After washing, picking, carding, (and possibly dyeing) the wool, it is next spun into a “single” strand on my spinning wheel.
First, I’d like to emphasize that there are probably as many ways to spin wool as there are spinners. Yet, when most spinners encounter this particular fiber, they find they need to adjust from their usual methods. Babydoll fibers tend to grab, rather than slip past each other. This is a trait of Babydoll Southdown fiber that may become an obstacle for even the most experienced spinner. You may hear (as I did when I first started spinning) that “Babydoll fiber is no good” or “they are a meat breed, not a fiber breed.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! Historically they were a dual-purpose sheep, and their wool was highly prized in both Europe and America until the Merino breed was imported and took over the market. Babydoll Southdown wool is simply a unique wool; short, very elastic, has an incredible amount of loft, and doesn’t wet-felt easily. You could say it is a natural version of “superwash yarn”–without the chemical process. For those seeking an ideal sock yarn, what could be better? Fortunately, during the past few years more spinners are starting to rediscover this lost treasure.
To prepare it for spinning, I pull off a section of roving about 9 inches long (mill-processed roving is illustrated here since that is my preference).
Then it is divided lengthwise into many sections, by pulling apart from the middle. I find it helps to spin from these smaller sections (one after another) that are already fairly even in diameter:
Next, I connect the fiber to my leader yarn on the spinning wheel. To do this, I simply lay the fiber against the yarn, and while I treadle the twist will enter it too. The “pull” of the spinning wheel is adjusted so there is only slight tension trying to take up the strand. Then, holding the fiber very loosely in my hand (just tight enough to keep it from pulling out, and no more) I draw back slowly, letting the twisting fiber draw more out. (If this step is done too quickly, the fiber will pull apart.) When it has been drawn back about 12 inches or so, you will see the twist entering the thinner areas and skipping the thicker ones.
While continuing to treadle, I reposition the hand holding the fiber, so now my fingers can tug at the strand just before the fiber. The thumb and finger from my other hand is closer to the wheel and intermittently grasps, tugs, lets loose (so twist can enter again), grasps, tugs, lets loose, etc. As I tug the fiber apart between by two hands, the thicker areas will be drawn out and made smaller, and the twist will enter them too.
When the strand becomes even throughout and I am pleased with its appearance, the hand holding the fiber “feeds” it toward the wheel where it winds on the bobbin. Then I start over, drawing the fiber back slowly while being held very loosely in my hand.
One additional tip: If you are spinning and find the fiber is not flowing easily, try turning it around and spin from the other end. Usually Babydoll fiber that is carded at a mill will flow easier from one end than the other.
By the way…the sweater I’m wearing in the pictures is made with 100% handspun Babydoll Southdown wool.
Side Note: My spinning method is very different than what most other people use, but it feels right for my hands and gives me the results I want with Babydoll Southdown fiber. With time, experimentation, and practice, you will find the technique that fits YOU best. The most important thing to remember is to simply HAVE FUN! There is no exam, and there are no Spinning Police. Even the most lumpy, bumpy, beginner yarn will look quite lovely in a chunky scarf.
(The yarn in this next picture was one of my first.)
Next the singles are plied together, also using the spinning wheel. So spinning a 2-ply yarn actually involves 3 separate procedures–spinning each of the two singles, then plying them together.
Then the yarn is wrapped on a niddy-noddy, which helps with measuring how long the yarn is, and also creates the skein. This is tied in 4 places to keep the yarn organized after it is taken off the niddy-noddy. Then I soak the skein and allow it to dry. (Many people like to place a weight on their skeins as they dry, but I feel that causes the yarn to stretch, which may cause distortion in the final piece when it is washed for the first time after knitting. I want the yarn to remain very stable.)
The yarn is stored as a skein until I am ready to use it (or the person buying it requests for it to be wound in a ball). That keeps it from being stretched or having any tension on it.
But trying to knit from a skein would easily result in a frustrating tangle! So just before knitting or crocheting, it works best to have it wound as a center-pull ball. For weaving it can be wound on a shuttle.