Friday, September 21, 2012

Getting a Balanced 2-Ply

Well, one method, anyway...

When I first began spinning on a wheel, I would hold my hand in my lap, the two singles separated by my fingers and just ply away happily in one smooth continuum.  I got some very pretty 2-ply yarns, but they tended to be overspun on the ply side.  That over-twist made some of my yarns look like a string of perfect beads, but it was sadly overspun as yarns go. Soaking and/or thwacking would beat it into submission, but the overtwist gave some of my yarns a harsher feel. 

At some point, the niggly Caroltude in me began breaking down the plying stage into parts so I could analyze how to control the amount of twist I was putting in—the goal being to get a perfectly balanced yarn and to control how much twist beyond that point that I was putting in because sometimes I just like a little more ply. But to have any predictable say in the matter, I had to first be able to get a perfectly balanced yarn. 

Well, I left that experiment half done over a year ago and have been knitting lace shawls and shawlettes with purchased yarns since then.  But a couple of weeks ago, reminded how much I liked spinning by watching Cyndi learning to do it, I dusted off and oiled Wheel Annie and broke out a 4-oz. top of merino/tensel, hand dyed by Squoosh that had been tucked into my stash because memory said it would love to become a laceweight or light fingering yarn and end up as lace.  The original plan was to Navajo ply it so I could keep this most talented dyer's color changes, but dreamer that I was, there simply would not have been enough yardage 3-plied, Navajo or otherwise.  So back to 2-ply.  And my quest for a perfectly balanced 2-ply yarn because that was unfinished bidnez. 

This was also my first time spinning fine enough to get laceweight (2-plied) because my default spin has always ended up worsted weight which is what I mostly knitted with prior to the lace obsession.  So here's the yarn after 2-plying.

For newbie spinners, a "balanced yarn" is... well, technically, it's X counterclockwise twists per inch where X is equal to the effect of the combined clockwise twists per inch that reside in your singles.  Practically speaking, a super overplied yarn might skew after it's knitted.  So the general idea is to have it balanced.  And the way you can know if it's balanced is to pull a length of plied yarn (that you've let wind all the way onto your bobbin) back off your bobbin, back out of the orifice through which it went, and let a long length of it fall into a loop.  If it has too little plying twist to balance out what's in the singles, the yarn will try to balance itself by adding more clockwise twist.  You can see that because the long loop you're allowing to hang free will twist around itself counterclockwise.  All by itself.  If you have too much plying twist, the loop will twist itself clockwise, as though wishing to add more twist in the singles.  If it just hangs there in a long limp loop, it's a balanced ply.  It's not trying to correct anything.  (Note:  This assumes you spin your singles clockwise and that you ply by spinning counterclockwise.)

So here's what I do to get a balanced ply.  I stick my Lazy Kate under the table, to my left, and position my wheel at a comfortable distance away.  I hold my singles in my left hand, the two separated by a finger, and I pick a holding position that I can eyeball (e.g., lining up a table leg behind it) and mentally record that hand's position as my go-to "holding place."  And that's where I keep my plying hand.  To start ply-spinning, I watch the two singles close to my holding hand, not the part that's going into the orifice.  And keeping my hand there, I treadle.  Once the twist has reached close to my plying hand via traveling toward it from the orifice, in one swift but smooth motion, I pinch off the singles in my left hand and swoop that whole length into the orifice.  A big suckup, all at once.  My take-up tension is set so it's aggressive enough to gobble it up happily, but not aggressive enough to be tugging at my holding hand during this holding process. 

I do that a couple of times, then stop and pull out a long length off the bobbin, through the orifice, and do the loop test.  Just let the yarn dangle and see what it does.  Meanwhile, I've been counting my treadles between swoops.  If my ply isn't balanced in either direction, I either move my holding hand's place closer to the orifice (for more plying twist) or farther away from the orifice for less twist.  This part is trial and error until you find the magic place to keep your hand for the number of treadles you're going to make, the latter being based on your wheel's whorl size, etc.  For me, with my settings, it's 4 treadles.  This remains a constant whether I treadle fast or slow.  (The revolutions of the wheel are the same per treadle at any speed.)

And that's it!  My "swoop" happens fast enough so it doesn't add much twist because I don't stop treadling as I'm swooping, but I do try to keep the speed of that consistent too.  I do stop and check from time to time (more often at first) to make sure I'm right, and make little adjustments to my holding hand's distance from the orifice if needed.  Now as you get used to this, you'll start noticing that another way to gauge your twist is how long the V is.  (The top 2 legs of the "V" are your singles coming off the lazy kate with your separating finger in between the yet-to-be-plied singles and the bottom point of the V is where the twist has traveled up your 2 singles from the orifice so that your two singles are ply-joined).  Based on the distance from orifice of my holding position today, that yarn's balanced twist point had the bottom of the V about 1.5" from the two top legs of the V.  It's a visual thing, but fun to make bets with yourself as you refine your senses to include another way to tell how much twist is enough vs. too much.

This next photo shows the most balanced skein I've ever gotten so far, which is why I'm taking time to write this post.  Simply, I don't want to forget what I did because it's been about a year since I was doping all this out the last time, and I had to do some recall.  But this is one. very. balanced. skein.  And I'm proud of it.  Past ones have been close, but not like this.  This shot was taken with the yarn right off the niddy noddy.  No thwacking, whacking, no soaking, nada.  I didn't even want the hanging skein supported even to the extent of it lying against a flat vertical surface, so opened the cabinet door so the bottom of it was completely free to turn or twist.  Perfectly straight.  Yay!
I did go ahead and soak the skein to set the spin, and gave it a couple whacks for good measure, just because I entertain myself with the notion that it sort of marries the singles.  Okay, so it's also fun to watch my dog get excited when a human hauls off and slams a yard-long hunk o'stuff into the hollow side of the washing machine which makes a loud noise.  She always behaves even nicer after that.  And it's kind of like the punch down in yeast breads.  Kind of one of those things we just deserve to do.

Ignoring the stretch that happens on a niddy and having only counted one side, it looks like I have 308 yds.  I think the shawlette I planned to make this with needs 340 yds.  I have a little of one single left over which I'll ply on my drop spindle but I think I'm going to fall short of enough yarn for another English Ivy (the shawlette).  But oh so close!!  I'll do the match and see if I cut out one repeat that'll do it.  If not, I will probably walk around with my eyes in that pinched up look that happens when someone's pissed and feeling cheated.   

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