Sampling Punis

 I got these little pretties at the Yarn Party thing at Savage Mill, Maryland, back in… what was that… 2014? Which makes this possibly the youngest stash I own.

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After yesterday’s post, some of you on Facebook were wondering, what on earth is a puni! Basically it’s a little sushi roll of river, generally a very fine fiber, carded on fine handcards, then rolled up tightly around something like a pencil or knitting needle. Traditionally this was used for cotton, but it is also a fancy way to prepare luxury fibers for a small amount of fancy spinning. Gourmet Stash, from whom I bought these punis, has this handy page of explanation, but if you’re not a spinner that might be a bit much. Its easier to watch than read, and this short video shows a cotton puni being made. (Though I don’t think Gourmet Stash compacts her punis post rolling that way; I don’t know. )

Back at the Yarn Party, I bought a mystery package of punis from GS. The idea is, since you’re buying blind, you can save a few buckzoids and have a nice surprise. This last week I’ve needed something short to tide me over while I waited for my handcards to arrrive in the mail, so I pulled out these pretties and started pulling them apart.

Above you can see an attenuated puni next to intact punis, for length comparison. They just sort of explode into puffy loveliness when you stretch them out, though there were some points where the fibers knotted into a tiny chokehold. I blame that on my stash habits; they were perfectly packaged in tissue paper and plastic, but compacting is a little inevitable over that length of time.

I wound them into little nests the size of a Kinder Egg and started spinning. Short forward draw, 1″ draft, 15:1 ratio. (How happy I am that my fastest ratio works now! Turns out all it took was a better drive band. Hemp twine rather than dishcloth cotton. Sheesh.)

With such a small amount (just over 1 oz total) sampling seemed a little silly. But I had 17 caramel punis and 22 white ones, so I did the five extra whites first to make sure I knew what I was doing.

Oh, what a delight! I spun thin and tight, knowing the superfine merino was probably the dominant fiber and could take the twist.

I watched this nifty video on chain plying for a refresher, though next time I definitely will let those singles rest because they were a handful.

The other advantage of sampling is that I now have a pretty good idea of how much I’ll get in the end. I will have just under a hundred yards of light fingering at a 3 ply, so I can think ahead.

A 3 ply might seem an odd choice for such a small quantity of super soft yarn. Shouldn’t I 2 ply it and make something lacy with a good shake more yardage? That would be the expected thing, yes. By I’ve had an idea for these fuzzies ever since I bought them in 201?, and 3 ply roundness and durability is called for. My idea is only confirmed by our family’s recent obsession with My Neighbor Totoro. I’ll leave you to puzzle out what that means.

I Be Instagrammin’ 

You guys, I am so sick. It’s that kind of cold that would be no big deal if I could take a day off and get a few full nights of sleep, but that’s just not what life deals you sometimes. Right now I’m waiting for Jared to get back from running an emergency errand (a church without paper towels is greatly hampered in its heavenly mission) so I can huddle in the office and write my sermon. Tag-team ministry has a lot of advantages and works for us, but it has moments of frustration too!

For now, I have these pictures loaded from my phone, so I will try this mobile blogging thing.

I have recently acquired a thing for Instagram. I never got into it before, but it suits me perfectly just now. Facebook is awash with anxiety and frustration about the real world, and while I don’t wish to withdraw from the real world generally, I rather need to in my free time. So I bless and support my friends keeping awareness going on the leather swivel chair that is Facebook, while I retreat to my new online seat, which is more of a giant pink bean bag chair.

The cool thing about Instagram is, the hashtags actually work. On FB, hashtags are just ways to write weird sentences. A pound sign is just shorthand for “file this under the category of” without any expectation that anyone else will file anything else under #thingmytoddlerateoffthefloorthismorning. I’m fine with people expressing themselves that way, I’d personally rather just write a sentence. With, you know, spaces.

On Instagram though, you can actually use hashtags to finds things. Like #handspun. I get inspiration from that every day. And via the hashtags, you find people making beautiful things. In this way I can curate a whole feed of just things that are beautiful and inspiring. I can go there for a little rest. And I’m actually connecting with some of these fiber artists who are out there kicking butt.

