Trial And Error

I’ve taken to spinning on a spindle like a duck to water. But plying is a whole other animal. Plying is when you take two or more single strands of the yarn you have spun and twist them together in the opposite direction from how they were spun to make a stronger and more balanced yarn. It can be a fiddly process, and there are many ways one can go about plying on a spindle.

My first several efforts consisted of either working from two separate balls of singles that are on a makeshift lazy Kate or working from both ends of a center-pull ball. Both of these methods proved to be very tedious for me because I spent a lot of time straightening out and untangling the sections of the yarn that want to curl up on themselves. Curling up on itself is a property of spun yarn singles.

yarn twisting back on itself

The spinning motion of the spindle twists the yarn in one direction and if the yarn is twisted enough times, this causes the yarn to twist on itself. This twisting isn’t a bad thing, it’s necessary. One of the things a novice spinner learns through experience is how much twist is the right amount of twist for the particular fiber and yarn she is striving to produce. Every time I start to wind spun yarn onto the spindle shaft, I first check it for twist by letting up on the tension under which I hold the yarn. If it doesn’t twist back on itself enough, I add more twist by spinning the spindle some more. It it twists back on itself too tightly, I draft out a little more fiber to absorb the extra twist. It’s something one learns through trial and error.

But when it comes time to ply the singles, this twisting back on itself can cause all kinds of mischief if you aren’t feeding them from a tensioned lazy Kate or some other device that keeps the yarn under tension. You have to straighten the twisting out of two different yarns while simultaneously spinning the two strands together on your spindle, and this isn’t as easy as it sounds. And to add insult to injury, at the same time you have to try to keep the two strands separated from each other so they don’t tangle together because, not only does the yarn want to twist up on itself, it also will gladly twist up on its neighbor.

I drove myself crazy trying to ply from two separate balls or from both ends of one ball because I was constantly having to put down the spindle to untangles the singles. I hated plying and kept putting it off.  I kept thinking that I would save all the plying for when I get a spinning wheel with a tensioned lazy Kate that I would use for all my plying.

Then magic happened. Oh, it didn’t start out as magic; it began with the usual plying frustration that has caused me to dread even the thought of plying. But I decided to bite the bullet and ply the Sapphire Heather Wool of the Andes singles I had spun. The singles had turned out very well. They were my most consistent yarn so far and I was curious to see what sort of 2-ply yarn they would make.

Half of the yarn was already wound on a cardboard core, so I wound the rest of the yarn off the spindle and onto another cardboard core. I put the two balls of yarn on my box-and-knitting-needle Kate and had a go at plying them. I was using my new Schacht 2.2-oz spindle as a low whorl spindle for the plying. It was a slow go because I had to keep untangling the singles. Then one of the singles snapped, so I broke the other one, wound the plied yarn into a skein on my niddy noddy, and started plying again. A little while and a lot of swear words later, a single broke again. Once again I wound the plied yarn into a skein on the niddy noddy.

By this time the frustration level was so high it was off the meter. The F-bombs were flying and ricocheting off the walls. It was time to try something different for the sake of my sanity. Obviously, plying from two different balls wasn’t working for me. Other spindlers may have mad skills that allow them to ply this way with ease. But I’m not one of them. I cried Uncle!!! I was terribly frustrated, and all the tugging on the yarn to smooth out the twists was taking its toll on the yarn as well as on my patience. I had to try different method.

I’ve been reading a lot of spindling-related stuff written by Abby Franquemont, and watching a lot of her videos, and  decided to try the Andean plying ball that she recommends so highly. It’s a low-tech method that is used by the indigenous folks in the Andes that makes plying a very portable and nearly mindless task. One simply winds the two (or more) strands together tightly into a single ball. While winding the strands, it is important to keep the yarn under tension and straighten out any places where the yarn twists on itself. The winding is a little slow because you have to do all the straightening and untangling while you wind. But once you have the ball wound, the plying is easy peasy.

plying ball wound from Corriedale singles

You just hold the plying ball in your fiber hand and ply away. Because the yarn is under tension, the curlicues are tamed. You don’t have to constantly straighten and untangle, so the plying just flies. As you let out a length of yarn to twist, you can feel any little kinks that may be in it and straighten them out before the strands twist together. But the kinks are few and far between because the yarn stays under tension throughout the process with very little effort from the spinner. When the yarn is under tension, it has a difficult time twisting back on itself or getting tangled with its neighbor.

When I first started plying from the plying ball, I was using the Schacht as a low whorl spindle, but when the cop of plied yarn started getting some size to it, the half-hitch started to slip off when the spindle was spinning, causing it to crash to the floor. I tried using two half-hitches, but the yarn still slipped off. So I turned my spindle upside-down and started using it as a high-whorl spindle and, OMG! I was in plying heaven! I finished up the rest of the WotA singles

WotA plied on a 2.2-oz Schacht Hi-Lo used as a high whorl spindle

and found myself with 278 yards of fingering weight 2-ply handspun.

two skeins of WotA along with the remaining yarn still on the spindle

I am so pleased with how this yarn turned out. It it by far the most consistent yarn to date and looking at it makes me feel like an accomplished spinner. 🙂

handspun to be proud of

The final tally–278 yards/92 g of 2-ply of heavy fingering-light sport weight yarn.


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