Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Enough is enough

When I was a youngster, and when I wanted more of a treat, Mom would ask "Haven't you had enough yet?" Well, really, wouldn't you think that if I had enough, would I ask for more? It was a very simple issue then -- I knew when I had enough, and when I still wanted more.

Now that I am older, and now that I have to decide for myself when I have had enough, and knowing that a lot of things are not good for us (me specifically) when taken in excess, the issue is much more complex. There are many more factors to consider, and it is harder to know when enough is enough.

And so now that I am spinning, my spinning teacher and the books I've read all warned me to be careful not to over-twist. But they never said how much is enough. We are told to put in "enough" twist in the yarn, and that it should be suitable for the intended purpose. Ah-ha! So now we have to know how we intend to use this yarn, and to know how much twist we are going to need. As we study further, we find out that the amount of twist will determine how soft this yarn will be, how well it will wear, the texture it will produce in knitting or weaving. This spinning thing is not as easy as I thought it would be!

When I first began spinning, and when I did a balanced ply, I found that my yarn was sadly very poorly plied, and very wimpy. I wanted a sturdy yarn, with good definition, and that didn't split for me when I was knitting with it. So I was sure to put in lots and lots of twist when plying. In fact, I was vastly over-plying -- but it did give me a yarn I liked. There was some kinking when in the skein, or when using it, but that was alright. Certainly, I can "set the twist" and it would be just fine.

So I have now decided it is time to do a study and find out how much twist we really need in a yarn. What effect does under-twist or over-twist have on our work? Does the twist really matter that much?

I have spun and knitted a couple of samples for you with singles, and with a 2-ply yarn. First, I used a single that had a moderate amount of twist (neither too loose or too tightly twisted) and have knit a swatch.
You will see that the swatch is fairly even, and rectangular. (There is some curling, but that is stockinette)

I then did another swatch with a single that had a lot more twist in it. I then washed and blocked the yarns with some tension to keep it straight, and it looked very nice and normal (no excess twist). You can see it here
and note that it is fairly rectangular. The stitches themselves are more mis-shapen, and "irritated".

The final swatch is a 2-ply yarn. I have part of it with a balanced yarn, and then with an over-twisted ply.
You can see the the bottom half is decidedly angled, while the top is even and rectangular. The bottom half is the over-twisted yarn, and seems to have some slant.

I remembered that many people have told me that you can block out your knitting, or that they will settle down once you have washed the pieces, or have "set the twist". So I did that. I soaked and washed the pieces together and then laid them out on a towel to dry. I patted them flat, and let them take the shape they wanted.

Here, you can see the first swatch with the moderate twist in a single.

It has retained its rectangular shape, and seems to be very much as expected.

The overly twisted single swatch really shows what can happen with a strong twist -- even though I had "set the twist"!

It biased badly!! It is nearly a diamond shape, and that is not what I wanted. The stitches themselves seem to be settled, but the whole piece has bent all out of shape.

The swatch with the plied yarn shows this dramatically.

The bottom, with overly twisted yarn, still is slanted, while above it, with the balanced yarn, shows a nicely-shaped rectangular piece of knitting. I think that I could have blocked the bottom section nice and straight, but I feel that it would all slant again when it was washed the next time. All of these washed pieces were simply laid out flat to dry; I did not pin them or stretch them in any way. It has helped somewhat in that the stitches are knit fairly tight, so there is not much room to move around.

I have a t-shirt that twists on me. That is, the side seams don't stay on the sides. There is a definite twist to the whole t-shirt; the body turns slightly to the right from the arms down. It's an undershirt, so it doesn't matter too much, except it is hard for me to accept that it won't hang properly! I can see how annoying it would be if it was an outer-wear shirt with seams that would not lay where they should. I would be constantly trying to straighten it, and it would just move back where it wanted!

This brings me to the question of what would happen if I blocked the twist out of the yarn, knit a garment and then sold it. The buyer would take it home, and eventually wash it. BROING!! It would twist all out of shape, bringing tears to a young mother, thinking that she had ruined her darling daughter's lovely little sweater! When in reality, it was not her fault at all, but the fault of the spinning. Should I warn her not to wash it?

I wonder whether many knitters -- or even many spinners -- are aware of the effect twist has on their knitting. They understand that yarn is made of twisted fibres (in some weird way), but that might be the extent of it. Are knitters aware that they put in Z twist with every stitch (throwers, or English knitters)? Luckily, most knitting yarns are S-spun, Z-plied to compensate for that. Do they know that they put in twist when taking yarn from the centre of the ball, and the opposite twist from the outside?

