To wrap up the 51 Yarns SAL that I’ve been participating in for the last couple of years, I thought I’d round up a few thoughts about the experience as a whole. Not necessarily what I’ve learned; that I think I’ve shared along the way substantially. More about the process of taking part in a long-term study like this. These thoughts might be useful for someone else thinking about starting such a study, and if I ever do something like this again, it’ll help me remember what worked and didn’t.
I am not a high-volume spinner, so it was with some trepidation that I committed to spin 1-2 oz a month. Before this, my spinning tended to go in spurts; I would spin a lot for a season, then abandon the wheel for months at a time. I wasn’t sure I could keep it up. What kept me going, I think, was making this study the only major spinning project I had on the go. I didn’t start anything else unless I knew I could follow up right away. Literally the only other things I spun were a couple short singles spins, a sock spin that lasted a week, and two sweater spins that lasted a little over a week each. As an unexpected result, I didn’t have any long languishing spins over these last couple of years. I must also credit with this, getting to spin with a friend nearly every week. The lack of languishing projects helped my feelings about spinning stay much more positive.
The downside of being multicraftual is that you can’t do everything at once. I’ve become a little gentler on myself, accepting that there will be seasons where I don’t do a particular craft at all. This is definitely true of sewing and weaving; I’ll do one project intensely, then not weave or sew for a while. Knitting, however, I always have something on the go. Which category does spinning fall into? I’m not sure. I’d like to keep a little something on the wheel at all times, even if I only spin once a week. But bigger spins require devotion for a short time; that I’m sure of.
One key bit of preparation I did was making sure I had my wheel in a fit state to make spinning each of these yarns go smoothly. To do this, I acquired a bulky flyer toward the beginning of the study, and a high-speed lace flyer toward the end. I don’t think I would have taken this step had I not had this study to motivate me, and now my wheel can really handle anything I throw at it. I’m super grateful for this impetus, as I now really have no reason to get another wheel.
Along with the issue of time is the issue of quantity. Everyone setting out to do a 51 Yarns SAL was giving the same advice: don’t try to spin 4 oz. for every sample! I set myself the goal at the beginning of this study of spinning about one ounce each. That was enough to really get into a groove, while not being too intimidating for me. Obviously, there were lots of times when the nature of the sample itself made me deviate from that goal. It was mostly there to keep me from trying to do too much.
One trick that worked excellently was to take a quantity of fiber from my stash and break it up over several samples. This worked particularly well for the color chapter and the directional chapter.
What I discovered right away was the problem of spinning only one sample. You could easily spin 51 variations of each yarn. This sampling of different types of spinning isn’t even exhaustive, and each one is just the tip of an iceberg. A few times I did indulge this urge, like when I spun three ounces of different types of silk. It was easier with the art yarns, since they go so quickly. But for the most part, I just spun one ounce, knit a small swatch, and moved on. That really was enough for me, especially since there were SAL deadlines to keep up with!
Speaking of deadlines, I didn’t let them rule over me too fiercely, but I let them be motivating. There were months for getting behind, and months for catching up. Again, it helped that this was really my only spinning for the vast majority of this time.
Being a part of a group was hugely motivating. Watching Rachel‘s 51 Yarns vlogs were always interesting, and it was hugely motivating and encouraging whenever she featured 51 Yarns spins from the community on her weekly show. Since there were two groups going, and people are all over the place in how behind they are, there was no pressure. But there is a group of people out there who had kind words to share about my work, and who might actually be helped by my sharing. That means a great deal.
With a study like this, it doesn’t do much good to just spin the yarns, unless you step back and analyze them and learn from them. I swatched every yarn that could reasonably be swatched, a few woven, but mostly knitted. I measured statistics for my yarns and put them on control cards, with samples of what my singles looked like.
Over time, I ended up putting all the measuring notions together in a wee bag. It had (1) A broken bit of ruler with a couple inches on it for measuring TPI and stitches per inch, (2) a retracting tape measure that no longer retracts, for measuring skein length, (3) a WPI tool from my friend Kelly, and (4) an angle-of-twist measure. Usually I managed to keep a few spare index cards and a pen in there as well. I kept control cards in progress in the bag, and the yarns went in there from the time they came off the niddy noddy until the documentation process was done.
That process went like this: Wash skein, take skein measurements (WPI, TPI, AOT, weight, length, grist), photograph full skein, swatch, block swatch, measure swatch, photograph again. It got pretty tedious, and I ended up doing it in batches. But that feedback from my yarn is so helpful. I’m keeping the measuring-tools-bag handy. It would be smart if I also continued to swatch my finished handspun yarns right after finishing, but I do not have high hopes about that.
