Question Roundup for June 12

There have been lots and lots of terrific questions over the past couple of weeks, and it’s time for a Q&A roundup. Let’s start with questions from A Little Bit About Plying, Part 1.

There are some absolutely wonderful comments on this post, and I’d recommend folks stroll through ’em if they have a chance — helpful information in the comments!

Kristi asks:

I’ve now been plying on two different wheels and it *seems* as though some of the ply twist is lost as the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. A friend of mine has found the same thing on one of those wheels as well, but hasn’t noticed it on any of her other three wheels. It doesn’t seems as though the wheels should remove plying twist when the yarn is fed onto the bobbin. Any ides of the cause? Is this highly unusual, or somewhat common?

This gets argued all over the place, and folks can be deeply committed to their stances. I talk about it a bit in the second plying article, but in brief, my stance is that twist redistributes itself — whether in plying or in spinning — anytime that it passes over something under tension and with a bit of friction. So it’s not that you’re losing twist, though that is how it appears — it’s that it gets redistributed. To a degree, as yarn is wound onto a bobbin, it’ll redistribute over the whole of the bobbin as well, depending on how tightly you wind it and so forth. You’ll see this effect more with any flyer wheel, and less with spindle wheels or on spindles. You aren’t crazy, and this isn’t unusual; many, many attentive spinners detect this.

Another factor is that when you’re plying and looking at what hasn’t wound on yet, you’re looking at a short length of yarn. The twist that is in that short length is going to ooze out the ends, so to speak, once you don’t have it trapped neatly in that short length. And, when you wash the yarn, the same thing will happen again, as Ellen points out in comments on the same article, and the effect when you wash will be even more dramatic. Therefore, bear this all in mind when you’re plying, and see if putting in more plying twist doesn’t produce the yarn you thought you would have, once you’re done.

Kristi later follows up this line of thought with this question on the second article:

Thank you for addressing the loss of twist. Since most wheels cause the yarn to make the same number of turns in its path to the bobbin, why would one wheel cause a greater loss in twist than another? The method of delivering the yarn to the bobbin?

This is easiest to see with a really low-twist yarn, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with some good pictures to illustrate it at some point in this plying series. The short answer is that the most obvious variable in this is how firm your takeup is, and the second (and related) is the question of whether the wheel is single drive or double drive, and whether it’s rigged for flyer lead or bobbin lead. Well, maybe the biggest variable is the spinner, though. You’ll usually see the biggest variations, I find, if you hold back, hold back, hold back and THEN feed the yarn on in one fell swoop, vs. if you let it trickle through your hands and smoothly stream its way onto the bobbin. Unless, of course, you’re meticulously counting treadles and so forth while getting twist into a certain length of yarn being plied; in that case it’s easier to be uniform with the hold-back and then feed method.

The difference, though, should be minimal; but if you have a yarn with 4 plying twists in an inch, and you lose 1, it’s a much bigger percentage than if you have a yarn with 12 plying twists in an inch and lose 1. So that’s a factor too. I think this one really needs some pictures!

A few other questions came up in comments on this article as well, and some of ’em deserve their own whole posts! Here’s one:

Sulafaye asks:

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise! It is fascinating to see these concepts “in action.” May I asked how you learned to spin (and ply!)?

Definitely a long-answer one! The short version is that I first really learned to spin as a child in the Andes of Peru, in the weaving town of Chinchero, near Cusco. My family, headed by a pair of field anthropologists with a specific interest in textiles, moved there just after my fifth birthday.

I’m the tow-headed troublemaker in the front. Or, well, I was; and since I was old enough to be useful, but didn’t have anything going for me in the way of useful skills, I was behind the curve and the community set to work resolving that. You’ll notice there aren’t any other kids my age in that photo — babies, but not 5-year-olds. That’s because 5-year-olds had things to be doing other than getting underfoot.

You can read a bit more about that in my Waylaka article.

