How do you spin short guanaco fiber?

By Amelia © September 24, 2009

An interesting question recently came to Ask The Bellwether from Juli. She asked how to spin guanaco fiber with a short staple length of one inch or less. Her goal was to spin it laceweight, getting 650 yards from four ounces.

Now, luckily, Juli's had experience with other short fibers, notably cashmere, but nothing quite this short. To master the challenge of this very short guanaco (usually it's longer than an inch), she could do what I did before learning to spin cashmere -- learn to spin cotton. It typically has a very short staple, under an inch, and is one of the hardest fibers I've had to learn to spin, undoing everything I learned about wool to tackle cotton: no crimp, no staple -- definitely a challenge. But this post isn't about learning to spin cotton.

With fiber as short as Juli's guanaco, you're pretty much in the realm of long draw spinning -- because to do inchworm, your hands need to be about a staple-length-and-a-half apart, and the closer they are, the more often they move. At about an inch apart, they'd be needing to move faster than I'd expect anyone would enjoy.

With a short staple fiber (like cotton, or short guanaco or cashmere) one nice thing about long draw is that you can draw the fiber away as the twist enters, making yarn in one smooth motion. The best way to describe this is "point of twist drafting" -- you draft right where twist is entering the fiber, and you draft back as quickly as the twist makes the drafting-point yarn.

One way to prepare the fiber can help with long draw spinning -- make a puni with the fiber; handcard it on fine cards, then doff it off by rolling it around a knitting needle or dowel as wide as your card, and keep rolling the stick behind the knees of the teeth at the base of the card until it "tightens" -- it's a visible change -- and then take it off the stick, and spin it from the end, long draw.

Short staple extremely fine fibers like guanaco and cotton may not want to hang together -- plenty of twist will help, but you will be treading a fine line between plenty of twist and enough twist to snap it. Do a ply-back test (fold part of the fiber on itself before winding it onto the bobbin or spindle) and check that the bottom of the plied-back section is closed, not open -- it plies right to the bottom end. 650 yards from 4 ounces, 2-ply, is fine, but not insanely so. I would plan on a 2-ply, as you will get more yardage from a 2-ply than as a single at the same final thickness.

I had considered making a video of the puni-making process, but so far other things have kept me busy. Luckily, youtube has several puni-making videos, including a cotton puni-making video by Spin2Weave: her cotton puni-making is applicable to guanaco, yak, or another similarly short fiber. Spin2Weave twirls the cotton puni on the teeth of the card rather than behind them, with the same tightening effect.

This topic is one I cover in my classes "Exotic Fiber Spindling" and "Spin a Fine Yarn".

I've posted before about spinning fine, to continue on this topic see:
What tips do you have for spinning lace?
How can I spin a fine yarn?
How do you spin long draw on a spindle?
How do you spin on an Akha spindle?
What's sideways spinning?
What spindle do I spin cotton on?

© 24 September 2009 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at


iceyicons said...

Hi Bellwether,
I have been enjoying your store and blog. I have begun to collect cashmere from combing my small Nigerian goat herd, and it will be of the shorter variety. I am researching to find what preparation I need to do with my raw product to make it useful to hand spinners. I am removing the guard hair and debris, and trying to fluff it out gently to avoid matting it. I read your article, but didn't exactly understand what drafting or a puni is. I was hoping to watch the video, but it was blocked.

I was happy to see that a little roving goes a long way with these fine fibers-- so far doing so much work to get such a small amount of fluff has been disconcerting. I do really like working with the fiber, though, and want to learn more about it. -- Sincerely, Ksenia

Amelia, belle of The Bellwether said...

@Ksenia, drafting is when you pull the fibers out to the final thickness before putting twist in to make them yarn; sometimes we pre-draft, drafting before we spin, but most spinners will also, or only, draft as they spin. A 'puni' is the name for a hand-carded, tightly-rolled rolag. Once your hand cards have done the work of opening up the fibers, you roll them around a stick, like a knitting needle, and then wipe your hand (clean!) around the fibers on the stick to compress them down a bit. Pull the stick out, and the fiber is in a form called a puni.

I hope this helps. It's really rewarding to process and spin your own animal's fiber.