Spinster’s Corner • 4

by Anne Podlesak

Spinning to a Commercial Yarn Sample

If you are spinner, you know that it’s great fun choosing a fiber to spin, and simply sitting down at your wheel and letting yourself enjoy the process of creating yarn.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but what if you want to reverse the process, and have a commercial yarn in mind that you’d like to duplicate for a specific project or project type?

Let’s start first by taking a look at what the yarn is you want to try to duplicate.  If you have a sample snip of it, or perhaps even an entire skein of it, that will be a great starting place, but if not, you can utilize some online resources like Ravelry’s searchable yarn lists, or the very comprehensive Yarndex site for details about available commercial yarns for the type of project you wish to make.  In my example, I wanted to try to duplicate a 2-ply traditional shetland wool “jumper” weight (fingering weight) yarn.  There are many different brands on the market today.  Jamieson’s Spindrift is probably one of the better known ones.  The one I selected to try to match was Rowan’s Rowanspun 4-ply.

I began by taking a detailed look at the yarn:

spinning to match a commercial yarn

This yarn is a 2-ply, 100% shetland wool, fingering-weight yarn, spun using a woolen method.  You’ll want to unwind a yard or two from the skein or ball of yarn and see if you can figure out the following things about it’s structure.

  • What is the fiber makeup of the yarn?  Is it 100% wool, 100% cotton, a blend of some kind?  If it is 100% wool, is it a soft merino or a coarser longwool?
  • What is the general weight of the yarn?  Is it bulky, worsted, fingering, laceweight?  (Your skein tag or research about the commercial yarn suggested should give you a clue on this).  How many yards/meters per ounce/gram in the skein?
  • What is the structure of the spun yarn?  Is it a single, a 2-ply, multi-ply, or other type of cabled or “art yarn” construction?  Is the yarn smoothly spun (like a worsted yarn) or more fluffy (like a woolen yarn), or somewhere in between?

Once you’ve got the basic characteristics of the finished yarn figured out, cut an 18″ to 24″ length of the yarn you are trying to match, and unply it (if it’s a plied yarn).  In the sample I’m using, it’s pretty obviously a 2-ply yarn.  I also know that most shetland jumperweight yarns, which are often used for colorwork and Fair Isle knitting, are usually spun woolen.  A brief examination of the single shows this is definitely the case.  The yarn is lightly spun with a lot of air trapped in the single, and the fibers within the single are less well organized than they would be if it were a worsted-spun yarn.

Once I had these details figured out, I chose a Shetland wool fiber to try to duplicate this commercial yarn.  There are many providers on line where you can find prepared Shetland fiber (or raw fleece if you like to prepare your own).  I chose a Shetland roving from one of the mills I work with in the UK and had them send several colorways to me as a sample pack.   When I was ready to start spinning, I sat down and made myself a sample/control card.

This card had a 5″ long sample of the single ply of the original commercial yarn attached to it.  I use a 5×7 index card, and tape the ends of the sample down to it, being careful not to stretch the single too much, as it will retain some bounce from having been unplied.  That’s the sample piece at the bottom of the photo below.

spinning to match a commercial yarn

I also attach a sample of the original yarn, in this case the 2-ply, to the upper portion of my control card, leaving an end hanging off so I can compare it to a plied/finished sample of my handspun yarn.

When I start spinning, I will rest the card with the singles sample of the commercial yarn on my lap, and use it as a visual aid as my handspun singles move across onto the wheel.  I will stop several times in the first few yards to lay the handspun single next to the commercial single to check and see if I’m on target with the circumference of the yarn, the amount of twist, and an overall feel for whether I’m spinning it “woolen enough” or “worsted enough” to match the commercial sample.

Once I’ve spun perhaps 20 or 30 yards and I feel I’m happy with how well I’m matching the commercial sample, I will pull about 10″ of singles back through the orifice, and let them twist back on each other, creating, in this case, a sample of a plied 2-ply yarn, which I then can check against the finished commercial yarn sample I also have attached to the card.  If I am satisfied with how that looks, I will continue to spin, using my control card to check and be sure I am maintaining an evenly spun single that matches the commercial one, or, if I’m not quite satisified with the plied yarn, I will make some small adjustments to my singles and continue to spin a bit more, and then check the plied yarn against my commercial plied standard again until I get the yarn I want.

spin natural shetland fingering weight yarnUltimately, I was striving for a 2-ply, woolen spun yarn with approximately 116 yards per ounce.  My finished skeins ranged from 108 yards to 112 yards per ounce, which were pretty close in yardage to the commercial yarn, and I think if I had purchased a more “farm-prepared” carded preparation, rather than a commercial one, I could have gotten those last few yards per ounce in as the preparation would likely have had a bit more air in it.

This technique can be used for any yarn you wish to duplicate and can be a fun exercise to challenge yourself to spin a consistent yarn or to branch out to new spinning techniques, with the ultimate goal of a great finished project out of your handspun yarn!

Photos © Anne Podlesak