Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Cheviot Project

I try to make a habit of walking to errands that are within 1 to 1.5 miles of my house.  That way I get in my daily walk and get something done, too.  I also stop by stores I like to frequent, such as Paradise Fibers, a veritable candy store of all things fiber.  A good friend works there and I am acquainted with most of the staff.  We were discussing grist and other things when the young man who works in the fiber department said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a display of what you can spin with the Cheviot top we have.  It’s so nice and cheap, but people don’t seem to know anything about it.”  I volunteered to create some skeins and thus left the store with a pound of “bottom of the bump” stuff.  

Cheviot is a sheep breed that originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border between Scotland and England. With staples of 3 to 5 inches in length, it has helical crimp, which makes it resilient.  It can range from next to skin soft to quite crisp.  I think that the possibility of harshness might put people off.  The stuff I was given was beautiful and fairly soft.  I expect it will make great sock yarn and be excellent for mittens, hats and outerwear.

Since I had never spun Cheviot, I did my usual exploration before deciding how to spin this.  If I am starting from raw fleece, I wash about ½ lb of it and play with various ways to process it: flicking, carding, drum carding or combing.  If this looks to be a fairly generic fleece and I have at least 3 lbs, I’ll wash the whole thing and send it off for processing into pin roving at a mill in Post Falls.  Meanwhile I have the sample to further play with.

If I get already processed fiber, then that’s my starting point.  In all cases, once I have clean and processed fiber, I first pull out some fiber and see how long, how crimpy/springy and how soft/crisp it is.  Then I spin 2 meter lengths with my hand spindle to see how it well it drafts and how much twist it seems to want.  After that I am ready to spin.  I might make as many as 10 samples, especially if I am unsure what is best for the fiber.

This Cheviot came as top.  At around 5 inches, the fibers were at the long end of the range for Cheviot.  It felt soft as a whole but individual fibers felt slightly crisp.  I spun a series of lengths starting with a soft lopi style singles all the way through tightly spun 2 plies.  The singles did not want to hold, but after plying, it was nice regardless of the amount of twist.  I decided on a medium twist with an angle of 20 to 25 degrees.

Fiber length plus twist samples, least to most twist bottom to top..  The middle sample is what I liked best.

I decided to spin 50 grams of each of 2 ply fingering, sport and DK weight yarns and 50 grams of worsted weight in a 3 ply.  I knit a swatch of each using a lace stitch and a cable.  I also dyed 3 of the samples, two while still as top and one after the yarn was spun.  

I spun the first three yarns on my Lendrum using the 8:1 ratio on the fingering and sport weight singles and the 6:1 for the DK weight singles.  These were plyed on a Matchless at 8:1.   The worsted weight was spun and plyed on an Ashford Traditional I just bought.  The ratio used was 8.5:1.  I mostly used a short backward draw although occasionally drifted into a sliding backward longdraw.

1. Fingering weight – I wanted to get a grist of 4m/g in a 2ply, but didn’t quite get it.  After finishing it measured 3.6m/g.  WPI was 16, TPI was 5 and the twist angle measured 30°.  I knitted a swatch with it.  It was soft, but not baby wear soft.  I didn’t dye this one.  

2. Sport weight.  I aimed for 3 m/g and ended up with 3.3.  WPI was 14. TPI was 3.5 and the twist angle measured 25°.  I dyed this top first red and yellow and then blended it on a drum carder.  It went easily through the carder and created lovely smooth batts that drafted easily (maybe too easily!).  I am still learning how to use my grist cards to get the results I need, but at least I am staying within the size class I want.  I needed to use bigger needles and got a larger gauge on this swatch.  It was surprising how a little change in grist produced measureable changes in knitting gauge and further emphasizes to me how grist determines gauge more than anything else.

3) DK weight.  I painted the top with 3 different colors that blended into four during spinning. I predrafted the top a little bit before spinning to counteract the compression from dying.  My aim was 2.5 m/g and I got 2.4.  WPI was 12, TPI was 4 with a 20° twist angle. It was definitely harder for me to consistently spin the thicker singles and this yarn was a bit uneven in the end.  It knitted up nicely at a gauge consistent with its weight.  

4) Worsted weight.  Because I had a hard time spinning a thicker singles, I opted to make a 3 ply and then dye this.  I wanted 1.5m/g and got 1.4.  WPI was 10, TPI was 2.5 with a 25° twist angle. I attempted speckle dyeing and overdid it, but it still came out nice.  Because Cheviot will felt, the yarn was slightly fulled after dyeing and therefore smoother and softer but denser than the other yarns.  This smoothness and greater density showed in the knitted swatch.  

