Comfort Fiber

words by Sylvia Smith

I write this while enjoying a cornucopia of natural offerings brought on by changing seasons. These seasonal changes have caused me to shift my focus from outdoor activities back to my fiber arts pursuits. My link to emotional quietude has been through fiber. Specifically, I am working through the home study (PLAR) option of Master Spinner Level 2 offered through Olds College. I completed Level 1 in September 2020 and elected to immediately dive into Level 2 as a positive focus for my energy during a pandemic-altered winter. The homework for both Level 1 and Level 2 of the Olds College Master Spinner program requires the student to spin specific fibers, as well as to spin fibers using specific methods and to recommended specifications.

I received a beautiful Athena Capricorn wheel for Christmas and an Electric Eel Nano for my birthday in January. I also recently bought a Dundas wheel from an old friend. Each of these spinning wheels operates differently from my Lendrum double-treadle wheel, on which I have treadled hundreds of hours to produce many miles of yarn. Upon receipt of each of these new spinning machines, I wanted to explore their unique traits without worrying about the quality of yarn that I would initially produce. I dove into my fiber stash and emerged with a bump of my good ole’ comfort fiber.

My comfort fiber is the result of purchasing a fleece produced by a dark colored mixed-breed sheep that I saw in a field about 25 years ago when I was still an inexperienced and solitary spinner living in central Idaho. After the owners sheared the sheep and sold me its huge dark-colored (possibly) Rambouillet cross fleece, I attempted to scour it and then sent it to a mill in north Idaho that processed it into thick pencil roving. This comfort fiber represents the very first raw fleece I ever purchased, and I have used this wool in countless public spinning demonstrations. I include inspirational amounts of this roving when I send aspiring new spinners out into the world with their own spindles featuring whorls made of either CDs or popsicle sticks.

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I am much more experienced and discerning about raw fleeces than I was when I purchased that first fleece. I now know I did not do an excellent job scouring the fleece and the fleece likely had second cuts and possibly a break in the fiber. The mill did a fine job processing what I now recognize was a mediocre fiber product

This comfort wool was the perfect fiber for me to use to acquaint myself with my new spinning wheels. Since I have spun a lot of this roving in different circumstances and for various purposes over the years, I have become quite familiar with its woolen and somewhat slubby characteristics. I understand that I will never produce a completely smooth and uniform worsted yarn with it. By using my comfort fiber that will never produce a perfect worsted yarn, I felt free to just play with my new wheels and become familiar with their unique personalities. I relaxed into the spinning process while drafting my imperfect comfort fiber and gained confidence in my techniques with each wheel without judging the yarn as it formed on the bobbin.

I compare my bond with my comfort fiber to our society’s gusto for such foods as baked macaroni and cheese, ice cream, or burgers and fries. We know that a steady diet of these foods will not contribute to a state of optimal health, just as spinning my comfort fiber will not produce perfect yarn. However, the aromas, textures and flavors of our comfort foods remind us of pleasant memories and link us to experiential traditions. It is a good thing to occasionally give our spirits and bellies a moderate dose of such treats, though we may choose to partake more regularly in other foods in order to promote well-being. Similarly, I have learned over many years to be quite discerning about the types of fiber and method of preparation if I spin a yarn for a specific use. When I sat down to a brand new spinning wheel in a world that has been so changed by the pandemic, it felt so very reassuring to smell, touch, and spin my good ole’ comfort fiber because it elicited great memories and validated the knowledge I have gained since I first acquired that fleece. As I drafted my comfort fiber into yarn on my new wheel, I felt like I was spinning threads of possibility for more fun fiber adventures and learning opportunities.


