Ok – We have the tools, the fibre, and the passion to spin. Now it’s time to hit the wheel and make some yarn!
Once your fibre has been selected, the next step is to the spin the singles. These singles must be strong, thin, highly twisted and smooth. I highly suggest using a worsted drafting method, such as the short forward draw, to give your singles these properties.
Make sure your machine is oiled and clean, and all the parts are running and as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Check out Felicia’s previous post on spinning wheel maintenance for more tips.
Sit down at your wheel and take all the tension off your bobbin (if your wheel is set up for Scotch tension). Start treadling, while very slowly tightening your tensioning device. Stop tightening when you can feel very light take-up of your yarn. You want to be able to spin without the wheel ripping the fibre out from your fingers before it’s time. These singles need to be high-twist; your yarn is going to move slowly onto the wheel so that there is time for plenty of twist to enter your fibre before it travels onto the bobbin.
Check the whorl size you are using. Since we want to create twist quickly, we want to make sure there is a large size difference between the whorl (or pulley) and your wheel, so we use a small whorl. When you use this smaller whorl, the flyer rotates more times per foot treadle than when you use a larger whorl. This creates more twist per treadle. So remember – the higher the the twist, the thinner the yarn, the smaller the whorl.
Make sure your seat is comfortable and you are sitting at an appropriate height to your wheel. Nothing is worse then a numb-bum when you could be spinning in ease.
Examine your fibre. Make sure there is no vegetable matter or neps in your supply. If these get spun into your yarn, they will create little bumps in your finished socks, which could feel annoying or chaff later on.
Pre-draft if you need to, especially if you are working with a carded preparation. The short forward draw is designed to be used with a combed top into order to create true worsted yarn. If a carded preparation is used, you will obtain only a ‘semi-worsted’ yarn, which will be fuzzier, loftier, and potentially less consistent yarn.
If spinning from combed top, consider breaking it into manageable pieces as you spin. Be aware that this can change the way multicoloured rovings blend colour together, but it can also help to the keep the fibre from becoming matted in sweaty hands or mussed out of place by too much fondling. Just be careful not to misalign the fibre as you split it apart!
Time to Spin!
Treadle a few times to ‘store’ some extra twist in your leader. When you have enough twist in reserve, lightly lay the end of your leader on top of the first few fibres of your supply. Release some twist from the leader into your supply. You have now joined the leader to the fibre.
Draft with the “short forward draw” technique. The thumb and forefinger of your drafting hand (your forward-most hand) pinch down on the fibre, keeping twist out of the drafting zone. This hand moves an inch or so up and down along the fibre; it slides down the fibres (smoothing your yarn out as it goes), pinches down on the fibre supply, moves back up towards the orifice (feeding yarn on the wheel and pulling fibres from your supply) before sliding back towards the fibre supply hand again.
The fibre supply hand holds the fibre loosely, just strong enough to keep the fibres in order and allow you to pull fibres free with the drafting hand.
No twist should the drafting triangle (the area between your drafting hand and your fibre supply). All twist is located in front of the drafting fingers. When spinning a fine yarn, the drafting triangle should appear almost transparent. Draw out very few individual fibres per drafting motion.
Check the consistency and thinness of your spinning very often. To check if your fibre has enough twist, pull of a small sample of single off the bobbin and ply this back on itself. It it looks nice and tight, you are spinning with enough twist. At this time, ensure that your single is thin enough as well – if it is looking too large as a 2 ply, it will certainly be too thick as a three or four ply.
When you have spun some yarn that is as fine and tight as you like, ply a piece back on itself, break it off and keep it by your wheel for reference. Compare your spinning with this control sample often to ensure you are spinning a consistent yarn.
If you have any doubts about the properties of your yarn, compare it to a sample of your favorite commercial yarn. Is the twist angle the same? Does it have the same amount of wraps-per-inch?
This drafting method with give you smooth, dense, glossy yarn. It’s not very elastic or lofty, but it’s strong and long-lasting characteristics will create a durable sock yarn you will be wearing for years to come.