Well, after I handed in that freelance assignment yesterday I was so fried that I decided I wasn’t good for much more than watching the new spinning DVD I got last week, Abby Franquemont’s Drafting: The Long and Short of It. And watching her demonstrate long draw with Coopworth — the very same commercially prepared Coopworth I’d struggled with, in fact, with all the neps and VM — was like an epiphany. The Coopworth was prepared differently. It’s not smooth combed top like the BFL and Corriedale. It’s actual roving: carded, not combed. Which means the fibers aren’t perfectly aligned; they’re every which way.
I spin pretty things, but the fine details do still escape me, because, well, six months of experience isn’t a heck of a lot in the grand scheme of the universe. And most of that experience lies with commercially prepared combed top.
Still being a rookie, this different prep was something I didn’t consciously notice. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did notice. But what I noticed was that it was different, that it didn’t draft smoothly the way the other fibres I’d worked with did, it didn’t break off evenly when I pulled it apart like combed top does (that should have been the real giveaway, and I missed it) and that the single I spun with it was springy, not drapey and smooth. What I didn’t figure out as a result of observing all these things was that a long draw would be better for this type of preparation. I didn’t know it was carded instead of combed; if I had, I might have better understood why it was in the state it was.
I was so struck by the ease with which Abby was throwing the Coopworth around that I decided to pull out my wheel and that other bag of dark Coopworth that had come with my wheel to see if I could approximate it. This bag does, in fact, identify the contents as ‘carded wool roving.’ Note to self: Read the damn label next time. (Although in my defense, the first Coopworth was not identified thusly; I just checked. All it said on the label was ‘light brown Coopworth.’) Abby didn’t split or predraft; she just grabbed a length of the roving and started spinning from it. So I found an end, pulled it out of the bag a bit, and started spinning long draw.
And it worked. Oh, glory be, it worked. The Coopworth practically leapt into a finer woollen-spun single without catching, or digging its heels in, or arguing with me. The drafting zone travelled back and forth across the end of the roving evenly. I got a nice swoopy long draw backwards arm throw happening, pinching off the twist by the orifice with the other hand to give the forming single an extra steady pull to smooth out lumps and bumps, and it was glorious. Occasionally I double-drafted to get rid of slubs that wouldn’t straighten with the regular gentle pull.
I spun up two ounces in about an hour and they made lovely lofty 18 wpi singles. I’ll spin up another two ounces today and ply them together. [ETA: Pictures here.]
I figured out the Coopworth. I feel mighty. Thank you, Abby.
I can’t remember if I tried spinning it woollen with a long draw before or not (my notes are unclear) but I know I kept returning to the short draw for worsted, struggling with it to try to make it work. No wonder my six ounces of Coopworth only made 133 yards of very heavy thick and thin single. (In worsted spinning you squish all the air out of the yarn and try to make the fibres align and lie flat, making it smoother and denser; in woollen-spun yarn there’s a lot of air trapped between the fibres that are lying in all different directions, so the yarn is airier and fluffier. It’s what makes woollen sweaters so very warm but light enough to wear.) The single will be great for knitting something that’s destined to be felted, or something small and very warm like mittens, but I’d hate a sweater out of it; you’d be exhausted after wearing it for an hour. (Not that I have enough with which to knit a sweater. 133 yards doesn’t go very far.)
The DVD was very helpful. I was moderately concerned about how much I’d get out of it over the long term after watching it once, but it was on sale, and I’m so glad I bought it. I’ll be watching it every once in a while to remind myself of little things. I learned about woollen joins, for example. I got to watch her use both a Louet S10 (which is what my wheel essentially is) and a Julia wheel. All the fibre she used was Louet fibre, as the video was sponsored by Louet, so I know most of what she was working with and can now apply specific techniques to it. Just watching her hands, her treadling, and her posture was illuminating.
And this is what one doesn’t get when one takes a hobby up alone. If there isn’t a community with whom you can regularly interact in person, you don’t necessarily pick certain things up. You reinvent the wheel, so to speak, by reading books and experimenting on your own and talking to people online. But my spinning 102 class was the first time I’d sat down with other spinners since I tested the wheel at my LYS last summer, and I reinforced a lot of what I do by watching how the others handled their fibre and wheels. Curiously, yesterday Bonnie told me she’d attended the annual Chesterville spin-in this week and invited me along for next year’s session, and I’d already agreed. It’s a one-day event with a vendor’s area (dangerous!), and she said there were about fifty people all spinning together in one room. I can only imagine the kind of tips and tricks you could pick up just by watching the people around you. I’d love to attend something like SOAR, but financially (and probably fibro-wise) that’s impossible. The idea of being with hundreds of people I don’t know in a place I’m unfamiliar with is also enough to put me off the enterprise: I can’t even muster up the courage to contact the local weaver’s guild to see if they have spinners who meet regularly (although part of that comes from familiarity with how unintentionally grasping and overly eager guilds and small groups can be when presented with new blood, although I hasten to add that I have never met anyone of the local guild and so I might be completely wrong in this instance).
In the meantime, though, I have another video to inspire me: Maggie Casey’s two-DVD set Start Spinning. And next on my list will be Judith McKenzie’s newly released Popular Wheel Mechanics, although I won’t be able to order that till summertime.
Also, in somewhat unrelated news, if I ever get a Saxony, I suspect it may be the Kromski Symphony. I won’t know that until I’ve tried it (and that may be difficult as the closest Kromski rep is two hours away), but it’s said that the Symphony is comparable to the Schacht-Reeves Saxony wheels and it’s much less expensive. That’s miles down the road, though, if ever. And since I’m dreaming in brilliant colour, here, I would like the walnut model.