Of course, connecting online is at best a substitute for connecting with my real friends who are here, at my latitude, who have a pulse and real problems. I’ve just been so busy that I can only afford these little snatches of digital time. What I don’t want is for this new indulgence to numb me to the fact that I do miss my friends, to keep me from scheduling that girls’ night on my one night off, or that early dinner with friends even if we all have to jet at 6:30.

So I’m being brutally honest about that – not because I want you to worry about me, but to keep myself accountable, in this digital space, for my analog life.

And also as a freakishly long way of saying, if you follow me on Instagram (rebbiejaye) you’ll already be tracking my progress on my mystery punis.

Husband is back from his mission. Punis tomorrow!

 

Owning It: Goals for Spinning 2017

As I’ve been stumblingly re-learning old skills and learning new ones, guzzling down new information and finally practicing ideas I’d only understood abstractly, I realized something.

I didn’t think of myself as a spinner.

I felt like a poser – I had the stuff, but not the love. It’s been so long since I’ve made time for spinning that I’d taken it for granted that I couldn’t make time for spinning. The truth is, it’s been a long time since I loved it, since I really connected with it, though I’m sure I must have at some point. I’ve seriously considered selling my wheels and stash, just because unused useful things are oppressive to me.

But now, as I’ve started making yarn again, I’ve suddenly had so much joy in it – in the learning process, in all the variation in a series of tiny projects, in the experimentation and trial and error. Along the way, I’ve come to accept that I am a spinner. I have been a spinner. Actually, I’ve made some pretty lovely yarns over the years. I was critical of them because they weren’t always what I expected, and they didn’t always do what I wanted them to. But they were dang fine yarns. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it pretty well!

I go through pretty intense phases with things sometimes. I make spreadsheets. I make plans. They’re often about escapism: am I really going to celebrate all the holy days in the church with the kids? no. Do I really want to write a cooking blog? no. Am I ever going to live on a farm? no. Am I really going to read the entire works of C.S. Lewis? Being a third of the way through his first volume of letters, I can say no. Usually, I burn myself out after a few weeks, figure out what I’m avoiding and deal with it, and if I’m lucky I haven’t bought anything.

But this…. this is different. Yes, it’s definitely subconscious – I have a big work thing that is awesome but intense and it takes something intense to keep me from being stuck on it, and this is serving that purpose. But I don’t want to burn out on this.

There’s no pretense here: I am a spinner. I own three wheels. I have enough stash to keep me spinning for three years. I don’t have to buy anything. This is an avocation that is allowed.

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace the melding of intention and creativity, and set some goals for this year. Not rules, not grand plans – just guidelines for how I want to spin this next year.

GUIDELINES FOR 2017

  • DO spin during any free alone time – don’t feel like you’re not allowed to spin just because you have other crafts on the go. 
  • DO knit with handspun
  • DO make sweaters or other big projects with handspun as an accent
  • DO bring up a ton of fiber stash from Mom’s house this summer (Enough for Spin-the-Bin next year)
  • DO participate in Tour de Fleece
  • DO spin lots of small quantities
  • DO practice lots of different techniques
  • DO sample every time and make sample cards
  • DO spin ONE sweater quantity (after August, if you’ve spun at least 6 projects)
  • DO spin only one project at a time.
  • DO instagram and ravel it up – these communities are very inspiring and motivating if I don’t overdo it
  • DON’T buy more fiber until 2018
  • DON’T spend time shopping when you would rather be spinning
  • DON’T plan to join any more big spin-along events (but go for smaller ones if they come up and don’t require buying anything!!!)
  • DON’T plan too far ahead
  • DON’T spin any lace or large quantities of fingering
  • DON’T choose any long projects (aside from maybe 1 sweater if you’re ready)
  • DON’T do any fleece prep this year

I think if this is going to be sustainable, I am going to have to seriously resist getting bogged down in any long projects or grand plans. I love making plans, but unlike with knitting, if I lose the love on a spinning project, I’m stalled. It’s much harder for me to power through a spinning project gone wrong than a knitting one.  Still, I do have a ball winder. If I need a break and to start something else, it’s possible, and I should give myself permission to do that if I really need to. But for this first year back, I want to avoid that kind of situation. It’s happened to me so many times!

