Twist Gauge

I’m back to spinning merino top for the Spin-Off magazine and remembered that I’ve been meaning to share the latest in my twist saga.

Did you notice the picture a “Twist Gauge” on page 68 of the latest Spin-Off magazine? Well being the yarn techie that I am, I noticed it right away.

I’ve had a weird fascination with the subject of yarn twist, ever since I found out that I was putting too much twist in my yarns, causing them knit up into a tough dense fabric. This photo of a twist gauge  intrigued me because it looked like such an easy tool to use. I immediately e-mailed Amy, the editor, and asked where this came from.  She said that it’s from an article called Measuring Yarn by Rita Buchanan in the Winter 1993 issue of Spin-Off.


Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of this issue and here is the twist gauge in action.

It is easy to use. I just take a piece of my hand spun yarn, line up the twist ridges of the 2-ply yarn with the lines in the middle of the gauge and then read the angle indicated on the outside of the circle.

I think It would be easy to make one of these gauges using a protractor to draw the circle and mark the angles.  Once the circle is drawn, add vertical lines inside the circle which are  a millimeter apart.

Finished samples

Here are my finished samples from the spinning class that I recently took at The Weaving Works.
We were given small bags of various  wool samples to prepare by combing, hand carding, drum carding or flicking. The first two samples are from commercially prepared tops while the rest are from fleeces that the teacher had acquired and cleaned.


Listed from left to right (click photo for larger view):

  • Merino Top (commercial),
    Much softer and has more spring than the merino that I’ve been spinning for the Spin-Off sweater.
  • Falkland Top (commercial) –
    Not quite as soft as the merino but pretty darn close.  Easier to spin than the merino.
  • Rambouillet – hand carded
    Very soft but difficult to spin. Rolags had lots of little nubs that made it difficult to spin a consistent yarn.
  • Navajo – hand carded
    Lovely fiber.  As soft as the Rambouillet but produces less nubby rolags. Several students loved this one and were sad to find out that there was no more left to buy.
  • Columbia Suffix Romney Lamb – combed
    Used animal combs that I purchased at a fiber show.  Produced lofty and relatively soft yarn.  Although it’s difficult to tell in the photo, the color is a beautiful light gray.
  • Columbia Suffix Romney –  drum carded
    From the same animal as the sample above,  but cut when it was an adult. Lofty yarn but not quite as soft as when it was a lamb.  Still quite dirty despite being washed, which made it difficult to put through the drum carder.
  • Polypay – hand carded
    Much like the  white Columbia Suffix Romney but easier to work with.
  • Romney Columbia – hand carded
    Similar to the Polypay and white Columbia Suffix Romney.
  • Lincoln Polypay – combed
    Simply beautiful color and luster. A bit softer than pure Lincoln.
  • Lincoln – combed
    Very greasy and hard to handle. Beautiful luster but very hairy and not soft at all.  The curly locks are very deceiving.

I took advantage of the class discount and purchased a pair of double row Louet mini combs, but I swear, I won’t be purchasing a fleece anytime soon.  I need to finish what I already have on hand.

Spinning samples

It’s been a busy week of cleaning, cooking, celebrating and visiting so I didn’t manage to make much progress on my current projects. I did however have a chance to do a little homework for the spinning classes that I’ve been taking for the past two weeks.

During the first and second spinning classes we received  10 small bags of wool fiber to prepare and spin.  We’ve been encouraged to keep  notes on each fiber so I spent a few minutes this morning  devising a system to store my samples.

I came up with this idea after seeing a similar product being sold as needle point thread organizer at my local craft store.

I first gathered the following items.

  • one binder ring
  • one hole punch
  • 3″ X 5″ index cards
  • self sealing snack bags
  • small cards ( cut from thick card paper)

Next, I assembled one bag for each fiber type. Each bag includes a small lock of  fiber,  a yarn sample wrapped around a small thick card, and an index card with notes on fiber preparations and the breed.


To keep the samples packages together, I punched a hole in the corner of each bag and then inserted the binder ring into the holes.

Now all my samples are keeped together instead of getting scattered in my spinning basket. It’s really a simple idea that I hope will keep my samples organized and will serve as a good reference for future projects.

I sure that everyone has their own system for keeping samples. What to you do?

Tussah and Merino

Yep, I’m still working on perfecting my merino spinning skills to develop enough confidence to start spinning for the Spin-Off sweater. I’ve split yard-long lengths of roving into thin strips,  pre-draft  these thin strips well and then spin with moderate twist.  The singles are spun on a 9:1 ratio whorl and plied on a 7 1/2:1 ratio whorl.


