Two weeks ago (has it really been two weeks already?), I had the good fortune to attend Interweave’s premier spinning retreat SOAR (i.e., SpinOff Autumn Retreat) on scholarship. This year, the retreat was in Manchester, New Hampshire, and although the trees weren’t quite yet at the peak of fall beauty, my breath was taken away by all that I learned in five intensive days of spinning. I’m quite certain that I will continue to spin until I’m too feeble to sit upright and hold fleece.
For the first three days, I took Blending and Spinning for Superior Socks by master spinner Michelle Boyd. The most striking things I learned in Michelle’s class are:
- Socks are more durable if knitted from yarn spun in the worsted method, which is slower than woolen spinning but results in a stronger and smoother yarn that is less likely to wear out or pill.
- Socks are best if knitted from yarn that has NOT been treated for washability. This is because in making a yarn superwash, the scales on the individual fibers are smoothed down (so they won’t felt). Although this makes for a soft hand and easy washability, socks (and any other garments) knitted from superwash wool have less inherent elasticity and tend to stretch out. I guess that’s why my socks tend to “grow” on my feet by the end of the day.
- Socks should be knitted with three-ply yarn, which is smoother and more durable than two-ply yarn. Three-ply yarns are also more round when viewed in cross section, which adds structural strength and insulation. They also help prevent shrinkage, as the close-set plies allow little room for fiber compaction. This probably explains why my favorite sock yarns have always been ones with three or five plies.
- For durability, sock yarn should contain about 20% of a strong extruded fiber such as nylon, rayon, or silk.
- Socks knitted with the ideal yarn may feel a little stiff on the needles but with will soften and form to the foot after being washed and worn, and they will last longer than socks knitted from softer yarns.
After three days, I was able to produce a fairly consistent three-ply worsted-spun yarn out of a variety of fiber combinations, including blue-face leicester, merino, alpaca, nylon, bamboo, and silk.
And I got reasonably good at chain-plying my samples. Here is a sample of spaced-dyed fleece that I spun, then chain-plied to maintain the color blocks. Thanks to Michelle Boyd for taking a photo of my hands holding the precious yarn.
I also took four half-day workshops.
In South American Camelids by Robin Russo, I learned a bit about camel, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna fibers and I tried my hand at spinning an assortment of them.
From top to bottom: two samples of natural alpaca; lavender alpaca blended with gray Cormo; pin-drafted Suri alpaca; Suri alpaca top; mixed llama hair and down, combed; distinct double-coat llama; homogeneous llama; guanaco top; blend of llama and alpaca; baby Suri alpaca:
In An Overview of Rare Breeds by Deborah Robson, I test-spun a variety of wool fibers not widely available but worth looking for.
From top to bottom: Hog Island; North Ronaldsay, Wenselydale, American Jacob, Manx Laughton (my favorite!), Clun Forest, and Black Welsh Mountain:
In Navajo Spinning and Handcarding by D.Y. Begay, I tried my hand at using a four-foot Navajo spindle. In addition to twisting some singles, I learned enough to know that I’ll leave this technique to the experts.
In Spinning Singles from Commercially-Prepared and Dyed Top by Deb Menz, I learned to make intentional color sequences from dyed fleece. This was a great way to wrap up the retreat–I broke out of my mud-color rut and played with bright and exciting colors. My vibrant skein of over-twisted singles still makes me giddy.
When I wasn’t in class, I enjoyed meeting some of the most welcoming and interesting people in my life. Unlike the stereotypical hippy throw-backs to the 1960s, spinners include people from every walk of life. And judging from the people I met at SOAR, they are the most fun-loving people on the planet.
Sign me up for next year!