Received some wonderful wool-related mail in the last 24 hours!


That is all a very long way of saying, I am owning this. I can absolutely make time to spin, if that’s what I want. Maybe because I’ve finally gotten my knitting WIPs reliably under control, I feel like I can have spinning WIPs that actually go somewhere. I just get to choose whether to spend my free time spinning or knitting. (Or sewing or writing.) Realizing this – and realizing the whole world of learning about spinning  that is open to me if I apply myself – gives me a lot of joy and excitement about spinning as a creative outlet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve only spun 13 oz.

One sample at a time, one lesson at a time.

And seriously. NO more stashing!

Unless I see that qiviut at Malikaat again. That’s different.

Blendlings: Conclusions and Reflections

By now I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about my precious Blendlings! If you’ve stuck through all this reading, all these nerdy ramblings and color speculations, thank you. It means a lot for me to write about this learning journey in this little corner of my life. The work/spiritual side of my life is very intense right now, so it’s been therapeutic to balance that with some intense delving into something purely material – but no less beautiful for being so, as God created all this stuff too, and made us his little sub-creators, even as we learn to hold things lightly in the light of eternity. 

Total yardage: 562.8
Total weight: 13.2 oz
Average grist: 681 YPP

When I tagged them and lined them up, the majority of the skeins were in the 8.5 WPI – 10 WPI range, with a couple outliers each at 8 and 11, and one each at 6 and 13. The average, at least, landed at the target 9!

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What I’ve learned about spinning could probably be summed up like this: I’ve learned how much I don’t know about spinning! Especially in the realms of sheep breeds, drafting, and plying. I look forward to the many spins ahead of me as I slowly add to my knowledge. If I can do like my husband did with knitting, and try to learn one new thing with every spin, I’ll have years of learning ahead of me before I’m even a competent beginner! So exciting!

This time, I think my biggest “aha” moments were about:

  • BFL, and how it acts with its 2 crimps per inch. (At least, I think I was working with a mostly-BFL blend.) Those ropey early yarns I made? It’s not that you can’t make singles that twisted, it’s that BFL can’t handle it! It only has like two crimps per inch, so it does much better when more softly spun. I’ve ordered Beth Smith’s Spinners Book of Fleece and am awaiting it patiently to consult when designing future yarns.
  • Balance is… well… optional! And a lot of things come out in the wash. I had no idea I could be so flexible about how much ply twist goes into my yarns. (I basically didn’t understand how singles yarns were possible. I figured they were just voodoo beyond my ken.)
  • I have a long way to in being to emulate my samples in my spinning. Being sufficiently awake helps (another lesson: don’t spin very late at night!), as does preparing my fiber well, but I hope I can improve on this quickly. I mean, I have a long way to go in consistency, too.
  • I have to do something to mitigate the age of my stash and how compacted it is. I think giving my beloved stash a little extra TLC in preparation will make me a lot happier in spinning them.

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About color: I had a ton of fun experimenting with these twelve different colors. I was amazed how much I loved blending different shades and analogous hues, and what a difference they made to a blend that I would have just called “solid” otherwise. I can see now how much fun it would be to dye, blend, and combo draft your own unique colorway, even if it was all the same for a whole sweater.

For color mixing, my biggest takeaway is how important value is. (By “value” I mean how light or dark a color would be if you put it in greyscale, not its monetary worth or its moral worldview!) Deb Menz said something along the lines of how, from a distance, a difference in value stands out more than a difference in hue. In other words, the dots have to be smaller for optical blending to occur with big value differences. Some blends I put together went really sideways because their values were so different. All the places where you see distinct dots below would have looked quite different if carded up, while other blends look like a solid color in the picture because their dots are small enough to blend their internal differences.

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I think my nineteen blendlings do play well together, though it will be a challenge figuring out how to turn the variety of weights and quantities into a design feature. I do have a plan for how to use all (or at least most) of them together, but it’s going to take some serious swatching first. Hopefully their contrast color arrives in the mail soon.

