Woolen Spinning is Speedy Spinning

Many new spinners learn how to spin using the short forward draw also known as the “inchworm” method. This creates a worsted yarn that is dense, smooth, and long wearing.  If you want to speed up your spinning and create a lighter bouncier yarn it is time to tackle woolen spinning!  We asked Spinzilla veteran Andrea Mielke Schroer to introduce Spinzilla spinners to this zippy method. Later in the month Andrea will be back with her tips for getting ready for Spinzilla. 

Woolen yarns have several advantages over worsted.  For Spinzilla spinners the main advantage is that they are faster to spin! While I wouldn’t spin woolen yarns for something that needs a lot of wear-resistance, such as socks, woolen yarns really have an advantage when it comes to speed of production, and creating light-weight but very warm garments.  I love woolen yarns for sweaters, blankets, scarves, and yardage for sewing garments.

The term woolen refers to a specific drafting method, used with a specific style of fiber, prepared in a specific way.

In true woolen spinning, you need three components:

1. Draft against twist

2. Carded (rolag) fiber with a staple length less than three inches, and with more than seven crimps per inch

3. Less twist in the singles/more twist in the plying (i.e. move to a smaller pulley for plying)

How to spin woolen

I love the succinct way Alden Amos describes woolen drafting as “drafting-against-twist.”  In contrast, with short draws, each pinch of fiber is fed towards the wheel, and is usually devoid of twist until after the drafting has occurred.

2014-07-18 11.48.42When it comes to spinning woolen with long-draws, the twist is allowed to run right up to the tip of the drafting triangle as the spinner is pulling the fiber away from the orifice against the twist.  If you try to draft long-draw from the end of a combed top, the perfectly parallel fibers pinch and squeeze against each other, and the drafting comes to a grinding halt.

The secret to drafting against twist is that there needs to be air or space between fibers. Carded rolags achieve this perfectly.  But I often want to spin long-draw with combed top.  I like the fiber, and I want to make a loftier, airy yarn that I can spin up quickly.  To do this, I pull off staple-lengths of fiber from the top, and spin from the fold.  Changing the direction (sideways) that the fiber is presented to the drafting zone introduces air, and allows me to use the long draw with a non-traditional (for woolen) fiber preparation.

Woolen yarn finishing

For true woolen yarns a more vigorous finishing than usual is needed.   Because of the low twist singles that are slightly overplied, some yarns lack enough structural integrity or wear resistance until after finishing.  For knitting or crochet, this finishing is done in the skein.  For weaving yarns, skip this step until the fabric is woven, and then apply these same principles to finishing the woven cloth.

I use the hottest water I can get from my tap and a bit of washing soap.  It is helpful to wear dishwashing gloves, to protect your hands.  I squeeze and shake the skein in the water until it is thoroughly soaked.  Then I switch to the coldest water I can get from my tap and repeat the squeezing and agitating.  I repeat this hot and cold cycle several times, finishing with a good rinse  to remove all the soap.

It is beneficial to use some conditioner or vinegar during the final rinse, to return the fiber to an acidic state.  I squeeze out as much water as possible, and then I thwack the skein on the side of the tub or the shower surround, rotating the skein in my hand, so all areas get several good thwacks.

This treatment fulls (felts) the yarn, making it stronger, and very fuzzy.

Woolen yarn

Woolen, worsted and everything in-between!

So many of the yarns we spin are neither “true” woolens or “true” worsteds, but fall in between these two extremes.  What I want you to take away from this is the speed you can gain with a long-draw draft.  Even if you don’t card your own fiber, I encourage you to take the time before Spinzilla to experiment with doing a long-draw draft from various carded preparations, and try spinning from the fold with some combed top.

Here are a few videos and an article to help you further explore this wonderful draw!

Video of Woolen Longdraw by Ruth MacGregor

Longdraw drafting from the fold video by Frazzlehead1

Spinning from the fold article by Abby Franquemont

Backwards Longdraw Spinning video by Rexie R

AndreaAndrea Mielke Schroer lives with her family in Central Wisconsin.  As co-owner of Mielke’s Fiber Arts, LLC with her sister, Amy, she has over 15 years of experience in teaching fiber arts across the nation.  She has written for Spin-Off and PLY magazines.

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