The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs: Techniques for Creating 80 Yarns

The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs: Techniques for Creating 80 Yarns


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603427388
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 01/29/2013
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 291,663
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sarah Anderson learned to knit at a very young age and has been hooked on the fiber crafts ever since. She taught herself to spin at 13, but it was not until 1992 that she became serious about her spinning. She developed a new technique she calls “wrap and roll,” which won her a cover on Spin Off magazine in 2008. She has taught at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR), contributed knit designs to All New Homespun and Handknit, and teaches at many venues. She lives near Snohomish, Washington.

Read an Excerpt



You wouldn't build a house without first putting in a foundation, or it could fall down upon your head. Fortunately, spinning is risk-free, and even if you don't know the foundational basics, nothing will collapse, and you may even spin a usable and quite beautiful yarn. However, your chances of spinning the yarn you envision are much greater when you understand and practice the basics. This chapter covers several different ways to prepare fleece and draft fiber while spinning, all of which affects the final product.


People who make yarn are not only spinners, they are also yarn designers. Most yarn users who don't spin have no idea what they're missing. As spinners, we can customize our yarn to the project at hand, and this process starts out right at the beginning before we even get near the wheel or spindle. What do you plan to make with this yarn? Will it be a next-to-the-skin garment or will it make a rug? These are the considerations that help determine which fiber or blend of fibers you could choose to go into your yarn. Fiber choice is one of the things that determine the way your yarn feels next to your skin, or its hand. The amount of twist in yarn also can affect its hand. Too much might make it stiffer than you planned, while not enough will produce a yarn without integrity and strength. Cabling a yarn tends to harden the hand, so if you're making a cabled soft yarn, you must start out with very soft fiber.

Some fibers such as silk, bamboo, and suri alpaca have little or no crimp, so they tend to make a yarn that is more dense. They will give you drape, weight, and luster, which is perfect for knitted lace but not so great for a project that requires stitch definition, such as cables or knit/purl designs. For those purposes, you may prefer a crimpy wool fiber and a round 3 ply or cable yarn that will give you clear stitches that hold their shape.

If fuzz is what you want, kid mohair, angora, or even Samoyed dog hair will develop a beautiful aura in the finished garment. Adult mohair is extremely strong and works well for hard-wearing projects like woven bags or rugs. Whatever the purpose, there is a fiber or fiber blend for it, and you can make yarn with it! Best of all, your project will be one of a kind — yours alone.

When it comes time to use the yarn you've made, the fabric is affected by how densely the fibers are spaced. In knitting, for instance, needle size determines the hand: too small and the fabric is "hard" — too large and it is sloppy. In weaving, the same principle is at work when you decide how close to set the warp threads.

What if I just want to spin and not worry about the end use of the yarn? Well, that's the best part of all! Spinning is so much fun that it can be an end in itself. There are no fiber police and no law that says you have to use your yarn. You can gift or sell it to someone who will. Or, of course, you can artfully arrange it in a bowl and admire it as is.


Many elements make up this thing we call yarn. It could be called a continuous strand of fibers twisted together, but I usually call it that stuff that has taken over my home. As my children fledged, their space was quickly taken up, filled with fiber and skeins that seemed to multiply on their own. I define yarn as an obsession. If you're obsessed too, and want to read about wraps per inch, twist, and types of ply, read on.

Twist is what spinning is all about: without it, you won't have yarn. It's what holds fiber together — like glue. Author and teacher Judith MacKenzie is the first person I heard compare twist to glue, and I think it's the best way to understand the function of twist in fiber. If you're making yarn, you'll certainly want to understand twist, as well as balance. Think of the amount of twist in a yarn as its energy. If you put a given amount of energy into a singles, you must match it with a similar amount of energy when you ply in order for the yarn to be balanced.


When your singles are freshly spun, allow a length to ply back on itself, and it will instantly pop into balance. If a singles has been on a bobbin even for a short while, some of the twist will have set, making it a little harder to tell if you are adding enough twist when you ply. A simple way to avoid this problem is to make a control sample while you are spinning your singles and save it so that you can refer to it when you start plying. It's especially good to do this if you're coming back to the project after not working on it for a time.

Step 1. Pull 1 ½ to 2 feet of freshly spun singles off your bobbin, and allow it to ply back on itself.

Step 2. Tie a knot in it, then untwist the spun yarn above the knot and pull it apart.

Step 3. Tie your control sample onto your wheel and refer back to it as you spin and again when you ply. Every so often, pull a length of singles off the bobbin and let it ply back on itself. Compare to your sample to maintain the same diameter and twist you began with.


Depending on which way you spin the wheel (or the handspindle), yarn twists in one of two directions: counterclockwise or clockwise. The twists in the resulting yarn are called S or Z.

S-twist yarn. You produce an S twist when you turn your spinning wheel to the left (counterclockwise): the twist angle in this yarn leans to the left just as the center of the letter S does. (Coincidentally, as you begin to print the letter S, your pen travels left.)

