I’ve decided I’m going on a March Finish-A-Thon. That’s where you take all the stuff you have sitting around taking up needles, hooks, bobbins and other tools, with balls of yarn hanging out of it, wadded up in piles, stuffed in bags, and whatnot, and finish as much as you can. I’m including drafts in this! My folders of drafts are starting to pile up as well.

Last night, I finished my woeful little Falling Leaves Isosceles, another in the line of big swatches. The purpose of this one was to take a look at how some of the handpainted laceweight millspun I’ve done lately works up, plus to see if I remembered enough trigonometry to actually execute both 90-degree and 45-degree mitered corners. I remembered the math, but was stumped on the execution until I talked the problem over with my father-in-law, who pointed out I had it backwards and what I was thinking would work for decreasing, not increasing.

No pictures yet, save for this sad little in-progress shot, in which it looks like mud on some circs:

That’s the big problem with lace projects — the in-progress shots just all look godawful.

All in all, this one came out to be an isosceles triangle, even unblocked, and I think it’ll block out to a nice scarf or kerchief size, which in fact I need to go be doing right now so that I can leave it blocking while I’m off at the dentist. Yes, the dentist! Back I go. Hopefully this time it’ll only be fillings, but I’m a bit worried about one of ‘em and half afraid I haven’t gotten to have the old, old filling replaced in time to avoid another root canal and crown scenario. But geeze I hope I have. All in all I hope to be done with the so-regular dental visits come June or July when my dental implant saga is finally over. I’ve always known that dental woes were a price I’d pay for my storied childhood and flawed brushing habits in early adulthood, but somehow I never expected the bill to come due and payable in full with terms of net 30 days, you know? Still, again I remind myself that if I lived in the third world, or many parts of the first world at that, I’d be outright missing plenty of teeth by now, and there wouldn’t be any of this 6 month long getting an implant process and I’d wish madly for root canals.

Anyway, yes, so I must block that triangle and see what it does. Continuing with Finish-A-Thon March, here’s what will be going to the dentist with me today:

It’s a little scarf in an elaborated Print o’ the Wave. Incidentally, is it obvious to anybody else yet that I haven’t unpacked most of my books since the move, and the only lace book I seem to be able to find is Sharon Miller’s? I’m doing stuff that is in her book, that I have memorized, or which I’m making up. I’ve got to solve the fiber book storage problem and really unpack them. Perhaps as part of Finish-A-Thon March I’ll try to do that.

Anyway, I started this sucker in September to take on a trip, since it’s a memorizable and easy to read pattern whose only tricky points are the fudging at the edges plus not spacing the turnarounds. And what with being worked back and forth across only 60 or 70 stitches or whatever it is, it feels like it’s working up insanely fast after the stuff done in the round and point-up triangles and all that sort of thing. The yarn is Belisa Cashmere that I picked up at Stitches West in 2006, and really liked (as far as I ever like millspun knitting yarn at any rate) despite its pinkness. In fact, this yarn marked the start of my resolution to come to peace with pink.

Although I really liked this yarn, it was actually a painful process finding a lace pattern that didn’t look like utter garbage with the way the colour variegation tended to pool. I think I tried four others before settling on this one with its sort of tiger-striping pooling effect.

I did not finish it on that trip in September, as it happens. I did very little with it on the trip, in fact. And it’s not hard enough to be engaging when I sit down to work on it, so even though it’s fast, I’ve been being pretty lazy about it, and here we are in March and I’ve done like 5 repeats. I need at least 12, then maybe some small edging. So off to the dentist with me it shall go.

Desert Flower Shawl

Huzzah, I have actually Finished A Project(tm). Its primary purpose was to show what one could do with a few of my Luxury Batts, spinning them in different ways. So here we go:

Phase 1: Fiber

40% camel down, 40% mixed silks, 20% superfine merino, with firestar added after that to give it a bit of sparkle. I pulled 2 batts out of the to-be-sold pile, and spun them up preserving the colour separations: the sandstone yellow, the painted desert pink, and then the surprising lavender. I put each batt onto one bobbin, and then plied those together into…

Phase 2: Yarn

2-ply fingering weight or so, and it looks like I recorded neither the weight nor the yardage in my little notebook! It was two batts, so probably the original skein was around 3 ounces or a little over.

Phase 3: Start Knitting

I started with some size 3 US straight knitting needles, and a small rectangular center made up of three Shetland-style lozenges worked in garter stitch, from charts in Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting book. With the three lozenges done working back and forth, I switched to double pointed needles and picked up stitches around the three other sides. I put a zig-zag around the lozenges, still garter, then switched to doing it stockinette for some cats-paws (again from Sharon Miller’s book). After three rounds of cats-paws, I stuck in a round of ferny trees, again from the same book. Once it got too big for the dpns, I switched to a circular needle and placed stitch markers at each mitered corner.

By this time, I was into the last colour of the yarn, the lavender, which meant I’d used up two thirds of it, and it was just not going to be enough to make it remotely shawl-like — in itself not a huge problem since the objective was basically “giant swatch” — but there was’n’t going to be enough of the lavender to complete what I’d figured on putting at the outside, another round of lozenges, and cast off.

Phase 4: Spin More Yarn

What with running out of yarn, I had three possible options, all of which involved pillaging the sale inventory further.

