Spin Retreat ’12: On Silk Hankies

Mummy, Bethany, Kirby and I had a fabulous weekend. We tried new spinning techniques, we experimented, we used up a bunch of fiber that was just taking up space, and turned some real gems into truly special stuff. Despite a dog-related scare that sent us to the vet briefly, it was one of many little outings that kept us from totally overdoing things. My shoulder held up okay, and the fact that we tried a lot of new techniques made us both go slow and use a lot of different muscles. Plus, we have blog fodder for a good week, which is perfect since I am going to be in class all day every day. And thanks to our fabulous weekend and preparing for said class, I am completely exhausted.

Since my last post was on silk, I thought I’d continue the theme. I’d been dying to try this silk hankie I bought at sheep and wool, at least in part because it’s too tempting just sitting there in its golden pumpkin glory.

So how the heck do you turn this pretty thing into yarn? I show you.

Step one: carefully peel back a layer of the hankie. I found it challenging to find a solid layer; the edge flakes into something easily enough, but if I pick the wrong flake, it doesn’t want to separate very well. Better to have a slightly thicker layer than to turn the next layer into a sticky mess. After a little practice, I was pulling off very thin layers without too much fuss.

Doesn’t it look like gold leaf? Interestingly, this hankie is layered not just in substance, but in color; several sheets of pure gold uncovered a section of almost greenish gold, and the bottom is definitely a deeper pumpkin color. Stripes, anyone?

Step two: Take the hankie, and make a little hole in the middle. From that hole, gently pull the hankie open into a big loop.

After a little practice, the above three pictures took me no more than ten seconds. It’s still about the funnest part of the process.

Step three: Go around the loop, pulling on it more to make yourself an even strip of fiber. Break it at a point of your choosing, and if you like, wind it into a little next to spin from.

I found this stuff so incredibly fine that it wanted to catch on anything that had the tiniest hint of an abrasion – including dried out hangnails and slight imperfections in my fingernails. That was just annoying; the fibers are so long that it’s hard to do any real damage with little things like that.

Step four: Spin some! Again, because the fibers are so long, I didn’t have to put much spin into it. (I know a lot of people knit directly off the hankie, but that doesn’t sound appealing to me, at least having as many fingernail imperfections as I do.) I went ahead and set my wheel on its lowest setting and went as fast as I could, and this made a very balanced single. I’m going for tiny, and at points it’s practically thread. My goal: spin enough of this 1 oz hankie to knit Rock Island – that’s about 600 yards. I know it’s possible; I just hope I don’t overdo it and end up having to ply it. Wouldn’t that be silly?

I did find that spinning off this hankie included a fair number of nepps, which I wasn’t too happy about. It was difficult to get many of them out, as well, and often I didn’t bother. Anyone else out there spun with hankies and experienced this? Maybe it’s just where I bought them? Oh well; the stuff’s still gorgeous. And the nepps helped with a little problem I had: joining.

It’s nice that the fibers are long, but they’re so slippery that it was difficult to join more fiber when I needed to. Especially at the low twist at which I’m spinning it, the new thread just tended to slip off the old. So I came up with a way to attach new fiber more securely.

Here’s where the nepps came in (or nupps, or nebs, or whatever you call them. Unruly lumps that are no more welcome in my spinning than in my bechamel sauce.) Nepps and other inconsistencies in my spinning are a perfect place to grab the yarn I’ve already spun (as above) and pull it apart a bit, forming a hole.

I then took the new fiber, which I’d already drafted almost as fine as I wanted it to be when I added twist, and put it through this hole.

I could then fold this down on itself and on the last bit of old fiber, and spin it together with itself. I found this fast and effective, and much more secure than more traditional wrapping by contact, which works just fine if you have a fiber with stick.

This was the only project I didn’t finish this weekend, despite spending at least four hours on it. It’ll take me longer to spin this 1 oz than it did to spin the near pound we probably cranked out on everything else.

This is also the tamest thing that I spun, by a long shot.

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