Sylvia Smith learned to spin in 1994 while living in Challis, ID, and was a solitary spinner in that small and remote community. She and her husband now live in Kalispell, MT, where Sylvia has many friends in the fiber arts world and is active in the Alpine Weavers and Spinners Guild.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

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How to Navigate a Rut in Your Creative Life

words by Jess Cook

As I type this, my spinning wheel sits in a corner of my home office, gathering dust. I can’t tell you the last time I spun anything at all, let alone a whole skein – and I work for PLY! I’m surrounded by inspiration from all of you, and our amazing contributors, every single week. Yet for some reason, my own enthusiasm for the craft has waned, and I’m really not sure why.

(The proof in all its ugly truth: this is my actual spinning wheel, covered in dust and some random toys that my kids threw into that corner.)

If you find yourself in a similar situation, now or in the future, here are some tips I’ve been gathering for how to handle a rut in your creative life.

Follow your enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is a fickle muse, and sometimes it leads us to unexpected places. If you’ve found yourself not making time for spinning, but you want to make that time, maybe you need to mix things up a little bit. Is there a new fiber type, prep, or dyer you’ve been dying to try? A new technique you want to experiment with at the wheel? Maybe you even hear a new tool calling your name. Whatever sparks that enthusiasm inside of you, follow it. You may just find a path right out of your rut.

On the other side, it may be time for you to fall back into what feels natural and comfortable. A familiar fiber, a favorite color combination, or a go-to technique might get you back into the groove again, like reuniting with an old friend. Whatever your enthusiasm is telling you, it’s best to listen to that inner voice.

Remove unnecessary restrictions

A wise woman once told me that I was inventing timelines in my head for things that didn’t need to be restricted that way, and she was absolutely right. What restrictions have you placed on your life as a spinner or creative that simply don’t need to be there? If you’ve been telling yourself that you have to finish Project A before starting Project B, or that you can only make time for spinning once your hallway closet has been reorganized, or that you can’t start a project if you won’t be able to finish it by next week – stop doing that! You’re giving yourself limits that don’t need to exist.

For me, this tends to be a problem when I agree to complete a project for someone else. I love to use my creative skills to make things for people I care about, but as soon as someone asks me to make something for them and I agree to it – I immediately don’t want to do that project. (As an example, I’ve been crocheting a bed-sized blanket for my best friend for over a year, because I can barely pull together the enthusiasm to make a single row most weeks.) If you’ve put yourself into a situation like that, it may help to give yourself deadlines, but also build in time to work on other projects that are more exciting so you don’t lose the creative spark altogether. For everything else, the timeline you’ve invented for yourself should only be allowed to persist if it motivates and helps you, not if it makes you feel boxed in and resentful.

Stash with intention

Stashing is another hobby altogether, and for me it comes in seasons. Sometimes I like having a large, varied stash so I know there will always be something to inspire me when I open the closet where it’s stored. Other times, having a large stash feels like a To Do list that’s hanging over my head, with an imaginary project for every braid and skein, weighing down on me and making me feel like I’ve buried myself under the weight of unfinished projects.

If your stash inspires you, put it somewhere you can see it, and visit it often. If it makes you feel overwhelmed or obligated, give it away or sell it! The sheep are growing new wool every day, so you can always get more. I have done this several times with all of my creative hobbies, and I always manage to get more supplies when I need them. Sometimes clearing out my stash to make room for something new is all the enthusiasm boost I need to get back into my hobbies again.

Go easy on yourself

The most important tip is to give yourself grace and peace in all things. If spinning isn’t calling to you right now, maybe it’s because your inner voice is trying to tell you to make room for something new, and that’s going to be just the thing you need in this season of your life. Time is a finite resource, and we’re under no obligation to parcel it out to every creative hobby at all times. If this needs to be a season of rest for you, let it be that. If you want to be creative but spinning isn’t calling to you, listen for the call of something else. Taking a break, for however long it lasts, doesn’t mean your life as a spinner is over. Give yourself time to do what you want and need most, and trust that you’ll come back to your wheel or spindle when the season for spinning returns in your life.