  • Spin another long-length colour shifting yarn with only one repeat of each colour?
  • Spin just some more lavender?
  • Mix things up, and spin some heathered yarn to demonstrate an entirely separate option for spinning these 3-coloured batts?

I decided the third option was the most principled solution, and grabbed a third batt for this purpose, producing the following results:

Phase 5: Knit Till You Run Out Of Yarn

As I’d anticipated, I ran out of the first skein about halfway through the final pattern round in the lozenge border. I added in the second skein, and proceeded. Upon completing the lozenges, I started a batch of improvised diamonds, and upon completing those, threw in a zig-zag to go around the outside, leaving eyelets at regular intervals from the tips of the diamonds, to use for blocking purposes (I’m lazy).

I bound off with a simple crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast-off, and pretty stretchy (I used an H hook to do it, which is the counterpart to a size 8 US needle). That brought us here:

Ah yes, that always disappointing and somewhat horrifying moment when you’re done with a lace knitting project, and it’s a) far smaller than you thought, even knowing it would be smaller than you thought, and b) ghastly-looking in its unblocked state. What makes it even worse, of course, is something Sara Lamb talked about in January in Anatomy of a Project — The Letdown. You’re done, now what? It’s over. Except of course for…

Phase 6: Blocking

Here it is, pinned out on a large “bath sheet” (aka a big towel) on the floor of the master bedroom closet so the door could be closed and keep cats away. Why yes, that is a box of mothballs in the upper right hand corner, you’ll find things of that nature pretty much anywhere dark that I ever leave anything like a textile. But I digress.

I told myself I was going to pin it out and see if what I really needed to do was spin more and add length, so I didn’t get too worried about precision pinning it out. But then I looked at it, said, “Well, that’s the size of a typical bath towel or a little larger, so, fine, so be it. I don’t really need to drag this out any longer.” Could that be impending The Letdown talking? Maybe. Or maybe it’s simple acceptance of the fact that this was never meant to be a masterpiece, only a giant swatch. I closed the closet door and walked away.

I did not look at how there were 9 lozenges on one long side, and 8 on the other. No, I did not. I’d known I was off, and told myself to charge ahead anyway, as it’s a Giant Swatch, and not A Great Undertaking.

Phase 7: The End

Later that afternoon, I opened the closet door to see what had become of the thing. It was fully dry, and when I unpinned it, it didn’t totally collapse back into the fugly nightmare it had been the night before, freshly released from the giant circular needle. I quite liked the loftiness of the fabric. It was, however, a bit small, and the longer long side didn’t keep its pointiness as much as I might have liked; but it looks more or less in square. Er, rectangle.

Well… so that’s what one can do with a few of my Luxury Batts. Mission accomplished, Giant Swatch completed, and I’ll leave it be.

A Few Random Bits of Productivity

I’ve been felled by a cold. A stupid, nasty cold. It’s been hitting me fairly hard, and upon reflection, I think part of the reason why is that it’s the first real cold since the massive amount of dental work, and my left ear has sounded different ever since the wisdom teeth came out.

So I haven’t gotten a lot done lately. I did spin up some too-small-for-sale batt remnants into heavy laceweight yarn, though:

ABALONE: superwash merino, Falkland, camel down, tussah silk, bombyx silk, camel noil. 2-ply, 220 yards, heavy laceweight.

If I weren’t feeling sorry for myself about the cold still, I’d actually measure it for weight and wpi too. By “heavy laceweight,” I mean that eyeballing it, it’s on the “few wpi” end of laceweight, rather than the “really stupid insane fine” end of the scale. You know, “knit with size 2 needles” kind of small, rather than “knit with needles you can’t see” kind of small. Saved from “stupid fine” by the magic of Falkland’s poof.

WOOD NYMPH: 2-ply lace to fingering weight; 270 yards. Superwash merino, Blue Faced Leicester, Tussah Silk, Firestar.

I can’t get the photos of this one to stop trending to too blue. It’s the lighting and the weather and all that crap. Bring on April. February lasted too long. Let’s have March move at normal speeds, mmmmkay?

And I did get a bit of knitting done. I finally finished (by which I mean, used up all the yarn allocated for the project) the Desert Flower Shawl, which had better block out to much more massive than its unblocked state (I mean, it will, but I mean a lot bigger, please, so I don’t have to spin more of the heather and make it even bigger, though I’ll make it longer if I absolutely must).

In all its unblocked, flash-photo glory, on the media room carpet where I flung it last night upon finishing a crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast off:

Now I just have to come up with a block me huge! plan.

What I’ve actually been enjoying knitting — and it’s made the Desert Flower Shawl, which was knit on size 3 US needles, seem like the big needle project — is this improvised lace triangle piece of whatever it ends up being:

It started out like this, but then…

…that just looked like crap, plus I had two fudged places that were glaring at me and would have been annoying to fix, so I just ripped the one night’s knitting and started over. Two more evenings into it, we now have…

…which is composed of several q’enkos (zig-zags), which get bigger by one stitch per one going into the center; these are delimited by eyelet-based straight lines. But at a certain point, the thing was really shaping itself more diamondlike than I wanted, so I decided to split the outermost q’enkos off towards the sides, and shove a few cheap loraypus in there and plan on blocking the finished thing such that the q’enkos turn and start going straight up the centerline in the middle.

