Saturday, February 23, 2008

Advice from the adults table

I posted to my local spinners' guild email list about my thumb pain, and here are some of the great tips they posted back to me. I started putting some of them into practice last night and I already feel like I am stopping doing damage to my hand. And yay! I can spin again!

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From KW, Friday, 2/22, 3:08 pm:

Make sure you're not gripping too tightly when you pinch off.
If you use that hand to pull new fibers forward, try pulling back with
the other hand to release the new fibers. If the pain continues despite
these adjustments, you might try one-handed spinning, where you pull the
hand holding the fiber at a rate that's just ahead of the twisted
fibers. This is used for spinning on a charkha (because the other hand
is turning the wheel) and can also be done on a regular wheel.

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From KW, Friday, 2/22, 4:06 pm:

The front hand shouldn't be the one that holds the yarn back from being
drawn in. That hand's purpose is to manage the fiber as it's being
spun. How it does this depends on the spinning technique used. It can
include any of the following: pinching off the twist while you release
more fiber with the other hand, pinching off the twist as you release
the spun yarn onto the bobbin, smoothing the yarn as it's being spun,
removing debris from the fiber, or pulling out more fiber from back to
front if it's not releasing smoothly. Once you become more experienced
you'll find that none of these tasks puts much stress on the hand.

If you feel like there's too much pull, try reducing the take-up. There
should be just enough take-up so that when you release the light
backward force from the back hand the yarn gently and steadily pulls
onto the bobbin. (If there's too little take-up, the yarn won't pull on
and will get over-twisted.). It shouldn't feel like the back hand is
being dragged in, but rather that the hand is leisurely following a very
gentle pull.

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From LI, Friday, 2/22, 4:11 pm:

I would guess you are gripping too tight as well. I do have a vague memory of having a similar issue when I first started (but then, I already have carpal tunnel b/c I was a computer geek by profession for MANY years, so I just associated it with my already existing problems).

If you are worried about the yarn getting away from you, decrease the twist ratio (if possible -- I know for about the first 6 months, I stuck to the absolute lowest ratio except when I was plying) and the tension (i.e how fast the yarn is pulled onto the bobbin). The pull should be just hard enough so that it will pull in the yarn if you don't provide some resistance, but not so much that you feel like you are "fighting" to keep control of the yarn. Also, depending on the fiber, you may have your hands too close together and/or you are gripping the fiber in your "back" hand too tightly. To identify these... first, you shouldn't have to tug at the fiber when you are doing an "inchworm" approach (the most common approach when first learning). It should come pretty easily. Second, are you noticing a problem where you end up with a tangle of fibers in your back hand? That usually means you are gripping the fiber too hard in your back hand. Again, you should be holding it pretty lightly so that you aren't tugging at the fibers. And finally, the most extreme sign -- you will hear the fibers breaking as you tug at them!

And if it makes you feel better, I'd bet we've all been through the same phase at the beginning where we had a death grip on the fiber. It's hard to break the habit of feeling like the fiber is going to get too far ahead of you! But just keep reminding yourself that it takes a light hand.

BTW, What type of fiber are you spinning with? We might be able to give you more specific guidance based on what it is...

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From KW, Friday, 4:43 pm:

Using a low ratio (biggest whorl) lets you slow down the entire process. It might not be ideal for the fiber, but at worst you'll just have to treadle more to get enough twist. And the type of fiber you're using is crucial. Until you get comfortable with the spinning process, try to stick to something with a medium staple length -- around 2 inches should be good. Too short and you need a lot of twist for the yarn to hold together; too long and you have to wind the spun yarn on quickly or the unspun fibers will lock up in the twisted section and you'll have trouble drafting. Wool is an ideal first fiber because it's not too slippery, but it should be well-prepared roving or batts. Some good beginner breeds are romney and corriedale. Just aim for the middle range -- not the very finest like merino, and not the coarser breeds like lincoln.

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From me, Friday, 2/22, 5:00 pm:

I noticed that my singles are very tightly, probably over twisted. This seems to resolve a lot if not totally when I ply them together so I haven't really worried about it too much. But I increased the take-up to try to get the spun yarn wound onto the spindle quicker. And I also went down a whorl from the largest one. I am using my front thumb both to pinch off twist and to pull out more fiber from back to front.

As to fiber, I have been using mostly Henry's Attic merino superwash, when it is my own hand dyed roving, and then I think mostly merino when it is roving I've bought from other people. Is that too short? I do like how it feels.

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From KW, Friday, 2/22, 5:43 pm:

You don't need to worry too much about over-spinning the singles with plied yarns. And the tendency to over-spin should diminish with time as you learn the right settings for your wheel.

Rather than increasing the take-up, get it just to the point where it winds on when you stop pulling back. Then to avoid over-spinning you can either used a lower ratio, treadle more slowly, or release the back hand's pull-back pressure earlier.

If you're getting enough twist in the singles, then merino might not be a problem for you. Check the staple length though. If it's an inch or under, you have to spin fairly thin singles for them to hold together. Beginners tend to spin thick singles. That phase usually doesn't last long, so maybe you're beyond that point. But if your singles are thick, then it could be that too much of the fiber length is being used in going around the yarn horizontally, which leads to not enough vertical overlapping between short fibers. The only way to compensate for this is by over-spinning to lock the fibers in place -- especially with a slippery fiber (like merino superwash) that would otherwise easily pull apart.

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