Monday, September 4, 2017

Spinning My Wheel...

I spent today spinning.  I'd like to claim it was a concerted effort to #makeeveryday, but it was really more like "procrastinate (or maybe distract) the day away." (procrastinate away from things like migrating this blog over to a WordPress platform, the process of which feels obtuse and insurmountable to me, or distract away from the fact that my daughter--have I mentioned?--is in LAS VEGAS, without me).

Spinning is an ancient craft wherein you take fiber, stretch it out, twist it, et voila! turn it into yarn.  The fiber could be plant (flax, cotton, hemp, bamboo) or animal (silk, cashmere, wool, alpaca, angora rabbit, mohair, even dog fur).  Today's spinning started when I went "stash-diving," a process in which people who engage in fiber related crafts try to forestall an impulse purchase of YET MORE fiber or yarn by reminding themselves exactly how much they already have, amassed and unused.  In my case, I actually went stash diving as a precursor to "destashing," a process by which the overly-stashed decide to sell off some of their unused hoard to other fiber crafters, exploiting the other crafters' moments of weakness while attempting to recoup a portion of the considerable money they have as that least liquid of assets, craft supplies.  In the process I sorted out a significant quantity of fiber to destash, and smaller portion to keep (#kondoeveryday) and a single braid that I decided to spin, right now, today, even tough (or more precisely, because) I had other, more pressing and pragmatic things to do with my time.


Unpsun fiber is beguiling, soft and fluffy, but ultimately unsubstantial, of limited utility.  This beautiful braid was also a little deceiving.  When I opened it up, I realized that most of the color was on the outside and hadn't penetrated the depths of the fiber:


The fiber, in other words, had on its best "presentation self," a superficial beauty.  In less metaphorical terms, spinning fiber like this can create "barber poling," when color and white alternate like a candy cane around as you spin.  I wasn't in the mood for this, so I decided to excise the most egregiously undyed portions and deal with them later:


Then, you "predraft" the fiber, sectioning it lengthwise into manageable pieces and gently fluffing and tugging to open up and align the individual strands.  The individual fibers are very, very fine; the diameter is measured in micrometers, or "micron."  A nice merino blend like this might have, say, 21-micron fibers, about half the diameter of human hair. This blend is 50/50 merino/silk, and the individual silk fibers have a diameter of maybe 10-13 microns, so very, very small indeed.  You can imagine how many bajillion fibers there must be in even a small chunk of the roving, and how simultaneously satisfying and unnerving it can be to hold a section and tug at the ends to gently align those fibers.  Here, for fun, are two approximately equal portions of roving, the top one was only split from a larger piece, and the bottom one has been predrafted:


And here, lest you think I'm exaggerating, are a few individual fibers teased out:


Once the fiber is predrafted, the spinning begins.  Before we go further, let me make a disclaimer: what I'm describing is one of many, maybe even countless, different ways to turn fiber into yarn.  In fact, even the fiber I started with, a combed top or "sliver," though often called a roving, is just one of myriad options.  It's a diverse craft; this is just one blog.

I'm using a spinning wheel, which is mechanically a slick device, but since I'm a hack with both the wheel and the smart phone, I will not be attaching a video.  If you are interested in such things, the fiber craft world is chock full of talented artisans willing to shared their knowledge.  Spinning--whether by wheel, spindle, charka, or other means, is at its most basic, the process of applying twist to the fiber.  With a wheel there are a few beats that make a rhythm: You stretch (draft) the fiber away from the wheel, you allow the twist to run into it, and then you allow the fiber to wind onto the bobbin.  Some knitters are systematic in how they approach the process; they can tell you up front what kind of draw they will use to draft the fiber, how many twists per inch, which direction they will spin (clockwise or counter), what type of ply they will eventually employ, and most importantly, what the final yarn will look like--fuzzy or smooth, plied and if so how many times, final weight, how the colors will mix.

As with most things in life, I'm a little less skilled/more haphazard (let's call it "flexible"). I sit in my chair and let the fiber run through my fingers, and feel the twist build and release the stretch of yarn back onto the bobbin.  My first few passes are clunky and lumpy, but then I find the rhythm, and I left the yarn emerge more or less as it sees fit.  It is a meditative process, and the draft-twist-wind rhythm becomes my mantra.



I pause often to enjoy the all-too-rare treat, a project with visible progress.  That first pass makes what's called a "single"--a single ply of yarn, twisted in either a "Z" or an "S" direction (exactly what it sounds like--the one above is a Z).  If you were to take the single off the bobbin right then, it would be "energized," meaning that the unilateral twist built up in the ply would be unbalanced, and it would naturally want to unwind, causing it to twist into a mess of yarn ramen.  To illustrate, here's an energized single stretched tight into behaving on a "swift," and the same hank of yarn after being removed from the swift:







The most basic way to balance out that energy, if you wanted to do so, is to ply the single with another one of similar twist.  So if I took two "Z" twist singles, I could ply them in the opposite direction (S) and the energy of the plies would be balanced by the opposite energy of the twist.  In this case, though, due to a number of factors we can collectively file under "laziness," I decide to chain ply (lots of lovely videos on YouTube), which essentially takes three individual plies (three portions of the same ply, to be technical) and twists them into a single yarn.

I end up with this, roughly 110 yards of a heavyish worsted weight:


Which, after a nice soak and line-dry, reveals itself to be a perfectly balanced, boingy, soft, pleasant-to-look-at and loaded with potential hank of yarn. 




I identify a little too closely with it, I think, its lumpy bumpy heft, and the way the process of spinning has transformed the sharped-edged, high contrast colors into something a little softer but still vibrant if you look at it in the right light.  That's OK, though. This post started out with a specific metaphoric goal in mind--superficial beauty yielding to utility, strength under tension, balance in opposition and all that, but along the way it turned into an exercise in process, and a willingness to embrace the end result.

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