Spin-a-long, Spinning, Support Spindles

Spinning in the Not-So-Wild

It’s been alternating between rain, sleet, snow, and just depressing cold, grey blah.  Not much spinning out in the wild these days, but I have hope! At some point, things will dry out enough to take my spindles outside.


In the meantime, here’s a little support spinning in front of the fire.  Oh, and the dog isn’t dead.   Proof of life comes around 19 minutes in when he stretches out a bit without waking up.


Fiber:  the world’s most poorly treated sliver of bamboo, merino, bison, and cashmere. A Louet blend purchased from Paradise Fibers ages years ago.   I have no excuse for its condition.  I am a bad fiber mom.


Tibetan spindle from Texas Jeans.

Shaft: unknown wood, 10 3/4″ long

Whorl:  dyed spalted tamarind

Many thanks to Joshua Lynch for repairing the spindle shaft after Fergie ate it. 

Spindle Bowl:


Made by Niddy  Noddy UK
Hand turned in Hawthorn and Cherry

Length:  5″
Width (at widest point): 2″

Dimple for spindle is 3/4″ across

About the video:
As promised, I haven’t edited out the gloops.  Because I’m using a GoPro to film this, the spindle is farther from my body than it should be.   To keep your body happy when you spin with a support spindle,

  1. keep all of the motion within a forearms length out from your body,
  2. keep your arm range of motion below shoulder height with elbow lower than your wrist.

The temptation is to do a super long draw out and up, so you can make a long, beautiful stretch of yarn.   You can do it, and you will feel like a superhero for the first ten minutes or so.   It puts too much stress on your shoulder. Even if you aren’t feeling the fatigue as you spin, protect your joints so you can spin for many years to come!

About jumping spindles:

I’m using a new spindle bowl and my repaired spindle together for the first time.   I love metal tipped spindles.  They spin fast and last forever.

However, I frequently spin in a bean bag or with my legs up on an ottoman.  Spindles with super low friction tips take advantage of the incline my body position gives to the bowl.  Add in my usual little tilt on the spindle and an over-enthusiastic twirl, and physics launches my spindles into space.  I tried a metal tipped spindle on a corian-lined spindle bowl and managed to get a good 3-4 feet before the cop caught hold so I could reel it back in.  Of course, I was demo’ing in my booth at the time.  Harpooning passers-by is not a wise marketing technique!

Moral of this story-  keep your spindle upright if you don’t want it to spin away!  OR- if you are beyond saving, like me, use a spindle bowl with a small lip or with a deeper bowl and steeper sides.

fiber prep, Fleeces, washing

Processing a Disorganized Fleece

20180417_143249Normally when I buy a whole fleece, it comes looking something like this beautiful Shetland fleece on the left.  It unrolls, and I can lay it out on the skirting table.  It’s easy to see the different areas of the fleece, break it into similar types of fiber, skirt what needs skirting, & check for short cuts and weathered locks.

This shetland fleece is not disorganized!  It’s also worth noting that the shepherdess manually sheared this sheep on shearing stand.  She’s a rock star!

When I buy fleece by the pound, or if I’ve purchased from someone who manually shears and isn’t intentionally keeping the fleece intact, the fleece tends to look more like this:


There will be lightly attached strips or rounds of similar fiber mixed in with small groups of dissimilar locks.  It’s hard to tell where the fiber came from on the sheep, esp. if it is really intermixed.  For some fleeces, it doesn’t matter.  If the fiber is fairly similar across the fleece and it’s been well skirted, I can give it a shake and put it in to wash.

Sorting & Problemsolving:
This fleece needed some extra care.  As I laid it out on the table,  I could see the fleece had all sorts of fiber lengths and textures.  The shortest pieces were 1″ the longest 4.5″.  Most were in the 2.5-3.5″ range, so I separated into three groups: under 2.5, 2.5-3.5, and over 3.5.  This got a bit tricky as I went along because there were at least 4 distinct crimp types: a corkscrew with 2-3 crimps per inch, a side to side with 3 crimps per inch, two different tightly crimped wools.  All of these had fairly different textures, so I decided to split by texture and length.   I like to use as much of the fleece as possible, so I made piles for all of the oddball bits-  even the little 1″ super curly leg locks to dye up for felting projects and for making tweed yarns.


