Ah, nice to see you! Yes it has been a grey day, hasn’t it – just like yesterday and the day before. You’re very welcome – the fire’s lit and the kettle’s just boiled – in fact I think D is already making a cup of tea for us all. Do come in : we can talk as I finish off this plying. The singles were spun yesterday and the day before ; and the day before that I got all the wool fibre ready. My colour consultant (ah, yes – here she comes, with the tea!) had a look at it and gave a ‘thumb’s up’, though now the singles are coming together it looks much darker/duller than I was expecting. But do come and sit down and perhaps you might take a look – I’d be interested in your opinion.
I use the electric spinner for plying ; and yes, you’re right, the bobbins are from an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel – but they are on the Lazy Kate [that’s the thing that holds bobbins whilst you pull yarn off them) for the electric spinner, which uses jumbo bobbins – twice the capacity. But the reason I use the electric spinner for this job is not only because all the yarn from two small bobbins will go onto one big bobbin – and thus I can make a single big (150g) skein with no breaks ; but also it’s because plying generally goes along much faster than spinning of the singles, and there’s less variation in the pace and adjusting to the variability in the fibre. Plying is more of a mechanical, rythmical process, and the even pace of the electric spinner is well suited to it. And of course it says wear and tear on my ankles! Right, everything is set up, so let’s get going!
There’s one photo missing from this second collage – and it’s the photo that was impossible to take. In fact I would have liked to have made a video, but that would have been impossible too. Impossible because the drafting of two singles into one plied yarn ( that’s the 1+1=1 ! ) takes place between the left and right hands, and I do need at least one hand to take the photo!
Whilst the drafting process in plying is much simpler than for spinning singles (which is a process that’s extremely difficult to describe, scarcely less difficult to teach – and has an almost mystical character to it), it is a technique which would be tedious to explain in words and takes a lot of practice to get right – consistently right.
I could have wound all of the plied yarn into just one skein, but at about 170g a customer would have to pay about £58 – which would be very off-putting. Denise and I prefer to wind the wool on these jumbo bobbins into two skeins – avoiding making them all the same size. That way, customers have more choices : they do seem to like the fact that no two skeins are alike, and they enjoy selecting the skeins that please them and provide the quantity they need and their purses can accommodate!
To be honest, I am a bit disappointed in the finished yarn In planning this new yarn : it is darker and duller than I had imagined. Denise says it’s good, but she has more experience in using these pre-dyed merino yarns, and may have known (accurately) what it would look like when finished. I had forgotten the rule that when coloured materials are combined, the resulting effect tends towards a mid-grey [ D > Those dratted greys again!]. Add to which the Shetland I included in the yarn (to make the finished yarn more springy – and warmer too) is itself – yes, you’ve guessed! – mid-grey. Hmmm!
And as to that Shetland, I’d underestimated the effect of adding a fibre that is more ‘woolly’ (crimped, if you like) than Merino (which is smooth and lustrous – but not so warm). When the tension is taken off the spun single, the Merino simply relaxes ; but the Shetland springs to life, its built-in crimps and twists bulking out the volume of the yarn ! Since the proportion of the yarn that is Shetland varies (intentionally) along the length of the yarn, then – logically, alas! – the volume of the yarn will vary along the length : not because there’s more wool where the yarn is thicker, but because there is more air!
Denise, bless her (and of course she’s right), says that the finished yarn might not be what I imagined, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good, that it isn’t useful – or desirable.
It’s a lovely yarn! If J wants to produce more exactly what he originally envisaged, then there’s only small adjustments to make to quantities and technique.
Well, the finished yarns shown in the photos haven’t been washed or tented, and they’ll look slightly different then : softer, both in a tactile sense, but also visually. Wool just spun and plied always looks better after washing and tenting!
BTW, Jacalyn (I do hope you’re reading this), do pass on our thanks to Beatrix and Ingrid, your Navajo-Churro sheep : it’s their wool you made into felt mats on which J’s glass of home-made gooseberry wine is standing.