Back on Chinese New Year, I was involved in some nutty spinning at Linda's shop. Please do check out the full description, complete with pictures, here at Mary Ellen's blog.
Basically, we all brought 3 oz of ready to spin fiber with us, not knowing what exactly would happen to it, only knowing Linda would provide another 3 for each of us so that we went home with 6. I had some idea that I would blend what I brought together with something of Linda's and bring the results home. boy are my ideas simple!
Instead, we combined all of it. Yes, ALL. We started layering our fiber (mostly dyed wool) across a big table. Once that was spread around, out came the surprise, a bag of the craziest items you ever did or didn't think to include in yarn. Stuff like silk waste, dyed cotton balls, angelina fiber, very fine wire, feathers, strips of fabric, bits of yarn--craziness. After that was spread around, we would add another layer of the more conventional wool and dyed locks, then another layer of "spinny bits" as Donna called the crazy stuff, then more wool, etc, until it looked more or less like this:At which point we had to get it off the table.
We rolled it up like a jelly roll, and then sliced the jelly roll into rounds, one for each spinner. The rounds didn't particularly hold together, not like a roving or anything so mundane, so I carried home a big paper bag of assorted fluff and nonsense, ready to figure out how to spin it. I spun by pulling handfuls out of the bag. I found it best to alternate between drafting what was between my hands and then letting go with my forward hand, so that the twist would travel back into the fiber supply, then draft again from there. Yes, I let the twist into the fiber supply. You've been told not to do that, haven't you? So have I. I usually don't. But I found it much more helpful to let the twist select the next combination of fibers to pull into the yarn. When I tried to draft more consistently (and conventionally) I was constantly pulling apart the unrelated bits of fluff in my hands and then having to join them back on to the yarn. It's not easy to join a piece of fabric, a bit of yarn, some wool, and a feather onto the already formed yarn while treadling and trying not to drop the rest of what's in your fiber supply hand. Since the actual roving was the easiest thing to join on, I kept grabbing more of it and not getting much of the other stuff in. That's when I realized that letting the twist travel up to grab it's own next batch of stuff, similar to a long draw, would best keep my yarn together and evenly select a bit of everything from the fiber in my hand. Spinning this stuff was not about making thin yarn, or making even yarn, it was back to that first day I learned to spin, it was just about making yarn: fiber that held together with twist. Holding together, that first and foremost goal, was my only goal. I ended up with this:
I had 6-8 oz. Too much for a hat, not nearly enough for a sweater, and frankly, I wasn't sure if I would ever wear it. I mean, I like color, and am not afraid to combine colors, but I do still like it if the finished piece has a describe-able palette. And I count "rainbow" as a palette.
I'm pleased just knowing that the yarn held up to being knitted. The finished project is a mobius scarf--the kind you knit on a circular needle starting in the middle and working toward the edge.* (Yes, not only does a mobius have only one side, it also has only one edge.) Mind boggling, but after making one like this, watching it form, I have an even deeper understanding of how the things work. (For those of you who didn't grow up with a science teacher father who encouraged you to play with mobius strips instead of toys there is a good explanation here and a video including some of the things Dad showed my brother and I that one could do with mobius strips here. Yes, we were raised to be dorks. I only wish I had thought to make the video. Dork!)
If I were to make this kind of yarn again (and it's intriguing enough and surprising enough that I probably will) there are a few thing I would do differently.
#1 I would start with some sort of a color pallet, however broad.
#2 I would ply it. I spun this one as a singles because it would have looked terrible plied, but it would have been much stronger if I had plied it against something else. Next time I'll try to ply against a sewing thread, so that the thread acts as a binder to stabilize the whole thing without losing the look of the singles.
#3 I felt that some of the "spinny bits" didn't add anything to the finished yarn, and/or were too difficult to work with to be worth using again. I loved the way the silk waste looked, and the angelina, and the wool locks, along with all the spinnable fibers we blended with, but I felt like the fabric and yarn bits didn't add anything and actually weakened the yarn in places. The cotton balls were just a pain without adding anything discernible to the texture. The feathers and metal are uncomfortable in the scarf and sometimes poke me.
I hear a rumor of an upcoming workshop to do the same thing, but only in natural fiber colors. I hope I'm in town for that workshop, it could make for some really beautiful yarn!
* The procedure was printed in a magazine a few years ago. I don't remember which one, and am away from my back issues at the moment, but I'm pretty sure it was either Spin Off or Interweave Knits.
**The cardigan I am wearing in Mary Ellen's process pictures is the one that had tea spilled on it during my flight and was then shat on by a bird during my first walk in DC. It came clean, no problem, and has been safe from calamity since then. Too bad I appear (at least from those pictures) to be outgrowing it.