A spinning wheel flyer with multicolored yarn being plied.

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. 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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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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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.


A skein of undyed handspun Clun Forest yarn.

Spinning Project Roundup

I confess I haven’t been knitting all that much lately. True, it’s summer in North Carolina, and some afternoons it’s just too hot to knit. But like many people in these COVID times, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the things that usually give me joy. I have, however, been doing a lot of spinning. There is something so fundamental about the rhythm of the spinning wheel (or spindle) that I have found comforting.

I’ve already written about my main Tour de Fleece project. I had a bit of time left after finishing my mini skeins, so I did some sampling on another Three Waters Farm colorway: Radicchio (also on the Polwarth/ silk base). I plan to use it for colorwork, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a 2- or 3-ply yarn. So I took a third of the braid, which is one complete color sequence, and tried both a straight 2-ply and a chain-ply. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to get the colors to line up so well in the 2-ply, and I like the way they reflect the light more than the chain-ply, so I think I will do the rest of the braid that way. First I want to swatch it to see if I’m happy with the length of the repeat.

Two small skeins of handspun yarn in shades of pink, turquoise and gold on a concrete and brick step.
Handspun Polwarth/ silk yarn from Three Waters Farm in colorway Radicchio. On the left is the straight 2-pym on the right the chain ply.

I’ve also completed my first Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project, which I shared on Instagram. I bought Clun Forest roving from Left Hand Wool Company – you may recall I got my hands on some Clun Forest x Corriedale awhile back (I wrote about it here), and I really wanted to see how it compared to 100% Clun Forest. This is also my first time spinning a Down-type breed (Clun Forest isn’t one of the true Down breeds, but it has similar characteristics). This roving had the same spongy, springy quality as the Corriedale cross I had spun, but it’s less soft. It’s not prickly, though, and I think it will do nicely as socks. I plied it with a high twist with that purpose in mind – so much so that the finished yarn is a bit wavy. I’m confident that it will knit up okay, though. I’m also thinking of dyeing it using walnuts or other natural dyes I have available.

A skein of undyed cream-colored Clun Forest yarn sits on a wood table.
The finished Clun Forest sock yarn.

Before starting the sock yarn, I also took a portion of the roving and spun it a bit thicker for my blanket project and knit it up into a hexagon. I’ve got 10 hexagons so far, representing 9 different sheep breeds (I’ve used Corriedale with two different natural dyes; the rest are undyed.) I figure I need at least 24 hexagon pieces to make a small blanket, so I need to spin a few more breeds!

A knitted hexagon in cream-colored yarn, still on the needles, sits on a wooden table.
My Clun Forest blanket ‘square’.

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Eight skeins of solid-colored Polwarth/ silk yarn in various colors

Tour de Fleece Spinning

This year I joined the Three Waters Farm Tour de Fleece team for the second time. I decided to spin the braid of the Mountain’s Edge colorway on Polwarth/ Silk from my stash. Until now I’ve been somewhat intimidated by hand dyed braids (if you’ve been following me you’ll notice I spin a lot of undyed roving and top), but I decided to get a bit adventurous this time.

A braid of handyed fiber in shades of teal, purple, yellow and brown.
Mountain’s Edge on 85% Polwarth/ 15% silk from Three Waters Farm

Much as I love to look at beautiful hand-dyed fiber, I don’t really knit with variegated yarns all that much. I’m not one for gradient or self-striping yarns, except for sock knitting. I guess I’m too much of a control freak – I like to have control over the color changes. So I decided to break down the braid and spin mini skeins to use in colorwork knitting. When I broke down the braid, I ended up with sections where two colors were mixed, and so I was inspired to try a bit of color mixing with my handcards. I was inspired by an article in Spin Off last summer (?) [Spin Off article] about creating tweed yarns.

I grouped my leftover sections into three piles: teal/ purple , teal/ yellow, and purple/ gray/ white. I used my handcards to blend those sections as evenly as I could, then removed them from the cards (without forming rolags, so the fibers were still somewhat directional) and did a bit more blending by hand as I formed the fibers into a loose roving. I didn’t get a great picture, but you can see my roving in the photo below.

Nests of blended, dyed roving.
Blended Rovings

And here are the resulting yarns. At the top you can see the full set of mini skeins from this braid.

Three mini skeins of handspun yarn in blue, yellow and lavender.
The resulting blended yarns

I think the blends turned out beautifully, and I can envision combining the skeins in any number of ways for colorwork. I spun them into a fingering weight (the Polwarth did fluff up a bit after washing), and with the sheen from the silk these will combine wonderfully with one of my favorite colorwork yarns, Tukuwool fingering. In fact, I’m thinking my first project will be to use the blue blend, and maybe a bit of the yellow or green, in a cardigan I’ve been planning for my niece.

Photo of a childs cardigan pattern next to three skeins of yarn.

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