Sidewinder Cowl: Spin the yarn

by Christine Long

The handspun yarn used to knit the sample photographed for the Sidewinder Cowl pattern was 3 ply yarn.  I spun 4 oz hand dyed merino roving into one bobbin of 14-16 wpi singles.  I liked the idea of having stripes on this version of the cowl, so chain plied (or Navaho plied) a 3ply yarn of about 7-8 wpi.  There are plenty of great articles on methods of chain-plying, so I want to show you how to spin another handspun yarn I used for the Sidewinder Cowl.

My absolute favorite yarn to make for this cowl is 2ply yarn plied from both ends of a center pull ball of singles.  No matter how carefully I spin singles onto two bobbins, I always have some sad little singles sitting on one bobbin after the other has run out.  By plying from both ends of a center pull ball, each and every bit of fiber is used and you get the most bang for your buck.

Also, the way the colors play over each other is fascinating to watch as you ply and even more fun to knit up!  In order to achieve an approx 7-8 wpi yarn, try to get your singles about 11-12 wpi.  Usually this method creates 100-125 yards of bulky yarn from a 4 oz combed top/roving.

Plying from both ends of a center pull ball can be a frustrating, tangled up mess.  I struggled with it for a long time.  I watched videos, I read blogs, I googled, nothing seemed to work.  The “Little Jack Horner” method of sticking your thumb into the center of the ball was awkward and for me, created an unevenly plied yarn.   Then one day when I wasn’t paying attention to what my hands were doing, I realized I was plying a lovely, even, gorgeous 2 ply yarn without effort from both ends of the ball!  I got the video camera out and recorded myself so I could analyze exactly what worked for me and what didn’t.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnHere’s my technique.  Maybe this will help you as well.

Begin with 4 oz of merino, bfl or a soft wool combed top as this will be a next-to-the-skin project.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnSplit the fiber in half, then again into thirds or halves.  Use the natural splits that show up when you lightly tease the fiber apart.  It’s not an exact science, just gently separate the fiber into bundles to eliminate pre-drafting and make this a fun and easy yarn to spin.
Sidewinder Cowl YarnSPINNING TIP:  As you work with combed top, notice one end of the fiber is fatter and stubbier while the other end naturally narrows to a point.  You want to start spinning from the point and spin through your bundles ending each with the stubby end.  This helps keep the colors in a more predictable order as well as makes the spinning a touch easier.

You don’t HAVE to do this, feel free to change things up and spin every which way if you’d like.  I just find it makes for a smoother, more even singles when I do this.

I pick up the stubby end of each split piece of fiber and loosely roll it into a bundle with the pointy end on the outside, ready for spinning.
Sidewinder Cowl YarnSpin yourself a whole bobbin full of singles.  Aim for about 11-12 wpi.  For a good, soft yet sturdy yarn, I spin a mostly woolen yarn.  Don’t keep a super tight pinch on the fiber, let it pull naturally as you draft.  It’s a bit of a balancing act.  You don’t want to pinch too tight as it makes wiry, heavy yarn.  You also don’t want to let the twist escape into the drafting fiber.  Just relax, treadle SLOWER than you normally do and your hands will do their best work with you not even paying attention.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnLet your singles sit overnight.  This allows the twist to set a bit and just makes for an easier plying experience.  The next day, use a ball winder and wind the singles into a center pull ball.

Attach both ends of the ball of singles to your leader and begin plying.   Again, treadle SLOWLY, and in the opposite direction your singles were spun.  For example, I always spin my singles in a clockwise, or Z twist direction and ply in a counterclockwise, or S twist direction.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnHOLDING THE BALL OF SINGLES is the most important part of this technique
.  Whichever hand you normally use close to the orifice, set up the same way for plying (for me it’s my left hand).  This hand will regulate the twist and smoothness of the plies as usual.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnThe other hand that does the drafting work when creating your singles (for me it’s my right hand) will hold the center pull ball.  Arrange the top of the ball, with the singles coming out of the center, towards your pinky finger.  Have the singles pull between your ring finger and pinky to keep a slight tension and avoid any snags.

Sidewinder Cowl YarnThe other end will be held by your thumb.  The center pull ball will be on its side while plying.  Allow the singles that is unwrapping around the outside of the ball to stop on your thumb with each wrap.  When you’re ready for more singles to be plied, release your thumb and replace it to the end again.  Basically the singles is catching on the thumb each time it unwraps around the ball.  Repeat this process until you’ve spun the entire singles down to the very middle of your fiber and the whole thing is on the bobbin.

This video outlines this technique in action:

Do a happy dance. You’ve just created a fabulous, colorful soft yet sturdy yarn using up every bit of your spinning fiber.  Yay for you!  Finish the yarn as you normally would, wind onto a niddy noddy or skein winder, tie off, soak and hang dry.  Knit yourself a fabulous cowl.  One other bonus of spinning for the Sidewinder Cowl is that the yarn can be a bit thick and thin.  A little difference in the diameter of the yarn just gives more texture and interest to the pattern.  Happy spinning and happy knitting!

Plying with this technique is perfect for the beginning spinner.  There is no need for working with a lazy kate, you only need the one bobbin for spinning singles and plying the yarn.  The only additional equipment required is a ball winder, which you could probably borrow from a knitter friend should you not have your own.  I also find that as I gain more experience with spinning, plying from both ends of a center pull ball is still my very favorite method.  I find nothing is more relaxing than watching the colors change and meld into new combinations as my mind wanders and my hands ply without effort.

Photos and video © Christine Long.

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