Summer Q&A: Spinning From The Fold

1. What is spinning from the fold?

The short answer is this: you take a not-very-long length of spinnable fiber, and instead of presenting it end-first to be spun, fold it over. Instead of drawing fiber off the end of your supply, it now comes from the folded part in the middle.

Linda Diak from Grafton Fibers did a photo tutorial showing one take on this, and countless spinners have learned this concept thanks to her tutorial! Thank you, Linda!

You can see another approach at The Joy of Handspinning, down towards the bottom of the page in that link. This one features a short video.

If you’ve looked at both of these now, you will probably have noticed a major difference: Linda’s method drafts from the side of the fiber that has been folded over, while the one at Joy of Handspinning drafts from the middle of it. Linda is using wool top, and the Joy of Handspinning spinner is using silk sliver.

I sometimes like to use yet a third method. In both of the methods seen so far, a finger is kept inside the folded-over fiber. I often don’t bother with that.

Clicking on the image will take you to the Flickr! page where that tutorial starts (about spinning from a batt).

What all of these methods have in common is that the fibers we’re working with are presented to the twist sideways; when they’re spun up, they will basically be folded in half.

2. Why would you spin from the fold? What conditions (fiber, spinning style, time of day…) cause you to want to spin from the fold? How often do you use this technique, and why?

The list of reasons is quite long! The first set deal with the mechanics of spinning: many people find certain fibers easier to control with these techniques or variations on them. Slippery, long-stapled fibers may be easier to keep a handle on; short fibers may be easier to keep together and drafting smoothly. If you’re having trouble controlling a fiber when spinning it from the end, try it from the fold and see what you think.

Related to that, spinning from the fold may make some drafting techniques possible for a preparation of fiber that isn’t ideally (or theoretically) suited for spinning with those techniques. For example, spinning commercial top from the fold allows long draw techniques which are generally not as feasible when spinning commercial top from the end.

Third, the yarn you get spinning from the fold is often different from what you can get if you spin the same prep from the end. Why? Instead of being laid out straight and parallel, your fibers are folded over. All your fiber ends will be facing one direction in the yarn, instead of both directions — so you’ll get a yarn that’s a bit rough or hairy one way, and very smooth the other. You can get heightened halo and fuzz in your yarn, while it’s still smooth to work with. Also think about it this way: take a piece of hair, and fold it in half. It wants to straighten back out. Even if you’ve twisted it, it still has that tendency. So it is with the individual fibers in yarn spun from the fold; they want to straighten back out. This means you can maximize the extent to which your yarn will puff up after spinning, and get some loft in fibers that otherwise don’t have much, or get lots of loft in fibers which do tend that way.

Fourth, you get different colour effects spinning from the fold than spinning from the end. In a handpainted top with clear delineations between colour, where you actually have fibers that are half one colour and half another, having the fibers end up folded over in the yarn can make these distinctions less glaring, giving your yarn an effect of concrete colour changes that still have shading between colours, rather than a marled or barberpole look. Or if you have a fiber which has multiple colours running the long way, spinning from the fold can let you control the sequence of those, and keep discrete colour changes so you don’t end up with muddied colours.

Fifth, in blends where you have really different fibers, or widely divergent staple lengths, you may find it easier to make sure you are keeping the blend blended as you spin. Take, for example, a cashmere/silk top: if you spin from the end, you may find you’ve pulled out all the silk and spun it, while leaving the short-stapled cashmere piling up in your fiber supply hand. If you habitually hold your fiber supply rather tight, this is more of a risk than if you’re loose with it. Spinning from the fold, you’ll have things draft more evenly blended.

So, putting all these things together, there are several kinds of yarns I might spin this way. First, let’s say we’ve got some alpaca locks,

and I want to have them turn into a yarn with halo, spinning them right from the lock.

I flick the locks open,

fold them over,

and spin away,

using a short forward draw.

I smooth the spun yarn down as I go.

I spin two bobbins or spindles, and then rewind them, and then ply them, again smoothing the yarn down as I go. I now have a yarn with latent halo; it will come out while working with the yarn, but mostly after it’s in the finished object. The yarn is easier to knit with, possible to rip back with, but it’s going to halo like crazy when we’re done.

Or, maybe I have commercial 50/50 merino/silk top that I’d like to turn into a bouncy, springy, elastic yarn with a strong tendency to poof out and be full in the stitch. I spin this from the fold too, but using a long draw method, not squishing the air out of the spun yarn as it forms. I spin three bobbins or spindles full, then do a 3-ply yarn with lots of twist in the ply. I wash the yarn aggressively, fulling it with a hot-cold routine including agitation, and then let it dry unweighted. The result is yarn that is almost shockingly springy, even though silk has no memory. We’ve maximized the springiness the merino brings to the blend.

