How do you get 4 oz. of fiber onto one spindle?

By Amelia © May 17, 2015 The New Spindle

Hi! I've a new job that is generally keeping me quite busy, but I still get to think about and touch fiber every day in my studio, so no complaints, and the steady paycheck makes up for not having an 'all fiber, all the time' life any longer!

An interesting question came across "Ask The Bellwether"'s comment feed the other day: "What I need to know and I hope you can help me, is: if you are spinning 4 oz of fiber and plying on the fly with your spindle, how do you get all 4 oz of the fiber on the spindle?"

Here, dear readers, is the answer I have to this:

To get four ounces of fiber on a spindle, there are several considerations:

  • First you want to be spinning a thickness of fiber that can support the 4-6 ounce weight of spindle-plus-fiber; so you aren't going to be spinning laceweight and doing this, as it just won't support the mass. I would aim for a single that is about sockweight for this, if you truly want your 4 ounce goal.
  • Second, you need to have a spindle that can store that amount of fiber on it. How do you know? Well, if it's top whorl, you will want a fairly wide whorl, say 3" across if you can get it, at least 2" across; and a longish shaft. That's because you are going to be storing all that yarn on the shaft under the whorl, and the cop (the wound yarn on the spindle) has to be no wider across than the whorl, or you run into other issues. If it's a bottom whorl, the long shaft is still necessary, but the whorl size isn't as important. For a Turkish spindle, you need long spindle arms so they poke out from the ball (unlike this little Turkish whose arms end inside the yarn ball).Stuffed Turkish spindle
  • Third, as you wind the cop onto the spindle, you need to keep it balanced. The spindle will get all wobbly and not fun to spin if the cop is not balanced, making you want to end the project right away.

If I were to work on this as a goal, I would start with a spindle that was about an ounce in weight, with a wide whorl or long arms, and a shaft length of at least 9-10 inches. In fact, I do have a ply-on-the-fly project going right now on just such a spindle, but I am going to split it into two 2-ounce balls, as the singles are fairly fine so that the 3-ply can be sock-to-DK weight yarn (about 14-16 wraps per inch).

I don't think that we have to get a whole braid of fiber onto a spindle to be successful; there are plenty of uses of fiber that tolerate breaks in the yarn. With knitting or crochet, Russian Joins or even other clever knitting joins are out there for making this feasible, and weaving and needlepoint are even more tolerant of breaks, expecting them in due course.

See related topics:

How much yarn can I spin on my spindle?
How can I combine two full spindles?
How can I get more yarn on my spindle?
When is the spindle full?
How much yarn can you wind onto a Turkish spindle?

© May 17, 2015 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at

How do you weave on a potholder loom?

By Amelia © August 3, 2014

It's been an eventful summer here with relatives and friends visiting, remodeling happening, and on and on. I had a very creative time with the young son of a friend playing with knitting looms and potholder looms. He wanted it all done faster, so being the kind to take comments to heart, I slept on it.

The next morning, I found he had inspired an idea ... my potholder loom reminds me of my weave-it loom, square with pegs all the way around. Why couldn't we load it with loops the same way we wound yarn on the weave-it?

Turns out, we could. And with that, Micah was mightily entertained loading loops on looms for a variety of color-and-weave inspired potholders, then ran around outside while I zipped through the much quicker weaving phase at the end.

Step 1: put loops on every other peg in one direction:

Step 2: put loops on every other peg in the other direction:

Step 3: put loops on the empty pegs in the first direction:

Step 4: weave loops through for the empty pegs in the "other" direction. I find this is easiest done by weaving an afghan crochet hook through all the loopers:

then pulling the new looper through and catching it on the pegs at the start and end:

Do this all the way up. There are only half as many to weave this way!

So now that I've sorted that out, of course I'm playing with yarn on the loom as if it were a weave-it on steroids. And considering making more potholder/looper squares with texture and weave ideas.

If you are interested in small looms, is a terrific website for more information, and Meg Stump's new book Pin Loom Weaving: 40 Projects for Tiny Hand Looms has some fun projects in it.

Happy weaving!

© August 3, 2014 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at

What do you use singles for?

Common spinning philosophy is that you "have to ply" so that your yarn is balanced. After all, if singles are unbalanced, and intrinsically they are, then they are hard to work with. Right? Well, yes-and-no. Like all things in life, the philosophy has its nay-sayers. There are folks who only learn to spin singles, never ply, and work with their singles quite happily. They get confused when other spinners walk up to them and tell them their yarn is "wrong" because it isn't plied.