Z-twist yarn. You produce a Z twist when you turn your wheel to the right (clockwise): the twist angle of this yarn leans to the right as in the letter Z. (And when you print the letter Z, your pen travels to the right.) Another way to remember which twist is which is to say to yourself, "Zee right way to spin is to Zee right!"

Most spinners I know spin their singles with a Z twist and ply them S, although some do it the opposite way: both ways are correct. You should consider the end use of your yarn when deciding which direction to spin it. When I am going to knit with my yarn, I like the last plying step to have an S twist because I tend to add a little more S twist to the yarn as I knit. I would rather add a little ply twist than subtract ply twist, which may cause the yarn to appear underplied. When the yarn's end use is crochet, some spinners choose to spin with an S and ply Z. It's best to sample and swatch your yarn to see how it responds in your intended use. This is just one of the ways we spinners have an advantage: we can custom design our yarn to fit the project.

Twist is more than just the direction your wheel spins — it can be a major design element when weaving or knitting with energized yarns. (For a description of energized yarns, see page 107.) It animates the finished fabric in fascinating ways. S- and Z-twisted yarns interact with each other and make the piece come alive.


Wraps per inch (wpi) is the way we measure the diameter of yarn. If you roll a piece of yarn around a dowel and it takes 14 times around to fill in one inch, then your wpi for that yarn is 14 (a). Notice that I said roll the yarn onto the dowel. If you wrap the yarn around it, you will add or subtract twist. Master handspinner and teacher Patsy Zawistoski illustrates this by using a flat piece of ribbon instead of round yarn. The ribbon makes it easy to see the twist that is added when you wrap it on (b) instead of rolling it on (c). The wraps should touch but not be smashed together. Just how close you put the wraps on your measuring tool is a matter of judgment, so this measure can vary greatly from one person to the next. Even though this isn't a perfect measurement, the procedure can give you an idea of the thickness of a yarn or a singles and therefore help you make compatible yarns. This, like many other evaluations in spinning, means judging for yourself according to what you see and feel. If you are consistent in the way you personally measure wpi, you can use this measurement for your own comparisons. Another person's numbers on the same yarn could be quite different from yours. Along with the angle of twist measurement, wpi should enable you to duplicate a yarn if you have some of its original fiber. At least you could spin a yarn that would be compatible in the same project.

Getting it right. Roll yarn around a dowel to determine wraps per inch.

Wrapping. Wrapping a ribbon on a dowel exposes the unwanted result: twisted ribbon.

Rolling. By rolling the ribbon on the dowel you ensure that there's no twist.


Many a new spinner finds that she or he has not only gained a great new skill and pastime but has also acquired a nose for wool. You suddenly realize that the pasture you have blindly driven past for years has sheep in it! Enthusiasm can lead you to take the first fleece you stumble upon, and that's okay for experience, but be aware that it may not be the best suited for your dream project. Successful yarn starts with your choice of wool. How it is then washed and prepared can make the spinning experience either tedious or pure pleasure.

Many spinners purchase all of their fiber prepared and ready to spin. We are fortunate to live in a time when this is possible. In the 1970s when I started spinning, I never even imagined the choices we now have, from raw fleece to painted merino top, silk, yak down, bamboo, and everything in between. That said, there is something extremely satisfying about processing your fiber from its raw state. Some of us actually get a little dizzy with fiber lust when exposed to the smell of freshly shorn wool. For whatever reason, its draw is powerful enough to cause an otherwise thrifty person at a fleece sale to mysteriously find herself before the cashier's desk surrounded by more sheep-size bags of wool than she can carry, as she forks over this month's grocery budget.

With the popularity of spinning, businesses that cater to the spinner have sprung up, and the industry has grown. You can purchase fiber that is ready to spin in the form of roving (carded preparations), top (combed preparations), pencil rovings (thinner, predrafted-type top or rovings), carded batts, and more. You can buy fiber blends in all these preparations both dyed and undyed. With processed fiber so readily available, you could spin your whole life and never buy a raw fleece. You could, but you'd be missing out on a lot of fiber fun, because you can also wash and process your own batts, top, and rolags.

Buying a fleece is a heady experience, so don't get carried away and purchase just any old fleece. There are many breeds of sheep, and their fleeces all have different characteristics. Some, such as Merino, Targhee, and Rambouillet, have fleece with fibers that are fine and soft, with many crimps per inch. Yarn from these fleeces is nice for next-to-the-skin garments. Then there are breeds like Corriedale, Montadale, and Columbia, which have fibers that are a little less fine but still quite soft and crimpy. Fleece from the longwools, such as the Leicester family, Cotswold, and Lincoln, has a larger wavy crimp and more luster. These can be soft and silky, like Bluefaced Leicester fibers, but the fibers are mostly more on the coarse end of the spectrum. Romney falls in the long-wool category, but often leans toward a smaller crimp than other longwools. They are all lovely to spin.

