Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skeins of Sophie

I know I promised knitting content, and I'll keep my promise, but there's a bit more spinning to be done first. Well, not spinning, so much as finishing. It turns out, you can't just spin up the yarn and start knitting it. Those of you who are already spinners will find the following explanation rudimentary, but those of you who want to learn to spin may find it as interesting as I did.

As I showed you in my last post, I spun up some singles (one-ply yarn) of Sophie hair. I spun two small bobbins of it, then I plied them together. This is not at all difficult. To ply using a spinning wheel, all you really have to do--although there are other plying methods that are more complicated--is tie the ends of two bobbins of yarn onto a third bobbin that is attached to the spinning wheel and spin in a counter-clockwise direction, that is, opposite the direction you treadle to spin the singles. This way, your yarn is plied in the opposite direction from which it is spun, and you get a more evenly twisted, thicker, stronger, two-ply yarn.

Once you've got a bobbin full of plied yarn, you have to turn it into a skein. You can use a niddy noddy for this purpose (which is an interesting looking tool for making a long skein of yarn), or you can wrap it around your hand and elbow (which I found difficult, because then you only have one hand free to tie off the skein), or you can make your own skeining tool, like this:

It's just a piece of cardboard about 18" long, wrapped in packing tape so the yarn won't stick to the edges of the cardboard. Really, you can use anything that gives you a skein with a reasonable diameter. You just wrap the yarn around the skeining tool as you unwrap it from the bobbin. When you reach the end of your yarn, you tie the ends together, then tie the skein in four (or so) places to hold it together. Slide it off the tool, and you're ready to "set the twist."

See, the funny thing about spun yarn is, it sort of wants to come unspun. If you don't do anything to discourage this tendency, you can end up with yarn that is uneven, weak, and too lightly twisted to use. There are a few different ways of setting the twist, depending on the type of yarn you're trying to make, but generally they involve wetting the yarn, then letting it dry. For this yarn, I ran some warmish water into a dishpan, added some dish soap, and let it soak for a while.

Since I did not wash my fiber beforehand, I repeated this a few times, until I was convinced I had washed out any trace of oil or doggy smell. (I tried Eucalan first, but it failed to wash out the oil.) I rinsed the yarn a few times, then I whacked the yarn several times against the inside of the laundry sink until no more water came out. As weird as it sounds, this is an integral part of setting the twist. Evidently, the whacking causes the twist to distribute itself evenly throughout the yarn. Either that, or someone is putting us all on.

Then I rolled the yarn in a towel, squeezed out as much water as possible, and hung it up to dry. Some people hang a weight from the end of the skein to block it as it dries, but I have read that this removes the elasticity from the yarn, so I didn't do it.

Now all I have to do is wait until it dries, wind it into a ball, and knit it up!


Tammy said...

I am truly impressed!

sophanne said...

Sophie's hanging out to dry. I wonder what she thinks about the whole thing. Did she notice her own furiness?

Jen said...

Thanks for this post! I don't spin (yet), but I was fascinated to read about the whole process!

MelissaKnits said...

Very cool. I think I am going to go wax the dog.
maybe after the staph infection...

Mel said...

This whole process has been really fascinating to read about. I've often eyeballed my little Pom/Chi mutt and wondered if I couldn't put all that really soft under-fluff to use. She ditches it about twice a year and I swear she loses half her body weight in the process. With the Newfie around, I'm betting we see Sohpie-skeins on esty before too long.

Anonymous said...

It's nice when someone (that's you) learns a new skill (that's spinning) and describes it so that idiots (that's me) can understand. Really. I have read many other bloggers talking of these things -- spinning, plying, niddy noddies, skeining, "setting the twist," etc. -- but now I feel like I understand it all a bit better. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for simplifying plying! That's exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe I'll do some plying later today and wash 'n whack it this evening!