Putting Your Handspun to Good Use, Part Two: Spinning a Consistent Yarn

Posted by Jessica Ybarra on

jill holbrook spinning

I have been a spinner where I “let the fiber tell me what to do”. This is not a bad starting place However, when you are spinning for a project, most likely you will not spin all that you need in one day. The second day the fiber could “say” it wanted to be thicker or you could just be in a different mood. The size of your yarn changes and thus, your project yarn is inconsistent. Here are a few tips to help maintain consistency.

  • Finer yarns are easier to spin consistently and cotton as a fine fiber “wants” to be thin.
  • Keeping the yarn consistent occurs in the drafting zone. The amount of fiber that you allow into the drafting zone determines how thick or thin the yarn will be.
  • To help maintain consistency keep a sample of the yarn you have spun that you like. If the goal is a single, break this sample off the bobbin and keep it with your wheel. If the goal is a 2-ply, pull a yard or so off the bobbin and see  what it looks like plied back on itself. Keep this as a sample but also  keep some of the single as that is what you are aiming to spin.
  • If your goal is 3 or more plies you will need to spin and ply more. Spin and ply what you want your final yarn to look like and keep a sample of the final yarn you want and a single to use as reference. Feel and look at the single before you start spinning and check your spun yarn against it throughout all the spinning for your particular project or batch of fiber.

spinning yarn

Using a commercial yarn as your guide:

  • The second option is to find a commercial yarn that you like. If it is the thickness you want your single than use it as your sample. If it is a 2- ply and that is what you want then untwist it so you can see and feel what the single is like to recreate the yarn.
  • The yarns above on the left are commercial cotton weaving yarns. Starting at the top, there is 3/2 cotton (like a fingering to light sport weight knitting yarn). Then a 5/2 – light fingering to lace, 8/2 lace weight and 10/2 fine lace weight. On the right are two handspun cotton yarns. The top one is comparable to a 5/2 and the bottom one is comparable to a 10/2. These yarns all make  good standards to use as a sample to spin by. The 3/2 is the thickest I would ever spin a single cotton yarn.

Tips for Consistent Plying

Plying can make or break a yarn. With fine yarns and cotton more twist is needed in plying. Here are a few tips to try to keep your plying even and perfect for cotton.

  • I like a little tension or drag on the bobbins on the lazy kate . If you don’t have a brake you can put a fleece fabric or felt where the bobbins. This prevents the bobbins from backlashing and allows the yarns to come off more evenly.
  • Position the bobbins on the lazy kate so when the yarn is pulled off the bobbins rotate in the same direction.
  • Keep the back hand still. The forward hand should be the only one moving. This keeps the yarn from tangling and gives a more even feed.
  • Keep a finger between the ply in the forward hand and the back hand. This helps the yarns ply evenly and not wrap around each other sporadically.
  • Count your Treadles: With a finger between the yarns, move the forward hand toward the orifice and count each time the right foot presses down on the treadle – usually 1-3 times. Then move the forward hand back allowing the plying twist to follow behind your finger while continuing to count the treadles. Note the total count of treadles – mine are usually 4-7 depending on the size whorl I am using. When your forward hand reaches your back hand move toward the orifice again and then back allowing the twist to follow behind your fingers keeping that total count of treadles. After several passes like this, check the yarn between the bobbin and the hook or thread guide. If that is the yarn you like then continue counting the same number of  treadles. You can increase the plying twist by shorting the length of the draft or treadling more. Decreasing the plying twist is just the opposite – lengthen the draft or decrease the number of treadles per draft. Counting keeps the ply twist even. Some spinners will establish a rhythm after a few countings. Then they do not need to continue to count.

For Knitting & Crochet Projects to Calculate the yardage needed:

  • Make a  generous swatch.
  • Measure and multiply the length and width of the swatch to get the number of square inches.
  • Unravel the swatch and measure the number of yards in the swatch.
  • Divide the number of yards by the number of square inches to get the number of yards per square inch.
  • Calculate the number of square inches in your project and multiply that by the yards per square inch. This is easier than it sounds. Using the pattern multiple the length and width of each part: the back, the front, the two sleeves. Add these together for the total number of square inches in the garment. Don’t worry about the armhole and neck decreases. Including them will give you extra yardage. This allows for swatching and a little extra yardage if needed.
  • An alternative is to use a pattern that you are intending to use or that resembles your project and use the yardage suggested in the pattern. Spin extra yarn for sampling.

With practice you will learn how to spin your handspun cotton for a specific project. The possibilities are endless. We hope that you will post your finished projects on our Facebook page or on our Ravelry “I Spin Cotton” group. We’d love to see it!

Have fun spinning cotton!


Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.