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.