The Legendary Orenburg Two-Ply

  Galina Khmeleva prepares to ply in the Orenburg way, with a fine silk 2-ply on a swift and a spindle full of down singles at her feet.

It’s well known that the yarns used for the famous shawls of Orenburg consist of one ply of soft goat down and one of silk. But did you know that in the Orenburg style, plying is actually done off of–not onto–a plying spindle?

I could not work that out in my head, so for the Fall 2015 issue of Spin-Off, we invited Galina Khmeleva into the photo studio and asked her to demonstrate the technique. Sure enough, she began by winding a superfine strand of 2-ply silk yarn and a strand of handspun fluffy singles onto a spindle, then added counterclockwise twist and wound the resulting yarn onto a small cardboard disk-shaped bobbin. Galina explained that the twist is set right on the bobbin, which serves as storage.

  Plying in the Orenburg style involves winding single onto a spindle from which they will be plied off.

The silk in the plied yarn serves a number of purposes. For one thing, it halves the amount of spinning required for a shawl! For the thousands of yards needed for an Orenburg gossamer-web shawl, that’s a lot of singles saved. The silk also lowers the cost of the yarn’s materials. But there are other reasons–for one thing, the silk adds strength to the soft, short fibers of the goat down, and the ply structure allows the down singles to relax and bloom as the shawl is worn.

Galina teaches viewers and readers about Orenburg-style spinning and knitting from the fiber to the finished shawls in her videos and her Gossamer Webs Design Collection, and for a very special kit she agreed to find authentic Russian spindles so that you can practice making these yarns for yourself. (The spindle included is for making the gorgeous singles; a plying spindle is very similar but a bit heavier.)

  Orenburg shawls bloom when worn, developing a halo. This halo is due to the silky plying thread, which adds strength to the fine down handspun. Above left, a new shawl has a smoother, darker appearance; above right, the down has bloomed as the shawl was worn. Photos by Joe Coca from Spin-Off Fall

Immerse yourself in the yarns and shawls of Orenburg with this exclusive kit.




imageplaceholder Anne Merrow
Editor, Spin-Off Magazine

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