This does still leave me with shaping quandaries as I attempt to play with bias but keep a flat (or close enough to flat to be blockable to flat) piece overall, that is more or less triangular. And through which the colour changes in the yarn move in somewhat varied ways so as to cause hapless yarn dorks like me to stare at it and think “Huh, so that’s a row, and that’s a row, and huh, that sure does bias funny…”

This is using up this yarn here, but shows poorly in the photos due to the flash; the skein photo is accurate, while the in-progress carpet blocking (thanks June for the term, which I’m going to lemming onto from here on out) shots are definitely off for colour, and will long-term really only serve for a reference on progress.

Related Links

Updates on Handspun Yarn Pricing Post

I’ve received some terrific comments, in various forms, on my post dealing with the pricing of handspun yarn. I’ve incorporated feedback from these into a revision, now online — just follow the link! But I’m going to take a moment to reply to a few of the comments here.

…you have allowed no time for acquiring the fibres and any preparation before spinning. The costs of production space etc. What is more you have allowed no time for the marketing and distribution time or costs. This includes any advertising, time travelling to outlets, and all the time costs spent on accounting for your business. Unsold stock has a high rent cost. In my experience this is equal to a third of the final price, or 50% more than the amount you have calculated.

This is absolutely true. The example isn’t intended to help someone figure out how to handle all of the retail aspects as well as all the supply chain aspects, but rather simply to give people a starting point for figuring out what their baseline cost is to produce a given handspun yarn, and urge people to consider that it’s unwise to price their wares below their cost, which is something that can plainly be seen happening in many contexts. I find that when a lot of the folks on spinning mailing lists are asking for advice about how to price their yarn, it’s something that they have never considered at all, and where someone else may be asking them to consider selling their goods, without being aware of how labor-intensive handspun yarns can be.

I have revised the original article to explain this more clearly.

I am guessing that if you are charging 5 dollars for a 100 yard skein.. you are talking about singles. I am wondering how you would charge for plied yarn? Takes so much longer.. but does the average yarn consumer recognize that? Or are they just looking at the number of yards?

First, I’m not charging $5 for a 100-yard skein; “about $5″ is my baseline cost to produce that skein in the originally-shown scenario (now updated, and featuring a second scenario as well). Baseline cost to produce it could be viewed as the rock-bottom wholesale cost, where if I sell the yarn for less than that, I’m selling it at a loss. About $5 is break-even for production alone; costs of doing business raise that price when we’re talking about bringing it to market. $5 is too cheap for a 100-yard skein produced by a handspinner of even limited skill, in my opinion.

Second, does the average yarn buyer understand the time and skill that goes into handspun yarn production? Probably not, and this is a problem. I firmly believe that when producers of textile goods persist in underpricing them, they allow people to go uninformed about the real value of those goods. I could buy a chair from Target for $19.99, or I could buy one from a master furniture maker for $750. What’s the difference? Both are chairs, right? Should the master furniture maker price her chair at $19.99 because Target can sell chairs for that? Absolutely not; and when someone who’s never seen a chair priced higher than $19.99 looks at the $750 price tag, one of the questions that comes to mind is “Why is it so expensive?” It is then the job of the person selling the handcrafted chair to explain why.

I would never suggest that yarn buyers are only interested in the lowest cost yarns, never interested in true handcrafted quality, simply won’t pay what yarn is worth; but in some cases they may not yet be aware of what those things are worth. That’s okay; I say, don’t price to the lowest common denominator, and be willing to not make a sale if making that sale actually costs you money.

I have to agree with Ian – this is a good start, but for a professional there are many other costs involved. I have a website which involves a lot of maintenance and constant updates, I regularly pay for advertising, I have boxes to pack and ship, I spend time procuring material, I do daily dye pots, and there is constant accounting. I put in well over a 40 hour week – often working 7 days a week to keep my website fresh. I spend a lot of time corresponding with my customers. I do very labor intensive yarns that require a lot of stop and go spinnning. I have energy costs for doing dye pots and spinning out and drying fibers. $10 per hour is barely above minimum wage. I could not live on $5/100yards of yarn produced.

And these are very important things to consider when you’re getting into a business selling your handspun yarn — there are many more costs associated with doing so than simply producing the yarn. Here’s an excerpt from an older post, talking about the hours I try to keep; as you can see, production is actually a small piece of the pie:

For January, leaving aside sick days, I’m figuring on something like this for a division of work:

* Production: 12-24 hours
* Operations: 10-12 hours
* Development: 12-20 hours

Total work hours in a typical week: 32 – 56.

Production is things like dyeing silk, or producing yarn and fiber for sale.

Operations is stuff like packing, shipping, inventory, accounting, routine correspondence.

Development is writing, patterns, product testing, market research, and some correspondence.

Both production and development have strong risks of slopping over into my personal life; in some cases this is acceptable and in other cases, it’s not — but that’s a whole new range of stuff to talk about, best left for another day. For now, suffice it to say I’m figuring a slack week is 30-some-odd hours of work, a busy week maybe as much as 60; with average weeks somewhere in the “around 40 work hours” range. The big tricky issue for me, really, is how to limit time and be focused; I have a tendency to just work nonstop, whatever I’m doing, and that’s what needs controlling most in my life.

