How can I spin fine yarn?

One of the things that helped me (besides the major help, a 3 gram spindle! sheesh, it would _stop_ the moment I drafted anything thicker than a cobweb -- great learning tool!) was this "fun fact":

Expert spinners from the Shetland Isles spin their finest Shetland neck wool at 5 strands in their singles; your typical experienced spinner spins their finest at 12 strands in their singles.

Here's a collection of tips on fine spinning that I've compiled from my own attempts in this area (formerly published as "The Bellwether's Tips on Fine Spinning" with the Natalie spindle and in NwRSA's Loose Threads, used with permission, © The Bellwether, yadayada)

  • Yarn thickness is a function of the width of the drafting triangle.

    To spin finely, the drafting triangle must be fairly thin.

  • Know your staple length.

    With so few strands of fiber in the drafting triangle when spinning fine, knowing your staple length lets you gauge where the limits are and how long the drafting triangle can safely be. The length of the drafting triangle depends on the staple length.

  • Fun fact #1: It takes 3 strands of fiber, twisted together, to be spun yarn – 2 strands are simply twisted strands, not spun.

  • Well-prepared fiber is a must.

    When spinning fine, it is best to use well-prepared roving or top to ensure uninterrupted spinning and minimal breakage in the fiber supply.

  • Woolen preparations (roving, rolags) will cause some puffiness in the resulting yarn. If puffiness is not desirable, use top or comb the fiber to align the individual fibers.

  • Your spindle is “full” when it is no longer easy to spin.

    The extra weight will affect the spindle. For example, your yarn may break more often, the spindle may not spin as long, or your fiber may slip around the whorl and even “release” itself up through the hook.

  • When spinning fine, you don’t need much fiber to fill a spindle.

    Especially when using a lightweight spindle, the weight of the fiber will make it be full very quickly. Don’t work from a one pound ball of roving, rather, break off 1 foot lengths of roving or top to spin from.

  • If your spindle is backspinning, this may mean that you are spinning too thickly for the weight of the spindle; the spindle’s weight has to overcome the pull of the twist in the yarn. A 5 gram spindle can only spin a very fine single, close to or below cobweb weight, and likely will not be able to ply it. A 10 gram spindle can spin and ply laceweight singles.

  • Since the singles are yarn, you can ply easily on a much larger spindle or even your wheel.

  • Use fiber crimp to judge how fine wool can be spun for soft, lofty yarn. The thickness of the final ply should be the same as twice the crimp, and the final twists per inch should match the crimps per inch (Ann Fields, Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics)

  • Wind singles from your spindle into a tight ball to ply from.

    A center pull ball for 2-end plying will collapse and knot due to the kinkiness of finely spun yarn. Take two balls and hold them in your hand to ply from; they should be about the size of a peach pit, or the Chinese stress balls. (Connie Delaney, Spindle Spinning, from Novice to Expert)

  • Fun fact #2:

    Expert spinners from the Shetland Isles spin their finest Shetland neck wool at 5 strands in their singles; your typical experienced spinner spins their finest at 12 strands in their singles.

  • The finer the yarn, the more twist is needed to hold it together.

    Also, very short staple lengths like cotton need more twist – almost to the point of having “corkscrews” or “beads” on the singles when held relatively taut. The ply-back test should be tight at the bottom loop, not open at all. (Advice from the spindlitis Yahoo Groups list, various posts.)

  • Angora should be spun fine and tightly enough not to halo.

    The angora halo will raise when the skein is “whacked” after washing, or when the yarn is being knit. To “whack” a skein: wrap a newly washed skein in a towel and swing it hard onto a counter or against a wall.

  • Silk needs tight twist to keep its sheen.

    The sheen of silk will be lost if it is spun too loosely; a high twist will keep the sheen. When washing silk, don’t let it sit in water for more than 5 minutes, as soaking can damage the fibers (advice from Joan Contraman of Crosspatch Creations.) Silk should also be “whacked” after washing (advice from the spindlers Yahoo Groups list, various posts.)

  • Qiviut has a short staple length, and is usually spun very fine.

    Like angora and silk, qiviut skeins are usually “whacked” on the counter top after they are washed.

  • To remove your singles from a spindle with turnings on the shaft, wrap a self-stick note just below the singles and slide the cop onto it. The paper & cop can then be slid off of the spindle and onto a knitting needle or skewer for plying. Many thanks to a customer for this contribution.

I found a great post from another blogger on the topic as well, see
FiberLife's post on Frog Hair and Hamster Floss (love the title!)

(question from knittyspins, this day)

Do you have fine spinning advice to share? Wheel or spindle, I'm always looking to learn more! Comment here, link back, or email me. Thanks!


Leslie Shelor said...

Excellent article, and I learned a lot!

Elysbeth said...

And the Belle does it again! Thank you Miss Amelia.

Laura said...

This is the THIRD time in two months you answered questions that I did I did not know I had! This helps the skein I just started on immensely...

Thanks :)

Peg in South Carolina said...

Silk could not be dyed if what you say is true! I dye silk all the time in water close to boiling, raising it to that temperature in an an hour and then holding it there for another hour. I soak the yarns I have spun, including those spun from Joan Contraman's wonderful batts and rovings for at least 30 minutes in the hottest water that comes out of the tap. I add Jounson's baby shampoo. Then I add a splash of vinegar to the final rinse. And I swat the skein as well. The yarn I get may not be perfectly spun (grin!) but boy is it beautiful, and the silk in it shines, shines, shines.

Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

@Peg Ah well, I have to admit, I sometimes let silk soak more than 5 minutes too ... I asked Joan & Diana about that, and Diana said that she felt there was no damage as long as you didn't let it sit overnight, or for a full day ... so the vote's out on that one, perhaps someone will study it someday (or maybe the silk-reeling fellow already has!)