Harness the power of community

If you aren’t feeling inspired to spin alone at your house, find a local spinning group or make one yourself if there isn’t one nearby. You can also find a lot of inspiration in an online community – join us for one of PLY’s vlog sessions or use the hashtag #InspiredbyPLY on social media to find folks who are trying new techniques and projects they found in one of our issues. Use Ravelry or another site to find spinners who want to join a challenge together, or just share ideas and photos with other creative spinners around the world. There are so many ways that spinning can bring us together with others, and sometimes seeing the things other people are making is all the inspiration you’ll need to get back to your own projects.

Here’s to a New Year that brings us all creative inspiration, time to rest, and the peace that comes from balancing both.


Jess Cook is a middle school teacher and freelance content marketer, who also works for Team PLY as the head of our wholesale & advertising departments. She lives in the Nashville area with her 3 kids, a menagerie of pets, and a closet full of craft supplies. Find her online at tinyurl.com/jesscookonline.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Write for our Spring 2023 Issue!

The Mood Board for our Spring 2023 issue is here: The Science issue!

Do lab-made or lab-perfected fibers, such as Tencel, rayon, bamboo, faux cashmere, or Angelina get your brain and fingers excited?

Can you tell us how they are made and exactly what they are? How to spin them to best effect? Do they work as blends? What about dyeing? How do these fibers affect the environment?

What about 3-D printed tools? Love or hate? Can you tell us how they are made, the pros and cons of using them?

What’s coming on the horizon of this new and exciting field? Who are some of your favorite makers?

How has science and technology changed spinning? Can you walk us through the evolution of spinning tools, from a twisty stick to a turbo fast e-spinner? What’s superwash? How is it made and what is its impact on the environment? Is there any impact on the spinner and the yarn? Any special considerations for how to spin this fiber?

What about our wonderful fiber animals? How has science helped us to develop better fleeces to spin? Is wool testing the way to get better fleeces? How are shepherds protecting the environment while bringing us exquisite wool? What’s up with shearing? Why is it good for a sheep’s health, and what’s the best process?

Can you tell us the science behind dyeing the perfect color (acid and/or natural) or creating the best fiber blend? How do mordants work in natural dyeing? Dyeing fiber is often overwhelming for some folks, so what is the minimum amount of science and math you need to dye fiber?

What is the science behind making a balanced and long-spinning spindle? Wheel? Bobbin? What tools have the best balance, and who are the most precise makers?

We know that to make yarn all you need is fiber and twist, but there’s science there. Can you enlighten us on the science of twist? Of balance? Of finishing? Of plying?

Calling all science and math lovers, please teach us the science behind a handspun yarn. How do you measure it, what do the measurements mean, what is the science behind the math, and how can a spinner use it all to make their perfect yarn?

Are there any big spinning personalities that focused on science? Who are they and what did they teach us?

How do you use science in your spinning? We want a big science-y issue for Spring 2023 and we want you in it! Go Science!

Submit your ideas here: https://plymagazine.com/contribute/write-for-ply/

Proposals of articles and projects are due by March 1, 2022. We’ll get back to you in April, and final pieces are due September 1, 2022.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Wild Hair Fiber Farm: Spinning to save sheep one smidgen at a time

interview by Jacqueline Harp | photos by Amanda Roberts

Creativity can come in small packages. Indeed, this is quite evident when you look at the whimsical, artisanal mini-batt called the Smidgen from Wild Hair Fiber Farm and Studio.

Handspinners from all walks of life and levels of handspinning proficiency enjoy spinning small projects that make just enough yarn for lovely fabrics that envelope our heads or hands with warm and fashionable accessories. The Smidgen helps inspire these small but meaningful spin projects, while contributing to the preservation of an endangered heritage breed sheep – the Romeldale/CVM.

Let’s take a look into the working sheep farm from which gorgeous fiber products are generated. Not only can you add Smidgens to your fiber toolbox, but by purchasing these mini-batts directly from the farm, you can also help maintain critical diversity of sheep breeds.