While pulling locks, I noticed some tip and cut end areas had issues.  Sheep live out in the world, and that’s a good thing.  Sometimes, it can be hard on the fleece.  This fleece had its share of weathered, cotted, and/or muddy tips.   That doesn’t mean the wool isn’t worth the work!  This fleece has some gorgeous fiber. It just needed some TLC.  I ran thumbnail over the cut end and tips to remove weak tips and second cuts.

Muddy tips will feel hard- especially if the mud, lanolin, and sheep sweat all came together to make a little brick-like piece.


The fiber can be brittle under the mud, so it’s worth taking the time to give them a tug.  Some times muddy tips will magically open up if you put the fleece in water to soak overnight.  Sometimes, they are stubborn, and you’ll need to cut or flick them off the lock.   These tips were quite weak and came right off when I pulled on the lock tip.

If your fleece has weak tips, you’ll have to either flick the tips off or trim them with scissors.   It’s worth taking the time to flick or trim the locks before carding. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to pick those brittle ends out from your roving.

Spinning weak ends into your yarn can make your yarn weaker and rougher.  Weak tips are caused by weathering.  Sun, rain, & friction all wear away the protective coating on the outside of the fiber.  Without that coating, the fibrils that make up the fibers fray, weakening the fiber and making it feel scratchy.


If  I see some weak tips, I do a quick test card on different areas of the fleece before starting a big carding project.  It’s the fastest and easiest way I’ve found to see if I need to flick the fleece first.

20180331_130116Sometimes, I find felted/cotted tips on the locks.  It happens.  It’s more likely if a sheep has been coated, but it can happen on any sheep.  Some sheep like to scratch up against posts in the barn.  All it takes for wool to felt is heat, moisture, and agitation.

This wasn’t a coated sheep, but this is most likely from the britch area which has a lot of movement and moisture.   Depending on lock length, I’ll either trim the felted bit off with scissors, or I’ll just throw that lock into the plant pot liner bag.  (Wool makes fabulous plant pot liners, so don’t throw it away if you like hanging plants!)



Second cuts happen when the shearer takes a second pass with the shearing blades to even out fleece that was missed during the first pass.  This leaves little bits of cut fleece behind.  You can identify a second cut because both ends of the lock (or bit of lock) will be cut. Frequently, these will shake out.  If you have an intact fleece,  you can lay it out cut side up and run your hands over the surface of the fleece to remove any short pieces.  This fleece also had some partial second cuts-  the short pieces are still attached to a small section of the lock by a few strands of wool.  These are a nightmare because they don’t shake out.  If they come apart during washing, they can felt into the cut end of the lock.  If you find them, you are going to need to check the cut ends for soundness as you pull locks.

I washed like locks with like by putting them in a mesh bag with the tips all in the same direction.

Wouldn’t it be great if I had a picture of the wool in the bag here?  Fortunately, I’ve got another pound of so of this fleece to wash, so I’ll make sure to take it when I put it in to wash!

I made two rows of locks and separated them by running a length of crochet cotton down the center of the bag using a weaving needle.  (tip:  Don’t make a new string each time.  After washing the locks, store string inside the mesh bag until the next time.)

20 minute soak with Power Scour in 130F water followed by two 20 minute hot rinses.  That was all!  This fleece didn’t have much lanolin so there wasn’t much need for scouring.  The dirt came out easily except for stubborn muddy tips.  These, I flicked out while picking and prepping for the drum carder.  Depending on the lock bundle, I either used the flick carder as a teasing pad-  or I picked it up and flicked the ends open.   This fleece opened really nicely into a beautiful, silky cloud.  It would have been a wonderful to spin this from the cloud for a textured, locky yarn.


To card, I ran the wool through my drum carder, keeping the locks sideways for the first two passes and then pulling into thin sheets and running those from the end.  (I’ll link to a how to card fluffy batts here later)

The fiber was so pretty on the drum that I decided to pull it off into rolags for spinning.


fiber prep, Fiber Science, Fleeces, washing

Alkaline Scouring: Washing with Fels-Naptha soap

Quick update on the cormo project and washing with alkaline soap.


