Luxury Spinning

Photo of yarn haul.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that a few weeks ago I attended the Knit and Crochet Show in San Diego.

You may recall this photo of the loot I acquired while there. If you look closely, at the head of the bed you can see a rather mysterious bundle of fiber braids. I bought these from Carolyn Greenwood of Greenwood Fiberworks. She had a lovely little space set up at the far end of the marketplace.

Whenever I attend such an event, I always make a circuit (or two or three) of the entire floor to survey the riches laid out for me. As a designer, I appreciate that these small business owners have made a great deal of effort to travel to the show with all of their wares, and that they are away from hearth, home and business while they are there. These are people who I want to support, and I wish that I had unlimited funds available to buy something from all of them. But, since I don’t have such funds, I must choose my purchases carefully. So, having trawled through the hall a couple or three times, I see what has caught my eye. If I keep going back to something, then it means that’s what I’m going to buy.

Photo of roving bundle
Greenwood Fiberworks Hand-Dyed Roving Bundle, 50% yak and 50% silk in the Twilight colorway.

Carolyn had yarn and spinning fibers in unbelievably beautiful hand-dyed colorways. I looked at the yarn, but kept finding myself drifting to the wall of spinning fiber. In particular, there were five braids of different colors bundled together. The fiber blend was 50% yak and 50% silk. It looked and felt divine. I immediately fell in love with the Twilight colorway.

Now, it had been about a year and half since the last time I had spun anything, and I already have a rather large stash of unspun fiber. I certainly didn’t need to get any more. Well, let’s face it, I have the same situation with yarn, and that has never stopped me from buying more, so why start now?

Anyway, I noticed that she had a lace stole hanging on the wall that she had knit from this fiber using a different colorway. What really appealed to me were the delicate transitions between the colors. I asked her how she did it. She explained that she had stripped each color in half lengthwise, then spun two singles yarns using the same color sequence for each. When the singles were plied together to make a two-ply yarn, she made sure the colors didn’t exactly line up, and the parts where each ply was a different color created the beautiful blended transition zones.

As soon as she said this, I had to buy it and try for myself. Shortly after returning home, I set up my wheel and got to work.

Bobbins of singles yarn
The singles yarns waiting to be plied.

I had about 5 ounces to work with and wanted to spin a fine laceweight yarn, so I knew that I would have a lot of yardage to contend with. I decided to make two smaller skeins instead of one large one. This proved to be a good decision because very large skeins become unwieldy during the various stages of yarn preparation. The fiber was delightful to spin, although probably wouldn’t be good for a beginner. The silk fibers are long and lustrous, and the yak fibers are little clumps of soft black that underlie and deepen the vivid colors of the silk.

Photo of two skeins spun from a silk/yak blend
The finished skeins. Clearly there is more yarn in the teal skein than the magenta.
Photo of two skeins of handspun yarn
My yarn, ready for its close-up.

It took several days to spin and a couple of days to ply, but here’s what I have now. I’m not sure what I will do with it.

Originally I had planned to follow Carolyn’s lead and make a simple rectangular stole in a quiet stitch pattern that would make the colors shine, but I ran into a small problem. You know how, as knitters, we are advised to periodically check our gauge as we are working on a large project? And how most of us don’t do it? Well, there’s a similar thing that goes on with spinning because there are all sorts of things that affect the grist of your yarn (the ratio of length to weight, usually expressed as yards per pound). When you are spinning, the thickness of the final yarn depends on how many fibers you are twisting together at a given time–if you twist a lot together, you will get a thick yarn; if you twist a few together, you will get a fine one. So, just as with knitting gauge, grist is affected by how much tension you are feeling, how rested you are, how much you are paying attention, the air temperature and humidity, the stickiness of your hands, the color of the dye, how much yarn is on the bobbin, etc. Every time you sit down to spin, and even over a long spinning session, these conditions can change. So, if you are a spinner who is interested in making a consistent yarn, you are supposed to periodically stop and compare your yarn to a reference sample that you make at the beginning of the project. If the new yarn is different, you need to adjust your wheel and/or your technique to compensate.

Did I do this? Yesssss, at first. In fact, I did that throughout the teal bobbin and when I got started on the magenta one, but then I got a bit casual about the whole thing and stopped checking. The result is that the teal skein is finer than the magenta skein (240 yds vs. 158 yds, with both skeins weighing 73 g). I suspected this might have been happening at the time, but I just kept spinning.

They are not so dissimilar that it will be very apparent once they are knit up. The only reason this is a problem is that the rectangular shawl I had in mind would look best with approximately symmetrical amounts of each color throughout the piece. Because there is much more teal yarn than magenta, I think my sense of symmetry would be offended if I tried this plan. So I will have to design another shape where that yardage imbalance won’t be a problem. Stay tuned. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

I had another chance to feel oh, so au courant when I opened up the Fall 2015 issue of Spin•Off magazine and found this exact same fiber being featured on their “Get This!” page. For those of you who might like to spin this for yourselves or to check out her hand-dyed yarn, contact Carolyn Greenwood. The Greenwood Fiberworks shop can be found here.

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