Meet the shepherdess

Amanda Roberts is the shepherdess and fiber artist behind Wild Hair Farm and Fiber Studio, located in the scenic countryside of Crossville, Tennessee. She maintains a small flock of two sheep breeds, Romeldale/CVM and Gotland. The Romeldale/CVM is a heritage sheep breed listed by the Livestock Conservancy as “Threatened,” which means a breed with fewer than 1,000 annual registrations in the United States and an estimated global population of less than 5,000.

Amanda: My granddaddy got me my first sheep in 1991 as a 4-H project. I was hooked. I fell in love with the sheep and we have had sheep on the farm ever since. I have always been very hands on and a part of the farm, but after my dad passed away in 2017, I took over as the main farm operator.

The Gotland sheep have been a recent addition to her flock due to her love of their fiber and their sweet dispositions. She notes that the two breeds complement each other by providing two very different fleece types.

Amanda: The Romeldale/CVM sheep fleeces come in every imaginable shade of grey and brown. This provides a fiber artist with a natural color palette. The wool also dyes well and provides rich tones. If I had to choose one thing about the Gotland fleeces, it is the luster. I am always impressed by the luster it adds to a fiber blend.

Care of the sheep

Amanda takes measures to keep her flock’s fleeces as clean as possible, but she does not coat any of her sheep.

Amanda: Keeping the fleeces clean is not perfect. I do skirt fleeces heavily. I have found that the weather plays a role in how much dirt and debris they pick up. Some individuals are just magnets for debris. That is one consideration I use in retaining breeding stock. A good example of this is Mattie. She is one of my older ewes but she consistently gives me a large fleece that is relatively free of vegetable matter and dirt. Her daughters have a tendency to do the same. I can’t explain exactly what fleece trait(s) equal a cleaner fleece, but some bloodlines seem to have ‘it’ and I do consider that when looking at replacement ewes.

Her flock is excellently cared for, and this care is what makes Amanda’s fleece and fiber such a treat to work with.

Amanda: I try to let my sheep be as natural as possible. That doesn’t mean they are out in the field and never see a human. They are seen a minimum of twice per day. I know my girls (and boys) by name and most will let me walk out in the field and walk right up to them. This calm nature or whatever you want to call it makes everything easier for me and less stressful on them. If I need to catch one, it is not a rodeo – although there is always the occasional exception.

The studio

Amanda is not only the gracious shepherdess of her flock, but she is the handspinner and fiber artist who brings life and creativity to her studio. The studio allows Amanda to make rovings, batts, and Smidgens that feature the fiber from her flock. She is also a talented indie dyer of rovings and yarns.

Amanda: I put a lot of time and heart into my fiber preparation, whether on the hoof, on the skirting table, in the dye pot, or on the drum carder. I want to offer fiber that is exceptional and a joy to work with regardless of the project. I view spinning and felting as a tactile art, so how the fiber feels and works is important. My goal has always been to offer fiber that is versatile for spinning on different tools (wheel, drop spindle, or support spindle), lends itself to different spinning techniques or yarn gauges, and produces a finished yarn or item that is striking.

The Smidgens

A Smidgen is Amanda’s special version of a mini-batt. It can be described as a little bundle of fluff in a tasteful blend of fibers and hues. It is a woolen prep full of energy and color ready to spin into beautiful yarns.

The birth of a Smidgen begins when Amanda finds inspiration from fantasy themes, books she has read, or a movie or show she has watched. She thinks about the colors and textures that will determine which fibers she uses. Her favorite fiber ingredient for Smidgens is Romeldale/CVM wool from her own flock. She also uses other wools and other types of fiber, such as bamboo or rose fiber. She weighs out her fibers, adjusting the ratios as needed, and cards them on her drum carder. Once Amanda feels that her Smidgens have been carded to just the right consistency, each batch is carefully taken off the drum carder and packaged to be sent to a new home.

I asked Amanda to choose three words to describe her Smidgens, and she happily obliged with the following:

Fun – Smidgens are fun to make and fun to spin or felt.

