The Salmon Electric

This counts as a Finish-A-Thon project, because I set this top aside to spin for example purposes last fall, and hadn’t spun it yet:

It’s one ounce of tussah silk top, dyed with acid dyes using low water immersion — a stock technique for my hand-dyed silks.

June asked about striping in a previous yarn — did the yarn stripe, and how did I do that? The answer is, yes! I split the commercial top straight down the middle as evenly as possible, and spun each half onto separate bobbins trying to carefully preserve the colour sequence.

This tactic works best with a handpainted top rather than one dyed with low-water immersion; in a top where the colour shifts are pretty even across the whole width of the top, rather than having occasional randomness to it or parts where a colour shift is longer on one edge than the other. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a totally striping yarn in this case, just one with closely related shifts in colour and a handful of surprises.

I spun these tugged-off tufts of yarn using my Majacraft Suzie Pro at its top accelerated ratio of 32:1, with worsted technique; specifically, forwarding drafting using a 6-8 inch make or draw. Depending on the colour saturations, though, in some cases I spun from the fold while in others I spun from the end of the top, trying to control the drafting with more of an eye towards colour than anything else.


Spinning fine also makes a big difference in how defined colour shifts are when working with a multicoloured fiber. The finer you spin, the fewer fibers in your yarn, and the less the likelihood of muddying up the colours completely.

One bobbin layer into plying, you can see that although there are some barber-pole spots and some muddying, there are still distinct colour shifts in the 2-ply yarn.

It’s unfortunate that the depth of field isn’t better on this plying flyer shot, or you could see that on the right flyer hook, many miles of very fine yarn, much of it silk, over the years have in fact sliced a small groove in the brass. My resident brass expert tells me there is no real solution save replacement. It’s mostly not a huge problem, but it can affect the takeup a tiny bit here and there, and when you’re spinning really fine, that’s annoying.

Whenever I split top down the middle, I wonder, oh yes, I wonder — just how close to even am I really? Then when I finish the first half, and start the second, I invariably think, “Crap, this is not as thick as the other one,” and experience has shown me I’m right about that at least half the time. So I do a gut check — just how confident do I feel about that? I pull off a few tufts of the top, and think about whether or not they really do contain less fiber than their prior counterparts. If I’m pretty sure they do, I thin down the second single a tiny bit — not so much it’s really noticeable, but to about as much thinner than the first as I think I can go and still have them seem even in plying. And when I get down to that final layer on the bobbins of singles, I’m always thinking, “Oh hell.” But at the same time, the colour shifts are usually lining up allright in the plied yarn, so I keep going.

I also know that experience has shown me that for whatever reason, my first layer on the second bobbin is always deeper and thicker than the first layer on the second bobbin. It just is. So even though it looks flagrantly obvious that there’s not nearly as much on the bobbin at right, I can’t be 100% sure. Like I say, I’m only right about the uneven split about half the time; as often as not, instead of running short on the second bobbin, I’m running long. If I’m within 10 yards I figure that’s running even and pat myself on the back for being so great.

As a side note, when they are clearly not lining up, sometimes I’ve been known to break the single that has too much of whichever colour it is, and remove some yardage, setting that aside on a storage bobbin of some sort (like an empty toilet paper tube or one of my 12o-some-odd antique pirns). I then splice that single coming off the bobbin to the point going onto the wheel where I broke it off, and proceed until there’s a spot where I can cram those removed yards of single into the colour sequence how I want. In other words, I cheat.

When all was said and done, this time, in fact, there was less yardage of singles on the second bobbin — by about 30 yards. Since that 30 yards had one more colour shift in it, I opted to discard it rather than use the Andean plying bracelet technique to stick it on the end of this skein, as I didn’t really want a barberpoled end. Plus it was past my bedtime, and I’m known to have a bad tendency to say “I’ll just finish plying this, there’s not that much here, and…” So Chad was tapping his feet and clearing his throat reminding me that, as someone complaining of tiredness and difficulty adjusting to DST, I really shouldn’t fall prey to that one.

So, I didn’t skein it or measure it or any of that sort of thing either, reserving that for the morning. It took me at least 4 tries over my coffee this morning to get a decent semblance of a WPI count, and even longer to get it to settle on a ruler to try taking a photo (silk can be slippery). It ended up at 42 wpi. I never did get it to stay settled on the ruler for a photo that would actually show it clearly, alas.

Oh, and it came to 520 yards, thus bearing out my theory that “about 500 yards” is the most I can get out of an ounce of tussah on the wheel I’ve got now.

And now we’ll just look at pictures.


(and next, the other side of the skein)


I guess I should be piling up a list of really fabulous projects for about 500 yards of 40 wpi silk.

17 thoughts on “The Salmon Electric

  1. Thank you for these indepth explanations and photos. I’m a new spinner and since reading a reply you wrote on a yahoogroup have been reading your blog and am learning a lot from it. The vids are awesome as well and I have plied my first yarn with a dropspindle after watching your demostration. Thanks a lot, Lisa in NC

  2. It’s absolutely lovely. Any chance we could get some pics or a little movie of your drafting techniques with fiber like this? I tend to do short draw with most things, but given how long silk fibers are, that seems like it might be a bit ineffecient.

    Good references for drafting techniques would be equally cool to have.

  3. Very nice! Thanks for ‘splaining.

    I’m having some more bobbins made for one of my wheels. You remind me that I ought to ask for a couple of fat-core bobbins, too.

  4. I’m at work sitting in the dungeon…um Data Center and she posts this. WAAAAA! I want my wheel!!!!! No fair Abby I can’t afford to give up my day job.

  5. Zing! Abby does it again. It’s quite beautiful with a lovely inner fire. Looking forward to seeing what it grows up to be.

  6. Absolutely beautiful! Are all your Majacraft bobbins wood? Do they spin any differently than the plastic ones or do you just prefer the wood?

    In a side note on the “what to do with 500 yards of laceweight” question, Christine of Talullah’s World just posted a beautiful but simple scarf pattern than uses 400 yards of laceweight – and its free! NAYY, I’m just a friend of hers.

    Here’s the link: http://talullahsworld.wordpress.com/2007/03/15/the-gift-of-friendship/

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