And, I agree -- it isn't wrong to not ply. The key is to understand what you are working with. My bestie, D, spins singles and crochets up a storm. Her crochet is lovely and her singles are gorgeous, strong yarn.

So, how do you work with singles? what do you use them for?

First off, if you want your singles to behave when you work with them, you have some options. You can block your yarn -- hang a weight from it while it dries to stretch it out. This keeps the yarn calm while you work with it, though since it is at maximum stretch it isn't very elastic. If I did this with knitting or crochet yarn, I would use a slightly larger needle with the yarn and then I would wash the item in warm water so the yarn could relax and puff up, regaining some of its elasticity, after I made the item.

Singles in knitting can bias. If blocked beforehand, you may not be aware of it happening -- in fact, they won't bias until you wash the item in warm water. And, there are stitches you can use to avoid bias from singles. Seed stitch, moss stitch, garter stitch -- any knit stitch that puts purls above knits repeatedly will prevent biasing from the active twist in the single.

Another way to make singles behave and prevent bias in knitting at the same time is to full the yarn. Wash it repeatedly in warm and cold water, agitating it. With fine wools or fibers (merino, cashmere, angora) it takes very little effort to full the skein. With long wools or smooth fibers (cotswold, suri alpaca) it takes more effort to full the skein. So, test the skein as you are fulling it and stop before it turns from a skein of yarn into a fulled yarn-necklace. Re-skein it while it is damp or as soon as it dries, to separate the strands. Fulled yarn has the twist locked in place, so although it isn't technically balanced, it also no longer exhibits kinkiness from active twist. It will knit calmly and the fabric will not bias.

Weaving with singles is exciting -- all that active twist has to do something. It's fun to explore with mixed-twist fabric, stripes of S singles and Z singles in the warp. To keep warp singles calm, it's standard practice to douse them in a "sizing agent" -- basically a rinsable starch to keep them stiff while weaving but rinsed out when the item is done so their active twist reasserts itself.

When you weave S singles and S singles against each other, they lock in place (similarly with Z and Z), and do not buckle or bias as a fabric. The fun happens with S singles against Z singles -- the combination puckers and buckles, creating a very textured fabric. Combining singles and balanced plied yarn gives you something partway between the two -- a mild texturing to the fabric similar to the "tracking" you can see with some yarns.

My bestie D tells me that crochet doesn't bias with singles, and she should know :-) I think that's because crochet goes up and down, left and right -- all the different directions keep the single's active twist at bay.

I tried embroidery with singles recently...ummm, it was a brief, unhappy experience. I haven't heard of people using singles for embroidery, but I also hadn't been cautioned against it. So, I tried. I now see why all my DMC floss is plied, and my next handspun embroidery project will use a balanced plied yarn.

That said, I have been doing a fair bit of Nalbinding lately, now that I am offering it regularly at Bazaar Girls in Port Townsend. Traditionally, wool Nalbinding is done with singles. It's great for separating the yarn into the yard-long lengths used in Nalbinding, and also for the felted joins that make it seem like Nalbinding is one continuous yarn.

Those are the needle arts I have explored with singles yarn. I'd love to hear if you have experience with singles yarn in another needle art, and if you would recommend it or not. How would it fair in: tatting, sprang, punchneedle, rug hooking, kumihimo, or your favorite needle art?


There are quite a few entries about singles yarn on Ask The Bellwether. These are a few of my favorites:

© January 1, 2014 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether, posted at

What is your knitting nemesis?

By Amelia © December 1, 2013,

Seed stitch has always been a challenge for me to knit. So much so, I sweet-talked my mother into knitting a booth sample sock for me because the leg was all in ... Seed stitch! Ouch! I learned that my mother didn't enjoy seed stitch, either.

But somewhere along the way, my hands have apparently made their peace with the yarn-to-the-front-and-purl, yarn-to-the-back-and-knit pattern that is seed stitch.

It all started with a little class on speed knitting from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee at Madrona a few years ago. She taught us lever knitting,where one needle is stationary, the other does the work, and you minimize the distance yarn has to move. Very efficient.

One of my take-aways from the class is that the yarn is basically making the same motion all the time, which I can simplify down to a flick of my index finger when it is tensioned correctly. The second key take-away for me was that I can often combine movements: take the old stitch off the left needle while at the same time, bringing the yarn to the front to be ready for the next stitch, a purl; or bring it to the back while removing the old stitch if the next stitch is a knit. That made seed stitch as many beats as stockinette, rather than the doubling it used to be for me due to separating that yarn-to-front, yarn-to-back motion from the others while knitting.

