Posts tagged ‘judging’

Today we went off to the fair, to have a look around and get a picture of my yarn in the display case. Fortunately there is more than one digital camera in the household.

Skein of yarn and ribbon: First Place San Mateo County Fair

My friend predicted I’d get a blue ribbon and I did. I’m not personally all that motivated by winning, so I had to be convinced to enter. It is another way to explore further what judging yarn means, so I can learn something there. (I won’t get the comments, if any, until after the fair ends.) Perhaps somebody will be inspired to explore traditional yarns as a result, and that is a good thing.

There was a group of spinners demonstrating in front of the yarn and weaving display, one turned out to be a yarn judge. I asked her about how they evaluated the entries and the judges were looking specifically for technical skill. I’ve talked to many people about entering their yarns in competition and have heard several stories of seemingly random results, so this is encouraging. It isn’t that I don’t care at all about creative visual design (let’s just say it isn’t high on my list) but I do think that some people don’t look past it to consider structure. It is the structure that interests me, and that is best seen by starting with even and consistent yarn. Such that apparently there was some discussion about whether on not my skein was actually spun by hand.

I get this comment once in a while, it’s still always weird when I do. (People ask me all the time where I buy my clothes, you would think I’d get used to it.) Some spinners believe one shouldn’t worry too much about making fine and even yarn because irregularities give it “character.” If they wanted even spinning, they would buy it already made. I actually don’t consider if yarn is machine or hand spun when evaluating it’s qualities, only that it has certain characteristics. Handspun yarn tends to have particular ones and machine spun others. It’s all still yarn. It’s the whole subject of what is “good” yarn where I get bogged down in the sea of opinions and personal preferences.

Yesterday I got the package of yarn back from my Learning Exchange group. It was just yarn, the evaluations will come later apparently. So now I have a sample from everyone in the group who finished. Some did not, so there are only ten samples out of the original thirteen members. The coordinator wrapped everything up nicely in tissue and a lace ribbon and included a handwritten note. The entire package was lovely, and it was great fun to go through it all and see what everyone had done.

I like to see other people’s yarn. I want to see not only what other people are up to, but how they approach yarn design. This group had a range of spinners, from two to twenty-five years of experience, and the yarns were of all sorts of kinds of Merino. Raw fleece (some from personal flocks,) small-lot mill carded and the ever-present Ashland Bay. There were blends with silk, angora and mohair and yarns both fluffy and smooth. Most were two or three ply, but there was a single and my 4-ply. Some spinners measured angle of twist but most didn’t, one participant included an extra sheet describing the different scouring methods she tried. Scouring is important for Merino, because it has way more grease than pretty much anything else.

I don’t know how long it will be to get the evaluations, but the group leader has all the materials so things should be coming along. I’ll post more later.

I took a workshop this weekend, spinning for socks from Judith MacKenzie McCuin, and as usual Judith is a blast to hang out with for a fiber geek. She has an interest in traditional textiles and primitive sheep, two things I’m rather fond of. But she also knows industrial textiles and judges competitions, two things I am still trying to figure out. In class we talked a lot about what makes a good sock yarn. I’d like to do more socks, and I might yet get around to that, but mostly I wanted to take this class to learn more about yarn structure. Most of what I knit is with sock-like yarns.

I always come away with something to think about, and some of it seems to have little to do with the topic under discussion. Because I’m mostly self-taught, I don’t know that I’m not supposed to see the gaps between the so-called conventional wisdom and my own experience. Sometimes they are quite wide chasms and I’m baffled as to why. For as much as everybody likes my knitting, my range is rather limited. I know the basics of textile history concerning knitting but it’s more recent than my primary areas of study. So I don’t really understand why knitting yarns are the way they are. I had my suspicions on this point but after conversations with Judith apparently neither do all that many other people. Including nearly all yarn manufacturers. She says that the things we find in the stores are really yarns designed for weaving. I’m not entirely clear on why, exactly, but I’ll work on that.

We threw away some much-trumpeted beliefs about sock yarns, the major one for me is that fine wool does indeed make great sock yarn and you don’t have to blend it with nylon. My own commercial Merino blend socks end up with huge patches of nylon as the wool wears away. I’ve heard that so many times that it makes me wonder if it’s been pushed by the nylon manufacturers. (Things like this have happened, in textiles and elsewhere. DuPont didn’t have much interest in encouraging natural fibers just like General Motors didn’t have anything good to say about urban rail transit.) You can blend all you like, and nylon is a rational choice for blending with short wools, but it’s not by any means required. The important point is that longer fibers make better sock yarn and to get smooth and even yarn it should be spun worsted. Lumps and bumps have their interesting uses, but you don’t want them on the bottom of your feet.

Wool has many useful properties that make it a good option. Wool for socks should have a lot of crimp, to make elastic yarn. Elastic yarn makes elastic fabric. Elastic fabric doesn’t sag or wrinkle. If it isn’t moving around inside your boot, it isn’t causing blisters on your feet. As one who wears boots a lot, this is a big deal.

