Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 23 April 2012

Spin to Knit: Fibre Preparation and Drafting for Yarn Control

In the current Intermediate level spinning class at Golden Willow, we are focusing on controlled spinning of knitting yarns, so I’ll be posting class notes on line here for the next few weeks. 

I’m a “free form” fibre person—I like to pick up spindle, needles or sit at my wheel and let things happen.  This is a perfectly fine way to approach spinning.  I almost always get usable yarn; when I don’t, it’s usually because I’m concentrating on spinning as meditation practice. 

When I’m looking to spin for a large project, or I discover that a project that isn’t working because of my yarn quality, I take a more consistent approach, examining  the variables that make a hand spun yarn suited to a particular purpose.

Let’s assume that we’re using prepared wool fibres as top, batts, roving (or another carded preparation).  Each preparation behaves differently when spun, even if the spinner uses exactly the same drafting techniques for all her fibres.

The woollen/worsted debate is a hot topic among spinners, and it’s a bit like arguing about the number of angels dancing on a pin.  When I began spinning, there were two basic types of hand spun yarns—worsted, made from combed preparations using a short forward draw  to maintain the alignment of the fibres, with no twist allowed into the drafting zone and woollen, spun from carded fibres using long draw techniques.  Now, spinners debate the merits of a range of drafting styles and there are few agreed upon definitions for what we call worsted, woollen and everything in between.  I’m going to set some boundaries here in order to clarify our discussions; other spinners may use different definitions and will have solid reasons for this.    

In general, top, composed of combed parallel fibres of the same length, produces a worsted-type yarn which will be denser, smoother, and more lustrous than a carded preparation (composed of varying lengths of fibres, which are webbed and airy) spun the same way.  If your wheel is set at a specific drive ratio and your treadling rate is constant, and all other factors are equal, you can expect the following:

·        Combed top: spun with short forward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, keeping fibres aligned, produces worsted yarn, good for highlighting stitch detail and lustre, adding strength to your yarn

·        Combed top: spun with short backward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, keeping fibres aligned, produces worsted-type or semi-worsted yarn, for good stitch definition and  yarn strength

·        Combed top: spun with long draw techniques or from the fold, twist allowed into fibre zone, produces semi-woollen yarn which is denser than yarn from a carded preparation spun the same way; good for fulled fabric, warmer than a worsted yarn, but stitch definition will not be as clear as in a fabric knitted from worsted spun yarn

·        Carded preparation: spun with short forward  or backward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, produces a woollen-type yarn which tends to be heavier and denser than a conventional woollen spun yarn, but with similar warmth; stronger than a woollen spun yarn

·        Carded preparation: spun with long draw techniques, twist allowed in fibre zone, produces woollen yarn, wonderful for warmth, great for heavily fulled fabric, but may have poor stitch definition

Remember, if you can control your spinning and produce the yarn you need, you are “doing it right,” even if Expert Spinner Ms. X tells you that what you should be doing with that fibre preparation is a semi-worsted/woollen double drafting long draw with one hand tied behind your back.  Still, it’s a good thing to shake things up once in a while.  Changing your drafting techniques will change your yarn, so give it a whirl.  

These samples were spun using a Majacraft Pioneer Wheel, Fine Flyer, Ratio 16:1. I attempted to treadle at a steady rate, but didn't count my treadles or weigh out even amounts of fibre, as this is not something I would do, even in a planned project.  (You will get more consistent yarn if you count treadles and weigh fibre.) The singles were plied on a Tabachek 28.5 gram Compact Deluxe Spindle.  The yarns were wound, unfinished, onto the sample cards:  

L to R (Merino Top): Short Forward Draw 23 wpi; Short Backward Draw 20 wpi; From the Fold 18 wpi; Long Draw 19wpi

L to R (Carded Merino): Short Forward Draw 14 wpi; Short Backward Draw 4 wpi; Long Draw 12 wpi

Finishing techniques for these yarns would vary, depending on the fibre preparation, drafting method and yarn purpose, but in all cases, wet finishing will help to redistribute the twist and make the yarn look more consistent.  (Don't count on finishing to rescue a poorly spun yarn!) 

The yarns here are far from perfect, but I don't mind some inconsistency. If you are looking for perfectly even yarns, fibre preparation and drafting techniques are just two of the variables to be considered when planning your knitting project. 

Happy Birthday to my perfect son, Matt, and good luck with your final exam!


  1. Lovely work as always, I'm really looking forwards to reading more about your experience in this class. I've already learned a lot from reading this post!

  2. Thank you. I learn so much from students and love seeing what they make.