I apologize to those that do not spin. The following may not be of much interest, being that it is a little bit heavy on the spinning-geek.

As you know, I’ve been spinning quite a bit on the sweater yarn lately. I’ve noticed that I have to keep reminding myself to keep the singles thick to keep my yarn the same throughout the project, so I think there’s some hope that I will get something smaller than super bulky one of these days. It’s been good practice to have to hold a constant gauge throughout such a big project; it’s really challenging to keep it the same from day to day, especially since I’ve been playing with technique along the way.

Still, despite my recent advances, I have just not been able to imagine getting my yarn thin enough for fingering weight on this wheel. Worsted, maybe. Laceweight? No way. I’ve developed a freeform (sloppy?), modified long-draw technique that I really like, where I actually let the twist into my draft area (I know!) and use it to pull out the fibers that I need for the yarn rather than using a second drafting hand. It works well, is much more meditative since I have to actually listen to my yarn, and I feel that it gives me better control, as long as I pay attention. With two-hand drafting, I end up pulling the fibers into the drafting zone with one hand, and I always get a thick-thin-thick single, either because extra twist builds up right before the leading hand (making it thinner than the rest), or because I end up pulling a few fibers too many into the drafting zone, thereby increasing the thickness of my yarn. In short, my two-handed method is not good enough yet to keep my singles even. I can make the two-handed method work, but I wasn’t loving the process. It seemed like there must be something better.

Not being one to play by the rules, I began experimenting with letting twist into the drafting zone. I needed something to help keep my fibers pulling out evenly, and twist seemed like just the thing. It was. With some practice, I’ve decided that I like this better, at least for the combed top that I’ve been using. The fibers come in straight and even, and it’s easier to control the uptake by playing with how tightly and at what angle I hold the top and let the twist do the drafting for me. My right hand holds the top, and I only use the left if I need to tweak the draft zone for some reason. And somehow, this rule-breaking makes my yarn better, as long as I focus on what I’m doing and keep the wheel tension right.

This is all a way of saying that I have been playing with my top to figure out how it wants to be taken up. I keep the tension pretty high (because the flyer is actually doing some of the drafting work for me), and so it’s not surprising that my yarn wants to go a little thin. But even at high tensions, I am nowhere near fingering, never mind laceweight. Besides assuming that my wheel just couldn’t do that weight of yarn, I had no idea what else to try, since I’ve tried using tension as high as is reasonable without that much gain.

But tonight, I figured out what I need to try next. Anne posted a link to Abby Franquemont’s blog the other day, and I decided on a whim to follow it. Well. If you need to know about spinning, let me tell you that this is the place to go. Go now. Take a look. You’ll be glad you did.

Amongst many other interesting topics, I found an entire post on drive ratios. Now, I thought I understood drive ratios. I was under the impression that the important ratio in a double drive band setup was the difference between the bobbin and the whorl. Turns out that it’s the ratio between the whorl and the drive wheel (the big one) that actually matters.

For those of you that already know about spinning, this is probably a very obvious thing. In retrospect, it is very obvious. I can’t believe I missed it. You talk about drive ratios in terms of 15:1, and there is nothing like that kind of ratio between the bobbin and the whorl. I should have caught on to this earlier. But, somehow I missed it.

The good news is that this means that I had completely reversed high ratio and low ratio for choosing yarn weight. I am using my biggest (of two) whorl size, because I wanted to have a large ratio between the whorl and the bobbin. But the big whorl actually makes a smaller ratio with the drive wheel. So, I have been trying to use a lower drive ratio to spin a finer yarn, and wondering why I was having trouble getting enough twist into the singles. I’d played with the tension, and it didn’t help. No wonder, since it wasn’t the problem.

I can’t believe it. I have seldom been so thrilled to discover that I’d gotten something backwards. If I can spin a yarn this fine on the “heavy” setting, then I should have no problem spinning a finer yarn on the higher ratio setup. And that means that there is hope that I can spin a reasonably lightweight yarn on my wheel. Not that I have anything against super-bulky, besides the fact that it eats fiber like crazy and makes a really heavy garment. I am going to love this sweater because it will be thick and warm, but it will definitely be for cold days only! I am not thinking about the broomsticks that will be necessary to knit it, either. I absolutely love it, but it really is a bulky yarn.

Moral of this story: take time to make sure you really understand your equipment, and read about it even when you’re sure you get it!

Of course, now that the ratio thing makes sense to me, I’m thinking about all the different ways you could manipulate the yarn even further. I’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of tension through this little exercise, and I’ve also really enjoyed playing with twist and uptake. Maybe ratios are next; I would love to experiment with changing the bobbin diameter relative to the whorl, but maybe another day. For now, I have some bulky to get off the wheel so that I can play with going finer.

Yay for informative blog posts!