Another important feature about sock yarns, and also knitting yarns in general, is that they be three-ply or more. This makes a round yarn and produces a smoother knit fabric, something I already knew. But I wanted to know about twist. There is this huge fuss about balanced plied yarns but all over the place there is traditional knitting that has never heard of the balanced yarn. Balanced yarn is very pretty, but it leaves the individual fibers more prone to snagging and wear. It’s entirely possible to make successful socks with less than three plies. But you have to think carefully about the construction. We passed around some socks from various countries and they were quite different from the modern American idea of what a sock should look like. Some were very stiff, from strongly twisted yarns knit very firmly. They would most compare to slippers rather than something that goes inside one’s tennis shoe. One was knit of singles from a horrid scratchy goat fiber that seems like it would be impossibly uncomfortable. But it fit so closely and so well that it is very wearable, something Judith didn’t discover until some time later. If they don’t move around, they don’t scratch.

The reason I make knitting yarns with a firm twist in the single and 3-ply is to get a finished product that is dense and hard-wearing. More twist in the single means a more tightly twisted plied yarn, so the fiber is held in place more securely. Better still is to add a little more twist in the plying, so there is not the chance of loose fibers hanging about, they are all held in place with twist. But that violates the fundamental tenet of the balanced yarn. I’ve never really understood that, so I asked. After all, in a previous workshop Judith talked about how woolen yarns are best with a low twist in the single and more twist in the plying (and nearly useless as singles alone.) Those pretty balanced yarns look great hanging up for display at wool shows, but she has her doubts about their practical applications.

So there it is, I’m not crazy. This has been bugging me for years, with all the books, teachers and yarn judges that go on about balanced yarns. I was very careful about what I said about plying as to not be immediately branded apostate. I spent hours finishing plied yarns wet with a spindle for the COE because I knew that was the first thing a judge was going to look at. And the one yarn that wasn’t, intentionally and for a specific purpose, was marked off for exactly that. I understand the mechanics and I entirely don’t get why it is such a big deal. Slightly unbalanced yarns work fine in normal modern knitting and highly twisted yarns make fabrics that wear forever. So if unbalanced plied yarn is indeed heresy, at least I know I will have good company in Spinner Hell.

There are many other things from this weekend, ideas to contemplate and techniques to practice. I think I may now finally really understand the difference between short forward draft and short backward draft and why it matters. I’ll write more on these things as I work through what I learned and discover how to apply it to my own spinning.

I’m getting my two matching hats (seen in the Gallery section) ready to send off for display. I mentioned a while back that I was invited to send something for an exhibit of COE recipients at Convergence, HGA’s big conference. I submitted my paperwork and yesterday I got the forms and such back in the mail. Shipping labels, id tags, “Return Shipping Authorization Instructions” form, along with three pages of instructions. Sigh. Every art show has it’s own set of requirements, instructions, forms and so on. If I were a bigtime artist, I’d have to be doing this all the time as part of my marketing campaign. That’s one way you get people to buy your fancy expensive artwork, you submit it to juried shows and hope you get in. Your name gets in the program book, hopefully spelled correctly and with a decent photo of your work, and people know what you do and where to find you. The thought has been kicking around for a while, but the sheer volume of paperwork is one reason I haven’t been all that diligent about trying to be one of those Bigtime Artists. Producing two or three pieces a year at most isn’t a good way to make a living, either. This art thing is rough, why I haven’t completely given up on the computers yet. The Boyfriend has to win the IPO lottery first.

I’ve got one hat blocked and the other one is drying. I’ve got my shipping box and my packing paper (conveniently left over from the move.) To keep the nice blocked shape, I have to stuff them with paper and ship it all in this huge box so nothing gets smooshed in transit. I’ve been told they will be on hat forms, that should make them look nice, but I have to get them there unmangled and ready to display. None of that is necessary for return shipping because all I’m going to do is shove them back in my coat pocket. I have a padded envelope that would be fine, but reading through the instructions I find that there is nothing in the procedure about providing different packaging for return shipping. I guess I could just do it and note it in the return shipping instructions.

I’m sure this was developed through years of experience, but bold capital letters make me a bit twitchy. At least this time I don’t have to cut out little cardboard tags of exactly the proscribed size and so on. I’m just not big on all the formality of this art show stuff.

I don’t know what it is, I try to sit down and update the website and it’s always something. I came home to find that The Boyfriend lost his keys and locked himself out of the apartment, and in the middle of working our network comes crashing down for a hardware failure. But, no, I’d rather not be in New Jersey. My sister’s place is far nicer than ours, but we have a better Internet connection.

I’m adding comments to the COE pages, both from the judges and my own. You can see how individual items were scored and what I thought about it. It’s amazing how much work you can get done trapped in a flying tin can with nothing else to do for five hours. (Many thanks to United for having a spiffy frequent flyer program that lets me get my butt out of Economy on a regular basis. Although we won’t talk about what happened to my vegan meal. It’s good I only need non-dairy.)

Creative Commons License

© 2004-2007 Andrea Longo
spinnyspinny at feorlen dot org