Remember how I said I didn’t think these blendlings posts would continue being daily? Well, not only have I posted every day so far in 2017, but I actually finished these blendlings on Feb. 4th. That’s 13.2 oz in 19 days. I think I’m bit pretty hard, youse guys. 

The Nineteenth Blendling: The Kitchen Sink

The Blendlings are a series of small skeins of handspun I am making, in order to study color, learn combination drafting, and improve my spinning by studying and adjusting my practices in small amounts. For a fuller project description, click here.

It was inevitable: the last Blendling would be a hodge-podge mixture of whatever I had left. And I had some weird colors left. My interest was piqued, however, by the fact that I had two strips each of almost all these leftovers. 

What I really wanted to do was blend them really thoroughly, to see if they made brown, or something properly muddy. I have no equipment for this, though: my handcards are in the mail from three thousand miles away, and I certainly don’t have a drum carder or blending board. 

So I hatched a truly goofy plan. I decided to fake having handcards.

What I did was strip each strip down into tiny strips, fluff them up by hand, and lay them close together. I did this with one color at a time.

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Dark green, pink, dark teal, light teal, and beige made the first half of my leftovers. When they were piled up like this, I rolled them up over a chopstick to make a giant fake rolag! A “faux-lag”, if you will. (Ok so a fauxlag is really a thing according to ravelry, and it’s not quite this. But I’m not sure what else to call this thing.)

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Cheerios and play-doh, respectively, kept my little observers pretty content during this labor-intensive process.

Faux-lag #2, from outside to inside, had beige, light teal, red, pink, dark green. I reversed the colors, basically, and the dark teal was swapped for red, as I only had one of each.

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Aren’t they hilarious? They’re more like sandworms than anything else.

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We protect the spiccccceeee

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I could have done something more sensible than this. I could have waited for my handcards to get here. I could have just combo drafted five colors together, in keeping with what I’ve been trying to learn this whole time. But you know what? This is the last time for a while that I’m going to be able to try something that’s just silly that doesn’t threaten to mess up a larger project. I know I’m going to get all intense and intentional about my next projects. This is my last chance to cut loose.

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I stretched my faux-lags into long, messy fiber snakes. Unsurprisingly, despite all my fluffing, the strips just tended to slant and elongate rather than widen as I stretched it out.

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The spinning experience was a little weird, but it wasn’t as much of a pain as I feared. It was just a strange way to combo draft – good for randomness, bad for consistency. I was usually drafting some two colors together – the dark green tended to take over for a bit at a time sometimes, whether it was on the inside or outside of the faux-lag – but there were some pretty sweet moments where I was drafting five colors at once for a while. I did a sort of variation of short forward draw, but I was a little preoccupied by managing this silly snake.

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The end bobbins were… pretty weird. And there was a lot more of the second one, the one with the red – clearly I should have weighed my halves rather than counting strips.

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Still, the final result was not at all un-pleasing. It’s almost Christmas-y. It’s very similar to #9, though more variegated. That’s how I think it’ll knit up – like a variegated yarn. A variegated yarn with marling and heathering thrown in! It would probably be really fun to knit up something large in stockinette with this much variation. Overall it probably would look greyish, and up close all the craziness would look interesting. I’ll never know what it would have looked like properly blended by carding, but it would have been very different.

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The Nerd Numbers (Blendling #19):

Spun from “faux-lags,” see above for construction. Total color strips: 2 dark green, 2 pink, 2 light teal, 2 beige, 1 red, 1 dark teal.
Spun short forward draw, spinning off a pre-drafted “faux-lag”.
Spinning Ratio: 6:1
1 treadle per draft, on average. Maybe 1-1.5″ draft.
Plied from 2 bobbins
Plying Ratio: 6:1
6-7 treadles : 12″
S twist, Z plied
Yardage: 36.7 yd after finishing
Weight: .8 oz
Appx. Grist: 734 YPP
TPI: 3.5 before finishing, 4 after finishing
WPI: 10 before and after finishing (9 with thicker bits in the picture)
Angle of twist: 30 degrees before finishing, 35 degrees after finishing

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The final four, all .8 oz or more.

And that’s it for the Blendlings! I’m sure you’re sick to death of them, but I’ll give them one more post tomorrow to talk about what I’ve learned and where we go from here. Cheers!

