Something we went over in class last weekend was the short forward draft and how to adjust the wheel and spin one’s “default” size yarn. I usually spin worsted with the short backward draft and I could never quite tell just what various teachers were talking about in short forward draft. Obviously, you move your hands differently, but there’s more to it than that.

In with all the various discussions of worsted I’ve heard or read, there is usually this idea that one is pushing all the air out of the yarn with your forward hand. That is, your fingers are most definitely pinching. This is how it has to work with a spindle, otherwise everything will fall apart. Only fully-formed yarn can support the weight of the spindle. So you slide your fingers up after pulling out the next bit of fiber, with untwisted fiber above and yarn below. So far, so good.

With a spinning wheel, you don’t have to be as concerned that the wheel is going to yank the yarn away from you before you are done with it. It could, of course, but you can adjust the tension so it doesn’t. The death-grip pinch isn’t necessary. Still, everybody talks about short forward draft as pinching and pulling out bits of fiber. I’ve tried this, and I can’t get close to an even yarn. It’s just not possible to pull the same amount each time. The short backward draft I use is something like pulling out a larger bit of fiber to thin it out and then slide my fingers back. It appears to happen all at once, but really it’s two parts, and I can even out the amount of fiber by pulling in either direction since I’m working with an amount near the staple length. This is why I look at the fiber while I spin. It works well for crimpy wool that tends to stay together, but not so well for smooth stuff.

While I was researching different spinning techniques I read something interesting in The Ashford Book of Spinning. Most people start off with short forward draft because it feels like you have more control. This book talks about it, but says that it is something of a dead-end technique because conceptually it doesn’t lead to using the long draw. The author seems to prefer the short backward draft because it does. But if you want to spin smooth yarn from combed fiber, you don’t care about long draw. So why the distinction? I suppose the author likes woolen spinning. Ok, fine.

I never really worried much about spinning the “right” way, but I try to experiment with different ideas to find one that works best for me. And the short backward draft is serious trouble for my wrists on an upright wheel, one with the orifice directly in front of me. My left hand, the one that holds the fiber, bends to the side while I’m drafting. It’s because I’m trying to compensate for the location of the orifice and keep the fiber flowing in as much of a straight line as possible. I can’t control the twist as easily with my forward hand if I’m both pinching and changing direction at the same time. I’ve tried some other wheels and found that the orifice on the right, a “lefty” wheel, is what I need. I’ll get one of those next, but it will be a while before I’m wheel shopping again. I’ve had some success with wearing wrist braces to remind me to not do bad things with my hands. The short forward draft doesn’t give me this problem, but there is the trouble with not being able to pull out the fiber uniformly.

I couldn’t figure out whatever is the trick to pulling out the fiber evenly, so I assumed I was just a failure at short forward draft. Since everything I’d read about spinning worsted said no twist ever in the drafting zone and indeed describes it as drafting without twist, I figured the pinch and slide was considered integral to the technique. So, here I am in this workshop, where the teacher is trying to get across the concept of the “default yarn,” what you spin automatically for a particular set of wheel adjustments. It’s like you aren’t pulling the fiber out, the wheel is doing it for you and you are just overseeing the process. But it doesn’t use the death grip pinch. And it’s worsted. “How can this be?” I think.

I watch closely and I see fingers sliding back but hardly pinching at all. No worrying about the dreaded twist-in-drafting-zone business. The drafted fiber twists, down to the edge of the fiber supply, but at that point it’s done being drafted so it’s not the drafting zone anymore. A little pinch to pull the twisted yarn forward about a half a staple length and the process starts again. The other hand, the one holding the fiber, doesn’t move at all. Aha! The wheel is adjusted so the twist doesn’t fight to get past your fingers and pulls it on the bobbin at the same rate you are drafting. You aren’t pulling out the fibers, the twisted yarn is pulling out the fibers and their neighbors are coming along for the ride.

I understood this process from spinning really long fibers like flax, where there isn’t this angst about whether or not it’s “true worsted.” The twist goes right up to the edge of the fiber supply, and then you pull the finished yarn forward. Fibers that are half in your yarn and half in the fiber supply pull others out with them. You slide your fingers down at the same rate the twist is moving into the yarn, so no death-grip pinch is required.

Judith insists you shouldn’t look at the fiber but just do it by feel. If you are fighting the twist or the yarn is getting yanked away from you, adjust your wheel or let it go and spin a different size yarn. I could use some more practice, but it does work. And it doesn’t kill my hands. The one thing that bugs me is it is a lot slower.

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