Now, does this really matter at all? Isn't knitting just supposed to be fun?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


For the last several weeks, I have been spinning some cotton. Actually, it's been for many, many weeks -- I don't really remember how long -- but cotton is not a very fast fibre to spin.

I located two grocery bags of raw ginned cotton; I don't really remember where or when I got them. I seem to gather lots of things with the idea that one day I would make use of them. Sometimes it is many, many years before I find what to do with them, but usually I make use of it all.

Cotton is a very short fibre. It is very fine, and quite delicate. It doesn't card that easily. You need special equipment to card cotton. I don't have that equipment. I do have some small cards, which work quite satisfactorily with wool, but is not so good with cotton. I tried a little bit, and I created a lot -- and I mean A LOT -- of noils!
I did spin those little batts, but was not very satisfied with the result. I also made some punis, and that made spinning a bit easier.
It is a whole different technique than one uses with wool. I was never very good with the long draw, but have now learned to do that. You really spin better with the long draw with cotton.
So eventually I settled on drawing a small tuft of cotton over the teeth of the carder, and "combed" it that way. It's slow, but works quite well. I didn't get so many noils this way.

You may know that cotton needs a lot of twist. In fact, you need to put in far more twist than you think is possible, and maybe just a little more. Cotton is very resilient, and can withstand much twist. It needs it. It is a short fibre, and does not have any scales as does wool. So in order to hold itself together, it needs a lot of twist. It also cannot be spun thick. For that reason, you will find that cotton is usually a multi-ply yarn to give it some thickness, and strength.

I was going to make this a 2-ply yarn to knit a special project this summer. I may not get it finished until Christmas, but there is no time limit on these things! Ha-ha-ha. But after looking at some samples of the 2-ply, and seeing how thin it still is, and seeing it is somewhat uneven, I decided that I would do a 3-ply instead. So it's a bit more spinning; that's alright. There is no deadline!

I had forgotten how long it takes to spin cotton. I remember spinning some about 20 years ago. At that time, I made it a point to spin each and every day, even for a few minutes. I was working very long late hours back then in a stressful position, so even when I came home after midnight, I always sat down and spun for about 10 minutes or more. I found that it helped me "unwind" while I was winding the cotton!! There is a meditative quality to spinning, which I used to advantage. I found that spinning for a few minutes would relax me enough so that I could get to sleep, and be rested enough to be back at work early the next morning. Very often I would sit far longer than I expected since I really found it so enjoyable.

But it took me a long time to fill one bobbin! I seem to recall that it took well over a month to fill one bobbin. I did a 2-ply, as I recall, and just doing one bobbin of plyed yarn took me almost 2 full weeks!

This past Sunday, as I was reaching the bottom of the first bag of cotton, I could see a piece of paper in the bottom. It probabnly was a label of some sort, but forgot what it said -- probably where it came from. I reached down and felt that it was a rather stiff piece of paper. Pulling it out, I can see that it was a card in an envelope!  It was addressed to "Mr. Super Spinner"! Inside was a card with a lovely picture of a lighthouse on it. Inside, a short note addressed to me saying "A box full of cotton for you".

Then I remembered: this came from a dear friend of mine several years earlier, who had some cotton she said she wasn't going to use, and she sent it to me. I remember that I wasn't prepared at that time to do anything with it, but as with all things I have, I would use it "one day". That was in June of 2006. The day had finally come.

I have been so truly blessed to have met some absolutely wonderful and precious friends through fibre. This was a friend that I have known for many years, but have never met. We were "friends" through the internet. I can't remember how long it has been, but we used to meet twice a week, most times, for an internet chat. There was a small group that used the chat room through All Fiber Arts, but sadly, that chat has now dimished. There are people from across Canada, from Rhode Island, from Ohio, and even New Zealand. Through the years, we have gone through all kinds of tribulations and joys. We had a lot of good laughs, and have helped each other through difficult periods. We still keep in touch by email. I value these friendships better than most others, because we have survived for so long, and have shared so many parts of our lives.

So to you, Kessie, thank you so much for your gift of the cotton. I am spinning it now, and thinking of you often. Your generosity of sending me all this cotton, to someone you have not met, touches me deeply. I am going to use this to make something special (details will come later after I get started) and will treasure this as something that comes with a very unique story. Kessie, you are a very special lady.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Catching up

I really thought I had written something recently! I must still have it in my head and have not uploaded to the blog! Happens quite a lot.

Last week, as I was walking to work at about 8 am, I noticed the sun was now shining directly in my eyes, and it was looking directly down the avenue. Remember I told you it had happened in September, and now it is doing it once more. I thought it would be sometime in early April, but I miscalculated. This time, the sun is on its trip down south. The days are much longer now, and the weather seems to be improving, but some days its hard to tell. I didn't wear any mittens to work this morning, and it was a bit chilly, but I refuse to accept that it is still winter! Although the calendar says it is spring, I really question that. We had some snow flurries yesterday.

