Sunday, March 1, 2015

The thing about twist

I wanted to show you some things I've discovered over the last few years about spinning, and spinning merino in particular.

Quite a few years ago I spun my first merino finely for a Shetland Lace Triangle.
Knit on 5mm (US 8). I thought I had done a decent job at the time. As I recall the merino was a little difficult to spin, but I managed to spin something semi-fine, in the end. Knit the piece up, and this is what it looks like now, after years of wear.

Pretty blerk, isn't it.

It's all matted and fluffy despite using 5mm needles, and those lovely swirls so obvious in the original pattern are almost completely obliterated. See that safety pin down the bottom right - that's holding a dropped stitch that I only noticed a year after I had been using it. A whole year, and it didn't pull through, the fabric is that matted.

With more experience I now understand my mistake - I hadn't put nearly enough twist in the singles, (or drafted it finely enough, or been nearly patient enough when spinning) and the fibre in the resulting two ply yarn was allowed to puff up and bounce all over the place. That's great if you want a nice squishy hat, but I wanted stitch definition, and I wanted lace. That sorry grey thing is NOT a great example of either.

This blue below is a commercial lace-weight two ply. Being commercial it's not very fair comparing it to my first attempt at spinning merino finely, but it does illustrate a good lace shawl yarn. It's a mystery cone (I'm guessing from The Little Wool Company), but it's definitely not merino. The fabric is crisp, almost crunchy, but without being at all scratchy, and I like it for shawls because it has some substance and doesn't drape and flop all over the place when worn.
Anyhow, check the close-up to see how well the stitch definition holds up.

This purple is from my shawl Regenerate.
The drafting and spinning is better (but by no means perfect). I learned from that grey Shetland Triangle that I need to put more twist in the merino singles - a surprising amount of additional twist. Some of that twist disappears as your singles untwist around each other when plyed, and you certainly don't want to add so much twist that you're producing string.
The purple merino is from a different flock (Treetops Merino) than the grey, so the resulting fibre is likely different as well, but still the spinning makes a big difference. It would probably also benefit from being knit in a larger needle.

This next purple is a swatch I did for Regenerate. It is New Zealand Halfbred from the Little Wool Company, and the fabric it produces is crisp and crunchy, like the commercial blue above. I rejected it because at the time I thought the fabric for shawls needed to be baby soft, but I now think that shawls can benefit from being knit with a yarn that has a little substance, and it's still soft enough to wear close to the skin. The stitch definition is good - and that is in large part due to the ease with which this particular fibre can be drafted when spinning. I will definitely keep this 500gm bag in mind for future work.

This blue is also from the Treetops Merino, and my fine-wool spinning is improving. I learned to put more twist in the singles, and more twist when plying them together. As you can see, it hasn't been washed yet (indeed the thing is going to be frogged), so the wool hasn't been given the chance to bloom. So the jury is still out on it.

So, there you go.
I keep the grey Shetland Triangle by my bed and snuggle in it while reading into the night during winter. I don't hate it at all - it served a good lesson, and if it gets replaced with another winter-night-reading-shawl, I can cut it up and use it as slipper inserts - it's unlikely to fray!


  1. What pattern is the blue swatch from? It's lovely

  2. I found and queued it. It's lilaceous, right? Any tips for turning this into a crescent? I'm not crazy about triangle shawls. Or I was thinking of modifying it to have three sections instead of two. It ends up sort of like a half circle. I love this shawl!

  3. You mean the bottom blue one? Yes, it is Liliaceous!
    Because of the extra increases towards the bottom edge of the shawl it is more of a wide-bottomed triangle, rather than your regular triangle. (ie the two ends curl upwards quite a bit)
    The pattern could be transformed into a crescent, but it would be a lot of work - you'd have to re-write the charts at the edges to fit into the crescent shape, depending how you choose to do your edge increases.

  4. Mary Ann I am really enjoying your Blog! I downloaded your "Hybrid Vigour" pattern and will hope to knit it soon! Thanks!!