The Eighteenth Blendling: Goethe Test

The Blendlings are a series of small skeins of handspun I am making, in order to study color, learn combination drafting, and improve my spinning by studying and adjusting my practices in small amounts. For a fuller project description, click here.

In her book Color in Spinning, Deb Menz talks about balancing different colors in a blend. She talks about an artist named Goethe who came up with a scale of how much of each color is needed to make a “balanced result” (p. 39). You can also use this scale to throw a little more weight to one color, contrasting the proportions.

I thought I’d give it a try with some of the colors I had. I had a lot of bright purple, dark green, and blue. Here are the proportions Goethe assigns to those colors:

Goethe: blue 9, purp 8, green 6

I was able to muster up .5 oz of blue, and I put it with .4 oz of bright purple, and .35 green of green. From Goethe’s scale, that makes a slightly lesser proportion of bright purple and dark green. That was intentional on my part: I knew that my blue was the dullest of the three, and I wanted it to hold up in hand-to-hand combat with the very saturated purple and the dark-value green. 

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I didn’t have an exactly equal number of strips, so I divided them up as closely as I could, pre-drafted them into mega-nests, and when they plied together it didn’t make much difference.

In between starting this spin and finishing the previous Blendling, I came across two important pieces of information.

First, in Episode 55 of Wool N’ Spinning, as a total aside to what she was really talking about, Rachel discussed the problem of having stash fiber that’s too old. She was working with a braid that had been in her stash for three years, noting how it was very compressed in places, so much that she wanted to put it through her drum carder to open it up and make it easy to spin. Without an intervention like that, fibers compressed for a long time are harder to spin consistently, and tend to spin denser yarns.

Tend to spin denser yarns.

Um. I literally have no fiber in my stash that is less than three years old. Most of it is like six or seven years old, and this stuff I’m working with now could be way older! I have no way of knowing, as it was destashed to me from another spinner. 

This made me feel a lot better about all the grist issues I’ve been having. I was frustrated with how dense my yarns were coming out, unsure what else I could do about it. Now I know that it’s not necessarily because there’s something wrong with my spinning technique; it’s the fiber itself, and there’s not much I can do about it. (I also asked my mom to mail me my hand cards at the earliest opportunity.)

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Check out how intensely packed this little center-pull ball is compared to the previous one, spun semi-woolen! The grist went back to being quite intense, under 600 YPP, but this time it didn’t bother me so much.

With that in mind, I gave up trying to make a lofty yarn, and set to just learn a drafting technique, not too attached to how dense it made the final yarn. I went back to trying to do a basic worsted technique, and that’s where I came across the second useful piece of information: a while ago, Rachel did a video on short forward draft that I happened across when I was exactly halfway through spinning these singles. I realized I was moving both my hands quite often. For the rest of the spin, I disciplined my right hand to sit still, and just drafted pulling forward with my left. I just tried to keep the length of my draft and drafts:treadles consistent, changing the thickness with the uptake, not worrying too much about exactly how much fiber was in the drafting triangle, unlike what I was doing at the beginning of this series.

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For plying, I didn’t overply as much as I’ve been trying to do, but tried putting in just enough twist for it to twist on itself a few times, enough that it would come out balanced in the wash. I pretty much succeeded, though the finished skein tends to twist slightly in the underplied direction rather than overplied! Meaning I could have added even more twist and it would not have been overplied at all. It’s not as tight and beaded as some of the others have been, but it doesn’t look leggy, and it doesn’t look as tense as some of the overplied ones have been. I’d love to get more control of these different nuances of plying; for now it’s enough to know they exist and experience them in my hands. 

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To return to color: I think the balance of colors came out quite nicely. It definitely landed in the realm of blue, which makes sense, since there’s blue in both green and purple. A stronger test of the theory would have been to mix non-analogous colors with the Goethe numbers. Still, I think I understand a little more about what he and Menz were getting at – I could shift this more in one way or the other by contrasting the proportions more. And I understand that the balance is affected by the balance of proportion, not by the absolute amount of one color. (For example, by his numbers I could have added just .15 oz of yellow or .2 oz of red to compete with all these cool colors!)

