On method

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I am, as I said, a sort of intuitive spinner.  Lots of writing about spinning talks about the (IMO artificial) dichotomy of “technical vs. intuitive” spinning.

Technical spinners, as the narrative tells us, think everything through, and select a spinning ratio¹ in relation to the end result they want, based on the staple length of the fiber in hand, and the ideal yarn the envision for some project.

Intuitive spinners, instead, just hook up the wheel, grab some fiber and let fly, trusting their senses to get them good yarn.

This is rubbish.  On the one hand everyone has some idea of what they want their final yarn to look like. We also (though it takes some time, and experience; sometimes gained from guessing wrong) have some sense what treatments a given fiber likes. So we set up our equipment, prep our fiber and set to work.

I am an information junkie.  I like to cook.  I have about 30 linear feet of books about cooking. Not recipe books, but technique books (which explain how to make sauces, or carve fish, or design spices, or how meat changes as it moves from freshly slaughtered to “well aged”).  I have a somewhat smaller collection of spinning texts.  In part because fewer people spin than cook (so there are fewer books) and in part because I’ve been collecting cookery books for more than 30 years, and spinning books for about 4.

I think part of my style of spinning comes of learning on a drop spindle.  There is no way to measure the twist rate, because it changes all the time.  When you start to make some yarn the spindle is spinning like blazes, but it slows down.  The final twist in the yarn is something one has to get a feel for how much twist has gone in before letting more fiber into the working zone, or it ends up being too-tight/too loose all the way up and down the yarn. To add to the complications the spindle’s dwell-time (how long it will spin before friction and tension slow it too much to create new yarn) changes as one fills the cop (i.e. the yarn one has wound around the spindle when the working length is too great to keep making) because there is more mass in motion, and so more inertia.

So I got used to sensing the way yarn feels when the twist is even (balanced is, of course, a different topic). When I moved to using a wheel my sense of yarn was already pretty well developed.  Once I got used to the (significant) difference in how the wheel moves twist into the fiber, as compared to they way a spindle does it, I was off to the races.

But ratios, and treadle speed weren’t my focus.  I was too busy doing what I needed (and had trained myself) to do to make the yarn.  If I was cranking faster, I fed the fiber with greater speed. As I did more reading (in particular Alden Amos “Big Book of Handspinning“²) I did work to incorporate more care of things like drafting to staple length, maintaining a steady draw-tension on the bobbin (which requires increasing the take-up tension), keeping the twist steady, etc.

All the things which make yarn consistent.

I still don’t go to huge efforts to “plan” my yarn, but knowing how things work (e.g that grist isn’t the same as thickness) means I can be more controlled. I can work on feeling how much fiber I feed into the twist zone per set of treadles; and then balance that against how the yarn feels.

Which lets me pay more attention to how the yarn is building (esp. important in blends; be they dissimilar fibers, or colors), and get a yarn I like more.  Which is what it’s all about (to me), do I like the yarn.

At another level (since I’m not likely to using the end product) I want other people to like the yarn, but if I’m not happy with it, I won’t want to finish making it.  So I’m weighing my technical knowledge, against my intuition, across the balance of my experience.

1: The spinning ratio is the number of times the drive band spins the fiber one is creating: per treadles of the drive wheel

2: not exactly a book for beginners.  The authorial voice is strong, the technical aspects are dense and his opinions are very much his.  It’s not precisely neutral on some things which are moderately contentious: e.g he doesn’t see any good reason for double treadle wheels and is more than a bit disparaging of them.  That said, it is a great resource for all sorts of spinning questions, with some wonderful asides on the history of spinning, and the resurgence of interest in the late ’60s, early ’70s.

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