Versatile – So many things can be done with Smidgens: spinning, felting, or decorating the studio; the list goes on and is limited only by your imagination.

Irresistible – Smidgens hold so much potential, and once you get one, you have to get a second, and a third, and so on!

Conservation mission

To help bring awareness to her Romeldale/CVMs, Amanda and her flock participate in the annual Shave ’em to Save ’em (SE2SE) challenge hosted by the Livestock Conservancy (LC). The LC is a non-profit organization located in North Carolina, dedicated to the protection of livestock and poultry breeds vulnerable to extinction. The SE2SE program educates shepherds of rare sheep breeds on preparing fibers for sale and then connects those shepherds with fiber artists who have been encouraged to use those fibers.

Amanda: I feel that the SE2SE challenge is a great way to get fiber artists to try heritage breed wools. When we had in-person events it was surprising and somewhat discouraging to realize how many people have not heard of Romeldale/CVM sheep in my area.

Amanda provided a parting thought to handspinners looking to start their next head-and-hand spin project: Be willing to try new fibers. I love trying new fibers. I don’t always love them or even want to use them again, but I feel like it broadens my knowledge to try new things.


Bio

Jacqueline Harp is a freelance writer and multimedia fiber artist who spins, felts, weaves, crochets, and knits in every spare moment possible. She is also a certified Master Sorter of Wool Fibers through the State Univ. of N.Y. (Cobleskill) Sorter-Grader-Classer (SGC) Program. Her Instagram handle is @foreverfiberarts.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Ads are on sale for our Summer 2022 issue!

Our Summer 2022 issue theme is “Mix” and we are mixing up all kinds of fun for this issue! We’ve got fiber blends, neon colors, and how-tos galore. If you’d like to advertise in that issue, we have a few spots available now!

Our ad rates start as low as $125/issue for a Bazaar ad, so they’re reasonably priced and a great way to get your business in front of the spinners who will support it. We also have a few spots left in other sizes, if you’d like to get a larger ad.

Click below to see the Mood Board for the “Mix” issue:

https://plymagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/PLY-Summer-2022-Mix.pdf

If you’d like to grab an ad spot for this issue before they sell out, send Jess an e-mail: ad.dept@plymagazine.com. We can’t wait to hear from you!

From Ewe to Ewe by Katherine McRose

Today’s guest post has been written by Katherine McRose of Right Choice Shearing.

Projects made by fiber arts are one of the purest forms of crafting. Each movement of the needle, delicate weave, or race of the shuttle is done out of passion, but that’s far from where the love starts. It doesn’t begin at the feeding of the spinning wheel or the carder. The first admiring touch doesn’t occur right before the wash or around the skirting table. No, the first time loving hands touch your fiber is while it’s still on its original owner. After the care of the fiber animal, it starts with the shearing, in the moment between a shearer and their patron when a true connection is formed. In this moment of celebration between the animal and its handler, gratefulness is shared. The animal feels the relief from the fiber coming off and relaxes into the swaying motions of the shearer’s dance. At the same time, the shearer settles into their movements, proud of the mutualistic moment of peace. Without the sheep, the shearer wouldn’t survive, and without shearers, these sheep wouldn’t either.

Getting started and finding our niche

That connection is the reason I’ve continued to shear for the past 12 years. I have experienced no stronger feeling than connecting with an animal, earning their trust, and being a part of maintaining their quality of life. I have been shearing sheep since I was 14 years old. I began by answering a Craigslist ad for sheep shearing. I had never shorn an animal before, but I had watched someone else shear a meat goat. That wasn’t too bad, so this wouldn’t be either, right? Wrong. It took me and a friend 4 hours to shear just 7 sheep. In case you were wondering, they looked horrible, like chewed up foam pillows. However, this lady was so thrilled someone was willing to do it that she told all of her friends about us. That was the start to my business, Right Choice Shearing, which now serves 9 Midwest states, over 5,000 sheep, 1,500 alpacas and llamas, and right at 100 goats, with just myself and my wife, Darian.

