How to Be Like a Machine?

I have a project that I don’t know how to complete. A friend loves the idea of home-grown, home-spun yarn to make a little sweater for her granddaughter. She showed me the pattern and told me the color she wants, and offered to buy the yarn it if I would spin it for her. It didn’t sound that hard, and I wanted to please my friend, but I am discovering that the consistency that can be achieved by machines on a factory floor does not come so easily on the farm.

This requires a set of skills that I am still just developing:

  • How to dye a large amount of fiber in the same color if it doesn’t all fit into one batch of dye solutions, aka dye-lot
  • How to get just the exact color (raspberry) that is requested
  • How to spin in a consistent yarn weight, and the right one

So, I have my engineering problem-solving hat on and am learning through trial and error just what it will take to make this work. I spun the first batch from Cookie’s wool, which I hadn’t washed that well and had lots of waxy lanolin still in it. I think this “spinning in the grease” method made it easier to keep the yarn thin and it ended up in what yarn stores call “sport weight”. It is thin and light. One batt made 220 yards. This one I spun before dying and in a previous post I showed how I dyed it in two shades just to see how that would work.

The next batt was from the other sheep, and I guess I’d washed the fleece a lot more thoroughly because it was light and fluffy with no waxy feel. This one I dyed before spinning and the variation in the colors was easy to even out as I spun, assuming I wanted that to happen.

The second skein made only 120 yards and it came out in a heavier weight, more like what they call “worsted”. The thickness of the yarn makes a huge difference when you are knitting clothing. Using the wrong size yarn will cause the size of the finished item to be way different than you intended. (I learned that the hard way!) I’ve always wondered why yarn in the store is measured in ounces instead of yards, because you always have to calculate the length. That seems kind of a silly way to present it. But, if roughly the same amount of weight per batt creates about the same amount of space taken up – whether in thick yarn and big needles or thin yarn and skinny needles. Maybe weight does make more sense after all.

I have read that one difference between home-spun and machine-spun wool is in the stretch. The machine keeps a strong, consistent tension in the fiber that doesn’t happen between the spinner’s fingers. Machine-spun may shrink a lot more due to this initial stretching out of the springy fiber.

It seems that the more I learn, the more I discover that I don’t know. Ignorance is bliss. It’s just like so many other things in life. Humility is hard-won sometimes.

About bluestempond

Hobby farmer living at Bluestem Pond in Michigan.
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1 Response to How to Be Like a Machine?

  1. cigarman501 says:

    I love the randomness of nature.

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