Spinning to the Crimp

Many spinners have a knee-jerk reaction to even the idea of spinning in a methodical way. (The same is true of many dyers ... no record-keeping for them!)

There are several different approaches to this approach to spinning.

I first heard about the idea of spinning to a standard from Alden Amos and Stephanie Gaustad. And of course, the topic is also covered by Mabel Ross ("The Encyclopedia of Handspinning") and Peter Teal ("Hand Woolcombing and Spinning").

However, there's a slightly different approach that I first encountered when Anne Field taught a workshop I attended a few years ago. This approach is called spinning to the crimp. Basically, what you need to do is look at your fleece.

In her book, "Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics", she walks you through the process of matching the yarn up to the fleece. Her book gives excellent directions and has two wonderful tables to help make the process even easier. Basically, you count the crimp in you wool and spin to match it.

So for this technique you are going to add enough twist so that your finished yarn has the same number of twists per inch as crimps ("humps") per in inch in the fleece wool. This sounds difficult, but is actually quite simple.

Select the fleece you want to spin and pull out a lock of it. Lay the lock against a contrasting background and count the 'humps':

(((
))) 1
(((
))) 2
(((
))) 3
(((
))) 4
(((
))) ...

[isn't that a good way to show the lock?]

If your fleece is say, a Lincoln, and only has 3 crimps per inch, then your finished, 2-ply yarn should have 3 twists per inch (tpi). For you weavers, that works out to 6 wraps per inch (wpi). If you're working with a Cormo, and your fleece has 15 crimps, then your single will need to be 22.5 tpi (giving a finished yarn of 30 wpi). When you ply the singles, you do so at the original 15 tpi. You will hopefully notice that there's a simple progression here.

If X is the number of crimps, you need 1.5 * X twists per inch (tpi) for the singles.

You will need X twists per inch for the two-ply yarn.

And this gives you a finished 2-ply with 2X wraps per inch (wpi).

When I was taking Anne's workshop after about two samples it finally connected with me how incredibly simple this was. It was literally a revalation for me. I was quite excited and happily explained it all back to Anne. She generously congratulated me on my discovery and sent me on my way. Later, I realized that that is what she had been telling us all morning. Obviously, she's a thoroughly nice woman.

I happen to believe that many experienced spinners spin this way and simply don't realize it. I know of many spinners who spin to the fiber, but can't tell you how. Well, for the rest of you who'd like to leap-frog ahead of a few years experience and find out how to make a better yarn quickly, I'd recommend trying this technique.

This is why it is important to bite the bullet and know what your wheel ratio is. If a low speed whorl has a ratio of 6-to-1, then for the above-mentioned Lincoln fleece you will need to spin two inches of fiber for every single rotation of the large wheel. For the Cormo, with the same ratio whorl, you would need to feed in .4". Obviously, it's a royal pain to keep track of feeding in .4". But what happens if you say, I'll need to feed in 2" of fiber for every 5 rotations of the wheel. Pretty soon, you'd realize that for that kind of a spinning, it might be time to change whorls. Spinning that Cormo with a 15-to-1 whorl is much easier.

When people complain about spinning like this, it is important to remember that it is only awkward for about the first 5 minutes. Then you shift over to something like, I need 4 tredles every 6 inches and it's like keeping count while while dancing a waltz -- you stop thinking about it. It's very meditative and soothing.

Once you get used to this type of spinning, you'll shortly realize that you can take it backwards.

If you want to make a fine-woven scarf that would need a finished yarn of 40 wpi (wraps per inch), then there is no point in trying to make that yarn out of your Lincoln. Start looking for fleeces that have 20 crimps per inch. So when you want an end product that has ~9 twists per inch (tpi) then you need to put 12 tpi into the singles. If you're making a cabled yarn (like the three 2-ply I prefer for socks) then you would put even more twist in at the singles level.

What's interesting is that you will notice that finished 2-ply has the same amount of tpi as the original number of crimps. Anyway, if you sit down and figure out the ratio of what you're spinning with, you can calculate how much tredling you will need for every inch of wool. And the finished yarn is just WONDERFUL!

This is a technique that has also been written up in Margaret Stove's book, "Handspinning, Dyeing and Working With Merino and Superfine Wools".

If you have comments, please send email to: Rosemary Brock.

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