Spin Interrupted

Wait, what did I just sign myself up for? Picking a project before I start spinning?

In my entire history of spinning, I don’t recall spinning fiber for a specific project. Ever. In ancient history, I spun because I felt like I should—what with being married to a spindle maker and all. Then I learned to spin supported. Gradually, spinning supported became effortless. A way to keep my hands occupied while my attention was otherwise engaged. Zen. Peaceful. Constant.

Whatever yarn I created, I scoured the interwebs for a pattern that seemed suitable-ish. Almost as often—maybe more often—the singles languished on my spindles because plying is nowhere near as fun as spinning. It requires this thing called “concentration.” (At least, for me.) Best case, I finished then yarn which then piled up on shelves with the ignominious title of “home decor.”

A pile of handpsun skeins on a shelf
Skeins of handspun, or as I like to call it, “home decor”

Heck, I only recently started designing my yarn, in terms of deciding ahead of time whether I wanted a two- or three-ply and how I should split my singles across how many spindles for the smoothest plying possible.

And now I’m going to pick a use for the yarn before I even start spinning? Crazy talk.

With less than a month left until the spinalong starts, I have yet to settle on a purpose for may “spintentional” spin. But there are some of the factors I am considering, as I research my pattern options. I’m sharing them here, inner-monologue-like (read: sentence fragments and run-ons galore), in case my thought process helps others who are likewise struggling.

first, A Few constraints

Whatever project I pick, the following considerations will apply.

First, I want to use fiber from my stash rather than buying new.

Additionally, I plan to use supported spindles, and ply on my EEW6. Neither of which should surprise anyone familiar with my previous spinning projects!

Oh, and there is a deadline for the finished project: May 6. Oops?

Given my abilities, knitting will be my way to use the yarn. Other people may choose crochet, nalbinding, weaving of various types, using the yarn in a felt project—the options are endless. While I’m not great at knitting, it’s still the best option for me, personally, to use yarn.

Now that we’ve established ground rules, on to the questions!

How much SPUN yarn can I expect from a four ounce braid?

No clue.

In all my time spinning, in all the yarn I’ve made, I’ve done a terrible job keeping track of the yardage I’ve produce. It never mattered. Either I never made anything with it (see photo above) or I would pick a pattern where you just kept knitting until you ran out of yarn. I hate, hate, hate counting yarn on my niddy noddy, so much so that it keeps me from ever finishing the yarn.

I briefly contemplated picking another “yardage is irrelevant” pattern—see my I Made Yarn, Now What page for examples—but that seems like cheating.

“Luckily,” I received a yarn counter as a Christmas gift. (OK, maybe that was one of those gifts where you tell the giver exactly what you want… including sending them the link to purchase it!) I’ve spent the past week rummaging through my handspun for every four-ounce-ish yarn skein to send through the yarn counter.

Overhead view of counting yardage while winding from a skein on the left into a ball on the right
My yarn counting set up – umbrella swift on the left, yarn counter in the middle, ball winder on the right

Guess what I learned? I still have no clue how much yardage I should expect because it depends on the next two questions.

What thickness of yarn should I spin?

If the knitting project pattern calls for “light fingering” and I spin lace weight, I’m going to have gauge issues and a knitted item that probably won’t fit. Of course, I could pick a pattern where gauge isn’t a factor (like a scarf) but again, that seems like cheating. The whole point is to spin yarn for the pattern, not to pick a pattern where it doesn’t matter how the yarn turns out.

The question of yarn thickness also relates intimately to yardage. If I spin a thicker yarn, I will have less yardage.

Either way, I’m getting better at spinning more consistent thickness now that I’ve started using a spinner control card. I mean, when I remember to use it.

Will the pattern work best with two or three plys?


If I pick a pattern that features lace, I’ll plan on two-ply.

But what if I pick a gradient-dyed braid? Then it would be easiest to chain-ply, which automatically makes a three-ply yarn. A three-ply will reduce my yardage by at least a third, and maybe then I won’t have enough yarn.

Well. I could carefully split the braid in half lengthwise and spin two gradient singles to ply. But often the colors don’t line up perfectly at the transitions, creating a barber pole effect. The horror. I know some folks find this attractive, but I’m not one of them.

With all that in mind, let’s revisit the yardage question. Here are my highest and lowest counts for about four ounces of yarn.