I did the first of several test washes on my cormo fleece.


a gorgeous 16-18 micron cormo fleece;  12-14 crimps per inch,  3.5-4 staple,  yellow staining on the last 1/2 inch or so. Moderately greasy, but the lanolin is nice and glossy with no hard areas. If you hold it in your hand, it immediately softens and starts to shed    Light dirt line, some minor felting at tips from being coated. No noticeable vm at all. Nice clean edge on cut side of fleece.

First washing test:
Fels-naptha laundry bar and lock by lock washing. It takes about 30 seconds to wash a lock. The pH of the wash water varies based on the soap concentration, so I decided to make as thick a solution as my pH meter can read. Reading came back as pH 9.6. This is right at the edge of when the pH adversely effects the bonds that keep the wool fibers stable.  Temperature is important here.  I kept the water temperature at 125-130F though the lock rarely reaches that temp because it is being rubbed on the bar of soap.   The soap has low-medium suds and dissolves easily into water.

To wash, I held the lock by the cut end, dipped the lock in hottest water from the tap (130F), then pressed the lock against the bar and rubbed in line with the staple until the soap came through the top. Flipped lock around and did the same for the cut end. Then I submerged the lock and pushed the soap along the fiber- cut end to tip, flipped then tip to cut end until all of the dirt was gone. Rinsed in 135-130F water and dipped in a final hot rinse in a vinegar and water solution which was probably unneeded. I’m a belt and suspenders kind of person.

Afterwards, I set the lock on a dish towel, pressed out the excess water and left to air dry.

Observations: The lock is completely clean of dirt. Small amount of lanolin left behind.  Locks shrank just over 1/4 of an inch.  The final washed locks were well formed until I started messing with them to see how they would draft.

They draft smoothly from the tip with some light grabbiness at the cut end. The fiber has a nice luster and feels soft and airy. I will try less time with the soap next time because I could see that this could easily dry out the fiber.


Fiber Science, Fleeces, Technical

Does Crimp Indicate Fineness?


Sadly, no.  Crimp is not related to fiber diameter.

What we know about fiber has changed over time as our fiber science has improved. People used to think crimp was directly tied to fiber diameter (microns). However, going back to the 1920s and 30s, people knew that the crimp wasn’t necessarily a predictor for fineness in an individual fleece.

Finding open access sources is hard, but here are two older sources that talk about this:…/10.1080/19447024708659308

Breed standards select for crimp shape and a general range of fiber specifications.  However,  you can’t pull out one aspect of those specifications and use them to predict the others.

We focus on fiber diameter because it’s an easy, objective measure to compare things. It feels right to think that a 19 micron top of x will have the same softness in a finished yarn as a 19 micron top of something else. Unfortunately, it isn’t the case.  Scale height, fiber length variations, fiber condition, and the shape and curves of the fiber strands all come together to determine how fibers feel against the skin.

The really cool thing is that, for softness, your skin will know. If you are at a fleece sale, you can gently feel the wool and find the feel you like. When I look for a fleece, I fingerspin a lock and then see if I like the yarn it makes. You can add and subtract twist, play with the plies, and change up the plying twist.


Crimp is important for more than trying to estimate fiber diameter. Crimp can be broken out into subcategories such as  crimp per inch, crimp depth,  & crimp dimension (is it a french fry, a corkscrew, a long, lazy wave, or something else altogether).

All of those come together to contribute to luster, elasticity, ability to resist compression, & loft. Those make a big difference to the finished yarn.    –More on this in a later post.

Good resources:

From a class handout:…/2017/07/WOOL-472-572-12-T-09.pdf

“(Studies) concluded that staple crimp was not a good indicator of fibre fineness, either within or between breeds and strains of sheep. Staple crimp has been shown to have some influence on fabric thickness and possibly fabric handle and bulk”

If you click on the link, there is lots more info and a nice bibliography.

If you have a thing for fiber sci, here is a really cool hand out that is related: Fibre Diameter, Staple Strength, Style, Handle and Curvature.…/2017/07/Wool-412-512-08-T-03.pdf

Plying, Spinning, Technical

Doing the math on plying from a center pull ball

I’ve seen some discussion about the changes in twist to a singles when plying from a center pull ball. I thought it’d be fun to crunch the numbers.

WARNING: Really long post ahead!!

TL:DR- Center pull ball plying makes one ply consistently different from the other ply. The effect is small, but it is more noticeable on low twist yarns. Center pull plying consistently makes one ply ever slightly looser and one ply slightly tighter.

