I know that most of my readership are not spinners; many are not even knitters, and are just friends and family who like to know what I’m up to. These recent posts have probably been hard for you to follow, non-yarnies, and it’s been pointed out to me that you might want to follow what I’m saying. With that in mind, I’ve prepared this short primer to some of the terms I use when I talk about spinning. There is, of course, much more information, and I’m sure there are many better posts like this one out there, but my college buddies aren’t going to read them. So I’m just going to give you enough to understand my blog posts.
You will here observe my ineptitude with GIMP and the clutter of the study/spinning closet. I am a firm believer in making others feel better about themselves by sharing an accurate depiction of my clutter.
Let’s start with the big tool, shall we?
- The big wheel is called the drive wheel.
- The pedal is called a treadle.
- That general business end on the left is called the mother-of-all or flyer assembly (no, those terms aren’t really interchangeable, but I’m not sure I could describe the difference, let alone in a way you’d care about).
- The small wheel on the business end is called a whorl.
- The short version of how a wheel spins: The treadle makes the drive wheel spin, and the drive wheel is connected via a string called a drive band to the whorl. The point of the entire mechanism is just to make a whorl that spins fast.
- When I talk about ratio, I’m talking about how many times the whorl goes around for every one time the drive wheel goes all the way around. A bigger whorl means a lower ratio, and thus a slower spin; a smaller wheel makes a higher ratio.
Here’s another angle to show you the business end bits.
- The whorl (at least on this wheel) is part of the flyer – that whole thing spins really fast when the wheel turns.
- The bobbin is where the yarn goes as its being spun; it’s removable.
- The maidens have little bearings sticking out of them that hold the flyer in place while it spins.
- The oriface is a hollow shaft in the flyer that goes from the bobbin side of the whorl, through the whorl and the bearing on the maiden, to point at the spinner.
- The way that yarn goes onto the wheel is this: The yarn, as it’s being made, goes through the oriface from right, out a hole on the side of the oriface, over the guide hooks, and onto the bobbin.
- The brake (on this style of wheel) makes the bobbin go slower than the flyer is spinning, and that pulls the yarn onto the bobbin as I’m spinning. When I’m adjusting the brake, I’m adjusting the tension, i.e. how much the wheel is pulling on my yarn as I make it.
This is all very nice, but in all these pictures the yarn is already yarn. How do you actually make the yarn, Rebecca?
Well, it starts as some kind of fluff. It starts on a sheep, of course, and some spinners start with the wool right of the sheep, but I usually don’t, so I’m not going to go there. I usually start with dyed, prepared fiber, which has gone through some fancy processes to get all the fibers lined up and easy to spin. I’m usually working from one of these:
- Top is put through a process called combing to make a very fancy fiber snake with all its fibers lined up nicely.
- Roving (not pictured) looks a lot like top to the uninitiated, but goes through a very different process to become a fiber snake, with its fibers rather more jumbled up.
- Top and roving are often stored in braids. They’re really giant crochet chains, but whatever.
- A Batt is fiber that has been through a drum carder (google it).
- A Rolag (not pictured) is what comes off handcards; you might have seen these operated at olde tyme re-enactments. It’s rolled off the handcards to make a fiber caterpillar.
- A Puni is basically a baby rolag. It’s finer fiber, like cotton or something more exotic and expensive like qiviut or whatever, that’s rolled tightly over a chopstick or something to get off fine handcards.
Here, for the person who has never made yarn and probably never will, is what I do to make yarn. I take my prepared fiber, fiddle with it to have a small, fluffy bit ready to go, attach it to yarn already coming through the oriface, then I make the wheel go with the treadle. The spin in the drive wheel goes into the flyer, and transfers to the yarn going through the oriface. That makes the yarn through the oriface go really twisty. I use my hands to draft. That is, I pull or fiddle with the fluff in my hands in some way, then carefully let all the twist energy in the yarn go into a small amount of the fluff at a time (the fluff in my hand is called the fiber supply).
Drafting: pulling a bit of fluff out from my fiber supply, ready to be twisted.
The twist goes into the drafted fibers. Now it’s yarn!
Then voila, yarn! Yarn is basically fluff plus twist. That’s really all there is to it. There are many many different kinds of draft, and I write about them a lot as I experiment with them. However, I’m still very much learning them, so there’s not much point in me trying to explain it, and I think that’s beyond the purview of this non-yarnie’s primer.
