Shannon Okey and the spinning questions

Spin to Knit, written by Shannon Okey, came out in October 2006, and Shannon agreed to do a beginning spinner’s question and answer session on Quantum Tea as the last stop on her blog tour! Some of these are my own questions, some were submitted by people reading the blog. Huge thanks to Shannon for taking time during her blog and physical tour to answer these! I learned a lot from reading Spin to Knit, not least new places to look for fibre!

Spin to Knit book.

(These questions will be archived here.)

The questions are:

  • Do you have any tricks for making consistent singles?
  • What happens if you way overtwist the singles when you’re spinning or plying?
  • Does it matter if you spin anticlockwise and ply clockwise instead of the other way around?
  • How do you spin thin yarn without the singles snapping all the time?
  • How do you blend two different fibres while you’re spinning?
  • Does spinning from the fold require extra twist?
  • Are there any tricks to even plying?
  • What can I do so my single ply wool won’t break as I knit it?
  • What are good fibres to start spinning with?
  • Top whorl or bottom whorl, and why?
  • How do you spin mohair?
Do you have any tricks for making consistent singles?
Concentration and rhythm! If I concentrate on pulling the same amount of fiber out from my fiber hand each time, and keeping to a steady, not too fast pace on my wheel (I have a tendency to treadle too fast, it’s a nervous energy thing!), I find they’re much more consistent.

What happens if you way overtwist the singles when you’re spinning or plying?
In my experience, it’s much easier to overtwist singles than to overtwist a multi-ply yarn, just because the multiple plies — even if they’re overtwisted — tend to balance each other out. If you overtwist the singles… and I do this a lot on purpose, because I like how it looks knitted up… stockinette stitch biases to one side. Which, if you plan for that, can be a very cool design element (see the Power Station hat pattern on spintoknit.com). Don’t want that effect? There are stitch patterns I discuss in Spin To Knit that can help you balance out the extra twist even without plying. I’m excited — this week, while we’re on book tour, Kim Werker (of CrochetMe.com) and I are going to experiment with overtwisted singles and crochet to see if they affect the finished fabric similarly.

Does it matter if you spin anticlockwise and ply clockwise instead of the other way around? (I have a friend who’s left-handed and this way round was a lot easier for her.)
No, not as long as you ply in the reverse direction! (if, in fact, you want to ply).

How do you spin thin yarn without the singles snapping all the time?
It’s a balancing act — if you have enough twist, the singles won’t tend to snap as much, but if you have too much, they do snap…etc etc. I pay attention to the staple length of the fiber, for one thing. If you’re drafting it out a little too far compared to the staple length, it might be more likely to snap because there’s less fiber in that area of twist.

How do you blend two different fibres while you’re spinning?
I have hand carders, myself, but someday I’m going to splurge on a mechanized drum carder. Generally I prep the fibers I want to combine before I start spinning, so they’re all ready and waiting for me… but sometimes I’ll get an idea *while* I’m spinning and just start mixing stuff in!

Rachel said: Does spinning from the fold require extra twist? When I spin from the fold on my wheel (a Babe Production), the singles fall apart when I ply them. I don’t have any problems with singles spun from pre-drafted fiber.
I haven’t noticed that they require extra twist, but if they’re falling apart while plying, you might in fact want to try giving it a bit more. I’ve also never spun on a Babe, so perhaps there’s another factor at work — are they getting caught up on the orifice in some weird way? (not sure what weight your singles and therefore your plied yarn both are) I’m going to assume the singles you’re spinning are both S-twist and you’re making a Z-plied yarn (or vice versa). Have you tried changing the twist you use? It’s hard to make a judgement call on this one without seeing just how the singles are falling apart.

Rachel said: Are there any tricks to even plying?
Tension, tension, tension. I have a really nice Lazy Kate that came with my Ashford Elizabeth II that I love. The bobbins sit horizontally, and there’s space for 3 of them, as compared to my first kate, a vertically-oriented 2-bobbin setup. Once you’ve got the bobbins on the kate (and if you’re a spindler, you can make your own kate with the instructions in Spin to Knit…they also sell tensioned kates for spindlers that are really quite nice), the big trick is letting out equivalent amounts from either bobbin. Sometimes I have problems because my left arm is a little awkward (its once-broken elbow is funky), but I try to use it to control what’s coming off the bobbins evenly while the right hand does all the work.

Denise said: I buy single ply wool (Briggs & Little) to knit socks. How come mine is not as resistant as the B&L one? What can I do so it won’t break as I knit it?
Perhaps you’re not putting in enough twist? Check out other commercial sock yarns (most of which…if not almost all…are plied) — they’re fairly tightly plied. Extra twist and tight plies lead to durability. I’d say put a little extra twist on the bottom portion of the sock anyway, since you’re walking around on that part and want it to hold up. Lynne Vogel’s Twisted Sister Sock Workbook is the absolute holy book for sock knitting spinners, in my opinion, so check it out if you haven’t already.

What are good fibres to start spinning with?
Unless you’re allergic, always start with wool. It’s absolutely the most forgiving fiber, which is why most knitting teachers start students with wool yarn. It stands up to a lot of abuse during the learning process and it’s easy to get good results. If you are allergic, I’d recommend tencel or soysilk, not real silk or cotton. Cotton has too-short staple length most of the time and you’ll go crazy, especially if you’re spindling. Real silk is also tricky because it can be difficult to pull from your fiber supply unless it’s really well-prepared, and when I teach beginning spinners, I find controlling the fiber supply is probably the most difficult part for them after keeping the wheel or spindle spinning.

Top whorl or bottom whorl, and why?
Personal preference and fiber you’re spinning. Some fibers seem to take better to one or the other, it’s a matter of your own spinning style and experimentation. For the most part, when I do use a spindle, I use a top whorl, but again — that’s just me!

knit_tgz said: How do you spin mohair? (I tried and the singles always break!)
How are you spinning your singles? How long is the mohair’s staple length? Perhaps you’re not getting quite enough "overlap" with the staple length as you add the twist, so you might want to try pulling the fiber out with a shorter draw.

Thanks to Shannon for patiently answering questions, and everyone who sent questions in. Go spin now!

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