I suppose that in my earlier article, I shied away from coming right out and saying this, so here goes:

I believe it’s unethical to pay less than a living wage for handwork. I believe that doing so for textile goods has a long and established history which people simply accept to a much greater degree than they do for other, non-textile goods. And I believe that in large part, this is possible because so many people will sell their textile goods at a loss. It’s my opinion that doing so is not only not a good business practice, but beyond that, actually harmful. Why? Because if you do it, you’re making products available for less than it costs to produce them, contributing to the problem mentioned above where people don’t know the value of a textile good, driving down prices, negatively impacting the market, and exploiting yourself. And that’s just for starters! So really think about your pricing and the market and your impact on it when you get to selling your handmade textile goods, and don’t just let a market of buyers for mass-produced goods talk you into treating yourself like a stereotypical “sweat shop” garment worker.

A Couple of Questions Answered

I’ve got two questions to answer today, both from Melanie at Pink Lemon Twist. Let me take a moment also to say that Melanie does some beautiful work, and I’m particularly a fan of her lace designs. Besides, she and I share the delight of having taken Darth Vader places on Halloween; surely this means something, though I’m not sure what.

Anyway, Melanie’s done some wonderful lace patterns that I like quite a bit, and I’m very much an admirer of her stuff; and her Hanami shawl, one which I’ve read about on her blog as she worked on it, is the first pattern I’ve purchased in at least a year.

Question the first: have I ever considered getting a custom wheel built for me?

Indeed I have! I’ve dithered endlessly on the subject as well. Some years ago, I told my father that I had decided to start spinning on a wheel and see if I liked it (as opposed to only using spindles, and viewing wheels as “cheating,” which I did when I was a kid).

“Hrmmm,” he said. “Well, if you’re going to do that, you should talk to my friend Alden Amos and have him build you something.” I looked around briefly, discovered that Mr. Amos’ wheels were not cheap and came with a wait measured in years and would take up a lot of space in the very very small California tract house where we lived at the time, and like any rotten kid, totally ignored my father’s advice. Then I dithered and dithered even further about whether or not I, in fact, wanted to get a spinning wheel at all.

While I was dithering, my better half gave me an Ashford Kiwi for Christmas. Within two weeks, it was clear to me that I did, in fact, want to be spinning on a wheel, and within three weeks it was clear to everyone that the Kiwi was not enough wheel to keep up with me, and I was going to need more wheel power. The net result of that was that I performed exhaustive research into what wheels I could get now, at whatever price, that would fit my lifestyle and have the broadest range of capabilities, and by the first week in February I’d bought a Majacraft Suzie Pro.

That Suzie has stood me in very, very good stead for several years now, and has been extended in just about every imaginable way. Indeed, the wheel has without exaggeration spun enough yarn for me to string from here to the Majacraft factory in New Zealand and back… loosely. In 3-ply at least. The long way to New Zealand. There’s nothing I haven’t spun on that wheel, either. It’s a very, very versatile workhorse of a wheel.

I’ve also acquired a number of other wheels, numerous of them quite exceptional, such as my Journey Wheel. I’ve spun on practically every wheel I run across at a shop, show, event, you name it. I’ve read up on wheel history and obscure wheel designs and theorized about what I wanted and how it could be done. I’ve discussed wheel mechanics and my wants and needs with anybody and everybody with whom I ever discuss the subject of wheels. I’ve made up totally fictional wheels with capabilities that border on the absurd.

But even so, no matter what, every wheel has its limitations. When I get to spinning fine and high-twist, alas, none of my flyer wheels ever seem to be quite fast enough, quiet enough, and so forth. Plying super-fine high twist yarns, I am forever yearning for my parents’ great wheel, except I want it to use bobbins and work while I’m sitting on my butt, too, of course. And my Roberta is too noisy at high speeds. And for spinning fine, it’s bobbin lead single drive. Oh, the list just goes on and on.

So finally I came to a point where I had to say to myself, “Self, you really do need to just have someone build you something.” I thought a lot about who. There are some fabulous custom wheels out there and some fabulous wheelbuilders… and finally it dawned on me that, you know, if I had taken my father’s advice years ago, and just gone and talked to Alden Amos, instead of saying “Well it’s expensive, and there’s a long wait…” I’d have an Alden Amos wheel by now. What’s more, talking to lots of people about it over the years, one of the things I’ve heard about him is that he’s told people “That’s not what you want. This is what you want.” Upon reflection, I realized that this is exactly what I need: someone to whom I can lay out all my absurd wants, who’s able to say “You may think this is what you want, but here’s what you really need,” and then build it.

So, presently, I’m going through Alden and Stephenie’s wheel and spinning questionnaires, evaluating my entire spinning lifestyle, and asking them to Solve My Problem(tm). No more dithering; I could dither about this forever.

Another thing I have to confess about the custom wheel situation: the same deeply ingrained, Chinchero-bred arrogance that caused me to say “I don’t need anything but a stick to do high-quality spinning, forget all this fancy equipment,” causes me to have a knee-jerk tendency to say “I really don’t require super-high-end equipment in order to do really good work!” Well, maybe I don’t; but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use it and I wouldn’t like it and there’s no reason whatsoever for me to want it.

So, anyway, here I am in the throes of the custom wheel question!

Second question: What do you spin when you just spin?

