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Beyond Your Default Spin-along Day 1

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Beyond Your Default Spin-along Day 1

October 5, 2020

Welcome to the Spin-Along!

Are you tired of spinning the same kind of yarn all the time, but don’t know how to change things up? Can you spin adequately but don’t know how to go to the next level, making the yarn you really want for a project? You’re in the right place!

In this SAL, you’ll investigate your default yarn, learn some simple wheel adjustments, then see how fiber prep and drafting methods can change your handspun.

We assume you’ve got some basic skills and knowledge:

  • You can name the most important parts of a spinning wheel and you understand how it works. You know not to stick the orifice hook into your mouth, nose, or ear.
  • You’re comfortable treadling, drafting, filling a bobbin, etc.—after a spinning session, the stuff on your bobbin can be identified as yarn. You can spin singles and measure wraps per inch (wpi).
  • This is not the first time you’ve encountered the terms Scotch tension, double drive, worsted, woolen, combed fiber, carded fiber. It’s okay if you’ve only heard them but don’t really know what they mean—Stephanie will explain fully.

Each day’s post will start with some spinning theory. We’ll keep it short and simple, and we think you’ll find it useful. Then we’ll suggest exercises to put the theory into practice.

Equipment & Materials

  • A spinning wheel. Stephanie will demonstrate on a Matchless and a 50th Anniversary cherry Matchless. Find the manual for your wheel if you’re not familiar with all its specs and options.
  • A yarn gauge. They’re available in a wrap style (wind yarn around a 1-inch notch and count the wraps) and a line style (fit yarn into a groove or match it to a printed line). Either will work for this SAL, or you can wrap the yarn around a ruler.
  • Fiber that you’re comfortable spinning and are willing to sacrifice for spinning experiments. Stephanie will demonstrate with a Rocky Mountain Meadow braid—our exclusive colorway dyed by SweetGeorgia Yarns.* If your stash includes combed and carded fiber, grab some of each for the fiber prep lesson on Day 4.
  • Hand cards for the fiber prep lesson. Stephanie will use our Mini Carders.

* If you’re newer to spinning, set yourself up for success this week. We highly recommend wool or a wool blend with a medium staple length. Don’t use an unfamiliar fiber, or something expensive and precious, or even that beautiful Rocky Mountain Meadow braid you bought to treat yourself. After you’re comfortable with the techniques of this SAL, you will spin that special stuff with more confidence.

Got your stuff? Got your wheel set up? Let’s get rolling.

Day 1: Default Yarn

What do we mean by “default yarn”? It’s the yarn you spin when you’re not paying much attention, because your hands and feet have developed muscle memory.

People can spin default yarn for 20 years and never move away from it. That’s okay. When you listen to the Day 5 interview with Sara Lamb, Sara says she only spins one kind of yarn because she figured out what to do with it. Spoiler alert: she weaves it into fabric for her silk kimonos.

Stephanie spins different yarns for different purposes, and she likes to experiment. But she still makes a default yarn.

  • The wheel is set in Scotch tension, using the small groove on the fast whorl. (We’ll talk about tension and ratios in Day 2 and Day 3.)
  • She uses a short forward draw with very little take-up, so she doesn’t have to fight the tension to keep her hands in position. With high tension, you’ll experience more hand fatigue. She treadles slowly. (We’ll explore drafts on Day 5.)
  • The singles come out between 24 and 28 wraps per inch (wpi).

It’s important to understand your default yarn and how you make it—this knowledge will help you break out of that default box.

Getting to Know Your Default Yarn

If you’re not used to analyzing your yarn in depth, don’t panic. You’re about to meet the single best tool in your spinning toolbox. It’s like Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver or the magnifying glass that Sherlock Holmes carries around. It can do EVERYTHING.

This amazing tool is called the plyback sample, and it’s easy to make. Spin for a while. Pull an arm’s length of yarn off the bobbin—about 18 to 24 inches, and remember that long is better than short. Break off the length and fold it in half, so that it plies around itself. That’s your plyback sample.