The longer answer is that everything to do with the fiber arts has always been an assumption in my family. My little sister, for example, who believes she can’t do any fiber stuff (and arguably that’s a fair statement given the rest of the family) can actually knit, crochet, embroider, sew, macrame, braid, weave a little, and spin a little — if you were to compare her to the US population, it wouldn’t be right at all to say she can’t do any fiber stuff. But instead of the gene for “fiber stuff is as obvious as breathing,” she got the gene for “capable of growing plants.” That gene skipped me. You know how people say “You can’t kill a spider plant?” The “you” in question would not be me. I have a black thumb. I could garden if my life depended on it, but my life would have to depend on it. My sister is that way about fiber, but when she walks past plants it’s like a cartoon of them sighing gleefully and perking up and dancing around her to burst into bloom and greenness and so forth.

Anyway, so some of my very earliest memories, some before I could walk and talk, involve laying in my father’s weaving studio, watching the antique loom go, and learning simple braids and inkle loom weaving and me bemoaning a lack of saddlebags for my rocking horse only to have my mother cause them to materialize out of thin air with a crochet hook. Almost all my childhood warm things were handknit, hand-crocheted, and mostly handspun; tons were handwoven, and at least half my clothes, hand-sewn. The fiber arts are a fact of life for me and have always been!

And Lola LB and Peggy both ask about the black yarn…


It’s superwash merino/tencel, a 50/50 blend in commercially-processed combed top. This black piece was a small, leftover bit that I dyed black to see how the fiber took to being dyed black — that’s a telling thing, you see. And then I spun it into some semblance of weaving yarn, though I haven’t decided yet if I’m happy with the twist in it for that purpose. I’ve got a few of the superwash/tencel left for sale in my eBay store, and will likely reorder and do more. It’s a neat fiber.

There are also questions in here about how to spin fine; and that, well, that we will have to leave for its own lengthy entry.

Charlene asks:

As you continue to write about plying – please let us know if you use the same size whorl to ply as spin. Seems if you want more plying twist a smaller whorl would make the whole process more efficient.

Okay, I’m going to fess up here. I pretty much do everything at the highest possible flyer speed I can get, and almost always crave more speed. My use of ratios is primarily to trick myself into spinning extremely low-twist yarn. I almost never spin using ratios lower than about 12:1; and plying, well, plying is one of the main reasons I bought an Ertoel Roberta electric spinner. The faster the better! And when my mother lets me run off with the old great wheel, I expect to be plying on that a lot, like I did as a child — at what I’d guess is probably almost a 200:1 ratio. Remind me to dig up the funny plying video one of these days…

But that said, what I generally recommend is that people go up one speed to ply from where they were when they spun the singles. View your ratios like shifting gears on a bicycle or in a car; make your machine (the spinning wheel) do your work for you!

Oh, talking about Cardzilla’s woes, Ellen busted me:

Okay, let me get this straight….once Chad determines what exactly Cardzilla needs and what is best for it you are going to take it in and then floor the people behind the counter by knowing -exactly- what you want?

That’s exactly right; I’ll just stroll in there like I know what I’m talking about and spew some bit of jargon that makes me sound way cool and knowledgeable… and then, of course, they’ll ask me a question for which I do not have an answer, and I’ll be saying “It’s for a drum carder. It makes these tooth-covered drums go around in the opposite direction, and you put wool in there and it makes it nice for spinning into yarn. Anyway, it’s slipping in forward and not in reverse, as soon as it gets any load on it.”

And Jen asked:

I love the Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle! I tried to look back and find a pattern name, but didn’t find anything. Is that an Abby creation or do you have a pattern name for it?

Thank you for the sock yarn teaser! The “fun stages like this” picture was gratifying … that seems to be the stage I’m always in!

This in an old (and maybe odd question). What do you wash your fiber with? The batts I ordered smelled awesome!

The Purple Mohair/Silk Triangle is a pattern I made up on the fly; you think I should chart it? Hrmmmm. It needs an actual name if I’m gonna do that, doesn’t it? As for the smell… I wash in Eucalan, Meadows Wool Wash, and Dawn dish detergent, depending. And sometimes if it’s for personal use, not for sale — because I don’t add scents to stuff for sale — I wash with my own fancy mild soaps, my absolute favourites of which are Laticia Mullins’ soaps. But she doesn’t have a web site where she sells ’em; I traded her soap for fiber a while ago and I’m addicted to her stuff! Seriously addicted! Laticia, tell the nice people where to get your soap, would you? But save some for me.

