Spin cycle

Miles walked: 180.75 Miles left to go: 319.25

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy spinning.

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It’s such a a simple, therapeutic, meditative activity; I realise some might think ‘boring, but each to their own. The rhythmic clickety-clack of the drive wheel and flyer are like a gentle lullaby. Roger says it reminds him of W.H. Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ poem and he has literally dozed off on more than one occasion!

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For me there is something deeper which I find hard to put into words: ‘connection’ is the best I can do. Humans have been spinning for over 10,000 years since the discovery that certain plant fibres rolled in the palms of the hands created a twisted material that was useful. Now I don’t want to romanticise this: let’s face it, millions of people throughout history and in the world today face or faced hand-spinning tasks as an essential daily chore, whereas I can dip in and out at leisure, purely for pleasure. However, I do feel a connection, being a tiny part of an ancient and enduring activity. How wonderful to take natural fibres that are sustainable and renewable and use my hands to create useful and – I hope – attractive yarns by the simplest of actions. What never fails to amaze me is how fibres so fine (Kent Romney = 28-29 microns, kid mohair = 24-26 microns) can be twisted into a strong and durable yarn.

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Hiking sock project: the story so far. (Note – my methods are a bit unorthodox, expert spinners might like to look away now). With many spinning projects, I have just got stuck in and let nature take its course but because I’m after a very specific kind of yarn this time, I have taken care to weigh the fibre to ensure balanced bobbins – although of course the trick will be trying to get the same length on each one! I’m spinning three bobbins, each of 33g Kent Romney wool and 7g kid mohair. Commercial sock yarns tend to contain some nylon to add strength but kid mohair is an excellent natural alternative and it will create an attractive ‘halo’ effect in the finished yarn.

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Having weighed, I then blend the two fibres on hand carders, making several passes to ensure complete blending; I have purposely spun wool/silk blends to have sections of just silk which makes an attractive yarn, but that is not suitable here.

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I can’t remember where I learned this next bit – a book or website? – but instead of making individual rolags, the mini-batts are piled up like a stack of pancakes. At this point, admittedly, they look like Merlin’s hairpiece.

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The whole lot is then rolled into a giant rolag and eased out gently from one end into a long, long snake. You can see how much lighter and fluffier it is than the combed top I started with: this is because carding has rearranged the fibres from parallel to haphazard and introduced air.

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For a really good dense sock yarn I should spin the combed top as it is, but then how could I do my own blends? Life is too short to worry, so on I go. I  split my snake into smaller sections and curl them into little nests ready for spinning. This is one bobbin’s worth.

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Enter my poor neglected spinning wheel which has been mothballed for many months. It was making some truly terrible noises to begin with so I expected a bit of a nightmare time trying to get the tension right to spin a fine single.

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No problem, everything went perfectly from the start and it was a joy to get back into the swing of things, even better to set up outside in the sunshine and spin to the appropriate sound of sheep bells in the neighbouring field.

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The Romney is a revelation – I LOVE it, so much in fact, that I am already ordering more! It is soft and silky and so well-behaved, spinning into a very fine and tightly-spun single. A complete pleasure. One bobbin almost done, two to go . . . and then the sock story will continue. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Spin cycle

  1. Go on, do it! It is such a lovely activity and I have a lot of fun. I taught myself on a drop spindle first (bought a small spindle and wool kit at the same time I gave up on knitting jumpers and started on socks), it was a steep learning curve and my first attempts were like rope! I much prefer the wheel and was lucky enough to be given it by someone who was throwing it out, I’d watched a friend spin on hers but had no idea how to set up the wheel, etc . . . all self-taught. I probably break a lot of rules but that’s all part of the fun. There are some beautiful fibres out there just waiting to be spun – try http://www.worldofwool.co.uk/ for inspiration. Good luck with the jumper!

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