We specialize in shearing small hobby farms. Since the decline of the wool industry due to the creation of synthetic fibers, shearers are becoming few and far between. The good ones are retiring with broken down bodies from years of abuse, and the young ones don’t have anyone to learn from. There are still large, thriving, wool operations in the U.S., and the shearers working those circuits are booked 10 months straight, shearing tens of thousands of sheep a year. That leaves no time for the little guys. How can a person say no to 200 sheep in a day for a group of 25 on the side? That’s where we come in. I have a few groups of 100–200 sheep and a farm of 150 llamas which take a whole day themselves, but our days are mostly composed of traveling to 5–8 farms, the most being 14 farms. We are the people who come out for those 2 guard llamas no one can get close to. We show up for the backyard alpacas and the flock of 18 fiber sheep.

Shearing as a hobby shearer

Although we hobby shearers share the same passion and pride for our craft that crew shearers do, we are left to blindly navigate the waters of the shearing industry. I didn’t know another shearer when I started out. I had no mentors to ask questions or YouTube videos to give instruction, so we just faked it until we made it. It didn’t take long to figure out the standard. Shepherds want clean animals with no nicks, so that’s where we started.

Being small women, we quickly realizing that wrestling these very strong animals wasn’t going to be an option. I have always been persistent and decided there would be no animal I couldn’t catch and shear, so I had to learn to work with these beautiful, intelligent creatures. I studied their body language and instinct to better read and control the vibe of the encounter. Llamas, for example, are traditionally cat like in their interactions with humans. Most are not a fan of physical affection and certainty do not want to be restrained. Setting the vibe starts when we step in the pen.

Shearing with confidence

Confidence is a must. The llama needs to know we feel comfortable with them and are certain in our movement. They can sense if we are unsure and feed off of that, making them nervous. We avert our gaze. The llama is staring us down, taking in our presence. Strong, predator eyes induce instant, natural fear. With eyes down, we move slowly towards the animal, one step at a time, guiding them to a safe corner. Now our hands reach out to first meet their body. The llama is typically nervous but, with proper timing, observes we are calm and our touch doesn’t hurt. At this point, the llama usually stands to be haltered. Slow, kind movements bring the halter over their ears and around their snout. These are incredibly sensitive areas for any animal, so completing this step is most of the battle.

Next, the llama is tethered to a post, and one shearer stands on either side to start the trim. This presence keeps the animal from turning its body side to side, again, keeping the energy low. We remove the barrel, or the main body, of the llama first. The barrel is a great place to earn the trust of the animal before moving the buzzing shears up their neck or down their legs. It is also where the animal loses most of its body heat. This is important to note because the main goal of this shearing is animal maintenance, not beauty. If the animal becomes stressed around their more sensitive areas, we know that they will survive the summer heat with just a barrel cut. Additional stress is not worth a perfect haircut. This also happens to be the highest quality fiber, so if there is a plan for it to be used, it’ll be collected separately.

We work our way up the neck next, cleaning behind the halter and up their cheek. Then each shearer works on the legs on their side. Llamas fight using fang-like teeth to rip and tear at each other’s testicles and legs, so this is the hardest part. Llamas can also kick you if you stand anywhere other than directly in front of their chest. If they don’t like it, they will let you know. This is my favorite part, though. If a llama stands while you shear their legs, you’ve done it. You’ve earned their trust. That’s what my passion is. I want to earn that every day. I look forward to returning and seeing the progress. I’ve seen “feral” llamas that “should be sedated” give me that trust without a shot. In just 3 shearings, working with them no more than 10 minutes a year, I’ve seen llamas go from buck wild to perfect clients. That’s the magic of working with animals, learning to communicate through unspoken language. We only get 3–5 minutes with most of these guys every year, but they remember us.