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The Nerd Numbers (Blendling #18):

1 single, combo drafted by weight: .5 oz blue, .4 oz bright purple, .35 oz green.
Spun short forward draft – first half with both hands moving; second half with only left hand moving after watching video.
Spinning Ratio: 6:1
1 treadle per draft (~1-1.5″)
Plied from a center pull ball
Plying Ratio: 6:1
plied just enough to seem balanced, ~5 treadles per 12″
S twist, Z plied
Yardage: 42.4 yd after finishing
Weight: 1.2 oz
Appx. Grist: 562 YPP
TPI: 3.25 before and after finishing
WPI: 10 before finishing, 8.5 after finishing
Angle of twist: 30 degrees before and after finishing

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Stop! Ply Break

We interrupt your daily dose of Blendlings to give you a little plying.

This poor little single has been sitting on a bobbin for over three years, maybe more than four. It’s from the fabulous Cormo X that mom and I split One Hundred Years ago (i.e. May of 2012; Mom introduced it here). Mom actually bought me combs to process it, because she was enjoying combing so much. I tried to get into it, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t do a great job washing the fleece, anyway. We had a baby. Then another one. If spinning went on the back burner, fleece processing went on the back porch: the place hobbies go to die. I’m still not sure I’ll ever go back to it, and being half in-the-grease for all that time, it might be damaged by now. Can you tell I’m sad about it? I have a deep and abiding hatred of abandoning projects, even when I hate them!

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For all that time, my first little bobbin of Cormo X sat on the bobbin. I didn’t love combing, but I loved spinning the rolags, so I had positive feelings toward it.

During the last couple weeks of rather intense spinning, I decided it was time to let it go.

The girlies helped me wind it into a center pull ball, when they weren’t trying to treadle. (N almost got it. She wants to spin and knit so badly. She is already a fierce crafter with her paint and coloring and glue and scissors and whatever else I let her make a mess with.)

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You can see how incredibly rigid the singles are, after being stretched and greasy for all that time. It was almost like plying sticky strands of twine.

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But, I had faith, and I was armed with new knowledge. I knew I could still scour the yarn; I knew I could put a lot of twist into it for strength and not worry too much about balance; I knew from sitting on the bobbin forever that it wasn’t going to look balanced until I washed the heck out of it anyway. And, I knew how woolen-spun yarn can bloom when you snap and thwack the heck out of it. And yes, most of this information came from the Wool N’ Spinning blog, which I rambled about at a previous break.

This is what a skein looks like that has *all* of its expressed energy in the ply twist.

Pre-wash: this is what a skein looks like that has *all* of its expressed energy in the ply twist.

I executed these moves, and ended up with a downright tolerable little skein.

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The Nerd Numbers:
Cormo Cross, spun half-in-the-grease (poorly washed – not that there’s anything wrong with that, just, again, not what I thought I was doing!)
2 ply from center pull ball
Z spun, S plied
Plied 12:1 ratio, 4 treadles: 12″
WPI: 11 before finishing, 9 after finishing (worsted weight)
1.8 oz
134 yards (pre-finishing), ~1,100 YPP

I scoured the living daylights out of it (about 20 plunges between HOT soapy water and cold rinse water), and it is a different yarn. Being woolen-spun, it’s not going to be strong – I even wonder if the fibers are damaged from all that time on the bobbin in the grease. It’s not soft either – I enjoy a toothy wool, but I’m not even sure I would want it on my head or hands.

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I’m not sure what one can do with yarn that is neither tough nor soft nor enough for something large and utilitarian. I’m thinking about doing what I did with N’s Aviatrix and holding it together with some more leftover Kidsilk Haze, to make it a little more tolerable as a hat or mitts, for myself. Or maybe I’ll just add it to whatever I use the Blendlings for. I don’t know! Why do I always want to cast on my handspun right away???

UPDATE: Since I drafted this post, I have found this post on Diana Twiss’s blog on a Cormo fleece in the exact same condition! What a relief that the bag of Cormo X in Mom’s basement might not be a total loss… and that it might not matter if I wait another year or two to deal with it…