A spinning wheel flyer with multicolored yarn being plied.

Tips for Managing Takeup When Spinning Fine Yarns

Recently I was chatting with Mary Ann at Three Waters Farm about an issue I consistently have with spinning finer yarn and/ or slippery fibers like her Polwarth/ silk blends. I have a vintage Ashford Traditional wheel, and I often find myself fighting the takeup of the wheel with these fibers – I adjust the brake band tension until there is no tension in the spring at all (and the brake band wants to get caught in the flyer hooks), and still it feels like the takeup is too much. The result is that I have a death grip on the fiber and my hands tire easily when spinning with short forward draw.

It turns out that part of the problem is that I’ve souped up my wheel too much. I’ve replaced the old flyer (which was missing on this wheel when I bought it from a thrift shop) with a new, multi-whorl flyer and I’m using a new poly drive band. I love the ease of treadling with this new band, but the downside is the issue with fighting the takeup.

This month the focus in the Three Waters Farm Ravelry and Facebook groups is consistency, and since I’m working on a fingering weight yarn using short forward draw, I figured this was a perfect time to work on this issue.

Here are some of the tips I’ve found helpful to manage takeup:

  1. Use a wooden bobbin. On top of the new flyer and brakeband, I couldn’t help ordering myself some lovely Akerworks bobbins. These reduce friction even further, and when working with a fine or slippery fiber, a bit more friction is helpful. So going back to my classic Ashford wooden bobbins would have helped in this case.
  2. Add some sort of core to your bobbin. This is a tip I haven’t personally used, but one I’ve seen mentioned. When I came back to this project after the holidays, I had a half-full bobbin, and wasn’t having trouble with the brake tension. When I switched to a new empty bobbin I noticed I started having the issue again. Once I built up a core of fiber on the new bobbin, I was able to increase the brake tension slightly and still spin comfortably. Adding a core to start with would likely have helped.
  3. Try cross-lacing. Since I had already started spinning on a new bobbin, and I didn’t want to switch to a wooden one in the middle of the spin, I tried this trick that Mary Ann suggested. It helped reduce the tension until I filled the bobbin enough that I could continue to spin without it.
Close-up of a spinning wheel flyer holding a bobbin with singles cross-laced.
An example of cross-lacing to manage takeup

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2021 in Review – and My First Handspun Pattern!

Happy New Year!

I took some time off during the holidays to be with family, and since coming back I’ve been doing the work of closing out 2021 and planning for the upcoming year. In 2021, I published 6 new patterns and 15 blog posts, and taught my first ever online class! Teaching the class on breed-specific yarns was one of the highlights of the year for me, and I hope to do more teaching in the future – maybe even in person.

This year I have some new designs planned, of course, but I am also focusing on updating some old favorites. I’ve mentioned before in my newsletter or on Instagram that I want to update the Suora tee pattern to include larger sizes, and will hopefully be testing and releasing that in the coming months.

A cream-colored, handknit cabled hat rests on a wood surface next to an evergreen bough and pine cone.
The Towline Hat. Photo by Matt Graves for Spin Off Magazine

I’ve become confident enough in my spinning now to begin designing patterns from my handspun, and my first effort, the Towline Hat, was published as a subscriber exclusive on the Spin Off website just before New Year’s. If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen a teaser there. It’s a cozy, squishy cabled hat knit in woolen-spun 3-ply yarn. (Spin Off subscribers can find the pattern here.) The pattern features Tunis lambswool fiber from Tarheelbilly Farm (she has just updated her shop with both fiber and yarn, so do have a look).

I will be publishing this as a downloadable pattern once this exclusivity period ends, and it will include a commercial yarn version for those who don’t want to spin their own.


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Spinning Dorset Horn Roving

It’s been awhile since I’ve finished a Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project – the last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind and haven’t left me much time for spinning. I’ve been working on this lovely natural gray-brown Dorset Horn from Covered Bridge Fiber for several months, and finally finished it off last week.

According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, Dorset Horn sheep originated in Dorset, a county in southwestern England, and have fleece with a regular, fine crimp with plenty of elascticity. The micron count is typically between 26 and 33, which puts them in the medium wool range. The Livestock Breed Conservancy lists the breed as Threatened; you can find a fiber profile on the Conservancy’s website. They are usually white but can occasionally be near-black in color. Lucky me to have found this gorgeous shade of fiber!

After spindle spinning just under an ounce of the fiber for my blanket project, I set up to spin the fiber on my wheel. While Dorset Horn not a Down breed, this fiber did have a bit of that spongy feel that’s characteristic of the Down breeds, so I assumed this fiber would be amenable to spinning londraw. I had visions of a hat or mittens in a lofty thicker yarn.

But I had trouble initially spinning it as fine as I wanted with longdraw, perhaps because the staple length is a bit longer than other breeds I’ve spun longdraw, such as Clun Forest. I don’t often take the time to actually measure staple length of fibers I’m spinning; I just pull out a staple and eyeball it. But this time I got curious and actually measured – the staple length was around 3 inches.

I found myself wanting to spin the fiber semi-woolen with a short forward draw. It seemed to want to spin relatively fine that way, so I settled on a fingering weight 2-ply. I figured it could be used to knit a sturdy pair of mittens or even as a weaving yarn.