Lisa in NC asks:

Question about the weaving…I’m currently reading a great book about Bolivian Highland Weaving in hopes of learning Pebble Weave. I’ve noticed a lot of Central Asian Yurt bands appear to be pebbleweave as well. Would you know if the two are the same technique? I put a pic of one up on my blog at www.alyclepal.blogspot.com. Would this be one of the techniques you learned living abroad? Thanks, Lisa

The entry you’re talking about looks like this one: http://alyclepal.blogspot.com/2007/05/this-is-inspiring-me.html, right?

Pebble weave essentially is a term which is used to describe fabrics where the large single-colour fields in a pattern are actually made up of a 2-colour field where one colour is dominant and the other colour is like dots in the background, and structurally, it allows for the appearance of a single-colour field without having long floats of yarn. At least, that’s the fundamental definition, as near as I can distill it down to a paragraph.

There are, though, lots of ways one can achieve this! I would definitely classify the textile in your photo as being a pebble weave; and it definitely could be done using Andean techniques. However, the Andean pebble weave is not, to my knowledge, related to other regions’ techniques for doing so, in a direct way — they evolved separately.

Bolivian highland pebbleweaves are Andean in nature, and do use the same techniques, with relatively minor differences; typically you’ve got a 2-shed pattern section with contrasting colours on each shed, and 2 heddles (one full string-tied one called an illawa in Quechua, and one that’s a loop around the other shed, called a sonq’opa in Quechua). The pattern is achieved by doing pickup swapping warp threads from each shed with the corresponding threads from the other shed; this is called a complementary warp-faced weave structure, and one of its hallmarks is that it’s the same, but with the colours reversed, on the opposite side.

In your example, the presence of certain picks (passes of the weft) that appear to be plain-weave where all the facing threads for each shed are of one colour suggests to me that your band would be warped in a similar manner to the Andean way I know, but I’ve no basis from which to guess what the typical heddle setup would be in the central Asian example.

This is a great question though, and one that I’m now planning on getting into in more detail in its own post.

Back to plying… meowgirl asks:

i was wondering if you use similar amounts of tension for the different plying positions, especially between the moving-forward/backward-to-feed vs. tension-fed types.

Wow, this is a tougher question to answer than it seems like! I started thinking about it, and it got to being one of those things like if someone asks you to describe in detail how to eat with a fork. The more you think about it, the more you aren’t sure. Why? Because the tension changes all the time! What I’m doing is mediating it as it changes, to make sure that the yarn getting plied has both strands under the same tension as each other as twist is getting into them. That’s the key.

I like to have the singles coming off whatever they’re on smooth and easy. I don’t want to have to pull them off the bobbin or out of a ball. I want them to just flow. And I want to have the takeup on my wheel set so that it’s winding on to the same degree of tightness on the bobbin, throughout. This can (and usually does) mean some tweaking to singles source and wheel takeup as the plying progresses. As to the spindle question, I’ll talk about that more in the spindle plying segment. Promise.

A bunch of folks asked questions about finishing. I cannot recommend highly enough that people take a look at Judith McKenzie-McCuin’s article on wet finishing in the current issue of Spin-Off, due on newsstands tomorrow (but you might already have it if you subscribe). I promise I’ll talk more about it with some of the upcoming yarns, but her article is incredibly good and if you’ve got questions about washing and finishing, you’ll likely find her article alone worth the purchase price of the magazine.

But one to answer quickly before I must move on and leave the remaining questions for another question roundup…

The hot, cold, hot, cold … that’s only on a superwash or non-felting yarn?

Categorically not! The yarn I used it on, a low-medium twist merino/silk, here:

felted — actually fulled, which is a milder form of felting — during this process, and that’s part of what causes the changes in its character, changes for the better, I think we would all say (definitely we would if we could all have handled it before and after!) The reason I re-skeined this while it was damp was because it was indeed sticking to itself and trying to be a felted mass, and I wanted it to dry while every strand in the skein could float freely. You know, into the minor mess when the wind took it.

