Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Silk Spinning Challenge! Halfway Point

Okay, so I realize that we're about halfway through the spinning challenge now, but then I moved halfway around the world again. If you're interested in spinning silk, and want some buddies to spin with, join us over on Ravelry. There will be mystery prizes when I get them made (I had to unpack all of my tools and get it all set up). Things are rolling almost at a normal speed!

Silk is one of those categories of fiber that a lot of people shy away from for a long time because they hear that it is a slippery and often difficult to spin fiber. And it's not cheap, so if you mess it up, it's tough to just jump in if you're not confident with your spinning skills. I've been in that spot. No matter what you spin, there's a chance it won't turn out like you want it--even now, I spin yarns that don't turn out like I imagined, but that's a rare occurrence. So, when you realize that there's a chance you might mess it up, you're more free to just jump in. But we can minimize this chance of messing it up by working on it together. Here's my first finished silk yarn:

It looks a bit different than silk you may have used, and that's because I used silk hankies instead of combed silk top. For beginners, silk hankies can help you bridge the gap into spinning silk top. It's more forgiving in some ways, but you do have to learn a new skill set. Drafting hankies is way different than drafting other fibers, but when it comes to the spinning and plying, you don't have to worry about the twist amounts as much so you're free to focus on the differences between silk and wool.

I will do a video and show you how I like to draft out hankies so I don't get blisters or make my hands sore, which are common problems when you first start spinning silk hankies. I try to use more natural pulling motions to prevent strain on the shoulders, and I use the pad of my hand instead of my fingers to reduce the chance of blisters, cuts (silk is a very strong fiber!), and sore fingers. I will schedule it for tomorrow, and we'll see how that goes. I'm working without my main laptop, so I'll have to double check the quality.

Here is my challenge yarn, still on the spindle.

It's very easy to spin silk hankies with a drop spindle, and due to silk's strength, you can make a thinner weight yarn with a heavier spindle and it'll be fine. Silk will still snap if there is too much twist in a thin spot (or if you pull too much on the silk), but you don't necessarily need a lace weight spindle to spin a lace weight silk hankie yarn.

Pros and cons of spinning silk hankies. The pros:

  • Generally less expensive than silk top
  • Has the characteristics of silk (shine/drape/thermal properties/so on)
  • Easy to spin (and ply)
  • You can add more or less twists per inch, to make a softer or firmer yarn.
  • Easy to dye and takes colors well
  • Singles can be spun very thin or very thick and it won't draft apart
  • The noils prevent a smooth, uninterrupted surface, so it has that 'rustic' look
  • Drafting is more difficult and requires a skill you won't use for most other fibers
  • You can't draft if there is any twist in the hankie, and difficult to do at the wheel
  • It sticks to everything, so you should always spin with lotion nearby

However, silk hankies aren't best for everyone. Some won't like the noil texture which interrupts it's smoothness and shine. Spinning silk top will be worth the extra effort for some, and that's totally okay! Spinning silk top is a smooth experience, and the silk yarn practically makes itself when you learn to deal with its slipperiness. If you have spun fibers like alpaca and angora, you will be able to use those skills when spinning silk combed top. For your first time spinning silk, I recommend using tussah silk because it tends to grab neighbor fibers a little better than finer silks (like mulberry silk).

So, is silk top going to work for you as your first silk yarn? The pros:

  • It's very shiny and spins up into a smooth yarn
  • No noils
  • Drafting at the wheel is very easy and similar to drafting other fibers
  • Takes dyes well
  • Has all of the properties of silk
  • You can easily find silk top online
  • It's more expensive than hankies
  • You can't find other silks like muga or eri silk as easily
  • It's very slippery and spindles are prone to dropping if you don't watch the twist carefully
  • You can't spin any gauge of silk as a single--thick singles will pill and begin to fall apart

The point is, silk hankies and silk top are both great for those interested in learning how to spin silk. You don't have to start out with one or the other, but if you know some of the pros/cons of each, you can choose the silk you want to start with based on your skills/interests/budget. And if you do run into a problem, stop by and we'll help you sort it out!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: PLY Magazine Autumn 2014 Issue

This particular issue of PLY magazine was interesting. The theme was Community, and what that term has meant through time. When I first bought this issue, I wondered how the theme would teach me both about fibers and the fiber arts community. I mean, on the face of it, I know what community means as it relates to the spinning community or the weaving community. PLY magazines so far have been based around spinning techniques, preparation methods, and breeds, so this issue seems a bit anachronistic. But let's see how it fits into the other PLY themes thus far.

In other issues of PLY, there is usually an article some historical (or even prehistorical) connection with fiber arts. Within a community of herders, crafters, bakers, mothers, fathers, and so on; you'll have weavers, spinners, and dyers. Specifically, we want to know more about the spinning community among these ancient peoples. Spinning was a more integral and critical part of their lives than it is for us today, but their spinning circles were probably very similar to ours today. We gather, spin, chat, and help each other. We welcome and inspire new spinners. We help older spinners who may not have the strength to card their own wool anymore. In that respect, the spinning community is an ancient one, and though we may spin soy fiber and dog hair, we are very much the same community we always used to be. The article about Mesoamerican and South American spinning communities (written by Christina Pappas) delves more specifically into this idea of community.

