I’ve been spending some time working with my Russian-style spindle. The more I use it, the more I like spinning in the supported style. It didn’t take long before I was able to spin a consistent yarn, the key being not too add to much twist too soon: add a little twist, draft, add a little more, draft. Putting into too much twist at first (which you can get away with if you’re using a short worsted draw) results in thick and weak slubs.
I picked up some 50/50 camel/yak roving in Vancouver a few weeks ago, the blend being the only short-stapled fibre at Birkeland Brothers. As you can see, it really is quite short (sorry metric fans, I still measure staples in inches):
I carded the roving into light, airy rolags and spun from them. I was initially pretty pleased with the two-ply skein I made:
It’s feather-light and very soft. Unfortunately, it’s also very weak. Even the plied yarn pulls apart with little effort, meaning that I need to add way more twist in both spinning and plying. I’ve been told supported spindling of short fibres requires a lot of twist, but I hesitated to add too much more after drafting for fear of it becoming harsh and wiry. Lesson learned there. I started to knit a small swatch and made an interesting discovery:
This is what’s left of my swatch after I frogged it in frustration. See how each stitch looks like it’s knit from two strands held together? That’s the ply untwisting as it’s being knit. The action of knitting adds twist to yarn and depending which direction the yarn is plied (and which way you knit, Continental versus English or other methods), the plies will either tighten up or become looser with each stitch. Backing up a bit here, yarn can be spun in one of two directions: S or Z, so named because the twist will align with the middle part of each letter. Plying is done in the opposite direction, so if you spin S, you will ply Z. I don’t usually pay attention to whether I’m spinning S and plying Z or vice versa, but in this weak yarn it really made a difference. Although it’s a little hard to tell in the photo, you can see the ply twist in this yarn is S:
Which means that I originally spun it Z. If I were to make another yarn like this one, I’d spin S and ply Z, and add a lot more twist overall!