Tripping at the Finish Line

As I’ve had less time in general over the past several years to make and do, a surprising theme has slowly emerged: being more careful and intentionally slow about how I do things. It seems ironic to me that when I had more time, I would move faster, cranking through projects and ideas without stopping very long to consider how well they were done or what I could learn from them. It’s not that I wouldn’t reflect on my projects, but the point seemed to be getting through them and on to the next one, rather than considering whether I had made something useful, or whether I had made it well.

This is demonstrated in the fact that I would never reknit things. It was almost a point of pride. Once I was done a thing, it was done. I’d rather throw a thing I’d spent hours making in the back of a closet and never use it than take the time to alter it. Kinda silly when it’s put like that, don’t you think?

My return to spinning over the last year and a half has been a means of developing more focused intentionality, and the spin I just completed is an example of that. Back when I started the project last May, I documented how I chose a knitting project, prepped half my fiber, and sampled very carefully. That in itself was a change of pace for me.

Part of that initial prep. I changed my mind on color arrangement after this, but you can see some of what I mean by gradient-by-value.

Starting a big spin two weeks before vacation was a silly idea, but I didn’t care. It was also a big break from the goals I set for last year; spinning such a large quantity of light fingering weight yarn was guaranteed to become a slog. That’s why this took so long to complete; I was right about my goals! Still, I got through almost a quarter of the spin before vacation. Then that bobbin sat on a shelf for many months afterwards, accusing me while I got on with faster, more thrilling spins.

I can see it glaring at me. Maybe it’s the influence of those lexicons behind them.

I came back to it after my first big sweater spin. That big project was a huge accomplishment, and the spin 15 a day habit had convinced me it was possible to finish this hibernating project. At that point, my careful sampling came through for me. I was able to replicate my singles pretty exactly by following the movements I had recorded. The sample hung from my wheel for motivation, and I checked that plyback sample faithfully every time I sat down to work.

My trusty sample card and sample, which followed me through this project.

I did make one big change to my plan. I had laid out a very subtle gradient-by-value. Meaning, I tore up the braid into all its constituent colors, then arranged them to have more of the darker colors at one end of the single, and more of the lighter colors at the other end. But the colors were still scrambled within each single, so the effect would be very vague.

I decided I wanted my gradient to be clearer. So one of the plies – the one I’d already prepped – would be the scrambled gradient, while the other I separated into all its colors and spun them from darkest value to lightest.

One of about a million bobbin shots I inflicted on Instagram.

I only had three bobbins available, and for some reason I’ve gotten really sick of winding singles into cakes on my ball winder. So to avoid really stuffing the singles on those bobbins, I did the spin in halves. I spun up half of each single and plied it, making careful note of my plying statistics, and finished it before starting the second half of the spin.

I thought it would be disheartening to work this way, and was worried about contracting some kind of “second skein syndrome”, a spinners equivalent of what sometimes happens with knitters and socks. But in fact it was highly motivating, seeing that beautiful yarn I had made. It helped, too, that I started spinning the rest of the singles right away.

I finished the third bobbin and started the fourth before baby was born. Thanks to Jared spending many cozy evenings with his daughter, the second bobbin was done and the yarn plied while it was yet May.

Plying done! … but not looking quite right.

While I was plying, though, something didn’t look quite right. The yarn was looking underplied on the bobbin, even though I was plying exactly the same as I had the other (12″ per draft, remeasured with a ruler each time I sat down, 6 treadles per draft, on the 11.5:1 whorl). I also noticed that the screw to tilt-tension my drive-band was getting awfully low.

I measured after spinning, and sure enough, the twist was less: averaging 5 or 6 tpi instead of 7 or 8. My hemp twine drive band, which was getting old and I had meant to replace, was slipping. Not enough that I noticed – I can usually hear serious slippage – but enough to affect the yarn.

You can tell they’re not quite the same.

Is there anything worse when you think you’re almost done a huge project, to find out you’re not quite done? It’s a lot worse with a sweater somehow, when you have to alter or undo seams. At least with spinning you don’t really have to disassemble anything. Still, it’s hard to swallow.

I had a similar problem with my big red sweater quantity spin, which is why I didn’t blog about it. It looked underplied to me at the end, though my peers weren’t sure they agreed. Before putting such a large quantity (1400 yards) back through the wheel, I want to be sure it’s necessary. To determine that, I should really knit up a wearable swatch like a wrister and see how it wears. I realized I wasn’t ready for that step, so I called the yarn finished and put it away, to deal with the wear question when I’m ready to knit with it next.

Hey, a sweater quantity! Kind of a big deal.

With this spin, however, wear was not the issue; the problem was getting two halves of a gradient to match! There was no question about it. Time for a trip back through the wheel.

Somehow it made it easier to use the swift to both hold the yarn as I fed it back through the wheel, and to wind it back into a skein at the end. My shoulder has been giving me trouble as I get used to babywearing again, and using the niddy noddy was like torture.

Here’s where it was helpful that the yarn was a gradient. I measured different areas of the skein and discovered that the parts I had plied first had the most twist, meaning the slippage had gotten worse as I went. I knew I had to add an average of 1.5 tpi in twist. I set my wheel to 6:1 (fixing the drive band first). For the first part of the skein I drafted about 12″ per treadle (adding .5 tpi). As I got into less twisted sections I drafted less, more like 6″ to 3″ (adding 1-2 tpi). I just eyeballed the yarn, adding more or less twist depending on how it looked, working my way toward only drafting 3″ for the last portion.

I’ve arranged the skeins so you can kind of see how the gradient will work out.

After finishing the yarn again, this time it looked perfect. I stumbled at the finish line, but got across. There are parallels for me in cooking, where small efforts of mindful attention – which do not come naturally to me – make a huge difference in the final product.

I just love the final yarn. Overall I got 1130 yards, which at 7.3 oz makes a grist of 2476 ypp. That’s within shooting distance of my sample grist of 2882 ypp, measured as accurately as possible for me. (As in I enlisted the help of my friend the pharmacist and her uber-accurate scale.)

The reason the yardage isn’t what I hoped is that the braid, labeled as 8 oz, was closer to 7.6. I weighed after I started prepping and was quite disappointed, considering what the thing had cost. I’ll be checking weights from now on with commercial fiber. I’m guessing that’s within some kind of industry standard limit, or maybe it’s just a difference in humidity (Blue Moon Fiber Arts is in the PNW and I live in a literal frozen desert). But when planning for a specific project, such a difference could have consequences. Thankfully, my pattern is knit in such a way that it gets bigger until the halfway point, then gets smaller, so I can just make the halfway point of the project when I’m half out of yarn.

There’s always more to learn, and even when the result is this good, the mistakes are usually the most interesting part! Still, I’m thankful to learn a wee bit about finishing well.

5 thoughts on “Tripping at the Finish Line

  1. This yarn is lovely! I’ve had a similar tendency in the past, where I’d start working on a project solely because I’d finished the last one rather than because I’d thought it through and determined that this was what I wanted to make. I needed to have my hands busy and wasn’t particular as to what they were busy with. I still have some relatively aimless projects that I work on sporadically when I just need something to do with my hands and don’t have anything planned yet. But for the most part I try to consider things more carefully now, and I’m happier with the results because of it.


    1. Yes! It’s hard to take a pause between projects to really consider what’s next. That’s where it’s been nice lately to have multiple crafts… I can knit more while I think through my next spin 🙂


  2. Your yarn looks so beautiful, Rebecca! Good for you for going back and making it right. I know you won’t regret the time you’ve spent planning and checking and reworking. I can’t wait to see the yarn in your project!


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