Let’s look at the before and after wpi photos close together, for that one — you can see the changes in yarn character due to fulling that occurred in the hot-cold abusive wash:

To me the difference is obvious — but perhaps it’s also really subtle.

Another benefit is that the yarn isn’t going to go through that change, now, while in a finished object. It’s finished; and when it’s worked up, the shifts and minor changes won’t occur again throughout the life of the object, or whenever it’s washed. And if I make a garment from it, I can count on being able to handwash it in super-hot water! I know the finished object won’t be ruined or forever changed by routine washing once it’s done, because I finished the yarn the way I did.

Whew, that’s about all the question round-up I’ve got time for today! Check back soon for more. Oh! And yes, subsequent plying articles will cover chained singles (aka navajo plying) and the use of spindles, and lots more!

ETA: Omigod! June just pointed out how far ahead of myself I’m getting: apparently, I thought today was Tuesday already. It must be a heckuva Monday! Oh, and for anybody interested in such things, I’m clearance-ing a pile of discontinued stuff, one-off stuff, samples, and so forth, while supplies last, here:

http://www.abbysyarns.com/wordpress/?page_id=95

7 thoughts on “Question Roundup for June 12

  1. Had to bust your chops for 1 minor mistake – today’s June 11! 😀

    Re – redistribution of plying twist: When I move things from wheel bobbin to storage bobbin, from storage bobbin to plying bobbin, from plying bobbin to niddy noddy, I generally give the yarn about 10-15 feet to help balance out variations in twist. I don’t know why some wheels have built-in lazy Ks, it doesn’t make sense to me to do that.

  2. Hi Abby
    thanks again for such detailed and helpful information. It is much appreciated by a novice spinner. I have learned a lot from all of this information. Is there any type of wheel you would recommend for the high twists you prefer. I don’t mean a brand, just double band, bobbin driven, etc Thanks again for taking the time to help everyone else.

  3. Hi Abby, thank you so much for answering my question on Pebbleweave. I’m looking forward to reading your post about it!!! I’m going to start warping up a project meanwhile to try and get some practice. The looms I have been able to get info on for Central Asia where basically varients of the horizontal loom (ormuk, ormek?) which had a heddle and stick system very similiar to backstrap looms. I’m trying to find more documentation on them short of going on a trip to see for myself. Thanks a lot!!! Lisa in NC

  4. Thank you so much, Abby! It was a matter of single vs double drive and I am a hold back and feed on in one swoop plier as that was how I was taught in my class. I think I had plied in your method prior to taking that class though. I’ll have to give it another go.

  5. what a great post! re: losing twist when plying – I ply on a Majacraft Suzie (but spin on a doubleband drive wheel). The band going over the bobbin on my Majacraft is some kind of polyethylene, plastic-y substance, the bobbins are plastic as well. I would treadle like mad, let the yarn wind on and find the plies lying side by side as if they were never plied – HMMPPFFFF! Finally, some knowledgeable person told me that when you spin very fast, the plastic-y stuff heats up and actually STICKS to the bobbin, thereby preventing twist from entering. I replaced the band going over the bobbin with nice, smooth carpet warp and it plies just fine now! Who knew??

  6. That you so much for the informative post! And for answering some of my questions too. I’m going to look for that issue of Spin Off, I think one of the local places carries it, and then I will brave finishing the yarn I spun from some of your fiber.

    Thanks again!

  7. So I tried the hot-cold-hot wash method (less abusive, no plunger action, saving that for next time…), and all I can say is “Yeah, Baby!”.

    The hot water consisted of a sink of hot water with a kettle full of boiling water added for good measure (yes, it was very hot).

    I intentionally over plied my singles in anticipation and I am pleased to report that after their treatment, they are now nicely balanced, unlike their maker.

    Of course your post predated a similar article in this summer’s Spin-Off. You have your finger on our pulse. Keep it up.

    Another tool is added to my spinning belt. Thanks.

    Jim

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