Plying Days

Spinning is immeasurably good for me.

You may have heard that there are two kinds of knitters: process knitters and product knitters. They are fairly self-explanatory: Process knitters knit primarily for the joy of doing. They choose a project based on how fun it would be to do, they don’t care so much about the finished object, and they don’t tend to be in a great hurry. Product knitters, on the other hand, tend to pick a project based on its end utility, and knit primarily for the joy of the finished thing.

Now, since I make things with my hands at all, I am probably more about process than most people are. But I know very well that on the continuum of knitters, I tend to fall fairly firmly on the product side. I like getting things done; I like using them; and only rarely will I pick a project with no imagination in my mind of how fun it will be to use it/have it/give it away.

Many people love knitting for its meditative qualities. They say that it slows them down, gives them time to think, brings them peace. I tend to be so product oriented that this is not generally true for me. Knitting is the background noise of my life – or rather, it’s the activity that occupies that buzzing part of my brain that would be background noise if I didn’t have something to do with my hands. It’s the catnip for an over-anxious mind. But meditative? Peaceful? Rarely. Especially since I tend to be so focused on getting a thing done so I can get on with the next thing.

Now spinning.

Spinning is not like that.

With spinning, you have to be process oriented. The act of spinning makes you process oriented.

With knitting, you have landmarks – knit to the armhole decreases, finish a back, a front, two sleeves, sew it up. You get things done incrementally, measurably, stitch by stitch. You can measure your gauge, make adjustments, to get what you’re doing just right.

For those who are better spinners than I am, who know more about it than I do, and who spend more time at it than I do, there is plenty of information out there for you to manipulate what you’re doing to get just the product you want.

But I’m not there yet.

I just spin.

Spinning is the ultimate in repetitive motion. The feet treadle. The right hand drafts. The left hand holds back the fiber mass. The eyes watch the drafting zone, trying to get the exact same amount in the zone every single time. All this happens, over and over again, literally thousands of times before you fill a bobbin, then do it again ’till you’re out of fiber, then ply them together if that’s where you’re headed. As the elegantly loquacious Auntypodes put it, “The act of spinning, itself, gives the same sensation as of the outward exhalation of a sigh; a relaxing, shoulder-dropping half-yawn of contentment.” I don’t know why, but on a bad day, after I spin for a while, everything seems a little bit more okay.

Then there are the really bad days. Days when you’ve cried so much that you’ve lost half your manual motor control, and you’re liable to tear up and hopelessly obscure your view of the drafting zone. Days when it’s all you can do to count your treadling before each release, as any hope of a consistent rhythm is gone.

On days like these, all you can do is ply.

No drafting. Just pull two threads and treadle them together.

Gathering information by osmosis is occasionally useful, because I have even less knowledge about plying than about spinning. In my vague perusals of recent issues of Spin-Off, I gathered that holding the yarn directly out of the oriface is useful in keeping tension equal on the two plies, so I tried that. Someone also said something about plying sufficiently for the yarn to look “beaded”, which sounded kind of cool, so I took a wild guess at what that meant and tried it.

I’m sure the plying isn’t consistent. But it’s not bad. And it’s definitely lace. My first lace. 7+ months in the making.

Ashland Bay Merino/Silk blend. 2 ply, 38 wraps per inch (if I did that right, which is a big if), 670 yards, 1.7 oz.

13 thoughts on “Plying Days

  1. That was a beautiful essay! And your finished product is gorgeous! The plies are so thin, I can’t even see the 2 of them….but there’s a subtle variation in the thread. Lovely. What do you envision making with it?


  2. Well, I had a total of 7 oz of the original roving, so if I can do it all to match, I should have a LOT of lace. I might make another epic, enormous lace project.


  3. You could do it. Or not! Happy choices. Perhaps it will come down to what you need….do you need to just keep spinnning…..or do you want to be done with the dang roving? This you will figure out over the next months. It’s even more gorgeous in person!


  4. Thanks for the shout-out:) I love your laceweight. I agree with you about spinning as a process thing, too–I’m very much a product knitter, though I love knitting for its own sake, but spinning for some reason takes more concentration in the moment and is somehow less calculating. I have read a little about product-oriented spinning and right now it doesn’t sound like much fun. Maybe it will later, if there is ever a time when spinning becomes less relaxing.

