Keep Your Wheels A’Spinning

A few weeks ago, I had a surprisingly lazy Sunday – nowhere to go, nothing pressing to do, so I proceeded to ply the last little bit of the wool/alpaca/silk singles I had on my bobbin, and the last of the blue wool/silk blend I still had on my drop spindles and then, for good measure, card the last of the Hog Island fleece I still had on hand from the National Colonial Farm, and spin that up into thin little singles.

[When I bought some wool from a vendor at a farmer’s market last year, they asked if I was a spinner, or if I was planning to felt with it. I told them I had just learned to spin earlier that year, and worked with the wool from the sheep on the farm where I worked. The lady asked what kind of sheep we raised, and I responded “Hog Islands.” Her eyes got big. “You learned to spin with Hog Islands? You’ll find this a breeze, then.” Which, yes, I kind of do. When you’ve spun up Hog Island wool, especially  the kind that is not commercially processed, there is a bit of a learning curve…but I feel like the same is true of a number of different kinds of breeds. For instance, I know a lot of people LOVE spinning Merino. I don’t. At least, not as much as some of the other breeds. A lot of the Merino roving I get is hard to tease apart, and my hands hurt if I work on it for very long.

I understand that the Hog Island can be difficult for people. It’s a much shorter staple length (though one of our sheep gave a lovely 2.5″ fleece this year) and the Hog Islands attract burrs and thorns and stray vegetable matter like nobody’s business – seriously, they’re like velcro! – but I’ve found that the wool also tends to stick to itself better when adding new pieces to the singles that you are spinning, which made it easier for me when I was first starting out. I did a lot of spinning on drop spindle when I was first learning, and the Hog Island was my best friend during that period. It was easy for my hands to tease apart, and it was easier to add little bits of fluff when a spun strand was too thin, which helped me learn how to spin more evenly. I may appreciate the softness of alpaca, or the fluffiness of Blue-faced Leicester, but Hog Island will always hold a special place in my heart.]

Five skeins of wool, awaiting their thwacking

Five skeins of wool, awaiting their thwacking

The Hog Island was a little more work than usual this time around, as this was the wool we had experimented with processing for lanolin. Needless to say, that day ended up very long, smelly, and not at all productive. Instead of processing all of the lanolin out of the wool, it just redistributed it into little clumps. Which meant that I had to do a good job of teasing some sections of the wool apart.

The last little bit of the wool is finally all combed out, though, and the singles are oh so tiny and fluffy. I decided, with this batch and the tiny bit of turmeric-dyed wool I spun about two weeks ago, to leave in the little fluffy puffs that normally get pulled out as waste. I kind of like the way the yarn looks when these are left in and plied together.

I have been debating whether to do a two-ply or a chain-ply with the Hog Island singles. While the two-ply would give us something more akin to lace weight, I think it might be better to give this the stability of a three-ply. Otherwise, I’d be worried about it breaking.

It’s been a while since I had some time to sit down and devote to spinning, and it feels good to have several skeins all done around the same time. I don’t like to “finish” single skeins – that is, set the twist. I figure, if I’m going to be wetting and whacking and drying a single skein, I might as well do the same to several of them all at once. Especially since I use a fancy wool wash when I get them wet.

Turmeric-dyed Hog Island Sheep wool, drying in the sun

Turmeric-dyed Hog Island Sheep wool, drying in the sun

What is “finishing” or “setting the twist” you ask? It’s exactly that…setting the twist in your yarn. When you spin a single, you’re twisting the fibers in one direction. When you ply several singles together, you then twist them together in the opposite direction. It’s very easy to overspin both the singles and the plied strands. When you do this, you can end up with yarn that twists back up on itself. Setting the twist, or finishing, is a step where you get your handspun damp, spin the unrolled skein around in the air, and then hit it against something. This process helps to redistribute some of the twist through the yarn, making the finished product look more even. When the yarn is dry, it’s ready to go!

Some people hang weights from the bottom of the damp skeins as they dry, but I don’t.

Of course, I also like to let my yarn dry out in the sun, and we’ve been seeing precious little of the sun these past couple of days. So it’s back to the old standby of setting the twist and then leaving the skeins to dry on a towel stretched across my washer and dryer. I think I’ll help them along a little with the hair dryer.

With these bits finished, I’ve only got two more bags and one braid of roving left to spin…just in time for Maryland Sheep and Wool next Saturday! 😉

The finished skeins of “Nebula” found their way to Mom this year, as a Mother’s Day gift. This is keeping with a theme from last year, when she received my first ever skein of (single-ply) yarn. Let’s just say that this year’s gift looked a lot better.

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