With the fingering weight I knitted 2 samples with the same number of stitches and rows.  One sample was thrown in with my white wash, which washed hot and rinsed cold.  It also went through the dryer.  While this sample definitely shrank, it fulled more than it felted.  It was still fairly elastic with good stitch definition.  It shrank 12% to 14% in length and width and 25% in area.

Overall, Cheviot is lovely wool for spinning and using in a variety of projects without breaking the budget.  I am now spinning some as a 3 ply crepe style, fingering weight sock yarn.  I am looking forward to testing how it wears as socks.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Finally! Spinning to Grist.

 My previous 2 blog entries document how I have explored ways to achieve specific grist for my yarns. I have found that yarns knit more like their grist and less like their diameter, if the two don’t match up. Many spinners spin dense yarns, maintain that is how it is and don’t bother to adjust their spinning. I want yarns that look, feel and behave the way they ought to, in order to get gauge on a knitting project and for the fabric to feel and to drape appropriately.

 I thought I had a method figured out until I reviewed a video I had purchased a few years ago by Patsy Zawitoski called “Make That Yarn”. What I had initially gotten out of the video was that I needed to get the same twist into my yarns as the one I am creating. What I had totally missed or worse, ignored, was her method in measuring and recreating grist. She, too, is adamant that grist is something very important in a yarn and a characteristic that can and should be controlled. Probably it was her use of a McMorran balance that put me off – they are single purpose, pricey, generally hard to find and fiddly to use. So, idiot me, skipped over that part in the video – and it is the main point!
However, she demonstrates an easy way of determining how much fiber you need to use. She laid out a singles that had balanced on the McMorran scale. Then she measured out an equivalent amount of fluff and attenuated it out to the same length as the singles. This is the answer I was seeking.
What I do is calculate how many mg of fluff needed for 1 meter of singles at a specific grist. Then I weigh out that amount and attenuate it along a tape measure. I wrap part of this onto a card in its fluff state, some in a tensioned state and finally some with a bit of twist in it. That gives me the visual cues I need to make sure I am drafting about the right amount. Finally I do some ply backs, measure their lengths in decimal meters and divide that length its weight in decimal grams. Once I get a plyback that matches the grist I am after, I attach that to the card as well. At present I am trying to build in about 7% loss of length for wool after finishing, which is about 0.2 m/g grist change.

 During spinning, I regularly do short plybacks to compare to the card. I occasionally make long, measured plyback grist tests to make sure I am still on target. Getting this part done doesn’t take much time and is easy to do. However, drafting consistently is still a skill that will require MUCH practice. The fibers themselves as well as the preparation are certainly factors. However, I am finding that I am within reasonable error of achieving the grist I have set out to make. I am also finding that the final yarn diameter is usually correct for the grist. Of course, I have to also work on consistent twist in the singles as well as the plied yarn – but those are easier to achieve if the draft is even.

 It is also illuminating to see how little difference in amounts of fluff makes a major change in grist!

4m/g on the left, 3m/g on the right. The difference between the two at the bottom per meter.

To figure out how much singles grist you need:

 Final grist x number of plies = singles grist in m/g
  1000/singles grist = mg in one meter of singles. ( Or use 1 instead of 1000 for decimal grams)
 Here's a little table for singles, 2 and 3 ply, at various grists.

How do you know what grist to use? If this is fiber that you have not used before, then some basic sampling before even worrying about grist is in order. How does it draft? How much twist is best? What kind of draft is best? What would it best be used for? How many plies should be in the yarn? I often use a hand spindle to explore a fiber's properties. Once I know what I would want to do with it, I research typical grists of this fiber in commercial yarn, if available. Otherwise I might take some measurements of my samples to get a sense of a good grist to use. After that, I spin some small skeins and knit swatches before continuing to spin for a project.

I am now working on a little project to spin Cheviot fleece at a variety of grists and number of plies. I am also knitting swatches with each sample yarn. The next post will be about that project.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Grist and Using Ashenhurst’s Rule

During a recent spinning gathering, I showed my grist weighing setup and several of us discussed grist and how to relate it to diameter. One lady, an excellent and very experienced spinner, knitter and weaver, mentioned Ashenhurst’s Rule.  Peggy Osterkamp has a nice explanation of it on her blog.  I also read a few scholarly articles about it.

