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Friday, August 22

Spinning for Socks

In the past week I've been spinning a number of samples for socks. My goal is to get the sock yarn in the range of 6-8 stitches per inch. Following are some of the samples and some notes on the various fibers plied together in the yarn. I will be knitting them up over the next couple of days.

I spun up a couple ounces of white Shetland top I got at Paradise Fibers. This is fabulous top! It glides super, and drafts wonderfully--soft yet strong. Not hairy like some Shetlands, but also not downy. I then spun up smaller samples of various fiber.

Click on all pics to enlarge them...Sorry that some of them are a bit blurry!

Sample number one: The first is the blue-turquoise-green-purple roving of fine Merino. I got this at the Mens' Spring Knitting Retreat in Easton that I went to in May.

This roving was a bit compacted and I spent a lot of time attenuating the fiber so that it would draft easier. I first broke the roving into strips lengthwise, then attenuated them. I really love the colors, although they don't show up very well against the white Shetland. (I did another sample with this and dark wool with mohair, where the colors stand out much better.)

Sample number two was plied with some of the light gray alpaca I also got at the Spring Retreat, this was from the Alpacas of Easton I blogged about it May. This alpaca is super silky, and yields a thin yarn that is easy to draft. This plied up into a nice soft yarn.

Sample three I plied with some dark brown llama I got from our friends Chris & Leigh at Mountainshadow Farm. It has a different texture than alpaca--I describe it as more like hair--but it is as warm as alpaca; about 8 times warmer than wool. It makes nice sock yarn!

I did another sock yarn out of some black Shetland I bought years ago from Maple Ridge Shetland Farm in Randolph, Vermont years ago. My friend Joanne at Pine Ledge Studio in Fairfax, Vermont hand carded it for me, along with some gray, off white, and fawnish color. I plied this with some of the dark brown llama from Mountainshadow Farm. This is a bit more rugged than alpaca yarn--I overplied it on purpose to yield a nicely balanced, but firm sock yarn. This is the heaviest weight of all the yarns I did for this study.

I have another batch of samples drying, but I just did little bits. I'll post later about them.

Oh! I did have some fun with cashmere! Here are pics of the 100% cashmere yarn, and one small ball of cashmere plied with the Shetland. It's the small white ball of yarn in the bottom left of the picture--below the dark alpaca/llama yarn. Note that I overplied the cashmere on purpose. Down fibers like this and others tend to relax drastically after washing. In this case it was overplied, but relaxed into a just barely balanced yarn!

Some of the things to think about when spinning fibers that you are going to ply together are: fiber length, twist, and compatibility. The various fibers should be similar in length as possible. The longer the fiber, the less twist to get the yarn you want. I mean this in general. There are always variants and different ways to achieve different results. So, one example of not too compatible fibers would be cashmere and Lincoln wool. Cashmere is very short, about .5-1.75" and Lincoln wool averages about 7 inches! The problem that arises when plying these together is that there needs to be an incredible amount of twist in the Lincoln to come close to the twist in the cashmere. Thus, the Lincoln would be almost entirely unspun when plied with the cashmere. Okay, so these are kind of at both ends of the spectrum. But hopefully you see the point.

So, for the samples:
In sample number one, I could create a better yarn by spinning the Shetland thinner and with more twist. The colorful merino is a much finer fiber, and spun up thinner naturally. It had more twist in my sample, so the Shetland in between the twist bumps is looser.

In sample two: it worked out well. The alpaca and the Shetland were similar.

In sample three: it worked out well. The alpaca and the llama are similar.

It didn't work out so well having the cashmere plied with the Shetland. The Shetland is very loose--and in between the bumps in the twist of cashmere, it's pretty loose. I could overcompensate for this by spinning the Shetland very thin and tight, because the cashmere must be spun thin and with lots of twist to yield a nice yarn. I could spin it with less twist, but I think that it would shed and or pill a lot due to the ends being loose. Although, the yarn is super soft, it's not the best fit.

As far as compatibility, plying cashmere with any of the above isn't the best use of the fiber. It's expensive, and has a short length, so would best be matched up with another short fiber. In this case it would be better to blend cashmere with another base fiber, therefore lending softness to the final product.

Alpaca and most wools are pretty compatible in fiber length, so I think any of these will be good sock yarns. Plus, alpaca lends a great warmth factor to the yarn.

So, I try to match fiber as closely as possible in similar lengths and twist required for a good yarn, and that's why sampling is so much fun! I get to see what goes well with what.

Someone asked me if it was possible to ply from a single. Yes! I use this technique frequently when I want to spin up small amounts fiber. It's really easy. Just spin whatever you want onto one bobbin. Then, using a ballwinder, wind up into a ball. Have your wheel all ready to ply, and carefully take the ball of yarn off the ballwinder. Keep a couple of fingers inside the hole of the ball! Now, gather up the inner and outer ends of the ball, and keep two or three fingers inside the ball of yarn--creating enough tension between your fingers to keep the ball stable, but not so tight that you can't get the single yarn to unwind.

Tie the two ends up to the leader from your bobbin, and ply! There you go. When the ball starts getting loose and starts to collapse, insert another finger into the ball. Keep tension even on the yarn between the ball and the bobbin.

That's all for now!


Marianne said...

Chris, thank you again for such an educational post!
Can you tell me what the 'secret' is to spinning the superwash merino? I'm very much the newbie (took first and only lesson on 26 July) and have done alright so far, that superwash fibre though, slick and a bit strange... I think I'm 'getting it' but mercy.
I asked Jason about it, he said 'ask Chris, he's been spinning for years' heh :^)

tata said...

Great job! You inspire me :)

Let me know when you get that etsy store open! I must have some of your sock yarn.

SJ said...

It looks like you have some great yarns spun up!

Thanks for the tip on plying from a single. The one time I tried it, I wound up with a tangled mess that took me forever. I think I may have to try again with your trick!

Alpaca Granny said...

Chris, yep, you really are a teacher.
I love hearing all your spinning adventures and critiques.