Tag Archives: spinning

Adventures in silk

I’ve now finished spinning my first full batch of tussah silk and I thought I’d share the ups and down of the whole adventure.

First of all, it really allowed me to get properly comfortable with supported spinning and with my Russian spindle in particular, and I loved every minute of spindling this. So back in December I started out on this:

Annia and honey-coloured tussah silk

I set out to spin a 2-ply laceweight, which could then be knitted into a stole. As I was spinning I became more specific: I wanted to try and possibly get one skein out of 100g of fibers (bought at Wingham Wool), and I wanted the whole thing to be spun on my Russian spindle Annia.

If you remember my warnings about silk hankies, you might understand that I was a bit wary of two plying my silk on itself using an Andean bracelet, which is what I have often done with wool. So here I was, too scared of doing an Andean bracelet to ply my silk single on itself, and wanting to free up my spindle for the second batch.

The single was pretty thin, and I imagined would have taken ages to wind off the cop without a ball winder. I therefore decided to slip the cop off my spindle and onto something else to store it. A gentle tug easily dislodged it, and it looked like it would slip off in a tidy fashion. I’ve seen it done with straws before… but didn’t have any in the house, so I tried rolling up a piece of cardboard but that looked too thick for the core of my cop. I eventually opted for a thin dowel.

Bad. Idea. Very. Bad. Idea.

The end of the dowel got caught on the silk, and in the 2 seconds it took me to  withdraw it, the tip of the cop came undone and tangled…

Silk single, all tangled up.

I decided to leave it as it was until I was done spindling the remainder of the fibres.

I spun a second cop, you might remember seeing it in progress before:

One cop of silk complete, the second one well on its way

I have since read of some people using knitting needles to slip the cop on… It could have been a much better choice with the pointed end of Annia. But I still think a drinking straw would have been better.  Once I was done with the second spindleful, I decided to just slip it off the shaft because it seems to be pretty stable if I didn’t up muck up the end by trying to insert something in it.

I usually ply straight from the spindles but this time I decided to make a plying ball so I could deal with any potential problems created by the tangle I had on the first cop. I took it with me to the Friday morning Crafty Coffee group and was delighted I’d done that because it didn’t take long to realise that sliding those two silk cops off the spindle without anything to stabilise their centres had been extremely stupid.

It might come from the way I’d wound the cop, but its extremeties were prone to tangle from the start, and as the cops grew smaller they became more and more difficult to handle, as the silk was grabbing onto itself. We had a six hand operation going for a while in the sofa corner, and I am ever so grateful for Caitriona and Eddie to have helped for a couple of hours. Eventually, we gave up on the centre of the smallest cop. But then Lisa, who loves untangling, had a go. In the end, only a tiny bit got thrown away and I think it is quite an achievement given how delicate it was, how grabby silk is, and how long the whole operation took.

I have to say I really liked using a plying ball. It was fast and easy, although my singles were broken in places, and the silk failed to grasp on itself in the plying, making it a bit more fiddly to make joints. In the end, I plied it into three skeins. Here is the plying in progress,  with two skeins plied and the third one on the go.


I just love the sheen of the finished yarn. It’s not as shiny as other silks I’ve seen but I love the more subtle look. I think it’s due to the drafting method I used on the Russian, long draw, which gave me an ever so slightly hairy yarn. It is also closer to a 3-ply/light fingering weight than to the laceweight I was aiming for originally.

Here is a sneak peak of what the yarn is now becoming… and I’m loving knitting it. The feel of the 100% silk, the drapiness and the satisfaction of having spun it… I sometimes can’t help but smile smugly while I knit it…


Behind the scenes

Lately, I’ve had many things on the go and they’ve all been taking longer than planned to complete. Rather than rushing them to finish them off to show them here, I’ve decided to show you some photos of the work in progress.

First, some resin casting, with some birdy whorls soon to be drilled on my brand new press drill to become top whorl spindles:

Magpie whorls in 6 and 7 cm diametres, weight ranging from 27g to 38g.

In terms of spinning, I’ve been spinning tussah silk on my Russian spindle Annia for the last couple of months, and loving it. I’m aiming for a 2-ply laceweigt, which I’ll probably leave undyed and plan to knit into a stole. I didn’t do a sample and I’ve just been spinning without much control, as I was still getting to know Annia, so I’ve no idea of the yardage I’m going to have when I’m done:

Tussah silk: Fibers, one cop spun, another in progress on my Russian spindle Annia.

Also on the spindles: I’ve got quite a bit of Blue Faced Leicester in yummy browns spun on my little Grace and on Jarod, destined to be a 4-ply. I’ve done one Turkishful and almost twice as much on Jarod, which I’m going to make into an Andean bracelet to ply once it’s exactly double the weight of the first cop. For the last of the singles for the 4-ply, I’m currently spinning a second Turkishful:

Blue Faced Leicester, including knit swatch.