Ashenhurst’s Rule computes a number (A) that is the maximum sett possible from a yarn of certain grist.  It is supposedly a diameter, but no weaver could ever weave something this dense. The best analogy I can think of is absolute zero temperature – when all motion, even atomic motion, stops.  It cannot be achieved, but is it the theoretical maximum cold.

The basic Ashenhurst formula is:

For firm yarns, A = .9*√(YPP)
For woolen yarns, use .86 instead of .9

This is basically the same formula Alden Amos provided in his Big Book of Handspinning, when discussing grist but he doesn't call it Ashenhurst's Rule.  However, later in the book, page 254, he does discuss it.  Since I am not a weaver, I sort of skipped this section and thus failed to connect this rule to spinning.  The original paper by Ashenhurst is listed in his bibliography.

Since this is a theoretical minimum diameter, you still have to adjust this number to get a reasonable diameter for that amount of grist.  In other words, you still have to multiply A by another factor.  This is a sticking point, because few agree on what that factor should be.

Yarn diameter is commonly measured 2 ways: through wrapping or compared against a control card with bars of known thickness.  Both are fairly unreliable measures and very subject to how you measure and perceive things.  While that is true for all measuring devices, measuring WPI is particularly flaky.  Some measure WPI by wrapping the yarn fairly loosely and then shoving the strands together until they just touch.  Alden Amos recommends wrapping the yarn fairly snugly (but not to the point that the yarn flattens) and then shoving the strands together tightly (but not overlapping), known as “pack to refusal”.  The difference between these 2 methods is big.  Measuring against a control card has the problem of laying something round on top of something flat and trying to determine when the 2 diameters match.  Any variation in the angle you are viewing it can change the measurement.  The WPI I get using a card is often one size larger than when using wraps.  Being off one size results in about a 246 yard per pound error - so you need to take some care here.

The real goal is to come up with something that is consistent for you.  In other words, you have to calibrate yourself so that the results are consistent enough for you to achieve the diameter you want.
I got out 10 commercial yarns and 10 of my handspun yarns.  I tried to get a range of diameter sizes of both.  I then measured the grist of each using my mg scale and a centimeter tape.  Since elasticity of yarns varies, I decided to average the lengths gotten when the yarns were stretched and when they were just barely relaxed (straight with no kinking).  I entered all the data on a spreadsheet and did some calculations.

1) = m/g * 496.5 = YPP
2)  A was calculated using the 0.9 factor throughout.
3)  I measured the WPI both by wrapping and using the control card.
4) I calculated the ratio of measured WPI to A.
5) I averaged the ratios for the commercial, for the handspun and for all samples.
6) I ran the stats to determine the variability of my samples, which was low enough to be dependable – in other words, I had measured enough yarns to get a good answer. The only yarn I threw out was the acrylic.

The commercial yarns average ratio was 0.55 and the handspun .59.  The higher the ratio, the closer the actual WPI is to A.  This means my handspun is thinner for the same grist as the commercial.  Something I already knew, but now I had a measure of how much thinner.

I am not trying to recreate commercial yarn, because often it is underspun and has its issues, like pilling and other stuff.  But I am trying to better manage both grist and diameter to get a yarn to meet a specific need.  The problem is that I, like most spinners, use twist to get the diameter I want rather using grist and spinning a diameter appropriate to it.  The analogy here might be using a corset to get a small waist, rather than diet and exercise.

Using 0.55 as a reasonable WPI/A ratio, I came up with a guiding table – mind you, this is for me.  Your ratio might be different.

I am now trying to use all this info and see if I can create a yarn with some specific characteristics.  I am aiming for 4 m/g (1986 YPP) and I want the WPI to be around 20 to 21 WPI (my WPI is a bit higher than what the Yarn Council deems as fingering weight, because of how I measure.) This is to be a 2 ply and therefore my singles need to be 1.5 times as fine as the 2 ply, or 30 to 32 WPI.
I took a few grams of the fiber (a dyed, very neppy Targhee) and spun what looked like the right diameter.  I then took a plyback sample.  

 From the get go, I realized I needed a bit more twist to keep this stuff from falling apart.  Then I measured the grist.  First one was too light (5.2m/g), the second one was a bit too heavy, 3.65m/g. On my third try it was just right:  4m/g.  I pulled off some of the singles immediately prior to this sample and wound them stretched onto a card.  This is what the right size should look like while drafting. I measured them to be about 35 WPI.  I also attached the plyback to this card and made some notes.  I will now spin using the card as my guide, but measuring the WPI along the way as well as doing a grist measurement every now and then.  I don’t want to do too many grist samples, as the samples will not become part of the yarn (aka, destructive sample).  