A chunky three-ply, featured previously on this blog back in 2019. The thickest yarn I’ve ever spun (on purpose) at 8 to 10 wraps-per-inch (WPI), this yarn only measures 95 yards.

On the opposite side of the spectrum—and also spun in 2019, though not plyed until 2020—I have a two-ply at roughly 30 to 40 WPI. This Polwarth, bamboo, silk and sparkle blend measures 550 yards!

How durable does the spinning need to be?

For example socks suffer much more wear than a scarf, and the fiber and spinning need to be of tougher stuff to be more durable. I’m not sure my spinning will be sufficiently robust for such abuse, even after reading this extremely reassuring article about spinning yarn for socks.

Can I realistically knit the pattern?

OK, maybe I’m the only one worried about this issue. But we saw with Angelique how excruciatingly slow I knit. There is actually a deadline this time! An intricate lace shawl would be a terrible idea.

Does the color of the fiber complement the pattern…and me?

Some patterns might be overwhelmed by dramatic colors, for instance intricate lace designs that gets lost in dark or busy colors. On a related note, will the color look good on me? Yes, I confess—I occasionally buy fiber that is beautiful in the braid but would not actually look good next to my skin. For example I recently scored this gorgeous Allons-y braid (yes, again), and while I love the colors, I would not want to wear them in a cowl or scarf or a hat or anything else near my face.

One of my recent fiber acquisitions, which unfortunately does not complement my skin tone
One of my recent fiber acquisitions, which unfortunately does not complement my skin tone

Will I wear the darn thing?

I don’t want to knit yet another project I won’t ever use. A related question: will I wear the darn thing in Maryland in May? The goal is to share our project at Maryland Sheep and Wool on Saturday. And if I’ve learned one thing about living in Maryland, you never know what to expect from the weather in May!

Rummaging through my Ravelry favorites, I realized I have a lot more shrugs saved than I realized. This might be the best option for me, if I can spin enough yardage. But if I end up with a gradient yarn (likely, given my fiber stash), how will that look on a shrug?

Other Considerations

Here are a few other questions that are slightly less important to me, but may be a factor for others joining this spinalong.

For example, what type of fiber is most appropriate for the pattern? Since I’m stash diving for this one, my choices are “merino” with various amounts of other things (silk, sparkle, etc.) mixed in. I am super basic when it comes to fiber!

In a similar vein, does the fiber need to be prepped in any fashion prior to spinning? As I mentioned in my post about last year’s fiber prep spinalong, I find large blocks of gradient boring to spin and knit, but somehow that’s most of the braids in my stash! If I settle on one of those braids, I’ll need to budget time for breaking the gradient into smaller, more manageable color repeats. Likewise, if the fiber needed to be dyed, or blended with other colors, or combined with other fibers for a stronger or softer end result, then it would take longer to actually start spinning.

Here’s a question I usually obsess over: do I have spindles that match the fiber? If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen my compulsion to coordinate spindles and fiber. However, the goal this time is spinning a consistent yarn for a specific project, so I will probably pick a fleet of spindles with similar weights and physics. That way when I slip into a spinning zone (read: forget to use the spinner control card), the singles will be consistent from spindle to spindle.

An overhead view of five ninja spindles ready for the project
My Ninja Army

My initial thought was to enlist my ninja army. Unfortunately, there’s only five of them with very close weights—I was hoping for six—and said weight is in the 28 to 30 gram range. My fingers ache at that very thought of it. Before I get any fiber at all spun, the spindles are already at least an ounce. And I’m still short by one. Where on earth would I get another ninja spindle? Hmmmmmm.

Last but not least, I am ignoring that mysterious yarn characteristic known as “grist”. Grist refers to the density of the yarn, and is usually measured in yards per pound or yards per ounce. Since many patterns use commercial yarn, it is possible to spin fiber to an equivalent thickness and yardage, but still end up with handspun that doesn’t work for the pattern because of its grist. If you want to learn more about grist, there’s a great article here. Why aren’t I considering grist for this project? Because my hands (and attention) will be full enough focusing on yardage and thickness!

One comment

  1. I’m really enjoying your thought processes re this spinalong:)
    My challenge will be similar even though i have cheated by picking a known weight/length of yarn required- still need to chain ply a sock weight:)
    I don’t plan on spindling but I know my little gem’s great for a firm grist and even spin.
    I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with too!
    Cheers,
    Jan

    Like

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