“comprehensive spinning” workshop, day 1

[written 05/03/07]

note: if you’re not a spinner, all this info may be boring as can be. i personally think that’s crazy, but whatever. ;)

what a day. it’s early morning on the second day and i couldn’t sleep. my head is spinning (ha. groan.) with all the ideas, tips, history, etc. that judith mackenzie mccuin kept giving us yesterday. i tried to write down a lot of it, but really, they should be just videotaping it or at least recording the audio – it’s really good stuf. just yesterday’s class was well worth the money, that’s for sure. here’s a little recap, taken from my furiously scribbled notes..

~ top vs. roving: you can always distiguish the two by ripping off a little bit of fiber and looking at the line left by the ripping; if it’s a straight line, it’s top and if it’s a jagged edge, it’s roving.

~ spinning has been around for about 10,000 years (using just your hands and thighs, then later a stick, and then much much later, a wheel) whereas knitting has only been around for about 1,000 years. !

~ for slower spinning, use a smaller whorl. for faster spinning, use a larger whorl. might seem obvious, but it’s pretty easy to forget, at the least for me.

~ there’s three types of drives: single, double, and bobbin. with a bobbin-drive, the bobbin moves and the flyer doesn’t; it has a very strong pull; great for a bulky or novelty yarn; almost all bobbin-driven wheels are louets. double-drive wheels means that the flyer and the bobbin are both moving; this means more control but the wheel does not move as fast as a bobbin-driven wheel. with a single-drive, the flyer moves but the bobbin doesn’t; this means a lot of control but you loose a lot of speed.

~ old spinners used different types of drive bands to get different effects! i’ve thought at the drive band as part of the wheel much like a treadle – not something you take off – but at the workshop, judith encouraged us to take off our drive belts and try ones she had brought with her. she said on old wheels that you’ll see at a mseum exhibit, for example, you’ll often see two drive bands and this is why.

~ also, very important for bobbins that have whorls built-in on them, like the kromiski and schact wheels: if you’re using double-drive, use the smaller-whorled end of the bobbin; and for single-drive, use the larger end. i need to ask her why about this.

~ then we looked at spinning worsted. she said all worsted yarn for knitting should be at least 3ply, with the exception being lace knitting, a 2ply being best for that. she demonstrated how 3ply, when knitted, fills in the middle of the knitted loop and how it blooms, making a beautifully even and strong knit. when 2ply worsted is knit up, it makes holes and does not fill the knitted loop, which is exactly what you want for lace. she said for the very best cables, go for 5ply and that the original ganseys were made with 6ply and nowadays the best ganseys you find are 5 ply. all of this is not, to me, hard and fast rules, of course, but still fascinating to think about.

~ she peppered the whole day with bits about history and big meta commentary on the importance of spinning to the world. i love those bits! here’s one: spinners decide what the fabric kitters and weavers end up with. (as us knitters well know,) the knitters and weavers will try to force the yarn to take on different qualities, work a different way, but really, at the end of the day, it’s the spinners who decide the fabric.

~ it seems obvious now, but there’s different joins possible when spinning, mainly worsted and woolen. you wouldn’t want a woolen join on worsted yarn, generally, and so it’s good to finally know how to do both.

~ if the wool is too tight, tighten the tension; if the wool is too loose, loosen the tension. seems opposite, right? but the idea is that if you tighten the tension, the intake is faster so you don’t have time to put as much twist into your yarn. ah-ha!

~ in generaly, when plying woolen yarn, spin down a whorl – that is, use a smaller whorl that you did when spinning the woolen singles. when plying worsted, spin up a whorl.

here’s the two biggest bits i took with me:

judith repeatedly told us to get up and stretch, saying we should not be spinning for four hours with a rest. she showed us a couple of moves we could do that would help us not get tight after spinning for a while – i’ll try and take some pics, or even better a little video, showing them, they’re really useful. also, she said that if you keep your pulse at your wrist warm, then that’ll help a lot in keeping your hands limber – which is a great tip for spinners and knitters. i think this whole topic is really important – especially with all these new knitters in the past few years (i’m including myself here of course!) who have progressed way beyond beginning knitting but who risk the danger of permanently hurting their hands. i haven’t been knitting at all this past month because my hands immediately started to hurt if i knit for more than ten minutes. kinda freaked me out.

so, judith walked around and looked at all our wheels, explaining that often the problems people have with their spinning is solely due to their wheels being set up wrong – not enough tension, not enough oil, the wrong whorl being used, an old drive band, etc etc. i couldn’t wait until she got to my wheel!

she immediately had me change whorls – my kromski comes with two, and i was using the larger one, and was on the largest notch. she asked to see any sample skeins i’d brought, and happily i’d thought to bring one. once i showed her, she said it was lovely spinning ;) and asked what whorl i usually used. i pointed to the larger one, and she said i was no longer allowed to use that, that i needed to train my hands to use the smaller ones. she explained that by only using the largest notch on the biggest whorl, that there was no way to move up, literally. so, say i wanted to spin a thicker yarn – well, that was really hard the way i was set up now. however, if i used the smaller whorl – that had two notches as well, with me using the larger notch – as my default, then my spinning would adjust. then, if i wanted a thinner yarn, i’d go down a notch – my spinning is already pretty thin, so i don’t need to be able to go down more than a notch already – and if i wanted thicker yarn, which you all know i do!, then i’d have the larger whorl, with its’ two notches, giving me plenty of room.

this was amazing to me! i hope it explained it coherently. it was just a big revelation – i could never understand why, when i got my wheel and i spun that first time, the yarn came out all fat and happy, but then pretty much from then on, the yarn would be much thinner. now, it totally makes sense. in the meantime, my spinning is not that great, but whatever – i’m adjusting to the new setting and i can’t wait to see the range available once i’m adjusted. yay!

so. deep breath, and then off to day 2 ~ ~ and yup, guess who’s wheel finally got stained! a day before the workshop! you can still see my dirty, dirty feet on the treadle, but ah well.