3. What types of fiber can be spun this way? What prep is best? Do locks work?

Anything that you can get into a chunk of fiber that you can fold over! You will get the most folded effect in the yarn, though, from locks or a combed preparation. A carded roving preparation has fibers going in many directions, and though you may get the benefits of greater control from using these methods, your yarn won’t seem as dramatically different.

You couldn’t use these techniques with loose fluff, punis, firm rolags, cotton from the seed, or line flax (unless you cut it). Anything else is fair game. Locks of long-stapled fiber are a pure delight to spin this way.

Really thin, really loose preps can be harder to spin this way, because there may not be enough fiber there to really get going. Pencil roving, or commercial tops that have been stripped a lot, are much harder to do this with.

Here’s a batt I’m going to spin from the fold soon:

4. Can you do it with a spindle??

Of course you can! In fact, I usually spin from the fold when spindle spinning, because I’m often on the go and just having a chunk of fiber is easier to deal with sometimes than having a long roving. Linda Diak’s example in the link at the top is using a spindle, as are the photos with the alpaca lock.

5. do you spin with it over your finger? or do you fold it and then just keep it in your hand like normal fiber?

It depends! If it’s a very very slippery fiber I might keep it over my finger (and might use the index finger or the middle finger). If it’s less slippery, I may just fold it and go. For some fibers, I almost just spin from the side, without even bothering to really fold.

6. how do you prevent the little loops at the top of the fold from popping out at times while you’re spinning?

Practice! 😉 From time to time, you may want to stop and rearrange your fiber to make sure it’s still smooth and cohesive. Sometimes the loops pop out anyway, and you just draft them out when they do.

7. do you need to loosen up the fiber a LOT when you spin from the fold? or is the normal roving split a couple times enough?

It depends on the spinner. Generally speaking, if we’re talking about commercial top, I absolutely do not split the top, and I definitely do not do any predrafting beyond giving the fiber a bit of a shake. Your fiber does need to move freely, but you don’t want it too loose and open, or you’re at risk of losing the flow. I just tear off chunks of the top at the width it already is, and go.

For some spinners, the fiber that really works best for this is a commercial top that is somewhat compacted. When I teach long draw, I often teach it spinning from the fold with commercial top. For a long time, I took only fairly loose and open commercial top; but then in a recent class, I also used some fairly compacted stuff, and to my surprise, the folks who had been having a tougher time getting a feel for the long draw with the more open prep just took off running and were brilliant with the more compacted fiber. So now I always take both.

I do this with fine fiber batts, like Pistachio here, which is 40% Merino / 40% Tussah Silk / 20% Baby Camel.

8. how do you spin super thin when you spin from the fold? (i’m having issues getting it thin enough with it being doubled over itself)

Once again, most of the answer here is practice. Try the variations: from the side of the fold, from the back of the fold, from the side without the fiber explicitly folded, holding it over a finger, not using a finger to keep it in place… you’ll probably find that different specific batches of fiber react differently to each of the variations, and that you find different things comfortable depending on the equipment you’re using and your preferred style of spinning as well.

In general, try loosening your grip on the fiber supply, and moving your hands a little further apart while drafting. This will probably allow you to draft the fiber out thinner.

9. what is spinning from the side of the fold? vs spinning from the fold itself?

Linda Diak’s example is from the side of the fold; from the back of the fold is more what you see in the Joy of Handspinning video. For most fibers, most spinners find it easier to do this from the side of the fold, but it really does vary depending on fiber, prep, and spinning technique.

10. What is your experience with spinning from the fold and how it affects the colors in a painted roving?

In a painted top where the separations are distinct, you can get much finer control of how the colours shade than you can when spinning from the end. In a striped one, you can choose to have a more heathered look, or a stripier look.

11. Whenever I try to do it, I spin from the fold for a short time, then it ends up going back to my regular spinning. Am I taking on too much fiber at once?

Most likely you just have well-developed habits and things that have become instinctive for you. You’ll have to catch yourself, and stop and rearrange your fiber again, to shift your habits a bit. It takes more time to develop the ability to switch techniques at will than it takes to develop habits in the first place. Give yourself time and be patient.

12. What does this do to the finished yarn? Worsted, woolen…something in between?

Where it falls on the spectrum depends somewhat on the preparation. If you have a combed prep or flicked locks to start with, you’re starting with a worsted preparation, and you’ll be spinning your parallel fibers so they’re just folded over. I (and a few other people, such as Judith MacKenzie McCuin) tend to refer to such yarns as being semi-worsted when they’re spun with a short draw and you smooth the air out. It gets more vague if you use a woolen-style drafting method like the long draw, though! Then you’re in a gray area where in my opinion the smart thing to do is describe the prep and the spinning technique and not try to give it a simple label. In those cases, I say things like “Commercial top spun from the fold using supported long draw.”

