dragged them out and placed them on my work table as a reminder to play with them. And they sat there for about a week. After reading half of the Woolen PLY magazine, I decided to throw myself into the cold water, head first.

There was a lot of starting and stopping in the beginning, but I'm proud of myself because I resisted the urge to smash and smooth the yarn as I went. As someone who is obsessive about diameter and twist, this was tough for me. And then I made a couple of lengths that I was happy about...and then I broke the yarn. Okay, it snapped. It has been a very long while since I actually spun so much twist into a thin yarn and caused the yarn to break. To give you some context, let me briefly explain how to spin a woolen yarn. In your drafting hand, you hold the fiber lightly and you can (optionally) hold one hand near the orifice to control the amount of twist entering the lightly spun fiber/yarn. One hand pulls, the other regulates the amount of twist. This dance of the hands is what produces a helical structure within the yarn, making a hollow core and keeping it light.

But when you're still learning, you'll get thick spots and thin spots, and beginner spinners know exactly what happens when too much twist piles up in the thin spots. Snap! It feels like I need six more pairs of eyes to watch everything the yarn is doing while my hands are dancing with it. I'll grow those metaphorical pairs of eyes and be able to spin woolen yarn blindfolded one day. Sometimes learning something new fries your brain and you make the same mistakes over and over. The point is, don't give up. I can't tell you how many times I fell on my butt trying to learn how to do an axel (figure skating), or obsessed over one technique until I could bring my opponent to his knees (martial arts). You'll make a bunch of tiny mistakes, but something will eventually click and you'll be able to spin woolen yarn. Then, all of the reasons for your earlier mistakes will make sense and you'll be a better teacher in the end...at least that's my hope.

And now, the final result:


It's thick and thin and overtwisted. Even after a roughing up during the setting step didn't get this yarn to relax too much. I like it though. It reminds me of my very first skein of yarn. It might be difficult to tell from the picture, but there is a marked difference in how it looks when compared to worsted spun yarn. I'll have to do a side-by-side picture in the future to illustrate this observation.


The yarn did turn out light and fluffy in some places, but I can tell the difference between the spots that spun smoothly and the spots which caused trouble. In my future attempts, I will work on incorporating just enough spin to get it to stay together because the beauty of this yarn lies in it's softness. All of the kinks and twists detract from its texture.


When I was tying off the end of the skein, I had a little extra yarn. I plied it on itself to get an idea of how it would look plied. For all of the extra twist in this yarn, you can see how fluffy the 2-ply sample looks. It's a much rounder 2-ply than a worsted spun 2-ply would be, and it looks incredibly squishy too. This was my inspiration to drag out my blending board and some undyed wool and get to town making more rolags. :)