I’m not a big fan of knits using bulky yarns either, but I was wondering, what weight yarn do you find yourself using the most? I realize that you (like most of us) probably have a range, but is there a default weight you spin to when you are just spinning for fun? –Melanie

This actually falls right in with the questionnaires about my spinning that I’m working on for the custom wheel. To some extent it depends on the specific fiber; but the bottom line is that I spin fine when I just spin for fun. “Fine” in this case means a laceweight 2-ply, fingering to sock weight 3-ply, depending on the fiber and the prep. All of those fine yarns a couple of entries back, ranging from 40 wpi to 52 wpi in 2-ply, were comfort spinning (though on the thin side).

But I have moods… and I also really really try to make myself shake things up a bit now and again. Last fall, I had a 2-week boucle binge, which combined very fine silk singles for binders, with a thick-and-thin wool/silk single, where the thin parts were about 15 wpi and the fat parts were about 8.

But, okay, let’s force me to nail this down here. As evidenced by what knitting needles I have the most of, I think I mostly seem to randomly churn out 2-ply and 3-ply yarns that would get knit up on size 3 needles. And I actually think part of this is equipment related; if I had a faster wheel I’d probably go finer. On a spindle, I reflexively tend to yarn for Peruvian weaving, at 50-60 wpi in 2-ply.

The absolute bar none largest needle project I have going right now is for size 6 needles. The green sweater I think’ll be size 7 needles:

That’s thicker than I usually spin just to spin. So, I dunno, I guess 15-30 wpi in 2-ply is probably my default range on a wheel. And that’s actually one of the reasons I really wanted the sock machine, was to eat all the smallish quantities of rather random yarn in not-fast-project grists.

I generally don’t sell anything finer than sock yarn; it spends too long sitting around waiting for a lace knitter to want it, a lot of weavers don’t spin and have misconceptions about handspun yarn and weaving, thread crochet folks don’t think of using handspun yarn mostly, and none of it’s cheap. I’d love to sell handspun lace yarns, but it wouldn’t be cheap to do so, certainly not compared to the commercial options out there.

But yeah, I guess I like laceweight yarn and sock yarn as a default. I think, too, that I feel like yarns of that ilk have strong “turn into something magically” potential when marinating in the stash.

More New Sock Blends!

Well, as February winds down, I’ve got a final round of sock blends for sale, with a last chance at my February specials featuring free shipping on orders of $25 or more, free shipping +5% off $50 or more, and free shipping plus 10% off orders of $100 or more.

Where are they, you ask? Just follow this link to my eBay storefront, where you can search for all sorts of things. A sampling from this run…

This batch features a few tweed blends, where flashes of bombyx silk are left intact to create a very visible effect when you spin them up, and some blends include a really delectable natural brown Blue Faced Leicester in them as well.

And if you let me know you’re coming from my blog, you’ll also receive a surprise gift with your purchase.

Can You Offer Any Advice About Spinning Thicker Yarn?

First of all, spinning thick and consistent is quite difficult to do! If you want thick, consistent, and lofty, this is potentially one of the most technically challenging yarns to produce reliably as a single-ply yarn. If you take millspun commercial yarns which appear to be this, and deconstruct them carefully, you can often discover that they are in fact plied yarns, or in some cases, mildly felted pencil roving that hasn’t exactly been drafted and spun.

Paula Simmons’ book “Spinning for Softness and Speed” goes into a lot of detail about light, lofty yarns. I highly recommend it for anybody interested in spinning that sort of yarn. I understand you can order it directly from her here:

The easiest way to get a thick and consistent single ply yarn is to predraft to roughly the thickness that you want, and then simply add twist. However, this generally produces a fairly dense yarn without a ton of loft, and is rather slow going. The “right way,” so to speak, is to master woolen prep, make rolags with hand cards, and spin one-handed long draw… and this will still have some variability in thickness! There are many things in between these two ends of the spectrum. From commercial top, you can get a pretty good lofty single by spinning from the fold, quickly (as in drafting quickly and using a light takeup on your wheel and practically flinging the yarn at the orifice).

The most reliable way to get a consistent and predictable bulky yarn is to spin singles which are consistent, and ply them, using a fiber that tends to want to bulk up (Falkland wool comes to mind, and merino doesn’t do too badly and is easier to find). In general, not considering the question of finishing or washing your yarn and how the fiber behaves, a 2-ply isn’t quite 2x as thick as a single, and a 3-ply is a little more than 3x as thick — yep, the 3-ply structure actually behaves differently from the 2-ply structure, and adds more bulk. Were you to spin the fattest singles you can, and then ply them into a true 3-ply yarn (not navajo plied), you would see very surprising bulk from them, as well as wear properties superior to what you would get from a singles yarn.

You can also do a cabled yarn; the easiest way to describe that is to say that you spin singles, and ply 2 together; then you ply 2 of those plied yarns together again, in the direction in which you originally spun the yarn. You have a plied yarn within a plied yarn! Cabled yarns are very stable and even, almost no matter what you started out with; a thick-and-thin slubby single, plied 2-ply and then plied again cable, will be much more consistent than you’d think.

One easy way to spin a cabled yarn would be to use the center-pull ball method (or similar ply-from-both-ends technique such as the Andean plying bracelet). Ply once, then wind another center-pull ball, and ply that in turn from both ends.