Then there's the idea of subcommunities, living within the general category of spinning community. Shetland wool was presented because it a challenging wool to categorize, based on the terminology used, variability of the fleece itself, and the confusion of labeling in commercial products. My own personal experience with Shetland has been full of frustration (annoyance, maybe?) because I couldn't understand what Shetland was. Every time I got an explanation from one person and moved onto the next, it was like I was hearing about a different animal. Deb Robson, author of the article Shetland Wool, concisely describes the plethora of characteristics you'll encounter when you step into Shetland territory--it is very much its own community, full of those who are familiar with the language, textures, and capabilities of the wool. But the language they do speak is the same all spinners speak: if you want to know more about Shetland, their eyes will light up and they will be pleased tell you everything you need to know about Shetland wool.

One article in particular struck me personally, since the project fits within my own mission. I want to increase public awareness for spinning, dyeing, knitting, fiber arts, and wools. If anyone is willing to give me 10 minutes of their time, I will teach them how to spin. Robyn Love wrote about her project, Spindle 7, where she rode a New York train (the #7) and spun on her drop spindle. If anyone expressed interest, she would teach them to spin, and if they wanted to keep going, she would send them off with wool and spindle. There is a great diversity of languages and cultures who ride that train, and she talked about how those experiences effected her. You don't need to speak the same verbal language to teach someone to spin, since the language being spoken is that of: draft, twist, yarn.

And then there are modern communities, those of us who digitize our stashes on Ravelry, who blog our experiences in lengthy posts, who drag our friends to fiber festivals, and who drive an hour to spin with guild members in the next big city. We come together and spin for charities (like Spinzilla), we share our sports spirit when we challenge ourselves with our favorite cyclists (like during Tour de France/Fleece), or when fellow spinners are going through financial/emotional/medical hardships. Our community spans across socioeconomic barriers, gender barriers, and language barriers, With the Internet, we can have a thriving global community and share in traditional styles and techniques of other places in the world. You aren't alone. We're here, and this issue really shows that.

As far as colorwork, techniques, and patterns goes, this issue is also packed full of those things which will boost your knowledge about fibers and some ways you can use them. But if you're wondering about what our spinning community is, where it is, and how to be in it, this issue is definitely for you. My original skepticism vanished as I continued to read this issue. Sometimes we need to sit back and see what our spinning community is, how it has grown/diminished/morphed/shifted/changed, so we can be comforted by it when things don't go well, with whatever life throws at us.

If you need a community, we're here on Ravelry.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Supported Spindling: Graduating to Full Skeins

I bought this gorgeous supported spindle from MirkwoodArts on Etsy several months ago. His name is Smaug (as if the shop name didn't give away the theme!) and he is beautiful.

The finishing is smooth and warm, but not so glossy that the fibers slip when I build up the cop. I also bought a fun spinning bowl made by vikingsanta on Etsy.

And I made my first yarn about two days after getting my new tools.

I was getting the hang of spinning and drawing with one hand (instead of my customary two hands) with this mini batt of fiber, and felt like I was ready for a full skein. Enter the cormo!

I carded up a few batts of my cormo fleece and sent it along to Korea. I had planned to use it for making socks, but after spinning the grabby fibers of the above mini-batt, I knew exactly which fiber to spin next with my supported spindle.

I also wanted to do some experimentation with twist (after reading the PLY issue on Twist), and the supported spindle would allow me complete control over grist and twist. Additionally, I wanted to try spinning my singles with just enough twist to hold the single together (but not enough to make a tight plied yarn), and ply my singles with more twist than is needed for a balanced single. This was to produce a lofty 2-ply yarn, full of springiness. I spun the cormo with a point-of-contact draw, and here are the results (both unwashed):

Skein 1:

Skein 2:

I waited until I was completely done with the project, then I counted up the yardage and weighed each skein. My first one was 216yd/42g, and my second one was 224yd/46g. I was thrilled that they were so close in weight and yardage, and I didn't even separate the fiber into two batches before I got started.

To calculate how much fiber goes into each yard, I took the weight and divided it by the length. For the first skein, I got 0.1944g/yd, and for the second skein, I got 0.2054g/yd. The second skein weighs just 0.0110g more per yard than the first skein; that's only a 6% difference in the weight per yard. Because this is handspun and some places are slightly thicker or thinner than others, the actual differences from yard length to yard length will differ much more. I was going for consistency over the whole skein using a new spinning technique and a new tool, so I am very proud of my results.

For the sake of the Fiber Talk video that this skein is planned for, I only washed one of the two skeins so you can see how they compare. Maybe I'll dye them in the future, but I am really loving the white right now. :)

I haven't branched out into other wool fibers for my supported spindle yet, but I am trying it out with some silk at the moment. That'll be for the upcoming silk challenge (starting June 15).