Pictures coming soon.

Effects of plying from a center pull ball on finished 2 ply yarn:

My ball winder has a center core circumference of 6″. A 100g skein ends up with the outer strand (measured as wrapped for one rotation) that is 14″ long.

Assumption: The length of the strand created by each rotation smoothly increases from 6″ to 14″.

WORKING INFO: The inner end of the ball when pulled vertically will gain a twist for each rotation made by the ball winder.

When pulled vertically, the outer end will twist in the opposite direction of the inner yarn, so the outer ply will lose a twist for each rotation of the ball winder.


The most extreme effect will happen when the inner yarn was wound directly on the core and the outer ply is farthest from the core. As the two ends are plied and the plies approach a point in the center of the ball, the effect decreases.

If I have a hypothetical ball of yarn with a 6″ strand for one wrap at the center and 14″ per one wrap at the outside point, the 1/2 way point will be 1/2 way long the layer when the yarn takes 10″ to wrap around the ball forming on my winder.

So here’s my math:

The formula to get the variance:
Divide 1 tpi (the twist created by the rotation of the ball winder) by the length of yarn for the wrap.

Each time I turn the ball winder, I add 1 twist per 6 inches of yarn to the innermost yarn. So in plying that end, the difference in twist in the inner ply will be +0.167 tpi.

Simultaneously, at the outermost piece of yarn, I’ll be losing one twist for every 14″. Or -0.07 tpi for each rotation.
Assuming I don’t turn the ball when plying, I will have a net change of 0.24 tpi when I start of plying.

When I finish plying, which will be when the yarn is 10″ long per rotation, I’ll be gaining 0.1 on the inner ply and losing 0.1 tpi on the outer ply. The difference in twist will be 0.2 twists per inch.

This means that over the yarn plied, the twist variation will slowly drop from 0.24 tpi to 0.2 tpi as the yarn is plied.

(**Note: this is true for my ball winder and this hypothetical ball of yarn. Different core sizes or making larger balls will change these numbers. Using a nostepinne would *really* change these numbers. )

It’s up to the spinner if that change in important in your finished yarn. A quarter of a twist per inch or less isn’t a big deal in a high twist yarn, but it would have more of an impact on a low twist yarn.

If your singles are 6 tpi, then the variance when you start plying is 4%. If your singles are 20 tpi, then variance is just over 1%

To me, the important thing is that the change in twist is happening to the singles not the 2 ply yarn- so one strand will be consistently off from the other. Unlike a yarn with variation along it’s length, center pull plying creates consistent variation between the plies. If there is already a lot of twist variation along the plies, center pull plying would emphasize that

The variance is in the singles, so it would be interesting to see how that changes with the ply. A balanced yarn has 2/3 the twist of the singles. With two different twists, the yarn will be less balanced. It would also encourage blooming of the looser ply around the tighter ply. This could be advantageous when spinning halo lace yarns.

Plying off a center pull ball made on a 1″ nostepinne would make for greater variance because the initial variance would be almost doubled.

The variance in the twist won’t change with different yarn diameter. What does change is the quantity of yardage produced.

Thwacking won’t “balance out” the variance well because the change in twist is being made to the singles, but the snapping, thwacking, skeining from a distance acts primarily on plied yarn.

In general, plying from a center pull ball tends to emphasize uneven twist in singles because there isn’t the distance of the drop from the plying point to the bobbin. The 3′ or more stretch out of the singles allows uneven twist within the singles to balance out a bit. This is in addition to the change in twist from pulling the yarn from the ball.


Spindles in the Wild

Thanks for joining me!

I take my spinning out into the world whenever I can.  People are incredibly enthusiastic seeing fiber arts in progress, and I’m always moved by the stories of grannies who knit or aunts who weave.  I wanted to create a space online to help feed that enthusiasm, to offer companionship to fellow fiber lovers, and to provide a window to what daily spinning and fiber processing looks like.

When I look online, I see lots of beautiful spindle and wheel shots.  Something along the lines of this:


The reality is much more fun.   Yes, those are alpaca batts wrapped on paper towel tubes.  And when the suns out, I’ll use any available surface to dry fleece!  The pictures won’t always be pretty, but they will show the many different aspects of taking fiber to finished project.

Discoveries happen when knowledge and theory meet in practice.