Evaluating cleanliness. Even within breeds, each sheep's wool can vary quite a lot among individuals, so look closely at a fleece you are considering buying. Cleanliness is a very important factor. Because wool is greasy, it attracts dirt. Most dirt will wash out, but not the dreaded vegetable matter (or VM). If the sheep has worn a coat (yes, there are coats for sheep), there won't be much VM, but you can expect to pay a premium price. A lot of VM can be picked or flicked out, but if the debris is tiny and abundant, it may be wise to pass on the fleece.

When a fleece is prepared for sale, it is usually unrolled and skirted. This means that the less desirable wool (usually around the edges) is removed. If a fleece is heavily skirted, the person doing the skirting took out everything that was questionable, such as tags (heavy, dangly bits of wool packed full of manure). If the tags and other debris are just rolled up into the bundle of wool, they can add quite a bit of weight, not to mention "ish," as my grandma would say, to the fleece. Because fleeces are generally sold by the pound, ask how heavily a fleece has been skirted before purchasing. If possible, roll it out and see for yourself.

Evaluating fleece type. The length of a lock of wool is called the staple, and it partially determines the way you spin a fleece. Anything shorter than 3 inches, such as some very fine wools or lamb's wool, may require handcarding instead of drumcarding or flicking. Some longwools can be very long (7 or more inches), too long for drum- or handcarding, but they could be flicked or combed.

When you look at a fleece, take an individual lock and look closely at the crimp. Any inconsistencies could indicate an area of weakness. When a sheep is stressed or ill, the animal's energy and nutrients are drawn away from the wool to more imminent needs, and this can cause what is called a broken fleece. Even if you can't see a weak area on a lock, you can usually hear it. Take a small lock, hold it near your ear, and pull firmly to test the strength. When the wool is tender or broken, you can hear it snap — it sort of crackles. A little bit of tenderness in a fine fleece is probably okay if you gently hand process the wool, but you shouldn't send it off to be commercially processed, or you could end up with little noils (broken bits) in the roving.

Finding sources. If you can't or don't want to wash and process a raw fleece but still want to buy one to spin, there are many businesses, from very large organizations to very small cottage industries, that will wash and card the fiber for you. Some process as little as one fleece, while others require minimums. Ask at your guild for any in your area, or check on Ravelry (the online fiber forum).

More and more farmers are raising sheep with spinners in mind, and fiber festivals are a great place to find these farmers and their fleece, sometimes washed and carded. Festivals are often listed on guild websites and SpinOff magazine. If there is a spinning guild in your area, join! Other spinners can help you connect with local farmers, dyers, and wool vendors. Many wool breeders who sell online will send a small fleece sample so you can get an idea of what you're buying if you are too far away to see it in person. Once you develop a relationship with a seller, you can be more confident of their products. Seek out that perfect fleece, ask an experienced friend for a second opinion, and try your hand at processing from the beginning.


One of my favorite steps in the spinning process is washing the wool. It can be almost magical, like unwrapping a special present, when this beautiful, fluffy wool that was hidden underneath all of that grease and dirt is revealed.

Everyone, including me, seems to have his or her preferred way to wash wool, but your way will depend on your equipment and your space, as well as the specific fleece. It's very important to learn what conditions cause wool to felt. Avoid disaster by remembering these points:

* Heat + agitation = felt

* Warm wool shocked with cold water or air = felt

Keep each of these factors in mind and use a very gentle hand when the wool is wet, and you'll prevent felting and come out with a great result.

Skirting. Spread out an old sheet or shower curtain and roll the whole fleece out on it, cut side down. Remove any straw, debris, and dirty tags or bad wool from the outside edges. Flip the whole thing over, cut side up. Pick off any short bits or second cuts the shearer may have made on the wool.

Sorting. Look over the wool and feel different areas of the fleece. If the color, texture, or quality varies from one area to the next, you may want to sort the fleece into different piles. I like to separate the wool into fist-size locks, using the tips as the key to separating them. I grasp the tip area with the fingers of both hands and gently pull the lock apart from tip to cut end. It's important to keep the lock intact. With clearly defined locks, you'll have more options later when you prepare and spin it. If you just randomly pull the wool apart, you mess up the locks, making it difficult if you choose later to flick them. Next, I put the separated locks into mesh lingerie bags, which keep the fibers from floating apart when they're in the water and give you something to hold on to when you move the wet wool.


Excerpted from "The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Sarah B. Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Judith MacKenzie

Introduction: Endlessly Fascinating Fiber

1 Spinning Basics

2 Singles for Plying

3 Stand-Alone Singles

4 Spiral Yarns

5 Opposing Plies

6 Boucles

7 Cable Yarns

8 Crepe Yarns

9 Core Yarns

10 Novelty Yarns




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