Sampling for fun and profit

Phase two of the Great Sweater Spin-Up is sampling. This is something that I've never really done before. When I spun for the Wisteria sweater last year, I pretty much dove in with the lovely merino, did a three-ply with my default single and just went where the yarn took me. I ended up with a yarn that was close to worsted weight and it ended up knitting into a really nice sweater. I'm very happy with the result but my explorations over the past three days have shown me that I can do better if I slow down and think about what I'm doing.

One thing I'm *not* doing as part of this experience is woolen versus worsted spinning. The Blue Faced Leicester roving that I've purchased is a long wool and therefore wants to be spun worsted as much as possible. It started out life as combed top, but the act of dyeing will disorganize the fibers somewhat so it's no longer "top" in the strictest sense. Regardless, I'll be spinning it worsted as long my hands and patience will allow. So, on we go.

Step 1: Determine a target single wraps per inch (WPI)

Sandi is asking us to use a yarn that knits up at 5.5 or 6 stitches per inch (SPI) - that means a DK to light worsted finished yarn. However, since this is a cardigan and I'd like to knit at 5.5 SPI so that it's a bit denser, I pulled out some worsted yarns that have gotten me that gauge in the past. Specifically, I pulled out Cascade 220 - this knits up to 5.5 stitches per inch with a drape that I like.

Next, to get a target WPI for my single, I separated the strand of yarn into its constituent plies. Then, I took one of the singles, along with my control card, and tried to figure out which one was close.

control card

From the picture, you can see that the single is close to 20 WPI. It was a bit of a challenge to get an accurate measurement that wasn't stretching the single, but I decided this was good enough to get a start. Another thing to keep in mind is that the finished yarn will bloom (increase in size) after it's washed and dried. So, I chose 20-25 WPI as a good starting point for my single.

Step 2: Sample singles and ply - first try

Armed with a target WPI for my singles, I sat down at the wheel and started spinning. I knew that the end yarn would be a true three-ply so I made sure to spin that way from the first. I set up my wheel as I normally would, grabbed about an ounce of fiber, split it into three roughly equal parts and had at it.

I kept my control card with me throughout the spinning and used it to ensure that I stayed close to my target. In the end, I kept drifting to a smaller single despite increasing the tension and slowing my treadling - generally between 25 and 30 WPI. I also took a length of the single at the beginning and end of each bobbin and made an "instant yarn" by letting it ply back on itself, again, to see if I was close. While the single was a doubtless a bit thin, the ply experiments looked quite close to the Cascade 220. Therefore, I soldiered on, finished all three singles and then plied. It still looked thin, but I was counting on a good bloom to the yarn when it was done. In the end, I got a lovely yarn that was too thin - on it's way to sport weight rather than DK.

control card

Step 3: Sample singles and ply - second try

Given that I couldn't convince myself that this yarn would be anywhere close to where I wanted to end up, I went ahead and did a second round of sampling. Clearly, I needed to get more fiber into the yarn and just increasing the tension more and slowing my treadling further wasn't going to cut it.

Enter Judith.

I've been lucky enough to take three classes with Judith now and each time only a small portion of her knowledge seems to make it into my brain. This last time we were spinning silk and she often reminded us that each of us has a natural spinning rhythm. That said, we also needed to embrace that rhythm and learn to adjust the wheel so that our natural rhythm would yield the desired yarn. I didn't fully grasp that until this particular moment.

Go down to a lower whorl (equivalent of slower treading) and adjust the take-up to work with that whorl and then see what happens.

Magic. Absolute magic. Those poor whorls sitting on the high end of my Julia - long suffering as I bemoaned my inability to spin fatter gauge yarns. Feh. I eventually popped up two whorls above my default single and suddenly I was spinning a single that was 20 WPI with ease. I felt that I could have gotten to an even fatter single without too much fiddling at that pace. Fantastic! I quickly (and I do mean quickly!) finished spinning up the singles, plied my skein (few beats per length since it needs fewer twists per inch) and sent it off for a bath. What a result.

sample skeins

WPI close up control card comparison

I also learned that my control and consistency improved if I split the roving lengthwise before starting to spin. Again, given that this was no longer strictly top, I wasn't doing myself or the fiber a disservice by manipulating it a bit to make the spinning easier. I'll keep doing this going forward.

sample skeins

Step 4: Swatching for gauge

Now satisfied that I had a yarn that was a good candidate for the cardigan, I grabbed my needles and started swatching. I know that I'm generally a loose knitter and that means I use a smaller needle than most so I grabbed a US4 and cast on for a stockinette swatch. I knitted away for 15 rows and then measured. The swatch was measuring five SPI but the stitches looked a lumpy so, I ripped back, stayed on 4s and knit more tightly. This attempt yielded a honest 5.5 SPI and was happy with the horizontal gauge, but again, the stitches looked lumpy - as if they were too vertically compressed. That led me to rip back again, move up to a US5 needle and end up with this result:

WPI close up

It's perfect. An honest 5.5 stitches per inch and I really like the proportion of the stitches versus rows and even the little bit of twisted cable looks tidy. How much do I love this swatch? This much:

WPI close up

And let's not even get started on the color. It's fabulous. It shines (thank you, BFL!) and it is warm as the last sunny day before winter sets in (thank you, Jennifer!). I want to pet this yarn and this swatch forever. I can't wait to make this cardigan so I can wrap myself in squishy honey. Now it's all about filling the bobbins.