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.

Cleaning Wool

When I knit in public, I never know what will come from it.

Last summer while on a short hiking trip in the Methow with folks from PBI, I whipped out a mitten project during our lunch break. As I worked a few rows, my fellow hikers mentioned that knitting and spinning was a popular activity when they moved there among a wave of hippies. One hiker mentioned that she happened to have a fleece given to her by a friend who had raised sheep and spun wool. It had been used as part of a Halloween costume but was no longer needed. Since I was so enthusiastic about knitting, she graciously offered me the fleece. I gladly accepted not fully understanding the ramifications.

After the fleece sat in the box for a couple of weeks while I research what to do with it, I finally got enough courage to dive in and clean it. I’ve read that a fleece can be soaked in a top loading washing machine as long as there is no agitation. After the fleece is clean through soaking, the water can be spun out of the wool by putting the washer in spin mode. Although this sounded like a fast way to get the job done, this method wasn’t an option for me since I converted to a front loader a couple of years ago.

wool_cleaning Here are the steps that I took to manually clean the fleece. It’s a long process but keeps the lock intact which is important when spinning worsted yarn.

1. Separate a bunch of the wool locks from the fleece and put them in a mesh laundry bag, keeping the cut ends together so as not to mix up the ends of the wool.

2. Fill the buckets with very hot tap water and then add lots of Dawn dishwashing soap.

3. Place the mesh bag of wool into one bucket and let it soak for 10 minutes. Be sure not to agitate the wool or it might felt.

4. Repeat soaking with another bucket of new water until the water starts to look clean. Each bucket of water must be at the same temperature as the last, otherwise the wool might start to felt.

5. When the wool is fairly clean, rinse it in fresh hot water.

6. Gently take the wool out of mesh bags and put on a drying rack. It takes about one to two days to dry.

The mesh laundry bags help keep the locks together and allow the wool to be delicately removed from the water. Keep in mind that wool will felt if there is too much agitation or a drastic change in the water temperature.

Don’t be surprised if the wool changes color when cleaned. This one turned from brown to gray with white highlights.


Twists Per Inch (TPI)

Friday, I plyed some singles on my wheel for the first time and ended up with a twisted mess that couldn’t be straightened through washing. It was all very sad. Plying on a spindle never produced such horrible results, so I was a little depressed about the whole ordeal.


While at the sale on Saturday, I finally caved in and bought Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics by Anne Field. Although I’ve only flipped through the book, I’ve learned how to regulate twists per inch (tpi) by counting treadle cycles. Only an inch of fiber is feed into the orifice for every revolution of the wheel. Monitoring twist in this way should result in a single with consistent twist through out the thread.

The book mentions keeping track of the wheel revolution by counting on the down pedal but I’ve come up with my own technique. I put a bright sticky note on the top edge of the wheel and watch for it as I spin. Every time I see the sticky note at the top, I feed in an inch of fiber.

The singles are look pretty good but the real test will happen when I attempt to ply. Before my next attempt, I’ll follow the handy 2-ply twist comparison chart in Beyond the Basics to determine the correct plied twist per inch. This chart lists desired tpi for singles along with corresponding tpi for plied yarn. Singles are generally plied with 2/3 of the amount of twist used to spin the singles.

This weekend I also received my Paradise Fiber order which contained a copy of Handspinning Advanced Techniques. It promises to teach me how to “make a plied yarn of any exact thickness with just the amount of twist …” Sounds promising. I started watching it but dozed off after the hand carding segment.


While working on my current knitting project I’ve been squeezing in time to practice spinning merino. Eventually I’ll get good enough at it and find enough courage to start spinning the fiber from the Spin-Off sweater kit.


This week I’ve been concentrating on “wraps per inch” (wpi). In order to get consistent yarn in the spinning world, spinners measure the average width of their yarn by wrapping it around a ruler many times and then counting how many wraps there are per inch. This merino practice yarn is yielding between 13 and 14 wpi. Now I just need to figure out if this will translate into the correct knitted gauge for the project.

Yesterday I received the new summer issue of Interweave Knits and finally took a closer look at the “sources for supplies” section in the back. Not only do they show each yarn used in the projects but they also list the ply and wip of each one. It occurred to me that perhaps I could use this information to compare my handspun yarn to a store bought yarn that is close to the weight I need. Last night I pulled out my old issues and came up with a list of comparison yarns. A couple of the yarns are already in my “stash” so I should be able to find one that will work as a good comparison yarn.

If you’re not a spinner, you might still find wpi interesting since it seems like a good way to compare yarns when trying to find a substitute.


Spinning_wheel Here’s the new wheel

Oh, I love my local libraries. Even though I haven’t had time to spin I’ve been reading “Handspinning, Dyeing and Working With Merino and Superfine Wools” to get some tips on how to spin up all the merino that I got for Christmas. So this weekend I’ll be spend time getting more acquainted with my new toy and practice spinning merino.

I’ve been trying to decide whether I should get the super high-speed whorl to spin merino. From what I’ve been reading, it looks like I  have two options. Two get the right amount of twist I can either use the fast speed whorl that comes with the wheel and do more treadling or I can buy a smaller whorl and treadle less. I need exercise so I’ll pass on the smaller whorl for now.