I woman I know through the fiber community, Betsy, was looking for someone to spin some yarn for her. She was given my name, so I invited her over to talk about what she had in mind. Betsy knew my parents, but had never been to their home, where I live now. She enjoyed seeing the house and admiring my mom’s artwork on display, and we compared notes on our activities and our adult children’s ages and places of residence. None of them live around here!
Betsy had knit a vest using Patons Worsted 100% wool gray yarn, with some contrast stripes. She wanted to try the same pattern again with handspun natural gray yarn. She told me she tried to learn how to spin, but found it frustrating and decided she would focus on other things instead. So that is how I came into the picture.
Based on the type and amount of commercial yarn used, the requirement was to spin about 400 yards of worsted weight yarn. We looked at some yarn I had spun recently that was the same number of grams as the commercial yarn but more yards. It looked a little thicker, but maybe it was just fluffier.
Betsy had hand dyed the some roving (strips of batt) a beautiful cranberry color. She wanted that spun into yarn to use for the contrast stipes in the sweater. Unfortunately, it had gotten partially felted in the process so I could not spin it. She will buy some commercial yarn for the contrast stripes instead.
There are different ways to determine the price for custom spinning. It could be based on the hours spent working on it, the number of yards spun, the weight in grams or ounces, or a flat rate. I am not the fastest spinner, so I did not want to charge her by the hour. Hand spun yarn for sale online or at a yarn shop can be much more expensive than commercially made yarn for the same weight or yards. In this case, I thought that we could find a sweet spot price where I would be willing to do the spinning, but it would still make sense for Betsy’s project.
After discussing the needs of the project, and figuring out how much fiber was needed, Betsy drove 10 miles over to the Ellison’s, our mutual friends with a sheep farm and who host Fiber Day, to buy the wool already carded into a batt ready for spinning. She then came back to my house to drop it off, so I could begin the project.
The gray wool batts weighed a total of 243 grams. I divided the wool into 6 rolls of 40 grams each using a kitchen scale, which I planned to make into three skeins of two ply yarn.
I was nervous about producing the yarn exactly the thickness requested. Also, sometimes even if handspun yarn looks a certain way or meets certain criteria, it might not behave the same way as commercial yarn when knit into a pattern. I say this based on experience!
I spun up some of the wool on two bobbins and plied it together to get a sample. I wrapped some of singles yarn, plus some plied yarn before washing, around an index card to use as a reference as I continued with the project. Then I washed the sample small skein to make sure the final result was what I was expecting. It seemed about right, so I continued on with the spinning.
Sometimes I watch youtube videos on my tablet computer while spinning. When I click on the youtube link, a selection of options are displayed. I watched short history videos, spinning or knitting related videos, current events videos, videos about TV series I have enjoyed, and other topics that catch my eye. And of course it keeps track of what I selected, and then suggests more similar content. That is good and bad.
After filling three bobbins with fiber from three of the six batts I had measured out, I realized that I would be able to easily fit all the fiber on four bobbins, so I could end up with two longer skeins of two ply yarn, rather than three shorter skeins. I redistributed the rest of the wool across the four bobbins and then continued spinning.
The photo below shows the last bobbin filling up, with a pile of fluff on the floor. When I am spinning, I usually stop to pick off bits of short fibers, slubs or even dirt and hay that will cause a lump in the yarn. It is amazing how small of a bit of something will make a lump. In this fiber, I also pulled out quite a few long white wiry “hairs” that were not consistent with the texture of the rest of the fiber, and might cause the yarn to be scratchy. Some people would just keep spinning all that in, and that might be OK depending on the final effect you are going for. After a session of spinning I always end up with a mess on the floor that needs to be vacuumed or manually picked up.
Following are the four completed bobbins of “singles” yarn, plus the bits of stuff I picked off the floor while spinning, gathered into a blob.
The next step was to begin plying. Two bobbins went on the “Lazy Kate” with the ends of the singles yarn coming out together through a loop. I am not sure who came up with that name for the tool to hold the bobbins while plying.
The two singles yarns coming off the “Lazy Kate” are spun on to another (larger) bobbin to make two ply yarn. Plying the yarn makes it stronger and more balanced, having less tendency to come untwisted. It is also possible to ply three singles together into three ply yarn. Note that the number of plies is not what determines the final thickness of the yarn. Lace or sock weight yarn can have multiple very thin singles plied together. You can also have very thick singles yarn.
After plying was complete, I carefully washed the two skeins of yarn to “set the twist”, so it would remember it’s new state. It turned out to be a beautiful, warm and sunny day, perfect for hanging the yarn outside to dry.
The final yardage was just over 400 yards. One of the skeins was a bit thicker than the other one. I was not surprised about that. Even though I had the sample yarn on a card to use as a guide, I am not good enough at spinning to be able to match the sample exactly or make every yard the same. The finished yarn weighed 233 grams. I started with 243 grams, so I don’t know what happened to 10 grams worth. The blob that I picked off was less than 1 gram.
One way to measure and compare yarn is by yards per pound. The Patons Worsted commercial yarn was 890 yards per pound. This hand spun yarn came out to 856 yards per pound, which is less yardage for the same weight, but in the same weight category. For the purposes of Betsy’s project, it will work fine.
Ideally I would have a photo of the finished product out of this yarn, but I don’t know how long it will be before Betsy knits the vest.
Betsy knew how long it took me to spin the yarn, and that the $50 price we had agreed on was on the low side. She graciously offered me $60 cash AND a four pound chicken she raised herself, butchered and frozen, AND some rhubarb. I was very pleased with this deal! Sometime this summer when we have family visitors I will cook the chicken from Betsy at the same time as a chicken from the store, and we will do a taste test. Watch for a future blog post about that.