Maintaining the fabric of life

In 2010, I started shearing for people who were forgotten by the industry. I picked up the shears for the first time for endangered breeds and found my life through a dying art. Shearing for hobby farms is more than just grooming a pet. It’s helping to maintain the last few threads of an old fabric of living. There are breeds of sheep that continue to exist solely because of our hobby farms. Commercial operations don’t run large numbers of Jacob sheep or Shetlands. The worldwide fashion market doesn’t want a Finn fleece with varying tones of grey or the creamy moorit found in a CVM blanket. They only want white, no badger or true black. They want consistency, not uniqueness. You can only find that in a handspinners flock. So, thank you, to all of those who support our local farmers. The ones pouring their heart and soul into these animals, providing a product that didn’t get this good with machines and quality control. It got this good from love. The next time you touch a new fleece, or drool over that beautiful yarn, remember, someone else loved it first.


Katherine McRose is a small-town Texas shearer and owner of Right Choice Shearing. What started as a high school side job became her means to pay for her Animal Science degree from Texas A&M and then her career. Her passion is shearing for hobby farmers and spreading industry positivity on their far-reaching social media.

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Sneak Peek: Winter 2021

Our “Head and Hands” issue comes out in December!

This issue is jam packed with so much cozy warmth – we’ve got hats and mittens, luxury yarns, and even tips for choosing fibers to knit for bald heads! 

If you want to subscribe OR resubscribe in order to get this issue when it comes out, the deadline is November 25. You can get all the information you need right here: https://simplecirc.com/subscribe/ply-magazine

In the meantime, how about a few photo sneak peeks?

PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!

Ask Jacey: Yarn Competition

Jean wants to beat her best friend in the game of yarn
 
Jacey, my best fiber friend makes yarn that’s so much nicer than my yarn. We can use the same fiber, the same colorway, and each spin it into a worsted 2-ply yarn. Her yarn turns out soft and amazing and mine is hard, scratchy, and not amazing. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?! Jean
 
Let me tell you a story that happened to me not that many years ago (12 years exactly, in fact). I dyed 8 oz of commercially processed organic Merino combed top and spun it with a worsted, short-forward draft. The resulting yarn was worsted in both style and weight and also, I thought, the most beautiful in the world. This was before PLY, by the way. To my immense joy, it was spot-on balanced. I mean, it hung in the quintessential loop with not even the slightest inclination of turning left or right. I loved it. Even now, when I look at the pictures, my breath catches a bit in my throat. Yarn does that to us, right?
 
Then I knit it up. I knit it into my knitting hero Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Sweater. You’ve made at least one, right? If not, stop reading this for a couple hours and whip one out – you won’t be sorry. Actually, finish reading this first as it might save your sweater. The few hours I spent knitting it were joyous (except for a little nagging thought, but we spinners/knitters are sometimes good at ignoring those nagging little thought, aren’t we?). A smart and slightly mysterious pattern coupled with the most gorgeous yarn in existence – how could it not be euphoric? Well, good thing I enjoyed those few hours because once the sweater was done, my bliss faded to confusion and eventually woe.
 
The sweater was attractive enough but, truth be told, a more fitting name would be the Baby Surprise Suit of Armor. It was thick, it was hard, and it was stiff: words suited for so many things in this world besides knitting, to be sure. It was even a bit crunchy. When I went back to feel the original fiber, I was even more confused – the combed Merino top was about the softest fiber I’d ever felt and perfect for a small, picky kid. Next, I moved onto the yarn. That’s when I let the nagging thought take root and took a more honest look at this gorgeous yarn. I realized that while it was aesthetically pleasing – perhaps a 9 or a 10 – when it came to tactile appeal, it plummeted to a 3 or a 4. (I reserve 1s and 2s for yarns that might actually puncture or cut you.)
 
You might initially be attracted to this yarn, but once you spent a little time handling it, you’d have to have a couple of glasses of wine before you’d take it home with you.