Lastly, when spinning a thick yarn especially, prep matters — even more than it does when you’re spinning fine. When you spin fine, you do a lot more drafting and you can correct for a lot of things in the course of that; and you have more twist in the yarn as well. There are just more places that’ll be forgiving of problems in prep — when you’re spinning a thick and lofty yarn, your prep has to be spot on, or you’ll find unevenness happens very quickly and there’s virtually nothing you can do to correct it once it’s in there (or at least, it’s quite challenging by comparison to fixing such problems in finer yarn).

Personally, I like to work at being able to spin practically anything imaginable; but for practical reasons, extremely thick and lofty singles are not always as good a choice as a plied yarn of a similar thickness, though of course, it depends on your application. As a matter of my own opinion, I am not a huge fan of extremely dense thick yarns; I don’t like the hand or the drape of fabrics made from such yarns (though they have their places to be sure).

Some Recent Spinnings…

February has been an incredibly long month. I know, it’s not even over! But yet, it’s lasted a good 8 years. It has only been, for instance, about 5 weeks since I had my wisdom teeth out, and 6 weeks since the dental implant went in; yet those seem like they were years ago.

And I feel as if I’ve gotten nothing done. So I’m posting a little light yarn porn.

Cashmere/Tussah Silk 2-Ply, 670 yards (640 m), ~2 oz (56 g); 5,425 ypp; 45 wpi

Merino/Tussah Silk 2-ply, 765 yards and 1 ounce; appx 6100 ypp

2-ply Optim, 400 yards / 1 ounce; 6400 ypp, 52 wpi

See that bobbin? That bobbin is smoked. The bushing on the grooved end is just worn to uselessness. I need a new bushing. This bobbin’s benched for being a whiny, clattery, noisy poorly-behaved bobbin that’s annoying me with its constant yammering. Grrr.

Edited to add: The bobbin in question is a Majacraft lace bobbin, and it’s got a lot of miles on it; I mean if you were to unwind the yarn spun on it — assuming you had it all on a bobbin to do this — it’d probably cross the Atlantic. Not counting anything I’ve plied on it. And I’ll note Majacraft has plainly seen me coming; the bushings are replaceable.

2-ply merino/tencel, 650 yards, 2 ounces / 5200 ypp

This one I’ve actually wound onto a pirn, and…

I guess I’m going to do some lace knitting with it. But I decided to use the size 0 circulars because I have the longest ones of those, and because my size 000 circular needle is hiding, and because my size 0000 needles are double points, and besides, if I’m going to knit anything that size I think I’d better do it outside in the summer in full daylight, or something.

And of course, what’s the net result of all this? A big pile (okay, not so big, but lots of yards) of yarn so fine I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, because with the space-dyeing and whatnot it’s not really what I like to weave with in general. I guess I’ll knit and crochet lace. Fine. I’m sure I’ll think of something. It was all comfort spinning anyway.

The other net result is I’m crabby at all my wheels for being too slow, and too noisy when up to maximum speed.

Well, I guess there’s one more net result, and that is that I think I could really enjoy weaving with merino/tencel, and maybe with Optim, and these could definitely be spun with relative ease, on a wheel, to a grist I’d like to weave with. So that’s something.

How Do You Usually Price Handspun Yarn?

The question of how to price handspun yarn is coming up again on the various spinning mailing lists, so I’m taking an opportunity to repost my standard thoughts on pricing methodologies here.

The question of pricing, and discussing it, is a challenging one in some respects. There are numerous philosophies, and there are people who want to talk about them and people who don’t. With handcrafted goods, professionals sometimes find themselves competing with hobbyists, who have other means of support and aren’t looking to earn a living from selling their wares, enabling them to charge lower prices. This sometimes means the bottom falls out of a certain market, removing a professional’s livelihood, and a hobbyist’s lack of sensitivity to this can make professionals less willing to discuss the subject publicly.

Most hobbyists, and some professionals who are just starting out, are not setting out callously and with evil intent to undercut people who are looking to make a living; but they don’t know how to price things yet, they don’t know what the market will bear, and they often undervalue their work… or sometimes, overvalue it, though this is less common and tends to be limited to specific, trendy products.

Professionals, too, sometimes find themselves unenthused about helping hobbyists bring products to market because of the question of quality. In some — though categorically not all — cases, hobbyist wares are not as well-made as professional wares, and some professionals worry that simply having them on the market as hand-produced goods may have an overall negative effect on public perception of how good those products are on the whole. With the fiber arts this can be a particular sticking point, because it may require a trained eye in order to detect the difference.

Still more professionals flatly feel that they’ve spent years working on coming up with ways to turn a profit doing what they do, and put lots of work into it, and that’s not information they’re going to give away just because someone thinks they might be interested in it.

So, when asking for advice on pricing handspun yarn or handwoven, handknit, hand-crocheted items, be aware that you may be jumping into heated debate, whatever your scenario, whatever your expertise level, and whatever your goals.

For me it is essential to have and use a firm model, and to track what I do. I am also philosophically opposed — very opposed — to underpricing handmade fiber goods, as I feel that contributes to an overall cultural devaluation of textiles. So, I urge anybody getting into the selling game to talk not only to folks selling yarn or fiber, but folks selling handmade goods of all varieties, like furniture, pottery, wrought iron, you name it. Although the market has the final say, suppliers of goods on the market set the starting point.

People new to selling their wares would be well advised to look closely at the specific market which they’re entering, and consider where they’ll fit in it and how they’ll affect it, as there is a strong likelihood that this will have a great impact on their relationships with their peers and colleagues.