When we learn a new skill, often it's about breaking down actions into individual steps so we can understand what is going on and have more control over the process. But mastering a skill can be about figuring out how to combine separate actions into one fluid motion to be more efficient.

Take a look at your next seed stitch project, or K1P1 ribbing, and see if you already have the combined motion down, or if your knitting can be helped by that like mine was.

My little project-in-process here is Steampunk Washcloth (based on from charka-spun Peruvian mauve cotton. I picked this pattern due to the edging: less than perfect handspun tends to have wriggly edges, so by having a little edging on the work, I can even out that roughness. Worked like a charm!

© December 1, 2013 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at

How do you tie a skein?

© November 14, 2013 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether

A post on tieing skeins, really? Yes, really. As a spinner, this is something I do a lot. Every time I have a full spindle or bobbin of yarn ready to be finished (with a gentle wash, usually), I have to skein it up.

That skein has a lifespan with chapters: first, it needs a wash. After washing, it is reskeined for storage. It might then be reskeined in preparation for the county fair or dyeing.

In this video, I show the skeining of the spindle-spun singles that are destined for the county fair:

Here are some skein facts for you:

  • For two ounces or more, I wind 2-yard skeins. For less, I usually wind an arm skein (like winding an extension cord, around your arm).
  • I will tie most 2-yard skeins, sock-weight or thicker, in 4 places. Skeiners such as the one in the video, and niddy-noddies, conveniently wind skeins with 4 posts in the skein. So it's easy to decide where to tie it.
  • For finer yarned 2-yard skeins, I will put 6-8 ties in. the last thing I want is for the skein to get disorganized in the sink.
  • For arm-skeins, I use 3 ties for most yarns, 4-5 ties for finer yarns.

As shown in the video, the first skein winding, of to-be-washed yarn, uses self-ties. The inner end, at the start of the skein, is self-tied around the skein: wrap the end around the skein and tie it to itself the way you tie a shoe or a ribbon before making a bow; not pulled tight, not loose, just so the yarn wrap rests on the surface of the yarn it goes around. The outer end is then taken and unwrapped as far around as it needs to be, including pulling it out from under the first tie, to put ties on the other three sides (the extra lace weight ties I will add after with cotton string). For those three sides, the first two ties are simple half-hitches around the skein, snugged up to the surface of the skein but not pulled tight. On the final side, the end of the skein is self-tied.

Why so precise? To be efficient, actually. I am going to have to rewind the skein to make it tidy and separate any clingy strands. Experience has taught me that it is easier to rewind a skein if I start from what was the outside the first time I wound it ... basically, reverse the winding. that's because strands collapse in and disturb the inner wraps as you wind a skein.

Starting with the inside end, strands tend to be more likely to tangle and be difficult to separate. Starting at the outside, I am pulling off the strands in reverse order. To be extreme, it's a bit like unstacking a cord of wood, where do you start? At the top, taking wood off in the reverse order you put it on the stack (more or less, since the pieces aren't strung together like the fiber in your yarn is). I don't know anyone who unstacks woodpiles from the bottom.

And, with how I have tied the skein, I can easily tell which end is the outside end: the one that makes three ties.

And and: The inner tie only has to undo a short length, so it won't get discombobulated or be in the way as I rewind. I can tuck that short end back under the skein.

The longer end is the end I wind from. Very obvious which one to use, and I have a nice long run to run between my swift (holding the skein) and my skeiner, which I wind the skein onto.

Whew! So, how do I tie the reskeined skein? For storage, I will grab the nearest cotton string and put on 4 ties (or more, for fine yarns, or fewer for small skeins). For those, I usually use the "classic" figure-8 tie as described by Spin-Off Magazine. Here's the picture from my book Productive Spindling showing a 3-tied arm-skein:

Notice that I have not used the skein yarn itself in these ties. The ends lie flat within the yarn of the skein.

When the skein is prepared for the county fair, I will cut lengths from the skein itself, or if it is very precious, find an inobtrusive yarn in my stash of similar color and the same thickness or finer. These lengths are used to replace the cotton ties when the skein is retied for the fair.

When the skein is prepared for dyeing, I use very obvious ties in a material that won't take up the dye: white or cream acrylic, usually. I may put on a few extra ties for dyeing, as I need them to be loose enough for water and dye to make it through the tied area. Those pale acrylic ties are easy to spot in the dyepot, allowing me to lift out the skein without turning it into a pot of spaghetti yarn.

The style of tie on my skein tells me what its status is, another benefit to my thoroughly thought-out skein-tyeing philosophy.

That is how I tie a skein. How about you?

© November 14, 2013 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether, posted at