I was looking at the Nanking Cherry bush in the next block this morning on my way to work. I am expecting it to burst out in blooms sometime in May. We then get one more final snowfall, which knocks the blossoms off, and we get no fruit! That's what happened last year. I think I only saw about 5 green cherries last year, and never got to taste any in the fall at all. Some years are like that.

I did find some Saskatoons in my freezer that I picked last year. I decided I needed to make room for other things, so took some out (still have more left) and cooked them up, thinking I would make some jam. They didn't want to break up! I tried mashing them too, but they are stubborn things. No matter. I will eat them up as they are. They are very good -- at least, I like them -- and have been using it for a topping on my cake (I made 3 last week; yes, they are all gone now).

What have I bee doing all this time? Well, I located two large grocery bags of raw ginned cotton that I acquired from somewhere, and I started to spin it. I did spin some many years ago, and I recall it took me a very long time to fill only one bobbin. I now remember clearly all over again! It does take a long time to fill one bobbin, mainly because the wheel I was using has a very low ratio and you need to put a lot of twist into cotton. I need to dig out (and I really do mean "dig out") one of my other wheels with a higher ratio and see if I can be more productive. I have to card the cotton first, make some punis, and then spin. But I don't have cotton cards, which means that my regular cards are creating too many noils and I don't want that. So I carefully use the teeth of the cards to "comb" the cotton, and I'm much happier with the result. However, this still takes time and slows down the whole process.

I have a project in mind that I want to do this summer, and I think it would be nice to use my own hand-spun cotton. It is going to be very fine. So I was toying with the idea of doing a 3-ply yarn... and then thought of all the extra spinning I need to do, and may re-think it later. Right now, I'm just spinning the singles, and will see what I do with them later.

There have been some other spinning and some knitting that happened during my long absence. I will post some pics later on. But this cotton is taking so much of my time right now that there hasn't been much else going on. On the weekends, I sit and spin all day long, watching some old TV westerns, until the sole of my foot (not my ankle) gets really sore. But I am making a lot of progress, and think I will get enough done by the time I start on my knitting project later this year.

That will have to be all for now, but wanted to let you know I am still here, doing fine, being very busy, and I don't seem to be getting anywhere. And so it goes.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year

It is really bad if you have to check your blog to see when you last posted! And I was horrified to learn it was sometime late last year!! I know I've written many since then, usually only in my head as I am walking to or from work, and there are a number in my Draft folder, but they never actually were published. So are many other things in my life now too.

I have been extremely busy with a very long and horrible trial that has gone on far too long. However, the jury finally came in this week, and sentencing will proceed by the end of this week, and then there will be only some administrative work and it will be over. This one has surely taken much out of me. The financial cost is astounding, but the human cost is immeasurable! So many cases are the same.

During all this hub-bub, I have tried to keep a sense of some sanity and have been spinning. A long time ago, probably nearly a year ago, I picked up a large bag of some unspun roving at a good price. Little by little, over the summer and fall, I have spun it up and then finally plied it all. I had a lot -- enough for a good-sized sweater, I would think. It's not terribly soft wool, but would be excellent for outer wear, and I may have a few ideas in mind for it.

This was all spun on my wheel -- I felt guilty for neglecting my poor little wheel -- and plied on my trusty CD spindle (because it holds more yarn), and I put as much on the spindle as I could for the plying. I created these adorable little beehives! I didn't make up any skeins -- I just left them in these hive-shaped cones, and will put them into skeins later on, when I have nothing else to do! ha-ha The colour is a mid-grey-brown, rather neutral, and I may over-dye it at some stage to give it more depth. But that is another project.

Unfortunately, the masters of this site (that unnamed G-word) will not allow me to insert a photo I have prepared of these cones, so you will just have to see them here: beehives

I've also been doing more spinning with the white fleece, and that will be in another posting. The weather has been terribly cold here for a few days (-30C at times) and then it is above freezing on another! One never knows what to wear to work, because it can change by the time you go home! Still, there has only been just a skiff of snow, and it all melts in a few days. Not so where Mom lives; she has had a lot of snow, and high winds, and very low temperatures. I'm glad I left long ago, but it's harder on her now that she is older. the only bright spot in all of this is that on most cloudy mornings, I can see the sun shining on the snow-covered mountains from my apartment and from work. I do have to say that is a very nice sight to see. I may have included a photo of the mountains from here in an earlier post. More to come.