Abby’s Pricing Theory

There are two different questions here for me: how I put it up if I’m going to sell it, and how I price it. My pricing is based on cost of materials, time to produce, and “operating overhead” so to speak. By and large this is a pricing methodology that I learned as a child, with my friends selling woven items to tourists in Peru. There’s another angle on it, which involves figuring out what the market is, what’s selling at what price, and producing to meet that demand, but that’s a separate question.

It’s my belief that people need to price to pay textile producers a living wage, end of story. If I determine the market won’t pay what I’d need to make on a given object to earn a living wage for producing it, I don’t sell it. In my opinion, no independent producer of goods can really afford to price himself or herself out of a living wage.

Purely hypothetical scenario:

First, I want to stress that these scenarios use fictional numbers, and are intended to help you think about your baseline cost for producing a yarn; this does not include your cost for selling that yarn. I don’t want to tell you how to price your yarn, give the exact dollar amounts that I use, or tell you how to run a business; but I do want to provide you with food for thought about the cost of production alone. These examples also do not include more complicated overhead costs such as the cost of space in which to produce the goods; these are simply starting point examples. Also not included in the model described here are: how to handle unexpected losses from theft or damage, insurance, bookkeeping time, consulting time, project management costs, development costs, market research, and many more things that are very important for a businessperson to think about.

What I’m trying to get at here is this: Don’t sell your handspun yarn for less than it costs you to produce it. Even if you don’t make a business of this in earnest, if you do make a habit of selling your goods for below cost, you’re likely to have a negative effect on the market for such goods on the whole.

Anyway, you can use this formula to determine your baseline cost and break-even point for production, regardless of what you’re producing. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are in the example; substitute your own, to determine your cost, then base your pricing on your cost.

Let’s say I have a fiber that costs $10 a pound. I have equipment that would cost $1000 to replace. I want to pay my spinner (me) $10 an hour. I can produce 400 yards of single-ply yarn from 6 ounces of fiber, in an average hour. I expect the lifespan of my equipment to be 4000 hours until service or replacement is required. In addition, it takes up to 10 minutes per skein of 100 yards to measure, wash, label, etc, so let’s factor that in, but leave it as a separate item in case someday down the road we’re employing a put-up person who doesn’t have to be a skilled spinner, who makes a different wage.

Round numbers (everything up to the nearest 10 cents)

  • Materials cost for a 100-yard/1.5 oz skein: $1
  • Labor cost for spinning: 15 minutes at $10/hr = $2.50
  • Labor cost for finish and put-up: 10 minutes at $10/hr = $1.80
  • Equipment cost: $0.10

My break-even is $5.40 a 100-yard skein, in this case.

Second Purely Fictional Scenario

In this case, my raw material costs $20 a pound and I can produce 200 yards of it in an hour, not including put-up and packaging. Skeining, measuring, washing, and labeling will be done by a different employee earning $8 an hour. Everything else stays the same.

  • Materials cost for a 100-yard/1.5 oz skein: $2
  • Labor cost for spinning: 30 minutes at $10/hour = $5.00
  • Labor cost for put-up: 10 minutes at $8/hour = $1.35
  • Equipment cost: $0.15

Break-even here is $8.50.

If I want to give away the labor, or the materials, I can adjust accordingly. The same goes for pricing a job where I don’t have to pay for the fiber, but I do require time, and will put wear and tear on my equipment.

Please note that this is the break-even point; the point at which I am not operating at a loss on simply producing the yarn. This is the point below which I’m actually paying money to sell the yarn, if I sell it at such a price. This is not my final sales price if I’m bringing the product to market, storing it, advertising it, shipping it, and so forth; this is the point below which, if someone else is going to absorb all those costs, I cannot afford to sell the product. It’s a rock bottom wholesale price.

I think I’m somewhat unusual in my pricing because I do include equipment maintenance or replacement cost, something I generally don’t see people do. But you’re out of business without the gear and it does take a beating if you do production work! I also think that generally, folks don’t view it as “I have to pay my spinner (me)” — but I was raised by often self-employed parents and have had it drilled into me to consider my time payable by the operation, whatever it is. ;-)

As far as put-up: by default, I pull things off the bobbin and skein them with my counting skeiner, so I know how many yards there are. If something is for general sale, I will leave it in a skein; if it’s part of a special order or something where someone requests, I can put it up in center-pull balls (but I don’t do that in general). For my own storage purposes, I skein, wash, dry, then either store if I don’t have a likely immediate (in a couple of months) use in sight, or put it in balls if I do. Size of skeins: I have found that in general, 100-yard skeins, measured by yards, of varying weight, are more popular than by-weight skeins. Think about it: as a yarn user, you are more likely to care how many yards than how many ounces.

So, I put up by the yardage, and charge based on production cost given materials, time, and equipment. Then, as a retailer, I have to figure my retail costs into the equation as well, in order to calculate my markup, profit margin, and so forth — which I figure separately from the baseline production costs.

What Difference Does Drive Wheel Size Make?

Step 1 is the drive ratios. What this refers to is the difference in size between the drive wheel and the driven object — the whorl, which in turn will be moving the spindle (on a spindle wheel such as a charkha or great wheel), the bobbin or flyer (on a single drive wheel), or both bobbin and flyer (on a double drive wheel).

