How to Spin a More Consistent Yarn with Plyback Samples
Q: How do I spin a more consistent yarn? Even using the same pulley, my yarns tend to get thinner and thicker as I spin. How can I keep the diameter steady over multiple spinning sessions?
A: A good strategy to maintain a consistent thickness (diameter) in your singles as you spin is to intermittently test them; that is, compare the singles you are spinning to some reference or measurement.
The strategy I use for spinning singles at a consistent thickness is to use a reference sample, commonly known as a plyback sample. A reference sample is a length of plied yarn that you use as your “ideal” to which you compare your spinning. I suggest making a fairly long reference sample, about 24 to 36 inches. That way, if there are some inconsistencies in thickness, you are likely to capture them within this longer sample.
To make a reference sample of this length without making a tangle, use an orifice hook as a sort of drop spindle to help you ply a long singles back on itself:
1. First, pull off the bobbin about an arm’s length of singles.
2. Use the orifice hook to snag the singles near the orifice.
3. Then pull another arm’s length of singles with the orifice hook holding the doubled singles under tension.
4. Take the hand with the orifice hook down toward the ground and the other hand up toward the sky.
5. Let go of the orifice hook and allow the two strands of singles to ply together. (I learned this technique from Rita Buchanan.)
At the beginning of a spinning project, whether just one bobbin or multiple skeins, I make a fresh plied sample with singles that have just been spun. I keep this sample for the rest of the project to test my singles. The reason for making a fresh sample is that singles that rest on a bobbin for any length of time become temporarily set or stale (I call it the “bed head” effect), and they will not ply back on themselves with an accurate amount of twist.
There are a couple of big advantages to using a reference sample to test for consistent thickness. One, your fingertips have vast quantities of sensory receptors in them, making them the perfect tools for determining differences in thickness. Two, because you are doubling a plied sample to test, you are essentially quadrupling your chances of identifying variations in thickness. Three, there is no need to remember or write down any numbers.
Amy Tyler teaches spinning and knitting workshops across the United States. Photos courtesy of Amy Tyler.