Once you have mastered the basics of spinning on the wheel, that’s all there is to it, right? Then you find yourself looking around at your knitting patterns and wonder aloud: ‘I have yarn, I have needles, I even have a pattern, but nothing matches!’ Whether you are spinning thick or thin or somewhere in the middle, there are a few tricks to spinning to suit the desired use.
I spin on an antique wheel that did not come with a variety of whorls to change as I pleased, so from experience I found a few helpful hints to obtain the yarn I need for a project.
First, be sure you are spinning the right fiber to meet your requirements. A short staple length does not make a strong lace weight yarn. On the other hand, trying to create a thick yarn from long staple fibers can make the yarn excessively heavy, which makes for a very sturdy knitted jacket, but a not so cozy sweater.
First, pre-drafting your fiber. Whether you are spinning from the lock, or using a roving, if you are trying to keep your yarn light without adding excess twist, pre-draft your fiber. I use a two basket method to do this. Place your un-drafted roving in the first basket, grab the end, and start gently stretching the roving as you transfer it to the other basket. I do this a few yards at a time, and I try not to accomplish the entire pre-draft in one pass. Instead, take about three passes, what looks too sparse on the first draft may not on the second or third. The pre-drafted roving is a bit more delicate than the original batch, but with careful handling, you shouldn’t have too many breaks. I know joining the roving doesn’t take much effort, but it does affect your production time.
The drafting method will also affect your finished yarn. I have a difficult time using short drafting methods myself, but to spin a nice thick yarn, it is far easier to use a short draw. Remember when you are doing a short draw, you do not have to keep your hands close to the orifice, it is far less frustrating to work as far back from the wheel as you can, thus allowing you a moment to catch any mistakes prior to having them wind on to your bobbin. For thin yarns, which is what I prefer to spin, the long draw is the ideal method. Fine yarns can be accomplished in a fairly short time when you are drafting a yard at a time. The long draw does take some getting used to, but it increases productivity immensely.
Another way to maintain your gauge is through the use of a record. My husband nags me about writing down how I do different things so I don’t have to think so hard about it when I try to duplicate the result. The same is true with spinning. I have learned to keep a spinning journal that has the fiber content, intended use, dye recipe, and a sample of the yarn. You may also want to add pictures of finished garments to each page. Now, if I could just do that with Grandma’s pierogi recipe.
My last suggestion may sound like the strangest. Change your music that you spin to according to what you want to create. Yes, this is a bit odd, but easy listening creates thick yarn, and upbeat stuff will have you spinning out lace weight. I discovered this when my daughter was 3 or 4. She loved our local PBS station’s “Pennsylvania Polka“. I would turn it on for her and get to my spinning. The results were amazing. I was able to crank out yards of very even and fine yarn by treadling to the polka beat.