Saturday, July 6, 2024

A Good Yarn


This morning PLY magazine posted the above on their Facebook page.

This is something I have been trying to explain to weavers for, quite literally, decades.  I even did a whole series of publications, *with samples* to show how yarns with different characteristics will create cloth with different characteristics.  Sadly, now out of print with no intention to republish.

Just because you know the 'count' of a yarn, doesn't mean you know everything there is to know about the yarn.

This was a photo I took for A Good Yarn: Cotton.  

As I travelled all around the US, I constantly ran into people who would grimace when I would say my favourite yarn was 2/8 cotton.  In their mind what they saw was the yarn in the bottom of the picture.

Believe me when I tell you: while these yarns may have the same count, they are NOT the same.

How a fibre is prepared for and spun can create a myriad of different qualities of yarn.

But industry does not set out to make 'bad' yarn.  We, as weavers, can (and do) make inappropriate choices.

I'm not saying every weaver needs to be a spinner.  But what they do need to do, imho, is to look closely at the materials they are working with.  They need to understand the nature of the fibres *and of how the way they are spun* can enhance or diminish certain characteristics of those fibres.

To have people whiff away the fact that there is a quality of cotton with a count of 2/8 as being identical to a count of yarn with 8/2, is to ignore the fact that these two yarns have been spun differently.

When people tell me that the 'proper' way to write the count is 8/2 I point out suppliers like Jaggerspun who spin worsted wool yarns labelled 2/18, etc.

Maurice Brassard, who used to label their cotton 2/8 now, on the *English* side of their website call their yarn 8/2, but if you look on the *French* side of their website - voila, their yarn is still labelled 2/8.

The *count* only ever tells us how many yards per pound (or metric equivalent).  It tells us nothing about how the fibre was prepared for and spun.  For that we need to look more closely at the yarn itself.

Brassard's 2/8 cotton is ring spun.  The fibres are combed, and the twists per inch in the ply is tighter than the US standard 8/2 cotton which is open end spun with the singles tightly twisted but the ply less than Brassard's.

Why is this important?

Brassard's 2/8 cotton is stronger, smoother, and slightly *thinner* than the US 8/2 cotton, which has more air trapped in it so it is weaker, slightly thicker, and feels more textured.  The 8/2 ply presents a more 'saw-toothed' appearance that can feel rough to the touch.

This is NOT to say the 8/2 is 'bad' yarn.  It is what it is and if a weaver tries to use it beyond it's nature, there might be tears shed.  

So I happily use 2/8 cotton for warp, and will use 8/2 for weft.  However, when I do that, I know that it will shed a lot more 'lint' than 2/8 cotton.  

I wrote about absorbency for Handwoven a while ago.  People may find it helpful in understanding that aspect of yarn.

I also strongly suggest people get a fibre or textile science book to learn more about the nature of their materials.  My personal favourite is A Guide to Textiles for Interior Designers.  This book can be found second hand with prices ranging from under $10 to $100.  You don't need the most recent edition, which can sometimes be discounted as the newer editions are published.

Knowing your materials will help you make better decisions.  Just saying...

1 comment:

jacey boggs faulkner said...

Laura! This was so fascinating to read! Isn't it funny how little knowledge is traded between crafting disciplines? knitters/spinners, weavers/spinners, crocheters/spinners etc? Oh...writing that out it dawned on me that maybe it's just that spinners need to talk louder. Lol. But you're so right, often, how a yarn is spun is just as important (and sometimes more important) than the fiber content. I'm so happy to be marrying these two crafts for myself. My hope is that they'll each inform the other.

I've been working on these 5"x4" wall hangings for the PLY Spinning Guild and each season I do a new one but all the yarns included in it are taken from the theme of that season. For the worsted season, the warp, tabby weft, pattern weft were all worsted but different ply structures. For the woolen season it was trickier, or at least required more thought. I ended up using a woolen fiber preparation for the warp but still spinning it with a worsted draft because a woolen draft just wouldn't have been strong or smooth enough. The tabby weft for that one is a 2-ply from the fold woolen (so it still had some structure and but would lay a little flatter than the pattern weft), and the pattern weft was full double-draft longdraw from rolags for the airiest, loftiest yarn possible. The entire series of weavings have been so edifying. I've learned so much. Right now I'm working on the color season...

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for writing about this. I know a magazine that should totally explore this...