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.


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  1. I’ve been spinning for over 40 years and I’ve never gotten the intentional spinning thing. I get some fiber and spin it how it seems to want to be–I do have a number of whorls with more variety than you-and then I find the garment I want to make. I’ve purchased any number of spinning books over the years and the words seem to blur when I read them. Similar to spinning workshops–
    So my advice is to just enjoy your spinning and let the fiber speak to you.

  2. This was a nice summary of information! I had never really understood what to aim for in twists per inch, I usually just wing it but might try being more deliberate, too.

  3. “Thrilling in a quiet way”! Yes, yes, yes. That is a great description. I’ve been having those quietly thrilling times lately too, with a bit of spinning and learning to knit Continental style.

    I love seeing your intentional spinning experiments. It makes me realize just how much I have to learn about spinning. And learning is so fun!

    I hope you rescued those undies from the tree. Hehe!

  4. LOVED the last comment and only a child could get unders in a tree 🙂
    CPI, this is why I only prepare and spin from the lock. I know exactly what I am getting into. Really do NOT like roving as I have no idea what I am looking at re crimp. Silk is different but can’t remember when I last had a go at that stuff!!! Everyone says, OH all that flick carding, doesn’t it take up too much time? Not for me. I really like the results. Good post and reference. Thank you.
    as to sweatyknitter…….cleaning will always be ‘there’ 🙂

  5. That sounds nice! It reminds me of the state of Flow which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about. (I had to look up his name!)!

    I have to learn how to spin. But it’s just so I can do a workshop. I’m worried about picking up another hobby when I’m just trying to understand knitting. I love your scientific approach!

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