Sampling for Calm

March 31, 2014

I have been sampling, an unexplored territory for me.

Normally, I spin by the seat of my pants, which basically means that I have never really considered the relationship between my spinning wheel, the fibre and what yarn I intend to make.  Spinning has felt a bit chaotic and my results rather random.  It was time to become intentional and deliberate and learn about whorls, ratio and twist.

IMG_1871Ratios of Spindle Whorls:

The whorls drive the spindle faster or slower per pedal, altering the amount of twist entering the fibre. You would choose a larger whorl if you were were making a bulky yarn with little twist and and a smaller whorl if you were making a fine yarn with lots of twist. A particular whorl might give you 7 turns of the spindle per pedal (or wheel rotation) and this would be understood as a ratio of 7:1.

My whorls which you can see on the right of the pic, are 7:1, 8:1 and 9:1.  Not a great range but useful for middle range yarns.

IMG_1981To use whorl ratios to deliberately calculate twist rates for yarn, you just need to think of how many twists per inch of drafted fibre you want.  The article in Spin Off, Fall 2013, Choosing the Whorl to Make the Yarn You Want by Rudy Amann, was really useful here. If I want 7 twists per inch, then I would use the 7:1 ratio and draft out 1 inch of fibre every time I treadled. If I want 4 twists per inch, I could use the 8:1 ratio and draft out 2 inches for every treadle.

To work out how many twists per inch I should be working towards, I used Ann Field’s method of spinning to the crimp.  This is fully explored in Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics but I just googled it and used this explanation. This method suggests that the twists per inch should match the crimps per inch (crimps are the little wobbles down the fibre shaft).


To work out the twist required, you use this formula:

1.5 x crimp rate per inch for singles (this accommodates the slight untwisting that occurs in plying)

1 x crimp rate per inch for plying.

This method suggests that high crimp fibres like merino would have high twist rates and the singles would be relatively fine. Low crimp fibres like Border Leicester would have low twist rates and the singles would be thicker.

This method worked perfectly for some alpaca I was sampling. It had a crimp rate of 7 per inch. Therefore I needed 10 TPI (Twists Per Inch) for singles and 7 TPI for plying. I drafted 1 inch per treadle on the 9:1 ratio for singles and 1 inch per treadle on the 7:1 ratio for plying.

The result was a 2 ply balanced yarn with 7 TPI, exactly the weight and handle I was looking for.

IMG_1878Things got a bit wonky with the Border Leicester though.  I wanted it to be sock yarn, a fine high twist yarn from fibre that according to the crimp, wanted to something looser and bulkier.

The Border Leicester had 2.5 crimps per inch. This translated to roughly 4 TPI for singles and 2.5 TPI for plying. I drafted 2 inches per treadle on the 8:1 ratio for singles and 3 inches per treadle on the 7:1 ratio for plying.

The result was so underplied, I plied it at the same rate again.  It was still unsuitable for socks.

IMG_1924Then I tried drafting 1 inch per treadle on the 8:1 ratio for singles and plying and ended up with a 2 ply yarn with 5.5 TPI. This result was more pleasing and I knitted it up into a swatch and wore it inside my sock for a day to see if I could handle it next to my skin. I forgot all about that swatch and found it in my sock at the end of the day, so I guess that is a good sign.  Now I know I can replicate that yarn again, although I might make the next a three ply which is said to be better for socks.

IMG_1953Sampling engaged my brain and my awareness much more than spinning normally does.  I felt calmer and more deliberate. I had to maintain a state of mindfulness to remember the counts as well as the drafting amount. The results were rather thrilling in a quiet way!

If any wise spinsters can add to the whole intentional spinning thing, I’d love to hear from you.  Now I have to go and get my child’s underwear out of a tree.