In fact, I usually tend to do that! The thing is, in my opinion, unless you’re getting really traditional and spinning handcombed longwools with a short forward draw (true traditional worsted), or spinning rolags one-handed on a spindle wheel (true traditional woolen), you’re somewhere in between. I like to use the terms mostly to describe the ends of a spectrum, and I view them as historical and theoretical for the most part — ways to talk about and classify various preparations and drafting methods. They’re important methods to understand, but the vast majority of all spinning falls somewhere between those two end points.

13. How do you add new bits of fiber when you’re spinning from the fold?

Whenever I do a join, I keep the twist moving, and introduce the new fiber to the twist such that the twist grabs it and puts it into the yarn, and away we go. That’s true for any join! Joining with moving twist is what makes for good, strong, invisible joins.

I don’t even stop spinning. Really! With a wheel, shortly before my first tuft runs out, I grab hold of the next one to go, and holding the yarn coming out of the orifice with one hand, still treadling, use the other hand to fold the next tuft and get it onto or into my supply hand. It’s like refilling the fiber supply, rather than doing a join.

Now, if the yarn breaks, or I’m using a spindle, then I get the fiber ready to go, and pick up the yarn where it’s stable and strong. I pinch off the twist and park and draft to build up some twist in the yarn; I like to think of this as a twist battery. Then I introduce the fold of the fiber to the yarn and let that stored twist leap across and make the join.

14. How tightly do you grip the fiber when spinning from the fold?

As tight as I need to in order to keep it from all being drafted at once, and no tighter than that. I keep my hands relaxed and fairly open. This is important to pretty much all drafting methods! Exactly how tight that is will depend. Most spinners, for the first several years, will often need to actively focus on grasping loosely and gently, especially when working with new fibers or new techniques.

If your grip is loose but fiber isn’t moving, try moving back a little bit with your supply hand.

15. I started spinning some Alpaca from the fold however it’s still extremely slippery and I’ve found much more difficult (for me) to control the width of the single. Any secret tips?

Allright, my deep dark secret here? Go faster. Speed up the wheel a bit! It’s like riding a bike: it’s harder to do slow than fast, for some of these techniques.

Some other things to try are either loosening your prep up a bit more before you start, or — believe it or not — tightening it up. Roll your fiber gently between your hands the long way, compressing it down more. Your prep is probably the main reason you’re having trouble with diameter control here.

16. So, first question is, just how on earth do you get started, once you have the fiber over your finger? With ordinary spinning, I have a looped yarn that I place the fiber on and give it a few twirls for strenth. But starting with the fiber over your finger just utterly buffaloes me.

The Joy of Handspinning video shows one way, but I don’t do that. I don’t use looped leaders in general. I either use a leader in which I build up a good head of twist and expect the twist to temporarily glue the new yarn to the leader as it starts, or use a doubled leader with an open end that can be opened up (almost like unplying) so I can put a smidgen of fiber inside the opened-up bits when it’s time to start spinning.

I get started, in general, the exact same way I do a join. No tricks, nothing fancy — just twist, and believing in it. It really works.

17. I have my first fleece, an Icelandic, and I was planning on spinning at least part of it from the lock. I’m a beginning spinner. Would spinning from the fold be the technique for this?

There’s no reason not to, really. Icelandic fleece is interesting, because it’s double-coated. When you spin it from the lock, you can keep both coats in the yarn and get a wonderfully lofty, long-wearing low-twist yarn. You can also manually separate the two coats with your hands much faster than you can using tools… but alas, I don’t have any Icelandic locks right now, so I can’t show you this wonderful trick I learned from Judith MacKenzie McCuin last year at SOAR.

I’d try several of these variations with a few of your locks, just flicked open, and see how you like it. I think it could make a wonderful thicker singles yarn done this way.

18. Often when I spin from the fold I find that I end up lopsided – that is, spinning from the end instead all of a sudden. Any way to address this?

Just stop, and rearrange. When this happens to me — and it does — I pull the part that’s starting to go lopsided off as soon as I realize that’s happening, and finish up spinning it. Then I rearrange the rest of what I had in my fiber supply, and do a join.

19. I spin from the fold when I spin silk on a spindle. I see some people use it all the time, with all sorts of fibres. I thought it was mainly for long fibres – why would one want to do it on medium sized wool for example?

