Thursday, June 5, 2014

SPAKAL, TdF, and Hackle & Diz, oh my!

Hey everyone! The weather has finally turned here in New England, which means that a fair chunk of my potential blogging time is now taken up by family barbecues, parties, holidays, and gardening time (or else I'd have to give up crafting to write, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me).

All of these are good things, so I'm going to be lax about trying to get a post out every week over the summer months. I'll still plan on posting, but posts may be shorter and have a higher quantity of iPhone photos. If you want more of a play-by-play of my crafty goings-on, do follow me on Instagram. I'm very active over there and I've been enjoying a fabulous community of spinners (and knitters too, but I'm totally geeked out on spinning right now).

Which brings me to the topic of this post: All Things Spinning.


I've recently re-discovered The Knitmore Girls podcast. I listened to a few episodes ages ago, and I must have been out of my mind but I didn't like it. Lately a lot of my favorite knitting podcasts have been fading out so I've been on the hunt for new ones, and I realized that I LOVE this podcast. I always learn something new, it doesn't ramble, and Jasmin and Gigi are hilarious. 

Anyway, I've been geeking out on spinning lately and it's been mostly in a vacuum. I don't know any other spinners locally, so the internet has been my guide and inspiration. The Knitmore Girls are both enthusiastic spinners. They have a whole segment of the show devoted to spinning, and each summer they encourage their listeners to join a spin-a-long/knit-a-long (SPAKAL) where you spin for a sweater. Yup, a whole, adult-sized sweater, from fleece to yarn to garment. Knitmore-a-longs are open-ended, so there's no stop date, but there's a ton of support and camraderie.

Sure, to-date, I've only spun about 10oz, and I don't have a wheel so I'm a bit slow, but this sounded like the perfect challenge. I recently finished knitting a shawl out of hand-dyed roving that I spun into 2-ply fingering-weight yarn, and I love it so much. It is the proudest thing I have ever created. "This used to be a pile of white fluff!" I feel like shouting to everyone I meet. It is also exactly what I wanted. No compromises - the perfect yarn is too expensive, I couldn't find the right color, etc. The thought of having a similarly perfect sweater was just too cool to pass up. So I'm joining in! 


Now, if the Ravellenics wasn't nerdy enough, the SPAKAL kicks off on the same date as the Tour de Fleece. This is an event where yarn-spinners unite to challenge themselves to spin the most yardage possible during the Tour de France cycling competition. There are prizes, but the big draw is that it's an opportunity to publicly set a spinning goal, join in with a bunch of like-minded people on Ravelry forums, push my spinning abilities as far as they'll go, and just have some fun. My goal is to spin 10oz of my SPAKAL sweater singles (plying will come later). I'm not sure if that's crazy, so my secondary goal is 6oz and to spin every day of the Tour de Fleece (the spinning event adheres to the race's rest day schedule). 

The Plan

I'm spinning for the Lempster sweater pattern, from Knitty. I've wanted to make it for ages, but I feel like part of the beauty of the sweater is the cool, tweedy yarn that they use. Usually, cabled sweaters are done in solid yarns, to show off the cables most clearly. But these cables are beefy enough that they manage to stand out even in a textured yarn. So cool! I balked at the price of the pattern yarn, though, and as it was also a singles yarn it seemed like a nightmare waiting to happen in the pilling department. In the back of my queue it's stayed since it's release, but no more!

The Knitmore Girls suggest a really fascinating method for spinning a large quantity of even yarn, which I'm going to try out. Spin singles in small, 1oz/25g increments, and wind them onto miniature 'storage' bobbins. 

These are sold for weaving shuttles, but work just fine for this purpose as well.

Spin all the singles in one go. Leave plying for the end, and number your mini bobbins as you fill them. Once all of them are done, ply the early singles with the later singles and all of your inconsistencies (or improvements) will be blended together to create a cohesive sweater quantity of finished yarn. Brilliant, right? 

In order to make this as difficult and time-consuming as possible, I ordered 24oz of white, natural roving and decided to dye 4oz increments and blend them together via combination-drafting.  

Initial experiments were promising, although too bright:

Some over-dyeing ensued, the yellow was removed, and this was my final selection of roving:

Combination-drafting also turned out to be very challenging. I'm not sure if it's easier on a wheel, or with better-prepared fibers, but if I didn't do a ton of pre-drafting each of the colors would draft differently, and I'd end up with chunks of one color and chunks of another. It was finicky and difficult. But, I own no fiber prep tools, so - what to do?

Hackle & Diz

The answer came to me while I was perusing spinning books at Barnes & Nobles. The book I had selected had whole chapters on making your own spinning tools, and one of these tools, which I had never heard of before, was called a hackle

It's basically a row of tines, bolted to a table. Already-prepared fiber (either roving or top) is applied by 'lashing' it against the tines, which catch some of the fiber and leave the rest. Layers of different colors and materials can be built up. Once done, you pull off the fiber using a 'diz' (basically, a small disk with a hole in it) and the result is a puffy, fluffy, beautifully-blended roving. 

There are many online tutorials as well, but the principle of building one of these is incredibly simple. Purchase a bunch of sturdy combs, screw them to a board, and clamp the board to a table. Easy!

My dad helped me with this, as he's got a whole woodshop in his basement and he was keen for a quick project. Here's the result - I'll try to get some pics of the hackle while it's empty later so you can see how it's put together.

If you're interested, I highly suggest building one and giving it a try. My one suggestion is don't overfill the hackle. In order to diz off easily, the fiber can't be packed down onto the combs. It actually helps if you push it upward towards the top of the tines to loosen it. But, if you've filled the combs to the top (which I did), you can't do that and the wool likes to stay put. 

You can search YouTube for videos on how to diz. I found the Blue Mountain Handicrafts videos to be the most helpful, but keep in mind that they are using a very fancy hackle with 5" tines. Your home-made version will not be fillable in the same way, and probably shouldn't be put under the kind of pressure that theirs can be.

Here's the roving I produced! 

This is not as strong as commercial roving, because it's not compacted. So, to store it should be wrapped gently into a circle or ball, rather than braided, as that might cause it to fall apart. What this means for spinning, however, is that it drafts like butter. It's wonderful! 

The TdF officially kicks off one month from today, so I'm trying to stick to prep efforts for now, but the Knitmore Girls are pretty loose with deadlines so I may start early anyway. It's just so exciting! 

Til next time,