Friday, September 18, 2009


Don't you wish life had an undo function?

Oh, come on! Don't tell me you've ever made a mistake you wish you could go back and delete. I'm not talking about big things, here, just those little things that nag at your conscience. Haven't you called someone by the wrong name? Gotten home from the store with something you didn't pay for in your pocket? Given someone the wrong time or date for an appointment? I freely admit that I do these things all the time, and that I actually lose sleep when I realize that I've done it.
Most of the time, once I get past the initial shock of realizing of the error, I can shrug it off as an honest mistake and go on. With so much going on in my life, it's a wonder I can remember my name some days! This is why I always write things down.
But when I teach workshops, it should be different, right? I know a lot about spinning. I should be well-prepared and able to recall accurate information at the drop of a hat. I should have weeded through the bad information and stacked the good neatly where it can be pulled out in an orderly manner. And usually, I do.
Which is why I have been losing sleep over this little misstep. No big deal, really, but it's bugging me.

You see, I was taught by a fairly high-profile spinning instructor that you should never self-ply your yarns from an Andean plying bracelet, a centre-pull ball, or using Navajo ply. The reasoning behind this was that you would be reversing the twist in one end of your singles and applying more twist into one single in the ply direction than into the other.

So, for example, if one spins one's singles in the Z direction, then folds the single in half and plies from the beginning and the end, you are reversing the twist direction of the folded bit to be S. This means the end part will be getting overspun in the S direction while the beginning part will be getting underspun. Bad news all around.

For some reason, this made a lot of sense to me at the time, and it took me some time to unlearn this kernel of wisdom. It is, in fact, utter nonsense.

Yet, I shared this in a workshop this summer. I passed this unbelievable bit of pap onto a room full of unsuspecting spinners. And when I realized it days later, I had no way of rewinding time and editing out my stupidity. And it has bothered me ever since.
So here I sit, feeling the burning compulsion to set the record straight. It may not matter one whit to you, but I am constantly amazed by how pervasive these sorts of silly bits of misinformation are in the spinning world. I get on my soap box constantly about bad information showing up in new books, on the internet, and being taught in workshops. I have taken it on as my personal mission to correct that information before more damage is done, yet I have spread some foolishness myself.

This must be remedied!

So, without further ado, I shall clarify what happens when one self-plies a single.

Here is our lovely single. I have spun it with 2 colors and laid it on top of some arrows showing that the twist is indeed in the Z direction.
Then I wound it into a centre-pull ball on my ball winder. This is where some of the problems with self-plying come from, not from reversing the twist. Because, as you can see...

...the twist still runs Z when I fold the beginning bit and the end bit beside each other. And then, when I ply...

...the twists are balanced together and you can see that the stripes of colour align perpendicularly up and down.

So, I hope I have clarified that issue and have set the Spinning Universe back into balance.

However. (Oh, when isn't there a "however", Michelle?)

I don't really recommend this method of plying. Oh, a quick self-ply is great for sampling, and Navajo plying has its uses in making novelty effects in yarns, but overall, I would highly recommend sticking to plying from bobbins on a Kate.
And why is that? Well, let's look at our centre-pull ball.

As you can see, the inner part (magenta) has been wound more tightly and is more easily controlled as it is pulled out of the ball. The outer end (white) is more loosely wound and tends to unwind in longer loops, resulting in those pigtail building up. It doesn't take very long before issues can develop if you don't keep on top of those guys!

What tends to happen when the outer layer unwraps faster than the inner layer is that the singles are not twisting evenly over each other, but the outer layer tends to wrap around the inner at an angle, making your ply uneven.

Next, a ball-winder or an Andean plying bracelet both create a weavers' cross in order to reduce the tangling as each layer passes over the last one. This is great, as it keeps the unwinding neat and orderly, but...the twist that is created in uncrossing the fibres builds up behind your plying control hand and starts twisting your singles across each other before they are properly plied. The result, again, is an uneven ply. As well, you have to stop more frequently to uncross the singles, breaking the rhythm of your plying, which will not help that unevenness issue, either.

So, fine. Being expert spinners, we learn to compensate for those little drawbacks by adjusting our plying technique. We hold our ball of singles under tension, we control the entry of the twist carefully, we work out the pigtails before we allow twist into the ply. No problem!


Yep, yarn barf.
The biggest problem with using self-plying methods for a large amount of singles, or for very fine or very fuzzy yarns, is that the singles will, at some point, invariably snag on themselves and drag out a mess of twist. Now what.
This is where we begin the elaborate yoga-like posing that has to happen as we extend the excess singles to even out the tension with the rest of the ball. Sometime we have to use our mouths, or innocent bystanders, to pull that bit of madness back straight. Somehow, our quick little self-ply has turned into a 4-hour epic with a cast of thousands! (Ask me how I know this--I dare ya!)
Now, in the end, we do have a reasonable yarn. But we could have a better yarn. The sample I made, using all of the problems that I could possibly build into a self-plying exercise, still looks pretty nice overall. However...

...we see piggy tails sticking out...

...uneven tension and twist...

...and underplying. (And apparently, out of focus. No doubt, also related to plying from the centre-pull ball!) Even after finishing, my plies want to separate from each other and, in fact, the yarn looks even worse.
Am I being finicky? Yes. But someone has to be, so that we can get past the bad information and stop making mistakes that make spinning harder than it has to be.
So consider this my pennance for my error, and please accept my apologies. I do promise to think before I speak next time.
Until I call you by your mother-in-law's name again....

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