Of course, my kiddo was thrilled with their sweater in theory, but when it came time to pick something out to wear, their tiny pudgy hand never reached for it. In the picture, you can see the stiffness and the lack of drape; what you can’t see is the scratchiness and the crunchiness. It’s quite unpleasant. In fact, I had to help them lower their arms for the shot; otherwise, the yarn caused them to stick straight out to the side like a tiny cheerleader.

So what did I do wrong? How did I take soft, scrunchable fiber and turn it into the equivalent of a Baby Surprise Hairshirt? It’s probably the same thing you’re doing – spinning the heck out of it.

That’s it! Too much twist. Too much twist in the singles, to be precise. All yarns spun from the same fiber using the same technique are not created equal, my spinning friend. I don’t care if your yarn turns out perfectly even, smooth, and balanced – it can still feel like it fell out of the scratchy tree and hit every crunchy branch on the way down.

Here’s the truth dropping: The feel and hand of your plied yarn lies mostly with the twist in your singles. Too much singles twist can make it absolute cord. Rope, even. Follow me for a second because this is the crux of the matter. If you spin a single with a low to moderate amount of twist, your yarn has a better chance of ending up soft no matter how much ply twist you subject it to. If you spin a yarn with scads and scads of singles twist, no matter how little or how much ply twist you add, that yarn will be hard, crunchy, and stiff. It’s true. Look at these yarns:

Both are Merino wool spun worsted and plied to balance. The only difference is the yarn on the right has less singles (and it follows, it’s true, less ply) twist, and the one on the left has lots more. Even without touching them, you can see the difference, right?

As always, though, I recommend you don’t take my word for it – try it out. Take an hour and spin a few samples. Spinning samples and experimenting expands our knowledge of the craft. Try the following:

  1. Spin 2 singles with low to medium twist.
  2. Ply half of each together until they reach balance or just barely beyond. Remove your yarn and mark it “low single, balanced.”
  3. Ply the other halves of the low-twist singles together employing the “treadle like the wind” technique. It will take them way past balance, but we’re experimenting, so just go with it. Mark it “low single, high ply.” 

You’ll find that these 2 yarns with their low-twist singles will be fairly soft and pliable, like your fiber. Now try the following:

  1. Spin another 2 singles, but this time, give them heaps of singles twist.
  2. Ply half of each together until they reach balance or just barely beyond. Wind this plied yarn off and mark it “high single, balanced.”
  3. For the other halves of the singles, ply lightly, with just a bit of ply twist. This yarn won’t be balanced, but that’s okay. Wind it off and mark it “high single, low ply.”

Both of these yarns, with their high-twist singles, will be harder and scratchier than your fiber, regardless of the amount of ply twist present.

See!? The feel and drape of your plied yarn is highly reliant on the twist amount in your singles. No matter the ply twist, lower singles twist will result in a yarn that is softer than high singles twist.

So, Jean, that’s it. If you want your yarn to be more like your pal’s, try putting less singles twist in it (and for balance, less ply twist as well). To get less twist, set your wheel on a bigger pulley, move your hands faster, or treadle your feet slower.

Also, subscribe to PLY, it’s pretty good.

Much,
Jacey

PS. Watch a video to go with this Ask JaceyHERE!

PPS. Got a question for Jacey? Ask any time, HERE!

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Spinner’s Phone Stand

Twin Mommy Creations has developed a spinner’s phone stand. This phone stand includes a spinner’s control card, a WPI tool, an S/Z angle tool, and multiple diz sizes, as well as a little fiber stop to keep your end when you take a break from spinning.


Do you know about something new or hot or rare — fiber, tools, events? We’d love to feature it on our blog or newsletter. If you’re making/planning something new you think people should know about, let us know!


PLY Magazine believes that Black lives matter, as well as LBGTQI+ lives. Those most vulnerable and persecuted in our communities deserve our love and support. Please be good to each other.

Did you know we also have a monthly PLY newsletter? Sign up here!