I found that the long fibers of the tussah silk in this mixed merino/silk roving helped make it much easier to  spin than a pure merino roving. Although I initially liked the mix of colors in pre-spun fiber once spun, I started finding that the red didn’t show up much in the singles. So after finishing a bobbin of singles I decided to ply the silk/merino singles with another bobbin of red merino singles to create a barber pole type yarn. The swatch in the top left corner was made from this barber pole yarn and the swatch below it was made from pure merino yarn.

Rainbow Roving

Fiber: Rainbow Roving by Crosspatch Creations
Content: Wool, Tussah Silk, Silk Noil
Approximate weight: 4oz.
Preparation: Carded (?)
Source: Bellwether
Equipment: wheel
11:1 ratio whorl for singles
7-1/2 ratio whorl  for plying
Method: semi-worsted, inch by inch short draw
Twist: 7 – 9 plied twists per inch
Wraps Per Inch: 12 – 14
Needles: 3.25mm
26 sts = 4-1/4 inches
Possible Project: Socks – if there’s enough

Notes: My best spinning results yet. I love this fiber. It’s soft but not whimpy. Most importantly, the knitted swatch is just as beautiful as the skein.

Another Tool

Lately I’ve been playing around with this little gadget called a McMorran balance to measure my yarn. To learn more about how to use this tool check out, Using a McMorran Balance on the All Fiber Arts site.


The yarn in the picture is the Morehouse Merino 2-ply that I talked about in an earlier post. It turns out that 14 inches of this yarn balances perfectly. This means that one pound of it measures 1,400 yards which is exactly what the merino yarn for the Spin-Off sweater should measure.

If you have access to back issues of Spin-Off, I recently found the article, Making Predictable Yarns: Using the McMorran balance as an aid to precise spinning by Jude Daurelle (Summer 1998). She actually measures unspun fibers using the balance and then tries to spin to a predetermined length in an effort to reproduce a specific yarn. So, for example, if I want to achieve a yarn that measures 14 inches long, like the Morehouse Merino, then I’ll try to spin a measured puff of fiber until it is 14 inches long. The author mentions that it takes practice to get good at determining how much fiber to put on the balance but eventually it gets much easier and faster to do once you get the feel.

More on Twist & Balanced Yarn

The other day I came across HJS Studio Tutorials while searching for more info on twist. The tutorial on Plying a Balanced Yarn is especially informative with photos of examples. After reading the tutorial on Spinning Low Twist Singles Yarn, I checked out Paula Simmon’s book, Spinning for Softness and Speed. This book has some interesting ideas on spinning soft yarn that I might try out this weekend.

More Good Spin-Off Articles

Spinning Soft Yarn by Mary Spanos – Summer 2003

Mastering Twist by Rita Buchanan – Winter 1997

An Easy & Accurate Way to Compare Yarns by Rita Buchanan – Summer 1999

In a twist

homespun knit sample I was starting to feel smug about the consistency and twist of my handspun merino until I knitted a swatch. Despite producing a beautify skein, the first swatch knitted with this yarn came out less then satisfying (click the photo for a closer view). Although it’s a perfectly balanced yarn, the twist angle produces oddly formed stitches and a stiffly knitted fabric.

Not long after knitting this swatch, I came across an article in the winter 1997 issue of Spin-Off called “Mastering Twist” by Rita Buchanan. She confirmed what I had just learned. “Don’t judge yarn by looks alone. Spinners often like the looks of a high-twist yarn but prefer to hold or squeeze yarn with less twist. However, the final test is in the fabric, not the eyes or the hand.”

Practice makes perfect, right? It’s back to the spinning wheel to make some more sample yarn and swatches.

The Yin & Yang of Yarn

balanced skein Here’s my latest skein of wheel spun merino yarn. Notice how nicely balanced it is. It hangs in a nice round circle. My plying skills have definitely improved after lots of practice, reading several spinning books and watching two videos.

Last night I picked up a copy High Whorling by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (PGR) that’s been sitting on my book shelf for a year. I guess I didn’t really think much about it when I purchased the wheel since it “only” covered handspindles. Oh, that was an oversight. Yes, it doesn’t discuss spinning wheels, but it does cover all other aspects of spinning. In many respects, I think it’s probably the best of all the books and videos that I’ve used.

Here are some tips that I’ve picked up from PGR’s book and other sources.