I started spinning the singles at a 12:1 ratio with about a 2-inch draft. But I found I wasn’t enjoying this project over the long haul, and about 3/4 of the way through I gave long-draw another go. This time I was able to spin fine enough to match the singles I already had, so I went with it and finished the bobbin that way. Needless to say, this spin isn’t going to win any consistency awards, but I’m satisfied with the end result. Oddly enough, the skein spun completely with a worsted draft seems to have fluffed up more after finishing than the skein where I switched to long-draw halfway through. Go figure.

The resulting yarn is pleasantly soft, if not next-to-skin soft. I could see buying a sweater’s worth of this fiber and spinning it for a fingering-weight sweater.


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Two skeins of handspun Florida Cracker yarn next to a stamped SE2SE passport page.

Spinning Florida Cracker Wool

I recently finished my 5th Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em spinning project – 4 oz of Florida Cracker roving from Flock Ewe Florida Fibers. Florida Cracker is one of a group of ‘feral’ breeds, descendants of sheep left behind by the Spanish that adapted to the heat and humidity of the Southeastern United States. Until 1949 they were allowed to range freely and rounded up twice a year for shearing. There is no entry for Florida Cracker in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, so my information on the breed comes from the fact sheet provided with my fiber and The Livestock Conservancy’s website. Florida Cracker is listed as a Critical breed by The Livestock Conservancy.

The wool is in the medium softness range. I didn’t measure the staple length, but on inspection it was in the range where I could have used either a worsted or woolen draft. Since I have been enjoying practicing my unsupported long draw, I decided to go with woolen and make a 2-ply yarn. I used my Ashford Traditional wheel with a ratio of 9:1. I found it didn’t want to spin terribly fine, and I ended up with a yarn in about the DK range at around 14 wpi. I also had quite a few thick spots – they were noticably fewer when I spun from one end of the roving versus the other, however, and I got a relatively even yarn after plying.

The finished yarn is softer than I was expecting based on how it felt to work with. It could easily be used for hats, mittens or a sweater. I also think it could be nice to dye for tapestry weaving.

Here’s a roundup of my first five projects. I’ve already purchased wool for two more projects – next up are Gulf Coast Native and Dorset Horn.

Images of handspun rare breed yarns with their SE2SE passport stamps.

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Sampling CVM for Cables – Woolen vs. Semi-Woolen

I’ve been sampling some CVM fiber (from Heelside Farms) for my next Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. I’ve been thinking I might want to knit a cabled sweater with this fiber, and I was wondering if my drafting method would make a difference in the cable definition. I would expect that, since worsted-spun yarns are often touted for their cable definition, getting closer to that with a semi-woolen yarn would give me cables that ‘pop’ more while retaining the softer, rustic look of a woolen-spun yarn. But a woolen spun yarn would likely be faster to spin, so I wanted to make sure the extra time for a worsted draft was really worth it. So I did a little experiment.

I’m starting from roving, so my options are to create a semi-woolen yarn using a short forward draft, or go for a fully woolen-spun yarn using longdraw. I pulled off a small amount to sample each way, and attempted to spin yarns with approximately the same diameter and ply twist. Both yarns came out to around a DK weight, and with similar ply twist. The woolen-spun sample came out a bit more uneven, and has a bit of a thick and think quality to it. I also had some areas that were underspun in the singles, so breakage was a problem. I would want to spin a more careful sample before I decided to use this for a sweater, but for my comparison purposes I assumed it would suffice. Unsurprisingly the woolen-spun sample had slightly less twist overall in the singles.

Yarn butterflies of CVM - woolen-spun and semi-woolen.
Left: woolen-spun CVM (spun longdraw); Right: semi-woolen CVM (spun with short forward draft)

I cast on and knit two swatches on US #7 (4.5mm) needles, using a simple 3×3 cable as a test. The woolen-spun swatch came out slightly bigger for the same number of stitches as I would expect – it measured about 3 3/4″ over 20 stitches vs about 3 1/2″ for the semi-woolen swatch. And the cable does appear a bit flatter and less three-dimensional, which I suspected might happen. The semi-woolen swatch also has better stitch definition overall. What surprised me a bit, though, was in that the swatch spun with a short forward draft the stitches appear a bit puffier and seem to fill in the space better. That could be because of my inconsistency in spinning the woolen swatch, though. The other thing that surprised me was the difference in weight of the swatches. I know woolen-spun yarns tend to be lighter, but I was surprised that the two swatches spun from roving were so different. The semi-woolen swatch weighed 4.5 g versus 4.3 g for the woolen-spun – not a huge difference in a swatch of this size. But it made a noticeable difference to the feel of the swatch in my hand. It might be worth sacrificing a bit of cable definition to get a lighter, cozier feeling sweater. I like the look of both cables, and even though the draft did make a difference I’m not sure it was enough to prefer one draft over the other on that basis.

Two handknit cable swatches comparing woolen-spun vs. semi-woolen CVM.
My two cable swatches: woolen spun using longdraw (L) and semi-woolen (R) using short forward draft.

I haven’t decided yet if I will knit a sweater with this fiber – I would need to purchase more of it – or, if I do, which draft I will use. I also want to test how these swatches will stand up to wear – maybe a topic for another post. But I do have an idea of how my choices will affect the final yarn and what I might use it for.