On the knitting side of things, I was waiting on some T-pins I ordered to get the Echo Flower shawl a second blocking. They finally arrived this morning, so I gave my shawl a soak of Eucalyptus Eucalan bought at Unravel, and it is now blocking again.

I suddenly realised last night that I needed an instant gratification project. So I decided to take some merino I spun a little while back as an attempt to spin thickish, and I cast on an improvised cafetiere cosy. When Eddie comes round and the expresso machine is just not right for the amount of coffee we drink, but the cafetiere always goes cold before we’ve had the time to drink it all… This, I hope, will be of help. And in the meantime I’m having fun with braids and making things up… Here is last night’s progress, I think it’s already half way there:

There are always a few more projects on the needles and the spindles in the background, but those are my main points of focus at the moment.

How about you? Are you quite monogamous in your projects or a bit of a philanderer like me?


Inconsistent? As if…

For quite a while after I started spinning, and to some extent this is still true today, I just spun for the fun of it, spinning away like there was no tomorrow, like the sheep would grow more wool… which apparently they do, phew, that’s a relief!

But eventually came the desire to spin wool with a larger project in mind, and with it, the need to spin consistently from one spindle to the next. So far, my spinning hasn’t been exactly inconsistent, but then again I’ve not spun large quantities, and have tended to do it in short amounts of time, which means it’s easier to keep the same characteristics in the singles from start to finish.

3-plied merino fibre: laceweight and bulky skeins

I now have it in my mind to spin a whole sweater’s worth of yarn on my spindles. But the consistency becomes paramount if I want the sweater to fit properly. So before I go ahead and commit to spinning for one big project I decided to make sure I had all the help I could get in making my yarn follow the standards I’m setting.

At my first ever spinning meet up at Tricolette London on Tuesday, Caro had the handiest of cards on which to check her single thickness as she was spinning it. It is sometimes sold in a clear plastic format, and is called a spinners control card, but it does not seem easy to find in Britain. Caro was kind enough to forward me her card to print out, for the Ravelry users, there’s also a printable version in one of the UK Spinners threads.

This allows to check WPI (wraps per inch) which should give a more consistent yarn weight all round. But there is another consideration which will affect the qualities of the finished yarn: the amount of twist. Wheel spinners, control the amount of twist by keeping an even rhythm in the treadling and feeding the yarn to the bobbin. For spindle spinning, the speed of the spindle is constantly changing from the moment it’s flicked into motion and each flick is sligtly different, which makes such control more difficult to count. But there again a Raveler found the solution to keep checks on the amount of twist. She advised to check the number of twists per inch (TPI) of the finished yarn by allowing a length of single to kink back on itself every so often, and checking it against a gauge.

Ravelry trawling also enlightened me about the wonders of reference cards… and I decided to try them out. There are of course as many possibilities as there are spinners, but here is what I’ve decided to have on my reference cards:

  • the name of the fiber and where it was purchased
  • the date I started spinning it on, and if known (if I spin with a specific project in mind) the spinning requirements: WPI, weight, yardage, qualities of yarn (woolen, worsted, semi-, number of plies and type)
  • a piece of the single laid out straight so as to compare the size as I’m spinning
  • a piece of the plied yarn unwashed, with the TPI count written out
  • a piece of the plied yarn washed and set

It looks like quite a lot of information, and I am not entirely sure I will manage to be systematic enough to record all this on every sample. But if I need to be really consistent for a big project, I hope this will help me avoid ending up with only half of my yardage actually knitting up at the gauge I’d calculated with my sample…

I’m already thinking of sewing myself little project bags for spindling with a pocket in front in which to keep these reference cards handy while I’m spinning.

How about you? How do you make sure your spinning is consistent? Do you find other information useful on your reference cards or do you simply use another method altogether?


Spinning Fibres: Silk hankies, two drafting possibilities

My very first fiber order contained a batch of silk hankies, also called mawatas, together with the merino I was planning to learn on. Having read in Knitty that silk hankies are amongst the easiest of fibers to spin on a drop spindle I decided I should include some in my first batch of fibers. The rationale behind it was simple, if spinning proved too difficult, or if I managed to spin the merino but not the silk hankies, I could just knit with them unspun, as I’d seen the Yarn Harlot do it.

Silk hankies are made by stretching cooked silk cocoons onto a square form. Wormspit.com shows a detailed explanation, with photos clearly illustrating each step, of how the mawatas are made.

I bought mine ready-made from Wingham Wool, they are sold in stacks, as each of them is incredibly thin. I then dyed them with acid dyes and because I hadn’t pre-soaked them for long (I was way too impatient), the colour is slightly deeper on one side of the stack than on the other. I’m planning to use this little error as a design feature at some point.

stack of dyed silk hankies

[Sorry about the greyish tones of most of those pictures, the sun hasn’t made an appearance in days around these parts. For a more accurate colour of the silk, have a look at the skein at the bottom of the page, the photo was taken on a sunnier day.]