You can measure this most easily by measuring the circumference. Take a piece of string, and wrap it one time around the drive wheel in the same spot where the drive band goes. However long that string is, that’s the circumference for the drive wheel. Now, do the same with the whorl. Let’s suppose that your drive wheel is 15″ around, and the whorl is 5″ around. To calculate the ratio, you divide the number for the drive wheel by the number for the driven object (the whorl). This gets you a 3:1 ratio — the drive wheel is 3 times the size of the whorl. What this means is that for every one time the drive wheel goes all the way around, the whorl is going to make 3 revolutions.

Now, let’s say you have a 20″ drive wheel, and 5″ whorl. That’s a 4:1 ratio, which means every time the drive wheel goes around once, the whorl (and therefore the spindle, flyer, or bobbin) is going to go around 4 times.

You could also get this same effect by keeping your 15″ circumference drive wheel, and going from a 5″ circumference whorl to one that measures 3.75″ in circumference (1/4 of 15″). This is still a ratio of 4:1, though the sizes of the drive wheel and driven object are different from the previous example.

But, let’s say you have that 15″ circumference drive wheel, and what you really want is a 30:1 ratio. At this point, you need a whorl that is half an inch around — very small. What’s wrong with that? The answer is traction — your drive band needs to be able to get a good enough grip on the whorl to cause it to turn, including turning whatever is on the end of it. Mechanically speaking, when your driven object gets smaller, the first thing you notice is it being harder to make it move, and the next thing you notice is that it loses traction and starts to slip — it just can’t get hold of the whorl and make it go.

It’s also harder, from a manufacturing standpoint, to make something really tiny and exact and still durable.

So now let’s say that you move up to a drive wheel that’s 30″ in circumference; now to get a 30:1 ratio, you need a 1″ circumference whorl. There is a lot more room for grip on that! A high ratio setup works more efficiently with larger pulleys (wheels and whorls and whatnot) because of an assortment of traction issues.

There are other factors in play as well. For example, distance between the drive wheel and the whorl changes how much contact the drive band has on the whorl, as does how the drive band is set up. In a double drive system, the drive band is doing double duty, driving both the flyer and the bobbin (just at different rates). There’s more drive band, and more driven objects, and thus more opportunity for slippage and loss of traction — so double drive systems are easier to make work well with larger drive wheels and whorls.

Another factor is that a larger wheel (or a heavier one) will have greater momentum. This means that once you get it going, it’s better able to keep going with less effort, than something smaller and lighter.

So, what does this mean in practice?

1. It’s easier to build a high-ratio wheel with a larger drive wheel.

Therefore, it’s more likely that wheels suited to spinning fast (at high ratios) will have larger drive wheels, while wheels suited to spinning slow (at low ratios) will have smaller ones. A higher speed at the flyer gives you more twist faster; a lower speed gives you less. The thinner your yarn, the more twist it can hold, and the fatter your yarn, the less. So for spinning a very fine yarn, you want high ratios, and for spinning fat yarn, you want lower ones.

2. A wheel with a larger drive wheel will most likely have superior momentum.

This means that once you get it going, it’s going to be easier to keep it going. You’ll get less tired treadling it.

3. A wheel with a larger drive wheel may have limitations when it comes to low ratios.

If you have that 30″ drive wheel and you want a 3:1 ratio, you need a 10″ whorl. Will that fit in your flyer assembly area?

The most common modern wheels are multi-taskers, which do very well for a broad spectrum of types of spinning. They will commonly have drive wheels with diameters from 13″ to 24″, which translates to circumferences between 40″ and 75″ roughly speaking. These wheels can fit in a good range of spaces, and commonly feature multiple ratios between 5:1 and 20:1, making them suited for spinning a wide range of fibers in a variety of ways. Where these wheels fall short is when it comes to being tuned for specific purposes that are at the extremes of the spectrum: super duper thick yarn, or mega ultra fine yarn (or very short stapled fibers that need a lot of twist fast).

Antique “Production” wheels commonly had much larger drive wheels, being suited to producing very large amounts of very fine yarn as fast as a true production spinner could draft. Great wheels, with drive wheels that can be 48″ in diameter (so 4 feet across and over 12 feet all the way around!) are ideal for spinning woolen yarns very very quickly, though the spinner must be able to keep up, of course. Production flyer wheels often have 36″ drive wheels (3 feet across, 9.5 feet all the way around the rim). You’ll also often see such wheels have seemingly small bobbin capacities — they’re for spinning fine yarn for weaving, mainly. You would still pack quite a bit of yardage of fine yarn onto those wheels!

So, when you’re shopping for a wheel, consider what type of yarn you want to spin with it. If you know for a fact you want to spin a lot of fine yarn quickly, you want a big-drive-wheel kind of wheel; if you know you want to churn out bulky low-twist yarn, you want something with a really small drive wheel. If you’re interested in a variety of options that don’t go to such extremes, then a midrange size for a drive wheel is probably a good one for you.

This is also a reason why many veteran spinners have more than one wheel: it is difficult to have only one wheel fill every spinning need. Though many modern wheels can fill most, spinners with work that falls to one end of the spectrum or the other may find that they have a wheel on which they like to do most of their very fine spinning, most of their very bulky spinning, and a wheel that’s good for everything in between.

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