When you’re first spinning from fluff, you’re making a single: just one strand of twisted stuff. You can have yarn that’s just a singles, but most yarn you see is two or more singles twisted together into a plied yarn. When it’s going to be plied, or is already in a plied yarn, one strand is called a ply. (The word ply is also the verb for twisting singles together.) Handspun yarns are usually one or two plies, plied in the direction opposite to that at which the singles were twisted. The twist or ply direction is described as “S” or “Z” – just look at the strands and imagine an S or Z on top of them. For an S twist, my drive wheel was spinning to the left; for a Z twist, it was spinning to the right.
A sample card from one of my Blendlings. The top two samples are singles yarns (wrapped around the card a few times); the bottom sample is a 2-ply – two singles twisted together. If you tilt your head sideways, look at the plied sample, and imagine a letter “Z” over it, you can see it was plied with Z twist – to the right, or with the drive wheel going clockwise.
The kind of yarn I make is controlled by all sorts of factors: from how I draft and what ratio my wheel is at, to how the fiber is prepared originally, and how it’s prepared immediately for spinning by me, and other factors. You can see why I have to sample – make practice pieces of yarn. I try different things ’till I get the yarn I want, then measure it (see below), and put it on a sample card to stare at while I work to try to stay consistent.
I don’t have very many spinning tools, but I thought I’d show you what I do have, since I talk about them.
From left to right: niddy noddy, lazy kate, ball winder.
- A niddy noddy is what I wrap finished yarn around to make it into a skein (a big loop of yarn for storage.)
- A lazy kate holds my bobbins when I’m not using them, and when I’m plying. They come in many different styles.
- A ball winder is used for winding yarn into center pull balls that looks like cakes. Center-pull balls just mean that you can get at the other end of the yarn that’s in the middle of the ball, so you can pull from the middle, or pull from the outside and inside at the same time, which is often handy.
I’ve been recording my “Nerd Numbers” (and I use the word “nerd” in the most proud and affectionate way possible, of course), because all those little measurements are how you make a particular kind of yarn – thick or thin, soft or strong, etc. – to be used for a particular thing. I’m still learning how to control all those factors, so I’m measuring a lot. Here’s what I’m talking about:
- WPI is wraps per inch. This is a measurement of how thick the yarn is. When you gently wrap yarn around a special tool (or a pencil, or a ruler, or your finger), you can measure how many diameters of the yarn fit in an inch. The smaller the number, the fatter the yarn.
- Yarn weight just means thickness. I’m not going to go into the weird names for all the weights, but I’ve been shooting for worsted weight, which is a sort of standard sweater yarn, which comes in at 9 WPI.
My quick-and-dirty method for measuring WPI on a finished skein: stick a finger into the skein and line up some yarns gently across my finger. I know this isn’t “proper”, but since I’m enough of a beginner that my yarns are pretty uneven, it feels pretty pointless to measure WPI by wrapping a short length around something. This gets me a nice average across the skein if I try it in a few places. Does anyone else do this?
- Angle of Twist is the angle of the fibers in the single, or the plies in the plied yarn. A yarn with a smaller angle is more loosely twisted or plied; a yarn with a bigger angle (45 +) is tightly twisted or plied.
Measuring twist angle got way less annoying after I made this card!
- TPI is twists per inch. I literally lay the yarn next to a ruler and count the bumps. This number varies with the thickness (WPI) and angle of twist. It’s controlled by the ratio (described above) and how long I draft between my fingers.
- The weight (as in literally how much it weighs) and yardage (how long a piece of yarn I just made) are pretty self explanatory.
- Grist is a measurement of yardage per weight – usually yards per pound (YPP). It’s a way of measuring how dense the yarn is. Two yarns with the same WPI, based on how they’re prepared and spun, might have a very different YPP. A higher YPP (for the same thickness of yarn) means a lighter, airier yarn than a lower YPP.
And that’s it! Clear as mud.
I hope this makes the rest of my spinning posts a little more enjoyable for my non-spinning / normal friends. This is not actually any kind of tutorial or how-to; If you want to actually learn about this stuff, check out this handy list of resources for spinners. If there’a anything else you, as a non-spinner/non-yarn-interested person are curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask!
Have a great Monday doing whatever not-spinning thing it is you like to do.