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In 2000 the Handweavers Guild of America held their biannual conference, Convergence, near where I live.  In addition to the show with lots of vendors from all over selling everything possibly fiber related, and classes during the big event, there were multi-day classes the week before.  I was lucky enough to get into the Spinning for Knitting class by Rita Buchanan.  I’d read most if not all of her articles in Spin Off, and while I had spun a lot of different kinds of fibers, from cotton, linen, hemp, yak, bison, various wools and silk, I mostly spun a thin yarn, finer than I usually wanted to knit for larger garments.

So I took this class.  We learned so many things, including how to manage twist and spin a yarn that matches another yarn in grist and twist and how to keep matching that on a large project over time.  And it was essentially simple.  Have a sample that you want the final yarn to be like, then regularly test your current, just spun, singles, plied back on itself, to see if it matches.

There are several key points.  The plied back yarn you check against the sample must be freshly spun.  If it isn’t the twist has started to set or is already set and you won’t get accurate results.  The sample you are testing against needs to either be the yarn you want to match, or a 2-ply sample of a singles that will make that yarn.

Using this technique you can make any yarn, regardless of how many plies the final yarn takes, or you can make a yarn, even with a different number of plies, that is equivalent in grist and general properties to another yarn.  The target can be either a commercial yarn or a sample that you select when you have done some testing with a fiber or that you want to use for a project.

Let’s say that I got a new fiber, made a few small samples and selected the one I like best.  That becomes my sample to which I now want to spin the remainder of my fiber.  Especially if you are spinning a yarn that isn’t your ‘default’, ‘this is what I tend to make whenever I just spin’, this sample will be your best friend in making sure that all of your yarn is as consistent throughout the project as possible.

In this case my target sample is a relatively short piece of 2-ply yarn.  I will tie it to my wheel, if the wheel lends itself to that, or keep the target sample nearby if not.  This photo shows my Mazurka with 3 different sample pieces for different projects attached.

Spinning to samples

So I start spinning for the actual project.  Every so often I will stop to check my resulting singles to make sure that I am still matching the sample.  I usually test every time I change the hook or move the slider.  I tend to do this often to help keep the singles tight on the bobbin, makes a nice, even build up across and this seems to allow me to get more yarn onto the bobbin.  In any case, to check the sample you need to pull some of the singles off the bobbin, preferably from the side of the bobbin, not through the orifice, keeping it under tension, fold a length several inches and let it ply back on itself.  Say about 5-9 inches of fresh new 2-ply.

Now you can hold the fresh 2-ply next to the sample.  Does it look the same?  Are there the same number of twist bumps over the same distance?  Now cross the fresh 2-ply across the target sample like this:

Spinning to samples

Run your fingers along the crossed yarns, paying particular attention to the place they cross.  Since the yarns are doubled you will be able to more easily feel any differences in grist (how many fibers are in the yarn).  This feel is extremely important, as a yarn might look the same but have either fewer or more fibers, which will give you a very different end result.

If everything looks and feels the same, great!  You are matching your sample.  Keep in doing what you’ve been doing, but don’t take it for granted, keep checking.

And what if it doesn’t match?  Then adjustments need to be made.  If you have the same number of twist bumps then you have the right amount of twist.  If you have too many you are getting too much twist.  Too few and you need more.  If the grist is off, you will need to add more or fewer fibers per length of singles spun.  If your fresh 2-ply is thicker you will need to have fewer fibers hit the twist in the drafting zone.  Too thin and you need to have more.  Make your adjustments, spin some more and test again.

With a large project there are very likely to be some sections that are not perfect matches to your target.  In most cases it is probably good enough, if you end up with some extremely different sections you can always remove those.  With practice you will find a pattern that works for you to make the spinning easy.  A nice little mantra helps.  “Three treadles for this much fiber, three treadles for this much fiber….”  Or whatever is right for your project.

With practice you may find yourself reading a book while spinning your yarn, or watching a movie.  Or just enjoying watching your new yarn being spun, knowing that the results of your meditative process will match your goal, whatever it may be!

crossing the sample and your plied back freshly spun