1. Make a “self” ply sample that can be used as a reference during plying.

Most sources mention this by saying that a sample can be made by letting a freshly spun single strand fold back on it self. PGR takes it a logical step further by mentioning that a sample should actually be made under tension to get a much more accurate sample.

Incidentally, I came to this conclusion before reading PGR’s book. I make all my samples under tension using my hand spindle by pulling out a long section of the freshly spun single, placing the hook of the handspindle in the middle of the strand and putting the two ends of the strand together, letting the single ply itself with the weight of the spindle. Don’t add any extra twist.

2. Frequently refer to the ply sample while plying.

It might not be easy to see differences between the ply sample and the plied yarn on the wheel. A good way to check differences is to count the number of bumps per inch in the sample and compare that number with bumps per inch in the yarn being plied.

Ply with 9 twists per inch

3. Don’t bother measuring whether a yarn is balanced during plying.

Many sources say that you can determine whether your yarn is balanced by hanging a long piece of freshly plied yarn between the orifice and your hand or a similar test from the spindle. If the piece twists then it isn’t balanced.

Well, there’s no need to do this test. PGR and Alden Amos mention that the twist in a single will set almost immediately, so such ply tests with “old” singles don’t give accurate results. It’s best to just refer to the plied sample that was done from freshly spun singles. Wool has memory of the original twist once it is washed.

4. Don’t over twist when plying.

PGR mentions that the stitches in knitted fabric with over-twisted yarn will look odd. One side of the stitch will be fat and the other thin. I’ve noticed this effect with commercial yarns such as Cashmerino. To minimize this effect, make sure the angle of the ply is appropriate for the diameter of the single.

5. Finish the yarn by simmering it in a pot on a stove.

I finished the skein, shown in the picture above, by following PGR’s instructions. I put the yarn in a large enameled pot with warn water, placed the pot on the burner and then set it to medium heat. I monitored the heat with a thermometer so that the water didn’t get hotter then 180 degrees Fahernheit. Once it reached 180, I turned off the burner and let the water cool before I removed the yarn. I gently squeeze much of the water out of the skein with a towel and then hung it to dry. PGR mentions that she doesn’t put any weight on the yarn while it dries since this tends to take elasticity out of it.

You might be wondering why I’m so obsessed with getting a balanced yarn. Well, if the yarn isn’t balanced then it will knit up in a skewed fabric that slants on a bias.

Change in Strategy

After further practice with Ashland Bay merino top, I’ve changed to a slightly larger whorl which has a 13:1 ratio. Although I was getting pretty good results with the 15:1 ratio, I did notice some over twisting. Perhaps this switch will also help solve some of my problems with getting a balanced 2-ply.

blue_merino_wpi Singles:

27 – 28 wraps per inch

13.5 twists per inch (with 13:1 whorl)


14 -15 wraps per inch

9 twists per inch (with 9:1 ratio whorl)

I’m working away on a second bobbin of singles and plan on using the 9:1 ratio whorl to create a balanced 2-ply yarn. If all goes well with this new skein then I might start spinning the fiber from the Spin-Off sweater package.

Taming Handspun

merino practiceAfter a couple of attempts to ply the merino using a wheel, I think I’ve got it. The singles were spun with 15 twists per inch and plied with 10 twists per inch. This time I took more care when plying although the skein does have a slight “S” twist. According to The Spinner’s Companion, I’ll need to add more twist during plying. At least it doesn’t look as bad as my first attempt (the red skein). Maybe Patternworks could sell my first attempt as scarf & novelty yarn. It would fit right in with Cool Stuff for $50.00/skein.

KnittingInAmericaWhile browsing books at the library yesterday, I came across Knitting In America by Melanie Falick. Wow, what a beautiful and inspiring book. It profiles 38 knitting designers, authors and fiber related places in America. I’m enjoying reading about Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Nancy Bush, Lizbeth Upitis, Sarah Swett and others.

I was especially interested in the profile on Sarah Swett who designed the Spin-Off sweater that I’m making. Check out her web site. Her all tapestries are truly amazing, but I especially like Hands. Her Kestrals Alight Cropped Kimono is now on my list of future projects. The pattern is in Knitting In America.

Another pattern added to my sock list is the Pretty Comfy Socks pattern that Emma is currently knitting. Emma thanks for sharing this pattern by Debbie Young. Your socks are coming out beautifully and look quite comfy. I just happen to have several balls of Fixation that needed a pattern.