It could be that they’re interested in one of the specific effects we’ve discused, or…

20. Ok, I have a poser – why, when I have been using the spinning from a fold technique, do I then want to spin everything from the fold? Ok, silk for me is a no-brainer. But then my fingers fall into this control rut and soon superwash merino, long alpaca and even very short baby cormo are folded over my finger. It is ridiculous, but true. I am mezmerized by the fine little spiral that comes off the finger tip. I wonder if it is a slippery fiber control thing? Any thoughts?

The same thing happens to me. Spinning from the fold was the magic that broke me out of my lifelong all-worsted-style, all-the-time mindset. I think this is inevitable, that sometimes the sheer hypnotic nature of the thing grabs you and you have to binge on something. I tell myself spinning from the fold is a cheaper and healthier binge than many other possible binges, so it’s all good.

20 thoughts on “Summer Q&A: Spinning From The Fold

  1. Wow, lots of info and NOW I WANT TO BE SPINNING. (Note to self, don’t read Abby during the workday.)
    Now I have another question: I hear people talking about “flicking locks open”, and it makes me think of flicking my little brother in the forehead. Is that really what you’re doing to the lock? Could you tell us a tad about fiber prep?

  2. thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! i’ve been wanting to learn how to spin from the fold for awhile, but i hadn’t been successful, despite reading about it and attempting it on many occasions. i was reading your blog with your wonderful explanations during lunch, and i just had to try it. i happened to have a cd spindle and some washed romney locks under my desk (hey, doesn’t everybody? 🙂 ) it’s like magic! now to work on making a smoother join…thank you, abby! (muchas gracias, vielen dank, merci beaucoup, grazie!)

  3. I bow to you! Thank you Oh Goddess of Much Needed Information! YOu totally rock and I want you to know how much I appreciate this! I watch your video’s in awe and have wondered many times about this topic. Thank you so much!

  4. Thanks very imformative, I haven’t done any spinning form the fold yet.. I’m just getting to the stage with my spinning now that I’m thinking why am I doing this, should I be doing that?

  5. Abby! You are amazing! I think I actually can do this now. For a long time I have been trying to spin from the fold, but the results were … umm, questionable.
    Thank you so much. I am going to give it another (and another) shot soon. I have a couple of bags of fiber that is begging for The Fold.
    Thanks again Abby!

  6. Thank you Abby!

    I spun up 14 oz. of combed merino top in the last few days – for the first time from the fold, since I am a beginning spinner.

    It was soo much fun and I got a nice thick fluffy yarn of a combed preparation. Amazing 🙂

  7. As usual, encyclopedic! 😉

    Thanks for the joining tips, that has always been the Achille’s heel of this technique for me.

    Very interesting point about enhancing the grain/directionality of the single using this technique. Which would point to the possible need to transfer the singles to another bobbin before plying. Or not, depending on what you want.

    I’ve been trying to figure out a good way to rewind bobbins quickly (side feed). Any suggestions? I have a bobbin winder for weaving but it is too small for my spinning wheel bobbins. I may have to figure out a new attachment for my homebrew electric spinner.

  8. Thanks much, Abby for your reply to all our questions and for the great picture tutorial. It will take me a while to get my head around all the info. I feel confident enough now to give spinning from the fold a try.

  9. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! All of my spinning books explain this but always left me scratching my head. You filled in the voids.

  10. Thank you so much for your explanations, Abby. I’ve seen frequent references to spinning from the fold, but no hard info on how or why. This has been VERY helpful.
    I learned to spin from the internet – both spindle and wheel – without ever having a human mentor. Your blog has always been one of my best sources for how-to. As always, thanks for the help!

  11. Wonderful! Just wonderful!! I spin from the fold without folding, and thought I was the only “freak.” Your tutorials are always the best. Thank you!

  12. Perfectly timed. I have about seven differently-coloured samples of New Zealand Romney drying outside even as I type, and I’d decided to try spinning them from the fold to break out of my worsted addiction. You are a gem, you know. You and Denny and the rest 🙂

  13. Abby, thank you so much for posting this. Spinning from the fold is a method which I’ve never been able to grasp, but your explanation is so clear that I now can see its amazing simplicity and elegance. I started practicing and think I get it at last. Thank you, thank you!

  14. Thanks so much! This came at just the right time, when I was starting to spin some merino/silk blend, and it’s perfect for it.

  15. Thank you for this! I love this series and hope you will continue to educate us! I have been struggling with this for a while, maybe now I will “get” it!

  16. They need to make touch internet so I can stroke the green batt…. looks so luxurious!

    Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience. I really appreciate the light you shed on techniques I’m often struggling with.

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