I created a little WPI tool for singles that seems to work well.  Rather than winding to a known width and counting wraps, I created bars that 5 wraps (10 for really thin yarns) should cover at specific WPI.  It is quick and easy to use on the fly and doesn’t require one to pull out a long length of singles.  I have compared the results I get with this to regular wrapping and it is usually right on.
The amount of twist I am putting into the singles is enough to create a pleasing looking plyback that is close to the WPI I want. I will adjust the final diameter using the ply twist, bearing in mind that this yarn will likely bloom a bit.

Tool to determine WPI of singles, based on 5 wraps, except 14WPI, based on 3.
 The backside has even finer WPI.

Will I always try to achieve that .55 ratio?  No.  I can see wanting a higher ratio for something like sock yarn - higher grist and tighter twist to create firm, dense, wear resistant yarns.  I might shoot for a lower ratio for something airy that has a long enough staple to support less twist.  But now I have the measurement tools and knowledge in place to start understanding and learning how to make specific yarns.  (I hope!)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

More on Sampling for Grist

After fooling around with trying to spin a specific number of makes in a 1 gram sample, I found I really couldn’t get the grist I wanted consistently.

So I went back to weighing.  Since I don’t have a McMorran balance, which is expensive and single purpose, my first approach was to make a balance to measure relative weight.  I took a short section of dowel rod into the end of which I stuck a sturdy pin. The dowel rod rests on the top of a vase, placed near the edge of a level table, so that the yarn samples hang freely. Then I bent a piece of stainless steel wire.  The center was bent up and this rests on the needle in the dowel rod. It took a bit of messing to get this wire to hang level, but it is important that it does. See the pictures.

Basic parts for the yarn balance - the dowel rests on a vase, glass or mug set at the edge of a level table.  The wire rests on the needle in the dowel.

To use it, I hang on one side a length of yarn that is at the grist I want (in this case a sport weight measuring about 3.36 meters/gram) and on the other side I hang a sample fresh off the wheel that is self plied. I make sure the samples are at least 18 or more inches long. I cut the commercial sample a bit longer so I can snip off bits of it until I achieve balance.  Then I compare their lengths, holding both equally taut.  Actual length doesn’t matter.  If the commercial is longer than my spun yarn then my grist is too dense, if it is short, my grist is too loose and if they are the same length, then the grists are equal.  The balance is easy to make and costs very little.  It is, however, fiddly to use.  It is also subject to my ability to discern level and other factors.  It's better than nothing and a good way to at least get a sense of what one is trying to achieve.

Comparison yarn on the left and my yarn on the right.  Comparison yarn is gets snipped off until the balance is level - in this case, I'm not quite there yet.  Then the lengths are compared.

One of my favorite tools is my weigh scale that measures to the nearest 0.1 grams.  It’s great for all sorts of things – like measuring out the fiber for each single, determining final skein weight, measuring out larger quantities of dye, etc., etc.  It is, however, not fine enough for grist sampling.  Imagine my delight to find that scales measuring in milligrams (0.001 grams) are available and about half the price of a McMorran balance.  For 20$ I bought a 50 gram scale.  It’s about the size of a simple calculator.  I will be able to more precisely measure smaller quantities of dye and chemicals as well as do quick grist measurements.  

Now came the other issue – how do I measure length?  I collected a bunch of commercial yarns from my stash in various weights and from various manufacturers.  I looked at the ball band to determine what the grist is supposed to be.  For example, a Nature Spun sport weight is supposed to measure 168 meters in a 50 gram skein – or 3.36 m/gram.  I cut a length of it and weighed it.  I divided the weight by the m/g to find out how long the sample should be.  Then I measured.  In most cases the length was somewhere between fully stretched and relaxed.  This actually makes sense, since most yarn measuring devices measure length while the yarn is under some tension.

That led me to another question – how is the WPI measured on these commercial yarns?  I prefer to use a control card rather than wrapping, although I sometimes do that, too.  In all cases again, I had to hold the yarn fairly tightly to get the WPI on the control card that yarn should have with respect to grist and Yarn Council norms.  Not at all like what most people describe for measuring WPI.  I now understand what Alden Amos was driving at when he advocated measuring WPI packed to refusal. 
I ended up making a padded box for the scale, which is big enough to include a centimeter tape, the calibration weight and a calculator.  It’s portable and quick and I am hopefully further along in being able to control the grist of my yarns, besides the diameter.  

My milligrams scale, calculator, centimeter tape and calibration weight.  All fit into the box that I padded with closed cell foam.

I’ll let you know how it goes.