Now you can see the yarn’s diameter, texture, luster, and (for dyed fiber) how the colors will show up. You can see if there’s not enough or too much twist. If you’re planning to ply the singles, you can see how the plied yarn will look. You can measure wpi to see what yarn weight you’re making.

This plyback sample helps you answer the most important question: Do I like this yarn? If the answer is no, change something about the way you’re spinning and make another sample. Keep adjusting until you like the yarn. If the answer is yes, save the sample. Then—and this is essential—immediately take notes on how you made it. Maggie Casey will approve, as you’ll hear in her interview.

You’re be happier with your spinning when you create, analyze, and take notes on plyback samples. They take minimal effort and they require little fiber. In fact, you’ll actually waste less when you make plyback samples. Imagine paying a lot of money for a beautiful hand-dyed braid of luxury fiber. You spin up the whole thing and really look at the skein. Then, and only then, you realize that you hate it. There goes a lot of time, fiber, and money. Sampling at the beginning, and tweaking until you liked the results, would have prevented this tragic outcome.

Plyback samples help us master new techniques, so we’ll make lots of them in this SAL. They’re the test tubes of spinning, only softer and more bendy.


Spin your default yarn, spending enough time to get into mindless zone where your hands and feet are in charge. Make a plyback sample. Then take some notes on how you made it and how it turned out.

  1. Wheel set-up: What whorl and groove do you prefer? What tension mode works best? How much take-up do you use? (If you don’t know the answers to these questions, we’ll explain more over the next two days.)
  2. Hands and feet: How fast do you treadle? Which hand holds the fiber? Which hand drafts? Can you put a name on your drafting style? (If not, online resources and spinning books can help you identify it.)
  3. Yarn characteristics: Measure wpi. Is the yarn smooth or fuzzy? Fluffy or dense? Super-stretchy or moderately stretchy? Most importantly, do you like how it turned out?

Extra credit 1: Count your treadling speed as you spin your default yarn. Set a timer for one minute and count each time your foot pushes down.

Extra credit 2: Create a note-taking system for your handspun yarn, so you can record the wheel set-up, drafting method, and yarn characteristics. Make it as simple or as fancy as you like. Some spinners add photos, fiber samples, yarn samples, etc. Others just scrawl a few notes in a notebook or on a tag tied to the plyback sample. Just make sure it’s a system you will maintain, and commit to maintaining it.

Extra credit 3: Learn how to measure twists per inch and angle of twist; there are many good resources and tools available online. If you wish, work these details into your note-taking system—when you want to spin for a large project or replicate a yarn, these details will add more precision to your handspun. Ultimately, you may not want your handspun to look machine-made, but a little more knowledge never hurts.

We can’t wait to see you tomorrow! If you have questions, please post them in the Beyond Your Default Spin-along Facebook Group. Join here.

In the meantime…

Print the Tomie dePaola Coloring Page here:

Enjoy our first Spinning Rock Star Interview!

Felicia Lo started hand-dyeing yarn and fiber after earning a degree in pharmaceutical science and studying graphic design and photography. She founded SweetGeorgia Yarns in 2005 and also created the School of SweetGeorgia, an online fibre arts school, in 2018. Felicia blogs on the SweetGeorgia site and you can find her weekly vlog, “Taking Back Friday,” on YouTube. She also documents her weaving journey at Lo Meets Loom (@lomeetsloom). Her book Dyeing to Spin and Knit (Interweave, 2017) is available on our website and from Long Thread Media.

Find Felicia on social media:

Interview highlights

  • juggling work, art, and boundaries
  • multicrafting
  • Felicia’s current projects and Lo Meets Loom
  • Felicia’s yarn origin story
  • intentionality and creative constraints
  • overcoming a fear of colors
  • accessibility and a sharing economy for textile equipment
  • teaching textile arts to kids
  • SweetGeorgia’s S&W Week plans

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