There is a wealth of information available about spinning now. It amazes me that this gathering of information has happened over the last 30 years, and that the internet has been the biggest factor in the growth of this accumulation. The ability to discuss and debate techniques or to share what is learned has boomed even more in the last five years with the arrival of online groups and blogs.
One such source of learning for me has been a Yahoo group called Tech spin. This group has very interesting and knowledgeable discussions on many aspects of spinning.
Recently I was thinking about how to spin a Black Welsh Mountain fleece I have washed. I envisioned a fat fluffy yarn, which I would knit to felt into a bag. There are several immediately concerns about that project, so I asked my questions to Tech spin. First, how to get a fluffy yarn. I thought and even tried spinning long draw from a drum carded fiber. I was not having any luck, I could not draft the fiber that way. Was it because I just can not do long draw? Was it that the fibers were too long? Was my prep not right for long draw? These are questions I asked the group. The second concern was of my own. I was not sure I really wanted fat fluffy yarns to try and felt. But that I knew I would have to swatch to find out.
The group responded with several ideas about long draw. Then Elaine posted a great explanation that, if I really wanted lighter fluffy yarn, I needed 3 or 4 plies, not two.
I will not quote Elaine here, instead try and write what I learned from her post. If a 2 ply yarn needs a certain number of twists per inch (say 12) each single will need 6 twists per inch. But suppose I made the yarn a 3 ply, then each single would only need 4 twists per inch. And less twists per inch means the yarn can have more open space, for more loft, which means a fluffier yarn.
This was a real AHA moment for me and a few others that post to that group. Elaine also suggested that this concept is useful when working with the coarse longwools. The longwools when tightly spun tend to resist the twist, making the wool harsh and dense. Lessen the number of twists per inch and increasing the plies can make a more pliant yarn. Not necessarily softer, but more workable.
She gave us a rainy day project of trying this with two different yarns in our stash, like a merino and a longwool. Spin each the four possible ways, thin and very little twist, thick and very little twist, thin and lots of twist and thick and lots of twist. Make samples of 2, 3 and 4 plies. Set the yarn and then knit a swatch.
Oh course this is just the type of project I love. This was my second AHA moment about just why spinning has become an addictive hobby for me. It's not at all just about making yarn to knit a sweater. It's the fact that from raw fleece to finished sweater, there are about a million possibilities. And each difference is not really a failure, it usually becomes a design element.
So now I understand why I have many unfinished projects. Once I get past the learning of how to wash a particular fleece to give it it's best attributes, I stop washing the fleece. And once I have messed around with the different processing ideas for that fleece (drum card, hand card, dog combed locks, small hand combs, big hand combs) and found the processing that gives the best spinning fiber, I stop processing. I seem to have stopped here though in this trend. Once I sit down to spin a yarn, I pretty much have always spun the same type of yarn, a consistent 15-18 WPI 2 ply. The only time I have actually just played with spinning is when I was working through different fibers for the rare breed study. Or if I am involved in an exchange, where I try a fiber or technique (like spinning froghair-spinning as fine as I could).
Now that Elaine has just invaded my spinning with challenges I will never get a full skein of yarn spun again. I think I am really excited about that!
I am not sure having discovered just why spinning is so addictive for me will make it any easier to explain to non spinning folks. But it helps explain to myself the appeal of yet another raw fleece, when I already have a fleece mountain in the spare bedroom. I am not just buying greasy wool, but the possibility of hours of learning and fun.