Ask Jacey #2: Margo is too twisted

This month, Margo asks, “How do you control overtwisting and setting the take up on a scotch tension?”

Well, Margo, this is a super common question. Overtwisting is something that happens to everyone, both in the beginning, the middle, and well into our spinning careers. Honestly, every time I switch to an unfamiliar spinning implement or fiber, I overtwist (if I don’t undertwist; point is, I rarely hit the right level of twist immediately). So let’s talk about it.

One of the most popular ways to decrease twist is to adjust your scotch tension to pull in the yarn quicker and with more force; in other words, want less twist, turn up that tension!

And that will work, but – I don’t suggest it be the first thing you do. You see, it’s my experience that many spinners use too much tension already. Once you turn up your tension enough that you have to grip your yarn to keep it from flying onto your wheel, you’ve lost control. You can no longer spin the yarn you want to spin and you’re going to have crampy fingers to boot. There is a huge spectrum of uptakes that are possible, from zilch all the way to oh my, are my knuckles usually that pale? However, the workable range of uptakes is so much smaller than the possible range.

The workable range ranges from zilch to oh, I think I can feel it…oh wait no…oh yeah there it is. If your wheel is pulling on your yarn, you’re using too much uptake. If your forward hand is cramping, you’re using too much uptake. If your scotch tension spring is sprung, you’re using too much uptake. If you think you might be using too much uptake, you’re using too much uptake. If you’re reading this, you’re using too much uptake. Okay, not really, but if you can use less and still have the yarn you’re spinning slide gracefully into the orifice, give it a try. If you are using too much, decreasing it will give you a more comfortable spin (once you get used to it) and you will gain more control over your fiber and drafting.

How do you figure out the right tension? My advice is to set yourself up to spin your yarn with your scotch tension totally loose and light, so light that it doesn’t pull in your yarn AT ALL. Now slowly increase the tension until it barely starts to move toward the orifice. Now just a bit more so your wheel takes exactly the yarn you spin but doesn’t try to make you give more than you’ve already spun. Yes, your wheel should accept but not take. That’s the best tension for that yarn. When you change the grist of the yarn you’re spinning, your tension will need adjustment too. For instance, if you decide to spin a thicker yarn, you’ll need more uptake. That’s because a thicker yarn is heftier and the wheel needs to pull harder to accept it. However, it shouldn’t feel harder to you and your drafting hands; it should feel the same to you. The opposite is true if you go to spin a thinner yarn, it’s lighter and the wheel needs to work less hard to pull that thin little strand in, so decreasing the uptake should feel the same to your hands (notice if you left it the same, the wheel is now pulling the yarn from you instead of just accepting it).

Now that you’ve got your tension adjusted and I’ve probably scared you away from cranking your uptake way up, this is how increasing uptake can work to decrease twist in your yarn (which is what you asked about, Margo). It works like this – the longer your yarn hangs about in front of your orifice, the more chances it has to pick up twist, much like the longer a teenager hangs about in front of a convenient store, the more chances said teenager has of picking up something even less desirable than too-much-twist. Same same. The quicker your yarn zips through and onto your bobbin, the less twisted it will be.

But before you do that, try these things first! Choose a big pulley (this is often called a whorl). The bigger you choose, the less twist each treadle will put in your yarn. The next thing I’ll suggest is likely the easiest to describe and hardest to do. As spinners, heck, as humans, we have this thing called muscle memory. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It makes better spinners out of us, allowing us to just sit and spin without having to remember how to draft or think about our treadling. The drawback is when we want to change what our muscles have memorized, they sometimes sneak back into doing what they remember. Judith MacKenzie calls it our lizard brain. Our lizard brain dupes and double crosses us. However, if you can manage it, and I know you can, adjusting your body is a powerful tool on the journey to creating the yarn you want. If you want less twist in your yarn there are two things your body can do: slow down your feet or speed up your hands. You can do either or both in varying degrees. Of course, in adjusting your body, you will only gather less twist if you keep the diameter of your yarn the same. If you let your lizard brain lead you, your yarn will likely get a bit thicker because a spinner’s lizard brain knows that a thicker yarn requires less twist and so that’s what a lizard brain wants to make. But if you keep your yarn the same diameter as before you slowed your feet/sped your hands, you won’t be able to help but to get less twist.

Of course, you don’t have to choose just one or the other. Choose them all! Yep, you can cast off your lizard brain, replace it with a gear-head and pick a pulley the size of Australia, grow sloth feet and demon hands, and spin a yarn that would make a pencil roving blush.

And if that doesn’t work, you can increase your tension/uptake – but just a bit.

Here’s a video of Jacey demonstrating and rambling.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Jacey? Fill out the form and maybe your question will be the one Jacey answers next!

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