    Oh, and if you ever need a meditative knitting project, try Nancy Bush’s ‘Gentleman’s Plain Winter Sock with Dutch Heel’ from Knitting Vintage Socks. Almost all stockinette on size 1s. It goes on forever and is very simple.


  5. To Auntypodes: Haha. yeah i’ve got that book; i dream of continuing to knit through it if i get through folk socks with my desire to ever knit socks again intact! I heart Ms. Bush! Do you reinforce your heels when they are just plain like that?

    To mom: I will be taking a BREAK from this roving when I’m done plying the other half to do some CRAZY things. Like art yarn crazy. But I probably will try to do the rest of the roving in lace; it just might take a few… years…


  6. Reinforced heels for the win! I learned my lesson because I have half a dozen pairs of socks waiting to be darned. Again. Why do they never end. But I will knit just about anything Nancy Bush has a pattern for. I like her exceedingly. I’d love to do ‘Folk Socks’ one day and am watching your progress on Ravelry! The clockings are my favorite sock in the book.


  7. Interesting that the Clockings stood out to you from the start! They’re rather unassuming, but now that I’m well into them, the details are so delightful. I posted a question about your reinforcing technique on your blog for a change…


  8. I am a fan of the plain sock:) Or at least outwardly plain. Next time I come to Cloverhill I have to bring something with me for you to see–there is an antique shop down here in a schnitzy part of town and I found there a machine knit stocking with clox in them! The seams, heel flaps, gusset pick-ups, and toes were all hand-knit but on such a small scale! It was quite inspiring. I bought the sock and gave the very entertained shopkeeper a lecture on the history of sock construction and now she keeps strange mismatched hosiery in little brown paper bags with my name on them.

    Oh dear, I didn’t see your comment. I’m afraid sometimes Blogger goes wonky. Generally I use the same pattern of running a stitch as I do with a darning needle when the sock actually gives out. I need to find some better way of reinforcing them but my knitting group is not rife with sock-knitters and YouTube only goes so far. It is mostly my first pairs of socks that need the help–I learned to pick better yarn and even out my stitches later on. Have you got any favorites?


  9. How cool!!! There’s a spinner or two at our spinning group who are into knitting machines… I thought that sounded silly until I realized that the heel and toe are the fun part anyway. So funny that the shopkeeper is keeping funny socks for you.

    Hm I am wondering what you mean by running a stitch? Like on the inside under the purl bumps? I have seen pictures of that in books but am wondering if you have to tack it down somehow, like go under every other purl bump…

    So far the only reinforcing I have done has been in the stitch on the back of the heel – usually k1, sl1 on the RS. But I felt like adding that in to the folks socks patterns would have been too drastic an alteration. Especially with the simplicity of the clock socks!


  10. Yes, every other purl bump (unless I am knitting chunky socks in which case it is every purl bump). For plain socks, like the ones I knit without a real pattern, I usually do k1 sl1 on the RS but I don’t like to contradict Nancy Bush. So if she says it works, I take her word for it. And really, the socks I have knit with her patterns don’t usually get holes very quickly. Part of this may have to do with the fact that I wear Birkenstocks most of the time:) What I’d like to do is get the best pair of shoes to show off my socks… I wonder if I could explain that to a store clerk.


  11. ok that makes sense. I will have to do that on the clockings as I am quite nervous about having no reinforcement at all!

    YO QUIERO BIRKS. Where’d you get yours?


  12. My dad got them on sale from somewhere online; he’s a wizard at sale-finding online (excepting yarn, for some mysterious reason). Sorry. If he can remember which site it was I’ll bring it up! There’s one pattern on Knitty for a heel with a tulip pattern on it–I love the idea of decorative heels. Not necessarily tulips, but one day I’ll think of something ingenious and knit it up splendidly.


  13. ah, that is cool. I finally caved and drove way out to bethesda and paid out the nose for a pair yesterday. it was just time.

    i’ve seen the tulip heel! that is a yarn harlot pattern!


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