 

I first set out to spin my mawatas using the drafting method described in Knitty.  Separate one mawata from your stack by grabing a corner and gently pulling, putting your second hand flat underneath to keep the stack stable. Poke a hole in the middle of your mawata with your fingers, and start stretching the hanky by pulling on it with both hands to enlarge the hole. You can rotate the position of your hands along the hanky to obtain a more even thickness.

predrafted mawata

Once you’re happy with the thickness, just break the loop to obtain a length of ‘roving’. Unlike silk tops, the fibres in the pre-drafted hankies do not slide against, but instead grab each other, which is also why you can even knit with the unspun fibre prepped that way.

 

For a beginner spinner, it truly is a very easy fiber since it can be predrafted to the thickness you have decided on, and you then only need to focus on spinning the spindle without needing to think about drafting the fibers as you are spinning. It helps deconstructing the movements involved in spinning in more manageable steps. And because the fibers in the mawatas are so ‘grabby’ there are no issues of the predrafted roving falling apart when handling it, or if the twist is introduced too slowly. This makes for a very forgiving predrafted roving.

However, one thing I didn’t like so much about that method was that once the mawata had been stretched, drafting it further whilst spinning (if I suddenly realised that the thickness was uneven for instance) became significantly more difficult, and required much more physical strength in pulling on the roving to make it thinner. It might just be that I am quite lazy at heart, but I like my spinning to be fairly effortless. I therefore looked for alternative drafting method for the hankies.

In one of my knitting groups,  a friend suggested I just tried to draft from the centre, rather than breaking the hanky. Gently but firmly pulling on the fibers at the centre of the hanky, I hold the rest of it lightly folded in my hand, as shown on the picture on the right, drafting from the mawata as I spin. It is now my preferred method of drafting silk hankies, because I am not a great fan of pre-drafting fibres. The edge of the mawata is always slightly harder in texture, so when reaching this part, I usually draft a bit further to keep the same consistency.

 

And just because I love the finished product, this was just a sample skein: 5.4 grams of mawatas gave me 120 meters of a thin 2-ply… I’ve been pondering what to knit with it…

5.4g skein, approx. 120m of 2-plied mawatas

 

 

A few mistakes I made with silk hankies, which you could easily avoid:

  • Make your hands as smooth as possible before handling the hankies (exfoliation and moisture are your friends), the hankies will catch on the smallest amount of rough skin.
  • Do not spin very thin silk singles on a Turkish spindle, you might not be able to remove your cop from the arms once done. Because the arms of a Turkish slide into each other, the centre part, which the shaft traverses, is generally thicker than the tip of the arms. When the time comes to remove the arms, the centre needs to slide through openings smaller than itself. With wool, the give in the fabric compensate for the difference in diameter. Silk, I learned the hard way, doesn’t always have enough give for the centre to work its way through.
  • Beware of plying using an Andean bracelet. Because the fibre is so ‘grabby’, silk singles can get tangled more

    Tangled singles...

    easily. Making an Andean bracelet is not impossible, but a tangle with silk singles will be much more difficult to sort out… Here is a bracelet of singles I have more or less given up on… well, officially it has simply been waiting to be untangled for the past six months… no signof the untangling fairy yet…

 

How about you? Have you tried silk hankies yet? Any tips to share?


Childhood challenge

Over on Ravelry, the spindlers group has monthly challenges. I’ve always followed other people’s take on the theme of the month, stalked the thread, and admired the yarn, but I’ve never actually taken part before.

This month, the theme is childhood, and I thought I had the perfect fiber and spindle to jump in. I bought this alpaca as part of my first lot of fibers from Wingham Wool, it’s in the natural shade Fawn, but in my eyes, it’s the perfect caramel colour (I can’t quite photograph the shade right, it’s slightly darker with more brown and reds in real life). It reminds me of the salted butter caramel sweets I used to have as a kid in France. For some reason I only tried to spin a bit of it when I first got it to try spinning alpaca, but I never really got round to spinning the rest of it. This felt like the perfect opportunity. The spindle is a reminder of the hours I spent on the swing set in our garden.

I’m not entirely sure yet what will happen to this skein so I decided to three-ply it because I love the look of three or four-ply yarn. I’m navajo-plying my yarn using the ply-on-the-fly technique, which for me is instant gratification because you can see straight away how the yarn is going to turn out once plied. Plus once you get into the rythm it’s a bit like when you get a bit of momentum on the swing.

Somehow I’m finding it more fiddly plying on the fly with alpaca than with wool, so I’m giving the singles quite a lot of twist and plying it more tightly than I usually would. It’s turning out about fingering weight, although I’ve not calculated wpi yet. The challenge only requires one skein to be spun by the end of the month regardless of its weight or length. I’m not going for a big skein, but would like to be able to not only spin but also knit a small item related to the theme by the end of December. I was thinking of maybe Mousie by Ysolda Teague, but that would only take a fraction of it, any other suggestions?