Speaking of swatching: at the beginning, I measured off half the completed skein, and knit with different needle sizes until it was used up. This did not last long, thank goodness! I’m happy enough now with a 3″ square, give or take, in a couple needle sizes if I feel like it. After all, I’m not swatching for a garment; I just wanted to get some feedback about needle size and fabric.
A big part of the process for me personally was the blogging. Not everyone does this, obviously, but blogging has become an integral part of my creative process over the last decade. There was a time when I thought it would disappear in favor of other social media, but not for me. I guess I need my own private soapbox. When I post on social media, I do it for the feedback. When I post on my blog, I hope others read and enjoy and benefit, but ultimately I do it for myself.
At the beginning of the study, everyone discussed their storage ideas. Some folks had very cool scrapbooks and stuff. I went the route of the binder. I bought the 51 Yarns book digitally, printed out all the pages (back when we had a color printer), and put them in sleeve protectors. I bought a box of four 2″ binders from amazon, which held the book pages. Then as the yarns were completed, I stuck them in the sleeve protectors with their swatches and control cards.
This worked … ok. Well, it didn’t work at all, but it was because skeins of yarn are not meant to squish in binders. I had hoped that, even though the skeins of yarn were bulky, they would sort of nestle together in different parts of different pages, and fit together. They were only one ounce, right? That really didn’t work. I had filled all four binders before I was in the 40s, and the skeins were getting pretty squished. The last dozen just piled up on a shelf.
In the end, I bought some wee stringed tags from Staples, and labeled each of the skeins with just their number. The skeins are now hanging decoratively on a curtain rod above our bedroom door. They are a happy little jumble. Maybe I’ll arrange them by color at some point, but I like them like they are, arranged randomly. With only the swatches and cards in the binders, all the pages fit into two of them.
I keep thinking that one day I’ll tag the swatches as well, and sew them all together into a wild wall hanging. But then again, maybe not.
One ounce isn’t a lot of yarn, but fifty-one ounces and more? That’s kind of a lot. I had thought I would hold onto these samples for reference, but this is a lot of sample. Some of these skeins are even rather large, and I don’t want them to just sit. I want to make things with them. A couple were samples A couple I have already used up – the color chapter became a pair of socks, for example, and my Inukshuk sweater quantity includes #7 and #13.
Many others I am ruminating on plans for. I’d like to either knit or weave the silks and ramie into a big shawl. Maybe the cottons too, if I don’t make them into a summer shirt. The super-bulky Christmassy yarn I will make into a Christmas wreath, as soon as I find a suitable core. I hope to save a little bit of each yarn, even after it’s used (just a little butterfly that will actually fit in the binders), but I’m not too worried about it.
The vast majority, however, do stump me a bit. They are wild yarns that aren’t “useful” in my limited understanding, or they are colors that don’t really go together. I am not sure if it will actually happen, but I’m meditating on a series of small tapestry weaves, each to highlight one or a few of the yarns. For example, I want to put the “not intended” yarns into a weaving of the dump, with a beautiful sunset behind. (It’s a Rankin thing; trust me, it’ll be awesome.) I am concerned that most of these ideas will get shoved to the back of the queue behind new and interesting projects. Even if they don’t, it will probably take more than two years to make all these yarns feel useful. It’s hard for me to accept that the final destination of any spinning project is to stay yarn! But I will have to. For now, I am content with my hangings.
Looking at the grouping hanging over my door, I’m surprised at the many feelings and memories associated with each one. Surprise, disgust, joy, disappointment, pride. Most of the yarns evoke positive feelings, but it is quite the range. Which ones stand out to me? I’ve thought about what to put here, and we’ll see what comes out as I type.
The boucle was a surprise and a joy. I was enormously helped by Rachel’s experience, and was shocked to find out that I could make such a beautiful yarn, using the same fiber for core, binder, and boucle.
The coils and supercoils were the most pure fun. I especially loved the swatches I made from this by repurposing my kids’ potholder loom.
The silks were such a treat. They were infused with memories of visiting the Silk Weaving Studio in Granville Island in Vancouver, and on my high speed flyer they were such a treat to spin. I had no idea I would like silk, but natural wild silks are a whole world of dreamy interestingness. The whole chapter about exploring non-wool fibers was one I took my time on, since it required me to invest outside my stash, and I’m glad I did.
There were yarns I have mixed or negative feelings about. The muskox tog felt gross; the cassette tape smelled funny; the butt-to-tip spins were inconclusive; the color of the orange fiber I used for the 2- to 5- ply yarns puts me off. I’ll probably just take those skeins off the shower rod when I’m tired of looking at them! But these are the exceptions, to be sure.
Well, I’m going to have to stop typing sometime. I don’t want to let this project go, it’s been such a regular part of my crafting life for the last two years. But new adventures await in a new year. Thanks for reading along on the ride. Spin on, my friends.